Sunday, September 29, 2013

2 Months!

You're two months old today, Tootsie!

I told a friend that even though you're only two months old, it feels as if you've been around much longer. Your "adjusted" preemie age is a week and a half, and you weighed eight pounds at your last appointment on the 25th.  You're getting big, but you're perfect size for a newborn.

As we predicted, you began crying a little more when you reached your due date, and you're starting to be awake more often.  And you're smiling!  So gratifying to see that happy little face.

In terms of imperfections--or enhancements--you have a herniated umbilicus, which means you have the outiest belly button ever (it's even visible in the photo above--see that bump in the midsection to the left of your buttons?)!  You also have a stork bite--or angel kiss--between your eyes, a sweet little red mark. We'll see how long those distinctions last.

You're still the gruntiest, growliest, squeaky-squawkiest baby in the west (who was born in Boston).  You make an awesome one-note squall when you're trying to get our attention.  You look like you're going to roll over soon, and when you do tummy time, you kick like a mule and then protest.

Your eyes are still blue!

You've lost a little hair at your forehead but have a healthy crop in the back.

People ask me if you're on a schedule.  Nope, not really.  You don't torture us at night, but we never know what's coming.

Heck, we didn't know when you were coming!  You've stirred up a whole lot of emotions, Caboose, but how we love you.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Last night was Wednesday, which means no soccer practice, no piano lessons, no regular appointments for anyone.  We even ditched weekly Wednesday Family Beercan Sailing Night because we recognized our limits, and as Big Sis put it, "Mom, we need at least one night off."  Amen, Sister.  And she's not even a teenager.

So Wednesdays are rather fun right now, especially while I am not working.  We have time for stuff other than homework and a hurried dinner.  We talk.  We read books.  We make one another laugh (last night it was over watching Husband try to discreetly choke down his spinach).

We had enough free time last night for some reflection, too, and Big Sis led the charge.  Since her birthday in late August, which she anticipated with excitement, she has mourned being ten.  She would rather be five and carefree, it turns out, with more time for more creative endeavors and cuddling and dress ups, etc.  She looks on at my snuggle time with Tootsie with envy and sadness.  Her nostalgia and sense of loss are very familiar to me. Sorry, kid; that inclination to fondly, and often poignantly, recall sweeter, simpler times appears to be genetic.

And then she admitted she misses our old house, expressing longing for the cozy smallness of our bungalow.  We knew this already.  Her "own" bedroom is downstairs, which feels far away and alone, as our rooms are upstairs.  She's been sleeping with Little Sis, which is more than fine by (nostalgic) me. We are still adjusting, and we're nesting in a smaller portion of our home as a result, all five of us sharing two bedrooms for now.  We will have this house for a while, I say.  We can take all the time we need to grow into it.

But the house has given us all pause.  It's the easy target for my anxiety, a material example of the chaos I imagine around me in my new life:  boxes unpacked, pictures unhung, more square footage  unclean and unorganized.  I can relax, I imagine, if I just have the stuff put away, the house put together.

The canyon backyard, which I'd viewed as romantically magic and fairy-filled, has the specter of cat-killing coyotes haunting it.

But this afternoon Big Sister had a friend over who toured our house and declared, "this place is cool."  Soon all three girls were out exploring the canyon, breathless with excitement about the new frontier and paths they'd discovered. Her friend offered just the perspective Big Sis needed.

And when I listen carefully I hear the perspectives I need, too.  The novel I finished today reminds its readers that one can't care too deeply about others, and that we owe one another generosity and forgiveness.  My sister-in-law snuggles her baby next to me as I snuggle mine, mirroring the deep satisfaction of wholly enveloping another little life.  A fellow principal, also out on maternity leave for the beginning of her school year, replies to my email reaching out, "We can do this!" about being both mothers and principals.

We hurdled Hump Day, and maybe a few more bumps in the road this week, too.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seasons of Love

My husband's sister, my sister-in-law, died yesterday, just over a year after being diagnosed with glioblastoma.  Glioblastoma is a mean, insidious, and voracious cancer of the brain, robbing its victims of their personalities in its final stages.  Our niece moved her mother into her apartment to care for her, and then after several rounds of hospitalizations, back home with her to die.  My sweet, strong, too young, indomitable niece whose mother was too young too, at 53.  

