Dr. Mother Earth

5.22.17

Dear Levi,

I started to sweat inside the doctor’s office while waiting for Dr. Ahmed. It was late morning. Your Daddy was pacing around the cramped, hot room with you over his shoulder. A few minutes before, the nurse had taken my blood pressure then told me to undress. Now I was sitting naked on the exam chair with a pink paper gown draped over me, dabbing my underarms with the crinkly thing every so often, anxious to get my six-week postpartum checkup going.

I sank into memory while waiting, thinking back to the first time I came to see Dr. Ahmed at East Cascade Women’s Group when I was twelve weeks pregnant with you. It was late September, and I was not yet showing. Your Daddy was with me, and when Dr. Ahmed walked in our room she gave me a sturdy handshake and said, “I’m Mary Ann Ahmed, and I hear you’re having a baby.”

Her voice was soft yet it sparked with interest. She shook your Daddy’s hand then sat on the rolling stool to review my medical history on her laptop. I looked her over as she did this. She was petite, wearing a forest green dress and brown leather clogs. Her chestnut eyes twinkled and her silver hair spiraled down her back, as graceful and wild as the weeping willow.

My doctor is Mother Earth, I thought. I could tell I was going to like her.

After reviewing my medical history, she instructed me to recline in the exam chair. “Let’s take a look at who’s inside,” she said.

Your Daddy leaned forward in his seat as Dr. Ahmed rolled a robotic-looking contraption with a computer screen for a head next to me. She activated the ultrasound machine then turned out the lights. I lifted my shirt. The doctor squirted cold gel on my stomach then rolled what she called a transducer probe over my slippery skin. Like magic, a black and white image of a tiny being—head, body, and a little bent leg—popped onto the computer screen. It was you, Levi, and at this stage you looked like a cashew. I stared in awe at your image. Your Daddy reached out his hand and placed it on my knee. Then Dr. Ahmed took your heartbeat. It was fast and loud like a chugging train.

“One hundred forty-three beats per minute,” she said, smiling. “Boringly average.”

“So there’s really a baby in there,” I said, grasping for the first time that you were real, that my pregnancy was more than mere exhaustion and nausea and mood swings, that it was you, Levi, my child. I looked over at your Daddy. His eyes shone bright in the dark, fixated on the glowing screen.

Sitting in the exam chair now, it was hard to believe six weeks had passed since your birth. Dr. Ahmed had cared for you and me every step of the way except for your delivery. Her on-call shift had occurred the day before I went into labor with you. In fact, the morning after you were born, she visited our room before her workday began to check on the two of us.

“You couldn’t have had him one day earlier, huh?” she said, winking at me and placing her hand on my shoulder as if to say good job. For many months she had invested her time and energy into our wellbeing, and she cared to know how we had turned out. This is the mark not only of a good doctor, Levi, but of a good mother, too.

A knock at the door pulled me out of my memory. Dr. Ahmed entered. She was wearing the same forest green dress I’d met her in, and her sweeping hair was pulled partway back, glistening down her spine. She took a good look at you over your Daddy’s shoulder then connected eyes with me. “It’s the best thing in the world, isn’t it?” she said.

I replied, “It really is.”

After examining me, Dr. Ahmed found I had recovered fully from giving birth. With my clean bill of health, I no longer felt anxious, only sad that this would be my last time to see our Dr. Mother Earth since we are moving back to Tennessee in a few days. She asked if I had any questions. I said, “No. But I’d like to thank you for taking such great care of Levi and me.”

She looked as if she might cry. Then she gave me a tight hug, even though I was sweaty and naked beneath the crinkly pink gown.

“The pleasure was all mine,” she said.

Her words were another mark of not only a good doctor, Levi, but of a good mother, too.

Best thing in the world

Farewell Lunch

5.17.17

Dear Levi,

You were asleep when we arrived at Sarah Larson’s house for our farewell lunch. We are leaving for Chattanooga in less than two weeks, so saying goodbye to the friends we have made here in Bend has begun. This process is never easy. But it is vital.

Sarah lives about a mile up the road from us, in the same neighborhood where she grew up. She owns a flourishing pasture across the street from her house where two lambs were grazing in the grass as she welcomed us inside. Her home was as sunny as the day because of her many windows letting in the natural light.

