Mothering in the Time of Smartphones

3:41 am: Charlie hooked in the crook of my left arm, nursing. Gently he waves his small hand across my chest, flicks at the straps of my tank and his eyes flutter shut. Sleep, sleep baby is my prayer. A hushed plea in the night, although, thankfully, I don’t make the plea as often as I did when he was a newborn. At five months old, he’s sleeping longer stretches at night, but there’s still the quiet dark hours of a night when the two of us are up, and while he rests in one arm, I’ve got my iPad in my other hand.

During these early hours, my mind races while child nurses. I remember: I forgot to rinse Charlie’s hair when I gave him his bath last night! I worry: how do we generate more revenue at the brewery? Then, swipe and the screen is illuminated. I settle for a few paragraphs on my Kindle app. I used to loathe, and even wrote a blog disparaging e-books, but now I find it a great way to read in the dark, one handed. No matter what, I’m still a book addict. Even though my ability to concentrate is slightly diminished, what with sleep deprivation and all, the few paragraphs of a novel read during nursing sessions is enough to satisfy. When Charlie’s not in my arms, I’m holding onto a real book. Just so you know. Not only do I suffer the smartphone guilt but also real book vs. e-book guilt.

There’s the entire Internet at my disposal at 3:43 am. I’m a news junkie. So I read, skim, and try not to gasp or groan lest I startle the baby as I sort through the latest dismal political headlines. And of course, there’s the distraction of social media and Facebook: making those wee small hours not so lonely. Certainly the Internet offers rubbish and I’ve tempered my urge to seek out answers about babies and mothering on Google. Oh and if you’re curious what sort of images pop up when you type into the search bar: “diaper rash”take my word word for it, don’t.

Work emails are responded to, deftly typed with one hand and surprisingly with very few typos. “Up again with Charlie?” is the typical reply from an employee. I’ve gotten into a bit of trouble with Amazon. All too easy to shop, fueled by exhaustion. But we needed this baby thingy at 4:21am! Plus this new novel looks great. Oh, and maybe this. Or that. None of his sleepers fit. Time to reorder! Look at all that I’m accomplishing, feeding my baby and making the most of my digital New York Times subscription. Also, the dimmed glow from the screen ensures I don’t pass out with Charlie in my arms.

Then, there’s the lifeline text from other moms who are also awake at this hour. One friend writes 3am haikus and I marvel in her cleverness. Mine are typically filled with “blah” or “ugh” or “sigh.” In this new land, where I at once feel whole and yet also frazzled, doubtful, the friendship developed via text has become to me a symbol of our new tribe. Sleep schedules are traded, small victories celebrated, and of course the hilarity of new motherhood adventures, like having your son spit up directly into your mouth (true and disgusting story) transmit across devices, offering up a connection that might not be as quickly formed, or shared without the convenience of wifi.

We can’t always have these audible conversations (don’t wake the baby! or the snoring husband!) and while everyone bemoans smartphones and modern technology, and how it disconnects us from each other, I’ve found a way to connect, to form a bond with the moms around me. And you know what? When it’s not 4:47am we get together, in real life, too. We stroll with our babies, and we make it through another day, knowing those wee small hours of the morning will rise again. And perhaps, we’ll click “Like.”

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Birthday

I am 34 years old today. My first birthday as a mother. Not that I’ve forgotten my birthdays, although those celebrated in college and in my 20s typically resulted in such great fanfare that events blurred, hangovers resulted. But this birthday? This birthday with my four month old son, who just learned how to roll over, and shrieks with delight, this is a birthday I won’t forget.

Cole put a beautiful post on Facebook, wishing me a happy birthday and sharing a handful of wonderful photos from the past two years. He wrote about the many roles I have: hiker, mother, business owner,etc and wished me the best on the role I’d play today. Today, with the new perspective of motherhood guiding me, I think historian is in order. Or collector of stories. Seeker of origins. Archeologist of life. Recorder of memories. Daughter. Wife. Mother. Sister. The roles I play, today, and tomorrow. And hopefully for a long time, too.

