The Wet Literalist

“If you like chocolate ice cream, jump in the pool!”
I can hear the lifeguard’s enthusiastic voice shouting over the other half-dozen swimming classes, in the stuffy din of the public pool. I look up from my sudoku to see three classmates happily splashing into the water, and Bonhomme standing steadfastedly on the side.
The three little fishes bellyflop their way onto the ledge and out of the pool, standing dripping on the side in a line, ready to jump in again.
“If you like strawberry ice cream, jump in the pool!”
Three big yummy splashes. One determined boy still standing tall.
“If you like vanilla cake all covered in icing and rainbow sprinkles, JUMP in the pool!”
Still standing.
“If you like warm flaky apple pie, jump IN the POOL!”
The lifeguard’s voice is getting shriller. And louder. Still, three big splashes and one intent, standing, boy. She goes over to the side to chat.
“What’s the matter Bonhomme, don’t you like dessert?”
“I do! I love dessert! You just haven’t asked whether anyone likes strawberry whipped cream cake! Or lemon meringue pie! If you’d said chocolate-mint-grasshopper gelato, I would so totally jump in. Oh yeah, I love gelato. Mmmm. And hazelnut-chocolate butter cream cake, I’d eat that. Yeah, and my mom’s blueberry-strawberry pie, or her sweet potato pie, or Toblerone chocolate, or a KitKat. Or really, any kind of dark chocolate, especially the mint kind. But definitely strawberry whipped cake, that’s my favorite. Yah. Can you call that, so I can jump in with everybody, please? Strawberry whipped cream cake, that’s what it’s called. Or vanilla cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream on top, you could say that too. Can we have that?”
She stands there, up to her waist in water, and listens patiently to the entire explanation. The other three kids stand dripping, looking around, watching all the other classes splashing about, bouncing on their toes and waiting for the next dessert to get called so that they can jump in the water. Any kind of cookie would do for them. Rice Krispies squares. Candy. But, not my son. He’s not going to be taken in on subversively learning swimming skills and gaining comfort in the water, no. He’s looking for specifics. He won’t compromise his Foodie principles, not even in swimming class.
“If you like strawberry vanilla cake with whipped cream icing, JUMP IN THE POOL!”
Four happy, enthusiastic, large wet splashes.
One relieved lifeguard.
And one slightly embarrassed, mostly bemused, very resigned mom.

Advertisements

Mmmmmmm

A baby, an afternoon, and a beach. Out at the edge of the jetty, past the bay with the lifeguards and volleyball and ducks. The water stretches out in front of me, glittering with white sails, white wings, white waves. And above, every colour of sky.
River therapy.
I feed Hibou with one hand and write with the other, feeling Britannia Beach’s pebbles under all of my toes. My shoulders glow in the sunshine, and I listen with my whole body.
I have been starving for this sound.
Waves, and wind, and wings. Gulls and children, each with happy shrieks.
The city disappears. I feel like I am inside a secret, with only lapping, crashing water, the singing wind, and an overwhelming view.
Hibou falls asleep for a moment or two, lulled by the white noise of the surf. But the excitement of a gull landing is too much, and she is up, staring.
Utter peace, for the cost of the gas to get here.
A windsurfer launches out, total grace, gone in an instant of white wake.
Geese are a dotted black line, punctuating the clouds.
A pair of ducks peer at us hopefully as they waddle past, close enough to see the texture of their beaks. Hibou peers wondrously back.
The sky stretches, and stretches, and yawns.
There isn’t more perfection in all the wide world.

The Beginning of a Journey

A few days ago, I got inspired. A picture, in a quilting magazine, from another artist‘s creative process, made me want to try something new.

So, in the interest of sharing, and of committing, and of seeing just how long this will take, I’ve decided to bring you along on the journey.

It began with this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Which led me to this sketch:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then this stencil just leapt into my cart, begging to be part of it all somehow:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next will come transferring the sketch to my fabric, which I’ll share with you once I get there.

I’m excited, because this exploration of technique may be what I’ve been somewhat waiting for – in walking that line that I’m walking these days, between painting and sewing. I’ve struggled with the more traditional aspects of quilting, since precision and me, well, we’ve never gotten along very well. And I miss that blank canvas feeling. An expanse of white fabric, a black marker, and me – that’s more my thing.

And so begins my art quilt blog-along.

On becoming an artist

I’ve not been writing much.

This has pained me.

The desire is there, and oh so many sentences in my head, or scribbled in my notebook, or saved in draft posts. But I have so many half-finished blog posts now, that I’ve just about stopped trying.

