Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Last Firsts

Does going through something for the last time sharpen your consciousness of it?  If nothing else, it inscribes the grooves of my anxiety more deeply- if I don't absorb this, the divine and the dull and the heart-opening and the painful, I won't get another chance to do so.

This my last child, barring accident or lobotomy or sea change.  I don't much care for infant care, particularly the bits in which you're unable to soothe a howling, wordless poop machine.  But I feel the yoke of the imperative savor every morsel of this time, merely because these moments -small body, wobbly head, clenched fists, mouth contorted with rage- are rare.

Is infrequency enough for import?

Of course, it doesn't matter what I think.  I'm already past the last first hour, that silver span of time right after birth when the infant stays quiet and you shut up, too.  We're forging forward, gathering speed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


I don't know if it's the nature of summer, or of infant care, or of shutting down much the apparatus of your life, but the memories are swarming these days.

It's almost like someone has taken a baseball bat to their hive.  They come spilling out, haphazard, buzzing, flying in no particular pattern.  And they sting- mildly, but every one of them stings.

Flat out on the living room floor, 2:30 PM, 16 years old and playing hooky, watching the sun's bars inch across the floor.

Walking and walking and walking through the summer streets of Bloomington; finding my shirt on the grass where I'd left it the night before.

Practicing after heartbreak; the melted crayon scent of that room.

Practicing after childbirth; a clawing back.

Practicing after a wedding, finger by finger.

Walking through downtown Indianapolis long after I'd lived there, weeping.

Walking circles around a house outside of Ypsilanti.

The last time my father said much that made sense: airport; weeping.

Weeping on planes.

Practicing and weeping.

(Too much walking and practicing and crying!  I regret nothing -and everything.)

The ache of one memory gives way to the mild throb of the next.  They are intensely specific, ragingly dull, searingly pointless.    I do not invite them, but must endure their arrivals and departures.  The people in them are gone, at least as they were.  The places in them are unutterably changed.

Monday, July 16, 2018


There's a startling unevenness to infant breathing.  I know because I've watched an infant breathe, an activity that bears a not insignificant resemblance to watching paint dry, only five hundred times more fraught.  Yes, you understand that, barring disaster, the infant will keep breathing, and yet each breath, every compact or elongated or misshapen bundling of inhale with exhale, seems like an event.

It's a trick any fiction writer would envy.

I'd forgotten the unevenness, if I noticed it the first time around.  Some breaths are panting and shallow, others slow and stertorous; some are rhythmic, some are not.  There are phlegmy gasps, odd vocalizations, terrifying moments of stridor and, worse, silent hitches, during which your own breath claws its way back into your throat.

Breath evens out over time. Or you watch less.  I can't remember which.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


The bruise on my arm is finally fading.  It looks like I was grabbed- like someone with strong tendons and a strong will wrapped a hand around my elbow and held me back.

In fact, it's where the first nurse struggled to insert my first IV.

I didn't want an IV.  I didn't want much of anything to do with childbirth, though, so I knew when I became pregnant that I had a certain amount of stuff I didn't want coming to me.  I'd hoped my allotment would be less and not more, but that was hee extent of my hope, because hope is my heroin, addictive and profoundly destructive and I try to keep my habits under control.

I didn't have a birth plan, which is a document so drenched in hope it may as well check itself into rehab.

I didn't expect the sequence of events that resulted in my daughter's birth, but I cannot say I was surprised by my surprise.  On my due date, I fell while on my morning walk, tripping over some minuscule unevenness in the sidewalk and landing, with significant but not overwhelming force, on my knees, elbows, and stomach.  Alone and in pain, crouched on the deserted sidewalk of a dead end street during the workday, I called my husband to come pick me up.  He arrived with my son, who had no pants or shoes, and we drove to the hospital.  I did not come out.

Because I'd fallen, my doctor advised induction.  The induction was long and painful but relatively uneventful, and the birth was long and painful but relatively uneventful, and the recovery was long and painful but relatively uneventful.

The thing that sticks with me is how many things had to be done twice.  I delivered at a teaching hospital, and later discovered that the new Residents had changed over three days before.  Every exam was inexpert; every procedure had to be redone, from routine checks to the epidural.   Even my diet was entered incorrectly-  I was a point on the learning curve, and I'd never opt to be that point again.

On the other hand, someone has to be.  In order to perform well, we must practice, and when our performance has to do with hands-on, real life procedures on other humans, other humans must be a part of that practice.  In a way, becoming a doctor must be not unlike new parenthood. You try, and try again.  You never completely understand, but you accrete understanding.  The bruises fade.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


We tried to take the baby to the park today.

This necessitated unearthing the stroller from the garage, where it had accumulated a light frosting of spiderweb and dirt.  We scraped this off with paper towels, tossing the blackened sheets straight into the outdoor trash, but then couldn't remember how to click the infant carrier into the stroller base.  So we half-disassembled the stroller while continuing to fail to remember.  The next ten minutes were devoted to quarreling about whose responsibility it was to remember how to interlock strollers with carriers.

So we tried the same rigamarole with our backup stroller until we realized it was the wrong brand to interface with our carrier. Next we decided to pile in the car to buy the right brand on our way to the park, which meant entering Target on a Saturday afternoon, which no one should ever do.  One hard-fought hour later, we purchased something that was not what we wanted, but which we nevertheless attempted to assemble with no tools on the outskirts of the 93 degree park.  Then we spent fifteen more minutes trying to stuff its pieces back into the trunk.  By this time the infant was pink with heat and squalling with hunger so we headed back home.

We need one more person in this marriage.  A person who assembles things.

Friday, July 13, 2018


I have no memory of my son when he was as small as my daughter is now.  Which means that, more than likely, I will have no memory of my daughter when she is as small as she currently is- which is, really, as small as she'll ever be.

 I don't know what to make of this impending loss.  The idea of trying to seize the memory, pin its wings and make it stay, makes me sad.  But so does letting it fly.

I'll settle for half-measures- taking the pulse of the day, feeling its flutter against my skin.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

One Thing

As a new parent, you are in emergency mode.  It's not the only life event that can kick on your crisis function, of course- there's death, serious illness, job loss, divorce, and all the smaller ways in which the lives we know flare up and consume themselves.

But new parenthood is a reliable flint.

The pitfalls of emergency mode are many- you drop balls and lose sleep and develop an allergy to nonessentials.  Your life narrows.  

Which is also the signal virtue of emergency mode: your life narrows.  Your days contract. Miraculously, your to-do list shrinks.

You do one thing.  Maybe you do one thing plus staying alive.  

And if you do that, you've done all you can do.