Cracking Open the Window, and the Irrepressible Song of Sun

I blinked and a year passed. My son is 4, my daughter is 2. They are both irrepressibly full of life and energy and exhaust us in parts only equal to what they pour back into our souls.

It’s interesting how things change as you grow older. I am thirty now, and while I once understood the reality of the world to encompass sharing every aspect of my life with it, I am so much more private now. In the early days, social media was about throwing yourself – funny, poised, messy, authentic – into the void and seeing who responded back with their own messy, authentic selves. You would become friends and love and hate and laugh without ever seeing that other person in real life. That person could have been in Zimbabwe, in Canada, down the street.

Now the thought goes through my mind where it never did before: who is this person? Is this person in Canada, or Zimbabwe, or worse, down the street? Why do they care about who I am or what I am writing, and should I be worried that they do?

Age hardens us, I think. The shellacking of our vibrant selves is layered with the growing realization that everything could collapse at any moment. Why bring spectators into the messy, boring, unrelenting reality of our lives?

I am a cynic these days, when I never was before.

And yet, there is a small spark inside me that says that its worthy to keep going. That pushing against that fear is keeping a window open inside. That having that window cracked open, even just a little, is an important part of being a citizen of the world.

So here I am, opening a window that is creaky with age, edges cracked with old paint and the sticky residue of a thousand toddler meals, a hundred milk spills, and countless cheerios spilled under the seat.

We bought a house in April of this year that managed to sing to my husband a exultant song of Floridian success: stucco walls and large rooms and granite counter-tops stretching as far as the eye can see.

To me it sings a soft song of whimsy: ceilings too high, windows too big, sunlight too bright as it streams across the tile floor and makes the couch hot to sit on. I love it. In many ways, it reminds me of our house in France, where the too high ceilings, the too big windows had an equal effect on our energy bills, although for opposite seasons.

We live in a subdivision that is a poster child for Florida subdivisions. The lawns are carefully manicured and kept in line by wandering HOA members with too much time on their hands who don’t hesitate to send nasty letters to homeowners when their grass grows too tall, their palms too frondy, their flowers too wilted under the nuclear summer sun.

“It keeps up the value of the house,” says my husband after we received one this fall, when we were remiss in removing all the dead fronds from our palm trees out front.

“Who is watching us?” I wonder aloud.

He doesn’t respond because he is outside hacking razor-edged fronds off the palms with a scythe, the sky deep and cloudlessly blue above him.

In Florida, the summer is our winter. It keeps us inside and scurrying from car to door and door to car whenever we have the unfortunate task of going outside. From May through September the heat is so heavy, the light so bright, and the collective agony so acute that we successfully keep many of the northern tourists away.

But then October comes and from one day to the next it’s 75 degrees with no humidity and the days are so achingly beautiful that they must send secret signals to the northern denizens to start their journeys south. Our parking lots become populated with license plates from New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, Ontario. Suddenly everyone is wearing white capri pants and the true Florida style is back on the streets, although Floridians themselves never wear it.

I don’t blame these snowbirds. Florida has called to me for years. I know the sound of that song.

My son has found highlighters and is coloring with them next to me. My husband sleeps off the effects of Thanksgiving, my daughter stirs in her bed. My day begins. One step after another.

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Under Another Sun: The Human Light Encompasses

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We moved to Florida.

My parents live in Florida. My brother lives here. My aunts, uncles, cousins. My grandmother.

And at a certain point – and I’m just going to be honest and say “When you have two children under the age of three” – being able to close your eyes and fall back into a safety net is truly the most lovely thing in the world.

The saying, “It takes a village” is not a blithe blip in the lexicon of cute things your parents once said. It is a truth, hard and sharp. Whether your village is your friends, your neighbors, your family, or a mix of all of those things, it is a necessity to parenthood, even more so than diapers, bananas, and a flexible relationship with cleanliness.

When I became a parent the blinding reality of that phrase revealed that the village is not so much for the children – although I know they benefit from it immensely – it is for the parents. It is to help us maintain our sanity and ourselves.

