Trampoline

Little you, you’ve run out of the house, your feet quick, quicker than mine, you feel free after being inside all morning, your brother chases you, he is upset, you arrived first; the sun has eaten the trampoline’s colours, the bright green has turned sad, sour, broken, but you still see it bright, you take of your pink bright shoes, he takes of his bright blue tennis shoes and both of you keep your socks, unwillingly, to make me happy, to stop my nagging: yes, the little battles you let me win are important.

Little you jumping, up, down, you land on your knees, you stand up, you ask me to count to 10; your brother pretends to fall on his knees and hurt his wrists, asks me to start counting again, I do, and you do the same, I tell you uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco and both of you snap and say ‘no, mummy in English today,’ I start again one, two, three.

Little you, my love, you smile and scream and that squeal and your brother, he laughs and pretends to steal your turn, until he does and you say it’s okay and he does it again and again, until you have had enough and you tell him ‘go away’, and he cries, and I get the colourful balls and put them in there with you and you all jump and you all move and the colours follow you, little ones, like a rainbow, like magic, like all the things you are learning, like the memories, hopefully colourful ones, and how I wish to to give you colours, shiny, metallic, sparkling, colours for you, my gift to you, I hope, I wish, I try, but I know sometimes I fail – no one taught me to be a mother.

Little you, I’m scared, what if tomorrow you can’t jump there, what if tomorrow, we are locked inside, all day, what if you realised then that the trampoline is old and rusty, what if the neighbours complain and you stop squealing, the squeal … oh I if you only knew how it keeps me bright and alive.

Little you, you sleep now, in your bedroom, a lamp shaped like a pink bunny keeps you safe, and your brother sleeps, no lights on, he has outgrown his Cookie Monster night lamp, and it was sad when he said, ‘you can keep it in your bedroom,’ and I have it there, just in case, because I like it and it makes me smile and it reminds me that you grow every day, perhaps one day he’ll need it again but not now.

Little you, you sat on the bed waiting for me to say good night and your brother was on sitting on the floor, and both of you smelt of kids toothpaste and soap and arrowroot biscuits and you screamed and pretended to be cheeky and your brother looked at us and told us he liked the calm, and I asked why and he said you are not telling me ‘do this, do that, do this, do that,’ and I felt like a failure and I wanted to cry and I looked at your father and he looked at me.

Little you, you were jumping when you saw the garbage truck stop outside our home and the man you have seen before said hello and you yelled hello and everything was normal for a while and you had a great day because he tooted the horn, just for you, and both of you squealed and how I want to put that sound in a bottle, the scent of happiness and grass and long hours at home while the world spins and tangles and untangles and I’m a silent witness at home with you reading and cooking and wishing and thinking and playing and working and pretending and laughing and failing at craft but I promise I try so very hard.

Little you, yes I promise I’ll take you to the zoo and the beach when the naughty virus stops travelling and your brother will come too and he will have that ice-cream with chocolate cover he so desperately wants to try again and I’ll hold your hands and you’ll forget about the old trampoline and maybe you will realise it is old and you won’t ask for the colourful balls and you won’t squeal as often and one day I’ll reminisce these days and think about the trampoline and your bright tiny shoes and the joy of jumping with the wind and the rain and the sound of a horn and the birds and the flowers and dry leaves.

Ten years later

It is almost midnight and the first 24 hours of 2020 are gone. As a present, as perhaps the first memory of the year, they have given me a day with my son, who told me I am beautiful and the best mum ever (he is four years old, and I won’t question the ulterior motives of this unexpected comment).

Ten years ago, my husband and I were on our my way to Sydney, Australia. I slept most of the flight. I’m not sure if he slept at all. We were nervous, not knowing what to expect, but happy to start a new year in a new country – 2010 was supposed to be marvellous.

We made new friends. Rekindled relations with friends who moved to Sydney almost a decade before us. We grew closer as a couple and in a way we also grew apart. We worked hard, enjoyed the fireworks and started fearing going back to a country whose political situation grew worse by the minute.

On a balmy summer day, we decided to stay here for a few more years. The decision wasn’t as straightforward as it seems. Finding a job in publishing was a concern.

Four years later, on another summer day, I found out we would become parents. Three months later, my husband and I were holding hands while we waited for the results that confirmed my pregnancy wasn’t viable.

I sat on our couch for many days, licking my wounds. My breast filled with sweet milk for my angel baby.

