Saturday, December 22, 2012

Good morning, bad night

I found a lot to love about life this morning after not finding much to love about life last night. I went to bed early--I didn't go to sleep early, just early to bed. In the comfort of pajamas and warm sheets I lied there thinking about all the things that piss me off and all the awesome things I'll never be.

Every month Aron and I have unprotected sex, so every month it's broadly possible that I'll get pregnant. Aron thinks that there are so many people in the world that it must be the case that getting pregnant at anytime during the month is possible. I've heard so many couples complain of difficulties conceiving that I feel like there must only be a window of a few minutes each month during which it's possible to get pregnant. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere between my and Aron's antipodal attitudes about the ease of becoming pregnant.

Only once since my last period have Aron and I had unprotected sex. Last night I said, "I can't wait to have a beer," and Aron scoffed. He would dispute my claim that the sound he made is properly characterized as a scoff, but this is my blog, and here I choose the words.

"Why did you scoff?" I asked. "I didn't," he lied. "You know, if guys could get pregnant," I began, feeling powerfully insightful like Gloria Steinem, "there's no way that they would stop drinking beer every time there was a teensy possibility that they might in fact be pregnant." He scoffed again. "Why did you scoff?" I asked. "I didn't," he lied again. "What are you thinking?" I provoked. He replied coolly:  "I'm not thinking about the differences between genders. I'm only thinking about you."

A few minutes passed. I decided I needed to defend my desire to drink a beer. "I'm not going to drink a beer tonight, but if I did, it wouldn't mean I was being selfish. It would mean I was being realistic."

Realistically, it's silly to assume I'm pregnant. I can't spend my whole fucking life assuming I'm pregnant. For one thing, it's too disappointing every month when it turns out I'm not. For another thing, it's the end of December:  until the beginning of January, I am on on vacation. Between semesters is practically the only time I can enjoy a beer without thinking I should be studying instead. It's not reasonable to throw away the opportunity to drink beer guiltlessly just because I had unprotected sex once in the past month.

For lunch two days ago Aron made a giant amount of vegetarian chili, enough to feed both of us lunch and dinner for three days. As we sat at the kitchen table yesterday eating leftovers, Aron said, "What if you found out I made this with real ground beef instead of the soy crumbles?" I thought about it, then I decided I needed more information:  "How do I find out? Do you tell me, or do I find the empty ground beef package in the trash?" We finished exploring that hypothetical:  I decided that I would be pissed either way but less pissed if Aron had admitted to using ground beef than if I had just discovered the truth on my own. Then I said, "What if I wanted to take the morning after pill?" (I don't know what it's called:  RU-remorseful, or something like that.)

"I would say we don't have enough money," Aron replied. That's the truth. This morning I had to search the house for spare quarters to use to buy some bell peppers. We have barely enough cash to buy gas to make it to our families' houses for Christmas. But in the game of ethical what-if's, the practical response of poverty is not permitted. It's too easy, to clean. The point is to make an ethical mess. "What if we did have enough money?" I pressed him.

(The night before the conversation was when we had the sort of sex that's most likely to lead to pregnancy.)

"I don't know," Aron said, clearly uncomfortable. "That would be weird," he said, and that seemed to be all he wanted to say about the matter.

"Yeah," I agreed, "that would be weird. And I think what our finding it weird indicates is that we are ultimately very much okay with the possibility that we are pregnant again."

I do not think that we are pregnant again.

Four hours later, we were in the car, driving down the road and I said, "We should just do it again. Sex is fun, and if we don't mind getting pregnant, then we should just get pregnant. We would be excited if we found out we were pregnant, so why don't we just try harder to make it happen?" Aron scoffed. "Why did you scoff?" I asked. "I didn't. It's just that, well, there's a difference between accepting a pregnancy and willing one."

It makes no difference to my body and to my freedom to drink beer which sort of intentional state leads to my becoming pregnant.

I seriously do not think we are pregnant again.

Our house is pretty small. The light from our Christmas decorations on the porch shines to the other end of the house, where our bedroom is, at night. While I was in bed last night thinking grumpy thoughts, I could see our new furniture arrangement because of the light coming in through the window overlooking our porch. We recently moved our desk out of the spare bedroom and into our bedroom, which makes me look forward to the approaching spring semester that way getting new school supplies does. Graham only spends an hour or two of each night in his crib. He sleeps best in our bed, and with the desk in our bedroom, Graham can stay asleep in our bed while I am a close, safe distance away studying or completing homework at our desk. If Graham wakes up and rolls over, I will be near enough to hear before he comes close to the edges of our king-sized bed. This will certainly prove simpler and less-time consuming than our old custom of cuddling Graham to sleep and putting him back into his crib five times each night.

We haven't figured out how to get Graham to go to sleep and stay asleep on his own, but we just recently started to figure out how to arrange our furniture to ensure Graham's safety and our own sanity. We moved a bookcase and our sofa into an arrangement that prevents Graham from entering the kitchen. We put our desk in a functional spot. But I wasn't thinking about these improvements in furniture arrangement last night. Last night I looked at the improved set-up and thought about how, right after we arranged everything to ensure his safety, Graham learned how to climb onto the sofa. Climbing on the sofa is a much more difficult skill to master than the skill of falling off the sofa. Since he managed to master the former, I have no doubt that he will soon prove his ability to master the latter. I'm proud, and I'm afraid.

If I did get pregnant the other night my due date would be mid-September, toward the beginning of the fall semester. If I did get pregnant the other night, I'll spend the next eight months (a time period that spans the spring semester as well as any and all summer semesters) being permitted to drink only one cup of coffee a day. College without coffee is a painful thing to image, though I of course have done two semesters of it before.

These are the thoughts I had before falling to sleep last night, and I also thought about how many awesome things I'll never be. I'll never be a runner. I'll never be a doctor. I'll never be a chemist. I'll never be a playwright. I'll never be a landscape architect. I'll never be a poet. I'll never understand foreign affairs. I'll never know how to swim like anything but a frog. I'll never live alone in Amsterdam. I'll never be bilingual.

But I'll always be a mother. I don't enjoy being saccharine, but I can't help it. The idea of always being a mother, of always having children in the world, delights me. I could have bilingual children. I could birth a future landscape architect. I'm not proud of my eagerness to hoist my dreams onto small and weak beings, but I'll do it anyway.

