The Greenest Grass

13 Nov

Dear Ophelia,

It is nearly 10’oclock and you have been asleep for hours but tonight I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t stop thinking about how quickly you’ve become my favorite person, how I can’t look at pictures of you without grinning from ear to ear, how much you’ve brought your dad and me together and cemented us as a family. Sometimes I feel like these blog entries are getting redundant. I imagine you reading them one day and saying to me with a sigh, “Seriously, Mom? Couldn’t you think of anything else to write other than how much you love me?” Maybe I write it over and over because at times it’s a little difficult to process how deeply I love you. Maybe it’s difficult to fathom that I am even capable of being so consumed by my love for another person. Or maybe, and I think this is the big one, it’s that it is difficult to voice in any way just how much I have to lose. You represent not only the most precious thing in my life but the most precious thing in many people’s lives. Certainly in your dad’s, grandparents etc. And I am responsible for protecting you, loving you, teaching you, inspiring you and providing for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like a job that someone else would be better at.

Ophelia, you are amazing in so many ways. You are funny as hell, you are gregarious and charming, you are smart as a whip and you are deliriously beautiful. One thing you are not (at least at the time of this posting) is very physical. You turned 9 months old the other day and you are still not crawling. Truthfully, I’m not even sure you want to crawl. For the first six months of your life you would scream as if someone was sticking pins in you whenever we tried to give you some “tummy time”. To this day it is still not your favorite thing. When I took you in for your regular check up a few weeks ago the doctor said that although you are still within the normal range for crawling time, you should be able to get from your tummy to sitting position by now which you cannot yet do. I walked out of there feeling guilty as hell and determined to give you your prescribed 30 minutes of tummy time every day whether you liked it or not. And for the most part, that’s what we’ve been doing. And you’ve improved by leaps and bounds, scooting around the kitchen like a pro. My guilt, however, stubbornly remains. Not to mention the nagging urge to compare you to other children. And then of course I feel even more guilty for the comparison. And dear daughter, that comparison is a bitch. It is the thief of joy (to quote some wise person from Pinterest). I have decided for your sake and for mine, that I will not compare you to “the norm” any more. In the time that I’ve been dwelling on your less than stellar physical strength I have almost missed some of the precious and hilarious things you’ve been working on instead. The other day I noticed you opening up a book, staring at the pages and babbling a string of nonsense, as if you are actually reading. I’ve caught you doing this several times since. You’re brilliant. End of story. Then tonight you amazed me by reaching for the book over and over each time I asked “Ophelia, where is your book?” So you see, my darling, your mother has the tendency to be blinded by comparison. But I’m working on it. And I will make a promise to you now that by the time you are reading this, it will shock you beyond belief that I ever worried you were less than average.

Thank you for keeping me in check, sweetheart.

Love,

Mama

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Home is where the bay is

5 Oct

Dear Ophelia,

This morning we packed you into the Scion and headed down to the Wells Fargo in Chinatown for our meeting with a guy named Jimmy. Our mission: get you a house. We sat in his office for an hour and half,  answering one personal question after the next while several older Asian women walked by and made googly eyes with you through the picture window. A petite Chinese woman dressed in staggering heels kept running in and out of the office, asking Jimmy questions in Mandarin and answering his in English. Your constant chatter and movement was a welcome distraction from the seriousness of what was at hand. I was sure we wouldn’t get approved for anything; your dad was more optimistic but certainly removed. But to both of our dismay, we walked out of there with a letter approving us for more money than either of us thought we would qualify for. And more than anything else, that letter feels like a promise from me to you to find us the best home possible.

Making this decision makes me consider your whole childhood, how the home we buy now will become the framework for all your memories from your early years. You will garden with mama in the backyard, make “real” mac n cheese with daddy in the kitchen, hang Christmas stockings on our fireplace. I am incredibly protective over these memories yet to come.  I see myself as the keeper of the purity of your childhood. And call me a snob, but I want that childhood to be in Oakland. Sure, your dad and I grew up in the suburbs and turned out alright. We’re even kind of, sort of, in our love of NPR and Barack Obama and CSA boxes and craft beer, cosmopolitan (stop laughing). I want you to remember a bazillion trips to the zoo, to Fairyland, to MOCHA and Tilden Park. I don’t want Telegraph Avenue to be something you discover with wide-eyed fascination as a teenager…I want you to be on a first name basis with those homeless dudes by Kindergarten! I want you to have friends of all colors, creeds and sexual orientations and to be aware that you are privileged and damned lucky to be in the socioeconomic position you are in. I know these things are all possible in the suburbs too but I’m holding on like mad to the idea that we will find a home in Oakland that is A) not in a shitty dangerous neighborhood B) we can afford and C) makes us feel like we’re finally home. The market is crazy and there are multiple offers on most homes, but we’re diving right in. Let me know in 20 years if we made the right decision.

