And then there were three.

Standard

Let’s start with this: You will never be eight pounds again.

This moment, this stage or phase, will, like all the others to come, pass so quickly. Too quickly. And none of them will ever come again. No matter how much, how intensely and intently we pay attention, we will forget details, even the ones we are so certain we will remember forever, because one amazing moment is waiting, is already unfurling right behind this one. Multiply it all by three. Is there any wonder that our days are filled with absolute amazement and awe?

Orion and Olivia and Mariel, all tangled up in the bed. Look at Olivia and Orion side-by-side and this all comes into sharp focus: here is the difference 51 weeks makes… or, to be more precise, here are the differences 51 weeks make, plural. See how much bigger Orion’s eyes are, his hands and feet, his head, and how much heavier it is. See how my hands can cradle Olivia’s head like a small ball of yarn or a ripe, oversized peach, how her foot is the length of my middle finger. As soon as tomorrow, these particular, personal units of measure and reference will change. They will, in no time at all, be standing against the door frame between the living room and the kitchen, getting measured in inches, enough inches to convert to feet.

That new baby smell is already gone- will I ever smell it again in my life? Probably only with their children. I inhaled it. It was my oxygen. But could I describe it? I doubt it.

There are so many moments. So many gestures and expressions and experiments, each of these unique to each of them. Impossible to remember them all, impossible, even, to record them all. Possible, at least, to live them all, to deep dive into them, to be there, to witness them, to take them in, and like everything, to learn it’s ok to let what you can’t hold, go.

Loves Supreme

Standard

I woke to strong contractions early in the morning on the 10th; between 4:15 and 4:30, they were seven minutes apart, but quickly went to three minute spans. By 6 we were at the birth center. By 6:55 Orion was born.

During her last visit prior to our being discharged on Monday, the midwife said, “Just spend the next two weeks like a queen on her throne and let everyone else do the work.”

I nodded and almost laughed at the image of myself on a plush purple cushion atop a gilded, elevated throne, but I knew that even having the most supportive partner–one who cleans, does laundry, makes meals, and just generally keeps everything, the concrete and the intangible, humming–the two weeks following Orion’s birth would hardly be queenly.
*
I was up early this morning, running on about two hours of sleep in the past 48 hours. I thought I might get some writing done before everyone woke up from their own sleep-deprived-for-days slumbers; I have a book chapter due this Friday, a big feature article due next Monday, and three other significant print magazine assignments all due before the end of the month. But nothing doing… Orion was sprawled across my chest and he was awake. Though he was perfectly calm–meaning I could have worked– his eyes were open. They and his mouth were a slow-mo flip book of expressions and all I could do for three whole hours was just be there and look at him and fall even more in love.
*
Francisco and I were driving in Manhattan tonight, Mariel and Orion in the backseat, both asleep. We talked about everything in our individual and shared stories that led us to this moment, and how grateful we were that each of the tiniest and most momentous decisions moved us along the path we’ve been on together and, finally, brought us right here, right now, to loves so supreme that they are nearly impossible to articulate.

We talked about the ferocious feelings of parenthood, the do anything for their sake intensity that, at times, makes you unrecognizable to yourself. We talked about why I threw myself into bed the night before Orion was born and cried for a long time– how attached I already felt to him and how worried I felt about his birth and, again– a feeling I’d had when Mariel was born– the absolute wonder of making it out alive and thriving… because there are so many moments when so many things can go wrong, even when you’ve done everything right.

If we could hold that feeling close to us through every moment, I think we just might experience the kind of transcendence that keeps us present right now, reminding us quietly but urgently that this is all we have and that it’s everything.

Three Great Books for Big Siblings

Standard

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
When we found out that I was pregnant with baby 2, I headed to McNally Jackson’s excellent kids’ section to see if I could find books for Mariel about becoming a big sibling. She’d exhibited nothing but excitement and eager anticipation since we’d told her about the impending birth of her brother, but every book we found addressed themes of jealousy, sibling rivalry, and the older sibling’s fear of being replaced by the new baby.

