Today our nanny was “late.” She was at our house about ten minutes later than normal, which still left me with plenty of time to get to work. You know what I did in those extra minutes? I held my daughter and read my son a book. Then my son read the book to me. It was simple. It was extraordinary.
Sometimes being a few minutes behind your self-imposed schedule can be the best part of your day. My kids are teaching me that.
Here’s a bit of honesty for you: I don’t like being pregnant. There’s this weird pressure to be in good spirits (which is impossible to be at all times no matter the state of your uterus), deny the anxiety of impending childbirth (which really hurts) and be ok with people who are not medical professionals asking you if you’re dilated (which is super off-putting).
I am extremely grateful that I have not had fertility issues and that I have the ability to bring babies into the world. However, actually being pregnant is not my idea of a good time. The third trimester practice contractions, getting stuck on the couch, constant need to waddle to the bathroom aspects of being this close to meeting my girl are not fun.
Granted, it is fun to watch her foot move across the top of my belly and daydream about holding her and singing her lullabies. To me, pregnancy is a necessary means to a much desired end. It is also one of the few times when the journey is most definitely not the destination. The past 37 weeks have certainly happened. Now I just want to meet my Louise. Because that is the point of all of this anyway.
By my rough count, I’ve read 63 books this year, not including the countless number of kids books I read aloud. It’s a respectable number–nowhere near my peak, but not too shabby when I take into account everything else that happened in 2015, which notably includes raising a toddler and growing a baby.
Part of the reason that I make it a point to read often is so that my son, and soon my daughter, can see me enjoying books. I want to raise readers. Readers can be entertained anywhere, they can explore new ideas and test theories, and I have found that they are generally interesting people who are capable of having great conversations. The best advice I have ever been given is to develop the ability to speak genuinely and intelligently with anybody about a topic that interests them. Sometimes that means knowing a lot about a subject and sometimes it just means knowing how to ask thoughtful questions. I took that advice seriously and realized that being broad in my reading choices is the best way to develop those skills. This year’s books included history, science, literary fiction, young adult novels, architecture, material culture, food, mystery, essays and memoirs. I loved some of them, worked my way through others and stopped reading a few that I just did not enjoy.
I believe that reading makes me a more interesting person. The mental space to encounter new ideas and explore old ideas in unique ways makes me a more thoughtful person. The ability to do something for myself definitely makes me a better mother.
There are a few things that I know for sure about what 2016 will bring. Our family will gain a new member and many sleepless nights. The toddler will grow faster than I realize and learn new things constantly. My children and I will read together. And I will read alone to keep a sense of myself. Because in my continually changing reality, books will remain a constant.
When people find out I’m pregnant, the first thing they ask is if I know if I am having a boy or a girl. And if I want to know. And if I have a preference. And if. And if.
The answer is that we found out today because life and pregnancy are full of unknowns, and I like having at least one known. My preference is healthy, which this kiddo is. Currently, the little one is the size of a Coke can, which is my new favorite analogy for 19 weeks. It amazes me that technology let me see four chambers of a heart, a femur, a nose, a brain and other unidentifiable to me blurs. For some precious moments I saw my child, the one I am starting to feel more frequently, and heard a heart while watching it beat.
It was magic, and it was nice to see you today, Louise.
We’re a Catholic family, and we go to mass on Sundays. I love our church. It’s a good size, focused on social justice, has friendly people and loving priests, and good music. It also doesn’t really have a cry room.
That’s right. I go to mass with a toddler in a church without a glass box for him to be a baby in. You know what that means? He acts like a baby in the church.
We go to an early mass, and my child has made friends with the kids, dads, mothers, grandmothers and grandpas who sit behind us. He smiles at them and distracts them and makes them happy. He also wiggles, fills in the silences with babbles and gets cranky towards the end. He is a reminder that our church is alive and growing.
Holy Spirit has cards in each pew for kids to draw on (as opposed to doodling on the offertory envelopes). On the back of these cards are messages of welcome to parents that encourage us to let our kids learn about the mass and our faith by participating with us. There are also some nicely worded messages to everyone else to remember that children are squirmy gifts who need to learn about our church and feel welcome here.
