I should tell you it didn't bother me, the misspelling on Ben's note. When I read Amy's comment — "Luckily even dumb people still manage to take decent care of our children!" — I had a frantic moment where I thought, Whoa, I hope it didn't seem like I thought...
And then I got caught up in armchair stirrup-straddling for a few days, thinking of the Savages and my poor devastated friend — thank you for your kind words and advice for her — and I forgot that I'd wanted to tell you that "whips" didn't bother me at all.
Although I'd shudder if a teacher of academics made such an error, and am steeling myself for the inevitable day when Charlie brings home a note describing the punctilious little lecture he gave his English teacher on the difference between plurals and possessives — "Your requested to quash you're son's incipient priggishness soonest," like, ooooh, nice passive voice there, lady — I'm not especially concerned that a teacher of not biting people did. Precision will be necessary later. Right now warmth and kindness are more important.
The people at day care are lovely. The strangers we're paying to raise our children really care about our kids, clerical errors notwithstanding. They've helped us foster the best in Charlie, and they've helped us identify — oh, let's not say the worst. Let's not say his flaws. Let's say the areas in which he could use some improvement if I am to stay out of the fucking crazy house. I think that's a particularly fine gift, because I have every parental blind spot listed in The Great Big Illustrated Encyclopedia of Super Special Snowflakes, Selfish IVFer Edition, and I appreciate the perspective they offer. If I have deep knowledge of two particular children, they have broad experience with many, and I'm really glad we can work together on, you know, getting him not to lay snares for his enemies. At least not obvious ones. And based on what I've seen so far, I expect the same will be true of Ben.
Who incidentally is walking now! And grinning and clapping his hands while he does it.
Coal, goal, and a swab in the hole
It started with a high fever. Holding Ben was like clutching a sack of burning coal. An angry sack of coal, in fact, one that writhed and mewled and tried to escape from my arms. Okay, I'd say, and put the coal on the floor, since that's what he seemed to want. And then he'd slump onto the rug and start weeping, because running wild, unfettered, and free hadn't been as awesome as he'd imagined. Sad coal. Coal of desolation. And I'd sit there and think, Damn. Anthracite sucks.
We had a few nights like that, with Ben waking up every couple of hours needing only to be held, where "held" can be understood to mean held, then rocked, then caaaarefully carried over to the crib, then deposited as gently as if he were made of, I don't know, something fragile and dangerous like nitroglycerin or maybe plutonium or, wait! I know! my flagging maternal good humor, then picked up again as the howling commenced, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad hominem and beyond. During the day, Ben alternated between his usual sunny good cheer and what more neutral observers might call irritability.
Now, along with a high fever and the rash that blossomed all over Ben's torso a couple of days later, that irritability is one of the symptoms of roseola. I in my straightforward way am more inclined to call it asshole. -Ishness. -Ocity. -Ification. -A-ganza. See how I'm not quite calling my sweet small son an asshole? Rather, I am remarking in a detached and clinical way that he displayed many of the hallmarks of one. That's for the convenience of all the Googlers who are querying roseola symptoms. High fever torso rash diminshed appetite virus mild diarrhea "baby measles" puffy eyes lordy what an asshole. And that, my friends, is how you do search engine optimization.
And then the fever broke, and the rash came on, and with it the high-pitched keening that signals an ear infection. The only thing that seemed to comfort him was being holstered belly to belly in the Ergo carrier with his head tucked under my chin. And that was fine until he decided to unleash one of his periodic dog-whistle shrieks, mouth right next to my ear. It was unclear over the weekend whose eardrum would rupture first. I confess to a fantasy of hastening mine along by mechanical means, just to muffle the noise. Oh, like you've never considered defying the instructions on the package of Q-Tips, inserting one into your ear canal and working it like a butter churn.
But I managed somehow to refrain, and to make endless grim circuits around the house with the aural equivalent of an actuated smoke alarm strapped to my head, and to pick up and put down and pick up and put down and pick up and put down gently...every...time. None of that, of course, is more than a parent should do. But I surprised myself by how calm I stayed, how willing I stayed, in the face of it.
And now we are back to normal. I had forgotten over the last week exactly how delicious Ben is, how I get this curling feeling of full-body warmth when Charlie makes him laugh, how much it cracks me up to see him ask for things with a combination of the sign for milk — which he seems to think means gimme — and an imperious clap of his hands, like, Lady, who do I have to blow to get another handful of blueberries around here? I think I'd better not expect much in the way of a tip.
This isn't going to seem related, but hang on because I'm going to do that thing where I gather seemingly disparate threads into a single impenetrable knot, which is either a neat trick or a cheap one, I never really know. Yesterday I took Charlie to soccer practice.
Paul usually does this, but he and Ben were detained, so I did the necessary. Put on quasi-athletic shoes, chivvied Charlie into emerging from the cardboard box he has claimed as his hideout, painted my naked chest with the team colors, that kind of thing. And spent the next hour running back and forth, calling out approval and encouragement, turning Charlie's occasional frustrated frown up-the-fuck-side down with positive words, rambunctious hair-tousling, and snarled promises that we were gonna wipe the goddamn field with those clumsy loser children on the red team.
