Last night, to celebrate Winter Solstice, we went to Muir Woods.
It seemed fitting to welcome the longest night of the year in a place full of fern-filled shadows, where the redwoods block much of the sun even on a summer day.
Luminarias lit the trails.
The ground was soaked, the air filled with the damp, fecund smells of wet wood, crushed redwood needles, and muddy earth. It didn't rain, but drops of water sometimes found their way through the redwood canopy to land on an unsuspecting baby's head. He didn't notice though, snuggled up in the Ergo baby carrier, lulled by his Mama's warmth and motion, and of course, since he does have responsible parents, wearing a hat.
And a solstice crown. Apparently that's what they call a wreath of greenery worn on one's head. Elan wanted nothing to do with the crown I made for him. It was deemed too prickly on his head. We informed him that's cause you're supposed to wear a hat when you're in the redwood forest on a rainy night in the middle of December, but in his world, hats and hoods are only to be worn for about 1.5 seconds, long enough to snap a photo and then look at himself in playback mode and laugh.
It was a festive night. There were bonfires and shadow-puppet shows, songs and story-telling, and hot chocolate sipped from travel mugs brought along specifically for that purpose. Being in the big redwoods it's easy to forget how close you are to cars and roads, not to mention the entire lit-up sprawl of urban life that is the Bay Area. And yet, the diversity of the people walking along the trails reminded me. And the flashlights. And the kids... kids everywhere.
Elan was pretty wide-eyed about the whole excursion, and in the car on the way home, he fell fast asleep. We took off his raincoat and his muddy pants and deposited him in his bed still wearing his redwood-scented fleece pullover. In the morning, he woke up talking about the "fluffed" owl he had seen ("you mean stuffed?" my mother-in-law clarified).
"Did you like the woods?" I asked him.
"I liked it so much that I even want to go back there," he informed me.
"You want to camp there sometime?"
His enthusiastic response was no surprise. Elan wants to have a sleep-over wherever he goes these days. On the way home from playdates lately, both Mikhail and I have had to endure major meltdowns and long-winded tirades about why we are bad parents because we don't let him have a sleep-over at (insert given friend's name)'s house.
I've told him that right now, we're only doing sleep-overs with family members. When he's older, he can have sleep-overs with friends. Somehow it seems that when they're older, there might be more of a chance of some sleeping happening at the sleep-over, but maybe I'm just naive. Or unadventurous.
But a sleep-over in the redwoods this summer with my boys... that's an adventure I can get excited about.
Raise your hand if you've ever gone bathing suit shopping when you're 7 weeks postpartum.
I didn't think so.
I'm not so much brave as desperate. As I mentioned recently, swimming is an awesome mind-cleanser for me, and Elan is putting us through the wringer, so I need a good mind-cleanser right about now. And the bathing suit I wore all through my pregnancy was starting to put me at risk for indecent exposure so...
I started with one-pieces. I thought they would be more flattering. But this was an athletics store, so they were all Speedo and TYR and no no no no no.
Surprisingly, my regular fave the 2-piece still felt more comfortable, and looked better, "better" being a very relative term here.
In the dressing room, I kept telling myself 9 months on, 9 months off, and laughing. I laughed a lot, actually. Out loud. This crazy body, with its unaccustomed pads and rolls and ripples and soft spots where the muscle might be hiding deep in there somewhere - it doesn't even feel like my body. I guess that's the main difference between last time and this time. This time, it doesn't feel quite so personal. Mostly, I just wish I felt stronger - less wibbly-wobbly and injury-prone. I've been taking walks with Emry in a front carrier in part to slowly strengthen my core, which is not the steely core you want when you've got 2 kids, one of them giving you the run-around. It's more like a rubbery core right now. Rubber that's melted...
There's a fun new game round these parts. It's called torture the baby for our own amusement. Emry doesn't particularly like hats, but he'll tolerate them so long as they don't fall down over his eyes. Which this Peruvian one does, but it's so gorgeous we put it on him anyway.
Sometimes he doesn't notice the indignity.
Then there's his bear suit, which is skin-tight because it's a newborn size that fits "up to 7 pounds" and he weighs oh - about 12. But we stuffed him in there anyway, poor kid.
