About This Site

Life With Lilybird chronicles my journey as a mom (I guess I'm past being "new") in San Francisco with a particular emphasis on spirituality and parenting. [More]

 

 

Books I'm Reading
  • The Brothers K
    The Brothers K
    by David James Duncan
  • An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
    An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
    by Barbara Brown Taylor
  • Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
    Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
    by Myla Kabat-zinn, Jon Kabat-zinn
  • Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
    Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
    by Rachel Naomi Remen
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Wednesday
Jun102009

Moving

Last weekend we moved from the garden studio we’ve called home for the past five years. This was the home Lily was conceived in. Where we brought her home on Christmas day. Where I’d wanted to give birth. A place I was safe. It was a very special place for us.

I find myself crying even now as I type this. Although we were probably outgrowing the space, we didn’t move by choice. Our landlady’s son and new wife and baby are moving in. I’m very happy for them—and I know this is ultimately best for all of us, but it’s still hard. A chapter has ended, a very good chapter. And I don’t know yet what the new one will bring. As much as I like to pretend that I’m adventurous and up for new experiences, at the core I’m actually a home body, a nester. I am willing to take flight, but I don’t migrate well.

I cried over this fear in my church/spiritual discussion group this weekend. But—and here’s why I go even when I want to hibernate—I was heard and then hugged. There is such comfort in having a friend hear your fears, really hear them. Even if nothing has changed about the situation, somehow I don’t feel alone anymore.

After I’d cried, a friend who is one of the wise elders in my life summed up exactly why moving is so hard, at least for me. “Baby,” she said in her wonderfully comforting New Orleans accent, “Moving is hard because it’s about home. It’s normal to feel sad. When we move we revisit every loss we’ve ever had.”

That’s exactly how I’ve felt with this move. Loss of a space where I had been very happy and loss of control because we weren’t moving on our timetable. That might be why I’d had such a hard time getting any real packing done. Well, that and a five-month old who thinks 20 minutes is a plenty long nap! (Thank goodness we have friends and family who swooped in over the weekend and moved us. Our transition to the new nest really took the enthusiastic involvement of our whole flock!)

The new place is in a good location—hopefully a bit sunnier come this August and close to great dog and baby walking, but it just isn’t our private little garden haven. We have to get used to street noise and apartment living. And no dishwasher…

Last night as Lily fell asleep next to me on our bed, er, mattress on the floor, that is, I was wondering how the move seemed to her. Did she even notice the different surroundings? Could she tell how tired and stressed out her parents were?

She fell asleep after nursing, her top arm flailing about rather wildly until she finally grasped my finger and held on tightly. I could tell she was falling into deeper sleep as her hold gradually slackened.

It occurred to me that maybe she has a better, simpler, and ultimately more lasting definition of “home”: us. Her parents, her dog, and her food source were all in one place. Home travels with her. This is a lesson I’m still struggling to learn from her. She seems to truly believe the lyrics of one her favorite lullabies, “Smiles awake you when you rise.”

She slept straight through until six this morning, right on through the sounds of the #43 making its way down Lombard street. 

Saturday
May232009

My Dog Forgives Me

Like many people, we started off married life with a four-legged “first-born.” We adopted Pali in our first year of marriage when we were living on the island of Kauai. We’d gone to the Humane Society looking for a black lab and came out with this adorable mutt who had stolen our hearts with her big brown eyes and her propensity for staring deeply in our eyes with them.Pali accepts Lily as part of the pack now.

We’ve always been the couple “with the dog.” When I taught college English, Pali became the department mascot, and students were known to make a special trip just to get some unconditional dog loving. Many more students on campus knew me as “Pali’s mom” than by any other name. She just always came with us—work, dinner, walks, Paris. Yes, even Paris. When we did a home exchange with a French couple two years ago, Pali came along while I blogged about the experience for a local dog newspaper. She was a great traveling companion and pushed us to explore parts of Paris we never would have as regular tourists. She also helped break the ice as we met Parisians—how could we be regular Americans if we came avec dog?

