Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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Back To School

Lord, y’all. Feels like I have to commit grand larceny of time even to get a quick post out these days. Hello from the Metro North Railroad, where I should really be grading.

Item: The Bean’s school is popular with all of us. He’s had a few slightly rough goodbyes, but nothing major, and he is happy when I get there to pick him up. A typical day is 9-ish to 3:30; he stayed for afterschool one day last week and loved it. They made chocolate chip scones, a magnatile city, and a newspaper. In two and a half hours. His contributions to the paper were a drawing of something hairy (?), a weekend update that Sugar was going out of town for the weekend, and a wish that the world might always contain “construction, outside, and dust buffaloes.”

Item: Our apartment contains a gracious plenty of the last. No fear of shortage.

Item: Yes, that is a french fry Jackalope is eating in the picture I posted recently.  They weren’t the first food she tasted, but they may have been the first she swallowed. That’s my girl and, I might add, my mother’s granddaughter.

(Pause for crying.)

She loves other foods, too; in fact, we’ve scarcely found any she doesn’t love. She ate everything on the table at dim sum this weekend, objecting only to the bite I had accidently drenched in hot pepper sauce. She especially loves peaches and bananas and waffles and her brother’s rejected crusts and graham crackers and ricotta and stir fry bits and Peking duck and basically anything she can get her hands on. It’s gratifying.

However, she won’t touch a bottle of formula for love or money. It’s aggravating, but I decided I wasn’t going to pump for a seven month old who loves food that much. Pumping hurts, it sometimes results in lasting nipple damage for me, and my work days involve long, complex commutes. But also: pumping is annoying, and I just don’t want to do it. 

So far, she hasn’t wasted away. She always wants to nurse the minute I come home, but she isn’t hungry. I gather immediately dousing me in regurgitated milk is an effective means of both venting her spleen regarding my absence and reestablishing her dominance.
Item: I am back to teaching. Freshman comp at a community college, health care history at my grad-ma mater.

Aaaand then the train got there and the rest of the day came down like rain and even while I was beginning to type that, Jackalope woke up and required intervention and it is after nine and I haven’t eaten dinner. So until next time, have some pictures from my phone:

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In which I over-compensate for not having a proper lunch bag for the Bean’s first day. He helped with cutting and pinning. (And it doesn’t look like this anymore, because I haven’t ironed it after having to wash it before its first use, because of pee. So.)

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Celebrating her seven month birthday by figuring out how to be unsafe in her crib.

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Not pictured: Mama having a heart attack while saying encouraging things.

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Ekeing out a little more summer.


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Quick Things

Two of them, because it is a weekend and because I am turning over another leaf and mean to — for real, this time! — start posting tiny things more regularly.

1. The Bean started preschool, two days a week, at an immensely loveable place that is, get this, both next to a major construction site AND technically in a subway station.  (Don’t fret: it’s above ground and not flecked with old gum or mysterious ceiling drips.)  It’s hard to imagine a more perfect campus for him.  More on this later?  Probably.

First day of school

2. Jackalope is NOT AT ALL PLEASED about being away from me for more than a few hours, far less if her company is someone other than Sugar.  Her first long day with the babysitter is Wednesday; please pray for them both.  And for us, lest the sitter quit.  Jackalope’s track record with childcare at the coop is abysmal.  Last time, they didn’t call me up to rescue her for an hour or so, by which point everyone had heard a great deal of crying.  When I arrived, a small girl came running up to me, brimming with excitement.

“She said her first word!  She said her first word!”

“That’s very exciting,” I replied.

“It was, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!  That starts with A!”

Unconvinced


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Penn Station

Hello from a slow train through the eastern mountains, Internet. We are chugging along on the Capitol Limited en route to Washington, DC, and it’s so beautiful I can’t bring myself to care that we are two hours behind schedule. We’ll miss our connecting train to New York, but meanwhile there is a river and trees, white Queen Anne’s Lace and yellow Mullen and purple Joe Pye Weed. Whatever train they put us on instead will get us home late, with no doubt crying children, but I can’t be upset about that when there are bluffs of layered rock, square boulders in the water, stands of improbably straight tulip poplars, and a hound dog baying in answer to our whistle. Early this morning there was mist dyed sunrise pink, people fishing from canoes and rowboats and their own feet planted midstream. A fat groundhog trundled his way through the greenest grass. By midday the wide river was spangled with floating rafts. Even the yellow splashes down the sides of black tank cars alongside us (HOT MOLTEN SULFUR, they declare their contents) are picturesque, fireflies on a summer night.