When I woke up this morning the same two things that always make me happy were still true:  Graham was stretching and yawning in bed next to me, and coffee was in the kitchen waiting to be made.

The first thing I do each morning is pour eight ounces of milk into a bottle and hand that bottle to Graham. Next, I boil water for my French press. After I've poured boiling water over my coffee, I put a slice of bread for Graham into the toaster and reach into the cupboard for sunflower butter to spread over the toast. The cupboard containing the sunflower butter is high above the stove. I have to stand on my toes to reach it, and as I stretch, my stomach is exposed over the burner that just finished boiling the water for my coffee. For those few seconds, I feel as comfortable as a cat sleeping in the sun. But when I had Graham I sacrificed my chance to have days like a lazy cat. I am always busy. I busily slice bananas and spread sunflower butter. I busily rush with sunflower butter onto the to the sofa after Graham scales it to pick him up and put him back on the ground.

When Graham is done with breakfast, I wipe his sticky face with a wet paper towel and wash his hands in the sink. He loves putting his hands under the running water. I love it, too.

Graham knows so much now. He knows where his ears, nose, hair, toes, boobies, bellybutton, and feet are. He knows where his tee-shirt, socks, shoes and pants go. He knows also where to find his owl, his train, his books, and his little rocking chair. He sits through my lap through the length of a not-too-text-heavy storybook. When I finish reading, he often wants me to read it again.

When I think of having another child, I don't feel any excitement or nostalgia over the newborn stage. Newborns are terrifyingly fragile. When I think of having a child, I don't think primarily of her sweetly swaddled or learning to crawl:  I think of building relationships into the future. I think of my and Aron's next child listening as Graham talks about how high school differs from middle school, then about how college differs from high school. And then I imagine them, ages thirty and thirty-three, talking about their respective experiences equally. If one of my children ends up being more responsible than the other(s), she or he will call her or his sibling(s) on the phone and say, "Today is mom's birthday. Don't forget to call her."

I wish we could adopt. But since I had to collect change from around the house in order to afford to buy produce today, I know we aren't the sort of people anyone would entrust the life of a child to, unless we create the life our child ourselves. So sooner or later, that will have to happen. Or we could wait until a decent-paying job is secured, and then adopt.

Graham napped long enough for me to type this entire blog entry, but he is waking up now, which means he didn't nap long enough to allow me to proofread. Graham also denied me the opportunity to fully explain myself. If I wrote anything indefensible or insensitive, it's only because I lacked the time to clarify my position. I have excuses but not enough time to give any but one of them:  the excuse of not having enough time.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The second child

This month I’m not in the mood for another baby. I know what you’re thinking:  “Don’t procreate on a whim!” This month I certainly agree with you. It’s probably because I’m on my way to completing an entire book over the course of just two days that I am suddenly no longer experiencing acute baby fever.

As I was waiting to be seen by my midwife at my six-week postpartum appointment, I picked a book called Your Second Child from the office library’s single shelf. Graham was napping, so I had a chance to read the first few pages of the book. The book asked me to consider non-judgmentally if I might possibly enjoying taking a nap or a shopping trip more than I would enjoy taking care of a newborn and her older sibling. Yes, but that’s always been true. (Just kidding. They’re just such disparate pleasures.) Your Second Child emphasized that a reader who decided she would rather spend an afternoon shopping than rocking a baby to sleep shouldn’t judge herself harshly. The important thing is to be honest with oneself.

The book I’m on my way to completing today (at my pregnancy reading pace, a time when I routinely read two, sometimes three books a week) is Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone, which I recently called a memoir but which he calls “a personal history.” Franzen writes so tenderly about his family, even about his parents, which surprises me somewhat: I generally expect artists to harbor deep resentments toward their parents, and Franzen in particular is famous for being an asshole. But about his mother and father Franzen is sweet without seeming insincere; he writes:  “I was cocooned in cocoons that were themselves cocooned. I was the late-arriving son to whom my father, who read to me every weeknight, confided his love of the depressive donkey Eeyore in A. A. Milne, and to whom my mother, at bedtime, sang a private lullaby that she’d made up to celebrate my birth.”

It moves me in the best way to read a great writer appreciate her family, and the more children I have, the greater the odds that one of them will grow up to be an author who writes sweet things about me. And, of course, I want a girl. I want Graham to have a sister.

It’s true that the question “To have more children, or to not?” shouldn’t be answered according to a mood I’m in for an hour or two. But it also seems true that the question shouldn’t be answered only in accordance with a longer-felt disposition. Even if I feel convinced for ten consecutive months of same feeling—that I do want another baby, or that I don’t—there remain at least two other important questions to ask, ones that  have to do neither with my interior state (of emotional preparedness) nor with external facts (of financial preparedness). They are questions that have everything to do with Graham:

1. Will Graham want a sibling?

2. Would Graham be benefited by having a sibling?

I think the answers are:

1. Yes, probably at least occasionally

2. Yes, almost definitely

Anytime I witness someone being a jerk in public, I always assume that he is either an only child or rich. I once had a mixed doubles tennis partner who was such an arrogant winner and such a sore loser that I could not believe that he WASN’T an only child. If I were saying the same things about children with siblings, they would probably laugh. But any only child reading this is probably offended. Only children are like that.

So I feel motivated to have more children because I think Graham would benefit, but I also feel motivated in a why-not sense. Why not have more children? It’s not as if I have any time anymore anyway, and while Graham is young I don’t plan for that to change in any significant way.

But then yesterday it happened:  I read one hundred pages of a book. 

It may seem that given my uncertainty the obviously best thing to do is wait and keep considering whether having another child is actually something I want. But waiting isn't a wholly unproblematic solution:  Graham is almost fourteen-months old, and his starting school right now represents to me my earliest opportunity to have a meaningful existence outside the home. The longer I wait, the more delayed an outside-the-home existence becomes. I'm not so eager for it that I want to throw Graham into daycare right now (an option we can't afford, anyway), but I'm not so content to stay home that I want it to be my reality even when I'm in the middle of, or deep into, my thirties. 