All this is build-up to say that we were very worried about how her life (and ours) would change once Lily arrived. I was never worried about Lily’s safety, although I did keep a close eye at first, but I just knew this would be a huge change after almost ten years of first-born status for Pali.

At the beginning things were quite rough. Pali was just truly depressed. One of the reasons why I had wanted a home birth was so Pali could be a part of the pack changing, but, as you all probably know by now, our double footling breech baby decided she wanted to be a belly birth. Maybe not surprisingly, Pali seemed to know precisely what had happened to me when I came home from the hospital. We had heard about letting your dog “meet” the baby outside of the house first, so I went in ahead of Stephen and laid down (actually in a great deal of pain—getting in and out of bed turned out to be a huge problem for the first 10 days). Pali came over to the bed, excited to see me after four days away. She put her paws up next to me and instantly her nose went to my belly where she sniffed my incision. Then she went directly to my chest and sniffed my breasts—she actually licked them through my sweatshirt. Clearly she knew these were places on her mama’s body that weren’t the same.

The stress of a new baby showed quickly. We were all used to a solid eight hours of sleep at night, and life with a newborn is exhausting for everyone, canines included. She chewed a big hot spot on her tail, something she’d never done before, and generally just pretended as if Lily didn’t exist. Every now and then I’d catch her staring at me with this mournful expression as if to say, “Wasn’t I a good dog?”

I kept telling Stephen how I wished I could explain to Pali that I still loved her, that she was still our best dog, but I was just so exhausted (and in a lot of pain still). I hadn’t wanted to be one of those dog owners who ignored her dog once the baby came along—and we didn’t—but there was no denying that the hierarchy had shifted.

Gradually, Pali started to notice Lily. A lick here or there, a sniff, even a willingness to cuddle up with me on the bed while nursing.

Then Lily started noticing Pali. Her first real belly laugh came at four months while she was watching Stephen play with Pali one night, and it was truly a delightful moment. I also started to notice her tracking Pali’s moves around the apartment. Now she loves to go over and pet “our dog.” (She obviously still needs help to do this.)

Pali accepts Lily’s attempts to love her quite generously now. She’ll roll over and expose her belly for pats, and the kisses come quickly now. I even think she's getting to be a bit protective of Lily. Several times she's come over to get me when Lily starts to fuss, and I noticed that she was herding my mom's dog away from Lily the last time we visited.

I’ve tried to imagine if there is anyway I’d be so adaptable and forgiving if my life changed so dramatically without my consent. (Granted having Lily has totally changed my life, but it was a thoughtful, intention choice.) Pali has taught me much about unconditional love in the past in the way that she accepts everyone, including me on my bad days, without judgment. There is true power in that sort of love. And now that circle of Pali love is plus one.

Just wait until she realizes that babies can also be a food source. We might see love on a whole new level!

Thursday
May212009

An iPhone App Called Freedom

Okay, so it's actually called Baby Monitor, but it gave us a taste of very sweet freedom. I thought a very practical post was in order after all my essaying, so here you go: If you or yours worship at the house of Apple like we do, check out this app. Nothing sweeter than a sleeping baby—except one asleep at your friend's house while you enjoy an evening out!

It lives up to its name. You put it beside your baby, and if it hears noise, it calls a number you specify. Then you can listen in and see if you need to go in. I don't need a baby monitor in our small space, but we decided to visit friends the other night who have a classic long, skinny San Francisco apartment, which means the bedroom and the living room are about a half a mile apart. I put Lily down in their room, and she actually went to sleep without too much extra trouble (a chorus of angels singing Hallelujah would summarize my feelings quite nicely). I put the Baby Monitor app on my phone, put it next to her, and it worked beautifully. I also have Lily used to sleeping with a white noise iPhone app, and this Baby Monitor app was smart enough to not get triggered by the white noise. It seemed to set itself to a base level of noise.

We enjoyed an evening of food, drink, and good conversation with our friends and saw visions of other evenings in adult company ahead.

