Tag Archives: Motherhood

Waiting for Spring

by Kate

She’s standing in the window on the radiator dancing, singing, and telling stories.

ballerina baby in the window

Snow is falling softly.

There is a park across the street and this morning she asked me to take her there. It is cold though, a raw wet dismal damp last day of February cold with snow falling like frozen drops of spittle from a bedraggled old white haired witch in the sky.

I didn’t take her to the park. It was all I could do to push the stroller up the hill this morning with a heavy baby in the sling and a huge bag of sheet music slung over my shoulder, headed to play harp for the old folks who have lost track of time. I haven’t.  I am ready for spring.

So I will let her dance on the radiator on this long grey afternoon, while we dream of spring.

Finding Balance

by Kate

I cannot do everything at once. Lets start with laundry. I have not been caught up on laundry since Francisco was born. It has prevented me from using cloth diapers which triggered a whole heap of guilt in my country girl in the city soul. I am happy to report that I started using cloth diapers again yesterday and (so far) it is going splendidly. My theory is that now I will be forced to do laundry more often.  Also it is almost spring and in the spring I hang all the laundry on the line. I am much, much better at getting the laundry done when half the job involves stretching my limbs under an open sky.

But more to the point, there is this rise and fall, depths of desperation and peak of elation pattern to my life of late. Let me paint a couple brief pictures for you.

I am pushing a jogging stroller (with Olympia in it wearing a velvet party dress and a blanket tucked over her coat and hat and boots and with my bags containing sheet music and library books etc. precariously stacked above her) up a steep city street one handed, using the other hand to boost up and nurse the baby in the sling under my winter coat. I am sweating because it is quite the climb and because I overstayed a tiny bit at Teresa’s house to do one last thing for her after making her breakfast this morning and as a result I am running late (again) to punch into the Memory Care Unit at Canterbury Place and spend half an hour playing the harp. I am trying to get F to nurse as much as he can so he will be relaxed and happy and I won’t have to awkwardly play the harp for the dementia patients WHILE wearing him in the sling and nursing him and using a pashmina to (hopefully) cover my breast while doing so. There is another block uphill to go and I feel like it is too much.

Then.

I am in the sunny room overlooking an enclosed garden, in the Memory Care Unit. I am wearing jeans and boots and long dangling earrings and playing the harp, to the delight of some of the lined familiar faces in the room. There are others I suspect enjoy the harp as well, though their heads are bowed. Francisco is being held in the arms of the beautiful stylish black aide who has 3 year old twins herself, and he is cooing at all the old people and just won a smile from a man who hasn’t smiled all week. Olympia is in the middle of the room, twirling like Shirley Temple. She has been sitting still with apple juice and graham crackers that she knows to expect, looking at my books of music, and now she is dancing. I am proud of her.  There is so much peace and joy in the room, and in this moment, for me.

Or…

Maybe it is the hills. The hills and the stuff, the big bursting bags of badly packed stuff that I carry around with me, the stuff that is not goldfish or wipes or diapers, those I either don’t carry or don’t have enough of. The thought of the drive up the hill to the Dance Studio after loading a toddler and a baby and my overflowing bag of fringed dresses and huge carimbo skirts and hair flowers and a sequined hat and ballroom shoes and the spiked silver five inch heels, and carrying them all up the steep steps after crossing the icy parking lot with a shrill winter wind whipping across the street feels like too, too much. I feel fat and tired and am castigating myself for trying too hard and not staying home and doing my laundry.

Then.

There are flamenco dancers pounding patterns on the other side of the long studio, samba drums on the stereo on our side. Francisco is asleep in the midst of heaps of costuming after a long conversation consisting of much cooing with a beautiful Brazilian woman. I am sweeping a skirt through the air and spinning through a swirl of rose and gold. Olympia is underfoot at my right side in the midst of the dancers, grinning and leaping joyfully but so far I haven’t knocked her over. I strap on the five inch heels I will wear for a Fat Tuesday samba performance at a nursing home, the one at the top of the hill, the one where my harp is, shaking my head at the ridiculous nature of my life.

I am trying to find balance. True to my nature, for me this means samba dancing in platform heels for elderly people, accompanied by a toddler and a fat five month baby. It’s not wonder this involves so much lurching wildly from despair to elation.

And now, I really must do a load of laundry.

