Bionic Mamas

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


Obligatory Drug Shipment Picture



(It’s okay. I shouldn’t need any of those before next week. The first thing I need is the ovidrel trigger, which wasn’t in that box anyway, since the insurance company won’t fill it until they get the paper prescription. That’s a bit dicey, since I’m supposed to bring it to the clinic on Saturday, just in case it’s time (which I very much doubt), but it turns out I’m allowed to get that one from a regular pharmacy if necessary. I thought I only got to do that once this lifetime (and I already had to for the Bean’s cycle), but it turns out it’s now always allowed for that one drug. So if it comes to it, I figure I’ll get them to write me a new prescription on Saturday and fill it myself that afternoon.)


On Discombobulation

The Bean is having another not-nap today.  There is distinctly unrestful thumpery emanating from his room, but so far no crying for me to come.

He’s not ready to give up his nap, that much is clear.  He never napped on Monday and was an emotional wreck for the remainder of the day.  Yesterday we were on the subway to the Bronx Zoo at his usual nap time.  We were with friends he adores, but he spent most of the ride staring, glassy-eyed.  He steadfastly refused each offer of a bottle of milk (his usual at bedtime and nap), although he would normally accept a bottle with no going-to-bed strings attached in a heartbeat.  I thought he might do the usual inconvenient baby trick of falling asleep two minutes before our arrival — last time we did this, he fell hard asleep two minutes before we pulled into an elevator-less station where construction forced us to make a three-stairway transfer — but no. He was full of energy to run (and run away) at the zoo, to find the tigers, to prove I’d been wrong when I told him there were no buffalo or red pandas (apparently he remembered them from his last trip, the better part of a year ago), to continually ask for the cookies I’d told him were a treat for the ride home.

He desperately wanted to see the giraffes, though, but when we headed their way after lunch, he fell asleep in his stroller before we could see them and did not wake up until we were nearly home again.  Whereupon, seeing our friends, he smiled and said, “on a special, special train!” Then he spread his arms in a comic “what gives?” gesture and said with a twinkling eye, “Oh! No cookies?”

One possibility is that he’s ready to switch his nap to the afternoon, which would complicate our lives in some ways and simplify them in others, if only I had the first idea how to facilitate the switch.  But I wonder if there’s something else in play here.  Several times in the past week, he has woken up — or rather, not woken up — with night terrors, long periods of flailing and a kind of screaming I never hear from him in neurologically ordinary moments.  Screeching that would peel paint off the walls, that floods my body with adrenaline, my brain frantic to find who is skinning my baby alive.  That kind of sound.  He’s been like this before, generally after naps — I refuse to believe these are tantrums; he’s so clearly not there — but not in a few months.  Their reappearance makes me wonder if the nap refusal is part of a larger pattern of sleep disturbance, perhaps related to a leap in cognitive/neurological development.

It’s happened before: the last time sleep went deeply to hell (not that it’s ever great around here), Sugar noted that his vocabulary was just exploding.  Growing a brain is a lot of work; big changes are bound to require some disruptive furniture-moving in there.  No wonder he’s a mess.

*    *    *

I wonder if any of my readers are surprised that I’m not posting about the goings-on at the Supreme Court this week.  Naturally, I feel strongly about these cases.  I even have some thoughts about them, imagine that.  I don’t have a good answer, except that I somehow can’t bear to.  Just reading about them for a few minutes at a time leaves me in tears.  Sugar can’t bear to read at all.

I nearly wrote just now that we are hardly on the front lines of these cases, living in a state that recognizes our marriage and having the usual denial about the death-related problems Edie Windsor’s DOMA case centers on.  But the truth is, we are on the front lines here, whether we want to be or not.  By virtue of living our lives in the most truthful way we know how, we are subject to having those lives dissected in, at best, dispassionate terms by powerful strangers in faraway chambers.  Moreover, our lives are subject to discussion by everyone with a mouth or a keyboard, and what isn’t deliberately dehumanizing is too often the kind of devil’s advocate “objectivity” unpacked very well here and here (in terms of feminism, but a very close match).  While nothing about the details of my days this week sounds terribly heroic — nap strikes, zoo trips, endless games of trains — I feel nevertheless buffeted by invisible winds.

