Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Months

Dear Tootsie,

Three months is kind of a key milestone in not only a baby's development, but the development of parents, too.  Things just seem to get a little easier at twelve weeks.  I think it's partly because I just know you now.  You're not a fragile, unpredictable, all-life-consuming mystery (well, as much as you were).  And sleep typically gets better (longer), you hold your head up more steadily, and you like to be put down to play more often.

And dang it, you're just cuter.  Three-month-old babies smile, start cooing, and interact deliberately.  You offer these huge gummy grins to your sisters--particularly in the morning.

You have different relationships with each of your sisters.  Big Sis has a quieter energy, and you gaze at her reverently, smiling long and sweetly.  My guess is you will talk a lot with Big Sis.  Little Sis's exuberance and bouncy energy elicits wide-eyed happy faces from you, you're always game for her antics, and I suspect first laughs will be for her.

When you yawn your big long yawns, you make a cute noise right at the end.  When you want our attention, you yelp.  You take a while before you cry; I will give you that.  You're starting to coo and almost laugh.  When we stick out our tongues, you mimic us or grin.

You have a dangly toy on your playmat--an owl--whom you love to talk with and flirt.  It's so fun to watch.

You've pudged up--the only parts of you that aren't chubby are your fingers.  You're wearing 3-month clothes now, right on schedule.  It's because you love to eat.

You're not sleeping through the night as your sisters did by now.  I'll give you a little leeway, preemie.  Maybe by Thanksgiving?  Please?

You still have blue eyes.  Let's hold onto those! So many of your dearest fans have that in common with you.

I'm starting work next week, and it's going to be hard for me to leave you.  In so many ways we've been inseparable for three months (plus the seven you were inside), but then, during your first month, you spent a good bit of it in your isolette.  Still, I feel we are helplessly bonded, and your little eyes appear in my mind's eye whenever I'm away from you (which hasn't been for long!).

I have a feeling you'll reassure me it's all going to be okay, and your little life will be enriched, too, with exposure to different places and people.

Happy quarter-year, Toots!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seconds Guessing

There's a little thought that creeps into my mind occasionally and that thought is WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING.

It's more of a statement than a question.  I'm looking down at a Thanksgiving plate heaped with second helpings, and I'm darned lucky to have the bounty, but I'm wondering if I might have overdone it this round.

It remains to be seen if I need to slink off and hide and take a nap somewhere, if I feel like throwing up, or if my worrying is for naught, and after a brief bout of nausea, I rub my tummy and thank myself for going back for more.

What can I say?  I'm a big eater with a tendency to doubt myself.

Wide eyed but grateful.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ode to Woman Pushing Triple Jogging Stroller

With a dog on leash.  Running uphill.

Warrior Mama,
Undaunted by weight of stroller, babies, 
all you've left undone,
Stretch your arms of Sisyphean strength skyward
As if to say,
"I will have my time
And my health--
kids strapped in and dog leashed; I am
in charge--but
After this (sweating, grunting, thinking),
I am all yours

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sweet Roles

We all need something we do that helps us feel good about ourselves, don't we?

Well, duh.

I'm thinking about this a lot lately.  Working with students, who spend a good portion of their awake lives at school or involved in school, I've always been aware of the importance of there being something there--at school--that makes students feel proud, good, invested.  It sounds simple, but it can be a tall order, when we consider how many diverse types of students our schools aim to serve, and how relatively rigid our structures are.  Hence the importance of athletics, clubs, electives, the arts, career pathway courses, and advanced classes for students excited to delve deeper.  At a tender time when we can be introducing students to lifelong loves and pastimes--the activities that extend life and bring joy (gardening, yoga, chess, volunteerism)--we offer our youth so very little free time to pursue such passions.  Yet building foundations of understanding of what is fulfilling in one's life has the potential to dramatically change one's outlook on life, throughout life.  

So I see my forty-something pals understanding this and seeking out or finding and investing in new activities.  CrossFit.  Biking.  Writing.  Running.  Knitting and sewing.  Surfing.  Improv.  Cooking.  We're looking for that sweet spot--not recognition or accomplishment from anyone really but ourselves.   

I'm recognizing aspects of myself as I cope with some anxiety about heading back to work.  As much as I am worried about how I'll handle all my responsibilities, deep inside I know there's a part of me waiting to be re-fulfilled.  My work is something that makes me feel good about myself.  It's not the only thing that does--mothering and running and interacting and being creative also feed my soul and self esteem. And I've learned that I rely on a balance of roles and outlets to be a whole person.  So with one piece not in place, I'm a little off kilter.

I'm looking forward to reigniting the parts of me that teach, guide, care, and support--colleagues and other people's children. I know I'll be busier, I'll still be conflicted, but I think I will feel more balanced inside.  

