The Most

Have you ever thought about buying something on Amazon but then looked at the negative reviews? By the nature of people inclined to write reviews, usually the posts are overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. When I was pregnant and contemplating which crib to buy William, I was trying to make the safest, best, and “most right” decision. If a rational person saw that were 100 reviews and 95 of them were positive, she would probably say, hey, that sounds like a great crib. I, on the other hand, felt compelled to go straight to the 5 negative reviews and then freak out that our child’s arm would get stuck in the crib’s bars, or that the crib’s side panel would come loose in the middle of the night, or that any of the other unseemly things that happened to the negative reviewers would most certainly happen to us.

At some point John, who may be the most patient man alive, got on the computer and just clicked to buy a crib. It arrived. It was monumental. To preface how monumental, I should say that at the time, we had procured our furniture mainly from my late grandmother, my dad’s old office, family friends who didn’t want their chairs anymore, Craig’s list, or our personal favorite—a dog John fostered in college that tore up someone else’s table and thus required him to purchase it.

This crib was our first real piece of furniture. One that was beautiful. One that was new. One that would LAST. It was a symbol of permanence—and of change, for its very presence transformed the space we called “the office” into something quite different: “the nursery.”  Feeling the weight of this monumental shift in our lives, I felt compelled to take pictures of us putting it together (and by us, I mean John).

(All that hard work apparently tuckered Lady out, too.)

For over a month, the pristine crib awaited William’s arrival.

Then in one of William’s first weeks home from the hospital, before he was even using the crib, Lady’s ball rolled underneath it—and she scratched up the front trying to get her ball out.

Then when William was a few months old, John was soothing him in the crib, and the zipper on John’s jacket scratched the top of the crib in a deep V.

Then in moving down to North Carolina, we had to disassemble the crib to fit it in the U-Hall. On that seven-hour drive, the sides rubbed against each other, scraping the varnish off the inside panels.

Then a couple of months ago William was in the process of dropping his second nap, and even though he didn’t want to sleep, his little body was very cranky and needed to rest.  Per the advice of several moms, I started putting toys and books in his crib, so even if he didn’t sleep, at least he would have some quiet time.  For several days it seemed to work. But then slowly I started noticing these marks inside the crib. At first I just thought they were scratches from the move. But upon closer examination, and upon their growth week to week, I realized what was happening. William, who was teething and determined not to rest or play like a normal child, decided to start chewing his crib. Like a beaver.

We are now entering that phase in life where we are no longer graduate students, or in our first jobs, and John is blessing our family by providing for our financial needs. We will soon be buying a house, and over time we will be filling it with a bunch of new furniture—and a new roof, and new shutters, and new siding, and new things that are made to LAST because there will be permanence there. I have not lived under one roof for more than two years since the eighth grade. Now that will change. In trying to make the safest, best, most right choices for our future and our family, my natural inclination would be to research and second-guess and look at the negative reviews and become paralyzed by indecision.  But I will try to stop myself–not because those decisions don’t matter at all, but because they don’t matter the most.  And thankfully, we’ve already purchased the crib. So when things go wrong, or when I don’t know what’s right, I will try to remember this:

There will be a time when John will no longer be putting babies to sleep in nurseries.   There will be a time when Lady’s face will be grey, and she won’t have the energy to go for a walk, let alone chase a ball with enough zest to scratch something up. There will be a time when William’s room will be packed with boxes for college, and when he, with all of his adult teeth, will smile and wave goodbye. And when those times come, I will think back to my little baby beaver and all of the not-perfect decisions that led to not-perfect outcomes, and I will cherish them all the more, knowing that our family did not live in a museum where things were perfectly curated, but we lived in a home where sometimes things were broken and bitten and scratched.  A home, where imperfections did not mean things were ruined—it meant we made the most of them.  It meant they were loved.

 

A Jolly Load to Carry

One evening fairly recently John and I came to a head about that figure of utmost importance in the American Landscape: The Little Engine That Could.

“It’s a boy,” said John.

“No, it’s a girl,” I said.

“It wouldn’t be blue if it’s a girl.”

“It’s blue, and it’s a girl. I’ll prove it.”

I opened the book and read:

Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks. She was a happy little train for she had such a jolly load to carry.

Ah-ha! I was right! (Well sort of, that female train was the train that got stuck, not the blue engine, but the blue engine proved to be a girl, too.)

