Bionic Mamas

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


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Tuesday Tidbits

Trying to tiptoe back to this space. Twenty minutes of babysitter time left today, and I’ve about given up on getting caught up with grading, anyway.

Item: I am all over the SCOTUS blog scene today, as you might imagine.

Item: But I am spend a lot more of my mental energy on Baltimore and related topics. Here’s some of what I’m reading:

Ta-Nehisi Coates “Nonviolence As Compliance”

The Baltimore Sun on the pattern of grotesque police violence in Baltimore

Adam Serwer’s rebuttal of the nice story I was taught about the nonviolence of the Civil Rights Movement, as if it succeeded in a vacuum.

The always thoughtful Bread And Roses

This perfect poem from Ross Gay (with whom I taught once, and yeah, he’s that cool).

Item: The panic attack situation is getting a bit dire over here. Thought I was dying of a brand new cinnamon allergy the other day, in the understandably terrifying setting of a local bakery. (NB: I do not have any significant allergies.) Figured out what was actually happening in record time, but still, this sucks. Something in the wiring of my brain has clearly gone all to hell. Have grave reservations about SSRIs. Going to first look for a CBT therapist, even though I feel exhausted at just the thought of looking for a therapist. Other ideas welcome, so long as you are gentle.

Item: invented new, indoor, gross motor activity for the Bean, which I recommend: bought him a three-inch paint roller, a real one. Mixed liquid soap, food coloring, corn starch, and a bit of water, stripped him naked, and put him in the tub with permission to paint the walls.

Item: Jackalope sort of walking, definitely dancing. Janelle Monae’s “Dance Apocalyptic” remains the house favorite. (Her whole oeuvre is popular. Despite his Brooklyn roots, when the Bean refers to “the baby yoga thing,” he means her new single, “Yoga,” probably because I told him the lyrics to the chorus are “babies do yoga.”

Item: they are, in fact, “baby, bend over.”

Final item, gleaned from email with Starrhillgirl, because time is short:
Why does autocorrect think it’ is a word??? And every time I bitch about it, it just reinforces the error. Why is dealing with autocorrect so much like parenting? Is consequence-free complaining so much to ask?


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Into The Arms of Spring

Hello from Amtrak train 171, currently rolling through Virginia, carrying me to Starr Hill. Me, only me. Well, me and a few hundred other people, including a law student across the aisle asleep on her books, two women with small babies who met when they were seated together in front of me and seemed to enjoy themselves, and an older woman across from the with a cell phone in her hand, a blue tooth in her ear, and a small, fluffy dog in a stroller. A working dog, no doubt.

But no children of mine are on this train. It’s the first time I’ve left Jackalope overnight. She’s fourteen months old now, talking a tiny bit and walking a few steps at a go, climbing everything she can and half the time falling on her head. I set the Bean up with a flour measuring project at the table and turn my head for two minutes; she finds a chair, moves it across the room, climbs onto it, and somehow finds a measuring cup. “Jackalope! You’re not a food!” I hear the Bean say last week: she can apparently climb onto the table itself now. Still nursing and quite attached, so here’s hoping she (and Sugar) survive.

Here they are, for reference:

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The Bean was quite pleased with his black hair.

I’m going because Starrhillgirl invited me, because I am losing my tiny mind, exhausted with work and kids and more work and then the rest of the work when they go to bed and then up with Jackalope half the night and then trying to do more work in the morning before I go to work. I couldn’t kick the flu the whole family had and finally went to see my doctor about it, who said, basically, your biggest health problems are exhaustion and stress. Just because I was asleep on the exam table when she walked in! And because I keep having panic attacks. What does she know, anyway?

So here I am, rolling South into the arms of Spring. This afternoon I’ve watched red embers of maple flowers and the nearly unseeable bright green willow whips in northern New Jersey become golden newborn oak leaves and globes of white pear trees and bursting pink cherry trees and electric purple magnolias. I’m just past Manassas now, and the rolling fields are green in that lush, assured way, even under grey skies. There is skunk cabbage in the woods, and glimpses of red dirt. Red dirt! Thank you, pathetic and irresponsible farming practices of the European invasion for hardwiring me for an emotional response to ruined soil.

