Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's a wonderful life

Saturday morning, the kids and I slept in while Big Daddy got up and went to work. I never thought I would consider 8:45 "sleeping in," but now it seems absolutely decadent. I heard the boys get up and turn on cartoons as Genevive rooted around a bit in my bed and then looked up at me with her best "am I not the cutest baby alive?" smile. The lady Somerset generally does not show her face before 10:00 a.m. on weekends, but this day she came padding into my room and crawled up into bed with the baby and me. The three of us snuggled and chatted for a little while until gradually the boys drifted in asking about breakfast. Sugar is the rule for our Saturday mornings, so Calvin and I made our favorite, chocolate croissants, and we all took them out on the front porch to eat. The older three soon felt cartoons pulling them back inside, leaving Genevieve and me in relative peace. She likes to alternate between sitting in her exersaucer and rocking with me in the porch glider. While she practiced standing and reaching in the saucer, I gorged on chocolate and The New Yorker, reading a short story, a couple of poems (one good, one bewlideringly not good), an article about Bill Clinton's working post presidency, and a fascinating article about a WWII era sociological movement called Mass Observation. Somewhere in there, Genevieve fell asleep in the crook of my arm and I put her back in bed.

I sat there, rocking and reading and eating with my kids drifting in and out and the baby doing her baby things, and I tried to hold the sweetness of the moment in my mind. There were years when time seemed to be suspended in babyhood, when months seemed like eternities and I thought I would never see the end of diapers and sippy cups and Blues Clues. I never had baby fever. I lived for the day each one of them would walk and talk. Babies are sweet, but we had kids because we wanted kids. We became parents with visions of biking with them, going camping and canoeing, not of cribs and mobiles and pushing a stroller. Not that there weren't good things. Babyhood has its moments, but for the most part, I have wanted to kiss the ground as each child turned four, because the journey to that point has just about worn me out. Then one day, I realized I couldn't find clothes to fit Calvin in the toddler section anymore. Joshua was talking clearly and sucking his thumb less. Somerset, who was then our "last baby," potty trained and finally weaned on her third birthday. It felt like the end of an era, and it was bittersweet.

Two weeks later, I got pregnant. I have to confess that I was devastated. There was a time when I wanted a fourth baby, but then I had Somerset only fourteen months after Joshua. We decided that three was enough. We worried that we were pushing our luck. We had three healthy kids, why tempt fate? It was a hard decision for me, but once I decided I was done having babies, I felt good about moving on to the next stage. As it turned out, having babies was not done with me. When it started to dawn on me that I might be pregnant, I responded with strong denial. There was no way. I was so sure that I would never be pregnant again that I couldn't even wrap my mind around the possibility.I've had two miscarriages, so that always feels like it could happen again. I didn't want to miscarry, but I knew it could happen, and if it did, I would know that the whole thing just wasn't meant to be. The thought of starting all over with a newborn was just overwhelming to me. Then one day, I guess about a week (a very looong week) after I figured out what was going on, I saw blood. I walked into my kitchen, leaned back against the counter, and cried. It was crazy, I didn't even want to be pregnant, but at the same time, I felt like I had just lost something very real. I thought in flashes of everything that would never happen for that baby. I felt like I had wished away my chance to know one of my kids.

