Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sneaker Lady

*my internet at home is not working - perhaps one day I will spill all the fabulous details - so this was written on Monday, November 30*

I am back, now, at the Starbucks on 125th – the one at 125th and Adam Clayton, not the one at 125th and Malcolm X – and the sneaker lady is here again. In fact, this is the third time I have seen her here in the past couple of weeks. From the very beginning, I had suspected that she might be some flavor of homeless/destitute/troubled. Her raft of bags is the most telling detail: three large, fully stuffed bags of that woven plastic material, the kind that you can buy for a buck or two at the supermarket in order to save the earth. Indeed, one of the bags bears the Pathmark logo, as well as the slogan “There’s only one earth.” Another of the bags is black, printed with fanciful, pink, vaguely Asian flowers, and the third is a super-hip Jolinda bag from Montgomery, bright blue with red straps, printed boldly with blackface Kewpie dolls. Besides these bags, there is her purse, a small canvas-and-leather hobo with a panda on it.

The first time I saw her, the day my son peed on the floor, she was sitting over by the napkin-and-sugar table, but this time and last time, she has been sitting on a stool at the counter in the window. Today, she is wearing the same brilliant sneakers, denim leggings with yellow jeans stitching, and a striped hooded sweater. Draped over the back of her chair is another striped hooded sweater as well as the chunky-rib turtleneck from the first time I saw her, and spilling out of the Pathmark bag is an imitation (I assume) Missoni cardigan that is cut just like the cardigan that I happen to be wearing right now as I write: an oblong shape with sleeves set in, so you can wrap the tails about yourself and tie them in back to look like a ballerina or instead let them hang down and look luxuriously slouchy though not, perhaps, as warm. I know how the cardigan looks, because I saw it on her last time I was here. In fact, last time I was here, she was in the middle of an elaborate sweater procession, in which certain sweaters were coming out of her bags and onto her body while other sweaters were coming off her body and going into her bags. There seemed, at the time, no rhyme or reason to the activity, other than to showcase the unbelievable number of layers that she was wearing – four T-shirts and three sweaters at the very least - but she did end up looking just as hip as she had when she started – just as hip as she seems to always look. Every time I have seen her, she has been wearing a black knee brace on her right knee, and even this somehow looks effortlessly stylish and cool.

Last time I was here, another woman walked in the door and greeted her, and though it was clear that the meeting wasn’t planned, they also didn’t seem to be particularly surprised to see each other. I assumed, at first, that the other woman might also be homeless/destitute/troubled, both because of her acquaintance with my lady and because her hair was odd, in an unkempt wedge-shaped Afro. Upon closer examination, however, I decided that she was some sort of social worker. As a former public school teacher, I know from social workers, and this woman’s burgundy mock turtleneck, black chinos, and black clogs – and, indeed, her unfortunate hairdo – were a dead giveaway. After purchasing her coffee, the social worker sat down next to her and they chatted for awhile. I listened as closely as I could, desperate to learn more.

I picked up from the conversation that sneaker lady was having some sort of difficulty with identification. She apparently did not have identification for some reason, and this was making all kinds of trouble, and she had been in and out of various offices, having very little luck straightening things out. “It’s so crazy,” she kept saying, “because I was born right here in New York! And they say I can’t prove who I am. I was born here!” Then, a little later, the social worker, glancing at the bag flotilla, said something like, “So do you have to carry your food with you now?” And the sneaker lady answered something like, “No, but I’m carrying my clothes.” And then, a little later, the sneaker lady’s phone rang (I had noticed that her phone was an elaborate Blackberry-iPhone-type affair), and it was apparently someone in a car coming to pick her up. She gave the person instructions, and a few minutes later, her phone rang again, she answered with, “I’m coming across the street now,” and she gathered her things and left.

Today, she is sitting at the counter in the window, crocheting something beautiful and green and – again – Missoni-like, and she does not have her phone with her. I know that she does not have her phone with her, because she told me so. The man sitting next to me asked me, rather loudly, if it was going to rain today (this is a chatty Starbucks), and I told him that I thought it might, and she turned and said, “Oh, is it really? I didn’t know. I left my phone at home, and my phone is also my internet and my watch, too, so I’m out here today without compass or rudder.” Emboldened by her chattiness, I offered that I thought her crocheting was beautiful. “Thank you,” she said, “It’s going to be a scarf. And if I really get ambitious, a matching sweater too.” And then she began to get ready to leave. First, she put her crocheting in a Ziploc baggie, and then she lifted the bottom of her striped hooded sweater and began to straighten the three or four T-shirts underneath. After the T-shirts were straightened, she zipped her second striped hooded sweater on over the first, tucked the first hood into the second, and put both hoods up. Next, she took the Missoni-style cardigan out of the Pathmark bag and put the chunky-rib turtleneck into the Pathmark bag, along with her crocheting. After putting on the Missoni-style cardigan, she pulled a gold lame sash and a black mesh sash out of the Jolinda bag. She tied the gold lame sash around her waist, belting the cardigan closed, and she wrapped the black mesh sash around her neck as a scarf. Thus outfitted, she slung her panda purse over her shoulder, grabbed her three mismatched shopping bags, and walked out the door, still looking, against all reason, fabulous.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Accident

Sometimes, things turn out as they should, and sometimes less so.

Last Friday, I took the baby out on one of our frequent jaunts down to 125th Street, and he wasn’t wearing anything under his jeans. This was intentional. I usually put him in training pants when we go out, but sometimes I just skip it. The reason is that the less he is wearing, the more motivated I am to offer him the potty. (You probably think this is crazy. Guess what? I don’t care.) The thing is, I usually only have him go commando when we are going to the playground, or running to the bank or to Duane Reade; this was pretty much the first time we embarked on a more involved outing with no protection, so to speak.

First, we stopped by Old Navy, where I returned two shoddily-made shirts and bought two other shoddily-made shirts (the two I bought, of course, cost more than the two I returned). I offered him the potty at Old Navy, but he resisted with some vigor, probably for aesthetic and sanitary reasons: the Old Navy lady’s room is seriously gross. Next, we went to Starbucks. I got a coffee and he got a packet of cashews and a banana. I considered taking him to the bathroom, but there were three people in line, and waiting in line is not exactly a twenty-two-and-a-half-month-old’s favorite activity, so I decided to skip it. We sat down at a table together, and he munched quietly and adorably on cashews and banana while I drank coffee. On the whole, I was feeling pretty smug; whose baby was as cute and grown-up and well-behaved as mine? After a little while, I thought it might be about time to wrap things up and noodle on back home, but there was one thing bothering me, or rather two.

Those two things were the sneakers belonging to a slightly crazy-looking lady in her fifties sitting over by the cream-and-sugar-and-napkins station. Her sneakers had caught my eye the moment I walked in the door. They were bronze and high-topped and velcroed, and they were possibly the most brilliant sneakers I have ever seen in my life. I wanted, more than anything, to ask the woman where she got those sneakers, because I was pretty sure that I really, really needed a pair. I held back, though, for a couple of reasons. First, the woman did look a little crazy. She was dressed rather unbelievably fashionably in black zipper-bottom leggings and a grey turtleneck sweater with a chunky rib and of course those incredible sneakers, but there were some hints of something a little off, like the flyaway grey hair and the three large plastic tote bags stuffed full of who-knows-what and the purse with a panda printed on it. I was worried that she might be truly crazy and did not want to involve myself in a conversation with her if that was the case. Also, people are always watching each other at Starbucks even when they appear not to be, and there is no better way to call attention to yourself than marching up to people at other tables and asking them where they bought their footwear. So I was feeling sort of hesitant.

However, in the end, I realized that I absolutely had to do it, because these sneakers were truly brilliant and I would truly regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t find out where I, too, might obtain such brilliance for my very own feet. While I was still in the throes of this decision-making process, my son had climbed from his chair into his stroller and then down to the floor, where he was chasing cashews. Having decided to approach the sneaker issue head-on, I scooped him up from the floor and immediately felt that his bottom was wet. He had obviously peed in his pants, but I was not too concerned, as the accident was a minor one, and we were about to head home. Anyway, my focus was on the sneakers, so I hoisted his wet butt to my hip and headed towards the maybe-crazy lady. The lady, happily, turned out to be perfectly lucid and pleasant to boot: the sneakers had come from the skate-punk-chic shoe store right next door, she said, and they were skateboarding sneakers, and they were really comfortable. I should get some too, she said.

Flushed with success and proud of myself for going a little out of my comfort zone, I headed back to my table to gather our things to go. Just as I reached the table, though, the light coming through the window changed a little bit, and I happened to glance down. Hmm, I thought, the floor seems to be a little wet. And then, Hmm, the floor is actually quite wet. And then, Wait, these are PUDDLES. And then, Shit, these are PEE PUDDLES. I kept moving as these thoughts occurred to me, and by the time I was fully awake to the fact that, rather than chasing cashews as I had thought, my baby had been squatting and peeing lakes on the floor at Starbucks, I had put on our coats and buckled the baby into the stroller. I was in a surreptitious panic. What should I do? Should I tell someone to mop it up? Should I just leave? I should just leave. Leave. Leave. LEAVE. No one noticed anything. JUST LEAVE.