Since learning I was pregnant, desire to know more about my past, my family, kicked into overdrive. The stories I wish to hear, and to write about have always been about my family, my roots. And, luckily for me, my parents have been willing to share their experience of parenthood, which first started when they were in their late 20s, broke and trying to remodel the old country church that would be our home for the first ten years of my life.

Yes, it’s true. I lived in an old church.

The irony is not lost on me.

(I should add that the church wasn’t for religious reasons. It used to be a church, and it was old and in need of repair. It was for sale cheap.)

The winter of 1982 was a brute of a winter, as long, cold and snowy winters used to be. My due date was mid-February and there was a lot of snow. So much snow that my parents were afraid they’d be snowed in when my mom’s labor began. The old church was in the country, a long way from the hospital. I can’t recall the story exactly right, but either a neighbor with a tractor (all the neighbors were farmers in Michigan’s rolling hills and hardwoods just off Lake Michigan) or my dad borrowed a plow and would go out nightly to keep the road cleared. My parents feared their orange VW Bug, “Moose” would be no match for the mighty drifts that buried Church Road.

They made it in “Moose”, although my mom wrote in my baby book she “thought Doug was driving too fast.” and I was born at 8:36am on Monday, February 15th, 1982. Now that I have my own child, I now realize how significant the statistics of birth are: the date, time, weight, measurements and assurances that signify life, and capture the mighty moment of emergence. Charlie was born at 11:00am, a good 12 hours after I arrived to the hospital. Cole drove, my mom was in the backseat — she had arrived from Michigan that afternoon and whoa, I went into labor a week before my due date. He did not drive fast and it was a warm September night.

I have a baby book for Charlie, a real book in which I write in black ink. There are two pages devoted to each month, with little boxes of prompts like: what was a good day, or what was challenging, and baby’s personality. The book wants me to record his likes and dislikes: milk and wet diapers. Best loved stories? Well, that would be Cole reading aloud, in character, from The Princess Bride. OK, who really knows if that’s Charlie’s favorite story or not at four months. But, really, at this point it makes mom and dad happy. We’re short on sleep, so Cole reading in a Spanish accent in priceless.

It’s good for me to turn to this blue baby book, purchased a few weeks before his birth, to have an actual physical space to record his living, evolving history.  I didn’t choose blue based on his gender as we didn’t know it until birth, but because blue is my favorite color. Yes, my phone is full, beyond full, of pictures and videos of his smiles, raised eyebrows, shrieks and coos. But it’s important to have written documentation of his young life. Sure, it’s easy pickings when you can state that milk is served on demand (so far true for all four months) and that going to bed is really not so much fun. But the space for “What Baby Can Do” is getting longer and longer. I’m writing in the margins now. He can roll. He grabs my glasses. He laughs and smiles, bellows and giggles. He can suck on his thumb, and kick a blue ball with his feet. He loves to stand on your lap and thinks his reflection in the mirror is most curious. Everything within reach goes in his mouth.

In a few years, and even perhaps when he’s 34, he’ll want to dig up the details of his birth. To rediscover his birth story. To know that the last few months of my pregnancy was the hottest and smokiest summer on record. That he arrived a week early, in perfect timing with his grandmother’s arrival to Montana. That on the day he was born, the son of a brewer, his dad’s Oktoberfest beer was tapped and not only did our patrons say “Prost” but also “It’s a boy!”

 

Locked Heels

skiski

This new mama has her heels locked. For you non-skiers, this means I’ve put away my telemark skis (free heel) in our basement ski room and brought out the alpine boards. While my lifelong love affair with skiing began before I was three years old, telemark skiing was a fairly recent endeavor for me. I learned to tele in 2008 and committed myself thoroughly to lunging down the mountain, and a year later, learned how to race telemark. In 2010, while training for the US National Championships, held at Whitefish Mountain Resort, I met Cole. And in the following years, we fell in love, raced around the world, got married, and raced some more. I suffered multiple injuries during my tele race career, from a partial shoulder dislocation to a season-ending neck injury in Steamboat Springs. Then the winter following, after I decided to stop racing, I broke my arm.

