Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All Belly

I didn't even realize that I was staring at the two young girls in bikinis on Ventura Beach until Marcos' voice broke me from my trance.

"Stop staring at those girls, you're gonna make me jealous."

"I can't help it," I whimpered.  "I know I'll never wear another bikini again."

I guess I was spoiled.  During my pregnancy with Gabriel I only gained 13 pounds.  After he was born, and then died, the differences in my body were subtle and undetectable to anyone but me.  At the time, I figured it was the least God could do for me - My heart was irreparably broken when I lost my son, but at least the rest of my body stayed relatively in tact, giving me a fighting chance at roping another husband someday.

True to ironic form, the defining characteristic of my relationship with God, my second-worst fear, that I would never have another child after Gabriel, was put to rest on May 3, 2014, when my beautiful Eden was born a healthy 9 pounds, 11 ounces.  Through the duration of my pregnancy I received unwelcome comments about my size, questions about how many babies I was carrying and whether I was sure and inquiries about whether I was going to "pop" any day.  When Eden was born the doctor immediately asked whether I was diabetic during the pregnancy, and she was pricked to have her blood sugar levels checked three times before they would discharge us from the hospital.  She was healthy as could be.  She was perfect.

I knew that being "all belly" while carrying a nearly 10 pound baby would take it's toll on my body.  I just didn't know people would be so forthright in pointing it out.  When, at about 7 months postpartum someone told me that I was "too pretty to not do something about that baby weight," I was crushed.  I could probably lose the weight, but the shape of my body would never be the same.  That's just life for many women after having a baby.

I'd finally made a decision to buckle down.  One night, or perhaps I should say early morning, at the Grenadier, drowning in shots of tequila and a bag of Cheetos, I decided the combination self-loathing/inaction would end that night.  The next day I started a change in my food habits that would change my life.  Then three days after that, I learned I was pregnant again.

I was able to keep up with the food changes for a time but it wasn't long before my fourth pregnancy began to show itself, as fourth pregnancies tend to do.  Of course, people had already been asking me for months if I was pregnant again, so at least when I actually was, I had an excuse.

Just two days ago the nurse practitioner congratulated me on my very moderate weight gain this pregnancy - only 20 pounds overall.  "You've done a great job."

"I don't feel like I've done a great job."

"The numbers say otherwise."

I know I haven't handled the visibility of pregnancy very well.  I'm short or non-responsive to the people who dare to comment - There's a surprising number of people, a surprising number of strangers, who will dare to comment.  I avoid the mirror after a shower until I've had a chance to get dressed.  I marvel at the distinctive presentation of limbs, hands, and feet that I am able to see with this baby's activity, and know that I couldn't see with such definition if I hadn't maitained a fairly healthy body fat contact.  But I'm quickly saddened by the knowledge that when the baby is born, I'll be left with the deflated abdomen that was troubling me.

"You'll have a healthy body that was able to give life to two healthy babies," people will say.  "Your belly, your body, every mark, is something to take pride in."  But I don't, and I'm not ever going to be that mom that does.   My body still failed two babies.  If something were to happen to Eden, or Rocco, or if Marcos were to leave, I'd be left an older, more stretched out, more emotionally damaged version of the woman I was when I first set out to re-build my life in the aftermath of Gabriel's death and the divorce. I'd be completely unmarketable.  And I'm not yet certain enough to believe I won't ever have to market myself again.  

Maybe Marcos will be disgusted with me, realizing I look nothing like the woman he started dating.  Or maybe Eden will be ashamed by my appearance, asking me not to attend events with her so her friends won't see me and prospective boyfriends won't think she's going to end up like me.  Maybe - definitely - I worry too much about these things, but vanity doesn't die easily, any more than the simple remedy, "Just work out a little," provides an answer as easily as it is spoken.

A pregnant woman's body goes through very significant changes in a very short amount of time, in a presentation that is very public and apparent and seemingly interpreted as a pass for anyone to say any number of things about our bodies.  We're just supposed to roll with it, or endure accusations that we are just ungracious or hormonal, overly sensitive.

I love my children, and I love that I was blessed with the opportunity to carry them and grow them for the time that I did and have.  I wouldn't give back the experience, but it's come with its own price.