I will not say it was an easy move for us. It was not an easy transition. It was not, in any way, like moving from Houston, where the memory of looking at the fading city in my rearview mirror still feels like a sweet summer wind on my soul. It was not that.

But it feels like a victory in many small ways. Seeing carseats in my parents car. Allowing ourselves to ponder going to the movies, on a date, out to the grocery store. Seeing my children blossom from the warmth of other human light – not just our own. Watching the bougainvillea outside my window, startling bright and furiously happy, an explosion of magenta and green.

These are the small things that pave the paths you walk on in life. It is 86 degrees today. It is the day before Christmas. I am going to wear shorts and a t-shirt. I am going to drive to see my family and eat a big meal and laugh and play cards and let my eyes go off my children, just for a bit, because my heart knows that my village is watching them too.

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The Sweet Cocoon, The Sweep Onward

Time is slippery. Time is slippery and flows through my fingers so fast that I’m not sure I took a breath, a blink, a sudden start of movement and it’s gone again.

My daughter is 8 and a half months old. She is a vociferous child who protests loudly, wildly at the those injustices of her young life (hunger, wet diapers, being sat down on the carpet when she wants to be in my arms) but who, in the same measure, shows profound thoughtfulness, introspection, and a thirst for the simple pleasure of observing the world careen around her.

(Mostly in the form of my son, now more than 2 and a half, of whom “careen wildly” could be his second name).

It’s summer now. Late July in Tennessee is slow days and muggy heat, not even the exuberant children in the neighborhood play outside. The low thunder in the afternoons scares off the cats, birds, and even the bugs. My hair curls up and frets and I feel myself wondering (shockingly) when we’ll feel that first nip in the air again.

From me – an avowed winterophobe – this is indeed noteworthy.

I’m not sure how two years have passed since we last were in France. It seems another life entirely that we made there. What color were our countertops? What was the name of the sauce I liked at my favorite kebab restaurant? How much was a ticket on the train to get to Paris?

These are things I have forgotten. I have passed from the glorified realm of ex-pat to simply someone who once stayed there once, for awhile.

Our days here are simple, sweet, and always the same. Our children grow immeasurably and we cocoon ourselves into the life we have created here, in this house, in this town. There is nothing to report and there is everything to report. Our son is slowly getting more and more words. Cake, dog, cat, up, down, encore, lumiere, lait, leche, milk, juice. He runs and jumps and throws a plastic ball over and over again, grabbing Monsieur’s hand and saying, “Papa bal” when it inevitably gets stuck somewhere.

Our big child, our loving child. Our child who cuddles and smiles and laughs and runs, and runs, and runs. Who throws tantrums and locks us out of the house (on accident) and who can’t wait to point things out to us when we walk in the door. “Car! Cat! Juice!”

Then there is our baby who is working on crawling, who ate bananas by herself tonight for the first time and grinned with sticky residue smeared from her toes to her eyeballs a testament to her enthusiasm. Who has more hair than anyone seems to have ever seen, “My goodness! That hair!” Who gets so excited when she gets picked up that she kicks and kicks and kicks and almost throws herself out of our arms.

Who saw a dog the other day and lit up like a christmas tree. Her smile could not have been bigger. Her laugh was constant, full of wonder. What, we could see her thinking, is this marvelous thing!?

Right now I am sitting, so tired, downstairs. How is it already ten? Petite sits next to me on the table. She is the queen of Sheba here. Upset we don’t allow her to run havok among the wild bunnies in our backyard, but extremely pleased with the private outdoor balcony she has laid claim to. She will sleep there day and night.

She is only ever angry when we forget to bring her in during a storm.

Leon is getting fat, but so are we all. I have lost the baby weight, but I have not lost the America weight that came before the baby. Onwards, onwards.

Sweet dreams, I say to my children, every night, before I pull the delicate chain to turn off the light. And so I say to you – sweet dreams and goodnight.

