Saturday, November 21, 2015

Regret, Regret

Darling Soji,

It's about 2 AM on November 21, 2015 and I have all this restless energy and racing thoughts, so I figured I might as well begin your birthday letter now.
My sweet baby. One year ago right this minute you were sleeping gently in your cozy tight water bed inside my belly, my heartbeat and blood thudding all around you. You shifted with my movements and were maybe dimly aware of my shrill bleating voice. Was it comforting, back then? Haha. I was 8 days over my "guess" date and a little dismayed because people from my birth team were going out of town for Thanksgiving...but my water broke right when I woke up, and I was jolted into birthing you, suddenly and wildly. Even though labor was fierce, I was relieved it was happening and so excited that the long expectancy was finally over and I could begin my new life with you in our family. I promise, our greeting was as joyful as it possibly could have been. We sang to you, when you were born, I cried the most pure, clean love to you straight from the open core of my being. Chai and Sparrow gathered around me and marveled at you. Chai was so excited to have a brother. Jon was so relieved you were safe and healthy. Sparrow doula'd me while I was in labor and greeted you so calmly and sweetly. Her shift from being the youngest was mostly gentle. She accepted and loved you but also didn't give up her place. You were surrounded by love! My friends and sisters were there. They love me and Jon, they love Chai and Sparrow, they held a place for you even though we didn't know you yet. You were so beautiful to us. We loved your soft, wrinkly skin and your cheeping cries and the gentle weight of your new little body--just made!--in our arms. We sang, "If I had words to make a day for you, I'd sing you a morning golden and true."

I'm hurting tonight because I don't think I really had these words for you, not during this entire year. I didn't sing you a morning golden and true. I feel you came to us the most innocent soul, just expecting love, and I haven't been there for you the way I would have wanted to be. I've always disliked memes and obnoxious platitudes about ignored third children and I wanted to give you everything; all the energy, hope, love and focus that I had. I don't know what it's like to come second, third, fourth, etc. I'm an oldest child and my hardships are different. Sojourn, I am so sorry that you came to a burned out mother who tripped over a new pregnancy before she had straightened up fully from the last one--twice. It's not your fault, it's not your fault. You deserved the absolute best of me every second of your life. You deserved my joy and not my stress. You were just all so young, and even disregarding my selfishness, it was so hard to have enough of me to go around. I don't expect you to understand that, and even expressing it feels like placing my burdens on you. Your only task is to be a child, to just be loved and cared for. I'm grateful for so many who swooped in and loved you fiercely (Mary especially) and took time to tickle you and make you laugh when I was rushing to feed you so I could move on to the next thing on the crushing list of the bare minimum I can never seem to keep up with. You ARE dearly loved. I have so many friends, your aunts and uncles, who reach for you every time they see you, who have cradled you and rocked you to sleep. You really haven't wanted for affection (I tell myself desperately hoping it's true). I just wish I'd had hours and hours to just adore you and look into your eyes, memorize your tiny hands. It hurts to realize how much less I recorded about your days and doings than I did before. I'm so sorry. I realize I'm doing what I dislike so intensely, making it about me when it should just be about you, but I didn't feel I could speak to you today on your first birthday without acknowledging that I wish your first year had been so much more than it was. I hope we will have a long time to be close and closer. I want this second year to be different. I want to pour my energy into connecting with you and learning about you.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago: "My little boy's hand. How exquisite he is. We heard him crying after American Beauty and the monitor must have become unplugged because he was weeping heartsick and whimpering as if he had given up. I ran to him and called, My darling, my darling! I am so sorry. These first lonelinesses, I am causing them. How it must comfort his dear heart to lay next to me. He doesn't know how young and inept I feel, I am the center of warmth and light. My sweet little boy. He talks to us already and has started bathing and playing with the big kids. So much in one year. I can't wait to know him better. "

Poj, you've changed so much since you were my Very Quiet Cricket, since you lay so softly by my side during those first few weeks when I was so sick. You've been resilient and adapted to being in our family. You don't like being left out, you're always hobbling after the other kids and barking at them to include you. When anyone goes outside and doesn't take you with them, you swiftly pull yourself up to the window and bang indignantly against it. You talked the earliest out of all my children. You say several words clearly, "Mama, Dad, up, go" but your body language and noises are just as clear. We never have to wonder what you are trying to express. It has always been obvious to us that you are very, very bright. You seem older than you are sometimes because of how well you communicate. You are an early riser! Which also makes you different from the others. I used to get them to go back to sleep by just nursing for hours and thus sleep in as late as I wanted. Not with you. Once you're awake, you quack, grunt, or screech at me to get me up, too, and you pat my face vigorously and pull my hair. You are so eager for the day to begin. You have so much work to do. You are very quick-moving and determined. You are never still. You are committed to exploring, and cover a lot of ground. When we go to the park or anywhere outside you usually ingest dirt and rocks at some point. You seem like you know what you're doing.

