Monday, December 20, 2010

In Search of Santa

I’m sending a letter to the Complaint Department, Santa’s Workshop, The North Pole.    After introducing my one year old to three consecutive sitting Santa’s, every single one has been decidedly lackluster.  It would seem they need to be reminded up there that Santa is about more than the red suit and the beard.  He’s a figure of merriment, a man of laughter and many ho-ho’s!  He calls out Merry Christmas in a resonant, crackly voice that imparts the magic and the wonder of the holiday.  He’s not just a cardboard cut-out with a 3D lap.  He’s supposed to be believable.  He’s supposed to have warmth.  The imaginations of American children are being undersold.

Even our local Santa arrival on Nantucket Island, by way of the Coast Guard Cutter and attended by Mrs. Clause and the uniformed, life-vested crew, was anticlimactic when the mister and missus got off the boat with  nary a ho-ho, and had to be reminded by the Town Crier’s bell ringing apprentice that one or two would be in order.  It was indeed kind for the crinkly-eyed man to come up and shake my little boy's hand, I’ll hand him that.  And to Cayce’s skeptical appraisal he offered a somewhat crackly chuckle.  But as far as the whole picture went-- it could use some filling in-- there was far too much relying on the scene's natural serenity and too little of imbuing it with ticklish life.

As the holiday season wears on, sitting Santa’s are pretty much inescapable.  They are everywhere we go.  So can anyone really fault me for eventually giving in and breaking my promise to avoid the lair of the lap?  My promise to myself was to follow my child’s cues, rather than insist on a Kodak moment, but it felt like my kid was cueing me to go on up to the guy in the chintzy red suit.  I can’t say I really waited it out, though, to be sure that I was reading him right.  It was more that I felt pressured, once we were in the vicinity of our third Santa at a holiday craft fair at our local high school, to follow the path made by the velvet ropes to the velvet suit.  There was no line, after all.  And Cayce was pointing to him.  He was certainly, by this stage of the game, Santa savvy.  He had just that morning at his Auntie’s had a rollicking romp with a table top Clause who wore suspenders and sang “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” as he danced.  But really, who was I to interpret his pointing and exclaiming as a desire to sit?  How could I know his pointing wasn’t just a way of saying, “Look!”  

Deep down I was worried that if I just let my son stand there and point and look,  people would think I was depriving my child of his Hallmark Happening.

The minute I saw him sitting on the lap of the skinniest, youngest (as in, still with acne) and darkest-eyebrowed  Santa we had come across, I regretted my choice.  Cayce didn’t look miserable, he wasn’t crying, but he had that stunned look of a deer in headlights.  It’s a look I haven’t seen on him before or since.  And the photographer, another high school student, kept asking me to try to get him to look over at us for the picture, but instead my son was gazing wide-eyed all around at the shaken snow globe world that was the scene at this holiday bazaar.  The student Santa clearly hadn’t been given many tips.  He muttered “hello”, not much more.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the mechanical tabletop Santa’s can better capture a child’s interest than the live ones.  Where was the, “And so, my lad, what would you like for Christmas?  Have you been good this year?” Where was the jelly-belly Santa charisma?   I have the moment frozen in time now on the Polaroid, a moment for the scrapbooks:  Child and novice Santa both frozen in the lights, looking bland.  Thanks for the memories.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am enchanted myself in the story of Santa Clause, the man who makes his way around the world via reindeer-driven sleigh on Christmas Eve,  stopping at the home of every child.  I love the merry man with the laughter.  But now that I’m a mom, and could use him more than ever, I’m a little hard put to find the Khris Kringle I love and remember. 

Despite all of this, my one-year-old seems to be getting the gist.   He walks around the house, carrying a greeting card depicting an old fashioned Santa saying, “Ho-ho-ho.”  Perhaps there's a future for him in this noble profession.  Actually, over my dead body.  But it's fun to see him perfecting his craft for use perhaps in some higher calling (a Frosty, for instance, has some real possibilities).  But next year we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for a Clause who maybe had a goofy mom, as Cayce does, or who at least as taken a method acting class or two.    

