Tips for traveling with a baby…

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This post for all the former-free-bird mommas out there. The ones that prided themselves on traveling on a shoestring and day-bag. Mommas who sang in the silence of their own, simple, presence. Mommas who marveled the passing world through their reflections on airplanes and chicken bus windows. Mommas who now have a backpack-sized babe on their hip or clinging to their thigh (in my case, both).  Mommas who spend their days alternating between regurgitating life in tiny-bite-sized pieces and marveling at the reflections in the eyes above those bite-size mouths. Mommas whose souls itch for movement like scratchy wool sweaters in winters of domesticity. Mommas who are ready to integrate their single and motherhood passports into one. Mommas who ask: Is there any reason why I can’t travel with my child(ren)? And, importantly, for Mommas who need a voice that isn’t a naysayer. For Mommas who know it’s not risk-free and will definitely be uncomfortable (as every bit of parenthood, always, is) but who who need another Momma to say: Hey Sister. Yes, you can.

Hey Sister. Yes, you can.

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Babe in an airplane bassinet.

Tips for Traveling Internationally with a Baby  (*To be followed with 50 Tips for taking a sabbatical with your family. And 100 Tips for doing a Family Bridge/Gap Year Abroad. Because: Hey Sister. Yes, you can.)

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Passport Picture at 4 days old.

Get passports in order. I took this babe (my 2nd child; not sure I would have pulled the same stunt with my first) to an island in Mexico when she was two weeks old. Was able to get a birth certificate in one afternoon, and turn around an (expedited) passport in one week. She’s 4-days old in her passport photo. Vaccinations might be in order for travel depending on what country you are visiting, so check-in with your pediatrician. I’ve run all my travels by my pediatrician, who has always said: “Hey Sister. Yes, you can.” (Add one of those-types-of-pediatricians to your check list.)

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Not going to lie: She barely slept longer than the time it took for me to take this picture (on my way to France via Portugal).

Call the airline. You might not know this (I didn’t!), but most international flights have seats where a bassinet can be attached to the wall in front of your seat. #brilliant. Often there’s only one or two bassinets per plane, so CALL and book it as early as possible. There’s no cost, and the bassinet seats are in bulkhead – so you get a little extra room as well. I’m unsure as to other airline policies, but I know United offers the upgrade to bulkhead for mommas with babes for free. (Thank you United!). On my return, United accidentally gave my bassinet seat away, BUT traded me for my very own ROW of (3) seats. #deal. I snugged her into the car seat, curled up in the adjacent two seats, and we both snoozed the whole way home. #insanestrokeofdumbluck

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Family Friendliness Grades: Portugal & France: A. USA: F.

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BOB-ing the streets of Paris #amostcertainfashionfauxpas

By the way, in Europe I was twice approached by airport personnel who coo-ed at my baby (in Portuguese and then French) then offered special access passes that allowed me to skip over long security and immigration lines. In the United States, I was greeted with a 3-hour immigration line that backed all the way up to the escalators, offered no place to sit or nurse (a hungry, crying baby), and ultimately resulted in a missed connection/flight. That about sums up the difference between the US and Europe in regards to family-friendliness. #americanfail

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Red circle highlighting the folded-up BOB.

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Hey post-nap smiles.

