Weaning -44 of 100

I have to start weaning James.

Like just about everything to do with motherhood, breastfeeding and my feelings about it have completely caught me off guard. I wanted to breastfeed, but mostly because the world was yelling at me: Breast is best! I thought breastfeeding toddlers was a little weird and that I would for sure for sure be done with it by a year.

The early months of breastfeeding did nothing to change my mind about any of it. My boobs were so engorged when my milk came in that they felt like helmets; they were about five times the size of James’s head. It seemed absurd when James would open his tiny mouth to reach for them: a little mouse trying to suckle from a boulder. On the advice of my midwives, I used a nipple shield for a little while and then I began to worry (thanks to Google) that I was fucking things up forever and ever amen.

Not to mention that at the beginning you are literally nursing ALL THE TIME. Like epic 30-45 minute feeds every hour and a half. I remember thinking: Will I ever do anything ever again besides hold this helpless creature to these ridiculously enormous ta-ta’s? In the middle of the night, dazed, I would have visions of those slaves on oar ships. Pull. Pull. Just endless rowing under the sun, salt water sores, etc. Will it ever end?!

I got a breast pump, hoping one day, I might have three hours to go do something instead of one.

But things got better. James would rainbow his little hand over my chest while he nursed. He needed me a little less. We got better at it. I completely gave up caring if anyone saw my boob.

Plus, good things started to happen. I mean, every new mom deserves to burn 500 calories a day sitting on her couch. Breastfeeding flooded my brain with oxytocin. New moms need that too. To remember, you know, that they love this wailing, limp, pooping, most-demanding human.

Once he was on solids, the whole situation was actually very reasonable. I fed him four times a day and usually once at night. I love this time with James. Running my fingers through his crazy hair. Scooping up his hands in mine. Or he’ll put his fingers in my mouth and we’ll smile at each other.

Today I leafed through Operating Instructions to find this quote which so perfectly describes how I feel about breastfeeding at this exact moment:

“Part of me wants my body back, wants to stop being moo-cow, and part of me thinks about nursing him through kindergarten. I know a woman who nursed her daughter until the girl was almost four, and of course we all went around thinking that it was a bit much, too Last Emperor for our blood. But now when Sam and I are nursing, it crosses my mind that I will never be willing to give this up. It’ll be ok, we can get it to work, I’ll follow him to college but I’ll stay totally out of the way…

This is the easiest, purest communication I’ve ever known.”

Indeed, it feels like a secret language – and yet, of course, it is not a secret. It is the universal language of mothers and children everywhere, of all mammals.

I think about how our bodies have been connected for 17 months now. My body has devoted itself to him – has given him life.

And how I have appreciated the power of the boob – to soothe him when nothing else will. What the hell am I going to do when this is gone? I sometimes think.

But the time is coming. I have to go back to work, which means I have to cut the daytime feeds.

The first day I tried to cut one, he lost his mind and I had to relent. The second went better. But I can tell it’s sensitive. We sit in our old nursing chair and read a book and have a snack and I bury my nose in his hair, brush his head with kisses. He doesn’t understand – of course, I can’t explain it to him, which kills me.

I have to cut the next. I have to be done done by April because I am going away.

I am mostly grateful. Grateful I could nurse him at all – and for so long.

And I am sad. I am sad that that our bodies are parting. Soon, we will speak to each other with words. I’ll be able to explain things to him, reason with him, bargain with him.

I know I will long for it. Our secret, silent language.

(P.S. This quote from Operating Instructions really took me back and made me howl: “I just can’t get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat.”)

My beater jeans have died and other stories. 43 of 100

Here’s a list of random things:

1. We went skiing last weekend with friends. We waited up at the summit for this back bowl section to open. We hiked up a ridge and at the top looked down into at least ankle deep untouched powder. It was like floating. On a cloud. Over a mountain. At the bottom, there we were, surrounded by these peaks, blue sky, white snow. Skiing’s always fun, but when you get those moments of euphoria, you’re like. Yes. This is why people are so bananas over this sport.

