Monday, July 27, 2015

Tile Floors and Birdcages

There's an understanding among parents with small children that sleeping away from home offers it's own set of challenges. Add in a single room with lots of unfamiliar noises and uncontrollable barriers and you may be met with looks of terror. Sleep time is often the break you need at the end of the day; a few precious moments to reset away from the crying of babies or incessant questions from toddlers. Hotel rooms offer none of these respites; hotel rooms trap you all together to cry it out in one large symphony.

I found myself laying on the floor of our hotel room last night, whispering in our son's ear as I stared up at the hems of our dresses and coats, feeling the cool of the tile against my bare shoulder. He often sleeps in the closet when we travel, the doors offering a small barrier against noise--both for him and me. My daughter was snuggled into the provided crib, which we had draped with a blanket on the sides facing the bed, an attempted barrier against visual distractions. One evening as she fell asleep she talked about her "little fort". Though she protested the birdcage-esque covering during her first nap time, that evening when she returned she requested the brown blanket as she bedded down, needing it to complete the ensemble.

Children have a way of bringing you down from whatever semblance of pride you would normally exist within. Lying on floors to awkwardly shush a baby to sleep is only the beginning. I have walked around for hours without realizing I have a waterfall of spit up decorating my front. I have paraded through grocery stores with one child crawling and the other proclaiming each and every detail of our lives to each shopper that passes us by. I have made plans and cancelled them at the last minute, made plans and shown up and then left prematurely, made plans and totally forgotten about them. I have flown on airplanes while covered in vomit, been urinated on more times than I can count, and held chewed up food in my hands for far too long while searching for a place to dispose of it. When you're caring for children, it's what you do. 

Two years down, so many (I hope) to go.

Even as these little people take me down a notch every time I get my act together. I can't help but love them. And even as vacation is more exhausting than normal life, it's nice to change things up once in a while: see new places, exist in milder weather, and spend time a bit less distracted by everyday details. This is why falling asleep on a tile floor doesn't bother me as much as it might have two years ago--it's just for a couple days, and then we will be back to normal life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unanticipated Delight

The sun hangs late in the sky these days, the lingering effects of solstice three weeks past. Our young Alaskan children know nothing of daylight (or darkness) as indicators of times to wake or sleep--they are arbitrary details for now, thankfully.

We ventured to the park this evening after dinner since the sun was still bright, a common activity when the rain has subsided and the hour is not too late. Our daughter circled the equipment confidently, familiar with all the routes and options. After watching her go up and down a slide several times, I told her I would take her brother down the slide too, and she shrieked with delight. She rushed up the stairs to the spiraling red slide, muttering "Both! Both!" to herself as she climbed. When I reached the top she was poised at the top of the slide, scooting as far to the left of the arch of the slide, letting me know there was room for both of them. 

"I'm going down with him," I tried to explain to her. She was so disappointed. She wasn't interested in going down the slide with her brother AND her mom--she just wanted to go with him. In her mind, I would set his 3.5 month old body next to her and they would spiral around to the bottom in perfect harmony. 

Thankfully, this is how she sees the relationship she has with her brother most of the time. This baby that monopolizes meal time and play time with his need for me to sit and feed him. This baby that cries for reasons she doesn't understand and is perfectly stationary wherever we lay him. She adores him. She lays on the floor to talk with him while he lays on his belly. She cheers when he rolls over; she shrieks with delight when he laughs. She rocks his car seat when he cries and runs to his room to keep him company until I can retrieve him when he wakes up from naps. 

As we approached the park this evening, our son began to cry. I knew it was because he was ready to be fed, but my daughter was sure it was because he had grown weary of how long it was taking us to get there. "It's okay," she spoke to him in soothing tones from her side of the double stroller, "we're ALMOST there." And she repeated this mantra for several seconds as she sought to console him in his misery.