I was kind of excellent. And so was Charlie, who announced later at dinner that practice was great. "I love soccer," he gushed. Which I, alas, do not. I hate soccer, in fact. I feel that way about children's sports in general. I think it's important for a kid to be exposed to such things, and I'm committed to making it happen, but I would so much rather be reading a book to him, or doing a craft, or cooking, or pretending for the umpteenth time that he is Ponyo, I am Lisa, Paul is Sosuke, and Ben is a brine shrimp about to be filtered through the baleen plates of one of those freaky-ass giant fish, and we are all enjoying a hearty plank of ham in a cardboard box — even that — than getting all team spirited on the sidelines.
But I was, as I said, pretty excellent. I didn't let on, even a little bit. And sometimes I think — here comes that knot! — that my worth as a parent is better judged by how I handle the things I hate, soccer practice and having my sleep broken every 90 minutes by a scalding struggling bituminous lump of rage, than by the way I manage everyday affairs. Which I don't always do so well. But give me a sick baby and a breathless hour of "Good try! That was close," and I feel like I'm doing okay. Incredibly, I even feel like I'm lucky to have this luxury, the opportunity to do things I hate for people I love.
I can't be alone on this one. Tell me you don't like soccer, either. Or tell me what you hate but do with enthusiasm, anyway. Or tell me I'm an asshole — excuse me, an irratibility-ish-ness-ication — for calling my toddler coal. I'm listening, as soon as I dislodge the Q-Tip.
It was a great Christmas. I say this, of course, at the remove of several days, when no one is crabby from too many presents and too little sleep, too much rich food and not nearly enough strangers raising my children. I say it on a day when those strangers have, in fact, resumed their tireless assault on the fragile bond I've managed, despite the odds, to forge with my get — I love that, my get — and with a break and an uninterrupted cup of coffee it's easy to think, O, what a magical time it was, the tiny faces wreathed with joy and wonder...
But actually it kind of was a magical time, even if the tiny faces were wreathed instead with gummy green discharge (Ben, bad cold, rheumy eyes) and pink Zithromax (Charlie, ear infection, up at 2 AM crying for five nights running). I stayed up far too late every evening wrapping presents, finishing a gift, baking, decorating, and basically doing my level best to make Christmas my warm and festive bitch. So the nights were awful, too short and fragmented, but the days were really great. Charlie and I baked, not so much as to jeopardize the global butter supply as I have in years past, but enough that he knew we'd done it, which seemed like the important part. Paul and I each took him on shopping trips where he chose gifts — green nail polish for a favorite cousin, a picture frame carefully studded with stickers for one of Paul's sisters, an important player in international finance and, one hopes, a lover of glittery pink hearts and princess crowns — and paid for them with his own coins. A desperate trudge through the mall scored us a sequined Santa hat, which Charlie wore with panache, and, at further urging, a smaller version for Ben. "Hat!" Ben said, patting his head for emphasis. "Hat!" he crowed, accosting everyone who happened to be wearing one. It's winter in New England. That's one snowy assload of "Hat!"
And then there was Christmas Day, and Charlie's ardent belief in Santa Claus. I know there are those who staunchly resist lying to their children, and therefore deplore the Santa myth. Me, I'm all about lying to my kids. No, I don't know where your battery-powered megaphone-shaped kidney-rattling voice changer is, and you step away from that hastily closed laundry room door right this minute, young man, for example. Or Ohhh, that's too bad. I guess the TiVo must have accidentally erased The Incredibly Very Brady Snowmen Who Stopped Grinching and Became Mixed-Up Reindeer, Charlie Brown. And I am especially all about lying to my kids about Santa, to the point where watching his entirely fictitious animated progress around the world on Christmas Eve made me cry like the newborn Christ child, hungry for a chug of Nestlé Good Start.
Sure, it was all kind of harried, but I think that's inevitable in a house with two little kids. Even that had its joy, for reasons both obvious and not. On the obvious side, this is exactly, but exactly, what I wanted. If the price of it is chaos and exhaustion, well, okay: Like Charlie with his bank at the drugstore I will proudly hand over those coins. Less obvious is the perspective it gives me on my own parents. I told my mother on the phone that I have a new appreciation for the effort she and my father always made. "Because," I finished, "it's hard." (My mother is too innately kind to have answered that with the "Duh" it deserved.) And because I'm now doing the same with my own kids, I also have an increasing appreciation — I learn more with time — for how much I was always loved.
But. It was wonderful, but. Or maybe and. It was wonderful, and it was hard. The day after Christmas Paul's side came to visit, a sister, a cousin, and their families. Talking to Paul's sister — the one, I can never forget, who informed me that I'd obviously had difficulty bonding with Charlie — about child-rearing always blows my what-the-effing mind. Now, her kids are mostly grown, and she is, I guess, of a different generation, and certainly of a different background, temperament, and edusocioecoreligiowhatnot. So I try to see her positions through that multifaceted lens, which is kind of like, whoo, fly-eye, cool. But when she said, a propos of I don't remember what, that she'd never felt her children were a burden, I found myself totally floored.
Maybe we define "burden" differently, but I feel the weight of it every day. A heavy weight, difficult to carry, says Wikipedia, although, you know, Wikipedia. Our kids are difficult to carry, and I'm not just saying that because I still have a faint blue bruise at my throat from Ben's, shall we say, spirited opposition to being shepherded upstairs for an urgent diaper change. It's certainly one I shouldered intentionally. I pick it up most days with joy, some days — the bad days, the tired or sick or I-don't-know-what's-gotten-into-you-but-we're-gonna-get-it-out days — with slightly dampened enthusiasm, but all days with willingness. Charlie and Ben are everything I'd hoped for, and although I'm tired or exasperated or bored or grossed out for at least some tiny portion of every single day, I pick them up with gratitude. Still doesn't mean they're not heavy.
