Archive for January, 2007

I Was Drinking When I Wrote This

January 30, 2007

*Edited below! Because this post wasn’t quite long enough!

If you were cruising the mom-and-dad-o-sphere this past weekend, you no doubt became aware of the crime against sanity that was last week’s Today Show discussion on mothers who tipple (a discussion that included our very own Melissa and Stefanie). Apparently, mothers who drink alcohol in front of their children – any drink, any amount – are compromising the well-being of those children. From what I understand – not having seen the episode – we’re not talking martini binges or raging alcoholism here. We’re talking wine-coolers during playdates, a beer in the backyard, cocktails before dinner. We’re talking about the ordinary indulgences of a normal adult life.

Again, to be clear, I didn’t see the episode. I wouldn’t have known about it if discussion of it hadn’t exploded in our corner of the blogosphere, and everything that I do know about it has been gleaned from that (excellent) discussion. You can watch it, if you like, here. I simply can’t bring myself to watch; I’m certain that my head would explode from the nonsense of it all.

In any case, I don’t want to debate, here, the merits of the argument on either side. I was prepared to dismiss the discussion entirely; it was just, I thought, one more absurd scuffle in the ongoing effort to stir up controversy around and about moms. Ignore it, I thought. Let it die. But it’s been nagging at me, causing me to stare out of windows and furrow my brow and pick at my fingernails until my husband asks, are you worrying again? Yes, I’ve been worrying. But why?

Why why why… well, to begin, because this is not just about stirring up controversy on slow news days; this is not just another salvo in the so-called Mommy Wars. This kind of suggestion – that mothers need to watch their behaviour, that the terms of motherhood are a public concern, that we need, as a society, to keep watch on how mothering is done for the sake of the children – is a very old, very powerful, very dangerous suggestion. It is one that, if it evolves from suggestion to idea to value or norm or (god help us) policy, never brings any good to women.

The ancient Romans had a word for feminine virtue: pudicitia. They distinguished feminine virtue, pudicitia, from masculine virtue, virtu (which, if you’re interested, means, literally, manliness): virtu was public, and spirited; pudicitia was private, and reserved. Pudicitia was modesty, piety, devotion to home; to be pudica was to follow a carefully prescribed set of norms and values that served the greater interest of home and family. This, according to the Romans, was absolutely integral to the well-being of the state – not least because children were understood to be future citizens. Any negative influence might corrupt these future citizens, and any such corruption would aim straight at the heart of the community. For this reason (among others relating to the integrity of home and family v.v. the larger community), the behaviour of women as wives and mothers needed to be circumscribed and constrained. Tightly constrained. And it wasn’t law that effected the tightest constraints – it was social pressure. (This, many commentators have said, was the particular genius of the Roman republic.)

Talking about the treatment of women under the Romans might seem to be just so much pedantic digging on my part – it was, after all, a very long time ago, and a very different social and political culture. But the example of the Romans – and their understanding of the necessary distinctions between public and private virtue, and the health of the private (the family) as necessary to the health of the public – had a tremendous influence on modern political thought, on republican political thought. And it should be clear to anyone who follows debates about motherhood that a very strong whiff of these ideas lingers over our heads.

We speak in slightly different terms, of course. For us, it’s all about what is best for the children, qua children: is stay-at-home-motherhood best for the children? Are happy, fulfilled parents – working or otherwise – best for the children? This is all fine, as matters of debate – for the most part, I think, reasonable people agree that happy, secure families can come in a variety of forms. There’s no real danger of anyone seriously suggesting that women be made to stay home, because it’s clear to reasonable people that stay-at-home-motherhood isn’t necessary to the well-being of children nor to the integrity of the family. Phew.

But doesn’t it become a slightly different story – a slightly more dangerous story – when we wander into the specifics of the behaviour of motherhood? We wouldn’t seriously propose that all families organize themselves in the exact same way, regardless of our personal opinions concerning the merits and disadvantages of SAH/WAH/WAH models, because we recognize that every family faces different circumstances, has different needs, etc. etc. There’s plenty of space to get relativist about the big questions. But when it comes to the little questions – should mothers (and it is, always, always mothers; that’s another issue entirely) avoid specific behaviours, avoid exposing their children to certain influences? – I think that we are more inclined to get prescriptively judgmental (mothers should do this, should not do that). And when certain judgments achieve some broad concensus, they may well become social pressures.

It’s tempting to dismiss this particular, and hopefully marginal, judgment – the purported risk to children posed by mothers sipping chardonnay at playdates – as harmless. No reasonable adult would agree that responsible consumption of alcohol corrupts children, right? But this argument got airtime – Today Show airtime – and it was, from I understand, flogged pretty seriously, and ‘reasonable’ arguments ignored or dismissed. And therein lays a problem: ‘reason’ gets suspended, sometimes, when we talk about what’s best for children. There’s such emotive force to the question, does this put our children at risk? Don’t we all feel, deeply, in our guts, that when there’s any question of possible danger to children, we need to set aside issues of our own personal interests and preferences and address that question as fully as possible? That the safety and well-being of our children trumps any other concern – including the concern to protect our own quote-unquote right to do what we want? What if it could be demonstrated that exposure to moderate drinking has a negative effect upon children? What then? Mightn’t we all close ranks and tut-tut-tut those women who persist in selfishly pursuing their own pleasures at cost to their children?

