A letter to baby F

One night last week you ended up in bed with us. I brought you there. Because lying down was more important to me than making sure you know your crib is where you sleep. You know that. 

You know so much. 

When you’re in the bed I don’t sleep as well. I’m aware always of where you are, that you have space to breathe , no pillows in the way. Not too close to the brick wall behind the bed. Sometimes you cuddle close and then you flop around. I think you’re restless too, in bed with us, at least at first. But you tend to be quiet there. You know you’re safe. With your people. 

Watching you wake up in the morning I think of baby animals. It’s a process. Stretching and little cooing sounds. Back to sleep for five more minutes. Hips in the air, then feet flung over one of us. And then finally, sitting up with a big smile. “Uh oh”. Softly. Your favourite word these days, at fourteen months. Sometimes you get the context right. Other times you unintentionally hit on adult irony. Baby’s up… uh oh!

Yesterday I came home from work and you said the other word. “Mummy”. For the first time! All through dinner and bath time and bedtime mischief.  “Mummy”. 

Sometimes I get down and I think the world is leaving me behind while it makes plans for Saturday night, or exotic vacations, or career advancement. Or anything. When I’m exhausted and uncertain and overwhelmed. But then you say my name in your sweet little voice, you cuddle in close in my bed where I held you the day we brought you home (and in utero for nine months before that). And everything is right and perfect. 

I guess I’m realizing something about the world: that it’s too big anyway. And the best thing I can do is concentrate and creating my own little world. That matters to me. And right now you, my darling, are in the centre of it. 

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way.  I wonder how I would do with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Young hearts run free

 

Teaching mama and baby yoga has had me questing to discover the best yoga postures for energy. Because sleep is hard to come by when mothering a baby. I’ve learned that back bends, twists and deep breathing can help.

Inhale. Exhale.

And time apart. Which is why I’m camped out at my local independent coffee shop. Alone with my americano and my words. Blending in with the regular crowd, I think. And all of a sudden a swarm of moms and babies are entering. Unkempt, earthy, tired. Noisy. I feel like I’m undercover – I’m one of you but you can’t tell. My baby is at home with her granny. I miss her. But I love being here on my own.

Inhale. Exhale.

I’m so excited to talk about things outside of baby. To scale my life in a bigger ecosystem. To say we’re ordering in and not feel like I somehow failed to fulfill the duties of Home Life President. As defined in a different time, for a different woman. A job I’ve learned is not for me.

These Mondays though, they come with pangs. A pang of future Mondays. What will it feel like? To get dressed and leave the house without her? To leave her in the care of another? Another who doesn’t love her like I do. Who won’t sing her our songs.  My eyes sting.

Inhale. Exhale.

I have often remarked, if it was the 1950s we mothers wouldn’t sit around planning our childcare, agonizing over daycare wait lists and nanny shares and transitioning back to work. I have said this out loud to rooms of new mothers, in these safe sisterly communities we are always trying to create, for me in vain. No one has picked up the conversation. Is it too painful? Confusing? Overwhelming? A foregone conclusion? A stupid comment?

I don’t wish myself back in time. Not for a second. The fight for gender equality has barely started in my view, and I won’t give one inch back. But sometimes these choices don’t feel like choices. To spend the bulk of the week working outside of the home, or, caring for my young child. Now my job is to make an impossible choice I can live with.

Inhale. Exhale.

Podcasts, walks, fatigue, anxiety, cuddles and overwhelming love. These are the ways I will remember maternity leave. A warping, tinting, melting, of the glass walls through which I see this world. They say the years are short but the days are long. At ten months Baby F astounds me. She knows her home, her toys, the best vents to bang on, where the baby monitor is kept (favourite thing to throw across the floor). I let her because I secretly want it to break, its random beeping for no apparent reason one of the most elusive and frustrating mysteries of these past ten months.

The greatest mystery of these past ten months though, remains: what does the future hold for me? Unsolved.

Seeking strength and wisdom now and always. To lead a life I can look back on with pride and joy. And that I can embrace and exalt in along the way.

Inhale. Young hearts. Exhale. Run free.

