Archive for February, 2009

And On The Seven-Hundredth Day, She Rested

February 27, 2009

Sleep has come to our household.

Sleep has come to our household.

I’m reluctant to say too much about it, or even to explain it (let’s just say that a combination of doctorly advice and husbandly heroism and sheer desperation and luck and blessedness probably have much to do with it.) I am terrified that if I even say the words aloud – sleep, glorious sleep, how I have missed you! – the gods will be quick to smite me for my arrogance and ingratitude. So I am reserving any commentary on this issue until I am reasonably certain that the gods are no longer paying attention, or until I have banked enough sleep that it doesn’t matter if they take it away from me again.

Because, sleep. Is precious. I want to hold it close and never let it go. So, don’t ask me how I accomplished this, what deity I prayed to, what divine strings I had to pull. Also, consider making sacrifices on my behalf. I hear that burnt offerings of 700-thread count Egyptian cotton bedsheets are particularly effective with the lesser Olympian gods.

Not shown: lesser Olympian gods.

In the meantime… my body has become convinced that it is going into hibernation (understandable, really: why else would it suddenly, after nearly a year of never sleeping more than two to three hours at a stretch, find itself curled up in a den of quilts, laying completely, uninterruptedly still for almost seven hours? Two nights in a row? I would make the same mistake) and I find myself wandering around in a sponge-brained, stumble-clutz zombie state, fighting off sleepiness at every moment of the day. Is this normal? Does this pass? And more importantly: is there a cure for this, other than actually, you know, hibernating, which is not option because 24 hours/day minus 7 hours sleeping = 17 hours, during which I’m still on duty. Are multiple shots of expresso my only recourse, or does someone out there have a cure for sleep-induced narcolepsy?

(Listen to me, asking for remedies to ward off sleep. I must be dreaming.)

Unicorns and Sparkles And Spandex And Rollerskates

February 26, 2009

This is what you’re in for if you support our bid for a Room Of Our Own at BlogHer. I promise:

You think I’m joking? I’m so not.

(Go to this page – you need to login to BlogHer – and click on the link at the top of the page that says, I Would Attend This Session. You don’t have to actually attend. You don’t even have to be planning to attend BlogHer at all. But if you would attend, if you could – and believe me, you should – then click. Because there will be unicorns. And sparkles.)

Good Girls (Don’t) Wear Underpants

February 24, 2009

My daughter is a nudist. She is an unrepentant clothes-doffing, underwear-eschewing, bum-baring, breeze-loving, parts-showing nudist. It’s sort of awesome, but also a little disconcerting.

She doesn’t try to leave the house naked, although she has, in the heat of summer, had more than one naked spree in the yard. She just prefers, while indoors, to conduct her day without clothing. Which, you know, I sort of understand. Sort of. If I was a compact little person and did not fear knocking over coffee mugs with my pendulous boobs, I might enjoy doffing my clothing while going about my day. But I’m not a compact little person, and I might knock over coffee mugs with my pendulous boobs and, also, frighten any passers-by who might look in the windows. So it’s just not for me. But for Emilia? It’s simply the best condition in which to pass one’s time.

So it is that she watches television naked, plays the piano naked, paints pictures naked, reads stories naked, does yoga naked (seriously), dances naked, eats cookies naked, and discourses on the superiority of Diego to Dora and Grover to Elmo and DJ Lance to Barney naked. Which, as I said, is sort of awesome, in a Platonic perfection of the forms kind of way (anyone who has ever doubted the classical argument that there is such a thing as the perfect form of any actual or abstract thing need, I think, only consider the tiny perfect physical form of a very young human being to be convinced that there is some force to that argument.) But it’s also a little disconcerting. We are – I am – accustomed to moving through life clothed, for the most part. To all of sudden be accompanied, always (in the home, at least), by a tiny little naked being is a disruption of my usual way of doing things. It is to be thrust, suddenly, into a landscape that bears no small resemblance to an all-toddler performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, full of naked sprites wearing funny hats and masks and giggling maniacally.

