Friday, June 20, 2014

baby FAQ, month 2

Q: What now seems the most impossible thing about your pre-baby life?

A: That I frequently, even before the discomforts of pregnancy, had trouble falling asleep at night. Now, if the baby is sleeping and I put my head down on a pillow, I am literally out cold before there is time for a single thought. Seriously, you know when you lie down in bed and you think things? I don't remember what that's like.

Q: I have heard a rumor that you were able to button a couple pairs of pre-pregnancy pants.

A: It is true! And all I did was breast-feed and walk around the block with the stroller a couple times! The Weight Just Fell Off ™!

Q: Why must you turn this blog into a house of lies?

A: Fine, I was Spanxed to the gills.

I am actually seeing changes in my body: they are due to lots of cardio, watching what I eat, and being patient. There have been three times in my life when weight did legitimately just fall off: one was when I stopped drinking (especially since the last year of my drinking was almost entirely beer), and the other two were times of intense misery and anxiety.  Having no beer to sacrifice and no interest in nasty break-ups or work crises or oral surgeries, no matter how effectively they may melt away the pounds, patience is the crucial element for me now. But it is nice to occasionally wear real pants in the meantime, and that's when having purchased a spandex girdle several years ago proves unexpectedly useful.

Q: How much fun is Perdita now that she is smiling and babbling and interested in everything?

A: SO MUCH FUN. More work, in some ways, because she's sleeping less during the day and she cries from boredom sometimes, but so, so awesome.

Q: How gross are her diapers?

A: Please, I had a 120-pound dog with a delicate tummy. He got giardia once. A creature one-twelfth his size, whose poops are usually confined to a diaper, is nothing. That said? Occasionally SO gross. (Also I have learned the hard way to make sure that the diaper is securely fastened before putting her down on our bed; or, failing that, to at least put her down on Berowne's side of the bed instead of mine. [That was only pee, but still. And she laughed after doing it.])

Q: How wonderful is the sight of cloth diapers drying on the clothesline in the ocean breeze?

A: It makes my heart beam.

Q: What did you learn from your water heater rupturing this week?

A: That everyone who is at Home Depot at 9:30 on a weeknight has the same sort of glazed, despairing, homeownership-has-just-kicked-me-in-the-metaphorical-balls, look. No one is buying a toilet plunger at 9:30 p.m. because their life is working out exactly as they'd planned. (Well, maybe they are; I don't judge.)

I also learned just how amazingly clean the basement can be made in a day when Berowne sets his mind to it. It hasn't looked that good since before I moved in. 

Q: Books?

A: Books!

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America, by Cynthia Carr. Carr explores the fall-out from a 1930 lynching in her hometown of Marion, Indiana, and talks to a lot of white supremacists along the way. Unfortunately, the book was overlong (like I said, a lot of white supremacists) and scattered. She had some interesting things to say but it should have been edited way down. 

Raven Black, by Ann Cleeves. The first in her series of police procedurals set on the Shetland islands. I liked it, though it suffers from the character of the simple man-child whom everyone suspects of committing the crime (I see this character a lot in Scandinavian noir as well), and who says naively wise things which make the cynical policeman hero rethink his life. I find that character tedious and condescending, but other than that the book was good.

Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest. Steampunk novel set in an America where the Civil War has gone on for twenty years. I liked the world-building: Priest wisely keeps as close to reality as she can, which I find much more effective than some of the steampunk novels in which every paragraph features mention of some steam-powered cog-ridden device (I read one where umbrella stands and sugar bowls, among dozens of other things which do not benefit from mechanization, were mechanized). I didn't find the heroine particularly interesting, though, even if I appreciated her imperfection and how there wasn't any nonsense about every man she meets falling in love with her. 

