Dear…

Dear Kavya,

Yesterday, you turned four. All day, I was thinking about writing you this letter, and how I should talk about how yes, you have firmly entered the princess phase, and your favorite color is indeed pink (but you often remind us that you also love all the colors, even, lately, white and black, and the clothing combinations you put together right now are blinding). I should talk about how sweet you are with your little brother, how most of the time you try hard to help us with him, and there is really a pretty minimal amount of screaming that that particular toy is 'mine!' How you are learning to use language in new and interesting ways every day -- you don't just mimic funny adult turns of phrase, but also put them together with other words in unintentionally hilarious ways. How you love to dance and sing and make art -- lots and lots of art. I should have written a long post about all of that, but this is what I kept thinking instead:

You are four. Four times four is sixteen. When you are seventeen, you will likely go off to college. Which means that you are already a quarter of the way through your childhood, through your time with us. A quarter done, and I can't take that in; it seems unreal. Which means the rest will likely go that way as well, and in a flicker, you will be gone.

And it's breaking my heart. I want to spend all the rest of my days with your sweet smile.

Happy birthday, princess.

love,
Amma

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Dear Anand, Please do…

Dear Anand,

Please do not pull mugs of just-boiled tea off the kitchen table. It is not a good way to end a dinner party. First we needed to forcibly hold your hand under cold water while you howled bloody murder, and then, when we realized that the hot water had somehow run up your arm (under your shirt sleeve) and burned the arm, Amma took a late night trip to the emergency room (leaving Kevin with a freaked-out Kavya and leaving poor Samanthi to handle guest departure and clean-up) for burn cream on what turned out to be a second-degree burn. Calling Aunty Roshani in a panic for advice is very stressful. It makes Amma cry.

Admittedly, she was crying in part out of guilt for leaving the cup of hot tea where you could reach it, since she should have known better. But the problem is that every day it seems like you get a little taller and can reach a little farther and you are ridiculously fast and surprisingly strong. It is getting quite difficult for your poor parents to predict exactly how you will attempt to injure yourself next.

Really, we would just like you to survive until adulthood. Please.

love,
Amma

p.s. Note to concerned-fans-of-Anand -- he seems fine today. A little snugglier than normal, but otherwise cheerful, happy, and trying to throw himself off things just like always. Sigh.

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Dear…

Dear Children,

Yesterday I was having lunch with some childhood friends; none of them have children yet. Four women, they range in age from twenty-one to thirty-four, and they asked me how it's been. Having children.

I told them that I almost didn't. (You almost didn't exist!) I've always wanted children, always planned to have them. When I was young, I secretly planned to have a horde of them, like my grandmother, who had nine. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had pruned the numbers down to a more respectable three or four, because after all, I did have books to write. Lots of them. By age thirty it was clear that I was madly in love with Kevin, the kind of love that seemed quite likely to last the rest of my life. And it was also clear that he was serious when he said that he didn't want children.

You know the punchline to this part of the story -- obviously, your father changed his mind. But you don't know how it really went, because I don't think I've told anyone all of this before, before telling the girls at lunch. (They are all women, of course, grown women, not girls, but I first met them when they were children, and so to me, they will always be sweet girls, forgive me.) I told them how I tried, for many years, to not want children, because Kevin didn't want them. How he tried, for many years, to want them, because I wanted them. We broke up, in large part over this. We got together again, almost a year later, because we couldn't stand to be apart. But we still had no idea how to resolve this.

In the end, I decided that I wanted to be with him more than I wanted children. I was shaken, but relieved, because finally the decision was made. And then it turned out that it was not done at all. Because at thirty-four, I developed uterine fibroids, which were at first terrifying, and then turned out to be merely fertility-threatening. And it shouldn't have mattered at that point, but it did. And then I turned thirty-five, and knew that my window was beginning to close, and soon it would be irreparably shut. I found myself crying all the time, helplessly crying, so much that at times Kevin would have to drive me in to teach because I was crying too hard to drive, and I would pull myself together for an hour to teach class, hoping the students didn't notice my swollen eyes and reddened nose. And then, he drove me home, and in the car, I would start crying again.

This went on for two hideous months. I tried to get past it, and failed. I couldn't have told you why it felt so important, so critical, so utterly necessary that I have children, but it did. It felt like something I absolutely had to try to do. And at the same time, I loved Kevin so much, and couldn't bear to leave him again. I felt I was being torn in two, and at times I didn't know how I would get through the days.

In the end, I told Kev that I wasn't leaving him, but that I was also going to have a child, and he could stick around or not, as he chose. I started researching adoption, because if it wasn't going to be our biological child, shaped of us both, I found that I didn't have much investment my genetic material being in the mix. I wanted to raise a child, to be a parent. That was the part that mattered. It turned out that adoption was horribly expensive. That Sri Lanka wouldn't allow a single woman to adopt, but India was more lenient. I talked to a friend whose uncle ran an adoption agency in India, and started saving money. And then Kevin came to me and told me that if I was going to have a child, he would rather I had one with him.

You'll have to ask your father why he was so resistant to the idea of becoming a parent, and why, in the end, he changed his mind. That's his story to tell, not mine. I hope it's clear to you, as it is to me, that once he decided to be in this, he was all in. Kev has been, for the past four years, an utterly committed and devoted parent, and far more patient than I am. I think I am right when I say that your father has found tremendous joy in you both, and I have to admit to sometimes feeling a little smug, because I was quite sure, all along, that he would love this.

I haven't loved it so much.

No, that's wrong.

Let me say rather, it has been immeasurably difficult, much more so than I imagined. I try to come up with phrases to explain parenting to these four women, some of whom are sure they want children, some who are not so sure, but are considering it.

