Monday, February 17, 2014

Raising (and feeding) A Mother

Dear Boo,

Can you hear me, quietly, sheepishly tiptoeing back to the land of the living? the land of the writing, blog posting, full sentence making? I've been honing my skills creeping around my apartment avoiding the landmines of creaky floorboards in a one bedroom housing a sleeping infant, so perhaps i've snuck in here unnoticed. Which is just fine, since I have to admit I've been a little terrified of sitting down to write anything touching on my past four months (already?!) as a new mother. You see, I understand the fact that I am now, technically, a Mother to a small person who lives in our apartment, despite the Husband and I frequently turning to each other, slightly confused, to ask when her parents are coming to pick her up. I get that she is my child, carries my DNA along with a hint of my smile emerging on a face which so strikingly resembles her handsome father. I get that I carried her for nine months (who could forget), and will absolutely never ever forget the day she announced her arrival ten days early, insistently, quickly, willfully, almost, but thankfully not quite in a taxicab in midtown manhattan traffic. (And I will never forget the ridiculously delicious burger from here that was delivered to my hospital room two hours after I gave birth. Gotta love NYC. And my husband, the best doula anyone could ever ask for.) I will forever remember the sensation of this brand new, tiny person, being placed on my chest and instantly, as if to say, 'man, it was cramped in there!' straightening her spindly long legs to do a full downward dog with a strength no one-minute-old should possess. She has hardly stopped moving since, and at four months old, is determined to prove to us that were it not for gravity, she would be standing already, strong chunky wrinkled thighs planted firmly on my lap. And yet, for all of this, I still can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that I am now, A Mother. I suspect some seasoned vets out there might say this takes a lifetime of readjusting and learning continually as the job description shifts daily without notice.

If I thought pregnancy changed my relationship to food and nourishment, well, these early days of being a mother have taken it to a whole new level. First of all, I was a hungry pregnant lady but I'm a RAVENOUS mom-person. Then there's the fact that I am feeding and growing a person with my own body. It's like living in a science fiction novel. or the zoo. And finally there's the issue of the fact that, for how instinctual it is, breastfeeding is actually way freaking harder than you'd guess. Those first few weeks were a struggle for all of us and suddenly the act of feeding someone I love, a well-documented favorite pasttime of mine, took on epic, identity crisis proportions. My sole 'job' and 'purpose' as a mother, it seemed, was to feed this tiny, mole-like human, and every two hours my ability to do this was tested, my tentative, quavering hold on this new title took another blow, and I ended up, a hormonal, sobbing mess. It was, despite the thrilling, magical presence of this new love affair in our lives, a rough patch. When we'd finally found our groove and returned to the doctor a month or two later to find out our little one was in the 90th percentile for weight (now its up to 96th. stay tuned), I couldn't have felt a surge of pride greater if you'd told me she'd gained early admission to Harvard. So this is how the Jewish mother obsession with feeding one's child begins, I thought. Just last week, I remarked in a moment of tired mom insanity, that perhaps our daughter (96th percentile, remember) wasn't eating enough. The Husband, wisely, declined to engage in this speculation.

