Monday, August 31, 2009

Here Baby, There Mama

I once asked Rob what he thought was my best feature. I was barely off the F in "feature" when he answered, "Your hair." He was in love with my long hair from the beginning, petting it, burrowing into it, letting it wrap around both of us like a curtain.

As soon as Westley could grab, he grabbed my hair. By the time he was four months old, he was yanking it. I endured the discomfort, pulling my hair into ponytails and braids as often as I could stand, and offering him blankets and toys. But by the time he was almost ten months old, Westley was thoroughly attached to my hair. Since then, a number of toys have occupied the preferred position and Westley has a special green blanket that he cuddles every night and at nap time, but my hair has remained the favorite comfort object. In the mornings, he cries for it--"Hay-uh! Hay-uh!"--until I bring him to bed with me. I have to lie with my back to him, so he can hold my hair while he rests. I hate it, and for some reason, I let it continue.

Last week, I got my hair cut for the first time in five months. The six inches I lost were split, broken, abused. No deep conditioner is a match for that much twirling and pulling. I was sure Westley would notice. He didn't. He just reached up a little higher, yanking my neck to the side as he pulled. The next morning in bed, he pulled especially hard. I scooted away and rolled over. "No," I scolded him. "Get off!" I may even have growled a little. Westley hesitated a moment before beginning to cry, offended or afraid, or both. Rob took him away and comforted him. I lay there feeling monstrous. Maybe it's a ripple effect of the weaning, but now that Westley is well on his way to being done nursing, I suddenly really want him out of my hair.

As much as he loves my hair, Westley has never really seemed to notice his own. A few weeks ago, his baby mullet started to look increasingly uneven and scraggly. Even when he was clean, he still somehow looked messy. It wasn't bothering him at all, but I was having trouble not messing with it. I thought of cutting his hair myself. I trim my own bangs; how hard can baby hair be? But since Ruth, our wonderful hair fixer-upper person was back from vacation, Rob and I were both going in for haircuts anyway, and we knew Ruth would murder us (or at least make us look less-than good) if we didn't bring Westley in with us.


Westley was unsure about the booster seat set-up. He wiggled and squirmed and tried to get down, repeating "dow, dow, dow" as he slithered out of the chair. Rob offered to sit with him, but he cried for me. Two capes, one sippy cup, and a camera hand-off later, we were ready to go.

Westley would've loved to have played with the scissors and the clippers, except he was easily distracted by various things around Ruth's station. A stuffed pig! A teddy a hat! A cup with a straw! Whoa, a cup with a green straw!

He even got his very own purple comb to hold, which, by some hair salon magic, was enough to distract him from the clippers buzzing a half an inch from his ear.

I did what I could to stay out of the way, while also holding Westley securely. It wasn't until Ruth was completely finished that I realized just how short Westley's hair was. He looked like a little boy, all right, but he didn't look like himself.


That evening, watching Westley play in the living room before bedtime, I had the strange feeling that something was missing from his appearance. He was happy and energetic, but something wasn't quite right. He looked sharp, but a little off with no wispy hair draping over his ears and the back of his neck.

Right before bed, I nursed Westley. He held a piece of my hair between his palms and petted it, pulling a little to hard every now and then. I stroked his warm, smooth head. The recently-trimmed places on the back of his neck felt coarser, almost bristly. Not at all like silky baby hair. He looked...not cute, but handsome almost, no longer babylike. I hadn't really thought about his first haircut, and had come sooner than I'd expected. I felt a little sad. It's undeniable that Westley is attached to my hair. (Oh fuck, how am I going to wean him of that?) But I guess I hadn't realized that I was a little bit attached to his.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Boob Tube

I'm about to out myself in a big way, here. After talking to a set of preschool-aged triplets (all boys, natch) at the park who were imagining they were characters from some toddler book series I'd never heard of, because their family "doesn't do TV" (according to their nanny), I have to say it: I don't know how parents do it without TV.

Left to my own devices, I'm not much of a TV person. I watch Project Runway and LA Ink (despite this season being terrible-awful-holy-crap-could-they-be-trying-any-harder-to-create-a-story?), and occasionally catch The Daily Show and the odd episode of 30 Days. But if anything could turn me into a TV person, it's having a child.

Breastfeeding was the beginning of the end. Making a commitment to nursing also meant making a commitment to sitting on my ass a lot of the time. And having a baby who needed me to "hold his sandwich" for him while he ate meant that my hands weren't free do read or type. So TV it was. For a while, I watched everything. I lived for marathons, because I could get the whole story arc in an afternoon.

Even though I watched hours of television while holding Westley, I didn't want my son to grow up with a lot of TV. I have enough film theory under my belt that I'm sensitive to issues involving visual media. Which isn't to say I blame the media for all of society's problems; I fully believe film and television are powerhouses when it comes to sending important societal messages and influencing people, and that scares me sometimes. Especially as a parent.

When I was a young child, my brother and I watched Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street...and that was it, except for the occasional videotaped children's concert. As we got older, a few movies were added to the mix (The Neverending Story is still one of my all-time favorite films), but mostly, the TV was off and we did other things. I don't think I saw any commercial television until I was eight.

Paranoia and nostalgia were not enough to keep my son TV-free, however. I like to think it's not my fault that Westley watches TV; in a moment of unbridled nostalgia for my childhood, my parents bought Westley two Raffi DVDs, and the rest is history. Of course, I have to take responsibility for putting the DVDs in the player day after day, when Westley pointed to the television and said, "gee-taw" (guitar). So, yeah. It's my fault. But seeing the smile on Westley's face--and having a few uninterrupted minutes to wash my hair or unload the dishwasher--made TV impossible to resist.

