Monday, August 22, 2011

The New Baby

My second baby cries just like a baby. WAAH, he cries, squirming awake from a long, long sofa nap. WAAAH WAAAH WAAAH. His mouth turns down at the corners, his eyes are wet and confused. His misery is cartoonish, picture-perfect. WAAAH WAAAH WAAAH. The cries are sweet, almost conversational, and they make my heart contract sharply. I lift him into my arms, bury my nose in his soft, sweet-smelling, dark hair. He is different from his brother, though I'm not sure how yet. He's still so new, so far from who he will be. Also, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I've already mostly forgotten what his brother was like at this brand-new, larval stage, so I cannot quite say for sure, This is like, or This is unlike.

WAAAH WAAAH WAAAH, he cries, and I cuddle him to my chest. He is still too young to cuddle back. I do not know who he is yet, but I love him, fiercely, deeply. I weep as I nurse him, picking up where he leaves off, wanting only to be closer, to never let him go.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Conversation

Me: Hey. Are you busy?

My husband: Not especially. I can talk for a few minutes. What's up?

Me: Well, I've been know how we always say that how crazy all of the Jackson kids are is proof that Joe Jackson was abusive?

My husband: Yeah, I guess.

Me: You know, because we're always like, it's impossible that they would ALL end up so fucked up without serious wrongdoing on at least one parent's part, right?

Him: Right.

Me: Well, I was thinking...maybe we're wrong. Maybe it's just genetics.

Him: What do you mean?

Me: Well, Joe Jackson was obviously crazy right?

Him: Yeah, batshit.

Me: Well, so his kids are crazy too. They inherited it. You know, genetics.

Him: Hmmm. I guess so. I mean, it must be a little of both, no?

Me: Yeah, of course. A little column A and a little column B. It's just I had never thought of the genetics angle before.

Him: How did you happen to think of this?

Me: Well, I just overheard someone on the street talking about robins -

Him: Robins?

Me: Yeah, you know, the birds. Robins. So I overheard someone talking about robins, and I thought of the song Rockin' Robin, and then I got to thinking about the Jackson Five, and then Joe see?

Him: Ah, of course. I love you.

Me: I love you too.

Him: You should post this on your blog.

Me: Maybe. It's not so interesting though.

Him: I take it the baby is asleep?

Me: Yeah, he's in the sling. We're walking across to the green train on 125th Street to go to work.

Him: Well, have a good day.

Me: You too. See you tonight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Four Theoretical Ways to Be Productive While Your Baby is Napping

1. Fold and put away the clothes piled on the chair in the bedroom and on the desk in the nook by the closet.

2. Finish up one of the million partially-written blog posts that are slowly rotting in your notebook and iPad - one with actual sentences and paragraphs.

3. Catch up on the sleep you missed while nursing the baby and cuddling the big boy when they woke each other up last night.

4. Prep fruit and vegetables for the big boy's after-school snack and for dinner.

Four Actual Ways to Be Unproductive While Your Baby is Napping

1. Paint nails.*

2. Watch X Files.

3. Ignore partially-written blog posts with sentences and paragraphs, and post a couple of not-particularly-amusing-or-insightful lists instead.

4. Post a photo of your breakfast on Facebook.

*This one is extra-special unproductive, because you do it at the tail end of the baby's nap, so that your nails are not fully dry when the baby wakes, and thus smudge and chip immediately.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Question for the Universe at Large

Am I alone in feeling that there are times when it seems not only desirable but also perfectly reasonable to open a bottle of wine and drink a glass or two at 8:30 in the morning?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Labor Story: Nuts

When I was having my first baby, I read in all the natural childbirth books and heard from all the doulas and prenatal yoga teachers and childbirth educators and so on that it was important to eat during labor. Nuts were often mentioned as an example of a good, nutritious labor snack, so, wanting to do things right, I packed a baggie of almonds in my labor bag.

Somewhere in the middle of my three-day labor, my doula dug the almonds out. "You have to eat something," she said. I shook my head in a nauseous, confused haze. "Just one almond." She held it up between her index finger and thumb. "Eat just this one almond. Please. You can do it."