Yesterday, my Facebook feed bloomed red.  Huge numbers of my friends, including tons of straight ones (and one who seems to be calling herself straight now, despite an impressive track record to the contrary in her youth, ahem) have replaced their avatars with HRC’s red equal sign logo.  Then came the mutated memes, the equal signs made of wedding rings, card catalog cards, broken matzo squares.  There are Rotko-esque ones, Muppet ones, Lucy/Peppermint Patty ones, and one made of belly-flashing corgis.  Eventually, even I had to get over my profound irritation that HRC, who are admittedly dab hands at branding, is going to be associated in people’s minds with this moment, when it is the ACLU who deserves the praise and the donations.  (Okay, I’m not over it. But it’s no longer my principle feeling.)  It truly is remarkable that, as one friend put it, “for the first time in my life, being gay is cool.”

Like a number of my married gay friends, I changed my profile picture to an image from our wedding.  I found I liked seeing these friends marching along my feed in their fancy dress, cutting cake and exchanging vows, kissing and just grinning at the camera.  There is something visually right, to me, about these pictures being surrounded by the sea of red, the allies sublimating themselves for a moment to those of us who, like it or not, find ourselves on the front lines.

This moment is incredible; if you’d told me, even five years ago, this week would happen as it has, I’d never have believed you.  I can’t believe, as I frequently tell my students, that the conversation has gone from, “Should gays be allowed to teach school/live in settled areas,” to, “Should gays be allowed to marry,” in only the time it’s taken me to get from high school to here.  It doesn’t seem possible, anymore than the strength our elders have shown in carrying us here seems like something I could find in myself.  I see this picture of Edie Windsor* entering the court today, and I see a warrior.  I see this picture and I think of song by Sweet Honey In the Rock: I don’t know how our elders have done it, but I do remember.


*from the ACLU twitter feed

I admire more than I can say the bravery of the people who have taken the most public steps to bring us here, though I know all of us who have made this issue seem real to our friends and families are helping in small ways, too.  Even though small ways are exhausting in a week like this.  Allies, we are so happy to have you, so proud of you.  I can’t think I’m the only one who feels the strain, though, so I ask one more thing this week.  Please, be gentle.  As in the Bean’s brain, big changes are happening in our worlds.  It’s surely no wonder if some of us are a bit of a mess.


On The Habits of Breeding Lesbians of South Brooklyn

For all your lesbian ornithological parody needs, click through to this piece I wrote for Rebecca O. Johnson’s erstwhile respectable blog, Urban Ecology.

It goes a little something like this:

1. The South Brooklyn Lesbian: Species or Race?
Much controversy surrounds the taxonomic status of Brooklyn Lesbians: should the Lesbians of North and South Brooklyn, concentrated respectively in Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick and Park Slope/Prospect Heights/Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy and adjacent neighborhoods, be considered separate races of a single species, like the Yellow- and Red-shafted Flickers of species Colaptes auratus? Or are they more properly defined as two separate species, like Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles, once thought types of Northern Oriole?

It is the position of this author that the Northern and Southern Brooklyn Lesbians must properly be separately named species of the genus Sappho. The two display marked distinctions in plumage and diet, with the Northern species preferring H&M ‘80’s nostalgia synthetics and Pabst Blue Ribbon and the Southern natural fibers, Dansko clogs, and whiskey-based cocktails.


In our natural habitat, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Note: salt water sandals are a common summer plumage variation, always reverting to clogs in the winter months. Think fall and spring warblers.


In Which I Regret Not Being That Mom

Some mundane stuff, because I really have to go to bed:

We took the Bean to the playground this morning, early enough that it was fairly empty; it’s quite bustling on weekday afternoons, and it’s nice to have a bit more of the run of the place. It’s a good-sized one, with play structures for different age groups, swings, handball courts, and any number of donated tricycles, plastic trucks, walkers, play kitchens, and so on. These are the perks of living in a town where no one has the space to store large gifts from the relatives.

After some slide/stairs circuits and a bit of truck work, the Bean settled near a Dora dollhouse and busied himself manipulating some flap or other. Nearby, a slightly (?) older toddler found a sort of plastic ATV to ride, the sort you sit on and push along with your feet.

It transpired that his heart’s desire was to push himself directly at, up to, and nearly over the Bean. As we watched from our trying-not-to-hover distance, he zoomed (relatively speaking) up to the Bean several times in rapid succession. The Bean, startled, would move farther away, and he would herd him some more. This went on for several minutes. When the Bean moved to avoid him, he would swing back again, such that eventually, the Bean was pinned into the corner created by the two sides of the dollhouse and could not leave. The other child backed up a little, adjusted his angle, and once again zoomed up to the Bean, who had started to look pretty panicked.

