Year in Books: 2012

Not my best year for reading. What with the craziness of gestating, birthing, and then caring for an infant, I did lots of re-reading for comfort instead of seeking out the new and exciting. Still, any year in which I made it through both Moby Dick and David Copperfield is not worth erasing from the historical record entirely.

Thanks, Em, for reminding & inspiring me to do this compilation!

 

Currently finishing:

Bringing Up Bebe (Druckerman) – B-
French moms don’t get frazzled. They manage stay sane and calm, thanks in large part to fantastic Nanny State programs and benefits that makes childbearing and child-rearing as easy as possible, and also to cultural differences that don’t turn women into “mommies” — child-obsessed, compulsive, as well as chubby, shlubby, and self-denying — the way American society does. Unfortunately the narrator is the kind of woman who compares herself to Carrie Bradshaw, which makes her hard to take seriously, and she paints a kind of ridiculous Goofus and Gallant contrast between the countries.

Telegraph Avenue (Chabon) – B-
Come on, dude! Stop overwriting, over-plotting, and over-filling your narratives with characters. You’re not penning a 19th-century Russian epic. If TA weren’t by Mr. Kavalier & Clay, I’d have put the book down before now, but I’m holding out hope it gets better as MC hits his stride and stops trying so hard.

 

Also finished (or abandoned) before the year’s end:

  • Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble (Ephron) – B+ Oh, Nora. So witty, so wise.
  • Divergent (Roth) – B- Pretty good trash, as trash goes. Entertaining. Definitely not a contender for next Hunger Games.
  • Insurgent (Roth) – C+ Sloppy and haphazard. Still reasonably entertaining. Strong female protagonists always earn some leeway from me.
  • The Bad Girl (Llosa) – B. Unfinished. Well-written and interesting, but the narrative loses steam and starts meandering halfway through.
  • The End of Men (Rosin) – C+ Some good thinking; lots of bad editing; and a terrible title that eclipses her more measured arguments. The thesis that seems to hold for some chapters has no relevance to other chapters, some of which are downright contradictory. Altogether a frustrating read. (Though funny to hold on the subway when 9 months pregnant.)
  • The Middlesteins (Attenberg) – B Starts strong, becomes conventional, ends up in a way I doubt I’ll recall in a month. Would have made one killer short story.

 

Here’s the rest of the round-up in alphabetical order, featuring a couple of classics, lots of memoir, Cramming for Motherhood manuals, history delivered in exciting & memorable ways (Bringing Up the Bodies, 11/22/63, Hark! A Vagrant), some solid genre fiction (Devil in a Blue Dress, Maltese Falcon, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Comedians), some disappointing literary fiction (1Q84, The Marriage Plot, Sense of an Ending, Open City) and the unforgettably bizarre 50 Shades of Grey, without which I would never have been invited to appear on Geraldo.

 

Best surpriseSuite Francaise, which I didn’t expect to like, let alone be ravished by.

Best non-surpriseTiny Beautiful Things, which was exactly as moving and profound, witty and wry as I expected. A more rewarding experience than Wild, leading me to the odd conclusion that I may prefer Strayed-as-Sugar to Strayed-as-Strayed.

NOTE: I’m still fiddling with the grades, since when I’ve just finished a book, I’m usually too kind to it, being either relieved to be done or still basking in its glow. Only in retrospect can I more accurately judge whether the reading experience holds up.

 

Learning the Meaning of Christmas

I didn’t have Christmas growing up, so I never got what was funny about leg lamps. I never sang “Jingle Bells” unironically or even saw It’s a Wonderful Life. Over the years, mostly from pop culture parodies, I’ve picked up the salient bits: small-town family, bad bankers, wise angels, rash decision reversed, and voila! Happily ever after. That understanding in no way prepared me for my first real Christmas, which I celebrated with my Russian-Jewish father-in-law, his Italian-American wife, her brother the priest, and the priest’s surprise.

As a child, I was an outsider when the whole country went Christmas crazy. I had only Hannukah, which is like a kid playing a kazoo on the sidelines while a marching band in full regalia, with cheerleaders and baton twirlers and gymnasts and everything, spends a month slowly parading by. Then, I got older, and the meaning of Christmas evolved—it became the time I got laid off. Twice, including once during the Great New York Transit Strike of 2005. Even for someone who doesn’t celebrate the baby Jesus, that’s pretty harsh.

My first real Christmas on the inside made all the difference. Suddenly I understood. We go nuts for four to six weeks in advance of this holiday because it’s terrifying. 24 hours with our families where we’re expected to be kinder, gentler, more charitable versions of our screwed up selves? Where we have to open boxes of things we never wanted in front of everyone and pretend to be excited, while nervously watching everyone else open the presents we got them to see if they’re sufficiently appreciative? Where we have several meals with extended family members and in-laws, who take a long looks at us and comment on whether we’re more or less skinny than before? Those stakes are high.

