Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trying to get to Ten in 2010

I set out to make a list of my top ten favorite events from my personal life in 2010, but as a testament to either my mood, or a less than stellar year, I can only come up with four. I aim to amend this list as my mood changes, but if it's been an uneventful year, there's not much I can do about that. Maybe that's the reality of having a young child. Life is full of everyday little things, but nothing significantly entertaining in a memorable, oh-let's-mark-that-date-down kind of way.

1. Atticus's First Birthday
2. Running my first 10k in October
3. Going to the Smokies with Natalie and Zach
4. The pool, the pool, the public pool all summer!

Oh, sad, sad list. How sad you are.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jay-Z on Braggadacio and the Sonnet

This is too cool not to share and I want to encourage other people to pick this gorgeous book up. First of all, it's a beauty and will make all writers jealous. The narrative, or rather, apologia of the life of a hip-hop king, is juxtaposed with images, pull quotes, and codes for many of Jay-Z's songs, but not in a way that looks like a crappy coffee table book. This is the real thing. This is book as artifact. My hand to God.

From Jay-Z's new memoir, "Decoded":
"But even when a rapper is just rapping about how dope he is, there's something a little bit deeper going on. It's like a sonnet, believe it or not. Sonnets have a set structure, but also a limited subject matter: They are mostly about love. Taking on such a familiar subject and writing about it in a set structure forced sonnet writers to find every nook and cranny in the subject and challenged them to invent new language for saying old things. It's the same with braggadacio in rap. When we take the most familiar subject in the history of rap - why I'm dope - and frame it within the sixteen-bar structure of a rap verse, synced to the specific rhythm and feel of the track, more than anything it's a test of creativity and wit."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Great Underselling of Selfishness

We've been sold a sale of goods on this whole being selfless thing. I know plenty of people (ahem, my mother) who will tell me and you that we're here to serve others, and there's truth to that. But I want to talk about another way of doing that.

This is what I have decided after 15+ months of surrendering myself to both my child's and my husband's needs. I am angry. I am lost. I am confused. I am in such sore need of creative expression that I am nearly an imploding star. It occurs to me that this is not perhaps the source of light and selfless giving that can be a real benefit to either my child or my husband.

There are creative/selfish pursuits that require such focus and expenditure of energy that combining them with a small child is absolutely impossible unless you make a conscious decision to be a selfish mother. I am by most accounts a traditional mother who devotes every waking second to her child and who would not even consider childcare. But it's time, after 15 months, after too much stifling, after coming so close to imploding all over my husband ... it's time. I hereby declare I am ready to become a selfish mother. Atticus, I hereby declare a loosening of the apron strings.

Here are stops on my unwalked avenue of selfishness:

Writing (I know this should be number one, but it's not. Shut up.)
Taking and Editing Photos; Scrapbooking
Taking Walks
Picking up Pretty Leaves
Wandering Around Marshall's (without calling to check up on family even once)
Going to the Bar (after 9pm! Gasp!)
Making Lunch Plans
Buying Food No One Else in the House Will Eat
Cooking Food No One Else in the House Will Eat
Taking Long Baths
Wandering Around Hobby Lobby
Sitting At Panera (not to grade - that doesn't count)
Learning a New Trade (Maybe Book Arts?)

Other Things

This list is sort of lame. I don't remember how to do this exactly. I think knowing how to pursue things that interest you is not at all like riding a bike. It's a muscle and mine has grown flabby with disuse. In the interest of using the phrase hereby declare far too often, I hereby declare it time to wear the selfish muscles out until they are so exhausted, so big, so absurdly muscular, they cannot help but lift husband and child up into the great swirling eddy of happy wife and motherdom. I hereby declare it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Last Mile

I did it. I ran my first 10k. Honestly, I really never thought I'd be able to do it. It just seemed so colossally big and beyond me, but now that I've done it, it seems like nothing.

Okay, not exactly nothing. Here's the thing: I undertrained. I really, really undertrained. I run 2-3 miles for my regular run, and by regular, I mean about twice a week. That's all I did in preparation for this 10k. I wanted to do more. I meant to do more. But I didn't. Instead I just visualized and mentally prepared and told myself I could do a combination walk/run thing after running the first 3 miles.

But then something happened. After mile 3 I thought, maybe just to mile 4. And then at mile 4 I thought, maybe just to mile 5. And what do you know, I can apparently run 5 miles, and not just that, but run 5 miles at a pace I find respectable, coming in at 53:38 for the first 5.

Then came mile 6, that evil, spirit crushing mile. Thanks to my new practice of running with other people which calls for a different kind of cardiovascular demand what with all the chatting I am apt to do, my lungs were doing great. They really were. My legs? Not so much. They. Were. So. Tired. I pushed through. I figured if I made it this far, I shouldn't walk the remainder of the way, but I really, really, really wanted to. So I walked for a second and realized that actually didn't feel any better and I might as well run.

Then up ahead of me, I saw signposts for the finish line and it looked really far away, discouragingly far away. I didn't think I could keep doing it, not with the muscles in my thighs giving out on me the way they were. I pushed and pushed. And then something dumb happened: I couldn't figure out where I was supposed to cross the road for the finish line. I know. I'm dumb. But that's the truth. Did I mention I was tired?

