Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Self Permanence

People are permanently of this world, still milling about, birthing ,thinking, laughing, crying, working, loving, fighting, dying, even when we don't see them. There is a staggering multitude of souls and energy existing without restraint. To think that there are an infinite number of lives simultaneously dying and being born. To think that the world is made for all these people and not exclusively me. The concept of object permanence is baffling. It is boundless and scary. Everything exists whether I'm here or not, whether I'm alive or not.

Daire won't have an expanded sense of his world and object permanence until he is about 8 months old. Right now, everything exists in the moment he senses it. My voice means I've suddenly been born to him. Dana's rough hugs rouse him from a nap and unexpectedly she exists. For now, it is dazzling that dad's face disappears behind some hands and reappears with a "Boo!" We are all determined by him. He is truly the center of his own universe and genuinely of the moment.

A three-year-old Dana's universe, on the other hand, is different. Object permanence is not a problem. She understands that her sunglasses still exist in the bag she put them in. She knows her friends are having their own family life in their own houses. She appreciates that dad is at work or I'm at the gym. She does not need to sense them to know they are real. For her, the problem is the reversal of the concept. She does not understand her own existence without being seen.

It is easy to detect. "Watch this!" she screams as she does a bat hang on her trampoline. "Look at me!" while she belly drops from the slide. The essence of the moment lacks depth without a spectator. Without appreciation, she has no place to pocket the moment, to categorize and comprehend it or to make it a part of herself. She is real when she is seen. She is the most real when she is seen by her parents. She is coming to grips with self permanence.

So I found myself tensely saying to her "Be careful with that stick!" My thoughts were only on the possibility that she could swing it and hit Daire who lay on the ground beside her. Then I noticed how quickly the joy on her face vanished. I had seen only the stick, not my daughter holding it and certainly not the pride she felt in finding and wielding it. She had disappeared.

Fear is an unfaithful emotion. My fear had erased her and made me blind. Unless unleashed for emergency purposes, it should be tempered with compassion, love, vision. I had let my fear reign pure and Dana suffered.

I realized further, that I had hurt her similarly many times but more frequently since Daire's birth. As a result, she is more stubborn and willing to break rules. Sadly, I recognized that my fear defeated my good intentions and created a vicious cycle. Plainly, she is coaxing us to pursue her since any seeing helps her understand her permanence. It is heartbreakingly true that I need to seize my slippery fear so she can learn about herself apprehension free. No easy task.

As I observe her discover herself through our eyes, it becomes clear that children aren't alone in their struggle with self permanence. In a world of object permanence, where a boundless explosion of people thrive regardless of the individual, what other meaning making way is there than to find someone to look at us purely and without fear?

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A hand is simply a palm and five fingers. It makes contact, a touch, a common event. We touch without thought and without consideration for hands or flesh. A caress, cuddle, embrace, small massage, friendly pinch or light tap. I draw animals on Dana's back as she giggles. I rest my hands on my husband's arm as he works. I rubbed my pregnant belly. I stroke Daire's back as he rests in his Moby carrier. My hands move across the curve of a neck, stroke some hair, hold a wiggling foot. Nothing special or extraordinary. It happens everyday.

But if it didn't happen, I would suffer. My life would feel half empty.

Touch is ordinary magic. It is the moment we reach across self to someone else. We break our solitude and transcend ourselves. We merge. There are no words we can speak to each other that commune so powerfully. The moment we make contact we are no longer alone.

This was my stunned reaction as I nursed Daire. He reached out and grabbed my finger for the first time, then rested it on my chest and firmly locked me to him. His determined hands moved in jagged strokes then boldly held me to him.

At that moment, I became conscious of something he instinctively knows. Our hands are the gateway to intimacy and awareness. It is why it is one of a baby's first tasks to master. Why he studiously reaches for toys, his hands wavering and jerking with effort and grunting in frustration. Why he stretches for dad's face and Dana's hands as she plays with him. Why he brings his hands together and studies his fingers intently. His touch is tenderly and eagerly exploring us and simultaneously reminding himself that he is not alone.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


This is tough. The emotional journey one takes into love is a jumbled mess, especially when it comes to kids. One day while preparing for an hour to get Dana and Daire out the door, it came over me. I've just experienced every emotion in less than an hour. From the emotional high of love, happiness, laughter and adoration to the low of exasperation, frustration, anxiety and anger, in parenting there is a new emotion every minute.

