Complaints

I haven’t written in eight-ish months about Theo and, when I pulled up the old blog, I found this draft from over a year ago. It makes me happy that I’m reading it in the northwest where the challenges are the ones I grew up with and the veggie chips are crisp. 

“I’m cranky. I spent a long, hot summer pregnant and, while my Idahoan friends are filling Facebook with photos of the fall, there’s plenty of hot New Orleans summer left to go. More, navigating the new challenges of parenthood is just harder to do in a new place with its own challenges that I haven’t had time to get used to. I have several New Orleans-based complaints which are marginally unfair, but which I’m going to list anyway:
PESTS

  • No matter how tired I am I can’t go to sleep if the kitchen isn’t clean because food residue will attract cockroaches.
  • Despite the good work of our indoor mosquito trap, mosquitoes persist in the house. They are potential disease vectors and one bit me on my goddamn forehead.
  • A bunch of little flies recently started swarming around the rocking chair. They look benign, but they land on Theo’s face while he nurses, third world style. They are slow and satisfying to crush with my fingers.
  • There’s something living in the bathroom wall, I hear it scratching at night.

WATER

  • The water from the bathroom sink sometimes tastes like mildew when I brush my teeth.
  • There are boil water advisories here, but I never hear about them before I drink the water.
  • We are at the bottom of the watershed, my filter removes lead, but what the heck else is in this water?

NOISE

  • It is so loud all the time. Sirens. Fighter jets. Trains. Barges. Neighbors with impressive sound systems.
  • My neighbors wake me up just walking across the wooden floor with shoes, watching TV, having sex. 
  • There’s a thin wall and no door between the refrigerator compressor and our bedroom.
  • There’s no door to lock the cat out of our bedroom, so she’s free to walk back-and-forth meowing her anxieties day and night.

HUMIDITY

  • I get out of the shower and still feel wet.
  • My veggie chips get all soggy in the cupboard.
  • It feels hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.
  • There’s mold around the air registers in the house and it’s possible there’s mold in the walls. You can see the drywall hasn’t been disturbed since Katrina.

MISCELLANEOUS 

  • Poisonous lead in dust and paint, too tired to clean.
  • Inability to walk safely at night.
  • Lack of hiking options.
  • Distance from family.
  • Distance from old friends.
  • Distance from Lake Pend Orielle.
  • Significant possibility of being glared at in the street; slight possibility of being yelled at in the street.
  • Shitty roads.
  • Fucking parades.”

Looking back, though, it’s all rosy and nostalgic.

Advertisements

Feminist Motherhood

At 8 years old, my stories are of female characters having adventures in the wilderness. I don’t realize they’re plants from my mom. That other kids are reading books where female characters play entirely less interesting roles. When I read those mainstream books I inhabit the male characters as easily and fluidly as the female ones. Just enjoying the story.

At 14 years old, I have a negative view of feminism. I hear my North Idaho community’s opinion on the subject spoken through the mouths of the kids on my bus and absorb it in total. Crazy bra-burning feminists. They’re angry. Bitches. Ugly. Also dykes. Why do they hate being women? (I get all sorts of other alternative facts on those bus rides too, like how the Civil War was about “economics.”)

Wanting to be a well-liked member of my community with a someday interesting job, my life plan evolves to be both nice and excellent at whatever I want to do; the rest will fall into place. I won’t need feminism because it is the 21st century. I have the Y2k glasses and the good report cards to prove it.

You can be likeable, female, successful. Pick two.

At 28 years old, I still employ this strategy while microaggressions pile up around my ankles. I excuse each one as an action from a person who doesn’t get it; a product of the past. I am the future. Each comment about my clothes and inappropriate workplace hug a barrier I’ll barely pause to step over on my way to my good life. I am right, they are wrong. I am smart, they are dumb. I am also nice (life plan), so I don’t tell them this outright. I smile, oblivious that it’s social conditioning.

At 28.5 years old, I’d like to have a child. I realize my life plan is not set up to do this. My hours are erratic, my boss won’t meet with me until after 5:30pm, and he’s mentioned more than once he’d like to fire the sole part-time mother in our office. Part-time doesn’t work for him. It’s the second of two consecutive jobs where a mother’s schedule has been a reason for termination.

At 29 years old, I’ve found no answers and leave my job, go to a Women in Architecture meeting and realize for the literal first time that my problem is systemic. Women don’t make it in my career. They have it pretty dang tough in most careers. I’m doomed. We’re doomed? History class lied. Try to start over as an artist. I love it, obviously, but it’s lonely and I don’t contribute much financially.

At 29.5 years old, I’m tired, pregnant and jobless. I watch my talented husband present at a conference.

At 30 years old, I have a baby; he’s awesome, obviously. He needs everything from me and I want to give him everything.