Once the milk stopped coming and my period returned, I tried to write all I could recall from my conversatiobs with GPs, obstetricians, midwives, geneticists, family members, and even coffee and tarot readers only to discover that my childhood fear was real: my mother isn’t my biological mother

I spat in an Ancestry.com tube and waited six weeks to get the results that confirmed my father isn’t my biological father.

My world and my family’s world crumbled. I wasn’t the mistress’s daughter.

***

My son was born via an emergency C-section in 2015, a few days before the severe storms that flooded New South Wales. The rain became his lullaby and my comfort. My daughter was born 17 months later in Melbourne. The rain also became her favourite lullaby.

I spent the next three years with them, watching them grow, learning with them and from them; marvelling at the way they sinterpret the world and sometimes crying with them because all of us were exhausted and overwhelmed at the same time.

Life.

Raw.

My husband and I migrants.

Now I go to work in the morning and wonder what my children do at childcare. Some days I just want to stay with them at home. I fear missing their smiles, their jokes, even their tantrums. They prefer their father’s cooking (and I don’t blame them). When I’m at work and he is home, they grow succulent terrariums and bake blueberry muffins. When he’s at work and I’m home we paint, do puzzles, read books or explore the city. 

They want to visit Mexico. I don’t know how to explain to them that safety is a concern. I wish I could take them to visit their grandfather’s tomb, show them where I grew up and their father’s childhood home.

Perhaps one day.

***

Life changed so dramatically for me in the last 10 years that even my immune system got an identity crisis: psoriasis. I’m learning to be kind with myself, to accept that sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed because the chronic illness has developed a particular taste for my joints.

Some days I wonder what is left of the woman who arrived in Sydney ten years ago, the one who has a terrible relationship with her mother, who dreamt of becoming a children’s book publisher; the one terrified of pregnancy because she spent her childhood playing in the reception area of her father’s obstetrics and gynaecology practice watching women cry because they couldn’t become mothers; the one who edited magazines, wrote film reviews and translated journals.

It would be unfair to say she’s gone.

Or perhaps not.

Once upon a time, a woman lived a lie. She crossed the ocean searching for answers. She moved cities searching for answers. She fell down a rabbit hole looking for answers. She stopped writing. She then found a link to her birth parents and looked at herself in the mirror. She took a picture of that image and hid the photo in a book. She then changed her clothes, curled her hair, bought a new lipstick. One day she went to church to light one candle for her father and one for her unborn daughter. She cried all the way back home. She had never before called that house home. Her children were at childcare; her husband at work. She looked at herself in the mirror again and kissed her own cheek. She decided to be friends with this new woman who looks somewhat frighted and has a soft voice. She promised to help her get her voice back. And then she found a shiny pencil and a notebook and started writing again. 

Fluids

A clump of cells with no heartbeat yet. Blood on my underpants. Tears. The fluids of potential motherhood. Doctors examining my uterus with a camera. You were still there; the size of a kidney bean.

A leap of faith.

Now, you, the size of a lemon. A heartbeat that contains the primal rhythm of the universe. Nails. Nasal bone. Ten little fingers.

A boy.

Twenty weeks later I felt you move, but you didn’t do it often enough. The Internet said a glass of cold water would make you kick; my friends said hot chocolate. Old wives tales from back home mentioned chili.  My online mothers’ group suggested orange juice—I tried them all but you never kicked.

I had daily nightmares. In those sweaty nights I would close my eyes and when sleep finally came I would see you trying to leave my uterus. You would move slowly, like a snail, working with the blood flow to get to the main arteries and crawl out of my body through my left ear, like Gargantua.

Another leap of faith.

You barely reached the size of a cantaloupe. A man held my shoulders. A nurse told me not to move. Then it hit. The anaesthetic entering my spine, travelling through my legs, numbing my lower body. Was your heart still beating? They placed me on a bed and wheeled me to surgery. Hands and familiar voices told me I would feel pressure on my abdomen. They blocked my view with a blue curtain. The obstetrician was talking about his son. I tried to find the reflection of my insides on the walls, on the surgical lamp… somewhere, but they had made sure no mother could see her own blood and fat and waters.

And then you cried.

Someone wrapped and placed you in my hands. There you were, covered in blood, vernix and hair. A boy with black hair. I caressed your red cheeks while the doctors stitched my uterus.

They wheeled us out of the surgical theatre. You in my arms. I didn’t want to drop you. I held you a bit tighter and you cried. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. They snatched you and took you away. They unwrapped you, held you by the legs, and weighted you. Please give him back.

