Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Mom Lens

[Editor's note: I started this post while on the road. I am no longer on the road, but it still applies, particularly the part about love being like a marshmallow. I'm a poet, obviously.]

Every once in a while, when I'm visiting a college campus, I'll have an encounter that blasts me forward 16 years, to the days Hadley is a college freshman. I'll meet a girl with light brown hair and hazel eyes and mischief in her smile, and my heart will pull for just a second. Somewhere, I hope, that girl has a mama who is both thrilled that her daughter is a college kid and who aches a little, knowing her child won't be home for dinner until Thanksgiving.

Or a guy (calling him a "young man" makes me feel like an old woman) will say something in passing: "I wanted to be at least a plane ride away from home," or "I stayed on campus last summer to do research." What? I want to say. How did your mother handle it? Do you miss her, even a little? Have you no compassion, child?

Three years ago, I would have identified with these students. I went to college 750 miles and four states from home. I jumped at the chance to study in France, where I lived with people my parents had never met and trekked around Europe with a rail pass on weekends and breaks. ("Mom! I'm in Florence!" I'd email or, "We went to Nice for Carnivale!")

And when I graduated, I married Jason and we doubled my distance from home by moving to Chicago. Peace out, Mom and Dad.

In theory, I believe in the axiom about roots and wings. I know the line about parenthood being a process of letting go. But right now, I can't help looking at those college kids and seeing them not as peers or people like my younger self, but as somebody's kids. "You don't know how much your mom loves you," I want to tell them when they roll their eyes about how much their parents call. "You left a hole in your house bigger than the whole world."

If their parents are wise, they don't tell their kids this stuff. It wouldn't matter to them now. But if those kids become parents one day, they'll realize that it takes a lot of self-control for parents to fight the urge to hold their kids tight. I'm not much into sentimentality, but someone told me once that having a child is like watching your heart walk around all on its own. She is right.

One night, when I was in college and home for the summer, I babysat for a family down the street. I came home early enough to go out for a few hours--it was 9:30 or 10:00, and I had a midnight curfew, I think--but it was raining hard and my dad refused to let me go out. I was furious, indignant, offended. It didn't help that my 16-year-old brother had gone out already, so he was tooling around town in the very same raindrops that would blanket my route.

I didn't speak to him for three days. Gracious child, I was.

But now I get it. Sometimes that love just gets messy--like you've rolled in a giant marshmallow of it--and you can't quite contain it. And it's easy to want to hold on too tight because it feels so good and so scary to love somebody the way I love Hadley.

So it's craziness: On one hand, you love someone like you've never loved before. (It's true: Before you have a child, you think you've experienced all of the human loves: your parents, your siblings, a few friends whose lives you share, your spouse. And then your child comes along and you think, "How did I know so little of love?") And on the other hand, you're suppose to raise your child up to leave.

I feel like Hadley came along just when I felt like I had figured out a few things. Jason's and my life together was organized, lovely, predictable. I slept in on the weekends. Jason and I began our love affair with new restaurants and skiing and vacations. We talked late into the night and went out whenever we wanted. (The thrill!) Then--POW--she arrived and changed us. It wasn't very comfortable at first; it felt like growing a new appendage and trying not to trip every time I walked. What have we done? I thought. What just happened?

Oh, but then, something magical happened, and I fell in love, and the waking up early and the no-vacation policy and the frantic hunts for burp clothes stopped mattering. And then she transformed into this little person who is the most lovely company--honest and funny, creative and curious, loving and a little sassy.

And one day, she will leave and--POW--we will change again. It won't be comfortable; it will be like losing an appendage and trying to remember how to walk. What have we done? I will think. What just happened?

I've been sort of hating my project lately. (A friend sent me Winston Churchill's spot-on description of writing a book: "To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out into the public.")

BUT this project has stirred in my heart perspective that I lose some days when Hadley is being so totally two years old. It has reminded me that we're growing together, but she's also growing up so that one day, she will be an 18-year-old and off to college. I won't tell her that she has left a hole in our house bigger than the whole world. But she will.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Jason and I taught first-grade Sunday School for a year when we lived in Chicago. We didn't have Hadley, but we both love kids, and we thought: Really, how hard can it be?

Oh. My. Gosh.

One week, the toilet in the bathroom upstairs overflowed and water came gushing down one wall from the ceiling. I flagged down a well-intentioned adult (who clearly had not spent more than 2.5 seconds with anyone under the age of 12); he came into our room and announced, "Oh, the toilet upstairs must be leaking." Out loud. I spent the rest of the hour trying to get back to the lesson at hand. I failed. Every time there was a lull in the hysteria, one kid would scream, "Pee-pee water!" and they'd all start rolling on the floor again. I overheard a mom say to her son, "What did you learn in Sunday School?" He replied: "Pee-pee water can come through the walls!"

Potty humor: 1. Jason & Hilary: 0.

Then there was the day when we had to teach about the walls of Jericho falling down. The lesson plan called for the kids to make trumpets--a la the Israelites--and then march around the room. We had cardboard blocks we had stacked up in a small circle and while the kids marched around it, we knocked the blocks down.

