Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Me, Myself and "We"

From the moment I started thinking about Rob in boyfriend terms, I resisted the word "we." The concept of "we" is fantastic: We are going out; We are getting married; We adopted a kitty. That was all fine. I was wary, however, of statements like "We hated that." Because I didn't want to speak for him. It didn't matter if we were talking about movies and not, say, politics. I don't like to assume I know what someone else is thinking, and I find that statements like "We can all agree that..." are almost always untrue. And even if Rob did dislike the movie exactly as much as I did, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time!

When I got pregnant, it suddenly became imperative that Rob and I speak in "we"s. He and I had to be on the same page--about attempting to have a home birth, about my going back to work, about who was going to sleep when--and if someone changed her mind after we'd come to a conclusion, it wasn't practical (or even possible) to agree to disagree.

The move toward plural personal pronouns became even stronger when our baby became a child who needed rules, which we would have to enforce. It does absolutely no good for me to tell Westley, "Daddy doesn't want you to climb on the coffee table"--even if I don't really have a problem with it.

I find myself very tempted to resort to phrases like "We don't..." when guiding Westley's behavior. For example, "We don't hit the kitty." Except, I think as I listen to myself, he clearly does hit the kitty. It's like ending sentences with "okay?" which drives me absolutely batshit insane when I hear it. Because, of course, the clear answer to that non-question is, in most cases, "No! Not okay!" And yet, it's so tempting to say.

I think I have only "okay?"-ed Westley once. And after I heard myself, I corrected, "Do you understand?" (I think that is what's meant by "okay?" at the end of a statement. It's actually there to ask, "do you understand?" or "did you hear me?" and not, "is that all right?") Unfortunately, I find the draw of "we" much harder to resist. But "we" isn't much better than "okay?" In using it, I'm still asking Westley to go along with a plan he doesn't like--and not saying what I really mean:
"No hitting the kitty! Hitting hurts."
I still kind of suck at saying no, despite being in a position where I'm required to say it all the time. "We" is a convenient way of avoiding the potential harshness of "no," but it's wrong for me to rely on it. As much as I like "we" as a concept for our family--We like to dance; We eat a vegan diet; We don't hit--I can't speak for Westley. I can tell him what to do and what not to do, but I can't tell him how to feel about it.

"No! Not okay!"
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Pictures

Every month I e-mail three pictures of my son to a long list of friends and family members. The promise of filling dozens of inboxes with photographic Westley updates helped Rob and me avoid some holiday gift-shopping last year. Because I didn't own a camera until fairly recently, I'm not used to taking pictures--but I love having them. It occurred to me that the monthly mailings would remind me to actually get out the camera and photograph my kid.


For a while, it worked. I did remember to take the camera out of its goofy little zipper case and actually use it. I had dozens--sometimes hundreds--of cute, fun, silly, sweet Westley photos to choose from every month. Taking pictures felt easy and natural. I got down on the ground with Westley and photographed the world from his eye-line, simultaneously capturing his tininess and the world's vastness. I'd end up with lots of good images and quietly agonize over which three pictures to choose. "Your boy is so cute!" came the replies when I sent out "Westley of the Month" e-mails.

You have no idea, I'd think, reviewing the "rejected" images.


It's the last week of the month, and I'm looking at pictures. But this month, it's a different kind of agonizing I'm doing. Looking through October's photos, I realize I have almost nothing. I think back over the month and I wonder where it went, what happened. Was I there? Was I even awake?

It seems the answer is Not really. I've been so thoroughly submerged in my own murky unconscious lately that I've kind of missed the rest of my life. My tangible life. Several of my October posts are just mental gymnastics routines without much day-to-day stuff mixed in: hypothetical houses, hypothetical pregnancies, what if/then/but. Like I'm trying to fit everyone else inside my head with me. And it's crowded enough in here already.

Thinking, analyzing, and even what if-ing, can be interesting and productive. And they can also stop us from seeing what's really going on around us. Real images fall away as we become overly-invested in imaginary photographs. I stopped taking pictures when all I could notice was the intensity of my own thoughts.