It is like taking on another full-time job, on top of the one you already have. And then some. You give up all control of your own life, because at every moment, your infant's needs must come first. Research has shown that the brains of sleep-deprived parents look very much like the brains of psychotic people; you are literally crazed with lack of sleep while you are trying desperately to keep this small and fragile creature alive. Breast-feeding can be a torture for both mother and child when it doesn't go well, and the guilt, while the hormones rush through you, can make you feel like an utter failure. Exclusively pumping for six months takes twice as much time as normal breast-feeding would, which is already an impossible amount of time. Showering becomes a luxury. Cold food is better than no food. You are at the mercy of your body and its hormones, your child and its unending needs. It is as if someone has reached in and torn a hole in your very self. The first nine months of your life, Kavya, (until you finally slept through the night) were the most intense physical, mental, and emotional gauntlet that I have ever been through, and I just put my head down and tried to survive the days. And then, Anand, we did it all again with you.

We did it all again.

Because for all the misery and difficulty, it is astonishing, being a parent. It is transformative. I imagine it must be similar to being in a war, or having a transcendental religious experience -- you go through a door into another country, one you could never have envisioned. In passing through that door, you are changed forever. Admittedly, I am an experience junkie -- if you asked me right now, would you like to go into a war zone? , I would want to say yes. Only the thought that I have a responsibility to my children to keep my body safe for the next seventeen years would give me pause. In my life thus far, I have chosen great risk every time, as long as there is also the possibility of great rewards. So let that frame what comes next.

Because although I would never say those words to anyone -- do it. have kids. -- I said it to these women, at the end of our lunch. I told them to dive into the trenches. Take the risk.

I don't think you should have kids if you don't want to, if you don't have an interest, if there are other things you'd rather do. Having children does preclude other kinds of lives. Each of my (relatively easy) children has cost me two years of writing time, which is perhaps a book each. Time and energy are finite resources, and there are trade-offs that only you can calculate the worth of. You absolutely should not have kids unless you want them, and if anyone -- parents, siblings, society in general -- tries to tell you otherwise, well, I hope you will tell them where to shove it. There are so many fascinating and worthwhile ways to live your life that do not involve being a parent, and if I had died before having children, I would not feel that my life had been wasted. My life pre-kids was amazing.

But I think those women I was talking to -- I think they all do want to have children. I may be wrong, but I've known them for a long time, since they were wee children themselves, so perhaps they will forgive a little big-acca butting in, when I say that I think they want quite badly to have children, but some of them are, perhaps, scared of how having children will destroy the beautiful lives and careers they have built for themselves.

And to those particular people (who want, but perhaps fear), I say yes, children will destroy you. They will tear you apart. But afterwards, they will help put you back together new and golden. In a shape that has two strong arms in which a small creature can nestle, knowing that she is warm, and loved, and safe. Through that crack in your self, as Cohen says, the light will come in, and you may discover a new dimension that you didn't know was there. An entire world on the other side of that door. Parenting will likely -- perhaps especially if you are a smart, capable, accomplished person who is used to succeeding easily -- be tremendously humbling. Sometimes on a daily basis, as you realize just how hard this practice will push at your capabilities, at the limits of what you can stand. And who deliberately chooses to be humbled? That's no fun. And yet.

I know it's scary, I know that you will lose parts of yourself that you have valued, that you have even loved. But you will get most of them back, eventually, and so much more besides. The reasons I am besotted with my children are beyond measure. Joy upon joy.

One of those women raised the question of having a partner in this endeavor. And the gods know that I do not know how I would have survived the past four years without Kevin at my side. I do not know how single parents do it. But at the same time -- they do do it. People parent in all kinds of circumstances -- alone, old, exhausted, poor. Some of them do it very well. And while I absolutely think it is worth searching for a partner to share your life and work and love (if that is what you desire), and I know it can be terrifying to consider parenting without one -- don't wait too long. Whether you choose pregnancy or adoption, there is a deadline, and if you cross that line, you may lose the chance to choose to be a parent. Be aware of your own timeline, and be smart -- and when the time is right, take the leap, even if the circumstances seem far from perfect. There is never a perfect time to have a child.

Or, another way of thinking about it, is that perhaps any time is perfect. I chose not to have a child at eighteen; that was the only choice I felt I could make at that time. I didn't think my life would survive having a child, and so I didn't even let myself think about whether I wanted to try. But now, looking back -- I think if I had had that child, I would have survived it. I'm not regretting that choice, but I do wish, perhaps, that I'd known myself and my capabilities better. That I'd trusted that no matter how hard it would be, I would find the help and resources I needed to survive it, and survive it well.

Kavya and Anand -- I have no idea if you will ever desire children yourselves. Please do not ever think that you need to have them for me, that you are obliged to give me grandchildren. Grandchildren sound like great fun, but they are the bonus round, so to speak. You are my main event, and whatever you choose for your lives, parenting or not, war or love or God or who knows what, all I ask is that you do it with your whole heart. When fear rises up within you -- and it will -- try not to let it stand in your way.

Be brave, children. And know how very much you are loved.

You are so interesting.

love,
Amma

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Dear Children, Okay,…

Dear Children,

Okay, I just have to ask this. What is up with the clinginess and the weeping and the hurling yourselves to the floor in tears (sometimes flailing and arching your backs first, despite all efforts to snuggle you into calmness)? We can handle one or the other of you doing this -- but both of you? Thank the gods you don't usually do it at the same time, or we would really melt down -- and in fact, it's pretty charming, Kavi, how you come over and try to make Anand feel better, with loud laughing, nonsense words (sometimes screamed into his face, but the intent is good and even sometimes works), and fierce hugs (which, sadly, he mostly hates, but you doesn't really understand that). I just don't get what's causing all the emotional angst.

