It’s Never Too Late

First, it’s been almost a year since I wrote and submitted my first blog. A few things happened between now and then.

I had a baby, and this time, it wasn’t measured in a word count. This was not a paper baby. No. Definitely not paper. And words don’t seem to do justice to the experience I’ve had as a first-time mama. How’s this? My husband and I are such rookies we forgot to bring a diaper to the doctor. We laughed while our baby wailed. By day four, we knew we had one determined little girl. She wet her pants. She screamed. We panicked.

Who wants to start exploring the world of life with saggy pants and a wet bottom? Gracelyn Rose knows what she wants and that wasn’t it.

We changed her immediately on the floor of the doctor’s office and then, to my great surprise, I whipped out my breast and fed her. I thought I’d be a bit more discrete than that. I would like to say I pictured myself with those fashionable breastfeeding curtains you can wear around your neck like an apron, but I didn’t. Before I gave birth, I put as much thought into breastfeeding as I did into filling our diaper bag and putting it in the car. Oh, but I cleaned the baseboards and washed the floors and organized our junk drawers. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking much at all, more staggering around the house, confused, frustrated, scaring myself that sleep deprivation would be so dangerous — to my sense of humor.

Forgive me, I’m a Capricorn. And yet by my admission, I’m supposed to be highly organized. I was sort of. But with the wrong things.

The first four days felt like 40 and I started to wonder if maybe the story of Jesus wandering in the desert was also a metaphor for postpartum women. I needed a nap, I needed a map, I needed some guard rails. Most of all I need to laugh again, and I did at the doctor’s office. Who should be sitting beside me in the waiting room? The husband of a friend of a friend who I had last seen at a wedding in Oregon the previous summer.

Uh, what? I hadn’t read anything about first-time parent etiquette. I wasn’t sure if I should turn to him and flash a friendly smile (hoping he wouldn’t notice the smudge marks below my eyes and forgive them for not being make-up but the permanent press of sleepless nights), or if I should wait for his greeting. Sort of like the way I navigate the trails near my home. Mountain bikers yield to hikers and we all yield to horses.

Who was the horse in this picture? Was it my 8 lbs baby and me?

My boob is hanging out. Bad? But my baby is latched on and suckling me, despite the toe-curling pain of it all. Good? Nobody told me that breastfeeding is not intuitive. It’s not anyone’s fault but my own. For the first time in my life, I chose ignorance. I hardly read a single book about labor or parenting. They all terrorized me because they destroyed the myth that this was all a dream. Nope. A little finger kept waggling in front of my eyes every time I’d try to open those baby books and read. It said, ‘Holly, you’re up next. You ready?’ like an annoying coach who knows you have a shin splint but keeps you in the game despite your pain. I managed to get through The Happiest Baby on the Block but forgot the fourth and fifth ‘S’ by the time we got home from the hospital. All I could remember was the ‘Shh’ and the ‘Swaddle,’ which in and of itself had threatened my marriage trying to get the dang thing right. Breastfeeding sent us to another place entirely — with my husband researching proper latching methods on the computer and playing the corresponding U-Tube videos he could find. He did the same thing for the swaddle and we soon educated ourselves on swaddles from around the world, prefering in the end ‘the egg roll’ from the Philipino nurse who first taught it to us, and whose teaching is now recorded on our camera. But, I needed my best friend to meet us at home Easter Sunday and literally shove my breast into my baby’s mouth as soon as she opened her cute little lips. I didn’t know to look for that signal. I didn’t know a lot then.

That was 16 weeks ago. I’m a different person now.

I’m learning. I’m making mistakes. I’m making messes. And I’m okay with that because when my baby girl wakes up in the morning and coos and gurgles and giggles from her crib, in awe of the paper puppies dangling above her and the skinny pink Post-It note her papa stuck on as a tongue, I forget the messes and the mistakes and focus on the miracle that she is. And I realize it’s never too late to learn something new.

The Fortunes in Fog

Years ago, a man who lives on a houseboat not far from my writing desk changed my life.

This man, Ernie, asked me two questions. First, “Tell me about your Tuesday Mornings,” and “Have you met my wife?”  He didn’t say the last question as a question, but as an order.

Ernie met his wife, who he still calls “his bride,” at a poetry reading years ago in the wine country up the road from where we live in Marin County.  According to the story, both were divorced at the time and not really looking to meet anyone special.

Ernie admits he didn’t even like poetry readings. I’m not sure why he went that night, but the point is, he, too, understood the value of seeing through his own fog, or at least clearing it out of the way.

So Ernie went to the reading and met “this beautiful blue-eyed, babe” Barbara, one of the poets. I’d like to think he fell in love with her words, but for them, it was love at first sight. The poetry was a bonus, because what you don’t know about Barbara is that she was in her late 60s the night she met Ernie Hubbard.

They were nearly 20 years apart in age.

And they fell in love and got married.

It’s never too late for happiness.

Barbara had held various jobs in her life, one of which was a department store model in the 1950s. I’ve seen photos of her back then. She is as striking now as she was 60 years ago, and she hasn’t had a single nip or tuck.

She told me she once worked at a drugstore soda fountain, schlepping sandwiches and sundaes, and realized she had a weight problem years before there were fad diets and diet pills. She just knew that she needed to exercise more and eat less. Now in her early-80s, she’s able to wear blue jeans that would fit a 20-year-old.

Barbara’s appearance and genetic code are not her only fortune. It is the passion and persistence with which Barbara pursues her writing dreams, even now, in her early-80s. She’s not only a poet, she’s also a essayist and novelist, working on the final edit of her debut novel, “Bitterroot” based on her mother’s immigration story to Montana back in the early 1900’s.  And it’s good, so good, that Skywriter Books will publish her book in 2010.

Do you know anyone in theirs 80s who is publishing their first novel?

I didn’t either until I met Barbara.  The thing is, for nearly 10 years, I’d been passing her houseboat, visible off the 101 freeway that connected me to the hiking and mountain biking trails for as long as I lived in the city.

I never once thought to consider who lived on those houseboats, what kind of lives they lead or what they did. And I never had a reason to stop and find out until I met Ernie and answered his second question.

Yes, Ernie. I have met your wife. I have befriended your wife. I even asked her to officiate my wedding.

I don’t think of Barbara as 80+. I don’t think of her as ‘old’ or ‘out of touch.’ Barbara is a much a part of my circle as my recently engaged 28-year-old friend and my five month pregnant 38-year-old friend. Barbara isn’t hung up on her age. She once told me she doesn’t think about it. She lives her life unplugged from the ‘program’ that says we deteriorate after the age of 55.

Barbara is a living example of what it means to take responsibility for her mental and physical health, her appearance, and her happiness.

She’s fluent with the computer, cell phone, most things technological, still drives a new Volvo sedan and on occasion, can be seen flipping the bird to the peloton of cyclists who clog up the only access road out of the houseboats when she’s trying to make an appointment or get to the grocery store before the tide comes in.

She’s a feisty Welsh woman with a wicked sense of humor and a way with words that some day soon might make a difference to you. Maybe there’s a Barbara Hubbard in your life, too, who will pull you out of  your own fog to discover a treasure. She was here all the time. I just had to look and take the time to know what I see.

Often the very things that inspire us are visible every day, but our agendas and cluttered minds don’t make space for us to see them. Writing this blog will force me to make that time to see.