A few weekends ago, the (W)right family was at the park when "serious conversation" leapt upon us with more spring than our little can-can girl's wildly pumping gams.
It sprawled with as many tentacles as a mutant cephelapod, but a few topics got me thinking: Andrew had started urging me to do more "me" things (as in "me-Adella"/"you" and less "me-Andrew"/"serve me" things). Get a massage. Go running. Take a class. Heck, take a week away and go visit my sister. Have something that was mine. It came from a good place. He'd been talking about his big races. His away-rides. His me-time. He felt odd that I didn't have the equivalent. He wanted to make sure I was taking care of myself. And/or he's always viewed feminine sentiment as a bit of a pathology, so my frequent Venusian behaviors do worry him more than a touch.
In a sense, he struck a pretty common theme in our relationship. Andrew defines himself by what he does. I define myself by the relationships around me. By my sense of place in a community. And by the internal thoughts and ideas that I have. I've never really had the same emphasis on external activities. It's alien to him to think of a self without these. So my amorphous activity-based identity has always been peculiar to him. But it's become more of a contrast in this last year.
My initial reaction was mildly defensive incredulity. Obviously he didn't understand what it was to be a mom. While he can put on and take off daddy-hat, ME is written write into "mom-Meeee" (ok, MY is written into Mommy, which might imply the more possessive nature of all this mothering). For him, Daddy is just an additional thing he is among several other things. Chaya's an additional relationship he has in his life. An important one. But relationships always recognize contrasts, boundaries, separation. It's not like that for me. Chaya is my me.
I've always been fiercely resistant to categorization. I've been a _____ (dancer, attorney, Johnnie), but also... and except for how I'm not... I mixed freely among cliques when I was younger. I've always held one foot out of the water. Until now. I have never felt so fully subsumed in an identity as I am "Chaya's mommy." It's the fulcrum through which all of my previous talents and passions, and quirks are manifest.
One problem with this though: I don't feel like I'm really all that great of a "Chaya's Mom" Not really. There just aren't metrics for that, for one. And if there were, well...
I'm usually good at what I do. I was a pretty darned good dancer. I was the Outstanding Graduate in the East Asian Studies Department. I was top percentiles in Law School. Other attorneys actually have praised my briefs, and I'm famous for my work as the secretary of the WCP. Hell I used to make award winning fruit baskets as a produce clerk, and was a top scooper at the salsa factory.
I'm too neurotic to let that get into my head and inflate my ego, but I certainly took a kind of pride in the occasional fawning and markers of success at any rate.
As mom, I don't know. I'm somewhere between "treading water" to "bobbing along passably." I have yet to get my special framable Summa Cum Mom plaque, believe it or not. Sure, Chaya looks to me when she's grumpy, and only I can sing her or snuggle/rock to sleep. (Why is it on days that Chaya's moody, fragile and underslept, her favorite consonantal string is mamamamamamamamama... mom... ma... maaaaamaaaa? When she's happy, it's babab or even papa) But that's largely because I do it all the time. Chaya's an awesome little beast. She would thrive with any half-decent caregiver.
I'm sometimes a little jealous of the moms with velcro babies, of those whose kiddos have genuine separation anxiety. Babies who cry when other people hold them, and who get jealous when mommy holds other babies. Chaya gets overwhelmed in new situations, but after that, she's a little flirt. I imagine some part of me is afraid to let others care for Chaya because I don't want to discover that she'll forget me. That I, mommy, am disposable. That some other Alpha ape-lady will try to steal my monkey baby!
And of course, Chaya will grow up. Right now, she mostly needs somebody to give her the basic essentials and restrain her from leaping headfirst off the couch. But eventually, she'll need role models, not just guides and guards. I'll need to keep in touch with myself as she becomes herself. And someday she'll be off to conquer the world. I kinda need to stay in touch with the non-Chaya ME, for Chaya's sake.
Ok, so all that percolated after our initial conversation...
And I got to thinking, I'd best devise a plan to make sure I manage this me-ness!
WHO AM I???
... Then my second thought was, well actually I am still here. But in specific ways that contain the potential for expansion as the little one grows up.
Things that I think of as quintessentially me:
1. Writing - It's always been my way of processing the world around me. And engaging with it. And manipulating it. And laughing at it. Whether it's blogging, writing briefs, or taking notes as the Secretary/Poet Laureate of the WCP, it's an essential thing for me and my sense of self. I am trying to make sure to at least keep the blog semi-active, even if it's all baby-poop, boobies and naps all the time. As Chaya's naps start to hit longer paces, I've been able to find some down time by occasionally ignoring all the things around the house I'd like to do. It's not quite the morning discipline of writing for an hour after first waking. But it's a start.
