Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Sad Day

As you might imagine, I am not particularly good at saving money. The only kind of money I can save is the kind that doesn’t make it into my hot little hands in the first place. So I do things like put zero exemptions on my tax form and have huge chunks of my paycheck put directly into my retirement account. Without such measures, every cent I earn would be converted directly into super-versatile shoes and ultra-useful shoulder bags, all to be cleverly hidden in my closet such that I forget that I even have them. Of all my savings efforts, though, I am most proud of my ING Direct account. I am proud because it took a little doing to set up (unlike my retirement account, which was, to an extent, automatic), and because it doesn’t come directly out of my paycheck – the paycheck hits my bank account first, then a certain amount (automatically) goes into the ING Direct. This means that, technically speaking, I have the money first, then put it in a savings account, which is like what responsible people do. I have had this account for about a year now, and have been really, really, really unreasonably proud of the sadly small amount of money I have accumulated. So it was with great chagrin today that I emptied my ING Direct back into my checking account in order to pay (part of) May rent. My four months of (unpaid! Can you believe it?) leave have now officially decimated every last cent in our coffers. I am so, so sad for my poor empty ING Direct, and I feel sort of helpless and ashamed that a year’s worth of savings doesn’t even cover one month’s rent. “Don’t worry, monkey, it’ll build up again,” my husband said kindly, but for the moment, I am inconsolable, and there is not even any chocolate in the house.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Being a Grownup

Because we are grownups, my husband and I really try not to argue about who is working harder and enduring more deprivation on account of the baby – we both understand that that’s an immature, unproductive, and ungenerous way to think about our lives. I know, though, that each of us is silently, guiltily stockpiling lethal arguments in our own favor. (At least I know that that’s what I do, and I assume that he does too, unless he is a much less petty person than I, which, come to think of it, is entirely possible.) However, all of these arguments will be rendered outdated and useless next Thursday, when I return to work and he goes on leave to stay home with the baby. We will then each have to discard all of our old arguments and begin building new ones.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baby Days

Sometimes, when the baby’s naps stretch long, I feel an immense sense of relief and latitude, and am either very productive, getting lots and lots of things done, or luxuriously lazy, reading or dawdling online or watching television. Sometimes, though, like today, when the baby stayed down for two, two and a half, three hours and counting, I feel dreadfully, desperately lonely. I am too scattered and contrary to get anything started or finished, and too keyed up and frustrated to relax. Every minute stretches into an eternity, and I feel as though I will never interact with another (adult, awake) human being again, ever. I can't bring myself to call anyone and expose my desperation or endure their sympathy. I wish that the baby would wake up to distract me, but refuse to wake him myself, because who knows how long it will be until I get another moment to myself? The windowless living room begins to contract and the silent apartment feels dead and airless. When the baby finally squirms awake and calls out, I run to him, feeling like a drowning woman thrashing her way to a raft, and I cry with relief into his little shoulder as I give him his waking hug.

My balance righted, I can re-start my day - today, we took the dog for a walk, then went to H&M, where we each got a pair of summer trousers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Tech Support"

An important thing to know about me is that I often wind up buying things without having meant to. For example, I was at Starbucks the other morning before doing a spot of group dancing in personal environment, and I had only intended to get a cup of coffee, as it was the kind of chilly weather that just begs for a nice cup of milky coffee. In the pastry counter, though, there was a pretty plate of little scones that said "One for x dollars, three for y dollars." The suggestion was just too much for me, and when the girl at the register said, "Anything else?" I found myself saying, "I'll take six of those, please." I offered them to the other dancers and, shockingly, only one person took one, so I ate the rest by myself the next day during the baby's nap. (Another good example of me buying things I didn't quite mean to is whenever I go to The Upper Breast Side, which is why I try to limit my trips there.)

In any case, today I called Dell "Tech Support" because my laptop monitor, distressingly, kept going black. I put quotes around the phrase not because the gentlemen with whom I spoke were not technologically supportive; indeed, they were exceedingly technologically supportive and kind, and didn't even sigh or act annoyed when I got confused about really simple things ("Um, where's the battery again?"). However, no matter how good at "Tech Support" they were, they were even better at selling me things, so I suspect that "Tech Support" is code for "Sales to Suggestible Idiots." Indeed, by the time I got off the phone, I had been sold $387 worth of upgrades for my (admittedly old and pokey) computer. Sneer at my suggestibility and idiocy if you like, but dammit, I challenge you to get on the phone with these geniuses and not spend any money. After I got off the phone, I sat on the floor with the baby, suffused with the triumphant/panicky feeling that often follows my unintended purchases. After a little while longer, the baby started fussing, and I fed him to sleep and napped myself, sleeping the whole episode off.