So I'm looking around the house, which is still in Christmas disarray, and thinking about everything there is to do. Removing and storing the decorations. Getting rid of the tree. Removing the pine needles from places no pine needles should be. Putting away the presents, returning some, hiding some in a place Charlie will never, ever look. (I am thinking about labeling a cabinet BOOSTER SHOTS, RED CABBAGE, AND FINGERNAIL CLIPPERS, NOW WITH EXTRA PINCH.) All the heavy work of cramming Christmas back into its cage, with a whip and a chair if need be. It's the other stuff that makes it feel lighter, the experiments with the new science kit, dancing to the musical giraffe, being paged by walkie-talkie from 20 feet away. "Calling Mama. Come in, Mama." "Mama here, over." "[Long pause.] Do you have anything you want to talk about, Mama? Over!"
As it happens, I do. I want to talk about how there got to be pine needles in my bathtub drain, and which house had the prettiest lights, and how kickass awesome it is that Santa brought Silly Putty even though Paul and I wouldn't replace Charlie's old wad once I had to comb it out of his hair with olive oil, I mean, how did he know?! And how Ben wriggles with happiness when he sees us getting our coats, not because we're going anywhere but because they have hoods, therefore "Hat!" I'm feeling good, despite the fatigue and the cabin fever and the much-too-muchness of it all. It was a light and heavy, heavy but light, heavy, light, and really fine Christmas here. Even if I am perhaps indecently glad that today's back to preschool as usual. Even if I did eat some things I shouldn't have.
Good holidays for you? Did you eat any plush roast chickens, or rubber dinosaurs bigger than your head?
Chopsticks, also known as nimble lads
There's something I don't get about the Tim Tebow story, and maybe you can help me out.
In case you're not familiar with it — in case you know even less about major professional sporting events than I do, which would be difficult unless you actually shove a bamboo chopstick up your nose and, you know, wiggle it around a bit to erase any tiny flare of information about same that accidentally snakes its way into your consciousness, and in case you've been ignoring women's health and reproductive choice advocacy national news, a category I just made up in my own chopstick-damaged brain...
...Where was I? I lost myself. I think there must be a splinter lodged up there somewhere. It makes me hard to do an thought.
Oh, yeah. In case you don't know what's up, James Dobson's festival of evangelical intolerance, Focus on the Family, has announced that they're airing an ad during the Super Bowl featuring college football star Tim Tebow and his mother: "The 30-second spot from the international family-help organization will feature college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. They will share a personal story centered on the theme of 'Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.'" Seems they'll talk about Pam Tebow's choice — note choice — not to terminate her complicated pregnancy when advised to by doctors.
Now, y'all know by now how much I love abortion. Does a body good. Sticks to your ribs. The other white meat. It's what's for dinner. In fact, I think everyone should be required to have at least one. So obviously this pushes my buttons. But leaving aside my personal feelings, and my opinion about airing such an ad during the Super Bowl, imagining which I leave as an exercise for the reader, I find myself sort of confused.
I was wondering, because it's my nosy-ass business, what condition Pam Tebow had that caused doctors to urge a termination for the sake of her health. That's the story that I was hearing, that she'd chosen to risk her life for the pregnancy against medical advice. I found this 2007 article from the Gainesville Sun that seems to lay it out:
[W]hile their prayers were answered [And, no, they weren't infertile. — Ed.], the pregnancy proved difficult from the beginning.
Just before her pregnancy, Pam fell into a coma after contracting amoebic dysentery, a bacteria transmitted through contaminated drinking water. During her recovery, she received a series of strong medications. And even though she discontinued the regimen when she discovered the pregnancy, doctors told Pam the fetus had been damaged.
Doctors later told Pam that her placenta had detached from the uterine wall, a condition known as placental abruption, which can deprive the fetus of oxygen and nutrients. Doctors expected a stillbirth, Pam said, and they encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy.
"They thought I should have an abortion to save my life from the beginning all the way through the seventh month," she recalled.
I'm having trouble figuring out what the real thrust is here. Was she encouraged — begging the question — to terminate because the health of the fetus was thought to be compromised, i.e., deformed from the drugs or brain-damaged? Or was it because her life was at risk — say, from bleeding caused by an abruption?
I have a hard time believing the former, just given the time and place. I have an easier time understanding the latter, although it seems to me, and I am not a doctor despite the little rubber reflex hammer I tap people on the knee with instead of shaking hands like a normal not-crazy person, and the tongue depressors I carry around and shove into strangers' mouths without warning, and the nonconsensual pelvic exams I perform when I happen to see someone just lying there under general anaesthetic, practically asking for it, walking that walk, wearing that low-cut surgical gown...
Whoa, another splinter.
...But isn't expectant management generally the approach to an early abruption — early as in "from the beginning" — and wouldn't this have been the case particularly in the abortion-hostile cultural climate of the Philippines?
On the other hand, there's the possibility that the bleeding from an abruption was severe enough to truly jeopardize Pam Tebow's life. That would have justified a warning that the only treatment was delivery, assuming such an option were available given, again, the time and place. And significantly before term, that would have constituted a termination de facto. But if she were losing that much blood, enough that she was losing significant ground, enough to recommend ending the pregnancy, wouldn't it have affected the fetus first? Wouldn't Tim Tebow have been stillborn, or born with much greater disadvantages than just being "skinny" at birth, as his mother reports?
