Last night I attended, for the first time as an adult, a birth that did not involve me pushing out a baby. I volunteered as a doula, or labour-supporter, for a young couple having their first baby. Herein, a few general observations about the birth experience, all of which threaten to sound terribly cheesy, the way all big life-changing transitional events do when translated into words. But here goes ...
The most ordinary space can be transformed into a holy, sacred place.
A woman's body is an extraordinarily powerful entity, and in birth it just really knows what to do. Travelling emotionally and mentally into that place where you can allow the body to do what it needs to do can be really frightening; at the very least, there's some resistance to letting go like that. I remember feeling that in my own births. That sensation of oh no, no, I really am not prepared to go there, do I have to go there? "There" is an extremely focussed, interior, almost animal place inside the body and mind. "There" will get you through just about anything, I think.
We really earn these babies.
How profoundly my experience of the spiritual is linked to my body, to physical reality.
Birth is this crazy intense moment in a life--the moment of parents becoming parents, of a new human life entering the world, of vulnerability, and of strength, which is parenting distilled--and which could kind of define love, really. How vulnerable it feels to love somebody the way I love my children; and yet in no other role could I feel as strong, if I'm called to be, for their sakes.
Let's see, what else. Yes, I cried a bit at the end. I also laughed, and found myself feeling weepy at moments during the labour, overwhelmed by the amazingness of the body, by the strength this woman kept finding throughout, and by the connection to this individual yet collective human journey. It's ordinary, and it's extraordinary.
Will I do this again? During the labour, I couldn't imagine NOT doing it again (doula-ing, I mean; not giving birth myself). But I'm exhausted today, and know that choosing to do this more regularly--as a job on the side? or pursuing midwifery?--will mean choosing not to do other things instead. Reflection is in order.
My internet connection has been playing hide-and-seek these past few days, rendering an online presence near impossible. This is probably a good thing, like therapy, but makes posting blog entries difficult (while simultaneously making me WANT to post even more; ah, thwarted desire). Here is our yesterday morning, first thing, hammocks hung, flowers abundant, knees scraped. Today the air is chilly, the earth cold and muddy, sky white. I got caught in the amazingly wild storm yesterday afternoon with all four kids. We were at the gelato shop uptown, the power went out briefly, and we looked outside to realize the weather had turned. It was almost scary. Pelting heavy rain that soaked us to the skin almost instantly, wind whipping, pushing the stroller with a screaming CJ protest, running as fast as we could for home while thunder pounded and lightening struck. The big kids LOVED it. Me, not quite so much. The power of the unknown.
I'm currently employing a method of housecleaning that some of you may be familiar with. I call it "Wow It Looks Gross in Here," and it has such sub-categories as "Was Someone Eating Something Crumbly in This Room?" and "How Much Water Actually Stayed in the Tub?" and "Oh No Not the Dress-Up Clothes." Among others I enjoyed thinking up whilst vacuuming after supper tonight.
These photos commemorate one of the last days of the splinted knee, which happened to coincide with Kevin's favourite time of the year, the first round of the hockey playoffs when there's a game on every night, and our television is tuned to it. First round doesn't seem to be over yet, but the splint is officially off, the knee officially healed (I keep asking, "Okay, so the bone is completely, totally healed, like it's not going to break apart if someone bumps into it?" and Kevin keeps saying, "Uh, yah, that's what the surgeon said."). In fact, after six weeks of not bending his leg, AT ALL, it's time to do the opposite and figure out how to get it to bend readily again. ("So, if it's all healed," I asked, "why wouldn't you be playing soccer this summer?" And he replied, "Because I can't, um, run. At all." "But you can bend your knee now." "Well, in theory, I can bend my knee, but it doesn't bend more than ten degrees right now.") Right.
