And then she was six

It seems like yesterday (and also a lifetime ago) that I was staring, awe-struck, at the little person who’d been growing in my belly for the better part of a year. The baby I’d waited my whole life to have. I can still feel the weight of her in my abdomen, and the comparative lightness of her in my arms. So very tiny, so very perfect in every way — as a c-section baby, she didn’t have that squished head, and she emerged with nary a red mark, a pimple, or blemish of any kind. She was a porcelain doll of an infant.

Until she got angry — and angry she was. I had expected this, given her in utero punches and kicks. But I could not have prepared for the reality.

But mostly she was content. She laughed when she was four days old. She returned my gaze with wonder of her own. She studied everything, and absorbed it all.

I remember all of this, and more. The smell of her hair. The feel of her impossibly tiny fingernails. The soft weight of her cheek pressed against my breast. All of this is as clear to me as my most recent breath.

My angel face is a growing girl now (grown, she insists). She dances, and draws, and sings. She rubs my shoulders when I am tense, and rocks her little brother when he skins his knee. She lives fiercely, with everything she has. She is a force of nature, and I have spent the past 6 years swept up in her wake.

I can’t wait to see where we go next.

Loving:

Fall is coming. It’s not here, but I see it off in the distance. I’m so ready.

Reading:

More Goosebumps. I feel like I should create a reading ritual with Kai, too, so his books aren’t left out.

Watching:

Not much this past week. I’ve been swept up in wedding planning and birthday prep, and taking on extra work besides.

Listening to:

More Kesha than I ever expected.

Working on:

This week, it’s anniversary party time. My parents have been married 48 years. Forty. Eight. Years. Doesn’t leave much time to plan a 50th bash. But in the meantime, I have cake to bake.

Anticipating:

September. Fair season. I love September. Part of me really wanted to get married in September. But as slow as I have been in putting everything together, I’m glad I opted for November.

Making me happy:

I can fit into my wedding dress again. I don’t have to go wedding dress shopping! Such a relief.

Pausal updates

Hopefully I am close to starting my period; I started on progesterone this past Friday. Which means I should be starting within this next week, though my doctor did warn me it could be three weeks before it does its thing. Hope not, because I am miserable.

I saw my gyno last Friday; he told me he didn’t feel anything in my belly that shouldn’t be there (yay!), and prescribed the progesterone so I’d start my period. After one dose, I was already less bloated and swollen. (Cold, though. I remember that from my pregnancy with Kai; large amounts of progesterone make me cold.) So apparently my issue has been a hormonal imbalance? Let’s hope this course will set me back on track.

Extra progesterone also gives me pimples, apparently. And here I thought I was all but done with those.

Other updates from the checkup: It’s not possible to say whether my crazy periods are the result of perimenopause or lactational menopause. Not that there’s a huge difference in terms of symptoms now — the end result is the same, regardless of the cause — but the game could renew once I stop nursing Kai. Which, given how I’ve felt as of late, means I could have a fair amount of endo suffering ahead of me. Sigh.

On the up side, I don’t have to have a mammogram until I stop nursing. Pleased to hear that.

Especially pleased to hear I’m healthy, though. Having missed last year’s checkup due to my layoff, I was pretty nervous…especially when all these weird symptoms started cropping up.

Anya has started cooing over nursery furnishings again, and Kai has started loving up babies. And I’m just not there this time. Oh, I would adore having another baby. But it’s not the time, and I don’t think it will be again.

My little chatterbox

All last weekend, Anya chatted with strangers. Mostly babies (and their parents), but also older people. The cashier at Panera. The staff, volunteers, and visitors at the Dixon Gardens. I swear she stopped and cooed over every single baby in Target on Sunday afternoon, and half the babies in the grocery store later that same day. We actually created a few traffic jams when multiple babies passed by at once. She tickles them, asks their names, tells their parents about her baby brother Kai, and announces to anyone and everyone just how much she loves babies.

But her friendliness is not limited to people under the age of 3. As I was debating buying red lip gloss in the cosmetics section of Target, she approached a teenaged girl and started jabbering. The girl was friendly, though reserved; I heard her say “I’m not so good at talking with people.”

