Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good Morning

Last week, in attempt to get us on some kind of schedule, I started taking Westley for a walk first thing in the morning. I know it makes me look like a morning person, bundled up against the misty Seattle morning with my even-more-bundled little man in the stroller, tramping uphill (it truly is uphill every direction from our house). But I'm so not a morning person.

I decided to take us for a walk first thing because it was easy, quiet, and free. I didn't think I'd actually enjoy it. But now that we're well into our second week of weekday-morning walks, it looks like this agenda item might actually stick. Strangely, getting outside before I've washed my face (or even really had a chance to wake up) makes for a better morning.

This used to be the morning "routine": I'd stumble out of bed, turn on "Sesame Street," and search weakly for the inspiration to make something healthy and tasty for breakfast with an hour's worth of Muppet sounds in the background. And when the credits started rolling, I felt just as tired as I did when I got up (plus a little pissed off that an hour had passed and I'd accomplished little more than sitting on my ass). Now, an hour passes and I'm still tired, though it's in a more virtuous I-just-pushed-my-son-up-a-giant-hill sort of way, and the TV is off. It's amazing to me how much better this makes me feel about life.

There's something awesome about being up when other people are in bed. I'm not talking about those early months of Westley-dom, when my day started at 4:00 AM and "ended" at midnight. Nursing in the middle of the pitch-black January night makes you feel like even God is getting more sleep than you are. But walking through the mostly-sleeping neighborhood makes me feel like I'm getting away with something cool.

This morning, I pushed Westley past the high school where some pretty serious construction is going on. One of the workers looked at the stroller, looked at me, smiled, and nodded: "Good morning."

"Good morning," I replied.

By the time we rounded the corner of our own street, we'd collected "good morning"s from cyclists, dog-walking senior citizens, and a serious-looking businessman on his way to the bus stop. Part of me thinks those "good morning" greetings actually work, because we've been having pretty good mornings since the walks started.

After a few more pretty good mornings, I might just become a morning person.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NsFW: Nostalgic For Work

I was having one of those mornings when everything seems too hard; when the stretch between the end of breakfast and the beginning of nap feels so impossibly long that I'm paralyzed by it; and when the clearest thought I can manage is, What am I going to do with him today? It was one of those mornings when my heart feels heavy and sad, even as I watch my beautiful son playing.

I called Rob at work for a second opinion on the best way to get tomato seeds off the TV screen. "You wanna come over for lunch?" he asked. I said sure, and that we'd be there as soon as we could. When I hung up the phone, my heart suddenly felt a little lighter. My mental schedule wasn't one blank page anymore.

I've never had a dream job. Or even a cool job. My jobs have been occasionally pleasant at best, but lately I find myself missing even the lousy, behind-the-counter Clerks-worthy jobs. The thing I find I miss the most now that I've been officially not working for about a year and a half (besides having a professional identity and having an income, of course) is the schedule.

As much as I like to think of myself as independent and self-motivated, the truth is I'm oddly soothed by having someone dictate a start and end time for my activities. I think this is why I did reasonably well in school, even at my most depressed: Everything about my life is awful, but in 20 minutes physics will be over and I can switch to thinking about American cinema in the 1940s! Something about a schedule-mandated mental shift can get an exclamation point out of me on my most ellipsis-prone days.

One solution to my problem (not having a regular schedule) seems pretty obvious (make a friggin' schedule!). However, this is one area of at-home parenting in which I feel painfully, embarrassingly inept. When it comes to planning a day with Westley, I still feel like it's Day 1, and I have No Idea What To Do. I sat down to write out a schedule a little while ago, and I had to do it backwards: 8:00 PM--bedtime, 7:30 PM--diaper, pajamas, books with Daddy, 7:00 PM--bath, and so on. Apparently, I'm not a morning person, even on paper.

The other solution I'm looking at requires mental gymnastics of a different type. How do I get over my work-nostalgia? It's hard to convince myself that this is a false nostalgia I'm experiencing, even though I know it is. Because work? Not that great. (The work I was doing, anyway.) Westley, on the other hand, is pretty fucking great.

This afternoon, when it was time for Westley and me to say good-bye to Rob and drive home, Westley absolutely lost it. In the past few weeks, he has started crying in the mornings when Rob leaves for work, and I think he thought Rob was coming home with us today. I told Westley, "We'll see Daddy at dinnertime," as Rob kissed him good-bye. But nothing helped. Westley just cried and cried for "dada" as we drove away and Rob headed inside, to his desk.

Driving home, it occurred to me that it's so easy to get hung up on the things I don't have: income, professional identity, regularly scheduled programming. But I almost never have to listen to Westley bitterly cry "mama" as I go out the door. That's the dream part of my job.


