Bionic Mamas

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


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Snow day updates

Hey, gang.  Yes, I am still here.  ETA Yes, I started this on the blizzard day and now things are melting and I still not editing it to any kind of a reasonable length.  You have been warned.

I wrote a most of a really long post titled “The Things Grief Teaches You,” or words to that effect, back in, whoa, November, but even I got worn out by it.  Tldr: nothing I wanted to know.

Then I kind of hit a wall, because as much as I’d love to talk to you all in person about, for instance, therapy, it does feel odd to put it on the Internet.  Maybe a password post at some point, at least for some of it.  The expurgated update is that I have been going, I think it is helping, and my therapist is not an idiot.  Also, I seem to have developed a Pavlovian response to his office, such that as soon as I sit down, I start crying.  I blame the carpet.   

Christmas was…you know, I really am going to have to do a password post.  More on that later, I guess.  We stayed in town. I spent an enormous amount of money on a prime rib that was frankly one of the better thing I have ever cooked.  Jackalope got her heart’s desire, a doll stroller.  I cannot believe I have a kid who loves dolls, which fall squarely into the valley of the uncanny as far as I am concerned.  We got the Bean a fairly indestructible camera.  

  
My choir spent the fall learning about half of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.  (It’s six cantatas. We did 1, 3, and 6.) I somehow got appointed alto section leader, which means I take notes and write everyone an email each week.  It’s a good gig: altos thrive with a little attention.  And dick jokes, it turns out.  They love dick jokes.  (Example: why did Bach have 20 children? He had no stops on his organ.) 

We performed the piece at a number of churches around town, which was a nifty sort of tour.  Brooklyn is, after all, the Borough of Churches.  I should learn some architectural terms so that I could describe them to you.  Sometimes we sang with an organ and sometimes with an orchestra.  I regret to say, dear readers, that the trumpets were terrible, a real shame with this piece.  But, ah, amateur music making.  It is what it is.  We paid soloists to sing in most of the concerts, but we did a tiny one in January for which we did not.  The director asked who wanted to throw their name in the hat, I imagined for auditions, and after a week of anxiety on the topic, I decided what the hell.  Turned out that was understood to mean that I positively could sing the recitative and aria I said I liked, and with essentially no rehearsal.  Um.  So I did.  Not perfectly, by any means, and in a state of real terror, but at least the mistakes I made in performance were different from the ones I made in rehearsal.  And my favorite dress, the one with the dragons, zips again*.  So there’s that.

*This is partly because Jackalope is nursing a lot less — I know the party line is that nursing makes you lose weight, but my experience is that no — and partly because I have essentially given up alcohol on account of nerves.  Plus other things for that famous password post.  Basically, file under “lower weight does not equal ‘healthy.'”  But dragon dress! It is my favorite.

Sugar gamely attempted to bring both kids to one of them December concerts, but while Jackalope loved it, her love was…vocal.  THEY SINGIN’ A MOOOSIC SONG!  Ship abandoned for park. The Bean came to the one where I sang alone and has been very sweet about it since.  

The big recent excitement has been applying to (public) kindergarten for the Bean.  And by excitement, I mean miserable anxiety-fest.  Allow me to tell you allllll about it. 

In NYC, there are districts (many per borough) and, for elementary school, zones within the district. Most of the time, you are all but guaranteed a spot at your zoned school (assuming you have one).  You can also apply to other schools; you have a higher priority within your district. You rank the schools you like, get admitted to one, and get wait-listed at every school you ranked higher.  Then there is all kinds of maneuvering over the waiting lists.
The Bean currently attends public pre-k at our zoned school.  There are good and bad aspects to that.  We like his teacher, a kindly man who is obsessed with fishing.  They are raising trout.  Really.  As in, they got a jar of eggs at the beginning of the year, and on Friday, Jackalope and I were guests at a party celebrating the fingerlings’ graduation from the small enclosure to the main tank.  At the end of the year, we will take them “upstate” (I am guessing this means Westchester) to release them, presumably so the teacher can catch them again.  The Bean has friends, the school is remarkably diverse, the PTA seems to have its heart in the right place.  (I attempted to join the diversity committee, but all their meetings have been during my classes.)  They have a lot of art and music and so on.  It’s also more academic than I would prefer, and simultaneously operating below the Bean’s academic level.  (Which is okay! He isn’t in pre-k for academics.  It’s just, I’d rather have less of that, and if I can’t have that, I’d like it to be interesting, you know?)  

