Wednesday, April 28, 2010

babies should come with iPods

My iPod saved my life.

No, it didn't stop a deadly bullet or buy off a would-be attacker. It wasn't quite as immediate as that.

But it was equally as dire: my iPod Touch saved my sanity.

You see, I stay at home with my three young children. This is a job that simultaneously fulfills and frustrates me. You've heard about it, I'm sure: there are the sunny days, the smiles, the ice cream dripping off sticky chins. And then there are those days, filled with
rip-your-hair-out-swallow-your-screams-I-haven't-even-showered-yet frustration.

That kind of stuff was in the job description, though – I read the fine print. Deep breathing carries me through a lot of those days. That, and sneaking hits off a chocolate bar.

But what I didn't expect was the isolation, the alienation. That in a house often so loud, so filled with activity, I can feel so alone.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. And that traditionally and in other cultures, child care rarely rested in one or two sets of hands – extended families lived and worked together, spreading the stress around, supporting each other, knitting themselves into a cozy community.

But here and now, many of us surround our nuclear families by moats of hundreds of miles or maybe just too-busy lives that separate us from our extended families. And so we raise our children in personal microcosms.

Of course, technology connects us. Around here, our parents are always just a phone call away. We can see our siblings on weekends with little advance planning and car time. And the internet connects all of us in seconds as we share pictures and stories via email.

But what about when I paced the floor with a crying newborn, ears full, skin crawling? Or in the middle of night when I'm up for the umpteenth time to nurse the baby and the house is quiet and my mind is bursting out of my skull? When I only have one hand or one second but really need a connection?

That's when the iPod saves me.

It saves me when I email my sister in the middle of the night: Up.Every.Hour. And a message back: Me, too. Solidarity. Connection.

It saves me when I check Facebook while changing a diaper and ignoring a tantrum and see that Laura from high school is having a similarly trying day. Solidarity. Connection.

It saves me when I'm supervising lunch [Please eat your food. Please eat your food. PLEASE eat your FOOD] and read the blog post from a woman I've never met in another state whose this-is-real-life-mothering experience makes me laugh out loud and lighten my mood. Solidarity. Connection.

It saves me every day when I exchange quick messages with my husband at work. I share the news from the nursery – which kid is crabby, which kid wouldn't eat lunch, which kid threw an hour-long fit—and I don't feel quite so alone in whatever moment I'm wading through. Solidarity. Connection.

It saves me when I read comments on this blog from YOU, letting me know that you heard my voice and felt my words. Solidarity. Connection. [It turns out I need your comments – not the reassurance, but the connection]

They say babies should come with instruction manuals. I disagree – I can figure out a baby. But I can't navigate this life alone. I need a circle that's wider than this house, that extends my reach and connects me to family, friends, and the great, big outside world.

Babies shouldn't come with instruction manuals. They should come with iPods.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

doing it in public

I don't always have the best memory.

Images, voices, and emotions mix in my mind – scenes are kneaded by time until the individual ingredients meld into one.

Sometimes, my mind blocks out specific unpleasantries. [Perhaps this is why much of the 9th grade is lost to me?]

So I don't remember exactly how it all went that evening, but I can still cup embarrassment in my hands, hot cheeks between cold, sweaty palms.

Our good friends were getting married and we were honored to stand up with them. It was the night of the rehearsal dinner. Claire was three months old. [Read: I was just barely making it.]

I was comfortable enough with breastfeeding that I could finally do it clothed and not loose my groove in the folds of my shirt. But I certainly couldn't gracefully unsnap and refasten all the moving parts on my nursing bra. I hadn't even heard of nursing pads. And a blanket over my shoulder? That was a symphony I knew I couldn't conduct.

Needless to say, I had never nursed in public.

But she had to come along: it was a Friday night and we had to leave right after John got home from work. We were driving from Madison to Milwaukee and there wasn't time to stop at Grandma's.

Everyone at the dinner smiled at my big-eyed baby. She was held and bounced and nothing but a joy.

But then she got hungry.

And I got frantic.

We were eating in a private room, but there were still a lot of people. They would all be staring. No way was I going to whip it out right there.

My heart hammered in my ears. I could feel sweat spots spreading under my arms.

My eyes roved the room for a safe spot – there, around the corner, a hallway to the kitchen. A waitress walked by.

Can I drag over a chair and feed my baby here?