I'm not even sure what I'm getting at, just that I think I must be missing something and I can't put my finger on exactly what it might be. I doubt I will; this seems to be all of the story we'll get. The ambiguity may be intentional, or it may be simply the result of an imperfect recollection 25 years later. Paul helpfully reminds me that even five years later I'm not entirely clear on what happened with Charlie, after all, and I have notes. Hell, I don't know: Maybe Pam Tebow has chopstick flinders in her brain, too.
Can you figure it out? What am I missing about all this? I'll totally give an unwanted public breast exam to anyone who can help me out.
In other news, Ben eats a muffin, continues to have ears:
...and generally makes a compelling case for Occasionally Infuriating Toddlers, Ongoing Tolerance and Harboring of. He wakes routinely at 5:30 AM. He ruins dinner every...single...night by caterwauling as if he were being harpooned a mere five minutes into the meal. He throws things, the heavier, the better. He resists diaper changes by means of heedlessly flopping around on the changing table, frenziedly bucking his hips as if he were auditioning for a Lady Gaga video — I don't know, does she have any songs about being covered with digested blueberry waste? (Does she have any songs that aren't?) He is a rotten feral beast of a creature. Except.
He likes shoes, asks for them by name. At a dinner party a few weeks ago, he patiently brought a pair from the front hall to every unshod guest, as if it had been a regrettable oversight that we removed our muddy boots at the door. He asks to be read to, fetching a book and then walking over to a chair and meaningfully patting its seat. He happily emulates Charlie, eagerly brushing his teeth when his brother does; dragging a book and a blanket over to the sofa where Charlie's stretched out reading; dancing naked in the hallway before bathtime, a waggling Donald O'Connor to Charlie's floppy Gene Kelly. He beams and waves when the cat warily enters the room: "Hah, ca'!" In short, he eats a muffin, continues to have ears.
As for Charlie, he makes books on tape.
Which I totally, unapologetically, God-my-kid-is-awesome love. But even apart from how charming I find it ("Stuart Little. Written by Eb White"), it's reassuring to know that if neither his first choice of career — a spy — nor his second — circus acrobat — nor even his third — crocus farmer, and I am not even kidding — pan out, he'll have a marketable skill to fall back on. Not that I think he'll need it. It's not like there's some global surplus of spymasters out there...who hawk saffron...wearing tights...on a trapeze....right?
OkaybutsoIwas downtown a couple of days ago with Ben, leaving the library after story time. I stopped outside to get him into the Ergo carrier, a maneuver which, when performed solo, can, I admit, look alarming — like, drop-your-baby-on-his-head-on-the-cold-unforgiving-cobblestones alarming. But it looks much more difficult than it is. It's one I've done a thousand times, and one Ben is used to. He can even help by holding his body steady, offering me his foot, or obligingly going all Möbius, just as the situation warrants.
That is all a long way of saying we got this, Ben and I.
So there we were, getting him holstered up on my back. This is a move that entails putting one strap of the carrier over your shoulder, mounting the baby on your hip, threading one of his feet under that shoulder strap, oooooching him under your arm and around to your back, bringing the body of the carrier up under and over the baby's bottom and back, and finally bringing up the other shoulder strap. In the commission of this act, the adult is bending over, dislocating any shoulder that's fool enough to get in the way, getting all yogini with it, and enjoying a rich chuckle at all the well-meaning squares shouting, "Oh, my God, stop! That baby came with a spine!"
This move, spectacular in the absolute sense but not at all noteworthy in the relative sense given the population of our town, was made somewat more finicky that morning by the snow boots Ben was wearing, and I'm sure the way he was mounted — suspended out from my body, a placid human cantilever — looked odd to the uninitiated passerby.
One of these passersby stopped directly behind me. Bent over as I was, I could see his feet. He was right there, y'all, about six inches on the wrong side of the steal-your-wallet radius. Closer. It was really more like get-into-my-panel-van-and-help-me-find-my-puppy territory.
I wasn't exactly worried, because it was broad daylight in front of the children's library and we babywearing breastfeeding cosleeping types have got each other's tattooed yoga'd backs. But it was still too close, especially when I perceived that the owner of the feet was...helping.
Thinking we were having trouble, he was trying to get Ben into the carrier. "I'll just..." he said, and stuffed Ben's booted foot wherever he saw a hole. Naturally, Ben protested; not only was his leg being jammed where it didn't belong, and where it probably hurt to go, it was being jammed there by someone he didn't know who was more than a little too close.
So Ben was freaking out, I was saying, "No, really, thanks, but we got it," and this guy, whose face I still hadn't seen, was continuing to help. I managed, with some difficulty, to stabilize Ben enough in the carrier that I could turn and face my volunteer assistant, who turned out to be an older man, grinning, pleased with himself. Like, Think nothing of it, screaming child and pissed-off lady! All in a day's work!
And I was pissed, so I...thanked him. And waited until he'd walked away, then took poor pretzeled Ben off my back entirely to comfort him. And I shoved the Ergo in my bag, and I let Ben walk instead.
I'm still thinking about it two days later. When a stranger moved in to handle my kid, I didn't tell him to stop. And I don't know if I didn't because I knew he was trying to help and felt I should be grateful, at least, for his impulse, and polite, or if I wussed out, plain and simple. I can't explain it. I also can't quite imagine how I'd have handled it if the feet behind me had belonged to a woman, but then that might have been a different proposition entirely. "A woman," Paul suggested, "would have asked if you needed help. And would probably have known where his feet belonged." A fair probability where we live.
