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.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Baby Days: Daycare

Today, I dropped the baby off at daycare for the second day. When I say "daycare," I'm talking about "group family daycare," which in English means "someone's apartment." Knowing I would be working two or three days a week this school year, I had been on the lookout for childcare when I saw a sign on a lamppost when I was out walking the dog. It gave an address around the corner from my apartment and said: GROUP FAMILY DAYCARE "You can trust us with your children." I ignored the sinister usage of quotation marks, called the number, and went to visit. About five minutes into the visit, I realized that one of the two daycare ladies was not just a daycare lady but also the mother of one of my former students. Trust and affordability established, I decided that I could call off the daycare search.

Though incredibly apprehensive and miserable and tortured by the thought of the baby weeping for hours on end while waiting for me to come rescue him, I have also, in a very small guilty part of my soul, been looking forward to daycare. I scheduled his daycare time for a little longer than my work day so I could come home and write (well-nigh impossible with him around these days) or get housework done or go shopping or go to yoga or read or etc for awhile all by myself. Yesterday, I couldn't quite bring myself to do it, and I picked him up as soon as work was over. Today, though, I told the daycare lady 6 o'clock, so here I am, at home, all alone, having finished work at 3. Mostly, I cannot get any writing done - I have been starting and abandoning drafts for the past three hours. Mostly, I am staring into space and wishing we had more food in the fridge. Mostly, I am peculiarly bored. Not quite enough is happening. I keep looking apprehensively towards the bedroom, expecting to hear the baby's "I'm awake now" wail. I keep looking reflexively down at the computer cord, expecting to see the baby chewing on it. I keep feeling a sudden sense of panic and hopping out of the chair - is there something I'm supposed to be doing? - before remembering that no, there isn't, and sitting back down uneasily. I feel confused, uncomfortable, unproductive, and a little unhappy. After weeks of energetically wishing that I could get some time to myself, I am finding that I don't really want it right now. It is 5:25, so really, I have about twenty-five more minutes before I'm due to pick the baby up. But I'm going to hit "Publish Post" and then go get my baby.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Baby Days

Now, at eight months minus one week, the baby is fast. He can't crawl, but he has perfected a peculiar scuttle that involves a lot of arm and one knee. I'm really impressed, because I tried to do it last night, and I couldn't for the life of me. I mean, anyone can crawl, right? But this? This is truly unique.

Sometimes, when he is bored or frustrated or wanting attention, he lies on his tummy in the middle of the floor and lifts his head and legs and says, "Ehn! EHNNNN!" Like, "Someone come help me because I can't do anything for myself because I'm just a BABY!" But we are no longer fooled. We know that, as soon as he sees a clear path to something really exciting, like the dog or Dr. Sears' Baby Book or an electrical cord or a newspaper or his Baby Bjorn Little Potty with pee in it, he will be off like a shot, commenting as he goes: "WEEEN! WEEEEN! WEEEEEEN!" Or "BGAH! BGAH! BGAH!" Sometimes, he chases me down, scuttling down the hall from the living room to the bedroom, "MAM-MAM-MAM-MAM-MAH!!!" My friend M is convinced that he is calling me "Mama," but I'm not sure, because it seems like he's always saying "Mama." I am taking the stance that there is no way he is calling me "Mama," because I know the minute that I admit that he may indeed be calling me "Mama," he will turn to the dog or the Baby Bjorn Little Potty with a huge grin on his face and say "MAM-MAM-MAM-MAM-MAH!!!"

Generally speaking, a moving baby is a much different thing from a non-moving baby. Before, the baby's desires were large, inarticulate, and all-encompassing. Often, upon waking up, he would throw his head back and wail desperately, sending the message that he needed something, anything, not sure what, please please please. Now, upon waking, he often still cries, but it is more of a crying out - Here I am! Come get me! - and when I go into the bedroom, he will already have flipped himself over onto his belly and begun to scuttle towards the door. His desires now are directional, and the direction can be anything from the DVD player or my shoes to a tube of butt cream or one of my husband's really rare singles. Most often, though, his direction is me. He calls out when I leave the room and desperately scuttles after me. When he is tired or cranky, he will not rest until he is in my arms. When I leave him with my husband, he is okay until I return, when, upon seeing my face, he breaks down and cries until I take him from his father and hold him, at which point he rewards both of us with a large, delighted, tearful, two-tooth grin.

When we have a babysitter, I always go out to walk the dog after she gets here, both to give the baby a little bit of time to get acquainted and to let the dog burn off his OH MY GOD THERE IS SOME STRANGER IN THE HOUSE NOW energy. Usually, though he tends to cry throughout his babysitting time, the baby is fine during these few dog-walking minutes. Last time, though, he was already in full cry by the time I came back with the dog, his eyes red-rimmed and his nose running. He reached his arms out to me and buried his face in my neck as I held him, two heartbreakingly expressive gestures new to his repertoire. When I handed him back to the babysitter, he grasped at my shoulders with his little hands, and I felt his cool, soft skin slide along mine. He kept his arms out to me, his face a mask of misery and bewilderment as I waved goodbye and stepped out the door.

