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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Southern Cold.

I own twelve bathing suits. That's eleven more than I owned up north. Despite the fact I picked up more than half of them on sale and I don't love how I look in all of them (note to self: good support is worth the money), twelve is a big number for a small article of clothing that only gets worn on special occasions. Disbarring the assumption, of course, that we southerners spend most of our time lounging in string bikinis and enjoying perpetual sunsine on tropic beaches.

This week begs to differ, and I must admit...I am loving it. Freeze warnings and record lows. Empty shelves in grocery stores where rows of Duralogs used to lonesomely sit and the smoky scent of heater dust from an unused furnace that's finally been kicked on.

We don't own mittens, but we have socks to boot, and with a little ingenuity we've set out for evening wagon walks with tiny fingers encased in foot-stretched cotton, ears hibernated into layers of furry hats pulled from packed-up boxes in the attic and snuggled blankets wrapping up little bodies more accustomed to sand and swimsuits than this out-of-character January chill.

However, it is in these moments I am reminded of the joys of home hibernation; memories of huddling around a cozy living room fire in Michigan while blustery winds barracaded the door outside. While we hardly have it that bad (despite the response of anyone asked to take the dogs out in the morning cold), it is a welcome pleasure for something a little out-of-the-ordinary. Northerners would indeed guffaw at our exaggerated attempts to stay warm (most noteworthy being the runner who jogged by my house yesterday in a triple-goose-down puffer coat and full face mask...oh, come on), but I am taking this blessed chill as an opportunity to nest and enjoy little pleasures of home.

Like crackling fires in the fireplace and chili and cornbread Saturdays. My favorite fashionable trench-coat I scored a half-off steal on before I moved down here and hardly have had the opportunity to wear. Her footy jammies that scuff across the cold tile floors in the morning and steam that dances off the surface of my coffee.

And hot cocoa afternoons...when the nap gets delayed and we instead make a memory of sitting on the cold lanai, huddled under blanket tents drinking marshmallow-peppered cocoa out of tiny tin cups.

While my twelve bathing suits may be temporarily banished to the bottom drawer and we search local stores for a toddler coat thicker than a wind-breaker, we are enjoying every opportunity this weather brings to nestle and drink in the great moments of life...even if they are a little colder.

Regardless...the sun still shines.

Vignettes from a Florida Sunday

Setting out for the long drive there, I settle familiarly into the passenger seat with a writing book, two novels and a pile of magazines. Three miles in and I've been updated on what Kourtney Kardashian is craving, how long US readers predict Renee and Bradley will stick together and who wore Armani's latest the best. I ditch the magazine and opt for the writing book.

The ride is quiet but for the sounds of the DVD in the back and the boys' random laughter at all the funny parts...cueing Lainey to interject her own laughter with a precise two-second delay. She doesn't exactly know what she's laughing at, but if her brothers think it's must be.

A monster truck with scantily-clad-women mudflaps rolls along two cars ahead of us. Pulled behind is a rusted twin engine boat, sloppily painted with Team Nauti Boys. I imagine they are headed out for some Sunday fun for sure.

I notice for the first time all the panther traffic signs along the way. Official yellow road signs with panther silhouettes as if their crossing is as ordinary as the common pedestrian. I've never seen a panther cross these streets.

The trees get lusher and thicker as stores and gas stations grow more sparse. Of course there is the oddly-placed outlet mall in the middle of nowhere that suddenly appears. I always expect it to be closed, but miraculously, it goes on...a few random cars parked in its old parking lot. I wonder exactly how many outdated suitcases the Samsonite store sells each month. I imagine there are many a days when not a one customer shows up at this place. I also imagine that hell might be waking up employed at this very outlet mall...banished to the dingy walls of the Dress Barn selling frumpy green paisley sack dresses here on the most God-forsaken stretch of 951.

The green sign finally appears. Isles of Capri and a single arrow, pointing you far away from the Dress Barn...past the magroves, the bait store, the impressive marina for such a tiny island.

And we arrive.
And unload.
And settle under shady umbrellas.

The tide is low.
The seagrapes droop.
The sea foam recedes, pulling with it broken shells and 'beach pencils'.

