Some Snuggly Mama-Writer Fear: Not the best material in that nest!

When I was pregnant & wondering about my new roles & difficulties, a creative mother of three. 

I wake just after 4 AM, 34 weeks pregnant with the realization of movement, the placement of knees like sticks. Have I rolled on my stomach this way, in the night? Have I shifted internally, done most of the work it will take to memorize another human while I sleep? She is more angular now, the jabs more distinct.

Soon there will be a little mouth to latch. Soon I will have to back away, give up the independence I’ve gained while my three and five-year-olds play, nap, and lunch in school. There will be a mouth. There will be my body racked, newly postpartum, a new synthesis for measuring sleep and feeds. Words will gather under my skin, will need to be let down as I find new ways to write. On clouds, in midair, scrawl on a bookmark.

I will need to relearn this “mothering while writing thing” I’ve developed. Maybe I’ll need to stave it off like deadlines one can just worm out of. No one will miss it. No one will miss my take on the world apart from my kids. Maybe it is an early retirement, or at least a writing sabbatical.

Maybe by the time this new child is taken into school, accepted with fresh bibs and labelled sheets, the world will be so different and I will not be able to offer any more words. Maybe writing will have simply been a dream, an old website, forgotten blog with links that don’t even work anymore. Is this how every creative mother prepares for maternity leave, her sad exit curled up like leaves?

How shall we tether ourselves to letters when the head hits the floor? Birth, labour, new hours to sleep and not sleep. Seems like finding ways to bake without any flour. To raise roses without any ability to smell. I pack for the rolling in of fog, a compass tucked in flimsy nursing bras. What do we bring with us to birth a child and also words? Is there room for poetry amidst ointments and salves?

Oh, how I want to be programmed in some way to keep my hand on the pen, my eyes seeing all and swiftly reporting in Morse Code, in Farsi, or Latin, in kindness functioning to give off a sound, a tangible promise for the exchange of words or jewels.

I want to stay present is all, to have birthed and stay whole, mind relaxed but pages taut. How do we stay writable when our whole makeup sways under the wave that unclips our very legs? There will be contractions, surges that come so quickly I cannot really breathe. There will be hormones that dip and molecularly change my hair. I am curly, no, straight, mist and salt. I am phantom mother-writer, both pirate and hostage on a creaky old ship.

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We women raising bodies from our own, we shift. We change, our very organs giving up space, saying, “No, you stay. I’ll get up.” We move from our spot on the floor, crisscrossed. What will I discover to be gone, or rather, who might I become?

I cannot make commitments when I don’t know how fragile I’ll be, yet I want assurance that words will be there. I want the promise of poetry, the green, blue, red, and gold foil stars on my paper. I want to stay writer, beholden to insightful critiques, to stay planted and yet, I roll with every impending contraction.

Maybe this writer thing will be a memory of something I once did. Something that fit me then like being someone with waist-length hair and hippy skirts. Maybe once the babies come in multiples, we officially can’t have it all. (See, I teeter on resignation. I flirt with the notion of failing). Maybe three is really what they say: “You’ll be outnumbered”.

You’ll never again brush your hair or even take care of your teeth. They’ll rot out of your cheeks and dirt will paste your nails. Never again have jeans that fit right and your husband will never even remember your naked body before kids. Maybe writing is the only fair trade. The thing lost in war or fallout after divorce. Simply a lost commodity, like stale breadcrumbs to toss at ducks.

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Or maybe, with the help of memory, of muscles that curl to a pen, we’ll invent a new kind of filling in. An idea that comes in the night, curled up tight in cloth, that needs to be let in. Maybe I’ll find my words in a new lullaby, just the thing!

I’ll learn how to take a journal to the park when we swing. Maybe chapters and phrases will branch out like wild things, the ceiling disappearing into a jungle, a little boy named Pan standing on the cornice in search of his shadow. Maybe I’ll be the one to help, the one with stories when my daughter asks. Maybe. I’ll have words and the chance.

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Maybe time, the wrestle of hours is okay, gestation building something in terms of writing. After all, those very tiny mouths open and open to find their own words, too. They eventually make sentences from all of those “goos”. Maybe waiting is okay.

I inhale enough to fill bottles, to practice for when air gets thin or stifling. I store up my breath for when I feel closed-in. I’ll choose to trust there will be enough, molecules left even for me. New reserves, hell, maybe a new alphabet.