It’s a little strange.

I love that my daughter so exults in her physical being, that she is so unreservedly comfortable with her physical self. And yet I catch myself, sometimes, pestering her about sweaters and socks and underpants. Aren’t you cold? I ask. Would you like to put on socks? And, where are your underpants? Let’s put on underpants, shall we? You love your underpants!

And she rolls her eyes at me and says, no.

No, they’re lost.

No, they blew off.

No, because my pachina can’t breathe.

No, because my pachina gets scared in the dark.

No, because Swiper stole them.

All of which are entirely reasonable explanations for the absence of underpants, I suppose, but still: that she finds it necessary to justify her nudity to me – and that she demonstrates no end of creativity in coming up with such justifications – makes me feel, I don’t know, a little guilty? When I pester her about putting something on – sweater, socks, underpants – I worry that I am nudging the boundaries of shaming. That she feels compelled to defend her choice to be naked, that she constructs ever more elaborate explanations for shunning underwear (my pachina gets scared in the dark!) – is that evidence that she struggles under the gaze of an over-anxious, prudish mother? Am I sending the wrong message (naked is wrong, naked is bad, naked is not how we live, good girls don’t get naked, good girls wear underpants), even though I don’t intend to send that message, even though I don’t want to send that message?

I don’t worry about her becoming a lifelong nudist. I worry about her getting cold. I also worry about her peeing on the couch, which hasn’t happened yet, but still: one particularly engrossing episode of Global Grover and all the Scotchguard in the world won’t save our off-white sofa. I don’t worry about her being too fond of nudity. I don’t know that it’s possible to be over-fond of one’s own nudity. Her pleasure in her own nakedness is, I think, lovely. I love she loves her own skin, that she is most comfortable in the raw, that she curls up like a hairless cat on the sofa and tucks her feet under her bum and snuggles against her blankie and then waves one tiny hand imperiously to demand a cookie and some milk, both of which taste undeniably better when the crumbs and dribbles can roll down one’s bare chest and get caught in one’s navel. I love that she loves her little self, that she exults in her physicality, that she takes joy in feeling the heat from the fireplace warm her naked bottom, or the scratch of the wool rug against her bare belly, or the soft curve of the sofa pillows against the skin of her back. I love that she is so unabashedly, physically she. So I resolve to not worry about shame or unshame and to just let her be.

But if she pees on my couch, those underpants are going on with duct tape.

Love Knows No Tact

February 23, 2009


Me: So? What do you think?

Husband: Does it say, belongs to Kyle?

Me: No. It means, love knows no order.

Husband: Not, belongs to Kyle?

Me: No.

Husband: I suppose I can live with it.

Mama Went To Texas And…

February 21, 2009


One thing led to another, and… well, you know.

Ink was spilled.

Dark/Light

February 19, 2009

I wrote the other day that babies are hard on a marriage. I also said that babies bring couples closer together, that they create a new space of love in which a couple can really plumb the depths of intimacy and attachment and feeling. I said that my husband and I love our lives as parents, that we would not trade this for anything – but that got lost, a little, under the weight of my worry and my strain.

I hope that I did not frighten anyone who wonders what it will be like to have children, or more children. (I say that I hope, but I know, because I was told, that some were made afraid. I’m sorry for this, a little.) I hope that none of my posts cause such fear, or that if they cause fear, it is only momentary, and reflective. I’ve only ever intended that my writing be honest, that it tell a true story. And the true story of motherhood is that it is hard, very hard, sometimes almost too hard.

Almost.

Almost, but not quite. It is never – for me – too hard, because there is always this: the saving power of the love that I feel for my children, my joy in their beauty and their brilliance, my passion and my affection for my husband who is now so much more than husband, so much more man, so much more human, than I ever imagined he could be (and yet, at the same time, so exactly how I imagined.)

