Monday, December 31, 2007

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Things they tell you about pregnancy BEFORE you get pregnant:
  • "It's magical."
  • "It's the best experience you'll ever have."
  • "It will change your life forever."
  • "Everyone loves a pregnant woman."
  • "Yeah, you'll get bigger, but you won't mind when you realize what's happening within you."

Things they admit about pregnancy AFTER you get pregnant:

  • "Yeah, there are parts of it that actually suck."
  • "Truthfully, your body's never the same again."
  • "Someone was hurt or jealous when you told them you were pregnant? There's usually one person like that, for every pregnant woman."
  • "Oh, your feet have gone up a shoe size? Yeah. That's permanent. Hope you didn't like your shoe collection, 'cause you'll need all new ones."

Things they never tell you at all:

  • That the moment you become pregnant, you develop an immediate and nearly fathomless capacity for fear. Basically, take the "floor" of your fear capacity and drop it into darkness. The idea of what can happen to your child, your spouse, your little family -- it can paralyze you if you let it. So you can't. You just have to think it, experience the terror or paranoia for a minute, and then put it away. It's the only way to stay sane.

  • That sleeplessness starts long before the baby arrives. I haven't had a good night's sleep since about week 9. It was the peeing-every-hour thing at first. Then it was the can't-seem-to-stay-asleep thing. Now it's both. Oh, AND the there's-absolutely-no-comfortable-way-to-lie thing, not to mention the severely-messed-up-natural-sleep-cycle thing. Fun.

  • That waddling is not a result of weight gain. It's the result of intense pain. Look up "pubic symphysis dysfunction." Then have the nerve to joke about it to a pregnant woman.

  • That, towards the end, it actually hurts when the baby moves around. It's still fun and reassuring, but the kid gets strong, and large. And somehow very pointy.

  • That, even if you haven't been moody before, the end of pregnancy brings all sorts of delightful hormonal shifts. Last night I cried because the kitchen trash bag had fallen into the container and collapsed on itself. I really cried. Hard.

  • That morning sickness comes back at the end. (Welcome back, old friend. I'd forgotten how delightful you were the first four and a half months. You didn't wear out your welcome *then*, or anything.)

  • That despite all of this misery, you can look forward and imagine that after the baby arrives, you might actually miss the sensation of carrying your child within you.

  • That an understanding, loving and patient husband is to be cherished and nurtured, and as much as possible, protected from your mindless blow-ups. He's now seen me truly at my worst to date. And amazingly, he still not only loves me, but takes care of me every time I fall apart, no matter what time of night or day. Plus, even though I don't believe him when he tells me I'm beautiful, I can see he actually means it. And that's phenomenal to me. So even when I'm irrational or half-crazed with hormones, I try very hard not to take it out on him. He's my lifeline.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A letter to "Thumper"

Dear baby,

Your mommy and daddy are delighted that you are growing strong and getting ready to join us in a few more weeks. As you get stronger and more active, we've got a few things we wanted to take up with you.
  • Mommy's ribs are not a jungle gym. Feeling you move is so much fun! But when you stick your toes between mommy's ribs, and kick really hard, it hurts. Seriously. Mommy's not kidding.
  • Likewise, mommy's bladder is not a trampoline. No doubt it's fun to jump on it and bounce to your little heart's content! But sometimes that causes mommy to make embarrassingly frequent and pained dashes for the ladies' room. Please -- no more jumping.
  • We're not sure how you know it, but you've become very good at STOPPING your wiggles when daddy puts his hand on mommy's belly to feel you. While your devilishness is clever and impressive, it would be really nice if you let daddy feel you wiggle sometimes. You're making mommy look like a very chubby liar.
  • Your head is very, very hard. Impressively so, as a matter of fact. We've had doctors tell us that your skull bones are softer right now so that you can be born easier, but we think they're wrong. When you press that head really firmly against mommy's muscle wall, she can definitely feel your hard head! We love knowing where you are, but a gentle push would be fine with us, too.
  • Speaking of mommy's muscle wall, she's definitely getting a bulge on her right side, where you seem to like to curl up. Again, we love knowing where you're lying, but it's ok to hang out on mommy's left side, too. You're going to make her look like she's got a lopsided basketball under her shirts.
  • Mommy has always loved chocolate, and it seems you may, too, since she wants to eat so much of it lately. We just thought we'd let you know that it gives her ferocious and relentless heartburn now, in a way that she finds a personal betrayal. If you have anything to do with how often she wants to eat it, maybe you could let up a little.
  • Where did you find the razors you're currently employing as elbows and knees, you resourceful imp? Please take it easy on mommy's tummy. We're not sure if you're incising graffiti in there for your future brothers or sisters, or if you just like to feel mommy jump. But you might want to lay off a bit.