And so I left. As I backed out of the door with the stroller, I saw an aproned barista come out from behind the counter with a mop and head straight towards the lakes of pee. It then came upon me that of course people had noticed what had happened - people are always watching each other at Starbucks, even when they appear not to be. The baristas had noticed, the folks sitting at the tables next to me had noticed, everyone except me had noticed. I had been too busy thinking about footwear to see what everyone else saw. They saw my baby squat and pee, and they saw me subsequently scoop him up and go ask some crazy-looking old white lady where she got her sneakers, and they saw me walk back through the pee, calmly buckle my baby's wet butt into his stroller, wheel the stroller through the pee, and go out the door, leaving wet pee tracks behind me. The entire scene was mortifying, but it was far too late to do anything about it. I was already out the door and on the corner of 125th and Adam Clayton, shaking a little bit with caffeine and shame. It had suddenly turned cold and very, very windy. It was so windy, in fact, that the stroller kept blowing into the street, and I gave up after a block and took a cab home. After we got upstairs and I changed the baby’s wet pants, I realized that our half-eaten banana had fallen out of the stroller basket into the trunk of the cab. I hope the driver found it before it was too late.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Miracle

My son is in the bedroom. He is sitting on the bed with his sketch pad and four crayons. I just went in to check on him, and I said, "I'm going to the kitchen to eat some noodles." He looked at me and nodded. Then I said, "Do you want to come with me?" He looked at me and shook his head. Then I said, "OK then, I'm going to the kitchen. Call me if you need me." Now, I am in the kitchen eating noodles, and my son is in the bedroom drawing quietly. Now and then, he calls out, "Mommy!" And I answer "Hi!" And then he keeps drawing quietly and I keep eating noodles. This feels like the most miraculous thing that has ever, ever, ever happened to me in my whole entire life.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Milestones

Here are three things my toddler did for the first time yesterday:
  1. He took his sketch pad and crayons to the bedroom and drew a picture by himself, pointing at it and explaining as he went*.

  2. He sat on the couch with his animals book and read it to himself, pointing at each animal and naming it**.

  3. Gazing at his own poop in the toilet, he said "Ew."


*"Explaining" in the sense of "making sounds that seemed explanatory"; he still doesn't really talk.



**"Naming" in the sense of "saying a nonsense syllable for each animal, unless it looked vaguely like a dog or cat, in which case saying 'JOE' or 'MEOW'"; he STILL doesn't really talk.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Missions Impossibles

Here are the things that I absolutely must accomplish tomorrow:

1) Write the birth stories for the two back-to-back births I attended last week. I am really sorry to say this, but I HATE writing birth stories. Well, no, not quite, it's more that I'm of two minds. In one mind, I love writing birth stories, because they make my clients so happy, and because I know that the stories will be family treasures, and because I enjoy looking back upon and honoring the many beautiful moments that make up each woman's birthing experience. In my other mind, I HATE writing birth stories, because they are writing assignments, and, despite the fact that they showcase one of my few strengths, I HATE writing assignments.

2) Edit at least a little text for my new website, which is meant to be a surefire way to bring me so much business that I am positively choking on money, but really I am not so sure - mightn't it just be a waste of energy? I don't know how much time you, dear reader, have spent looking at doulas' websites, but let me clue you in on something: they are ALL THE SAME. Like, exhaustively so. And mine will be no different. So, like, who cares?

3) Vacuum, do the dishes, do the clothes laundry, do the diaper laundry, do the pee-pee sheets laundry. I would just like to note here that I recently discovered that vacuuming under the couch and bed, as well as vacuuming the flokati rug in the bedroom, is not only possible, but also immensely satisfying. Now I want to do it all the time. Really.

4) Make a paper sheriff's star to pin onto my son's plaid Wrangler shirt so he can be a cowboy for Halloween, and spend time feeling ashamed for being a bad mother, because this is a shitty Halloween costume, not the least because my son does not know what a cowboy is.

5) Possibly go to American Apparel and/or Ricky's in order to purchase things that will enhance my poor child's shitty Halloween costume. Use credit card to make these purchases, because we spent ALL of our money this past weekend on records at the WFMU record fair, mascara and tweezers at Sephora, a couple of board books at Lucky Wang, some beer, and some taxis.

6) Take care of email correspondance.

7) Call former client who I have owed a call since EARLY SUMMER. (I will probably not actually do this, because I am too ashamed.)

8) Cobble together some sort of dinner from the odds and ends in the fridge. To wit: yogurt, romesco, kale, brassica greens, potatoes, pears, hot pepper. Actually, that sounds like a pretty good meal, though clearly involving a great deal of chopping. Maybe take the credit card to the grocery store, too, and get some cheese and bread to go with this chopped mess.

9) Write a blog posting about the non-Borgesian, but still Borgesian, television-related occurrence from last week.

10) Scrub the tub.

11) Take out the recycling.

Edited to Add:
12) Oh, crud. Work on my doula certification. Crud, crud, crud.

Edited further to Add:
13) Shower.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Ending, or How Blogging Saved Me $134.99

If you are an regular reader of my blog, you will know that A) disappointingly, I hardly ever post anymore because I have a toddler and a job, which together occupy six days of my week; and B) happily, I posted about three hours ago after yet another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad encounter with Dell Tech Support. The funny thing is, I didn't realize quite how wrong the encounter had gone until I wrote about it and then read what I wrote. "Wow," I thought, reading my own post, "Dell Tech Support broke that poor woman's computer and then tried to sell her some software that they should have given her for free. That's too bad." And then it dawned on me: Dell Tech Support broke my computer! And then tried to make me buy Microsoft Office 2007, which they should have given me for free! What the fuck!?

So, duly fired up, I called Dell Tech Support again, this time fully armed with my Quick Service code. "You broke my computer and then tried to make me buy Microsoft Office 2007, which you should have given me for free," I said. The Tech Support man apologized and understood my frustration and explained about how a technician would be calling me in 3-5 business days to arrange an appointment to come to my house to replace the motherboard. I pointed out how that's how this whole thing started in the first place. He understood my frustration some more and explained that there was nothing more he was authorized to do. I pointed out that it was awfully convenient that there was nothing more he was authorized to do, seeing as doing something to make up for the whole mess would cost Dell money, and seeing as it is actually impossible for a Dell customer to actually reach anyone who is actually authorized to do anything. He understood my frustration some more, and we went around and around in this manner for about half an hour. Finally, in the middle of my talking about how distressing I found the whole situation and how upset I felt that no one could help me, and how unhappy I was with the Dell experience, he cut me off and said he would send me Microsoft Office 2007 for free, and what was my mailing address please.

And thus blogging saved me $134.99, which was the super-special today-only sale price that Dell was trying to make me pay for Microsoft Office 2007.

I considered going to Make My Cake for a red velvet cupcake in celebration, but then realized I did not have the necessary four bucks, so I contented myself with my new favorite snack, the deliciousness of which I discovered accidentally: Raisinets with coarsely ground Celtic Sea Salt. And that, my friends, is my modern life.

Tech Support, Part MCXIV*

(*That's a big number, right? I'm not so good with Roman numerals. It's supposed to be a comically large number.)

My romance with Dell Tech Support is a fairly long-standing one, dating at least from April 2008, but I have to say that the charm is beginning to go out of the relationship. Today, for example, I called them about two laptop issues, to wit:

  1. After a Dell technician replaced my laptop's hard drive and motherboard almost a year ago, Microsoft Office magically disappeared from the computer, leaving me to compose things pathetically in WordPad, the sorriest excuse for a word processing program ever, and also leaving me without the capability of opening any Excel attachments, which, as I am now in retail, is something I have to do with some frequency, since wholesale catalogues and price lists are often in Excel.**
  2. Also after said technician replaced said motherboard, the power button was sort of wigglier and looser than it had been before, but I ignored the issue, as it seemed to not be especially important. Recently, however, the computer has become more and more difficult to turn on, requiring up to half an hour or so of repeated mashings of the loose, wiggly power button.

So these problems had been fairly long-standing, but calling Tech Support is so very exhausting and invariably costs me so very much time and money that I have been stalling for literally months. But I finally worked up the steam to call today, and after waiting in the queue for twenty minutes because I always forget the Quick Service code that I got with the service warranty they conned me into purchasing a year ago, I was on the line with the inevitable polite, patient, and patronizing Indian gentleman who politely, patiently, and patronizingly promised that he would make everything better. Here is how he went about making everything better:

  1. As to Microsoft Office, he said, I did not purchase it with my computer, so I cannot get it from Dell for free, even though it was the fault of the Dell hardware that it got wiped from the computer in the first place. I could, though, PURCHASE Microsoft Office 2007 from Dell at a special, special discount price ONLY AVAILABLE TODAY. Now, back in April 2008, I would have jumped at this offer, but my older, wiser self is not so excited. Because, really? There's just coincidentally a special offer on the product that I need on the very day that I happened to call about it? And that offer will never ever ever ever exist ever again? And also, I know nothing about computer programs, but it seems to me that Microsoft Office 2007 might not be the newest version available? Or if it is now, it won't be in just a couple of months. In fact, in just a couple of months, it will be THREE YEARS OLD, which is like THREE THOUSAND YEARS OLD in computer years. So maybe it's not in my best interest to lay down the hundred fifty bucks or whatever to purchase a THREE THOUSAND YEAR OLD computer program, no? Even if it is on super special sale?
  2. As to the power button issue, the guy had me turn the computer off, which I never do anymore because it is so hard to turn back on, and then he had me screw around with the hinge cover and then the motherboard itself to see if he could figure out what the problem was. Turns out - OF COURSE! - the issue is the motherboard itself, which now needs to be replaced AGAIN, which means a technician will call me in 3-5 business days and schedule an appointment in 3-5 business days from then, and then he will come to my house and upset my dog and baby and replace the motherboard again. But here's the thing. Before I called Tech Support today and was guided to screw around with the hinge cover and motherboard, the computer was EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to turn on. After I called Tech Support and was guided to screw around with the hinge cover and motherboard, my computer now WON'T TURN ON AT ALL. Not even with the power toggle on the motherboard itself. So before I called Tech Support, my computer worked, and after I called Tech Support, my computer was broken. This seems to me like a pretty big problem, like maybe the opposite of what is supposed to happen when you call Tech Support.

So the upshot is that not only did I not manage to get Microsoft Office, but also I managed to end up with a broken laptop. I am not sure how things came to this pass. I am carefully reviewing every step I took in this process, from the purchasing of the computer through each and every Tech Support call I have ever made, and I do not think I have done anything wrong or stupid. And yet somehow, everything has turned out all wrong and stupid. In certain moods, like the one I'm in right now, it's really hard not to see this as an allegory of modern life.