$6,000.00 for a tummy tuck and belly button reconstruction.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worth All The While

My escape from the office was later than I planned and I would be late to the last day of mock trial auditions.  Still, Rocco was restless and as I am Rocco's puppet these days, almost unwillingly my car turned into the Jack in the Box drive-thru to order a milkshake to Rocco through the afternoon.  Within seconds, my mind flashed back through another occasion that I found myself in the same drive-thru, ten years ago

It was a Wednesday afternoon.  The phone rang, and those days everyone just answered, even if they were driving.  I recognized the number - Frito Lay.  Sean was calling me on his lunch break, which was unusual.  I stuffed the phone to my ear, holding it in place with my shoulder while I drove my stick-shift through the drive-thru to collect my food. 

"How was your final?"  I answered that I felt good about the exam in Irish history, for which he'd helped me study.  The last few weeks between us had been very rocky, but on Super Bowl Sunday, just a few days prior, there seemed to be some sort of shift.  Sean was different, seemingly free from whatever had been troubling him. Since Sunday he had been relaxed and comfortable.  Happy.  I thought.  

For those reasons I was surprised when we argued that Wednesday night, and crushed by some of the awful things he said to me.  When his words prompted my tears I ran to the bathroom at the Grenadier, taking one last look behind me to see the back of his head. 

We had been so up and down.  HE had been so up and down.  When he didn't answer my calls the following day, I wasn't surprised, and decided that he needed a few days to himself.  Monday was Valentine's Day, and we could talk then.  I had no reason to suspect that by Thursday morning, he would have killed himself.   

Though he crosses my mind every day, there are times in my life when I think about Sean more than others.  In my mind we went through a break-up facilitated by his death, a period of mourning the relationship as I mourned his death, and arrived at a point where I miss the best friend that I had in him.  His death taught me that I want to live; his angst taught me that I want to be happy; his points of weakness taught me to try to overcome my own; his absence has taught me that he was not just a moment in time.  He was my dear friend and kindred spirit, and I love him.  With my first law school acceptance letter, at graduation, even when Ben proposed to me, I wished I could pick up the phone and call my best friend.

Perhaps the recent Facebook campaign for suicide awareness week has brought Sean once again to the front of my brain.  Or maybe it's the recent surge of suicide and other senseless deaths among those around me in the last several months. Maybe it's the ways I see that my best friend is still effected by her father's death many years ago.  Maybe it's because death, especially shocking, premature death, holds a special place in my broken heart while others are so afraid to look at death and say its name.

Sean's own death sent a ripple through my life.  Not long after Sean killed himself, another regular from the bar, Scotty, shot and killed himself too.  And a year or so after that he was followed by James.  Another two years later, Nick was dead of an overdose.  All of them were 25 or 26 years old.  When I reflect back on each of their lives I can identify a moment when I saw that desperation in them, never imagining that it could lead to the end that it did.  After the string of deaths of friends from the bar that followed Sean's, and after my bar exam study partner also killed herself, I began to think of myself as cursed.  Looking back, that seems rather vain.  I don't really blame myself anymore, but instead have learned to see that I was a friend to them, maybe even kept them around a bit longer than they might have stayed if not for me, and others who crossed their path in their last days and weeks and months.

I'm not angry at Sean, though people say I should be.  They would have me believe that he was selfish when I know he was really just very troubled, and very drunk.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of point in being angry at a dead man.  Besides, I don't really want to be angry at him.  I miss him, and I'm sorry that he felt like his friends and family will be better off without him.  I can guarantee that not one of his friends and not one member of his family has been better since he's been gone.  I'm one of several people who still misses him every day.  I wish I could tell that to him.  I wish I could say to him the words I quoted in his eulogy, "For what it's worth, it was worth all the while."

While at lunch today Marcos rattled off some surprising statistics related to suicide.  It's prevalent and pervasive, and though I choose not to be angry about it, the suicide of those around me has plagued me in all of the years that I've spent living since they chose to die.  Of course, the problem is that after it happens it's easy to look back and see the signs, but when you're in those last moments with someone you really have no idea that it's coming.  We can't live with the assumption that our friends are going to kill themselves.  However, we can be the friend that we would want if we were in need.  We can reach out when we're feeling alone and desperate ourselves.  We can live life like it's short and hard and beautiful and wonderful because it is each of these things at some point and I want every single day of it that belongs to me, and I want everyone in my life to be there for those days too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Space In Between Then and Now

The sight of the young boy sitting on the curb by the street sign right outside of my front door caught me off guard.  He turned, saw Eden, and released a warm and sincere smile.  The corners of his mouth tugged at my heart, prompting the morning's first tears.  The young boy was older than Gabriel would be, and the first of several kids that would gather outside of my front door, a designated neighborhood bus stop.  This morning is the first day of school for Bakersfield City and Kern High School Districts, and in just one more year, Gabriel would have been among those students, but as life would have it, he'll never sit outside of our front door waiting for his bus.