We pass through these little towns, and I wonder what it would be like to shop at Confluence Food. In a bigger town, there’s a Roses store near the tracks, and I can smell the rubber soles of the canvas shoes my hometown Roses sold from towering and rickety metal cages, $3.99 a pair. Graffiti is dominated by the not terribly terrible sounding BONGLORDS, and not too blocks away hangs a campaign banner for someone named Bongino.

I do love a train trip. I love watching the miles get lapped, I love the gentle rocking and low grumbling, the distant whistle that, the Bean says he likes because it reminds him of being at the station, waiting for the train to pick him up.

I have no explanation, in light of how happily relaxed train travel is, for what happened at the beginning of this trip, in the lounge at Penn Station. What with the exigencies of weekend subway riding and travel with small children on any day at all, we had allowed more than extra time, such that, even giving ourselves time to walk part of the way to the station (the wait for the shuttle bus replacing our local train having become annoying), we were at the station abundantly early. We checked the luggage and found soft chairs in the lounge; played with Jackalope while Sugar and the Bean bought us a lunch of surprisingly good sushi and a bottle of my preferred iced tea. I was quite tired following a wakeful night, and past hungry. After we had eaten, I walked out into the station to the ATM, looking forward to the tea when I returned.

When I sat back down and reached for the tea, I saw that its seal had already been broken. That’s odd, I thought, I don’t remember opening this — but really how odd is it that, hungry and tired and harried by children, I might have forgotten something so negligible? I took a sip; it tasted perfectly normal. Well, I said to Sugar, I guess it didn’t have cyanide in it, anyway.

What happened next was very strange indeed. First my chest became very cold. I could still breathe, but it seemed hard, all of a sudden. That corner of the lounge is already dark, but I couldn’t see as well as I should have been able to. When the huge waves of dizzy cold started rolling up my legs and body and chest and head, I began to feel quite frightened: WAS there something in that tea? Is this the dumbest way to die on record? Thoughts of Robert Johnson, absurdly. Why is my heart doing that? Or is this my heart? Is this oxygen depravation? Is this what an embolism is like? Thoughts of my mother, of course. What if she had been able to call an ambulance? More terrible waves.

I’ve thought a great deal about how to write this down so that it gives some impression of how terrified I was. You, of course, know I survived all this, but I truly believed I wasn’t going to. Sugar got me to the desk, and they called for help. Someone made me sit down, which seemed like a terrible waste of time, when all I wanted right then was to hold my children. It seemed hugely important that whatever else happened, they know how much I love them.

The police arrived. I wasn’t dead. They asked me questions. How old are you? Have you eaten? When? What? How do you feel now? A very kind Amtrak lounge worker sat in the chair beside me, cane resting on her knee, suggesting that I might be having a panic attack. I tried to nurse Jackalope, hoping that if this was a panic attack, magic nursing hormones might make things go back to normal; she didn’t want to nurse. The sides of my face became very cold. The waves would go away for a while, then return. The paramedics came. I began to feel as much embarrassed as scared. The balance went back and forth between those two, again and again. My blood pressure was its usual, low-normal self. My pulse was fine. Someone gave the Bean a coloring book. It seemed less and less likely that I was dying. I took an experimental walk around the lounge. Everyone was very nice.

When it came down to it, I decided to get on the train rather than the ambulance. (And was immediately separated from my family, which didn’t help a bit. Stars in the heavenly crown of the anxious mother who very graciously relocated her two anxious small children to allow us to be together.) There were a few more minor echoes, but by and large I felt normal by the next day, mostly normal within an hour.

Well, “normal,” maybe. A week later, I still feel very taken aback that my brain would do that to me, for no apparent reason. Or was it my endocrine system? Maybe it was some confluence of exhaustion and caffeine and recovering from previous low blood sugar. I’m certainly an anxious person, and I have felt physical anxiety before now, of course. But always when I’ve been feeling anxious in the first place, I’ve been at least thinking about something nerve-wracking. Being shanghaied by adrenaline in a setting that doesn’t consciously upset me is a new one, even for my addled brain. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and, frankly, it’s scary.


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But Do I Have To Like It?

Hey, internets. Boy, do I have lots to unload on you. But I am also on one of those visiting-family “vacations” where everything is mysteriously more work than it is at home. And Jackalope is teething her brains out. So just a quickie today.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, apparently. My Facebook feed is all over boobs and babies. Which is lovely, I guess. I mean, yay for these folks. Yay for whatever makes it easier for people who are socially discouraged from breastfeeding to feel they have permission to give it a go. Class and race divisions being what they are, I am just guessing that most people on my feed probably feel more pressure to breastfeed than to use formula, but whatever, yay normalizing, yay boobs, etc.