Resolve and Resolution

It’s New Years. I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions in the past. Why should everyone do them at the same time? What is it about January 1st that marks it as decidedly different than December 31st? Why do we all boldly announce plans for rebirth when we discard those plans by February?

I don’t buy into it.

2014 was notable in that my daughter was born and that I spent the majority of the year grumpy, unsettled, and unhappily gestating. It is no surprise to me now that I love my children, but I eminently dislike the 9 months it takes to bring them into the world. So 2014 was that. Me, rotund and grimacing, eager to simply get through it.

My daughter is 7 weeks old now. She’s sleeping through the night. She’s starting to smile, her face blossoming into a brilliant, unfettered moment of joy at the simplest things – my face, her brother waving a toy above her head, her father’s beard tickling her skin as he bends down to give her a kiss.

She says “aroo” which the French say is a person’s first word. Cooed out as a first exclamation of identity, of humanity. “Aroo,” she says. “Aroo.”

So here I am, feeling more human, less like an incubator and less harried, less likely to be lost forever in a void of motherhood. January 1st, the time of resolve, has coincidentally arrived at a time when I feel like I can finally make promises to myself.

I thought a lot about this. It’s important this year, for reasons I don’t completely understand. This tradition I have never indulged in has lodged itself in my mind and taken on a level of acuity I can’t explain. Maybe because my children are so formless, so little and open and changeable, that I feel that changes I make will have consequences on them, not just myself.

My moment for change is also their moment. Maybe that’s why I feel this way.

Regardless, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what my resolutions will be. Will I aim to lose weight and be healthier? Will I cut out (my) screen time from my children’s waking lives? Will I make concerted efforts to maintain strong ties with my family-in-law?

I will do all of these things. But these are not my resolution.

My resolution is to write. Every day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Even if all I can get down is how exhausted I am, how I am being sucked dry by my children and my life and how I will never be a writer because I have no time or energy or good stories left because I have been consumed down to the marrow and even my marrow is skeletal and ashen. If I have to write that 365 times this year then I will.

It is not my resolution to complete anything. To send it out. To be published and celebrated and wear glory in my hair like a crown. It is not my goal to even write fiction, to stick to a story and bear it out.

It is simply to write.

So this is my opening parlay with 2015. These words, any words. This promise to myself on this first day. Happy New Years.

On Stolen Time

Funny how the things that made us burn once change to a distant memory of warmth, barely remembered. I used to burn to write. It was a volcano in me, uncontainable. I would write in my journal, in a blog, in facebook posts, in napkins on airplanes, on moleskins half-filled and then tossed aside for another notebook.

Now I can barely remember that person. I don’t remember why I liked to blog, why I wanted to share with strangers I’ve never met and never will. Why I wrote stories, why I spent time expending energy instead of saving it.

But then I’m in an onslaught of energy expenditure. It does not end. It is all-encompassing and stretches on for my foreseeable future.

I have two children now.

20141125_141011Our daughter was born on November 12th and came home during the first, brief snowfall of the year. She was nine days past due, and weighed nine pounds. I wonder if that will mean something someday. Those nines. She is a good baby. She gurgles and watches my face when I hold it close to hers. She smiles sometimes, fleetingly. She sleeps soundly when she sleeps and loves to lay in our arms, enfolded in our warmth.

Our son, two-years-old now, explodes with energy. He moves constantly, he runs when he could walk, he climbs and bounces and jumps and squats. He rushes from one activity to the next, all of his own devising.

He has not taken well to his new sister.

I’m sitting here on stolen time. My daughter is hungry, is starting to make the little fusses and grimaces that tell me she won’t suffer my absence much longer.

Instead of storing my energy, saving it for the next feed, the next midnight wakeup, the next toddler meltdown, the next broken bowl, the next spilled milk, the next pat on the knee, the next word learned, the next, the next, the next –  I decided to sit here and write. Because maybe if I do that enough that old person will come back and I will remember what it feels like to be me.

On Eggs, and Overcooking Them

I know exactly how long I haven’t written here because I’ve measured the passing time in nausea and cravings and inches gained around my waist.

