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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

weaning and weeping

I went cold turkey on Zoë on yesterday.

On Monday I went to the acupuncturist to help with my general malaise and to get an immune system boost, and the acupuncturist reminded me (as her husband had back in February) how hard breastfeeding is on our bodies, how much energy it takes. I nodded and agreed. Let me explain: I have been sick more in the last year than ever in my life. I am well—breathing freely for a week (maybe two)—and then I’m sick again, coughing until I puke. And I’m tired all the time.

Part of this is not the fault of nursing, of course. It’s me doing what I do: too much. It’s the master juggling act that, even on the days I feel I have perfected it, takes its toll. But with nursing, it’s as if I can feel the energy just draining out of me.

The acupuncturist told me her own story—similar to mine—about the exhaustion she experienced while nursing her second child. She said that in the end she weaned for self-preservation. I nodded again. I know it’s time.

Then she asked if I was still eating a lot of sugar. (It’s in the notes from several months ago.) I said I was, and she reminded me that sugar is an immune-system depressant. (Had I blocked this? I knew it was hard on the sinuses, but had I forgotten—not known?—that it actually made your immune system less efficient.) So much for the 3-pound bag of gummy bears I just bought. (It’s true. I really am in my late-30s and buying gummy bears in bulk.)

“There’s also a lot of sugar in wine,” I said with a grimace.

“For now, why don’t you wean Zoë, wean yourself from sugar, and keep the wine.”

I love this woman. “Deal,” I said.

Deal. I had my coffee without sugar for the first time EVER in my life yesterday. And guess what? It was fine. At the coffee shop I put in a little honey, and I actually liked it! Mikey likes it! I didn’t shove a handful of gummy bears into my mouth after lunch, and I was still fine. I didn’t even want a bowl of chocolate ice-cream when D dished himself one after dinner. The sugar, I guess, will be the easy part of this deal.

The hard part, clearly, is weaning Zoë. I made it through yesterday. When she pounded on my chest in the afternoon, I distracted her. We had dinner at my mom’s and she was up later than usual, so when D put her down to bed, she was fine—so tired she didn’t care about her milky. And even early this morning, when she cried out at 4:45 am (yes, I’m serious), I just nudged D and told him he was on. He took her downstairs and fed her some banana and a little bit of a smoothie.

But when I got up at 7 (7!) and Stella came upstairs talking about her new feather collection (we have to drive all over town looking for the dirty things), Zoë heard my voice and immediately started to keen mamamamamamama. She crawled up the stairs, grabbed my legs and pointed to the bed.

When I said, “milky all gone,” she began to wail. And I mean WAIL.

In the bathroom, she threw a tantrum of which I wouldn’t have believed a 15-month-old capable: she upturned the basket holding extra rolls of toilet paper; thrashed around the plastic step-stool, slapped Stella, and banged her head against the door. The only reason that she didn’t hit her head, hard, on the tile floor was because Stella was there to catch her, cradling Zoë’s skull in her hands.

“Just feed her, Mom,” Stella said.

It crossed my mind for a moment, and then D was there: “You can’t feed her forever.”

This thought is usually the most helpful for me to remember. I have to stop at some point, and it will be hard for me no matter when I do it. But maybe I could do it in a way that would be less hard for her? I had started on a slow-wean process, cutting out a feeding a week, and I had successfully eliminated the bed-time nursing. But then Zoë got sick and I got sick again. And the thing about the slow wean is it’s still hard for her, but it’s hard for a longer period of time. And if I just cold-turkey it at this point, my thought is that it will be difficult for her for a few days, and then it will be done.

But the “you can’t feed her forever” wasn’t actually helpful this morning, when my heart was breaking because I wasn’t giving Zoë what she wanted and needed. My eyes filled with tears. D apologized and herded the girls outside with the lure of a dog sighting for Zoë.

If I could go out of town for three days, and then come back, it would be easier, but that’s not in the cards, and I am convinced it *is* time to wean her. But still, I feel so sad that I won’t nurse Zoë—or any baby—ever again. It’s so final, a part of motherhood that is over for me.

You see, I love nursing. When I’m lying down with Zoë before her nap and she is nursing away, I slow down. It’s just her and me and the rhythm of her gulping. Even if I feel hectic and stressed, for the moments I am lying there with her, brushing away a sweaty curl from her forehead, I am calm. When she glances up at me with her eyes wide, I think, this is the most amazing thing in the world. When she pulls my shirt over her face and twists its edge around her fist, my heart could break with love. When she peeks out from behind the shirt, I smile. “Where’s Zoë?”

