Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Tree

Dear Ellie,

Christmas has always been a special time of year for your mother and I, but this Christmas, it was doubly so.  Yes, I know it sounds cliche, but for years and years, Christmas after Christmas, all we wanted was you.  We opted out of the expensive trappings of the season for most of our adult lives.  It seemed silly to buy gifts--- to be opening presents--- when the only thing we ever wanted to see tumbling out of a neatly packaged box was a giggly little girl.  Every dollar spent was a dollar taken away from the Eleanor Smith IVF fund.  However, despite our frugality, there was one thing we did always buy ourselves each Christmas: a Christmas tree.

Every year your mother and I would wait for a cold day, head out to Tree Town, then walk together through the rows of spruces and pines and furs, leaving a little space in our hands where yours should be, and a space between us where one day you might be bouncing along.  Each year, your mother would judge all the trees quite stringently, examining every one top to bottom for asymmetries and imperfections as though judging pigs at the county fair.  I, on the other hand, would lament that we couldn't take the defective trees instead because it was doubtful they would ever find a "loving home."  I shuddered at the idea that they would instead be tossed into the woods in a massive brown heap once Christmas had passed.

Invariably, we would both cynically joke about how all of our affection for Christmas trees were predicated on Christmas-tree-genocide, and then we'd egg on excited children who darted in and out of towering furs while their angry parents patrolled the rows of trees in search of their sap covered sons and daughters.  Eventually we'd find the perfect tree, and deciding that we should spare no expense, we'd call over to one of Tree Town's grumpy, Christmas Tree "Elves" to fetch it for us.    

Once it was home, we'd excessively decorate our perfect tree until the limbs buckled beneath the weight.  I always knew that your mother was satisfied with the job if she declared, with childlike glee: "It looks like Christmas puked all over it!"  Meanwhile, the cats would stare on, wide eyed, at the sparkling mass.

At that, we'd turn off the lights, stare at it in admiration, and then cry quietly together because we weren't sure whether you would ever be there to share with us a Christmas.  Our little Christmas tree ritual was always a painful one, but to abandon that ritual, I think, would have felt like surrendering the fight to bring you into our lives.  Whenever we had our tree, though, it seemed destined that you'd be there one day to gaze up at it with us.

How quickly that day has crept up.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Winter Solstice

Dear Ellie,

I want to talk to you about the Winter Solstice.  But before we get to that, I want you to imagine that you were a person that lived before the written word.  Before numbers before cities and before bronze.  There are no books.  Not even letters, and so there are no vast libraries of human knowledge.  There aren't many distractions in this time, either.  No computers and smartphones and books, so you spend a lot of time looking up at the sky.  And when you look at the sun and the moon and the stars, you can only wonder what they are.  The sun, perhaps, is a ball you could touch were you to climb a mountain tall enough.  Perhaps you could hold your raw food on a long stick and cook it upon a solar flare as the sun passes by.  The moon, perhaps, is a stone you might dislodge were your arm strong enough to strike it with a rock.  Clever child that you are, perhaps you might then roll the moon about on a hard surface to crush hard grains.  The stars, perhaps, could be swat from the sky if you were to climb to the tallest branch of the tallest tree and brush them with a palm frond.  Once upon the ground, you might collect them together and tie them into a twinkling necklace.

You know the Universe, at least, is a fairly big place.  It might even take a few weeks to walk across: a thing you might prove if every moment of your day weren't spent surviving the perils of a paleolithic world.

You are wise and observant, so you know that this Universe you live in conforms to certain rules.  Things that come up must come down.  Dark clouds come before rain.  The earth beneath your feet is solid, and unshifting.  The sun and the moon rise every day, and set every day.  Yet despite these comforting consistencies, sometimes forces tear through the the web of rules that define your world.  Sometimes the ground shakes violently beneath your feet.  Sometimes a finger of clouds comes down from the sky and feasts on the soil.  Sometimes the sun or moon vanish without warning.  What does this tell you in the end?  It tells you that, regardless all of your observations about the world's rules, nothing is for certain.

