Friday, February 27, 2009

One week away

I’ve been away from home for a week, but it feels like a lifetime. I admit, as I was traveling to my destination, I felt the excitement of a new adventure. I was glad that I didn’t allow maternal separation anxiety to keep me from going out into the world. I felt like, in the long run, it was probably best for everyone if mom still had her adventures.

Since shortly after arriving though, I’ve been sick. A really pernicious cold or flu that has lasted several days already and keeps me in bed a good 15 hours a day. With great effort, I try to emerge from my lair for a few hours each day. The rest of the time, I’m locked away, alone, with no even so much as a TV or a radio to keep me company.

In the past, I think some of my world travels were in part a search for home, a place where I would belong. Now I have that security of a home and a family. I miss Mark’s hugs, I miss River’s slobbers and coos. A few days after I arrived, I began to count down the days until I go home.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A little distance

A little distance, combined with a lack of sleep, does a lot of good in getting over mother-baby separation anxiety. A dose of excitement helps as well.

I finally got excited when I arrived in Moscow. The language around me was foreign, but I understood it. I’d been there before, but it was still a new environment and I had to stretch to figure things out. Riding in the taxi on the way into town I was excited by the decrepit apartment blocks, by the trucks covered with a layer of winter grime, by the red, white and blue banners flying in advance of Men’s Day (or Defender’s of the Motherland land day), by the majestic Stalinist wedding cake building, by the small kiosks selling blini, chicken or jewelry. All of this made me feel at home.

It reminded me of why I love being overseas in the first place and why I have traveled so much since I’ve been able to – because it challenges my mind and my senses, it invigorates me and brings the details of daily living to my attention. I realize that having a family means I can’t live overseas as I might like to. While I’m willing to make that sacrifice, this trip is helping me to remember that keeping myself whole probably means traveling from our family base, either with or without River.

I have had four interviews so far for a potential dream job, wonderful in many ways, but requiring a lot of travel. This trip will be a test of what it might be like if I were to get and take this job. Could I handle being separated from River one quarter of the time as well as the travel fatigue? Can Mark handle keeping the ship afloat on his own?

This is an experiment in where our family boundaries are and how we can craft an existence that works best for everyone.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bye bye baby

I’m now at an airport three hours from home and am in the process of putting many more hours and miles between myself and River.

The hardest part by far is the moment of leaving, followed by the time leading up to the separation. The time after leaving, by comparison, is easy. I held myself together for his sake. It wouldn’t do him any good to see me cry or to feel my anxiety. Mark dropped me off, I hugged River in his carseat, and at my request, Mark drove off. The quick goodbye was easier on both of us than a prolonged one would have been.

I prepared as well as I could. The plane crash in Buffalo only brought home even more the reminder that life is precious and can end at any time. I spent quality time with both Mark and River in the days before leaving, my last words to both of them were filled with love, I even left a note in the fire box, in case something should happen, to remind them once more of my feelings for them.

As this date approached, I wasn’t very excited about the trip. I’m still not. Perhaps that will come with landing in a foreign environment. What I was excited about was the time at the airport. I imagined myself free of the responsibility of a young child, engaging in luxurious reading, writing, window shopping and napping. That sounded heavenly to me. Now that it’s here, yes I’m writing and yes I’m free of distractions. But I’m just tired and not enjoying it as much as I thought I might. I’d rather be playing with River.

This morning, shortly before leaving, I took River on a walk. Usually I listen to audiobooks while walking. It’s the only way I get any real reading done these days. But today, like in the past few days, I didn’t want to wear the ipod. I think I was subconsciously saving up moments to carry with me. I didn’t want to be separated from my environment, but instead wanted to hear it – the passing trucks, the dialogue of pedestrians, the rustle of the wind, River’s little babbles. I locked in the image of his small white hands gripping the stroller bar as he looked out at the scenery and the feeling of the stroller rhythmically rocking as he moved his body back and forth. I also took several photos of his activities this morning – clamoring to get up on my lap, lying flat on the floor and reaching under the TV stand in a search for balls, eating breakfast, and playing on his rocking horse – that I carry with me on my digital camera and help me to relive our last hours together.

