Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another baby in my life

There's not much I can tell you about London that you wouldn't already assume: history, architecture, culture,'s all here. I haven't even seen the center (or should I say "centre"?) of London yet, but I've seen all of the above in spades.

The highlight by far, though, is spending time with my sister, my new niece, and my brother-in-law. This trip is really about family for me. If Erica lived in London, Ohio, I'd be visiting her there, too. I've wanted to spend time like this with her for years and, I suppose, Gabi's birth inspired me to act.

Since arriving yesterday midday we have walked all over Erica and Mike's beautiful neighborhood and tooled around some of the posher London outskirts, Primrose Hill and Hampstead. Erica and Mike recently bought a house in a little tract development in a suburb of London. But, please don't think "tract development" as in every suburban sprawl city in the states. Imagine 100 year old brick cottages, tree lined streets, an immense greenway filled with meadows, forests, playgrounds and a creek. It's one of the most charming neighborhoods I've ever seen and I'm thrilled that Mike and Erica are raising their family here. It's also a very Jewish neighborhood, one of few in the UK. This is one of the things that appealed to them when they looked for a house. They can walk to their shul from home, for instance, something that is required of orthodox Jews on Shabbat (Erica and Mike are modern orthodox, I suppose). There is a real Jewish ghetto near by, filled with much more orthodox people, but where Erica and Mike live is a more diverse Jewish community and the two synagogues there have congregations that run the gammet in observance practices.

I love that I'm enjoying London with a local. Erica and I spend our time walking, driving, eating and gazing at her beautiful daughter. Gabi is totally delectable in a way that only little babies are. She has incredible cheeks, the Stonefield dimpled chin, bright blue eyes, and a stellar disposition. She's starting to make those wonderful baby coos and ahhs that are the beginnings of spoken communication. She's so alert and social, rarely fusses and is charming me with her sweet smiles. I'm loving it!

Erica had asked me before I came if I'd teach her to knit while I was here, so I brought needles and yarn for her. Today we visited a local department store that also had a nice yarn department and I gave her an introduction to knitting and yarn and the tools of a knitter. She absorbed it all, even though a sleep deprived new mother. Tonight, after Gabi went to bed we pulled everything out and began...the beginnings of a beautiful blue scarf.

Saturday is Shabbat and Erica and Mike don't drive or work or cook or do anything much but rest. They've told me I'm welcome to anything I'd like, including taking the train into the center of London. I'm a bit hesitant to do it alone, but I'm sure I can handle it and so I think I will. Now I'm off to read up on the museums to see which ones to visit.

I'll leave you with some images from my first days here...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day of travel

Note to self #1: Leave something at home.

Spend some time walking around the house with your HUGE purse slung jauntily over your shoulder and your carry-on bag full of things to pass the time draped across your chest. THEN see how much you want the spare change of clothes, the two books, the camera and cable, the large noise cancelling headphones, the knitting project and the three spare knitting projects (in case you weren't in the mood for the first one).

Note to self #2: Remember the power of positive thinking.

Do not be surprised if the day before your departure and only moments after speaking to your sister who you are going to visit in London you suddenly come down with a nasty stomach problem sending you straight to bed with cramps, exhaustion, and the runs. Keep up the mantra: "I am not sick. I am not sick," and indeed you will be able to go on your trip with your HUGE purse stuffed with bananas, herbal gastrointestinal remedies, and lemon ginger tea bags. It WILL make a difference. But stay away from the frappuccinos and pizzas in the international terminal.

Note to self #3: Have gratitude in full measure.

Turn a deaf ear to your children's bickering in the car ride to the airport shuttle on the morning of your departure. What they mean to say is: "Mama, we will miss you while you're gone and don't quite know what to do with all of our feelings of emptiness and separation anxiety. Please have a lovely trip and travel safely. Oh, and don't forget the souvenir es for yours truly." But what they say instead is, "Maaa-ahm...he's touching me! Maaa-ahm...he's giving me the finger! Maaa-ahm..." Feel the love. And don't forget to give your wonderful husband a big ol' kiss when he drops your off at the airport shuttle. After all, he's staying home with them.

Note to self #4: Premium Economy.