There was no time to dwell on the matter.  I'd hardly had a chance to stand still all morning.  My arm compulsively hit snooze on my alarm at 5:40 AM, but my mind was dragged to consciousness as I remembered that I would have to leave early to see Victoria off for the first day of her last year of high school.

I remember the first day of my own senior year so clearly.  For the first time in four summers, I hadn't taken a class to get ahead during the school year.  Instead, I'd chosen to stay home for the summer to take care of a then-3 month old Victoria.  My duties included waking every morning when she woke, tending to her while my mom got ready for work and all throughout the day, maintaining the schedule my parents had developed for her, and presenting a well-adjusted baby for the whole family to enjoy in the evenings.  When it came time to select a daycare provider in anticipation of the start of the school year, I went to every interview with my parents.  My mom suggested that Victoria start part time during the last two weeks of the summer, to get her and I used to the separation.

"No, please. I only have two more weeks with her.  Just let her stay."  My mom agreed, and so the first day of my senior year would also be Victoria's first day of "stranger" daycare.  She was being bathed at the sink when I left.  As I told her good-bye my eyes began to water.  "I can't believe you're sending her off to some stranger that she hasn't even spent any time with, and you're going to leave her there all day."  During this, her fourth go-around at raising a child, the process had become just a part of life for my mom, but I struggled to let go of that little girl, the first baby I'd bonded to so closely.

Fast forward to the days Eden and Gabriel were born.  The earth didn't move.  I didn't feel a change within me, or overcome with a love that I'd never known.  I'd first learned how deeply love can run when Victoria came around.

I burst through the living room door, Eden confused in my arms, my face already streaked with tears.

"Did I make it?"  The 5'10" teenage girl that I'd once held and cared for as a 3 month old baby stood for inspection before our mother, making wardrobe adjustments, her backpack already strapped to her.  There was laughter at my unusually open display of emotion before I found myself sandwhiched in a hug between my "baby" sister, and my own baby girl.

Even as a high school student, I knew this time flies by.  That's what led to my decision to stay home with her that summer, and the professionally challenging choice to take an extra 6 weeks off for maternity leave when Eden was born.  It's only a matter of time before Eden is stepping out of the front door to join the other students at the bus stop, and not long after that, she'll be a senior in high school.  The boys, who already smile at her almost involuntarily, charmed by the pretty baby, will be calling her for dates before very long.  One day I'll see her standing at the top of the staircase, dressed for her senior prom, just as I envisioned the day we first set foot in what would become our home.  And I know that in that time Gabriel will always be missing, from the moments that I'll never have with him to the moments with Eden that he won't be there to witness.  He won't go to the senior prom; he won't be there to hassle Eden's date as he waits for her to get ready for hers.  They'll never walk out to that bus stop together.

There's a space between each of these moments that will always bear Gabriel's absence, though the moments are so full these days with the joy that my little girl brings.  Today she's just my little girl, 15 months old, learning in leaps and bounds, unaware that the days are fleeting and that not one of them is promised to us.  And here I am, knowledgeable of how swiftly the days can turn into months that turn into years, all of which can be taken from us instantly.  I'll blink, and Victoria's graduation day will be here.  I can't slow down time, but I can enjoy the space in between.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Matter of Days and Dreams

The clothes in the baby aisles call to me in their soft blues and pinks and I ask myself if this one particular sleeper is cute enough to buy, even though I might not use it.  Even after momentary consideration this pregnancy, I've decided not to learn this baby's gender until birth.

I maintain my obvious reasons.  After hearing at 21 weeks the most devastating news a parent could hear about their child, that he would die not long after birth, things like whether the unborn baby I am carrying is a boy or a girl just don't seem to matter much.  What matters is that his or her head is whole and round, and he or she appears healthy.  That is all I can ask for after Gabriel.