**Not that I do any significant buying for the store per se. It's more that I do significant buying for myself. That is, whenever we are placing a wholesale order, my boss sends me the wholesale catalogue and price lists and asks me if I want to add anything to the order for myself, which I always do, which means that I always owe the store large amounts of money. It might occur to you that this is obviously stupid behavior, as working at the store is meant to MAKE me money, rather than COST me money, but I would like to raise two points that might not have occurred to you in your rush to call me stupid: 1) I am always buying things, so I would be buying things even if I weren't working at the store, and in that case I would be paying retail rather than wholesale, so maybe I am coming out ahead here; and 2) Could you resist these things? Or these things? How about these things? Or these things? Could you resist? Especially if they were at wholesale price? No, you could not resist. And neither can I. So you see, we're really not so different, you and I.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leavetaking

This morning, something went wrong when I dropped the baby off at his daycare, which is in an apartment in the high-rise around the corner. Usually, there is no fuss at all. I unbuckle the stroller, and he jumps down and runs off to consult with his little friends (or rather underlings - he's the oldest one there, and he runs the show) or eat some Cheerios or sprawl comfortably on the floor to watch The Backyardigans on Noggin. He often does not even look at me when I tell him goodbye. This morning, however, something went tragically wrong. We (his babysitters and I) cannot quite reconstruct what happened, but we think his finger got a bad pinch in some stroller part. In any case, he was holding onto his stroller, and as I lifted him for a hug, I felt some resistance as though something might be caught, and then he suddenly began crying violently as though in pain - the red-faced variety of scream-sob with long, open-mouthed silences in between each effusion. He turned away angrily from all gentle ministrations on the babysitters' part, clutching at me and burying his head in my shoulders. After a long time, he accepted a cracker and his bottle, and it seemed as though things were wrapping up, but when I tried to put him down, he clung to me like a monkey, spouted a new torrent of tears, and began pulling at my shirt, which is his not-particularly-sophisticated signal for breastmilk. I did not, however, want to nurse him. At that point, I had already been at the daycare for ten minutes or so, and nursing would mean at the very least ten to fifteen minutes more. Plus, I had just nursed him before leaving the house, so I knew he was not in desperate physical need. Plus, and I am ashamed to say that this might have been the most important reason in my mind at the moment, I was not wearing a nursing-friendly shirt, so I would have had to more or less strip from the waist up in order to nurse. In any case, it did not seem like the right time to get on that particular train, so I kissed him and hugged him a few more times and gently handed him over to the babysitter. He threw his head back and screamed; I heard him sobbing all the way down the hall as I made my way to the elevator.

When I tell people about moments like this, they often say things along the lines of, "Well, you had to do it," or "It's good for him" (meaning the baby), or "It's good for both of you" (meaning me and the baby). For example, I have an acquaintance who has been a daycare worker for many years, and when I told her about the play and the toppings, thinking only that it was a funny story about the changeablility of childhood desires, she said, "You shouldn't have gone back to him. You have to just go sometimes. Just let him cry, and it's better in the long run for both of you."

Now, basically, I agree. I agree that, regardless of the tears it may cause, one has to leave one's baby from time to time, whether to go to work or go grocery shopping or do yoga or take a walk or see a movie or do nothing at all. I also agree that it is a good idea to get a baby used to being cared for by a few people who are not Mama. I also agree that dithering in the doorway while your child cries for you to come back can be pointless, painful, and annoying, and that coming back after leaving can make it even worse. But, as Clara Littledale put it and Jill Lepore reiterated, there's danger in overplaying the role. A die-hard you-have-to-do-it-and-it's-good-for-him stance turns a blind eye to the complexity of the situation at hand, and, more specifically, the fundamental cruelty of the moment of leavetaking.

This morning, my baby's finger hurt and he wanted to cuddle and nurse more than anything else, and I left him for reasons that were unimportant - I didn't feel like staying at the daycare for any longer, and I didn't feel like lifting up my shirt. Whether or not this was "okay" is beside the point - okay or not in the big picture, it was, fundamentally, a mean action taken against someone with no defenses. To ignore this essential truth about such moments is to ignore your child's basic humanity, as well as the fact that your relationship with your child is like any other human relationship, not one-way and black-and-white, but reciprocal and full of vagaries and subtleties that do not always respond well to hard-and-fast principles. In the case of the play and the toppings, for instance, my gut instinct was that something had gone horribly wrong, and that I had to go back and fix it, regardless of what I generally think about extended leavetakings. This instinct turned out to be more or less correct: there was a far better way to handle the situation - a way that would not result in short-lived but complete heartbreak on everyone's part - and my going back allowed us to find it.

It is not my contention that any one of these moments is a "big deal" on its own, or that any single decision of this sort will have a lasting impact on your relationship with your child. Indeed, while I am happy that I went back that one time, I know that things would have been just fine if I hadn't. But the aggregate of such decisions doesn't just affect the relationship - it is the relationship. To routinely refuse to acknowledge - even if only in your thoughts - the validity of your feelings and your child's at these moments, and to continuously harden your heart to the very notion that such moments might be legitimately painful, is to work purposefully towards emptying your relationship of emotional responsiveness. I am perfectly aware that this statement has a rather hysterical ring to it, but I think that, in the end, it is nothing more than plain logic.

All of this thinking, though, all of this rhapsodizing about emotional responsiveness et ceterblah, does not find me in a different place from most other days. I dropped off my kid this morning - left him howling at daycare - and came home by myself to do what I want to do. Or rather, what I don't want to do. My DONA training and certification binder is hulking on the counter next to me; today, after twelve births and as many months of procrastination, I intend to finally get to work on certification.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Toppings

Last night, one of my coworkers was in a play, so I had to go see it. Generally speaking, I'm not a big playgoer, which is sort of funny given that I wanted to be an actress when I was in high school. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure what is was that so attracted me to the stage - the charm of public expression, perhaps, or the potential for public admiration? Whatever it was, it is surely gone now: I generally stay as far away from the stage as possible, either as a participant or an observer. It's just that, unless it is very, very professional indeed, theater can't help but REEK of amateurism; as my husband puts it, "It's just a bunch of people yelling." On top of that incontrovertible fact is the problem that the vast majority of plays truly suck. Even the very best plays, the ones that belong to the lucky tiny fraction that actually gets produced by anyone anywhere, are often just so bad. Characters are in situations that cause them to emote, and there's some sort of gesture towards commentary on modern life, and then there's a heartwarming ending where characters change and discover things, sometimes about themselves and sometimes about modern life and sometimes about both. Really. Go to that theater-person bookstore in Hell's Kitchen and pick any play aside from the obvious, English major fodder, and you will see what I mean. So I was not especially excited to be going to this play, but I went, and it was fine. It was totally not horrible, and I was happy to see my coworker do her thing and be good at it.

None of that, though, is what I meant to talk about here. What I wanted to tell you about was what happened before the play. The theater was in the East Village, so I arranged to meet my husband on St. Mark's Place to hand off the kid. The kid was not enthusiastic about being handed off, but I was in a hurry, so I wrestled him out of the ringsling, and my husband wrestled him into the stroller, and I was off. There are times when a moment like this - getting to walk away from the baby - feels wonderful, as though I have suddenly shed a layer of old, crusty skin. There are other times, though, when it feels awful, and this was one of those times. Walking east on St. Mark's, I could hear my baby sobbing. His cries had gone beyond the normal tantrum range and slid into true desperation. A quarter of a block away, I looked back, and he was still looking at me through the crowd, holding his arms out in supplication. Looking at his little face, creased and red, I imagined what he was seeing - his mother, with whom he had been cuddling happily only a moment ago, suddenly disappearing into a throng of strangers - and it felt like an unbearable heartbreak. My stomach lurched, and without stopping to think, I ran back up the block and snatched the baby into my arms.

It took a moment for us both to regain our equilibrium, but when we did, I realized that I was standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk with toddler, husband, and stroller, and only five minutes to get to the theater. "Well," sighed my husband, who at this point barely even bothers to get annoyed by my child-related histrionics, "I guess let's go to Pinkberry." Inside Pinkberry, the baby continued to clutch at my arms, snuffling tragically into my shoulder. Until, that is, he caught a glimpse of the candies and berries piled on the toppings counter where my husband was standing. Suddenly, he leaned away from me and reached his arms out: "Papa! PaPAA!" My husband took him from me, and the two of them were immediately engrossed in discussing what they would have on their frozen yogurt. The baby didn't even notice when I slipped away; I ran all the way to the theater and made it just in time for curtain.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Note from the Editor

Looking at what I wrote earlier today, I'm feeling a little embarrassed by the grandiose sort of TAH-DAAAAAAH! flourish at the end. I don't mean to imply that me managing to type some crap into the Blogger interface and then clicking Publish Post is any kind of grand Rocky-style* victory-against-the-odds. I guess that is exactly what I do imply, though, both in that post and at least one other that I can think of. Look, I know that there are real troubles in the world, and real triumphs, too, and that whether or not I succeed in keeping this blog going is such a infinitesimally tiny matter as to not rank anywhere at all.

