Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Swimming on the Floor (and other thoughts before Thanksgiving)

Avalon's asleep in her room on her stomach. She slept like this for two hours the other afternoon. I think this might be the way she likes to sleep, so I'll just leave it at that for now. Talking about parenting approaches sometimes seems like talking about politics at a dinner party, but at the risk of saying too much, I will note in this journal that she is back to sleeping through the night in her room after insulating it, drywall repair, re-painting the whole thing and a night accented with a few bouts of crying and loud thumb sucking. But, maybe most surprising of all, is the fact that I slept through the night for the first time in over four and a half months last week. I really missed dreaming. The other night I dreamt that I was riding down an enormous dirt hill on the balls of my bare feet with the enthusiasm of a Disney character, just hooting and hollering and launching off little jumps made of branches. 

Avalon is really getting the hang of rolling over. It makes her seem so much more human somehow, and less and less like someone who once fit inside of me and couldn't hold up her own head. She maneuvers herself near toys and then chooses, through her own freewill, whether she will play with these toys while laying on her stomach or her back. When I used to place her down for "tummy time" she was absolutely hysterical about it, like I had asked her to lay on hot coals or wear a dirty diaper forever. Now she lays on her tummy and practically swims across the floor. She even sits in a little highchair in the kitchen and eats avocado. She bobs her head like one of those dashboard decorations and squeals for more, slapping her hands on the counter like a drunk at a bar, demanding another round. She laughs and lunges at the spoon and when I tell her I love her and stare at her adoringly she smiles back, but then looks away as if she's too humble to acknowledge how obsessed I am with her.

When I clap to music she can't help but blink at each clap in the beginning, but she loves jazz hands the most. Sometimes I walk her around the house kissing her cheeks and looking at her face in the mirrors. Her skin is like velvet or new wetsuit neoprene and I want to breathe in all of her babyness so these memories of her will come back to me. She wears jeans now and sometimes pigtails. I remember in the beginning of her life, telling my mom that I felt actual fear when I heard her waking up because I wasn't sure I'd know what to do. I asked my cousin if the newborn days were a mess of not sleeping, of both mother and baby crying, and she said she couldn't remember. I thought I would never be able to forget that fifth week of Avalon's life when I cried for what felt like the entire night and begged Scott to stay home on a Thursday. I thought the feeling of those postpartum blues that try to convince you, you are not good enough to be someone's mother would haunt me until she graduated, but those days actually do seem very separate from the ones we are living now. Some part of me felt broken forever after she was born, but now I feel put back together and stronger than ever, kind of like a tree whose roots found water even deeper. 

I used to think there was almost nothing remarkable about a mother walking through the neighborhood with her baby in tow. I've seen this scene play out thousands of times, but now that I've been through almost five months of motherhood and nine months of carrying a child, I look differently at each person I see pass; at people making their way in the world, or just down the street.

The other week I sat in my parent's big arm chair and declared that I wasn't sure I liked weddings. Maybe I just said it for dramatic appeal because everyone, who was sleepily watching Notting Hill, seemed roused by the statement. Of course it's fun to see how each couple takes this rather common big life event and puts their own spin on it, but my mom said she likes weddings because she loves that people, over and over again, keep believing in love. I think this is the reason I have started to regard the sight of a mother pushing a stroller as something marvelous.

Lately, whenever I check myself for breast cancer I always expect to find a lump. The family history is not good. I have to get a colonoscopy after I'm done breastfeeding, or perhaps at the end of January. I can't even think about it. I feel at the same time certain I am cancer free and also that I probably have stage four colon cancer and that Avalon will be raised without a biological mother. I am trying to live more in the now, though, or at least to put this all out of my mind; maybe to become numb to it from time to time so that I can carry on, enjoying the now. 

The other day I nursed her in the hammock under the palm trees. Everything smelled so clean and blue and I was thinking about how big the world is and how someday she would understand that too, but see it in completely her own way; how she already sees it in her own way, even if this means spending ten minutes dislodging a board book from the side of her bouncy chair and then reading it upside down. I was thinking about how easy it is to get her to smile; I barely have to work for it. I was thinking about how she looks at me in this trusting way and how I'll do anything I can to get her to keep seeing me that way. I was thinking about life and that quote about how no one gets out alive; and then I was thinking about how when Avalon wakes up after naps, crying, I rush to her and hold her immediately and tell her "It's ok. You're not alone!" and how this statement seems to have gotten me through everything so far. 

+Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Thank you for being here. This community is something I am very thankful for.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In the Fog

We got our baby monitor working. When I was little my neighbor and I used to make houses with full floor plans, curtains, sinks, door mats and refrigerators inside of empty cardboard laundry detergent containers and half gallon milk cartons. That's sort of what our house is like. An extremely small space that somehow has everything we need. I've gone over four months now without a baby monitor simply because I can practically hear Avalon breathing in her room from the other side of the house. 

It's raining outside. That trickly, misty kind that makes your nose itch a little. I spilled some yellow paint on the back porch a few weeks ago painting a chair I got at Good Will for seven bucks. Maybe it will wash it away. California's been just about thirsty enough to die, but she's tough, so she hangs in still producing epic sunsets, snowy mountains, freeways filled with people that know how to use their horns and middle fingers, the tallest red wood trees and waves. 

The waves have been a wild mess lately. I love when they get like that. This is partially because when I can't surf I don't have to feel bad that I'm missing out on clean, well groomed waves that would help me lose myself and the last pounds of baby weight, but also because I like seeing that the ocean has days when she's upset too. From a distance the water doesn't even look like it's moving, kind of like a trail of ants, but up close you can see how the whole thing could take over if it wanted to. 

In the early evenings I can smell bonfires burning. I like picturing people sitting in front of them eating Taco Bell tacos with beanies and gloves on like my family and I used to when we went to the beach in the winter. 

Maddie started chemo this week. She can't eat or drink anything cold because the doctor said it would make those things go down like glass. My mom said Maddie had her first sad day Monday, but was up just after dawn the day after making lists and walking the neighborhood. It inspired me to text my neighbor to go walking with us at sunset instead of using the same words over and over to tell my journal how lonely some days can feel. Chemo will last six months. We're going to have a party when she's all done. I've been at the doctor more than normal lately, either for Avalon or me, and Maddie's cancer always seems to come up. Maybe because I bring it up on purpose just to see how people take it, because sometimes I'm not sure I know how to take it yet. They always seem relieved to hear it's stage two, so then I adapt the same mindset.

Avalon likes to reach for and hold things lately. She examines them with this almost cross-eyed look that reminds me of her early baby days. She has developed this fabulous squeal lately and wears her hair in a stick-straight ponytail that sort of resembles a gathering of feathers. It helps minimize the comments presumptuous people make about what a handsome little boy she is. She went to watch a skate competition the other day, then swam under the water in my parent's swimming pool and ate some avocado when she was done. It was a big weekend for her. 

I shouldn't have probably been so quick to claim what an amazing sleeper she is, because she has not been sleeping very well this week. A few nights she has been rolling over in her crib or waking up every few hours kicking and playing. I am never very amused. I have to have a guy come tomorrow to insulate the walls of her room since it has become too cold overnight for her to sleep in there. We have to take everything out and then put it all back. I'm tired just typing this. Sometimes I fantasize about taking NyQuil and going to my parent's house to sleep the night completely, maybe even waking up with a crick in my neck because I was so wasted with sleep.

Today I was nursing Avalon in the rocker in her room, craning my neck back and resting my head lackadaisically against the head rest like I've seen homeless people do on the subway. I was thinking about taking a nap on my bed instead of cleaning the eggs out of the pan I burned them into this morning. Then I thought about how someday, when I'm sending Avalon off to college or even to get her driver's license, I will yearn for days like this when she sleepily nursed in my arms in the shrinking afternoon light and all I had to do to make her smile was stick my tongue out or look in her direction. I think my heart may slowly crack little by little over time just wanting moments like these back.

One of the main things I would like to instill in Avalon is the importance of always being honest with herself about what she's feeling and who she is. You can't get everyone's approval, no matter what, and if you try waiting around for it you will be waiting until all your time is gone. 

