The Myth of Firsts- Friday March 22th

I had a lot of anxiety about missing all of Hazel’s “firsts” while I was at work.  It’s one of the many parenting misconceptions I got from watch TV and movies, and I was shocked to realize I had again been misled.

At first when I would see Hazel start to learn something new, I would become consumed with figuring out how to orchestrate it so I was there when she made her achievements. But while I was obsessing, I noticed that what I thought would be gigantic developmental milestones actually unfurled slowly.  A whole long process was made out of the art of crawling.  She spent days perfecting rocking back and forth on all fours.  I think it was two weeks before she was really motoring around the house, chasing the dog and laughing hysterically.

When Hazel first stood up on her own and looked around the room proudly, I thought I would faint with pride and love and fear.  My little hot potato was going to walk, and I was going to miss it.  After her first birthday party, I enlisted my Dad to stand two steps away and catch Hazel when I stood her up and launched her towards him.  ”She took a step!” I screamed and made a mental note of the date and time and that I was there, not at my desk in my office.

But the real walking happened in bits and pieces.  She would progress, then regress.  She would be reckless then cautious.  She wanted to hold our hand a lot to keep her balance so she could move faster.  Tom and I watched and applauded and took pictures and slapped each other on the back and in the midst of it all our baby because a little girl.  Just like that.

Obviously, this shattered myth makes me wonder about so many things I’ve avoided.  Swimming after eating, crossing my eyes while getting hit on the back of the head, riding my bike while I have my period, drinking alcohol while taking medication.

I think the one thing I’ve learned about being a parent is to have no expectations- not of yourself or your child or your spouse.  My family is our own little entity, and we are learning to function in our own way.  TV is great for so many things, but failed at predicting what it would be like to watch new people experience life (no offense TV, you know we’re cool right?).

 

Moody- Wednesday January 23rd

I used to think I was really moody.  I went to a shrink once who asked if my depression lasted two weeks or more.  I thought that was a stupid question.  My depression lasts two to three hours, then I’m deliriously happy, then I’m pensive, then I’m tired, then I’m crabby, then I’m worried, then I’m frantic, and this goes on and on and on.  If I was in one mood for two weeks I’d be incredibly relieved, even if the mood was depressed. At least I’d be able to rely on my reaction to things.

Then Hazel arrived, and I realized I didn’t even know what a mood swing was.  These past 34 years of moods are nothing compared to the wild brain heaving that has happened since I became a parent to a living child.  Here’s a typical day:

Begin drive to work: Happy, feel like it’s my free time to listen to This American Life and look at the city.

Mid-Drive to work: Hate every choice I’ve made except the lovely wonderful man I married, the children I’ve had, and going to Rome for my Junior year abroad.  Everything else sucks.  Wonder why I didn’t have the courage to have more adventures.  Hate self.  Hate life.  Feel fat.

Arrive at Work: Heart fills with love getting my old dog out of the car.  Grateful to get to bring her to work.  Laugh at her antics.

Actual Work: Miss Hazel so bad it hurts.  Feel proud of small accomplishments, then enraged by small infractions or things that don’t go my way.  Then feel neutral about things not going my way because, after all, I have Tom and Hazel and my old dog and I’m not a coal miner in China so things aren’t that bad.  Laugh, laugh, tell 12 stories hoping my co-workers will think two are funny.  Then get so pissed off by someone or something that I have to bitch at the top of my lungs until my co-workers (who were just laughing at my great stories) hide under their desks or pretend to get a phone call on their cell phones.  ”The ringer was off” they’ll mouth, to explain why it didn’t ring.  But I know it’s because of my exhausting but articulate vitriolic ranting. Try to calm down, but do not succeed because spell check can’t figure out what I’m trying to write, or because I can’t uninstall Adobe reader.  Then I’m tired. Eat food. Feel energized and grateful again for the things in my life that are lovely and sweet and fun.  Miss Hazel with a happy longing- I can’t wait to see her but it doesn’t makes me depressed, like it does early in the day.

End of day: Wild card.  Either fantasize about valium or feel like I’m experiencing a serotonin surge (“natural high”).  Either skip to my car or drag myself to car.  Either pull Ramona along with irritation or smile at her cuteness.

Drive Home: Get on Lake Shore Drive with an urgency that borders on mania.  Shake fist at cab drivers who honk at me.  Speed past the Belmont exit, then calm down.  Enjoy free time.  As I approach home, I have a new feeling; born of the prospect of seeing my daughter.  It’s a happiness that shouldn’t even count as happiness, because it’s so huge.  It’s so huge I could easily tow a train with my teeth like Jack Lalanne or swim the English channel.

