Friday, September 30, 2005
I tell Isaac all the time he is a lucky baby to have two kitty cats. We’re doing our best to foster mutual respect in the baby, cat arena but if Isaac could read my mind sometimes or understand what I tell these fur balls under my breath…
My cats have issues. Zap Mama and Emily are doing pretty well with the baby, but baby or not, they have issues, issues that complicate my already complex life.
Considering the potential for baby toy to become cat toy, they have been REALLY good. Still, every now and then Mike or I will say things like, "The cats have adopted the pacifier." or "The cats have transported fuzzy bear to the kitchen." And okay, why should Emily take the fall? When we say "cats," what we mean is "Zap Mama."
Both of our girls originally came to us from the SPCA as fosters – mama cats with litters. Emily had six little ones. Zap had four, but we lost the runt – don’t even bring me there.
We knew Zap was "special" right away. Let’s just suffice to say she needs a lot of attention, and I am the object of her pleas. But we’ll get back to her. Emily has always been the "normal" one of the two. Sure she had some scarcity issues when she arrived, constantly trying to bury her food bowl in the kitchen, but ya know, sometimes a soul goes through stuff. Over all, she was loving and sweet, got her people time in, then, unlike her hyper-neurotic sister, did normal cat things with the rest of her day, like sleep.
These days things are in – how shall I put it? – an "adjustment" period? Emily can only be described as clingy. She has taken up more and more of Zap’s worst habits. And Zap. Zap has stepped up her usual insanity of following me from room to room to room talking nonstop. Although I swear she understands 80% of what I say, I cannot seem to explain to her that going into the bedroom and meowing loudly as I’m finally getting the baby to sleep will not increase her time with me, but will stand to, in fact, sabotage her plans of having me stand next to the food bowl while she eats and wiggle her peacock feather just so between the futon and the floor. I’m not sure if any of you can imagine what it’s like to be so sleep deprived you can’t face the day, spend twenty minutes rocking the baby out and be on the brink of an hour’s relief, only to have to start from zero again because your CAT has decided to rule your life.
If Zap doesn’t cry and wake him up, she follows me every step so that I have no break from being – literally – pawed at day and night. If I close the door she will scratch at it incessantly – no matter what side of it I am on. If I put her outside she can and will meow loud enough still to wake up the baby. Both animals have been known of late to hurl their eleven pounds in a flying leap from the dresser onto my chest as I lie in bed in a tenuous sleep between the 12am and 3 am feedings.
Zap is ratcheting up her co-dependent behavior every day and Emily has begun to bury her food bowl again. Our little blended family is showing a few cracks. Frankly, I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t take it. I love these animals and I try to give them what time I can, but get me the pet psychologist, please!!
Just when I think I’ll lose it completely as I go in to get Isaac from another abbreviated nap, I see his face as he focuses on his kitty cats. It is luminous. He is in deep, deep love. He squeals and throws his hands forward, so excited he doesn’t know what to do. Emily rubs her head under his hand, forcing a pet. Zap rolls and yawns, causing Isaac to giggle and eat his fingers.
The other day when I got home from writing group, the sitter told me, "Your grey cat is really tolerant." Oh dear. We are working hard on Gentle, Isaac! Pet nice, with your flat hand, but we are far from mastery. "Before I could stop him, he had pulled her whiskers, then grabbed a handful of fur. She just sat there!" There is a pause. "She just sat there!!" she repeats. And then, "He’s a lucky baby."
Thursday, September 29, 2005
I'm showing the new sitter around the house. "And this is where we keep the extra pacifiers," I say, sweeping my arm by a shelf near the changing table. And then it happens: one of those moments when you suddenly see your space with an outsider’s eyes. Ohmigod. "Yes," I say, clearing my throat and trying on a good-natured grin, "Here. We keep them right here, next to the Russian vocabulary cards and the tape measure. Naturally!" The sitter, a shy woman in her forties, allows one soft chuckle to escape her mouth, then turns away out of politeness, back toward the living room, while I take a moment to bury my face in my hands. What is the statute of limitations on chaos due to a new baby? I’m growing nervous that the months are ticking by and I am still a complete disaster.
