Growing a Poem

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I once carried a body inside of me.  A little being strapped just under my belly button, that kicked from the inside.

I cried when it first lived.  Afraid of my own self, the cruelty I had inflicted on my own being.  That I could never hold a little face and treat it like glass.  I’ve always broken things–my ankle at dance practice, a porcelain doll with eyes as grey as mine, a heart or two, but my own the most.  I lose things–keys, papers, my grandmother’s ring.

And so I was afraid for the little person that lived inside a body that did not value itself.

I felt it move, this person, heard its heart beat faster than a hummingbird.  And my own heart sped up, too.  But also felt like it grew.  Larger than when we kissed for the first time–awkward and stained with vodka and stars.  Bigger than when I stepped off the plane–alone and terrified, but full of wonder.

I loved that little heart, beating when sometimes I did not want my own to.

My belly grew with this being I soon discovered would be my son.  A boy–a strange feeling–that I could grow a boy.  The very thing that had hurt me like a burn that never scarred.  But there he was, in black-and-white.  A boy no other could compare to.

I cried again, for doubting in the first place.  And though I couldn’t yet see his smile; I knew he smiled.

We ate chocolate, and he smiled.
We watched movies, and he smiled.
I rubbed my belly, and he smiled.

And when I could finally see his face, the doubt arose again.  His screaming, little, beautiful face that I loved so much I wasn’t sure there was anything else I had to give besides love.  I loved him so much, I felt guilty, like the child who snuck sips of soda in the dark.  I loved him, like a secret I couldn’t keep.

And with each passing day he grew.  Sometimes seeming as small as a pea, other days as large as the universe.  He laughed and cried and loved.  I’d never seen something so beautiful–better than anything I’d ever written or could write, for he was written in my DNA, but edited to its essence.  The best poem I ever wrote.

And then came the testing–the “I hate you, Mommy,” the bites, the time-outs, the small, simple wounds of impatience and imperfection.  I yearned for the days he wanted of nothing more than to lay on my chest, falling asleep to dreams I will never know.

Grow, I know.  He must grow.  He is a child now, a being separate from myself.  But since you must grow, my baby boy, just know that your body has made mine whole.  Not like a puzzle, where something was missing, but like the way the universe expands, consistently growing new stars.  I’m so happy to have helped make you, but happier still to see you make yourself.  And in your making, I discovered, I am capable of mending things in my own being.

Love, little boy.  You are love.  Write your own poem.  I will cherish every space, every pause, every word.

I hope you know, I wanted you.  That I love you.  And that of all the things I have done–carrying your body was the best one.

Before Anxiety

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(this is me BA: Before Anxiety…obviously).

I’ve never been private about my struggle with my anxiety disorder.  Rather, I’ve always worn it on my sleeve so that when others have questions, they can feel free to talk to me as someone who has been there and worried that.  This being said, I am by no means an expert on anxiety nor do I always cope with it in the expected and productive ways that I know are beneficial for me.  Sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I read….sometimes I drink 3 glasses of wine and cry until I begin to wonder if it’s possible to die of dehydration via tears.

But recently I have been trying to remember what it was like before I had anxiety.  Now, this is a hard thing to quantify.  I’ve always been high-strung.  And that was what I called it until the first “big” incident.  I was an A-student perfectionist athlete who always wanted to do well.  I remember not wanting to go to school if I was five minutes late.  I remember having paralyzing fear that sometimes prevented me from walking into a store and buying a candy bar just in case the cashier would think I was fat.  I remember worrying that I would amount to nothing as early as eight years old.  So to talk about my life “before anxiety,” is not necessarily something I can define.

You see, because anxiety is not something that suddenly happened to me.  It was a slow development.  An ant hill building in my chest until one day, I found myself in the back of an ambulance convinced I was having a heart attack.  That ER visit was terrifying.  Every time I heard a machine beep, I was convinced it was a documentation of my heart rate–ever rising before its final, inevitable plummet into flatline.  This is it, my mind told me.  This is how you die.

I was twenty-two.