So: if the stories that I tell here are sometimes sad or dark or wistful or fearful or filled with anxiety, well, that’s because that’s the truth of many of my stories. But I hope that it is also clear that there is happiness here. That although I am tired (so tired) and I am fitful, I am also happy.

(Doubt it? I have this. Have no doubt that there is much happiness, much laughter, in my life.)

Most of you who are parents, you understand this. Those of you who are not parents, you might understand this, too. If you understand that all things related to love can be complicated, and difficult, you understand this. Or you will. I hope that you will.

The Amazing Survivor Race Challenge: Parenting Edition

February 17, 2009

Babies are hard on a marriage.

It’s sort of ironic, really, seeing as babies are so often understood (rightly or wrongly) to represent core bonds of a life partnership, but still: for every measure of centripetal force that they exert upon a relationship and bind partners more closely, babies exert a half measure – maybe more – of centrifugal force, pulling those partners away from their center. It’s true. If I understood Newtonian physics well enough to explain it fully, I would, but I don’t, so just trust me on this: babies bring couples closer together and pull them apart in a million teeny tiny and not so teeny tiny ways, and the yank and tug of this phenomenon can exert an uncomfortable pressure upon a spousal partnership.

Pets do not have this effect, I’ve noticed, possibly because you can just put them out in the yard when they start to get difficult. You cannot do this with babies. When caring for babies gets difficult, you can only turn to your partner (if you have one – I cannot begin to address single parenthood here, other than to say that I have NO IDEA how people do that. Superheroes, seriously) and negotiate some means of coping and hope to hell that you can figure this shit out together. So when the moments come – and they do come – when you realize that you are not figuring this shit out together – that you’re either not figuring it out together, or you’re not figuring it out, period – it can be hard. You can put it down to lack of sleep, to lack of alone time, to sheer exhaustion, but it still feels the same: you’re struggling. And you’re not always struggling together. And in those moments when you’re struggling apart… those moments feel isolating. Lonely.

The first baby isn’t – I don’t think – as hard on the relationship as the second: with your first baby, the novelty of the situation can cause you to overlook or ignore the fact that you and your spouse are almost never together alone, that you almost never sleep, that your romantic dinners for two have become mac-and-cheese for three, that your bed has become the gathering place for a tangle of toddler and toys and cats. The first baby can be a great romantic quest, like backpacking together through Europe – full of all variety of trials and discomforts, but nonetheless an adventure, one that is full of new experiences that you are sharing! Together! So who cares if the hostels are crowded or you’re eating bad food or the pack on your back is crippling you with its weight? You’re having an adventure together, and it is awesome.

But when the second baby comes along, you’ve been there and done that and sent the postcards and you’re just not as open to feeling romantic about this whole journey as a quote-unquote adventure. The novelty has worn off. The hostel conditions – the noise, the squalor, the bathroom shared with too many other, messy people – no longer represent adventure, and their effect on you – sleeplessness, disorientation – is harder to bear. You’re still thrilled to be doing this again – you love so much about this journey – but you’re older now, and more tired, and the sleepless nights and bad food wear you down so much more quickly and so you look at each other and you both wonder why the other hasn’t booked you into a plush hotel already.

And this is where everything – including the extended travel metaphor – breaks down, because there are no plush hotels in New Parentland. New Parentland is not a backpacker’s Europe; it’s not even the outer reaches of the former Soviet Union, where at least they have beds and a limitless supply of vodka. New Parentland is more like a deserted island. It’s survival conditions, no matter who you are, unless you have the means and the foresight to have brought an entourage that will attend to your basic needs and forage for your food. There’s no straightforward solution to your discomfort here; there are no resources beyond what you can gather and/or jerryrig together. Neither you nor your travelling companion has it within their power to make things easy. With the first child, if you’re lucky, this is like Blue Lagoon: you’re so enthralled with the romance of the situation that you don’t care that you are – figuratively – wearing loincloths and drinking out of coconuts. You might even find that kind of thing sexy. But by the time you’re on baby number two? The loincloths are starting to feel scratchy and you’re sunburnt and sleeping on the sand is making your back hurt and that other person is eating your coconut, dammit. You are on Survivor: Child Island and it’s only a matter of time before you turn on each other.

