Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On 2011

“Another year older…and what have you done?” That line from the John Lennon Christmas Carol always gets to me, as was surely intended. This year I retorted triumphantly, “I pushed a baby out of my body without meds. Imagine that, John!” I felt unusually satisfied with myself. It was nice for a change.

While I was pregnant, George’s friend Heather told me that giving birth made her feel powerful. I asked her how long she rode that high. I anticipated that a few sleepless nights marked its demise. Instead she said, “well, let’s see…my son’s nine, so I guess nine years.” Wow, way to go Heather!

Most times, I just find motherhood to be humbling. On a daily basis, I confront new things that don’t always have easy solutions. As my husband would say, “there are no tidy truths” in parenting. The act of giving birth has not changed that reality.

There are moments of invincibility, though. Usually, pushing seems to be the part of labor that comes back to me. With pushing, there’s control. Not so with contractions. People compare the pain of contractions to a wave. They come whether you like it or not. You have no choice but to ride them out. You ride some better than others, and that’s just how it goes for many hours. On the other hand, pushing is the active part of labor. It's the time when you really take charge. You can decide how long or how hard to push. Ostensibly, you could decide not to push at all (although probably not advisable). It was the only time during my labor that I said, “I can’t!” It was also the only time the two midwives yelled back at me, “Yes you can!” -- my faith renewed because of their special knowledge of how this was supposed to go; my strength bolstered as I was initiated into a long line of women who had been assisted by them and others like them along this journey.

Still, my tete-a-tete with John Lennon is hardly transcendent. There’s another one about channeling birthing energy to help along an anemic workout, but, really, who cares? When I look at Claire it’s a different story though. I look at her and am in awe of the fact that I made her. I look at her and think, wow, that was a lot of work. I look at her and think it was worth every second. I know the sacrifice I am willing to make for her, because I have already given more than I thought possible. I know the lengths I will go for my daughter, because I have gone beyond my limits before. The power of giving birth has taught me most of all about how to love.

Photo Source: Yuval Y, Wikipedia Commons

Friday, December 16, 2011

Because It's Good for You!

Claire woke up a wreck at 3AM last night gagging on post-nasal drip. The sound coming out of her nose alternated between a whistle and a death rattle. George and I got to work on it with baby saline solution and that weird bulb designed to extract baby snot. Lloyd the cat supervised, as Claire looked at us like “Et tu, Brute?” and started howling.

In a couple of minutes, she settled down and rivers of evidence made it clear that our work was fruitful. However, it was also clear that Claire didn’t feel a bit of gratitude for our efforts.

We have enjoyed many awesome firsts in the recent months – smiling, laughing and babbling. My personal favorite is watching Claire crawl commando style across the living room floor to ambush a sleeping Lloyd.

But last night’s adventure with sinuses, was one of the first firsts that we did not greet with relish. Her first cold was also part of a bigger recent trend; one I will call the “It’s for your own good” phase, also known as “She doesn’t know any better”.

This nascent period finds us at odds with Claire, vainly attempting to explain to her that we have the moral high ground. The encounters like last night seem tailor-made for the phrase “This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you”. Of course, like with all children, this truism makes little difference to Claire.

There are other situations where I imagine people like the Godfather or Dr. Phil superseding. I see Claire on Brando’s lap…“Work with me here. You know your parents have to change your diaper”. The Don would be no match for her, however.

Her lack of cooperation in some endeavors is just plain mind-boggling to me…“Why can’t I wipe your nose? Doesn’t it feel better not to have snot running down your face?” She looks at me like “First of all, I don’t need to explain a thing to you and second, why are you assaulting me?”

Try telling her that the computer wires aren’t edible or that no good has ever come from pulling a cat’s tail. No matter, though, because she wants what she wants, and her parents are the ones thwarting her best laid plans.

Right now, distraction works wonders, so there’s no lasting line in the sand. I can usually give her a Kleenex to tear up and she’s right as rain.

I know we are a short trip to “eat your peas” and have a ways to go before “it’s past your curfew”. Those challenges will surely be more complicated. I don’t know which is harder: the battles themselves or the fact that she just doesn’t understand. Of course, there will come a day when she will be 100% sure that, without a doubt, we don’t understand either.

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Photo Source: Nasal Spray, Wikipedia

Monday, December 12, 2011

Image is Everything

I bought a Groupon for a photo book and had the daunting task of whittling down thousands of photos of Claire to fit on 20 pages. When eyestrain and carpal tunnel began settling in, I found myself wondering, “Did we really need to take twenty shots of her sleeping on August 24th?” The answer is, of course, yes, although it was clear that most of these duplicates weren’t going to make the final cut.

Putting digital repetition aside, difficult decisions still remained. Of course, we needed to include one of her first bath, and “Wow, do her eyes look blue in this one” preceded inclusion of way too many shots. What to do about the five really cute ones of her eating solid food for the first time? Each was a slight permutation of the other, each distinct and equally valuable. How to choose between them? I didn’t know. What I did know was that Andy Warhol truly was a prophet.

I managed to hone down the number to a streamlined 91 photos with many good ones ending up on the cutting room floor. Claire is the subject of all shots and about half are exclusively of her. I did a rough calculation and realized that George and I had taken approximately seven photos a day of Claire in the short six months since she has blessed us with her presence. That’s a lot, and I started to worry that we were aggrandizing our daughter. We live in a consumer culture desperate to turn my daughter into a false idol. I don’t want to add to the zeitgeist. Anyone remember Warren Beatty’s lacerating comment to Madonna in the “Truth or Dare” documentary? Something to the effect of “If the cameras weren’t on, you wouldn’t exist.” And that line was way before Youtube. Plus, if the focus is on preserving the moment, are we really in it? I want Claire to live her life not pose for it as if every event were a photo op.

Although hard to imagine, there was a time before cameras. For millennia, people probably had no memory of what they looked like as a baby or small child. That would surely change one’s self-concept, and I doubt in a good way.
There were portraits before cameras, but most are creepy – insipid, rosy cheeked Gainsboroughs or morose, oddly proportioned colonial babies. I don’t know which is worse. Yes, we’ve come a long way since Las Meninas, baby. And there’s surely no going back.
When I looked at the finished product, all of my concerns melted away anyway. The book is beautiful; my daughter is beautiful. We have a beautiful family. That’s what a parent is supposed to think, so media culture be damned. Most of all, the photos show Claire to be content and curious. They show a girl who is loved. I’m fine with repeating that over and over again.
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