Now, I have a PVR full of Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba, and Westley regularly asks for Follow That Bird, Milo and Otis, and, of course, YouTube. And you know what? My kitchen is a little cleaner, my bangs are a little less oily, and if Westley and I are having a day where we both feel like absolute crap, we can cuddle and quietly watch Murray and Ovejita plant things at "gardening school" (which is how Westley learned the words "rake" and "dig").

So, there you have it: I do TV, and so does my not-yet-two-year-old son. I know this isn't how I'm supposed to parent. But I think if I tried to do everything I'm supposed to do as a stay-at-home mother, I would be a complete physical and emotional mess by the end of the day. As it stands, my son occasionally has Muppet babysitters, and both he and I are clean, well-fed, and more or less happy come bedtime.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another First Kiss

Rob and I are sitting on the bed, and Westley is standing between us. He puts one hand on my shoulder and one hand on Rob's, and pushes us toward each other. "Mama, Dada. Keet." He tells us. When we lean in and kiss each other, Westley giggles.

Playground balcony scene

It used to be that if Rob just looked at me too long, Westley would butt in between us, swinging his arms and telling Rob to "moo, moo!" (move). Now, Mommy-Daddy affection is all right, as long as it's been pre-approved by Westley. As long as we have the "keet" green light, it's all good. This seems to have coincided with Westley himself figuring out how to kiss.

Westley has always loved to kiss me. He used to close his eyes and open his mouth and make "aaahhmmmm" noises against my cheek or lips or nose. For a while, he would pucker up his lips and kind of set them on my lips, without really kissing, per se. Now, he puckers up like an old pro, and gives a nice little mwuh-kiss. It's so sweet, it makes my heart want to explode a little.

This afternoon, as I was cleaning up after the lunch-splosion in the kitchen, I heard one of those tell-tale toddler thuds. I looked over to see Westley sitting, fussing, clearly having hurt his finger on something. (I'm still not really sure what he did. I imagine he was trying to climb up the side of the armchair and slipped, bumping his hand and landing on his butt. But I honestly have no idea.) "Hut!" he told me, his brow furrowed, his lower lip sticking out like a little shelf.

"Yeah, that hurt," I said. "Are you okay?"

He held his finger out to me. "Keet."

It took me a minute to figure out what he was saying. "You want me to kiss it?"


I kissed his tiny finger, suddenly surprised by its smallness, right on the place I guessed hurt. He giggled. I held his little hand--with the dimples instead of knuckles on the back--for a second before giving it back to him. He ran off to play, happy again. All better.

I don't think I've kissed an injury of Westley's before. He's certainly never asked me to. I wondered for a minute where he got the idea that kisses take the hurt away. But when I think about that notion as an adult, it makes complete sense to me somehow: of course you can kiss it and make it better. Duh! That's what kisses are for!

Maybe this is of those things that children just know, even if no one tells them. Kisses take the hurt away. Kisses are magic.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle

(You knew I would resort to this title sooner or later, didn't you? I'd like to think of a better one, but I'm going to need more rest before I be even remotely clever.)

Westley has always been a good sleeper, relatively speaking. It's nothing I did, that I'm aware of. It seems like he just entered the world with a love of sleeping. We used to have to wake him up to feed him, which sucked. Hard. Taking your tiny, swaddled, sleeping newborn and unwrapping him and (gently) jiggling him until he woke up crying? Makes you feel like an amazing mother. A-MA-zing.

I was glad when he got the whole nursing-and-sleeping thing figured out, and he's pretty much stayed that way. He's had his moments, sure, when teething or separation anxiety were involved. But for the most part, Westley was the czar of catching Zs.

Notice I say "was"? Yeah, I should have known that elusive other shoe would drop down hard at some point, and it has. All thanks to something Westley calls "bleck."

On Wednesday night, Westley threw up for the first time. He had never been sick like that before, and it scared the bejeezus out of him. I held him on my lap, reminding myself that I was not allowed to freak out, that this was part of my job right now: to be thrown up on and be calm and reassuring. When he came up for air, he looked at me as though to say, "What's happening to me? You're the Mommy, make it stop!"

Ever since then, he's been gun-shy when it comes to bedtime, and talks about "bleck." No amount of my saying, "Yes, you threw up, but it won't happen tonight. You're all better now" makes a difference. The boy who used to be deeply asleep by 8 is now up--and miserable--at 8:30, 9, 9:30...and not catching up in the morning or during the day. He feels crappy, and he doesn't know why; I feel crappy, and I know why, but I'm dealing with an almost-two-year-old, and they're not known for understanding cause-and-effect relationships like, "If you don't sleep at night, you're not going to feel good during the day."

After a particularly awful night last night and an equally awful morning this morning, I needed some moral support. I called Rob at work and asked him if Westley and I could come have lunch with him. He said of course we could. My ulterior motive, of course, was to thoroughly wear Westley out (Daddy's office is an exciting place!) so that he'd take an epic nap this afternoon. Naturally, when I pulled into the Visitor parking spot and checked the rear-view...


Of course he was asleep. And somehow, he managed to stay asleep through my getting him out of the car, obtaining a Visitor Pass, waiting for Rob in the busy lobby, and walking up a flight of stairs and through a noisy cafeteria. I passed Westley off to Rob for a minute, fully expecting him to wake up. He didn't.