If you've grown up hearing Bible stories--or even fragments of them, softened to be slightly more palatable--you can forget how hard they are. God flooded the world? God asked Abraham to do WHAT to Isaac? Mary and Joseph huddled in a stable when their son was born? Hard. Like life for most people in most of the world.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be taught. I'm just saying it's not as easy as making paper trumpets and a lot of noise. This particular story might appeal to kids because kids want things to fall down. I'm pretty sure that until you turn, say, 16, you are wired almost exclusively to knock things over. But the questions around this story are hard, as my little students quickly discovered: What happened to the people who lived in Jericho? Where the mommies and daddies there? Did kids cry when the walls fell down? If I can't hit my sister, why can grown-ups fight?

Touché, little people. Touché.

So after we marched around our little Jericho (so loudly I think the kindergarten Sunday School teacher in the next room gave me the evil eye for the next three months), I spent 20 minutes answering questions for which I still don't have good answers. Finally, I said "Let's play 'Jesus Loves Me' on your paper trumpets!" Because the other prevailing instinct in children is to make tremendous amounts of noise, it worked. But I learned an important lesson that day: Explaining God to children is a tremendously tough task because God is complicated. When we dig into Bible stories, it gets messy and it feels uncomfortable and we see images that are really, really hard to understand.

You know, like real life.

Fast-forward four years. One of my biggest anxieties about having a child was how I'd teach her about my faith when it includes a God who let the walls fall down on the mommies and daddies and kids at Jericho. (Or, you know, Jacob with his two wives, the first of whom he married because he got tricked by her father. I'm not sure I want Hadley watching Disney Princess movies because of the things they say about girls and women, but Disney's got nothin' on the Old Testament.)

So I can spend a lot of time in my head, worrying about these things, but for now, we're sticking with the basics: God made you. God loves you. God gives us good things, and we give thanks. And when it comes time to deal with the tougher stuff, we'll be honest and deal with it as a family. That's the only way I know how to do it.

Because of our year in first-grade Sunday School (where the parable about the mustard seed ended with a kid saying, "I like ketchup better"), I'm curious about what Hadley is learning about God, and I am encouraged by any sign that she's learning, no matter how tenuous those signs are. For example, Hadley is really interested in her Bible (perhaps because it's very big and she thinks that we'll read it all at once, thereby postponing bedtime indefinitely). Yesterday morning, we read about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and Jesus being born there.

She was really into it. I was thinking, "This is so good!"

Not so fast.

Yesterday afternoon, the three of us were in the car and she said, out of the blue, "When it's Christmas, Santa will bring me presents for my birthday!"

And I said: "Actually, Christmas is Jesus' birthday."

And she replied, without missing a beat: "No, Mommy. I'm having a baby and it's Jesus in my tummy!"

So just to recap: Christmas is Hadley's birthday because she's pregnant with Jesus, who hasn't been born yet.

I've read a fair share of parenting books. I like to learn about child development. I babysat 10,000 hours when I was a teenager. None of it matters: I had no idea how to respond to Hadley. So I didn't. I ignored her comment until I looked over at Jason, who was shaking as he tried to contain his laughter. He failed and so did I, so now I'm pretty sure Hadley is going to repeat her special brand of blasphemy a million times in public places. So that will be awesome.

It was actually a great lesson in chilling out and having faith that Hadley will learn what she needs to learn when she needs to learn it. We're still responsible for her development in every way, but I don't have to sweat the small stuff so much. She's only two, and one day, she'll find this story funny, too.

And I bet if I ran into any of our old Sunday School students now, they wouldn't remember the pee-pee-water story or the ways their teachers wondered how to help them understand such big ideas as God's sovereignty, but perhaps they'd remember the way it sounds when a dozen six-year-olds make a joyful noise unto the Lord. With paper trumpets.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yummy Bread and Poopy Doops and Chicken Crackers

That's a seriously gross title.

Anyway, we had company a few weeks ago--my cousin, his wife, and their nine-month-old girl, Avery. And until you have people living in your house with you, you don't realize how strange your life looks to someone who's not dealing with the minutia of it. Watching our family through our beloved company's eyes made me realize: We say some weird stuff.

And I think it's mostly Hadley's fault.

I'm very sure that before Jason and I had Hadley, we didn't have our own secret language. But now, we have a whole new lexicon. I have no idea whence it came, but it's robust. And in case you come to our house and would like to translate for yourself, here's a quick dictionary:

Chicken Crackers: Homemade chicken patties. Etymology: Hadley is a typical toddler. (Read: picky eater) She loves crackers and regards chicken with much skepticism. So when Jason tried a new recipe of chicken patties with apple, onions, breadcrumbs, and a few mild spices, she turned up her nose when we said it was chicken. Then I said, "Oh! I think they're chicken crackers!" Viola. She ate them all.

Yummy Bread: Banana bread. Hadley thought we meant we were going to put bananas on her bread when we mentioned "banana bread." Chaos ensued when she couldn't actually see the bananas.

