I wish there was some kind of magic babysitter fairydust I could sprinkle on new mothers so they could jump right over all the crippling angst about making the transition to life-with-babysitter and reach the state of bliss that has caused me to write this post.
Lorna. Her name alone conjures relief and freedom for us, fun and security for the little folks.
She's been with us a couple days a week for 7 years, rarely missing a day, always prompt, always ready for whatever the day brings. Lately, that's meant "making a tent" with Eva in her room by stringing up a giant sheet so that they can play go fish, picnic, drawing, coloring, playdoh and so on under it while the baby sleeps for two hours. That alone is worthy of the trophy. But there's so much more. She just handles whatever is thrown her way.
Over the years, since she began with one child to care for, two others have been thrown her way, and she has just moved seamlessly through the ever-changing landscape of demands--multiple school pick-ups and playdates and classes and lessons and homework and infant/pre-school/elementary school/girl/boy/sick child/angry, sad, grumpy, shy, outgoing, fearful, daring, etc needs--never getting fazed, never losing her cool, never taking things personally.
At first the thought of hiring a babysitter felt like I was hiring my own replacement, my own competition, as if I were hiring a girlfriend for my husband, but worse. I barely knew my own baby, wasn't sure at all that he knew me, or my breast, from any other. The last thing I needed in my unconfident state was someone really experienced and confident to come in and take over. Of course, that's the last thing she did, except in the best way. She has a curiously perfect way of being completely present when here, but becoming invisible at a moment's notice. She knows just how to read the situation and adjust herself accordingly--do I want her to take the baby because although I'm home I need to work or want to be busy at something else, or do I seem to be settling in to have a quick lunch with Eva at the kitchen table before going back to work, so she'll quietly slip off into the living room and wait until the signals shift and then seamlessly slip back in to taking over? They all know she's in their corner, and I know she's got my back. It's the Art of the Babysitter.
There's so much more to say, but I'd need Lorna here to be able to say it!
Something about this crush I love.
Sometimes I want to leave the house.
It's loud, but full of hugs and fat little thighs, kisses and questions, fights and ripening.
You can't think or stop or clean it up. It won't give in, stop or still.
I never forget that it will be over, this is my turn, but I also dream of it's being over and feeling singular again. A nd then I love again how every minute is a constantly forming and unforming, undulating, pulsing thing, a kaleidoscope's view of these random elements--toys, people, actions, groupings, sounds, moments--making a painting, an experience, that is just this moment's and then is gone, and is also the product of the day before and all the ones before, something permanent being built (our family, it's history, these people's selves, my history and theirs). The very randomness of the passing moment seems sometimes so much more interesting than anything else, and then I'm drowning and I need to go, need them to go to bed. Then I want to see the next minute and not miss one. And then I want to leave. And then I want to come back. And preserve it, try to capture the everyday of it, it's colossal beauty and detail, it's infinite movement. The alchemy of family. Turning this common substance into something of great value.
They're all in their beds. Three heads were asleep at angles in the backseat of the car, and they all woke up when we brought them in. Then the big two crawled right in their beds and burrowed down. We changed the little one into her jammies and she woke up and wanted things. "Dat, dat, dat," pointing. But I stood up and started to sing "Rock-a-bye Baby" and her head thumped down on my chest. Then after a few bars she picked it up and looked at me. I bent forward to kiss her and she bent forward, too. Then she put her head back down. I put her in her bed (I had already nursed her in the car before we left) and put her covers on. After all that I went back to the bigs to kiss them. They were still awake a little and Eva said, "how would you feel if you were out on a cold cold street and you had no clothes on?" She was asking because I'd tried to get her undressed in the bathroom before I had her jammies ready and she'd protested that she was too cold. I was pretty sure I was being scolded again. "You know what I would do if you were out on a cold cold street?" I asked. "What?" "I would make you warm." I kissed D. Then I went to check on the baby. She was still just awake and kicked and brightened up a touch when she saw me. I stroked her face and said goodnight, and she pulled her covers up. There is something so comforting to me to see them comfortable in their beds as a source of warmth and rest and holding. Something good in knowing even the baby feels this house and her bed are a good place where she can be awake waiting to fall asleep. In one word maybe it is trust.