I wanted to fall in love with the school when I finally got to go on a tour, but instead I was taken aback.  The kindergarteners were having a spelling bee.  There’s a lot of homework, even at kindergarten.  The music teacher seemed as  grumpy as the Bean had suggested.  There’s red light/green light discipline.  Blah.  Not awful, not the end of the world, just not what I was hoping for. I’m worried that a smart, rule-following kid who isn’t a big advocate for himself could get lost here.

Meanwhile, I also went on a tour of an unzoned  school in our district (good chance we’d get in). Enormous, two story classrooms.  All the kids in a given grade are in the same class, with four teachers who loop with them.  Great teacher development program.  No homework.  The classrooms felt to me like preschool — lots of interesting things to do.  All the STEM you could hope for, great social-emotional stuff.  Lots of opportunity for independent work, which is what the Bean loves best.  But low on arts — just residencies part of the year.  And not walkable.  The city would bus him, as it’s in our district.  

Then I toured a shiny new school, not in our district but an easy enough commute, close enough to walk home in good weather.  And I happened to run into a savvier friend, mother of a classmate from the magical preschool the Bean went to last year (why can’t all schools be like that?), who pointed out that, gorgeous light aside, this place was at least as rigid as our zoned school.  So I did not list it, even though it was so shiny. (So shiny! But also I secretly suspected the parents would drive me nuts.)

Impulsively, I did list another school in that district, one I never visited, on the grounds that it sounds progressive and our pickiest neighbor is happy with it. Plus that district has better middle school options.  I can’t believe I’m expected to be thinking about middle school for my four-year-old.

The school I ranked first we will never get into — four other districts have priority over us (plus siblings, yadda, yadda) — and I don’t know how we’d manage the commute if we did.  But I just look at that place and think, I can’t just not even try to get my kid into the one place I really think looks magical.  And then I beat myself up for not being able to afford to live in that neighborhood.

The application is in now, and all that remains is to second guess myself to no end.  Am I making the right choices? Are there any? And mostly, what would my mother say?

I changed schools often as a small child, and it stunk. But it wasn’t for no reason, and I wish I knew the full, adult versions of those reasons.  I know that my mother held her nose and violated her own principles more than once to get me in a place that was better for me.  I know that when I was in a place that actually challenged me, that my whole world changed.  I think these things matter, is what I’m saying.  I just still don’t know what the right thing is. 

So now we wait for March, when placements come out, except actually, that’s not all, because how could it be that simple? Instead, next week, the Bean sits an exam for gifted and talented placement, and believe me, you don’t need to tell me how fucked up it is to be testing four-year-olds in this way.  Believe me.  I get it.  But also: in sixth grade I was in an all-day gifted program of students pulled from the whole town.  And it changed my life.  So.  We hold our noses and take the test.  The Bean is really happy with the idea of getting to do lots of puzzles with an adult whose attention is all on him.  He hopes there are a whole lot of questions.

The test results come out in April — that’s right, after the kindergarten offers have gone out — at which point kids who score high enough can try to find a district-level program they like — there are two in our district, but maybe  we could try for the one not in our district that we could still walk to, where our friends’ daughter goes.  Kids who score super incredibly high can attempt to get a seat at one of the citywide schools, but what with sibling priority, we’re talking a quarter of the 99th percentile, so phhht. (Except OF COURSE I believe my magical genius child is…oh, just ignore me.) 

Also I am considering moving to the woods and homeschooling them and also growing my own saffron.  

I’d always heard how stressful NYC school stuff is, but I kind of thought that was for people who can afford private school.  (Which at one point we’d thought might be us, but the generous tuition reimbursement program at Sugar’s job has now become a “give already rich people a little bonus” level of reimbursement, so yeah.)  I didn’t expect to find myself lying on the floor in the middle of the night crying because I just really, really, really want to ask my mom what she thinks.  I want to ask her a lot of things, of course, but this one surprised me with its intensity.  I just always thought in the back of my mind that she’d help with this particular kind of decision making, probably because she was so very active in getting me my education, in finding a way to get me to better places when one place or another wasn’t working.  She had a plan, is what I’m saying, and she pushed and listened and made calls and made it happen.  And that sounds like a terrible, pushy thing to do, I realize, but the fact is that I was a smart, shy, melancholy kid who made it through relatively psychologically intact and able to get into and thrive at a tough college that was without question the best place for me.  And I don’t think that just happened by accident.

