I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.
Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.
Sometimes I can close my eyes, quiet my surroundings, and feel the shapes of my daughters’ infant heads in my hands, one under each palm.
Narrow and thick with hair and heat, my firstborn daughter’s head needs my steadying touch, needs more of me and more of what’s mine. With more of me around her, touching her, with my voice and my smell, she calms, nestles, sleeps. Her head is the other side of the magnet; we fit and pull each other in. I know this head; I have held it and will hold it, run to hold it again, lifetimes over and over.
Resting beneath my other hand is the perfectly spherical head of my second daughter. Its roundness tidily fits in my hand like it was built in that space, like it grew outside me in a pot shaped like my palm. It is tiny and utterly symmetrical. Its temperature is like the air around it. The baby under that domed scalp does not react to my touch. I am there, but I am only someone, any someone, and I know nothing about her more than anyone else. She is still and new. She is trying me on, surprised to see that I fit. Continue Reading…
Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth Chicago
I was on stage at The Moth, a storytelling event that happens several times a month in Chicago. I was telling a story about mistakes, the story about how a host of people missed the right diagnosis for my daughter when she was a baby. I felt confident, telling this story. The lights on stage were so bright that I couldn’t see the crowd, and I didn’t feel anxious or wrong or awkward. I just told it, calmly, always always always hoping someone in the crowd will come to me afterward and say “your story compels me.”
Compels them to what, I’m not sure.
What surprises me about this photo is how my fists are clenched. They’re tight. I didn’t feel tight or clenched. Continue Reading…
In 2005, there were no smart phones or tablets or ways to send audio and video to anyone.
In 2005, if you were like me: alone with your preschooler and your baby and your empty house and almost no friends with children, the only way to connect to parenting wisdom, camaraderie, and a stolen moment of sanity several times a day was Mothering Magazine’s online forums. They were called the “Mothering Dot Commune,” and, for me, they served the purpose that smart phones and social media and texting serve now. They were, in a lonely world, a lifeline of support and connection. I relied on them for everything from pregnancy support (August 2005 Due Date Club!) to toilet training ideas to vegetarian recipes. I was steeped in gratitude during my pregnancy with my second daughter, but never more so than after she was born, when a regular user of the site who I’ll call Shanti helped set the course of my parenting in a way I’ll never forget. Continue Reading…
When my youngest was an infant, her poor health forced my transition from in-the-workplace to freelance. I had, at the time, a fantastic job, working three days a week in the office and two from home, managing the web site operations of a non-profit organization whose mission was close to my heart. On my last day, I brought my four-month-old daughter to the office. Swinging her carseat into the car in the parking lot when we left, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Well, kid, I guess it’s just us, now.”
Thirteen years later, in a recent meeting with fellow-volunteer members of my synagogue, I found myself floundering, not sure how to begin the conversation with these grown adults — many retired, all without kids at home — without saying, “How was your winter break?” Internally, I rolled my eyes at myself; I didn’t always have children. I didn’t always have two weeks mostly-off, flanking the end of one year and the beginning of another. What do adults without children say to each other at the beginning of January? I asked myself, and the answer was an imaginary shrug. Continue Reading…