Can you blame us?
Luckily, Emry doesn't really mind our antics. He appears to be quite the performer. Here he is practicing his juggling. He's getting pretty good.
Before we moved here, I always thought that if I ever bought a house in Berkeley, I'd want a Japanese maple. And then we found our little place. This tree is around forty years old, and nearly every window in our house looks out at it. I love how this tree visually marks the seasons for us even from inside our home. I adore it year-round, though fall is its most spectacular show.
In the car, Elan and I were talking about the autumn color show that's taken over Berkeley. I said, "now that the leaves are turning colors, they'll start falling."
He thought about it for a moment, then pronounced: "The wind is their haircut."
Today, I got back into the pool. There were a few big hurdles to surmount: 1) the baby had to get his first bottle, an event which makes me tear up with the thought he doesn't need me anymore, but that I know is necessary if I'm going to have some freedom in the many months of nursing to come and 2) I had to deal with the bathing suit situation.
I should back up for a minute. The last few months of my pregnancy, after I hurt my back and couldn't do much walking anymore, I swam as much as I could. When I was in town, I swam nearly every day. When I was traveling, I googled nearby pools. Water is fabulous therapy for me. Baths calm me down; showers clear my mind. But swimming is the best. It leaves me relaxed and energized at the same time, and as I stroke along in the water, I often find myself having realizations about issues I am stuck on.
I feel really lucky to have this relationship with a form of exercise. Some people run; some people walk; I swim. I've never swum competitively, and I'm not particularly fast. Swimming laps regularly is a fairly new addition to my life that I really came to rely on during my first pregnancy. And though it requires more equipment than running and doesn't give you quite the same view, it's easy on the joints and something I'll be able to do for the rest of my life.
So anyway, there I was, hugely pregnant in my two-piece suit, waddling my way out to the pool nearly every day. Past 37 weeks, being in the water was the thing that was keeping me sane. I felt so *filled up* by this other life; the baby had taken over my body and mind such that I couldn't focus or deal with things the way I usually do. But in the water, I still had some semblance of grace. I could move lightly. During the autumn heat waves, the pool was the one place I wasn't sweating. I could turn and float. A respite from gravity.
I kept starting to write about my relationship with swimming while I was still pregnant, but everytime I did, the post devolved into lists of the comments I got. Of course, I couldn't really blame people. I was pretty noticeable, with my giant belly and my two-piece bathing suit, the bottoms so worn-out from constant chlorine exposure that they were white and ragged. I was praying the baby would come out before I ended up exposing myself indecently, because I refused to buy new bottoms in the size that would be necessary. I told myself that my belly was so giganticly distracting that no one would notice the state of my bottoms.
Here's that list of what people said to me at the pool:
"Any day now, right?" (starting around 6 months)
"It must feel so good to get into the water" (yes, it does)
"How much weight have you gained, or is that an inappropriate question?" (uhhh...)
"When's that baby coming?" (wish I knew -- ask him/her)
Then there was the man in the jacuzzi (yes, I went in the jacuzzi for a few minutes sometimes - I was careful not to boil the baby) who came up to me, blocking the stairs, staring at my belly with concerned eyes: "You know you are going to have a baby any day now?" At first I thought maybe he was a super experienced OB who could tell when a baby was coming, and I wanted to say: "Tell me when!" But then I feared that he was just another Berkeley weirdo, and so I just raised my eyebrows at him like: "this? it's just a watermelon I like to strap to myself for kicks."
And finally: "You should really take a picture of yourself in that bathing suit."
38.5 weeks, 10 days before Emry was born
So today, with Emry 6 weeks and 1 day old, he got his first bottle of breastmilk (cue hormonal mama sniffle). I wished futilely that I possessed a one-piece bathing suit, then swallowed my pride, put on an old two-piece, and slid into the water. Like an old friend, it embraced me. My body felt infinitely different, and yet comfortingly similar. My same old skin, just stretched out here and there. My arms pulling, my legs kicking, my heart pumping, the sound of my own breath in my ears.
And when I was done, I got to steam myself in the jacuzzi, and no one raised an eyebrow.