I gave up my skinny race skis in 2013 after said neck injury, shifting my focus from red and blue gates to building a brewery. But I didn’t give up telemark skiing, and instead of training gates, Cole and I ventured into the backcountry, skied powder, and even participated in a local ski mountaineering race where the objective is to be the fasted person climbing up the mountain. I’ve been racing the clock down a slope since a child, so racing uphill was completely foreign to me. While I enjoy the leg burn exercise of skinning, I’m no ski mountaineer racer. I’ll go down fast, but not up.

When I found out I was pregnant last winter, I quickly decided that given my damned accident prone luck combined with the balance needed to telemark, it’d be in the best interest for all parties involved for me to switch back to alpine skis. I didn’t ski much last year, even after shifting back to alpine skis, fearing the worst with the growing “Figgy” inside of me. I stuck to safer activities like cross-country skiing and dashing through the snow. Oh wait, nope, no dashing. Just walking and trying not to succumb to the exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester.

This winter, after giving birth to Charlie, I realized, for many reasons that it’d be best to give my tele skis another winter off and on the few precious days I got to ski, stick to alpine. For one, I’m not in the best shape and am quite certain my post-childbirth body needs to regain strength and balance before I unlock the heel. Also, I’m a mom now. Which means I’m responsible for this bright little light in my life, and any injury would be devastating. Can you imagine trying to breastfeed with a broken arm? Or carry an infant around with a torn ACL? When I ride up the chairlift, knowing my ski time is limited to an hour and a half while Charlie hangs with dad at the base, I remind myself that the beautifully taut line between freedom and control, that intoxicating feeling I get sliding on snow, is one that I must maintain. No longer just for my health but also for Charlie. So I try and take it slower, am more careful on my lines and decisions I make in the trees and chutes. A not so little voice yanks on my ear as I navigate the socked in days atop Big Mountain, be careful. Be there for Charlie.

Those on the mountain who knew me as a tele skier give me a fair bit of grief when they see my on my alpine gear. I explain the whole: I-just-gave-birth-and-am-not-strong-yet spiel, plus I add that to telemark ski and love it, one must be able to practice it frequently. The truth is, alpine skiing is much easier. Especially for this new mom who maybe gets to ski one day per week, and average just for four to six runs. With locked heels, I can make the most of my precious skis runs, from flexing the skis and carving turns on groomers to hop turning through North Bowl Chute into an apron of fluffy powder and still feel like a badass.

See, here’s the thing with skiing and me: since I was a little girl the physicality of the sport has given me confidence. Confidence in my body’s strength and power, especially as someone built with large thighs. Pure joy: in the connection between body and nature, the rush and exhilaration of speed and turn. And in some of life’s low moments, skiing is what keeps me buoyant and happy. Motherhood is a domain where my confidence hasn’t always been stable. I don’t know how many 3am Google searches I’ve logged, typing “is this normal for an infant to…?” The countless texts to my mom, asking questions. The long walks with my friend Jen, a new mother herself, and our endless discussions about how our bodies are healing, diaper changes, crying, nursing and more. Filled with so much damn love and joy, I’ve also encountered those many moments where mothering has left me shaken and raw, wondering if I can do it (nurse, soothe, put to sleep the “right” way, raise a child to not be an asshole, etc). Thankfully my life is surrounded my the many women, mothers, who offer their support, a good joke, and well-timed advice. And then, there’s skiing. A terrain where I feel a little more powerful, a little more settled with myself. Floating down the mountain in a body that’s a little heavier in weight than normal, that’s been stretched and pulled, and ultimately re-created in creation of itself, skiing has helped me embrace motherhood.

While I’m venturing into completely new territory as a mom, it feels damn good to return to my skiing roots.

 

 

 

Love, Long Underwear and Now, Cloth Diapers

During the extensive hiatus of writing L + L, Kalispell Brewing Company opened its doors (June 2014) and about four months ago I gave birth to a son, Charles Fielding Schneider.  And now, with heavy yawns and a full heart (fuller than I could ever dare to imagine) I’ve needed to revive this special space, to once again thread the needle and weave — surely dropping a stitch or two, but, nonetheless, try to find the pattern of story.

