Friday, September 4, 2009

How do I begin and end?

I’m in a strange limbo zone as I cast off the shorts, t-shirts and Keens of my season of stay-at-home motherhood, and dust off the heels and blouses and jackets and jewelry of my old work self and new working mother self. I don’t have a lot of work yet (my bosses are being nice and easing me back in), but this makes me feel useless in two places – killing time at work, waiting to go home, and wishing I could spend this empty-ish time with Helene, feeling guilty that I’m not with her. I wish also that she could be here, crawling on the floor as I work. She’d love crawling down the long carpeted halls, and there are dozens of people who’d be happy to hold and play with her.

I tried to savor every moment with her last week, lounging in dappled park shade and taking silly, lovely photos of her. Lots of walks with her in the Ergo, her heart beating next to my heart, my arms lightly curled around her, lulling her to sleep, her head resting softly on my chest. I tried not to think about “lasts” and “nevers.” I tried not to think about not getting to do this next week. Tears ran from my eyes at the most unexpected times.

Our new nanny, Yvonne, babysat half the day on last Thursday and Friday, to get to know Helene and our house. I felt awkward, superfluous, sad. I tried to run errands, check things off my list, tried to quell the sick frantic feeling in my gut with busyness. I tried not to simply snatch Helene back from Yvonne when it was time for her to leave.

And of course, she wouldn’t eat. A new tooth coming in, and Helene is doing what she did for the first teeth – refuse solid food for days on end. Her timing is….something. This refusal came on the heels of a whirl-weekend visiting family and friends in New Jersey, where Helene inhaled all the food and more that we spooned in her mouth, at diners and rest stops and relatives’ houses. I almost thought she was weaning, as she slurped down yogurt, and then refused to nurse for hours, biting me decisively, bruising and hard.

One short day later, and she pushed away the spoon with a queenly impatience and disdain, her hand flung high in the air. For days. She wanted to nurse. And nurse. Oh baby, your timing is killing me.

Yvonne has convinced her to drink a few ounces from a bottle. And finally, yesterday, she ate more than a taste of some yogurt, and carrots, and pears. She cries when I leave, in a way that she does not otherwise cry, loud and alarming, sobbing, red-faced and alligator tears. She cries when I come home, hearing my footsteps on the cast-iron stoop, howling as she crawls frantically to my feet so I can pick her up. I know they have been playing happily just moments before. I hold her and hold her, I try to run upstairs and nurse her as soon as I can, and she drinks for longer than she has in awhile, not distracted for once.

I am learning to be a milk cow. Pumping twice a day at work, grateful that it is not more often, ferrying my precious cargo of cold milk home each day. So Yvonne can pour it into bottles, offer it to Helene, watch her refuse most of it, and throw it out at the end of the day. But I have to preserve my precious milk supply, I must, for as long as Helene wants it.

My husband happens to work in the same building. We have had lunch together a couple of times this week. It is so strange, for it to be just us. I feel terribly guilty, because we should not be together without Helene. It feels incomplete without her, as though we are acquaintances, and she is the mutual good friend who bonds us together, enlivens the conversation, makes us laugh.

There is some guilty relief. That I am not solely responsible for a baby all day, that I get to dress up again, and wear jewelry, and try to use my now Swiss-cheeselike brain again to give sage advice. But I miss it too, miss caring for her every need. I strangely even miss the distinct smell of a soiled diaper, because there is something satisfying in making her clean and fresh and cared for each time.

I sat outside today with colleagues, friends, enjoying the cooling weather of late summer, the sun, the crystal-blue sky of September. And tried not to feel like I was wasting my time, because I wanted to be with Helene in the park, outside, instead.

She hasn’t wanted to go to sleep this week, flailing and howling every time we set her down in her crib. She calms when we hold her, appearing to sleep, starting the cycle again each time we set her down. I think she just wants to be with us, and I want to keep holding her, while I know I need to set her down in her own bed, so I can eat and sleep.

I have started this new phase, this new time. I still have a foot in both places, not quite here nor there, feeling hazy at work, rushed at home, teary, guilty, torn, and shocked at how quickly Helene’s bedtime comes each night. How do we fit it all in, how do we make it work? How do we begin this new story, and make it worth the telling?

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