Monday, December 29, 2008

Impasse

Here's what happens. There is something to do on a Friday or Saturday evening, something fun and grownup that will last late into the night. You and your husband both want to go, but you cannot both go. You cannot leave the baby with a babysitter for that long, that late at night - it would be a cruelty to both baby and babysitter. So one of you must stay home with the baby.

So now you must decide what is to be done. It is an absurdity for you to go and your husband to stay home, as these are invariably things that he has gone and found out about, things that involve his friends or his interests more than yours. It is similarly nonsensical for both of you to stay at home - why do that if one could go? But if he goes and you stay - and this always seems to make the most sense - you will feel miserable, lonely, and defeated. You will weep churlishly - why must it make the most sense for you to miss out? You will forget to enjoy your time with the baby, who, blissfully oblivious of your despair, grins and coos and babbles, making you feel even worse.

That's it. That's the big problem; indeed, that, along with its variations, is the only big problem. If you don't have a baby yet and think you have a modern, highly-evolved relationship, you probably find this to be really silly and imagine that there are many sensible, reasonable, and fair solutions to satisfy all parties. And I am telling you that it is not silly, and that there are no sensible, reasonable, and fair solutions to satisfy all parties.

If this posting seems ungenerous or spastic or whiny, that's because it is; I am writing in a fit of pique, and I have had entirely too much coffee today. I will probably regret posting this, but even if I do, I will not take it down, because it's the truth. This is what happens, and it will happen to you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Differences in Opinion

Things with which I am at odds:
  1. A.P.C. in re: the sale. A.P.C. wants to tell me, via email and postcards, that they are having a sale. I do not wish to know this. In fact, I am working actively to split my brain so that the side of my brain that has a credit card does not find out that A.P.C. is having a sale.
  2. The holidays in re: our budget. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I sat down together and set a very strict weekly budget for ourselves that includes a certain amount for groceries, a certain allowance for each of us to spend however we wish, and one meal out. The holidays are going to send this budget entirely to shit. The currently forseeable expenses (which will probably be half of the overall expenses in the end) are: A) Holiday dinner out with friend in town from Philadelphia. B) Holiday brunch out with parent-friends H and V. C) Stroller bag so stroller may be brought on airplane when we fly to see my husband's family. D) Cabs to and from airport. E) Holiday dinner out with friend in town from Atlanta. F) Presents for my husband's family. G) New pair of clogs for work - I know this doesn't actually relate to the holidays specifically, but it is something that must be dealt with, as I have entirely given up on "work shoes" that appear "professional."
  3. My conscience in re: my job. I really, really, really don't wanna - I didn't wanna go back this year, and I don't wanna go back next year, and I won't if I can help it. The thing is, there are kids involved here, and it's not their fault that I don't wanna. So I still don't wanna, but now I feel guilty about it.
  4. The last posting in re: making sense. It's a pretty scattered production, but going back this morning with a mind to clean it up, I couldn't figure out where to start, so I just let it stand. All I meant to tell you about was how beautiful the bedroom looked at that moment, and how much like home. I don't know if I actually communicated that - I don't know what I actually communicated - but, whatever, thus I wrote it, so thus it stands.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where I Live

Yesterday, I had an important footwear-related errand to run, so, coming home from work, I was in an irritated rush to complete all of those just-got-home tasks - open important-looking mail, remove outerwear, discard junkmail, blow nose, put pumped breastmilk in fridge, hide scary-bill-mail, drink water, remove work clothes and replace with mommy clothes, pump more breastmilk, eat remainder of lunch PB&J, take frantically-whining dog for walk, check email, and pee, though not in that particular order - in fact, never in any particular order. (I know, Apartment Therapy, that I should have a "landing strip" and a logical order to how I conduct my just-got-home rituals, but I don't, OK? Now go away and stop making me feel guilty about not having a clever, wittily-colored or tastefully-neutral storage solution for everyfuckingthing I own. Holy pissing jesus, you know?*)

Somewhere in the midst of this whirlwind of mostly-nonsensical activity, I flung open the bedroom door, which we keep closed during the day to prevent the dog from thinking he owns the entire house, and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. As with many New York apartments, most of our apartment's windows look out on various airshafts, letting in little natural light. Shielded thus from street noise, always bathed in artificial light, our living/dining/kitchen space always looks more or less the same day or night, making it unsettlingly easy to forget that there is an outside world at all, that there is anything going on but one's own frantic activity. The bedroom, though, is different. It has two large windows that face 7th Avenue, which, this far uptown, is a broad, uncluttered thoroughfare with no high-rises to throw shadows.

Opening the bedroom door, then, I was arrested by the stillness of the room, the spill of natural light, the muted sounds of the street outside. The snarl of blankets because I now sleep on the floor with the baby, the pillows at the foot of the bed because my husband now sleeps backwards so his head can be close to us - these things sometimes distress me with their messiness, their haphazard, chaotic feel. At that moment, though, bathed in the gentle afternoon light, the scene felt quite different - peaceful, familiar, and most of all, ours. The blankets, the pillows, the little fortress of supplies - a small box of toys, a potty, a few clean cloth diapers - that I have set up at the head of the floor bed - all spoke mutely of our lives together, the way that we have all accommodated each other and grown together to become a little family.

Every day, everything I see looks different. Sometimes a certain scene like this
or this or this will drive me crazy with anxiety or shame, that horrible feeling that I have simply lost control of my setting. At other times, these things seem like nothing - an entirely unsurprising and undistressing consequence of the life that we are living, headlong, daily.
I am thirty-and-a-half; my husband just turned thirty-two. We are only just inventing ourselves as full-fledged, traditional adults, with baby, household, careers, and, each other, which last thing we always seem on the verge of forgetting. It is no miracle, then, that I re-see everything every day. I am in a constant state of deconstructing what I was/thought/felt before, in a constant state of reconstructing - or constructing, sui generis, anew - what I am/think/feel now. Looking at the disordered but deeply familiar bedroom scene, in the light and the sounds of 7th Avenue, I was pulled forcibly out of my mindless rush and set down in the middle of my life. "This is where I sleep," I thought. "This is where I live." And, counter to how it often works with such moments, I did not forget the feeling for the remainder of the day, and I still feel it now, sitting at my trainwreck of a desk, my baby asleep in the midst of the blankets on the bedroom floor.

*With apologies to my lovely Christian readers. Really, I am sorry that I am such an ass as to type things on the internets and think they are funny when I know well and good that they are actively offensive to a wide range of wonderful people out there. Although, tee hee. By the way, old friends with whom I discussed the issue, I bet you’re wondering what ever happened to me converting to Catholicism. And I will tell you: it didn’t work out. You know, I imagine that lots of people who really ought to be atheists temporarily charm themselves into converting from time to time. Like BOB DYLAN, for example, or ME.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thinner

From my mid-teens on, I have been a thin person; I am used to picking Size XS or 0 off the racks, and I am used to people referring to me as "little," or "skinny," or sometimes even "bony." (Size 0, by the way, makes no sense to me. What does it mean? That I don't exist at all?) That said, in the last couple of weeks, I have very suddenly become very, very skinny indeed. My iliac crests stand out like knives, rubbing palpably into the thick fabric of the high-waisted jeans that are my current mommy uniform; making love in the living room during the baby's nap, my sacrum digs insistently through my dwindling back-flesh into the floor. As I have noted elsewhere, I used to have a cute round ass, but the tiny bit that was left after pregnancy has now disappeared entirely, leaving me to shift uncomfortably from sitz bone to sitz bone whenever I am seated on unpadded surfaces. All in all, I have become unstylishly, Olive-Oylishly stickish from top to bottom, with the exception of my startlingly round, milk-filled breasts and the large, blue, Iggyesque chest vein that has popped up between them.


I assume that the reasons for this effacement of my flesh are the same reasons for everything else in my life right now (the mess, for example, and the exhaustion):
1) Back at work.
2) Busy. Three paying jobs plus doula and writing and family and household.
3) Broke. Not that I can't afford food - I can - but that it's stressful, you know?
4) Big damn baby to feed and haul around.


I am not exactly conscious of eating less than I did before, but it is inevitable that, snack machine notwithstanding, one eats less and less frequently when busy in the workplace than one does when ruminating at home. I am also not conscious of putting out more physical effort, but the truth is that my non-walking baby is upstream from 22 pounds now, while I'm downstream from 115, and this is not good news for my calorie retention.


