Friday, April 22, 2011

The Push Present

I know. I had never heard of it before either. What is it? A present from Daddy to Mommy on the day of delivery to commemorate the event.

I'm torn on this concept. Initially, upon reading Babble's article on the subject, I was in agreement (but as usual a little put off by their way of expressing themselves). I don't need something to remember giving birth. Believe me, those memories are firmly planted in my brain, even parts I'd rather forget. I don't feel like I deserve something more than my husband for having actually pushed out our children. (Although I do sometimes feel like men got off a bit easy on the whole menstrual cycle thing. At least labor is over and done with in a set amount of time.) But here's the deal, as new parents Birch and I find it difficult to spend money on each other. Extra cash always seems to go to something essential for easier living (new bookcase, a surge protector, curtain rods, a toaster) or even more likely, something for the kids (high chair, car seats, a new bottle Keats will actually use and not laugh when I suggest drinking milk from a bottle and not, well, me). The only times we go out of our way to give each other something is on birthdays and Christmas. Since both of our birthdays are near the beginning of the year, we go for very long stretches without spending any kind of extra cash on something frivolous that will just make the other person smile. For me, that is a shame. I don't want a diamond ring (in fact, please, really don't get me a diamond ring), a pearl necklace, or a two-week long spa getaway (okay, I kind of do want that), but what about something smaller? Something a bit more useful but also something I'd never convince myself was worth the money otherwise? A professional hour-long massage, a gift certificate to a fabric store, a promise of real date nights complete with babysitters and sitting down and eating without worrying if the kids are being too loud... these are the things I dream of.

So, the next time around, when Birch and I can finally pull our attention away for just a moment from the beautiful new addition to our family, perhaps we'll exchange a gift or two. Not because it's expected or flashy, and not because I'm a woman and he isn't, but because on some days when you're worn out, exhausted, and it breaks your heart because you're blaming the newest love of your life for your rotten mood and you don't want to be, it pays to have something else that makes you smile, makes you happy, and makes you human.

Birch and I feel like children have made our purpose on this planet very clear. We love Keats dearly, but both of us need something else to fuel who we are as people. We are parents but that's not all that we are. The other part of ourselves needs to tended to and loved just as much as the part of us that loves and gives so much to our little boy. No one should make you feel guilty for needing more than just your kids. No one should make you feel like you should be giving more than you already are. If it feels right, go ahead and give a gift to your partner in parenthood. You both deserve it. As for a gift right after giving birth, I suggest a nice, cool glass of water and a kicking out of hospital staff.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Little Boy!

I cannot believe it, but I didn't take a single photo before, during, or even after Keats' first birthday party. I feel shame. Serious shame. I know my dad and sister were both snapping away, so hopefully one of these days I can share with you some of the photos they took. My camera was charged, memory card installed, at the ready on the windowsill but I was busy as a bee decorating, last-minute cleaning, last-minute shopping (next year I'm ignoring Birch and renting a helium tank), and making cupcakes. I tried to make these lovely rainbow cupcakes but I used natural dyes, and well, it didn't turn out so hot. Finished cupcakes looked completely normal and plain but they were delicious topped with some serious cream cheese frosting. Next year, I'm using real food coloring (once a year should be fine, it won't end the world). We served chopped strawberries, cucumber slices, fresh spring rolls handmade by Birch, a few different flavored waters, beer and wine. Thanks to Jody and Hugh for bringing some sparkling apple cider! It was delicious! Miriam prepared her mother's amazing mango salsa which was devoured in about three minutes flat. Yeah, it's really good!

The stress of the week prior yielded many lessons on prepping and organization. Oh, and budgeting:
- use our brand new mandolin to slice all fruit and vegetables the day of
- force Birch to only make food he can do the day before
- don't try to completely reorganize and clean your entire house the week before
- have a few (not one) tables/stations dedicated to food and drinks - one central location gets clogged and people don't eat or drink
- provide more shade if you're having a party outside
- have the party at two, not one (prime napping time)
- remember to pick up the one thing you really want to do (I completely forgot to pick up ladybugs to release at the end of the party, something I was really looking forward to, so sad.)
- games. Older kids require entertainment - sack toss would be ideal in our yard.
- set aside food for yourself!
- follow your gut and purchase/make thank you notes beforehand

The day turned out beautiful and sunny. Keats' party was a blast, in more ways than one. It went by fast and Birch and I were moving around practically the whole time. It was so fun to see so many of our friends and family, and even more fun to see them all react to Keats' awesomeness. Walking, talking, playing, eating like a champ. He's impressive! Thank you to all who helped entertain Keats throughout the party as it turned out that Birch and I were too busy fixing things in the kitchen (again, lesson learned).

So what is he doing now? It's been so long since an update, there will be a lot!

Oh, hi!

