parenting


I think “They grow up so fast” is the cliche I hear most often during this phase of my life.  While I know this to be true, I am amazed again today at how fast my life seems to be going.  Warp speed.  I think being a working mother (in my case with pressing deadlines and the constantly looming duties of teaching) compounds my sense that life is rushing out from under my feet no matter how hard I work to catch up with it.  My children are aging.  My parents are aging.  I have a conference paper to write.  I have student papers to read and respond to.  I have classes to prepare.  It’s all beautiful, but there’s a sense of panic that I tune into during quiet moment.  The beauty feeds the panic because everything that I have right now–beautiful little girls and two healthy parents–will be different.  Before this year I knew all of this was true.  Kids grow up.  We all grow old.  I knew it.  But I didn’t know how deeply I would feel the loss.

As I’m writing this it’s Friday night and I still have work to do.  I haven’t taken a day off with the girls in two weeks, so maybe my panic and sadness is just a signal that I need Sabbath.  I need to be with them, rest with them, play with them.  I need to listen to them talk and brush their hair long enough to feel a little bit of boredom at what is static rather than panic at what is fleeting.

It’s official. My babymoon has begun. Perhaps other new mothers begin to feel the warm glow of adoration for their newborns right away, but for me, the strong emotions of contentment and joy have expanded as the physical discomforts following birth have decreased. I don’t like feeling incapacitated physically. (Who does?) In the hospital and the first couple of days at home, the simple tasks of life requiring mobility were hard, making me feel like the job of being a mother of two was a bit beyond my capability. Now, my body feels more able and mobile, and my primary mood the last two days has been elation. I feel content to spend endless minutes just memorizing Caroline’s features, knowing that in a few short weeks, she will look and act differently. Already she is beginning to focus her eyes on us more. I’m doing better with parenting Margaret’s three-year old behavior, too (spoonfuls of rice dumped on the floor, pizza applied to face like a cosmetic sponge), though that is another topic worthy of elaboration another time.

One of the values that I work to cultivate in myself is simple attentiveness. I want to notice what’s happening around me and give thanks for as much of it as possible. That’s coming easily yesterday and today, in part because there is so much beauty to be attentive to in Caroline (and in Margaret’s fascination with her). I’m also not trying to notice things through a haze of discomfort and fatigue anymore. Caroline is a blessedly strong eater with a great latch and a contented sleeper if she is being held in our warm arms or close to us in a sling or in bed. We have had only occasional moments of crying–all thankfully related to getting her diaper changed or being ready to eat. Basically, we consider ourselves the most fortunate of parents so far. There is so much to just stop and bear witness to. I thank God for the feel of downy hair against my lips when I kiss Caroline’s head, for the shape of her puckered lips, and for Margaret’s still-enormous blue eyes when she begs to see “my baby.” There’s a lot of quiet delight here at our house.

IMG_1404, originally uploaded by Lindsay Ellis.

M wanted to see her hair, feet, tummy, belly button (!), bottom, and all parts of her new baby sister. I’ll write more when I can sit less uncomfortably.

I write from Butterworth hospital this Monday morning to say that our daughter, Caroline Prioleau Ellis TenElshof, arrived safely on Saturday at 5:30 pm. I thought that after so much prelabor, her arrival would come quickly, and I wasn’t wrong. We began our two block walk to the hospital promptly when labor ensued, and she was born only an hour later, after about 20 minutes on the L & D ward and about 45 seconds after being wheeled into the delivery room. She made a very dramatic entrance onto the stage of our lives. I’m glad my journey to the hospital didn’t begin at my office at the University in Allendale.

Steve was amazing, advocating for me when he saw that my contractions were delivering her precipitously without my intervention (“We need an OB here, now, please!”) and asking for an oxygen mask for me when he saw my breathing taking a turn for the worse. I’m so thankful for his companionship and care for me and now for our two daughters.
We are all content and joyful. I will post pictures when we upload some.

When I shared my idea to name our soon-to-arrive daughter Carolina, my mom replied, “How about Caroline?” 

“I like Caroline,” I said, “but we have no connection it in our family.  I like Carolina because not only is it just a name that I like, one that reminds me of summers in the Appalachians, but it also references our family’s history of naming women after southern states.” 

“Hmmm,” she said, and eventually came on board in her classically supportive way. 

So our “girl name” has been Carolina for months and months.  I do love it.  I think it’s beautiful–interesting, feminine, easy to spell, recognizable internationally (It’s a very popular Latina and Italian name), and so forth.  People do keep asking if we will pronounce it Car-o-lihn-a or Car-o-leen-a, which feels more complicated than I imagined.  Folks also so seem to think immediately of the states of North and South Carolina when we say it, which is a stronger association than I was looking for.  As I wrote in my earlier blog post, I do think that once we have a personality to attach the name to, the state association would fade and she would just be herself, Carolina, but still, the experience of circulating our potential name hasn’t exactly confirmed it hands down for us. 

As I told my mom, one of the attractions of the name “Carolina” for me is its ability to reference an oral history of family female geneology.  Our first daughter’s name referenced both of Steve’s grandmothers.  Now it’s my turn.  I don’t have any women named Carolina in my family, but my great great great grandfather Whiting moved from Virginia to Alabama before the Civil War and named his first 4 daughters after the states that he loved: Virginia, Alabama, Florida, and (I think) Tennessee.  His fifth daughter he named Sally.  Such is the oral history, the story, that I have heard dozens and dozens of times.  Giving my daughter a name that reminds us of this story (and helps her to remember the names of her great grand mothers) is attractive to me, even though I’m so very glad that the Union won the Civil War.  I think that these oral histories, particularly about women’s names which so often get erased, are important. 

