I lost my father to cancer nine years ago today.
I know it was today because of what the records say and what people have told me. I was studying in Ireland at the time, and my memory combined with the time difference leaves a surreal impression in my mind. I have to remind myself every year. I became too embarrassed to go to my mom or my sister, so I surreptitiously check my family tree on Ancestry.com to confirm the date. It is intensely frustrating that one of the most important moments of my life remains fuzzy instead of crystal clear like I think it should be.
There are days when I don’t think about my dad. Sometimes I challenge myself to bring up as vibrant a mental recreation as I can. It’s not easy. The sound of his voice is elusive: unable to replicate it myself, it always skates away just as I think I recall it. I can mostly picture his face, though it shows up differently (dark hair, grey hair, no hair) on any given day. I can still reel off plenty of facts: companies he worked for, sports he played, foods he loved. I can see him polishing his combat boots and mowing the lawn. Though for the latter, I prefer the version from my childhood, without the little cigar hanging from his lips.
When I do consider my dad, I think all of the usual things. Some less fair than others: How dared you value smoking more than us? Advised by doctors, he quit to protect me when I was born prematurely. But somewhere along the way, it didn’t stick. I still remember the moment I found out he’d resumed the habit. I was at the public library, sometime in my early high school years. I’d driven myself and was still in the parking lot when I saw him come out of the building. I didn’t know he’d walked over from home. I watched him light up, hiding behind the car in shock. I didn’t emerge until he was down the street.
I can’t believe I never confronted him about his smoking, I wrote in my diary on March 1 the year that he died. My justification at the time was that I figured he would brush me off. Probably true, but of course now I wish I’d risked it.
A day will come, sooner than I’d like, when the time I’ve spent without my father is longer than the time we shared. Even then, the time we shared was frequently separate. As a corporate pilot and Army reservist, he was often away from home. We had a fine relationship, though we shared too many volatile traits to be as close as he was with my sister. I was closer to my mother and remain close to her as I get older. She’s been there as I graduated from college, moved to Boston, earned my Master’s degree, got married, and had a son. It is strange to realize that my father missed all of that. I have such a sweet little family now, and I wish like hell he’d had the chance to get to know them. And me, for that matter! He never knew me as an adult.
That works both ways, unfortunately. I never got to find out if we would be friends. I never got to laugh as my father tried to sternly interrogate my future husband. M missed out on that. And he doesn’t know what parts of me come from my dad. He doesn’t see that we share the same brow and the same temper. It will probably be years before my son understands that I, too, had a father. Little Bear knows his paternal grandparents and three of four paternal great-grandparents. On my side, he has my mom. Life isn’t equal, I know, nor is this unrealistic. I am older than my husband, my parents are/were older than his, and so on. It isn’t surprising that there has been more loss at a closer level in my family than his. That just doesn’t make it any easier, though.
I’ve always been blasé about the fact that my family is scattered. Aside from a paternal home base in Iowa and a maternal in the general St. Louis area, most of my relatives live apart. I have kin in California and New York, Illinois and Oklahoma, Michigan and New Jersey, and plenty of places besides. For a modestly-sized group, we have gotten around. As a result, we see each other infrequently. I’ve spent much more time with my in-laws than my relatives in recent years. I love that Little Bear has so much family close by. But boy, do I miss my own. Video chatting and digital photos just don’t make up the difference. Sometimes you want to be face to face.
We take at least one photograph of our son every day. That was a conscious decision, even if we don’t eventually do a clever online album or photo book using those snaps. I usually go beyond the minimum, trying to capture his funny expressions and increasing coordination. Be it thanks to my training as an archivist or my history with my father, I want as many recorded memories as possible.
I’m going about it the wrong way, though. If my experience has taught me anything, it’s that M and I should be taking photographs of ourselves. We should be recording our voices and our smiles and the songs we sing. We should be taking pictures of every relative and friend we see. I desperately want our tiny son to be aware of his family, even just by sight, because someday we will lose each other. I have no power over life and death, but I can make damn sure he knows such love existed.
