Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Four months already!

There have been so so many changes…and too terribly long since I’ve written of them here, so this will of necessity pale with all I mean to say.

She is amazing, delightful, mysterious, magical. When we go out with her, she always draws compliments, so I can say this is an objective, unbiased thing. One of my favorite occassions was after a hike in Forrest Park. We stopped in at St. Honore, the amazing Parisian bakery, for croissant and orange gateau and cappucino. Ayla had on a smart pink cap with a brown flower on the side and was beaming smiles at everyone. A cultured older woman approached and commented on her beauty, to which Ayla just lit up and the woman clasped her hands together and exlaimed,"Why, everything about her is just So Appealing!" Indeed!

Over the winter holidays, we met so many family members and friends, and friends of family and family of friends, and I was shocked to learn how many people had actually read our postings! I think the words of appreciation were a little paralyzing to my writing, both for the way I created subsequent high expectations, and, mainly, because I had thought with all the bazillion people and their blogs in the world, surely very few folks would be reading this one (though I checked for comments often!). In any case, it is one of those holding spaces for keeping a sort of record, for Ayla’s future and for swimming around in our own memories, and so important.
This blog is supposed to mainly be about Ayla, but I am going to indulge in talking about myself for a moment too.

A dear friend and colleague, A, recently assured me the first few months are hard; ‘kind of like being taken apart and put back together again in a new way.’ I can’t think of a better way to put it. In some moments, I really don’t know who I am. There is an entire new me that I did not know I would manifest, and I do not mean a feeling that was a latent part of me now revealed, I mean totally and wholly unexpected and ripe and inhabiting my being. (I almost said ‘inhabiting my body,’ but ‘my body’ is also still quite different, though I have fleeting sensations that feel like a long lost physical bearing, agility, lightness. But shock! I didn’t expect to still be pregnant-lady hungry at this point! Although I am still building a human body – and a big one! She’s already almost 16 pounds at 4 months!) One example of a me I am getting to know: I was an academic. A mostly rational, level-headed, sometimes skeptic, sometimes romantic, but generally even-emotions, grounded kind of person. Now, I feel long recurrent moments of overwhelming emotion, which entirely circumvent my reasoning brain. These moments all have to do with intense love, protectiveness, and, embarrassingly, neediness and possessiveness with my baby. There are other emotional struggles too, but they all arise from this mother-me which is begrudgingly learning to share and still also be a wife-me, and grad student-me, and alone-me (poor little alone-me, she really only makes appearances on rare baby-free showers and shits). I try very hard some days not to have incredible pity parties – they are so boring and pathetic – and am grateful for the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that occasionally come to me at the right times: "The main cause of suffering is egoistic desire for one's own comfort and happiness." No kidding! Why make myself miserable over yet another cup of tea gone cold? He also said over and over again the last time I saw him, when I was barely-showing-yet pregnant, “Children need MAX-i-mum Affection!!” which always makes me giggle to replay in my head –“MAX-i-Mum AFF-fection!!” and I delight in having a little one to shower with affection and kisses.

A also, I am sure very rightly, said “some stages are harder than others, but each is actually very short. each goes away (and never comes back for better or worse) and then you have a 'new baby' to deal with!” Ayla has truly been through so many stages already, and I wish I could recount them all to you in poetic narrative, but I am sure she is going to wake from her nap far sooner than that would require. I am keeping a calendar on the nightstand and try to record at least one little thing in it each day that she has done. So there is that record.
It’s been a very busy month: she learned about her thumb, that very useful thing; rolling over; chewing on anything she can bring to her mouth; talking louder; …

One of very most joyous things was hearing her truly laugh out loud for the first time, and the subsequent laughs, giggles, and squeals of delight she has begun to share with us. The very first one came one day when I was home alone with her and while I was holding her, she started to suck on my chin. I thought that was pretty funny and that it felt pretty interesting and silly, so I did it to her too. We started sucking on each others’ chins and she just was so absorbed with it she let out a feminine, petite, pure and sweet little laugh! I wasn’t sure I was right about this, but she did it again and I was in heaven. Since then most of her laughs, and her all-out giggle spells have been elicited by her ever-loving papa! (Whom she is unabashedly back in love with this week – his mere glance and she’s all flirty smiles.)

