Two minutes' self-indulgence
Happens every time: I can take bad news with great aplomb, as long as no one is kind. Tell me hard facts, and I sit up straighter, but use that tone and I crumple. That was me on Thursday, sitting in a meeting about Charlie — not the hitting meeting, which was five minutes in the principal's office, only long enough for me to think, I wore my Confederate flag bikini for this? but another, an hour and a half, all about our boy and the trouble he's having in school.
I was fine as long as we stuck to plans and procedures. I nodded intelligently through percentiles and programs. I remained detached during a recitation of Charlie's less amusing idiosyncrasies. (I won't reduce him to a list of behaviors, so let's just say he has some.) I was fine until I brought up my most urgent concern, that the problems Charlie's having in the classroom are dampening his enthusiasm for being there and reducing what little engagement he has. I was fine until the principal agreed, saying, "Some of Charlie's light is going out."
Said so kindly it made me cry, silently like I do, but still. If you're going to say shit like that, Mr. Awesome Empathic Principal, ditch the tone of concern and hire a robot to do it for you. Or maybe a Speak and Spell. Because I cannot be a badass with tears dripping off my nose.
The upshot, the short version — because typing even that much has a tear wobbling on the edge of my eyelid — is that Charlie is being evaluated to see if he qualifies for special education. I will be shocked if he doesn't.
Don't mistake me: That's not the problem. I mean, we all have something, right? Getting picked last for sports teams or not having dates in high school or needing Xanax to get on an airplane or looking in the mirror and not liking what we see: Whatever it is, we are all, in some way, irregular. I've known too many families of every stripe — happy families, successful families, regardless of their challenges — to assign it any stigma.
The problem for me is me. I am finding it really hard to shake an ugly idea: that we should somehow be exempt. That because we had it hard early on, now we're due for unremarkable-ever-after. That, Jesus, hasn't that all been enough?
Through our years of infertility, I was never really inclined to feel especially hard done by. Oh, I hated it, but never did it feel like we were unjustly singled out by Fate, the universe, or God. Where some would say, "Why me?" I was content with "Why not me?" If infertility was the worst thing that had happened to me — and at the time, it was — I didn't have much to complain about.
The same is true now. I haven't lost perspective entirely; this is not the worst thing that's happened, not by a long shot. Charlie having trouble is, after all and more importantly, still Charlie, and, my God, how lucky am I? And it's real, what he's experiencing, and it's hard for him and us, but I know it could be worse, so drop the melodrama, Julie. Cut the crap and get on with it. I know it's not that bad. Nevertheless, I am furious, with the kind of anger that's made more frustrating by the fact that it has no target. There is no one to be mad at.
It's the same old anger, I guess, but this time it's being fueled by a feeling that embarrasses me (which is why I'm sharing it here in the quiet with only two or three of my most intimate friends who can be counted on not to judge me for it). That feeling is entitlement. Oh, come on, I think, listening to the neurologist muse, or seeing the school's number on the caller ID. Come on. Do we really deserve this?
And I hate that feeling in myself, because of course the answer is no; of course it is. Deserving's got nothing to do with it. Better people than I have it worse than we ever will. No one ever deserves this kind of difficulty. Therefore, kind of, if you think about it, well, we all do.
What not to wear
...to a meeting concerning your kindergarten son's hitting at school:
- Two words: Catholic schoolgirl.
- Two other words: Beer hat. (Via Twitter.)
- Arm in a sling, heavy eye makeup -- I favor Urban Decay eyeshadow in the Weeping Bruise palette -- and a few fake teeth to spit out casually during conversation.
- "The answer is nun. Nun more black."
- "I'm with Stupid --->" shirt, no matter how strategically you seat yourself in the principal's office.
(What I did wear: a matronly sweater and a shellshocked look, because oh em effing gee.)
Due to an untimely move during high school, the second semester of my senior year found me in a health class designed for freshmen, necessary for graduation. The curriculum purported to address general topics in health and hygiene, but in reality it was about eleven solid weeks of sex ed -- let us relive the magic -- and one solid week of The-Wonder-of-Me bullshit. ("Make an album cover that sums up your personality!" "...The answer is none. None more black.")
Now, by that time I had a good working knowledge of contraception, so it was with purest teenage scorn that I received an assignment intended to terrify my fourteen-year-old classmates into celibacy. We were each issued a five-pound sack of potatoes and told to treat it as we would a real baby: to take it with us wherever we went unless we could find a babysitter; to budget for its care and feeding; and never, under any circumstances, to mash it with cream and butter.
