the longest stretch

 

“Hey sweetie, I think she’s ready to nurse. It’s…it’s five AM.”


 

The thought didn’t occur to me when I sat up and switched on the lamp, nor while I was unbuttoning my nightgown, nor when I held my 11-week-old daughter in my arms and brought her to my breast. I didn’t think it while she was nursing in the dark bedroom (having switched off the lamp again; she finds the bright light so mesmerizing she cranes her neck so she can gaze at it and forgets entirely to nurse), nor when I handed her back to my husband so he could lay her down again.

But at six AM, while I sat in the living room with a hot cup of tea (the whole of which I drank, uninterrupted, while it was hot — another milestone), a scented candle burning (“Nonnatus House” scent), and my journal open on my lap — then, finally, I thought : this seven hour stretch is the longest stretch in her entire life that she and I have not touched.

Of course there have been many “longest stretches.” I’m not sure why it was the seven-hour stretch that sparked this thought. The first stretch was only several seconds : right after I pushed her out, when the midwife held her and brought her up to my chest. (But I suppose we were still touching — because her umbilical cord was still attached, and it went down from her belly and back inside of me — we were still touching even then.) So I suppose the first moment was when my husband cut the cord. (Except, wait, in that moment, she was laying on my chest, so even as that one connection was broken, another remained.) I suppose it really began, to be precise, when a nurse lifted her from my chest to weigh her, when she was one hour old. Those couple of minutes began the lifelong stretching of time that will slowly separate me from my daughter.


 

I remember when I reached the moment that marked the longest I had gone without seeing my father. He died when I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, so we had been parted, at the very longest, for ten weeks, the length of a quarter-term. That eleventh week after he died, it was a new slap in the face in a series of many — I had crossed over some threshold. There had been many to cross and were (are) many still to come : there was the first midnight, marking the ending of the last day we had shared, and the beginning of the first day of my life that he was not alive for. There was the ending of the month of February, marking the end of the last month when he had ever lived. And later came New Year’s Eve, ending the last year of my life I would ever share with him. I have recently entered my thirties : the first decade of my life he wasn’t here for (he just barely touched my twenties).

Someday, God willing, I will reach the tipping point where I will have lived more of my life without him than with him. And I hope to surpass his age, someday having lived a longer life than he did. By that time, my daughter and I will have had our minutes and hours stretch into days and weeks, and likely months, that we have gone without touching. And this will be a blessing.

I think of my father every single day — there was a time, after his death, when I don’t think a minute went by without my thinking of him. That stretched to hours, as my grief faded, but it has stretched as far as it will ever — I don’t believe there will come a day when I don’t think of him. I know there will never come a day when I don’t think of my daughter, no matter where she may be. And someday, when her life takes her far from me and her father, I trust that she will think of us.

 

wherever I’m with you

The last time I made a post here was April 2, 2019 — almost a full year ago! By April 2, 2020, we will (God willing) have a newborn baby with us, in our new home in central New York. David and I have never been very good at staying put but we’ve made a pact to stay in this location for at least two years (ooh).

Right now, I have been living in our new apartment for about four days. It is still primarily a city of boxes, but we have carved out areas of sanity : the master bathroom, the corner of the living room, the table, the galley kitchen. I brought my beloved pothos plant, Hestia, all the way from Idaho. She traveled wrapped in newspaper in a carry-on suitcase and I repotted her when we arrived at my mom’s house for Christmas. As I write this I can see her on the table beside me — she is flourishing! Travel and moving evidently comes fairly easily to Hestia — all she needed was fresh soil and a few big drinks of water and she perked right up.

I’m not sure that’s quite as true of me, although certainly big drinks of water are helping. All of these transitions at once, though : it’s a lot. I quit my job in December and don’t know when I’ll return to work, or whether I’ll return to my field (counseling) or branch out into something new. We moved across the country, and meanwhile I’ve been growing us a baby who is expected to arrive sometime in March. My body, home, and vocation have all been dramatically changed in the past several months.

I think all this change may be why some of the unpacking has been so comforting. There may be a lot of change, but many of our beloved items are the same, and they feel like an anchor : the colorful blocks I took from my father’s office after he died, the set of coasters that looks like a sheep that my friend Ruth brought us from Ireland, photo books from our past travels, the quilt made from fabric scraps from years of Grammie’s sewing. These things have moved with us many times and each time we unwrap them from bubble wrap or old t-shirts and cardboard boxes, it is a bit like seeing a friend or a familiar patch of land.

