At Dawn

The rising sun is still a suggestion, painting a faint glow around the window shutters.

The house feels like calm clear water, a faint refrigerator hum, one sparrow singing his personal thoughts on summer flits off to another backyard.

Here in the darkness it is very content and warm and full of possibility, and for one moment, my mind merges with the babe about to enter this world today.

I sit on the couch and listen to the soft breathing of the two-year-old while her parents drive to the birthing grounds across town.

Watching her mama quietly prepare to leave, I recognized her aura…her knowing.

It is a purely female current that hums and sparks with purpose and courage, and it runs very deep.

The release of long days of waiting lifted from her shoulders and her back straightened with complete focus on the present.

A woman in labor is a formidable thing.

A woman in labor holds enough inner force and focus to stop an army in it’s tracks.

A woman in labor knows that there is only one conclusion to this event: the baby is out.

Quitting is not an option.

And everybody better get out of the way.

Or everybody needs to gather around.

Or both, every other five minutes.

As I sit here, there are more memories joining me than will have room on the page, because once you’ve had a baby you will never forget it. It had never occurred to you that you held that kind of power within your body; that your body could rise up and bring forth life like that.

You try to explain it to someone who hasn’t tried it, and they want to believe you, that their body has that level of strength too, that it lies within the mitochondria to kick into autopilot and explode into new life. The cells create new cells, another person’s cells, nourish them, protect them, and then force them out to exist as a whole separate being.

How this miraculous creation is taken so casually by everyone else not in active labor, is beyond me.

But we all do it.

Put a group of moms together and you will hear the inevitable birth stories and roll your eyes because if you wanted to hear so much TMI you could watch PBS at two in the morning.

They compare episiotomies the way a WWII vet talks about his war scars.

They want to know they aren’t the only ones who just went through that world-shattering event.

For mothers, the world will never be the same.

They wonder if they ever want to go through it again.

Mothers cannot believe that a womb can expand that much, and after the birth, they cannot believe that a heart can expand that much.

Mothers cannot believe how much a child can kick these organs and yet all of it remain intact.

A mother is one of the strongest things ever invented.

The sun has risen now, inevitable, changing the ambience of this home from waiting to fulfillment, and brightness fills the room as I open the shutters.

A single text pops up on my phone: baby brother has arrived.

The little one stirs in her big girl bed, dreams slowly giving way to thoughts of a new day and the marvels it may hold.

I will write more about this thing called ‘motherhood’.

But for now, all of my best memories must patiently wait while I make some tea and cuddle a toddler and lay claim to the humming deep in my cells.


Best Birth Control Ever

There once were elective classes offered in school called Home Ec.

I learned a little sewing, some typing (my favorite of course), possibly some actual economics (which I’m sure I slept through) and to finish off the semester, we had to “care” for a raw chicken egg for a week. We had to make little carriers for our egg, choose the sex and name for it, keep it with us at all times or pay for a “babysitter”.

The lesson was that looking after a “thing/helpless person” isn’t as simple as you think.

If your egg dropped, your grade dropped.

Obviously, this project led to great lengthy daydreams about what we were each going to do “some day” with our “real” family.

Once we found a spouse, of course.

Not so my children’s generation.

My daughter came home from school one day with a baby.

This was a “real” baby. Life sized, complete with diapers, bottles, carrier, stroller and clothes.

“Baby Daddy” sold separately.

“Real Baby” had to be cared for around the clock for a week.

“Real Baby” was cute.

“Real Baby” was a hit.

“Real Baby” was a computer.

Each of the “Real Babies” had a program that changed for every student. Much like a…real baby…you never knew what you were bringing home until it was too late.

My daughter’s child was adorable for exactly two hours.

Then all hell broke loose.

If you did not immediately cuddle the baby when it cried, the computer internally noted it. If you did not change the diaper when the poop alarm went off, it was recorded. If you could not get the baby to stop crying in a set amount of time, well, you’re grade and future as a human being was in jeopardy.

It occurred to my daughter that she wasn’t getting very much homework done. She had to bring Real Baby to the dinner table, which wasn’t comfortable, and trying to get Real Baby to go to sleep was simply not happening.

She came to me in tears around midnight, two hours after she would have loved to be asleep.

“Mom, make it stop!” she pleaded, pacing with the Real Baby in circles.