My husband and I haven’t turned on each other (*knocks wood*), and we wouldn’t reverse the steps that brought us here to our own, personal Child Island. We find pleasure in this place; we bask in the sunshine here. But still: we find it challenging, coping with the hardship. I find it challenging. Once the chores are done and the children are tended to and this place falls silent, I am so exhausted, so spent and worn, that I want only to crawl under the blankets and escape – with a book, with some Ativan – and rest and I know that he experiences this as a withdrawal. But then I – perversely – resent him for experiencing it as withdrawal. I’m so tired, I tell myself. This is so hard. He should get that. I tell him that this is so hard and that I am so tired and he tells me that he is tired too and instead of feeling sympathy, I feel frustration. It’s harder for me, I think, and the resentment starts to burble. And then I catch myself and tell myself that hard is hard is hard and just because I have spent whole days and nights on my own wrangling our two creatures and lived to tell about it doesn’t mean that he can manage the same thing and in any case he gets up at night and first thing in the morning with the baby, right? And then I think, maybe if we just had some time together, just the two of us – or better, what if I had some time for me, just me, alone, and THEN we had some together just the two of us ?- but then I immediately think, why doesn’t he make that happen? Why must it be ME?

And then I worry us about turning on each other. I worry about even considering the possibility that we might turn on each other, because once upon a time – in the carefree days before we embarked upon this strange and wonderful and impossibly challenging journey – I would not have imagined for a second that we could turn on each other, that we could be anything other than perfect allies. (This is the tragic innocence, to borrow another pop culture analogy, of couples on the Amazing Race; the bluster behind their bold claims, before running a single step, of being a brilliant team, of knowing that they’ll work together perfectly, masterfully, that they will, as a unit, dominate the race. This bluster invariably end in shouts and tears in the empty corridors of this airport or across the field of that Road Block challenge, and we the audience murmur, from the security of our armchairs, that we knew that they would fall apart and, also, that wouldn’t happen to us.) We are allies, my husband and I, we are, but that I doubt our alliance for even a second weighs upon me heavily, presses the air from my lungs.

It weighs upon me, because how could I feel any doubt? He is wonderful, my husband, really wonderful, and I love him so much and am so, so lucky to have him as my partner. But, still, also, there is this: I am tired, and I want to be carried, just for a little while, just until I get my strength back. And this is where the doubt resides: in my fear that he might be getting tired of carrying me, that although I know he will give me his last coconut, he might resent doing so. That I might resent his resenting doing so. That that resentment might build, and that we’ll end up yelling at each other across the crowded airport corridor that is family life or turning on each other in our own personal Tribal Council. That I want a day off, alone, just by myself, just taking care of myself, more than I want a day alone with my husband – and that I want him to want that – hurts my heart, in a way, because I do want time alone with him, just me and him, with no children attached to our bodies and no cries ringing in our ears, time to reinforce our alliance, our team, so that we can continue to endure the challenges of this island, this race, this reality, with grace and humor. I really, really do. I just need to be rested first. I just need to be carried for a while, or allowed to stop and rest.

We’ve come this far together. We know that our alliance, our partnership, is the key to everything. Our alliance, and maybe a few naps, some liquor and an all-expenses-paid holiday somewhere warm, with soft beds and babysitters and, yes, coconuts.

That’s all.

You Know You’re A Redneck Parent When…

February 13, 2009

1) You’ve bathed your kid in a bucket.

2) You’ve answered the door with no shirt on and your nursing bra flaps down.