A midwife placed you on my belly, still stained with our blood. Where they supposed to do that? What was the plan? You couldn’t move, but you did—a primitive crawl. You moved like a wounded soldier—swollen, purplish, hungry. You latched to my engorged breasts and you drank my milk—the fluid of life

Mother’s Day ramblings

A few days ago my family celebrated Mother’s Day. We went for tea and cakes, and my son stole his father’s chocolate cake. He ate it with such gusto that we just smiled and enjoyed watching how his little face lit up with every bite.

In the evening we went to the park to play with him and my daughter. She’s too young to have cake, but she likes the swings and laughs every time she sees a leaf fall from a tree.

It’s autumn here, in Australia.

I was born in autumn in a city in America, and this Mother’s Day was the first time that I’ve thought about my birth.

‘She saw me and was repulsed. She wanted a boy’. That’s how one of the many short stories that I’ve written about my adoptive mother starts. Those stories won’t be published. They are too juvenile — and they were written before I learnt that she was my adoptive mother.

When I was 6 years old, my adoptive mother got pregnant. It was summer and I was at home. We watched television all day and I ate cakes and played with my nanny. My adoptive mother, LM, couldn’t get out of bed because she had preeclampsia.

Alice in Wonderland was my favourite book then and I remember well the day I asked my dad if we could name my sister Alice. He said yes.

When LM’s blood pressure got out of control, she gave birth to a little girl who was about 24 weeks. I never saw Alice. We never talked about Alice, yet her short life changed mine.

I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I was too afraid to even try to get pregnant. My head kept on playing the same scenes that haunted my fertility journey for years–LM pregnant, LM crying, LM not pregnant and my grandparents picking up a small cardboard box that is buried in their garden. I didn’t want to be pregnant and then lose my baby because of my blood pressure.

And it was until I lost a little girl that I learnt LM isn’t my mother.

My adoptive mother wasn’t repulsed when a doctor placed a two-day-old girl in her arms. She was surprised and disappointed. She wanted a boy. I was a girl. She wanted to have her own children. I was someone else’s daughter.

My mother is an American woman who is happily married and has a couple of kids. I like to think she lives in New York and takes long strolls in Central Park thinking about my whereabouts and how to contact me.

My mother is a woman in her early 50s who doesn’t know I’m still alive. My grandmother gave me up for adoption because she didn’t want her teenage daughter’s life to go to waste.

My mother doesn’t think about me because she never wanted me.

My mother. My mother.

Only my father knew who she was. She could be the American woman, she could be the teenager who never knew, or she can be someone who simply didn’t want a child.

Today I wonder if I’ll ever hear her voice.

That image of my son eating cake is now etched in my mind. When I think about Mother’s Day I’ll think about him–he was so proud of himself because he knew he was doing something wrong and was getting away with it. I’ll think about him standing up, face and hands covered in chocolate, holding my hand and taking me out of the restaurant to show me the fruit stall at the market.

My mother missed this day with her grandson. She’s missed 14,235 days of my life and I’ve needed her every single one of those days.

Maybe next Mother’s Day I’ll have her next to me. Maybe next autumn I’ll know her name.

Notes on motherhood #3: Sometimes you’ll be speechless (don’t say that to my son)

First-time mothers sometimes do silly things without knowing so. In my case, I’m guilty of having bought a navy blue robe for my one-year-old son. His father and I thought he looked adorable, so we snapped as many pictures as we could of him walking around in his pyjamas and robe. We then proceeded to send some of them to our family and friends.

Instead of receiving comments such as ‘So cute!’ ‘Adorable’ or ‘Look at that gorgeous face’, we got ‘He looks like royalty’ – apparently I bought the robe because I wanted my son to look like Prince George – and ‘Future Hugh Hefner’. The latter was the most common, and it infuriated me.

This, however, isn’t the first time that such comments have been made. In every occasion, I have been left speechless. These, however, are the answers I wish I had said in each case.

‘Future Hugh Hefner’
How would you feel if you dressed your daughter as a bunny for an Easter party and I said ‘She looks like a future Playboy model?’ Would you like that? I guess not.

The same applies when you suggest that my son may become someone who makes a fortune by objectifying women and spends his days in a mansion, dressed in a robe, seeing almost-naked women parade around.

We need to make sure boys don’t objectify women and they have to be taught from day one, so please don’t tell my son that being a playboy is okay. If you are fighting for gender equality, start here.