It was beautiful.

(P.S. If you are an iPhone fan, I should tell you that my husband has a rather cool photo dialer app, Dial 9, in the app store. Check it out after you enjoy an evening out with Baby Monitor!)

Monday
May182009

Masks, Baths and Blessings

Two thing happened this weekend that really seem to define the extreme ends of the spectrum that I find myself on lately—one is defined by fear and angst, the other by deep joy and contentment. Naturally I’d like to trend towards the contended end, and it can be easy when I get ready to write something to focus on those moments exclusively, as this is my preferred version of myself. But first, here are the stories.

The Fear End

Friday morning a box arrived in the mail that reminded me of my tendencies toward fear. The box was full of masks that I had ordered in the first few days of swine flu paranoia. This sort of over-reaction is very unlike me. I’m not someone who tends to panic; I’m pretty even keel (well, before pregnancy and postpartum hormones, at least). I don’t know if it was my new mama protective instincts, or just plain fear, but I ordered—I’m embarrassed to admit it—almost $80 worth of N95 particle filtering face masks.

What Lily thinks about my swine flu ridiculousness

Now, I don’t watch TV right now (no time, and it freaks me out how mesmerized Lily is by images on a screen), so I managed to get myself into enough of a worried frenzy to order a ridiculous supply of face masks just off a few newspaper and online news stories. Lord knows what I might have purchased if I’d watched any of the 24-hour news channels! Anne Lamott talks about how fear can be a powerful drug, and ever since I’ve read that I’ve realized how true this can be for me. It can be perversely satisfying to give into the demons and portents of doom that always lurk at the corners ready to feed on our fears. At my church group the other week we talked about cognitive distortions and the lies we often live by. Mine is definitely the ability to quickly catastrophize—X (fill in the blank—finances, libido, MA-thesis-that-I-haven’t-thought-about-in-five-months…) is bad now, just imagine the horror that lies ahead.

Anne Lamott’s financial fears (which pretty much everyone I know is facing in a big way right now) quickly turn into visions of living in the Tenderloin with her infant son, penniless, forced to walk the streets as a prostitute to make money—and this is the part that cracks me up—having to suck in her stomach all the time. We all have our limits.

I’ve started to realize that fear, for me, manifests itself in trying to assert control. Having a baby has made me realize just how much of a control freak I can be:

-       “Babe—those aren’t the pajamas I meant for you to put on her.”

-       “I don’t think she wants to play on the bed anymore.”

-       “Can you hear that? Because I do. Maybe I should hold her since you don’t seem to notice that she’s fussing.”

Etc.

The Joy End

The joy bookend actually started Friday afternoon when I took an afternoon to myself. Stephen, er, Lily bought me a massage at the Kabuki Spa for my first Mother’s Day. The spa is a traditional Japanese communal bath with a steam room, sauna, hot pool, and cold (and I do mean cold) pool. It’s a quiet, meditative space. Oh—and it’s a space to be enjoyed men and women on alternating days as most people bathe nude. One of my favorite times at the baths is lying on one of the wooden lounges, just resting after doing a full round, including a dip in the cold bath. I love how my body radiates heat after the cold dip—it’s the promise of that feeling that makes me convince myself that the cold dip is worth the shock.

I felt the anger, stress, and fear draining out of me as I laid there listening to the sounds of water all around me. There’s a reason why almost every book and movie has some sort of baptismal scene when a character is going through a transformation (seriously, look for it—a night in soaked in the rain, a steamy shower, a swim in a lake). We come from water, and water continues to have a powerful hold over us. I was reminded that I desperately need time to myself, especially now (and a space where I can’t talk is a good thing for very-verbal me).

I would have liked to stay in this space for several hours, but I was starving. The cucumbers meant for eye masks didn’t seem likely to abate my lactating appetite. Oh—and I realized that if I didn’t breastfeed my baby soon I was going to start leaking milk. Not something I thought the other bathers would appreciate.