I really don’t think there is anything wrong with only children—not in principle, anyway, but perhaps in practice. I have only children cousins and friends, all of whom are wonderful people. But Aron and I are so in love with Graham, and we haven’t figured out how to pretend not to be for the sake of keeping Graham from becoming an arrogant rotten monster. We actually TELL him:  “You’re so cute, Graham,” and “You’re so funny, Graham,” and “Graham, you have such hot dance moves.” We either have to learn to temper our utter adoration, or we have to have another kid so that Graham won't grow the overblown confidence characteristic of boys who routinely enter and win handsomeness pageants. (I'm pretty sure handsomeness pageants are real things.)

Are these things I actually believe? That you can ruin a child by loving him too much? That you can ruin a child less by forcing him to be a big brother?

In a sense I think Your Second Child is right:  I have enjoyed reading over these past two days more than I would enjoy taking care of a brand new human. But that's just one axis of a question comprised of so many different axes. I can't compare the fulfillment Graham brings to me with anything else. It's not as if raising Graham brings me as much joy as reading one hundred good books. Last night Aron and I watched a TV show on Hulu, and there was an advertisement for something (I don't remember what) that featured these super skinny French girls. (They may not have actually been French, but the vibe of the ad was Parisian.) There is no doubt that these girls have elbows and shoulders. If you look at me, it's possible to doubt that I have elbows and shoulders. They are hidden under a thicker layer of skin. I don't want to want to be skinny, but I want to be skinny. Getting pregnant is antithetical to getting skinny. But you can't fairly say that wanting to be skinny cancels out a desire to have a child. I think the would-you-rather game that Your Second Child asks readers to play is perhaps helpful but certainly not conclusively answer-providing. 

Doesn't it seem like "Saturday Night Live" could have a recurring skit with a couple that is always announcing that they might be pregnant? The man would say, "We have big news!" And the woman would say, "We might've conceived last night!" 

I take from the real-life infrequency of these sorts of announcements that there's something not quite appropriate about them. I both hope and fear every month that I'm pregnant. Aron and I tend to have sex like people who wouldn't mind getting pregnant again, which is the kind of people we in fact are. Because I both hope and fear getting pregnant again, negative pregnancy test results both relieve and disappoint me. I told my oldest sister, Amanda, that I am both relieved and disappointed each month when it turns out that I'm not pregnant. Amanda, the mother of three of my favorite kids in the whole world, told me that I should only ever feel relief. "Those negative pregnancy tests are dodged bullets."

I believe her, and yet ... I kind of want to get shot. Even when I'm not in the mood to be shot I still kind of want to be shot. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Motivation

I'm sitting at a computer in the UGA library to address this question:
"Kant and Mill offer very different analyses of moral motivation. For Kant, our motive is the source of moral value, whereas for Mill, motive matters little or nothing as regards the morality of an action. Articulate both of their arguments for the source of moral value and critically examine the relationship between motive and value for both philosophers, articulating what you take to be the right analysis (it need not be either Kant’s or Mill’s)."
Aron and Graham left Athens this morning at 7:30 to visit family in Peachtree City, and I stayed behind intending to work on a take-home test, the first question of which is the one above regarding Kant and Mill. I wish I cared to answer the question regarding the disparities between Mill and Kant vis-a-vis moral motivation. I wish I cared. I really wish I did.

When I think about what has happened in my life during my absence from blogging, three main things occur to me; they are:
  1. GRAHAM TURNED ONE AND HAD THE BEST PARTY EVER.
  2. A new semester of school started.
  3. Aron did a sociology project on Honey Boo Boo.
I love Graham Lorenzo Hall so much. I feel my love for him in my chest, my head, my hands, my arms. He makes me so happy. When I'm not with him I feel like I should carry around a gallon of milk; at least then my arms wouldn't feel so empty. (Mimi, my only remaining grandparent, my dad's mom, once successfully quit smoking for a week by holding a Bic pen between her fingers instead of a cigarette. She said she felt that her addiction was to the physical feeling of having a cigarette in her hands and not to the chemicals contained in cigarettes. She returned to smoking after that Bic pen week, probably because she didn't want to quit; she wanted to want to quit, like I want to want to work on my take-home test. Mimi seemed to have the capacity to easily quit smoking, but she lacked the motivation. She also probably had access to all the rational reasons in favor of giving up the smoking habit:  she knew that smoking is unhealthy, expensive, stinky and an aggravation to others. What she lacked was the internal fact of being motivated to quit.) It occurred to me to carry around a gallon of milk so that the heavy object in my arms could help trick my heart into thinking it isn't lonely for Graham. Carrying around milk wouldn't trick me entirely. I would never mistake Graham for a gallon of milk or a gallon of milk for Graham; however, when I walk without Graham in my arms, I am always actively feeling amiss. I am always feeling the emptiness of my arms. If I didn't feel the emptiness of my arms, I might not always be actively thinking about the reason they're empty.

It's because Graham is the love of our lives that Aron and I wanted to throw him a big birthday bash. When we shared with family and friends our decision to order an entire keg and an inflatable bounce house for the event, a few people felt the need to point out to us that Graham wouldn't remember his first birthday party. The point, I think, was this:  "Why are you spending so much money and going to so much trouble when Graham won't even be able to reference the memory of having had a first birthday party at all?" My reply to the people who felt the need to make this point was that if I live long enough, there may arrive a day that I don't remember the party either. Of course, the possibility of my one day not remembering is just that:  a possibility. And even if that day does arrive, I will still have had many years of fondly remembering Graham's first birthday party. Graham, on the other hand, won't have even a single year of fondly remembering his first birthday celebration. The party was less than a month ago, and he's probably already forgotten it. So why did we spend so much money and go to so much trouble when Graham won't be able to reference the memory of having had a first birthday party at all? It's an almost indefensible decision, really. All I can say is that Aron and I wanted, as much as it's possible, to spread the joy that we feel over Graham's birth and life, and we could only come up with two ways of doing that:  1.  By letting adults imbibe as much alcohol as they could, and 2.  By letting children play in an inflatable bounce house. The bounce house was a bigger hit even for adults than the keg. Practically every adult played in the inflatable bounce house, and few of them partook in the keg. Lessons learned for Graham's next birthday:  yes to the bounce house; yes to a pony keg.