And, of course, we're revisiting lots of children's and young adult books, as we read to Perdita (and each other) at night. I'm thinking next up will be The Secret Garden, which I haven't encountered since my mother read it to us as wee tads. Because I remember it begins with Mary living in India, I'm quite sure there will be Startlingly Casual Racism of the type that makes you stumble while reading aloud, but the discussions about that can wait until Perdita's a little older. (There will also be discussions when we get to the part in Little Women where Marmee advocates women biting the furniture rather than displaying any emotion that a man might find inconvenient. Of course, by that point Perdita will no doubt have witnessed enough displays of inconvenient emotion on my part to know that she's not living in a furniture-biting household [well, at least not now that Darcy is gone, though the gnawed windowsills and kitchen chairs are nice reminders of his presence].)

May you all be feeling the equivalent of a sea breeze through your windows on these long summer nights. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

husbands and fathers

I don't gush much about Berowne in this space. Most of that is a worry about tempting fate: after all, in the days of heavy Livejournal usage (that's how old I am, kids) I certainly gushed non-stop about Claudio, in entries which later made me cringe. Now I am less inclined to think that gushing shameful - we were so very young when we met, and it's no surprise that ten years later we were different people - and more inclined to think that the larger shame would have been had I married someone without feeling like gushing about him. But it still has me a little inclined to pull back on talking about Berowne.

This has the unfortunate effect of seeming like I take him for granted. Reading the post about Perdita's birth, with a few exceptions, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I was alone in the labor suite. The truth, of course, is that Berowne was working non-stop that whole time, helping me through the contractions, talking to the doctors and nurses on my behalf, reading Moby-Dick till his throat must have been bone-dry. I remember very clearly the period just when the narcotics were wearing off but the epidural hadn't been put in yet, and the contractions were coming back in a big way: I rode through them on his voice reading of seas and ships, imagining each contraction as a wave sweeping along the keel of a boat. It helped amazingly. (Not so much that I didn't need the epidural, but that wasn't his fault.)

Berowne had to give up a lot when he married me. He gave up the house on the farm and the opportunity to buy a friend's boat; potential chances at women who love raucous nights around the bonfire; ownership of non-crazy dogs and, not unrelated, intact furniture. The last dog he lived with was mellow and obedient, and then he moved in with my creatures of destruction and defecation, and has been very good-natured about it. He and Darcy absolutely adored each other, and that loss remains such a hard one. But Berowne has been great with Bingley as well, who now walks well on a leash for the first time in his six years and who gets to go on trips to the dump sometimes.

I knew Berowne would be a good father, and also knew almost from the start that I was seriously interested in attempting parenthood with him. It's been better than I dared hope, and of course harder than we could have imagined, but his support and humor and good sense have been the things getting us through many a long night and a fussy evening. Couldn't ask for a better partner in this adventure, and that statement would stand even if the adventure was our lives together sans children. I couldn't take him for granted if I tried.

My own father and I did not get along when I was an adolescent. It took me nearly two decades to realize that this was, in some ways, because I am very much like him. Of course when you are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, it is preferable to believe that you are trapped in some sort of particularly cruel reality show designed for maximum conflict than that the people in whose house you are living could have contributed to your personality in any way. ("But I'm a unique snowflake! I totally created myself and you, parentals, had nothing to do with it, except that everything bad that has ever happened to me is ALL YOUR FAULT.")

Now my relationship with both my parents is good, for which I am quite grateful. Thanksgiving week has become a sort of family reunion time for us, when my brothers and I and our families descend on the small house where we grew up, which features only one bathroom (and no couch because the dog ate it, which is apparently a trend in my life). Every year my father and I are the earliest risers by far, and we sit up in the pre-dawn hours while he makes a fire in the wood-burning stove and we look at the papers and marvel over New Mexico politics. And no matter how early I get up, he'll have already made my separate pot of decaf coffee. Last Thanksgiving my mother offered Berowne and me a hotel suite, since the house was going to be so crowded; and I turned it down because that would mean missing out on mornings with Dad. 

This year there will be three very small grandchildren at Thanksgiving, so there will likely be several other early risers, sitting around the stove with little ones. This is excellent too, though I may be somewhat bullish about my seat closest to the fire. After all, Dad and I have our routine down. (We will also be the ones ready to leave for the airport four hours early, always.) 

