1. Blankets enrage him.
2. He manufactures drama because we lead very boring lives, you see. So he will hide something under the sofa, usually this Number 8 puzzle piece. Then he will run up to you and frantically cry “Where 8!? Where 8????? OH NOOOOOOOO!” And then he’ll do this jazz hands thing and whisper “Gone!” very dramatically. And then he demands the flashlight so that he can look under the couch to find the missing 8. And he will use a toy hammer to try and fish it out, and he can’t quite do that yet, and that is very frustrating to him, so he gets legitimately upset.
3. He’s sort of afraid of dogs but loves cats.
4. He can count to 20 and has known all the letters of the alphabet since about 17 months. He likes to try and spell words (with our help). He loves books. We go to music class once a week and it is his favorite place ever.
5. Oddly, he really enjoys lima beans. He likes dried fruit and fresh fruit, carrots, peas, yogurt, kefir, oatmeal, pancakes, any sort of bread or muffin or cake or cookie, cheese, eggs, and pasta.
6. He likes for me to sing Puff the Magic Dragon to him every night before bed. After I’m done, he always says “One more,” so I sing him the chorus one more time before putting him in his crib. He sleeps with a Curious George, 2 Winnie the Pooh loveys, and a small pillow. He wears a sleep sack to keep him warm, since blankets are so horrible.
7. He has started putting various toys down to sleep, saying “Night night, see you soon.” Today I saw him putting a wooden toy tree down to sleep and I asked him to sing it a song and he sort of sang a little Puff the Magic Dragon and I almost passed out from cuteness.
8. The boy has crazy mood swings. He is getting louder and louder. He throws himself down in these mechanical tantrum type positions, but it’s not quite a tantrum… yet. Usually I can snap him out of it by reciting The Owl and the Pussycat or singing the alphabet song or asking him to help me sing Wheels on the Bus.
9. He is still very sweet and cuddly, but is getting more independent. He will let you know when he does not want a hug or kiss.
10. He loves his grandparents very much.
11. He’s pretty much talking in sentences now, when he wants to. His first sentence was at 20 months, when he said, “Sleep sack, take off!” after a nap. He seems to know what everything is called. If he is unsure what something is called, he’ll point to it and say “deh deh” and I’ll tell him the name of the object and then he just knows it forever, it seems. He knows his name is Augustus and he knows my first name and Brandon’s first name, and the first names of all his grandparents.
12. He calls magazines “mah-OH-guh-zeens” and margaritas “maga-uh-rigas.” He pointed to our liquor collection the other day and said “Grown ups!” He likes to bring me magazines and clothing catalogs and go through them with me, inquiring “deh deh?” and I’ll tell him what the item of clothing he’s pointing to is called, or whatever it is he is looking at.
What places and things will Gus remember fondly?
Our rough and splintery deck with the bucket of seashells we collected at the beach last year?
His dark bedroom with the grass green shag carpet and the pinwheel mobile I made him and paintings by his great grandfather and great aunt and an old plaid sheet covering the windows, which he hides behind, shouting “Where Gus?”
My old guitar with the hot pink pick he likes to “accidentally” drop into the hole of the guitar?
The swaying, almost shimmering maple tree in our back yard? (I remember setting newborn Gus down in his carrier next to me as we sat at the dining room table for our first dinner home all together. He was wide awake, as usual, and was very quietly staring out the back door at the tree as the fresh green newly leafed branches shook in the breeze. Since then, at dinner, I often catch him transfixed by that tree still.)
My grandparents’ houses were magical places. Expansive basements. The old white painted piano. The 1960s Barbies and metal dollhouse. The formal living room with fancy velvet loveseats (now mine). My Mun’s small gold brocade recliner, my Papa’s big leather recliner. The cold room off the kitchen where the fudge was stored. The smoked hams. The bookshelves in the guest room filled with assorted knick knacks (rolled paper flowers, small baskets, decorative boxes, treasures). The bag full of paper New Year’s Eve party hats. The blue glass juice glasses (now in my own cabinet). My grandparents each had their own chair they favored, as did my great aunt, who lived there for a time (and whose chair I now own, the old worn rose fabric now upholstered over.) The dining room table (also now mine) where pickled beets were always served (my grandmother’s favorite), and also homemade applesauce. The glass candy dishes full of sour balls.