Before that incident, I remember feeling a bit more carefree about things.  I was still high-strung, still that girl who if she wasn’t 10 minutes early, was going to get fired.  But it wasn’t debilitating.  But all at once, I found myself short of breath after listening to my heart rate, hyperventilating over a small, inane comment like “really?” (What they really meant by ‘really’ was, “You’re disgusting, ugly, and stupid.” Obviously). These are things that I had worked for years on trying to subdue.  I took acting classes, rubbing the fear in its face.  “Ha,” I said.  “You can’t get the best of me.  Which do you want more: the A for the semester or the ability to save face by not looking stupid?”

Slowly, steadily, I made it through the other end.  It took a lot of work.  It took months and months of steady journaling.  It took a move to a new place where I could not necessarily reinvent, but actually remember, who I was–or who I saw myself to be.  It took meditation, therapy, medicine, homeopathic remedies….I’ve tried it all.  (For me, homeopathy and meditation feel the best and give me the firmest sense of accomplishment, but are not as quick or long-lasting as medicine).

And then I had a child.  Anxiety becomes a whole different beast when you become a parent.  First you call it the “mother instinct”–that incessant wanting to kiss their face, to place your hand on their bellies to make sure their breath rises and falls in a natural, lovely, musical rhythm.  But then come the scraped knees, the bug bites, the stumbles and fumbles that accompany being a parent.  I still call the doctor almost every time he has a stuffy nose.  I know it’s cold.  My rationality knows its a cold.

My anxiety says, you don’t know what you know.

And I think that’s the biggest thing when I think about my life before anxiety.  I don’t know what I know.  I wouldn’t change my struggle with this for anything.  My struggle with anxiety has forced me to be high-achieving.  It has made me get a Masters Degree.  It has made me want to be the best parent I can possibly be.  It has made me do a great many number of things to simply defeat it.  It has made me an adaptable, if not worried, creature.

“Just be in the present,” my father told me when I was young.  I remember him telling me this all the time.  When I was worried about getting into Yale when I was 10.  When I wanted to be an Olympic Gymnast.  When I wanted to be an actress.  “Just be in the present,” he said.

And still…for all those who struggled and are still struggling: please, try to be in the moment.  This moment is here and then it passes.  And along comes the next one, before it leaves again.  And though your anxiety may ask you: what did you just do?  What are you going to do?  Try to dull it.  Listen to your breath, listen to the sounds of your street, listen to the little voice in your head that tells you, “once upon time…this didn’t control you.”

On Raising A Modern Son

 *As a disclaimer, please note that the thoughts expressed below are not ideas I think everyone holds to be true, nor are ones I hold true myself, but am rather speaking in generalizations commonly promoted by current and prevalent pop culture…okay, enjoy.*

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  I’ll admit, having a toddler is a lot harder than anyone could have prepared me for.  There is the screaming directly in your ears, the tantrums over wanting jelly beans for breakfast, and the smearing of poop on the walls in protest of the potty.  And that’s just these past two weeks.

Now, yes, yes, I know that it is all rewarding: that Luca continues to show me his distinct sense of humor, that he is learning to count and recite the alphabet, that he claps for himself when he outwits Dora and spots Swiper in the background.  These things make up for the above nuisances.

All this being said, it has become increasingly apparent to me that I am not just raising a child, but I am raising a son–a boy who will eventually become a man.  A little background about me: I have one older brother, a nephew, and 4 younger sisters.  I coached gymnastics for almost 7 years (on and off).  I went to all-girls Catholic high school.  Girls, I know; I get.  I am completely adept at conversations about the many aspects of womanhood.  I am an invested feminist, though not an activist in the true sense of the word.  But I completely support the feminist movement.  I understand the need for it.  I comprehend women.  I am a woman.  I identify as a woman.  I wish a better world for the young girls out there and hope that we are in the midst of a movement that is creating that moment for them.

And yet, the other day, I was listening to music on the radio and was able to glean very few things about contemporary male culture.  There was the standard “my man’s cheating” tune, followed by something about getting drunk with your group of friends, and topped off with something that sounded like a ballad, but was really a nondescript ode to the general female public and the generic, idealized female form.

It made me question: what is a modern man?  There has to be more to it than that.

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be a modern woman, a modern mother.  I’ve written previous entries about this subject matter.  But it had never really crossed my mind to think what it might mean to be a male in the modern world.  But it should.

