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To My Daughter, On Your First Birthday

4 Jan


zadie1Dear Zadie,

A year ago today I’d already been in labor with you for 24 hours. Nothing was going as I’d hoped it would. We were in a hospital, not a birth center. After 24 hours of laboring with no medication, I’d succumbed to an epidural. And then, in the late afternoon on January 4, after trying to push you out for 3 hours and you keeping your head at the wrong angle for 3 hours, I was wheeled into an operating room for a c-section. Your dad saw you first–your tongue was sticking out ( you still do that), but his first words were, “She’s so pretty!” You really were. You were a beautiful newborn, and so strong, and acted like you knew what you were doing from the beginning. Breastfeeding? No problem. Sleeping long stretches between feeds? No sweat. You were what the books call an “angel baby.”

Angel or no, I’ve never been a baby person. And, unlike you, I didn’t know what I was doing. So as my body tried to recover from that marathon labor and then the c-section, I tried to figure out how to take care of you.

It’s true that most of it is instinct. It didn’t take long to get the hang of diapering, even though I’d only changed one diaper before! It didn’t take long to figure out nursing, or how to tie you snugly onto my chest with a wrap. But it took a really long time to adjust to the fact that this was my life now—that my life was about you, instead of me.

When I think back to those days, I remember a lot of long, lonely days in our house in Denver, pushing you in a stroller through our snowy neighborhood, all bundled up so I could only see your nose and eyes. I think of sitting next to you on your activity mat, once you were a little older, and being bored out of my mind. I couldn’t wait till you were an older baby, moving and playing and babbling. I imagined making it to your first birthday, and how I would feel totally adjusted to my new normal of being a mother, and I would be confident in my parenting—I would know what I was doing.

It’s like your first birthday was this finish line that I was running toward, and I pictured myself getting to the end of it and collapsing in a heap, crying tears of joy and relief, like someone who just finished running 100 miles in the desert. But of course, your first birthday is not the finish line. Parenting will change as you change, but I will always be your mother, and for the next several years I will still be responsible for pretty much everything about your existence. I’m still getting used to this idea, this “new normal” a year later, as embarrassing as that is to admit. I wish today was a finish line, where I’d get to hobble off and have my blisters tended to, and get a massage, and eat a great meal followed by 12 hours of sleep in a cushy hotel bed. I’ve been waiting for my chance to recover, to rest, but the cruel fact of motherhood is that rest looks different now. Rest looks like getting to sleep in till 7:30 on a weekend because your dad gets up to feed you. It looks like lighting a candle and making a cup of tea in the evening, after you’re in bed. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

I guess if you ever read this, you’ll be old enough by then to know that I’m not very good at hiding my true thoughts. Other people are good at putting on a brave face and faking it till they make it, but not me. So this is the only way I know how to write you a birthday letter, to include the fact that I feel like a failure as a mother sometimes.

However, while your birthday does have me reflecting on the traumatic first few months of my experience as a mother, it also has me reflecting on all the beautiful moments we’ve shared together. Your first birthday is the official Beginning of the End of your babyhood, and for that my heart breaks, which is a testament to how truly, indescribably special and lovable you are, that you have a mother who has never really liked being around babies mourning the fact that you will soon no longer be one.

This is such a magical age, where you astonish me every day with something new that you’re doing. You just started walking last week, and it’s so much fun to see you staggering around like a tiny drunk pirate as you try out your new skill. You love to have me carry you around while you point to things and say, “dat!” so I take you to them, like you’re a queen and I’m your slave. You get really punchy sometimes and shake your head for no reason, and you have this wonderful dance where you rotate your torso and hold your arms out stiffly and clap in an off-beat sort of way.

You love to have us read to you, and lately you’ve been very into this “Baby’s First 100 Words” book, which is many pages filled with many simple photographs accompanied by their names, like a frog, a tree, a goat, a hat, a truck. As I point to each item and say its name, you study the page with a furrowed brow, looking for all the world like you’re studying for the bar exam. You love to play spontaneous games of peekaboo with strangers at coffee shops, ducking behind something and then popping up (!) again, with a huge smile on your face.

You’re like your dad in some ways; fairly content to do things on your own, but not a loner. You are super playful and get this very mischievous look on your face when you’re going to do something you think is funny. You like trying to place objects on my shoulder, my head, my face, my shirt, to see if they’ll stay there. You love squeezing stuffed animals as hard as you can, and have taken to carrying around a stuffed dog that’s about the size of your torso, even though it severely impedes your limited walking ability, so you basically use it as a crash pad. You love hanging out with other kids, and you often cry when we come to pick you up from the church nursery because you don’t want to leave.