At eighteen, I was pretty sure that anything I found stupid was worth doing very badly. I subverted the assignment in every way I could think of. Instead of pricing cribs at Sears, I insisted I'd empty a laundry basket. While my classmates borrowed strollers and wheeled their babies to English, I toted mine like a football, a hold that appalled my teacher, but one my real babies loved. I unsacked my baby and stuffed its tuberous parts into the sleeves and legs of a dingy romper from Goodwill. I named it Headless. I got a low grade. And that was my training for parenthood.
Today outside the grocery store I saw a girl lugging a baby carrier. She was young, thirteen or fourteen. The sight of her alarmed me, and I looked around for her mother. The carrier was too heavy for her; as she lurched, it jerked and swayed, but she didn't seem to care.
As I passed her I looked at the baby, expecting to see a freaked-out face gone green. But of course it wasn't a baby, but a life-sized plastic doll. My first reaction was relief: I'd been thirty seconds away from rushing right over and telling her to stop shaking that baby; demanding to know if she was breastfeeding; and making some inconsequential small talk about circumcision -- you know, just pleasant social chit-chat. Oh, and cover that baby up! It's 30 degrees out here!
My second reaction was laughter. Because from the neck down the baby was covered…with a bag of Cheetos, a box of Hot Pockets, and a package of Rainbow Twizzlers, all tucked in very neatly next to her ersatz child.
But I still wanted to tell her she was doing it wrong. For the sake of authenticity, she should have swapped the Twizzlers for Xanax.
Posted by Julie at 09:54 PM | Comments (35)
In the midst
I didn't have what you'd call a religious upbringing, but for a while when I was a kid I did go to church every Sunday. My older brother and I sang in the children's choir.
Think about that for a second.
Yup. It all just goes to show you...something...about...okay, I don't know what it goes to show, except that it's kind of a brilliant idea, really, for parents who want Sunday morning child care.
What, you don't think my parents actually attended that church, right?
Anyway, we'd get dropped off, and amid the sound of squealing tires as my parents made their getaway, we'd be there all bleating like snow white little lambs -- the snippets of hymns come back to me all the time -- and then we'd settle into our pews and pretend to listen to the rector as he conducted the talky parts of the service. I have no recollection of those interludes, although since this was an Episcopalian church, it is safe to assume he was exhorting us all to commit adultery, overthrow the papacy, and have a gin and tonic, in that order. What I do remember is that when the time came for us to read along from the Book of Common Prayer, I would flip to the appropriate section along with my choirmates, and as the rector droned I would drift.
Pretending to be casual, I'd flip the book's thin pages. Naturally -- come on, like you wouldn't have -- I'd end up at the Order for the Burial of the Dead. I never attended a funeral in childhood, never heard these words read aloud, but now, much later in life when I know more about what dying means, those phrases come back just like the hymns. In the midst of life we are in death is what I keep hearing these days.
Last week my cousin died, 40 years old, in apparent good health, a slim, athletic man. He left a wife and son, and I have been having flashes several times a day of what this must be like for them. Even the poorest imaginings make me cry: how many horrible months lie ahead before everything stops feeling wrong? And, my God, what will they have to go through until they're finally there?
I'm not writing this because I want condolences. This isn't about me, and that's the point. I have this indelible picture in my mind, and it's crazy but it persists. I am thinking about Japan as one of those giant photo collages -- choose a view of the devastation; it doesn't matter which. Now think of that picture as being composed of a billion smaller pictures: zoom out and you see a town swept away, a family scanning a notice board for news of lost loved ones. Or a young man alone in his home, fallen over suddenly, while the phone rings and rings, unanswered -- his wife, to ask what the doctor said. This is happening every day, to those we'll always love and those we'll never know. Japan is a reminder, on a scale that's hard to assimilate.
So I do things with my children, and I think helplessly and gratefully, Life is going on. Even my cousin's wife since that day has washed her five-year-old's hair, fixed him some sort of meal, comforted him or tried. We go on, and it feels both wrong and right, simultaneously obscene and sacred. Shouldn't the world stop turning? I think when I look at the pictures out of Japan. No, and thank God it doesn't, I think when I check on Ben as he's sleeping, or soothe a crying Charlie when he swallows his first lost tooth.