My childhood home was a magical place. The glass door in the hallway my brother and I would peer through on Christmas morning. Open windows with the whole house fan on at night, sleeping under a Georgia springtime breeze and cricket sounds. The “house” I made in the front bushes, where I’d make potions out of berries I’d dry in the sun. The tuft of monkey grass that was the perfect size for me to sit in and even had a smaller tuft of monkey grass that served as an ottoman. The heat vents on the floor on which I’d curl up and read on cold days.
Lately I’ve been hearing Gus say “MiPa’s house! MiPa’s house!” upon waking. That’s what he calls my parents’ house. He has discovered two small bouncy balls which resemble cherry tomatoes and which he has, miraculously, not tried to eat. He climbs up a few stairs at MiPa’s house (we don’t have stairs at our house, so these are a novelty) and rolls the cherry tomato balls down the steps, saying “Bouncy bouncy bouncy.” He will point upstairs and say “Ross!” though Ross is living in DC. When Ross is home, Gus leads him around MiPa’s house, ordering “Gooooooo” and checking over his shoulder now and again to make sure Ross is following. He has found the big box of jumbo sidewalk chalk my mom keeps under a chair in her bedroom. He has tentatively explored my mom’s garden, with the fishpond and the birdhouses and the moss and the shade plants. I will have to check and see if my monkey grass chair and ottoman still exist. He sits in my old chair at the breakfast room table and my dad presents him with elaborate plates of chopped fruit. He likes the phone cord of the old rotary phone in the breakfast room, though he really shouldn’t play with it at all, and we tuck the cord up on top of the phone when he makes a beeline for it. He wants to open all the cabinets. And there are a LOT of cabinets. He hasn’t even seen the loft in my old bedroom yet. That will blow his mind, I think.
What things and places will he someday remember with a happy pang?
I see certain older adults sometimes stop and watch my son play or run on his chubby legs or chat at me from the shopping cart. Sometimes they look amused, and sometimes they look wistful. They say cliche things like “It goes so fast” or “Enjoy it!” and I completely get it. I see this boy changing so rapidly in front of my eyes. Everything is always so bittersweet. It’s all so complicated yet uncomplicated–there is so much to be DONE, so much managing, so much overseeing, so much planning ahead. But also there’s this: we love each other so purely. It’s just so easy for me to love him. It’s a given that I will wake up and feel all that love in my heart and that I will go to my little boy to lift him out of bed and he will say “MaMA!” with a smile in his voice, because all he knows for me is love. And I think ahead and worry that in years to come, this love will become murky and sullied by resentment and teenage hormones and outside factors. I don’t know what to expect, exactly. Maybe our love will strengthen with every setback and every cloudy moment. I hope so. But I also wish our hearts could always exchange this golden purity, back and forth.
When Gus was a new baby and I was a new mom, we both had a lot of meltdowns. He would cry and I would cry. We would do everything we could for him, but he would still cry. I would sing him lullabies, but he preferred loud and discordant white noise. I would try and hold him close to me, but he would push away. He wanted to nurse for an hour at a time, wait 15 minutes, and then nurse again. For another hour. All day long. I felt like I could never leave the house with this loud and disagreeable (though cute) little person. And I rarely did. Everything seemed impossible and hopeless to me. I would try and remind myself “This is not forever.” I thought it would never get easier. I thought I’d never get good at “being a mom” and that Gus would be unhappy forever. “This is not forever,” I’d tell myself as we went onto hour #3 of trying to get him to sleep at night. “This is not forever,” I’d tell myself when I was driving with a screaming infant in the back seat. “This is not forever,” I’d tell myself as I held a wailing and overtired baby who neither wanted to be held nor wanted to sleep. “This is not forever.” But I didn’t believe it. It felt like forever.
But, of course, everything changed. Babies change, kids change, and they change FAST. That’s one of the biggest truths I’ve come across over the past 16 months.
Gus is happy. He is cautious but curious. He is loving. He is cuddly. He is smart and he is funny.