Most of your tantrums involve food, and I must admit you get your hangry tendencies from me. Right now pears, clementines and club crackers are your favorites, but you also love the ube (sweet potato) scone we get at our favorite coffee shop—once when I pulled it out of the bag, upon seeing the scone you squealed, “Mommy!” excitedly. But you still don’t call me mama, which feels ironic and awful but I know better not to take it personally, even though you’ve been calling your dad, Dad, for a long time now. You’re starting to babble in earnest, as if you really are talking about all sorts of things, and it makes me so excited to hear you say more words (other than “ball,” “bye,” “dad,” and “up, up, up!”).

I’m excited to hear you talk, and to see you run, and to see you kick a ball and stir cupcake batter and sing a song and do a cartwheel and jump off a diving board and splash in the ocean and roll down a grassy hill and ride a bike and write a sentence and draw a picture and do a dance with your friends you made up—I’m excited to see it all.

And I’m excited to know you in it all, too; to know you as you discover your first favorite color, and favorite animal, to know you when you go to school for the first time and find your love of reading (hopefully!), and when you make your first really good friend and when you have the best time ever at camp and when you do something you’re really proud of and when you do something you’re not so proud of but learn from, and when you have your first heartbreak and when you decide whether or not to go to college and whether or not to get married and whether or not to have kids, and if you have a baby I’m excited to know you as you become a mother and discover all the wonder and pain that lie behind that curtain.

It is an incredible privilege to be a front-row witness to a person Becoming, and while I don’t always feel like I’m the best person for the job, I’m so thankful I get to be that person for you, to be your mother.

Happy birthday, Zadie.




30 and Nostalgic: Is the Fun Over?

3 Dec
23 years old and having fun in a thunderstorm after feeding kangaroos in Australia.

23 years old and having fun in a thunderstorm after feeding kangaroos in Australia.

I’ve always kind of hated nostalgia; it irks me when people love to dwell in memories of the “good ol’ days.” In my twenties, that meant peers who couldn’t get over the fun and free times of college, or even, astoundingly, high school. I enjoyed my high school experience (cheerleader for a year–yeah!) and am still close with my 3 best girlfriends from my high school. And college was a total blast; most of my memories involve just laughing really hard with friends, or gallivanting around Disneyland on Friday nights.

As great as those experiences were, I always had my sights set on the future too much to dwell on past chapters. I wanted to travel, to see the world, to fall in love and get married, to become a successful writer–these goals and dreams gave me momentum and little desire to “go back.”

But what is it about turning 30? (Oh geez, thinks the reader, here she goes talking about turning 30 again!) It’s such a huge milestone for women in our culture today (or so said my ever-wise spiritual director as I approached my birthday). Turning 30 makes a woman look back on where she’s been, look around at where she’s at, peer ahead at where she’s going. And she takes stock. Did she use her time wisely? Where is she going now? Does she have what she needs to get where she wants to go? What is weighing her down? Fears? Relationships? Bad habits? Stagnation? What drives her forward?

I think my future looks the least clear it’s ever looked. Everyone my age is going through this in a way, I suppose–especially those who are still childless. It’s no longer a matter of, “Well, when I finish high school I will go to college, after which I will travel, get a job, get my masters, find a spouse…” Okay–did all those things. Now what? *Cough* a baby *Cough*. Wait, what? The next checkbox on my “life list” (not to be confused with “bucket list”) is childbearing, and I don’t feel ready for that. And even if/when I do have a baby, that doesn’t fill up the rest of my 50+ years (God willing) in this life.

Without the forward momentum of leaping over cultural rites of passage, I no longer feel like I’m moving, and life feels a lot less meaningful, to be honest. I think that’s why I’ve found myself caught up in the occasional or not-so-occasional reverie, calling up beautiful memories of my college years, my travels, even those confusing mid-twenties when I was poor and in grad school but at least I went to dance parties on the weekends.

I guess this is the question that haunts me: Is the fun over? Will I ever know fun like I did on those Friday nights at Disneyland, when I would laugh so hard with my friends I’d wake up with sore abs the next morning? Will I ever again know the silly, free-spirited dance parties of my YWAM and camp counselor days? What about the thrill of rootless, open-ended travel? I have a feeling people with kids will tell me it’s just so fun having kids, and what about all those dance parties in the kitchen? (Ugh, the worst “parenting-is-awesome!” cliche of our time.) I just don’t see it. I think this is mostly about me not wanting to grow up, which is funny because before this, I was eager to grow up, even if I was a little scared of it.