Screen shot 2013-07-19 at 7.06.54 PMSince these weren’t feelings or ideas Mariel had expressed herself, I wasn’t keen on introducing them to her. Instead, I wanted to find books that would mirror her own excitement while helping her understand and anticipate what it might mean to be a big sister.

In the months since that initial search for big sister and big brother books, I’ve found only three that I really like. Since I know other parents who have been searching for similarly themed books, I wanted to share them here:

Hello in There! A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting, by Jo Witek

This book was published just this year and is listed as being appropriate for big siblings aged 2-4. It’s a perfect book for helping the big sister through the months of waiting for her little brother or sister to be born; the drawings and words show the mother’s stomach getting bigger, and young readers can peek into the mom’s belly to see the approximate size of the fetus as it’s developing. The big sister shows nothing but excitement about all the things in the world she’s waiting to introduce to “her” baby, which reflected Mariel’s own excitement precisely.

I Have a Brother, by Smiljana Coh

Even kids who are excited about the birth of a younger sibling have a tendency to show some regressive traits (Mariel told me yesterday, “I want to be back in your belly!”), and this book focuses on all the pluses of being a big kid who can teach his or her younger sibling about fun things. It does this by framing the birth of the younger sibling positively, rather than as a prospective threat to the older child’s place in the family.

I’m a Big Sister, by JoAnna Cole
This book is particularly appropriate once the baby is born, as it begins with the baby’s arrival at home. The reader sees a smiling older sister who is excited and curious, and who understands a great deal about what the new baby can and can’t do, developmentally. The reader also sees the big sister helping her parents care appropriately for the new baby, as well as receiving positive reinforcement, love, and attention from her parents. The author has also published a version of the book geared toward big brothers to be; its title is “I’m a Big Brother.”

My only dissatisfaction with these books is that none of them features characters of color . It seems that it would be easy enough to adapt each of these books to represent a diverse range of families.

Know any fantastic books for older siblings? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

How do you explain death to a 3.5 year old?

Standard

We hadn’t read any of the numerous articles about “how to talk to your children about Newtown.”

For one thing, we don’t have a television, so Mariel’s exposure to news is limited. And then there’s the fact that we’ve both worked as psychotherapists/counselors. We probably thought we could handle any challenging questions; we’ve already had to respond to Mariel’s queries about where babies come from and what color she is.

But nothing prepared us to explain death to our three and a half year old.

*
We’d switched on NPR to hear news about Obama’s visit to Mexico, but the first segment that came on was an interview with David Wheeler, the father of six-year old Benjamin, who was killed in the Newtown school shootings.

Wheeler was audibly emotional, some of his responses choked off by the freshness of his grief. Our perceptive, curious child was listening carefully in the backseat.

“What happened to his son?” she asked us. “He was hurt,” I answered. “At school?” she asked. “Yes,” I said.

Mariel has been enamored by the idea of school as of late. The notion that there is a place where one goes to learn and play, to have a teacher and make friends, is wondrous. For Francisco and me, it is anxiety-provoking. Between the usual concerns every first world parent has about what school is best for their child’s development and future prospects, there are the concerns about finances (What kind of school can we afford, anyway?) and, increasingly, about safety (Will our kid come home from class alive?).

“Why was he hurt? Who hurt him?”

I look to Francisco and hope he will answer. One of his greatest gifts is finding the true, right words for difficult situations. And yet, one of his challenges is doing so quickly.

“Mama,” Mariel says, “who hurt the boy?”

Who? The hardest question to answer. Who hurts children?

“A man who had problems,” I say.

“He hurt the boy in the school?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Oh. Mama, what is the boy doing now?”

This is the moment when I wish I was a parent who said things like “Raindrops are God’s tears” or “Benjamin Wheeler is an angel in heaven now.”

But I am not that kind of parent.

It feels like everything hangs on this moment and the right response to it. Please don’t let me fuck it up.

Inhale.

“He’s resting, baby.”

“But Mama, the lady said the boy is dead. That means he’s not resting, right?”

