Thursday, July 24, 2014

baby FAQ, month three

Q: Are you tired?

A: No, I'm thriving on five hours of sleep a night and an extra-large fully-caffeinated beverage in the morning. It's like college, except that at four in the morning there are fewer Wawa runs (only because I no longer live somewhere with Wawas) and more viewings of things which seemed like a good idea to put on the Netflix queue years ago. (Sure, let's watch a documentary about Shackleton, because it's not like puppies get shot or anything OH WAIT.)

Sidebar: I do not know how college kids these days do it, what with the entire internet and its social networking and streaming video marathons available as procrastination tools. In my day we had only Bejeweled, dorm-room theatrical readings, and Péter Nádas books to distract us (true story: when I was feeling a desperate refusal to write my papers, I would order bad Chinese food and re-read portions of A Book of Memories, which, yes, is a 900-page Hungarian stream-of-consciousness novel; for some reason this was the most comforting thing imaginable at that point in my life, and I still feel slightly warm and fuzzy when I regard my MSG-stained copy). End sidebar.

Yes, I'm exhausted. Because it's been so long since caffeine was a part of my life, there's still the exciting couple of hours in the morning when I code unstoppably and can't imagine ever being hungry again, but I am terrified of becoming inured to coffee. Fortunately the weekends are usually a time of recharging, napping when she naps, and ignoring the state of the kitchen.

Q: What happens when a weekend is non-stop socializing?

A: We've tried that once, and on Monday I could barely work three hours before having to go home and sleep until four in the afternoon. The spirit was willing, but that day never really stood a chance. 

Q: How is being back at work / having her in day care going?

A: She LOVES day care. Everyone there knows her as "the happy baby". There is so much to look at and listen to, which she's always thrived on, so it's pretty ideal for her (and for them, since I gather she's the easiest infant-related money they've ever made). I can't say that I am thriving on being back at work quite as much, but my workspace doesn't have as many brightly-colored things in it. I do have a window, which looks out on a building with a giant lobster painted on it... so there's that. 

Q: Who are your new least-favorite people?

A: The ones who, in a non-crowded parking lot, decide they must have the spot right next to me, and when they cannot immediately access that spot because my rear door is open while I am strapping my child into / removing her from her car seat, they honk repeatedly until I am either finished or I climb fully into the car and shut the door behind me. Seriously, this has happened three separate times now, once when we were virtually the only two cars in the lot. It is the strangest and most infuriating thing. 

Q: So when you're thirty-seven and have a great life and are driving down the highway while your husband and child nap happily, on the way back to your little island home, and your brain decides it's going to catapult-launch that incredibly embarrassing thing you did fifteen years ago directly into your consciousness, you can laugh it off, right?

A: Humankind has not yet evolved that capacity. But I only brooded on it for about a mile before bringing it up to Berowne, and we laughed, and later Perdita farted directly into Berowne's face, which of course made me realize that my life lacks nothing. (Except a big white dog, but a) that's a given and b) if we are getting our faces farted into then Darcy remains with us in spirit. Walking up the stairs behind him was the deadliest game.)

Q: Have you been reading stuff?

A: In bits and pieces, yes. 

Longbourn, by Jo Baker. The premise is that Baker is exploring the lives of the Bennetts' (from Pride and Prejudice) servants, in order to write a book about class discrepancies in Regency England. And I think this book would have been much more enjoyable if she had not done the riff on Austen, although that is the book's gimmick and who knows if it would have sold otherwise. But it means that she's just slamming beloved characters left and right, including having Lizzie sneer that referring to the footman as "Mr. Smith" made her think the speaker "meant a gentleman", which doesn't ring true at all. And I put up with it the first fourteen times our heroine, the Bennett girls' maid, thinks, "Jane and Elizabeth have X, Y, and Z and are still not grateful, while I would be content with half a potato sack to make socks out of BECAUSE SERVANT CLASS", but the next forty-five times I read the same sentiment it's rather like the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch: "Elizabeth gets Mr. Darcy, while GIRLS LIKE ME would be happy to have a rotting warthog carcass to warm our bare feet because we ate our shoes last spring and no one will spare a potato sack".

If you don't know the Yorkshiremen sketch, I'll wait while you google.

In any case, I liked the section of this book which was about Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper. And I like Baker's writing style. But Sarah, the maid and our primary protagonist, is like the heroine of a bad romance novel: too sassy for words and anachronistically feminist (and socialist), and every man she meets falls in love with her because that's easier than making the character actually lovable. (And would everyone in Regency England really have been that blasé about an interracial romance? Like, really?) Also, true, she has to do the Bennetts' laundry, but I wasn't particularly impressed with how much she whines about her lot in life given that she has a roof over her head, clothes on her back, food in her belly, and apparently lots of time to go on walks and read books. She's not dredging the Thames for bodies here.

This isn't a book you need to avoid or anything, but I was mildly disappointed after all the hype and waiting so long for a library copy to be available. My recommendation would be to read The Undertow instead. Baker's writing skills are on full display there, with no gimmicks.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley. The latest in his Flavia de Luce series. Short and very melancholy, and ends on a note which suggests the series may be over. 

