Wednesday, July 29, 2009

20 Months: An Early Musical Tribute

I leave for the East Coast late tonight, which means I'll miss Westley's 20 month-iversary of life on the first of August. I've never been away from him for more than a night, and as much as I'm looking forward to seeing my friends, I'm wondering how it will go for my little dude.

After feeling ambivalent about breastfeeding for so many months, I'm surprised to find myself worried about what will happen when Westley can't nurse for five days. Is my going on vacation going to end up meaning a permanent vacation for my breasts (at least until the much-discussed Baby #2 arrives circa 2011)? I'm actually hoping the answer is no. The me of several months ago thinks I'm crazy, and I think Rob agrees with her. Regardless, my Avent manual pump and the last of a bottle of fenugreek capsules are stashed safely in my carry-on. I know Westley will be fine at home with Rob and my parents; I'm going to try to remember this, and relax and enjoy myself. And we'll see what happens with the breastfeeding.

In the meantime, my son is going to be twenty months old! How did that happen? Who sneaked in during the night and replaced my baby with this big boy?

Rob and I started calling Westley "Punky" pretty early on, and it's stuck. It's sort of a nickname for a term of endearment: "Pumpkin Pie" became "Punkin Pie," which then became "Punky Pie" or, more often, just "Punky."

Naturally, with a "Punky Pie" running around, we ended up with the song "Cherry Pie" in our heads all the time. We've been singing a modified version of the chorus for most of Westley's life, but I finally got around to finishing the song yesterday. I'm not sure if this means we'll sing it more or less often, but at least we can sing it from start to finish now.

"Punky Pie"

Healthy, cozy, tasty, awesome!

He's my Punky Pie
Warm drink of milk, such a sweet lil' guy
Looks so cute, makes his mama cry
Sweet Punky Pie

Nursin' in the armchair
Nursin' on the couch
With every seat in my house
Nursin' on the left side
Nursin' on the right
Dream about breakfast
Nurse all night, yeah

Nursin' when it's cuddle time
Nursin' when he's bitchin'
Baby cries, let down
And mom's boobs are itchin'
Going to work so
She's pumpin' it full-throttle
Dial up the suction
And fill up a bottle

I know he knows
That it's the best milk
Don't cover up 'cause
It's only breastmilk

He's my Punky Pie
Warm drink of milk, such a sweet lil' guy
Looks so cute, makes his mama cry
Sweet Punky Pie, oh yeah
He's my Punky Pie
Minute-time on the breast
Ten each side
Boy chows down
'Til the well runs dry
Sweet Punky Pie

Nursin' on the bus
Nurse while writing checks
Lyin' on your side
Folks say don't do it
At parks or stores
But my son's like, "Her milkshake
Is better than yours."

I know he knows
That it's the best milk
Don't cover up 'cause
It's only breastmilk

He's my Punky Pie
Warm drink of milk, such a sweet lil' guy
Looks so cute, makes his mama cry
Sweet Punky Pie, oh yeah
He's my Punky Pie
Minute-time on the breast
Ten each side
Boy chows down
'Til the well runs dry
Sweet Punky Pie

Nursin'! All night long,

Pass the nipple cream!

Nursin' on the sofa
Nursin' on the floor
Nursin' so long
That my nipples got sore
Dad got a bottle
Even up the score
He said, "You ain't gonna nurse
On your Mama no more"

He's my Punky Pie
Warm drink of milk, such a sweet lil' guy
Looks so cute, makes his mama cry
Sweet Punky Pie, oh yeah
He's my Punky Pie
Minute-time on the breast
Ten each side
Boy chows down
'Til the well runs dry
Sweet Punky Pie
Sweet Punky Pie

Nurse him!

* * *
That's all, bloggy-folks! I'll be living off-the-Internet-grid until Tuesday. I'm hoping to come back more rested and less weirdly tanned. Truly. My nose and cheeks, my forearms up to about a three-quarter sleeve length (you know, for example), the tops of my feet are brown; the rest of me is glow-in-the-dark. I'm not a believer in tanning (bad for your skin, bad for your tattoos), but this is ridiculous.


Monday, July 27, 2009

If He Says No, It Means a Thousand Times No

Westley has learned to say "no." He's been shaking his head "no" for months, but he didn't actually say the word until a few days ago. Along with "book," it's a word he pronounces perfectly every time, although sometimes his toddler accent makes it sound like there's a Y in there: "nyo!" It's quickly becoming one of his favorite words, and it's kind of empowering. For me.

I suck at saying no. I'm sure I was a typical no-happy toddler, but I either grew out of the word (after rediscovering it in middle school, of course) or lost my familiarity with it somewhere. I've said yes to work, to sex, to ideas that I did not want simply because I didn't feel like saying "no" was an option. The notion that someone could just say no--to drugs or anything else--seems laughable to me, because in my experience, it's never worked that way. There's no "just" about it: saying "no" can be hard.

The ironic thing, of course, is that a big part of my job as a mother is to say no: "No, it's bedtime now"; "No, you can't climb on the TV bench"; "No, big scissors are not for little boys." But having it as part of my daily routine doesn't make saying it any easier. And it certainly doesn't make it more fun. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and want to cry, because it feels like all I did all day was tell Westley "no" ten thousand times. I know I let Westley do things that another mother might not, simply because, if it's not an issue of health and safety, it's easier let him play in my underwear drawer or to read the same book six times in a row. I'd rather clean up the mess or deal with the repetition than hear myself sounding like The Enemy of Fun.

My relationship with "no" is problematic, to say the least. Being conscious of that helps. Having a child in need of boundaries helps more. But having a child who says "no"--and I realize that I'm probably all alone out on my limb, here--is really awesome.

A few months ago, Rob and Westley and I were visiting Rob's parents and grandmother, and Westley had a tantrum. Not a huge one--just one of the mini-meltdowns that's relatively easily soothed by having mom hold him and reflect his feelings back: "You didn't like that! You're so mad! You say no, no, no--"

"There's a word you don't need to teach him," Rob's grandmother interjected.

I just kept addressing my squirming toddler, but I remember thinking at her, You're wrong about that.