For most of the last year, we've had a lot of chaos, but really, things have been very calm (for us) for a few months now. No major trips, changes in schedule, changes in domicile, etc. But you both just seem fragile -- at school today, for example, while all the other kids were running around like lunatics getting ready for the Halloween parade, Kavi, you insisted on climbing into my lap, and once again, wept when I left. Is it just too much pre-school time? Not enough mama-time? But if that's it, why are the other kids okay? You've been at this school for almost three months now, so I'd think there would be enough time to adjust. And Kevin does say that when he comes for pick-up, you're happily playing, and often you don't want to leave. And the teachers say that you're fine a few minutes after I leave, and I think I believe them. But every morning, you tell me you don't like school, that you don't want to go. Do I believe you in the morning, or do I believe you in the afternoon?

Miss Ann says that you are a sensitive child, Kavya, and the truth is, I don't know what to do with a sensitive child. I was emphatically not a sensitive child, and most of the time that I can remember, I wanted very little to do with my parents. I was busy doing my own thing -- nose in a book, wandering outside, etc. Of course, I don't really remember being three. Maybe I was just as clingy then. I should ask my mother.

And Anand. Anand! Enough with the waking up at 10 p.m., and waking up at 4 a.m., okay? You are thirteen months old, which is old enough to be sleeping through the night, please. You wake, you scream for us, you won't be soothed down again, you want to get up and play and will scream until we let you do that -- and then, half an hour to an hour later, you realize you're exhausted, and scream until we put you back to bed. We are seriously tired of all the screaming, Anandan. Amma and daddy are really rather quiet people. Relatively speaking, at least.

At least you seem to like school. That's something.

There are all sorts of charming and delightful things I should probably be chronicling about you two. Anand, the way you've learned to say hi! bye! Ellie! and uh-oh! (the last very often and reliably, every time you drop or throw something to the floor) is seriously cute. Kavya, the way when you get mad, you say, "Don't talk to me!" You're having a hard time making decisions these days -- any given decision may throw you into frustrated confusion, even if it is as simple as red shirt versus blue. You both still love outside, but Kavi, you're now scared of the dark, and don't like taking walks when it's not light out. You love to draw and color -- last week I put up a line to display your artworks, and amma is impressed (even if no one else is). My current favorites are the technicolor portrait of the broken house (yes, that's what we call it around here, and no, we are not going to paint it in the colors you chose), the tissue-paper flowers, and the sunflower. Amma likes flowers, and yours are especially pretty.

You're close to potty-trained, although night-time is still hard -- Anand, you not so much. Not that we've started trying with you yet -- frankly, diapers seem a lot easier than the endless accidents and associated laundry. (With the two bouts of vomiting illness (hooray, pre-school) + potty training, I think I have done more laundry in the last three months than in the entire previous year.) Anand, you eat absolutely everything, and a lot of it too, while Kavi, you have reduced your menu to oatmeal, pasta, cheese, bananas, cheddar bunnies, and chocolate. And not necessarily any given one of those at any given moment. Someday you'll eat a vegetable again.

I'm sorry I'm better at recording the frustrations than the pleasures. There are many, many pleasures. I did love dressing you two up for Halloween this year -- you looked insanely cute. Kavi, I love singing you to sleep. Anand, I love tickling you and making you laugh like a banshee (much better than screaming like one). In general, I think you are beautiful, sweet, affectionate children. The various sitters and teachers tell us that you are very smart. You're finally starting to play together, although sharing is not so much in Miss Kavya's skill set yet -- apparently, all the toys in the house are hers. Which, to be honest, they mostly are. Or were. And of course, Anand, you don't make it easier when you insist on coming over and fiercely grabbing whatever toy Kavi is currently playing with. I can't really blame her for getting mad, but I am tired of having to referee your disputes, especially when taking the toy away from you, Anand, results in the aforementioned screaming fit and hurling self to floor. And there we are -- back to the difficulties.

Honestly, we're still pretty exhausted by you two. Glad we had you, but oh, we will be happy when you are just a little more self-sufficient, and a little less needy. Until you leave us, and then we will miss you desperately, and wish you needed us again.

Yes, you can bring your laundry home from college. Of course you can.

love,
Amma

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Dear Kavya, You…

Dear Kavya,

You started pre-school on July 1st, a few days ago, and it's not going well.

The night before, I couldn't sleep. Kevin and I were both worried about how you would adapt. You've been at home for three years, mostly either with us or with your nanny Jarmila, who really has been like part of the family. You're happy with all three of us; when one of us is watching you, you laugh and sing and dance and demand we build cities with you or draw or go to the park. You talk constantly, and you make up weird, delightful stories.

You didn't take so well to some of the other babysitters we've tried recently, Adriana and Alma, even though they're both really sweet and are great with your brother. Partly I think it's just that you've had a lot of change lately -- since the end of last July, we've moved to Daniel and Anne's for two months, moved to a rental house in Oak Park, moved to another rental house. As Jarmila got busier finishing up her degree, we had to bring in the other babysitters. And for two months, your parents were so busy with the move and the end of school that we actually had to have seven days a week of childcare in order to make it through. We were still around, but most of the daytime, someone else was actively taking care of you. You didn't always love that.

We had gotten you a little tent, a PeaPod, because we knew that between the two family trips this summer and the move, we'd likely need a place for you to sleep for a few nights. As it turned out, you fell madly in love with it, and have refused to sleep in your bed ever since we opened it up. Which is fine -- your bed will wait for you. If you're happier sleeping in your little green tent, if you feel more secure in its confines, that's just fine. But especially the week before and after the move, when we were at our most harried, you took to just going and hiding in your tent in the middle of the day. Sometimes a couple of times a day. Which was a little worrisome.

And then the first day of school arrived. Your dad and I packed you both up and took you in. Anand went to his caregiver, no problem, as expected. Your dad played with you on the playground there while I talked to teachers and learned what they needed from us. And then it was time for us to go. You weren't thrilled about going with a teacher, but there were two little boys playing nearby. They said they were making food for the ants. And you said you wanted to make food for the ants. And the teacher said okay, let's get you a shovel. And off you went, seemingly content.