However, when I came home I was able to appreciate the fact that in my absence my husband had not only watched Lily, but had cleaned the apartment and organized her clothes (no small feat).

The next day, we had a baby dedication for Lily at our small church/discussion group. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that we’ve struggled a lot trying to know how to best raise a child to engage in the Big Questions in life without dogma. Finding a group of fellow seekers was a big turning point for us. These are friends who know us—not just the pretty parts either. They’ve known Lily since she was a theoretical topic! Friends and family also came to be a part of the blessing.

Lily’s godparents (who are also our pastors), led out in a community blessing. They asked our friends and family members to call out a word or phrase that encapsulated their hope for Lily.  It was really amazing to stand in front as a family, listening to this shower of blessings. Lily was blessed with hopes for peace, joy,A newly blessed Lily. understanding, curiosity, creativity, belonging, love, faith, empathy, contentedness, fortitude, smarts, empowerment, self-confidence, the desire to dance, and much more. Although we all wish these things for children, hearing these hopes verbalized in such a setting gave them new meaning for me, new intentionality. There really is power in saying something out loud. I felt our family wrapped in a cloud of love and warmth (it helped that it was an exceptionally warm and sunny day).

My deepest hope for Lily is for her to learn to love and be loved. From that foundation, I think all manner of good things come, some of which might not actually be pleasant but will still be good.

It’s this bookend where I want to dwell. It’s a place where I feel content, surrounded by a community of love. In this space I know that Stephen and I can forge a good future for our family. I believe that we can live unconventionally, and that we can thrive.

Of course, If I can manage to keep this thought forefront during the next two weeks, it will be a miracle. We have to pack, move, and start fundraising for our next documentary project.

One of the affirmations that I used to repeat often while preparing for birth is one that I clearly need to start each day with if I want to stay on the joy/contended end of my personal spectrum. It simply says, “All is well. I am content.”

Okay, maybe each day isn’t enough. I probably need to start each hour with that thought if I want to keep the demons on mute and the swine flu face masks in their box.

Saturday
May092009

The Spirituality of Parenting

Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas, is one of my favoriteRabbi Sasso says that children have an innate wonder and a natural sense of the divine. podcasts. The host has my ideal job. I would love to get paid to talk to great minds about the Big Questions and how various various religious traditions have tried to approach answering them.

They just replayed one of my all-time favorite episodes, The Spirituality of Parenting. The featured guest is Rabbi Sandi Sasso of Congregation Beth-El Zedec in Indianapolis.

This is an episode that really spoke to me. Rabbi Sasso speaks far beyond her own faith tradition and affirms that parenting is a very spiritually challenging task, partly because children seem to be born with an innate wonder and a sense of God. One of the most interesting tidbits I picked up was that research confirms that children have an idea about God—whether or not their parents have explicitly taught them about their own views of the divine—by the age of five.

A lot of the questions children ask are the very questions that we still struggle with (which is why we have a tendency to dismiss them), but she emphasizes that the key to nurturing your child's mind is to have the conversation, explore the questions—don’t worry about not having pat answers.

She actually also really affirms trying to raise your child within a faith community and tradition, although she recognizes that often people have extremely negative religious memories and don't want to inflict that on their own children. I loved a part where she talks about realizing that we also help to define a religious tradition—we aren't just descendants of a tradition, we are its ancestors too. That’s a powerful challenge to me, especially given my complicated relationship with my heritage faith.

We ordered Sasso’s book, God's Paintbrush, which is one of the books we heard an excerpt from on this show. If you're wanting any material like this for the children in your life, let me pass on that it's really great (it's endorsed by Protestant, Catholic & Jewish religious leaders). The first time I read it, I cried (although with all of the extra hormones I’ve had in the last year, I can say that about a lot of things!).

The book has observations and thoughts on God and then asks questions about God that the child can answer. Lily’s not ready for this chat yet, but it seems like a great way to have a dialogue with kids about matters of the spirit. I'm still getting used to age ranges, but I'd say this is ideal for kids in the 3-7 age range.