Victoria Konradson showed up a few minutes after us. To refresh your memory, Sarah was the doula and Victoria was the midwife and massage therapist who attended your birth. These women helped me through the tremendous intensity of labor. They were with me during the very intimate and miraculous event of your entrance into life. In my pain and in my joy, I trusted them. It doesn’t matter that I only met them this year. They will forever be dear friends.

With all of us there, Sarah led us into the dining room where she had set a beautiful table. Pretty blue bowls and plates framed by the correct cutlery sat atop a lace tablecloth. It reminded me of Sunday lunches at my Ema’s house. She would always use her china and silver, and her crystal glasses for the sweet iced tea. It was against her code to use paper plates because she believed in serving her guests with her nice things, no matter how long it took to clean up. My Ema also loved the aesthetics of a properly set table. This is a dying art.

Lunch was a potluck of tomato basil soup, bread, salad, and brownies. Sarah had made the soup by first roasting the tomatoes in the oven then pureeing them and letting them simmer in a pot with cream, seasoning, and basil. I brought the salad, which was littered with strawberries, blueberries, red onion, blue cheese, and candied pecans. Victoria had baked the brownies using sweet potatoes as the base instead of flour. We drank locally brewed kombucha and spread Sarah’s homemade jam over the bread. It was delightful.

You stirred and started to cry during lunch, so your Daddy unstrapped you from your car seat, which he’d placed by the wood burning stove in the kitchen, and brought you to me. I nursed you then and there, which was a tad awkward because I’m not used to whipping out my breast in public (even though I used a burp cloth to cover myself), and because it forced me to eat with my left hand. I spilled a good bit of soup on your onesie. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice.

After lunch we gathered in the living room where Sarah held you in her rocking chair beneath her ficus tree. She rocked you in her grandmotherly way—with confidence and warmth—and you fell back asleep. We spent the rest of the afternoon in that sundrenched space sharing stories. I learned that Victoria is an avid backpacker who dreams of one day hiking the Appalachian Trail, and that Sarah used to hunt elk on horseback. These women are go-getters who won’t be denied.

Your Grandpa Pete likes to say, “When you win, you lose.” In less than two weeks we are winning my hometown and family, but we are losing our new friends in Bend. Of course, we are only losing them in the sense of physical space. For they will go with us in our hearts.

Sustained by Love

5.10.17

Dear Levi,

It has been a rough day. Well, it started out smoothly enough. You woke at dawn, and I tended to you while your Daddy made a big breakfast of biscuits, potatoes, sausage, and eggs. The smell of the sausage sizzled through our apartment as he cooked. My mouth watered in anticipation. I was in need of this sustaining meal—last night you got me up four times to feed you, which left me feeling this morning like an open-water swimmer who had been pummeled by wave after wave: weary and only half alive.

Breakfast revitalized my energy, so afterward your Daddy, you, and I went to Petsmart to restock on Leona’s specialty brand cat food, which, silly as this sounds, she has to have because, thanks to her sensitive stomach, the cheap, generic stuff makes her puke. Inside the store you were wide-awake, so I walked you down the smelly aisles to show you the different creatures. Your downy head stuck up out of the wrap I wear to carry you in, and your cobalt eyes went wild.

“We’re at the aquarium,” I told you as we passed the goldfish and frogs. “We’re at the zoo,” I said when we came upon the gerbils and parakeets. “We’re in the jungle,” I whispered after stopping in front of the sleeping cats that were up for adoption.

You had no trouble accepting any of this as the truth.

This was the smooth part of the day. The rough part came when we got back home. It was late morning, and you started to cry. I fed you, but that didn’t work. I burped you and changed your diaper, but that didn’t work. I rocked you in your Moses basket, but that didn’t work. I bounced you in your blue chair. I held you against my chest. I made funny faces. I sang to you. I danced with you. I fed you again. But none of these things worked to calm you down. You cried and you cried. You were red in the face and hot to the touch. Not even tummy time with your Daddy, which is something you love, dulled the sharp edges of your screams.