I can also see phases of a single emerging and developing action, like stretching. And, by the way, the stretches she does are definitely worthy of imitation – they feel great and some muscle memory tells me that I used to do them naturally too. In the first month, a big stretch sequence upon waking was to bring her fists up beside her face and twist her head back and forth in a small arc, scrunching up her face. In the second to third month, she began raising her fists above her head, and now that newborn gesture is gone, totally replace by a full body reaching out lengthwise - from tips of fingers to tips of toes – as far as possible, eyes wide open. This unfurling and opening has brought her more and more into the world, more curious and active as those fingers increasingly rest and explore uncurled. And she is really exploring these days, with eyes, hands, and mouth!

Her hand-eye coordination is making leaps and bounds, as with her hands have progressed from moving in little balls, to mitten-like sweeps and gathering movements, to reaching with opening fingers that then grasp around something. Just this week those fingers have started raking motions to try picking things up – which is great for smaller toys, but doesn’t work so well on the prism rainbows on the bed, the grout lines between the table tiles, or my nipples! ;)

I’ve also enjoyed the changes in the way we touch each other. Her flat palm and open fingers move across my skin so amazingly soft. Her touch can be very gentle and light, or a good strong grip. Often I really have a hard time opening her fist full of my hair. When she is sleepy and nursing, she strokes my chest. I fall in love again every time. I also notice how my touch affects her differently now too. In the early weeks, she was so new and sensitive – air was even a new sensation upon her skin – that she needed the lightest of touches for soothing affections, subtle vibrations for settling down, and yet a good solid pat for burping and an encompassing hold for security. Then was a time it seemed stroking her back or head was startling or too distracting – can you imagine not yet knowing that a back rub or a head stroke was relaxing and loving? Now though, especially if I match her pace when she strokes me, my petting her helps send her off to sleep. Yes, you can picture it, a warm snuggly puddle of circling love caresses. I feel so honored. Think about how comfortable and secure and loved one must feel to fall asleep in another’s arms. The whole mother-baby bond is so intimate in sensory ways, not just emotionally.

Ayla is also very sensitive to our moods and energy, and trustful of us and our communication. I notice if she is taking awhile to fall asleep, I might examine myself and notice I am anxiously trying not to rouse her and impatiently waiting for her to go into deep sleep so I can sneak off. Taking a few deep slow breaths and relaxing every muscle in my own body, she quickly does the same. I doubt anything visible or audible has changed, but she feels the difference immediately. She is also beginning to check in with us when she encounters new things. She eyes curiously a cat, dog, new person, tree, then looks to one of us. If we smile, reach out, or introduce her, she smiles and reaches out too. Her eyes follow us, especially me, around the room, and she quiets when she hears our voices, but still hasn’t figured out ‘object permanence’ (as in I’m GONE behind that shower curtain.)

I am tired and it’s so very quiet upstairs – ayla and Jason may be already sleeping… He is very good at putting her to sleep. It is very inviting.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reflections of a Nursing School Dad

Aaaaahhhhhhhh...spring break! Finally, I feel there’s a moment or two to take a deep breath and relax.

I probably don’t need to restate the obvious, but life is really crazy these days. Craziest part of my life I’ve ever had really. Since nursing school started back in August I’ve had a hard time finding free time (more than an hour here or there). And what little free time there was (and a good part of my school time too) got completely engulfed by our beautiful and very dependent daughter, Ayla.