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Cindy skiing into the blue and white abyss

We made fondue and drank way too much wine. We tried to make Dan sing Journey.

In the morning, James woke up at 6 and I read to him quietly in bed while Dan snoozed next to us (apparently, there had been some whisky at some point). James reached over and started pawing Dan’s cheek. “Give him a kiss, James” I said. And James leaned over and kissed his daddy’s cheek. Dan grinned with his eyes closed. James did it again and again and again. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.

2. I know why we all thought our moms were crazy: because motherhood makes you cray cray. I behave in the role of mother as I never have in any aspect of my previous life: paranoid, neurotic, anxious, irrational, (not to mention, usually un-showered – why would I spend precious nap time showering when I could be writing here and googling things? You really want to know what mat leave looks like? I’m not usually one for selfies, but here you go you lucky ducks:)

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Pretty glamorous, eh?

Sometimes I can see that Dan looks at me and thinks: Who is that and where did my well-groomed, laid-back, free-spirited wife go?!

But there’s so much to worry about. Is he getting protein, carbs, healthy fats, eating every fruit and vegetable known to man and every vitamin in the alphabet? Did he sleep for 13.2 hours (or whatever) today? Is he warm enough? Happy enough? Loved enough?

As hard as it all seems sometimes, I also fully understand how basic James’s needs are right now. Food, sleep. Love. It’s all just going to get so much more complex as time goes on (…and so too will my craziness).

I’m sure momma grizzlies were the sweetest live-and-let-live kind of ladies before those cubs came along.

3. My beater jeans have died and it’s devastating. Every person needs this pair of jeans: the ones that are cute enough to make you feel good about yourself, but crappy enough that you won’t feel too bad when holes appear in multiple places – as happened to me this weekend. It’s the sentimental value. I’ve been through some shit (literally) with these jeans.

4. The mother guilt is different than I thought it would be. I’d heard about it, of course. But what I’ve discovered is that it comes even with dropping your kid into someone’s care for an hour or two. It comes with looking at your sweet little baby that you couldn’t love more and thinking: Could you just. Go away. For like, three minutes? Or worse, while they are wailing and your patience starts to run thin, you think: What if I just put you in the crib and went for a little walk? You’d probably be terrified, but ok, right? I feel guilty when I’d rather be running, writing, reading, etc.

The mother guilt comes with wanting to do anything other than mothering.

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5. You really get in tune with your neighborhood on mat leave. There’s a lady across the street that sits on her front porch and smokes like all day. No matter the weather. Minus 15 out there, no problem. I always wonder if she looks at me hoisting the stroller down the stairs and wonders about us like we wonder about her. She’s this funny touchstone – every time I’m leaving or arriving or just gazing out the window I look for her.

A house is going up next door. An apartment complex across the street by the park. The workers always give a wave to James.

James and I sit at the window sometimes (in the summer, the stoop) and just watch the cars go by. “What do you see, James?” I ask him. Of course, I know what he sees. But I wonder what he notices. He’s always so content to watch.

4. I’m always looking at James thinking You’re getting so big, baby. It seems like only yesterday he was this frail squalling infant. In the early days, I remember looking at six-month and 12-month clothes and thinking: Preposterous! He’ll never be that big. (I still feel that way about the 18-month clothes we have kicking around.) I keep having to remind myself that in the course of things, James is still very small. A year from now. Five years from now. Ten. I’ll look at the 12-month clothes and think: Wait? Was he really this tiny?

5. He’s such a silly nut these days. Our house has become an obstacle course, with endless nooks to explore and things to pull apart. I know I should stop him sometimes, but he’s just curious. And it makes me laugh. He’s getting so playful, hiding behind things, wanting you to chase him while he crawls, squealing. Sometimes we’ll just look at each other and burst out laughing. He’ll hold up books for you to read to him. He has ideas and opinions. Yesterday, we were looking out the window and he just crawled into my arms and popped his thumb in his mouth.

