"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Nursery Chair

There is no part of my identity that I feel more strongly than that of Mom. I'm a thousand facets of a human being but the mom/mommy/ma-MA in me is whom I feel most viscerally. I would survive if I could never write again. I'll never not be a mom.

I feel like a mom when I do the grown-up things associated with taking care of another person: scheduling vaccinations and preparing healthy dinners, for example, or reminding little ones to brush their teeth and not-so-little ones to wear deodorant.

I feel like a mom when I kiss boo-boos and when I accompany an over-tired kiddo to bed for the third time in one night. Driving kids to school, scheduling play dates, fretting over my harshly spoken word or my overreaction to spilled milk. Folding laundry every night and wiping bathroom counters every morning, taking the kids back-to-school shopping and debating when is the "right" age to let my oldest get a cell phone. Worrying about school shootings and the fate of our health insurance. Worrying about mean kids. Teaching my kids about kindness, where babies come from, and why it's so important to vote...listening as they tattle on one another one minute and giggle together the next...standing by them as they navigate their social circles and cheering them on when they, at long last, decide to go out for a team.

I feel like a mom nearly every moment of every day, but I never felt more like a Mother than when I sat with my tiny babes in their Nursery Chair. The Nursery Chair is breastfeeding, reading bedtime stories, singing lullabies, reassuring against nightmares, cooling raging fevers, and rocking--at last--to sleep.

This chair, to me, IS motherhood.

As eager and expectant First Time Parents, Sam and I bought the Nursery Chair about six months into my pregnancy with Evan. We picked a fully-upholstered pale yellow swivel glider because I wasn't sure if my baby would more enjoy rocking back and forth or swaying side to side. (These were the things I had the luxury of thinking about then...as a pre-first time mom.) I sat in the chair in the middle of the Baby Super Center showroom and rubbed my tummy, imagining rocking a sweet, angelic newborn as he peacefully drifted off to sleep in my arms.

We brought the chair home and naively placed it in the baby's room, down the hall from ours. Little did we know that it would be ten long and sleepless months before our high-needs firstborn would spend even a naptime in that room.

By the end of our first week at home with our darling newborn, we smartly moved the chair into our bedroom, where all the action was. Although I had been given excellent nursing support in the hospital by a lactation consultant, we didn't really get the hang of nursing until we got home. I remember the moment, sitting in that yellow chair when, for the first time, the latch happened smoothly and immediately. I cried because, for once, my baby wasn't.

When Evan was two weeks old, it became clear, in one terrible night, that our sleepy newborn had awoken and he was NOT happy. We wouldn't find out until much later that he was uncomfortable because of his multiple food allergies, his tummy upset by nearly everything I ate.

I sat in the yellow chair, facing the window through which I could see my neighbors going about their day as if all was right in the world, while I rocked, swayed, bounced, and tried desperately to soothe my poor, miserable baby. I called Sam at work, by this time nearly as hysterical as Evan. "I can't do this!" I wailed. "Something is wrong and I don't know how to fix it!" I felt unfit and unqualified to continue in this role I had so desperately wanted to assume.

I don't know if Sam said anything other than "I'm on my way home," before I threw the phone down and drew my sobbing baby closer to me. I leaned my head against the back of the chair, my tears streaming down my face, soaking into the pale yellow upholstery.

With time and probiotics, my happy (though still sleepless) baby boy returned. Because he seemed only to be able to sleep when our skin was touching, we spent hours together in that chair. It was in this chair that I made the realization that, despite the fact that I already had 26 5-year olds assigned to be in my kindergarten class, there was no way in hell that I'd be able to return to work. Who, if not me, would stroke this baby's forehead, just so, to soothe him into slumber?

Sitting in that chair, watching the world outside the window continue to spin, I called Sam at work once again.

"We'll sell a car! Hell, sell the house if we need to! We need to find a way for me to stay home with this baby." I was near tears (did I exist solely in that state in those days?) but tears of relief, when Sam agreed that this was what was best for our family. "I'll work on some numbers...I don't think we need to sell a car. Or the house."

My next phone call was to my Principal, who wasn't surprised in the least that I had made the decision I did. "I already have someone in mind to take your place," she said kindly, absolving me of the guilt I felt at having left her in the position of needing to hire a kindergarten teacher just weeks before the first day of school.