I really hate the feeling of getting skinnier. There is a sense of cold, dry wasting away that I find to be intensely unpleasant, not to mention seriously anxiety-producing. I had a similar problem during my pregnancy when my midwife told me week after week that I wasn't gaining enough weight and that I was dehydrated and undernourished. Just being told this, just knowing that one is not in the robust, plumpy, red-cheeky condition one ought to be in - this knowledge in and of itself makes one feel less robust, less plump, more papery-sallow. I remember, in my last trimester, frantically packing little stashes of nuts and mini-cheeses into my pockets and bags, eating as much as I possibly could during each free period at school. Sometimes my midwife would weigh me to find I had gained half a pound, sometimes not. "Couldn't it be stress?" I asked her, thinking of my 150 clamoring eighth graders and my binder full of painstakingly documented disciplinary issues. "NO," she said, and I left it at that, because when I was pregnant, and when I was in labor, too, I just left everything at that, sometimes not even realizing that I had one more thought, one more question, one more feeling. I was in labor for 70 hours and I didn't think the entire time to tell anyone at all - not my husband, not my doula, not my midwife - that I was sometimes confused, that I was sometimes frightened, and towards the end, that I thought I was doing a really bad job. My transfer from an OB to a midwife around my 7th month used up all the stores of self-advocacy that I could muster - from that point forward, I fell silent, even though I secretly ached to, among other things, take one more step and secure myself a home birth.

It is the middle of December now; at this time last year, I was two weeks from my due date, and I had finally begun my maternity leave by walking out of the school abruptly in the middle of the day, racked by coughs from a cold that wouldn't give up, leaking pee and pulling my chest and back muscles with each spasm. I don't know if the people around me understood the intensity with which I had been suffering; I don't know what they could have done if they did. After I began my leave, my cough slowly eased, although it didn't disappear entirely until a month postpartum, when a doctor finally realized that it was a resurgence of my childhood asthma and treated it accordingly.

I don't know if most of these things I have said about last year are true - whether I really had those thoughts and feelings. It is simply impossible for me to tell anymore, not at this distance. It seems now that that is how things went; if I had recounted these events yesterday, in a different mood, I might have said something different, and I might say something different again if I were to speak of it tomorrow. I do know for sure, though, that around this time last year, I went on maternity leave. For the last two weeks of 2007, I shook my cold, I cleaned my apartment, I gained a little weight, and I got ready for my baby.

Now, as then, there is no magic to what I need to resurrect my health. I need to stay home, I need to rest more, and I need to eat a lot. However, deep as I may be into maternity and all things maternal, there is no more maternity leave in the offing for me. I will go to work this week and the week after that, and I will keep going to work until summer vacation, when I will need to find different work to go to. There is no real resolution to be had here; this is the way of our modern lives. Winter will pass, as it always does, and by Spring, I will probably have forgotten that I was distressed about my weight at all, either because I will have gained it back or because I will have become used to being this little bit skinnier than I was before. My baby will be walking, and maybe talking, and I will have other things to worry about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mess


The apartment is a mess. We are living in masses of chaos, and sometimes, like now, I feel that the curtain separating us from the Great Cosmic Entropy out there is dangerously thin, and perhaps about to be pushed aside altogether. On the bureau in the kitchen (yes, we have a bureau in the kitchen, and we will until some generous patron out there coughs up the money for some Metro shelving), a stack of Z-guns sit under a Japanese rice cooker, which sits under a packet of Staples CD mailers. Next to that is the top of a tube of lip balm (the actual balm part being MIA), a bottle of butt spray, a lighter, a defunct smoke detector, a bulb of garlic, a guitar capo, and a riot of books and CDs, all hastily snatched from the baby just in time to prevent their utter destruction. On the kitchen counter, right next to the laptop on which I am now typing, there is a check book, the TV remote, two Christmas CDs to give as presents, a save-the-date card for a wedding in Alexandria this summer, a cable for some sort of audio equipment, a quickly dwindling stack of dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe's, a small baggie of pistachios, an empty cassette tape case, a pot of lip gloss, a Pocky packet with two Pockys left in it, the instructions that came with the replacement cartridge for the turntable, some dental floss, a stack of bills, my hairdresser's business card, one Sharpie, one highlighter, and two pens. My own "work area," down the hall towards the bedroom, is too obscured by papers to be graded, things to be drycleaned and/or mended, outerwear that ought to be hung up, and random pieces of jewelry to even be considered as a potential area in which to work. The bedroom, where I have taken to sleeping on the floor with the baby so as to not have to worry about him crawling out of the bed when he's wakey, is a bizarre (though cozy) nest of crumpled sheets and blankets, adult-sized and baby-sized, variously pee-, drool-, and breastmilk-stained.

I thought, when I began this posting, that I had more to say about this situation. Turns out I don't. Just that this is my life, and this is how I'm choosing to live it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Criminal Mastermind

As you may know, I spend a fair amount of energy saying bad things about Williamsburg and the people who frequent Williamsburg. (For readers who aren't familiar with New York City, let me clarify: I am talking about Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where everyone is so hip that they don't even need no book on hip, yo, not Colonial Williamsburg in my home state, the Old Dominion. Though, come to think of it, the two places are equally likely to be populated by those wearing knee breeches and/or vintage petticoats.) The funny thing - the dirty secret, I guess - is that I actually really love going to Williamsburg. The buildings are low, so you can see the clouds move through the sky, and there are lots of little shops (lots and lots and lots of little shops) to wander in and out of, meditatively fingering a smartly-tailored ersatz army jacket here or a clever little photo-print pillow there. There are lots of cafes to duck into for a cup of tea or a beer, and there are mussels and overstuffed falafel sandwiches and unexpectedly delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies, and for special-er occasions, there's absolutely anything you eat here.

Over the last few months home with the baby, I have become addicted to slipping into Williamsburg every couple of weeks or so. In the early afternoon on a weekday, when there are not hordes upon hordes of youngsters traipsing back and forth wearing willfully ugly, ironically squalid 1980s-style clothing, Williamsburg can even feel like a quiet, slightly backwaterish neighborhood. Sometimes I bring a bag of clothes to sell at a great loss at Beacon's Closet or Buffalo Exchange - this furnishes the pretext for the 45-minute trip. After selling the clothes and once again feeling humiliated at the pittance I got for them after the hours of pained effort it took to decide to buy them in the first place, the baby and I meander through the streets around Bedford Avenue (sometimes avoiding Bedford itself, because even on a weekday it's a little de trop, mes amis). We eat lunch with the clothing money, and if it is not a desperately poor week, I buy a little something - a second-hand dress, a new pair of shoes, a toy for the baby - that I probably oughtn't but that always makes me unreasonably happy.

Usually, these jaunts are rambling, uneventful, picaresque (quixotic?), full of little pleasures and minor adventures, none of which I even remember for long enough to recount later. But a few weeks ago, when the baby and I made one of our little trips, I had a strange encounter that momentarily jolted me out of my usual Williamsburg reverie. It was an uncommonly slow day, and all of the stores were nearly empty. Exploring the various high-end kid boutiques, the baby and I considered a hand-crocheted taxicab with a bell inside and a little jointed pull-doggie for him, settling finally on a pair of brightly-painted maracas. Passing American Apparel, I suddenly remembered that I had a gift-card for that store with eighteen dollars on it, from a return that I had made months ago. Delighted - free money! - I slipped inside and made a bee-line for the kids' section. (Like Williamsburg, American Apparel is a place that I badmouth ruthlessly but actually rather enjoy. I can do without their trailer-park-slacker-chic pitch and joylessly "edgy" ads, but I do find myself relying on their T-shirty staples as well as their solidly-constructed, adult-looking baby clothes.) Halloween was a couple of days away, and I wanted a brown shirt to complete the baby's "costume" - really just his winter hat, which happens to have bear ears on it. (I am not a good-enough mother or a creative-enough person to conceive of, construct, or purchase anything more elaborate than that, though I must say that I always get really good ideas for Halloween costumes right on Halloween day when it's too late to do anything about it, and I always promptly forget them until the next Halloween day, when it is again too late.)

Like every other store we had been in that day, American Apparel was nearly empty - just one or two other browsers - but for a phalanx of employees. Unlike the blank-faced youngsters that gave me such a turn in the Harlem branch, though, all of these shopgirls and shopboys seemed calm and cheery and well into their twenties and thirties, and they left me alone to browse happily amongst the baby things. After considerable thought, I selected a shirt, had a long discussion with one of the shopboys as to which size I should get, and made my way to the register. It was at this point that things took a sudden turn for the absurd.

After swiping my store-credit gift-card, the shopgirl at the register - her nametag said MANAGER - gave me a quizzical look. "This doesn't have any money on it," she said. "In fact, it's been cancelled."

"Cancelled? But it should have eighteen dollars on it," I said, suddenly unsure. "I got it when I returned a T-shirt, and I'm pretty sure I haven't used it?"

She typed and clicked for a moment, gazing at her computer screen. "It says the balance was transferred to another card," she said. "And that card was used at..." type, click, type, click "the American Apparel branch on the Upper East Side."