"No" is important. Crucial, even. It's a power word. It can express "I don't care for that plan," and "Get the fuck away from me!" And while I certainly don't enjoy hearing a cranky child say "no" to me over and over when I'm trying to cook a meal or change a diaper or kiss my husband, I love that Westley says it. It's a good reminder to me that if my little son can openly say when he doesn't want something, so can I. Westley seems to love it, too. For one thing, it's a lot easier for me to understand what he wants (or rather, doesn't want) when he says "no," as opposed to just shouting "mama" at me.

"Can you tell he's two?" a mom said to me at the park one day about her own son. "'No' is his favorite word."

I think if you're little and you've got to pick a favorite word, "no" is a pretty good one. After all, the world hands you a lot of nos when you're a toddler; it's got to feel good to give some of that no right back. Even if you still have to get your diaper changed and go to bed on time.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

MeMe and HeHe

I won't lie: I'm a fan of the meme. I like making lists, I like writing about myself, and I like filling things out. Those medical forms where they want you to check the box next to "Yes" if you've ever whatever, and Please Explain? I kinda dig 'em. So I'm always a little psyched when someone picks on me to meme it up.

Jessica at This is Worthwhile tagged me for this one, and I'm copying off a vintage GGC design and making it a hehe, too. I'll be giving Westley's answers as well as my own, because I think his are probably more interesting than mine.


1. Who is the hottest movie star?
Like, ever? This is kind of an unfair question: the way it's worded makes it seem like there's a right answer. So I'm sitting here going, All right, who do people think is hot? Which is so not the point of the exercise, I know.

The problem is I don't have a "type" when it comes to celebrities. (Which I guess is a diplomatic way of saying I pretty much wanna nail 'em all? Er...) For me, the hottest person is always the one who's making me laugh the hardest. In most recent movie-watching memory, that was Elizabeth Banks in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. (She's funny out of character, too, and should write more movie reviews. [All right, I admit it. I just think she's foxy because she shares my tendency to talk in parenthetical phrases.])

2. Apart from your house and car, what's the most expensive item you've ever bought?
The laptop I bought for college killed a big chunk of my savings at the time. But I figured, for something I was going to use every single day, $3500 was worth it. That laptop is probably worth a tenth of that today. If that.

3. What's your most treasured memory?
The vacation Rob and I took together a month before Westley was conceived. Specifically, the moment when, after driving and flying and taxi-riding and walking all day, we finally got to our room and closed the door. It was kind of triumphant: We're. On. Vacation. (Do not disturb.)

4. What was the best gift you ever received as a child?
Brio, when I was two. I still play with it.

5. What's the biggest mistake you've made?
I ended a relationship before it really had a chance to get started, and fatally wounded my friendship with the person. I freaked out during a "where is this going?" conversation, and essentially said nowhere. Turns out girls can be insensitive douche-bags, too.

6. Four words to describe yourself:
Touchy, analytical, unrefined, goofy.

7. What was your highlight or lowlight of 2008?
Two-thousand-eight? That's forever ago! Election night was both a highlight (awesome new President, awesome party with Rob's coworkers) and a lowlight (stupid fucking Prop 8 passing, stupid fucking body that can't hold its liquor since squeezing out a baby).

8. Favorite film?
Here we go again: I feel like I should have a good, stock answer for this. I feel like a favorite film should be something I think is wonderful and (almost) flawless, and that I could watch over and over again without getting sick of. Um...yeah. I'm drawing a blank.

For what it's worth, I know Double Indemnity like the back of my hand, I laugh every time I watch His Girl Friday, and my son is named for the hero in The Princess Bride.

9. Tell me one thing I don't know about you.
I'm not afraid of needles at all. I have two tattoos and several piercings, and don't mind getting shots. But donating blood freaks my shit out. Can't do it.

10. If you were a comic book/strip character or cartoon, who would you be?
Wonder Woman. Love, peace, and sexual equality isn't so much to ask, is it?


1. Hottest movie star?
Big Bird.

2. Most expensive item?
Westley hasn't bought any items himself yet, but he does have a portion of the budget allocated to him to spend on fun things. So far, it's been trips to the pool. (He pays my way, too, which I think is very gentlemanly of him.)

3. Treasured memory?
A couple weeks ago, Westley got new shoes. They're black ("back"), per his request. He showed them to our neighbor Marilyn, until she had to go back inside to check on the cookies she was baking. He's been talking about it ever since: "Mare. Shoo. Back. Cook."

4. Best gift?
Before Westley could really walk, my dad made him push toy that's specially weighted so he could use it to pull up to stand without it tipping over.

5. Biggest mistake?

6. Four words:
Sensitive, opinionated, tenacious, sweet.

7. Highlight of '08?
Westley was very happy when he mastered rolling over.

8. Favorite film?
No question: Follow That Bird. He asks for it every day--"Buh-buh?"--and I put it on every day, because when it's over, dinner's ready.

9. One thing you don't know:
Westley hates frosting. He also hates chocolate. If it is a dessert-eating occasion, he will have plain vegan vanilla cake with nothing on it, thankyouverymuch.
10. Character?
Westley is practically Spiderman already. He has two identities: a quiet, charming dork, and an athletic, climbing-obsessed action-boy. Also, his hands are often sticky.

It's customary with memes to tag people, so here's the deal: I'm tagging all of you. That is, if you're reading and you have a blog and you haven't already done this one, you're it. And feel free to do the "hehe" or the "sheshe" (for you moms of girls) if you want to.

The only person who doesn't have a choice is Amber. I'm singling her out and tagging her by name because she's new 'round these here blogging parts. Amber is forward and funny, and breastfeeding like crazy. Head over to The Unlikely Mama and give her some some support of the non-nursing-bra variety!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pre-School Musical

A week ago, Westley started drumming, and he hasn't really stopped since. It started with an empty birdseed bucket and a couple of sticks from my parents' garden. The birdseed bucket has stayed, but Rob produced an actual set of drumsticks from his stash of strange promo items from work for Westley to play with. (Westley's face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw them.) And when we're out of the house? Well, you know those rubbery-plastic things you use to separate your groceries from the groceries of the person in front of you? They make great drumsticks.

A woman in the neighboring line watched Westley banging out a rhythm on the shopping cart and said, "Hey, Gene Krupa."

"Truly!" I exclaimed, and requested that Westley play "Drum Boogie." He claimed not to know it. I still can't help but wonder if I've got a future musician on my hands.