2. Research, Esemplastic Epiphanies, and Analyses - This is a complement to the writing. I'm damned good at synthesizing large swarms of raw data into cohesive wholes. It's dragged me into a bit of a quagmire with babydom, since I'm compulsively aware of all the information out there and constantly tinkering with it to ongoing uncertainty.
3. Supporting others - I'm neurotic and self-centered and thoroughly introverted, but I also am an empathetic person. I am able to hear other people, support and affirm their experiences, and help them forge through the inner chambers of their murky minds. I also am able to reach out from my own experiences and relate instead of supplanting. I find myself becoming that sort of figure through the various moms groups, especially as an advocate for women struggling with fertility or lactation issues.
4. Fitness - This one has really fallen by the wayside. Although I still eat quite well and have maintained a slimmer and semi-toned figure, I am just at a nadir of fitness. My abdominals are jelly. My toosh has been vacuum packed into my milky bosoms, and just generally I'm not all that strong. And that's a little weird for somebody who has been in pretty peak condition for at least ten years prior. So that one isn't quite there, but I am still in decent shape. I'm hoping in the future to get back my abs o'iron.
5. Whimsy - It's in my sense of humor. When I'm putting effort or conscious thought into dressing, it shows up there quite a bit. I love sparkles and splashes of colors. Fun and playful babble. My massive sock collection. I like to subvert expectations. Sometimes with a sere irony that skids past the minds of most, and sometimes with a facile pablum of sing-songery. You're never too old for make believe. Sometimes I wish I shared this more with Chaya, but I think I still do somewhat. I hope.
And then, aside from that, there are things that I still do that were my ME-things. And some that I don't.
Things I do/did "for me":
1. Writing - see above
2. Crosswords - word puzzles. Word play. This is totally the leisure activity that has survived babypocalypse. It's easier than most immersive activities, since I can put it down and re-assume without losing a beat. And with the synapses misfiring left and right, I suppose it's palliative to have some badinage still beating about my battered aphasiac brain.
3. Reading - Much of my life, I could fling myself down the rabbit hole of good literature and only re-emerge several hours later. Possibly completely changed. Certainly dazed and startled about having debouched back to "reality."This has fallen by the wayside recently. It's something that requires my undivided attention and I don't have a lot of that these days. But I do read aloud to Chaya several times a day. I have many of her books memorized, and chant them to her at random with pantomime and gesture. I'm really looking forward to when she is older and I can share my favorite children's stories with her.
4. My strange form of cooking and playing with food - I don't exactly do "fine dining," but given my particular style of eating, I certainly have learned my share of idiosyncratic approaches to cookery. My favorite Saturday activity used to be cutting and preparing vegetables, firing up the slow cooker, and making yogurt. I'm currently channeling these impulses into baby food and occasionally making more interesting meals for my hubba hubba. I'm afraid to use my larger food processor. It's loud and messy. but my immersion blender is fairly awesome.
5. Musical Immersion - Nowadays that means playing music in the house, singing to Chaya, and occasionally grooving in the kitchen. It used to mean dancing, which I love but which was already becoming a late night activity when I was gravitating towards early mornings. I also honestly find social dancing more diverting with strangers. Part of the fun and excitement is the unknown and the utter fantasy. When you become too familiar, that goes by the wayside.
It also meant and will mean attending concerts, the opera, and singing at the Taize service or in some other community setting.
There was also performance which related to music. I feed off the connection with a partner, but also the vibe of a room and feel such a rush competing or performing dance. I really do miss that. Teaching and competing was very satisfying that way.
6. Walking and other forms of physical engagement with the world and my body. There was a phase in which running was a big thing for me. I still take a walk with Chaya every day, despite her occasional cavils. And I like to charge up the high grade areas. But not quite like when I walked several hours a day at my desk. Or ran. But even if running is "easy," it's not that easy. I can take Chaya in the stroller, sure. But then I need a shower. And before that I need to change. And probably nurse her on either side. And stretch. It's involved. I may try to get back into it with Andrew at least on the weekend. And when she's a bit older, I think I will look into getting back into
7. Spirituality. I'm a cliche for my generation. I tend to find a deeply spiritual experience in all things. I find all religions to hold a kernel of truth. I embrace the inarticulable and believe that no true belief can be held without struggle and doubt and paradox. But I found something really meaningful in my occasional excursions to the Taize service with my dad. And the holiday rites we share.
So there's all that. I'm still here. I could be more here. But I'm still here.
We are so related...