It's amazing to think you'll be here in just seven or eight more weeks! Somehow, we're pretty sure that you're easier to take care of NOW than you will be then. Keep cooking, and we'll see you soon.

Mommy and daddy

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get out of my head, Amy Tan

I've been re-reading Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club." I haven't read it since high school when it was required reading. It's struck a new chord with me now that I'm expecting a child myself. All these Chinese mothers in the book have so many hopes and dreams for their American-born daughters, and while they love them, they end up disappointed so often. As I sit here in my comfortable cultural moment, and pat myself on the back for having bridged a cultural gap "so well" over my life, I have to wonder -- did I do as good a job as I could have? I speak conversational Vietnamese with my family, fairly fluently. And I "get" enough of the cultural beliefs and traditions to be able to identify them and understand the purpose of their existence. But in a very real way, my dad's world is an alien one to me. I'll never really understand why you have to keep a radio on in an empty room in your house to ward off evil spirits who might try to settle there. I'll never get how a woman can be cherished and held down or back, all at the same time. I'll never grasp why it matters so much to save face over being reasonable (like paying WAY too much for your wedding, just so your family and friends see you as successful, even if you go heavily into debt to do it). Sure -- some of these things aren't ones that are intrinsic to what I believe anyway. But they're very real to him and to his family. And it saddens me a bit that even though I lived in that world for a long time (through most of high school), I'm so far away from it now. How will my own children ever understand it? They'll, by necessity, be even more distanced from it themselves, as they will know it primarily through me and my at-least arm's length relationship with it. That can never disappoint me, since it's not something my children can control. But I'll admit it makes me a little sad.

I think of these things, and then I think of my husband's relationship to his Persian heritage. Though he's proud of it and loves it dearly (especially the cuisine), he's himself declared that he speaks Farsi "on a third grade level with a Texas accent." And his parents, who fled Iran to escape the Revolution in the 70s, speak wonderful English, but I know they'll see our children and maybe feel a twinge of sadness at what they're missing in being able to tease or soothe them in Farsi, naturally and easily, instead of it also being a linguistics lesson. And so from the richly diverse heritage my children will inherit (1/4 German, 1/4 Vietnamese, 1/2 Persian with some Turkish and Russian mixed in) -- maybe all they'll really consider themselves are 100% American. And maybe that's what it means to be an American after all -- to acknowledge where you come from, but make of yourself what you will. That's a really beautiful thing, to be honest. I just wonder if it comes with a bit of a sacrifice of history.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Journal, March 2005

This is what was in my journal from March of 2005.

** ** ** ** **

I remember -- we were small. We played together every day, laughing, talking, sitting, always side by side. We used to chase butterflies and moths, catching them gently, cupping our hands into one big sphere -- tiny wings against our tiny palms -- a heartbeat in my hand. When the tickling had passed, we pulled our palms apart, releasing the sweet butterfly to flit away, unsteady in its freedom. I had never held anything so soft, so fragile as those tiny beings -- their touch so gentle that at times I wasn't even certain they were there. Each beat was precious for its lightness.

