Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My World Strapped Against My Back

I feel like a turtle, or at least a bag lady. I see, in my near future, becoming the woman who wears sneakers with her work clothes. I vow not to wear pantyhose with slouch socks, with or without cross-trainers. Never.

This morning I toured my alternate work location with one of my managers. She showed me multiple ways to get there, told me when the close parking spots open up, made sure I could find the bathroom and walked me through the cafeteria. I have four work phone numbers, four computers, four monitors, three work e-mail addresses, two desks in two separate buildings, three managers, one me. How will they ever find me? How will I ever remember where I'm supposed to be and when, and how will I actually get there? I figure that most of the time the phone numbers and email addresses will be useless. I'll be in my car, praying for a parking space or worse, I'll be hiking through acres of asphalt trying to get to where I'm already supposed to be. Which, of course, is everywhere, and never soon enough.

Yesterday I might have snapped, just a little, at The Boy. On the phone from work he told me he wasn't sure when he'd be home. "I wish I could just say, 'oh, I'll get there when I get there.'" I complained. Of course I know he is not gallivanting; he's at work. But even if I had to work late, I couldn't. Because a little girl waits for me, and her day ends at 5:00. She is always ready for me to come; when I scoop her up she hugs me tight around the neck, which is her new trick that I hope she never outgrows. By the time I heave her carrier up the stairs and to the car she is usually, against all bumpy odds, asleep. This is what we do. And I recognize that the opportunity to work later would result in less time with my baby every evening, and the time we have is already limited and busy and cranky. I can't imagine having less. But still.

Sunday, after months of agonizing, I decided to start weaning. And maybe what I really mean is that I decided to stop pumping for minimal effect and call this process what it is. I looked up the definition, and there are two. The first, "to accustom (as a young child or animal) to take food otherwise than by nursing" really started happening long ago. Because my supply was low, we have been supplementing with formula for the last three months, which initiated the process. Mirabella has been rejecting me increasingly over that time. The mornings were our last remaining feeding, and though they will be the last to go, they will be gone soon and already involve a bottle anyway. The second definition of weaning seems more appropriate, "to detach from a source of dependence." And this is why I cried myself to sleep on Sunday.
My baby doesn't need me. Sure, she prefers me, for now. But anyone can feed her. Anyone could care for her. So I am wearing a regular (if ill-fitting) bra today, but it doesn't feel as freeing as I thought it would. I don't feel like I'm there when I'm supposed to be; sometimes I feel like I'm missing it all. Nursing was the only thing that was all mine; it was something only I could give my baby. So that's part of it. But maybe more than that, I've never tried so hard at something and failed so miserably at it. Somewhere outside myself, I know this is harsh and not entirely true, but this is how it feels. Not good enough. Not the best for my daughter. I failed.
Sunday night I soaked my pillow and threw fistfulls of tissues on the floor. I told The Boy, "The change in hormones means I'll get my period again and it could lead to depression, so you have to watch out for me."

"So…this crying at night thing…" he said carefully.

"Once is okay," I sniffled, "every day means there's a problem."

Certainly there are things I won't miss, and definitely the "bonding" aspects of nursing are long gone for us. My baby doesn't like to drink from the tap, I have joked, she prefers her brew bottled, but I don't really think it's funny.

When I started work in March, and when we realized Mirabella wasn't gaining weight because I didn't have what she needed, I prayed that I would be able to make it to six months. Sunday was her half-birthday, so I made it, but just barely. I know there are aspects of having my body to myself again that I will enjoy. I will frantically shuttle between these new stations in my life, more places to go, but one less bag to carry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tears for New Parents Left Behind

For some reason, these tragic stories keep making their way to me. Desperately wanted babies are born to deeply faithful parents and live for only a short time. It breaks my heart, not just the deaths but the strength of the lives left behind. I find myself weeping for people I'm sure I'll never meet. What could I possibly do? So I pray and cry and hope that God would allow my mourning to somehow make their burden even the slightest bit lighter.