I wanted to be a good student - my doula also being my prenatal yoga instructor - so I ate my one almond, and it was awful. It was dry and papery, falling apart between my teeth and crumbling over my tongue in the most unappetizing way. I wanted to spit it out, but I didn't want my doula to reprimand me, so I swallowed as quickly as I could and did not eat another.

Later, I saw my doula eating cashews from her own snack stash. The cashews looked beautifully plump and oily, the exact antithesis to my awful papery almonds. It was suddenly obvious: cashews are the Perfect Labor Snack I cursed my stupidity: why had I not brought cashews instead of almonds? Maybe my doula saw my envious look, because she offered to share. But I would rather have died than take her snack away from her, so I just shook my head and tried to forget it. Next time, I thought, I will bring cashews.

Over the three-plus years that passed before I had my second baby - the baby in my arms right now - I often reminded myself of the almond debacle. Remember, I told myself, to have cashews ready for when you are in labor. They are the Perfect Labor Snack. Accordingly, about four weeks before my due date, I bought a container of cashews and hid them in my labor bag, which was finally for me after over two years of service to other women. I couldn't wait to eat my cashews during the coming labor, the second labor that would correct all the errors of the first.

This time, labor was not three days, but seven hours. About four hours in, my midwife said, "You should eat something," and I directed my husband to the hidden cashew stash. He gave me two or three cashews, and I chewed, waiting for Perfect Labor Snack ecstasy to hit me. But there was no ecstasy. The cashews were awful. They were dry and papery, and they fell apart under my teeth and crumbled over my tongue. I swallowed them as quickly as I could and did not eat any more for the duration of the labor.

Monday, July 25, 2011


When I was younger, I had assumed that, at a certain point in my life, I would be old enough and wise enough to no longer do stupid shit. This theory turns out to have been entirely unfounded. I still am, and always will be, the same person that I always was; the stupid shit is hard-wired in, and will never go away.

This morning, feeling a surge of can-do energy after many weeks of lying around listlessly on the couch watching the entire nine-season run of The X Files with my newborn baby, I decided to take self and baby to Red Rooster for coffee, muffin, and work. The baby usually sleeps long and hard in the morning, so it stood to reason that I would have a good chunk of good writing time, and be able to accomplish a good chunk of good things. (First warning sign that things will go poorly: a reasonable, well-founded expectation that things will go well.)

The first problem was the bus fare. There was only $1.15 on my card, and I did not have enough change to make up the difference. So I got off the bus, losing the $1.15, and took a taxi, for which I had to pay the $7 minimum fare, far too much for a fifteen-block hop.

Once at Red Rooster, I settled in with coffee, muffin, and computer, geared up for what I hoped would be at least an hour of productive writing work. No more than ten minutes had passed, though, when I became aware of a strange vibrating sensation in my midsection, right around where the baby was sleeping in the sling. I patted my torso and baby confusedly, thinking that my cell phone had somehow gotten into the sling with the baby. As I slid my hand over the baby's bottom, however, I realized that the vibration was not my phone ringing, but rather my baby taking an enormous, gassy shit. By the time he finally finished vibrating with this chart-topping shit, it was clear that he was sitting in a veritable lake of poop, and, as might be expected, he began to squirm and fuss. It was at that moment that I realized that I had forgotten to bring a diaper. In fact, upon examination, the diaper bag - and I was, for once, carrying an actual diaper bag - turned out to contain absolutely nothing for the baby at all. No wipes, no burp cloth that could double as a diaper in a pinch, no wetbag, no nothing. I had left the house carrying only the things that I needed for a nice long coffee-muffin-writing session.

I hoped, briefly, that the baby might be bounced and nursed back to sleep despite the poop lake, but after a few minutes of escalating volume, it became clear that nothing would do but a fresh diaper. So I put my computer back in the diaper bag, paid my bill, put myself and my now howling baby in a taxi, and went back home. About half and hour after I got home, it occurred to me that I could have simply hopped across the street to CVS and bought a pack of disposable diapers, but by then it was too late. I had spend nearly $20 on an entirely abortive outing, and I was back on the couch with my baby, who was now fussing determinedly, the poop episode apparently having caused a short circuit in his morning sleep routine. I put on The X Files, starting back at the first season again, and nursed the baby. Eventually, we both fell asleep.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Doctor's Orders, part 2

The night before last, my son asked for some kombucha with ice to drink with his dinner. When I gave it to him, he took a sip and then pushed it away. "This," he said, "is not good for my tummy." I should have listened.

