Wednesday, January 19, 2011

work yet to be done

F I R S T   H O U R
by Sharon Olds

That hour, I was most myself. I had shrugged
my mother slowly off, I lay there
taking my first breaths, as if
the air of the room was blowing me
like a bubble. All I had to do
was go out along the line of my gaze and back,
out and back, on gravity's silk, the
pressure of the air a caress, smelling on my
self her creamy blood. The air
was softly touching my skin and tongue,
entering me and drawing forth the little
sighs I did not know as mine.
I was not afraid. I lay in the quiet
and looked, and did the wordless thought,
my mind was getting its oxygen
direct, the rich mix by mouth.
I hated no one. I gazed and gazed,
and everything was interesting, I was
free, not yet in love, I did not
belong to anyone, I had drunk
no milk, yet– no one had
my heart. I was not very human. I did not
know there was anyone else. I lay
like a god, for an hour, then they came for me,
and took me to my mother.

* * *

Genevieve is a little over a month old. She sleeps a lot and well–six and a half full hours last night. She nurses easily and less often than her big brother did at her age. She smiles often, usually when falling asleep. My only real difficulties with her being her need to be nursed every hour between 7pm and midnight and a complete refusal to sleep alone in her bassinet. She likes being held, and wants to sleep close to her father and me.

I wanted a daughter. I knew my second child was a girl in my first month of pregnancy– I woke up from a unexpected afternoon nap having dreamt of hot buttered bread, steam rising off the freshly baked loaf. I knew then I was having a girl. And yet since she was born I've found myself captive to a host of unexpected fears. When Ike was a baby I was not anxious about whether he'd be handsome man someday. And, of course, he is a very cute little boy. But he was a ugly newborn: his head was cone shaped and his face was squished; he had big creases under his eyes and he looked extremely grumpy most the time. I thought all this was very funny and adorable. But since Genevieve's birth I've found myself surprisingly anxious about her appearance. She has my pale, sensitive skin and her baby acne is much worse than Ike's was. She has what looks like a birth mark on the back of half of her left hand and I fear it will cause her embarrassment in junior high. I have watched the growing of her eyelashes, hoping they grow long and curly, unlike my short, straight lashes. I scan family photos on both sides of the family, wondering whose facial structure she has inherited. I did none of this with her brother.

It's ridiculous. I am abashed that I am so concerned about Genevieve's appearance when I was so disinterested in Isaiah's. And it places the struggle women have with their bodies, or rather–the love-hate relationship I have with my own–directly in my lap. I want to model confidence and  self-acceptance for my daughter; to be beautiful by being at home in my body, not obsessed with its flaws or shortcomings. Which is just the kind of thing I can pencil in on the to-do list for tomorrow.

{ p o e t r y   w e d n e s d a y }


Molly Sabourin said...

Oh Amber, it's so nice to have you back - and congratulations on the birth of baby Genevieve! That Christmas card is fabulous. Well done.

My own girls are five and nine and I find myself nitpicking at them to stay neat and groomed - much more so than I do at my boys. You describe quite eloquently that tension a mother feels to raise lovely but not vain but also not slobbish or ostentatious or petty but rather kind, creative and graceful daughters (with long curly eyelashes).

I loved your post. Thank you.

Ser said...

I LOVE this post. I don't, of course, have a daughter, but this is just the sort of thing I have imagined happening to me if I were to have a girl. I'm glad you are blogging again! And congratulations on the birth of your daughter--a good sounding birth at that. Oh, and just to make this a complete ramble: I love the poem, too. Sharon Olds has some amazing poems about motherhood, but I hadn't read this one before. Concise and well-written commentary on blogs is what I'll pencil in on my to-do list for tomorrow.

Julia said...

The poem is great and matches the picture so well.

Your last line made me laugh. Things to do, indeed. I have two daughters advice. But, a really wise midwife recently told me: "Just remember, you are the right mother for your daughters." Somehow, as absurd as it sounds, and very much something you have to take on faith, that statement has helped me. So, I'll say it to you too (because, in fact, I do believe it): "You are the right mother for your daughter."

Kris Livovich said...

Welcome back, Amber! What a beautiful girl and what a beautiful name!

There is so much pressure on daughters. It's ok for boys to have scars on their chins from childhood falls, but never ok for girls. When you decide the right path to take please share it with the rest of us.

amber said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I am planning one of these moments to comment on all your blogs too. But forgive me if I don't get around to it until next Wednesday!


Beth said...

Congratulations to you all! And of course, so good to have you back with a Poetry Wednesday post. I think I need to read more Sharon Olds. To be so new to the world to not have an anxious thought, not know what it is to experience love or hate. Bliss I guess but not a state we can remain in, for our own good I am thinking.

I often wonder how my own daughter will fit in, her skin and her hair so different from mine. And how will she feel when she has to introduce her friends to her parents, her brothers. That I cannot worry about today because right now, I have four children that need to be fed and three to be napped.

Bethany Patchin said...

You are so beautiful and stylish yourself, she will mimic you and do just fine. You were a mentor to me in beauty the first time I met you! I copied your hair later and was tickled we were wearing similar shirts.

You're also in New York, a place where beauty gets mixed in with all sorts of economic things, and unattainable yet satisfying visual perfection is plastered on huge screens and billboards. It's an extra challenge to be an American woman. But you'll love her, and you'll give her freedom, and let her make mistakes, and encourage her. Hold back the fears and well-meaning pointers whenever you can - I was so sensitive to anything my mom said, and I needed to make my mistakes, even if it meant that somebody at school would point them out unkindly. If you model your own beauty in a kind way, and Charles affims her, she'll be pretty stinkin' solid.