Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Bridge

Charlie's been sleeping happily on my chest for the last hour or so. He has a poopy diaper, but after such a rough night, I'm loathe to wake him up with a change. Bad mom, right? Yep. I'll pay for it when the rash sets in. Poor baby.

There's so much to say about a birth. Though having a lot to say is not the same as having a lot worth sharing. I've thought about writing down the blow by blow of Charlie's birth (all 22 hours of it). I've thought about writing a vivid description of my crazy new mother hormones. I've thought about writing about the trauma of squirting ointment into a newborn's left eye four time a day. I've thought about writing a post solely concerning postpartum nutrition and exercise. Can I just say how glad I am to have my body back? I could write a manifesto on diapers, or the simple delight of rolling over in bed. Or a darn good essay just about Charlie's hands. Which are exactly like mine. Which I love.

But this morning I think I'll address Charlie's role as a bridge of sorts. That's the word Mike used when Charlie was just a few hours old. I guess the word "bridge" is misleading because Charlie's not connecting anything to something else. But his birthday is sandwiched between two big days for Mike and me.

I was admitted to labor and delivery on Friday, August 17, my parents' 28th wedding anniversary. In fact, that morning, a few minutes after my water broke at 7 am, I texted my parents, "My water broke! Happy anniversary!" I was going to give my parents their first grandbaby as a present, thus clinching my position as favorite child. Score.

When we found out that Charlie was due on August 23, a few people from Mike's family wondered if Charlie would arrive on the anniversary of the passing of Mike's dad, August 19. Not that it would be a negative or upsetting thing if he did. But I think we all wondered about the baby sharing his birthday with such a sad day for the Lemon family.

And so, with the utmost diplomacy, Charlie came on August 18, between a very happy occasion and a very sad one. I spent a good part of my labor thinking of my parents, and the choices they made almost three decades ago to start their family and bring me into the world. I also spent much of Charlie's first few days thinking about his grandfather, Simms, whom he'll never know in this life, and mourning for my husband.

Charlie serves as a reminder of the swift passage of time and the fleeting nature of mortality. I know, because we've discussed it, that my mom has very strong memories of my birth, her first child. And I know, because we've discussed it, that my husband deeply regrets not sharing his experiences as a new father with his dad.

This general line of thought makes me pretty melancholy, yes it does. But it also makes me rejoice for the blink of an eye that is the life, and for the chance I have to admire my cute baby and savor being his mother. I know this time will be gone before I know it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dear Charlie: August 26, 2012

  It feels good to actually title these blog posts to you. Before, your mom and I skirted around a name, for a couple of reasons. First, we didn't want to settle on a name we might not use. How embarrassing would it be, son, if you read these, and they were addressed to someone else? Once we did stumble on your name (Funny Story: We were walking the dog around a little community beside our apartment complex, when we decided to name you Charles Rhys. I assumed we were inspired, until a few days ago. Mom and I took you out for your first stroll. Feeling nostalgic, we went to that same community, where the first street's name is Charles Field! So, if you ever feel derisive about your name, you can mutter, "I was named after a street..."), we didn't want to broadcast it. Mom said, "Let's wait to tell people, in case we change our minds."
  But now, you're here, and your name is set. What a blessing you are! Charlie, you're amazing. Mom and I are not a little obsessed with you. When you came into this world, I burst into tears. I know that's not the manliest statement, but after you came out, mom and I just looked at each other, laughed, and started to cry. It took a little over 22 hours of labor, and it was an emotional and physical roller coaster. It's probably out of my field of experience to discuss the labor. I was there the entire time, but it was your mother who went through untold extremes. You should talk to her, and she'll tell you the whole story. It is not my place to give play by play, nor color commentary.
  Charlie, I love being your dad. Sure, you've peed on me a few times, and stay up most the night. You go through diapers as if you're an economic terrorist. My favorite (and I use that word quite ironically) moments is when I just finish changing you, and within five seconds, I see a look of consternation. I hear the moving of bowels, and I hang my head.
  All undiscretionary revelations of pooping aside, I find myself more restless at night, and not because you are awake. No, I find myself getting up to check on you. I want to- have to- make sure you're breathing. And every time I do, I'm reminded of a poem someone wrote in a poetry workshop. He made a list of worries, observations, and actions any potential father should become aware of. As I reach down to place a hand on your chest, I think on how incredibly observant Jason's poem is. You are breathing every time, but I have to make sure you're safe.
  I'm your dad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life and Death

It's 12:15 pm. I woke up a little over an hour ago. Rough night. I told myself I'd start working at noon. But here we are.

I've been mulling over an idea for a post about death for a while now. Which seems so morbid in light of the fact that I'm about to give birth. (Or so they tell me; after talking with my mom last night about blowing by her due dates and having a few inductions, I'm pretty sure I'll never get this baby outta me.)

An interesting aside: in Spanish and Portuguese (and maybe other romantic languages, but these are the two I know), the idiomatic phrase for "to give birth" is "dar a luz." Literally translated, "to give to light."