These are the moments I didn't anticipate when the chaos of having two children unfolded. I knew there would be twice as many needs. I knew there would be much less free time. I knew the love for my son would match the affection I have for my daughter. I never stopped to think about how she would fall in love with him too. It is truly precious. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Testing Our Limits

There are days when I pack up snacks and both babes, and head to the beach. The sun is shining, warm on my neck as I soak up as much as I can while shielding the delicate new skin of my son from exposure. The sun hat falls in his face constantly, and I simultaneously adjust it to improve its effectiveness while wondering if it's worth the effort. 

Meanwhile, my daughter plays. She sheds her rubber boots and galavants in the creek that feeds into the ocean, stepping on the rocks and letting the water  run over her toes, crouching to examine the details and letting her skirt soak up cold water like a sponge--a reality she wont realize until she stands minutes later. She climbs the boulders and slides down their slanted fronts, proclaiming "Wheee!" for her own entertainment, looking up to confirm that I'm still nearby before getting lost in her own world once again.

In these moments I wonder why we ever go to the playground, why we ever choose anything but the ocean shore for entertainment.

Then, there are days when we pack everything up and head to the beach only to find that the wind is colder than it seemed at home, the temperature much more brisk. My daughter still sheds her boots, and this time her shorts as well--since they will surely get wet anyway. She digs in the sand with her shovel while I huddle under the towel for warmth, my son curled against me wrapped tightly in the blanket I brought for him. I tilt the brim of my hat against the chill and watch as she kicks a ball around, intermittently coming over for a snack or to ask for assistance in going to the bathroom. Then, for no reason I can see, she declares, "All done." She's cold--an unsurprising declaration given that she's been frolicking around in the sand in a t-shirt and underwear for nearly an hour. We pull on her boots and shorts and trek back. I'm disappointed our efforts to get out were so short-lived, but also impressed we lasted so long given the conditions. 

In these moments I wonder why I put forth the effort; it took as long to prepare and gather and get out the door as it did to sit and (not) enjoy the sun and sand and waves. 

Occasionally a friend or acquaintance will comment to me that they are impressed I am out: to dinner, to the beach, to the park in the rain, to track practice, to run with a double jogger. I feel the same way when I see photos of friends on facebook and Instagram: out camping with their toddler and baby, road trips with three kids and without a spouse for hours on end, climbing a mountain with a baby on their back. I guess we all have our limits, and we all have our needs. I need to get out--to the beach, or the park, or the track. Fresh air--with or without rain--keeps me sane...even as the effort of getting there may occasionally make me crazy.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long, But Very Good

Sometimes at night while rocking my son I match my nose and forehead to his and sway. My neck is unquestionably cramped and my arms eventually tire of his fourteen pound frame but the smell of his breath and the rhythm of his lungs is intoxicating. I fear I will never be as close to him as I am now. He still depends on me for his nourishment, his confort; his eyes light up when they make contact with my own. His distress in being alone or being held by a stranger calms when I scoop him up and whisper in his ear. I am his person.

I am well-rested enough these days that I occasionally miss my children once they are in bed. The relief of two sleeping tiny ones is still rich, but the memory of their smiles, the pitter patter of my daughter's feet as she runs back and forth across the house, the grins and chuckles of my son from the slightest bit of interaction--I am hooked. They are such precious gifts; I can hardly believe at times my life is so full.

"These are the best days," a grandmother from my church tells me over lunch. Her daughter is due with her second grandchild any day, and I can tell she can hardly contain herself in waiting to travel to meet the new child. When I went into labor with my son, I texted my mom that morning to let her know the delivery was only a matter of time. Fifteen hours later she had packed a bag, tidied up her affairs at work and hopped a flight over to our island, where she arrived in time for dinner and met her first grandson before bed. She knows the truth of this time; it is fleeting.

At times it is good to be reminded of the gift of these moments, when the day has gone well and the connection I feel with my children is intoxicating. Some days the feelings of bliss seem light-years away, and it's all I can do to hold my tongue as my patience is stretched far beyond the limits I have previously known.  Yet at the end of the day, the roller coaster I am riding is one I will choose to ride again tomorrow--highs, lows, and everything in between. These are good days, long but good. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts mid-flight, with a sleeping baby on my lap

Perhaps as a testament to the subject matter, this was actually written nearly a month ago on May 20 while flying over the ocean, on my way to yet another meet.

