Tuesday, April 21, 2015

baby FAQ, year one


A: Unreal, I know.

I forget that I'm a mother sometimes. Not because I'm spending so much time away from my child, or because I'm heartless (correlation is not causation!), but because I just can't think of my motherhood as our society wants women to. When women give birth, they're supposed to become Mothers more than they are anything else, even though our style of containing multitudes may not work that way. I have always hated having to define myself with a single label, mostly due to the huge pressure there then is on you to be perfect at being that label, since it's your sole identity.

I'm not a mother more than I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, a data analyst, a trainer, an occasional blogger, a voracious reader, a friend, a dog owner, and so on. It's another thing I am, not the thing I am. Would I prioritize Perdita over those other things if some horrible Sophie's Choice situation arose? Of course, but the semantic distinction is important. And the same way that being in romantic love shouldn't make my sole identity Berowne's Girlfriend / Wife, having this amazing small person in my life and loving her as madly as I do shouldn't make my sole identity Perdita's Mom. I don't believe in having a sole identity of any kind, because people are many times more complicated than that. No one has just one interest in life and no more. Interests and time allocation are not the same thing, of course, and being a parent does change your time allocation enormously, but it hasn't changed that much about me. Probably because well before parenthood I didn't go out at night or stay late at the office or have any reaction to the word "spontaneous" that didn't involve anxiety-induced eczema. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

That said, life with a sedentary baby was SO much easier than life with a mobile one. Jeezum.

Q: Milestones?

A: Um, well, I actually haven't looked at a list of what she's "supposed" to be doing in a long time (go me!). But I'm sure somewhere on that list are throwing food everywhere, saying and waving "hi" and "bye", running, knowing what the command "sit on your bum" means (most of the time), responding to "what does the wolf say?" with the most adorable little "ooooo" imaginable, and making your mother cry because when you sit in your high chair, with your long legs stretched out and real sneakers on your feet, you don't look like a baby anymore.

Q: The first animal sound you taught her was a wolf?

A: Of course it was.

Q: How's getting her nap schedule on track going?

A: Sunday we had two straight hours of screaming sobbing exhausted-but-refusing-to-sleep meltdown before she finally passed out for about an hour. Welcome to toddlerhood!

Q: What have you read lately?

A: The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection, by Dorothy Hoobler. Starts with the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 and goes back from there to the most notorious and dramatic crimes in the city. I found my interest in the various crimes and trials fluctuating greatly - some were just duller than others - and ultimately preferred Hoobler's book about Mary Shelley. But I did enjoy the bits about forensic science.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore. So good and fascinating and and will make feminism-outrage steam come out of your ears.

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, by Avi Steinberg. Steinberg got a job as a prison librarian at South Bay Prison, in Boston. His tales of the inmates are touching and insightful, but his attempts to be Woody Allen-ish neurotically funny don't always work.

A Lesson in Secrets, by Jacqueline Winspear. The Maisie Dobbs series aren't quite hate-reading for me, especially since they're getting increasingly short and always make me remember that I love tea. But with a heroine who is Emma Woodhouse if she was never wrong or learned anything, some aspects are hard to take. In this one Maisie goes undercover at a college and immediately becomes the most popular and brilliant lecturer ever, and is recruited by the Secret Service for being so awesome, and buys her assistant a house against his wishes because she knows what's best for him, and remains spunkily independent despite her boyfriend (who's an earl, I believe) begging her to marry him. Well, I managed to move my mug of tea before the diapered Flash in my house reached it, so shut up, Maisie.

Q: Do you always reach the tea first?

A: No. But it's always stone-cold by the time it gets anywhere near the baby. As is the coffee, though I am still careful not to take her out in public in clothes which have obviously had coffee spilled on them. 

Q: How happy and amazed and exhausted are you about a year with this little creature?

A: All of it. All of it is spring. Bitter winds and gray skies, and warm breezes ruffling the bright wave-tops, sometimes all in one day. Everything is possibility.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

a deviation from routine

For the last week, I had to stop listening to the news.

