Thursday, March 05, 2015

never place a period where god has placed a dash*

1. acceptance. speeches.

I’ve been thinking about humility, and not just because we’re at the tail end of awards season, a time when people make tearful speeches about how humbled they are. I really liked Common and John Legend’s acceptance speech for the Selma song. They were humble not just in the way that is the opposite of bragging, which is how I’ve thought about humility in the past, but in a way that acknowledges they didn’t get there alone. They are part of a continuing history of struggle. They are part of a community, and they’re holding a statue because others have taken punches or even bullets.**

What I’m trying to say is, I think humility is knowing you’re just a character in a story. Humility is arriving at a chapter in that story a different person than you were on page one, and the values you had back then almost feel irrelevant, or at least foreign.

What I’m trying to say is, on Oscar night? Here is how I watched.

2. santa barbara

In December, AK and I started talking to an expectant mom I’ll call Erica. Like so many of the e-moms we’ve talked to in the past couple of years, she was friendly and sweet and seemed enthusiastic about possibly placing her baby with us. A couple of factors made us extra (cautiously!) hopeful: She was almost eight months along (I still remember talking to an e-mom who’d known she was pregnant for ONE WEEK, which is sort of like calling a publisher because you have an idea for a book). And she lived in Santa Barbara. She was only our second California contact, and our first fellow SoCal girl. Something about that connection made all three of us feel like, Yep, you get it.

We drove up to the leafy, tile-roofed outskirts of Santa Barbara and had a nice sushi lunch with her. Erica was easy to talk to, a person who seemed to inhabit our world.

Actually, sushi is usually not harmful to babies. Just look at these guys.
We had our official “match meeting” with her and our agency on January 23. We were all exhausted by the end of it. Erica drove home, ordered a pizza and then her water broke.

In a state of adrenaline-fueled delirium, AK and I packed her car with the unopened car seat we’d barely had time to order on Amazon and the gifts Jamie had just given me: a bag of baby odds and ends like diaper cream and gas drops, and a bunch of unisex baby clothes recently outgrown by her youngest daughter. All very useful things if you have a baby in your home. Not really necessary at the hospital, but we were basically chickens without heads. Imagine every sitcom dad you’ve seen, but turn him into two women who have a two-hour drive which they use to argue about whether someone needs to buy a changing table stat.

Are changing tables really necessary? Just one of the hot debates of modern parenthood.
We arrived at the quiet, tile-roofed hospital (everything in Santa Barbara has a tile roof) around 11 p.m. We found Erica in a softly lit room with the gentlest nurse you’ve ever met. Just after 1 a.m. on January 24, she gave birth to a baby boy we named Dashiell Taylor. First name because we like it and it’s literary and he certainly Dashed into the world (ha!). Middle name because it is my mom’s maiden name, not because we are fans of Swift or Lautner.

Dash in his hospital casserole dish.
Erica said, “Congratulations. You have a son.”

3. in the wise words of ‘90s band semisonic

So far, Dash has been one of those “easy” babies you hear about. My dad has been reminding me since I was about five what a loud baby I was, so I figured it was my karma to get a screamer. But if I’ve learned one thing these past four years, it’s that karma—at least in the simple, pop culture sense—is bullshit. You don’t get the child you “deserve” any more than you get a child because you deserve one.

We got Dash: calm, bright-eyed, curious and “athletic”—to quote his pediatrician upon witnessing tummy time—in the way you might expect of a kid whose mom went for a hike the day after giving birth. He’s really effing handsome. I’m biased, of course, but that’s not bragging because it’s not my DNA. He makes me laugh a lot. When I cry or freak out, it’s because I’m scared something or someone will take him away, but around Dash himself, I usually feel pretty calm. He has that effect on me, even though it’s not his job to heal me. It’s his job to learn to be Dash.

Bath time, Dash time.
This is like that song “Closing Time,” a song AK is considering adding to her regular karaoke rotation. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I’m feeling very humbled, which for me is a mix of gratitude, connection and mild bafflement.

(Across from me, in his bouncy seat, Dash just farted and rolled his eyes as if to say, Mommy, let’s not get too mushy here.)

4. i’d like to thank the academy

And now I would like to thank some people—and inevitably, in true awards season tradition, forget some key players.

The obvious: AK, who didn’t give up on me. Erica, who trusted us to raise her son. The people I could say the most about, I have to say the least about here. There is too much. There are volumes and volumes.

(Dash just shared two long farts.)

A man of many expressions.
My dad, who has modeled parenthood by giving everything he can to make this happen, both financially and emotionally. My sister, who doesn’t always get me, but always gets me.

Both of our dads are a little bit like, Um, what are you supposed to do with a newborn?
My therapist, who told me this could happen every week, over and over, fanning the flame of hope every time it flickered and waned.

