Body

Soft Resolutions

At the end of December, I thought about giving up some of the things I love. My jeans were tight again and I was feeling burnt out on overindulgence. This happens every year. The holidays arrive and there are cookies everywhere. My days are loose, and so I drink extra coffee. By evening, my mind is still spinning from caffeine and so I drink a glass of wine to settle down. And then I eat more cookies. While I eat, I ask myself if I even really want them, or if I’m just eating them because it seems like I should want them. The idea of January 1 with its clean slate and healthy mandate starts to sound like a relief from all of this rigorous consumption.

I thought maybe I’d give up bread, and cheese.

I thought maybe I’d give up wine, and coffee.

I thought maybe I’d exercise six days a week.

And then I changed my mind. On December 30, I fed my sourdough starter and made dinner rolls. I ate them warm with butter and a bowl of potato leek soup and I thought: this is not a practice that needs to end. Making bread is an all-day process that grounds me. Unlike the cookies, it brings me genuine comfort. I wondered what would happen if I made my resolutions softer and more playful, advisory rather than punitive. I wanted them to feel like a friendly bird on my shoulder, not a drill sergeant.

I decided I wouldn’t give up anything, but instead I’d focus on guidelines, that I would see how my body felt if coffee and alcohol became things I only drank two days of the week. I decided that if there was a window in my day where I could make it to the gym, then I would. And I decided to start cooking a pot of brown rice every few days so that I would eat more whole grains, less bread.

So far, it’s felt a little magic, living with these soft resolutions. I made it to the gym four times this week. Each time I go, I step on the treadmill and tell myself I don’t have to stay very long. But the first ten minutes pass quickly, and when I check my stats I see that I’ve already run nearly a mile. I give my permission to press the stop button whenever I want, and something about that permission makes me want to keep going. I bump up the speed and the resistance. I run until my eyelids sweat. I come home and eat my brown rice and my salad. I ask myself if that’s really what I want for dinner, and for now the answer is yes, although I often follow up with ice cream for dessert.

It is January 17 as I write this, and I do not feel deprived or punished. I also know that this won’t last forever, that eventually the treadmill will lose its novelty, as will brown rice and salad. But that’s the thing about my soft resolutions. I won’t let them turn into failures. I will only keep them as long as they serve me.

 

 

 

Deliveries

Nearly three years ago, when I went into active labor with my second son, I was so very tired. I hadn’t slept in 32 hours. At the birthing center, I sat in a warm bath and stared at the freshly made bed that awaited me. The quilt looked so clean and so soft. In between contractions, I just imagined lying down between the sheets and sleeping. I tried to imagine a way that someone could just pull my baby out of me without surgery or pain and hand him to me in that bed. But I knew that birthing was my work. I had to do it.

“I think I need to get out of the water,” I said. And it was true. The moment my skin hit the cooler air, some of my energy returned. For my next contraction, I positioned myself in a small corner between the dresser and the bed. I held onto the lip of the dresser, leaned into my pain, and groaned. The midwife had been waiting on a couch in the foyer this whole time as her assistant attended to me. She must have recognized something in my groan because she came and sat down on the edge of the bed. She continued with her knitting and made no comment, but I would later look back and recognize this as the work of a professional. Her presence signaled to her assistant that this baby was coming out soon.

As I continued to squat and push, some part of me hovered just above my body, listened to me howling like a woman who’d been raised in the forest by wolves, and asked myself: Is that really necessary? Do you really need to make that noise? And it’s true that I might have toned it down if I tried, but those cries felt like part of the process, like sound would deliver me to the other side of the pain.

After two of these animal groans, out came a head. “Feel it,” the midwife instructed, and I tentatively felt underneath me for the round, wet shape of my baby’s face and skull. I wasn’t moved or excited so much as I was anxious to get the rest of it out. It’s a weird thing to have just a head sticking out of your body. I wanted him squirming, animated, free.