 

How to stop being a perfectionist

There was a time when I would change my sheets weekly. I did this with pride, it was the chore that always got done over the weekend, even if there was no food in the fridge (common) and a drying rack covered in sweaters and underwear in the middle of the apartment for days. 

This year the sheets fell behind. And I am so over my smug weekly sheet washing. If there’s one thing babies do, it’s trim the fat on your time. 

This is the advice to new mothers about housekeeping: lower your standards. Aka get over yourself. Choose happy self and happy kid over perfect house. You can’t do all three. 

I listened to this great interview with Margeuerite Deslauriers (philosophy professor and founder of McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminisit Studies) about the emotional work that women kill themselves doing. They are stressed out and exhausted and it’s completely off balance with what men give in this area. This is a real issue of course, but the professor had  a suggestion for managing it: ask yourself if it actually needs doing. And if it does, must you always be the one doing it?

Like emotionally supporting your coworker through her breakup?  Sending birthday cards to every friend every year? 

Is doing these things moving you toward a more enriched, fully lived life? Probably not. Is weekly sheet cleaning? Nope.

I’m talking about living life as an active verb, here. Not dragging your feet from obligation to obligation. 

Which means letting go of the things you think you should be doing and instead finding better stuff to do. 

Better stuff as defined by you, for you. 

A good friend came over today and brought a Christmas card.  And inside there was a gift card. The thought to reciprocate this hadn’t even entered my mind. What can you do? Say thanks sincerely, make her a grilled cheese sandwich and drive her home. Then let it go. 

Christmas is a vulnerable time for measuring yourself against other people. Everyone’s getting together, dressed in their finest, on best behaviour and exchanging gifts. If you’re feeling down and perfectionistic after the holidays, find something to do that moves you toward a more enriched, fully-lived life. 

Not laundry. 

Not gratuitous emotional support. 

Not unhealthy comparisons to people who are more planful gifters than you are. 

Mine is writing this. What’s yours? 

What my parents taught me about money

Chokers are back in style.

The jewelry, not the fetishists. Although I wouldn’t know which fetishes are hot right now. I googled “fetish trends” and it’s just too much. Something about laying alien eggs inside yourself.

I went to the bank and opened an investment account to save for baby F’s education. Banks are so invasive with their questions. There’s no good reason for them to ask for an estimate of my liquid and illiquid assets. They just ask because they can.

The estimate of my illiquid assets is zero dollars.

For someone so apparently ungrounded, I sure don’t feel that way. Taking care of an infant seven days a week. Monitoring her favourite game: Find a Strangulation Device. Shoelace, computer cord, baby monitor cord, ribbon, drawstring.

In my financial life though, I have all the freedom.

The bank asked for my salary. Which I told them, even though every day I’m not sure if I’m going back to my Old Job, Old Life. It was fun, pretending to be that person for a moment. Casually providing my employer information, basking in the powerful social currency that is having a paid job.

Feeling so tangible, so relevant, perched so tidily in the webbing of a company with a title and a paycheck. I glimpsed myself wearing clothing that wasn’t doubling as a baby’s kleenex.

Maybe a tasteful choker.

I googled “fetish define“. Noun. a course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment.

I think about the money fetish. I know a lot of people with it. They are easy to judge – their excessive and irrational commitment to  making it, spending it, looking and acting like they have it.

Materialism is so boring.

But I’m not above all that, as much as I’d like to be. I’m just more turned on by the security it brings. Stock piling it in a prudent fashion.

The internet thinks Forever21 went too far with their latest neckwear. I say most things at Forever21 go too far: example. Where is the subtlety?

Growing up I felt we never had enough. Not going on school trips because of the cost, shopping exclusively at thrift stores, only buying no name foods, reusing milk bags for sandwiches instead of buying zip locks. Never seduced by shiny new things, unnecessary decoration or trends.

Now that I’m an adult those choices feel reasonable, practical and wise. But that lens of Lack they left me with – it lingers.

So I take all the right steps. With the education savings and the hand me downs for baby F. I choose to build financial security to avoid choking myself with fear and anxiety. This is the mark my upbringing left on me.

