Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On night waking and attachment

It took over 30 minutes to walk to the bakery.
Ada woke me up at 2:30 asking me to fix her star. Bleary eyed and confused I followed her into her room where the lights were on and every toy was on the floor, along with most of her bedding. I looked at the clock in her room. What is happening?

I quickly pieced it together that it was, in fact, the middle of the night and told her the star would have to wait, as would combing her princess' hair, finding Yellow Pony and any other play-related request. A meltdown ensued as she semi-obediently climbed into bed and told me in no uncertain terms that, "I am so, so, 'specially sad, Mama." Truly the cruelest part of toddlers is how expressive and naughty they are all at once.

I fed a now wide-awake Olive (we moved her into Ada's room—now "The girl's room"—about 2 weeks ago and it's been smooth transition, gratefully) and 20 minutes later climbed back into bed with Mike. Only seconds later we heard the rattle of the shape sorter in the other room and Mike jumped up and took it from there. Bless him.

Liv woke up at 5 til 6, was alert and happy as can be and I wondered why on a night that I went to sleep at 10:30 I still felt so tired. I brought her in bed with me and she kicked and cooed and batted at my face until she drifted off for a bit around 6:30. That only lasted 15 minutes or so and she was up again, chatty as can be. She's such a smiley little thing. All I have to do is look away for a few seconds and then meet her eyes again and she gets all crinkly-eyed and gummy. She's a real happy baby. I finally feel like her mother, and not just her sustainer. Our relationship is blossoming into one that's based in smiles and loving interactions and not just the daily tasks of keeping her alive. It has been a huge blessing and helped me keep my guilt at not "bonding" with her as much at bay. I've always had a visceral, instinctual bond with her, but now I giggle with her and look forward to our interactions. She's my Liv. I know her. And I feel true to myself when I say that I love being her mother.

I've expressed it here before, but I can't get over how different mothering my second child is. People said I'd be able to enjoy it a lot more; that I'd be less worried about every little thing and the hard stuff would come more naturally to me. And that's mostly been true. But I enjoyed struggling and overcoming (nursing) with Ada. I felt like we were a team. I was in raptures over every expression. I would sing to her endlessly, talk to her endlessly. And with a second I spent more time away from her than with her. I nurse her while getting out a project for Ada or picking up breakfast. As soon as she's content, to the floor she goes so I can get to one of the other 10 things that either need my attention or are half finished (completing a single task start-to-finish in one sitting has become a major accomplishment). I felt distracted and unable to do it all. I had to consciously make time to sit and smile with her.

But something has changed in the last few weeks. Maybe Ada is less needy and understands that a new little person at our house does nothing to displace her or our affection for her. Maybe I am just out of the postpartum fog. Maybe Liv's new-found voice and near-constant smile are to blame. Not sure, but whatever the case, I feel so much love and attachment to Olive that sometimes I have to catch my breath. In the same way I can't wait for Mike to get home from work so I can relate 100 anecdotes about Ada from the day, I look forward to getting him close so we can watch our second baby bloom. You can't fully relate expressions. You have to experience them to feel it from head to toe. Olive makes me want to smother her in kisses.

Right now, in this moment, motherhood is so good.

Tummy time is always (usually) and group effort. Ada always feels quite proud of herself.

This probably put Liv at risk of mauling and drowning. But I'm pleased to report no baby was harming in the making of this photo.

Friday, July 26, 2013

This is mine

I just spent 15 minutes nursing Liv on my left, and using my right arm to tickle Ada's back as she fell asleep. It was one of those moments where I looked down and saw a pair of tiny feet perched on a little back and framed by two toddler hands and thought, "This is my life?! This is my life. This is my life."

It's always a blur of disbelief and gratitude.

Ada and I spent time this afternoon watching her monthly videos. I spent time wiping tears, especially while watching the month before we left for Italy and seeing images of our first month there. It was another flash of, "This is my life?"

The past 2 years have been incredible in about a million ways.

So has the past month.