Take your best friend BOB. For those not familiar, the BOB Revolution is a fancy (and expensive) fold-up SUV stroller. It was the most expensive item on my baby registry. AND the CPU (cost-per-use), for me, has come down to mere coins. But I hail from a mountain town and need fresh air at least an hour a day and am on my 2nd child (and 1st BOB).  My BOB has flown on over 40 flights; It goes everywhere our family does. We essentially consider BOB an extension of our family (we refer to it as Roberto in Spanish-speaking countries and Robert in French-speaking ones) I tend to think of the BOB as something like a small mobile home: It’s a bassinet in which kids (babes & toddlers) can take full naps (especially on long soothing strolls). We typically store all our carry-on bags (including heavy laptops) under and above it. It has a variety of pockets (especially with a console) to accommodate a full arsenal of child-pacifying devices: snacks, bottles, binkies, sippys and everything else that ends in -ie or y. The BOB folds down in a quick two-step flip maneuver that you can actually manage with the one hand not in the act of pacifying. The BOB fits in the back of a taxi (sometimes you have to remove a wheel) and through the airport x-ray (although when I travel without my husband, I plead ignorance and opt for the stroller pat-down instead). In addition to being a portable crib (offering both shade and seclusion when needed) the BOB gives you wheels for that impossibly heavy car seat. (It will save your back in addition to your sanity.) It might be counter-intuitive that something so big can be so essential to travel, but IT IS. And it’s free: Airlines do not surcharge you for it. You drop it off as you enter the plane and pick it up as you get off the plane. It’s like the ultimate, free, goes-everywhere, travel cart. (Also, these vehicles are often so good that you can easily buy one used and get the same ROI out of it.) I like the Revolution BOB Revolution (specifically) because I do a lot of “strolling” on snow, ice, gravel, sand, and mud. I won’t lie – it was embarrassingly eye-catching in Paris next to all those prim prams, but I’m only buying ONE stroller, and I need my baby-vehicle to take on sandy beaches, airports, and icy mountains alike. In this case, I will accept my American-ness.

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Not going to lie (again). Momma loves an early (6:30pm) bedtime.

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Vineyard visiting. A perfect babe-in-tow excursion.

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Local village markets: Simple outings. Simple pleasures.

Change your pace & expectations. It took me about 10-minutes to book my tickets (oh, those ticket-booking adrenaline rushes!). It took me about 2-weeks before the reality hit: Wait a minute. I’m going to travel alone, on multiple (and red-eye) planes, with a 6-month old baby, and no husband, with over 24-hours of transit time in each direction? It’s at that point that I sent out apologetic disclaimers to my host/friends in France about the potential realities of the trip: sleepless *nursing* nights, jet lag issues, sleep schedule maneuvering, baby-food making, cranky baby = cranky mom, on-and-on-and-on. I have great friends. They replied that they had adaptable schedules and eager arms – which turned out to be true and essential. (See point below.) And the trip, in the end was incredibly enjoyable. Yes. The nights were rough (but aren’t they always? Home or away?) and the baby had her good moments and bad (#par).

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Enjoying street (rather than museum) art.

Here’s the thing: you just need to flip your thinking – and shift your strategy to capitalization. It’s all about capitalizing on nap times for long brunches and even-longer country-side strolls. It’s about creating a simpe centerpiece for your day such as visiting a local famers market, where babe can enjoy the foreign colors, smells and flavors as much as you.  Or spending the day on an educational tour & truffle hunt or a long walking tour of a biodynamic vineyard.  It’s about early bedtimes, and long, late dinners with exceptional company. It’s about loving the urban trekking and street scenery, perhaps  in lieu of quiet museums.

You know how having a child makes a solo trip to the grocery store a vacation? Well it’s the same. Those simple travel experiences that you maybe took for granted when you used to travel alone – you still find those moments, and because they are a bit more rare, a bit more hidden, a bit more elusive — when you do capture them, lord, they are glorious. That baby sleeping under the tree through your 3-hour lunch in a garden while you sip rosé in the sun. Uh-mazing. Those French grandmothers sneaking a peak and checking to make sure your baby isn’t too warm under her blankets? Priceless. That best friend sweeping your child away just when your eyes begin to water in exasperation?  Heart-expanding. That flight attendant or seat-neighbor who offers to hold your baby while you use the restroom. God bless her. And that rush of love for humans inspired by your gratitude for her.

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Double duties. Babe wrapped in scarf sleeping in cardboard box crib.

Get creative. I’ve only got two arms and I’m not going to waste one carrying around a travel crib or roller bag. So here’s what I did:

I investigated all my host’s largest suitcases but settled on a large cardboard box for my babe’s crib. I put it right next to my bed, where she was able to see me. She slept about as well as 6-months old sleep. (I’m not a sleep-training nazi, which means I was stoked if I was up less than 3x a night.)

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Cozy sweater jacket = cozy baby blanket.

Similarly, scarfs and baby blankets tend to run in the same shapes, so I opted for scarfs in the softest fabrics and patterns & colors that fit into my capsule travel wardrobe – so that they could do the double-duty (triple if you include nursing cover) of blanketing baby. Pictured: babe wrapped in Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf and also in Patagonia’s (soft as a blanket) Better Sweater Coat.