And now we're grown -- and summer evenings we spend inside, cleaning, sitting, eating late, and gentle nights slip quietly past. I have not held a heartbeat in my hand since you passed the last one to me so many years ago.

And now, it seems, I know what empty means.

** ** ** ** **

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"First Response," indeed

It had been the weirdest week or two, right before we found out. I had been feeling … different. Fuller. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling by any means – kind of like a soft bloat. But it was so very different from how I’d ever felt before that I think maybe I knew before I knew. My husband certainly did, or at least he was hopeful. “I bet you’re pregnant,” he’d say, only half-teasingly. I scoffed at him. “No way.”

It soon became apparent that something was up. And when I took a home pregnancy test one evening upstairs, I called my husband into the bathroom, where I’d been watching the test during the three-minute waiting period with increasing agitation. “Honey …” I said, “… that’s not a second line, is it? I mean, it’s really kind of faint, and maybe it’s just there because of the way the litmus paper works.” His eyes like saucers, he said, “Nope – that’s a second line. You’re pregnant.” And then he wouldn’t stop saying it, in tones ranging from whispered delight to stunned disbelief. I still wasn’t buying it, so we turned to the instruction page. It stated clearly, “A second line means you’re pregnant.” And it added for good measure, “(Second line may be faint.)”

I think I started to laugh and cry at the same time, and remember feeling about 756 different emotions in rapid succession. Delight, awe, terror, amazement, sadness, anticipation, excitement, disbelief … I felt like a walking encyclopedia of emotions. We sat down in the office upstairs, and proceeded to talk about what we’d just discovered. We must have talked for an hour or more, during which time one or both of us was usually crying – with joy, fear, amazement, grief. We talked about how we felt (*that* took a while), when we wanted to share the news, what we’d do next (in terms of scheduling doctor’s appointments), how we felt again and more. And when he suggested finally going downstairs to get ready for bed, I shook my head. “If I leave the room, it will be real,” I said. “I never want to leave this room.”

But eventually, of course, I did. You have to -- life goes on and the evening must end and sooner or later you have to take the trash out or do the dishes or *something.* And after taking another test the next morning, it was undeniable. I marveled at the fact that I felt pretty good, aside from the aforementioned “soft bloat.” (What a pretty phrase.) The early weeks passed in quiet excitement as we tried to keep a lid on the news until I’d been to the doctor and we had digested it a bit ourselves. After a trip to my family doctor (who confirmed the news), I scheduled an appointment with my OB-GYN. And then we decided to tell family members. Their reactions ranged from the euphorically delighted (complete with tears and jumping up and down and simultaneous laughter), to the stunned, to the calmly accepting. And since we’d felt all of those things and more, we had decided ahead of time that everyone’s reactions would be fine, whatever they were, even if they weren’t what we thought they’d be.

Oh, and that “feeling good” phase of mine? I spoke WAY too soon.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The idea of children, part 2

Back in February, I posted a blog entitled “revisiting the idea of children.” In that posting, I wrote of my fears of having a child – of what it would mean to my career, my sense of self, my peace of mind, and especially my cherished relationship with my husband. I wrote that I was terrified of what the entire process would bring, and that the idea seemed one that I’d need to push into the distant future to have time to prepare properly for the life-changing event it would surely be.

What a difference a few months makes.

It must have been late March or April when I was driving to work, and I started listening really closely to a song that was on the radio. Called “100 Years,” by Five for Fighting, it’s not a new song, not one that’s making waves now, or enjoying any special comeback. But it had been long enough since I’d heard it that I really listened to the lyrics. In the second or third verse, the singer intones, “I’m 33 for a moment – still the man, but you see I’m a ‘they’ – kid on the way, and a family on my mind / I’m 45 for a moment – the sea is high, and I’m heading into a crisis, chasing the years of my life.”