I've been continually impressed with how different a second child is. Maybe it's that I worry less, or have less time, or have less attention, or this baby is just requires different stuff of me, but I feel like I've only spent a fraction of the time tracing her profile and watching her sleep faces that I did with Ada. It's not that I love her any less, or find her any less incredible, but the newness of loving a being I created is not as new anymore. Not that it's old hat either. It just is. After I had Ada I remember feeling my heart change. And maybe it just needed one initiation into becoming a mother-heart; just one maturation before it was ready for children-plural, and not just child-one. Maybe it doesn't need to shed something else or grow another size to fit another tiny human inside. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that number two just feels more natural.

That's the craziest thing to me: I'm a mother of two. An exceptionally young mother of two. But I'm doing it. And I think I'm doing a pretty fine job.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I feel like I've been sweaty all day.

This morning I took the girls to the library for story time. Despite the fact that we left in the 9AM hour, it was probably 800 degrees outside by the time we walked through the handicap entrance and were greeted with a flood of cold air conditioned air. Bless you, tax dollars, for keeping the library so cold.

The walk back was twice as hot because it was about 500 degrees warmer out and I had a little fireball wrapped to my body. And I was pushing 35 pounds of toddler, plus 35 pounds of library books. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home, just to load the stroller-turned-handcart up a little more.

After putting Ada to sleep I nursed Liv before her nap. (The smell—the mixture of sweat and breastmilk—took me right back to 651 N. 800 E. in Orem where I spent weeks upon weeks of frenzied nights trying to figure out how to use my body to sustain a human life. Nursing didn't come easily to Ada and I.) My shirt was still damp from our walk this morning as little Liv sucked away, doing what babies magically know how to do upon being born.

It was one of those increasingly rare long-nap days. Both girls were down for over 2 hours which is some sort of noteworthy miracle. Naturally, I painted for two full episodes of This American Life—the only way I keep track of time in the studio these days. I was sweating on the balcony as I worked, the occasional breeze felt like a gift every time it blew by.

Now baby 1 is awake, eating a balanced meal of snap peas and the last of my Cadburry mini eggs and baby 2 is stirring. I'm finally dry. But I've truly appreciated the work-like nature of my day so far. The literal sweat that has reminded me that life should be hard, but that its punctuated with enough gifts and breaks that make us think: This isn't so bad. In fact, I'm really enjoying it.

That's the last of 'em

Ada came outside and met me at my easel after she woke from her nap. She was chewing something.
I ask, "What's in your mouth?"

"What's in your mouth?" She repeats. (Because answering questions is something that has somehow eclipsed her).

"What is it?" I ask again. Pointing.


I keep probing. "Where did you find it?"

"I found it in my mouth."

Yes. Brilliant. Of course!

"I need you to open the box of candies so I can have eat more candies. I need candies."
And that is how Ada polished off my last five Cadbury Mini Eggs.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bright and shiny happy formulas

I painted yesterday. Both girls were sleeping, Ada in her bed and Liv in her bassinet within arms reach. It was another "I got this" sort of afternoon. Until it wasn't, because those bright and shiny moments are fleeting—though somehow they sustain you through the longer darker ones.

Que fussing baby (what happened to my ever-so-placid babe?!) and a toddler who was so content gluing paper flowers on construction paper and talking about friends she's met once or probably won't ever see again that it sent her already guilt-prone mother into a guilt spiral. I felt guilty for not trying harder to expand her circle of friends here. I felt bad for missing out on opportunities she would have loved because they seemed too hard for me. I felt bad for Liv who is the current back-burner child that gets nursed on demand, but that's about it. And I felt lonely for the first time in a long while. And all of the sudden everything felt hard. Hard to get dinner on. Hard to pick up. Hard to get kids to bed. Hard to even think about facing another night that might be sleepless and difficult. (It was only a few nights before where all four of us were on the couch around 3 AM. Three of us were crying. I'll let you guess who the one holding it together was.)

But I guess this is what it takes to recognize the bright and shiny moments.