This is where my memory skips. Somehow, through some tripped-over speech I explained that I meant breast –no, not bottle, not spoon. The waitress seemed confused, out of her element, put on the spot – I don't remember what she said exactly, but there were flames in my cheeks as I marched my baby to the bathroom – maybe I could do it there.

Again, my memory trips as I try to recreate the indignation John and our friends expressed when they learned what happened. Somehow, someone explained to whoever asked that the waitress was just concerned that the hallway was too trafficked with hot food—what if someone spilled something on the baby?

Oh, right, that explains it.

My cheeks did cool off eventually—when we finally walked out into the December night air. And we enjoyed a beautiful wedding the next day – I distinctly remember the smiles on our friends' faces as they spoke their vows.

Today, five years and five kids later (three ours, two theirs), we met those same friends at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

It was one of those days I'll file in the good times folder.

We walked around for several hours, and Ruthie graciously napped in the carrier. Eventually, she needed to nurse.

I looked around for a quiet spot to sit down.

All the benches seemed situated under spotlights in otherwise dimly lit rooms. People streamed by.

Oh well.

I chose the next empty sitting place and fed my baby.

Soon, a woman walked near, newborn babe in arms, eyes roving.

Can I join you?

I scooted my backpack over and smiled.

We exchanged some small talk as we fed our babies.

Yes, my nursing cover sure is handy—a friend made it for me. I know, the bathroom just isn't where I want to nurse, either. Yep, those are my other two kids. Ha, I guess you could say that – I'm experienced.

Ruthie didn't nurse very long [7 month olds are so distractible] and shortly I got up to leave.

I will remember this moment, this brief connection.

My cheeks were cool. My hands were warm.

I hope hers were, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

worry is a spider

Worry creeps in, unseen, and suddenly its there, a spider on the wall. I can see it even with the bedroom dark, a black, motionless blob.

It keeps me awake, inspiring irrational thinking.

I worry in abstraction: the future, unknowns, illusions, stability, failures, guilt.

I worry in specifics: Will the other kids tease Claire in school? She's such a Hermionie Granger. And she has my skinny, skinny legs. Does Eliza have an addictive personality? She still needs her nuk to settle down when her emotions get tangled and she careens into a tantrum. What will she need as an adult? Will Ruthie have anger management problems? Loudly yelling, round face reddening, she INDICATES that she's upset. We'll all have to learn duck and roll maneuvers when she learns to throw stuff.

When dawn touches the walls, the spider scuttles into the shadows – hidden, but not forgotten.

Other nights, those long legs pry into my mind and spin thin, see-through dreams. I dream that I forget Claire's birthday. I dream about the wind lifting Eliza off the ground, out of my reach. I dream that Ruthie grows fangs. I dream about strangers and threats and death.

My mother worried over her young brood, too. Okay, she still worries [right, Mom?].

She tells me about a nightmare that haunted her as a young parent. It made me laugh before I had kids, but I get it now. The worry.

Apparently, I had a bit of a sassy streak as a young child [this is not something I remember]. In her dream, I wore a black leather jacket over my four-year-old frame, displaying cigarettes wedged between each finger. I imagine her waking up in a sweat, compelled to peek into my bedroom to verify that I was sleeping rather than roaming the ally behind our house. [Though that might not have been so off the wall – I was a sleepwalker with a history of at least one housebreak, walking down 88th street with my stuffed dog tucked under my arm.]

As it turned out, I never smoked a cigarette in my life. [As a high school runner, it never made sense to me to inhale something that might inhibit my breathing.] Luck or providence protected me from many of the peer pressures that plague teens. [Read: I was a square]. [Okay, I still am.]

So that particular worry never manifested into reality. I turned out just fine [for the most part, right?].

Many of our worries burn holes in our minds unnecessarily. So why do we worry? Why do we make room for spiders on our walls? Why don't we just smash them?

Because there is so much that might happen and a lot that really will.

I can't turn off worry, but I try to simply acknowledge it. Hold it in my hands. Examine its edges, count its eyes and shoo it into the corners. On the periphery of my consciousness, I can watch it set up its web, allowing awareness of fear and danger and threats, but keeping it off the main walls.

Then, I can cover my clean walls with smiles to start my day, reminding me of the love the lies under all worry.

Monday, April 19, 2010

all the world’s a stage

Stage is dimly lit, empty except for a sleeping woman under a blanket. An alarm clock with brightly red numerals illuminates the scene. 

Alarm rings loudly. 

