Bionic Mamas

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


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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 GPS device (which actually is a GPS for motorcycle use), 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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Remember that time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Addled Brain Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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On Mothers’ Day

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

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

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

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

http://mamasday.org

http://strongfamiliesmovement.org

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


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Tuesday Tidbits

Trying to tiptoe back to this space. Twenty minutes of babysitter time left today, and I’ve about given up on getting caught up with grading, anyway.

Item: I am all over the SCOTUS blog scene today, as you might imagine.

Item: But I am spend a lot more of my mental energy on Baltimore and related topics. Here’s some of what I’m reading:

Ta-Nehisi Coates “Nonviolence As Compliance”

The Baltimore Sun on the pattern of grotesque police violence in Baltimore

Adam Serwer’s rebuttal of the nice story I was taught about the nonviolence of the Civil Rights Movement, as if it succeeded in a vacuum.

The always thoughtful Bread And Roses

This perfect poem from Ross Gay (with whom I taught once, and yeah, he’s that cool).

Item: The panic attack situation is getting a bit dire over here. Thought I was dying of a brand new cinnamon allergy the other day, in the understandably terrifying setting of a local bakery. (NB: I do not have any significant allergies.) Figured out what was actually happening in record time, but still, this sucks. Something in the wiring of my brain has clearly gone all to hell. Have grave reservations about SSRIs. Going to first look for a CBT therapist, even though I feel exhausted at just the thought of looking for a therapist. Other ideas welcome, so long as you are gentle.

Item: invented new, indoor, gross motor activity for the Bean, which I recommend: bought him a three-inch paint roller, a real one. Mixed liquid soap, food coloring, corn starch, and a bit of water, stripped him naked, and put him in the tub with permission to paint the walls.

Item: Jackalope sort of walking, definitely dancing. Janelle Monae’s “Dance Apocalyptic” remains the house favorite. (Her whole oeuvre is popular. Despite his Brooklyn roots, when the Bean refers to “the baby yoga thing,” he means her new single, “Yoga,” probably because I told him the lyrics to the chorus are “babies do yoga.”

Item: they are, in fact, “baby, bend over.”

Final item, gleaned from email with Starrhillgirl, because time is short:
Why does autocorrect think it’ is a word??? And every time I bitch about it, it just reinforces the error. Why is dealing with autocorrect so much like parenting? Is consequence-free complaining so much to ask?


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Into The Arms of Spring

Hello from Amtrak train 171, currently rolling through Virginia, carrying me to Starr Hill. Me, only me. Well, me and a few hundred other people, including a law student across the aisle asleep on her books, two women with small babies who met when they were seated together in front of me and seemed to enjoy themselves, and an older woman across from the with a cell phone in her hand, a blue tooth in her ear, and a small, fluffy dog in a stroller. A working dog, no doubt.

But no children of mine are on this train. It’s the first time I’ve left Jackalope overnight. She’s fourteen months old now, talking a tiny bit and walking a few steps at a go, climbing everything she can and half the time falling on her head. I set the Bean up with a flour measuring project at the table and turn my head for two minutes; she finds a chair, moves it across the room, climbs onto it, and somehow finds a measuring cup. “Jackalope! You’re not a food!” I hear the Bean say last week: she can apparently climb onto the table itself now. Still nursing and quite attached, so here’s hoping she (and Sugar) survive.

Here they are, for reference:

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The Bean was quite pleased with his black hair.

I’m going because Starrhillgirl invited me, because I am losing my tiny mind, exhausted with work and kids and more work and then the rest of the work when they go to bed and then up with Jackalope half the night and then trying to do more work in the morning before I go to work. I couldn’t kick the flu the whole family had and finally went to see my doctor about it, who said, basically, your biggest health problems are exhaustion and stress. Just because I was asleep on the exam table when she walked in! And because I keep having panic attacks. What does she know, anyway?

So here I am, rolling South into the arms of Spring. This afternoon I’ve watched red embers of maple flowers and the nearly unseeable bright green willow whips in northern New Jersey become golden newborn oak leaves and globes of white pear trees and bursting pink cherry trees and electric purple magnolias. I’m just past Manassas now, and the rolling fields are green in that lush, assured way, even under grey skies. There is skunk cabbage in the woods, and glimpses of red dirt. Red dirt! Thank you, pathetic and irresponsible farming practices of the European invasion for hardwiring me for an emotional response to ruined soil.

It is likely I will be back through this part of the country or nearby in June, when I plan to take my mother’s car and drive home to Brooklyn from the Dumb Wedding, which I suppose I should make travel plans for. Not feeling any happier about that prospect than I was, but I do want the kids to know the extended family that is likely to attend. The whole thing just makes me weep with rage.

As does church, apparently, which is a pity, as I’ve always liked Easter services so much. This was the first year I’ve found myself jealous of Mary Magdalene. Meanwhile, I’ve joined a chorus that is singing Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast,” and I don’t find I’m having much trouble finding the emotional conviction for the vengeance bits.

A lifelong friend sent me a scanned version of a picture her dad took many years ago, one I grew up with on my mother’s dresser. My mother is wearing her medical school graduation robes, so I am about 18 months, give or take. (Pause to feel outclassed again: she had a baby in medical school. I rarely manage to shower.)