By the time Evan was four-months old, I had worn a Mother-shaped indentation in the seat of the Nursery Chair. I had found the exact right position to cradle my nursing babe with one arm, with one of my legs thrown over the arm of the chair, allowing me to recline into the corner of the chair and close my eyes for a few minutes of peace.

I nursed Evan for 14 months, weaning mostly because we were trying for Baby #2 and not having as much success as we did the first time around. As Evan grew into toddlerhood and, at last, my belly began to swell with a second pregnancy, we used the Nursery Chair almost as often as we had in the baby days. Evan was a quiet, introspective toddler who would happily sit with me in that chair and read books together for hours at a time. Big enough for him to squeeze in next to me when my lap became too small to hold him, that chair was where I still rocked him before bed and naptime, where I still sang to him our bedtime songs, and where I kissed the curls on top of his head, quietly terrified that I could never love a second baby as much as I loved this child.

Baby Max was born and, as it does, my heart found plenty of room for both of my boys. The chair, unfortunately, was not so expansive. Instead of spending hours rocking and nursing Baby #2 in the Nursery Chair as I did with Evan, I, more often than not, nursed Baby Max on the couch with Evan and a pile of picture books beside me, or as I sat on the floor in the living room playing trucks with my big boy, trying desperately to prove to him that he hadn't been replaced by this new, needy creature in our home.

Nighttime was when Max and I would melt into the chair. Alone with my newborn at last, I was able to stare at him, tracing every outline of his face with my fingertip as I nursed him in the middle of the night. I'd rock in that chair marveling at the fact that my two boys, born of the same two parents, just two and a half years apart, could be so different in every way. A happy, relaxed baby, Max took to nursing, and every other aspect of babyhood, right away. The chair, with this baby, was not a place of anxiousness and tears, but a place of peace and contentment. Rocking my newborn in that chair, I no longer felt unfit. I no longer had to make desperate, pleading phone calls to my husband. Motherhood felt good.

Time passed quickly with two and, before we knew it, we were ready for Baby #3. For the first time, it occurred to me that this might be our last baby. Our number had always been "3 or 4" but as the baby in my belly and the two boys in our home grew bigger, I started to feel more and more confident that this baby would be the one to complete us.

I was in labor with Molly, moments from meeting her, when that confidence solidified into Knowing. Our last baby. Our family, Complete.

Molly's infancy was different from those of her brothers. Not quite as colicky as Evan, but not quite as relaxed as Max, Molly benefitted from the calm brought forth by my experience as a Mother, and I benefitted from the peace-giving knowledge that This, Too, Shall Pass. With her brothers happily occupying each other's attentions while I nursed Molly, I was able to fully recognize and appreciate the fact that this was the last baby I would ever breastfeed. It was an emotional realization, so I savored her infancy.

For the first time, we weren't in a rush with Molly. We didn't even set up a nursery for her! In part, the decision was made because we knew we were going to be moving to a new town just a few months after her birth, but mostly, we recognized that babies (in our house, anyway) don't need their own room until at least halfway through their first year.

The Nursery Chair was moved back into our bedroom, in the same corner in which it sat for our other two Newborns, by now slightly worn on the seat and arms, but still sturdy as the day we bought it.

We moved when Molly was four months old. When Molly's nursery in the new house was decorated in shades of pale pink (like delicate tulip petals) and brown (like strong coffee with just a splash of cream), the yellow chair certainly didn't go. But it did belong. We placed it next to her small dresser, the drawers of which were filled with impossibly tiny onesies and socks, the last of the baby clothes that would occupy space in our home.

By now my middle-of-the-night brain could only hold on to the lyrics of three songs, which I sang over and over (and over) to Molly as I rocked her in that chair and nursed her around the clock. More often than not, she'd end up in our bed for the night anyway, but I always rocked her in that chair, optimistic that maybe tonight would be the night she would sleep on her own.

For more than 18 months I nursed my last baby. I was in no hurry to wean but she began to show more interest in books and snuggle buddies at nap and bedtime, so I gradually and naturally ended my days as a nursing mother, a role I had held for a total of almost four years.