The new sitter is not who she was supposed to be. She was supposed to be several other people, but she is not. For example, she was supposed to be the affable middle-aged multilingual woman with undying energy and all of my same philosophies about childrearing who charges reasonable rates with no minimum time requirement. (NB: I never met this person. To my knowledge, this person does not exist.) She was also supposed to be the crazy grandma from Brooklyn with the raspy smoker’s voice and accent of my youth ("Oh my Gawd! He’s be-U-dee-ful!! …I can’t wait ta get my hehnz on that li’l Eye-Zik!" – NB: I met this person. This person is quite real.).
The new sitter is a soft-spoken Midwesterner, who wears lots of white blouses and tan slacks, and is allergic to my cats and most other things in the Universe. Some of you who don’t know me well or have only read this blog on occasion may think I purposely picked Miss Mild-mannered over the Brooklyn grandma who got lipstick all over my son. You would be wrong. I called the Brooklyn lady too late and she got another job. ("I’m so sawrry! I tr-eyed ta cawl ya back yesta-day ta tell ya, but chew weh on da phone, ya blabbamouth!")
Isaac seems okay with the new sitter, although so far, he’s refused to let her feed him. She came highly recommended by a friend who knows her personally and whose girls love her, and so far I can’t complain. One day she brought us hand sewn blankets and the next she did my dishes. Oh, yeah, and she likes my baby. For my part, I call Mike at my break in the writing group, tell him to call home and call me back to tell me how things are going so that if there is crying I won’t hear it, and if he’s smart I won’t even hear about it. I’ve gotten so I can almost concentrate while I’m there. Sort of. I tell myself it’s good that Isaac be exposed to people unlike us, but I still catch myself writing extensive notes on just how to put him to sleep, or what to do in a myriad of situations depending on the outcome of what came before (if you answered "yes" to any of the following, skip to section B…). I also catch myself wishing he were at least learning another language – like German, or Brooklynese.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Halloween is scaring the crap out of me because now, I’m – gulp – a mom!! Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!
I was already stressing over the fact that Isaac will have to grow up with a mom who not only cannot sew him cute little costumes, she cannot even sew a button back on a shirt, but now it’s worse. I’ve gotten my first invitation to a baby party. I am completely unprepared for this. Someone with a baby Isaac’s age has 1) conceived of a party 2) planned this party 3) designed and mailed invitations 4) made their kid a costume. And the culmination of all this – the damn party – will be almost a MONTH before the bloody holiday!
I’ve called with my regrets.
More euphemisms. I hear other new moms complain all the time that they can’t "get anything done." When pushed, however, it seems that what they want to "get done" is always the laundry, the dishes, and the vacuuming. Doesn’t anyone long to read a book? Take a walk? Write a poem?
Today on the phone my husband confessed, in a rare moment of life imbalance, that work was getting ahead of him, he felt swamped. Later in the same conversation, I mentioned that I wanted to try to find time to talk about our schedule of things again and how I am still uncomfortable, unsatisfied, and unhappy with my days – i.e., my life. About how I see Isaac growing older and my job not necessarily becoming any easier. That in fact, I think it will become harder and harder in the next couple years and am I prepared to stay at home with him or to go to work or to do something else or nothing or all of the above? "Maybe Wednesdays aren’t enough?" my husband offers, referring to my recent accomplishment of returning to my writing group once a week.
Writing is my work. Imagine, I want to tell him, that you feel the overwhelm you feel today at work every day, all day. Imagine that someone told you you could go to work but only once a week for a three-hour meeting. Imagine that you were given no guaranteed time to prepare for your meeting, and that you could never follow up on the ideas volleyed around at the meeting. Now, you are a responsible individual. You care about your work. Indeed, let’s pretend you have a passion for it, but you just can’t seem to get anything done. How does it feel?
Friday, September 23, 2005
In talking to a friend recently I described walking around town with Isaac as akin to hanging out with a famous person. Everyone stops you to talk. Everyone wants to be close to you. Prior to my current incarnation as a mother, I have had a few other encounters with the famous.