I finally figured it out, but between tiredness, laziness, confusion, and bad decision-making, I really blew that last mile. It took me 15 minutes to finish that stupid mile. I hate that mile. I want to blow that mile up.

And so what should be a victory is instead a disappointment. I ran my first 10k and I did more running than I thought I would be able, but that last mile is a thorn in my side. It's 15 minutes I will keep revisiting over and over again, a painful reminder of a moment of weakness I hope not to repeat.

I am trying to remind myself, girl, you just ran a 10k. That's pretty cool. But I want to be even cooler. Next time, mile 6, you will not best me. You will be mine for the conquering.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trying to Matter

For their most recent assignment, my students had to participate in the public sphere in some capacity, whether that be by creating a blog, posting a video on Youtube, writing letters to the editor, or submitting political poetry or a literary essay to an appropriate venue. My hope is their participation will spark something in them, make them citizens, make them realize how very much they count.

Which begs the question: do our blogs count? Do they matter? Do we have readers who, if nothing else, we entertain briefly?

I went through my "Stats," a new tab available to me as I am posting a new blog. I can see how many views specific entries have received over the many years I have been writing this. It is entertaining to me to find that the entry that has received the most views is one where I have posted a picture of Mandy Moore's hair. I believe this to be the result of the intersection of Google Images and my little blog. It has received an awful lot of hits. That Mandy Moore really has a following, and so do I, because of her - it would seem.

But I think this blog (and that blog and that blog and that blog) does matter even beyond the star power of Mandy Moore. It matters because of how democratic it is. It matters because there is a forum. It matters because I am educated, and funny, and articulate, and a wife, and a mother, and a teacher, and because I'm very likeable and people are probably wondering how I got to be so great. Probably.

What is for certain and not hinging on probabilities is the beauty of the Internet. Here I am, girl in Tennessee, writing self-referentially about my own blog, wondering if I matter. And the Internet, in all its glory, gives me an outlet for all that meta-ness. Thank you, Internet. I will keep trying to matter.

Toward that end, I will just say this - I like having a blog. I like reading blogs. I hate that people who are interesting and inspiring and cute and charming and funny live so far away. Blogs make them closer. I want to hear about your politics, your kids, your careers, your shopping lists. It all matters very much to me. Keep writing. I promise to read it. I promise it matters, even if what we sometimes care the most about is how cute Mandy Moore's hair is.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The F Word and Other Growing Concerns

It's a dangerous line to straddle between believing in the power of language and refusing to hold on to that language too tightly when it comes to the great, beautiful swears like the F word.

Who knows what little ears can hold? Yesterday, Atticus and I bopped around to the Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs, which all should agree is a mindblowingly good concept album. And if you know that much about the album in question, you also know that a) the bouncy silliness of it lends itself beautifully to Atticus's musical aesthetic (can it be danced to?), and b) a lot of the album's language is not appropriate to plant in the landscape of Atticus's fertile ears. Volume One (the superior of the three volumes), tracks 9 and 14 come to mind. Sure, pretending we're bunny rabbits sounds innocent enough ...

At one point do we need to edit, monitor, babymuff the things we say to ensure that our children do not use language we don't want them to? On the one hand, I don't want him to think language is a bad thing - any language at all. I want him to understand appropriate and inappropriate contexts for all language. But on the other hand, there is nothing even remotely charming about foul language coming out of a small child. I'm not talking about that one time they used a word they didn't know was bad. That can be adorable. I'm talking about bad words coming out of little mouths with intention. Not cool.

I don't want Atticus to be that kid. I want him to understand the pointed nature of some words, how they carry more weight, how they can slap someone across the face from across the room. I want him to save those words for when he's all grown up and needs them.

Until then, must I banish the Magnetic Fields and their ilk? Do I make a different version of the cd, of all of our lives, until he's ready for it? Childhood is a cleaned up version of the world. I'm cool with that. I'm cool with wiping down the scene for him. I'm just not sure where to begin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eula Biss Had a Baby

In days of ignorance, when friends cautioned against the mixing of the writing life with the parenting life, I guffawed. I had a model in my mind of Gina Ochsner, a woman whose situation crossed my path in my first years of graduate school. A mother of three and a writer, Ochsner went to a bar every evening for a few hours to get her writing done, always home in time for baths and bedtime. This sounded like a very good life for me. Plus, she's Catholic, so clearly the heavens were speaking to me.

I have one baby, just the one, and I never write anymore. Glancing over the panels and discussions for this year's Nonfiction Now conference (a conference for - you guessed it - nonfiction writers), I was struck by how far removed I am from the conversations of my field. Here's a panel of note: "Nonfiction: A Hybrid Genre or a Highly Evolved Form?" This will be an excellent panel. I know it to be true because there are awesome people on this panel, including Nicole Walker. I would like to go listen to Nicole and others in my field discuss what we're doing. I want to get excited about it. I want to have written something.

But alas, I have not been getting to the bar in the evenings. At this very moment, I hear my son has woken up and he is playing with blocks. He doesn't know I'm up and writing this blog, but when he finds out, it is all for me here in the subsaharan writing land of bloggerville.

