mom dispatch: 21 months plus 1 day

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Yesterday was Giles’ 21 month birthday and for the first time in his whole life I forgot to mark this monthly occurrence. Today I realized the date and maybe also realized I don’t need to count by months anymore? When people ask how old he is do I just say, “almost 2”?

But when he turns 22 months I of course want to make an instagram post using lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “22.”

Giles speaks in two and three word sentences now. “Daddy shower.” “Daddy work.” “I see ya!” “Hair up Mommy.” “Thank you Mommy.” “What in there?” “No poops!” This verbal development is my favorite thing so far. I love hearing what’s going on in his head as he plays, or which phrases he chooses to repeat. Seeing his face as he understands how a word fits with a thing– it’s amazing.

He’s also really fun. And throws tantrums. And beams me in the head with a metal Ernie in a bathtub car toy thing from my own 1980s childhood. And now there’s a bump on my head. And I worry about what this aggression means and how to stop it. And about a thousand other things. But he is also sweet and loving and tender– “Hugs, Mommy,” he says. And, “I sorry.” He pats my head, kisses my belly, rests his own little head on my shoulder.

21 months postpartum isn’t how I imagined it would be. I sort of wish I knew what my weight is, but I don’t own a scale and really I’m kind of glad. I keep reminding myself that my body will never be what it was before, and that it’s okay. I feel good and strong, especially since returning from our trip to Chile to visit Phoebe about a month ago. I’m taking Zumba, adult jazz dance, yoga, and I think I’m a vegetarian now? I’m ready to start the journey of making another human person inside my body again. Hormones still go up and down, but less dramatically. My soft belly, which Giles is so interested in lately (“mommy belly!”) is maybe a bit smaller, arms strong from lifting a 30 pound toddler, mind a bit more centered, identity more defined and sure, art time more regular and productive. Viewings of Moana have increased tenfold.

Now that I feel pretty good, pretty much like myself, why would I mess it all up to have another baby?

There are huge moments of fear and doubt and anxiety. Fear of being pregnant while taking care of a toddler. Of giving birth again. Of having a miscarriage. Of losing myself. Of losing my body. My mind. My identity outside of “mom.” How did my mom do this? How did she decide to have another kid? What did she feel as she and my dad made the decision? How did they know what to name her? What was it like taking care of two-year-old me while carrying baby Phoebe in her belly?

I had a moment, though. In yoga class, during shavasanah. Hands resting on my belly, I felt my body make room for the next baby. For my number two. For my “Phoebe,” so to speak.

My mom had a distinct relationship with each of us, my sister and me. Each special in its own way, but very different. Thinking about my mom and Phoebe together, I really look forward to my relationship with my number two, and how it will be just as big, deep, and full as that I have with Giles. But different. My “Phoebe.”

(Calm down, Gramma. I’m not pregnant yet.)

 

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big truck

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19 months and 6 days of mothering this human outside of the womb. The top picture is Christmas time last year, and the bottom picture is yesterday. He grows and grows, talks, walks, runs, laughs, makes jokes, dances, throws tantrums, squeals.

My life is so different from a year ago (and my hair is much longer)– mothering is so different now with this toddler than it was with the baby he used to be. My life is almost unrecognizable from what it was pre-motherhood. Though I do recognize something of myself from when I was a kid– long moments of playing, the joy of a car going down a slide, lying on the floor looking up at Christmas tree lights.

I’m still figuring out who I am in this role, though I think I’m pretty good at it. My heart has enough love, so much love, more than enough love– this I know.

I’ve gotten better at cutting his hair. Each time I do it more evenly, more like a real haircut. It’s similar to a 60s shag kind of style: like a Beatle, or Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. My sister says it looks like a bowl cut.

I’ve gotten better at confidence. At letting go.

He’s gotten better at sleeping. Eating. Expressing his needs and wants with some kind of language. He becomes himself more each day as he discovers new ways to be and do. He listens. He puts his hands on each side of my face and says, “Ohhh!”

My body has gotten better at being a body again. It will never be what it was before, and I have to accept that over and over.

One of my favorite conversations so far is this one:
ME: Giles, did you poop?
GILES: Poop!
ME: Is it a big one?
GILES: BIIIIG TWUUUCK!

To be fair, he says “big truck” as a response to lots of things. But I really think in this instance he was using it as a description for the giant turd in his diaper. My kid has a sense of comic timing like no other.

Today I am going to Dana-Farber in Boston for one of my every-six-months checkups. No scans today, but it is always a thing, a vibration under my skin, a whisper of will-they-tell-me-i-have-cancer. This doesn’t make me not want to go. Because if I wasn’t going to these appointments I would be worried every second that I had cancer and wasn’t doing anything about it. Now I get to know definitively twice a year that I do not have cancer, and I get to ask questions and talk out my anxieties with very smart and beautiful doctors. I like the car rides with Greg. I like the tacos. It’s a kind of date, and I will cherish it every time we go.