Caterpillars: Peas on a toothpick. Apparently, it's far more fun to eat caterpillars than it is to eat peas.

Poopy Doops: Exactly what you think they are, but less gross-sounding than the real thing.

Bunny Bear, Bah-Bah, and Lovie: The bedtime trifecta. When you become a parent, you learn quickly that you have to give names to things you'll refer to frequently--for the sake of your sanity and your spouse's sanity. (Otherwise, your conversations go like this:

Me: Where's that bear?
Jason: Which bear?
Me: The pink one.
Jason: Which pink one?
Me: The fluffy pink one, with the gingham ears?
Jason: What's gingham?
Me: Nevermind. I just need that bear!
Jason: Which bear?)

Bunny Bear is a bear dressed as a bunny. (No points for creativity, I know.) Lovie is a small square of pink fleece. Bah-Bah--named by Hadley, actually--is a blanket with a lamb's head on it. (Less weird than it sounds.)

Tubby: A bath, made to sound much more fun than "bath."

Dress: Anything that isn't shorts or pants. Skirts, long shirts, or actual dresses fit into this category.

Little house: A fort made from couch pillows. Sample usage:

Hadley: Let's go to my little house.
Me: [pulling pillows off the couch] Okay, can I visit?
Hadley: Sure! But you have to ding-dong first.

Ding-dong: Noun: Doorbell. Verb: Ring the doorbell. Sample:
Hadley: I can ding-dong at Mumsie's door?

Cozy pants: Any variety of long cotton pants that Hadley prefers to wear during her nap. Derivative: Cozy shorts, less popular than cozy pants but occasionally acceptable on hot days.

Naked baby: Adjective: A state of undress. Usage note: Anyone can be naked baby, regardless of age. If Hadley walks into my room while I'm changing clothes, she says, "Oh, Mommy! You naked baby." When applied to a toddler, "naked baby" can refer to a completely naked child or a child running around in nothing but her diaper.

Happy birthday: any individual's date of birth. Usage: "Mommy, when's your happy birthday?" Note: I really like this one. It presumes birthdays are always happy, which they should be.

Moves: idiosyncratic movements. Sample usage: Jason has two dance moves he uses all the time when we have dance parties in the living room. Hadley mimics them and then says, "Those are Daddy's moves." I make one particular silly face at Hadley. Jason tried to mimic it the other day, and Hadley said, "Daddy, those are Mommy's moves."

So there you have it: The incomplete guide to figuring out what in the world we're talking about at our house. I know the day is coming when Hadley corrects me: "No, Mommy. It's a bath." So for now, I'm going to enjoy the made-up language of love Hadley has given us.

Five Things You Should Know About Toddlers

5. They learn so fast. Case in point: Hadley beat me to "listening" speech I usually give when she's teetering on the edge of disobedience:

"It's time to listen. Mommy not going to ask me again. If I no listen, I go to timeout. Make good choice."

4. Just because they learn it, doesn't mean they'll apply it.

She went to timeout.

3. The first time they embarrass you in public, it's accidental.

"Mommy! That man have a baby in his tummy!" in church. During prayer. In the stage whisper that's no whisper at all.

2. The second time they embarrass you in public, it's because they saw your reaction, and they liked it.

"That guy have a baby in his tummy? And that guy? And that lady have a BIG baby in her tummy!" At the pool. While pointing and yelling. Awesome.

1. You've never felt so humble as you do the minute you realize your two-year-old is out-smarting you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pride Comes Before the Fall (Asleep)

I think there's a secret force in the world destined to keep mamas humble. It goes by many names: the common cold, picky eating, middle-of-the-Gap disobedience, and--my personal favorite--explosive diapers in public places.

It strikes me when I'm feeling most proud of my mothering: when Hadley is finally eating green vegetables, when I give other moms tips on helping their kids sleep through the night, when I cruise the aisles of Whole Foods with a happy, chatty kid who wants to hold the broccoli. (Certainly there is a nutritive osmosis by which the broccoli actually seeps into her body, right?)

Just when I think I've figured it out, something happens.

This week, "something" is a nap strike.

I'm taking it personally. Silly, right? But I love nap time. I love the sudden quiet of our house and the knowledge that I get to do whatever I want for two whole hours! Exciting babe that I am, that usually involves cleaning, laundry, bill-paying, and writing. But it's MY time...and if I wanted it to include a private karaoke session with the entire "Thriller" album, it could. Because I know all of the words. (When Hadley is 14, she's going to think I'm so cool that she'll let me drop her off only a block from the movie theater.)

And it's just not the same when Hadley is not sleeping, particularly because nap strike sounds like she's working very hard to keep herself awake. It's hard for me to relax while she puts on a tiny one-woman Broadway show. She sings all of the tunes she knows at the top of her lungs, pausing in between to ask Bunny Bear (her sleeping companion), "You like it? You like it? What I should sing next?" Girlfriend is taking requests.

Then she builds a fort with her blanket and tiny pillow, practices her baby yoga moves, or steamrolls Bunny Bear. (I hear her say, "Steamroller!" and then she giggles.)

