Saturday, May 16, 2009

Umea Comes

Umea was born six weeks ago on April 3. We've made it this far, and I'm just starting to feel that we're getting used to each other. I didn't have that bolt of lighting love that some mothers feel. Instead, I felt wonderment that this thing that I've been wanting for so long -- a child, a daughter -- is finally here and a simultaneous effort not to try to turn this into anything I dreamed. I know she is her own person and that our relationship will take its own shape despite any dreams or intentions I might have. I wonder sometimes if I'm trying too hard to stay unattached to outcome. It may be interfering with my ability to enjoy these moments fully and to bond with her in a way that's unapologetic to what she might feel when she's a teenager.

I find myself thinking often that nothing is permanent, and while I enjoy her now, she may not always be here. I'm not sure where this macabre reasoning is coming from, but it does signal fears that I never would have expected of myself.

I actually had a dream the night before last that she was dead. It was right before Halloween, and some friends asked whether they could use her body for their haunted house, and I agreed, because, well, there was nothing to be done. It wasn't until her head was separated from her body that I collapsed into sobs on the kitchen counter, finally feeling the loss.

Part of it is feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility for caring for such a helpless creature, especially when I feel I know so little about what to do. There are so few options when she cries -- feed her, burp her, put her to bed. The relentless repetition of days tends to remove the portent of a brand new life and precipice of a new love.

Yet there are moments, of course, when it all comes crashing through all these defenses and excuses and life patterns. She's very much smiling these days. After naps, when she's lying propped up on my knees, she breaks into a crooked grin as we stare at each other. She's begun exercising control over her hands, and sometimes at the breast or when she's on my shoulder, she'll knead me or grab my hands. In these moments, it's as though she's breaking through to my dreams of what motherhood would feel like, what it would entail. This both frightens me -- what if it ends? -- and surprises me -- how did I know how this would feel? It's as though I'm becoming a mother in reverse.

It's perhaps as a wife that I'm learning the most. That part of life is much more surprising than motherhood, somehow, as though I didn't imagine it as fully as I imagined having children and therefore aren't as familiar with its rhythms and edges. Not that it's hard. In fact, it's much less dramatic and much richer than I ever dreamed. The chemical badness that always attracted me to my favorite boyfriends is replaced with an intense trust and appreciation. He follows through -- most of the time -- and when he doesn't, he either intends to or tries to on hearing its import to me or to us. I can trust that, which is so awe inspiring. I'm much better than I would have thought at phrasing requests plainly and positively. I hardly ever think about whether he knows me or not; that hardly seems the point, somehow. He loves me and has agreed to share a life. As long as I keep up my end of the bargain and keep tabs on myself, then he'll know me as well as I make the effort to teach him. As well as I make the effort to teach myself.

Everything else fades to background. For me, having a kid is like living in a land of Platonic forms. It's all the essential building blocks of life, evolutionarily speaking. Caring for an infant, securing a partner to support us, sleeping, eating, walking.

There are friends, too. They bring food and ooh and aah appropriately over our sweet girl. There is the tacit acknowledgment that I am now, suddenly and irrevocably, a woman, where before I was playacting at it. Now there's no question I'll be 50 and round and pudgy and worried about hosting visitors one day, as my mom does.

As for Umea herself, she's amazing. Utterly charming. Mecurial, with a twinkle in her eye from the first week. People commented on it. They tell me all the time she looks like she has stories to tell. She's got a great voice already -- low and pleasing. Even her noises are professional-sounding, as though she's a real performer already. She's got a temper, and she doesn't have much transition room between humor and anger. She can go from a smiling session with me to unconsolable crying in the space of a few breaths. But she's also in love with the world already, staring intently at everything for minute on minute. She's got achingly long fingers, long feet and long toes, a cute pug nose, rosy cheeks, high forhead, great, blue eyes that are so intense as to be disconcerting -- people tell me that, too. And lots of dark hair that always elicits a comment. We don't know where that came from, and yes, we think it will change.

I wish, somehow, that I could love her more, but it feels like I'm waiting for something. For her to grow up more, or to become conscious of herself and therefore able to differentiate herself from me, or for a promise that she's not going anywhere? I'm not sure. Maybe all these things. Maybe love and trust take time. I do notice that reuniting with her after we're separated for a while gets me closer to feelings of adoration than anything else. Maybe I just need perspective, a little distance to see the picture clearly and know -- this is love. This is our family. This is it.