Somehow, though, I never feel like these events are quite for me.

Some of that is certainly complacency, a complacency that I certainly hope will soon exist for everyone, not just highly educated, middle-class white ladies in gentrified urban areas. No one has ever particularly hassled me about nursing, in public or not. A few women of my mother’s generation expressed very mild surprise at how long I nursed the Bean, but nothing approaching disapproval. The sleeping car attendant on our train here about jumped out of his skin when he poked his head into our room and saw my exposed breast, but he probably thought he was intruding. I did have one creepy guy taking pictures (or possibly using binoculars?) in the early days with the Bean, which was gross as hell, but I was in fact quite covered in blankets at the time. (It was COLD, y’all.) Since I couldn’t pump for the Bean and haven’t yet dealt with returning to work post-Jackalope, I haven’t had to deal with space and time for pumping, either. Breastfeeding has not been easy for me, but the difficulties I’ve had with people (Dr. Russian and pals) have been about crap medical care, not disapproval per se.

Some of my ennui about the whole deal is lingering shame/guilt over my less than picture-perfect nursing relationship with the Bean, since the photographic cavalcade can feel rather like a public parade by members of the Pure And Correct Mothering Club, but the sense that I don’t deserve to say I really breastfed the Bean has faded a bit. I don’t always feel compelled to add the asterisk that our early relationship wasn’t technically exclusive because of that week of formula supplements. Sometimes, but not always. That I didn’t pump for him when I returned to work at six months ended up having the real silver lining of protecting me from way numbers and pseudo-industrial processes can feed an obsessive relationship with The Device, until the pumping itself, odious though it may be, becomes hard to let go of. (Not you, not you. If you pumped until 36 months and felt happy and free about it, cheers. I am not a laidback soul once numbers are involved. Possibly not ever, but at any rate, numbers and records make it worse, and I’d probably still be pumping for the Bean, if I’d really gotten started. It’s easier, in a sense, to wean from actual nursing, since there’s another person directly involved and potentially contributing to the decision.) Heck, the way he eats these days, formula is starting to look like one of the better foods he’s consumed. I feel sympathy for women who do feel excluded by that aspect of WBW, but I no longer feel quite so convinced that I am supposed to feel excluded, myself.

Anyway, my record is far more pure with Jackalope (though by any sane measure, the Bean did okay, too: all-but exclusively breastfed in the beginning, weaned by mutual assent at 21 months). No supplements needed for her, and the way she’s taking to food, we may just have her eat that and drink water during my absences at work. I’ve been able to pump occasionally without pain, so I could give that a go, but really, I don’t want to. She has had one bottle of formula so far, after she’d already begun trying foods. Or rather, she’s had half an ounce, which she threw an almighty fit about, and was then screaming with apparent constipation that night, all because I was having a nervous breakdown and Sugar took her out for an hour. Whole thing made me feel like Mother of The Year, but I digress.

The thing is, even though I am one of the “good” or maybe “lucky” ones according to the boob boosters, one who “succeeded,” I just…don’t like it all that much. I don’t hate it, the way I did when the Bean was tiny and the spasms were at their worst, but neither do I feel inclined to carry on about how beautiful and fulfilling and profound the whole deal is. It’s okay. It’s marginally easier than carrying around bottles and powders, though that doesn’t seem so daunting now that I carry food for my picky Bean everywhere I go. It’s nice that I can feed her without getting out of bed, but that convenience is tempered by the fact that I’m the only one who can feed her, lately every hour all night long. I can nurse her to sleep, but she’s less willing to fall asleep in a carrier on my chest, because I smell of milk. I’m all for sharing my antibodies, but I’m skeptical of many claims of breastmilk’s superiority — except that apparently it doesn’t constipate this particular, easily backed up baby. I suppose it may have slightly delayed the return of my period (though not by much), but I weigh as much as I did a couple of weeks after her birth. My blood sugar remains almost as prone to crashing as during pregnancy, maybe because I forget to account for all the calories I’m losing in the middle of the night.

In a sense, I suppose I am the picture of someone for whom breastfeeding has been successfully normalized. Advantages and disadvantages are pretty balanced for me, but I do it anyway. I am certainly subject to the pressures of my particular peer group, but I’m not consciously impressed by the scare tactics. I can keep nursing without vilifying formula companies, because their existence and marketing doesn’t feel threatening to me. (NB: I am speaking only for my own race/class/education/geographic position. I know the spiel, I promise.)