Eula Biss had a baby. She is my hero, writerly speaking. Seriously. She's freaking amazing. Read here for evidence. I am watching her, waiting to see how the baby affects her writing life. This is not to say I am at her level or that the writing I was doing before in either volume or quality was comparable to Biss's. But still, I wonder how this baby will take over the landscape of her life, how it will reach past the very fingertips that once pounded out on a typewriter.

I do note with some satisfaction and consolation that Biss is not on the Nonfiction Now schedule. I shouldn't be satisfied about that, but for the moment, I just need to be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Question of Two

As soon as that baby comes out, the question of will I have another one climbs up into that place and fills the void of the recently empty womb. It's crazy. You don't want to ask it. You want to leave that question alone. You want to enjoy the baby you have right in front of you. And yet.

I have tried to ignore the question from my mother, my father, my siblings, my in-laws. But I cannot ignore the roar of it coming from my own body. I am 36 after all. If I want to do this again, it's not like I have all the time in the world.

One is so nice. One is so manageable. And Atticus is a marvelously good baby. He really is. People comment on it all time. I'd like to take credit for that, and maybe I can insomuch as he's very well-loved and well-tended to, but anyone who knows me and my husband knows that if we have a well-behaved and chill baby, those are my husband's genes poking through. If we have another baby, maybe this baby will take after me, which is to say, this baby will be wild, adventurous, and troublesome. Those are three wonderful, wonderful traits in an adult, but docile is a much, much better word for a baby.

Do I want to go through that pregnancy again? Pregnancy stinks. It really does. Especially when you have to go through Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This is a very real consideration. If I decide to get pregnant again, we will have to arrange for one of our mothers to be here for maybe a month to get us through the worst of it. And I have to plan around work. And Atticus will have to watch his mommy be very, very sick. I don't want Atticus to see that.

Moving past the pregnancy, there's all those sleepless nights again. How do we ever survive them, we mothers? It's such a cruel, cruel time maybe meant for bodies more resilient and younger than mine.

But a new baby, a little brother or sister for Atticus ... wouldn't it be a disservice to Atticus to not have one? Wouldn't we regret it when we're older? Can I get through the first couple years of it again for the long reward of it?

I say my little family a lot now. I like my little family, but is that the right word to describe us as a permanent unit? Are we meant to be a little family or are we meant for something a little bit more? Will I ever just say family without the little in front of it?

That torturous question. I told myself I wouldn't consider it again until Atticus was three, but that's an impossible thing to avoid as this blog suggests.

Why have more than one? Why do we choose that? Is it because we have more to share? Because we love the smell of babies? Because we are careless about family planning? What are we here for? What should my life be?

I end a lot of blogs with the word Blurgh. Blurgh.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two Years In

At year two, we have a one-year-old.

At year two, we know each other more, but talk less.

At year two, we bicker and joke in one breath.

At year two, we fight against patterns.

At year two, we know where to put each other's socks.

At year two, we travel long distances in silence and apologize for turning the air conditioning on or off.

At year two, the baby is more important than the two people who started this whole thing.

At year two, I still feel lucky.

At year two, we spend a great deal of time with our backs facing each other while we work on the computer.

At year two, he complains less about me leaving the door open.

At year two, I floss and pluck in front of him.

At year two, we think about having Christmas by ourselves and not travelling to visit family so much.

At year two, I can make at least five meals I'm sure he'll really like.

At year two, he still does not quite know how to buy the groceries.

At year two, I know very well how to buy the groceries.

At year two, we wonder if this will always be the size of our family.

At year two, we are tired of being poor all the time, but happy we are not that poor.

At year two, a gym membership is our primary social activity.

At year two, we have not seen a movie in nine months.

At year two, we do not know how we will travel 20 hours away to see a friend because how can a baby travel for 20 hours?

At year two, he has grown more handsome by any standards and not just my love-goggled ones.

At year two, there is no end in sight.

At year two, I hate to be home without him.

At year two, he went hiking with me because it's what I love to do.

At year two, we say, "I'll do better next time."

At year two, I worry he should write and read more.

At year two, I worry I get in the way.

At year two, I worry I can't get in the way.

At year two, we fight meaner.

At year two, we fight more productively.

At year two, we leave fights in the middle of them to fold laundry.

At year two, the car is filled with graham cracker crumbs.

At year two, the graham cracker crumbs have stopped bothering us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More on Boobs

In one fell swoop, that is to say, in one day, Atticus took his first steps and made the executive decision to be done nursing. He is Mr. Independent. He needs me not.

And I'm quite fine with this. For reals. I'm not one of those mothers who freaks out when their child moves on to the next thing, though I am admittedly a little melancholy about the walking. It signals a giant shift out of babyhood and into toddlerland, but for the time being, he is still a baby.

What this post is more concerned about is boobs and what happens to them when one is done nursing. Contrary to popular opinion, nursing does not make boobs droop or malform them in any way. Pregnancy does that. Quit blaming the nursing.

While there are a billion (to be exact) websites about the benefits of breastfeeding and the good counsel of slow weaning, there is almost nothing on the woman's health in this issue. Those who have nursed understand the discomfort, engorgement, and possible mastitis that is the frequent companion piece to nursing. And it only gets worse when the baby stops doing his part.