Thinking about why I like blogging--because I do--and have come up with a very rudimentary hunch that there's something mysteriously satisfying about publishing immediately upon typing, and imagining the connection between these words and another set of eyes. Today, I had no internet. This wasn't a self-driven retreat from the Evil Distractions of the Internet, oh no; a cable in our house went on the fritz, and it was more like being forced into a chastity belt. No email. (There is the phone, you might point out). No internet radio. (There is, um, actual radio). No Facebook. (That might be a good thing actually, as I've recently noticed myself updating my status imaginarily at regular silent intervals throughout the day, such as, "Obscure Canlit Mama would like to know why her baby is so impressively wide awake at 6am," or, "Obscure Canlit Mama has just escaped the library with a small shred of her parental dignity intact," or, "Obscure Canlit Mama is frying bacon at mid-day. Don't ask. Or, do." You can see how addictive this becomes. Where was I?) Right. No internet--therefore, no blog. No blog. No mundane moment grabbed and translated into words and chucked into the mess that is Blogland. I'm only just beginning to get a sense of what Blogland looks like. It's crowded in here. Downright claustrophobic. There don't seem to be filters, just personal taste, and the taste of one's friends and fellow bloggers. There's some really good writing out there, and amazing photographs, and recipes; but it feels overwhelming, like being at a trade show in a mosh pit with everyone shouting and screaming and you're just sort of turning to the next person over and going, uh, what are you here for? And that person doesn't really know, and then it occurs to you--neither do you. Oh tumbled, jumbled metaphor. This is why I like Blogland. I can make a real hash of words in here, and not sweat it. When I'm writing a story everything has to fit, I have to be ruthless. I actually think that writing a good story bears no relationship to the metaphor commonly attached: that it's like birthing a baby, or that the art is the artist's baby. Pity that baby. Coolly reshaped to fit the parent's vision, then frozen into position for eternity. But the blog feels more like a real baby. It comes out whole, there's not a lot of editing, and it grows and changes--every day, or every post, forever replacing what was with what is, and is, and is, this permanent present. Which is pretty much exactly like parenthood. Maybe that's why so many parents seem drawn to Blogland. We're already living this, day-by-day, this sweet mundanity, these moments that feel so vital while amidst them, only to disappear, buried by routine; we're already attuned to the bittersweet pull of time. How quickly a blog entry feels stale--that's one of its peculiarities. Whereas a story can be read over and over again. I'm not saying old blog entries can't be read again, and enjoyed (though perhaps mainly by the blogger herself); just that a large part of the pleasure is the immediacy, the realization that what you're reading actually just happened, and the desire to check in again soon to see what will happen next. Even if nothing much really ever does. File this entry under Big Thoughts. A favourite late-night-oughtta-be-in-bed-category. Oh, let's do one more thing, something new. Confession of the Day: This morning, I convinced Flora to sit in front of a computer in the children's section of the library, and signed in on it using her card (adults are not allowed), solely for the purpose of checking my email account. The good news is, I hadn't missed any important messages.
What a difference a little spring sunshine makes. What a difference, after supper, to go outside and play! The trees are budding, the crocuses purple and tall. Admittedly, there's not much grass, but I get a kick out of the sight of that weather-beaten rocking chair, toys strewn about on bare earth that will soon, soon come alive with green. Long live spring.
Chores. Daily. Update. Albus and Fooey set the table together ... but that was as far as it got tonight. Albus straightaway started throwing-up after dinner, Apple-Apple was too engrossed in her book (an odd little story called A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote that involved a seven-year-old boy drinking whiskey with a senile distant cousin ... from the school library, and I only skimmed it afterwards with curiosity when I noticed who the author was, and then wondered hmm, what did she get out of this?). Anyway, what with the sickness and the husband trying to get out the door for his hockey pool, I did the rest of the chores in our lovely new red chore box. With the exception of the laundry which I'm leaving for Kevin, assuming he notices the basket when he comes home later. Just realized it must have been exactly five weeks ago that he smashed his kneecap.
I'm feeling a little queasy. Who will be the next family member throwing up? These things never seem to stop at one. Well, we're already at two, now. Only four more to go!
This post does not fit in with my new daily theme mandate. I'll have to add a category called Should-Be-In-Bed-Ramblings.
But I wanted to post those photos. Apple-Apple lost her first tooth today--at school, no less. It awaits beneath her pillow in a yellow box from the school office, with an accompanying letter describing how it fell out: "This is the first tooth I lost, I hope you like it!" She's been restlessly rolling around, waiting for the fairy's arrival.
CJ climbed onto the stool in front of the bathroom sink tonight and insisted on brushing his own tooth. He even knew to swish the brush under the water to rinse it off, except he couldn't quite reach. It's a good thing they make one-year-olds insanely cute because right after this photo was taken he dashed off to the living-room and unloaded the clean laundry basket in less time than it takes to tell the story.
Fooey kept trying to get into CJ's photo, so I took one of her: "Put CJ in it too," she instructed, but he was moving too fast. I'm pretty sure that's a clean sock he's holding as he rushes off.
