Phantom Pain

“Do you have any children,” a woman asked me yesterday.

“Yes, a daughter. She’s four and a half.”

“Do you want any more?”

“Yes, but I’m not able to.”

“Oh. How long did you try for?”

Thus went a tiny conversation I had yesterday. A small snippet. But a big question, which I answered truthfully.

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I will not have another baby and I’m coming to terms with that. I’m doing my best to move on and usually I’m OK. But lately I’ve tried to remember what it felt like to be pregnant and I can’t quite conjure it. I know that I wanted to do it again, but what would it have been like? I can bring up faint memories of the baby under my skin, those first few flutters I felt at week 17, when my husband could barely feel no matter how hard I pressed his hand to my stomach. My memories of being pregnant are becoming similar to that – no matter how hard I press my memory, I have only flutters. Phantoms. 

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I realized this afternoon that I have a phantom pain for my memories of that time when I was pregnant. I didn’t know it would only be one time, so I cling to what I think I can remember.

I’ve lost weight and one week when I stepped on the scale, I thought, “Oh, this is the weight I was when I went to my first doctor’s appointment at nine weeks.” I wore plaid pants and a carnelian shirt. At that appointment I saw something on the monitor that had to be pointed out many times – the smallest speck on a screen that produced whooshing noises when amplified via air waves.

I can’t even find pictures of myself pregnant. I emailed one or two to two friends but the archive folder shows them as stripped. I know a few exist, from baby showers and what-not, but I don’t have ready access to those images. I know it happened. I have proof in my house and on my skin. I have all of the proof anyone would ever need, but I can’t quite remember how I got there.

Yuletide

It’s December. The tree is up. The ornaments are hung and the lights are lit. There’s a wreath on our door with, at my daughter’s request, a big red bow. The gifts are purchased and the calendar is filled with plans for holiday cheer.

Growing up, Christmas was a magical time for me. My Grandma would announce the holidays with a jubilant, “It would be Christmastime!” We’d plan a family trip to pick out out our tree from a grocery store lot sponsored by our town’s Jaycees. My mom would play Christmas records as she decorated our house, and my sister and I would beg her to play French Jingle Bells just one more time. We still laugh about the made-up lyrics we used to sing along.

My birthday falls six days before Christmas, and as a kid, I’d pretend the world was lit up in red and green and gold just for me. I reveled in the cheer, in the kindness, in the giving and, of course, the receiving. I’d pick out cheap gifts for my whole family at my school’s holiday fair, and could barely stand the wait for Christmas day to hand them out.

I loved singing in my school’s Christmas program. I loved wrapping, sharing secrets of gifts and surprises, and getting together with family. I loved the tradition of making a family pilgrimage to remember the dear ones we’ve lost. I loved the snow, the joy, the music in the air.

When I got wise to the myth of Santa, I didn’t tell my parents for more than two years. One year, they finally took me out for a slice of pie and hot chocolate and asked me point blank if I still believed. I was the youngest in my family and I was so sad to close the door on what had been a lovely and magical and beautiful part of my childhood.

In this day and age, I know it’s perhaps a bit uncool to declare my love of the holidays. Christmas fatigue is strong, as stores start the season earlier than ever before. Black Friday is often a display of consumerism at its worst. The whole holiday can be marked by conspicuous consumption, which feels distasteful in these hard economic times. Big business competes to get bigger, folks sink further into debt, and forced togetherness can be stressful. Santa has fallen on hard times as many families wonder what, exactly, children can learn from a big fat man who breaks into our homes and brings our children material things.

Yes, Christmas can bring out the worst in us.

But to me, it’s so much more than that.

I want my daughters to have wonderful memories of the holidays like I do. I want them to sing carols and watch the night sky for Santa. I want them to feel kindness in their hearts as they pick out a gift for someone they love or give a toy to a child in need. I want them to daydream about a village in the North Pole where magic happens. I want them to know that magic can jump out of the storybooks and touch their lives. I want them to have memories of cocoa on cold nights, of hanging ornaments and making paper snowflakes. I want them to wake up in December to a festive house and twinkling lights. I want them to know the songs and the stories – the lessons of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, the beautiful cadence of the Night Before Christmas read aloud, the sweet melancholy of Charlie Brown.

I want them to have one day each year where all their hopes and dreams come true in spectacular fashion.

I want them to know the importance of family, the importance of time spent together. I want them to feel the raucous, chaotic joy of a room of 60 people who, despite living different lives in different places, truly love one another.