Women who buy Bratz Dolls for their daughters are, for example, amply tutted in certain circles. I have certainly been guilty of tutting on the issue of the sexualization of young children because I take it to be self-evident that toys and ads and such that promote early sexuality are potentially harmful to children. I’ll admit, under pressure, that in my heart of hearts I wish that there would be stronger social pressure against this. I wish that mothers would feel socially constrained to not dress little girls up in tarty outfits. But isn’t this just so much hypocrisy, given my frustration with those who would tut-tut social drinkers? If the difference is only that I feel strongly that I am right in my opinions (that I am convinced that mine are not opinions, but expressions of fact), and that those opinions should prevail, isn’t there something illiberal – anti-liberal – about my position?

Isn’t there, maybe, a slippery slope from my argument that tarty clothes and Bratz Dolls for toddlers are potentially harmful to the argument that mothers should watch how they themselves dress? How many sexual partners they should have, if they are not married or partnered? How much physical affection a parent couple should demonstrate in front of their children? Doesn’t the line between what I think is reasonable and what I think is absurd in matters of social judgment threaten to run pretty short?

My main point is this: in prescriptively judging each other, in insisting upon certain sanctities in the realm of motherhood and the family, we risk enclosing ourselves much more securely than any Roman ever imagined. This is what alarms me about the Today Show propogating its judgment against mothers indulging in a little social drinking. But I’m also alarmed by the possibility that I might be complicit in exactly this sort of judgment: that however much I might bleat my own defense – I’m not saying that mothers who buy Bratz dolls for their kids are BAD; I’m just saying that I wouldn’t do it myself (she said as she slurped her martini) – I am, end of the day, judging, and, maybe, quietly wishing that everyone would make judgments a little bit more in line with my own.

And that, my friends, is what drives me to drink. Sic semper tyrannus.

*Late-breaking edit. Joy said this in the comments: “if we say ‘mothers should not judge one another. period.’ doesn’t that have a certain flattening effect? doesn’t this type of moral relativism deflate activism and debate and not allow us to critique one another or certain ideals?” Yes, and yes – there was a whole digression in this post, at one point, on whether a certain variety of judgment is desirable and even necessary, but the post was already – ahem – long enough. So I guess that there’ll have to be a part two. But in the meantime, what do you think? Shouldn’t some space be preserved for judgment (even, or perhaps especially, for judgments we don’t like), just to keep debate alive?

Naissance

January 28, 2007

Yesterday was my blog birthday. This blog is one year old.

I know that most people like to call it an anniversary, or a blogiversary, but I really prefer to think of it as a sort of birth. One without the pain and the drugs and the torn-up hoo-hah, but a birthday nonetheless. One year ago yesterday, I created something. I took part of myself and made something of it and thrust it out into the world. I gave something birth. That thing was, is, this blog.

I’m not going to get all cheesy and call it my baby. It’s not my baby. This is my baby:


But it is possible to give birth to other things – things, works, states of being – things that are not babies, not even, colloquially, ‘our babies’ (such a mother, so literalonly a baby can be one’s ‘baby’), things that are nonetheless much beloved, much treasured, the products of much work.

This is what I said, one year ago. This was the first yell, the first red-cheeked holler that announced new life: welcome to the first day of the rest of my life.

My life.

I was referring, specifically, to the day of WonderBaby’s birth, the day that I became a mother, the day that my universe changed, the day that I changed, forever. But I might have been referring to the day at hand, the day of the birth of the blog. Because that day was also a day of transformation, a day of fundamental change. It was the day that I decided to tell my stories. It was the day that I became (again? for once and for all?) a writer, because it was the day that I leapt – blindly, happily – into my love of writing and stayed there. Swam there, splashed there, frolicked there. I’m still there – sometimes frolicking, sometimes dog-paddling, sometimes floating on my back, resting tired arms, but still – still – there. (Waterbabywriterbaby. Writerbaby? Uck. Writer, baby.)

What I gave birth to: a new (a rediscovered?) part of myself, a new (found?) identity. ‘Her Bad Mother’ (the name came late, as names often do) is me – me-the-mother, of course, but more fundamentally, me-the-writer.

I’m thinking about that a lot these days, about this transformation, this (re?)birth. How do I nurture this work, this thing, this me? I don’t quite know how to mother this creation. I’m learning as I go. I’m making mistakes, I think, but I don’t mind my errors. I’m learning. I don’t know how this work will turn out, but for the moment, that doesn’t matter. The joy is in the doing.

And, of course, always, the inspiration… there is joy, so much joy, in celebrating the inspiration, that which gave (who did give) this breath…

Then.

Now.

I don’t know where this goes. It doesn’t matter. It can only be good.

Cheers, and thanks for sharing this year with me.

Bad on Bad

January 26, 2007


I was not, as a child, overly fond of Beatrix Potter books. I did like the witty renderings of hedgehogs in waistcoats and ducks sipping tea and rabbits losing their trousers, but the stories were, I felt, either excessively dull (Jeremy Fisher the frog is unsuccessful in catching the lunch that he has planned for his friends but it all ends well because they bring salad!) or excessively alarming (Squirrel Nutkin narrowly escapes being skinned by an owl! Peter Rabbit narrowly escapes being speared by a pitchfork!)