Until then, from the belly, now:  “Ho! Ho! Ho! and Merry Christmas!” (in crackly basso)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Doll Decision

I’ve decided to get my one year old son a doll for Christmas.  I never gave any thought to the idea of him having a doll.  Like nursing, like natural birth, like so many things that are, despite being amazing for us, incredibly unpopular, you never see boys with dolls.  You see boys with trucks and trains.  But my newly verbal toddler has been asking in no uncertain terms for a “Ba-bee.” 

It all started last week when I bought a package of Pampers Cruisers Size Fives.  It wasn’t my first pair of Pampers, but I had been avoiding them in favor of a cheaper brand for a while.  A cheaper brand that didn’t happen to have a big adorable baby pictured on the package.  From his seat at the front of the grocery cart Cayce grabbed hold of that package and squeezed it like it was Charmin calling  “Ba-bee, Ba-bee, Ba-bee”, putting  the stress on the second syllable, and he didn’t let go for days.  He carried that package of Pampers around the house, cuddled up next to it, and called out for the “Ba-bee” with every diaper change.  He started asking for the Ba-bee the minute he woke up in the morning.  Well that is some clever packaging on those diapers because in lieu of a doll I have found myself continuing to buy the expensive brands just to satisfy my child’s interest in the picture.

While we were out yesterday morning buying said diapers, we were also looking in the toy section of the pharmacy, trying to get ideas for Christmas gifts.  Cayce’s eyes lit up when he saw all the colorful packaging, and he responded to all the bells and whistles on the toy keys and cameras and cars, but the shelf which elicited the most excited response was the one with the baby dolls.  They were those ones with the sort of freaky looking rubber heads in boxes with plastic windows.  “Ba-bee!” he chirped repeatedly.

So the verdict is in.  I am going to make yet another unpopular choice because I am convinced it will be the best choice, a natural asset to my son’s desire to nurture.  Now I’m not going to get him a doll with an alien head.  But neither am I going to get him one of these new breastfeeding dolls, because that would be just silly.  Even if it's not silly, even if it really is quite natural and logical for a child that spends a lot of time with his mother to want to do what his mother does regardless of gender-appropriateness (whatever that is), I’m quite certain that Cayce’s father might draw the line there, so I won’t push my luck.  As it if I have coerced him into accepting the idea of a doll by suggesting that it would be far easier to produce than the alternative, another actual baby.  A sweet and boyish and organic baby doll for our boy to coddle and kiss will encourage him not only to love and care for others, but to love and care for himself, for what is a doll to a child if not a mirror, a soft cuddly mirror that can be dressed and diapered and hugged and read to and strolled around the way he himself is cared for by his mother and father?

Cayce will love his doll, no more and no less, perhaps, than he loves his balls and his trucks and his blocks and his stuffed animals.  But he will love the doll in a different way, because the doll will be the toy with the most human attributes, the toy that will be the most like a little brother.  Why should having an imaginary little brother or sister be the purview of girls exclusively?  Doesn’t a boy need just as much to have a sibling or a friend?  Nurturing is not just the domain of mothering- it lies at the core of what it means to be human.  And I am so grateful to find in a doll a powerful teaching tool for my son as he grows into a wonderful human being.

And if anyone has anything to say about it, we’ll take it outside. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mom Material: Santa's Lap and Other Holiday Hazards

Mom Material: Santa's Lap and Other Holiday Hazards: "My son may never sit in Santa Clause’s lap. Not because Santa can make a child cry, or because I have any deep-seated suspicions that he’s ..."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Santa's Lap and Other Holiday Hazards

My son may never sit in Santa Clause’s lap.  Not because Santa can make a child cry, or because I have any deep-seated suspicions that he’s a pervert, but simply because, so far, the big fat man just doesn’t resonate with the little man.  Little Man and I stayed at a hotel with my mother over Thanksgiving, and Santa’s much storied arrival there the following day was met by my toddler with cool disinterest. 