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So many things compete for my attention in this picture. There is the strange and reassuring and maybe worrying but certainly inescapable fact of Jackalope’s resemblance to baby me.

There is the feeling I miss, of being my father’s darling girl, however difficult it has always been to get him to pay attention.

And there is the way my mother is looking at me. Do you see that? I had one of the truly great mothers, and I wonder if someone like my father, who didn’t, can ever really understand what it’s like to miss that. It’s every day.

That look, that’s why it makes me SO FUCKING LIVID to hear him spout stupid platitudes about being “sad for us but happy for her,” how “her suffering is over.” She was sick, not suffering, as she was sick for most of her life, even in that picture (see: Outclassed). But look at that picture and tell me she would have traded an end to the real pain and exhaustion and bodily troubles she lived with — lived with, as in she was living every day, her whole life, never dying — for the chance to meet her granddaughter.


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In Which I Am Proud Of My Boy

I owe you so many words, and I hope to begin paying them in earnest after I survive (here’s hoping!) the conference I’m presenting at next weekend. It might be nice if we could not have the flu and the baby not have an ear infection (?) and the boy and I not have dueling migraines, but let’s not be greedy.

But today is my boy’s birthday, so I will interrupt my silence very quickly, to share this first collaborative art project with his sister.

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The center is Jackalope’s drawing. The Bean reports that he showed her how to draw a line, and then she drew one. After she was done, he enclosed her work in an “art box” and asked Sugar for letter after letter, so that he could write around it, “[Jackalope], you are a good artist.”

“I thinked of wroting that because I liked how she did that art. And I’m proud of you, Jackalope.”

Likewise, kiddo.


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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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in which Sugar encounters her inner bitch and the Bean discovers his own mortality

Sugar here.

By all accounts the Bean is doing very well in school. They love him and have been telling us how much he has been changing and growing. He now sings songs to himself around the apartment that I don’t really know (“dem bones, dem bones, dem DRY bones…”) He talks a blue streak. He kisses his sister. He also knocks her over when she tries to come near his projects. He is attention-seeking and LOUD and BANANAS around the apartment. I wish we lived in a football field.

In the changing and growing department, the Bean has now encountered kids who don’t want to play with him. His school is mixed ages 2-4 and the four year olds have a certain je ne sai quoi that everyone wants. Two of them in particular are attractive to the Bean, but he is not that attractive to them. Both of these kids are named after American presidents, so from here on they will be known as Presidential One and Presidential Two.

One day after school I watched as he ran around the playground after Presidential One, sort of playing with him (?), only to be brained with a tire swing as P One either forgot that the Bean was near by or had never noticed him in the first place. After trying to answer the sad question, “Why did P One DO THAT?” (“I think it was an accident, honey”) and wiping away the tears, I tried to remedy the situation by at least having them say goodbye to one another before we left the playground. P One’s too-cool-for-school mother was with him and looked around at me like I was trying to crash her party. “Oh, they were playing together before, so I thought they would like say goodbye,” I said. “They were?” she asked, as though this were both unbelievable and undesirable. “Well, bye then,” I said lamely to P One and tried to get the Bean to wave. P One never noticed.

So.

Days later, I took the Bean to school and we were the first ones there. I have to do early drop-off because otherwise I can’t get to work on time. Every day that I do this I am grateful for how independent the Bean is. He just goes over to one of the activities they have out for the kids to choose from, starts playing, receives his kiss goodbye, and seems happy as a clam.

On this particular day the Bean took me over to a bunch of legos on a shelf and carefully explained and P One and P Two were working with them the last time they were all at school together. “Ok.” I said. “I don’t think that P One and P Two would like me touching their stuff…” The Bean said looking longingly at one of the big flat legos on the shelf. “Well, go play with the legos in the big box out on the floor then,” I said. “Ok.” The Bean went over and started sadly taking legos out of the box. “But I really want one of the flat pieces,” he said then. There were no flat pieces in the big box.

“You know,” I said, looking around to see if I was observed and gleefully dismantling the haloed legos, “P One and P Two aren’t here. This isn’t their stuff anymore. It belongs to your school. Here you go, one flat piece for your enjoyment. Play with it on the floor though.”

Then I felt bad for the rest of the work day because maybe I was teaching my son to be retaliatory and resentful? At least I didn’t say, “P One and P Two don’t play with you so they can go to hell,” as my own mother would have done…

And then there was the realization the Bean made this past weekend.

Bionic and the Bean were watching a documentary on the national parks system which currently was covering the FDR era. The Bean started asking questions about the people mentioned. Did we know any of them (no, they are too old). Well then did we know anyone old enough to know them (not really) and finally, where are all those people now?

“They’re dead,” Bionic said neutrally.

And since we’ve arrived at the age of why, the Bean then asked, “why?”

“Most people eventually die,” Bionic said. “All people.”

“WHAT?” the Bean asked, “Even ME?”

“Well, yes.”

“But I don’t want to go away! I want to stay here!” Then followed a half hour of crying and being rocked by Bionic on the couch, all the while staring at us like how could we possibly tell him such a terrible thing, after which Bionic abruptly decided that they would make chocolate icing and frost a cake.

At least his favorite baby sitter came to take care if him that night so we could go out for our anniversary. During which time we tried very hard not to talk about death.