I wasn't ready to give up the Nursery Chair, though. It stayed in Molly's room (no longer a nursery once she transitioned to her Big Girl Bed well ahead of schedule) and was used daily as we read books and sang those same three songs.

As she grew, she needed more space in her room to hold her things. We replaced the small dresser with bookcases to hold her expanding library. Her floor became littered with the stuffed animals she collected with near-obsession. Her room was becoming cramped. The chair had to go.

There was no way I was getting rid of it, though. I planned to keep that chair forever, someday using it to rock my time-weary Grandma bones between visits from my grown children. Sell the Nursery Chair? No way! Instead, I rearranged our bedroom and made space for it in a corner, right next to a window. No longer needed to nurse a newborn in or to soothe a toddler to sleep in, I sat in that chair All. By. Myself.

I sat in it while I folded laundry or brushed my kids' hair after their showers. I would steal away to that chair, desperate for alone time and to satisfy my need to get some of these words out of my head and into the world. I was in that chair when I wrote many of the words on this blog.

I sat in it while I talked on the phone sometimes, when I needed to have a conversation behind a closed door, away from little ears.

I sat in it the night we made our kids' worlds when we told them we were getting a dog.

 Evan sat in it the night we told him that he had Crohn's disease. I'll never forget his face as he asked, "I'll have it forever?" and we had to say "Yes." He was gently rocking in that yellow chair, back and forth.

And still, after all these years, we sat in it while we read books. Sometimes one of us at a time, sometimes more than one of us piled together, one or two kids balanced on the arms, me, as always, filling that Mother-shaped indentation in the seat cushion.

This summer, we moved the Nursery Chair again, into our new house. For the first time in eleven and a half years, it's clear to me that we don't really need a Nursery Chair anymore. The kids read in their own beds or in the hammocks now. I write (when I can) at the kitchen counter or, like I am right now, on the porch. When my kids need comforting in the middle of the night, I don't hold them and rock them back to sleep anymore. A snuggle and back-tickle is all it takes these days.

More importantly, we don't have space for that chair anymore. I reluctantly agreed with Sam that it might be time for the chair to find a new home, so we listed it for sale on our neighborhood yard sale site. There was some interest in it from several potential buyers, but for one reason or another, we weren't able to complete a sale. Sam suggested that we lower the price to try to get a new buyer interested. That didn't feel right to me, though. I didn't want to sell it for the sake of selling it....as silly as it sounds, I didn't want to sell the chair at all...I wanted to "re-home" the chair.

Sam came up with the brilliant idea to donate the chair to an organization that supports pregnant women and mothers. I did a quick search online and found the perfect place. There is a nonprofit organization in our city that provides in-home support to new mothers. Specially trained doulas come into the home as often as the new mother needs and wants to support her in everything from lactation consultations/bottle-feeding assistance and newborn care to providing cooking, cleaning, or sibling-care services for the family. The organization happens to be the brain- and heart-child of a woman I know, the mother of one of my very first students from my first year of teaching. It felt serendipitous.

I contacted my friend to see if she could use this beloved and love-worn chair.

"We'd love to have your much loved rocker for a family in our program!" she wrote back. The mother is a refugee from Rwanda. She is soon to deliver her baby. This feels just right. Our chair, re-homed. My friend is picking up the chair this afternoon. I could almost cry....happy tears.


Lesson Learned:
I pride myself on the fact that I don't carry sentimental attachments to material things. I can throw my kids' artwork away, donate their baby clothes, or sell a piece of furniture that once belonged to my grandmother without a second thought. I can move out of the home in which my kids were born or learned to walk happily anticipating new memories made in a new place. That pride was shaken when it became clear that giving this chair away is difficult for me.

I don't think I've ever encountered a thing that held so much depth and emotion as this chair did for me. I think that's the Motherhood effect. This chair was my Velveteen Rabbit. I experienced each and every emotional extreme that shaped the mother I am today in this chair. It's very strange: I can look at this chair and say, with my rational mind, "It's just a chair." There's a tiny voice in the corner of my mind, though, that whispers, "But it's not."

I will pass this chair on to a new mom today and, with it, wishes for the same peace, contentment, support, and confidence (and a few quiet moments with closed eyes) that I found in it. Strength and happiness to you, Mama.