a wasn’t

Numby is your imaginary friend. She’s a baby, a big girl, whatever you need at the moment. You’re pregnant with her, she swings next to you in an empty blue swing with yellow chains, she wears one rain boot and one fur-lined winter boot while you wear the matching pair. She cries with you and she laughs with you and she runs with you. When you feel alone, Numby is there. When you look to the stars, Numby is there in the sky and beside you at the same time.

Before your nap, we read your Dr. Seuss birthday book together and I keep my voice sing-song and lilting, sound over meaning: “If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?” A Numby, perhaps, or your twin Baby B.

“Why, you might be a WASN’T! A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t. A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.”

We look at the picture of the towering birthday cake, the light-filled palace, the endless sparkling mountain pool, the bursting colorful flowers. “These are beautiful,” I say, intentionally, maybe even a bit robotically, because I worry that I don’t point out beauty to you enough, just dangers, germs, pokey prickly toxic things that can hurt even invisibly.

“But you…You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!”

I tell her to shout “I AM I!” after me, which she finds quite fun, but it doesn’t have the exorcistic effect I had been hoping for.

You AREN’T you. Not quite, but almost. We aren’t we, either. We’re a WASN’T.

The smell of freshly cut grass makes things seem better than they are when the distractions are taken away. I miss you, B. You would be turning three soon and shouting along too: “I AM I!”

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i used to think

that i was my own worst critic, but now, quite the opposite, i find that in my retracted circle no one can say anything nice about anything that i do, which i suppose reinforces my belief that i’m not doing anything very well anyway. the dinner is never varied enough, healthy enough, tasty enough. ryan can’t help because apparently i’ve (once again) decided to make the baby dependent on the boob, as if this isn’t a pretty natural state of things for any baby who’s given access to boob 24/7.  i leave him alone with lila for 10 minutes so i can have one-on-one time with elena and i return to screams, both of them appearing shell shocked and accusatory. to my mother-in-law, we’re not visiting enough, i’m too lax with the children, i’m too skinny or i’ve let myself go, all positive traits of the children are due to their innate genetic superiority (deriving in a straight line from “her” side, of course) and the negative are due to the parenting decisions i’ve bulldozed ryan into accepting. i have no time to myself; even this blog post is written with lila mashing her face into my chest and a flickering realization that i shouldn’t think about things and should just eat some ice cream — dairy free, of course, for lila. i feel that i am nothing, nothing but a battery to be drained to keep two children functioning.

elena’s tantrums feel like a personal failure. whatever she’s doing, it never feels like enough when we go out and other parents show off their child’s latest tricks, their ABCs, their counting, their ability to dress themselves or toilet themselves, even though she’s doing all of it, all of it and more, there’s always something she’s not doing that makes me feel that maybe she’s falling behind because i’ve done something wrong. and her emotions are so fever pitched; she can’t be coaxed down from them, reasoned with. at home i barely notice the effort i put into making her feel heard, but then when i’m trying to socialize with adults and let her play with other children, she’s constantly intruding, urgently dependent. she’s always the one — and always has been the one, ever since she was three months old — ending the play date with her screams. maybe it was the pregnancy, i think. maybe my grief and volatility in the pregnancy made her this way. how could she not be this way when i was beside myself every day of that pregnancy? i’ve read enough about epigenetics to know that these things endure for generations and in ways you’d never expect.

i don’t recognize myself in the mirror; i’m a sagging sad soggy slobby remnant of myself, with unruly hair and parchment skin and joyless determined eyes. my mind is thinking of which counters need wiped, which food re-heated, which child put down for a nap, which carpets vacuumed. i came across a profile of a girl i went to graduate school with and she was writing floridly, with passion, of the political power of poetry, and it all felt as vacuous as my own preoccupation with counter crumbs, but i missed the self-delusion that i was doing something worth doing. i’m not quite in my pre-pregnancy clothes and too small for my maternity clothes so i walk around in ill-fitting purgatory, my maternity tops hanging emptily around my belly or my hips slopping over my waistband. i feel like weeping from the solitude, the sense of failure that clings to everything i do. is this just depression? post-partum something? it seems too late to blame it on that. is there some label that can make this feel more normal, less like a personal failure?