If I'm being honest with myself, and with you, I'd say that I'd like to write a book and that maybe I'd like to start now just by jotting down some of the feelings I've had from this crazy year of birth and cancer. I think both of those two things pushed me into a realm of writing things down that don't belong here. I hate to say that anything isn't meant for this journal I've shared for almost seven years now, but somehow with the internet it seems so much larger scale than a book. Like you can't whisper at all. And so I started writing things down that could maybe go in a book instead, because, why not? You won't believe the creativity of the document's name. It's currently called "My Book". Don't get any ideas about taking the title.

Anne Lamott says that writing a novel is like driving through the fog: you can only see about as far as the headlights, but that's enough. 

For now I think that's all the advice I need for writing and for life. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Our First Halloween as Parents

Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, here are a few things I wanted to record from Avalon's first...

Scott and I made Ribollita soup like zombies at eleven at night before having friends over. We were sitting on the couch at ten thirty watching The Big Bang Theory apathetically, putting off cooking, until I just got up, turned on the stove and started cutting carrots. Then Scott joined and cut the rest of the veggies. He's much better with a knife than me. Although, I do give myself credit for teaching him the trick of lining vegetables up in a row and then cutting them all at once. Not sure anyone on the Food Network would approve of this method, but it's quick. Chopping food eats up valuable phone, reading and sleep time when you are new parents, so the more efficient you can be, the better.

The next day we surfed and played in the ocean even though the tide was too high and there were a million people out. I called them "barn balls" when retelling the tales from our session to my dad, who had stayed behind to watch Avalon. He questioned the meaning of the obvious diss. "Like Barneys, of course... Dumb Dumbs who almost run your legs over when they're just trying to go straight and then take every single set wave that comes in." He understood. I guess my free-spirited, go-with-the-flow, enjoy-it-all, post-pregnancy-surf-psyche might be fading. 

There were only about ten friends who came over for the party. Which, although this might sound potentially pathetic, was just the perfect amount. I got to talk to each one about real things and actually eat the food I spent time making. I even remembered to light the candles and put on music. Bliss. Avalon was dressed like a pumpkin; probably the most predictable baby Halloween costume around, but I don't care. It was so cute. She slept like a champ during some of the party even though we never made any attempts at being quiet. I take back any frustrated feelings I harbored about her sleep habits in the beginning. She is a dream. Today she slept through our smoke detector beeping because of a low battery, but now I'll probably worry that she won't hear such things when she's older if there's an actual emergency. 

I'll never forget the hug my friend Jenny gave me when she found out about Maddie's cancer. I'm trying to organize in my head all the things that help and don't help when you are struggling with something sad or hard in your life. Hugs help the most. They say it all.

The girls all sat around the living room talking about pumping and diaper rash and different baby apparatuses. None of the wine we bought got drunk because all the girls were busy breastfeeding. I did have a hard cider though. It tasted like the special occasion sodas my mom used to let me have when I was a kid. Got a good report card? You can have some Cactus Cooler to celebrate. Survived the infant days as a first time mom? Have a hard apple cider. 

Halloween night we left Avalon with my parents for three hours, which is approximately how much time it took me to actually leave. I was an anxious, nervous wreck, reminding the woman that raised me and my two sisters how to warm a bottle. Avalon didn't even know we were gone and I almost won "King of the Hill" elimination flip cup. 

What did you do you Halloween?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Intermingled Thoughts

My journal has become passing thoughts scribbled on the backs of grocery lists and clumsily typed iPhone notes that say things like "Avalon likes touching cold cups" and "Now I can hear her heart anytime I want to!" 

was paying an SDG&E bill the other day and found, scribbled on the backside of the envelope, the words: "There is the serene ocean and her dangerous currents and there are the car alarms of the world " written in my second grader handwriting, some mid-sentence letters looking just as uppercase as the first. I think this has to do with a thought I had about how there is magic in life, like a human growing from the size of a seed and sprouting into someone that can hold hands with someone else who was also once the size of a seed in their own mother's stomach; there are big problems, like Maddie's cancer, and then there are the inevitable little annoyances such as sitting down to read a book after your child goes down for a nap and most of your chores are finally completed only to have a car alarm go off for the entirety of that quiet time. 