I’m sitting here pregnant and overdue like a cooked egg with our second child. At this point in my last pregnancy my water had broken and I was spending my second sleepless night in that little French hospital, wondering why my body wasn’t doing what nature dictated must be done. Why contractions weren’t starting. Why the French seemed so nonchalant about everything.

This time, I’m sitting here in our basement, 5 days overdue, feeling this baby roll and flutter inside, and am thinking the same thing: what is wrong with me that my body just doesn’t get how childbirth is supposed to work? Why am I so late?

“Second babies come earlier than the first,” they say. “It’ll go so much easier, because your body knows what it’s doing,” they say.

Passing 40 weeks, and your due date, is a giant shift of responsibility. Prior to your due date, you are literally giving of your physical being to aide in the creation of a human being. Past your due date, there is something wrong with you that is inhibiting nature’s process. You go from facilitator to obstructionist from one day to the next.

My mom is here and says that this mentality is a product of my generation, because we’ve grown up thinking it’s normal to be induced between 38-40 weeks. We think of going overdue as being a bad thing, to be treated medically. Once upon a time, she says, people would go overdue all the time with hardly a blink of the eye.

Chalk it up to my millennial ethos but I’m going crazy with the waiting. I worry about the baby, I worry about my placenta. I worry about the fact that my mom has already been here two weeks and has to leave at some point (soon) and I have not produced that which she is ostensibly here to help bring into this world.

Our son is almost 2. He has recently learned the word “encore” and has added it to his language base of “agua.” He is running, and climbing, and smiling adorably at everything even as he pulls cutlery off the table and chases the cat with a broom.

Monsieur is sitting next to me, on a different computer. He is as patient as the sun. “In France you haven’t even hit your due date,” he reminds me. “So I’m not worrying about anything yet.”

C’est vrai. C’est vrai.

GUH WHY WON’T THIS BABY COME!

 

Life in Three Languages

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When I first started this blog, I wanted a name that captured the duality of my life. I wanted something that showed how there were two very distinct threads of culture going on, both important, both hard to combine, both worth fighting for.

Life in Two Languages is what I finally came up with. We always had two languages constantly between us, a seamless flow of English and French that we dove in and out of with abandon.

We used French instinctively together while in the United States, it was our language of secrets, of private murmurings together. It was how we created a little world of just me and Monsieur.

In France we flipped, we spoke in English almost exclusively. French was for family, for grocery stores, for asking directions on empty lanes of cold country roads.

Now here we are, back in the States, graced with perhaps the most important linguistic challenge to our lives: making sure our son speaks both French and English fluently.

To add more complication to the mix, he’s also getting a daily dose of Spanish, because our nanny speaks Spanish to him.

I’m thrilled about this. I am half Puerto Rican. I went to high school in Puerto Rico. Half of my family is a vibrant, chaotic, wonderful, loud mix of people from that tiny island in the Caribbean. When we all get together, Spanish is what is spoken, accented in that heavy puertoriccan roll (“You definitely sound like you learned Spanish in the Caribbean,” two colleagues told me in Paris. One was Spanish, the other Argentinian. Apparently, Puerto Rican Spanish is noticeably different from all other kinds of Spanish). Although I hadn’t planned on speaking Spanish to him (my Spanish is, unfortunately, broken, heavily-accented, and prone to subconsciously adopting French words as important sentence markers by simply changing the accent I speak them in. Our nanny is often very confused by what I am trying to say. As, it should be noted, is my family when I try and speak with them).

So here is my 15 month old son, hearing a constant flow of three languages, probably confused out of his little mind. He is babbling mostly in monosyllables (“Da da da da,” being the most frequently overheard). He makes a lot of noises (“Woof woof,” “quack quack”). When he plays he often seems to be narrating something – all with sounds he knows or monosyllabic babbling.

His first word, real word, not simply syllable attribution, is “agua.”

He says this occasionally, when we really insist on it. It is not, as yet, something that he says on his own, without cajoling.

