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.