Now I find myself a little heartbroken over losing so much of this month. It's not just about having only a few pictures to share with the people who love Westley but don't get to see him every day. It's about not stopping my stream of consciousness long enough to really notice my child.

That's not the way I want to parent.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In(fant)sanity

I know this has come up about a zillion times before, but I had dinner on Sunday with friends and their not-quite-six-week-old baby and I'm now completely mentally unstable. All I can think about is having a baby. The inside of my head sounds something like this:

Let's have a baby! (No.) Let's get pregnant again! (Not now.) Really, let's get pregnant as soon as possible. (No, thanks.) It's the perfect time! (Oh, it so isn't.) But...look at the tiny baby! (Stop it.) BABY! (Uh...) Babybabybabybabybaby!

It's making it impossible for me to concentrate on anything other than wanting another child. Never mind that I have a child already, and he's more than I think I can handle on most days! I keep trying to distract the voice in my head by reminding it how little wiggle room we have in terms of time and money, how my health is just barely back in order, how completely terrible-awful-no-good-very-bad Westley's birth and the days that followed were. The voice in my head doesn't care. It's more interested in whether my recent thrift-shop-found dresses will work as maternity tunics.

Yesterday, I found myself sitting down to read Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn. I barely cracked a pregnancy book when I was pregnant. Now, I can't stop looking at them. I went in to the herbal pharmacy searching for a strong, spicy tea to replace the coffee that has crept back into my morning routine, and ended up reading the backs of all the books in the "Pregnancy and Childbirth" section.

Recently, I've been thinking about Westley's birth every single day. I don't set out to do it. But something completely mundane happens--I pass a pregnant woman in the grocery store, for instance--and the memory just bubbles to the surface and I'm back there (freaked out, overwhelmed, in excruciating pain), and oh, God, I want to do it again!

This is how I know I'm completely insane: I remember being pregnant and miserable; I remember being in labor and miserable; I remember having a newborn and being miserable. Misery is what really stands out for me about all that baby-having stuff, but for some reason, that doesn't quell my desire for another baby. Not at all.

Clearly, I need serious help. So, um...help? Please? What do I say to the baby-crazed voice in my head that has no problem with the idea of more stretch marks, twice the diapers, less sleep, and a dramatically smaller savings account? Because I'm out of ideas. In fact, all I can think about is this:
Baby Kaylee: Super-Sweet...and Crazy-Making

All I can say is it's a good thing that my IUD doesn't require any help from me to do its job effectively. Otherwise, it would be a little too easy to, um, "forget" my birth control:

It'll be fine. (I dunno.) Just this once. (Oh, all right...)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clenching the Deal

My postpartum body and I have come to an understanding: if it will stop with the surprises (wavy hair, food sensitivities, bizarre periods), I will acknowledge that for me, body-wise, this is it.

I think I'm holding up my end of the deal pretty well. I accept that, as my son is almost two, this five pounds of "baby weight" that I'm only able to lose by fasting or suffering from the flu is just regular, old-school weight. I accept that my body has done absolutely everything it's capable of doing own its own to return to "normal," and that it's unfair of me to expect any significant change now without turning myself into something of a gym rat or writing large checks to a plastic surgeon. And while it's far from perfect, I actually kind of like my body (except, of course, when I hate it). My body, on the other hand, keeps playing tricks on me.

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd try to save myself the trouble of holding my stomach in during sex by starting a belly-punishing exercise routine. My belly was duly punished--crunches, planks, oh-so-evil bicycle crunches--but unfortunately, so was my pelvic floor. A few jumping jacks into the cardio portion of my workout, I peed myself. Not like, "Ooh, better wear a panty-liner next time," either. No, this was, "Wow, I need to take a shower and start a load of laundry." I'm Kegeling just writing about it.

If you've given birth, will give birth soon, or hope to give birth someday, you've almost certainly heard about Kegels. Regularly clenching those amazingly stretchy girl-muscles is supposed to help you regain vaginal tone after pregnancy and childbirth, while also leading to stronger orgasms and the ability not to wet your pants while attempting to break a sweat. Supposedly, the goal is to squeeze and release 100 times a day. That sounds like a lot of clenching (and it is), but if you're a busy mother, half the battle is remembering to Kegel it up in the first place! At least, that's the excuse I'm giving myself.

