Friday, April 27, 2012

This Long Letting Go


I see the pattern of waves in the cross-sea

Advance, a fog-surface over the fog-floor,

Seamounts, slow-flowing. Colors. Plunge point

of air.

            --Muriel Rukeyser, from King’s Mountain



I have been dreaming of the Northern California coast and the smell of the ocean in March in the town of Fort Bragg, a few miles north of Mendocino. I can feel the misty air on the skin of my cheeks and smell the little room where I slept as we waited for the birth of Claribel, Georgia’s daughter. I lay on a sleeping roll beside the glass doors with my feet warming on a cloth bag of rice we heated in the microwave. I slept in Claribel’s bedroom, the wood floor painted plum, and at night I fell asleep reading My Antonia. During the day I sat in the café downstairs working on my Master’s Thesis before walking down to the coast, where I followed the footpath through the bluffs, north, enamored with the force and heave of the Pacific, with a distant unfolding in the sky. 


If you want to dream, go to Fort Bragg, California. Normal life cannot exist there. The fog and the mist blanketing the air, and the waves, tall as sea cottages, crashing the shore, do not occupy any human kind of world. They are sanctuary of something greater, just as the Redwood forests, a little ways inland from the coast, make their own kind of quiet. Entire ecosystems exist in their sky-bound branches. These trees and this coast undo me. During the two and a half weeks I spend with Georgia and eventually with Claribel and Georgia, I mourn the days I don’t get out to the bluffs. On the days that I do, I return each time shelled in silence, some part of me a little looser, less pronounced, as though my body is opening to refigure itself, to recreate, and my mind rendered helpless to the powers of this distance closing in and around me, quiets.

I am waiting for my son to be born, not in California, but in Vermont. For February, the weather’s warm: yesterday fifty degrees, today twenty-six. No snow on the ground. Gray saturates everything, including the mind; my eyes grow heavy looking for deeper contrasts of light and darkness, of color. Yesterday, we drove south to Middlebury to see a Doctor about delivering our son who’s in the breech position—head-up, star gazing. Tired from lack of sleep, from pointless bickering with my husband, from the heaviness of my body, I kept my eyes out the side window on the landscape where the wheat colored fields ran into plum hued trees. Far-off light lit up a mountain across the lake in New York. Just look, I kept thinking, breathe and look. But my eyes were so weary, laden with days of statuesque gray, I could only see patches of wheat yellow that reminded me of my young sisters’ hair I once braided Sunday mornings before church.

Last year in March I flew to California, took a bus north, got a ride further north through the switchback roads that lead to Fort Bragg—roads they say keep them from becoming a suburb of San Francisco, though I can’t imagine anyone willing to commute four hours. It’s a small town with small town folk mixed with growers and pickers, x-mill workers and loggers, and then the other people, the lost ones who came to dream.

I met my old friend in the hall of her apartment above the shop she ran, a week from her due date, as I am now. She waddled. We embraced. Because she is the kind of friend who feels like home, we fell easily into daily routines of walking, napping, eating, and talking. We could talk for hours, analyzing a person until we no longer knew them—our siblings, parents, friends, lovers—returning to the same conversation days later—in the middle of eating sandwiches—as though it had never ended. She remembers the details of my family as I do hers: the names and birth order of each of our five siblings, occupations and quirks. Years ago, sharing an apartment in Vermont, we spent Wednesday mornings drinking coffee on our back porch, reading our weekly horoscopes and ruminating over whatever drama currently took up our lives. Then as now, she will sit through hours of discussion and enjoy every bit of it.

But it is our mutual appreciation for the details—nothing insignificant—that offers the most comfort. It is her respect for what I’m trying to do and undo that makes me feel understood by her. I return from the bluffs quiet with flushed cheeks and she asks if I’m okay.  Yes. I see, she says, you’ve found the peace out there…the bluffs have a way of making things less complicated. Healing, I think, but only nod because a part of me still protects the inner world, even from her, the one who might most understand.

I am waiting for my son to arrive, dreaming a little every day of that coast, and no longer hoping that he’ll turn and swim head-down for the birth canal. My husband lies beside us with his mouth to my belly, singing songs to our son who kicks and squirms—happy as a clam, I suppose, with no interest in trying to come out. Sometimes I tell him that it’s okay out here. I say that it’s safe…and then, because I know he can sense the way I hesitate around this tall tale, I say, you must be brave here in the world, but I promise I will try to be brave with you, I’ll try for courage. 

I wanted him to be born in the water at home. His name, Moses, means drawn from water and there is the story of the basket on the Nile. But he is breech and despite all our antics he seems unable to turn. He will probably be born of surgery in a modern hospital, the hands that lift him from my open body—his first human touch—safely gloved in latex.