I have been looking forward to the new anthology Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding, edited by Dana Sullivan and Maureen Connolly, for a couple of months now. I’m planning on reviewing it for Literary Mama, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But this morning, before I walked out the door to the coffee shop, I grabbed it from my stack. I clearly needed some nursing/weaning mama power.

Of course I wasn’t able to read the whole thing this morning. I jumped around, skimming the essays for words of wisdom, and it worked; I did feel a little better. What I love about this anthology—aside from some really stellar writing—is that it includes so many perspectives. Sometimes people get up in arms about breastfeeding, whether they are arguing for or against it, or have a strong opinion about how long women should nurse. But from what I read of this book, none of that proselytizing has a place in Unbuttoned. And that’s what I need right now—to feel a sense of community, to know countless women have been through what I’m going through, and to not be judged for how I’m weaning Zoë. And this is exactly what I got from Unbuttoned.

These are going to be a difficult couple of days for me and my little one. I’ll report on our progress (and also on my heart health—thank you for your kind words and blessings). Until then, send good weaning vibes, please.

Monday, June 22, 2009

a scare

On Thursday night while I was nursing Zoë (yes, we’re back to bedtime nursing because of her recent cold and ear infection), I experienced a sharp pain in my chest, followed by a dull ache lasting about 10 minutes. I had been short of breath earlier in the day, so I thought I should get a little more information. I Googled “chest pain in women” and was bombarded by stories about women who didn’t realize they were having heart attacks because the symptoms for women (neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain or “heartburn,” sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual or unexplained fatigue) are less publicized than the symptoms for men. Good information to know, but the pain in my chest subsided, so I shrugged it off.

At this point I should tell you that I am at low risk for a heart attack: I eat well, I have never smoked (other than those few bar and beach cigarettes here and there in my 20s), I run, and I’m only 37. But, I did have severe preeclampsia with Stella, and women who have had severe preeclampsia “remote from delivery” could be at an eight-fold risk for cardiovascular disease than women who did not have a preeclampic pregnancy. (You can read more about that here.)

I should also mention that I’m currently reading the manuscript of a writer whose husband died at age thirty of a complete arterial blockage. And this translates in my mind into: it can happen.

Friday morning I was tidying the dining room after Stella and Zoë’s breakfast, and I again experienced sharp chest pain followed by a dull ache. But this time the ache didn’t go away. It radiated to my upper back. I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment—just in case—and after I had scheduled an appointment for a couple of hours later, the receptionist put me through to the triage nurse, who, after hearing my symptoms, told me to go to the emergency room.

Donny was out of town, so I called my mom. No answer. I called again. No answer. Now I was getting nervous. My chest ached as I changed Zoë’s diaper, got her dressed. My step-dad called back and said my mom was out getting coffee but that she’d be home soon. I explained my pain and asked him to have her come and get us as soon as she got home.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the car, driving to the emergency room, and, as traffic slowed and we took the wrong exit, my nerves began to fray. I started to feel pain in my jaw and my arms became tingly and numb. Holy shit, I thought, I’m really having a heart attack. “This would be the time to drive faster,” I said to my mom.

When we pulled up to the emergency entrance, I told Stella and Zoë I loved them, and got out of the car. (My mom agreed to take them to a park or to breakfast.) And as soon as I walked through the door and the triage nurse asked if I was okay, I started to cry. “I think I’m having a heart attack.” She was fabulous, got my in a wheel chair, talked me down with stories of her twins, and got me checked into the ER.

I had an EKG, a GI cocktail, nitroglycerin, blood work and a chest x-ray. And everything was normal. I’m fine. I’m fine.

But why the chest pain? Was it because of the new cold and cough I have now, thanks to my little Zoë and my apparently nonexistent immune system? It was not a panic attack (at least not initially; I think the tingling of the arms was because I was beginning to panic and hyperventilate.)

I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor later this week, and I’m going to ask for a referral to the University on Minnesota, to see a doctor who specializes in the heart health of preeclampsia survivors.

I’m relieved that everything seems to be fine, but I don’t feel settled. I feel lethargic and tired. (This is probably a result of the chest cold rather than the scare, but still, I feel overwhelmed. All weekend I was irritable with my kids, exhausted by the constant vigilance that Zoë requires. I must have blocked these months of Stella’s development because I seriously don’t remember all the dirt and potentially poisonous berry eating, the teetering on chairs, the rifling through cabinets.)