By a Hairsbreadth

by Kate

Last Friday, Francisco nearly lost a toe. That morning, I was hosting playgroup for the very first time. After a flurry of slightly wild eyed dusting and mopping and stacking and scrubbing on my part, the house was swept clean and more or less orderly. There was Bach playing, coffee brewing, cream and sugar in cut glass and a freshly baked coffeecake and molasses cookies on the counter. Only one mother, Jen, had arrived. I am pretty sure she was sent straight from heaven. Jen is a nurse, and a really great one. This meant that when I pulled off Francisco’s pajamas to change his diaper and discovered a blue purple, swollen, horribly blistered toe with two strands of my hair that had been wrapped around it all night, touched it, felt the skin on the back come off in my hand leaving the back of the toe entirely raw, and gasped in utter horror, she could speak to me calmly, tell me it was going to be all right, and to call the clinic while she removed the hair. She quietly and competently removed all of the hair from the two toes affected by the hair tourniquet and described the situation on the phone to the nurse and then to my husband, who happened to call as I was heading out the door. There were three mothers there at one point, and none of us had a car. Thank God, I live a five minute walk from a world class children’s hospital.

I put the baby in the sling and headed up the hill. The playgroup moms watched Olympia. We were seen almost immediately. They called in a plastic surgeon with a jewelers loupe who said the hair was gone and they were all “cautiously optimistic” about the toe. They sent me home telling me to bathe it in soapy water and wrap it loosely in gauze and wait for the body to heal.

It is healing beautifully, thank God.

I have never been so grateful to live in this neighborhood, in this city.

Every night I pray that God will keep my family healthy, happy, holy, and whole. Holding my ten toed baby, I am so glad that He did.

Francisco Hidalgo

by Kate

The two year old is dropping blueberry jam onto the rug and the baby is in a basket, and if I type quickly enough I just may have time to tell you that Francisco Hidalgo Stapleton arrived, belatedly, on September 14th, 2012.

Francisco was in no hurry to enter the world, and in fact had to be coaxed out at great length, but he emerged with fat cheeks, a full head of hair, and a sweet disposition juxtaposed with the occasional fiery Latin temper tantrum when he is cold, or hungry, or generally frustrated by existence outside the womb. Along with the birth of my son, my creativity seems to have experienced a rebirth- but you will just have to take my word for it during the next few days or weeks, as I attempt to balance the needs of a toddler, an infant, a husband, and my elderly Polish refugee.

There are more pictures of Francisco Hidalgo here.

And now, it is time to feed the hungry baby and clean up that blueberry jam.

Singing and Stones

by Kate

I have been singing a strange tune. Twice a month I play the harp in a large sunlit room in the locked down Memory Care Unit for Alzheimer and Dementia patients up the street from my home. They are a kind and appreciative audience, especially when my toddler daughter twirls and spins to the music, claps, and opens her mouth to sing joyfully along. I haven’t been feeling joyful this month. The toddler has been sick and clinging close for weeks on end, kicking me wildly during long and restless nights. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the elderly neighbor for whom I am caretaker and de facto nurse fell ill with pneumonia just before Christmas, and has just returned from an extended stint in the hospital and in Rehab. My responsibility to the young and the old has left me feeling unusually drained and weary, and as though I have little left to give.

So I am singing a lullaby. I’ve been learning lots of lullabies on the harp lately, as the toddler and the elderly audience are equally appreciative of them. When my daughter was born my mother gave me a beautiful illustrated book of lullabies from all over the world, and I’ve slowly been discovering new and beautiful songs. The one I stumbled across yesterday and have been singing ever since is from Scotland. It’s a strange little song, with a raw honesty to the lyrics and a bit of a bleat of despair in the melody that struck a chord in me. Here are the lyrics:

O Can Ye Sew Curtains

O Can Ye Sew Cushions? And can ye sew sheets?
And can ye sing ballooloo when the bairn greets?
And hee and haw birdie, and hee and haw lamb;
And hee and haw, birdie, my bonnie wee lamb!

Chorus:
Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ ye?
Black’s the life that I lead wi’ ye;
Many o’ ye, Little for to gie ye.
Hey-o, way-o, what will I do wi’ you?

Now hush a baw lammie, and hush a baw dear,
Now hush a baw lammie, thy minnie is here.
The wild wind is ravin’, thy minnie’s heart sair,
The wild wind is ravin’, but ye dinna care.

Somehow, singing this song is a great relief. It seems to lessen the weight of the toddler who is even now clinging to my neck. All of this has made me think about my father and the stone. Unlike many men his age, my father is not retired and living a peaceful life with the prospect of grandchildren to brighten his days. Instead, he is a full time farmer tilling the soil and toiling to turn organic produce into profits. With two children still in high school, a rotating cast of  twentysomethings camping out in the attic, and two elderly people living in the back rooms the big white farmhouse is still bursting at the seams. Still, I know that my father is grateful for his life- for his good work, his land, his home, perhaps especially his wife. I asked him over Christmas if he was grateful for his children as well. He hesitated. and said “My children are a stone upon my chest.”

