Tie a helium balloon around his ankle.
It was an auspcious weekend for Declan, who was blessed twice in the presence of the Heart Shrine Relics. He smiled through the first and slept through the second as people around us meditated upon and prayed for loving-kindness and compassion. If the worst of all of my fears about the direction of this country came true, this would be one form of peace activism no one could control.
Meanwhile, peace through laughter is is main modus operandi. While fist-chomping was once the primary signal for “I’m hungry,” there’s now rarely a moment when my baby isn’t drooling all over his fingers, gagging himself, sucking his thumb or grabbing things to shove in his mouth (a skill that seemed to develop overnight). It’s beginning to look a lot like teething around here.
The new signal for hunger is grabbing mommy’s hair and pulling himself forward to suck on mommy’s face, punctuated by brief spurts of maniachal laughter.
Declan’s been having yet another little growth spurt this week, demanding food pretty much constantly. The bigger he gets, the harder it is to breastfeed while typing. At nearly 15 weeks, he’s almost doubled his birth weight. (And yes, this is one of those facts that’s really only meaningful to fellow moms and doctors.)
All things seemed strangely equal at mom and baby yoga yesterday. Whatever each woman’s political ideology, everyone was excited when one of the babies rolled over by himself for the first time during the class.
Afterwards, on my way to lunch, there was a car accident right in front of me. It happened while I was sitting at a stoplight. One car just slammed into the side of the other, but neither driver was hurt. What are cars made of these days? I was maybe 25 feet from the collision, and it barely made a sound.
And I can’t stop watching the coverage of New Orleans. When things didn’t seem quite so awful late Monday, I thought about how resilient the city seemed to be when I spent time there a few years ago, and how willing it’s always been to cope with dark times by embracing them. But this is just sickening and tragic – there are no words.
I always thought that post-college life was like a second adolescence because, for the first time, you no longer have a ready-made social environment. For some people, the workplace becomes the primary source of new friendships, but it seems that jobs so rarely reflect a person’s passions or conscience. And since I’ve spent more than half of my career as a freelance writer, working out of the house, that hasn’t really been an option for me anyway.
After many years where I’ve taken trips to bookstore cafés during the day just to have some human contact, I thought one of the fringe benefits of having a baby would be the opportunity to meet other new moms. To some degree, that seems to be true, and it’s particularly exciting that there are now so many others in their 30s.
But then I went out to lunch with some women from a mom and baby yoga class the other day and was reminded how different mothers can be. One of the moms in the group mentioned that she had quit her job at one of those fake pregnancy crisis centers when her baby was born. It’s one thing to be pro-life, another to work in a place that purposefully deceives and emotionally manipulates young women. I sat there quietly and nodding dumbly, wondering how she might react if she knew that I started doing pro-choice work when I was about 16 years old. I even had a work-study job as a student organizer for reproductive rights in college.
Maybe I did visibly shudder at her revelation, which could be why she then explained that she was an abstinence educator. I was raised by a woman who was once the president of a Planned Parenthood chapter, so this didn’t strike me as a particularly more ethical line of work.
Did I miss an opportunity for dialogue and learning by keeping my mouth shut, or did I manage to duck a confrontation?
I want to give you something that my mother gave to me: the first of what I’m sure will be many larger-than-life tales about the wonderfulness of you. Someday I’m sure you’ll hear that I read at a very young age, that I was practically born to tell stories. Or that a psychic said, when your Uncle Andy was born, that he would be a leader and a great man that people were drawn to.
Both of my parents taught me, each in their own ways, that it’s important that every child knows that somebody believes they are remarkable and able to achieve whatever they set their mind to. And as much as your gentle nature, sense of humor and easy happiness amaze us more each day, you were also remarkable before you were even born.
Before we knew you were going to enter our lives, we went to Greece to see your Uncle Lowry and Aunt Sara get married. While we were there, your daddy, grandma and I visited the ancient city of Delphi on Mount Parnassus, which the Greek God Zeus said was the bellybutton of the universe.