Love,

Mama

Motherhood…and the rest of the story

22 Sep

Dear Ophelia,

Today is the first day of fall. Everything is still outside and it’s a little chilly. I walked out our front door yesterday only to have to run back in to grab a sweater because suddenly it was cold. The seasons are changing- it’s official.

School started a few weeks ago and I have been in the classroom, gaining my teaching experience, while you and your dad play every Tuesday. At first, I couldn’t bear to leave you, even with your doting papa. While it seems like you love just about anyone that flashes a smile at you, I am clearly your preference and your separation anxiety only seems to be mounting. When I leave you at home every Tuesday morning I feel washed in guilt for a few minutes and then…relief? Yes, relief. I drive to work without a thought to the radio’s volume, blazing over bumps in the road without having to worry about a tiny backseat passenger. At work I am focused on children, yes, but my mind is in the academic world again, mentally referencing coursework and pondering the effects of poverty on my students. I go to the bathroom when I want to, I linger over my packed lunch and I dream of having my own classroom someday. For a few hours, I am a working woman, an intellectual, someone’s peer. And yet, I am always a mother. While these breaks from your constant needs are invigorating and necessary, I am always humbled by the thought that whatever else I may be, whatever roles I may adopt, for the rest of my life I will always be your mother. I can no longer compartmentalize my identities because those boundaries don’t exist. While I refuse to begin calling myself “a mother who writes” instead of a writer, my writing will always be informed to some extent by my motherhood. As will my teaching. I can no longer look at a child and feel even a shred of apathy towards their complete well-being. I’ve always loved children but now it’s different. Though I don’t feel the maternal love for them that I feel for you, I recognize that (hopefully) there’s a woman out there who does, whose baby I have been entrusted with.

I have been waiting my whole life to adopt the role of Mama. And now I have. I even sometimes (to my slight horror) refer to myself in the third person as Mama. And all cliches aside, it’s one of the only things in my life that has lived up to the hype. You have brought me the kind of joy I’d always heard about but never knew personally. So yes, I will always delight in being your Mama. It will always be my most important role. But please don’t forget, when you’re sixteen and think I’m the lamest person in the world: I once danced on tabletops at a wedding I crashed in Venice, Italy, I was kicked out of a bar on my 21st birthday for mooning a group of fighting drunkards, I graduated from college Summa Cum Laude and I married the man of my dreams with you in my belly in front of all our family and friends. And then I gave birth to you at home, wiped your butt, nursed you and gave you a home. And I’d do it all over again. As well as being your mom, I’m a pretty interesting person…in case it wasn’t obvious.

Love always,

You know who (Mama)

 

Birth Story

27 Jul

Dear Ophelia,

It has taken me close to six months to complete your birth story. I won’t lie and tell you it was for lack of time. Lord knows, I spend plenty of it sewing and browsing Pinterest. It’s an emotional day to go back to and I could only manage to write little bits at a time.

Enjoy!

Love,

Mama

 

Ophelia’s Birth

Everyone said I would just know when it was real labor. And I believed them. After all, eight months earlier, I just knew that I was pregnant before ever taking a test. When that second line appeared it only confirmed what I knew in my bones; I was pregnant. But when labor does come just a few hours after my 40week appointment with the midwife, my intuition is not quite as keen. I spend a restless evening and then a sleepless night riding contractions that still seem not much stronger than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’ve been experiencing for weeks. At some point in the night things ramp up and I am jolted out of my shallow sleep with every contraction. Still I am skeptical. It is only when I barely make it into the bathroom and vomit into the sink, that I finally admit this is it. Our baby is coming!

Noah, the midwife, calls in the morning and tells us that we should have her come over as soon as managing the labor becomes a three-person job. In the hours Rob and I spend alone before the she comes I discover that nothing I had planned for sounds appealing. Forget the birth music I chose. I only want silence. With every contraction I tell Rob to put pressure on my lower back, but it only seems to dampen the pain. Finally Rob needs to fill the birth tub, a job that would have been infinitely easier hadwe been able to hook up a hose in the house. But instead Rob has to fill it with hot water by hand so we tell Noah to come over now and Mary, my best friend, to come over too.