I know that my father loves us, but he has a lot in common with the Scottish mother sewing curtains long ago. Raising nine children has always been hard,  and doing so on one income is a Herculean feat in this day and age. The prospect of launching nine lives successfully into the world is a daunting one. As my father would tell you, his battle is not finished by any means. He is still carrying that weight. And so, the day before Christmas, I headed down to the barn and pulled up a heavy slab of sandstone. I took it into the house and inscribed a message on the front, and then turned it over and had all of my siblings sign the back. We wrapped it, left it under the tree, and dragged it out to present to my father on Christmas morning.

My father loves that stone. Mom says he lays on the couch now and then with it balanced across his broad chest, just to feel the weight. He says it feels right. I believe that it feels like singing that Scottish lullaby. There is a powerful release in singing out the darkness- and in doing so, there is room for new hope.

Dressing Up and Running Wild

by Kate

Yesterday we left the city sparkling in the bright December sun and traveled to a tiny country church with the steepest set of steps I have ever seen.

We were there for the baptism of our godson, Gideon Josef.

Gideon is a remarkably peaceful, contented, and quiet child. This makes him distinctly different from his two year old sister Avila and my daughter Olympia. Actually Avila wasn’t so bad, but as for my child… Well. Any of you who have stood in front of a silent congregation holding a very vocal and squirming toddler can probably understand why I have claw marks on my face and neck this morning. I was fiercely engaged in a silent and public wrestling match with Olympia while standing in the front of the church before the baptismal font, until finally recognizing that she fervently wanted to be reunited with Avila, and gratefully surrendering her to the grandparents in the front pew. Meanwhile, the priest dropped his cane, and Gideon threw out his arm to ward off the holy water and knocked the vials of chrism oil onto the floor. In the end the cane and chrism were retrieved, the toddler was pacified with a camera, and the baby was duly baptized. Then there was cake, and time for the little girls to run wild. Note Avila’s truly fantastic fur coat.

The friendship between these two little girls has been a delight to watch. They have always had a special connection. It was interesting to watch an affinity so clearly pronounced between tiny babies. They are just getting old enough to do more than stare delightedly into each others eyes. I suspect this means they are on the verge of getting into a great deal of trouble.

They come by the friendship, fur coats, and propensity for trouble making honestly enough, as their mothers have spent many years dressing up, dreaming, and getting in and out of trouble together.

Granted we weren’t usually that dressed up. That picture was taken at the in the midst of the time we spent living in a blue cabin and running a theatre company together. Rebecca made all the costumes, so the cabin was full of them, and moments like these flowed out of our daily life. Of course, our daily lives tend to lead to dress up on a regular basis.

I am delighted to see the friendship (and the dressing up) continuing in the next generation.

 

You can read more about Rebecca (and her farm!) here:

Sunday at Sparta Farm

 

 

 

A Tiny Tall Tale

by Kate

Last night we went out to the very glamorous and very hip Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to see the Bellydance Superstars and to bid adieu to Pittsburgh’s amazing Zafira Dance Company, performing as a troupe for the last time. The Theater is a gorgeous old movie palace, and as is fitting for a theater named after Gene Kelly (who grew here in Pittsburgh) they book lots of very dynamic dance performances. I was excited to see the dancing, but to be completely honest I was even more excited to four inch stiletto heels in public.

Oh, it has been a long time since I’ve been in the spike heel giantess mood. When you are six feet tall standing in bare feet, the decision to wear four inch heels is quite a commitment. I am grateful on a daily basis that my husband is six foot five, and when I met him I was so excited about this fact that I wore high, high heels every chance I got and reveled in the startled looks of passerby. Lately, however, I’ve been wearing bright fuschia flats, cowboy boots, gladiator sandals, and barefeet. I just haven’t been feeling the high heel vibe.

I realized how much I missed it last night, slipping on a pair of black stiletto with skinny jeans. I threw on a blazer from Banana Republic that I found last time I was at Goodwill, and felt very chic. Olympia was in a stylish striped top and Casey was tall and handsome and the theater was beautiful and the dancing was amazing and all was well.

Until right after we took this picture. Olympia had kicked off her shoes and was dancing and running wildly through the lobby, until she slipped and came down hard while biting deep into her bottom lip. We mopped up the blood and put her in the sling, where she slept peacefully through the second half of the show. She also slept peacefully when, while attempting to perform the challenging feat of walking down three steps, I caught my (four inch) heel and went tumbling forward through space, managing to stab myself in the foot with one spiked heel before catching myself clumsily with my arms and knees. Except for the stabbed foot, I was fine, and the swing just swung like a hammock on a gentle sea and Olympia slept right through it, but the 50 people behind me let out a collective gasp of horror.

I turned red and beat a quick stagger of a retreat, thinking three things: 1) I love that sling, 2) Perhaps I should put some of the energy I spend practicing dance into learning to walk, and 3) This totally did not dampen my desire to wear high heels in public. But perhaps I need new ones?