Life with a Newborn, Part II: A Late-Night Lexicon

Next up in a short series of “things I’ve typed with one thumb while sitting on a yoga ball” is an alphabetical list of long-winded thoughts loosely related to this new stage of life. One of the few ways I’ve maintained a shred of independent thought during the last twelve weeks is by firing off rounds of words into my Notes app (that, and the coffee, and the individually wrapped chocolates hidden around the house). The A-Z format is one that I and everyone else have used before, but now isn’t a great time for novelty. In this chaos, wrangling a toddler and a newborn, the most comforting question I can ask myself is: “Does it get the job done? Yes? Great.” So, from my iPhone to yours, with special indebtedness to Amy Krouse Rosenthal (RIP) and Bono, and no love lost for the letter K, here are 25 alphabetized and mostly disconnected reflections.

A is for adventure. I’ve used the word “adventure” to describe many things, including cross-country flights, ill-advised road trips, car breakdowns at IKEA, childbirth, and anything off the beaten path. But I’m starting to think that perhaps it can be defined this way: to adventureverb: to choose to view any and all circumstances as a particular and valuable gift. If I’m honest, though, I much prefer this simpler, more palatable definition: adventurenoun: anything that culminates in a trip to get milkshakes. Milkshakes, I can get behind, anytime. Contentedness in all situations? That’s a little harder. 

B is for boundaries. To my great surprise, I found it easier to exercise creativity after having my first kid, because suddenly I had very defined parameters imposed upon me. I was forced to work within a specific set of guidelines. For example: you have one hour to make something, the clock is ticking: GO. You can’t leave your chair and you may only type with one thumb: GO. We creative types like to think that creative utopia is having no parameters or limits at all, when actually the opposite is true: boundaries are what offer us real freedom for novel creativity. The boundaries give us problems to solve, challenges to tackle, puzzles to unravel or, if you’re a writer, pontificate about. The boundaries necessitate a truly creative solution or answer. They put shape and meaning to our work. We’d rather not believe it, though, because then…where is our excuse? (see also: E, Escape Room)


C is for chiropractor. The woman is a genius with my post-baby back, and also with northern California lore: at my last visit, she told me how to hunt for edible greens growing wild along hiking trails, invited me to illegally rent her Big Sur biodome cabin, and gave me a great recipe for lemon sorbet (“One cup water, one cup sugar, one cup lemon juice, and plenty of zest”–looks at my blank, sleep-deprived face–“If you forget the ratio, you can Google it”). 

D is for don’t look back. In this time warp of the newborn phase, when my creative output feels minimal compared to past seasons, I have to remember this: yes, my best work is behind me, but I can’t look now. The fastest way for me to lose forward momentum is to dwell on past work; the fear that keeps me up at night is that I’ve used up every one of my good ideas. But then I remember this, from Annie Dillard:  “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time…Something more will arise for later, something better.” And then I get myself off the couch and try to take one tiny step toward the next project. 

E is for escape room. Having a baby is like being in one of those newfangled escape rooms, except there’s no time limit (and–spoiler alert–I’m the zombie lurking in the corner). A truly creative offering springs in response to an external challenge. That’s why people pay to be trapped in a room with no apparent way out. People pay to have babies, too, but then we get stir-crazy and resentful and forget to view the experience as an opportunity to test our own limits and challenge our creativity. At the same time, though, maybe we’re not as trapped as we perceive. I recently heard an anecdote (of questionable truthfulness) about a time when Houdini tried every trick in his bag to open a locked cell from the inside, and finally fell against the door in exhaustion and it slipped open, because his “captors” had never actually locked it: he just didn’t think to try the door. The fact is, sometimes that’s the cell I’m in. To date, no one has ever actually locked me inside my house. I just need to try the door from a couple different angles, and then take it at a run. 

F is for fear. That my best work is behind me. That I lost the receipt for the ill-advised and overpriced throw pillow I bought. That I forgot to take the trash out. That I will have nothing to say. These things crop up in the wee hours.

G is for go get the door; inspiration’s knocking. Inspiration often shows up, unannounced, of its own volition, usually when you’re in the shower or finally about to fall asleep. Try to conjure it, control it, and it will be spitefully contrary, evading you. Turn away, look elsewhere, and it will startle you off your feet with surprises. It’s like a flighty foreign lover, or a toddler. There are things you can do to coax it–practicing your craft, going out into nature, and so on–but you can never strongarm it into submission. Sometimes it just rings the doorbell and you have to drop everything and answer, or it goes away annoyingly, like the UPS guy with the package that you won’t get unless you sign for it. The point is, this time it isn’t the baby’s fault that I’m still typing on my phone at 12:46 am. 

H is for highway entrance ramp. I live near a good-looking one, for 101 southbound. Last month it was covered in a staggering, undesigned display of thousands of flowering ice plants in pink, yellow, and purple hues, but I didn’t notice it until the first time I escaped from the house after having a baby. It took being cooped up inside for a couple of weeks for me to appreciate the beauty two miles from my house. 

I is for input. These days, I crave input. Because everything seems to demand my output, quite literally–there’s a human feeding off of my body. I need a refill. That is, I need to be refilled. Good words, good music, good writing, good ideas. Scripture, Spotify, world news, water, text messages, sweet rolls, podcasts, hard cider, a Kindle app full of books, all dispensed generously in a steady stream. 