For a refresher, what happens in the story is that one girl engine is packed full with toys and dolls and clowns—and also with apples and milk (and even spinach for dinner, smart female train).   But she is so jam-packed that she runs out of steam (quite literally). Then, three male engines come by and do not help.

If we are giving the male engines the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they do not understand the demands of the seemingly insignificant toys and dolls and milk and spinach. After all, they often do not see the toys and dolls strewn across the floor (for the thousandth time) right after they have just been picked up (for the thousandth time). Or perhaps the passerby males don’t understand that spilt milk, if it is breast milk that you’ve painstakingly pumped for days—or weeks—is worth crying over.  Male hormones, after all, aren’t going chug, chug, chug—up at the beginning of the month, down at the end of it, all year long.   Male bodies do not puff, puff, puff out 30+ pounds to grow a baby, and then their bodies do not huff, huff, huff trying to lose the 30+ pounds after delivery. Most males do not hear the doorbell go ding-dong in the middle of the day, just as a bumbling toddler figures out how to climb on top of the play set (not into—on top of), and so whoever’s at the door has to wait while the dog barks ferociously and the baby tumbles to the ground and you scoop him up, crying (the both of you) and just as you pull open the front door, the pot of boiling water filled with macaroni for lunch boils over. These are not big things. These are little things. Seemingly insignificant things. But they are so many and so constant that it is not uncommon to feel that:

All of a sudden she stopped with a jerk. She simply could not go another inch. She tried and she tried, but her wheels would not turn.

There is a reason why the train that breaks down is little. There is a reason she is a girl. There is a reason the train that helps her is a little girl, too.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one (wo)man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” (“Wo” added by K.A. Harris, for often the tale of woman is like man, but with a bit of woe.)

There was a time before I met John when I’d sworn off men all together. When men, true to their train natures, did not have my best interests at heart, and so they left that heart broken down on the tracks.

There was a time last year when it was freezing cold and dark all the time, and William wasn’t sleeping, and we were still new to D.C., and the only person I talked to regularly was Lady, who was not even a person, but had to get upgraded in species status because of the depths of my loneliness.

There was a time just last month when all I’d worked for in my writing career suddenly came to a jolting halt and appeared to be lost. Four years of work, lost.

For all of my female friends, and all the female friends I do not know yet, I wish I could be there with you when the day comes when you stop with a jerk and simply cannot go another inch. Much has changed for women since The Little Engine That Could was written in 1930, and much for the better. But one of the tragedies of modernity is isolation. Our metaphorical trains don’t necessarily break down more often than any other generation; but they can stay broken longer. And I think, in part, this is due to perceptions.

Though I remembered that The Little Engine That Could was a female, I misremembered her story. I thought that she was carrying the toys the whole time, and then she just willed her way up the mountain. But that’s not what happens. A different female engine breaks down, and then the little blue engine comes along and helps her.

It is as if, between the lines, you can hear the blue engine say to the broken down engine, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”

The load is heavy. The terrain goes up and up and up. No single female engine can do it alone. But we’re not meant to. We’re meant to carry the loads of our friends, and those, indeed, are jolly loads to carry.

Bodysurfing

Recently, William has invented this fun game he likes to play. It’s called: how can I humiliate mommy in public places. Let us take, for instance, a couple of weeks ago when we were at the grocery store around 5:45pm, which apparently is the time that everyone in America decides they need to go to the grocery store. William, obviously, could sense this.  He knew he would have an audience.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that in the front seat of grocery carts there are these straps with buckles to tie in young children. I never noticed them until recently because as William’s little personality is starting to come out, it is clear that he is both extremely energetic and extremely focused. When he wants something he WANTS it, and most of the time what he wants is not to sit still. I know these straps must have been product-tested at some point, but the testers obviously had never seen the likes of my son. I still use the theoretically handy, yet practically ineffective straps—but I also have taken to stuffing things into the front bucket seat along with William in the hopes of wedging him immobile.

Anyway, on this particular grocery shopping day around 5:45, with William wedged between a cantaloupe and a gallon of orange juice, I turned down the laundry aisle to procure our weekly supply of Spray-N-Wash.  As if to spite my 5’1” self, our grocery store stocks the Spray-N-Wash on the very top shelf.  I would like to qualify that this is not a normal top shelf.  It’s like a top shelf for giants.  And this day, the Spray-N-Wash happened to be on sale, so there were only two bottles left in the far, far back.