Westley slept through the first part of lunch. I don't remember the last time he slept so deeply in a public place, but he was probably less than six months old. I was amazed. When he woke up, he was happy to eat a little, run around, and generally be energetic and adorable until it was time for us to go. Based on his crankiness in the car, I was sure he'd take a good, solid nap.

Naturally, he's been crying and fussing in his crib on-and-off, clearly exhausted, for about an hour now. That other shoe has definitely dropped, and it's not fucking around.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Probably, Basically (Of Course)

If I had to choose a professional identity other than "former copy editor" or "stay-at-home mother," it would probably be "writer." Which, when I think about it, is very weird to me. I mean, I'm not a writer. I'm just another girl with a blog.

But I am writing all the time, even if I'm not clicking that PUBLISH POST button afterwards. Sometimes it's just a few lines in a Moleskine about how Westley threw up for the first time in his almost 21-month-old life on Wednesday night. Or how I had a random aww-I-love-my-family moment looking at Rob's old glasses that were recently repurposed as a fun distraction for Westley. Usually it's just a grocery list, but I remind myself that that, too, is a form of writing--poetry even, according to my college professor who would read found shopping and to-do lists aloud for his poetry students.

When worthwhile Jessica tagged me for the "Call Yourself a Writer?" meme (from Linda at You've Got Your Hands Full), I thought I'd make an exception to my blogging-less weekend and think a little bit about the writer I kind of am, the writers I love, and the writer I want to be.

Unfortunately, I can't make this meme a "hehe" for Westley. He doesn't write...yet. (I suspect we'll be in trouble when he starts.) But since it was being pregnant with him that finally re-launched me into writing and blogging, I think it's fair to say that he's represented here.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?
probably, basically, of course

(But more than overusing individual words, I probably certainly use parenthetical phrases and italics way too often.*)

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
wine, coffee, dammit**

What's your favourite piece of writing by you?
As much as I love writing about sex, I'm pretty partial to this post, which was written on the anniversary of my (no longer so) super-secret wedding. (So partial, in fact, that I quote myself here.)

What blog post do you wish you'd written?
For me, it's not so much about specific posts, but more about the experiences behind them. Less "Wow, I wish I'd written that" and more "Wow, I wish that had happened to me."

However, the ability to produce excellent parody is a sign of genius in my world-view, so I do have to admit to wishing The Dude as Dad (Sweet Juniper) and I Like Clean Butts (Girl's Gone Child) were my creations.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?
Yes! But mostly I regret not writing. I regret all of those times I didn't jot down a note or a thought or a memory. I regret opting for literature classes over writing classes. I regret rushing through projects and turning in shitty first drafts instead of polished prose. I'm not sure there's anything on this blog that I truly regret writing (though there are some shitty first drafts here). And yes, there are things I wish I hadn't written ever.

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?
My writing definitely makes a difference to me. Writing is something that moves at my pace, because it has to. Unless I've set a writing goal for myself or I'm writing for someone else, I'm never behind. Writing keeps me from having to hold all these words and phrases in my head. It makes me feel less itchy inside.

Sometimes I write things because I feel like no one else is writing them, like this Valentine's Day post. I feel like those things are important, and I can only hope they make a difference to someone other than me. Mostly, I write because it gets the stuck language out of me.

Name three favourite words
blatant, pre-conscious, mesmerizing

...And three words you're not so keen on
luminous, dabble, dreamy

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
Anne Lamott is probably best known for her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, but it was her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life that was so inspiring to me--as a writer and as a mother. Bird by Bird is where I get the phrase "shitty first draft," which is an idea I apply to life (parenting life, in particular) as well as writing. Don't know how to start? Just write the shitty first draft! Annie*** also has a way of portraying real people so that they feel like fictional characters. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I just mean that the people in her memoirs seem somehow familiar to the readers. She's so adept in describing someone she's known all her life that after a few pages, I feel like I've known that person all my life, too.

Someone who is actually closer to a fictional character than a real person, and also a writer I truly admire, is Carrie Fisher. I don't need to tell you what she's best known for. Her novel Surrender the Pink sounds like the inside of my head. I wish I'd written it.

My blogger role model, if I had to pick one, is Liz of Mom-101. She writes about the everyday, the political, and the extraordinary with equal grace, wit, and intelligence. I don't care what her banner says: she gets it. My blog wants to be hers when it grows up.

What's your writing ambition?
I want to tell my story as truthfully as possible and maybe make it a little bit interesting, and with some luck, funny. (Naturally, I wouldn't complain if someone wanted to pay me to write something I care about writing.)

What is the best compliment you've ever gotten about your writing?
When Rob laughs out loud at something I've written, I know I'm on the right track.

Tag! You're it!

If you have time to do this meme, then please link to my original, then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a "published" or "successful" writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging has brought them and how it has been useful to others.

Here's some questions for all of you, tagged or otherwise: Do you consider yourself a writer? What do you think qualifies someone for the title of "writer"? I'm looking forward to your comments.

*I'm also discovering a passion for footnotes.
**Sounds like the name of a blog, doesn't it?
***I get to call her "Annie," because we're, like, total BFFs in my head.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Getting Someone Off My Chest

This morning Westley asked for breastmilk and I told him no. He cried. I felt like a bully. It sucked. Or rather, it didn't.

When Westley pointed to my chest and said "molk," I realized I didn't remember the last time I breastfed him in the morning. He hadn't asked in at least two weeks, but I guess this morning was different for him. He woke up crying for "Dada," and it's usually "Mama" he wants first thing after he wakes up. Rob was in the shower, so I got Westley out of his crib and brought him back to bed with me. And that's when he noticed my boobs.

