Thursday, March 31, 2011

Something to Love

Someone new has taken up permanent--however temporary, really--residence in our home.  He follows us from room to room.  He sits silently in a chair at the dinner table while we eat.  He is fawned over, caressed, talked about incessantly, tucked into bed at night.  And quite honestly, I'm starting to get a little irritated with him.  Reader, meet Blanket:

Nope, it's not Michael Jackson's son.  I know, I'm disappointed, too, because that would make for such a better story.  Our Blanket (capitalized as a proper noun to give him his due) is the softest, sweetest rectangle of synthetic pastel fabric I've ever touched.  Our kind retired neighbors (they travel in a group, and we call them the "ladies."  Not of the night, no.  That's gross.  Just "ladies.") gave it to Saoirse when she was born, and after it spent the better part of two years in a drawer, I resurrected it when Quinn was born because it's just the best. blanket. ever (or have I mentioned that already?).  Saoirse never paid any mind to it, though:  I tucked it around Quinn in her car seat when we would zip in and out of stores.  I kept it in her stroller in case the wind picked up when we walked.  She lay on it at home, and I wrapped it around her when she was carried in the Baby Bjorn.  

Then all of a sudden, one day, Saoirse squinted hard at the thing (the blanket, not the baby), stealthily swiped it (again, just the blanket) from the empty car seat, and the next thing I know Blanket was being tucked in beside her in bed at night.  It is now so entrenched in our family lives that I request a table for five when we go to restaurants.  And it's making me look hard at our world from my little girl's perspective.

I think Blanket's arrival in our lives is no small coincidence, particularly since Quinn has now entered what I call the "Oh, look at her!" stage.  She's 10 months now, which is when the wee-baby good times really start ramping up.  She's clapping ("Oh, look at her!").  She rocks out to music, wiggling her body and banging her head to the beat ("Oh, look at her!").  She's eating solid food with the gusto of Bizarre Food's  Andrew Zimmern--she attacks beans and avocado the way he digs into a plate of pig's brains and rat heads (have you ever seen the show?  So, so gross.  Dave watched my first c-section with something close to scientific fascination, uterus-on-a-platter and all, and even he can't stomach that show).  We watch this baby in her high chair throw triumphant fists up into the air, pasta and sauce spilling all over her head, and we coo like a bunch of drunken pigeons.  This is all old hat for Saoirse, who, having dwelled on this planet for three years already, is feeling a bit tired and left out, I'm afraid.

So enter Blanket.  Today, after the girls woke from their naps, I was in Quinn's room, nursing her.  Saoirse saw us, padded off to her room, and returned clutching her fuzzy yellow buddy.  "I love Blanket," she announces, eyeing Quinn in my lap.  "He's my friend."  A few minutes later, I finished changing Quinn's diaper and hoisted her to my hip to carry her.  Saoirse held Blanket to her chest.  "Look, Mom.  I'm holding him, just like Quinn."  The rest of the afternoon carried on like that, with Blanket getting his fair share of attention.

I dunno.  It's gotta be hard to be three, when there's another sibling in the house and you miss your mom and need to clutch her leg while she's washing dishes to feel close to her, or follow her into the bathroom while she takes a shower or sit at her feet while she breastfeeds your sister.  I'd probably need Blanket, too, if I were suddenly scooted to the side a little and had to share not just my toys, and my snacks, but also my love.  So I'll try not to blame Blanket for hogging up so much of my girl's attention.  Next time, I'll just try to give her more of mine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remind Me of This Tomorrow Morning

My friend Susannah once bemoaned (yes, bemoaned, because sometimes you're just that tired) that staying at home with your children basically just means you're always doing some form of cleaning up.  And she's right: wiping tushies, cleaning counter tops, washing laundry--they're all the tasks we do constantly.  All day long.  Every day.  But I realized something tonight:  my day is food.  Either preparing it or eating it, food rules (well, you know that already, but bear with me here.  I'm on a bit of a rant).  I breastfeed, then get breakfast together for the girls...then nurse some more, then get a snack for Saoirse...then it's time for lunch, and another snack and dinner and...well, by the time I add in all the time I'm cooking or cleaning up, no wonder the laundry gets backed up.

When I look at my day, my week (and my weekend, because if you're at home you know there's no difference between weekends and weekdays anymore), I am very aware of how much of my life is the minutiae:  the tedious stuff that keeps our lives in motion.  I worry that too much of my time--even too many of my conversations--are concerned with laundry detergent, and cleaning the high chair tray, and emptying the diaper pail.  My personal time, or what I call sit-down tasks (like managing the checkbook, or checking my email, writing this post, even) are shoved to the hour I have in the afternoons while the girls nap (and by nap, I mean Quinn sleeps while Saoirse jumps up and down on the bed in the next room singing "Pop! Goes the Weasel" in her best soprano) or now, at 9:30 at night, when I would really love to settle down with a book, or maybe even get to bed before 11:30--or, I should admit, open up that checkbook and get to work.  It's strange, the lack of time one has when she's supposed to have all the time in the world.

But back to eating.  I love to cook.  Granted, Dave often works late, and my young clientele doesn't exactly always appreciate what I'd really like to put on the table ("Mom, I don't liiiike this taste.  It's too spi-cy."  Saoirse says this about avocado.), but I do.  Well, I did, back in the day when cooking meant turning up some Billie Holiday and pouring myself a glass of wine before I'd settle to the chopping and simmering.  Now preparing meals usually involves stepping around a toddler riding some sort of toy on wheels through the kitchen, placating a baby banging on an overturned steel bowl (why do I always give her the metal?  Shouldn't I have learned by now that plastic is quieter?) while she grunts "ggggnnnnnahhh!  GGGGNNNAAAAHHH!" in her hungriest voice, and trying not to let the boiling pot of pasta water bubble over while I pour milk and chop up Quinn's bites.  But watching those girls sit down to the food I prepare (even if it is spiii-cy) does make me feel like, okay, I'm doing my job.  Because food is safety, and warmth, and love.  Those meals are, essentially, creating a home for our girls.  I mean, I hope so, since all we do at home is eat anyway...