Up until this point, the store had been packed.  Every time William tried to climb out of the front seat, or grab stuff in the main cart, or grab stuff off the shelves, about three to five other people within an arms distance would stare at me and give me the stink-eye.  But now, when I could use a hand from someone just slightly taller—just even like 5’ 3”–there was no one to be found.

A logical person might suggest forgoing the Spray-N-Wash on this particular shopping trip, but due to William’s messiness and my clumsiness, that was simply not an option.  I’ve tried other laundry spray brands. They are not the same. And OxiClean makes my fingers turn white and burn (does this happen to anyone else?!? Do I have some sort of freakish Irish skin disease?). I suppose, looking back, I could have searched for a store clerk or some other patron, but I was in a hurry and I was determined to just get the laundry spray myself.  So I pulled my cart over to the side and looked William straight in the eye.

“Stay right there,” I said.

He knew what I meant. He knew it.

Then I turned, put one foot on the bottom shelf, the other foot on the second to bottom shelf, hoisted myself up and over the top giant shelf, grabbed one—then two Spray-N-Wash bottles, and scooted down the shelf ladder. (If you are judging me right now, you didn’t stop growing at five one. If you’re five one or shorter and have never done something like this, kudos to you.) I dismounted, loot in hand, proud. Then I turned.

Suddenly the aisle was populated with elderly women. A whole gaggle of them. And they were all staring, aghast. At me. And at the empty bucket seat of my grocery cart. And at my son in the main cart. Bodysurfing over the premade chicken.

How did he do this? It’s unclear.

The whole ordeal took approximately 15 seconds, and for all who are concerned for William’s safety it wasn’t like he crashed over to his doom—I still pack the cart like we are preparing for the apocalypse, so he was just kind of floating happily on top. Before the elderly women could call social services, I picked William up, shoved his legs back through the cart holes, tied him in again, and headed straight for the check out.

This grocery cart situation has been going on for weeks now (no more bodysurfing, just the general cart-sitting angst), and I still have no solution. I just keep stuffing William in between the milk and OJ, and re-rotating him to face the front. Multiple times I’ve seen other mothers pushing well-behaved children who just sit there, peacefully, in the cart, and I can’t help but wonder what is going through my son’s head.

But, I suppose, it really shouldn’t be any wonder at all. Our determined little William wants what he wants.  He also learns from what he sees.  And he comes from a woman who wants what she wants, too—top shelves and all.

The Hot Water Incident of 2017

At the start of January, it got very cold for Cary, North Carolina. With lows in the teens and highs in the twenties, the weekend weather was only acceptable because it was accompanied by a small bit of snow. But then Monday arrived, and when John turned on the shower to get ready for work, not a single drop of hot water came out. We checked the bathroom sink and the kitchen one, too. No luck. John, with no other choice, braved the icy water. Since William was the only person who was going to see me that morning, I decided to wait to shower until later in the day in the vain hope that the water would miraculously turn on.  Later in the day came.  The water did not turn on.  Perhaps if you’ve done a polar bear swim or 100 ALS Ice Bucket Challenges in a row, you will know how impossibly cold the water was when I jumped under the showerhead. I could not breathe; I could not think; yet suddenly–horrifically– there I was again: The Cold Water Incident of 1998.

In the summer of 1998, I had just graduated from 3rd grade and was heading to sleep away camp for the first time. It was a boating camp, and one of the first requirements of all campers was to pass a swim test and receive one of three colored necklaces: white, black, or red.  White marked the highest-level swimmer, but it also–more importantly–granted her the freedom to take out boats without supervision.  Black, though not ideal, was still acceptable because a black-banded swimmer could happily take out boats if accompanied by a white-banded camper or a counselor.  Then there was red.  From all I’d heard, I’d have rather been pond scum than been tied down to a shameful red band.

My mother, not a strong swimmer herself, had put me in swim lessons since I was a baby. Though I lacked everything typical of a swimmer—long legs and broad shoulders; speed; agility—I had never once drowned, and I was certain that summer camp was not going to be my first time.  Or so I thought.

When the counselor blew the whistle, a dozen of my cabin mates and I dove into the lake to take our swim tests. In an instant, the world went black. The water was so cold I COULD NOT BREATHE. I had never felt this way before, this not breathing.  The black water surrounded me, pressing in upon my limbs, my lungs, my whole being.  How was I going to make it to the waterslide and back eight times when I couldn’t even get through my first stroke?  And worse still was Janie P. Simms.