Mr. Ben, my husband, is also Jewish, but unlike me, he grew up with mistletoe and ornaments. His father brought the tradition over from Russia when he emigrated; there, under Communism, it was a Secular Mandatory Fun Day, with the part of Big Brother played by the ominous-sounding Father Snow. (Particularly ominous if you’ve read Game of Thrones.)

Once we were living together and engaged, Mr. Ben asked me to come to Christmas. For reasons of principle, I was hard to convince, but finally, like anyone who’s ever been in a lasting relationship, I caved. Mr. Ben’s dad’s second wife, Carla, was Italian and an excellent cook; she also had a reputation for giving such good presents that all the Hunger Games-level agony of Christmas shopping became retroactively worth it. Between a bounty of material goods and Martha Stewart-type treats, I figured the holiday would be painless, maybe even kind of fun.

Carla had invited her brother Ned, a 50-year-old Catholic priest, as well as their aged old-world Italian mother. Shortly before he arrived, Ned told Carla that he would be accompanied by his friend, Winston.

Ned went to seminary at 18. He had never so much had dated a girl; from childhood, his vocation was clear. That is partly why Ned’s mother, always so proud of her son the priest, looked confused to be introduced to Winston, a very nice middle-aged Asian-American man. Mr. Ben’s Russian grandmother sat next to her on the couch across from the fireplace, perhaps thinking that the fact that her own son had re-married a shiksa now seemed not so bad. Winston and Ned, oblivious, glowed happily next to each other on the piano bench.

Still: Christmas! A brightly-lit, colorfully-decorated tree presided over an avalanche of boxes and bags. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen, where Carla, tongue-tied with awkwardness, had escaped to tend to the meal.

“Let’s play a duet!” Ned suggested.

“Great!” replied Winston.

Being that this was my first real Christmas, I had no idea whether any of this was normal. Maybe Catholic priests always used Christmas with their Russian-Jewish extended families to come out to their horrified, blindsided mothers, one piano duet at a time. Or maybe Winston was really just a friend and we were all over-reacting.

As we began to exchange presents en masse, that hope faded. “For you!” said Ned.

“Thank you!” cried Winston, opening a box of two button-down shirts: one bright purple, the other bright pink. “And that one’s for you.”

Ned picked up the flat package and ripped it open. “Oh my gosh!” he said. “You didn’t!”

Ned showed us the present he had just received, and I choked on my Diet Coke. It was a framed, signed poster of “Will and Grace.”

The only gayer present? Probably a butt plug. Probably.

The next morning, Ned’s mother and Carla appeared dressed and ready for church. Ned and Winston came out of the guest room dressed and ready to go antiquing. It was at this point that Ned’s mother’s heart fell to the hardwood floor like a big red shiny ornament and smashed into a million pieces. We could all hear it except for Ned, who, with Winston, went on his merry way. And at last, Christmas was over.

Ned and Winston now live together in a wonderful old house in Amish country with two pianos and lots of knickknacks. Ned is no longer a priest. I don’t know if he ever officially came out to the family or whether he figures that, after the “Will and Grace” poster, it would be redundant, but he has reconciled with his mother, who is very fond of Winston. And I have learned that while Thanksgiving may be a big deal for drama, Christmas totally takes the (fruit)cake.

To Praise, To Labor, & To Love: A Birth Story, Pt 2

To recap, this is how I looked at 40 weeks, right before I was catapulted into labor by a brownie & a really good massage:

40 Weeks. Ready to pop, with an emphasis on ready.

Labor progressed early, as I mentioned, leading me to the hospital within hours; then a mean midwife threw me into reverse and sent me home. An hour later, though, I was back to where I started, contracting regularly, and in increasing, sledge-hammer quality pain from what turned out to be back labor. But we couldn’t go to the hospital or we’d be back once more under the jurisdiction of the mean midwife. We decided to tough it out at home.

From about 12:30 AM until 6:30, we used the tools at our disposal: a yoga mat, water, highly-diluted Vitamin Water, bendy straws, massage, frozen vegetables, mantras, more water, and a rubber ducky from the O’Haire Motor Inn in Montana. There was also quite a bit of cursing and crying. Every few minutes, I looked at Mr. Ben and said either:  “It huuuuuurts” or “I can’t do it. I’m sorry, honey, I can’t.” And he would say, “You are doing it. You’re doing great,” and empty the freezer of more bagged produce to push against my back.