Go Hands Free. The reason for all the double-duty, of course, is that my goal was hands-free luggage. And hands-free luggage means no rolling-bags or suitcases. Rather, I opted for the following combination which keeps my hands free for pushing the Bob or carrying the babe:

  1. Collapsible/Ultralight Baby Bag (I love the ultralight Patagonia bags.)
  2. Shoulder Bag/Purse (that can also get tucked away & double as a baby-bag). (Latico has an awesome line of shoulder bags that function perfectly as baby bags, such as this one: Latico Shoulder Bag in Poppy).
  3. Duffle bag that converts to a backpack. I use Patagonia’s Black Hole 60L Bag. It’s perfect. As is everything made by Patagonia. (I work in the guiding industry and am lucky enough to receive Patagonia pro-deals, which is the only way I can afford their products, but you will not find a bigger fan of Patagonia the company, gear and ethic
    than me.  They do regularly have 50% off sales – so get on the email list.)
  4. Some kind of baby wearing device that can be stowed away into my shoulder bag
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    Defining friendship. (Bjorn pictured.)

    and/or baby bag (depending on which combination I’m sporting). I preferred the  ERGObaby Carrier and Infant Insert when my babies were small (which allows them to snuggle in and sleep all day) and the BABYBJORN Carrier after 6-months (after which my babes like to face outward and watch the world).

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Humans love babies.

Bring and make friends. Now this was a bit of a surprise for me, but as it turns out, nothing attracts new friends and sweet acts of kindness like a baby. And it was a cross-cultural trend!  Young mothers appeared suddenly to help me clip my baby carrier. Waiters pulled up iphone pictures of their toddlers. Pilots stepped out of cockpits to (try to) break down or set up the Bob. Couples coo-ed and played peek-a-boo from between the plane seats. Older mothers shared stories of how they used to travel with their babies in the 70’s. And gentlemen rushed from all corners to the overhead bins if I so much as glanced upward. Really, the kindness of strangers has never been so showcased in my life. I was humbled and honored.

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#ittakesavillage

Of course I ALSO had the good fortune of meeting three of my best girlfriends in-country. And, well, enough said, right. A good girlfriend equals (and sometimes beats) a husband when it comes to helping out with a babe. I had three. Three who encouraged me to nap while they cooked and go to bed early while they cleaned. I was drowning in gratitude, admiration and love for them. And also thankful for the shared adventure, which deepened our friendship further, as all quality excursions out-of-the-norm do. Moral of the story: Find a friend/sister for your adventure.

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My (France in Fall) Travel Capsule Wardrobe

Create Capsule Travel Wardrobes for both mom & babe. If the term “capsule wardrobe” is new to you, google it and you’ll literally get the picture.

The concepts are:

  • quality over quantity
  • a cohesive color-scheme that allows for endless mix and matching options with adaptable basics (no one-hit-wardrobe-wonders allowed)
  • travel-friendly fabrics like Tencel (this stuff is wash-friendly, wrinkle-free, supposedly a sustainable fabric and all-around-amazing)
  • bringing in the color & character with accessories (scarfs, jewelry, etc)
  • versatility: shirts/dresses that can be dressed up or down, pieces that offer a thousand layering combinations, t-shirts that can wear as pajamas, etc.
  • a plan that involves washing items or all your clothing on occasion
  • a strategy (imagine that!) other than toss everything in your bag till it’s full

The end result (for me on this trip) was two tiny stacks of clothing (one for momma and one for babe) that packed down to nothing. There was actually swimming room in my duffle. The hardest part of this strategy is resisting the (oddly insane) urge to fill up that emptiness. But that space came in so handy when I wanted to fit both my shoulder bag and baby bag in there. And imagine my surprise and delight when I didn’t have to buy any additional bag for souvenirs! Capsule travel wardrobe = game changer.

Keep calm. Have fun. Not like constant fun. But moments of fun. Okay. Here’s a good place for the disclaimer that despite all the sweet, smiley pictures of happy/sleeping baby, this trip was far from floating on clouds of baby powder.