What I need is a vacation. Not an I-can-still-check-e-mail kind of vacation, but a no-contact-faraway-childcare-provided kind of vacation. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

i guess that's life

It’s been an odd few days. I had a lovely birthday on Saturday—a really perfect day with breakfast in bed (strawberries doused in sugar and a vanilla latté). D and Stella and Zoë all piled onto the bed and I opened presents and the adorable card from Stella and Zoë, “I LOVE MOM” carefully spelled out by Stella. Then my dad took us out to lunch, we went to our nephew’s birthday party—a picnic at a local lake—and then we came home, dressed up, and D and I went out to a wonderful restaurant in St. Paul. The food was amazing, and we sat outside. It couldn’t have been more lovely.

Then Zoë got sick again—fussing, coughing, reversing the slow progress we had been making with weaning. Finally yesterday I took her to the doctor, and we were handed masks as soon as we walked through the door. I didn’t realize that Minneapolis is now a hot spot of the H1N1 pandemic. I also didn’t realize that a 5-year-old girl had died in the connected hospital the day before. I slipped my mask on and tried, unsuccessfully, to keep Zoë’s mask on, as well.

Luckily (luckily?), Zoë only had another ear infection—the second in a month. We left the clinic as fast as possible and picked up a prescription for a big-gun antibiotic. It was only last night after she received her first dose that I read the pamphlet of warnings: RARELY CAUSES TOOTH DISCOLORATION. WTF? I prefer to *stop* worrying once I begin my kids on antibiotics. Instead, I am doing constant teeth checks.

Then this morning, I was at the coffee shop, and when I checked e-mail, I discovered that a short essay I recently submitted to one of my favorite online journals was accepted! Accepted! I turned to the man next to me—another regular—and I was going to tell him my news, but he was intent on his work. So I waited until I got into my car, at which point I let loose, hooting and hollering. And when I walked in the door and told D, he hugged me and we rocked some high fives. I love that guy.

Then I put poor Zoë down for her nap and turned to an essay that one of my former students recently sent me—Sharon Solwitz’s “Abracadabra,” which is about the death of Solwitz’s son to cancer. (Thank you, Marilyn!) Marilyn told me it was amazing, and it is. It SO is. But reading it is like being repeatedly kicked in the stomach. (And of course I mean that as a compliment.) I have never read anything that does grief this well.

(“Abracadabra” has appeared in In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland and more recently in Creating Nonfiction, but you can read it online here. Brace yourself.)

So I guess that’s life—a wonderful birthday and a thrilling acceptance mixed right up with the death of a little girl and the raw grief and brilliant writing of Sharon Solwitz.

Friday, June 12, 2009

i double-dare you

A year and a half ago, Andrea Buchanan’s and Miriam Peskowitz’s The Daring Book for Girls entered the book world with a raucous yee-haw! And in a shorter amount of time than it actually took you to say “the daring book for girls,” the book was a best-seller. I see it everywhere—in malls, in the airport, in boutiques and specialty stores—and each time I do, I utter my own yee-haw for Miriam and Andrea! You go, girls!

When I posted about The Daring Book then, this is what I wrote:

One of the things I love about The Daring Book is that it acknowledges the abilities and interests and achievements of girls and women today and of women throughout history. It’s not overtly feminist (the way I can, on occasion, be), but inherent in each of these pages is what feminism, to me, is all about.

I could basically write the same thing today about their sequel, The Double-Daring Book for Girls, which combines more wonderful activities, fascinating information--who doesn't like to read about volcanoes?--and glimpses into the lives of daring women throughout history (my favorite part of the book.) I love this book as much as I loved the first one, and now that Stella is a little older, we were able to really look at it and read it together. It’s going to be the perfect book to turn to this summer when the long days stretch before us.

In our house, it’s against the rules to use the word “bored.” And here I should clarify: Stella is not allowed to say it, but that doesn’t keep me from sometimes feeling it and/or spelling it out over the phone to a friend. My boredom—and I’m sure Stella’s, as well—arises from the age difference between my daughters. Zoë, at fifteen months, gets into everything, which limits the possibilities for crafty play when we’re all together.