Here's one of my favorite pages, to give you a taste of the style:

 

My class went on a hike the other day.

We climbed to the top of a mountain,

and I shouted H-E-L-L-O!

I heard a voice call back

            H-E-L-L-O!

It sounded just like my voice--

only far away.


My teacher said the sound I heard

was an echo.

It was fun to hear our own voices--

we kept calling out, and the sound

from space kept calling back.

 

I wonder what God's voice sounds like.

            Is it deep and gruff?

            Is it soft and gentle?

            Is it loud or quiet?

I think, God keeps calling out and maybe

we are the sound that calls back.

            Maybe people are God's echo.

 

How are you God's echo?

What does God call us to do?

You can download or stream the podcast here. For parents who want to nurture the natural spirituality of children, Sasso has a list of recommended books

 

Saturday
May092009

Baby Loves Smiles

It’s amazing what the smile of a baby does to people. It’s amazing what it does for me.Who can resist that smile? (Photo by Janine Wagner)

We’ve been all over the city this week, starting our hunt for a new place to call home. I’ve been grumpy, very grumpy about this. It’s a long story, but I love our current space, small as it is and would love to stay. Our landlady's son and new wife and baby are going to be moving in though. They're lovely, but I can't help but wish we could just pitch a tent in our yard. I know change is hard for all of us, and I know this change might end up being a good thing, something I look back on as a great fork in the road. But having to move with a baby has just been an overwhelming idea. Trying to envision our life anew in every intriguing ad on craigslist is exhausting. And I get tired of trying to sell ourselves as trustworthy folks over and over again (not to mention our dog). But I tell you, everywhere we go Lily’s smile breaks the tension and changes the mood. I can’t stay forlorn watching building managers and leasing agents grinning back at her. Her joie de vivre is catching.

We ran into one of our favorite neighbors in the park the other day. He's someone with a lot of character--a long, braided goatee, a penchant for riding his skateboard while one of the dogs he walks pulls him down the sidewalk, and a deep appreciation for cannabis. As we walked with him, he told me his theory on why babies can’t talk. “They would blow our minds if they could talk,” he said. “They’re so pure, so close to the source of it all. We wouldn’t know how to process what they tell us.” (Okay, so he might have used slightly more colorful language to express just how hard it would be for us to process these insights....)

I like that idea. I like thinking that what Lily remembers that we no longer do is what allows her to bless us with these amazing smiles.

Saturday
May022009

In the Absence of Judgment…

Doctor and author Rachel Naomi Remen always knows how to make me cry. I loved her insights before I was a mom, but I don’t know if it’s hormones, tiredness, or just the extra tenderness that mommyhood brings out in me, but I need to keep tissues around when I read her.

The latest story I read in her Little Book of Kitchen Table Wisdom is one I really want to share. It reminded me that all of my obsessing about the big, huge responsibility of raising a child, especially my worries about how her childhood will impact her view of the divine, of whether or not the universe is friendly, is likely a whole lot of overkill. The simple (but is it simple?) task is to love my daughter unconditionally. Period. No exegesis  needed. Here’s her words:

All love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.

Approval is a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment on them as surely as when we criticize them.

The life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than by disease. One moment of unconditional love may call into question a lifetime of feeling unworthy and invalidate it.

As a child I spent many summers alone on a deserted beach on Long Island, gathering shells, digging for little clams, leading a far different life from the city life I led the rest of the year. There was great peace in these summers, a new ability to be without people and yet not alone, and I have many good memories of this time. Every morning the sea would wash up new treasures—pieces of wood from sunken boats, bits of glass worn smooth as silk, the occasional jellyfish. Some of my most vivid memories concerned the beautiful white birds that flew constantly overhead. I remember how their wings would become transparent when they passed between me and the sun. Angel wings. My heart followed them and yearned for wings to fly.

