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The Places You’ll Go

It’s been a while.

Believe me, I know. Five months, to be exact.

Maybe you’ve come back checking this site once in a while to see what’s happened with Eliana and Lila and Husband in these past five months, in the Peeping-Tom, voyeuristic kind of way that blogging encourages. (I guess that makes me the online equivalent of a stripper?) Maybe you’ve been surprised that there haven’t been any updates on sleep training. (Yes, she is sleeping masterfully through the night at nearly one-year-old, from 6:45 to 6. Holla!). Or eating. (Yes, she loves eating.) Or Eliana’s talking. (“Mama. Dada. Hi! Lila. Pa. Bottle. Quack. Go. Crawl.”)  Or sibling adoration and rivalry. (Lila, whispering to Eliana, as she cradles her in her arms: “Eliana, I love you with all my heart.” Lila, screaming, frantic animal-look in her eyes: “MOMMY! She’s gonna take all of my toys! Get her away, get her away!”) Or Eliana’s desperation to crawl and her final success at eleven months. (Think “Rocky” with “Eye of the Tiger” music.)

Or maybe, in fact, you are not the narcissistic asshole that I am, and well, you just moved on with your life because who really gives a shit about a blog anyway? You kept checking your Facebook page, even though in your heart you kind of realized that Facebook is really “Fakebook” because no one posts about reality as it truly exists—only when something funny, or clever, or exhilarating happens. (And yes, I fall into this category of feeding the Fakebook, so I take full responsibility for not being “real” there either because people probably don’t want to read in their six free seconds at work that re-financing is a bitch or that I think I forgot to turn the stove off or about my various neuroses.)

In all likelihood, your life went on. You continued to hang out with your family, adoring them and being infuriated by them, sometimes in the same moment. You loved your husband, or maybe you broke up with a boyfriend. You laughed at a dumb movie. You figured out what to make for dinner tonight. You read a good book. You read that Orajel could result in a “potentially fatal disorder” and nearly had a heart attack. (And if you didn’t hear that yet, well, here you go! You’re welcome.) You hung out with friends—or thought about it at least. You texted as you waited on the carpool line.

Life went on. That’s how it goes. Days pass, then weeks, then months. And with kids, it’s cliché but true, the days are long, but the years are short.

And while blogs often rely on their “tell-all” nature, and that’s kind of been my shtick in starting this blog, I have been grappling with what to do with this blog for the past 5 months since I wrote last because while I am normally an overshare kind of gal (in spite of Husband’s frequent—yes, understandable and rightful—argument that some things, in fact, should be private), the step-by-step challenges of the past 5 months of my life are not ones that I’m ready emotionally to revisit with humor and sass. Maybe some day in fifty years, as I reflect, looking back at my life as the senile but gloriously dignified and fabulously-put-together old woman I’ve become in a nursing home, I’ll be typing up my memoirs (think “The Notebook” meets “The Iron Lady” with perhaps a healthy does of Dame Edna), I will come back to these five months with perspective, brilliance, gratitude, and wisdom.

I’m not there yet.

The clinical short story is this: I weaned Eliana and then fell into a postpartum depression, literally within two weeks of weaning her, from which I am now in the process of recovering from.

To put it bluntly: I was blindsided. My whole family was.

I don’t know how, but it happened.

After meeting with a brilliant and extraordinary reproductive psychiatrist (yes, these people exist, because they know the medical reasons why women’s hormones go through a whole span of crap from puberty through menopause), I learned that apparently this is “normal”.  That postpartum depression can happen, particularly after weaning, as hormones fluctuate. Apparently, “hormones” can do some weird shit to your body, and postpartum depression can slap you like you’re its bitch up to eighteen months after your child is born, which is obviously why women in the 1800s kept having children back to back to back—to keep this shit at bay. Apparently, one in eight women experience postpartum depression. And even though this never happened to me with Lila, well, it happened this time around.

And while there are a lot of things that, in life, are up to choice and free will, this was not one of them. It fell into my lap, and it felt very, very unfair to me and everyone around me, and very, very isolating, and very, very unbearable, in spite of countless statistics and blogs that suggest that women go through this all the time and survive. In spite of the ceaseless support of my family and friends. In spite of the love that was shown to me in this challenging time that I honestly feel I will never be able to adequately reciprocate. Ever.

The good news is that today, exactly a year after I went to the hospital with my false labor, I’m here. Typing. And I’m alive.

I am surviving postpartum depression, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Except I didn’t even get a t-shirt, but that would be pretty fucking funny if they made those.

Here’s the thing—in spite of the challenges of these past five months, and I never thought it could be possible, I can be happy again! In a weird, bizarre way, this whole thing feels like a horrible, horrible nightmare…and then I woke up, bleary-eyed, but able to remember what real life is like. I can enjoy my family again, seeing them finally once more through eyes that aren’t tainted by pervasive, suffocating, ruminative anxiety and depression. The world looks brighter again and no longer constantly feels like a burden I cannot conquer. I feel joy again. I can rely on myself again, instead of leaning on my parents, husband, sisters and friends as if their slightest movements would lead to the collapse of my universe.

When this chapter of my life opened five months ago, I thought it would be a tragic one, because that was how it felt—yes, literally every second of the waking day.

But as it turns out, this chapter of my life, which, thank God, feels like is now ending, turns out, in its weird conclusion, to be a happy one. Because in spite of all of this, or maybe because of it, I’m able to feel what I couldn’t the first seven months of Eliana’s life.

Here it is: gratitude. Real, honest, deep-in-my-soul gratitude for the littlest things that normally, in regular life, I would have taken for granted without realizing how fucking lucky I was.

Sometimes you need to get smacked down really, really hard to realize that if and when it happens? You can actually stand up again.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude now in bits and pieces throughout my days. Before this all began, life was rushed, frenetic, about getting dinner, getting the kids to sleep, getting my work done, getting life in order, getting the lunches packed, getting the bills together, getting the forms signed, getting the assignments graded, getting the job done. Yes, I still have to do all of those things. And I’m not going to Fakebook you here and tell you that life is perfect now. Because that’s absurd. Life is imperfect. It always will be. And it always has been. And anyone who tells you otherwise is likely an idiot or a charlatan.

But now, and this is different than before, I seek out the moments to be grateful for, particularly when I feel down, and you know what I realized? Even in your darkest hour, there are many moments, and while you don’t get to choose what happens to you, you do get to choose what you remember. More often than not, it’s easy to focus on the bad parts. But when you are strong enough, and you can focus on the good stuff? There’s more than you ever thought possible, even when your life seems to be falling apart.

There’s Eliana’s toothy grin—six teeth and counting.