In Jackalope news, she is nearly two, smart and gigantically tall, into music and dinosaurs and her big brother.  She’s far more physically explosive than the Bean has ever been, and I suspect this version of two will be quite a ride.  As a family friend noted at four months, she remains an “Imma do it baby.”  I wanna do it MYSELF, Mama. She’s named or renamed all the stuffed animals, starting with “Baby Dog” and “Naked Baby Snake” and “Baby Fish” (a blue whale) and now “Eyebrows” (a monkey we’ve had for years, who does have a prominent brow, since you mention it), and the bear she got for Christmas, “Eyeballs.”  She’s charmed the cat into letting her pet him, and though we laughed, she really did chopstick this dumpling into her mouth at dim sum.   

 


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Thoughts from the road

Greetings from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I can’t be more specific, as the Bean has commandeered the the GPS device, it’s too mountainous for our phones to be speaking to us, and I have allowed technology to get the better of my map skills. Oh, here: mile 253.2 of Interstate 80. Some peculiarly specific mile markers around these parts. Somebody’s brother-in-law has a sweet contract.

Jackalope is sitting in a giant pile of chocolate cookies. And yet fussing! Not my genes, I tell you what.

We are en route to Chicago, where Sugar has pictures in a group show, and then to the the Sugar Family Manse in midMichigan. (Chicago friends, how I wish we could visit you! We will be under house arrest at the Sugar Family Pied-a-Terre, which is to say her late grandmother’s house on the far, far, far South Side.) We are driving because, well, money. It’s good to have a car, though. This would be a real drag on foot with the granny cart.

Summer, man. It’s a pretty good season.

Item: You know those free tourism magazines at rest stops? They have weird depths.

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Item: We have continued the beach trips. The Bean is getting more comfortable with the water, in his incremental way. He likes me to carry him out into the water while Jackalope naps, and lately he will sometimes release his legs enough to kick wildly, as long as I grip his upper body to me. His friend S, who is a very strong and brave swimmer, dives into the waves around us while they both laugh. She has the sunniest nature, and they are an age when it does not seem to yet have occurred to them to let their differences in skills and constitution get in the way of their fun.

Item: It is now Saturday, and we are in Chicago. The opening was a real pleasure — in a fancy Mies Van de Rohe building and everything. Jackalope marched me directly to the cheese table, and the Bean got a Sprite after he and I examined all of the architecture students’ models. Most of the gallery guests were (like Sugar) alumni of the Institute of Design and true to type, brain-wise, to judge from their satisfied reactions to the Bean’s vigorous use of his name card to swipe them out of the gallery as they exited the porch. Systems people understand each other.

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Also pleasant was visiting with Sugar’s first cousin and his family, which includes two girls, 9 and 5. Isn’t it funny how babies born three months apart are radically different until age 15 months or so, at which point they are functionally the same age? Neighbors of ours have a daughter eight months younger than the Bean, who suddenly became his age when he was three and a half. Likewise, the five-year-old cousin, who was older than the Bean at Christmas, is now his age. The nine-year-old remains amazingly cool. The Bean sat on the sofa next to her, saying hi. Hi, she replied, and returned to her book. They talked dot-to-dots later. Jackalope was beside herself.

Item: Remind me not to let my kids play with the ostensibly nice neighbor here, who helps keep up the lawn and makes generally friendly offers of, for instance, letting the kids come swim in his pool, followed by announcing that the girls — who are FIVE and NINE — don’t have to wear bathing suits. Actually, no need to remind me. I think I’ll remember. Between this and Swamplandia!, which I just finished and recommend highly, I am nauseatingly reminded of the dangers of girlhood, in particular the way you are never quite sure which things are dangers and which are jokes and which might become dangers if you don’t treat them as jokes and the way you are certain it’s your fault for not getting it.

Item: Apparently, Chicago has ended the social promotion of street trees. I assume this is a Rahm Emmanuel thing.

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Item: On the topic of failure, I give the Ohio Turnpike website an F minus minus for their lyrical bullshit description of the history of Indian Meadows, the location of a service plaza in the eastern part of the state. It’s named for the redmen who lived there, you see, prior to the white men who, “unlike the red-skinned farmers, […] learned to conserve the soil.” European conquest was pretty much the least healthy thing to happen to the soil since glaciers, but in fairness, it is responsible for bringing to these lands the Gift of Sbarro.

Item: Guess how many hours we’d been with the Midwestern family before the first non-sequitur remark about the racist/awful South?  (Yes, the South is plenty racist.  It is not, however, uniquely racist, and the comfortable assumption on the part of white folks in the rest of the country that it is the home of all bad things perpetuates racism that doesn’t fly a confederate flag (which frankly, has far more power to harm than most of those flag-wavers) and gets on my last nerve.)