I want to teach them that we can and should put aside our differences at this time of year. That perhaps those differences aren’t so big after all. And maybe – just maybe – if we can do it at Christmastime, we can do it throughout the year.

So, this Christmas season, you’ll find me shopping and sending cards and baking cookies.

My house? It’s the one with the big red bow. I’ll be singing “Jingle Bells” with my toddler for the 27th time today. I’ll be driving to see family, to have a drink with a friend or through the lights display in the park. We’ll be at the much-maligned mall, sitting on Santa’s lap.

Charles Dickens said it best. Although Christmas “has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, ‘God bless it.'”

– ALW

The Summer of Us

Dear Iris,

What a summer. Since May, it’s been you and me. I had high hopes for this summer, and to be perfectly honest, it’s been a lot harder than I expected. I think we’ve done pretty well, considering. The basement was finished, disrupting our routine and our space, and kicking us out of the house for days at a time. I’m pregnant with your baby sister, which has been hard on both of us. I can’t carry you around as much as you’d like, it’s hard for me to get down on the floor to play with you. I’m exhausted all the time, my patience is running on empty, and well, you’re two. Two is a rough age for everyone. I’m learning as we go to be a stay at home mom and I’ve stumbled at times. It’s been hard to be outside because I am always hot. Oh, and we just experienced the worst heatwave in something like 20 years.

I know you probably won’t remember much that happened this summer, but I think we’ve had some pretty good times. We had lots of play dates with friends. Your tantrums over not wanting to share your trains were epic, funny at times and frankly, mortifying at others. We spent a day at the beach. We spent a night at a hotel and you were thrilled that we all shared a great big bed. We took walks and swam in the pool.

We “played trains” for hours and hours and HOURS. You fell in love with your new playroom. You got a big girl bed and you picked out polka dot sheets and your “big girl circles blanket.”

We rode on a train!

We went to a baseball game.

We went to a carnival, and you rode cars and monkeys and horses and your favorite – the big slide.

We ate ice cream and gelato. Lots of it.

We laughed a lot and we cried a lot – both of us. The summer has been a roller coaster, and we rode it with gusto.

But the summer’s not over yet, kiddo. Still to come? We’re going to install new carpet, get a new roof, and oh, we’re going to have a baby.

We’ve talked a lot about your baby sister. You’ve put your hands on my belly and felt her move. You’ve been genuinely interested in her. It melts my heart when you talk about her.

The truth is, I can’t fully prepare you for what life will be like when your baby sister comes. Because honestly, I don’t know. When you came into our lives, we were wholly unprepared for the life force that was you. When baby sister comes, our family will change and our home will change. We will go from a threesome to a family of four. We will have to renegotiate who we are – to each other and to our newest member. It will be hard for you because you will not be our only baby anymore. It will be hard for me because I will need to figure out how to give you both what you want, what you need and what you deserve while still making time for myself and for your daddy. We’ll all learn by trial and error and it won’t always be pretty. But we’re family, and family is complicated and messy and imperfect. It’s also safe and comforting and warm. And tied up in all that complication will be even more love in a house that is already bursting at the seams with it.

Iris, you’re going to be a big sister! That’s a big, important job. I don’t know how to be a big sister. I don’t know what it’s like. I’m a little sister, so I won’t totally know how you feel when your baby sister comes into our lives or when she gets bigger and wants to play with your toys and borrow your clothes and bug you when you’re with your friends. Life won’t always seem fair as you blaze the trail of being our firstborn. I won’t always do or say the right thing. I won’t always have the answer. In fact, I’ll probably have fewer answers than I’ll want to admit.

I do know that I’ll always make time for you. I’ll try my hardest to be sensitive to you, your things and your space. I hope you will understand that she’s going to adore you, even as she’s driving you bananas (and she will). I hope you are friends. I hope you’re kind to each other. I hope you are allies. I hope that many, many years from now, you get together as old ladies and reminisce about life with daddy and me. I hope you laugh and smile when you think of the years that we all lived together as a family.

I hope you always know that no matter what your baby sister does or who she is, you are loved as much – and more – than ever. She will never take your place in my heart and in our family. Once upon a time, you saved me. No one can ever take that away from you. No one can ever take that away from us.

Life is about to change in a big way. For all of us. But we have each other and we all have so much love to give. It’s going to be great.

Hold onto your hat, little girl.