There’s her constant babbling, the words that sneak up on me unexpected, reminding me what it’s like to rediscover the world.

There’s her crawling, finally, after my months of worrying that she couldn’t do it.

There’s Lila, in bed, her hair still silky and wet from the bath, showing me that she is teaching herself how to read. (“M makes a mmmmm sound. Like Mommy!”)

Lila, giggling maniacally, as she runs into our bedroom bursting with pride from having dressed herself.

My daughters’ laughter as they share a joke I can’t understand. (Still, I don’t know why Lila sings “Q-S-F-A-N-O-Y!”, what it means, or why Eliana finds it hilarious.)

The feel of Husband’s hand cradling mine on our ninth wedding anniversary, when a year before I was having contractions and could barely eat my meal.

Taking the girls together to the beach for the first time, and looking at Husband, knowing that I would freeze this moment forever if I could.

The ceaseless love of my own family, specifically, my mother, who listened and talked and cooked and cared for my family every single day. For three months. The moment in May when I looked at her and realized finally that this—this—when it’s not all perfect—this is what being a mother really is. Staying on for the bad parts, and never giving up, not ever.

The hundreds of text messages sent silently to neighbors and across states to friends who were willing to listen and to type, making me feel less alone and deeply grateful for their friendship in a way I never could have felt otherwise.

The sleepy look in Eliana’s eyes before bed when she reaches across me towards the bookcase and says cheerfully, “Buk!” pointing and laughing until I give in with one more story.

Watching the girls in the rearview mirror of the car as Lila sings along to the song Husband and I walked down the aisle to at our wedding.

Giving in and letting Lila wear toenail polish, and the look of wonder in her eyes at seeing her toes so sparkly.

Eliana needing me to use a duck puppet who sings “Quackadoo” to her to distract her so that she’ll eat her morning yogurt, and how that song that I’ve invented gets stuck in my head for hours.

The softness of Lila’s arm draped around my neck at bedtime, followed by an unprompted, “I love you, Mommy.  You are a great mommy.”

And believing her.

So the story, in spite of its twists and turns, as it turns out, has a happy ending. And the happy parts are the ones I will choose to remember.

In the meantime, I am going to disable this blog for some time a month after Eliana’s birthday. And just live. Feel free to subscribe…who knows, maybe some day I will start this up again.

For now, I will live my life, and you will live yours. And we will remember that we’re never alone, even though people don’t always talk about what’s really going on. Because in spite of not knowing each other, all mothers know every other mother, because our lives, however different, are the same.

So, as dear old Dr. Seuss puts it,

“On you will go, though the weather be foul.

On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.

And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

So be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordechai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”

And with that, I’m on my way.

Happy first birthday, Eliana!

This Much I Know

This Much I Know: The Top Six Things I Learned From Traveling With Two Kids, One Husband, and My Parents on the Disney Dream Cruise and then to Disneyworld

1.”Whozits and whatzits galore.” Packing is a fucking nightmare, and there is no way around it. Our two duffels (yes, for FIVE DAYS) were truly bizarre. In one? Underwear. Formula. Diapers. Bottles. Teething toys. Clothes. Pacifiers. More clothes. Clothes for if it’s hot. Clothes for if it’s cold. A raincoat. A sun hat. Rubber spoons. One pirate hat for “Pirate Night” on the cruise. Two princess dresses for Lila to avoid paying “princess dress tax” of $65. Rubber pants to go over Swimmie diapers. Cereal bars. Mickey Mouse t-shirts. Because obviously, in Florida, they have NONE of these things.

That was the easy part. The mathematical equations required for this trip and for Eliana’s gear made me consider hiring a consulting firm. How many times would she poop in five days? Pee? How many diapers should I plan on? Let’s say eight a day. Okay, eight times five. Forty. But what if there’s an issue? Let’s make it fifty. How does the usage of Swimmie diapers impact the overall count? And how many ounces of formula would she drink? Maybe six in the morning, but only if she doesn’t nurse, and then six in the middle of the day, maybe 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and then nursing at night? But would she still be nursing? If yes, how does the nursing variable impact the amount of formula needed? If she eats cereal and mixed fruit twice a day, that means ten of those, but then what about lunch? One vegetable or two? What if the jars break?

By the time our bags were packed, we were prepared for Disneyworld. And I was prepared for a nuclear disaster with Iran that may or may not have required a sorcerer’s hat.

2. Do not be alarmed by “treasures untold” that can be found in a baby’s diaper. I know what you’re thinking: Ariel, poop is in a diaper. And pee. Really, there’s not much more to it, and frankly, any further discussion of this is both immature and repulsive. (To which I say…perhaps you have landed on the wrong blog? I could wax poetic for hours about poop consistency and color. There’s something about motherhood that makes normal women intrigued by their kids’ poops, boogers, and ear wax. Any woman who denies this is a charlatan and a fraud. And if that doesn’t sell motherhood, well, I don’t know what will.)

Well, dear friend, I was once like you, and I too thought diapers were for shit alone. That is, until the night we landed in Orlando. As I changed Eliana for bed, I opened her diaper to what appeared to be—wait for it– a human ear. My first instinct: Is Eliana okay? She seemed perfectly cheerful, particularly for someone who just shat out an ear. My second instinct: “Um, Husband? You’ve got to see what’s in Eliana’s diaper!”

Now, some people may hear that and come running, but honestly, given the frequency with which infant poop examinations occur in our home (yes, I once saved one of Eliana’s for Husband simply to get a second opinion on whether or not it was “normal”), it can sometimes be hard to muster up some gusto for a shit inspection, especially after a long flight.  When Husband didn’t come running, my next stop was the bathroom, where I examined the ear in a brighter light. It appeared to be somewhat speckled, and a light pinkish color. Ah! Wait! That’s not a human ear afflicted by Rosacea! That’s the remnant of a sad-looking tomato slice that came from my mozzarella-tomato-pesto panini that I ate on the plane as Eliana slept on my lap! How do you spell relief? T-O-M-A-T-O.

3. “A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” But when you’re on vacation with your children, you are not going to sleep at all. So Cinderella? You and your little birds can suck it.  (And PS, you should have sued the prince for negligence when you fell down the palace steps in your glass slippers.)

Husband and I suffered, as do many parents, from Disneyfication. As in the Disney Dream cruise and Disneyworld were so unbelievably phenomenal that we were wiped each and every night. Inexplicably, Eliana was not. While Lila rested peacefully in my parents’ adjacent room, Eliana wah-wah-wahhed away, all the way into our bed. Night after night after night. Sleep training? YEAH RIGHT. Eliana slept comfortably (for her) between us for the five nights of vacation. And when we got home? That poor little creature didn’t have a prayer. Because sleeping in bed with Ellie hardened our hearts, and our dear little girl cried it out from our first night back until she turned back into her normal baby self. In a crib. Alone.

