Bionic Mamas

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


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Geography Lessons

Or: Things I Learned By Getting A Car

1. Brooklyn is a beach town.

Queens, too.  Oh, and Staten Island. Brighton Beach/Coney Island and the Rockaways are accessible by public transit, yes, but by car they are ~45 minutes and I don’t have to schlep the stuff for three people plus, to one degree or another, those actual people using only my body.  And then we are at the beach.  The beach, I tell you!

Since moving to New York ten years ago, I’ve made a handful of day trips to the beach.  Fewer than ten, probably.  In the first six days after getting the fuel pump replaced (ahem), we went four times.  We’re planning to go tomorrow.

Brooklyn Beach

2. Children like the beach better than overcrowded apartments.

Again, who knew?  Jackalope and the Bean do pretty well together, but, well, siblings gonna sibling.  Turns out putting them in smaller cages doesn’t help.  At the beach, well, I have two buckets and there’s more than enough sand for everybody.

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4. My apartment likes it better when we are at the beach.

We had to stay in last Tuesday morning.  There was marker all over the sofa before 9 am.

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Not the culprit, for the record.

3. Mamas like the beach better, too.

Partly this is because of the relative tranquility and because, duh, who doesn’t love the beach?  Some of it is harder to pin down.  Why should sand and salt and an environment where I really do need to be sure no one is drowning at any given moment make me feel so much more substantial, more tied to the world of the living?  I can’t tell you why, but at the beach I’m not thinking about whether this shortened breath, that mild headache is the beginning of the end.  It makes a pleasant change.

4. There is no Facebook at the beach.

Or next to none, anyway, as my phone battery is trifling and see above about real environmental dangers.

5. It turns out I spend too much time on Facebook.

I knew that, on one level, that “pay attention to your children/wife” level. What I did not realize is how much the click and click and click was increasing my anxiety. UGH. Facebook is a silly place, yes, but it’s also how I keep in touch with the world of adults and friends and complete sentences and big ideas. I just started a group for discussing anti-racist parenting, for instance. Also cat videos.

The things people dislike about Facebook — the way it provokes envy, for instance, or a sense that one isn’t living correctly — aren’t the problem. The problem is the very act of watching those notification numbers light up red, feeling compelled to check them, again and again and now again. I love it, and apparently it’s terrible for me. UGH.

Luckily, there is the beach to take my mind off it.


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Remember that time

Remember that time I let my blog hosting expire right before my father’s wedding? Yeah. Hi. It’s me again.

The exigencies of travel with two small children (even with very fun aunt) kept me from writing in advance, and now, well, I hardly know

…and that’s as far a I got in trying to blog while on the Dumb Wedding trip.

We are back. We made it. I didn’t even actually drink the gin I had in my purse, though I appreciated the GIN SOON note one of the angrier aunts passed me during the wedding itself. Which was long and…really, what is there to say? The first priest — oh, yes, there were two — really stressed “LAWFUL reason” in the whole “speak now or forever hold your peace” bit.

(Hi, again. I don’t even know when I started writing that. Yes, I am live-blogging my inability to blog.)

Right. So. The wedding itself. Was horribly painful. The only other blood relative present for my dad’s side was singing in the choir and the baby fell asleep on Sugar on the walk in, requiring her to stand, so the front row was supposed to be just me and poor, up-past-his-bedtime Bean. I prevailed upon Auntie Gin (who I’m sure would like that name) to sit by me despite being a maternal relative, because my forbearance does have limits. My forebears themselves, it happens, had plenty of experience with forbearance, and it was of my grandparents I thought as I stood there, particularly the Bean’s namesake. How often in his life he must have had to stand still and be calm during something he had not liked to watch. I may not have been the picture of joy, but I did get through the thing with my dignity intact, despite being sorely tempted during the sermon (sermon! at a wedding!) from a priest that can’t have known either of them long, as he was representing her denomination and she hasn’t lived in the area a year, on the great beauty of their love, nourished over Skype conversations and trips to Alaska. Commend me, a Gentle Readers, and be astonished, for I did not rise up and note the timing of same, vis-a-vis my mother’s death or the promised trips to see his grandchildren which there suddenly was not time for.

