Month Six: The (Sometimes Wild) World Around Her

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Maybe not the most relaxing…

She sleeps in her big red stroller as we navigate the city crosswalks. I’ve learned to look ahead for curbs so I know where I’ll be able to get off and on the sidewalk before the walking man stops blinking and the cars swarm every inch of available asphalt.

Navigating San Francisco’s streets was much easier when I didn’t have two kids. Now the cursing bums, racing cars, and excrement-ridden streets present a gauntlet obstacle course. Her big sister stops to pick up leaves and I cringe at what might be on her hands. A bath is definitely in order.

We cross the path of a homeless woman drinking a forty. She has no hair and her makeup is thick, as though she performed on stage all week and didn’t bother to wash it off. She mumbles something about E being cute. E stops and looks her in the eyes, curious. I nudge her along but she sees something in the woman.

“You’re so pretty,” she says with complete wonder, as if she’s looking at an entirely different person than the rest of us see, if we even bother to glance her direction at all. I’m certain she’s the only one to look this woman in the eyes all day.

The woman stares back, speechless.

“She thinks you’re pretty,” I say as I pull E down the street to keep pace with her dad, who is pushing the stroller. After years of living in Berkeley, we know better than to let our children visit unfamiliar homeless people.

“You’re really pretty!” E yells from a few yards down the street, her eyes still glued to the woman despite being dragged the other direction.

I’m touched but also a little heartbroken. There’s no good way to explain to a three-year-old why she can’t stop and talk to this woman. Homelessness and mental illness are among the concepts that must wait, at least for now.

Last week my sister’s boyfriend had to put his dog down and E overheard us talking about it. Since then we’ve fielded a barrage of questions about life and death and who can possibly make the dog’s heart work again. She wants to believe doctors can fix all hearts. And, hearts, of course, are the magical secret to what keeps us alive. Adding homelessness to the list of big life ideas just feels like too much right now.

The rest of the weekend in the city passes without much drama. We get smarter and avoid long walks through the CBD. I’m acutely aware of how suburban we’ve become and how sheltered our children are already, but I prefer it this way, while they’re this little.

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Silly me for thinking we’d use two beds!

We order room service and enjoy the calm of our hotel room, fourteen stories up. The girls do their own thing while we eat and it’s as peaceful a dinner as I can remember in the last three years. The next day we go to the Academy of Sciences and M sleeps most of the time as her sister runs and explores, chasing real birds on the lawn outside and hiding from pretend earthquakes in the simulator.

For dinner, we decide to be brave and try a restaurant two blocks from our hotel. It’s the kind of place we would’ve picked before we had children. Stellar reviews, seven tables, authentic Italian cuisine. It also promises minimal street time and the possibility of sitting through a real, grown-up meal. Our first, alone, as a family of four.

We start off strong with M asleep in the carrier and E still in good spirits, a miracle really after such a busy day. I ignore the older woman at the table by the door, who loudly announces this isn’t a place she’d bring children. We’re not talking five star gourmet. This is a quaint, hole in the wall on a busy street. We’re not the only family present.

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Moments before the pizza incident.

M awakens after the first course and is all smiles. A relief, we just might make it through a whole meal! Then the waiter delivers the pizza and she sticks her little fingers straight into the hot dough and starts wailing. There’s no coming back. We get doggie bags and finish our meal in our room, a funny memory for later, despite my present disappointment. To console ourselves, we order two huge, but sadly mediocre, pieces of cake from room service.

Our first adventure to the city ends and we lie awake in bed at home, talking. E is sad to leave the castles, insistent we should’ve stayed forever. Out of nowhere, she finishes the evening with a sort of revelation.

“You know that woman I said was pretty, Mommy?”

“Yes…”

“She could’ve saved N’s dog.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was special, Mommy.”

An angel, perhaps? Or maybe just the excellent imagination of a three-year-old.

We’ll probably never know, but it’s a story I plan to keep for always. M six months old, a happy observer of this miraculous, crazy world, and E, almost 3.5 years, already throwing herself into the complex mystery of it all. I fall asleep between my two little loves, grateful to be in my own bed.

Month Five: Good Morning, Early Bird!

19840527_10105756390933253_769463836_oEach morning as the sun rises, I feel her little body start to squirm beside me. Soft, chubby hands pat against my back, followed by stubborn, kicking feet. I stay still for a few minutes, hoping she’ll settle to sleep again. If she doesn’t, I reach over and place the palm of my hand against her belly to try to will her back to dreamland with my touch.

Sometimes it works.

More often than not, she starts to coo and giggle, ready to meet the morning with joyful predictability. She smiles wide when we first lock eyes, knowing she has won and the day has officially begun. I quickly pull her to me and skitter out of the room to protect those still sleeping. Our bedroom has become a family space and I’m enjoying the closeness while it lasts.

19814102_10105756402634803_534439573_oThe six o’clock hour belongs to just the two of us. I practice yoga on the floor while she puts every ounce of will into learning how to crawl. Occasionally she’ll get her legs just right and inchworm a couple inches forward. Mostly she just wiggles and yells, upset it isn’t coming more easily, determined to learn to move like her big sister. No sooner do I roll her onto her back for a break than she flips right back over to try again.

And again.

And again.

19830021_10105756404870323_189563233_oFinally she grows tired and I put her in a carrier to help her fall back to sleep for a cat nap. I write while she slumbers and then somehow, she and her sister both wake up at precisely the same moment, even in separate rooms. They see each other and her whole body moves in excitement. Our morning together is done and my early bird is ready to play with my lazy daisy.

Five months and already so animated, so wiggly, so smiley, and so determined. Everyone wants to hold her at parties, enchanted by her happy demeanor and thick, dark curls. A happy baby and those curls, everyone remarks, again and again. Five months and I’m starting to get glimpses of the person my early bird will become, and I couldn’t adore her more.