I told him, "No, you're a big boy. You don't need to do that any more." He gave me a look like someone had died and tears started rolling down his cheeks. "Would you like a sippy of milk?" I offered. He cried harder, insisting, "molk!" and pointing.

"No, punky. Lie down." I helped him put his head on my pillow. "You can have Mama's hair if you want." He cuddled my braid until Rob got out of the shower. Crisis averted.

Big and strong

I've wanted to wean hundreds (thousands?) of times, but I never felt completely comfortable with starting the process myself. You hear things like "breastfeeding is a two-way street." They say it should be a mutually satisfying experience for both mother and child. But I just can't get on board with that! I never had a need that was met by breastfeeding in the same way Westley's needs were met by getting breastmilk. In my experience, Westley's vote on whether or not I would breastfeed (and for how long) was much bigger than mine. They may be my breasts, but it's his milk.

I vowed to nurse Westley for a year, if that's what he wanted. When he showed no signs of self-weaning around 11 months, I re-upped my commitment. It's not the end of the world if he nurses 'til he's two, or even two and a half, I thought. Now that two is around the corner--and Westley is way too tall to lie down in my lap--I can't imagine nursing a two-year-old. I think I would go crazy. The weantime is upon us.

Contemplating a picnic lunch

Now, here's the thing about weaning your toddler. There's all kinds of talk and information about how to breastfeed, but it's all crickets chirping if you want to know how to wean. You'll hear things like, "Wean when you're both ready" or, "You might want to reduce the number of times you breastfeed rather than weaning completely." But no one says, "Here's How to Wean."

Of course, that's because--like breastfeeding--there's no one way to do it. Obviously, weaning is a whole different ballgame if your child is still getting most of his nutrition from breastmilk. But weaning under those circumstances is a little easier for me to imagine; offer a bottle of formula, a cup of non-breast milk, or some solid food (depending on your child's age and preference) when you'd normally breastfeed him. Weaning a baby or a younger toddler is a straightforward process, in theory. At least, it is in my mind. But what do you do with a strong, energetic caveman child who eats almost everything you put in front of him but just Loves. To. Nurse? Yeah, I'm stumped.

Weekend morning (milk-free) cuddle

But I'm moving forward with weaning, stumped-ness and all. And, much to my amazement, it's working pretty well. I adopted a "don't offer, don't refuse" policy for a few months. That was a good start to weaning in that it revealed a surprisingly predictable breastfeeding schedule: first thing in the morning, after nap, and before bed, with a few scattered requests throughout the day. Because Westley just Loves. To. Nurse. so friggin' much, I eventually shortened the policy to "don't offer." This meant I was telling him "no" every now and then, but he was always (mostly) fine with it, especially if I offered him a sippy cup, a toy, or something cool to look at. When it became clear to me that the post-nap boob-time was really just a way to get a longer nap, I started soothing Westley back to sleep with his blanket and his bobo (pacifier) and one of his many dolls. And when he wakes up for real? Sippy cup and cuddle time, sometimes with a little "Sesame Street" thrown in for good measure.

Food from a fork

Now, the morning seems to be taking care of itself, with the exception of today's little, uh, disagreement. Usually, Westley will accept some up-close-and-personal time with my ponytail in lieu of breastfeeding. He likes "hay-uh" (hair) almost as much as he likes "molk." And I like rolling over and going back to sleep with him next to me much better than balancing uncomfortably on my side, trying to breastfeed lying down in bed while being irritated about not sleeping.

Frustrations aside, it makes me kind of sad that I don't remember the last morning Westley breastfed. That nursing time sort of disappeared without my really noticing it. It makes me think that breastfeeding will probably just fade away. Rather than having a date etched into my memory--"that's The Last Time I nursed him"--I'll probably just pause one day and realize, I haven't nursed Westley in a while. Actually, that seems like the best way to go. After all, if I don't really realize I've stopped breastfeeding completely, it will mean a very natural, gradual transition for Westley.

On the other hand, not breastfeeding any more, especially when I wanted to quit after only a few weeks, feels like a Big Fucking Deal. Something that calls for a little ceremony maybe, or at least a champagne toast and some cake. Maybe I'll throw a weaning party--for myself. Because who doesn't love a boob cake?

(And if there were ever a celebration for which a boob cake is totally appropriate, this is it.)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Things I Did While Waiting

My friend Amanda is very, very pregnant. She has a little over a week to go before her due date, and, as anyone who has been pregnant knows, she's ready to be done. She says every twinge, every cramp makes her look at her watch and start waiting for a pattern to emerge.

Gabe and Amanda (and Bert and Ernie)

I think about Amanda every day: while I'm brushing my teeth, driving, soothing Westley to sleep for his nap. How tired is she? Is she getting any sleep? Is today the day?

I think back to that week before Westley was born, and it's sort of blurry. I was due the Thursday after Thanksgiving; my maternity leave started the day before Thanksgiving. I remember packing up the contents of my desk at work and shutting down the computer. We'd had a potluck Thanksgiving lunch at the office, so I rode home on the bus with a casserole dish of roasted root vegetable salad leftovers on my lap.

Rob and I had just moved, but I couldn't bring myself to unpack. I remember having terrible insomnia and sitting up in our dark, bare living room watching "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and "Ace of Cakes" and "A Baby Story." I hope Amanda isn't watching mediocre Food Network programming. And I really hope she isn't watching babies-getting-born shows. The last thing you need when you're hugely pregnant and insomniac and counting down days to your due date is to watch other women go through labor.

