dear pepper/another birthday

dear pepper, night owls.jpeg

I call this new baby “Pepper” while she/he is in my belly because on the day I told my sister I was pregnant she harvested the first anaheim chile peppers from her garden. It was March, which is autumn in the southern hemisphere, where she lives.

We don’t know if Pepper is a boy or a girl. I like the not knowing. I refer to “her” as a “girl” because it’s simpler than he/she all the time, or “it.” And maybe there is a little intuition there, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what is right, just that maybe the gender of an unborn baby doesn’t matter to the baby. Maybe they are just a human: existing and growing limbs and learning to use lungs and blink their eyes and feel the differences in light.

Lately I do not sleep. This happened last time, in my pregnancy with Giles. Third trimester insomnia. Mostly it is because I am uncomfortable. So I am tired all the time. I’m existing in a state of being barely here.

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 60.

I hate counting the years, because they just keep going and I’ll end up counting for a really long time.

 

 

 

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“i’m never doing this again”

…is what I said during labor while giving birth to Giles. And here I am, three months away from doing it all again.

Which seemed like a good time to finally finish and share this birth story comic.

giles birth story 1

giles birth story 2

giles birth story 3

giles birth story 4

giles birth story 5

giles birth story 6

giles birth story 7

giles birth story 8

giles birth story 9

i love you, monster

This morning at breakfast Giles put his hands on my face and said, “I love you, monster.”

Later in the morning a dear friend sent me a link to this article, “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe. 

After a grueling time getting my 2-year-old son down for a nap on a 93 degree, oppressively humid day, I sat down to read the article. My brain popped and sizzled with recognition at every sentence. This is exactly what I was crying about in therapy today. What I have been crying about every night for a week.

(Read the article for yourself, and then come back to this. Or read this first and then read the article. Either way, you should definitely read it, because it’s damn good.)

I’m afraid that I am failing at the life I’ve been building since I was eighteen-years-old. As I entered adulthood, college, the world on my own, I made a decision: I will be an artist who also has a family, a life, kids, love, happiness, and I will not be an asshole.”

An ex-boyfriend once told me about how Albert Einstein’s wife took care of all the daily responsibilities of life so that he could concentrate on being a genius. This was a not-so-subtle hint, I think, at what kind of wife this ex-boyfriend wanted. He also told me about a professor he admired who worked twelve hours a day in his studio with one landline phone that only his wife had the number to, and she was only allowed to use it in case of emergency so that the professor would not be disturbed in his work. This gem of a boyfriend left trash on my kitchen floor and excused himself by saying , “I don’t notice things like that.” He once didn’t call me for three weeks and told me I couldn’t be angry with him because he just wasn’t aware of the need to call me. He was too wrapped up in his art.

I know in my heart of hearts that Einstein would have been a truer and better genius if he had done his own fucking laundry.

The “mundane” things, the daily tasks and responsibilities of life are not boring. They are the beauty, the deepest beauty in the world, and we should be making art about them! Shitty fathers and husbands who also happened to write great novels did not write great novels BECAUSE they were shitty fathers and husbands. I think they would have been even better writers if they had been better fathers and husbands.

I have this memory of something I read that Bruce Springsteen said. I can’t find it, and I’m sorry, and I wish I could quote it directly, but I’ve carried it with me in my mind for a long time. He said he used to think that the moment he had an inspiration for a song, he had to go and write it immediately– disregarding his family in order to do so. But later he learned that the opposite was true: he would notice the inspiration, then let it go, opting to be where he was with his family and not ignore them. Later, when he had time, he’d search for the inspiration and find that by letting it go for a while, it always came back to him better.

And so, I believe that I am (or will be) a better artist because I am a wife and mother. Or, I did believe that until my kid refused to nap for a whole week and did I mention I’m almost 20 weeks pregnant while caring for a 2-year-old boy? It’s really fucking hard.

I’m afraid that my “self” is slipping away. And not slowly either– but off a cliff into the void. It’s not, though. I’m trying to trust that. I am still here. I exist as a mother/artist/person simultaneously. I exist in a deeper way than before. Somehow, by putting my kids first, I am a better artist. Right?

Thorpe writes about all of these ideas with a lot more clarity and elegance than I am doing here, but I’m trying to write some kind of response that echoes what she is saying while adding my own personal thoughts. I want to echo back that we are not alone. You are not alone. You, mother of however many children and trying to be a person, are not alone. This is REALLY FUCKING HARD and we are IN IT. We have to keep climbing this mountain. Because what we are doing matters. The mothering yes, and also the art, whatever your art is.

On Friday, in a text exchange with my sister, I asked her if I am crazy to have another baby. She responded:

“Yes. But full of love.”

 

 

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.)

 

pushing

holding back

This comic is actually from an assignment in my Comics Studio class. Our first meeting was this past Tuesday, and one of the assignments I gave was to make a comic from first person POV about a moment that changed your life.

