Friday, July 24, 2015

Dear Nico: Month 3

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Dear Nico,

every month seems to be better than the month that preceded it, this one being no exception. in fact, i think i enjoyed month 3 more than i did the first two months combined. together, we are finally finding our groove, and the groove is very, very good.

you are still a decent sleeper, going down each night for 12 hours and waking 2-3 times to nurse, though you have taught me not to get too comfortable with this schedule by throwing in some terrible nights of wakefulness as well, sometimes a few in a row, to remind me that your new normal will always remain a moving target.

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what has been new and steady this month is your fascination with your own body. you will stare at your hands until your eyes cross, examining them for several hours a day. and when you catch a glimpse of your feet, you are equally amazed that these flippers are attached to you, almost like leeches, with your face registering a concern as if you're deciding whether you should keep them.

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i have no doubt you would, because having your feet played with has become something of an obsession for you. during diaper changes and pretty much any other time you can swing it, you will push them into my hands or stomp them along my arms.

as your dutiful servant, i then rub, kiss and nibble on them while also pushing on their various spheres per some (probably bogus) baby reflexology foot chart i found on the Web. you have allowed me to do this for up to an hour. nothing else has maintained your interest so long. yes, baby's first fetish is feet. weirdo.

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you have also become highly aware of my body, particularly my hands, which you will seek out with your own, placing them on top of mine as if to ask me not to stop touching you. this pleases me to no end as i am hell-bent on making you affectionate. both your father and i came from very affectionate households, so you are routinely being smothered with kisses, cuddles, raspberries and tickles until you become a vibrating, fleshy giggle machine. you have never once pulled away.  

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part of your bedtime routine involves "naked time," when i keep you naked on your changing pad for about 15 minutes. i spend that time talking to you, telling you how soundly you will sleep that night and how much i enjoyed our day together. then i massage your body, making sure to "teepee the peepee" so i don't get a golden shower in the process. (i learned about that part the hard way.)

you spend that time alternating between squeals of delight and screams of overtired frustration. we are at about 75% delight / 25% screams, so i've been more diligent about enforcing your naps during the day, putting you to bed every 90 minutes to avoid your meltdowns at the witching hour.

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to be honest, i often squeal with delight at your bedtime, too, because there are many days when i am just tired of your shit, kid. no one would accuse you of being a good-natured baby. and no one will believe me when i say this because of the many smiley photos of you i post on facebook and instagram. to them, i say "come over and hang out with me for 12 hours."

my mom laughs that karma is being served. apparently, i was terrible baby who probably would have been drowned in the river had i been born in a different era. i spent most of my babyhood sick, unknowningly allergic to my bedding, so anytime someone placed me in my crib, i had trouble breathing. naturally, i screamed until i was picked up again.

this went on for about 3.5 years, until we immigrated to the United States and doctors visits revealed my severe allergy to feathers, which were stuffed into every soviet pillow and blanket — but not in that inviting goose comforter type of way. the soviet way overstuffed a feather pillow until it felt like a sack of potatoes.

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thankfully, you are not sickly but you are pretty screamy, especially when you have to endure the slightest discomfort, whether it be staying strapped in your carseat more than you like or having to feel hunger for more than 30 seconds. patience does not seem to be your strong suit. but just as quickly as your screaming fits come, they leave, replaced with a beautiful gummy grin that erases my memory and keeps me as your bumbling fool.

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at 10 weeks, we took you in for your two-month wellness checkup. the doctor said you looked fine but needed more belly time as your head was flattening on one side, the result of "torticollis," which keeps your head cocked to the left, probably the result of your positioning in the womb. so now you are getting more belly time and neck-stretching exercises to keep your wonky head upright.

speaking of your head, it's big, like 90th percentile big (so glad i ended up with a C-section). hopefully, this is a result of the big brain that will win you a college scholarship since money doesn't grow on trees, kid. your weight was in the 75th percentile, length in the 55th, making you one stocky baby.

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at that checkup, you received your first set of vaccinations. before the nurse administered them (one shot in each leg), she looked at me and asked, "are you going to be ok, mom?" i told her she should direct that question at dad, who had been uneasy about the shots all day and stood gripping a buddhist talisman. we both looked over at him. "i can't be here," he said and walked out.

so i put my face close to yours and told you it would only hurt for a second. you cried at the moment of injection but settled down right after with a bit of nursing. then you developed a small fever, which had me uneasy and waking up in the middle of the night to check on you.

