There Was Joy

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There are so many things I had to refuse her.

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.

The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water. Continue Reading…

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What You Brought Home

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Dear Sammi Sunshine,

On the day that we brought you home from the hospital, we were nearly out of the parking garage when I remembered the milk — my milk, your milk, stored in the infant intensive care unit freezer. I’d been waking up every three hours for over a week to pump it and bring it in a little cooler to you each morning. I sprung out of the car, wincing from the cesarean section scar still healing on my abdomen, and went back into the hospital for it. It was the first thing you brought into our home — you, your tiny perfect self, and twenty-six ounces of expressed breast milk. Continue Reading…

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Forget It, Or Don’t, Or Hold It Lightly

swallow-my-sunshine-chairIt was December, 2013, when we had that awful conversation, the doctor and my husband and I.

It was cold out, and my body wasn’t ready for it yet. That’s why my chin was quivering as I sat in the upholstered chair next to the window, cradling one phone while my husband stood alert in the next room with another extension in his hand. It was cold outside, and I didn’t have my winter metabolism running by then, so my hand shook. It shook so much that the paper in front of me was blank the whole time. I never wrote anything. At the end of the conversation, when the doctor’s excitement oozed through the phone because the missing piece might really fit in the puzzle this time, my paper was blank and my toes were tucked under my bottom in the chair, holding me tightly into the space where I was curled now, so cold, so cold because I was near the window, the winter window, on a frigid day. That’s why I shook. That’s why I shivered.

But actually, it turns out, it was November. Continue Reading…

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On Raising Bodies

When my first daughter was brought to me, pink and hot and smelling like something elemental and metallic, I could hardly believe how thrilled I was to see that she was a girl. It turned out that I’d wanted a girl more than I’d been willing to say. I loved everything about it: choosing her name, buying her cute clothes, and saying the word “daughter.” I assume I would have felt the same way about a boy, once I saw him, but I never got that chance. I have two daughters, defying my pregnant instincts and imagination both times.

The truth was that I was afraid of one monumental thing when it came to parenting daughters: screwing up their relationship with food. Continue Reading…

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No Way Through It But to Do It

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She is at the kitchen counter, tongue jutted out over her top lip, pencil in an awkward grip, tears rolling down her face.

“There’s so much of this!” she says, between strangled sobs.

I chop carrots, a profile at a counter perpendicular to the one where her science book, notebook, tablet, and half-eaten bowl of cheese crackers are scattered. Her hair is in her eyes, and she keeps angrily tucking it behind her ear. I put down the knife, rinse my hands, wipe them on the back pockets of my jeans, and walk gently and slowly around the edges of the counter. I pull her hair back and wrap it into a quick ponytail, and then I kiss the top of her warm, slightly-sweaty head.

“No way through it but to do it,” I tell her.

She falls forward, her head in her arms, and cries, still gripping the pencil. I rub her back, softly, and rest my cheek on her neck to whisper in her ear, little useless things about getting a drink of water, taking a five minute break, finishing her snack. She growls and rises, determined through tears to get it done.

I straighten and make my way back toward the carrots, noting that her sister is on the couch in the next room, laptop propped on her knees, papers everywhere, water bottle cuddled against her side. She’s absentmindedly eating a package of dried seaweed, listening to music, and occasionally holding her phone up at just the right angle for a photo containing only half her face. She looks up, and I blow her a kiss. She smiles, waves, and catches it.

The battle rages on at the counter.

I wonder what made my two daughters so different: the older one go-with-the-flow, flexible, arched toward satisfaction; and the younger one frustrated, questioning, mourning, her happiness easily won but equally easily lost. Continue Reading…

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