So when my kid decides to keep singing while everyone else is reflecting, he gets to stay in the church. On the occasions that he has fallen apart and started sobbing, one of us takes him out to the meeting room that has a comfortable couch and a TV to watch the mass. Although honestly I usually don’t make it that far. Often in that situation we’ll stand in the narthex and participate from behind the glass doors.
I am so used to feeling welcomed that it takes me aback the few times that I have been glared at when my little one makes a peep. We stay anyway. My kid isn’t in the cry room because he is a welcome member of our Church. It’s his home, and no one makes you leave your home for being yourself.
My kid loves to play with his food. Spaghetti, oatmeal, partially mashed peas–if he can smush it on his tray, he’s happy. I was home with him yesterday and decided that maybe it was time for him to try out his smearing skills with some paint.
A very quick internet search led me to many recipes for homemade finger paint. To be clear, I didn’t make it myself for any noble environmental reason or out of safety concerns. I did it because I was bored. Turns out two parts water to one part flour cooked over a low heat will turn into very respectable finger paint after about ten minutes of occasional stirring. Once it thickened, I added some salt and divided it up into reusable baby food containers. Then I followed the recipes on the back of my food coloring to make them different.
My toddler was intrigued. He was also hungry.
I got to paint while attempting to convince him to try. He decided that the orange paint tasted best. All in all, a respectable use of time by all.
These are the ones I am more apt to employ. Never have they been more justified then yesterday. We moved azaleas from my grandmother’s house to our front yard. They will get the sun they need, and the front of our house will get some much needed change. Moving bushes means digging holes. Holes mean piles of dirt.
It is a special day in a child’s life when he discovers the pleasure of dirt. It squishes. It can be piled and dumped. It can go back in and then come out again. We could have trapped him in his playpen, but then he would have missed these important discoveries. We both watched him crawl around the grass and make new friends with the neighbors and their dogs. We looked on as he pulled down pots of dirt and cruised toward piles. And neither of us moved fast enough when he put a handful of it in his mouth.
We told him no, and he went back to playing. Then he did it again because he’s still a baby. Eventually, we took our slightly muddy boy with dirt caked under his nails and streaks on his face inside for dinner.
He wants to let go and take steps away from what is safe, but he gets scared. He wants to venture off and play next to the slightly bigger kids, but he gets timid. He watches and learns and waits until he’s figured out the outcomes. And then, maybe, he will make a move. Or maybe he will sit back down and decide that the play steps are a little too tall or he feels a bit unsteady on his feet.
So yesterday, I was happy when he came out from behind my legs at the Booksellers at Laurelwood. When he reached far for the table and walked over to a little girl. When he cruised from me to the big girl who was sitting on my right. He put his hand on her knee and looked startled that it wasn’t me. Then he smiled. Because he was brave.
Every morning, I watch my almost toddling toddler begin his hard labor. This work will be constant throughout the day, but he starts every morning in a frenzy to make up for the hours spent on his stomach sleeping. First is reasserting his friendship with his seventy pound mutt. After a lot of mutual kisses and pats, they can go back to ignoring each other until mid-morning, when their affection needs to be reestablished. Then there is a lot of stacking to do and toys to move. Blocks and small ocean themed bath toys need to be put in boxes and taken back out. Rings need to be stacked, scattered and reassembled. There is a pause for reading. Then on to the music making and hitting of stationary objects with the xylophone stick. All the while he narrates his work with la(s) and na(s) and bbb(s). Shoes need their laces put dutifully inside them. Dog toys need to be stashed under bookcases.
To set the scene: there is peace in the kingdom. The dog is upstairs; the kid is playing with a toy. I’m sitting in a chair alternately reading and having a conversation in repeated monosyllables while exercising my peripheral vision. Then it gets too quiet for a moment and the crying starts. Baby down. After a quick hug and happy murmurs from mama, he wants back on the ground so he can explore again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I’m the one who is here to say, “I bet that hurt. Want to try again?”