13 September 2012

The lively air

It's been a while since I've posted any poetry. An old favorite of mine by Theodore Roethke has been ringing in my ears lately, especially as I feed Eloi. Its rhythm, its meanings easily adapt to feeding a tiny baby:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

~Theodore Roethke

The poem captures those blurred lines between thought and emotion, between knowledge and physical motion, between fear and joy--all of it grasped better in the twilight deliciousness between sleeping and waking. I think babies must experience all of this in an instinctual mesh of sensory input, and that Roethke's rhythms reach toward a lullaby to that end. So what I hear as I think of these lines from my baby's perspective goes something like this:

The Feeding

I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.
I feel my way to feeding and I have no fear.
I grow by nuzzling in these arms I know.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I grin a milky grin from ear to ear.
I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
My mama! I see her and smile softly there,
and grow by nuzzling in these arms I know...

12 September 2012


Somehow we have managed to go two and a half years without a night like last night: one in which our poor little preschooler vomited every hour or so, the Mister and I wielding the mop and clean sheets and clean pajamas and a rinsed-out bucket, knowing that once we got him changed and back to sleep we would do it all over again in a short while. And in between, nursing the baby.

I remember when pulling all-nighters was exhilarating and fueled by coffee and writing and reading and a heady feeling of being grown up.

Now, oh, now. We are grown up all right. The all-nighter brought to us by very different kinds of liquids, very different kinds of demands. And a different kind of satisfaction: that of stroking a child's soft cheek and hair until he falls asleep. Of singing softly when a small voice asks, "ting a tong, mama."

Back then, I could sleep off the all-nighter fog after a couple of days. Make up for it on the weekend, or the next day, after the paper was handed in or the exam completed. These days, one or the other of the kids will wake us up at 7 or 8, no exceptions. A nap snatched for a few minutes, if I'm lucky. A couple of extra minutes of sleep while M feeds Gabriel breakfast. What seems impossible in the zombie haze of 3 am soothing, in the light of day is doable because it must be done.

Yet as I write right now both children are snoring softly, one on the couch and one in a bouncy seat, a rare treasure of a simultaneous nap (although I'm sure the baby will wake now that the other one is asleep). There's something to be said for sickness-induced lethargy: at least parenting the toddler doesn't take as much running around or the constant, nonstop, williteverend need for coming up with activities and negotiating about activities and food and on and on.

So I have a moment to write in this blog. Which has been badly neglected, as I feel caught in the swirl of life. Not a bad swirl, but constant motion nonetheless.

Gabriel started preschool, and is adorable in his tiny backpack proudly walking across the park with me to his new school. We LOVE having it just four minutes away. Just four kids are in his class at the moment--the Belgian system staggers the first preschool class so children enter after the school break nearest to them turning 2.5. He already knows one of his classmates, and as more kids enter the class he will know a few more. He is delighted that his is the turtle class, that he gets to feed the turtles. This is about the only fact I can glean from asking him about his day, that and that he got to "throw a ball." I'm still getting in the swing of things at the school, making lunches, understanding the Dutch information we receive, and so forth.

We are sleep deprived, obviously, even discounting last night's craziness, due to a baby who wakes a lot. We're dealing with some severe eczema with Eloi, which keeps him up at night itching, poor baby, and keeps me up as a consequence. We've got a regime of baths and lotions and creams going on that take up a surprising amount of my day. But he's started smiling and laughing, and he's still a calm easy-to-sleep dude, already chunking out of his 6-month clothes.

The house has been an organizational chaos ever since we got back from Spain. We've been making progress on that front bit by bit, although I'm worried leaving again for the US next week will start the cycle again. I am going on the job market this fall, and I need to get back to my academic projects. Not sure how that will work out with Eloi at home.

My mom has been undergoing a long stretch of radiation therapy and already a couple of rounds of chemo. She is responding really well to treatment, the cancer already shrinking, and the medicines are keeping the worst of the side effects at bay, thankfully. She lost her hair, though, and Gabriel's dumbfounded stare and thumping heartbeat when he saw her on skype without a hat were echoes of how we all felt about it. I can't wait to be there--Eloi and I leave a week from today. We spend a month there, and the Mister and Gabriel join us for the last two weeks. The Mister's parents will come here to help with Gabriel for the two weeks I'm gone, for which we are so grateful. This means both M. and I have international flights with one kid each, and I think he has a harder job!

September so far has been mostly beautiful in Leuven, and I have felt really supported by great friends both here in town and far away. Throughout the swirl: the no-sleep, nonstop, rain and sun, teaching and learning and laughing and crying with our treasured little boys.