Atticus decided to quit nursing all by himself, a self-weaner, which is a fun phrase for all sorts of reasons. He weaned fairly slowly over a period of a couple of weeks and then he was decided about it - so much so that there were actually two mornings wherein he rejectedly crawled away from me in tears because I can only assume he thought I might force him to nurse, which I of course have never ever done.

And so he's done and while I thought I would be emotionally overwrought about it, I am not. Rather than my mind, it's my body that has not caught up with the new world order of independence. I naively thought within a week, all would be normal again - my body would return once again to its pre-baby state of decoration and not utility.

This is not the case. Be warned, future nursers. The body will not stop producing milk until weeks, months, or up to a year have passed by. A year!!! Until then, infrequent, judicious expressing will keep the engorgement and mastitis away.

Blurgh. I am reminded these past many days of Al Pacino in the Godfather II. You know the line: "Just when I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in."

This is good training for motherhood. It is not a job that ends in any satisfactory way. Before one thing finishes, the next thing starts. While I am not naturally inclined toward this sort of continuous work, it is a job I cannot get out of and a job I would never abandon. Because Young 'Cus, as one of our friends call him, is pretty freaking cool. It's just, seriously, I had no idea how much I signed on for. None. Not really. But here we are 11 months later and all is, if not easy, pretty freaking awesome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The End of the Line

(New design for my blog. 'Thought I should shake it up a little bit and take advantage of the snazzy new templates. Plus, I like birds. I cannot resist them.)

Every morning I wake to Atticus trilling from his crib. You know trilling? That sound one makes with their tongue or with their lips? Atticus does it with his lips, increasing in pitch and volume the longer it takes me to respond. It's time to get up, his trills say. Come on, there's fun to be had.

And so I roll out of bed and go to him, groggily, but happily. He's waiting in his crib, standing up, holding the bars, and swaying back and forth to the rhythm of his own morning sounds. We nurse and get on with the day and all that fun his trills promise.

And our days are always fun, though lately, they involve less and less nursing all the time.

I am dreading its end.

It is happening far more quickly than I thought possible, though certainly many people would say that nursing for almost eleven months is not exactly quick. But alas, for me, it feels quick. I thought I'd have more time. I thought I'd have to read up on weaning. I thought I'd have some say in the matter.

But I don't. He's done nearly, ready to move on to the rest of his life, slightly more independent.

And I'm happy about it. No, I'm not. Yes, I am. I don't know. One thing I'm sure about, I'm going to cry when it's officially over. Yes, I will definitely cry. And then maybe I'll go out and buy a frilly new bra.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swan Dives into the Ineffable

I had a professor who called poetry a swan dive into the ineffable. That's nice. I like that phrase. It's lovely and it makes the making of poetry sound terribly important, and as the wife of a poet, I do think poetry's important.

But I bring up that phrase for a different reason altogether. It has been a little over 10 months since Atticus was born and I'm still swimming madly against the rapids of the ineffable. He still doesn't make sense to me, his whole existence doesn't. I sit in the backseat next to his carseat everywhere we go and I often, frequently, almost always look at him with a sense of wonderment nearing displacement. How did he get here? Where did he come from? Is this kid really mine?

It is not without love or attachment or a great desire for him that I ask these questions, but I'm trying to figure the ineffable here: once there was no one and now there's a whole Atticus. Any parent who doesn't get horribly confused by that fact is either not thinking very hard or far more wise than me.

And self-identity is still somewhere in that ineffable ocean. I know I'm a mother, but I don't always feel like a wife. Here's an inescapable truth of having a young baby in the house. Wait for it. Are you ready? Not a lot of sex happens in that house. Not that sex defines wifery, but certainly it has something to do with it. Have I disclosed too much? Will my husband cringe at reading this? But it's the truth and one that needn't be shushed or whispered or alluded to in quiet tones between other mothers. It is really damn hard to be anything more than a mother as being a mother is so all consuming. Any other pursuits feel selfish, reckless, and tiring at the end of the day.

I don't want it to be like this. I'd like to go out for an evening and let it be okay that my son is not as comfortable as he would be if I were with him. I'd like to put my husband first sometimes. Hell, I'd like to put myself first sometimes.

But I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Last week we met up with some old friends in my old town and I became acutely aware of the difference in our lives now. It was a reading at a very hipster bar in Grand Rapids. The readers were great, real artists with presence and content and craft; it was the type of reading that makes you ache a little bit to go home and write and be a creator of things yourself.

That was at the beginning of the evening, but as the evening wore on, my creative impulses were overtaken by my maternal ones. It happened quickly and completely. The "must get home to baby" internal chant gained momentum and volume and I forgot entirely about wanting to write or eventually have my own readings.

Will it be this way forever? Will I ever feel like Atticus would be better served by serving myself first? Am I okay with this?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Babies and Travelling

Travelling with a baby is tough stuff. Funny thing about babies - they like sameness. They like the same faces and smells and places to sleep night after night. Now that I think about it, I'm not really all that different from a baby.

It's good to be home. While there was tremendous fun and excitement to be had up north, there is nothing so tremendously fun as ones own bed.

Our travelling baby was a trooper. Sort of. Mostly. Kind of. Pretty much. But now he is in his own bed and while I have more to say on this matter, the pull of my very own bed is too strong.