If I were a better person, I might be feeling, I don't know, different. A surge of renewed gratitude for what I have. The drive to make the world a better place in some practical, tangible way. Or even a respectful solemnity. I don't know. None of that's really happening for me. What I'm experiencing instead is a strengthening of my conviction that we're all connected, we're all in this together, and while nothing solves the problem, exactly -- you can't wish a town back into existence, or ease the loss of a husband and father -- doing something helps. I know it helps the giver, and I hope it helps the recipients.
It's made from a pattern by Elizabeth Hartmann and features a print called Bad Kitty:
...and it's made of cotton fabric and batting, with a backing of soft polyester plush:
To enter, just donate $10 or more to the American Red Cross's designated fund. After donating, come back here and leave a comment with your tracking number. For every $10 given you'll get one entry into the drawing, so please make it clear in your comment if you've donated more than that. Please also leave a valid e-mail address in the appointed space so I can contact you if you win. Next week I'll choose a winner.
Posted by Julie at 02:36 PM | Comments (62)
Ribbed...for her pleasure
We have a winner!
With this comment...
I wish I could come up with a witty response, but I'm so busy panicking about my wretched infertile loins and the state of Georgia trying to make effing miscarriages a crime (as if having the damn things isn't awful enough) that my brain is flatlining...
...Danielle has won the Let's Panic About Babies! book and gift basket. For no reason at all, I am now wondering if the gift basket's "back" massager bears any resemblance at all to the pink fairy armadillo so many of you correctly identified. (If you can look at the drawing above without wondering where you'd insert the batteries, you're a better person than I in pretty much every way.)
But panic no more, Danielle, about the Georgia miscarriage thing, which proposes the death penalty -- Ha, made you snort your coffee! Wait, oh, God, you're choking! Shit, y'all, what do I do? -- in cases where women cannot prove there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of their loss.
As monstrous as that idea is, it doesn't appear to be an immediate threat to our inalienable right to lie on the bathroom floor crying, whispering, "This just can't be happening." According to RESOLVE, which mounts particularly strong and effective advocacy efforts in Georgia, "[Republican state representative Bobby Franklin] introduces this same legislation every year[...] The Bill has not been assigned to committee and is unlikely to receive a hearing." (Which isn't to say there's nothing to panic about: For crying out loud, Georgia, personhood again?)
So just relax, Danielle, with your nice basket of stuff! Get it? Just relax? Just...rel...oh, never mind. Or at least don't panic about that particular measure, although I admit it might keep me up at night if my state had kept re-electing that creep since 1996.
At any rate, I'm a little too cheerful today to get ranty, so let me direct you to Keiko Zoll's post at Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed about why this stuff is important even if you can't get pregnant.
I'm in a good mood. Our cat is home after a few weeks of cancer treatment, and spent all night sneezing gently on my face, and while it doesn't sound nice to get periodically sprayed out of a sound sleep by a burst of atomized cat snot, I assure you it was wonderful. My tooth extraction went well and the oral surgeon pronounced himself pleased; although I'm saving the offending molars in case I want them made bionic and reinstalled someday, I believe I can put it behind me now and save my remaining Vicodin for my next fancy dinner party.
And the stories you told in the comments -- I really did laugh at some of them, because, egad, what else can you do? (Answer: Get a little teary, which is what I did with the others. I am sorry someone said those things to you, and awed that you didn't go all rabid fairy murder armadillo on their ass, because, damn.)
Thanks so much for reading, entering, and sharing. Do read all the comments if you can, but in case you're feeling fragile, I'll just highlight some of the funniest.
My husband's grandmother, spry for her 82 years, was playing with my 6-month-old son last Thanksgiving when she (quite loudly) asked him: "How did you get so cute when your parents are so ugly?"
Yeah, standing right here, Grandma. -- Adria
I once started a family feud by not allowing my dad to take my then-newborn daughter for a ride. On his HARLEY. IN A SNUGLI. -- Meim
After three failed IUIs, a failed IVF and the subsequent adoption of our beautiful son, my best male friend from college quipped (on my Facebook wall), "Why didn't you guys just try the old fashioned way?" -- Jess H
Waiting for a bus with Kid 1, less than 4 months old, tucked napping neatly out of sight in a Maya Wrap. He woke up and shifted himself up from his curled up position and grabbed the wrap, pulling it down so he could see out of it and check out where we were.
