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.