It's hot and my hair sticks to the sunscreen on the back of my neck.
But she's happy.

Transporting shovels of sand from the beach to the large blue bucket ready to float away at the edge of the tide...until finally, she's piled enough sand into it to weight it steadily into the mud.

We spend most of our time partially submerged in the gulf today, its salty water stinging the shaving cuts I apparently acquired this morning. She floats and splashes as I eat cold cantelope from the chair I have half buried in the shallow water.

And later, we venture back to the hot sand to watch the boys dig deep tunnels. Take a crab walk with Mama. Finish off a grouper basket. And smile every time one of our Fish House friends comments on the growing belly.

It's another girl, we exclaim.
Another baby to tote along for Sunday memories...
to sleep in the moses basket on the old wood floor under the palm-thatched roof of the tiki bar.

And then, before the sun sets, we head home...

The drive home is always cozy as we huddle under beach towels, the air seeming a little cooler against salty, damp suits. It's quiet again but for the random laughter...and two-second delayed laughter. I close my eyes and prop my sandy feet on Brett's dashboard. I take them down when he frowns at me.

And when we pull into the driveway, the herd exits wildly, running toward the pool where everyone jumps in to clean off sweaty, sandy, sunscreened bodies. I hear them all from our bathroom as I always opt instead for the more refreshing waters of a real shower. A long shower with a clay mint mask and deep conditioner. And after donning a warm nightgown straight from the dryer, I join them at the edge of the pool where we watch the sun set behind the woods...

And now the house is calm. Quiet...but for Brett's football game in the other room and the dryer tossing a load of beach towels.
And the tea is finished.

Thoreau may have wandered into the woods to live deliberately and suck the marrow out of life...
Us? Well, we have enough marrow right here.

Sucking it, breathing it, sharing it...

Motherhood and "This is It" Moments.

The great Chinese philosopy of yin and yang describes how opposing forces are, in effect, interconnected and give rise to each other. Complementary opposites constantly interacting yet part of a greater, beautiful whole.

I couldn't describe the last couple days any better. And yet, if I look back at every era in our life, it's always the same way.

Good and beautiful moments followed by trying and sad. Complex hurdles and challenges balanced perfectly with simple happy days. Intricate layers of learning and knowing, feeling and being, moving forward and being content to simply reside in the moment.

And i don't think I'd have it any other way. I love the simple, the good, the happy. But without the trying, the complex, the sad, the good just wouldn't seem as good and there would be no propeling the better us we will be every day.

Yes, we've had our good...enjoying a week with Grandma here, losing ourselves in yarn stores and coffee shops mid-afternoon, sunsets on the beach, lingering in our jammies, wagon walks and mastering the art of homemade cherry pie.

But then there are the trying...

We had our big half-way point ultrasound the other day and, even with all this funky stuff we've dealt with this time, I always look forward to ultrasounds. Even if they are to monitor that stupid blood clot. Because, right above that stupid blood clot is this little thing called our child. And getting to see know her take her in just gets me.

And yes, again, it's not the perfect ultrasound we'd hoped for. At least it didn't seem like that when I kept questioning the poor ultrasound tech every time she got quiet and moved the wand a little slower...and then I'd dig for all the what-could-that-mean-s and nearly fall apart after.
But, after a long thoughtful day yesterday, a chat with the doctor, a chat with the nurse, a call to ldr-friend-nurse, lots of huggy-kissy family e-mails, a follow-up call with nurse and her final words of--I think verbatim--'Stop worrying and go write a blog post or something,' I've come to this complete peace that, for the most part, everything is out of my hands and will be just fine. The baby is perfect. Brett says we don't knock on the cockpit when the plane's sit back and relax.
And so i will.
I've never ever been a worrier...ever. To the point of I didn't worry about things I should have worried about. But, I think my grandma's passed-on worry genes were just lying dormant all these years until babies entered my world. And now...all this love...well, the genes have erupted like Vesuvius.