Friday, September 25, 2009

He Thinks I'm Magic

He thinks I can change a red light into a green one, and that I make muffins appear out of thin air. When something is locked, he's certain that I have the key.

He thinks I can lift him and all his toys simultaneously. He thinks I can carry all the sticks in the forrest, and that my pockets have infinite storage space for rocks. He thinks I can make flat ground into a hill to run down.

He thinks I have the power to send Elmo back to 1974, and "open" solid, all-one-piece objects. He thinks that my blowing on slides at the park will make them cooler.

But he can make me sing and dance the hokey-pokey just by asking for music. He can melt my heart with a kiss on the cheek. He can fill my head with question marks. Sometimes just thinking about him makes me cry. And he can make me smile on the worst day ever.

He's the magic one.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Five Stages of the Week

I woke up this morning already pissed off. For no particular reason, either. Except, of course, that it's only Tuesday, and I have to spend all day with a tantrum-happy toddler, and Rob gets to leave and go to work, and what the hell am I doing as a stay-at-home mother anyway!?

After a walk with Westley in the stroller and a zucchini muffin and some serious introspection, I was able to remind myself that everything is temporary, including my feelings of piss-offed-ness and frustration. And then I made an odd discovery: There is a distinct similarity between the five stages of grief and my weekly relationship to stay-at-home motherhood. It stacks up remarkably well:
  1. Monday: Denial"I'm totally fine staying home."; "This can't be happening — not to me." (True denial doesn't actually last very long. These thoughts are often lead to an acute sense of the ways in which life would be different if I were working.)
  2. Tuesday: Anger"Why me? Rob gets to go to work! It's not fair!" (Once denial is firmly out of the picture, anyone who represents freedom or financial independence, or anyone whose feelings about stay-at-home parenting are less ambivalent than mine is the enemy! If I'm going to get into a fight with my mom where I say something hurtful like, "Well, I'm sorry I don't love being a mom like you do," it's probably going to be on a Tuesday.)
  3. Wednesday: Bargaining"Just let me make it through the afternoon without losing it."; "I'll do anything for a few more minutes to myself."
  4. Thursday: Depression"Leaving the house is too much effort. I just want to go back to bed."; "I'm not advancing my career or contributing to the finances, so what's the point in doing anything?"; "I hate this 'job'."
  5. Friday: Acceptance"It's going to be OK."; "I can't fight being a stay-at-home parent right now, so I might as well buckle down and kick ass at it." (This is when the DIY-er inside me comes out. I start making lists, plans, schedules. Suddenly, I have goals for the weekend beyond "try to get some rest." Next week is going to be different!)
I'm kind of surprised I didn't uncover this earlier.

Obviously, this convenient "stages" approach way over-simplifies my mental process, if you can call it that. Most of the time, it's less of a step-by-step plan and more like a tame, kiddy roller-coaster that makes me feel sick to my stomach anyway. Maybe the reality of my life-situation is just sinking in a little deeper as Westley gets closer to two and I continue to feel distant from the girl I was before becoming a mother. Or maybe I'm focusing more on my mental state now that I'm closer to being physically healthy again. But the bottom line is: I don't know anyone who feels this ambivalent about staying home.

I know that this life is — more or less — my choice. I just wish I liked my choice a little better.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reflecting Pool

I don't know how to swim. Somehow, I managed never to learn. I watch kids at the community pool take their swim tests, crossing from one side of the shallow end to the other and back again without touching down. I think I might be able to do it if I tried, but certainly not with ease or grace. I reflect that it's a weird thing to be an adult and not know how to swim. Then I think about my great-grandmother.

My great-grandmother didn't learn to swim until she was in her fifties. And then she swam every day until she got sick. I wonder how long she would have continued to swim if she hadn't refused to go to the doctor when she heard what kind of doctor it was.

I've been thinking a lot about my great-grandmother while I've been sick. I've been keeping the fever chills at bay with an afghan she knit. It's a true old-school piece of knitting--acrylic yarn in yellow, brown, orange, and two shades of green--and the work is flawless. It's not especially soft, but it's comforting to swaddle myself in it and imagine her working on it. I wonder what she would think of her adult great-granddaughter. Would she like me? I hope so.

I have this idea that I have a lot in common with my great-grandmother, because I don't know how to swim and I have an unfinished project languishing on her old knitting needles. But the truth is that I don't know much about her. I know she was a swimmer and a knitter. She loved babies. Loved them. She had four of her own. My mother was her second grandchild, and in pictures, my great-grandmother looks overjoyed to be in the presence of a tiny, new person. I also know that she was terribly depressed at the end of her life. I suspect she'd know all too well what my dark mental insides look like.

