To You, On Your First Mother’s Day

I recently looked through a photo album labeled only with my daughter’s initials: the documentation of her birth and first weeks of life. It had been many months since I’d looked at them; each time I do I’m amazed by the difference in myself as I remember the moments that changed us both so deeply, so completely.

The days and nights swam together, then. As evening set each day of that first week, I remember gathering my strength and courage, not for the impending sleeplessness, but for the loneliness. Then came colic, and the helplessness of being unable to comfort her, and unable to maintain my own composure and confidence. I felt, at so many times, broken.

And she stretched my heart into something new and boundless. 

The beginning was difficult for me. But few good things are easy, and that time formed me into the grateful, confident, blessed mom that I am today.

A year ago Mother’s Day, she was just over 8 months old. I still felt so tenderly new. This letter is from that time. It’s to you new mothers, but also to the families who have transformed over any number of years, over any number of late dinners, scraped knees, first I-Love-You’s.

You’ve worked hard, new mama.

You’ve overcome the challenges, the low times, the hardships you didn’t talk about with the friends cooing over your baby. You’ve melted into your role, perhaps with messier emotions than you expected (perhaps not) but with poise.

You’ve made the monumental decision of how to bring your baby into the world. You made the best choice possible for your child, your family, your birth, you. Perhaps it went as you envisioned; perhaps not. Perhaps you were surprised or shattered or overjoyed by the feat– you were transformed.

Perhaps you felt yourself become a mother the moment you took your little one into your arms. Perhaps you took your time.

Selflessly, you’ve fed your child at all hours. Maybe you’ve breastfed because you thought it best, easier, cheaper, or obvious. Maybe you’ve formula-fed because you thought it best, easier, more convenient, obvious. Maybe you’ve done exactly what you thought you wouldn’t, because when you made these important decisions and formed your opinions and plans, you had not yet met the person they are there to nurture.

You didn’t know that this tiny little being is the first of his or her kind, and they are not precisely like any other– or even quite whom you imagined. Yet they are perfect, and you are perfect for them.

You’ve fretted and tended and doted. You’ve spent night and day caring for and learning to love this person from the day you met.

No matter what you’ve done wrong so far, no matter what plans have fallen apart, no matter how uncertain, confused, or disappointed you’ve felt at any point, you have not failed in any way.

You’ve allowed your body to transition to motherhood with grace. You’ve only gained elegance and more of yourself. You wear your changes triumphantly. You are beautiful.

I know all of this, because this letter is to me, too.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama.

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Planting Fruit Trees

We’re back from a longer-than-planned trip to the new place– the last visit, perhaps, that is merely a visit. The anxiety for change is mounting, as is the excitement, as is the stress, as is the sense of accomplishment for all that we managed to do in the past two weeks.

While we finally had the Internet connected after Week One, I couldn’t find more than a single moment to devote to any writing whatsoever, which does leave a vacant place in my heart that I’ll be working to fill in the next few weeks and in the new routine I will be developing.

Albeit a tad late, we planted four apple trees: a Gravenstein (deeply endeared to me in my upbringing in Sonoma County), a Cox’s Orange Pippin, a semi-dwarf Yellow Delicious, and an heirloom English variety of which I cannot recall the name (but I have tagged). We also planted a hardy Chicago fig, two blueberry bushes, rhubarb, and a long row of Russian Fingerling potatoes.

Getting the fruit trees was critical if we were to have any in this year. The soil is wonderfully soft and fairly loose, so digging is a piece of cake compared to the arid, compacted clay of the Valley. We amended the holes with lots of compost and mulched around the slight trunks with plenty of dried field grass. Our toddler enjoyed helping– and “helping.”

Two major threats to our garden and orchard frequent the land: deer, of course, and a notorious neighbor’s herd of ever-roaming cattle. The only solution, it seems, is to fence our entire acreage. In the mean time, though, particularly while we are away, each plant needs its own stronghold. We planned simple circles of field wire around the trees, upheld with a few posts. The wire was too flimsy un-stretched, however, so the construction took far longer than planned. They didn’t come out perfect, but more than satisfactory to me.

Best of all, we have met several neighbors who are more than a wealth of information: they are avid homesteaders and gardeners, active in the community, and as welcoming and generous as I could imagine asking for in new neighbors. For all of this I am boundlessly grateful.

Childhood in the Garden

Last weekend I helped my mom transplant several rose bushes, butterfly plants, and bulbs around her property. The soil on my palms, the sweat on my body, even the blister below my wedding ring felt wholesome and reviving. It was a joy to allow my daughter to toddle through the flowers and inspect the kale and herbs, and it boosted my confidence– and my excitement– for the coming year in which I’ll be nurturing a vegetable garden and a child together.

Something about gardening evokes the curiosity of youth. You have to look closely, know the wild plants, the bugs, the root systems beneath the soil. I joined my daughter as she sat contentedly among the bright yellow sour grass. Just as I had done when I was young, and I could not resist doing alongside her today, she munched the succulent stems, and puckered and grinned.

Without thinking, the tart flavor still on my tongue, I lifted a nearby tile to discover what wild critters night be hiding. Salamanders? Potato bugs? Earthworms?

Gardening, particularly youth in the garden, feeds the inquisitive wonder of childhood for a lifetime. As delicious and healthful as homegrown fruit and vegetables may be, and as gratifying the harvest, this is one of the garden’s most powerful values and why I want my child to grow among the vines and leaves, with dirt under her nails and fresh air in her lungs.

The Weight of Things

In the end, our move will have taken almost half a year– one trip at a time, one trailer-load at a time, one month at a time. But now the essentials and most of the furniture is there, so we’ve reached the point of packaging all the little things we plan to take, and setting aside the things we don’t.