I didn’t usually mind being alarmed – one of my very favorite stories was the tale of Three Billy Goats’ Gruff, which is nothing if not harrowing – but there was something about Beatrix Potter’s stories that took all of the fun out of being alarmed. The moralistic finger-wagging (if you don’t listen to your mother you might end up cooked in a stew! if you’re too mouthy you might end up skinned by an owl!) was just a little too overt, a little too gleeful. Every mishap that occurred in Potter’s anthropomorphized countryside was the direct result of disobedience and deliquency. If you are a bad little bunny (or squirrel, or mouse, or, presumably, butterfly – what sin did the butterfly commit who ended up in Jeremy Fisher’s sandwich?), bad things will happen to you. Very bad things.

Now, Potter was certainly not the first to wring morals from her stories – storytelling has been used for moral education for as long as stories have been told (bad Eve for taking that apple!) I think that the thing I resented about the Potter books, as a child, was that the moral was so obvious, and so heavy-handed. See the bunny! See the bunny be bad! See the terrified bunny face death! See the terrified, exhausted bunny crawl home in shame to his mother! What was worst, in a way, was the fact that every recalcitrant little creature narrowly escaped his fate, only to be reduced to a silent, quivering, figure of shame. They didn’t escape, like Br’er Rabbit, by their wit, or by some inner strength, or through some redemptive transformation of character – they escaped by the skin of their teeth, through some accident, and survived to be ashamed. Not only will you face terrible, horrible things – death! torture! – if you are bad, you will face terrible, horrible things and then crawl home, ashamed, and be sent to bed without dinner and made to think about what you’ve done.

It isn’t quite the same thing when, in Hans Christian Anderson’s story about the girl who trod on the loaf, a vain and selfish little girl becomes the architect of her own terrible doom. It isn’t quite the same thing, in part, because the fate of the girl (becoming petrified in the loaf that she steps in to save her shoes from becoming soiled) is appropriate to her sins (vanity, selfishness, childish cruelty.) Reading the story, as a child, I recall wishing, fervently, that Inger wouldn’t be so terrible, that she would recognize the wisdom in her mother’s assertion that she will bring about her own misfortune. I can recall, too, feeling my heart contract as Inger faces the moment of her redemption, as she confronts – too late! so tragically too late! – and repents the error of her ways. The danger in the story really is moral danger – it’s the not the alarmingly banal danger of errors in judgment made in a world full of nasty owls and farmers with pitchforks. The danger in Peter Rabbit’s story is the danger that comes with not wearing a helmet on your tricycle and venturing beyond the border of your driveway – and then very nearly getting flattened by a speeding bus. It alarms more than it frightens. The danger in Inger’s story, on the other hand, is terrifying because it is clearly a danger that threatens her very soul, and a danger that she herself creates, and unwittingly embraces. I was haunted by the story, as a little girl – haunted and thrilled and deliciously, terribly, terrified.

The story of the girl who trod on a loaf and the tale of Peter Rabbit are very different kinds of stories, obviously; the tale of Peter Rabbit is, after all, a tale for the very young. But I can’t help but think, now, as a mother, that the moral lessons I wish to teach WonderBaby (that’s another post entirely) should – even in her babyhood – reach somewhat beyond bad things happen to bad bunnies!

In any case, if I do decide to pursue alarmist moral lessons, I will choose one of Potter’s lesser-known works, The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit, which, I think you’ll agree, makes the bad-is-as-bad-does argument much more clearly:

This is a fierce bad rabbit…

This is a man with a gun…

…This is what happens.

Any questions?

Served with whine

January 24, 2007


The other week, after I had written that post about parental vanity, I remarked to my husband that I was a bit concerned about ending that post on a down note. It was hard, I said to him after publishing the post, to find a way to end that discussion without getting all sad and low and woe-is-me…

‘Sad and low and woe-is-me’? he replied, his tongue not-quite-firmly-in-cheek. Isn’t that your thing? Your SHTICK?

Ouch.

My mother likes to tell me that I’ve always been a worrier. But I’m not, ordinarily, constantly all tied up in knots about whither this and whence that? and what the fuck am I doing? I’m not, ordinarily, a big fat mess of anxiety and angst and worry.

Parenthood, however, has ripped out my heart and my guts and my nerves and scattered these across the nursery floor and this has rendered me – understandably, I think – somewhat more vulnerable. Still, even with this heightened and deepened vulnerability, I consider myself to be a fairly emotionally-balanced human being. Sure, I cry more, wring my hands more, press my fists into my temples more often – but on the whole, I’m pretty together. (Right? Right?)

Whatever the case, the picture is always going to be skewed here, on this blog, because this is the place where I vent and rant and rave. Where I – ahem – write. Because despite all of my efforts to focus my writing here, to really use this place as a forum for exercising my writing muscles, I invariably end up writing posts about about how I’m feeling. About what’s bothering me. About all the issues – big and small – that I’m wringing my hands about. This blog has become therapy. You have, like it or not, become my therapists.