Next time you see a can of sardines on the grocery shelf remember in acute detail ten hours spent housed inside a jetliner with a seatback reclined three inches from your nose, 2.5 inches of leg room exactly, and your neighbors touching skin with you in the adjoining seats. Think of the large leather chairs with 12 inch wide arm rests in the Premium Economy class. Start saving your pennies.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Two and a half days...and counting

Mother Nature heard my pleas. (Not to mention the pleas of thousands of people stranded a continent or two away from home and those of my sister, Erica.) The volcano quit spewing and so I began packing. I am SO excited about this trip.

When I leave home it is no easy task. Since I homeschool my kids it's not as easy as arranging drop-offs and pick-ups from school. Reminiscent of my years as a classroom teacher, I prepare detailed "sub" plans for the folks caring for my kids. Mark, is no sub, by the way, nor babysitter, nor stand-in. I'm not condescending. Any of you who know him in the flesh and have witnessed him with me and the boys know that he is the dad, my full-scale partner in parenting. But, the minutia of our daily lives are not the things he keeps track of and so it's usually necessary for me to write out plans of some detail for those times I'm absent.

Once, a couple years ago, I went away to a Jewish songleaders' retreat in Wisconsin for a week. It was amazing, a transformative experience, but the reason I'm telling you about it now is that you would have been very impressed with the notes I left behind. A calendar of activities, a page of contact names and phone numbers, and more on four pages. It took me weeks to flesh out. But, hey, it worked. Everything went smoothly.

A week after returning home Mark's uncle died and Mark needed to go back east to be with his family. The time frame went something like this: Saturday got the call, Sunday made the arrangements, Monday saw him standing at my bedside in the wee hours of the morning ready to leave for the airport.

"Bye, hon," he said. "I'm off."

"What, no notes? No sub plans?" I croaked, with as much irony and humor as one can muster at 5 am.

"Yeah, guess it's a little easier for me to leave, huh?" he said sheepishly.

I was only giving him grief in a teasing way, I know that he appreciates me and what I do with the guys. And yet, it is nice to sometimes to notice and be noticed. Yeah, I juggle a lot.

THIS TIME, however, I'm handling the task a little differently. I have arranged for activities, but haven't written any notes. Names are on the calendar and I know Mark is able to make the calls or send out the emails to the moms taking the kids for the day. I'm only going to be gone a eight days, three they have plans scheduled, two days are free, two days are weekend, and one is the day they drive down to San Francisco to pick me up. I'm confident it'll all be FINE.

After all, the boys may not even notice I'm gone. Imagine the extra time they'll have for TV and video games. (Mark and I used to joke about leaving them home with an endless loop videotape and a bowl of with the frozen Amy's burritos in the freezer and the endless brain-numbing quantity of television on cable, I don't think we're far off from that scenario. Unfortunately.)

Not writing up the big plans feels a little risky. Yet, the three boys are so much older now, so much more able to figure out what they want to do and then do it. They don't seem to need as much herding as they used to.

So, my piles of folded laundry and my collection of small toiletries are accumulating. The knitted gifts are almost all wrapped. I have a few knitting projects for the plane, and my iPhone is stocked with podcasts to listen to when the pilot says I can turn it back on.

Two and a half days and counting.

I hope to blog from London...but until then...Cheerio!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Packing and unpacking

I’m one of those people who never unpacks from a trip. My suitcase lays open on the floor or on the old chest by the window, contents spilling out and hidden away. Sometimes it will take over a month before I disembowel it, surprised at what I end up bringing out into the light. “Oh that’s where you went!” I say to a favorite sweater I had forgotten about. There must be something deeply psychological about this, but I think it's just that I have so many other things I'd rather do, like knit for example, and so many things I have to do, like throw hay down in the pasture, that I don't take the time to unpack. And besides, then you have to do the laundry.

Packing is a different story. Packing is full of possibilities. Packing is thinking about what's to come, wondering will it be sunny or raining or will there be snow on the ground. It’s my job in Mark’s and my partnership to do the packing (for myself and the boys) before our family takes any trip. I am quite organized about it, thinking about it weeks ahead of time, starting piles in laundry baskets in the days before. I even have a file on the computer entitled “Packing lists” in which 27 different and specific packing list documents exist (Hospital packing list, Winter packing list, Disneyland packing list, etc.). I kid you not. 27. I counted. I fret endlessly about what to put in my suitcase. I line up outfits, considering the weather and my mood, whether I will be content with a wardrobe of just black t-shirts and blue jeans or will I need something with more color. I like to be prepared for any eventuality which means that, in the end, my suitcase has about three times the contents of Mark’s. I don’t pack for Mark. He usually accomplishes that task in the five minutes before we leave for the airport. The boys' and my whale sized duffle bags are piled by the front door and his small duffle containing a couple pairs of jeans, a couple polo shirts, socks, underwear, a toothbrush and deodorant, and the ever present bathing suit (“Because you never know when you’ll find a pool and you want to be prepared.”) join the group. And we’re off.