Happily, the blood turned out to be only a little implantation spotting. The baby was fine. I felt so relieved, but I still worried. I'm not the anxious type, and when irrational thoughts pop up, I usually shut them down immediately. But one day when I was driving the kids around, I looked to my right and saw a woman pushing what looked like a six-month-old baby in a stroller. A thought flashed into my mind with such force and certainty that it was almost as if it had been spoken aloud: "I'll never see this baby like that." I pushed it away, but the feeling that it was true was hard to shake. I never said a word to anyone, but through my whole pregnancy, some part of me was just waiting for the worst to happen. I did not allow myself to think about how it might go down, but I couldn't stop believing that it would. So when I was finally in labor and the nurse noticed that the belt monitor was not picking up the baby's heartbeat, that part of me just sort of detached and said "So this is how it's going to happen." My incredible nurse, Marta, moved swiflty and expertly as she attached the internal monitor, rolled me on my side, put an oxygen mask on me, and unhooked the bed from the headboard so she could tip me on my head. As she moved, she calmly explained what she was doing and how it would get more oxygen to the baby. It all happened so fast, and I was able to listen to her, but at the same time part of me was thinking that this was how I would lose my baby. I don't know if it was the guilt over not wanting to be pregnant, or just hormonal irrationality, or what, but it felt so real at the time.

Ultimately, my fears were unfounded and Genevieve was fine. She came out looking blue as Vishnu, screaming soundlessly, and when they laid her on my chest I said "Are you sure she's ok?" They assured me she was fine, but I was still shaken. Then my doctor held up a length of the umbilical cord between her hands and said "Look, a true knot." It was tied in a perfect knot but not pulled tightly enough to cut off the blood supply. Only two weeks later, I would learn that the baby of a friend's acquaintance was stillborn because of a knot in the cord. But my baby lived, and she was beautiful and perfect and she relaxed in my arms the moment the nurses brought her back to me. She rested her head on my chest in a way that said so clearly "Yes, you are the right one." I could write a million words and never be able to describe what I felt at that moment.

So, finally, with my fourth and definitely last child, I have been able to enjoy having a newborn. When she cries, I feel sympathetic but not like my own emotions are tied up with hers, which is how it always felt with the others. I do not feel like my head is going to explode. Ok, sometimes I do, but that's usually when I'm trying to do something else that seems important at the moment. Most of the time, I just hold her and smell her crazy hair that stands straight up, laugh at her babbling screeching baby sounds, smile at her smiling at me. She is indescribably sweet, and so much sweeter because I know now how fast it goes. I know that I wasn't even expecting her, my bonus baby, and she came to me through sheer luck, and before long she will disappear into the child she's bound to become.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Music To My Ears

This afternoon during the drive home from school, Calvin was perusing a freshly handed out book order form (remember those?). When he came across a selection of "Jigsaw Jones" books, he exclaimed "Only ninety five cents! Those are great books--they should cost a billion dollars!" My work here is done.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

At the Fair

When I was growing up, the arrival of the Mid-South Fair was one of the highlights of the year. My parents, long-time Fair enthusiasts, would even check my sister and I out of school each year so we could beat the crowds on wristband day. Naturally when I became a mother, I looked forward to taking my own offspring to the Fair. Only somehow I managed to breed with a Fair hater. My husband does not like crowds, fried food, or rides (yes, he is afraid of rides!), so the Fair really has nothing for him. He doesn't know what he's missing.