Near our house is a bike path that runs below Woodland Drive, with a small creek and cattail lined ponds, and off in the distance the Swan Mountain stretch to the east. Aspens, cottonwoods and a few spruce line the west edge of the path, and a field with houses and junkyard cars lie to the east. The marshy area is home to lots of birds, and today, a warm and sunny January day the birds, mostly chickadees, flitted and sang between branches. Through the slop of snow and ice on the path, I pushed what I like to call Charlie’s Cadillac, a burley jogging stroller. We take a walk nearly every day, and have since we brought him home (me in the back seat of the car, holding onto his car seat, tearful and terrified to leave the hospital) at the end of September.

Today’s afternoon walk was a walk, of course, but also my third attempt at trying to get him to nap. He woke up early this morning, after sleeping poorly at night, and didn’t want to take a nap. Nursing didn’t help. Rocking was no use. Stories, and snuggles, and more nursing resulted in him drifting off for about twenty minutes before he’d wake, kicking his legs and beaming his giant smile. Charlie typically (and I’m realize, about four months into this whole mothering business that there’s not one thing that’s typical or predictable) falls asleep on long walks, bundled in his snowsuit, wrapped in his hand knit (one of many, courtesy of my mom) blanket. Today? He slept maybe, maybe 30 minutes. As I walked, I’d see his arm fly up or a leg kick. He’d whimper and sigh, and then I’d peer through the stroller cover, check to make sure he wasn’t either too warm or too cold and tell him to fall asleep. No such luck. He gave me a smirk, and I went back to steering and pushing.

I like our bike path and have thought of it as “our” bike path since last winter when I found out I was pregnant. Until September 26, I didn’t know Charlie was “Charlie” as we didn’t find out his gender until his grand entrance into our hearts and world. During my pregnancy, it was “Figgy” who I took on my walks on the bike path. During the first trimester, when I was nauseous and exhausted, I’d scuff along the bike path, willing myself exercise, and I really only felt the best while walking. When spring took hold — which was early last year as winter didn’t amount to much — I rejoiced in the blooms and blossoms and whistles of the red wing blackbirds. Energized during the second trimester, I’d walk and walk and walk. And wish and pray, and wish and pray. Pregnancy, and now motherhood, is just an unfolding book of magical thinking. If I do this, the baby will be OK. If I do this, the baby will sleep. As if.

Our corner of northwest Montana was on fire this past summer. Wildfires to the east and the west, and smoked clogged our little valley. I couldn’t even walk/waddle the 6 blocks to work at the brewery — the smoke was that bad for a few weeks. I was in my third trimester by late summer, and it was hot. I took to that bike path when I could, holding onto my giant belly and tried to find a stride that wouldn’t result in my thighs rubbing too much. By mid-September, the fires died down and the smoke cleared. I was just weeks away from my due date, and I resumed walking more and more and more, sometimes even twice a day. The path was lined with sunbaked and crisp flowers and weeds. Rosehips and mountain ash berries brightened the golden foilage. The fields nearby were dull straw. But it was fall, and a wisp of coolness refreshed the air and the light — oh the light during those last weeks before I gave birth–they were warm and rich.

I don’t know how many miles on “our” bike path I walked before Charlie was born, or how many deer I came across, or how many flickers I saw dart between trees. A month ago, two big bucks were wading through the newly fallen snow in the marshy section of the trail. I noticed their lush, thick tawny coats first, then their antlers.They picked their way through the brush on the hillside above us, and me, pushing the bright green stroller over the wet pavement. I whispered to Charlie, who was asleep: look now, there’s two bucks.

On today’s walk we didn’t see any deer, and if we did, this time he was awake to see them. Sometime soon I know he’ll see the deer along with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reunion

For the first time in more than five months, I’ve padded up the carpeted stairs to my office and settled into my chair and loaded the dashboard on this blog page.

Yes, five months. The last time I looked out the windows behind the computer screen the view was white: snow frosting the roof of our neighbor’s house across the street. Now, the lilacs are blooming, leaves full and bright on the trees and the grass grows fast in the recent cycle of sunshine followed by rain.