Long legged and agile, Janie was everything my still-holding-strong baby fat wasn’t. When the whistle blew, the graceful Janie swan-dove in front of me, so that even when I could get my head up high enough to try to suck in some air, all I could inhale was her backsplash.  Instinctively, I knew these things:

I am drowning.

This is what drowning feels like.

 THE RED.

 They’re going to give me THE RED.

 I AM NOT GOING TO GET THE RED.

To this day, I don’t know how I survived. Kicking, mostly.  Flailing, certainly.  Breathing, barely. After all of the laps were completed, I flung myself up and over the lake dock, coughing, trying not to look like I was dying.  Janie, of course, was not even out of breath, and though there were eleven other girls to look at, the counselor was staring at me. I stared back with eyes that were trying to explain that I could swim, really, I could—it wasn’t the swimming that was the problem, it was the breathing, and I deserved a white band, really, I did.  If I could do the test over again–knowing how cold the water was going to be and standing as far away from Janie P. Simms as possible–the counselor would see that.  She turned her head from me, unconvinced, and began handing out the bands one by one until it was my turn.

I knew what was coming. The shame.

***

Not quite twenty years later, I flung myself out of the shower that January afternoon without even lathering up. Once again I was floundering. Once again, I was indignant at the world’s injustice—why did everything seem to be going wrong lately?

Like the dentist, for instance—not for me (though I have not gone in more years than is acceptable to admit publicly), for William (though he only has six teeth). When I tried to clarify if we actually needed to go, the pediatrician raised her eyebrows at me like I was the crazy one. So I took William to the dentist.  After filling out a stack of paperwork so thick and complicated you’d have thought I was donating a lung not trying to clean six tiny teeth, the receptionist finally called our name. But instead of escorting us to the back, she informed me that we didn’t have dental insurance.

WHAT? I said. We have dental. I know we have dental. I have not been to the dentist in more years than any of the kids in this office have been alive, but 2017 is my year of dental. We have dental. I am calling my husband!

So it turns out we don’t have dental. Not for William, at least.

Then there was the steel-cut oatmeal episode.  I went to this mom’s gathering where a nutritionist said how “instant” varieties of foods strip away all the fiber and nutrients, so good moms really should make non-instant kinds. After almost an hour of stirring the slow cooking oats, and apparently not adding enough water, and then apparently adding too much water, so then having to add more oats, I finally served the nutritious and fiber-full oatmeal to William in a bowl. An unbreakable bowl. By definition, one would think that this unbreakable bowl would not be able to break. William pushed the bowl of oatmeal to the floor. It shattered, with all the oatmeal in it, into a million tiny pieces.

Then there were the mice that invaded in the five days we were gone over Christmas. We’ve been setting out traps with peanut butter at night. The fat, ingenious little rodents eat the peanut butter and leave the traps unharmed. We then try to put more peanut butter in the traps. The traps snap down on our fingers. Every. Single. Time.

I vacuum. The first person or dog or child to walk back inside tramps mud and leaves all over my freshly cleaned floor.

It threatens to snow. It doesn’t snow on the weekdays to cancel John’s work; it doesn’t snow more than an inch, thus making it impossible to build a snowman, or even a snow angel. What it does do—it gets cold. So cold, that our pipes freeze. So cold that when I step under the shower, I CAN NOT BREATHE.

Why, sometimes, does life feel like this?   Like I can’t catch a break. Like I can’t catch my breath. I want to rest, and yet stopping is not an option. I can’t say, sorry William, mom doesn’t feel like being mom today; or, sorry Lady, I know you need to go on a walk but it’s freezing and raining, so too bad. I can’t stop taking William to the doctor or my car into the shop or John’s suits to the dry cleaning; I can’t stop doing any of the other million things that are just part of adult life, but that feel like they are pressing in on me all the time. So how can I find rest?

Ironically, when you’re dealing with icy water, the only way to start to rest is to start to move.  It is in the rhythm of movement that you can get warm and can find your breath.  So this year, thanks to a very cold January, I am redefining rest:

Rest is a hot shower.

Rest is instant oatmeal.

Rest is Lady, her whole body swinging in violent delight, every time I say, “You want to go for a walk?”

