Monday, November 29, 2010

A Whole Bucket of Gratitude--and Questions

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There's less hype than at Christmas, plenty of food, good company (if you're lucky), and a reminder to pause and give thanks. It feels so simple and lovely and honest.

But to be frank, giving thanks is challenging me these days. That's not quite true. I think I live with a grateful heart. I'm keenly aware that my life is full of really good things: a loving family, wonderful friends who know me and love me well, a good job (which I just quit, but more on that later), a home that's safe and warm, a kitchen full of food, a child who amazes me, the capacity to take care of her...The list is very, very long and includes less obvious things like books by Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McEwan, chocolate-filled peppermint sticks, and the way it feels to sit beside the fireplace on a cold night and talk with Jason for an hour about the funny and wonderful things Hadley did that day.

Therein lies the rub for me right now. I'm wondering about this God who has blessed us so wildly, so abundantly, so lavishly.

During our trip to Chicago a few months ago, we were out walking on Michigan Avenue one night when we passed a woman, sitting on the sidewalk with her two children. One was a young teenager, the other, probably six or seven. The little one had fallen asleep on her mama's lap, facing the tide of tourists shuffling by. I could barely breathe looking at them. Can you imagine putting your baby to bed on your lap in the midst of a group of strangers? And that teenager...It's hard enough to deal with that crazy transition to adulthood without announcing to the world that you have no home. Can you imagine? No privacy, no place to agonize by yourself over zits or boys or the way your ears suddenly seem to be sticking out. No place that feels safe.

The mama-love got me. (My friend Lauren, who is expecting her second child any nanosecond now, told me once: "Being pregnant the second time is different because you already know the mama-love." So I must give her credit for that absolutely perfect phrase.) I started to cry, and we stopped by a store to buy some food. If I'm honest, it wasn't sacrificial giving; we bought the food more for me than for them. I needed to feel better. I couldn't go to sleep knowing that a mom a few blocks from our hotel would wake her children up in the morning and not have a meal to give them.

I still feel the ache in my heart for that little family. Maybe that mom did something terrible to end up begging for money on a busy sidewalk. Maybe she didn't. It doesn't much matter to me. I believe in personal responsibility, but there are plenty of good things in my life that I didn't do a thing to deserve. And the sad corollary to that fact is that people endure bad things they don't deserve either.

So I don't quite understand the blessings imbalance. I believe in a very big God, a very loving God, a God who is powerful and true and kind and just. I suspect that some day, we'll understand why the world is the way it is. But for now, in the midst of feeling more gratitude than I've ever felt, I feel more puzzled than I've ever felt.

I'm hoping I figure this out, reconcile it in my mind, because one day, this person who shares my genes is going to wonder why one mama gets to blog and post funny pictures of her baby online, where a sea of at least five people reads and posts nice things, while another sleeps on the street. What will I tell her?

I don't know, but for now, I will join Hadley in appreciating simple things, like pigtails, Elmo, treats (her new favorite word), twinkly lights and the 24-hour-Christmas-music radio station.

I think it's fabulous that people start out as babies, not yet ready to ask life's biggest questions, because mamas and daddies need time to prepare. For that, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Belated Halloween Photos

Ah! We were so busy buzzing around here, I forgot to post Halloween photos on Halloween weekend. We celebrated on Saturday the 30th at the Children's Museum's Trick or Treat Street.

Hadley rocked her costume all morning long, antennae and all.

And then she saw pumpkins--"pimpims"--which was very exciting, as you can see:

She played games...
...and rode on the choo-choo all by herself--TWICE!

She cracked us up by "steering" the whole time. I'm pretty sure she was thinking, "Man, it's a good thing I showed up to drive this train."

She also waved and yelled "hi" (it's two syllables for Hadley, like she's been raised in the South: "hi-ii) to almost everyone she passed on her choo-choo ride. Maybe she also thought she was in a parade.