The clouds have been low this week, leaving the town in a bit of a fog that holds planes at bay and travelers stranded. At times I can't help but feel a part of the fog--the product of not quite enough sleep and hardly a moment alone, let alone in silence. Despite the chaos, we have settled into a bit of a routine around here, with our son's eating falling into a bit of a rhythm and his sleeping mostly dependable.

This is a busy season for many: school is ending, seniors are graduating, plans for summer travel are coming to fruition, and many are moving along to their summertime work. We live in a town that still operates on an agrarian calendar, where clusters of men and women and set out to gather fish in season, succeeding and failing as the price and migration work for or against them. 

These days I am busy as well: wrapping up my commitments that break for the summer and venturing to the track daily to coach the athletes who are up for the challenge--testing their limits and fighting the almighty stop watch, whose truth can't be excused as biased or unfair. The push to the finish of the season is the last of my school-time commitments to end. While I look forward to afternoons where nap time need not be cut short and dinner prep isn't mandated before lunch, I will miss much about it. I love the schedule and routine it adds to my days; I love the conversations I have with the athletes. I appreciate the ways they challenge my thinking and assumptions with their acceptance of behaviors and attitudes I would have written off a long time ago. They ensure I don't get lost in the fog that surrounds me as I juggle life with a two month old and two year old; they ensure I get a good laugh and their parents ensure I remember that my little ones will be teens before I know it. They remind me to sing to songs on the radio and teach me the new lingo and trends. 

I am tired of clouds and fog; I am tired of rain. Thanks to hours on my feet and four weekends of traveling and sleeping on air mattresses while coaching and caring for a newborn, I am just generally exhausted. Yet I am also in love--with my babies, with my job, with this season of my life, which thankfully won't last forever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Savoring the Present

Our latest addition, eight days old.

In the evenings I fall asleep to the whistling breaths of a newborn, tucked safely in my closet a few feet away. The door is mostly closed to shield me from waking to his every grunt but cracked enough that I can find solace in the rhythm of his chest. The whistle of his presence follows me throughout the day: echoing in my ear as I carry him from room to room and projecting from the back seat when my toddler finds a moment of silence, an ongoing chant that disappears in the chaos of many moments of life only to return when there is quiet.

Three weeks ago our son arrived, and he is beautiful. A pound and a half bigger than our daughter, he immediately seemed large; it had taken her a few weeks to reach his size. After introducing him to our two year old however, he was immediately dwarfed. Such gentle limbs and soft skin, such tiny features: I had forgotten what a newborn felt like. And as the visitors cycled through our hospital room and the women of the church passed him around the following Sunday, they all commented on how he smelled--that captivating fragrance that is enchanting, especially to those women that have given birth. He was bathed within me for months and exited my womb carrying a smell that faded every hour he existed outside.


Life with two children feels so different than one. As I expected, I didn't quite know what it would feel like until I arrived in the midst of it--shell-shocked by the level of chaos that descended on me in my sleep-deprived state.  A moment of quiet like the one I am in right now, where both babies sleep and I'm not immediately grasping for rest myself, is a rarity. There is so much I want to record from this time, and few moments to do so. 

Consequently I settle for glimpses:
...the memory of the constant grunting that newborns make, eliciting emotional glances (perhaps even longing?) from so many everywhere we go
...the stacks of books my daughter carries to me to read the moment I settle in to feed her brother. She has discovered I'm bound to my seat for the time being, and commandeered that feeding time to her benefit--a reading session that won't be interrupted except to burp and adjust her sibling. 
...the striking similarities in appearance between my daughter and son, while personalities thus far could not be more different. Many comment on his dark hair and complexion, a trait she shared for the first several weeks of life before shedding it for fair skin and hair that grew in blonde. Many remember my daughter's need for movement and the generous amount of crying she shared with us for months of her life. Meanwhile he enjoys being cuddled, will sit awake and not crying (a reality that still amazes me), and --for now-- sleeps very well at night. 
...his consistent napping during track practice, a reality that is undoubtedly leaving all the high schoolers with a very rosy glimpse of what having a newborn is like. 