“With your next contraction,” the midwife told me, “the shoulders will come through you, and then the rest of the body will slip out.” I wasn’t sure that I believed her, but that next animal groan was as big as the ones that had preceded it, and the pain and the push were big enough to bring my son into the world. Kellie caught him and held him and immediately the assistant guided my body to the bed. I slid awkwardly between the clean sheets, still bleeding and connected to my baby by a cord. My feet hung off the side. But we worked it out eventually; we got all of me in that bed and rested my new baby on my chest. I was reclining and situated and done with my work. StumpVader

I’ve been remembering this scene every night lately for reasons that might sound a little odd. Stump, my son who was born that day, has been having trouble pooping. The trouble stems from the fact that he doesn’t want to. He’s in that transitional phase between underwear and diapers, a phase where he will happily pee on the potty, but all of a sudden poo scares him. When he feels a bowel movement coming on he shudders in fear. He cries out “Mommy change me!” though there is nothing to change. He refuses the potty. He would prefer to fight the urge, to hold it eternally.

I try to figure out what’s going on for him. When he wore diapers he pooped without a second thought. In diapers, I guess, he could happily move through his life and elimination happened on its own. It didn’t matter if he felt the need to poo while he was halfway down a slide. He could just let it out. But potty learning demands he learn not only to control these functions, but to experience at least a little bit of shame around them. I mean, the motivation not to poo in your underwear comes from an understanding that poo is gross.

And then there’s this, which I found on the internet this week, one item on a list of reasons why children may have angst around pooping on the potty:

Your child thinks the stool is part of him and doesn’t understand why he should flush it away.

I’m not sure that this is literally true for Stump, but I do think that there’s a parallel between the ambivalence I felt around labor and the ambivalence Stump feels around pooping: something inside of him has to come out, and it requires work. Wouldn’t it be easier just to not? Would it be better to just let the things inside us stay inside?

For the time being, Stump and I have found this new routine: we go into the bathroom and close the door. We take off Stump’s underwear and put on a pull-up. He starts to cry when he feels the urge coming on. “Do you want to hold onto something?” I offer. Sometimes he holds onto the edge of the bathtub and looks me in the eye. Stump’s typical expression is somewhere between determined and mischievous, but in these moments I watch as a look of fear passes through him. His face flushes. He farts and splurts. He looks relieved for a moment, until the next round. Other times he steps behind me and leans into my back. He reaches up over my shoulders. He rests his head against me.

I realize, dear reader, that I am writing at length about my son pooping in his pull-up and yet: these moments have been a bright spot in my week. Stump, I believe, is the last child that I will see through this transition of babyhood to childhood. I have strangely mixed feelings about him leaving his diapers behind. I mean, I’m thrilled to leave the diapers behind. I’m thrilled to not have to deal with the poop-stink of the diaper pail. But I’m equally thrilled to be the person in the bathroom, sitting cross-legged on the floor, helping him through his fear, witnessing as he figures out this very important thing: how to take note of what the body needs, to give in and let go in spite of pain. To release.

Screw Fate

Memoir Mondays, Installment #3:

All of those stories about infertility, the ones with happy endings, they all seemed to go the same way. The pregnancy didn’t happen on the sixth try or the seventh, it happened at some critical juncture, when all hope was on the verge of being lost.

Maybe it happened after three failed rounds of in-vitro fertilization, or after the husband learned that his sperm were immotile, or on the mother-to-be’s forty-second birthday after half a dozen miscarriages.

As we prepared for our tenth insemination, I tried to have faith in the happy-ending stories, to believe that my own good news was imminent. I imagined calling all my friends and telling them: It was meant to be. Our last vial of sperm. Fate was testing us, but in the end it was kind.

Kellie met me at the fertility clinic for a procedure that had now become routine. Each visit had included the same painful exam where Dr. Norman entered me with gloved fingers and announced that my uterus was retroverted, and each time I wondered why he couldn’t have just written that in his notes and skipped this part of the ritual.  This time, if Dr. Norman had noted that we were using our last vial of sperm, that there was nothing left of our original stockpile, he didn’t mention it. He headed for the door with no special goodbye, no good luck wishes.