I wonder if David and I will ever be “rooted.” Our origin is in travel : we met while studying abroad in Germany. We grew up on opposite sides of the country, and we’ve already lived together in several states in our five years of marriage. Sometimes we fantasize about how it might feel to stay somewhere for ten years or some other incredibly long time. No matter where we live, we’ll always be far from some part of our hearts.

It’s corny, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros kind of hit the nail on the head when it comes to how I feel about David :

Home, let me go home — home is wherever I’m with you…

March Books

Posted a wee bit late, as on the last day of March I was running 18 miles and then napping!

7. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
This was an intense and fast-paced read. Evolution has stopped and strange things are happening in the world. Babies rarely survive pregnancy and birth, so pregnant women begin to be rounded up and forcibly held by the government. In some ways this book is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s definitely its own work. I particularly loved that the US postal service went rogue and was part of the resistance. There’s also an exploration of race, specifically, the main character is a Native American woman who was adopted by a white couple when she was born. She searches for her birth mother and there is a lot of interesting interaction between her adoptive and birth families. Definitely a good choice for getting sucked into a fascinating book for a weekend or a long plane trip.
8. The Deepest Well : Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Dr.Nadine Burke Harris
I have been slowly chipping away at this book for several months in my rare free moments at work and finally finished it in mid-March. Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. I was unimpressed with Dr.Burke Harris’s focus on obesity and weight, as in my opinion there’s a lot more to health than body size. Her very cool program has some great protocols to help young children get more physically active, which is awesome! Measuring the success of that via weight seems pretty small-minded, though. That said, I really enjoyed the case studies that demonstrated connections between trauma and physical health. Some of the stories were absolutely stunning in terms of the severity of physical symptoms stemming from childhood adversity. I would love to someday visit the Center for Youth Wellness, where they are practicing really cool medicine, therapy, and research. 
9. Karamo : My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by Karamo Brown
If you enjoy the show Queer Eye (as I do), you will find this a fun read! It wasn’t particularly deep, but it was a good book to read while on the stationary bike on my cross-training days. I really enjoy Karamo on the show and know that he is a social worker (I’m a counselor, which is a different master’s degree and license, but similar), so I was interested to learn more of his history. 
10. Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak got me through high school. I read that book to death. Shout is her new memoir, written in poems, that tells her story. It came out at the beginning of March and David had a copy ready for me when I got home from work on the publication day. I read the book slowly, over the course of the month and I loved this book. I cried, laughed, and read many poems aloud for David. It is a book I will keep and treasure and re-read. I am so grateful for Laurie Halse Anderson. If you haven’t read Speak, I’d recommend you read that first, as Shout talks a lot about her experiences that mirror that of the main character’s, and also the reception of Speak, etc. Do be aware that both Speak and Shout deal with themes of sexual assault.
I’m currently working through some theology memoir/prayer type books as it is Lent, and also re-reading my beloved Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. I don’t have any particular reading plans for spring, but we’ll be taking a couple of weekend trips so I’ll probably be focusing on the stuff on my Kindle. 🙂 Happy spring reading, all!

February books

likeamother
the beautiful cover of Angela Garbes’ book

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I just adored this book. It had so many elements that I enjoy : WWII-era England, letter writing, strong and interesting women characters, and books. The writing was at times a bit heavy-handed but still so enjoyable. Honestly, a delight.

5. A Square Meal : A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

This was fascinating! So much interesting history through this lens. My favorite weird/fun fact was that early nutritional guidelines developed in the United States based a man’s daily caloric intake on his occupation (okay, that sort of makes sense) and based his wife’s and children’s on fractions of his (I forget the fractions, say, 1/3 of his intake for his young child). So what this meant was that their guidelines recommended less food for the wife and child of a watchmaker than the wife and child of a railroad worker. Isn’t that hilariously ridiculous? Anyway, this book had more than just fun facts and is definitely worth a read.