I’ve been feeling a little bit uncomfortable about this. I’ve written about this discomfort before; I won’t belabour the issue here. I’ll just say – I’m a bit uncomfortable. Part of this discomfort has to do with the not-altogether-pleasant feeling that I’m doing a little bit too much dwelling on certain issues (To worry or not to worry about declining naps, that is the question/Whither ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the pains of outrageous sleep habits/Or take arms against this troubled sleep). It is possible, I think, that I might be more inclined to just let some issues go if I did not have a forum in which to drag these issues for flogging again and again and again…

Then again, I might have already driven myself insane with the effort of containing all of these issues within the confines of one tired brain, if I hadn’t had this outlet.

I am, for the moment, comforting myself with the latter idea. Therapy is good – no? – even if one never intended to lay bare one’s soul for therapizing (wd? sp?). So I’m trying to chill out a little bit about the hand-wringing. I’ll probably feel better once I get back into the groove of visiting other blogs and lending an ear to other hand-wringers. I’ve been so remiss in this lately, for which I apologize. I’ve been visiting, but not talking. I need to get talking again… that’s what drew me into this community in the first place: the conversation. And the first step toward really good, really fruitful conversation comes with relaxing one’s guard, letting go of one’s full preoccupation with one’s own issues (not to mention, letting go of one’s preoccupation with one’s preoccupation with one’s own issues, holy hell) and saying what one really thinks and feels so that one can learn what others really think and feel. Relaxing, speaking and listening.

So… Hi! I’m Her Bad Mother, and I’m a bit of a basket case these days! A lot of a basket case! Stressed, and tired! In love with my daughter, but getting my ass kicked by her, and by motherhood generally!

How are you?


Pho-ning it in…

January 22, 2007

I had, I promise you, all manner of fascinating anecdote and deep thought to share with you this weekend, but I am, simply, TOO TIRED.

So you will just have to make do, for today, with this little piece of WonderBaby trivia: her current favourite food – preferred over such adored, but lesser, delicacies as blueberries, yogourt, cheese (old cheddar), tofu and cake – is pho. With chopsticks.

Moments later, she lifted the bowl and attempted to slurp all of the brothy goodness from the bottom, most of which ended up pouring down her front and into her diaper instead. A messy but noble effort.

Why am I sharing this? No reason. I can wring no special significance, no commentary on childhood or parenting or culture, from this particularly piece of trivia. There is no obvious poetry here, no obvious point of departure for philosophic reflection on the beautiful mess that is babyhood, childhood, family.

Just this baby, this mess, this joy. A snapshot, or three, of these.

That’s all, for now.

Putting Things To Rest

January 19, 2007

It is widely agreed, among our friends and family, that WonderBaby looks a lot like me. There’s a lot of Her Bad Father in her (her height, her cheeky smile, something about the curve of her brow), but at first glance the resemblance is most obviously to me, her mother: she has (as they say) my eyes, my ears; her colouring is mine, as is her big round head. (She also has my freakishly long spider-monkey toes, but most people never see those.)

Certainly, if you were to look at baby pictures of me, and baby pictures of WonderBaby, you’d see a striking resemblance:

Which is the be-wigged child of the seventies? And which the WonderBaby?

Of course, when Her Bad Father and I talk about what characteristics WonderBaby owes to us, we’re more likely to discuss the quirks of her character than we are the colour of her hair or the curve of her cheek or the prehensile reach of her toes. We’re more likely to discuss whether her giggle is mine, or her frown his; her love of books from me, her physical strength from him. We argue, lightly, about whether her stubbornness is due to me, or due to him, and we wonder aloud about how it came to be that two such (ordinarily) reserved people spawned such a spirited, gregarious child.

There is, of course, much that can be said about the question of nature versus nurture in the development of children; it would take multiple posts, I think, for me to sort through the questions and ideas that I have about the variety of influences that bear upon WonderBaby’s development. The question that I have right now, however, is pretty specific: is it possible that children – babies – inherit from their parents, or from one or the other parent, their inclinations with regard to sleep? To food? To those things that we ordinarily regard as habits?

Sleep habits, eating habits – these are certainly shaped by a variety of influences, too numerous to list here. And I have no doubt that these ‘habits’ can be formed or reformed, to some extent, through all manner of intervention. But is it possible that these are also, to some degree, bred in the bone? That the extent to which they can be reformed is limited, to some degree, by nature – by an inherited nature? Or, simply, by a nature that asserts itself regardless of source?

I guess that this is just another way of asking: when it comes to certain issues – say, one’s 14 month old baby being pretty set in her ways with regard to certain tendencies in the arena of, say, sleep (like, say, being resistant to having any during daylight hours) – is there a point at which you need to say, okay, fine, she’s just like that, and roll with it?

And add, perhaps, by way of explanation: just like her mother?

I’ve never been what is usually called a ‘good sleeper.’ My mother tells me that she was nearly driven insane by my refusal, in infancy and beyond, to take naps. (She resorted, on the advice of her doctor, to sedatives. For me. Aah, the seventies! Dope the babies!) I’ve been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. And, I cannot make myself sleep during daylight hours, unless I am so physically bagged that I have no choice in the matter (after, for example, weeks of restless insomniac nights filled with endless Law and Order re-runs.) I’m a bad sleeper. Always have been.