Woman rises, hair extremely tussled, turns off clock and lays back down. As soon as she's settled, the alarm rings again. She stands to turn if off and lays back down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

After she turns off alarm the final time, EXIT Woman, walking slowly, dragging bare feet. 

Lights from stage floor illuminate fog filling the empty stage. 

ENTER Woman, mug in hand. She drags her feet to stage center and stands motionless, looking down. 


ENTER twenty Children, yelling and laughing. Children run around Woman, bumping into her. She remains motionless and expressionless.

Off stage, Babies cry. The yelling and crying grow louder and louder and Woman slowly sits down, posture slumped, hands over ears.


Woman lifts head with sudden movement and looks around.

EXIT Children. Cue all stage lights. 


Woman combs her hair with her hands, still looking around, now standing.

Lights go down, stage resets.

Lights up. New scene. Two Children sit at a small table, coloring quietly.

ENTER Woman, carrying Baby.

Woman [cradling phone to shoulder]: Hi! Good! How are you?

Lights go down.

Friday, April 16, 2010

hunting rabbits

At age 9, I fancied myself a rabbit hunter.

My hunting buddy, Brian, lived next door. His parents cultivated a huge garden and we were doing our part to keep critters out. It was a great game. We did a lot of scheming – weapons, strategies. And whenever we saw a rabbit nibbling nearby grass, we'd tear after it, shrieking, no doubt turning its fur just a little big grayer.

Of course, we never even got within throwing distance of anything. But such discouragements never dampened our drive.

One summer evening, we decided a night hunt was in order. We convinced our parents to let us out after dark and crept around our yards with flashlights and sticks, two intrepid hunters.

I went to bed that night with my stuffed bunny, exhilarated and still scheming, convinced we were closer than ever to success. But I awoke with a sweaty start to images of flashing eyes and blood on my hands. A bad dream. I hadn't thought about the blood before. That we were trying to kill something.

Here was where we took up a new game – playing Egyptians, I think. Something that felt a little less real.


Last weekend, I auditioned for what is sure to be a spectacular event – Listen to Your Mother – a Mother's Day show that will feature some amazing writers.

I wanted to stand among them. I went into the audition excited and confident – I love reading aloud, and I'm proud of my writing. After my fit of despondency early last week, I felt tentative but new and brave. Intrepid, even.

Though my knees shook, the audition went well and the director seemed to like my piece.

But I didn't make the cast list.

I could have really used affirmation – from someone outside my beloved circle of family and friends, all you wonderful people who tirelessly pat me on the back – that what I'm unwrapping around here is something more than nothing.

But I think I needed the rejection even more.

A gentle splash in the face. A cup of cold water reminding me that this soul spelling will involve a measure of blood spilling if it's going to be real. 

And I have to be okay with that.

Okay with hard work and humility and rejection and watching sweet bunnies die if they have to.

Oh, and I turned the comments back on around here. I feel a little more stable this week and a bit silly for being so dramatic. Thanks for putting up with me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

bugs in the house

Feet bare, moments stolen, I'm about to step into the shower. But right at the threshold wiggles something with many, many legs. Millipede? Centipede? Whatever. It's gross. And very alive. I swallow a shriek and smash that sucker. But now I'm slightly undone – where there's one, there's more, right? Coming up the drain? Nestled in my towel? I can't enjoy this shower. I'm out of here much faster than usual. And now I'm having a bad hair day.

I'm making dinner now, rice on the floor, compost bowl overflowing. The baby is crying and I'm trying to do this fast. Eliza heads to the bathroom – she can do it all on her own now, I'm hands free, unobliged. I hear her singing in there, audible over this clank-sizzle-cook. Suddenly, a scream. I roll my eyes – what now – and charge in.


[Quick context: bugs terrify – I mean TER.I.FY – this child. Yet she'd like a pet snake. Go figure.]

I'm annoyed. This bug thing has been getting out of control. She needs to learn to deal. Every fly and ladybug sends her screaming indoors. You're going to be inside all summer if bugs are going to bother you this much. That's my mantra lately. Claire is sick of hearing it.

I help Eliza off the toilet. Forcewash her hands. She's shaking. I'm still rolling my eyes. I don't even see a bug.

Suddenly, fresh screams. She hobble-bolts out of the bathroom, hands wet, pants around her ankles. She slams her bedroom door. I know she's in bed now, huddled under her satin-edged blanket, sucking her nuk.

I roll my eyes again.

I turn towards the window, expecting to see a Japanese beetle or some smallish thing.