Hibou is the Great And Powerful Unpredictable Napper. Great in that she naps – her brother barely did at all. Powerful in that any length of nap results in a bright, cheery baby that is ready to go, go, go! But the naps range from fifteen minutes to three hours, and there just isn’t any telling which it will be, or if there will be one at all. As with so many other parents of young children, my routine revolves almost exclusively around creating the perfect conditions for sleep.

And so, not so much with the finished blog posts.

When Bonhomme was little (in so much as he was ever little, The Baby Giant), it was painting that got stifled. The style of painting that I do, while fast and furious, requires no interruptions for an hour or two. I work in wet on wet, with fast-drying acrylics. At least, I used to. And with babies, or children of any age, an interruption-free period of time is a myth, a memory. A joke. Painting was the only artistic outlet I had developed at that time, and having it jarringly, suddenly, taken completely away was a shock I have yet to get over. My depression at the time was due to a great many factors, but losing my art was both a significant contributor, as well as resulting in the loss of a key tool for managing my condition. when I lost my art, I lost my sense of self.

It took me years to redefine myself.

There was a moment, a lightning bolt of awareness, in which I realized myself as a mother. I was in a bookstore, with Bonhomme toddling about, and I asked to see some books about the moon – since that was one of his first words, and a very special bond we shared (since we looked for the moon together whenever we were out and about, no matter the time of day). The store staff showed me some very predictable books, many of which we already had, but then a couple of unexpected ones were put in the pile. And Bonhomme promptly chose the very first book that he ever chose for himself, about a boy, and a star, and no moons at all. And I realized that this was what made me a mother. Listening. Being curious. Advocating. Creating the opportunity for children to make their own choices. And going with the flow once those choices – theirs, not mine – are made.

I had such a hard time becoming that mother. The pregnancy had been grueling, with many of my physical choices taken away from me, and far too many weeks on bedrest. The delivery ended up being the farthest thing from what I had wanted, and the many months of recovery from the various emergency procedures limited my body, and mind, even more. And then my inability to feed my son from my body was just crushing to me – it took me months to realize that mothering is more than just breasts, and quite frankly, I’m still not completely over it.

But slowly, I did define what the term mother meant for me. And, with time, I also redefined what being an artist meant to me. I branched out. I tried new things. I’ve always been crafty, with beading and knitting and such, but it never felt like what painting felt like – a sense of awe and wonder that I could create such pure and unique beauty. I wanted that back. Writing began to fill that void. With words, I realized that I could come close. I could create something powerful, something that resonates with others, something important. And even more importantly, it helped with my mood and anxiety too. I changed my need to paint, to a need to be creative, a little bit every day, in any way at all that was available to me. And more and more, that meant writing.

And then, Bonhomme growing older and making more space in my life for art (but not uninterrupted easel time – no), I decided to try my hand at quilting. First, I bought a book. Then, I bought some cotton. Then, I went on Kijiji and found myself a used sewing machine. Then, with the leftover equipment from when I used to paint silk scarves (pre-motherhood), I stretched out the cotton on my old frames with some elastics and safety pins, and splashed some silk-painting paint on. Oh, the glorious feel of the brushstrokes! I ironed, and washed, and ironed that painted cotton, and made my first terrifying cuts. And then, I swore, and swore, and swore at my used sewing machine. And sat myself down with a needle and thread and sewed by hand. Nothing was going to stop me. I was going to make a quilt, by golly, by gee, fifteen stolen minutes at a time.

But the lure of the paintbrush called. And I painted more cotton. And then I got the kids to paint some cotton. And then I bought some fabric paints. And fabric markers. And fabric pastels. And fabric paint spray bottles. And the kids were painting and drawing on and colouring that fabric far more than I was, and I realized that that was even more glorious than holding the brush myself. I wasn’t just making art – I was making artists.

Christmas came along, and with it, a new sewing machine. And I started to turn those piles of painted cotton pieces into things. Stuffed toys. Pillows. Wall hangings. Quilts. I still haven’t finished my first quilt, the one I started just for me. It is at the bottom of the Unfinished Objects Chest. For now. I will get back to it someday, and finish it, and glory in it once it’s done and keeping me warm. But until then, I glory in the quilts I have finished – for Bonhomme, for my cousins’ babies, for Hibou, for my nieces. And I’m excited about the quilts I’m finishing, for all the kids who helped make them with me.

It turns out that sewing is something I can do interrupted. Whether I get five minutes, or three hours, whether I’m sitting in front of the sewing machine or in front of the TV, whether I’m painting or ironing or cutting or sketching – it all counts. And it’s all awesome.