And because “bored” has no place in our house, I was of course drawn to The Double-Daring Book's “What to Do When You’re Bored” page, which lists making blocks and having water balloon fights as possibilities. But what jumped off the page was #3: Make Beaded Safety Pins. Do any of you remember making these as grade-schoolers? We called them "friendship pins," and I remember trading them with my friends and clipping them onto my tennis shoes. But what I now realize--and maybe I knew this even then--is that I never made them correctly. On page 219, Miriam and Andrea write that there is a trick to making these: “you need to pry open the coil on the safety pin so you can push the beads onto the top part of the safety pin that doesn’t usually open up. Use a small screwdriver of a pair of long-nosed pliers to do this. When you’re done, close the coil back to its usual position so the beads will stay put.” How did I not know this?

I should have mentioned earlier that this post is more than just a post about the book: it’s a double-daring book shower. Instead of a blog book tour, The Double-Daring Book is having a book shower in which bloggers write about activities they tried from the book and challenge readers to best their score. Again, yee-haw!

Since Stella loves beads and could spend hours and hours making jewelry, I knew this was the perfect activity for us to try. (I also thought I could finally—now that I am almost 37 years old—learn to make a friendship pin properly.)

So Stella and I went to the craft store to stock up on supplies. A half hour and $23 later, we emerged with boxes of multi-colored beads, safety pins, and twine and more beads (for another project). When Zoë went down for her nap, we spread out our supplies on the floor, I found the pliers, and we got to work. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that pulling apart the coil of a safety pin takes practice or that the beads we bought were maybe too tiny or that the pins we bought were maybe too thick or that once the beads were finally on the pins, it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to close the coil again. Okay, so I might be making excuses. This is what we created in one hour:

(The ones with the big clunky beads are mine. I understand why they didn't make the cut when Stella chose her three favorite pins. I actually told her I was making them for her, and she told me I could keep them for myself.)

What I want to know is whether you can do better than six friendship pins in an hour on your first try? I double-dare you!

There was one thing in the book scared me: the ability to dye one’s hair with Kool-Aid. I’m not nervous about the possibility of Stella doing this; I’m concerned about—and disgusted by—what all that Kool-Aid I consumed as a child has probably done to my organs. Anything that stains the way Miriam and Andrea describe on page 48 cannot be good for the operating system, and my sisters and I drank a gallon of this stuff—with extra sugar—every day for years and years!

I also have one question: can you really use abbreviations in Scrabble? Has the National Scrabble Association gone soft, allowing AD and AB?

Leave your friendship pin scores in the comments. I dare you. Come on, don't be scared. Are you chicken?

Monday, June 8, 2009

mama phd

Over the last couple of months I have been slowly making my way through Elrena Evans’ and Caroline Grant’s Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life. Anthologies are a perfect fit for my life right now. I don’t need hours at a time of quiet (clearly an impossibility) to immerse myself in a complicated plot. I can put an anthology down for a few days and come back to it without having to reread for the narrative thread. Mama PhD was just the kind of anthology that I love, the perfect book for me to pick up in the evening when I’m tired and need something to savor and/or stew about.

And savor and stew I did. I savored the actual writing, and loved the moments of tenderness that exist in each of these essays. I savored that feeling of relief I so often experience when I’m reading—that oh, I wasn’t alone after all—feeling. But I also stewed. To read that Elrena Evans, after a complicated pregnancy involving a pulmonary embolism, was refused extensions on final papers by her two professors, who gave her final grades of a “C” and an “F,” well, stewing doesn’t begin to describe what I do. Reading “The Wire Mother,” in which Susan O’Doherty’s female colleague is forced into attending school half-time, “a netherworld populated entirely by mothers,” after her husband passed away and she became sole care-taker for her two children, made me fume. O’Doherty wonders how this would have played out differently had the wife of one of her male colleagues taken ill: “I imagined mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, cousins, aunts rushing to the rescue. They wouldn’t be expected to handle their children alone, especially with the pressures of graduate school.” Oh the lovely double-standards.

For me, powerful writing connects people, creates a space for us to contemplate our own experiences. And I often feel my writing is most successful when, after I’ve shared it, people come up to me and tell me their stories. This is what the essays in Mama PhD made me want to do. They made me want to tell Elrena and Caroline my story:

When I was in the middle of my second year of the three-year MFA program at the University of Minnesota, I discovered I was pregnant. D and I had just started trying for a baby, but we didn’t think it would happen so quickly. (I give you permission to laugh at me now.) Clearly it wasn’t the best time for us to get pregnant. I still had a year and a half left in my MFA program. D was finishing his Master of Education, but he didn’t have a teaching job for the fall. And we were still care-taking for Mimi.

