Imagine my mother. She…

Imagine my mother. She is twenty-one years old, and arrives in the U.S. on Christmas Day 1973 with a two-year-old daughter and a husband. She speaks English fluently, but has never experienced winter -- no snow, never even a cold day. Her entire life, she has eaten homemade curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She doesn't know how to drive a car (and won't learn for over a decade). She has lived surrounded by family -- parents, plus eight siblings and innumerable aunts and uncles and cousins.

I'll never know for certain what she was like then, as a mother to a toddler, with a busy doctor husband who was often gone. (My parents told me recently that when my dad was on call overnight, my mother would bring me to the hospital, and we'd sleep there, in one of the rooms. I had no idea.) I don't know whether she was patient with me, or frustrated, or angry. My mother was alone with me for many hours a day, and the friends she had, other Sri Lankan wives, lived an hour or more driving distance away. I know that she was a smart woman, who spoke three languages fluently and mastered calculus in high school (something I didn't manage to do in college). She taught me to read by the time I turned three, and while I have no proof of this, I am sure that she spent innumerable hours holding me, talking to me, bathing me, singing to me. Frankly, she didn't have that much else to do.

I'm not that kind of mother. I have to remind myself to talk to Kavi, to sing to her. To carry her when I can, instead of just putting her down to rock in her swing. Friends told me that these months with her as a baby are precious, and go too quickly, and I should stop trying to multitask and just enjoy her. And I try, but oh, I miss my old life. I still want to go to cafes and work for a few hours, to read a book in peace, to go to a movie with friends, to teach adults how to write fiction, and even occasionally to talk theory. Honestly, it's often dull, hanging out with the baby. I run out of things to say to her. "Hello, Kavi! Hello! How are you? Hello!" Over and over and over again. One book recommended narrating your day as you go: "Oh, and now we're going to chop onions for the curry. We hate chopping onions, but we sure do a lot of it, don't we?" It's good advice, but easy to forget to do, especially when you have twelve different tasks fighting for space in your head.

You know we're trying to get Kavi back to the breast. I don't know if it'll happen -- she's been screaming every time I tried to coax her into nursing, and it may just be too late now. She knows that food comes from a bottle, and that real nipples are just too much work. The lactation lady came on Tuesday, and her recommendation was very gentle. No grabbing the baby's head and pushing it onto the breast, the way they did in the hospital. I'm supposed to just do lots of 'kangaroo care' -- naked (or at least topless) cuddling with the baby, trying to show her that the breast is not a source of stress and anxiety, but a warm snuggly place where mommy sings to you and tells you happy stories. I'm supposed to be doing this as much as possible, whenever I can make time to just sit or lie down or take a bath with her.

I'm not particularly good at this. I think in the last three days, I've averaged maybe an hour a day of kangaroo care. I get so impatient, wanting to get things done, and it's very hard to let the e-mail, the laundry, the writing -- to let it all just go. Part of that's the pump, of course -- being tied to pumping every three hours makes me feel like I just have these tiny little windows of time to get things done during the day. I find it very difficult to add 'snuggle with baby' to the to-do list. It just doesn't seem urgent.

But she's already three months old. When I talk to my parents, almost every conversation, after they ask how she's doing, they say, "The time just flies." And it's true. The laundry will keep, but the baby will keep on growing, and someday soon, she won't be a baby anymore. So I'm trying, I am. Trying to make a space to not just be a mother who takes conscientous care of her baby's immediate needs, but also a mother who enjoys her baby, who makes a game out of seeing how many smiles she can coax out, who plays with her baby for the sheer fun of it, who sings song after song after song, even after the baby is happy and calm, even when I could put her down and go get some work done.

And you know what? I'm learning to like it, snuggling with the baby. I'm never going to be the kind of mother my mom was -- there's too many other things I value in my life, things I don't want to lose. But I think I can make some room to enjoy my baby. That was the whole point of having her. :-)

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