Not knowing the baby's gender is also an economically efficient decision.  I lovingly stroke the set of onesies with the fireman print, telling myself if she's a girl I can just put a red bow in her hair, but ultimately leaving them on the shelf.  Cute baby clothes will still be there when Part 2 is born.  He or she doesn't need frilly pink or bold blue sleepers; Eden's yellow and green hand-me-downs will serve just fine until inevitably, a few gifts start rolling in, or we have an opportunity to do some shopping.  We have a bassinet, a car seat, a stroller, a crib, and an initial stash of diapers. . . A baby starter kit.  We have a house full of love that is prepared to welcome our new baby, even if my nesting instincts remind me daily of one more thing I'd like to have done before Part 2 arrives.

But the core reason that I've chosen not to learn this baby's gender until birth is simply for one more day to dream.  I've seen this baby in my mind, a little boy playing in the mud; a little girl learning to ride a bicycle; my son on his first day of kindergarten; my daughter and I picking out her first tube of mascara; a young man pitching in Major League Baseball; a young woman arguing before the Supreme Court.  I've seen him, I've seen her and I love this child, no matter who he or she is, but I want one more day for him or her to be anything.

From the minute my heart told me that Gabriel was the boy I had been anticipating for so long, my mind began crafting dreams for him.  He might be President, cure cancer, run a world famous restaurant, or become an Olympic Gold Medalist.  Those dreams were brought to a sudden, screaming halt by a doctor who wouldn't know me if she saw me on the street, but whose face is burned into my brain as the face of the woman who destroyed my world, and my dreams.  Gabriel would never be President, never cure cancer, and would never win an Olympic Gold Medal.  I would probably never bring him home from the hospital.  There was a significant chance he wouldn't even be born alive.

Gabriel was born alive.  The minutes and the hours ticked by, and then the days.  I did take him home from the hospital.  The dreams that I had re-shaped for him - dreams of a live birth, some hair on the parts of his head that did form, a Catholic baptism, a chance to bring him home to the yellow house - came to fruition.

I know that I got more than the mother of an anencephalic can ask for, and I am thankful.  Then ten days that Gabriel lived will carry me for the rest of my life.  I know that I've been blessed but I also know that there are children born the same day as Gabriel, and today they're four years old, and my son is dead, and that's a pain that can't always be assauged. I was given an opportunity to come to terms with the fact that my son would die moments after he was born, and he lived for much more than moments, but that doesn't fill the hole that was left when he died ten days after birth.  I have those ten days to cling to, but I'd rather be holding my son.  I want to be a mother who doesn't have to measure the time she had with her son in days.

The day that the doctor showed me Part 2's beautiful round skull, my guarded heart began to relax.  Once you're naivete has been broken by the words "incompatible with life," you know that life is the only thing that really matters.  Maybe Part 2 won't be a world-renowned scientist, or Grammy Award Winning singer, or even very good at tee-ball.  But my dreams live on another day in the tiny life, whoever he or she is and will be, that grows inside of me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

So Now What?

I paused at the residential blind intersection to allow two stray pit bulls to pass.  My eyes bounced back and forth between the two nearly identical brown and white dogs with synchronized gait, and my feverish Eden in the back seat of the car who was kicking her foot in time with the music, surprisingly content even in her illness.

When the dogs had passed we proceeded for half a block where I left Eden with her Grandpa for daycare.  I was anxious to drop her off, because I was anxious to get to my hearing, because I was anxious to be done with my courtroom obligations so that if she needed me, I would be able to leave.  She'd had a wavering fever for nearly two days and though she seemed to be improving, I wanted to be available for her.

As I climbed back into my car the phone rang over the speakers, notifying me that Marcos was calling.  We were discussing Eden's health as I turned right and headed to Panorama, one of the main streets on my way to my office.  At the stop sign, I froze.

One of the brown and white pit bulls lay dead in the busy road, right in front of my dutifully stopped car.  A small piece of tire was strewn at his head, indicating that perhaps the driver that struck him had attempted to brake and was somewhere around the bend in a location blinded from my point of view.  Over the speakers, Marcos continued his discussion regarding the plan for Eden if her fever rose again.

I stared at the dead dog, rattled by his large, still body.  My eyes searched frantically for his partner, wondering how he had survived when the two were trotting side by side when I saw them.