Arrive Home: When I walk in the door, I can’t remember one thing that happened that day.  I leave my purse in the car so I’m unfettered and can’t stop to hang up my coat.  I run to Hazel and grab her and squeeze her and make her laugh and we dash around the house playing and reading books until bedtime.  I am often “shushed” by members of my household because my exuberance makes me talk like I’m on a crowded bus. Also, Hazel thinks my realistic animal noises are funnier if they’re loud.

Post-Hazel-Bedtime: Rehash the many annoyances and injustices of the day.  Worry that I’m failing.  Worry that Tom is sick of me worrying.  Get bored of worrying, work on the NYTimes Crossword (Mondays only).  Feel content….for a little while.

I tell myself that I’m excellent at appearing normal.  I have to tell myself that, or I’ll be in a bad mood.

Hazel’s Birthday Adventure! Friday December 14th

The author feigning bravery while her daughter remains vigilantly on watch

The celebrate the day that Hazel arrived on planet earth (aka The Best Day Of My Life), Tom and I decided it was time to enter into the overpriced, overstimulating world of children’s restaurantainment: we went to the Rain Forest Cafe.

Hazel is a big fan of animals and junk food, so we were confident that it’d be a hit.  Tom had been before with some younger cousins, but I had no idea what I was walking into.  In fact, Hazel and I clutched each other with equal desperation when we encountered the animatronic snake hanging above the hostess stand.  I tried to collect myself and be brave to show Hazel that giant burmese pythons were nothing to be afraid of as long as they were hanging from the ceiling of a restaurant franchise owned by Disney.

We followed the sign that told us “Your Adventure Starts Here!” and were delighted at every turn.  Huge saltwater fish tanks provided ambient light, a crashing waterfall added to the din of excited children, and a canopy of flowering vines opened briefly to reveal twinkling stars against an inky sky.  Occasionally it would thunder and lightening, and the gorillas and elephants were so lifelike that a person without her glasses on might be startled every time she caught a glimpse of one.

Hazel’s mind was completely blown.  She would demand to be taken over to the elephants, then gather up all her courage when they flapped their ears and waved their trunks.  She happily pointed out the monkeys and parrots and clapped when fish swam by.  When lunch arrived, Hazel had no interest in eating, but did manage to settle down long enough to snag a few fries off of her Dad’s plate.  She munched and pointed and munched and pointed.

After lunch I took her to visit my Dad at work, who had prepared by snagging three slices of cake from the annual Holiday party.  She crawled around his office, pulling herself up on the coffee table long enough to eat cake and bash breakable items together.

 

My Dad encouraged this behavior and provided her with her favorite toys to play with: fragile antiques and newspapers.

One poop and several yawns later, it was time to head home.  Hazel was asleep before I pulled the car out of the parking spot.  She napped like she was trying to qualify for the napping Olympics.  When she finally woke up, I think she was a little disappointed to find the house free of jungle animals and stacks of papers held together by binder clips.  But I made her feel better by letting her eat half her weight in chocolate chips.

That night when Tom got home from studying, we put Hazel to bed with extra kisses and snuggles.  This year went by so fast, just like everyone said it would.  It feels like in the next ten minutes, Hazel will be going to school, then driving, then living in her own apartment in Paris, then being her own grown up self, then driving me to get my hair fixed once a week when Tom and I live in a retirement community.

I’m excited to watch Hazel find her way through life, I just hope I can figure out a way to bend the time-space continuum in the meantime…I’d like a few more baby years with this darling.

F U NaNoWriMo- Friday November 16th

I gathered up all my courage and optimism again this year and joined National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  You put the number of words you’ve written in a little box and hit “return” and then you see a graph of how much more you have to write to finish your novel!*

This year was very exciting because I finally had something.  I found that mental nugget I’ve been waiting for since I decided to become a writer when I was in the third grade.  I even had a few pages already written, so I’d have a head start.  After entering the words I had already written and finding out on November 1st that I’d “only” have to write about 1600 words a day to reach my goal, I pretended not to feel discouraged.  ”Slow and steady wins the race” I told myself.

The thing is, slow and steady actually doesn’t win the race.  I can’t think of a single race that could be won by going slowly but steadily, unless it takes place at a corporate picnic and dictates that your feet are tied to a co-worker’s feet.  The steady part makes sense…but slow?  Why would going slowly end up making you faster?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

I tried to put these thoughts out of my head, and just get to it.  Every spare moment I had I tried to bang out a few sentences.  My word count and my pride began to grow.  After a few days I checked my graph again.  Number of words I have to write every day to finish?  Only 2200.  My heart sank, but I pretended again not to be deterred.  More pretending; I didn’t even notice that impossible number, I’m not to beating myself up about my lack of focus and amount of time spent on the couch after Hazel goes to bed vs. writing my novel, I will achieve my goal!  These are complex pretending scenarios for an adult.