The pictures I didn’t take:

  • Me scrubbing out a diaper blow-out out of the baby carrier in the airport restroom.
  • The bags under my eyes the night the baby woke up every single hour and I was feeling enormous angst about keeping hosts up all night.
  • My panic attack on my last flight (after missing my connection) where I was seated in a middle seat and I didn’t move an inch for 6-hours in fear of waking an exhausted-prone-to-crying baby.
  • My emotional breakdown upon return, collapsing from travel exhaust yet having to pick up full-time work and full-time motherhood without pause.
  • My toddler (at home) tantrums for attention after his mother was absent for 2-weeks. My fried-husband needing a break and, rather, receiving a wife with her energy tank on empty.

But here’s the deal. I keep trying to recall, for example, how I dealt with the jet-lag for the baby – and while that subject feels so foggy I can’t even offer a tip on the topic –it is moments like THIS that puncture my memory in clarity and flavor the trip in its entirety…

Okay. For those specifics-seekers out there. Here’s my visual and affiliated/linked packing list:

packingforbebesm

  1. Baby.
  2. BABYBJORN Carrier
  3. Pacifiers & Pacifier Clip
    (b/c you do NOT want to lose those).
  4. Baby Bunting Suit
  5. Purse or Shoulder Bag that doubles as Baby Bag
  6. The Sun Magazine (advertisement-free literary magazine that I LOVE more than anything that comes in the mail. Short stories, interviews, poetry and photography that will melt your heart and making you feel human again. And in perfect motherhood-sized reading snippets.)
  7. Electronics/Phone charger(s)
  8.  Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf that doubles as baby blanket
  9. Passports & Appropriate Travel Visas
  10. Lavender Essential Oil (to calm baby and give her a sense of stability in all the movement)
  11. Lightweight Muslin Swaddle Blankets for accidents, spills, and all the other whoops-stuff.
  12. Patagonia Better Sweater Jacket (soft enough to double as a baby blanket)
  13. Ear buds
  14. Jewelry
  15. Sunnies & Lip Gloss
  16. Manual Breast Pump. I bring and use only for emergencies (if I need to give the baby a bottle rather than the breast for some reason)
  17. Vitamins (in travel case)
  18. Baby Monitor (never used on this trip, but has come in handy on many travels)
  19. Momma’s travel capsule clothing
  20. Stainless Steel Water Bottle (with no plastic parts)
  21. All-weather boots that can pull off Paris as well
  22. My favorite (Le Mystere) Nursing Bra. 2nd child means there’s a lot of public nursing action. For some reason I believe that a pretty bras neutralizes the spill on my shirt.
  23. Another versatile (soft and wash-friendly) scarf that doubles as a baby blanket
  24. Bibs – in effort to save baby’s limited wardrobe
  25. Travel Plug Adapter Kit
  26. Baby Nail Scissors
  27. Not pictured. But THIS Panasonic (DMC-GM1KD) Mirrorless Digital Camera  is the perfect travel-sized mirrorless (similar to DSLR) camera. (I’ll give it a proper test drive in Brazil next month)
  28. Emergency baby meds/NSAIDS
  29. Snacks (like teething wafers) that involve lots of chewing
    and buy momma an extra few minutes of quiet time
  30. Baby Boots (the only that I can get to stay on my kids. Expensive. But cost-per-wear is low.)
  31. Baby Tights. So much easier than pants & socks!
  32. Baby capsule travel wardrobe.
  33. Versatile baby toy (like this Lamaze Moose) that clips onto car seat handle (and won’t get lost)
  34. Blow-out outfit (for the carry-on). Don’t ever leave home without one.
  35. Diapers (by The Honest Company). *I also had my host in France pick up some diapers locally, as they would have taken up too much room in my bag otherwise. So I packed only the diapers that I needed for transit.
  36. Wipes (by The Honest Company). Handy for all kinds of messes and stain removal.
  37. ultralight Patagonia bag (it packs down to nothing!)
  38. A bag of baby formula for emergencies (a godsend when I got trapped in the 3-hour immigration line in DC)
  39. Silicone Baby Bottle (by The Honest Company)
  40. Baby jammies and muslin swaddle blankets

incubation

How to hatch an inspiration.  