Many years later I had the opportunity to walk this same beach. It was a great disappointment. Bits of seaweed and garbage littered the shoreline, and there were sea gulls everywhere, screaming raucously, fighting over the garbage and the occasional dead creature the sea had given up.

Disheartened, I drove home. It was only later that I realized that the gulls were the white birds of my childhood. The beach had not changed. In the absence of judgment, many things can become holy.

Saturday
Apr252009

Carpe Baby

Somehow our new little family is already four months old. Life with Lilybird gets better everyday, although I’m already sounding like the typical parent who misses the times when she was smaller (I know this sounds unbelievable to anyone who doesn’t have a baby, as she is undeniably still quite a little thing). Most days sheThe 4-month-old Lily smiles with her Papa. seems to figure out how to smile even bigger than the day before. And when her face lights up because she recognizes me? It seems like I’m just learning what joy feels like. (Of course that huge smile might just mean she’s thinking what Anne Lamott fears all babies think when they see their mother, “Oh good, the chuck wagon is here.”)

I’m also not so completely exhausted every moment of the day now. I’m still tired more than I’m not, but I am definitely starting to get enough rest that I can enjoy the little moments—like last night’s prolonged bedtime.

Last night she got sleepy even earlier than usual, 6:30, and she feel asleep almost instantly when I nursed her in bed. However, rather than staying asleep, she pulled a catnap. After a short ten minutes, she woke up refreshed with a second wind. She lay there next to me, blowing raspberries (her new favorite hobby other than finger-eating) and making fun little noises. Stephen came in to check on my progress to find a wide-awake baby. He laid down with us, and I sighed deeply, realizing my dinner would be very cold by the time I got to it.

“This time isn’t going to last long,” he said, sensing my frustration that bedtime was taking so long. “We need to appreciate every day. Carpe diem. Well, Carpe Baby, at least.”

We had a good laugh at the idea of seizing the baby (might that be child abduction in Latin?), and after a while they both fell asleep. Pali came in to check on us (it’s very fun to see Pali and Lily start to interact with each other), and she jumped up on the bed too. The bed started to feel quite full (it’s only a double bed).

After a while, I was the only one awake, squeezed between my sleeping family. This happens frequently, and sometimes I feel quite put upon—as if everyone needs something from me while I just continue to give and give. Put this time it felt different. It felt holy.

It was one of those moments when time slows and for just a breath, I remember I’m blessed. A quote from Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Christian mystic, came to mind. “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice.”

Friday
Apr102009

Of Death, Bitter Herbs, Teeth, and Harry Potter

Note: I didn’t start out to write a Good Friday post. It just took me all week to find the time to finish this. Given the topic, it seems quite appropriate though.

I’ve had a hard time dealing with death lately."Gathering Bitter Herbs" (Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

While I was pregnant with Lily, I realized that death scared me much more than I had ever previously acknowledged. Death and birth, as our bookends on this human experience, are closely related, so I think it’s natural that being pregnant stirs up thoughts of death (and for most of human history giving birth has been such a risky undertaking for women that they very justly feared that the start of their child’s life might be the end of their own).

Bringing new life into the world also naturally requires reflection on what values and beliefs we want to pass on to our children. I didn’t just want to give birth to a child; I wanted—want—to help imbue her life with meaning and purpose, which brings me back to the Big Questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? All of these questions deal with death both explicitly and implicitly.

In a previous post, I talked about how some work I did with a hypnotherapist while I was pregnant helped me recognize that one of my deepest fears about birth and motherhood was that the hope I had been raised with—the hope that death, as John Donne penned, is just “one short sleep past” before “we wake eternally”—might simply be wishful thinking, a way to deal with the randomness, pain, and injustices of this life.

These past few weeks have made me face this fear anew. The three families, seven adults and seven children, who died in that tragic Montana plane crash you’ve likely read about were alumni of my alma mater and my husband went to high school with one of the fathers. This news has been especially hard to fathom now that I have a child. The loss of so many young lives—all of the children were under 10—is truly unfathomable to me. And I can’t imagine how my parents would cope if they ever faced such a loss of their children and grandchildren (two of the mothers were sisters; five of the children were cousins).