That was 10 days ago.  I haven’t written another word.  I’ve tinkered.  I’ve proof read and moved sentences and changed fonts.  I’ve given my computer screen the finger.  And I think it’s time to admit that I am not competitive, and cannot be motivated by racing.  In fact, competing tends to make me shut down and just give up.  If I were in the Olympics for figure skating, I’d probably forget my skate laces back at the room just so I wouldn’t have to try and then lose. If I were a runner, I’d probably eat a bagel and cream cheese and a sausage biscuit from McDonalds and a large orange juice and barf mid-way through the race.  It’s as if my brain is working against me.  It’s misfiring the synapses to my fingers so that I don’t press the keys.

3853 words per day to finish.

The stupidity of this number has finally cured my neurotic paralysis.   Before NaNoWriMo I was so proud of getting down a whole paragraph in a day.  My capacity to write 3853 words every day is equal to my capacity to fly. I will go back to my routine of writing when I want to.  That’s what works for me: doing what I want to do, and avoiding doing things that are annoying.  I’m not proud of this, I’m just telling you the truth.

I’m back to writing a little bit everyday.  I aim for a sentence and am so proud when I get out a paragraph.  I respect you NaNoWriMo, but I just don’t think it’s going to work out between us.  I would say we could stay friends, but we both know I’ve already started secretly hating you.

 

 

*The point is to just write write write, and edit later.

 

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Poetry Thursdays- Thursday November 8th

Here’s a poem I wrote today.  I wanted it to be a Haiku, but, you know.  Please feel free to Haiku it in the comments.

My despair is like a flushing toilet

The water spins up higher and higher until I think it’s going to overflow

Then it gets sucked down into the pipes and fills up again to a manageable level.

What It Feels Like (Sometimes)- Monday October 22nd

photo by Jeremy Lawson

Tragedy strikes us all at some point in our lives. When it happens to other people, we think “ugh I can’t imagine, how do they get out of bed in the morning, how do they go on?”.  Then it happens to us, and we realize (at some point) that we go on because that’s what we do.  The human experience is hard, but it doesn’t kill us.  There’s only a very small portion of people who decide to stay in their pajamas, or to drink themselves into a permanent numbness, or to stop answering the phone when their mother checks to see if they’re ok.  We all think we’re going to be in that small group of people, then we go through what we go through, and we just aren’t those people.  We are the people who keep going (even if we take a few weeks or months to be numb, and ignore phone calls, and live in our PJ’s).  We are the people who can’t help but notice that there is beauty in the harsh world we’re stuck in. We are most of us.

A broken heart seems to shatter some timing device in our lives. Everything gets reset.  Time moves differently, and our memories are reorganized.

When it’s all over (it’s never over, but there is a time when your heart doesn’t actually hurt anymore, and you can breath without thinking “breath in, breath out”) we think that now we’re equipped with a special knowledge.  We didn’t act right when our friend/cousin/sister/co-worker went through their tragedy, but now we know exactly what to do.  We send food, we never say “well at least…”, we try to listen and not offer advice unless we’re asked, we call long after the funeral when we know everyone else has gone back to their regular lives.

But it’s not enough.  We’re so helpless to save each other.  We hate that part of our special knowledge is knowing that we can’t fix it for other people.  We can’t convince anyone else that they too will be part of the group that keeps going.  They won’t be destroyed by their grief either.  And it’s not because they are “so strong” (because no one feels so strong, and hearing that is confusing when you spend hours every day crying or plotting to run away or throwing things at the television when certain commercials come on, or pressing sharp things into the soft skin on your arm just to feel a more manageable kind of pain) it’s because that’s what we do.  We just decide we aren’t going to give up, even when we’d rather decide to be the people who give up.  We are most of us.

It feels like we are alone.  It feels like no one understands us.  It feels (eventually) that we have to hide our pain away so we don’t scare people.  As we heal we grow afraid that the people we lost are fading away, as if we have to exchange our selves for their presence.  It’s not true.  We grapple with guilt, and we monitor our thoughts with hyper-vigilence, trying to find prof that we didn’t deserve to be happy or that we weren’t good enough to keep them.  It’s not true.