“This is not forever,” I tell myself as I nurse Gus in the dark of his room in the evening and he holds my necklace or points to my chin, ears, shoulder, nose, so that I will say “Chin,” “Ears,” “Shoulder,” “Nose.” “This is not forever,” I tell myself as I come home from work and Gus rushes up to me and throws himself into my arms and holds tight for five minutes, pulling away to smile into my face. “This is not forever,” I tell myself as I read Gus book after book, with his warm and heavy head resting against my chest. “This is not forever,” I tell myself when I watch my husband clown with Gus, making him shriek out that free, uninhibited baby laugh. “This is not forever.”
And now I believe it. I know it’s true. He stopped pushing away from me and now nestles into me. And someday soon I won’t be strong enough to hold him in my arms anymore. And he won’t want me to. And he will read books to himself. And he won’t want to chat when I get home from work and ask him about his day. But I know there will also be new happinesses that I can’t even imagine right now. All I know is, this is not forever. So I want to savor every little bit of this time, because even though I know there are good times to come, this is the only moment I will have Gus Thompson, Age 15.5 months.
Now this is a story! Of about how! My life got flip-turned upside down! And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you h–hold up a minute, that’s not how this goes. I’m trying to write this birth story, is what I’m trying to do. Ok. Let’s regroup. Here is Part 1 of Gus’s birth story, COMIN’ ATCHA!
Let’s start with the point in my pregnancy where I decided to actually take the reigns and steer, since I was the one whose body was getting ready to DO THIS THING.
After much hemming and hawing and countless nervous conversations with my husband, I broke up with my OB/GYN practice at about 30 weeks. Each appointment was leaving me more and more unsettled and I kept being referred for ultrasounds for this reason or that (Baby too big! Is that a fibroid? It is a fibroid. Let’s look at that fibroid some more, oh hey, there’s another fibroid, let’s look at that one too! What else you got in there? Hey, your baby is still too big. MORE ULTRASOUNDS AT ONCE!) I had this weird feeling that the ultrasounds were bothering my baby and I hated that I was having so many of them. I hated exposing my baby to them (and I’m not even sure why, it just felt wrong), but I was also uncomfortable refusing them. And at each consultation with my OB (who I truly liked as a person), there was more and more talk of the baby “measuring big” and inductions and cesareans. And how I would need to be hooked up to all the monitors even if I wanted to try and go unmedicated. No walking the halls, young lady! To bed with you! Ok maybe you can stand NEXT to the bed, but we’ll be watching you! And you WILL want that epidural, TRUST ME. And we might need to do a cesarean because did we mention just how big that baby is? He is big! Big big big! Maybe we should go ahead and discuss scheduling a cesarean juuuuust in case.
So controlling! So overbearing!
Ideally, I wanted to trust my body to have the baby because that is what a lady body is supposed to do. I just wanted to TRY to go unmedicated and if it didn’t work out, oh well. That was my “plan.” The fact is, I could not create in my mind a Real Plan because I didn’t know what labor was going to feel like. I didn’t know what I would want or need. I didn’t know how I would handle the pain, mentally or physically. And no one else knew either. No one, not even the most seasoned birth veteran, could tell me what it would be like FOR ME. My husband and I took a great childbirth class where we learned all about labor and delivery and what to expect from the hospital, what to expect from a typically laboring body, from doctors, from midwives, from nurses. But of course, no class can teach you how YOU will react and how YOU will handle labor and what YOUR body will (or won’t) do. When you are pregnant for the first time, labor and everything thereafter is The Great Unknown. And that is why I wanted options! I knew I would feel better knowing that I had the maximum number of tools at my disposal.
I feel that I should also mentioned that during my second trimester, I cranked up Netflix and watched The Business of Being Born. This was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it really opened my eyes to exactly what typical OB-led interventions can sometimes do to a woman’s body and a baby and pushed me to question my OB and, eventually, leave for greener pastures. Because, looking back, I really don’t think things would have gone well had I stayed with that practice. The curse has to do with the nagging embarrassment and a bit of guilt that I felt about my epidural and all that followed. But I won’t go into that now. I’ll just say that I’m glad I watched it because I truly believe it helped me realize I needed to take the steps to get into a better, more respectful birthing situation.
I started going to a group of midwives who specialize in unmedicated births and water births, but who also do not turn their noses up at epidurals. I felt comfortable with them because I knew they would not push anything on me or tell me my baby was the size of a Siberian tiger or that I probably wouldn’t be able to handle anything at all and I should just hold up a second and let them get the baby out real fast.
