7 January, 2013 00:50



10 Things I Learned From My 8-Month-Old

Eight months into this experience of motherhood, I’ve learned a fair amount. I now know, for example, that forgetting to clean out the diaper bag after a bottle has spilled inside and festered for a week is a mildewy, wretch-inducing mistake. Or that expressing breast milk in an airport bathroom during a short layover leaves behind a CSI-worthy milk crime scene.

I’ve also learned that holding my little boy close and whispering against his cheek often calms him from a tough spell of squalling. And that I have energy reserves I was unaware of before they were required to respond to him around the clock.

But as I watch my son grow, develop and gain his own experiences, I also learn from his approach to this new adventure, for him, of life.

He hasn’t had an easy run of it. He arrived early and stayed a day in the neonatal intensive care unit. He spent his first few days at home wrapped in an electric phototherapy device to combat jaundice. He developed a cow’s milk allergy that sent him to the emergency room and poses continuing challenges. He has trouble keeping food down, so he hovered at the bottom of the growth chart for months and requires one-on-one child care.

This is in addition to the typical infant travails of sitting in poop, waiting for someone to feed you and not understanding why your arms, legs, mouth or digestive system don’t seem to function quite well just yet.

Still, he greets every morning with a sweet and ready smile. His grievances are quickly forgotten. He tackles new tasks with pursed-lipped determination. He makes friends wherever he goes. His responses and experiences remind me of a few lessons to embrace in my own life:

10 Things I Learned From My 8-Month-Old

1.     When you meet someone for the first time, smile at them with your whole face.

2.     The dark is less scary when you know you’re not alone.

3.     At some point in life we will all puke, pee or poop on ourselves or others. The people who love us will still love us.

4.     If you have a need that is not being met, let people know (this may or may not involve tears).

5.     Be excited when someone you love comes home or enters the room.

6.     There’s no shame in wearing pajamas all day, especially if you’re not going anywhere – but sometimes even if you are.

7.     Engage in uncontrollable fits of giggling, even if no one else understands what’s funny.

8.     Feel proud of yourself when you’ve done something new or achieved an accomplishment.

9.     In an uncertain world, it’s wise to learn how to feed yourself.

10.   If you’re having a meltdown, take a walk, distract yourself or spend a few minutes looking out the window. You’ll feel better, or at least forget why you were upset for a while.

Those Best-Laid Plans

Since launching this blog, I’ve experienced a reignition of my delight in writing – and looking forward to writing. I covet the time and space to sit down to compose a post. But the past couple months have conspired against me, even more than I suppose is typical for a working mother of a 7-month-old baby.

We spent most of January sick – stomach virus, strep throat, colds galore – with the whole family under the weather. At the end of January, my son experienced a severe allergic reaction that required a trip to the emergency room. The same day, we learned he could no longer be cared for in his child care center. The day before, I’d been offered a wonderful new job. My husband and I juggled child care until we could find someone to care for our son at home for the next few months, while we also try to get to the bottom of some of his health problems, which may or may not be related to the allergy.

I started the new job. And that night I learned my mom probably has cancer – a fact confirmed by biopsy a few days later.

I didn’t intend for this blog to be a cancer blog, but no doubt that will play into everything as we navigate this journey.

Thank you, readers, for your time and thoughts. I look forward to writing more soon.

On Advent and Expectation

Beginning early last spring and well into the hot months of summer, I found myself thinking of the season of Advent, even though that season — the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve — was months away.

The reason was that for the first time I was “with child.”

For Christians, Advent is a season of “expectant waiting and preparation” for the birth of Jesus at Christmastime. It’s also a reminder of the Israelites’ waiting for the birth of a messiah and Christians’ anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “coming” or “arrival.”