I am lying on the couch when Noah arrives; staring outside at the brightest February morning I have ever seen. I always thought it would rain on the day my daughter was born. Once again, I surrender to the element of surprise.

When Mary finally gets there I am tucked away somewhere inside myself. In retrospect I realize this is the closest I ever got to that dreamy state known as “Laborland”. Mary’s loud and cheerful voice only pisses me off. Doesn’t she know that I just want quiet? But how could she? Only last night we ate dinner and laughed through my contractions. Only last week we rummaged through her CD collection for powerhouse birth music.

With Noah’s hands on the small of my back, primed for action, and Mary stroking my feet, I dive into a contraction. I learn to distract myself from the pain through Non-Focused Awareness. My mind skates from the sounds of construction outside to the brush of skin against skin to the blinding yellow of Mary’s daffodils.  But I only skim the surface of the sensations; each one is given its due, before I move fluidly to the next.

“As soon as you can, soften to the sensation. Soften your hands, your back, your belly,” Noah says. The pain drains from my body as the contraction ends. My cheeks are on fire and I can hardly catch my breath. I hear Rob filling the birth tub, pot by pot.

I turn to the midwife and tell her the story of my 11th Valentine’s Day. The bathtub in our home had been out of commission for months, leaving my mom and me dying for our regular, luxurious soaks. As a Valentine’s Day gift my dad boiled countless pots of water to fill a tub for each of us. I feel safe in that story and in the memory of a perfect expression of love. And every splash of water I hear now makes me feel safe too. The midwife smiles. She says my mom and I must be mermaid girls, the way we find such peace in the water. I think of the next mermaid girl to come, an Aquarius baby born in water. Rob fills the tub where she will soon swim up to meet us.

“Acts of love,” Noah says, motioning towards my husband. And even though I am so scared, even though the pain is so strange and unknown, I feel loved. I know I am loved.

The afternoon feels like it drags on without any sign of progress. I admit to Noah that I am scared of the pain becoming too much to bear.

“I know,” she says, stroking my hair. “And there are thousands of women around the world right now wondering if they are strong enough too.”

The pain begins piling up on itself, leaving me breathless after every contraction. I wonder how this can possibly be called active labor when I feel so completely passive, as if labor is happening to me. Even the slightest movement sets off another contraction. I feel like I’m lying in a field of landmines. All I can do is lie still and get out of my body’s way.

Lying there, I become obsessed with “transition”. What does it feel like? Is it any better than active labor? Worse than pushing? How can this possibly get any worse? Noah answers each question with the utmost patience and admits that some questions she doesn’t have answers for. Only in retrospect do I learn that while my mind was preoccupied with transition, my body was actually enduring it.

The contractions pull apart and I am miraculously able to fall asleep between them; something I haven’t been able to do for an entire day and night. Rob lies behind me, hands ready to press down on my back at my signal. I am later told that I slept so deeply I started snoring. But before long the contractions ramp up again and I can no longer sleep. At this point Noah has not checked my dilation once but something keeps telling me that now I really do want to know how far I have to go.

“I don’t want you to be disappointed if you’re only 3 or 4 centimeters,” she warns, but I tell her to go ahead anyway. She moves quickly because there is virtually no relief between contractions. Every time I feel one rip through my belly I writhe and jerk around in pain, making it impossible to check. After checking Noah is silent and lets another contraction come and go before telling me what she feels. I think we are both a little shocked when she announces “You’re almost completely dilated.”

Rob and I move into the tub, triggering a handful of back-to-back contractions. I slump into the water and wrap my arms around the edge of the tub, letting my hips float to the surface. But now when a contraction comes I feel the urge to push and as I push with the contraction the pain is pushed away. I feel empowered by this sudden feeling of control. I am no longer mentally checking out so my body can do its thing, now I have work to do! Noah, the assistant Jamie, Mary and Rob cheer me on from around the tub. The pushing part is almost easy, I think to myself. It’s the pain of my hips spreading apart that drives me to push harder and longer, knowing the end is in sight. My water breaks as I push and everyone else can see her hair. When I demand to know the color, they say it is dark, as I imagined. I look at the clock in the kitchen. 6:30. This baby better be born by 7, is all I can think.