I write as if he’s dead, or as if I am. There are a lot of things worse than a three week and three day separation. But I wonder if, to him, it may seem as though mommy is dead, or gone forever. It feels like I’ve left a part of myself behind. In a sense, I have. At the same time, while we come from the same flesh, we are individuals and we’ll need to travel in different directions at certain points in life. Knowing that we’ll come together again makes me happy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The big day approaches

The big day has been creeping up and will already be here in a matter of hours. Tomorrow I leave for just over three weeks.

The nervous butterflies have begun to creep in. Today, I was on the verge of tears a couple of times just thinking about leaving my pudgy little bundle of love. In the morning, he was clingy and I felt I was too often trying to escape him for a few moments in order to do the things that needed to be done. In the evening, he went down early and was asleep by 6 p.m. Initially, I appreciated the time to focus on finishing packing. But within a couple of hours, I wished I could be holding and hugging him.

My goal is to finish up tonight so that I can give him undivided attention during the few hours we have together in the morning. Unfortunately, River will be with Mark when he drops me off at the shuttle. The leaving is the hardest part. Having him there will drag it out and make it more emotional, and more difficult, for me.

He seemed anxious and crabby today. Anytime I put him down, he’d scoot after me, raising his hands in a supplication to be in my arms. I commented to Grace that it seemed he might know I’m leaving tomorrow.

“I think he might be able to sense it,” she said.

I tell myself I’m overrating my importance, as I think mothers are prone to do. I remind myself that he’ll be in great hands in a safe, loving atmosphere. But still, I’m sorry I have to leave him for so long.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moving toward disaster

Happy Valentine’s Day to all those celebrating. I hope all parents are able to find a few minutes of well-deserved romance.

Mark and I have decided not to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Our anniversary is not far away, so it’s worth it for us to wait a few weeks, when the dinners and flowers go down to standard prices and the valentine’s candy is on clearance. It works for us and it saves us money, but I still have to keep myself from drooling when walking by the bedecked flower shops.

In the past week alone, River has figured out how to descend a single step with comfort, he has flushed a toilet, he knows how to use my electric toothbrush, and now he’s heading toward movement that allows him to have two hands free, hands I’m sure will be filled with mischief. It’s funny how nature has designed this, to incrementally give the child more and more capabilities, to get the parents used to managing these freedoms step by step.

So far, we’ve moved along with the paces. I remember when it was hard to imagine him crawling, or how we’d safety proof the house, much less what we’d do when he could crawl up stairs. But it seems like the move toward walking is a whole different transformation. His ability to get into things will be magnified. His speed in getting from one place to another will increase exponentially.

At such times, I’m grateful for living in a small house. Two safety gates limit the area of his roaming to a very small square footage, enough that we can know what he’s up to. At least until he figures out how to open the basement door. Then we’ll have to figure out a creative way to keep him from falling into the dark, dank, creepy lower level. Maybe if he goes down there once, he’ll lose his desire to explore it again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Does a half inch scoot forward count as a first step?

I’ve written before that I’m anxious to see River’s first steps before leaving to spend three weeks overseas next week. It’s not the missing the first steps that bothers me, it’s returning to see him already an expert walker – to miss that novelty and excitement of a new skill gained.

In the past few days, I’ve been trying to move toward acceptance that I might not see them. I tell myself that he needs to move at his own speed, that I need to make this trip, and if our schedules don’t coincide perfectly, that won’t change our loving relationship. I remind myself that I’ve been there for many firsts in his first 14 months and I can’t be there for anything. I remind myself to not make a mountain of a molehill.

But still, I’d like to see them. The other day I held my bottle of DKNY perfume just out of his reach. It’s shaped like an apple and the green liquid floating inside is very intriguing to him. He puffed and panted and jumped and reached. He cried. He wanted it, badly. But not enough to let go of the edge of the bed and step toward it.

