the fisherman's wife

Tonight, I had a vision of myself in a past life.

I was a fisherman's wife, and I was a mother then, too. A slow moving, gentle one, with hair fish-tail braided down my back and two babes that clung fast to my knees like barnacles. Our home smelled like mud and like the stark salty greenness of seaweed, and our windows were always half fogged from the constant rolling pot on the stove - fish bone soup, boiled potatoes, cabbage leaves cooked in oil. 

In the vision, I saw myself standing tall, a lighthouse, breeze at my back, watching my children collect stones by the tide. I was a mother only, and that was enough.

That can be enough in this life, too.

As I round the bend from a mother of one, to a mother of many, the question has been humming like cool air between my bones: What kind of mother do I want to be?

And I think that the answer is becoming stronger daily, as he lowers himself within me, as he rolls and hiccups and prepares his body to be born. Like half-fogged windows wiped clean, I can see the reflection of myself: healed. Whole.

I want to be a harbor for my children. Low-waving lamplight, glowing softly, gently, guiding so quietly that I am more a feeling than I am a sound. I want the thought of me to summon the smell of cinnamon, of ginger, of spices warming in milk on the stovetop. I want to touch softly, speak gently, praise often, spill kindness. 

"I am your mother," I tell them. I close my eyes. I wipe the fog from the window and touch myself between the shoulder blades. "I will mother you, too."

waning

Tonight you sat on my lap and I combed December tangles and a patch of old honey from your hair. It's not often loose - when you're just past two, it's much easier to keep it in a braid or a bun or a handful of bobby pins. I picked the knots gently, one at a time, until the comb ran clean through hair colored like earth and amber and sunlight. When I straightened the waves with the palm of my hand, they reached nearly to the center of your back. My God, how has the time tricked me so quietly! 

The hours I have left as a mother to you alone are waning, sweet girl. We've been sick for a month, it seems, with winter in our bones and a cough in our lungs. You've been needing in so many ways, dragging your tiny body into bed beside me, begging me to rock you, wiping snot on my skin and singing softly in a half-sleep, "Hold me, mommy, hold me." 

I have been equal parts exhausted by the demand for my warmth and my arms and my attention, and grateful for it. I am your everything, and you are mine. I am not shared. You are not shared. For now. Not for long.

For months, it seems, I've been writing the same thing in my planner at the beginning of the following day: "Redefine your purpose. Unravel your business ideas. Figure out what matters." And when I find a moment, if I find a moment, I haven't quite figured out what I mean by any of it. I've been feeling (as always) that I need to be more. That I need to leave some kind of profound mark across the world, with my writing, with my work, like a scar in the desert, or a great, white-topped wave out at sea. I blame social media for a seemingly never-ending infection of life-envy. I have been learning to shake it without completely shutting it out. 

The last year has taught me a great many things, but most of all, it has shown me how desperately I need absolutely nothing but this. Being her mother. Being yours.

Now, as our days together grow pale with change and the light within my womb glows brighter to illuminate the space between us, I have stumbled upon a great well of contentment in mothering. And oh! how much more joyous we all are when I can be a mother, and allow the pressure to become something greater to release in smoke. Maybe this is the most important thing of all. I am great already. I am enough.

Tonight, I'll flip to the 17th of December in my planner and cross the words from the page. In the margin, I'll write:

My purpose: To be gentle, to be kind, to be patient, to be present; to Mother first, not second. To honor my Self when needed. To be confident in the importance of this.

My business, unraveled: I will continue to write, for my Self first. Money will come, if it may. I will not force my words to pay my bills. I will focus on being at the shop, and improving the shop. That is the place in which my family has planted roots. That is where we will grow, together.

What matters:

Ahh, what matters.

The tangible, the tangible, the tangible. The things that can be felt on the skin and held in the palms and inhaled, and warmed, and touched. The shop. My community. You, and him, and the new one, and my Self.   

37 weeks

It has been so many weeks, and yet not many at all. I have carried you for nine months. Together we have felt the days turn from ice, to fire, and back to ice again. You push a stubborn foot at the skin beneath my ribs and you are growing, and turning, and getting ready.

I am getting ready, too. 

