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.