Sunday, December 18, 2016

still technically around!

Current mood:
  • Four hours of sleep a night
  • Back at work full-time
  • Toddler got a stomach bug and threw up twice in my car and then on the couch
  • Have only ten pounds to lose post-partum but it's distributed so oddly that I cannot get any pre-pregnancy pants past my thighs
  • Upon review, that's not so much "distributed oddly" as "distributed in my thighs"
  • Whatever, I'm sticking to my story
  • Living in the last days of the Roman Empire, apparently
  • I have been reading but finding the time to blog is another creature entirely
Oh, and I turned forty. There was supposed to be some big profound post about that but then the election happened and I had a bit of a meltdown. However, I need to get some books listed here before the backlog gets completely out of control:

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, by Bill Bryson. Rather nice and comforting, even if Bryson's curmudgeonly attitude sometimes takes an unexpected turn into vitriol, and you get the feeling that he is one of those people who always acts shitty towards folks in customer service positions. Which is not cool. 

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. Decent. I really resented the killing-off of characters far more sympathetic than our narrator, especially since it was transparently done to emphasize that the world completely revolves around her. 

Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell. A super-fun novella about a small British village that maintains the barrier between our world and that of the fairies, and how a superstore coming to town could destroy that barrier. I love Cornell's urban fantasy. 

The White Shepherd, by Annie Dalton. A forgettable mystery that I read only because the heroine has just adopted a giant white dog. 

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. Victorian novels are such good comfort reading when things are rough. This was sweet. 

The Ghost Fields, by Elly Griffiths. I love this series about a female archaeologist getting sucked into crimes, even though the plots are hilarious stretches at this point. Such lovely characters and sense of place.

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, by David Jaher. Did I even finish this? Not sure. That tells you how interesting it was. 

Seventy-Seven Ways to Make Your Life Very Slightly Better, by Tania Kindersley. This is a little self-published book by a blogger I love. It is about Scotland and middle age and dogs and natural beauty and grief, and it is periodically either free for e-readers or costs about two dollars and you should all download it. The self-help format may turn folks off, and I was a bit surprised to see that she had written something like that, but it is so charming and kind and smart and genuinely helpful. I think so, anyway. 

Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects, by Neil MacGregor. Oooh, just lovely. MacGregor takes twenty physical artifacts from Shakespeare's time and uses them to discuss the politics and social mores of the time and how those were reflected in the plays. It's wonderfully intelligent and informative, and just a physically beautiful book as well. 

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, by Rebecca Traister. Very well-done reportage, and fierce to boot. 

The Breaker, by Minette Walters. Serviceable but hostile thriller. I am not so much in the mood for the "people are inherently nasty and vicious" type of books right now. 

The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock, by Lucy Worsley. Really, really fascinating study of how English mystery literature evolved. I liked it a lot.

And now I must dash, since the toddler just informed me, "Mommy, your phone is playing hide-and-seek!" 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

shock, for the most part

Well, as this week continues to soar across the sky on the wings of a zombie vulture, now our furnace has gone out. To look on the bright side, practice for nuclear winter probably isn't a bad thing. 

This week has been, obviously, devastating, and my terror is only growing as we learn about potential cabinet appointees and as violence by emboldened racists escalates. Yes, living in a super-blue state (and being white and middle-class) gives my family a definite buffer, but any new Supreme Court appointees will be doing their best to make sure my daughter doesn't have legal control over her own body during her lifetime, and that if either of my children turns out to be gay or transgender, they have no legal protections and will be denied the right to create a family. This administration will do its best to see that the services my workplace provides for the poor, for immigrants and refugees, for addicts and the homeless, are phased out as unnecessary wastes of money that could be better spent on tax cuts for the super-rich. And that is just what I can write about right now without throwing up. 

58 million of my countrymen endorsed racism, sexism, xenophobia, antisemitism, rape culture, homophobia, and basically any other kind of bigotry available  - and don't give me that "willing to overlook" versus "endorsing" distinction attempt. Being willing to overlook racism, sexism, xenophobia, antisemitism, rape culture, homophobia, and basically any other kind of bigotry available IS an endorsement of those things. Period. If a man bragging about committing sexual assault is not a goddamn deal-breaker for you - like, if you even have to think about whether this is going to be a deal-breaker - then you are endorsing rape culture, because a culture where ANYONE will overlook bragging about committing sexual assault in favor of LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE FUCKING GUY WHO JUST FUCKING BRAGGED ABOUT COMMITTING SEXUAL ASSAULT is, by definition, rape culture.

Okay. Breathe. Stop crying. Drink some water. (I've been giving myself that set of instructions every couple of hours since Wednesday morning.)

I am at the period of my maternity leave which involves working from home 20 or so hours a week, so that's had to carry on. Perdita still needs to have her lunches packed in the morning and be taken to preschool. Puck has decided he's not really going to sleep at nights, which is fun. (Of course he slept like a stone Tuesday night through Wednesday morning, when sleep was the last thing available to his panicked, weeping parents.) The routines of our days continue, for the moment, with this unreal shadow over us. 

Concentrating on books is difficult; mostly I just stare in horror at my newsfeed these days. But there is some reading to report:

The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham. Even more bizarre than the one of hers I read before. 

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. So good. Immense and devastating (especially now, when 58 million people have endorsed a return to those times) and just freakin' brilliantly done. 

India Black, by Carol K. Carr. Ugh, pretty awful. Not sure why I finished it.

The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes, by Judith Flanders. Very well researched and well written, but not nearly as fun as her book about Victorian murder and literature. I may need to re-read that one. 

Good Man Friday, by Barbara Hambly. I continue to binge through this series, and take great comfort from it. 

Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith. Blech. If you think Emma Woodhouse is annoying as a product of her time, wait until you see a modern version of her. I didn't really see the point of this, honestly. 

Love Warrior: A Memoir, by Glennon Doyle Melton. A really good memoir - of which there are few - needs to be compelling regardless of whether the reader has had the same experiences or comes from the same general place as the writer. This is not one of those. It was so spot-on for me that it took my breath away sometimes, and felt like exactly what I needed to read right now, but I am a white middle-class woman with a certain level of comfort around traditional Christian religion. This is not a book for universal recommendation; it is a book that might be really fantastic for individual people. 

Revenge in a Cold River, by Anne Perry. The latest in her William Monk series, which I am of late enjoying more than her Thomas Pitt series. In these ones at least the characters still seem like people, not paper dolls being moved through their paces. That being said, I read this book two weeks ago and I could tell you very little about the plot. Conspiracy and courtroom drama, I believe, but I can only say that much because they all pretty much follow those lines. 

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Quite interesting, even at two in the morning. 

And now we wait for the furnace repairman, and for the next set of horrible news, and for Puck's next smile (he has started smiling and cooing in the last few days and it is a lifeline), and for Perdita's next display of vocabulary, and after a little more time grieving I have to start figuring out what actions to take. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

two weeks postpartum...

...and so much laundry. SO. MUCH. We haven't even started the baby on cloth diapers! How can there possibly be this much laundry? 

