Forget it. The deal's off. I hate this. I don't want this. This sucks. I can't deal with the proposed outcome of all this craziness.
My husband leaves for work this morning and tells me he'll be thinking of me. Oh goodie. Thanks. Cause I'll be here, schlepping around your kid. I don't get a choice about whether or not to think about you. I couldn't get a break from this reality if I tried. Think all you like. Bastard.
Last night, I poured out my thoughts, as usual, to my husband who was falling asleep, as usual. I imagine trying to get his attention by banging on his chest. I'd watch him shatter into colorful and dangerous shards, like stained glass. I imagine sweeping up the pieces, my fists bloodied, communication only slightly improved. Oh but he's a good man. Just read my blog. A great man. A caring partner. And I'm being unfair, aren't I? Perhaps I shouldn’t bother my husband with such domestic issues. He goes out to work after all, keeps us fed, while I piss around with teaching, writing, crap that doesn't necessarily pay the rent. He's tired when he gets home. I should put on an apron and make him dinner. I should massage his feet and smile.
I quake at the thought of the isolation I might feel once this kid is here and my dear, kind husband is skipping off to work to "think of me." I quake because I imagine it in relation to the isolation I already feel these days. Already, trying to schedule coffee with a friend is some sort of logistical feat for which I am under-trained. My image of having a baby is a bit like a death in the family – for the first couple weeks people are all around you. This period is all-too-soon replaced with the one where they vanish to resume their normal routines and leave you helpless in your new paradigm.
Then there are the women who approach me, mothers and non-mothers alike, and feel the need to tell me how my life will "never be the same," to tell me with widened eyes and broad arm gestures that this is "huge." I hate these women and their pantomiming even more than I hate the women who tell me their horrendous birth stories where everything possible went wrong. I want to grip their painfully obvious sentiments in my already clenched hands and beat them unconscious with them.
I don't need more responsibility in my life. I'm the type who in times of despair and sadness could lie in bed in the dark for days at a time and never get up except for the fact that I am pushed to rise eventually for the guilt I feel about not opening the blinds for the plants. Focus on this for a minute: The only thing that would kill me faster than my own wrecked brain is the guilt I would feel for being responsible for killing the PLANTS! I'm not sure if the full absurdity and power of this is getting through.
People like me are not supposed to have kids. I hear them more and more all the time. The stories. About post-partum. The dirty little secret. Just when I've begun to buy into the idea that I'm overstating this problem, that my fear is silly, hardly worthy of the weight I lend it, I hear more stories. Then there are those who tell me about how I have just as good a chance not to be depressed afterwards. And for a minute, it's like a window of light. For a second, I believe it could be true. What if? Right. Fucking look at me. I'm a disaster now, and for the hundred-millionth time since all this began, shit, since I was born. Not because I'm worrying about post partum, just because. I go along just fine and then, bam! Gee, whaddaya think? Will I have an issue with depression after the baby? Fuck. Fuck!!! Maybe I'm addicted to my pain, but in almost every other scenario the well-meaning would turn me toward rational thought, logic, odds. But if I discuss the odds now, I'm being ridiculous. I'm being pessimistic. I'm really just no fun and no one wants to play with me. If you don't acknowledge your demons, great for you. If you don't have any, bite me. If you don't speak them out or write them down for other people to jump all over, cheers. I do. And what if it's because I actually care about this baby? What if it's because I care? The bottom line is, I don't want to know there are medications, and myriad other paltry solutions. I simply don't want to be pregnant and imposing my troubled self onto another human being. I make it sound like I'm a raving mental case, and I'm not really. Here's what saves me every time - I am really, really smart. And I'm intelligent enough I know when to be concerned.
Zillions of women have had babies for zillions of years. So fucking what. What does this mean to me? I still have to go through it. I still have to find my place in it. Do the zillions before me nullify my feelings and cancel my fears about parenting, or do they dull the intensity of labor pain? I pretty much doubt it. I think that the zillions, and most notably the dozens nearest us - friend and neighbor, family or stranger - that hover to tell us just how it is, tsk away our concerns offered already in an air of meekness and uncertainty, a sense of disobedience to our kind, our eyes trailing to the ground, words soft and censored, or chuckling and waving our hands to imply these pathetic cries for assistance we can hardly get out aren't things we really mean, these zillions - or dozens - are perhaps as much the reason for the lack of writing about negative feelings surrounding pregnancy as anything. The women who've been through it and come out the other side cradling baby can't talk that way anymore and don't like it when I do. I know this because I could care less what you all think, but I already carry a guilt at my feelings in relation to this creature than bubbles and pops at me from the inside while I'm trying to sleep. So you made it and I probably will too. Fabulous. But I'm in THIS moment now. And there are feelings that go along with THIS moment for me. And maybe if someone had a notion, as I do, that to look at this dilemma now I can head off future problematic moments, I'd be faster to shut up about it. I thought you mothers all learned the value of the moment. Chasing around small beings with immediate needs and joys that extend only as far as their fat little fingers. Well, my moment is called the middle of an unplanned pregnancy. And this is how it feels. If you know so goddamn much then help me! Help me! Make me some fucking tea.
The personal story is never out of style. Can never be blasé. We hear those that make sense to us for where we are; we miss the rest. You can always change the channel.
So I feel responsible for my thoughts and words. Worried that the mere existence of them is a betrayal to my baby. (Then can writing them down be any greater a crime?) Not so much worried about betraying this secret society of silent, loving mothers who met pregnancy head on and of course never felt like throwing things from impressive heights, like their telephone, large quantities of fruit, or themselves, would never talk that way. Not worried about how I appear to them and yet, perhaps doomed to enter their realm. What if I dare feel a responsibility to someone else who might read this, another pregnant woman who is busy repressing her anger and confusion somewhere? What if she needs me to be honest? Should we care about her? What if she needs not just kind-of-honest, the kind that leaves out the really bad days? What if she needs me to be truly-honest, the kind that makes me write the word that sometimes is the only fit when I think of my gracious, loving husband -- "bastard," even though he'll be hurt, feel like he failed, or see me as cruel. Is it rational to be angry at him? No. Is it real? Yes. Am I allowed to express that anger? Well, that's the debate.
What if I'm responsible not to the mothers who made it, but to this other pregnant woman?…and, of course, to the plants.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Forget it. The deal's off. I hate this. I don't want this. This sucks. I can't deal with the proposed outcome of all this craziness.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Some folks have read my blog and been confused. They read my rants as indications that I don't want to be pregnant, and if that's true, then, why am I? I understand their confusion. Beyond my unconditional love of ranting and my inalienable right to do so, this is my response.
Early on, when I was so very depressed about my condition, people asked me whether I had considered ending the pregnancy. Of course the option had occurred to me. But often my first reaction would be to tell inquiring minds what my husband thought. He was excited. He felt (suddenly and inexplicably) ready to have a child. The thought of aborting made him very, very sad. All my female friends, well-trained in independent and feminist thinking, would cringe. "But what do you want? It's your body. It's your life." Admittedly, it felt weird to me too to be spewing on about my husband's feelings, well-trained as I am in independent and feminist thinking. And they were right, it is my body; it felt invaded, an unhappy host. And indeed, it is my life. My life that includes at its center this amazing person I married.
In addition to seeing the implications on "my" life as inextricable from the implications on "his" life or "our" life, my husband's feelings were at least somewhat consolidated and identifiable, whereas mine were swimming in a panicked blur. So I found myself starting with his.