We came to pick you up after a half day; they'd recommended not starting with a full day, since it could be a bit of a shock for little people. You were all having lunch, and at first, you didn't want to go. We weren't sure what to do, and made the mistake of asking if you'd rather stay with the others for the afternoon, or go home to see Jarmila. That was apparently too hard a decision, because you started crying. So we scooped you up and took you home. You calmed down almost immediately, so it seemed reasonably okay.

But the next morning was awful.

I was going to New York, and had to leave at 9:30 to head to the airport for my flight. It was my parents' fortieth wedding anniversary, and my sisters and I had planned to take them to a nice lunch in the city as part of their gift from us. So I couldn't linger at pre-school that morning. You didn't want to go. You cried at the house, and I had to carry you out to the car. Which was tricky, because I had to carry your brother too. You calmed down a little driving over, but then started crying again after I dropped Anand off in his room. I tried to play with you a little on the playground, with a few other kids, and that went okay. We dug in the dirt -- I would dig a triangle, or a line, and the other kids would erase it with more dirt, and you thought that was very funny. You laughed. I thought maybe this would be okay after all. But time was passing, and I had to get going to the airport. When I stood up, you started just wailing. One of the teachers came over and picked you up and carried you away. When I walked out of the playground, you were howling, holding your arms out to me and calling. That shredded me.

It gets worse.

I called your dad from New York, to find out how the rest of the day had gone. He'd had to drop off some supplies for Anand, and afterwards he'd stayed and worked at the cafe next door. It has a big sunroom with windows that overlook the playground, so that working there, he could watch you, but you weren't likely to see him. It's one of the things we liked best about this particular preschool (along with the fact that Catherine and Robert, Daniel and Anne's kids, go there). He said that he saw you on the playground. You spent the entire time sitting on a bench, quietly. And when he came to pick you up, you were sitting on that same bench, and you had had a little accident and your pants were wet. You've been doing so well on toilet training, but I guess you didn't want to go tell the teachers that you needed the restroom. You hate being wet, or dirty. How miserable you must have been, sitting all alone, wet and uncomfortable, waiting. Did you even believe that we would come back?

Whenever I leave, I say, "I have to go to work, but I'll come back. I'll always come back." After the first time I said that, you latched on to it, and sometimes, you finish it for me, before I can. I say, "I have to go to work." And you say, "But you always come back." And I say, "That's right."

When your dad told me about you sitting on that bench, I wanted to pull you right out of the school. You're so little. You're too little to be so sad.

But we'd planned to give it at least a week, to give you time to adjust. After a week, you've adjusted to the new house -- you don't go hide in your tent anymore during the day. You laugh and run and tell stories, just like you used to. My sister, Mirna, thinks we should give you at least two weeks in the school, to see how it goes. She's probably right, even though it feels like we're torturing you.

All the other kids seem happy there. They laugh and run and play. We could take you home, do a combination of us watching you with a babysitter three days a week. We could afford that, though we'd fall further behind on our work. But most of the point of starting you in pre-school is that it seemed like it was time. You're great with adults, especially cheerful, outgoing adults. But you're not good at playing with other kids. You get overwhelmed easily if there's more than one or two of them. In not too long, you'll have to be in school with lots of kids, five days a week. So maybe it's worth trying to help you adapt to it now, in a smaller group.

I always kind of laughed at parents of 'sensitive' kids. I thought those parents were overly protective, and if they just relaxed and let the kid go, they'd do fine. But you really are sensitive in some ways. You can't take a harsh word or a raised voice -- if, at the end of a long day, I start to snap even a little, you immediately crumple. Maybe it's that we've been so gentle with you, or maybe it's just who you are. My dad says that he was a sensitive kid too, so maybe it's genetic.

We'll give it another week, maybe even two. Although if you keep crying the way you did on Friday, it is going to break my heart. I was riding the train back from New York yesterday, and there were these teenagers sitting across from me. And they were so young, and beautiful, and perfect. Since we had you, all children look that way to me. Even my college students do. And I know that the world is full of hard things, and I even believe that sometimes, the hard things are good for us, and make us stronger. But still. This isn't easy.

I was talking to your dad about this, and he said, "You know, this is just the beginning. Someday, she's going to be dating some boy you don't like." This is part of the parental job, I know. Letting you do things, even things that might cause you pain. It's part of helping you grow, and I can suck it up and do it. I can. But I don't have to like it.

So much love and so many apologies,
Amma

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The other day, I was…

The other day, I was lying down on the couch, and Kavi started doing something naughty, something she knew she wasn't supposed to do. I can't remember what exactly -- it could have been drawing with markers on her face, or hitting something with something else, or swinging from the curtains like a monkey. And I said, "No, Kavi, don't do that." And she came over to the couch, petted me very sweetly on the head, and said, "Go to sleep, Amma. Dream a nice dream." Nice try, little girl.

Yesterday, Anand climbed the first step of the stairs. Oh no. And he likes to hang on the rickety gate to the basement stairs. Now I am using packing boxes to contain him in the living room, and he does not appreciate it at all. The new rental is all on one floor, which will be a relief.

Kavi has progressed in her tv watching. Caillou reigned for years, but then was abruptly ousted by Go, Diego, Go, followed by Wonder Pets. And now, it's all about Team Umizoomi, all the time. I was initially annoyed that the boy (dressed in blue) got to build all kinds of cool things with his shape power, and the girl (dressed in pink) only got to decorate with her pattern power. Look -- you too can grow up to be an interior designer! But it turns out that patterns aren't just for making pretty -- they're using them more interestingly than that. Figuring out the next color or number in a sequence, for example. Patterns are pretty cool, it turns out. So we can indulge this obsession a little longer.

