Thursday, November 20, 2008

There are six French words in this post.

When I was in high school, I participated several times in an event called Math Relay. (Are you getting a mental image of the nerd-tastic kid I was? Believe me, whatever you're thinking, it was actually worse.) Students were organized into teams. Each team had four levels: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. The relay started with a problem being handed to the algebra group. Once they'd solved their problem, they took their numerical answer and handed it to the geometry group, who would USE that answer in THEIR problem, and so on. The idea, clearly, was that the first team to get all the way through all levels of math correctly was the winner, but if you got the answer wrong at the end, you had to figure out which team had worked their problem incorrectly, and start over from there. 

(Adding to the nerdiness, Math Relay was an extracurricular event each year, which meant that if you wanted to participate, you had to get to school earlier than usual to do so. Are you getting this? I got up extra early, foregoing SLEEP, to do math I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO. Yes. My social life was bangin', let me tell you. Anyway, I digress.)

The point is that it wasn't the math so much that I liked about it. It was the tidiness of it all. ONE answer per level. And it had to be right, or the whole scheme was thrown off. 

In college, I tried my hand at a major that tidy: Accounting. No one benefitted from that experience. When I wised up, I changed majors and started taking more English classes at one time than was smart or reasonable. The joy! Reading as homework! I could do it while in bed! My bliss was tempered only by the fact that there was no longer just one neat, boxed answer to every question. Now, I had to deconstruct written materials, only to piece them together again in a new way. Now, I had to create a thesis and prove that it was founded. This was tougher, but it was still orderly -- take a stab at an idea, and if you can find enough supporting material to fill a 10-12 page paper, voila! Done. Neat enough for me.

Business school followed. More of the same, just with less interesting reading materials. A career in consulting resulted. The more experience I gained in consulting, the more I realized it, too, could be very tidy -- there were demographics to consider, target audiences to analyze, market research to conduct, test messages to float, results to compile, focus groups to lead. All that data! I spent my days tapping edges into place on stacks of papers, it was all so clean and squared. 

And then -- boy.

There is no order in being pregnant. One of the first things I said to husband after we saw two pink lines on the stick was, "I need BOOKS." I went out and bought all of them. I mean it. I bought so many that I have a whole section in my personal library now that I can call "procreation-related." And I knew that no one has a textbook pregnancy, that no one has a sitcom moment when their water breaks and hilarity ensues, etc. But I did expect my pregnancy to go SOMETHING like the books said. The only things that happened that were textbook were that my morning sickness eventually went away and I got bigger. That was it. Everything else was unique. Blow number one to my preference for order and neatness. Quel dommage!

There is also nothing orderly about labor and delivery. You know you can't predict how it will be, and you know you can't choose how you'll deliver, but you PREPARE for the labor and delivery you expect. We even wrote up a birth preference sheet detailing what we were shooting for, and the choices we'd made (for instance, not to offer me pain meds, that I'd ask for them if necessary; that we were hoping to avoid a surgical birth; etc.). Once boy was born, husband happened upon a copy of the sheet. After glancing over it, he said, "I think we might as well have physically opened up a window and thrown this out of it." Our birth was almost nothing like we'd hoped and planned for. C'est la vie.

And of course, motherhood and parenting is the antithesis of orderly or neat. Not only are the visceral details messy (I'm typing with at least two bodily fluids on my shoulder right now, neither of them mine), the emotional and psychological intricacies are astounding. How do you devote everything that you are to this incredibly demanding job without losing your sense of identity? How do you make sense of the fact that life as you knew it is over and gone, and then move forward to a new life you've never been able to truly envision? "It's all about balance," people say. "You figure out what parts of you you MUST preserve, and you honor and protect those parts in your new life, while you grow and change." Perfect. Wonderful. But HOW?

It's been almost ten months since boy was born, and I'm still struggling with the answers to those questions. There are things about my old life I miss -- the ease of it, the spontaneity I didn't even know I was practicing. I miss being out in the world after 7 p.m. I miss dancing. I miss really only ever having to worry about me -- what *I* wanted to eat, do, see, learn. And yet this new life is enchanting. I get to spend all day every day with the coolest, most amazing and most delightful kid I've ever met, watching the wheels turn in his tremendous mind, watching him piece things together for himself and apply learned skills to new situations. I get to see him experience things for the first time ever, things I take for granted -- ceiling fans, the first cold wind of winter on his ruddy cheeks, a taste of lemon on his lower lip. And it's like starting over again in all the good ways. 

Maybe I'm making it too complicated. I have the feeling that the choices we make aren't really conscious at all, but just what emerges when we start living our new lives. If I'm not dancing right now, it means I've chosen not to make dancing a priority, after all. So what does the life I'm living say my priorities are? 

I get up in the night every time boy cries, abandoning our past attempts to let him cry himself to sleep. To me, that means I'm trying not to let him feel unnecessary discomfort. 

I devote the whole of my days to his care, usually getting him dressed before me, feeding him before I eat, putting him to bed long before I go to sleep myself. I hope that means I'm making sure his needs are met (sometimes at the unnecessary expense of my own, some might say).

I take boy on walks even though I hate being outside. I feed him veggies I find distasteful, as long as he'll eat them. I don't drink Coke anymore because the caffeine affects his sleep.

On the whole, I hope all this means I'm putting boy first. And I can definitely live with that.

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