Inspired by Katie's comment on the previous blog entry, and the website she suggested, I made a set of index cards with daily chores and weekly chores, and introduced the concept of an allowance to the kids. The oldest were ridiculously enthusiastic. Chore categories so far:
Daily: Wash dishes. Dry and put away dishes. Fold laundry. Set and clear table. Pack lunches. Weekly: Vaccuum. Clean your room. Clean bathrooms. Additionally, an all-family daily task: the 10-minute tidy! The children are already saving their allowance toward a Bone book. And I already felt a weight lifted last night, the feeling that we were all working together toward the collective goal of a liveable house, not one person martyring herself to the domestic cause.
Local food, family, writing, balance.
That's been this blog's focus, and I will stick with it. But. The question is a little bit larger than that: What is the tone underlying? Why do this? Looking back, what I most appreciate about these blog entries are the beautiful reminders of day-to-day life, the moments that transcend the ordinary while living within it. On some days, those moments can be hard to find, but even the process of looking for them feels helpful, feels like it's building something good, and strengthening. And so easily forgotten, too. The photographs, too, have been an unexpectedly happy addition, and pleasurable challenge.
I have bigger blog ambitions, but can't promise these will come to fruition. Daily themes: Recipes. Parenting ideas/questions. Writing. Doula-ing. Or today's: housekeeping.
I've been reflecting on the public nature of blogging, and wondering whether it's healthy to spill the ups and downs of my daily life live-to-air, so to speak; or, even more importantly, the lives of four children who have no say in the process. Ethics. Not sure. What do fellow bloggers think about this?
I've also figured out that my perpetually cranky mood relates to having too much to do, and not being able to do it to satisfaction; cursed perfectionism. Kevin sent me out for a solo walk yesterday afternoon, and while I was gone he organized the kids to fold laundry. That's the pic above. I'm beginning to grasp that my future sanity is going to hinge on designating household responsibility, farming out some tasks, scaling back expectations, doing some ruthless prioritizing. Get a slow-cooker? Hire someone to clean weekly? Seriously. I need to entertain some alternatives. Suggestions welcome.
There are a bunch of good pics on my camera which I haven't downloaded because they include a couple that aren't so good--of some baby animals the kids found in the woodpile that looked a whole lot like newborn rats. I'm too squeamish to look at them.
So today's post will be unillustrated. Next time.
I'm deep in the throes of sleep deprivation, and it feels so prolonged, so never-ending, that I'm feeling semi-defeated by it. Last night, I was cleaning up puke (another story, not so long; it wasn't mine, it was a child's), off and on till 1am, every hour or so till the source was declared completely empty, when finally I slept. Then was woken every hour till sometime after 3 when I managed to string two full hours of sleep together, then it was back to the broken stuff--in and out of bed, answering multiple calls. I'm a firm believer that to feel really well-rested, you need three consecutive uninterrupted hours of sleep. This has become so rare as to feel like a meaningless prescriptive. CJ still nurses twice a night, or more, and Fooey is often up once to use the bathroom, and last night ... well, when the puking started I really thought I might suffer a nervous breakdown. This is the fourth time since December that someone (usually a solid family majority) has gotten "the barfing thing." Look, I know that life with six people in one house is complicated. I accept this. Life generally is complicated. Bodies are vulnerable and imperfect. I get all of that. But I feel suddenly sapped of my ability to appreciate the fun. There is fun, right? Everything feels so damn serious. I'd like to appreciate, for example, getting dressed up and dancing. I'd like to rest, to let my mind slow down, to read a book all the way through, to stand still in the sunshine, to sit down.
Walking to school this afternoon ... thinking praise be for sunshine. We're getting our roof done, and just learned our back porch is rotting away, like the front. Sometimes it feels like we're just perpetually falling apart around here; yet I feel oddly bouyant. The bottom photo is of the older children's folk music choir, after their performance earlier this week. It was moving to watch them gradually relax, lose some of the stage nerves, and sing from their hearts, even if they didn't know every word. Though the expression on Albus's face is kinda how he looked the entire time. When I asked him afterward what he'd been thinking, he couldn't say. Here's a taste of the performance (I couldn't get it to upload here).
What you can't see is the cheering section in the front window (Apple-Apple even wrote encouragement on a piece of paper: "Be careful moving the leaves."). Honestly, the whole family stood at the window, waving and grinning with such excitement, CJ shouting so loudly I could hear him through the double-paned glass--I felt heroic.
