Bionic Mamas

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


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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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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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