It has been wonderful to see your relationship with your brother and sister develop. They've always loved lugging you around and adoring you, but in the last 3 or 4 months you've been old enough to play with them and be where they are. My favorite thing ever is when they create a baby role for you in their pretend games. "...and Poj will be the baby." Chai loves you so much that he often smashes you or hugs you a little harder than you like or pats you very emphatically on the back. When I remind him to be gentle he says, outraged, "I was just doing billa-billa!" (his name for when he feels overwhelmed by affection). He loves to roll over on you; sometimes you like it and sometimes you scream. But you do love Chai, I can tell. And Sparrow, too. She is often our companion in bed in the early morning, and you have the sweetest interactions as you greet each other. You sigh and pat her and say "Ahhhh deb deb" and she grins and chuckles and says, "Oh, Poj. Oh, Pojourn." And you embrace her in your thrashing, head-butting way. You are a love. You are our little love. As Jon says, "He likes to be active ON you."

You are very funny. We enjoy you enjoying things. You love to lay down on a soft blanket on the floor and move your arms and legs, feeling the texture. One of my favorite things about you is the little sigh you give right when you fall asleep and let me go. Jon says, "He falls asleep quite sweetly once he finally gets there, once he stops thrashing."

What comes to mind when I try to think about my favorite moment with you (besides watching you play with the other kids, which is lovely because it happens almost daily) is a few weeks ago, Jon took C and S to lunch and you and I were home alone. I turned on "Somewhere Only We Know" and slow-danced with you. You just cuddled up to me while I swayed and I felt so full of love for you. I told you I was sorry that things were so intense and chaotic, and that I loved you deeply. You clung with glee to my neck, tightened your busy little arms. I leaned into you and I told you, “You are my darling, my darling.” I held you safe. I loved him. I need to take time to connect with my boy.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One in the meadow

Dear Chai,

You are four today, and the biggest guy in town! I kept looking back at you today when we were driving to Ogden and noticing how bright your eyes are. You have an anticipatory look forward to things so intensely. When we give you good news, you gasp and clap your hands. We’ve been counting down to your birthday for weeks and it’s finally here! You went to the ranch in Wyoming alone with Daddy this weekend. He wrote me that when he put you to bed you told him, “My gosh, I can’t believe I came here! I’ve never seen this before!” He said, “I’ve just been in awe of our Chai, Rachel...he is judicious, rambunctious, wild and kind! I’m missing you a lot. I wish I could talk to you.” You woke up to balloons and they made you feel so joyous that you jumped off the couch over and over again and asked for your best running song.. (You also love “Say Geronimo” and don’t understand why I can’t always find it on the radio). You were so excited to see Sparrow after a few days away and kept hugging her. I picked you up in my arms and took you into the kitchen and told you where you were born, how I lifted you and rejoiced over you, and then we walked to the couch and cuddled there and talked about my first experience feeding you and how excited I was to meet you. You LOVED it and I loved that you loved it. I hope that connection we have of me giving you life is something we can always appreciate in some form.

We celebrated you with a Big Dog Party in Ogden. I had planned games for all the aunts and uncles and it never quite got off the ground, but we had a shaving cream fight, you were the junkyard master in Car Lot and called forth the long-necks and t-rexes and tagged them all. Everyone enjoyed you so much. You played on the playground with Sparrow and Akane and you held Akane’s hand and announced that you were going to marry her. You ran and slid and jumped and danced under the parachute. Grandma Lolo made you spiderman cupcakes and you got a double-sided superman/batman cape and water toys for the splash pad! Doug and Emme also gave you another vase that Doug had sculpted to hold your “collections” since you broke the other one. We had a birthday wishes circle for you and you asked that we sing Tender Shepherd. Some of the wishes were about learning a lot in school and making new friends, Daddy wished for you that you would always tell us how you are feeling. I wished that your friendship with Sparrow always be strong, even if it changes forms.