When I was an undergrad in college, I lived for a brief time in a small town in Mexico with a host family. There were four boys ranging in age from seven to sixteen. My host mom was a quiet, serious woman who taught elementary school. My host father was a judge and the principal of the elementary school in the tiny town. There was always a flurry of activity around Mario. Going anywhere with him was an adventure. Leave for a simple errand and you might be gone all day. Every half-block we’d stop and greet whomever, my host dad taking off his ball cap stitched with the logo of the majority political party, wiping his brow, and replacing it on his silver head of hair a dozen or so times at each meeting.
My time with my host family included Mother’s Day in Mexico. I had been to the market that morning to look for flowers. I could only find gladiolas, which I associate with funerals, but it was what they had and, hoping the two cultures wouldn’t suddenly match up on this point, I bought them. (At my wedding, I carried calla lilies. When my photographer saw the bouquet, her comment was, "How sweet, honey, you chose the death flower!" This is the same woman who on seeing me when she arrived said, "Oh thank goodness you look beautiful. I’ve had such a day. If I got here and the bride looked like shit, I was going home!")
Several hours after I’d decided on the glads, my host dad, Mario – "Papi" – came home. He took command of the situation. Now we would all – the four boys and me – go get flowers for mother’s day. I glanced at my glads and obediently got in the car. We drove all of ten blocks, stopping at least ten times. Finally, we arrived at a non-descript house and parked. I looked around carefully on the dusty street, waiting for the next extended hand to jump out and accost Mario. No one. We might actually accomplish our task. "Buenos!" my host dad bellowed from the street. (The shortcut for "Buenos Dias") "Buenos!!" he hollered again announcing our arrival. Finally a round, dark woman in an old dress poked her head out and called back "Pasen!"
We shuffled into this woman’s living room where there was exactly one arrangement in a basket sitting on the table. "We’ll take that one," Mario said, actually pointing to the lone bouquet. The florist lifted the basket and handed it to my host dad. Mario made some pretense to pay and the woman waved him off.
That evening we presented my host mom with the basket, over which she made much fuss. At some point when Mario was otherwise occupied, I handed her the gladiolas, over which she made an equal fuss and towards which she showed no sign of being offended by funereal implications.
Then it was off to the Mother’s Day celebration in the town square. Families crisscrossed each other to get through the people and from one spot to another. It seemed like everyone in the town had come out. The whole event had the feeling of a rock concert. People were jovial; everyone was waiting for something to begin. As we entered the square, there was a man handing out ticket stubs to all the moms so they could have a chance for some of the prizes that would be raffled off. He tried to hand me a ticket and I waved him off vehemently. Our little family took our place standing behind the rest of the crowd, craning their necks toward the temporary stage. There were music and vendors. There was a lot of standing around.
Finally, a man appeared on the small stage pacing back and forth and speaking unintelligibly into a microphone. Suddenly we had reached the moment we were all there to experience. He called out numbers three times each and all the moms scanned their tickets. Eventually, there would be a whoop from somewhere in the crowd and a ticket, like a tiny red flag, would wave in an arc above the sea of heads. Everyone applauded and the winner clawed her way to the front to retrieve the prize – things like toilet paper or sets of plastic bowls – from the man on stage.
My host mom didn’t win anything. But we all had a blast. The women were so forefront that night. So celebrated. Being a mom that night, among the plastic bowls and packages of toilet paper, was like being famous, for all the right reasons.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Have you ever noticed that everyone always registers their kids and themselves as "fine" no matter what trauma or misguided science ruled their childhoods? For example, "I let all my kids cry themselves to sleep for hours at a time and they turned out fine." Or, "I fed you whole milk and sugar in a bottle from the time you were three days old and look, you’re fine." Or, "I’m sure I got dropped, but I turned out just fine."
Okay, we are not all "fine". Someone is lying. If we were all "fine" this world wouldn’t be quite so fucked up. Somewhere along the line some of that crap made a difference and it wasn’t for the better. Of course, if you want to keep fooling yourself, that's fine with me.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Little Mr. Isaac is turning seven months. It’s crazy. There he is. My walking calendar. He’s doing all kinds of things like trying out real food like applesauce and watered down rice cereal. (You gave him banana? my sister asks in wonder as we discuss his eating habits. "Like, from a banana?" Once again I am found out as the earthy crunchy black sheep, shunning jars in favor of what the foods looked like before Gerber got their hands on it.)