I have not wanted to plop down in this chair, switch on the lamp and spread my elbows wide on the glass topped desk. I’ve even ignored the rows and rows of books lining the shelves, forgetting how much I loved this little nook on our second story, grateful that the previous owner, George, known as the “Judge” in our neighborhood built one fine office. In my neglect, the dust has accumulated and paperwork is scattered about.

I left this space, a space I felt to be sacred to me and my writing and my memories and my longings for stories and Lake Huron because I broke my arm on February 2nd and for many weeks, couldn’t type or write or think clearly due to the painkillers. Yes, another injury from skiing. Just as I was recovering from last year’s crash in Steamboat Springs. Right arm casted I spent my time on the first floor of our home, drowning my pain (there was a lot of pain, and for a long time) and frustration and despair with hours of television, pain pills and junk food. I didn’t seek solace in a book — I was so depressed that I wanted nothing to do with the objects that give me such joy. How could I have broken my arm?

The broken arm was not the only thing that gave me trouble. It compounded another issue I’d been grappling with since December. How to complete school and open a brewery? With my arm in a cast for more than two months and the ability to type greatly reduced, the answer seemed clear but no less heartbreaking.

So, I’m admitting this for the first time in the public/social sphere. Perhaps this is another reason why I haven’t posted since I visited my family before Christmas, believing it would be the last time I’d see my stepfather Vince alive.

I quit school.

Two years into the master’s program I adored, two years into a writing life I felt, on most days, so happy to have created, I had to let it go. Physically, I could not keep up with school with my injury. And as the work required to open the brewery mounted and mounted and I realized that we’d probably open in summer I couldn’t imagine trying to attend residency with the tasting room in operations.

I cried, a lot. I cried on the phone with RWW’s new program director, Rick Barot. It was our first introduction, this call. I told him about my arm, the brewery, that my stepdad had been given six months to live. I then talked with Stan Rubin, the program’s founder and outgoing director. I cried more. I sobbed to friends and family alike. It was one of the most difficult, heart wrenching decisions to make.

Tonight, now that the sky darkens, pregnant with storm clouds rarely seen outside of the Midwest, I will spare the details on dropping out of RWW. Essentially, I could not commit to the program with my current life situation.

And after a week of tears and Game of Thrones marathons, I decided that I couldn’t live two lives: one of the brewery and one of writing. It simply wasn’t possible to do both and do both well. The brewery has fully consumed Cole and me so there’s little time for continued reflection on my decision to leave school. I’m either dealing with various departments in the government to get the brewery’s required approvals and permits or loading pallets of grain or power washing floors or interviewing candidates for jobs or folding tshirts. What I’m doing is not writing. What I’m doing is another dream and passion of mine: opening a brewery.

So, I have yet to find a regret. But again, I haven’t had the time or more honestly, given myself the time. And I’m only up in my office to write checks for insurance and scour drawers for any folders related to the brewery I may have forgotten now that we’ve moved into our tiny shared office in the brewery. But I was drawn, compelled to do the thing I haven’t done whatsoever since the start of 2014, and that is to write. And here I am, back at my computer, writing.

As Rick told me, I have a lot going on right now. And that RWW will always be there for me. Perhaps it’s not the best time for my life. I hope that’s all true. And Stan told me, which made me sink to the floor, that I really am a writer and no matter what I was a part of the program and that matters. I hope that is true as well. For now, I am happy that on this June evening just after I took the dogs for a walk before the oncoming storm, I sat down and wrote the words I’d been avoiding for months now.

So, I’m a graduate school drop out. That’s just one part of this whole entire story…

How Many Snowflakes Heal a Heart?

105 could make it lighten, rise up and out from the heavy body, flutter above the gray clouds and believe that while November may be the cruelest month, winter is on its way.

3 landing on a nose, then melted with cupped hands and a full breath.

2007: enough to call it powder? Enough to slide on skis?

Or just enough to make it a weak layer on the mountain side?

And slide, there goes the snow.

It happens so quickly.

Like death. Like a heart shattering, splintering and fracturing (does ice come to mind? a spiderweb of frozen water? Yes, that’s what I see, after the glacier has bulldozed me to the ground).

Avalanche.