only my mother seems to accept us all without judgment, although even she tries to show off elena when i don’t, which makes me feel that even she thinks that elena is coming off in a negative light compared to bubbly and boisterous toddlers. it pains me to see my own traits reflected in elena: the intelligence unrecognized because of shyness, quirkiness, a refusal to self-advertise. i think of the times when i refused to answer a question in a class simply because it didn’t seem worth doing, simply because i didn’t feel like it and for no good reason really.

lila

now we’re approaching the dates when you were starting to exist last year, when the ice was thawing and the temperatures were rising, and the unthinkable had happened and i was pregnant again without any ado.

at 3.5 weeks, I felt physical repulsion to handling a raw chicken. two days later i took a test and it told me that you were there; your cells were dividing. ryan was in arizona for his uncle’s funeral. i texted him that night, something like “it looks like i’m pregnant. we’ll see if the line darkens.” if i’m being honest, deep down i thought that it would.

at 6 weeks we had an ultrasound and your heart was beating away just as it should. “what’s the implantation site?” i asked, and the tech said, “hmm…it’s hard to tell” which i knew was a lie. i asked the PA later and she looked at the scan for a bit and said, “umm…it’s on the left.” to me, this question was more important than the heartbeat, and it needed to be on the left, but i knew how easily images could seem inverted or rotated on a scan. i didn’t trust the PA, mostly because she seemed so hesitant herself. as i sat in an airport in omaha, waiting for my flight to san diego to celebrate ryan’s 40th birthday, i kept pulling your ultrasound picture out and scrutinizing it surreptitiously. i didn’t even want strangers to know that i was pregnant, much less that i was devoting so much attention to this rectangular proof that you were in there, for now.

in san diego i looked at ryan’s iPad and discovered that he had already told his mother about the pregnancy. i had barely missed my period. i was infuriated. i couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. i looked up the costs of earlier flights home. i’m sure his friends, who obviously didn’t know what had happened, thought that i was being “moody,” “flighty,” “emotionally manipulative,” but in truth i was so irate that he had broken my trust on my one request of him ever that i was contemplating divorce.

at 8 weeks a tech i trusted confirmed that you were on the left. the MFM doctor who saw me through elena’s pregnancy said it was the perfect spot, it couldn’t be any better. i bought a doppler and started checking for your heartbeat almost every night. i felt deep down that you would make it but my stomach always dropped when i got the wand out and i felt unsettled for the rest of the day if i couldn’t find your heartbeat.

at 13 weeks the mild nausea passed and at 16 weeks we found out that you were a girl and that everything looked as it should. they said your heart wasn’t large enough yet to get a good look at it but they were sure it was fine.

at 20 weeks everything looked fine with your heart. my cervix was long and closed and remained that way at subsequent check-ups. there wasn’t a single thing to worry about.

at 25 weeks I told my brothers that I was pregnant again. i told a few friends. i thought at any moment i might go into labor with you, although there was no medical reason to do so.

at 28 weeks we went to omaha for a family reunion, the only time i’d traveled the entire pregnancy aside from the san diego trip at 6 weeks, and on the morning of the reunion i had brown spotting. “it’s nothing,” ryan said. “don’t call about it.” i called anyway and happened to get nancy, my favorite nurse. “that’s very normal,” she said. “it’s nothing to worry about.” online i read that it could mean your cervix is thinning. during the reunion i went to the portapotty every hour at least to wipe and check. it seemed to be getting better, but while making small talk about a cousin’s trip to europe, i couldn’t help thinking in the back of my mind that maybe we would lose you.

the weeks ticked away. at 35 weeks i began hyperventilating about uterine rupture. the nights were unbearable. everything had been too easy, too easy, from conceiving you the first month tried to the clear scans at every single check up.

if i’m being honest, i tried not to think about you, not to plan for you, not to feel pregnant, not to think of anything except getting through the current day. and now that i’m certain you’re the last, i feel nostalgic for a joyful and easy pregnancy i feel like i barely experienced. with a different uterus, a different temperament, a different age, a different support system, we might have had another and another and another.