My great-grandmother killed herself when my mom was in her twenties. Needless to say, my great-grandmother's death was incredibly painful for my mother. The story has long served as a cautionary tale for me ("This is what happens when you don't get help") and also a comforting affirmation that my depression is not my fault; it's my biological inheritance. Some people have a certain cancer that runs in their family. I have alcoholism and suicide.

This past Wednesday, my great-grandma would have been 108. I wonder if she'd gotten well if she would have lived that long. I'm not sure what she'd think of me, but I know she would have loved Westley. She would have loved to see him swim. She would have taken him to the pool every chance she got.

In addition to being my great-grandma's birthday, this past Wednesday was Westley's first swimming class for fall. This is his third go-round with swimming classes. Several months ago, when he started lying on his tummy in the bathtub and blowing bubbles, I figured it was time to look into swimming lessons. "Lessons" at his age mostly amount to getting used to being in the pool, singing songs where splashing is involved, and introducing the ideas of kicking, paddling, and blowing bubbles with no pressure to get any of it right.

On Wednesday, my mom took Westley to class. "He really swims now," she told me when they got home. "He's actually learning to swim. He kicks his legs and moves his arms."

My first thought was that my great-grandma would be overjoyed.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sickness in Seattle

I'm not sure what's worse: taking care of a sick husband and a sick toddler, or trying to take care of a mostly-better toddler while I'm sick.

It's entirely possible that we all contracted nerd flu a couple weekends ago. But whatever it is, it's miserable. (Seriously, don't catch it.) Fortunately, of the three of us, Westley seems to have had the mildest case. I don't know how he does it, but that boy almost never gets sick. I can count his "under the weather" moments on one hand. In fact, he might be a cyborg.

So all Westley and his cast-iron immune system really needed was a couple of days of quality cuddle time, his red robot to hug, and lots of TV and books. Rob stayed home from work, and slept off the worst of it. And I rushed around and got things done and waited on the guys and got totally run-down. So naturally now that Rob is back at work and Westley is quickly becoming his usual, energetic self again, I'm achy all over and running a fever (103.8 degrees of awesomely-badness).

I can honestly say that this was something I never considered before having a child: parenting when you're sick. Unfortunately, I've had to do it a lot since Westley was born. When he was a baby, it was a little easier; I sat on my ass, nursed 24/7 and watched a lot of bad television, which basically amounts to resting. But now I have an almost-two-year-old who has his own ideas about activities, and would rather not watch a marathon of America's Next Top Model.

This illness caught me completely off-guard, which I know is ridiculous to say because Rob and Westley both had it. There was a pretty good chance I would get sick, too, but I was too busy making hot and sour ginger soup, and cuing up the same three episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba to think about that. Now, I'm home sick with nothing in the way of physical and emotional resources, and it's taking almost as much a toll on me as the symptoms I'm trying to alleviate with regular doses of DayQuil.

For the first time ever, I'm wishing for more shelf-stable convenience foods stockpiled in the pantry, because "cooking" and "sick" don't mix; more of Westley's books and toys in my room, so he could stay in bed with me; and more seriously-not-fucking-around cold and flu medicine to go along with the hippy-dippy homeopathic stuff in my medicine chest. Next time sickness hits this house--because, let's face it, there will be a next time (hello, preschool-as-germ-factory)--I'm going to be prepared.

Or maybe my time would be better spent finding out how the hell Westley recovers from things so quickly, and what I can do get a cast-iron immune system of my own.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Is "Fat" a Four-Letter Word?

Did you know that you can say "tits" on TV now? Well, not on network TV, but I'm pretty sure I heard it on Bravo, while certain other choice words were bleeped. "Piss" seems to be all right too, as long as you don't mean it literally. ("You're going to piss him off"--Roger that; "You're going to piss on him"--not tonight, Josephine.) The other five are definitely still bleep-material.

I mention this, and reference George Carlin in particular, because I hold the belief that there are no bad words. Words are just words; it's the thoughts and the actions that accompany words that shapes their meaning. I know that's like saying "guns don't kill people, people do," but unlike guns, words (with the possible exception of racial slurs and homophobic hate-speech) were not originally designed to wound.

I don't self-censor around Westley much. I don't go out of my way to swear, but I also don't go out of my way not to. But Westley is at an age now where he's picking up on everything I say and do, and new words in particular hold a special power for him. "We need to watch what we do around him," Rob said after I playfully slapped him and Westley followed suit. "What we say, too," I said, going through my mental catalogue of conversations and realizing that I'd probably said more than a few things recently that I didn't want my little dude to repeat. At least, not around his grandparents.

