Friday, November 28, 2008

It is possible to nurse a 2-year-old and heft a log into the wood burning stove...

...without singeing the hair off either the child’s head or one’s knuckles. You don’t notice how absurd it is (nursing while multi-tasking) until your husband says Jesus, either put the kid down or let me get the pizza out of the oven. It’s easy just to keep on doing whatever works, in the eye of the storm of raising three children, but it’s time. To wean. Soon. Seeing nursing mothers with newborns is always good for bringing me abruptly into the present: my son is now a third of my body height and strong enough to maneuver the breast 360 degrees to stay attached to the nipple while in orbit.

I’m a little at a loss for how to cut him off—since I weaned the other two children when I got pregnant with their siblings. I used to call them 1,3,5,7 nights: my growling, hungry stomach woke me up precisely every two hours to eat. My doctor informed me 67% of mothers wean during pregnancy, even moms with a strong desire to breastfeed—simply because of the nutrient strain it puts on the mother’s body. I was kind of hoping this third child would be the one to just stop. On his own. But. He’s not. Interested in stopping.

The week we weaned our first child was hell—talk to my husband who had been training heavily for an important triathlon. Why now? I remember him saying, as he paced in the living room with our screaming daughter, Vineman race morning approaching. Because I can’t take it any more, I had said, hands on my belly, where the new baby rolled in his amniotic berth. We borrowed the family rocking chair, which would rock smoothly until we were sure our daughter was as on the verge of dreamland. Without fail, from somewhere deep within the crotchety wood—high pitched screaks began. Our girl would wake and whimper; my husband would launch into another round of All the pretty little horses while contorting his back to find the least noisiest place to perch and rock. In the morning I’d take out the Phillips screwdriver and tighten each screw.

Night after night that chair found a way to howl at the critical dropping-off-to-sleep moment. We decided it had to be the family great-great-grandmothers, with little to do in the afterlife except harass us out of our new-age attempts at weaning. Running through my head, in an oddly comforting way, was Plath’s line from Morning Song: One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral. I have so loved nursing each of my children, in turn, and that “cow-heavy” feeling of milk coming in. But I also think of the possibility of a night of uninterrupted sleep. There’s a new ridiculous line noodling its way into my head: All I want for Christmas is my two front breasts...(not that I have rear breasts). That I know of.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I am no Buddha, nor can I get me to a nunnery...

...though at times it is tempting to consider such an escape into the grace of a strict schedule spare of the demands of raising children and navigating marriage: cleaning, food preparation, ritual observance of prayer, the one goal of communing ever more deeply with God (who doesn’t backtalk, at least not 3D). Instead, I can overlay the home sphere with the awareness that reality has given my own temple: this 3-story cabin, the children in it, my husband, the feral cats, our acre of redwoods. There’s no holy removal from the elements—I mean both the four usual elements we speak of (earth, air, etc.) as well as the stormy emotionals. My friend Stephanie (mother of one, confidante-extraordinaire in our shared trackings of all things spiritual) calls it: the domestic monastery. I aspire to create such an overlay.

In the narrowed world of such a monastery, where one’s life revolves around carpool, subscriptions to literary magazines (procured through reading fees to enter written work in contests) provide lift. This week it was Calyx: Journal of Art and Literature by Women and in it I find this passage from a short but powerful prose mother/daughter vignette: After dinner I go outside to let the cicadas vibrate my skin. Sometimes I hum along with them, and if I hit the right note, it’s both good and scary. But I only do this when it’s still light out.—Claudia B. Manley, Of Love and Radishes, Vol. 24, #1, Summer 07 (which I was able to enjoy despite the rejection notice for my work that arrived tucked under the cover. Nothing to take personally—700 poems had been submitted to the poor judge).

So much beautiful work to read, so much to be inspired by, including our new icon of hope, President-elect Obama—consider the open letters to him from thinkers, artists, and writers circulating on the internet, such as the November 6th letter by Alice Walker, who advises Obama: remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. Imagine being the President and trying to balance your public life and your personal life...Makes me grateful for the tiny balance I’m trying to achieve between the quiet interior life of writing, and the slightly more public, boisterous life I am required, and love, to inhabit with my three little monks and fellow High Priest/husband.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I feel mediocre trying to do it all this season of pumpkins...

(which marks the gradual descent into holiday festivities that I’m struggling to keep simple enough to enjoy). Along with all the other good mothers of America, I stay up late putting costumes in bags and making lunches and baking...and the next day getting the kids dressed for school in the early morning dark since our first night of winter rain knocks out our power. My daughter shrieks, “It’s Halloween and the lights are out...” her joy infectious...and once finally behind the wheel, coursing past the dusky ambers and vibrant reds of the grapevines on Sullivan road, I begin to relax. Two children to deliver to school, one two-year-old to drop off at Grandpa’s, one stop at Long’s for paper napkins, and one final destination with a set of cloth wings, gold skirts and yellow leaves: my friend Karen’s house, where we will don our autumn harvest fairy outfits and head over to the kindergarten to surprise our sons. Karen (mother of four) calms me...when I walk into her house, she’s got a hot mug of tea, a sweet lilting woman singer crooning in the background, and something pumpkin baking for the activity past this one. Over her pot of eye glitter, we list our littany of must-dos and laugh. I’m ok again, in the company of another mother.

Which is why I loved this week’s article in The Bohemian featuring former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Terry Ehret, mother of three daughters: “Rather than fighting the situation,” (of trying to find uninterrupted writing time), “Ehret says she ‘embraced the aesthetic of interruption,’ as a way of mirroring her reality and honoring the fragmentation common to women’s lives” (Bart Schneider’s 10/22/08 Lit Life column). I embraced her philosophy all of Halloween, putting my thoughts about which poems to send Margie’s Strong Medicine Awards on hold until after the kindergarten celebration—when Grandpa and Grandma would take the three children home for the afternoon. If I was to meet my deadline, the power would have to be on at home again so I could print the poems; then there was the checkbook to retrieve from the van at Grandpa’s house. An hour later, wings sticking to my seat covers, I rushed to the post office where I watched the postmaster in Forestville put that magical red postmark on my envelopes. Mailing out submissions would have to count for writing day colliding with Halloween.

Not perfect, but good enough. Like earlier in the week when the kids were fighting and I sent my son to the yard to salvage the pie tin from its fate as second base. Shortly we had pumpkin shards simmering in the steamer, a container full of slime-stranded seeds to toast, and three happy kids with a handful of pie dough. Somewhere in the simultaneous popping of the pine rounds in the wood-burning stove and the vigorous undenting of the pie tin, I failed to notice we’d boiled off all our pumpkin steaming water. Another sacrificial pan, I sighed, at the sight of the electric range burner snake glowing through the bottom. Half the pulp went to the compost, and half to our pie. But even the husband had a second piece of our mediocre pie.