At this point, Sugar and I swooped in to reassure him, perhaps slightly prematurely. Our arrival did, however, have the useful effect of shaming the child’s father into adjusting his course out of the dollhouse and away from the Bean.

I don’t know, y’all. I think it’s good to let kids have space on the playground to figure things out for themselves, but I’m pretty pissed at the father in this case. He was standing right beside all this, and what with the emptiness of the playground, it’s not as if he was unable to see. I don’t think his kid was necessarily being intentionally aggressive or hostile or anything like that, but the fact is that he was scaring a younger child, and I do think it would have been nice for the father to care about that, though it’s too rare on that playground to find a father who seems to think any kind of intervention is his job, frankly.

In retrospect, I feel a little bad that I didn’t rescue the Bean sooner. He was not happy and clearly lacked the physical and verbal wherewithal to fix the situation. More than unhappy, he looked scared, and I don’t like seeing him scared and trapped. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m more willing to see him fall down than feel menaced, even if swooping in makes me That Mom.

The Bean tends not to engage in a pushy way with other kids, and of course, kids his age are mostly pushy, so this means a certain amount of hanging back and a certain amount of being run roughshod over. I am not too terribly worried about this, except that I wonder sometimes if I am forcing him into shyness by not putting him in daycare or another setting where he’d be forced to deal with more kids more regularly. On the other hand, if this shyness is just his nature at this age (whether or not that changes), then perhaps I should stand more ready to defend him. He is, at least in my biased view, such a sweet creature, and I hate the thought of his going without protection that his particular self might need more than some others do.

Mostly, though, I feel peeved that the father left me in that position. How hard would it really have been to give a damn?

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After the Storm: Doing It Right 2

It’s frustrating, right now, feeling like there’s so much to be done and I’m so. I’ll-equipped to do it. Occupy Sandy and other groups are doing such good work, such grassroots-y, radically loving good stuff, but here I am at home with a baby, and I can’t very well take him to a work site. If I had money for a babysitter, I’d have money to donate outright; they’re done taking clothes, which is the only thing I have a household surplus of at the moment.

All of this is to say, I was so thrilled with the hippie food coop, whom I have been a little hard on in the past but whom I secretly love, apparently so much so that I afford it/them/us personal pronouns. During my shift today, I had a fascinating conversation with a German, pseudo-macrobiotic woman who always comes late and leaves on time, about how differently she and her husband see the issue of how much say her son should have in choosing his high school. Meanwhile, I took mental notes as a Washington-lobbyist-turned-preschool-teacher demonstrated a series of face-taps meant to treat headaches. And then I bought some of that fascinatingly fibonaccian green cauliflower, romanesco.

I also bought a couple rolls of paper towels I don’t need, some vinegar, and a box of crayons, out of the boxes by the check out, filled with supplies requested by Occupy Sandy, the recovery operation that has grown out of the OWS movement and is doing a huge amount of work to help the areas hit hardest my the hurricane. (NPR ran a great story on them tonight.) Right outside the coop, Occupy had a table set up to receive goods and money. They were cheerful and organized and very gracious in accepting even my meager offerings.

“Everyone wants to feel they are helping,” said the woman behind me in the checkout line, who has herself been going to the Rockaways. It’s true, we do.

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After The Storm: Doing It Right

Saw these signs today on all entrances of the main campus building of the community college where I teach, which flooded, lost power, and all the rest during the storm.


The picture is a bit blurry, but the sign reads:

No heat or hot water in all of Lower Manhattan.
But with you here we have all the energy we need.
Welcome back!
Love, BMCC family

Class act, y’all.


Ballots and Biscuits

Happy Election Day, oh my (American) internets! At least, I hope it will end happily.

Sugar and I went to the polls this afternoon, in company of a NOT AT ALL SLEEPY Bean, who went on nap strike today. After I gave up on the whole business, I got ready to go vote, but when I asked the Bean, who generally lives for trips outside and starts pestering us with cries of “shoes? Walk? WALK?” long before the sun is up, if he wanted to go vote, he said, “no.”

“Bean. Listen. Romney wants to fire Elmo.”
“Elmo?? VOTE!!”

And just like that, the fire of democracy was kindled in the bosom of a new generation. Lucky for us the Elmo candidate is also the candidate who thinks we have the right to be a family. Could be a tough dinner table conversation if it were otherwise.