I don't really have a point here except to say that if someone appears to be struggling to force her child into a precarious position, twisting his spinal column into a stout and useful midshipman's hitch, and endangering the integrity of his all-too-fragile skull, and you feel like getting hands-on know-nothing helpy, oh, my God, just don't. Or at the very least, ask first. Because if you just amble up and try to shove a kid's foot where it doesn't belong, a less polite person — or a much better parent — than I might just cram hers where, trust me, you don't want it.
I have this friend. I've written about her before, I know. T. is many, many things I cherish in a friend: generous, dependable, clever, capable, responsive, and funny — my God, so funny. She had her kids at the same age I had mine but encountered no difficulties. So it wasn't until I had trouble conceiving that the question of infertility presented itself to her in any meaningful way. We learned a lot about it together, I firsthand and in the moment, she just a half-step behind.
She's always been there for me. If because of this experiential gap there have been times that "there" has meant "not quite exactly there," well, it was still a lot closer than any of my other friends were. I'll give you an example. The day I was discharged from the hospital after Charlie's birth, she dropped everything to show up, take me to lunch, and treat me to a pedicure, a bracing few moments of normalcy that shored me up more than I can say. (The pan of lasagna and the brownies were a nice touch, too.) This past weekend she said to me, "It wasn't until Charlie was born that I learned that when a baby's born early, there's something to say other than 'Holy shit it's so soon oh my fuck is everybody okay?' That you should also say, 'Congratulations! You have a baby now!'" See what I mean? She's always been right there with me, taking it all in — not always knowing immediately what to say, but paying very close attention, meeting it all with an open heart, and learning. Just like those of us living it more personally.
So I get a little thrill — of pride, of gratitude that I have such an ally — each time I see the payoff from that. Since my experience is over, her understanding has fully caught up, and I'm rocked by the awesomeness of hearing her in action: arguing with a solvent staunch Republican friend, say, who's dealing with infertility himself, about insurance coverage for treatment. Or taking her chiropractor to task.
Her chiropractor, it seems, regularly posts a bulletin up by the front desk. I imagine it's generally something along the lines of Your Spine: Threat or Menace? and What to Expect When You're Expecting Your Head to Be Twisted Clean Off. On the day in question, the bulletin made...let us say egregiously inflated...claims about chiropractic care and infertility. T. read it, drew herself up to her full rhetorical height of about eight foot six, and marched in to the exam room, where she proceeded to tear the poor unsuspecting chiropractor a brand new musculoskelethole.
She told him, she said, that although chiropractic adjustment might have some applicability as complementary medicine, it doesn't constitute any kind of standalone treatment or cure for infertility, and that by posting the bulletin his office appeared to endorse a stance that was wholly irresponsible. That by disseminating such claims, his practice could deter patients of his from seeking real, for-true reproductive medical help. And that he was lucky, she finished, to be hearing this from a patient who didn't have an immediate stake in the matter — not a vulnerable patient, not one the notice had hurt or offended personally, "not my friend Julie, who'd probably feel like burning down the clinic just to make a point."
Which is funny, because, you know, I don't have anything against arson, but it might have been a slight exaggeration.
We visited T., whom I like to call Effortless Segue in moments of affection, this past weekend. I was somewhat apprehensive about the visit because of Charlie's recent behavior. But I worried for nothing. He was wonderful, really great company. It's almost like he'd read my post and all of your truly helpful suggestions and decided he'd better shape up if he didn't want me following him around cheerfully saying, "That's terrible! But I don't care! Now I'm going for a time-out. In a place of loving curiosity! After which I will shepherd you to bed promptly at four of the clock. Also, the cat loves me better." Or some combination of same.
Really, thank you all. I read every comment with great interest — not to say ravenous desperation — and they gave me a lot to think about. In the spirit of continuing conversation, I'll say that while an earlier bedtime has its charms, what we found when we put Charlie to bed early is that he still stayed awake exactly as long, sometimes until nine o'clock and beyond. With yodeling, y'all. Now, I'm not opposed to his being awake, working out the details of his day; mostly I just need him to be in his room alone and in bed. As the Biblical proverb goes, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. But going all lonely goatherd is simply not okay. Anything short of eight and, goddamn, it's Yma Sumac.
Also, I have a terminology problem with some of the suggestions, probably nothing more than semantic, but significant. Any sentence that begins with "I love you, but..." makes me shiver a little. To me, that seems to suggest a condition. I don't want any kid to think that there are limits on my love. (My tolerance, certainly.) I'd be much more inclined to say, "I love you, and..." or "Because I love you..." I love you, and I want you to learn to behave like a decent human being instead of an entitled little savage, so... Or Because I love you, I can't let you become someone who says mean things to hurt people. I know this is probably an esoteric point, but I think language is important. (The same goes for "I love you, but right now I don't like you," times a million. I feel creepy even typing that.)
But what a lot of great insight in those comments. I want to single out one particular way in which you've helped. Up till now I've made an effort not to talk about the jobs I don't like to do. Oh, sure: When Charlie complains about setting the table, I've reminded him that everyone has to do things we don't want to, but when he's asked what I mean, I've admitted only to hating to pay taxes, or getting shots, or saying goodbye to good ol' Effortless Segue. Neutral things like that. I haven't wanted him to think I resent any of the things I do to take care of him and Ben. But I'm starting to think that's wrong-headed, a good way to allow him to take for granted what Paul and I do every day. Maybe, just maybe, it's okay for him to know that I'm not that jazzed about cleaning errant pee from the toilet seat. And the floor. And the wall behind the toilet. And the crevice where the toilet tank joins the bowl. (If there are still more places pee can hide, do not tell me where.)