Years later, we make new friends who don’t know what we went through.  Sometimes we tell them, sometimes we don’t.  We wonder if the guy who snapped at us in the coffee shop was going through his tragedy.  We try and give people a little more room.  Because now we know.  We are most of us.  And sometimes it feels like we are all together, and sometimes it feels like we are completely alone.

I’m Tired – Monday October 8th

I’m tired all the time.  I thought it would get better when Hazel started sleeping more.  I thought it would get better when I lost weight.  I thought it wold get better when it wasn’t so hot out.

I try and remember if there was a time when I had a lot of energy.  I’m afraid that this is just my personality, like I’m just a low energy person.  If I was born 10,000 years ago and all my cave-mates were like “Run!  Here comes a saber tooth tiger!” I’d probably be like “I’m in the middle of a nap though”.  Then I’d be eaten. Or, maybe I’d start a gene pool that evolves into a sub-sect of humans who have a “play dead” response instead of  a “fight or flight” response when faced with stress.

I do enjoy exercising, but I prefer it be bookended by naps or couch-sitting.

Obviously this tiredness doesn’t contribute well to being a working mom.  It’s not the working or the momming that suffers as much as the chores.  Clean and dirty laundry piles up around the house.  Hazel chases dog-hair tumble weeds and every night I have to untangle the sheets and blankets to get into bed.

I don’t mean to imply that before I had a baby I was very neat and organized.  I just feel more embarrassed by it now, and concerned about the safety risks it can create (pennies on the floor, wires snaking everywhere, constantly worrying that I’m using the last clean bottle).  I wish I was one of those people who liked being upright.   Then at least i could run the vacuum.

I’d like to write more on this topic, but I’m tuckered out.  I’d better go make a coffee and sweeten it with a Five Hour Energy drink.

Overpowering Insecurity – Thursday September 13th

Tom, Hazel and I sat in a diner one Saturday morning eating crepes and strawberries and trying desperately to ignore the people at the table next to us.  I think the woman was trying to win an award for the Most Annoying Human Ever and maybe she thought we were members of the secret board that bestows that honor.

First there were the loud questions, followed by strange, aggressively judgmental comments:

Example #1

Annoying Lady: “How old is your baby?”

Me: “Eight and a Half Months.”

AL: “Oh wow, she’s huge.”

Example #2

AL: “Does she eat solid foods now?”

Me: “Yes she eats anything we’re eating.”

AL: “Oh even crepes huh?  We don’t let Charlie eat that.” Followed by her shouting at Charlie’s face: “CHARLIE WANT SOME EGGIES?  CHARLIE? EGGIES?  CHARLIE?  EGGIES?  CHARLIE?”

Charlie was very cute, but a few times I think he was trying to signal me to rescue him, or at least provide him with ear plugs to muffle the sound of his mother talking to him like he would answer if she could just reach the right volume.  I imagined him saying to her calmly, “Yes, goddamnit, I want some EGGS, but can do without the side order of tinnitus.”

This scenario is not limited to annoying people and their human children.  I’ve encountered many many horrible douche bags at the dog park too. One guy gave me a long lecture about how his Portuguese Water dog could make “an actual wage” working as a search and rescue dog…you know…if the guy wanted to train him to be a search and rescue dog.  Another lady gave me a detailed account of how she was suing the owner of the dog who knocked her down two weeks ago and caused her to break her elbow.

The difference between the dog people and the baby people is that the dog people have a singular agenda: to brag about their dog.  They don’t even really notice or care that you happen to also have a dog.  The baby people want to brag about their baby and make sure you understand that their baby is more advanced/smarter/more organic/slept through the night at three days old/memorized Hamlet’s Third Soliloquy before s/he could talk than yours.  Also, they’re a better parent, as evidenced by these skills.

I appreciate how insecure being a parent makes you.  In fact, I think it’s the most insecure I’ve ever felt about anything in my life- including (but not limited to) finding a prom dress, being on the C-Squad softball team when we’re about to win our first game and everything depends on my at bat, and taking the SAT’s for a third time.  Those things only affected me (well me and a softball team about to get their hopes crushed).  Parenthood affects an ever-expanding pool of people: the baby, you and your partner,  grandparents, cousins, close friends, and eventually….society.  So there are a lot of legitimate reasons to be scared that you’re seriously f*cking the whole thing up.

Luckily, Hazel is already an expert at reassuring me.  She smiles hugely when she wakes up in the morning, when I bring her breakfast, when I show her a ceiling fan, ten seconds after falling over and bashing her face, and laughs hysterically at almost any joke you throw at her.  If a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child, and Tommy Jr (the psychic assures me) is having a good time in the spirit world, Tom and I are in pretty damn good shape.