6:36pm. Everyone is cheering me on through a contraction, but when I get to the end of it I just keep pushing and out she comes! Surprised, Rob catches her in the water and he struggles to get  hold of her slippery body before Noah grabs her, unwinds the cord from around her neck (it’s so long!) and hands her to me as I turn around. But the baby in my arms isn’t dark-haired as promised. I barely recognize this hair-skinned, red-headed girl, though she is my spitting image. For nine months I had imagined a baby that looked just like her Italian papa. But she is perfect.  And as the three of us lie on the bed in exhaustion and wonder, placenta coming out, Pitocin going in (to staunch the bleeding) we announce her name to the midwives with pride: Ophelia Catherine. Thank goodness you’re here.

The Growing Girl!

26 Jul

Dear Ophelia,

It has been quite a while since I’ve written a blog for you. I wish I had some good excuse but I don’t. However, my explanation is this: I’ve been waiting to write another entry until your birth story was done. Well, it still isn’t. So of course I’ve been putting off writing to you which is totally unfair to you seeing as there is so much going on in your life that needs to be documented.

Today you are 5.5 months and tall as the day is long! Every time I look at you while you’re sleeping I can’t believe how much you look like a toddler already. It’s a bittersweet feeling. You can sit up by yourself for a few minutes until you start squawking to be moved. Tummy time is still the bane of your existence but I still insist on it 4 or 5 times a day. But really you just hate to be put down in general. At 5 months your stranger anxiety came on with full force. With few exceptions, you hate when I hand you over to someone else and equally hate when I walk out of the room. You can be happy chomping on a toy by yourself but as soon as I disappear from sight you burst into hysterics. This pretty much means I can’t get anything done all day (except if I put you in the Ergo, which we both LOVE) so I’ve learned to live with a trashed house I have managed to make some toys for you though. I always have these high hopes that the things I make will encourage your curiosity and stimulate your brain…then the thing goes directly in your mouth. Sigh. If you’re happy, I’m happy. Daddy gets the best smiles and giggles by far. The other night we were winding down before bedtime in our room when your dad came home from work. All he did was walk in the room and you started busting up laughing. Also, you’ve started this HYSTERICAL growling that I’ve managed to catch on video a few times. First you get a very serious look on your face then your jaw drops and out comes a very satanic deep, menacing growl.

We’ve been spending lots of time up at Pine Mountain Lake with Grandma and Grandpa Watts lately. You’ve gone on hikes with us to Carlon Falls, spent the day in Columbia State Historic Park checking out Gold Rush history and spent countless hours splashing around in the lake. You sit in this sweet inflatable froggy and kick all around and squeal up a storm (I’ve started calling you O-squeal-ia lately).

I mean it when I say that my life is so much happier with you in it. I can hardly fit in all the fun things I want to do with you but damn, do I try. I don’t think parenthood makes everyone a better person (lord knows there are some awful parents out there) but having you has certainly made me better. I am more compassionate, more giving, more appreciative and less petty. Being your mother has forced me to do what I’ve always sucked at; live in the moment. You are not the same baby you were yesterday and I know tomorrow you will have changed even more. There’s no time to waste, no reason to look back or wait for what’s next. Some of my happiest moments are lying on the floor with you, kissing your pudgy cheeks or tossing you up over my head and listening to your sweet belly laughs. I’ve never felt that kind of joy before, the kind that isn’t dependent on things falling into place perfectly. It’s pure and simple. I’m happy because you exist.

Love,

Mama

 

Reflections on a Year

9 Jun

Dear Ophelia,

Yesterday you turned four months old. It is amazing to me how fast it all goes by. I know everyone says that but it happens to be true. You are such a little person now. You laugh all the time. Sometimes you will give me the silliest giggles and sometimes you give a huge open-mouth laugh. It cracks me up because you look like you’re trying to catch flies. The other day your dad saw you roll over while I was sleeping in the other room. I’m a little bummed that I missed that milestone but since your dad gets to see very few of your “firsts” I was happy for him. You’ve just figured out that you can get away with playing while you eat. When you’re nursing you will stop, look up at me until you get a smile, smile yourself then voraciously resume eating. Repeat. Again and again and again. You think you are the funniest baby ever and I happen to agree. Also, while you’re nursing you sometimes start smacking my breast as if to say, “Come on boobie, give me all you got!” Yes, I frequently make up your inner monologues.