Berowne has gone back to work, which was not part of the original plan and about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, he won't be able to work between December and February (December: I go back to work; February: a spot in daycare opens up), so accepting a temporary job now is good both for his standing in the union and for our bank account. But I was counting on being able to hand the baby off to him four or five hours a day starting next week, when I start working those hours from home in order to stretch out my pitiful accrual of earned time. Already this week Puck has been fussy and clingy enough that if I was working, I would not have gotten very much done. But we shall see how it goes. 

Monday morning, on my own with both kids, I managed to get them fed and dressed and out the door within thirty minutes of my target departure time, and I am very impressed by myself. True, Puck had peed in his own hair, Perdita's diaper smelled suspicious, and I had to get up at four to make this happen, but still. It counts. 

And now, the long list of books I have read while home:

Mystery Mile, by Margery Allingham. Period British mysteries are so weird, with their aggressively eccentric nobleman-sleuths given full rein by the authorities (including a license to kill, apparently). Such books walk a strange line between soothing and so of-another-era-and-culture that they're almost like science fiction. 

We'll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to Be French, by Emma Beddington. I love Beddington's blog passionately, but this memoir didn't work for me. Her humor was missing from it a surprising amount of the time, and by that I don't mean "it wasn't funny enough - make me laugh, damn it, even when you're talking about relationships ending and parents dying". I mean that what makes her blog voice so fantastic just wasn't on these pages, somehow. And that was incredibly disappointing. Not to mention that, nine months pregnant, essentially solo-parenting a toddler (Berowne was working long days and weekends at the time), and trying desperately to arrange work coverage for absolutely every contingency, I really did not need another memoir where the author is "allowed" to have a nervous breakdown. Where everyone bends over backwards to help her keep her job and her income; where her partner is thrilled to be a single parent to their children plus her caregiver for months; where no one in her entire sphere wants anything but that she gets better, no matter how long it takes or how much it inconveniences them. Just... not good timing on that. 

Um. Okay, that paragraph sounds like I don't understand mental illness at all, and like I think that getting to the point of being unable to function is like getting to go to a spa resort for a month. Neither statement is true. I just find that memoirs involving mental breakdowns always make it sound like once help was asked for, everything magically fell into place and everyone rallied 'round and on the other side life was perfect. And I can see why you would not want to tell your readers otherwise, because you do not want to run the risk that someone who needs help will read an honest account of a shitshow that resulted when you put your foot down and yourself first, and will therefore not ask for help no matter how much you emphasize that it was worth it in the end. But by taking the other direction you are inadvertently telling people that if you don't already have an ironclad support system in place, both at work and at home, or you haven't already abdicated all your responsibilities in the build-up to your breakdown, you can't ask for help either. Let's face it: the second you put yourself first, someone is going to be a dick about it. This is just a fact. (Unless you have been putting yourself first your entire life and never let anyone else depend on you, in which case, um, you might be the dick.) I have had co-workers act like I got cancer for the sole purpose of inconveniencing them, and you can imagine how those same people reacted to my eventual pregnancies. People are gonna be dicks. Let's not sugarcoat this. Rearranging your life to take care of mental health issues is not easy, and we shouldn't pretend it is. It doesn't have to be easy to be justified. 

Anyway! Moving on.  

Endangered, by C.J. Box. Serviceable. 

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party, by Daniel James Brown. Very well-written and comprehensive. And, damn it, I may not be able to read about the Donner Party any longer, just as I cannot read post-apocalyptic fiction any more. The idea of going through that with small children is just too horrifying for me as a parent, and I almost couldn't read on once I was reminded that the Donner Party included infants and toddlers. Of course, I can get my survival-cannibalism-in-cold-weather fix lots of other places (thanks to England's strong export line in ill-prepared explorers), but this feels like that Maternal Loss of Identity that the internet talks about. ("What did you give up when you became a mom?" "The Donner Party." *sob*)

Silent Voices, by Ann Cleeves. Mystery by an author I really like. This featured child death and that was rough, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. 

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell. Very sweet little Victorian book. The BBC series is also beyond delightful. I watched it during midnight feedings with Perdita and maybe will re-visit it with Puck. 

Miramont's Ghost, by Elizabeth Hall. Pretty dumb. 

Shirt on His Back and Ran Away, by Barbara Hambly. I love this series, about a free black man solving mysteries in 1830's New Orleans (and, increasingly, many other locations as well). Been binging on the ones I hadn't read before. 

Rock With Wings, by Anne Hillerman. Hillerman's continuation of the Chee/Leaphorn series where her father left off, and very nice light reading indeed.

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, by Linda Hirshman. Unfortunately, I found this a bit tedious, despite how much I love RBG (and how much Hirshman clearly loves her too). The actual urgency / importance for Americans of many of the Supreme Court's decisions never quite made it onto the page. 

Requiem in Vienna: A Viennese Mystery, by J. Sydney Jones. Jones wants to be Frank Tallis. He is not. 

A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh. See above re: Allingham. I liked this book better, but same issues. 

The Fortune of War, by Patrick O'Brian. Ha! The War of 1812 has started, in this entry in the Master & Commander series, and our intrepid British heroes get their asses absolutely handed to them by the USS Constitution, and I swear that after reading the battle scene I wanted to go out into the yard and shoot off fireworks and raise a giant American flag and be like YEAAAHHH EFF OFF BRITS. Stirring stuff.

(Yes, I'm aware of the irony in us subsequently naming our son after a British ship. But YEAAHHH NAUTICAL EXPLORATION! And we Americanized the spelling because BOO COLONIALISM. [Which I am aware is also a profoundly ironic statement. WHATEVER! SHIPS ARE SUPER-COOL! I HAVEN'T SLEPT IN DAYS!])

The Vault, by Ruth Rendell. Oh, I like her Inspector Wexford books so much, although this one had the unfortunate element of shaming a woman for dating a man younger than herself (and possibly for dating at all while being a mother) and suggesting that when he turned violent she had no one but herself to blame. What is it with female British crime novelists and this kind of woman-shaming crap? There isn't a single P.D. James novel that doesn't feature it, and it's always jarring as hell. 

The Sculptress, by Minette Walters. See: Rendell, above. Enjoyable and problematic.   

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, by Max Watman. Fun reportage, and reading about brewing whiskey actually didn't bother me, That may be because I made the deliberate decision to read this while pregnant and so obsessed with my food restrictions that I had no mental space for any other temptations. Most of the whiskey discussed is either rotgut or is talked about in complicated connoisseur terms that just bored me, and would have at any point, so it probably would have been fine regardless. 

And now I need to run the dishwasher again. And eat a loaf of bread for lunch, because I can. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

blogging from the sitz bath, redux

Guess who has arrived, gentle readers! 

The young gentleman's due date was October 17th, and I had been planning to work at least through the 7th. But Thursday the 6th I arrived at work and almost instantly knew, despite the absence of anything dramatic like contractions, that I would be making it through the morning of that day at best, and no more. 

Friday I had an OB visit at which I hadn't progressed in terms of dilation or effacement but the midwife said she would be very surprised if I didn't deliver within the week.