 

Happy 9 month Birthday Ms. Beautiful!

Our Teef- Friday August 24th

Hazel and I are both experiencing dramatic events in the lives of our teeth.  Her first few teeth are arriving, shiny and sharp, but only after an agonizingly long and painful descent.  Despite the occasional crying jags (hers and mine) and the restless nights, it’s amazing to witness the process.  Each new little tooth cutting through the gum is like a tiny symbol of the struggle of the human condition.  It’s the pain and joy of our existence and growth.  And Hazel suffers her teething with a good-natured grace that makes my heart sing.

During the same weeks, I am experiencing the dental opposite.  My teeth are breaking apart.  It’s like that recurring dream everyone has where you’re perfectly fine one minute then the next minute all of your teeth are falling out of your head.  Except this isn’t a dream, it’s a painful and shockingly expensive reality.

The great thing about dental work is that a dentist will try the least invasive option, charge you $1300, and hope that it will fix the problem.  When the problem persists, they can step up the treatment options in painfulness and expense and convince you that it’s for your own good.  They’ll give you Vicoden for a while, but only for the pain, not for the mental agony.  Luckily I found a guy who would give me Nitrous for the mental agony, which turned an emergency root canal into a really fun afternoon.  The dentist seemed to think my drug-induced jokes were hilarious too, so it was also an ego-booster.

But it does feel like each cracked tooth represents the decline of the human body, the futility of the human existence and the crushing, undeterred march of time.  And I am handling it with the whining and stubbornness that my loved ones have come to expect from me.

Hazel will smile up at me, drooling and laughing as her gums bulge, and I’ll stop pressing my hand against my jaw for a moment and smile back at her.  ”Ok,” I say about once a day “We’ll do it together.  And I hope you’re understanding when you turn 18 and your college fund has taken the form of Mommy’s shiny new crowns.”

I’ll make it up to her at Disney Land.

 

 

Monday July 30th- Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

Hazel has recently entered (what I hope is) a stage where she likes her dad much better than me.  If she bumps her head she wants her dad, if the noise from the garbage disposal or blender scares her she wants her dad, and his jokes are by far the funniest jokes around.

I’m pretending not to be jealous – especially considering that I was the only person Hazel had eyes for the last six months.  Although, I’m pretty sure that being jealous is totally normal and probably healthy because evolutionarily isn’t in our best interest to care who the baby loves most?  Isn’t that why parents happily share our resources with our off spring and forgo sleep and late-night partying and trips to Greece and fitting into their old jeans? I’m sure even pioneer people who were having kids mainly because they didn’t have birth control needed the free labor wanted their kids to like them.  They probably cared about it a lot less, especially when it was time to chop down trees or churn butter or whatever, but at some point I know there was a pioneer mom who had to suppress her annoyance that the pioneer baby laughed so hard when the pioneer dad did the airplane game.  Or oxcart game (more accurately).

People don’t often talk about these dirty little secrets of parenting.  Everyone thinks they’re the only ones going through a petty personal struggle instead of vigilantly appreciating every single solitary moment of parenthood.  Occasionally you can corner some one at book club or the rare night out with friends and get some one else to talk about it in whispered, wine soaked breath.  These favorite-parent days are so important because as soon as you have a baby you realize that you are on Casey-Jones-style train ride to living with a teenager.  Eventually the moment arrives when you realize that from your body came the human being who will come to think that you are the biggest idiot on the planet.

You have created this person.  This person who will manipulate you and mock you and roll their eyes at you in a way that so reminds you of the way you roll your eyes at your own mother that you want to crawl into a hole.  This person will come home reeking like cigarettes (or whatever they’ll have when Hazel is 15) and say right to your face that she wasn’t smoking.  When you point out that she obviously was because she smells like she spent the afternoon in the visiting room at a V.A. home, she’ll roll her eyes at you.  Or she’ll lie so earnestly that you’ll look at her sweet little face, that beautiful combination of generations of people that you love, and you’ll let yourself believe her.  And she’ll think she got away with something.  Even the sweetest, most thoughtful, most loving teenager still doesn’t want to run errands with you, or laugh hysterically when you pretend to gnaw on their tummy.

I was a nice teenager, Tom was a nice teenager, so we’ve got high hopes.  Still, all the energy we currently expel on entertaining Hazel is well spent.  We’ll remember these days fondly when we’re fighting about body piercings and curfews. And if my own parents are any indication, our brains will kindly erase the memories of teenagerdom once Hazel is a nice normal 34 year old.

 

 

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