That’s all to say that I’m currently packing for a trip which I am taking at the end of this month. I will be going, all by myself, to London to visit one of my younger sisters. My dad had a second marriage many years ago to a woman not much older than I and from that I have two half-sisters, Erica and Jennifer. I was 18, in college, starting my own life when Erica was born. We spent a couple years having sporadic contact (which she doesn’t remember, of course!) and then about 18 years having no contact at all. There was a long period in which she did not speak to our dad, after he and her mom split up. That’s her story to tell, not mine, but suffice it to say when she did finally seek out her family she and I discovered that we have a strong and surprising chemistry. Our connection feels like old friends, though our ages are fairly spread out and our lives have taken different paths. We can talk about anything easily and are quite bonded though we live so far apart and I am perhaps the worst correspondent on the planet and I never remember to call on anyone's birthday. During the past nine years she’s lived in New York and London and that’s where she lives now with her husband, Mike, and their baby Gabriella.

When we returned from Philadelphia I felt the future unfurl ahead of me. So much possibility! I hadn't made any plans past March 1st, the day we were returning to California from Ben's surgery. I couldn't think that far ahead. But, once we got home I knew that it was time to follow through on my promise to Erica that this year I would come to visit. Gabi was born in January, the day after Toby’s birthday, in fact. She is someone I must meet, you know how I am about babies by now. And I am wanting to spend some time with my sister. The longest we’ve ever spent together in her 29 years is about three days. She did come out for Harry’s Bar Mitzvah, but I was a bit busy then, too, and we didn’t get a lot of hang out time. So, you can imagine, I’m really looking forward to this trip.

Ben is doing great; he made it through my absences with Chanel without any separation anxiety at all. Harry and Toby are all fine, too. I would love to bring the boys along, London being the treasure trove of culture that it is. (Not to mention the Harry Potter's London which would be so incredibly fun to explore.) I know it will be difficult to see all those amazing sights as a homeschool mom with no kids in tow, they’ll just feel like a long list of missed opportunities! But, we can’t afford four or five plane tickets to England, so I get to have a vacation all by myself. And that is really a treat. I’m not complaining.

However, a certain volcano which will remain unnamed (since I can’t seem to figure out how to spell or pronounce it anyways) is spewing ash and magma into the air over Iceland, causing all flights to be cancelled across Europe. I would like to lodge a complaint with the powers that be: This needs to stop right now. I have a baby and a sister and a brother-in-law to visit in 11 days and I insist that the air be cleared so that my plane can fly from San Francisco to London without concern. Thank you.

Time to go work on my London packing list. I’m bringing warm things and comfy things, and a knee length skirt for Shabbat. And Erica wants me to teach her how to knit, so besides all the knit presents I’ve been working on, I’ll be bringing yarn and needles to get her started. I believe I’ll leave my bathing suit at home, though, what do you think?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Something from my heart: for Chanel

On the occasion of the birth of Josiah Obryant
April 7, 2010

It is hard for me to reconcile my memory
Of the young girl with the nappy hair
And the scruffy clothes
Who bounded into my life and stole my heart
All those years ago

With the vision of Woman
I now see
Propped up against pillows
In a hospital bed
Pale blue gown puddled around her voluminous belly
Baby clamped securely on one dark chocolate nipple

Just as you catch yourself on my name
          Miss Stonefield
As you knew it
My name when you and I bonded
In a chalk-dusty classroom
Full of books and music and loud, smelly children
So many years ago
And try to call me by a name more of a friend
Woman to woman

I catch myself on my memory of you
At nine years old
A child so lost and yet so available
To me, to my love, to my words

I have thought I might lose you 
Years passed in between
Without a call or an address
A stuttering connection
Blinking on, then off, then on again
But there existed a thread strong as spider’s silk
Connecting our two lives

And so I blink, seeing you today:
A woman, a mother, a friend
A child, a daughter, a friend

How is it possible that a child
So hungry for food and love
For someone to sweep the debris away and
Show her the path
How is it possible that that child
Would know
On her own
How to nurture
And to hold what is dear
And precious
To be gentle and tender
And speak the Lord’s prayer quietly over the phone
To a daughter about to go to sleep away from her mama
And new baby brother
Worrying about who will take care of them that night?