But. What can you do? “He’s going to do what he wants,” said one of the angel aunts of Christmas. Or as the man himself put it, when I gently (really!) mentioned that we might have to leave things early, as both the events to which we were invited (rehearsal dinner and wedding) were scheduled to begin an hour past my kids’ bedtime, they not being much fit for public consumption in the evenings, “this is going to happen whether you are there or not.” Which: one, no shit; two, up yours.

The messy truth is that my father is not an asshole, but he’s sure had his moments lately. He has a pathological need for everything to be great and happy and as it should be, so a sad person like me is a bit of a stone in the shoe. I don’t think he knows how to be different.

New Wife is more of a mystery. Assembled maternal relatives spent a lot of time telling me she is really very nice, which theoretically I know: I have indeed known her my whole life. But given that she’s known me forever, I am baffled at her behavior towards me. Example: the morning after our arrival, the two of us plus Jackalope in the breakfast nook, me feeding Jackalope. A normal conversation about eggs, small talk being about what I can muster at the moment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she interrupts to cry, full-Texan accent going, “AH JUST REALIZED. YAHRE GUNNA BE MAH STEPDAUGHER!” And proceeds to launch herself at me, baby, and eggs, and give me a far, far too long unrequited hug. In a related story. Jackalope either can’t read lips or refuses on principle to bite on command.

I mean? What? First of all, it certainly did not just occur to you, as your IQ presumably exceeds that of a brick. Second, slow the fuck down. We were just starting to be able to do small talk. Third, when someone doesn’t hug you back, end the hug. Just end it. This never works out.

But mostly, no. I feel a bit old to have new relatives foisted upon me in this way. I am not nine years old and in need of someone to make sure I get to school. I sure as shit could use my mother, and if you can arrange that, then please, please do. But I am not in the market for a replacement.

I suppose I am making NW sound rather dim, and in theory, she isn’t. She’s a psychiatrist, though if you can square that with any recent decisions on her part, you’re ahead of me. I never used to think she was dumb, but darn if she isn’t acting the part pretty well right now.

Also, her furniture is ugly, her art icky, and her dogs make the house smell like piss. Possibly I’m not the least biased judge of things.

I think I could almost stand visiting there if my mother’s siblings and cousins always came, and God bless them for coming to this, as we would never have made it without them. (Some of them don’t even remember a time before they knew my dad, so they are almost as much in the middle of this as I am.) They were like a protective circle of love around us, and oh, dear, now I’m crying in a coffee shop. Also, the Sailing Uncle loves to iron things and is generally handy around big events.

The day after the wedding, we went to a brunch at the spiffy restaurant of the fanciest hotel in town, which really is rather grand, with its marble and columns and stained glass ceiling. The Bean is pretty sure he saw Janelle Monae across the street, at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. NW’s brother-in-law stole the show and most of the staff in a massive search for his missing pinky ring, the one with the turquoise stone. But I am still glad we did not leave town without saying goodbye to my father, whom I do love. The situation would be simpler if I didn’t.

A smaller party of us repaired north to the suburbs of St. Louis, where the classily bitchy best friend of the more decorous Angel Aunt lives. (She has also known me my whole life and, in contrast to NW seems to have learned some things from the experience, for instance, what my face looks like when I have missed dinner trying to put a baby to sleep and am just about to completely lose it; she gave me her own plate before I could even tell what was happening, and I did not kill my children.) Sugar had flown home that morning, so our car was the other Angel Aunt, hereafter known as the Explorer, in honor of her many years of backcountry hiking and her bold willingness to take a road trip with two very small children who aren’t used to cars, me, and the kids. Jackalope only screamed for half the drive. We spent a day recuperating there, in high suburban splendor, with a smaller group of relatives who found it more convenient to fly from there. Lovely.