Old lady nearby: "Oh my gosh! It's a baby! I thought it was just an ugly purse!" -- deezydubya
I delivered my daughter by emergency C-section. Later that day, I was telling my mother, who had also delivered her children by C-section, how disappointed I was that I did not have the dreamy no-intervention birth I had planned. My sweet and well-intentioned mother began listing of the benefits of having had a C-section rather than a vaginal birth, beginning with, "You'll still be a snug fit." -- Julia
I don't know if this counts because it was something I said to a friend who posted on Facebook announcing her first pregnancy. She asked all of her BTDT friends what she would need upon the baby's birth. Asshole that I am (thinking I was being hilarious), I responded, "Miracle blanket, marriage counseling, and Zoloft."
It was her FIRST BABY. -- Kate
Worst comment a terrified 22-year-old could ever hear, from a friend of a friend (so, an old-lady stranger), no less: "Gawd, you're carryin' low. I hope your bladder innin't wrecked. Thanks to Jimmy I cain't laugh, walk or breathe without peein' my pants day and night. Ah mean it." -- AdirondackJen
I was about 25 weeks pregnant and ran to our local walmart to get groceries. Standing in line to check out, a man gets in line behind me. I make eye contact by accident and thus the "encounter" begins. Oh hi. Are you pregnant? (I am fat-ish, and this is my first child, so in the beginning I am kind of excited. This quickly goes downhill.) So I answer the questions. Yes, I am pregnant. 25 weeks. It's my fist. I'm having a boy. Then Creepy McStalker asks if I am HAPPILY married. I answer yes, very much so. And he says, "Oh, yeah, yeah. Me, too. You know, you just get tired of chicken all the time, and want a little steak now and again," and winks. So apparently fat-ish knocked up girls = steak. Obviously. Well this freaks me out, so I turn my back and unload my cart at the register. I turn around again and he tells me not to take offense. Sometimes it's just nice to put your dipstick somewhere else. I left ASAP and called my husband. He asked what I was wearing. I told him a hoodie and maternity jeans. He told me I was asking for it. -- Kristen Wiley
My friend was excitedly telling her mother than she was expecting her third child. Her mother replies "What do you want THREE children for?" My friend is HER third child. -- Jill
As my first child was, uh, crowning during labor, my husband (my. HUSBAND.) took a peek and declared, "No way is that going to fit." -- shriek house
Oh, there are so many stupid things it's hard to narrow down one, but my favorite "advice" was from my large, loud stepfather to my husband.
DON'T LOOK DOWN THERE! YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO LOOK DOWN, YOU KNOW, WHEN THE BABY COMES OUT, BUT THEY HAVE MIRRORS AND IT'S GROSS! AND HER HOOHA WILL BE STRETCHED AROUND THE BABY'S HEAD -- WHO WANTS TO SEE THEIR WIFE'S HOOHA ALL STRETCHED OUT LIKE THAT?
And then the waiter asked him to please be quiet. -- Krystyn
And finally this one, which is a special kind of awful, but also a special kind of did-you-just-do-that? hilarious:
When hearing of our seventh miscarriage, someone said to me, "Maybe the babies aren't sticking because you guys are 'mixed,'" complete with a "stirring a bowl" hand gesture.
My husband is brown and I am white. -- Angela
Akeeyu sums it all up perfectly: "It's a veritable cornucrapia."
And finally, a special bonus shout-out to Jessica, whose evil genius impresses and inspires me:
That animal looks a lot like the anteater Beanie Baby my husband found in some old stuff the other day. For some reason it scares the crap out of my two-year-old -- it's a tiny stuffed animal! -- so now when we don't want her to touch something we put the anteater on it. -- Jessica
May that serve as a warning to us all.
Posted by Julie at 11:54 AM | Comments (22)
Giveaway: Let's Panic About Babies!
If writing on the Internet has taught me nothing else — and it has not — I thought it had taught me that panic shared is panic eased. Alice Bradley and Eden M. Kennedy, of Finslippy and Fussy respectively, have definitively shattered my hypothesis with their new book, Let's Panic About Babies! (Thanks, shatterer...erer...esses.) It turns out that panic shared is actually panic mocked, mercilessly and hilariously, complete with helpful line drawings:
(I know. Iiiii know, infertile friends. Your embryologists went commando.)
No matter how you find yourself with child — do I hear "Both hands and a flashlight"? — Alice and Eden will guide you through the bewildering first months of pregnancy, the harrowing hours of labor and delivery, and the what-the-fucking-Christing? of the newborn phase with gentle womanly wisdom, a bottomless wellspring of sympathy, lots and lots of dick jokes, and a creature that looks sort of like an armadillo, but could not possibly be:
Sorry if that was a spoiler. (Wait a minute. No, I'm not. ROSEBUD WAS HIS SLED.)