*
Mariel has seen a dead pigeon. It’s on the sidewalk between our subway stop and home and she has watched it attentively over the course of several weeks. Even as spring finally came, pushing grass through the hard, cold earth, covering the pigeon’s decaying body a bit, she strained to see it. “Still there,” she’d say, observing its slow changes, as I wished someone would pick it up and discard it so we wouldn’t have to see it every day.
*
“Right.”

“Mama, the boy is not coming back, right?”

“No, Mariel,” I say, “the boy is not coming back.”

Exhale.

“Dead, not resting. Mama, Papa. I think I can help the boy,” she begins. “I can build a magic come-back machine so I can bring him back here.”

I am in the front passenger seat, my head in my hands, sobbing. How can we protect our daughter in this crazy world where troubled men shoot children and still preserve her openness, her curiosity, and her wonder? How can we protect ourselves so we never feel the ceaseless, nameless grief David Wheeler feels? I cry for the Wheelers and for other parents and for our precious, sensitive child, and I cry because I am so full of rage that I have to explain death to a three and a half year old, to a child who is at an age where everything my husband and I do feels like the imprint of an important memory that will form who she is.

“I will build a box as big as a rocket ship, with an antenna on top, and I’ll go get the boy and bring him back in the magic come-back machine,” she says. “Is that a good idea?”

“It is the best idea,” I say, before we turn off the radio and all slip into silence.

Notes on not being distracted

Standard

Meditation, yoga, and the other practices of slowing down and being in the moment have never really been for me.

The person with the calm countenance and perfect posture assuring me that my mind will empty out, resisting all my internal chattering, if only I just keep at it has never fully convinced me. I’m aware of the benefits of a focusing practice, and one that is rooted in the body, but mine is highly idiosyncratic and doesn’t involve a pillow, mat, or sweating.

*
There is a chorus in our household these days, that starts early in the morning and persists late into the night. “I’m pooping, Mami, I’m pooping me.” Over and over, the refrain, and over and over, the pulling off of the training diaper and the positioning on the padded potty seat. Only one out of a dozen trips to the bathroom results in anything of note. Mostly, we sit around together, Mariel and I, waiting for something to happen.

*
Believe me when I tell you that the temptation to do something–anything, really–while sitting uncomfortably on the edge of the bathtub, my right knee dangerously close to the heated water pipe, waiting for poop–or not– is strong. I’d love to read one of the months’ worth of magazines that sit on both sides of our writing desk, or one of the many books I’ve intended to read this year. I could use the time to look at my to-do list or to transition from computer to notebook in order to continue the thought that has been interrupted a half dozen times in the past 45 minutes.

I’d love to do any of that, but I don’t.

I have found these days of toilet training to be challenging. Sitting around and waiting isn’t my forte. Sitting around and waiting without having some sort of distraction is even less innate. The waiting is uncomfortable… not because it has anything to do with poop, but because it demands that I sit quietly and just be.

This is what parenting does to you…

Standard

…and I mean that in the best way.

How this now headless trophy ended up in our New York apartment after multiple moves and even more “We’ve got to rid ourselves of material attachments” purges is beyond me. The only thing I can say about it having stuck around (as opposed to having been thrown in the garbage) is that it made a pretty good door stop.

If you could read the nameplate on the trophy–now scratched beyond recognition, having been bumped hundreds of times by the door–it would say “Most Outstanding Student, 1995.” I was awarded the trophy in high school, a superlative that confirmed I was someone special, someone with a future, someone on the right path, someone accomplished, with “promise.”

But an almost 2-year old child neither knows nor cares about all that. She carries the statue around your apartment because she thinks it’s funny– this centurion with his shield and his helmet that looks like a Mohawk. She drops it, over and over again, and his helmet chips.

Finally, his head cracks and falls off.

This is a self your child will never know, and though silly, it prompts you to consider all the versions of the person you’ve been, the person you are even now, who will never be fully accessible to your child, whether by circumstance and the immutable progression of time, or by choice.

The statue produces a constellation of emotions; the self who won it–the very memory of winning just barely accessible now– Who is she now? Who has she become? There’s no sadness, but curiosity and anticipation.

Who will her daughter become?