Item: My mental health still blows. A very brave friend with very significant head-demons recently noted that she can do all kinds of hard and scary things, yet have a panic attack at the idea of leaving her apartment. We made a list of panic attack triggers, the things our brains have evidently determined to be so dangerous that Attention Must Be Paid. My list included grapes, cinnamon, and bottled iced tea. Also guacamole and every medicine in pill form. Lo, how the mighty Better Living Through Chemistry have fallen! I can’t take an Advil without wondering if I am swallowing cyanide; I wish I were joking. The world seems so thin, so easily broken. I don’t know what’s become of me.

Item: I am, for the record, actively looking for a therapist. Criteria: does CBT, takes my insurance, is older than I am. I have some issues surrounding talking parental death stuff with chipper young people. Possibly unfair, but there you are.

Item: So far I haven’t even gotten anyone to call me back. This does not make me think good thoughts about the profession or humanity in general.

Item: The other things I think would help are sleeping more and creating things. I haven’t figured out how to manage either. Getting hungry makes everything radically worse. Looks like I will be dumpling-shaped for the foreseeable future, as eating my feelings seems far healthier than acting on them.

Uh, item: Not everything is misery. Jackalope is talking up a storm, which is my favorite, “LET’S HAVE ALL THE BABIES” aspect of child development. She calls her brother “Bam” or “The Bam” and our cat, Orson, “Ohrsine,” in a very French way. She can say “paleontologist,” but somehow not “yes.” “I see you, [person or item]” is a frequent announcement along with “wanna [x],” and “no biting,” usually right after biting me. She eats everything with gusto, followed by hurling it around the room with equal vigor.

She has in no way given up the idea that she should be allowed to nurse for any or all of a day’s 24 hours, despite my having officially stopped nursing on demand six months ago, and she’s come up with the most fiendishly clever way to ask: what’s the one thing a child of mine could request that I will always, but always, drop everything to help them with? That’s right: “wanna nap.”

Item: I have fallen for that a lot of times.

Item: The Bean is no less a marvel. He is tall and tan and proves to have a deep love of capoeira. Brooklyn being Brooklyn, we found a group that does lessons for four-year-olds and will give it a try in the fall. He is not a huge fan of the car, but has learned from our road trip with my Aunt Explorer the joys of chewing gum and washing the windows, which take the edge off.

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“GUM! No gum,” says Jackalope. No gum for babies.

He remarked the other day how funny it is that everyone in our family has the same color skin, an observation whose logical basis I credit to his magical pre-school of the past year. He’s off to public pre-K in the fall, and even though I think that is the right choice — it’s free and around the corner and full time — it’s hard for all of us not to feel wistful. (He could technically go to his old school for another year, at great expense even for a part-time schedule, but he is demonstrably ready for more class time.) The local school is good, certainly fine for pre-K, but I have to take deep breaths when I think of my baby in a building where police officers run the front entrance. Plus the uniform is ugly, no matter how egalitarian in principle. I had a dream the other night that it was the picture for an article about ugly things.

Update: while I was nattering on, we got ready to leave Chicago for the Sugar’s childhood home in rural Michigan. Then the phone rang with the news that her father’s little brother, who, like the rest of the siblings, lives in suburban Chicago, had had a stroke. So we weren’t going anymore. Then, in the morning, his sister the nurse said no more visitors, as he tries to pull his feeding tube out to talk every time he recognizes anyone. So suddenly we were going again, with Sugar’s parents planning to come back in a week. (It is about a four-hour drive.) Everyone is being very sensible and stoic and Midwestern.

Uncle Little Brother is the family clown, the one who cheerfully submits to being the butt of the joke while making you a Manhattan, who somehow knows the perfect presents for the kids at Christmas, who in the pictures of the (large) family as children is always the one mysteriously in a cowboy costume or dressed for a children’s theatre production of Guys And Dolls, in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin. They say he is likely to recover, and I hope they are right.

Item: We are now in Sugar’s tiny hometown, in the house she grew up in, which is somehow also the very cleanest artists’ studio you ever saw. I’ve gotten used to the place over the years and forgotten how cool it is. I’d take a better picture, but I am sitting with a not-sleeping Bean. Update: too dark. You’ll have to take my word for it. Paintings, prints, sculptures everywhere, yet somehow extremely clean. Lots of books. A large cat named Teddy.

Here is the living room:

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The air conditioning is broken, but after freezing my tail off at the Chicago house, my thin, Southern blood is finally coming in handy.

Update: a mighty thunderstorm. The green wet smell of summer camp insomnia.

Item: This is honest to God the sign at the edge of town. The town is too small for a stop light and recently removed its downtown flashing yellow, so you see how this kind of thing could get to emergency levels.

