Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Gray

Today - Valentine's Day - around 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I found myself trudging up Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, walking straight into the wind, wrestling the stroller over the gray floes of slush encrusting the sidewalk, and feeling very dark indeed.

Last night, I was up late, for hours and hours after the baby fell asleep. At first, I was pleasantly awake, eating English toffee and semi-obsessively window-shopping online for things - lambskins, wools, fitted diapers - that I might want for a theoretical second baby. After awhile, though, I turned a corner of some sort, and I was suddenly uncomfortably awake - too anxious, irritable, and jumpy to eat or shop for anything, theoretical or not. My husband was out with friends, and I began to worry over how long he had been gone and be upset that he was not yet home, and then I began to call him to demand that he come home, but he did not answer, either because he didn't hear his phone or because he suspected that I would be unpleasant if he did answer, or maybe some of both. Finally, though, he came home, and finally, around 4AM, I fell asleep.

All of this would have been fine but for the fact that the baby jumped out of bed around 7AM, refreshed and well-rested and ready to play, and I had to drag my sorry no-sleep ass into the living room to keep him company. Then, at noon, I went to a prenatal meeting, which was essentially uncomplicated, yet horribly stressful because the couple in question are Japanese and my Japanese has been steadily crumbling away over the past ten years or so, to the point that even being in the same room as a Japanese person brings me hot flashes of shame and guilt and makes me want to sew my lips together and never talk again. And after this, my husband and the baby and I all went to Community Food and Juice for a family Valentine's Day brunch. This was a nice idea, of course, and brunch was delicious, but it was not an especially relaxing exercise, given the fact that my son is two, and that the high points of restaurant-going for him are: going to the bathroom as many times as possible, clinking glasses together, drinking other people's beverages, sprinkling salt and pepper on everything, throwing sugar packets, and leaving.

After we got home from brunch, I was certain that the baby would nap, but it does not pay to be certain. Instead of going to sleep, he ran around the bedroom bonking things and then demanded that I read him a Japanese alphabet book over and over and over again. As I read, my eyes began to fall shut of their own volition, and my throat, which had had a hint of soreness when I got up in the morning, got scratchier and scratchier. It was torture - I wanted to sleep but I could not - my throat hurt - the baby was prodding me to open the book yet again - I could not. I shut the book. "We're going for a walk in the stroller," I announced, and out we went.

I had hoped that the baby would fall asleep the moment the wheels hit the pavement, but this was not the case. He was very quiet, but he peered out alertly from under his fleece hat, and it seemed that he had always been awake and would always be so. So we walked. We walked the mile or so to 125th Street, and I went into H&M with the plan of buying myself something pretty to help lift my biliously miserable mood. But there was nothing pretty, nothing mood-lifting, nothing cheap enough to be tempting, and so out we went again, across the cold, windswept square in front of the State Office Building. At a loss for anywhere else to go, I turned back home, even though I had resolved not to go home until the baby was sound asleep.

Just before 135th Street, I saw a striking figure walking towards me, a pretty, thin, young woman smoking a cigarette, wearing a military-style parka with the hood thrown luxuriously back and a beautiful golden-tan patterned scarf and tall boots. As we got closer to each other, I saw that her boots were the knee-high, shearling-lined clog boots that Sven Clogs custom-makes for No. 6 Store on Centre Market Place - the very boots that I bought for myself last fall and that are the single most expensive item in my entire wardrobe. Her boots, though, were this year's model, so the clog base was solid wood instead of being broken up with a segment of rubber, and the heel was higher. And, while mine are dark brown with the shearling dyed to match, hers were a slightly lighter brown with natural shearling.