At my first appointment with this midwife practice, the midwife took a lot of time to feel my belly and tell me exactly where the baby’s head was and where his butt was and what position he was in. She never said he was big. My OB never touched my belly except to find the heartbeat or quickly measure my belly with measuring tape.
Something else that put me at ease about the midwives was that I knew I would be able to hold my baby as soon as he was born, whether I delivered vaginally or via cesarean. The OB associated with the midwives allows for family-centered cesareans. I NEEDED to know I could hold my baby right away. The truth was that I hadn’t bonded with the baby yet, in utero. I had to be sure that I could hold him right away and get to know him immediately. It was a big worry of mine.
The week of my due date, I realized I needed to go on maternity leave because I could no longer not be a bitch. I also was struggling to get up at 5:45 every morning and work a 10-hour day. I needed alone time and I needed people to stop saying things to me like, “Oh, you’re here today! I was wondering if you’d had your baby over the weekend, but I guess you didn’t, because here you are!” I could no longer deal with pregnancy-related small talk. Also, I needed so many naps. So I decided I would work up until my due date and then go on maternity leave. I thought I’d probably be about a week “overdue,” since I was a first-timer and that is typical. I was right! I went into labor at 40 weeks 6 days.
Those six days of lying around at home just relaxing and being really really pregnant were good times, let me tell you. I ate lots of good food, cooked a few things to freeze for when the baby arrived, watched lots of movies, attempted to go on walks, and NAPPED. So many naps. I’m not typically a napper, but napping is all I wanted to do.
On Friday, April 20, I’d been having barely noticeable Braxton Hicks contractions all day. My belly would tighten painlessly and random times during the day. I went to the grocery store with my mom and loaded up on provisions. For some reason, we were all predicting I’d go into labor on Monday, and I really believed that, so I thought I had the full weekend ahead of me to prepare and spend a little time with my husband, just the two of us. I really really did not feel ready to have a baby. I didn’t feel ready to give birth and I didn’t feel ready to take care of a baby. You’d think almost 41 weeks would be enough time to get to the point where I was at least somewhat ready to become a mother, but you’d be mistaken.
That Friday night, I was lying in bed, trying to get comfortable. My baby was doing something in my belly that could only be described as “frolicking.” It felt like he was rolling around in the old uterus, just having the time of his life. At around 11:00 p.m., I heard a loud POP and felt a gush of you know what coming from the you know where. I grabbed the towel that I kept next to the bed for just this very reason and ran to the bathroom to check things out. I checked to make sure the fluid was clear (it was) and then went back to the bedroom to tell Brandon. It turns out the pop was so loud, it woke him up! We had planned on spending my early labor watching one of our favorite shows while I relaxed in a Bradley position on the fold-out sofa. We also planned on taking a walk. Brandon went to the living room to get our show queued up and then came back to the bedroom, where I was sitting on the bed.
I had begun to shake uncontrollably to the point where I couldn’t speak very clearly. I suppose it was caused by adrenaline. Brandon put his arms around me and we lay on the bed and he said some really nice things. I always feel so much comfort when he holds me, but this time I felt panicked and trapped. I just wanted to pace. I thought, “I can’t do this, I’m not ready for this, I don’t want to do this” over and over in my head and could not stop shaking.
Finally, we stood up and walked to the living room. I remembered a few things I needed to pack in our hospital bags, so I went about doing that. All of a sudden, I had my first contraction. It was very strong and seemed to last quite a long time. I put my hands on the kitchen counter and swayed and thought, “Okay, I did okay with that one. It hurt, but I handled it. I’ll be ready for the next one.” Except that the next one was different. When the next one hit, it didn’t stop hurting. For awhile, I could tell when the contractions started and stopped, but the pain never eased. We started timing the contractions. They were 3 minutes apart, so I dialed the midwife. Sitting through the answering service was too much for me, so I handed off the phone to my husband and made my way to the bathroom, because the only place I could imagine sitting was backwards on the toilet with my head on the back of the toilet. I stopped being able to speak clearly. I was still shaking like crazy. My husband told me that the midwife said she didn’t think I needed to come in yet. I remember feeling so scared and making these wild animal sounds. Brandon called my mother and asked her to come over, since she was going to go with us to the hospital and we wanted everything to be ready for when we decided to get in the car and head out.