For the moment she's still got her little arm up, requesting a finger to grasp as she travels, pokes about, bends and dips and restands, stops for a little bouncy-knee dance when the mood strikes. But two days ago M turned one. Soon she won't want the hand so much. Already, the breast and its contents are not essential. They are well-regarded as a mental and emotional reset button, a quick put-me-together when the me-ness starts to feel less sure. But a moment's snuggle and a tiny taste is usually enough, and then her head swivels away and her body starts it's slippery undulations designed to get her back on her feet and going again.
Tonight, as always, the pace here is frenzied and the soundtrack is blaring. Declan's on the drums, Eva the recorder and harmonica, and then there's running and jumping and playing and screaming and laughing and homework and drawing and playing dollhouse. She's got to keep up and there's no getting bored. And there are so many things to see and know. "DAT" she says, again and again and again, jutting her arm out with a questing, pointing finger at the end. "Light," "bathtub," "computer," "apple" we say back. "DAT, DAT, DAT," she says, as if her brain just won't let her stop. A few nights ago she'd fallen asleep on the breast one night in my lap at bedtime. I moved slightly and immediately, right out of sleep, her arm shot up into the pitch black and pointed, and she said, "DAT!" "Not now, darling," I said softly and put her in her bed and she turned over and let the world go for a little while.
She's still in her mini co-sleeper (along with all her sibs, in this photo) head and feet almost touching the ends of her baby bed, but that will change after we bring the crib down from upstate this weekend. She's only still contained in the co-sleeper because she refused to learn to crawl, and with it, to get herself to sitting on her own. She can walk and dance but she can't get herself off her back so she hasn't been able to climb out of the co-sleeper yet, but it's minutes away.
I am trying not to log all the passing babynesses, but my mind logs them anyway. Soon enough, this time will be done and many more amazing ones will come, of course. But having a baby in our midst will be missed. Thinking of E. going off to Kindergarten next year is equally as unthinkable. Where did THAT baby go? And then it feels like two babies hurtling themselves out of babyhood at once.
Recently, some mothers at the mother's group I run were talking about noticing the shift from their babies being newborns to something new, something not quite the same. They were asserting their wishes, wanting to sit up or be faced outward, or something that felt like demanding to have some control over their own world. One mother spoke of feeling anxious about having to start solids and give food that wasn't from her to her baby. These transitions are so striking, and so emotionally loaded. It's work to manage the feelings they bring on, whether it's having your baby suddenly out of arms or newly, hungrily taking in more of the outside world than just your breast, your face, your voice, your touch, your goodness.
As I feel thankful this week for the great goodness that has come my way, I am also thankful for being too busy to think about all this growing up too much. There are pies to make, snow boots to procure, and little people who need to be played with, NOW. And then washed and put to bed. And then I need to knit.
10am Entered polling place (sadly, this photo was eaten by iphoto). Imagine one boy, 8, with a cold but determined to make his mark today nonetheless, one girl, 4, who has decided she's for Obama because "he's more fair" and one girl, 11 months, who has no clue about any of it but is happy to be hanging with her peeps.
10-11:30am Waited on line. Ate snacks from bake sale. Said hello to many neighbors and friends who passed by on their way in or out. Walked Mairead up and down the hallways and fed her corn muffin.
11:30-12 Ate a quick lunch
12:15pm Mama and Boy Entered Obama-Biden Headquarters in NYC.
He did not do this sideways, but iphoto's not working and everything with the pictures is FUBAR for the moment, so bear with us here.
12: 20pm We entered HQ on the 5th floor. The woman at the desk took one look at Declan and said, "you ready to make some calls?" She gave us a ton of special phone bank stickers and Obama/Biden stickers and signs, and told us to go around the corner to Room A.