I goggled at her, flabbergasted. "But...I've never been to the American Apparel branch on the Upper East Side," I said, frantically trying to remember if I have ever been to the American Apparel branch on the Upper East Side. "I don't think I have. No. I haven't. I'm sure I haven't."

"Well, it says here you transferred the balance of this card to another card and used it at the American Apparel branch on the Upper East Side."

I goggled at her some more, stalling for time, trying to remember if I had perhaps performed these actions while in a fugue state. "But I really don't think I did that."

Click, type, click, type. "It was a purchase of, like, over one hundred dollars."

"But I didn't do that. That didn't happen," I said uneasily. "I got this store credit when I returned a T-shirt at the Columbia branch. And I haven't touched it since then." I was beginning to panic - did I have an alter ego that buys T-shirts? "Really. I've never even been to the American Apparel on the Upper East Side."

"Well," she said, "that's what the computer says happened."

"No," I said, "it isn't what happened. That didn't happen. I didn't do that. Unless" - I decided to just come out with it - "maybe I have a boring alter ego who goes around buying T-shirts for me while I'm in a fugue state?"

She looked at me, her face blank and unamused. "Okay," she said, "let me make a phone call. Have a seat." She indicated one of the two mid-century-chic leather chairs a couple of yards from the register. I sat, baby in my lap and diaper bag at my feet, feeling as though I had been banished to the Naughty Chair. The baby, seeming to sense the gravity of the situation, nursed quietly while we listened to an endless inter-manager conversation that sounded like this times twenty: "...But she says she didn't use the card. She says she's never been to that branch. Yeah. Right. Eighteen dollars. I don't know. But she says...right. Mmmhm....yeah...mmmhm...okay."

Finally, she hung up and beckoned me back from my Naughty Chair. "Look," she said, firmly but not entirely unkindly, "you got this store credit, then you went to another store and lied and said you lost it, then you got it transferred to another card, then you used that card, and now you're back trying to use the original credit. That's what it looks like. There's no other explanation for what happened. That's it. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say."

The baby had fallen asleep in the carrier, and I gazed at the manager helplessly over his sweaty, lolling head. I wanted to cry, but I knew I couldn't - it would be too ridiculous, a mom with a baby crying over eighteen dollars at American Apparel. I wanted to say, "Okay, look, whatever, I don't care, forget the store credit, I'll just pay for the stupid T-shirt," but I couldn't bring myself to do that either. It was just too galling - the manager thought I was a petty grifter, and I couldn't stomach doing anything that might confirm her suspicion. I could just imagine her telling the story to the other employees later - "And then, would you believe this, she practically admitted to it! After telling me so many times that the credit was good! And she was there with her baby! Crazy, huh?!" My chest constricted. "But," I tried to control the choking whine in my voice, "what does that mean? Does it mean I just lose my money? I mean...that sucks." I tried to laugh a little. "I mean, don't you think?"

"Okay," she said, "okay." She picked up the little brown thermal-knit T-shirt - fifteen dollars -and began ringing it up. "Look, I can't give you the change on this card, because there isn't any money on the card in the first place. So, I'm gonna ring this up, and you can have it, and that's it, okay?"

"Okay," I mumbled, "whatever. That's fine." I took the bag from her hand, feeling ashamed the way I sometimes do when I finally get my way after making a scene, and feeling angry that I had been made to feel ashamed.

Outside, on the sidewalk, it took me a moment to catch my breath. What had just happened? And why did it have to happen to me? I gazed disconsolately down N. 6th Street towards the river. The day felt grey, turned on its ear, maybe ruined. "Let's go home," I murmured to my still-sleeping baby. On the way back to the train station, though, I came across and purchased a pair of little woolly winter baby boots on sale, and then I got two of my favorite chocolate chip cookies to eat on the trip home, and it was hard not to think that things were looking up after all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Popeye

"I'm strong 'till the finish, 'cause I eat all my...pomegranate..."

Harlem, Election Day 2008


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

6 Unimportant Things that Make Me Happy

This topic is courtesy of Pretty Face, who has "tagged" me, as the kids say. When I sat down to think about it, I realized that it's actually a pretty difficult list to make. Because it's really easy for me to think of things that make me happy, such as I'll-say-PRESIDENT-you-say-OBAMA, mom-summit time with my mom-friend H, watching-silly-TV time with my friend M, my German baby wrap, my new lightweight stroller, How I Became Hettie Jones, Une Femme est Une Femme, my face cream, the playground at Central Park North, etc., etc., etc. All of these things, however, are important to me - that is, my life would be different if any one of them were to disappear. To think of things that make one happy but are not especially important to one's life is a real challenge, particularly when one is trying to avoid being cloying or twee. After some consideration, though, I believe that I have met the challenge successfully, as follows:

MY LIST OF 6 UNIMPORTANT THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

1. My snack ball. At our last mom-summit, H and I discussed the carrying of snacks. If you are a breastfeeding mom who's sort of laissez-faire with the whole introduction-of-solids thing, you do not carry food around for your baby (except, of course, in your breasts) for a really long time. So, when you finally do begin to carry a little snacky-snack around, you feel very smug and special and mom-like. Of course, as soon as I began to carry the snacky-snack, I realized that I would need a snacky-snack carrier that is Good for Travelling. Enter the snack ball. It keeps the snacky-snack (right now, pomegranate seeds are the baby's favorite food) safe and uncrushed, and it opens with a satisfying little snick, and it is SO CUTE that it will make everyone within a three-yard radius madly jealous and wanting one, even if they don't have a baby who needs a snacky-snack. It makes me so happy.

2. My baby-stuff hampers. The baby stuff was giving me really bad anxiety. Toys and baby carriers were beginning to spill across the floor, totally unchecked by the woefully inadequate little baby-blue canvas bins that I so happily brought home from Babies R Us in the last weeks of my pregnancy. I began to troll the internets anxiously, searching for some sort of thing that would effectively control the baby-stuff onslaught without being A) expensive or B) really Ugly or C) aggressively Tasteful, which is actually the same as being really Ugly. Enter the baby-stuff hampers. They are so sturdy, and they are the perfect size for assorted baby stuffs - bigger than a bin, smaller than a laundry hamper. Best of all, while they are far from being insufferable eyesores, they also do not scream DESIGN CHOICE, which is, like, the worst thing that a storage container could ever scream. They make me so happy.
3. Fancy euro long johns for the baby. Last winter, the baby had only just been born. I carried him everywhere under my jacket, and he didn't move around on his own at all, so he didn't need much of a winter wardrobe - just a warm sweater and a warm hat. This winter, though, is different. I still carry the baby most of the time, but now I carry him to places, like the playground, where he gets out of the carrier to do things like sit in the swing or crawl around on the ground and eat leaves. He also goes out in his stroller, especially when he's at the babysitter's. So he now needs some serious winter gear. Some of the winter gear that I have purchased is non-negotiable - the thick wool coverall, for example, or the warm boots, or the wool diaper cover/pants combo. These are things that I'm pretty sure I couldn't do without. The long johns, though? The baby has two pairs of legwarmers (yes, you read that right) and plenty of T-shirts to layer, so the long johns were not strict necessities. But they are so cute. And they are from Germany, and you know how one feels about things from Europe, and they come in little plastic pouches with cardboard inserts with German writing. (Sort of like Petit Bateau T-shirts, although the writing on those is French, I know, but hey, French, German, it's all not-English, right Sarah P from Wasilla?) Despite their practical nature, they are the littlest bit luxurious, and I feel so good that I can wrap the baby in this little bit of luxury while still feeling very earthy and practical. They make me so happy.

4. My student who sits in the second row, 4th period Introductory Japanese. Whenever I look at this student, she is looking back at me seriously, nodding her head like she understands what I'm saying. She makes me feel like I am not insane, and like I am actually communicating clearly. (In contrast, many - sometimes most - students make one feel as though one is utterly insane and babbling in some sort of incomprehensible Cantonese-Esperanto-Swahili hybrid.) She makes me so happy.

5. My husband making me coffee. I am, by all accounts, a decent enough cook. I am comfortable in the kitchen and reasonably competent with various kitchen appliances. However, for reasons that are unclear, I have never been able to master the coffee maker. So when I make coffee for myself, I have to use the little filter thing that you put right over your mug and pour the hot water through. This method certainly makes coffee, it's true, but it does not result in a nice, satisfying pot of coffee, nor does it perfume the kitchen in the way that a pot of coffee does. So I love it when my husband makes coffee. When he makes coffee, I get to have the experience of there being a nice, satisfying pot of coffee on the kitchen counter, and I get to smell that pot-of-coffee smell, plus I get to have something made for me, which is always the best, don't you think? It makes me so happy.

