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.