The nights before my due date are all a blur of not sleeping and the light from the TV shining on me. The same programming, over and over. Impossibly huge cakes shaped like cars and office buildings, and that same TLC angle of women in that same hospital bed. The funny thing is: I don't remember what I did during the day. On Thanksgiving Day, I cooked and ate and felt horribly crampy after dinner. But that's all I remember, until my due date a week later.

I hope Amanda isn't cooking. I really hope she's not standing in front of a hot oven, bending down, basting a Tofurkey roast and having giant Braxton-Hicks contractions. (Not that Amanda would be cooking Tofurkey. I'm not sure she's ever even had Tofurkey.) I hope she's ready. Or, rather, I hope she's relaxed into the reality that no one is ever "ready," and is at ease with her level of preparedness. Somewhere, I have a "to do" list I was working on the week before I was due. About a third of it is checked off, and one of the unchecked boxes is "Baby's Room."

The week before it is gone, but I remember my due date really, really well. I forced myself to leave the TV off, not to watch any babies-being-born shows, and to think as little about babies and childbirth and labor as possible. A few hours later, I remember feeling a little rush of fluid when I stood up, and I remember thinking, That was weird. I wonder what that's about.

Two days later, I met Westley.

I hope Amanda doesn't have to wait much longer.

Your turn: Do you remember the week before your baby was born better than I do? What did you do while waiting? What did you not do?


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Plastic Age

When I was in the third grade, braces were a status symbol. They were something that the cool kids had, even though we didn't really refer to them as "the cool kids" yet. The word "orthodontist" rolled out of their mouths with ease. They bonded at recess over color combinations and rubber bands, trying to impress each other (and gross the rest of us out) by popping their blue or rainbow or glittery retainers out and showing them off. When they talked, their mouths looked high-tech and important. I really, really wanted braces.

Instead, I got a labial frenectomy, which sounds a lot more exciting than it is. Instead of gross-in-a-cool-way, I was just gross. I had a row of thick, black stitches between my two front teeth for weeks. My upper lip was puffy and swollen just in time for Picture Day. My third grade portrait looks like some sort of underage collagen experiment gone wrong.

Eventually, my desire for a metal-laced smile faded. But my teeth never straightened themselves out. So after some serious back-and-forth about cost versus benefits to long-term dental health and all that jazz, I'm finally getting my teeth messed with. My inner third-grader is overjoyed.

As I waited in the dentist's office last week for my second set of plastic aligners (because metal braces when you're 20-[cough] years old? Not so cute) it occurred to me that plastic wasn't even an orthodontic option when I was in third grade. Having to wait so long to get my teeth straightened has ended up meaning using a completely different system. I started to wonder what medical procedures that I take for granted now will seem old fashioned to Westley.

Before Westley was born, Rob let some people shoot lasers into his eyes so that he wouldn't have to wear glasses any more. I watched part of the procedure, and it looked as freakishly futuristic as it sounds. It was kind of a big deal, and we were sort of in awe of it. But Westley will grow up with that technology already in place: laser eye surgery will just be something people do. In fact, by the time Westley is old enough to need glasses or braces or acne medication, doctors will just be zapping teenagers with all-purpose, all-over medical lasers. Like a spray-tanning for your health.

Okay, maybe all-purpose medical lasers are a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly fair to say that Westley's generation is growing up in The Future. Their eyes will be lasered. Their braces will be plastic. They're not going to understand buying music on CDs, or writing things out in longhand, or driving a vehicle that uses only gasoline (knock on sustainably harvested wood). It makes me wonder what will be the status symbol in Westley's third grade class. Has it even been invented yet?


Friday, August 14, 2009

27 Olivers

I think every little boy at the playground today except mine was named Aiden. Every little girl was either Isabella or Madison. Or maybe it was "Isabella Madison," all one name, like Anna Marie.

I'm totally fascinated by names. I can't watch a movie without getting hung up on the characters' names, wondering, Why did the screenwriter choose that? I love the way characters' names tell us about the world of the film, pointing out the story's major themes, or simply giving the audience a better sense of who each individual character is. It still bothers me that while everyone else in E.T. seems to have an obviously significant name, Drew Barrymore's character is named Gertrude. The only Gertrude I can think of (other than Stein) is Hamlet's mother. So...huh? How does that fit? And why do we not find out the baby's name at the end of Knocked Up? I mean, come on!

Names outside of fiction are even more interesting. I talked to a woman a few weeks ago whose little boy was named Otis. For as long as I can remember, Otis has been a dog's name in my mind. I wanted to ask her about how she chose the name, but I didn't because somehow it felt sort of rude. However, it's clear that this mother doesn't share my association with the name Otis. Or else she named her son after a fictional pug on purpose, but that seems kind of insane and I find it hard to imagine. Of course, I named my son after a fictional pirate on purpose, so I don't have a peg leg to stand on.

Regardless of how he got his name, I doubt that little Otis will run into another Otis any time soon. I have yet to meet another Westley. (One of the receptionists at Rob's office was shocked to hear that our son was named Westley-with-the-T, because that was going to be her grandson's name. Needless to say, she remembers who we are when we come to visit Rob at work.) I would be lying if I said popularity (or, more accurately, lack thereof) was not a deciding factor in choosing our son's name. It totally was. I love the way Zachary sounds, and it works really well with Rob's last name, but it was wildly popular when I was pregnant. I didn't want my son to be one of five Zacharys in his class.