Giles will stay with Greg’s parents tonight, since we’ll be home late. When I see him in the morning, with his big smiling face (or even possible cranky crying face), I will squeeze him tightly. I will say “I love you I love you I love you.”

He’ll probably say, “Big TWUUUCK!”

 

 

human milk machine

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pumping

Because I have health insurance, I was able to get a free electric breast pump at the hospital after giving birth. Because I have a breast pump I am able to pump milk into a bottle so someone besides me can feed the baby. Because someone else can feed the baby I have a small amount of freedom to not be tied to an every-two-hours schedule of latching a baby to my boobs so he can suck nourishment out of my body.

Because I have health insurance I have mental health coverage. Which means I can go to therapy. Which means I don’t have to suffer alone and quietly while my hormones rage around and cause crazy feelings and exhaustion settles over my whole self and who am I now anyway besides a mom and human milk machine?

Because I have choice over what happens to my own body I was able to grow a baby and give birth to him at a time when I was ready to do this, and wanted to do this. Because of that I am a good mom, and my baby has a healthy, happy, safe home to grow up in.

 

songs

Even in utero my baby loved music. When I played ukulele or guitar, the instrument pressed against my belly, he’d kick and roll. At a Bruce Springsteen concert he went nuts during Because The Night.

Yesterday I was playing around on the ukulele while Giles jumped in his bouncer. His face lit up watching my fingers on the strings and the sounds they produced. Using three simple chords I started making up lyrics, singing to that smiling face. Somehow I wrote a song. And then another one.

They are simple, and recorded on Garage Band during nap time (you might be able to hear faint crying in the background):

In many ways my creative energy has been channeling itself into being a mom. Making each day special and fun and productive with little Giles, watching him develop and trying to help him learn things. Surviving (and even thriving?) on way too little sleep. I’ve even been learning to cook new dishes, doing house projects, organizing and reorganizing closets and shelves until finally someday (I hope) the towels/blankets/sheets/napkins/etc. will fit just right and even look cool or whatever. My Life is my Art, and this has always been true but is true in a new way now that I’m a mom.

Once a week I have art time for a few hours while Greg’s mom takes Giles. This is a gift, to have this time. And while a lot of my art is about being a mom, I haven’t found a way to make art with Giles. When he’s older we will do projects together, and I look forward to that. But then I wrote those songs yesterday. I made something, some art, with my baby, and it’s also something for him. He brought it out of me. I had never written a song before, but it’s something I’d been wanting to do ever since I taught myself to play guitar almost six years ago. Giles opened the door.

Having a baby deepens my art in ways I don’t even know about yet.

 

where we are now

The first thing I did this morning was cuddle with my husband and baby. Just like every morning. Giles giggled and kicked his legs. We kissed his face.

I am angry. Even if Hillary had been elected, we would still have to face the fact that so many people in our country support a man who feels it is okay to sexually assault women, who spouts racism and sexism and hate. There are problems here. It is not okay.

My friend Alexander shared what he wrote on his classroom board today:

Do Now: The election is over. No matter who you wanted to win, at least one thing is true: you have the ability to do something today to make the world a better place. What can you do?
HW: Do that thing. 

I am making a list of the things I can do:

  • raise my son, teach him to use his privilege for good. show him by example to stand up for people who are marginalized. teach him to respect women. teach him to love and be loved. teach him to use his own brain and listen to his gut, and be himself.
  • speak my mind, both in person and online. say things that are true and right. call people out when they say things that are racist, sexist, offensive, wrong.
  • continue living in this country. we need to stay here and make it better. organize. speak out. be kind.
  • support my loved ones and strangers who may be put in danger by this administration.
  • keep learning. be open. listen.
  • make art.
  • continue to be a woman who demands to be taken seriously, who demands equal rights, who does not want her pussy grabbed without permission.

I’ll add to this list as I go. Live my life in the way I believe is best. Be the change. Today I will make coffee, hold my baby as he naps, play with him, laugh, read, sing. I will cook. I will write a bit in my journal, maybe do some drawing if I can. If it stops raining I will go out for a walk and smile at my neighbors.

What can you do?
Do that thing.

this body, this moment

Trying to love the body that made my baby and pushed him out. In some moments succeeding. In others feeling strange and not myself, so so far away from myself. Last summer I finally found a bathing suit I really liked and this summer it doesn’t fit. I also found the best jeans last year (a constant struggle for one with long, wide hips) and now they are useless to me. oh how i finally felt in those jeans. I am cutting up and trying to fix clothes so they will fit this body now. I am cutting in fits of hormones and making mistakes.