The thing about three-year-olds (well, one of many, many, many things that I could tell you about three-year-olds) is that they make a great number of statements - like "Yesterday, you make me cookies," or "This is a choo-choo train," or "I'm clean already, I don't need a bath," or "I don't like vegetables" - that are not true and/or can be safely ignored. So I didn't pay much attention to his kombucha comment, despite the fact that I knew the bottle had spent a fair amount of time out of the fridge. It bears repeating: I should have listened.

The next morning, I drank half of the remaining kombucha. Within a couple of minutes, I started feeling oddly gassy; within ten minutes, I was writhing on the sofa, in the grip of the most painful abdominal cramps I have ever experienced outside of post-AROM labor. Indeed, if I did not have so much experience with birth, I would have thought that I was in labor. As it was, I spent a few minutes attempting to use some labor coping techniques - the old-standby breathing, vocalization, movement, and positioning strategies - to manage the pain, but it was no use. The cramping worsened and persisted. I began to think I was going to die.

So I called my husband. I always call my husband when I feel like I am going to die, even when it is obvious that he is the absolute wrong person to be calling. This is because he is really the only person from whom I feel truly comfortable asking for assistance, even when he clearly will not be able to provide it.

"My stomach," I groaned to him. "My stomach is cramping. I feel like I'm going to die. I don't know what to do."

"Okay," he said, feigning infinite patience, "you need to CALL YOUR MIDWIVES ABOUT THIS."

"Right," I groaned, "my midwives. Okay."

So I hung up and dialed my midwives' emergency number. My main concern, besides the fact that I felt guilty for imposing upon them and calling so much attention to myself, and besides getting them to tell me how to make the pain stop, was to make clear that I was not having uterine cramps or going into preterm labor. If they thought I was in preterm labor, they would make me go to the emergency room, or worse, come over to check on me, which would make me feel really guilty, even guiltier than calling the emergency number made me feel.

"I'm sorry to bother you. I have awful abdominal cramps," I said between groans and gasps, when my Midwife M answered the phone, "BUT IT'S NOT MY UTERUS. I'm in so much pain, BUT I CAN TELL IT'S NOT LABOR. My whole abdomen is tight and distended, BUT IT'S NOT MY UTERUS. I'M NOT IN PRETERM LABOR. IT'S CRAMPS IN MY TUMMY, NOT MY UTERUS. But it's really, really bad. Please make it stop. Sorry to be a bother."

"Okay," said Midwife M, after asking some clarifying questions that I mostly answered by telling her that it wasn't my uterus, "I want you to heat up your heating pack and put it on your tummy while you draw a bath, as hot as you can stand. Then get in the tub, with your tummy in the water, for at least thirty minutes. Then call me back."

I crawled to the kitchen and then to the bathroom to follow Midwife M's instructions, groaning like a dying animal all the way. And now I want to tell you something about hot water on a bad tummy. IT WORKS. Why does it work? I have no idea. In my Certified Lactation Counselor training, we were taught that water, whatever the temperature, contracts myoepithelial cells (smooth muscle tissue), which is why it is the correct treatment for breast engorgement during lactation. Is this the same mechanism that made the bath work for my tummy? I don't know. All I can say is that, the moment I got in the tub and began pouring hot water over my tummy with my son's red plastic sand bucket, the cramping released like magic. As long as I kept my tummy in the water, the intestinal distress disappeared. After about thirty minutes, I cautiously emerged from the water, dried off, clapped the hot pack back on my tummy, and went to lie down on the couch. I felt weak and nauseous and hideously unready for any actual eating, but the pain was completely gone.

All I could think was, Why didn't anyone tell me about this? How did I get to the age of thirty-two without ever learning that hot applications, particularly hot water applications, are a good remedy for stomach aches? It seems mind-boggling that I never knew this, and that if I had an obstetrician rather than a midwife, I would probably still not know this. It is mind-boggling, too, that I am currently receiving the best, most meticulous medical care that I have ever received in my entire life - from two home birth midwives (a CNM and a CM) and a heavily tattooed, fatally forgetful acupuncturist. There is something profoundly destabilizing about this realization. I mean, what kind of world (country? region? state? city?) am I living in, that I have arrived at proper medical care only via a combination of luck, personal curiosity, and slightly off-kilter lifestyle choices? I mean, what if I were not so lucky to have met certain people and had certain experiences, or not so inclined to research things on my own, or not so foolish as to routinely make life choices that leave me penurious and somewhat culturally isolated? Would I then not deserve proper medical care? Or would I simply never know that I wasn't receiving it? Would it even matter, as long as I felt satisfied? Truly, these are deep waters, and, for now, today, not ones that I am willing to take the full soundings of.