As I saw it, my choices were the following:
If I were to continue with the pregnancy knowing how I felt about it at the time, it would take considerable work to bring myself to a place where things were okay. It would take a great deal of soul searching and relationship hashing. Things would change for us dramatically, but we'd survive it.
If I were to choose to terminate the pregnancy knowing how he felt about it at the time, it would take considerable work to bring myself to a place where things were okay. It would take a great deal of soul searching and relationship hashing. Things would change for us dramatically, but we'd survive it.
We had discussed adoption for some time prior to discovering I was pregnant. We are in our mid-thirties. Even though everything we'd talked about was half-assed and theoretical, if we meant any of it, how much longer would we have waited, realistically? Did it make sense to call off this biological baby only to choose another a couple years down the road?
I don’t take any of this lightly, I just trust my husband's instincts impeccably (eventually); they have panned out for us in the past. I didn't see how we could have this baby when he did. And neither did I have the courage to see we should be together when he did. I wouldn't have been the one to sell my condo, quit my job of seven years, and leave my friends to follow someone I didn't know very well and had already shown herself to be a volatile ball of emotional baggage 3,000 miles across the country to a life unknown. But that's what Mike did. Following my husband's instincts and taking my indecision as enough reason to pause was the right thing for me. That's not to say there wasn't screaming and crying and hurting and flying accusations filled with resentment along the journey. It doesn't mean that I didn't have to come to a place where I felt like my feelings were understood and my choices recognized. There was all of that in both scenarios.
A part of me felt, and still feels, that you should take what you're handed in life. I feel also like something in me knew this was coming, expected it and prepared for it. When I look back on little things I said and did in the weeks prior, there are some eerie coincidences there. I have banged my head and lamented that we should have been more careful, or I should have known better. I knew well enough, but still we are here. My conscious mind would never have, could never have chosen this, but something else might have.
Summary and FAQs:
Do I want to be pregnant? No. Could I have ended a pregnancy that came under these circumstances and within the circle of this marriage? It appears the answer is no. Do I want to have a baby? This question is still hard for me to answer. That's partly because most days it is virtually impossible for me to separate my fears about having a child from my desire to have or not have one. Will I have one? Looks that way. Will I learn a shitload in the process? Clearly. Am I scared? Deathly.
Monday, October 25, 2004
Those of you who don't know and/or don't care about baseball, may be slightly lost or annoyed at the baseball references in this entry, but bear with me.
I am a baseball fan. I'm one of those unusual people who likes nothing better than to sink into the couch and watch this slow game for 3 or 4 or 5 hours at a time. Further, I am a Yankee fan. Have I lost readership yet? This statement may evoke as much controversy as writing about religion. Go ahead, send your comments. I have my reasons and I'm not afraid of your jeers. With this baby on the way, I suppose my plan to run off with Bernie Williams (Yankee center fielder) has hit yet another stumbling block. I know, I'm supposed to be goo-goo over Derek Jeter (short stop). Well, you can keep 'im; I'll take Bernie any day. I'm used to falling for the guy outside of the media hype, the one no one else pays much attention to. While everyone wrote letters to Davey Jones, I had a crush on Mickey, but now I'm really off topic.
See, Bernie is a quiet hero (plus he's a cutie and he plays classical guitar, but again, I drift.). I get the distinct feeling he's aware that he plays a team sport and might even be aware that baseball isn't all there is to life, although to date I have no concrete evidence of such except the guitar playing. What in the hell am I getting at? That's right, it's time once again to play everyone's favorite game: Let's Take Apart the Unspoken Assumptions of American Society So As to Better Understand Their Hidden Power Over Ourselves and Our Unborn Child!! (cue music)
- I'll take Stupid Baseball Players for $200, Alex.
- This stupid baseball player has been cheered for pitching through excruciating pain and undeniable, and possibly permanent injury out of some backward-ass loyalty to his team.
- Who is Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox?
- That is correct.
Quick background: Curt Schilling's ankle is messed up in a serious way. With special shoes and doctors suturing up the wrong tendon, so that it won't heal (that wouldn't allow for play) but just to literally hold it together until the end of the Series, he's been able to stay on the mound "for his team." As if we needed any clearer sign regarding the disgusting determinism of this move, in each of the last two games he's pitched, his ankle has bled red through his sock throughout the game. (Thank you, Fox, for panning down to it every 30 seconds). Yeah, a charming coincidence for an underdog team named the Red Sox, if you go in for that perverse kind of metaphor. Forget for a second that I'm a Yankee fan. Forget that Curt Schilling is one of my least favorite Red Sox players, second only to Pedro Martinez, who I think is a reprehensible person while in uniform. Shouldn't Schilling be taking care of his health?
Am I the only one? Everyone else is praising the guy up and down for his heroism. I say this is no hero. Schilling's become fond of crediting God after his impressive performances (as if any deity worth the title would give a rat's ass who won the World Series, as if to imply perhaps that god is not with the Cardinals?). But I have news for ya, Curt, it's the Devil that came to your door, and you answered. Sold you fucking ankle for a baseball game.
We look at these people who play through physical (or for that matter, emotional) pain as incredibly dedicated. They receive our undying gratitude. We strive to be like them. The Major League Baseball website has even written an article listing other athletic heroes and what injuries they have played through to win, naming the list "profiles in courage". These people are seen as masters of mind over matter. But here's the real heart of it. It's not mind over matter, it's just ego over matter. An incredible, incredible ego that says, I can't possibly surrender to circumstance or relinquish my chance to make a mark; and my team can't do it without me.
We are addicted to our individualism. So addicted we play "team" sports to see how far we can stick out. I've had experience with more collectively-minded societies and, at times, they aren't all that and a bag of chips either. – No one willing to stand forward and take credit or responsibility. No one willing to step out of line to forge a unique path that speaks more readily to one's soul than where the masses are going. But in the end, I don't want this jackass Schilling as a role model for my kid. No one's surviving freezing temperatures lost in the Sierras here. No one's talking someone else off a ledge. It's a baseball game.
One of my big short-term concerns is that I will only be able to push aside the physical pain of birth to the ego level, which won't be enough. If we truly want to sink into our power and go where respectable heroes dwell, we need to get deeper than that. And when there's blood on our socks, we need to sit down.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
When the more immediate voices in my head finally quiet a while – the ones screaming about the pain of labor, the upset of relationship, the trials of sleepless nights to come – there is another voice, still concerned but calmer and more pensive. It is the voice that asks how I will introduce my child to the world. How will I have him or her come to know it in a way that s/he will form a positive connection to it and scratch out a place in it from where s/he can feel purposeful and content?
Truly, I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. How will I help a child find its own path? When I was in high school sitting in the guidance counselors' office, I always imagined they were the people who really never managed to get a handle on what they wanted to do. So instead, they helped other people look. The little career tests I took at that age in those offices (Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? … Do you enjoy being outdoors?…) suggested that I become a music conductor, a chiropractor, or a circus clown. Could it be possible that filling in bubbles with a number two pencil isn't the way to self-knowledge?
Clearly, external resources at our disposal on this point leave something to be desired. And if you need more examples…
I have a set of "multicultural fingerpuppets" that a friend gave me once to entertain me on a cross-country drive. They are cloth finger covers printed with cartoon images of variously colored people wearing uniforms corresponding to different occupations. Perhaps I could use them to break open options in my baby's mind. But they are the usual suspects – doctors, teachers, lawyers, the occasional construction worker. (I think I'll remove all the doctors before sharing it with my kid.)