How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America, by Otis Webb Brawley. I didn't get much more than a third of the way into this before I couldn't take any more. Brawley is an oncologist, so his tales of failed care and terrible outcomes are all cancer-related, and usually breast-cancer-related. I am emotionally equipped to handle, oh, exactly zero such stories, and after four I put the book down. 

The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny. So sad! So overwrought! Gamache is so impossibly-perfect! Love her stuff. This one is about Gregorian chant, which Perdita is into right now, so that was especially nice. 

Going up to Vermont this weekend. I will potentially get some reading done, but it is a lot more likely I will repeatedly get through one page before passing out in the Adirondack chair, while my parents cheerfully entertain the Happy Baby. I can think of worse things. Hopefully I will be able to handle Monday this time. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

working mom, week one

I went back to work this week. Before 9:00 Monday morning I had made three discoveries:

1. That the move of my workspace from one office to another was not completed, despite the people involved knowing my return date. Thus I had no office or computer, or really anything to do but roam the halls missing my child. As I said on Facebook, I was La Llorona in business casual.

2. That, due to the company's transition to earned time the week before, I had several more weeks of leave available, and could have stayed out longer.

3. That the coffee I stopped for on the way in was NOT decaf. I am allowing caffeine to creep back into my diet these days, but when it is unexpected it results in things like teeth-grinding.

It was a bad day.

The second day, however, was worse. Perdita had been up at two, after her nap schedule was thrown off by being in a new place, and so I staggered to work exhausted, and set up pictures of her on my desk, because pictures are nice! And I put them next to an old photo of both dogs which has been on my desk for a while.

I should have anticipated where this was leading, especially since I kept Darcy's death close to my chest at the time. Five people at least asked me, "What do the dogs think of the baby?" and five times at least I had to explain that Darcy died in March. And then came the follow-up questions: how did he die, and was he old, and oh my god how did I cope with that while also being eight months pregnant, etc. So I relived those emotions over and over, while sleep-deprived and missing my child and second-guessing everything about having gone back to work (and also hearing, repeatedly, "Oh, she's how old? That's too little to be away from her mother!" and the utterly horrified "She's in day care??" as if the speaker has heard of this barbaric concept but never known anyone unfortunate enough to experience it, much like the Siberian gulag). Somehow I did not cry.

And then I went to day care to pick her up, and all the other babies had already been picked up, because their mothers are not Stalin, and Perdita was all alone in the infant room (with the caretaker, of course, but still). The smallest baby there, and the one away from her parents the longest. I immediately thought of young Scrooge, abandoned at boarding school, and realized that I am no better than Scrooge's mother.

Then I remembered that Scrooge's mother is pretty clearly dead by the time he's hallucinating literary characters, so I guess I have an advantage over her in that sense. My mothering: better than that of a dead Dickens heroine! Success is all about where you set the bar. 

The next two days were better. I felt more at ease in our new routine, and I started meeting some parents of older kids at day care who said that their kids started at Perdita's age, and those kids were not visibly emotionally scarred or resentful of their parents, which was reassuring. 

I did eventually get a workspace, and my computer back, which is how I learned that I'm mortifyingly stupid now. The medicinal resumption of caffeine is helping, but the complicated things with data that I did just three months ago are like my journals from college: I recognize that this is, in fact, my work, but I have no idea how I got from Point A to Point B (in college, as a general rule, Point A was "I like this boy" and Point B was some sort of implosion). Also I make an equally squinchy face when studying both artifacts.

What I've read:

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yeah, worth the hype. A huge novel about botany and love and the intellectual life and eighteenth-century exploration and nineteenth-century scientific discovery and one woman's life. I will say that the female characters other than our heroine are a little underdeveloped, although that may be because we see them through her eyes, but that is my sole quibble. I didn't want it to end. 

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, by Gary Krist. My Early Reviewers book. It talks about the red light district in New Orleans in the early twentieth century, the political machinations that kept that district alive, and the jazz that came out of the city at that time. Didn't grab me, though I don't consider it badly done by any means. 

My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead. Mead revisits Middlemarch, which she first read and loved as a young person, in her middle age. I thought that this would be more autobiographical, but though there are elements of that, it's mostly about Eliot's life and about the book itself. I liked it very much, even if Mead does mention, in her last chapter, that when she first read Middlemarch she thought Mary Garth was boring. Had this statement been made in the first chapter, I don't know if I could have trusted anything Mead said thereafter. (She also states in that last chapter that fourteen-year-olds are too young to read Jane Austen, let alone Eliot, which is odd given that her target audience is people who have grown up with classic literature. Fourteen is too young for Persuasion, certainly - I read it when I was fifteen, thought it was killingly dull, revisited it at twenty-seven [Anne Elliot's age] and from that day to this will defend it as Austen's best - but not for Pride and Prejudice or Emma, which latter book is [in my extremely unpopular opinion] overhyped as balls, much like Great Expectations.) Mead was apparently glamorous enough as a teenager to identify with Dorothea, not Mary, which wasn't the case for me. Despite that, and the accompanying claim that no one upon their first reading of Middlemarch cares about the Mary-Fred love story, this book was both charming and intelligent and I really liked it. 

