Our Bodies are Connected

I arrived at the conference groggy and spent, the glands in my throat two swollen tender lumps. Both Smoke and Stump had been sick the week before with pink eye and a nasty cough, and now my own body hosted their germs. Stump had kept me up for half the night before, squirming and crying, and then I’d risen at five to catch my flight to Utah.

I traveled with five other colleagues, people I knew only from committee meetings and all-campus emails, and as we approached the hotel it began to snow. This was only last Tuesday. This was June. At first it was a joke—a few flakes mixed with pouring rain—but minutes later it was falling in earnest. It accumulated on the grass at the edge of the highway.

In my disoriented state, I was relieved to make it to my room alone. Here before me were the things I had dreamed of for months. Two beds with clean sheets, all to myself. A television. A heated outdoor pool down the hall. But it wasn’t the moment it should have been. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.
Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.

We were here for a conference and I’d given myself permission to miss the opening address. I was nursing a cold, after all. But already I felt torn between duty and self-care—the very feeling I was hoping to escape from.

I talked myself into taking a long shower, and once that task was through, I remembered that I needed to pump. I sat on the bed farthest from the window, and held the small plastic contraption to my left breast. The last time I had fed my son was this morning on the opposite side. He was in a strangely quiet mood, and he nursed with his eyes wide open, silent and content.

When my milk let down, a sigh went through me. I wasn’t crying, not really, but my eyes felt the pressure of tears and my body felt the pressure of longing and it was such a strange thing to be emptying my left breast into a plastic contraption so that I could continue to be away from my child for another three days.

medela

 For some reason, I began to think about women who lactated for babies they’d lost.

A week after my fist son was born, an acquaintance came to visit and she told me that she had a stillborn child many years before. “No one warned me that my milk would come in,” she said. Only two feet away, Smoke lay sleeping on my bed. “It was such a strange and terrible thing to have lost a baby and then to be making all this milk.”

My morbid thoughts were absurd. My baby was and is alive. He walks and talks and eats and demands every ounce of milk and energy I have. But I was sharing with a machine an event that I normally share with my child, and for that moment I felt somber and haunted.

And then the moment passed. I put on my pajamas and turned on the TV. I piled up the pillows made a spot for myself on the impeccably clean bed.

Over the next three days, a part of my brain held a constant awareness of the 900 miles between my body and my sons’ bodies. Since I wasn’t there to keep them safe, I prayed that they would be intact on my return. I tried to tuck this awareness deep into my brain, so I could Do Work Things, and when I wasn’t doing work things I flitted like a hummingbird from blossom to blossom, sampling all of the sweet uninterrupted pastimes I long for when I’m home caring for my boys.

When I returned, the baby walked to me, alone, arms open, saying “Mah. Mah. Mah. Mah.”

My Magic Office

-Do you like my office?
-I *love* your office!
-What do you love about it?
Everything!

From my own perspective, my office is a rathole. It’s windowless, and so I am tempted to call it a cave, but that makes it sound either cozy or mysterious and it is neither of those things. It is a small dark room that can either be over-lit with florescent lights or under-lit with a couple dim lamps. Most of the time I opt for under-lit until a student shows up, and I say “Let’s get some light in here,” as I scramble for the light switch. I don’t want them to think that I’m secretly a troll.

office

But Smoke loves my office, and every time he comes to visit I’m reminded of the days when I was his age and I would visit my own parents at work. It was like being a celebrity and visiting a small but exotic town. There were endless smiling people to greet, and though I had no idea who they were, they often knew my name. There were new things to eat—like cracker cheese sandwiches from the vending machines, or clam chowder from the cafeteria—and I always left with souvenirs. I remember leaving my father’s office once with a small book printed on special paper. The contents featured illustrations of pansies that also looked like monkeys. I had seen it on his desk, and held it like a sacred object. When he asked if I wanted to bring it home, I could barely believe my good fortune.

Wow. I searched monkey pansy and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html  I love you internet.
Wow. I searched “monkey pansy” and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html
I love you, internet.

This morning Smoke woke up with a touch of pink eye. I had no meetings to attend or classes to teach, just a mountain of grading that needed my attention and so I packed the iPad and some headphones and brought my son to work with me. It seemed the whole day was a treat to him. It was a treat for him to draw at my desk with special pens while I sat at my computer. It was a treat that I let him watch a movie on the iPad and eat the stale snacks in my desk drawer. At one point I turned around and saw him crunching. “What are you eating?” I asked, and he held up a box of chocolate nonpareils that had been empty for months. He was eating the tiny candy dots that had fallen off the chocolates.

For Smoke, I imagine, sitting in my hole of an office is less like visiting an exotic town with friendly locals, and more like resting your head in a loved one’s armpit. It may be a little funky, but it’s also intimate, special and safe.

And then we went to lunch.
And then we went to lunch.