Although their songs are not as catchy as the Wonder Pets songs. Which may be a good thing, since I haven't seen a Wonder Pets episode in close to a month, but the theme song is still running through my head. We're not too big, and we're not too tough, but when we work together, we've got the right stuff!

Anand loves food -- pretty much any time he's upset, you can calm him down with a piece of bread to gnaw on. Comfort eating. I know we're teaching him bad habits for the future, but like mother, like son. I do love bread.

One other fun bit about Umizoomi is that there's a robot character with a belly screen, which gives me an excuse to flip up Kavi's shirt and search for her belly screen, tickling all the while. She laughs and smiles, but then fairly quickly orders me to stop. And I wonder sometimes where the line is on body integrity. Part of dealing with small children is that you're handling them all the time -- you have to. If I didn't physically hold Anand down during his diaper changes, there would be poop everywhere, because that boy cannot hold still for more than two seconds. So you get used to the physicality of that. And they love being thrown up in the air, or swung around, or grabbed suddenly. Mama's got you! I think they love both the sensation and the surprise of it. Which is all fine, and we stop immediately whenever they say stop -- no one is forced to give a hug, or a kiss, or be tickled here once they say no. But often that means you've crossed the line a little bit first, unknowing. It worries me.

And speaking of ordering me to stop, we're working on politeness. But while Kavi will sometimes indulge us with a "Can I have some X, please?" [we don't even try for may vs. can], her preferred mode of instruction is, "Do it!" Naming her queen of anything was a big mistake.

I am waiting for three things: for Anand to sleep through the night, for Kavi to finish potty training (we're mostly there, but are still doing way more laundry than we would like), and for the two of them to start playing together. My life will be immeasurably better when that happens -- or so I think. I told my mother this yesterday, and she laughed and said that I'd come up with some other excuse [for my stressing out] then.

Hmph. Parents.

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Dear Anand, You are…

Dear Anand,

You are six months old today. I want to tell you what you're like right now, but what I keep coming up with are comparisons to your sister. Is that the dreaded second-child syndrome? Or just the natural consequence of having someone to compare against? With Kavya, everything was new to us; with you, we find ourselves constantly saying, "Oh, that's earlier / later / different from how Kavi did it." And it's all complicated by gender, of course, because we don't know which of the differences are testosterone-driven (along with other biological bits), and which are just you.

But keeping that all in mind, here is a list of ways in which you are different from your sister:

  • You started eating solids much earlier. At four months, you were watching us eat and seemed eager to try food. (Kavi showed no such interest; we started her on solids at six months, and she liked them fine, but she was (and still is) a milk girl, through and through.) You progressed quickly from rice cereal and oatmeal cereal to applesauce, bananas, peas, squash, green beans, carrots, and prunes. We think you might be a little allergic to sweet potatoes (you got all red and blotchy), so we haven't tried those again. And you don't seem to like peaches much, which is funny, because your daddy loves peaches, especially white peaches. Perhaps they will grow on you. You really love food in general, though -- you get cranky when it's breakfast or lunch or dinnertime (yes, you're already on three solid meals a day) and your food is not ready, and you get positively panicky and very demanding when you see us making it. I hope you like our cooking just as much as these purees, although if your metabolism is anything like your parents', we'd better enroll you in some sports early. Or dance. Or martial arts. I was a chubby kid, and I'd like to spare you that (both of you); the playground is not a kind place. Which is not to say that we won't love you whatever size / shape / etc. you are. I'm not sure how parents are supposed to balance those things, but we're going to try our best. Neither of us ever fit in with the crowd, so I don't think you need to worry too much about our pressuring you to try to blend in.

  • Your name, Anandan, means happy (well, bliss, I think, but happy is a good day-to-day translation). And you are definitely a happier baby than your sister. You smile a lot -- you even started laughing a lot at four months, and you have a great, infectious, loud laugh. I don't remember Kavi really laughing at all as a baby. You laugh when we make funny noises at you, or pretend to eat your cheeks (okay, that one is mostly me). You smile all the time -- at sunshine and wind, at your sister and your dog, at us. You just seem to have a calm, happy temperament. I'm going to claim that you get that from me; I think I was a person of pretty sanguine humor, back before I turned into a stressed-out workaholic without enough hours in the day. But my base temperament is pretty much happy. Unlike your dad, who is more the melancholic type, or perhaps phlegmatic. Somewhere in there, at any rate. I think Kavi is more of his temperament, prone even as a baby to weeping and wailing, and now to sudden middle-of-the-night upsets. You don't sleep through the night yet, but some nights, you actually sleep more solidly than she does.

  • You're also a much more day-night person than she was as a baby. You tend to wake with the sun, and fall asleep with it too, and you have trouble napping during the day. This is likely to cause us difficulty when the long days of summer roll around. Already, you only sleep in maybe two to three little half-hour naps during the day, which is not good. Kavi had a solid two hour nap in the morning, and another in the afternoon for a long time, and even now, she tends to take a single three hour nap in the afternoon, which lets us get a lot done (or did, before you came along). I'd be really surprised if you did the same, although the gods know, I'm going to try to encourage you to nap. Nap early and often, that's what we like to see.

  • You're a much stronger baby than she was, and this one, I think we really do have to put down to the boy-ness of you. I'm constantly being surprised by the strength of your arms, and even your legs, although the difference isn't as apparent there. Mostly it's funny, but occasionally it's dangerous -- this morning, you were sitting in your moses basket on its rocking stand, and I was cleaning the table, a few steps away. You had set it rocking, which you often do, but in an instant when I was turned around (so I didn't actually see what happened), you somehow managed to lever yourself up enough to throw yourself out of the basket and onto the floor. Somehow without even tipping the basket over; I still don't know how you did that. My god. I almost had a heart attack, and you certainly screamed your head off for a few minutes, but you seem to be fine now. I'll be checking for concussion all day, though. It's times like this when I want to say, "Stop being such a boy!" I guess we just have to recalibrate our expectations for what you can do with that upper body of yours.