More soon on other things related to babies and mothering and the intellect precariously balancing between.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ruggedly Confused Patriot

"America: The Story of Us" is a series from the History channel that tells, well, derr ..., the story of America. I'm enjoying the show immensely, but at the same time, I am becoming increasingly queasy with the unsavory truths of our history.

This is a tired conversation. We've all become enlightened about the less glorious moments of our short American history, but then there are the those things that remain in the darkened shadow of glorified language, hidden, tucked away under that hearty phrase "rugged individualism."

What does that phrase even mean? Herbert Hoover was the guy to first bring that healing term, that salve of all salves, into our lexicon. To be rugged is to be capable of enduring great adversity, to be hearty, to be manly, to look a bear in the eye and roar right back. And to be an individual is to know your mind and give it free rein over your interests and conversations and life goals. Put those two together and heck, you have license to pretty much kill everything in front of you.

Or so it was with the patriots. And I WANT to call them patriots. I want to give them the respect they questionably deserve. What our American forefathers did was rugged and individualistic and scary as hell and you wouldn't catch me doing it for all the tea in China. If it were up to me, we'd all still be in England saying, "Yes, mum, indeed, mum, here's all my money for the Crown and sure, I'll go to whatever Church you tell me to, mum."

But that's not our patriots. Our patriots left, got on ships, landed in harsh conditions, starved or ate each other, died from smallpox, died from smallpox inoculations, died from milk disease, cut out the Erie Canal with their bare hands working fingers to literal bone, and all for what? Could they imagine the glory their sacrifices would allow? Could they imagine a highway system and sanitation and education for all? Did they know - could they have had any indication of the superpower we would become? George Washington thought it would take a 1000 years to settle America. Not with rugged individualists at the helm. No sir. We are only a couple hundred years into the great experiment and look at us. We rule the whole freaking world.

It's not hard to love the patriots, our forefathers, our bold leaders, our rugged individualists. How ungrateful would I have to be to not love them and respect the hell out of their accomplishments?

And yet.

To wit, a list of the things young America did to earn the term "rugged individualists":

1. Defeated the British who were defending Native American boundary lines

(How, you ask? By killing off the Native American guides in the service of the British and by employing sharp shooters to take out British captains. Stay classy, patriots.)

2. Defeated the Mexicans who had welcomed us into their territory only to have us take it over entirely

(Remember the Alamo? Remember when the Mexicans said, sure, come on in? Then, hey, wait, there's too many of you? Then, hey, what the heck just happened here?)

3. Indentured the free Africans who had fought for America right alongside every other America in the Revolutionary War

(Hey, somebody's got to take care of the cotton on the land we took from the Cherokee.)

4. Crossed 2000 miles to get to the gold rush in California where men died and didn't even receive decent burials

And on and on. But look how tough we are. We keep pushing through. We tame the lands and flourish despite it all.

And there are longers lists of our better deeds. History books are full of them. I am, I must admit, a huge fan of John Adams and his contribution to American history. Also, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Pretty much in that order. And they are all that term for good or ill.

But it's the ill that has me at the moment. That Machiavellian sensibility that pervades our history and probably the history of every history. We are no different from each other. Perhaps if I had been a part of the Donner party, I would have made the same choices. Perhaps I would have believed in freedom and self preservation at all costs. Perhaps I am just as ruggedly individualistic as the next guy.

Lucky for me, my life is so posh, I don't have to find out. Thanks, patriots. Thanks for my cushy, easy life. Thanks for setting me up in a free society where I can blog about how murderous your sacrifices were. Thanks for this life, this liberty, and this pursuit of judging the heck out of you and all you have done for this great country.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How to Feed a Baby the Jamie Oliver Way

Just as my baby is slowly beginning to wean himself and experience the world of culinary delights, Jamie Oliver comes along with his groundbreaking series "Food Revolution." In this series, Jamie Oliver takes on Huntington, West Virginia, one of the least healthy cities in the nation and tries to start a food revolution by overhauling the cafeteria systems of the elementary and high schools.

I love this show, and at any other time in my life, I would have comfortably sat through each episode arrogantly thinking, Oh, yes, of course the children should be eating fresh and proper food. How stupid these people of Huntington are. But now that I'm a mother, the overwhelming task of doing just that, preparing wholesome food with love on a regular basis is, well, overwhelming.

It's one thing to eat healthfully yourself. It's not really hard at all. I eat a lot of same things over and over again, but those same things are varied and are very good for me. In the morning, I eat oatmeal and yogurt with walnuts or flax seed. I have a veggie sandwich on whole grain bread with cheese every day for lunch. For dinner, a little more variety - maybe grilled vegetables and a veggie burger, maybe a salad and french fries, maybe Chinese takeout. The repetition of my eating makes shopping easy as I know what things I'm likely to eat every week. And with the exception of an occasional pigging out on pizza and a blizzard from Dairy Queen, I can feel pretty good about what I put into my body.

But to feed a baby - three times a day! This is an awesome task for someone who rarely gets to sit down to eat herself. But if I want to continue watching "Food Revolution" in comfortable arrogance, I must actually do what Oliver is pushing in the series: make real food for my baby that is well considered and made with love.

