Thursday, July 1, 2010

moving day

Things just haven't felt like home around here for quite some time now, so I've been house hunting. I think I've found a new place, and although it needs a lot of TLC and a coat of paint, I'm starting to settle in. I hope you'll come visit some day soon...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

a moment of wonderful

I will never forget leaving school that afternoon, walking the short walk home in the cold rain, dreading what I was to find. I'd not cleaned my room like I was supposed to and knew my mom would be furious when I walked in the door. I prepared myself for scolding, for screaming, for grounding as I dragged my feet through the fallen leaves, trying to stretch the peaceful moments before the misery began. I walked in the door quietly, wanting to melt into the background of the living room and saw her standing there. I waited for the punishment, the stern faces, the cold shoulder. Waited. But they didn't come. None of it came. My mom told me I looked chilly, wiped my nose and wrapped me in a blanket. She sat me on the couch and produced a cup of hot chocolate (and not even Swiss Miss - rather she dusted off the silver can of bitter Hershey powder, measured and mixed it with sugar, milk and vanilla and slowly warmed it on the stove). Overwhelmed by her generosity I couldn't help but confess: "but I didn't clean my room..." And she shrugged, smiled gently and told me it was ok. It was so unlike her - not that she was typically cruel or unkind, she was just never a milk and cookies mom (and certainly not when clothes were strewn across my bedroom floor, toys scattered, food remnants hidden beneath bed skirts). Unexpected kindness and a hot cup of cocoa on a cold autumn afternoon make a moment I will never forget.

And that Valentine's Day - the one that fell on a Saturday, when I watched as my dad prouduced a giant red cardboard heart filled with nauseatingly sweet candy and handed it to my stepmother - I will never forget it. My eyes widened at the sight of the cheap lace circling the heart, envious mouth watering, as I wished for the day that my own husband would bring me chocolates. And then, out of nowhere a small red box, a heart that fit my tiny hands so perfectly. So unexpected, so atypical of my family - my father had gotten me a Valentine too. And so I didn't need to wish away the days of my childhood, waiting for the time that a man would feed my sweet tooth, because my father filled my heart and my belly himself with that box. Never before and never since have I celebrated a Valentine's Day with such pure intentions, such sweet, genuine representations of true love. Each bite of cheap candy confirming that I was deeply loved. That is a moment I will never forget.

The time our camping trip was rained out and so my mom cleared out the furniture and set up the tent in the middle of the living room - replacing the camp out with a camp in. The day, at 22 years old when I opened a package from my dad to find the Harry Belafonte album I'd listened to a thousand times on his old record player - a birthday present (not just a card with a $50 check quickly scribbled and stuffed inside) that whispered in my ear that he remembered too. Or the evenings as I would help my dad in the kitchen: peeling vegetables, stirring sauces, fetching utensils until one day he asked me for my opinion ("Which spices would you use?") and then shook the bottles I'd selected over a bubbling pot. The Christmas morning when my mom called the radio station to request "Linus and Lucy" and they actually played it.

This is what I want for you, Oliver. These simple, gentle moments - unscripted and quiet in their grandiosity. I want you to remember the time you thought we were going grocery shopping and went to play mini-golf instead. Or the time I came home with Cap'n Crunch (with Crunchberries!) instead of the oatmeal I usually make you eat. Or the time when you were certain you'd be grounded and lectured for some as-yet-unimaginable rule breaking you did, but instead found a sympathetic ear and a forgiving heart.

Every parent wants to give the world to their children and I am no exception. If you show a vague interest in a toy at a playdate I have to fight myself not to rush out and buy it immediately. If you find a book you love I instantly want to log on to Amazon and buy every other book in the series. When we return home after a day of running errands and naptime looms, I find it almost impossible to put you right to bed - even if you are undeniably exhausted - because I think you deserve some playtime in return for your patience as we run into grocery stores, banks and Target (again). Rewarding you and gifting you is already so deeply engrained in me and even though you've only just turned 1, I struggle to find balance between spoiling you and saying no for the sake of no.

And so I have decided that I will resist buying the toy (you don't like any toys longer than 10 minutes anyway). I stay away from Amazon (and instead squeal with delight when I find those books you love at Marshalls for less than half what they would've cost new!) And I let you play for only a moment when you should be napping, because truth be told we're ALL so much happier when you're well rested.

