a year goes by

I definitely had this thought around lunchtime: if I don’t post something today, there will be nothing in my archives for 2014.

I often think of the poem I used to have pasted in the front of my journal, way back when I wrote in a paper journal with glittery gel pens, and its description of unrecorded days slipping away like bits of cleaving ice into a dark ocean. if a day is an iceberg, what is a year? perhaps an entire small continent, disappearing under the swells of a relentlessly rising ocean?

2013 was the year I became a mother, but 2014 was the year I became a working parent, and for me at least, that has been a whole different level of mothering. in a way, it’s been the thing that has fulfilled all the platitudes about having a baby when merely having the baby failed to do so. it’s hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. at least once a day I find myself questioning the decision to do it at all. at least once a day I find myself thinking that if I didn’t do it, I’d be missing out on some of the most important and rewarding parts of my life. it’s exhausting. it’s exhilarating. it makes me wonder who I am and what happened to the person I used to be. it makes me feel like I’ll never be enough. it makes me feel like a superhero.

last week, one of my students gave me a christmas card. inside it she wrote, “I’m sure you are the kind of parent your students wish they had.” the truth is I often think about it the other way around: I hope I’m the kind of teacher I wish my daughter will have.

I’ve been trying to fulfill those hopes and wishes for a year now. it’s hard work. it’s good work. and when I look back at my mostly unrecorded year, I don’t regret it. this was a landscape worth exploring.

(I do wish I’d been better about journaling. maybe I need to tape a poem to my laptop.)

first fortnight

volcano was born on october 14, two weeks overdue, perfect except for her unwillingness to be birthed. at first, with both of us swollen and dazed from the ordeal, she just looked like a generic baby to me — an adorable and adored baby, with a charming cleft chin and invisibly blonde eyebrows — but on the morning of the second day when I picked her up from her bassinet, I was startled to find my own infant self in my arms. it wasn’t just that volcano had my nose or my lips, it was that she suddenly resembled my baby pictures so exactly that I may as well have woken up 32 years and 70 days in the past. it would have been a shift almost entirely in time: volcano and I were born in the same hospital, and from our postpartum room we could see the front door of my childhood apartment building, the rooftop where my mother strung up clotheslines of my diapers to dry in the sun, the same hudson river I remember watching from our sixth-floor windows.

the first days of parenthood are surely overwhelming no matter what, but caring for my doppelgänger made my sense of immense responsibility all the more surreal and extreme. I held my sleeping self in the corner of my arm, tilting my head away from the tapes and tubes of the hep lock. I fed my hungry, gawping self, pulling my rosebud baby lips into the right shape. I watched my husband read myself a board book. I watched the nurses take my tiny six-and-a-half-pound self away to be given a hepatitis B vaccine, and returned with a bandaid that wrapped around my entire thigh. it was as if I had accidentally stumbled into a time loop, and the only way out unscathed was to take perfect care of this child who would grow up to become me. if I didn’t, it seemed reasonable to assume that I would cease to exist in adulthood.

two weeks later, volcano still looks a lot like me, but I’ve gotten used to thinking of her as my daughter, not myself. it helps that the variations in her hairline are clearer now, and that sometimes she lifts the inside edges of her eyebrows in the exact same way that her father does.

what is there to say about becoming a mother that hasn’t been said before? it is almost embarrassingly easy: hold the baby; feed the baby; kiss the baby; instinct makes all the decisions for you. it is almost devastatingly difficult: a walk around the block is a staggering accomplishment; you will continue caring this much about another human’s wellbeing for the rest of your life. it is simultaneously obvious and impossible. the truth is I don’t feel particularly different. I have no sense of being truly changed by the birth of my child. she arrived into a space in my identity that had existed for years, and having it finally filled feels, so far, more inevitable than transformative. and yet, and yet… everything is different now forever.

one hundred percent gestation

today is volcano’s duedate, though apparently not her birthday (unless something truly dramatic happens in the next twelve hours).  I had thought that I was supposed to be physically miserable at this point, but I haven’t once found myself thinking “I am SO SICK of being pregnant.” my feet aren’t even swollen! as much as I am looking forward lying on my stomach again, I can stick it out a little longer.

still. I am ready. the funny thing is that we’re actually not ready, not the way most people seem to be before they have a full-term baby. there is no lovingly decorated nursery for volcano, although she has diapers, clothes, and a minicrib more or less ready to go. (I have to move the mickey mouse ears out of the crib, among other things.) there’s a carseat still wrapped in its plastic, hanging out in her yiayia’s closet, since we don’t have a car, or an empty closet. I’ve crossed off about half of the pre-baby to-do list, watched some youtube videos about hip-safe swaddling techniques, and officially stopped teaching until january. I’m shocked at myself for feeling this way, but that really seems good enough to me.

the other funny thing is that suddenly everyone seems compelled to tell me, “you look great!” I’m pretty sure that’s code for either “you look really pregnant!” or “are you sure you’re actually nine months already?”  depending on whether they know what I used to look like. (last year’s students saw me in the hallway in september and said, “you’re so big!” this year’s students, upon learning that my duedate was less than a month after the start of the year, said, “no! you’re too small!”) I feel like I got pretty lucky with my pregnant body, but I still think the swallowed-a-basketball look is more peculiar-looking than anything else. I haven’t really taken any deliberate belly shots, but I guess today is as good a day as any for a volcano portrait:


see, I’m trying to be chill.

I’m very grateful that, even though I am on the small side, all hand-wringing over the size of my baby has ceased. with pharmaceutical help and a lot of effort, I’ve gained a perfectly respectable amount of weight (27 pounds!), and at our forty-week appointment today the midwife leaned over my belly and said, “you’re a big girl now! time to come out!”

ready when you are, volcano.