Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Letter to the Past

Dear Me in 2011,

Hello, you. Right now you’ve probably got your feet up watching the E! network. All the time in the world is yours alone. You have no idea what’s ahead of you. Here’s some advice… you’re going to need it.

--- Pregnancy is the easy part of this whole thing. I know you’re not believing that yet. I am sure you will doubt this even more when you’re 35 weeks pregnant, your ass is roughly the size of Manitoba, you’re awkwardly peeing on a toilet you can barely stand to sit on at 4 am (for probably the sixth time that night) because your pelvis feels like it is no longer attached to your very large body. But seriously… all of that? Easy compared to what’s coming.

--- Speaking of 35 weeks, at this point you will want to Google things about the impending labor and delivery, which scares you to death. (That’s still one of your hobbies at this point… Googling scary things and worst case scenarios and immediately assuming all of these things will happen to you. The moment you read them. You will Google such lovely terms as “What is a mucous plug?” Listen here, Not-A-Mom-Yet Alison (this is very important) DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE GOOGLE MUCOUS PLUG. It’s not pretty and you cannot un-Google what has been Googled.

--- You will worry about having the right “stuff.” It’s not big yet but there will be this thing called Pinterest that will pretty much make you feel like shit about everything in your life. Other expectant mothers will have entire boards dedicated to their impeccable and perfect nurseries. You will learn what “chevron pattern” is. You will watch YouTube videos for hours of baby swings. Babies won’t even be in them. It will be a video of a perky, pony tailed woman in Lululemon yoga pants showing you how her 300 dollar sci-fi swing of the future can perfectly simulate the baby swimming around in your womb. And you will want it. You will be convinced you NEED it. These baby stuff companies are good at what they do. They will make you feel like you need it all, ALL OF IT, and when you invariably cannot even come close to matching those Pinterest moms with their Bugaboo strollers, monogrammed burp cloths, and organic diapers you will feel bad about yourself. You will feel like you’re failing before you even start. But don’t. Remember that 99 percent of the babies in the history of babies did not have these things. All they had was mommy. Somehow many of them survived and even grew up to change the world so one day there could be strollers that have six different cup holders and heated seating. It’s amazing.

--- You will be amazed at how little stuff you need. That’s the good news.

--- What you won’t expect is how much YOU are needed. This is when you will begin to see why pregnancy and preparation are the easy part. Everyone will tell you “Get sleep now!” or “Just try to get through the first 4 months.” I mean… yeah. You obviously won’t sleep much. And you will assume now it’s because of the baby being up a lot. This is true but it’s not all of the story. There is a darker component to it. Remember that anxiety we spoke of earlier where you feel like worst case scenarios are always on the horizon? Well, once you bring that baby home that anxiety multiplies by roughly 37 billion. It is heart wrenching. It will hit you hardest at night when everyone is sleeping and you’re next to that bassinet wondering if the baby is breathing. You will be inches from him looking to see the rise and fall of his chest. You will be convinced you don’t see it. You will feed him and wonder if he’s getting enough. Is he warm enough? Is he too warm? There will be nights where he is up every 25 minutes and all he wants is for you to hold him. He doesn’t care that you need sleep too. All he knows is his needs and all he knows is you. And the beauty of this and the responsibility of this will almost kill your heart. It’s hard to love this much. It’s PAINFUL. It’s difficult to be needed in this way. These are the times where the pain of being human is something unbearable. Every night you will go through this. You will hold him, feed him, love him, and resent him for making you feel this much. You now live in a world where your sanity and emotional health rely on him being ok. There is no more living like there is nothing at stake but yourself. Those days are gone, honey. They don’t end after 4 months though, even though it gets easier to handle it. I suspect it won’t ever end. Even when you’re 86 and he’s 55, he will always hold that place that is fragile, that can be shattered in an instant. You will always be a little scared from now until forever.

--- They also make medication to deal with many of these overwhelming things. Do not be ashamed to take it. Many women feel these things and the first 6 months is hard enough, don’t make it harder on yourself by not getting a little help. It doesn’t mean you’re failing. It means you’re surviving. That’s all that can be expected from you, sweetie. That’s almost the whole battle.

--- On a lighter note you are going to learn how kind of ridiculous parents can be. You and your husband (yes! Someone is going to agree to marry you!) will laugh about these things a lot. It won’t be all the feels all the time. There will be laughter too. You will become a ridiculous parent who discusses the consistency and quantity of your son’s poop. It will be something you and your husband talk about over dinner. You will keep a journal for a short while about his bowel movements. You will announce to your husband that your baby will not watch screens until he is 2! He will not eat anything but whole foods! (By the way, his favorite television show by 10 months is Jake and the Neverland Pirates. His favorite food is a tie between fried chicken and chocolate ice cream. Don’t feel bad. Your intentions were good.) You will want to do everything right and perfect but ultimately again… You will settle for survival. And baby smiles.