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6. I wish I could bottle the way it is when we put him down. The way he snuggles his blanket and sucks his thumb and rests his head on your shoulder to listen to you sing a made-up lullaby. The way his little hand will sometimes reach for your hand or your cheek or your mouth. His soft, warm cheek against yours while his breath fills your ear and his hair brushes your lips.

Everything falls away.

I’m quite sure we could solve most of the world’s problems if we could all experience this once a day for a few minutes.

This fragile, precious life in your arms.

This most essential thing.

This love.

 

 

 

 

This. 42 of 100

It’s been bitterly cold – like boogers-freezing-in-your-nose, the-air-is-making-me-hack up-a-lung cold. Definitely too cold to take the baby outside cold. A week of that can make you feel pretty cooped up (particularly with an antsy 10-month old).

On Sunday, we were listening to the radio forecast another day of -15 degrees in Calgary when they said: “And minus 5 in Banff.’ (That celsius for all you Americanos out there – 23 fahrenheit).

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Minus 5? That’s nuthin! Dan and I looked each other with Let’s-get-the-F-out-of-here eyes. Dan got the baby ready while I threw dinner into the slow cooker and BAM. We hit the road. James slept the entire way (for all those who have not experienced excruciating carseat screams that make you feel like you are torturing your child, I’d just like you to take a moment and understand what a great gift from on high this is).

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We grabbed sandwiches and started up the Tunnel Mountain trail which brought us snow-covered trees and sweeping Banff views. Sometimes winter takes on an enchanted feeling. James got pretty cold near the top and screamed pretty much the whole way down, but we recovered with some boob time and snacks.

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Chairs just waiting for us at the top.

Then we went to the hot springs. As soon as I waded in with little J, a wonderstruck grin crossed his face. I twirled him this way and that and he burst into this deep throated laugh he’s recently developed–it’s like he’s so overjoyed that he can’t catch his breath and his face scrunches into this wider-than-the-world smile.

We ran back and forth and James giggled and giggled. It was only 15 minutes but it felt like a lifetime.

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What you can’t see here is James having a complete meltdown and me feeling like a terrible mother. It really was pretty though!

This morning, my friend sent me a Brain Pickings essay (you guys: Brain Pickings!) about the memoir When Breath Becomes Air – a neurosurgeon facing death. His message to his infant daughter:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Sated feels like such a quiet word for the joy he describes, but, yes. “A joy that does not hunger for more.” “An enormous thing.” 15 minutes. My whole life. Scuttling around that warm water with James’s deep throated giggles rising with the steam.

I kept thinking:

THIS. This this this this.

#41

Ok Friends, I had a lot of trepidation about posting this one. It just seems so…hmmm…dramatic?  I’ve just been in a funk, you know? But in the interest of living up to my goal of posting once a week, here it is.  

Some day when James is older, I will tell him how when he was being a fussy little bean, we would call him a wiener.

“Stop being such a wiener, James!” we’ll say. Or “We should have named you James Wiener England.” I know, I know: We’re the worst.

But really, the other day, James was being a wiener. He was up at 5. He spit out his food at breakfast. He was cranky. Etc.

Dan and I were getting to the end of our respective ropes. I had planned to make an involved dinner but the thought of spending an hour in the kitchen made me want turn to stone.

Vietnamese? I begged of Dan (and believe me, when it comes to Vietnamese, Dan does not need much convincing).

Our neighbourhood joint is closed, so I thought I would drive to what I call “the good place” because it the best fucking Vietnamese I have ever tasted in my LIFE.

The 30 minute drive would give me a 30  minute break + a hassle free dinner. Win – win.

So on my way, I turned on Radiolab – an episode entitled “Cathedral“. It’s about a man who creates a video game–That Dragon, Cancer–based on his experience having a son with terminal cancer. The idea comes to him after he spends the night at the hospital with his son – who, dehydrated, cries and cries and wails and nothing the father does consoles the poor little boy. Finally, the dad prays. And the baby stops crying.

The dad says it felt to him like this game – where you think you are in control, but you’re not.

You have no control.

Of course, I wept all the way home with our delicious Vietnamese sitting on the car floor next to me. And wrapped James up in my arms as soon as I got home.