Giving birth was a huge life-changing experience for me, in so many ways. This one little moment could be lost in the rest, but I come back to it again and again. I thought I was working as hard as I could. I’d been in labor for so, so, so many hours. I’d already been pushing for an hour and a half at the point the nurse said this to me (and I still had two hours to go).

This feeling of holding back– I have it when faced with jumping into water from a high place, rafting, doing anything that involves physical risk in that way.

Sometimes I think I am brave. Other times not.

I didn’t understand how to push, how could I, having never done it before? No one really tells you what it’s like, and even if they try it’s impossible to understand until you feel it. But I did feel that “pulling back at the last second” thing the nurse chastised me for. I pushed and pushed right up to the edge, and when it felt like the pain would break me I backed off.

How do I learn to push through the unbearable pain, through to the other side? I just do it, I guess.

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!”

 

 

enjoy every moment

enjoy every moment

Thanks to mom friends Lizzie (panel #5) and Frances (end image) for their words which I used in this comic along with my own.

People mean well when they say “enjoy every moment” and “it goes so fast” (even I do it sometimes). Maybe the next time you feel like you are going to say one of these things, just say something else instead.

Some suggestions:

“You look great!”
“Your baby is awesome.”
“You’re doing a great job.”
“Can I buy you a coffee?”

 

put back together

It’s Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. Time for letting go, time for leaves to fall. Time for shedding what is no longer needed.

As I start this new year, in a new body, with a new baby, in a new house, so much about me is different.

Some things are the same.

What do I need to let go of? My skin? My pre-mom self?

To be honest, I’m feeling pretty broken today. I miss my mom. I wish we could go down to the river together and throw pieces of bread into the water to take our regrets from the past year away. Maybe we’d ride our bikes in the cool fall air.

I feel something is just out of reach, some core thing that I keep forgetting. Or maybe it’s just one of those days. Maybe I should lean into it. Let go.

My baby is strapped to my chest in his carrier. We took a walk and looked at leaves. We played on the floor. He’s quiet, binky in mouth, looking up at me sometimes as I type. I think he will fall asleep any minute so I’m rocking back and forth in the chair.

He smiles so big when he sees me after we’ve been parted. Whether it’s morning and he’s seeing me for the first time that day, waking up and I’m right there waiting for him; or he’s been with his Nana for a few hours; or even if I’ve only left the room for a few minutes– he’s so happy to see me. We have a tether strung between us. I know I will feel him with me anywhere I go for the rest of my life. Even when he’s grown and off on his own adventures I will feel him in my heart like a physical pull. I just know this. My mom must have felt this way.

She wrote this poem:

The Birdhouse

Anna is leaving me again,
over and over.

Just like I left her so many times,
by choice and not by choice.

Teaching me to tolerate longer and longer absences:
Stretches of not hearing her voice
doing homework with a friend on the phone,

Or the sound of popcorn crunching along to a favorite movie.

I took her to her first movie when she was eighteen months old.
She ate my entire tub of artificially butter-flavored popcorn.
I felt
grateful
that she didn’t choke
and awed by the intensity of her concentration.

She says, “I love you” each time she laves.
And I am trying to photograph her face, her smile,
every time in my mind, afraid of having
so much less to take for granted.

I walk outside see the birdhouse
made in eighth grade shop class.
A father’s day gift for her dad–
she looks so much like him.

I stare at the birdhouse as a light rain
begins to kiss the back of my neck.
I am not cold, and I do not feel the wetness of it.

I realize that she is forcing me to grow up again,
to accept losing what I want to hang onto.
I hate that.

That birdhouse sits on the stump–
It’s maple stain color darkened by the moisture,

and my tears add salt to the raindrops.

Viola Moriarty
2000

When I read this poem I cry. I was fourteen or fifteen when she wrote it, and I don’t remember where I had gone. Maybe on a trip with some friends. Sometimes I regret every time I left her because that’s time with her that I lost. I didn’t know the time was finite. At fourteen everything seems forever, even if your grandfather and pet guinea pig died when you were eight and so you know that everyone dies. It just didn’t enter my mind then that my mom could die. But I also know that we both had to live our lives which meant leaving each other again and again.

When will Giles leave me? How many times? Will I have to leave him? Will he still smile at me when we come back together? Right now his sleeping face is pressed into my shirt, long lashes closed, gentle breathing only just audible. Sweet baby smell.

My pieces are all over the place. My childhood, my heart, my legs, my soul, my art, my drive, my love, my hunger.

I don’t know where I am.

I’m in our house. On our street. In our town. In the autumn of the year 2016. My mom has been dead for three years and five months and 16 days. My baby is just two days shy of being five months old. My feet are inside my slippers. My head is inside my favorite knit cap.

It’s the new year. 5777. The Days of Awe.

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This photo is from 2011, in the ER waiting room. I had fallen and hit my head pretty hard so my mom insisted we go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. They gave me an ice pack which I tied to my head so I didn’t have to hold it there. We both thought it was pretty funny, so my mom took a picture. Turns out I didn’t have a concussion. I was okay. Not broken at all.