--- You live in a time where there have never been more child rearing options. There will be Attachment Parenting. Tiger Mom parenting. The Cry-It-Out moms and the moms who think the Cry-It-Out moms are evil. There will be moms who Facebook a lot about car seat safety and GMOs. You will join an online mommy group where there is a huge virtual fight over circumcision along with photos. You thought high school was bad? It was NOTHING compared to Mommy World. You will write a Facebook status about something your kid did and read it 67 times before posting it to make sure there is no way anyone could judge you for it and then decide to erase it and post about Scandal instead. You will post a photo of your kid eating a chicken nugget and a “friend” will private message you about setting him up for a lifetime of obesity, diabetes, and misery. This friend was someone you drank copious amounts of grain alcohol with in your early 20’s, who ate numerous amounts of fried trans fats at a dirty Waffle House in Florida. And life has become this thing where she messages you about the dangers of chicken nuggets. You have entered a weird world, sweetie pie. A very weird world. That kind of stuff won’t anger you, it will just remind you that your friends are now fighting these battles too. They’re trying to figure it all out. So be kind, Not-Yet-A-Mom Alison. All these moms are fighting a hard battle.

--- But seriously. If nothing else, don’t Google “mucous plug”. You will thank me.

The Mom You

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Baby Perry Sequel

Dear Baby Perry,

Hello, my darling.

I am awake now because of you and you're not even here yet! For some reason you are making me nauseated. I think your daddy is probably as sick as he can get of hearing me say "The naaaaausea. The NAAAAUSEAAA" in very melodramatic fashion. Perhaps you do not like what I am feeding us. You seem to hate sugary things. I don't crave those at all. I crave salty, savory. Today I made Daddy go get me these chicken on a stick things that the local Chinese take out place sells. You and I love some chicken. I ate 3 out of the 4. And that's only because Daddy snuck one in the car on the way back. Otherwise... No question, it would have been 4/4.

On Sunday I will have been growing you for 10 weeks. I feel like it should be 20 by now. I am impatiently waiting for you. I thought this round I wouldn't be as anxious, as nervous. Nope. I think I am actually more anxious and more nervous. This comes with the vast amount of knowledge I collected while pregnant with your brother. I know everything that can go wrong and how 99 percent of the time there is nothing I can do about it. Which is terrifying. Some people would allow this fact to free them. Not I. It just makes me stay up at night Googling horrible things. You don't even want to know.

You are the size of a kumquat. I honestly have no idea what that is. Babycenter tells me that's what you are. But Lord knows you are so much more than that. You are my most special surprise.

Nausea and kumquats aside, I am so happy that you happened. I want you to know that, first thing. Because I know you hear me complaining a lot.

You are already so different from your brother. But that is exciting. The best part of you is the not-knowing. I wonder at least 2056 times a day who you are and what you will be like. Not just the sex of you, which is the most obvious. (If you're a boy you're Henry. If you're a girl, it has yet to be decided because Daddy hates every name I suggest, yet suggests no names in return other than Zola. Ugh. No worries. You will not be a Zola.) I think about silly things, like your eyes. Will they be like mine? Will they be something completely different? Will you look like Oliver? Will you love Oliver? Will you be in one another's weddings? Will you want to share a room or will you fight all the time? Will Brandon love you as much as he loves his Ollie? Will you love music? Even pop music? (I do) Will you be full of energy like Brandon? Or more subdued like Oliver? Will you love me as much as Daddy? Or like both your brothers, love him the most of all? Will you let me read you the Narnia books? If you're a girl, will you read all of Judy Blume? Will you watch Full House reruns or will they seem like old episodes of Leave it to Beaver are to me? Will you be scared of the dark like I was? Will you need your back rubbed every night like Brandon does? Will you lose your shit over Mickey Mouse Clubhouse like Oliver does? Will you reach out your arms from the crib and say "MommyMommyMommy" like Oliver has recently started doing? Will you smile and laugh as much as all of us do every day that we all get to be together in this complex, sometimes cruel, sometimes beautiful, sometimes indescribable universe we live in? But most importantly... Will you love me as much as I love you?

I only know the answer to that last one: Never. Not in a million years.

Goodnight, my kumquat. See you in my dreams for now.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Belated Birthday

Dear Ollie,

You are one year old and 5 days.

