Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

Kamal is fast asleep, Toby's in his Thunder Shirt, and Adam and I have champagne in our jelly jars. In the backyard, potatoes grow in the blind earth, kumquats ripen on thin branches, and a few forgotten tomatoes rot slowly down to their seeds, biding their time till next summer. I am here, in a life that daily brings me joy, largely because of following what my father always called "gut feeling": the still, small voice that always tells the truth when I let myself hear it. My father taught me about the importance of trusting that voice, even if sometimes it means looking before you leap. More than any other year, 2013 showed me how critical it is to trust myself, my own instincts and abilities. 2014 is going to see me applying that lesson like nobody's business.* Happy new year, friends.

*I don't do resolutions, usually. At least not since I've been like 10. But feel free to call me out on this one.

Separation anxiety

I was apart from Kamal for three days last week, being with my dad in a hospice in Florida. Leaving him was agonizing for me, but seemed okay for him--he played at our friend Emily's house with her daughter Sage, strolled around exclaiming at holiday lights, and then hung out with Adam till I got back. Deprived of breastfeeding and never a fan of bottles, he ate lots of "real" food, managed to nap well without nursing, and, wonder of wonders, night-weaned and has been sleeping through the night. (I'm actually afraid to write that down in case I jinx it.)

When I got back from Florida, though, Kamal was all about hugs and kisses, which was so lovely for me. He was also all about nursing. Nursing, nursing, nursing: it was like he needed to catch up, not just on milk but on the bonding we do while breastfeeding. I think breastfeeding, to Kamal (and to me, too!) feels like an extension of hugs and kisses: it's a kind of loving physical closeness that carries intense emotional volume.

Miraculously, he's continued sleeping through the night since my return. You guys, it's a whole new world, for real. However, he will not let me put him down for a nap. At all. Right now he's dozing in my lap, which is actually really sweet even if my left arm is asleep.

He's also not really okay with my leaving the room at all for any reason without him, getting ready to leave the house, or sometimes even handing him to Adam.

I am pretty sure that he's concerned that my boobs and I are going to take off again. Before this trip, the longest Kamal and I had been apart was seven hours. Three days is a really long time when you're not even a year and a half old.

My left arm says this napping issue needs to be resolved immediately, but my mama instincts say it just needs a little time. For a long time, I was food, shelter, love, everything to this little boy. I was it. Daily I see him widening his circle of awareness, moving further and further into the territory of human experience. Sometimes being needed so much by one person feels impossibly exhausting; but then sometimes you see how beautiful being needed like that is, how rare and how fleeting. And then you know that the baby napping guilelessly in your lap, snoring just a little bit and clutching your shirt in one dimpled hand, is the kind of gift you savor while you can.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Tea is a constant. Perfumed jasmine tea when sitting quietly with old friends from Hawaii, or when noisily eating and laughing with those friends over dim sum, the little cups leaving small earth-colored circles on the round glass tabletops. Spicy ginger tea when I have the sniffles, or when, newly pregnant, I spun through the throes of morning sickness. Good, mellow Earl Grey tea, leaves floating loose in an infuser that itself floats in my favorite mug, for gentle mornings at home. Crappy black tea in a bag comforts like a no-nonsense British nanny, a bracing buck-up-now at a diner after a break-up, on a plane that’s taking me away from someone I love, in the waiting room at a hospice care center.

Today, right now, my cup of crappy black tea is readying me for a life without my father. Today, sipped from a styrofoam cup in an airplane, it is telling me that I can walk one foot at a time into the toweringly thunderous silence coming from the space in my life.  I thought I was ready for this loss, and the tea is telling me that while of course that was naive, it is okay to be naive, that I have never yet been in this world as a daughter with no parents to call or make proud or disappoint and so of course everything feels like my skin is brand-new. Each bitter sip reassures me that loss isn’t something anyone ought to be good at, that you can’t practice for it, so there’s no way I can experience this that is either failure or success. That that is a good lesson to take with me into every experience--nothing in real life, from making a cup of tea to keeping vigil at your dying father’s bedside, is either an unmitigated success or an unmitigated failure.

It was my father’s wife telling us that he was refusing cups of tea that made my sister and I know that he was withdrawing from life. There was never a time--not in the bleakness after our mother’s death or the raucous celebration of his first visit with Kamal; not morning or night; not before a meal or after a meal; not in a drippingly humid, oven-hot Tampa summer day or a brisk Manhattan winter evening--when Daddy didn’t want a cup of tea. He’d refused food on and off pretty frequently since his heart surgery nine years before; his appetite had been waning for years, and he wasn’t the most consistent or avid drinker of cold beverages--but tea had been even more of a constant for him than for me. He is why we drink tea; he is a little bit present in every cup.