My first attempt at taking any of our kids to the fair did not go well. Calvin at age three was afraid of the rides (faulty genes), had not developed a proper appreciation for food involving funnels, boiling oil, and powdered sugar, and quickly tired of walking around. I didn't try again until last year, when my parents and I teamed up to take the three of my four kids who were in existence at the time. (Come to think of it, I must have gotten pregnant with Genevieve right after that.) They were 7, 4, and 3 then, and I suspected that they would all three be afraid to ride more than a tame kiddie ride or two, so I went the ticket route rather than spring for the $20 armband (all you can ride). That was a mistake. They loved the rides and begged for more, more, more! Unfortunately, they were also mesmerized by the games and the booths festooned with giant-headed Dora and Spongebob baloons on a stick. Afterwards, my Mom came up with the bright idea of collecting change in a coffee can so that this year they could ride more and play more and buy more (and of course, eat more). I think we managed a whopping $22.35, but wristbands were nevertheless purchased, one game was played, and much food on sticks and in paper cones was eaten.
Once we arrived and got through the traumatic childhood flashback that was my dad parking, we made our way to the kids' area just inside the gate. The first ride in sight was the caterpillar coaster, and all three kids went for it as of their whole lives had led up to that moment. I was so proud! But it wasn't long before Somerset came back down the steps saying she was scared. No biggie--it was a scary ride. Joshua stuck to his guns, but looked terrified all during the ride and came off saying in his funniest growly yell "I am never, ever riding that again!" Not to be scared off, though, they all rode just about every ride in the kids' area, (although after one or two, Joshua put a firm ban on rides that went up into the air). I had originally planned to sit out the rides, figuring I'd have Genevieve, who is three months old, in the sling the whole time as I usually do. But at the last minute I decided to strap her seat onto the little seatless stroller thingy I keep in the back of the sassy-mobile, and for once she loved it. I went ahead and got a wristband, which was a good thing, otherwise I would have missed the experience of sitting inside a giant, spinning, 90 degree metal strawberry with a farting five-year-old who was not at all certain he wanted to be in there. On a positive note, Calvin and I rode a really fun ride where you lie on your stomach and fly through the air like Superman, side by side above the crowds. Later he said that was his favorite part of the fair. No small compliment coming from an 8-year-old boy who's been waiting all year for this weekend in September. Somerset and I were cheated out of riding the bumper cars together by the guy at the door who was a stickler for the pesky "You must be this tall" rule. On a high note, I rode the swings all by myself, and it was just like I remebered. I held my slip-on sandals in my lap for fear of having one fly off and take out a pedestrian, and as I flew around in circles high above the crowd I was grateful for the distance between it and my pedicure-deprived feet. But back at casa Sassy, Somerset let me know that there was a "brown spot" on the bottom of my foot as I rode the swings. Eew! That's what happens when you wear sandals to the fair. Oh well, I still came out ahead of the extremely large woman wearing an extremely small tank top with a good three feet of belly hanging out between it and her stretchy pants.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Who am I kidding?

One of the reasons I haven't started blogging before now was that I could not really pin down what my focus should be. I have four kids, which apparently makes me the modern equivalent of the old woman in the shoe in many people's view, but I don't really want to write another mama blog. Plus, my husband already writes a funny blog about his experiences with them, and he steals all the good material. I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about my kids and my experiences as a mother in other places. Nevertheless, whenever I think of something I might want to write here, it's usually mama-related. Oh well. The truth is, having kids is probably the best and most interesting thing I've ever done, so I may as well write about it. But I will also talk about other things. I read voraciously, and whatever I'm reading at the moment will inevitably lead me to think about connections to other ideas and experiences. There will be book talk. I also teach English in an "urban" high school, so I'm sure I will talk about the adventure that is my job sometimes. I'm really happy with my school and classes this year, so it's not going to be a bitch fest or anything. And then, I'm generally opinionated about, oh, everything. That should lead to some good times. I'll try not to get too political, though, because let's face it, we're not really hurting for another angry-white-liberal-Bush-is-the-devil blog, now are we?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Here we are

Just a little while ago I finished reading Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle again, about sixteen years after reading it the first time. There's that scene, after the world has been mostly destroyed by ice nine, when the narrator and the lovely Mona have just settled in the oubliette/bomb shelter, where he spreads his hands and says "Here we are." At that point, they are two of the only people left alive, in a situation far removed from anything ordinary. And since it is in fact the end of the world, any relationship they could develop will be completely outside the context of what such a relationship might have been in "normal" life.

I think blogs are kind of like that, or at least they can be. I'm fascinated by the idea that so many of us take the time, now of all times, to sit down and play around with words, of all things. As a person who loves words and believes that they are powerful things, I'm relieved to see that they can hold such a space for themselves in the midst of so much technology. Maybe people are smarter than I've ever dared to hope, if so many of us can see the value in sitting down to write about life, and read about the lives of people we may not even know, and be entertained and moved by their words.

I guess I'll give it a shot.