This went on for hours. It triggered my migraine and hollowed me out—I felt like an empty shotgun shell that had been kicked around in the dirt. I needed to eat dinner but had no appetite because of the shell shock I was in. I was emotionally distraught from your incessant neediness. The worst part about it was that I took it out on Leona. Your Daddy was walking around with you over his shoulder to give me a break. All Leona did was jump up on the couch and playfully paw at my hand. She still needs attention, too, you know. But instead of showing her my love, I yelled at her to leave me alone. She lowered her head and ran off to hide in the bathroom. I felt awful.

Recently, I read an article on how the birth of a baby brings about the birth of a mother. The author used the word matrescence to describe the process one undergoes in becoming a mother. And, Levi, it is a process. See, before you, I was just Claire. But your birth brought me a new identity. Your birth gave me a new name. And while becoming your mother has been the most wonderful process of my life, it has also been very hard. It has filled me up like a good meal and stretched me out like silly putty. I have felt immensely content and on the verge of snapping all in the same minute.

Levi, today you are one month old, and, as your mother, so am I. We are both growing together. We are both experiencing life through brand new eyes. You are seeing everything for the first time, and for the first time, I am seeing everything through you. It is great fun. Part of my new identity as your mother is to strive to enrich your days—to imagine with you that the domestic cats at Petsmart are actually panthers in the wild. Levi, it is great fun indeed.

The other part of my new identity is to fulfill your every need. And this can be tough, especially when you throw my sleep deprivation and your tireless crying in the mix. Levi, it can be very tough indeed.

But then there are the moments when your complete dependence on me leaves me in utter awe. Like tonight, just before you finally fell asleep. You were swaddled up tight and I was rocking you in my arms while looking out our bedroom window to the sunset. You had stopped crying at last, but I remained feeling shattered by your daylong tears. I was near tears myself. Then I looked down at you. You were staring up at me. Just staring with your cobalt eyes, your love for me showing in them like a revitalizing pool.

He needs me, I thought. He needs me so much.

And at the same time I thought I need you, too.

And, Levi, this is the beauty of my birth into motherhood. Like a newborn child, I have entered this new life of mine bloody and vulnerable and raw. Every day presents something I have never before faced. Some days leave me weary and only half alive. But I have no doubt I will make it through. Because, like a newborn child, I am sustained by the one who brought me into this life and who gave me my name. Like a newborn child, I am carried through the rough days by the matchless power of love.

Carried through the rough day (while cleaning breast pump 😌)
“Morning after storm”

Under the Weather, On Top of the World

5.5.17

Dear Levi,

I’ve been under the weather this week, so we haven’t done too much, but what we have done has let me soar.

Take yesterday, for example. It was perfectly sunny and warm, and I was going stir crazy from having been cooped up inside the apartment, so your Daddy, you, and I went to Tumalo State Park for a picnic by the river. After we ate our ham sandwiches and Oreos (fresh breast milk for you), your Daddy set up our orange hammock between two old pines, over the lush green grass.

You loved the hammock. You had been crying (I think because the sun was in your eyes), but as soon as we began to swing beneath the evergreens’ good shade, you shushed and smiled and looked all around. The treetops were sweeping against the cobalt sky. The light streaming through their branches was dancing on the field.

“We’re flying, Levi,” I said in your ear as the wind of our own making brushed against our cheeks. “Levi, we’re flying.”

Soon your Daddy got in with us, which made the hammock sag and graze the ground. The three of us took a nap together, suspended in the air. We woke to children splashing in the river and adults playing fetch with their dogs. I still felt under the weather, but my spirit was up there with the clouds.

Then this morning we drove to Sisters, a cute little town just west of Bend. It is tucked in the mountains and made up of buildings that look like dollhouses and colorful saloons. On the drive the air was clear and the road was all ours. I sat in the back with you because you have separation anxiety. We flowed like a cloud down Highway 20, passing pastures of sheep and horses and alpaca and cows. We passed pretty groves of aspens, whose coin-like leaves shimmered in the sun. We passed the Three Sisters, the blood-related mountains standing tall and radiant in gowns of snow.

Your daddy rolled down the windows so we could feel the wind of our own making brush against our cheeks. “We’re flying, Levi,” I said in your ear. “Levi, we’re flying.”