Welcome to the club, kid.

On my more introverted days, I can’t stand going out with Anya, because I know she is going to drag me into conversation with someone — even if I’m just translating, and explaining why my child is accosting their baby. I have days (okay, most days) when going through the checkout line with a live cashier is too much social interaction. Asking me to talk to a total stranger is absolute overload. But running out of food tends to override my hermit heart’s desire to hole up in my living room indefinitely, so we go.

To the teen’s credit, she held her own with Anya for nearly 10 minutes, and I think ultimately she enjoyed the exchange as much as Anya did. And I didn’t even have to say a word, so I was happy.

To Anya’s credit, she really knows how to talk to people. She compliments them on some aspect of their appearance, asks their name, tells them hers, and then engages them in conversation on some topic of mutual interest. This appears to be an inborn talent, evidently from her dad’s side. Lord knows I don’t have the small talk gene. But I’m watching her and taking notes, in case the need arises.

I notice that the people most uncomfortable with her advances are other children. The whole stranger-danger thing, I guess. We have raised a generation of children who find it alarming that a stranger would speak to them. I get why we did this to them, and I wish my own child were more reticent. I have had, and continue to have, the stranger-danger talks with her. For all the bloody good they do.

But on the other hand, I see the joy my daughter brings to people she’ll never see again, simply by noticing them. I see the joy these conversations bring her. I think back to her younger days, when she was all but nonverbal and I would have given my left leg to hear her speak. And I take her to the store, the park, the library, and let her chat some more.

Get a Clue

One of the things I wish had been around when I was younger is period trackers. I tracked my period on a paper calendar, but all I noted was the day it started. I have random anecdotal evidence (letters, journal entries) that refer to the occasional symptom or period duration, but otherwise I’m relying on my memories for details of my periods up until the age of 35, when I was introduced to Fertility Friend. I used FF faithfully (even when I wasn’t trying to conceive) until I resumed my cycles (such as they are) after I had Kai.

I use Clue now, hence the post title. If you look at my tracker, you’ll see I track mostly custom symptoms.

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The black squares are custom symptoms. (I have a lot of symptoms.)

When I was younger, tracking things like how my hair and skin were on a given day, whether I was productive or not, or how energetic I felt (all built in to the Clue app) would have been extremely useful. I remember from my TTC days that days in which I crushed my to-do list were sure-fire indicators that Aunt Flo was en route. Now I track other things: If I have trouble deciding what to wear. If I eat alllll day long. (Toying with adding “sweet or salty?” to that one, on the off chance that there’s any significance.) If my joints hurt. (I’m noticing a connection between achy joints and hormone surges, though I don’t know yet what it means.) If I had hot flashes that day. (Ditto.) If I’m cramping, or if I merely have pain in my lower back and/or my cesarean scar.

I wish more than anything there were a menopause tracker. That I could drop in these symptoms and it’d compare me to other women going through The Change and make predictions for me, like FF does with fertility. I could especially use peer comparision — matching my cycles with women my same age who also are breastfeeding. But alas. So I track my weird little collection of symptoms. Who knows — maybe I’ll notice a pattern to these crazy cycles after a while. Right now they seem so random.

It’s not that I need to track. I’ll start or I won’t, whether or not I track anything. Tracking used to give me a ballpark range for when my period might start. That sort of thing is utterly meaningless now. But it’s interesting to me to see the patterns from the 30,000 feet view. It’s also giving me a greater understanding of the inner workings of my body, much as trying to get pregnant did. (I learned a lot when we were TTC. And I thought I was well educated already!) Which means I’ll have a solid knowledge base when my daughter starts having periods. That’s coming up sooner than I can deal with.

Wishful pausing?

I’m beginning to wonder if I really am in perimenopause, or if my body is simply confused by all this breastfeeding. I haven’t had much in the way of hot flashes these past few weeks, and the rest of my symptoms could simply be related to breastfeeding. Or stress. Or endometriosis.