The road trip itself progressed from St. Louis to the countryside near Lexington, Kentucky, where our cousin has a cattle farm, to Starrhillgirl’s stomping grounds, and home. The kids did well. Explorer Aunt drove fast, brought supplies, over shared about her sex life, historical and present, and was generally a delight. The whole family, seeing Facebook pictures of Jackalope doing crazy things — like the time she, not then able to even walk, called us all in to see that she had climbed on the ikea rocking moose and was riding it standing up — has been saying how alike the two of them are, and boy, are they. I think what sealed it for me was watching the Explorer, newly turned 65, spent fifteen minutes figuring out how best to launch herself into the upper bunk on a moving train without the ladder I kept offering, announcing immediately upon doing so successfully, “see, I told you I could do it.” She rained a thousand tiny injuries on Jackalope in their shared exuberance, none of which damped Jackalope’s affection for her. Jackalope, who learned to walk only recently, spent the trip practicing running with her hands clapped over her eyes. Then backwards. “Heh. That’s a great kid,” said the Explorer, watching her go off the side of a ramp.

She was also working on seven teeth at once, three or so of which she got on the trip, so that was fun. She began spouting whole phrases, though she is mostly still babbling, notably, in response to “you have to go to sleep,” “I don’t wanna.” Also “open door, open door,” and, at the reception, “BEDTIME.” Thanks to her older brother’s commitment to singing about it on every elevator trip to our basement, she can recognize the letter B, too. I was shocked that she beat Bean’s record for letter recognition, but she has done it enough times that it is clearly not a fluke. Not bad, kid.

For his part, the Bean is doing more and more writing (with sounding-out help), and can recognize a few words plus enough of each of the titles of his favorite Janelle Monae songs that he can run daily Spotify dance parties. He remains committed to making art and is quite the supporter of his sister’s efforts in that line. (“That’s a really abstract drawing, Jackalope.”) During our Starrhillgirl visit, he consistently ignored my telling him to stop ferrying bits of loose brick from various parts of the Historic park we were sitting in. Turns out they really had all come from the place he was bringing them, and he repaired that corner. Oh. (Jackalope meanwhile wrapped the big kids SHG was sitting around her tiny, chubby finger and had them all sitting around her, letting her play with their soccer ball. That child is going to force us into the world of sports, I can already tell.) His lovely preschool has ended for the summer, and he is off to public pre-k in the fall, a transition we are all having difficulty absorbing. I’m sure it will be fine, and free is hard to beat. If money were slightly less of an issue, I would leave him where he is for another year, but I am glad he had a year there, at least.

I have more to say to all of you about so many things, but I am supposed to be using this babysitting time on more than this. Until next time, friends. And if you find diverting things, go send them to Ostrich, who could use distraction.

The Explorer and the Bean on the train, doing mazes; Bean’s eye view of a roadtrip

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Addled Brain Update

Will the baby stay asleep a little longer? Who knows!

Thank you all for your kindness and information in re: my addled and jumpy brain. Truly. Madly (intended). Deeply.

After that post, things took a turn for the very much worse. I know! Who knew I had it in me? Turns out I did. And, while I wish to stress that I am not suicidal, after the weekend I had two weeks ago, I have sympathy for people who might consider that while caught in unremitting panic. You know that bit in Infinite Jest about people hanging from the windows of burning buildings? Yeah.

I spent Friday morning through Sunday night plus large parts of Monday through Wednesday feeling like I do on a plane. You may have noticed I don’t fly much. When I wasn’t in an actual panic attack, thinking I might well die in the next minute, I was millimeters away from one, wondering angrily how everyone else could walk around in the beautiful spring weather (etc.) as if we weren’t all one misfiring neuron from the abyss. Good fun, that.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been experiencing this thing I’ve forgotten the fancy word for, a prominent part of earlier bouts of bad depression, where I feel like everyone else is real and I’m not. Like there is a clear but unbreakable film between me and the rest of the world, me outside, looking in. Steam on the windows from the kitchen, laughter like a language I once spoke with ease, you might say, only minus the nostalgic charm.

