Accouchement

My husband aIMG_1573nd I had dinner last week with another couple, friends of ours expecting their first child(ren), twins, and expecting them soon. As we joked about the wife’s swelling feet and widening girth, (and the good fortune that her husband is strong enough to hoist her off the couch), I notice beneath her overt anticipation of the blessed event(s), the covert exhaustion she was hiding. An unmasked expression crossed her pretty face, just for a moment. One that only a gestating woman in her last weeks would understand, one that said, “Please, God, let this be over. Right now.”

In sisterly solidarity I immediately flashed back to pregnancy, a state both magical and miserable, completely consuming; a transformative rite of passage. In the nanosecond it took to relive, the realization that I’d never actually be pregnant again descended on me with finality. I will never again grow a child inside my body and I’m not sure how I feel.

Coworkers, friends and family all seem to be doing it: multiplying and replenishing the earth. Pregnant women surround me, their ripening bodies nurturing the genesis of life where there was only potential. No matter that women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, each new miracle astounds me.

I won’t experience an unseen little stranger rolling underneath my rounded belly, pushing me from the inside (and in the case of my youngest, punching me), proclaiming their presence with every hiccup and jab to my ribs, staking claim to my heart long before their grand entrance. I won’t bring a brand new person into the world, someone who didn’t exist before, but without whom I’d be incomplete. That part of my life is over. Chapter closed.

It’s not about wanting another baby — twinges of longing for a tiny human, swaddled and sweet smelling have been replaced by relief over no more diapers or colic or projectile vomit. Plus, after a bit of waffling, the decision to be done was made after my third baby, though the fourth did not get the memo.

No, this is about discovering myself past childbearing age, about acknowledging my progression from maiden to mother to crone. What is this ambivalence, and why does it feel like loss? Possibly because fertility and youth are intertwined; I’m no longer fertile therefore no longer young? But perhaps it’s more about seeing the journey from birth to death as a one-way trip, and feeling time, like a strong gust of wind, pushing me forward.

The first time a child split me wide open, body and soul, I found purpose. Fragile, yet resilient, so new, yet so familiar, I held, in my arms, the answer to every question; the meaning of life itself. And each time I cupped a small rounded head and inhaled the intoxicating fragrance of newborn skin I was reborn. Changed. I simply do not know who I would have been had I not been a mother. The archetype has imprinted my identity so as to affect all other relationships; all paths taken and not taken.

Bearing evidence of birthing and breastfeeding four babies, my body has lost the elasticity to reshape itself. My psyche still grapples with maintaining a separate sense of self while giving my children my whole self, an inescapable urge. But, though I may disparage my life or wish briefly for something different, I know I wouldn’t trade the sacrifices made for the indulgences gained.

At 31, a divorced mom of two school-aged children, I remarried with hopes of a second chance at the happy family I’d always wanted. I dreamt of more babies to cradle. After a miscarriage, at 36, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with thick red hair, milky white skin, and Trisomy 21, Down syndrome. The initial shock of her diagnosis was surprisingly short-lived. Bringing gifts, her presence was cause for celebration. She taught me to slow down, breathe, and stop long enough to find stillness. She taught me the richness of a simple life. She taught me contentment. And her younger sister, despite the 99.9 percent effectiveness of birth control, was born when I turned 40. She teaches me… patience.

Mothering is nothing if not an exploit of extremes, and for every Hallmark moment there are 200 ‘Suck it up, you’re the Mom!’ moments. Like being eight months pregnant and worried sick over an absent teenager, hours past curfew, before cell phones. Like weeks of hospitalization with a two-year-old in critical condition. Like night terrors at 3 am with a delirious 7-year-old. Or apoplectic meltdowns in the supermarket and shoes thrown from the back of a minivan. Or Sesame Street and Teletubbies on video loop. Or pet salamanders and pet mice and pet birds, who still poop, even though they’re small. Like all things educational; relentless forms and meetings and bureaucracy, from kinder to college. Like sleep deprivation that lasts for years, and new appliances that last five minutes, and endless sticky messes.

Babies are akin to kittens; adorable at first, but quickly turning into cats. Adoration got me through midnight feedings, hysterical crying, and explosions out both ends. Devotion gets me through the rest: dirty dishes, dirty faces, dirty clothes and dirty rooms. Through broken bones and bruised hearts. Through whatever it takes to get my chicks from here to there, to their moment in the sun, when I, their biggest fan, cheer loudly, “You did it! I knew you could. I knew you would!”