What I don’t feel especially moved to do is wax poetic about how beautiful it is, because I don’t find it especially more beautiful than other ways of relating to my children. I value feeling physically close to them, but I value it much more when I am sure it’s not just the affection I feel for my refrigerator. When the Bean comes to sit next to me on the porch swing here, when Jackalope, in a recent development, rests the SIDE of her head on my chest, that makes my heart swell. Jackalope latching right on in the delivery room was a great relief, because it suggested she might avoid the Bean’s early difficulties, but I also love watching her chow down on applesauce; she makes this kind of raptor shriek and launches herself bodily at the spoon. Likewise, it does my heart much good to see the Bean eat a pancake I have mangled cut into his requested shape. “I want one shaped like Mama holding Jackalope,” he says, and, calling upon the spirits of Mary Cassatt and Kara Walker and Julia Child, I feed him.

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Three

Yesterday, while polishing bits of the kitchen with baby wipes, the Bean treated me to a short lecture on the importance of cleaning the lid of the garbage can every day.

An hour later, after I had emptied but not yet thoroughly wiped it out, he took hold of the ikea potty he had just pooped in, donned it as a hat, and spun it around on his head, scouring it with his lustrous curls.

Three-year-olds, ladies and gentlemen.

Another perk to having one of these creatures is finding every magnetic surface in your home.

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Mental Notes on Pain

Note: You did not create this pain by acknowledging it.

Note: If ignoring it worked, it would have worked by now.

Note: Treating pain is not encouraging it.

Note: You have taken these drugs for a lot of years without feeling any desire to use them when you are not in pain. The most likely thing is that you are thinking of using them now because you are in pain, not because you have become a terrible addict… NOW!

Note: Being in pain makes you a low-energy, distracted, short-tempered parent. Taking a low dose of your medicine makes you happier (because you are not in pain) and calmer than usual, if slightly distracted. Guess which your children prefer.

Note: Avoiding your medicine never means you have extra energy, because being in pain takes a lot of energy. There is no high-energy option on these days.

Note: Calvinism combines terrible with issues of physical health. You have a number of academic texts on your shelves to this effect. You may be a WASP, but you don’t have to be a Puritan.

Note: You’re doctors prescribe these medicines for you. They expect you to take them. You don’t get a prize for having them left at the end of the year.

Note: Try to remember, as you sit in the waiting room, that your doctors want to help you. That’s why they got this gig. (And if they don’t, they are not the only ones in town.)

This post brought to you by endometriosis, anxiety, and the weird interior design choices at Dr. Joy’s office.

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Eat, Weigh, Fret

Well, it only took two hours to get Jackalope down for this nap. Here’s hoping it lasts more than twenty minutes.

Jackalope is nearly five months old now, though I can scarcely believe it. The usual feels like it’s been no time at all and she’s always been here thing. Brains are funny. At any rate, she had her four-month check up and shots recently. (We got a bit behind schedule trying to be sure we always see our favorite doctor at the practice. I should never have recommended her to so many people.) She did very well, agreeably stretched out for her length measurement, didn’t scream on the scale, and, in the scheme of things, didn’t cry all that much about her shots, at least not at the time. (Thank you, God, for ibuprofen. And also vaccines.) In this she was perhaps inspired by her brother, who was himself due for the jab I had promised him he wouldn’t get at his three-year appointment (never do that), which the doctor agreed to delay so he would not have been lied to. He made nary a peep, and requested that he and his sister have matching bandaids.

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He is going to heartbroken when this thing falls off.

We’re gathering all the paperwork for Jackalope’s second parent adoption, so I stopped at the front desk for the letter attesting her good health, the printed record of vaccines and measurements. Eighty-eighth percentile for length! Down from 90th, but still — do you have any idea how short I am? And 21st for weight. Not bad, right? For a kid whose brother scraped the bottom of the chart for so long? Try telling that to my addled brain.

See, the Bean wasn’t always at the bottom. In fact, he was middle of the road until four months, when he started his drop. The numbers didn’t get very low until six months. And Jackalope was at 60th at her last visit. And her head circumference had plummeted, too, from 25th to 7th. I don’t even know what that means, but surely nothing good. Cue a night of confusing, sublimated panic.

By the time the doctor returned my call, I was calmer. After all, the Bean is fine, he’s always been fine. As my mother pointed out over and over, he always kept growing taller, making hair, making fingernails. These days, he’s not even low on the charts, easily the most shocking news of his three-year visit. I know I’m being ridiculous, I said; I just need to hear as much from you.