Sit on it, but notice it flaring up every time you go for a walk in the woods.

Note that you hike faster and arrive sooner.

Try to write it down, but find you letters dyslexic in their excitement.

Sum it up in three words and buy the URL.

Do research. Drop vision-seeds on the people you’ll involve.

Wait for blooms.

Think of your commitment to the vision in the past tense.

Till it is.

Buy a flight that you haven’t thought through.

Know that you have 24-hours to cancel without penalty.

Papa, I want to fly.

Let the next 24-hours get busy.   

Assume permission from your partner.

Ignore some realities.

Picture a photo from the yet-unrealized adventure.

Hold it. Turn your head sideways and stare at it.

Note if you are smiling.

Talk about it.

If someone looks through the window and retorts with the things they regret or don’t in life.

Know you’re onto something.

Watch for recurring themes surfacing from the mundane,

Things you never noticed before, now a chorus of encouragement in one direction.

Look for puns.

Subconscious’ hallmark humor.

Nap.

Let your mind spin out. Fall deeply asleep.

Wake up to the feeling of having engaged in a profound conversation.

Go about your day.

Note if you feel lighter.

Let it knot your stomach like a cup of coffee.

Let it leak from your subconscious like yellow evening sun.

Let it expand till you feel yourself about to lose balance.

And keep sitting.

Till it cracks.

 

8 legs, 1 life

Wisdom, they call it, at the root of that reptilian-twitch,

I put the mundane down, look over my shoulder and slowly follow my body out the door.

His words are muffled by the back of his bent curious head:

“Mama, I found something!”

Of course he did. And I immediately know it’s that something that righted my spine like an antenna.

I tread quickly across the grass and very intentionally throw a thick blanket on my inclined-haste as I pull him closer to my body. To inspect the under-belly of stone we step over daily.

And there she is. Upside down and in full display of that most-notorious mark.

“Love, this is a very dangerous spider,” I assess.

He bends in closer and asks, “It is?”

I pull him back, “It is.”

After I explain indepth, I ask him to summarize his understanding.

“So if this spider bites me, I have to go to the hos-bi-tal. And get lots of band-aids. Dora band-aids.”

I hesitate. And then concede.

I send a picture of the red hourglass to my husband and father-in-law.

They confirm the diagnosis with the echoing commands to kill it.

Everything in me curls inward. Killing is not my thing and I cling to my standby, transparency:

“Your papa says I have to kill it. But I don’t want to.”

An invisible hand clutches my heart as my 2-year literally shuffles a step forward and says, “Mama. Don’t worry. You don’t have to kill it. I will kill it for you.”

Adoration aside, I get lost in mysterious feelings of gender-challenge, and thus go looking for an appropriate tool.

A snow-shovel seems to provide me the level of distance from the task that I seek.

I apologize outloud. And the deed is quickly done.

But I couldn’t hang my new heaviness up in the garage with the snow shovel.

And not a day later, I found my toddler thumbing the life out of ants.

My talk of momma-ants and pappa-ants and their haunted, empty, lives in the absence of their thumbed-out son and daughter-ants,

did nothing.

The trip to the science center where a Theraphosidae took huge, hairy, deliberate eight-legged steps up his tiny arm,

did nothing.

“It was a NICE spider Mamma!”

I praised this declaration with all heights of sing-song recognition.

But the daddy-long still lost all his legs in the single unsupervised leg of travel between the bedroom and patio.

“Can I put fire on the bumble bee?”

My heart stubbs out like a cigarette.

And just when I have convinced my tortured soul that this might simply all be the natural course of 2-year old boy’s experimentation with life and death, he will say something like:

“But Mama, you killed that spider.”

And my shoulders slump in defeat.

rest in peace black widow

I did. I killed that spider.

And although my son will, certainly, learn through his own trial and error of the distance between life and death and snow shovel.

It’s my lesson on teaching,

that has sunk in.