I must say, Cayce embraced the whole “scene” with great fascination.  He stepped boldly into the ballroom adorned with Christmas trees we had watched the “elves” decorate that morning and now filled to brimming with children and their cheery, cocoa cup holding parents, and he dipped through and among them all, truly “working the room.” 

At the center of it, Santa Clause sat in his oversize chair, accessorized by an adorable female elf who called up the children name by name from her stack of papers.  Santa was too buried in the white beard and spectacles, too shiny and chintzy in his mass-produced suit, and my little boy, a face man, simply couldn’t relate to him.  Had his suit appeared a little more home made, had his beard shone less a la authentic Father Christmas, we might have had a deal.  But I don’t think Cayce even saw this guy as human.  When I pointed to him, delivering the requisite amped up enthusiasm, Cayce’s eyes seemed to fall not on Santa, but on the child sitting in the big red man’s lap.  She was a beautiful Asian-American girl of about five, dressed in a fancy green quilted velvet dress.  She didn’t look happy. 

I guess in that moment I made the decision that I would never impose this on my son.  Should he give me a cue, and beg to wait in line and write a list and take a turn on the jolly old man’s lap, then I will probably acquiesce.  But you are not likely to ever see me trying to bust down the doors at Macy’s in pursuit of such a happening.  We will put out carrots for the reindeer, and cookies and milk for Clause, but I wouldn’t mind if Santa remained just as a figment of our imaginations.  We could really be spared the wish-list cluster fu*k with the rented Santa.   

The holidays take on a whole new meaning once you have a child.  When you have one of the smallest Who’s in Whoville you want to make sure that his world swells with song even if the Grinch should come along to preempt Santa’s sleigh.  You want the day to be about the bonds of love.  And yet you cannot help but want his gifts to be ample.  You want him to find them as expressions of your love, and as tokens of all that’s possible.  But above all you want the day to be about balance, and the ties of family.    

So take the adult who perennially flies buzzing into the end of the retail season with a nagging sense that she does not have enough for everyone,  who starts pulling all the glittery items off the shelves of the check-out aisles in an impossible and vague quest for perfection, who never seems to have a budget and never manages to stay within the check ledger lines of “do-able” without impending debt, whose nostalgic and misty feelings of gratitude and peace are always bracketed by an undeniably lacking pocketbook, and add a child.  

Add a child who is already perfect in every way, and so far unspoiled by material expectations and the commercialism of Christmas.  Add a child for whom every day is a celebration. 

How to build up the spiritual and life affirming aspects of the holiday, the bright colored lights penetrating the early darkness, the sweet smell of fresh evergreen, the snowman gathered out of a child’s mitten hands that can come to life, how to hold and embrace the good will of men and all that is good about the holidays and keep at bay the greed, the sorrow, the difficult childhoods that percolate under the piles of fake snow?  For while all that glitters may not be gold, all that is gold most certainly makes its shiny and enviable presence known during the holiday season.   

Things were not always hunky dory at Christmas time for me and Cayce’s father as children.   As I try to create a meaningful Christmas for our one-year-old, I realize I have few memories of my own early Christmases.  I remember one jovial snowy night In New York city when we picked up a tree on Broadway and carried it as a team along the streets to our West End Avenue apartment.  I remember my brother in front of me, holding the top of the tree, laughing.  I believe we all sang carols as we took the tree home.  A picture perfect moment.   And there was the year we built an elaborate gingerbread castle with our father, who had returned home just for this, an occasion that was captured in black and white by a professional photographer.  

Later, after we moved out of the city the year I turned eight, big Christmas mornings emerged, replete with a bounteous piles of wrapped packages.  My mother and stepdad finally had two dimes to rub together, and they were making up for past years when we had gone without, or when our father had been too sick to visit, or had made a shaky showing, producing books or record albums wrapped abysmally in crinkled tissue paper.