And so every year after summer as you watch the sun rise each morning, you notice that it is a little bit further down in the south than the day before.  You notice that each day grows shorter and shorter, and with it, the world grows colder.  Each day, there is less time to find food.  You begin to worry.  Even though you remind yourself that the sun eventually reversed its course in prior years and trekked back toward the center of the sky, you wonder--- just as the earth sometimes shakes and the moon is swallowed by darkness in a lunar eclipse--- whether this time there will be an exception to the rule.  Whether this time, the sun will continue to fall toward the south.  The more you think about it, the more logical it seems.  Shouldn't the sun continue to fall, just as a rock thrown skyward returns to the ground?  Maybe the sun is more fickle than you thought.  Maybe, this time, the sun will go off to find a new world and disappear behind the southern horizon, leaving the Earth in darkness and cold forever.        

This wouldn't at all be an unreasonable thing to worry about.  After all, while you are wise, your understanding of the Universe is like a tiny spec of light in a sea of fog, and the primal forces that move existence all churn about amid that fog, beyond your vision.

So how marvelous it must be--- what a tremendous relief--- when the Winter Solstice arrives.  When the sun decides, for at least one more time, to reverse its course and climb the mount of blue.  Perhaps you might even exalt and praise the invisible forces that be for having given your world another year of warmth.  I can't help but to think, for all the eons that our hunter gatherer ancestors watched the Winter Solstice come and go, that this time of year has imprinted a sort of mysticism upon the human psyche.  That our minds are disposed, just like the land, to melt from a frigid white to a verdant green.

Maybe this is the reason why the Winter Solstice is a magical time for me.  It seems to put me in touch with some deep, primal part of the human psyche.  So many religions, from modern to extinct, have built their most important holidays on the elemental scaffolding of the Solstice.  Should we be surprised that, in Christianity, the birth of Christ--- who will bring peace and warmth to the world after ages of darkness--- is so analogous to the winter having reached its harshest night, and that only greater light and warmth lie ahead of us?  In a way, to be in touch with the Winter Solstice is to be in touch with some important common ancestor of the world's great religions.

But beyond this fundamental mysticism, the Winter Solstice reminds me of the limitations of my own knowledge.  It reminds me of the fog that swirls just beyond the faint aura of our knowledge, and that great mysteries still abound.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Things Not Yet Behind You

 Kissing Oliver.

Snoozing with Grandma

Dear Ellie,

Despite the happy photographs up above, I wish I could say that all of your preemie issues are behind you.  As time goes on, we're reminded that there are some things you probably aren't going to outgrow.  The pain of eating is the most prominent of those reminders.  You are over 7 months adjusted now and eating is just as arduous and tedious as ever.  It wasn't as difficult--- when you were 7 or 8 pounds--- to lug you around in a sling for an hour each feeding.  But now you are over twice that size, your legs bulging out the sides of the carrier.  Now that your arms are long enough to claw at my jugular, getting that bottle to your lips involves additional feats of parental dexterity.  Each feeding, I'm constantly searching for that balance between insisting that you eat (to make sure you can keep up your growth and weight) and letting you off the hook (to make sure you don't hate eating even more).  When I insist by holding your head in a vice between my hand and chest, I'm stricken with guilt when you whine and cry and push against my chest.  When I let you off the hook, I imagine you tiny and emaciated.  There is no satisfying outcome.  For some time, we were holding out for the possibility that you'd like eating solids, but you haven't shown any more enthusiasm for them than you did 3 months ago.

Over the weekend, we met a 24 week preemie at your cousin's 1st birthday party.  He had feeding issues that only worsened as he grew older, and it left its mark.  He's now 3 years old, an adorable little boy, but he's as wispy as a feather.  I felt like if the wind blew too hard it would blow him away.  The force behind his arms and legs were so feeble: like that of a puppy.  Seeing him really plied an image to the thing I'd been fearing all along.