I don’t remember many specifics from this point. I do remember vomiting. I remember not being able to stand up or move my legs. I remember shaking like crazy. I remember feeling like I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I remember wanting someone to just take me to the hospital. I remember thinking that everything that was happening sure sounded like the way transition was described to us in our birth class, but how could I possibly be in transition?
To be continued.
Gus is 13 months old. Here’s what he’s up to these days:
*He is so close to walking! He seems like a rather cautious person (like me) and still wants to hold onto something. On 3 occasions, he has let go and stood on his own, but only because he was holding things in both hands and forgot himself! As soon as he realized what he was doing, he sat down.
*Is very cuddly with me. When we go places, he needs reassurance from me from time to time and comes to check in with me. He gives me “kisses,” basically mashing his face onto my face with his mouth wide open. He comes to me for hugs frequently. I’m really loving that.
*Says some words! They are still in Gus Code, but I know what he means: Baw for Ball, Bah for Banana, Mao for More, Schao for Shoe, Bwah for Block, Truh for Truck, Juh for Orange, Buh for Book (his first word). Makes some animal sounds and says them when he sees the animal (i.e., “Bu Bu Bu” for a chicken and “Wuh wuh wuh” for a dog–we hear the neighbor’s dog all the time and he likes to bark back.)
*Is obsessed with trucks.
*Loves to stack his blocks and play catch/toss with his ball. Loves to flip through books and sit and have a book read to him. Loves to root through cabinets and put items in boxes. He will make a mess pulling things off of shelves and out of cabinets, but if I ask him to clean it up, he gives it a shot.
*Knows he is doing something we don’t want him to do (like hitting) and says “nononono” but does it anyway. He’s been experimenting and testing us a lot.
*Weighs just under 27 pounds. Now that he’s moving, he’s much less chubby and isn’t really gaining weight. His head is 19″ and I can’t remember his length, but he was in the 50% percentile for height.
*Loves fruit, but hates veggies. Hates cows milk and cheese but will eat cottage cheese and yogurt. Loves beans. Loves tomato-flavored foods. Likes water. We are working on his “spoonsmanship” so he will be able to feed himself non-finger foods soon, I hope!
Any time I decide I’m going to work on writing an account of Gus’s birth, I end up in one of the following scenarios:
1. 8:00 p.m. I decide going to take my laptop to bed and just WRITE, dammit. But first, I need to take a shower so that I can just go straight to sleep after writing. Once I’m showered, I decide I’d rather read, and then I fall asleep.
2. Work is slow. I decide I’ll write a little bit. It takes me 15 minutes to remember my login and password. By the time I’m logged in, I’m no longer in the mood to write and read ALL THE INTERNET instead.
3. Work is SO BUSY, but my brain is full of sentences and important recollections I need to write down! I log in and write down a jumble of sentences and paragraphs in no particular order and save the post as a draft.
I currently have about 10 drafts.
I’m going to do it. I’m going to write it down, what I can remember of it. Before I can’t remember anything. It wasn’t a great birth. It sort of even sucked. But it’s important to me to remember everything. I run on nostalgia. When I am struck with a memory of this less-than-perfect-yet-still-beautiful-to-me birth experience, my chest swells with love and anxiety and butterflies trembling and, well, maybe also some raptors beating their wings alarmingly And I don’t want that beautiful raw feeling to fade.
So stay tuned.
Every two weeks, I buy a half gallon of organic, hormone free, ridiculously expensive milk, the kind with the distant expiration date. As I grabbed some off the shelf at the grocery store last week, I looked at the date. April 26, 2013. My heart beat a little faster. On April 26, my baby Gus will be one year and five days old. That expiration date feels anything but far off to me right now.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was waddling and huffing down an aisle at the grocery store, cart full of the spoils of a Very Hungry Pregnant Lady: Cadbury Creme Eggs and popsicles, frozen pizzas and veggie burgers. I remembered that I needed to stop at the dairy case to get milk for my daily cup of tea. I lifted out a carton and glanced at the date printed along the top: April 15, 2012. My due date. Butterflies thumped in my chest, competing with the slow and squirming giant movements in my belly. I couldn’t fathom that an actual baby, my actual baby, would be in my arms so soon. Now I can’t believe a little one-year-old boy will be looking at me over his first cupcake, laughing his funny laugh, holding my fingers as he tentatively stands. So soon.