This is a relief. A year ago tonight I am sure I was standing over your bassinette, holding my breath, watching to make sure your tiny chest was rising and falling with life. I worried every second. I didn't shower, I didn't change my clothes, I just sat around waiting for bad things to happen. It was a scary time. I wish I could go back and not have all that fear because it diminished our time together... And you can't get that time back. I would spend nights watching you sleep while I cried on our sectional, so sure I couldn't do what it takes to be your momma... That I would never be good enough.

I still feel like that sometimes but I am not worried so much about you physically anymore. You are tough. Resilient. Strong. You are the most amazing thing in my world.

You don't look anything like me. Not a single spec of you. Every inch of you, physically, is your father. We go to restaurants and people can't help but tell us. "You were just the vessel" they will say to me, "Bless your heart." I will smile and nod. It's true. My body was cut open to bring you into this world. Your sustenance came only from me yet here you are, looking not even a tiny bit like me. It doesn't bother me all that much, I just pretend it does. There is no one more handsome you could look like, in my opinion.

You sleep pretty well. I never realized that a full year of my life would completely revolve around whether a creature slept or not. The first four months were tough. You had no interest in sleep. I thought, "I can't do this. I will die."

We're both still alive.

You have seven teeth and you love to dance. You also have a face that is older than you are. You look at things like you're examining them, taking it in. I guess every parent thinks this but in my case I am correct... You are a genius. A handsome genius ready to bloom and take over the universe.

Thanks for showing up, sweet angel boy. As a young girl you wait and wait for a man to come and save you. You learn soon enough that no man can save you, you can only save yourself. Then you have a baby boy and it all makes sense a little... That longing I had my whole life, it wasn't for some man. (Though I do love your father, to the ends of time and back...) I was waiting for you, Oliver. I was put on earth to do many things but if I accomplish nothing else, the fact that you're here makes everything make sense. You are my purpose, my religion. You are the pieces of people I miss that have come back to me in the form of you. I will love you always. Just keep breathing. I will try to do the same.

 Happy Birthday, Oliver Grey.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

8 Months Old

Dear Oliver,

I have this horrible fear of dying before you can remember who I am/was. Before you I would hear people on movies who had cancer lament, "My child will never know me!" and while I thought that was sad I didn't truly get how sad until now. I am not saying having a child makes you some guru on the meaning of life but when a child BECOMES your meaning of life, it puts things into a perspective you didn't know existed.

This will not make sense to you for a long time.

You are growing too fast, if you ask me. You bounce in your Jumperoo like you're going to jump through the roof. How do you not give yourself shaken baby syndrome? Somehow, you don't. You're still pretty small compared to other babies, but that's fine with me because it's less weight to have to put on my hip. Besides, you are so big in so many other ways. You have the best smile, the best laugh, the best attitude. You wake up every morning filled with this immeasurable joy that is so contagious, darling. It doesn't matter how tired I am, I can't help but smile and hold you so tight in your drool stained Gerber sleeper. I love you.

You eat all kinds of things now. You love to talk all day long. It's just babble really but I know YOU think you're speaking very plainly so I try to respond in kind. Your favorite food is sweet potatoes. Your favorite drink is still Similac. Your favorite person is a tie between Daddy and me. For play, Daddy wins. I win for snuggles. That's perfect as far as I am concerned.

You make me want to become the best person I can be because I think that's how you will become the best person YOU can be. And I see your future and I see so many wonderful things, sweet angel. You can truly do anything. You are small but you are MIGHTY. I will always be in your corner, pushing you as far as I know you can go.

But for now, stay close. Stay in your footie jammies and onesies. I know babies don't keep. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

What Is Permanent

Dear Oliver,

I want to tell you about someone you will never meet but who you will hear about your entire life.

Your grandpa (my dad) was very conservative. He thought Bill Clinton was the devil and that Rush Limbaugh was a modern apostle. The year Barack Obama was elected he almost left me in Memphis, Tennessee on a cross-country roadtrip because I told him I was considering voting for him.  He only watched Fox News and his celebrity crush was Ann Coulter. I would argue with him about the importance of social services and question why he cared about babies before they were born but not once they were out in the world and he would stump me with his own questions about how we were going to pay for my "hippie Utopia."

I loved my dad.

I was constantly reminded from an early age where my father stood on all things political. I am really going to try my best not to influence you like I was influenced. (Not saying my father was wrong or right, just wish I had a little more variety in my lectures from him on how the country works. He wouldn't even put on CNN in our house.)  I would like you to have some thoughts of your own but it's probably a lost cause. What we believe in always comes out in the end. But I will try my best.