Let’s be honest: My body never did figure this menstruation thing out, and it’s far too late to worry about that now.

I’ve always assumed, based on my mother’s experience, that I would go through menopause early. There’s no firm basis for this belief; my maternal grandmother died at the age of 49 without having gone through The Change. But as my menstrual experience has closely mirrored my mother’s (we even started at the same age — 4 months before our 14th birthdays), I figured my end would also come at roughly the same age as hers.

But then I threw a curve: Two late pregnancies, and one extended breastfeeding experience. Even if I were close to menopause, I might have altered the end date by continuing to nurse Kai.

It also occurs to me that my interpretation of my symptoms might all be so much wishful thinking. I want to go through menopause. I love being a mom, don’t get me wrong, and it wouldn’t be awful (thought it would be rather inconvenient at this point) to have another child. But I am done with endometriosis. Done with the pain. Done with the swelling, the bloating, the mood swings. Done with wearing a panty liner day after day for months on end, just in case I might start, for fear of ruining my clothing. (Also done with ruining my clothing.) Done with periods that last 10-14 days, draining me emotionally as well as physically. Done with scheduling my life around a natural bodily function. But really — it’s the pain. The constant, unrelievable, never-ending pain. The pain that, at best, makes my entire abdomen feel like a hand that’s been slammed in a car door. The pain that feels like a spike in my tailbone. The pain that makes it hard to bathe, dress, walk, hold my children, think, breathe, be. The pain steals my hours, days, weeks.

I’m ready for the next stage. The stage in which I can produce something other than children and blood and pain.

The media bombards us with women who fight time. Who resist aging both inside and out. Women who turn to science to produce children when their bodies are past the age at which they can do so naturally. The women who nip this and tuck that. What of the women who accept it, embrace it, and move into their new role with grace — with enthusiasm?

Because there is a place for women who can’t reproduce. In the animal world, and in the human world, too. (What, you didn’t think animals went through menopause? Honestly, neither did I.)

I want the time and space to create. I find myself brimming with more creative energy than I’ve had in years, and I want to feel well enough to use it. I want to write, make jewelry, paint, garden. This morning, as I lay awake in the predawn hours, I found myself planning sewing projects — me, who barely knows how to use my own sewing machine. I want to try my hand at cooking new dishes, take up new hobbies, learn. I want to put more time and effort into the Etsy store I created with my daughter.

If I weren’t laid up in agonizing pain for great portions of my life, just think of what I could do with all that time. It could be the start of a whole new life for me.

Is it any wonder I’m ready to begin?

How many knots am I tying here?

Weddings are stupid expensive.

At what other time would someone pay more than $200 for a cake without batting an eye? Don’t get me wrong — I love cake. And I get that cake decorating is a skill; it’s one I certainly don’t possess. But why does the cake have to be that fancy, anyway? Can it not just be pretty and tasty? Why must it be art?

Why in the world should I spend more on a dress I will wear for three hours than I do on a month’s rent?

The price of everything related to weddings is over the top. The paper you send out asking people to come. The paper they (are supposed to) send back letting you know if they will. The pictures. The food. The music. The venue. Every last little detail, if it has the word “wedding” associated with it, is going to cost more than it would if you said this was an anniversary party, or a birthday party, or a reunion.

Obviously, I’m looking to save money on our wedding. And, having been around this block once before, I know some tricks. But I think the biggest one is this:

Don’t invite 200 people.

That’s it. That’s all. No matter what you do, it’s going to cost more if you invite a bunch of people. Your venue will cost more, your food will cost more. your beverages (if you’re supplying the adult kind, especially) will cost more. You’ll be expected to pony up for a higher level of entertainment. Because a ‘do of that size is no longer a party — it’s an event.

I’m not an event kind of person. For starters, in no context would I ever want 200 people looking at me.

So, small. Small venue means small guest list. Small ceremony, small reception. No seating charts, no sit-down dinner, no 12-tier cake. The trade-off: A more personal touch. We can take care of a lot of the details ourselves, make it truly reflect us and our relationship. We will also have more time to spend with our guests, rather than nod and smile as we dash out the door.