Then again, does one ever really sleep easily near a rack of guns?

So when I fret and tear my hair about WonderBaby’s sleep habits, am I, really, fretting uselessly, about something that is bred in the bone? Something that cannot be changed, or only changed with tremendously difficulty? We have, after all, tried everything: we’ve Sears-ed and BabyWhispered and Weissbluthed and Ferberized until we were blue in the face. And still, nothing changes: the best case scenario (which is, I admit, a pretty good case) is that WonderBaby sleeps 12 to 13 hours at night and then only cat-naps during the day; the worst case (the one that has prevailed over the last couple of weeks) is that she wakes during the night and still forgoes the daytime naps. Which is, I needn’t tell you again, a little bit frustrating.

This isn’t yet another plea for help. On the contrary: I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that this is just the way it is. Not as a matter of surrender, but as a matter of being realistic, and being respectful of WonderBaby’s nature. Perhaps not every baby can be a quote-unquote good sleeper (another post in itself – what is a “good” sleeper, anyway, and why is that the gold standard?); perhaps not every baby can be ‘made’ to cleave to the ideal standard of sleep. Perhaps I should be grateful that, under ordinary circumstances, WonderBaby sleeps so well at night. If she is getting, end of the day, the sleep that she needs, who am I to say how she gets that sleep?

Of course, I am the parent. She is the baby. It is my responsibility to make sure that her needs are met; it is my responsibility to make sure that her diet is healthy, that she is kept safe, that she sleeps. But is it my responsibility to make sure that she does those things according to a certain model? To insist upon that? Is it even right to insist upon ‘models’?

I’m just looking for permission, I guess, to let certain issues go. To relax my grip on certain ideals, certain standards. To stop bemoaning the absence of the conventional nap in our household, for my own – our own – peace of mind, and, perhaps, so that I will be more accepting of the absence of the conventional anything in the future. Although it is, perhaps, not permission, so much as affirmation, that I’m seeking: that it’s okay to relax. Go with the flow, so far as is reasonable.

This isn’t, then, so much about whether so-called sleep ‘habits’ might be hereditary, or inscribed by nature, as it is about whether it’s okay for me to chill out, for me to shrug my shoulders, just a little, and say, maybe, that’s just how it is… to focus on the question of whether I can, she can, we can live with how things are, and go from there…

Because I have a feeling that that will be so much more restful…

Yes.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

January 16, 2007

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re having trouble sleeping around here. But I have to say: it’s not so much the lack of sleep that is weighing heavily upon me (although that lack is a weight uncomfortably borne), as it is the realization, for the gazillionth time, that I have no idea what I’m doing, as a mother.

This really is the most difficult thing about being a parent, I think: no matter how far you come, how much you learn, you’re never fully prepared for what comes next. You can’t predict, you can’t foresee, you don’t know what is around the corner. Sure, your baby sleeps fine now, but will she sleep tomorrow? Next week? Your routine works today, it’s worked for months and months, you got past that swaddling issue (sooo last year), your baby goes down nicely in her crib and sleeps through the night and you’re so pleased, you’ve figured it all out, you can sit back and take a deep breath and relax. And even though you know that parenting, that life with a child, is an ever-changing landscape – or, rather, a sea upon which your boat cruises pleasantly until the next change of current, the next phase of the moon, the next perfect storm – even though you know this, you are always surprised when the change comes. You expect it, you know to expect it – so why is it always such a surprise?

WonderBaby is, as I think I might have mentioned before, an active baby. A spirited baby. She gave up voluntarily napping in her crib at about nine months of age, just before she started walking on her own. That surprised me, because she had, for at least five months, napped so well. And I was so dependent upon those naps, upon what I believed to be the accomplishment, all mine, of making the naps happen, because she was so active when awake, because there was no rest when she was awake. So when it all stopped – when she decided, contrary to my wishes, that the lovely, lengthy crib naps should stop – I was thrown. Overboard, without a life preserver.

But I adapted; we changed course. I periodically test the crib-nap waters (because they were so calm, so blissful), but WonderBaby resists that navigation, so we make do in the choppier waters of stroller-naps. Not so bad, I tell myself: at least she sleeps through the night. At night, the sails go down easily. Night-time is usually entirely predictable, excepting the infrequent storms of teething or night-terrors. That is, it was entirely predictable until the chicken-pox hit during our visit to BC, followed by storms of jet-lag and cutting molars and god knows what else.

WonderBaby has only slept through the night twice since Christmas. And she still doesn’t go down for a nap during the day without a bitter fight (and then, still, only in the stroller or car-seat.) We’re getting pretty tired around here. But as I said above, it’s really not so much the tired that’s getting to me as it is the discomfort that attends not knowing what to do now, and the frustration that attends facing, unprepared, unpredicted winds and tides. I thought that I had the sleep portion of this voyage all mapped out. It appears that I didn’t. And now I feel, well, just fucked.