Luckily, our polling place is a school with a playground. Luckily still, I GUESS, the table for our district had separate lines by last name, and Sugar’s line was very short, so she and the Bean could go play while I stood in the endless first-half-of-alphabet line for another hour or so. Not that I’m bitter. No, no, I’m proud to be part of the half of the alphabet that gives a damn about this country, unlike certain second-halfers I could name.

As usual, our polling place had no stickers. C’mon, people! Adults don’t get that many sticker opportunities, you know? Give a little.

Someone at Comedy Central knows how I feel, anyway. They provided one, free, on the cover of one of the free newspapers people thrust at you as you leave the subway stations in the mornings. So the Bean, who voted early and often, with us and with his babysitter/favorite person/Facilitator of Walkies earlier in the day, gets his Baby’s First Major Election picture with sticker after all.

Stars and Stripes, Sans Culottes

He never did take a nap, but thank the Lord, he is now asleep. Sugar is faintly tolerating my mainlining of election returns and carb loading. To that end, I have tinkered yet again with the sweet potato biscuit recipe I’ve been dallying with, and I now feel so deeply satisfied that I will show my work. This is a tinkered version of this, from Chowhound. I apologize for the weird measurements, but that is partly where the tinkering has come in.

Sweet Potato Biscuits You Will Like

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1.5 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/8 teaspoon baking soda (1/4 t plus half of that spoon again)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup baked (boiled, whatever) mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato; freeze extra if you have it, for next time)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, FROZEN
Heavy cream for brushing the tops (Used half and half tonight; was just as good)

Okay, remember before you start that the key to biscuits is a light hand. This isn’t bread; don’t take you emotions out on it. Handle it as little as possible, lest you awaken the demon gluten and end up with hockey pucks. To that end, lay out your ingredients, your implements (spoon, basting brush, biscuit cutter/glass, cookie sheet and optional parchment paper) ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 400.

1. Combine dry ingredients. Whisk it around with a fork. Don’t bother sifting.
2. Combine sweet potato and buttermilk. If you’re a little short of sweet potato, use more buttermilk so that you still have 1 3/4 cups wet stuff.
3. Do this brilliant thing Starrhillgirl taught me: Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. Stir it around so that it’s reasonably evenly distributed.
4. Add wet ingredients. Stir just enough to combine everything. Don’t get crazy.
5. Plop the dough down on a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to gently press it into a mat about 1 inch tall.
6. Cut out your biscuits. If you don’t have a cutter you like — I use a 2-inch one — use a juice glass.
7. Use your hands to form the leftover dough into appropriately sized biscuits. Don’t make it into a new sheet; this way involves less handling of the dough. Trust me.
8. Place biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet or parchment paper. Or a Silpat. Brush their tops with cream or what have you.
9. Bake for roughly 15 minutes.
10. Eat. These are nice with pork and onions and just as good with eggs. They are positively divine with the damson preserves I brought home from Starrhillgirl’s.


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After the Storm: Back to Work and Staten Island

I never thought I’d say this, but God bless the MTA.  I can’t believe how much of the system is already back and running, especially when you check out the pictures on their flickr stream.  I was able to take my normal methods to the Staten Island campus today, which was a relief.

In the pre-dawn (though not as pre- as last time I made the trip, before the time change), the blocks of Lower Manhattan I walked through to get to the ferry could have almost passed for normal.  The buildings were darker than usual, and a few had portable heaters parked outside, large tubes snaking into their lobbies.  A number of businesses that usually have their lights on at that hour were dark, but that only seems strange at six a.m. if you have seen them open on other days.  The cheerful newsstand man was there, his counter lit by a battery-powered clip lamp.

The ferry terminal itself had its overhead lights on, but not its electronic billboards and clocks.  The delis were shuttered, and the escalators dead and barred off.  I thought at first that was an effort to conserve scarce power, until I noticed that the panels at their feet had been removed, revealing square enclosures of trapped water.

On the water, the strangest sight was also subtle: the Statue of Liberty gone dark.

The bus I take to campus goes along high ground, so I saw little damage beyond a tree down here or there, a storefront boarded up with plywood, messages encouraging Sandy to go away painted over last year’s un-welcome for Irene.  Gas lines.  An NYPD van pulled up beside us to ask directions.

My students were mostly there.  They’d lost power or had cars drown in salt water just after insurance expired.  One announced he’d lost his job as a bar back on Coney Island but had put in 27 hours hauling muck out of the place.  Maybe they will reopen after all and he’ll have a job again.