Another familiar refrain that came up in our conversation was Andrew and I having things that were ours. To an extent he's always regretted that we don't share more things in common. I take this mostly as his emphasis on activity versus being. And also a bit of guilt/regret that he feels he has to choose between "time with wife" and "time doing my things." But of course, noting back burners a shared few things like a baby. Or subsumes it.
I mean, my first response was "We have a baby we're raising together. Chaya is our thing!!" But I get it. We still do date night, but I may find it even harder to stay out for long and have my phone out plenty. And I don't want to waste a great spouse because I'm flooded with baby-momma hormones that will evolve and make room over time if only I let them.
So, the things we do/did/have done together:
1. Netflix. Seriously, dude, a shared marathon of a tv show is a big thing. You have the inside jokes, topics of conversations, a shared laugh or tear. It's incredibly communal. We watch marathons of shows together after Chaya goes to sleep. It's drab. But it's grounding.
2. Walking and talking. Not Andrew's favorite thing, walking, but we always have had a bond in motion. It takes a while for his head to spin down from work/cycling, and for my gibberish to coalesce into a nice desultory chitter-chat, but it happens when we walk together. I like that we do this together on the weekends.
3. Ballet. We both danced once upon a time and for a good while we went to the PNB together. It was a really special little thing to share, but it's a long day trip, so certainly not this year. And I probably won't be comfortable being away that long for a little while longer. But perhaps there are events in town.
4. Dancing - As I said, in many regards, I enjoy dancing more when I'm single (and in shape, but that's a different thing). And my other challenge with this is that I have tended to gravitate naturally towards an earlier schedule. With the baby, that is magnified intensely. Sure, I could let somebody else put her to bed (after she's weaned a bit more anyways), or go out after Chaya's down for the night. But sleep! I need sleep! I'm usually ready to crawl into pjs and zonk by 8. But of course, if there's a good tune in playing on the radio... and the man is near... I think if we could find a few things during the day, it would be lovely.
5. Running/Working out - I'd like to get back into this. And it would be fun to have a standing running date with the hubba-hubs.
6. Exploring and Traveling - Not as much as some of the others, but we have done our share of continent trotting.
So at any rate. Wherever you go, there you are. You might be covered in prune puree, washing yourself with wetnaps and unable to form coherent sentences that don't involve baby poop or nonsense syllables. But there you are.
In some ways, I am developing a course of expected re-discovery. First off, some day I'll stop referring to myself in the third person. And this will simplify life a lot. Working in all those "me" and "I" constructions should help, right?
But really. I'm planning to wean. Myself. From the transcendental umbilical cord.
In ancient writings, the word “wean” meant “to ripen” — like a fruit nourished to readiness, its time to leave the vine… Weaning was a joyous occasion because a weaned child was valued as a fulfilled child; a child was so filled with the basic tools of the earlier stages of development that she graduated to take on the next stage of development more independently.
— from The Baby Book by William Sears. MD and Martha Sears, RN, p. 187
And at the same time, when she's a year old, she'll have satisfied the AAP recommendation of "at least one year" of getting the larger part of her nutrition from breastmilk. It's an arbitrary milestone. But at that point I expect to start cutting back the domperidone in earnest. And letting her wean down as that occurs and my supply diminishes (this assumes the situation stays static until a year - a few razor-baby-teeth and we might reconsider formula or pumping). I'll hold onto those night feedings to the last, but the day feedings would certainly be less missed and add a little more portability (since she can't nurse on the go) and predictability.
And that will make it easier for me to plan a few things. Which will mostly kill my excuses and force my out of my (sometimes uncomfortable) comfort zone of all things baby.
Maybe that means more trips to the doctor and dentist. Or the highly needed PT (my achin' back!) But it also means I will gradually start letting myself spend more time away from Chaya at a sitting. Maybe work my way up to an hour or two at a time. A lunch out alone while Andrew watches the baby. And then occasionally a day trip even. And I'll work my way into leaving her at the daycare or with friends while I do little "me" things.
When I stop nursing, I've promised to celebrate the tough road by buying myself (1) a new wardrobe (for those smaller boobies that don't need to pop out easily), and (2) a gym membership (to handle those extra hundreds of calories I've been munchkin in for Miss Chaya's booby juice). She'll have a chance to catch all those fun bugs at daycare that she missed this year!
Of course I say this as every day, it gets harder and harder to want to lose a minute. But gosh darnit. For Miss Chaya. I will. Eventually. In a couple of months. Really...
I'm sure she won't forget me immediately. And hopefully none of those Alpha monkeys are hanging around on the porch too closely to swoop in on my little monkey baby! Because once I get into my cardio kickboxing, well meaning mommies who get too near to my baby are gonna be in trouble.