12:25 Darby, a campaign worker, gave us our script and a quick training in how to use it--we weren't doing "persuasion calls," this was get out the vote work, and we weren't supposed to rip people a new one if they said they were voting for McPain--and then passed out sheets of names of Florida voters in Broward, Jackson, and Gadsden Counties.
12:30 Began making calls. Notice Boy in green shirt in the back.
He's saying, "Hello, my name is Declan and I'm a volunteer with Barack Obama's Campaign for Change. I'm calling to remind you that today is election day. Have you voted yet?" If yes, then "Wonderful, thank you!" If he got an answering machine he left a detailed message reminding them of where their polling location was (it was on the sheet next to their number) and giving out several numbers or websites they could use to arrange a ride to the polls or report problems or get info.
Then we noted what happened on our call sheets.
Our first set of numbers had been pretty well worked over only about an hour or so before. When some campaign workers came in waving fistfulls of sheets with NEW NUMBERS on them, we felt like the guys in Glengarry Glenn Ross, desperate to get their hands on the new leads.
We dialed, and dialed, and dialed.
The guy dialing in front of us said he'd gotten his start volunteering in presidential elections around the same age as Declan when his parents brought him to make calls for Lyndon Johnson.
Once we got a babysitter who said the people we'd called weren't home and she was voting for McCain. She sounded a little grumpy. We were sweet about it. We knew she was gonna feel bad about that decision one day, or maybe later that night. Once we got a man who said "I just came back from voting," in a deep southern accent. "Just got in about twenty minutes ago." Then he asked us, "what I want to know is, is he still the leader?" I told him we didn't know yet but that they'd be telling us on tv before long. "Oh, when they do that?" he asked. "About 7 or 8 tonight," I said. He sure sounded excited. We had a good feeling about Florida.
After we made about 100 calls--mostly it was Declan--we called it a day. The boy was red and hot with his fever--and not just election fever. The kid had an honest to goodness fever. Even sick he pulled out all the stops for Obama.
5pm------We started watching the coverage. Eva peeled off around 8. Declan stayed in the game until 9:30. At around 11, this happened:
Maybe, just maybe, we had a little something to do with it.
After all, he won Florida didn't he?
Dec declared early on: Vampire. No, not dracula, a VAMPIRE. And store-bought, preferably. No problem! Went down the block, across the street to Winn Discount, and bought that baby. One costume done. Yessss.
Eva also declared early: Dragon. Oh, jeez. Okay, sure, ummmm. There was no way I was making a whole suit type deal because for one thing I KNEW miss-I-hate-to-wear-anything-on-my-body was going to freak out and not wear it and then I was going to have to kill her. But I couldn't find a store-bought one that would work, either, and so I was pretty resigned to trying to make some kind of hooded cape-y thing with blue points down the back, and pairing it with a green hooded sweatshirt of her brothers and some green pants. Luckily, the night I began I tried the sweatshirt on her and GUESS WHAT?
She freaked out. "I'm NOT WEARING THAT" and insane wriggling and screaming trying to get it off. Then angrily, resentfully sticking her thumb ("fumb") in her mouth and sulking on the couch.
"No problem," I said, how about being a ghost, or a witch?
"A witch," she said, her eyes lighting up.
Did I mention that this was the day before halloween?
So I made a quick run over to the Brooklyn General Store, where I found the perfect perfect witch dress fabric and some black flannel and grey cotton for the cape. Then I ran to run the new mother's group and then ran back home to cut out a simple dress shape, a simple cape shape copied from Dec's vampire cape, and ran back to the store to use one of their sewing machines. This is reason # 798,054 why it's good to have a friend who owns a yarn and fabric store, btw.
So anyway, I quickly sewed up the dress, not finishing around neck, arms, or hem (she's a witch, after all) and quickly sewed up the cape, adding a hot pink ribbon around the neck to tie it, and then daddy glued a scary grey spider shape to the back. Some black nail polish, dark eye shadow, and a witches hat finished her off. Instant cute witch! Another Halloween Emergency averted! Okay, so I never really made a costume for the baby....I just pinned a little of the witch dress fabric to her shirt and lamely dubbed her "a witch baby" but you know what? She's got a lot of great costume years ahead.