Baby Days

These days, the baby cries when he wakes up, and I run to him. He twists on the bed, confused and disgruntled. When I pick him up, he is soft and hot, and he melts into my arm and shoulder as I walk him around the apartment, murmuring to him. The trusting flop of his body against me makes me feel as though I am the most important person in the world.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Best (Nursing) Bra Store

If one is me, one loves a good makeover show. An important feature of such shows is the trip to the bra store. At the bra store, a nice lady (often with an accent of some sort) measures the makeoveree, looks at her thoughtfully, says “I know exackly what ees the bra for yooo,” plucks a bra seemingly at random from a bewildering selection, and says, “Try thees on, darlink.” Makeoveree then enters the dressing room, puts on the bra, and emerges looking like Brigitte Bardot, only with nicer breasts.

I always thought that stores like this were a complete lie. I also thought the hairstylist featured in fashion magazines was a complete lie – you know, the one who examines your hair thoughtfully, says, “Hmmmm, okay,” then makes you look like Brigitte Bardot, only with better hair. However, just as Izumi showed me that that hairstylist does exist, The Upper Breast Side has shown me that that bra store exists, if only for pregnant and nursing women.

I first heard about The Upper Breast Side (located, obviously, on the Upper West Side) while eavesdropping on a conversation in the yoga studio dressing room after prenatal yoga – one yogini had this fabulous maternity dress and the other yogini asked where she got it. Then I heard about it again at the weekly mothers’ meeting – my new mom friend I. told me that it was a good place to go for Boob nursing shirts, which at the time I coveted desperately. (Now I have four, so I don’t have to covet.) In my head, I pictured a neat, quiet store with a few racks of nursing bras and nursing clothes, and maternity clothes, and one or two curtained dressing rooms – sort of like any other small, upscale boutique on the Upper West Side. So, even though I had read some slightly scary online reviews of the place and its mean salesladies, I figured I could just slip in quietly, flip through the racks quickly, and escape with a nice little nursing T-shirt.

When I got to the store, though, I realized that it would not be quite like that. When you walk in, you find yourself a small area with a counter and cash register, a couple of little niches filled with various breastfeeding/baby products (nursing pads, slings, swaddling blankets, breast pump parts, etc.), but no bras or nursing clothing at all. Puzzled, I dawdled for a few minutes in front of the nursing pads until I worked up the courage to ask, “Um, do you have any nursing T-shirts?” “Sure!” Said the lady at the counter, “Let me get you a fitter! Have you been here before? Here, fill this out.” She thrust a doctor’s office-style clipboard and pen into my hands, and I found myself filling in my address, phone number, and pre-pregnancy bra size. Then an upper-middle-aged woman with glasses and an accent of some sort poked her head around a curtain to the side of the cash register. “Come here,” she said.

I walked past the curtain into a small back room that was at once immaculately organized and in a state of complete chaos. The walls were filled, floor to ceiling, with racks, shelves, and drawers stacked with bras and clothes. There were more things stacked on the floor in cardboard boxes, and on a couple of small counters. In the center of the room were a padded bench, a big white bassinet, and a glider filled with pillows. The nice bra lady instructed me to put my baby in the bassinet. (“Babies love it here!” she beamed, and sure enough, he was quiet and happy through the entire visit, staring raptly at the lights on the ceiling.)

“So,” the nice bra lady fixed me with a gimlet-like eye, “you want bra?”

“Well, I came to get a nursing T-shirt…” I trailed off. The nice bra lady raised her eyebrows. I caved. “I don’t know! Maybe? Do I need a nursing bra? I usually just wear a Glamourmom [tank top with shelf bra that has nursing openings]. Is that OK?”

The nice bra lady sighed. “Glamourmom is nice, yes. Convenient. Comfortable. Good for everyday. But it doesn’t do anything for you. What if you want to go out to dinner with your husband?”

I stared at her. Having been, until my pregnancy, a fairly flat-chested woman who wore bras only to cover my nipples, I was completely unfamiliar with the idea of a bra doing something for me. “I see,” I said cautiously, not really seeing, “What would you suggest?”

The nice bra lady beamed, then burst into a familiar series of actions, measuring me, looking at me thoughtfully, saying she knew exactly what is the right bra for me, plucking a bra seemingly at random from a drawer, and putting it on me. “See?” She crowed, “Beautiful!”

I looked in the mirror. The bra itself was alarmingly matronly in appearance – a serious-looking thing that my former A-cup self would never have considered to be appropriate. But – I turned this way and that – the nice bra lady was right. It was doing something for me. In fact, I looked really hot. “Here,” the nice bra lady brought me the nursing T-shirt that I had come for in the first place, “put it on over.” I put the T-shirt on. I looked really, really hot. Hell, the only thing keeping me from looking like Brigitte Bardot was that I’m not blonde.