In a quick instant my mind reviewed the unpreserved dead bodies that I had witnessed in my life.  First Sean, six feet tall, stiff and unmoving despite my urgent pleas.  Then Gabriel, tiny and delicate, his life slipping and giving way to rigor mortis within my hands.  There are worse things than a dead dog but as he lie there in front of me this dog's death seemed like the most tragic thing in the world.

Somewhere his twin was wandering alone, or perhaps in his grief and disarray he too had been struck, or soon would be.  What would he do, all by himself?  How would he get by on his own?  How was he supposed to go on without his other half?  I imagined him huddled out of sight, whimpering, perhaps injured himself, surely heartbroken.

"I know it's upsetting but Eden's health is important."  Marcos tried to draw me back into the conversation, but I couldn't be pulled from the moment.  Eden had been sick for nearly two days and we didn't know why.  In the seat next to me a file that I had only glimpsed waited for handling at a hearing that I didn't want to attend.  My mind was fractured with my many obligations, my full-time career and the pending hearing, the other files begging for my attention, my part-time bartending gig that would occupy that evening, my meeting with the new mock trial teacher coach that had taken place the day before, the Magic Mullet Run donation requests that still needed follow-up, the baby growing inside of me, and the baby growing up before my very eyes who wasn't feeling very well.  Still, all I could think of in that moment was the dog.  Not the one who, based on the timeline of events, must have died instantly, but the one left to make his way all alone.  What was he going to do now?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Third Time's a Charm

The rumbling in my belly is familiar and welcome.  I've just finished lunch at Chef's Choice Noodle Bar.  As always, I ordered the Thai Basil and in a move a bit more extreme than usual, I nearly emptied the jar of chili paste on my table.  The little baby inside of me seems to love spicy food.

I didn't feel strange for eating alone.  Dining alone is one of life's pleasures for me, freeing me from the obligation to juggle scooping, chewing, swallowing, and conversing with a lunch date all in a time frame of less than an hour, to accommodate the drive time.  Besides, I haven't been alone since January.  Rocco Strikes Back comes with me everywhere I go.

I'm 30 weeks along, in the third trimester, for the third time.  When this pregnancy is done, I know I'll immediately miss the hiccups and kicks and strong, frequent movements of this baby.  I know that overall, pregnancy is quite kind to me, so I feel guilty for feeling so ready for it to be over. My weight gain this time has been nominal.  I've never, in four pregnancies, experienced morning sickness.  My Thai Basil garnished with mounds of chili paste went down easily and I can rest assured that I will not experience the heartburn that plagues many pregnant women.  When I stood to leave my booth I felt the strain on my tailbone from having been sitting with this concentrated mass of extra weight, but in the grand scheme of things the complaint is insignificant.  One night a week I stand up for several hours to tend bar, and one night a week I bowl three games for my league team, and every day I climb the stairs in my home over and over again.  I'm able-bodied, and life is good.

So, when the tears well up suddenly and surprisingly in my eyes I struggle to understand why.  I've gone through a pregnancy haunted by the knowledge that my son would be born with a fatal defect, and I shed fewer tears.  I carried my rainbow baby on a journey that brought about surprisingly mixed emotions as I struggled to believe that she was real, and that she would stay, and wrestled with the fact that she would be here while my son is not, a painful experience of its own.  Why, then, when my life is so stable and my future is so bright, should I cry as much as I do now?

The answer is so simple that it has become a default:  Pregnancy hormones.  Pregnant women cry because they are hormonal, so very hormonal that they can't control their responses.  It's an annoyingly referenced response, but I'm finding these days it's true.  For the first time in four pregnancies, three of which have/will make it to term, I am experiencing just that.  I cry because I just can't help it.

I must admit, it feels good to cry.  I've chosen two careers, law and bartending, which have required me to develop a thick skin.  I allowed fissures in my shell when Gabriel was diagnosed, when he was born and died, and again when Ben left.  My writing has chronicled the grief, but rarely did I let a tear fall in public.  Stifling the tears in public lead to an inability to cry alone.  Now, the well of tears that has fallen from my eyes in a seeming surplus since I've been pregnant with Rocco Strikes Back, just feels like years of dammed up pain finally being released in unexpected ways.