“Wait!” I called as he entered the threshold. “One last question.” I asked if he had any advice if I wasn’t pregnant by the end of this cycle. We had been trying for a while now, I reminded him. Should I be taking some tests? Were there treatments I should consider?

He opened his manila folder and glanced over my chart. “This is your tenth attempt,” he told me, as if perhaps I hadn’t been keeping my own count. “We normally recommend in vitro after six failed tries. So that would be my recommendation: in vitro fertilization.” He nodded and left the room.

“What’s in vitro?” Kellie asked me. It took me a minute to answer her. I felt like he had hit me over the head with a tire iron, and as I lay there in a hospital gown, I tried to gather my composure.

“That’s the thing where you pay them a million dollars, and you inject hormones in my ass every day. Then they harvest a bunch of my eggs and make embryos in a petri dish.”

“Oh,” Kellie said, unfazed. “We’re not there yet.”

I agreed with Kellie’s assessment more than I agreed with Dr. Norman’s.  I had asked him the question in a moment of recognition that he was a doctor, a specialist, and perhaps he had untapped wisdom. But no, all he had were protocols, and those protocols were irrelevant to my situation. For a straight woman to arrive at six failed intrauterine inseminations would have meant that she had already tried to conceive naturally for over a year. It also likely meant that she had undergone a series of tests. But Kellie and I had done none of that. We’d simply walked through their door. I’d had acupuncture and three months of progesterone, but so far no one had even drawn my blood. As desperate as I felt, I wasn’t ready to be told that I was IVF material.

When I rose to leave the building I was alarmed by the rush of fluid to my underwear. This had happened every time, and yet it never ceased to dismay me. Though one vial of sperm was less than a tablespoon, and though I remained supine on the exam table for half an hour to better guide the fluid towards my uterus, it always spilled out of me in a rush the moment I stood up. It struck me as an expensive way to juice up your underwear.

On the car ride home, I held onto Kellie’s hand. I dispelled Dr. Norman from my mind, and tried not to consider the indefinite future. For two weeks I waited and played that hopeful story on a loop. I told myself maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe soon I’ll be calling my friends with good news.

But I didn’t make those phone calls. My period arrived on time.

There was no special way to mark it, this period that arrived thirteen months after our first attempt at conception. We’d been through summer, then through autumn, winter, spring, and now we were coming to the other side of summer again. I took the dogs on a long walk under a flat gray sky and thought about what I would have by now if things had gone the way I expected: a baby strapped against me, nearly four months old. I wondered about these eggs that I’d expelled, each one carrying its own unique code of who it might have become if given a chance. Some of them were girls and some were boys. They assembled in my brain, a party of babies, all of them wearing onesies, some in bonnets, some in tiny leather shoes, some of them laughing, some of them crying, some of them gazing contentedly at nothing in particular as newborns often do. These were the kinds of thoughts I entertained every day, but never spoke out loud.

Note: This is the third installment of my #memoirmondays series, where I post a scene from my memoir-in-progress. I don’t promise to move chronologically or reveal the whole story, but you can read earlier installments here and here.

How Best to Love a Body

bannanaI stepped into winter in jeans that fit perfectly. They did not require a belt, but they had just the right amount of give. These jeans were, in fact, the best fitting pair of pants I’ve ever owned.

Now, on the other side of winter, these jeans are uncomfortably tight. In fact, all of my pants that once had give are now uncomfortably tight. And so it’s time to address the situation and choose a strategy. But I get stuck, tangled in the fine line that separates self-care and self-deprivation. Sometimes it seems less like a line and more like a web.