How did you become this woman?
How did I become so lucky
To hold your hand
As your baby was taken from your body
Lavender gray oily
Blood and life fluids still covering his soft flesh
To be a witness to the moment you first held him
You first kissed him
He first looked at you
And recognized that you were his mama

He blinked when he heard your voice

How did you arrive at this day knowing
How different a life could be
When a child is loved and held
With devotion and passion
Every moment of his life

How did you arrive
Full of that golden wonder and gratitude
For motherhood and babies’ toes
When your life was barren
Of a mother’s loving touch
And how strong you had to be to fill your own voids
To soothe yourself when you went to bed scared
And hungry
And even I didn’t realize how bad bad could be

How did I become so lucky
To hold your baby and bring him to your breast
To teach you once again
Something from my heart
To witness the strength rise in you
As he was nourished by your touch
By your breast
By your milky gold

Motherhood comes easily to you
I see it filling you to overflowing
Many things have come hard to you, but
Motherhood comes easily to you
More easily than anything else
Except love
And optimism

You open yourself to the possibilities
And they flow into your life
The milk lets down
The baby mews to suck
You fold your arms around him
Your life and hopes
Giving more to him
A hundredfold
Than what you ever got from your own mother

I realize now that that little girl still lives in you
As you dress your child
In brand new clothes
As you brush his silky curls
With a white bristled brush small enough to be made for a doll
You can’t stop touching him
Playing with him
Enjoying the feeling of being attached to
A life force so new and familiar

I see that little girl still hoping for a mother to change
Even as she shows she doesn’t know how to tell you she cares
Even if she does
We just assume she does
She’s a mother, your mother after all
And you are lightness
You are sunshine
You will be her role model

You surely are mine

You teach me about love
About strength
Optimism and determination
I won’t lose you again, Chanel
You won’t lose me either
Our bond made first in a grade school classroom
Was made tighter with the sharing of your birth miracle
I held your hand then
And now I hold it to my heart

Friday, April 9, 2010

Baby, baby, baby

Baby Josiah is here. I want to wax poetic, there’s so much to tell, but for now I’ll just post some images from the two days I spent in the hospital with Chanel. I’ll write about it when I have more time. The donkeys are braying for breakfast!

Chanel's friend LaToya and I were in the operating room with her during the C-section.

If this isn't the picture of "the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" I don't know what is.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Return Trip

I'm heading out to Sacramento again today. Chanel followed my advice and kept her legs crossed this past week! Looking forward to seeing that baby boy by this afternoon. I'll be home with photos by tomorrow night.

Yesterday I received Jasmine's wedding invitation. It made me cry. The words printed at the top were: "Because you have shared in our lives by your friendship and love, we...invite you to share the beginning of our new life together..." How perfect and how beautiful. I took it personally, though I'm not the only recipient of the invitation, of course. I can't wait to share that day with her. To witness it. To be a part of the milestones in her life, as I have been in some way since she was nine years old.

And now to Chanel...this is one mighty milestone. Time to get on the road.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mission Interrupted

I went to Sacramento. I came back a day early.

Chanel is fine, don't worry. And the baby is still incubating in there. That's ok, it's warm and safe in there.

But the rest of us got the biggest let down on a dark Tuesday morning. And it's just now I am feeling up to talking about it.


Monday I arrived at Chanel's place around noon. We talked and talked and talked. I made her open all the presents I brought her. We talked some more. About being a mom. About us. About nursing babies. About her childhood. She shared more with me on this trip than ever before. I sense in her a real arrival, a maturity that I’ve never felt. She was so grounded, so present. My heart swells with pride and admiration.

We went to Target to stock up, too. Baby clothes, a swing, nursing bras and other do-dads. She didn’t even know that nursing bras existed. I bought her three! It felt great to be helping her get started, especially with the breastfeeding. In her world, no one nurses their babies. “Too much trouble.” But Chanel, she’s already spouting things like, “Nuh-uh. Nothing easier than whipping out your boob to feed your baby.” Gee, wonder where she heard that!? She mentioned that maybe she’d end up being a trendsetter, starting a new wave of breastfeeders in her group of friends. I wouldn’t put it past her.