 

On the day you were born…

On the day you were conceived, July 2nd, 2014, Mama fell into a deep afternoon nap and woke up to a “familiar knocking” in her womb. Her cobwebby recollection was of a dream in which she was searching for the permission to name her to-be-born. Ten days later your conception was identified by a rarely recognized dip in basal temperature; a clue your hopeful mother clutched secretly and close to her heart. Four days later, the pregnancy in which you were enveloped was confirmed with the faintest of purple lines that your Papa insisted he could not see. But Mama knew. Only days later, a local healer with a reputation for eyes that sometimes saw more than you wanted to know, glanced over your Mama’s left shoulder and declared that the pregnancy would be healthy and a reunion of lives long-bonded. On that day, Mama cried a fountain of salty, happy, relieved tears. In the months that Mama carried you, she was often sick with insomnia, pains, anxiety, exhaust, and a dizzy belly. But she gave of herself graciously and embraced her belly with endearment. On the day you were born, Papa wanted to fish, but Mama refused to let him; she had a feeling something big was stirring in her belly. Ten days beyond the due date calculated by your conception, Mama was feeling the fire of readiness. In a truly sour mood and moment, she called a best childhood friend who inspired undulating waves of belly laughs which your Mama would later call out as the catalyst for her labor. On the day you were born, which was the 14th of days in which she clutched her belly in hourly contractions (yes, 14th), Mama felt a slight progression in her laboring while sitting in the grass of the lower homestead park, watching your black-lab-buddy-to-be backflipping in aggressive attempts to catch a flailing frisbee sent into the air by your madly-giggling 2-year old brother. Momma took a long hot shower when she got home, and in the process of getting dressed, reached inside a deep laundry bin and felt a foreign cracking inside her belly as the waters in which you floated broke and announced your impending arrival. Mama instructed Papa, without hesitation, to pack the hospital bags. In the car, Papa called your grandma Patri and doula Emma. When Mama and Papa arrived at the hospital, Mama calmly checked in downstairs while Papa got lost looking for her on the second floor. When they finally united in the birthing ward, your parents were told that all the rooms were full with a wave of other mothers inspired into labor by the pull of the full “blood” moon. On the day you were born, Mama began her labor by bouncing on a birthing ball, excitedly chatting about how much energy she was feeling for the first time in weeks after nightfall. Not more than an hour later, Mama got quiet and closed her eyes as you would the shades for the evening. She crawled through dog, cat and child poses on a mat on the floor in search of a position, any position, that would ease the pressure.  In the room you were born, the lights were low, soft hypno-birthing affirmations streamed from a speaker, and voices murmured gentle encouragements as hands were laid on Mama’s back, hips, and shoulders in soft touches of encouragement. Mama’s doctor later recollected that each time she came into the room, she would pause in the hallway and take long, slow, intentional breaths to leave the quick steps and general angst of the birthing ward outside the door; malaise had no place in the sacred space into which you’d be born. On the night you were born, Mama only occasionally opened and uplifted her eyes, in the short pauses between intensifying contractions, to look up through the dark windows and witness the blood moon traversing the night sky on its way into eclipse. Having chosen to labor naturally, Mama’s contractions increased in severity until she could barely murmur that she didn’t think she could do it. Mama would later remember the confident caresses of your Papa and the whispers of your grandmother repeating, “You’ve got this. You’ve got this.” On the hour of your birth, Mama crawled onto the hospital bed and pleaded, “Can I push yet?” When the doctor nodded her permission, Mama sighed with relief and the pain immediately eased off as she worked to find an elusive position to bring you into the world. When Mama gave up on finding a perfect position, she resolved to just urge her entire body in unison, and sighed deeply when she finally heard the encouraging words of her doctor declaring, “There you go. Here she comes….” Mama engaged her full body in a final exhalation. The pain blew out like a candle and your rigid, purple, screaming body was placed on your Mama’s chest. In her ecstasy, she barely noticed your distress, and simply cradled your cries in the arms of her trembling, tearful, grateful being. It wasn’t until your paternal grandmother remarked, “I’ve never seen a Cogswell cry like that!” that your Mama finally focused on your face; upon this first lock of eyes, you immediately calmed in a pattern that foot-printed the following months of your infancy. The day you were born was April 4th, 2015. Throughout the day your were born, Papa ushered away the nurses that wanted to bathe you, and thus sweat, blood, and vernix mingled in your first skin-upon-skin embraces with your parents. Before any heads were laid to rest, the hospital staff had written your name on the nursing white board: Riva G. Riva, as a root of Rivera, a family tree of which your parents wanted to emphasize the connection and branching. In Hindi, riva means, “one Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 8.11.49 PMwho moves” which was determined fitting to the union of global travels and the birthplace — India — of “Slina” (Slade & Christina). In Latin, riva means to, “regain strength,” a tribute to the arduous path of miscarriages that led to this final birth blessing. In Spanish/French, riva means, “from the river bank/shore”; a gift of respect to the Rivera lineage and their ancestral relationship with water. Your middle initial/name, “G” pays homage to the Cogswell Family, and in Hindi, जी, which is phonetically pronounced the same, is an honorific suffix given to those of earned wisdom, age or respect. On the day you were born, you were placed on a scale that registered your weight of 8lb and 2oz. It would not be until weeks later that your Mama would notice the tan and quarter-sized birthmark on your inner thigh that you share with your mother, Aunt, Uncle, two cousins and grandfather; a true stamp of the family heritage and affirmation of the appropriateness of your given name. On the day you were born, your brother kissed your forehead and without a single hesitation relinquished his single-child status. On the day you were born, your Mama and Papa’s hearts cracked, again, in two, as scar-tissue replaced the emptiness of what would never again be the same without you.