There are other differences, I'm sure. But there are actually a lot more similarities than differences. You're a good baby, just like she was. You are soft and sweet and cuddly. We love you to pieces. If we were younger, we'd think about having another, which is clearly insane of us as we have neither time nor energy for the two of you as it is, but you are just so adorable that you force those thoughts into our heads.

It's not going to happen, though, because we really are too tired. Kevin will be 40 this year, and I'll be 39; we want to stay hale and healthy until you two graduate college, at least, so I think we'd better stop here. Which means, of course, that even as you race from one stage to another -- eating solids, rolling over, sitting upright, trying to stand (which you absolutely love doing) -- we're both celebrating those accomplishments with you, and wistfully looking back at the little baby you leave behind. Today I'll be packing away your 3-6 month clothes, saving the nicer ones for my sisters' children (should they choose to have them), and giving away the rest to local Oak Park parents. Goodbye little rocket boy shirt. Goodbye alligator overalls. We will miss you.

Six months already. Your sister is almost three years old. How can the days be so long, and the weeks and months and years so short?

love,
Mama

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Dear Children, This…

Dear Children,

This part is very hard.

What's worst is that you're not doing anything particularly wrong. Kavya, you're toilet training, and you're doing okay at it, which means we're only doing about twice as much laundry as normal. The less said about that, the better, I think. Anandan, you're mostly sleeping at night, which is in theory good, but you're still waking up and wanting milk (and sometimes carrying for a bit) several times a night, so it's not at all the same as actually sleeping through the night. And since you're doing most of your sleeping at night, we don't get so much of a break from you during the day either. At 4.5 months, you want to be actively played with most of the time, and you complain mightily if we don't comply. It's certainly possible to play with both you and Kavi at the same time, but it takes effort and energy and a bit of luck. And it's then pretty impossible to check e-mail or watch tv or do anything else at the same time; our multi-tasking days are behind us, I fear.

It's not that you're bad children. You're very good children. Sweet and adorable and cuddly and funny, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Several times a day, if not several times an hour, you remind us why we had you, why we're glad we did. Which is very good for you, because dear, darling, children, our rasa and rasathi -- your mommy and daddy are reaching their limits.

I can't speak for your dad's reasons, but for me, I think it's the exquisite anguish of actually being able to see my old life, and yet having it be so firmly out of reach. The first three months with you, Anand, I didn't expect to be able to accomplish much of anything. I was pleased with myself if I managed to shower once a day. I was ecstatic if I got an hour of work done. Mostly, we were in intense survival mode, and hey, we survived, all four of us. (Ellie too, though thinner than she was before you arrived.) We even survived when when I went back to work after just three weeks of maternity leave, though a goodly amount of credit for our survival then goes to our nanny. When Jarmila realized just how frayed and falling apart we were, she started doing our dishes every day, and sometimes our laundry (not just the kids'), which is definitely not within her job description. She was working thirty-five hours a week for us and going to grad school in the evenings, but we were just that pathetic -- our nanny felt sorry for us.

Still, to be expected, right? Survival mode. But then Anand, you started sleeping a little more at night. We started doing our own dishes. At three months, I started to hope that things would go back to normal soon. I even had the audacity to sign up for a stained glass class, thinking that surely I could manage five Wednesday evenings from seven to nine. As it turns out, no. I've missed two out of four classes so far, because I was just too exhausted to leave the house. There just isn't enough energy, or enough time.

These are the things that can't be compromised:

  • the children's needs, first and foremost
  • Ellie's needs
  • teaching, prep, grading
  • critical work deadlines
  • critical housework (if we run out of baby bottles or clean underwear, all hell breaks loose)
These are the things that mostly get crammed into the time that's left:

  • trying to keep up with important e-mail
  • a little alone time crafting or reading or blogging, for the sake of my sanity
  • looking clean and neat and presentable
  • playing with the children (when I don't have to)
  • playing with the dog
  • pumping breastmilk -- though I'm down to three pumpings a day, and I don't even manage all three some teaching days; I'm sorry, Anand -- I'd hoped to go to six months, like I did with Kavya, but I don't think it's going to happen this time
This is what gets completely neglected:

  • your parents' relationship
  • and sex life (sex life? what is a sex life? I can't remember...)
A few days ago, I got so angry at your father, for something totally minor, that I slammed the front door, really hard, on my way out to knitting group. I never slam doors. Your dad and I basically never fight -- in almost eighteen years, we've raised our voices maybe four or five times? But this past month, I've had to bite my tongue to keep from biting his head off pretty much every day. I swear at him all the time in my mind, and it only stays in my mind because I know he doesn't deserve it. Because as exhausted as he is, he's doing his best to carry his share of the load. We're managing to get everything done that has to be done, just barely. We just don't have any energy left over for each other.

I'm so tired of being a parent sometimes. I want to just be me again. Me and him and Ellie, in our comfortable condo, two DINKs (double-income-no-kids) with plenty of time to read and work and play games and relax. We used to play poker with our friends. We used to host dinner parties. We used to sleep in. Gods.

Which doesn't mean I'm sorry we had you, either of you. I'm still absolutely sure we made the right decision, choosing to have kids. The right decision for us. It's much harder than I expected, and I do think some people must have an easier time with it -- kids who sleep through the night at three months; instinctive breastfeeding with accompanying endorphin high, etc. It makes me crazy, thinking about those people, and how my fuzzy warm ideas of parenting were shaped by the stories from people like them. But I know some people have a harder time too -- colicky screaming, angry toddlers who do a lot of destructive acting out, etc. We got lucky, I know. It could have been a lot worse. It's just hard to remember that.