I can't leave this post without mentioning Claudio's dad. I am incredibly fortunate in that I did not have to lose my in-laws either in the divorce or when I remarried; Claudio's parents live about a mile from us and we see them all the time. They welcomed Berowne with open arms and have a picture of Perdita on the shelf with pictures of their biological grandchild. When Berowne was working on the changing table, he asked Claudio's dad for the loan of some tools, and we went over there to pick them up. Four hours later, while Claudio's mom and I chatted upstairs, the table had been built. My new husband and my ex-husband's father collaborated on a changing table for the baby I was having with said new husband, and if that isn't indicative of having lovely people in my life, I don't know what is. 

So a happy Fathers' Day to all dads of all kinds, and especially to my wonderful husband who is a deft hand with a diaper, a superb giver-of-baths, and who bequeathed our daughter some wicked eyelashes. Although, my darling, just because you watched me push a human child out of my nether regions doesn't mean that you now don't have to shut the bathroom door, like, ever. I am not at all sure about that new trend; but every other new challenge in our lives I know we will meet more cheerfully and kindly for meeting it together. 

I love you. Now get out of bed so we can have breakfast. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

catching up on the books

Happy things:

My six-weeks-postpartum visit to my OB. This was actually bittersweet, since I will miss her and her laugh and her calm reassurance, but it was a friendly chatty visit, and she was utterly charmed by Perdita, and when I was mentioning the intense guilt around formula-feeding and my constant worries that I'm not doing the best by my child, she said, "Well, I wasn't breast-fed, and I became a doctor, so I think she'll be okay." I think that was exactly what I needed to hear.

How Bingley, when his crate is left open at night, will emerge in the middle of the night, trot over to Perdita's crib, listen for a little bit, and go back to bed; and how if I take him out and she starts crying while we're outside, he'll sprint for the door. Making sure his little human is okay, and it makes my heart swell.

Perdita's smile, which is so wonderful that I haven't words for it. And how fun it is to watch her discover things (I think she's completely got the concept of "with these hands I can convey items to my mouth" and is just working on the execution), and play with her toys, and look at pictures, and hang on our voices when we sing to her or read her stories at bedtime. The current routine is a fairy tale followed by a Shakespearean sonnet, which usually works.

Having the best co-parent I could wish for. 


Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. A short look back on his life, in the style of Julian Barnes' Nothing to Be Frightened Of, and very nearly as delightful. The second-person perspective took a little getting used to, but it's pretty great. 

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps, by Michael Blanding. My Early Reviewers book. Not as gripping as it could be. The destruction of old, one-of-a-kind books that Blanding's subject undertakes to get at the maps he wants is difficult to read about, and made me so unsympathetic to the guy that I really didn't care about his perspective. 

Curtsies & Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger. Adorable steampunk young adult novel.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. This was pretty impressive and I did enjoy it. However, around page 530, with 300 pages to go, I started to wonder if there is a secret Booker point system which the committee references:

Australian author: 5 points

Period setting: 10 points

Epistolary chapters: 2 points per chapter

Long as balls: 15 points

Author is Peter Carey: 25 points

The Luminaries is a solid Victorian-style quasi-mystery with too many characters by a freakishly-talented-for-her-age kid who wants to be Peter Carey when she grows up. This is something I am more than happy to read, of course, but I'm pretty sure that's all it is. I don't agree with the blurb that said (among many other overwrought things) that "the mystery of creation shines through the cracks in the story". The what now?

Beauty and the Blacksmith, by Tessa Dare. Given the blacksmithing work Berowne used to do, how could I resist a romance novel with this title? It was very fluffy and quite cute. 

Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, by Eva LaPlante. Fascinating and intelligent. 

Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran. A collection of her newspaper and magazine articles. Not nearly as good as How to Be a Woman, though there were bits that made me laugh out loud. My favorite was the piece on celebrity lies about post-baby weight loss, especially the "I've been so busy running around after the baby, the weight just fell off!" one. As Moran points out, this statement has a woman claiming that she is running after something which has "all the motility of an ancient tumulus". That is still making me giggle, several weeks later. 