 

 

in another turn of the wheel

we are all relatively healthy. i feel, now, that i have time to move on to other things: ordering toilet implements for Elena, trying to get her implacable will to bend to mine when it comes to tantrums and those little ornaments of politesse that at first i didn’t think i would enforce so stringently but then, after blanching to see her demand play-doh from a stranger with such self-importance, i now double down on. you must say “please can I __________” for every request, no matter how minute, even if it’s a request to void your bowels. our relationship at 2.5 feels different than before, more discipline driven, but i suppose that’s as it should be, especially since Ryan recoils from such tasks. but we laugh a lot too, mostly at poop jokes.

With Lila, our interactions feel both more harried and more substantial than they were when Elena was her age. She has to be more insistent to get her needs met since I’m less attuned to her cues in the rush of our days, and her naps largely come when they’re best for our schedule rather than when she’s tired.  She adapts, she’s happy, she’s easy, worlds easier, just as her pregnancy was compared to Elena’s.  I can enjoy her in ways that I never really did with Elena. I don’t scrutinize her every movement to see if one side of her body is weaker than the other.  I allow myself to lay beside beside her and look into her eyes and love her without segmenting out every interaction to some higher purpose of instruction or advancement. I sometimes allow her to sit in the bouncer or play on the floor without much interaction aside from what she observes between me and Elena. Maybe she’ll be less likely to think that every conversation must include her and revolve around her, or maybe that’s just a toddler thing that has nothing to do with our parenting. Lila is sleeping better at night, in 6+ hour stretches, and I find myself looking forward to the night instead of dreading it, as a chance to be only with her since Ryan spends much of the night sleeping with Elena.

My body feels more capable than it did a few weeks ago. Soft, sure, and aging in unappealing ways, but also feeding Lila and Elena with a lot left over to donate. When the spring comes maybe I’ll try to get my arms and legs hard again, or maybe I won’t. It feels liberating to make the choice.

The snow is melting and yesterday Elena spent two hours in the sandbox — in the garage, because it was still too cold to go outside, but still.

If I don’t make note, I’ll forget how we pass our days: “washing dishes” (playing with different containers in the kitchen sink), giving baths to plastic figurines, doing a load of laundry together every day, constantly insisting that Elena put on and take off her own clothes, making smoothies together, taking showers together, reading to both of them under Elena’s comforter, watching Elena make various “beds” for her various “friends,” watching Elena become more solicitous of her sister, willing Lila to sleep through another cycle in the boba, drawing stick figures with Elena, making jokes throughout the day to amuse myself, taking five trips to the potty before nap time, rinsing out poop stains in Lila’s pajamas, browsing reddit and the websites of my medical question/worry du jour, trying to take videos of it all to document document document.

potty training

her grandmother has sent some Mike & Ike’s for Valentine’s Day. “I want some,” she says.

“You can have some if you sit on the potty,” I say, essentially meaning that she can’t have them since she will not be enticed through goading or encouragement or play or stern voice to sit on it even though she is more than ready.

“Okay, I go sit on the potty,” she says excitedly, and she jumps down from her stool and heads off to the bathroom.

Just like that, she pees on the potty and comes out to announce that she’s done it. I’m a bit skeptical, although I also know that she knows absolutely when she has peed and when she has not.

I check and see that she has indeed peed. I spin around with her and sing, “Going pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty.” It’s a song I’ve sung before to her to try to make the potty seem “fun,” although it most certainly is not.

“Why you spinning me around and around?” she asks, giggling and squealing and clasping my hands.

“I’m happy that you went pee in the potty. I knew you could do it and I’m glad you finally tried. And now you can have that candy you wanted!” I say.

I pour two Mike and Ike’s into her little palm; they fill it up completely. She puts the green one in her mouth, chews it tentatively, and then shakes her head over and over, saying, “I don’t like it. I want it out” while green saliva dribbles down her chin. I get her a paper towel to spit out the remnants, but she can’t even force herself to push it out with her tongue, so unusual is the texture, so I have to fish it out of her mouth with my fingers.