"Through absurd anecdotes, charts and pictures," their publisher primly claims, "the authors satirize typical pregnancy handbooks in a comically ironic and often bawdy manner." (Bawdy! Often bawdy! My stars! Is nothing sacred?) The book also features useful tables, quizzes, and lists with titles like OBSERVATIONS SOME ASSHOLES WILL SHARE WITH YOU, AND APPROPRIATE RESPONSES and BIG FAT GODDAMN LIES YOUR FRIENDS WILL TELL YOU. It also includes this bold and fearless indictment of that darkest denizen of...well, basically just darkness, I guess: the mommyblogger.
Alice, Eden, I flutter my tarp in salute. (If that grommet hits me in the eye, I'm going to feel reeeeally stupid.)
If you would like to win not only a copy of this groundbreaking work of annotated Elizabethan allegorical poetry but a "Panic Break" gift basket, including...
- an electric "back" massager, not for use on unexplained calf pain, ladies;
- a stress ball, for gagging annoying advice-givers;
- an anti-stress bath soak, for reviving your victims when remorse eventually steals over you;
- a meditation CD, so that you can contemplate your own unworthiness to shepherd an innocent newborn soul through this our world of wickedness and despair;
- Anne Taintor shot glasses, which might even be something like this; and
- a Panic-themed Subversive Cross Stitch kit!
...please leave a comment here, telling us either what animal that is in the picture above — it's almost like it's a travel-sized accordion/armadillo hybrid, one that doubles as a collapsible cup, and yes, I am only including that link to mess up Let's Panic's "Customers who bought this item also bought..." on Amazon — or the worst thing anyone's ever said to you about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting.
I'll pick a winner on Wednesday, March 9. Contest open to residents of the US and Canada only, please, and if you enter more than once, I'll see to it that your calf pain is no longer unexplained.
Posted by Julie at 10:27 PM | Comments (219)
Over the first part of the winter school break, we drove down to Washington, DC for a few days. It was a decision borne out of desperation — eleven days, y'all, ample time for a normally loving family to start eyeing each other's meaty, meaty haunches hungrily — but it turned out to be a good one. We traveled easily by car, swam in the hotel pool, and gaped at the grandeur of the public buildings and monuments. Okay, that was just me with the gaping. The rest of our party was busy demanding to go up the escabator again (Ben); sighing "I wish we could go back to the hotel and swim" a mere three minutes, no lie, after leaving it (Charlie); and longingly eyeing embassy after embassy, considering a hasty asylum (Paul. Not that it would work. He doesn't look even remotely Holy Seeish. Wait, Holy Seetian? Fine: Holy freakin' Seetastic).
I spent a lot of time tearing up, but then I tend to get all sentimental when I think about the people who've died for my right to sit on my ass and play Angry Birds instead of assembling Messerschmitts in Yokohama for noted Iraqi commie King George III. On this trip I learned about Alice Paul, one of the founders of the National Woman's Party. Her group staged the first political protest picketing the White House; Alice and others, who'd demonstrated peacefully to demand the vote for women, were arrested for their pains. The charge? Obstructing traffic.
So Alice got shipped off to prison, like you do, I guess, when you're...obstructing traffic. Outraged by the conditions of the jail and the brutality she witnessed and endured, Alice went on a hunger strike. This earned her a trip to the prison's psych ward, because as we all know you'd have to be pret-ty crazy not to like a nice, easy jailhouse beatin'. There she was restrained and force-fed, with raw eggs pumped directly into her stomach. Isn't that how all feminists like their eggs? Over-uppity?
And that's all pretty hardcore, no question, but what really moved me was learning that once public pressure resulted in her release, she left the prison and returned to the steps of the White House the very. Same. Day.
Alice! Of thee I sing.
So of course I loved all that, the stories, the symbols, the monuments. Ben also enjoyed a monument, in particular the Lincoln Memorial. Standing at its foot I handed him a penny and then pointed at the big guy on at the top of the steps. He looked at the penny, then looked at me. Back at the penny. Back at me. Then he held the penny aloft, pointed at the heads side, and said, "Mama."
Apparently also Mama.
For Charlie there were several highlights. He loved, if I haven't said so yet, swimming in the hotel pool. (Oh, did I mention it? Well, so did he.) The air and space museum was a big hit, if only for the fact that many of the exhibits had buttons to push and cranks to turn. (The National Gallery, less so. For some reason they get a little uptight there when you start diddling with the ailerons on the da Vinci.) And as fascinating as he finds the notion of espionage, he was enthralled by talk of the Secret Service, if a little skeptical of their methods. One afternoon six or seven helicopters were buzzing like mad over the Potomac. We explained that when the president travels in Marine One, several other helicopters take off, too, as decoys. He thought about it and then decided he was unimpressed: assassins would quickly detect the ruse, he said, "when they shoot one of the fakes and no dead president falls out."