6. Being asked to be a backup doula for my doula friend D. It's hard to break into the doula business, yo, especially if you are not already in some sort of birthy/healthy field, like yoga or acupuncture or massage therapy. I mean, why would anyone hire a doula with zilch experience, when it is so easy (at least in New York) to find doulas with plenty of experience, even at the same price point? D and I both attended the same DONA workshops back in June, and we've stayed in touch since then, commiserating over the struggle towards becoming "real" doulas - doulas who actually ply their trade on a regular basis and get paid for it. The other day, D called to tell me that she had just been hired for her first paying birth, and she asked me to be her backup and come meet with her clients for a prenatal meeting on Sunday. It's pretty clear to me that she doesn't really need a backup - she is unemployed and has no other births lined up, so it's highly unlikely that she will be somehow unavoidably detained. I was, though, immensely flattered - grateful, really - that she called on me, that she reached out to share her good luck in getting a birth, to make it our good luck, instead of just hers. Even though the chances that I will actually have to pinch-hit this birth for her are slim to none, we will be sitting across from the expecting couple together on Sunday, two new doulas, backing each other up. It makes me so happy.
So, that's my list of 6 Unimportant Things that Make Me Happy. Took me a little longer than I would have expected, but I'm pretty satisfied with it. Now, I think that I'm supposed to "tag" someone else with this "meme"? (Oh, the lingo! I feel drunk with it!) Midwife-to-Be, Librarian-to-Be - are you ready to give this one a try?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tired

Some days - today - I come home from work feeling run down like an old lady. Maybe it's the encroaching darkness of winter; maybe it's the cumulative effect of being back at work for two and a half months now; maybe it's just the natural consequence of having an increasingly active, communicative, heavy baby; maybe it's because my husband has had a two-week flu; maybe (probably) it's all of these things put together and more. Whatever the reason, the past few weeks have seen me growing more and more run down with each passing day, more and more rubbed out, like an old blotty oil stain.

It seems as though there is no end to the demands I must meet, emotionally, psychologically, and - perhaps hardest of all - physically. Even though I still love nursing the baby and still treasure his time at my breast, sometimes, late in the evening of a long day, I feel as though he is slowly draining every last pocket of nutrition in my body, every last ounce of flesh and bone. "I think he's taking my bone marrow now!" I call out to my husband, slumping back on the couch as the baby takes long, uncompromising draughts, his cheeks flushed hot and red as though he is drinking straight blood. I am empty, too, of money. There is nothing left, nothing at all, and this nothingness is as draining as the baby's constant nutritional demands. Considering the shambles that once were our finances, I alternate between ghastly, nihilistic cheer and sick bouts of weeping. "I'll go back to work full-time," I sob to my husband, "I will!" "Honey," he sighs, knowing I am not serious, "you don't have to do that. You'd be miserable anyway."

Apart from these occasional torrents, though, I am surprisingly not-sad. Tiredness is, of course, an inevitably sad, grey state, but on the whole, this spell of exhaustion finds me free of any deep, lasting sadness. I am no stranger to depression, and I know that this is not really depression that I am feeling. I am not so much depressed as reduced, strangely negated, un-present. Every moment is devoted to something that is not entirely mine; I am barely able to slip in time for basic self-care and hygiene. My skin is grey, my hair is lank and overgrown, my fingernails are dirty, I need some depilatory, I left my makeup at a friend's house a couple of weeks ago and have made no effort to get it back, and all of my clothing is wrinkled or stained or linty or stretched-out.

Eighth period today, I covered a class for a teacher who was out sick. I have already won the loyalty of my own classes; I could show up in a nightgown with a toothbrush in my mouth, and they would still be willing to listen to me and even tell me I look pretty. This class, though, this new group of kids...I stood in front of them with my oily unmade-up face, greasy bangs, unplucked eyebrows, and baggy-assed work trousers, and I felt tired and afraid. I am an eighth-year teacher now, so no classroom where I am standing is ever entirely out of control, but eighth period today was dangerously close. I walked sternly up and down the rows of desks, and the students stayed in their seats, but only just. "Flat-butt," I heard one kid say under her breath as I walked by. Another asked me, "Who did you vote for?" I looked in his face and realized that he thought I voted for McCain. Wherever your political sympathies lie, I am sure that you see how in this particular situation - a white (sic) teacher with a group of African-American teenagers in the middle of Harlem - the implication that one voted for McCain is a seriously negative character judgement. "Hey," said another student, "are you from Wisconsin?" Veteran that I am, I was able without even thinking to deflect these comments lightly, sweetly, with an airy wink, easing the tension and making everyone laugh. But I was shaken - as fleeting as the moment was, it was the only time I can remember in all of my years of teaching that the students actually challenged me for my race alone, putting me squarely among the "them" in the us-them war.

This morning, when I got to school, I found twenty bucks in an envelope in my mailbox. There was a note accompanying it, from a kind biology teacher at the school, explaining that he hadn't contributed to the whole-staff baby shower present because he thought it was too impersonal, and had meant to buy something special for the baby, but had never gotten around to it. He suggested that I use the money to go to the Kiku show at the New York Botanical Garden - he is in charge of the garden in the school courtyard, and I spent one hot afternoon in June 2007 helping him weed. I had had plans to help him plant a Japanese garden with hydrangea and shiso, but then I got pregnant, and all non-baby plans fell by the wayside. On the way home from work today, dead-broke, I used his twenty to buy myself rice and beans and cafe con leche at the Dominican place. The baby is still at daycare, and I'm at home alone now, eating my rice and beans. I feel warm and tenuously, temporarily protected from the demands of the world. I do not want to move, I do not want to leave the apartment. Right now, I don't even want to go pick up the baby.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baby Days

Last night, the baby and I sat on the floor eating pomegranate. For awhile, I fed him one little seed at a time, but then, suddenly, he became ravenous for it, and grabbed an entire hunk from my hand. Babbling and waving his arms, he dug his two teeth indiscriminately into seeds, pith, and skin, covering his face with juice and the floor with pomegranate bits. He fell asleep about half an hour after his pomegranate orgy, and I wiped the floor carefully, but it's still a little sticky today.

The baby is always on the move these days, so it's hard to get a non-blurry picture. He wreaks havoc wherever he goes, pulling records, CDs, and books off the shelves, emptying his toy bin, splashing in the dog's water bowl, drumming on the trash cans, thumping on the record player.

In a rambling, mostly-aimless trip to Willilamsburg yesterday, we shared a falafel sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie, got accused of gift-card fraud at American Apparel (true story), and bought new baby boots and a pair of small, wooden maracas. At home, after having the boots put on his feet, he promptly opened a kitchen cabinet, found and uncapped a bottle of canola oil, poured it on the floor, and put his feet in the puddle. As for the maracas, he hit himself in the head with one today and cried himself to sleep. He is still asleep now, and, miraculously, for the first time in two weeks or so, my head is not-spinning enough that I can sit down and write about it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Late Bloomer

I have just finished reading a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker about late-blooming artists - painters, writers, etc. who take years and years to come into their own artistically. This, of course, is in contrast with the precocious genius, an archetype beloved by all and sundry and celebrated in such objectionable creations as Amadeus. (Egregious though that film is, it's really important to note that Elizabeth Berridge is adorable in it, and why was she never in any movies again?) Generally speaking, people tend to LOVE precocious geniuses - "And he was only sixteen!!!" they say in exaggeratedly awed tones, or "And all of that happened before she turned twenty-one!!!". I think there are two basic reasons for this adoration of artistic precocity:
  1. It makes people feel better about themselves in that it reduces the value of the artistic accomplishment in question. If people like Mozart and Jonathan Safran Foer (EASY, TIGER! I am not equating their accomplishments! Those are just two examples from the article, OKAY? GOD!) can just pull complex artistic creations out of their asses every fifteen minutes or so, then those creations are clearly the result of magic, rather than intense application of willpower, energy, intellect, craft, and vision. I mean, if writing an opera comes as naturally to Mozart as burping comes to me, then really, the opera is of no more value than a burp, even though it sounds rather nicer, so I don't have to feel bad about the fact that I spend more time burping than writing operas.
  2. (And this is related, but also sort of separate, which is why I am giving it its own number, which is 2.) It releases people from having to make any sort of judgement about the artistic creations in question. The guy is a GENIUS!!! The creation (novel, painting, whatever) is a BOLT FROM THE BLUE!!! It only took him TWO DAYS to create!!! And he's not even THIRTY YET!!! OH MY GOD!!! (Sound of heads exploding in appreciation.) Amid such hoopla, the actual thing itself disappears, as does any sober examination of its merits, its meanings, its causes, its effects. So we can just wallow in what are essentially factoids about the artist and the art without troubling ourselves to actually examine either, which effort would take a bit of application, knowledge, and, well, effort.

