A girlfriend who came to visit over the summer recently sent us a box full of neatly folded baby girl clothes too small for her daughter, Caroline. Tucked in among layers of pink corduroy and cotton, already washed into that velvety texture indicative of a well used hand-me-down, was a note: Thanks for having us, especially during the newborn stage of family life, it said.
A growing belly and a crib-furnished room do little by way of preparing new parents for the slew of transformations that ultimately dictate life after baby – or, as Mary so poetically put it, the “newborn stage of family life.” That newborn stage is packed with daily challenges, not just in how you and your partner juggle the 24/7 care of a wriggly little person, but also in how you come to terms with the redefinition of your lives.
Because although nine months of pregnancy seems like ample time to prepare for a baby, there really is no preparing for the way in which your life is thrown off its axis by the addition of an infant. “Your life will never be the same” is a mantra that is repeated by so many friends and family members prior to the little one’s arrival, yet never truly means anything until you meet that little person face-to-face, and think to yourself, ‘Ah haa, so this is what they mean.’
This bombshell is part of the miracle of parenthood. It’s also cause for much soul-searching in the months following that first introduction to your new child, because it is during this time that you realize the full extent of your transformation.
Nothing alters your life as markedly as a baby. So I suppose it’s appropriate that your psyche undergoes something of a makeover in the process. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily expected, or even really welcomed in some instances. In my experience, this renovation of the soul has been piloted by a fist-waving contractor who has no qualms about taking a wrecking ball to the foundation so painstakingly built beneath my feet over the past 29 years.
Eight months after meeting my daughter for the first time, and I just now feel I’m beginning to know myself in my life’s new wardrobe, as a mother.
Every day, I welcome and embrace a new little piece of the person that is Elodie’s mother. The person who now spends Friday evenings canning pears. The person who wipes germs off the handle of the cart at the grocery store, who in fact has germ-cleaning wipes in her purse. The person who no longer considers waxing her eyebrows much of a priority.
This week, I got acquainted with another little dimension of my new self: The person who carves jack-o-lanterns.
I spent the weekend at my father’s house in Taos, N.M., where I discovered (rediscovered, perhaps) a fancy for carving pumpkins for the dubious holiday of Halloween. Elodie is too young to really appreciate a face etched into a gourd and lit from within, and so without my teenage sister’s prompting, I doubt I would have embarked upon any kind of pumpkin-carving project this Halloween.
But my sister Lexi had grown these pumpkins from seed in the soil of her rooftop Taos garden; pumpkins that were bright orange and misshapen and likely to poke your skin if you grabbed them too tightly by the stem.
I volunteered for the pumpkin-carving mission, which started first with my sister climbing a ladder into the garden, which is perched on top of the garage (and with no easy access, making the development of these pumpkins even more miraculous, in my mind) where she harvested three plump and sort-o-round gourds, and one smaller oblong gourd deemed Elle’s Pumpkin.
We marched our carroty-orange prizes into the kitchen, where carving tools awaited us, on top of the kitchen table, which was covered with newspaper. Feeling the need to be utilitarian, I offered to be the day’s official pumpkin-scooper – leaving the more creative design work to Lexi.
(As it turned out, Elle, who wasn’t much help with pumpkin carving, preferring to put fistfuls of pumpkin goo into her mouth instead of the trash, took a nap and I returned to the pumpkin table.)
My proposition to do all the squash scraping, and none of the carving, seemed suspect to my sister. “But that’s the fun part,” she explained, shaking her head.
So I chose the biggest, lying-on-its side pumpkin, set it in front of my chair, and waited for inspiration.
Soon, the side-lying squash was notched with a crawling spider and a web. Not bad, I would say, for someone who hasn’t carved a pumpkin in more than a decade.
Elle’s pumpkin fell next to my now-surer carving hand. The pumpkin face’s googly eyes and four teeth – two on top, two on bottom – were a fitting tribute to baby Elle.
Later that night, we hunted down four candles. I was surprised at the level of excitement I felt lighting up those hollowed-out gourds, then watching them cast shadows onto the wall.
Watching Elle pat her pumpkin’s cheek, I was glad I had heeded the advice of my much younger sister. Thankfully, I hadn’t given up participating in the “fun part,” and so was reintroduced to myself as a pumpkin-carver.
And a pretty decent one, at that.