The way I see it now, I have three options:

Option 1: Buy new pants. I ask myself if this would be the most self-loving choice. After all, I’m pushing forty. I can’t hang onto my current pant size forever. Twice already in my life I’ve had to pack away clothes I know will never again fit me. I expect this will happen again and again and again if I am lucky enough to live to be old. So the answer might have been, yes, self-love = new pants, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been neglecting nutrition. Over the winter I’ve fallen deeper and deeper into the rut of pasta and bread. When I gaze into my refrigerator, I pack a lunch of what I have, and often this simply looks like two tamales, a hard-boiled egg, and some crackers. Nothing green, or orange, or red. With this in mind, I’m not ready to give up on my pants just yet.

Option 2: Give up things. Two years ago I gave up gluten and dairy and then spent a long summer living in the mountains. In the photos I look lean and tan, and I remember how my ailments stopped ailing me. I consider cutting wheat and dairy out of my diet today, and I think also about what it would mean to eat no sugar. As in none. Not just no pastries, no candy, but also no Thai food, no ketchup, no honey in tea. I don’t think of myself as someone with a sweet tooth, and yet I get the feeling that this would be a revolution for my body. My appetite would be ruled by hunger, not cravings.

And so I’ve been weighing this option, and watching myself eat. I’ve been noticing how I do things like eat extra helpings at dinner to make up for the fact that I’m not sitting down. Or I notice how after lunch I still feel frantically hungry, but that if I keep eating I slip into a  food coma. These observations have led me to my third option.

Option 3: Eat mindfully. In preparation for maybe giving up sugar, I’ve been eating less sugar. In preparation for maybe giving up dairy and gluten, I’ve been eating less dairy and gluten.

The other day, on the back of a cereal box, I finally paid attention to that healthy plate graphic which I think has replaced the old graphic of the food pyramid. I rarely pay mind to the government’s suggestions for my health–I like to think that I’m too savvy for that, or at least too much of a hippy–and so this was the first time I really looked at it. Half of the plate was staked out for fruits and vegetables, a quarter of it for grains, quarter for proteins.

Half of the plate was for fruits and vegetables. Michelle Obama is totally right. What the hell have I been doing?

myplate-1023x1015

I read somewhere recently that you crave what you eat, meaning that your body adjusts to your eating habits and adapts its demands accordingly. And so I’ve been making every meal with that Michelle Obama plate in mind, trying to work towards 50%, trying to train my cravings. Though I’ve never been fond of bananas, I’ve been trying to talk myself into them. They seem like a kind thing to put into my body at ten a.m.—better than Cliff bar or a donut.

Oh, a banana, I tell myself as if it’s the kind of thing I’ve always liked. And then I think about how maybe it will help me feel full without feeling heavy, how it will move through my system leaving behind only energy and potassium. Oh, a banana, I tell myself with every bite, and I’m starting to believe myself that I like it.

I am not ready to build a coffin for my libido .

So, this post from the website Scary Mommy has recently gone viral:

The Five Types of Sex Parents with Young Kids Have

When it passed through my news feed in Facebook, I clicked.

I clicked because I’m a sucker for funny listicles, and because I hoped to be mildly entertained. I clicked because I hoped that I might see something of myself reflected there. I clicked because, let’s face it, as the mother of two young kids I can only come up with three types of sex, and so I was hoping to find some inspiration.

But this post did not inspire me. What it did was bum me out by repeatedly suggesting that, to mothers of young children, sex is rarely more than an unpleasant chore.

For instance, in item #2 on the list, Half Sex, the author describes a scenario wherein one half of the couple discovers, mid-intercourse, that he is the only one enjoying himself.

This is usually the man, who later, in a paroxysm of bitterness and resentment, stays up until the wee hours Google stalking his hot high school ex-girlfriend who used to “really like making [him] happy.”

Ouch. Am I the only one who isn’t laughing yet?

Item # 5 on the list, Birthday Sex, is introduced this way:

Obviously, I am referring to the guy’s birthday here, because often, the mother of small children would like her birthday present to be a signed (in blood) and notarized contract stating that no sex will be asked for during the entire month preceding her birthday.

