Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Talk, Talk

When Rob got home from work, Westley spent a good half hour telling him about his day. Two days ago, Westley was mixing a few "ba" and "ma" sounds in with his usual oohs. Now, it's full-on conversation-style babble.

"Baaeekishooooh."

"Really, dude?"

"Mababaleekish-spfffffft. Hee-ooh."

And so on. It's like listening to a message in code, where all the H's are swapped with F's, and the vowels are interchanged according to some complex numeric system. I'm pretty sure there's English in there somewhere, but I'd need a NASA supercomputer to decode it.

It's the greatest sound in the world.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Let The Son Shine In


Sometimes it's strange to me that I have faith.

Faith is not something I ever really thought I'd have. I find it easy to accept that Jesus was a nice guy who lived some large number of years ago, and who said some important things concerning the loving of enemies and the praying-for of persecutors. I have much more trouble wrapping my mind around Jesus as the Son of God, who came from heaven to be with us, and teach us, and die for us. I'm actually a terrible candidate for faith in that respect; I want to "get it." But faith was something that I wanted desperately, even before I knew I wanted it.

So I work on it. I became Catholic my senior year of college, and then promptly married a staunch nontheist two months later. I went to Mass on Saturday evenings while he went to tabletop gaming tournaments. And it sucked, and I was kind of pissed about being there by myself. And sometimes I still get kind of pissed. But I work on it, because faith is important to me, and being jealous of other people's Christian families is a perfect reflection of me totally missing Jesus' point.

Rob and I are officially Christian parents now, which is totally bizarre, since Rob isn't Christian and I've been going through an agnostic phase since Westley was born. (I wanted Westley's birth to be a big Newmanist experience, where Jesus, Mary, and the saints all huddled around and made their presence known, and maybe they were there, but I felt nothing. Nothing spiritual, at least. No deus ex vagina.) But I don't think there's a right way to go about having faith. Having faith means working through uncertainty, and trusting that experience. I look forward to sharing that with my own sweet son.

Westley was baptized yesterday, and it was fabulous. Our parish's wonderful, much-loved retired priest was, coincidentally, pulled out of retirement for that particular Mass. Westley commented a few times during the homily, but never cried. I managed not to dissolve into a tearful, mascara-streaked mess. Thank God.

You have put on Christ,
in him you have been baptized.
Alleluia, alleluia!

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Scopophobia

I'm not used to people staring at me. Or strangers talking to me. I've never been the girl who people stare at or strangers talk to (unless they're slightly scary, possibly crazy strangers). But whenever I'm anywhere with Westley, I feel people looking. And it kind of makes me feel weird.

I can't blame people for looking. Westley is beautiful. He's alert. His eyes are enormous. And he's happy to smile and babble at almost anyone, provided they smiled at him first. But when people look at him--especially if he's not attached to me in a baby carrier--I feel a rush of creep-outedness that I can't really explain. It's not exactly the animal-instinct, protective Mama-Bear thing, but I'm sure that's part of it. It's more like embarrassment, coupled with the sensation of suddenly finding myself in the spotlight but not knowing how I got on stage in the first place. I thought tonight was just the dress rehearsal.

My relationship with being looked at is problematic. I grew up in Los Angeles, where looking--in all senses of the word--is heightened, and the Imaginary Audience is real. I was never one of the skinny, beautiful people. I wasn't good enough. Therefore, being looked at was not for me, and I tried to get used to that. I didn't trust the occasional person who did look, since they must be selling something, or trying to make me think they thought I was beautiful while silently pointing and laughing at my ugliness... Growing up in a place that nurtures adolescent paranoia can give even the most secure person hang-ups about looking, her looks, being looked at.

Now that I have a baby, people are definitely looking. They crane their necks to see under the stroller sun shade, or stare at him around the straps of the front pack. Many of them smile kindly at me, but I'm too uncomfortable to enjoy the attention I thought I always wanted.

Yesterday, I was changing Westley's diaper in a public restroom, when a woman started looking over my shoulder at him.

"Wow, what a cutie!"

I didn't look up. "Thanks."

"How old is he?"