My best friend as told me about "happy formulas." Everyone's is different, but it's important to know yours and make it happen the best you can. I think all of us at our house are just reformulating right now. And I'm not worried. Things will work themselves out and everything will feel (relatively) smooth again. I'm beginning to understand what I need to be happy (and make everyone around me happy). Here's what I've got so far: I know it is at least one-part Haagan-Dazs Salted Caramel Truffle ice cream. See? On the right track already, right?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Newness of twoness

My first day flying solo with the girls was last Friday. Liv slept and Ada played quietly in the morning while I took care of "couch errands" as I like to call them (phone calls, emails, online schtuff. . .). Then baths were in order. We had lunch. I read to Ada while nursing the baby. Everybody took a two hour nap.

Long story short, I felt like a rockstar. It was a constant, "I got this" feeling.

This is exactly how I felt this morning.
Fast forward to this morning—after getting 5 lousy hours of sleep strung together over nearly 9 hours— I'm whimpering in the kitchen before Mike leaves, "Don't leave me with the screaming toddler," as Ada wails beside me. I wanted to curl up and sleep until The Lou was potty trained and nursing The Liv didn't hurt so bad. Or at least for a few more hours. But I couldn't, and that was a tough pill to swallow.

Ada is going through an intense Must-be-Mom stage where she won't allow Mike to do anything (at least not without a ton of screaming and fit trowing and generally making people around her so miserable it isn't even worth having Mike offer the help). No filling up her milk, no opening a drawer of toys, no picking up her blanket off the floor and handing it to her. Heaven forbid it's a bigger task like changing her diaper or putting on her pj's. It has to be me. Always. Without exception.

I'm learning quickly I can't do it all. Why can't Ada learn that lesson too?

I rested a bit longer in my bed until Ada came in wanting to get out her paints. I got up, feeling really envious of the 10-day-old baby sleeping in my cozy bed, and helped Ada paint. While we ate breakfast together she regaled me with several rousing renditions of the ABC Song and Ada-Ada-bo-bada. My tiredness somehow fell away for a bit and I felt generally lucky to be here, working through the newness of twoness and trying to catch up on sleep as I go.

Friday, June 28, 2013

So different than before

I wondered what it was like entering the world to the screaming cries of your mother. I don't remember my own birth, obviously, but I wondered how much was immediately recallable to my baby in the hours after her own arrival. My pained, panicky voice and burning body ushered in her head, but a rush overcame me and as I delivered her body suffering changed to joy. I tried to replace that possible first shrieking memory with all the tender affection I was bursting with. My little girl was here in her crying, purple-gray glory. And I had her immediately with me as they disconnected our bodies for the first time in 9 months.

The moments after were quiet and serene. Mike was with the baby as she was weighed and measured and before I knew it, it was just the three of us together in the hospital room. So much was so different from my delivery with Ada. Aside from the minutes prior to Olive's birth, the whole experience was much more intimate, personal and quiet than Ada's birth. Maybe that's why she chose the middle of the night to make her appearance—we all welcomed the added serenity of night.

My parents met us in the hallway with Ada as we wheeled from the delivery room to my new home for the next few days. Ada saw us down the hall and ran toward us. She knew immediately who the little person in my arms was, and she was just as immediately smitten. So was I. With all of us. A family of four.

To my girls:
Ada, you're already a tender and sweet big sister. Olive, you're already so lucky.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Accepting need

A week ago I would've told you that Mike had gotten Ada's bedtime routine down to a fine science. A book. A story. Turning on her favorite songs. He stays for one. Then he tells her he'll be right outside the door (and she repeats, "Daddy will be right outside the door" about 600 times while he says, "Yep, that's right, sweety" until he has closed the door behind him.

But lately she's been a bit more needy. And I've been a bit more tired. Which isn't exactly a winning combination.

Last night I tried the tried-and-true, almost too sterile approach. Book. Story. Song . . . but she seemed so scared that I was going someplace far away. Like she could sense my anxiety about getting her to bed and on with my night.

I paused outside her door as she cried in her room, and accepted that some nights your kid just needs you more than other nights, and tonight, my baby needed me.