Bellman & Black, by Diane Setterfield. A fairly simple if uncommon premise: a man makes a bargain with dark forces and ends up starting a funeral emporium. Not much actually happens in this book, and there are majorly pretentious interlude chapters throughout, but I found the descriptions of the emporium and its stuffs for sale lovely, and the book overall readable as heck. The tragedy section, though - a fever comes to town, and the protagonist has children, and... yeah - is rough. I would think it would be so even if you don't have offspring yourself, but it was especially hard for me. (I'd been thinking about re-reading Wolf Hall for many months now, but I honestly don't think I could endure the part where his children die again. It shredded me the first time, when I hadn't even met Berowne and the Perdita-shaped gleam in his eye yet.) 

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, by Scott Stossel. Stossel uses stories of his own paralyzing anxiety disorder and the years of therapy and medication he's gone through to discuss the historical treatments of and contexts for anxiety. I am not sure that it's fair to expect a book to be good enough to keep the parent of an eleven-week-old awake, but if that is the test then this failed pretty emphatically. 

Well, that's all for now. Now to try to get as much sleep and Perdita-time as possible this weekend (damn their mutual exclusivity) before returning to the Schliemann-esque excavation of my hard drive on Monday. Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

preparing for the return

I go back to work on Monday, and to say that will be an adjustment is putting it mildly. But, after all, life at any given moment is stasis or adaptation. I've already adapted to so much more than I thought I could, not leastly rather enjoying four a.m. That used to be the witching hour of my soul in every way, but now - while I of course prefer the decadent days when she sleeps in closer to five - there's something unexpectedly precious in being downstairs with Perdita, just the two of us, her devouring her bottle and then drifting back to sleep in my arms. The sky isn't light yet but the birds are tuning up, and I don't plot my projects or plan my day, I just watch her eyelashes on her cheeks. There is nothing in those moments but themselves and nothing else is needed.

(Sorry! That came perilously close to a "motherhood is uniquely transcendental" bit! Let us not forget that, however lovely it may be at four a.m. once she's fed and asleep again, when she actually starts waking up an hour before that my thoughts are far from printable.) 

Of course I am regretting the four days I was on leave before she was born, which is pointless because a) I can't get them back and b) beating myself up for not sticking it out is to pretend that for my last couple weeks at work I wasn't a physical and emotional wreck.

Part of the beating myself up, I've realized, is because at some point I internalized that you can't be a good mother if you don't love being pregnant. I mean, it's all part of the whole maternal goddess package, right? And with the exception of a roughly six-week stretch around the end of the second trimester, I HATED being pregnant. I hated being nauseated twenty-four seven; hated the weight gain and the way my joints ached; hated the heartburn and the physical limitations; hated the searing pain in my ribs when she decided to kick the same spot as hard as she could for two months straight. I hated the hormones and the anxiety and not being able to take any medication during my two death colds. And because everyone in our society starts referring to you as "a mommy" the second they know that you have an embryo in there, I felt that by hating pregnancy I was hating motherhood.

Therefore, not only was I a physical and mental wreck throughout much of my pregnancy, but I was constantly disappointed with myself for being so, because I thought that meant I was a wreck as a mother. Turns out - shocker, I know! - that being pregnant and actually parenting a child who has emerged from the womb are two very different things. Whether or not I am a good mother is a question only time can answer, but I'm not a wreck about it. Of course I panic at least twice every day, and low-level guilt is on the boil non-stop (I mean, right now it's my last Wednesday home with her and I'm blogging while she's in her swing, I should be holding her, I should never have gotten her used to the swing in the first place, good mothers carry their baby around twelve hours a day [which essentially means you're not allowed to stop being pregnant, and you can imagine the unprintable statements I have reserved for that concept]). But it's all okay. I'll miss her terribly while I'm at work, but it's okay, and I'm pretty sure Berowne and I are doing all right.

And if we can time it so the current situation of one enormous poop a day, after which everything within ten feet of her has to be laundered, is someone else's responsibility, I can live with that.

The latest reading:

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, by Helen Castor. Well-written and enjoyable history.

A Room Full of Bones, by Elly Griffiths. Continues in her series about an archeologist who keeps getting sucked into murder investigations. This one has some surprising mystical elements, but I felt that they worked overall.

A Whale Hunt, by Robert Sullivan. In the late 1990's, the Makah tribe of the Northwest United States was given permission to revive its ancient tradition of hunting gray whales. Sullivan arrived to report on the hunt and ended up coming back for close to two years, which is how long it took for the hunt to eventually happen. This is a really good book. 

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright. Yikes. Also some really good reporting, and just amazing. Cults are messed up. Powerful rich cults are even more so. 

And now I must run; there is much to do before Monday.