“Breathe, honey,” he told me. “Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing.”

We ruined the frozen corn, the raspberries, the edamame, turned them all to slime. I didn’t notice. I sprawled on the bathroom floor in various positions, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to him tell me it would be okay. I spent about an hour in the shower and then another hour in the bath with him pouring water on me, singing to me, doing anything he could to distract me from my certainty that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t push to the other side of the smashing, obliterating pain.

BEN NOTE: The pain had a predictable peak, it would be painful and seem endurable, and then would ebb, and then would come back much much stronger and you would cry out and you would have to breathe in and out about four times until it was finally over.  I was aware of every contraction because I was trying to time them on the app I had downloaded to my iPod touch, at least at first.  I stopped for a while when I realized that we were in it for the long haul and the contractions were not really changing in length or frequency much.

(Hereafter Mr. Ben’s comments are in blue bracketed italics within the text.)

I shivered, and then I sweated, and then I shivered again. [We got to know our bathroom floor better than any other bathroom floor before or since.]  I drank what felt like gallons of water [in fact you took on the tiniest sips that I had to force on you] until the very sight of a bendy straw made me nauseous. When I could catch my breath between contractions, I repeated a phrase from a prayer my shul’s congregation recites every Shabbes: “We have not come into being to hate or to destroy; we have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.” Possibly this nauseous, moaning, hand-gripping, childbirth-type labor was not exactly what the writers of that prayer had in mind, but the words helped soothe me, even the tiniest bit, so I kept saying them. To praise, to labor, and to love.

And eventually, after hours that felt like whole deserts that had to be crawled across, the sun began to rise, timed perfectly to a newer, even more intense kind of pain and pressure. If I stayed at home any longer, I felt like I would have the baby right there on the bathroom floor, which, though not cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile, was not my ideal birthing locale, either. Mr. Ben called a car and a portly bearded man from Arecibo arrived with his chariot. “It’s okay, Mama-ji,” he told me as he helped unload me in front of Park Slope Methodist hospital in the misty half-light. “Girls do this every day, all over the world. Fifteen, sixteen year old girls!”

All the wheelchairs must have gossiping over their morning coffee together or something, because the lobby was empty. A resident who happened to be walking by changed direction and helped Mr. Ben support me up to Labor and Delivery. At that point, I could barely stand on my own. “I can’t do this,” I told Mr. Ben for the bazillionth time as we made it to triage. “You are doing it,” he assured me. The nurses summoned the midwife on call, and we held our collective breath until she entered — Donna, one of the other four midwives, a practical, confidence-inspiring woman with a wry sense of humor. Glory be, Hosannah, we had done it. If I could have relaxed, I would have. The mean midwife faded from memory as Donna took charge.

[SPOILER ALERT: FROM HERE ON OUT, THINGS GET KIND OF GRAPHIC. AS DR. SPACEMAN SAID, WHEN PRESIDING OVER A BIRTH, “EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS DISGUSTING!” READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.]

“Seven centimeters,” she told me. “Let’s get you to a room.” [That moment was one that I will never forget.  Donna waited for a contraction to end, and you whimpered “It huuurts” while you were having the contraction.  Then when it was done, she stuck her fingers up into your vagina and said, “You’re seven centimeters dilated” and smiled, and then I think she said “You’re not kidding it hurts.”   I was so relieved, I just beamed at you.  Because up until that point I really didn’t know how painful it had to be.  Everyone was saying that women want the epidural at 3-4 centimeters, and I was just praying that we had gotten at least a little further than that.  When we were at seven, I knew that we had gotten through the worst, the endurance/psychology of pain part.]

For the first time in my life, I saw things from the perspective of a patient on a gurney as I was wheeled through double doors and down a hall.  [And I got to be by your side in the crowd of nurses and midwife wheeling the gurney!]  For the first time, I felt myself attached to an IV and then given a HepLock so that I could move around. Seven centimeters meant that I had made it through active labor and was now in transition: the most challenging phase but also the shortest, and the very last before pushing. A very nice nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. [She said it in a really sweet voice, like she was offering you candy.  She was not making it easy for you to say “no thanks.”] I quavered. If I got the drugs, I could stop feeling like I was being repeatedly run over by an SUV. But they might also interfere with the last stage of the process and lead to a c-section.