You raised your hands and oohed and aahed. I still felt under the weather, but, Levi, my spirit was on top of the world.

And Then, Poof!

5.3.17

Dear Levi,

This morning you and I watched the sunrise together, and it was a magic show. You lay in my arms, swaddled in your blanket with the orange moons. I had just finished nursing you in the predawn dark of our living room. I was tired from having tended to you throughout the night, and I was in a hurry to return you to your Moses basket in hopes that we could both get some sleep. But then the new day’s light cracked through our big window. And because the sunrise is always full of surprises, I repressed my yawns and remained with you on the couch to see what this one had up its sleeve.

The show began with indigo clouds appearing across the turquoise sky. Then the sun, as swift and smooth as the magician’s hand, swept up from behind the mountains. Its golden sheen served as the diversion. Then, abracadabra! Within the snap of a finger and blink of an eye, the clouds were transformed into clementines.

“No two sunrises are the same,” my Nonnee used to say. She was your Gran Jenny’s mother who lived on the outskirts of Chattanooga, on a big rolling field with a good view of the sky. One of the walls in her high-ceilinged living room was made of solid windows. It faced east and looked out on her blue hydrangeas, hummingbird feeders, and abrasive hammock hanging between her pear trees. It looked out on the sunrise, too, and my Nonnee, who was a poet who didn’t just see the beauty all around but could also feel it, would wake every morning before dawn, boil water in her kettle for her English breakfast tea, then sit on her salmon-colored couch in front of her wall of windows—her teacup in hand, Bible opened on her lap to the Psalms—and take the time to not only watch, but enter into the show.

Like my Ema, my Nonnee is now in Heaven. I can only imagine what her view of the sunrise must be like from up there.

Levi, we live in a spectacular place. Your Grandpa Pete calls it God’s coloring book. He says God is the Ultimate Artist. And being that your Grandpa Pete is a gifted artist himself, he knows good work when he sees it. And he sees it all the time because he’s one who never hurries through this ever-changing art exhibit that is our world. On sunny mornings, for example, he sits with his coffee on the stump by his fire pit. It is in his front yard next to the giant hackberry, and he’ll just sit there—even on workdays—savoring the playful squirrels and pensive cardinals and sunshine on his face.

The most ordinary things can reveal the most magnificent magic. Like my Nonnee, I’ve always been drawn to the sunrise. The one this morning continued by turning the clementine clouds into climbing roses. It finished by setting the vapory pink blossoms on fire and then making them disappear. The fantastic colors only lasted a few minutes. Now the sky fans out beyond our big window like the wings of a western blue jay.

“No two sunrises are the same,” my Nonnee used to say. This is part of the Ultimate Magician’s show. Levi, I hope you always take the time to stop and enter in. I hope you always slow it down to see. Because the show is spectacular, and it never gets old. But it happens fast and then never again. Within the snap of a finger and blink of an eye, it dazzles, it delights, and then, poof! It disappears.

You are Something

4.29.17

Dear Levi,

It is Saturday morning and your Daddy is out, hunting rabbits and morels with his buddies, hoping to bring back both even though he’s never hunted either—he’s a bold dreamer, your Daddy, and unafraid to dirty his hands. You are asleep against me, inside the stone-colored wrap that ties around my torso and shelters you like a baby kangaroo. The sun is shining, and the cat is perched on the couch in the beautiful spray of light. You and I are sitting at the small heart pine table your Grandpa Pete made, where your Daddy and I eat breakfast and dinner, and where I write each day. It is very important, Levi, to have a dedicated workstation where you can retreat from the world and reach for the stars.

Because you had a rough start to today (I think you might be constipated), I put on The Piano Guys, and the poignant exchange between piano and violin captivated you and left you in awe. It seemed the music transported you to another world. Your red-hot face softened and regained its rosy hue. Your crying ceased and your gaze deepened. You were listening; you could hear. And, to you, it was more than just sound. The music touched your soul.

In that moment, as I watched you respond to the harmonic tune, I had the exciting thought that one day you would be a world famous violinist. Then it hit me that, even if you do not become a world famous violinist, one day you will be something. Up until this realization, I had only regarded you as my child. But, Levi, the truth is, you are something more.

