Thursday, April 29, 2010

Epsilon :: Like a Roving Band of Turtles...

“Like a roving band of turtles… and with about the same amount of speed, we have made it to Oklahoma and have actually even settled in a little bit!

Our original plan to make it to Amarillo on Thursday didn’t work out so well – instead we made it to Albuquerque at about midnight. Friday we made it to Oklahoma City, but only after running into a wildly tattooed and pierced man at the Love’s gas station who asked the Subway workers if they had feta cheese or basil for his sandwich, then exited the building with a girl who got into the back seat of his Lexus with a dead deer or bighorn sheep (we couldn’t quite make out the details) and drove away. Stranger things have happened, but we were impressed with that one!

On into town, which, contrary to many weather reports, was not under water. There is hardly any standing water around, there are a few mosquitoes, but yes, it’s very humid! I’ve been staying indoors quite a bit getting unpacked, but to go outside is a little bit like being in a sauna.

Lexi loves it! She’s been asking us to put on her shoes and take her on walks about every 2.3 seconds. There’s a lake with a fountain visible from our apartment and every time she sees the lake she squats down and screams, “OH!!!!” It’s pretty cute.

The campus is really green and pretty and there aren’t that many students around for the summer. So, it’s been a quiet move-in. After the frantic energy leading up to the move I’ve been relishing the quiet. The most excitement in our apartment came one morning when I did the, nudge, nudge – “honey, I heard something moving!” – thing to Dane. Turns out we had a very small SHREW scurrying through our bedroom! It is no longer in this world.”

My first update email to friends and family back home centered on the trivia of our move. It did little to highlight the challenges of a 20-hour car ride with just Lexi for comfort.

It said nothing about the state trooper who pulled me over in New Mexico at midnight to ask if I had been drinking. After I looked pointedly at my pregnant belly – which was so large I had been forced to move the seat back from the steering wheel in order to navigate – I said that I had not been drinking. He told me that I had touched the outside line of the road and thus was under suspicion for driving under the influence.

He let me go with a verbal warning.

My update email did not mention the new housing, a first-story apartment in the men’s residence hall at the college. I did not spend time dwelling on the water-stained ceiling tiles, toilet that wobbled when you perched upon it, or fact that I literally froze the air conditioning unit in the apartment into a block of ice twice in the first week we lived there.

Instead I focused on the bizarre (the man with a dead animal in the back of his Lexus) and the cute (my daughter’s enchantment with the scenery).

I didn’t realize it then, but it was the first steps I took to actively prepare for life as a member of the Mommy Sorority. I began to ignore the distasteful aspects of the reality of my situation and instead cover them up with glowing reports of a cheerful nature. Not completely insincere, but certainly not completely authentic.

There were only a few weeks left before I delivered our second daughter. With the changes of a new baby, moving into a new home, and watching my husband adjust to a new job, I really lost sight of the need for self-examination.

When I called Tirzah I talked about how Lexi was learning new words, that I had discovered my new favorite grocery store, and asked her to catch me up on all the happenings in her life.

When I spoke with Lauren, I mentioned that my ambitions were being played out through Dane for the time being, that he was now employed in a college administration position that I knew intimately – it was the same position I had occupied for several years before we were married.

When I spoke to my husband, I told him how proud I was of him, offered subtle professional guidance, tried not to complain too much of my aches, bumps, and disappointment that my ankles had turned into a swollen mush worthy of the description, “Cankles.”

When I spoke to Lexi I tried my best to use patience, positive vocabulary, and an upbeat tone of voice.

And when I spoke to myself… when I did pause to speak to myself, I looked around in bewilderment, wondering how on Earth I had arrived as a nondescript, non-working, non-friendship holding woman I saw in the mirror. I did not recognize myself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Delta :: Here Comes #2

After Lexi was born I quit my job for awhile and reveled in being a mommy. I enjoyed almost every aspect of parenting and drank in every detail of my daughter’s emerging personality.

I stayed in touch with my co-workers; each of us had our babies six weeks apart from one another.

Tirzah, my more conservative friend who never planned to go back to work and wanted to homeschool her son exclusively, was perfect for listening to my more psychotic moments.

“Tirzah – I had a dream that I was driving and the car actually slid off the road and rolled. I was dead in the front seat but Lexi was hanging upside-down, trapped in the carseat straps, crying and not understanding why I wouldn’t help her!” I confessed one day.

She soothed me, we discussed how common it was for hormones to dwell on our fears and then we moved into safer, less emotionally-charged conversations.

Another day Tirzah confessed: “I just destroyed the pictures I took of Elijah in his crib because I realized that there was a blanket in there with him. I don’t want Child Protective Services to take him away from me because I had a strangulation hazard in with him and was stupid enough to document it with photos!”

I soothed her and took the crib blanket out of Lexi’s crib immediately.