Recently, I heard a news story about a man who's job it is to catch poisonous snakes and collect their venom for antidote serums. He's been at it some 30+ years. Perhaps, like me, you are wondering shouldn't there be a fingerpuppet of the poisonous snake catcher guy? (Okay, yeah, and I'm also wondering about the "Is he insane?" part too.) Noble mother that I am, I want my baby to know there are people in the world who make there living collecting venom. (Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? … Do you enjoy being outdoors?…)
Then there's the game Careers. Anyone remember this Parker Brothers board game? It's old. I think it was already old when I was little. There must be some floating about on e-bay. Get yourself one. It is wholly amusing. The object of the game is to move around the board and eventually "succeed" by gaining sufficient points in Fame, Happiness, and Money. There are eight career paths you can choose from on the board that tell volumes about a simpler time and a simpler world. (And make me giggle every time I read them.) The careers are: Hollywood, Politics, Going to Sea, Big Business, College, Farming, Expedition to the Moon, and Uranium Prospecting in Peru.
The box for the game is of course broken, and in our last move some of the "Opportunity Cards" escaped and have come to settle in random places about the house. Every so often I'll turn over a small card I find on the coffee table that tells me "Opportunity to enter business. Meet normal requirements." or, "Special opportunity to enter Hollywood … because of your great beauty, all expenses paid!"
Amusing as hell this game, and yet inadequate to serve as a window into possibility for a new soul.
Maybe a more appropriate game might be a matching game. To some degree, fulfilling the potential of each unique self is a matter of matching what skills that self brings with it and what it can apply those skills to once it's arrived in this world. But we still have the first step of how to discover what's in the soul suitcase to begin with. That's why the matching game would be something akin to concentration – part memory – the player would have a vague notion that they'd seen that card before somewhere. I complain that kids are pushed into "career choices" too early. But maybe I'm off-base here. What if it's not early enough? Maybe the closer to birth you can tease out of them what they like, have them play, picking up the snake venom collector card or the circus clown card and trying to find its mate, the better chance they have of retrieving, from watery memories, who they are meant to be.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
How to raise our baby? The choices are limitless. And what culture will we bring it up in? No, this isn't another repeat of my rant about US commercialism blah blah. No, I don't mean which culture of the globe should I move to, swaddling infant clutched to my breast, a refugee from land of the Hummer and reality TV. We have plenty of cultural choices right here at home. For example: Will this child grow an east coast heart? Or will it harbor a west coast soul? Hard to say. The following, I admit openly, has little to do with being pregnant or having a baby. I just had something to say…
This is the story of bi-coastalism. Once upon a time, I grew up like any other kid in New York - dropping r's from words, stretching out my vowels, and pretty much assuming that I lived at the center of the universe. Then we moved to New Jersey – south Jersey, where I lost the accent so as not to stand out, and pretty much assumed I lived at the center of nowhere. Enter young adulthood, college, jobs, and much shuffling about among cities on the eastern seaboard, with a year and a half sidebar to Europe, where my accent in whatever I was trying to speak was terrible, and I assumed I lived at the center of various ancient civilizations. Then, California. The cultural chasm between east and west coasts, for those who have yet to experience both, is huge. Europe was nothin'. If I am on the east coast, I often find myself defending the west, and vice versa. I am bi-coastal, both cultures a part of my psyche, never completely at home in either.
Because it's just too much fun, I enjoy playing up the stereotypes and over- generalizations of each place for the other. It's the non-stop, sarcastic, business suit east vs. earthy, crunchy California, dude. For our wedding (held on the west coast), we had our guests (mostly from the east coast) throw not rice, but granola. Granted, not everyone got the joke. When my friend put granola in each person's hand as the guests waited for us to emerge as husband and wife from our little rented adobe, my father-in-law ate his. But nevermind that.
When we visit my in-laws in Massachusetts, my mother-in-law is famous for asking about the food we eat in relation to our state of residence. If we've made ourselves salads for instance, she might say, "Oh, is that what people eat in California?" It's hard for her to accept that it's simply what we eat, regardless of geography.
One Christmas in Mass, Mike's cousin asked me whether we had Christmas trees in California. She was quite serious. Believe me when I tell you I thought long and hard about all the sarcastic remarks I could lob. I wanted desperately to fulfill her fantasy of California as a bizarre wasteland where all the Whos in Whoville gathered on the surfers' beach and waited fruitlessly for a tree to poke up from the sand. But I looked around at the holiday lights, the innocent faces of children violently wrestling toys from each other's hands, bulky Gap sweaters covered in snowflakes (knowing it was 70 degrees when we'd flown out of San Francisco) and I couldn't do it. "Yes," I told her with a heavy exhale, and left it at that.
And there are other times I champion the west coast lifestyle. Frequently, those times come in the produce section of some grocery store in New Jersey. It is then I realize how spoiled I am. It is there that I break down, ogling the "fresh" fruits and vegetables (most originally shipped from California) that look like they've been thrashed about in a bass-o-matic and made to endure long stretches of psychological abuse. All life deserves a proper burial. Have mercy! I would buy them all and set them free, pushing them gently from behind, egging them on to a life back in the wild, but to get them out of the store I'd have to take out a bank loan I'm not sure I qualify for. And not a pomegranate in sight! Now that's just a crime.
But while here in the west, I frequently have what I like to call "east coast moments." Even though I adore earthy and crunchy, the east coast devil on my shoulder pipes up when things go a bit too far. Like once when I was rinsing a container out in the waves at the beach and a woman asked me if I was washing my crystals. How do you respond to such a question without rolling your eyes?
Before Iraq became the charming daily barrage of news we know today, and millions of people around the world were still gathering to march for peace, I attended a performance called "Women Against the War." It was held in Santa Cruz, about an hour away from where we live and particularly known for their hippy ways and groovy open mindedness. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I love Santa Cruz. Why, some of my best friends are from Santa Cruz. No, really, that's true. Some of them even read this blog. But since they are so open minded they will forgive my unfair characterizations of their city. Okay, so let me continue… we're talking a place where city hall has been known to give out weed. Look it up if you don't believe me.
I somehow convinced Mike to come with me to Women Against the War, which I had been misled to believe would feature a certain spoken word performer I liked very much. The tickets were 25 bucks a piece and my husband was dubious but able to be persuaded.
My east coast moment began outside the small theatre. In line were many people who presumably cared deeply about peace and the future of country. You could tell because all the men wore ponytails and colorful vests from Guatemala purchased, I'm sure, at the fair trade store. All the women were make-up-less, wore their hair short, and munched, I'm sure, organic, burritos. I was in a mood. An east coast mood. And as I struggled to get past these world citizens none of them seemed to hear my repeated "excuse me's" and wandered aimlessly into the path of my streamlined east coast stride, lacking any awareness of their immediate surroundings and the effects of their west coast lollygaging. It is relatively common that my deep need for community and social justice is temporarily eclipsed by my complete impatience toward the basic foibles of the human species. These foibles, on this day, coupled with their owners' displays of ultra-PC-ness were on my nerves. Fine! Let them be morons! Let's go freakin find our seats and save the world, I've had it! Move!