The only decision I could make was that I wanted to be in the shower again. [Actually, you looked at me and said “I think I might want the epidural . . . .”  And the nurse said “OK,” and started making arrangements for it.  And then I had to say “she hasn’t decided yet,” because I knew that your use of the word “might” meant that you weren’t sure.] Charrow appeared and she and Mr. Ben together took on the job of getting me from 7 cm to 10 and across the finish line. They supported me as I stood crying under the [pathetically low-water-pressure] faucet, trying to twist myself into a comfortable position; afterwards, they took turns rubbing my back and holding my hand, listening to me babble and telling me I was doing great. They used up all the cold-packs in the room and moved on to latex gloves filled with ice, which they had to refill from the machine in the hall. I couldn’t have made it through without them. They propelled me forward; they propped me up; they cheered me on.

Then it was time to push.

“Hold your breath, bear down, and then roar like a lion,” said my otherwise sensible midwife. I looked at her like she was crazy, but she didn’t offer an alternative. I tried, though I wasn’t very successful. After several really strong contractions, she broke my water for me on the table and unspeakable liquids poured out of me, including meconium, a sign of fetal distress. Donna’s demeanor didn’t change — she remained calm and controlled — but a grim nervousness settled around the table: it was clear that I needed to deliver the baby soon. An hour later I was doing no better at the purple pushing. “I can’t, I can’t,” I sobbed. “She’s coming, she’s coming!” everyone replied. “Just a little more! We can see her hair!”

Donna summoned a team of pediatricians to be on hand as soon as the baby emerged. I was beginning to feel like she never would. All there would ever be of her was hair. Why had I not immediately said yes to the drugs? I couldn’t stand the pain; the pain was bigger than I was and it had eaten me alive. I wanted to go unconscious, to have them cut the baby out of me, to be done with all of this. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t.

“Her head! It’s coming! Just a little more!”

Mr. Ben on one side, Charrow on the other, pushing with me, crying with me; the nurse and the midwife exhorting me from between my legs; the unbelievable pressure; the pediatricians grouped just out of sight, waiting; roaring; and finally, finally, a tremendous swoosh and release. Donna caught something squirming and hot and passed it to the pediatricians. My eyes couldn’t focus — I found out later than I had burst blood vessels in and around them, leaving me looking like a boxer who’d gone down in the fifth. Charrow stayed with me while Mr. Ben followed the tiny, messy human being struggling in the gloved hands of the doctors.

[Things happened very quickly: there was the moment when Donna pulled over her rolling tray covered with surgical tools from the side of the room. Then there was the moment when they got your legs into the stirrups, the moment when there was a quick snip snip that no one commented on, but I asked about afterwards, and the moment when they put the big blue tarp up to catch whatever liquid came out with the baby. When the baby came out, it looked like the impossible was happening, it looked like CGI. There was this smushy yellow elongated alien with hair and eyes that emerged out of the area immediately next to your vag.]

An aggrieved cry resounded through the hospital room and we all breathed again. “Can I stop pushing now?” I asked the nurse, who rewarded me with a laugh. Then I added, “OK, I’ll take the drugs.” Charrow grinned. A world with no contractions in it! The very air was euphoric. My sense of humor, my sense of self, came back. I had a brief glimpse of something pulsing, huge, and red, like a jellyfish from outer space, as Donna delivered my placenta and started sewing me back together.

Lara had come out occipital posterior, or sunny-side up, which is rare and accounts for the extra difficulty of the delivery, including a natural tear and Donna’s small incision. (Which, by the way? OUCH.) The difficulty was compounded by Lara holding one fist stubbornly next to her face, like a stuffed animal she was clinging to, as she emerged.

The doctors finished prodding the baby, whose Apgar score had gone from an initial, worrisome 4 to a robust 8 within minutes, and handed her to me to warm up against my chest. She was skinny and long, funny-colored and scrunchy-faced, with lots of dark hair and an exhausted look in her eyes that I could imagine mirrored the one in mine. She was amazing: an amphibian churned out of dark water and thrown up on the shore of my body. All I could do was hold her and breathe.

Nearly two months later, I haven’t advanced much further than that, but she has. She’s become a very successful, charming, chubby little mammal who seems none the worse for her atypical delivery. I spend half my day staring at her, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she used to be floating inside me, and and now thrives on the milk my all-you-can-eat Brestaurant provides. We had quite an adventure together, her and her father and me, one I can’t imagine two of the three of us, or Aunt / Doula Charrow, will ever forget.

And baby makes three

Top Five Baby Turn Ons

After seven weeks of extensive anthropological observation, we can declare with some confidence that our infant child seems to most enjoy the following:

#5: Sucking on her pacifier.

Also, beatboxing
Binky time

RUNNER UP: Spitting out her pacifier

#4: Bouncing. (Bopping is also acceptable, as are swaying, rocking, and jiggling.)

#3: Sleeping

Like Daddy, like daughter

#2: Burping, pooping, and that moment just after burping or pooping

And, of course, like Jerry Seinfeld

#1: Breasts. (“Why would I be a leg man? I have legs.”)