But you won't feel denied, not if I have anything to say about it. Because while I may not succumb to the pull of the Toys R Us ad, I will always make time for you. I will stop to play with the door hinge you find so fascinating (while you still find it fascinating), even if it means we're one minute later than we would've been otherwise. I will let you walk at the grocery store (when you learn to walk) even if it means our trip will take that much longer. I will value your opinions and listen to your thoughts with an open mind, even if in the end I decide your mother really does know best. I will find moments to surprise you, sometimes with gifts but more often with kindness. I will be playful with you. Curious with you. Patient and calm and thoughtful with you. I will always look for ways to give to you, not just things, but moments. Moments like the ones in my own childhood when I knew without a doubt that I was respected, I was special, I was loved.

Because in the end, when you look back, I would rather you have tiny moments of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

I, like just about everyone, have sung You Are My Sunshine here and there throughout my life. A sweet little ditty, cute and cheerful, but nothing remarkable. If I could whistle I imagine I would find myself whistling it absentmindedly - seems like just the right melody to blow through pursed lips while strolling through frozen foods. Or it did before I had you, my dear.

I sing to you all the time, every day for the last 365. And for as long as I can remember I have ended our nights with You Are My Sunshine, whisper-sung breathily in your warm, sweet ear as I lay you in your bed. But unlike the song I've sung since childhood, this is heavy stuff. Not a silly throwaway nursery rhyme, but a deep and expressive hymn. Because it's true, every word of it.

You, Oliver Robin, are my sunshine - you bring the light into my life each morning and the world is certainly darker when you're not around. Like our sun, you, my son, keep me swirling around you, dancing with me in a symbiotic relationship. My body feeds you, yes, but you feed me so much more profoundly. (And admittedly less profoundly as I scoffle the sweet potatoes you don't, slurp the yogurt you won't, finish the pizza you can't.)

I know someday you will sing that song - maybe to assembled parents and their video cameras at a school concert - and maybe you will even remember hearing my voice whispering those words in your ear as you drift off. But until you have your own children you won't understand the depth of those words.

Because you will never know, dear, how much I love you.

I can't put into words the fullness of my love for you. How it's all encompassing and incomprehensible. This world is full of mothers who adore their children, but how could it be possible that they love their own as much as I love you? How could the world keep spinning under the gravity of all that love? I can't imagine that my own mother loves me anywhere near as much as I love you. I just can't fathom how that could be. But maybe I too will never know (dear) how much she loves me?

You were born 1 year ago - in that moment, both of us flushed, both of us confused, both of us crying. I've done my best this past year, often missing the mark, I'm sure, but always trying to give you everything you deserve. And you have given me so much. Sleepless nights, yes (fantasies that you would sleep through the night for the first time on your birthday were proven to be simply the dreamings of a madwoman) and frustration about your unwillingness to eat. But so much more than that. You have given me so many smiles and such a warmth in my spirit. You have given me open mouth, slobbery kisses and an identity beyond any I'd had before (Ollie's mom). You have given me bites of your pancake after you've sucked on it and a new relationship with a man I used to call Tal, but now call "daddy" (even if you don't quite yet). You have given me your trust, your love, your admiration, whether I deserve it or not.

Let there be no doubt, my sunshine, as you turn 1 and as you turn 101 that nobody loves you like your mama. And you will never know, dear, just how much that is.

Happy birthday (one day late) my Ollie Robin boy.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The name Amber doesn't lend itself well to nicknames. Aunts and uncles shortened it to "Ambie" and my mom tried on "Ber" for awhile, but neither really stuck. I was called Matony for years, after a commercial starring the Flying Matony Brothers that I apparently loved as a baby, but that was a name reserved only for the closest of family. But there was one nickname that stuck for a long time, used by most everyone and probably not with the kindest intentions. They called me Motormouth. Motormouth because my jaw was always flapping, tongue always rattling. I didn't walk until 17 months, but I spoke in complete sentences seemingly from birth. My dad once bet me that I couldn't go an entire day without talking and with $20 on the line (or $5 or $100 - all I know is that at 8 years old it seemed like A LOT) I was determined to prove him wrong. I did well, fighting the urges in order to gain my prize (and pride) and my dad paid up. But later he confessed that as I played the piano that afternoon, picking keys one by one, I sang along with a made up song, never even knowing my mouth was running.