It is another reminder that parenting is where the true work is. My job is the vacation. Unlike work, I have little control over the content of day-to-day parenting moments. I can't take a lunch break, turn to a new task or take an hour to respond to the latest communication. I can set a framework for Dana and Daire but their reactions and interactions are entirely in their control and my role is to react for good or bad.

Dana doesn't want to wear her pink shoes. The small crisis must be resolved or we will not make it to point B and Dana will surely end up in tears. If Dana ends up in tears, I will simultaneously feel guilty, a failure, frustrated, bewildered and angry. I will have to deal with our emotions and hopefully feel competent in the process because I will get no feedback from the authoritarian expert on the subject. No one will tell me whether that was the "right" way to deal with it. I can only hope in 18 years my kids are the adults to prove that I did, but what if their outcome has little to do with shoes (as I suspect)?

It is easy to over-analyze every moment. Here is a small example. If I get the blue shoes for Dana, she will be happy but I've reinforced my role as her runner and our dependence. If she gets her shoes, it will take longer and support her independence but maybe she feels rejected? If we both get her shoes then we have made no progress and nothing has been taught. I can make her wear her pink shoes because shoes really aren't that important anyway – are they? But Dana may not feel like her feelings are being nurtured and maybe the pink shoes are uncomfortable in some way that is hard for her to communicate. There is no right answer and yet I'm constantly searching for one. It is exhausting and by the time I've decided, Dana has already put on one flowered rain boot and one blue croc on the wrong feet. Another dilemma. I settle with telling her that they are on the wrong feet and she tells me that is the way she wants them. Ok. We are out the door.

Parenting is my endless education. My role may be to love, teach and civilize my kids, but I'm sure I'm learning more. Every little lesson comes whether I have asked for it or not. The toughest lesson is to appreciate and live the moment. All the emotions come and go but the time with my kids are the unifying factor and the absolute foundation. For me, those moments are the truest meaning of life. In fact, in the end, my kids will be who they will be and I will have been their witness and wiser for it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Getting to Know You

Many conversations have been had about whether love at first sight exists. As if love is such a complicated thing it warrants such discussions. As if love at first sight lessens the wisdom of our own feelings. Having kids now, I believe love is much simpler and at the same time, love is extremely wise. I can be in love without ever meeting. I have the capacity to love just knowing, just the possibility, just the thought of a new child. I can easily fall head over heals at first sight. It undoubtedly happened with both my children. I'm sure now, it has happened with others in my life.

The larger discussion is whether you can truly know someone at first sight. This I will debate with anyone. The process of love is full of surprises, not the least of which is the unfolding of ourselves to others. The pealing away of each layer reveals a new truth and each truth reveals further, sometimes contradicting truths. The difficulty is that we are changing and developing over time and love must accept this. Love motivates me to reveal myself and to further explore my loved ones. It is the first true step in a mutual journey of self. I can't really know someone but I can explore them and love them in the process.

So the exploration begins with Daire. The personality of an 8 weeks old does not compare to the maturity and perplexing challenges of a 3 year old, but he is revealing himself to us.

He is an even-tempered baby. He cries rarely but for four reasons: milk, comfort, touch and routine. The last reason is the most surprising to me and one is which I'm sure Dana was not as keen. As young as 2 weeks old, Daire has proven a perceptive observer of the patterns of the day and night. The most dramatic example of this is our night time routine. After Dana is put down for the night, this consists of a journey to the basement where I sit on the couch, hold and nurse Daire while until he passes out for the night. Any deviation from this and his even temper is replaced with fussy insistence on returning to it. He expects this to the extent that he will protest until I reach the basement stairs at which point he is assured and quiet while I settle in. It reveals to me his need for the familiar, but also his keen awareness of routine. He makes connections between the time of day, the people and the place he is and is comforted by his expectations.