The day before yesterday, Big Sis insisted on going to say goodbye to her auntie and to lend her support to her cousin whom she adores and views as a role model.  She wasn't to be deterred despite our misgivings.  Big Sis has been her own tornado of emotions all summer, missing her mom while I was away, missing her mom since I've been back, feeling at every sad turn the weight of the world. For her cousin to have to live on without her mom felt inconceivable to her, and Big Sis needed to tell her that she had faith in her.  So Husband took her to our niece's apartment for an important moment of fellowship.  

And last night Husband was with our niece and his sister when she died.  

My baby Tootsie will be Big Sis's age, a tender ten years old, when I'm 53.  

I know of another cancer-stricken mom who will soon be gone, with her too-young children and husband preparing for that eventuality.  How does she prepare?  I do not know.

I remember walking with my mom and Tootsie at Harvard in August as the freshman class was arriving and moving into dorms.  "Welcome Class of 2017," read a banner.  I calculated Tootsie's potential college graduation year:  2035.  I said it aloud.  My mom might not be here then, I thought, wondering if she was thinking the same, as we both walked silently two decades in the future for a moment.  

I could feel selfish, or foolish, for having this baby at 42.  Or I could quit counting the days or time over which I have so little control, as my sister-in-law teaches me. I've been making Time too much of an enemy of late.  I have too little time left before my maternity leave, my Tootsie Time, is over.  I had too little time with my daughters this summer.  I'll have too little time for everything when I return to work.  I have lists and projects and dreams...and I haven't been to Montana nor the Grand Canyon with my daughters yet...but there may not be enough time.  

But there's time enough for Now, my niece teaches me.  I'm learning there's no way to be content in this life while regretting what might not be, what cannot be, grasping at sand slipping through fingers, a fumbling which requires so much frantic energy it doesn't allow for the feel of grit and warmth and the sound of laughter and expressions of those loved ones with whom I sift sand every day.  

Tonight at a wedding shower I listened and laughed as two twenty/thirty-something granddaughters chided their grandpa for fibbing to another (young, female) guest.  So much love.  Such a here-and-now celebration. 

Here and now.  I'm going to work on appreciating the gift of the present, along with the gifts of the loved ones we've lost too soon.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

List: Baby Musings

1.  In terms of miles (of sleep) per gallon (of milk), our baby is more Hummer than Prius.

2.  We need a device that helps our baby sleep in her bed, something that simulates being held and/or rocked.  They don't manufacture faux warm arms, though, and I'm afraid to google the words that will help me find what I'm looking for..."soothing," "vibrate"...

3.  We have a wee baby who makes gigantic growling and grunting sounds.

4.  There's nothing graceful about pumping breastmilk.

5.  When our baby cries or gets ready to, her eyes look just like the emoticon of scrunchy eyes and waily mouth.  Kind of cracks me up.

6.  Tootsie still has "preemie head":  long from nose to back of head and narrow from the front, because of sleeping on her side.  They told me in the NICU to round it out by placing her on her back to sleep (of course), but she turns her head to the side.  She is going to need to spend a lot more time in her carseat to round things out.

7.  She's growing out of newborn clothes!  But not newborn behaviors.

8.  I predicted when she reached her due date she would start crying more...I was right.  She's debuting as a regular baby.

9.  So much about parenting has to do with surrender.

10.  "It's my last baby" is my hidden, guilty excuse...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Born Day

I have the cutest profile shadow!
Dear Tootsie,

Today is the day I hoped you would be born, Friday the 13th, 9/13/13.  I would be 39 weeks, one week shy of my due date, and we'd have a planned c-section.  We talked our way around the idea of having your birth on such an in auspicious day by deciding we would make every Friday the 13th a celebration of a most lucky day.  But July 30th turned out to be luckier! Who knew our little September girl would be a July baby?  You're already over six weeks old and over six-and-a-half pounds (big enough that it's hard to imagine fitting you back inside me!). You're on the verge of smiling.  You make lots of noises:  grunting, squeaking, sleepy coos and ooh and ahhs, rarely crying but making determined squawks to get our attention.

Your eyes look blue.  Of course, that could change.  But we're hoping you have the eyes of your Dad, your Grandma Shirley, and your aunts and uncles.

Your dad is so charmed by you he wrote me a text midday yesterday that read, "Isn't our baby rad?"  Indeed.  And so are your big sisters.