 

 

stammer, stutter, hiccup

(posting some older drafts before they are outdated by the seasons)

If you have ever stared suspiciously at the stars,

you have wondered what it feels like to be pregnant.

Both states stammer in the face of other-worldliness.

In the suddenly quiet corner of the room,

the run-on sentences of scientists, priests, and atheists all stutter to silence the same.

There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.

And there is nothing,

nothing,

that can follow, from one side to the other, the leap of that crevasse.

Only silence

can respectfully touch the feet of that fact.

There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.

The statement itself tremors.

No amount of repetition stills it.

For a tiny season in my human life,

and one yet permanently obscured to all males on this planet,

I simultaneously house

and surrender to

the involuntary flutter

of a miniature practicing diaphragm.

Tiny perfect practice grasps for air.

That will one day become

sighs, gasps, laughs, snores, heaves

and even a last, subsiding, breath.

But will mostly spend the 86400 seconds of every day

unconsciously streaming and stringing one moment

to the next.

Existence hiccups to life.

 

ode to snowplow

(posting some older drafts before they are outdated by the seasons)

Ode to snow plow.

Dearest snow plow,

Will you ever know?

The way your rumble up the street,

Cuts a tantrum in two.

The morning pro-clothes argument (any clothes mind you)

Tossed in the air with a, “Wait a minute, did you hear that?”

And the echo of “SNOWPLOW!” trailing the hall,

As a blur of near-nakedness bolts for the bay window.

Mollified by your magic, I slip a sweater over his love-locked eyes,

“Momma – the snowplow is here! He’s here!”

I make haste for the stove and bring back a bowl of steaming oats,

And transfixed, he mimics the repetitive scraping of the street with the motion of spoon to mouth.

(This is the only food I will not have to spend 20-minutes convincing him to eat today.)

I offer him a cushion to lean back against,

And make a dash of my own for my coffee and news,

And for 10-blessed minutes I enjoy the silence of the house,

Aside from the echo of his “beeping” in song with your reverse drive.

 

 

constellations of untold histories

I have found myself, recently, lingering on the pause following, “You’re so lucky.” Would I be lying, or acquiescing, in a cordial nod and smile of agreement? The woman at the grocery store/in the hot springs/at the concierge desk has just lit up with the reception of the news that I’m expecting a baby girl, knowing that my first child is a boy: “One of each! Aren’t you lucky!” What she, of course, is not aware of, is the the 7-months of failed pregnancies preceding this one. She doesn’t know that this little female form came down life’s train track, only after jumping the crossing where in an alternate rail map, I had two baby boys. So when she hints of the suspenseful space where mystery is conceived – in one’s favor or not – I rather think of the dark corners of that room that I so thoroughly explored, with groping hands. Its makes me think of all the profound wells of trial overlooked in first presuming glances and expressions of cordiality at the communal meeting and greeting spots; how much we may discount, or neglect to connect, in the untold history of others. It doesn’t bother me. It just lingers with me. Yet if luck is truly just something to do with the stars, then perhaps, she is correct; this is my fortunate present place in the constellation. And likewise, if luck’s only having something to do with gratitude (as it might be in my faith to suspect), then there would be nothing dishonest in my nod of acceptance of this, albeit eventual, blessing. I supposed I started off this paragraph wanting to explore the pause, but rather, maybe have made peace with it; Likely the most fortunate conclusion of all explorations.

