Being a mama category archive
Yesterday there was a morning walk under the pines, cut short by a squirmy toddler. But not before we heard doves, and saw them perched among the branches. Not before we saw the tall rattlesnake grasses, as high as my shoulder. Not before we felt dry, golden grass against our legs. Not before we heard the sound of our feet crushing crispy brown pine needles. Not before I felt my muscles working as they pushed the stroller up and down the hills, and remembered how a morning walk opens things up like nothing else.
But the day was still long afterwards. Wednesday, the middle of the week. When the heat bears down all day long, it’s easy to go stir crazy. To feel like a prisoner of the air-conditioned house. To crave an outing of any kind. But even a walk around the block or to one of the parks nearby has no appeal when it’s 100 degrees outside. When the black asphalt radiates heat that is almost visible in its intensity.
So in the evening we went to the library. The county library here is in the top floor of the Alcazar, the famous and imposing fortress that reigns over Toledo’s skyline. From the windows there are sweeping views of the city, and the wide open plains beyond. I look through the wooden shutters into the distance and imagine a watchman warning of the approach of an army in the distance in centuries past. Basil jiggles with giddy excitement at the sight of another child, toddling up to him and offering a book. “Hi” he says, and when the other small boy says nothing, he tries “hola”. I smile at the mother and wonder if she’s as glad to have her child entertained as I am, or if I should redirect my enthusiastic little boy.
After the library we went to a park. The parking garage where JJ’s parents have passes hugs the side of the hill by the Alcazar, its roof level with the street next to the fortress. There is a big square on top of the garage, and in the late evening when the sun goes behind the buildings and it finally cools off a bit, children play there. Parents sit along the edges talking and looking down at the river below, or have drinks in the café tucked in one corner. Basil watches a group of boys playing soccer. He follows two little girls riding their bikes around. And then he toddles into the play area and climbs up the slide behind a much bigger girl. I watch his cheerful attention to the other children, and feel guilty for how little he sees other kids here.
Now it’s Thursday and I can feel how things are shifting towards the end of our trip. Basil’s abuela has started saying she can’t wait until he leaves, which is her way of saying how much she’s going to miss him. Abuelo has begun to ask Basil for kisses all the time, linger longer over him at mealtime, and get jealous when we spend time with Great Grandma. JJ comes back from Barcelona tomorrow. We are going home soon, and a sense of possibility has replaced the mid-trip restlessness.
The restlessness continues, fueled by the oppressive heat that keeps us indoors most of the day. Basil still takes two naps, so that keeps us close to home too. He’s still afraid of the water, so the swimming pool is no fun. A storm finally blew through tonight, dropping rain for just 10 minutes but cooling things enough to enjoy being outdoors again. The smell of dried summer grass wet from the rain reminds me of the fog-drenched hills in Northern California right now. The curtains swoop and billow in the wind, and the air feels cooler than it has in days.
There was a visit to Great Grandma tonight. Raindrops on my bare arms as we walked to her house, a ground floor apartment down a narrow cobblestone street in the old town. She has lived there for over 70 years and her house is full of dearly loved china, photos at toddler level, and old-fashioned fans that whip around and entice small fingers to explore. Needless to say, I spent the visit managing Basil, trying to let him look and climb but not break anything. The best was opening and closing the shutter, looking out at the street below, saying “hi” to people passing by.
You parents: how do/did you manage to enjoy visits to non-childproof grandparents’ houses with toddlers? I feel like I need to plan for it like I would plan for a flight, filling my purse with snacks and entertainment. Otherwise, I spend the visit chasing him around telling him “no” like today, and where’s the fun in that?
My days have been a river of one thing to the next lately, baby, shower, breakfast, thesis, baby, park, write, lunch, baby. A nap on a good day. Then baby, clean, cook, baby, baby, maybe thesis, baby, dinner, husband, thesis, write, read, sleep, baby, sleep, baby, sleep.
Then get up, and do it all again.
It’s really hard, this final push of my dissertation, with a one year-old. Thankfully, I have help. A babysitter two mornings a week. My mom a few days a month. A sister now and then. And most importantly, a supportive husband. A partner who’s thrilled to get home and scoot Basil off to the park, who loves being his dad as much as I love being his mom. But still, it’s really hard.