This megawattage adoration and dependence is, of course, immensely rewarding. It's an amazing experience to be so loved and so enjoyed and so wanted and so needed by another human being. It's an amazing experience to have the baby smile and coo delightedly just because he happens to be looking at my face. Also, though, it's kind of terrifying. I'm not as afraid of not being able to meet the baby's tremendous need as I am of not wanting to. I'm terrified of getting annoyed, of feeling overwhelmed, of pushing the baby away, of being glad to see him go. I know that this stage, like all others, will not last forever. Whether it lasts weeks or months, it will represent just a tiny, tiny fraction of my life with my child, and, just like everything else I have written about here, I will miss it when it's over.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gluten, Bars, and Getting Old, Part II

A little after writing that post about getting old, I went with the baby to run some errands, and somehow found myself straggling into the brand-spanking-new Harlem branch of American Apparel (also called the Now We Can All Look Like Skanks From L.A. Store). Outside, the store was topped by a gigantic billboard of a girl wearing high-waisted glittery hotpants and nothing else; inside, there were no customers, loud techno music, piles of boxes in front of the counter, and at least eight employees, all wearing at least three different bright colors apiece and all very clearly under the age of 22. I wandered around the store halfheartedly fingering T-shirts and sweatpants and being asked if I needed help every nine seconds. I thought I might buy the baby a new T-shirt, but the back of the store, where I found the racks of baby clothes, also housed the speakers. As the bass pulsed louder and louder, the baby started squirming in discomfort, so I abandoned the baby section, hands still empty. I stood in front of a wall of packaged T-shirts for at least four full minutes, debating whether I should buy another ill-fitting V-neck T-shirt for nursing, or if the two I currently have are enough, or even two too many. Finally, I decided to buy a white one, mostly because at that point I had been wandering around for such a long time that I was too embarassed to wander out without buying anything. (I am shocked to see how little sense that thought makes in writing; it made such perfect sense in my head at the time.)

At the register, as I was signing the receipt, I said to the cashier, "It looks like you're still setting things up here."

She looked at me, her wide young eyes ringed in heavy mascara, her upper lids full of clumsy mascara smudges.

"Well, if you're still moving stuff around, maybe you might think about moving the kids' section out of the back. It's right under the speaker, you know, and it's so loud, I sort of got worried about my baby's ears, so I couldn't spend a lot of time looking at things. So maybe that's not the best place for the kids' stuff."

The cashier's face betrayed no comprehension whatsoever. She didn't nod or make any "I see" sort of sounds. She remained entirely silent and affectless, her face slack, her eyes staring uncomprehendingly. Then I heard myself speaking, as if from a distance, and realized precisely what I would have thought of me if I were a 20-year-old salesgirl listening to an older woman complain about the kids' section. You stupid old boring housewife bitch, I would have thought, of course it's loud. If you don't like it, you shouldn't come in, and you definitely shouldn't bring your kid. What are you doing here anyway? This is not for people like you. You're not fooling anyone. Go away to Ann Taylor and buy some goddamn blouse or something. I suddenly felt about a hundred years old, a querulous old lady complaining to the youngsters about the gravy at the cafeteria. Horrified and unable to meet the cashier's silently scornful stare, I beat a panicky retreat out of the store, clutching my new T-shirt. I felt shaken and a little ashamed as I made my way, like the old boring housewife bitch that I am, to the organic grocery store to pick up some things for dinner.

Later that evening, I decided that I didn't want the shirt after all, but it was too late, as I had already worn it and stained it with tomato sauce.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gluten, Bars, and Getting Old

When she read my post about the Upper Breast Side, my college friend L emailed me: "a store called the upper breast side is exactly the type of store we would have made fun of in college. admit it. yet it sounds like a strangely intriguing place now. when i have a baby and come visit you in nyc for advice and time away from baby, you will have to take me there."

And yesterday, my mom friend H came over for a mom summit (in other words, "I'm bored out of my mind, so let's get together and complain about feeling tired and worry about our mothering and also possibly talk about clogs"). We sat on my living room floor, chasing after our babies as they desperately tried to find and chew on all available electrical cords in the room, and we discussed her new diet, which is called the No Wheat Or Gluten Or Anything That Even Looks Like It Or Has Touched It Or Has The Letters "W" Or "G" In It Diet. She has adopted this NWOGOATELLIOHTIOHTLWOGII Diet due to all sorts of intestinal and autoimmune stuff both in her and her baby, and goshdarn if it hasn't worked.