Honk, honk! (goose, his favorite)
Bark, bark! (dog)
Meow, meow! (cat)
Mmmm (vacuum, leaf blowers, cars)
Mm Mmmm (yummy!)
Uh oh!
Mmmmooo (cow)

Favorite foods:
Bananas (obsessed)
Sliced bread
Bean and cheese burritos
Beans with sour cream

Once Keats has a full belly, he loves to go on small adventures. The duck pond and the Children's Zoo are two of his absolute favorites. They both have geese and ducks, so that is pretty much a win-win for him. "Honk! Honk! Honk!" All day long. We walk to the parks nearest us where we struggle with Keats to not eat the sand, it's yucky, and play the fun little piano and swing up high giggling like crazy while Olive digs herself a bed in the cool sand. Again, Keats, don't eat it!

Keats recognizes the things we offer to him, even when they are just mentioned and not shown. Birch experienced a tantrum when he said he was making Keats a burrito then just decided to make beans with sour cream. I intervened with a tortilla and Keats immediately calmed down (he was screaming and hitting the beans out of Birch's spoon). After that, Birch believed me that he had understood the original plan. He was impressed and is now careful to make sure that he has what he offered. (If you haven't noticed, Keats is almost exclusively crazy about food. In all other arenas he's completely mellow and chill, but when there's food, he is impatient and demanding. Remind you of anyone?)

He loves trucks, planes, puzzles, and fake food. Anything with wheels is squealed at then followed with a string of "Vroom! Vroom!" He races his various cars and trucks across the living room floor and when he's feeling extra fast, he goes to the two-by-two square of linoleum next to the front door to really make 'em go. With spring busting out the flowers, Keats has a new object of affection and just stares up in amazement at any flowering trees. Since he was born, Keats has always stared up at trees with a special interest seemingly reserved for only them, but now, with pinks and whites exploding in front of him, his fascination has reached a whole new level and even a plane flying overhead doesn't distract him.

Keats "helps" in the garden at home and at Birch's school. Mulch has become an issue in my life as Keats can't help but test each one's edibility. Nope, this one is yucky, too. He has learned how to pat, pat, pat Olive gently and in the right places (not the face and no grabbing of ears) but it's a struggle for him. Who can really blame him, though. Those ears are magnetic. Olive is learning (slowly) that she is allowed to get up and go somewhere Keats can't reach. Usually she just sits and takes his minor abuse staring up at me with pitiful longing. "Olive, just move!" is a frequent refrain in our house. Unfortunately, Keats seems to think the word "No" is hilarious so we use it sparingly, finding other ways (usually just as useless) to stop his bad behavior.

Speaking of which, when he is tired and ready for a nap or bed, he can get violent. I mean, he's one, so it's not horrible, but it's a little shocking. He grabs at your face and scratches you, sometimes even biting you. It's rough stuff and we're working on stopping it, mostly by pinpointing tired signs earlier. He's a bit of a tired out of nowhere kind of guy but he's settling into a routine once again which is nice. It's so much easier to realize what's going on when there is some kind of rhythm to it. Based on his phase of exclusively biting me when he was hungry, I'm hoping this too will pass and seem like just a blip on the history of raising Keats. He's so pleasant practically all of the time, perhaps that's why it is so shocking when he busts out the claws.

He's taken to giving out hugs more liberally, but kisses have become infrequent and pretty much only given when asked for. The hugs are something special though. They come out of nowhere and are very gentle and sweet. He flops his head on your shoulders and just rests for a minute. Birch has teared up pretty much every time because he's an adorable softie.

Our Keats is absolutely a joy in our life. It is so fun and amazing to be his mother and watch him grow and learn new things. Though it feels crazy that a year has already gone by, it also feels like so much longer! Each day he develops new opinions, tastes, likes, and dislikes, and it is always an adventure to see what he loves out of life each day. Some days all he wants to do is make the wind chime ring out in the yard, others he just wants to sit and snuggle. Most days he is up for anything and just loves being a little boy with so many places and things to discover. We're so lucky to have both our families so close and able to have him get to know each one. Saying that, I feel a little ping of sadness as I think of my sister so far away in England, but we work hard to let Keats know that she is our family, too, by watching videos and looking at pictures of her and her dear family frolicking about North Yorkshire. It's so exciting to see our family growing and becoming more confident in who we are as a couple and as parents. We dearly love all those people we surround ourselves with and can't wait for more spring and summer parties filled with food and good conversation. Having close friends with babes has been such fun, too. Getting together and watching our young ones interact is always a hoot. I can't wait till they start talking to each other! The things that will come out of their mouths...

Happy birthday, young master Keats. We love you so very much and all that you have brought us in our life together. Keep being as wonderful as you already are and keep learning. We'll do our best to help.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Different Kind of Parenthood

It has been so incredibly long since I last posted anything at all, but life has been a bit crazy lately and the blog somehow just slithered into the background for a while. I'm not really sorry, it was a good break and I'm not sure I had that much to say anyway. Today, I do.

It's the day before Keats' very first birthday. Having been out all of yesterday playing with friends, we're all pretty tired today. Well, I'm exhausted but can't sleep anymore for some idiotic reason and Keats, thankfully, is still sleeping! Birch, unfortunately, is at work.