Yesterday also marked another important day. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant with you. This story is another one of those that I am wonder whether or not I should share with you. On the one hand, it is part of your story, not only mine. Why should I hide the truth from you? On the other hand, this particular story might upset you. Maybe not. I don’t know. I’ve known since I was a young child that my parents didn’t plan on having children so my mother’s pregnancy came as quite the shock. But they also told me that I was never unwanted and I never felt as if I was. My hope is that you will feel the same.

June 8, 2011 was a Wednesday. I was working as a Substitute Teacher and your dad was the Assistant Manager for the Discovery Bay Safeway but we both happened to have that day off. I woke up that morning with untamable nerves. My period was days late and while that hadn’t been too worrisome the night before for some reason it lit a fire under me that morning. I dressed, left your dad asleep in bed, and walked the five blocks from our Lake Merritt apartment to the drugstore on Broadway. I remember that walk so well. I remember thinking to myself that either I would forget that walk within a few days or I would remember that walk for the rest of my life. As you now know, the latter won out. I bought the pregnancy test and headed back home. The instructions tell you that after you pee on the stick you should put it on a flat surface and wait five minutes for the full results. But that was completely unnecessary. As soon turned to put the stick on the edge of the sink I saw that very obvious + sign. I didn’t know this at the time but your dad was awake in the other room, listening intently (or so he tells me). He claims that technically we found out I was pregnant at exactly the same time because as I read the test I let out an audible gasp before yelling “ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOB! WAKE UUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!” He ran in, read the test and immediately started trying to prevent my hyperventilation. How was I going to have a baby in a one-bedroom apartment? I had finally gotten an internship with a publishing house. Had I just demolished all my career options?

It took me a long time to calm down and as you can probably guess it pissed me off how calm your dad was about the whole thing. We (obviously) decided to have you and started planning how we were going to move up the wedding we had planned to have the following year, two months after you were expected to arrive. I’m not going to lie to you, Ophelia. Last summer was sad. Or maybe I was just sad. I was sick and exhausted most of the time. Sometimes I feel like I slept through my whole first trimester (I find this ironic considering this summer I don’t plan on sleeping a wink). Your dad and I were distant. I knew that he wanted better for you than for him to be working a job completely unsympathetic to people with families, living in an apartment that could barely house the two of us. It wasn’t until after our wedding in late September that things really started looking up. On our honeymoon your dad got a call about his online resume. A small family-owned grocery store in San Francisco was looking for two managers for their small chain. That next month your dad went through their lengthy interview process and landed the job. We were both so damn happy. It meant everything that he would be working much closer to home, off on all major holidays and was finally employed by a family-friendly store. Dad started his new job at Rincon Market just a week before we moved into our two-bedroom apartment, the very apartment in which you would enter the world 3 months later.

We finally felt like we had our ducks in a row by the time you got here. And what about now? Well, I won’t say it’s easy but life is good. It wound up being a blessing having you before my career could take off. Now I have plenty of time to spend with you without worrying about returning to a job that I left. I start a credential program in the fall and I’m writing more now (and getting published a little too) than I was before you were born. Your dad is happy working in the city and his commute takes all of 20 minutes! We spend our days off together taking day trips to regional parks, going for short hikes and cooking knockout meals with Aunt Mary. You’ve made our lives so rich just by being born. You made us a family and taught me to slow down and savor every precious minute. Thank you, my serendipitous baby, for being the missing piece.

Love,

Mama

This Day and Age

25 May

Dear Ophelia,

Every once in a while when talking with your dad I will start a sentence with “If I die soon, you have to remember to…” This usually illicits an eyeroll or two from your dad who doesn’t have the same morbid hangups as I do but who also isn’t as much of a planner as I am. True, there’s not much potential for my early demise; I’m young, I eat well, exercise, look both ways when crossing the street and floss between my teeth (sometimes). But now that you are here what I leave behind feels that much more important so if in fact some unforeseen tragedy does happen to me I want a contingency plan in place. That’s why lately I’ve been thinking more critically about what is most pertinent that I write to you in this blog. What if this blog was all you had left of me to refer to as you grow up? What would I want you to know about the world around you, about the ideals I sought to instill in you and the person I hoped you would become.

I think it goes without saying that I have high hopes for you, dear daughter. Your name, Ophelia, means “helper” and from the time we chose it for you I knew you would be a true humanitarian, the kind of person that truly gives a damn about others. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to join the Peace Corps or anything (although I’d be even prouder of you if you did) but I know that you will take very seriously the upholding of human dignity. That being said, I feel that I have some sad truths to tell you. As of today, our country is at a standstill because many people want to deny what has become a basic human right to millions of Americans. Right now, same-sex couples in most states cannot be legally married or enjoy any of the benefits that are given to married couples.