4. “A whole new world”…of horror is something you will experience. Yes, it is possible for your three-and-half-year-old to choke on a bread roll at the exact same moment your baby dumps a cup of ice water all over her lap. And once you’ve realized that the Heimlich is not necessary and that the baby thought it was funny, you too may permit yourself a folksy chuckle.

5. “The Lost Boys” from “Peter Pan” are everywhere. As in, many children will be lost over the course of your vacation. I would like to say that my children were not lost because I am a super-awesome parent and would NEVER let something like that happen to either of our amazing little girls. But that would be a lie. The first day of our vacation, Husband and I were enjoying the amazing Finding Nemo kids’ pool on the Disney Dream ship with Lila. She ran from one fountain to the next, positively beatific as she galloped from one fountain to the next. As I playfully pointed the fire-hose-like nozzle of Dori’s mouth at Husband, Husband laughed and then panicked, “WHERE’S LILA!?” My heart dropped to the floor as I started screaming, “LILA! LILA!” Fortunately, my father had been watching her the whole time…while Lila’s idiotic parents had been frolicking in the kiddie pool. New lows.

Now, judge me, sure, but certainly I get some credit for actually missing my child? I always sort of assumed that that was part of parenthood—that parents genuinely love their children and want to be with them. That “having a child is like wearing your heart on the outside of your body.” And yet.

At Disneyworld, all sorts of parents surface. As we waited for admission to the park, Husband and I watched a mother put labels on the back of her children’s shirts, “If lost, please call” with her cell phone number. Obviously, she was some kind of genius.

In contrast, we also found a child dressed as Tinkerbell sobbing in the Magic Kingdom. My parents, Husband and I jumped into panic mode. As Gram began grilling the little girl, Husband and I began shouting, “LOST CHILD! LOST CHILD!”, eager to reunite little Tinkerbell back with her mother, whom she clearly missed.

Out of the masses, a pissed-off mother pushing a double stroller emerged and shouted over the crowd, “Is it a boy?”

“No, it’s a girl.”

“Yup, she’s mine.”

As the child screamed, “Mommy!” through her sobs, the mother just rolled her eyes and said, “Get in the goddamn stroller.”

It was then that I realized that perhaps we had thwarted her plan. Perhaps she had WANTED to lose her child. She was channeling Peter’s words to Wendy, “Forget them all, Wendy. Come with me, where you’ll never have to worry about grown up things again.” Like, oh, I don’t know, FINDING YOUR CHILDREN.

6. Peter Pan starts, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” The vacation’s over, but I’m already dying to go back. The only thing that makes the end of vacation bearable is the knowledge that all of it will happen again.

You Can’t Vajazzle the Truth

A day in which you learn about “Vajazzling” and “furginas” is a day to remember.

So is the day when you pull your shit together and vent about your crappy delivery to your OB-GYN, who, PS, never showed up for the part where the baby escapes through your emergency exit. And yeah, I’m still really fucking mad about it.

Apparently, time does not heal all wounds.

As I parked the car in Dr. P.’s parking lot, I instinctively reached towards my stomach, remembering the dozens of time I had pulled into this very same parking spot months before. It’s amazing how a place can reach its arms around you and pull you back in. Seven months had passed since my last prenatal appointment, yet it was like no time had passed at all.

Minus the belly and fetus, nearly everything about the experience felt identical: the same beat-up, tan Toyota Camry was sitting in the parking lot in the handicapped space where it always was, unchanged by the passage of time. As I walked into the building, the smell of latex gloves and Band-Aids permeated the air, just as it had seven months before. And even though I wasn’t coming to check on a fetus or see a sonogram, the same feeling of nervousness sat in the pit of my stomach, inching its way up my throat.

But maybe that was just anticipation of the showdown that was to come.

Since the moment Eliana was born, I’d been pissed at Dr. P., who had literally phoned the entire delivery in. (See blog post: “Stand and Deliver”.) In fact, the only time I actually saw her during the whole “You’re actually having a baby!” process was when she “roughed me up a bit” to get the labor going during my regular weekly visit on July 14th, six days before my due date. Right afterwards, I was sent to the hospital at 1 PM; Eliana was not born until the next morning, Friday, at 7:19 AM. I know what you’re thinking: Gee, Ariel, eighteen hours and nineteen minutes is plenty of time for your doctor to get her ass to the hospital!

Yup. It sure is.

So why, praytell, was my OB-GYN conspicuously absent on July 15th at 7:18 AM, when a crowd of no fewer than six residents were hovering around my vajajay, watching me push Eliana out as if they were guests on a Dr. Oz show?

That was the very question I was determined to answer.

So this six-month postpartum appointment would be the day of reckoning, for my anger, disappointment, and mistreatment. For ignored almost-mothers everywhere, crappy deliveries dealt with only by residents, and, last but not least, my vagina.

And besides, nothing says pre-Valentine’s Day fun like a Pap smear!

The visit got off to a rocky start. For my 2:20 appointment, I had arrived politely at 2:10. 2:20 passed. Then 2:30. 2:45. 2:55. 3:10.

This whole “Hurry up and wait” thing felt awfully similar to my actual delivery. At the start of my time in the waiting room, my blood had merely been simmering at a low boil as it marinated in seven month old resentments, but surrounded by the menopausal, hormonal, and premenstrual women around me who were also being kept waiting, I felt my veins fill with rage.

The only thing worse than a Pap smear is having to wait for it for an hour and a half.

Yes, an HOUR AND A HALF.

By the time I was brought into a “treatment room” (read: vagina torture chamber), I was in no mood.

And the only thing that could possibly make me feel worse was the nurse’s order.

“Get on the scale, please.”

Kill me, now.

There it was: staring at me. The five doughy pounds that refuse to come off. In fairness, my attempt at WeightWatchers lately has involved my talking about how I should actually count my points and then watching my weight plateau while eating Veggie Booty at 9 PM after watching a series of On Demand episodes of “Shameless”.

Rather than grab a speculum right then and there and stab it into my heart, I decided to propose a business idea to the nurse.

“You know, if you’re going to keep your patients waiting forever, you should offer bikini waxes. It could be kind of a one-stop shop, you know?”

The nurse laughed and said, “Oh, and I guess we should offer Vajazzling, too?”

“Excuse me?”

“Vajazzling. You know the BeDazzler?”

I did not like where this was going.

“Yeah…?”

“Yeah. Well, Vajazzling is the same thing. Swarovski crystals. Down there.”

“So what you’re trying to tell me is that people glue-gun rhinestones on their vaginas?”

“Yup. I’ve seen it once or twice.”