 

More here.

Pain, Leavened Only by Discomfort: A Labor Story, Part One

How is it possible almost six weeks have passed and I haven’t chilled you to the bone with my How I Had My Baby story? Well, grab your warmest blanket and a mug of hot chocolate, kidlets, because here we go.

By Labor Day in early September, I was ready. My belly had gotten so big I felt like a house on legs, like in those Russian baba yaga stories. Since I am not the type to sit around knitting baby clothes, I had very little useful to do to occupy myself while I waited.

Thanks to an incredible series of classes with doula and midwife-assistant Shara Frederick and some serious book learnin’, both on the subject of childbirth itself and, more broadly, on the question of what kind of parent I didn’t want to be, I felt reasonably prepared for what was to come. (As part of that intelligence-gathering effort, I reviewed a couple of the Bad Mommy Memoirs I plowed through for Cheek Teeth: Are You My Mother? and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?) I knew it would be difficult, especially for someone with so little experience dealing with enduring pain, but I also knew that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. So BRING IT ON, said I.

It was like shouting at the ocean. The baby had her own plan. In accordance with that plan, I found myself a week later still pregnant, still awkward and sore and quite tired of the ten-month gestation process. My “What to Expect” app had run out of even semi-useful tips and had started preparing me to “Start losing the baby weight!” First I need to lose the baby, I growled.

In an effort to lose it — or, more specifically, to loose it — on my due date, Monday, Sept 10, I got a prenatal massage from the fabulous folks at the Providence Day Spa on Atlantic Avenue and then ate a brownie the size of a cinder block.

I’m not sure which was more delicious.

By the time I was done, the contractions were both noticeable and regular,  and the birth team stood ready: Mr. Ben with his catcher’s mitt out, Charrow in a rubber apron and gloves. We expected the early stages of labor to be rather slow-going, since it can often take at least half a day to make significant progress. But again, the baby had her own plans. After just a few hours, the contractions had gotten stronger and closer together enough that Mr. Ben called the midwives and the midwives said head to the birthing center.

CONTRACTIONS. MIDWIVES. BIRTHING CENTER. There’s been an infant cooking in my belly or dangling from my breasts for almost a year now and I still can’t believe this is my life. [/end note]

We gathered the ten bags of stuff we had put aside to bring to the hospital, called a car, and got to Methodist at about 8:00 PM. The pain was still manageable; everyone was excited; it seemed like perhaps the baby could propel herself out that very night and avoid the trauma of having her birthday forever synonymous with national tragedy.We all squeezed hands and waited for the midwife to come in.

There were five women in the midwife practice, and whoever happened to be on call when I went into labor would be my sherpa for this arduous, uncertain journey. Five women, and I really liked four of them. Any one of them would be fine; I wasn’t picky! Just, please, I told Mr. Ben, not Grumpy Gail — she had the bedside manner of a 12-year-old boy.

Naturally, the midwife on call was Grumpy Gail, giving my laboring body a choice to make. Should I keep barreling forward and aim to have the baby on September 10th, or throw the process into reverse and (probably) have the baby on September 11th with one of the others? The decision was made before I was even conscious of what it meant. My labor shuddered to a halt. Grumpy Gail sent us home with instructions to drink some wine, get some sleep, and come back in the morning.

Unfortunately, it turned out, the baby could only be put off for so long. About an hour after I tried to go to bed a contraction woke me with the force of a sledgehammer. It was followed in short order by another contraction, and another, both of which made the contractions of the evening — even the ones that sent me to the birth center — seem like cuddly embraces. There was no going back to sleep; no vineyard on earth had ever made wine strong enough to help me now. But what could we do? If we went back to the birthing center, we would have to put our trust in Grumpy Gail to see us through, and that was why we had left in the first place.

We decided to tough it out until dawn, when we figured the shift change would bring another midwife. What I didn’t fully grasp was that I was also electing to go through what would turn out to be a night of back labor at home without any kind of drugs. Back labor. At home. Drug free.

That, friends, is where our story really gets going. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Here’s a reminder of what we did this for:

Posing in Repose

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Introducing Lara Calliope, born 9/11/12, 5 lbs 14 oz, 19″ long. She’s done some serious growing since then.

They call it “tummy time.” We call it “Pilates.” LC at 2.5 weeks.

She is soft, warm, portable, sweet-smelling, and constantly hungry. We’ve had her now for almost three weeks, which means that we have passed the deadline to return her. Anyway, even if we had returned her, we wouldn’t have gotten our money back; we would only have been eligible for stork credit. (ba dum CHING!)