But I have to admit I’ve felt haunted for weeks now by these truths: how little control we have over things. (Like no matter how much I love James or do my best to do right by him, I can’t make his life perfect or protect him forever.) The inevitability of death. Why? Why are these things I’ve always known suddenly like two heavy weights on my shoulders that I just can’t shake?

On Monday I felt so down that I made a list of the things I need more of in my life. I wrote down exercise. And girl time. On Tuesday I went to a spin class with a new girlfriend and almost passed out on that stupid bike, but I went goddamn it.

Then David Bowie and Alan Rickman died this week.

I thought about the art that comes from grief. Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland. The videogame.

I thought about how our local Vietnamese place is closed because the owner’s mother-in-law is very old and sick. The owner is ALWAYS at the restaurant. He told Dan this will be his first vacation in eight years. And it is to go back to Vietnam to see his mother-in-law before she dies.

And I read this article in the NY Times about how contemplating your demise can actually make you happier – because you think about how you gotta make it count.

And yeah: What beautiful thing would I make if I knew the end was near? (And why aren’t I making it now?)

I also thought about Inside Out – and how the emotion Joy suddenly realizes the importance of Sadness. And how it’s possible that Joy and Sadness can exist in the space…and make an experience more important.

This week, I keep having this vision of lighting one of those floating candles and sending it down a river. Or one of those lanterns you send up to the sky. I see and I think:  there it is. Now, let it go.

 

This side of things. 40 of 100.

Well, I just dropped James off at his dayhome for the first time. He woke up from his nap and he fussed and fussed and I swooped him into the car and drove him there. He seemed ok as I closed the door and now I am here all alone in the house – no noise but the heat kicking through the vent. No threat of a waking baby to interrupt me. I could go take a nap. I could take a bath. I could read a book. Go for a run.

Yesterday was not a great day for me. James has been waking up at 5 a.m. for going on a week and I’m just plain tired.

There’s always a bit of a come down from being around many loving adults to help me out with James. That lonely feeling settles back in. I feel inadequate. I work like a madwoman to make him smile and giggle. I have no one to absorb my frustrations when he won’t eat the food I prepared or when he whines, when he takes a short nap or sit down so I can do, well, anything.

At the end of the day, Dan kept saying “you’re so patient, you’re so patient.” But I wasn’t patient. I wanted to crawl into bed and close the door FOR THE ENTIRE DAY.

Motherhood is crazy – the way that simply cannot turn your back on it, not matter how tired or fed up you are.

Then I took him to this stranger’s house today. I cried on the drive home. I cried because I was worried about what he might think when I closed the door and left him – where is she going? Who is this? Is she ever coming back?

I thought about all the times my mom would cry and I’d be like: Mom, really? It’s not a big deal. Because of course I get it now. Nothing’s a big deal, but everything is.

I wasn’t crying because we’re not ready for this. I cried because both of us – me and James – we are ready. We don’t need each other the way we used to. We haven’t for a while.

James is still a baby but he won’t be for long. Soon he’ll be a waddling busy toddler. Then he’ll be talking. And on and on and on.

I cried because time is moving along – as it does and always has.  James makes it so much more poignant. I see time move in his face and his body and the way he does something new every day.

Often, it feels like a great opening – the road ahead. That’s how I try to see it on most days. But today – on that drive home – to be whisked ahead at such a pace felt unbearably sad.

I thought about this short story called Getting Closer by Steven Millhauser. It’s about a young boy on a summer day he’s been looking forward to with his family. He’s standing at the edge of the river, about to get in:

“But now, as he stands at the end of waiting, something is wrong. He’s shaken deep down, as though he’ll lose something if the day begins. If he goes into the river he’ll lose the excitement, the feeling that everything matters because he’s getting closer and closer to the moment he’s been waiting for. When you have that feeling, everything’s full of life, every leaf, every pebble. But when you begin you’re using things up. The day starts slipping away behind you. He wants to stay on this side of things, to hold it right here.”