The show began. The first act was an "interpretive dance." Women in cave woman costumes squatted and spun and grunted in slow motion. We watched, slightly alarmed. It was a bit like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" set before the wheel and definitely not as pretty. Then came a voice over that said something not far off from "In the beginning, there was woman…" Squat. Spin. Grunt. Ohmigod, what had I done? I could feel Mike's gaze to my right. In my peripheral vision I could see his mouth was agape, but I couldn't look over. Well, you know I couldn't look. If the shame of having been responsible for landing us here didn't get me, one look his way would have sent me running from the theatre shoulders quaking in violent giggles, snorting through my attempts to cover my mouth with my hands.
I began to wonder if Mike might divorce me. I began to count up all the things I could be doing if I weren't sitting there watching a cave dance for peace: petting the cats. cleaning the grease off the oven hood. going to the gynecologist. buying 50 lottery tickets with the money I would have saved.
Shit like the cave women dance just makes me want to race home, put on old Billy Joel, and smoke indoors.
There were other acts. Some were great. Some sucked. There was much patting ourselves on the back and praising the opportunity for the "whole community" to come together. (Last time I checked Santa Cruz was 40% Hispanic. Believe me when I tell you no one named Rodriguez was anywhere in the vicinity.)
Recently I had not an east coast moment, but a so very wild west coast moment, on the west coast. My husband and I were in Santa Cruz—the very same—and decided to get dinner. We remembered, kind of, where a restaurant we'd gone to once with a Santa Cruz-based friend was, and that we liked it a lot. The owners were said to be Sri Lankan and the food was a tasty Asian fusion. We found it, despite the dark and a downpour that had arrived early for our central coast rainy season. We were directed to seat ourselves and took a little table by the wall. The waitress arrived without menus and told us tonight was pre-fixe. Oh. Okay. Whatta we get? The list sounded great, so we stayed. By the time the bread arrived, we realized we'd neglected to ask the price. Probably unwise. "We'll survive," Mike said. And as the scruffy guy in flip flops wooed his date at the table behind us, her peasant skirt scraping the floor, I relaxed, figuring we'd survive indeed.
At the end of four delicious courses we couldn't finish, the waitress returned sans bill. The deal on Sundays it seemed, was that customers decided "what they thought was fair and left it on the table." (enter Scoobie Doo voice here -->) Huh?!? You aren't serious. Get out! Are we in the 21st century? In the US? In one of the most expensive places to live in the country? We decide what? We do what? … 'kay.
Well, there you have it. Slap my wrist and call me cynical. You east coasters better sell all your worldly goods, shave your heads and get on a plane. I'll be waiting with the soy milk Thai iced teas. Peace.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Half the time I'm begging for information about pregnancy, the other half I'm running from it.
At eight weeks, I told Trudy I was pregnant. Medical student that she is, she informed me: "Eight weeks. Hmm. All the organs are there." My reaction was, how in the world is that possible?! After which, I quickly decided that if that's the case, its little organs must be pretty weird. For example, based on what I could manage to eat at the time, I figured the heart is made of chocolate pudding. The lungs are lined in orange juice. The rib cage is built from saltine crackers. The mind, it'll run away if unchecked. There is such a thing as too much information.
When I told a midwife during a phone conversation that I was 19 weeks along, she quickly offered "Oh, half-way done!" I stammer and try to recover, try to ask for what I need like a grown up. "Please don't say that," I finally get out. "That isn't comforting." I've had over four months now (well, over three if count how long I've known) to get used to this idea – this PREGNANT idea, as opposed to say, a BABY idea, or a MOTHER idea. I'm admittedly still freaked out, but nonetheless settling into my new paradigm. I bring emergency snacks with me when I go out (be they sometimes locked in my car). I sleep on my side. I don't expect to look fashionable in my clothes. I cry a lot. There is a stroller in my shed. I'm familiar with yoga directions that come complete with "make room for your belly." These are things I now accept. This is pregnant for me and it's not too terrible. The next stage – that is, live baby stage, I'm not ready for. The book recommendations stream in yet. The pages of so many beg me to think ahead, do ahead, register my 4-month-old fetus for pre-school.
Medical professionals always want to know if I object to the genetic testing on religious principles. I should have learned by now to say yes, at which point they might leave me the hell alone. Like when I was in college and I ditched the "languages" line for "computers" when people kept asking me my major. It was the late 80's and "computers" shut anyone up, whereas "languages," or even a specific language, brought scrunched up looks and dubious queries about employment with "like, the UN or somethin'?" But stubborn idiot that I am I say no, it's not a religious thing really, and the door stands open for their crusade. "I always recommend the AFP blood test," one person told us. "It's just data. You don't have to do anything with it." Uh...
The information I'm after is usually more personal, so I asked my mother for her birth stories. What happened? How did she feel? What route did she take in labor? Any potentially genetic clues that could help me or that I should know? Anything she might have done differently? There's lots she can't remember. Like whether or not she had an epidural. And anyway, what is an epidural? she wants to know. Doctors told her dumb things here and there, but overall she was just so very happy to be having a baby. From this, I pan for any small glinting nuggets to pocket. There is such a thing as too little information.
At first, I find myself – perhaps unduly – surprised at the holes in her story. Greedy for something else. Today, we are gluttonous. Information is everywhere. I don't want my mother's experience. But admittedly, once in a while, I just want that little bit less. A chance to breathe. A little more space between contractions.
Monday, October 18, 2004
[PSA for the Day: Last day to register to vote!!]
I have always been taken for younger than I am. Often, considerably younger than I am. I mentioned my pregnancy as unplanned to one of my neighbors and she nodded knowingly, "Sure, I mean, otherwise this might not have been something you started thinking about for another ten years or so." How old does she imagine me? I smile-grimaced, waved, got in my car and drove away. People tell me I should be happy – that I'll look so young when I'm older. But it doesn't make me happy. It irks. And often, it's downright demeaning.
Some time back, I was working on an editing job for the radio. One day, I accompanied my colleague to the home of one of the writers who was contributing to the show in order to go over his story. The writer and my colleague had an established relationship, having worked together several times in the past. My colleague introduced me to his writer friend in a very flattering way, praising my work and saying how happy he was to have me on board with this project. The writer jerked his head in that half-nod, the kind that only goes up, and with his nose raised to a level above mine folded his arms in front of him and asked, "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" Slayer of Assholes. Bring me my cape!
Any time I take a teaching job at a new school I have to fight for things like faculty IDs, and endure dirty looks in the staff parking lot, since I'm invariably taken for a student. It's a sensitive subject for me, this looking younger thing. But lately, I've discovered that the troubling mis-assumption even comes with its own catch phrase: "Good for you!"
I was having a different trivial conversation with a different neighbor than mentioned above when she asked me something about classes at the local junior college as if I would surely know. Puzzled when I didn't, she inquired, "But don't you go there? I saw the parking pass on your car." I teach there. I told her. Teach there. "Oh!" she said in complete surprise, "good for you!" If she could have reached, I wonder if she would have patted my head. Good for me. How very quaint, she seemed to be saying, so young and yet dabbling in a career. Maybe she even has an advanced degree…nah, probably not, everyone knows how short on teachers California is. Musta just squeezed her in on an emergency basis. Am I overreacting? Sure am. A touch insecure? You bet.
I walked around the rest of the day praising the cats with my new-found back-handed compliment. Why, you've managed to knock all the candles off the window sill again, you little angels? Good for you! What's that? Just up from another nap? Good for you!
Not two days later I was speaking to an older man in a writing workshop. We were exchanging personal info and pleasantries. We eventually came around to what kind of work I might do. I teach. ESL. To adults. Currently, at a junior college. "Good for you!" he said immediately. A little later he revealed that he had been a teacher as well. Biology. High school. In that moment I imagined responding, "Good for you!" The absurdity of it hung like a huge, bulky umbrella over both of us – larger even than my resentment.