Over the summer, we bought and moved into a small house, D graduated from his program, and, at the last minute, landed a position as a science teacher in a public school. (He was doing all of this as he finished his last year playing professional soccer.) I tried to write as much as I could that summer, knowing that the baby’s due date (November 5) was the deadline for a draft of my thesis, a memoir—sort of—about the years I had spent living and doing research in a small Costa Rican village. That summer I also was jumping through hoops at the University, trying to figure out how I could get six weeks of paid maternity leave. People seemed to think this was scandalous. You’re trying to do what? But as a teaching assistant, I was employed by the University. Wasn’t I entitled to paid leave?

Luckily, another graduate student in the English Department was also pregnant, and she had begun to make the same inquiries, and discovered that in order to get paid maternity leave, you had to first apply to the department and be denied leave. Then you could take this denial to the University at large and be eligible for leave as part of the Family and Medical Leave Act. When I spoke to a few other students who had had children, they didn’t seem to realize that this was even an option, and hadn’t even pursued paid leave. Some gave up after the first rejection.

I got my papers in order and sat down in the office of a woman in an administrative position in the English Department—she will remain nameless, and just so no one wonders, she is no longer at the University. She told me that she couldn’t believe I was going to try to juggle writing and a baby. “I would never do that,” she said. “My writing would suffer.” I smiled and bit my tongue. (As neurotic as this sounds, I was worried about her powers to sabotage my chances at paid leave.) But I also left her office feeling a little like a failure. Clearly I wasn’t taking my writing seriously enough.

Finally, after the rejection, came an approval: I would receive six weeks of paid leave beginning November 5. The wonderful program coordinator for Creative Writing (hi, Kathleen!), found someone to fill in for me while I would be gone.

But I never made it to November 5th. The first week of the semester, when I was seven months pregnant, my doctor told me that I was showing signs of preeclampsia: I was swelling and leaking protein into my urine. She told me to take it easy and come back in a week. But how could I take it easy? I was teaching Tuesday and Thursday, and I needed to schedule meetings with my thesis advisors. Hell, I needed to finish my thesis, which was going nowhere. I was exhausted and so swollen that I hardly recognized myself.

A week later, I was leaking so much protein that my doctor ordered tests: a non-stress test followed by a biophysical profile, followed by a 24-hour urine test. The baby was okay, and my blood pressure was normal, but she said it was time for bedrest, and that I’d need to give up teaching.

I was petrified that the director of Creative Writing would be upset, but she wasn’t. She was a mother herself and also British (I think they’re better at this than we are). She and Kathleen said they’d figure out how to make it work.

The next day, as I waited for the doctor to call with results of the urine test, I began to feel light-headed. D had taught all week at his new job, and now was in Seattle for a play-off game against the Seattle Sounders. When my doctor finally called, she told me I was leaking so much protein that I could be characterized as severely preeclamptic. She said I should go to the hospital for bedrest, so they “could keep an eye on me.”

When I arrived at the hospital, my blood pressure was 170/110 and I was completely effaced. I was started on magnesium sulfate and labor was induced. I called D, who was in a van, headed to the stadium. (The first available flight wasn’t until later that night, but he was at the hospital by 7 am, at which point I was so sick from the magnesium that I thought I could die.)

Stella was born via C-section at 8 p.m. that night, weighing 3 pounds, 6 ounces. She spent a month at Children’s hospital and five long winter months at home with me, quarantined from the world.

When I was discharged from the hospital, five days after Stella’s birth, I arrived home to find a slew of e-mails from the English Department. Kathleen had arranged for me to have two weeks of sick leave plus the six weeks of maternity leave. After that I could take a leave of absence. I contacted the professors with whom I was to do thesis credits and they—both women—were incredibly supportive, and told me I could take incompletes. I thought everything was settled—um, I mean everything was settled with the exception of having my tiny newborn hooked to a ventilator and baking under phototherapy lights miles away from me. But at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the University.

A month later, Stella was finally home, and I spent all day, every day, rocking and bouncing her and trying, unsuccessfully, to nurse her. One day in October, I opened the mail to find a bill from the University for over $1,000. Apparently, because I was taking leave from my teaching responsibilities, but was still signed up for thesis credits, I owed them money. I made call after call, and ended up having to go to campus—my sister came over to hold and rock Stella—to run from office to office. I needed to withdraw from my classes, but I needed at least two credits or I would lose my health insurance, my health insurance that would cover my almost $20,000 C-section and hospital stay. I tried to get the class I was supposed to teach back, but the person who took it over wasn’t willing to relinquish it (and realistically, I don’t know how I would have handled teaching—my brain was mush). Finally, after two days spent trying to explain my situation to unfriendly administrators—I was in tears, and one higher-up couldn’t have been more impatient with me—it was settled. The director of Creative Writing agreed to do a two-credit independent study with me so I would retain my insurance. I dropped my thesis credits, and took a leave for the rest of the year.