"Uh...almost six months."

"Wow, he's really thriving!"

What the hell does she mean by that? "Ha ha...uh huh." I mean, I guess he is, but...what the hell does she mean by that?

"How big was he when he was born?"

Oh fuck, this is a weight thing. "Thriving" is her clever euphemism for "fat." She thinks he's too big for his age.

I couldn't remember Westley's birth weight. "About...7, uh, 7 pounds...12 ounce-, no, 7 pounds, 14 ounces."

"Wow, almost 8 pounds!"

At this point, my mother stepped out of a stall and struck up a conversation with the woman about the baby. I never took my eyes off him, and tried to remember to close up the travel-size baby powder before stuffing it back in my bag.

Sometimes I can't believe that my mind is capable of turning a kind stranger's smalltalk into concerns over my baby's weight. This isn't just about my growing up surrounded by movie stars and models. Having a baby seems to have unearthed a multitude of phobias I didn't know were still there.

The past two or three times that someone unfamiliar has talked to him, Westley has smiled at first and then looked up at me with a puzzled expression. He's too little to be doing any social referencing; I think he's just confirming that, no, Mommy is over there--this is someone new. I smile at him and tell him, "Yeah, it's okay, dude. You can say 'hi.'" My smile seems to make him feel safe, and it makes me feel not unsafe.

I want to protect Westley from creepy strangers selling lies. But more than that, I desperately want to protect him from my insecurity.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Looking Out for Number Two

I never thought I would be feeling nostalgia over poop. While I do fondly remember one time in Vegas where I think I emptied the entirety of my intestines in one fell poop and it was awesome, I had no idea that it was possible to have that heavenward-gaze, deep-sigh, those-were-the-days relationship with fecal matter.

And then I started Westley on solid food.

Good Lord. My sweet-smelling baby is now a tiny man person, foul smells and all. A full diaper is more than just messy. Gone are the days of simple, digested milk poo. Now, things are sticky and smelly, and inconsistent. It used to be that almost every diaper was a double feature. Very predictable, the same plot over and over, unless I'd eaten a lot of broccoli. Now, each diaper change has the makings of a tiny suspense horror film. It's Jaws. We know the shark is coming, but we still jump when we actually see it.

Fortunately, Westley's ever-expanding diet means that poop is no longer aerodynamic. Thing #35,761 I wish I'd known in advance: milk poo can rocket across the room. I haven't had to wipe down the wall next to the changing table recently. Chalk one up for the new Number Two.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Rubies

As of yesterday, my parents have been married for 40 years.

Forty years. When I say it, it's like the longest thing I've ever heard. I can read about how dinosaurs roamed the Earth nine-hundred scillion years ago, and psh, whatever. Because nine-hundred scillion or eighty hojillion or whatever the actual dinosaur number is isn't a human number. No one can see that many years. But forty? Forty is a long time.

People thought my parents were too young to get married in the first place, and they definitely seem to young to have been a couple for so long.

My only other direct experience with couples who have been together forever and ever amen was on the honeymoon cruise that Rob's parents gave us as a wedding present. I was combing through the little booklet that all of the passengers receive that details the cruise events and activities. One of the scheduled activities was a get-together for newlywed couples and couples who were celebrating their 50th (or higher) anniversary. We acknowledged that we might be getting into something really lame, but decided to go because, well, why not? And I have a soft spot for old married couples.

Let me tell you, these folks were glad to see us. We were the last couple to arrive, and the only newlywed couple in the group. We sat with five old married couples and drank champagne for an hour. They were amused to hear that we'd corresponded through e-mail before meeting in person. I was astonished to hear that every single one of the men had been a member of the United States military.

My dad was in the Navy when he and my mother were engaged. She wanted him to wear his dress blues to their wedding. He wore a tux with a blue jacket instead. Forty years ago.

After our meet-and-greet with ten sixty- and seventy-somethings, Rob and I walked around the ship. We found live music in one of the many bar areas; a pianist was playing something by Cole Porter. It might even have been "You're the Top," which we danced to at our wedding. I don't remember. We were the only couple on the dance floor for a long time. I tired to imagine us dancing together 50 years later.