In contrast, the late-blooming artist, as described by Gladwell, is a somewhat more uncomfortable figure, because it is more recognizable - it hits closer to home. Late-blooming artists are often not noticeably extraordinary in their fields when they are six or sixteen or twenty-six or maybe even thirty-six. They simply work and work and work and work and rework and rework and rework and rework until things begin to come together in the right way. In this story, the strain that attends the creative process is visible. A "precocious genius" narrative allows us to see art and artist as entities foreign to our existence; a "late-blooming artist" narrative forces us to come to terms with the fact that the artist is a person and the art a human production. As Gladwell puts it, "sometimes [genius] is just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table."

Personally, I find consolation in the late-blooming artist concept for obvious reasons. I am not comparing myself to Cezanne, Gladwell's prime example of late blooming, but I do find myself, at the age of thirty, only just approaching what I want to be when I grow up, and only just discovering where my true talents may or may not lie. It is a great comfort to think, then, that historical precedence shows that my time is still not past, that there is still ample opportunity to reach for greatness - or rather, for my heart's content.

Towards the end of his article, Gladwell points out that all late-blooming artists have one thing in common - patrons, who make the long gestation of their art possible. In Cezanne's case, it was two great artists, one art dealer, and a rich father. In writer Ben Fountain's case, it was his wife, willing to work full-time while he stayed home - for the eighteen years it took him to publish his first book. "Late bloomers' stories," Gladwell writes, "are invariably love stories." Reading this, I felt my heart swell for a moment and my eyes well with tears. My husband and I have no money right now, literally, and it is unlikely that we will be meaningfully out of the red any time soon. Despite this, my husband has not once asked that I return to work full time, either now or in the future. He has taken it on faith that what I am doing is what I need to be doing, and he has never questioned the choices I have made - to be with the baby, to write, to pursue work as a doula, to train as a childbirth educator. If I find success, it will be in a large part because of his willingness to believe in and value my personal goals above everything - above even the financial interest of the family. I can't really think why he would do this, why he would show me such generosity, such patience, and such devotion. The only possible explanation is that this is, as Gladwell writes, a love story.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cape People 2

Hey! Looks like Kate Moss went to school with Cape People, too! Ha! I knew we had something in common other than the fact that we are both coked-out, concert-puking, jump-suit-wearing ex-models.

Starbucks

As I have mentioned before, I go to Starbucks rather frequently, because 1) my parents kindly keep a Starbucks gift card loaded up for me, and 2) what else is there to do? Usually, I just get a drink and a snack to go, but a couple of weeks ago, I decided to stay and sit for a few minutes. While I was drinking my coffee, the baby fell asleep unexpectedly. (All of the baby's naps these days are unexpected, as he staunchly refuses to follow any predictable schedule and, some days, staunchly refuses to nap at all. If you have a baby who is not yet nine months old, listen to me carefully: ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN. Not that this time is not enjoyable, it really, really is, but OH MY GOD.) Not knowing whether he would be out for five minutes or two hours and caught in a fit of indecision as to how to use the time best, I ended up just squandering it, gazing disconsolately at the previous day's Times, cursing myself for not having brought my laptop or a book or The New Yorker or being otherwise productive.

So yesterday, I decided to set off for Starbucks fully prepared to be one of those busy, productive people who sit at Starbucks being busy and productive. I brought my laptop and The New Yorker, though no book, as I have lost the book I was reading and stubbornly refuse to start another one until I find it. Carrying the baby in a sling and pushing the stroller with my bag in it (I know, backwards, I know), I walked to Starbucks, enjoying the brief return to warm weather that this week has brought us. When I got to Starbucks, I ordered a drink and a piece of pound cake, strapped the baby into the stroller with his jingletoy, and sat down at the counter, ready to be productive. It was at this point that I became aware of the gigantic hole in my brilliant plan: the baby had to be asleep for it to work. Which, needless to say, he was not.

So, instead of doing work, I just sat and chatted to the baby, feeding him pieces of banana and feeding myself pieces of pound cake. (I offered to share, but he didn't want any.) One of the reasons that I usually don't stay at Starbucks with the baby is because, when I do, I always feel like a character - the stay-at-home mom at Starbucks with her baby in the middle of the day. A character - as opposed to a person - is someone you can just discount, and sometimes I think that no character is more discountable than a mom with a baby and a stroller and some noisy toys and some smushed-up banana. I have ignored that character countless, countless times, my eyes sweeping right past her on the street, in the supermarket, in the subway. A stay-at-home-mom-with-kid was someone who was not me, someone completely unconnected to my life, and indeed to any life at all, someone who has turned entirely aside from life to devote herself to what is essentially a grubby pile of congealed applesauce and milk sitting in an even grubbier stroller. (I am shocked, writing the words, to realize that I really did think this, despite always saying I loved kids, despite always saying I couldn't wait to be a mom.

I had chosen a seat that was at a high counter, right in the center of the shop, and, sitting there feeding banana to the baby, I felt exposed and self-conscious of the figure I was cutting, the mom with the baby. I examined myself for a moment and realized, startled, that everything about me was shouting the story of my life right now. The baby, dressed in corduroy, sat in a mid-priced Italian stroller with a ring sling hanging off the back, the thick Guatemalan cotton creased and discolored with months of hard use. My giant mom-sized tote, its straps fraying at the edges, slouched on the counter, spilling out a computer cord, a cloth diaper, and a fuzzy black cardigan. My and the baby's ostensibly smart outfits of black and navy were revealed, in the bright mid-morning sun, to be covered with dog hair, flokati rug residue, and crusty banana bits. My new high-heeled clogs, purchased furtively at a boutique in Williamsburg, already showed wear at the heels. I wondered if anyone else was looking at me as closely as I was looking at myself, and if they were seeing the same things. I wondered, if I looked closely at anyone else sitting at the Starbucks, would I see the same dust, the same fraying, the same wear and tear?

The baby finished his banana and began to squirm in the stroller. I stuffed the computer cord, cloth diaper, and cardigan back into my bag, got as many pound cake and banana bits off myself as I could, and wrestled the stroller out the door. On the walk home, the baby fell asleep, but he woke up again when I took him out of the stroller at the door to our building, and he didn't sleep again until the early evening.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day Off

Normally, I work Mondays through Wednesdays, but not this week; there's no school today or tomorrow because of Rosh Hashanah. So I am home, and today, I'm home alone, because I sent the baby to daycare. The prospect of being at home by myself all day definitely feels exciting and a little luxurious, but mostly I am slightly panic-stricken. I am dead-set against wasting the day, and have set out a certain number of tasks for myself. To wit:
  1. Vacuum.
  2. Clean stovetop.
  3. Throw out old carseat and clean toxic dust from new one.
  4. Mop.
  5. Complete all feedback for this week for online class I am TA'ing.

Of all these tasks, it is the fifth that is the most daunting, because, unlike vacuuming, it cannot be completed in a sudden, random burst of energy. Here's how feedback works. I have thirteen students. Every week, they have an online "discussion" about the week's readings. I then have to do the following for each student:

  1. Tally his/her discussion contributions for the week. Be sure at least one was posted by last Wednesday, and the remainder by Sunday.
  2. Read his/her discussion contributions for the week. Give grade out of ten points. Remember to take points off for late postings.
  3. Compose feedback email that comments on his/her discussion work and explains his/her grade, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, noting areas of particular interest or futher exploration.

Needless to say, this takes years. Usually, I finish it over the course of three or four days, to the tune of one to three hours a day. Today, however, my intention is to finish ALL of it in ONE FELL SWOOP. It is a task that is beyond intimidating, because I am not really one to sit still and work at something for hours on end, and my powers of putting off tedious tasks (and then justifying the putting-off) are formidable. After my husband and the baby left this morning, I stood in the kitchen, terror rising in my gut, trying to decide what to do. Curling up with the Norman Mailer letters in this week's The New Yorker seemed really appealing, as did watching junky housewife TV, but I knew that that would be WRONG, but I could not bring myself to do what would be RIGHT, i.e. sitting down and starting the damn feedback. Finally, I decided that the best thing to do would be to feed myself. If I had a little plate of food, I reasoned, I could trick myself into bringing it over to my desk, and it would serve as just enough distraction to keep me from caving under the all-consuming weight of the feedback task.

So, despite the fact that I had already eaten breakfast, I fixed myself a bowl of rice with greens and pinto beans. (If you think 9AM is the wrong time to eat rice and beans, you have never truly lived.) And the plan worked. Bowl in hand, I managed to get myself over to my computer, and I even started working. The only problem is, I've been working on the wrong thing. I've been working on this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Brother 2

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: "Oh, that brother story was intriguing and poignant! I wonder what ever happened with that - did he call her back?"