Saturday I started having contractions. Very far apart, but strong enough that we called the friend who would be taking care of Perdita in our absence, and headed to the hospital. I had barely progressed any further, and we were sent home. I cried a bit, mostly out of fear that I would continue to have strong (read: EFFING PAINFUL) contractions which weren't doing anything in terms of dilation or effacement, and would eventually have to receive inducement drugs to bring those things on, and would then be dealing with a level of pain even beyond my previous induction, and then someone would tell me that childbirth is a woman's Mt. Everest, and I. Just. Could. Not. Handle. That. Naturally I convinced myself that what I could not handle would inevitably be what happened.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Sunday morning we: got up, started timing the increasingly frequent contractions, went out to breakfast (with friend, who had stayed the night), realized immediately after putting in our breakfast order that Berowne and I needed to leave or become a local news item, went to the hospital, was found to have some progress, was told to walk the halls and be re-checked in an hour, walked the halls for about ten minutes before the contractions were making me literally shout (which I don't believe I ever did in my previous labor) and were right on top of each other, requested an epidural, was found to be 9 cm dilated with the baby halfway down the birth canal, pushed for four minutes while screaming like the world's neediest banshee, and gave birth. 

From start to finish, and I count getting up that morning as the start, it all lasted under five hours. I couldn't have been in active labor for more than forty minutes, so naturally the fellow who put a girdle round about the earth in that time shall be known here as Puck.  

It was... intense. But no one tried to feed us any useless gendered mountaineering analogies, or withhold pain medications, or, later, refused to take the baby to the nursery so we could sleep (somewhere around the thirty-fifth straight hour of no sleep with a newborn Perdita, we begged the staff at that hospital to take her for a few hours, and were flatly refused and it was hinted that only monsters who didn't want to bond with their child would ask such a thing), or expressed judgement around formula supplementation should that prove necessary, or treated us with anything but kindness and the assumption that we are equipped to decide what is best for our family. The difference between our previous experience and this one? Night and day. 

I'd say now we know where to have our next child, but part of this experience was a tubal ligation for yours truly. I know, I know, Mom; but I'm a month away from being forty and pregnancy is hard on me. Also we live in a two-bedroom, 870-square-foot, house. In any event, the decision was made. And of course it is very convenient to have the procedure done when you're already in the hospital, but what it ends up meaning is that you are recovering from vaginal childbirth and abdominal surgery at the same time. Not a picnic. 

Puck is a delightful little creature and as good a sleeper as his sister, though she was obliging enough to sleep during the night, and he is on a completely different schedule (also appropriate for his namesake). Hopefully this will resolve itself eventually. Perdita, while very much enamored of this new small person, is not differentiating between good and bad forms of attention, which hopefully will also resolve itself. Berowne and I are dazed with exhaustion and toddler-related frustration but happy. You can fit a lot of love in 870 square feet.  

Books, next time: I read a ton in the night watches, after all. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

30-ish days, high stress

Four weeks to due date! Getting there!

Of course, I'm a complete and total wreck, which at least this time around I knew would be the case. What I posted to Facebook the other day:

30 days to due date! 

...and I'm having a tough time. 

Last pregnancy at this time I had to deal with both Darcy's death and the TOTAL PACK OF LIES that women are sold about pregnancy: that it's the strongest, sexiest, most existence-validating, time of your life. This time at least I knew to expect the enormous physical discomfort/pain, the peeing every 15 minutes, the inability to sleep AT ALL, the throwing up from heartburn, the explosion of anxiety and hormonal madness. At least I'm not beating myself up for not wanting to take 10-mile hikes or pose for professional glamour photos.

But this time I'm parenting a toddler. 

And Bingley had a seizure a few weeks ago - all his blood tests came back fine and it hasn't happened again, but of course the thought that my remaining dog might be sick is one I can hardly stand. 

And the diabetes thing, with the accompanying need to police my eating and deny myself foods I want, is beyond triggering and miserable. It's so hard to feel like the competent, patient, organized adult that I absolutely need to be right now at work and as a mother, when food and the scale are the enemies again just as much as when I was seventeen. (And no, telling myself "it's for the baby" doesn't help, because narratives of maternal martyrdom make me itch.) 

I forgot to add that last time the political situation was not like this. The energy reserves that are tapped by being frightened every moment of every day would drain me even if I was not pregnant, not parenting, and able to eat a damn carbohydrate now and then. As it is, I always feel like I have more or less just satiated a vampire (ha! joke's on him! I'm anemic!). It is the worst. 

This morning I went out to the store for something I had already ordered on-line. Love pregnancy brain.  

Read since last posting: 
The Eagle Catcher, by Margaret Coel. Mystery set on a Wyoming Indian reservation. Not at all bad for the first in a series.  

The Fallen Leaves, by Wilkie Collins. Hilarious! Victorian novel coincidences may be my favorite thing ever: in this one a character hears about a long-lost person who has been the object of professional searches for sixteen years. He then goes for a walk through London and no prizes for guessing who literally the first person he talks to turns out to be. Also there are long digressions on socialism.  

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South, by Christopher Dickey. A pretty good non-fiction book about a British diplomat and his attempts to stop his country from siding with the South during the American Civil War. Interesting, accessible, but felt somewhat non-comprehensive at times and I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe because the diplomat himself disappears for long periods of the narrative?  

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris, by Jonathan Kirsch. Odd little book about a Jewish teenager who shot a diplomat at the German embassy in Paris and then got caught up in the propaganda machine as the Nazis tried to decide how to try him and how to frame the incident. There isn't much more to the story, and Kirsch isn't always successful in making it represent the Jewish experience as a whole, so it felt a little unsatisfying. 

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. A fictionalization of Beryl Markham's life, complete with people telling her every other page how beautiful and "unlike any other woman in the world" she is. How do we get across to writers that we don't need that in a heroine? Petitions? Seriously, I need to know. The "A Unique Snowflake Is The Only Worthy Snowflake / Not Like Other Girls" narrative is honestly fucking toxic for female readers (especially young ones), and I am sick of it. 

Dark Fire, by C.J. Sansom. Mystery set during Henry VIII's reign. Both gripping in its own right and does a really good job of bringing across how absolutely terrifying it must have been to live under an unstable dictator allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted. NOT THAT I AM SAYING THIRD-PARTY SUPPORTERS SHOULD BE LITERALLY FORCED TO READ ABOUT HENRY VIII RIGHT NOW BUT I DO NOT THINK IT IS A BAD IDEA. 

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, by Alison Weir. Weir is SO hit-or-miss, and this was a miss: convoluted and dull. Having an author be this erratic is more frustrating than writing them off completely. 

And now I think I really do have to pack the hospital bag. I've been delaying it because of course it feels like a jinx, but who knows what might happen and being unprepared is not going to make anything easier. And since we have, like, 200 size 1 diapers now thanks to my pregnancy brain, might as well pack some of them up. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

quick (the post) and dirty (the house)

I have reached the Contradictory Stages of pregnancy:

I Cannot Wait To Not Be Pregnant Anymore vs. Please Please Cook the Whole 40 Weeks and Be Healthy;

I Remember Well How Sleeping Only Two Hours Feels vs. At Least I Would Be Sleeping Those Two Hours Instead of Painfully Half-Dozing for Six;

Work Will Implode While I am Gone vs. Work Will Realize They Don't Need Me At All.

