Sunday, December 09, 2007

the passing of time


Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the day I triumphantly pushed a ten pound three ounce baby out onto my bedroom floor. Which is an egocentric way of saying it was my boy's second birthday. But this is my bloggy space and I'm entitled to tweak everything so as to make it all about me. My children have an unintended seven year age gap because, as it turns out, fertility can be a real crapshoot. I'm not convinced that those not on the waiting, waiting side of things, those who don't know how painful it is to have a body inexplicably broken and unable to do the one thing humans have been doing successfully since the beginning of time -procreate- can appreciate how much not getting pregnant sucks. Oh we hear all the time about how much it sucks to get pregnant when you aren't planning it. We live under the societal assumption that fertility is a given; avoiding pregnancy seems to be the looming subject for all sexually active people under fifty. The big birth control method conversation is expected and practically scripted. But no one knows quite what to say from the other direction, when, despite everything, it's just not working. Infertility makes people uncomfortable. Secondary infertility is even more confusing. There seems to be this overarching question, something like, well, if you managed to get it right the first time, what are you doing wrong now? And then the advice rolls in. Just relax. Take more supplements. Eat a ripe mango under the full moon while wearing cotton underpants. Because apparently getting pregnant is like installing your own toilet, people who have done it successfully think that they must know something about the process that you don't that they can offer you to help you out. But getting knocked up sometimes takes more than a wax seal and a handyman's instruction book, it takes something even the most prolific procreater doesn't realize they're benefiting from: luck. Feel free to change 'luck' to 'God' as applicable, but the sentiment is the same: some supernatural force that, following the basic rules of biology, either cooperates or not. Sperm and egg. It's not that complicated. And yet every time it happens, it's a little miraculous. So we never really knew what the problem was. Identifying the problem would not have guaranteed a plan of action for fixing it anyway. Because even the best plan still leans heavily on that whole luck factor. And, just as I reached the end of my hope, just when I was ready to move forward to the next stage (because there's nothing like keeping you from moving ahead than trying and failing to get pregnant for years), we lucked out: I got pregnant. Surprise! The very best surprise. A blessing that is only, these years later, beginning to make sense to me.

Have you ever read Heidi? Oh, sure you know the story (orphan girl, grumpy grandfather, goats, the alps) but have you read it? When Heidi is sent to live with Klara and her family, she spends all of her time hoping and praying to go back to the mountain. She begins to lose hope and tells Klara's grandmother how angry she is that she hasn't been able to go back and the grandmother so wisely tells Heidi that sometimes if we get what we want when we ask for it, it wouldn't be half as good as what we'll get if we just wait. She did eventually go back to the mountain, but because it was so much later, she had cultivated a lasting friendship with Klara. She had learned to read and had soft rolls for Peter the goatherd's toothless grandmother. So, she got what she wanted -to go back to her grandfather and live on the mountain- but in having to wait, she brought with her all of these other, wonderful and useful things she wouldn't have had if she had gone back right away.

So now I have the sunniest, sweetest little chunk of baby boy love and his doting, helpful big sister and I enjoy perks from the wide age gap every day. It's a challenge, making sure I'm giving the best to two children with such wildly different interests and abilities, but seeing it from this direction, I don't think I'd really want it any other way. (of course, there's no perfect way to have a family and if thing had gone as we wanted them to, from the start, I'd be delighted with that family, too, no doubt). I love that just as the girl is pulling away and moving toward more big kid, independent things, the little one is a full fledged toddler, with all the enthusiasm for the world and his mama that implies. Seven years is long enough to give me the perspective that these things, these young years things that make me want to pull out my hair, the messes and the NO!s and the ear shattering cranky screeches, are not so endless as they seem. I'm so much more able this time around to enjoy the best parts completely, because I know how quickly it all disappears, how soon a pudgy dimpled toddler transforms into a lean kid with adult teeth and sarcasm. How even the the endearing moments you think you'll remember forever start to fade away. You can't ever remember anything well enough. You just have to live it and be there when it happens. Because how can you recall the way your heart leaps when your busy little boy wakes up next to you in the morning and sticks his chubby bear paw of a hand into your hair and says, "more nigh-nigh, mama" and closes his eyes and pretends to keep sleeping? I'll always remember that he was, as a little guy, so unbearably adorable, but I will, someday, forget the way it feels.

And so how did we celebrate such an auspicious occasion? Well, life being as it has been the better part of this year, we haven't had the time nor the opportunity to develop and grow friendships specifically for the little guy. So, the party, if it was a party at all, was a family affair. Just the four of us by the fire with a few gifts. And cake. Of course there was cake (a cinnamon applesauce cake which was similar to the one I made him a year ago for his first birthday, but now that he's a big old number TWO! I also made a lemon icing). He was very pleased with the whole simple effort. But mostly he was pleased with the Twos.