He suddenly sees that the day will end, time will march on and his parents will grow old and so will he and his sister.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. I know I am still on this side of things. I guess in a way we are always are, if we can look at it from the right angle. But, like the boy, I want to stay. To hold it right here.

But of course I can’t. No one can. We have to get into the river and let the day begin.

Happy New Year. (I’m tired.) – 39 of 100

So here we are, beginning a new year.

We spent New Year’s in Waterton Lakes National Park. Dan loves Waterton. He loves it with such a passion. And we’d never been there in winter. It’s quiet. Only two hotels open – and one weiner restaurant (it’s called Weiners).

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The view from the Prince of Wales hotel at twilight

We always take the scenic route on the way there – rolling ranch land with mountains punching up to the west. For one 100+ km stretch, you’re really in the middle of nowhere. That’s where James started screaming. Where we pulled over to the shoulder and found hives covering his face and back. Where I frantically nursed him and put him back in the carseat and did my best to distract him (while he mostly screamed full throttle) while we drove toward civilization to find a signal and an emergency room.

Yes, we went to the emergency room on New Year’s Eve. But it was the quickest visit I’ve ever had in my life (under an hour!) and the doctor was pretty handsome. James was fine. Sometimes, it just happens and we’ll never know why, he said.

The trip waffled between awesome and exhaustion. We skied at Castle Mountain where a local named Wilf (“I lived at the base of this hill in a tar paper shack in the 80s.”) toured me around the hill after we met on the lift. It was a perfect blue bird day and my first time on skis in two years.

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To be clear: we did not ski with James in the carrier. Dan and I took turns hitting the slope and then watching the babe.

We walked the shore of upper Waterton Lake with James on my back. I interviewed a local who lived in Siberia with Grizzly bears for 13 years for a piece (coming soon).

As we met all of these local people I started to understand why Waterton and this southwest corner of Alberta is so special. Obviously, it is much quieter and less touristy than places like Banff and Jasper. Less obviously, it is passionately loved by the people that live there – who have loved it for many many years and generations. It’s like they have an extraordinary secret in this land. They’ll welcome you to it, but they’re not going to run around and try to tell everyone.

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Anyway, James kept waking up at 5 a.m. Which meant he was cranky. And we were tired. Getting him to eat was a challenge (something totally weird and new). His teeth are coming in.

But after he went to bed, Dan and I would drink a bottle of wine and make fondue, just like we used to.

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When there’s no kitchenette in your hotel room: Fondue it.

We’ve done a lot this year. Sometimes it’s been really tough. Sometimes it’s been totally smooth. 90% of the time it’s been worth it.

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You might not believe that I packed all of this into the car singlehandedly while also mothering this child. But I did.

So it’s a new year. And if you are reading this right now, I want to say – Thank you.

After I posted #1 of my attempt at 100 I thought I might give up right away. But I went on. I got this annual report of blogging from WordPress and it told me I’ve posted 37 posts and it’s been viewed about 4,600 times, in 87 (!) countries.

In the world of blogging and the internet, these numbers aren’t very impressive. But to me, they are SOMETHING.

And – no – I’m nowhere near post 100 Random Thoughts and Memories yet – but I am getting there. I’m reminded of how important it is to put one foot in front of the other even when you’re not sure how you’ll ever get anywhere.

I’ve learned some things. I’ve learned that as much as I thought I might write some really short quick posts- I’m pretty much always longwinded. But that’s me. And I guess that’s ok.

I can’t keep up with my ideas (a good thing?) I wanted to write about all the crazy hippy shit I tried in pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I wanted to write about my complicated feelings about raising James away from my family. About many many other things. I have about 20 saved drafts that I never published (why?)

I’ve learned that I totally suck at social media and I keep meaning to carve out time for it but I just can’t seem to do it.

I’ve remembered that writing and reading are about connection – and the magic way we can reach across space and time though words. Writing has made me feel less alone. And whenever someone tells me they identify – I feel this great lift. Like, Oh yeah. That’s why we do this. That’s why people have always done this.

Happy New Year all. Here’s to a beautiful 2016.DSCF4729