Spring is happening right now, whether I’m ready or not. It is my most nostalgic time of year, when everything I see or smell or hear reminds me of one of the beautiful parts of my life I’m so grateful for. April is the month when, on a walk through my childhood neighborhood, Brandon and I decided we would get married. We looped a little clover around my left ring finger and then we kissed, grasped hands, and finished our walk. It was April when I stood in the doorway of a little brick ranch house, looking out at the garden in bloom, and told Brandon I knew without doubt that it was the house we would live in together. We were married on April 14, 2007 on a fragrant, rainy evening. We held hands tightly, and he raised the umbrella over our heads, and we sprinted through the rain to my car, grinning uncontrollably, and we began our life together. On April 21, 2012, our baby boy was born on a dark and still Spring night. It was the most frightening, magnificent, shocking moment of my life. I didn’t understand at the time, but it was a beginning that unlocked new and yet undiscovered territories in my heart and brain. I play that night over and over in my head and work at it, turning it over like a worry stone, a lucky coin, a talisman. And I wish I could somehow, magically, go back and give birth to my boy again, even with all the terror and pain, just so that I could once more experience all of the newness, all of the shocking love and worry, all of the opening of my eyes and heart, all of the unveiling of glimpses of life’s secrets, all that our tiny baby has given to us over this past year.
I wound my way through the garden yesterday with Gus on my hip, checking all the plants to see what was blooming and what was popping up through the ground. I toed at the dirt to see green spears poking determinedly out of the soil. All around us, daffodils and grape hyacinth were blooming riotously, filling the air with their color and sweetness. A few feet away, an awkward, alien shape caught my eye. It was the peony shrub Brandon and I picked out and planted several years ago, before we were married. Peony plants look very peculiar when they first struggle out of the earth. They are like dark pink fists with claws that fight their way up for weeks, finally turning green and unfolding their leaves, then producing globular buds that wait patiently for an eternity, growing bigger and bigger, oozing sticky sap that ants and aphids savor. When the buds finally decide to bloom, they make you catch your breath with their ornate ruffles and rich fragrance. You clip just one to put in a vase by your bed so that you can fall asleep to its familiar smell. But you leave the rest right where they are because the crowded bursts of pink are so beautiful together.
When we left for the hospital in the early hours of April 21, 2012, our peonies had not yet bloomed. The buds sat stoically, enduring the ants’ unending march up and down their stems.
“It helps to visualize what you want to have happen,” my mother suggested as she helped me breathe. ”It helps to visualize yourself opening.” Because I just wasn’t opening. I was so afraid. I thought of those peonies and felt ridiculous, but I imagined their bright pink petals finally unfurling. I don’t know if it helped at all. I suppose it did, a bit. It is one of the only moments of labor I remember with any sort of clarity.
The day Brandon slowly, carefully drove his car to our little brick ranch house, grimacing at every bump in the uneven pavement–because, after all, we had a brand new, fragile human in our back seat, and a hard-won human, at that–I sat weeping in the passenger seat. I was sad and afraid and so was Brandon. We had not slept in over 72 hours and we were feeling nostalgic for our old life and fearful of our new one. Brandon turned the car up our driveway and parked, and when I opened the passenger side door and slowly, carefully extracted my exhausted, battered body up and out, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, something pink and bright and cheery. I turned to see our peonies in full bloom, waving excitedly in the breeze, and I felt so much promise. For a moment, I knew that everything would be alright.
And it has been more than alright.
Just some recent shots of me and my boys this past (glorious) weekend!
Relaxing during one of Gus’s naps:
Flower arranging with baby monitor on the deck:
Negotiating army crawling in the grass:
Lounging at Candler Park:
Propped up on dad. (Notice: attempted sticking of finger into mouth.)
This hat stayed on Gus’s head for approximately 0.0000001 seconds.
Gus is unsure of the grass. Very different from hardwood floors!
Playing Hall Ball with my buddy!