“(Advent) helps us engage in the spiritual meaning of waiting and preparing,” a pastor explained to me once. “We are so productivity oriented (today) that just waiting feels like wasted time. The text (for Advent) has to do with waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

It’s no surprise to me that when people talk about having a baby, they say they are “expecting.” The process is more than the conception or the birth; it is also the monthslong journey of preparing your body and mind to nurture this child, while it is within you and when it comes into the world.

I don’t mean to equate my baby’s arrival with the birth of the Son of God (and my apologies to anyone who may be offended by a comparison). But during those months, as my belly squirmed with life, my heart grew calm with anticipation and I readied myself and my life to embrace this child, I felt the process to be sacred.

That a baby requires nine months (or in my case, eight months!) to develop gives you time to prepare, to challenge yourself, to try to become the person you want to be to parent this child and to welcome it with a sure and open heart.

And pregnancy has a lot of waiting: Waiting to find out if you are pregnant, waiting for the first ultrasound to see the baby. Waiting for test results, first hints of movement, the second ultrasound, finding out (or not) whether it is a boy or girl. Waiting to see which pregnancy symptoms you’ll experience, or for when they will end. Waiting for the big day to arrive when you welcome your baby into the world.

Even so, I felt the months went by quickly. It seemed a matter of days between sitting in a doctor’s office hearing the good news and heading to the hospital with delivery on the horizon. I’m thankful for the intervening months, in which I could at moments rest my palms and fingertips on my belly and reflect on how fortunate I felt to have been chosen to bring this creature into the world.

It was not a journey that I always expected to have. Since my early 20s, doctors told me I likely would have trouble conceiving or carrying a child, and that there could be above-average risks if I did. By the time I was in my late 30s, the odds of the biological clock seemed likely against me as well.

So when at age 38 (with education, career, marriage, etc. finally in alignment) my husband and I decided to at least try, we expected a long journey that might end in disappointment, or at least a different-than-planned outcome.

Considering the biological processes that must be in sync to create a child, pregnancy itself seems a nearly inconceivable result under ideal circumstances. So we were incredibly excited and surprised to learn I became pregnant in the first month of trying. During the following months, we received each milestone reached, each appointment completed, each day and month of continued pregnancy with gratitude, joy and a certain level of tension, thinking of the next goal to meet. When our son was born, we were almost surprised to have gotten so far – yet here he was!

Creating, bearing and raising a child is a solemn responsibility, but also such a tremendous gift.

During Advent, some churches light candles each week leading up to Christmas. Each candle has a meaning: The first week’s candle is hope; the next, peace. Then joy, and love. I can’t think of better values on which to focus when welcoming a child.

Three Pictures I Wish I Had

We like to think that photographs capture a moment in time, make it real and  permanent. We can look at them later and think “that really happened” or remember the events leading up to them or unfolding in the shots. Of course, we know pictures really are just chemicals on paper or pixels on a screen, not the event itself or the people featured.

Even so, there are three photos that I wish I had.

Picture #1

The morning that my water broke, signaling the end of my pregnancy and the beginning of a new chapter of life, we were completely caught off guard. The baby wasn’t due for another 3.5 weeks and we’d just purchased items needed for the labor bag (still in sacks on the kitchen table when I awoke to the sensation of water in the bed – no labor bag packed) the previous afternoon.

A quick call to my doctor resulted in orders to head to the hospital immediately, as I was not apparently in labor and the early rupture of the amniotic sac might not mean a good outcome for the baby. My husband and I rushed around the house, throwing items in a suitcase and trying not to feel too freaked out over what the day might entail.

We loaded the suitcase, birthing ball, towels and ourselves into the car, still thinking – now, I realize unrealistically – that maybe the baby wasn’t really coming and this was a false alarm. Needless to day, 16 hours later, we were parents for the first time.

A friend of mine, faced with a similar situation – but with twins – had the presence of mind to have her husband snap a picture of her before they headed to the hospital, even if the babies weren’t on their way. (However, they were, and all ended up being well). I wish I’d had the foresight to do the same.