Before Graham turned one, a new semester of school started. This has by far been the easiest semester of my entire, extended college career. My main source of stress is that I am old as fuck and still an undergraduate. I feel like my classmates are closer to Graham's age than they are to mine; that is undeniably untrue (it's not even close to being true), but that feeling represents my subjective state when I'm sitting in classes:  all my male classmates look like they are wearing bigger versions of clothes I'd dress Graham in. None of my female classmates seem even close to being motherly. They seem like they still need their mothers. They often complain about their mothers. Really, they do.

I decided this semester to lower my expectations of myself as a student, and it's really worked out well. Aron hasn't lowered his expectations of himself. He continues to feel stress about projects and papers, and he spends much more time in the library than I do. He can't stand making anything below an A; his dissatisfaction with B's and below is admirable. He sees where he's going next:  he's going to graduate school. I see where I'm going next:  I'm going to the park (or, during the winter, to the library) with Graham. It's rare for me that I can take the future very seriously. I can't imagine Graham being five:  I can't imagine it for him, I can't imagine it for myself. If I were capable of believing that Graham will one day start school, I might raise my expectations of myself as a student. Because when Graham starts school, I'll need either to start working outside the home or to apply to graduate school.

Aron recently completed a sociology project on Honey Boo Boo. We hadn't previously known anything about her. Aron and I are in general pretty cut off from pop culture:  we never know what songs are popular. I have almost nothing to say about Honey Boo Boo. The something I do want to say about her relates to my blog. In one of my more recent blog updates, I posted a picture of Graham taking a nap:  it was the day he turned nine months old, and he napped naked on top of me. It's not an unusual event, and because it's one of the sweetest things about my life, I shared a picture of it. There's a feature on my blog that allows me to see what Google searches lead to Amy's Sayings, and when I recently consulted that feature I learned that a search for "naked nine year old" lead to the picture of Graham's naked nap on top of me. So someone who wanted to see a naked nine year old instead saw my naked nine-month old.

During his Honey Boo Boo research, Aron watched an interview with Honey Boo Boo's mom in which she was asked if she felt guilty for making her daughter into a sex object. The mother of Honey Boo Boo responded that no one should regard a six-year-old sexually and that if someone did regard Honey Boo Boo that way, it is neither Honey Boo Boo nor Honey Boo Boo's mother's fault. I like that answer. I think it makes sense.

I really ought to stop blogging and start working on my take-home test. It's amazing to me that anyone visits the library to get work done. There are too many books here.

 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The events leading to the least successful yard sale in the history of yards

At the beginning of the summer the possibility of life being anything but absurdly difficult ever again seemed so unreal that I decided to pretend that good times weren't near. But good times actually weren't too far off at the beginning of the summer, and now, near the end of summer, they're here. Student loans for the fall semester arrived in our bank account last week, which means that Graham can finally stop squeezing into 9-month pajamas and start stretching his limbs in expansive 12-month ones. I bought a dust buster. We can afford a new shower curtain liner:  they cost less than three dollars, but at the beginning of summer we couldn't spare even that. On Wednesday/Thursday, Aron and I treated ourselves to a date day, lasting a full twenty-four hours, in Atlanta. Graham spent the night at his Grandma's house, and Aron and I spent the night in a hotel. We went to Laughing Skull's open mic comedy night, which was really hilarious. Each comedian had five minutes, and of the twenty that we saw, only two bombed. They were big, awkward bombs. The rest made my face hurt from laughing.

Doing a five-minute stand-up routine has become a goal of mine:  I am sure of my potential to be a big, awkward bomb. I'm super shy, and my voice shakes even in classrooms—still, I love comedy and think making a few people in a room full of people laugh at least a few times over the course of a few minutes is a worthwhile goal, one I would feel really proud about achieving. So sometime within the next two years, when everyone who loves (or at least likes) me is available to attend the show and be demonstrative in ways that calm and confidentize me, I'm going to do it. I'm going to be a comic for a few minutes. 

It's worth mentioning that during date day Aron and I walked two miles from our hotel to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, two miles back to the hotel, and about three miles round trip between the hotel and comedy club. It's worth mentioning because I think all that walking on city streets made me remember how much I love Atlanta. All that walking made me fall in love with the idea of going to graduate school at Emory. But of course all that walking was done during a time when I wasn't actively being a parent. Atlanta seems like a more difficult city to be a graduate student/parent in than Athens—I have no idea what makes it seem that way. Traffic? The fact that going to school in Atlanta would require moving to Atlanta? So Atlanta seems daunting, but when I'm in Athens I'm not even in the mood to consider attending graduate school. In Atlanta, I am favorably disposed to the idea. There's something inspiring about that city. Or maybe there's something inspiring about that city during a daylong vacation.

Leaving Graham for twenty-four hours was extremely difficult—about once an hour I experienced panicky spells:  during them I wanted to end date day and return immediately to my beautiful boy. If I had thought that Graham was experiencing any similar panic, I would've obeyed my inclination to end date day. We called to check on Graham every two to three hours and never heard him making anything but happy sounds. I think he was fine when he was away from us, but he seemed truly thrilled to see us again after date day was over:  when I picked him up he held my face and smiled at me. And ever since our return from date day, I can't walk away from him without him crying. Even when he's in Aron's arms, he screams when I leave. I don't want to say it makes me secretly happy to see him upset about my absence. It's not a secret:  I am openly happy about his wanting to be attached to me. The feeling is mutual.

I love to indulge. If I have a philosophical affiliation, it's definitely Epicureanism. I love to eat, drink, read and relax. Parenthood makes impossible certain Epicurean indulgences, so when I took a daylong break from being an active parent, I indulged where I could:  by noon I had had a mojito and a half, and by the time date day was over I had eaten a Cuban meal, a Chinese meal, a bagel, half a pizza, and an omelet with goat cheese, mushrooms and tomato coulis. (Omelet, incidentally, has an interesting etymology.) Eating well is expensive. I am almost morally opposed to paying for a haircut, so last week I let Aron cut my hair. (Usually I do the cutting myself, but last time I attempted it I mangled my locks so profoundly that at least four people felt they needed to point out to me that my hair needed to be re-cut. Aron did such a swell job that I've received only nice remarks about my hair.) Anyway, the point of the haircut stories is that I don't enjoy spending money even though some of the things I enjoy most in life, like food and fancy booze, cost money. I buy almost all my clothes used, so that helps make our financial expenditures match our ideals. I don't buy used food. Dumpster diving seems like a fine idea, but it's not something that seems worth getting in trouble over, and if I had to pay a babysitter to watched Graham while I dived, we probably wouldn't come out ahead financially. 