Besides a slowly evolving menu, Isaac’s motor skills are improving too. He is fond of rolling in one smooth swoop from the middle of the living room to completely under the futon. I look under to find him, little mechanic, lying on his back checking out the flaws in the mattress. He protests when I pull him out and I’m usually sorry that I have passed up this chance at distraction from teeth five and six, still taunting us from just beneath the gum line, keeping us all up at night with their promise of greater things than bananas.
And as he grows, I am daunted by the thought of babyproofing my apartment. I was lamenting losing all my lower bookshelves or losing the books and photo albums on them to my newly mobile baby and where-will-I-put-them-we-have-no-storage when one helpful soul asked if I "scrapbooked". She further offered that there is a group at her church once a week that "scrapbooks" together and includes "women like me". Holy shit. Who, I tremble to inquire, are "women like me"???? And what are they doing pasting borders down over tea and godly conversation???? If I ever use the verb "to scrapbook" shoot me, no questions asked. With all due respect to those who enjoy creating scrapbooks, I think I’d rather fall on a rusty saw.
We should be handing to our babies who we are. We should be offering them– along with mashed bananas – a healthy dose of our selves, but the self I was has suspended certain key pieces in order to take on this consuming, albeit temporary job of new mom, and now more of me, i.e., my books, my books, and my memories need to be literally packed away too? Color me the cranky artist non-scrapbooking type, but am I the only one that finds identity crises in babyproofing?
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Okay, I’m just jealous. When I throw the pillow at Mike and he doesn’t wake up or even stir, when I shove him and he finally – after several knocks to the ribs – lifts his head confused and groggy and really, honestly doesn’t know what’s going on because he has fallen back asleep effortlessly, was never truly awake in the first place, when I have to tell him "Move! I have to put the baby down again." I’m ticked. I’m exhausted. But really, I’m just jealous.
Monday, September 05, 2005
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting for one foot to another…
-Philip Levine, from "What Work Is"
I suppose you could say am one of the lucky ones. For the moment, I am able to stay home with Isaac. However, usually, on about four of the five days I don’t feel lucky. I feel tired and pawed at, cut off from the real world, and sometimes hopeless. But with whatever part of me is sort of awake and has energy to think, I try my best to recognize my luck.
Outside of new motherhood, work is something to get away from, off from, out of. Suddenly, however, after you’ve had a baby, many people (many of them without babies) act like it is a life-giving Mecca to which one must return posthaste. If I complain –I know it’s hard to believe—to someone about the stresses of my day, I hear "So when are you going back to work?" In truth, I hear this when I don’t complain, too. Ah yes, the solution to my woes, the key to increasing the quality of my life – work.
You see, I don’t want to do what I did before, and this poses a problem. I can’t just slip into a role I know, resume banter around a water cooler, pick up where I left off. I need energy and space to think up a new next step and, well, yeah, um, energy and space?...
I just got the call. The call that comes about two weeks before every semester starts. The one where someone needs to staff a class "desperately." My former boss’ voice on my answering machine spills compliments, ("I thought of you right away…You are one of the best we’ve had…") and my ego begs for another chance, while my heart screams "NO!" Teaching – let’s see, handing young people lessons that they may not be ready to deal with, tending to their various learning styles and emotional needs, providing feedback on their progress, coaxing them always to the next level... and this is different from what I’m doing now, how?
For a while it’s that I don’t have time to write down what I’m composing in my brain, and then, after that goes on too long, it’s that I don’t have anything in my brain any more. The past six and a half months have been like walking uphill with my head down against the wind. My free time is like New Year’s Eve – much hyped and anticipated and never quite reaching the heights of fun and excitement that threatened to besiege the participants. I’m past the time when naps are enough. At one point, just to sleep was really all I needed. Now my expectations have risen, my boredom has pushed me to want to do more. But what? It took me the longest time to realize that some of what I was was bored. I was bored being with an infant all day. The energy it takes to take care of him is coupled with the energy it takes to manufacture things to do to make the time pass.
I am still mad. Mad at not being able to change this situation of the anti-community in time to help myself. Mad that a new week is coming and again AGAIN my husband will leave me alone with our baby for hours and hours, five days in a row. Mad that I am so tired I can’t begin to tackle the events of the outside world and yet I’ve never been more concerned about what is happening. I change diapers and meanwhile the world turns, making that sound that old rollercoasters make before the drop, ratcheting slowly toward a screaming descent. Or maybe we’re already over the top.