"For our fiftieth anniversary, let's take a cruise," I said.

"Sounds fun. And we can pass on our wisdom to some newlyweds."

"They'll be scandalised that we met via e-mail."

"Totally."

For our fiftieth anniversary... It seemed impossible to imagine, but sounded right somehow. And my mom and dad are most of the way there.

I'm proud of my parents and what they've achieved in their marriage. Not the longevity of their relationship, per se, but the work they've put into it to get this far. Because a good, long-lasting relationship means busting your ass. You have to be willing to grow and change. You have to be willing to not get all of what you want, and not get your way, and make peace with disappointment.

Somewhere in all of that ass-busting, there's something very precious. Because a good, long-lasting relationship also means experiencing someone else's life along with your own. Telling stories together, side-by-side, overlapping and interrupting in places. And suddenly 40 years doesn't seem like such a long time after all.

As of tomorrow, my parents will have been married for 40 years and 2 days...

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Early Bird, Night Owl

Rob gets up in the morning two hours before I do, and he's been asleep for hours when I finally get to bed at night. I've almost always been more or less a morning person, while Rob prefers the evening, so we're doing our schedules backwards. But I have to work around Westley, and Rob has to work around work.

It's hard to feel any sort of connection to the person you're living with when you see so little of each other and your schedules are so out of sync. Most of the time we have together during week days is taken up by cooking dinner, eating dinner, cleaning up from dinner, and feed-the-baby-change-the-baby-soothe-the-baby. Sometimes we drink wine and laugh in front of The Daily Show. Sometimes I just snap at him.

When Rob went back to work after Westley was born, I kind of lost track of why I liked him. He'd come home tired and I'd be mad at him for it, because I had a hard day, too, thankyouverymuch, and wasn't he supposed to be energized by leaving the house and doing a job he loves? It seemed unfair for this grown man to have needs when I'd been busy with a fussy meatloaf child for hours and wasn't done yet. Rob and I didn't see each other long enough to get past all of the "I'm tired"s and sloughing off of the day.

I'm trying to get better about appreciating the short time we have together during the week. It means making sure my blood sugar isn't shot before I try to have a conversation with him, and remembering that he doesn't over stuff the baby's dresser or not pick up the cat hair bunnies on purpose to annoy me. It's a new kind of time management, and I'm not used to it yet. I still feel like my Wife coat clashes with my Mom hat.

Rob is asleep as I write this. When I get into bed, I'll inevitably disturb Ursula, who suddenly decided to start sleeping with us again a few months ago. Rob will be woken up by the cat walking on him and realize that I'm there, and we'll have one of our surrealist conversations wherein I'm much more alert than he is. It will probably include some version of the exchange we have almost every night.

"You're wide awake."

"Yeah. You sound tired."

In the morning, I'll just hear the front door close as he leaves. If I hear him at all. It's like having a very quiet roommate. Being someone's mother and someone else's partner is a strange feeling and a difficult balancing act, especially when the two adult parties are out of sync. A partnership passing in the night...

At this point, I'm doing a pretty good job getting to know my son. I need to get to know my husband all over again.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shower to the People

I'm becoming a fan of the other baby shower. The shower-with-your-baby shower.

For the past couple of weeks, I've given up trying to get Westley really clean while he's sitting in his plastic tub sitter suction-cups-on-the-bottom thingy. It's great for helping him sit up in the bathtub, but he spends most of his bath teething on the plastic ring, and when he really wants to teethe on something, it can be hard to distract him long enough to wash the dried-on milky drool off of his neck.

Plastic tub sitter suction-cups-on-the-bottom thingy -- great for playing, bad for bathing.

The baby bathtub is permanently stationed in the garage, since he's been too tall to fit in it for months now. And I never really liked bathing in the sink. It seemed strange and wrong to be washing a tiny person in the same place that dirty dishes end up. So showers it is.