Even more helpful was the commiseration. It's such a relief to know that even if my young reprobate does end up in prison, at least he'll have plenty of company. Hair-tearing-out shared is hair-tearing-out assuaged. And if not, we'll go bald together.
I get so much out of my blog. Thank you for helping.
Now can I tell you about Ben for a second? Ben is awesome. There.
I just don't know how to convey how dear he is, how delicious I find him even when he's screaming, screeeeaming, oh Jesus please stop the screaming. I don't have any great anecdotes that illustrate it; it doesn't make for much of a story, the way he gathered his boots because he wanted to leave the café, but then saw me bringing a brownie, so stopped in his tracks and dropped them, but it does make me grin like a fool.
Finally, an update on the Utah bill that made me so crotchety, the one allowing the state to charge a woman with criminal homicide for inducing a miscarriage or obtaining an illegal abortion. According to the New York Times, the scope of the bill has been narrowed somewhat:
The sponsor, Representative Carl D. Wimmer, a Republican, said he had removed a key clause that would have allowed prosecution under Utah’s criminal homicide laws for a “reckless act of the woman” that resulted in death to a fetus. Language will remain, he said, that makes a woman’s “intentional” actions, if resulting in the death of her fetus in an illegal abortion, a felony.
Gosh, thanks, Carl! That's so much better!
Happy Oh My God What Is That Thing That Tried to Kill Me? Day! Wait, you don't celebrate? I do. Today marks the passing, and I do mean the literal passing, of the embryo that implanted in my right Fallopian tube after our first IVF lo these many years ago. Seven years ago today I was lying on my bloody bathroom floor, thinking I might just possibly be dying, waiting for a sizable ectopic mass to detach and exit my body. When I say sizable, I realize that time may have distorted the accuracy of my memory; what seems now the size of a softball was probably just a, you know, baseball. Kind of a...meaty baseball, if you really must know. (In parts. Other parts, kind of Jello-y.) And speaking of baseball, the sport of kings — wait, that's...polo? NASCAR? noodling? Anyway, a giant pointy foam finger aloft for Paul! I always remember the date because it's also tax day here in the U.S. While I was deliriously humping the bathmat, he was frantically filling out extension forms for my income taxes so I wouldn't have to do my bleeding out in jail.
Thus endeth this too, too brief moment of tender remembrance. Wipe dry the crystalline tear that's trembling on your lashes, because, you know, life here is good. Exhibit A: Hat.
Exhibit B: Child who wore said hat all day long. Sometimes it was slouched to the side, which made him look like the littlest, drippiest sans-culottes the Third Estate ever did see.
Other times — exhibit C, bailiff, if you please — it just sat precariously perched, held on by what means I cannot say.
Since the hat is a few sizes too small, he ended up looking like nothing so much as a cheerful junior Adebisi.
...My son in his kitty lid, pointing to Catwoman and excitedly cooing, "Mama!" Stay awesome, Ben. Stay awesome.
(I will conveniently gloss over his pointing at the Riddler and calling him same.)
Charlie these days is not so gloriously capped, but I'm inclined to overlook this shortcoming in favor of his many other longcomings. His recent turbulence seems to have evened out; things are going more smoothly with his friends and his behavior at school is much better. I'm goddamned if I know what makes the difference. In many ways my kid is a mystery to me. But a funny mystery, wrapped in an enigma of ass-hilarity. Recently he asked us where he could get grenades. (What, the hole-digging didn't work?) I told him I didn't think it was legal to buy them. He furrowed his brow and looked...inconvenienced. "But then how," he asked, "do hunters get them?"
Speaking of hunters, did I ever post this here?
My mother sent me this clipping several months ago along with a note that says, "I can only find eight things wrong with this picture. Can you do better?" I am beginning to think that opening my mother's packages is at best a dangerous game.
And speaking of dangerous games! Which we were not actually doing. Which despite my powerful segue kung fu, I cannot actually link to the question I had for you. Which was!
...I was at the library the other day looking for books for Charlie. Now, Charlie can read. He's reading real books now, with chapters and polysyllables and words that you mispronounce because you've only ever read them — my current favorite being /pew' zlarr/ for pulsar — and everything.
I'm having some difficulty coming up with books that are challenging enough in terms of language to hold his interest, but still thematically uncomplicated. I'm sure there are appropriate books out there, and we've even found some of them, some good ones; you can have his copy of The Trumpet of the Swan when you pry it out of his cold, dead webfoot. I just don't know how to find others, short of reading every word myself to vet them. And before you laugh airily and advise me to just pick something, you uptight ass, here is what happens when I do that:
That's right. I pick a book about a veterinarian named Mandy Hope, of all things, nice girl, head on straight, and then next thing I know, a perfectly good beagle gets pasted by a motorcycle. Oh, God, Charlie, close that booooooook.
No dice. Instead she handed me a chapbook titled something like So You Think Your Child Can Read. Isn't That Cute of You, which ended up being about as helpful as you'd expect.