I am trying. I really am. It goes like this: Atticus smells something in the kitchen and the lip-smacking begins. I think about what I am preparing and invariably it contains some dairy product unfit for a child before the age of one (as there is a potential for dairy allergies later in life for infants who are given cow's milk before age one).

So I must reconceive things. I have to think ahead. I have to plan. I cannot rely on my pat shopping list of frequently used ingredients. This is a new eater with new needs and I am ultimately responsible for his eating habits and attitude toward food. Oh, the sheer weight of this responsibility ...

And my baby is particular. He will not eat baby food or anything with the consistency of baby food. How gauche, he seems to say as I try once again to give him yogurt. Not for me, his turned head and pursed lips suggest. But there are other things, many other things that I hope will have the Oliver seal of approval.

Atticus is very fond of the following foods in descending order of appreciation:

Sweet Potato
Chicken Noodle Soup
Orange Slices
Pasta or Rice with Peas and Herbs
Chunky Apple Sauce
Scrambled Eggs

Those are the highlights, but I have intentionally left out Puffs which Atticus eats in such generous volume that I wonder if we will have to sit down and have an intervention with him someday. Puffs rehab. I don't want everyone to know how many Puffs I let my son eat. I recently read that children get 20% of their nutrition from snacks. Atticus might be getting 60% of his nutrition from Puffs. Please don't tell Jamie Oliver. I'm trying to get it right and do it proper, mate. I really am.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Kendra and Kimora

Likely, you will think less of me when I tell you I have the show "Kendra" set to record on my DVR, and while I did not have to admit that to you, I want to bring up my defense toward a greater purpose.

The greater purpose is this: there is an extraordinarily limited number of television programs that involve new motherhood, which is strange since new motherhood is pretty much the most common thing in the universe. The fact is if there is no new motherhood, there are no new viewers.

New mothers are left to identify with Kendra and Kimora. "Kendra" is a spin-off of "The Girls Next Door," an absurdly trashy, mindless program highlighting the women who live at the Playboy mansion. One of these girls, Kendra, married Hank Wilkinson of the Indianapolis Colts and she got her own show.

Full disclosure: at one point, I accused Kendra of retardation and I meant it. As an educator, certain red flags are raised with regard to Kendra's special kind of stupid. And don't even get me started on that laugh.

But then something happened. Kendra got pregnant and had a baby. The months leading up to her labor and delivery were documented on her reality show as was her actual labor and delivery (not the bloody reality of it, but the curtained, appropriate for reality television part of it). And then Kendra was a mommy and not the seemingly retarded girl bouncing around the Playboy mansion.

This is not to say that mommyhood made Kendra smart. She just seems less stupid. And more to the point, she's the star of a reality show about a mom with a very new baby who is dealing with all the things every mom with a new baby deals with: she has to come to terms with her considerably bigger body; she has to figure out how to be sexual with her husband again; she has to try to find common ground with her single, childless friends; she has to interview prospective babysitters; and she has to walk red carpets fearful of her boobs leaking. Okay, so most of us are not walking red carpets, but the rest of that stuff is absolutely riveting to someone in my position.

Anyone who knows me has heard me ineptly try to describe the impossible nature of taking care of a newborn. It is so hard, I feel like I am the first woman to ever have attempted it. Imagine the comfort of seeing someone like Kendra Wilkinson struggling, yet succeeding at the nearly impossible task of keeping a baby alive and well.

And here's the thing. Think for a second. Run through your cable stations. How many programs are out there showing what having a newborn in the house is really like? MTV's got that "16 and Pregnant" show, which is doing a great public service, to be sure, but I'm not 16. I have a husband and support and an education and all the trappings of a quality life that suggest I should be a good, well-balanced, and loving mother.

There are two shows: "Kendra" and now "Life in the Fab Lane" with Kimora Lee Simmons. Recently, Kimora could be seen from behind, telling a photographer they would have to wait to do her family photo because she was in the middle of pumping and all the stress surrounding her was affecting her "letdown." The scene did not come close to exposing her in the act of pumping breastmilk, but she referred to it and showed the camera a bottle after she had successfully pumped several ounces.

"Letdown," Kimora explained, is not when someone disappoints you. We're talking milk here.

Mothering a young baby is ridiculously consuming. Shockingly so. Jarringly so. That a whole other world goes on around you while you are: sleepless, investigating the best methods for freezing milk, reading up on healthy sleep patterns, folding laundry one-handed while nursing a baby in your other arm, challenging doctors who are not as supportive of nursing mothers as they should be, passively fighting with your spouse over whose turn it is to hold the baby (while feeling guilty about how badly you want to not be holding the baby), and trying, hoping, and praying you'll get a shower that day - this is one of the unique challenges of motherhood.

And then there's Kendra and Kimora bringing the inexplicable challenge of it to television. And not just to television, but to popular television. This is no poorly produced "A Baby Story." This is glossy, full-production value television of women who, despite their celebrity, at the end of the day, are just trying to be good moms.

Certainly once Kendra's son starts to grow and verbalize and Kendra starts explaining how mama used to pose for Playboy, she and I will part ways. We will no longer share that bond of the mama who is stunned to find herself in the position of motherhood. But until then, I look forward to another episode where Kendra tries to find the time to get to the gym and where she cries to her husband one more time about how she just doesn't feel like herself anymore. Go, Kendra. I can completely identify with you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Me and My Shadow

It is very difficult as a mother to find your own identity, to separate yourself from your child. I think of that often as I begin yet another blog about my son, or post yet another photo of me and my son on my Facebook profile. And then I realize how ridiculous it is to even try for that separation.