There is nothing I can say, nothing more I can do, to let my father know I am glad I got to be his daughter. There is no way to take back the times we didn’t agree; no way to relive the times we did. What I can do is linger over my tea, remembering the way that he looked at my sister and I while he lay in the hospice bed: with unmistakable, unshakable love. With tenderness. A look I’d never seen on his face but recognized instantly, because I’d always known it was there, all the time, underneath everything else. I can remember the way my whole life with him distilled sharply down to that love as I sat with him, that the forgiveness I’ve been working towards for so long and feared I’d never find suddenly came so easily, so cleanly. That everything between us was love, that we were any father and daughter and every father and daughter, but that we were most importantly, most especially, finally, us.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Today I don't much like being a mother.

That's a hard thing for me to write. I love being Kamal's mother, of course. There is not one little cobwebby corner of me that is not lit by love for him.

But there are days when the work of being a mother--the constant cleanups and chasing and lifting, the endless negotiations, the lack of sleep (probably mostly the lack of sleep!)--is far more grueling than joyful. Have you ever gone swimming through molasses? Me either, but today especially, I bet I know what it feels like.

After waking up a couple of times last night to nurse Kamal in the rocking chair, I woke up to change a poopy diaper at 6:30. It wasn't a particularly bad night; it wasn't a particular early morning. It wasn't even a particularly poopy diaper. But I was so tired. So, so tired. I changed the diaper and then begged Adam to watch Kamal for just a little while, even though I knew he needed to get ready for work, so that I could go back to sleep. I didn't care if it was only for five minutes; I couldn't think past how badly I wanted to lie back down. Adam fed Kamal breakfast and I think I was back asleep before my head hit the pillow. When he woke me up before he left for work, we both worried I was getting sick. I skipped my run, napped right alongside Kamal during his morning lie-down, and spent the entire morning and early afternoon before I had to be at work just coping. I'd meant to do a bunch of housework, bike to the grocery store, take Kamal to the park and get to work early--and all I did was take Kamal to the park.

That's not all I did, of course. I fed Kamal lunch. I changed his clothes twice. I changed his diaper twice. I nursed him several times. I obliged his many requests to poke my bellybutton. I kept him from putting my cell phone in the toilet. I kept him from pulling the battery out of the clock radio. I tried to teach him about not throwing things at the dog. I tried to teach him not to pull my hair. I tried to teach him the difference between patting my face and hitting it. I stopped him from spilling a quart of water onto himself. I did not stop him from spilling a bag of dried apples all over the pantry floor. I cleaned up the dried apples on the floor. I stopped him from eating a dried apple that the dog had started to eat and then spit out. I stopped him from pulling the blinds off the windows. I brushed my teeth.

 I got to work right on time instead of early, which meant a patient was waiting for me. I hate not being here ahead of the patient; I feel like it looks unprofessional and I find myself trying to make up for it for the whole appointment. In spite of wanting to be extra-professional, then, I was amazingly inarticulate during our session, still struggling to fully wake up. While I'm normally someone who tries to make a real point of looking reassuringly put-together in my professional life, my hair was sticking out all over the place and I'd forgotten to change from my playground shoes (navy blue Doc Martens) to my office shoes (still-funky-but-dressier-and-more-respectable tall black Fluevog boots). I couldn't get into the certain, capable, calm, aware place that work usually affords me--I was working too hard to just not act like an idiot.

I think there's a little bit of mama-burnout happening, and I'm trying to be okay with it, and to practice gratitude around it: gratitude that I am a mother in a time when I can talk about aspects of motherhood that aren't all joy and delight; that I have a partner who shares equally in the work of child-rearing and supports and listens; that I live in a culture that doesn't expect me to have another six babies as soon as possible; that I have the resources to make the changes that will help me feel less burned out and help me to more fully experience the joy of being Kamal's mama. And I know that changes can be made: I can find a part-time daycare situation that is enriching for Kamal. I can refocus on gentle sleep training and night weaning so I'm not so tired all the time. I can stay committed to running and yoga. I can work with the personal trainer I really like to help me stay strong and healthy. I can organize my office so I'm more effective and efficient at work. I can ask for help more than I do from my community, and accept it when it's offered.