Which is quite a visual. Marine One's not just a helicopter. It's a goddamn piñata of state.
Both kids are now at an age where they really get something out of traveling, and where they can be good companions instead of essentially noisy wheeled luggage that you have to feed. Paul and I were no more harried than we would have been at home, and enjoyed the trip on its own merits. (I for one never tire of muttering, "Bitch set me up," under my breath. I do it all the time. But there it had historical significance.) I'm glad we went. It was a really nice trip, when we weren't busy imagining duly elected corpses raining from the sky.
The Room Six Review of Books
Today was Read Across America, when kids in classrooms all across the country are enthusiastically encouraged to read. (Let us not stop to consider what they're encouraged to do instead every other day.) Since it's also the birthday of Dr. Seuss — surprise, infertile — there was naturally a curricular tie-in.
I asked Charlie if he'd read any Dr. Seuss books that were new to him. Here is how the conversation went:
Julie [awkwardly, as if reading a line from a script]: Charlie, did you read any Dr. Seuss books that were new to you?
Julie: Which ones?
Charlie: The King's Stilts.
Julie: Oh. What's...that about?
Charlie: A king with stilts.
Julie: Yeah, but what about him?
Charlie [astonished by my stupidity]: He. Had. Stilts.
Michiko Kakutani, you can relax. Your job is perfectly safe.
Tomorrow is widsom tooth day, since I turned down the Valentine's Day appointment they offered me. The 8 AM time slot was bad enough, but as Tiffany put it, the fact that it was on my birthday was simply "ridiculous-flavored icing on the cake of No."
If you have any suggestions for soft foods that can be eaten lukewarm — my, doesn't that sound appetizing? Wait, I know! Raw eggs! — please share them here. Especially if the recipes begin, "First sautée two Vicodin..."
Posted by Julie at 04:50 PM | Comments (58)
A little space
I almost never blog about blogging. I've been doing it for almost eight years and nearly a thousand posts, so it must be something I take seriously — if you want to know what you believe about your life, look around you — and yet I'm seldom tempted to talk about it here. The meta talk tends to turn me off; reading it, it's hard for me not to imagine a snake swallowing its own tail. And then blogging about it, and then automatically issuing a tweet saying, "Look! I swallowed my own tail!" with a link and a photo that's been hip-ly retro'd, and then retweeting that 12 times in the next six hours, like, I mean, Jesus, snake, either we subscribe to your blog or we noticed the link in our Facebook news feed or we saw your tweet the first time or maybe we don't much care so you can stop promoting your orifice now yes please okay thanks.
I...just kind of hate snakes, I'm suddenly realizing.
But I read a post, a meta-post, last week that struck me. Over at Stirrup Queens, Melissa offered some advice on how to build a large following online. What she said was, "Need your space."
I've been sitting with that idea for a week now. I don't know the secret to finding a large audience, but then when so much — luck, timing, a gripping event — is beyond our control, I'm not even sure that's the right question. What I do believe is that it's essential to writing a good blog, and — and this is where I come in now — it's essential to writing a blog we hope to sustain.
Tautological, right? You need to do it to do it.
There have been times in the last couple of years when I've felt like I didn't much need this space. Sometimes it's because things have been going well and I haven't needed a sounding board; other times it's been because things haven't been going well and I've felt reluctant to commit it to words. And then I come back because of habit or vanity or, occasionally, embarrassment, sometimes with great difficulty. And time and again, I'm surprised: Invariably, I learn again how much I need it, and how grateful I am to have it.
You are all so generous. Your comments on my last post and your kind e-mail have been so helpful to me. Thank you. I wonder if you know that the things you say stay with me.
I meant to write and say so sooner, but at the moment we're near the end of the winter school break, eleven glorious days of it, and, God, I know other writers — better writers — can do very good work surrounded by noise and upheaval and people, but I can't do even bad work unless I'm alone and it's quiet. And Ben advancing on me with a brace of toy hammers, grinning bloodthirstily and droning a sinister little tune he picked up at day care — "Ben hammers with twoooo hammers! Twoooo hammers! Twoooooooooo hammers!" — is kind of the opposite of alone and quiet.