And yet now, somehow when so much is happening, the hum of the motor has slowed. Inexplicably, the woman who has always refused to be silenced is quiet.

I want to talk - I do. I want to share quirky tidbits about life as a mom, about leaving the house without noticing the cheerios stuck to my ass, about finally electing to leave the diaper bag at home only to have a major poop-splosion moments later, about the wacky and wild days of motherhood. But much as I love my son (and my heart bursts at the thought of him napping peacefully (in his crib!) in the room down the hall) I can't delude myself that those tidbits are interesting to anyone but me. And frankly, some days they aren't interesting to me either.


I am enjoying motherhood in ways I never expected. Sure, there are some lonely afternoons and the nights are still long and sleepless, but I adore my Oliver Robin. I find him intriguing and hilarious and smooshable. He fills me up each and every day, even fuller than the box after box of Thin Mints I scoffle. I worry about him (not eating, not crawling, not sleeping, not sleeping, not sleeping) and yet vehemently defend him when others express those same concerns. I could reserve every breath for him for the rest of my days: breathing him in, deeply inhaling his essence, feeling his very being fill my lungs and course through my veins, bringing life to every cell of my tired body.

He fills me so entirely, a vessel overflowing, and yet I miss the days when I created my own energy, was responsible for filling myself.

I can blabber endlessly about his moments, his laughs, his pincer grasp and teeth, but I have no moments of my own anymore. People ask me how I am and I am honestly unable to respond. I don't think I exist anymore, certainly not in the way I did before. I am responsible for helping this small little man create his world, develop his senses and yet I feel, at this moment, so underdeveloped myself. In 9 months I haven't created anything (literally or figuratively) that was born of myself. And I miss me.

I have become his vessel, his vase in which the buds of his personality bloom and that is a role I value beyond all else. But there was a time when I tilled my own soil and forced my own dormant seeds to blossom. *I* was responsible for making my world beautiful.

I could feel my own power then, stretch my own wings. Now those wings don't expand but rather contract to envelop my baby bird (my Robin) to help him discover his own power. And to watch him soar might be even more beautiful than my own flight. But I yearn for the wind to ruffle my feathers too. I need to try to fly alongside him, but I just can't remember how.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

before and after

Oliver Robin - 10/4/08

Oliver Robin - 10/4/09

10/4/08: I woke up early to pop a valium on an empty stomach. I headed to my doctors office, with all my hopes and dreams sitting in a petri dish in the room next door, waiting for fate to decide their next step. I was full of optimism and fear and couldn't sleep for the excitement.

10/4/09: I woke up early to play with my darling ,darling son (who doesn't know that normal people don't get up on a Sunday while it's still dark out). We headed to Starbucks to help the morning pass and he smiled at every stranger that crossed his path. Instead of my hopes and dreams residing in a petri dish, they lay on the floor beside me (and rolled from back to tummy for the first time just moments ago!). I am full of optimism and fear and still can't sleep. But how wonderful is it to have that cluster of cells lay in my lap and gaze at me, his mommy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

but if you try sometimes, you just might find...

"I don't want to hear about it unless there's blood."

This was a common refrain in my house growing up, and not one my mother denies 25 years later. My brother and I would argue and fight and come a certain age we were expected to resolve the situation ourselves. We didn't, of course, but we knew that whining to mom for every injury (emotional or otherwise) wasn't an option. While she was an involved, caring and compassionate parent she also believed in the value of teaching children to handle themselves, even from a very young age.

My brother has taken this theory to the extreme, allowing his children freedoms that are shocking to me. I question his decisions (although not usually to his face) and what they have meant for his growing and developing boys. His kids have no bedtime, no naptime, no routine at all. At 3 years old my nephew can regularly be found up and about at midnight (or later). He doesn't eat anything that's green (including all vegetables, unless you count macaroni and cheese as a vegetable, which I don't). I wish he lived a more structured life and as an outsider I think they needs less independence, but "unless there's blood" has stuck with my brother like dirty gum in hair.