New lows, humanity. New lows.

“Whoa.”

“Yeah, well, it’s the furginas that are really weird.”

“What?”

“You know, furginas.”

Am I so out of touch? Have I fallen this far out of the zeitgeist of mainstream society that everyone in the world is talking about furginas but me?

The nurse smiled at me, the way you smile at someone so sad and pathetic, you just want to nurture them and bake them Rice Krispie treats. “A furgina is when someone cuts off their pubic hair and then replaces it with fabric or faux fur from a store.”

“What, like gingham?”

“I’m telling you! Look it up when you get home! They do feathers too, you know.”

You know what? I prefer to spend my six free minutes of the day NOT Googling “faux fur” and “vagina”, thanks.

“Well, Dr. P. will be in here in a minute. I’ll get you a picture of the Vajazzling.”

Sure enough, three minutes later, there was my nurse, with a print-out of a Vajazzled vajajay in hand.

In case you were wondering why there is a wait at the doctor’s office, just assume that it’s because the nurse is showing a patient different varieties of Vajazzle styles. The butterfly design showcases a bit of artistic genius, really.

I will never look at Lila’s rhinestone-studded turtle t-shirt the same way again. Thanks, Vajazzler.

Twenty-one minutes later, in walked Dr. P., smiling and happy as could be. After all, insurance had paid her over $6,000 for not showing up at my delivery. I’d be walking on sunshine too if I got paid boatloads to not show up for my job.

After Dr. P. ran through all the preliminary steps of our appointment, I cleared my throat. It was my one moment in time.

Me: Dr. P.? I need to talk to you about something.

Dr. P.: (barely looking up from chart) Yes?

Me: (mustering up courage) I’m still pretty upset that you didn’t make it to my delivery. I didn’t say anything at our six-week postpartum because I was still too angry to talk about it.

Dr. P.: (putting on fake disappointed face) Oh, me too, Ariel. I wish I could have been there. I hate missing deliveries. (resumes looking at chart, satisfied this conversation is over)

Me: (pressing on, not letting Dr. P get away with this) Well, I just don’t really understand why you weren’t there.

Dr. P.: (innocently) Are you sure I was on call?

Me: (subduing the urge to rip metal stirrup off of chair and jab it in Dr. P.’s jugular) Yes. I started pushing at 6:45 AM. Eliana was born at 7:19 AM.

Dr. P.: (looking shocked) They let you push without my being there? Oh, we never let them push without us being there! I’m really surprised that that happened.

Me: Well, the baby was coming when she was coming, and I think they were aware that the baby wasn’t exactly going to wait for you or one of the other doctors to show up.

Dr. P.: (making Tsk-tsk sound with her mouth and shaking head) You know, these residents don’t always follow the doctors’ rules…

Me: I was glad someone was there to help me deliver. (pause) Why weren’t you there?

Dr. P.: (stalling) I’m not sure exactly what happened. I think maybe they just didn’t call me?

Me: (sleuthing through this) Then how did you know to show up?

Dr. P.: (avoiding eye contact) You know, these things happen. I hate missing deliveries.

Well, Dr. P., you can put rhinestones on a vagina, but they just can’t vajazzle the truth. YOU MISSED THE DAMN DELIVERY!

That’s the point at which she pulled on my boobs like they were handles on a rowing machine, subsequently followed by a rather (purposefully?) painful Pap smear. I assumed that meant the conversation was officially over.

So yes, we made small talk all the way through the rest of the visit. I brought up Vajazzling, and she mentioned she had nearly vomited when she saw a patient with a clit ring.

As I sat in my hospital gown, a fragment of the woman I once was, Dr. P. looked me in the eye.

“I’m really sorry I missed it.” Then, she leaned in and kissed my cheek. “See you for your annual next year!”

The door clicked, and she left.

There had been no vindication. No validation. A half-assed apology for her absence from a major event of my family’s life—one at which she had been expected to have an important co-starring role. As Adele might say, “Sometimes it lasts in love [or in obstetrical-gynecological relationships] but sometimes it hurts instead.”

So I put my clothes on, took the nurse’s print out of a Vajazzled vagina, and left.

It was the last I would ever see of Dr. P. And it was the last she would ever see of my vagina.

Ta-Ta to the Ta-Tas

She’s just not that into me.

Or, more specifically, my boobs.

Within the past month, Eliana has started solids, grown a tooth, decided she’d like to stand holding onto something if that’s an option, selected a rubber spatula as her toy of choice, and chosen a catchphrase: “Hi, Da!” (Note: “Da” refers to food, parents, Lila, toys, a particularly offensive poop, and anything that provokes either delight or frustration; i.e.: poop.)

At six months, Eliana weighs 19.3 pounds, is 28.5 inches, and thinks it’s hilarious if you throw a (soft, fuzzy stuffed-animal-like) ball at her face. Hobbies include: rolling onto her stomach and then getting pissed because she can’t roll the opposite direction, using my face as a handlebar, speed-growing her fingernails, and watching Lila’s every move as if Lila is a god on Earth.

Things she is suddenly not so interested in anymore: my boobakas. In other words, she seems to be saying ta-ta to the ta-tas.

Once upon a time, Eliana and my breasts had been besties, meaning they had lunch together all the time and seldom talked shit about each other. Their easygoing friendship was made all the more delightful for me since, back in the days of Lila’s babyhood, Lila and my breasts had been frenemies: the jugs were a source of food, but latching was a nightmare for all parties involved, and I basically pumped and bottle-fed—an experience that lets you be righteous in that you’re giving your kid breast milk, but perpetually annoyed that you are basically tied to the Pump-in-Style, a milking-machine whose “style” is evocative of the torture devices of the Tower of London.

By comparison, Eliana’s experience has been positively blissful. As in, I finally get it: THIS is why people breastfeed babies—it’s so EASY! In fact, I rarely would say, “I’m breastfeeding,” which is clinical and sounds extremely biological. With Eliana, I’ve taken to saying, “I’m nursing,” which sounds loving and special, and like I’m either in a turn-of-the-century epoch piece or like I’m a wet-nurse in the sixteenth century. Because while I would never say I’ve enjoyed being a human vending-machine, Eliana’s made that experience about as enjoyable as it can be. She gets in there, and she gets the job done. Ten minutes flat, tops. When she’s done, she burps like a champ, and the show’s over. Nursing her is a surefire way to calm her down, get her to sleep, chill her out. In the Golden Age of my nursing Eliana, the experience was an efficient experience filled with nutrition, snuggles, and cuddles. When she would finish eating, she’d even look up at me, with—dare I say it?—reverence. Gratitude. Appreciation and love.