Rest is pushing William on the swing at the park.

Rest is a rubber duck on the bathroom sink.

Rest is Paddington bear on the floor, not picked up, not going to be picked up.

Rest is a dishwasher, a washing machine, a fireplace.

Rest is a warm home, a warm coat, a warm hug.

Rest is the moment John walks through the door.

Rest is ignoring the leaves and mud tracked onto the welcome mat.

Rest is reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 700th time and feeling William’s fingers through the caterpillar holes for the 700th time, and hearing him laugh for the 700th time.

Rest is a bedtime prayer, giving thanks for all the beautiful moments of rest each day.

Rest is not shame. Rest is not pride, either.  Rest is humility, acceptance of help, assistance of others. Rest is patience.  Rest, above all, is perseverance.

Two days after the Hot Water incident of 2017, the water came back on. It hasn’t gone out since. Knock on wood.

As for the Cold Water incident of 1998, the counselor gave me a black band. Every year afterwards, I positioned myself on the far lane, away from any potential back splash. I was never the fastest swimmer, nor the most agile.  But I earned a white band of freedom for the next five years in a row, and I always wore it with a deep appreciation of how lucky I was to have it at all.

 

 

*For her privacy, I have changed the name of the beautiful, agile Janie P. Simms.

 

Better Late than Never, Better You than Someone Else

So there’s this common thing that moms of infants do to track a baby’s progression month-by-month. They put a savvy numbered sticker on their child and take a picture. You have probably seen this if you do not live in a hole.

I apparently live in a hole.

Or at least I did for the first several months of William’s life. Around month three, I realized this was a thing of my generation, and tried desperately to catch up. For months three through five, our attempts went something like this.

 

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Note: William, obviously enjoying himself

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Note: Lady, also enjoying herself, as if the cone of shame were not enough

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Note: I zoomed in here, so you can see the addendum to the sticker, because 3 days really mattered after missing the first three months

I perhaps should have taken these attempts as a sign. I did not. I forged on in these horrific, belated sticker sessions for several months thereafter. But around William’s ten-month sticker date, we moved back to North Carolina, and he started walking, and we missed a month, and then we missed another, and I started having all this guilt that I was not a sticker-of-the-month-mom.  And that I had FAILED. AGAIN.

Alas, we are over 13 and 1/2 months now, and I had wanted to post a birthday-blog, but true to form, here we are in 2017. Things have been insane as John’s working at his new job, and I’m trying to be mom, wife, and writer who is tying to finish a full biography draft on time (which, by the way, is pretty much the antithesis of a writer, being on time, hence the missed and belated sticker months).dd

But for the big milestone, the one-year birthday, there was this: we had a party; there was cake; there were presents; he will remember none of it.  As for his pictures, I console myself with the fact that we have more of William then our pre-camera-phone parents had of us.  We also had some professionally done by the woman who took our wedding photos, which made the photo shoot not only less painful, but also more resonant with memories.

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Right now I don’t spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram (I don’t even have the latter two); but I do spend a lot of time with words, and how they resonate, and how the past, if we reflect on it—if we give ourselves time to reflect on it—can sometimes predict the future.  In a blog post from October 25, 2016, before William was born, I wrote briefly about how there was a time when the world didn’t know the color blue.  Apparently, blue was the last color to be seen and among the last to be named—and according to scientific fact, without names for things, humans are less able to understand them, less able to grasp their intricacies and their beauty.

William has brought many new colors to our lives, and blue is certainly not the least:

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There is so much pressure in mom-culture (in all culture?) to check the boxes perfectly of what we are to do and not do, and I may be behind for my generation, may, in truth, be out of step. But it’s all extremely confusing because the same people who spout beat-of-your-own-drum philosophy judge you when you don’t breastfeed as long as them, or post monthly sticker pictures on Facebook, or feed your kid organic vegetables.  Then on top of peers and mom blogs and parenting magazines telling you what to do, there are also pediatricians and scientists adding their take to the mix.

And the problem is, sometimes, even documented facts are wrong.

Maybe 99 out of 100 times words are required to comprehend the intricacies of life’s beauty.  I, after all, spend my life trying to pin down just the right words for that very purpose.  But there is at least one time, at least one year in a person’s life, when those facts fail.  As William is developing his language skills, he babbles all the time but says nothing.  He has no words, no names for things, and yet he understands, perhaps more deeply than word-filled adults, what it means to love.