After about two hours, she hollers for me and when I walk into her room, she says, with her biggest, most charming grin, "I waked up!"

"You didn't sleep," I say.

"But I try hard!" She pretends to be earnest.

I know what's coming: 5:00 meltdown because we can't find the Little People princess or the marker cap doesn't go back on right away or we didn't go swimming today! And before I can wish for a fairy god-nanny, Hadley falls to her knees, hangs her head, and cries big, no-nap tears.

It does no good to say what I want to say, which is: "Hey, kiddo. This is what happens when you don't nap. You feel lousy. I feel lousy. And when Daddy walks in the door in a few minutes, I'm going to give him the evil eye because he's 7.3 seconds late getting here."

Frustration makes me a street philosopher, so here's what I've decided: Parenting guarantees nothing. Just because your kid ate peas yesterday does not mean she'll eat them today. In fact, there's a good chance she'll put them in her pockets and you'll find them gummy and soggy when you pull the wet laundry out the of washer next Tuesday. (Okay, maybe that's just my kid.)

But just like life doesn't guarantee the simple things, it doesn't guarantee the big things either. Nobody promises me she'll do and learn all of the things I hope she does; I don't get to presume she'll always be healthy or happy; there's no assurance that tomorrow, my biggest worry will be whether she will sleep in the afternoon.

So if the nap strike has taught me anything, it's the futility of trying to control the things I cannot. Hadley is her own person, alive and exposed in the world. I cannot make her do everything (or sometimes, anything) I want, nor should I. And more frighteningly, I cannot make the world the kind of place it ought to be, for her or the billions of kids who wander its edges. And most of their parents would be so happy to trade worries with me for a day.

It's all so...humbling. (If I had a nickel for every time I thought that since Hadley was born, girlfriend could go to any college she wanted.)

I'm going to remember the goodness of this life we live the next time Hadley's one-woman show fills our house with song at 2:00 p.m. Maybe I'll try sitting back and listening to the sounds of a joyful, satisfied child.

Or maybe I'll put on my own show. Where did I put that "Thriller" CD?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

In the last week, two people (bless you!) have asked me about this little blog of mine. And because my ego is easily stroked, and because I miss having a place to share my ruminations about motherhood, and because I'm relatively lousy about filling out Hadley's baby book--I'm back. At least I'll have a few blog posts to share with her when she's 12 and curious about her younger self.

Also, for this fleeting hour, the laundry is done, the kitchen is clean, the toddler is asleep, and I don't have a deadline tomorrow. I can't promise such a moment will ever come again, so I must relish it.

And now, with that preamble aside, I'm not entirely sure where to restart.

With Hadley, I suppose. But how to capture her? She's not a baby anymore. She was an infant wrapped in rolls of chubby flesh; now she's tall and almost thin, as her body burns off those pudgy wrinkles to lengthen her arms and legs. She was a snuggler; now she can barely sit still--unless we're reading books. She was so little and helpless and dependent on me; now "I do it myself" is one of her favorite phrases (second only to "I have a treat?").

There is so much she knows how to do that I don't remember teaching her. She's a whiz at letters and colors and shapes--and I suppose we taught her those things, though I don't remember deciding to--but the stuff that's most amazing to me is less obvious. For example, she pretends. Lately, she has been entertaining the friends from her favorite TV show, "Caillou." Caillou is a four-year-old who has a cat named Gilbert and friends Leo, Clementine, Jason, and Jeffrey.

We spend a lot of time persuading imaginary Clementine or Leo to come out of the kitchen and play in the living room. Sometimes Hadley has to go pick them up: She cups them in her hands (apparently they are quite small) and speaks to them gently: "It's okay. I got you, Leo. I got you. You okay." We must feed them breakfast all the time, and then they have to go to bed. Then one of them needs water or Cheerios or paint. They're a high-maintenance crew.

If I had imaginary friends, they would serve me chocolate-covered strawberries and rub my feet. But that's another story.

We pretend we're at the doctor's office, and when it's Hadley's turn to be the doctor, she listens to my heart, gives me a shot (always), and pronounces me healthy. Then she whispers conspiratorially, "Be patient! You get a lollipop." We pretend we're going to sleep, and she pulls a blanket up over my shoulders and says, "Sleep tight!" We pretend we're owls and we must run around the house, flapping our wings and yelling, "Whoo, whoo!" If you happen to be here for this event, please note in advance that we are owls, not birds. Hadley gets very cross if you don't get that part exactly right.

I wonder what she thinks owls are.

I love the way she orders her world. I wish I could remember thinking in the wide-open realms of early childhood. Owls don't have to be birds. Leo can be six inches tall. The doctor's office can be a complicated vehicle for procuring a lollipop. How will we preserve this sense of possibility as she learns about the world? There are so many rules, so many assumptions, and I wish we could somehow make her aware of them without asking her to swallow them all.