It’s hard to nurse Basil, put him down, kiss JJ, maybe make a cup of tea, and go sit down at my desk, every night. It’s hard to be tired, and to work anyway. It’s hard to think so much at the end of the day, every day.
All this focus makes me lose track of days. Whole weeks go by like a blur of fence posts on the interstate. Thesis baby thesis baby thesis baby. What, it’s Sunday again?
I’ve got so much other writing I want to work on. An essay about motherhood and work, inspired by an excellent post I read last month. Another for a post about how to get things done. And a page of scrawled notes about what it means to be original in the age of Instagram.
Maybe someday I’ll learn how to share these notes and ideas without feeling I have to refine and refine. I mean, we can have a conversation, tell a story, without perfection, right? The more I write, the better I feel at it. But it’s still so hard to post here sometimes, especially when I’m so tired. I can’t wait to have more time for all that other writing.
In the meantime, I jot things down, keep 5 different draft documents open and work on them when I can. And I keep wrestling the wild work in progress that is my thesis. Thanks to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, I think of it as a wild tiger:
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”’.
I’ve learned that if I “tame the tiger” a little bit every day, I can remain the boss. Sitting down and writing for an hour or two today makes it possible to sit down more easily tomorrow. And when I stick with it, I have days when the tiger is curled at my feet, docile and purring, while my fingers fly over the keyboard with clarity and inspiration. Sometimes even at 11pm.
This boy makes people smile everywhere we go. From the stroller he catches peoples’ eyes as we walk down the street. “Hi there” they say, “what a happy guy”, grinning in surprise, their tired, distracted faces momentarily transformed. Waiting in line to return a duffel bag, he is perched on my hip, checking out everyone ahead of us. I see first one, then another person break into a wide smile. An older, balding man with twinkling, blue eyes starts making silly noises and Basil breaks into loud, delighted giggles, causing all of us in line to laugh.
In the mornings we walk. We go out into the mild California winter, where the sun warms us despite the cold, and the sidewalk is still strewn with the colors of fall. We walk down the hill, kicking stiff magnolia leaves, brown and shiny as new pennies. At the crosswalk, we play peek-a-boo around the side of the stroller as we wait for the bus to grind to a stop. Then we cross, staying on the sunny side of the street until we get to 24th Street and our first stop, the bakery.
Inside there’s another mom ahead of us, and two blond-haired little ones who nibble on a cookie from the deep seats of a double-wide stroller. “What’ll it be today?”, a young guy with a scruffy goatee asks, and I get a sweet baguette for dinner, and a plain croissant to share with Basil. I pay, then back my way out of the bakery, maneuvering the stroller awkwardly through the glass door until a kind woman in a red coat pulls it open for me, smiling at Basil.
After a quick stop at the drug store for pacifiers and light bulbs, we head up the street towards the park. It’s just two long blocks, but with the hills around here, and the warm winter sun, I’m sweating by the time we get there. I strip off my scarf and jacket, brush the croissant crumbs off Basil, and we plop down on the soft ground to play. The park is full of children today, as it often is at this time. A helter-skelter collage of strollers line the fence. Both swings are occupied, and there’s a child waiting. The teeter-totter bounces back and forth with the energy of four year-olds. A few persistent pigeons peck at the crumbs left behind by small hands, skittering away when a small boy runs by. Basil takes it all in, crawling towards the pigeons, then stopping to watch a little blond girl who toddles toward him.
Mornings like this are why I now love where we live. I can walk to do most of my daily errands. The bank, post office, grocery store, coffee shops, and more are all less than a 10-minute walk. Basil loves being out, watching people, breathing the fresh air. I get exercise, and don’t have to worry about driving. I love it.
But a year ago I was aching to move. Certain we’d leave the city by summer. Be in a place with more space, a bigger yard, maybe hiking trails nearby. But since having Basil my perspective has shifted completely, in ways I didn’t expect. Instead of more space, I’m happy with fewer belongings, and being able to walk everywhere. Instead of a garden, I have my pots of herbs off the kitchen, my flower pots on the front steps. Instead of hiking trails, I have these mornings in the neighborhood, Basil kicking his feet as we walk, our bellies full of fresh pastries.