And this week, one of my former colleagues died of lung cancer. She had never smoked even one cigarette. It feels so colossally unfair. She was only 52 with two children in high school. We taught composition together in the English department for two years when I was still quite green. Not only did she welcome me (and my dog) to her office anytime, but she also opened all of her files, gave me copies of her syllabi, and mentored me through my first challenging semesters.

The last time I saw her was in the lab of a local hospital. She was getting her blood drawn to try to figure out why she couldn’t shake a persistent chest cold. I was getting my blood drawn to make sure we were all set to start trying to get pregnant.

She was on her way to a lung cancer diagnosis. I was on my way to meet Lily. Life and loss don’t ever seem to be too far from each other.

This juxtaposition of life and loss was really emphasized for me this past weekend when the small church/spiritual community that we go to celebrated a Sedar meal together as a way to respect, appreciate and enter into this important Jewish holiday. The 15-part meal, in the words of a rabbi, represents the journey of liberation and transformation. As one of my pastors put it, “It’s 15 parts because transformation takes a long time—it’s the work of a lifetime.”

One of the steps, Maror, the eating of bitter herbs, really affected me. I was holding Lily during the meal, doing the new mama sway to keep her peacefully sleeping in her sling. I carefully ate the mixture of horseradish on lettuce, trying not to spill on her (wouldn’t that be a great introduction to solids!).  The horseradish is actually mixed with the Charoset, a sweet walnut and apple paste which symbolizes the mortar that the Jews used as slaves to keep the bricks together while building Pharoah’s many projects. My other pastor, who had actually made the dishes, pointed out that the Charoset, the sweetest part of the whole meal, also had wine or grape juice mixed in to symbolize that everything, even the sweet and easy times, has at least a little pain that is inherent. We ate the bitter herbs twice. The second time they were inside a Matzah “sandwich,” symbolizing the mix of bitter and sweet isn’t only external; it’s also within.

As a metaphor for life, the eating of bitter herbs teaches me that life and loss really are inextricably woven together. I’m speaking as a novice—and a non-Jewish one at that—but my takeaway was that the whole experience is a reminder that life is often bitter, we will be slaves in Egypt for far too long, but we carry with us the hope and possibility of liberation and transformation.

I told the group after the meal that Maror had reminded me of how difficult the previous week had been because Lily had started teething. The pain she felt cutting her teeth was excruciating for Stephen and me to witness (she added a new scream to her repertoire that gives new meaning to the term "blood-curdling"). And many of our efforts to help her were very poorly received by her. There’s just no way to explain to a baby that suctioning her nose with a saline spray and one of those horrible bulb aspirators is actually going to make her feel better. However, from my vantage point as an adult (with teeth!), I know that teeth are important and quite nice for both eating and biting off hang nails. I can now see two little teeth starting to emerge, but boy is that emergence a big pain in the gums (and ears, and nose, apparently).

All I can hope is that from the vantage point of the divine, our pain and loss that seems so unfair, so random is like cutting teeth in the big scheme of things. And I desperately hope there is a scheme of things.

Those close to me laugh at how often I see applicable truth and insight in the Harry Potter series, but I’m realizing while writing this post that besides the clever plot and engaging characters, I love these books because they are all about death, the temptation of immortality, the power of self-sacrificing love, and, above all, the hope that there is a big scheme of things.

J.K. Rowling has said that her mother’s slow demise from multiple sclerosis was a big part of her motivation to write the series. She struggles mightily with her faith in the books—this is no easy allegorical tale. Like me, her doubts are big, her questions real. The tombstone on the grave of Harry’s parents points to her hope. She quotes 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” That is ultimately the thesis statement of the series.