I am raising one.

I want my son to value and respect women, of course.  Not for their looks, or their jobs, or whatever they “bring to the table,” but simply as people.  But I also hope the same for my son.  That he will be valued for his person and not the mere commonplace things that are so commonly desired in men: attractive & wealthy (some would even say that only the latter matters).

I want to raise a son who is okay with expressing emotion in spite of the fact that in our ever-expanding idea of gender it is still considered “uncool” for men to be emotional.  I want him to take pride in his artistic spirit–that he never ceases to draw endless circles on blank sheets of paper should that be his passion–even though that at some point someone will tell him that those things are not “guy” things.  That it’s okay that he loves the colors pink and purple simply because they are the colors of flowers.

I want to raise a son who understands that gender is something fluid and cannot defined by any one set of characteristics.  That it’s okay to want to play with dolls instead of G.I. Joes, but that it’s also okay to play with both.  That reading a string of pretty and heartbreaking words can make you cry, and that’s okay.  That not being wealthy, not having a car, and not having expensive clothing does not make you a “scrub.”  But also that having these things does not make you a man.

I am fortunate that I have always been confident in my own gender identity, and, additionally, that I was raised by feminists who believed in the strength of women.

These concepts and ideas I have I am sure will change a thousand times over as my son grows and develops.  But for now, I can only hope that he understands that the concept of his own gender identity is not wrapped up in these pre-conceived notions, but in how he defines himself.

For now, he sleeps, assured in the fact that tomorrow will be a great day filled with puzzles, sunshine, love, and whatever else he chooses.

My Greatest Fear

Recently I went to a lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity and Fear.  In that sense, here’s what I have been working on (a poem):

My Greatest Fear Is

My greatest fear is that my son will grow old with nobody watching,
Not in the sense that we can’t, but that we dont
That his stories,
(now filled with the oohs and ahas of his own private language)
will lose their reverence.

That we’ll be too caught in the mortgage and cable bills to notice
He.
Has become a man,

My greatest fear is that his father and I will not show him
That proper love is more than thick arguments followed by heavy,
ill-thought “I’m sorry”s and “I love you”s

That I’ll never show him
the quiet joy of holding hands in the car
and hugs that last too long.

My greatest fear
is that he won’t remember anything but my nervous tics,
The way I scream into pillows when my life feels too filled,…

Too full.

That his father worked too much,
and hated it,
but not the way he spun him silly,
little legs flailing for ground.

My greatest fear is
I’m too full of irreconcilable mattering

That he’ll see the trick,
but not the illusion,
The sun,
instead of a star.

Why Write Children’s…

As a writer it may be a silly point to make, but reading is important.  But more importantly, I feel it is our duty as writers to not only read, but to read across the spectrum: poetry, nonfiction, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, fiction, etc., etc., etc.  Gobble up everything and anything, even if it’s just a passing fancy: try it anyway.  Most writers I know feel the same way.  However, one genre seems to often get overlooked in this process: Children’s Literature.

I know some people take issue with children’s books being called literature.  Or, in particular, with the young adult genre as a whole.

Well, I’m a reader. What I read depends on my current mood or desires.  But when I write?  I write children’s, or more specifically, young adult realistic fiction.  And I am often questioned about this decision.  “Do you write about vampires?” (this is interchangeable with: angels, werewolves, and on a more broad stroke: “do you write supernatural romance?”)  No.  “Are you writing about first love?”   No.  “How about a picture book?”  Also, no.  “Then, why write ‘children’s’?  Why not write contemporary fiction?”

The last question is a bit more complex.  I want you, reader, to close your eyes and think backwards.  You’re 22.  You are stressing about school or work or your relationship or the multitude of things that come from being an adult.  You decide to grab a glass of wine, or a beer, or even some ice cold milk and curl up on your porch with a book.  Do you remember what book that was?  How about you’re 16.  It’s some “classic” you’ve been assigned for class.  You don’t want to read it.  Not really.  But you do, and keep reading.  Turning the pages despite The Simpsons re-runs that you know you are on.  It’s okay, you end up deciding, this “classic.”  Do you know that book?  Or you’re young, what age you can’t quite remember.  Sitting under the covers with a flashlight.  Staying awake far past your bedtime, your parents letting it slide because at least you’re reading.  Reading and tossing and turning to find just the right position.  Reading until your eyes hurt and you fall asleep, book on your chest, dreaming of more reading.