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the fever lasted only 24 hours, but reminded me of the terrible truth about parenthood -- that i will never be able to fully protect you from harm despite the fact that this is what i want to do more than anything. this whole thing had me feeling silly, as your fever was minor and expected, the first of many hiccups in your health, i'm sure, with future ones sure to be more disruptive.

i had to sit down afterward and have a long talk with myself, something i've been doing often since becoming your mother (and your father's wife). the talk involves telling myself to keep steady and calm down, to stay focused and present, to not be submerged by the new parent anxiety i thought i would be above but am falling victim to.

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i will get past it, with your help, of course. you are a big help already, offering me that gummy goodness in just the right moment. that does plenty to chase away the anxiety, rendering the long nights of no rest after a long day of nonstop crying irrelevant. it is a gift i am always happy to receive, the more often the better. thank you for it. 

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

39


i don’t remember acknowledging a birthday less than i acknowledged this one. or maybe didn’t acknowledge it. there were no parties nor dinners with friends, their treat, no hangovers nor forced, week-long, self-indulgent celebrations. the day arrived quickly, quietly, and left just as unassumingly, made special only by the evening massage Warren had scheduled for me.  
 
of course, i blame the lack of fanfare entirely on my son, whose nickname lately has been “buzzkiller.” not that i mind the diversion. at 39, i think it’s time to put away the titty tops and hangovers. i don’t want to be That Woman of a Certain Age slurring her words and hanging off a barstool. 

i prefer a good night’s sleep instead, welcome at any age, though in short supply for me lately. and herein lies my complete transformation into a Parent with a capital P, sleep deprived and whining about it on the internet.

though i’m sure i would be whining much more on this birthday if it had arrived without a crying baby and snoring husband disturbing my sleep. i feel as though the universe has done me a solid by throwing both at me right before i turn 40 to not only help me solidify my future, but also prevent any embarrassing blog posts lamenting my status as the Unlucky in Love Girl destined for a life of barrenness. good looking out, universe. 

this year, i feel my usual gratitude for my many blessings, but i also feel an underlying anxiety i have never before known. friends have told me recently that i’m “living the dream” and “have it all,” as though i’ve reached some celebrated finish line where i can finally rest easy with the knowledge that all the hard work is behind me. 

but i feel like my work is just about to begin. suddenly, i have a lot to lose. i now have to figure out how to nurture the two most important relationships in my life. and i’ll tell you a little secret, internet, this terrifies me.

i’m sure i’m not alone in my terror. i know that every new parent before me has developed the same awful awareness that every decision we make can ricochet in numerous, unpredictable ways. add to this the decisions involved in being someone’s wife and i’m made doubly uneasy. worst yet is that my current role as my boy’s faithful cow prevents me from drinking vodka to take the edge off.

to steady my blood pressure, i’ve been having many silent conversations with myself (more like lectures). i tell myself to calm my runaway imagination, to be reactive not reactionary, to stay grounded in logic and reality. and the reality is that were ok, were fine. that’s what i keep telling myself in those moments of needless panic, when the anxiety bubbles out of my brain and paralyzes my entire body. we’re ok, we’re fine. just keep working on it.

in those quiet moments at 3am when i nurse my son in his room, his fragile body pressed into mine, his warm breath landing against my skin, i’m working on it. and when i return to bed to lie next to my sleeping husband, his outline barely perceptible in the darkened room, i’m working on it. my world in those two bodies, so irrecoverably intertwined with the fiber of my being, yet somehow still not close enough to offer constant protection. 

i know i need to relax. i know i need to let go of the things i can’t control and trust life to take care of me in the way it always has in the past.   

i’m working on it.     

Monday, June 08, 2015

Dear Nico: Month 2

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Dear Nico,

i must confess that i enjoyed your second month of life far more than your first. for starters, you have been giving all of us much more sleep. i wish i can take credit for this by virtue of some baby whisperer voodoo that i possess, but the truth is that you put yourself on a 6pm-6am sleep schedule since the start of this month. i just followed your cues. most nights, you wake up only two or three times for a 15-minute feed before falling asleep easily again. for this, i am endlessly grateful.