It could be worse. Maybe this phone I’m writing on is the most expensive thing I own. Maybe I am overly wrapped up in  the comfort and identity of my work, my living. But all that creates space for other things. Better risks. More interesting fetishes. Personal style. Radical evolution. Space to breathe.

Moving on

My family is neck deep in endings. Dismantling the homes of two grandmothers at the same time. On the English side, the condominium at Yonge and Wellesley was systematically stripped bare and decked out in fresh carpet and paint. But all I see is the ghost of its former self, comfortably worn in and smelling of lamb shanks and vigorously steamed broccoli while we gather over cherry tomatoes and beer. My grandfather’s beer stein said “Please bother me, I’m studying.” He earned a PhD in his seventies.

The place is empty now but I see the corner cabinet with the game of Othello inside and remember my grandmother’s hands so deliberate as she flipped the pieces. In my earliest memories I was curiously aware of the skin of her arms, fine and lined as tissue paper reused a third, a fourth, time. My grandfather was an engineer, apprenticed in his teens in Cornwall, and each room bore out his genius through quirky practical inventions: the homemade clock, the adjustable drafting table, the handy mechanism for storing plastic bags.

On the Portuguese side, the sidesplit in Etobicoke was well preserved until after its sale, a shrine to the family that came across the Atlantic in pieces to call it home. The fruit trees in the backyard flourished under the gentle supervision of my partner’s grandfather. His Pomeranians lovingly terrorized the neighbourhood with their puffy zing. This was a man I never met but imagine my husband to be like in many ways; I wish I had known him. The prominent family portraits on the walls proclaim the importance of family, of traditions. The recent Christmas nights I spent there, watching nature programs, chatting casually, enjoying cake and tea, I didn’t know how fondly I would remember those moments until now that they are firmly, gone.

An aspiring minimalist, I am punch drunk from witnessing the physical stuff of these flagging lives flashing before me – in bins to go to my parents’, the Salvation Army, the dump; in trucks to come to my house, or my uncle’s, or into storage.

For our part we have outfitted our current space – a rented nest in the Junction neighbourhood – with an appropriate number of our grandparents’ things. We’ve hung their art and replaced the environmentally questionable glue-and-chipboard dining set with their much nicer teak one.

Keeping these things feels right. They’re a tribute to the spaces they formerly inhabited, to the people who chose them, loved them, and lived there. And something to show our baby daughter when she asks about the great-grandparents she never got to know. She and her great-grandparents are ships passing, as the saying goes.

As for Toronto’s insane real estate market, the endless headlines that used to depress me are now amusing. I am no longer surprised when acquaintances relaunch their careers as realtors and developers. But these financial assets, these plaster, brick, wooden structures are also containers for our everything. Watching my family unload a century’s worth of history on anonymous strangers without so much as shaking hands feels, well, odd.

We’ve cleared the rooms like a film set after all the actors have gone home. But there is still something left in there. A shadow that can’t be scrubbed out. A lingering feeling, a late grandfather, left behind.

And so to the buyers of these homes I tell you: good and kind people lived here. There was a baby grand piano over there. My grandfather used to play on Sunday mornings while my grandmother went to church. His answer to religion perhaps. As you settle in with your boardgames and portraits and enmesh yourself with the wood, I tell you this: the late afternoon sunlight is glorious. Just lower your blinds if you want to protect your furniture. And don’t challenge the local ghost to Othello – she is crafty and she will win.

Surrender

I’m taking a refresher on how to write. Things like: tell an interesting story, have a conflict that gets resolved, include self-discovery. Be a little bit scared about each post.

J is always telling me to shake up my routine. As a way to shake up my thinking.  I look at baby F and think about all those neural pathways that have yet to be formed.

Actually, one unexpected benefit of baby F’s early wake ups is that all she wants is to get up at 6 am and play with her cup collection and edible book. So while she’s doing that  I’ve started meditating.

In other words, she forges neural pathways while I attempt to clear mine. Continue reading Surrender

%d bloggers like this: