Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Sling Diaries, Volume III, Love & Adventure: Voice

This is my fourth entry in the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries series.  To follow the Sling Diaries project, visit the Sling Diaries Facebook page or the Sakura Bloom Instagram feed.  To see my Sling Diary in Instagram format, visit my Instagram feed.



This past winter, I was so tired.  I had just started to teach childbirth ed two nights a week instead of one, and I was all over the city every day with my children in the bitter cold, and I was awake a great deal every night with insomnia and/or nursing, and I was losing weight precipitously.  One evening, after the children had gone to sleep, I lay on the sofa and wept while my husband looked on, bemused.  I tried over and over again to explain to him what was wrong.  I'm wrung out, I said, I'm finished.  I'm putting out more than I'm taking in.  My body is collapsing.


Finally my husband nodded.  OK, he said, I believe you.  I understand what you're saying, and I believe you.  But - I could tell he was choosing his words carefully - the thing is, it's really hard for me to see you that way.  Because to me, you seem really strong and vibrant right now.  More than you've ever been.


This stopped me in my tracks.  Strong and vibrant?  For the first time, I considered the possibility that my husband - and others around me - had been failing to coddle me as I wished to be coddled not because of insensitivity,  but because it didn't seem necessary.  I considered the possibility that, to those observing me, I appeared to be animated, vital, glowing with life force - not at all the vitiated, grey ghost that I felt myself to be, existing only in reaction to a series of buffeting circumstances.  It was an insane moment of insight, a crazy volta.


It's summer now, and I took my sons to visit a friend who was staying at her parents' house in rural Connecticut for a few days.  While we were there, I caught a summer cold that consisted of being fine during the day, and then staying up most of the night with a gross, exhausting, phlegmy cough.  On the second night of this disgustingness, desperate for remedy, I ventured downstairs a little before midnight to make myself a cup of hot tea.  My friend's father was still awake, sitting at his desk watching a TV program on the computer.  He showed me where the tea was, and we chatted briefly as the water boiled, and I made the tea and went back upstairs and eventually fell asleep. 


There was a time when this would have been impossible for me.  I've always been headstrong and prideful, and I've always enjoyed performing to an audience - those things must count as some sort of confidence to be sure.  But to assess and clearly name my needs (HOT TEA, NOW) and to thrust these needs into others' consciousnesses - that's something that I have struggled mightily with.  Not so long ago, if I had found myself sick in a strange house, I would have simply huddled miserably in the bedroom, unwilling to put myself forward, unwilling to risk the chance that someone might be downstairs, that I would have to disturb their existence, articulate my situation, accept their help.



There was also a time when I existed in constant, morbid fear of comedy and of error.  What if I mispronounced something or said something stupid or spit when I talked or tripped and fell or did something that made me appear otherwise incorrect or foolish?  These fears no longer dog me as intensely, not because I enjoy embarrassment any more, but because I no longer hold on to the fantasy that it's avoidable: I'm absolutely sure that I will make laughable mistakes, appear foolish, and feel humiliated on a regular basis - such is existence, such is humanity.  I know that I will survive these inevitable cringeworthy moments, and that my image in others' minds will survive them as well.


Another way of saying all of these things is that I have come to believe in my own voice - that I have a voice in the first place, and that it is a distinct and powerful one.  This is partly a natural result of growing older, having lived for more years with myself.  But more than the simple passage of time, I think that becoming a mother is what set me on this particular path of discovery.


Many women find motherhood - new motherhood in particular - to be something like a maze - a bad dream - a curiously malignant force that breaks down, confounds, and silences a previously complete persona.  But it has been the opposite for me.  Far from silencing me, motherhood has drawn from me the strong, coherent voice of true adulthood.  The demands of motherhood have called upon me to recognize and build myself, to clarify what I actually believe and why, to articulate and act upon my vision of myself, my children, and the world in which I wish to live.  My five-plus years of motherhood have given me the vibrancy and resilience to believe in my vision and to believe that others might believe in it, too.


I am so much less afraid now than I ever was before.  I am not afraid that I am wearing too much jewelry or makeup, or too little.  I am not afraid of clothing that goes sheer in the sun.  I am not afraid to skip deodorant.  I am not afraid if you can see my pantyline, or my bra.  I am not afraid to not wear a bra.  I am not afraid that I don't look like myself.  I am not afraid that you won't recognize me.  I know you'll recognize me, because I am recognizable.


I'm a grownup now.  I have control - or I don't have any control at all, but I kind of have control over that too.  I can produce things - all kinds of things - that people can take seriously, that people can look at and say, This is not an accident.  This is how it is because that's what she intended.  I can read, write, and sing.  I can play Cindy Sherman and lay before you this entire series of photographs of nothing - just me and my baby - and have you see that they are important and meaningful.  I can communicate.  I can make you hear my voice.


Becoming a mother - the challenge, the joy, the beauty, the stupidity - has allowed me to finally come online as a person.  I'm live now, ME is live.  I have given voice to my motherhood, certainly, but more than that, my motherhood has given voice to me.


All photos by Bianca Fehn.  I am wearing a Sakura Bloom Simple Silk Sling in Midnight.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Day. Tuesday, July 2, 2013



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My younger son sits on a bench on the platform and watches the trains and says the following things: Train's coming!  Oh!  There it is!  There's the train!  Bye-bye train!  He will repeat these phrases over and over again until train-watching time is over.  It's charming, and it's also a grotesque parody of how he is spoken to.