So in lieu of a monthly photo collage, I hope to pass along some advice that I’m only just beginning to learn from raising him.

To William: Though it’s better to be late than never, it’s more important to be you than someone else.  Though friends and foes and facts may fail, love never will.  Though I’m a wordsmith, I love you with a love that is wordless, and there was a time without words when you understood exactly what that meant.

The Crevasse, Part II

A little over one year ago, A Lady and A Baby began like this:

“You’re in a crevasse.”

“A crev-ass?” I said.

“Yeah, a crevasse,” said my husband. “What’s so funny?”

“Don’t you mean a crevice?” I said.

“No. I mean a crev-ass.”

Apparently, part of me is an eight-year old boy, because though I was wiping away tears, I couldn’t stop laughing at the second part of the word “crevasse,” which sounds like your bum/ a donkey/ how I’ve been feeling as of late. In case you’re wondering, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a crevasse is: “a deep, narrow opening or crack in an area of thick ice or rock.” A crevice, in contrast is: “a narrow opening or crack in a hard surface and especially in a rock.” In my defense, they really seem about the same.

 With one exception. The word: “Deep”

Deep. As in eight-months pregnant deep. As in just moved to a new city deep. As in our neighbors call our one-year-old lab/golden mix “Marla”—as in the female version of Marley deep. As in just graduated from grad school, but not holding a paying job deep.   And the thing is, I wanted this—I want to be able to stay at home and raise a family and to write. I’m a writer—that’s what my degree was in. But I’m alone all the time, and it’s not just a narrow crack in a hard surface. It’s a deep one, too. And it feels like a donkey’s behind down here.

 So why am I starting a blog? Because even though millions of people have blogs, and even though probably no one is going to read this, I love the stars. Which doesn’t seem like the same thing, but it is.

The stars shine for no one. They don’t think, today I am going to shed my light upon the universe because someone out there in the infinite abyss will see it and glorify me. The stars just shine. They shine because that is what they are. They shine because that is what they were made to do. And though they are alone, light years alone, more alone than humans could ever be, when we look at the sky, we do not think the stars are alone. We see them in harmony with all of the other stars in the sky. Collectively, we see their beauty.   Perhaps most of all, it is on the darkest nights that we see them the brightest. It is on the darkest nights that they give us hope.

So, here’s blog number one…because life is deep and long, and sometimes what we need most is a spark.

This year, life truly has been deep.  There have been days of deep pain and days of deep joy.  Days below freezing with 3 feet of snow and days I started sweating the second I stepped outside.  Days when baby birds died outside my door. Days when daffodils bloomed outside of it. Days of mountains. Days of dancing around mountains of laundry. Days when Lady pulled me—repeatedly—into thorny bushes. Days when Lady kissed the baby’s feet. Days when I ran with the wind in my hair like Chariots of Fire. Days when mascara ran down my face like a drag queen. Days when Joy got into scrapes. Days when Joy came out on top. Days when Joy did not come out on top. Days when reading provided comfort and direction. Days when reading was worthless. Days when the waves threatened to take me under. Days when I began to float. Days of tilling. Days of reaping of fruit. Days of the amateur. Days of new professions. Days of tarantulas. Days of BUTTER. Days when I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the color blue.

There was one day when blue came to life.

If I were to chart the days, there would be times of sorrow—perhaps weeks of crevices and months of crevasses—and they would look something like this:

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But this year, too, there have been times of bliss, waves of joy—which would take on a shape quite the opposite:

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There was a moment right after William was born when I questioned how women had been having babies since the dawn of the human race. How, I wondered, did they survive the pain, anxiety, and sleep deprivation of raising a newborn—only to do it again, often multiple times? The secret, if there is one, is breathing (and not Lamaze, that stuff is for the birds. The only thing you’ll ever hear me hee-hee-hoo again is hee-hee-who’s getting me my epidural?)

I mean breathing as in the charting of inhales and exhales. Or, because having a baby is like “THE OCEAN” it could be the charting of inward tides and outward tides. Or the charting of seasons. Or the sunrise. All around us, life is oscillating and it looks something like this:

Inhales, exhales;         in tides, out tides;       good days, bad days

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-34-57-pm                                     screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-34-57-pm                                  screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-34-57-pm

                  screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-35-22-pm                                   screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-35-22-pm                                     screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-35-22-pm

 

–or if you put them together….

