Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Popeye

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

Harlem, Election Day 2008

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:


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


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