I thought showering with a baby would be kind of scary. Babies are slippery when they're wet, and even slipperier when they're wet and soapy. I've had nightmare visions of dropping Westley since Day One. But the first time I brought him into the shower with me, he held on to my shoulder like a little monkey, and I was actually able to get him reasonably clean. And it was so easy and he came out smelling so nice that we did it again the next day, and the next.

Now, he knows the drill. He plays on the bathroom floor while I quickly wash my hair, and then I pick him up and bring him back into the shower with me. He leans on me and sucks the water off my shoulder while I wash him, and then he plays with the water, reaching out to try to grab the drops, or putting his face under the spray and blinking. When we're finished, I set him down on a giant pile of towels on the bathroom floor and quickly wrap him up like a big terrycloth burrito. I dry him off on our big bed while singing a just-made-up Drying Off Song (the lyrics usually go, "Dry, dry, dry / dry, dry, dry..."). We laugh through the whole process, unless one of us accidentally gets water up his nose.

Because I like to borrow trouble, I'm already sad for the day when Westley is too grown-up to shower perched on my chest like a baby chimp. It sucks that some day shower time won't be play time any more. But until then, it's easily my favorite part of the day. Nothing beats warm water and a happy, cooing little dude first thing in the morning.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

This Shit is Pajamas (P-A-J-A-M-A-S)

I think I own half a pair of pajamas. I have a pair of pink lounge pants with watermelon slices on them, which I wear to bed with worn-out tank tops. Westley, on the other hand, has about eighty hojillion pairs of pajamas.

OMG! Pajama-spolsion!

I'm up to my elbows in pajamas ranging in size from teeny-tiny to smallish. It's time to start sorting through the old baby clothes and decide what I want to pack up and save and what I want to send on (or in some cases, send back) to Goodwill.

Until recently, Westley wore pajamas almost exclusively. Day or night, out in the world or around the house, it didn't matter. Pajamas are warm, and dressing the baby in them means not having to deal with baby socks. Of course babies look cute in eensy "real" clothes, but pants are such a hassle, especially with a onesie and a giant cloth diaper underneath.

But somewhere between the social smiling and the losing of the birth hair and gaining of the real hair (if see-through blond duck fluff hair counts as "real"), Westley got to the point where pajamas in public seem wrong. He's no longer an tiny babe; he's got head control and an inquisitive stare and seriously chubby thighs. He's a big, grown-up baby and he should be wearing real clothes during the day. And it turns out, not all baby pants are created equal.

Some baby pants have snaps up the inseam, eliminating the Mom vs. 6M-sized Jeans Smackdown at diaper-change time. Hellz yeah.

Now if I could just find a baby-sized corduroy jacket with elbow patches, we'd be all set.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Married Life

Only a German philosopher or my professionally funny husband could turn one of my tiredness-induced stating-the-obvious kind of remarks into a thought experiment:

"You're very hairy."

"Not if you don't look. It's Schrödinger's body hair. As long as you don't observe it, it only exists 50% of the time. So I'm only half as hairy as you think."

Aaaaaand...esoteric humor for the win!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cry Baby

I've already cried in front of Westley on many occasions. He was about six hours old the first time. The midwives had left, it was snowing outside, Westley was sleeping between us in our big bed, and Rob decided that this was the perfect time to put on "When You Dream" by the Barenaked Ladies. I'd never heard the song before. With life just begun, my sleeping new son... I lost it. The baby didn't notice.

After that, if I cried with Westley nearby, he was crying too. In fact, he started it. He'd wail something about me not understanding him, and I'd have to cry because I was just trying to help, and then he'd tell me he hated me and he'd storm off and slam the door to his room. Or else Rob or my mother would take him from me.

Misery on day 15

Today, I was trying to change his diaper and Westley was fussing up a storm. It was only 10:00 AM, and I was already feeling overwhelmed. Nothing I did all morning was what he wanted, and this diaper change was the last straw. He was clearly so over me. I started to cry quietly. I put my hand on Westley so that he wouldn't try to roll over while I was too teary to see him.

He stopped fussing. I wiped my eyes and looked down at him. His chubby face was the picture of concern: eyes wide, mouth slightly agape in a silent, still, baby question.

"Hi baby," I said. "Mommy's okay."