It is likely I will be back through this part of the country or nearby in June, when I plan to take my mother’s car and drive home to Brooklyn from the Dumb Wedding, which I suppose I should make travel plans for. Not feeling any happier about that prospect than I was, but I do want the kids to know the extended family that is likely to attend. The whole thing just makes me weep with rage.

As does church, apparently, which is a pity, as I’ve always liked Easter services so much. This was the first year I’ve found myself jealous of Mary Magdalene. Meanwhile, I’ve joined a chorus that is singing Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast,” and I don’t find I’m having much trouble finding the emotional conviction for the vengeance bits.

A lifelong friend sent me a scanned version of a picture her dad took many years ago, one I grew up with on my mother’s dresser. My mother is wearing her medical school graduation robes, so I am about 18 months, give or take. (Pause to feel outclassed again: she had a baby in medical school. I rarely manage to shower.)

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So many things compete for my attention in this picture. There is the strange and reassuring and maybe worrying but certainly inescapable fact of Jackalope’s resemblance to baby me.

There is the feeling I miss, of being my father’s darling girl, however difficult it has always been to get him to pay attention.

And there is the way my mother is looking at me. Do you see that? I had one of the truly great mothers, and I wonder if someone like my father, who didn’t, can ever really understand what it’s like to miss that. It’s every day.

That look, that’s why it makes me SO FUCKING LIVID to hear him spout stupid platitudes about being “sad for us but happy for her,” how “her suffering is over.” She was sick, not suffering, as she was sick for most of her life, even in that picture (see: Outclassed). But look at that picture and tell me she would have traded an end to the real pain and exhaustion and bodily troubles she lived with — lived with, as in she was living every day, her whole life, never dying — for the chance to meet her granddaughter.


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In Which I Am Proud Of My Boy

I owe you so many words, and I hope to begin paying them in earnest after I survive (here’s hoping!) the conference I’m presenting at next weekend. It might be nice if we could not have the flu and the baby not have an ear infection (?) and the boy and I not have dueling migraines, but let’s not be greedy.

But today is my boy’s birthday, so I will interrupt my silence very quickly, to share this first collaborative art project with his sister.

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The center is Jackalope’s drawing. The Bean reports that he showed her how to draw a line, and then she drew one. After she was done, he enclosed her work in an “art box” and asked Sugar for letter after letter, so that he could write around it, “[Jackalope], you are a good artist.”

“I thinked of wroting that because I liked how she did that art. And I’m proud of you, Jackalope.”

Likewise, kiddo.


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Gee, but it’s great to be back home

There’s no place like it, for real. Let’s never leave again, except to visit Starrhillgirl.

Hi, internets. Thank you thank you thank you ten thousand times for your comments on that desperate post so long ago. They were one of the few, precious lifelines that I clung to that week in Little Rock, which was almost entirely miserable. In brief:

Item: I at no point told my father to fuck off, though he without question deserved it on several occasions. I did leave the room abruptly a few times to avoid fighting with him in front of his grandchildren. Peak risk of saying things that can’t be taken back came late on our second to last night there, when he took me faux-jovially off to his room to announce the imminent wedding, in March, since that’s when Ms. Alaska’s sister has spring break. Frankly, March is a great deal sooner than I would wish to face dragging my children across the country, even for an event I wanted to attend, even if I had a break from work, which I don’t, and even if Sugar had vacation days available, which she doesn’t, on account of this delightful trip. When I said March was very soon for us to travel (this after a long, upsetting conversation during which I neither cried nor yelled, but I did break the cardinal rule of disagreements with him by showing even a trace of emotion), he told me that was my fault for, get this, not asking after his girlfriend during our phone conversations.

Item: I spent much of the trip trying not to be a total bitch to Ms. Alaska, on the grounds that she is in my view exhibiting ruinously poor judgement but is not a terrible person. I did at one point try to tell her something along the lines of, “my anger is at my father for being an ass to me for the past year,” but she interpreted that as (only), “I am just so terribly sad,” and proceeded to do this saccharine “Ah’ve knohwn yew yore whole layfe,*” thing which made me want to see if my right hook is still functional. So.

