Friday, December 30, 2011

The age of ambitiousness

Sometimes I feel so desperate for sleep that I want to run through and out the front door of our house and leave Aron to take care of Graham while I nap on the sidewalk, in the grass, or even in a gutter:  really I'd nap anyplace, even the bed of a stranger's truck. I have lots of crazy sleep impulses. Another involves sneaking a snooze during bathtime, but each time I come close to taking the tub nap I imagine a local newspaper headline the next day reading "Young mother dies during attempt to nap in shower." That would be embarrassing for Graham. "Your mom is sooo stupid…"

The headline would be right in that it's true that I'm young—young for a mother, anyway. I'm not, however, young in any other respect. I'm actually old for pretty much everything else I am or hope to ever be:  college undergraduate, doctor, Cirque du Soleil performer, pastry chef, bar owner, professional tennis player. I'm not in the mood to have this pouty perspective defeated; I don’t want to turn my frown upside down, so this self-pity won't be abated by the fact that I hardly actually have the ambitions to be any of those things I listed.

When Graham is twenty-five, I'll be fifty. That's nice. Even from twenty-four fifty doesn't seem old. At fifty you can still move, you can still drive, you can still form and retain memories, the last of which is particularly important since I'll probably still be an undergrad attempting to learn Latin when I'm fifty. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Parental responsibilities, emotional facts and tattoos

This is something like a letter to Graham, though I'd never ask or even want him to read it. Maybe it's just a second-person maternal systrophe. Thinking of it that way makes me less uncomfortable. The idea of expecting Graham to read any account of the feelings I have in relation to him makes me feel boring and guilty for being boring, not unlike the feeling I have every morning after spending five minutes telling Aron my dreams of the night before. But here's my letter-thing to Graham:  Being your mother means that socks terrify me; every time I put them on your feet I'm afraid they're going to break the bones of one of your delicate little toes, although your "little" toes actually seem disproportionately large. And actually, being your mother means that the list of things that frighten seems to grow a bit each day; so far, the list includes:  water, nail clippers, sheets, pillows, cold breezes, bibs, Velcro on bibs, loud noises, dog fur, public places, unwashed hands, long nails, sneezes, coughs, Christmas trees, swear words, sarcasm, and stuffed animals. Being your mother means that when I go to the bathroom, you’re kind of invited. And being your mother probably means that I'm not allowed to get a tattoo.

I want a tattoo of the dressed-up girl exercising her biceps. 

The image is from a book published in 1883 called Sound Bodies for Our Boys and Girls, written by William Blaikie, who also authored the book How to Get Strong, and How to Stay So. Sound Bodies includes sections such as "The Value of a Good Chest" and "Firm, Not Hard, Muscles." Each chapter concludes with a series of questions; here's one of them: "What kind of back-arms has any boy or girl who cannot dip at least three times?" And here's the pertinent chapter part about dipping:  "Not one boy in five, not one girl in twenty-five, can do this [dipping] once. Yet whoever cannot do it at least three times has rather weak back-arms." The book is fairly hilarious, and I love the picture of the girl lifting the dumbbell and holding her muscle. Maybe she was Rosie the Riveter before she started officially riveting. She looks so tough and delicate at the same time. Every time I see her I smile. I guess smiling at the image amounts to little more than laughing at the past--how very postmodern of me. But enough of the explanation. I always feel somewhat defensive when people ask about the tattoos I have now, which are both inspired by Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning." For a while I considered it the greatest poem ever written, by which I really meant the greatest poem I've ever read; now I'm way less convinced of its greatness, so instead of mentioning the poem, maybe I ought to explain my tattoos this way:  I wanted them, I got them. I want the weight-lifting girl in a skirt, I probably won't get her.

Because I'm a mom. Not that moms aren't allowed to get tattoos. The La Leche League even approves—or at least doesn't disapprove—of tattoos, and that's saying something, because the La Leche League doesn't even approve of swaddling (which they say is intended to trick a baby into believing he's being held).

A new tattoo might do some tricking too. It might trick at least a few people into thinking I'm cool. It might distract people from my wide mom-thighs for a little minute. It might be like listening to music while folding laundry or drinking a beer while writing an essay. If it does or is like any of these things, it'd be nice to have. But if it makes me appear irresponsible, it's unlikely that I'll get the tattoo. And given our poverty, it wouldn't be the mere appearance of irresponsibility:  it'd be a fact. Along with all those other things motherhood makes me fear, I fear the absence of money, even though it presents no choking hazard.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Getting schooled

"I think that your forceful cadences bullied you into some half-baked positions, some of which make no sense." I've only had to write one paper this semester, and that's a comment it earned from the professor who graded it. I know what you're thinking:  "Ouch." Ouch indeed. Pettily, I'm consoled by the thought that he could've called my cadences forced rather than forceful. Though harsh and unfavorable, this comment makes me smile, maybe because earlier in the semester I had posted to the class' online forum an assessment of an essay by philosopher Susan Haack that went like this: 

"Susan Haack seems in some ways to be a very thoughtful writer. 'Not surprisingly, these fancier forms of foundationalism and compromising kinds of coherentism … tend to be ambiguous and unstable' (135-36). In this sentence, Haack follows three fricatives with three hard C-sounds and finishes with some softer vowels. But these cadences seem to exhaust her thoughtfulness. At times she's less H.D. and more Dr. Laura Schlessinger."

