Bionic Mamas

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


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On Political Strategy

Here is a thing that happened:

I was involved in a political discussion on the ol’ FB, and someone I do not know (friend of a friend) commented that he certainly hoped, apropos of my refusal to loathe a candidate he loathes, that I don’t have a son or daughter who could be sent to die in an oil war.

I do, of course, and if he didn’t know that, I’m sure that had he found out, he would have been pleased with himself for giving me such a tangible reason to come around to his way of thinking.  I see the rationale of arguing in that way, uniting the desire I have to protect my children to a specific political preference he’d like me to share.  

(NB I’m not naming names here because I am not interested in having a traditional leftist circular firing squad in this space  — nor in the general election, which is how I found myself in this situation. I imagine you can read between the lines anyway.)

Here’s the curious thing, though: that gambit doesn’t work that way, at least not for me.  His comment did rouse my ursine protective qualities, but not such that I came rationally around to his point of view.  In fact, my unsubtle brain identified *him* as the threat to my children.  I was suprised at the intensity of the hostility I suddenly felt towards him, where before I had felt only a mild irritation.  Moreover, some of that feeling transferred itself, however unfairly, to the candidate he was supporting, despite the fact that I have no real beef with the candidate in question.

The experience reminded me of how I didn’t truly understand what lay behind that standard advice about not getting between an actual mother bear and her cub until the first time the Bean was old enough to walk without holding my hand (though still very small) and someone walked between us: we were in a park or somewhere similarly safe and I could see him just fine — there was no actual danger — and yet I wanted to launch myself at the person between us and rip at them with my claws.  How dare they!

I bring this up not to invite a debate on whose box I should check in the primary (or even whether I should vote in the primary, a position I find more morally defensible than usual in the case of the Democratic presidential candidates, if not lower offices) but rather as an observation on the complicated nature of brains and the care those of us who do feel deeply about our candidates would be wise to take when scoring rhetorical points.  This only matters if one likes winning, of course.  I’m not altogether sure my political allies do always prefer winning to being self-righteous — but that is a story for a different time.


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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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Tuesday Tidbits

I know it’s Wednesday, I KNOW, but it feels like Tuesday because I barely managed to sleep.  You know that thing where you have a tiring day and you know the next day will be SUPER tiring, so you can’t fall asleep and then you inexplicably wake up at four a.m. and that’s just it?  That.

Today I drive up to Westchester for my usual classes, plus the biweekly student meetings, plus all the biweekly student meetings I would normally come up for on Thursday.  There was an error on the schedule and by the time I realized that, I had no childcare options for Thursday anymore.

Then I RUN to the car and pray for light traffic as I drive to a part of the city one should not drive to (the train has no chance to getting me there in time — in the old days I would have just said I couldn’t make it, which is perhaps what I should have done this time) and pay through the nose for parking so that I can pay through the nose for therapy.  This one does EMDR and said actually insightful things on the phone and was willing to talk about his methods and so on.  He is a friend of a smart friend, so I figure it’s worth a shot.  Then I realized after getting off the phone that I recognized his voice because of a spot on This American Life about testosterone.  Life in New York, I tell you what.

I contacted three potential therapists this time around, and they all got back to me: the power of the end of summer, I guess.  One was busy and recommended someone else.  One was this guy.  One, recommended by two friends, called me right back but got prickly when I asked about her methods. (“Could you tell me about your philosophy and methods?” “I believe people are a combination of identity and experience. More stuff along this lines.” “So, what kinds of methods would you use for someone like me?” “I think I just answered that.”)  She was otherwise nice, though, and gave me the names of two hypnotists she thought I should try.  Digging into all this stuff while teaching the history of asylums and mental health sects in the US gives me more patience for wacky ideas (mostly because reading all this stuff brings up uncomfortable truths about how psychiatry has and hasn’t changed), but I’m going to try contemporary woo for now.