Ophelia, I still have not decided when I will let you read this blog but I truly hope that whenever you do read it for the first time, those last two sentences will no longer be true. It is sad to think that you were born at a time when so much ignorance and hate still abounded in a country which claims to be a land of freedom. But I do have faith that things will change and that you will grow up to see those changes take place around you. I hope that this also means you will be part of a generation that wholeheartedly embraces gay marriage and homophobia will quickly become a thing of the past.

One of the interesting things about writing this blog is that in many ways I don’t know the person to whom I’m writing it. True, I know you. I know your spirit. I know that you have parts of me and parts of your father. But what else? Who else will you be? What will be the details that make you a whole human being? I love that I am getting to find all of that out in small doses every single day. In general, I make very few promises because I’m only human and I’d hate to have to go back on my word. That and promises are special and should be used sparingly. But now I would like to make you the promise that I will never presume to know things about you which you have not told me or are not expressly obvious. Even that last bit I’m a little iffy about. What I mean to say is I will make it my job to get to know who you really are and I will do my damnedest not to assume that you are anything simply because I am that thing. I will not assume that you are straight or do obnoxious shit like ask if your little friend Billy on the playground is your boyfriend. I will not assume that you identify as a girl even though your anatomy says you are one. I will not push dolls/makeup/pink crap on you nor will I deny you the opportunity to play with “boy toys.” I will make it my duty to establish a relationship with you in which you feel comfortable and safe telling me intimate things about yourself but I will never demand that you divulge any information which you don’t want to tell me. I will respect your right to privacy but make it clear that whoever you are is not only okay with me, but thrills me.

If all goes well this will sound very familiar. Maybe you will tire of hearing it, but if it has been said so many times maybe you will be incapable of not believing it. Whatever you are, whoever you are, that’s the you I want to know.

Love,

Mama

 

 

 

The Flip Side

17 May

Dear Ophelia,

Parenthood is strange. I’m not talking about the delirium caused by sleep deprivation or the ever-varying color of your poop. No, what is strangest thing about parenthood is how I can feel on top of the world in the morning but by the time I put you to bed I feel like my spirit has been trampled by a thousand angry feet. Or the other way around. It is shocking to me that I can oscillate so steadily from elation to complete terror and back again without much even happening in the intervening hours. I’m either the best mother that ever walked the face of the planet because you having been giggling for hours straight or I’m the reproductive scum of the earth because I clipped your fingernail too short and now your baby finger is bleeding a teensy little bit. I am the Doctor Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde of motherhood.

Some days go like this: We wake up in the morning at almost exactly the same time and spend a good hour just making silly faces at each other and laughing together in bed. You look at me like I’m your personal savior, like the sun rises and sets in my eyes. It’s pretty much the biggest ego boost anyone could ask for. When your dad finally gets up to change your diaper (He made me a very generous diaper-changing offer while I was pregnant that I think he may regret now. He changes an inordinate amount of diapers for someone who works 50 hours a week outside the home) I just think to myself how lucky I am that I get to spend the whole day with my baby. My baby. Everything I do is suddenly fun. Grocery shopping doesn’t feel like a chore because I just babble to you the whole time and people come up and tell me how gorgeous you are, as if I haven’t noticed. I make mental lists of all the things I want to do with you when you’re old enough. Even if I’ve done it a thousand times when I get to do it with you, it will all feel new and exciting again. I see glimpses of what you might look like at 2, 5, 16…and I am just bursting with excitement to watch your life unfold and to be part of that unfolding. I can’t wait to introduce you to everything I love and watch you explore the world with unadulterated wonder. Those days are the best.

But other days look very different. Other days when you flash your perfect gummy smile at me, instead of feeling the usual ego boost, I think to myself, “This kid has way too much faith in me. I will inevitably screw this motherhood thing up. I will inevitably screw her up.” Sometimes when I have a half hour to myself I’ll take a bath and feel a sickening panic spread across my chest. It’s the realization that whatever happens to you for the rest of your life, for better or for worse, I am ultimately responsible for it. Suddenly the things my own mother went through, the tough choices she had to make and the guilt she expressed to me years later make a lot more sense. But most of all I feel fragmented. You came from my body and now for the rest of your life you will live outside of me, maybe even far away from me someday. It’s as if the tenderest parts of me have coalesced to form a separate person and now everything that you are vulnerable to, those parts of me are vulnerable to as well. It sounds weird, yes.  But it feels A LOT weirder.