You know that book?  I do.  It was Charlotte’s Web and then Bridge to Terabithia and then Sweet Valley High (do not judge me, reader.  We all have shame books on our shelves).  Even further back was the first book I read on my own: Danny the Dinosaur.  I remember feeling the pride that came with sounding out each word, achieving the gold star.  Afterwards, I remember charting my reads, devouring book after book, picking out the perfect bookmark at Borders, feeling inspired to be Matilda or Anne or Pippi.

I write children’s because it is the thing that rings closest to true when I think about my personal reading history.  The books of my youth are not just books.  They are an intrinsic part of who I’ve become.  Without these books, not only would I not be a reader, I would not be a writer.  I would not value the idea that words can change the way you see something, or believe that art can make a difference.  I would have fallen in love differently.  I would have befriended different people.  I would not have browsed children’s books for hours when I was pregnant, solemnly and religiously picking the books I would read to my future child.  I would not have experienced a great many things that have allowed me to see the world both for what it is and what it could be.  Because that’s what writing and art have always been at their best to me: a loose representation of how messy and beautiful and terrible and sublime life can be.  They help me make sense of a world that can feel chaotic and strange.

And now, re-reading Dr. Seuss and Madeleine with my child, I can feel the words again.  Those first inklings of inspiration forming as I turned the pages.

But I guess a lot of this are just my memories of reading and do not necessarily answer the question.  Why do YOU write children’s books instead of adult contemporary fiction?

Because at the end of the day, when I pick up a book, I am reaching for a moment.  The moment where I realized that a story could be more than a story and a word more than a word.  That when I made that choice, I opened a door.  And every word since has opened another one.  And I can only hope to write books that allow other children to make that choice.

Yinz versus Wicked

This August will mark my 4-year Pittsburgh anniversary.  I moved to this city with the expectation of getting my masters, and then moving back home (home being New England) to get my PhD.  As always, life has other plans.  Four years later, I indeed have my masters degree, which I use for nothing other than to say I have a masters degree.  But I also have a child and a house and a full-time job.  I have, for all intents and purposes, a full adult life here in Pittsburgh.

And yet, as summer dawdles into fall in Western PA, every year I start to miss New England something fierce.  The climate isn’t much different here than it is up North.  There are four seasons; we get snow and hail and rain and pretty springs and thick summers.

Pittsburgh has culture; culture comparable to New England.  Pittsburgh has a beautiful skyline; one comparable to, if not better than, New York City.  Pittsburgh is interesting and quirky and small and big all at the same time.

But it’s different.

There is something about New England that Pittsburgh does not live up to.  Pittsburgh has museums and lectures from famous authors and amusements parks in a fifteen minute driving distance.

But it’s not New England.  New England with its obsession with fast-talking, fast-walking, education-and-status-obsessed people.  We are the home of some very prideful traditions: the Patriots, the Yankees (blech), the Red Sox (yay!), the Bruins, UConn.  Sports aside, we have a lot of history–Mystic Seaport, Old Sturbridge Village, Poet’s Seat, the House of Seven Gables.

And the history is great.  But, a lot of what I miss is silly.  I miss the no sales tax.  I miss being able to say I’m from the “live free or die” state.  I miss Pumpkin Fest in Keene, NH (a site to behold, if you have never attended).  I miss being able to say, “I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” and actually be there in 10 minutes.  I miss traffic circles.

But some of it is even deeper.  New Englanders are tough.  They don’t stop to talk on the street.  Not even if they know you.  New Englanders walk fast.  New Englanders don’t care that you don’t get their references.  New Englanders feel the seasons, deeply.  And they are unafraid of how difficult the winter may be.

In my heart, I am still a New Englander.  I still ignore people on the sidewalk (sounds mean, but I just don’t have time for every single person asking me for a cigarette or a dollar or what I’m doing with my M.F.A.).  I still think it’s warm when it’s 30 degrees out.  And I still think that fall smells like school and education and No. 2 pencils.