As she passed by, willowy and urban and insouciant and smoky, a wave of bitterness washed over me. In that moment, I liked her boots better than mine - they seemed cooler, more modern, less outdoor necessity and more fashion statement. I wondered - will my every single, precious, carefully-thought-out purchase end up this way, looking slightly dingy compared to the next year's model? I wondered - why do I even care, why do I even go to H&M to look for something pretty when now and for the rest of my life, I am bound to be passed on the street by ever-younger, ever-prettier girls who will always be wearing this year's model while I hunch under my dingy red nylon coat and push my dingy red stroller, wearing a pair of tiresomely boot-cut corduroys that my mother bought for me at Ann Taylor Loft for $9.99.

And I thought - how can I even think about a theoretical second baby? How could I ever cobble together the strength to do this all over again, or do rather do it double-wide, double-time? I thought - I have no more to give, no more in me. I am giving everything I have right now, just to push the damn stroller over the damn slush when I am tired and unhappy on a gray Valentine's Sunday, and what will I do when I get home and he is still awake and needing me to read the book or change the record or push the truck? How could I even dream of doing this again, more?

I looked up from this miserable reverie to see a short, youngish Latino woman standing in front of Sea to Sea Fish Market, gesticulating towards the stroller as we walked towards her. People in my neighborhood are unaccountably nosy and bossy in regards to babies, and I am always being told to watch my baby more closely or dress him more warmly, so I steeled myself for what I was sure would be a comment about his bare, unmittened hands. "Hey mami," she said as we drew abreast, "your baby is leaning over." Startled, I bent to look into the stroller, and I almost sobbed with hysterical relief to find that my baby had finally fallen fast asleep, his head slumped out of the stroller to the right, his right hand almost trailing on the ground. I felt as though someone had suddenly released a vise that had been gripping my lungs, and I drew a deep breath of fresh, cold air as I straightened and turned to thank the lady and tell her that it was OK, because we were almost home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Two Mysteries and a Mistake

Two mysteries awaited me when I woke up on Sunday morning.

First, there was the issue of the baby in the bed. I awoke to find myself sleeping on the left side of the bed - my husband's side. This was not mysterious. My husband had been out very late the night before playing music, and I had gone to sleep before he got home. The baby had been occupying most of my side of the bed, and instead of pushing him into the center as I would have done if my husband had been there, I just flopped down on the other side, turned my back to the baby, and went to sleep. So it was not weird that that is where I woke up. The weird thing was that the baby was no longer on my side of the bed. Instead he was curled up very tightly, spooned into my tummy, sharing my husband's side with me. In other words, when I had gone to sleep, the baby had been behind me, on my side of the bed, and now he was in front of me, on my husband's side of the bed. Now, the baby - like most people - certainly moves around a fair amount in the night, but he does not go so far as to climb over people while in a deep sleep. He would need to have been at least a little awake to climb over me, and if he were awake enough to do that, he would have been awake enough to want to nurse, and if he had wanted to nurse, he would have woken me up. But I was sure that (for once) I had not been woken up at all in the night, and also, my nursing bra was securely latched, which is usually not the case when a great deal of night nursing has been going on.

I mulled this problem over in my barely-awake brain for a few moments before deciding that my husband must have moved the baby in order to make room for himself on my side of the bed. It was, of course, strange that, rather than simply shoving the baby over, he had elected to actually pick him up and put him somewhere else. Also, it seemed unlikely that the baby would have borne this without waking up - and again, I was sure he didn't wake up because I was sure he hadn't nursed. But still, I reasoned foggily, it was a hypothesis that fit the facts. After a few more moments, I decided that I ought to test my hypothesis, and that perhaps the best way to do so would be to check if my husband was, indeed, asleep on my side of the bed. So I reached a tentative hand out to explore the space behind me, only to find that my husband was not there. A blow to my brilliant hypothesis.

