Sunday, December 19, 2010

letters to W

My husband bought me a journal for Hannukah and I was at a loss with what to write. I have a journal I already write in, and I'm not ready to move on yet (still some pages left). I have this forum where I'm writing and thinking and processing stuff. So did I need a new journal?

My solution: I started a journal of letters to my son, and I intend to give it to him on his 18th birthday when he's officially ready to leave the nest. I wrote the first one--six pages of handwritten single-spaced text--and I'm really excited about it. My only concern is whether an 18 year old boy will actually appreciate this journal. A girl, yes, I can see her understanding and loving it. But I don't think I know any boys of that age who would respond well. I'm hoping, though, that W will be a slightly different kind of boy. That he'll understand and care for emotions in a way that a "normal" 18 year old boy will not.

As I write this, however, I see exactly how much I'm projecting onto W already. I see myself scripting who he is, and even though he's only one year old, I know that he is fully himself. He's already broken out of any scripts I might have had for his babyhood. So who am I to guess what he'll be like at 18?

The upshot is that I'm going to keep my Letters to W book going, writing in it every now and then when the mood strikes and on big occasions, like birthdays, starting kindergarten, his Bar Mitzvah. And if he gets it when he's 18, fine. If not, my only hope will be that he keeps it in a safe place and when he's ready for it, perhaps when I've passed (please, universe, at a ripe old age that allows me to see W grow up!), or maybe when he contemplates having children of his own. Or, perhaps his partner will appreciate it. I would love to read a series of letters between my husband and his mother, but in reality, they do not have a relationship that would bear out such letters. Believe me, that's true. She's not very emotionally connected to anyone, and maybe that's part of my goal, too--I'd like to offer as many models as I can for what love looks like. My Mom wrote a diary of my first few years and I have absolutely loved reading over it. She wrote little things, such as that I liked crawling into small places (under tables, in cabinets), and that's the kind of detail that might have gotten lost. I certainly don't remember these activities, but it makes sense that even as a baby I loved feeling cozy and secure (still do). When I first read about it, in fact, I assumed that all babies must do that and it wasn't special, but W *never* crawls under tables. He's an out-in-the-open kind of kid. Interesting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

one year old

How in the world is it possible that W is almost one year old (on Sunday, December 12th)? People kept saying in the beginning that it would go really fast, and I have to admit, I spent the first few weeks/months hoping that was true. Our journey was very rough in the beginning, in part due to my undiagnosed postpartum depression and in part because of W's serious reflux. By about week four or five, I was really struggling and couldn't wait until he could go to kindergarten. Luckily, things got better--MUCH better--around 16 weeks and the fog started to lift. I started to think we could do it after all, and that maybe I could enjoy babyhood. But man, even thinking back to that start is giving me little shivers.

Now that he's becoming such a little man, an almost-toddler, I completely understand what people meant that it goes fast. Once he started to be able to DO things, those things just came fast and furious. One minute he could sit up, and the next, he was cruising down the ottoman. First he could smile in response to one of our smiles, and then, quite suddenly, he started saying "hi" and "bye" and "no." Crazy fast.

As a mother, I've changed a lot, too. I read too many books, spent too much time on the discussion boards lurking and reading assvice, and had some ideas that simply didn't work for us (sleeping on his back? Hah. He flipped over faster than a fish every time, causing me to spend hours hovering next to the crib to watch him breathe). I've shed a lot of those early desires to figure out how to do it right. I've learned that the best things to do are whatever works for my kid. That's not to say that all the advice was useless. I got a lot from that Weissb.luth Heal.thy Sleep book. The 7pm bedtime works for me and my kid. I'm not sure I would have figured that out on my own so quickly. But as I watch the other babies we know, I truly see that not all babies are alike. Not all advice fits every baby. W is, thankfully, an easygoing kid these days, and the daycare folks think so, too. He may not nap well, but he plays happily on his own while the other babies nap, so it works out alright.