I love Pittsburgh, I do, but the New Englander part of me has to say that those states willing to suffer through ice storms, pumpkin lobotomies, and Massholes are wicked awesome, wicked cool, and wicked badass.

Do you have a black eye? And other ridiculousness.

My friend Kristen recently pointed out to me the influx of mommy blogs and how many of them take an overly romanticized look at the world of parenting.  Focusing on the moments of quiet solitude, the beautiful, little smiles

I am guilty of this, too.  It’s hard at times to not take a step back.  To see all the things that make this life a difficult one. Perhaps it’s because parents who write of their parenting experience are more apt to look at it as a whole–forever glossing over the many, many imperfections in favor of the highlights.  The low lows erased by the crazy, fun highs.

It got me thinking about what a real day in the life of parenting looks like.  And if I’m being honest, it looks more like this:

Over the past few months, my son has managed to give me both a black eye and a fat lip.  This is because he has taken to headbutting and hitting to express his displeasure.  More specifically, he likes to headbutt me in the face. I really wish that I could do the same thing to express my displeasure.  But alas, I am not two and can only attempt to deal with the infraction the best I know how…this means spending the next hour trying to get Luca to sit in a 2-minute time out. Two-year-olds are fantastic at turning their punishment into your punishment. At the end of it all, I am drained and feel like the worst mother to ever mother.  But instead of dwelling on this, I decide to just thank the universe at large that my son is not a biter.

This process gets even better when other people see him hit/kick/scream/be a child and tell me just how wrong I am doing it all. Let me tell you how I do it, they say, or how I would do it if I had kids. Never in my life prior to becoming a mother did people think that they could just give me advice on such a personal topic as parenting choices so freely: unsolicited, typically unwanted advice. Sorry, but I didn’t realize it was your business how I sleep schedule my child, or how I chose to feed him as an infant. I’m not afraid to ask for tips when I feel I need them, but people often don’t even wait for me to ask the question.  Moreover, please do tell me how seeing my child throwing a tantrum in the supermarket is a subtle cue for you to engage me in an uncomfortable conversation where I am forced to nod and hope that my face doesn’t betray the litany of swear words running through my brain.

But back to Lucian.

Lucian just turned 2.  And, as everyone always likes to point out, 2 is a difficult age.  Budding independence replaces the once ever-present need for mommy and daddy.  I’m lucky if Lucian even lets me play cars or stack blocks with him at the end of the day.  Too often, I pick up a toy to try and contribute to the imaginative little world he is creating, only to have it snatched away with a vicious “MINE” or “NO” before promptly destroying whatever it was I was trying to do.  Instead, he’ll say “come on,” wrap his hand around one of my fingers, and pull me out of the room before slamming the door.

This barely even broaches bedtime, where I’m lucky if I get any consistency at all.  Go to bed at 7?  Wake up at 4 A.M.  Go to bed at 11?  Wake up at 4 A.M.  But I have no right to complain.  Because when I do I am offered a slew of suggestions that I didn’t ask for on how to sleep schedule/ferberize/comfort him back to sleep.  Same goes for potty training.

It’s hard to gauge how your parenting life will shape up until you are in the throes of it.  But I guess parents rarely focus on these logistics because in the grand scheme of things, they just don’t matter.  Moreover, it does me no good to focus on all the things that can go wrong in my life as parent.  If I focused on these things; I would never be happy, never able to enjoy just how ridiculous it is to raise a human.  Kids pee on the floor, poop up to their shoulders, throw their toys down the steps, scream at inopportune times, and throw tantrums where you are often a casualty of their developing emotions.

But it is worth it.  Even if I have to explain to everyone that the reason I have yogurt on my shirt, dark circles, smudged makeup, and a black eye is because my toddler need me to be his lab rat for discovery on what’s acceptable and what’s not.  And hey, at least the fat lip makes me look a little badass.

Just a little.  Just don’t tell anyone else that’s how I got it.

In Which I See A Photo of Myself

It was my son’s second birthday party over the weekend.  Balloons were popped, sprinklers were sprunk (I know that isn’t a word, but it should be), pictures were taken, presents were opened, and fun was had by all.