I am going back to Fort Bragg in my dreams, to walk along the coastal bluffs and sometimes in the sandy inlets when the tide is out. The air is heavy and wet and the trees beside the ocean are craggy, gnarled creatures—not tall, but stretching out in curled madness, or is it peace? There are stories about the crazies of these parts. Georgia grew up here and tells me that the isolation gets to people. But I am thinking of the way the shoreline winds up the coast, deep and majestic cliffs, a place close-by called the Lost Coast; I am thinking about the way the land and the sea here have somehow escaped human plans and will outlast us all to go on in its particular way with no one to characterize or name these beaches, these coiled trees. Perhaps we’ll find a way to destroy it too, as we mostly cannot bear such beauty. But I won’t believe that, at least not today.

Claribel recently took her first steps in Nevada where Georgia moved to be closer to her own mother. But I don’t imagine Claribel walking there. I see her tiny feet fumbling over the big open living room in Fort Bragg, the sizable, old windows scattering a rare glimpse of winter sun across the wood floor, catching her up in its flickering shower. I don’t know why I need to be there right now or if the warm weather here triggers these memories, kick-starts my dreams. I only know that I will take my son there someday. I will walk with him along the coast, hunt for tide pools. And though I won’t say it and he will never know me better than he does right now, I will tell him that I let something go there on that coast—I left something to the wind, the crashing sea, and in its place grew room enough for a child of my own.

She was born just after midnight, under a spotlight, in a dark room. Georgia called to her, “my baby,” and the doctor put Claribel on her chest where she was safe again so close to the familiar comfort of her mother’s heartbeat—safe, just a little bit longer. And this of course is what we must come to terms with—this long letting go. We cannot keep the coast for ourselves any more than we can save our children from living. All our best intentions to wall out the chaos of these oceans lead only to sorrow.


Claribel, one week


I know a part of me keeps him there in his celestial sea, just a few days more, knowing that the memory of my heartbeat will quickly fade, that the moment I meet him will begin this long letting go. I am reminded of the craggy tree, the twisted tree, the tree of immense beauty that stood alone on the bluffs, away from the copse of giant trees. I am reminded of the ocean in my hand as I bent there to hold it, and in my view, my looking, a distance that made me small again, the way I entered the world, in reverence. The way I hope to leave here, someday far, far away.

Moses, eight weeks

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oh, Baby! Thoughts on Motherhood

Mama and Mosey

I find it utterly impossible to write about my baby boy. See, even that phrase, "baby boy," sounds so ridiculous to me. I've always been terrified of sounding sentimental or gushing over my little life loves. I've come to this page a dozen times in the past two months with a genuine and open heart, but each time I begin to write something I feel hoodwinked by motherhood. To be clear, I adore motherhood and feel that if I didn't get this gray clouded feeling when I stopped writing, I would devote myself almost entirely to the job. That and remodeling/rearranging the furniture and nick-knacks in my apartment...perfecting the art of latte making and baking pastries.

The surreal nature of having a child hasn't begun to dissipate for me. It's magical and confusing and a place of dazed wonderment. I try to explain to my husband the many faces of our baby...I say, "it's like he has multiple persons" to which he responds, "or just a range of emotions." But that doesn't capture the feeling I have that he is entirely different when sleeping--though, in reflection, I don't watch other people sleep--then when he's playing on his playment or watching  I can't help feeling that my baby is splendidly beautiful or imagining the warm, kind and loving personality he'll most certainly possess as a little boy and a grown one. I'm terrified in particular about how or what he'll think of me. What if he grows to hate me? What if I'm one of those overprotective, "helicopter" parents? What if he's a writer and finds my writing an embarrassment? Or what if he's disappointed in the semi-impovrished lifestyle his father and I have chosen. Oh, the what ifs.


Baby in the bath--I am the oldest of 6 and I
always remember giving the baby a bath in the sink.
At home with my mother we gave Moses a bath in her kitchen sink.
She holds him here.


You see, in general, I try to contain my motherhood urges...such as plastering photos of my son all over fb, or gushing to friends about every little thing he does, (grandmas, however, love to hear these stories) each quirk and new trick he learns, how cute he looks in blue, orange, yellow, green...well, most colors.

However, I am reminded of my father and the way he tried to humble us as kids, which sort of only brought on early low-self esteem issues. Good old Dad once told me that he was worried we (his five daughters) might get big headed about our good looks so he tried to down-play them...and, he said, I guess it kind of backfired. He was referring to the low quality of boyfriends accumulated amongst us at the time. It's true, I dated some real doozies: they were always pathological liars and addicts for some reason. As an adult, I slowly learned how to celebrate my sucesses rather than bashfully stare at the floor or deflect the compliment. I don't know how many years I felt stunned (really, stunned) when someone took a compliment with a simple "thanks" (yes, it's true I do look good in blue).

I think about my son loudly pooping while sitting on my lap as I checked in at the Doctor's office. His face revealed a calm satisfaction, a pleasure, at a job well done. I'm so used to this noise and the way his pooping dicates his mood, that I forgot to smile and laugh until the lady checking us in did. Then I turned to him and mouthed, "good job, buddy!"

Mosey with his pals