Post-woo, it’s off to Brooklyn Heights, another unparkable neighborhood, where I hope to be able to shelve the car long enough to go rehearse the Bach Christmas Oratorio with the choir I joined last fall.  Here’s hoping listening to the first part in the car counts as practice.  Then home, at the only time of day it’s ever truly hard to find parking.

I am tired already.

Yesterday, or Tuesday Part One, the kids and I almost finished making a cold frame for our garden bed.  (We would have finished, too, if I hadn’t forgotten the screwdriver.)  The Bean has been wild to have one since last winter; someone in our building had wood scraps for free and someone else threw away a poster in a huge, plexiglass frame.  Jackalope only smacked her hands down into the wet finish of the wood twice.

Everyone was exhausted when we got home.  The Bean was a certified pain in the rear about dinner.  We’ve been having more full family meals, but this time I hadn’t made one (see: carpentry), so Sugar and I were pottering about during the exhausted wailings about how he just wanted to eat, which took the place of actually eating.  I had my back turned when there was a tremendous bang, followed by screaming.  Jackalope, flat on her back, on the floor behind her chair.  Much holding.  Much crying.  Eventually, ice cream for everyone.  When she had recovered enough to pause in her lamentations:

“I jump out chair.”

You don’t say.

Jackalope talks a lot now, by the way.  Mostly English words, but also a lot of “CAMIMI,” a word of her own devising that the Bean says means “excuse me.”  She also jumps off of a lot of things and can use her scooter (“ma goot”), inherited from The Bean, shockingly well.  She’s 20 months old.  Sometimes she throws her arms around me and says, ala Daniel Tiger, “I yike you just way y’are.”  She gets away with a lot that way.

Okay.  Time to get dressed.  In closing, I leave you with this, from a friend’s new tumblr you should really check out:

http://meangirlshistory.tumblr.com/post/130550320900/im-not-a-regular-mom-im-a-cool-mom
Oh, hell, the embed code isn’t working right.  Click through, will you?  I’ve got to get dressed.

https://secure.assets.tumblr.com/post.js


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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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Geography Lessons

Or: Things I Learned By Getting A Car

1. Brooklyn is a beach town.

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

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

Brooklyn Beach

2. Children like the beach better than overcrowded apartments.

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

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

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

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Not the culprit, for the record.

3. Mamas like the beach better, too.

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

4. There is no Facebook at the beach.

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

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

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

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

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


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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:

image

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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Six Months In

Six months in, everything about having a dead mother is still awful. In case you were wondering. Someone remarked today that there is no proper timeline, take as long as you need, but I think the truth might be that there is no timeline at all, that this just continues to suck, world without end.

I know things were worse or maybe more actively bad say five months and three weeks ago, but it doesn’t seem like the chronic stage of this will ever be less painful. It’s true that I no longer contort my face in silent screaming every time I am alone in the shower, but I still cry every day. Sometimes I am in bed at night and it strikes me that I haven’t cried that day. Those were the nights I have the most trouble stopping crying.

The thing is, I really don’t think I’m depressed. I know what I’m like as a depressed person, and this isn’t it. I’m the tired all the time, distant, shut-down kind of depressive. The kind where you can’t shake the idea that the whole world is just a movie you are watching. I don’t feel like that. I engage with my kids, I find things funny and interesting. And then, because she loved my kids and there was literally nothing on earth that didn’t interest her, I immediately want to call to tell her about it. Luckily, that doesn’t happen much more than 150 times a day, usually.

Did I say she loved my kids? Well, she loved the idea of the second one. This girl who is such a pleasure, such an easy baby. Who I am able to purely enjoy in a way that, sick in so many ways, I couldn’t enjoy her brother at this age. To whom I know I am a better parent than I was to him, the kind of parent I wanted to show mine I could be.

(Do not get me started on my father, whom I love very much and whom I feel very hurt by and very worried about right now. Suffice it at this writing to say that I feel like I have lost both parents at one stroke.)

Dear Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me, begins an ecard making the Facebook rounds. You can stop now. I’m strong enough.