Reality check on motherhood: I am not a separate identity anymore. It's a tough transition to make, from independent persona to mother of child. It took a long time for Atticus's existence in our house to feel normal. But now it is normal. Once you give in, surrender to the intrusion of a life that you asked for in the first place, that identity shift happens. The struggle is over and life gets easy-ish again.

It's not at all easy before accepting that shift. And sure, I could have just accepted it on day one when we brought Atticus home from the hospital, but I didn't know how. I didn't even know I was supposed to because everyone says, "You have to make time for yourself." And you do, sort of, but not really, because "yourself" is a completely new concept and that individual existence is really gone. At least for me it was and is. Thank goodness I am communal and like being around people. Loneliness, how little I knew you.

And so I have this shadow always, but it's more like a light than a shadow. Atticus is almost eight months now. And he is everywhere - on my blog, in my conversations, on my Facebook profile, crawling across the floor, sitting in the chair next to me crying for my attention as I write this. And so I'll go and give him the attention he wants because I like him very much. He's good people, my kind of people. And he and I will never be entirely separate no matter how hard either of us might try. What a comfort that is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food Rut

It happens to all of us. There comes a time when nothing sounds delicious and no recipe intrigues. I am there. I am officially in a food rut.

Usually when this happens, I bust out the cookbooks, stroll through the pages and pull forth new and unexpected ingredient options to tease and awaken a sleeping palate. But this time, the cookbooks aren't working, nor are the cooking shows we watch ad nauseum, nor is my trusted and true Bon Appetit magazine - a boon which has contributed many a new recipe to our dining lexicon, such as blueberry lemon shortcake and fake fried chicken.

What to do when nothing at the grocery store excites one to eat something delicious? The only thing seasonal at this time of the year in Tennessee markets are pineapples. I like pineapples very much, but not so much as a savory component. And anyway, they are rather on the small side right now.

It's a time for ordering Chinese food in. That's usually my strategy, but one can only afford to do so a couple of times before one must return to ones own food stores. What to do? Where to eat? Food inspiration is in short supply.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Teaching Advice?

Forgive the cliche, but I am entering unchartered waters with my Public Writing class. I am starting a section entitled "Joining the Public Forum" wherein students will participate in political blogs, online videos (such as youtube), the writing of letters to the editor, and/or participating in the writing of political literature (essays or poetry) in some way.

Do any of my teacherly friends or otherwise savvy people have any suggestions of blogs, videos, political essays, etc ... that I could incorporate in the classroom toward the goal of familiarizing students with the craft and purpose of public writing in a political context?

Thanks, friends.

Stranger in a Strange Land

It comes as no surprise to those who know me that neither I nor my husband are huge fans of living in the South, and yet, I am committed to enjoying the rest of our time here. I've spent the last year and a half trying to explain what it is that we have found so unpleasant and I have always been aware of how flimsy our reasoning has been. So toward a happier experience here in this strange land, I will try to explain and excavate all that anti-South baggage.

For starters, it's a thousand little things. This is what I've finally come to. There are a thousand little things that are different about the South that make me feel like an interloper, an other, a conscientious objector.

Word Choice and Fun Expressions: I can't tell you how many times my heart's been blessed. Southerners really love to "bless your heart." This is not a complaint. It's just different. I don't think anyone in Michigan has ever blessed my heart. And Southerners call grocery carts "buggies." And when they have completed something - like, say, fixing a leaky pipe under the sink - they say, "Alright, that's got ya'," which is a great turn of phrase, though strange.

Nevermind the accent. I don't hear that anymore at all unless it's a particularly thick one. It's the different phrasing and word choices that pull me out of my daily routine and remind me that while it is nice here, I am not home.

On the Subject of Snow: A few weeks ago, a terrible hardship fell upon Knoxville. A smattering of fluffy snow that was too light to stick to the ground came down from the sky. Schools closed. Malls closed. Grocery stores crowded over and then closed. I was in Marshall's to decompress, enjoying a few scarce moments on my own, when over the intercom I hear the words, "The store will be closing in 15 minutes due to inclement weather."

Inclement weather? Are they serious? I looked out the window. Clear parking lot. Clear roads. Light snow falling. To no one in particular, I uttered, "Seriously?", then put down my potential purchases and walked out into a clear day no Michigander would come close to describing as inclemental.

Southerners defend this by saying
a) they do not have the equipment to clear snow,
b) the North does not have mountains like they do, and
c) they do not know how to drive in the snow.

In response to these arguments I say
a) there is no snow on the ground for a plow to clear away,
b) you live in a valley, and
c) go slow and drive more cautiously.

Slow and slow, that is the tempo: When we first came here, I thought my head might explode. I had heard all the cliches about the South living a slower paced existence, but I didn't think they were actually true in our oh-so-modern world. They are. Go to a bank, any bank in the South, and you will experience the Southern way to its fullest. All one may need to do is make a quick transaction - in and out and on to the next thing, but the teller has different plans. "How you? Oh, did you just move from Michigan? How do y'like it here? Well, you'll love it come late February and March. Oh, I cain't stand the snow."