(Have I told you my computer is in the playroom? Gosh, we have loads of fun!)
But unless Ben finally manages to brain me before then, once he and Charlie are back in school, I'll be back, too. I need my space. I'm so glad and grateful to have it, and you.
Posted by Julie at 11:11 PM | Comments (29)
Second person singular
The thing is, you feel like an asshole. Your kid has spent the last six years sliding bonelessly out of his chair at mealtimes, and while you're generally mild about it, you remind him at every meal, interrupting the conversation with an unremitting punctuation of murmurs: Slide your bottom back, kiddo. You need to sit up.
And If you don't get your shoulder back under your seat belt, I'll have to stop the car. And If he doesn't get off the mud room floor I am going to run amok.
No matter how mild you've managed to sound, you're annoyed every time. Okay, not every time — but the fifth time you say it at dinner, the third time you say it in the crowded back hall, which has become a confusion of hats, coats, a toddler, and a six-year-old basically making angels in the dirt and slush that have sluiced off the family's boots.
And then: "He has some large motor issues. He has difficulty sitting cross-legged, keeping up with the class while walking. He finds it difficult to sit on the carpet, in a chair, to stand to do his work." Seeing it in print instead of hearing it in your head, you think, So it's not that he won't, he can't.
Or. And. The misbehavior flummoxes you, but you gamely try to reshape it. Empathy. Rewind-and-redo. Ever-mindful modeling. Positive reinforcement. Talking — God, the talking. Time-ins. And although you are mostly patient, you sometimes feel a flare of That shit's not going to fly, kid, so also: time-outs, warnings, privileges lost, a voice raised. "Go up to your room. I don't want to be around you when you behave this way."
Without much frame of reference, not knowing too many six-year-olds, you don't spend a lot of time wondering. You think it's some flavor of normal, maybe, merely a phase or a stage, and while you doubt your abilities mightily, daily, you don't really know your course needs checking.
And then: "He has difficulty with self-control, following adult directions and transitions. His response is an outburst of frustration, often followed by refusal and arguing. Social interactions are often fraught, with him feeling disappointed, angry, and frustrated." And you see that even if it is some flavor of normal, it's a phase or stage of note.
Having your own observations -- because none of this is news -- spontaneously echoed by the people who see your child every day is, in a way, somewhat comforting. You can sigh, Oh, good, we're not crazy. Well, not the blind kind of crazy. But it's also fairly awful, this independent confirmation. It's an invitation -- no, not an invitation, which can, after all, be declined; this is more like a summons -- to feel bad about yourself as a parent.
It's not that you didn't recognize, at the back of your mind, that something was up. It's not that you haven't sought help. There's none of the wracking guilt associated with not noticing, not acting, not properly looking after your child when you've managed to miss the signs. No, you might feel good about taking steps. You do. You should! It's what's going on inside.
When you start to mull over Can't not won't, things change. You think of not the three reminders gently given in a way that made him chortle, but the fifth one, a sharp "Sit up." Be honest: you know you rolled your eyes and lectured him not to complain when he said he was tired of walking after just a block. You acknowledge the times you've sent him out, not to help him learn but to let yourself breathe. You feel your exasperation welling up even remembering the tantrum more becoming to a toddler than a boy nearly six-and-a-half. You feel like an asshole for your impatience, your annoyance, for your simple, imperfect humanness when, really, he deserves more.
The week in bullets:
- My week began with a visit to the oral surgeon. Apparently my two top wisdom teeth need to be removed. I was shown a video detailing the process, which featured a rueful-looking actor using air quotes around "wisdom," a detailed list of potential complications delivered in a soothing murmur ("...and, of course, as with any surgical procedure, death, or" -- air quotes -- "a dirt nap."), and, my God, an animation of exactly what they're going to do to my mouth, and which heavy machinery they plan to back down my hapless gullet. It was like watching Bob the Builder, if Bob has a googly-eyed crowbar on his crew.
I asked the oral surgeon what my anesthetic options were. "We could do a local with novocaine," he suggested, and I glared him into embarrassment. "Or?" I asked, glarily, while glaring.
"Orrrrrr," he said, templing his fingers, "we could throw some ValiumVersedandpropofol in the bag and shoot you into the sky."
"I think we understand each other," I said.
He said, "It'll be a blast."
And then his receptionist offered a surgical appointment on 8 AM February 14. My 40th birthday.