With love,
Mama

– ALW

What Do You Remember?

I have a decent memory. Better at some things – names and faces, not so great at other things – card games and jokes. But I’m missing a lot of my childhood. Don’t worry – nothing Terrible happened – more like lots of little unfortunate things, but I do]]><![CDATA[n't have a ton of memories or nuanced photo images from my childhood, probably because I was moved around a lot before I was 10.

I barely remember kindergarten. Forget first grade, except for one memory of cleaning erasers. Second grade? The Challenger explosion and a very kind teacher, Miss Waldo, who came to my ballet recital. Third grade? More memories for sure. But what comes before school are a handful of very, very sad memories.

One happy one –  a birthday, when my parents were still together, and I didn’t want to eat a hot dog. Thinking they would be mad that I wouldn’t eat it, they smiled and told me it was OK, my dad’s arm around my mom’s shoulder. I must have been four, in our house on Jenifer St.

When I was pregnant I was often wracked with anxiety as to what memories I would make for my future child. The sex of my baby unknown, but going by the fond name of Cheeto (thanks to my BFF, who when she looked up what a fetus looked like at the scant weeks pregnant I was when I told her, said, “Oh, it looks like a Cheeto!”). Would Cheeto remember that I planned on reading books to s/he each night? Or would Cheeto remember something small, like an imaginary time I lost my temper and raised my voice? Or would Cheeto only remember a distant parent who preferred reading or watching TV, similar to some of my experiences? What memories would this baby have?

Believe me, those anxieties haven’t left. Miss Red is turning the page on 3, and I daily, yes, daily, wonder what memories she will have. Will they be of the cookies and smoothies she gets from our local coffee shops? Conquering the playground? Or when, last night, frustrated that she left her room for the fifth time to pretend to use the potty and it was 9 p.m., spoke louder to her than I had in her whole life, her little chin held firmly in my hand?

What she remembers matters a great deal to me. It matters not because I think it marks what kind of parent I am, but because I know how it forms her future. It matters because her memories will make her who she is, even if they plant only a small kernel. Her memories matter because I hope she never, ever, has mine.

– MD

Home is Here, There and Everywhere

I’m so excited to share this guest post with you. Written by my Best Friend. – MD

Being a stay at home mom is hard work.

Not that I expected it to be easy, but I never imagined that I would feel so lonely and isolated. Things have been made more challenging this week by a profound feeling of home sickness. I have begun to wonder if we made the right choice to live so far away from family. I can’t help but feel jealous when I talk to other mommas who are on the way to drop their kids off at their parents’ house. Or when I see three generations out having lunch together. I hate that Lily won’t really know her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Holidays feel incomplete here, despite the family of friends we have created. And 5 months into my second pregnancy, the lack of a support system feels like an empty hole and I am not sure how to fill it.

Some days, phone calls and Skype don’t cut it. I want a hug from my Mom and lunch with my BFF (the one I’ve known since 4th grade). I realize a lot of these feelings come from being pregnant and hormonal. I’ve been in Portland for 8 years and it feels more like home than Wisconsin ever did.

The realization that I am never moving “home” seems to have sunk it. It’s getting harder to maintain long distance friendships and there is a growing disconnect between our lives. I have a hard time remembering my college girlfriends children’s names and ages. We talk less and less. I see my family twice a year, if I am lucky. This is the first time in 8 years that I won’t make it back for a visit.

I find the whole process bittersweet. I am so happy and grateful for my life, my daughter, my husband, my new home town. It is easy to romanticize what life could be if we moved back. I only remember the good things now.

But I do miss my family. I miss the friends who knew and loved me when I wore head gear and thought drinking out of plastic cup in a basement was cool.

– MN

A Few of My Favorite Things

And here we are, the end, for now, of my recounts of Japan. I wanted to end with some of my favorite moments of our time there.

1. Time, Sweet, Time

As I’ve written, my job has been more than intense lately, and the weight of whether or not I’ll have this job – my favorite so far – weighs heavily on me, well, almost constantly. But being away from everything and unplugging from the constant chatter of the online world, which I love, was so needed. My favorite moment was a ton of moments, where I forgot the day, had nothing to do but spend time with my lovely little family. No cooking, no cleaning, no email, nothing. But time.