The last picture I have of me pregnant is at 35 weeks, a fuzzy shot I took of myself in the bedroom mirror. My mom had scheduled a visit from California that was intended to be a few weeks before the baby came. We planned to do last-minute baby preparations, share mother-daughter time and take pictures of us together. She wanted me to pose for a picture next to the baby’s crib to recreate a similar photo my dad took of her when she was pregnant with me.

As it turned out, she was able to come a few days after my son’s birth instead, for which I’m thankful. But I do miss the idea of having captured the hope and anticipation of those final weeks, my big belly and the excitement of being about to welcome our baby into the world. I would have liked to show those pictures to my son one day when I tell him about how happy we were that he was about to join our lives.

Picture #2

When my husband and I got married, my dad was in the hospital being treated for late-stage cancer. In the months leading up to the wedding, we had high hopes that the chemotherapy would be effective and he not only might be able to be part of the wedding but could be well. He went with us to the menswear store to select outfits for the men in the wedding party and got measured for his tuxedo (black with a dark gray vest).

But the day of the wedding, he was too sick and his immune system too weakened to leave the hospital. Up until the time I headed into the church sanctuary with my mom, who walked me down the aisle, I hoped he would still arrive. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d arranged for a last-minute attendance, showing up being pushed in a wheelchair or even on a hospital gurney. That may been a more dramatic entrance than he would have liked, but having him there would have made the day complete.

After the reception, my husband and I went to the hospital to see my dad. I grabbed my camera before we headed out of the parking garage in our wedding attire, through the hospital entrance, down the halls and into his room. He sat propped up in the hospital bed, his face dominated by a smile. He had developed a fever during the day and wasn’t feeling well but he climbed out of bed and stood between us in his hospital gown as a nurse snapped several pictures of us together. Seeing him on our wedding day was my favorite part of the day (no offense to my husband, who I think would understand).

On the Wednesday of our weeklong honeymoon, I realized with a sick feeling in my stomach that there was no film in my camera. I did not have the pictures with my dad after all. On Saturday, my mom called to say my dad had taken a turn for the worse and we’d better come home. We did. He spent the next week in the critical care unit, mostly delirious or unresponsive. Over the next several weeks he recovered from the infection that almost killed him, but could no longer receive chemotherapy, allowing the cancer to run rampant. He was discharged to home hospice and died the next month.

I have a lot of pictures with my dad. I even took some with him after he came home from the hospital, with me wearing my wedding dress. In them, he already seems distant, a man not fully inhabiting his frail body. I treasure the time I spent with him and every picture I have. But I’ve never stopped kicking myself for forgetting to check the film on that special day.

Picture #3

My sister and I were talking the other day about a memory we have of our dad. It was 2005, the year before he died. My sister’s friend had brought her baby boy, Gram, over to my parents’ house for a visit. My dad got such a kick out of that little boy. He carried him around the house, his face aglow. My dad was already sick then, his hair lost to chemotherapy. But we could tell that being around that little boy made him feel happy and alive.

Someone snapped a picture of them together that day, which my sister recently found and sent to me. My dad is standing in the living room, holding Gram against his chest. Gram’s bootied feet dangle beneath my dad’s forearm. My dad’s head is thrown back, eyes closed, his mouth wide open in a laugh. It’s as though, with that baby in his arms, he is experiencing a moment of ecstasy.

When I see the back of Gram’s little head in the picture, covered in soft brown hair like my son’s, I can’t help but allow my mind to fill in the blanks, to see my 4-month-old boy there in my dad’s arms. How I wish my dad could have experienced being a grandfather and for them to have gotten to know each other. It would have been worth so much more than a picture.

My Crush on Andy Rooney

Longtime CBS contributor Andy Rooney died yesterday at age 92. While most will think of him as the cantankerous commentator sitting at his cluttered desk, delivering critiques of modern contrivances, I had a bit of a crush on him.