Over the months, we have softened to a baby name stance of telling people that we will name our little girl “either Carolina or Caroline” but that we would wait and meet her before deciding.  Steve has still only been 95% enthusiastic about these names, and he pulled out my Ellis Family Reunion directory this week to see if any other names appealed to him more.  It was sitting open on the kitchen counter a few days ago when I read:

“On June 18, 1868, in Aiken, S.C., Judge Ellis was married to Phoebe Caroline Prioleau, daughter of Samuel Prioleau of Charleston and Juliana M Fripp, his wife.”

We had already considered and declined the name Juliana, but here was a use of Caroline that I hadn’t known about.  Phoebe Caroline Prioleau.  Hmmm.  That intrigued me.  See, as I just said, one of the points to me of names is the stories that they enable us to remember and transmit across generations.  So if my daughter asks me (and people then ask her) why she is named Caroline, I could tell her that her great great great grandmother was named Phoebe Caroline Prioleau, and that she came from S Carolina and moved with her husband to Atlanta, where he became a judge after the Civil War.  She was my grandfather’s grandmother, and the barrier island where I played on the beach as a child (Fripp Island) was named for her mother’s family.  That’s oral history at work.  And I like it.

So we’ll see.  We can either go with the story from my mother’s side of the family about Mr Whiting naming his daughters for southern states, or from my father’s side of the family about what we know of the Ellis line.  Perhaps we will name this child “Caroline Prioleau Ellis TenElshof”, with a fourth name on the birth certificate just for historical fun.  Perhaps we’ll wait and see whom she reminds us of 🙂

Fall 2008 008, originally uploaded by Lindsay Ellis.

We took a marvelous, sunny walk yesterday down to the river. Our destination was the fish ladder, but we didn’t make it that far before stopping to play. My baby bump hurt (Can I still call it that at 9 months?) and M was eager to throw sticks and “go fishing.” She and Steve had a great time while I sat snapping pictures and wondering if my contractions were just walking-induced or ones that might actually build. They were the former. They did continue all evening and woke me up at 4:30 with a pretty painful one. I feel like I could take action (like going for a brisk walk again) to try to keep them going, or just relax, do what sounds fun to me (or get some more work done on university-related stuff) and trust that they will pick up on their own without my nudge when they are ready. I’m very aware of how strongly I revert to wanting to make the birth happen in my own timing. “Now would be a good time,” I think. “What can I do to help labor along while M is at school for the next 6 hours?” instead of just allowing her arrival to be a serendipitous gift when she’s given. I have an OB appt today at 1:30. I anticipate that Dr. F will just tell me the baby is happy and send me home to wait some more.

playing in leaves 10 08, originally uploaded by Lindsay Ellis.

October is here.  Margaret and I spent the weekend choosing pumpkins, eating apples, and playing in fall leaves.  I honestly didn’t think that I would incubate this baby this long. The time since June has flown by, though. Even these last three weeks of thinking “any day now” have gone by quickly—the contractions, the mild nausea, the strong but less frequent movements. All of this has kept me thinking that labor was imminent. Now, I feel kind of “over it.” Which is strange, since it hasn’t begun, and I can’t just decide to move on and focus on something else in life. At some point, I’ll be thrown into the vortex of pain and then awe and love. Strangely, I’m just feeling ready to start thinking about academic articles again, giving mental space to them rather than to buying Dreft and getting a new duvet for Margaret’s room. That said, I did spend time today cleaning up my office, which involved emptying the bag of butterflies that I’d bought for Margaret’s walls and nailing them into place. Didn’t make much progress on the articles, in other words.

I’m relishing the times that I’m able to focus on work. I remember the same mental saturation point experience with our wedding as well. By the time the big day finally rolled around, I was kind of burnt out of thinking about and imagining all of the details. The day of our wedding, I chose to read some academic article that had been assigned for homework (Thank goodness that my Mom was so attentive to every detail). This is kind of typical of me, though, to live such a rich imaginative life in anticipation of an event that the event itself sort of seems insignificant when it is actually occurring—I think that Christmas Day occasionally fit this pattern for me as a child.

Yesterday (Sunday) I was (once again) pretty certain that last night was going to be IT. I’d been having lots of uncomfortable contractions on Saturday and yesterday afternoon, and had contractions every 2-5 minutes all evening at our household picnic. (Margaret had a great time playing the Fall leaves at the Staggs’ house!) I even went and got a pen and paper and wrote down the times that each cx started: 5:55, 5:57 (still going til 6:05), 6:07, 6:09 (pause for conversations) 6:16, 6:19, 6:24, 6:29, 6:31, 6:33. Then I went upstairs with Emily and talked while Margaret played dress up in all things pink and they pretty much subsided. They were occasional all evening, and I decided to go to bed pretty much when Margaret did at 8:30. They woke me up every hour( though I think that they were more frequent than that) and then by 3:30 I felt that I was done sleeping. So I got up and biked on the exercise bike while watching old home movies–wonderful glimpses into my family circa 1971. I liked watching my Mom dote on her two little girls (I wasn’t on the scene yet). It helped me to wrap my mind around being a mother of two girls to envision her in that role.

I went to sleep and woke up worrying. I worried about the consequences of not having gotten as much heart rate-raising exercise this pregnancy. What if Margaret was so cheerful and such a good sleeper because I exercised on the Air-dyne for 20 minutes most days? What if this kid has colic? Lots of crying would really be a drag, A, and B, I would feel partly responsible for not giving her the best start possible in the womb by not exercising more. After biking this morning and doing prenatal yoga this evening, though, I feel much better, and Steve reminded me over dinner how many happy kids we know whose moms didn’t exercise at all–which is, of course, true. The free time to devote explicitly to cardio training is a luxury few women in the world are privileged enough to have.

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