But here's the thing, guys. (Or perhaps "folks," which is a word that a former colleague of mine used ENDLESSLY, and totally drove me bonkers at the time, but that I now use with noticeable frequency myself.) This is really not easy. By which I don't so much mean this stupid blog, but everything in general. It is so not easy. It's not easy to junk a reasonable, and reasonably lucrative, profession in order to pursue a bunch of shit that no one knows anything about and is not certain to be lucrative at all, let alone reasonably so. It's not easy to do all this stuff on the principle that you want to be with your kid and to find that you don't really have so much time to be with your kid. And it's weird, guys/folks, it's really weird to have a toddler - a BIG KID - and not a baby. Because a toddler is a whirlwind - a hurricane - quicksand. As much of your attention as you thought your little tiny baby occupied, a toddler occupies like fifty times that. And you know, even if you could be home with your toddler all day every day, I'm not sure if you would want to be - it doesn't seem quite right for the stage of development, just like you wouldn't spend all day every day home with an 8-year-old. (Unless you were home-schooling him/her, and let's just leave that topic for another day.) And it's hard, because I have to wonder all the time if that Baby Days state of ecstasy, of creativity, of pure happiness with my life is over forever, and if things are just going to degenerate from this point forward until I'm back where I started - overworked and unsatisfied. So it's really hard, and it's really scary, too, because sometimes it just feels like I've failed, or am about to fail, really spectacularly, though I'm not sure at what. And in the midst of this, to suddenly find myself able to sit down with a feeling of strength and happiness and to finally - FINALLY - write something after a full month of silence - it does feel like a Rocky* sort of thing, OK? So TAH-DAAAAAAH, OK? Fucking TAH-DAAAAAAH.

*I have actually never seen any of the Rocky movies, but I think this reference is appropriate, right?

Yoga

Six weeks after the baby was born, I went to a real (not postnatal/mommy-and-me) yoga class, and I had vagina farts. I had never had this particular problem at yoga before, but giving birth had obviously made some serious rearrangements in my pelvic region, because with the very first downward facing dog, air began to squish out of me, accompanied by exceedingly rude sounds. I couldn't stop the air and I couldn't stop the sounds, and I knew that my only choices were to leave or to brazen it out. So brazen it out I did, and the horrendous PPBBBBBTHHHHTBBBBB noises emanating from between my legs began, after forty-five minutes or so, to quiet down, and had disappeared entirely by the last plow pose. To their great credit, not a single person in the room giggled, commented, moved away from me, or did anything at all to indicate their awareness of the REALLY GROSS SHIT going on with that lady in the corner, and I left the class feeling oddly at peace, refreshed and realigned and ready to move forward.

I am telling this story not so much to utterly humiliate myself with the memory, but more to demonstrate how profoundly (and bizarrely) motherhood changes one's body, and how difficult it is to even know these changes have occurred. It is a commonplace that The Modern Lifestyle leaves us sadly disconnected from our bodies. Between sedentary pastimes and overloaded social/professional schedules, as popular wisdom would have it, we simply do not have the opportunity or motivation or context to properly interact with and nurture our bodily selves. True as this may be, I am here to tell you that The Modern Lifestyle has nothing on motherhood. Beginning with pregnancy, your body's function is entirely hijacked. It is no longer simply a tool for your own pleasure and pain, no longer simply your personal interface with the world at large. Instead, it gives itself over to developing and feeding a being that is not you. And all of this happens WITHOUT YOUR KNOWING IT. That is, your very own body gets busy building loosening your pelvic ligaments and building a placenta and an umbilical cord and a nose and fingers and so on without ANY of your conscious input. I know that this may seem incredibly obvious to you, but I want you to take a moment to really think about it. A pregnant woman's body is entirely devoted to something OTHER THAN itself, and once the ball gets rolling, she has absolutely no concrete, specific knowledge or control of what it is doing. And that, my friends, is disconnection. (And that is how you end up carrying stale air around in your pelvis for six weeks without even knowing it.)

This phenomenon, however, does not end when the baby is born. A mother's body remains a tool for the survival of her child. All of her bodily resources - the water she drinks, the food she eats, her muscles, her bones, and her flesh - are devoted to her child, just as sure as if her child were still inside her. I squat to the floor, I lift my child to my hip, I hold him to my breast to nurse. At night, my sleep is not like it used to be. I curl around my child, and when he wakes and cries, I roll to my side and offer him milk. Of course, my husband, too, squats to the floor and lifts our child and sometimes wakes in the night with his cries. He is an attentive father who works hard to care for his son. But it is not the same thing. Partly, it's not the same because I am a small, light person with a horrifically, maladaptively fast metabolism who can hardly stay fully hydrated and nourished in the best of circumstances. But mostly, it's not the same because I am the mother, and my bodily ties to my baby are all-encompassing. The mother's body builds the baby, the mother's body births the baby, and the mother's body sustains the baby. My body has become a strange, crabbed thing - a locked left hip, a tingling spot between my shoulders, a frequently-aching head, and skinny, skinny, skinny - and, just as when I was pregnant, I barely know what it is doing or what it is for.*

I used to go to one or two yoga classes a week, but in the twenty months since my baby was born, I have gone to maybe six classes all together. The obstacles seem insurmountable - find a good class at a good time, have enough money to pay for it, be sure that husband and/or babysitter are available and willing, don't feel cripplingly guilty for going even though I may be inconveniencing other people, don't get immobilized by sheer inertia and end up sitting on the couch watching CSI: NY. This morning, however, for the first time in months, I managed to jump through all of these hoops and get myself to a class in a sun-warmed studio on 105th St.

The thing about yoga is that it makes you do things with your body that you wouldn't necessarily do in the course of everyday life, and thus helps you think thoughts about your body that you wouldn't necessarily think in everyday life. (Or helps your body think about itself, as in "Wow, there's a lot of old air in here. I better just squeeze it out the nearest hole.") As I moved through the asanas this morning, I felt more and more conscious, more and more inhabited by my own self. I found a small sore spot on the right side of my sacrum; I found that my left hip was not quite as intractable as I had thought; I found that my neck has become too weak to allow me to look up comfortably in a side bend. In headstand, my head felt unusually heavy, my brain pressing downwards on my eyes, and the sensation was too unpleasant to allow me to stay in the pose for more than a few seconds. In plow pose, my back began to warm, as though under a heat lamp, and continued to get warmer and warmer until I rolled out of the pose to finally rest on my back in savasana.

By the end of the class, I felt as though I had come up from under water for the first time in a long time. My eyes felt keener, my gaze stronger, my body more tightly knit. On the way home from class, I ate a raisin-walnut bun from the Silver Moon bakery; when I got home, I sat down and wrote this.

*If you are thinking I should just wean and sleep train my kid, go on ahead and think that, but I don't want to hear A WORD about it, because I AM NOT GOING TO DISCUSS THOSE THINGS WITH YOU. Come to think of it, though, I would like to discuss those things with my mom friend HA. Those things and many other things. HA, call me. No, wait. I'll call you, as that is far more civilized than hailing you via blog.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Opinions

What slays me most now is when the baby wants something. By this I don't so much mean the times when he is begging to be given yet another popsicle or to be allowed to push the start/stop button on the record player for the fifth time in ten minutes, but rather the times when he manages to communicate a specific viewpoint about what is going on around him.

For example, the other day he took my hand and led me to the clean laundry pile in the living room (Where else would I keep my clean laundry? Drawers? Bosh!) and began to point at it and fuss. At first I ignored him, as I thought he wanted to climb onto the pile and push the start/stop button on the record player again. But then I realized that he was pointing at a small grey T-shirt at the top of the pile. I held the shirt up, and he stopped fussing and raised his arms. I popped the shirt over his head, and he went happily back to playing alone in the corner with his own record player (old and unplugged).

On another day, he pulled me by the hand to the door and began his "Let's go outside" fuss, which occurs about nineteen times daily. I had intended to take him to the park anyway, so was happy to comply, but I first wanted to address the fact that he wasn't wearing any pants. So I brought him a diaper, and he began to scream. "Look," I said, "you want to go out, right? So let's just put this on, and then we can go out." His screams intensified. "OK," I said, "what about training pants instead?" More screaming. I was mystified. Finally, in a moment of inspiration, I brought him a pair of pants. "Do you want to wear pants with nothing underneath?" There was an abrupt cessation of screaming, and he sat down calmly in my lap to get pantsed. We spent the rest of the day outside with no diaper, and he had not a single accident.

It is no surprise, of course, when a little baby communicates in a big way about the big things, like "HOLY SHIT I'M HUNGRY FEED ME NOOOOOOOWWWW" or "I'M AWAKE DAMMIT WHERE ARE YOOOOOOUUUUU" or "OOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUCH!" But the thought that my baby has somehow become capable of formulating his own opinion about the small, inconsequential details of life (T-shirt/no T-shirt, diaper/no diaper) is borderline incomprehensible to me and simultaneously darling beyond all reason. Of course, this newfound knack of discovering and expressing opinions is rather a mixed blessing: our previously easy-going baby has been replaced by a highly demanding kid. The last couple of nights witnessed his longest, most intense tantrums yet, the baby throwing himself to the floor to weep, kicking his feet and pounding his fists in agony and grief because we would not allow him to go outside at ten thirty at night. There is no doubt in my mind that in the coming weeks, such scenes will become more frequent rather than less, but I am trying not to worry about it. With a baby (and with adults too, if you really think about it), everything is a phase, and as soon as you have made a positive decision as to how to deal with it, the phase is over and you are facing something entirely new. My hope, then, is to make it through this phase without thinking too much about the exhausting hour-to-hour grind of coping with the baby's endless parade of illogical demands. Instead, I much prefer to think about the crazy sweetness of his own little self, and how his newly independent little mind makes its own decisions now, and how once he has decided, he still turns to me with the utter faith that I will make it so.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bananas

Last Wednesday, the baby and I were on our way home from the 2/3 train when I heard someone say behind me, "Hey, why didn't you get no bananas?" While the statement itself seemed to be essentially gibberish and I had no reason to believe it was directed at me, something told me to turn around. There was a woman standing behind us with two large bunches of bananas in plastic Dole wrapping, and sure enough, she was looking straight at me. "Hey," she repeated, "why didn't you get no bananas?" And she gestured towards the baby as though to say, Can't you see your baby wants bananas?

"Bananas?" I asked politely.

"Yeah, bananas. They're giving out free bananas over there. You should get some. For your baby, you know?" And she gestured towards the baby again. I saw that the bunch of bananas in her right arm were still green, the bunch in her left already ripe.