But I’ve been here before, more than a few times. And since I’ve been keeping a log of the voyage, I’m able to go back and see how I coped. Way back in April, when we hit a perfect sleep storm (transitioning WonderBaby into the crib while weaning her from the swaddle, holy hell), I took solace in Socrates

The ancient Greeks had a word (I said) to describe the condition of being at a loss: aporia, άπορία, from a poros, which means, roughly, to be without a passage or a way. It is to be without direction, without resources, to have no way out. It is ordinarily used in a philosophic context: the Socratic stance is the aporetic stance, the assertion and demonstration that one does not meaningfully know what one thinks one knows; that one is, in fact, at a loss with regards to the thing that she thinks she knows, and so in the condition of aporia. From this, it is hoped, one will be filled with the desire to pursue knowledge of that thing (and, if one is truly philosophic, the desire to pursue knowledge more generally and fully.) Aporia, then, from a Socratic perspective, from the perspective of the philosopher, is a good thing…

This Bad Mother, however, doesn’t have the time or the inclination to savour the philosophical condition of aporia. This Bad Mother has no interest in elenchically interrogating the nature or character of sleep as it pertains to babies. This Bad Mother would very much like to smack hard any character – even if that character is a voice in her own head, which admittedly makes smacking difficult, if not impossible – that tells her that real understanding comes with knowing that she does not know. Because this Bad Mother needs more sleep and she needed it yesterday.

Which is to say: I’ve spent a great deal of time looking for that elusive knowledge, the Secret Code of Babycare, that wisdom that will light the way out of the cave and out into the sun-drenched world of predictable schedules and consistent and abundant sleep. I’ve been looking for a Way Out.

I haven’t found it. But stay with me.

So we’ve had a few rough nights – very rough nights – recently. The whole sleep thing suddenly, although not entirely unexpectedly, went tits up: WonderBaby outgrew, literally overnight, both her bassinet and her swaddle. And Her Bad Parents, despite all of the fretting and hand-wringing about whither the swaddle, did not have a plan in place for adapting to these new circumstances. What used to work, and all that we thought we understood about baby sleep, has been revealed as nonsensical, useless crap. Welcome to Mommy Aporia…

(Here I go on to bitch and moan and pontificate about the horrors of the swaddle-bust and the discomforts of bed-sharing and the nightmare that is ‘crying-it-out’ with a baby that can cry LOUD and HARD for HOURS. I’ll spare you; you can review the details in the original post, if you like.)

…It hasn’t been easy, and I expect that the next few days will continue to be challenging. But there is progress. And where there is progress, there is hope.

Again, this is all entirely experimental. We know that we will continue to face challenges, that some of the above strategies may be misguided, that they will fail. We’re totally winging it, going with what works, with what is practicable, with what feels right. It’s all that we can do. But by doing so, by following our guts and acting on our well-considered instincts, I feel that we’re gaining something, that we are no longer entirely at a loss. And maybe, just maybe – lack of sleep aside – coming to love this whole messed-up, mapless journey. We’re in this together, the three of us: this is family. Blind, fumbling, loving family. I don’t know why, but somehow the ‘blind’ and the ‘fumbling’ seem to have everything to do with the ‘loving’ and the ‘family.’

So I still have no idea what the fuck we are doing, but I’ve come to understand (however reluctantly) that I cannot simply think my way through the challenges that new motherhood throws at me. Motherhood – parenthood – is, I think, all aporia. And it is not the aporia that can be met by philosophy. This aporia is a condition that can only be met by the gut, and the heart. It’s the no-way-out that you come to love because you love – with whatever difficulty – the struggle that defines what’s within.

It’s taking some time, and some work, but I’m coming to understand it. I think…

I have to take these words to heart, now. Recite them to myself as I lay me down to sleep, as I wish good sleep for WonderBaby, as we navigate together the days and nights of our family life. I have to remind myself that the one thing that I always have, always know, is love. Because love’s the only map, the only guidebook, the only means of navigation that I have, on this voyage.

And then came the awkward silence…

January 15, 2007

So I asked – nay, demanded – that you all come out of the virtual woodwork and introduce yourselves, insisting that this whole virtual salon/discussion-circle/cocktail-party blog thing will be oh so much more fun if I know who you are, if we’re all just a little bit more acquainted, and you all (most of you – yes, I see you black-clad, anti-social lurkers over there in the corner smoking your cigarettes and trying to be invisible) gamely stepped forward and submitted to the cute-but-sort-of-annoying little party game that was National Delurking Week, and then what?

Nothing.

I, your hostess in the HBM-corner of this big blog-party, have nothing to say. And now we’re all just standing around uncomfortably, the big hey-how-are-ya! grins plastered awkwardly on our faces and I’m supposed to say something, post something, anything, to keep this conversation going but whaddya know? I got nothin.’

OK, maaaybe I’ve got a Gratuitous WonderBabyPhoto ’round here somewhere…

To be more precise, I’ve got nothing that I can summon the energy to offer. Tell a story? Share an anecdote? Make an impassioned/reflective/pedantic argument about life, the universe and everything? Sorry. Can’t. I’ve got plenty that I could talk about, but we’ve been following a strict no-sleep regimen around here (the better to keep up with the short-burst baby races and the long-distance speed-toddling and the free-style table climbing and all the other events that fill our napless days) and I’m really only capable of sotto voce cursing and muttering and, for variety, threatening my husband. Motherhood – or what seems to me to be extreme motherhood – is, at the moment, turning me into a cranky, sloppy, sleep-deprived bitch.