3) You’ve carried your baby around Nashville with paper towels stuffed down his pants because you forgot diapers and he crapped himself in Jack’s BBQ and oh god they just don’t sell diapers in downtown Nashville and please, please, does anyone have a maxipad even???


4) You put your baby in cowboy boots and a Willie Nelson onesie for a New York Times photo shoot. We have MAD REDNECK CRED ’round here, yo.

(Now, go here and tell me how you know that you’re a Redneck. Because we should all aspire to be like this lady.) (Yeah, that means put comments there – it’s a Redneck Round-Up, y’all!)

Who’s The Dummy, Mummy?

February 10, 2009

Rachel Cooke thinks that I’m a dummy. Okay, maybe not me specifically, but women like me. Women who talk or write incessantly about their children and their experience as mothers. Women who, when asked how they’re doing, launch into a extended narrative about sleeplessness and breastfeeding and hormones and Xanax. Women who are – how did she put it? – “boring, selfish, smug and obsessed with motherhood.”

Like I said: women like me.

“Once upon a time,” says Cooke, “educated women fought to separate their identities from the ideal of mother, knowing that until the two came to be seen as wholly distinct they would never be taken seriously; and, in any case, who wants to be defined by only one aspect of their life? In the past decade, however, a growing number of women have reverted, 50s-style, to identifying themselves primarily, vociferously, and sometimes exclusively, as mothers. They fetishise childbirth, and obsess about all that follows it, in a way that is almost, if not quite, beyond satire, and which makes me feel a bit sick.”

Which, whatever. So she’s not interested in mothers; I can live with that. I wasn’t all that interested in motherhood before I became a mother, either. But there’s a very great difference between lacking an interest in a subject and asserting that any discussion or celebration of that subject is somehow subversive of broader social goods. That someone, anyone, lacks an interest in the motherhood does not mean that the celebration of motherhood or extensive discourse on the subject of motherhood represent broader social problems for which mothers should be held responsible. I mean, seriously. I’m not interested in hip-hop, but would it make sense for me to say, on that basis, that pop-cultural attention to hip-hop is fetishistic and sick-making? I’ve certainly had the experience – pre-motherhood – of being trapped in conversations with women who went on at length about the details of childrearing and wondering how I was a) going to escape, and b) scrub my brain of the mental image of mustard poo, but I’ve also had that very same experience with people who only want to talk about politics (an occupational hazard as a former academic specializing in political philosophy) or cats or global warming. The fact that those subjects, in excess, cause my eyes to roll back in my head does not mean that anyone who is passionate about those things is an out-of-control fetishist. It only means that I am not interested.

Like any reflective bigot, Ms. Cooke asserts that she is not attacking all mothers – some her best friends are mothers! but they’re, like, the smart kind who you don’t mind hanging out with! – just the smug, stupid mothers who talk too much about being mothers. Because, you know, it’s not that mothers as a community are sickening in their fetishistic attachment to the terms and trappings of motherhood. It’s that so many of them are, and Ms. Cooke is starting to find it overwhelming. Can’t we all just shut up already about childbirth and our children and everything having to do with our children? Don’t we realize that the more we talk about this stuff, the more stupid and smug and selfish and Stepford we sound? Can’t we see that we are setting women back? And, also, nauseating everybody in the process?

This is what is, to me, most hateful about Cooke’s diatribe: the assertion that there is not only something unseemly and uninteresting about the discourse of motherhood, but also something fundamentally unfeminist about it. This is Linda Hirschmann Lite: devotion to motherhood is somehow not deserving of respect, because it limits – limits – women to a life experience that has been dictated, in some part, by the terms of their biology. This is biology-as-destiny, this is femininity-as-enclosure: this is what prevents us from being free, like, men, to do whatever we want. This is an old feminist argument (one, if you’re interested, that has roots in Marx), that women need to be liberated from their biological destinies – from the almost-inevitable biological condition of motherhood – so that they might work and contribute to society like men, because only then do they meaningfully contribute to society, only then are they members in full, only then are they interesting.