Or, now for something kinder, like a snowman. 1.2 billion flakes, rolled and packed and punched and shaped. Three roundish globes to make a body, smoothed by hands damp in their woolen mittens. Don’t forget the eyes. Or the carrot for a nose.

Perhaps to some, like me, we lose count after the thousands and lose sight of each individual flake, lacy and intricate and well, frankly, magical. I see snow as the accumulation – much like the accumulation of life (or death, which seems to be happening a lot lately. Either suddenly or the “six months to live” rigmarole) but it’s all too convenient for someone like me, a skier, a worshiper of mountains, to make such metaphors from snow. Is it true or is it a myth that the Eskimos have many words for snow and we, and who are “we” exactly, have so few?

Do we need those many words? Yes, I know there are types of snow, names for a particular kind or shape or form. But do we really need to dig deep and unearth all these terms for snow?

Or could it be that snow is a word I’m using in place for pain?

Pain will do, won’t it?

When life is either suffering or not, does it matter what kind of snow or what kind of pain it is? What good does it do to find the different meanings, to take up the microscope and look deeper, closer?

It’s either cold.

Or it hurts.

Yet, it only takes one. Flake that is.

To make me smile when the world turns dark and closes in (almost pain, but not quite. I try to not let it sink into my bones. Let me be shaped by mittens, rolled and packed. The snowman has no heart, just a nose made from a carrot.).

Hope, is what I feel. One flake is all it takes.

No Internet Here: Ben Rover

Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana
Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana

I went to the cabin and I wrote.

That’s the simplest way to explain my four day retreat to the Ben Rover cabin near Polebridge. Of course, there’s more to it than that. But stripped of conveniences and crutches of ‘modern’ living like electricity, the Internet and regular work duties and responsibilities, simple works.

Is it easy, this simplicity? Hardly.

Stripped is essentially what it is: layers pealed off, nerves exposed, vulnerability.

And, essentially, good for writing. Not easy, but good. Exhausting and exhilarating.

A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!
A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!

Certainly not easy on the hands either–who knows how long, or if ever, it’s been since I’ve written that much by hand? My hands would cramp and I must have gripped the pen a bit too hard because purple bruises bloomed beneath my fingernails. Writing with pen and paper became physical. No longer would I drift off, thoughts rushing fast and aimlessly cast on a blinking computer screen. Without the computer and keyboard, I was more careful with my thoughts, with language. The engagement of my whole body was a new experience–I was no longer filtering my words through the screen of a computer, distracted by the scores of possibilities presented when connected to the Internet. Can’t remember the name of a channel in the Les Cheneaux Islands? Well, Google’s your friend. Looking for a better word or need clarity on nautical history of the Great Lakes? Your answer is one click away, or maybe two after you chase the rabbit down the next hole,  taking a brief pause to check status updates on Facebook.

Can’t let life pass you by, that’s what the Internet promises.

North Fork of the Flathead River
North Fork of the Flathead River

I went into the woods carrying bags and bags of self-doubt. Would I be able to write? Would I be able to keep the fire going (literally and metaphorically)? Would the loneliness build and I’d bury myself under the covers and weep away my retreat?

Self doubt be damned in the North Fork of the Flathead. Without the buzz of incoming text messages, the noise of the Internet, whatever baggage of uncertainty I carried dissipated. I reacquainted myself with the page. Alone with my thoughts, the only music I heard was the crack and pop of the woodstove. Clarity emerged through the darkness. I interrogated my assumptions, and devoted time to previously written work, examining it with such concentrated effort I couldn’t believe hours would pass and I was thinking and writing, writing and thinking. One night, I said aloud, much to my surprise, “I even like editing.” Who was this woman, clad in her flannel shirt flecked with bits of bark from hauling firewood from the shed into the cabin? Who was this woman who rose at 7, made too strong of coffee (didn’t think that was even possible) and opened to a blank page in her notebook and wrote through lunchtime?

While I know this to my core, but tend to forget: when we disconnect from the ‘world’, we connect with something greater. I went into the woods looking for the surly, down trodden writer who let herself interfere with her stories. There among the lined pages of a notebook, between the messy handwriting and margin notes, I found her.

No Google search needed.