Not only am I still not laughing, but I am flummoxed, tired, and disappointed. In the end, this list turns out to not so much be about how parents are having sex, but about all of the ways that mothers are avoiding sex, or not enjoying sex, or getting burned by husbands.

[Side note: At the end of this post, there’s a link to another post by a different author called 5 Ways to Please Your Man! (Or, Not). This one presents a list of hypothetical scenarios where a wife goes to great lengths to initiate a sexual encounter with her husband, and they all end in the wife’s humiliation. In one scenario her husband responds to her advances by pointing out that she has spinach in her teeth. In another, her son makes fun of her ass.]

Maybe, as lesbian, I shouldn’t even be responding to these posts. Maybe they really do speak to universal truths that have nothing to do with me. Who am I to argue with 190K likes on Facebook?

But something is nagging at me. It’s this narrative of the wife who struggles (and fails) to keep up with her husband’s sex drive after having children. She’s no longer desirable to herself or her partner. Every attempt at intimacy ends with her as the butt of a joke.

Why is this the only story I see represented? For every woman out there who eschews sex after motherhood, I’m sure there’s a woman who wants more sex than she’s getting, and also a woman who’s more or less happily aligned with her partner. We mothers, we’re not all sexless fools, furiously trying to distract our partners from their adolescent fantasies.

bellyIt’s true for me that motherhood  has changed my relationship to sex. I live in a different body than I did seven years ago, before I had ever been pregnant. It’s a body that has been stretched beyond its former limits, a body shaped by the daily demands my kids place on it. My arms are toned from years of lifting toddlers. My belly sags. On any given day my breasts grow and shrink, lift and drop from the practical work of lactation. And it’s true that most nights, more than anything, I just want to reclaim my own body, to spread out across the bed alone and sleep.

But motherhood has also freed me of some of the cultural myths I’ve learned about sex. I no longer have to close my eyes and pretend to be perfect. Sex is no longer the Very Serious Thing it once was. It’s okay if I haven’t showered since yesterday morning, or if I’m fatter than I was two weeks ago, if there’s spinach in my teeth, or if I can hear Barney songs playing in the background.

None of that matters, because my body is still capable of pleasure. And isn’t that the point? Sex isn’t just for the young and the firm. Sex is also for the aging, the broken, the sagging, for those of us tethered to earth by this thing we call a body. We might as well use it for as long as it lasts.

Reasons to Love PMS

http://www.scrapbooksnstickers.com/Store/Products/Item/-100-118/2/1580.html

Early this morning, as my partner prepared to leave for work, some part of me thought it would be a good idea to engage her in an argument. Stump had woken up at 4:30, and so I’d been lying in bed for over an hour, trying to nurse him back to sleep, while simultaneously nursing my resentment over a comment my partner had made several days earlier. At 5:30, when Stump sat up and decided he was awake for good, I got up, found Kellie in the shower, opened my mouth, and released all of my venom. My period is due in two days.

I’m not normally like this, and therein lies the problem. Brooding comes naturally to me, but complaining doesn’t. All day long and into the night, every day and every night, I feel things and I think about them. I think about whether or not I should say them out loud. Usually, I choose not to.

Kellie is the opposite. She complains as she goes. She doesn’t brood. My emotions are a mystery to her—and by “mystery”, I don’t mean a puzzle that she longs to solve; I mean simply that she doesn’t know about them. I mean, she does in theory know that I have feelings, but if she’s not thinking about her own feelings, if she’s not constantly gauging every word she hears or says, assessing her own reactions, why would she be worried about mine?

Because of this, Kellie does not understand my PMS. She thinks it’s an annoyance that she has to put up with as part of the contract of being married to me. She does not see the benefit to me losing my cool—quite predictably—once a month.