My body grew a human being and push him out and I love him more than anything on this whole planet.

My body is everything right now. It is food for the baby, comfort for the baby, a body to lie on, a body to be held by. My body is a kind of machine. A marvel of nature. Resilient. Healing. Consumed by hormones. did i mention hormones?

But where am I in this body? What is my relationship to it now that I cannot do things like crunches or leg lifts or anything involving lower abdominals? not that i was like huge into leg lifts but like, i could do them, you know? Now that I cannot fit into my clothes. Now that my once proud belly is a totally different belly that I don’t know how I feel about showing off to the world. I want to. I want to, I want to wear my crop tops and be a shining light for all the postpartum women’s bodies that are squishy and zebra-lined with stretch marks and breasts that are not the same breasts we once had breasts we can barely hold up the weight of in un-sexy nursing bras! seriously though can someone design better nursing bras, better nursing and postpartum clothes, better so many things.

My body does not feel like mine. Sometimes it feels more mine than ever after doing such a strong and crazy hard and scary and beautiful thing as giving birth. That was MY pain. MY story. MY blood and shit and pee and sweat and muscles and pushing. But also this body belongs to the new human being that I am responsible for keeping alive. My body is two bodies. The one that is me feels like a shadow.

 

good grief

Every day is a new day living in the world after my mom died. I am 795 days into this life. My grief is just as big as the first moment, but it changes shape. Time doesn’t make it better, but it makes it different.

Some days I float and roll through my new life, feeling okay, feeling happy, and then it will hit me that the central human in my life is not here. She’s not part of this, she’s not here to tell me her thoughts, or to laugh, or to just exist. I still don’t know how to reconcile that. I almost don’t believe it. How can the world exist if she is not noticing it, painting it, coloring it with her opinions and cooking smells? I dream that she comes back, that it was all a trick, or that she is a zombie. I get really upset about dumb little things, because while I may be actually upset about those things, behind it is my sadness and anger about my mom being dead. UGH I’m so hungry and my clothes don’t fit right and my mom is dead. That person is chewing so loudly it’s driving me nuts and my mom is dead. I got on the wrong bus and my mom is dead. 

I hate when people tell me that my mom is “with me.” She’s not with me. She’s dead, and her spirit is off doing other things. She exists in my genetic code, for sure, and I wear her clothes. I’m trying so hard to let her be dead, to let her be Ghost Viola or whatever and fly around painting the sky and exploring other dimensions and to not wish her here so hard. I don’t know how to feel her with me in this new form. I want her in an Earthly way, nothing else will do. I’m stubborn, a quality I inherited from her (and my dad, too, we’re a stubborn bunch).

I wish people said I looked like her. My sister really is the one who resembles our mom as a young woman, it’s striking and everyone notices. Sometimes people say I have her laugh. Mostly they say I look like my dad. But I’ve always felt a similarity in our expressions, me and my mom, smiling, or talking with our hands, our style, the way we listen to people by looking right in their eyes. I’ll catch myself teasing Greg (my fiance) in the same way my mom would tease my dad– a fake angry comment, a smirk, an open-mouthed laugh accompanied by a little dance.

She won’t be at my wedding. This fact gets bigger as the date gets closer. I wonder what my wedding would be like if she was here to plan it with me, how it would differ from the real thing. Would I have picked the same dress? Would her ideas have been better? What would we have argued about?

What would I be like if my mom hadn’t died? This grief is my defining feature, her death the defining moment of my life so far– the line dividing everything into Before and After.

This is where I’m at today.

holding it in my hand

I finished the cancer comic book. With the help of a really lovely woman named Kate Barber and the Publication Studio at the Williams College Museum of Art, it is printed and bound and is a real live book I can hold in my hands.

adventures of a left breast

I want to cry. The intense joy of seeing the physical result of seven years of work plus the deep sadness of my mom not being here, not seeing this, and the sadness of everything we’ve gone through… seeing it and holding it I want to cry.

Reading the first part of this book, my mom’s part, is the only thing that makes me feel close to her right now. When other people tell me they dream about her or feel her presence I get mad, because I don’t feel it. It’s too much for me to feel it, or she just isn’t here, and I’m so mad, because she’s not here and she’ll never be here again.

But she’s in this book. At least, a part of her is. 2007 Viola is here, and I remember all these scenes. Reading her story in her own voice with her drawings and collages and handwriting is comforting and devastating at the same time.

We made this together. And I finally finished it.

Now that it’s a real live book, organized and formatted, I’m going to send copies out to publishers and hope it gets made into a book you can actually buy in stores, at comics festivals, and on the internet. I’ll let you know when that happens. (Incidentally, if you are a comics publisher reading this, feel free to contact me.)