Daddy and I drank from the Castilian Spring, where Apollo, the God of Poetry and Music dwelled with the muses. It is supposed to be a source for inspiration and learning for those who drink deeply from it. Daddy filled a cup for me and I drank deeply from it, so it was one of the very first waters that nourished you.
On this mountain thousands of years ago, there was also an oracle called the pythia. She inhaled vapors from a crack in the earth at the Temple of Apollo and told her visitors what was in their future. Since I don’t get the chance to visit the navel of all existence very often, I got as close as I could to the place where the oracle once stood and whispered what I thought was a very practical question, just: “what do I need to know?”
When we got back to the states and confirmed that you would be joining our lives in the spring, I knew that the answer to my question – the person who would teach me things I couldn’t have imagined, things I need to know – was you.
Haven’t had much time for blogging since we held a Welcoming Ceremony for Declan this past weekend.
“What the hell is a Welcoming Ceremony?” you might be asking. And you wouldn’t be alone.
Basically, we felt that it was important to have a ritual rite of passage – a day when people gathered just to honor the birth of our son. So we enlisted the help of interfaith minister Joseph Hambor to help us design something and asked a few family members to share a little of their own wisdom.
It turned out to be a tender event, in spite of the fact that it was a million degrees and humid. Declan’s three cousins made him a welcoming sign, his dad wrote him a poem and I wrote a story about him. Joseph called in the four directions, performed the ritual of the four tastes and anointed him with a special oil to welcome him into a wider community of family and friends.
One grandma said the Hail Mary, the other shared a family story about honesty and his grandfather read one of his favorite poems.”Nature Boy” was performed by local singer Nikki Wonder and pianist Jim Maneri. We chose nine guides to help him throughout his life – and remain participants in ours – who each got a chance to hold or touch him.
Declan, of course, slept through most of it because of the heat, but he remained good natured as people kissed and held him throughout the day.
Some people seemed to feel stymied by the concept of a ceremony being “interfaith.” The fact is, Declan’s father and I are, I believe, very moral and ethical people who aren’t practicing in any particular religion but still value spirituality. Neither of us wants to impose a particular organized religion on our son as we both feel that the institutions of religions – not the faiths themselves – are the source of many of the world’s problems.
Our son will know what faiths he belongs to culturally, just by virtue of birth. But we will also expose him to many others and let him make his own decisions about how and if he wants to participate in religion.
We went to a lecture By Lama Kathy Wesley at Karma Thesum Chöling about being Buddhist in the modern age on Friday night. We tend to go there a lot when she speaks – we’re not practicing Buddhists, but I have been finding what I hear in the lessons highly practical for everyday life.
She mentioned the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” as an example of a Buddhist movie, because his character isn’t able to break out of the cycle of living the same day over and over again until he learns compassion – the ability to anticipate everyone’s needs – for everyone in the town. (I also heard Robert Thurman make the assertion that all Bill Murray movies have Buddhist undertones at a lecture a couple of years back.)
As she spoke, I kept thinking that having an infant – and I imagine having a child – has many of the same lessons. We nurse, change, carry, rock, walk, sing to, talk to, read to and make faces with this new being and do whatever we can to anticipate his or her discomfort and head it off. Our bodies even become compassionate without our conscious help if we breastfeed – I still wonder how I got to 35 without knowing that a lactating woman automatically leaks milk at the sound of a baby crying.
What a gift.
In the U.S., the decision to have a baby automatically makes you a member of two cults.
First, there’s the mommy cult, which you are unwittingly inducted into as soon as people find out you are pregnant. You suddenly find yourself hearing intimate details about childbirth and child-rearing from relative strangers. Some women I know don’t like it, because plenty of women are inclined to aggressively supply you with advice you didn’t ask for, or to tell you birthing horror stories right when you’re already feeling bloated, vulnerable and apprehensive about how you are going to get this kicking being out of you.
But I’m down with the mommy cult. I like the way it opens channels of communication with women that you thought you had nothing in common with, deepens friendships with women who have or want kids and even makes some friends without kids anxious to be part of your child’s life. I’ve had the obligatory comments from people who openly admit they either don’t like or don’t know what to do with babies and hearing those things doesn’t bother me. I’ve been a self-questioner who wondered whether procreating was socially responsible for long enough that I feel that sharing my joy doesn’t mean I need to evangelize about parenthood.