And the answer is yes. Yes, my brother called me back that very evening, and I spoke with him for the first time in twelve years - for the first time since I was in high school. It was a conversation that I have been rehearsing for all of my meager adult life, but none of the things for which I rehearsed were actually said. There were no ebullient greetings or angry recriminations or labored explanations. My brother told me where he lives (back on the East coast) and what he does (computers), and he said he's 51, and he said a friend of his has a baby that's really cute but probably not as cute as mine, and he said he played Frisbee-golf the day before, and have I never heard of Frisbee-golf? He seemed to not understand that he had been lost to me, utterly lost for twelve whole years, and that the loss was a deeper, more painful grief than I have ever, ever been able to admit to anyone. He seemed to think that there was nothing important to say. After about twenty minutes, we hung up, and I came away feeling dazed and parched, as though I had just tried to drink from a mirage. Our conversation had been woefully incomplete, almost less satisfying than no conversation at all.

I would be happy to be wrong about this, but I am almost sure that if I want to talk to him more, if I want to try again to have that conversation, I will have to be the one to call him. I don't mean to be maudlin or melodramatic, but in this moment, I truly do not believe that my older brother will ever call me again for as long as we live.

Announcement

Please excuse this interruption. You may, intrepid reader, have noticed that there have been no photos with my entries for awhile. This has not been my fault, but rather the joint faults of my bad computer and bad camera. I have finally managed to get the problem(s) fixed, sort of kind of. So I added some pictures here. Go look at them. Thank you for your attention.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Clean

I wrote awhile ago about my penchant for not bathing the baby particularly often. The thing that I didn't say is that this attitude is not isolated laziness, but rather part of my overall program. That is to say, I also have a penchant for not bathing myself particularly often. This is a really horrifying thing to admit on the vast stage of the internets, because I know that people - or at least people in both of the countries from which I draw my immediate heritage - are really hung up on bathing every day. But it is the absolute truth. I bathe, at best, every other day, and sometimes stretch it out much longer, to the tune of maybe twice a week. With the baby in the picture, I have not been unknown to go an entire week unbathed. I know you think this is gross, and I am sorry, but it is true.

One problem with bathing is that it takes up such immense amounts of time. Just brushing my teeth (which I do every day) and washing my face (which I do most days) feel like years and years of lost time to me, so only think how screamingly tedious a task showering presents. Even if the shower itself is on the short side, which it seldom is for me, the afters - creams, lotions, hair stuff, etc. - are interminable. Viewed from the bottom of the hill, the climb seems absolutely insurmountable. (If this is how I feel about showering, you can imagine how bad WRITING PAPERS was for me. And I was an ENGLISH MAJOR. Oh my GOD.) Faced with the prospect of such a hard slog, I usually give up. It is so much more appealing, at night, to curl up and read or watch TV; it is so much more appealing, in the morning, to nestle in bed a bit longer with a book or, alternately, to get dressed and run out of the house to start the day.

Also, one is seldom actually dirty. I know it is the fashion to think of oneself as being dirty after a day of not showering, but that simply isn't the case. It is true that one is not squeaky clean, but why in heaven's name must one be squeaky clean? One is not a Tupperware. I wash my hands when I ought and rinse my feet in the tub when I've been walking in sandals and I do shower enough to keep myself clean by any measure except the one that you are using, you crazy damn Americans. Do you not know that people normally smell like people, not like Jergen's Cherry Almond or Victoria's Secret Honeysuckle Rose or even Bliss Spa Lemon Sage? What is WRONG with you?

I know that one hidden reason that many people shower every day is their belief they must wet and re-style their hair every day in order for it to continue to look as it should. I think that in some cases this is really true - a small number of people have just the sort of hair or just the sort of haircut that requires constant attention to prevent it from looking truly bad. However, in many cases, this is not the situation. Often, people are simply addicted to re-styling their hair every day, either out of pure superstition or out of a desire to make their hair look a way that it isn't built to look. To which I say GIVE IT UP. You are a PERSON, not a Vidal Sassoon model or a "reality" television character. Toss some appropriately formulated cream and/or powder through that mop, put on your jacket, and LET'S GO ALREADY. TIME'S A-WASTIN'. (If you don't have any appropriately formulated cream and/or powder, or if you have so many that it is the same as having none, then we need to talk. You are an adult, old enough to purchase and use a small number of high-quality products. Stop trolling the aisles of Rite-Aid. Go to Bigelow's or similar, talk to the shopgirls, and get one to three things that work just as they should. And pay good money for them, too. It's absolutely worth it - just think how much time you will save in showering.)

I realize that this is probably the most uncomfortable posting I have ever written. These days, one is used to thinking that nothing is taboo anymore, considering what is shown on even basic cable channels and what the average person sees fit to reveal on his or her Facebook page. But, tame as it may seem, the admission that I do not bathe myself every day feels truly taboo, more than anything else I could possibly think to write. "Are you really posting that?" My husband asked with some alarm. And dammit, I am.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Toxic Dust Invasion Vacation

Today, the baby and I are in exile from our apartment. Last night, at around eight o'clock, I became uncomfortably aware of a horrendous chemical smell emanating from the apartment below us, which is under construction. Peeking out the door, I saw that the stairs and the hall were covered in a fine white dust. Further investigation revealed that a corner of our bedroom was covered in the same dust, and, presently, I realized that the inside of my mouth felt coated with something and my head was beginning to hurt. Thrown into a sudden panic, I hurriedly packed my monogrammed Vera Bradley overnighter for which I would tease myself mercilessly were I not me, and fled with it, the baby, and an air mattress to my friend M's apartment. We arrived just in time to make M cook me dinner, watch "The Daily Show," and then uncompanionably fall asleep in the middle of "The Colbert Report."

M left for work early this morning, and we have been alone in the apartment all day, wreaking havoc on her DVD collection (the baby) and eating everything in her refrigerator (me). It is dismal outside, gray and chilly, and I am half-grateful to the Terrifying Toxic Dust Invasion for giving us something to do other than stay in our house and sulk all day (namely, stay in M's house and sulk all day). It's sort of like I'm on vacation, and I am feeling strangely cheery about the whole thing - toxic dust, air mattress, Vera Bradley overnighter, etc. I am even, in celebration, allowing the baby to eat Post-It notes, though I probably oughtn't, seeing as they belong to M.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Birth Doula

Last Friday night, in the middle of a friend's birthday party, I was summoned to attend my first birth as a birth doula. After a night of labor and about an hour on an epidural, my client delivered a baby girl on Saturday morning at 6AM at a quiet, shiny hospital on the Upper East Side. About an hour and a half after the birth, I stumbled out of the hospital into a cab, confused and sleepy.

In the days since the birth, my husband and the one or two friends who knew about it have asked me with some excitement, "So, how did it go?!" And mostly, I don't really know how it went. Nothing bad happened. My client delivered vaginally with the absolute minimum of complications. (I won't say "no complications," because unless your practitioner is as gentle as Gandhi and you are as unbending as the Hitler Youth, giving birth in a hospital entails complications, because it is the hospital's job to create complications. I say this with no bitterness. It's just true.) My client was in labor. I stayed with her until she gave birth. Then I left. Is that what a doula does?

During my doula training, the trainer - a rather famous doula in the New York area - said again and again, "Less is more, doulas! Less is more!" We even watched videos of (also very famous) doulas at work, and our trainer pointed out all of the things that she wouldn't have done. "That's too much! Too much! What is she doing? Why is she waving her hand in mom's face? Why is she standing there in that circle of love? [Meaning getting in the way of the mom-dad connection.] Less is more, doulas! Less is more!" At the time, it made perfect sense, and I was also feeling flattered to be addressed as "doula," and I wrote it down diligently: "less...is...more." I pictured myself sitting serenely next to my laboring client, my wise, angelic presence permeating the room.

As much as I thought I understood "less is more," though, I found myself rather shocked at how very little I did over the course of my client's labor. In early labor, I put a hot towel on her back. ("Oooh, that feels good," she said, but then the towel fell off her back and we forgot about it.) In the triage room, I rubbed her feet. ("That really helps," she said, but moments later I said something, and she said, disappointedly, "Now you broke the focus.") In the labor and delivery room, I put a tissue with peppermint oil on her pillow. ("That smells good," she said.) Really, honestly, these are the three distinct actions I remember myself taking. Other than that, I was mostly doing nothing.