I always try to put things into perspective though.  In reality, you aren't like that little boy.  Not even close.  Your weight is still holding firm, you've grown quite nicely, and you have a surprising strength behind those limbs.  Because of this, the frustrating moments we do endure fizzle quickly when we watch you achieve some new physical feat.  Like what happened today.

Typically, we get one really big feed around noontime, but today, you resisted it with all of your might.  I grew frustrated at the thought that you'd lose your biggest feed of the day, and against my better judgement, pushed you too hard.  Most of the time, if I can just get the bottle into your mouth, you'll settle down after a few seconds.  Not this time.  You broke into a fountain of tears and choking cries, as though someone had stabbed you with a needle.  That was the straw that broke the back of my patience, and all I could do was set you down on your stomach in the crib and turn away to collect my wits.  When I returned just moments later, I was shocked to see that you were sitting perfectly erect.  Before then, we'd been waiting and waiting for the moment you'd sit up (with no signs of progress), and all of the sudden, there you were, sitting tall, perhaps so that I could see your pouty little face.  With that, my frustration evaporated, we tried feeding again, and 15 minutes later you had 7 ounces of milk in your belly.

We enjoyed a nice few worry free hours, then when your dinner time came, you went back to fussy and I went back to worry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Holiday Gauntlet

Dear Ellie,

A few weeks ago, you had your first Thanksgiving.  At first, you weren't happy.  I suspect it seemed like any other day, but with a lot more noise and a lot of extra unfamiliar faces.  At least a dozen unfamiliar faces... yep, we had 24 people over for Thanksgiving.  In case you were wondering, this is what the eating accommodations for 24 people looks like:

And then, those tables occupied:

The plan was for you to make a splash with the remaining relatives who hadn't met you, but it didn't go so smoothly.  Instead of giggling for aunts and uncles, you cried and cried and cried upstairs in the nursery until you fell asleep from exhaustion.  I cried and cried also.  You cried because of all the confusion, I'm sure.  I cried because someone had to stay with you during all of your hysterics and I was certain that there would be no more turkey upon my arrival back downstairs.  After the nap, our dispositions both improved and we both forgot what we'd been so upset about.  There was yummy mashed sweet potato for you and plenty of turkey remaining for me and I promptly fulfilled my personal goal of always eating just a little bit more turkey each year than I had the previous.  With our bellies full,  you set off on your charm offensive.


I thought that hosting so many people for Thanksgiving would be hectic, but it wasn't so much.  Aside from tackling a mountain of dishes with Aunt Dani (the dishwasher broke that morning), I thoroughly enjoyed myself along with everyone else, babies included.  Maybe it was the turkey coma, or maybe it was the fire in the fireplace, but it turned out to be just the kind of quiet enjoyment of each other's company that I always hoped our holidays would be.

But the "holiday season" isn't over yet.  Especially not for you.  First it was Halloween, then it was Thanksgiving, and pretty soon it will be Christmas.  A month after that, it'll be your birthday, too. Some people would get worn out by that kind of extended, lengthy holiday gauntlet, but if you are anything like your mother (and me!), it'll be your favorite time of year.  We just got our Christmas tree the other day and you are already enamored by it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Laundry Accident

Dear Ellie,

I'm afraid there has been a mix-up with the laundry.  It was completely my fault.  As usual, I was trying to do too many things at the same time.  In an attempt to get all the chores done and keep on top of work, I thought I'd change your diaper while also doing the laundry and texting with customers in preparation for work the next day.  In retrospect, it was a recipe for some kind of mistake.  I propped you up, diaper undone, on the dryer which is directly next to the laundry machine.  I don't know what exactly happened, but your little pale body must have rolled right on in with my colored shirts and pants when I wasn't looking.  You didn't even cry because all of that soft laundry was probably nice and comfortable.  So I shut the laundry machine door, started it up, and only then did I realize you were missing.  It didn't take me long to notice, but the damage was already done.  By the time I opened the door and fetched you out... this had happened.

Now I understand why your mother always reminded me to remove the lint from the lint filter.  And why she always told me never to wash colors with whites.  I hope someday you'll find it in your heart to forgive your careless, distractable father.