So see, I had earlier accused someone of being concerned with cadences at the expense of being philosophically thoughtful, and I'm later accused of the same transgression. Which is fine. Maybe Haack and I are both sloppy and unthoughful. What's funny to me is that my professor responded encouragingly to my cadent-but-careless assessment of Haack; replying to my forum posting, he wrote this:  "Wow! What a scathing critique. Awesome! I feel like I'm reading H. L. Menken." (It in no way satisfies me to be likened to one of the world's preeminent meanies, whose burn repertoire includes the following:  a misogynist, according to Menken, is "a man who hates women as much as women hate each other.")

I thought I'd start off this blog entry like the first season of my favorite show, Breaking Bad, starts off:  with an unsettling event that makes the audience wonder, "What could've led to that?" In the case of Breaking Bad, the initial unsettling event is precipitated by the protagonist's cancer diagnosis and subsequent decision to start cooking meth in an RV in the desert to in turn sell to make a profit large enough to ensure his family's continued financial security once he's dead. In my case, it's something way less interesting. I got knocked up.

Academic difficulties relating to being a mom began as soon as I discovered I was pregnant. Sooner, actually, because I skipped my Shakespeare class to drive to Walgreens and buy a pregnancy test, and then I skipped my next class, modern philosophy, to begin the endless emotional investigation into the implications of the test's positive result. I'm still doing that.

My initial emotional response to the positive pregnancy test was to sulk heavily. I sulked for a few months, actually. Finding out I was pregnant shouldn't have been as stressful to me as it was, since Graham was halfway planned.

Aron proposed in Pismo Beach in August 2010, and soon after his proposal we decided we'd start attempting to contribute to overpopulation once we were married, and we planned to marry June 2011. The wedding took place when we expected, but unlike we expected, I was a nearly five months pregnant bride. (My belly shows a bit in most the wedding pictures, which perhaps is why some family members had recommended we move the wedding date up, but it never struck me as anything but pretty cool that Graham was an obvious attendee of what was, until his birth, his parents' most special day.)

We're almost certain that Graham was conceived after a wild night of karaoke, during which Aron drank a bottle and a half of cabernet sauvignon and I drank three gin and tonics. (Before we knew Graham's sex, we usually referred to him as "Smoking Loon," which is the wine brand Aron was drunk off of on the karaoke night and which is an undeniably more adorable moniker than "Beefeaters," my brand of gin on the same night.) Incidentally, we were at karaoke to celebrate our good friend Imaad's birthday, and such a good friend is Imaad that he officiated our wedding five months later. Another Imaad fact:  he brought Jeffery into our lives when Jeffery was only a few weeks old. One more interesting fact:  Jeffery was always as old as I was pregnant, so I found it really easy to keep up with his age when he was an adorable puppy and everyone wanted to know how old he was. He's almost a year old now, and I'm very much looking forward to him growing out of his bad-puppy habit of chewing socks.

That day I skipped my classes and found out I was pregnant was Valentine's Day. Pretty special, huh? Aron was in the library after I peed on the stick and saw the two pink lines. I texted him:  "Aron." I don't remember what he texted me back (probably, "Amy"), but my next text to him said, "I’m pregnant. Don't be upset. I'm too freaked out for you to be upset." He wasn't upset (and he also didn't fully believe it), and I wasn't entirely freaked out. I was equal parts panicked and happy; what kept me from indulging my positive emotions about being pregnant was the nasty apartment we lived in at the time. Here I am captured running joyfully down the halls of the nasty apartment complex on Valentine's Day, proof that I was immediately entertaining some happy emotions about the pregnancy.

Aron and I spent Valentine's Day driving around Athens, anxiously searching for "For Rent" signs in the yards of decent houses. A few weeks later, we found the house we're in now. It's perfect, and the move into it was the easiest move ever. No one would let me lift anything. I’m going to try to be pregnant every time we move.

So our living situation improved, but school remained a colossal challenge. For an entire semester I couldn't focus properly. I pictured Cleopatra expecting and house-hunting happily with Antony. (What happier fates they would've enjoyed!) As I read James' The Portrait of a Lady, I ambitiously imagined satirizing it in a work I’d call A Portrait of the Baby. I was convinced that Leibniz's monads could be likened to fertilized eggs, and although I didn't understand his argument for it, I hoped that Leibniz was right and that, for the baby's sake, ours is the best of all possible worlds.

I fared ok grade wise the semester of the positive pregnancy test, but I'm not sure I remember any of what I was supposed to have learned. Like a spondee. What the heck is a spondee?

"I think that your forceful cadences bullied you into some half-baked positions, some of which make no sense." It's not surprising that my positions in a philosophy paper make no sense. The idea that I could ever make philosophical sense is laughable. Maybe I should change my major. My half-baked paper was due two days before my labor was induced, and I have never learned how to begin a paper sooner than two days before it's due. I'm not making excuses exactly; I'm just explaining why it was hard for me to care at the time. And since this beautiful baby boy has been born, it's gotten even harder.

I'd like to also share a positive comment my paper earned, just to prove that I'm not a total screw-up. "Both this paper and the online forums make clear that you're a top student in the class." Sort of an inexplicable shift, huh? My paper, which contains positions that "make no sense," solidifies my status as a top student in the class? Maybe there were a few sentences that were written when I wasn't at the same time thinking about the nearness of my tummy buddy leaving my body.

And isn't that the strangest thing ever? The class that I wrote my crappy paper for was epistemology, which is the study of what counts as knowledge. The traditional account of knowledge maintains that you have knowledge if you have a justified true belief. That's not an unproblematic notion; all semester we addressed the shortcomings of the traditional account of knowledge. But what seems so strange to me is that I know Graham is the same person who grew inside my body and made my tummy swell and kicked me in my sleep, but I don't believe it. It's definitely true, but it is beyond belief…especially now that he is eleven pounds! He was seven pounds and ten ounces when he was born, twenty-one inches long. Life is crazy.