Practically all toddlers like to bang on things, but drumming is just the newest of Westley's musical interests. He started to become really passionate about music a few months ago, starting with piano. I thought at first about cheekily titling this post "Nice Rach," because Westley loves Rachmaninoff. Specifically, he loves Olga Kern playing Rachmaninoff. I have watched Olga win the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition more times than I can count, because I'd pull up YouTube and Westley would request her specifically: "Ga! Ga!" Sometimes, he moves his fingers along the edge of the desk while he watches, like he's pressing piano keys.

When he's not watching and pantomiming playing piano, Westley is experimenting with the closest approximations of an actual piano to which he has regular access. He says, "Pa! Pa!" and pointing frantically to the old Casio keyboard in my parents' office. He can turn it on and off himself, and likes to "play along" with the programmed-in song selections. He also pounds on his little Melissa & Doug piano, producing something that actually sounds musical in a postmodern sort of way.

Somewhere in all of the piano-playing and piano-watching, Westley discovered that orchestras have conductors. He has determined, with his toddler-logic, that this is Coolest Job Ever. He says "duck" for "conductor," conducts along, and knows who Zubin Mehta is ("Meh!"). His favorite piece of music right at the moment is "Flight of the Bumblebee."

What I'm still trying to figure out is: how did this happen? Besides the existence of YouTube, I mean. How does Westley find this complicated music even remotely accessible (especially the Rach 3)? I have a little, tiny bit experience with classical music, having played clarinet and bassoon for a combined total of six years. I can appreciate all of the creative energy that goes into creating and then learning and performing something like a technically challenging piano concerto, but I can't even begin to understand it. That doesn't seem to be a problem for Westley. He just loves it.

Before Westley's musical preoccupation emerged, my familiarity with interesting piano music was limited, I'm sorry to say, to Tori Amos (who Westley thinks is only okay, incidentally). About conducting? There's a podium and a baton and a downbeat and...yeah. And my knowledge of drumming comes almost exclusively from playing Rock Band--which, come to think of it, Rob and I played a lot of when Westley was a newborn, because it's not hard to sing with a baby in your arms. Now I find myself racking my brain--or is it Rach-ing, in this case?--for ways to nurture this interest beyond just singing and playing a lot of different kinds of music around the house.

If I find a child-sized guitar or an old drum kit at resale, there's no question: I'm buying it for him. I wish we had room in our apartment for a piano, because I see those at the Goodwill all the time. But I feel like I need to brush up on my own education on the subject. Is it lame that I'm thinking of taking a Music Appreciation class for the benefit of my toddler? (Don't answer that. I know it's completely lame.)

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding musical outlets for toddlers in Seattle. It's all classes for kids six-and-up. I'll definitely encourage him to choose an instrument once he gets to elementary school, if he's still interested by then. For now, though, I'm going to drum and conduct and play desk-piano along with Westley, and hope that I start to "get it." Maybe I'll even dig my old clarinet out of the garage.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Supporting Mom

An anonymous commenter on my last post wondered why I link to my mother in my sidebar, since it seems like I "don't really agree with her much." It's an interesting observation, if for no other reason than it tells me I've been painting a very rough picture of my relationship with my mother on this blog. And why do I link to her?

I'll address that question first, because it's easy: my mother is very good at what she does. If, by some chance, a Seattle-area mother (or expectant mother) who's feeling depressed happens upon my blog and happens to click that link, it could mean the beginning of that woman feeling more hopeful. My mother is passionate about helping women and their families, and her professional tool belt is full of sound resources for doing so. It amazes me when I think about all the families she has helped towards healing and wholeness. My mother is really pretty brilliant as a psychologist and a counselor. I would link to her even if she weren't my mom.

Having said all that, it's true that she and I don't agree on certain things. These are usually pretty superficial things: I think she puts too much red onion in salads, she thinks I should take Westley to the zoo, our definitions of "once in a while" are slightly different. That sort of thing. And there definitely times when I'm guilty of assuming that my mother doesn't agree with me (or wouldn't support me) because I'm doing something she wouldn't do. But that kind of "disagreement" is all about me and my insecurities. Because while I don't want to grow up to be my mother, I also kind of really do.

My mother is an ass-buster. As in, there's shit to be done, and who're you gonna call? She doesn't give up easily, and she thinks to try things other people don't think of. For example, shortly after Westley was born, it became clear that he didn't know how to latch on to nurse. He would open his mouth around my nipple and shake his head back and forth, like a dog with a chew-toy, but he wouldn't close his mouth. (Then he would proceed to completely dissolve into wails that I can still hear if I picture his furrow-browed, red-faced, pissed off helplessness.) The lactation specialist didn't really know what to suggest. The midwives suggested feeding him expressed milk in a syringe to which they attached the tiniest tube I had ever seen. My mother finally figured out to put her finger under Westley's chin after he got his mouth around my nipple. He'd latch on properly, and my mother would gently press on his chin to encourage him to stay there. She helped me survive months of nighttime feedings, at first by sitting next to me and reminding Westley to stay latched, and later by just sitting with me, keeping me company so I didn't feel like the only person awake in the whole world.

One of the hardest things about living close to her--my mother is also my upstairs neighbor--is seeing her get shit done on the days when I've barely gotten dressed and the apartment is a peanut-butter-fingerprint-covered disaster area. And because my parents live right there, I end up doing a lot of my trial-and-error parenting under the watchful eye of someone who not only raised her own two children and adored it, but also assesses babies and toddlers and counsels parents professionally. So it leads to some emotionally-charged, italicized stress. Some of that stress is about my wishing my mom could put the Developmental Psychologist switch in the OFF position for a while and be just My Mom. But as I reflect on it, I think the stress, our tension, the "not agreeing with her much" is part of that mother-daughter thing. That parent-child thing.

I've said it before, but I think mothers drive their children crazy sometimes because they themselves are being driven kind of crazy all the time. Mothers are always "thinking for two," even after their children are grown. Perhaps especially after their children are grown, if, like my brother, they live in different time zones: What time is it there? Lunchtime. I hope he's eating something reasonably healthy. It's mental heavy-lifting to have another person on your mind.

As Westley gets older, I'm having to adjust my thinking about him. What I say to him and how I say it has evolved as his language comprehension has grown. I'm gaining new tools for understanding his needs, and changing the shape of my tool box. He needed new shoes recently, and requested black ones before I even thought to give him a choice of color. I now have a child who's interested in the color of his shoes, I told myself. I have to remember that my mother is still doing this for me. But her process has to be even more mind-blowing: I now have a child who has a child.