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the flipside is that you are a lousy napper during the day, resisting all attempts at a regular sleep schedule. but it's OK because the nighttime matters more and you are acing it like the future Harvard grad you are sure to become. helping us along is a track of white noise that i've downloaded and looped so it plays the whole night in your room.

this is not the standard crap that sounds like a hairdryer on high. this white noise mimics sounds from the womb (so they say), if the womb sounds like freight trains, radiators, machine gun fire, bad techno and has the unintended side effect of making your father and i want to stab each other. but hey, whatever gets you sleeping.



despite the relatively easy nights, like many new mothers, i am still researching products, reading literature and trying to do what i can to turn those choppy 12 hours into a solid stretch, surely more for myself than for you, because the memory of a good night's rest still haunts me -- or maybe mocks me.

i understand that this is the cost of doing business with a newborn, but i'm determined to get us solid before i return to work in august so i don't come back with this mushy brain that currently forgets things that were told to it 10 minutes earlier.

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if there is one thing sure to get you sleeping it's being outdoors, so we often head to the back patio in your stroller, which settles you instantly. car rides also knock you out. things that are sure to keep you awake include new places as well as visitors whom you seem to enjoy gawking at as much as they enjoy gawking at you. you are nothing if not curious.

even on weekends when your father is with us all day, you don't want to miss a thing and will rub your eyes or shake your head vigorously the moment sleep threatens to ruin everything. this equals disaster by bedtime when you become an overtired mess, still fighting sleep and full of terrifying screams that sound like we are branding you like a cow.

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speaking of animals, you don't seem particularly amused when your four-legged siblings stick their faces near your face or try to shove their noses into your diaper. you seem to hate them, actually, whining whenever they get too close.

you also hated your first visit to the beach as well as your first bath, acting like i dropped you into a tub of acid when your body hit the water, but now you are semi-ok with them since we started bringing you into the shower with us. i think you just wanted to maintain that closeness to us and it's been lovely having you there, except for that one time you crapped on me.

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i'm seeing now that you just need a little time to get used to things, eyeing everything new with suspicion until it becomes familiar. i'm not sure if this is an emerging personality trait or a byproduct of evolution that equates suspicion with survival, but it's definitely in your nature.

thankfully, you do warm up eventually: diaper changes, for instance, once caused you to roar but now you seem to look forward to them, especially the part when i clean your penis, which evokes a look of pleasure that rivals the look you give me when i first expose my breast before nursing.



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beyond just your penis, i've come to realize this month how i am responsible for managing every part of your body, from the obvious to the obscure. i had this epiphany when i noticed a piece of flaky skin by your ear, which caused me to investigate further and discover earwax.

then i examined the rest of your body, looking into every orifice and under every neck and thigh roll, where i found lint between your toes and boogers in your nose. you also had dirty fingernails that looked like you had been working on cars, which puzzled me until my mother informed me that the dirt was dead skin cells you had been scratching off my neck all day.





so now, beyond just being your faithful cow, i am your dedicated body buffer, spending a chunk of each week grooming you like a monkey. you seem to enjoy the attention, allowing me to peel your overgrown fingernails and examine your butt for diaper rash. you've even begun lifting your legs when you see me ready to apply the diaper ointment. this lets me know that you are learning and becoming aware in a way that was absent your first month.

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but now you are awakening to the world all around you, finding wonder in both the mundane and sublime. sometimes, you get cranky if i'm stationary too long while holding you instead of walking around the room so you can stare at new things. this awareness has ushered in the greatest new thing for me: your smile. it's the most delicious thing i've ever seen, lighting up your face like an emoticon.

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i've heard friends talk about how they become piles of jello when seeing their babies smile and i have always rolled my eyes at the schmaltziness of it, but i am that cliche now, nibbling on your feet and blowing raspberries on your belly in an effort to evoke that gummy goodness from you, which instantly draws a smile to my own face and adds a pressure to my chest that makes me feel as though my heart is actually melting.