I'm taking for granted that there's always going to be a magazine article or television commercial or early-morning jogger or insanely-gorgeous mom at Tot Swim (seriously, how does she look that good with a 6-month old?) to remind me that I should be working out more often. But if I'm going to remember to squeeze in my Kegels (heh), I'll need to jog my own memory with some clever mnemonics:

* Kegels and bagels -- Don't just sit there and eat, mama! A pelvic floor workout is now part of this complete breakfast! Squeeze and hold as you chew, or see how many clenches you can do while the coffee brews.

* Kegels and Eagles...or The Beatles (or the Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac or Pink Floyd or...) -- Kegels are one of the few exercises that can be done effectively while driving. So turn on the classic rock station, and squeeze and release for the duration of a song. Singing along will keep you from holding your breath while you squeeze.

* Kegels and labels -- You probably have at least one ingredient on your watch list, whether it's high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, wheat, dairy, or red 40 (or all of the above). Squeeze your pelvic floor while you grocery shop, and feel extra healthy when you bypass that box of trans-fatty, allergen-laden processed snack pellets.

* Kegels and kugel -- Putting together a veggie-packed casserole for dinner means lots of boring chopping, mixing, and standing around waiting for the oven to heat up. But use that time to tone your vadge, and dinner prep might start to look a little more exciting. See if you can hold a squeeze for the amount of time it takes you to grate a carrot (no fair using the food processor!).

* Kegels and Katherine Heigl -- If you're anything like my girlfriends, you're spending some quality relaxation time in front of "Grey's Anatomy" reruns. If you're anything like me, every preview for the next stoner-comedy movie makes you remember how annoyed you were with Knocked Up. (Sure, the movie had its funny moments, but where are the cool comedic roles for women? Where is the romantic comedy where the chubby stoner girl gets pregnant by the attractive, ambitious guy?) Either way, exercising your pelvic floor muscles while you watch won't get you any closer to looking like this, but it's still damn sexy.

* Kegels and Google -- I see you there, surfing the Internet. Just sitting there. Yes, you. Do your Kegels, already! They're health insurance for your vagina, and you're already covered.

After a week or so of torturing myself with dorky mnemonics remembering to do the pussy exercises I was supposed to be doing all along, I have to say I've noticed a difference. I still cross my legs tightly when I feel a sneeze coming on, but I definitely feel less, uh...out of shape down there. Which is to say that I can now do a set of ten squeezes without making the "I'm putting on mascara" face, or feeling like I'm trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time.

...
Do you Kegel? (You just did a couple, didn't you?) Do you have a pelvic floor-strengthening program that you swear by? Have you been a regular Kegeler since high school, or are you like me and just forget all about the whole thing until you pee yourself? Also, feel free to add your own Kegel-mnemonics, rhyming or otherwise! Some of us need all the reminders we can get.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The One Where My Heart Explodes

I couldn't figure out what he was saying at first. He was hugging me and squeezing one of his dolls at the same time. I thought the word sounded like something familiar, but maybe I'd heard it wrong.

He leaned his head into me, and said it again in his sweet, little-boy voice: "Frenz."

"Friends?" I asked him.

"Uh-huh."

"Are Mommy and Westley friends?"

"Uh-huh."

Boom!

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Pumpkin All to Myself

Two years ago, I thought really hard about dressing as a pumpkin for Halloween. By which I mean I thought really hard about drawing a black Sharpie Jack-O-Lantern face on a thrifted XXL orange sweater and pulling it over my giant pregnant belly. But it was too easy, so I never got around to doing it. I ended up packing moving boxes on Halloween night instead, feeling sorry for myself and hiding from trick-or-treaters for whom I was totally unprepared.