And nobody likes a bitch. At least, not up close.

So I’ll spare you. I’m going to excuse myself from the party for a night or two to (try to) catch up on my sleep. While I’m gone, discuss amongst yourselves one or two or all of the following:

1) Tried and true methods for getting turbo-charged babies/toddlers to a) nap, b) sleep through the night, or c) both;
2) Tried and true methods for getting Mommy back to sleep after baby has woken at 1am and demanded, successfully, to be moved into the parental bed and is kicking Mommy in the head with restless baby feet and/or is thumping Mommy on the head with grotty stuffed frog and/or is yelling Hi! Cat! Hi! Cat! at Daddy’s hairy feet;
3) Warm milk/hot bath, liquor or sleeping pills?
4) Britney Spears: comedy or tragedy?

Delurk Now, Or Next Time It’s A Fire Helmet and Slicker

January 13, 2007

Okay, so? I am actually sort of embarassed to admit this, but this whole blogosphere-wide DELURK NOW OR COWER IN SHAME peer-pressure effort to bring lurkers out of the woodwork is really kind of fun. Not the shaming part (not that shaming can’t be good fun), but the fact that it seems to be working. I mentioned National Delurking Week in a post-script to my last post, and presto! New friends! Is it really that easy? All I have to do is wave at you and beg for a response and you’ll say hello?

Cooool.

(Waving!)

(Waving frantically!)

(YOO HOO! Lurkers! Please say hi! I crave attention and approval!)

(Also, if you don’t say hi or at least wave frantically back at me, I will be forced to find more creative ways of exploiting my child photographically so that you will be compelled to leave comments saying OMG-she’s-so-cute!)

(Like, what if I put her in a fuzzy pink jacket and make her put on a giant pair of zebra-print galoshes? Will that do the trick?)

(Make.)

(It.)

(Stop.)

Please. For the love of WonderBaby, say hello.

********

Oh, and? It’s my sister’s birthday. It’s been tough year after tough year for her, and I want more than anything for her to feel a little joy. She won’t be reading this post today, or even tomorrow, but she will someday, and when she does, I want her to know that on this day, I was sending out a wish for such joy for her, and that I was sharing that wish with you, my friends.

Happy Birthday, C. We’re wishing on the all the stars in the sky for your happiness, and for your peace.

A Pox On Me

January 10, 2007

Edits! Edits! Yonder, below!

WonderBaby has, happily, recovered from her pox. A few small red marks here and there, but otherwise back to normal.

Funny thing, pox. In archaic usage, the term sometimes referred to misfortune or calamity, and it certainly seemed to me to be exactly that when first the spots began to appear on the flawlessly butter-soft skin of my baby. My sweet, sweet baby was sick, uncomfortable and disfigured by countless angry sores – the very depth of calamity, to my anxious maternal mind. And yet perfect strangers – pharmacist, doctor, random persons at check-out counters – insisted to me that we were oh so lucky. Such a good time for her get chickenpox, they said. Best to get them as a baby. Get it over with! Avoid the vaccine!

Hurrah, I muttered weakly in response, clutching my poxy baby to my chest, fingers fluttering over the persistent sores scattered across the back of her sparsely-haired head. Hurrah for me, I thought. And, fuck you. In those moments, I found it hard to conceive of the pestilence as luck. In those moments, all that I could think was, my baby is sick and uncomfortable and has sores all over her tiny body and this is supposed to be a vacation and that, my friends, does not feel like luck to me.

Now that it’s over, of course, I can wax authoritative on the character of our luck – look at how nicely her pox have healed! How quickly! How fortunate are we that she will not have to go through this when she is older! And: how lucky we are that there will be one less terrifying needle, one less icky injection of yuck into her pristine, chubby little thigh! I can forget, now, how frustrated I was; I can forget how I winced in sympathetic discomfort as she rubbed her face furiously with her (mercifully plush) toy frog, I can forget how tears pricked my eyes when she woke in the night, moaning and whimpering, squirming in her itchy condition.

But what I cannot forget is this: that some people recoiled from her, turned away from her spotty, poxy aspect, averted their eyes from her disfigured countenance. We were travelling, we had no choice but to take her into public spaces for refuelling, for diaper changes, for fresh air. And when we stepped into such spaces, she would, as is her wont, wave furiously at all and sundry, calling, eh-oh, eh-oh, HI! Summoning attention, demanding smiles, reaching out into the world for More! More! Happy! Smiles! And! Waves! And although there was often some kind soul, some sympathetic parent or grandparent who understood, who recognized immediately her condition, and gaily waved and cooed back at my gregarious girl, there was, too, always someone else – too often, multiple someone else’s – who blinked and stared and then looked away, discomfited by the little face with the mask of red spots.

WonderBaby, unaware of the curious social dynamic unfurling around her, would keep waving and calling, until distracted by her sippy cup, or a crayon, or some four-legged creature that she would, invariably, and loudly and proudly, declare to be a cat. I, meanwhile, bit my tongue and pressed my fingernails into my palms to keep from shouting at these people: she’s a baby, she has chickenpox, you can’t catch it from a smile or a wave.