‘Boys can have harems’
My son was the only boy at Mothers’ Group. He is the only boy enrolled in swimming lessons and he’s usually the only boy in music class. Why does this keep happening? I don’t know and don’t care because I think it’s great.

Boys need to learn how to socialise with girls. They need to play together and understand that not every boy-girl relationship equals romance. But not everyone gets it. I’ve gotten the very annoying comment: ‘Oh, your boy is so lucky, he has his little harem’. Really? Really!

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Credit: Kozo Tada/Flicker

For years most of my dearest friends were (and still are) male. The five of us, four men and I, would go out for coffee, to the movies, and no one ever mentioned how lucky I was to have a harem because it wasn’t one.

Boys and girls can be just friends. They can share games, toys, life experiences, whatever they want. Boys can and should have friends who happen to be women and the other way around. If we don’t show them how to treat each other like equals and let them share responsibilities and work together, how are they supposed to do it when they are adults?

Please stop feeding the idea that every boy-girl relationship equals romance.

‘Girls hit boys’
When my son turned six months old, I took him to a playgroup. I thought both of us needed to socialise a bit more. His favourite activity was sitting in a bouncy mat. More than one baby could play there, so another mum and her daughter approached. The mum sat her daughter next to my boy. They were more or less the same age. Both of us were making sure the little ones didn’t fall, so there was no amicable exchange. But, out of the blue, her daughter hit my son.

These things happen at playgroup. Children are children and most of the time it’s not on purpose. An apology and seeing the mother of the guilty child reprimand her offspring in some way is enough for me, but that time around this is what I got: ‘I’m sorry D but you have to get used to it. Girls hit boys’. I was speechless; imagine if it had been the other way around and I had said: ‘I’m sorry little girl. Get used to it boys hit girls’. The message sent is just appalling.

In Australia one in three victims of family violence is male; and one man dies every 10 days because of domestic violence, according to the One in Three Campaign.

It’s our obligation as parents to stop domestic violence and the only ways to do it are leading by example and making sure our children understand that violence is just plain wrong.

‘You’ll have to be super careful, he’ll be a heartbreaker’
Every time someone says this, I imagine my son as the next The Bachelor. But, why do I need to be careful?

Yes, my son is cute. Chances are he will be a handsome young man. One day he’ll fall in love and someone will break his heart. Perhaps he will also break someone’s heart, but that is part of growing up and being madly in love for the first time.

A man who respects himself and others won’t give false hope to women (or other men). Such a man knows how to differentiate love from friendship and make it clear to others. The goal here is to make sure he doesn’t objectify women.

I’m doing my best to make sure my son understands that everyone deserves respect and the truth. His father and I are teaching him to respect women. But women should also respect him — a handsome man shouldn’t be objectified either.

What do I have to be careful about? I teach my son to be respectful; you teach your offspring the same and we’ll all be happy.

Have you gotten similar comments?

 

Notes on motherhood #2: Sorry

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for not understanding how important it was for you for me to meet your daughter almost 10 years ago. I’m sorry I asked you to come over to my place because I was too busy at work. I’m so sorry to have called you 1001 times to tell you about work, my partner, my problems with my mother, and not taking the time to listen all about your then newborn daughter. I’m sorry, my dear friend, for not acknowledging how important it was to be there for you when you first became a mum; today I know that motherhood is demanding and isolating.

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Photo credit: Jason Pratt/Flickr

I don’t know my friend’s daughter, but I’ve seen pictures of her on Facebook. She looks like her mum and has two siblings – I don’t know them either. On those pictures, my friend looks gorgeous; she seems determined and seems to have a motherly wisdom that I do not have yet. I wish I could give her a call and ask for advice because sometimes I feel lost and don’t trust my gut.

As I had never before witnessed what life with a baby was like, I thought it was easy – how hard can it be to feed, dress, and play with a tiny person? Misguided by myriad ads, I thought having a baby was like having a party and that the first year was filled with play, cuddles, love, and then more cuddles.

And indeed there are cuddles and love and play, but there are so many naps and sleepless nights in between; so many feeding sessions that end with a sore breast or a bruised nipple; so many questions without answers. So many mistakes … so many.

It’s with motherhood that the word ‘selfish’ acquires a different meaning. You stop having time for your friends and squeeze a few minutes out of every day to be you, to rejoice in who you are, and discover that underneath the mummy uniform there’s still a woman who has a lot to give to her offspring and the world. Selfish means being you, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

I understand now my friend why you stopped talking to me. Today I understand why you didn’t go to my wedding but nonetheless sent a present I carried with me to a different continent. I understand why you didn’t comment on Facebook when I first posted a picture of my son.