- Lately Charlie is enamored of...that music...that all the kids are listening to...when they do whatever it is kids today do -- general purpose hooliganism, probably, going about their whippersnappery business, usually all over my lawn. It's that Nickelodeon tweeny stuff, presented -- I will not say created -- by these...young people. They're extraordinarily attractive, these young adults, and yet curiously denatured; somehow there's not even a whiff of sexual menace about them. Ohhh, which is fine, believe me, fine. I am not complaining that no one is sexually menacing my six-year-old. No, if real rock sprang from the pubic crest of Elvis, this stuff comes straight from the wang of Ken.
Anyway, that is what Charlie's into, this diabolically catchy pop that's sandwiched between SpongeBobs. I've downloaded a few songs for him; while I hate it even as I'm singing along, because how could I not do both, I love it that he loves it. It's nothing I'd ever select myself, but he's chosen it on his own -- uh, with the benevolent assistance of the good people at Viacom -- and for that alone it has value. I'm inclined to curate his taste in some areas, but music right now isn't one of them.
It's just so appropriate, this simple upbeat stuff; he's fallen hard for the hooks, the cheerful lyrics, the dance moves in the videos that are simple enough for him to imitate. Well, the one that is: hopping up and down with one arm aloft, pointing an index finger to the sky, or the stars, or the clouds, or wherever it is our dreams, for which we duly reach in accordance with the lyrics, reside. That plus doing a wild gymkata off every piece of furniture in the room is what constitutes dancing these days, and he does it with a passion.
He likes sometimes to have dance parties in his room, where he cranks up the music, turns off the overhead light, wears the finger lights that Santa Claus brought him, and tries his abandoned damnedest to break a femur and a collarbone in the space of a single song. Ben has sometimes been present; I've sat in Charlie's room with him well out of the line of flail. He knows this to be a great privilege, and talks about Charlie's dance parties in the reverent tones older people use for the installation of a new pope, say, or the opening of a Trader Joe's. So when Charlie invited him to a dance party earlier this week, Ben accepted with awe and pleasure. But he understood it was an occasion, because he told Charlie, "First I need a fresh diaper. A party diaper."
- The cat has lymphoma. That's good, right? The good kind of -oma?
- I had the idea that I'd send my mother a box for Valentine's Day. She always baked me red velvet cake, so I thought I'd return the gesture, and embarked on Bakerella's cake balls. I got as far as mixing the batter and pouring it into the pan for baking, when I realized its consistency was way off. Where it should have been smooth and liquid, it was more like bloody tar. I oodged it around in the pan some, knowing it was wrong but stubbornly resisting the idea that I'd made a mistake, then finally read back over the steps because I had to have missed something.
I had! I was supposed to add a cup and a quarter of water. So I oodged the tarcake bloodbatter back into the mixing bowl, poured in the water, lowered the beater, aaaaand...
I am exactly that stupid.
Watery red batter all over the goddamn kitchen. The walls, the appliances, the floor, the ceiling. Since I hadn't bothered to incorporate any of the added water by hand before letting fly with the mixer, the beater flung that red shit everywhere. Stupid because I know better, having had long discussions with my friend T. about the pros and cons of covering one's bowl while mixing. ("Martha uses a cloth." "Martha is a pussy.")
I was wearing a white shirt at the time. The cake balls are wretchedly sweet. And although I worked for the better part of an hour to clean up the mess, I'm pretty sure I didn't get it all. Someday someone's going to move the stove and the wall will say HELTER SKELTER.
Now let us never speak of bloodtar cakewall again.
- Really good post at HuffPo about infertility, "The Disease We Need to Start Talking About":
Infertility patients' reluctance to discuss their struggles and advocate for change is directly preventing those affected from getting the support and funding they deserve. As Barbara Collura, executive director of RESOLVE, explains, "Infertility is not being discussed in the general public health realm -- it's not taught in health classes, it's barely touched upon in medical schools, and it's not a priority of any government entity. Yet how can we expect health care providers, educators, our government, and insurance companies to pay attention to infertility when the patients themselves aren't even talking about it?"Which is weird to me as an infertile person, considering that some people in our lives think it's the disease we need to start shutting up about.
- My stats reveal that someone found this site by searching for
stupid ass birth plansWelcome, intrepid voyager! Welcome to the last eight years of my blog!
I'm a lousy photographer, I craftily edited out the glistening mucus on Charlie's upper lip, and my Christmas lights are still on in February and I have every intention of keeping them there until the thaw, what of it? All true, and so what? When I look at these pictures, all I see is that my stupid-ass birth plan worked out, in the end, pretty well.
Posted by Julie at 10:35 PM | Comments (38)