6. Like A Mother : A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

I laughed out loud several times in this book and also learned a lot (especially about the placenta, holy wow). Garbes explores how in the US the main “pregnancy science” we (the general public) know is scary warnings (no alcohol! no deli meat!) but not the really interesting and amazing biology that actually takes place during pregnancy and birth. (Which is MINDBLOWING. Like, do you have any idea how complex and incredible the placenta is? Or the way that breast milk works, and how it can create antibodies specifically for the baby?? I thought I had a sense of these things but there is SO MUCH I didn’t know.) She also writes about her experiences as a woman of color in the medical/birth system, and interweaves her personal story with science and history. I’m handing this off to my husband to read next. I’d recommend it to anyone who plans to someday be pregnant (or whose partner or close friend plans to someday be pregnant!) or has an interest in feminism, pregnancy, or birth.

p.s. I also just read Garbes’ article, “Why Are We Only Talking About ‘Mom Books’ By White Women?” in The Cut and it was both a good piece on its own and provided me with books to add to my to-read list.

general life update

As I’ve been neglectful…

As I mentioned in this post, David and I moved to Idaho in June for David to start a cool new job. He is doing really well as a data analyst at a FinTech firm and learning lots. I started work as a clinician at an agency serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse in October. (Then I got my LPC — my Licensed Professional Counselor license — in December, which was exciting because I thought the paperwork would take longer.)

We’re very fond of our small apartment on the edge of downtown, and we both walk to work every day. We can walk to restaurants, movies, bars, and cute shops as well.

The running is probably the best part of life here (for me). We live close to a trailhead that opens up to miles and miles of sandy and hilly trails. In October, after a summer clambering all over the foothills, I got a personal record in a local half-marathon.

Our lives are pretty routine these days : work, running, church, and lying around watching Doctor Who while eating cookies. The usual. We’re planning a wee trip in June — more on that once it’s a bit more solid — and pondering our next move. But in the meantime we’re staying cozy.

a pond as seen from the trails near our apartment

My Top Ten Favorite Mountain Goats Songs

I took this photo in South Dakota in 2014 and I’m still proud of it

If you don’t yet listen to The Mountain Goats, you probably ought to. I have been a fan for several years and recently discovered an excellent YouTube playlist entitled Mountain Goats Long Ass Playlist and it is almost always playing while I’m doing clinical notes or other paperwork in my office.

The reasons for my deep love for this band are complex and difficult to articulate. But I think the summary is : John Darnielle (the singer/songwriter/center of the band) is a grown man who sings unflinchingly about past traumas and other difficult experiences in a matter-of-fact way that I find both deeply relatable and rare. I have not found this quality in other music, and it is this quality that I find almost painfully beautiful in Mountain Goats songs. John Darnielle writes beautiful and honest lyrics.

Anyway, my favorites :

(In no particular order) (But #7 MIGHT be my all-time favorite.) (Or #3.) (And #1 is sort of everyone’s favorite, for good reason.)

1. This Year

2. Love Love Love

3. You Were Cool

4. Woke Up New

5. Up The Wolves

6. Damn These Vampires

7. Never Quite Free

8. Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod

9. Dinu Lipatti’s Bones

10. San Bernardino

David and I just got tickets to see The Mountain Goats this September and I am VERY excited!

(And yes these are YouTube links. In my defense, some are music videos. But more broadly no I don’t use Spotify and I’m sure it’s super great but we’re just not compatible. I don’t know.)

January books

I really do mean to update this more regularly. I finished three books in January. 🙂

booksjan2019
I read The Winter of the Witch on eBook but the cover is stunning!

1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

This is one of my mother-in-law’s most beloved books and she lent me her treasured copy in the fall. I waited until it was good and cold and began it on January 1st. What a pleasure it was to read! We trace a family through several generations in England. The descriptions are delicious, and although I made a wee bit of fun of the author for all the wooden scrubbed tables she mentions (do you all have any other kind of table over in England? seems unlikely), I also totally want a wooden scrubbed table and to be the kind of person who has half a roast chicken in the fridge at all times. I will be seeking more of her books in future when I want a good cozy novel to sink into, for sure.

2. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

This was the third and final book in a fantasy series that I began in 2017. It was just released and I was SO excited. These books trace Vasya, a magically talented girl in medieval Russia. The books deal a lot with the meeting of folk traditions/pagan beliefs and Christianity — a topic I love to explore. They are also completely engrossing. I laughed with David about “fantasy book food,” a concept all of us who read fantasy are familiar with. Would I actually enjoy a stew of wild mushrooms, scented grasses, and pond fish cooked over a fire? Almost definitely not, but when I read about it in a fantasy novel I get mighty hungry. I definitely recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy books, empowered girls, and the meeting place of magic and religion.

3. The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

My brother gave me this book for Christmas, in our great tradition of unwrapped books as gifts to each other. It is a psychological thriller (I think this is the right term, it’s hard to say) set in Norway. I could almost literally not put it down. David even snapped a photo of me reading it while drying my hair.* It’s hard to tell much about the book without risking giving it away, but it begins with a wealthy mother and interior designer who takes in a little boy from her daughter’s swim class. The book switches perspectives from Cecilia (the mother & interior designer) to Tobias (the little boy) and journal entries from Anni (who we learn more about as the book goes on). It is creepy and fascinating. (A note : there are some scenes with sexual violence, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking to avoid those.)

I’m part-way through several books at work, including The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. So far I am really impressed with her work. She is a pediatrician who began incorporating her understanding of ACEs into her practice. I’ll write up a full review when I finish it!

Happy February reading, everyone! 🙂

* This isn’t the first time I’ve done this though. I hate drying my hair and often try to read while doing so. I’ve also been known to read while getting dressed, while cooking, and while walking (while reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis I walked straight into a huge cement block next to a construction site and went flying over it, getting identical scrapes in both shins and a bonus scrape on my chin! And no, I wasn’t a child at the time…or a teenager…or drunk. I was a graduate student and it was the middle of the day.

Life in the West

We moved to Idaho in June and have spent the summer alternating between settling in and traveling on weekends! We were able to head out to Washington two times to spend time with David’s family, and we also had the pleasure of hosting David’s sister & her husband, and later, David’s parents. We also spent a super fun weekend in Los Angeles for our friends’ wedding, so all in all, it’s been a pretty busy summer! Yesterday, we kicked off the fall season with a day-long Hogwarts Express Day celebration.

Life in Idaho has been a real adjustment, and I’m sure there’s plenty more adjusting to be done. But there are many lovely things about our life here : our apartment is in the most perfect location. Our next-door neighbor is super kind and helpful. My best friend Lindsey lives in town (!!!) so we get to hang out ALL THE TIME, which after years of always being in a long-distance friendship is pretty awesome. David is doing well at his new job. And I have access to bazillions of beautiful, hilly running trails. During summer I ran usually six days a week, but I’ve just begun training for a half-marathon in October, and I’m running three days a week and lifting weights three days (plus one rest day). I miss my trails, though, so I often add a long walk on lifting days. (Sometimes I add a long walk on running days, too.)

I’m working on navigating the counseling licensure system here, and in the meantime just housewife-ing to my best ability. Cooking, cleaning, you know. Recently, I’m most proud of my frozen bean-and-cheese burritos that David can take to work for lunch, crockpot steak fajitas, and the “sorting hat” cupcakes I baked for our party yesterday. I’ve also had plenty of time to read and get to know the local public library system.

 

moving again

When David & I moved in with my mom last summer before traveling abroad, we had a goal : we would enjoy time with my mother, dog, and hometown, and by the spring, we would move again.

Here we are in May and we just finished packing up our “moving pod.” Next week we will start our 2500 mile drive to our new home in Idaho. David got a great job out there in the data analysis field, so we’re headed west again!

Our time in New York has been so special to me. We’ve gotten to spend lots of quality time with my mother (and with Pip the Kerry Blue Terrier!), and being in my home environment has been so nourishing. I love my childhood house and I love the wood paths nearby, where I’ve run or walked daily. I still dream that someday we will settle in New England, but for now, this job opportunity for David was too good to pass up. We’ll enjoy being close to David’s family and my extended family and friends on the west coast, too.

We found a sweet little apartment with the help of my best friend Lindsey who lives in Idaho (another perk of moving!!), and we’ll be setting up house out there in early June. Maybe I’ll get back into writing a bit more often again (how often do I say that?). Lots on my mind lately : slow/sustainable fashion, baking, how to make a new place home…but lots to DO as well, like, you know, moving across the entire country.