Rowling knows that her hints of transcendence, her gestures at something beyond can only be that—gestures and not road signs. Faith, after all, is the substance of things hoped for. When Harry meets Dumbledore in the afterlife—well, really the chamber to the afterlife—and learns the answers to most of his questions, he asks Dumbledore if their conversation was real or if it was just in his head. Dumbledore’s answer is one of my favorite explanations of faith: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I have no idea how to incorporate Dumbledore's wisdom, or the lessons of Maror, or even my hopes and fears into my parenting of Lily. But maybe in a small way just deciding to have her is in itself a gesture, a prayer for the substance of things hoped for.

Friday
Apr032009

Another Milk Story

I've had what I'd diplomatically describe a "hate/hate" relationship with my breast pump from the very beginning. There really is nothing maternal or sweet or nurturing about being hooked up with suction cups on your breasts. Who needs the boob when you've got the pump?

Now, I'm the first to admit that nursing isn't always maternal or sweet or nurturing, especially in the beginning--see my previous comments about sore nipples and my rather embarrassing propensity for swearing in the first few days (okay first two weeks) of having my darling attach herself with the force of a sizable Kansan twister to my most sensitive parts. 

However, breast pumps do manage to make me feel rather like a chuck wagon--and not a romantic one either. More like a taco truck. Of course, this lead to a whole other post about the dual nature of breasts in our culture--functional and sexual--which is why people often get uncomfortable seeing a woman breastfeed, especially if she's breastfeeding a child old enough to "ask for it." Let's just say that my breasts have never felt more functional than when they're hooked up to my breast pump. (An aside: There's a fascinating article in the January New Yorker about the history of breastfeeding. It talks a lot about breast pumps and how they've become the cheap "solution" for keeping babies fed on their mother's milk so we don't have to actually work on better, more complex policies for things like maternity leave. One interesting takeaway from the article is that feeling like a cow while using a breast pump isn't accidental. Medela's patents share designs with cow milking machines.)

I read Anne Lamott's chapter on breast pumps before I purchased mine, so I didn't realize just how accurate her title was: Six-inch Nipples. Sadly, I thought she was being hyperbolic. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of attaching one of these bad babies to your breasts, they're all business, rather like one of those vacuum fish that we used to get to keep our fishtanks clean. You're supposed to have the suction set pretty much as high as you can handle without it actually hurting. No matter what setting I use, the end result looks like mauled nipple.

And, I've barely been getting any milk out lately. It has surprised me how much of pumping is psychological. I always get more milk when I look at pictures of Lily playing on my laptop, or, better yet, have Stephen hold her so I can smell her.  Once she started crying while I was pumping, and that really helped things flow! But, ever since the Horrible Morning When All My Milk Thawed, I've gotten very little milk out with my pump. Especially since we're still sometimes hit, more often miss with her actually taking the bottle, my breasts seem to know pumping is often an expression of a futile pipe dream to one day have a free afternoon.

All of the lactation consultants I've talked to recommend pumping in the morning because that's when prolactin/milk production levels are the highest. However, Lily is her most alert, playful, and talkative first thing in the morning, so I often just prefer to play with her. (There's also the matter of not being able to really watch her and pump simultaneously.) I still haven't found an optimal time. 

This morning she didn't seem very hungry (I've read that teething can distract them from nursing and that sucking can be painful), so I decided to pump before I got too engorged. As I dutifully massaged my left breast, trying to urge a little more milk out, I started feeling wet. Then I noticed that the chair I was sitting on had milk spots starting to appear all over it. I suddenly realized that my right breast--the one I wasn't pumping--had sprung a gusher. I know letdown usually happens in both breasts at the same time, but I'd never experienced anything like this. I felt like the Silly Willy sprinkler that my sister and I used to run through on hot summer days in our backyard. 

I put my hand out and the milk started pooling in my palm. I yelled at Stephen to bring me a cup so I wouldn't waste it. To his credit, he made a good effort to contain his laughter.

So, there I sat. One breast attached to the vacuum fish, the other spraying milk into a wine glass with the gentle, rhythmic sound of my pump providing the sound track. Errrh Ohh Errrh Ohh Errrh Ohh. And who said motherhood isn't romantic?