It's a hard day, so far. And that doesn't mean that there wasn't real joy today. When Kamal turned on Adam's clock radio and an early Mozart piano concerto piped into the bedroom, his face lit up and he started to dance in his adorable bouncy way. And so I danced too, and for a few minutes it was just the two of us bopping around to piano flourishes in that narrow, sunny room. At the park today, Kamal really wanted to go down the big-kids' slide by himself, and I was nervous, but I let him go. He squealed all the way down and landed flat on his back on the cushy ground at the bottom. I was sure I'd messed up, traumatized my poor child about heights forever or worse--but he popped right up, laughing, and asked to go again. And realizing that all this communication happened without real words? That's pretty joyful. And sitting here in my peaceful office, I am realizing that I can't wait to get home to him, to my incredible, busy, messy, beautiful toddler and our incredible, busy, messy beautiful life. So. Good night.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not-beach-day Saturday

Maybe on a weekend afternoon, you decide you'll all go to the beach, because it's a nice day and your sleep-challenged toddler loves the beach so much, and it's well before his nap time, and you figure he'll toddle around on the beach a lot and tire himself out and fall asleep on the way home. And then you get to the beach, and you turn around and see this. 

So you stretch out all your parent-flexibility and decide to let him sleep. You park at the beach and, in whispers, devise a new plan: you'll take back roads all the way from Jenner to Petaluma, where you'll eat dinner at your friends' restaurant. The drive should take you a good ninety minutes, allowing him a nice long nap.

The drive is heartbreakingly scenic and, by necessity, quiet. Every so often one and then both of you peer over your shoulders, nervously, as though you are carrying a backseat full of illegal explosives, and then, seeing closed eyes and flushed face and tiny chest solemnly rising and falling, you grin at each other with relief so profound it borders on hysteria. He wakes up when you're almost through Sebastopol.

So you Google-map for playgrounds between Sebastopol and your friend's restaurant and end up at a beautiful park you've never heard of a few miles from your house. And the slides and sand and open spaces turn your sleepy-faced baby into a blur of joy.

Maybe late that afternoon there is the crispest, roundest moon you have ever seen in the pinkest sky.

Maybe the reddest trees.     

The End.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I like this

"If your heart is bleeding, make the most of it.
There is heat in freezing. Be a testament."

Motherhood can be really lonely sometimes. You’re pretty much never alone, certainly never ever again in the way you were pre-motherhood. You have a little person with you, needing you, all the time, and in the few moments that little person is not with you they still need you, they are still firmly attached to every one of your thoughts, illuminating the corners of your soul where quiet and dust used to hide. But you’re alone in how much that person needs you. No matter how supportive your partner (and I say this with full recognition of how ridiculously lucky I am to have one as supportive as Adam); no matter how richly empathic your community of friends and family and mother-peers--you are the only you your child has, and that astounding responsibility can be intensely isolating. And I like this video for serving as a reminder to all of us, mothers and others, that that is okay.

Also, I am now officially obsessed with Tanya Davis.

Also: Why do so many things I love beyond reason come from Canada? John Fluevog. Giles Herman. Vasanti Cosmetics. And now Ms. Davis. Canada, can you adopt me?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Adam's birthday

This video was Adam's birthday present from Kamal and me this year.

The day after his birthday, we went to the beach. That's been our tradition for Adam's birthday; it was actually Adam's tradition years before I came along.

It was Kamal's first time at the beach since he's been able to walk. I don't think he's ever had so much fun anywhere. Ever. It was incredible how excited he was. He was literally shouting with joy. He'd be toddling at high speed along the shoreline, leaving tiny little footprints in the sand, mouth wide open with delight, arms waving in random happy patterns, and suddenly he'd let loose this thrilled "YAAAAAAAAAA!"

He fell asleep SO. HARD. on the car ride home, then woke up to eat takeout with us from Ono'z in Guerneville. 

You get to see deliciously chubby baby legs in this photo because both of the pairs of pants Kamal was wearing (it was COLD at the beach!) got soaked through from sitting in wet sand.

It was a good, good day.

Just for the sake of history, here's Adam and Kamal on Adam's last birthday, in the pop-up outdoor dining room I jerry-rigged around the gliding picnic table I got him as a present:

And here's the video I made him the year before that, before he was ever Daddy, just about a month before we found out we were pregnant with the little embryo that would become Kamal:

Adam's birthdays are my favorite.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ways to cope with your baby growing up*

*By which I mean "Ways cope with my baby growing up."

1. Stubbornly continue to refer to him as your "baby," even though he is technically a toddler, and in fact actually toddles pretty much all day long.

2. Don't make any real effort at all to night wean. At night, half-asleep, savor every heart-healing cuddle, his quiet and milk-scented baby breath, the sweet small sounds he makes as he nurses.

3. After he's gone to sleep, press his little onesies to your face, breathing in his baby smell. Kiss them for prolonged moments. Call this "folding the laundry."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On being your own boss, and then having a baby and not being the boss anymore at all.

I've been the sole proprietor of my traditional Chinese medical clinic now for four years. For six or seven years before opening the clinic, I had a variety of jobs, but almost always as an independent contractor. My point is that I've been my own boss for at least the last ten years.