Andy Rooney/The Atlantic

“Whaaat?,” you might ask, envisioning Rooney’s epically overgrown eyebrows and habitually hangdog expressions. But this was more than 20 years ago, when I was in high school, and his books I was reading then were published in the 1980s. Sure, he was already a senior citizen. But on the book covers he appeared rakish and charmingly disheveled. (Or maybe his quick wit and sharp observations just softened my teenage heart!). I didn’t think of him as a curmudgeon but as a world adventurer whose experiences influenced his thoughts on topics ranging from current affairs to what he ate in the morning.

Though best known for his “60 Minutes” TV commentaries, Rooney also was a syndicated columnist and published several books of essays. He served in the Army during World War II, writing for The Stars and Stripes and working with journalists Ernie Pyle and Walter Cronkite.

As a high school student, I dreamed of working at such a job — having a regular space to fill with my own thoughts and observations. I wrote a column for my high school newspaper, then my college newspapers. Later, when I became a journalist myself, I made career decisions based on whether I’d be able to — or have hope of having — a coveted square of space to host my point of view.

With his characteristic whining delivery, Rooney’s  “60 Minutes” bits were easy to lampoon. But I looked forward to the segments to see what topic he would choose and what he would say about it. He knew what he thought about subjects as wide as war and as small as the ingredients printed on a product box. Whether on air or in writing, Rooney conserved words, but always used them effectively. His pieces demonstrated biting wit, sometimes scorching sarcasm and microscopically keen observations.

It is those observations that most influenced me as a writer and as a person. He introduced me to a lens that paid close — very close — attention to the details of life, the tools and products we interact with daily, the sights, sounds and flavors we absorb, the trends and personal quirks we encounter. Small things tell stories, whether as they stand alone or when taken as a collection.

“A writer’s greatest pleasure is revealing to people things they knew but did not know they knew,” Rooney once said. “Or did not realize everyone else knew, too.”

Magnifying those small details tells us something about others, ourselves and our shared world.

Though often annoyed or exasperated in his rants, Rooney also wrote memorably of the small joys of life: the solace of a comfortable chair, the value of silence, the pleasures of a nap, the smell of wood or a freshly pressed shirt.

Reading Rooney was one of those small pleasures, amplified manifold.

Mr. Rooney, in light of my high school crush, I say to you: U R 2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten.

Introducing This Blog

This is a blog about waiting, not waiting, and things I think about between or doing the things that occupy me.

The title is a take on “Waiting for Godot,” the absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, in which two men wait for someone named Godot to arrive. He never comes, but while they wait, they talk, eat, argue, play games and otherwise entertain themselves. The play’s been analyzed to be an examination of everything from religion to communism — I’ll make no such broad assertions.

But I will say this. There are some things about waiting that I know.

I don’t live in the moment as much as I would like to, and am often thinking of the next thing to come. I’ve thought sometimes I have been always waiting for life to begin. At age 38, I realize this is no way to live — I need to jump in.

There is the common affliction of waiting for time to do something. Ideas come and go and I think “one day I’ll write that down.” But as so often happens, amid the busyness of relationships, family, work and the rest of life, that time seldom comes.

I also often wait for opportunity. I’ve been fortunate that sometimes opportunity presents itself. But when it comes to writing, one mustn’t wait, one must do. Whether there are opportunities to “publish,” “be read,” “do something with it,” or not, one must write.

As it turns out, I conceived the idea for this blog shortly before I learned I was expecting a baby, so the “waiting for merlot” part ended up being real! (And since I’m nursing him, it might be quite awhile before I get to have wine again!).

Being a new mother compounds the above challenges. But it also makes my mind active, while I wait for my son to fall asleep or lie awake at night waiting for his cry. There are ever more things to contemplate and stew together in my head. I finally also have a reason to write that is outside me. My boy may never read these posts — or want to — but I want, for him, to be a person who does something. And so, I have launched this blog.