There are many words that tell of letting go, expressions like, “Later on, then”, and, “After a while, crocodile.”

In an out. It’s only an exhale, the passing of oxygen through the narrowest of passages, reliance in an automatic system. I let go, ship off trust in a red balloon covered in peeling, gold foiled stars. We are both forging new identities, both of us created for birth and change. Where she kicks, I feel and breathe.

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Meals and Changing Identity

I am writing about food lots lately. Who could blame me, Jewish south Florida girl in Tokyo now, home among eight varieties of mushrooms and hanging, dried out squid?

I’m an eater. I don’t understand the people who stop eating when faced with stress. I could live in a drive-through. To type one essay, I empty whole pantries and snack cabinets. It’s busy and frenetic like as if I were smoking one Marlboro after another.

As we speak, I’m (delicately?) shovelling in pizza and taking alternative swigs of Sprite and beer.

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Five different essays on my turntable–we’ve got the draft on leaving an eighteen-year life of Vegetarianism for the freedom to nosh on beef or peachy flakes of fish.

We were vegetarians who gobbled scrambled tofu with turmeric and cumin. I reported to my tenth-grade class the dangers and irresponsibility of factory farming and quoted Upton’ Sinclair’s The Factory with the ease of a Smiths’ lyric. It wasn’t until age eighteen when my paradigm shifted and suddenly I did not need to keep my identity clutching this box called “I am a vegetarian”, I loosed my grip. Dramatically. 

There is the essay on strolling Paris as my mother and the tightness that loosened on our relationship with every outdoor meal of cheese and bread, and in my eighteen-year-old dreams, Sauterne. Vegetarian then, I scoffed at the prospect of veal or frog legs. No Quenelles de Brochet, but more pasta or whatever it is we ate. Bread. Lots of bread.

I traveled to Paris with my mother as a high school graduation gift. I skipped frogs’ legs, skipped escargot, walked past all of the city’s coq au vin, anything with a fin or bone. What did I eat? Crosissant and couscous. Yeah. And this nearing college girl I was becoming? This adult would find herself in more cities, with friends and relationships. I wanted to be flexible. I also wanted to be able to cook, to batter chicken for those I loved. To expand my cooking repertoire and CV of tasting.

There is sushi, a whole electric and old-school (good pun?) world of sushi here in Japan, exactly as one would suspect. Every market boasts sashimi and maki (the rolls) on plastic trays. Our family goes to a sushi joint in Akabane, famous for the wall of life fish/call it an aquarium. Yes, while we diners pluck pickled ginger and swizzle our pats of wasabi into shoyu/soy sauce, the cooks/aquarium men spear and pull our still swimming, breathing, “glub-glubbing” meal from the water. I had/have some trouble with this, as you might be perceiving. There is a whole long essay flopping in my head. It involves having to take many, many sips of beer. One of my family celebratory trips there also involves a particularly unlucky octopus, a hook, and a sheet of plexiglass.

There is the everyday need for me to feed my family and occasionally, pack an o-bento (like on special events at kids’ school like Undokai/Sports’ Day, probably the most elaborate day for o-bento, field trip days, odd days for my husband, park picnics, and absolutely the whole season, every day of cherry blossoms). I wrote about that here in my first-ever Washington Post piece.

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It is funny to see the Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” just above my O-Bento Headline, but you know? How we relate to food can mirror and highlight how we internalize and act-out our place in this world, within our native or adopted environment, the marketplace, our fridge, stove, and place at the table with baby bird-like mouths to feed.

Food is base, it is beautiful. We are all part of this very human experience and I am a happy gal writing about the sauce and salad that came with my meal. I’ll include another bit from a piece, not because I wish to throw down my quotes like I would for Whitman, but because I don’t know what to do with all of these food essays!

I like that I could change those years ago, reimagining myself as a traveler and a lover, learning a whole other code called omnivore. A recipe, after all, can span decades and generations. New dinners can also be thrown together, a work of simple beauty and sustenance. The tomatoes gleam, skins thrown open by heat and expanding molecules. 

Here is to expanding, to getting and giving the full force of our existence, if even to prep the seemingly rote breakfasts and wash those dishes again for dinner. To becoming reignited by the senses and the part we play and plate.

Also, I will never eat those dangling frog legs parading with their “chicken taste”. I may always choose couscous and cheese over bouillabaisse. But I’m growing.