This is bullshit. Women do not become free by rejecting motherhood, by ignoring motherhood, by keeping the stories of motherhood hidden behind the veil, the wall, the enclosures of the private sphere. Women become free, in some significant part, by celebrating motherhood – by celebrating parenthood (men love their children too, you know, and some might even choose to make parenting their primary occupation, if it were more generally accepted and recognized as important work) – by demanding that it be as valued a part of civil society as politics and business and the arts and, you know, whatever else people like Rachel Cooke and Linda Hirschmann deem to be important and interesting. Celebrating motherhood doesn’t mean that every woman must choose motherhood as part of her life experience – we celebrate all variety of callings, without insisting that any of them are necessary for every individual’s self-fulfillment – it only means that we all of us recognize that mothering – parenting – and all that it involves is important work. Which means, in turn, we recognize discourse on those subjects as important discourse.

This is not to say, of course, that every anecdote about poo explosions in public places or every detailed explanation of the effects of sleep deprivation on the post-partum mother is in itself a critically important contribution to public discourse. It is to say, rather, that the sum of these stories is important: that in telling these stories, and in recognizing these stories as legitimate and important, we are sharing – we are making public, we are lifting the veil on – the experience of motherhood and demanding that it be taken seriously as something that contributes to – that is, arguably, the backbone of – civil society. Not every one of these stories will be interesting to everyone; many will be interesting only to a very few. But they are our stories, the stories of our parenthood. And we are, in telling these stories, telling each other – telling other mothers, telling fathers, telling future mothers and fathers – that there is no need to be (and every harm in being) isolated in one’s experience of parenthood. We are telling each other that there is community in parenthood, and that such community should be sought out and embraced.

Cooke summarizes her argument with this statement: “all this droning on about baby and toddler world is not, in the long run, doing any of us any good. For me, and many other women, it’s boring and selfish, and it implicitly casts judgment on the way we choose to live our lives.” I’m sorry that she feels that way. I, for one, am quite capable of listening to my husband’s colleagues drone on about the TV industry without feeling like I’m being judged for not being in that industry. I am also, for that matter, quite capable of listening to childless friends talk about their careers and their active social lives and their travel adventures without feeling as though they pity me for always having a baby strapped to my chest. If she feels judged, that’s her issue, not a larger social problem that needs to be nipped in the bud. Indeed, as I’ve said above, this compulsion to silence mothers, to insist to them that their stories are not worthy of sharing in public spaces, to demand that they just shut up already about their silly children and their silly fascination with organic baby food and sleep training and post-partum depression – this is the larger social problem. It’s a terrible social problem. It does more to keep women silenced and isolated than pretty much anything else I can think of.

So if anyone should just shut up already and stop complaining and judging and holding women back with her need to control what women talk about… well, you know who you are.

/rant.

(Thanks to Karen for the tip on the story. Funny how she knew just exactly what would make my head explode.)

A Thousand Words

February 9, 2009
Jasper at Blissdom Conference, Nashville, February 2009


How he looks in that photo? That’s how I felt at Blissdom this weekend. Bemused, fascinated, rumpled. Bright-eyed despite the sleeplessness. Happy to be in thick of things despite feeling, at times, overwhelmed.

It was lovely. I’m exhausted and at a loss as to how to describe such a weekend of friendship – old and new – and ideas and laughter – so much laughter – and outlaw diaper changing and sleepless nights with teething babies and cowboy boots and did I mention friends?

Maybe after I nap. Maybe not. Sometimes, it’s okay to be without words. And in any case, that picture is worth a thousand.

(Now, am going to sleep for hours and hours and hours and hours. And dream of cowboy boots and babies and Little Debbie’s Yellow Cake and sweet Nashville sunshine. Night-night)

*Gorgeoustastic photo by the extraordinarily talented and sweet-as-pie Will.