At 30.25, Theo is three months old. He is slightly more independent and I feel comfortable starting work part time at Jake’s firm. It’s totally fulfilling and the perfect balance of designer and mother. I am refreshed when I see Theo. I am refreshed when I go to work in the morning. I am positive I could not work full time in a design firm and pull this off. I acquire this excellent job totally because of Jake’s value to the firm, my qualifications for it ancillary. My odds of finding another like it slim. 

You can take care of your career, your baby, yourself. Pick two.

At 30.5 years old, Theo is five months old. I have an idea for a graphic in the shower that explains the motherhood-designer predicament. Do I have to jump out to make it immediately or do I have time to wash my hair? Theo wakes up and cries. Time was an illusion.

You can be a designer, a mother, clean. Pick two.

I finish Infinite Jest and it’s brilliant. The male characters are the interesting ones. I can’t imagine myself as them so easily anymore.

At (I dunno anymore 30.5 still? You can remember your age in decimal points, your kid’s age in decimal points, to floss your teeth. Pick two.),all I want is to read books written by women. How have I not read more books written by women? My inattention let male voices define my worldview. It’s not the future anymore and we’re not the same. Is anatomy destiny? 

You can be well-read, a mother, productive. Pick two.

At seven months (0.58 years!) old, I wonder how Theo will understand his sex, his gender identity, with whom he’ll identify in the books he’ll read. I hope he can be like me, but get to stay that way.

Let me burn my bra with you, feminists. I’m sorry.

Little dude is SO clingy

Real, irrational, chaotic absence of form. Surreal. Blurring the boundary between body and body.

“Touching infants changes their breathing, body temperature, growth rate, blood pressure, stress levels and growth itself. In other words, the mother’s body is the only environment to which the human infant is adapted.

“As Dr. Winnecott, the famous child psychologist put it, ‘There is no such thing as a baby, there is a baby and someone.’”

———

Yeah little dude, I don’t like it when I put you in your swing to go to the bathroom either. I too am more comfortable letting you squirm on the bath mat at my feet.

Yup, Theobear, holding you beats wearing you beats pushing you in a stroller. Simultaneously talking/singing/dancing is ideal because it’s best to keep the maximum number of my faculties engaged while moving you through the world.

Oh Theo buddy, when I left you in your crib during the day to see if you’d sleep there, it didn’t kill me that you lost your mind. Someday I won’t hold you for all your naps, but that day is not today.

———

I enjoy worrying the question of the moment and degree to which I separated from this baby. When did I become we? When he was a fertilized egg: one person. When he was a lizard-like being totally connected to and dependent on my body: I’m going to go with still one. When I felt him kick, was he then a separate person? Or was he just the part of me that kicks? When did my body divide, exactly, into one large and one small human?

I am sure it’s not as simple as we were one person before he was born and two after.

Looking at baby Theo’s form separated from my form, I see his eyebrows knit in sadness and it’s an expression I’ve seen looking in the mirror. I know just the feeling that makes a face look like that. Or I imagine I do. Is it still empathy if it feels like it’s you?

Theo feels like the part of me that’s tired. The part that cries. The part that just learned to roll over. The part that smiles at the ceiling fan and sits in his dad’s hands like a throne.

If we’re still in the process of separating, when does it stop? When I leave him for a night? When he stops nursing? When he goes to college? When will I have that important understanding that he is separate from me and give him autonomy? 

I hope it’s at the right time.

These days, yoga is the most personal thing I do in a week and my critical yoga gear is now one headband and one baby.

Home

When Theodore was born he smelled like a walk through the woods on a warm summer day. Pineneedles baking in the sun. Some people say babies smell like fresh baked bread, but I wonder if what they smell like is home.

Dappled sun hits his face and I see it filtered through the tree outside the Boise bedroom that would be his.

When the milk comes into my breasts, they tingle like blood going back into cold feet after a day on the slopes. Ice fishing on the lake.

A walk through the park becomes the Boise River Greenbelt. The paths of sunbaked pine needles around lake Pend Orielle. I warm his cold hands and picture the warmth of the fireplace in my parents’ living room. 

We’d planned to settle in the Northwest and choose a time that was the right balance between our careers and his schooling. I didn’t expect both not to have a career here or that home would occupy my every Theodore-based thought.

Mombod 

    After I gave birth to Theo, my belly was a gently distending, gracefully curving arc; so soft it indented with little, red, baby footprints  after I held him. I loved it. Probably, I was prepped to. First from the scene in Pulp Fiction where the French woman explains the benefits of round bellies to Bruce Willis. Then in sage Marisa’s yoga class where one of the cues to relax into savasana is to picture your belly as a big, deflated balloon. When I had that thought about my body after birth, it felt welcome and right.

    Some of my least favorite pregnancy hogwash is about women’s bodies. We talk about what pregnancy “does to us,” as if it is an alien condition, describe dramatic and grotesque changes in terms of being endured, and take for granted that after a woman’s body gets all ruined, she should strive to bounce back to her previous self. A mindset wherein the best compliment you can receive is “you don’t even look like you’ve had a baby.”