We're so glad you're here (already).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Too Blessed to Be Stressed

I can conjure up a healthy dose of anxiety when change is on the horizon, and I tend to stress out a little in anticipation of transitions.  I forget, for example, at the end of each summer, how I handle the logistics of work and family life during the school year, and imagine that it will be harder than ever this time.  And then the year starts, and what do you know?  I'm coping.  We're okay.  I'm busy, we're bustling, but we make time for family dinners and there are moments of hilarity amidst the homework and driving to and from lessons and practices.  Over the years I've learned I do this, cyclically:  stress out and then figure it out.

But an undertow is tugging at me again.  Call it what you will: the Baby Blues or mild Post-Partum Depression.   I just know it knocks me on my knees most unhelpfully.  I felt it with Big Sis--the joy and in-love-ness, coupled with an inexplicable weepiness and recognition of my own vulnerability.  Why did I feel this way?  Many kind friends would ask me, "Isn't this the most joyous time of your life?" Yes, absolutely!  My father, no stranger to the hormonal flux of postpartum emotions, explained that my feelings were helping create the bond that would have me throw myself in front of a train in defense of my newborn.  I found that oddly comforting.   And I eventually emerged unscathed and determined to interact with mothers of newborns differently from then on:  "No, how are you, really?"  Just in case someone else felt similarly.

Ten years later here I am with the baby I yearned for.

In the hospital, in the NICU, in Boston, my emotions had objects:  stressful circumstances, sick baby, unfamiliar and unexpected setting.  Separation from my girls and husband and dog.

But now I'm home, reunited and back in my nest.  And still I find myself wide-eyed wondering why I'm not deeply at peace.

Beyond the clarity of purpose in holding, feeding, staring, talking and smiling at my baby and hugging my girls and husband, my mind zig zags, loops the loop:  making to-do lists, questioning itself, worrying.

There's a new job waiting for me, a Big Job, which I haven't even done yet, but know I can do.  It's the Life + Job that I wonder about, that uncharted territory that I think about each morning when I wake, planning how I'll drop off and pick up and breastfeed and pump and raise my baby and help with homework and cook and do laundry and attend evening meetings and athletic events and dances...and sleep.

And then Guilt, the hair shirt that accompanies bad feelings, bristles my sensitive skin.  I'm "too blessed to be stressed," after all; let me count the ways:  my baby is healthy.  I am raising a thriving, happy family and am married to an incredibly supportive partner.  I have a wonderful new house and job.  I have tons of love and assistance--TONS.  And let me tell you, I know some people who should be crying!  I know some folks going through tough life-and-death stuff, so what is my problem? I ask myself.  There's Syria, and poverty, and depravity, and it's even the anniversary of 9/11, and I'm at home on maternity leave holding a sweet, milky-smelling baby.  Maybe my body needs to plow a field; my mind needs something really serious to focus on.  Could Post-Partum Blues be a first-world problem?

"You're not in charge," the nurse practitioner tells me at my six-week postpartum appointment.  "You can't control this, just as if you had a broken leg or sore throat."  She offers an elixir, with its side effects and promises of relief.  And I hear her, but I want to be the body surfer to this wave, plunging through the whitewash, wave and I both winning and losing, but I, emerging and whipping hair from my face with a triumphant grin.

I'm certain I can get there, and I know the lifeguards are watching.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Behind the Photo Shoot

It was a long shot (ha!) from the start:  scheduling a family photo shoot the day after first soccer games and a sleepover at our house, during a heat wave and amidst our Adjustment Time.  Husband was all in, though:  he wanted a family photo to use for cards for the countless thank yous we will write to our dear friends who have been feeding us, gifting us, cheering us.  Meanwhile the girls scowled at the long-sleeved black shirts and jeans I set aside for them.  They scowled in general.  It had been a rough morning of sibling rivalry and poor attitudes.

Except not really that rough, unless you acknowledge that sleepovers turn children into ugly, whiny, irrational shells of their former selves.  Big Sis was in full throes of Sleepover Detox:  Crying,  bemoaning her pitiful self.  I had little sympathy, having endorsed her sleepover and next-morning pedicures and endured little sleep, myself.

We adopted the Get With the Program approach:  You will go, and you will smile and you will Do This because we are asking you to and it's about Family and Knock It Off, for the love of all things holy.  She and her red-rimmed eyes trudged into the car, and we apologetically showed up on our photographer/friend's doorstep.  She was glad to see we were not perfect, after all, as our marketing director suggests.  The girls commenced having trouble sharing the same space right away, what with one of them touching the other accidentally.  I could tell by Husband's frozen jawline it would be a long afternoon.