And then of course there are the stages that hardly confine themselves to confinement:

Nesting vs. I Need a Nap;

House-Cleaning vs. Nope, Gonna Nap;

Folding Laundry in a Timely Fashion vs. Meh.

Other major aspects of my life pretty much include the gestational diabetes diet (SO bored with nuts) and the delightful physical sensations of being thirty-three weeks pregnant. Perdita is being moved up to preschool starting in September, which has me sobbing helplessly at random moments of the day. Berowne is working seven days a week, thirteen hours a day (temporarily). I am tired.

Read lately:  

Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë. Weird, yet enjoyable.

Manners and Mutiny, by Gail Carriger. Steampunk teenagers, in a series that gets fluffier with every book. And of course our heroine gets more universally adored and impossibly skilled in each one as well. Yawn.

A Famine of Horses, by P.F. Chisholm. Very fun historical fiction about dealing with the Scots in the sixteenth century.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, by Anthony Doerr. Gorgeously written, as you would expect from Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), and a lovely memoir about living in a foreign country for a year. But not good to read if you are currently not permitted pasta.

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery, by Rob Dunn. Popular medical history, in its usual vein (ha! genuinely no pun intended). Jumps around a bit chronologically and occasionally gets obsessed with the subjects' eccentricities to the detriment of the scientific discoveries. But I enjoyed it.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes. Basically just reads, "Yeah, all those people are as sweet as you want them to be."

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison. Ugly, boring thriller in the genre of "no one really behaves like that ever".

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, by Ann Dowsett Johnston. A good balance between memoir and research, and compellingly readable even while being quite sad.

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Sweet in its own way, but rather too obsessed with name-dropping and reminding us every other page that Kilmer-Purcell used to be a drag queen. Yes, I do remember that from the last chapter, thanks!

The Witches: Salem 1692, by Stacey Schiff. The language is too overwrought and the dramatis personae are not kept nearly clear enough. Also Schiff ends up with no real hypothesis as to what caused the Salem witch panic, and that was frustrating.

And now, a nap. (What? I vacuumed fully half of the downstairs this morning, and I have only half an hour before my next required handful of almonds. Nothing more useful is getting done between now and then, I tell you.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

pregnancy number 2, contd.


1. Gestational diabetes diagnosis, sigh. And of course no matter how many medical professionals tell me it's probably due to hormones and not to anything I did wrong, all I hear is "probably" and then we have the conversation that starts with "what do you eat?" and my face turns bright red and I start stammering, because I can't respond with, "Only kale salads with local grilled salmon," or something. It seems especially unfair because I have eaten so much more healthily this pregnancy than I did last time - I've been craving salads and fresh fruit rather than chocolate donuts - and yet here we are. But at least now we know that how shitty I've been feeling isn't just the heat (which is what I was attributing it to) and I get to play around with data points. (And the nurse I saw told me that she did have a patient who ate only kale salads and still got GD to a degree that ended up requiring medication to control, so I shouldn't keep beating myself up.) It's nonetheless good that I was already in therapy for my body image issues, because this is rough.

2. Eating every two hours while parenting a toddler is also rough. If we have any errands to run or such (Friday I had to stay home with her and get her to the doctor after a lovely rash showed up), then things are hard to time, and in any event if she sees me eating she wants to eat too. I suppose it's not the end of the world if, on the next ten weekends, she gets to eat every two hours as well, as long as she doesn't eat too much. (Same for me, I guess).

3. The baby is most likely fine. There is a chance he'll get too big through the shoulders, but with Berowne as his father that chance was there anyway. He's also still breech, and while there is some time for him to turn (Perdita turned long before this), I am starting to wonder if his blog name will end up being Macduff, if you know what I mean.

4. Honestly, I'm totally fine with it if Macduff he turns out to be, though we'd rather he not be untimely, of course. I have yet to see any compelling data on the Horrifically Absent Immune Systems of Babies Born Via C-Section that corrects for gestational age, meaning that the immune systems of babies born via emergency C-section six weeks early are being compared to those of full-term babies born vaginally, and the conclusion that the only thing which could cause the difference is the time in the birth canal is - what is the scientific term? - stupid. But what do I know, I just work with data for a living.

5. I swear, though, at least once a day I feel like I would knock old ladies down for the chance to eat a bowl full of grapes. It's August, damn it, I should be allowed to eat chilled grapes if I want to. But noooo.

6. On that note, to anyone out there thinking about getting pregnant: an October delivery may seem perfectly safe, but my advice to you would be to avoid your third trimester and summer overlapping at all. Like, plan to deliver no later than May and no earlier than December. The heat is just too miserable, and it's entirely possible I avoided GD last pregnancy simply because it wasn't summer - being overheated messes with your blood sugar. At least I can go to the beach often and stand bump-deep in the waves until I feel a tiny bit better.

7. Books:

Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Ah, the overwrought Victorian scandal-novel! Love me that stuff.

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. I... skimmed. I had to. Very intelligent and comprehensive and more abstract than I had expected, and too emotionally hard for me to read in depth right now.

Death of a Hollow Man, by Caroline Graham. Solid British mystery, in the character-development vein that I love so.

Heresy, by S.J. Parris. Historical mystery that bored me.

Bad Faith, by Aimee Thurlo. Crime-solving New Mexican nun. Hard to miss, right? Especially once she's adopted the enormous white German Shepherd. But it never gelled, and the characters' dialogue was agonizingly unrealistic, and while I know the first book always has First Book Problems, I am not thrilled at the thought of trying more in the series.

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History, by Jennifer Wright. Occasionally a little too silly in its efforts to be like a Buzzfeed article, which was sometimes mitigated by Wright's obvious amount of research and sometimes made more irritating by it (as in, stop assuming your reader needs these "timely" [i.e., dated by the time the book is published] pop references to enjoy your narrative voice and the history itself). But overall I quite enjoyed it. I'd been reading too much heavy stuff and this was an excellent palate-cleanser.

Eat some ice cream and fruit for me, and stay cool.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

pregnancy two: the resolutioning

As I enter month seven of my second pregnancy, I've been working on some resolutions around taking it easier on myself. (Ha!) Let's jump right in:

- Update this blog more often oh wait, that's not taking it easier on myself

- Don't work on Saturdays whoops, have been doing that

- Not expect the house to look a certain way (like "clean" or "presentable") until five years from now. Not in the sense that it's going to take me five years to clean the house (I'll grant that it's a pit at the moment, but it's a small pit), but in the sense that it will be five years before both children stop attending the daycare that adds three hours of commuting to my day, and before they are both old enough to either play unsupervised for long stretches of time or "help" without making every task take twice as long. I am away from home nearly twelve hours every day due to a full-time job and the aforementioned commute. And even if we could afford a house cleaner while having two kids in full-time daycare, I am 100% the type of person who would clean in preparation for the house cleaner out of shame, so it would be a stupid waste of money.

So I'm trying to tell myself that I've got five years before I'm a Bad Person if my house isn't spotless, and in the meantime I should just be grateful for the dishwasher and for the many improvements Berowne makes around the place. We have a fenced-in yard now! We can entertain without trying to cram guests into a tiny house that looks like a dusty children's museum exploded in it! Or we could if our neighbors weren't engaged in an enormous construction project for, like, the fourth summer in a row. Perdita naps in Berowne's professional-quality sound-blocking earmuffs, and that is not a joke. I hate summer.

- Stop comparing my weight gain and physical appearance to that of other women's pregnancies.

HA HA HA! In all our fucking dreams. The hot new thing on the internet - and I swear I come across this everywhere, I am not looking for it - is professional fitness models / trainers showing off how tiny they remain throughout pregnancy. Now, logically I know that if my paycheck was potentially going to stop the minute my pregnancy was visible, and not resume until I looked exactly as I had done pre-pregnancy, I would find a way to work out and restrict my eating throughout the nausea and the cravings and the exhaustion. I would have to. These women are my worst nightmare while they are being held up as examples for admiration, but they are also human beings who probably (I want to think) are sitting there with calculators working out how long they can make their savings last once they start showing, and who have nights where they would trade all the likes on their Instagram photos (is that how Instagram works? I don't even know) for the ability to eat a hot dog or four.

Anyway, I can usually talk myself out of comparing myself to women whose careers revolve around how they look. Not when I'm feeling especially pregnancy-brain-stupid and therefore equally insecure about my own job security, but what can you do. The main problems with comparison are around women I actually know, friends and co-workers, who either stayed tiny during their pregnancies (one co-worker, to whom I am normally comparable in height and weight, didn't show until around month seven and was the size I am now two days before she delivered) or totally got the glow and the glorious hair and looked like damn earth goddesses. I am just, well, huge, and clumsy, and sort of visibly and piteously uncomfortable in my flesh.

All bodies are different. All pregnancies are different. I need to remember that in July and August I'd be retaining gallons of water weight under the least pregnant of circumstances, and though my ankles wouldn't be quite the loaves of bread they are now by the end of the day, they would be somewhat muffinly. So of course I feel fatter now than I did in January 2014, equally pregnant with Perdita. And normally I wouldn't be weighing myself in the summer, either (or much at all).  

I'm trying to trust my body, even though in addition to all the belly weight gain it is quite sure that to grow a baby one requires love handles the size of two juvenile walruses, with an equal walrus-equivalent strapped to each thigh. And when that doesn't work, go back to what my therapist pointed out: that pregnancy is like puberty in so many ways. Your body changes drastically, complete with metabolism changes and weight gain that feel literally, nightmarishly uncontrollable if you were a skinny pre-adolescent like I was; everyone is suddenly paying attention to your body in a sexualized way with which you are not comfortable, and frequently commenting upon it, when you are already self-conscious to the nth degree; and there is massive societal pressure to perform your female existence to impossibly perfect standards of the kind set by movie teenagers played by 25-year-old models / carefully-edited-for-social-media versions of rich white sanctimommies. And when I think of that little Beatrice going through all this during puberty, and how no one could have been harder on her than she was herself, I want to wrap her up in a judgment-proof force field and tell her, over and over, You are so much more than perfect.

I can't do that for her/us then. I can do it for us now. And I am going to try to keep that in mind when I fall back into the self-judgment patterns.

Well, this got away from me a bit, which my whining tends to do. I actually do have some books to document, which I will do quickly:

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, by Juliet Barker. Huge and comprehensive and quite excellent, even if the conclusion was that you would not have wanted to be friends with Charlotte or Emily. (We already knew that.)

The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg. A novel about George Sand that was, well, bad.

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh. Oh man, this was good! Amazingly-written historical novel that I would recommend to anyone. My one quibble is that the dialect in which some characters speak gets a tiny bit old, but it's not Safran Foer levels, or even close.

Shylock is My Name, by Howard Jacobson. So, the way publishers put out a series of myths retold a while back, Hogarth Publishing is putting out a series of modern retellings of Shakespeare plays. I read two this month, and both suffered enormously (I thought) from having the play in question exist in the book's universe, to the extent that characters quote from it, and yet they never remark on the similarities of the play's plot to the events of their lives (or even on having all the people they know have the exact same names as Shakespeare's characters). I just do not understand that decision. And this one, while quite clever in its modern twists on the original characters, was a deeply unpleasant experience for the same reason that watching "The Merchant of Venice" over and over for as long as it would take you to read a book would be: every character is more or less horrible. I skimmed, not going to lie.

Slow Kill, by Michael McGarrity. A pretty bad procedural. The murderer is exactly who everyone thinks it is from the beginning, and she's never given a motive beyond "trophy wives are inherently evil to the point of acting completely against their own interests", and I wasn't at all invested.

They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper, by Bruce Robinson. Robinson is a lot angrier about what he perceives as false theories about who Jack the Ripper was than I really think the occasion warrants. Also he's super-homophobic. I finished this because the level of research impressed me, but I think my time could have been better spent.

The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson. The other Hogarth Shakespeare, this one a retelling of "The Winter's Tale" (with characters quoting from the play but never drawing connections between it and things like an adopted daughter named Perdita, for heaven's sake). It was as well written as we can expect Winterson to be, but the beginning was a very rough slog, especially since Leo/Leontes' musings on his wife's supposed infidelity were literal porn. I suppose it makes sense for them to be, in the modern day, but those were not the best couple of chapters I have ever read, and the book never really quite recovered for me after setting that tone.

May the weather be cooler where you are, and may we all find a way to do a current kindness to our former selves.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

playing catch-up

Aw geez, I am so far behind on this blog. I'd cut myself some slack due to being pregnant, parenting a toddler, working full-time, and refusing to give up my reading, but I am certain there are women out there who do all that and keep their houses clean and cook gourmet meals into the bargain. So be it.

Anyway, not going to get into too much self-pity here. I'm in the tail end of the second trimester, and starting to get heartburn and having a very hard time sleeping, but I know no matter how uncomfortable I get and how endless the time seems, October will be here before I know it. As will the end of Perdita's nap, so I'd best hasten here!

Bitter Creek, by Peter Bowen. A very strange book in a mystery series I hadn't read before. This one comes late in the series, and maybe the others are more traditional procedurals, but this one was about a historical mystery and a lot of drinking and very strange dialogue patterns. I didn't dislike it, but I never felt that I got into its rhythm.

Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray. Second in a series about teenagers in the 1920s who have magical powers. As with the first, the 20s dialect / slang is waaaaay overdone, and our main character is kind of repulsively selfish, but in this one other characters get more page time and the story is gripping. I do like Bray quite a bit.

A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood. Angry and heartbreaking and lovely.

The Owl Killers, by Karen Maitland. Novel about a medieval town in the grip of a KKK-like group of men. It's incredibly disturbing and so well-written and I couldn't put it down, even though as in her other book I've read (The Company of Wolves) the villains are almost zero-dimensional Portrayals of Evil. And, in this one, the people you hope will win... don't (although the villains don't either, really). So I found the ending sad and a bit of a letdown, after staying up too late tearing through it. But lord, this woman can write.

A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin. Yup, nothing happens. But I was prepared for that, and so just went along for the ride, and was fine with it.