Standing in Another Man's Grave, by Ian Rankin. A known quantity. 

Bad News, by Edward St. Aubyn. I tried to read this, I really did. But after seven chapters about our hero looking for and doing all the drugs during a night in New York City, I just couldn't go any further. It's monstrously unpleasant, and that seems to be the book's only point.

The Songs of the Kings, by Barry Unsworth. A novel about the Greeks waiting for the winds to change and permit them to carry on to Troy. It didn't gel for me and I ultimately didn't like it, unfortunately. The other books of Unsworth's I've read were much better. 

May all of you have happy things in your life and words which make you giggle.

Monday, June 2, 2014

mommy wars [excessive rambling]

[A post actually involving books is forthcoming. This one is way too long as it is.]

So, the mommy wars. Which are very real and very nasty; spending three minutes on the internet will eliminate any doubt you may have had about that. 

My six weeks of being an expert on the subject has generated some thoughts, which I'm putting down here largely unformed - remember the post in which I talked about not having enough time to revise? Well, since then Perdita's transitioned (in the twinkling of an eye) from a creature who only wakes to scream because a need isn't being met to a very small person who is awake, alert, happy, and curious for long stretches of time. It's wonderful and I love every goofy cooing moment of it, but there is even less time for anything else now.

My thoughts pretty much boil down to: as long as there is love and common sense and regular medical care involved, the kid will probably turn out fine, so OH MY GOD YOU HATERS SHUT UP. And for myself: OH MY GOD STOP TRYING TO PLEASE THE HATERS.

What I end up running into most often in my internet-forays is an infuriating rigidity combined with a belief not only that what the writer did is the Only Correct Way but that what the writer did is something all women a) should want to do and b) have the ability to do if they just try hard enough. And so you end up with things like some poor woman, obviously at the end of her rope and beating herself up plenty without additional help, confessing on a mommy forum that she just can't produce enough milk and is thinking of using formula. Instead of getting any support or understanding, she is told, over and over, that rather than use formula she must literally pump around the clock until her milk either improves or she, presumably, dies of sleep deprivation. She's admonished over and over, "yes, it's hard, but remember you're doing it for your child!" And she's bombarded with the idea that if something worked for someone else, it WILL work for her, provided that she can just get over her own laziness (or, you know, pesky little facts like not having anyone else to take care of the child while she pumps twenty-four-seven, or having to go back to work next week) and be as dedicated and selfless as that someone else.

It's like the nurse who kept responding to all my requests for pain meds with, "I had three children without any medication!" That's great, lady, but I am not inhabiting your body or your choices, I am inhabiting my own and I am the person currently in labor, so it just feels like my attempts to communicate with you are being met with bizarre non-sequiturs. The quest to find permission to forgive oneself for a perceived failure at motherhood is very reminiscent of this, because most of the time there is a refusal to acknowledge that each woman's body, experience, and choices are unique to her. Consequently you end up with statements like, "all women's bodies were meant to bear children" and "all women are capable of producing enough milk to feed a baby", full stop. 

How do these blanket statements help anyone? Having gone through childbirth, I am absolutely in awe of women who manage it unmedicated. All labors are, of course (this would be my entire point), different, but they all involve holy-crap levels of pain to some extent, and I think that an atmosphere in which "totally unmedicated vaginal birth" is the minimum achievement allowable is appallingly cavalier towards that pain. If everything else is worthy of shame and guilt, then the unmedicated vaginal birth is not the ideal, or even simply one choice of many: it's the least a mother should be able to do. It's managing to put pants on before you come to class, as opposed to nailing the AP test. Not only does that attitude result in the shaming of women who choose otherwise (or have the choice made for them by medical necessity), but it completely diminishes the amazing accomplishment that I believe is the unmedicated vaginal birth. I mean, as long as you're acknowledging that it's not an option for all women, if you had one you should be hugely fucking proud of yourself. 

Honestly! It's insane that, regarding this huge physical ordeal, if you need medical intervention you've completely failed, but if you manage without all you get to do is check off one box of several thousand on the Acceptable Mother Checklist. Oh, you went through thirty hours of body-racking agony and pushed hard enough to tear through your own flesh? The world shrugs, and says, "Well, I should hope so; if you weren't willing to do at least that much then you shouldn't have become a mother."

This is bullshit! The world should say, "Damn, woman! You are amazing!"

And the world should likewise say, "Oh, you had placenta previa and carried the child as close to term as possible before an emergency c-section, and then cared for a newborn while recovering from major surgery? Kick-ass! You rule!"

And: "Oh, you navigated the complicated, expensive, and potentially heartbreaking adoption process, and gave a child a loving home? You, sir or madam, are astonishing." 

This is how it should be. This is what I want to see. As I stumble around my own head and the internet seeking forgiveness for my lack of milk production (I manage to pump an ounce on a good day, and the rest of what Perdita gets is formula), all I see is the toxic stuff I discussed above. What I should be able to hear is, "Your baby is thriving and alert and happy, and her growth is spot-on, and there is no lack of bond between the two of you, so well done."

And at the same time we shouldn't act like exclusive breast-feeding and/or pumping ten hours a day are no big deal, are just what any mother who's not a complete monster would do. They are huge investments of time and energy and commitment, and kudos are due. (If I could produce all the milk Perdita needs by pumping ten hours a day, would I be willing to do so? In all honesty, no.)

So much of this is a biological crapshoot anyway, and the problems begin when we act like biological factors (not to mention socio-economic circumstances) are moral successes or failures. Fertility, pregnancy complications or lack thereof, how labor progresses, milk oversupply, undersupply, or something in between: assuming the mother isn't doing heroin or something like that while pregnant, it's all the luck of the draw, rather than a display of how good or bad a person she is. Mommy wars start when mothers are encouraged to act towards each other as if a healthy pregnancy, uncomplicated birth, healthy baby, solid milk supply, and the financial ability to stay home from work breastfeeding for [x] amount of time are all examples of the bar being set as low as it can be, to the extent that a) you have to do completely over-the-top (usually involving the word "organic") shit to stand out as a mother and b) you are thoroughly supported in looking down on women who don't or can't meet the standards agreed upon by a particularly privileged subset of the group. 

The simultaneous diminishing and exalting of motherhood, in which it is seen both as something all women should just do without making a big deal of it, and as something that has to be done to an impossibly-perfect level, is sadly and tediously like every other expectation set on women. ("Don't ever openly diet, but be perfectly thin" is just the first example that comes to mind.) Mothers are supposed to meet these unrealistic standards and to act like those accomplishments are nothing. "Oh, you give me too much credit; it's just called being a mom." What I want to see is eliminating the "Well, of course I bought a goat so I could card and loom and weave my child's onesies; it's what any mother would do," statements, and replace them with, "Well, I was incredibly privileged to have a goat-friendly home and a budget conducive to a goat and a loom and time to weave. I'm really grateful that I can do this. Goat-tending and carding and weaving are really time-consuming and exhausting, but they are priorities for my family; they may not be anywhere on your family's priority scale, and I respect that. I'm really proud of the work I'm putting into the goat and I like getting credit for it. Your kid is adorable as heck in her non-hand-woven onesies, and it doesn't matter the origin of the onesie, they all get poop on them sooner or later."

I... don't know where the goat analogy came from. I am getting more sleep these days but clearly not enough. But I hope it conveys the point. I think that if you're a parent, you have to incorporate parenthood into your life in a way that still allows you to enjoy that life, or you will be too miserable to be a good parent. If mom spends all her energy trying to keep up with the goats next door and beating herself up with guilt over the fact that she can't weave, instead of celebrating the things she does do that make her child smile from ear to ear, then that's just a waste. NOTE TO SELF. 

I'll say it again, to remind myself: as long as there is love and common sense and regular medical care involved, the kid will probably turn out fine. And hopefully so will the parents.