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Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Secret Confession

Last week, my neighbor, Nassim, came to visit. She is a middle-aged Indian lady with six children of her own. Her oldest is twenty-one and her youngest is three. She loves visiting Noelle and when she does, she comes with a bundle of mothering tips.

"When you hold your baby, hold her like this," she says leaning Noelle's upper body back on her palm and cradling Noelle's small neck between her fingers.

"If she is spitting up alot, you go to the fridge and eat something cold for breakfast."

"To get her to sleep, you rub her head like this," she motions pulling her fingers gently across Noelle's crown.

I enjoy these visits. Even though I'm not sure about the accuracy of some of Nassim's advice, I can't help but believe her. After watching her raise three of her youngest, two of which were twins, she has earned a certain amount of credibility.

Last week, our conversation turned toward sleep and nap times and how she managed to get her twins to sleep.

"Oh, it was terrible," she said. "I would feed one and she would go to sleep and then the other one would start to cry. Sometimes, I didn't sleep at all."

A wave of exhaustion hit me, as I remembered my own sleepless night the day before. And that was with just one baby.

"Nassim," I said, "How did you do it?"

She stopped for a moment, Noelle reclining on her knee, and then answered thoughtfully. "This is what we do. It's our responsibility."

Nassim's response touched a deep chord. When she said these words, I realized suddenly that I was one of those women who values her productivity more than her role as a mother, that there is a part of me that resists the responsibility of motherhood. I want to be a successful writer. I want to have a career. I want to contribute something to the world at large and the idea of being a mom, staying awake at night, mastering breastfeeding and nap times, and spending hours changing diaper explosions doesn't plug those gaps for me.

I admit this as a short coming. I'm not comfortable with it. I want to see my responsibilities as a mother as equally fulfilling as my responsibilities as a career woman who helps pay the bills. I know, even as I'm writing this that raising my daughter is going to be immeasurably more rewarding than anything I write and get paid for, but still there is something broken inside of me. And whatever is broken has switched the circuits on my sense of significance.

For that reason, I'm stopping to acknowledge my own dysfunction, that rascally tendency to measure my success by what I produce, not by the love, sweat and tears of raising my daughter. In doing this, I hope to curb the brokenness that would whittle away my joy as a mother.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meditation and the Art of Putting a Baby to Sleep

I'm in the process of teaching my daughter how to fall asleep. It's a tricky skill to master - going to sleep. It involves a sleep time routine that we go through for each nap and bedtime. The routine ends with her swaddled, in my arms.

The first thing I do is get really comfortable so I have the patience to sit with her for five or ten minutes. The second thing I do is close my eyes.

Why do I do this? Because she watches me. Her beautiful, big eyes stare into my face while she drifts off and I've noticed that as long as I look back she keeps searching and searching my thoughts.

So I close my eyes to show her that it's time for her to close her eyes and every few seconds I peek to see if her lids are drooping. During this game of hide and seek I also rhythmically shush. I do it in long, single breaths so as to sound like waves falling on the beach, or wind pushing through branches.

These long breaths also calm me down. With each exhale I feel my body relax, and my chest unwind. My father told me once, after magically getting Noelle to fall asleep on his shoulder, "You've got to get real still inside." And so that's what I think of every time I let out a long breath.

The thought occurred to me this morning as I was putting Noelle down for her first nap, that if anyone walked in on me in that moment I would look like the pajama-clad version of a buddhist monk in meditation-- sitting cross legged, eyes closed, arms folded around a little bundle, and the long hum of one syllable - shhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Smelling Motherhood

I expected the smell of dirty diapers or baby powder, but there have followed an array of scents I had no idea would accompany motherhood.

There are the pleasant manufactured scents: Dreft laundry detergent, which I had never heard of before I had Noelle. It hadn't occurred to me to wash your baby's clothes with special soap. Then there are the variety of scents engineered in wet wipes, all fresh and clean.

Then there are the natural scents that aren't so pleasant, like the smell of spit up on my tops. One night I put on my pajamas, only to be greeted by the sour pang of dried milk. I thought for a moment that I could handle it, that I could wear the shirt anyway. Nope, couldn't stand it longer than 30 seconds.

But apart from all these smells, there is another smell that is a gentle present. It is at once new and familiar: the scent of my baby.

She came with her very own fragrance, like a new doll. A smell that did not exist in our home before she was born and doesn't come from the detergents or soaps or powders. I love to sniff her, every time I kiss her cheeks.

Anne Lammot writes about the smell of her son in _Operating Instructions_. She talks about the place "behind his ears that smells most like unwashed potatoes." I know what she means. Noelle's neck is that same intimate scent for me. I smell it most when she falls asleep in my arms.