I'm so proud of him. Getting up early every day, getting dressed up, feeding the animals, taking out the trash, and biking off to work far before I would even consider getting out of bed on a typical day. I'm sure that all seems very straightforward and you're wondering why I put so much emphasis on something millions of people do everyday, but my husband does it for me and my son. He does it for our family, just like all those other millions do it for theirs. He loves his job in a way, it makes him feel productive, helpful, and like he's making a real difference in the world, but I know he also wishes he were farming, his hands covered in dirt and callouses, never taking off his coveralls, tending to many different animals each day, wrapping up bundles of fresh greens straight out of the ground, making his own sauerkraut, and stoking the fire in his smokehouse. With these thoughts in his head, it must be hard to go to an enclosed classroom with fluorescent lighting and deal with hundreds of people a day. So, thank you, to my husband who every day of the week gets up, does something good for the world, makes a bit of money to help our small family stay afloat, then comes home with a smile on his face and makes our lives full and complete. It's a blessing not everyone has and I'm grateful.

My sister sent me an email yesterday which I just saw this morning (we were out). It contained a link with a story of adoption and reunion. It was difficult to read, but my sister was right, it was nice to read.

Almost nine years ago, I gave my first son up for adoption. I was seventeen and though I desperately wanted to keep him, various situations made that seem selfish and impossible. I gave him up in May 2002 and everyday since have questioned that decision. It was a surreal experience and beyond heartbreaking. I know I will tell my children all about him, all about the experience of being pregnant with him and the struggle of letting him go into another family's arms. I'm not sure how, yet. I'll find a way. I'm far from being in anyway ashamed of the experience, but it is something that has felt more private the last few years. When I was still in high school, there was no way to hide it so I was very public about the whole situation, even going so far as to write in our school magazine about the experience and talking as a guest speaker to the Living Skills classes at my school. I was very upfront about it to anyone I became close to the next several years, but when I went to Virginia for school, I only told a very select few. It was strange to suddenly be among a group that had no idea about it after being surrounded by everyone I knew knowing for so long. I suddenly had to make a choice about my openness and I chose to be more discreet. I wrote more and discovered more there, made a few wonderful friends who I did share my son with, but I kept to myself most of the time.

I told Birch almost immediately after we met for the very first time. He wasn't shocked or upset, he seemed to know what the sorrow of it all felt like and just loved me more. We got married and I had to make another decision: whether and how to tell his family. I never really came right out and said it. Hints were made here and there and a few of them put together the pieces for themselves. There was no announcement and I'm still not actually sure just who of them all knows, because they definitely don't mention it.

But today, the day before Keats' first birthday, I can't stop thinking about my first son. What is he like now? He's eight years old, almost nine! I have a niece and nephew right on either side of his birthday, so I've always had a pretty good idea where he is developmentally, but what does he like to do? What are his favorite games? What color is his hair? Does he get along with his sister and brother? How are they? How is his family? So many questions go through my mind everyday and there are never any answers. Someday, I hope there will be. Someday I hope we'll find each other again. Even more I hope he'll be able to understand how much I do love him, despite what so many seem to believe about mothers who give up their children.

I can't deny that teenage pregnancy isn't a huge problem in this country, but having been a pregnant teenager myself, I know what good it can do as well. I'm not promoting it and I'm definitely not promoting the seemingly rampant idea that it's "cool," but some do step up to the plate, take it seriously, and should be rewarded with care and understanding instead of the treatment I too often see happening. They need help, not shunning. They need the love and support I received as a young mother from both my wonderful family, friends, and school staff.

Tomorrow I will celebrate my second son, Keats, with full attention and love. He is an amazing blessing in my life. I am so grateful for all that he is and all that he has brought into our lives. Since beginning this, he has woken up, eaten a breakfast of avocados, and is now sitting in his toy box with a section of wooden rainbow (the orange) behind his neck like a shawl or something. I don't know why he loves doing that so much, but he does it every day over and over again thinking it's just the bee's knees. He cracks me up, makes me smile, makes me cry, and frustrates me. He is everything all in one little boy package and I love him dearly.

To my dear sister who pointed out that link to me, thank you for sharing. No matter how many times I read similar stories, it is still always interesting to hear their stories and to realize how similar our stories are. We are not freaks or black sheep or mess-ups. We are merely waiting to be reunited so that we can feel whole once more. We are in love with someone absent, with someone we barely know yet know so well. 

To all you other birth mothers out there, be strong even when you don't want to be and know that you are strong even when you don't feel it. You are compassionate, selfless, loving, and a good mother. You are a mother.

To all you birth fathers, you are strong. You are compassionate, selfless, loving, and a good father. You are a father. You are often forgotten within the equation somehow. Know that you count, your feelings count, your loss counts, too. Know that you have my support as the true men that you are.

To the birth father of my first child, know how much I think of you and hope for your happiness, strength, and understanding. We went through something incredible together and though in the end it drove us apart, know that through our child I will always feel connected to you and that you will always be important to me.

To my children, I love you.