Chai, it was so fun to watch you open your presents and be so happy. You are constantly voicing your thoughts, which maybe in a narcissistic way reminds me of myself. I see you engaging with the world in such a social and physical way and I love that you don’t hold back! Nothing has yet taught you that it doesn’t all belong to you. Although I hope that as you grow you understand the need for sharing space, for empathy and for letting others have their turn to speak and shine, I think your sense of your own magnificence is so beautiful. You are a vibrant, loud, and vivid person. You are fierce and have wild dreams and expectations that are sometimes crushed. I know that I yelled at you and scared you more this year than any year before and I am so sorry about that. It was a hard year with a new baby and you and Bahbo are still so young. I would have remained more with you than I was able to. I want to be a soft and safe presence in your life and no kitchen disaster or even precious broken things are more precious than you are. I know this, yet I still lose it, yet you still love me. The other day I was putting Sparrow in her bed right after I had yelled at you both and you told me, “Mom, I’ll always forgive you.” I asked you how you knew about forgiveness, and you said, “Because I know love. And I’ll always forgive my family.” It was such beauty to the ugliness I had thrown out. I want to be so much more careful with you. I regret that I haven’t found the time to write down every word you say. I like the songs you sing to Sojo about him being the little bro and you being the big bro. The other day you jumped on our bed in the morning and cried, “Oh, I couldn’t wait until morning came so I could see all of you again!” You are creating a world and a life and I am in awe of your quick mind, sharp memory and loving heart. You tell us how you feel, even the things that later people might teach you are unacceptable, and I am so glad you do. I hope that never, ever stops. You are constantly running up to me and saying “I love you so so so so so so MUUUUCH!” and throwing your arms around me. You love to help Daddy with anything and you trust him. He makes you feel safe. You call for him at night and he helped you when you were sick and vomiting this spring. I love that your father has always been a nurturer to you and that you see him as someone from whom you can receive that gentleness, affirmation and affection. You are SO loved and have some privileges from being the oldest, like the attention and focus of your aunts and uncles, getting Moh so much of the time, and your relationship with your grandfather Jay, that make me so grateful you got here just in time. You have a special playful relationship where you dictate the adventures and he willingly, patiently follows. You love your friends and superhero stuff and you often talk about being a good hero or a bad hero. I’m often quoting you on facebook and Laura says we should make a meme just for you called “Emotionally Intelligent Chai.” Everyone knows this about you--you express yourself well, creatively, and delightfully. You are funny and silly and sweet. I love the freckles on your nose and I love how seriously you take yoga at circle time at night. love reading with you! Some of our favorites are “all the world” (you love to point out you, Bahbo and Sojo) and “The Journey” (the girl with the red crayon).

You laugh for joy and it is holy to witness. Your laughter belongs to you and is internally felt and you don’t need to wait for anyone to share it or provoke it, it just spills out. You bring so much fresh delight to my life. You are protective and loving to your sister and Jon always says you are “thick as thieves.” You do often get into mischief together and it’s frustrating but sweet to see you plotting and whispering and running around together. I feel grateful that you are such good friends now, because no one knows what will happen tomorrow, and you will always have this time and this sweetness as a baseline for moving forward, your first best friend in your own home.
Chai, I can’t believe you are four! I can’t believe it’s been four years since I snatched you out of my midwife’s hands and howled and wailed at the early morning. You were so tiny and new, you filled up my entire world and heart bigger than anything I could have imagined. We fell asleep on the couch and bleated together for food. I had to get up and stagger to the kitchen to make my own, and slowly you learned milk. I was just a little girl learning, but I was there for you, I cradled you and you threaded through all of my thoughts. I love being your mother. It’s strange that already now you don’t need me in the same way, my role has shifted from caring for you with my body to making you food, planning activities and taking you on adventures. You run ahead. You will always run on ahead, and I know this. But I remember being the first one to hold you. I am so lucky to know you. There is so much ahead for us to embrace and endure. This may be one of the first years from which you retain some memories. It’s weird that the dawn’s early light of your life is just mine to recall. I will hold it close for you. Thank you for a wonderful, robust year. We both had some growing pains, me in my soul with yet another tiny baby pushing me to subtract and divide, and you in your legs that I rubbed out at night. I’m excited for FOUR and everything you will see and all we can see through you. I love you, my beautiful boy, my little son.

Love, your mother, Rachel

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why we named our baby Sojourn