Kelly remembers rescuing presents out of the snow in the yard after their father had hurled the tree and everything on and under it out the front door. 

We had, I guess, average childhoods, childhoods whose many happy memories are shot through with holes.  In this year in which my first child has grown to be one, I lost my sister to suicide, a bitter reminder that things have not always been sugar plums dancing in Whoville. 

When you suffered yourself as a child it is very scary to become a parent.  The need to preserve your own child’s dreamy innocence runs deep.  How can we create for our son a childhood that will be absent of painful memories, that will be sewn seamlessly from happy ones?   How to teach the beauty of love expressed everyday, and made especially beautiful and symbolic at Christmas?  How to avoid the commercial manufacturing of a child’s desires and stay true to the heart, without also being a stingy Scrooge of  a parent? 

I remind myself that I have made a choice to stay at home to raise my child.  The choice to stay and play and nurse him every day has given him more than I could ever spend on the FAO Shwartz-iest Christmas.   While the sacrifice is that we cannot deliver big on the store-bought Christmas we are stocking him up on love and liquid gold.  When I nurse him I shower down the quiet, hushing snow that promises a future of white Christmases.  This is much more precious than anything that can be bought in a store, and it bears no price tag because it's value is priceless.  

It is such a treasure to discover again this holiday season the rich lessons from nursing—that I am enough, just as I am.  That if every day I can give my child my heart, my tenderness, my ears and eyes and voice, and the miracle food that is made from my body, then that is Christmas everyday, and that is just enough.    

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Window

You know, there are a lot of people who thought my window had already closed.  In fact, that it had been closed for a while.  Like The American Medical Association.  They give all women 35 and up who become pregnant “high risk” status.  I never understood until it happened to me how difficult it is to live with such a status.  It’s like your some kind of jihadist.  Like you willingly went and put on an explosive vest. 

There was the summer person I had in my cab the first season I drove a taxi on the island, like a decade ago.  He was sixty-something and I was taking him to his tee time at Miacomet Golf and somehow we got on the subject of kids.  He asked me did I have any?  I told him no, but that I wanted to.  He flat out asked me my age and I told him, 32… He shook his head and said, “I don’t know.  My kids are all doctors, and they say if you don’t have your first child before 30, you’re really asking for trouble.”  I dropped him off with his clubs and his air of entitlement.  Have a lovely round, Mister.  Thanks for completely destroying all my dreams of future motherhood. 

When I was 35 a relative said to me, “We have babies when we’re young.”  Well thanks for the vote of confidence, there.  Really, I’m sorry.  You know, I’m really sorry that I didn’t have a kid when I was… fifteen.  Sorry that I waited… to get my braces off.  You know I’m really fucking sorry that I deigned to have a life before motherhood.  I’m sorry that I didn’t freak out and stop everything because, you know, if I hit 25 and still hadn’t had kids or at least met the man I’d have them with then I could just kiss that ride off into the pretty sunset goodbye.  The way some people think, my window was closed before I even made it out of the womb.

When I did finally become pregnant, I felt the need to explain myself, that yes, it was a good thing.  And that of course I would get all the tests and do the responsible  thing. 

At eleven weeks past the date of my last period I made a trip up to Boston for an Early Risk Assessment.    I really wasn’t concerned about it, to be honest.  I thought of this test as something I was doing to dot my I’s and cross my T’s.  It was something new and sort of sophisticated that could tell me my odds of having any issues with chromosomes long before I could get an amniocentesis, and without any of the invasiveness.  The sooner I could learn there were no problems and I could tell all who doubted me, “See, I told you!”  the happier I’d be. 
My doctor explained that in Boston they would look for protein in my blood and also do an ultrasound to measure the “neucral” or something-or-other fluid at the back of the fetal neck.  My doctor said he didn’t know if they do a full ultrasound, or if they just look at the one thing.”  I didn’t expect to learn anything definitive until after the lab results had come back.