Like most Robs, my Rob is actually a Robert. He has said that it doesn't really bother him that his name is so common* (he never has to spell his first name out for anyone, ever) but that it can be a major pain in the ass around peers. When you're hanging out somewhere with three other Robs, you all end up getting called by your last names, which sounds a little gym-classy. Watson! Stevens! Drop and gimme 20!

I was always strangely envious of the girls who got to be "Melissa P" or "Melissa F" (I guess because I always felt like such a weirdo, and you can't really be that weird if there are a bunch of other people with your same name), and the Elizabeths and Katherines who had an abundance of nicknames from which to choose. I never got to be anything cute like "Liz" or "Kat." I was stuck with an easy-to-tease, easy-to-misspell name that was not only a staple lyric of the Christmas season, but is also an iamb, and therefore can't really be sung to "The Name Game." I probably would have killed to have been "Noelle L" among other Noelles in elementary school. But I know enough Jennifers and Sarahs and Kates who absolutely hated having that extra letter tacked on to their first name. My own unusual childhood aside, I didn't want my own child to have to go through school with last initial in tow.

Jennifer, Dorothy and Westley

Based on the names I hear at the pool and the playground, and read on your blogs, many of you had the same idea. Originality seems to have become another thing to consider when choosing a baby's name, along with origin, meaning, and flow with whatever names are going to come after it. I find it strange that a name's popularity can put it out of the running for that first-name slot. Like some sort of Robert-and-Jennifer backlash.

What's even stranger is when the "original" names suddenly become popular. A wonderful couple we know are expecting a baby girl at the end of this month. They chose the name Kaylee, and shortly after announcing it, were bombarded with Kaylees. Rob and I kind of pulled Oliver out of a hat for Westley's middle name. We liked the way it sounded, and apparently, lots of other people do, too. It's no "Aiden," but there are lots of Olivers out there, especially in Seattle. After thinking the name was so unusual and underused, I'm hearing it all the time. Maybe in the next few years, people will start using it for their daughters, and "Oliver" can be the next "Jennifer."

*How common? "Robert" was the most popular name for boys in the United States from 1924 to 1939, and has been among the ten most popular names for most of the past 100 years. That's a lot of Roberts. (P.S. I love you, Social Security Administration Online, for fueling my name obsession.)


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Vacation Diet

Like any person in a post-vacation blue funk, I was blaming leaving the beach and my friends and coming back to reality for my current bout of depression. As it turns out, I should be blaming my lunch.

I don't usually blog about food, because, well, I just don't. I tried it for a little while, but writing about menu planning and cooking and eating (oh my!) seems too intimate. I'm fully aware that this is a personality flaw quirk of mine, and that it looks especially bizarre on someone who talks about her vagina every chance she gets. The fact of the matter is: I love and admire food bloggers,* but I will never be able to join their ranks, because I'm too chicken. Or, more accurately, too "chicken-style vegan protein source." Besides, you all don't want to know what I eat, do you?

Of course, having already brought up my doctor's visits and elimination diet, I've written myself into a little writing-about-food corner. And now I have further evidence to suggest that managing my diet is the key to stabilizing my moods.

One of the first things I did when I got back from vacation was make toast. Wheat was the one thing I had yet to add back into my diet, and while I had suspected all along that it was the driving force behind my unpleasant physical symptoms, I needed to check. You know, for science. And also because I really like toast. I'd eaten some wheat crackers on the plane in response to low blood sugar and poor planning, and had felt a little stomach-crampy afterwards. But travel does weird things to people, so I figured toast was my real wheat-test.

It seems I was right to be suspicious. Within a couple of hours post-bread, I was bloated, nauseated, and miserable. I avoided wheat like crazy for the next few days, but continued to feel physically and mentally crappy. It occurred to me that my mood was probably up while I was on vacation because, well, I was on vacation with my friends! But I realized that I hadn't had any physical symptoms at all until the plane-crackers struck.

I reflected on my vacation diet: coffee and oatmeal with raisins and fresh fruit (and, er, breastmilk) for breakfast; salad for lunch every day, tofu once or twice, a little potato, lots of avocado; cooked veggies and more salad for dinner; homemade salad dressing always; wine, both red and white; lots of plain popcorn and tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole for dessert (because sweets and I don't get along).

What's missing from that? Well, wheat, obviously, but I was avoiding that on purpose. As diets go, it's kind of grain-less. But the biggest difference is the absence of the processed rice and soy products of which I have become so fond. Because it's dumb to buy a whole container of Earth Balance or Vegenaise or Bragg Liquid Aminos for one person for a week, the only soy I ate while I was on vacation was a little tofu and some soy milk.

When I added soy back to my diet after having cut it out, I didn't notice it being a problem. Now I'm not so sure. Soy (especially highly-processed soy) and I will be parting ways for a while. Just in time for my in-laws' potluck Labor Day celebration, where you can bet the vegan protein option won't be gluten-free lentil burgers!

It would be easy to get hung up on all the things I can't eat and all the things I choose not to eat and how I have to bring food with me everywhere I go so I'm never stuck eating bloat-inducing airline snacks ever again. But since I've started duplicating my vacation breakfast every morning (minus the freshly-pumped breastmilk, of course), I've been feeling a little better, body and mind both.

Clearly, I should eat like I'm on vacation all the time. It's not nearly as much fun as lazing around a beach house with friends, but it's cheaper than a plane ticket. And it's hard to convince myself that I shouldn't be eating two salads a day.

