Friday, May 4, 2012

Beginnings, Endings, and Plastic Insulation: 12 days with Eli

It feels like Eli has been with us a long time. Whereas with Noah we had a plan of how we do things- I had 12 weeks maternity leave, a plan for after those weeks, a breast pump, good friends to copy and lots of books- with Eli we really have no idea, and are taking things as they come. Thank God for the help of family. The thing is, without a plan, we also feel like we should find a new rhythm pretty fast, particularly for Noah's sake. So in my signature style, I started a couple of Google docs to try to get the house running again. Then Eug and I pondered the fact that Eli isn't yet two weeks old, and is still completely unpredictable.

Which started me trying to express how these moments with a newborn are at once very good, physically draining, and fleeting (many of you know this already).

On Sunday, Eli's sixth day, we carefully devised a plan to go to a cafe for coffee during Noah's nap. Since we never taught Noah to nap by himself, this is a complicated science. After several hours of implementing, we succeeded and sat down to our coffee with Noah in his stroller and Eli asleep in my arms.

At the next table came a mother and grown daughter. The mother had fairly serious dementia, and she knew it, so the conversation was so painful as she tried valiantly to make the lunch enjoyable for her daughter. She had dressed her absolute best, and she didn't seem to understand the menu options so she tried to stick with a safe "sounds nice" and "yes I'll have that". For the daughter, the moment was pretty strained as she tried to get something her mom would genuinely enjoy- she'd even brought along a small bottle of champagne for her mom- and you could only imagine everything surrounding this weekly lunch date. It was clear that they were both trying to make the best of a really tough time of life, and it was also clear that this kind of pain- the pain of aging and nearing death- is unavoidable.

And there were Eug and I, drinking our coffee in near-silence and trying not to fall asleep (and, I suppose, eavesdropping on our neighbors).

The daughter looked over to our table a lot- 6 day-olds get a lot of attention- and when we left, she commented on what a good time this was in our lives, and on how much I should enjoy the blessing of having babies. It was a strange juxtaposition. We are blessed to be celebrating the beginning of life. But there are endings, too: With two children, I wonder if that very significant life stage of bearing our own biological children is over (although we don't yet have a plan for family size). Unexpectedly, pregnancy felt like the most basic fulfillment of what my body was meant to do, and I spent a big chunk of my twenties either thinking about pregnancy, actually pregnant, or recovering from pregnancies. There are other endings too, as we adjust to uncertainty on how best to manage our careers/vocations in a family of four.

So the time is good, but I am learning to enter into- to really feel- the beginnings and the endings and even the sleep deprivation and hormone changes.

Lest you really didn't want to read all that, our other discovery is that Cape Town can be cold, houses are not built for cold (though we have a wonderful fireplace) and that our 100-year-old wooden windows have really large holes.

In the U.S. we'd use window kits that use clear plastic which are shrunk onto the windows to act as an insulating layer for the duration of the winter. Here in Cape Town, we haven't been able to find that plastic so we taped clear trash bags onto our upstairs windows. They're not as invisible as the Boston version, but they're a really good option if you're in an old Cape Town house. We can't cover the large downstairs windows- nor would we want to- but our two bedrooms are now a lot warmer. It's also our biggest achievement since Eli was born, so I pretty much have to tell you about it.

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