I wanted to make back the money that went into my stomach on date day, so I decided to host a yard sale, which is actually happening right now. Our yard sale has been so unsuccessful that I have been able to type this entire blog without once being interrupted by a customer or potential customer. 

It rained. Our junk stayed dry on the porch. No one has come. It's a lonely flop. I've come inside from the porch to lie on the sofa under Graham for his morning nap, and through the window in the living room I can see the dresses I'm trying to sell hanging from a line of rope stretching from one end of the porch to the other. I keep momentarily mistaking the dresses for shoppers. The rainy failure of this yard sale feels like a Raymond Carver short story. The only difference is I love Raymond Carver short stories.

School starts Monday. I'm taking four classes:  two three-hour and two four-hour. Aron is taking four classes also:  all three-hours. And he'll be working thirty hours a week. I'm not quite sure how the fuck we're going to do it, but I anticipate that this semester will involve anxiety attacks and long breaks from the blogging world. I'm not flattering myself that you care. If I don't have a chance to blog, I'll miss it. That's all I'm saying. I asked Aron if he thought it was possible that we would get to the end of the fall semester and say to each other, "Wow, that was easy!" He doesn't think so. But we certainly survived summer!

It's only because I find melodrama funny that I'm being so melodramatic.

Someone's on the porch, and she's not a dress!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nine months

Graham turned nine months old today, and we celebrated by taking a naked nap. 


Graham turns one year old on October 30, and on the Saturday nearest the 30th (the 27th, I think) we're going to throw a costume birthday party, since it's so close to Halloween, and ask attendees to dress as their favorite character from children's literature. I love Elmer the patchwork elephant, but I also love the way Graham looks in his plain birthday suit. Pictures posted three months from now will reveal Graham's costume! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fighting a baby

Mimi likes to say that her life was "a happening." Without exactly planning anything, everything turned out nicely for her. She married my grandfather, who took such complete care of her that it wasn't until after he died that Mimi realized she didn't know how to put gas into her car—he had always done it for her. She says that she went directly from her parents' care into her husband's. (Almost immediately after marrying my grandfather, as they drove away from the wedding together, Mimi asked, "Bill, what am I going to do if I find someone I like better than you?" And he replied coolly that he would work very hard to make sure that didn't happen.) When Mimi says that her life was "a happening," she means that she never calculated its events or outcomes. They just happened.

Feeling a lack of responsibility for—or a lack of control over—your own life is a hallmark, I think, of depression. But Mimi is not depressed. Feeling that your life has made itself without your active, planned input might amount to a sort of ontological humility:  it's difficult to resist regarding yourself as the center of the universe—although I have heard that our first-person mode of being/thinking is a construct, I truly can't imagine it any other way—but maybe being the center of things just means that influences are pressing in on you from every direction all the time. If you're satisfied with the result of the pressing, I guess you could be called humble. Maybe Mimi is satisfied; maybe Mimi is humble. 

Before Eva was born, Aron and I went to lunch with Ashley and Paul, and during that lunch Paul asked something about putting a baby on a schedule—I don't remember what he said exactly, but I think it was a suggestion-disguised-as-a-question, like, Isn't it a good idea to start your baby on a schedule early so that she can develop at least a small sense of self-sufficiency by recognizing that there are times that are for you and the baby together and times that are for you and the baby separately. Aron and I essentially said that you don't impose a schedule on a baby; a baby imposes a schedule on you. A baby is a whole universe of influences.

But ...

I did some research on Google a few nights ago and became convinced that Graham has been experiencing night terrors. (I am not entirely convinced that he has ever truly had a night terror, and no one I've mentioned his "night terrors" to has been even slightly convinced that he's ever had one. I think the consensus is that I'm being a dramatic, panicky mother.) Within thirty minutes of putting Graham to bed each night, he wakes up screaming and is, for up to two minutes, inconsolable. (Night terrors can last fifteen minutes or more, so if Graham has in fact had night terrors, I am grateful that they are the brief kind.) What I learned when reading about night terrors is that babies who have them are actually asleep during the episodes even when they appear—because of open eyes and thrashing—to be awake. I also learned that a sleep-deprived baby is more at risk of having night terrors, so for the past four days I have been forcing Graham to take at least two naps, together totaling at least three hours, each day. A couple of weeks ago Graham started fighting his morning nap so hard that I thought he must no longer need to take one, but reading about the connection between night terrors and sleep deprivation has convinced me that his need for significant periods of daytime sleep remains. So I have, like I said, forced Graham to continue taking his morning nap.

Which means I did something. Did I exert a strong maternal influence? Did Graham have no other option than to submit to my napping commands? Well, only kind of. What does it mean to force a baby to nap? It means being as patient as possible through whiny, flailing protestations. It means giving up at least thirty minutes in struggling to calm a baby who is attempting to rub his sleepy eyes and crawl simultaneously, and then it means giving up another hour to be the mattress for the baby once he has been successfully subdued. 

Ensuring that Graham gets more sleep during the day is necessary for his wellbeing. He needs sleep, so I fight him for him. He is happening to me much more than I am happening to him. I would like to claim credit for the fact that Graham almost never pees on me during diaper changes anymore, but I don't think I had much to do with that either. It has just happened to work out that way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Feeling healed at the Farmer's Market

I went to bed Thursday night after reading an article in The New York Times about a man in his mid-30s who has been in prison since he murdered both his parents at age fourteen. The article covered his efforts to earn early release from prison, which a judge agreed to grant—partly because of strong support among prison officials for the inmate's early release—as long as the murderer's family didn't object. One aunt, the murdered mother's sister, objected, so the murderer must serve the remainder of his prison sentence before, ten years from now, being released. After reading the article, I went to bed but, feeling deeply disturbed by the story, didn't sleep very well.