    I’ve heard that compliment and still have no idea how to reply. I sometimes feel good and sometimes feel robbed of an accomplishment. A couple times my unfortunate response has been to emphasize the kindness of a photo’s angle or the looseness of my clothes (allusion: no really, I hate my body as much as you do, we’re on the same team!). I don’t hate my body. I did say “I’m fat” once, after seeing a post-pregnancy photo of myself, but fat didn’t feel like the right word for the new, redistributed weight even as I said it. A better word would be solid. I’m more solid.

    I especially like this descriptor because of its opposition to fragility.

    Does it make sense to bounce back from a state of solidity to one of fragility? Is it solidness that makes us label mom bods unattractive? Less like a member of “the weaker sex?” If it does anything, birth proves we’re not weak and my post-baby body, despite its need to recouperate, feels damn near invincible. Ask me to lift a car. Fight an angry dog. Sleep very little for weeks on end (I’m about to go pro). If this is the grotesque change, sign me up for five more.

      The stories I’d heard about pregnancy prepared me for a negative experience with the catch that it was worth it in the end. For some women, that description of pregnancy is correct, but for me it wasn’t so, if someone ever asked, I’d offer a different view on a few points:

      • Our bodies are made for pregnancy – the whole thing feels a lot more natural than you’d think. It’s like puberty. Big changes happen gradually and your body comes out looking different, but just fine. Take a lesson from your 16-year-old self and don’t feel uncomfortable in the locker room this time.
      • A mom bod doesn’t look like a non-mom-bod and that’s ok. Why spend a lot of energy trying to hide it? Beauty is subjective anyway. It’s based more on society than set ideals and our current capitalistic society wants you to feel insecure so you’ll spend lots of money. Distrust this society’s definition of beauty.
      • There are contemporarily recognized aesthetic upsides to the mom bod. Mom boobs, for instance, are fantastic. They’re big and full, with nipples that are pink (raw, from breast-feeding) and perennially perky (also from breast-feeding). These are the breasts women ask for when they pay thousands of dollars for boob jobs.
      • Belly-area changes are most dramatic but totally lovable. My belly button now has a lived-in look (a phrase that makes me smile) intersected by a dark line that won’t ever go away. My midwife described the latter as a battle scar and that’s a perfectly badass way to think about the whole package of stretch marks, belly lines, and lived-in buttons.
      • Pregnancy and birth expand your understanding of your capacity for stength. Mom bods are strong. Female bodies are strong. To define a beautiful woman as one that is small (frail?) is a denial of this and so should be ignored.
      • The opportunity to reveal to yourself reservoirs of this unexpected strength is not to be missed.

      Feeding Regimen

      I wish I had something to say; it is possible to be so tired you not only can’t think of words, but whole sentences. Thoughts spread out – a word here, some logic over there – and you can’t muster the focus to pull them together. If you’re anything like your dad and I, you’ll experience this kind of tired sooner than later.

      In lieu of words, here’s a chart of how often you ate this week:

      An average sixteen times each day, double what the doctor told us to shoot for. I didn’t leave the couch. The house is decimated. Empty food containers and spit up-stained linens everywhere. You were born small and eating is important. You did real good. Three week growth spurt complete. Now you seem willing to let me eat and maybe even sleep, so I’m going to do that. Though I should note: the week wasn’t terrible. I love the way your arm falls across my chest before I swaddle you up to put you bed and you demand to be fed again.

      On Immunity

      img_5442

      The week we brought you home, there was an infestation of potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes in our house. We were covered in bites. Our house has chipping lead paint on the walls. There’s lead in the soil of this old industrial city; it attaches to dust and we track it in on our shoes. There’s lead in the water. Also in the water is all the shit we put on Midwest farm fields from here to Canada. It runs off the biggest North American watershed to the Mississippi River, the terminus of which is the source of our tap water. We at the end get all the crap. Atrazine, benzene, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, the pentadecafluorooctanoic acid that DuPont has been dumping into the Ohio River for 30 years. Yes, we filter it, but my breast milk is surely tainted and almost certainly so was the blood of your umbilical cord; by BPA, brominated flame retardants, pesticides.

      Everything is connected and, try though I will to keep you safe, I can’t buffer you from your environment. Pet coke might blow off a train and into your lungs, oil might contaminate your seafood, a brain eating amoeba might make its way into your water. All those have happened here before to someone else’s child. This compromised, interconnected world is your inheritance. Your actions will affect the people around you and their actions will affect you.

      I am heartened by the strength of your cry, the kick of your legs, and the passion with which you demand to be fed. You’re less fragile than I imagined you in my pregnancy, when I scoured the Environmental Working Group’s website and scrubbed your suspect car seat in the bathtub. Now that I see you, solid and real (was I expecting you to be translucent?) it’s easier for me to think you’ll be like all us other humans, not pure, surely, but resilient.