And if that wasn't enough, after a somewhat emotional day yesterday, my girl woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. And clingy. And needy. And I did that give-her-tylenol thing again which made her throw up. And so we cleaned off stinky jammies and freshened up with new ones. And we rocked. And loved. And she was quiet and happy and soon fell asleep in my arms. And today, she just wasn't herself. Her eyes said 'sick,' and her bubbly personality was absent...replaced by this sweet, clingy babe who couldn't leave my side. She needed us a lot today...

So we read a lot of books, her legs all intertwined in mine and her hot little head nested as close to me as possible.

And, at one point when her drowsy eyes closed and her hand curled around my arm, I just couldn't hold it. I cried. Not because it was hard and trying. Maybe because I'm emotional and pregnant. But mostly? Mostly because I felt like a mama (and talk about yin and I am lying there in the quiet of the room and my big girl is falling asleep outside my tummy while my tiny girl is waking up inside. Hello. Profound.)

It dawned on me...all these times we look forward to before we're mothers. The moments we think we'll feel like a mom--like park dates or proudly 'showing off' that wrapped little bundle, birthday parties and art projects...yes, they all define motherhood. And while I feel every bit of mamahood during those happy days, it's the not-so-right times that truly pull out of me the primal mama within. Checking temperatures half-awake holding a warm head close. Sweeping back tendrils of wispy hair from a hot cheek and kissing sad, heavy eyelids. Feeling that painful pull on my heart when the ultrasound tech takes a second look at a questionable area. Kissing her tiny helpless body under blue lights in the hospital. Comforting her sickness. Being needed. Sacrificing anything and everything to make them both okay...these are the moments I feel my soul has been matched with its calling. Where I know I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. For a doctor, it might be the day they are published in The New England Journal of Medicine. A struggling politician, perhaps the moment they celebrate their election to office. But for 'this is it' moments...they are witnessed by none and felt in the dark...when we're rocking quietly together and our souls are synched. In the middle of the day when everyone's at work, but I am happily glued to the couch, intertwined with my feverish girl. When I don't have all the answers and I don't know what to do...but I sure know how to love. That's when I feel it most. This mom thing. I don't know why or how or when...but I know so deeply how to be a mom because my soul was carved to be one and these littles fit in the hollow of those carved grooves...right in the place of my being that says 'mama.'
The rest, we'll figure out.

I may or may not be a great many things...but today, I was so incredibly happy to be a mama.

The Sky was Vibrant.

The sky was vibrant today. So blue, in fact, God could roll it up, wrap a Crayola paper on it and sell it in a crayon box for heavenly bodies to color with. That vibrant. And when the sky is vibrant, I want to do vibrant things. Like plant a garden. Paint the house. Write a book. Adopt a couple orphans. Cure cancer. You know, normal things.

But being that I hate disheartenment from unachieved lofty goals, I settled for alternate vibrancy...a bike ride.

A bike ride where I vibrantly cranked the pedals on my not-so-vibrant piece-of-crap bike. Well, it's not really mine. It's Brandyn's old one, and it's very small. And I know I look like this riding it, but it's okay because I'm getting fantastic exercise. Fantastic because the gears are kinda broken and it's stuck on the one that feels like the chains are attached to two lead bricks.

So I pedaled, exhaustively cycling through the lead brick rotations until my thighs twitched and stung and sweat soaked my dyed hair past its already Cleopatran blackness. It was a mess. But Lainey was content, pulled behind the rickety clown bike in her new little cart my dad found on Craigslist. In fact, now that I think of it, the cart I'm sure only added to the clownishness of it all, and when I had to stop in the back of the neighborhood to take a rest and lay the bike down in the middle of the street (broken kickstand, you know) with the cart all cock-eyed and Lainey crying...well, now I'm just laughing hard.

If our life was the cover of a book, it would so not be glossy. It would be torn and pasted with old food and lost somewhere in the back of the library.

...but it would be funny. And real. And ours. Oh, and vibrant.

*Note: Soon after this post was written, the daddy was so kind to buy the mama a new pink, vintage Schwinn bike for Mother's Day. So, don't feel too bad for me. I made out alright.

This is how we do it.