But ever since she’s started solids, the show’s been over. The sad fact is, I just can’t compete with real food. I am a has-been and a wash-up. My breasts have become Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” which is a hard blow, particularly when the ladies used to be Gypsy Rose Lee.

Realistically speaking, I am proud of myself for making it this far nursing Eliana. I sort of feel like I’m at mile twelve in a marathon, which is nothing to sneeze at. I had set a goal for myself of six months, and holy cow (which I’ve been), I’ve made it! While the American Pediatric Blah Blah “recommends” (translation: guilts you into feeling terrible if you don’t give your child) a year of nursing, I figure that any child of mine “gets what you get and you don’t get upset,” because that’s how shit shakes down in nursery school, and it’s never too early to learn the cruel hard lessons of the street. Whether that means my kid gets an hour, a day, a month, six months, or a year of breast milk, it’s good enough. I know, I know, “breast is best,” (lactivist propaganda) but I also know that most of the people I know in my life (including myself) were fed formula as babies, and, as far as I can tell, they’re all pretty awesome in spite of being deprived of the “liquid gold” that would have obviously propelled them into lives rich with intellectual fulfillment, artistic ingenuity, and instant fluency in six languages.

Honestly, having nursed Eliana for six months and two weeks, I feel like I deserve an award, and with the Oscars right around the corner, these honkers at the very least deserve a nod for Best Actress(es) in a Supporting Role.

And yet.

Even if I won the award, it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s hard not to take Eliana’s sudden disinterest personally. It’s like she’s breaking up with me, but I’m the hanger-on, unwilling to let go.

This morning, I tried to feed Eliana before heading to work. It went a little something like this:

Me (gently mushing boob into Eliana’s face): “Come on. Hey. Let’s go.” (I fill with shame as I realize that these are the exact lines that Sonny the hooker in The Catcher in the Rye says as she tries to convince Holden to get busy.)

Eliana (looking up, contemplating a particularly intriguing light fixture): “Hi, Da.”

Me: (getting annoyed, shoving boob more aggressively into Eliana’s face): “This is no time for hi-Da. Let’s do this.”

Eliana (smiling/humoring me…begins to eat; pulls off abruptly and suddenly with a panicked look on her face that says, “WAIT! Did I forget to take out the garbage?”)

Me: (looking at watch and sounding more like an irritated prostitute): “Seriously, Eliana, I don’t have all day.”

(Enter Lila stage left, assessing the situation)

Lila: “What’s she doing?”

Me: “Not eating. She keeps getting distracted.”

Lila: (walking over to Eliana on my lap; looks Eliana in the eye, puts her hands on Eliana’s cheeks) “Eliana! FOCUS!”

Eliana: (smiling innocently) “Hi, Da!”

This much is clear: Eliana is breaking up with my boobs, and she’s not looking back. I’m not weaning her, but she’s weaning herself. I had wanted to continue nursing through our trip to Disney World in two weeks, both for convenience’s sake and because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal under any other circumstances to watch the Electrical Parade in the Magic Kingdom topless. But alas, my dream may not pan out, because Eliana is over it. Will she last two more weeks? Doubtful, but both the guy dressing up as Aladdin in the Magic Kingdom and I both remain hopeful.

The sad fact is that Eliana has breezily broken up with me, but I’m clinging to what we once had together. I am the sad, desperate ex-girlfriend who wants to get back together…but why do I want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me anymore? Sometimes, at four AM, when my boobs are swollen into full-blown milk-inflated howitzers, I think of Eliana and miss her, if only for her ability to unload the boobs and make me feel human again by making me feel like a cow. I wish for the way it used to be between us, with the whole gang together, our blissful and loving moments of reverie. When Eliana and the breasts first became an item, we were with each other all the time—in fact, it seemed like we couldn’t get enough of each other. In the early days of our relationship, we even dreamt of the future hopefully, and what it would be like when she didn’t want to nurse all the time. These days, there’s no talk of the future. No finishing each other’s sentences/wiping up spit-up. Those days are long gone, and now, I’m just left with my blissful memories of what our relationship used to be.

For these next two weeks until our trip to Disney, I will cling to our nursing relationship and try to make it work like a sad loser who just doesn’t get the message. Because as Cinderella might say, “A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep [and your boobs are ready to explode]”. But if that fails? Well, then I’m looking forward to kicking back some sangria with Cinderella, Belle, and Jasmine at Disney World, and who knows? Maybe my dream of being topless at the electrical parade could still come true.

It Takes a Village

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou

***

Fucking carrots.”

I rarely find myself cursing out vegetables, but this is what happened to me two nights ago at 2 AM as I paced the halls, furious at Eliana’s near-hourly night waking.

In Husband’s absence, I’m short on a lot of things: friendship, love, company, sympathy, patience, entertainment. I’m also, as it turns out, short on a scapegoat. And at 2 AM, well, the carrots I fed her for the first time that night, they would have to do.

With Husband away on a business trip, the girls and I are “vacationing” at what my siblings/nieces/nephews and I fondly call “CampGram”, my parents’ home about five minutes away from where we live. For the week that Husband’s gone, I’ve decided to take advantage of my parents’ goodwill (it’s a hobby, really) and the fact that a year and a half ago, we moved out of New York City to New Jersey to be closer to my parents, sisters and their families. This week turns out to be just one of those incredible times that I’m grateful to be so close to “home”.

It doesn’t matter that the house no longer looks the way it did when I was a child—the sounds, the smells, the experience of living with my parents is the same, and I admit enthusiastically, I’m loving re-visiting my childhood and adolescence without the drama of puberty. Staying with my parents is like staying at the Ritz Carlton for the mommy-and-kids-set; the food is outstanding, the accommodations top-notch, the toys phenomenal, and the staff is incredibly friendly, warm, and loving. The turn-down service is impeccable; “Pa” puts Lila to bed, with stories, songs, and cuddles included. Oh, and you can’t beat the rate!

There’s something nearly magical about sleeping in my childhood bedroom again while Lila and Eliana sleep across the hall in my sisters’ old rooms. When I close my eyes at night, the covers conjure memories of other nights I’ve spent in this room: nights before sleep-away camp where I was so nervous and excited I could barely sleep, the night before my wedding, when I consciously remembered it would be my “last night in the nursery” like Wendy in Peter Pan, the nights I snuck my phone into bed with me as a teenager, hoping my parents wouldn’t catch me and my muffled conversations. As a child, I can remember tucking myself under covers, hoarding books, toys, and flashlights, the same way Lila does at my parents’ home, where she has recently fallen asleep clenching a plastic Buzz Lightyear, a barrette, and a necklace. I remember many nights when, after my parents thought we were asleep, Sister #2 and I would throw our stuffed animals across the hall, back and forth to one another, tucking secret written messages into their shirts until our parents noticed that we weren’t sleeping and demanded that the game end.