There’s an added weight to an out-of-state move over many hundreds of miles, more so now even than I remember from our move down here. We did it so lightly before, just the two of us, freshly married and exploring new possibilities. Now, we know what we’re leaving behind and mostly what lays ahead– and we recognize the void of what we don’t know.

Going through and touching each thing that makes up the tangible parts of our lives brings to mind the many miles we’ve come. It’s a unique opportunity to really see the things that surround us.

We’re trying pointedly to cut back on material “stuff.” On principle, I’m committed to that effort, but item for item I struggle to let go. Going through my daughter’s baby clothes, her Bumbo seat, her swing– we’ll need it all for the next baby, I say.

But there is a lot. Some of the clothes were barely worn. Sometimes I liked them so much that I didn’t want them to get ruined– so I rarely dressed her in them. How absurd, I recognize now. How irrational to not use something we like when she fit into it for such a fleeting time. I look at the piles of baby clothes and I can hardly believe how fast the time went, or how long the time seemed then.

The days are long but the years are short, wrote Gretchen Rubin. There are no truer words for parenthood.

I took apart my favorite piece of decor and nostalgia– old wooden cubbyholes originally mounted in my grandfather’s office, where I now work. It holds found things of all sorts, tiny pieces of art, stones and shells, the boutonnières my bridesmaids and mom and her friends all made for our wedding, the pie-topper bride and groom that I made with trimmings from my actual wedding dress, which I also made.

But I didn’t keep everything. Some little rocks and knickknacks had lost their value, their memories, and I let them go. In fact, I collected them in a bowl and let my husband scatter the natural ones outside, something he surely long wanted to do. He doesn’t store emotion in physical things, and I envy him that.

One freeing aspect of a many-phased move is that each round of selecting and packing, the things I leave don’t have to be immediately thrown out or gotten rid of. I can tell myself that they’re just not coming yet. And maybe by the end, I’ll have picked out all the things I know I want and let my husband come in and take the rest while I look the other way.

Waning Winter

The first of the buds opened in January. Like a kaleidoscope of butterflies clinging to the silvery bare branch of the almond and plum trees, the blossoms arrived as a harbinger of the imminent spring.

It’s been warm here– unseasonably warm. Alarmingly warm. But at times, in the evenings while my husband throws the ball for the dogs and my daughter and I forage for salad greens, it’s hard not to enjoy.

On February 14th, a regular Saturday for us, we drove out to the local winery adjacent to a sprawling almond orchard, just for fun. Sipping glasses of pinot while our daughter toddled across the bare dirt, we walked out beneath the bejeweled branches. With each tiny wisp of breeze, showers of snowy petals rained down over us.

I was especially grateful that we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because that afternoon became, with no expectation or urging, a celebration not of a calendar holiday but rather of a unique landscape and a season of our lives. February won’t look quite like this next year, but I know it too will be breathtaking in its own way.

Starting the Garden

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Since we won’t be on the property full-time until spring, it’s critical that we time the garden prep right on our visits in order to have a productive summer. To that end, we have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that we already have a triumphant patch of garlic and shallots. My goal for our trip up near the first of the year was to prepare, plant, and mulch garlic to overwinter. This trip up I was thrilled to pull back the leaf mulch and discover two-inch green sprouts!

The bad news is that the soil– particularly in the sunny pasture area where our vegetable garden will be located– is solid red clay, full of rocks, and heavy grass that hasn’t had livestock on it in what I would guess is decades. Fortunately the land is slightly sloped, so I hope this encourages decent drainage. This photo is from up the mountain, but it’s basically what we’re working with:

So we will be importing as much organic matter as we can lay our hands on. The first order of business was cleaning up the leaves from under the white oak, Norway maple and sycamore trees, which greatly improved the neatness of the yard. With our toddler on my back or playing in the leaves, my husband and I raked and hauled a dozen or so trailer-loads of leaf litter to the garden site between the sheep pasture, the cluster of outbuildings, and where the house will be built.

We spread the mulch across the grass, eight or so inches thick. In several weeks, we’ll till them into the soil along with as much compost as possible, then mulch again. In the future, my intention is to avoid tilling at all, but I think the clay would remain a solid, impermeable barrier this year without significant amendment.

In the mean time, I’ll get some lettuce seed and other greens started here to transplant in the early spring. I hope that with enough coordination, effort and soil improvement, we’ll manage to yield a respectable harvest this first year.

The Kitchen Floor

We spend a lot of time on the kitchen floor.

When Suzanna started crawling, we barricaded off an area with chairs and padded the floor with colorful spongey squares. When she started climbing the chairs, we replaced them with baby gates. She soon began moving the plastic fences and slipping around them, so they too went on with time.

The encased sewing machine that held the gates in place remains awkwardly, unnoticed as we step around it day by day. The colorful interlocking pads still line half the kitchen. Unused baby toys still lie in a heap in the corner.

Even after the hours of taking turns playing and reading on the floor with our girl while the other cooks or washes dishes, when she’s down for a weekend nap and we’re enjoying a quiet hour together, we find ourself back on the kitchen floor reading cookbooks and gardening books and jotting notes for our future plans.

Maybe it’s because there are no table and chairs in a place where we won’t disturb our sleeping daughter. Maybe it’s because we’re finding an excuse to avoid looming projects. Probably, though, we find ourselves back on the kitchen floor for the fondness of a passing time. This won’t carry forward to our new place and new life for myriad reasons, except in pieces.

And hard and stained and tired as it is, the kitchen floor represents a stillness and history that we secretly cherish.