Don’t get me wrong. 98% of the time it is joy and bliss and all those cheesy clich├ęs and Hallmark card phrases. The way that she can look at me when I walk into the room and just light up makes my heart jump and a lump form in my throat. I have never felt this much love and adoration for anything in my life before (sorry Leigh!). She is the brightest star in my sky. The deep, deep love that I feel for her takes me by surprise. I just never knew it could be like this. I mean, she’s not even talking yet and she’s one of my best friends. There is no doubt that I would do absolutely anything for her.

This reminds me of a dream I had the night before she was born. I might have shared this with some of you already. I was sitting on my front porch watching a 12 or 13 year old girl dancing in the sun. She was twirling and laughing and smiling so bright. She had long light brown hair, big eyes and was so beautiful. I was then struck with that dream knowledge that comes to you in that world that this was my daughter. This was Ayla! I felt so happy! Here is this beautiful, joyful girl and I am the proud father. Well, I just swelled up with pride and enjoyed watching her dance for a few moments….until I noticed a couple of adolescent skater punk boys watching her with unveiled admiration and attraction. All of a sudden, I felt the hackles on the back of my neck raise. A growl grew in my throat and I surprisingly started growing thick brown hair all over my body. Claws grew from my hands. None of this was painful and it happened very quickly. Within a moment or two I had turned into a bear! With this new shape and power, I promptly turned on the very frightened skater punk boys and chased them far away from my precious, fairy-like little girl. It was at this point in the dream that Leigh woke me up and said, “I think my water just broke.” A very powerful and appropriate dream.

Thankfully, I’ve got a few years to get used to these Papa Bear feelings of protecting her innocence and purity. She’s only now learning how to roll over, reach out and grab objects and giggle out loud. But the changes are happening so quickly! The difference between Ayla at 3 months and 4 months is incredibly dramatic. She’s just doing all kinds of new things now.

We practice rolling over a lot. She’s got the belly to back down and is currently working on the back to belly. She’s even started to tuck her knees under herself sometimes and lift up on her arms…in other words crawling is coming! Yikes! One of the major advantages to balance out the dependency and short attention span of a 4 month old is the fact that you can put them down somewhere and know that if you walk away or turn your back they’ll still be there when you come back! Once crawling becomes a skill of hers, all bets are off. Even more time and energy will be needed to watch her. And the whole house will need to be moved up a couple shelves as well.

She is so curious. Always looking around with those bright greenish-blue-brown eyes, touching, tasting. If it’s in her hands then a second later it’s in her mouth. Mama and papa’s fingers, toys, clothes, rags…anything and everything. And the drool, oh lord the drool. She’s a freakin’ Saint Bernard these days! The teeth are coming. She’s chewing on her hands and ours as often as she can. The drool is now measured in ounces now, not tablespoons. I believe we have a month or two at least before the first one breaks the surface, but the process has started. And that’s another whole new phase of growth and change we’re not quite ready for yet. Especially Leigh’s boobs! Ouch.

Our plan is to keep her exclusively on breast milk through 6 months at least. When she starts to show serious interest in food and tries to grab stuff for herself, we’ll let her into the world of solids, but for now, she’s growing fast and furious on the ½ & ½ coming out of Leigh. Weighing in at 15 lbs and 8 oz at her 4 month pediatrician wellness exam. She is a solid and very strong little girl. And yes, I’m afraid she does have the tree trunk thighs of her father’s side of the family. Maybe she’ll be a soccer star?

She’s still sleeping with us in the bed or at times the co-sleeper next to the bed. She’ll feed at least a couple times a night, sometimes 3-4 times. But she is always wiggly! I’ve had to retreat to the living room couch on the nights before my clinical just to ensure I get enough undisturbed sleep. Leigh typically will stay in bed as long as it takes her to feel rested. I just don’t have that luxury (or patience) to stay in bed that long.

Will you excuse me for a sec? Leigh just shouted down “Will you come up here? She just shit all over me. I’m totally covered. I need back up!”

*Sigh* These treasured moments are my life.

More to come…