Feeling around a bit more, though, I came across a wet, soggy spot - the telltale sign of a toddler bed-pee. This suggested a possible alternate hypothesis. Perhaps my husband had come into the bedroom, attempted to push the baby aside to lie down on my side of the bed, found that side to be peed upon, placed the baby on the other side of me away from the wet spot, and went off to sleep on the (dry) couch in the living room. Again, very odd that the baby hadn't woken up during this operation. Very odd, too, that my husband didn't follow our usual, simpler bed-pee procedure of just covering the wet spot with a blanket and going to back to sleep. Ruminating, I turned back towards my still-sleeping baby and gave him an absent-minded cuddle, only to realize that he still had his wet PJ pants on. Would my husband really have just left him wet? Usually, the very first thing we do in a bed-pee situation is to drag the wet pants off and throw them on the floor. Why, if my husband had been so very concerned about taking the baby away from the wet spot altogether, had he not been concerned about the baby sleeping in wet clothes? It didn't make sense.

Indeed, the more I thought about things, the less any explanation made any sense. I was, by this time, fully awake, and also really annoyed because I could not figure out what the hell had happened in the night. This may seem like a minor issue to you, and you're right in the sense that, given that no one was hurt and everyone seemed to have slept well, it didn't actually matter what had happened in the night. However, it is not too often that, first thing in the morning, one finds oneself in a situation that has no immediately obvious, logical explanation. (At least, I hope it's not too often for you. That is, if you're over 23. If you are under 23 and can report that you often, or sometimes, wake up in a situation that has no logical explanation, that is OK. Enjoy.) So it was with a distinctly sour mood and a confused sense of having been wronged that I got myself out of bed and traipsed into the living room. (The baby, in the meantime, remained asleep, which, in hindsight, is also bizarre, as he usually wakes up when I do.)

In the living room, I found my husband asleep on the couch under a blanket. This was normal enough. I passed into the kitchen (which is basically in the living room) to get myself a glass of water and to encounter the second mystery. On the kitchen counter stood a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and an empty bag that had once held the last few slices from a loaf of sourdough bread. This also was normal - my husband's favorite late-night snack is a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, so I often encounter this sort of detritus on the counter in the morning. There were also other things on the counter - a few spoons and a fork, a toy airplane, a pot of Japanese hand cream, some bills, some empty CD cases, a glass of stale water. None of this was unusual - we are cluttery people, and that is what surfaces look like in our household. Sitting at the counter and drinking my glass of water, though, I suddenly realized that there was something strange about the picture in front of my eyes. I looked closer - could it be? Yes. THE WINGS OF THE TOY AIRPLANE WERE COVERED WITH PEANUT BUTTER.

Now, this particular toy airplane is a little wooden biplane with a little wooden propeller. A few weeks ago, in a fit of being two, my son dashed the plane to the ground, breaking the top wings off. Since then, because I keep forgetting to purchase wood glue, the top wings have been held on - fairly securely - with a couple of green rubber bands. Now, however, the top wings were detached again, and the bottom wings were smeared with peanut butter. This was no accident - like, oops, dropped the plane into the peanut butter jar, or oops, dropped the sandwich onto the plane. No, someone had clearly removed the top wings and neatly spread dollops of peanut butter on the bottom wings. But WHY?

"HEY!" I yelled at my sleeping husband. He jolted awake. "WHAT HAPPENED HERE?"

"What? Where?"


"WHAT?! I didn't put peanut butter on the plane."


He dragged himself off the couch and squinted sleepily at the kitchen counter. I pointed.


"I didn't put peanut butter on the plane." He looked at it again. "What? No, I didn't do that. Did I do that? What?"

And we both gazed at the counter. Closer examination revealed other, smaller bizarrities. For example, the three spoons and one fork lying on the counter were ALL smeared with peanut butter. Also, a dollop peanut butter was floating in the water glass.

"Hey," I said, after a little thought, "did you come into the bedroom and move the baby?"

"No," my husband said, "I didn't."

And there was, really, nothing more to say.

In an (I think) unrelated occurrence, I found this morning that the cup of coffee for which I have - for months - been blithely putting a dollar bill on the counter at the bodega actually costs a dollar twenty-five.