Tootsie took stage first, though, and was marginally cooperative herself, squirming and hiding her eyes behind her little hands, versus curling up in sweet sleep like the babies in the pictures adorning the walls of the studio.  She paused for one bottle and a breastfeeding top-off as well as some gnawings on her binky before our photographer could cajole her into some relaxed positions.

Thank you to Melissa of Just Hatched Photography!

Next came the photos with the girls.  There were some dorky grins and fake smiles, but the magic came when Tootsie was in the arms of a sister and they were directed to look at her.  No more fighting and dirty looks, just pure love and adoration.  Thankfully caught on film.  Husband and I joined them and we pulled off some Wholesome Family Togetherness too.

It's the whole Facebook thing, right?  The images we project can be deceiving.  Our photos are lovely and capture our love for one another and our closeness.  But in any family, and certainly in ours lately, there's exhaustion, frustrations, emotions across the spectrum burbling underneath.  So I'm capturing the outtakes.

We survived intact, and Big Sis was even inching toward her cheerier self by the time we left.  Until she bonked her head on the car door...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School

Yesterday was the last first day of elementary school our eldest two will share, their first day of 5th and 2nd grades.  We had our traditional walk to school, this time from our new house and with Tootsie in tow.

It was a little bittersweet; the girls and I only had a few days of summer together before school started, and they weren't completely ready to leave their baby sister and me behind. On the other hand, Fun Summer Mom On the Go was not the mom who came home from Boston.  She was replaced by Breastfeeding Mom of a Preemie, less likely to be beach- and pool-bound.  So maybe heading back to school now wasn't terrible timing. 

Except Tootsie and I found it awfully quiet at home.

As usual, my own school's Back-to-School Night fell on the same day as the girls' first day of school. And I decided to make an appearance and address the parents in the theatre at the beginning (not without a little anxiety, mind you), so I was gone when they got home from school.  It was both strange and good to be back at my other home, school.  We all came home from piano and soccer for a late dinner (provided by a generous friend) and shared stories from the first day.  

At her first California checkup last Friday, our baby girl tipped the scales at 5lbs15oz, weight gain of six ounces since she was last weighed in Boston on Monday!  She appears to be thriving in our custody.

I'm adjusting to a house of people to take care of (versus just a baby in the NICU), busy schedules, and a big house we are still moving into.  I'm trying not to wonder how I'll manage it all when I return to work.  But I can't help it, a little.  Hopefully the transition will feel a little easier every day.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Faeries and Family

Last night was some enchanted evening.

My parents invited us and my brother and his wife and baby to join them for their standing Friday night sushi date on the bay.  It was a hot day which gave way to a balmy evening, golden orange pre-sunset light absorbed by passing sails and then a spectacular sunset against distant thunderheads.

My father brought a special bottle of brut rose to share.  Big and Little Sis dressed up for the occasion.  The sushi chef, accustomed to my parents' tastes, sent a variety of rolls and salads.  We talked about parenting, about family, about turning 10, about how lucky we all are.

Right before we left, Little Sis focused her gaze on the lamp above our table on the walkway outside. "Loooook!" she exclaimed in reverence.  "Fairies!"  We all watched as tiny fluttering winged nymphs dived and circled near the light.  Little Sis couldn't stop staring.  I promised her we'd draw the fairies later to always remember the scene.

We drove home to the Indigo Girls, sisters signing "Come on Home" and "Song of Devotion" and we vowed to go to their concert next summer.  Big Sis told me how when I was in the hospital the sisters sang to each other at bedtime.

At home we rendezvoused on our bed as I fed Tootsie.  Little Sis snuggled in, a little teary all of a sudden, admitting she doesn't feel like my baby anymore: "I don't feel like I'm one...and I liked being little."  I pulled in her long legs and summer-bigger body as Big Sis confessed that her waves of tears the day before were because she wasn't sure she was ready to be 10.

I told them about Sandra Cisneros' essay "Eleven."  I explained that the girl in the story is eleven but feels all the ages underneath sometimes, too:

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay.

I shared that I can see and remember every age they've ever been and understand wanting to be littler, younger, less grown up, too.

We all had a few tears. Our lives have changed--tiny baby is a wonderful disruption but an interruption nonetheless, one that made it easier for Dad and Big Sis to go paddleboarding this morning without me--a reality I had accepted earlier.

As sleepiness settled in and Tootsie finished feeding, we snuggled up with Tootsie on Big Sis's chest. A few big tears of joy sneaked out of the corners of Big Sis's eyes. "This is the best feeling," she whispered. "Thank you, Mom."