So I need to remember this, especially tomorrow night, when Dave's at work on a conference call, and Saoirse has asked to be excused because she doesn't like the look of basil on her noodles.  I need to think about the importance of these meals when I've been sitting next to the mighty Quinn for a solid 55 minutes as she gleefully tears into whatever grown-up food I've given her (by the way, she makes this giddy "nyum nyum nyum" sound the entire time she's eating, which would possibly drive me nuts if it were from any other child, but oh my golly, it's just the cutest thing).  Because dried up carrots all over the baseboards isn't gross.  Tofu in the dog's fur isn't nasty.  Spinach in a baby's belly button isn't awkward.  It's love, man.  And it's there all day, every day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Straddling the Line

Okay, so we all know that I when I had Saoirse, I went on a maternity leave that sort of stretched indefinitely into full-on stay-at-homehood.  David and I had always said that if we could do it, it was important to us to have one of us stay home once we had children--it didn't matter which one of us did it, but since I was the one with the milk-producing boobs and he was the one with the bigger paycheck (did I mention that I was a teacher?), I drew the short straw (or is it long straw?  Whichever one is the awesome pick).  So a few months after our sweet oldest daughter was born, I packed up my binders upon binders of lesson ideas, walked away from my classroom with its incredible views of the Appalachian mountains and solemnly traded my high heels for cute but oh-so-practical Clarks (okay, actually they were Converse back then.  But I'm getting old).  

It was a strange, strange transition for me.  I spent that first year at home feeling like I'd left a big ol' chunk of my identity back at the high school.  I'd gone to grad school solely to switch careers to teaching, and we were still paying off the debt for an education I got for a job I didn't have anymore.  Here I was reading The Cat in the Hat to my 11-month-old, acting out the parts in silly little cartoon voices, when the year before my 10th-grade "kids" were psychoanalyzing the same story as an intro to a literature unit (no, my child's first words weren't id and ego.  That's just weird.).  I felt like I'd stepped into the traditional role I'd always sort of sneered at.  I giggled at the surreal quality my life had taken on as I sang "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" on Fridays at the library with Saoirse, or walked her up and down the length of a swimming pool, chasing the same darned yellow duck every week, at the same time when the year before I'd have been sitting in committee meetings.  I was the only stay-at-home mom I knew who used her maiden name.  I wore Flogging Molly t-shirts to my daughter's music program.  I drove a red stick-shift with a car seat in the back.  Who was I?

But then that year ended.  I weaned Saoirse and accepted a job teaching part-time at a local  college.  It was a great gig, and I walked away from it--well, drove away really quickly, in that same 5-speed, crying a little--okay, a lot--while Dave and I hatched a plan so I wouldn't have to take the job.  By that time I'd realized that I was massively lucky--blessed, if you will--to actually be able to be at home with my kiddo.  I started to understand that what I had was what a lot of other people wanted.  Teaching would always be there for me (well, I hope, anyway).  My education was still worth the stupid bills that fell into our mailbox each month.  And I got to wake up with my daughter, calmly sit at the breakfast table with her in her pajamas each day, put her down for a nap in her own crib.  I got to choose--actually choose--how we were going to spend our day.  By that time we were participating in mommy-and-me activities that I actually liked.  I'd made some really good friends who were like me--former teachers, artists, physical therapists, nonprofit workers--women who were lucky enough to take a break from their careers to be with their kiddos.  Saoirse had a good group of play buddies, and I had the enormous good fortune to be able to spend all day doing the endless laundry, to complain about the nonstop stream of dirty dishes, fret about grocery shopping and vacuuming and all the stuff that piles up around the house when you don't get to regularly leave it for a good chunk of the day.

Which leads me to last Friday.  I was at a party for a friend with whom I used to teach.  It was held at another teacher's house, attended by--you guessed it!--a bunch of female teachers.  It was so, so neat to see my old colleagues--friendly acquaintances, happy hour buddies, lunch partners--but it was really odd to be on the fringes of the workplace gossip, and curriculum talk, and worries about budget changes.  My world has gotten so small.  It's a happy little world, but as I left that party, I felt a twinge of something that felt uncomfortably like envy.  I miss that other world:  that one where I felt like I was a part of some bigger, grand purpose.  I miss using big ideas with names like scaffolding and Bloom's taxonomy.   I miss wearing high heels (I had some really good shoes.).  I didn't want to leave my old work friends, because I knew that just for a few moments, in that house, my world had gotten a little bigger again.  But I had to leave.  I had a baby that needed nursed, and a toddler waiting for dinner, a husband who'd been travelling all day.  So I walked out to my car, chocking back that awful bitter feeling that kind of caught me off guard.  I got into the driver's seat, shut the door and placed my purse next to the diaper bag sitting on the passenger seat.  As I drove off, I glanced into the rear view mirror of my new SUV and saw the two empty car seats where my daughters usually sit, giggling at each other, singing along to their silly songs.  And I realized that as much as they were waiting for me to come home, I'd missed them.  And that it would be all too soon before they grew out of those car seats, my car, our house.  So I took a deep breath, stepped a little harder on the gas pedal.  And I drove home.