After that we went to lunch and hung out a little longer before I left her to rest and prepare for Tuesday’s event.

I forgot to mention in my last post that I was staying with my friend Kendra, one of my very best friends from my high school years. We connected last year on Facebook and saw each other once last summer, the first time in 18 years! But this was really a fantastic making-the-most-of-a-situation opportunity since she lives about 20 minutes from Chanel. I met her adorable younger boys (15 and 13) and saw her hubby. (Who knows when the last time I saw him was?) But the best part was just getting to talk to her for hours and hours. We had a blast. And we tried to take a good picture of ourselves. I think K looks terrific. Hasn’t changed a bit in the…um…30 years since we graduated! I, on the other hand…

I shall blame my forced smile expression on the long wait time for a double flash exposure.

Tuesday morning Kendra made me a cup of tea and a bowl of strawberries at 4:30 am. What a good friend! I drank my cup, popped a few strawberries in my mouth and headed on over to the hospital. Chanel and Marlin (the baby’s dad) were there. Chanel checked in at the registration desk and we went upstairs to the OB department. As we emerged from the elevator we saw a group of nurses congregated at the nursing station. One of them stood up and said, “Are you Chanel? I’m afraid we have some bad news.”

Now what do you think when you hear that? I mean, Chanel is fine. We know that. She’s right here with us. The baby’s fine. There’s nothing bad in that department that they could tell us. The doctor? Did his alarm clock not go off on time? What? What could be bad news? Did he have a car accident?

“We only perform C-sections at 39 weeks or more. You’re not there yet so we can’t perform your C-section today.”

*cue crickets chirping in the silence*

Huh? We must have looked like deer in the headlights.

“My doctor made this appointment. How could this happen? What am I supposed to do?” Chanel asked.

“Well, you can go to Denny’s!” the nurse replied.

Uh, what?

If only I’d gotten her name. I would SO report that woman. How incredibly disrespectful. How rude. How flippant. I truly would love to clobber her. Even today, two days later.

Poor Chanel, it was such an enormous let down. The planning, the expectation. Everyone was there. Everything was ready. We slowly turned around and went downstairs and sat in a waiting area, composing ourselves. Trying to get a grip on this new reality. The nurses, the woman at the registration desk just kept giving her the party line: “It’s for the health of the baby.” Yes, indeed. As if that isn’t paramount to Chanel? This was planned folks, the doctor’s office made the appointment. She was three days shy of the 39th week. Seems a bit ridiculous to me. (Since Tuesday Chanel’s found out that the hospital has never really upheld this “rule” before in all the 32 years of her doctor’s experience there. Go figure.)

We ultimately went home to her place. Sat around in a depressed stupor for a while. Arianna was there and she did a fashion show of all the clothes I’d bought her. She also started reading the books I’d brought for her. She didn’t seem too sad about the turn of events. More attention for her! Then our appetites returned and I took my girls out to breakfast…a diversion.

But what I really wanted to tell you was that I talked to Chanel tonight. I wanted to tell you how cheerful she sounded. How she was making lemonade out of lemons. Enjoying the time she has all to herself for the next few days while Arianna is at her dad’s. Enjoying the time she has to read the books on breastfeeding and babycare. Tuesday we thought there was no way we’d feel excited again when the baby did come, but tonight she said she could feel it building up again. The anticipation. The exhilaration.

I’m glad for that. And glad that we have another week to chat on the phone, me giving her pep talks and her laughing along. And I’m glad I have another week to knit a hat for baby Josiah. That was something I hadn’t gotten around to. The flannel baby blankets, yes. The hat, no.

In the meantime, I’ve developed an infection in one of my breasts. Hot, red, and very sore. I’m taking antibiotics and today the doctor inserted a needle to see if any fluid would come out. Nope. Just pain! I’m feeling very sorry for myself. I swear it’s sympathetic. I mean, Monday I spent a good part of the day talking about breastfeeding with the amazing Chanel. I think my breasts thought they were back in business.


By the way, I'll be heading back up to Sacramento on Wednesday of next week. The surgery is scheduled for 1 pm that day. That is, as long as she doesn't go into labor before then! I'll stay the night at Kendra's again. And this time, I'll come home with baby pictures!!