I tell you all of this not to freak you out or make you think your presence has somehow damaged me. I tell you this because I want you to understand how fundamentally you have changed my life. I am split in two now. Even when you’re a grown woman I will still imagine you as my satellite, forever orbiting my consciousness. You can’t escape me and I can’t escape you. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love always,

Mama

Just a reminder

23 Apr

Dear Ophelia,

I’ve never been able to describe what love feels like. I can remember writing my wedding vows to your dad and feeling as if words had failed me for the very first time. I could never adequately describe what it felt like to be in love, to want to commit my life and affection to another human being. Love’s circumference was simply too big for my own words to wrap around. And that’s how I feel about you. I cannot do justice to the intensity of the actual emotion by waxing poetic about it. But, as I’m sure you will one day learn, love is not just a feeling. Feeling love is easy. Showing love is what takes patience and selflessness and intention. The truth is, you may never really care what it feels like to love you. And that’s okay. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will care what my love looks like. That is what will shape your foundation and bond us for life. The way I show you my love is what you can hold on to.

In the morning you are awake hours before I would choose to be. This is when you are at your happiest. My eyelids are so heavy with sleep that it takes all my focus to keep them open. But I can’t miss this. Your sweet coos, the way you pump your arms as if eventually you’ll get somewhere. That’s where my love is. It’s in our midnight feedings. You struggle to latch onto me. But when you do we just stare at each other in hazy wonder and both fall easily back to sleep. That’s where my love is.

My love is in the box of childhood mementos, books, toys and letters I’ve collected for years, the box that used to lie meaningless under my own bed but now lies with anticipation under yours. My love is the tangible list of names that grew for years before you were born. Making that list always felt like killing time, like I was merely waiting. But there was so much love in those years of waiting. And while I was never patient, I was always hopeful. There was always “someday”. Someday finally became today.

My love is in the the nursery furniture I’ve rearranged again and again, the repulsive iron supplement I drank while pregnant with you, the way I pick out your earwax and wipe away your boogers without a second thought. (What’s yours is mine, right? Ok, yeah, that’s gross) It was there in the hours I labored on the bed, wondering if I could really do this, wondering if we would both be okay when all was said and done. It was there in the moment your papa caught you and brought you to my chest. And it was there in the hours we laid in bed with your after you were born, counting your fingers and toes, exclaiming over your perfection and announcing your name with pride.

Ophelia, my love for you might be hard to describe but nothing is easier than showing it to you. It’s in absolutely everything I do now, in every minute of every day. It shows up in all the ways I intend it to and in many ways that surprise me. Sometimes I wonder if love is enough, and if I am enough of a mother for you. All I can say is I will never stop trying. You will never have to wonder how I feel about you. I might be shitty at a lot of things but that will never be one of them. You should know that you will never have to go looking for my love. It will always find you first.

Love,

Mama

What’s in a Name?

7 Apr

Dearest Baby Girl,

I am about to scream. The only thing preventing me from doing so is the fact that you are strapped to my chest, fast asleep. I dare not wake monsters. Or babies. I am about to scream because just as I had two paragraphs written about how I was rejected from SF State’s MFA program and how your dad inadvertantly deleted my last (nearly complete, and hugely personal) blog post…my current blog post up and disappeared. Yes, writing and I are going through a rough patch. At times like these I figure I have to decide whether the universe is telling me I suck and to give up or if it’s telling me that I better learn to persevere through piddly crap like this if I ever expect to get published. I guess I’ll go with the latter…but that’s another blog post.

The last blog I wrote you was about our family. The Watts family, that is. Actually it was kind of a depressing post about how many of my family members who I assumed would be over the moon to get a peak at you have not even mentioned coming to visit nearly two months after your birth. You don’t need to read about that. Nobody does really. If in 15 years you have some burning desire to know my thoughts on the subject, just ask me. I make sure to carefully file away rejections in the back of my mind for many years. Instead of that post I thought I’d write about your name; a very special but not so heated subject.

Your full name is Ophelia Catherine Watts Reggiardo- one first name, two middle names and one last name. In that order. Yes, I realize that many will think I’m cruel or selfish for giving you such a lengthy name. But those people make me laugh. First of all, they have underestimated the mental capacity of my daughter. I have no doubt that by two and a half you’ll be able to recite your entire name with perfect diction to anyone that asks for it. I am very verbal, your dad is very verbal. You cannot escape it. Secondly, the names we gave you are a gift, each one chosen because it means something to us and we hope it will mean something to you.