 

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A new baby has his own heartbeat. I am learning to listen to it. Learning, as if for the first time, to follow my own.

The other weekend, John and I went back to our old UNC stomping grounds for a football game, and while tailgating a young woman asked me how I enjoyed motherhood.

“Honestly,” I told her, “it’s really hard,”—and then I told her a little bit about this past year. When I finished, she looked at me, horrified.

(I think partially because I used the phrase, “a part of you dies,” which retrospectively, may have scared her from ever wanting to have children—so for the sake of progeny, I’ll try to refrain from using that phrase in the future.  It’s true, though.  A part of you does die.  If I want to write for seven hours a day, or sleep in past 6:30am, or binge watch TV, or just do nothing one day–I can’t.  Because William needs me.  So a part of me has died–but the selfish part, the part that puts my wants before anyone else’s.  And honestly, that part can afford to die a little more.)

“Motherhood is a beautiful thing,” I told the girl, backtracking. “And I hope you love every minute of it.  But if you don’t—if it’s hard sometimes and if you struggle, that’s okay, too. You should know that’s okay, too.”

She looked at me again, still horrified, but with a hint of something else in her eyes. “That was the most honest description of motherhood I’ve ever heard,” she said. “Thank you.”

Usually new moms portray a graph to the world that is delightful and wonderful and only goes up.  A younger, less tired me, might have done the same. But here’s the thing.  I’m going to ask you to do something.  Right now, point to yourself.  Just do it.

Did you point to your chest? To your heart?

We don’t point to our heads or our feet or our hands and say, “This is me.” We point to our hearts. The heart is always moving, always pumping, always charting up and down. There are many who see science as a way not to believe in God.   I suppose it depends what one is looking for—or what she’s not. What I see is a universe in rhythm. I see seasons and tides and breathing and even EKG’s as confirmation that ups and downs are not wrong; they are essential to existence.  There is depth here, and it is real, and it is good.

So here’s to blog number one of year number two. Because life is deep, but it is also high.  Life is long, but it is also short.  A spark is nothing if not kindled. And I have eyes wide open.

 

 

On the Move, or How to Fight Tarantulas

Moving: a word that has brought our family excitement, dread, tears, and—tarantulas.

The first one to move was William. Early in July at barely seven months old, William started crawling, pulling himself up, and scooting around objects. While he mastered speed quite early, he failed to master the concept of balance—which obviously is a great combination. From anywhere in the house, I would hear a crash, then a whimper, then an escalating scream, until in one swift motion I would swoop down, scoop our face-planted child off the floor, and rock him while cooing in my most comforting voice, “Oh darling, I know it hurts. I’m so sorry.” Yet despite all the tears, a few minutes later William would be up crawling and falling and crying again. William’s middle name, Everette, comes from the German “Eberhard,” which according to our Baby Name Book means “courageous as a boar” (Amid the swoop-scooping phase, I began to wonder if there wasn’t a misprint, and in fact it was supposed to mean “stubborn as a boar.”) Nevertheless, after a few weeks William stopped having a break down every time he fell; and after a few weeks more, he’d learned to fall on his bum and scoot-scoot away all on his own. Good for William. Bad for impending eight-legged encounters.

The next move was a family affair.   At the end of July while William was scooting around, the Harris clan bid farewell to Washington, D.C. and headed back down to North Carolina. It was in the process of packing that I had my first arachnid showdown. This spider was the biggest, hairiest thing I’d ever seen indoors—or outdoors for that matter.  To understand the horror of this situation, let us flash back to sixth grade when I was grounded for screaming so loudly that my dad sprinted upstairs concerned I had, perhaps, been stabbed by an intruder.  The spider was smaller than a dime. Flash forward to the summer after I graduated college when a spider took up residence in the top corner of my shower. Afraid my aim would miss it, instead of smacking it with a flip-flop, I pushed the showerhead to the far corner, and while constantly eyeing my aggressor I showered in approximately fifty-five seconds. For a week. Not my most hygienic of decisions. That spider was nickel sized. The spider on packing day this summer doesn’t even have a coin-sized comparison. Maybe 3 dollar-coins triangulated? Or almost half a regular dollar bill? This eight-legged creature was the definition of freakish.   If humans are fight-or-flight beings, when it comes to spiders, every fiber in my being shouts, “FLIGHT!”