*Really. I'm kind of in awe of people who post pictures of their food--whether they cooked it themselves or not. My mother always took pictures of our restaurant meals when I was a child, and this seemed completely strange and a little invasive to me. Honestly, I'd rather post a picture of my postpartum pooch than post a picture of my plate.


Monday, August 10, 2009

No-Toy Story

Sometimes I think that I'm the only person getting anything out of Westley's toys.

When Westley was really teeny, I remember agonizing over the the options in the "baby" section of one of our little locally-owned toy stores. I didn't have a ton of money to spend on toys, and I wanted to make sure I picked out something he would like. I settled on a vibrating, light-up turtle with a Velcro strap that could be hooked to carseats and strollers. Westley wasn't impressed by the light show, but enjoyed chewing on the Velcro.

Except for a brief period around nine months, when toys were a great way to keep him from going nuts and crawling all over a new place, Westley has always been pretty ambivalent towards toys. Something that holds his attention for a good 20 or 30 minutes in a store will generally go untouched if I bring it home. We've tried rotating toys, hiding some in the garage while others remain in the toy box and then switching things up, and it doesn't make much difference. Westley would rather play with the salad spinner, or an empty produce box, or my wallet.

His favorite "toys" are tools: mostly my parents' gardening stuff, but also kitchen utensils and my father's power drill. In fact, Westley's word for "toy" and his word for "tool" are practically indistinguishable from one another. I get that he likes measuring cups and CD cases, but I find it completely baffling that with something like a drum, where a toy version exists, Westley would rather bang on an empty birdseed bucket. His favorite game at the moment doesn't involve any toys at all, unless you count pillows. It's called "bed," and the more people who play, the better. Basically the idea is that everyone gets on Rob's and my bed, and Westley flops down on top of us, squealing.

I have to admit, the anti-toy stance kind of bothers me. I'm always tempted to buy Westley toys, especially when I find something cool-looking and wooden at resale. So many of my own childhood memories revolve around blocks or train track or tea sets. My brother and I spent hours building elaborate towers using special blocks with grooves in them, and then watching marbles zig-zag into a "marble pen" we'd specially designed out of Lincoln Logs. But Westley would rather have a giant food storage container to climb into, or turn over and stand on. I know he's too little for Lincoln Logs and marbles, but except for the occasional car or truck from my Brio-heavy childhood, toys aren't even on his radar.

Whenever Westley rejects my block towers, I try to remind myself that this won't last very long. Pretty soon, he'll be all over the wooden construction stuff (a lot of which still bears my brother's and my marker scribbles). And some day, he'll be clambering for the next big thing in toys--the thing all his friends at school have--and I'll be shaking my head, wondering if it's worth the expense and where I'm going to store it. I'm sure that when that day comes, I'll long for this time when Westley didn't care about toys. When all he wanted was adults and board books and household stuff.

Until then, I'll be building train track figure-eights for my own amusement. Maybe I'll even throw myself a tea party.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

And So I Sing This Romaunt

Today is Rob's and my official* anniversary. Four years ago there was a tux and a white dress and some vows. That's what I think about on the sixth of August every year: the minutia of the wedding. It's a slightly guilt-ridden process for me. I feel like I should be thinking about how great our wedding was and looking back at the beginning of our marriage with fondness. Instead, I'm pissed. I can't think about Rob's and my wedding without getting angry.

There's this one picture that I think I post every time I mention the wedding. That's because out of the hundreds of pictures the photographer took over the course of the day, it's the only one I like. It's the only picture that makes us look even remotely attractive and happy. Despite my asking specifically for lots of candid photos, the rest of the pictures are posed to the point of looking unnatural.

We keep pictures around to serve as memory cues, so naturally, looking at my wedding photos (and re-experiencing my anger at the photographer) brings back a flood of disappointments and frustrations from that day. The one part of the wedding "script" that I was really attached to got left out accidentally. The food was only okay. The cake was the wrong consistency and the wrong color inside. The DJ mispronounced our last name, even though I wrote it out phonetically for him and gave him a "rhymes with." I was fatter than I'd ever wanted to be in a wedding dress. And I had asked Rob to do two very specific things for me before the wedding--get the car washed, get a haircut--and he didn't do either of them. Yes, four years later, I'm still mad at my husband over fluffy hair and grime on the windshield.

The further we get from August 6, 2005, the less it feels like a day worth celebrating. It's partly my ability to zero in on things that were less than ideal, and it's partly that Rob and I are different as a couple: fewer chins, more gray hairs, fewer surprises, more experiences in common. Or maybe it's that I'm so different now. I don't really feel any connection to that girl who wore the white dress and the veil four years ago. Rob is still the man I married (perhaps even an updated version of the man I married). I know I'm not the woman who married him. Fortunately for me, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

As I search around inside my head, looking for something sweet and wonderful to sum up my thoughts about the wedding, make it all better, make it somehow okay that the day kind of sucked for me, I keep coming back to Rob's and my other anniversary. On the fifteenth of June this year, I wrote a little bit about our private, secret civil ceremony.
Four years ago today, Rob and I sneaked away from work early, kidnapped some friends...and got married. I remember the Judge saying this was his favorite part of his job. He explained with a fictional-character kind of wisdom that marriage is like being in a two-person canoe, and it really takes work on both people's parts to keep it afloat. Especially when it's dark and hard to see, or stormy and the water is choppy. It was a perfect day. My only major regret is that we didn't consummate the marriage until two months later, after our "real" wedding in front of our friends and families.