And when I returned to The New York Times homepage Friday morning, during Graham's nap, I saw the news about the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. It is profoundly, inexpressibly sad to imagine the pain and fear of the victims—those killed, those wounded, witnesses, and all their family members and friends. Following the shooting, Adam Gopnik wrote an article for The New Yorker called "One More Massacre." (I have been begging everyone I know to read it, and I'll continue to beg:  please read the article.) Gopnik reiterates in his article on Aurora what he regarded as THE horrific afterimage of the rampage at Virginia Tech in 2007:  on the Virginia Tech campus, cellphones rang from the pockets of dead students as their worried parents called. I won't pretend to know how painful it is to lose a child, but I'm certain that parents and other relatives of the victims, as well as the victims' friends, are feeling so much sorrow. I've been thinking about these people. 

And I've also, selfishly but naturally, been thinking about Graham, who has already showed interest in leaving my arms and will eventually, undoubtedly make and realize plans to leave our home, which seems—coffeetable corners, electrical outlets, blankets and all—much safer than the world outside.

In the article I read Thursday night I learned that one feature common to the lives of children who commit parricide (as noted by psychologists) is that they (the children) are shut in by family and cut off from a larger, non-familial social network. I'm not worried about figuring out a way to raise Graham that doesn't involve his murdering me. I don't anticipate that being a challenge. I'm not meaning to be flippant. Being killed by Graham just truly isn't a concern I have; however, what psychologists have said about children who commit parricide has made me take seriously the possibility that my reclusive tendencies could be inimical to Graham's development. I wouldn't want him, for example, to become antisocial. I don't want to impart my social anxieties to him. He shouldn't be afraid of the world, but if he takes too many of his cues from me, he might grow up awkward, shy and frightened. (Two things I'd like to note:  1. I understand that I may be overestimating my influence on Graham, who is his own person and has his own personality; and 2. You can invite me parties—I'm not exactly a weirdo:  my anxiety is mostly internal, and beer is a very effective treatment for it.)

But it's true that I fear the world. I'm afraid of violence, car accidents, racism, guns going off accidentally, apathy, desensitization to the pain of others, contagious illnesses. I'm afraid when anyone—anyone—allows Graham to chew on her fingers. Strangers' fingers and viral rashes are just two of the things that can be avoided simply by staying home. But staying home won't help Graham know the world in a real, experiential way.

What I want to talk about is the beautiful time Graham and I had at the Athens' Farmer’s Market on Saturday. It was tremendously restorative emotionally. We arrived just after 10:00am and stayed until nearly noon, doing little more than watch families shop and play and listen to Kyshona Armstrong's gorgeous voice and guitar, live. (Please check out her website. She will blow your mind gently.) Graham and I bought an eggplant and purple okra, but the okra's purple, as you can see in the picture below, didn't survive steaming.

purple potatoes, edamame, okra, spinah/arugala salad with kiwi, mango and almond slivers
Because I drink at least three liters of water each day, I make extremely frequent bathroom visits, and because I very rarely put Graham in a stroller (he's almost always in my arms and propped on a hip), my public bathroom visits are always challenging. Wearing a dress simplifies things:  I can get my underwear down with one hand and hold Graham in the air while I pee so he doesn't get toilet seat germs on his feet. And then, somehow, I wipe. This is an unconvincing rendition of just how skilled I am at peeing in public with Graham. I feel incapable of relating all the maneuvers involved (I myself am unsure how exactly it happens), but I want you to know that I am without fail very adept at going pee while holding Graham, which I had to do during our trip to the Farmer's Market.

One hand washes the other, unless you're a mother holding your child at the sink, in which case one hand washes itself while the other hand, attached to the arm holding the baby, awaits its turn to wash itself. That's how hand-washing after peeing with Graham normally happens:  one hand at a time. But at the Farmer's Market on Saturday, another mother, with a child in a stroller, offered to hold Graham after she washed her hands so that I could afterward wash mine. I said, "Gosh, where were you when I was awkwardly pulling my panties down?!" Just kidding. I said, "Thank you." I said it three times:  once for the act itself and twice for her recognizing that someone needed help and instantly offering to be that help. I am so glad this woman exists. I am sure she makes lots of lives happy. She's such a mother.

It drizzled lightly for most of the time that Graham and I were at the market, and although the rain was soft, it fell so steadily that the ground was soaked. I saw several mothers sit themselves on the wet ground and be the dry seat for their children as they ate snacks and listened to the live music. So many moms not minding getting wet since it meant that their kids could stay mostly dry. 

There are pie, pastry and coffee booths at the Farmer's Market, and next week I plan to bring a stroller so that Graham can sit while I indulge in coffee and a treat. I am so surprised each time I use a stroller by how nice it feels to not have a sore back and sore shoulders. It's an unfamiliar feeling, but usually feeling sore is worth the closeness of having Graham in my arms. We like being close, and we love the Farmer's Market.

If I whispered "patty cake" into Graham's ear at the end of a performed song, he could clap. And he will next week, too.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alphabet Pal and other bad influences



Before Graham was born Aron and I planned to forbid battery-operated toys in our house. Aron and I both have nieces and nephews who play with toys that yell at them in unintelligible mechanical voices and sing songs that sound like a car breaking down. Finding those sounds insufferably aggravating as an aunt made me worry about my maternal prospects. I worried that feeling overwhelmed at times by all things children—the way they enjoy being tossed onto a pile of pillows for hours; the way they like shows like Veggie Tales; the way they whine and are indefatigable—was a clear indicator of my parental unfitness. Anyway, we all know that beggars can't be choosers, and neither, evidently, can acceptors. Aron and I have accepted lots of battery-operated toys from generous (and disobedient) family members. They haven't threatened our sanity as I expected. The noises that amuse Graham don't annoy me at all. And although I get physically tired from chasing and emotionally tired from caring, it's never an overwhelming drag to crawl on the floor with Graham. Graham's good moods are so contagious. Because he likes his noisy toys, I like them too. But I still worry that singy, blinky toys encourage passivity—I don't know whether that's a reasonable worry, but it's an intuition I have. And I also worry that Graham will learn to repeat silly toy sentences, and a certain noisy toy called Alphabet Pal makes me think that's a valid worry, because Alphabet Pal, featured above with Graham, has been designed to avoid certain words.