I don’t really have a way of wrapping this post up in a bow, because I’m living it, and interested to know if you’re living it too? Most of my readers are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties–do you think your best years are behind you? Have your fun-levels decreased as you’ve gotten older? Or are we seeing those carefree days with rose-colored glasses? Do we just need to be more fun to attract more fun? Do I just need a few more cocktails? 😉 And, friends with kids, are you finding forward momentum by living milestones and rites of passage with/through your children?

Young and Wild and Free: How Travel is Different Now I’m Nearly 30

12 May

21 and living the dream in Paris!

Everyone knows the curse of traveling—the wanderlust that sets in, making you want to jet off to a new destination before you’ve even touched down from your most recent adventure. But there’s another strange symptom of traveling, one that I experienced stronger than ever on our trip to Argentina last month. The act of traveling always uncovers memories of past trips and adventures. During our two weeks in Argentina, an unexpected flood of memories of my first trip to Europe createdthe backdrop of my mind. It’s like our journey to Argentina opened up the door to a room in my mind marked “Europe 2006” and I haven’t been able to close it since. It was May when my best friend Allison and I took off for a three-week tour of nine countries. A little taste of—well, not everything, but the big stuff, like London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam…Our first time in Europe and we ordered the sampler platter.

This flood of memories revealed the glaring juxtaposition of that trip with my most recent one to South America. My European adventure was a graduation gift. I’d just finished college, and the world was wide open, offering its experiences like fruit ripe for the picking. I remember the two speeches at my college’s baccalaureate service mentioned the thrill of the great wide unknown that lay before us graduates. In her speech, my friend Lindsey likened it to the sensation of skydiving—the delicious terror that comes right before jumping out of a plane, and the surprising feeling of floating, instead of free-falling, the moment you step out into mid-air. I clung to that image because it resounded so deeply and truly in my heart as I flung myself out of my college years and into the rest of my life. Continue reading

Throwback to Orvieto

13 Dec

I had the opportunity to read some of my poetry and other writing at an event the other night. Pretty sweet. This is one of the poems I read, Pilgrims’ Shoes. After we returned from a day trip in Assisi during my Italy trip last summer, our professor had each of us write a poem beginning with the line: “I put on pilgrims’ shoes.” So here’s mine. Below that is a truly amazing video that my friend John Lui made from our trip there…I’d been meaning to put up both the poem and the vid…better late than never! Enjoy, amici.

Pilgrim’s shoes

I put on pilgrim’s shoes

But they don’t fit.

My feet pinch and blister

As I study frescoes and question Francis.

Did you hurt yourself so God would show up?

I can’t relate

Because when I’m with him

He takes the whip out of my hand

And he heals.

Break open the doors of this cavernous cathedral,

Lead me off the dusty streets of Assisi.

I’ll kick off my sandals and run on wet grass

into the sun,

jump over the moon,

dive into the flashing sea—

how deep does this go?

If you see him, tell him I am sick with love.

Push me to the edge of the earth

I’ll sing to the morning sky, radiant in the East,

As the sunrise speaks of his faithfulness

with a dozen golden roses.

Rumi said there’s a thousand ways

To kneel and kiss the ground.

I know there are also a thousand places.

Let me wander the world and

discover the walking temples,

Take their faces in my hands

And say, Tell me about the one I love,

I see you love him too.

I am sick with love

I ache with desire

My journey begins and ends in him.

Saints set aside: this is my pilgrimage.


And now, for the video…

Random Christmas Memories

9 Dec

We didn’t have the boys that particular Christmas, meaning my stepbrothers were spending actual Christmas Day with their mom and half brothers.  Their other family.  So we celebrated a few days early, our blended family of seven (1 boy and a housekeeper short of the Brady Bunch) gathered to exchange gifts and carry out a couple of our annual traditions, like bickering about lyrics to Carpenters’ Christmas songs.  (“Gee, the traffic is terrific” – um, isn’t the sarcasm OBVIOUS in this lyric?  Apparently not to everyone).  So of course, after less than an hour, there’s a squabble.  Everyone is throwing in their opinion as loudly as possible, and then my stepbrother Tim says above the noise, in an exasperated tone, “Can everybody stop fighting?  It’s our fake Christmas, for God’s sake!”  


Oh, thank you Lord for the blessing of a blended, dysfunctional family.  And there is not a trace of sarcasm in that statement.

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