All I can say is that if I had the medical care that is standard for this city (state? region? country?), one of several things might have happened to me yesterday. I might have been directed, in my shaking, gasping, groaning state, to somehow crawl to a doctor's office and then a pharmacy. I might have been condemned to simply wait it out, writhing on the couch for the day and calling someone in the morning. I might have been commanded to go straight to the ER - after all, a preterm pregnant woman complaining of abdominal cramps is no laughing matter. But instead of any of these things, I got to take a long, hot bath, and then curl up on the couch, damp and warm in my bathrobe, to sleepily sip lukewarm water and nibble crackers, watching movies on Netflix until my husband and son came home.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Doctor's Orders

In the warm, thick-aired front room of a railroad flat on Ainslie Street, my acupuncturist scribbles away, left-handed, in pencil on a stack of blank white printer paper. She writes what I tell her - pimples on the back, irritable. She writes what she learns from my tongue and my pulse. She writes, on a separate sheet of paper, all of the things I am to do or consume or acquire. Almond pancakes, to be made with Benefit Your Life almond flour. Houston's digestive enzymes. (She is a poor speller, and she misspells Houston: Huston.) Bone marrow broth. Liver. A slow cooker. Soak my feet in warm water every night.

It is 10AM on a Tuesday, but her thick black eyeliner already seems smudged and weary, though not unpleasantly so. Did she do it on purpose? Or is it just her eye makeup from yesterday having migrated to her lower lids? Either possibility seems equally likely, and it seems just as likely that she may have simply been born that way, with Cleopatra black rings around her eyes and tattoos crawling down her arms marking her from birth as the strange, flaky, and infinitely wise Brooklyn-based healer that she was to become, just as surely as the boy Lhamo Thondup was marked, by tiger stripes on his legs, as the fourteenth Dalai Lama.

This week, I am to meditate every day, either once for thirty minutes, or for two minutes every hour. I am also to perform a separate ten-minute healing meditation three times a day. Has she stopped to think how much of my time and mental energy this will occupy, this along with taking the pancreas, liver, fermented fish oil, and now digestive enzyme supplements that she has prescribed, all at the correct intervals, matched with the correct meals? No matter: I am going to do it. I do everything she tells me to do, except that I haven't managed to eat liver yet, and also I buy cheaper versions of the supplements, not the fifty dollar brands she has recommended.

Today, she looks at me with infinite compassion when I tell her that the treatment has left me feeling a little enervated. "Yes," she says, in her slightly dreamy voice, "that happens. In fact, when you get home, you should go to sleep for awhile." Does she realize that I live forty-five minutes away by subway? That after the forty-five minute trip there, the hour treatment, and the forty-five trip back, a nap of any length whatsoever will basically mean that I have devoted my entire day to my acupuncture treatment? What if I had a regular job? How would I manage then?

However, I do not have a regular job, and the only thing that I absolutely must do today is to bake the banana chocolate chip "cake" (bread) that I promised my son this morning. And my acupuncturist - as always - is right: despite the fact that I haven't been much of a daytime napper recently, I am indeed powerfully sleepy when I arrive home in Harlem. I take off my awful squeezy maternity jeans (tight clothing restricts the chi), and sprawl on the couch, my hair still redolent of Nag Champa. I will sleep just an hour or two, then get up, drink some broth, take some supplements, and make a cake.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Domestic Diaries


My husband has gone out in the cold rain to take our son to school and then go to work, and here I am, snug as a bug in a rug, sitting on the sofa with a hot pack, watching the X Files on Netflix, just having eaten an enormous breakfast of eggs, toast, smoked salmon, goat cheese, and the coffee that my husband brewed but hadn't time to drink. I can't complain of anything really, I oughtn't, I have no grounds.