Death in a Cold Hard Light, by Francine Mathews. Mystery set on Cape Cod. Efficient and enjoyable.

The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe, by Michael Pye. A really fascinating popular history of what changed in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages and how that shaped the modern world.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell. Vowell's take on the American Revolution. Fun and informative.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Tense and upsetting and occasionally twee and very hard to put down.

That doesn't look like a lot for how long I've been away from this, but I've actually discarded quite a few books that bored or irritated me as well, after wasting several days on them (Chadwick: A Place Beyond Courage: story is set during the struggle for power between Matilda and Stephen and should have been interesting, but our hero is an asshole and his second wife / true love is absolutely impossible to bear in her relentless perfection - I gave up after she's "radiant" twelve hours after giving birth and has her old figure back six weeks later; Horne: Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the 20th Century: boooring, just gonna re-read Tuchman's The March of Folly instead; Theorin: Echoes From the Dead: child death and unpleasant characters). Anyway, excuses. Off to clean the house. By which I mean read and eat, probably. Let's not fool ourselves.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

parenting, guilt, and an announcement

About four and a half months ago, Berowne and I were watching something on Hulu and a Subaru ad came on, showing a man taking his fourteen-year-old dog on what was clearly a bucket list trip. I choked out (this is true), "SUBARU, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME," before proceeding to sob until I couldn't breathe.

So the results of the pregnancy test I took the next morning were not an entire surprise.

I know I wasn't this tired during my first pregnancy, because I didn't have a two-year-old, but even with that taken into consideration it has been a hilariously emotional ride so far. Within the first week I started keeping track of things that made me cry. Below, a non-exhaustive list:
  • A split-second shot of Mowgli with his forehead against that of a wolf in one of the Jungle Book trailers (oh, Bear)
  • A picture sent from daycare in which I convinced myself that Perdita looked friendless and isolated (her actual expression was "face full of cupcake", but I know what I saw)
  • The day that I was in Trader Joe's and someone dropped a jar of mayonnaise (there were things in that aisle I had wanted but I had to leave without them, and I had to drive home with the windows open because I could still smell it on my clothes, and tears of disgust and self-pity do, in fact, count)
  • Berowne reminding me of the Subaru ad (WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?)
  • Cute names for kiddie options on Chinese takeout menus
  • The moment when my mirror forced me to remember that, oh right, pregnancy doesn't result in any changes to the hair on the top of my head, but the hair on my face goes from "relatively normal peach fuzz" to "Wolfman" overnight
I thoroughly enjoyed it when a nurse told me that a warning sign of me not doing okay would be, "You're just watching a movie and all of a sudden you're crying." I wanted to point out that at my house we call that "a weeknight". Sometimes even when I'm not pregnant.  
But otherwise things are going okay! This one is going to be a boy (!), and with Perdita I fell down the rabbit hole of Cute Girly Clothes early, so if anyone has boy or gender-neutral baby clothes they're done with, we are shamelessly soliciting hand-me-downs over here.
Read lately:
From the Charred Remains, by Susanna Calkins. Non-compelling novel about a maidservant in 17th-century England who is smarter than everyone and pursued by every man she meets. Oh, and she solves mysteries. As I am sure many of them did.
A Trace of Smoke, by Rebecca Cantrell. Non-compelling novel about a reporter in 1930s Berlin who is smarter than everyone and pursued by every man she meets, and solves mysteries. Super-, super-bored with the impossibly perfect heroine, especially since when you make her the narrator and thus she has to be the one to tell the reader about her perfection, she becomes unbearable almost from the first page.
The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and a fluffy little number indeed.

The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny. A known quantity and a good thing.
Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, by Amy Tuteur. Ha! Dr. Tuteur is ANGRY, and in kind of a wonderful way. She is angry about the whole concept of "natural parenting", because (and I agree) it is actually "natural mothering" (when was the last time you heard of a man being told to wear his baby 24-7?) and it is designed to keep women at home and bound to / identifying through their children. It prioritizes, in her excellent phrase, the process over the outcome. It tells women, among other things, that they have failed if they don't have a non-medicated vaginal birth, and instructs them to suffer through needless, excruciating pain for the same reasons that the church was against using pain alleviation during childbirth: if you don't suffer, you don't deserve motherhood / you're not a proper woman. The current loud voices may call it "going against nature" instead of "going against God", but it is exactly the same damn thing. If you don't suffer, you can't bond with your child. If you don't suffer, you're an unnatural mother.  

I had been thinking, and am still having to work very hard against thinking, that I have to get through this upcoming fellow's birth without medication. That that is my only chance to redeem myself, after failing so emphatically at Perdita's birth. Never mind that I know exactly how painful it is and have been through the experience of, despite NOT having a low pain threshold and NOT being a weak or cowardly person (and the fact that I have to be so defensive about it tells you all you need to know about natural-birth pressure and judgment), being so utterly destroyed by the pain that getting through it without medication was not an option.

("Well, if you'd had kids in the nineteenth century you would have had to get through it!"

If I'd lived in the nineteenth century I would have died at age three of croup, before I even got around to dying at age thirty-five of cancer [assuming cholera, the milk trembles, smallpox, gangrene, lead poisoning, crinoline fire, etc, didn't get me in between], so your argument is invalid.) 

Tuteur also goes rabid about lactivism (yay!), and made me feel better about Perdita's formula days. Of course, I am also still guilting and pressuring myself about somehow magically doing better with this one in terms of milk supply, as if I were agreeing with all the jerks who tried to convince me it was a matter of having the right attitude. Interestingly, I just met with a high-risk OB doctor who, when talking about my genetic predisposition toward blood clots, was rather horrified to hear that the nurses and lactation consultants on my care team last time prioritized the sedentary process of literally non-stop nursing / pumping / nursing / pumping over how genuinely dangerous it is for someone in my situation to not get up and move around after childbirth. And that was a way I had never looked at it before, even though I had previously acknowledged that it was emotionally dangerous for me to be tied to the pumping machine, and the day I put that damn thing away was the first day I enjoyed motherhood. If you have safe water, formula is not going to harm your baby in any way. Period. (Its expense sucks, but as I once read somewhere else and agree with 100%, breastfeeding is only free if a woman's time is worth nothing.) And prioritizing the baby getting a few ounces of breastmilk a day over the mother's life is insane.

Anyway, I could go on, but Tuteur is awesome in her rage. Although, as a friend reading the book at the same time noted, "makes for great reading but I bet she's a nightmare at dinner parties". And I do have the major quibble that she claims all OB docs think like she does, when it was an OB doc giving me the f'ing Mt. Everest analogy and the "women have done this for centuries" lecture instead of the pain relief I was asking for. And yes, I am getting my OB care somewhere else this time around (though I don't blame my whole care team for the fact that Dr. and Nurse "We Make Your Birth Plan For You!" happened to be on shift when my labor started).

Good stuff, for me. It beggars belief that I can look at my healthy, happy, bright daughter and think that I failed, but guilt is a terrible thing.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book, by Wendy Welch. Welch and her husband start a used bookstore in the Appalachians. It's okay, but that was a savvy editor who decided to put Welch's book recommendations and anti-recommendations at the very end. Would I have read the whole thing if I knew upfront that Welch hates both Anna Karenina and Moby-Dick? Hell no. That person cannot be trusted.