Less than 24 hours after the incident with the biology teacher, I was interviewing a novelist for the radio station. She's a great writer. Rather well-known, in fact, in circles of folk who choose to pay attention to novelists. I was excited that I'd won the negotiations with my colleagues to be able to speak with her on her west coast tour. Upon meeting her, I discovered she was as easy-going and charming as I'd imagined she'd be. We sat across from each other in the studio chit chatting before I started recording. At one point, she asked me what I did – since interviewing authors once a month for a locally-produced public radio show was clearly (sadly) not my main profession. I told her. Guess what she said?
I quickly dropped my gaze to the sound board and started fiddling with microphone levels so as not to lose it. She'd said it in a quieter, smoother way than the other two. Her voice was demure rather than cheerleading. Had the first two encounters with the dreaded phrase not been so recent and already stirring in my head, I might have missed it. In our context it seemed so unnecessary. There should have been so many other conversational bridges she could have chosen, but she didn't.
Maybe those other people are right and at some point I'll regret my youthful foolishness in wanting to appear, god forbid, my age. Once I have a baby on my hip will people start assuming differently about my age? Will I start showing my age more?? Or could my fate me to be gawked at and assumed a teenager who "got in trouble"? Despite some of the more obvious disadvantages, a few mentioned here, I'm not 100% clear on why it bothers me quite so much. Cuz lemme tell ya, it bothers me a whole darn lot. I'd really like to know why. I take it as a challenge to try to work toward better understanding the root of my insecurities and objections on this point.
My mother was wrong. This time is not all about the baby. This time IS all about me. Frankly, I am heartened that I can do more for my baby right now than avoid too much caffeine. I can continue to find out who I am.
[PS - Aw, look Red Sox, you won a game against the Yankees? … Good for you! heh heh heh.]
Saturday, October 16, 2004
The family picture wall. A project among many. Not really started in earnest, but thought about a lot. We have frames, matts, a wall picked out. And here is this child-to-be, half me, half Mike, nestled between plates of pasta and Irish soda bread. Here, at the center of this upcoming wall, the creature supposedly residing in my belly. Having been gathering information and pictures of my family along with genealogy research for some time (pre-pregnancy), I have a good number of photos for the wall. I have stately portraits of bearded patriarchs just off the boat. I have vintage stuff like each grandmother in a wide-brimmed hat, young and smiling.
We asked Mike's mom for old family pictures from his side to balance out our little wall. My mother-in-law sent back a nice little black and white of his grandparents standing in front of a brick row house, and then a roll of film from the 70's of a boy scout camping trip Mike went on. They were the kind of pictures with the rounded edges (remember?) and an overexposed reddish tint, and included things like a field with a tent in it and a blurry shot of Mike and his dad eating hot dogs from too far away. Needless to say, there's still a bit of an imbalance in our pictorial family collections.
The idea of these picture walls and picture albums beyond documenting, is perhaps to romanticize. Oh, look! we can say. The line from which I come. There they are, all my dead family members, quiet and well-behaved and hanging on the wall. Something in me tells me that lesser quality film developing from the 70's showing picnic tables and poor lunch choices – although aesthetically less than pleasing – are not so much a problem in and of themselves, but because they are all too real.
Perhaps I want my baby to enter into a more idealic scene than tent sites amidst brown grass. For his or her first photo, all pink wrinkles and balled up fists, to be centered amongst serene close ups of people from times gone by, where the viewer's imagination plays a role in building the life story of those photographed. One must grow into one's family slowly. The world beyond the photos will come in due time.
Friday, October 15, 2004
I'm at this kind of plateau stage in the pregnancy at this point where I don't always really feel pregnant. I'm not in the third trimester where munchies and rollercoaster emotions can apparently rule your world. I haven't started to show to the average person on the street. Nothing's kicking at my ribs yet or punching me in the bladder. Besides a good side of watermelon, I don't have a heck of a lot of crazy cravings right now. (Bless the state of California where I can still eat good, relatively local watermelon into October. Organic, no less.) People ask me if the baby has worked into my dreams yet. No, not really. It's the cats. The cats in need of my care. The cats in danger. The cats talking to me in baby talk. Even in my subconscious, I can't process the data. Human baby?!
Sometimes I start to wonder if this isn't all just something I made up. I ask my husband on a pretty regular basis, "Ya think it's still in there?" "Yes," he always says without any signs of impatience, "I think so." In an attempt to work up some kind of connection, I've started to report my daily goings on to him using "we." Like, "Today, we finished those interview questions." Or: "Today, we planted the daffodils." "Today, we went to the farmer's market." It doesn't really make me feel pregnant, though, just a little kooky.
Anyway, I know I've written before about first reactions by friends. But in terms of the outside word, I'm still in a position where I have to tell people I'm pregnant, should I want them to know. And so the reactions keep coming. Some are doozies. Take for instance: "It's the most natural thing in the world. No big deal!" Do I have to tell you this was a man speaking? I'll refrain from comment. There isn't enough space on the server.
Another of my friends upon hearing the news actually said "Ohmigod, you have a little bun in the oven!" He used the phrase "bun in the oven." He actually said the words "bun - in - the - oven." This person is an otherwise creative, progressive, open-minded writer. Pardon, but there is no bun. There is no oven. I think my astounded horror stems not from the unflattering and shallow metaphor to describe a life-altering situation, but from the very use of such a ridiculous cliché! He's a writer for godssake! (Seinfeld fans -- "And this offends you as a Jewish person?" "No, it offends me as a comedian!")
On simultaneously learning of my pregnancy and my blog, another friend hopped right on the internet and checked it out... At least, that's what she told me… In an email that could have dripped pastel colors and fuzzy teddy bears she wrote me, "What a beautiful gift you are creating for your child!" Beep! Beep! Beep! Down the bad egg shoot! You just gave yourself away! What blog did you read anyway?!?
When I told a fellow spoken word performer/writer recently, his eyes got big. All he could say was, "Think of the poems! Think of the poems!" Was that jealousy in his voice?
Then there was the 17-year-old regular from the poetry slam who was so worried about me at one recent show when I wasn't feeling well. "I'm fine," I told him. "I'm just pregnant." This news did not curb his concern. "Oh!" he said. And from his teenaged brain: "Do you have any idea whose?" I probably should have been deeply insulted. But instead, I doubled up and laughed harder than when I saw a man video taping the pizza on his plate in a restaurant, narrating. Later in the evening, I brought my teenage friend over to meet my husband. During their introductions I leaned over and whispered "Probably his."
"Congratulations!" they all say immediately or eventually. (I can't stop myself from adding in my head, "Congratulations, your birth control failed!") I can only imagine what stories I'll have to tell once a big belly actually starts to show. In Navel Gazing, Jennifer Matesa talks about the stares and comments that she got in her third trimester from people on the street, mostly from men. About how, in many ways, pregnancy is the clearest and most prominent sign of sexuality. She said she started thinking about wearing a tee-shirt that would read "It was good for me."
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Quotes from the well-meaning:
"Don't worry about things that haven't happened yet."
"There are drugs for that."
3 out of 1000 births to women at age 35 end in a baby with Down Syndrome.
1-2 out of 1000 births, period end in a mother with postpartum psychosis.