The blanket pictured above, by the way, was crocheted for us by our friend and Lara’s potential future mother-in-law, Tamar. That’s what she was doing while she was pregnant, besides also being a full-time medical resident at Johns Hopkins: making us both beautiful baby gear by hand. What was I doing? Tweeting, mostly, and trawling the Park Slope Parents list to get as much free and cheap swag as possible. But you know. We all have our priorities.

And now I’m a MOMMY. I know because that’s what they kept calling me in the hospital. (“How’s Mommy this morning?”) I never knew quite how to respond. (“Mommy’s cooch is a bit sore from all that labor, and can she maybe get some steak to put on her black eyes? She looks like she was in a bar fight.”) Luckily Mommy wasn’t in the hospital very long. She gave birth on September 11th at 12:00 noon and was discharged on September 12th at 4:30 PM. In between, of course, she had a very exciting adventure that involved lots of screaming and fluids and a midwife exhorting her to “roar like a lion” and the world splitting open and a new human being spilling out.

The new human being is tiny and perfect and more-or-less worth all the trouble of producing her. Her tall funny Southern friend Tara Leigh came to visit and marveled at just how tiny Lara is. “But of course,” she added quickly, “I’ve never met a Jewish baby before.”

A Jewish baby with, appropriately enough, Rebecca

Ben and I are overwhelmed and tired and happy and dizzy and all those things new parents are supposed to be. We’ve been very fortunate to have help from our own parents up until very recently. That allowed us to maintain a semblance of cleanliness & organization in our apartment. Now we’re on our own, which is daunting, but we still have our community, which has also been incredibly supportive & welcoming to our little bundle of needs.

We also have our health, which is not to be taken for granted. For example, and women do not talk about this enough, post-partum: it is super awesome not to be pregnant anymore. I can sleep on my stomach! My back doesn’t hurt! My feet are my own again! Of course my breasts have been appropriated and turned into a full-service, eat-in-and-take-out, open-24-hours Dairy Queen, but at least while I’m feeding the little piglet I can look down and admire my totally normal ankles.

Month 9 from Outer Space

My pregnancy is going fine. Anytime anyone asks, that’s what I tell them, and it’s the truth — comparatively, I’ve gotten off easy and I feel grateful. Yes, I was nauseous but not too drastically or for too long. Yes, I gained weight but my body didn’t morph into an entirely other formless, unrecognizable being, comme ca: 

Largely I’ve been able to continue living my life with an acceptable level of inconveniences. I have been able to travel, I have been able to work. Of course, the inconveniences started to feel a bit like they’ve been piling on as I got closer to full term, including:

  • More uninvited interactions with strangers — in elevators, on the subway, at the coop.
  • Less breath for climbing stairs, let alone the gym. At this point, walking from my door to the door of the gym is all the exercise I can handle.
  • More waking up at dawn to feed the ravenous, insatiable creature that is [in] my belly.
  • More crying triggered by sudden, terrifying realizations, like that I don’t know how to change a diaper.
  • Less attention, time, money, and brain power available for anything besides Planning for Squee.

 

Once I blew by the milestone of Full Term (i.e., MORE THAN nine months pregnant), the pace of the piling on began to accelerate. One of my ankles decided to swell. Just one — but it had been my favorite! For a day or two, I looked like a pirate with a peg leg.

The swelling went down, and then the waddling started. For every step I take forward, I also move side-to-side, calling to mind a very poor imitation of Marilyn Monroe. (“Like Jell-O on springs!”) My boss, fondly, started calling me “Fatso.” It was definitely time to (maternity) leave.

Today, on my second day of baby-free maternity leave, I got my hair chopped off. (“Jo, your one beauty!”) Once I waddled all the way home, I realized I’d been wearing my dress backwards. Then I hoisted myself off the couch and had my third breakfast of the morning. This is just the way of things: the way pre-motherhood breaks you down, like the Marine Corps, so that you can be built back up again without your old, no-longer-useful standards of dignity. After all, soon you’ll be handling someone else’s poop on a daily basis; you have to get used to a certain amount of humiliation.

Squee, aren’t you eager to join the non-stop embarrassing hilarity that is the outside world? How can my womb compare? Come join the party, little one. We’re all waiting for you.

The end of men?

FORTY-SOMETHING AWESOME DUDE WITH AN EARRING and I are standing in the elevator. He surveys me.

FSAD: Boy!

Me: Actually, it’s supposed to be a girl.

FSAD: Hmmm. You’re carrying in front and kind of away from you …  I think it’s a boy.

Me: Well, maybe! But the sonogram did say girl.

FSAD: Eh, who knows what they miss on those things? Besides, your husband must want a boy.