Marcos continues to prove time and again that he is more than I ever could have asked for and everything I could ever want.  He tolerates my tears and mood swings in good stride. In my dysfunction I don't know if I'll ever be able to demonstrate to him how very much I love him and how thankful I am that he's come along and filled my life with so much love.  For the third time, I'm bringing life into this world, but I've only got one life to live, and I love the way I'm living it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Feeding the Bear

Four years after I watched my son die, I find myself having to do the second hardest thing a mother can do, five days a week:  I drop my daughter off with her grandpa, my father, for daycare, and I walk through the door, allowing someone else to spend more waking hours with her that day than I will, essentially placing someone else in charge of raising her.  I depart for work knowing she is happy, healthy, and will be apart from me for at least the next eight hours.

I'm fortunate that I love my job, because I don't have much choice other than to do it every day.  I live in a trench of student debt that must somehow be repaid and not working is simply not an option.  I'm further fortunate that I have family to look after Eden - If she can't be with me or her daddy all day, who better than her grandpa?

Being a working parent comes with a great deal of internal conflict.  I'm not the employee or lawyer I could be if I didn't have a child at home.  I don't come in early, I state late only a few nights a week, I rarely come in on weekends.  I'm hard-pressed to be able to take on an extra shift at the bar on the rare occasion that Lynn needs me to do so.

I'm also not the mom I could be.  I come home tired. I skipped our evening walk and rushed through bath time last night because I was just so exhausted.  Still, that seems small in comparison to the fact that I just don't get to be with her for such a significant part of the week.

Perhaps the greatest struggle I face is that I haven't completely let go of the life I had before Eden or even Marcos came along.  When Gabriel died and Ben left I learned that I had to find my happiness outside of them, and I did.  I made friends, the best friends I've ever had, and we had fun, and with them by my side I re-built my life, from finally securing a position as an associate attorney to buying a new car, stabilizing events grown from the ashy remains of instability.  It is not with a natural selflessness that I decline invitations to join my friends at dinner, a trip to the beach, or an evening of drinks at the bar.  Rather, I turn down these opportunities out of pure obligation, knowing I have a brief window during which to shape what I hope will be the long life of my daughter, and that means many days and nights, I have to be home instead of with the homies.  These are choices that I make, and perhaps I even make the "correct" choice most of the time, but they are not choices that are easily made. I can never figure out if this makes me an outlier among mothers, or just honest.

The most liberating moment I've had during motherhood is also one of the saddest.  The day I told myself, "You're not going to force yourself to breastfeed anymore" was a milestone day.  I was sad not because I wouldn't be sharing that time with Eden anymore, but rather because I didn't feel sad that I wasn't going to share that time with Eden anymore.  I hated breastfeeding.  It was never the bonding, convenient experience that I was told it would be.  I felt vulnerable, exposed, and at risk every time I did it, remnants from a sexual assault that otherwise, interferes with my life very little at this point.  I felt chained to my house, refusing to make myself vulnerable in public, surely an even riskier experience.  I felt at odds with Eden, because many of the times she wanted to feed, I didn't want to have to feed her - And by "many of the times," I mean every time.  All of this felt very inconvenient. So when I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would be formula fed, I felt free.

Still, my decision to attempt breastfeeding in the first place was born out of a love for my daughter and a desire to make the best possible decisions for her health.  She wouldn't rely on breastmilk or formula for long, in the grand scheme of things, so I turned my attention to a mission dedicated to feeding her only whole or minimally processed foods for the first year of her life (but for the formula, of course).  She skipped grains initially, such as rice cereal or oatmeal, as Marcos and I opted to start her on solid foods with vegetable purees, which I made myself.  Through this process we also introduced starches and grains such as potatoes and barley and rice.

Purees were as easy to bring along as a jar of processed baby food would be, but when she began eating pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit our outings required more planning.  Even sending her to daycare every day with the foods I want her to eat requires work, and a dedication that I was never willing to put into breastfeeding.  But with that dedication and Marcos' support and his own hard work, we met our goal, introducing Eden to refined sugar for the first time on her birthday, with her very own birthday cake.  Watching her eat her cake, slowly and skeptically at first but with a mounting joy that resulted in a messy but happy baby, was another sad moment for me.  The love of wholesome food that I had worked to establish in her had seemed to come undone with one cake.