Innocuous, right? The meaningless fluff of pop drivel, no doubt. Those lines had never struck me as anything special before. But that day in the car, they brought tears to my eyes. The idea of preparing to start a family, immediately punctuated with expressions of fleeting time, and heading into a midlife crisis, aware of how much of your life is already behind you … it suddenly became perfectly clear to me that life IS short, that the days and moments of a life do indeed fly by with ever-increasing speed, and that I was somehow ready to embrace the idea of having a child. I was still scared of what it would mean – that hadn’t changed. But the fear was different – it was closer to the excitement you feel before doing something really daring, like heading off for a travel destination you’ve never been to, or getting ready to ski down your first “blue” slope, or eating sushi at a strip mall.

The best thing, though, was the sure knowledge that no matter how afraid I was, I wasn’t in this alone. My husband and I – well, let’s say we’ve been through a lot together over the eight years we’ve been together. My confidence and faith in him is as integral a part of my life as air, food, water. It finally clicked in my mind and heart that when he kept telling me we’d go through this together, that’s exactly what he meant – and that no matter what I’d seen in the families and couples whose lives touched mine, we would do it our way, side by side and hand in hand.

So after months and years of the idea being terrifying and me pushing it away, it had suddenly become terrifying with me embracing it. And just in time, too. Because it was early June when we found out we were going to have a baby.

Stay tuned. There's more coming on this topic.

Friday, May 04, 2007

From "Jane Eyre" to "Fight Club" ...

Here's something I found in my journal from four years ago. It's still true today.

** ** ** ** **

People often ask me why I enjoy reading so much. "What's so great about it?" they ask. "I'd much rather be surfing, or watching TV, or dancing than sitting and reading a book," they tell me, disgusted with my literary addiction.

My reasons always crowd together -- there are so many that I can't articulate them all at once. I read to relax -- the silence that usually accompanies reading is very soothing to me. I read to be alone -- I find that when I'm engrossed in a novel, others tend to drift away from me to carry on their more active, mobile lifestyles in another room. I read to escape -- the most well-written novels can pluck me from my couch or chair and plunk me down in the midst of a formal dinner party, a crowded Italian piazza, a lonely Scottish moor, or a rugged, pre-revolutionary American wildnerness (it's the cheapest form of travel I've discovered).

But most of all, I read to understand, to see, to get the reading right. Here's what I mean: when I open a book, my mind is clear. I stand poised on the brink of nothing. I don't mean a blank canvas -- that's too flat, too bounded by borders and edges. In my mind, there is quite truly nothing there -- a great, gaping emptiness waiting to be filled.

With the first words, that nothingness begins to fill rapidly. From the emptiness emerges a skeleton of what the author wants me to see. The word "forest" evokes tall trees, grassy clearings, and the occasional bit of moss. A few lines in, the word "frost" appears, and I quickly regroup -- now the trees are bare, their branches silvery-white, and the crisp dead leaves beneath my feet crunch as I break the ice crystals that lace them together. In another line, I read "breezy" -- and now the scene is alive with movement, the trees reaching and swaying in a coordinated dance, the tinkle of ice clear on the whisper of the wind.

With every line, paragraph, chapter and page, I keep updating my scene, trying to get it just the way I'm meant to get it. Seasons are replaced, props interchanged, people re-dressed in my head as I fly through the descriptions. And if I've done it right, I begin to know the book, feel its live heartbeat pulse in my hands, understand the characters, hear their voices. I start to really smell the furniture polish in the drawing room, feel the sweat trickle down my back from the humid August air, taste the smooth-oily flavor of the buttered eels on the dinner plate, grow tired with fatigue at the end of an emotionally-charged argument. At that point, I'm no longer a reader -- I am instead a ghost, haunting the story and its inhabitants, walking beside them, hearing their thoughts, sharing their meals and their beds and their heartaches. (And the beautiful thing about it is that I can get it perfectly right, and so can you -- and yet if we were to be able to show one another the book's faces in our heads, they would probably still look completely different.)