A few nights ago, I was cuddling with Westley while the cats were eating dinner. Rob accidentally frightened one of the cats away from her bowl, and the other jumped at the opportunity to steal an extra helping.

"Oh, Ursula, don't walk away," Rob said, nudging Fiona away from her sister's dish. "Finish your dinner."

I chimed in. "Seriously, Urs! That's why Fiona's so friggin' fat!"

As soon as I said it, I was suddenly re-aware of the child in my lap. Westley didn't seem to give any mind to my words, but I had a What-did-you-just-say-young-lady? moment in my head.

Does Westley really need to know about fat? I wondered. And then, the counter: But fat is a real thing in the world. It's an accurate description, especially of the cat.

It seems strange but telling that I would pause over using "fat" in a negative tone when I've been known to sing along with some decidedly not children's music while Westley is in the car with me ("I only ask because I'm a real cunt in spring/You can rent me by the hour"). But "fuck" and "piss" and "cunt" were never hurtful to me. "Fat" was.

It wasn't so much that the word was an insult hurled at me, but one that I absorbed from the world around me. Growing up, the only person to ever call me "fat" to my face was my brother, and it stung. It stung hard, because it was true. Not "true" in the crazy-straw mentality of my teenaged self-esteem sense, either. It was true in the "BMI of 30 and above" sense. I held the word "fat" in my head every day. And that word--and more importantly, what it signified--was the reason I felt left out of life for 14 years. I soaked the cultural fat-negativity up like a sponge soaks up water, and I can't seem to squeeze it out. Even though my actual weight has been normal for almost four years.

Recently, I gained about ten pounds. Apparently, one of my pseudo-rebellious responses to finding out that there are a lot of things I can't eat anymore is to overeat on the things I can have. Yeah. Consequently, I'm now sporting quite the gluten-free muffin top. Now I find myself thinking and saying "fat" more often than I did just a few weeks ago. It's incredibly frustrating, and not just because my pants don't fit. Intellectually, I know that "fat" is just a word. And that it means fat, not "not as good as thin." But I also know that despite my best efforts, I'm modeling the fat-equals-bad mentality for my son.

And that fucking sucks.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Surprise, Baby

It's not often that Rob gets to pull one over on me. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty sharp; not much gets by me. I'm on the lookout for surprises-in-the-making, not because I want to ruin the fun, but because I hate being out of the loop. If there's a loop, I'm pretty good at finding it and forcing my way in.

So you can imagine Rob's delight (and my shock) when he informed me on Monday night that he had already arranged to take the next day off (extending our long weekend into a really long weekend), and that my mother was in on it and would be taking Westley for the afternoon so Rob and I could go to the movies. The last time Rob really surprised me was before we were married when he flew out to visit me at school for Valentine's Day (and all of my friends were in on the secret and no one told me) 2004! And the funny thing? Yesterday's random-day-off-work and no-real-reason date was the better surprise.

I've written before about how Rob's and my relationship is stronger now that we're parents. We go on more dates now than we did when we were "dating." With Westley in the picture, our time alone has become so much more valuable, because there's so little of it. On nights when we really like each other, Rob and I stay up way too late, and end up feeling awful and sort of weirdly hung-over in the morning. Because going to bed means ending the day. Ending that coveted time between our son's bedtime and our eyes closing when we get to be together, just us. His and Hers.

As Rob was getting out of the shower on Tuesday morning, the phone rang. We both ran for it; we were sure we knew who it was. Rob got there first, and his "Oh, good!" confirmed what I'd suspected (and desperately hoped): the wait was over. After four days of labor, baby Kaylee Jean was here! Born on Labor Day, of course. (I guess when your mother is a clown and your father is a comedian, you're literally born with a sense of comedic timing.)

Rob and I gushed into the phone like crazy-happy people, told Gabe we loved him and Amanda and we'd see them when they were ready. We spent the morning playing with Westley and doing the prep-work on some food for the new family. I felt that same twinge of useless guilt I always feel leaving Westley when I tucked him in for nap and handed the baby monitor to my mother. But there was something else there, too. Another kind of guilt. With Gabe and Amanda and their new parenthood so overwhelming my thoughts, I had the distinct sense that Rob and I were getting away with something. Playing hooky from parenting.

My guilt over going out alone with Rob while our friends and their newborn were still recovering in the hospital caught me by total surprise. Maybe because I know that things are getting easier for us (more or less) and things are about to get much, much harder for them, it seems wrong to flex my freedom a little. Gabe and Amanda won't be able to go on a surprise movie-date for a while. It won't be just the two of them, even for a few hours at night.