And as I fall asleep at night here in my childhood home, the sensory experience of the house is even the same as it was when I was living alone with my parents after my older siblings all went to college; CNN blares on the TV, my mother snores softly on the couch in the den as my father enjoys a clandestine rendezvous with ice cream. The heat turns on and off throughout the night, and my mother—the night watch—continues to pace the halls at all hours of the night, the mother of four always on the look-out, even as an “empty-nester” (Let’s face it—with eight grandchildren all in spitting distance, their “empty nest” is more full than it was with four children living in it. I mean, you don’t get the moniker “Camp Gram” by playing mah-jong and getting your hair colored purple in your free time.)

While I enjoy time-traveling to the eighties and nineties of my old life, Lila adores being cradled in the warmth of Gram and Pa, who are able to enjoy my two girls without the chaos of all the other grandchildren around, which is how it usually is. My parents get a kick out of Eliana’s constant kicking—the girl is obviously training for The Chorus Line, pounding her legs in delight in her crib with the enthusiasm of a three-hundred-pound tap-dancer, every morning at5:30 AM sharp. My parents get to see what I see: Eliana as a chatty baby who always wants to be involved in the conversation and tries to shriek her way into it, and Lila, a constant negotiator, who can disarm you with charm and people-savvy. Eliana is getting to know my parents, and my heart just about melts when I see either of the girls snuggling enthusiastically in their arms.

There’s a tinge of sadness, too—I see how much Lila loves being with my parents, and I can’t help but think about the grandparent they girls will never meet, my husband’s mother, whom I never met either. Sometimes I’ll see an expression in their faces that I don’t recognize and wonder, do my children act like her? Are their mannerisms the same? Are these personality quirks or facial expressions ghosts that linger in their genetic codes? What would she think of them? Or me, for that matter? As a wife?  As a mother?

She is with us, even when she’s not.

Because a mother-child relationship is fraught and complex, no matter the age of the people involved. Even as a thirty-one-year-old woman, in living back at “Camp Gram,” I have slipped back into my childhood roles like they are old coats that already know the shape of my body. As a child, I craved my mother’s attention, sought her advice eagerly, laughed at her inability to operate a VCR, relied on her to fill in the gaps and come up with solutions.

And here we are again. She has made my lunch for school. (Yes. Seriously.) She has set a vitamin out on my plate. She has reminded me to get dinner together for the night that she and Dad are going out. She can’t figure out how to get on Facebook despite at least fifty lessons. Truly, Lila can use the computer with more competence than Gram can. That’s not even a joke. Next year, we might have Lila do Turbo-Tax for us.

Technical difficulties aside, though, Gram is ready to stick her hands into this sleep training business, with sleeves rolled up.

***

“Fucking carrots.”

These are the words I mutter as I drag myself down the hall to Eliana’s room to respond to her millionth night waking.

Though the week at Camp Gram had otherwise been an Ellysium of multigenerational love in every other way, Eliana’s sleep was turning out to be a nightmare. Eliana was waking up at night, but instead of ignoring her and shoving earplugs deeper into my ears as I would at my own home (where a good night for her goes from 6:30-4 until she needs to eat again before returning to sleep), I ran to her cry like I was her little bitch so as to avoid waking my parents, who had welcomed us with open arms into their home, but probably not into their REM cycles.

And genius baby that she is, Eliana figured it out.

The night-time wakings began increasing. First every four hours. Then two hours. Was it the fucking carrots that were making her wake up like this?

Suddenly, I’m nursing every two hours or two and a half hours, and it’s like Eliana is six weeks old again.

In the mango glow of the nightlight, here, in my oldest sister’s childhood bedroom, I feel my eyes well up with tears, partly from exhaustion and partly from anger at my own self-sabotage after all Eliana and I have worked through together with sleep training. You can’t please all generations at once, I guess. Out of three generations under one roof, I’m the only one suffering, so I guess I’ll just have to take this one for the team.

Except that all the sleep training I’ve done will be undermined. And then we’ll be back at home, and Husband will be home, and he will go to her because he always goes to her more than I ever did, and we’ll be back at square one, and I’ll have to do it all over again…

I want to cry.

Eliana drifts off into sleep, and as I bring her to the crib, slowly, slowly lowering her body into it, my body aching to go back into bed, her eyes blink wide open, like one of those creepy dolls in a horror movie. Add shrill-like screams.

Awesome.

Nothing, no, nothing could make this worse.

Except, that is, the fact that I’ve woken up Mom.

Shit.

Here we are: both of us awake at 2:45 AM, Mom still in a nightgown reminiscent of the ones I remember her wearing when I was a child. The house feels the same, but instead of my running into my parents’ room with a nightmare or stomachache, Mom is coming into my daughter’s room in her own house.

Legitimately, this feels like the sort of nonsensical, surrealistic dream I would have if I had the luxury of sleeping right now.

Mom’s forehead creases into a “T” between the eyes. “Ariel, what’s wrong?”

“Mom, please. I can handle this. Please go to sleep.” There is begging in my voice.

“It’s okay. She didn’t even wake me.”

“Then why are you awake?”

“I was already up.”

“I didn’t want to wake you.”

“I’m up already.”

Right, Mom, because people just troll the halls at three in the morning looking for a good time.

“Ariel, what’s wrong with her?”

I sigh and try not to cry, but I know Mom can hear it in my voice. “Being here is totally derailing all my sleep training. She knows I’m coming now—she’s expecting me to come any time she whines. I’ve ruined everything.”

Used to my drama, Mom reassures me, “You haven’t ruined everything. She’s not even bothering us, Ariel.”

“She is, I know she is!”

“Just let her cry, Ariel. Honestly, it won’t bother us.”

“I can’t—that’s not right. We’re going to go back home tomorrow.”

“That’s ridiculous! Just stay and LET. HER. CRY.”

Eliana has been listening intently to all of this. Her eyes jump from mine to my mother’s; she is awaiting the verdict.

“And give her Mylicon, Ariel. Did you give her Mylicon yet?”

“No, Mom, she doesn’t need Mylicon—”

Before I can finish my sentence, Mom has already opened up a bottle of Mylicon that has materialized out of thin air and shoved the dropper in Eliana’s mouth. No measurement necessary, apparently; Mom pretty much just dumped a liter straight into Eliana’s mouth, and she is gobbling up its minty goodness with gusto.

“Now put her in the crib, Ariel.”

“She’s going to cry. You’ll see.”

“Then LET. HER. CRY!”

“Are you sure?”

“YES. And tomorrow, we’re putting the bumpers back in the crib. This no-bumpers thing is bullshit.”