I bit my tongue.

Later, spending the New Year with good friends, I mentioned these uncomfortable moments. Oh! my dear friend exclaimed, a lesson in vanity! And I replied – echoing, if memory serves, her exclamation – yes!

She was right, I thought at the time. A lesson in vanity. She meant WonderBaby, of course; she meant that WonderBaby had had her first lesson in the limitations of charm, in the disappointment that vanity can wreak when it renders us (as it always does) vulnerable to the opinions of others. But when I thought about it later, I realized: this was not a lesson in vanity for WonderBaby. It was a lesson in vanity for me.

WonderBaby is a gregarious baby. She seeks social intercourse wherever she goes, and she usually finds it. But she’s no stranger to the turned shoulder, the averted eye: there are a great many disdainers of children in the big city, people upon whom the tremendous charms of a WonderBaby have no effect. She has waved furiously and futilely at many a Scrooge and many a Grinch on the subway, in the cafe, in the restaurant, in all of the public spaces that we frequent. And she has always, always, taken this rejection with an admirable aplomb: You don’t see me! Oh well! On to the next person! Hi! You! Eh-oh!

Hi! Cat!

I, of course, upon witnessing this, have many times cursed the child-haters under my breath for their shallowness of spirit (a shallowness of spirit that surely must attend such frigidity in the face of such innocent charm, no?) But I never took it personally; I can understand that some people don’t like children, are irritated by babies, piqued by kittens and puppies, etc, etc. Whatever. I did, however, take it personally when it seemed that my child was being rejected because of her appearance, because of some apparent disfigurement, because she didn’t look ‘right.’ It bothered me that some people were looking at her and thinking what is wrong with that baby? and not what an adorable baby! More than once, when we ventured out of our rental minivan, did I pull her cap down as far as it would go, down over her cheeks, so that the spots would be less visible. More than once did I insist to my husband that we not linger at this gas stop or that drive-thru, because WonderBaby was trying to be social and people were turning away and it was hurting my feelings.

The vanity being hurt was mine. I have grown accustomed to having an attractive baby, a quote-unquote normal baby, a baby with big eyes and a big smile who loves to laugh and smile and wave. I have grown accustomed to the oohs and aahs and coos and clucks of admiration. I have become a vain mother. And I am, I have to say, ashamed of myself for this.

WonderBaby didn’t care. Oh, sure, she would prefer that everyone and their dog (although she would call that dog a cat) respond to her greetings, to her invitations to chat and play, but she doesn’t take it personally when they don’t. What she seems to understand intuitively (I don’t know what follows to be perfectly true, but allow me the indulgence of speculation): that it’s about them, not her, if they don’t respond. She has not yet developed what Rousseau called amour propre – love of one’s own, in the sense of loving one’s own position/status/reputation viz. others. Vanity. WonderBaby still enjoys the happiness of pure amour de soi. She has not yet developed vanity; she loves only to be happy in herself, and being happy in herself is blissfully easy, as it requires nothing from the opinions of others. Love, be loved, live – that’s all.

So simple, so brilliant, so out of reach for a corrupt adult like myself, a woman who does indeed value the opinions of others, who measures so much of her own worth on the scale of such opinion. And, clearly, a mother who measures so much of her own maternal worth on the scale of such opinion. Which is, to some extent, unavoidable, I think, but still: how frivolous to have even an iota of that measure influenced by opinions about my daughter’s looks.

How vain. How dangerous.

I know that this issue is more complicated than I am presenting it here: I was reacting as much on the basis of my own vulnerability in the face of WonderBaby’s illness, my own fears about being persecuted (however quietly) for having a chickenpox-ridden baby out public (however unavoidable on my part), my own fierce desire to protect my weakened child from any measure of badness in the world. I was being a mother. But I wasn’t just being a mother – I was being a vain mother. I was, in those difficult, painful moments, viewing my daughter through the eyes of these small-souled strangers, these limited human beings who turn away from anything that is not pleasing, not normal (oh, the discomfort of asking myself, truthfully, whether I have so looked away!) In those moments, the vain mother in me saw only what they saw: the spots, only the spots. In those moments – however fleeting – I was blind to her pure, beautiful glow. And that makes me sad.

A mother should see only the glow. Only, ever, the glow.

Mothers – parents – should be blind to the apparent, superficial beauty of their children; they should be blinded by the glow of the true beauty of their children; they should see only this glow; this glow, and only this glow, illuminates what is truly lovely about every child, and casts opinion into shadow. We should do – I should do – but it’s hard. We are, after all, only human. We are, for that, always, in some measure, vain. The lesson, then?

Look for the glow, behold the glow – but invest in hats.

********

There are some great takes on the subject of love and beauty and parental vanity over at Mad Hatter’s place, and at Meg Fowler’s, too. Do check them out. And if you know of anyone else who has taken this subject, drop me a comment and let me know. I’m behind on my blog reading and am missing stuff all over the place, so help a girl out…

Speaking of which… apparently it’s, like, National Delurking Week and that means that you are contractually obliged (it’s in the fine print of the social contract, trust me) to delurk and say hello. I’ll get you started – HELLO! I’m Her Bad Mother! And you are…?