Today I know motherhood is a lonely business. Friends without children rarely understand what really goes on behind closed doors, and the ones that seem to understand don’t really know what’s happening to you – they are the ones who hurt us the most.

I’m sorry my dear friend for not being there for you. I’m really sorry.

Notes on motherhood #1

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It was summer during the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I spent those days resting, my hands too swollen to type; my feet too swollen to walk. My favourite spot was the living area. I used to open the balcony door and let the cool air – and the mosquitoes – in. There I contemplated the robust tree that provided some much needed shade to my place.

At the time, the leaves were perfect green. I pictured the sap running through the tree, nourishing its trunk, branches and leaves, much as my blood travelled through my body to found its way to the placenta to nourish my boy.

When my little person arrived the seasons started changing. Autumn came and went, leaving those beautiful orange and red leaves that always warm my heart. My hands and feet weren’t swollen anymore, but my breasts were full and dripping milk.

Suddenly my skin was a bit looser, my hair started to turn grey, my nails became brittle, and my eyebrows started to thin. My lips seem to be less full, perhaps less defined, my chin now sports a black hair I had never seen before, and I have a scar above my pubis –  a reminder of how my boy decided to enter the world. My body feels like autumn too.

Now that the tree has run out of leaves and is getting ready for spring, I wonder if my body will do the same. Will I be a bit more mobile once the sun comes out again? Will I drip less milk? Will my hair ever come back? Will I be able to be fertile soil and fall pregnant again?

Only summer will tell, but in the meantime, I rejoice in my newly found sense of womanhood and hold my child a bit closer to me every night, as every day he grows a bit more.

Bring it on

Canwest News Service/Wikipedia
Canwest News Service/Wikipedia

During the past seven months, I’ve read heaps about pregnancy. What to expect when you are expecting has become my bedside companion. I’ve read every page and still go back to the bits that explain what happens every week. I also spent many hours reading Essential Baby blogs and forums, Fit Pregnancy articles, Marie Mongan’s Hypnobirthing books, and other resources. All this is preparation for my big date with whom is already the centre of my world.

But I think that all those hours reading about pregnancy and birthing haven’t done anything to prepare me for the imminent arrival of the tiny person who won’t be able to tell me what he needs or wants. So off I went to the bookshops. This is what I’ve learnt:

For the past 32 weeks, my baby has been quite comfy in my uterus. He’s all cosy in there, protected from extremely loud noises and other nasty things. There are no pungent smells or people pinching what I picture as the most adorable cheeks in the world. But in six or seven weeks, things will change. Soon his movements won’t be confined by the size of my body, and the rhythmic pumping or my heart – which occasionally misses a bit – won’t be his sole companion. He’ll be scared.

My voice won’t be muffled, and he will finally hear his dad’s voice clearly. Chirping birds or the TV might scare him, and the bright lights may hurt his developing eyes. He will see and hear the world, but all will be new and a potential source of stress. My arms will be his comfort and I can’t wait to carry him around and kiss his perfect head. He will need to hear my heartbeat to feel safe, and I’ll make sure I hold him close to my chest.

He won’t have a constant supply of food and will be VERY hungry. I have to make sure I feed him constantly and when he wants to. If right now I need to eat every three or four hours to make sure we don’t get dizzy, chances are it’ll be the same once he’s outside.

Although babies are resilient, I’ll have to be extra careful. Any false movement and my little one will feel that he’s about to fall or that he’s in danger. I’ll have to be gentle.

He needs to sleep, but he needs to be comfy and monitored. I’ve found amazing resources here.

I can’t remember what life was like for me when I was a baby. Mrs M says that I was a horrible baby because I cried all day long. She also says that the only thing that would keep me calm were my father’s arms – there are pictures in which he’s holding me so tight to his chest that I’m sure it was his heartbeat what I wanted to hear to feel safe. She also says I wouldn’t eat at set hours, which I think is normal as babies don’t have an agenda; they just cry when they need food and that can be at midday or at 3pm.

I have stopped dreading the sleepless night, the sore nipples, and the pain that my body will feel once the little guy is out and everything needs to shrink back to its normal size. I know I’ll do everything in my power to make my little person feel loved and safe. He’s so loved, and we have been waiting him for so long, that I would be silly to think that the lack of sleep will make me or my husband love the baby less. If a few weeks of almost madness are the price to pay for having a family, bring it on. We’re ready

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