I looked past her down the street. On the sidewalk in front of the Salvation Army community center was parked a large City Harvest truck, emblazoned with the motto "RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY," and I could see from where I stood that the folding tables next to the truck were indeed piled high with bananas. Looking around me, I saw that at least a third of the people on the sidewalk had one or two bunches of bananas in their arms, poking out of their bags, or in their wire shopping carts.

I realized that the woman was still looking at me encouragingly. "They're free!" She said.

"Um," I said, thinking, This woman couldn't possibly believe that I am in a free-banana sort of situation. "OK. Wow, yeah. Thanks. My baby likes bananas. Um, I have to run home now. I think maybe we'll get some on our way back out."

The woman nodded, satisfied, and set out across Lenox with her arms full of banana. I turned away, took a few steps, and stopped. The baby does like bananas, I thought, and we don't have any money. Really, we are in a free-banana sort of situation right now. I started tentatively back towards the City Harvest truck, took a few steps, and stopped. RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY, the truck said to me, and I watched as my neighbors stood in front of the tables, selecting bananas, helped by the smiling cargo-shorted volunteers. I suddenly, desperately wanted free bananas for my baby. I would do the same as the woman had done - take one ripe bunch to eat right away and one green bunch for later in the week. I would slice bananas in the baby's cereal and maybe freeze one or two to eat as pretend popsicles. Or maybe blend them with yogurt and honey for smoothies - or put the smoothie in the popsicle mold for real popsicles.

RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY - well, I was hungry, and poor too. It so happened that I had been near-desperate with money anxiety for the previous few days. The bills were barely paid, and there was no money left after, and I had been wondering what we would do about groceries. Despite this, though, I knew in my heart that I did not count as NEW YORK'S HUNGRY. Even though things looked dire on that very day, they were mostly OK before that, and would undoubtedly be mostly OK again soon. I looked across at the City Harvest tables again. Were all of those people really NEW YORK'S HUNGRY, or were they just neighborhood ladies like me rejoicing in free bananas? Could I do it too?

In a fit of indecision and desire, at least five times I started towards the free bananas, then stopped, turned, took a few steps towards home, then stopped, turned, and took a few steps back towards the bananas.

The feeling was a familiar one - to obtain, or not to obtain? I have wrestled with the same thing countless times in rather different circumstances. Do I want it? Do I deserve it? Is it really a good idea? I remember in particular, two winters ago, a cream-colored cropped boiled-wool jacket at Club Monaco. I had waited patiently for it to go on sale, and when it was finally marked down to half price, I took it from the rack and bore it triumphantly towards the register. Halfway there, though, something made me stop. Should I really get it? I mightn't wear it very much - it was really a rather awkward weight - too warm inside and not warm enough outside - and it would get so very dirty right away. No, no, not a good purchase. I took it back to the rack. And yet - it was so beautiful, and I had waited so long for it, and I could wear it with a red skirt and black tights and look like a Godard girl. Back towards the register. I did this dance several times, finally ended up leaving the store and boarding the subway minus jacket, and then getting off the subway after a few stops, going back to the store, and buying the thing.

I knew that now, though, I couldn't do the same thing. If I went home and put away the stroller and washed my hands and washed the baby's hands and took off the baby's shoes and pants and diaper and offered him the potty and fed the dog and THEN decided that I wanted free bananas, it would be too late. The truck would be gone, and the free bananas with it. DECIDE NOW, I told myself. I took another step towards the City Harvest tables, and then turned and trudged home banana-free. I could not, in the final bargain, bring myself to approach those tables and ask for free bananas - not wearing my good linen pants, holding my baby on my hip in a handwoven Belgian sling, and pushing my boutique-brand stroller. I am sure no one would have minded - everyone in this neighborhood knows that hard times can wear all kinds of clothes and push all kinds of strollers - but I could not do it.

When I got home, there was a long-overdue paycheck in the mailbox that would cover the rest of our bills and leave a little to spare for the next week or so. That evening, when I went to pick up our farm share vegetables, the couple we split our share with said we could pay our portion in installments and not to worry. The next day, my mother said she would help us with our daycare bill for the next couple of weeks. I went to the grocery store and bought blueberries and yogurt and salmon and bread. But no bananas - the sight of them made me a little queasy.

As for the boiled wool jacket, I had been right. It was utterly impractical, and I never wore it, not even once. Soon enough, I packed it off to Buffalo Exchange, where I traded it for very little money indeed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Night Train

I am, once again, on the Amtrak headed home to the city. It is night, and the baby is asleep against me, his head lolling, his mouth hanging open, his hands splayed helplessly, his hair spiked with sleep-sweat. His skin glows pale in the ever-so-slightly lurid flourescent light, his cheeks and lips cherry-pink. He is 18 months old today and still a nursling; despite his regular consumption of people-food, his staple is still breastmilk and he still breathes milk-breath - a peculiar sweet yogurty smell that I am sure any mother could recognize at twenty paces.

He sighs and shifts in my arms. He has no idea that we are hurtling through the night at some unconscionable number of miles per hour, no idea that when he wakes up, he will be somewhere else altogether, somewhere nothing like the place where he was when he fell asleep. Looking down into face, I am momentarily befuddled by the magnitude of my responsibility - I am the one responsible for safely conveying this small, clammy, yogurt-breathing being from place to place and for being sure that he is properly fed, cleaned, and clothed on the way. It seems almost bizarre that the universe would leave this to chance, that something somewhere in the inner workings of time and space thought that this was a pretty good idea: "Yeah, an' we're gonna make each an' ev'ry one of 'em helpless so it can't do nuthin' for a really lowwng time so this one lady she gotta be sure it's OK an' alive an' so on an' so fort'." (Why do the inner workings of time and space speak with a New York accent, you ask? Listen, I don't have all the answers. I'm just a conduit here, OK?)

The days move faster now, nothing like those early baby days when an afternoon could stretch for years. There seems to be (perhaps fortunately for my long-suffering readers) a great deal less time to moon about and think maudlin thoughts about my baby. It is a blessing, then, to have time, on the quiet night train, to gaze into his flushed sleeping face and to feel the full force of motherhood.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Email from the Deep

Dear [fellow-mommy friend who I have not seen since May despite the fact that we live only 20 minutes apart by city bus, or "municipal chariot" as she once put it],

Argh. I just came back from 5 days in Arizona with the in-laws and am now off for 5-6 days to Virginia with the parents, after which I will be going to M's house in Connecticut for the holiday weekend. Holy shit. There's a wedding in VA, and then I tacked the AZ trip on right before so as to not have to take too much time off doula-ing, and then the there's the holiday weekend right after, and if I don't run to CT then, I won't be able to go ever ever again because I'm on call for the rest of the summer and that means the baby wouldn't be able to go swimming in the Lake with M's niece so you see I'm insane.

On the up side, today is the last day for me at school. A total anticlimax, but I don't even have the time to think about it. And forget writing about it. What is that you say? That I used to be a writer? Horseshit. I don't believe you. Couldn't be.

I am dying to get together. After the holiday weekend, OK? My schedule is still crazy after that with the store and doula crap, but at least school is out of the mix...

I don't know what I'm doing anymore. Seems like every decision I make is completely foolhardy and ruinous. Oh god, did I really say that? ARGH!!!

Anyhoo, baby much bigger but not much more talkative. Says "JEWWWWW!" meaning Joe the dog. Insists that I clip Joe's leash on and takes Joe for walks around the house. For whatever bizarro reason, I couldn't organize myself to put trainer OR diaper on him last night, and he peed the bed twice. Once on himself, once on his papa. But not on me! Ha, it's the small victories, right?

Did you see the New Yorker piece on people writing about parenting? Hardly flattering to a (former?) mommy blogger such as myself, but true enough.

I have begun to get really into wrapping and am afraid that I have a wrap collection coming on. Just what our household needs. More redundant crap. Please borrow one some time so I can feel useful.

God I miss you!

Love, [increasingly befuddled Traveller]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Eating and Speaking

My son is sitting on the couch, listening to the Bee Gees. He is eating cheerios and raspberries, and I am mesmerized by his perfectly erect toddler posture; his head balanced quizzically atop his fragile, curved neck; the simultaneously intensely focused and utterly absentminded movement of hand to mouth. There is something special about young children eating - it reminds you of their essential humanity, their selfhood. I wonder if I magnified this effect with my decision not give the kid "baby food," not to spoonfeed him rice cereal or purees or mush - he has always eaten "people food" with his own hands. Maybe this is why his eating has always seemed to me to mark him out as his own person, rather than my baby, a signal of his membership in the human race vis a vis himself, unmediated by me.

He asks for cheerios in the morning by pointing at the box on the counter, and he eats them from the box or a dish or my hand like he's hungry, like he's a little boy who just woke up and now wants breakfast. Sometimes he goes into the one cupboard that he's allowed to open, takes out a bag of freeze-dried strawberries, and carries it with him around the house, reaching into it and eating crumbling handfuls as he plays with his broken record player or alphabet blocks or books. When we eat a meal, he eats with us, sometimes in earnest, choosing each morsel carefully, and sometimes for pretend, clanking a fork against our plates and aiming it, empty, towards his mouth. The dog has taken to following him around slavishly, watching intently for any dropped morsels and pouncing on them triumphantly.

When the baby and my husband are home alone together, they do a lot of eating; when I come home, there are often strange combinations of bowls in the sink and unidentifiable crusts on the counter by the baby's clip-on seat. My husband says eating is how they bond. "Yesterday," he tells me, "we ate a big bowl of spicy noodles together. He couldn't get enough of them. He would eat a mouthful, and then cough a little bit because it was really spicy, and then ask for more, and more, and more. And afterwards," my husband adds, looking satisfied, "he took a HUGE SHIT."