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motherhood has been the ultimate cliche: the greatest love of all, a joy unlike any other, a devotion to something bigger than yourself and all the other standards i used to dismiss because my Russianness prevents me from becoming overly sentimental. but i am that pile of jello now, convinced that you are the cutest thing in the world, the most beautiful baby on the planet in the history of all babies who ever lived, and i don't doubt the accuracy of my viewpoint, not even for a moment.

i tell you i love you every day, call you "my handsome prince" ("king" is still reserved for your father, though i don't say it as sincerely to him), smell your head constantly, kiss the bottom of your adorable feet and let you nap on my chest, even though all the books on sleep training babies advise against this. but screw them because i am your mother now, which is synonymous with being your fool.



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then sometimes when i'm busy scrolling through the countless iPhone photos i take of you daily, i'll come across a few ugly shots that highlight your double chin and sometimes crossed eyes and make me realize how securely my mom goggles have been fastened to my head.

that's when i feel the full force of my Russianness return to me, especially after posting the shot to my instagram feed, because what kind of mother would i be if i didn't stay true to my nature and make fun of you occasionally? how would that prepare you for handling the big, cruel world?

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yes, Nico, i am doing this for you. the mockery, these blog posts, the sleep deprivation, the grooming -- it's all for you. because if i've learned anything about parenting in the two months i've been a parent it's that parenthood is a neverending series of self-sacrifices, some small and others grand, all geared to support the tedious cliche that the love i feel for you -- my sweet, precious, fat, cross-eyed son -- is unparalleled in its intensity. i would die and kill for you, give my last breath to you and all that other shit mothers have been feeling for their children since the dawn of time.

thank you for giving me this experience. it's been wonderful, carving out a new dimension inside of me previously unknown but now occupied by that heart-melting smile of yours that i hope to evoke every day for the rest of my life. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dear Nico: Month 1

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Dear Nico,

this is the first of many letters you will receive from me chronicling your life. i plan to write them every month, time permitting, and they will capture highlights and milestones that we can both look back on one day, hopefully with love and humor. 

i must admit this is not my original idea, as i’ve seen it done on other blogs before, certainly better, and most notably on dooce.com, a “mommy blog” i’ve been a longtime reader of. that blogger, Heather Armstrong, turned her letters to her daughter into a book called Dear Daughter. i hope to bind these into a book for you someday as well.

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so about your first month. i’m not sure i can find the right adjectives to describe it accurately. maybe because i would use almost every adjective. perhaps the most apt would be “exhilarating,” which the dictionary defines as “making one feel very happy, animated, or elated; thrilling.” 

it has been all these things, much to my delight, as i had concerns about developing postpartum depression, as many women do. but i assure you that there has not been one ounce of sadness in this first month, despite the many trying moments brought on by sleep deprivation and your crying. not even when you projectile vomited breastmilk into my mouth did i stop and think to myself, “this is some bullshit.”

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honestly, i thought this first month would be harder, given the chorus of complaints of mothers on the internet, which i will try my hardest, as a blogger, not to join. certainly, the first two weeks were challenging with your wanting to eat every half hour to hour and a half, but i adjusted, and then you began sleeping glorious three-hour stretches in weeks three and four, making my tired eyes find you that much cuter.  

thankfully, i have not (yet) experienced the agony of sleeping only five hours in three days like i thought i would. at worst, i’ve slept just five cobbled together hours in one 24-hour period (and more likely seven hours) as i have been fastidious about sleeping when you sleep — the most cliched advice about newborns, which, of course, turned out to be the most sound. and when i have slept those three hours alongside you, i wake up feeling recharged, as though i came back from sitting on the beach for a week in hawaii.



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granted, i’ve also had a lot of support in the form of your incredible father and my incredible mother, your grandmother whom you will know as “babushka.” she has been coming over most weekdays to help around the house and keep you company while i sleep. we’ve also had many kind friends visit with warm food and good tidings, your makeshift “aunties” and “uncles,” whom i know will enrich your life as much as we will.

in your daddy’s native spanish, there is an expression for this: “a baby is always born with a loaf of bread.” you seem to have come with a whole bakery, as many thoughtful cards and gifts have accompanied your arrival, confirming to us that we know some of the best people on earth. i’m pleased that you will know them, too.