I want her to have a playful childhood. If she's half me (and Jason suspects she's more like 90 percent me), she'll learn life's rules carefully. She'll abide by them, then she'll cling to them because she'll find some satisfaction in meeting them, knowing where to draw the lines and what's expected of her. She'll like benchmarks and gold stars and knowing that you should paint the sky blue when it's easel time because, after all, the sky is blue.

Except when it's pink and purple.

I want her to remember the pink-and-purple sky, the days we eat breakfast for dinner, the joy that comes from having 6-inch-tall imaginary friends, the magic of not having to categorize all things. Sometimes, owls are just owls, right?

And I feel like now is the time to protect that freedom. She is watching and learning what we say and do. She's thinking about it and she's using it to make sense of her world. Of course, I have no idea how to do that, except for playing along when we pretend and not insisting on "right" answers. My hunch is that she will learn those soon enough. I've often had more right answers that I can use, but I sometimes lack for the freedom of thought that gives clever, creative folks the not-as-right-but-really-cool answers.

Hadley is reminding me how to do that. It's an unexpected gift of parenthood, this freedom to play and ignore the world's rules for a while.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to tend to Leo and Clementine. They want to paint the sky purple.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do You Do?

I've been traveling a lot lately--as in, in the last six weeks, I've been to Texas twice, North Carolina, Virginia, and California--which has given me a lot of time to think about my life. There's something about distance from home that throws me into an introspective fit of pondering. It's a really good thing I'm not single. I'd spend my whole life in my head, and even though I really like my head, it's no place to live.

So after a few plane trips with strangers, I've noticed a couple of things: First, people are willing to share really personal information with a total stranger when both people are stuck on a pressurized aluminum tube hurtling through air six miles above the earth's surface. Second, those strangers, after spilling their guts, often ask what I do. It goes something like this:

"...so that's how I ended up selling human organs on the black market. What do YOU do?"

For a very long time--at least 20 years--I've dreamed of answering that question this way: "I'm a writer." And now I can.

Except that's not entirely true. I mean, it's true that I write for a living. Right now, people pay me to write a lot. (I write a lot. They don't necessarily pay me a lot.) And while I'm not exactly Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates or Wallace Stegner (my newest literary crush), I'm finding my way, and I am a writer.

But I don't feel like my "what do you do" is properly wrapped up in being a writer. So my answered have evolved from the first:

"I'm a writer. And a mom. To a toddler. A girl. She's amazing."


"I'm a mom and a writer."

It feels right to say it that way, to put the mom part first, and here's how I know: When I crawl into a big empty bed in another town and know that I won't be awoken by Hadley calling, "Mommy, are you? Hadley's bed" (as if she has to remind me where to find her), I feel a pang in my heart that isn't soothed by the fact that I get to sleep without being awoken in the night by Hadley talking in her sleep or Jason snoring. I don't have to spring out of bed, try to focus my eyes enough to get the milk poured into the sippy cup, and haul 27 pounds of toddler to my bed for five more minutes of rest. And believe me, there are mornings at home when I wish I could just open my eyes when my body decided to wake up--not when the body in the next bedroom decided to wake up.

But when I'm gone from this home and my family, I long for them more than I've ever longed to be a "real" writer. So I know: I am a mama first, a writer second.

I read this blog often, and just a few days ago, she had a post about travel in the age of postmodern motherhood. And aside from the fact that I hate the adjective "postmodern" because too many people use it as a pseudo-intellectual, aren't-I-so-smart trope, I totally dug the essay, especially the part where she admits that she's lucky to have a husband who's able and will to be the Parent In Charge (love that term) while she travels do to work she loves. And then she says, "That luck is kind of complicated."

I nearly cried. Then I almost did my best reporter work to track her down so I could call her on the phone and say, "Yes! I get it! Sing it, sister! Want to be friends?" But you'll be glad to know that I didn't. (Or maybe you're not glad. Maybe you really wished that I had called her because that story would be far more interesting than this one. Whatever.)

This luck--I'd be more inclined to call it a blessing--is complicated. This life is not simple. I would be so, so, so unhappy if I couldn't write, if I didn't feel like I had at least one project that felt meaningful and challenging. But working on this meaningful, challenging project means leaving the people I love most and stepping out of the story of their daily lives. It means choosing one over the other--at least for a few days--and that's hard, really hard.

But it's also good. (See? This is the complicated part.) I think there's some value in having a place to reflect on motherhood; otherwise, I think it's easy to plug along without considering how or why--or at least, it would be easy for me to plug along. Instead, I get to long for the too-early wake-ups and Hadley's ever-stronger will and the living room strewn with toys. I see life without them (for a day or two), and I choose life with them over and over and over again.

I love to come home, to stop ruminating about motherhood from a strange hotel room a thousand miles away and instead, to wake up abruptly on a Tuesday morning when Hadley yells, "Mommy, are you?"

Right here, baby girl. Right here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cue the Laugh Track

Ok, enough of the serious stuff. You'd think I spend my time worrying about a sick child or ruminating on the profound responsibility of motherhood.

The truth is that most of the time, I just laugh.

Because my baby? She's f-u-n-n-y.