*note that Ms. Alaska originally hails from west Texas.

Item: I was immensely proud of the Bean for showing discretion well beyond his years in the face of a truly underwhelming offering of Christmas presents. Can I just tell you how easy it is to please a kid his age who loves vehicles? Here’s the whole thing: buy. A. Vehicle. It doesn’t even matter if it’s one he already has! But a rolling elephant with a tag announcing it is for 6+ MONTHS is frankly a crappy present from a grandparent with the means to do otherwise if he could think about someone besides himself for two minutes. Anyway, the Bean was a complete champ about it, and he did get a present he loved, which was very cheap and from Walgreens but given with some thought to what he likes, because…

Item: Two of my mother’s sisters came. And, internets, their presence is a terrifyingly large part of the reason I’m still rolling along. The trip was so much worse than I’d thought it would be, and they were so amazing. They were like angels, in every sense. They were kind and loving and cared for my children in every way, to the point where I’m tempted to ask them if they’d like to be the grandparents. They were also my very favorite kind of angels, the Old Testament kind. The ones with swords. I don’t get the impression my dad or Alaska were all that moved by their many firm exhortations to not be such jerks/nitwits, but they protested vigorously, and it was so immense to feel so defended.

Moreover, they were sad. Really sad. It’s not that I’d wish this on anyone, but I can’t overstate the sheer relief of being with people who loved my mom and are sad that she died. I sure did not expect that to be in short supply, but the ongoing jolly from my father…. Well, it makes a person feel insane. Listen, I know the man well enough to have a pretty good idea what the basis of this behavior is and to know that it’s late in the day for him to change, because looking at any of his pathological denial reactions would necessitate facing some hard facts about how crappy his own parents were to him. I get that, and in an abstract way I can have some sympathy. But I can do without being asked to play along in this particular case.

Item: my father just now interrupted this rare moment of peace (I am sick and so Sugar has taken the kids to a birthday party without me) with a “save the date” phone call for early June. Whee. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those times when I wish I smoked. One can just look so detached with a burning cigarette in hand. I do have a flask I’ve never used.

Item: I don’t have to get them a gift, do I? Jesus.

Item: I have other things to say, maybe not on the Internet.

Whew! Now that you’re sort of caught up on all that, I remember that this blog was supposed to at least tangentially concern children. So.

The Bean

Wonderful, amazing, funny, clever, and absolutely maddening. In other words: almost four. Do the elevator button tantrums stop someday? I really hope so, because I think I reached my lifetime maximum at MOMA two weeks ago. And I sure hope his college roommate isn’t bothered by all the night wakings.

But. He’s also so wonderful, you guys. He helped me shovel the whole sidewalk in front of the community garden, with such gladness. He suddenly draws people who have real, thick limbs and bodies, having previously barely drawn anything figurative. He still favors sculpture and abstraction, which he describes as such. He’s a three-year-old who wants to go to MOMA, of all things. Clearly, he’s Sugar’s.

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Possibly he’s overdosed on modern art.

Jackalope

She’s nearly one, and I predictably can’t believe it. She loves every food ever except hot peppers, raspberries, and avocado. Why don’t my babies ever love avocado? They were supposed to be my excuse to buy them by the dozen! She adores her brother and biting me. Guess which I find more endearing.

Her latest trick is standing up in the middle of the floor, unassisted and unsupported. She is immensely proud of herself. The first time, she stood there saying, “oh, wow, wow,” and she has lately mastered clapping while standing. Here is a painting the Bean made of her on that first day. It’s an excellent likeness, I must say:

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Okay, it’s late, I have to teach tomorrow, and an old friend is mysteriously having a Facebook tantrum at me about how unfair the campaign against manspreading on the subway is. I will not stay away so long this time, for reals.


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I Don’t Know What To Say

Crossing the Mississippi in the dark again. The last time I was on this side of the river was exactly a year ago, heading north from my first Christmas with no mother.