In the end, then, that's why I read -- not to hear a good story, but to live it alongside the people who make it happen. I read to taste another's life and dreams and fears, and make them mine. And when I close a book, I am never the same person who opened it. I am always enriched and challenged and haunted in return for what it has given me.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I wrote this poem for my husband, more than six years before we got married. It's as true today as it was the day I wrote it. This is for him.

** ** ** ** **
** ** ** ** **
I breathe
you are peace and calm
and in your sweet scent
there is warmth

(in all my life
I never knew
that love is something
you can breathe)

with my cheek
against your heart
the pulse of my life
slows to match
the steady beat of yours
and as our blood
ebbs and flows together
I ease into
the rhythm
I have always
sought but
never found
till now

a matching heart
your warm embrace
the sweetest scent

I pull you in
and in that breath
you fill me up
with quiet stillness
and with hope

and I am whole again.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sitting in a coffeehouse, not drinking coffee

It's the second day of the annual Nineteen-Day Baha'i Fast. During this time period, Baha'is (like myself) abstain from food or drink between sunrise and sunset. While it shares similar "rules" to the Islamic observance of Ramadan, and while I get questions all the time about whether it's the same thing, it is not -- it's not only a separate observance, but a separate faith entirely. And yet I think, from the little I know about Ramadan, the intent is quite similar. In fact, the more I reflect on this period of spiritual cleansing and detachment from the physical world, the more I realize that the Baha'i Fast is also a great deal like what I understand to be true (and what I remember) of the Christian observance of Lent.

I grew up observing Lent in various ways. Some years it was a challenge in and of itself to simply remember not to eat meat on Fridays, and observe the Catholic fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday -- one skipped meal, one half meal and one regular meal on those days. Other years I attempted a greater degree of sacrifice and self-denial -- the year I gave up chocolate was one in which my entire family suffered along with me, I think. (I don't remember repeating that vow in subsequent years.) But all along, the small, inconsequential pain of self-denial was a constant reminder of the sacrifices made centuries before by One greater than myself, and also a reminder of the spirituality I wished to strengthen within myself.

The Fast is much the same for me. Now I keep at the forefront of my mind (as I bypass morning coffee, Shipley's donuts at breakfast meetings, lunch with friends, the quenching of my thirst as soon as I feel it with any variety of refreshing drinks like the blended Mocha Drift at my favorite coffeehouse [where I'm sitting], afternoon snacks of Girl Scout Cookies or crunchy apple slices with creamy peanut butter, and early dinners) the thought that with this small observance of detachment from the physical needs of my body, I turn instead to the spiritual needs of my soul. My dry throat reminds me to pray -- in the morning, when I begin my Fast each day, at noon in observance of the Daily Obligatory Prayer, at night when I break the Fast, before bed as I think back on the events of the day and wonder whether my actions have been pleasing to my Creator. My hunger, growing steadily all day, informs me that while my body will someday crumble ("From dust I created you, and to dust you shall return ..."), my spirit has been promised everlasting life, and that I should remember its needs well beyond the Fast each year. And when I gather with the members of my Baha'i community to worship together, to study the Writings we cherish, to lend support to one another in times of need, I am reminded too that we are blessed beyond measure in being able to gather openly, with no fear of retribution, no threat to our safety. Our fellow believers in Iran, in Egypt, in many other parts of the world enjoy no such guarantee. I am in awe of their simple bravery, their everyday courage, their devout faith. And suddenly, my hunger seems a trifling discomfort compared to the danger that is just a part of life for them.

My Fast this year is dedicated to my fellow believers in Iran and Egypt, where basic human and civil rights (such as hospital treatment, education, the ability to work and the right to travel freely) are denied Baha'is. May the strength of our shared community and the fervence of our prayers lift the oppression under which they live -- may our letters and our voices reach the ears of our national leaders to take measures to address these inequities -- may the hearts of the leaders of those oppressive governments be softened and changed through the power and steadfastness of the believers. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, tells us that a gentle drop of water, applied with regularity to the hardest of substances, may over time erode away the most powerful barriers.