Here’s an analogy. Some years ago, I took my dog Winston to a trainer because he was exhibiting aggressive behaviors, growling at kids as they ran by him, nipping at me if I tried to look at his hurt paw. The trainer introduced me to the concept of bite threshold.

http://www.chicagonow.com/steve-dales-pet-world/2013/04/timmy-barks-the-real-lassie-story/

All dogs, she said, are capable of biting another dog or human, but some dogs require far more to provoke them than others. The way she explained it, even Lassie could bite Timmy, but it would require the perfect combination of circumstances, say a thunderstorm at night and Timmy is wearing a mask and approaching Lassie while holding a large stick. But say you get a dog with an ultra-low threshold. It might just take a toddler waddling towards his food dish and he’s all up in her face.

bite+threshold+2

Illustration of how triggers,  individually, may not provoke an aggressive response

http://reactivechampion.blogspot.com/2011/09/good-dogs-bite-too-why-you-need-to.html

Illustration of how triggers, when combined, may push a dog to snap

So let’s say most days my bite threshold is relatively high. I’m no Lassie. I’m prone to growling in the evenings when I’m tired and the kids are tired and everyone’s resisting each other. But I also let a lot of stuff roll off my back.

On PMS days, my threshold suddenly drops. I’m like the sick dog in the above graphic. I might never like “getting my head touched” but on the average day, you’re never going to know that. But scratch me between the ears on a low threshold day and—SNAP! Now you know.

And here’s where the analogy breaks down. I realize that you don’t ever want your dog to snap, but in the case of your partner, you want her to say what’s on her mind sometimes, even if it comes out at 5:30 am when you are in the middle of enjoying your morning shower and expected the house to be quiet for the next forty-five minutes or so. You need her to explain to you, in no uncertain terms, the various reasons why she hates it when you scratch her head, and you do this All The Time. Come on. You want that. Don’t you?

What a teenage barista at Starbucks can teach us about lactivism

I was thrilled to come across this story the other day. (It’s almost as good as this one about the American student getting stuck inside a vagina sculpture in Germany.) To sum it up, a mother was nursing her 5-month-old baby at a Starbucks in Ottowa, when a fifty-year-old woman walked up to the counter to complain, referring to the action as “disgusting.” The barista, reportedly a teenage male, reassured the complainer that he’d handle it. He then proceeded to offer the nursing mom a free drink along with one of those sweet Starbucks vouchers for another free drink upon her next visit. To top it off, he apologized for the complainer’s poor behavior.

Win, win, win!

There is a lot to learn here, but I’ve got a couple of takeaways:

1. Supporting breastfeeding moms is good PR. I’m serious. You know that international breastfeeding symbol, the one that businesses can put in their window to let women know that it’s a breastfeeding-safe zone ?

When I was a first-time mom toting a newborn around, navigating a brand new world and unsure of  what reactions I’d get to my discreet but public nursing, these stickers reassured me that someone had my back. Of course these stickers might not have prevented anyone from harassing me as I ate breakfast with my right hand and cradled my baby’s head with my left, but they at least reassured me that the employees wouldn’t kick me out or demand that I cover up.* Stump is old enough now that I rarely nurse in public, but for the rest of my life I imagine I’ll see these stickers as a kind of endorsement, a sign that this business respects women and shares some of my fundamental values.

In the end, Starbucks got some decent press around this incident. The original Facebook post that featured this story has already collected 27,508 likes and 1,759 shares. Lactivists are loyal customers. Trust me, you want them with you, not against you.

2. Don’t hate the asshole; love the underdog. Who is this awesome teen barista, and how did he get so wise? If I had stood behind the complainer in line, I would have turned red in the face and called her out. In our North American culture, I see breasts featured everywhere all the time to sell things like beer and shoes and video games, but somehow when they’re used to feed an infant they’re suddenly “disgusting”?

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

But our barista, in a flash, knew that there was nothing to be gained from engaging with this woman directly. He focused his energy on giving a mom and her baby the compassion they needed. And that, I’m learning, is what nursing advocacy should be all about.