I drove down the hill from an appointment with our midwife today and the late winter afternoon had the sky colored pastel pink and a liquid kind of hazy. There was fog spilling like a frozen sea in the distance, over the hills, the tops of the waves painted orange and milky golden by the setting sun. Winter is empty, empty, empty. Starved of leaves and life and color. But it is strange to see what beauty can be held between empty palms. There is a quiet magic in the bare tree bones smiling gap-toothed and wild, gnarled grey ground gilded gold by fallen leaves, the rush of hasty daylight, the quick heaviness of night. Your sister was born into a damp season, one of abundance and harvest and reds and yellows singing from the treetops. Your season is beautiful, too. Perfectly empty and clean and ready to be filled by the warmth of you.

Time is moving slowly. Time is moving quickly, too. I am nearly a mother of two. I am a mother of two already. I've felt a great urgency lately, as you twist and shove between bones so strangely fit for holding you. Aspen was the first, and she came and conquered the Motherland and made me hers. I was changed, all at once, and it was painful, and it was beautiful, and it’s taken until now to realize just how magnificent I have become. 

Things are going to be different this time. I am needing, and I am fragile, and I am deserving of care and help and warm, healing hands. It took 28 months to learn, but I know now. You will come, and I will let you shape me gently, surely, between kneading, milk-sticky fingers. But you will not break me, sweet boy.

I am a mother, now. I am your mother already.

And together, in the pastel emptiness of winter, we wait.

1 year

one day, when we’ve both grown old in our bones and sun-stained from a dozen summers, you’ll ask me what it was like when you were new. 

in the beginning, I’ll say, you were very small and very still, and we didn’t realize the greatness of what we’d done. and then you grew. you opened your eyes and reached for the glasses on my nose, and just like that, you were the only thing we knew. 

it wasn’t easy to become a mother. the first year was another birth entirely, perhaps even more painful, in a different way, and there were a hundred hazy lamp-lit nights spent cradling you at my breast, rocking and humming and wondering what in the world I had done. 

but it was easy to love you. you were so velvety and veiled in fuzz, like an august peach. you smelled like milk and honey and i marveled at your purity, not only of your skin and bones and being, but of the air between us, so warm and colorless, not yet stained with any words or actions. 

you were new for such a short time, sweet love. and now, look at you. my god, how you bloom. when I think I’ve got a handle on your heart, you peel away and spill your spirit in a different direction entirely, always keeping me on my toes, forever unfolding and unfolding again. i can’t exactly drape words over this first year. it was milk stains and profoundly practiced patience and counting the coupled breaths you took as you were sleeping. but it was something else, too. it was the feeling of spring on the back of my neck, the feeling of something coming, something swelling somewhere between my skin and the air. a never-ending season of newness. of fumbling forward. of change. of grace.

and now, here we are. a year, to the day. we wake, we tangle, we collapse, we rise. when you ask me what it was like when you were new,  I’ll cup your soft hands in mine and say, “my dear, sweet love, it was the beginning of your life, and too, it was the beginning of mine.”

10 months

today we woke up late, all three of us in a tangle, and then i fixed french toast and eggs. i poured water over coffee beans and heard the neighbor's screen door slam outside. i thought about how nice it might be to make cinnamon rolls. i wrote, saturday, family brunch, cinnamon rolls, gold dust peaches, vanilla bean, on the chalkboard and nodded. the day was already hot and golden and milky. later, aspen and i ducked under the trumpet vines by our bedroom window and walked into town. i tried on three shirts and a dress in a fitting room while aspen sat on the couch beside me and took the gift cards i'd gotten for my birthday from the pockets in my wallet. i thought for a while and then bought the dress, because it was red and soft and made my cheeks catch flame. suppertime came and we ate and bathed and swept the floor. aspen and i stood by the parking lot and watched dad pulling thistles from the cracks in the pavement. our neighbor came outside to fetch the mail. she asked us how we were, and we talked for a while about eating meat, about the drought, about the grey cat who'd just had a litter of kittens under her porch.

i don't want to forget today. perfectly slow and ordinary. today, i woke as myself. today, i woke and my postpartum depression had lifted, like a fog, like old glasses, and i felt alive for the first time in ten months. i woke and i loved my daughter completely, more that i ever had. i woke in the hungry skin of a lover, of a mother, of a woman. i didn't even know how much i felt like a corpse until this morning, when i woke and every inch of myself was alive with love and wanting. today is the very first day; i am reborn.

9 months

I often wonder why it is that I don't simply ask for what I need. Why I don't drop to my knees and turn my heart inside out like a sleeve, pressing palms together, looking you in the face. "Please," I might ask, "I need for you to love me more. I need to be touched gently. I need space to cry, room to grieve, open air to share without judgement. You're all I have - do you understand that? I need you, dear one. Please, see me. Please, I need for you to love me more."