Small percentages. But similar. I'm concerned with the second statistic which I find significantly scarier. Yet, everyone wants me to do all kinds of tests for the former, while no one is concerned with talking to me about the latter. I'm really not suggesting we start adhering to slippery slope logic or false analogies here, but don't we love to look at dissimilar things next to each other? The two topics both fall under the umbrella of pregnancy at least – a comparison closer than you'll find in any political debate I'd venture to say. We conveniently don’t extend our affection for easily packaged numbers stripped of all other qualitative data to where it doesn't serve our particular spin on the culture of fear. Welcome to mine. Spin, spin, spin. I'm more than dizzy.
I'm getting a harsh message here: Dear Expectant Moms, This is an exciting time for you! So remember, Do away with your baby if that child can't fully contribute the next consumerized Britney Spears generation because of a mental "deficiency." If you yourself are in mental danger after you have produced a healthy, normal consumer, fuck you. Love, Society at Large
Lack of ritual and community caretaking is cited as one of the top reasons postpartum depression is so common in the US. Lack of recognition of not just a new baby, but a new mom and all that that transition means. Judgement starts early and failure to cope is criminal. (–"Aren't you excited?!" – "So excited!")
Scattered about the house are wedding pictures of my husband and I. Us three years ago. Smiling, barefoot on the beach. Dancing under a soft camera filter. I told my husband that I get sad sometimes in looking at these pictures. I think about how we'll never be that again. Our whole paradigm is being altered. Change is hard. But not necessarily for this man I married. "I only see gain," he tells me. Goddamn optimists. To hell with them all. At this point I have a choice. I can go, "Yeah, gain. I see it now! Oh honey!" and wait for the real feelings of despair and loss to surface again, maybe on a night when the dishes are spilling out of the sink and the litter pan stinks and I lash out at him, ostensibly about housework. Or, I can restate my feelings of sadness and risk looking like a big poop.
Of course, your basic post partum depression is less severe and much more common than psychosis, though still nothing to be sneezed at. Even if you think I'm being extremist and unreasonable in my assessment of things (which, uh, I'm not), there's still a point to be made. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal made a point too. Was he being unreasonable? Woops! There I go again making those odd analogies. Bad mom, bad mom.
On a more enlightened day, that husband guru of mine tells me, "I bet even the caterpillar grieves." I bet it does.
All I want is some guarantee that I'll get postpartum recognition time – like a month, not uncommon in many cultures of the world. A support net – something this culture only has a word for to describe its lack of one. A place to figure out who I'm becoming. And with those things I might be less afraid of falling into the black hole that is depression – the cyclical monster that tells me I feel like shit and I'm wrong to feel like shit. I've only ever experienced it without a baby to take care of. How much more intense the guilt and shame if it happens babe in arms? How do I create those things I need in this cultural context? These, my current challenges.
Friday, October 08, 2004
Yesterday I went swimming at the university pool again. (Yes, yes, praise and laud me; if you don't know why, read the September 19th entry in the archives.) It was to be a mere hour of my day in between finishing projects for the radio station and getting time at home to write (dammit). Instead, it turned into a five-hour adventure that barely got me home in time to gobble before rushing off to teach my ESLers last evening. For most of that time I was in the parking lot waiting for AAA.
But let's back up a bit. 7:30am and there's a knock at the door. My neighbor from across the street is sheepishly scuffing the ground with white tennis shoes. "I hit your car," she whispers. "Really?!" I say with excited anticipation. "How bad is it??" "Well, I bumped it and I think I left some paint." "Oh," I reply, deflated. I want to tell her to go back and try again. To really put the pedal to the metal this time! But instead I ask her how she likes her Subaru wagon. We want to get rid of both our cars and get a better baby mobile – (no, NOT a minivan and NOT an SUV) maybe one with a hatchback that I could get into one-armed if Little One's in the other. And one that isn't falling to pieces bit by bit.
Flash ahead to the pool and the latest in a list of things my car doesn't want to do anymore: unlock. The driver's side lock component fell out about a year and a half ago, so as I leave with pool bag and wet hair, as per my habit, I approach the passenger side door, key outstretched. Turn key. Feel unhealthy mechanical release. Button not moving. Turn, turn, turn, turn. No resistance. Turn, turn. Crap! I know, I'll climb into the back seat through the trunk. Can't. get. seat. to. push. down. Crap! Go into building to call AAA. Relent in letting manly man try to help me before I call. Wait for failure of manly man. Thank him. Call AAA.
I list my last three addresses for the AAA roadside assistance operator until she recognizes one in her computer. After learning my dilemma, she helpfully suggests that I may want to get my locks fixed. "And what is your location?" she asks. I've been dreading this question. As usual when I make these calls, I am nowhere. Nowhere I can easily explain to someone sitting at a computer 3,000 miles away in Florida waiting to punch something into her keyboard. I'm in a remote parking lot on a university campus that sits on the grounds of a closed military base. From my state-of-the-art pool, I'm looking out on a desolate scene of boarded up barracks and downed telephone poles. But I imagine she may want something like, oh, a street address. If only I could tell her, "Ya know the exit after the mall, yeah, so take that and where that flashing light is where they just put up the new sign for campus? okay, turn left…" But I can't. I tell her the school. I tell her I'm at the pool. I tell her again. She sounds dubious. It's the pool. The pool. Can't they find the pool? She says the local towing company will be there…waits for the screen to change…in an hour or less. Oh boy, oh boy.
I go to wait by the car. It's foggy and cold and I decide to sit in the trunk to break the wind. I don't often have the opportunity to view at close range the contents of my trunk.
1) one old printer no thrift shop will take
2) one old tire (not spare)
3) one track ball game
4) two empty gallon jugs of water
5) one foam core sign reading "Rubber Chicken Poetry – Yay!"
6) one plastic bag of cassette tapes
7) one canvas bag of rocks
8) one wooden table top Mike sawed in half but never made me shelves out of
9) one beat-to-shit page from a road atlas of the US (southern California)
10) one pair aqua socks
11) one jack
12) one quart oil (10w-30)
13) one pair yellow rubber gloves (??)
15) one bicycle pump
16) one block red clay, used
17) one Russian-English dictionary, paperback
18) one ice scraper
19) one set bike fenders
20) one bottle sunblock (SPF 30)
21) one garden stake
Other ways to pass time in a trunk with a journal -- Car Haiku! (Play along! Remember, it's 5-7-5):
Jetta, oh, Jetta
Why, oh, why do you hate me?
In your trunk I sit.
The wind is cold here.
Tow truck on the horizon?
Only a mirage.
Bees like my hair gel.
Sitting on pointy things.
Left butt cheek asleep.
It feels like it's been an hour and in checking at the pool office, I discover it's been even longer. Time flies when you're sitting in your trunk. I call again and wait forever on hold. Operator #2 tells me the driver came, waited five minutes and left. I wasn't there. Oh, I'm here. I'm right here. We try again. I'm armed with the building number and the official name of my location the "aquatic center." The operator asks me how to spell aquatic and my heart sinks. I wait 15 minutes past the half hour I'm promised and call my husband. He happens to have the car at work today and can leave a little early. By now, I haven't eaten in six hours. I'm STARVING. There's a banana locked in the front seat of my car. A lovely, lovely banana. I can see its spotted yellow peel, imagine its potassium-laden sugars. I must get to it.