So this evening, when Mark came home from work and River was in his footie pyjamas, I decided to take stronger action. While he was in the middle of the hardwood living room floor, I pulled my hands from his grasp, and left him standing on his own without anything to hang on to. He wobbled, but stood there and kept himself upright.

Then I reached out my hands and urged him to come to me. Mark came from behind and began to cheer him on. River moved his right foot ahead slightly, just a little bit. But it was a movement forward and he did it on his own. I began to clap and cheer. Mark added to the chorus.

River’s look was priceless. His mouth was open, half in a smile, half a look of shock. He alternated panting with laughing. He had that simultaneous wide-eyed look of disbelief, fright and amazement that occurs when one reaches the boundaries of their physical limits and sees that what they thought were boundaries were in fact within the limits of capability. I think I had a similar look when I successfully climbed a small rock face or after giving birth. To be there and see that look was priceless. Even though I wished for the videocamera, which was only feet away, I wasn’t about to move and miss a second of the wonder.

We’ve seen that he’s physically capable for a while now. I think tonight he also realized he’s able to do more. Whether or not I see any more progress in the next few days is unknown. But that half inch was enough for me to leave with a calmer conscience. More than the movement itself, I saw his realization that he can enter a new phase of life. I couldn’t ask for more.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breastfeeding another's baby

Time Magazine has an article in its Health and Science section about Salma Hayek breastfeeding a hungry baby in Sierra Leone. The fact that this is newsworthy is pretty sad in my opinion. Even sadder is the “squeamish” reaction the author describes in the U.S.

According to the article, Hayek did it both to give food to the child and to promote breastfeeding to African men, who discourage it because they think a woman can’t have sex while breastfeeding. I’m afraid many of the Americans who are so critical sound a lot like the African men Hayek is trying to address – focusing more on a woman’s body as a sexual instrument rather than as a means of feeding her child.

When River was six-months old, I visited an orphanage in a developing country. The first thing I did upon arrival was to tell the staff that if there were any babies in need of breastmilk, I was willing to breastfeed them. There weren’t, but I would have been glad to donate a resource I had available and that could have helped them.

A little later, when my milk supply was low, my sister-in-law’s sister gave River a bag of her pumped breastmilk. Some in my family thought it was strange. I admit it was even weird to wrap my mind around. But in the end, I realized it didn’t matter that it wasn’t mine, that River benefited from the immunological properties in the breastmilk and I appreciated her sharing. River didn’t seem to notice the difference.

When my supply really started to decrease, had an option been available to either buy another’s breastmilk or use a wetnurse, I would have been happy to have those options available in addition to formula.

I think we as a society need to pay less attention to what we think the role for women’s bodies should be and respect whatever women, of their own free will, decide to do with their own. If their decisions result in a better outcome for babies as well, how can anyone really complain (unless they are coveting that breast for their own enjoyment)?

Have you ever shared breastmilk or used breastmilk from another?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A long work day

River got my cold, so I failed at the prevention. The upside is that now I can kiss him freely. Luckily, his seems to be milder than mine, so hopefully he won’t suffer too much.

Since we’re going to need our sitter for more hours during the time when I’m gone, I’m trying to cut back the hours before I leave to prevent us from going broke. So today I watched River all day, with the exception of my husband covering 45 minutes in the evening.

It helped that today was a beautiful day and I was able to get my 11,500 steps by taking a morning and an afternoon walk with him. At 2 p.m. Mark called and asked how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said. “River is napping and it’s really not too bad.” We’d had fun together in the morning, I got exercise during the walk, and he napped over two hours, allowing me to enjoy a cup of tea and to get some work done. Even while he was awake I could do things that didn’t require too much concentration. I baked apples, I uploaded photos to his Totspot page, I responded to emails. Thoughts of getting by with less babysitting began to run through my head. Maybe I could manage to work just during his naps and in the evenings?

Then around four it hit me. I was tired. I’d been on duty almost nine hours already. And I still had four more to go before he was asleep. I was also dodging phone calls, needing to speak to several people about professional matters, but not wanting a baby to be heard in the background. I did what I could during his nap. Then I neglected to answer the phone, waiting until Mark got home and gave me 45 minutes to work in quiet. Even if River was fun and well-behaved and infinitely huggable, this was longer than any paid work day. I was correspondingly worn out.