It was a very strange experience in the doctor’s office in Boston.  As I sat in the waiting room, looking at all of these other expectant women coming and going, it struck me that they looked absolutely healthy and fine.  They didn’t look old.  They didn’t look obese.  They didn’t look any different than women in their 20’s might have looked except that these women looked like they had lives.  They looked like they knew how to take care of themselves.  They looked level-headed and ready for motherhood.

First I saw a nice nurse who pricked my finger for blood and then ushered me into the ultrasound room, where a svelte woman in a mini-skirt and high leather boots attended me.  She was not particularly warm and rather matter-of-fact as she squirted my still flat belly with the jelly and began running the camera wand over it.  “Now I’m measuring the amniotic fluid,“  she explained.  “And now I’m looking at your stool.”
            “You’re measuring my stool?”
            “Sometimes it can tell you things,” she said rather dryly.  I had no idea what she meant, and I was afraid to ask her, but I felt the need to explain that I had stopped in Chinatown for dumplings, to which she had no comment. 
I go back to watching my little baby on video, now, and I really like what I see.  I see it punching with its little hands.  At one point it looks like its sucking its thumb.  But the technician seems disinclined to share in my woozy euphoria.  She is all about business.  I find myself wondering why she dresses the way she does, in an office full of pregnant patients.  I mean, with all the legs and the leather.  Didn’t she get the memo high heels are bad for your health? 
Such are the meanderings of my mind when, after about a half an hour of sliding the wand around, she said, “Well, everything is looking fine, but because of the way the baby is turned it’s a little hard to see everything.  I’m going to send the doctor in.  Just stay where you are.”
            So in comes the doctor, whom I am meeting right now for the first time.  “Well hello!” he comes in tall and stooping, with a big goofy smile, holding out his hand.  I try to sit up to shake it and he says, “No! No! Stay right where you are!” and meanwhile I end up putting my hand in all the gross jelly on my belly.  “Let me see your beautiful baby!” he grins, and takes up the wand.
            I’m back to watching my beautiful baby swimming around on the monitor.  “Is it sucking it’s thumb?” I ask.
            “A little soon for thumb sucking,” he says.  He studies the picture briefly, then blurts, “Wait a minute.  I think there’s something wrong with the head.”
            Something wrong with the head.   Something wrong with my baby’s head.  Suddenly there is something seriously wrong with my head.  This cannot be happening, is all I can think.
            “Wait,” he says.  “Maybe I’m not seeing anything.”
            Not seeing anything?
            “Maybe I was mistaken,” he says. 
            Mistaken?  Maybe, just maybe this guy missed the class in med school where they talk about a little thing called bedside manner. 
I tell him, “I didn’t know they’d be throwing a rollercoaster ride in with the price of admission.” 
“It’s just,” he explains, “if there’s something wrong, we like to know as soon as possible, so that you can start over.  Remind me when I see you the next time,” he says, “that you are the one that I made cry.   I’ll make sure to get another good look at the head.  But I can’t say now that I see anything wrong.”
“I imagine you have seen a lot of things in your line of work,” I offer, trying to put it in perspective.
“Oh, I’m a High Risk Obstetrician,” he answered.  I’ve seen a lot of things.”
            He pulled out a chart and showed me.  “You see.  Based on your age alone, you have a very high chance of a chromosomal disorder… 1 out of 48…so we have to make sure.”
            With that he walked out, leaving me to wipe the slime off my skin, refasten my pants, and go home.   Nice to meet you, Doctor…
            It wasn’t easy for me, having a first child at the age of 42.   I had to contend with a sizeable dose of uncertainty.  But it was worth it.  I learned that my window was very much open.  And I’m just glad I didn’t let anyone close it on me.  I would have missed out on the most amazing view I’ve ever laid my eyes upon:  the sight of my beautiful, healthy baby boy!