What things are you doing that make you feel good about yourself and your place in this world?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Put She Down

I assumed that having another baby seven and a half years after my last would be easier--my two elder daughters would not only be largely independent, but helpful.  Both are true--Big and Little Sis have been making their own breakfasts, getting themselves organized in new and exciting ways, and holding and entertaining the baby, changing her diaper, and feeding her bottles.  One of them pushes the stroller while I push the grocery cart. It's awesome.

What I didn't anticipate was the jealousy.

When I was pregnant with Little Sis, my mom (mother of five, remember), warned me not to buy too much into fears of sibling rivalry.  If you anticipate it and talk about it, she suggested, you almost encourage it.  Just assume it will all be okay.  And it was--Big Sis loved her baby sister, and at two-and-a-half-years old, was mature enough to understand her little sister's needs most of the time.  There was one poignant moment when Big Sis needed something, and Baby Little Sis was crying, and in frustration and with recognition that she just wanted her Mama right then, she cried and implored me, "Put she down, Mommy!"  I remember my own tears as I lay Little Sis on the bed and hugged my firstborn.

My daughters are accustomed to having an active, energetic mother available on weekends for outings, projects, and attention.  In our former life, weekends were a blank canvas waiting for Fairy Festivals, hikes, swimming, family sailing, and cooking.  Tootsie's fragility, and the inappropriateness of her going on a boat or to the beach at this stage, has certainly affected our mojo.  During the first few weeks Tootsie and I were back, I cringed each time we had to say, "Sorry; we can't...because of the baby."  And yet, it was true, and I reminded them that this tender time would pass.

The girls are old enough to express quite articulately how they're feeling.  Big Sis will state hesitantly,  "I love her so much, Mom; I am so happy she's here.  But...I miss..."  And then there are moments of duress:  "I feel like you don't care about me anymore.  All you do is take care of the baby."  Little Sis grappled at first with being unthroned as the baby.  Lately though, because of her bold confidence in holding and carrying her baby sister, she has been subject to quite a bit of monitoring.  Our admonishments to "Be careful!" and "Watch out!" give an impression we're more concerned about the baby than about her, or that we don't trust her.  Meanwhile, Tootsie, still "primitive" with continual basic needs, is an apparent and immediate concern nearly all the time.  Even I am weary of saying, "Hold on; I need to feed the baby."

When Husband has been home on weekends, and he's taken the girls off for some skurfing or swimming, it's been my turn to feel a little left out.  I'm trying to think of our new life in terms of evolution versus sacrifice.  

This morning I hungered for a long snuggle with each of my gangly girls.

So we've made attempts for me to have one-on-one time with each of the girls, even for just 10 or 20 minutes.  We're having lots of conversations about our feelings (exhausting, I tell you!), and at the end of the day, I often feel I have four people (and a dog and fish) all needing me, with not enough Fer to go around.  When I return to work, I'll add the needs of school to the mix, but I will hopefully learn to compartmentalize.  School needs at school; home needs at home.

As Big Sis bonds and forms her own unique relationship with Tootsie, I feel the emotions shifting.  Little Sis continues to be an exuberant big sister and great help.  Husband is solid as a rock.  Tootsie's cheeks are growing chubbier.  We're doing all right.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Life in the Death Division

One of the awesome things about Boston (and I could make quite a list, including, of course, Mass General Hospital, the hotel which used to be a jail next door, J.P.Licks, the Commons and Public Garden, the colleges, the Greenway, the islands...I'll just stop there for now) is that everything is so darned easy to get to (unless you're stuck in traffic in a car).  There are buses, subways, trains, bikes and cars you can borrow, and the city is walkable.

A field trip I needed to complete before I left my temporary east coast home was to visit City Hall to pick up Tootsie's birth certificate.  City Hall was not far from the hospital, nestled among historic buildings I'd already strolled past.  I invited my sister for the momentous occasion, which we scheduled between feedings the week before Tootsie's discharge.

Boston City Hall, particularly in comparison with the lovely buildings with which it shares its setting, is not cute.  It's blocky and grotesque, built in the 60s and with controversial reception to this day, I've learned.

The inside is no more welcoming, unfortunately, and when you're a government building, you don't really have that going for you anyway.  Add a lot of concrete, dark spaces, and little color, and now we are even more depressed to be conducting Official and Bureaucratic business.

I have a tendency at the DMV or passport office or court buildings to really try and take in all the details, check out the decor, observe the people.  There's something both foreign and universal about government buildings.  I mean, each country has its peculiarities, as Kenya had photos of the president in every room (and lots of posters of kittens), but I could swear that we are all using the same pens and file cabinets, circa 1967.  I wind up both saddened and heartened by the bleak surroundings--so many stations, plain desks, piles of paper, rubber stamps, staplers, file baskets and cabinets.  Everything is in muted colors, including the paint, the worn carpeting or linoleum, and the employees' clothes.  Except the omnipresent fluorescent lights.  At least, I think, we are not wasting taxpayer money on new or fancy stuff!