Last year, I was too depressed to notice Fall had happened. At the time, I didn't think I was depressed; I just thought I had a really shitty life. Westley was going through an especially clingy phase, and I spent so much time soothing him and feeling sad that I barely remembered that I was a person with interests and a husband and a life. I remember listening from the other room on Halloween night as our 5th-grade-neighbor (who had come over to show off her costume) described her plans for the evening. I remembered having that kind of fun, but it those times seemed like forever ago.

Now, there are beautiful red and gold trees on every street, and businesses have started hawking their pumpkin-flavored wares. My mother brought some of my brother's and my old Halloween costumes out of storage for Westley to try on. This year, I'm excited for Fall: already tucking jeans into tall boots, bringing out blankets and throws, filling the fridge with apple crisp.
The weather has been incredibly clear and sunny, bizarre for Seattle in October (it should be sprinkling at the very least!). I've been taking Westley to the Fruit Market several times a week. It doesn't make for a very interesting or creative schedule, but I'm enjoying the final weeks of local produce before the market closes for the winter, and I'm thankful that the weather makes it easy to be outside.

Yesterday, Rob and I took Westley to the market yet again, to pick out carving pumpkins. (I'd gone back and forth on whether to do Jack-O-Lanterns this year, and finally decided that since they're my favorite part of Halloween, the tremendous mess that would inevitably result from combining pumpkin carving with a toddler was totally worth it.) Westley was more interested dancing to the classic rock on the market radio than looking at pumpkins. I was briefly annoyed, until I noticed a group of firefighters noticing my son, and smiling like crazy. I had to smile like crazy, too, and suddenly, it hit me hard: My life is pretty awesome right now.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Now and Future Now

This coming weekend will be our third real-estate-intensive weekend in a row. When we moved out of our house two years ago, I knew that our current housing situation wouldn't last long. As I'm sure I've mentioned a zillion times before, our apartment is a converted basement. It's a very, very nice converted basement in a beautiful neighborhood with wonderful people and places and things nearby, but it is a basement: small, with very little natural light, even less storage space, and 1-1/2 bedrooms* and a 3/4 bath. I thought we'd find ourselves packing boxes right around the time Westley was going to start school. I wanted to move sooner than that--I started getting itchy for change right around Westley's first birthday--but I didn't think it was possible. Now it looks like it's not only possible, but entirely probable we'll be in a new place in early 2010. As in, just a few months from now. Belated Merry Christmas, have a house!

While the idea of a new house excites me, the reality of it is causing me a series of tiny panic attacks. (See, for example, recent posts.) There have already been meetings about money and faxing of documents and signings on dotted lines. Every listing our agent sends us makes me jump. Is this the one? Is this our house?

Rob is fairly relaxed about the process. He casually came into the living room last night and told me he'd seen a listing that looked "pretty good." I had been relaxing--finally--and I just lost it.

"What the hell?! Do you realize you've just dumped ten-thousand pounds of anxiety on me?!"

It wasn't fair to him. He was trying to be considerate. But Rob is very good at living in "the now." I am not. For instance, the fact that there is nothing I can do about a particular situation at the moment is not sufficient to keep me from worrying about it. In fact, it might be all the more reason to worry.

Rob looks at real-estate listings and walks through houses and sees things like floor plan and quality of light. That's now. I look at the same house and think about new babies and children and teenagers and dogs and homework and birthday parties and vegetable gardens and Christmas trees and rainy days inside and dinners with grandparents and on and on and on. Nothing to do with now. Nothing to do with Where will we put the couch?

I can't look at our potential home without thinking about the future. I have to picture what "now" will look like in six months, six years, sixteen years. Because time is moving so fast already. I still haven't wrapped my mind around the whole two-year-old boy thing, and that's right around the corner.

I am the mother of a toddler, and we're going to buy a house. With three bedrooms. So there's room for the new baby.

Did you see how I did that? Practically got myself pregnant just thinking about moving? But if we decide we're really serious about having another baby when Westley is about three, that means my getting pregnant next year. It's already October.

I feel like looking so far into the future is making me crazy. It certainly has a lot to do with my current level of anxiety. But, on the other hand, I can't make time slow down and wait for me to catch up to it. If I don't look at the future now, I'm afraid I'll be completely blindsided by it.