Back to now - the baby is sitting on the couch, listening to the Bee Gees, eating raspberries and cheerios. I marvel at his composure, his self-possession. Now he chooses a cheerio, now a raspberry, another raspberry, and now a cheerio. He picks the raspberries out of the plastic clamshell balanced on the back of the sofa, holding them gently so they only squeeze a little pink juice onto his fingers. He pushes them into his mouth one by one, chews thoughtfully. Every so often, he makes a sour face - is it a bad raspberry? - and either ejects the berry entirely or continues to chew with a dissatisfied air.

What is he thinking? I don't know, because he won't tell me. He says "paPA!!" a lot and "mama" sometimes, and "DAH!!" for dogs (and cats, birds, young children, strollers, and nothing) and "mimi" for Limi, the nickname of the other little boy at daycare, but nothing else. We want him to speak to us so much, but he seems essentially uninterested. "Tell me what you're thinking! Talk to me!" I command as he babbles incomprehensibly. My husband implores: "Habla, hijo! Habla espanol, o por lo menos, habla ingles. Habla!"
Perhaps in response to our requests, he did add one more word to his vocabulary this weekend: "NO!" It was "NO!" when he didn't want something we were offering, "NO!" when he did want something we weren't offering, "NO!" as a general comment on any given situation at large. At a Memorial Day picnic in Central Park yesterday, he ran barefoot circles in the grass chanting "nonononononononononnnnNONOooooooo!" While I imagine that I may get tired of the no-ing pretty quickly, I am momentarily charmed by it, and relieved that my son has chosen to very slightly widen the channel of communication between us.

Now, though, on the couch, eating and listening to the Bee Gees, he is silent but for an occasional satisfied "hmph" betweeen bites. I could watch him do this forever, but I can tell that he is about to get bored and move on, as toddlers always do, and I remind myself to put the food away before the dog gets to it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mr. Gilmore

One thing that I do not really do is keep up with the modern literary scene. With occasional exceptions, I tend to not know anything about new or even semi-new writers of literature, and it is only rarely that I read a novel written after about 1968; indeed, if I were to discount mysteries and hard-boileds and Wodehouse and Mitford(s), that date might be more like 1908. (Nonfiction is, of course, a separate matter.) This exclusivity derives not so much from snobbery as from terror of the wide-open territory that is the current and future literary scene. That is, it seems to me that if I am to delve into current books, there will be no end to it - I will have to be reading everything out there all the time, discovering and evaluating and following new authors and their unceasing parade of new productions. Mining the past, on the other hand, seems much more manageable - all I have to do is go into any old used bookstore now and then, pick out a handful of Penguin or Oxford classics, and stay happy (if somewhat musty) until I have finished reading them.

It is by this procedure that I have ended up reading a truly random selection of 19th century novels. Among these are three by Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone, The Woman in White, and Poor Miss Finch, the last of which is truly spectacular, involving as it does a beautiful blind woman and a pair of handsome twins, one of whom is literally the color purple - can you guess the contours of that plot? (Also filed under "Collins, Wilkie" in my memory are Lady Audley's Secret and Cousin Henry, neither of which are actually by Collins but might as well be, right?) My friend M, a fellow book-devourer, recently got herself onto a Collins kick, apparently feeling shamed by a Facebook list of books that people ought to have read or something of that nature. (This list also included the Harry Potter books and, I think, The Clan of the Cave Bear, so I don't really think it's something to get oneself ashamed over, but there we have it.) After she finished The Woman in White, she lent it to me to re-read, as I had forgotten the shocking and dastardly secrets revealed therein.

So I am now re-reading The Woman in White. It was not especially easy to get back into right away; the cosmic levels of improbability at which Collins operates are rather daunting at first, and the kind, quivering, sentimentalities of "Walter Hartright, of Clement's Inn, Teacher of Drawing" rather tiresome. After awhile, though, the story does get going enough to keep you roped in, and the narration switches over to "Vincent Gilmore, of Chancery Lane, Solicitor," a far superior narrator. Indeed, I think Mr. Gilmore is my favorite narrator of the book. He is perhaps the closest thing in the book to a real person, and in any case the closest to Collins in education and position and perhaps temperament - possibly even more so because Collins himself read for the bar - and Collins grants him a good-humored voice full of shrewd observations of a type that other, more verklempt, characters haven't the time or sense to make.

To wit, here are some of the Mr. Gilmore gems that I enjoyed today:

I had [unlike the writer of this blog] been favourably impressed by Mr. Hartright, on our first introduction to one another; but I soon discovered that he was not free from the social failings incidental to his age. There are three things that none of the young men of the present generation can do. They can't sit over their wine; they can't play at whist; and they can't pay a lady a compliment.

It is the great beauty of the Law that it can dispute any human statement, made under any circumstances, and reduced to any form.

I liked to feel her hearty indignation flash out on me that way. We see so much malice and so little indignatioin in my profession.

I'm not entirely sure what is happening to me, but there is no denying that these days, my consciousness feels more and more fragmented, and any concept of self more questionable. Often, I feel as though I can barely locate myself in the crumbling pieces of the body and mind that I seem to have once inhabited. Some days, it is only in reading a story, or in watching one on television, that I can escape this incoherence and locate some sort of sense in my own mind and in the world around me. Today, during my free periods at school, I neglected my grading and test-writing in order to enjoy Mr. Gilmore and to allow his clear thinking to, at least temporarily, stand in for my own.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Knock Wood

In the last couple of weeks, I've been told twice that I should knock on wood. Once was when I said that I don't think my husband will get laid off, and once was when I said that I am reasonably sure that I don't need more than one backup doula for the two births that I am scheduled to attend in early May, because the only possible reason I'd need two backups is if I got run over by a bus. On each occasion, my interlocutor (a different person each time) said, with a sharp intake of breath and a strongly disapproving tone, "You BETTER knock on wood after saying THAT." The way they spoke suggested that I had been exceedingly, unwisely brash and that I had better make immediate restitution for my stupidity.

I guess the controlling idea with knocking on wood is that by naming and scoffing at a worst-case scenario, one is inviting that specific scenario to actually occur - whether by the machinations of Fate or fate or God or the gods or some other sentient aspect of the inner workings of the universe. It's similar to hubris, where the most surefire way for a hotpants-clad Greek muscleman to guarantee that he will be devoured by a monster is to proclaim that there is no way in Hades that he could ever, ever be bested by such a puny, pathetic little monster. Once he's said those words, there's no need to continue reading the story - you know what's coming.*

The sharp chastisement I received on both of the knock-on-wood occasions described above made me feel as though I had been very, very imprudent. (I did not, however, actually knock on wood either time, feeling that doing so would somehow undo the last vestige of my dignity.) However, in hindsight, I don't see anything wrong with what I said. The thing is, while I am certainly an anxious person with an overactive imagination, I am not at all superstitious. When I was a child, my parents neither practiced nor preached any superstitions or any other culturally-approved irrationalities. Thus it was that I never truly believed in God or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, I never truly believed in rabbits' feet or lucky pennies or 13, I never worried about hats on beds or umbrellas opened in houses, I never prayed, and I never knocked on wood.

All that is to say that, while I recognize that it was distasteful of me to name the particular possibilities I named, and that I will feel foolish (also broke or dead) if either of them does occur, I absolutely cannot believe that my naming them actually made them any more likely to occur. The corollary, of course, is also true - I cannot believe that not naming unpleasant possibilities makes them any less likely to occur. Indeed, it seems to me that this is the real nub of superstition - not that certain actions result in ill luck, but that refraining from these actions results in good luck. So if you don't break a mirror, you are preventing misfortune for seven years; if you don't put your hat on the bed, you are warding off death; if you don't number the thirteenth floor of a building, you are permitting prosperity to enter. Superstitions, then, allow you to experience a higher degree of control over your circumstances than you actually have.

I'm not sure what it means that I reject the illusion of control that comes with superstition. It may be because I simply can't accept that kind of responsibility on top of all the other responsibilities that life has brought me. I can do my best to be informed, judicious, thoughtful, data-driven, kind, generous, flexible, reasonable, organized, well-groomed, and clean (though those last three areas are admittedly not my strengths), but I do not have the psychological energy to take responsibility, via arcane behavioral guidelines, for the quality of my fate on the grand scale. I'm not saying that I take this approach because I'm a great person - it's probably due more to sheer laziness as well as my aggressively rational upbringing than to any personal strength - but I do sometimes wish that more people would share it. I wish that more people would pay more attention to living rational, responsible, and compassionate lives and less attention to outlandish and irrelevant rules of conduct meant to somehow simulate the likely result of living rationally, responsibly, and compassionately. So I will, in the future, bring more consideration and restraint to my discussions of what-ifs, but even if I fail in this goal, I refuse to knock on wood, because I know it won't make a difference.

*Not to make light of the Greco-Roman mythological tradition, which was the very bread-and-butter of much of my childhood, and which I am seriously considering getting back into. For whatever reason, The New York Review of Books has had a long run in the past months of classical-scholarship-related articles and reviews, which have made me want to dive with ferocity back into Aeschylus or Virgil, for example, the only problem being that I am considerably hampered by my four jobs and toddler.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Empathy

Some times are dark times for me. I don't know if my darkness is more or more frequent than others' - there's no way for me to measure such things. I have certainly been on and off antidepressants and therapy for all of my adult life, but I suspect that this is pretty common these days and is more an index of how a person deals with his or her feelings than the quality of the feelings themselves. During my dark times, I cry a lot (often while lying on the floor), I believe that nothing means anything, I feel deathly bored with myself and my life, I think that I am ugly and uninteresting and fucked-up and worthless, and I think a lot about killing myself. (In the interest of you not calling the psych ward on me right this very moment, dear reader, it is probably important to note here that I have NEVER EVER EVER taken any steps towards actually killing myself, as that would require a certain vim and verve and self-regard that I could not possibly muster when I am feeling this way. I just think about it, and sometimes talk about it to the slightly alarmed irritation of those who have heard it all from me before.)