At some point in our diligent efforts to teach Hadley to share, she learned the word "turn." So now when she wants her daddy or me to do something, she yells with glee, "Daddy's turn!" or "Mommy's turn!" It's her not-very-subtle way of trying to boss us around.

So Jason and I take turns doing all sorts of stuff, like cutting apples into slices and helping her put on her red rain boots so she can stomp around the house. But it's almost always "Mommy's turn" when it comes time to change a stinky diaper.

Today, the conversation went like this:

Jason: "Hadley, do you have poo-poos?"

Hadley: "Nope."

Jason: "Hadley?" (With his best serious daddy face.)

Hadley: "Yup." Pause. She spinned toward me, threw open her arms, and yelled: "Mommy's turn!" Like I've just won the lottery. Jason puts a dime in her piggy bank every time it happens. She's going to be able to afford Harvard by the time she's 10. Too bad I'd never let her enroll there.

When she's not assigning "turns," she's maneuvering for "treats." Jason and I were chatting about the grocery list the other day while Hadley sat nearby, and he said to me, "Do you need anything else?" Just as I was getting ready to say no, Hadley piped up:

"Oh! Daddy?" She poked her first finger in the air, like a tiny British professor. "Treats. Yiddle." (That's "little" for those of you not living with an almost-two-year-old.) Jason laughed so hard, he nearly fell over--which just encourages her, of course. He came home with sorbet. Sucker.

From the annals of Rather Embarrassing, she calls men "guys" and identifies what they're doing, always prefaced by a little, almost inaudible "oh," as if she's mildly offended. Yesterday at the park, she pointed and said, "Oh, guy. Walking." At the grocery store, it was "Oh, guy. Talking. Phone." At the mall, "Oh, guy. Eating."

Of course, all women are mommies, and Hadley likes to review exactly who is a girl and who is a boy. "Daddy. Boy. Mommy. Girl. Hadley. GIRL!" (She's very excited about that one.) Then she goes through Mumsie and Granddaddy, Papa and Grandma, Auntie and Graham, and everyone else in her little world. She almost always gets them all right. How did she learn that?

I'm blown away by how quickly her imagination is growing. Her new favorite game is "lions coming." (Hadley so dubbed it.) As you might guess, we pretend that lions are coming to get us, so we have to run around the house like total maniacs and then hide in Mommy's bed or under a blanket on the couch. Then we have to go find the lions, tell them "no, no, lions," and then run away again. She absolutely must hide her toes from the lions. I thinks that's probably a good strategy and shows that she's a fabulous problem-solver. (How would you run away from lions if you didn't have toes?)

She sings all the time. Last night before bed, she was stuck on "Old MacDonald," which goes like this: "Oma Donut had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. On a farm, had some cows. Moo-moo here. Moo-moo here." Repeat. Forty-eight times. We know she's done when she yells, "Yea!" Then we have to clap.

I could regale you with 20 more tales of Hadley-isms. They happen faster than I can record them. (Seriously. Does any mother have time to record her child's early years in a baby book? If you're one of those moms, you're officially banished from this blog.)

I'm grateful for her quirky sense of humor and brilliant imagination. It is good to laugh because the stakes of motherhood are high. I do spend a lot of time thinking about how Hadley is growing and whether we're doing the right things, and what if she gets another infection, and when she says her eyes are itchy, does that mean the infection has spread, and why won't she eat meat or green beans, and will she ever stop hating having her hair washed, and what if something really awful happened to one of us? Because the stakes are high--so, so high. Motherhood is serious business.

Until we have to run away from the lions. Then, it's just plain fun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why We Appreciate Ordinary Days

I can't figure out where to start. I keep typing and deleting, trying to find the place to tell you about our scary hospital visit, which are filed in the annals of "worst days of my life." I cannot find an easy way in, so I'll just jump.

Hadley had been sick with a cold for a couple of weeks when Jason left town last Wednesday afternoon. He had meetings in Orlando until Saturday night. I hate when he leaves, but now that I'm not working full-time, it's much easier to be a single mommy for a few days.

Thursday night, Hadley was up four or five times, crying out in her sleep and rolling around in her crib. I broke the cardinal sleeping rule and tucked her in bed with me around 5:30 Friday morning. We both slept a few more hours.

When she woke up, she was weepy. She kept saying, "Mommy, mommy, hold you." Hadley is usually Captain Action in the mornings--barely stopping to eat breakfast--but Friday morning, she was clingy and lethargic and pale. She had a 102-degree fever. I took her to the doctor's office in the afternoon, and the doc said all of Hadley's symptoms were consistent with an ear infection, but her eyes weren't infected. Her diagnosis: another virus.

By Saturday morning, the right side of Hadley's face was puffy. I thought she had slept strangely, but when the puffiness wasn't better after her nap, I called the pediatrician. I remember thinking, "This is probably nothing. I'm sure she'll tell me it's nothing."

Instead, the doctor asked me a few questions and then said, "I don't want to scare you, but you need to get Hadley to the ER. What you're describing sounds consistent with a skin infection around her eye and in her cheek, and depending on the type of bacteria, it could spread very fast."