This is a long story, I know. And it easily could have ended differently. If the creative writing department hadn’t been so understanding, I would have been screwed. (Thank you, Maria and Kathleen!)

I returned to my program in the fall, began writing Ready for Air, my memoir about Stella’s birth, and finished the program in the spring of 2005. And the woman who initially told me I was crazy to try to have a child and be a writer couldn’t have been more wrong: Stella was just what I needed to make me realize the power of words, the importance of stories. I am a better writer because I am a mother. And I am a better mother because I am a writer.

Mama, PhD contains essays that will make you angry and frustrated. That’s true. But sometimes we need to get angry in order to make things right, in order to make things change. And under each of the essays in this collection is also something else, something stunning: the power of women. Whether these authors decided to stay in the academy or not, their paths required them to be brave and tenacious, to believe in what they were doing. What could be more inspiring?

Friday, June 5, 2009

my girls

I’ve been really enjoying my girls lately. Enjoying them, that is, when the older one doesn’t channel a thirteen-year-old, complete with eye rolling and exasperated whatever-ing, and when the younger one does not—within the span of two minutes—climb on top of the dollhouse and launch herself onto the couch, destroy a picture frame, and swallow a mouthful of toilet paper. But even when they’re doing these things, I’ve been finding them fairly delightful. What is wrong with me?

I think it has to do with the fact that both D and I have been in work-related funks lately. On Monday we were feeling so discouraged that D took a day off work and we took Stella and Zoë to the Minnesota Zoo. When we pulled into the parking lot, we counted 17 school buses with sinking hearts. And indeed, there was much jostling to catch a glimpse of the Grizzlies and their enormous paws, and there was much dodging of grade-schoolers playing tag and flirting with each other in that you’re so ugly kind of way. It was a long day, and by the end of it, the kids were tired and crabby, and D and I were more discouraged than ever. All we wanted was to lose ourselves in a movie, but there was nothing on, so we did something we’ve never done before: ordered a pay-per-view movie. (I know, we’re totally crazy.)

Without knowing much about it, we ordered Seven Pounds with Will Smith. Not exactly a light-hearted film, but we both really liked it, and sometimes a depressing movie is just what you need to help put your worries in perspective and make you feel grateful for what you have.

So I’ve been trying not to feel the weight of all I have to do, or to dwell on the fact—or opinion—that there is no market for either of my books (Yes, I’ve been working on a proposal for a new book). And even though writing feels like more than a job to me—it’s more a way of seeing, of being in the world—the publishing side of it is a job, and I need to keep that in perspective.

And I’ve been trying hard to be present when I’m with Stella and Zoë, to remember how lucky I am when Stella excitedly tells me about the finger-knitting they did at school, saying, “Mom, it was soooo fun, and you wouldn’t have believed it, but the boys just went crazy over it. They loved it!” Or when Zoë does her little bouncing dance whenever she hears a line of music or laughs her belly laugh after she’s rifled through the clean laundry, found a pair of underwear to put on her head, and peeked out of one of the leg holes. Or when Zoë reaches her arms for a hug from Stella, and Stella says, “Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, mom? Aren’t we so lucky?”

Indeed we are.

Monday, June 1, 2009

the vanda

A few weeks ago, I posted about Mimi's orchid, the one I chose from her greenhouse after she died. I had almost given up hope that it would ever bloom in our house, but five years since its last flowering, here it is, Mimi's Vanda Rothschildiana:

Whenever Mimi's orchids bloomed, she gave me credit, insisted that the blast of fuchsia or yellow or deep purple was all my doing. I always smiled at her insistence, even when I knew I couldn't take credit for her orchids' glory. All I had done was wait.

If Mimi could see this Vanda, her Vanda, she would give me a big hug and tell me I was a genius. My first instinct would be to shake my head and tell her I had done nothing. But that wouldn't be true. I have cleaned and watered this plant, cared for it in her absence. And I have waited. I have been patient. Maybe this--patience--is worth more than I realized. Maybe this is what she had been congratulating me for all those years ago. Oh Mimi, I do miss you.