I know they'll get through it all. And I hope when they find themselves on the other side of this impossibly challenging phase of their relationship, they like each other better. There are all kinds of surprises that come with having a child. One of the best is discovering that you like the two of you even more than you did when it was only ever just the two of you.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Married Life Productions Presents, 'Sweet Nothings'

Fade In

INT: BEDROOM; Last night, around 11:00 PM.

NOELLE and ROB lie facing each other in bed. They put their arms around each other, and ROB plays with NOELLE's hair. She kisses him.

You're sweet. Like sugar.

ROB smiles briefly before his brow furrows with thought. He decides to one-up her.

You're sweet like agave.

Because I'm not as sweet as sugar, but I won't wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels and I'm low-Glycemic Index?

[laughs] I guess I could have said you're sweet like aspartame.

Because I give you cancer.

Aspartame gives you MS. Saccharin gives you cancer.

[laughs] Oh, of course. Sorry.

No, you're sweet like Splenda. I don't know how you're killing me yet.

NOELLE kisses ROB, hard.

Fade out


Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm a Better Driver Than You Think I Am (Really!)

I wish there were something I could affix to my car--a flag, a sign, a bumper sticker, anything--that could quickly and easily convey the following:
I'm not really this shitty of a driver. I do actually have a license and know how to safely operate a motor vehicle. It's just that I also have a very tired, very loud child in the back seat who keeps dropping his pacifier and doesn't understand that I can't read him a book while driving.
I'm sorry to say, this scenario happens more often than I would like. Letting other drivers know just seems like the courteous thing to do. Especially since listening to Westley fuss seems to impede my ability to see you over there, in your lane, signaling to get into my lane. Sorry, dude. I really should've let you in, but there's a direct connection between how close it is to nap time and how likely I am to speed up.

I've never done anything major-accident-worthy, but I've done a few questionable maneuvers. Enough to get honked at, glared at, and probably talked about later to loved ones over dinner. "There was this crazy woman getting off the bridge today--" I just always apologize in my head and pray that the other driver saw the car seat and thought, "Oh, well, that explains it. She has a toddler with her."

I don't know why I care so much what other people on the road think, except that I know I look like an asshole, and I swear to you I'm not! I'm all for letting people merge, limiting my car to one parking space, and I would never not use my turn signals. (Turn signals = good for humanity. C'mon, people now! Smile on your brother!) I don't own a cell phone, so it's not even possible for me to talk on the phone or text while driving. But sometimes, if I don't get out there and make an aggressive left turn, it means listening to a high-pitched, desperate lament from the back seat and risking losing my sanity. I am by no means proud of this fact.

That's why I want a sign. It's too bad Baby on Board signs are just laughable now. If we could only change the meaning from "Please don't tailgate me; I'm a yuppie" to "Please excuse me; there's a tiny screaming human in my car," that would be perfect.

Maybe I'll just get myself a "Student Driver" bumper sticker (and aim for fewer outings immediately before nap time) and call it good.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

21 Months, and I'm Kind of Over the Whole "Months" Thing

Some part of me will probably measure Westley's age in months forever. He was born on the first of December, so it's hard, when a new month rolls around, not to think, Westley's another month old today. On the other hand, I feel like I'm starting to sound ridiculous when I tell people how many months old Westley is.

"What is he, about two? Two-and-a-half?" the guy at the fruit market asks.

"Not quite. He'll be 21 months on September 1st."

See? Clunky. Rob has side-stepped this problem completely by telling people, "He'll be two in December."

So are we really at that point? The point where we give the "two-in-December" answer as opposed to the "20-months-and three-weeks" answer? I feel like maybe, by not reading the What To Expect books, I missed learning the proper parental etiquette on this one.

We're certainly out of the stage where the changes from one month to the next are clearly visible in (zillions of) photographs. But when I reflect on the past four weeks, a lot has changed for Westley, the least of which is his hair length. He had his first real separation from me, and his first bout of vomiting. He uses a fork and a spoon easily (when he wants to). He speaks in sentences occasionally. It's crazy.

I feel as though I'm not so much counting up months, as counting down to two. Paving the way and preparing myself for the inescapable fact that my son--my tiny, baby son--is going to be two in December. Two!

But on the issue of answering the question, "how old is he?" I need my fellow babymamas to school me: when did you stop measuring your child's age in months? At what point does it still seem relevant, and at what point does it start sounding ridiculous?

Also, because I never pass up an opportunity to blog about being a mom who likes gettin' it on, you can now also find me at Sex and the Mom.

Today's question: have you ever been walked toddled in on? I have.