“Honey,” I said, “I don’t think I’m supposed to help you. Just do what you can.”

An hour later, she cracked.

She tossed Real Baby onto the couch and put her fingers in her ears.

“Lock it in the trunk! It’s broken! I can’t listen to that one more minute! I don’t care if I flunk the whole class!”

“Sorry kid,” I answered, “I don’t speak Demon Baby.”

Off she stormed.

Real Baby wailed from the cushions. I thought about the car trunk.

“Hmm. Now why are these feelings familiar?” I pondered.

The Real Life answer, of course, is to just lift my shirt and put a cork in it.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

Just then, her sister walked in. She picked up Real Baby and gave it a rock or two.

Real Baby must have liked it. It stopped shrieking in tongues.

We looked at each other.

“Just for one night,” she said. And she walked off with Real Baby.

Both my girls had their heads together the next day and Real Baby disappeared back into the school system that had spawned it.

The alternative project was a five page essay. It looked pretty easy now.

My kids don’t need lessons on sexual identity, methods, ethics, ideas or vocabulary that will expand their childhood horizons.

Don’t tell them sex can be a safe game to play, and you expect them to join in any day now.

If you really want to educate a kid on what happens when you decide to have sex…hand them each a Real Baby for a week.

Nanny Jo Rides Again

My kids insist I’m a dinosaur.

When they were four years old, I cheerfully went along with it.

Now that they’re twenty, it’s not so cute.

They tease me that they can make me a grandparent whenever they feel like it and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

They say, “We’re not going to call you Grandma though…we’re going to promote you straight to ancestor. You can teach our kids about the Stone Age.”

I’m pleased to report that although I am nowhere near the grandparent zone, I am officially a nanny to a sweet little one year old girl. I began as a babysitter but she quickly promoted me to Nanny Jo, a title I don’t take lightly.

When I was approached about watching her on a regular basis, I balked. I’ve raised my five kids past the age of 13 years old now and going back to “square one” is not my idea of smart.

Every time my youngest passed a milestone, I was ecstatic.

I couldn’t wait to toss the crib. The sad two-seater stroller had a ripped canopy, a broken wheel, and was faded from multiple washings. Kicking it to the curb was such a good day.

When your youngest has finally potty trained and you don’t have a single diaper in the whole house…this my friends, is freedom.

But her mama was ready to start back to work part time, and I’ve been vaguely considering rejoining the workforce (ie: having a paycheck).

Don’t ever ask a mother if “she works”.

First, she will laugh hysterically. Then she will go all crazy in the eyes and come after you with a bulb syringe.

I agreed to try it for a while and see if everyone involved still thought it was a good plan after a few weeks.

The drooling, squirmy package was placed into my arms and mama waved good-bye.

The moment the door closed, we had a little sit-down.

She sussed me out immediately, the bright thing, as a lady who was rather no-nonsense.

“Look kid,” I told her, “this isn’t my first rodeo.”

She patted my face and babbled on about her morning.

She took some time to explain that her mama very likely didn’t mean it about naps. That basically naps were for sissies, and there were plenty better things to do. She offered me up to half of her little kingdom if I wouldn’t lay her down in the crib.

Thankfully, I speak fluent eight month old.

When I explained that napping was basically heaven in a pillow, she saw it differently.

I had to demonstrate a couple of times to prove it.

But she got the message.

She showed me around her home, pointing out the particularly great refrigerator door handles they had and took me to every spot that was naughty or unsafe within the first half hour.

She really made sure I understood the job.

She is very helpful like that.

She admired my shoes. She admired my jewelry. I admired her extensive hair bow collection.

We chatted over lunch about her taste in music (I lean toward classical, she likes dad’s stereo system) whether Barney still exists (Oh I hope not) and why, if you baked four and twenty blackbirds into an actual pie, did they get away and bite off a lady’s nose?

It doesn’t make sense.

We planned some tea parties, a couple of field trips, maybe a play date or two.

We discussed the pros and cons of siblings, and what the definition of “toy” is.

And then I rocked the wee bundle of charm to sleep and placed her in the crib.

I stood there, suddenly speechless and shook my head.

Now we know how I ended up with five.

I did have the last word before backing slowly out of her room:

“You are kind, you are smart, and you are important.”

Courtesy of Aibileen.