She's developed a taste for whale tail.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Very true. But I think, really, it takes a village to raise a mother. It's easy to forget in the blur of sleepless nights and feeding the baby and changing the baby and gazing at the baby and learning the baby's cries and trying to piece one's sore body back together, and marveling at how nothing will ever ever be the same, that one has to also care for oneself. Which occasionally involves eating. I've written before about the particular gift of food and why its sometimes just exactly what our body and soul needs, and its never been more true than as a new parent. There were the meatballs our aunt made and delivered the first night we were home from the hospital which were moist and comforting and stick to your ribs in just the right way. There was the golden crispy roast chicken with velvet gravy our mom made, along with an infinite number of other meals and groceries and pretty much anything we could possibly need, delivered nightly along with the kind of reassuring hugs that only a mother is capable of providing, and a firm and loving banishment to the bathroom for a shower while she held the baby. There were the cookies from the Boo, warm and so delicious, and the middle-of-a-tuesday italian sub you tracked down and delivered when an intense craving struck. There was the email from Chef Josh with a long list of menu items and the request that we pick four things for him to make and deliver to us that first week, and the caveat that there was no use in being polite and telling him not to bother, that he'd just pick them himself and drop them at our doorstep (we had moroccan chicken tagine, kale and sausage stew, vegetable lasagna and an assortment of amazing vegetable sides). There was the casserole made by my oldest childhood friend (a mother herself) portioned into single servings and freezer ready, and delivered without expectation of coherent conversation, followed by near weekly visits with armfuls of baby equipment, endless texts responding to inane and anxious new mom questions, and swooping in to change diapers while we ate. And there were the two rolls of frozen homemade cookie dough, one popped into our freezer for future use, and the other popped into our oven, perfuming our apartment with that cozy and nostalgic scent of butter and chocolate, while the friend who brought them (a mom and midwife, lucky me!), cradled the baby and tirelessly helped show me how to feed her. There's the college cliche of a true friend holding your hair back while you vomit, and then there's the reality of a truer friend holding your boobs and your baby while you sniffle and rub your tired eyes and give it one more try.

Four months later, we are forging our way as a little trio, and I've slowly returned to the kitchen. I'm learning to take off some training wheels, little by little, tiny victory by tiny victory. I'm learning to mother the way I've learned to feed my baby, slowly, patiently, with faith, and a lot of support from the village. I still love (and often need) deliveries of food and help, whether from (I should own stock) or relatives, but I'm also back to cooking for my family. Baking, even. Which feels particularly impressive since it involves reading, measuring, and math, indicating that I am, finally, getting a bit more sleep.

And so it continues. Each day we wake up far too early, to the sounds of squealing and grunting and kicking from the crib in the corner of our room and a round face that beams fresh each morning when she spots me up above, no matter that my hair is matted to my head and my shirt stained. And each day we do our best, gobbling up each giggle and gurgle like there's an infinite supply, feasting on chubby toes and leftover late night thai, and indulging in cuddles and cake and the occasional anxious, overtired, insecure cry. And each day I try on this new title of Mother, noting how the shape of my body and heart and soul have changed a little here, a little there, so it requires tugging and pulling, adjusting and altering. And the thing I've realized is, our daughter doesn't really care if it fits perfectly. And if that's not reason enough to go on and have another slice of cake, I don't know what is.


The Mouse

**One of the major mom victories I've had thus far was solving the mystery of our two month old's near constant crying, nightly meltdowns, and love/hate relationship to eating, by discovering that she is sensitive to dairy. As in, I can't eat dairy because she can't eat dairy. Which sucks for me, but honestly, the trade-off is worth it. And I'm finding some satisfying substitutes for the things I miss (nothing can replace cheese, sadly), including this cake, a vegan olive oil cake. Meg, from my fiction group, first made this for us, before I was dairy free, and I was amazed that a vegan dessert could be so delicious. Better yet, it's not only vegan, but subs maple syrup for refined sugar, so you can really feel virtuous when you eat half the cake. And best of all, for those of us who have limited time, whether between diaper change and bath time or between rehearsal and sleep, this is pretty much the easiest thing ever, involving two bowls and a whisk.**

Chloe Coscarelli's Lemon Olive Oil Cake (from Chloe's Vegan Desserts)

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 Cup Maple Syrup
3/4 Cup water
1/4 Cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
1 Tablespoon lemon extract
Powdered sugar and/or fresh berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a bundt pan

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, maple syrup, water, lemon zest and juice, and lemon extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fill the prepared Bundt pan evenly with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the caek comes out dry with a few crumbs clinging to it. Rotate halfway through the baking time. Cool the cake completely before unmolding. 

Garnish with powdered sugar and berries.