Then there is the consumer cult, which you are unwittingly inducted into as soon as you make your first pregnancy-oriented purchase. A free copy of the book “From Here to Maternity” mysteriously arrives in your mailbox, along with postcards for 3D ultrasound portrait studios and dozens of overtures to bank your baby’s cord blood. People throw sample pregnancy and child rearing magazines at you, offer you credit cards that put part of their interest rate into a college trust for your child and give you giant packets filled with baby soap samples and diaper coupons. By the time you have the baby, the formula makers are hunting you down: Between the diaper bag full of samples we were handed as we left the hospital and boxes of samples we’ve gotten in the mail, we have all we could possibly need, should we ever have to supplement our purely breastfed baby.
Trying to figure out what exactly you need for baby before he arrives is utterly daunting, and aside from combing through Consumer Reports‘ book on baby products, there is little out there that’s helpful. Thankfully, if you embrace the mommy cult, it can help you limit your participation in the consumer cult. Most of my baby gear was handed down to us from my brother’s family, along with many clothes, and I tend to pass things on to the next mommy in line.
I can’t really understand participating heavily in the consumer culture willingly. Sure – now and then something is either so practical or so cute/clever you go ahead and buy it new, but I really can’t understand investing much in baby bling and fashion. For example – and it pains me to think about why this is so – but two of the top sellers on this baby boutique web site, are, ironically, camouflage baby towels and a vintage gas station-themed receiving blanket. Additionally, there is this desert camo loungewear outfit for a steep $37. If militarizing baby boys isn’t specious enough (and I’m not a fan of adult-ifying boys any more than I am of putting baby girls in trampy make-up), who spends nearly 40 bucks for an outfit that’s made to last less than three months, and that will undoubtedly be pooped or peed on?
On the flipside, I did laugh out loud at Babywit’s “President Poopyhead,” “No Blood for Mohel,” “Little Kafka” and “Binkie, Boobie or Blankie: Nobody Rides for Free” t-shirts. $20 bucks a pop seems obscene, but the t-shirts are made in the U.S. – in a non-sweatshop environment – by an independent mom instead of a corporation. Ah, if I were rich, all my consumer dollars would go to independent and fair trade businesses with good service and organic groceries… At the very least, since Declan was born in May, I’m looking forward to planting tomatoes and cucumbers on his birthday every year, and donning them his birthday vegetables all summer long.
What’s the most ostentatious, perverse or ethical baby product you’ve come across?
I went to a friend’s baby shower, carrying my son, face out and kangaroo-like inside his sling. His legs were crossed like a yogi as he smiled and cooed and showed off his determination to hold up his head on his own at two and a half months old. By the end of the party, he began to get fussy, I believe because he was getting tired but didn’t want to give up getting all of that kind attention. Few people are as loving with babies as people who expecting their first, or parents of older kids who miss their own children being small enough to hold in their arms. And nothing pleases Declan more than interacting with people who are pleased to see him, not unlike me or his dad.
Once I got him into the car, he was resting so peacefully that I didn’t want to go straight home. Instead, I drove by my childhood house, which is still the approximate tan color that my high school boyfriend painted it about 18 years ago. The stacked stone pillars on the front porch are still in tact, but now there is a fancy looking swing set out back, a new screened-in porch on the side and the gravel driveway has been replaced with cement.
When my mother, brother and I moved into the place in 1980, it was sunny yellow with white trim. My room was also sunny yellow with white trim, which I hated. I’d have preferred any shade of purple, a mellow green, or a calming blue, but divorce and the move from the east coast made money tight.
Besides, the couple that sold us the house had just painted the room in preparation for a new baby. But when the baby died, they decided to leave the house in a hurry. I never found out if the woman miscarried, if there was a problem in the hospital or if the baby died in my room, but I spent years covering those walls with posters and magazine clippings. I still can’t say that I’m fond of yellow.