But my fears were proven unnecessary and irrational when the next day, she went right back to her whole food regimen with no troubles.  We've since begun to incorporate more, but still minimally, processed foods into her diet, such as dairy, bread, and pasta.  Choosing her foods isn't a complicated process. For the most part I shop for groceries on the perimeter of the store where the produce, dairy and meat counters are located.  Weaving through the aisles becomes a matter of looking at a label and putting something back on the shelf when there are too many or unrecognizable ingredients, or worse, ingredients I've learned to recognize as artificial sugars.  At the end of a grocery run, most of my cart is filled with whole, label-less foods.  The effort has paid off.  She could take or leave pasta, really, preferring spaghetti squash and eggplant pizzas.  She is her mommy's girl, and has never met a cheese that she doesn't like.  She's still never had rice cereal, a teething biscuit, a Puff, or fruit juice.

Some nights dinner is a big production, an experiment with a fancy new recipe.  Other nights it's basic chicken and vegetables, the leftovers from which she might eat for the next two days.  Some recipes are a big hit, and others are a hideous miss.  Cooking for Eden has been one of the greatest parts of motherhood for me, and the 'why' bears some explaining.

Five days a week, I have to work.  Every day, I have to eat, and so does Eden.  Like many children of my generation, I grew up in a household courted and romanced by the makers of processed foods, marketed and aimed at working parents such as mine who wanted the swiftest dinner possible to maximize the free time they would get to spend with their kids.  My mom worked all day, came home to make dinner, fed us, bathed us, checked our homework, made our halloween costumes, hemmed our pants, shuttled us to softball or swim practice, and got up to do it all again the next day.  My dad worked nights, packed our lunches in the morning, drove us to school or the bus stop, and prepared a crock pot dinner for us once or twice a week, and after minimal sleep, woke up to pick us up from school and spend the evenings with us before heading to work the graveyard shift one more time.  For my family, boxed dinners were a convenience that enabled them to do ALL of the above.

Why, then, have I chosen to spend my evenings in the kitchen, with my toddler at my feet, wanting me to hold her?  With my husband having to distract her with their shared fun and games while I cook?  Why have I chosen to go to the grocery store two to three times a week for fresh produce when I could be on the floor with Eden reading board books and playing with Ice Bat?  There is the immediate reward, the smile on her face and the contented "Mmmmm" that she produces when I've given her something she really loves.  What I hope I will also see is the long-term effect that I strive for, a love of whole foods, a satisfaction with a peach over a cookie, a craving for a roasted vegetable over a French fry - All of the things I struggle to change in myself today, but never want her to struggle over.  I hope that someday we'll work side by side in the kitchen, feeding our bodies as we must by making choices that are right for them, making up for some of the time lost when I've been cooking while she plays.  For her birthday she got a play-house kitchen, and I watch with pride as she explores it, her synapses connecting as she begins to understand that it is a little replica of our kitchen, and that she can replicate my movements therein.

Ever haunted by my past, even my meals are influenced by my days with Gabriel and Ben.  I couldn't save my son from the fatal defect that claimed his life - But how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't do all that is within my power to minimize the risk to Eden posed by her prevalent family history of diabetes?  I want her life to be long, and I want her to keep all of her extremities for its duration.  I don't want her grandchildren to watch her lose her toes, her feet, her life, the way that I watched my grandmother lose hers.  I have more information available to me today than my grandparents or even my parents ever had - Shouldn't I use it?

I know I'm not a great cook, but I'm the cook that I am in large part because I was once married to a great chef.  He taught me my way around a kitchen, but what he could never convince me to do was to take a risk.  I never wanted to cook for him unless I could be sure of the outcome.  Otherwise, I deferred to him when it came to food.  I was afraid to fail, and especially afraid to fail in front of him.  Now, I live comfortably in a relationship free from co-dependence.  I have less fear of failure, and no fear of disappointing Marcos - I'm sure that he loves me even when I fail, and I know that I don't need his love, though I am better because I have it.  I am eager to please him, but confident that he'll love me one way or the other. Countless nights,  plates of slop have been placed in front of him, supported by the best of intentions but sabotaged by lack of skill, and he dutifully eats their contents and thanks me for dinner.

People often say that I'll grow soft and less diligent with another baby in the picture, but I'm not convinced this is true.  These are lifestyle changes I'm trying to make in myself, and a lifetime of health I am trying to provide for my children.  My goals and my actions are based on convictions that I don't see changing, even though I struggle to make the changes in myself. I've found parenting to be a beastly challenge, wrought with conflict, a constant series of choices to be made and commitments that I can only meet halfway.  When it comes to feeding my Bear, though, I'm prepared to go the distance.