Lauren was my more logical friend, a high-achiever who believed in the “cry it out” method of parenting her son. She was my friend with whom I could dream about career ambitions and how it might work to fulfill a career and a role as mother at the same time.

“I don’t want to go back to work but I feel sometimes like I’ve lost track of who I am,” I would tell Lauren. “I wonder sometimes if there’s more to my life than being a living burp rag.”

Lauren would agree and tell me that I wasn’t crazy to wonder where my identity had headed.

“I want to cherish every moment of Ryan’s life,” Lauren said. “But sometimes I just can’t stand how much he cries. It makes me feel like I’m going insane. I would do almost anything to be able to organize my desk right now!”

I understood. I felt guilty saying it out loud, but I absolutely understood what Lauren was saying.

Only ten months into trying to flesh out my identity as a mother of one, well before I could actually utter the words, “This is my daughter, Lexi,” I discovered that I was pregnant again.

I was thrilled. I loved Lexi so much I couldn’t imagine not loving our newest little addition.

With absolute naivety, I charged whole-heartedly into being a hands-on, attachment-style parenting mother.

At the same time, my husband’s job situation went from uncomfortable to precarious to torturous. It was no longer feasible to continue working in his current capacity.

So, eight months pregnant with a one-year-old toddler, we moved our nuclear family 1,000 miles away from our support groups and Dane started a new job working for a small Christian college in a tiny town in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gamma :: Circus Acts

The unfortunate reality of my situation was that no matter how fierce I was in the desire to protect my child, I had no idea what I was protecting.

I was the youngest child born to my parents, the youngest child of my family generation. Every time we had family get-togethers, reunions, or holiday gatherings, I was the snot-nosed baby trying to tag along or the littlest one being coddled by the bigger ones who wanted to play mommy.

My parents moved to a retirement community before I was born to be near my grandmother. As self-employed business people even after my grandmother had passed away, it was unwise for them to uproot their established business to try their luck in a different community with a younger demographic.

I grew up without ever once babysitting. I never fed a child a bottle. I never experienced playing with a little sibling. I never worked in the church nursery.

In fact, until my daughter Lexi was born I had never, ever changed a dirty diaper. And I had no desire to do so!

Instead I frolicked through life in the post-60s feminist world, setting my eyes on whatever leadership position seemed most prestigious and trying to achieve it. And, for the most part, succeeding.

Job interviews and public speaking events held no fear for me. Time management presentations and the seven habits of highly effective leaders were a part of my regularly used vocabulary.

Gaa-gaa and goo-goo were not.

Even so, discovering that we were pregnant with our first child was one of the most exciting, albeit terrifying, experiences of my entire life. I felt like I was on a whirlwind roller coaster of fun and couldn’t wait to experience it all!

I signed up for the baby information bulletins and happily told Dane about each stage of development.

“Honey! She’s the size of a summer squash right now and there’s fine hair covering her whole body!”

“Dane! There’s almost 25% more blood in my body right now than before I got pregnant. She’s swallowing amniotic fluid and hiccupping to practice her lungs! I need to eat raisins for iron.”

“Babe – did you know that 1% of pregnant women spontaneously abort their child after getting a weird virus from deli meats? I can’t eat at Subway anymore. And maybe not any hotdogs, either.”

Every aspect of pregnancy was explored as I tried to learn about this new job I would be taking on. I’m still grateful that I had two other first-time moms working in my office with me. Though I was the oldest of them all, they were farther along in their pregnancies.

During breaks we would gather around the water cooler and compare notes and ask questions.

“I know that these pains are from the round ligaments stretching but do you think that I can put a heating pad on my abdomen or will that bake the baby?”

“Oh! Don’t reheat your lunch on that Styrofoam plate! Who knows what kind of chemicals will be released into the food – it might hurt the baby!”

Deep into my ninth month of pregnancy we found out that our little girl, whom we named Lexi, was breech. Based upon her size, which was estimated to be just about nine pounds, and my small body frame, our doctor felt that it was highly unlikely that she would turn head-down the birth canal on her own. We scheduled a caesarian section for the next week and welcomed our little girl into the world.

Immediately I was consumed with reading everything about babies. What could make them grow best, what had to be avoided at all costs? What developmental milestones I should expect or be worried if she didn’t meet on time?

When I read that every newborn would mostly likely smile by the time they were three-months old and I realized that Lexi hadn’t smiled yet I took it as a personal attack on my parenting. I turned into a one-woman circus act, smiling all the time and talking to her in a happy, giggly voice.

“Why are you talking that way?” Dane finally asked me.

“I want her to smile,” I said. My lip started quivering and my eyes filled with tears. “I just am so worried that she won’t smile!”

“She’s a baby!” Dane said. “She’s going to smile. Relax!”

Sure enough, literally one day before Lexi turned three-months-old, a friend of ours leaned over her and tickled her cheek with a strand of curly hair. Lexi smiled, an enormous, giant smile with a coo in accompaniment.
It hadn’t taken a three-ring circus after all.
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