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Item: MIL and I went to the new butcher shop at the edge of town — this is big news, as Carl’s grocery closed some time ago, leaving the town with zero food stores that aren’t a gas station. The new place sells great steaks, fifteen kinds of bratwurst (blueberry???), a smattering of produce, and a surprising array of bulk spices. They will also butcher your deer. Savvy business move, which I attribute to the owner’s wife working at the bank. The staff uniform is a camo hunting cap, which matches the wallpaper near the coolers; transactions are observed by a small black bear, a caribou, assorted fish, a fox, several whitetail, and some others I have forgotten. I have taken an immediate liking to the place. Good steaks, too.

Item: It turns out matching pajamas are crazy-cute. “We’re twins!!” says the Bean.

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Item: I am supposed to go take a nap. Cheers for now.


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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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Bionic Family Newsletter

Hey, y’all, she remarked sheepishly. I am sorry it has been so long. I thought I remembered about this phase, how it means just nursing 27 or 28 hours a day, but I crucially forgot that nursing a newborn requires, at least for me, both hands. Also, by 28 hours a day I mean 40.

But anyway, here I am. Mostly because how many places am I free to talk about my nipples and hooha hurting? Y’all are a special group, internet. I don’t have real hope of managing a narrative post in the next two years, but I will indulge myself in some categorized items. (Spoiler: my nipples hurt. Also my hooha.)

[Several hours later….]

Where to begin?  Jackalope, I suppose, since she’s the most novel:

Jackalope

Item: She’s marvelous.  Disregard all the time I spend begging her to go the hell back to sleep at 3am.  She’s healthy and growing and sleeping more than the Bean did, even if I could frankly use a lot more hours.  She seems to be that proverbial easier baby that some people have.  Now I understand the magical beliefs that persist about babies — how they give explicable cues before screaming that they are hungry, for instance, and how they like things like swaddles and pacifiers and soothing.  I imagine some of this is our being more experienced parents, but mostly I think she’s just a wildly easier baby than the Bean.  (Knock wood, knock wood.)

Item: She’s huge!  She was almost two pounds heavier than the Bean at birth (7/13 to his 6/1), and she’s growing much faster.  She was over eight pounds at her last appointment, at age 2.5 weeks.

Item: She’s tough.  At five days old, she reached down during a clothing change, took hold of her umbilical cord stump, and tore it off.  No crying.

Item (related): She nurses well!  This, I believe, is both cause and consequence of being larger (and born two weeks later).  Consequence, because her mouth is larger, her stomach holds more, and she is just more coordinated and, well, finished than the Bean was.  She latched on and nursed better in the delivery room than he did for a month.

Item: I have SO much more milk than last time.  Funny, it’s almost like a person is healthier when she keeps most of her original complement of blood.  Someone should study that.

Item: Nursing a baby who is into it while yourself making adequate amounts of milk is SO MUCH EASIER than nursing a weak, tired, young baby while making not enough milk.  It still takes forever and wears me out and hurts my nipples and drives me a little crazy, but really, not at all in the same ballpark.  I did have a small nervous breakdown at her first out-of-hospital doctor’s visit, when she had lost still more weight and I imagined us spiraling into the same nightmare we had with the Bean.  I took home formula samples and cried and refused to use them, which confused poor Sugar badly.  I couldn’t decide whether it was more irrational to begin supplementing a baby I knew didn’t really need it yet, or to dig in my heels, the way I did last time, and allow us to go back down the road of failed exam after exam, needlessly starving baby, etc.  (Side-item: I really wish we’d been able to see our preferred pediatrician for that visit instead of her young partner.  I think she might have been able to calm me down.)  But then, like in the books, my milk came the rest of the way in, and at our next appointment, she’d regained her birth weight.  Just like they say happens!

Item: As much as I like the lactation consultant we ended up eventually seeing with the Bean (as opposed to the ones we saw before her, who were various flavors of useless), I like not having to see her even more.  And even more than THAT, I like having a baby who can just be fed when she’s hungry and gain weight, without my having to go through routines of timing and facial exercises and diaper changes to wake her back up and horrible teas and pumping and crying and guilt.  Funny.

Item: At the second weight check, when she’d regained her birth weight, I also had my first experience of really feeling like an experienced parent.  The NP we saw that time, who had repeatedly praised her weight gain, asked about her sleep.  At the time, she had been sleeping a 4-6 hour stretch at the beginning of the night, which, I’m sure you can imagine, was heavenly.  (I mean, the Bean doesn’t even always do that, and he’s THREE.)  Oh no, she said, you can’t let her go that long.  You need to be waking her up to eat.  And I thought, lady, you just said this baby is gaining weight and looking great; like hell I’m waking her up.  But what I said was, “We’ll see.”  Because I realized in that moment that not only did I not have to do that, I didn’t even need to tell her I wasn’t going to.