One thing I regret telling your grandpa is that I didn't think I believed in God any more.I told him this a couple of months before he died. Your grandpa was stubbornly Baptist, and very knowledgable on everything Biblical. In his lifetime he probably read the entire Bible at least half a dozen times. He loved Jesus very much. One of the great highlights of his life was going to Israel when he was in the Navy. He walked where Jesus walked. Dipped his legs in the river Jordan where Jesus was baptized.

I enjoyed those stories very much. I wish he could be here to tell them to you. He was the best storyteller. Ever.

He was not thrilled with my heathen proclamations. Not that I would call your grandpa a fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination. He smoked. He cussed like the ex-sailor he was. He didn't drink much but it didn't bother him when others did. He knew many obscene jokes and had a pretty fantastic and very secular sense of humor. But the man did not joke about Jesus. They were truly homeboys. But most importantly, my father would never ever ever ever disown me because I didn't agree with him on something, even religion. Besides your own father, no one else has ever loved me so unconditionally.

My father and I would battle it out. Not over things like dinosaurs and the age of the Earth. More about suffering. Why did we have to suffer? Why were we put here in the first place? Why did we have to guess correctly in order to go to heaven? Why am I right and a Muslim is wrong? Maybe the Jews have it right. Maybe the atheists do. Maybe we're just a bunch of fleas living on an organism that lives on an organism that lives on another organism. (I thought of that one when I was "under the influence" of a certain fungi in my early 20s. Please don't ever do drugs, son.)  Maybe we're in the Matrix. Maybe we're in purgatory. But either way... Why, if the good Lord is so good does anyone have to suffer? It's a very elementary question but Dad always had an answer:

"We're paying for the sins of the father. Bad things happen because we have done bad things. This is a temporary place we are to learn to trust God. He wants us to depend on Him and not the world. He wants us to love one another like He loves us."

It made little sense to me. So I decided it was all bullshit. Religion was something we clung to so we could get out of bed every day. Typical juvenile philosophy. I thought I was so smart.

(You will go through a phase like this too. I dread your teenage years when you will tell me 2 horrible things for the first time. Those things being "I hate you!" and "I don't want to go to church, I don't even believe in God!" You will say them and I will cry.)

Then one day, a horrible thing happened and it happened very suddenly. Grandpa died. I have written about it and won't write about the details again, but it was a horrible day. It was the defining day of my adult life. I thought.

It was a hurt so deep I cannot describe it to you. It has been over three years and I still cry about it a couple times a month. The thing about this wound is that sometimes the happiest moments in life can open it back up and make my heart sting.

Things That Remind Me of My Dad and Make Me Sob Like a Baby: (Or Like an Ollie):

--- The last scene in Field of Dreams
--- Seeing little girls holding hands with their dads in public places
--- The word "sweetie"
--- His ball glove. It's older than I am. I will show it to you. It's in a box and I pull it out every now and then and put my face in it. It smells like my childhood.
--- People dying of heart attacks in movies
--- Dads dying in movies
--- Sheena Easton's "Morning Train" (He sang it to me when I was very small but changed the lyrics to "My daddy takes the morning train")
--- Passing a softball complex
--- Packs of Virginia Slims. (That is seriously what your grandpa smoked. Not even kidding)
--- The soundtrack to A Chorus Line (No, grandpa was not gay.)
--- Seinfeld re-runs
--- George Strait's "A Father's Love." He sang this at your great-granddaddy's retirement party.

And really... about a thousand million billion other things.

But that defining moment? It got replaced. On June 8, 2012, that horrible day got replaced with a great one. The greatest one.

Yes, Oliver. Your birthday. You came that day and my heart was mended in a way that nothing else had been able to. Everything else had been bandaids.

I don't cry as much. I don't question the Universe much either any more. I don't know if I ever really stopped believing in God. I think it was a weird way of showing my dad I didn't have to believe in something just because he told me to. I wish I could apologize to him for that. I wish I could apologize for a lot of things. Sometimes I think I was a pretty lousy daughter.

I see your smile and hear your laugh and look at the tiny indentations in your very tiny knuckles and wonder how there ISN'T a God? What else could have made you and me? What else could possibly have made any of us? I understand why people doubt, and I still have plenty of doubt but... you're so f'ing beautiful, I don't know any other explanation. I am Baptist to my bones, I guess. Dad wins again!