And we have a lot of ways of talking about death in English. Passed on, passed away, or, here the in the South, just "passed." We comfort ourselves with gentler words for harsh realities.

When I was a missionary in Portugal, a young man died on a warm summer evening in a tragic car accident. His sister was the driver. A miscalculation on her part ended her brother's life. The coastal city where my missionary companion and I worked had two wards full of people, especially teenagers, who loved these two kids. It was a time of deep grieving.

Funeral services were called two days after the accident. My companion and I were asked to arrive a few minutes early to talk to the youth while the few adults who could leave work during the day finalized funeral details.

When we arrived, the chapel was arranged for the services, and the room was filled with a dozen or so teenagers. No one else had arrived. The boy's body wouldn't arrive for a while.

We had been asked to come and counsel with the youth, but no one was disconsolate. No one was sobbing in a corner. No one needed pretty words. The kids just wanted to be together.

We sat and chatted for a while. The conversation became light and happy. Not irreverent, but peaceful and warm and calm. The dead boy's friends together, celebrating his life by living theirs fully. One boy had his guitar with him. Knowing I played the piano, he handed me some sheet music. "Will you play with me?"

The song was Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I won't try to break down the meaning or significance of that song. I don't care to and I don't think it pertains. But we played it over and over. The kids sang in their varied competencies of English. They sang and sang. I don't remember much about the funeral that day. It started an hour late, and was as touching as it was sad. It was still a young life snuffed out too soon without any good reason.

But mostly I remember the music and the vibrant life surrounding the piano.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Make a Sandwich

  This post began with a simple request.
  Laying in bed, in pain from carrying a baby for nine months, Hilary asked, "Can you do me a favor? Can you make me a peanut butter sandwich, with apricot preserve?" A simple task, which I undertook with a firm resolve. I reached into the pantry, and found the off brand creamy peanut butter and wheat bread. I spread the peanut butter a little thick, because I believed Hil likes it that way. I opened the fridge, and retrieved the apricot jam. It was behind the strawberry preserve, and was a little difficult to open. But once open, I spread the chunky, sweet apricot jam on the other piece of bread. I tried to spread apart the apricot bits, so it would be even across the plane. I failed. Finally, I placed the two pieces together, and studied them for a moment. The sandwich looked off on the saucer plate, a little too large. Thinking back to my youth, I cut it diagonally, and placing the two halves on top of each other, I presented the sandwich to Hilary.
  (As a unnecessary confession, I admit to using the same knife for all the above steps. Peanut butter contaminated jam, or would have, if I had not licked the knife. The same goes for the cutting. Now, before any of you condemn me for being "gross," or "uncouth," I would ask you to become introspective, just for a moment. How many of you have licked the knife? Don't lie to yourself, and don't throw me under the culinary bus.)
  Perhaps I am becoming more sentimental during this time: I've heard the anxiety of becoming a parent does this to people. Yet, making Hilary's sandwich caused me to think of countless other sandwiches in my life. The lunches my mom prepared for me during grade school. I never fully appreciated them. Sure, there were quick "Thanks," but that was it. Sometimes I complained because we only had peanut butter or tuna fish. If memory serves it up truthfully (and 9 out of 10 times, it doesn't), I whined to get lunch meat, probably Butterball. I was, and still am, a child of advertising. I won a few times, but that did not change the gratitude level.
  A sandwich, after all, is simple. A minimum of one bread slice, some filling, and eat. I think know I take sandwiches for granted. It is not grandiose. It is not a dish slaved over for hours. A sandwich aroma does not waft through a home, causing mouths to water. No. The sandwich has been reduced to quickness and economy. Subway provides a case study to this marketing. The company even refers to their employees as "Sandwich Artisans."
  There is some truth in Subway's employee handle. There is an art in sandwich making, but it isn't found in the squirting of chipotle sauce. I dare say it isn't in the quality of ingredients, although I do enjoy Boar Head's more than most brands, and fresh baked sourdough over store bought Wonderbread. I submit that sandwich making artistry is found in the act, in the simplicity of preparation. Preparing a sandwich takes little training, but there are lessons I am just now unpacking and appreciating.
  Primarily, I have learned that sandwiches make a perfect vehicle to show your love for someone. My mom did not make sandwiches day after day because she needed to. She had taught me to prepare food. I believe she made them because it was a way for her to show love. I felt that same devotion as I cut Hilary's sandwich diagonally tonight. Sandwiches are just one thing I look forward to making with my children.
  As this post began with a request, so it will end with a request. You could call it a challenge, but that sounds condescending. Calling it National Make a Sandwich Day is beyond the scope of these thoughts, and frankly makes more of the idea than is really there. Invitation sounds better, so let's go with that. I invite you, whoever you are, to take time, and make a sandwich for someone. It could be a spouse, a child, boyfriend, girlfriend, roommate, whoever. Just make a sandwich. If you want, tell them you care, or just let the food talk for you. Leave a comment, detailing the sandwich (what was on it), and your thoughts while preparing it. Hilary and I look forward to reading your comments.