That's a realization I can't begin to imagine. It's strange to think that my mother used to do for me all of the things I do for my son. It's easy to forget that my mom used to be a mother the way I am a mother right now: intensely, full-time, all the time. Playing by ear, learning by heart. But the thing I can never let myself forget is that my mother loves me the way I love Westley.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Pre-Planning Stage

Rob and I decided recently to seriously consider stopping at one child. We put that idea out on the table and left it there.

It actually seemed to sit pretty well, much to my surprise. I'd always imagined I'd have at least two children (except on the days I thought I'd have none). When Rob said early on that he wanted two, I pictured us with one of each: a rich man's family. Before we had one child, two seemed like a reasonable number. Now that we have Westley, two children seems like twenty. "I'm not sure I could go through this again," I said to Rob on the evening of a particularly grueling day. And that's when the One Child Plan emerged.

The more we thought about it, the more stopping at one made sense. Pregnancy, birth, and the first year of Westley's life basically kicked our asses: physically, emotionally, financially. My health checked out. I got closer than I ever have to saying "I want a divorce" and really meaning it. Now, when we're still working to stitch our relationship back together and haven't even begun to pay back our savings account, hitting "reset" on the child-rearing timeline seems ridiculous. Stopping at one would mean we could just keep moving forward.

All Westley, all the time.

The minute I make up my mind on a major life decision-type-thing, I start to feel the tiniest questioning itch. It's not even as noteworthy as an inner voice of doubt--more like a grain of sand--but it's there. And the more that grain of sand rolls around in my mind, the more it starts looking like a pearl. I think, You're wrong! There's a better option! Look how shiny it is!

I have to admit right now that my mother is frequently the source of those sand grains. About having children, my mother says (and I'm not paraphrasing), "A sibling is the greatest gift you can give your child." What a fabulous grandparental pressure-filled greeting card that would make! Admittedly, however, there's something to consider in that statement. Having a sibling means having a peer to practice all that important peer-stuff with. A brother or sister is the perfect ally against Mom and Dad which, let's face it, is often essential for a person's mental health. But having a brother didn't keep me from missing out on the peer-relations front. And besides, having a baby because my mother thinks it's a good idea? Has all the makings of some Lifetime-Television-for-Women crazy shit. Of course my mother thinks it's a good idea for me to have another baby! She's the grandmother!

Still, I'm carrying around that tiny, almost-pearl idea. It doesn't help that suddenly all of Seattle is pregnant--or else the new trend in birthing classes is to take field trips to the grocery store. There are pregnant women everywhere, which makes it hard not to think a.) I Know What You Did Last Winter, and b.) why not me? And lately, Westley himself is the ribbon-icing on the diaper cake: he has become obsessed with all things "baby."

Westley has four dolls, all of whom he calls "bay-bee." He carries whichever of them is his current favorite over his shoulder, like he's going to burp it. He can spot an actual baby a mile away (even though sometimes the "baby" is a child older than he is). Annie Rose is My Little Sister is one of his favorite books. My beautiful (and goofy) friend Amanda is pregnant, and it took Westley about three minutes and my mentioning it once to figure out that there was going to be a baby. And then he couldn't stand how awesome it was. He had to point to Amanda's belly and give it kisses over and over. Now we can't mention Amanda's name without Westley asking "bay-bee?"

Given Westley's current obsession, it's difficult not to lose myself in fantasies about what he would be like as a big brother. So often at the park an older boy will engage Westley, and show him how to do something like take a "shortcut" up the back side of the climbing structure or slide down the tube slide head first; I try to imagine a four-year-old Westley teaching his little brother the secrets of the playground. I try to hear Westley telling his little sister about all the things he loves: dancing, Sesame Street, dandelions, guitars and oboes, the pool. The picture in my head is blurry, hard to bring into focus. Two children? My two children? It seems like an impossibility. It seems crazy! And yet, something about it just seems...right.

"I want another one," I said to Rob.

"I know you do, baby."

So, there you have it. We're not quite ready for a second child. Okay, we're not even "not quite" ready. But we're ready to be thinking about being ready. I definitely want Westley to have turned three already when his brother or sister is born. In terms of "planning," that means out with the IUD and off with the pants and on with the gettin' it on a little less than a year from now. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time last week, when the "let's stop at one" idea was officially replaced by "let's have another." But now, a year seems like no time at all. It might as well be next week, in fact. I don't know how we're going to be ready to "try" a year from now. (Practice? Heh.)

I realize that our "plan" is not set in stone. It doesn't have to be next summer; any pressure I'm feeling about having another baby soon-ish is entirely self-imposed. But I want Westley to have a sibling close to his own age. And getting knocked up next year means I could be done having children before I turn 30, which sounds kind of awesome. On the other hand, two children before I turn 30 sounds kind of crazy. For starters, how the hell am I going to deal with being pregnant and taking care of a toddler?

Advice from any of you bloggy people who have embarked (or are currently embarking) on the two-child journey would be very, very welcome. How did you decide it was time to go back for seconds? Was age-difference a factor in your decision? What am I really getting myself into? Feel free to comment or post a full, tell-all report on your own blog.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

In the Weantime

Two weeks from today, Westley will wake up in the morning and want to nurse, and I won't be home to nurse him. Going to Massachusetts alone to spend some much-needed vacation time with some much-missed friends means taking my breasts on vacation with me. To say that I'm having mixed feelings about this doesn't begin scratch the surface.

Until very recently, I would have welcomed an iron-clad excuse not to nurse with open arms. And the possible forced weaning situation that could result? Wouldn't have given it a second thought. Oh, well, I would have thought. If this puts an end to the nursing, no problem. Because breastfeeding--and continuing to breastfeed--is one of the hardest things I've ever done, period. I read all the time about mothers for whom breastfeeding is a lovely, natural, easy way to bond with their babies and they cherish doing it, but that was not my experience. From the beginning, it was work.