But I had a mover. A mover with no flight instinct. A mover who was courageous (and stubborn) as a boar.

The spider’s wet, beady eyes stared me down as if daring me to step forward so it could shoot venom at me like Spider Man shoots webs. (Retrospectively, I know this is irrational. But let me ask you this—are eight legs rational?) It scurried towards me. I backed away. Then, there was another scurrying behind me. William. William Everett.

Heart pounding, I swoop-scooped William to the secure Pack-n-Play area and grabbed the nearest tennis shoe (mine, gross. Serves me right for not putting it away). I blessed myself, and while praying aloud I pulverized the ginormous arachnid to bits. For minutes afterwards, my hands shook.   But I had done it. The life long score in “Spiders Vs. Kerry Anne” had begun to shift: SPIDERS: 10,000. KERRY ANNE: 1.

But the tarantuals were not done. We actually had to move, and while the state of North Carolina was home for us, the city of Cary was not. Due to the timing, after we unloaded our stuff John had to return to D.C. for two weeks to finish his old job—which meant I was in a new town, alone, with a baby—who though wonderful, still can’t speak English. And our rental had a cockroach infestation—I mean INFESTATION. And the washing machine was broken. And so was the dishwasher. And the disposal. And I hadn’t just moved once—in barely over a year, I’d gone through more moves than I had in my entire life: I finished grad school, moved to DC, began working/writing from home, had a baby, and then just when I started to get in a routine, I moved again.

Despite the fact that William is now nine months old, he still has nights when he wakes up screaming every couple hours (they’re rarer now, but they’re there). It still never fails that as soon as I put on a nice blouse, he spits up on me (it’s like he knows).  While other moms on TV and Pintrest and Facebook look pristine and well rested, it’s a miracle if I can even remember where I put my keys. As a writer and a stay-at-home-mom, I’m alone a lot—and the idea of facing months and months in a new place trying to make new friends and finish old writing projects and refigure out where things are in the grocery store and just generally hold it all together in a world where new moms are supposed to start off sprinting—well, it has all seemed like one tarantula too many.

William’s first name comes from the Germanic “Willahelm,” which translates to “strong-willed warrior.” (“Wil,” as in will or desire; and “helm” as in helmet or protection). “Williams” was my maiden name. Before Harris, before Mom, the name Williams made me who I was so I could become who I am.   But I don’t feel like a warrior when I’m wandering around the grocery store (again) searching for the applesauce (again) and all these older women keep coming up to me saying, “Oh, enjoy this time—it goes so fast! It’s the best time of your life!” and all I want to do is shout back at them: DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THE TARANTULAS!?!

I don’t know why our culture demands that moms (or anyone for that matter) be always on the move, that we start sprinting from day one, that we never fall, never fail. I’ve been lucky enough over the past few weeks to have a few friends swoop-scoop me up. One gem of a woman in particular gave me an envelope of encouraging quotations. This is one I’ve taped above my desk:

“You are young and you are learning how to live. Write that down. I AM VERY YOUNG AND I AM LEARNING HOW TO LIVE. You are very, very young. You are learning how to live.”–Polly Esther.

Not only do I like this woman because if you say her name fast it sounds like polyester, but she’s been giving me some perspective. On days when the score feels like: WORLD: 10,000. KA: 1, it’s not that I suddenly start feeling like the score’s flip flopped with KA at 10,000. It’s that I remind myself that the world is very, very old. It has been spinning for a very long time.

William is nine months old now, and he’s started walking. We’re back to swoop-scooping. But it won’t be forever. He is only very young, and he is learning how to move. But honestly, he’s not that much younger than me—or you either in the scheme of the universe.  We are all very, very young and we are only, just now, learning how to move.

Years from now, when I’m an older woman in the grocery store and I see a younger woman looking lost and tired and pushing a baby, I won’t tell her to enjoy this time because it will probably just make her feel worse.  Instead I will think: “Oh darling, I know it hurts. I’m so sorry.”  Then I will say: “You’re doing a great job.  This, right now, is like learning how to walk.  So it’s okay to fall. It’s even okay to face plant. This is a hard time. It’s a beautiful time, but it’s a hard one. So keep on moving, Mom. You are stronger than you know, stronger than you’ve ever imagined. You can FIGHT! But in the meantime, do you need help finding something because I can help with that.”