With these models in mind I expected to be quite a laid back parent, one who sees the worth in crying it out and yet a mother who knows the importance of routine and boundaries. Perhaps I'm cruel but I've always found my eyes independantly roll when people say they can't bear to hear their babies cry, that moving them from their room into the nursery was almost too much to handle. I never said never when looking at parenting philosophies, but I was quite certain that I wouldn't allow my baby to decide my parenting style for me - that my lifelong beliefs would win out over a stubborn child's unwillingness to nap.

And then I had MY baby.

I won't lie - the night I moved him to his own room I slept like a baby. And so did he. I refused to put a monitor in the room, knowing that his noisy sleeping, grunts, moans and kicking legs would crackle through the speaker at me as though he were in bed with me. And not in a good way. No, I put him in his crib, the nursery right next to our room, and closed the door. And I only heard him when he cried. Silence, glorious silence and the first decent hours sleep in 5 weeks. (Not nights' sleep, mind you. No, not yet.)

So my parenting beliefs stand strong. Meanwhile my parenting techniques have evolved into something the pre-parent me wouldn't recognize.

I gave birth to a spirited baby. A baby with desires and the voice to get them met. A no doubt gifted child, but one who shares those gifts by screaming. I call him "high needs" sometimes, following the label Dr. Sears (inventor of the dreaded "attachment parent" banner) coined, but I don't believe it. Because to be "high needs" implies that somehow, some way those needs may be met, and try as I might my baby is un-meetable, unless the need he's expressing is for a stiff brandy. (I haven't yet tried to meet that need, although some night I might see how such a drink manages my own deeply unfufilled needs.)

We've tried to manage any physical discomfort he may have. Prevacid was step one, a drug which made him more miserable if anything. Cutting out dairy and caffeine made me depressed and didn't seem to help him either. The chiropractor didn't hurt (although our bank account hasn't recovered) but found our darling child well-aligned yet still maligned. Probiotics have helped - they helped him poop. He no longer screams as he gears up for a "movement", but he hasn't stopped screaming once he's done. Some days I'm certain his issue is a physical one, but there are times when I think he's just a scared little boy, hesitant to accept my constant reassurance. I tell him in the quiet of his overnight feedings that I love him, will always love him and will never abandon him (unless he becomes a republican), but he doesn't seem to believe me.

I spent the first 10 weeks of his life fighting him, confused and angry that he wasn't who I thought he'd be. He doesn't respond to the things babies are supposed to respond to. He doesn't warn me with fussing - he's either (occassionally) happy or explicitly not. He is a baby of extremes, not inbetweens. I tried to make him fit my mold, adapt to my parenting style to no avail. After being told that crying wouldn't kill him I decided to finally put him down to take a shower, and when I returned to him (still screaming) I found that his soft-spot had caved in from the hysteria that 15 minutes on his own had brought about.

When faced with a dented head (which apparently can happen, but jesus christ - could there be a more blatant way to show me I've failed as a parent?) I had no choice but to face reality. This little blob was not one to be controlled. He wasn't going to be molded. I wasn't going to wait until there was blood to hear about it, I was going to hear about everything, all the time, whether I wanted to or not. I wasn't going to shape him into the baby I thought I'd have. He was going to shape me into the mother he needed to have. And he has.

I sit now with my baby on my chest. He's napping contentedly, not waking as I continually bend to kiss his head. But he's napping only because he's in a wrap, strapped to my body. He's napping only because I gave him the 20 minute wind-down of bouncing, walking, patting, shushing that he requires. He's napping because I have decided to follow his cues, even if that means that I don't use his naptime for a shower and chores - like I would if he would nap, even for a moment, in his bed. I have realized (after he told me...repeatedly) that getting him to nap in any way I can is more important than how he naps or where.

He will have moments in a swing or on a playmat when he seems content. Moments. And those are good moments, but they are so so quick and he is so so vocal when the moment has passed. If he spends 3 minutes quiet and happy while doing an activity I deem said activity a full-on success, even if that success is never to be repeated. He will have moments in our arms or our laps when he seems content. Moments. And again, those are good moments, but they are so so quick and he is so so vocal when the moment has passed. If one position keeps him quiet and happy for 5 minutes it is deemed a winning position - even if it is likely never to do the trick again. But I have learned to seek those moments, not hope they will happen on their own. Because he has told me and I have (finally) listened that his happiness won't come easily. But that it will be worth it.