And on and on. It took me a while to slow down, to welcome the random and constant stream of conversation from strangers. Now I can jump in the middle of a conversation with the best of them, but this is not a northern trait or tendency. We are saved by our ruthless efficiency.

Friendy friendy: This is related to the previous point. It isn't just that everything is slower, it's that everyone is friendlier. The South is superfriendly and if you are a northerner, this takes a little while to get used to. I don't want to suggest that the North is not friendly because that's plain wrong. It's just that generally speaking we do not want to bother you or otherwise impede the progress of your day. If you need something, directions or a restaurant suggestion, we northerners are only too happy to oblige. But if you engage in a conversation with us that lasts longer than five minutes, we will likely start to become suspicious of you and your intentions. Do they want to get us in their van, we wonder? Are they trying con us? Is there a second player involved? It's confusing. We are not bad people. We just have certain social expectations of strangers.

In the South, the social expectations of strangers is quite different. Everyone is fair game for conversation. I cannot tell you how many conversations about celery, soup stock, chicken cuts, or milk expiration dates I have had in Kroger with my fellow shoppers, strangers all of them. I am everyone's friend here. This is nice, but it would be a lie to say this did not take some getting used to. My husband is not at all used to it and his inherently shy and guarded self has had to invent all new defense mechanisms to accomodate this uniquely southern tradition.

And lastly, the worst thing about the South is the fact that my family does not live here. This is its grossest crime. It is likely I will be here for another year, perhaps two, and it's time to stop beating up the South for my mother not being around the corner.

So to the South, I apologize. I am ready to have my heart blessed, to return my buggy to the buggy corral, to discuss recipes with you at the grocery store, and to be your friend in all things.

But this snow thing --

Oh dear South, you must know it makes you a horrible wuss, and I will continue to make fun of you for unnecessary school closings and for shutting down the malls at the slightest mention of cold, white precipitation. On this point, I will ever hold true to my Yankee status.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Feat of Sitting Up

Newborn babies are boring. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. They don't see well, they're fairly quiet, and their daily accomplishment are few and far between. The mother of a 3-month old baby excites over her baby's newfound ability to focus on objects several feet away from their face. It's cause for celebration.

A six-month old - on the other hand - a six-month old can do some pretty cool shit. A six-month old, for example, can sit up and play with blocks. Now we're cooking with gas.

I can hardly explain the novelty of Atticus being able to sit up. It is nothing short of a magic trick in my book. How DOES he do it after months of floppiness that necessitated constant carrying around? One second, he's a spineless fish nearly slipping out of my arms. The next, he's a strong little man sitting up, reaching for toys just out of his reach.

Not only does he sit up on his very own, he is also engaged with toys and very, very interested in this whole crawling business. If only he could figure out how to move forward. Backwards? Sure, we have that down. Forward is another thing altogether.

But the sitting up - this, according to Dr. Sears, is the master skill of the six-month old. And Atticus, well obviously he is a master at it even if he occasionally (read: always) falls over at some point during the sitting up. Still, the kid is good. I mean, he's, like, really, really good at it.

I cannot get over it. I sit and watch him do it and cannot go over the feeling that this is all very wrong somehow. He should not be sitting up, or rocking back and forth on all fours in an attempt at locomotion. I thought it would be more of a struggle, but he's no more than thought of it and the feat is done. And it is in those moments that I am utterly aware that Atticus is not an extension of me. While surely I encouraged his ability to sit up, I didn't teach him how to do it. That was all him. He is a complete and whole person whose instincts, both physical and emotional, will dominate his life in a way that even a mother cannot compete with. Not that I want to. I don't.

I'm the transition team. Me and Michael are. We're just here to get him through to adulthood, and with any luck, we'll be there then as well to continue to serve as buffer and pillow when he inevitably falls over again. Even the most mastered of skills fail us at times. But oh how it is fun to watch the skills be acquired. And oh how remarkable it is to be human. To grow, to learn, to get smart, to be interested, to lunge for toys, to sit up on ones very own. Motherhood is nothing if not a reminder of how miraculous we all are.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Goodbye to All That

I haven't written my Best of 2009 post yet and it's already halfway through January. No matter, the best of 2009 is Atticus. He's the best of everything. Right now he's chewing on a plastic star. You go get that star, little man. And all the other ones, too.

But I owe Atticus an apology. I've spent the majority of 2009 complaining to women about how difficult a baby is. And really, Atticus is probably the most magical baby in the universe, especially now that he's six months old and chewing on plastic stars in his magical exersaucer. I couldn't love him more than I do right now. Except tomorrow, I'll probably love him even more. That's how magical he is.

So goodbye to all that complaining. Of course, I'll still have things to say and there will still be challenging mama days, but I'm not going to let that run the show. Goodbye to all that ingratitude and hello to thanks.

Thanks for the best year, Atticus. I'm looking forward to a hundred more with you, magical little man. Love, love, and exponentially-growing love.

Saturday, January 9, 2010



I promise to post a real blog soon, but I just wanted to say I had to change my comment posting settings to get rid of all the stupid spammers who have been littering my account with their sales detritus. You can no longer post comments anonymously but can do so with an OpenID.