But, Dear lord, I breathe. There it is.

It's huge. Like a mosquito but fifty times bigger. Long, long legs slowly creeping it across the window screen. A foot above the toilet.

And this thing flies, too.

I shudder. Repulsed.

I roll up a magazine and swat it. Flush it.

Then I go hug my child. She's still shaking, though she laughs through snot and tears when she hears about the bug's yellow, watery funeral.

She comes out of her room slowly. I'm sure she's thinking where there's one, there's more. Me, this morning.

She's back to Legos now, incident forgotten. But I don't like myself right now.

Tomorrow, I'll be better. I'll acknowledge her fear as real.

And if I have to roll my eyes, I'll close them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

small world, so big

I open the front door. Blink into the sunlight.

I want to plant both feet firmly back inside, back where the walls are painted green and there's juice on the floor and the covers are rumpled on my bed. But I move forward. Get into the car. Drive. Do. Be.

I come to a traffic stop and see fifteen cars lined up to head to fifteen different destinations, dragging behind them fears and joys and vices and pains and anticipations. I look in my rearview mirror – mine are hanging out there too. I glance at the driver next to me, an older woman. Maybe she's going to get her hair cut. Maybe to visit her husband in hospice. Two car doors and six billion people stand between us. She doesn't look up. The light turns green.

At the store, in the line. The checker moves through the motions – the smile, the bag choice, the change. She's young. Her eyes are outlined with makeup. I wonder what's behind them. Her fingertips brush my palm as I take my receipt. I walk through the door that opens automatically for me. I'm on the other side.

Overhead, an airplane. My toes curl in my shoes.

I'm driving again. Behind a school bus. It stops, red signs unfurling and I wait. Two children get off, streaking towards the sidewalk and home and what. Where they're disappointed or supported or shaped or distrusted. And tomorrow they're taller.

At home I'm chopping onions, eyes brimming. John walks in, speaks hello. I know his voice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

this woman’s work

It's Saturday night. The kids are abed. The house is quiet.

I brew a cup of tea. Turn on some mellow music. Light a candle for ambiance.

And then I iron my way through a wrinkly pile of John's shirts.

This isn't exactly a dance party [I can't dance] or even a romantic evening [John is not home tonight]. I usually hate the tedium and time consumed by ironing. But tonight, oddly, I'm enjoying myself. The quiet calm. The repetitive motion. The steam, my breath, the space to think.

I know week's end will pile these same shirts in front of me again. And I know this isn't a very post feminism thing to do – I mean, John can pick up an iron too, can't he?

Hissing through creases, I imagine that I'm searing something of myself into each fiber. Something he will wear across his back, down his arms, and pressed against his chest – close to his heart, over his soul.

But I don't have to imagine that he notices.

That's the thing about this life. I'm home, doing a lot of traditional woman's work. Enjoying it some days, running from it -- shrieking at it -- other days. But never [okay, sometimes, but only for a minute] weighted down. Four hands dig deep into the muck of this life. Four hands raise these children. And whatever  two hands do alone is held up -- honored.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There was actually a lump in my throat as my cursor hovered, hesitated over the delete button.

But I clicked it anyway.

I'm done whining, seeking reassurance, waving my tiny flag hoping someone will notice.

I felt clean. Relieved. Lighter.

But then the smoke crept in around the edges: You just deleted a part of yourself, you know.

No I didn't. That's stupid. Shut up.

And I proceeded to wallow: Look at this life. What am I? A mother, yes. And that is a big deal. But what else? Not a writer. Not much. Nothing.

And then Claire, a child – like all children, without a learned filter – woke up with a blunt tongue. Saying what was on her mind in one moment.

You know your look, Mama? And your voice? They get annoying because I have to see them Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday.

She flitted away without intending her words to stay behind, weighing me down.


A slow motion sock to the stomach.

Right where I had already socked myself.

Then John, home with a flower bouquet – because you had a bad day.

It wasn't bad.

But he knew. He always knows.

A discussion later, once the kid chaos quieted for the night. I didn't think you were going to actually delete it.

Well, I did.

Me tapping, shuffling cards, averting my eyes. I can't stand to talk about my feelings.

But he has these eyes, so soft and kind, that I can trust. (He gave these eyes to our children – striking.)

The blog is back up but I'm feeling a little shaky. Not sure why I'm doing what I'm doing. Not wanting to whine or fish for compliments or reassurance.
But wanting to wave my flag – tiny as it may be – because it makes me feel alive.