Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sweet & Sour

The last several nights, Ila has been bent on torturing me. She wakes 3 or 4 times to nurse, actually whine-cries (she's never really been a night crier) when she wakes and the boob is not instantly in her mouth, and sometimes rustles around for a while after eating before falling back to sleep. Needless to say, these are grounds for being put outside on the front porch...but she's also been doing something so indescribably sweet that I'm totally disarmed. Sometimes when she wakes and I lie her down next to me, she doesn't actually want to eat. Instead she wiggles her little body so close to mine it's touching and then nestles her head into my chest. Then, her whole body relaxes and she goes back to sleep. This is unspeakably endearing and lovely.

It reminds me of something I read in a Penelope Leach baby book about when babies are first smiling. In the manner of a total wet-rag of disappointment, Leach says don't be fooled by those first real smiles! Babies do not smile because they love you. No! It is just an evolutionary mechanism our species has adapted in order to continue to get fed and loved despite screaming for three hours a day, puking on every article of clothing you own, and keeping you up all night. Well, Penelope, it works. The same basic thing is going on with Ila's little night snuggles. It's finally gotten cold here, and she wants to board the mama train for warm, well-fed dream land. It's not about love; it's about surviving the "harsh" winter conditions. Although this is all true, having her sweet little body next to me really does make me feel a little equanimity about the whole not sleeping thing...so, I guess I'm a total sucker. Such is motherhood, I suppose.

In fact, this all makes me thing about the general work of parenthood. It seems that I'm really being heated by the furnace of my own love here - I mean, it's creepy and weird when parents are trying to get something from their babies, be it a sense of love, peace, a reason to live. You can get these from parenting in a functional non-damaging way, if you are really getting these feelings from your own ability to love; your own generated warmth and nurturing and care for another little being; from the power of learning to truly love someone unconditionally.

Let's just admit to ourselves that really parenting is about giving, fairly one-sidedly, for the first 25 years or so. This isn't based on what I anticipate with Ila, rather it's based on my memories of me growing up. (Actually, being a teacher also brings this lesson home, too.) The amusing thing, that Penelope Leach would smile patronizingly at I'm sure, is that I totally think it really won't be like that with Ila. I guess I sort of acknowledge parenting is sometimes a thankless task...but you're so high from loving your baby other times that it all evens out.

This is all essential because, in addition to being a very demanding little being, Ila is sometimes just strange and uncanny. Last night when I went to bed, I moved Ila into her own little bed and settled myself down to sleep. I couldn't really relax and felt like I was being watched. I opened my eyes to see Ila staring unblinkingly at me. The light was dim, but I could see her little mole eyes boring into me. I smiled and even whispered to her, but she just kept staring at me. It was a little Omen-esque or how I imagine Rosemary's Baby must have been staring back at Mia Farrow's dopey-eyed look at the end of that movie...so I had to reach out and touch her to make sure she wasn't actually turning into a little Stephen King baby before my eyes. She did some slow blinks upon being touched and looked a little less like demon spawn. But, these moments it really hits home that I have no idea what is going on her mind, or even what the landscape of her thoughts could possibly look like, being pre-verbal and all. What is it like in a baby's brain? How can I possibly even imagine it?

The world is certainly new and enormous to her in a way that I can't fathom anymore. For instance, we've given her a little banana and apple in the last week. What this means is that she has gnawed, slobbered and sucked ineffectually on the fruit while I held it in my hand. We haven't really started solids in earnest, but I was curious to see what she thought of these things. She did some spastic twitch upon tasting the banana, like she was encountering something wild and not entirely acceptable. But she grabbed at the banana for more...then proceeded to grimace and gag, probably only swallowing a few mouthfuls of lightly banana-flavored slobber. Still, she finally gagged and spit up copious amounts of fruity saliva. Charming.

I guess when you're used to a liquid diet that is delivered in a warm and snuggleable package, real food is bizarre and hard to understand. In that vein, I love when she's nursing and her little eyes roll back in her head. It's like she's mainlining a liquid form of happiness and love. Pretty cool. My aunt mentioned to me recently that the parts of the brain that register pleasure from love and food are very close to each other. Watching Ila nurse, it is not hard to believe this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who put the plates where the towels go?

So, moving is no fun. That's my banal yet horribly true observation for the day. We're in the middle of moving and, as I used to say when I was seven, it's the pits. I also used to say, when I was about three times that age, that moving was one of the worst things you had to do over and over again in life - third to breaking up and finding a job. Now, I'd have to add giving birth to that list, though, I suppose you can choose to avoid that entirely if you want. Along that line of logic, I suppose you can also choose to avoid heartbreak by...becoming an emotional eunuch? Okay, so I think we're coming to my second banal yet horribly true observation of the day: if you want to experience probably the most amazing part of being alive - deeply loving other humans - then you risk heartache, frustration, difficulty...and two minute contractions that come right on top of each other for four hours straight followed by months of sore nipples and exhaustion.

Seriously, though, moving isn't fun. However, I think I'd probably update that list of mine from when I was 21. I think "getting a job" would change a bit to "truly pursuing professional choices that both keep you off the streets and don't make you feel dead inside." I'm working on that one. I have a bit of distraction in the form of an infant at the moment, which is probably good as I don't think I could swing figuring out my next life move while getting so little sleep.