Maybe it's you. Maybe I'm afraid of what you might say. Or, maybe it's me. Maybe I don't know what to ask for in the first place. Maybe I'm afraid that turning myself inside out and exposing all the tender skin beneath the walls I've built will be impossible to reverse. Maybe I'm afraid that it won't help, and then I'll just be balancing on skinned knees, fleshy wound and bare bone exposed without healing. 

This is the hardest thing I've ever done. Not motherhood, exactly, but the surrender it takes to say to you, my husband, my love, "I need help. I'm hurting. I'm needing. I'm fragile. Please, just for a while, I need you to carry me."

I feel like I should be strong. That I should swallow back the churning salted sea in my throat and reinforce my walls with mortar and stone because that's what strong people do. It seems that I'm surrounded on all sides by beings of light who are terrified by the darkness between their ribs. They tuck away from the things that hurt and tell others that they'll be okay, that they just need to be strong, that they should just look on the bright side.

But I used to scrape clean these tender spaces with hungry fingers like the middle of a melon. I used to feel everything so completely, because these are the places where the great stories live. These are the places that taste sweet to the lips, that turn to honey on my tongue, that hurt to touch and are pleasurable to touch and that I've forgotten to touch in months and months.

And suddenly, the vulnerability terrifies me. Suddenly, nothing feels comfortable anymore. I'm pouring plaster over the walls when I should be allowing you to knock them down. 

I'm trying. I'm doing my best. I know that we have enough love moving between us to save me. I know that the vulnerability is what will save us all.

lean in

tonight you kissed me, lemon lips full on the mouth, and i felt my face twist, as if you were sour. i love you so dearly, but i think that every recent kiss has been sort of a chore, something to mark from the to-do list, because my mind is somewhere far off and anxious.  i stood there with your palms pressed to my shoulders and i felt every inch of my face, and it was ice and stone and then fire, melting. i thought what a waste it would be to live through every sweet kiss beyond my bones, up in my head, removed, resenting, regretful. i thought how quick it would be - the freezing over, the hurting, the breaking, if every kiss were so quick and unwanted. so i felt my face, i unfurled all the sour places like petals, i melted. and i felt you. all of you. liquor lips pressing into mine. slowly, slowly. here i am, my love. here i'll always be.

7 months

The other day my mother asked me how I was, and the question sounded so foreign that I had to ask her what she had said.

“How what?”

“How are you, sweetheart?”

I thought for a moment and answered that I was fine.

“Yeah?” she asked, looking over the steering wheel.

“Yeah.”

Lately the only thing that’s mattered to everyone else is how Aspen is. Whether she’s crawling or trying to walk, whether she likes to eat purees or whole cooked food and whether or not she’s choked or gotten a cold or learned how to wave hello and bye. Sometimes I forget that I’m here, too. Sometimes I just feel like the shadow that carries around the baby and roasts vegetables and keeps the house looking tidy.

How am I? I am a stranger in my skin. I am lonely, even though I’m surrounded by loved ones. I am anxious, even though I have nowhere to be. I want to be touched, but I also want to be left alone. I want everything to change. I want nothing at all.

Today KC held onto me too tightly and my breasts leaked milk through my shirt. I groaned and pushed him away and he said, “I feel like I’m doing everything wrong.”

And I wanted to tell him that he was, that I just needed him to be gentle, that I was hurting, that my heart was sore. I wanted him to know that I was broken in two and overflowing. That I felt there wasn’t enough love left in my heart to give to him. That I didn’t ask for help with the baby because I felt that she was my burden to bear. That I should be able to hold her and cook dinner for three and finish my studies and write great novels, all at once, because I was the one who "wanted her."

But I didn't.

I told him that everything was fine.

Fine.

how we stay together (3)

Last night I was making coffee (because coffee after seven in the evening has become a post-partum ritual of sorts) and you were watching Aspen when I heard her little head hit the carpet. She had been sitting proper between your feet, and some flailing bit of excitement had made her fall backwards. She wasn't hurt, but I was angry at you for watching your phone rather than your daughter, so I snatched her up from the floor and held her to my chest like a stolen diamond.

"You're not allowed to watch her any more," I said, and then spit a venomous "ever!" just to make sure I had been clear.

You were standing already, arms out, reaching for her, but I held her closer still. "Why not?"