Every morning, on the way to daycare and then work, and then from work to daycare in the evening, I listen to the local NPR station. I only allow myself to listen to music on the home stretch, from daycare back to the house. And for the past month that local NPR station has been reporting, daily, on (and only on) the following things:
  • A series on living (or not!) with cancer
  • A series on the horrors of sustaining a workplace injury
  • A series on being a Palestinian in Israel
  • Non-stop coverage of the Boston Marathon bomber trial, complete with incredibly graphic testimony from survivors who lost limbs and the father of the eight-year-old boy who died
  • Life in Syria right now
  • Reportage on the Germanwings crash that pretty much consisted of, every five minutes, reminding us that the passengers were screaming in terror as the plane went down
I'm not even kidding about that last one. Listeners were informed about the recovery of the cockpit recorder and the screams on it four times during one half-hour commute for me. 

And so, every day, I felt beaten down by what I was hearing, and the more beaten down I felt the less right I believed I had to that feeling. Because none of these horrible things are happening to me. I would leave work exhausted and discouraged to the bone by our current enormous project, and looking at another night and morning without child help (Berowne was away during the week for work), and feeling a completely normal and justified set of negative and overwhelmed emotions... and then after five minutes in the car I would have heard three horrible stories and started beating myself up about how I'm not allowed to be anything but Pollyanna-bright about my life, because I'm not a Syrian refugee or a victim of a terrorist attack or currently living with cancer. Amazingly, this didn't make me feel any better. And I am going to have to get on a plane again at some point.

So for a week I turned off the news. The last time I went almost a whole day without listening to the news was September 11, 2001. I don't know if anyone who had been watching the news all that day can possibly understand how disorienting it was to only encounter the events at 5:00 in the evening, turning on the news and expecting a routine broadcast. I never want to feel that much like Rip van Winkle again, awakened into a completely different world when I thought that only a few hours had passed. And so I cling to the news cycle as if knowing will somehow protect me, or at least let me share the confusion and worry with others; my experience of 9/11 was frighteningly isolated.

In consequence, it was nerve-wracking to go without the news (and at the best of times it is nerve-wracking for me to have a routine altered). But at the end of the workday, when I reached the car in that dark mood, and turned on my music, it helped. I know that is so obvious as to have readers baffled that I even need to mention it, but, well, the combination of Scottish Calvinist heritage and a history of addiction means that I am unbelievably stern with myself about what I am allowed. Sometimes this is good - it got me sober, after all. But for that very reason it takes on outsized proportions: I think I really believe, deep down, that any self-indulgence is a slippery and rapid slope back to drinking. And that a one-time deviation from a routine, even if it is getting take-out because otherwise I won't eat till nine, or not working out because I have a horrendous cold, or not listening to news stories that make me cry hysterically, falls under the "self-indulgence" category. Geez.

To make a long story short: I didn't listen to the news for a week and it was kind of awesome.

I also binge-watched what's available of the show "Outlander", thinking it was going to be hate-watching because the books for me go beyond hate-reading into a realm of loathing hotter than the sun, but someone who knows what's up got their hands on the show and I can't even lie, I love it. The heroine's smug but tolerable, which makes her eight thousand times more likable than she is in the books, and there's all kinds of scenery and accents and plaids and what is clearly a stunt butt and it's grand. 

Total hedonism around here! Well, I guess I've been reading serious books, though probably not with as much attention as they deserve.

The Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth, by Peter Ackroyd. A little dry, I have to admit. It was mostly about religion, which is of course accurate, but I glazed after a while.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by Charles Blow. A memoir about a very tough Southern black childhood; beautifully written but the story thread jumps around and drifts a bit much. 

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. The Secret History takes place at Hogwarts. That's not a comparison - that's what this book is. I found it compelling at the time of reading, even though I was like, "Hey, I've read this before," but I feel pretty indifferent about picking up the sequels. We'll see. After all, you have to do something with your evenings when there's no Scottish stunt butt available.