Until I saw the photos of myself.

(there are worse ones, but this is the one I chose).

(there are worse ones, but this is the one I chose, likely because it’s not the worst).

And I had a moment of: who is that girl?  Not even an inkling of recognition for the woman in the photo with fine lines and extra weight that’s been so hard to shed as I slowly edged toward 30.  I don’t recognize her at all.

But moreover, I don’t feel like her at all.

I still feel young and virile and thin.  Before life and full-time work and PhD applications and the need for health insurance.  Before I ended every day so exhausted, I barely have the energy to go for my daily walk with Luca.  At one point in time, I would’ve looked at myself and said, “She needs to make an effort.”

And I probably do need to make more of an effort.  I should attempt to be more active for my health, because I did just turn 30, because I want to set a good example for my son on healthy exercise habits, or because of the litany of things one can read in bullshit health magazines, where I can pretend that it doesn’t boil down to one thing: I want to be beautiful and thin, to look like the cover of a magazine: all effortless fitness and light sweating and eyes made brighter by an intense cardio workout.

And underneath all of this is the simple fact that I wish I didn’t want that.  I wish I could see a woman who has her master’s degree, who went through a 36-hour labor, who has written a book, who is a major contributor to her family’s income source, who plays cars with her child even while running on 3 hours of sleep.  But I don’t see any of that; I see that I should’ve worn a different outfit at my son’s second birthday party so it was preserved differently in memory.

How often I wish that pictures could preserve the way I felt instead of the way I looked.

I suppose that’s just memory.  I can choose to remember that at Lucian’s second birthday party, his vocabulary had expanded to include the words “cute” and “pretty.”

And he tells me all the time, “Mommy cute!” or “Mommy pretty!”  Nothing can turn your poor self-image around quite like a toddler telling you that you’re pretty.  In those little eyes, devoid of the assault of the sexual expectation of the feminine form, lacking the ability to realize that one is supposed to look anything but what they are, that tiny human simply sees his mommy, in a dress and makeup, trying her best to look beautiful.

In Which There Is No Time To Clean

There is cheese on my floor.

This is one of the first thoughts I have in the morning. There is cheese, stuck on my floor. And try as I might, I can’t seem to get it out.

But that’s just the beginning.

Of the things I’ve had to adjust to since becoming the mother of a toddler, the concept of cleanliness has to be one of the toughest. Now, I was never a super neat freak, but typically I had clean counters, clean floors, and clean laundry. There was a sense of organization; I may have been the only one who understood it, there was still a system. I was never embarassed to invite people over.

But that was before. Before I discovered just how gloriously adept toddlers are in the art of destruction–how gleeful it makes them to step on your computer screen or smush blueberries on your important documents. Before I realized that no matter how much cleaning you get done in a day, a toddler can undo it in milliseconds, possibly less (it’s like they know…). Before I realized that…none of it really matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I still clean. I still make the time to pick up Cookie Monster and ABC blocks. I still make the effort to vacuum the crumbs of toast off my couch, scrub the spaghetti sauce off of my white dining room chairs (ummm…why, Leni? Just. Why?).  But then there was something–it could have been Lucian penning scribbles on the bathroom tiles or the umpteenth milk spill in the car–and I began to wonder, what does the process of obsessively cleaning up actually teach Luca? What does it teach me?

For a while, I was angry. As one-half of a full-time working couple, I was drained, spending much of my free time and days off collecting toys and washing dishes and folding laundry. All of which mattered very little to Lucian. What actually mattered to him? How little of my free time was spent playing, enjoying, living, and simply being in the company of my son. What difference does it make if I separated his white onesies from his striped ones? If I alphabetize his books by author? What difference are those things if I miss an opportunity to let him choose an outfit or read him one of those books?

Sure, it can be frustrating to sometimes ignore the papers strewn across the dining room table, the toy under the couch. But, eventually, it will, get done. Maybe not home & garden perfect, but done in the time we have without sacrificing the time we need.  So, in the end, if it comes down to it, I have to choose mess. I have to choose real moments with my kid.