Alphabet Pal is a plastic caterpillar with, yep, alphabet letters running along both sides of its body. The toy has a few different settings:  one makes Alphabet Pal sing the alphabet, one makes Alphabet Pal say the alphabet, and one gives the phonetics of each letter (so A is "ah.") If Alphabet Pal is on the phonetic setting, it won't play the S-sound if the P-, E-, -N-, and I-sounds are hit first; instead, Alphabet Pal giggles and exclaims, "That tickles!" I don't know if a giggly "That tickles!" is the best response the toy could give after a user nearly touches penis

I know that Alphabet Pal is ticklish because my husband I have the curiosity of children and the dirty minds of pre-teens. With each other's help, Aron and I got Alphabet Pal to pronounce handjob—cooperation was necessary because handjob is a longish word and its letters are spaced far from one another along Alphabet Pal's body. We were going to try cunnilingus after having success with handjob, but I think some sort of parenting task got in the way of our figuring out the sequencing. "Okay, I'll get the C, I, L, and G if you can hit the U's and the N's." Timing is the real challenge. I'm determined to try again soon:  does cunnilingus tickle Alphabet Pal? I've never seen Veggie Tales, but I know the show stars a penis and a vagina disguised as a cucumber and a tomato, so I didn't start the fire.

Graham isn't allowed to watch TV until he's three (for real), at which point he'll be restricted to high-quality, slow-paced, non-violent films, like … I don't know. Is there a director who combines the slow, meditative cinematography of Terrence Malick and (pre-Pineapple Express) David Gordon Green with the tenderly dark humor of Robert Altman's family dramas? It's fine if he's bored.

Graham reads neither my blog nor my thoughts, and he hasn't yet repeated anything Alphabet Pal has happened or been made to say. I hardly ever utter bad words in front of him, and Aron's teaching him Italian, and the occasions that I attempt to read him Latin are the ones when I, out of frustration, let bad words slip. "Tantum religio potuit, ummm, sadere, oops, shit, suadere malorum. That's why you can't watch Veggie Tales. Because Lucretius said so."      

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The inventory of easiness


Graham at eight and a half months
Aron and I went with Graham to the video store a few weeks ago and caught ourselves in an interesting lie. For the last two months of her pregnancy, we had been telling Ashley (Aron's sister) and Paul, her husband, to take as many naps and watch as many movies as possible before Eva was born. (Eva is now one month and one day old.) We had been warning them that once Eva arrived their napping and movie-watching opportunities would surely depart. But as we perused the new release section at the video store a few weeks ago, Aron and I kept coming across movies we had seen since Graham's birth. In total we counted four new release movies that we had rented and watched, but I also remember a week of watching only Woody Allen movies on Netflix (my favorite:  Hannah and Her Sisters)—so between Graham's first and third month, Aron and I watched eight movies. It was strange to both of us to realize that. We had both felt certain that we hadn't seen a movie since I was pregnant, but in fact we've seen several.

During our video store visit (which, before making the new release discovery, we thought was Graham's first time in a video rental store), we rented Carnage and Shame. We were able to watch Carnage over the course of three days, with the volume very low and the subtitles on, as Graham slept on top of me. I was too afraid to watch Shame around Graham. Even if it were on mute and Graham's eyes were closed, and even if his head were facing the other direction—even if he were deaf and blind. I shouldn't have rented a movie that we can't watch around Graham's eyes or ears, because we are never far from Graham or his component parts.

Graham doesn't nap alone. If he did, I don't know what I'd do, so unused am I to not being a mom mattress. And I love being a mom mattress. But I guess if I weren't Graham's bed I'd be able to watch a movie during the day while he slept in his crib. Watching movies has gotten more difficult, impossible even, because we don't want Graham to even peek at moving images or hear dialogue in his sleep. But movies are probably the only regression we've experienced since Graham's early babyhood. Everything else about life with him has gotten so much easier. 

I remember on the first day of one of my classes last semester everyone having to introduce herself to the rest of the class:  every student had to say his or her name, major and why she signed up for the class. I said my name, my major and that my new baby was the reason for every one of life's "whys." And then I was asked how old my baby was, and I remember saying, "Ten weeks." And I remember the class gasping collectively. 10 weeks felt old to me then, and now, of course, it seems so young. Later in the semester, a student doing a presentation asked his classmates to raise our hands if we had (or didn't have, I don't remember which) a smart phone, and I whispered to the kid sitting in front of me, "What's a smart phone?" and all the students sitting near me looked at me like I was an oddball for not knowing. I thought a smart phone was a brand of phones, like a Blackberry or something, not just a type. Later in the semester the word colostrum came up, and I enjoyed seeing my classmates look confused about it. 

Anyway! Ten weeks. Graham was ten weeks old when my most recent semester of school started. (Since I didn't take a semester off, Graham was only two weeks when I returned to school the very first time, but there were only a couple of weeks remaining in the semester before winter break.) When Eva was born she had skinny legs that I marveled at. I honestly didn't remember Graham’s legs being as skinny, but just two weeks ago I saw a picture of his legs at seven days old:  they were just as thin as Eva's, maybe thinner. Sometimes I think I don't remember a thing.

Yesterday Graham and I went to Publix for asparagus and granola, and Aron stayed home to work on his Italian homework. When Graham and I returned to the house, I put the granola on top of the refrigerator while I was holding Graham with one arm:  his legs were wrapped around my hip, and he was holding my chin and smiling as I made it and his hands move up and down, and he started to laugh, and then I started to laugh, and I said, "I miss you." And Aron, who was sitting at the kitchen table watching Graham and me interact, said, "Why do you miss him?" I didn't know why. I was holding him that moment, and I hadn't been away from him all day. But I did have a missing him sensation, and I realized that Graham is growing so fast, and developing so many capabilities over such short amounts of time, that I sometimes don't recognize him as my baby. My baby, for example, couldn't pull himself up on the coffee table. Graham can. My baby didn't try to eat my flip flops. Graham does. 