Item: We don’t always get that stretch anymore.  Or it isn’t always at night.  Sugar generally ends up in the Bean’s room, and I am alone with Jackalope, who likes to have a couple hours of being awake for no earthly reason sometime in the 1-5am stretch.  I am tired.

Item: On Monday, my first day home alone with both kids, she stayed awake from 5am until 10:30, napped for 40 minutes, was back up for a couple of hours of continued, constant nursing, took another cat nap, was up again, etc.  There was a period when all three of us were wailing.  It was precious.

Item: On Tuesday, Sugar came home from work early and I took Jackalope to a department meeting at adjunct-institution-community-college.  I had written to ask permission and not heard back, and I need brownie points over there.  No idea if I scored them with the right people.  I missed half the meeting, including the topic I’d come to hear about.  A woman next to me was snide at me while using FB on her phone.  It was one thousand degrees and packed; turns out my comfort level with public nursing does not extend to the front row of such a setting.  I had the unsettling experience of realizing that the woman I thought was the chair of the department isn’t.  But several people said kind things on their way out the door, and I reminded the person who hires adjuncts that I’d like work in the fall.

Item: Poor Jackalope is a second child when it comes to pictures, I’m afraid.  We remember to take them, sometimes, but then they are stuck on the camera.

The Bean

Item: The Bean is THREE.  How in cheese’s name did that happen? We got him a tea set.
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Item: He turned three the same day Jackalope turned three weeks old.  I tried to get a cute picture of them near each other.  Ha.
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Item: We had a tiny little party and a cake with trains on it.  My mom tried to send the trains for his last birthday, but they arrived too late. He liked it.

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Item: Still not eating many foods or sleeping through the night or reliably using the potty. But he can do a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle with almost no help. (Still figuring out how to work that “but” into his doctor’s appointment on Monday.)  I am an unabashed puzzle pusher, and am beyond thrilled that he likes them, too.

[There’s Jackalope waking up….]

[And then the rest of the afternoon and the evening and the night happened, and most of the next morning.  There was an interlude for an unexpectedly early first brother/sister bath, which damn near killed me with the cute.]

GandJbath

Item: The Bean is so much better with Jackalope than I thought reasonable to expect.  He likes to put his nose against her toes.  We failed utterly to move him to a big bed and decommission the crib/toddler bed in time that he wouldn’t associate the loss of his familiar spot with the arrival of the baby, but as soon as it was converted back to its baby configuration (he helped), I heard him stop mid-sentence, correcting himself to call it “Jackalope’s bed.”  She was fussing in there one afternoon, while I was stuck on the toilet.  I was a little concerned when he went in to her — he is a lot larger than she is and unaware of her comparative fragility — but he sat down on the floor with his legos and said, “don’t cry.  I am making you a tower to make you happy.”  Melt.

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[Whoops, there went the whole weekend.  My dad visited.  There’s a lot to say about that, almost all unbloggable.  He is charming with babies.]

Rotten Things

Item: Our older cat, Michaela, died.  She was diagnosed with kidney failure right before Jackalope was born.  Sugar learned to give her sub-cutaneous fluids every night.  There were supplements but no real hope of recovery.  She seemed okay for a while, and then suddenly wasn’t.  We all miss her, and of course this has started another round of questions and pronouncements from the Bean about his dead grandmother and great-grandmother, with lots of crying from me especially.  I know these questions are a typical part of being his age, but really, the last four months have been over the top for our family.  I am so sick and tired of death.

Item: Michaela came to us as a teeny kitten found in the woods, so dirty we didn’t know she was white.  (Really, she was a secret calico, with a smear of grey and buttery-tan on her head as a kitten.)  She lived with us in Massachusetts and Chicago and New York.  She nearly died of hepatic lipidosis in 2005 and after recovering, slept on our feet every night.  Despite being standoffish with strangers (“Michaela has boundaries,” said an approving friend, comparing her to our more dog-like Orson), she turned out to adore babies, both ours and others’.  We called her the Bean’s nanny.  Here she is with the Bean, in 2011, and with Jackalope:

A Boy and His (Very Patient) Cat

Great Minds Think Alike

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Item: Yesterday morning, Sugar’s paternal grandmother died.  (Her maternal grandmother died in December.)  It wasn’t a surprise, but it is awful.  I am so tired of death.

Item: Sugar is going to Chicago for the funeral for the first part of the week.  I’m not ready to be alone overnight with both Jackalope and the Bean, but, well, I guess I’m about to be ready.