J is for job. I would like to see this job simply as one in a panoply of choices open to me. That it’s not such a big deal that my supervisors happen to be under three feet tall and that my office space alternates between the center of my house, Costco, and our local state beach. That, without apology for my (rather unfortunately-coined) job title, I can sit across from my friend who is a chemical engineer boss lady, or the one who is a retired Navy submarine operator, or the one who is a church janitor, and talk about the things that are good in life, and about our respective professions and the challenges that we face. Yet, in order to level the playing field in such a way, we actually have to have those lunch dates…to have such friends. Perhaps that is the only way that us so-called “stay-at-home” moms can come out of isolation once and for all, bridge this gap that we’ve so carefully cultivated between us and everyone else, stop talking as though we’re the only ones doing an honest day’s work. There’s a danger, though: suddenly we won’t be martyrs anymore; won’t be able to claim first prize in blood/sweat/tears; won’t have the corner on needing a bottle of wine. 

K is…well, K is an ornery letter. Skipping it, because I can’t think of anything and no one is paying me to do this perfectly. 

L is for letters. Writing envelopes for birth announcements is an exercise in hormonal nostalgia. One minute I’m looking equanimously at a spreadsheet of addresses; the next minute I miss my college town, wish I were still in a band, grieve the friend who died since I last updated my address book, and remember how much I loathe writing “GA” in cursive. 

M is for maple. There’s one outside the French doors to the baby’s room, and it’s a Japanese maple, my favorite. It’s always trying to pretend it’s fall when it’s not. It’s spring; the baby leaves on all the other trees have just turned varying hues of lime green, and the Japanese maple is like, take thisand turns deep red. I love it.

N is for new job. The night before my first day solo with two kids with Jordan back at work, I was setting my alarm clock before going to sleep and for a split second, I thought I was starting a new job. You know that feeling? “I’ll set my alarm for 7. No, 6:45, 6:40. I need to be fully awake and on top of things tomorrow, make my coffee, get a good head start, put my game face on.” Well. I guess I was starting a new job. Now, six weeks later, I’m back to my old self, hitting the snooze button thirty two times. 

O is for oh, if only Chipotle had a drive-thru.

P is for paradoxes in my life currently: parking as close to the door of the gym as possible; putting on makeup on days I don’t leave the house; planning a road trip to Big Sur with both kids before I even tackled the grocery store. Allowing for the paradoxes keeps me sane, keeps the mystery in the mundane. 

Q is for question. Do cool stuff, have fun, look good: you can only pick two. Which will you choose? Any stylish mommy blogger who seems to manage all three is probably selling you something. On really good adventures, when I’m totally in the moment, I look like a nightmare. Whenever I try to overcome this problem, usually by wearing ill-advised shoes, it’s a big mistake. I’m learning to care less about my appearance on adventures, embrace the fact that I’ll probably be wearing Toms for the next ten years, and choose comfort.

R is for righting. I reject the idea of permanent baby brain, but in the interim, before the fog lifts, the post-baby-brain has been playing infuriating little tricks, including a subconscious reverting to basic phonics when I type. And it’s beyond the help of autocorrect, to boot. For example:
great = grate (gr – eat? Really? As in, what I say in frustration to my toddler every night at dinner? Seriously, English language!)
weight = wait
while = wile
writing = righting
…which (witch?), actually, it is: I’ve realized that, for me, writing is a form of personal righting, re-orienting. Writing, atrocious spelling and all, is a way I’ve realized I can maintain autonomy and perspective in this minutiae-focused stage of life.

S is for sacrifice. Sacrifice sleep for creativity. Sleep for a shower. Sleep for the privilege of raising these little people. Sleep for a cheap red-eye. Sleep for watching Sherlock. Sleep for typing these thoughts. 

T is for trajectory. These early years are less about daily details and more about setting a trajectory, a course, a tone, for a handful of lives. Each adventure, each teaching moment, each meal made and shared is a single point in a story arc. Maybe later we’ll connect the dots, take a few steps back from the impressionist’s canvas and see the shape, the long line, but for now, I don’t have to be a great artist. All I have to do is grab my favorite pen and draw a dot. 

U is for utilitarian. As in, “Mom, you’re purely utilitarian. I’m full. Now let me play with Daddy.”
-The Newborn

V is for vacation. 8 weeks into having a baby, and the only vacation I really want is one that lasts at least five minutes and involves the use of both my hands. Okay, a trip to Bora Bora would be nice, too. Tahiti looks cool, on Instagram, at 11 pm. 

W is for Wyoming, and a handful of other United States. My current location might be right here, firmly planted in a chair feeding a newborn, but that doesn’t mean I’m not already plotting how to load up all my people and drive them straight across the American west to watch the solar eclipse over the Tetons, chase geysers in Yellowstone, and car camp in the badlands. The only survival tactic that I know for living with two tiny kids is this: plan what you want; figure out the details as you go.

X marks the spot. You are here. But I don’t want to be! I protest often, usually around 3:30 pm, when I’m not quite in sight of the home stretch for the day. But you are here, the other voice in my head responds. So drum up a tiny bit of energy and do something awesome right here, right now, with what you’ve got. 

Y is for yes. In the last few months I’ve heard two interesting and perhaps conflicting pieces of advice: 1) “Your life will be so much more interesting if you just say yes to things.” 2) “Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another, so choose carefully.” There seems to be wisdom in both, but personally I prefer #1. I want my default answer to be, “Sure, what the heck!” I’ll take that free ticket, that buddy pass, that extra hour of late-night laughs, that last bite of cake. We have approximately 100 years or less in the bank to spend on interesting and wonderful things. It’s nearly always worth it to say yes. 

Z is for Ziegenbeins. 12 years ago, I didn’t know what a Ziegenbein was. Now, there are four of them living in my house. Two of them want to know how soon they can go to Hawaii again, alone. One of them sings Beatles songs under his breath and would like a better reason for why he can’t throw sand at the baby. Three of them think the fourth one is really loud (one of them recently invested in industrial-strength earplugs). All four of them are finally starting to find a groove. And one of them is probably getting carpal tunnel from typing 2,437 words with her thumbs.

 Photos by Eliot Scarpetti

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