At his 12-month pediatrician visit, the doctor told me that it was very unusual that a child didn’t have between 3-5 words by 12 months. She recommended we get a hearing check.

(I am still incensed about this. It’s perfectly clear to us that he hears perfectly).

As I read the internet, looking for parents with similar situations, I can’t help but think that there is really no rhyme or reason to a particular child’s development compared to any other. Some parents with children in tri-lingual households report first words by 11 months. Some children don’t speak a single syllable until they’re two.

Well, we’ve got “agua.” And, when we say, “What does the dog say?” or “Qu’est ce que dit le chien?” or “¿Qué dice el perro?” he always responds with, “Woof woof!”

Although I can’t help but think that maybe we’ve just trained him, Pavlovian style, to repeat those words when he hears those specific questions, I am still proud of him.

So that’s where we’re at: 15 months, one word, lots of monosyllabic babbling, and one giant experiment in early childhood language acquisition.

The Blizzard

We been in the US for 10 months.

And for the first time, just now, I have regretted it.

This is because we just got the bill for our son’s 12-month “well-child” visit. The one where they plug him full of vaccines and strongly judgmental advice about making sure to drink the water with fluoride in it. Made sure to note my raised eyebrows. Made sure I knew to keep that hippie shit away from these halls, woman.

bill for a 12-month well-child visit out of pocketThe bill is for $855.

$855 for a doctor’s visit for a perfectly healthy child. $855 for the typical vaccines that any child gets at that age. $855 to weigh him and tell me he’s in the 90th percentile for height. That he’s a string bean. That he’s doing well.

That he’s healthy.

$855.

There is a blizzard raging outside right now. Rare for these parts, they’ve been saying. Rare for such ferocity to wreck its havoc on these peaceful hills.

I’m not sure which is raging more right now, me or the wind.

We should have stayed in France. We should have lead our little hipster lives in our little hipster apartment and walked the grand boulevards and stayed skinny. We should right now be dealing with a grumpy nounou and a horrendous commute and long, lazy dinners at fantastic restaurants with funny anglicized names.

All of the things I ever warned my husband about, they’re all true. The schools are bad. The politicians pander to people who only exist on corporate credit cards. The people kill one another in accident, in misery, in anger in a movie theater, popcorn falling on the floor like the silent recriminations of a failed nation.

The health care, I would say to monsieur. The health care is enough to make you sick! And we would laugh, because we were so far away, nestled in a country that taxes the bejesus out of you but where you don’t have to worry about whether you should make the mortgage payment or pay for your son’s immunizations. Where you don’t have to double-check the parking lot for the drunk fool with a pistol. Don’t have double-check your voice so you don’t piss someone off with a crazed eye and a loaded .22.

Our insurance won’t pay for it. Well-child visits aren’t covered. Our wonderful French insurance, which covers everything under the sun, naively figured that we could handle that small burden. Why! In France this visit is free! But if you had to pay out of pocket. If you were, say, a foreigner. Well you would pay 22 euros for it.

A small thing, they probably thought. A copay in the grand scheme of insurance and health costs.

$855 for a well-child visit.

He’s supposed to get the rest of his boosters at 15 months. How can we do it? We are up to our eyeballs in debt. We’ve stopped eating out, stopped eating meat, we’re buying the generic everything.

Look at us. Living the American dream.

 

The Forgetful Past

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I was driving back from work yesterday, through brown-tree’d lanes, past yellow lawns, through a Tennessee far removed from its famous seasonal glory, and I was trying to remember something about the baby from when he was younger.

And two things struck me.

One: I think of him as having “younger” days. He’s 14 months, so I’m counting this as official proof that I’ve come out the other side, alive and kicking, from newborn-parenthood.

Two: I couldn’t remember the thing I was trying to recall.

For the past year it’s all been so present. This state of parenthood is all-encompassing, all-consuming. There is no end or beginning or night or day. I never stopped to think that it would end – I was too busy living it.