(this song is great with this post: The story of choosing the name of our baby isn’t complicated. Jon just suddenly said it, maybe the second or third day after the birth. We had some girl names prepared that made our hearts sing, but none for a boy, so we took it slow. I was curled up with my laptop, having resorted to baby-name websites, and Jon was listing ideas as they came to him. I suggested Soren (after Kierkegaard) and that made Jon think of Sojourn. I loved it right away and we plugged it into the equations we were working out of possible first and middle names, and eventually we solved for X and Sojourn was it! I really have no business using math metaphors. I just wanted to explain the context of why I love the name Sojourn, and share the narrative connected with it, which is one tiny piece of the much larger story of how we moved through a transition of our faith.
It came to pass a few years ago that my ideas and experiences caused me to question the gospel of Nothing Lost. This was never something I sought out or desired, but enough religious certainty had melted away that eventually I had to consider and confront my own mortality in a way that I never had before. Even as a child I was plagued by existential questions--"What if things change? What if I lose you? What if something bad happens to someone I love?" and I was gifted with confident reassurance like a calm hand on my forehead. I could keep everyone I loved, forever. I would exist, forever. Everyone who left found themselves in a place of beauty and healing. All pain had meaning, and there was no lasting cruelty, just trials we didn't understand yet. I clung to these ideas, believed in them thoroughly, rejected any challenge to them, pitied those who did not have my knowledge. But eventually, I no longer felt that my sense of joy and comfort at the prospect of continued existence, and devastation at the idea of Ending, had any bearing on objective reality. I grasped for reassurances that at one time would have seemed silly to me--what about near death experiences? Wasn't it a scientific fact that a human body weighed less after death, which could be implication of an eternal soul? I told my brother that I no longer believed I could receive an "answer" to a prayer about something as cosmic as life after death without feeling that my own hopes and desires would drive whatever feelings arose. How could I confidently trust that warm, pleasant feelings had any bearing on what existed externally of my own mind? This piece of my shifting faith terrified me. Suddenly the prospect of death opened up like a yawning hole in the floor in front of me, a horror. I remember laying between my two children, hands on their sleeping heads, and shaking and sobbing with the pain of my fear of losing them. I forced myself to imagine it, to feel the weight of the possibility. How could it be, how could it be? How could I feel so much and just go out like a light at the end? How could it be real that I might never live in my body again? I lived for a few weeks with this new sheer terror under my skin. I heard clients' stories and tragic news articles with more solemn ears. Questions I'd had resolved for decades and would have considered spiritually immature now floated up and were knocking at my brain. Why suffering? What is the purpose? How could human beings bear the devastation of loss? I told Jonathan how desperately I was seeking to feel comfortable again. "I feel like I've burned down my home, the only house I've ever lived in, and now I'm just wandering in the cold. And any other house, I could just burn that down, too." We were at a stoplight, he gazed out over the steering wheel, then turned to me. "Maybe we were never meant to live in houses. Maybe we were meant to explore." Between the bars of that metaphor was where I found the relief I was seeking--acceptance. Acceptance of the I Don't Know, holding space for hope, for mystery, but also for a possibility of a final parting, no unified purpose or plan for all the peoples who have ever lived. Rather than life becoming meaningless, as others had predicted it would if my faith changed, it was as though every thread of my existence and my conscious self became so much more dear and precious. An affirmation drifted across my awareness somehow and I think of it often "Accept that the present moment is all you will ever have." the practice of mindfulness I studied and worked on with clients became more than a coping mechanism, it was a deepening that showed me how I could more richly appreciate my life, more fully be "in" my life and "with" those around me. I began to feel the beauty of impermanence. One of my therapist mentors told me in the first months I was hired at the FSTC that the secret to happiness is three words, "Be Here Now" (also a Mason Jennings song). I have learned so much by attempting to live by those three words. I am my most grounded, most giving, most deeply loving self when I am able to be fully present in my life, recognize every moment as a sojourn, a short stay, and live it while I am living it. I can think of no reason that living mindfully and giving the present moment what it needs can be harmful in the event that we do continue to exist. Either way, our sojourn here on this "pale blue dot" is all we have for certain, and no one ever knows how long they will have before the seasons change again. 
The word "sojourn" reminds me that we are all strangers in a strange land, explorers, dwelling in a place for a time, then moving on. Childhood, the golden summers, the playing pretend under the trees, the dawning awareness, the loneliness and raw throat from yelling and running in the backyard--childhood is a sojourn. High school was a sojourn, the slow unfurling of courage and learning how to talk to other people. Sojourns, the short months I lived with roommates and companions, the four months I spent in Romania. Each apartment was a universe for awhile, the doors and rooms that held our conversations, our inside jokes and our resentment. I have sojourned through relationships, through classrooms, through jobs, through heartbreak that I was sure would burn forever. It did not. I hold friends in my heart with whom I now have little in common, but our time sojourning together bonds us. Pregnancy is a sojourn through an in-between place, from one steady shore to another. Even though it doesn't seem possible, my time raising children is a sojourn...even the brief time that they glow at their certain ages...the sojourn of two years old, the sojourn of three. A sweet stay, a bright day, feeling the sun of this stage on my face. My little boy's name reminds me to be conscious of the kaleidoscopic beauty and pain of every moment. It is always shifting, we journey on. I am grateful to be flanked by fellow travelers who I love so much. A few weeks ago I shed tears over our sojourn with two children coming to an end.       Jonathan held me and told me, "We'll have a good run, you'll see..." I wrote those words on my wall. That is my hope, to have a good run.
I held my dear baby tonight and kissed his little hands. I tried to focus on each of his fingers, one at a time. I thought how amazing it is that his tender little hand will grow to be as large as his father’s.
When he is old enough, I will read him this poem, and tell him that I was asking the question voiced in the last lines when we chose his name.

The Summer Day
--Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?