Month Four: Patience, Mama.

18986617_10105635723227303_598931090_oI worried, maybe because that’s what moms do. I forgot how my love for her sister intensified with time, a cumulative effect. Instead I looked back on three years and saw all the moments condensed together into one sensation in my heart.

So, the second time around, I expected to feel it all at once. The depth, the overwhelm, the obsession. When I was greeted instead with a familiar warmth, I thought maybe I was missing out on something earth shaking.

I asked everyone with more than one kid whether the bonding was different the second time, whether it was easier to bond with their first. I felt guilty asking. I worried people would think I was suffering from postpartum depression and hadn’t bonded at all, even though, of course, there should be no shame in those struggles. But I didn’t want there to be any confusion. I loved her already, it just didn’t feel the same as I thought it should.

I came up with all kinds of hypotheses. Maybe it was the medicated birth. Perhaps it was my fault for jumping back into work so quickly or not asking for more help so I could lie in bed and stare at her. Or maybe it was just the distractions of trying to take care of so much more with two children.

What I didn’t consider was time. I’d forgotten how I’d spent every afternoon nursing her sister in bed in an effort to bond more. Or how after months of colic, I’d pulled her sister to my chest and wept because some unknown layer of myself had been cracked open and suddenly her screaming was a call to hold her even closer instead of drive me away.

All I’d initially remembered of our bonding the first time was the intensity of those first hours of motherhood, as I’d transformed through the rawness of it all. I expected to sit in our hospital suite and feel it all again in that same life changing way. However, I’d already become a mother this time. My entire being wasn’t altered as it had been with her sister. I mistook this for a difference in bonding, when really it was just a difference in myself. That particular magic only happens once.

Four months in and I finally feel as connected to M as I’d hoped I would in those first moments. I can’t get enough of her wiggles and giggles. She is already quite the talker and wants so badly to run around and play with her sister. I’ve gotten better at sitting still and being with her. The adrenaline has worn off and I’ve relaxed, for the most part, into being a mom of two. Sometimes I’m caught off guard by the enormity of getting to love another baby. Moments of happy disbelief as I realize I get to do it all again. An incredible opportunity. Another daughter to love with all my heart.

 

Three Months & Three Years

Instead of keeping a regular baby book for the girls, I’ve started compiling my written memories for them, including these posts. I’m catching up today on both three months and three years.

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I’ve been trying for months to time a picture of all three of us. Someday I’ll get one where everyone is looking AND smiling!

***

Three Months

18339091_10105530321233743_1803277936_oOh, little Miriam. The more I get to know you, the more I discover your joy. You laugh and smile with such ease. You love watching your sister play with toys. You’re happiest facing out to the world. You move your body to show us how eager you are to jump off our laps and run around.

The mom guilt has been more real this time. With your sister, I only had to focus on her. Now I have you both and feel bad I don’t spend more time just sitting and holding you. But you don’t seem to mind. You love your swing and activity mat. You’re happy cuddled up against me while we sleep.

At first I tried to fight you into your own space at night, but I’ve decided to embrace the closeness because we often don’t get that same time when the sun is out. Still, I try my best to give you little moments throughout the day. Maybe that’s why you wake up at 5AM, so we get to be alone together. Thank goodness you seem so content. Getting to know you is a gift.

Three months, already.

***
Three Years (a couple months late)

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One of the best afternoons of my life was also one of the simplest. A few weeks before M arrived, E and I went to the park with Grandma. It was an unusually warm January day and while Grandma basked in the sun, E and I went looking for worms in the swollen creek.

We’d just finished one of the biggest rain storms in recent memory and everything was alive and flowing. Instead of worrying about what needed to happen next, I allowed time to stretch endlessly before us. We turned over every rock we could find, we poked our sticks into the creek bed, and we laughed. She held my hand and I did my best to squat with my pregnant belly beside her, again and again.

After months of working five days a week, this was exactly the afternoon I needed. Weekends while working were filled with to-do’s and I’d missed those days where we just spent time together, exploring and seeing the world through new eyes. As we drove home from the park, I cried bittersweet tears because I knew it was the last time we’d have those moments alone, before her sister arrived. Sure, we’d still have our solo dates, but life would never be exactly the same as it was in that moment, just the two of us.

Three years old has been a flurry of moments, some incredibly intense, others undeniably sweet. From being told “You’re the greatest, greatest mommy!” to what seems like mere minutes later receiving angry commands to go my room, I can attest the term “threenager” isn’t entirely in jest. Still, my love for her only grows as she’s better able to articulate her thoughts and I get to know her even better each day.

Happy belated third birthday, E.

Month Two: Holding On Tight

17820522_10105423824943163_1408296827_oI find myself clinging to moments. Her tiny body curled up against mine, her little smile greeting me in the glow of our nightlight. Our stolen time together, our time alone. Glimpses of the laughter to come when her kitty toy grazes her face. The way her eyes light up and her head turns to listen to her sister talk across the room. She’s a relaxed, happy baby.

Parents often lament the passage of time. My feelings are nothing new, but there’s an extra sting to the days flying by when you know you’re holding your last baby. Sure life could surprise us, but I’m fairly certain this is it. Beautiful and fleeting. Only a newborn for a few more weeks.

I worried a little about our bonding in the beginning. Not because there wasn’t love, but because it didn’t feel as earth-shattering as I expected. Now the worry is gone. We just needed time to melt together, to know each other better, to find our rhythm. I dreamed I lost her the other night, and the pain was unbearably sharp but also reassuring in its rawness.

Two months have passed and I’m not sure where they went. They just disappeared. So now I’m holding on even tighter.