In an instant it feels like an apt metaphor for everything I have worked for in my life, a chalky squishy mess in my mouth as the reward I sought but a tangential reward I actually enjoy, like a spin and laughs on a wednesday afternoon with my girl. and in truth i’ve been thinking about potty training so much that i discovered the same, an anticlimactic feeling about her peeing in the potty but happiness that she’s finally feeling confident enough to try it.

winter continues…

i thought that i would have fewer doubts the second time around, and largely i do. it is normal for her to be rolling over at 3 months and normal for her not to be rolling over, normal for her to be preoccupied with fans and lights, normal for her to make lots of sounds some days and not as much the next.

but is it normal for her to sound like she’s choking from time to time after a feeding, even when she’s upright in the carrier? or is she getting sick? and is it normal that a baby with reflux only wants to sleep on top of me on her belly, not in an inclined rock and play and not in an inclined mamaroo and not in a crib with a wedge or elevated legs and certainly not in a dock-a-tot propped up with towels or flat on the bed?  i have resigned myself to letting her sleep this way, despite my anxiety, mostly because it happens without my consent at 2 a.m.

and how is her head still developing a somewhat flat spot, when she spends all of her naps strapped to my chest in a carrier and all of her nights on her belly? and what the fuck am i eating that’s upsetting her stomach so much — or is it just structural, nothing to do with the cow’s milk protein or the soy or the wheat or the eggs or the acidic fruit.

and so we are muddling along.

elena has a fever, horrid cough, constantly dripping nose, even though we only leave the house once or twice a week and so have very few opportunities to catch anything, much less this nasty virus. i was certain it would be the flu, and as we waited for the test results to come in i kept getting alerts on my phone about how many children have now died from the flu. she doesn’t have the flu, but a “flu-like virus,” apparently, and i’m still living in terror that Lila will catch it too, or that it will settle into Elena’s lungs. after all, two years old is mature but not that mature. we had been working on weaning, but now i throw myself into nursing with gusto, and elena is surprised that i no longer reject her requests. my milk has never seemed to guard any of us, but at least it’s some liquid she’s willing to drink. some nursing mothers seem to think their milk is ambrosia, but to me it’s just another thing my body can’t do right. how are we always, always sick.

the days pass by with slow misery, even though i know these should be the best days of my life. it seems that they’re both perpetually facing “emergencies” at the same time, in need of a diaper change or help with the potty at the same moment, needing lunch or playtime at the same time. it feels like one or the other is always being neglected, and that i’m neglected most of all. i hardly think of myself as a “self,” just a body making it through the day so we can hopefully make it through another.

and isn’t that how the majority of people around the world live, anyway, so i’m not sure why it seems like such deprivation. i suppose because i’ve known otherwise — days filled with reading, writing, grading, discussing, coming and going, exercising, emailing, texting, wasting time, showers, shopping, peeing in private and without a little human strapped to my belly.

it all feels like too much, and my body feels like too much: too large, too much milk, too needy. why do you need so much food and water, body? don’t you see that we don’t have time for you any more? and what about you, mind? what are you complaining about? don’t you see that there’s a baby here who just shat through her diaper and her onesie?there’s no time for you right now, you leech, unless you’re spinning your theories of what travesties will befall us all next; time will always be made for those.

elena’s cough stabs through like an ice pick. i wish i could make her more comfortable. Lila looks at me with red-rimmed eyes and bangs her head, again and again, against my chest, looking for milk. this is how we pound out the seconds of our days.

Parenting

he drags her off of her stool as she reaches across the counter for some cheese. “you can’t be up here when we’re making dinner,” he says. “The stove could be hot.” on that particular night we weren’t using the stove at all.

she looks at me, indignant, holding back tears. “He just pulled me off!” she says in shock.

later she wants to watch a particular episode of her favorite television show. He’s scrolling through the shows on the iPad and I say, “She wants to watch the ‘Beaches’ one.” He doesn’t acknowledge the request from either of us.

“you don’t recognize her personhood,” I say, and by ‘her’ I also mean ‘my,’ at times.

”I don’t even know what that means, ‘personhood,’” he says.

later I hear the television characters going on a hunt for a floaty device and I realize that he had, after all, selected the ‘Beaches’ episode.