I have finally accepted that I must parent the child I have, not the one I expected to have. And my child will not accept the hands-off, independent parent I wanted to give him. He needs more. And he deserves it.

I still believe that telling a kid "I don't want to hear about it unless there's blood" is ok. I know that I was in no way damaged or distant because of it. I still think I will cry it out if needed, but I also know that it might not work for my child. That he might not have enough tears to cry out his fears. I am not an attachment parent because I think it's better or right or more. I am an attachment parent because it's the only option my son has given me.

I thought I would teach my baby about the world he lives in and the people he meets. I thought I would set the course of our lives. But now I know that he's the one calling the shots - not because he's manipulative or bad, but because he knows what he needs more than I do. So I will keep giving (but no doubt keep trying to drive the bus occassionally) and keep listening while he teaches. I just hope that I can see for myself when he's telling me what he wants, rather than what he needs. And I hope I will have kept enough of myself to tell him to relax, calm down, and only tell me about it when there's blood.

Friday, July 31, 2009

conflict resolution

Evenings are long. In some ways longer than the day that preceded them. You would imagine that having an extra set of hands would make things easier; having a set of ears that can understand you might make things less lonely, but this life isn't that predictable. Parenthood can be surprising. During the day you find that what you're doing either works or it doesn't. He's in a "good" mood. Or he isn't. But whatever the hours bring you, it's up to you to deal with them. You keep pushing, looking for distractions and celebrate the quiet moments, and when the screaming starts it's up to you. But in the evenings those extra hands sit so close, the extra ears hear him as well and so every difficult moment left to you seems to be a moment which *could* be handled by someone else. He has hard days too so you respect his need for down time as much as you crave your own. You share the burdens (because the witching hour is even more witchy with a baby who tends to be quite bitchy), but find yourself resenting the work that is left in your hands. I don't break down in the mornings and have only once cried during the day. It's the evenings, when calm and freedom is so close but so so far, that leave me cold.

But the nights.

My brother told me when I'd been a parent for just a week (and jaundice kept the little one sleeping) that I should forever make daddy take a night shift every night. My husband might have to work in the morning, but his job is easier than mine, he said. (My brother got the snip last year so felt safe to reveal this, most closely guarded secret of fatherhood.) But my nephews were formula fed, so night shifts were up for grabs. My son (after a month of exclusively pumping) has taken to breastfeeding like he's taken to crying. His latch is improper, he drools half the milk, but he clearly enjoys my breasts as much as any man ever has. So the night shifts all fall to me. And I'm glad for it.

There is something about the quiet of the night. Something about the dark. Sitting on the couch at 1am, scanning the channels for something other than infomercials with a drowsy baby drooling your milk onto your underwear doesn't sound romantic, but it is then that I love being a mom. It is then that I *feel* like a mom, instead of some imposter, some inexperienced child without the tools or the ability to parent. At 1am he smells so good (even when he smells of vomit, which he does regardless of the number of baths). At 1am he looks so sweet, even though his eyes are steadily becoming more chihuahua like by the day (just like his mommy). At 1am I am thankful and happy and powerful, even though I know that my sleep reserves are actively draining. At 1am it's just he an I, and it's beautiful.

But then this morning, after feeding him at 4am, I drove to my mother's house. She's leaving (on a jet plane) and needed an early morning ride to the airport. I am up anyway (I'm always up these days) so I volunteered, but expected to feel tired, annoyed. I climbed in the car, having brushed my teeth (a better start to the day than most these past 2 months) and back my car on to my dark, quiet street. Even at 4am the Houston air was hot, but I rolled down the window (and turned up the air) and drove the curvy road to my mother. And it was exhilarating.

Being alone in the car, driving freely with no cars and no baby to slow me down made me realize how much I miss being alone. I had just smelled my baby's sleepy head, breathed deeply to appreciate fully how lucky I was, had just reveled in our 4am feeding. But given 15 minutes in a car, 15 minutes when I wasn't checking my son in the rearview mirror, I was delighted. I was free.

I cherished those moments like I cherished my nighttime feedings and I wonder what that means. But then I recall that just weeks ago I wasn't cherishing anything, wasn't enjoying much, and I'm thankful. Thankful that I'm finding time (at 1am) to be thankful.