I'm too tired to come up with a sweet, coherent end to this letter. Right now, Anand, I'm glad that you finally fell asleep in your swing, only five minutes after I put you, screaming, in there, and walked away because I just couldn't take it anymore. I knew you were tired, little boy, and you just refused to go to sleep. I didn't know what else to do, because after five hours of sleep and a full day of teaching, I just couldn't carry you around anymore. Thank god you fell asleep quickly. And Kavya, you have figured out how to get the multigrain crackers out of the pantry, and I am so grateful, because you have decided to feed yourself and Ellie a dinner of crackers tonight. While normally I try to make sure you get a vegetable at dinner, tonight, you feeding yourself something vaguely nutritious is a bloody miracle.

Now you're watching tv quite contentedly, and I, I am going to wrap myself in a blanket and pray that this peace continues until your daddy finishes teaching. At 8 p.m. I'll drag myself up and make the dinner I promised him, steak and potatoes and green beans, although if it ends up just being steak he'll forgive me. So that when he walks in the door at 8:30, there will be some kind of dinner waiting for him, and if he's lucky, maybe he'll even get a quick hug before I hand the two of you off to him and go crashing up to bed.

Let's all just hang in a little longer. It has to get better soon.

love always,
Mama

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Dear Children, You…

Dear Children,

You may get separate letters again someday, I hope you do, but right now mommy is tired. I know you've been hearing that a lot lately but that is because it is true. It is so very true. And my darlings I am afraid that the blame rests squarely on your teeny tiny shoulders. Mostly Anand's. I am told that this is not his fault because he is still very wee (just past three months on Christmas Day), but I am so tired that I no longer care whose fault it is I just want it to stop. And give me my commas back.

People keep asking me how I'm doing, especially this week as I see lots of old friends in concentrated doses. And I say terrible and they laugh uncomfortably and I say no really the last six months have been pretty much sheer hell and they say but at least your children are adorable and I admit that this is true but how is that relevant? Cute and hell are not measured on the same axis. My children, you are overflowing with cuteness, your adorability quotient is sky-high, especially when dressed in the little butterfly and alligator outfits that aunty and grandma got you for Christmas but that has absolutely nothing to do with the hellishness. Which also has nothing to do with your personalities, I must note, which are, as children's personalities go, pretty good. (Oh look, my commas have come back, how I love, them.) It is really all about the sleep, or lack, thereof. Comma, stop.

I know new parents are supposed to complain about lack of sleep and we are all supposed to nod and smile and change the subject because that is the social contract but this is truly maddening. I read an article although probably it was just a summary of an article now that I think about it because I can't remember the last time I had the time to just read an article for fun but anyway I read an article about how new parents and interns on call had similar sleep patterns -- being woken up at unpredictable intervals far too often and for far too long. The article said the human brain was not well suited to handle that kind of unpredictability and given that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to put patients' lives and fragile babies into the hands of those who are being slowly driven mad by the interrupted and inadequate sleep. Which all makes total sense to me but doesn't appear to be stopping this from happening.

And Anand, I have to pause and note here that this really is mostly your fault. Your sister still wakes up occasionally at night, especially when in a strange place, and certainly will argue ferociously that it is not sleepytime yet and she is not! tired! even when manifestly, both of those statements are untrue. But mostly, she sleeps for ten to eleven hours a night + three in the afternoon which is a miracle. Whereas you. I can't remember the last time I slept well, and admittedly, some of the lack of sleep was the housing craziness which I can't blame on you but much of it was the pregnancy and subsequent infancy which is entirely your doing. And yes you can come back and claim that your father and I did in fact knowingly make the decision to make you in full understanding of what it would entail but here is the thing -- once you are past this misery this torment this hell on earth, you forget.

You forget that your body wants to collapse, that your stomach wants to turn itself inside out, that you break into tears daily and sometimes only because the last piece of bread is moldy and you cannot handle any breakfast more complex than dry bread and you are so hungry that the dizziness threatens to knock you down. Which is partly also the breastfeeding so as you can see it is all your fault. And speaking of breastfeeding, why did you decide two weeks ago that your mother's breast was a torture device? Why did you scream as if Cerberus and his legions of hounds were at your heels every time your head came near my flesh? I suppose you did better than your sister who nursed perhaps three or four nights total; you managed two months or so. But what is with your sudden aversion to my breasts? I have been told back in the day that they were quite nice, but apparently, you do not agree. And so we are back to the double-time aggravation of exclusive pumping and I am going to try to last out to six months again but I go back to work full-time in two weeks so I may not make it, in which case you are just going to have to suck it up. Or not. Ha ha.

And dear Anand you are fretting right now, even though I JUST fed you and it is VERY late and you should be SLEEPING in your swing. I will ignore you long enough to finish this letter and say these are the things that are letting me (and you) survive these three long months:

  • the softness of your skin, which is like unto a drug -- maybe when we go home I will just turn the heat up to eighty damn the gas bill and carry you around naked
  • the smiles and yes little gurgly laughs that you give us when we smile at you or, sounding like idiots, actually say 'gah gah gah'
  • the adorable roundness of your face and the solidity of your body which nestles so perfectly against ours
  • the promise that this too shall pass
I think that's what gets me through it. Also, looking at Kavya, who is neglected and moody and loves her daddy a lot more than her mommy right now (because mommy is so distracted), which occasionally breaks her mommy's heart. But Kavi, you are so beautiful and so sweet and so funny with your little phrases and transparent ploys to turn bedtime into cake and chocolate: "I have an idea!" I love you, baby girl, and sometimes when I just can't take it anymore I pick you up and hug you despite your squirmy protests and while that doesn't make it all better the way my kisses magically fix your boo-boos, it makes it better enough. And reminds me that yes someday Anand will let us sleep again and then we will be glad we picked up this gauntlet and ran with it. Even if we lost our commas along the way.

love,
Mama

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Dear Anand, I meant…

Dear Anand,

I meant to write you this letter when you turned one month old, on Saturday, but I was too tired. Sorry, kiddo, but I suspect that will be the normal state of affairs around here for quite a while. Even though you are, as babies go, an astonishingly easy baby, and even though we have a tremendous amount of childcare here for you and your sister, we're still barely coping. Infants are just hard. It's the whole 'wake up three hours after you fall asleep because the baby is hungry, then spend two hours trying to get him to eat and then settle down to sleep, which he only does for three hours before he wakes you up again, rinse and repeat' thing.