Four years later, things are tougher in a lot of ways, but I like us better. We don't go to bed angry; we stay up and fight until we're fighting on the same side. Us against the fight. There are times when I don't feel like being married any more. There are times when I don't feel like being a parent any more. There are times when I think if I had really known what I was getting myself into, I would have turned left at the fork in the road. But those times do pass, sometimes with work. The trick is to remember what the beautiful days feel like when the sun starts disappearing behind the clouds.
The beautiful days have nothing to do with flower arrangements or slow-dancing in front of your grandmother. You might get dressed up, but you probably don't. The beautiful days are about watching your husband blow dandelion fluff at your toddler while they both laugh. The beautiful days are slow-dancing in your kitchen to the sound of the dishwasher running. They're improvised dinners and staying up late because you'd rather analyze jokes together than sleep.

Weddings big and small are wonderful, but with the truly beautiful days, you're on your own: planning, promising, celebrating. And the real work is remembering. No one gets hired to take pictures.

* "Official" as in "the one we tell people about." Although if I keep blogging about our civil ceremony, that might need to change.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If We Lived Here, We'd Be Home By Now

Looking through vacation photos this afternoon, pulling out the good and interesting ones (not as many as I'd hoped), I noticed something unusual, but comforting. As I examined the evidence of long-awaited time with friends, I felt kind of like I was looking into another dimension. An alternate familial reality.

I didn't notice it in the photos when I took them. As is my usual procedure, I shot a bunch of pictures, occasionally monkeying with the settings on my camera, hoping for four or five Really Good Ones. When I finally sat down and looked at the pictures all together as a group, I was struck by how domestic we look. There are only a few tell-tale "vacation" photos. Mostly it's just five women (and two dogs and a diabetic cat) living together in an almost-complete house. Cooking dinner, setting the table, unloading car trunks, backing up computers. Like college never ended, and we all just moved into a really beachy dorm.

So much has happened in two years. For starters, the baby who was in my belly the last time we all saw each other is now a little boy, marking the passage of time in well-child visits. There are boyfriends, teenage step-kids, houses. Job titles that sound real--lawyer, teacher, chef--even if the jobs themselves are still emerging. There's a wedding coming up. A move to Europe. Everything is different. And somehow nothing has changed.

We still know each others quirks backwards and forwards. We can still lovingly, pointlessly peer-pressure each other into things like splitting a salad at dinner, getting hooked on a television show, or joining a social networking site despite its obvious asshattitude. We can still roar with laughter. ("Child support is really just backdoor alimony." "No, 'backdoor alimony' is getting paid to have anal sex with your ex.") We can still agree to disagree. Big life changes or not, we're still able to pick up right where we left off.

I can't help but look at my oddly-composed, poorly-lit snapshots of this sisterhood of traveling feminist rants and fantasize about the five of us living together all the time. We wouldn't even need a giant house to do it, I think to myself, because we blend so seamlessly into each others space. We don't need much privacy, because we're practically related. Sisters From Some Other Misters.
Except that it would never work in "real life." For one thing, we'd probably all get sick of each other eventually, or at least sick of each others turns of phrase and tendency towards oversharing--although I find it hard to imagine. For another, friends may be the family we get to choose, as the cliche goes, but there are still in-laws to deal with. My chosen family tree already branches out to include two husbands, and that's just the beginning. When school and work are tied to locations, finding a mutually agreeable place to take root is truly impossible. Still, there's something about the four of them and our crazy, cozy bond that makes me think nothing is impossible.

Any struggle to make it work would be worth it, because there's something about these women that makes me want to cram five morning routines into one small kitchen.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Post-Party Depression

Throwing everything back into my suitcases, leaving Plum Island, and navigating a couple rounds of goodbye hugs yesterday was hard. After waiting an extra hour to get back to Seattle (my connecting flight was late), I felt strangely let down seeing Rob at the airport. Here he was, my normal. The long weekend was over. I think I was just getting used to being on vacation when it ended.

Goodbye to all that.

I felt fine this morning (rested, even), and wished I'd had a video camera running when Rob brought Westley into the bedroom. Westley was practically luminous with delight at seeing me, and proceeded to point out my facial features and name them--eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth--before cuddling up to my breast. But shortly afterwards, there was coffee, diapers, Sesame Street, Brio-building, a trip to the fruit market, and the realization that this was the routine and I was back in it. I started to feel deflated, depressed, fatigued.

I was hoping I'd return from my vacation feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into the Mommy thing head-first. Instead, I'm mildly sunburned, very itchy (from two kinds of bug bites), and exhausted. I keep whining inside my head. I don't want to wash diaper covers. I don't want to plan meals for the week. I want to drink a glass of wine at 2 PM and talk over hours of non-consecutive episodes of Grey's Anatomy. I'm actually starting to annoy myself.

Yes, I wore sunscreen. I even reapplied.

I'm giving myself today to mourn the end of the party atmosphere. I get to spend the next 10 or so hours missing my girlfriends and the beach house and the late-night discussions of home renovations and changing careers and post-feminism. And then I'm kicking my miserable ass and getting proactive. There's no teleportation yet, so I can't beam myself to the three other corners of the country for Wednesday coffee dates or Sunday dinners. But I'm setting up phone dates and sending more e-mails and collecting current mailing addresses.

Because once every two years is not nearly enough.

August 2007

August 2009

Vacation reflections and highlights still to come, when I feel more rested and when I've had a chance to sort through I don't know how many photos. But first? Unpacking.