"It's so strange," she said, after telling me about how she has thrown out all her old cutting boards to avoid gluten cross-contamination, "because it's like I've turned into-"

I interrupted. "Someone we would have made fun of in college?"

"Yes! Or someone I would have made fun of last year - or last month even!"

And I totally agree with her. Until recently, an anti-gluten goose-stepper would definitely have made my To Be Scorned list, cross-referenced under Humorless, No Fun to Eat Out With, and Has Read Too Much Andrew Weil. But now, suddenly, it seems to make complete sense, and I am starting to view my own frantic, constant consumption of wheat products with growing alarm.

There are a lot of things, I am coming to realize, that I would have made fun of in college - or "when I was younger," or before I got married, or before I had a baby - that I see completely differently now. There was a time, for instance, when I was completely mystified by the idea that someone might not want to go out, or might not want to have a drink, or might not want to stay up late. There was a time when I would rather have died than not go to Smalls*, or Augie's**, or Night Cafe***, because what if I missed something fun? There was a time when I thought extended nursing was totally disgusting. There was a time when I thought that parents should just put their babies in their cribs and leave them till they fell asleep, because how else will they learn? There was a time when I would think nothing of going to a show in Williamsburg on a weekday night, even if it meant only getting a couple of hours of sleep and then teaching on a killer hangover the next day. Moreover, I would have scorned anyone who disagreed with me as being humorless and unhip.

Now, my feelings are more or less the opposite - in other words, I have become humorless and unhip. Of course, I don't really feel that way. Instead, on a good day, I feel sophisticated and wise, and look upon the youthful, partying masses of which I was once part as being callow and foolish. There is, obviously, no right answer here; or rather, the right answer seems to shift as we do. No matter how much we may pretend or try to appreciate other people's places and paths, I think it is very, very difficult not to secretly harbor the conviction that where we are in this moment - even if it is abject misery - is the best, most vital place to be. And I guess, at bottom, it would be useless to feel any differently, because as myopic and self-centered and amnesiac as it might be, if I am not going think the world of whatever I happen to be doing right this very moment, who is?****

*The cover used to be $10, you know, and it was BYOB, so ha ha on you if you missed the good old days.
**Smoke, by the way, is nothing like Augie's, in that it is clean and expensive and has strange, arty decor.
***Closed now, so you'll have to go play pool with creepy locals somewhere else.
****My husband says that all of my posts are structured this way, where I posit something, then meander down that path a little while, then say, "I guess" and come to some sort of touching/deep conclusion. I guess...he's right. Ha, see what I did there?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bathtime

When the baby was very new, I didn’t bathe him very often. We didn’t let them bathe him at the hospital, and he was at least a week old when he got his first bath at home, and for the first month or so, once a week was as good as it got. After awhile, though, I started to feel guilty about it, and he started to sort of stink of the warm baby-sweat/sour-milk cocktail that marks out our side of the bed, so I tried to get him in the bath every other day. When I say “bath,” I mean “sink” – I never got around to buying a baby tub, and someone gave me one of those big bath sponges as a baby shower gift, so I would just stick the sponge in the sink and stick the baby on the sponge. I actually really liked using the sink as a bath – it felt thrifty and minimalist and old-fashioned all at once, and it also helped to keep the sink clean. Before each bath, I would sprinkle the sink with baking soda and scrub it down with half a lemon; sometimes the baby waited patiently on the floor or in his chair, sometimes I had him in the sling or wrap, and sometimes I just held him and scrubbed one-handed. My mother calls this baka-chikara – stupid strength. It’s the kind of illogical strength that you muster out of sheer will-power to accomplish things that would seem absolutely ludicrous to an onlooker. Like scrubbing the sink one-handed while holding your baby. Or like setting off by yourself to get on Amtrak with your baby in a front carrier, your laptop and books in a backpack, and a full-sized suitcase that contains not only clothing and baby supplies but also a Cuisinart and an immersion blender, because they don’t have those things where you’re going. Baka-chikara.

Anyway, when the baby was really tiny, he would just lie in the sink and blink in a startled sort of way, and sometimes lick at the water around his mouth. Then, when he got a little older, he would clutch a little plastic stacking cup to his chest and occasionally gnaw on it. After awhile, he got to giggling sometimes when we used the spray attachment, and he would put his hands up to feel the spray. As bathtime got to be fun, it started to happen every day – and now, sometimes, on slow days, twice a day.