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I am standing in line at the post office, listening to two Japanese women with a newborn baby.  They are sitting in the hall somewhere behind me, cooing in that high-pitched, hyper-vigilant way in which Japanese women coo at babies, a screech almost, a tone that verges on panic but isn't.  Daijobu, daijobu, they screech when the baby cries.  They document the baby's every movement with further screeching: Aketeru!  Me aketeru!  Ah!  Naichatta!  Kuchi aketeru aketeru!  Hai daijobu daijobu!  I can picture them joggling the baby up and down as they screech; this is what Japanese women do with young babies.  Standing in the line, I am reading The Savage Detectives again and feeling very gamine and pretty in miniskirt and flip flops and abominably ungroomed hair.  I listen to the Japanese women and I sway, slightly, this way and that, like a blade of grass.  Now they are trying to get the baby to latch on.  It seems to work.  

As I leave the post office with my package, I look at the women and the baby.  The younger woman, the baby's mother, is wearing the exact kind of clothes that young Japanese mothers wear, but the child is wearing American baby clothes.  She is pink and tiny, no more than 7 pounds.  Neither of my babies were ever that small.

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On the train, I feel young and jaunty, my summer skin glowing brown against the white Priority Mail package.  The woman sitting next to me has her book open in her lap.  The chapter heading is A Stranger Calls.  We are both reading detective novels, I think, though hers may be no more a detective novel than mine is.

Emerging from the station, I look up to see that the woman on the stairs in front of me is wearing a printed cotton skirt.  The back is worn so thin that it sags, and I can see right through it - her cheeks moving with every step, a thong tucked between them.  Does she not know?  Or does she not care?  Or can she not afford another?  Is this her favorite skirt?  It's not an especially fashionable skirt, but it's fine, and I can see how the blue and white print might make it a staple in someone's closet, though not mine.  I resolve to carefully examine all skirts before putting them on.

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I'm suddenly starved, and I must eat huevos rancheros.  I cut across the projects next to the hostel, which has a large grassy backyard with a white canopy and sloppily strewn lawn chairs.  I feel momentarily jealous of the young travellers who will undoubtedly gather here this evening to drink beer and speak of their travels and watch, through the fence, the project children frolicking in the sprinklers.

The restaurant is empty but for one Mexican couple with a chubby baby in an enormous stroller.  Diego Rivera prints and Revolution-era photos are displayed half-heartedly, far above eye level.  The huevos rancheros are disappointing.  The rice seems stale, the beans taste faintly of dishwater, the guacamole is too citrusy, and nothing is quite rich enough.  Even the coffee is all wrong - it's making me sleepy.

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My poop is weird, and so is my younger son's.  I'm at a loss as to what could be causing the change.  Is it the weather?  I suspect that my older son may be having the same issues, but I can't know for sure, because he's now old enough to poop alone and wipe himself, and I am thus no longer a participant in the process at all.

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The first time I pass through the subway station at Times Square today, there are no musicians.  The second time I pass through, a group of five or six middle-aged men are setting up and arguing.  One of the men begins to sing, and within half a minute, the rest have stopped arguing and joined in the song instead, as if powerless to resist the organizing pull of harmony.  The third time I pass through, they are still singing, now with a double bass and a large audience clapping and laughing happily and tossing money into the bucket.  It's the opposite of entropy.

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My hairdresser is moving to Hawaii.  She's my friend, too, and she has been cutting my hair since 1998.  She is getting rid of most of her possessions, and I go to her studio and take a bagful of clothing from her.  The heat has become oppressive, and I feel meaningfully less jaunty and pretty now, carrying a large white trash bag under my arm.  The bag, wet with my sweat, slips back and forth against my body.  I'm a bit dizzy, and I think that I might vomit.  I haven't had enough water today, I know I haven't had enough water today, and yet I don't stop at the deli for a bottle of water.  It seems like so much trouble, and I'm almost home anyway.  My husband is constantly incensed by what he sees as my willful failure to care for myself - he will probably get angry when he reads this.  It's not out of masochism or martyrdom, though, just forgetfulness, preoccupation, busyness, and the inclination to experience as onerous any action that I must perform, no matter how beneficial or enjoyable.  

In any case, I must not look as bad as I feel.  Even after the sweat and nausea and faintness take hold, I get overtly admiring double-takes from two young men, and an older man breaks into song when he sees me.  He sings Walk on By, though, and I'm a little confused as to whether he is serenading me or actually telling me to walk on by, go away.

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I drink a great deal of water and I try on my hairdresser/friend's clothing.  Everything smells exactly like her - like her body and like cigarettes.  I'm enveloped in her scent, and I'm surprised at how overwhelmingly familiar it is.  I don't want to wash the clothes, ever.  I suddenly realize that I am going to miss her very badly.  I miss her already.

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When I was in high school, I had a tiny little book - barely more than a pamphlet - by Jean Rhys called My Day.  I liked reading Jean Rhys very much back then.  It's been so long that I have no real memory of her work aside from a vague impression that it was quite depressing, especially After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie.  Also, I remember that one short piece - I think it was My Day - ends with the speaker recounting a ghost story wherein an old woman closes and locks her front door at the end of the day and then hears a voice behind her saying, Now we are alone.

This doesn't happen to me.  I had thought that my husband would be out late drinking with friends, but instead he comes home before the children have even fallen asleep.

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