Anyway, all this is making me think about my journey as a mother, not just what it's been, but what it will be. And what it could have been. This may seem like an odd digression, but my mother's mother, my natural grandmother Jeanne, died when my mother was 16 months old. Gallbladder surgery. Something went wrong and the story goes that because of WWII, there was not enough penicillin to go around. Jeanne died on the operating table, leaving my toddler mother and her older brother, my Uncle Mike, a 3 year old, to live with her parents. In those days, a single father was an anomaly, and to make matters harder, my grandfather worked as a traveling opera singer, so he couldn't take the kids on the road. My mother's grandmother, a salt-of-the-earth Swedish woman named Kit, raised her until my grandfather remarried and could take my mother and Uncle Mike home again when they were roughly 9 and 12. As a result of all this, my mother grew up always wanting to be a mother herself, like she was raising herself as she raised me and my brother. She wanted to honor her mother's legacy by becoming a mother. It's complicated, of course, because while she thinks she was an amazing mother, my memories of her are not necessarily the same. She clearly loved us, but she was bored being a full time mother, and she spent a lot of time chairing La Lech.e Lea.gue meetings and organizing playgroups. She was an incredibly active mother, a forgiving and open-minded mother, though, and for those things I'm grateful. I just think she was distracted, and probably was grieving her own loss of a mother while she was figuring out her own journey.
So my mother's journey was, in a sense, connected to her mother's journey, one that was cut off well before it's time. And my journey must then be connected to my mother's journey. I spent many years thinking that I was too selfish to have a child, that I would hate not being able to do what I wanted. And there is some truth to that. I miss reading my daily New York Ti.mes and watching taped Jon Ste.wart every morning. I miss being able to take three hour afternoon naps. I miss wandering around bookstores for hours, or just watching bad tv because I felt mopey and wanted to. Oh, there are so many things from my former life that I miss. And perhaps that anxiety was created because I did not like that my own  mother felt selfish somehow. All those mothering activities were really for her (how many boring meetings I attended as a young child!). And she spent a lot of time doing spiritual questing--she was a Rosi.crucian, a dedicated Bud.dhist meditator and yoga practitioner, a Catho.lic, and eventually, an Epis.copalian. None of that had much to do with me and my brother. I can clearly remember her telling me and my brother, probably ages 7 and 4, that she was going to go in her room for a few hours to meditate and that we should not bother her. Crazy, right?

And yet, in the end, my mother is amazing. She teaches me more about mothering now than she did back then. I think maybe I had to work through some of this selfishness anxiety, both alone and with my mother, for me to be able to finally become a mother myself. I wonder, though, how I'll see myself as a mother in a few years. Or worse, how W will see me as a mother. Will he think I, too, was selfish because I do read my New York Times on Sundays when he plays on the floor? Am I sometimes disconnected, looking at email or blogs, and does this mean I'm repeating some of my own mother's habits? Is mothering cyclical, generational? It must be. So what is my mothering legacy like? And how am I affected by these women I never met: Kit, the grandmother who raised my mother when she thought her own mothering days were over; Jeanne, my natural grandmother, whose photos I've seen and whose eyes seem so bright and alive.

I also wonder whether, if I had never become a mother myself, these connections, these journies, would have died with me. It's a sad concept, for me. Because as W turns one year old, I cannot imagine my life without him, truly. I can imagine a day or two without him, where I read and see movies and take long naps, but I feel such a strong kinship with his little spirit, and I have no idea where that came from or why it exists. I feel like I was meant to know him. Maybe that's just romanticized bullshit that I've internalized about motherhood. Or maybe there is something to it.

He'll be one in a few days, and I'll be celebrating my own new life as a mother and as a different person than I was before all this happened. One. Truly amazing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Name change

I've struggled with what to call this blog almost as much as I've been struggling with what this blog is about. Is it a blog about parenting after recurrent miscarriage? Sort of. Is it about being a full time university professor/administrator and a full time mother? Yes. Is it about finding a way to stay involved in the community? I'd like it to be. So what the hell is it? What do I want from this space? What online community do I belong to, if any?

The new name, The Second Act, is my latest attempt to formulate something out of these questions. It refers to the fact that I've thought of having a baby in my 40s as very much like starting a second act, a second life. My first act, from birth to the age of 38 or so, was all about me, to put it bluntly. I was figuring out who I was and what I wanted. I was a student for a long time (4 years of college and then 8 years of graduate school), and then I was a teacher and community organizer. I was becoming myself during those many years, and while that process is far from over, I reached a place in my late 30s where I was ready for a family. Ready for someone else to be at the center of my life. I fretted about the decision for most of my 30s. Was I too selfish to get off center stage? Did I live too much in my head and not enough in the real world for me to realistically be a good mother? Could I settle down with one man long enough to get to the let's-have-a-family conversation?

I did. I found love with one man, a fellow teacher, and found myself finally longing for a baby. It wasn't easy, and there were many times when I thought I had simply waited too long or wasn't going to be among the lucky ones to carry a baby to full term. But then, W stuck around and in December of 2009, he arrived safe and sound.

So this is my Second Act, and hopefully there will be third and fourth acts to come. For now, I'm sharing the metaphorical stage with my husband and my son, and I'm figuring out how to do all this. How to live this new life that I desperately wanted and that is not always rosy and simple. I loved a recent post over at Murgdan that I adored about how difficult babies can be, even when they were long-hoped-for and are cherished. I guess I want to be part of that conversation in my own minor way--I want to suggest to other women who are afraid, or who feel like their second act (motherhood in mid-life) is either not going the way it is "supposed" to go or is too hard to imagine. And I want to be a person, not just a mother. I write to remind myself that my First Act is not gone. I'm not a new person. I'm still me. I'm still that sometimes selfish, often lost, person I was, but now I've got additional roles and jobs to accomplish. I want to consciously write this Second Act into being.