And I know y'all are readers and teachers and parents and librarians and smart, smart people who know what I'm like, for good and ill, and who have some small acquaintance with Charlie. So I wonder if you'd be good enough to share your recommendations. Or else the beagle gets it.
I need help, people. Please. Or a puppy will be on your conscience.
Okay, one more infertility thing and then I'll move on, at least until the next time I feel inclined to set the Wayback Machine for half-past Oh My God Things Just Keep Sucking. I don't think I mentioned here that we did the March of Dimes' March for Babies, but we did. Five miles on a soft, sunny morning, from the high school to the pool and back. We'll call it 10,000 steps.
Ben was okay in the stroller for approximately 50 steps. Then he'd decide to scream a little. Paul would pick him up and put Ben on his shoulders, which would be good for another 100 steps. Then we'd let Charlie take a break and ride in the stroller for a bit, and that was fine until Ben noticed. "Miiiiine!" he would shriek, twisting his whole body downward toward the pavement, wrenching Paul's neck in his attempt to dive back into the stroller he had abandoned not two minutes earlier. If I had to estimate, I'd say Ben spent approximately a quarter of a mile in the stroller, four miles on Paul's shoulders, and the rest of it hovering somewhere above the ground, howling, levitated by the force of purest rage.
Charlie was a trouper, though. I'd told him about the walk ahead of time and asked him if he wanted to go, and initially he said no. But I talked with him some more, explaining just what the March of Dimes does, and just how our family had been helped, and his initial resistance turned to good-natured willingness. On the walk he complained very little, fortified by an unending flow of granola bars, milk in a box, and promises of a reward at the end. ("And for you, intrepid child, a polio vaccine, thanks to the March of Dimes!" "Oh, boy! Straight limbs! This is better than a pony!") I can't find words to describe how proud I was. But then it was kind of an emotional day for me.
Even so, I only cried twice. It was a small walk with maybe 30 families; just one group wore T-shirts that read, "In Loving Memory." But one was enough; it had the predictable effect on me. The other time was when Charlie, blithely assuming everyone's prematurity story ends as happily as ours did, looked at the photos of babies in isolettes and said, "If the March of Dimes didn't help families bring early babies home" — the line I'd used to explain it all — "those kids would live in the hospital forever!" And at that precise moment — what are the odds? — something landed in my eye, possibly a touch of fetal surgery to correct life-threatening birth defects, or maybe a splash of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, and it took a few tears to wash it out. Because you know, kid, plenty of parents would joyfully take that instead of what they got.
But it was mostly an upbeat day. I feel a daily gratitude for every improbable indulgence we've been granted by the universe. To have these two kids at all, to have had them in ways that might have been challenging but could have been so much more so — I think about it all the time. I think about it more in situations like this, when the local ambassador family is there hugging their seven-year-old, saying, "...And we asked the doctor what her chances were..."
And that day it occurred to me that in all the time Charlie was hospitalized, we never once asked what his chances were. It was a funny thing. In the first few days after his birth, everyone behaved as if we'd asked, but by then I think we knew better. By then, because of infertility, we already knew that statistical speculation, not much better than a guess, was worthless. The only thing that mattered was the follicles, or the embryos, or the hCG value, or the embryonic heart rate in front of you. The sick early baby in front of you. (The vodka bottle in front of you. The box of Kleenex in front of you.) It was as if the script went on without us, with a doctor soberly telling me, "We don't have a crystal ball," when I hadn't dared to ask about the future, only about the now.
This isn't a new observation, that adversity has an up side, but consider it begrudgingly acknowledged. Infertility bestows a whole raft of gifts. Oh, it's not exactly a raft you're happy to see bobbing gaily into your harbor — think Viking funeral ship, ablaze and stacked with corpses — but it's loaded. One of the gifts it keeps on giving me is a greater ability, still imperfect but better, to observe and appreciate what's in front of us, without looking too far forward, maybe glancing back occasionally, but in reflection and not regret.
And I was thinking about all this during the walk. I was looking around at the other families, most there with one or more children. I was thinking about how intricately, distressingly, prematurity is tied to infertility and treatment. I knew that even among our small group that day there were possibly others like us. And I hoped they had gotten what they needed: a family, some of the same humbled joy I felt. Some insight, if it'd help them. Some sense to be made out of the whole experience. A living child, one who yelled the whole way or one who stepped along cheerfully, balloon in tow — either one.
Any other walkers out there? And what got in your eye? A drop of establishing a direct link between alcohol consumption in pregnancy and specific, preventable birth defects? An unexpected spray of promising developments in gene therapy? A blast of life-saving surfactant? I bet it was the surfactant. That stuff stings like a bitch.
Despite all appearances, this post is just five words longThis afternoon I was gathering up some table scraps for Charlie to take out to the compost barrel. Compost! Black gold! In the last three days I've gotten totally into compost, having spent a great deal of money to acquire same from the garden center. I didn't mind buying it, exactly, but doing so started to seem slightly foolish when Ben began helping me in the yard. I'd put a handful of weeds in the weed bucket — oh, and fuck you, ineradicable horsetail, and your bizarre slightly penis-y spore whatsis — and Ben would contribute his own collection, proudly announcing, "Wee'! Wee'!" Only his weeds were actually great clumping handfuls of compost.
Having been reprimanded for doing this before, he'd look around all sneaky-like to make sure I was in no good position to give chase...
And then he'd make off with the bucket, hollering, "Wee'! Dump!" and overturn the bucket and all its contents, horsetails and compost alike, into the ravine off the side of the driveway before I'd even managed to unfold myself from kneeling.