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speaking of your father, i should warn you now that your likeness is in for a lifetime of photoshop, all of his doing and all done on his iPhone. i’m sure a lot of it may embarrass you, but being embarrassed by us is part of our duty as parents now, and we promise to deliver. having a sense of humor will help ensure your survival in this family. we’ll do our best to inject some levity into your personality, probably by making fun of you A LOT. you are expected to reciprocate.

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your arrival also kicked off the beginning of an endless Groundhog Day for me. (i will show you this film one day as i plan to use this reference often.) it basically means that every day has resembled every other day. but that is life with a newborn: an endless marathon of feeding, burping, changing, wiping, washing, rocking, bouncing, kissing, cooing and staring, punctuated by the occasional shower and meal for me. and it’s far from over. 

you have contributed dutifully by being the eating, sleeping, pooping machine that you are supposed to be at this stage of your existence. and i have to be honest, kid, you are kind of boring right now. you are not very interactive, despite having quite an expressive face, though you are far from those first days of life when you seemed like some primitive woodland creature, even though you were born full term after a hellish 34-hour labor i plan to lord over you via the jewish guilt that is my birthright. 
 
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at the hospital, i was convinced everything was wrong with you. your breath was uneven and gurgly, convincing me you had asthma; your eyes would look past me, making me think you were blind; you never responded to sounds, worrying me that you were deaf; and your jaw would tremble uncontrollably, convincing me you had epilepsy. plus, you were a noisy sleeper (still are), bleating out random screams, shrieks, cries, grunts and squeaks that kept me on high alert. but the doctors checked you out and told me you were fine, just being a baby.   

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now you are much steadier and sturdier, having gained three pounds in your first month, which puts your weight at 10 pounds. you have been a champion nurser with a voracious appetite, latching well since your first day. i’m surprised by how much i love nursing you and how relatively easy it’s been for us (damn the internet for making me believe it would be hard). let’s try to keep it up for at least a year, ok?

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i’ve spent a lot of time this month gazing at you lovingly, as your first month on earth coincided with my first month as a mother. i’m trying to savor these early moments while you’re small and dependent on me, because i know that, soon enough, you’ll start favoring the independence of your legs over the comfort of my arms. but until then, i’ll keep working to set the foundation to make you the momma’s boy i’ve always wanted (but one who will eventually cook and do his own laundry).

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you cry plenty, sometimes erupting in blood-curdling screams that block your airflow and make me worry you’ll pass out. these screams always constrict the muscles in my neck and make my breasts fill up with milk. i’m surprised by the visceral reaction i have to them, but we are irrecoverably tied together, you and i, and i see now that my well-being is best served by serving your well-being.

i’ve been relying on my instincts to help me distinguish between your various cries and figure out the ways that soothe you the best and, thankfully, they’ve delivered, ensuring that each day runs a little smoother than the previous one. we will figure it out together, this whole motherhood business for me, and life business for you, hopefully with a minimum of crying on both our parts.
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i can’t say i love every part of motherhood, but i love every part of you, which makes all of it bearable. admittedly, there have been times when i thought i couldn’t possibly change another diaper or sit through another hour-long nursing session. but then i look into your big, wondrous eyes, caress your soft, squishy cheeks, study the creases of your hands, kiss the rolls in your thighs, smell the top of your head and just stare at you with awe and utter amazement, and then i get up to change your diaper or sit down to nurse you for an hour.

because you are my son and i am your mother. it’s a simple concept with profound ramifications — an enormous, overwhelming, heartachingly beautiful reality i am not even close to understanding.

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what i do understand is that the love that’s come with motherhood has been transformative, allowing me to experience a depth of joy (and anxiety) i’ve never known before. it’s intense and consuming, almost unhealthy in the way it’s taken over my entire being, putting me at your mercy. i know that if you break my heart 100 times, 100 times it will regenerate, only to be offered to you again. i will never hold a grudge, and i won’t ever walk away from you.

this type of unconditional love would be dangerous if i felt it for any other individual, but for you and me, for any mother and child, it’s magical. i’m happy to finally understand it. and i promise you that i will always try to operate from its core. because you are my son and i am your mother. you are my heart existing outside of my body. and i love you.

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