Suddenly, though, about two weeks ago, he exploded in growth and motion, and the sink days were over. Now the baby goes in the grownup tub. In the tub, the baby is transported with wonder. He turns over and around from front to back and side to side again and again. He splashes his arms up and down and he chases his stacking cups through the water. He listens to the water run and tries for minutes on end to grasp the trickle from the faucet, his hand passing through it every time. He talks, “Blum blum blum blum blum!” Each time our eyes meet, he breaks into a big, heartbreaking grin and laughs, “Eh-HA!” When I finally take him out of the tub, worried that he will prune, I wrap the towel around his wriggling body and he throws his arms around my neck, “Eh-HA!”

The biggest drawback of these new tub-bath days is that the tub – along with all of the other bathroom surfaces that the baby insists upon patting and licking – is much more work to clean than the kitchen sink is. By some strange alchemy, New York City tubs always look grungy, mysterious dust and grot layers itself onto the toilet bowl and sink minutes after they are wiped down, the inside rim of the toilet seat accumulates odd gray mildew at astonishing speed, and my pretty, bourgie, white Anthropologie bathmat is usually grayish-taupe and matted, like a stray cat. However, now that the baby bathes, it can’t be helped – I must daily summon my baka-chikara and devote myself to vacuuming, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing our (thankfully tiny) bathroom, all while using half of my mental and physical energy to keep the baby focused on his toys rather than the toilet bowl and remembering to avoid stepping on him or spraying him with vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s, or tea tree oil.

It’s hard, sometimes, to hold onto perspective. Grime in the tub or a dingy shower curtain or gross tissue sticking out of the trash can feel like a major tragedy; cleaning it up can feel like nothing short of mucking out the Augean stables; the idea of getting the kid in the bath and then out again can feel more daunting than a ten-mile run (or, for me, any run whatsoever). But really, these are merely little stepping stones of daily life that I will be traversing, predictably, again and again and again in my life as a mother, and I gain nothing from resenting or resisting. My baby is wondrous and joyous and beautiful, and it is a wondrous and joyous and beautiful thing to see him in the grownup tub, enraptured by the magic of water, ecstatic to be sharing his rapture with his mama. To squander these moments being exhausted or resentful is foolish, because one day, they will never come again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Agenda

Things I want to get done after the baby goes to sleep and before I go to sleep tonight:
1. Take a shower.
2. Finish "reading" the current issue of Lucky.
3. Finish reading the current issue of The New Yorker.
4. Put the laundry in the dryer; hang up non-dryer-ables.
5. Write two more blog posts.
6. Finish grading last week's work for the online class I am TA-ing.
7. Begin grading this week's work for the online class I am TA-ing.
8. Put the clean dishes away; put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
9. Have sex.
10. Watch "How Do I Look?"

Things I predict I will get done after the baby goes to sleep and before I go to sleep tonight:
1. Take off my pants.
2. Watch "How Do I Look?"
3. Possibly turn off the light.

Cafe Car

On the Amtrak from Washington to New York, the baby, upon waking from his nap, was ready to play. He did not want to play with me, though, as much as he wanted to play with the lady sitting next to us, a woman in her fifties wearing lime green and reading a suspense novel. He leaned halfway out of the carrier towards her, bouncing and peering into her face. After awhile, the lady got tired of making “how cute” noises and tried to return to her book. The baby, though, refused to get the hint, instead single-mindedly dangling himself over her lap with a maniacal grin. Unable to distract him with his squeaky giraffe, his two teething rings, a washcloth, or even a water bottle (his current favorite toy), I finally got up in desperation and walked to the café car.

The café car was nearly empty, and I bought a bag of pretzels and a cup of coffee. (I didn’t really want the coffee, but I was making up for the fact that, on the trip down five days ago, I had wanted coffee but was too scared to venture into the then-packed café car, for fear that the baby would send sodas flying with his curious hands.) The baby and I sat at a café car table, and I drank the rain-check coffee and looked out the window while the baby sucked meditatively on a pretzel and looked at my necklaces. Across the aisle from us sat a mother and son pair; the mother with gray roots and a purple blouse, the son with basketball shorts and a changing voice. They sat in companionable silence, and she drank coffee while he ate a small, greasy cheese pizza from an Amtrak tray. I was impressed, watching them out of the corner of my eye, with the mother’s aura of calm. Rather than complain about the price or the grease, she simply watched her son eat, seeming contented and peaceful. I wondered if she felt satisfied, happy that she could provide him with the small things that he wanted – basketball shorts, cheese pizza.

As we pulled into Philadelphia, she said to her son, “Philadelphia is a beautiful city, you know.” He roused himself from his pizza to look out the window. “Hey mom,” he said, “remember when…” And they chatted comfortably for a few minutes, something about a bicycle that my eavesdropping ears could not quite pick up. After a little while, they fell silent again, and we all looked out the window and watched Philadelphia go by. A little while after that, they left the café car, and a man clutching two cans of Miller Lite took their place.