The head circumference is almost definitely a mistake, she said. Her assistant does the weighing and measuring, but she usually repeats that one herself because even a half-centimeter error represents a big difference in percentile. We’ll repeat it at six months. As for the weight, she says just what she did with the Bean: this is just the age when my milk is no longer enough and it’s to give her some food. Which is exactly what we’d been talking about in the appointment, after all. She seemed slightly baffled by my concern; I haven’t been a parent who calls a lot. Look, she said, it’s obvious that she’s a healthy, happy, very charming baby. Or maybe that last one was “very smart.” Well calculated to please, at any rate.

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This baby is clearly fine.

Indeed, I was slightly baffled myself by this reaction. She really is obviously fine. Sure, the Bean’s weight caused a fair amount of stress during his first two and a half years or so. It’s a lot harder to shrug off the pickiness of a kid who merrily starves himself into sleeplessness, in whom a slight loss of appetite when sick with a cold results in ribs fairly popping out from his chest. Toddlers aren’t meant to have flat stomachs, let alone concave ones. But we did survive, after all, if not without some hard-earned lessons in humility. I tend to think that, like a lot of things in this parenting gig, it wouldn’t be quite as hard the second time. And he’s in the 40th percentile now! Practically robust!

Part of it, I think, was believing things were different this time (as they may yet prove to be). It’s obvious I’ve been making more milk: witness the fact that Jackalope could have those deliciously fat baby thighs despite spitting up so very much in her first few months. (Seriously, child, it’s downright wasteful.) And she seems to take such a lusty delight in eating that I imagined she might be a bit more like her ol’ Ma in the taking pleasure in food department. But that’s hardly the stuff of teeth-grinding, especially since so far there’s not particular indication she won’t be a different kind of eater from the Bean.

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Sibling resemblance?

It took a few days, but I did eventually figure out where the shaking came from. Not from the Bean’s experience in the period Jackalope is now approaching, but from his early weeks. The weeks of not sucking hard enough, my not making enough milk, all of us shuttling back and forth for all those weight checks, my nearly passing out during the lactation consultant’s talk (two different ones, now that you mention it), the fear that it really wouldn’t all be okay. It was an awful time. But it’s a gauntlet Jackalope has already run. She was fine, just fine. And if we had a third child (not likely), maybe I would eventually stop jumping at shadows that only make me think of it.

Meanwhile, despite nursing my brains out at all times, my own weight remains maddeningly stable, right about where it’s been since a few weeks postpartum. Less than what I weighed at the end of pregnancy, a good deal more than what I think of as my normal weight. Still in the big pants.

This, too, should come as no surprise, since the same was true at this stage in the Bean’s life. In fact, the number on the scale is just about the same, come to think of it, despite my weighing a bit more when Jackalope was born than when the Bean was. And I told myself I wasn’t going to fret over it this time, that I would by God eat oatmeal cookies if my milk supply needed help, rather than wretched, virtuous hot oatmeal.

Easier said than done, I guess. Once again, it feels like everyone loses weight faster than I do. (Who is everyone, anyway? I don’t spend any time with mothers of kids Jackalope’s age, since the Bean’s schedule determines ours.) Sometimes I don’t care or I remember that I didn’t really feel like myself until I stopped breastfeeding the Bean; sometimes feelings of ugliness intertwine with ones of unworthiness, hissing that if I can’t make art or money these days, I should at least pay my rent on the space I take up by being appropriately pretty. I’m tired of the few clothes that fit and allow nursing. And yet somehow, I’m hungry all the time. Go figure.

I’m not sure why I mention all that, except that I’m tired of only reading “success” stories when it comes to losing baby weight. I’m not planning to do anything about it — dieting has an established history of making me lose what few marbles belong to me. But, well, for the record.

In happier news, the Bean has hit a major, major food milestone. Last week, after shall we say expressing extreme frustration with my refusal to get up from nursing the baby to MAKE ME ANOTHER SANDWICH, he marched back into the kids’ room and announced that he was making his own. Great, I said. And, as a lucky afterthought, show me the knives you are going to use for the peanut butter and jelly before you use them.

First knife presented: a butter knife. Enh, good enough. Then the long bread knife. Not so much. Next try: the eight-inch chef’s knife. Good thing we keep that in a blade cover. After more specific instructions on finding the table knives and an assurance that there most certainly was sufficient jam left in that jar, he appeared with this:

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GAME. CHANGER. I have never felt so vindicated in my decision to continue to live by the tenets of my personal parenting philosophy, High Quality Neglect.

After the sandwich, he got down the baby wipes and proceeded to wipe down the furniture, including asking me to move the laundry drying rack so he could do the insides of the wardrobe doors. Sure, he neglected to clean the chair he’d actually made the sandwich on. Sure, we found a cheese knife covered in jam in the drawer later and quite a bit of peanut butter in his hair. Details, details.

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Summitting

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