I never doubted for a moment that I would breastfeed my baby. But it never occurred to me that I might not love it instantly--or ever. However, when I breastfed and hated it and stuck with it and hated it, I never felt like I could quit. (Which is not to say I didn't think about quitting a million times. I remember one very tearful conversation with my mother in particular, wherein I said I wanted to quit breastfeeding and she said she'd support whatever decision I made, and I very angrily accused her of lying, because she's as pro-breastfeeding as they come. It was not a good scene.) Breastfeeding was non-optional in my mind. The Feminist Breeder puts it best when she says:
I would have switched Westley to formula in a heartbeat if I believed that doing so was the best thing (or even a neutral thing) for everyone in question. I don't think formula is poison. But I do think that for a woman in my position--a woman who is physically able to breastfeed with a baby physically able to be breastfed, a woman who is not returning to work immediately, a woman who is surrounded by supportive-of-breastfeeding people--there is no choice. There is a right answer and a wrong answer.

So I moved forward, one feeding at a time, trying to take comfort in my right answer and quietly hating it.


...and now.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I've turned a corner. A huge one. I haven't been on a real vacation since the last time I went to the beach with my girlfriends, two years ago. And all I can think with this trip coming up is, I won't get to nurse him for almost a week.

Did you hear that thought-bubble? Get to. Where did the woman who was all ready to form an "I Hate Breastfeeding" support group? I really have no idea what happened, except to say that maybe Westley's passion for nursing rubbed off on me. God knows there were enough opportunities for that to happen. (Someone really should start that support group, though. Just picture all of the Breastfeeding Sucks! bumper stickers.)

Of course, nursing a toddler is a lot different than nursing a baby. I know some people are skeeved out by toddlers nursing, and I think they need to get over it because it's awesome. Breastfeeding a child who can ask for it using words and says "mmm" appreciatively afterwards is oddly rewarding. He smiles and makes lovey-dovey eyes at me because I have "molk" for him, and all I have to do is sit there. Admittedly, it's not my favorite thing when Westley pops off my nipple to ask, "Dada?" ("Daddy's at work right now, honey.") Or when we pass a display of molded-cup bras in a store and he points and loudly says, "molk." But when he grabs my ponytail while he nurses and proceeds to stick it in my mouth on purpose so I'll make spitting noises at him? That completely rules.

If going away for five days--that's fifteen nursing sessions--results in weaning, I'll be more than a little let down (buh-dum, chhhh!). I suffered through breastfeeding for a long time, and I feel like I should get at least a few months of enjoying it under my belt before weaning even comes up. Besides, Westley is certainly in no hurry to wean, and he gets a bigger vote than I do.

So I'm packing my hand pump along with my swimsuit and my sunscreen. I know that realistically, regardless of what happens with the nursing, everything will be fine. If my milk dries up, it dries up. Sad, but oh, well. I'm hoping the hand pump works out, though. If nothing else, my bras will fit a little better if I de-milkify my boobs first thing in the morning. What I haven't figured out is what I'm going to do with the expressed milk, if I get any. I can't easily bring it back home with me. And there's no way in hell I'm pouring it out. Drinking it myself seems like taking the whole pro-breastfeeding thing a little too far, though.

Maybe I'll just put it on my cereal.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Days Like Yesterday

I was wiping tears from my cheeks as Rob rushed to get ready for work. He paused a moment. "Do you need me to stay home?"

For half a second, I thought really hard about saying yes. I knew he'd stay home if I asked him to. I had woken up that morning feeling nauseated and dizzy, with the most debilitating cramps I'd had since Westley was born. I was a little better now, standing in the living room eating grapes. But starting my day feeling so unwell had plunged me back into the episode of depression I'd been struggling against for several days. If Rob stayed home, I could go back to bed and feel sorry for myself.

"No, no," I said quickly. "It'll be fine."

Not I'll be fine, because I wasn't sure I would be. But when there's a child who needs to be fed and changed and entertained, at least I have some guidance in terms of what to do. So at least something--it, whatever it is--would be fine.

We watched a lot of Sesame Street and Raffi. I made oatmeal cookies for Rob and Westley, and I let Westley nurse a little extra after his nap. We went to the grocery store for baby powder and soy milk even though we were only sort of close to running out. I let Westley play with his soup, even though it made a huge mess and I would have enjoyed eating it.

Today I'm not sinking down, head first. I think having Westley is a big reason for that. Being depressed when I have to be a parent can make me feel like a shitty parent, but it also forces me to work harder to get around my depression. And that, ultimately, gets me out of the depressive episode faster.

Last night I re-read Jane Roper's essay "Parenting Through Depression," which I think about every time I'm not feeling so mentally well. (And in doing so I am always instantly thankful that Westley is not twins.) I'm especially inspired by Jane's list of reminders to her Depressed Self, particularly the first one:
Yesterday gave me a lot of insight into my depression and how it works. I realized that I need to start thinking about it in different terms, especially now that I'm a parent. My own list of reminders to my Depressed Self now includes Jane's comparison to physical illness, as well as some things I learned after fighting through yesterday (and doing a pretty damned good job):
Do everything you can to keep yourself physically healthy. Your depression is triggered (and worsened) by feeling physically unwell. Continue to take your vitamins, eat whole, unrefined foods, and floss, even if you really don't want to.

Get out of the house. Go somewhere where there are other adult humans, preferably strangers or relative strangers. The grocery store is a good choice. So is the park. It's easier to stay depressed around people who know you're depressed.

Do not forget that depression is temporary. You have not always felt this way, nor will you always feel this way.

Depression alone is not enough to make you a bad mother.

And that last one is crucial to remember. I didn't choose to be depressed, but I do choose what kind of a mother I am. How I feel and how I parent don't have to be connected. The bad-mood-equals-bad-mother equation is a symptom of my depression, not a statement of fact. Parenting is a hard job, so naturally it's going to feel harder when I'm not at my best.

So when I have another day like yesterday (because there will almost certainly be another day like yesterday), I can let myself off the hook a little. I'll do what I can to rest. And I'll rest assured that just because my mood sucks, it doesn't mean that I suck.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Girl All the Small Guys (Really) Want

Westley and I were at the pool recently, playing in the lobby after swimming, minding our own business. Out of nowhere, a little boy I didn't know toddled over to me, looked up at me with giant chocolate-kiss eyes and raised his arms in the universal "pick me up" sign.

"Are you coming up to me?" I couldn't believe it. I know I have some power over little men, but this seemed insane.

He just stared, undeterred by my hesitation.

"All right..." I picked him up, and he immediately wrapped his legs tightly around me, like a monkey.