I call AAA for the third time in as many hours and wait on hold. Rachel answers and upon hearing my story is very apologetic. She patches in the dispatcher from the towing company – a woman named Lenny – who is equally bent on pacifying me, crazed preggo with low blood sugar. Lenny checks with another driver and assures me he's five minutes away and knows the campus.
Should I apologize for not having a cell phone? Would that really have mattered in this case? Am I too far behind the times to have a baby? What would I do if this happened with baby? Put baby in the trunk? Tell it stories that begin with "Once upon a time, there was a lovely banana…"?
My husband arrives and starts fiddling. Twenty minutes pass and I call the towing company. I don't get Lenny – if that is even her real name. Lenny is virtual reality to me. Like me, Lenny is nowhere. I get an answering service, the employee of which tells me the driver is probably just "in traffic." "Uh, no, take my word for it. It's not the traffic. He doesn't know where I am." "And do you know where you are, ma'am?" It's like making fun of your family. You can do it, but if someone else does… My location status of "nowhere" drops away from my thoughts in a flash. My jaw crashes to the floor and I am blind with an incredulous hormone-fed rage. "I know EXACTLY where I am!!" At 18 weeks and two days. At the end of my rope. At a precipice from whose height I can't even imagine a drop. Click!
Mike bounds up to me and backs away again, slightly afraid of the look in my eye. From a distance he tells me he got it open.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
I tell my husband I want to turn down the medical pleas to do an AFP blood test and amniocentesis. I explain the amniocentesis (which sounds like a yucky process if you ask me and carries some risk itself), and I explain why they do it. I tell him that for one thing, 3 out of 1000 births with a mom at age 35 result in a child with Down Syndrome.
"What would we do with a baby with Down Syndrome?" I ask him. He stares at me, then blinks nonplussed and shrugs one shoulder slightly. "Love it," he says.
This is what I expect him to say. If my husband is anything, he is predictable. I love him fiercely.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
I was listening this morning to an NPR report about how John Kerry is starting to talk more openly about his religious beliefs. So I figured, if the "he's got to be better than that other idiot" candidate can do it, so can I.
I believe in things like all living things are connected. That nature is the best god we could ask for. On good days, I believe the universe provides what we need and wants the best for us. That the power that is greater than each of us is all of us, i.e., that the collective souls and accumulated wisdoms of the living and the dead move and shape this world and any other. I believe our loved ones stay with us in spirit. I believe we probably come back and try this life again a bunch of times until we get it right. To me, these beliefs are simple and relatively innocuous. Even so, I'm imagining they leave out a whole lot many would like to see in a spiritual philosophy and grate against many long-taught traditions, for example the one I grew up with.
It doesn't come easily to state these things. It is surprisingly difficult to type them, look at them on the screen, and not delete them immediately. I'm uncomfortable talking about faith. It is perhaps up there with pregnancy in categories of things I could write about that would most easily provoke strangers to weigh in on with certainty and fervor, or to write you off for when they disagree with your point. I'm an absolute believer in the separation of church and state. Politicians who create themselves a pulpit from which to preach make me sick. And even if you don't quite turn inside out in your skin when you hear our leaders invoke their god in public speeches and legislate morality from their desks like me, I think many of us have learned to avoid religion as a topic among friends, acquaintances, and, often, family.
I bring all this up because first, I'm long-winded and like to drag you along on my stream of consciousness rides as far as I can. Maybe it's just one more thing on the list that I'm trying to work on in my own mind and figure out how to impart to a child. But more important for the moment, I am troubled. I am sad and I am troubled. I am very sad. I am very sad. I am freaked out and unsure and who the fuck signed me up for this pregnancy thing anyway? Basically, the foundations of my "faith," if you can call it that, are being challenged. Here's the deal. Stay with me: I have the greatest husband in the world. Screw the rest of you, I got him. He will support me in any way possible. So, why do I know in my heart of hearts that this pregnancy means that I, much moreso than he, will have to rethink my passions, my work, my self. It is me who stays awake at night and worries about what I can get done before I'm huge as a house and feeling like shit. Thinking about what I can accomplish before I actually, have a baby to take care of. Look, I don't pretend to know all the ways parenthood affects men anymore than I know exactly how it affects women. But what I know is, he has the insurance and I have the breasts. Those things aren't going to change in the next year or so.
Maybe you see my dilemma by now, or perhaps not. Maybe I should go back to bed and try this day again. But my universalist, nature-loving faith has hit a wall and my mind has started to entertain frightening possibilities: Is there really a god? And, is he a man?
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
I've studied many languages in my time. I adore languages. I think most of my family and friends believe I speak about 10 or 12 by now. Sadly, I don't. I speak a fluent, very non-native version of Spanish. And I know pieces of lots more. Just pieces.
This child should be bilingual. We should all be multilingual. But what in the hell am I going to teach it and how?! Gee, I think I remember most of "Morning Has Broken" in sign language. That should prove useful. Or should I teach it my imperfect Spanish made more imperfect from years of teaching immigrants without much education who've adapted their native tongue to their new culture. We both, the immigrants and I, now speak in oh-so-elegant pseudo-Spanish phrases like lunche – pronounced "loon-chay" – that refers to greasy empanadas bought off the truck parked at the edge of the brussel sprout field blaring mariachi music from 11 to 2.
I barely remember which baskets and birds spell my name in ancient hieroglyphs. My Hindi, which only ever consisted of a few phrases written on my jeans, pretty little vowels floating above, and telephone courtesies, is completely gone. I know! My child could learn all the metro stops in Budapest! But even that's a risk, since the other day I couldn't remember how to count above three in Hungarian.
Perhaps I could lend the baby my now passive and broken knowledge of Russian. You'd think it'd be a bigger part of my life since I fought so damn hard to get to it. It was 1987 and studying Russian still raised eyebrows here and there. This was a bonus incentive. They'd lured me in, made me fall in love with the crazy alphabet I practiced to the detriment of all my other subjects. And then, poof! No level two. Unacceptable. So I "petitioned" the dean to get the class on a tutorial basis. That meant I showed up at her office every single day for a week until she caved. My bright purple Russian primer, my teacher's flaming red hair, we were a match. Four years and a different university later, I wasn't half bad. But now, I have a few lines stuck in my head from Friday night singing at the intensive language course – something about Katoosha waiting by the steep shore for her love to return. (To no one's surprise, he didn't.) I can recite a few verses of Lermontov. And I have my memories of my instructor, Sasha: a sad man who looked 20 years older than he was, beaten down by life, communism, and, mostly, vodka.
In the case of Japanese it is also my teacher that stands out to me the most after so many years and so little practice. I only fiddled with a couple semesters. My teacher was a lovely woman who frantically pantomimed the answers to us from behind the back of the official test administrator whenever we took oral exams. She told us the story of how excited she'd been when she learned she was pregnant, and how she was going to teach her daughter Japanese. She was nearly heartbroken when her daughter was inexplicably born deaf. The girl did learn Japanese, sort of. She learned English too. She just didn't know when she was speaking which or the difference between them.