Thinking back to my training ("Less is more, doulas! Less is more!") and also talking to E, the director of the doula service that I am working with, I am relatively sure that I did a relatively good job, and that all those times I was doing nothing, it was because there was nothing to be done. I know in my brain that just being there - "Occupying that emotional space," as E put it - is the most important function that a doula can serve. But it is REALLY counter to my nature to just lie around like lox when there is a person in the room who appears to need help. I'm not saying that I'm super-compassionate or anything, but I do have a highly-developed guilt mechanism that locks in really well with an abysmal inferiority complex, making me feel like I should always be DOING something to help people, because if I don't, they'll be mad at me, and I'm not worth anything anyway. I also have a touch of ADD (I'm being perfectly serious here), which means that just sitting in a serene manner is not really part of my psychological landscape. So it looks as though, for me, Doing Nothing With Conviction is going to be the hardest part of being a doula, rather than, say, Back Massage. Because if you can't Do Nothing With Conviction, you will end up dithering, and a dithering doula is, like, the pits, whereas a doula who is not so hot at Back Massage is totally live-with-able.

Oddly, while I felt dithery and anxious ("Ohmygod I'm not doing anything!! Ohmygod what should I do?! Ohmygod she's having another contraction!! Shitfuck!!") beyond all belief through a great deal of my client's labor, I appear to have not come off that way. The nurse, filling out the feedback form I need for certification, wrote, "She's a very calming presence," and E reports that my client said I was a big help throughout. The aforementioned inferiority complex keeps singsonging at me, "They're just saying that to be nice...they're just saying that to be nice..." In a more grownup part of my brain, though, I am just barely allowing myself to think that it might be true - I might have been a positive, calming presence for my client, and, all dithers aside, I might even have a special talent for being that way. I can't be sure that this is true, but I am working on thinking that it is, because I know that as much as I want to help my clients, I will only be able to do so inasmuch as I believe that I can.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Brother

When I was eighteen years old, my half-brother X disappeared. I have two half-brothers, X and Y, my father's sons, both of whom are about twenty years older than I. Obviously, we were not raised together, and we never even lived in the same house together, although, come to think of it, I seem to remember X living in the spare bedroom in our house for a few months when I was little. For reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, having their foundations in events that occurred before I was born, there have always been serious tensions in the relationship between my half-brothers and my family. Y categorically refused, for ten years or more, to have any contact at all; X was more present, but intermittently hostile. None of these things were directed at me. I was a pretty little girl upon whom everyone doted, X and Y included, and they tried their best to be brotherly. If anything, I was closer to X, as he came around more often. He was jokey and goofy and enjoyed making me laugh. Once, when I was little, he took me to the zoo, and I also remember him trying to teach me about right and left, and I also have a copy of The Hobbit and a Joanna Hurwitz book with birthday inscriptions from him. Inevitably, though, adult issues interceded, and overall I did not see much of my brothers. I always tell people that I am an only child.

When I was a senior in high school, X invited me to come visit him for a week in California. I did, and though I told everyone including myself that it was really fun, the visit was in fact somewhat harrowing. X, though essentially kind, was clearly not quite OK. He maintained an unsteady veneer of casual jokeyness, and his sense of humor was very much intact, but his overall behavior was random, manic, and overwrought. He talked at me incessantly, loading me with bitter diatribes about politics, economics, and various members of our family. Also, he had the alarming habit of falling into abrupt deep sleeps, sometimes almost mid-sentence. The entire experience destabilized me intensely, so much so that, some time towards the end of the week, I broke down and sobbed at a restaurant over mussels, in the middle of yet another furious spiel about I don't know what. At the time, I assured X and myself that I was just tired because we had done so much sightseeing that day.

About three months later, X disappeared. For awhile, we just couldn't reach him, and we thought maybe he was busy. Then his office - he held a high position in finance - said he was on sick leave for back trouble, which none of us had known he had. Then his home answering machine had a new outgoing message, a weird one of a jostling, muffled conversation, as though someone had inadvertently hit the record button with an elbow. Then his office said he was gone, and they had no further information. Then his home number was disconnected. That was twelve years ago, and I have not heard from him since.

Today, my father emailed me a phone number that he had gotten hold of somehow, saying he thought it might be X's number. I called right away, and the person on the other end gave me a cell phone number. I called the cell phone number, and my brother answered. His voice, as always, was jokey and goofy, and I could not tell what he was feeling, other than faint surprise.

"I can't talk right now, because I'm in a meeting!" He said, "No, I really am! Aren't I in a meeting?" And he must have held his phone up to the room, because I heard five or six voices - "He's in a meeting!" "He's in a meeting!"

I suddenly remembered that when I went to visit California, I had arrived at the airport only to find that he not there to pick me up. When I called him, he was jokey and goofy and apologetic. "Sorry, honey! I'm here with a friend, cleaning my apartment for you, and I didn't get done in time! Here, talk to her, she'll tell you!" And he handed the phone to a dead-voiced woman who said, "He's been cleaning his apartment." When I got to his apartment - by cab - she was still there, blond and scruffy and Courtney-Love-like in jeans and a fatigue jacket, to my eyes too young and too dirty to be the appropriate companion for a middle-aged executive. She left, and I did not see her again that week.

This morning, hearing "He's in a meeting!", I wondered who was in the room with my brother. Was he in a fancy office like the one where he used to work? Was he surrounded by people in khakis and button-downs, or more Courtney Loves? Was he tricking me? "This is your number, right?" He asked cheerily. "I'll call you back when I'm finished!"

I have not heard back from him yet.

Monday, September 8, 2008

UnLucky

I have just opened the current issue of Lucky to find that it features not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE items that had been on my What I Want for Fall and Winter list. I am consumed with rage, because this means that I NOW CANNOT PURCHASE OR WEAR THOSE ITEMS, BECAUSE IF I DO, PEOPLE WILL THINK, "OH SHE GOT THAT BECAUSE SHE SAW IT IN LUCKY." Equally disturbing (or perhaps more so) is the unavoidable conclusion that I must have the same taste as the editors of Lucky. Fucking shit hell.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cape People

At my high school in Northern Virginia in the mid-nineties, we did not have Goths. Instead, we had the Cape People. (To my knowledge, I have only one regular reader who attended high school with me. RJT, you totally remember the Cape People, right?) The Cape People were a clique of what I would maybe call nerds or dorks, if it were not for the facts that A) That's not nice, and B) I attended Geek High, so, technically speaking, every single one of us was a nerd-dork of titanic proportions, even the coolest of the Cool lacrosse players, cheerleaders, etc. So instead I will say that the Cape People were a clique of students who were considered to be socially undesirable by most other students at the school.

The root cause of this undesirability is hard to locate. It is true that many, if not all, of the Cape People suffered variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. However, it is also true that pretty much every high school student on the face of the earth, whether Cool or Cape Person or somewhere in between, suffers variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. (I, myself, had two of those problems to varying degrees, and one, not at all.) So, while it made perfect sense at the time, I cannot now come up with a clear explanation regarding the unCoolness of the Cape People. I can only really resort to tautology - the Cape People were socially undesirable kids, and they were socially undesirable kids because they were Cape People.

In any case, unlike most other cliques in the school, which stuck to the fail-safe high school formula of T-shirt/jean/sneaker, the Cape People had a distinct look. While a fair number of the Cape People dressed fairly normally a fair amount of the time, a Cape Person in full-dress uniform, so to speak, would wear the following*:

  1. Tight black jeans. (We call them "skinny jeans" now, but I think, back then, they were just tight.)
  2. A washed-silk shirt in black, teal, or burgundy. A male Cape Person would wear one of those broad-shouldered ones favored at the time by Jerry Seinfeld or Garth Brooks; a female Cape Person would wear one of the ones with ruffles down the front that you could get from Express or the Victoria's Secret catalogue all through the nineties.
  3. A large silver pendant and one or two large silver rings. Always with a magicky sort of flavor - a battle-axe maybe, or a dragon with a "ruby" eye. Also, for juniors and seniors, a class ring (everyone in my school had one) that was either one of the chunkiest or one of the most delicate designs available, but never in the standard size.

  4. A belt-loop-to-wallet chain that (somewhat puzzlingly) often also held a large number of keys.

  5. A black cape. Often homemade. Sometimes elaborate, with flourishes such as a large hood, a silky red lining, or frog closures at the neck.

  6. Black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. These were the real must-have for all Cape People, and were often worn without the rest of the Cape Person getup.

  7. Optional: Homemade chain mail tunic.


The majority of the Cape People were, oddly, in the color guard, meaning the people that run around after the marching band while throwing flags in the air. Now, running around after a marching band while throwing flags in the air is a patently ridiculous activity, so between that and the Renaissance Faire attire, the Cape People, poor kids, really did not do themselves any favors. (The ridiculosity here is such that you may think I am making it all up. I am not. Ask my high school friend RJT. You tell them, girlfriend. There were medieval flag-throwers at our high school, right?) So, unsurprisingly, Cape People were roundly abused by all and sundry, though, happily for them, not as badly as they would have been abused at schools that were not Geek High. We Geek High-ers were as tolerant a group of adolescents as you might find, which I guess is to say that we were not tolerant at all, but rather too weak and/or too goody-goody and/or too loaded down with AP Bio books to actually beat anyone up.