My father was with us, invited to join us for a week with Sugar’s family in Chicago and Michigan. Since moving to New York, we’ve alternated, spending Christmas with one set of parents and the week following with the other. My dad was with us for the same reason I’d insisted he come with us on our Virginia trip at Thanksgiving: I was afraid he would kill himself if left alone. He and my mom met in ninth grade. They got married right after college. He’d never been alone.

A year ago today, he was next to me in a coach car of this train, he in the aisle seat and I, pregnant and ungainly, at the window.  I have a happy surprise, he announced. Love is blossoming between me and K, and old friend of my mother’s who had come from Alaska to the funeral.

Love. Blossoming.

At this point, my mother had been dead less than two months. I still spent a portion of each day sobbing, by which I mean not crying, which I still do, but the kind of thing that tears physically at your abdomen, the kind of thing that is screaming so hard in the shower that your throat hurts even though you haven’t let sound escape.

A happy surprise.

And at that moment, as I struggled to stay in control of myself long enough to stumble downstairs to the bathroom to sob some more (because he is my only parent and I can’t afford to alienate him), I lost all the patient understanding I’d tried to feel when there were no Christmas presents for me except the pajamas my mother had bought right before she died, the ones that hadn’t been meant for Christmas at all, since of course by then I was too big to fit in them. Nor did he wrap those, nor get anything for Sugar or the Bean, though we found things for them my mother had already set aside.

I know that the “happy surprise” this trip is to plan for their wedding. Dad wanted Sugar to tell me, but she told him to do it himself. He hasn’t yet. Supposedly, after he drove her from Alaska to Little Rock, after canceling his summer plans to see us at the very last minute for lack of time, she was getting her own apartment, but it’s been obvious that her dogs moved to his house immediately. (The Bean is terrified of dogs.)

I haven’t written any of this before, because how? In the very beginning, I didn’t think I should tell anyone at all, because they would be mad at him. My dad lived at my mom’s house for a summer as a teenager. Her siblings were so clear that they wouldn’t consider him lost when she died: how could I risk bringing their anger upon him? If they felt angry, as I did and do.

Wait, I have a picture for one of the posts on this subject I never found words to write:

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There.

Then I didn’t write about it because it was all too complicated. Yes, I want him to be happy. Yes, I get that this is not uncommon behavior. No, K is not a terrible person. But my father has a terrible tendency to find replacement people; I can name the people he’s replaced me with at various times. It hurts a lot to feel I’ve lost both parents at once, even as I feel guilty for feeling this way, knowing how wasted this time will feel one day. I can’t afford to be angry at anyone when people can just die with no warning.

And there’s something so infuriating and stifling about being really, soul-scrapingly sad in the company of someone with a pathological need for everything to be Fine! Great! no matter what. It is fucked up to segue from asking what you think we should do with my mother’s ashes to telling me how “wonderfully successful” your trip to Alaska was, how you are “living a miracle.”

I do cry every day, or nearly. I am probably depressed for real. I do get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work. I try not to be as short tempered as I am. I take care of my children and enjoy them, at least mostly. But no, I would not describe the events of the last year as miraculous. 

There are other problems, too tiresome to get into in detail. Money issues, broken promises. It hurts my feelings that there was no gift when Jackalope was born, except a pack of cheap onesies wrapped only with the creased but curled ribbon my mother must have taped on them back in October out of excitement, those sent too late to fit for more than a week or two. I don’t know why he didn’t get real birthday presents for the Bean, either. Or me, for that matter. We skype every couple of weeks, so the children can see him. The Bean loves him. I do, too. But I just don’t know what to say.


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in which Sugar encounters her inner bitch and the Bean discovers his own mortality

Sugar here.

By all accounts the Bean is doing very well in school. They love him and have been telling us how much he has been changing and growing. He now sings songs to himself around the apartment that I don’t really know (“dem bones, dem bones, dem DRY bones…”) He talks a blue streak. He kisses his sister. He also knocks her over when she tries to come near his projects. He is attention-seeking and LOUD and BANANAS around the apartment. I wish we lived in a football field.