My Addled Brain

Item: Despite everything, I don’t seem to be depressed.  At least, I don’t think so.  It’s almost weird.  I am sometimes sad and sometimes overwhelmed, but yeah, not depressed.  I do still cry about my mom a lot, but I have a hard time categorizing that as pathological; crying seems pretty rational to me, and naturally I think of her all the time, especially looking at this baby, whom she would so have wanted to know.  There’s not much I can do to make that not awful.

My Body, Upper

Item: Remember that Cold of Filth I was complaining about before Jackalope was born? (COF is trademarked to either May or Mrs. Hairy, not sure.) I had this fantasy that somehow the intensity of labor would drive it out like a demon.  Yeah, no.  Instead, I was sick for a solid month, coughing my brains out.  (Other things also coughed out, too, thanks to an enlarged uterus and a pelvic floor that went on strike altogether.)  The Bean and Sugar were sick, too, but luckily Jackalope was not, nor does the codeine cough syrup I was living on seem to have bothered her.  Still, I do not recommend the experience of being that sick immediately postpartum.

Item: Dateline: NIPPLES. The Reynaud’s is back.  For new readers, this means that my nipples are spasmotically seizing up in response to breastfeeding, and if that sounds horrifically painful, well, it is.  I got on the nifedipine in short order this time around, following some minor difficulties getting my OB to prescribe the extended release version in place of a “take as needed” regime of regular capsules.  (Let me tell you, you take one of those at the same time as a slug of cough syrup and WHOA, good luck standing up.)  Unfortunately, the nifedipine isn’t working quite as completely, though things are a great deal better than they were a few weeks ago, when many tears were shed.  Now I mostly have spasms at night, and they aren’t so terrible.

Item: I can’t try a higher dose of nifedipine, apparently.  I called the OB office a couple of weeks ago, when things were getting very bad, to ask about that and about some renewed locchia.  The nurse insisted I come in to see a midwife.  On the one hand, it was nice to feel they were concerned about my health, in marked contrast to Dr. Russian’s nurse.  On the other, schlepping into the city is not easy, nor was there a point.  As I had suspected, the bleeding was normal.  Meanwhile, they are afraid my blood pressure will bottom out on a higher dose.  I suspect that’s not right — my understanding is that, while nifedipine does lower BP in people with pathologically high pressure, it doesn’t have much effect in someone like me, whose body doesn’t have difficulty maintaining a steady BP.  Certainly my BP while I was taking it last time was at my usual level every time it was checked.  But, since my usual level is on the low side and I don’t want to pass out all over the place, I guess that’s how it is.

Item: I started taking some extra B6, on the advice of the internet.  Hard to say whether that helped, but  I already had it in the house.  At least I won’t get pellagra.

Item: The Reynaud’s has new tricks.  Several times a day, associated with let-down, I have what I think must be massive spasms in my milk ducts.  (This happened sometimes with the Bean, but not this early or this fiercely.)  The only reason I’m not weeping over this is that it doesn’t last that long, just a minute or two each time.  It is more of a sore feeling than a sharp one, but it is intense, like each duct suddenly has a fist inside it.  Not recommended.

Item: It was an act of purest optimism to have ordered that breastpump, wasn’t it?  Sigh.

My Body: Lower

Item: I know y’all mainly read this blog for hooha news.  It’s cool.  I mainly write it to talk about my hooha.

Item: Ouch.

Item: In so many, many ways, my recovery from Jackalope’s birth has been nothing at all like my recovery from the Bean’s.  Thank whatever it is you like to thank.  I am healthier and happier and in much, much better shape.

Item: My pelvic floor is shot, but recovering.  For a while there, advertising algorithms were chasing me across the internet with ads for protective undergarments.  Depressing.  Now I am mostly okay as long as I go to the bathroom a lot and, I discovered yesterday, don’t attempt any hopscotch games.  Bad idea.

Item: The hemorrhoids are likewise retreating, like big, ugly glaciers.  Butt glaciers.  Thank God for witch hazel.
(Gratuitous witch hazel shot because I also love the plant, mostly because it blooms so early.)

witch hazel

Item: Stitches still beasts.  The proverbial they say you don’t tear as much the second time, and I guess I didn’t, inasmuch as I’d already, erm, resected my vaginal septum and it’s hard to tear more than that.  Nevertheless, I was fairly shredded, inside and out.  My new vocabulary word is “sulchal.”  That all hurt in a predictable way at first, then got worse around week two, when everything got irritated and the lines of stitches felt like they might rip right out every time I coughed.  Or God forbid sat up.  Things improved again, with a delightful interlude of suture ends poking me in personal places.