Life is short, but legacies can go on and on if you help them along. Memories fade so easily. Sometimes we need reminding. Someday, preferably many years from now, my son will be able to point to a photograph (or hologram, or whatever) and say to his great-grandchildren, “This is my grandfather. I never met him, but I know I would have loved him. My mother told me so.”
The baby had a bottle yesterday.
It was formula, and I’m all mixed up about that. I set myself some pretty soft goals regarding breastfeeding: get through maternity leave, try for six months, maybe get to a year. Beyond a year, I had no expectations, not least of all because I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it by then.
As it turns out, food and nutrition became hot topics for me as a new mother. I was relieved to be able to breastfeed. I got stubborn about vitamins and the seemingly unnecessary additives in the most frequently recommended brand. I thought ahead to solid foods, collecting baby cookbooks and advice on what to start with, though this research had its own perils down the road.
Meanwhile, I set aside a small freezer stash before returning to work, but I wasn’t worried. Little Bear seemed to get by just fine nursing. Sure, you can’t measure that output, but it was obviously enough. Until daycare started telling me that he was hungry. Privately, I thought they might be comfort-feeding him every time he fussed, as the daily reports clearly showed he was napping far less at daycare than at home. But I upped the totals a little, then a little more, and more, worriedly watching my backup stash disappear.
Then one day it was gone, and I panicked a little. Time to add another option. We got the okay for solid foods from the pediatrician, who outlined a course starting with cereal. Problem was, I had, as previously mentioned, been reading. I learned some of the science behind infant digestion and how cereal may actually not be a good first food. Square one. I grappled with the idea of early baby-led weaning, but Bear answered that question by being completely baffled by the notion of putting chunks of food in his mouth.
I finally threw up my hands, and we started on fruit and veggie purées. The baby loved it. LB gobbled it all up and learned quickly. He figured out that he’d get his food faster if he stopped trying to reach for it. He adopted a sitting position with his hands held up and to the sides, carefully out of the path of the spoon, opening and closing his little fists as he stared fixedly at the food. He gaped like a baby bird and gave us an insistent “eh! eh!” if we took too long to deliver the next mouthful.
It was adorable, and quite a relief, as daycare said there were now “no worries” if I didn’t bring quite enough milk. I still had no idea what “enough” milk was, but I felt less pressured to somehow figure it out. I adopted a policy of keeping bottles strictly for daycare, and did okay keeping up.
For awhile, anyway. Lately, pumping is more and more of a struggle. No matter what tricks I try (more water! more sessions! herbal supplements! oatmeal!), I get less each day. The dip that I first thought was one of those periodic temporary things has turned into a permanent situation. And so we gave him formula. He had to have it at home before daycare would give it to him, and I finally accepted that we may need that to be an option.
Well, I say that I accepted it. I accepted it enough to prepare him to take formula. But I have to admit, I’m not entirely comfortable yet. Despite my initial vagueness about the process, I really thought I’d last long enough for LB to decide on his own that he was ready to move on. There have been hurdles along the way, but nothing insurmountable. We certainly never had any medical issues related to feeding. All of the hesitation about different methods is mine, gleaned mainly from reading recent nutrition research. And from a growing sadness that this stage, this sweet, bonded, cuddly time, might really be drawing to a close.
The signs are there. Beyond my supply dip, the baby’s increasing awareness of and lively engagement with the world are interfering a bit. Sometimes we have to retreat to a quiet room so he’ll ignore distractions. We have a number of outings scheduled this spring that will really test my supply and the logistics of nursing away from home. Little Bear has also, shall we say, fully developed his pincer grasp, and I am dreading his incoming teeth. I’m less and less happy with pumping, dragging the equipment to work, the discomfort of the process, the time it takes. Also, LB just really loves eating food. He hasn’t started to refuse nursing yet, but it might be a matter of time. For now, he doesn’t care what the food is or where it comes from.