...
*I realize that 1/2 bedrooms are not a legitimate real-estate occurrence in the way 1/2 bathrooms are, but I would argue that Westley's bedroom is actually a 1/2 bedroom. It's only slightly larger than a twin bed, and what little "closet" it has it shares with the water heater. It was the laundry room before we moved in. That's a 1/2 bedroom if I ever saw one.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mundane Good

I've been rubbernecking inside my own head for a few days now. I find myself unable to look away from the mental pileups of anxieties, and it's upsetting me: both what I see and my sudden inability to focus better on the day-to-day, here-and-now and enjoy living in the moment. From inside my head, my life looks pretty miserable. It's all too easy to believe the story I tell myself: Everything is bad.

And it's just not true! Well, thinking about selling the car to improve our financial situation sucks. But there's plenty of good around, too. It's mostly the mundane, everyday variety of "good," but that's the easiest kind to overlook.

Some "mundane good" things reminding me that my life doesn't suck:

Maybe you don't feel crafty, thrifty, and brilliant when your house smells like pickles, but I do. I felt especially brilliant when I realized that I could just screw a sprayer head right onto the glass bottle of white vinegar.


The actual cleaning part isn't much fun, it's true. But looking around and only seeing a little grime everything makes the future look just a little brighter.

2.) Napping with my son.
That phrase just put Billy Idol in my head. (Well there's nothin' to lose/When you cuddle and snooze/So I'm nappin' with my son...) It only took me 22 months, but I think I finally got the hang of the whole "sleep when your baby sleeps" thing. Better late than never, I guess. And I get to wake up to some serious cute in the afternoons.

They have Asian pears right now that are the size of my head. I take Westley there at least twice a week, because I don't have a lot of room in my fridge for fresh things, but also because it's so much fun to go. Bridget, as she was ringing up my order yesterday, asked what we were going to do when they close for the season. My first thought was, "Cry."

4.) Hot chocolate.
I am not a chocolate person. Most of the time, I don't actually like it. (No, really, you can have mine.) But there is something uber-comforting about a cup of homemade hot chocolate, and some days just call for a dessert drink. So go ahead and combine 1/4 cup sugar, 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, and 2 1/3 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk in a small saucepan. Heat, while stirring constantly with a wire wisk (don't let it boil). Remove from heat, and stir in at least 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (not the imitation stuff, cheapskate!). Pour into two mugs and share with your long-term-committed-relationship-partner-person.

5.) Vintage Westley photos.
As I was trying to figure out how to dress Westley for Halloween this year (this may be my last chance to inflict my costume-wishes upon him), I came across Halloween photos from last year.

Trick-or-treating Grandma, 2008.

OH HAI. I GOT YER BALL.

Two teeth down...


There's nothing like my tiny skunk to remind me that my life doesn't stink.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

22 Months, 1,000 Words

...visions of vocabulary lists dancing in his head.

Every day when Westley wakes up from his nap, he says something I've never heard him say before. On Monday, it was "raw." He was referring to the broccoli ("brock") I was cutting up with the big kitchen knife ("Nye! Beeeg!").

Rob doesn't believe that Westley says over a thousand words. But if it's not that many, it's pretty damn close. I sat down to write out a list--actually write one, with a pen. My hand cramped up around 200. And I was nowhere near done.

It's really too bad that "awesome" has lost its meaning. Because listening to my child speak this brand-new language of his is just that: Awesome. This little boy who, two years ago today, was still all curled up inside me is now speaking to me. And most of the time, I understand him. How is that even possible?

How does he decide what to say? I know he picks up on words that I say, and he's more likely to say the funny ones ("Jeeze!" is a favorite expression). Of course he can name all of his favorite foods and beverages, and he has names for all his toys. But why does he know what a crow is? And how come he has a name for every color but white? He seems to have linguistic priorities, but what they actually are is a mystery to me.

Every waking, with its new words, is a puzzle piece. I get a clearer picture of Westley each day: what he knows, what he likes, and especially what he thinks about. So as his vocabulary expands, we're both learning something new.

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