And so, while I haven’t been writing, I have been sewing. Fabric baby books. Baby quilts. Baby teethers, and toys, and gifts. And I have been painting – not at the easel, no, but it’s just that my canvas has changed.

Today, I wear a very special charm bracelet almost every day. On it is a star. It reminds me of the day I realized I was a mom, when my first child was about a year old. It reminds me that it is what we do that matters. It reminds me to keep exploring, to keep trying, to never give up just because something old doesn’t work anymore. Being able to paint isn’t what makes me an artist. Choosing to create, no matter the circumstances, does.

Writing may get stifled. Painting may. Or the ability to breastfeed, or to walk. But I, I do not. I do not get stifled.

And if I am very, very lucky, I will help raise some unstifled children, who, if I am luckier still, will take this very hard-earned epiphany entirely for granted.

Fifteen-plus years after selling my first painting, now that I’m not making paintings anymore, I’ve finally become an artist.

The Now

Driving, I catch myself staring at the utter perfection of a clump of wildflowers growing in unrestrained abundance by the roadside.

Sleepless, I find myself thinking of the photos I haven’t printed, the thankyou cards I haven’t written, the quilts I haven’t finished and the ones I haven’t started. I gaze at Bonhomme’s sleepy toothless vampire grin, two insomniacs in the kitchen. My freckles make a constellation across his perfect face. He is the most beautiful art I have ever made.

Last night I watched Hibou fuss herself to sleep in the baby swing, wondering whether I was doing her irreparable harm by not swinging her to sleep in my own deadened arms.

I can’t seem to escape the moment. Now is the only time accessible to me, screaming, whining, tired now. Where everything is immediate, bright, loud and close. And also warm, and soft, and smelling of freshly washed baby hair.

As lovely as those wildflowers are, I could use some distance. Some perspective. When paying attention to the road is something I do, not something I have to work at.

Until then, I will keep reminding myself to enjoy the now. Someday, sleep will be effortless again, the moments will slip past unheeded.

A week later, picking strawberries with Bonhomme, I relive my own childhood while creating his. The taste of a freshly picked strawberry in my mouth is sunshine, dirt, and my mother. This, and so many others, is a moment too precious to miss.

That afternoon, I turn that sunshine into strawberry pie, and marvel at the utter perfection of my messy, noisy, crowded, upside-down and abundant life. My life is a clump of tangled wildflowers, and I stare, and smell, and devour it.

Wordless

I don’t have a lot of words these days. Not for lack of trying. But my stories and poetry come in colours and sounds and textures now, and only half-formed, at that. I am adrift in sensations.

But there are lilacs on my table, and painted fabric in my basement. A half-embroidered the-shirt for Hibou next to my chair, and Bonhomme’s wet soccer ball on a pile of muddy shoes. There are two unfinished quilts on my couch, and four more in my sewing chest, and a sleeping baby on my lap. My home is full of dreams.

Hope springs eternal

The pieces of me are slowly drifting back together. Not quite, like my hip chafing in its socket, but a closer fit than I’ve had in over a year.

I feel whole. Jumbled, perhaps, with some grinding and grating and shifting, but whole. Strongly myself.

Bonhomme was in Iqaluit with our family, these past couple of weeks, leaving Dearest and I to rediscover ourselves as new parents again, just us and the baby. We still feel a touch guilty for enjoying it quite so much, this vacation from our son. But it made me realize how with Bonhomme gone, a very large part of me was missing. Only once he was back home did I feel complete, secure in the world again.

This is what our children do to us. They enter our lives squalling, their vibrations shaking us apart at the seams, and then rebuild us, redesign us until we barely recognize our own new shapes. Filled with their noise, their needs, we lump around until it all settles into some sort of recognizable new structure, now needing to be loved and squeezed and lived in by tenants other than just ourselves.

I never knew myself until I knew my children.

The days are brighter now, the sun warmer on my comfortably worn skin. I delight in this fresh growing season, the spring green surprising me each day. Now every spring will be shared. Completely.

The Sound of Strength

Hibou is screaming in my ear, an incessant fire alarm of a noise reaching its fingers down my throat and twisting my guts around my heart. She is crying because she wants to be asleep but isn’t. So easily overtired and overstimulated, she can’t figure out how to stay asleep once I’ve finally managed to get her there. Just like her brother, who was the king of the half-hour nap.