I take Eliana and place her into her crib because only a fool battles with a mother at three in the morning, or, more specifically, only a fool battles with my mother at any time of the day, since she is eternally right no matter what.

As I lower her body into the crib, Eliana gives me a look that probably translates to, “Wait—seriously…you’re LEAVING?”

But this ain’t no joke. As I walk out of Eliana’s room, my mom closes the door behind me and puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Now go to sleep and don’t go back to her. Do what you would do at home.”

“Are you sure?”

“YES.”

And the night passes. Miraculously, Eliana doesn’t wake up again. Was it the Mylicon? The last nursing session?

Or was it simply that Eliana finally understood the tenet that governs much of our family’s life: It may take a village, sweetheart, but at the end of the day? You just don’t fuck with Gram.

Through a Glass Darkly

The house is silent.

Too silent.

And it’s not because the girls are asleep: it’s because Husband is away on a business trip. He left just this afternoon but already, it feels like he’s been gone for two weeks.

The girls are sleeping peacefully upstairs, and I am blissfully alone. Eliana isn’t reaching for my hair with the intent to pull each individual curl out of my skull, which is her most recent hobby. Lila isn’t asking me to help her with a puzzle or how to spell something. There are no sixth graders begging for my attention, no seventh graders making excuses. There are no dishes beckoning me to the sink— I’ve already cleaned up the crusted-over oatmeal bowl, the jar of pears, the plate of half-eaten kid dinner, the eight wrinkled napkins. All the toys are put away. I’ve even cleaned the desk.

I am completely and totally alone in the quiet.

And while I have been waiting for this moment—secretly craving the silence, in fact, for several weeks now—I can’t enjoy it the way I want to. Ironically, in spite of all my wishing for a moment alone, all my bitching to Husband about how I just want to be alone for a little bit, the reality is that right now, all I really want is to hear the sound of Husband walking through the door, to feel the rush of cold air following him as he comes up the stairs inside to our home—a home that suddenly doesn’t feel that much like home at all without him in it.

After his amazing month and a half hiatus from business trips, I’d grown used to—and spoiled by—the comfortable new rhythm of our family’s life. Having fed the girls, bathed them, and having put Eliana to bed, Lila and I would savor a luxurious long bedtime routine together as we waited for Daddy, like clockwork, to come through the door at 7:15. At 7:16 each night, Husband would shed his suit for jeans and come into Lila’s room, and we’d pass her off, from me to him, like she was a baton in a race. Our eyes would catch one another’s for maybe a second before I eagerly headed downstairs to enjoy my only fifteen minutes to myself all day. From downstairs, I’d relax, “doing nothing” as Husband routinely requested, listening to the Norman Rockwell sounds of Lila and Husband’s voices upstairs as they chatted together contentedly about each other’s days. If I could bottle one sound in my life and return to it forever, the sound of their voices at bedtime—even without knowing what they’re saying—that’s it. It’s the sound I’d keep.

So now, the irony isn’t lost on me that finally, FINALLY, I am alone for more than fifteen minutes, but as it turns out, fifteen minutes is really all I ever needed.

***

            There is no doubt that having a baby—one, two, three, four, nineteen—changes a marriage. More specifically, in my opinion, having children makes the marriage more of what it is. Children are the magnifying glass to your marriage that suddenly enables you to see all of what your marriage is and all of what it isn’t. Under magnification, what was once merely beautiful becomes radiant. Suddenly, minor irritations become open wounds.

As we look back, Husband and I often “joke” (in quotations, because, well, is it really a joke?) that the six months after Lila was born were impossible. Lila’s sleep was a disaster, and we both quickly learned that with only two or three consistent hours of sleep a night, neither one of us was very pleasant. Life moved at a staggeringly slow pace; even as we truly enjoyed Lila’s babyhood and tried to get our heads around the fact that we had created this completely amazing human, each moment seemed to last about ten minutes long because we were so tired. By the time Lila turned six months old, we both felt we had aged about six years in the same time.

BUT.

We had done it together. One of us had always come to the rescue when the other parent was sucked into a feeding that was taking too long. When Lila was upset for reasons we couldn’t figure out, we both tried to sleuth our way to the answer. That first time we had to shove a rectal thermometer up there, we were standing side by side, lubing up the thermometer with Vaseline, laughing and repulsed together. When she explosively shat all over the changing table and the floor right after, neither one of us ran away.

As we grew into Lila, we grew into each other as parents, and our marriage became more of what it had always been.

Before Children, I had always been outgoing, always craving the spotlight. I was organized, resourceful and anxious with a penchant for exaggeration, a flair for drama and an inclination towards hypochondria. (To the amusement and irritation of Husband, I have never had a broken nose, a concussion, or hearing loss—due to what I felt was an earplug I shoved too far in my ear—though I have seen doctors and even specialists—for all three.)

Before Children, Husband had always been upbeat, open-minded and optimistic. His face has been in a perpetual smile since we first met when we were seventeen. He was messy, yes—clothing has never once remained folded. Generally speaking, he lived life quickly. He was always on the go, learning something new, trying something different. He was pragmatic. Practical. A people-person to the umpteenth power. Always ready with a solution or an idea.

Before Children, I was merely neurotic. I have become significantly more neurotic as a parent: about routine, bedtime, sleep-training, introducing foods, packing things, being prepared. My fixation with doing things EXACTLY as I envision they need to be done can infuriate Husband; he is not a mind reader—he doesn’t know how to cater to my neuroses, how to anticipate what needs to be done. (In my defense, a full laundry basket, I think, is pretty self-explanatory.) And even if he could anticipate and read my mind, he wouldn’t do chores the way I want them done. Which means I am setting myself up for irritation and frustration with him and him with an understandable reluctance to try and inevitably fall short. It’s a losing scenario that I suspect many husbands find themselves in.

And on the flip side, Husband’s messiness has multiplied with the existence of our children. The messes that once were contained behind closed doors and closed drawers have increased because now there are two additional people to deal with, and there is little time for Husband to remedy his own messes since “free” time is generally filled with meeting little people’s needs. And while I don’t feel that Eliana and Lila’s messes should be solely my responsibility, if I can’t handle the way Husband cleans up, then I can’t really complain about it, can I? Oh, rest assured, I can!

Enter angry fight about seemingly nothing, stage left. Drizzle in some resentment; add a healthy spoonful of silent seething. Half a cup of general irritation and frustration. Enjoy leftovers for days!

At moments like these, the ugly versions of ourselves become manifest, highlighted under the magnifying glass of children.