I’m not a perfect mom. Far from it. I lose it on a regular basis (my sanity, my temper, my grip). My kids drive me right over the edge, but I love them with a ferocity bordering on psychotic. I don’t think I’m unique. Mother-love, the most powerful force in the universe, can save the world and I wouldn’t swap it for a stunning body or a hundred trips to Europe or a life of leisure, even on the days I swear I’m this close to selling my offspring to the highest bidder. On the days I need a reminder, I replay in my mind a particular night I put my youngest, the one who defied the odds, to bed. Not yet 2, she’d overheard me referring to her unexpected arrival on the planet as I often did by way of an affectionate nickname. Most likely, I’d had a rough day, since every day’s a challenge when you have toddlers. Presumably I wanted to get her down and escape to a glass of wine. As she nestled close for a kiss she said, “Mama? I you bonus baby, wight?”

Oh, yes. A bonus. Something extra. Much more than I bargained for, the challenges of motherhood were impossible to foresee, but equally unknowable were the profound rewards. And its infinite nature; a mother doesn’t stop mothering when her children are grown. In my mother-in-law’s soothing voice over the phone as she reassures her son, a middle-aged man, is the love of a mom for her little boy. Across the miles, in an email, my mother’s words carry a tender caress to me, her daughter, the mother of grown children herself.

There will be no more babies, at least not from my womb. Someday in the not-too-distant future, the babies of my babies will christen me Grammy or Nana or Gran. The thought is surreal, yet, enchanting. When the child of my child is placed in my arms, I will lean in close and press my cheek to that precious face, so new, yet so familiar. I will inhale the intoxicating fragrance of newborn skin and look into soulful eyes seeing generations past and future. And in the sacred hush I might hear heaven whisper, “This is the meaning of life.”

1 Comment

Filed under Aging, Babies, Childbirth, Family, Letting Go, Marriage, Motherhood, Parenting, Self-Care

Unsung, Unstrung

pretend

I don’t want to work

I want to bang on my drum all day

Todd Rundgren

Captain Higgle’s ‘Rainbow Ship’ made its maiden voyage in my living room last weekend.  Constructed from an enormous cardboard TV box and every kind of tape known to humankind, Sydney and Haley designed their pirate ship with only a little help from Dad. Sails of giant foam squares attach with duct tape to the handle of a push broom forming the mast.   A cut out drawbridge lowers from the helm onto the gangplank engineered from plywood and risers from Mom’s Reebok step.

My girls imagine vivid landscapes when they make believe, acting out stories and fantasies of all sorts.  Household items become props as they set the stage for their dramatic improvisation. Haley crawls on her hands and knees, sniffing and licking at two bowls; one of water, the other, cheerios. “I’m a newborn black lab,” she says.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family, Letting Go, Motherhood, Parenting, Siblings, Sisterhood

Crystallizing Iridescence

water_crystal love

Love

93 million miles from the Sun,

people get ready, get ready,

’cause here it comes it’s a light,

a beautiful light, over the horizon into our eyes…

Jason Mraz

 

A hush descends on the earth when it snows.  It’s as if the fluffy white stuff that covers the ground and coats the trees and houses and cars also mutes the volume of the world.  The rough edges are smoothed.  The hard places soften.  In the stillness, magic glitters.  Untouched, the newly fallen snow collects; fresh, like a blank canvas to be painted, like a story to be written, like a new year to be lived.

2013 sounded like science fiction when I was a child, eons away.  But, I’m getting older and the passage of time is accelerating at a spectacular pace. I am stunned to find myself, once again, on the brink of another year.  Change beckons and opportunities entice.  Anything seems possible.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Aging, Enlightenment, Family, Motherhood, Parenting, Self-Care, Stress

Holding Space

Trees grave

Brother and sister, together as friends,

Ready to face whatever life sends.

Joy and laughter or tears and strife,

Holding hands tightly

As we dance through life.

Suzie Huitt

 

‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.’ Edna Buchanan said that. I can only assume the implication is that the relatives we’re stuck with wouldn’t be the ones we’d pick if given the option.  On some days, I could see myself choosing friends over family, but in the end, I believe I’d take the parents and siblings I’ve got.  Among this motley crew, the love is hard-earned and runs deep.  We started small then divided by divorce and multiplied through remarriage, becoming a Modern Family before it was trendy.  Actually, it was more like The Brady Bunch.  From hell.  Three parents, two brothers and seven sisters, consisting of steps, halves and wholes, round out my nuclear family; every one unique and each one, extraordinary.  A complicated blend, the reciprocity is messy and even volatile—there’s been no lack of drama in 38 years.  But in the hotbed of familial relationship, conditions are ripe to learn life lessons that just don’t come any other way. Lessons on love, forgiveness, redemption and transformation.