The domestic dilemmas...I've two eggs left in the fridge. Am I to use them for muffins as a treat, or for vegetable patties for dinner, with almond flour and broccoli stems? Muffins, of course, I will make muffins - my husband and son will enjoy them, and something sweet always improves the memory of an indifferent dinner, while even the loveliest meal can feel a bit flat without a little bit of something after. Anyway, I do think there are enough tomatoes left for pasta sauce after all, especially stretched with the mushrooms and the red pepper, so the veg patties can be for another day.

Bright news...I've finally found a good place for the coconut oil - in the cabinet above the sink, it neither melts to liquid nor hardens to rock. And, with the help of a fork, I've finally managed to open the new jar of ghee, after it mocked me for over a week with its stubborn impregnability.

I need to buy some more raisins and maybe some more nuts, for snacking, baking, and granola; also I'd like to get some cocoa powder, as I'd like to make a chocolate cake. It's things like this that make one's grocery bill so high, not the fruits and veg and grains really, but it's things like this that make one's home a nice place to eat, too, is it not?

On a furious, unplanned cabinet-organizing spree last week, I discovered that I own two boxes of powdered sugar - why? I literally never use powdered sugar. Ah, well. I cannot bring myself to throw it out. I will use some to dust over the tops of the muffins.


I prefer my muffins split, toasted, and spread with butter and maybe jam, while my husband and son eat them just like that, nearly whole in one bite, as though they are cookies. I think this must be due to impatience rather than true gustatory preference: they simply want to possess and consume the item NOW, rather than wait for a theoretical improvement to occur. They are small muffins anyway - or they look small compared with the boulders one buys at the cafe or bakery or diner - really they are normal-sized, or what used to be normal-sized anyway, before the boulders overtook the scene.

I can make muffins from scratch of course, and I shall some other day, but these are from a mix, because my mother inexplicably sent me a box of mix from Trader Joe's, and I do not wish to see it go to waste. I have added raisins and nuts - yes, I will certainly be needing more of those - and substituted coconut oil for the veg oil, just to make it feel as though I did something. Anyway, they will be a nice treat. My son will be happy to have one as his snack when he gets home from school.

I cannot decide if I ought to go pick him up, or if I ought to ask my husband to do it. The whole reason I am home-bound anyway is because I am in the middle of this awful, awful pregnancy - I mean, I'm happy to be pregnant, but really, this has just been horrible, one thing after another, and I do mean to tell you all about it one of these days - and today's ailment is a horribly aching lower back. It does not hurt if I sit very, very still with a hot pack, but if I get overconfident and start to move about too much, to make lunch, for example, or to bake muffins, it hurts again. So it certainly will start to hurt if I walk to school and walk back with my son - but does that actually matter? I won't die from the hurt. And it seems foolish to make my husband leave his office early, to come all the way from downtown, just to pick our son up at the school that is only three street blocks plus one avenue block from where I sit right now. It seems foolish, too, though, to do something that I know will make my back hurt, particularly since I will be working at the store tomorrow, on my feet most of the day, and oh Hell, am I teaching class too? I'm probably teaching a class; I'm always teaching one thing or another at the store on Saturdays, and try as I might, I never quite manage to remain seated while I teach, no matter how much my back hurts.


My husband ate two muffins. My son ate one, and then a piece of another, and then threw out the remaining piece and requested a fresh one. I fished the piece from the trash and forced him to eat half of it before I gave him a new muffin, which he was crying for, and I ate the other half - it had landed on a clean spot in the trash can anyway. With the third muffin, it became clear that my son only wanted to bite off the top, the part with the powdered sugar - after doing this, he requested yet another muffin. I told him no more muffins at all after this one, and managed to convince him to eat half of it by putting some jam on it. I gave the other half to my husband, who was in the middle of delivering a long lecture about the band Killing Joke. I almost always listen to my husband's musical disquisitions, even though they make me tired sometimes, because I know they're important to him, and also because it's polite, and also because it actually is rather interesting a lot of the time, and I learn things that I wouldn't have otherwise.

What I really want to talk about with my husband, though, is Norwegian black metal, because we just watched Until the Light Takes Us last night, and for whatever reason, I have a lot to say about it, even though I hardly know anything about black metal at all.