Making an inventory of things that have gotten easier and more impressive about Graham helps me realize that his growing up is as good for me as it is for him. Here's what the easy inventory looks like:
  • SLEEP!:  Although he doesn't nap alone, Graham has grown into a stellar sleeper! During the first month, Aron and I got (or felt like we were getting) fewer than four hours of sleep each night. (I always found it difficult to follow the "sleep while the baby sleeps" advice during the day. When Graham took daytime naps, I wanted to wash dishes and fold laundry. Clutter makes me crazy.) These days Graham usually sleeps the first four hours of the night in his crib alone. After those first few hours, he wakes up and needs to be cuddled back to sleep, and I tend to keep him in bed next to me for the rest of the night, which feels easier than risking his waking up by lying him back down in his crib. I rarely get fewer than eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Eating:  The past month has been the only time in Graham's life that I have felt confident that he's eating enough. (The pediatrician has never doubted that Graham was getting enough food, but I still worried.) Graham eats about thirty ounces of formula a day and six to eight ounces of solids, including stage thee meals like minestrone and ratatouille! He also takes excellent poopies.
  • Sleeping/eating:  Because Graham eats so well during the day, he has started to sleep through his former nighttime feedings. Sometimes he gets hungry around 4:00am, but for the most part he sleeps from 8:00pm (minus a frantic waking or two when he needs some snuggles) until 7:00am. 
  • Laughter:  Graham makes me laugh. I make Graham laugh. Graham makes himself laugh, which makes me laugh. We live in a funny house!
  • Mobility:  Parents of crawlers and amblers used to tell Aron and me to enjoy having a non-crawling baby. They told us that a crawling baby is an exhausting baby. That's true, but a crawling baby is also an impressive baby. And although I am halfway heartbroken each time Graham wants to get out of my arms and onto the floor to play, I am also discovery that it's nice to be able to use my hands for something other than holding Graham. The openness of our house allows me to cook in the kitchen and still be able see Graham's adventures in the living room. And our house is small, so he's never closer to true danger than I am to him. And I'm quick, quicker than he is, for now.
  • Reading:  Graham doesn't enjoy being read to as much as I enjoy reading to him, but as he's crawling around contentedly it's easy for me to sneak some poetry into his ears without him becoming a restless audience member. 
  • Cognizance:  Graham is increasingly aware of the world around him. He waves to the birds he hears chirping in the trees. He waves at strangers on the street. I think he attempts to sing along when I start the the "A B C" song (though it's true that I have optimistic mom ears). In August we are going to take him to the aquarium. I am so excited to see his eyes see all the animals stolen from the sea for a profit. I'll work on developing his moral cognizance when he's a little older. 
  • Games:  I try to relax and allow Graham to explore the house without constantly hovering over and redirecting him, but there are certain spots that are dangerous, and he just doesn't get it. Graham is very interested, for instance, in Aron's bike, which we keep in the hallway. I am, for Graham's sake, very afraid of Aron's bike, but there really isn't anywhere else we can keep it. Graham seems aware of the fact that he's not permitted to play near Aron's bike, because as he crawls toward it and I come from behind to redirect him, he looks over his shoulder and laughs before speeding up in pursuit of its pedals. And when I get on the ground to crawl with Graham, we take turns chasing each other. My saying, "I'm going to get you! always makes him laugh.
  • Robust stuff:  Graham spends the day standing and falling, usually on his butt but infrequently he'll bump his head. He almost never cries about it. He just pulls himself up again.
But I do sometimes miss the baby we brought home from the hospital, even if he didn't let us sleep.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My boobs

When I'm clothed the right one is imperceptibly larger than the left, and when I'm naked the difference is noticeable. That could've stayed a secret between me and the shower curtain, but I figured that the declaration that my boobs are wonky would allow me to discuss them without it seeming as if I'm eroticizing them. Normally I wouldn't presume that my boobs have any erotic potential, wonky or not. I don't ever have to turn down advances:  I'm never advanced upon. I'm not hideously ineffable (I know what ineffable actually means, but it also sounds like it could be a synonym for unfuckable), but I think my aura is insecure and asexual, and I don't tend to inspire flirtation or earn stares. But today I wore a dress that pushed my boobs together and left a cleavage-y area exposed, and I received an unusual amount of attention. My boobs are on my mind for that reason.

Aron and I went downtown to do some chores:  he took Graham with him to pay our water bill, and I went to the post office right across the street by myself to ship a book that I recently sold on Amazon. As I walked on the sidewalk toward the post office entrance, an older gentleman passed me. He nodded his head in a friendly way, but it took me a moment to notice, and by the time I caught onto his friendly gesture and sought eye contact to give him a friendly nod back, his eyes were undeniably on my boobs. He was not a casual gawker. And then after I shipped my book a young Aryan frat boy held the door open for me at the post office exit. Frat boys aren't considerate people. (I know that's a generalization, but so is Cars have tires. There may be cars without tires, but that doesn't mean that I have to use qualifiers like "most" or "usually." But I can use those qualifiers, lest I offend anyone:  Most frat boys aren't considerate people usually. They don't even throw away their own beer cans. They have landscapers.) I don't want to personally attack the Aryan frat boy from the post office, who might've been a car without tires, but I also didn't want to accept a "favor" from him, so instead of directly exiting the post office, once I noticed him looking at me while propping the door open, I stopped and peered into a trashcan until he lost patience. It didn't take long.

I recognize that I may have felt looked at today because I wasn't carrying Graham with me:  maybe our being separated disrupted my emotions and made me a less reliable perceiver of reality. Or it could've been that the man looked at my boob area because he was surprised there wasn't a baby there. And maybe the frat boy opened the door because I looked as lonely and vulnerable without Graham as I feel without him. But it's also true that my boobs were on display today. 

I'm not offended or frightened when someone looks at my boobs. But that's just such a dumb place to start. As I have mentioned many times before, my boobs are broken. They didn't produce breastmilk. Looking at my boobs is like dreaming of owning a used Buick. I distrust the taste of anyone who looks at my boobs, unless it's a woman, in which case I imagine that she sees them and also sees instantly that I'm a mother, and even if she notices that my boobs are wonkily different sizes, she'll still think they're beautiful, and then she'd imagine that my stomach is home to gorgeous pudge, unless this woman is a typical sorority girl, in which case she might not think so generously.