As garden gnomes go, strictly speaking, he's kind of a pain in the ass.
So making my own compost had started to seem like a good idea, and perfectly in line with my capabilities and inclinations. I mean, what could be lazier? Throw some crap in a bucket and let it rot? Yeah, I can just about manage that if I pace myself carefully. I even enlisted an enthusiastic Charlie to be our runner, carrying the scraps out to the barrel a few times a day. He was dazzled by the responsibility, especially after I assured him that that's exactly the kind of task an up-and-coming farmer needs to master.
An aside: In keeping with my laziness, we have a little garden plot that I planted with herbs and vegetables a few years ago. Everything got at least a little eaten before season's end, by squirrels or deer or bears or possibly lawless gangs of marauding woodchucks, and I counted the experiment a failure. But a few things came back the next year, and have continued to do so, including scallions. I told Charlie what they were when they made their appearance recently, and he was all excited about them. I called him out one day last week and asked him to help me harvest them. "Harvest?" he squeaked, stunned by his great good fortune. "Like...a farmer?!" Which I thought was pretty awesome. Not as awesome, however, as what he said that evening, after we'd used his scallions in a potluck dish: "I'm going to tell everyone I harvested these," he said, then chortled indulgently. "They sure will be surprised to meet such a very young farmer!" He was practically stretching and snapping his nonexistent suspenders and polishing the fender of his imaginary combine.
Which is ridiculous. I'd never let him near a combine. I'm teaching him to work the thresher first. Tomorrow he goes solo.
But anyway, back to the present, with young Master Greenjeans trundling out to the backyard with a bucket of slops. This afternoon after lunch, I was putting the uneaten fragments of food into a container, gooshing it all around for good measure, coffee grounds and bread crusts and strawberry tops and whatnot. As another aside, collecting it like this, I'm newly conscious of how much food we waste. It's embarrassing and sobering. It's only been three days and already I've composted practically an entire side of beef.
So as I was poking in the mucky food with a fork to see if I could sink some cheese, I commented to Charlie that it reminded me of Charlotte's Web, in which Wilbur's trough is regularly filled with table scraps. "Why did Mr. Arable say he was going to kill Wilbur?" Charlie asked, hand on the doorknob, waiting to head outside. And I swear to God I kind of wish I'd flatly said, "Because he was evil and had to die."
But instead, because I'm a parent utterly of my time, I carefully explained why, on working farms, animals who don't make money — producing that which can be sold or becoming meat themselves — aren't kept around. Feeding the animals costs money, I told him, and a farmer won't spend more on an animal than he can eventually make from it. And then we talked a little about agricultural subsidies and factory farming and high fructose corn syrup and the shameful rash of foreclosures in the '80s and the plight of the American family farm and the catastrophe of toxic runoff and I had gone ten kinds of mournful Joad on him before too much time had passed. And then he asked me, "How are animals killed on farms?"
And I know perfectly well how animals are killed on farms. Out of consideration for those of a delicate bent, I won't go into the details, but rest assured that the animals are given plenty of time to put their affairs in order and say a warm, dignified goodbye in the company of their loved ones and intimates. That whole death panel thing is a big damn stinkin' lie. Anyway, Charlie asked, and I said, "I don't know."
This is quite unlike Paul and me. We're settled deeply into the habit of answering questions with as much information as we have at our disposal, and when we don't know we generally offer to find out. But sometimes I just can't hack it. I've had to stop listening to NPR in the car because All Things Considered has been all "rape in the Congo" this and "adolescent suicide bomber" that one time too many, with Charlie in the backseat tenaciously repeating, "But what is female genital muti—" And there I am frantically trying to distract him: "Look, Charlie! Did you see how I almost creamed that entire litter of kittens just minding their own business in the middle of the sidewalk? No? Wait, I'll turn around. I'll do it again! Just watch!"
When I told Charlie I didn't know how farm friends meet their maker, he begged me to speculate. When I pleasantly refused, he totally lost his mind, weeping at the injustice of it. I think he was ultimately more upset not knowing than he would have been by the truth. Which was fine with me. Because I'd have minded telling him more than I minded his disappointment. There's just no way I can take on some conversations, not with a five-year-old. The kid is so attentive, so engaged and interested in everything that it almost undoes me sometimes. Some things he's not ready for. Some things I'm not, either.
Still, there are more times I'm proud of his curiosity and his capacity. If nothing else, it's funny. This afternoon he was noodling around with glitter glue and construction paper, dropping great globs of the stuff in arrangements that looked abstract but were actually, I was told, the result of a keen intuition and a deeply felt sensibility. "I'm making frescoes," he told me brightly, "just like Leonardo."
What can I say? It cracked me up. And it's not all that outlandish. It seems clear to me that if da Vinci had lived in this miraculous era, this time of sticky wonder, the dawning days of glitter glue, he'd have made it his sparkly disco bitch.
Whoa. This is what happens when I don't post for a while, when things are going well, when I finally sit down to write and everything just comes gushing out. It's nothing coherent, nothing of substance, just what springs to mind born of simple contentment. I end up manically pounding out 1200 disjointed words when, really, five would do:
Life moves fast, is good.
I see a bunch of people here who love you like crazy
This Tylenol recall, man. I'm not saying my children are addicted or anything, but last night Ben woke me in the night, terrified and certain that bugs were crawling all over him and he just needed a taste, Mama, just a taste to make them all go away.