Well, the young miss is up from her nap, so I must dash. As much as dashing is possible at five months pregnant, which is: not much. Gaining enough weight the first trimester was NOT a problem this time around, and I am well on my way to outpacing my "over-the-line" weight gain of last time. So we can all look forward to posts about body image and doing that part of pregnancy wrong! Hooray!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

girls and sharks

It's Mother's Day, about which I have Opinions, but I have been ranting enough on my Facebook about that and will leave it out of here.

Perdita has turned two, and is a force of nature, in the same way that the Atlantic Ocean is. She's delightful and exciting and changing every day, and sometimes she is full of sharks. But I have always preferred my nature like that: it's one reason a vacation in a tropical clime sounds incredibly unappealing to me. Soft, perfectly-blue, warm water that doesn't want you dead? What's the point? I want my daughter to stay strong and opinionated and believing that her wants are valid. I also want her to have manners and consideration for other people - we're certainly not working in one of those "spirited child" models which teach that giving a toddler limits means crushing their creativity and soul - but a shark or two is a good thing, especially to have in reserve as she faces a world which will forever be telling her that girls don't get to do certain things or behave certain ways or study certain topics or have ownership over their bodies. Whenever anyone tells her those things, I want her to have teeth.

Read lately:

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck. Buck and his brother travel by mule-driven covered wagon along the Oregon Trail, in a Bill-Bryson-inspired travelogue / history primer / memoir. I liked the history sections best, though Buck at least loves and takes excellent care of his mules, unlike the excruciating saga of animal neglect that is Tim Moore's Travels With My Donkey. I wasn't terribly interested in how this trip was about Buck's father, but it was a decent read.

Sun and Shadow, by Ake Edwardson. Yet another Scandinavian police procedural to blend into the mental files. Often while I am reading one of them I forget which country it's set in.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. Blub. Written with profound intelligence and profound emotional awareness, as is the case with all Gawande's writing. Also about death and decline, and therefore utterly heartbreaking, for all the encouragement he offers.

The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin. A eunuch in 19th-century Istanbul digs into a murder. It started out quite strong, with excellent period setting and an intriguing protagonist, but lost me by the end, when the coincidences and convolutions of the crime became too much.

A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, by Joel Greenburg. A little boring: after the first few chapters it just turned into a litany of ways people killed pigeons.

The Resurrectionist, by Matthew Guinn. Novel about the dark racial history of a Southern medical college (I know; who would have thunk it). Actually better than I expected, for a first novel available for free on Amazon. But our hero wasn't very sympathetic and the story stayed too much on the surface. Still definitely shows potential for Guinn's future work.

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body, by Jo Marchant. I expected this book to be much more of an exposé, but Marchant does a really good job of reporting the ways in which placebo treatment, mental distraction, and emotional support effect health outcomes, without ever going along with any actual "mind-over-body" claims. And she has plenty of stories of people who blame themselves for their diseases and try to cure them with diet, homeopathic remedies, and "positive thinking", and how tragic the results inevitably are in such cases. The conclusion, with which I agree: pseudoscience is pseudoscience and hurts people. The science of integrated (emotional and physical) healthcare can help people.

Wine of Violence, by Priscilla Royal. Medieval nuns and monks solve a murder in their abbey. The murderer's identity is too obvious, but I thought this was fun nonetheless and will probably check out more in the series.

Happy Mother's Day if this holiday brings you joy. If it doesn't, remember that there are fifty-one Sundays of the year when going out for brunch doesn't feel like trying to get a lifeboat seat on the Titanic. Let us all be grateful for those.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

brief report from the consumption ward

I went on a trip for work last week, and was away from Perdita overnight for the first time. I missed her and Berowne terribly, but at the same time it would have been restful (able to sleep ten hours a night, nothing to do after the conference ended for the day but lie about in a hotel bathtub with a book) if not for the fact that on the flight back I came down with my usual Deathly Travel Bronchitis and have now been miserably sick for eight days. But at least I got a lot of reading done during the trip, and since then while sitting up at night unable to sleep for the cough.

(I also had travel-related gas so bad that I experienced the worst audible public fart of my life, right in the middle of Powell's bookstore. I had only acquired five books at that point but had to flee, and for the next three days it was a toss-up over whether social anxiety or bibliophilia would win out in terms of daring to return. Sadly the anxiety did, which seems a huge waste. There is always the internet, I suppose.)

What I did manage to read while not occupied with flatulence:

Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, by Sam Brower. Rampant child abuse in the name of religion is always a good time. Clear and horrifying.

Hell at the Breech, by Tom Franklin. Novel about the rural South at the end of the nineteenth century; it begins with a sackful of puppies being drowned and goes downhill in terms of brutality from there. Amazingly written, but so violent and upsetting that I almost put it down many times.

The Distance, by Helen Giltrow. A really bad thriller, and I don't have the faintest idea why I finished it.

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis, by Thomas Goetz. Appropriate reading as I hacked my way through my return flight. Fun popular history.

No Man's Nightingale, by Ruth Rendell. Good engrossing mystery.

On the Move: A Life, by Oliver Sacks. Jumps all over the place, to an extent that sometimes makes it difficult to follow chronologically, but Sacks' voice is so endearing that I was willing to forgive that. In one of those fun book coincidences, I had just read Bill Hayes' The Anatomist but had no idea that his partner Oliver was actually Oliver Sacks, until reading this book.

In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors, by Doug Stanton. SHARKS SO MANY SHARKS. I wanted more at the end of this book, about what happened to the men we'd come to know, and instead it ended very abruptly. Otherwise solidly written history about terrible things happening to people.

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin. Just wonderful, as Tomalin's biographies are. I actually cried at the end, though the fact that Jane Austen dies isn't exactly a spoiler.

The Vicar of Bullhampton, by Anthony Trollope. When I started this, and the young lady is attempting to choose between her two suitors, one heroic and the other a rake, I actually felt for a moment that I couldn't read yet another Trollope book about that, and thought about putting it aside. But fortunately that turns out to not be the main plot, so I enjoyed this. (And the girl actually ends up with the rake, and the hero acts very non-heroically about it, so that was interesting.)

The Scold's Bridle, by Minette Walters. Mystery about disturbing people doing disturbing things. Oddly, more Ruth-Rendell-ish than the Ruth Rendell I read on the same trip.

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design, by Frank Wilczek. This was very challenging for me. Wilczek makes physics as accessible as he can, I think, but my brain just doesn't process physics the way it is able to comprehend biology or chemistry, so I struggled with this.

And now I need more tea and cough drops. May you all be feeling better than this.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

a lengthy rant about women's work

In today's installment, we will be returning to the topic of "Beatrice: Worst Mother Ever", in two parts.

Part 1: I am a member of a couple mom groups on Facebook, and I also have many friends on social media who are stay-at-home-moms. (I know some families who have stay-at-home dads, but I am not friends with the dads and therefore don't get their perspectives.) And while this is thankfully not the case for most of the SAHMs I know, I can sometimes be blindsided by the gender dynamic inequalities I see in these relationships (from a biased, one-sided, and on-social-media POV, I know), and am frequently blindsided by the assumption from both parties that the woman will give up her career (possibly temporarily, I know) the instant she has a baby, no matter how much investment or passion went into said career.