Despite the sighs of pity some may offer at the mention of it, I embrace it for the gift it is and have absolutely no problem answering the what-exactly-do-you do question with just that: I stay at home with my baby. I feel no need to further explain I used to teach. Or I have hobbies. Or I do business out of my home. Or there are some days I think I work so hard I would surely take the I-did-more-than-you-today prize from any 9 to 5er. Because for me, it is the most beautiful job in the world, and based on my own memories of spending afternoons sitting on the worn shag blue carpet in our family room, making my way through the lollipop woods and molasses swamp in a rip-roaring game of Candyland with my mom or trailing behind her through a fabric store while she thumbed through Butterick patterns knowing a trip to the ice cream store--just her and i--was sure to follow...well, I can't say enough just how sweet those times were or how good it feels to be able to mimic as much of that goodness as I can.

And I don't take it for granted. I really don't. And I know so many mamas that would love to stay home but can't and I wish I could share the gift a little more. But I also know that there are all sorts of mamas...good mamas...and some need time away, love their work environments and have these flawless set-ups where their babies are loved and nurtured during the day and they come home and balance it all the same. Because they choose to work. And they're just as good.

And I guess the point I'm trying to get to is that yes...this staying home thing is just purely beautiful...but it's not always perfect. I would love nothing more but to bake and craft and read Goodnight Moon a trillion times to her while we spooned under cold sheets and planned our breakfast menu. But it's hardly like that.
I do work. I work at home...a lot. And while I think it is the coolest thing in the history of mankind that I get to both work and be with her, it presents its difficulties. I can't always read. I can't always craft. And there are many a times when i'm on a call, typing at the computer, answering e-mails, scraping burned scrambled eggs off a hot pan while holding her all at once.

But you know what? We rock it out. We really do. She's this super-cool toddler who finds things to do and with a little set-up can easily entertain herself with a pile of crayons, a cup of water, a drawer full of clothes to try on...while my presence is near. There are days where we bake, and days where we eat chicken nuggets. Days where three loads of laundry miraculously make their way through the entire line of command (traditionally stopping, of course, at that wrinkled standstill between Dryertown and Foldedland), and days where the dirty pile grows ominously on the bathroom floor.

Hold it.
Perhaps I should mention the shakedown. Oh, the shakedown, a term invented by sister which, by definition, is the 45 minute blitz you frantically set out on right before your husband comes home which magically transforms your home into looking like you've been June-Cleaver-in' the place all day. Can't tell you how many times I've been gabbing with my sister at six o'clock only to wildly cut the call short with a "--Crap, I have to go...Shakedown time!" which is always met with empathy and a 'you'll-get-it-done' on her part. And I always do. In fact, if I don't say so myself, I've been known to turn a pit-gone-mad into Martha Stewart's living room, spit-shine the kitchen, throw something into the crockpot, turn the dryer on, light some candles, crank some Diana Krall, dispose of my pajamas, and smear some lipstick on in thirty-seven minutes flat. And he'll be all like wow when he comes home. And I'll be all like, if-only-you-knew.

But, all that aside...
Sometimes there are days like these.

Days when magically...we do it all. Like there were 72 hours in this one little day.
I mothered. The good-kind of mothered.
Instead of looking like one of the boxcar children, all oatmeal-covered and half-naked, we were cutely dressed and tightly pony-tailed by 7:30...right when the morning light streamed its welcome into her room for some early reading.

We crafted...and not just crayons and cheap coloring books. No, we're talkin' gluesticks and sequins.

We escaped to the park where the mid-morning breeze swished her pony-tails while she gasped and grinned on high-flying swings.

We picked up tuna subs and ate them on the ground, right there on dirt and grass with nothin' but nature...and headed home where she napped and I painted her nursery rocker a rich fallish shade of bordeaux to make its debut in our living room where new baby girl will be rocked and nursed and snuggled come January.

And afternoon had us winding through aisles at the grocery where she kindly helped me pick out bananas and tote bratwurst and peppers in her basket.

So there. Not to pat myself on the back--but oh, who am I kidding--totally patting myself on the back. Because, for all the times it doesn't work out. For all the times I've gone to bed thinking I could have done more. For all the piles of laundry that don't get washed or the Goodnight Moons that don't get read...there are days like these. When everything goes just right.

And that, my how we do it.