What I have to tell you next might seem off topic, but bear with me because it connects. See, the other day I cleaned out my bedside table drawer (something I’d been meaning to do for months), where I’ve stashed every card and letter I’ve received that measures every major milestone in my life since I turned eighteen. There were hundreds of notes—some silly, some profound, some handwritten, some typed—that I weeded through one by one then placed in either the keep pile or the trash. Those I kept had come from the people I love most, and all said something special. Among them was a letter from my Ema (your great grandmother) who is now in Heaven. Levi, my Ema was something: a preacher’s wife and mother of six, an overseas missionary and real estate mogul, a grandmother of nineteen and Southern chef extraordinaire (how I miss her fried okra and pork chops!), a lover of the ocean and purple irises, a trusty sounding board and woman of God’s word. Ema set her sights on her dreams to own a business and provide for her family, and through action and faith she worked hard to make her dreams come true. She was only five-two, but my Ema reached for the stars.

The letter she’d written me that I came across was in honor of my high school graduation, which was nine years ago. In the letter Ema told me how proud of me she was for staying focused and achieving my goals in light of the valleys that always accompany the mountaintops. She said she looked forward to me graduating college, becoming a writer and publishing a book, finding a kind, intellectual, and “GOOD” man, getting married, and having children. “Life is not complete without companionship,” she’d written. “Our Lord planned it that way.”

Then, at the end of the letter, she told me something that touched my soul: “Dare to dream big, and work to make it happen.”

Levi, my Ema never got to see me graduate college, become a writer and publish a book, meet your kind, intellectual, and good Daddy, get married, and have you. But she did have the chance to see to it that I dared to dream for these things. She did have the chance to let me know I was something more than just her granddaughter.

And this is where my story about finding Ema’s letter connects to what I was saying earlier, because I want to do the same for you. I want to see to it that you dare to dream big, and work to make it happen. I want to show you, like my Ema showed me, that you have the ability to reach for the stars. You may not become a world famous violinist, and that is okay. But whatever you do, whoever you become, do it boldly, Son, be it boldly. Because you are something more than either you or I yet know. I want to see to it that you find this to be true.

Writing and mothering
You are something

The Storm Inside Our Nest

4.26.17

Dear Levi,

We had just woken up from a sound nap we’d taken together on the living room couch. The rainy day had kept us housebound, and so we’d peacefully slept. I sat up with you on my chest, and you pooped. You’re funny when you do this. You squint your eyes and purse your lips. You flex all of your muscles and grunt.

I gave you a few minutes to do your business then brought you to the changing table by the big window to wipe you clean. Well, you had made quite a mess, so instead of strapping a fresh diaper on you, I brought your naked self to the bathroom and ran you a bath. That’s when you started to scream.

I was holding you in one arm while bending down and checking the temperature of the water. I wasn’t sure why you were screaming. Then I heard the squirting sound and felt my arm heat up. You were pooping on me.

I called your Daddy to come in and help. You continued to pour out everything inside of you, and your Daddy, who—no offense to you—has a weak stomach when it comes to your bowel movements, told me frantically, “Just put him in the tub. Just put him in the tub.”

But I was frozen in place. I didn’t know what to do. You wouldn’t stop pooping. I just stood there.

“It’s dripping on the bathmat,” your Daddy said then covered my soiled arm with a Kleenex.

The event was stressful and gross. Of course, now that it has passed and I’m looking back on it through a witness’ eyes, I see it was quite funny. The faucet was roaring and you were screaming and your Daddy was dodging the poop oozing down my arm and clothes while doing his best to help, and I was just standing there, puzzled and mute, as the madness built and built like a wave.

Didn’t we just wake up from the most peaceful nap on this cozy, rainy day? I thought as the wave of chaos rose and crashed. Now I’m in a warzone, on the front line.

Life with a newborn is never dull. It’s like living in the tropics—colorful and calm. Then the clouds roll in and all hell breaks loose.

Eventually, I got you in the bath. The warm water quieted you. I washed you, as well as my arm, and the clouds that had formed cleared. Outside it was still raining. But inside our little nest the sun again shined.

The sun shining in our little nest