At the Birth Division at Boston City Hall we first stood in line at  one window to make the birth certificate request, filling out names on a quartered piece of paper (more economy if not technology!) with a golf pencil.  We were then directed around the corner to wait in line to pay at another window, where we received directions to take our receipt to a third window for the actual certificates.  While I was in line I had time to examine the interior of the Birth Division.  I spotted shelves and shelves of binders organized by birth year, holding, I presumed, all the names of people born in Boston since they started keeping track.  And not much else, though I bet there was a microfiche machine or two lurking nearby.

Behind the woman at the third window I spotted a single plant on a filing cabinet--a dying philodendron--in a 90s-style plastic insulated coffee mug with a worn logo.  I nudged my sister and raised my eyebrows and tilted my head in the direction of the sad horticulture.  "Isn't that just a perfect symbol for this soulless place?" I asked.

We grinned wryly and turned toward the Birth Division's next-door neighbor, the Death Division. We both took in the long rows of filing cabinets and shelves, but atop them for as wide as the banks of furniture stretched was a veritable jungle of plants of all kinds, growing curiously well under the artificial lights.  We turned to each other in unison, the same surprised and gleeful look on our faces.  So much life in the Death Division!  Who knew.  And what a contrast.

What's the lesson is in this little account?  I'm not sure exactly.  Maybe it's that we ought to do our best to beautify our surroundings, for everyone's sakes. Maybe it's that death and sadness deserve beauty--and not the artificial-foliage kind.  The kind of beauty that comes from real effort and an acknowledgment that some loveliness in a workplace (or anywhere, really) can bring some joy into the weekday grind, and offer solace to someone on a grim errand.  Perhaps the Birth Division shouldn't take the joy for granted, either.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I think it's safe to say that I've been feeling out of control. Since, say, January 11 or so, perhaps.  As a strategy to exert control over the things that seem to be spinning, I will make a tidy little controlled list of all the factors contributing to my feeling of general entropy:

1.  New baby.

2.  New baby, born far away and early, necessitating a six-week stay away from home in Boston.

3.  A new home I moved back into a month ago, where un-unpacked boxes remained piled in many rooms upon my return.

4.  A new job, which I haven't even tried out yet.

5.  A new lifestyle and new roles and challenges at home.

6.  New childcare arrangements to be made, new routines and logistics to figure out.

7.  New bills:  diapers, medical, daycare.

My brain wakes up at 5AM and starts cycling through things I feel I need to get ahead of...and I am awake, though my baby is sleeping and I don't need to practice getting up for work, making bottles and lunches, pumping, taking a shower, breastfeeding...yet.

So I should relax.

I started seeing a therapist/counselor/wise woman.  For the first time.  It's pretty great, though I do a lot of crying.  I cry because I know I am going to talk about stuff.  I cry out of relief.

I mean, if you know me at all, you know I cry.  But the last couple of months have really exercised my tear ducts.  I'm looking forward to a dry spell sometime soon, as long as it doesn't mean I'm not feeling anything.

This week my counselor suggested I take my list of things stressing me out and take care of the things I can control.  Childcare arrangements, for example.  It's such a simple strategy:  list the stressors, start managing them.  But I was busy wallowing in the stressors, letting them quicksand me into overwhelm.

Most of my anxiety is about going back to work.  And most of my anxiety about going back to work has to do with the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be, on time, and doing it right (not driving a starving, sobbing baby and two sisters to piano practice in rush-hour traffic, for example).  I worry about having enough time for everyone, and for my job and the people I serve in my job.

I worry a little about this job, of principal, which I haven't done yet.  And it's not exactly waiting for me...wheels are turning, stories are unfolding, other people are capably leading, and decisions are being made.  My first day of school as new principal will be a midstream day for others.  I'll be behind.  By the nature of my late start, I'll be a meddler; I'll fumble; I'll step on toes.  I'll duplicate and omit and not know what others already know.  I'll wonder if I'm being helpful.  I'll hope I'm still worthy.

It's going to be interesting.

What is also going to be interesting is the journey of the next month, as I try to drown out the white noise of what I've convinced myself needs to be done, and focus on the essentials:  my people.  Myself.    Things are already less fuzzy.  My stomach hurts less.  The nervous energy is dissipating.  My appetite is returning.

Tootsie is helping by sleeping well at night, getting up only once in the middle of the last two nights.  So I'm less tired too.

Deep breaths.