“So we get these things,” the nice bra lady nodded approvingly, beaming some more. “Anything else?” Completely entranced, I ventured that maybe I wanted another nursing T-shirt and maybe a nursing dress too, and the items in question appeared with dizzying speed and in precisely the right sizes and colors. As I tried things on, the nice bra lady kept up a steady stream of loving approval. “I can’t believe you only gave birth eight weeks ago! You look so wonderful! You’re half Japanese? No wonder you’re so beautiful! Your baby is so cute! Look at him smiling! You can tell he is a boy!” (This last statement, by the way, is the ultimate compliment to a mother, as most people – including me – find it well-nigh impossible to determine the sex of a small infant minus blue-pink color cues.)

My pile of new things neatly folded, the nice bra lady whisked me into the glider. “Here, nurse your baby now! But no! Wait! Weigh him first.” She took me by the hand and led me to a counter in the corner with a baby scale, explaining triumphantly, “You can weigh him now, then weigh him after he finishes eating, and you can see how much he ate!” She then led me back to the glider, propped me up with pillows, and put a nursing stool under my feet. “Now rest! Nurse your baby!” When I finished nursing him, she reminded me to weigh him. “How much did he eat? Two ounces? Wonderful!” As I put on my wraparound baby carrier, she crowed to another nice bra lady, “Look at how she carries her baby! So practical!”

At the cash register back in the front room, she gestured towards a large, spigoted glass jar filled with water and lemon slices. “Have a glass of water! You can stop by any time to have a glass of water! Sometimes we have orange slices in! Sometimes cucumber! Come by any time to sit down and nurse your baby! Don’t forget, you can weigh your baby too! You don’t have to buy, just come in to rest if you need to!”

At this point, the fact that I was leaving the store with one more bra, one more shirt, and one more dress than I had intended to purchase was entirely beside the point. I loved my new things, and I felt swollen with goodwill and loving estrogenic vibes. While knowing that I would have to strictly limit my visits to this dangerous place, I felt myself already plotting a return trip. After all, my baby needs to be weighed from time to time, no?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Baby Days

My days at home with the baby are long, sweet, and vague. By late afternoon, various surfaces around the house boast strange collections of objects. Here is the coffee table at around 2PM, during the baby’s nap. In addition to my mid-afternoon snack, there’s my purse with a diaper doubler sticking out of it, some used tissue, one baby shoe, and a spool of thread. I ate about half of the piece of cake (leftover from lunch out yesterday) until I realized that it wasn’t particularly good. Also, of course, there’s the remote control. To my abiding shame, I was watching "10 Years Younger."

At three and a half months, the baby has begun to use his hands. Here he is helping me turn the pages. The book is Moshi Moshi Odenwa, a Japanese picture book my mother used to read to me when I was a little girl.

Good for Travelling

When I buy things for myself, one of my top concerns is whether or not it will be good for travelling. If I find something that I like, I usually say, “I love this. And it would be so great for travelling.” Sometimes, I will even purchase something – a plain jersey skirt, say, or a nylon tote bag – that I wouldn’t otherwise because it seems like it would be so good for travelling. This would not be weird if I were one of those people who travel a lot and always seem to be off to Vietnam or Hungary or Peru whenever they have a few vacation days – then I would obviously need to have lots of stuff that is good for travelling. However, I am not one of those people. Of course I go places from time to time, but travel is not a defining characteristic of my life or my personality. But still, somehow, “good for travelling” has become a watchword for me, some sort of internal code for rightness and correctness.

A cursory glance at my apartment or my closet would tell anyone that I am not by any means a minimalist. Oddly, however, I do have the minimalist’s rage for versatility (“this convenient item serves as a trash can, coffee cup, AND automobile”), the one perfect ____ (“this is the one perfect sweater – you will never need another!”), and violent purging of possessions. You will notice, of course, that all of this is good for travelling – when travelling, in my opinion, it is best to bring a well-edited collection of items (sartorial and otherwise), all of which are madly versatile and ineluctably right for any number of situations.

A great deal of my energy is focused around list-making. My lists are sometimes (at least ostensibly) practical, as in my all-time favorite type of list, which is of course the travelling list. As soon as I know I am going on a trip, no matter how small or far in the future, I sit down and make a list of what I will need to bring. I also make other kinds of lists – catalogues (boots I have), implicit to-dos (things I am going to purge from my apartment and put in the Goodwill drop box), explicit to-dos (cleaning tasks in the apartment), shopping (diapering supplies from the cloth diaper website my baby will need as he grows out of his current things), etc. These lists usually go through many, many iterations, growing and shrinking as the mood strikes. I tend to think of myself as not having particular talent for the logistical or logical, but in the densely connected web of obsessions surrounding my lists and my good-for-travelling, I am a madly practical woman, looking always to winnow her ever-expanding life down to only the perfect and perfectly logical.

On December 31, 2007, I had my first baby. The baby, in addition to being an occasion for profoundly life-altering joy, has also been an occasion for great gusts of list-making and good-for-travellinging. Clothing, blankets, equipment, toys, theories, and opinions enter our apartment in hordes, brought in my own and others’ hands, and I frantically (and happily) catalogue, sort, evaluate, discard, replace, always seeking the most practical, the most versatile, the best for travelling.