MD and Miss Red

2. Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

So Miss Red has red hair. Not so common in America, but in Japan it was like seeing a dinosaur. Everywhere we went, and I do mean everywhere, people would smile, comment, and say “kawaii,” cute in Japanese. Older women would reach out and touch her hair, and even thought we didn’t speak the language, we could understand that there was a love of her hair. So much so that Miss Red started to get a little skeeved by it. Understandably so.

Cheese!

But one day while exploring a woman approached us and made the mime of taking a picture. We thought she meant of Miss Red, but she then handed her camera to her companion, stopped down and posed with Miss Red. I tried to capture it myself. Miss Red, CH and I were in shock, and afterward Miss Red clung to our legs. Understandably so. But those memories of the sing-song “kawaii” still rings in my ears. I mean, the girl does have some amazing hair.

3. Swimming

Miss Red took swimming lessons this winter and let me say that it was one of the more stressful things I’ve done as a parent. For a 30-minute class, it was about two hours or wrangling, with getting us both ready, driving there, getting both of us into the water, showering afterwards and driving home. And she hated it. Like cried for 2/3 of each class and I was the one who mostly went with her. We’ll wait until she’s older for additional lessons, but we were excited to head to the hotel pool in Japan.  We didn’t go every day, but as a family we went and CH and I each took her individually and it was so fun. That might seem obvious, but as someone who had to wrestle a slick-as-a-seal toddler in the water, it was so nice to see her, albeit timidly, enjoy herself, and our family, too.

Water baby

4. Castle

One day we took the monorail to Shurijo Castle Park, a complete replica of an castle that was bombed in World War II. It was a long and winding walk to the entrance and Miss Red insisted on walking every. single. step. And she did it. Up and down and all around. I loved seeing her confidently explore and absorb everything as if it were just another day.

Walking the path to Shurijo Castle

5. Smile

One morning at breakfast Miss Red made friends with another toddler. They didn’t share the same language, but played for a few minutes, racing back and forth to the large picture-windows over-looking the water. In those five minutes she picked up a cultural cue that many Japanese women use, which is to cover their mouths when smiling or laughing. Japanese women even used to blacken their teeth, a practice stopped a long time ago.

Smile!

We had an amazing opportunity to go to Japan and I’ll be eternally grateful for the experiences and time together. It gave us reprieve from life, and we hope, sparked a travel bug for Miss Red. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and look forward to our family’s next adventures. I wonder where we’ll head next?

Happy Travelers

– MD

Birth stories

I’m doing a call for birth stories from both women and men. Have an experience you’d like to share? You can get in touch with me at firstsmilesandtears [at] gmail [dot] com or post a comment below. Starting in June I’ll post stories. They can even be anonymous.

Miss Red at one week

Photo taken of Miss Red at one week by the amazing Anya Wait.

– MD

New Year

The New Year. I love it. I love the deep breath at the end of the holidays. I love making resolutions. I love the vast stretch of time ahead, the (mostly) blank calendar. I love that the days are getting longer.

I love looking back at the past year, figuring out what went right and thinking through the things I’d like to change and improve upon. 2010 was far and away the best year I’ve ever had. So many things I set out to do at the start of the year was realized. Nope, I didn’t lose 50 pounds, but what I gained was infinitely more valuable:

I made new friends. I had some of the best times of my life.

I took a family vacation to a lake shaped like a heart….

…and played in the snow.

I hosted three parties, after years and years of lacking the confidence.

I made new connections. I stood up for myself when it really mattered.

I watched my baby turn one…

…and into a happy, strong-willed, smart, and delightfully goofy little big girl.

I quite literally went from the couch to running a 5k.

I celebrated my 10 year dating and 5 year wedding anniversaries with my husband.

At my December birthday party, I was presented with a donut tree. Yeah.

The truth is, I still have a long way to go. My holiday running hiatus was a bad idea and poorly timed. I wasted too much time doing stupid stuff on my addictive phone. That baby in the bar? Mine. I said some things I wish I hadn’t because I have no filter. Yeah, I probably drank too much. But you know what? I don’t care. I had FUN.

No regrets.

Happy New Year, to you and yours.

– ALW

Mary, Did you Know?

The thing I remember most about Henrik’s first Christmas is that he was still screaming.  I don’t know if he was colicky, or if it was just his personality (I’d bet all my presents under the tree that it’s the latter).  Three months into my life as a mother, I all of a sudden was thrown into a new understanding of the story of Christmas.