Having myself as a boss hasn't been easy. My self is not a particularly lax boss, especially these last few years, when the business I've been working for is my own. My self is a boss that only agrees to let me go on vacation every three or four years. She doesn't approve of lunch breaks; rather, to avoid her reproachful glare, I always work while eating lunch, and bring it with me most of the time so I'm not spending valuable work time getting takeout. She holds me to exacting standards: she insists I stay current with research; she requires that I go above and beyond the ethical norms for my profession; she doesn't let me wear jeans to work.

I thought my self was a tough boss until I had a baby. Now my boss--all twenty-something pounds and twenty-something inches of him--is the kind of tyrant that makes me realize my self (who has been deposed to a distant second-in-command) is actually a big old softy of a boss.

My current boss does not approve of vacations at all. Ever. While I think there's the chance I might be up for one in eighteen years or so, I'm not counting on it. He also does not approve of lunch breaks. Or coffee breaks. Or bathroom breaks. If I take a bathroom break, he literally screams at me until I return. This is not an equitable dynamic.

My current boss expects me or my coworker Adam to make him at least three meals a day, and has exacting specifications for those meals, but does not communicate those specifications. We are left to guess, and we do. Adam and I have long, involved strategy sessions about what our boss might find palatable. We seek out only the best ingredients, cook his meals with unremitting attention to detail, and plate his food with an eye for aesthetics. We are both good cooks; Adam in particular is a remarkable cook. With all modesty, I feel confident saying that most people would be thrilled to have the two of us employed as their dedicated personal chefs. But Boss Kamal? He regards the meal we have placed in front of him with detached circumspection. He picks up a bite between thumb and forefinger, regards it with an expression that is either disdain or indifference, places it in his mouth, grimaces in disgust, condescends to chew it a little bit, and then actually spits it out. Spits it out! With no regard for where the spit-out bite lands, as though having expelled it from his person he is relieved to no longer be concerned with it. And then, as though we cooks were not sufficiently discountenanced, he laughs. In our faces. 

Seriously. Having a baby is so weird, you guys. Can you imagine having a friend over for a meal you've cooked from scratch, and he inspects the food closely before trying it, and then tries it and makes a face and spits it out? And then laughs? You would totally never have that friend over again.  But for your baby, you will go through this ten times a day, you will buy untold quantities of his favorite freeze-dried bananas, you will wake up twenty times in one night and still love him in the morning, even if you are crying from fatigue. You will tolerate having your foot peed on and vomit in your bra. You will make up songs to sing while you are actually on the toilet, like the awkwardest karaoke singer of all time, while he sits on the bathroom tile and stares you down. You will attempt to discern whether he has pooped in his diaper by smelling his butt. While you are attempting to--this bears repeating--smell another person's butt, if he starts walking away because he just learned to walk and loves it and you haven't figured out yet whether he has pooped or not, you will crawl after him on your hands and knees trying to keep your nose to his butt. And then you will realize that you are engaging in a behavior that you find repulsive in dogs, only less successfully. And then you will wonder hard about where love has brought you, because all of it, all of this, is at once a graceless and an exalted exercise in love. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


It's so easy--it's too easy, really--on days when I've been up most of the night rocking a wakeful baby, and he's tipped half a beet-green smoothie down my shirt, and the cat has knocked over the laundry detergent again, and patients' insurance companies are going way out of their way to avoid having to reimburse, and the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and the dog has just thrown up on the carpet--to feel awfully, woefully sorry for myself. And all I have to do is read some of my writing from ten years ago to remember how very badly I wanted a happy family, a thriving acupuncture practice, a big goofy dog that would play ball and run with me. And how I thought a vegetable garden where I could pick all the beet greens (my favorite!) I wanted, a washer and dryer in my own place, and a dishwasher--full of dishes that the lovely Adam created making a delicious dinner last night--would be the absolute height of luxury. I have a dishwasher, of all things, I want to tell ten-years-ago me. Hallelujah, here I am, in a gorgeously messy life filled with wishes-come-true costumed as problems.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hot pink baby

Freeze-dried strawberries left in a baggie in your backpack and thereby mushed into a powder + exactly one-half second of inattention to Mr. OhmygoshILOVEstrawberries=hot pink baby

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Man With the Golden Palate

You guys! Yogurt is awesome!

You guys! Mulberries are awesome!

You guys! Sugar snap peas are awesome!

You guys! Cherries are awesome!

 You guys! Baguettes are awesome!

You guys! Chilled English pea soup topped with dungeoness crab, lemon verbena and crème fraîche is awesome! 

You guys! Homemade yogurt-and-berry popsicles are awesome!

You guys! Figs are awesome!

You guys! Watermelon is awesome!

You guys! Apples are awesome!

You guys! Pears are awesome!  

You guys! Chicken long rice is awesome!