I choose a sink full of dishes leftover from a mealtime spent with my family. I choose never knowing where the dvd I want is and being forced to pick one at random. I choose hide and seek and the well-loved books with torn slipcovers. I choose mud on our shoes and leaves in our hair and stains on the floor.

I choose the cheese on my carpet.

In Which Luca Becomes A Human

At a year and a half, Lucian is a little human now.  Gone are the days when I can amuse him just making silly faces, or when he thinks everything I give him will taste amazing.  I can practically hear him saying Mom, I’m not six months old anymore, God.  He chooses the things that make him happy or sad or angry.  He has found various ways of expressing himself to showcase these emotions.  Not necessarily ones I love (cue the full-blown, cartoonish toddler tantrum with legs flailing on the ground and him smashing his hands against his forehead all because I wouldn’t let him play with my coffee or computer or eyeglasses), but a way of expressing himself nonetheless.

It’s satisfying and strange all at once.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew when I was gestating the little alien that he was eventually going to pop out and develop into a human–emotions, flaws, and all–but I was still unprepared for it despite my best efforts.

He was a part of me for 9 months.  That little nugget that came out seemed so much an extension of myself that it was hard to differentiate between me as Leni and me as Lucian’s mother.  His little hands and feet and face filled my brain day in and day out.  I couldn’t tire of him.  We would lay together for hours in blissful half-sleep, idling the day away looking at one another.

I know, it sounds like I’m talking about the Honeymoon stage of a relationship.  In reality, looking back, that’s a little what it felt like.  I would wake up at 3 A.M. not only excited, but energized to rock and sing him back to sleep.  I tracked his every movement, his every feeding, his every storytime.

New mothers, in essence, must stalk their newborns.

But then it comes, the first inklings of independence–slow at first, and then all at once.  It starts with rolling over, or crawling, or walking, or laughing…I’m sure it’s different for every mother.  Suddenly, this little extension of you is becoming a ME, an I, a human in their own right.  It’s painful, if only because you are both broken and proud all at once.  This baby is becoming a person.  They don’t need you the way they once did, and that means you’re succeeding, but sometimes it feels a lot like failure.

Now, Lucian is far from being grown.  (Get back to me when you can change your own diapers, kid!)  But he certainly has opinions on what he can and cannot do, on what is funny and what is not, on when he wants to play with you or wants to play alone.  He understands words–the inherent power in them–probably better than a lot of adults.  He understands the power of manipulation, either through a simple giggle or high-pitched wail of discontent.  He likes Caillou despite Mommy hating it.  He likes throwing his yogurt at people despite being told no in a stern voice (which we often have to feign because food fights are funny no matter what your age).  He laughs at dragons and roaring and making his stuffed animals talk.  He likes alone time before bed and waves goodbye to me when he’s done being read or sung to.

Most of all, he reminds me everyday what it means to be human.  Everyday, my favorite little boy, who I happened to have a hand in making, experiences the gamut of emotions–grumpiness, joy, anger, sadness, freedom (especially when he’s allowed to run around naked).  I can’t help but awe that such a small body can do so much, can develop so quickly–how does he contain himself with all that’s running through his little brain and heart.  But then, how do we all?  How did we all?

People often mistake the lives of children as being easy, because they are taken care of, oblivious to the greater world in which there are bills and war and defeat.  But there’s nothing easy about being a child–everything is raw and exciting and new, they can’t communicate, they have emotions that remain stuck inside their fists and come out in bouts of inexplicable rage or an onslaught of tears.  Imagine living like that for a minute: in the moment, completely and utterly betrothed to the moment, whether that moment be awesome or awful.  The amazing thing about childhood is that that kids are able to shrug all this off fairly quickly; they charge headlong into their emotions, let them run their course, and then (as if it were so easy) they let them go.  Imagine, just once, letting yourself do that to anger or nostalgia or grief?  It’s not easy; it’s brave.

But back to Lucian.  Brave little guy that he is who jumps on everything much to my terror.  Luca, who is now developing into a full-blown toddler, a human who chooses his path.

And every once in a while, he chooses to snuggle up next to me and lay in silence, tracing my face with his fingers.  The difference being that now, it’s a choice, and that, that is pretty cool.