Flying over New Mexico on my way to Phoenix, I peer through the airplane’s small window and take in the vastness of the red rocks below.  I’m going home, to the funeral of my oldest brother’s son.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Aging, Family, Growing Up, Loss, Siblings

Kids Can Change the World or Lisa Goes to Science Camp

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 10.37.58 PM 3

We don’t even have to try,

It’s always a good time.

Owl City—Good Time

My memories of 7th grade provoke a visceral response.  Awkward and insecure, I sought acceptance through conformity, applying baby blue crème eye shadow thickly from a lipstick tube, battling my naturally curly hair into something resembling Farrah Fawcett’s, and walking the halls with fake nonchalance, clutching my Partridge Family Trapper Keeper to my chest.  None of it worked. I was unpopular and self-conscious. I think it was actually the worst year of my life. So recently, when the necessity arose to attend 7th grade science camp with Sydney, my thought was, “I wonder if there’s somewhere I can get alcohol within walking distance.” 

I went, not as a chaperone, but as 1:1 support for my special needs daughter; the school could not provide a 24-hour para for an extracurricular activity. If I didn’t go, she couldn’t go. Short of swapping bodies with my 13-year-old daughter, ala Freaky Friday, I lived the life of an early adolescent for three days.

“Are you excited, Syd?!” I asked, as if she hadn’t been telling everyone who’d listen.  Excited was probably not the word I’d use to describe my state of mind, but I steeled myself and climbed aboard the big yellow school bus packed with chattering, giggling girls, their cumulative noise already bouncing off the tin walls of the chassis.  Sydney and I squeezed past arms and legs spilling into the aisle until we reached an empty seat.  “Whoa, It’s hot in here,” I thought, as I clicked my window down, notch by notch.  I wrestled my bag into the seat on the wheel well and anticipated the 90 minute ride ahead. Talking to myself, I said, “You can do this–it’ll be good for the kids,” and with one look at Sydney, I knew there wasn’t a choice.  “Mom, take a picture of us and post it on Facebook,” she said, posing with her friends.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Adolescence, Down syndrome, Growing Up, Memories, Motherhood, Parenting, R-Word, Special Needs

In the Love Place

And so lying underneath those stormy skies
She’d say, oh, I know the sun must set to rise.

Paradise by Coldplay

~For Richard, Heidi and Gabriel~

It was Sunday afternoon. The weekend that seemed to stretch out enticingly before me on Friday was, for all intents and purposes, over. I sat on the couch, mindlessly surfing Facebook, playing Angry Birds. I had the ‘Sunday blues,’ that restless dissatisfaction that strikes around 5:00 p.m. when the realization that a weekend filled with relaxation and leisure is just not going to materialize. This happens frequently. My days get filled with grocery shopping, running kids to activities, projects at home, work issues, and other mundane tasks. My fun time gets relegated to Saturday night after the kids go to bed and I pass out halfway through a movie.

I felt a shift coming in the weather foretold by the pounding headache that stormed my skull. Sitting alone I looked out the window at the gathering clouds and malaise settled over me as I thought with a sigh how the girls would be home shortly. I’d have to get up from this couch to start the nighttime routine: wrangle up dinner, corral kids into the shower and herd them to bed. I’d go through Friday folders (Sunday night folders, let’s be real) and look ahead to everyone’s schedules, gearing up for another busy week.

But that was all before I got the news that my brother-in-law had died. Just 45 minutes earlier, while I was lamenting the end of the weekend, he’d taken his last breath and given up the battle he’d waged to the finish. Though he and my sister were separated, in the end, their differences didn’t matter. The strife and tension between them healed spontaneously on his journey from this plane to the next. When cancer took over his body, she took him into her home. She tended to his dying and in the process found forgiveness. Her focus was on creating lasting memories for her son, their son.  He is seven, my nephew, much too young to lose his father. And his father, much too young to lose his life.

Richard suffered in pain and struggled for every breath. He had not come peacefully to his death. The denial tortured both he and Heidi. When his agitation became too great, the meds gave relief and he drifted in a morphine-induced fog. My sister lay down with her husband, pressing her body to his, her mouth to his ear. 

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family, Letting Go, Loss, Marriage, Siblings, Sisterhood, Special Needs

Leap From the Nest

mama swan

Where are you going, my little one, little one,

Where are you going, my baby, my own?

Turn around and you’re two, turn around and you’re four,

Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of my door.