Item: Except now I have these hard spots I suspect are scar tissue, and nothing is stretchy enough.  As in, it hurts to sit again, in sharp little ways, and then there is blood.  Not a whole lot of blood mostly, but I think I am tearing a little bit every day now, just from sitting.  I am so not into this, I can’t even tell you.  I have my postpartum appointment on Tuesday, and I sure hope there is something to do about this problem.  I’d like to, um, use that part of my body again someday, for one thing.  Ahem.

Miscellanea:

Item: Sara started blogging again!  Check that OUT.

Item: I have spent an absurd amount of time giggling at this, featuring drawings the Bean describes as “some funny folks!”


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In which the Bean stands up for himself

Hello. Sugar here. Things are lovely chez Bionique these days. Jackalope spends stretches of time sleeping at night! Bionic is not demonstrably depressed! I am home cooking food! I thought I would satisfy you all with some pictures of our recent doings before moving on to the story I really want to tell you.

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As you might imagine, the Bean is a bit bored, what with everyone being sick and the snow just dumping down day after day. I was finally feeling well enough to take him somewhere on Tuesday, and he chose the Botanic Garden. The two of us trekked up there through the snow only to discover that it was closed due to “ice conditions.” So, The Bean suddenly decided that we might as well stop in at the Brooklyn Museum. This we did.

When we were finished looking at the floor with all the historic houses and house models we came out to the elevator area and found a guard who addressed the Bean loudly. As in, “hello little guy!” at the top of his voice. He was one of those old white farts who pretends that he wants to have a conversation with a child, but actually just want to hear himself talk. He went off on a random monologue about the age of various houses on the floor, which went over the Bean’s head, segued into discussing his own house and how old it was, and wound all this up with “…just like your mommy and daddy.”

The whole time the man was talking the Bean was surreptitiously pulling on my hand, as in, oh god, can’t we just get on the elevator? But when the mommy and daddy statement happened he stopped. He looked at the floor, like he was reasoning something out, and then he looked up at the guard, gave him a hard stare, and said quite loudly, “actually, I have a mommy and a mama.” His tone said, duh, what rock have you been living under?

Mr. Guard said nothing, so I repeated what the Bean had said, verbatim, in case he hadn’t caught the Bean’s enunciation. Mr. Guard gave me a troubled smile but still said nothing. So we got on the elevator and left. Once the doors had shut I told Bean that he had done a terrific job, that not everybody knows about all the different kinds of families and that it is a fine idea to educate them.

In my heart, however, I feel conflicted about this incident. Part of me was very pleased, both to be validated by my kid and to hear him stand up for himself. But part of me feels sad and probably guilty that my “life choices” have put my son in the position of needing to stand up for himself and his family. It was stressful watching the Bean navigate this awkwardness at the age of not quite three. Of course it probably helped that he clearly thought the man was an idiot. I’m glad that it wasn’t a teacher or a friend or someone he had developed any respect for. But still.

So, two and a half cheers and an “enh” for reaching this milestone, I guess. Have a picture of the Bean painting his new firehouse, otherwise known as a cardboard box:

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(Bionic says this picture should be titled “objects in photo less darling than they appear”)


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Jackalope

My mother, the eldest of eight children, grew up in San Diego, where, by the time the youngest were born, the family lived in a house with a large garden. In that garden grew a pomegranate tree that had never borne fruit.

My mother was grown up and married when her youngest sister, Annie, decided she knew what the tree needed. Perhaps inspired by the nest eggs used to encourage the chickens to lay, Annie took a pomegranate ornament from the Christmas boxes and hung it from the tree. To show it what to do, she said. Her older sisters laughed indulgently, as I imagine it. Only Annie would think of something like that.

The next year, the tree bore fruit.

Perhaps I am a little like that tree myself: not 24 hours after Sugar gave me the necklace in the previous post, our daughter arrived.

Julia

Jackalope, born February 8, 2014, at 2:36 in the afternoon. Seven pounds, 13.6 ounces of healthy, beloved girl. Her first name is for my mother and her mother; her middle is for Sugar’s maternal grandmother.

I am tired and a bit beat up, but happy. I will tell you the whole story one of these days, but I feel I owe it to you not to leave you wondering about whether I’ll be in therapy for this one, too. And I won’t. Everyone was wonderful, everyone. There were times I was frightened or upset, but never because someone was frightening me or trying to upset me. College Friend was perfect. Dr. Joy, the OB I was most afraid of when coming to this practice, told me I was safe and held my feet in her lap while she stitched my tears.

And you all, you were wonderful, too. I mean it.

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