And now that it has ended – we have a routine. We sleep through the night. We’re eating solid foods – I realize that I hardly ever wrote any of it down to remember.

And now I can’t.

So here is a quick glimpse of the day today. Lucius is 14 months old. I got home at 5:15pm, paid the nanny, and immediately bundled Lucius up to jump in the car so that we could run to UPS before it closed. The delivery man had come early to work, so there were still packages left to send after he left.

So we drove over to the other side of town to drop off the boxes. I get us out of the car, trying to go fast because it was 25 degrees outside. We make it – me with baby on the hip, purse and small box on one side, and big box in the other arm. Somehow I manged to get us all out of the car and into the store without dropping anything.

Because it was 4 degrees this morning.

Because it was 4 degrees this morning.

And then it was back home to play by the fireplace (which we’ve turning on because it’s bloody cold outside – 4 degrees this morning – and our heating bill for last month (when it was not this cold) was double what it normally is. The fireplace is fed by this gigantic tank in the yard that was full when we got in, so we’re not playing for that gas. At least not until we have to refill the tank).

It’s Friday. It was a rough week. I was exhausted and pent-up and needing to unwind so I did that thing I hate that I do – I sat down on the floor next to Lucius, took out my phone, and read Facebook. He would occasionally come over to grab the phone away or throw a block at me, but for the most part played by himself while I kept an eye on him out of the corner of my eye to make sure he didn’t put his hand on the hot glass of the fireplace.

I finished reading Facebook, made the effort to put my phone away, and played with Lucius for about 45 minutes. He’s learning to stand on his own and he’ll push himself up into a standing position, wave his hands wildly in the air with excitement, and then make himself fall down on his butt. He thinks this is hilarious and he did it repeated until he exhausted himself.

Monsieur came home about that point with Chinese food and we ate that while Lucius ate raisins, cheerios, clementine orange slices, and a puree of squash and broccoli that I made. (Someone in the family was at least being healthy tonight).

Then I gave Lucius a bath – still his favorite activity. I washed his hair, something we don’t do all too often because he’s starting to really hate having water on his head. To keep him calm when I wash his hair I tell him all the things I find in it – “Is this carrot? Do you have yogurt in your hair? Is this broccoli?!” He laughs each time I name a new food. Sometimes he tries to repeat the words I’m saying. I’m pretty sure he was trying to say squash tonight.

After the bath I passed him off to Monsieur for a book and bedtime and I came down here to the frigid basement. (We’re trying to save on money. Also there’s too much demand on the grid and we’ve been having rolling brownouts. They’re asking people to cut usage where they can).

I’m wrapped up in a comforter. Monsieur is working on his construction project for the home theater he’s building himself in the unfinished part of the basement. I’m on the computer listening to Spotify, trying to keep the least amount of me exposed to the air.

So that’s that. Routine. For when I forget this too.

 

 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Controlling the Hunger, Standing Up to the Beast

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Infograph from 1-in-10 describing the symptoms of PCOS (some women show a lot of signs, some show hardly any. I’m sort of in the middle).

(In which I talk about periods, uncontrollable hunger, and living with PCOS. Don’t know what PCOS is? Here is a wonderful link describing PCOS symptoms and the syndrome itself).

When I was eleven my period started.

Nowadays it seems like everyone gets their period early, but in 1997 early age flags were raised, brows furrowed, hums and haws exhaled over the early start I was getting into teenagehood. About six months later, though, it stopped and I didn’t get my period again for about a year and a half.

At that point we went on a group vacation to Disney World with various other members of my large extended family.

They are a raucous bunch. And a medically minded one. On that trip alone there was a high-risk neonatalogist, a pediatrician, a pharmacist, and a labor and delivery nurse. The pediatrician was the one to point out to my mom (the labor and delivery nurse) that perhaps something was going on with my hormones, beyond the normal advent of puberty. I had darker patches on my skin (specifically the back of my neck and under my arms) and more-than-normal hair growth on my face and arms. Not to mention the here-and-then-gone periods.  Continue reading