 God might have sent the world Jesus but God sent you just to me. And I just can't wake up every day thinking that there wasn't a purpose and plan. I can't wake up every day and not know I will see your grandpa again. I cannot wake up every day and not know I will be connected to you for all eternity, my little baby. You have made me believe in things again, my darling sweet boy. Jesus might save my soul, but Oliver, you saved my life.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dear Oliver-

This week you get to meet Grandma and Grandpa Perry. Your daddy is so excited. So am I. If it weren't for them, you wouldn't exist. We are all pieces of the people who came before us.

I am most excited for you to meet your grandpa. He's your only living one, which makes meeting him all that more special. I am sure he is going to love you so much. Everyone does. A lot of people are so in love with you, sweet darling.

I am so sorry that you will not get to meet your other grandpa, Oliver. That has been a hard truth for Momma. Really hard. It isn't fair, baby. It isn't fair at all.

I think about what you would have called him. Grandpa? Granddaddy? Papa? Pop-Pop? Paw-Paw? It haunts me a little bit, his absence. He has been gone for 3 years and although Momma has healed some, I still have a heart that is broken. Daddy has helped heal it some and you have healed it a LOT, but it is still cracked. It always will be. The place your grandpa filled in my heart cannot be filled by anyone else but him. It's hard for me. I am still so sad, sometimes, Oliver. I hope you never have to feel this way. I hope you get to see your Daddy and Momma live a long long long time. We want to see your grandbabies. Your wife. I will try my best to make sure it all happens, baby. I will.

It's probably a very silly, juvenile thing but I think of you as something my dad sent me. To remind me we don't end with just us. Just like my blood runs through your veins, his runs through mine. When I pass on, a long time from now, I will live on through you and the people you make. It's comforting, yes. But still... painful to be without the people you love.

Hard Life Lesson #1: There will be pain, Oliver. I think that's something I dread you finding out. The pain you feel now is temporary. Hunger. Gassiness. Fatigue. You have your baby pains but I can heal those quickly. I can swoop in and save the day.

I am dreading the day you have the kind of pain that I can't heal. The kind that sits on your heart. I wish I could say it will never happen. I very much wish that more than anything.

Know that as long as I live, I will try to make your heart as happy as I can. I love you, baby boy. You've been in my life for 5 weeks now! You have changed everything. For the best. I hope I can make this life really great for you.

Love, Momma

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Four Weeks

Dear Oliver,

You have no eyebrows.

It's one of those things. I know you'll get them eventually. Your daddy has great ones. Mine are decent when they have been groomed. Otherwise I look like Eugene Levy. Not a good look.

Your eyes are changing color. I am hoping they settle on brown but right now they're this beautiful slate color. I can stare into them all day. Why do I want them to be brown? Because I want part of me to be part of you. I have a feeling most of you is going to be all daddy's genes. Which is not a bad thing.

You have such tiny ears. Your hands are too big for the rest of you. So are your feet. Daddy hopes this means you'll be tall and athletic. That's fine and all. I sing to you every day hoping you'll have a good ear. I guess that's no better. I always promised myself I wouldn't put expectations on my children, but it's hard. It's hard not to try to guess what you'll become. It's hard not to hope you will become the things I never became.

Good Lord, and you're only a month old, Oliver. You poor little, beautiful thing.

You have the most pathetic cry. It's so cute, I hear it and it breaks my heart. Your cries have different timbres. I can tell when you're hungry. Gassy. Today you were sleeping so soundly and you suddenly broke out in the most horrible cry. It was fear. I could hear it. You were having a nightmare and both Daddy and I wanted to cry. I plucked you out of your bassinet and rocked you and held you and the crying stopped. Your eyes opened. You saw it was me and you were fine.

Do you know how wonderful that made me feel?

It is something to have someone count on you to make everything ok. I have never been that for anyone. I am not known to be counted on. I have been selfish my entire life. I have always done what I wanted, when I wanted to. I was a horrible roommate in college. Such an asshole. In my 20's I floated around trying to figure things out and making a lot of mistakes.

You'll do the same thing maybe, one day. Or maybe you won't. Maybe you will take after Daddy who is the kindest person I know. He makes decisions based on what is best for everyone but himself. He says he wasn't always that way, something that is hard to imagine. Everything that is good in you probably came from him. The parts of you that want to leave the laundry for another day or want to snark on the people in your English class... that part probably came from me. Sorry.

I just want you to know, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're one month old or 504 months old. It doesn't matter if you end up being fantastic at life or not so fantastic... I will love you and hold you and cry for you just like I did today when you had that nightmare. This is the love that has no end, sweet Oliver. You will always have it, it will never go away.

And all those mistakes I made? The day you were born it was like not a single one of them happened. If it got me to this, they weren't mistakes. They were just little bumps on my road to you, sweet baby. Just little bumps.