For me, this sacred holiday became focused on Mary. Not her virginity, or her holiness – but her motherhood.   Mary was a new mom.  She gave birth (Labor!  Delivery!) to her beautiful baby in a barn full of stinky animals and hay and dirt.  And now she had this new baby that wanted to nurse throughout the day and night, that needed constant rocking, and probably some swaying or bouncing to calm his new worldly nerves.  That cradle wasn’t just designed for the pretty church nativities – she Needed that cradle to get him to fall asleep –  To soothe her screaming baby. And after the angels had gone, and everyone had brought their pretty gifts, the crying probably got worse.  And the everyday of motherhood became a stark reality.

Believe in Mary as Jesus’ mother, as the Virgin Mary, as the mother of the Savior, as a vital part of the Christmas story, as holy – or just another woman in the history of womankind –  there is something about her story that every mother can understand.  

Who of you has gotten your face so close to your babe’s that you could feel his breath, and hear her small movements?  Who has held him, swaddled, shhing her till you can see her little eyelashes come to complete stillness and feel your own heart slowed?  Who of you has stared into his eyes, and saw the Hope that she could bring to this world?  The love, the grace, the kindness, the care. Angels or just a starry sky, gifts of Myrrh or just an empty bag, Mary was a momma who knew her job was great.  Who knew her job was a gift, who knew that it would take sacrifice, sleepless nights, and worry beyond compare.  She shed tears, she loved deeper than she ever understood or would ever comprehend.  We all know how Mary must have felt that night, and those months, and years and year and years to come.

Oh, holy night.

You and me  – and Mary – we’re raising hope for the world, the feet on this earth, the ones that will bring in human form, in my understanding, God’s love to all.  They will make the decisions that help, strengthen, Give.

Moms all around the world, Peace, Love and Strength to you all this Christmas.  Shalom.

– EC

Santacon

I don’t know if I want Santa in my toddler’s life.

Should we let him in?

Hold on. Wait a minute. Take a deep breath. “What?!” you may ask. Hear me out.

I was raised, at times, in a Jew-“ish” household. I’d have gifts under the tree that said they were from Santa, but I knew it was fake, along with the Tooth Fairy, who I’d scrawl accusatory notes to: “I know you’re not real.” My stepdad took to driving to his mother’s house to use her typewriter to type back a response. Still, I didn’t believe.

Wait, what?. I had a tree?

Yes. My mother is a lapsed Catholic (a Chicana one from Texas, no less), and my father is per above, Jew-“ish,” more culturally so, from New York (Long Island, no less). But there remains a question as to if I’m “automatically” Jewish since my mom isn’t. But I look Jewish. Way more than I look Mexican.

As a child I lived with both of them, together, for about five years, then with one at a time until I was 18. I spent three years on the east coast with my dad and his Jewish parents. There, we participated in the occasional High Holiday, but to be honest, I don’t know much about being Jewish except for a love of whitefish, some crazy hair, a big nose, and the build of a woman meant to windmill potatoes on a Kibbutz. There wasn’t Christmas. In fact, on the east coast, Jews have a timeworn tradition of either working for their Shiksa friends on December 25 or going to the movies and eating Chinese takeout.

Then I lived with my mother and stepfather, whose family celebrated Christmas and had Santa. Then my sister-from-another-mister was born and BOOM – Christmas entered our house full force. All of a sudden I’m wrapping gifts with secret and separate paper for my sister on Christmas Eve. My closest friend’s mother would even pass along small St. Nick’s gifts.

When I lived with my mom, I’d light a menorah and mumble through the prayers. She’d give me gifts each night. My sister still makes me Star of David-shaped cookies.

Thus, my relationship to Christmas, and Santa, is one of amusement. I mean, being fat in my dad’s family is anathema, genes be damned, and now you want to let a fat white guy into the house? Are you kidding me? What if he’s a Republican anti-Semite?

Marriage didn’t make this any easier. I married a Quaker. Yes, Quaker. Not the people who make furniture – those are Shakers. He had Santa in that “well, there were always gifts under the tree that said they were from Santa” vein.

Now we have a toddler who’s conscious enough to understand that something is kind of happening. Last Friday we put up our three-foot, fake, pre-lighted tree from Target and placed some ornaments on it. “Happy Thanksgiving!” she hollered.

But does this mean that a gift under our tree should say it’s from Santa? Do we lie, tiptoe around for a few years, hoping she doesn’t find out and perpetuate the myth? Or do we jump on the bandwagon? The fine folks at Dadwagon have started a tantrum about this.

What say you? Take the poll:

–        MD

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