In the changing and growing department, the Bean has now encountered kids who don’t want to play with him. His school is mixed ages 2-4 and the four year olds have a certain je ne sai quoi that everyone wants. Two of them in particular are attractive to the Bean, but he is not that attractive to them. Both of these kids are named after American presidents, so from here on they will be known as Presidential One and Presidential Two.

One day after school I watched as he ran around the playground after Presidential One, sort of playing with him (?), only to be brained with a tire swing as P One either forgot that the Bean was near by or had never noticed him in the first place. After trying to answer the sad question, “Why did P One DO THAT?” (“I think it was an accident, honey”) and wiping away the tears, I tried to remedy the situation by at least having them say goodbye to one another before we left the playground. P One’s too-cool-for-school mother was with him and looked around at me like I was trying to crash her party. “Oh, they were playing together before, so I thought they would like say goodbye,” I said. “They were?” she asked, as though this were both unbelievable and undesirable. “Well, bye then,” I said lamely to P One and tried to get the Bean to wave. P One never noticed.

So.

Days later, I took the Bean to school and we were the first ones there. I have to do early drop-off because otherwise I can’t get to work on time. Every day that I do this I am grateful for how independent the Bean is. He just goes over to one of the activities they have out for the kids to choose from, starts playing, receives his kiss goodbye, and seems happy as a clam.

On this particular day the Bean took me over to a bunch of legos on a shelf and carefully explained and P One and P Two were working with them the last time they were all at school together. “Ok.” I said. “I don’t think that P One and P Two would like me touching their stuff…” The Bean said looking longingly at one of the big flat legos on the shelf. “Well, go play with the legos in the big box out on the floor then,” I said. “Ok.” The Bean went over and started sadly taking legos out of the box. “But I really want one of the flat pieces,” he said then. There were no flat pieces in the big box.

“You know,” I said, looking around to see if I was observed and gleefully dismantling the haloed legos, “P One and P Two aren’t here. This isn’t their stuff anymore. It belongs to your school. Here you go, one flat piece for your enjoyment. Play with it on the floor though.”

Then I felt bad for the rest of the work day because maybe I was teaching my son to be retaliatory and resentful? At least I didn’t say, “P One and P Two don’t play with you so they can go to hell,” as my own mother would have done…

And then there was the realization the Bean made this past weekend.

Bionic and the Bean were watching a documentary on the national parks system which currently was covering the FDR era. The Bean started asking questions about the people mentioned. Did we know any of them (no, they are too old). Well then did we know anyone old enough to know them (not really) and finally, where are all those people now?

“They’re dead,” Bionic said neutrally.

And since we’ve arrived at the age of why, the Bean then asked, “why?”

“Most people eventually die,” Bionic said. “All people.”

“WHAT?” the Bean asked, “Even ME?”

“Well, yes.”

“But I don’t want to go away! I want to stay here!” Then followed a half hour of crying and being rocked by Bionic on the couch, all the while staring at us like how could we possibly tell him such a terrible thing, after which Bionic abruptly decided that they would make chocolate icing and frost a cake.

At least his favorite baby sitter came to take care if him that night so we could go out for our anniversary. During which time we tried very hard not to talk about death.


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Still here

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I never write. It’s not because I don’t think of it (and you), all the time.

In the last year (and nine days), I’ve slowly regained my ability to speak coherently. I have flashes of being able to think. I hope I’ll be able to write again one day.

(I used to read parts of Virginia Woolf’s diaries in the summers. The most simultaneously heartbreaking and hope-giving part was watching her rebuild her brain after an episode of madness. Short sentence by short sentence. The weather. The natural world. A quick sketch of field workers viewed from a distance, from this woman who see such depth of detail in every social interaction, the history of the world in the path of a snail.)

The kids are fine. We’re fine. The Bean loves school. He and Jackalope plainly adore each other. She has 2.5 teeth, loves eating, can crawl really fast now. Today she napped in her brother’s bed.

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I’m a bit FD, to use Bunny’s parlance. 

How are y’all?

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On the train home from school, wearing my warm things because someone took his home by accident. Eileen Fisher Boys, we call this look.

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