She was different. He is different. I am different. The 23 days since his birth have been challenging at times, but such a contrast to the first 23 days of my daughter's life. It is impossible not to compare. There is something so empowering about knowing what is coming--the constant feeding, the pain of recovery, the sleep deprivation, the feel that it will all never end. 

It does end. It does get easier. It happens all so fast. 

This time I feel more free to savor, lingering in the rocking chair after he has fallen asleep, holding him selfishly while others around covet his tiny frame, leaving the dishes and laundry and cleaning for a moment that doesn't feel quite so fleeting. This time the crying doesn't bother me quite so much, the feeding schedule doesn't feel so rigid. 

A new rhythm is far from established in our chaotic little world, but every day brings us closer to this feeling a bit more normal. And so we press on. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anticipation {Nearly 40 weeks}

Taken on Saturday in the midst of a glorious, sunny day...

This past summer I took on a furniture refinishing project that I worked on many rainy days while my little one napped. It started with a wooden rocking chair which I had found used in town. I sanded it and primed and painted it, and was quite proud of my refinished handiwork--something I had never done before. After that I set to work on a bookshelf, a piece that was well-worn and sitting unused in Curtis's childhood bedroom, something our own daughter could use. Again I sanded and primed and painted the piece, thrilled with the bright white piece that emerged from the ashes from something so dark and scratched. 

Next on the agenda was an even bigger project: the bunk beds Curtis and his brothers had used as children, a well-made, sturdy set with lots of wear but lots of life. I began to sand the pieces as I had the furniture before, and then I found out I was pregnant.

After several weeks of exhaustion and nausea, I emerged from the fog recognizing the need to get back to the bunk beds soon--for my days of being in any position to sand and paint were numbered. Thankfully at this point Curtis took over the project, with the hope that with his unhampered physical state they would be finished before the new little one arrived. And with three days before my due date to spare, they are.

There have been many markers in the course of this pregnancy that have given me reason to be glad the baby hasn't come yet. At 24 weeks, a pregnancy is viable. Though it will take many weeks in a NCU and lots of medical care, a baby can survive at that point--but needless to say I was glad our child was still safely in utero. At 34 weeks, a baby has lungs that are developed. Though a child may need some medical care, some of the most vital development has taken place--but I certainly didn't wish for that early of a delivery. At 36 weeks, pregnancies are no longer "shipped off" the island we live on, and deliveries are considered far enough advanced to care for locally. This is an important milestone for the women where I live for obvious reasons, and one I was very happy to pass. At 37 weeks I was considered full term. At 38 weeks I reached the furthest I had progressed in a pregnancy. 

In the nearly two weeks since then I have continued to find reasons the time wasn't quite right to birth our second child. There were still other markers I managed to find to justify not having a baby quite yet: finishing organizing baby supplies, changing out and updating pictures hung around our house, waiting for a break in Curtis's work schedule when a colleague unexpectedly left town, and of course finishing the bunk beds--the project that has bookended the pregnancy. Every day that I've gotten a good night's sleep or had the chance to lay down to rest during our daughter's nap has felt like a bit of a bonus. I know how exhausting the first few weeks, or more realistically months, can be.

Yet, here I am at the predicted end, approaching the beloved due date, still with child and nary a project to finish. Two friends due within days of me this week have delivered their children, leaving me and my very large belly alone to gestate another day or two or ten. Everywhere I go I collect stares and constant comments. At this point I should wear a sign on my belly that reads "March 25", because that is what everyone wants to know--irrelevant information that it is.

So we wait, and I find myself recognizing how the time of birth and the time of death hold many similarities: life changing events that are hardly planned and mostly unpredictable. We speak in church of never knowing the hour of Christ's return--a call to be ready at any hour. I think for the first time in my life I have a better understanding of what that means. I watch for signs; I ready my affairs. I wait.