What do you love about your neighborhood? Has your feeling about where you live ever radically shifted?
I’ve been wanting to blog lately. Each time I post a comment on someone else’s blog, and it has a link to mine, I think ‘gosh, my last post was months ago’. But more than the typical guilty blogger feeling, I’ve been wanting to blog because I am writing, and taking pictures, all the time these days, and I want to share.
I am taking pictures of my Basil, every day. Capturing his expressions, his growing chubbiness, the way he looks at his dad at the end of the day like, ‘hey, you’re back!’. And I am writing about Basil, our time together, what it’s like to be his mom. How we sat this morning, in a strip of sunlight pouring through an open doorway, and felt the heat on our bare feet. How he stands already on my lap, and his legs flop a little like green beans, but he gets frustrated when I sit him down. How I settle him into the front carry, bundling up against the spring coastal winds, and we set off on an evening walk, up and down the hills around our house. And how I wanted to move so badly 6 months ago, and now with Basil here, I am falling in love with the possibilities of living where we do.
But mostly, my thesis writing fills every spare moment I have. I am writing about Barcelona, what I learned from the teachers there, about how immigration was transforming their daily lives. There is power in listening, really listening to someone talk for up to an hour, and that is what I did in my interviews with teachers. They told me their life stories, how they had grown up being punished for speaking Catalan, or feeling uncomfortable because they only spoke Spanish. How integrating or assimilating immigrants is a process of all of us changing, making a new society together. Or how integrating newcomers is about the immigrants changing, learning our language, because they are the ones who came here. Or how it’s really about basic respect, across divides of cultural difference, starting with learning to say ‘hello’ in each others’ languages. I am writing about all this, working on the second findings chapter of three, on track to finish by the end of July. If I keep at it.
So back to it, while Basil takes his morning nap. But I’ll see you here again soon.
The days blur together right now like the reds and yellows of a watercolor left in the rain, Tuesday’s becoming Saturday in a stream of rocking, diaper changes, cooing and nursing. JJ is off work for another two weeks, and some days we are still in pajamas at 11, Basil lying peacefully in bed between us after fussing all morning. Today, he slept for 2 hours on his daddy’s chest, arms hanging down JJ’s sides like the limbs of a stuffed monkey draped around a child’s neck. He’s a good baby, wiggly and full of life when he’s awake, insistent when he needs something but usually quick to soothe once we figure out what it is.
So good that I’m working on my thesis again! Monday we went to apply for Basil’s passport down the hill in the Castro neighborhood post office, and then I stayed to work in a cafe nearby while JJ brought Basil home for a nap. Being out for just a few hours, making thesis progress, then having the walk home to myself: it feels like forbidden fruit, in these demanding first months of caring for a newborn.
The city is bursting with spring, every scrap of dirt not covered by concrete or ornamental rocks crowded with new growth. Walking up the hill to our house, I see a tangle of last year’s alyssum, wild sour grass, fennel and bright orange California Poppies compete for space in pots and patches of garden. A calla lily in full bloom stretched up through the center of a low hedge, reminding me of a giraffe reaching for tender treetop leaves, or the birdlike neck of my son, straining for milk.
After more than 3 days of labor, my little Basil (his nickname during the pregnancy) arrived a little over two weeks ago, long and lean with his daddy’s feet and mama’s round cheeks. “Look at all that hair!” everyone kept exclaiming as I pushed him out; the hair so long in the back it scrunches up against the collar of his onesies. My days are spent now sitting in the rocking chair, learning how to breastfeed with him, alternately getting lost in the sweet curve of his cheeks, the silkiness of his hair, the downy fuzz on his ears. He was too long for many newborn outfits from birth, feet straining against the cotton toes when we tried to put them on him, the long-sleeved newborn onesies becoming 3/4 length sleeves on his long arms.
So far he sleeps a lot, and wakes to eat with little squeaks and grunts that stir me in the night before they burst into full cries. I’m getting used to being up a couple hours out of the night, nursing him in the soft glow of the star-covered night light, staring out into the dark night, or listening to the pounding rain. We combat the tiredness during the day with naps in the soft afternoon sun, slices of golden light draping across us like a warm blanket.
I feel so lucky, so very lucky to be a mama to this little one.