My Fast, then, is in celebration of those gentle drops of water.

Friday, February 23, 2007

*MY* taxicab confessions

I recently took a trip to California for work. One night I was there, I met friends for dinner in LA, and after our delightful evening together, I got into a cab to go back to Newport Beach, a suburb of LA about an hour south of downtown, where I was staying and working. What ensued was by turns infuriating, terrifying, frustrating and hilarious. I'm sure I'm not doing it justice -- to fully appreciate the events, you have to imagine that you're exhausted in the back of a cab in a strange city, with a cab driver who, with each passing moment, is rapidly descending from competent-sounding to stupendously dumb.

It was a little after 10 p.m. when the craziness began. I figured it would take about an hour to get from the restaurant to my hotel. The first unorthodox thing that happened was that we stopped for gas -- disconcerting in the neighborhood where we were, but understandable. I asked the driver to pause the meter, which he did (and looking back, I don't know whether he would have done so if I hadn't asked him to). We then got stuck in traffic, at which point the driver swivels his head around to look at me and asks, "Aw, man -- is there a Laker game tonight or something?" I thought, "I'm in a taxicab with YOU because I'm from out of town -- how should *I* know if there's a flippin' Laker game tonight?!" It's only because my friends had mentioned it that I knew there was one, and I told him that. He said the traffic was a result of the Laker game and "it will clear up here in a minute or two." Twenty minutes later, he was exiting the still-in-full-swing traffic jam to get onto another highway to keep heading south -- by then I'd lost track of which highway we were on. We proceeded to drive south for over an hour -- I was starting to get sleepy, but I was determined not to fall asleep with this guy at the wheel. Around 11 p.m., I asked him if we were getting close, and he said we had about 10 miles left, and wanted the address for my hotel, which I gave to him. (John Wayne Airport had come and gone on my right, so I figured we were on the 405.) He finally exited and said, "I missed my exit -- I'll give you a break on the fare when we get there." I looked at the meter, which read "$155.10" at that point and thought, "You BET you are." (And to make it all crazier -- the entire time I was in the cab, he was listening to some talk radio conspiracy theory program about how Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing fame was working with the FBI and was brainwashed. The segment after that one was asserting that the reason Americans haven't been back to visit the moon through the space program was because aliens told us not to come back. I'm not kidding.)

We then got on the 55, took that until it ended, and drove around Newport Beach for 40 minutes. He tried getting directions from at least two other cab drivers, and then spent 10 minutes on my cell phone talking to the concierge at my hotel, whom I'd called. No matter what anyone told him, he couldn't seem to figure out how to get there. At one point (and this sounds like melodrama, but I swear it's true), I actually started to wonder if this guy would drive me out to some remote place and murder me. Nothing looked familiar outside the window of the accursed cab -- I had no idea how we'd gotten lost, or what to try next, besides calling 911, which I might have done, given 10 more minutes with the guy. We finally *stumbled* upon a Marriott that wasn't mine, but the second time we passed it, I just told him I was getting out. This was after we'd driven on the Fashion Island Loop Road for 10 minutes as he looked for some highway or street he was obviously never going to cross -- and he had a map in his hand. When he handed it to me, I took one look at it and demanded to be let out at the Marriott we could see (it finally dawned on me at this point that he wasn't a murderer -- he was just a moron. I'm still not convinced he was literate).

By then it was 12:15 and the fare had climbed to $240 and change -- I told him I would pay him what I'd expected to pay to get to Newport Beach (which was about $120) and no more. He didn't raise a fuss, because at that point I was thunderously pissed (in fact, he turned to me and said in a wonderous voice, "That's funny -- that's exactly what I was going to charge you!" Yeah, right.). Caught another cab to my hotel which was NO MORE than 3.5 miles away from where we were. Took 3 minutes. The only thing that could have made the ride more of a challenge would be if I'd gotten motion-sick or something that whole time.