Incidentally, I was talking with some other new mamas recently about hearing folks who do not have children gripe about not getting enough sleep. Now, if someone has a sleep disorder, that's fine. But, when someone says to you, infantless person, "Wow, contrary to what I've always believed, I've learned I can function without dying on a few hours of broken up sleep," do not say that you also haven't been sleeping well. I've always believed I am more generous and understanding than this, but I'd like to land a well-placed kick to the shins when someone without an infant complains about lack of sleep. Until you've had a child that, no matter how desperately wasted and exhausted you feel, you must take care of...a child that thinks it's okay to nurse three or four times a night for a week, then spend a week waking up every night at 2:30 AM for an hour or two, just to keep you feeling like you're being subjected to some sleep deprivation experiment...well, if you haven't experienced life with an infant, I don't really want to hear about your sleeplessness. Go to bed earlier! Take a fucking nap! Does that sound grumpy and bitter, or what? I also have always nursed this belief that, if stranded on an island with a bunch of other folks, I'd be one of the level-headed, fair, thoughtful ones. I'm beginning to see that that is perhaps a delusion on my part...

To be perfectly honest, I don't really understand where this idea that I'd be one of the calm and collected ones in a disaster even comes from. I think "finding a job" made it on to my list because I secretly believe I'm not really capable of taking care of myself. I feel so indebted to all the wonderful people in my life who help me with everything from the mundane - making dinner - to the more complex of comforting tasks - listening to me rant about, say, sleeplessness...or just reminding me to live in this moment now, instead of in some deliriously grand, imagined future or some cheek-burning, embarrassing memory. I don't know; maybe I'd do okay on the island with the other people...but a Castaway situation would really be the end of me.

As contradictory and strange as this sounds after detailing my irritation with people for the minor offense of complaining of sleeplessness, I think I do really love and care about people. I hope that Ila also has this deep, compassionate love for other beings, even for the really selfish, hurtful folks. This is, of course, why the risk of heartbreak, why being in a long term relationship or having a child is worth it - because love is the best part of life. For instance, when you are drained from crazy, erratic baby sleep and also trying to do the dumb things of your waking life - like finding all those things that you've misplaced while moving - it's amazing to have other people who love you around to carry your hefty 19 pound baby about, make her smile and keep her safe...while you slowly regain your grip on all those lost objects - the salad bowl, the camera, and even a measure of sanity...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sitting Up and Falling Down

For some reason it comes as a surprise - most nights at about 2:30 AM - that I am, in fact, going to die. You'd think I would be used to this idea...or, at the very least, trained to ignore it...and I was, once upon a time, before I had a baby. In the last few months, however, I find myself increasingly experiencing the chest compressing dread of the coming extinction of my consciousness.

This sounds over the top...but I'm NOT being melodramatic...that's the trouble. This fear is a totally rational fear. Look, if I were terrified of sharks or even plane rides...those are basically irrational, meaning the chances of any kind of harm coming to me from boarding an airline or splashing around on the beach are incredibly low. I think I could calm myself partially with reason there...but it is 100% guaranteed that I will die, that my essential being will just shut off like a light...and I will go into...nothingness. Brrr. Okay, to be fair, phobias of sharks and planes and small spaces are also not really responsive to reason. And, a fear of death that is overwhelming your life...or at least the sleeping portion of it is not really rational.

Along with this, I also have fears that Ila will contract some terrible illness or lose a limb in a horrible car wreck...or secretly get a concussion, go to sleep and never wake up. I don't feel these thoughts are out of control...but it's wild how they will just pop into my head. I understand why I might have knee-weakening and heart-clenching thoughts of something happening to Ila. She's this new, wonderful little being that I love deeply...and thoughts of something hurting her are understandable horrifying. However, what's the deal with this fixation my brain has on my ultimate demise? It makes me a little queasy even to refer to it! At these times, I just feel the reality of the end of me...and how quickly I will get there (time goes alarmingly fast)...what IS this?

I was asking other new mothers about these things and one of my friends reminded me of something I read a while back - dopamine is suppressed while you are breastfeeding. Well, dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that regulates fear - whether we perceive it, etc. Interesting. Ultimately, I cannot change the fact that I will die (I know; obvious...yet surprisingly shocking in the wee smas of the morning), so I have to change my relationship to this fact. Ugh. Sounds like work; breathing, being present, blah blah blah. Can't somebody just fix this, for god's sake? I guess it is a little helpful to tell myself that this focus on this fear of death is really just a neurotransmitter problem - that the fear is, essentially, a product a what's happening with my hormones. We'll see.

People like to tell me to enjoy each minute of this parenthood journey because it goes so quickly. Well, I think I'm a little too aware of that fact right now. I am, on a daily basis, sort of horrified by how quickly time goes...

That being said, I have been feeling a panicky need to update this blog - make sure I don't forget/miss anything. Yikes. What a ball of anxiety I sound like! We are in the process of moving - ugh again - so, that may be the origin of some of this frenzy I've been feeling.

At any rate, Ila is sort of sitting up now. "Sort of," meaning she can stay up for a while if I put her up. She can't get up on her own...and she will topple over if she moves too much while sitting, which is sometimes frustrating for her! But she's liking this position more and more, which is a good thing for her bald spot. Maybe we can get some hair growing back in her little "reverse monk" bald ring around her head. Maybe.

She sometimes sort of launches herself forward when she is sitting and wants something. I can see that soon she will really want to be moving on her own. It's very exciting to think of her crawling...and also stressful since nothing is child proofed around here. However, she still isn't really rolling over much...so I think we have a little time.

As exciting as these coming developments are, I'm trying to just enjoy this time when I can force my affections on my daughter without much protest. I can squeeze and kiss and hug her and she mostly just rolls with it...I know that she will soon be too busy moving and shaking things up for a lot of kissing and loving time. That is, I suppose, in the nature of parenting...changing what you give you children based on their needs...even if you are a little sad that they don't want constant squeezing and hugging anymore.