My small babe fights himself to nap. Yells for peace and quiet. Wriggles and squawks in an attempt to return to the dream world I imagine he came from. Who can blame him? I couldn’t fix things before he got here. Finally, he relaxes in my arms. On the way to put him down, I pass the mirror. And there we are. His small frame collapsed against my rib cage. His face turned toward where he used to live.
I’m exhausted, I have a cold- my second in less than two months, and there is mold growing in my bedroom closet. I’m not supposed to be somebody’s mother. It eliminates the option of giving up and I’ve always been quite fond of that option. What on my list of things to do will save the world? "Organize pictures"? "Buy cat food"? "Post Blog"? What can I say I’ve done for this baby and the rest of us today?
Is six and a half months too short a time to become jaded?
When Isaac was only a wee soul, maybe 2 or 3 months old, I reluctantly put him in the car to do a couple errands. We’d be gone only a short time, the drive would only be about 10 minutes each way. At the end of our errand running, I carefully opened the car door so as not to bump his head, then, after successfully placing my bag on the seat, promptly backed up and banged his head on the open door.
We both heard the thud. We both looked up stunned. We both began to cry.
We sat in the front passenger seat rocking and crying for a good while. Then Isaac found his comfort boob and slowed down the hysteria to an occasional heaving sob that maintained the dramatic effect. Eventually, I was forced to face the transfer to the carseat, which of course saw the dawning of a new, revitalized version of the outpouring. Half-way home, when he suddenly stopped crying and fell asleep, I was positive I had given him a concussion. I called Mike from the car to make my tearful confession.
"I’m sure he’s fine," he told me. "But how do YOU know?" I blubbered, mad at him for being at work and mad at me for being such a negligent parent.
"Is there a bump?" he asked.
"I can’t tell."
"Then he’s probably fine."
"Should we call the doctor?"
"I don’t know," Mike sighed at me.
"I hate this."
"Should we call the doctor?"
"I think he’s fine."
This went on for some time.
Fast forward to today when I was kneeling down in front of Izzy’s bouncy seat to plunk him in it, which I did and before I could strap him in, when I was still reaching to hand him his toy, he somehow ended up on the floor face down beside me. Now, he didn’t fall far and there was no thud at all. Just all of a sudden, there he was, laid out on the rug—the cheap, ugly rug my landlord hasn’t replaced that the cats so like to scratch despite the fact that I continually tell them we rent. "Isaac!" I said in surprise. He started to cry. And I…well… I … started to laugh. My son did not see the humor in the situation and made his very best boo-boo face at me. I picked him up and continued to giggle. "What happened?" Mike wanted to know. "He fell on the floor," I said, still amused, and that was all.
Perhaps it was that nervous laugh people like to talk about. Or maybe I’m just mean. It’s hard to say. But I think it’s interesting that as my baby’s cognitive development progresses, so my hyper-concern subsides. In other words, when you are the most zealous in your worry over their well-being, these kids don’t know a damn thing about it. By the time they know enough to know, they see you in your modified mom state – hardened by who knows how many more bumped heads and face plants, by just a few too many sleepless 4:00 ams.
I can’t say I don’t still freak out several times a week about how I or Mike or the world at large are slicing into the innocence of this child and even, possibly, putting him in harm’s way, but some of the roaring-momma-bear hormones have been replaced with the eh-he’ll-live hormones. Consequently, I might even have a chance of making it through alive too.
Friday, September 02, 2005
I’d like to clear up some odd misconceptions.
As you drive along today, talking on your cell phone, drifting into my crosswalk or blowing through the stop sign, I’d like to remind you that your third trip to the mini mart today for coffee, your date with the asshole that will talk incessantly about himself, the quick jaunt to Macy’s for a shopping fix, the dash back from lunch to the job you hate, are – I know it may amaze you – not more important that the life of my child. Get out of my crosswalk, get out of your car, and go home. Shut off the engine, go inside and stay there. And if, when you turn to put the key in the lock, you find your living room furniture is not covered in river silt, that your cappuccino machine, your pets, your neighbor, are not floating by you, be glad.