Now, in many ways, my life these days is exactly right. As I have documented ad nauseam here, I love being a mother - and besides that, I am pursuing the work that interests me most. (To review: I'm a novice doula with four births and counting; I am training as a childbirth educator; I am working at a "natural" baby-goods boutique, teaching parents about all manner of sustainable/responsive parenting approaches [this is new]; and I am writing this blog [less and less, I know, but I'm doing my best, OK?! I'm kind of busy, OK?! God.].) The problem is that much of what I am doing is just getting off the ground and not bringing in much money yet and must be carefully squeezed in around my "real" work schedule. So, while things might appear to be working out perfectly, the truth is that most of the time, I am too tired, too hungry, and too busy to be truly healthy and happy. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that I have had a few very, very dark days in the past couple of weeks.

This past Monday was perhaps the worst in recent memory. I couldn't stop crying; my heart felt hollow and black, my body and spirit sucked inexorably inwards. I thought about calling a friend, but could not bear the idea of anyone I know listening to me weeping into the telephone for no identifiable reason. I considered calling some sort of mental health hotline or maybe even my old therapist, but what would I say? I knew that "I'm tired" or "I don't feel so good" or "I want to die" were not particularly helpful descriptions of my feelings, but there was nothing more in my mind.

On days like that, the baby's needs are a cross that I can only just bear. Smiling and playing and responding feel very nearly impossible, but I pull together every bit of energy I have in order to do it, terrified of what my college Developmental Psychology classes taught me about the damage that an unresponsive, depressed mother can do to her child. Unhappily, the great effort this costs me often makes me feel much, much worse as the day wears on; happily, the baby never seems to notice the difference. This past Monday, though, it felt to me as though the baby - now 15-and-a-half months old - did notice something. He had seen my face wet with tears in the morning, and while he did not seem at all upset or afraid or cowed, his behavior seemed somehow adjusted. He played quietly by himself in his corner of the living room for most of the morning, turning to me and smiling engagingly when something was especially fun, like a particularly rhythmic song on the radio or a particularly good bounce of his red bouncy ball. Each time he turned his face towards me, his smiles were so sweet and genuine that it was no effort at all for me to smile back and say an encouraging word or two, after which he happily returned to what he had been doing. Later in the morning, he began to roam around the apartment and ask for a little more of my attention. However, rather than shouting his standard, insistent "eh-eh-EH!" to be carried here and there or to be given something he shouldn't have (my cell phone, a bottle of vitamins, a felt-tip pen), he simply came to stand by my chair every ten minutes or so. I would crouch down and look him in the face, and he would laugh delightedly and put his arms around my neck. After a hug and a kiss, he would go off again to explore. In short, the baby's behavior towards me was so singularly undemanding, so gentle and loving, that it was impossible for me to not think that he was feeling some baby-version of empathy, that he was responding to my hurt with the best balm he could manage - smiling at me, hugging and kissing me, and leaving me alone.

Now, I know that it is not considered to be a Good Thing for a child to be forced to "take care of" his or her parents. It seems to me, though, that the baby's actions on Monday were less in the neighborhood of Trying to Keep Your Junkie Mother from Drowning While She Pukes in the Tub, and more in the neighborhood of common human kindness. (You may, of course, think that I am deluded in this matter. If so, kindly keep it to yourself, as I am enjoying this particular delusion.) In any case, there is no doubt that, instead of spiralling downward over the course of the day as it often does, my mood gradually began to brighten, buoyed by the baby's calm sweetness and his clear desire for my happiness and affection. By the late afternoon, I had stopped crying altogether and was even feeling sanguine enough to agree to go to a birthday party/concert where my husband would be playing music that evening. While it is true that I didn't quite manage to change out of my two-day-old depression clothes, I surprised myself by managing to get to the downtown loft space on time. The baby cautiously explored the loft while I chatted with tight-pantsed hipsters and ate Ghanaian curry and cheese-and-crackers. Later, the baby nursed to sleep, and I tucked him securely into the couch and went to the next room to watch my husband perform. It had been months since I had seen him play music in public - months since I had seen anyone play music in public - and I felt almost like my old self again, sitting on an air mattress in a grungy loft, drinking my second Tsing Tao, watching someone be absurd with a microphone and a sampler.

When the show was over, I went back into the other room to find my baby still sleeping angelically on the old couch. I folded him carefully into a carrier, and we splurged on a taxi ride home. It was around ten o'clock at night, and I found myself thinking that it had been a pretty good day.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

College

Last week, my mom friend HA and I had grand plans to go to Mommy and Me Yoga together (also known as Try to be Zen and Flexible as Your Children Steal Toys from Each Other and Have Tantrums). This is a goal we had reached successfully the week before, and we ought to have known better than to think it could actually happen two weeks in a row. I woke to find that my toddler was fussy and clingy and suffer-ish (teething?), and just as I emailed her to say that yoga might be in jeopardy, she emailed me to say that yoga was entirely out of the question, as she had been up all night with her insistently wakeful toddler and furthermore had pulled a muscle in her back while dumping out the tub water. I emailed her back with the comforting reminder that one day, both toddlers will leave for college, and then we can go to yoga whenever we want.

I had, of course, been joking when I wrote this, and I am not by any means counting the days until I don't have to take care of my baby anymore. On the whole, however, college holds a significant place in my thinking about the baby. Indeed, immediately after he was born, when my midwife placed him on my chest, still damp and umbilical, I gazed at him through dazed tears and said, "I'm paying for you to go to college, you know." I'm not sure precisely what I meant; after being in labor for three days, I was not really sure of anything anymore, and I flopped helplessly as the Labor and Delivery nurse tsked at me kindly, putting a hospital gown on me (I had torn it off hours before), wiping my armpits with wet wipes, and tying me and the baby securely into a wheelchair to ship me off to the neonatal floor. Thinking about it later, though, I realized that in invoking college, I had my finger on a core truth, which is that until the baby leaves our home to go to college (ideal) or to become a junkie hobo (less ideal but possibly cool), my days - my ability to get to yoga - will be, to one degree or another, dictated by his needs, his health, and his moods.

Many, many women in this country report feelings of having somehow lost their true selves through the processes of pregnancy, birthing, and new motherhood. I know that I am very lucky to feel the opposite way most of the time: I feel as though these experiences have led me to find my true self, and I have truly never felt more comfortable or happier in my own skin. There is no doubt, though, that I also experience regret, frustration, and sadness that I will never - never, ever, never, never - be the same person I was before. While in some ways my world has been opened immeasurably, it has also been closed. My range of choices in everything - when will I go to yoga? what shoes shall I wear? what will I do on Saturday night? - is no longer dependent on my own convenience or desires. Indeed, said convenience and desires are entirely meaningless. It is meaningless that I might want to wear my linen-and-leather peep-toe pumps because they are so Spring-y; it is meaningless that I might want to stay out all night with my husband at some dirty "venue" in Brooklyn, getting drunk on Pabst and not focusing properly on the show; it is meaningless that my back and hips are tight and I need to yoga NOW. It's not that I can never do these things, period. It's just that I can never do them without measured forethought and planning and the cooperation of other people, and I can never do them without careful regard for the consequences, and that's very nearly the same as not being able to do them at all.

People* often try to comfort me by reminding me that things will change as the baby gets older; one day, he will even be able to go places - or stay home - all by himself. The thing is, I have a feeling that by the time the baby is 15, I will no longer want to stay out all night getting drunk in Brooklyn. While I never quite intended it to be so, my time for such things is irrevocably in the past, never to be revisited. More to the point, though, while it is true that the specific details of what I can and can't do will change as the baby gets older, the fundamental mechanics of the situation will not. I am beholden to him, and to any other children we may have; my convenience, my needs, and my goals must necessarily be shaped by theirs. Seen from this point of view, motherhood is a delicately balanced tightrope walk - you must allow your life to be entirely taken over by your children while still maintaining the sense of identity and agency that make it your life. I can barely imagine the person I will be and the life I will have lived by the time my baby - my babies - leave my home; I cannot imagine what it will feel like to start again, one more time, from scratch.

*My husband.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Phantom Toddler

"Phantom limb" is a well-known phenomenon wherein an amputee experiences sensation (often pain) that seems to emanate from the amputated limb. I have a similar symptom, and I propose that it be called "phantom toddler." When I am alone in the house, I always hear periodic cries of distress emanating from the bedroom - the exact sounds my toddler makes when he wakes from a nap and feels disoriented/cranky/lonely/pee-ish. Hearing this cry while I am home alone is like being awoken abruptly from a pleasant dream by an alarm clock; adrenaline rushes through my system, my body tenses, and I am confusedly dismayed to be so inexplicably, unexpectedly interrupted. The feeling only lasts a split-second, just long enough for me to realize that my baby is not in the house and thus cannot possibly be crying for my attention in the bedroom. My heartbeat slows, and I return to what I had been doing before, but it takes some time for me to feel entirely at peace again. As evening-pickup-time nears, the phantom toddler becomes more and more insistent, and the cries come relentlessly, every five to ten minutes, entirely disrupting my chains of thought and action. When the phantom toddler becomes entirely unbearable, and my tension is ratcheted up as far as it will go, I put on my shoes and coat and go to the babysitter's to pick up my real toddler, who is always waiting eagerly to be brought home.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lotion

Some time very, very early this morning, my husband and I found ourselves awake, our eyes meeting confusedly across the pillow. The baby was scratching. Apparently still asleep, he was clawing determinedly at his upper arm, his fingernails making a gentle papery rustle agains his skin. This was the sound that had woken us up.

My brain was working at half-time, and my body too, my breath moving in a strange, labored, sleep rhythm. I reached out and put my hand over the baby's arm. I stroked his skin gently - there didn't seem to be anything wrong - I took my hand away. I almost drifted back into sleep, but then the sound started again, my eyes drifted open again and again met my husband's. The baby was still scratching. I put my hand on the baby's arm again, stroked gently again, took my hand away again. Again, he began scratching. I wanted to ask my husband what we should do, but I was too sleepy to form the words. "He needs lotion," my husband whispered. "Lotion. Where's the lotion?"