"Because! You don't watch her watch her. You have to look at her and see what she's doing and make sure she's not going to fall off a fucking cliff or something."

"Look at her!" you pointed, "She's fine!"

"That's not the point!"

You sat back on the couch and froze over, like you sometimes do, your face ripe with pain and flushed with thought. After a minute, an hour, a day, I threw a pink rubber block at your chest. "Hey! Talk to me!"

"You've been so upset with me lately! I feel like an awful father. Not at all like my dad was. Like I'm not the father you wanted me to be. You wanted the baby -- "

"I wanted her? So does that mean you didn't?" I cut him short. Aspen laughed at something on the wall, and I started to cry.

"God, no!" you said, "I'm just so young. I don't even have my own shit figured out. Maybe if we'd waited -- maybe if I was older, was more mature -- I don't know. Maybe I would be better. It used to just be us, you know? And we never fought. Not until we had a baby. And I'm not blaming her. It just upsets me that you're so angry with me all the time now, and I don't know what I can do to make you happy."

I sat down on the couch with the baby in my arms and watched her swallow the living room with her eyes. She didn't need much these days, milk every so often, a rock to sleep, my arms, my breasts, and in that moment I felt that I needed everything from you -- even the things you couldn't possibly give me. "I'm sorry," I said.

"You're not though." you fumbled at the buckle on your pants.

"I am! I'm sorry. Do you think this is easy for me? That it isn't a big change for me, too?" I swallowed. I thought to tell you that you should leave, that you should go live your life, the one you were missing, the one we chose to skip by getting married at 19, by having a babe at 21, but I knew that would only cut you deeper. I swallowed again. Thought of the truth, and how bitter it was in my mouth, but I said it anyway. "You have to understand than I'm broken in so many ways. I've been on edge, and it's not your fault, and it's not her's either. I think it's because I'm being torn in so many directions now."

"How so?" 

"It used to just be me, and I took care of myself, and then it was you and I, and I was able to give you all of me, to touch you and love you and be entirely yours, and I miss that so fucking much, because now I have to care for me, and for you, and for her, and as much as I want to touch and fuck like we used to, I can't do that anymore."

I was sobbing. Aspen watched me from my arms, smiling. I caught my breath, continued, "I'm grieving the life I used to have, even though I chose to leave it, and because of that I'm more upset than I should be over things that don't matter. I'm still the same woman I was before I became a mother. Somewhere, she's in there, but she's dying, KC. Half of me is dying." 

You sat back against the sofa and your face softened, and I knew that you understood. Maybe not entirely, but enough to know that we were both hurting, that we were both trying, that we were both changed in the most profound way that a person can be changed.  

Later on, after Aspen had gone to bed, we made popcorn to eat with our coffee and laughed about how wild it would be if we hadn't talked things through. If we had stayed silent and sour and wondering why the other was so bruised. "That's how people fall apart," I had nodded, and you agreed.

And with coffee and sugar and butter and salt, with love and old hands and new skin and pink rubber blocks, for now, my love, we stay together. 

the saffron grill

We ordered samosas and garlic naan and bowls of basmati rice to be passed around and covered in different colored curries. Aspen patted the table and patted my arm, feeling the difference between the two. She reached out for a cup of coffee and nearly grabbed hold of the rim.

“No, no,” Ken said, and he moved the cup away.

I like to watch her toying with the idea of determination. She reached out once more for the coffee and cried out when her little fingers were met with empty air.

The owner of Saffron Grill is a marvelous Indian woman, dark skinned, dark eyes, breasts that meet belly and arms meant for holding onto the shoulders of another human being. She came to our table and reached her hands out to Aspen, motioning inwards. I tossed the little baby’s body in the air once to get her smiling, caught her, and handed her off. 

Aspen looked wide-eyed back at me, head bobbing as she was carried away into the kitchen. I heard men setting down pots and knives, calling out and singing to Aspen as she met them all, one by one. My mother heart broke open. A stranger had carried my child away, and though she was safe, I felt resistance simmering within my womb. 

Lately I’ve been surrendering more and more to motherhood. When I want to hold on, to protect with all I have, to hold Aspen instead of allowing her to crawl, to stand, to fall, I breathe in. I close my eyes. I surrender. And that’s what I did then, too. I spooned some cashew cream over my rice and dipped the salty corner of a samosa into chutney. I heard Aspen laughing from behind the kitchen wall, and I could feel her joy as if it were my own. 

It was my own, really.