on time arrival

This morning,
I carried the cold choke of tears from a fading vision,
back to the warmth of my bed.
Dreams aren’t characteristically so on-time,
Ever arriving in a cloaked foretelling.
Or standing with its useless suitcase in the echoing rumble of a train departed.
But here we are with the on-time arrival
of the anniversary of your death.
In the same bed where I clutched a phone and heard nothing after,
“He’s gone. Your father’s passed.”
Without looking, I still find you.
In the trailing whistle of a passerby.
And the daily improv songs and antics of your 2-year old grandson.
Reminding me of just how much youth you carried with you to death.
Reminding me that life is actually never so serious.
Reminding me that there’s always space,
really no matter how inappropriate,
for a punchline.
And that I’ll find you laughing with me,
There.

motherhood subtitled

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.19.43 AM

My son’s daily insistence on the wear of his red rubber boots is fitting. Less than two and a half years navigating the gravity of this planet and already he is fierce in stomping out his independence. “No, I can do it…” a reflexive demand following my every motion and suggestion. Momma’s hands, normally tackling a flurry of tasks in omni-armed domestic combat, are effectively batted away. First I raise my palms like resigned white flags, “Okay, okay….you can do it.” And then my arms eventually cross as I slump into the elapsed (10, 15, 20) minutes it takes to watch 2-year old fingers sort out the seat belt button, pull on pants with the pockets in the front, or open and pour the almond milk into the blender. Ultimately, we are both rewarded with the most lustrous of all medals: “I did it! All by myself,” he says, as much in self-recognition as subtitles to his mother. And I think, “I did it! Patiently pain-ed myself long enough to let him do it all by himself.” And there’s a moment, right there, where I glimpse him as a 17 or 27-year old, with that same relaxed face and those inward eyes of accomplished self-reliance. And I also see that there’s a phone in the background, and a call that he will not make to me, the mother he has left in the inadvertent dust of his red-booted path. And I subtitle the image: Motherhood: the art of thanklessly doing and non-doing with inexhaustible acceptance.

 

on hypnobirthing

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 7.27.40 AM(My hypnobirthing doula from my first pregnancy/birth asked me for a quote on my experience…)

They refer to it as “hypno” but I think “mindful birthing” would be more fitting. Yes, the meditations and affirmations work on silent, work-horse, levels of the subconscious. But the effect is quite tangible and rooted: a simultaneous sense of calm and courage sitting by the door next to the hospital bag. Our culture is saturated in birth stories dripping in fear and pain and disempowerment. They are readily in your face, so you too have to consciously choose to shut those doors and protect yourself from the monsters in that closet. But pregnancy is perhaps the loneliest state of being I’ve ever experienced. It’s a rite of passage – and thus by its very nature, you set out alone. Hynobirthing equips you with tools for the journey, arms you with knowledge and self-confidence that you can transform to wisdom and conquest through your unique experience. It is not an easy voyage, nor will anyone tell you it is. But embracing the path of pregnancy as a gentle warrior will bring forth secret powers of your femininity that you’ll sling over your shoulder for the rest of your life path. And on the other side, a tribe of mothers will wink at and welcome you. So if there’s any piece of advice I can offer you, it’s to choose a mindful birth. (If you resign your freedoms, there are predominant cultural trends that will happily relieve you of your responsibilities/rights.) Know what’s at stake, and step into your experience. Embrace a love and trust of your body and the intuition it inherited from the lineage of women who brought you into being. As with Buddhism, you choose and take what tools you need from hypno-birthing (and leave the rest behind). And as with anything in life, the practice will only return what you authentically invest in it. So accept this quest as a rare (!) opportunity to forge a meaningful relationship with your body. There is no higher way to honor (or be humbled by) this most intimate brush with the bone-marrow of existence.