He is a noisy baby asleep and awake. His impersonations are diverse: goat, horse, cat, squeaky door, pig, whistle, drowning mouse. Sometimes it sounds like he says words like "Ok" or "yeah". The first night was impossible to sleep he was so loud. Since then I've discovered that the sounds he makes are sometimes connected to the motion of his body. An arm stretches and a goat mew accompanies it. His head turns with a cluck. He squirms constantly and the noises are endless. If he is swaddled the it subsides, but by about 4 or 5 am he is back to his original noise making.

My favorite sounds are the coos while he nurses and the satisfied sigh as I hold him, a contented expression of love. There is an openness in these sounds that invites me to adore and wonder over him. They remind me that we are defined by our love and sameness.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Daire’s Birth – May 11th 2009

Around 2 am contractions start. I doze in and out of them until about 5 am when they start to organize and become a pattern and I start to feel like I’m opening up. I wake Blugh and let him know. We call the midwife at 6 am. She arrives at 7 am to check me and I’m 4 cm. Still a long way to go.

The contractions come about every 4 minutes. Sometimes the rest between them feels like forever, as if I have more time than I can imagine. It is hard not to worry that they will stop and I’ll be back where I started. At the same time, I feel enormously relaxed between them. I’m in another world. The waves of a contraction start and pull me into one very focused state in which the breath and voice are my tools and rhythm for coping. Then, incredible relaxation of another world in my body and mind. This kind of meditation is beyond anything I can easily achieve outside of labor. Every nerve lets go and I sink into my body completely. I slip between the two states easily.

All I want to do is lie on the bed. My midwife takes my blood pressure and it is 68/110. The lowest it has been my whole pregnancy. The intensity of each contraction picks up quickly and I can tell that even though the rest between each contraction is long, I’m progressing quickly. I decide to go in the bathtub.

It is heaven in the bathtub. I float weightlessly. I move quickly into more intense contractions. I envision my body opening up like a skeletal flower with each one. My hands stretch wide and my voice is now my weapon against pain. The louder I moan, the more focused I become and the pain subsides as if intimidated by the sound. My moans are rhythmic, three in a row to last the contraction and then deep relaxation. I begin to get tired and I want it to end soon. It is getting hard to stay focused and not let the pain overcome my ritual. Labor is a battle and dance with ones own body.

Then it changes. Pain starts to shoot up my back like electricity with each contraction. Instead of relaxed between contractions, I become bewildered. This is different than Dana. The pain is overcoming me and I’m losing my hold on the dance, I’m losing this battle. It is hard to keep it my hold on the rhythm I had before. I can’t collect myself and find the peace I had before. The contractions are coming closer together. (It turned out that Daire turned and was born face up, leading to back labor.)

I’m squatting in the tub, then on my knees trying to cope with the pain. Ice is on my back and a homeopathic tablet under my tongue for back labor. I want it over yet it seems like the quick progress I experienced is slowing. Closer contractions, less progress and so close to the end. So frustrating.

The urge to push comes. This is also different than my first time. With each contraction, I push in irregular spurts. Some pushes are powerful and long, others short and weak. My midwife checks me and I’m nine centimeters. I have a cervical lip, I’m not fully dilated. She tries to pull it back but it is taunt. She says some women are able to push through it and I’m determined to be one of those women. With each push I will Daire’s head to stay and not let the lip slip him back.

I change position and I move to my back with my knees up. I want only to survive while my body engages in completing the birth. Gone is the peace from the beginning of the labor and it is replaced with confusion and determination. I don’t understand why this is feeling harder than Dana’s birth. What am I doing differently? I just need to get through it to find out. Suddenly with a slow starting push that builds like a tidal wave, I’ve got Daire’s head and then body out. The incredible relief of knowing it was over washes over me, the labor and pregnancy all done.

My midwife’s voice pulls me out of my daze “Marika come meet your baby.” The cord is around his neck. Daire is still under water and Cindy fumbles with the cord trying to pull it over him and finally he is in my arms. Blue, a deformed cone shaped head from the intense pushing, a purple bruise across his forehead and a rash covering his body, Daire is born. He is beautiful. Cindy says his vitals are fine. He takes a silent minute and then cries a little and I feel relief. He starts a slow recovery and begins to wiggle.

I’m in love, again.