I knelt by her bed and told her I wanted to talk about our day. I tried to pick out all the bright spots—the dinosaurs marching song during storytime at the library, eating a frosty on the deck at Grandma Colleen's house, jumping in the pool to Daddy—and forget all the screaming fits and embarrassing public meltdowns that filled up a majority of my day. As I mostly talked and she mostly listened, her eyes lit up and she would insert her variations on the day as we went. At one point she said, "Remember last week when we went to the doctors and she listened to the baby's heart and it went, 'Wha-oo-wha-oo-wha-oo' and you were a such a good girl at the doctors. And—" she paused and her dark eyes wide and serious, "you're going to be a big sister when Baby Liv comes so soon." She expressed several other sentiments regarding the baby, including the fact that the baby will give her Abby Cadabby when she comes (?).

I kissed her a thousand times before I skirted out of her room. And I left feeling lighter and less anxious and accepted that some nights a mom just needs her baby more than other nights.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The tiniest update

Hello end of June.

Lots has happened between my last post here. We've accepted a job, Mike graduated from SAIS, we moved across the country, and we're (likely) within a week of meeting our sweet baby number 2.

Life was too nebulous and stressful to write about. Ada and my days consisted mostly of playing outside. Mike and my nights consisted mostly of long chats about what we want our life to look like, and budgeting, and loans, and if we should rent or buy, sell or drive, pack or store or sell . . . By the time I got around to choosing maternal care here in Salt Lake, I emailed a trusted friend, called up the midwife and scheduled an appointment. I didn't think twice about it. I was too burned out of decision making by then. And guess what? It's worked out really well. So maybe all my stressing over every other decision was all for naught. Who knows. (And who really cares?)

We're really happy. Mike is a 10 minute walk from his office. We're smack in the heart of downtown, living in a 5th floor apartment with a breezy balcony (or boufcany as Ada says) and TWO WHOLE BEDROOMS. I feel like I've finally arrived. Our own room! Without a child in it!!

No baby yet, but she's expected any day and if the amount of imaginary play is any indication, Ada is really looking forward to her sister's debut. We'll see how long the honeymoon lasts. . .

I'm hoping that writing will again take part in my daily processing. My blogging time was filled with painting, but that's going to be a bit messy for the next little while with a new one attached to me in one way or another most of the day (and—let's be serious—night).

And maybe I'll get around to posting all the half-finished drafts stacked up in my post queue. Just maybe.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sacralization of space

I came across a line in a book Mike and I have been reading together that was this, "THAT'S IT!" type sentence; I immediately made a note to revisit it.

I have a hard time talking about my art. In fact, Mike walked me through writing the artist statement for my final show and all of the best lines people mentioned in the guest book could pretty much be attributed to him. He has a gift for taking in lots of information and spitting it back out in digestible bites. In the case of my artist statement, he took lots and lots of late night talks, recounted conversations with professors, secondhand critiques, and mostly lots of random bumbling from me (that nearly always ended in the phrase, ". . . I don't know how to say it, but you know what I mean?") and helped me synthesize it into a few beautiful paragraphs.

I just really love that boy

House of Bondmen, 12"x12" oil on panel
*     *     *

So this line in the book. It stood there, answering the question I've had about my work for the last few months: "What is this about anymore?" The motifs I'm using are the same—pattern, shape, covering, revealing, repetition, meditative processes—but I can't seem to explain my work in the same way I did over 2 years ago. It's just not really about ancestry anymore. It's more about this: "The sacralization of space [that] usually results from a succession of holy events like repeated miracles, or from accumulated layers of worship and veneration . . ."

I have thought a lot about space lately—how physical space is tied to emotional or spiritual space, how the daily acts in my space affect the feeling of that space, how I can make my home a sacred space no matter where it is and what our budget. I love the idea of repeated acts sacralizing a space; that as we repeatedly pray, or love, or aid in the space of our homes, those acts make it sacred. I think about repetitious acts that can tend toward monotony but allow for a holy work to take place there. I think about temples. I think about motherhood and routine and divinity. I think about our hands and our hearts and what motivates us to use them. And as my baby grows and my belly swells, I think about creation and time and how space is shaped by both.
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