Desperate to maintain equilibrium, if not my sanity, I can feel myself deadening to her screams, mechanically patting her back and rocking, disassociating. All my old, ugly resentment against Dearest rises, threatening, whipping me into a frenzy. All I can think of is how he isn’t rescuing me from this screaming maddening noise. I can’t reconcile that with the bottles he is sterilizing, the laundry he is doing, the formula he is making, the other child he is putting to sleep, the lunches he is packing, the clothes he is folding. I am holding the screaming child because I am the one less likely to want to fling her across the room, and I hate my husband for it. For the fact that he can’t take it, for the fact that I can. It makes no sense, but there is no sense in this howling tornado of a room, there is only an exhausted baby, four walls, a closed door, and me.

Many hours later, I am sitting in the doorless livingroom in the slanting, slatted sun, a blessedly quiet sleeping baby sprawled on my chest. The resentment is sleeping too, banished, a hard-won fight.

It isn’t my newborn that I need my stamina for – it’s this other battle, against my own shapeshifting demons. I must come out the other side with children, marriage, and self intact. Failure is not an option. And so, I sit, in silence, and soak up the sun, recharging for the long night ahead, the long months and years of my own private war.

They say that courage is not the absence of fear, but forgeing ahead despite the presence of it. I knew this when we decided to try to have another child, and I know this now, when she is here. Let me not forget.

The return of words

There’s poetry in my head again, and the hum of a lullaby looping.
The sun peeks out at me through these snowy days, flirting, whispering “soon, soon“.
Melancholy shifts over me, a loose cloak, never quite settling, never quite lifting. But the hum, incessant, pulls me along to its rhythm. Relentlessly warm and comforting.
Hibou eats, and sleeps, and peers at me in wonder. I do the same. She finds peace in my heartbeat, I in her breath. We orbit each other, learning, and relearnng, this dance.
I rediscover the sound of quiet. The shape of the middle of the night. The hope of a newly opened blind, calling out to the day to begin, inviting light.
The poetry comes in fragments, still, single phrases flitting briefly by. But I hear their passing, I feel their wings brush my cheek.
Soon.

Bittersweet

I’m both looking forward to, and dreading, my first glass of wine.

It will taste bitter. It will taste of tears, of guilt, of regret.

It will taste of defeat.

That first glass was supposed to be raised in a toast, to accomplishing birthing my perfect, and last, child. It was to be had in celebration.

Today, we decided to stop breastfeeding. Hibou isn’t built for it, and neither am I. She has a tied tongue, and we’ve decided not to have it fixed surgically. And me, I’ve got unusually slow letdown, due to my brain chemistry. The two combined mean that nursing would require continued superhuman efforts to sustain, not just for myself, but for Hibou too – and we would still have to supplement about two thirds of her diet. And it would guarantee that my current precarious mental state during this time of hormonal recalibration would be at serious risk.

I don’t know if we’re at the point where we’ve tried hard enough, or long enough. I will never know, and I will likely always wonder. What I do know is that we’re at the point where the costs of breastfeeding far outweigh the benefits, and we’re not just risking doing harm to mom or baby – we actually are, to both.

I’m devastated.

It’s not just that breastfeeding seems like this beautiful, sacred thing that has been stolen from me – it’s that it’s my disease’s fault. And therefore, in my heart of hearts, mine.

Would I change my brain chemistry if I could? If it meant not being an artist anymore? Not being the kind of creative parent that can just barely stay one step ahead of Bonhomme?

I soothed both my children to sleep tonight, using my brain, my body, my love, my words, my breath – but not my breasts.

I have a few days of pumping to face, to help alleviate the engorgement as I wean. For me, in this situation, it turns this beautiful, warm, nurturing, sacred act into factory farming. It reminds me only of what I can’t do, what I can’t have. Along with this, I will have another hormone crash to survive, on top of the post-birth load that I am still processing. It will mean some more days of tears and torture.

I know Hibou is just fine with this bottlefeeding plan – it will allow me to give her more of myself, not less. It’s my complicated, guilt-ridden, ridiculously illogical feelings about my mental health that aren’t so fine.

Switching from breast to bottle gives us the gift of time. Hibou will need my cuddles even more, but I will be able to give them while sitting in the sun reading, while holding her in a sling while doing chores or playing with Bonhomme, while doing a puzzle and allowing my body to recover from surgery. It will let us both sleep more at night. Soon, it will give me the freedom to go out with Hibou, to walk and regain my strength, to do all the things my non-medication approach to my mental health requires. It will allow me to enjoy life, to enjoy Hibou, to have the fullest experience of motherhood that is available to me.

I will try to find some sweetness in that glass of wine. Some earthiness, some complexity, some body and weight, some subtle nuances. I will look for a balanced bouquet, flavour, length, feel.

It will taste of acceptance.