I heard a woman's voice behind me, over my right shoulder. "He really likes moms."

"Oh, uh, okay..."

It turned out he was close to Westley's age. I kept waiting for the mother to take him from me, say something to him like, "Brady, we don't usually get picked up by people we don't know." She just stood there, alternating between smiling at the toddler in my arms and his slightly older brother who was playing quietly on the floor. After a few minutes, the little boy slithered out of my arms and ran off to play like nothing had happened.

I'm oddly flattered that a toddler who doesn't know me wants me to hold him. But I'm also sort of creeped out by the whole incident, particularly the boy's mother's attitude.

Westley is usually a friendly dude. He flirts with everyone, but he especially loves late-teens/early-twenty-something girls and any woman who looks like she could be a grandma (which works out pretty well for him, as these two demographics are generally more than happy to flirt right back). If Westley sees a woman with a child, he'll point and announce, "Mama!" But I'm certain he would never in a million years go up to a stranger and ask to be picked up. And if he did? I might quietly freak out.

Rob and I took Westley to a barbecue on Sunday where he was the only person under 25. It was a little overwhelming for his toddler-senses (especially since there were three dogs running around). After Westley had been introduced to a few people, he started to cry and cling to me. I felt bad for him, but I was also a little relieved. "We're not going to give you to anyone," I reassured him, and took him into a quiet room to cuddle and calm down.

I'm all for children being confident around people they've never met. I internalized the whole "stranger danger" message a little too strongly as a child, and subsequently ended up overly anxious and afraid in situations where there were people I didn't know. Confidence and a feeling of general security is invaluable. But there's also developmental appropriateness to consider.

An adorable child who wants to be in my arms is, well, adorable. But it worries me to think of a toddler with so little stranger anxiety. And it worries me more to think that the mother of such a toddler would be so blasé about it.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sex and the Sippy II: Suck It In and Deal

I wrote recently about the biggest impediment to my post-baby sex life being a mental gymnastics routine: staying focused on bodies and nakedness, and tuning out thoughts of I have a child. Candace commented, "I have to stop my mind from thinking of my boobs as tribal feed bags, and my stomach as an old man face! Any suggestions there?" which made me realize that I hadn't really addressed the most obvious reminder of all things Baby: the post-baby body.

So first of all Candace, word. Second of all, for me it's gorilla tits and a dough-udder. But now that you mention it, I can totally see the old man face! My old man is frowning. And finally, to answer the question, I have a few suggestions, but I'm still not entirely sure what to do with this body of mine and the way it looks.

Managing the disconnect between feeling like I don't look sexy and wanting to be sexual has been a primary concern of mine since I was about thirteen. I'm nowhere near solving this problem. Needless to say, the pregnancy- and birth-aftermath has definitely thrown more than a few monkey wrenches into the works. But I'm happy to share what I've learned so far, most of it in the past couple years.

The most vocal people on the topic of postpartum bodies and sexiness seem to fall into one of two major schools of thought. And by "schools of thought," I mean "trends I notice in comments I overhear at the playground and the pool, and attitudes I read online." There are the Oh my God, my body is destroyed, I will never be sexy ever again! run-on-sentence panickers, and there are the Wow, my body did an amazing thing by bringing my beautiful child into the world! stretch-marks-are-earned peaceful Earth Mothers.

I can't really identify with the panickers, because I wasn't particularly sexy, body-wise, before I had a child. There wasn't a lot of sexiness to "lose" during or "bring back" afterwards. But I'll be damned if I'm going to bow out of sexy all together just because I've had a baby! Still, I definitely don't see eye-to-eye with the Earth Mothers. Partially because I don't really believe my body had anything to do with my son (despite all the evidence), and partially because I had stretch marks and a flabby belly and saggy boobs long before I got pregnant. I didn't find it attractive or empowering or spiritually uplifting then, and I certainly don't now.

Despite putting my body in the Not Sexy column most of the time (before and after becoming a mother), I can occasionally trick myself into forgetting about my stomach and my boobs in bed. It takes a combination of physical and mental discipline that's about as tough to arrange as simultaneous orgasms, but almost as satisfying.

Gazing at the moon (about six months pregnant, maybe). August-ish 2007

The stomach is relatively easy for me; I hold it in and try not to worry. I did it before I had Westley, and I still do it. And I realize that that's kind of pathetic. The good news about stomach-holding-in-while-fucking is that it reminds me to squeeze my pelvic floor. (Incidentally, I use the word "fucking" not to be unromantic, but because I like it. You're free to substitute whatever word makes the most sense to you. But if it's "intimacy," don't tell me about it. [Does "intimacy" as a euphemism for sex bother anyone else? It actually makes me gag a little. The word sounds like a feminine hygeine product. Ugh.]) This stomach-sucking is absolutely mandatory in any sort of bent-over or canine-inspired position, where the belly has the option of hanging down. It doesn't make the position feel any better, but pulling your stomach in helps support your back, so you're less likely to pull a muscle. So there's that, anyway.

Dealing with the belly while doin' it post-baby is a lot like dealing with it during pregnancy; it's all a matter of position, position, position. If I'm on top for instance, I find that pulling my belly in like I'm trying to zip up my non-stretch pre-pregnancy jeans helps control how much my stomach flab bounces. (There's a lovely visual for you, friends and family.) Sometimes it's not quite enough, though, and being on top means looking down and noticing that my belly is, unfortunately, still there. That alone can be distracting, depending on the phase of my mood. So when the belly flab is really a source of major distraction, missionary is the go-to posish. There's not much for your stomach to do while you're on your back except flatten out. Of course, I still have to pull in my stomach to get any sort of reach-down or reach-around action. Which is to say, nothing is a perfect belly-solution. But you do what you can, short of liposuction: high-fiber diet, no big Italian dinners right beforehand, and suck in.

Now that I sound like a post-baby sex drill sergeant ("Suck in those guts, ladies!"), onto the boobs. This is infinitely harder for me, because I've never liked mine. My boobs--before and after pregnancy--have always been my biggest obstacle to feeling sexy, period. The nicest thing I can think to say about them is that right now, they're the smallest they've ever been in my adult life.
Nice rack! (Yes, they're real--this is really what I drew at the start of the game.) March 2007

I've never thought of my breasts as sexual. They were always something I wanted to plaster down, surgically alter, slice off, be rid of. They came too soon--when I was still dancing, three classes a week, wishing upon a star that one day I would be one of the beautiful teenage girls in the pas de deux class, floating through the air in a lift like a hollow-boned bird. My classmates in and out of the dance studio were lithe and flat-chested. I was muscular, and had to wear a lacy, seamed bra that showed through my white leotard.