Me: He says he’s excited–

FSAD: Ha! Yeah: [mocking voice] “As long as it’s healthy,” right? That’s what they say. 

Me: OK! Good night!

So Prepared. So Very Prepared.

Let’s Panic About Babies!

So far, my main preparation for birth has been playing lots of word games in the hopes of keeping “baby brain” at bay & reading Bad Mommy memoirs like Are You My Mother? and the chilling Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? to get some ideas about what not to do.

But time is creeping up on me. I’m 8-and-a-half months along now; I look like a beach ball with limbs and feel like I’m lugging a five-and-a-half pound octopus around with me everywhere I go. Squee is a very active presence who seems to have way more feet than is possible. Especially when I’m lying down, it can feel like a toy store has exploded in my midsection — something’s vibrating, something’s whooshing side to side, something’s jutting out in a repetitive fashion, all at once. If this child, when it emerges, is as inexhaustible as it seems, there’s going to be trouble.

The problem with following Jewish superstitions about not having showers or setting up a nursery before there is a real live infant on the scene is that it can leave you feeling a bit out of control. (Or, as someone astutely put it, “So … Jews believe in being unprepared?” For babies, yes. For medical school, no.) To help remedy the situation, a friend suggested that I start putting together a baby registry even if I’m not buying anything off of it yet. I could still do the research now rather than later, and, when ready, only need to press “Add to Cart.” It seemed like a great plan — and then it spun out quicker than a Geo in the rain. There are so many damn different kinds of everything, and it’s overwhelming to add one thing to the list and have Amazon immediately suggest three more.

After I closed the site and collected myself, it seemed like this might be a good time to ask the Internets for advice. Just, you know, general, helpful tips. If you have any experience with newborns, or with life on the other side of the threshold I am soon to cross, I’d appreciate your sharing some pearls of wisdom — ideally less of the “OMG Youll never sleep again!!1!” variety, and more like “I really wish I’d known [X].” Even if [X] is, for whatever reason, quantum physics.

Thanks, friends!

Free To Be … Me: Why Do Other People’s Choices Make Us So Cranky?

America is suffering from an epidemic. No, it has nothing to do with smoking or obesity; it doesn’t even have to do with gun violence.* It has to do with unwonted bitterness and anger toward other people’s choices. No one, it seems, can be comfortable with their own decisions without justifying them by judging and/or dismissing other people’s. The trend is exemplified by Amy Sohn, who, in her recent Awl piece, cheerfully and smugly skewers everyone she knows, saying “we” just enough to allow her to criticize her community while also making it clear that she’s the observant outsider — the Mark Twain of Park Slope, if you will. (“The stoners came back with smug grins and then talked about how good the pot was, like if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t quite as rebellious. I decided it was time to go home.”)

Amy Sohn must be an aberration, though, right? Not these days. Everyone, it seems, now has an ax to grind. This piece in Salon is ostensibly about how being single is a legitimate life path, but in actuality drips with scorn for the alternative:

[Married people] aren’t going to pathologize you [single people] for playing around for a protracted amount of time, but eventually you’re going to have to settle. And the marker of success, the end of the romantic story, is riding off into the sunset with that person. But you don’t get to see the next 30 years of boredom, or anxiety, or terror or concern.

Look at that word choice: “Settle,” “boredom,” “anxiety,” “terror,” “concern.” What a revolutionary attitude toward marriage! Freud would be bored out of his mind by this guy. Can’t the institution just not be for him without being, well, terrible?

Slate recently ran a series about women choosing to be “child-free” that was actually about how gross & exhausting babies are. The highlight was this entry, entitled, “No Kids For Me, Thanks: I Don’t Enjoy Alien Parasites“:

So now I cheerfully tell anyone who mentions it—friend, family, co-worker, overly friendly stranger—that no, thank you, I will not have kids/parasites for reasons that will probably insult you. These include eww, gross, I-have-better-things-to-do-with-my-time, and there-are-7-billion-people-in-the-world-why-add-more. But if I can suffer through your alien ultrasound photo on Facebook or grin at your crying kids without vomiting, then you can be grateful that women like me will always be around to organize an occasional girl’s night out and to keep the population in check.

I mean, jeez, “kids/parasites”? “Without vomiting”? For many years, I felt decidedly neutral/negative on the subject of children, and especially on the subject of having them myself, but I never patted myself on the back for not going all Exorcist on someone else’s offspring just because they were making an unpleasant noise.

In Amanda Marcotte’s entry “Children Make you Happier, If Someone Else Does Most of the Work,” Marcotte contributed this gem to the hall of fame: “Not to say people are bad people for having children, but …”

But! Ha. The putting down of people who do marry and/or have kids is a theme of Marcotte’s: See also The Real Reason More Women Are Childless and Two More Reasons to be a Curmudgeonly Childless Marriage Boycotter.