Our couples therapist, herself an open-adopter, who got AK and I through the roughest of rough patches and helped us truly rebuild the dynamics of our relationship.

The friends who held me through my darkest, bitterest moments. There are many of them, and I won’t list them all, but very especially:
  • Nicole, who always has my back so fiercely that sometimes I end up defending my own enemies to her;
  • Jamie, who endured my palpable envy and frequent workplace tears with more patience than I deserved, and taught me that friendships can ebb and flow and heal;
  • Amy, who GETS IT, who ranted with me about easily-pregnant friends until the day she sent me an email with the subject line the dreaded email – i’m pregnant. Even then, she listened to me sob on the phone to her; she gave me space but never used “space” as an excuse to slowly excise me from her life;
  • Meehan, who has stalwartly and subtly insisted on being my friend for years now, even when I’m like, Wait, you are such a wunderkind, why do you even want to talk to me?;
  • Alberto, Pedro, Stephen—Dash’s uncles, the men I would love to see him emulate in so many ways, the tall strong good listeners I leaned on when I hated everyone with a uterus;
  • Keely, whom I haven’t heard from in a year, but who got me through the early days of wondering what motherhood was all about, and knitted me beautiful things;
  • Kim, my sponsor in Hypochondriacs Anonymous, because the miscarriage/breakdown/cancer/baby story is all one story;
  • Joewon, who also GETS IT—the anxiety and cancer and fear of loneliness 
  • Wendy, the kind of friend you can call when you just desperately need someone to tell you that you are a good and deserving and talented person; 
  • D, who understands loss, sends me light, and is also a pet psychic. 

AK’s family, especially her sister, who also gets it. AK’s mom, a.k.a. Nana, has the patience to hold Dash in her glow for hours on end.

Nana, a.k.a the Baby Whisperer.
My Uncle Robin and Aunt Connee, who gave me hours of free therapy (literally; they’re both licensed therapists) when I hit bottom. My Aunt Vanessa, who is so quick and generous with her love that she’s fallen for Dash in just a few cell phone pictures; I like that the “Taylor” part of his name honors her a bit too.

The Squeakies, the first babies who taught me how to be a mom. I would have been a much more neurotic, confused mother to them—they took one for the team in the way that all firstborns (and first never-borns) do—but no less loving. I love them. I still do. Their presence isn’t such a daily pulse in my life anymore, but I will always love them. They were real. They are my babies.

My Homeboy family, who have held me and lived out the worldview I am trying to practice in this phase of my life. Especially my bad-ass boss Jacki, who never batted an eye at the prospect of an impromptu maternity leave and cheered me on at every step; Mary Ellen, an old soul who open-adopted her daughter twenty years ago, and Alexa, herself a late-blooming mom, who promised me it would happen and enshrouded me with warmth and wisdom.

Don't mess with our squabs.
My online support community, a fierce and diverse collective of Pigeon Moms. They GET IT too. They speak the shorthand of e-moms, b-moms, matches and TPRs. They say, at every turn, Keep swimming. It will happen. I never thought it would either, and then it did. KEEP SWIMMING. They are willing to analyze the minutia of e-mom communications like a swarm of schoolgirls looking at a text from a boy. They are willing to do mild surveillance work on sketchy e-moms. They would die for their children, but they also get that attachment takes a while and motherhood is rocky and weird even under “normal” circumstances. They all like drama just a little bit. They are my tribe.

In this picture, you can't tell that I have spit-up on my dress.
Going forward, I don’t want to turn Bread and Bread into a mommy blog any more than I wanted to turn it into a cancer blog—which is to say that you’ll be seeing a lot of mom posts just as you saw a shitload of cancer posts. I’m going to try to keep the pics of and stories about Dash to a minimum, for the sake of both privacy and obnoxiousness avoidance. His story is his own. He’s just started to write it. Mostly in farts.

*I couldn’t resist this riff on that sign you see outside progressive churches (“Never place a period where God has placed a comma”; i.e., don’t interpret the bible as literal, immovable fact), but I feel compelled to add that I don’t think God “brought” us Dash. I don’t think that’s how God works. I think God is love and lives in us and Erica and Dash.

**Which is not to equate my own cranky story with the Civil Rights Movement. But I did once write a college entrance essay using Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” to describe my experience not making drill team the first time I tried out. Strangely, I was accepted into that college anyway.


Kat said...

Writing his own story in farts. I LOVE THAT!

Alanna Lin Ramage said...

Thank you, Cheryl. This was beautiful.

Fresca said...

Wow! Congratulations!!!
You don't know me---I found your blog a couple months ago (blog-roll hopping---can't remember who I started with to end up here...)--enjoy your writing but didn't comment until now, when how could I not:
This is so great!

Claire said...

Absolutely love that last photo of you, AK, and Dash!

Congratulations again, all the best to all y'all!

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Fresca and Claire!

Cheryl said...

And Kat and Alanna!