Still, I didn't panic. I thought, "Okay, well, it'll be good for someone to examine her."

As we drove to the hospital, I started to wish there was some way to let Hadley know what was coming--that it wouldn't be fun, but that it would be all right. We barely walked through the ER doors when Hadley began to cry. My mom and dad met us there, and I remember thinking, "Oh, this is probably overkill. Certainly we don't need three adults for one child." Silly me.

The next four hours were awful. The ER pediatrician was good, but the first nurse assigned to us was a gruff, miserable woman who didn't know a thing about children. She spent 45 minutes prepping to draw Hadley's blood--touching her arm, wrapping the board they used to keep Hadley's arm straight, putting needles and other medical supplies on the bed beside us--it was enough to freak out even a grown-up. Hadley was completely overwrought; all she could do was cry and scream, "Mommy! Mommy!"

Cue Mumsie and Granddaddy. When the nurse pulled Hadley out of my arms (after I asked her if she could please hurry up finding a vein, as she was really upsetting Hadley), they hopped up and found the doctor as I grabbed Hadley back from the nurse. Another nurse came in and gently dismissed Attila the Hun. But the damage was done. Hadley was a wreck, and I could actually feel my heart shattering into dozens of splinters.

The only thing that seemed to make Hadley feel better was hearing me sing, so I sang. She likes a song she calls "Chicken." It's actually "The Riddle Song" and dates back to the 15th century. Anyway, there's a line in it that says, "The story that I love you, it has no end," and I couldn't sing it. Every time I tried, I started to cry. And then Hadley would ask for the chicken song again, and I'd try once more.

The second nurse managed to draw Hadley's blood; we waited an hour for the results, which showed that she did, in fact, have an infection. The doc gave her IV antibiotics and released us with instructions to bring her back on Sunday so they could test her blood again to see if the antibiotics worked.

Just as we were ending our visit, Jason called to let me know that he had landed. "We're fine," I said. "But we're in the ER." I could hear him take a deep breath. Even though I told him to drive carefully, he was home in record time.

We had a fitful night; Hadley slept in our bed with me, waking up every three hours crying and saying her face hurt, or just pleading with me: "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy." I held her for hours that night, praying that the medicine would work, praying against the fear she would feel on Sunday when we schlepped her back to the hospital for more tests.

Jason and I decided to take her back to the ER after her nap on Sunday to give her a little time to play at home and relax. I'm glad we waited, even though I was so tense at the thought of subjecting her to more needles and scary strangers, I could barely breathe. I tried to nap while she napped, but all I could think about was holding her as she screamed while the nurses pricked her arm. Did she think I let them hurt her? Did she wonder why her mommy would let anyone hurt her? Would she trust me ever again?

She began crying before we even pulled up to the hospital. How do parents of chronically ill children manage without just falling over from broken hearts? I hope I never know. But even though I wanted to cry and grab Hadley and run home, I didn't. I scooped her up and marched into the ER.

The second round of blood tests showed that Hadley's infection hadn't changed much. I remember when the ER doc walked into our little room and said, "I think it would be best to admit her, so we can administer a stronger antibiotic via IV." Admit her? I thought. Does she mean we have to stay here? Immediately, I ached for home--for our little house where we play and sing and take baths and give hugs and laugh. I really had to fight the impulse to take Hadley and run.

They moved us to a room in the children's wing. Hadley was clearly puzzled, but as long as Jason and I were there, she seemed willing to accept that she had to stay--or maybe she was too tired to care. Hadley and I snuggled into bed with an IV drip attached to her arm, and Jason slept on the other twin bed. Hadley slept. I think I was awake all night. The nurse came in every two or three hours to check the IV, take Hadley's temperature, or reload the antibiotics. I was so worried about making sure Hadley slept, I couldn't relax.

I watched her sleep. She laid there, and I cried, wondering what she must think, trusting her daddy and me to make the right decisions, even though we know nothing. Parenting is a crazy paradigm: All we have is some common sense and this knock-the-wind-out-of-us love for Hadley. I know a whole lot more about Shakespeare and French geography and English grammar and contemporary art than I do about being a mom. And yet none of those things matters a whit compared to how much Hadley matters to me.

Nobody teaches you what to do if your child comes down with cellulitis. Nobody tells you how to prepare her for the moment you drag her into the ER and strange people touch her in white-sterile rooms while her mama tries to sing her favorite chicken song. So I just watched her sleep and touched her forehead and tried to think about happy days.

In the morning, we saw Hadley's pediatrician, who said he was planning to call the infectious disease specialist at the children's hospital. He seemed to think it was possible we'd head home at the end of the day if Hadley's next round of blood work showed signs of improvement. I was hopeful.

Another round of blood tests, another round of holding my screaming, kicking, panicked child while strangers drew her blood. But then we pretty much hung out in the hospital room, Hadley eating popsicles and watching Elmo, me wandering around the ward in my pajama pants and unwashed hair. Not my finest hour, but who cared? Not me.