He smiled a little half-smile, not entirely convinced. If you say so, woman.

I quickly put his clothes back on him, swung him up to my face and kissed him. Caring for this crazy baby can make me feel unbelievably frustrated and fill me with incredible self-doubt, but he's also exactly what I need to snap out of it. Thanks, West.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Emotional Roller Coaster

Two weeks ago, a switch was flicked somewhere in my brain. I've been having emotional highs and lows ever since, and I don't know what's up. I'm fine and happy and playing with Westley one minute, and miserable and bitter the next. I feel shaky, like I'm not sure where I'm going or what I'm doing, but I plug along anyway. It sucks ass.

Westley took a real nap (in his crib and everything) for the first time in a week and a half today. We've been dealing with the Great Nap Boycott of 2008, and up until today, Westley was taking his protest very seriously, even refusing to nap in the car a few times. For several minutes after I put him in his bed this morning, I was sure he'd wake up and start to cry, so I just sat in the kitchen and listened and waited. When it started to become clear that he was actually going to stay asleep, I decided to get something done...but what? A million things to do, left over from previous napless mornings, and no rank order in which to do them. Eventually, I settled on answering e-mail, and felt like I'd made the wrong choice. There's still laundry in my kitchen, and it's almost tomorrow.

You're supposed to be more together by now, my harsh superego tells me. You're supposed to be getting out and doing things with the baby. Your clothes are supposed to fit you better. You're supposed to know how to help him when he's fussy, and soothe him when he cries, and no, feeding him doesn't count. Why don't you love this?

No mother loves it all the time, I tell myself. I swing Westley around and kiss his drooly cheeks and he smiles at me, and for a minute, I'm okay. I turn a corner for an hour or two and feel all right about myself. And then something changes, I crest another hill, and everything looks awful.

I feel so scattered. I can't put a coherent thought together except to compare my emotional roller coaster to what I see around me: smiling mothers with babies who look Westley's age, chic and slender women with their Baby Bjorns and their cheerful conversations to friends on shiny-new cell phones. None of them look how I feel. Are they faking the cheer? Are they just powering through it?

Survival mode is not how I like to operate. I want agency. I want hope for the future, not "Thank God, we made it through another day!" Since I'm not really sure what set this ride in motion in the first place, I'm hoping it will end as suddenly as it began. It's possible that I'll be back on track tomorrow morning.

But right now, I feel like my only choices are to hang on tight or get thrown off.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

5 Months

Dear Westley,

You are five months old today.

Grandad tells me that you woke up singing this morning. You love being sung to, so it doesn't surprise me that you'd be interested in trying to sing on your own. You've been using your voice since you were teeny-tiny, making a little "ooh" noise after each sneeze, as though to say, "Thank God that's over with!" The post-sneeze "ooh" is mostly gone now, making way for whole sentences in coo-speak, punctuated with the occasional growl.

You love to use your body, too. I hold you up so you can practice standing, and you beam at me. You can roll over, but you'd love to be more mobile. I'm worried about you learning to crawl before I've had a chance to establish a good floor-washing routine.

I'd wager that nearly every mother thinks her child is smart. But you seem so smart. It scares me to think that you might be smart. I will never keep up with you if you are. I barely keep up with you now.

You know your name. You recognise the words "mama" and "milk." And you know who I am, and you're glad to see me, which makes my heart rip in half with amazement and love and I think I'm going to die a little. I can't believe you chose me, Punky.

I call you Water Baby Fishy Pie, which evolved out of "baby fishmouth" and "punkin pie" and bath time. I take you in the shower with me and you suck the water off my shoulder. I miss you if I go to the supermarket by myself, even if I feel like I need some time alone and don't want to miss you.

A year ago today, I told MaMay and Grandad I was pregnant. Grandad said "That's great news," and MaMay said "I knew it!" We all sat around in the empty living room of their new house and ate burritos and talked about how I was feeling. I had no idea what an amazing little soul I was carrying.

I can't believe you've been here five months already, sweet boy. Time is flying, and I know you'll be on to the next thing before I can catch my breath.

Love,
Mommy

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