Yes, I do enjoy spending time with him and long days are getting easier as he gets older. But I’m definitely still a happier, more balanced and more accomplished person if I have a portion of the day blocked off to myself.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A kissing hiatus

I’ve come down with a bug that is traveling through our community. The doctor says it’s contagious, so I’m trying to prevent River and Mark from getting infected, especially since River had his chicken pox vaccine today.

Mark’s been sleeping downstairs and has been handling most interactions with River when we are both home. But in the mornings, I’m on my own with baby. A woman at the doctor’s office said we shouldn’t share food and I shouldn’t kiss him. The sharing food is not a problem. But not kissing him is killing me. Especially when I’m leaving in just over a week and am wanting to build up a supply of hugs and kisses to last three weeks of separation. Especially when he’s simultaneously infatuated with mom and so darned cute he’s impossible to resist. And especially when Mark seems to be having a minor anxiety attack about his impending three weeks as a single father and hopes I’ll take as much River responsibility as I can before I leave.

The woman at the doctor’s office said this virus can last for ten days, which would cure me three days before departure. I’m hoping it disappears quicker than that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The little toddler emerges

River has been transitioning from a baby to a toddler for several months now. But suddenly, it’s clear he’s no longer a baby. He’s a little person. While that comes with some sadness that the baby days are over and will never be repeated, I mostly feel excitement that I have a little buddy now and am getting to know him better each day.

Today I taught him the equivalent of “give me five.” But instead of saying “give me five,” I say “mano,” or hand in Spanish. It came about by accident, when he was pointing at a painting of a hand. I held up my hand to demonstrate what the word means. I held up his. And soon we were high-fiving each other.

I see his new maturity in the way he’ll now pause and cuddle with me or Mark, as though he’s making a conscious decision that he feels good in our arms. Of course he’s more methodical in his movements and activities, with each new little piece of knowledge gained affecting how he interacts with the world the next day.

He’s on the verge of walking and we expect it any day, though we recognize it could take weeks. He lets go and stands without support, shaking a little from side to side as though he’s going to do a hula dance.

As much as I’m enjoying all this, I did buy my tickets and I am going to leave for three weeks. I told Mark about my fears. As I thought, he didn’t think there was any reason to worry.

“He’s not going to know you’re gone,” he said. “He’s perfectly happy when you’re not here. Of course, when you come back again, he remembers and he’s happy, but he doesn’t miss you when you’re gone.”

That’s not quite what our babysitter says. She has told me of River looking at the door, waiting for me to come in. Nevertheless, I do know that most of the time I’m gone, River is having a perfectly grand time. I only hope that three weeks isn’t so long that he forgets entirely, or that he becomes angry.

As much as I dread being away from him for that long, I’m trying to look forward to the benefits. I can’t remember the last time I’ve slept in until the time I want to get up. Even on the days I was away from home, I had to get up to pump. This will be the first time that no baby and no pump will be calling me in the morning. That is a pretty grand thought. I’m going to make a rough trip – a 10 hour flight followed by a four hour trip across town and up and down staircases on three trains, followed by an eight hour flight followed by a night in a hotel and then a three hour bus ride – much more quickly and easily than I would towing a little one. I’m sure I’ll make use of that transit time, either reading or sleeping or writing, but certainly not just zoning out as I probably would before River’s birth. I now appreciate quiet, alone time for what it is worth. Not having River there will make it easier to accomplish the things I want to do.

Nevertheless, I imagine I’m going to ache for the feeling of his arms around his neck and his warm, solid body against mine. I’m going to long for his sing-song, happy voice. I’m going to wish his wet diaper was seeping pee onto my shirt.

But, as I’m learning through my reading of The Power of Now, there is no point in projecting or analyzing the future. I should enjoy the moment as it presents itself now. Right now it is a very satisfying combination of great time with River and progress back into a career. I am grateful.