We have this tradition in our family of hanging construction paper numbers from the ceiling of the birthday child. It's something we started when the girl was two. It's tradition, if you will, for me to stay up entirely too late the night before my child's birthday, drawing and cutting construction paper numbers and it's tradition for me to rouse my sleeping husband, who usually spends the cutting portion of the activity zonked out on the couch, when the numbers are all threaded so he can assist me in the hanging. We've done this every year for the girl (save for last, owing to our five day birthday trip to disneyland, which, come on, totally trumps construction paper); this is the boy's first year for hanging numbers. Last week I was talking to my daughter and I said how exciting it was that we'd be hanging Twos for her brother soon and how now that she's older, she can pass the tradition on to him since, as I assumed, she wouldn't be interested in having 9s in her room next month. And her reaction was horrified shock. Of course she expects and wants 9s.

And because this entry isn't long enough (oh, it's Sunday evening and nobody's here reading anyway, and if you are, well, then maybe you want a whole novel and an excuse to sit and not do anything else for a while), I've dug up something I wrote about our paper numbers several years ago:

I have some giant internal ritual deficit that might have nothing at all to do with my own childhood but which I'm forever trying to fill. In myself and my girl. I think tradition -ritual- is the anchor that stills our discontent, giving us a tie to something bigger and greater and with more momentum than our little selves. We have little rituals, all of us, we perform every day, in the grooming and the housekeeping and the daily life. It's hard to look at the rote and see anything bigger than drudgery; I mostly fail at that. But for the big things, the milestones, the holidays and birthdays, it's easier to see how significant tradition is, how it becomes not just something to look forward to, but a measure to mark the passing of time by. . . Fragments of tradition lodge into our life like glass shards and we start to recognize ourselves by the things we do, the tasks we create for ourselves. We create the ritual and the ritual creates us; our lives have meaning. I did not anticipate my girl's birthday this year with much excitement. I wondered how I could offer her some sort of celebration that would validate her specialness, despite the crappy time we've had of it lately. Money is tight for us. She doesn't yet have any friends she feels close enough to that she'd want to invite them to a party. What, then? I was wracking my brain for something Fun! Exciting! Impressive! when I remembered that it's relationship, it's ritual that really matter. How could I have forgotten? When Freya turned two, her dad and I cut out a zillion construction paper 2s and strung them from the ceiling of her playroom while she slept. In the morning, when she toddled in, she was enraptured by a sky of colorful, twirling numbers -the first number she ever really recognized- and she spun around, pointing and laughing. At the time, I thought it was a good, tangible way for her to see how old she was, and we didn't intend to keep them up very long. But she became attached and they stayed up all year. A few days before she turned three, she said to me, "and when I wake up in the morning, all the twos will be gone and there will be threes hanging from the ceiling. Because, that's what we do." Because that's what we do. And so, that tradition was born. Some rituals, we create intentionally, some just become. So, last night, I stayed up too late and cut too many big, block 6's out of construction paper, pulled thread through the top of each one with a needle, and then passed the off to my long-armed husband to hang. It was after she had been up and awake a while this morning (while we were eating breakfast and long after she had first noticed the twirling, overlead digits), that F confided to me that she had been worried we'd forget. She said she hadn't wanted to say anything before, to remind us, because she didn't want us to feel forced into doing it. She told me she had already thought to herself that she wouldn't be sad if there were no sixes hanging from her ceiling, because things have been so different for us lately. But she said she hoped they'd be there. When she woke up, she felt loved, she felt special. It was a little thing. . . paper and thread. But it was a big deal. I'm glad I didn't screw it up.

And so it goes. He'll grow up with paper numbers and hopefully he'll feel such fondness for them as his sister does, that they'll signify to him, as they do her, that we care, that he's special, that we're glad that he's here with us. Because I am all of those things. So glad. So happy to know that wild-haired little boy, so relieved to have the waiting years behind me. So aware how quickly everything can change.


cathi jo jimenez said...

I think this is my most favorite entry, anywhere, ever.

Lisa said...

This post is beautiful in so many ways.

deb said...

Great idea, the hanging numbers. Our family birthday tradition is decorating the kitchen with toilet paper. Happy (belated) birthing day to one of my favorite mamas!

Angelina said...

The more people who experience infertility challenges talk about it, bring it into the light, the more scripted it will also become. I never took fertility for granted. I considered myself extremely fortunate to have had Max. I have had family and friends go through the heart break of not conceiving, or conceiving and losing babies and I think I can appreciate how hard that must be.

I'm glad you got to have your boy even if he came to you much later than hoped for.

april. said...

hey angelina. i hope infertility issues become more commonplace. wait, scratch that. i mean, i hope *talking* about it becomes more common, because it's already a prevalent concern. a lot of things would be easier to bear if we had the words with which to step through them.

sj said...

yes. april, beautiful post.

do you remember ocean's birthday inspired by 'a summertime song' by irene haas....the one with the silly magic paper party hats? freya was her only friend she cared to celebrate with. we had her number and big tissue paper butterflies hanging from the ceiling and that has been a tradition in our household ever since (the number, not the butterflies). perhaps tradition 'came' from you, i didn't remember or even really think, why or how we started it, it simply just has been.