While I am sure I did some behind-the-back snickering, I mostly just stayed the heck away from the Cape People. They made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable, wearing like a badge the ugly awkwardness, the sense of strangeness and otherness, that I saw in my own self and took so much care to hide. I was deathly afraid that any accidental association would lead my peers to see the truth that, under my eyeliner, clogs, and veneer of aloof sophistication, I really was a Cape Person, ungainly and out of tune in a way that could only provoke laughter and ridicule.

I had not thought about the Cape People for a really long time, not until about a month ago, when the image of a Cape Person popped, unbidden, into my mind. And do you know what thought accompanied the image? Not, I wish I had been nicer to those people. Not, I wonder what they're doing now. But, Those are some hot boots. Yes. The black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. Now, in addition to serving as a symbol for the extreme social isolation, the sheer crazy dorkitude, of Cape Personhood, this flavor of footwear fits squarely into the current Williamsburg Hip Ugly Chic aesthetic that I so revile. Those two facts alone should make these boots anathema to me, not to mention the bare, unavoidable fact that they are knee-high suede moccasins with fringe. However, I am entirely immune to reason in this matter. Renaissance Faire? Nonsense! Bedford Avenue? Pishposh! These boots - soft, slim, and dark - are clearly the epitome of modern elegance. A woman wearing such boots must necessarily exude an air of sure-footed sexiness, and in my current state of fevered fashion myopia, I simply cannot understand why anyone would think otherwise.

When I explained all of this to my husband, making sweeping hand gestures to illustrate the glamour of the boot, he asked, "So, does that mean that the Cape People were right about things after all?" This sort of stopped me in my tracks, because it seemed to me fairly clear that the Cape People were right about nothing at all - not even the boots, really, because as lovely as they are to my eyes now, they were not that lovely in the mid-nineties on zitty fifteen-year-old suburbanites wearing capes. While it's a tempting conclusion for this author of gently touching blog posts to reach, I cannot finally say that the Cape People were deeply wise about anything, footwear-related or otherwise. They were just deeply silly, or more accurately, deeply adolescent. Perhaps the idea of discovering something beautiful in that morass of adolescent silliness is at the root of my sudden, mad desire for Natty Bumppo boots. It is true that I am finally at an age at which I can look back at my high school years with a measure of detachment, separating out the true from the false, the vision from the blindness.

In the end, I'm not really sure what my desperate boot-need means - a re-visioning of my teen years; a secret desire to be a young, drunk, and careless Hip Ugly Chic Brooklynite; a subconscious salute to my fascination with the Leatherstocking novels of James Fenimore Cooper; or merely a slightly delayed buying-in to a sartorial trend of dubious aesthetic value. It may be all of these things or none of them at all. Luckily, when this particular fever passes, though I may never discover its source, I will only be out $75.95 plus shipping and handling, which, when you think about it, is not a bad deal at all.

*This uniform is not what I was referring to when I mentioned poor fashion sense. The poor fashion sense came in when they were NOT in uniform. The uniform itself is rather brilliantly beyond fashion in its bizarre, but somehow internally consistent, rules.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

September

This morning, we loaded the following into two canvas totes -

1 large beach towel
1 small absorbent towel
2 sarongs
1 baby blanket
5 clean diapers
5 clean wipes
1 spare diaper cover
1 dirty diaper bag
1 bottle of water
1 bag of toys - teething ring, jingletoy, squeaky giraffe, plastic cups
5 books (two for baby, three for us)
1 magazine
1 sun hat
1 I-pod
1 baby bathing suit
1 coverup
1 change of clothing for each family member
2 bottles of sunblock (1 toxic but easy to use, 1 nontoxic but thick as toothpaste)
1 tube of sunblock lip balm
1 tube of hand lotion

- and got on the Long Island Rail Road to Long Beach to visit my husband's friend L and go to the beach. On the beach, we squinted in the bright, hot midday sun and wrestled with the sunblock while the baby lay on his tummy on a sarong eating sand. After a walk down to water's edge and a little more sand-eating, I nursed the baby for a long, long time, lying next to him on the sarong, shielding both of us from the sun with the baby blanket. I watched him as he nursed, his eyes shut, sweat beading along his brow. In the moment, I was hot and sandy and a little uncomfortable, lying on my side on the gritty sarong, trying to hold the blanket over us in a non-asphyxiating manner. Already, though, I have almost forgotten this discomfort, looking back on the moment as unending and sweet, remembering his little face working at my breast in the light shade of the fine muslin blanket that covered us, sealing us off from our surroundings, creating a little world of only baby, mama, and milk.

Later, after the baby had napped and awoken, my husband said that he wanted to take the baby into the water. I have taken the baby "swimming" a few times this summer without my husband - to Jones Beach, a pond near my friend M's family's house in Connecticut, and a splashy wading fountain near my parents' house in Virginia. Back while I was still pregnant, I had imagined walking into the ocean with the baby in my arms, laughing with him as the waves splashed around us. However, I had found that the baby didn't much like being carried into the water, instead preferring to be held by the hands and "walked" in; once the water got deeper, he liked being swished back and forth by his arms like a monkey. I told my husband this, but he was absolutely determined that he wanted to be in the ocean holding the baby against his chest. So in we went, all three of us, the baby looking a little alarmed as the cold water started to splash against his feet. We went in deeper, until the waves wet his back, and then my husband knelt in the water so they were both neck-deep. The baby's face was quiet and wary, but he did not cry, not even when a sudden, large wave took all of us by surprise. He clutched at my husband's shoulder and arm for dear life, blinking drops of seawater out of his eyes, and we kissed him and told him he was brave. He continued to hold tightly to my husband as we walked out of the water and back up the beach, and I wrapped the big beach towel around both of them to dry them off.

We went back to my husband's friend L's place, a little beach-shacky house that he shares with two surfer roommates. We sat, with a few other friends, on the wooden deck, which houses a hammock, an umbrella table with a lot of chairs, a propane grill, and one of the surfers' garden of lettuce and basil and baby watermelon and tomatoes. We listened to Lou Reed and Bob Dylan and Television and the Kinks, drinking beer and watching L cook us dinner on the grill. I danced with the baby to "Maggie's Farm," swung with him on the hammock, and put him down to chase his jingletoy and an empty Coke bottle around the deck, smearing the front of his shirt with deck dirt. Dinner began to come off the grill - shrimp, burgers, ribs, scallops, and corn. We ate as it got darker, and we listened to Caetano Veloso and Neil Young and talked about politics and teased each other and told dirty jokes. We took the umbrella down and sat at the table looking up at the stars.

As someone who has never been anything except a student or a teacher, I think it's hard not to feel melancholy on Labor Day weekend, the end of the summer, and I felt my eyes fill with tears as I held the baby against me and looked out into the night. September always changes everything, and this September will be no different. The baby will be going to daycare three days a week, and I will be returning to work two or three days a week - for real this time, not the slinking-around-under-the-radar act I did when I "returned to work" in May and June. I will be back in the classroom after a nine-month hiatus, after telling myself that I would never have to go back to the classroom again, at least not soon. I will also be beginning my doula work in earnest; on TuesdayI am meeting with my first two clients, both of whom will be giving birth in September, and I am meeting with more potential clients on Wednesday. On top of that, I am challenging myself to return with seriousness to my writing, which has fallen by the wayside somewhat, and to pursue the writing opportunities that I caught a glimpse of in June. I feel a little as though I have been in some sort of suspended animation since the baby was born, a strange postpartum gestation, and now September is forcing me to suddenly snap out of it and begin moving, to be born, like it or not, as a new self.

And even more terrifying (or less? the same? I don't know) are the gigantic developmental strides the baby seems to be taking every 17 seconds. He is swiftly leaving infancy behind. He moves around and pulls himself up to stand; he says "Mama"; he plays a game where you stick your tongue out at him and he sticks his tongue out at you. I have barely wrapped my mind (and my life) around his infancy, and September will see me having to put it aside altogether. I don't feel ready to do that, but my readiness is irrelevant; it will happen anyway.

"What's up?" My husband whispered, wrapping both me and the baby in a hug.

"Everything is changing so fast," I whispered back, feeling confused and inarticulate.

"I know it's changing," he said, "but that's OK."

When it was time to go, I packed everything back into our canvas totes, and we took the Long Island Rail Road back to the city, sleepy from the food and sun and ocean and beer. The baby fell asleep on the train, and we treated ourselves to a cab home from Penn Station. At home, we found that the dog had peed on the floor but not pooped, which is about all we could have hoped for, given the fact that we had left him alone for close to twelve hours. My husband took the dog out to walk as I eased the baby into bed, his shirt still streaked with dirt. Today, August 31st, was the baby's eighth-month birthday. Tomorrow, it will be September.