Even when they were brand new, my breasts were ugly. My areolae were the size of dinner rolls long before I got pregnant, while my actual nipples were pancake-flat. They looked nothing like the leading-lady breasts of actresses, topless in movies by which I felt so alienated. My breasts have always looked warped and stupid to me. And they were never the least bit sensitive--until I started nursing. After the initial breastfeeding soreness wore off, I realized I had sensation where I'd just had numbness before. In an odd way, nursing made my boobs sexually interesting (from my end, that is). But it definitely hasn't made them pretty.

I mention all that to say that when it comes to not thinking about my boobs and their appearance during sex, I totally suck. This is an area where I feel like I have a few more hurdles to jump (in a very supportive sports bra) than some. My boobs distract me during life, not just during sex. So I basically wear a bra all the time. Under normal circumstances, I am braless exactly eleven minutes a day: 30 seconds before I shower, 10 minutes in the shower, and 30 seconds after I shower. (And I realize that that's kind of pathetic.) Which gets me to the obvious: I wear a bra during sex. Specifically, I wear a non-nursing bra during sex. I have a few sheer, quasi-supportive, brightly colored and otherwise non-practical bras that I'll change into in the evenings, if I think of it. Wearing a bra means giving up a lot of the shiny-new sensitivity, but I'm used to my breasts not feeling much. Others might not be as happy with this solution, but it's what I've got.

So now that you're having sex while wearing your bra and sucking in your stomach, try to think of something sexy. Not easy, right? But I find that fantasizing is the key (along with getting enough stimulation where I need it) to tuning my body out enough so that I can tune it back in... if that makes any sense at all. You could try it the other way around, I suppose--dial up the fantasy first, worry about the relative stomach-flatness second--but this has never worked for me. The fantasy fizzles the second I get a peripheral glimpse of my dough-udder.

In conclusion, if your postpartum body distracts you from getting your freak on, pull your stomach in, wear a bra, and try not to think about the fact that you're pulling your stomach in and wearing a bra. It's a lot sexier than it sounds, I promise. (No, really. I do this at least three times a week, and so far, no one's complaining...much.)

Oh, fuck it. I think this is one issue where all I've got to offer is assvice. At best, I've stumbled upon an inelegant solution, only slightly better than "just live with it." And at worst, it's just sad. But it beats clothed sex with the lights out, right?


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Midwives Help People Out (Insurance Companies? Not So Much)

I am feeling a combination of dread and rage as I look over Rob's and my health insurance options for the next year. The rules, the restrictions, the buts and excepts and only ifs that pepper the language of these official forms always arouse a dull fear in me--I'm sure that someone is trying to rip me off--but it's worse this year. This year, there's a birth to consider.

For the record, I'm not pregnant yet. (Just like I haven't seen Evil Dead II...yet.) However, Rob and I are seriously considering putting me at serious risk for pregnancy. That is, we're thinking about not using any birth control and seeing what happens. (The last time we did this, I ended up with a big belly and then a baby, so we're pretty sure that's how it works. [Although, really, I'm not entirely convinced. I mean, what about all those times I had sex and there wasn't a baby? What about all those times you had sex and there wasn't a baby?]) The thing making me insane right now is how few choices I have with respect to prenatal care and birth if I want insurance to cover any of it. I'm not intending to start a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate here, but my prospective insurance company would rather I have an abortion than a home birth.

I'll happily say that I am pro-home birth--for myself, and for anyone who wants to try it. The hospital is not a place I want to be, especially when I'm feeling vulnerable and possibly (probably, definitely) in pain. I don't judge anyone for delivering in the hospital. I don't judge anyone for wanting to deliver in the hospital. Treat others as they would be treated, I think. It's none of my business what anyone else does. And I say this because there are people who envision militant leagues of pro-home birth mothers trying to force their hippie ways on others. And who knows? Perhaps there are such militant home-birthers somewhere. I'm just not one of them. In fact, a big part of me still can't believe that I had Westley at home without any medication on purpose.

When I think about having another baby, I can't imagine giving birth anywhere but home, barring an emergency, of course. And while I know there are many wonderful and capable midwives in the Seattle area, I cannot imagine anyone I would rather call when I go into labor than the women who helped Westley into the world.

I just keep looking at the insurance information forms and thinking, I want a home birth. I want a home birth. I want a home birth.

And then I stop myself. Becuase isn't the point to have a baby?

Well, yes. In the end, it's about the baby and not the birth. But the birth still matters. A good experience surrounding the birth of a child can make a huge difference in terms of getting a family off to a good start, and a bad birth experience is horrid. And the process of having a baby is a huge deal if for no other reason than unless you're lucky crazy Michelle Duggar, you probably only do it a couple of times. In your life. What else do you do just twice?

It seems ridiculous that by choosing to have a baby at home, by wanting to work with the midwives whose guidance and experience I so trust, I put myself in a position where my health insurance won't help me. Yes, I get it, I get it: insurance companies aren't in it to help people. They're interested in making money. But if making money is the goal, why cover hospital births and not birth center or home births? Why cover doctors but not midwives?

If I pay for my home birth out-of-pocket, which is almost certainly what will happen, that money has to come from somewhere. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, it would come out of our downpayment fund, which isn't growing nearly as quickly as we'd imagined it would. I'm feeling split in two and incredibly guilty. On the one hand, I have an obligation to my family as it currently stands to make sound financial decisions. On the other hand, a second baby is probably also a last baby, and nothing is going to stop me from wanting the birth I want. And yet, borrowing from the housing budget feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul's vagina. Or something.

The thing that sucks the hardest? At the end of the day (well, at the end of September, actually), I still have to choose an insurance plan and sign on the dotted line. A plan that includes in its name words like "Open" and "Choice" and "Access." Right. As long as you see one of these twenty-seven doctors not more than three times a year, and you weren't even thinking about having a baby in the living room.


Monday, July 6, 2009


In the spirit of keeping you posted (as I often promise to do), here's a post.