Yesterday I took Avalon to her last lactation appointment. At least, let's hope. There were a bunch of infants learning how to latch properly and even one who was fresh out of his tongue un-tieing procedure, numb-tongued and crying like a goat who'd been kicked in the neck. In my time visiting the clinic I have dealt with an over-supply problem, fast-letdown, mastitis and then an undersupply problem that resulted from stress. Before we left she said, "Now go and enjoy nursing!". Avalon was the oldest baby there by a few months, but, as our elevator door began to close and I watched the lactation consultant bustling around her office helping the next new mom, I couldn't help feeling like we graduated from something that made us both more grown up. (I write my problems down specifically in case anyone else out there is struggling and needs support--quitting or sticking with breastfeeding because, honestly, both are equally tough and good choices if you ask me). 

I am now making some milk to set aside and save for Maddie in case she has trouble keeping things down while she does chemo. I think it will be best mixed with an In N Out milkshake. Today I nursed Avalon in the hammock chair in our backyard while listening to some bluegrass music and the wind. (I write that down because I want to remember it).

Last year at this time, I had just found out we were going to have a baby. I felt like it was the culmination of years spent dressing plastic dolls, teaching preschoolers how to wait their turn and nannying kids I probably would have adopted if given the chance. I was also freaked out about a life alteration I had only observed as a bystander and, maybe most of all, struggling with the reality that I couldn't celebrate Halloween like a drunken idiot impersonating her current hero or favorite brand of beer (one year my friends and I were a six pack of Coronas. I had a lime drawn on my shoulder in neon permanent pen for six days). 

Now Avalon is here in a way that fills the whole house. She wakes up in the morning and smiles this smile as I approach her crib that her face barely seems to have room for, so consumed by joy that I almost have to look away so I won't cry. Her breath smells like warm fruit yogurt and sour cream. Normally I despise those smells, but I purposefully inhale her breath all day long. I write down other things in my scattered journals about how I always want her to be so accepting of me being in her personal space. I get her busy doing an activity like sitting in her Tiny Love Seat chewing on her Tag Monkey and instead of responding to text messages or sweeping the kitchen I end up staring at her. I feel so overcome by this small human. There has always been a space for her in my life and now she not only fills that space, but seems to overflow it. And yet, I always want more, like those days when it's clear and just the right temperature and you can see for miles.

The other day I drove away from perfect offshore, waist high waves to look at freshwater fish in the air-conditioning at Petsmart. Scott said it could have been a scene in Joe Dirt, but was pleased I saved $14 in not going to the real aquarium. The Petsmart employees were very helpful, asking if I had any questions or needed any help identifying some of the fish species. And a free tour guide! I thought, but it seemed too evil deceiving a good intentioned hourly employee for her knowledge on aquatic animals I was never going to buy. I've been there, owning fish before. They die often and it makes me sad just as frequently. For some reason I became more engaged in the idea of owning a few small finches labeled "beginner" on the pet guide. Had I brought them home, however, and this complimentary tour of Petsmart would no longer have been amusing to Scott. The employee did mention that there was "a great tropical fish shop just down the way". An outing for Thursday!

This week my focus has been on sleep. Everyone seems to have an opinion about it. There are so many different good ways to raise kids that it makes sense there are such a variety of approaches that work. I see teaching Avalon to sleep well as an important lesson I can bestow upon her at this age and so I've been putting her down for bed and nap time in her crib tired but awake, after a story and some snuggling, then allowing her to figure out how to sleep. There have been some tears, hers and mine, of course. The first night we tried it I became overwhelmed, after going in to comfort her with tummy pats and copious kisses, by the fact that her crying eyes looked just like they did when I held her for the first time and now, here I was, teaching her this very grownup thing by not holding her. I wandered around the house morosely for about five minutes after that until she fell asleep, thumb in mouth, all by herself in her very own big girl crib. Then I poured a glass of wine and called my family.

And I think, this is how it's supposed to be: the intermingled pain and joy of life. 
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