*As a first-time mom, I did buy a hooter hider and used it occasionally for the first month or two, but in the end, there are some reasons why covering up doesn’t work for me and many of the other moms I know.

a. My nipple is bare for less than a second. I’ve never caught anyone looking at it. Apparently, the vast majority of people have the discretion to look away.

b. It’s a nipple. So what?

c. I actually kind of need to see what’s going on down there.

d. It seems kind of weird to hide your baby under a piece of fabric.

IMG_1113

Our Bodies are Connected

I arrived at the conference groggy and spent, the glands in my throat two swollen tender lumps. Both Smoke and Stump had been sick the week before with pink eye and a nasty cough, and now my own body hosted their germs. Stump had kept me up for half the night before, squirming and crying, and then I’d risen at five to catch my flight to Utah.

I traveled with five other colleagues, people I knew only from committee meetings and all-campus emails, and as we approached the hotel it began to snow. This was only last Tuesday. This was June. At first it was a joke—a few flakes mixed with pouring rain—but minutes later it was falling in earnest. It accumulated on the grass at the edge of the highway.

In my disoriented state, I was relieved to make it to my room alone. Here before me were the things I had dreamed of for months. Two beds with clean sheets, all to myself. A television. A heated outdoor pool down the hall. But it wasn’t the moment it should have been. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.

Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.

We were here for a conference and I’d given myself permission to miss the opening address. I was nursing a cold, after all. But already I felt torn between duty and self-care—the very feeling I was hoping to escape from.

I talked myself into taking a long shower, and once that task was through, I remembered that I needed to pump. I sat on the bed farthest from the window, and held the small plastic contraption to my left breast. The last time I had fed my son was this morning on the opposite side. He was in a strangely quiet mood, and he nursed with his eyes wide open, silent and content.

When my milk let down, a sigh went through me. I wasn’t crying, not really, but my eyes felt the pressure of tears and my body felt the pressure of longing and it was such a strange thing to be emptying my left breast into a plastic contraption so that I could continue to be away from my child for another three days.

medela

 For some reason, I began to think about women who lactated for babies they’d lost.

A week after my fist son was born, an acquaintance came to visit and she told me that she had a stillborn child many years before. “No one warned me that my milk would come in,” she said. Only two feet away, Smoke lay sleeping on my bed. “It was such a strange and terrible thing to have lost a baby and then to be making all this milk.”

My morbid thoughts were absurd. My baby was and is alive. He walks and talks and eats and demands every ounce of milk and energy I have. But I was sharing with a machine an event that I normally share with my child, and for that moment I felt somber and haunted.

And then the moment passed. I put on my pajamas and turned on the TV. I piled up the pillows made a spot for myself on the impeccably clean bed.

Over the next three days, a part of my brain held a constant awareness of the 900 miles between my body and my sons’ bodies. Since I wasn’t there to keep them safe, I prayed that they would be intact on my return. I tried to tuck this awareness deep into my brain, so I could Do Work Things, and when I wasn’t doing work things I flitted like a hummingbird from blossom to blossom, sampling all of the sweet uninterrupted pastimes I long for when I’m home caring for my boys.

When I returned, the baby walked to me, alone, arms open, saying “Mah. Mah. Mah. Mah.”

I have a belt.

I moved forward in the TSA line with caution, confused because the rules had changed since the last time I traveled. At the back of the line, a friendly officer had given us the lowdown: You can keep your shoes on unless you think they will set off the metal detector. If you have a belt, you might want to remove it.

This is my belt.

This is my belt.

I paused just before I reached the conveyor belt. I had a laptop to unpack from my carry-on, but there were none of the usual plastic bins. The officer manning the x-ray stood there waiting for me. “Just leave your laptop in there,” he said. He was gruff.

He hung onto a mid-sized plastic bowl for jewelry. I looked at it. “I have a belt,” I told him. “Good for you,” he answered. My throat made a tiny noise of hesitation. “Let me see it,” he said, throwing me a bone. Flustered, I raised my shirt.

Just above my belt sits my pouch of a belly, totally white and totally stretched out, like a deflated balloon. I could see it. He could see it. I had raised my shirt too high. I took off my belt and placed it in the bowl, avoiding eye contact.