What did I learn? As Mad-Eye Moody would say, speaking to Harry Potter, "Constant vigilance!" Thank God I hadn't just fallen asleep as I might have done, easily -- I might still be in that taxi. And if I hadn't insisted on getting out of the cab at the other hotel, who knows how much longer we would have just driven around the city. I've never known a cab driver for whom a street address was not enough information to get someone to their destination. Even if a driver's not familiar with an address, doesn't he have the wherewithall to call headquarters for directions, use his GPS system, or unfold a flippin' map? It was nuts.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Revisiting the idea of children

My husband and I were at a friend's house last night. One of their other guests brought along her three-year-old son. A charming little boy at first glance, he quickly reminded me why I'm still not ready to be a mother. Although he tried hard to stay quiet (with admirably self-controlled whispers to his mother as he played, albeit loud ones) while the grown-ups watched a short feature film (about 45 minutes in length), his efforts at self-amusement soon grew too loud to ignore and his mother prepared to gather him up to leave. That's when the fireworks began.

Within seconds, the little guy's protests had ratcheted up from loud stage whispers to outright shouts. "I don't want to go!" he cried, over and over, as one by one, we gave up all pretense of ignoring him and turned to watch the unfolding drama. His mother levered him toward the door with a great amount of difficulty, owing as much to her own advanced pregnancy with angel #2 as to the little boy's amazingly sure-handed grabs for whatever furniture he could reach to hold on to as she tried to get him outside.

Most of the guests were amused. I was disheartened greatly, myself. Was this the joy of motherhood -- to be the center of attention while your offspring create disruptive scenes in other people's homes? More importantly, could this poor woman's life ever be the same again as it had been? I'd never met her before, but in my mind, her life before becoming a mother was busy and satisfying, one in which she shared evenings with her husband and their friends and families in laughter and joy, one in which her days were spent working or running errands, to rest at the end of a productive day -- a life much like my own. What did she have now? My brief glimpse into her life told me that getting herself and her son up and dressed to face each day might be in and of itself a challenge.

I have other friends with children. Many of the women I know have either taken breaks from or set aside permanently their careers to be stay-at-home mothers. I cannot think of a more noble and self-sacrificing and necessary job -- and yet for myself, I do not know that I am capable. If we have children, I would want no one else to have the daily care of them but me and/or my husband. All the same, that choice represents a change in lifestyle I shudder to contemplate.

I like my life. I work from home most days. The work is computer-based, and when I'm not on the phone with clients or colleagues, it's quiet work. The only noise I might hear aside from the tapping of keys is the delicious hum of the clothes dryer, warming clean towels and blue jeans and sweaters. While I work, I sit in a living room decorated in shades of rust and gold and chocolate, grown-up colors that soothe me. My husband and I have been known to take midnights walks on foggy nights, just to enjoy the strange sensation of losing one another within 6 feet, even though we can still hear our shared laughter. We've gone to IHOP or Whataburger at 11 at night, just for fun. We sleep in on Sundays. We run errands together, and if they keep us out three hours longer than we thought they would, it's no big deal. We throw parties that get loud with the laughter of the friends we love, and we never worry about waking up the kids.

And so, because I have no concept of what life will be like after children for us, I'm forced (in my lack of imagination) to pit that life against the one I have. I see clutter -- primary colors everywhere, plastic things obscuring my view of the wood furniture I love, fingerprints on glass, crayon marks on the crisp ivory colored walls of our home. I see long nights of sitting up with the baby, piles of laundry that don't ever seem to diminish, dishes in the sink. I hear thumping from upstairs as children run and fall, shouting and crying. I sense that the only places we'll be going at 11 p.m. in this new world is to the store for more diapers or, heaven forbid, the emergency room to treat a fever that won't respond to Tylenol. And what pains me the most is that I see myself looking always at a child, and my husband doing the same, and we so very rarely look at one another anymore.