Westley still has all his hair. For now. It's getting quite long and scraggly in the back, to the point that it actually bugs me on occasion.
Never mind the mullet--look at those eyelashes! They go on for days!

I think there's probably a hair cut in Westley's future, but it won't be for another month at least. Ruth, the lovely woman who cuts my hair is on vacation, and there's no way I'm putting scissors next to my son's head myself. Of course, by the time Ruth has some availability again, I may have decided that, scraggly as it is, I can't bear to part with the fuzzy baby-ness on the back of Westley's head.

Sex three times a week somehow turned into sex every other day. This was Rob's counter-suggestion to my "on these days, we do it" plan. It keeps us on a schedule, while somehow still managing to feel spontaneous. And it keeps sex out of the realm of things we actually do deal with on specific days of the week, both of which are pretty much the opposite of sexy: the budget and diapers.

So for those of you keeping score (heh), it's sex every other day for the foreseeable future. Unless I'm especially depressed (in which case it's sex never) or ovulating (in which case it's, "Hey, if you were nineteen, we could do it again right now!").

I'm going on vacation by myself. It should be interesting and fun to be taking care of just myself for the first time in a year and a half, but also a little sad. After some serious investigation into traveling with a toddler (and some great input and advice from commenters), the thing that finally tipped the scale was money. The cost of two nonstop cross-country plane tickets was just higher than I was comfortable with. Besides, paying more than twice as much for a more stressful traveling experience seemed stupid. Mo' money, mo' problems, and all that.

I'm sorry that Westley won't get to be a little beach bum this summer. He'll just have to spend extra time at the pool.

The elimination diet is working wonders for me. I feel much better in general. I cheated and had a cup of coffee a few weeks ago after one of those two-hours-of-sleep nights, and then I realized that caffeine makes me feel like ass. I'm also finding that I don't miss bread as much as I miss the convenience of bread. And rice bread is good, but it's a whole different animal from your standard, run-of-the-mill gluteny wheat stuff.

It's been a month now, and I'm actually a little scared to add wheat back into my diet, because I'm afraid that might be the thing that was making me feel so sick all the time. I am, however, anxious to eat soy again. I loves me some legumes, but it's no fun making broiled tofu for Rob and Westley and not getting to at least taste it. I see the doctor tomorrow, so I may have to post an update to this update.

My depression seems to be on a cycle. That cycle, as a matter of fact. It goes a little something like this: two weeks of depression, one week of neutral mood, one week of awesome, rinse and repeat. I'm not sure how helpful this knowledge is, except that I'll be able to go, "Wow, I feel like total shit all of the sudden! I guess I'll probably get my period next week." I'm hoping my doctor will find this more interesting and useful than I do. Again: appointment tomorrow, we'll see what happens.

I love you guys. No, really. My readers are the best. Your advice and support is invaluable, and if I could give each of you a hug, I would.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

19 Months

I heard myself scream at you before I realized that my thoughts had moved to my vocal chords. Your face crumpled like paper. You cried, loud and hard. My little boy, banished from the park for gulping in big mouthfuls of pebbles.

Scooping stones out from around your molars for the second time in ten minutes, I had warned you, "If you eat rocks again, we're leaving." And you lay face down in the sand and opened your mouth and we left. You fought me all the way to the car, and once in your seat, you chanted your frenzied mantra, demanding milk--"Molk, molk, molk, molk"--and finally screamed at me: "MAMA!"

I screamed right back at you. I yelled at you to shut up. And I tried not to cry when you started crying. I was sure I could feel the weight of other parents' stares between my shoulder blades. Because none of them would ever tell their toddlers to shut up.

You slurped down the contents of your sippy cup as I drove us towards the drugstore (I had to take you somewhere calm, air-conditioned, sterile). Then you held the empty cup out, and quietly asked, "Molk?"

I spotted a grocery store on our right, and pulled into the parking lot.


Last night I dreamed that my baby had drowned.

He was so tiny, maybe two months old. I was in a giant swimming pool with him draped over my arm. I was talking animatedly to a beautiful blonde woman with a leading lady's body and a series of goofball expressions. There were dozens of other people in the pool, too. But no one seemed to notice that the baby over my arm was face down in the water.

I looked down and he was the same purple-blue Westley was when he was born. But he didn't grimace and try to cry like a waterbirth baby. He was just still. I walked to the edge of the pool and laid him down on the cement, while the beautiful woman I was with called frantically for someone who knew CPR.

I knew he was gone.


Dear Westley,

You are 19 months old today, which is the strangest, most awkward thing to say. "Nineteen months" doesn't sound like an age. I think I'll start telling people you're one-and-a-half when they ask. Or else I'll tell them, "Well, he thinks he's two."

We've been having a hard time these past few days, you and I. It's the terrible pre-twos. We both need more sleep than we're getting, I think. And we're both not getting it because our minds are too full. Your Dad and I keep having serious discussions about film theory, and moving, and our lives going forward, and you keep learning words and building your own sign language and trying desperately to make me understand you. Today you asked for a "bite" of my veggie wrap, and then another "bite," just that clearly. And then you told me it was "goo."

Every day I hear you say something you didn't say the day before. You know what an oboe is, and tell me when you see one. MaMay says you told her "jeans" while she was helping you get dressed. This morning you told the cat to "moo" when she was sitting in your seat. I know more words are coming soon, but I hate that I still can't understand you so much of the time. It's so hard to wait. (It's probably worse for you.)

I have to tell you, I've been kind of a shitty mommy here lately. I'm sure you've noticed. It's hard for me to reflect back your feelings and moods when my own are coming at me in giant tidal waves, changing like weather. I worry that I'm doing the best I can and that "the best I can" isn't good enough for you. You deserve a mother whose mind doesn't implode on her, who doesn't shout at you for opening the garage door or pulling her hair or chanting "molk." It probably doesn't look like it to you (actually, I don't know what you see--you seem to understand everything, oddly), but I'm trying to get better. I'm trying, Punky.

Even on the days when my vision is most swollen with depression, though, I want to see you. You're like a perfect book I can't put down, under the covers with the flashlight in the middle of the night. You're the best movie I've ever watched. And I can't believe I had anything to do with it. Nothing as incredible as you could have come from me. Maybe--just maybe--from your Daddy, but not from me.

Yours always,