It’s a step above a courthouse wedding, but not a wedding.

So, how’s it going? Well, I have most of the flowers and ceremony/reception decor. We’ve set a preliminary guest list, a preliminary menu. We have a venue, an officiant, a photographer, and a familymoon hotel reservation. I have also picked up some family heirloom-type stuff: The Christmas ornament we’ll use as a cake topper, the Jenga game that will be our guest book. I still need to get my dress fitted, and we need to go clothes shopping for the groom, the mini-mes, and the matron of honor. We need to work on a Spotify playlist. And a trip itinerary. We need to decide upon and order the cake — I do acknowledge that if I want it to look good, I need to let someone else do that part. (Or do I?) I need to decide if I’m having hair and makeup done.

In other words, if we did no more work between now and November, we’d still be getting married. Because the important stuff is taken care of: We have a day, a time, a place, and a person to make it official. We could get married in our pajamas, serve Pop-Tarts and apple juice, and we’d still be married.

Actually, that would be a fun way to go. But I already bought the dress, and all these flowers.

It took me 20 years to plant a garden

I am a planner. I can’t remember a time when I was not a planner. I had my life mapped out at the age of 3, and while the details have changed somewhat along the way, the scope of my vision has not. I’m constantly living in today, tomorrow, next week/month/year/decade. When I read Robert Fulghum’s description of his friend Grady, I saw a kindred soul. I know this quality is more infuriating than endearing, but I can’t help it. It’s what makes me me.

It also means I’ve lived my life in a state of partial paralysis, not knowing what to do next because there have been so many variables between where I am at any given moment and where I want to end up. But I’m working on that.

When I was a child, I imagined I’d grow up, buy a house, and lay down roots. Deep, thick roots. My kids would come back to that house with their own kids on holidays. I’d sit on the porch in my dotage. I haven’t given up on that idea yet, but I’m 43 and still rent. That house is way off in my future, if I ever buy it at all.

I have never not rented. This is my first house, but my entire adult life has been in leased domiciles. At first, it’s liberating — you can just leave when the lease is up. Then it’s limiting: You can’t do _____ because it’s just a borrowed place. I’m at stage three now: It’s borrowed, true, but for now it’s my place, and I’m going to treat it as such.

A few years back, I bought R a cherry tree for Valentine’s Day. Because our daughter’s middle name is Sakura (which means cherry blossom in Japanese), and because we both love cherry blossoms, and it was a grand gesture. But I bought a miniature one, and a pot to plant it in, because we rent and I didn’t want to leave this symbol of our love behind when we move — and as this isn’t our house, we will eventually move.

But the tree didn’t like the pot, so R finally transplanted it. It’s thriving in our front yard now.

This summer, I started a little garden in our backyard. I’m not talking the container garden on our deck — I mean a border, some stones, some morning glories and moonflowers, and a couple of bird feeder poles. It’s small, but makes our backyard look…well, ours. I’ve never had a bird feeder before. Or a flower garden. I dig it.

Like that cherry tree, I’d become pot-bound. For 20 years, I’d boxed myself in so tightly that I couldn’t put down roots — what would become of my roots if I left?

What would become of me if I stayed? Because I did stay. For 20 years and counting.

Yes, when we go, I’ll be leaving something of me behind. Like the tree. But rather than seeing it as something I’m losing, I’m looking at it as leaving my mark. This house was my daughter’s first home. It’s where my son was conceived. Where we brought him when we took him home from the hospital. I got engaged here. I’ll come back here a married woman. This house has held great meaning in my life, and I’m pleased to think it will bear my mark after I’m gone.

This mindset is beginning to free me from my paralysis. The knowledge that, as people, events, and objects make their mark on me, so too do I leave my mark. Leaving something behind is not a bad thing. It’s my legacy. It shows I was here. And like my cherry tree, I can put down roots here. Perhaps I’ll only dig them up in a few years. Perhaps not. Either way, it will be nice to feel the cool earth on my roots, I think. To stretch. To grow.

I hope whoever lives here after us enjoys the cherry tree and the bird feeder garden.