This year we were lucky enough to have Aunt Pat and Uncle Larry (actually, great aunt and great uncle pat and larry) AND Aunt Tara along with us, too.
And then we did the usual: went up and down the main shopping street after school, getting candy from all the shopkeepers and admiring the parade of costumes and running into friends, and then we went home for a brief time-out and some dinner, and then we went back out in the dark and trolled the brownstone stoops, admiring the spooking decorations. Finally, we went back to our own stoop and gave out our candy.
A boo-full night, indeed.
Life is just steaming by. I haven't even written about the girls' crafty weekend of early October, the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival Weekend, the Halloween Experience, and now, the latest last great weekend of the fall--they just keep on coming, and getting better and better. I'm blind with exhaustion from middle-of-the-night life with this baby of ours, but life is good. And, with hope, tomorrow it will become even better!
But first, in no particular order: Rhinebeck.
This was the haul at the end of the weekend, after day 1 beating a path through the crazy saturday crowds with the sassy stitchess while the husbands tended the combined 5 children, after eating lamb chili, lamb sandwiches, and lamb burgers, and then after the last-minute, last day surgical strike just before closing time on Sunday to scoop up what we regretted not getting the day before, after which we ate more lamb sandwiches, and lamb kebobs and lamb ribs.
Somehow it all tended towards the blues and purples and bluey greens this year.
Don't know if this colorway is gonna be nice, but it sure looks good like this.
But this Socks That Rock looks as yummy as it did on the hook.
The big, giant, hulking skein of super bulky love known as Decadent Fibers Creme Puff called me first, resulting in this, knitted up AND uploaded to ravelry in a breathtaking 24 hours.
So, even though I didn't get this Noro Cashmere Island sweater
finished in time for this boy to wear it loud and proud while eating a candy apple at the fair, the baby showed off her little yoke cardi made of Manos Silk Blend while she petted her first sheep.
Gorgeous Leaves and wood and milkweed pods. Hot cider and crunchy apples. Pumpkin painting and carving and muffin-making. A good long walk in the woods. A last fling on the hammock. Good friends, their adorable twins, and the fire roaring. And a quick bit of satisfying sewing: the "smocket" on the baby.
Our journey begins on the way to the knitting store, officially known as Brooklyn General Store, a little house on the prarie-esque dry goods store filled with yarn, fabric, notions, gee gaws, homemade, handmade stuff, and women I love, especially on Friday mornings when it is time for the knitting breakfast. I've been coming since it's inauguration 4 years ago around this time, just after Eva was born. Declan played under the big table when the store was still across the street in my former midwife's ground floor, and now Eva has played here every Friday since her birth.
Today we started out by scooter, with little Mo Mo in her stroller.
On the way we stopped at Mazzola's Bakery for a mini muffin. Miss E. broke with tradition for the second straight time in history, choosing an orange blossom muffin instead of a chocolate one. Wednesday it was a corn muffin! These are but two of the many many portents we've been receiving lately heralding her transformation from shy, thumb-sucking, ear-twiddling, trying-nothing-new, hiding-behind-my-skirts-girl into mistress of her universe, branching out and busting out in all directions. Before the day was out not one but two friends of mine would exclaim in delight "Eva TALKED to me!"
And then we were at the store, which was hopping.
Here a little trade was made--a little round plastic button that's the key to the functioning of the Avent breastpump, in exchange for a used push-toy--that would turn this into a very special day for the little red-headed baby seen there in the middle of the floor. You'll see why later.
After lunch and various naps, and a teensy bit of real knitting time for me, it was time to pick up the big guy. We hooked up with Jane and Kate and their mother, my friend Anne, in the school yard, and went to Mother Cabrini Park, a quiet little gem of a place at the secret end of a street in a far corner of Brooklyn.
This is what happened next:
Back and forth, up and down.
While her sister and brother kissed her and played in the Indian summer weather and the golden falling leaves.