The littlest don't actually sleep in the same bed, but last night CJ sure wanted to climb in and give it a try. This was completely his initiative, and he snuggled in beside his big sis like he planned to stay all night.
Speaking of big sis, I've been reflecting on how hard it is to be three-and-a-half. Fooey is experiencing such conflicting desires: on the one hand, she clings to her mama, and expresses great neediness ("I need you!!!" even when I'm standing right beside her), but on the other hand, she wants to control everything that's happening, which comes out in large, constant doses of bossiness; autocratic demands. Three year olds make fabulously dramatic dictators. I'm recognizing this as a familiar developmental stage. How hard it must be--to want to express one's own mind and opinions, while simultaneously fearing the freedom and the responsibility independence points toward. It's likely we're all still experiencing this push-pull within ourselves, no matter our age. Hopefully to a lesser degree.
The way our neighbours and friends are bringing us food regularly, and what an amazing mental boost that has been (not to mention being good practical help, too). I meant to photograph us enjoying each meal, but my good intentions got lost in the whirr activity--the thought seems only to occur to me to AFTER supper. Dirty dishes = not a compelling, or (sadly) original, subject.
The way I always need to learn things the hard way--why is that? The easy way would be so much ... easier.
The way, immediately following a moment of self-congratulation, I do something that reminds me how ridiculously human I am. Fallible, weak, BITCHY. Pardon the swear, but no other word quite sums up my Being today. I am so growly, so irritable, so lacking in patience, I'm even getting on my own nerves. Heh. Thankfully, the weather turned sunny again today, and after hauling three children to the grocery store, I arrived home and observed to my husband that the day was gorgeous and that my children, lovely as they are, were driving me insane, and he kindly suggested that he could take them all out to the backyard to play. CJ loves being outdoors. He would live out there full-time if we'd let him. The others agreed to give the great outdoors a shot, too, and that's where they've spent the last few hours. I stayed inside and cooked; which is almost a novelty, thanks to our kind friends and neighbours; and seems to have improved my humour.
Kevin's leg continues to heal incrementally. He gets around on it amazingly well. On April 20th, he'll go back for more xrays, and will possibly get the splint off at that point, and begin rehab--if the bone's all healed. He is definitely much more tired at the end of the day than we are used to. But that's one of the things I've gotten to learn the hard way in the past month--I can get up early! Not only that, I actually like being the first person puttering around the house, and it's given me a few minutes of quiet and calm to start my day.
Life. Difficulty = richness = damn hard = good. (If this doesn't seem to add up, forgive me; math was never my strongest subject).
Independence. It's amazing how our instincts push us toward self-reliance. CJ has turned violently resistant to being spoon-fed. So, earlier this week, we gave him the keys to the cutlery. He proved remarkably adept at transporting food to mouth; and, oh, food is so squishy and mushy and throwable. It's a winning combination (for him).
The other photo shows him climbing the back stairs, somewhere near the top. He was moving too fast for my camera, and every photo was a blur. He's yet to master the reverse option, and prefers to stand at the top and shout till his personal escort makes a speedy appearance: ("When the heck did you get up here, you monkey??" "You were blogging, Mama. It was a breeze.")
Except he hasn't said "mama" yet, so that last sentence is an obvious forgery. "Dada" he chortles with enthusiasm and accuracy, but mama has yet to roll off his tongue.
He's almost weaned himself. We're close. This seems early (I nursed the last two far longer), but I'm taking my cues from him; and honestly, the only time he settles in for a solid nurse is at 3 o'clock in the morning, which I'm used to, but won't miss terribly. The transition seems worth mourning or marking somehow--having spent the last eight years and eight months either nursing or pregnant, this state of gestation/lactation feels fundamental to my identity; and has been an identity in which I've felt so comfortable, so at home. But it feels like a graduation--I've earned the degree, and I'm ready to move on to the next challenge.
Whatever that may be. I'll keep you posted. He hasn't quite unlatched yet.
These were taken by Albus and Apple-Apple in our backyard after school one day this week, when the weather was gorgeous and balmy. We'd noticed purple and yellow flowers sprouting from several neighbours' yards on our walk home; none were coming up in ours, but even the slimmest green stem pushing through dead leaves is cause for celebration at this time of year. We awoke to a skiff of snow on the ground this morning; these pictures remind me of what awaits.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, teacher, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.