And I refuse to even enter the attachment parenting fray, which has everyone taking up arms against each other on the subject of their choices, except tangentially: in another unhappy man’s case, his wife’s choice to breastfeed (and breastfeed, and breastfeed …) upsets him so much that he has taken his complaints to the Gray Lady. Perhaps he means to raise an interesting point about how a mother’s breastfeeding can affect a family’s dynamic; what he actually does is castigate huge swaths of the population and whine about how his wife’s bond with his son has affected his sex life:

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.

How furious would you be if you were this strident fool’s wife? I’d probably rather have my husband cheat on me discreetly than slam me in a public forum. Of course, what I’d actually want is for my husband to say to me, “Honey, I totally get that breastfeeding our children serves some important function for both you and them, but can we talk about why he still has your boobs in his mouth? He can’t bring them to school in his lunchbox, after all, so it might be time to start weaning him.”

Also, of course his conclusion starts, “To all nursing moms.” Because sure, why not lump those women in who are struggling with breastfeeding, despite the numerous hurdles, for the suggested minimum 6 months, with women whose founts overflow until the kid is old enough to choose Sunny D from the fridge himself? Our society makes it difficult enough for women to nurse their children without this doofus weighing in that we’re grossing out our husbands, too.

Why the overheated self-justification? Why can’t we say, “You do what’s cool for you, and I’ll do what’s cool for me?” Why the rancor, which is just guaranteed to get everyone else reaching for their rhetorical Uzis? Isn’t it kind of exhausting?

The triggering event for this round up was my seeing, this past Sunday in the New York Times, a bitter troll complaining about how, now that his gay friends can finally get married locally, he’s being invited to too many weddings:

Same-sex weddings can also make us wince as stereotypes go on display in mixed company. Exhibit A: lesbians plodding down the aisle to the Judds. … I’m talking about one bride in a frilly Vera Wang and one in a butch pantsuit. You’re a better person than I am if that attire doesn’t make your mind wander into areas of their relationship it doesn’t belong.

In other words, “Gay people, stop enjoying your long-sought and hard-fought freedoms! They’re interfering with my weekend plans. Also, lesbians, would you please just go away? Ironically, though I am wincing at your displays of stereotypes, I am contributing to one of the more vicious stereotypes about gay men myself: that we are shallow, judgmental snobs who hate women and queer women in particular.”

A lot of this vitriol can be understood as people getting prickly because they are choosing less conventional paths: specifically not coupling up or not procreating. But is the defensiveness justified? Being single is a fully legitimate life-path, and our society has never been more accepting of it. Record numbers of people live by themselves:

Only 51% of adults today are married, according to census data. And 28% of all households now consist of just one person — the highest level in U.S. history. That second statistic may appear less dramatic than the first, but it’s actually changing much faster: The percentage of Americans living by themselves has doubled since 1960.

Singleness is, increasingly, the (or at least “a”) new norm. And single people aren’t ostracized. Look at two of the most powerful women of recent times: Condi Rice and Oprah. Not having a spouse doesn’t hold them back. We don’t burn older, unmarried ladies at the stake for being witches anymore; we appoint them to the Supreme Court.

Besides, our pop culture consistently reinforces the notion that “settling down” is for wimps, marriage is a sexless drag, and the goal is to remain young, hot, and unencumbered forever:

So what if some of your annoying relatives give you a hard time for not making it to the altar yet? That’s what annoying relatives are for. If they didn’t have your relationship status to needle you about, they’d be on you about your weight  or your mortgage payments or whether you’re going to scar your son for life if you do or don’t circumcise him.

Friends, this is very simple. If you don’t want to go to other people’s joyous ceremonies, don’t go. If you don’t want children, don’t have them. If you don’t want to get married, great! Save your money for retirement. I’m not judging you, so please do me the courtesy of not judging me. There’s no need to for all of us to turn into Katie Roiphe, is there? That’s what I thought.

 

*Sidenote: I liked Batman’s own statement on the issue of gun violence from within the universe of The Dark Knight Rises: “No guns,” he tells Selena Kyle sternly. “No guns, no killing.” My own favorite superhero Buffy feels the same way. One could argue that it may be easier for the extremely nimble, powerful, and quick to heal among us to eschew weaponry, but these avengers also live in even more dangerous times and places than we do. Besides, they’re still mortal and they face the prospect of dying on a near-daily basis. If they can choose not to pack heat, can’t the rest of us?

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post here.

full of pith and vinegar