But thankfully, the magnificent parts of who we are become magnified, too. Both Lila and Eliana have perpetual smiles on their faces; this is from watching Daddy, who never stops smiling, no matter what life throws him. When Husband comes home from work and I’m exhausted, he is cheerful and enthusiastic, swooping in to lift Lila off her feet, metaphorically and literally. I crave the spotlight, yes, but as a parent, this means that we have some pretty phenomenal finger puppet theater here on a near daily basis. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen my fingers working Bert and Ernie finger puppets through a thrilling—and yes, I’ll say it, titillating—rendition of “The Heat is on in Saigon” from Miss Saigon; my work with a finger puppet bear-prince version of Valjean singing “Who Am I?” from Les Miserables is nearly as impressive.) Even my hypochondria has come in handy, as we rightfully ended up at a pulmonologist lately, who diagnosed Lila as asthmatic—and thank god, she is finally sleeping through the night without coughing now that she has medication. (God bless Albuterol.)

Children make us more of who we are, for better or for worse.

And, now, here, in my free night, my first night entirely alone in longer than I can remember, I can’t help but miss Husband– the person who makes me more of who I am as much as my children do, and who loves me in spite of– and maybe just a little bit because of– my flaws.

Only one week until he gets home.

 

 

 

Life in Endor

I have begun to dress like an Ewok. And I’m pretty sure it is a direct result of childbirth and motherhood.

I only really had the epiphany about my Ewok-status about two weeks ago, when I realized that every shirt currently in my wardrobe has the distinct asymmetrical bag appearance that those Ewoks’ hoodies had. It doesn’t matter what store the shirt came from—all the shirts I have purchased since I Eliana-ed are basically big, bulbous asymmetrical bags in a various assortment of colors, occasionally with bat-wing-like arm-holes. I wear them with leggings and boots. When I’m not teaching, this is my uniform.

As it turns out, it’s hard to coordinate date night for us, but I’m usually dressed and ready to go to a bar on Tatooine.

If you are reading this, it’s likely that you or someone you know has recently had a baby. It is also likely that, no matter how far away that woman is from childbirth, she has been struggling with her physical self-image in some way, usually in the dark of a closet somewhere or behind closed doors, when she has all of three minutes to look in the mirror as she dresses herself before a baby or child needs her to do something super important like de-booger a nose or find an obscure, piece-of-shit toy that she should’ve thrown out because it’s probably made in China and covered in arsenic and lead paint. When she looks in the mirror, desperate to get dressed because motherhood does not afford the luxury of getting dressed slowly, she notices that shirts that were once normal looking have inexplicably become shrinky-dinks. Pants that used to fit and look good are mocked by the smug sneer of persistent muffin top that—due to karma—is resistant to sit-ups. And don’t get me started on the somewhat fitted normal shirts we once wore. Au revoir. Personally, I’d rather filet myself than wear one (and, if I did filet myself, they might actually fit me better).

It’s not even the number on the scale that upsets me; I am only 3 pounds up from pre-pregnancy weight. It’s the look of it on my body, in spite of going to the gym and in spite of training for and running a 5K.

This happens to be a very sad, solitary way to start the day each morning, this spotlight on the body. Mercy, in fact, is provided only by a schedule that necessitates less self-indulgence because there are little people who need breakfast, help getting dressed, their beds made, and to have fights with about why they cannot bring four types of Chapstick to school or why it is socially unacceptable to wear thirteen barrettes in your hair. But yet somehow, every day, in the eight minutes I have to myself to get dressed each morning, I find myself shaken by how different my body looks. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I supported life. Yeah, yeah, nine months in, nine months out. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you do the crime, you do the time. Yes, I know: I’m really unspeakably lucky to have had not one child, but two—and so easily!—and yes, I know, this is just a really bitchy, selfish, entitled, spoiled and horrid thing to think about.

But still. I think.

And when I see myself in the mirror—and see the pudgy tummy that once so proudly held babies in it—the weight stares me down, pulling me down with it.

Just this morning, I patted the softness of my belly before I pulled on some tights. To Husband, I said, “Seriously. Look at this.”

To which he responded, “Yeah, well, look at this,” and patted his belly the same way.

Nothing like belly-fat camaraderie between two lovers.

Tilting my head in the mirror, I sighed, “I just hate the way my stomach looks.”

Lila walks into our bedroom and sizes me up. She tilts her head just as I tilted mine and asks, “Because it’s just a little big, Mommy?”

THANKS.

In fairness, I have no interest in taking physical body/fashion critique from a three-year-old who chooses to wear a clip-on feather in her hair, but still. Not yet savvy in social nuance, the girl can’t lie about what she sees and what Mommy looks like to her.

Meanwhile, muffin top or not, life goes on, and the irony is not lost on me that as I ache for my body to look better, I relish watching the numbers going up on the scale for Eliana as she grows into a real person.

Because this week, Eliana turns six months old. She is now a full-fledged fabulous baby: the gurgles are constant, her endless babbling of consonants giving us a steady stream of baby consciousness that is probably more lucid than Faulkner ever was. As Eliana babbles “Da-da-da-da-da-da,” Lila smiles and jumps with delight but then says, “Hey! Stop calling me Daddy! I’m LILA!”

And in spite of Lila’s frequent chastisement and the distinct similarity of Eliana’s baby cereal to spackle, Eliana seems to be enjoying every second of life. And every time I feed her cereal, though its pasty, glue-y appearance forces me to fight the urge to drywall something, I enjoy watching her enjoy food for the first time.

In the coming weeks, we’ll teach Eliana how to eat more than cereal-glue. And if Lila’s babyhood is any indication, Eliana will savor apples and explore the moisturizing effects that squash can have on her scalp. She will shove her whole hand in her mouth and squeal with joy as she devours those first peaches, licking each finger as she samples their summer sweetness. She will channel William Carlos Williams as she enjoys plums, her face suggesting they were “so sweet and so delicious”. She will guide my soft-tipped spoon into her mouth quickly, eagerly pulling the spoon closer in anticipation of what new treasure will tickle her taste buds. And I will smile, thinking ahead to all the meals we will share together as a family, looking forward to all the delicious moments ahead of us, both gustatory and emotional.

But as I continue to feed both of my girls, I’ll also be reminded that while they see the food on their plates, they will also see me, Mommy, and my reaction to my food on my plate, my body, and how I look. And like it or not, they will do what they see. So when Mommy frowns at her reflection in the mirror, this too will become a learned behavior. When Mommy tries something on and throws it to the floor in self-loathing, that too will be internalized by my perennial peanut gallery.

I may not like how I look, but the idea of creating that kind of legacy is a much harder weight for me to bear.

Which means from this day forth, I am sad Ewok no longer.

Muffin top or not, if it will enable my girls to have positive body images, I’m going to be the proudest Ewok in Endor.

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