The most stunning example I ever saw of this was actually in person, when I attended a barbeque at a co-worker's house and met his pregnant wife. She was in her first year of working as a psychiatrist, after nearly a decade of the school and residency and internships associated with such a career. And, in the context of explaining why she and her husband had to give up their plans to either redecorate or move, she literally shrugged her career and its potential earnings off with, "But I'm a mom now." As if this should have been the most obvious thing ever to her female listener - that it doesn't matter how hard you've worked, how much passion for the subject you must have had, how far in student loan debt you might be, how badly you need the income... you're a mom now. That's your job now. Period.

For all I know she may be planning to go back to work once her kid is six, or ten, or whatever. But it continues to blow my mind. Like, was this pregnancy completely unplanned or unwanted? Or did you actually go to med school and do your residency and internship believing the whole time that this was just a backup plan in case you turned out to be barren? There have got to be easier backup plans! Geez!

More disclaimers, now:

Not everyone is passionate about the job they end up in. I know. The "excuse" to stay home which is a child is surely a huge relief to some women.

Childcare is so insanely expensive that many women have to stay home for a few years at least, because their incomes wouldn't cover the cost. Believe me, I know: I live in the state which has the most expensive daycare rates in the country. I know it's not always a choice.

If you do have the choice, and you like your job and love the feelings of independence and validation that come from earning your own living and having an identity outside of "wife and mother", it's still going to be gut-wrenching either way. Perdita is in daycare fifty hours a week. She has been in daycare since she was eleven weeks old (though when she started she was only there about half that time). And I don't take that lightly. I think about it a lot.

But neither do I take my own needs lightly, and I know that without my career and without my own income, I would fall to pieces emotionally and mentally. I knew that going into this; I was never under any illusion that I would be fulfilled as a SAHM, even if it were financially feasible for us, which it emphatically isn't. But if Berowne made four times what he does, I would still be working. Maybe not full-time? Maybe we'd have a nanny instead of a daycare that's a long drive from home? Who knows. But I do know I'd still want to go in on Monday morning and dive into my tables and fields and formulas, and get a paycheck all my own. I absolutely would.

This is my personal experience, and the part about needing my own income has a lot to do with control and trust issues. It's not a judgement on anyone else.

But I am judging (okay, questioning) situations in which one partner has a monopoly on the "I worked hard earning all day" argument, and it results in things like only one parent getting up at night every night for two straight years, or the working parent refusing to take the baby for ten minutes when he (usually he) gets home, or both partners just assuming that if it's financially feasible then of course the woman will stay home after the baby's born, no matter her relationship to her career. I judge the hell out of the idea that the only reason both parents should work is if they have to, financially. Like I said above, I have to, financially, but I also have to, emotionally. And that needs to count, because no one would ever question that it counts for a man.

The phrase "I don't feel like a real man" is used when a man loses his job and his income. The phrase "I don't feel like a real woman" is used when a woman is unable to have children. This is bullshit.

And so I am appalled when I see (through a social media filter, I know) couples - most of whom are younger than Berowne and me, for Christ's sake - treating the woman's education and career as a backup plan. As something she can and should just set aside for ten years, which if it's in an area like technology or medicine is not going to work out (and in any area a ten-year gap in the CV is a disaster).

Every family is allowed to have its own priorities. No one should have to wax defensive for eleven paragraphs about the fact that she values her career (I will not say I prioritize it, because that would imply that I would have gone back to work even if the only daycare we found for Perdita was the unaccredited one located in a car repair shop [this is actually a real thing near us]). No one should have to wax defensive over wanting to stay at home with her small children either (or needing to because the only available daycare was in a car repair shop). But the priorities need to be a) the family's priorities, not those of one partner; and b) not based on possibly-unconscious and usually-gendered assumptions that one partner's abilities outside of the home are less valuable or important than the other's; and c) even if those priorities are agreed upon totally equally and with the best of intentions, if they then lead to inequalities within the relationship, they need to be revised. I don't care who's earning money, who's working "harder" during the day (subjective as hell anyway): you are both equal parents to the child(ren) and equal partners to each other and you both need to F'ING ACT LIKE IT. If somebody is NOT f'ing acting like it, and his (usually his) excuse is that he is the breadwinner, that is a BULLSHIT EXCUSE and he is a BULLSHIT FELLOW.

This is why both partners working full-time is actually one of the things about my marriage for which I am really grateful: when we all get home, Berowne and I are both tired and hungry and have spent all day dealing with bosses and co-workers and projects we didn't design and responsibilities on which money or safety are riding, and no one gets to play the "well, I earned money today" card, and so the childcare (and cooking and cleaning) just gets divided in a very matter-of-fact way. Also we both had access to bathroom breaks and leisurely coffee-making of which stay-at-home parents can only dream, and no one's sick of dealing with Perdita. It works out very well.

Part 2: (remember, this is about me being a terrible mother?): home due to pink-eye on Friday, I managed to get locked out of the house by the toddler, who threw the deadbolt while I was out in the yard trying to convince the dog to poop. I didn't even have my phone with me. Thank God a neighbor was home, and the fire department found an unlocked upstairs window through which they could get in, and the cop who lectured me on my terrible parenting (not after the fact, but while we were still standing in the driveway while my terrified toddler screamed for me) probably had good reasons for being such a turd. In any event, everyone is all right and I have already been telling the story for laughs, but it was a horrifying twenty minutes.

The books I have read since last posting:

Broken Harbor, by Tana French. Not as good as her others, but I still stayed up until midnight three nights in a row to finish it, because "her others" set a high bar. Pretty disturbing, of course.

The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy, by Bill Hayes. Good popular science / history, of the type I greatly enjoy. Very reminiscent of Mary Roach.

Half Empty, by David Rakoff. More essays, these ostensibly  about optimism but mostly just about Rakoff's personal experiences. I found him a more likeable voice in this one than I have in his other collections.

The Bones of Avalon, by Phil Rickman. Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth I's astrologer, goes looking for the remains of King Arthur. Overwrought prose and tedious plotting ensue. Not recommended.

Jackaby, by William Ritter. YA novel that's sort of a cross between Buffy and Libba Bray. Manages to have a spunky teenage heroine who is nonetheless sensible and good company, and some understatedly lovely writing. I will be reading the others in the series. 

I sincerely hope no one felt attacked by this post. It wasn't meant at all in that spirit. I just want everyone I know (or even merely encounter through FB mom groups) to feel validated and equal in their relationships, and sometimes what pops up through the ether makes me deeply depressed.

Full disclaimer (or Part 3): Berowne's occupation involves stretches between paying jobs, and on (I hope no more than) two or three occasions during said stretches I have played the "well, I earned money today" card, and he called me on the fact that that is a BULLSHIT EXCUSE as well he should have. My point: if your partner does this, it doesn't mean they're an irredeemably power-hungry jerk. But if you call them on it and nothing changes, that may be a different story.