That’s where I start to recognize the benefits. M gives him a lot of the solid food. Now he’s been giving Bear bottles, too. It gives them some extra interaction as the baby emerges from the mama-centric phase of his early life. I love it. It’s sweet for them, and it is, yes, a relief for me. It would be nice not to be tethered to a contraption or excluded from long stretches of social activities. If I weren’t nursing, I could throw the whole medicine cabinet at my upcoming seasonal allergies. I could probably gain enough time for actual workouts. Most of all, I could let go of a significant source of stress.
I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about nourishing the baby. I know that it is time to let go of preconceived notions and all that research and just follow the direction we’re taking. When I look at all the whys and why nots, I recognize that my heart is starting to tip from the pros to the cons. He’s had a great eight-month start. That’s more than a lot of women can do, and I am grateful that it’s worked for us. Our tall, skinny little guy is growing and giggling and babbling and will definitely maybe figure out how to crawl forward as well as backward. He is, by all definitions, thriving. If this latest development feels like a failure, it’s all in my head.
I can get over that. Eventually.
March has arrived in a dismally chilly fashion here on the North Shore. But if the weather isn’t particularly encouraging, the calendar is. Just the word “March” has me optimistic. Spring, if only in name, is nigh! My imagination is sparking, and new things are on my mind.
Many of them were rolled into yesterday. One of M’s birthday wishes was a day in Boston to eat and shop. Specifically, he wanted his favorite burrito. Before that, we finally tried Shake Shack. Honestly, this had me more excited than the dinner plans. I was excited for a burger and really excited for a concrete. It did not disappoint, especially as we actually managed to snag a table at lunchtime on a Saturday. Having a baby in tow probably helped. Unfortunately, now I just want to visit the Covent Garden location.
After lunch, we went to Wegmans, my first time. Going to stores like this and Whole Foods always makes me a little sad. The selection is a dream, but it’s too far away and far too expensive. We spent a stunning amount of money. They had green tea ice cream, Aspall, cha soba, Fentimans, and an expansive tea bar, where I got an ounce of gorgeous sakura sencha. I guess I am still in green tea mode.
Best of all my Wegmans purchases, however, was a doughnut. For some reason, I have been very specifically craving a double chocolate doughnut. Not the overly-sweet, glazed-and-frosted Dunks version. I wanted smooth chocolate cake with a rich, almost ganache-like frosting, and Wegmans delivered. I held myself to two, but I could have brought home a dozen. And then probably never craved them again.
So anyway. After Wegmans, we went back to the city and had burritos. M was ecstatic and thoroughly satisfied. I finally tried horchata, and it was wonderful.
In other news, I miss rain. Rain that is accompanied by the scent of dirt and a slight warmth in the air. It might be just chilly enough to require liners in your wellies, but only just. I want rain that isn’t going to turn to ice.
My fountain pen cartridge ran dry the other day, and now I’m faced with the delightful dilemma of which color to refill it with. In deference to the imminent season, I’m thinking grey or green. Cloudy skies and little sprouts.
I’m also thinking of green gem jewelry. I’ve had my eye on this ring for a really long time. For grey, I want something iolite. Before settling on my sapphire wedding band, I tried a version with iolite. I think I’d rather have that color in this necklace, though.
I switched my Gmail theme at work, and, on a whim, I picked the Tea House theme. I am now quite preoccupied with watching the tea house’s resident fox go about his day. He tends his bonsai, practices calligraphy, and cooks on hibachi. I even (by finagling with location settings) caught the kyonshī in the garden. I find the theme incredibly charming and even calming.
Finally, on a more prosaic note, I added my Steam and PSN info to the follow widget on the right. I’ve been playing more games lately and thought it would be interesting to see what my friends are playing. Add me if you like.
Hang in there, all. Spring will show her face soon…