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. 


  1. OMG, SOMEONE ELSE WHO DIDN'T LIKE EMMA, I found that book such a hard fucking slog. (But I love Great Ex! //sobs)

    ALSO WHO DOES NOT LOVE MARY GARTH WTF. She defies the old man! Mary/Farebrother forever. _Fred_ was fucking dull, sure, but never Mary. I have that book but have been putting off reading it because while I really like books about people reading books, I am starting to get unhappy that there are now books by people my age _or younger_ who are writing about reading my favourite books. But that is about as dull as Fred.

    I tried the Stossel book, but there was such a mishmash of Anxiety 101 explained in very very small words and personal experience that I was thrown off. I might try it again later, but it's not that high on the 'pick up again' list.

    What did you think of Longbourn? I made it about halfway through, then couldn't bear to go on without a break, and am having trouble getting back to it.

    1. I have nothing really against Great Expectations beyond the critical insistence that it's MILES better than anything else he ever wrote and if you don't agree than you're not a serious reader. (I blame Harold Bloom.) Give me Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit, or even Nicolas Nickleby any day - I re-read those four all the time, and never re-read GE.

      Mary/Farebrother 4ever! I thought so as a teenager, and having now married first a Fred and then a Farebrother, I can confirm.

      I just returned to Longbourn after a break from it. I like it, I think, but the relentlessly grim tone feels like a reproach to Austen, and the idea of writing a novel to scold Jane Austen for not talking about chamber pots or sex is a little, I dunno, high-and-mighty? Humorless? I'm going to have to mull this over once I've finished it.

  2. 'I have nothing really against Great Expectations beyond the critical insistence that 'it's MILES better than anything else he ever wrote and if you don't agree than you're not a serious reader. (I blame Harold Bloom.)'

    .....whaaaaaa? Why do male critics insists on this measuring crap? (....haha, never mind.) I love GE to death, and it's _my_ favourite, but I realize other people might not even like it, Jesus. -- For me the really overrated one is David Copperfield. I tried like FOUR TIMES to get through that sucker at first, and finally broke through, and just hated it in the end, despite it being about perfect right up until Uriah and grown Little Em'ly and Agnes all show up -- isn't that about halfway through? His auntie! Mr Dick! The awful school! All brilliant. And then the Female Romantic Interests come in, and Dickens is never ever good with them, and it goes totally to shit. At least for me. Harold Bloom probably jacks off to the very idea of Agnes, I don't even want to know.

    'Mary/Farebrother 4ever! I thought so as a teenager, and having now married first a Fred and then a Farebrother, I can confirm.'

    Middlemarch is truly a novel of marriages -- what makes a good one, what breaks one, what makes a good one even though it might not be ideal (Mary/Fred, Dorothea/Lydgate). I HATED Fred all through my first read of that book, esp the way he treated Mary, but it's like Fanny and Egburp in Mansfield Park: if he makes her happy, that's OK with me, sort of. I love Mary so much if she wants Fred, that's OK. //grits teeth

    (The first time we saw that epic Middlemarch TV adaptation, T was HORRIFIED Dorothea didn't wind up with Lydgate. Heh.)

    'I like it, I think, but the relentlessly grim tone feels like a reproach to Austen, and the idea of writing a novel to scold Jane Austen for not talking about chamber pots or sex is a little, I dunno, high-and-mighty? Humorless? I'm going to have to mull this over once I've finished it.'

    HUMOURLESS, EXACTLY RIGHT, which is _fucking bizarre_ when it comes to an Austen sequel -- altho it isn't really, and yeah, it's very much All The Bits That Got Left Out, the past from a 20th-century perspective, which usually really pisses me off, except it's pretty well-written stylistically. I am actually a lot more interested in the married housekeeper than Sarah, who seems Stereotypically Sassy (and a budding socialist? what OMG no), and I can't deal with the mulatto Wickham or the tragic wounded love interest with his collection of _seashells_. It does really feel like a rebuke to Austen, or maybe more a rebuke to the costume dramas which are all about the period costumes and wedding madness and Romance. But it also feels like it doesn't have that much to _do_ with Austen -- Wide Sargasso Sea, which I love, works equally well whether you keep Jane Eyre in mind or not. But this book does neither for me -- it's not compelling by itself, and very out of tone for the period, and it also really doesn't hook into the source text.

    Altho all that babbled it is now like NINETY FUCKING DEGREES for the rest of this week here, with no A/C, which means I am reading Sarah Rayner ghost story novels to cool off my brain, like the cramming Sydney with his 'eccentricities of damp headgear' in ToTC. They are very predictable and slightly cliched but rather charming.

    1. Yes, exactly, I hate the idea that We As a Society Must Agree On the Best Austen and the Best Dickens. Everyone gets to pick their own favorite! Why the obsession with ranking?

      I like DC well enough, but yes, the first half is SO much better.

      So funny you should mention Sydney Carton's wet towel turban - Perdita spiked a fever after her vaccinations, and all night we had cold washcloths on her head, and all I could think of was that scene.

    2. Have you read Jack Maggs? It's Peter Carey's take on GE from Magwitch's perspective. I loved it.

  3. OMG Blogger just ate my comment AGAIN

    Nothing profound, it was pretty much 'I have that book but haven't read it!' and ALLCAPS RAEG about why is Melville considered the Best American /Dick/ Novelist ever....