Hadley and I snuggled in for a nap around 12:30 (after our dear friends Lauren and Jenny came for a visit--bless them!), and by the time we woke up a couple of hours later, Jason had good news: The doc said her blood tests showed enough positive signs that we could go home at the end of the day.

Just then, I started breathing again.

Around 6:30 Monday night, as we pulled away from the hospital, Hadley said very quietly, "Thank you, doctors." I don't know if she was thanking them for curing her or for letting her go home, but I almost cried hearing her tiny voice acknowledge some measure of what we had been through.

We came home to a clean house, thanks to Mumsie and Granddaddy. We all had clean sheets; Hadley had a totally clean crib; her toys were cleaned, and Granddaddy even ironed a fresh tablecloth for our dining table. Hadley was thrilled and exhausted. Check that. We were ALL thrilled and exhausted.

A week ago, we were in a hospital room. Tonight, we have a healthy baby asleep in her crib. I've even finished almost all of the laundry. I couldn't see beyond the next hour a week ago, and tonight, we're looking forward to a week of zoo visits, book reading, music classes, and even some mundane stuff, like dish washing and dinner making and floor sweeping. And we'll do those things gladly, realizing that it's a blessing to have days that are not notable, except for the fact that we share them with Hadley.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This...

Truth be told, I'm debating about whether to keep up this blog--which is more like a monthly column for as much as I write here. Maybe it's because 1) figuring out how to express this great and challenging and life-altering love I feel for Hadley is tough or 2) I write for a living, so writing in my free time seems a little redundant or 3) I'm tired because I'm the mama of a toddler.

But for now, I'm here. Jason is on his way home from the airport, and Hadley is in bed. I like alone time. I love my family, and I love being with them, and I often mourn the minutes I don't get to spend with them. But alone time is good.

All I need is a hot bath.

[Cue ironic background music that tells you that hot baths are not in my future tonight.]

Let me preface the complaining I'm about to do with a little caveat: I know I'm blessed. I know there are more good things in my life than I can count. I know that there are mamas out there tonight whose babies are sick--very sick--and who would cry with joy if someone gave them the option to trade their problems for mine. I'm still trying to figure out this crazy imbalance of goodness in the world.

A hot bath would be a very appropriate place to contemplate such things.

But our hot water heater broke. Leaked all over the basement floor. I discovered it last night, five minutes after said goodbye to Jason (who was in Orlando) and told him that I was going to bed because I was exhausted. I decided to run one bundle of retired toys downstairs because I knew if Hadley saw them, she'd want to play with them, and my sorting would be wasted.

I suppose it's a good thing because if it had leaked all night, the whole basement would have been flooded. But as it turned out, I called my dad (because that's what I always do when I'm in a real bind), and he came over to drain the water tanks. Until 1:00 a.m.

So there was no hot water for us today. And I am tired. I realized today just how much I rely on Jason for help problem-solving. We're a good team--a very good team--and I didn't just miss him because calling plumbers isn't really my strong suit. But it's really not. See?

ME: "Um, hi. My name is Hilary, and I have a baby at home. I mean, she's a toddler, 20 months. So she's not really a baby, I guess. My friend Megan referred me to you. You worked at her house a few weeks ago. Maybe a month. I don't really know when, actually."

Pause. At this point, the plumber is wondering if I've mistaken him for a baby-sitting service or a free counseling center for crazy moms.

ME again: "Anyway, our water heater broke. So I'm calling to see if you have one. You know, to sell. To me. To us. I have a husband. He's just out of town."

Then I'm thinking, "Oh, crap. You just told a strange man that your husband is out of town and you have a young child at home. Didn't you read those books about stranger danger? You are Mother of the Year."

ME again: "And when could you come install it? I need you to come tomorrow. [Trying to sound really firm.] And how much would you charge me? Us. Because, you know, I have a husband who is coming home very soon."

The plumber is thinking, "Man, I wish I had another job booked tomorrow so I didn't have to go to the crazy lady's house." He says, "I can come in the morning. 9:30." He gives me a bid that feels totally irrelevant to me because I never buy hot water heaters, and I tell him I have to call him back. I ask my dad his opinion. He says the bid sounds fine. I wait another 30 minutes to call the plumber back because I'm trying to play it cool, make him sweat it out a little bit. Now I realize that he was probably happier in those 30 minutes, imagining that I wouldn't call him back, than he was when I called to hire him.

So I did it. We were having such a great week, Hadley and me. I was feeling such lightness at not having to juggle a full-time job and my life at home, and then--kablooey--fat, mushy puddles in the basement deflated me.

But even in the midst of this chaos, I can choose thankfulness. For my daddy, who proves that you never stop being a parent, even when your oldest child is 32 years old and raising her own child. For Hadley, who was a great dinner date tonight (I did what any sane mother would do and took her out for pizza). For the resources to buy a new hot water heater, though I would have preferred to spend that money on a weekend in Jackson Hole. For a home where a hot water heater can break. And for a husband who just walked in the door.

G'night. (Oh, but before I go, here's a shot of the Hadster at the beach in Florida. More on that soon.)