There are two kinds of teachers: those who will bleed their souls for you, and those who won't. My current Italian teacher is the second kind. What to say of Italian? Language of my ancestors. Current pain in my ass. They should have cut looser the ties with Latin like their Spanish-speaking compadres because this shit is harder than it needs to be! I so want to be good at it. I cried when telling my husband about how I won't be able to take the Italian course in the spring because of the impending birth of his child. I could say it's the hormones…
Spanish didn't come easily either to tell the truth. Years of self-consciously sitting in classrooms hadn't prepared me too well for an undergraduate research trip to Mexico. Initially, my host parents would shake their heads and sigh at my frozen stares when they spoke. At times like those, I'd either go off and talk to strangers who praised my practiced stock answers to their predictable questions, or I'd sit on the floor and play with the kids. The time I was there was during the first Gulf War. (My memory of the inception of this war includes a picture of me sitting in the hallway of my college dorm scouring the New York Times for articles about the then Soviet Union and my roommate's boyfriend storming out of our suite and stomping to the elevator yelling "Goddammit, we're bombing Iraq!" - a phrase that runs through my head often these days.) Not long after, one day in Mexico, when speaking in Spanish to the adults was way more than I could handle, I plopped down next to Saulo, the youngest son in the family, and watched him play with pictures of flags. He got to the flag of Iraq, which at the time I wouldn't have recognized for my life, and calmly informed me, Y esta donde el Sr. Bush tiene su guerra. "And this is where Mr. Bush has his war." He was seven.
My brain is confused. I once insisted to my husband that the instructions for whatever it was we were putting together were "Right there!" in front of him. After all, I'd read them! Later, we discovered that they were in Spanish and I hadn't noticed. Roots and language connections jump out to me from the page. I can recognize all kinds of words and read all kinds of things, just don't ask me to tell you in which language they are or to produce it back on my own. I can't spell worth a damn anymore. Too many possibilities jumbled into my head. How can I successfully impart anything useful to my baby, a young brain ready to eat up infinite combinations of sounds and structures?
Soon after we moved to this apartment, which was also soon after I learned I was pregnant, an old postcard fell out of a book I was shelving in "unpack now!" mode. It says, "Children Born into Happy Families Grow Up Speaking Love as their Native Language." Oh great gods of Serendipity and Sentimentality, speak to me of your will. And then shut up and help me figure out how to teach this kid something.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
So we go to Napa Valley during harvest season. Let me repeat, so the stupidity of my adventure sinks in for y'all.
to Napa Valley
during harvest season.
I thought the woman in the Italian restaurant was going to collapse horror-stricken when I turned down the wine list. My seat on the wine train remained a dream. The map so dotted with vineyards and tasting rooms it blurred your vision, sat quiet and flat next to the hotel stationery. But hey, I love lemonade with my spinach salad and still-warm carmelized walnuts.
I did, however, take a lovely bike ride down country roads while my husband presented to his newly-designed website to a room crowded with oceanographers in button-down, short-sleeved shirts and khakis.
The very helpful bike rental guy and I shared a conversation about our respective tourist towns, their conference-goers and bike trails before I headed off on my Fuji mountain bike, pretending to be sporty. It could have been all that reading I'd been doing about labor and other horrors that did it, but as it turned out, I found many applicable lessons on my journey.
My first lesson came even before I found the bike shop. I had found the address of the shop without a problem, but lost the trail to which little warehouse it was in after numerous confusing twists through a really big lot of various little warehouses. "I could use some help here," I say into the air. And my eyes settled on a half-hidden yellow sign pointing the way.
Lesson 0: It's good to ask for help sometimes.
Now with bike, I comfortably traverse residential Napa following careful directions drawn for me by the bike guy. Then, one street seemingly ends before my next turn appears. I circle, cutback. Nada. I end up asking two different people before I find the highway bridge I hadn't seen before that continues my street.
Lesson 1: Some paths are discontinuous.
I ride further, headed for the vineyards. But at the end of Laurel, instead of Browns Valley that bike guy told me to look for, I find First Street. My first instinct is to continue and see if things straighten out. But I don't. I circle back again and drag a man out from under his truck to ask directions. First becomes Browns Valley just after the intersection.
Lesson 2: Listen to instincts, push on, sustain faith longer.
I find my way to streets of mailboxes whose houses hide somewhere back in the golden grass. I find the grapes. It is beautiful and hard. It is all uphill. My pulse races and I can't remember the safe maximum before baby might complain. A bee decides the design on my shirt looks good and lights on my left nipple again and again.
Lesson 3: I can look like a flower.
I'm in love with the sound of acorns popping under my fat tires. Overly confident, I try to roll over a large unidentified ball still attached to part of its branch. My front tire goes up and over it without the satisfied pop. My back tire rejects it completely, spitting it out to skip wildly across the street.
Lesson 4: Some hurdles are best avoided.
I have to pee. I am still going uphill. A little further. It is beautiful (and hard). I wonder what the bike guy will say if I come back so early. I think about how nice it would be to tell Mike I made it the whole way (to an arbitrary stop mapped out back at the shop). I realize I'm being an idiot.
Lesson 5: This is for no one but me.
I decide to go a little further. I make it to my "little further" point. My butt hurts. I get off my bike and plot my options.
Lesson 6: Rest.
I suddenly feel satisfied with how far I've come. I turn around. The downhill goes on and on. I am jubilant in the wind.
Lesson 7: After the work, accept your reward.
I make it back quickly and spend only a brief time defending my short trek. I leave the bike and head downtown with a lunch spot recommendation.
Lesson 8: Walking is also good.
Friday, October 01, 2004
Before the topic at hand, a quick sidebar:
Miracles abound. No, I'm not talking about the fact that there's a baby growing in my belly. That's still just weird. I'm talking about the Kerry-Bush debate. Miracles. Someone taught Bush the word "vociferous"! I mean, get OUT! Okay, now to today's rant.
My feelings about publications on the condition of pregnancy are, by now, well-known to blog readers. Naturally, I won't let that stop me from droning on about it some more.
The average book tells you things like – if you're pregnant, avoid smoky, non-ventilated rooms. Ah-so. Whew. That was close, cuz I'd planned a vacation of long hours in a Minnesota pool hall during the cigar aficionados convention for my 7th month. If they're so concerned with a clean environment for my unborn, why is it that they never say things like, if you're pregnant, don't sit in your stupid car in a traffic tunnel at rush hour? Or, if you're pregnant, don't live in LA; or, don't vote for Bush. These things are overlooked.
I haven't had that much more luck with alternative press books either. While they seem to assume the mother's ability to navigate her polluted world, there are other problems. I've been reading this one non-mainstream book and I was really excited at first about what I was learning and how it was presented. Then the horror stories began. Story after story of terror and disappointment in the hospital. Testimonials of sterile rooms, evil nurses, inhumane treatment, the ghosts of fetal monitors still beeping in the reader's ear. It's a bit like the Fox News of liberal baby books. If they'd just refer to the midwives as "freedom fighters," I think we'd be set.
Maybe you're asking, why keep reading? Well, I'm not really sure what else to do on the preggo preparation side of things. Preggo yoga's only once a week. And, while it feels like I go to some miscreant doctor every day, my visits are more spaced out than that. I'm a cerebral soul. Read I must. This fact is also why I'm dead in the water when it comes to birthing a child, but we'll get to that later.
Consider this an open letter to publishers and agents. You could publish my trials and tribulations. You could even put some brightly-colored, dumbass drawing of a bugged out cartoon preggo lady on the cover if you want to and plop it on the new arrivals table next to the 25-year-old's "memoirs." I'd tour for you and not ask for much. Really, I won't be any trouble at all. I'll bring my own backpack and use it as a pillow. California has the family leave act – husband guy could watch the bean. If I got published, I could read me. Toni Morrison was once asked what one book she'd bring to a desert island. (Can you imagine someone having the nerve to ask Toni Morrison that inane a question?) She said she'd bring a blank ream of paper and write her own.