I knew exactly where the baby's lotion was - it was under the right side of couch where the baby had been playing with it before we went to sleep. But from under my heavy haze of sleep, this seemed far, far too complicated a thought to even think about communicating. It was a great effort to lift my head and say, "I'll go get it," and even as I spoke, I was unsure as to how I would ever become vertical and make my way to the living room and get myself down on the floor and under the couch and then back again. "No," my husband said, "it's OK. I can find it."

It seemed like hours later when my husband returned, lotion bottle in hand. "This is all I could find," he whispered. It was not the gentle unscented lotion I use for the baby, but instead the lotion I keep at the kitchen sink - thick, rich, and heavily infused with juniper and lavender and lemon balm. But I was too sleepy to protest, and too relieved that the lotion-getting mission had not fallen to me. I took the bottle from my husband, pumped the lotion into my hand, and gently spread it over the baby's skin - his arms, his legs, under his shirt on his little belly. We watched him, barely daring to breathe. He stirred this way and that, but he did not awaken, and he did not scratch again. After a little while, my husband and I drifted back into sleep too, breathing in the scent of lemon balm heavy in the sheets.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stop


Glass


The Up Side

On the down side:
  1. My living room is apocaplyptic. The baby has taken to developing sudden, frantic desires for random, unrelated objects, so strewn about on the floor are the shredded last issue of the New York Review of Books (desperately thrown to him to stop him from shredding the current issue), two nonworking cell phones, various remote controls, one empty bottle of my husband's cologne, one full bottle of my perfume, and a volume of Patricia Highsmith short stories. There are also toys and board books littered everywhere - a squeaky giraffe, Los colores de los animales, a bumpy ball, a dinosaur mask, a rolling ladybug, Good Night New York City. A(nother) new snack container hosts one forlorn, browning chunk of avocado and a spoon stolen from Japan Airlines. The little potty is filled with blocks rather than pee, while the rug is dotted with cloth diapers sopping up pee puddles. (The baby, dead set against being put on the potty, has been squatting here and there all morning, leaking pee while thinking about perhaps a poop. Don't worry: I caught the poop itself in the potty, slick mommy that I am, HA! And look, sneer away while the sneering's good, because when you have a child, you will talk about poop all the time too, becoming yourself a sneering target for any childless person within earshot.) Dead center on the rug is an especially large wet spot, the result of my bizarre notion earlier this morning that the baby was somehow mature enough to handle a mug full of water. The mug itself is now lying on its side in the corner, stuffed with a jingletoy. This scene of insanity is enhanced by a soundtrack of scrofulous top-40 songs; for some reason, our television has a radio setting that is permanently fixed to a scrofulous top-40 station, and the baby loves to turn it on, bobbing his head happily to the scrofulous sounds.

  2. I only wrote two blog postings in February.

  3. I have a lot of tests to grade.

  4. The baby is nearing a quarter of my weight, and I am finding it almost impossible to carry him in a front carry for any extended period of time, and the mechanics of coats makes it nearly impossible to put him in a back carry. Are my babywearing days over? Forever? Or only until Spring, when I can resume with back carries? Or am I too small and is he too heavy for that, too? Does this mean that, from now until the baby can locomote reliably, every single outing will be an exhausting slog, whether with carrier or stroller?
  5. I want to buy a new skirt and a new pair of jeans and a few copies of Good Night New York City to give to my clients at our postnatal meetings, but I don't have enough money for any of these things.
On the up side:
  1. I am wearing jeans, having taken off my stretch pants in a panic after realizing that I WAS WEARING STRETCH PANTS.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest Speakers

My third grade teacher liked to invite guest speakers to the classroom. Frequently, the guest speakers were students' parents, who would talk about their jobs and their lives. Sometimes this worked out well, as when Mike's mom came in with his developmentally disabled little sister and talked to us about developmental disabilities; this was a sobering antidote to the retard jokes that formed the backbone of much of our third-grade humor. Sometimes it did not work out so well, as when Lindsay's mom, a Mary Kay rep, came in to talk about Mary Kay cosmetics and handed out samples of a Mary Kay perfume called Risque. Why anyone thought this would be appropriate is beyond me, but at the time, I was delighted. As a little girl, I hungered after grown-up, feminine glamour, and I treasured the small vial of perfume, which came housed in a small cardboard card like this, except that instead of being stark and tasteful, it was black and hot-pink and featured an illustration of a disembodied fishnet-and-stiletto clad leg. I kept it in one of the several small dishes and baskets of clutter that used to sit on the long side table in my parent's foyer, and one day, it disappeared, apparently thrown out by my father, who didn't realize that it was a precious object. (Or perhaps he did realize it was a precious object and decided that his seven-year-old daughter should not have as a precious object a vial of cheap perfume called Risque.) My mother, panicked as always by my distress, said that we could call Lindsay's mom and see if she could give me another sample, but this never happened. I missed my Risque, on and off, for a fairly long time, but I eventually forgot about it. (I did not know, by the way, what "risque" meant, but I didn't worry about it too much. As a young child, one encounters many words and many things that one doesn't understand; I recall simply ignoring these things or, alternately, creating strange, tenuous explanations out of the knowledge I did possess, and not being particularly bothered by the strangeness or tenuousness. In terms of "risque," I associated it with the word "wrist" - they sounded rather the same, and one does put perfume on one's wrist after all - and I left it at that.)

Another guest speaker of questionable educational value was a mom who was a Color-Me-Beautiful-type consultant, and she did sample season analyses for a couple of the volunteers (girls, of course). I was not one of the volunteers, but I inferred from what she told them that I would be considered a Winter and thus ought to wear cool colors like turquoise and hot pink and avoid warm colors like orange. It was the eighties, and I loved Jem and the Holograms, so this information would have been just fine with me had I not been wearing orange that very day. Most of the clothes I wore as a child were from Japan, Laura Ashley, or the consignment store, so I was frequently slightly out of step with how the other children looked - more prim, usually, and with fewer brand-name logos. This particular outfit, though, was one that I really loved, because it was trendy and from a department store and very much like what the other girls wore. It featured cotton clamdigger pants in a sunset-colored plaid with flowers and a T-shirt printed with a matching plaid/floral graphic on the front. It did not say "OP" or "ESPIRIT" on it, but it was in that vein, and I was proud of it. That day, though, I was horrified, and I shrank as small as I could in my chair, hoping the season lady did not see me, an obvious Winter, looking ugly in my Autumn outfit. How, I thought, could I have been so dreadfully stupid? How could I have chosen these wrong colors? I burned with shame for having looked so ugly all this time when I thought I looked cool, and for having made such an awful, misguided choice. The pleasure of the outfit was utterly ruined. I castigated myself for weeks for wearing it in the first place, and I don't think I ever wore it again. I averted my eyes whenever I saw it staring at me from the depths of my dresser drawer.

Some of the guest speakers were not parents, but simply people that my teacher had unearthed somewhere. A French man, for example, came in to tell us about France and what our names would be in French. What a different time and place that was! Now, I can barely imagine a classroom in which the majority of the students have standard Anglo/European names - James, Michael, Judith - with French counterparts. My Japanese name, of course, has no French counterpart, so the guest speaker, prompted by my teacher, told me the French word for part of its meaning, neige. The word sounded squat and ugly to me, and distinctly unfeminine, and I was dismayed and embarrassed for days, and also enraged that my teacher hadn't thought to tell him my other name, a standard European one that could be rendered prettily in French.

The very worst guest-speaker incident, though, was when the textile lady came in. I don't know where (or why) my teacher got her, but she worked for Vera, and she talked to us about scarves and so on. I was very excited about her presentation, partly because the lady was pretty, partly because it was about glamorous fashion, partly because my parents collected quilts and lace, and partly because we had some Vera items in our household - some placemats, I think, and maybe a scarf or two. I raised my hand insistently - I wanted to tell this pretty Vera lady about all these things I knew and had. My hand had been up for some time when the guest speaker, walking past my desk, took my wrist in her hand and forcibly lowered my arm. I sat, my hand on the desk where she had placed it, frozen with shock and humiliation. I thought I might cry or throw up as I saw myself through the scarf lady's grownup eyes, a pushy little kid who wanted to say all sorts of stupid know-it-all things. I was mortified at this horrendous picture of myself, mortified that the scarf lady had shown everyone exactly what she thought of me and the things I had to say, mortified that my teacher and my entire class had witnessed this shame, which continued to burn for months, however much I tried to forget it.

I'm not entirely sure why I have told you about these things; I'm not sure what I meant to tell you when I began writing this post. With my little baby closer to being a kid every day, I have been thinking a lot about what it was like to be a kid myself. While I do not generally remember myself as an unhappy child, it is clear that, seen in a certain light, my childhood was wracked with emotional distress. I was almost constantly in the grips of serious anxiety, most of which I kept secret. I never told anyone about the problem with my orange clothes or how mean the scarf lady was to me - or about the time when my preschool teacher made a disapproving face when I banged the toilet lid down too hard by mistake, or about the time when my first-grade teacher said I was rude when I yawned loudly without covering my mouth. I could not see these events in perspective, as tiny, meaningless incidents, or as mild failures of adult judgement; also, I could not laugh them off. All I could think of was my own shame and humiliation - how horribly wrong I had gotten things, how badly I had done. I don't know if this is what childhood is like for everyone, and, whether it is or not, I don't know what sort of intervention could have alleviated my grinding, ongoing stress. I would do anything, though, to protect my own baby from such feelings. My most dearly-held hope is that he will be able to move through the world with more humor, more aplomb, and more true happiness than I did as a child, and that he will not have to wait until full adulthood to gain the balance necessary to safely negotiate all that is pleasant and unpleasant in life.