Ophelia. Origin: Greek. Meaning: Helper. Odd as it seems, while I was studying Hamlet in college the name Ophelia never popped out at me as a potential baby name though it’s one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. Maybe that’s because the character herself is quite tragic. I just remember that oneday before I was even pregnant with you I asked your dad, “Hey, how about the name Ophelia for a girl?” Your dad was used to these kinds of questions and I was used to his standard reaction of scrunching up his face and stating a decisive “Nah.” But this time he said “I like it.” The only other names that came remotely close to getting that reaction were Violet, Theta and Penelope. When we told your Aunt Mary about the name Penelope she threw a fit like you wouldn’t believe and swore up and down that Penelope was HER name for HER future daughter. Of course this only gave your dad more reason to act like it was our top choice. We decided not to officially name you until we met you but I think we both knew all along that you would be Ophelia. I feel like I knew it even before we knew you were a girl. There are plenty of beautiful names out there that I loved (and still do) but we knew that you deserved a unique and unusual name. You deserve a name that won’t get lost amongst the crowd. I know you will be the type of person that is difficult to forget. Your name had to match that. And thus, you are Ophelia. Often you are just O. Or Baby O, which Aunt Mary likes to call you. When I hear your name I am proud but I remind myself that maybe you won’t love it as much as we do. Maybe you will be like I was as a kid when I decided Jennifer was a horrible name because it had the word “fur” in it and it made me sound hairy. But at least you will know why we thought you needed such a unique name and love us anyway.

Your middle name is Catherine, for your late great-aunt, Catherine Mountjoy. I wish all the time that she could see you and hold you and most of all that you could know her like I did. She was a brilliant woman, fluent in multiple languages, a supreme Scrabble player, a librarian, a wife, a mother. My own life and passions were influenced by her in so many ways and I am still mourning the fact that there are so many questions I will never be able to ask her. Now that I am a mother I wish even more that she was here to give that advice and to share in the joy of knowing you. You will get to know her through your grandpa, Uncle Daniel, cousins Ashlin and Gabe and through me. But I still struggle with how colossally unfair it is that you will never meet her so I wanted something permanent of hers for you. That’s why I gave you her name.

Watts is your second middle name as well as my maiden name and current middle name. Until I met your dad I was adament that if and when I got married I would keep the name Watts. I won’t say that when we met I suddenly had a change of heart and decided I desperately needed to be a Reggiardo. The truth is it pissed me off that your dad wanted me to change my name. I remember us fighting about it mere weeks after we started dating (Yup, that’s when he told me he wanted to marry me. We move fast around these parts.) But I saw some problems with having a different last name than my spouse. What about our children? I truly dislike hyphenated last names and I wasn’t about to give you some strange hybrid like Weggiardo or Regatts. Your dad, for being the NPR-listening, Obama-loving, tax-cut-hating liberal he is, is awfully conservative in his personal life and I knew he would never give up his own last name. Yeah, that pissed me off even more. I can’t say what officially made me decide to take Reggiardo as my last name but I know that I didn’t do it for me, I did it for your father. Some might call it an act of weakness and indict me as an anti-feminist (um, yeah right) but in some ways I’m very proud of my decision. I am not always known for my flexibility and softness. I can be downright pigheaded at times. But this time I took a different path. But I kept Watts as my middle name because it’s very much a part of my identity. And now it’s your name too. And guess what? Your dad took it as a second middle name too. See, I still got my way a little bit 🙂

Reggiardo. I’m sorry my love, but you will be spelling this name for everyone that you meet until the end of time. Nobody can pronounce it correctly and even your own grandmother could not spell it for the longest time. But it’s a good name and I am proud to give it to you since it reminds me of the wonderful family I married into. Your Granny Mimi I’m sure can tell you about your Reggiardo ancestors and well as the ancestors from her side of the family. As she once told me, it might be nice to pretend your entire lineage is about ravioli but it just isn’t the case. Yes, you’ve got a big chunk of Italian in you, both from me and from your dad, but you are also English, Austrian, German, Polish and Cajun. Don’t forget that just because your name sounds like a pasta dish.

Somehow I feel like this blog barely skims the surface of my thoughts on your name but it will have to do for now. Here are some pictures of your recent adventures.

Ophelia and Grandma in PML

Too cute for words