But aside from having a stomach the size of a pea, which is really not your fault, you have been a very good baby. You cry when you're hungry or uncomfortable, and that's about it. Oh, or if you want to be held. You like snuggling. So there's a fairly predictable routine to run through if you start crying -- feed you, check diaper, bounce you for gassiness, walk you around, snuggle. One of those will pretty much always fix the problem, and most of the time, we can even fix it with just food + snuggle. Which is pretty sweet.

I meant to write out your whole birth story, but it was very similar to your sister's, so perhaps you can just reference hers. The only big difference is that my water broke in the early morning, and after I dragged Kevin and Kavi out of bed, and we got me to the hospital and Kavi to Jarmila's house, your dad and I sat around for a few hours waiting for labor to commence. Which it didn't. No contractions, no dilation, no effacement, nothing. So after four or so hours of that, they came in and said that since I'd had a previous c-section, they didn't think it was safe to try to induce, and that after the water breaks, there's a much increased risk of infection, so they generally want the mom to have the baby within twenty-four hours. But you showed no inclination to actually come out. Hence, another c-section, which was a bit disappointing, but which was also in many ways a relief. I knew what to expect, and it was very much like the first time around (which a bit less shockiness and a bit more sleepiness and no vomiting, hooray), and at the end of it, there you were, loud and happy. Apgars of 8 and 9 and you peed on the doctor on your way out, I hear. Well done.

At the hospital, a little later on, one of the nurses said that you had the softest baby skin she'd ever encountered. I can't compare as much as she can, and I can't remember how soft Kavi was as a newborn, but your skin is certainly incredibly soft. This second time around, I've taken a lot more time to just snuggle you, with as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, which is supposed to 'promote bonding' which I think is just a fancy way of saying that babies feel insanely good against your skin. I didn't understand with Kavi what people saw in babies -- they just seemed like a miserable amount of work and worry, and the first six months with her were a brutal gauntlet we were just trying to survive. But with you, I've been finding some of the pleasure, some of the joy. Which mostly comes down to you being soft and warm and fragile.

Although you're already much less fragile than you were. You're making excellent progress on holding your head up by yourself (not quite there yet, but so improved!), and you've put on weight awfully well. The doctor was impressed at your one month visit, so good job! I'm not as afraid of breaking you as I was, and I have to give at least some credit to how good you are at eating. You, like your sister, spurn my left breast, but at least you, unlike her, have very little trouble latching on (hard) to the right one. Admittedly, there are times when I'm feeling chewed to pieces when I'm grateful to have the option of pumping and giving someone else a bottle to feed you (and I'm still pumping the left to try to maintain some milk supply there too, mostly in case you ever get strong enough to deal with that inverted nipple and latch directly), but mostly, breastfeeding is just so much nicer than pumping.

(Little boy, when you read this in ten or twenty years, you may be embarrassed to read your mother talking about you breastfeeding. I don't know if you will be, but if you are, deal with it. That's just life, I'm afraid, and I'm quite sure, given my history, that it will be far from the first time you've been embarrassed by your mother. So it goes.)

The first few days of nursing were horrible, as expected -- lots of difficult getting a comfortable position for both of us (why did I not remember to bring a boppy to the hospital?), especially with the c-section making it very difficult to move around much. And then, once we'd gotten that part down, a few days of yelping pain every time you latched on, and with every suck (those sucks were more like bites, let's be honest). If it had kept on like that, I don't think I could have kept doing it. But, as people kept telling me, about a week in, it got much, much better.

Thank god I had people telling me to give it a week, because I'm pretty sure I would have given up otherwise. And then I would have missed out on how good it can feel, having you latch on and suck, and how sweet it is, when you fall asleep at the breast. When you're stressed out or unhappy or sick (you have a cold today, all sniffly), it's nice to have the option of giving you the breast to suck on. It's wonderful to be able to be that comfort for you, even if, at the same time, there are times when I resent being a milk cow. Times when I'd really rather be up and accomplishing things. Between moving in here and starting to renovate there, not to mention teaching and e-mail and phone calls and the like, there are so very many things to do. My to-do list is long, and I am still tripping over boxes.

I try to remind myself that nursing you also counts as accomplishing something, even if I can't check it off a list. And that since we're not planning on another child, this will likely be the last chance I have to experience this, and that perhaps it would be best to try to relax and enjoy it. When I stare into your eyes, you stare back. In a few weeks, you'll learn to smile. There's a transient beauty to these moments, a grace, that I am trying to remember to savor.

Most days, I do okay at remembering to enjoy you. It's so much easier, this second time around. And if you are a good baby, I suspect it is in large part because I am a much more relaxed mother. Not nearly as terrified as I was with baby Kavya that we would, through our ineptitude, do lasting grievous harm. Though I do still periodically check to make sure you're still breathing, just in case. I trust that we are decent parents, and that Jarmila is a wonderful nanny, and that you will be surrounded by care and love for many years to come. I'm sure that isn't all there is to make a good parent, but it's most of the job, I think. Paying attention, being there, loving you and letting you know you're loved.

That much, I think we can do.

Although, boy, it's definitely harder now that there are two of you!

love,
Mama

P.S. Dear Kavi, I know I owe you bazillion letters. You've been so good and patient, letting us take care of baby Anand's needs first, entertaining yourself and mostly not getting into too much trouble while we're distracted. Be patient just a little longer, angel-girl. Mama really needs a little nap...

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