Turn Around by Malvina Reynolds and Alan Greene

Autumn is my favorite time of year and there’s nowhere the season is more provincial than in the Midwest.  A tangible chill in the morning air softens the heat of summer and signals a coming change.  Seemingly overnight, leaves begin to turn.  Variegated branches hint of color that will soon become rich orange, yellow and red, flaming briefly before falling to the ground and creating nature’s perfect playground for jumping children.  The farmer’s market yields a spread of eggplant, pumpkin, corn, squash and apples; not only a visual feast, but a culinary mother lode for comfort foods that fill the house with the tantalizing aromas of savory soups, roasted vegetables, freshly baked bread, and apple pie. Thrushes, sparrows and other song birds nest mid-migration, on their way to warmer climates. The days shorten and the pull of the Earth’s orbit around the sun is felt.  My own focus gravitates homeward; summer is over.  It’s time to go back to school.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Adolescence, Down syndrome, Growing Up, Letting Go, Motherhood, Parenting, Special Needs

Light Through the Aperture

 old camera

God bless the postman who brings the mail.

And bless the cowboys out on the trail.

Bless Mommy and bless Daddy who come each time I call.

God bless the folks I love, God bless us all.

Lyrics by Tom Murray, Music by Tony Burrello, 1953

I took a quiz once to define my priorities in life, listing the three possessions I would save if my house was on fire.  The answer was the same then as it is now; family photos are numero uno on my list.  And two and three as well, since I would lug through the flames as many albums as I could drag or throw.  Now, in the digital age, our collective family history is conveniently stored on my hard drive and I imagine in my panic, I might heave my iMac out the window.  It may seem like dramatic heroics to rescue mere two-dimensional images, but these visual reflections of the past not only warehouse and catalogue individual moments, but also activate and develop the negatives in my memory, bringing the people, places, and times surrounding those moments back to life, in vivid 3D Technicolor.  Pictures tell stories.  Pictures reveal secrets.  Pictures frame truths.  Irreplaceable homages to what has been and never will be again, they are priceless.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family, Memories, Motherhood, Parenting, Siblings, Travel

Joyride

red convertibleThe secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Any fool can do it; there ain’t nothing to it.

Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.

But since we’re on our way down,

We might as well enjoy the ride.

Sliding down, gliding down, try not to try too hard.

It’s just a lovely ride.

James Taylor—The Secret ‘O Life

I don’t always recognize I’m headed for collapse until, speeding down the freeway at 100 mph, dashboard warnings flashing, I veer off the road to make an emergency stop. I’ve gotten so good at disregarding my maintenance lights, by the time I realize I’m in trouble, I’m already sputtering and careening; out of gas, overheated, or worse, out of control, crashing and taking out everyone around me.

When we moved from Missouri back to Austin, Texas in 2003, circumstances combined to create a fusion of indescribable stress that will go down in Kent family history as The-Time-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.   Every member of our family was a hot mess; Haley, 5 weeks old, a textbook example of a colicky infant, emitted a type of banshee wailing that could literally wake the dead, and was silenced only when nursing (constantly) or sleeping (rarely).  Sydney, 4 years old, with modulating sensory integration issues, experienced overstimulation, auditorily and otherwise. She was confused and jealous.  Her ‘elopement’ was at an all-time high and, thanks to a very ambitious preschool teacher, potty training had begun in earnest (it took two years to fully train our sweetie and it wasn’t the potty that was so much the problem).  Let that image crystallize for a moment: Clingy, wailing infant on the boob and pooping-in-her-britches toddler on the run.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Down syndrome, Family, Grandparents, Motherhood, Parenting, Self-Care, Siblings, Special Needs, Stress

It’s About the Dance

dancing-in-the-sun

To watch us dance is to hear our heart speak ~ Hopi Tribal Saying

My daughter Sydney is turning 13.  Thirteen.  As in teen-ager.  When she was born with Down syndrome, we couldn’t have known that watching this beautiful creature grow from infancy to adolescence would be astonishing, but considering that ten years ago we nearly lost her to pneumonia, it becomes positively miraculous.  She would have remained forever a cherubic 2½ year old, arrested in toddlerhood, innocent and ­­unchanged.  It causes my chest to constrict painfully when I remember the weeks she spent in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, when I realize how close she came to dying.  But, to our great relief, she didn’t.  She stayed with us.  And she’s no longer a baby.  Through preschool and potty-training, through primary school and pre-pubescence, my long-legged, lanky daughter, emerged, poised on the cusp of puberty.  Ready or not, world, here she comes.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Adolescence, Down syndrome, Growing Up, Letting Go, Motherhood, Parenting, Special Needs