I heard people all over the island talking over the storm.  A pair of teenage boys on the bus going over the details, one explaining to the other that the gas shortages were not a conspiracy, that ships couldn’t land and trucks couldn’t transfer the gas.  The other had assumed there would be more than enough already at the stations, an assumption of safety and plenty that is easy to make in this town.

What struck me today was how out of their way people were going not to complain.  “Oh, I lost power, but only for 24 hours; no big deal.”  “We got power back after five days!  So lucky!”  Of course, worse fates are staring them right in the face, but even so, I admire them.

When I returned to Manhattan in the afternoon, it was no longer possible to ignore the change.  The streets were growling and clanking with generators and pump trucks and more heaters.  Tubes and wires ran everywhere like new spiderweb.  It was obvious, and that hour, that the drug store and the post office and the cafe should have been open, that the streets should be crowded with tourists and brokers, not men in reflective vests and hardhats.  Peering in the window of my usual coffee shop, I could see a knee-high watermark circling the walls.

There still were tourists, of course, and also people like me, going about our usual ways, picking the shallowest possible paths across  wide puddles.  In the plaza by the ferry terminal, a crowd gathered to watch a group of breakdancers spin and flip and start and stop, their orange camouflage pants reassuringly crisp and bright in the cold sun.

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After the Storm: Sunday Best

Well, y’all, my WordPress app ate the post I was writing, I have to be up at five to teach tomorrow, and I have a pile of grading (I know, I KNOW) and a cold. Maybe the post will be even better tomorrow.

But in the spirit of this every day business, may I present to you the best people I’ve read about today, Runners In Support of Staten Island. These are marathon runners who, rather than wallow in their disappointment at the race’s cancellation — which is disappointing, however much it is also the right decision — rode out to Staten Island with backpacks of relief supplies and ran their way to find people to help.

Good work, y’all. You done real good.

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Bookish: The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

Hi, internets. Sugar wants to go to bed awfully soon, because for some reason she isn’t excited by the prospect of the time change meaning Graham will want to get up for the day at 3:30. De gustibus non disputandum, amirite?

This storm business…it’s so strange. Here we are, high and dry, living pretty close to our regular lives, and yet I feel so upset and stressed out so much of the time. It feels ridiculous and self-indulgent to say that while we are FINE and others are so very not fine, but it seems nevertheless to be the case. Partly, I suppose, it is the sense of vulnerability, partly the isolation I have mentioned before. It’s unsettling, and it’s easy to get sucked into doing nothing but mainlining news reports.

This afternoon, in the interest of maintaining sanity and all that, we took the Bean out for a walk in the Botanic Garden and the small zoo in Prospect Park. The damage at the garden was real but not horrifying, and the zoo was pleasantly normal. The Bean pointed out the geese, studied the red pandas at length, and seemed rather taken aback at the size of the goats, after requesting to see them. He’s been talking about goats (or “gooots”) a lot these days, but off the page, they are uncanny creatures, what with their horizontal pupils and all.

We also visited the monkeys and a pair of small African owls. I love to hear the Bean say “owl.” He gives both syllables a solemn weight, OW-WUL, which seems to suit their regal bearing, the way their eyes inspire true awe, the paralyzing kind, such that looking at them, we remember for a moment how it feels to be prey.

At bedtime, we read parts of Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen’s The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of Night, a magnificent book of poems and gouache’d linoleum prints of the natural world at night. I’m linking here to the Google Books page, so that you can get some sense of the illustrations. They are even more lush and intriguing than they appear on screen.

The Dark Emperor is an owl, and the poem devoted to him, a hymn of almost religious terror in the voice of a mouse, who begs the owl overlook its teacup of a heart. (Is that the line? I’ll have to check tomorrow; the book is with the sleeping Bean.  ETA: It’s “tiny hiccup of a heart.”  That makes more sense, but I liked my invented metaphor, the mouse’s heart delicate as china, shaking, threatening to spill the tea.) It is one of my favorites, a rare shape-poem that is such a good poem on its other merits that I only tonight noticed the words forming themselves into the omnipresent shadow of the owl.

My favorite poem in the book belongs to an orb-weaving spider, who delivers methodical, liberating life advice. I didn’t realize until searching for it online tonight that it feels so familiar because I read it first on Unwellness. That Briar knows what she’s about, I’ll tell you. Rather than copy and paste it here, I’ll direct you to it on her page, so that you may discover both a deeply satisfying poem and a great blog, in one click.