On the other side of the metal detector, I looked at no one as I gathered my suitcase and my carry-on. The belt came through last. As I strung it through the loops, I tracked all the other bodies in my vicinity, careful this time not to lift my shirt too high.

Once I put myself back together–my bag strapped across my shoulder, my suitcase rolling behind me–I had a small revelation: that wasn’t my fault. I noted that my automatic reaction was to assume that somehow “I have a belt,” was an incredibly stupid thing to say, that my choice of words had plunged me into an unavoidable sequence of shaming events, and I was being punished by someone far smarter than me.

But he was just a snarky TSA guy trying to make his job more interesting.  He would have found a way to tease me no matter what I said. And if my flash of belly embarrassed him, then good.

Note to self: not everything is personal.

Hello, Bike

I bought this bike about six months before my partner and I decided to have a second child.

BikeBorder

It’s the only bike I’ve ever bought new and I quickly fell in love. It’s is a comfort hybrid, which sounds a little un-sexy, I know, like mom jeans. “Comfort hybrid” means that my bike is not designed for speed, which means that the moment I start to feel like a hotshot, pedaling for broke on a busy street downtown, someone on a road bike comes flying past me; it also means that that my bike won’t hold up to a rugged mountain trail. But it’s brown and sturdy and shiny, and it doesn’t tweak my back out. Comfortable, you know, like mom jeans.

I paid about $500 for this bike, and it was supposed to pay for itself in about two years since I rode it to work four days a week. Then I got pregnant. By the time my morning sickness had passed, I had grown a significant baby bump and riding felt like a risk. I reassured myself that I’d get back on the bike within a month after the baby was born.

That didn’t happen.

In fact, I didn’t ride my new bike for nearly two years.

Part of the problem was that, while I was pregnant, the tires lost most of their air and the frame gathered dust, and while I knew it would only take me about twenty minutes to clean, the chore was daunting. I could handle a little cleaning and I could handle a little exercise, but I couldn’t handle cleaning in preparation for exercise.

Probably every dry day after Stump was born I thought “Maybe I’ll take my bike out today.” And then I didn’t.

Instead, I just observed how time passed, and how often I had the thought about riding my bike, and how I still hadn’t done anything about it.

But then, about a month ago, I bought Smoke his first bike and he fell in love.

This is Smoke on his first day of bike ownership.

This is Smoke on his first day of bike ownership.

He rode back and forth on the flat road behind our house and cried out “This is amaaaaaaaaazzzziiiiiiiiiing!” And so finally, one sunny day while Stump napped, I pulled out my bike. I pumped the tires and wiped off the dust and the pollen.  It really did take twenty minutes. And I pulled out the bike trailer and cleaned that too so that Stump could ride along behind me. When Stump woke up, we caravanned to the park, cruising up and down gentle slopes, newly free and mobile.

SmokeBike2

Last week, I bumped it up a notch by running errands on my bike and in doing so, I’ve been reminded of a few of the reasons why I love to ride.

1. The wind in my helmet. I live at the top of a big hill, so riding often begins with the rush of gravity and balance. At the bottom of the hill, I greet Puget Sound and ride alongside it for a stretch. When I’m on my bike, I feel like I’m part of the weather.

2. It’s work. When I ride home, I choose a gentler route, but it’s still a climb. I get to tune in to the rhythms of my breath, to tinker with the balance of gear and thigh muscle. I get to feel powerful, moving from point a to point b, my own body the only source of fuel.

3. The car stays at home. One of my parental pet peeves is the endless hauling in and out of car seats, the endless buckling, the parking, the closing of doors. Of course, our bikes come with their own set of accoutrements and rituals. Smoke now insists on wearing bicycling gloves, which often means he has to find them first. Still, the preparation for a ride feel less oppressive. I’d rather say “Put on your helmet” than “Get in your car seat.”

Oh, and just in case you need a pick-me-up…