I'm afraid. I guess any woman might be, or any man. I'm afraid to lose the life I love. While it's natural, it's also powerful. And I know my husband doesn't share my fear -- his view of a life with children is one of joy and laughter and pride and play, while mine is filled with effort and loss. In four years I'll be at an age at which pregnancy becomes riskier. I feel like I'm running out of time to enjoy the life I have, to develop a happier imagination about being a mother, to reconcile how I feel with the fact that I've always felt motherhood was in my future, to weigh how much my husband wants to be a dad with how afraid I am of being a mom.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pain, truth and good writing

When I was in college, there was always something lodged painfully in my heart. Whether it was a guy thing, a family thing, a "what the hell do I want to be when I grow up" thing, a job thing or something else, the point is ... it was there. I recently ran across some old journal entries of mine from those years. While they're a trifle melodramatic, they're real. They're honest and true and very, very real.

And now I'm well beyond college and grad school. All those "guy" things resolved themselves into learnings I brought with me to my marriage to my best friend. The family things have either mellowed, or I've learned how to deal with them more productively, or they've melted away entirely. The "what to do when I grow up" and "job" things -- well, I just do what I do. I may not yet be grown up and this may not be it, but the doing of it takes time, brings me some satisfaction -- and earns a living. The stuff that was stuck in my heart has turned into light and joy, or has shored up its walls at least.

And I wonder if, in the gaining of great happiness and deep peace, I've lost a part of myself. What do you do when the pain and frustration that identifies you and defines you melts away, like sugar in coffee? Life's not bitter anymore -- it's sweet, though there are still moments of darkness. And to write about joy seems boastful, whereas to write about suffering seems to be a way out of it.

I asked a very special friend this question about a year ago. I woke up one day panicked, realizing I hadn't written anything real, or of emotional substance, in a long time. So I did what I'd always done in college -- I wrote a long, jumbled letter to my friend. He's known me forever, and he's been there as my writing changed from junior high scribblings to moments of coherence in high school, to honest and clear-voiced thoughts in college and grad school. And this is what he said.

"What makes good writing 'good' isn't pain, though sometimes good writing can break your heart with its suffering. What makes it good is truth. If what you write is real and honest, you can write well, beautifully, profoundly."

And he's right, of course. I can't help but reflect, though, on writing that's changed me -- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose, letters from friends, someone's dream journal entries -- and they're overwhelmingly powerful because of something hard, something difficult that the author was growing or pushing through. I possess a handful of memories and impressions of powerful writing that was about great joy, but much more frequently the passages that haunt me, the ones I can quote by heart, are about loss and grief and ache and suffering.

I have always called myself a writer. But what kind of writer am I now, with only the memory of deep sadness to call upon as inspiration for my craft? Even those distant memories of pain have had their edges dulled by the passage of time and the healing of hearts. I live now in days that are buoyed by the laughter I share with a man I am too lucky, really, in marrying -- days in which I am loved and I can love freely, days in which I have found comfort and peace.

I'm deeply thankful for the abundance of blessings I've been given. And so in tribute both to God, who has given me the amazing gifts that grace my life, and to the past I remember living through to get to now, I make a commitment: I will remember. The ease I've found now (which may be fleeting in any case) will not keep me from understanding pain around me, because I've walked those paths myself.

So I'll remember.

Watching someone I loved being hurt by someone who never deserved to be with him.
Loving someone who was completely wrong for me.
Forgetting how to be myself, and how miserable I felt as a result.
Making the same mistakes over and over, because I was unwilling to quit a bad habit ... or a bad person.
Being lonely, even when I was surrounded.
Being outside, aching to get in.
Fighting inside, desperate to get out.
Hating myself deeply and viciously, even when I couldn't articulate why.

For to forget these things is to dishonor what I've learned and been given now -- faith, knowledge, understanding, companionship, trust, honesty, belonging, and peace. Whether or not any of that makes good writing, it is truth.