On Wednesday, I went to see my internist, whom I do love. I was convinced she would shrug her shoulders and ask why I’d come to her, particularly if I wanted anything other than a quick SSRI prescription, but Sugar insisted that she is smart and a good person and would I just go already? And actually, she was amazing. And should probably bill me for a therapy session. She does not think I have heart failure, you’ll be surprised to hear, nor that I am just doomed to be like this forever. All parts of the body get habits they like, she says, and that my brain is currently in a very bad rut doesn’t mean it can’t get out. She did not mention SSRIs until I did, at which point she said she did not think they were the best thing to try first for me. (Once again, all my marshaled research is wasted because I have a doctor who already knows her field. Humph.) She sent me on my way with the name of a CBT therapist and a prescription for a small number of tabs of Xanax.

Oh Muse, sing of the power of benzodiazepines! Surely the mightiest of drugs on earth, for they need not enter the body at all, nor even touch the skin, to work their calming magic. Their very aura is curative. I have yet to take even one, but carrying on around with me, I feel so much more in control. Perhaps there is something in homeopathy, after all.

I am far from cured, that is obvious, so I will follow up on this whole therapy thing, I promise. Sigh. I hate therapy. Or anyway, I hate finding therapists, and I have not had a great run with the ones I have found. It’s consternating, the very fact that one must do this very difficult job of seeking help at exactly the moment one is least equipped to do so. (I know half of you are wondering if consternate is a word: it is, first written use 1651.) And so not what I’d like to spend my babysitting budget (ha) on. Blah.

Incidentally, my bid to use choral singing as a therapy replacement for garden variety depression did work out pretty well, as evidenced by this shit not hitting the fan until after the big concert. There’s evidence for that in the literature, apparently. But no one does anything organized in New York in summer. So.

In WHOLLY UNRELATED news, my father’s Dumb Wedding is in less than a month. Sugar doesn’t want to use her vacation time for this, so one of my aunts has agreed to ride the train out with me and the kids (madness?) and then road trip back with us, so that we can have my mom’s old car (MADNESS). I do think the car, while questionable from a budget perspective, will be an overall boon to my mood, in terms of being able to leave the city and go pretty places more easily. But pray for us on the drive from Little Rock to Brooklyn with the Very Angry Baby.


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On Mothers’ Day

(In which I self-plagiarize from my FB.)

I woke up this morning (on a very lumpy pile of blankets at the foot of my bed, because the sick/teething baby apparently requires the entire width of a queen bed to herself) thinking about Mothers’ Day, in particular about all the ways today is painful for my friends.  I am thinking about people whose mothers have died, who have or had difficult relationships with their mothers, who feel their mothers were missing.  I am thinking of mothers whose children have died, of people who desperately want to be mothers and aren’t, of people for whom motherhood wasn’t a choice, of people for whom motherhood is so difficult that it is at least sometimes a regret.  I think of women who don’t want to have children and have been told they are selfish, that they aren’t really real women if they don’t; I am thinking of women who are told they aren’t old enough or rich enough or normative enough to be mothers, that they should give their children to someone better.  I am thinking of mothers who are told, for a hundred reasons, that they aren’t Real Mothers.  I am thinking of mothers whose motherhood feels invisible or uncelebrated by a holiday that holds up as an ideal a model of family life that has never in history been true for all families, that even at its high-water mark in the 1950s was not true for most poor families or many non-white, native-born ones.  I am thinking of mothers who want to be spoiled today and aren’t, of mothers sharing the day with others, sometimes uneasily, of children made to feel in some way that their families are made wrong. 

(An aside: teachers, I hope you will  consider not making these holidays part of school.  I am so glad they aren’t at The Bean’s school.)

Today I am thinking about how all those things are connected to the ways our culture defines motherhood as an individual choice/activity, a definition that is used as a excuse to make maternity leave available only for “lucky” mothers whose employers choose to give it, to make childcare the responsibility of individual families, and so on.  And I am thinking about the real roots of Mothers’ Day as a call to radical, communal action.  Better sanitation to benefit all children in Appalachia, mothers united to oppose war for the sake of all their sons.  It’s easy to see why those ideas had to be domesticated and Hallmark’d right out.  I’d like a little more of them in today. 

http://mamasday.org

http://strongfamiliesmovement.org

https://zinnedproject.org/2014/05/mothers-day-for-peace


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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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