She got a few treats in her bag, and she relished a lollipop so enthusiastically that she quickly learned the word "pop." Smart girl.

This photo is one of my favorites. I can just feel her round, soft face in my hand.

Now we're looking forward to Thanksgiving. We're working on the words "turkey" and "pie"; my bet is that she masters "pie" and leaves the turkey to someone else.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is the part where we celebrate...

[NOTE: I started this post at 9:21 on November 4, but it has taken me a while to get it right. I think it's about as close as I can get to telling the best story I have to tell.]

Eighteen months and two minutes ago, Hadley was born. She didn't arrive as I expected her to, but I suspect that's kind of how parenthood goes. Kids rarely do what you expect them to do, even when they're not even born yet. They're tricky like that.

I remember when the doctor told me, after 20 hours of labor and three hours of pushing, that I needed a C-section. I told her I'd keep pushing. She told me I couldn't keep it up much longer. She was right.

I cried. I cried because we had to leave the warm, friendly labor room for an OR that was cold and white and sterile. I cried because I had imagined THAT moment, when I birthed her and the doctor put her on my chest, and Jason and I cried happy tears together. I cried because I believed that women birth their babies; they don't have their babies pulled from their bodies. It just wasn't right.

And the C-section was kind of scary. Where the labor had been painful but casual, this was so...formal: The doctors announced my name, and the time, and the reason for the C-section. ("Failure to descend"--sounds so ominous, don't you think?) Nobody warned me about that. Then the doctor said, "Hilary, we're beginning now." It was so strange to know someone was getting ready to cut into my body behind a thin blue curtain while I laid still on the other side of it, wondering if I was going to hear gross squishy-body sounds.

A few minutes in, the doctor said, "You're going to feel some tugging." "Some tugging" is what you do to pull on your favorite jeans that are a bit too small. C-section tugging felt like someone was trying to pull out my ribs, and then I heard...crying. Our baby crying. Jason said, "That's her! That's our daughter." And I said--I remember so clearly--"That's the best sound I've ever heard." It was.

I heard her Apgar scores--8 and then 9--and I thought, "Good. So far, so good." Jason went to see her, and he or a nurse brought her over to me to see. I can't remember, but I see so clearly in my mind's eye her abundant dark hair. I said, "Hi, sweet girl. Happy birthday." Then Jason and Hadley (who wasn't yet Hadley because we hadn't named her) left. I wasn't ready for that part either. I remember thinking, "Of course they can't stay," but part of me wanted them to. They were off to do daddy-daughter things already, and I was stuck with a numb lower half and an open wound. Fabulous.

I remember asking how much longer it would be before I was sewn up. The anesthesiologist told me (kindly) to relax. Apparently I didn't do a very good job because then he gave me something to relax me, and I think I fell asleep. The next thing I remember, someone said, "Hilary, you're all done," and they hoisted me back onto a rolling cart to deliver me to the recovery room.

I was desperate to hold Hadley, and after a minute or two, Jason walked in with her. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I could not comprehend that this person had grown inside me, and I know that I will not ever be able to explain to her what that kind of intimacy means to a mama. Maybe one day she will know if she has babies of her own.

My mom and dad were in the recovery room. I remember my dad saying, "She's a beautiful baby, Hilary." It was a gentle reminder that my labor ended with the best possible outcome: a healthy baby girl. It didn't matter how she got here. I couldn't respond; the cries were caught up in my throat, and I was afraid if I said a single word, they'd just come pouring out, and then my eyes would get all blurry, and I wouldn't be able to stare at the amazing creature lying in my arms.

And today, here is that amazing creature, expressing her creative streak, her preference for choosing her own style, her happy heart.

I love her like I've never loved anyone. She couldn't do anything to get outside of my love, to shake it off or diminish it.

Today, we celebrate Jason's birthday and Hadley's half-birthday. It is a very good day for me. The best of the whole year, really, because no matter what Jason and Hadley think, I got the best gifts of all.