First, Angie Smith, whose husband Todd is of the Christian band Selah, writes of her recent experience losing their newborn daughter here. Her words are at once genuine, heartbreaking, funny, and absolutely inspirational.

Then, it appears that people have found this blog while searching for Dennis Rainey. I followed their path and learned that he and his family mourn the loss of his 7-day-old granddaughter, and you can read about it here.

I hope you'll join me in thanking God for the incredible gift of the healthy children in our lives and in praying for those suffering the unimaginable.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Help I Don't Need

There is a dearth of good Christian radio stations where I live. Perhaps I should clarify: there is a dearth of Christian radio stations I enjoy listening to where I live. There are three stations, one of them mostly talk, and the other two mostly Casting Crowns, 4-Him, and Mercy Me, and all three of them mostly Republican. I have never subscribed to the notion that God is partisan-- in either direction-- and I've never felt more strongly about that than I do now. It's not that I am naïve enough to believe that mainstream media is any less biased; it's just that I believe as Christians, we should be held to a higher standard. So, for example, in my thinking, a Christian news organization should deliver the news in as fair and unbiased a manner as possible, as if unto God, the same way the rest of us are supposed to go about our jobs. I've had several of these issues recently that irritated me along my commute. This morning, this: "Two-thirds of Americans support domestic drilling efforts; Democrats disagree." So listeners are supposed to believe that a) two-thirds of Americans are Republicans, and b) all Democrats believe the same way? Because that's what an irresponsibly-worded sentence like that suggests.

But, alas, at this point, I expect my news to be pre-filtered for me, telling me what to think, so I take the time to read, watch and listen to multiple sources across the spectrum of media so that I may sort through the biases and form my own opinions. (Except for Fox News. After my 9-month employment seated in front of a 50-inch plasma screen projecting All Fox News All the Time, I think I've had enough Bill Hemmer and Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto and Head-On, apply directly to the forehead, commercials to last me a lifetime.)

More troubling than all of this, though, are a couple of "uplifting and encouraging" messages I've been subject to recently on these radio stations. The first came from notorious Christian psychologist and radio personality, Dr. James Dobson. I wish I could find a transcript of his message, but I've been unable. I will paraphrase. He spoke of the challenge of being a woman through different phases and roles of life while I nodded:

"First you're somebody's daughter, then you're somebody's wife, then you're somebody's mother, then, perhaps, you're somebody's widow, and the only thing that stays constant through all of this change is Jesus Christ."

Some part of me understood and felt the heart of what he was saying, but still I felt anger in the pit of my stomach. As I drove my baby daughter to day care, I actually yelled aloud, "SO WHEN AM I ACTUALLY SOMEBODY?!" Of course I could not argue that my Jesus stays constant when nothing else does; in that I have always taken great comfort, even when I could find it nowhere else. But I cannot believe that He sees me only through these lenses. What if I had not married? Would I still then just be somebody's daughter, waiting for my next designation? Would I be somebody's future spouse? Why isn't it enough for me just to be me, a child of God and nothing more or less? I am my Heavenly Father's, most definitely, but why, according to Dr. Dobson and so many, am I only defined on this earth as what I am in relation to a man? I have turned this over in my mind in the months since I heard it, and while I know he might not have meant it maliciously, he still meant it, and I have tried to accept it, but I can't.

Since I experienced the complicated joy of becoming a mother nearly six months ago, I have struggled with identity. "What's wrong with being a mom?" One (childless) friend said. My mother, not really understanding what I meant when I shifted uncomfortably as people who are not my child addressed me as "mom," said somewhat defensively, "I always loved my role as a mom." Of course, I am a wife and daughter and sister and mother and friend and employee, and I relish each role independent of the others. But somewhere in all of that, aren't I a woman? An individual, "fearfully and wonderfully made?" Isn't that list made up of the situations in which I am myself? Don't I carry my transcendent identity into and between those locales? I tried to imagine a similar message going out to men, but I couldn't. It never would.

Another personality I have often admired, Dennis Rainey, spoke the other day on grandparents and how, in our culture, they seem to be raising their grandchildren in increasing numbers. I expected him to talk about teenage or ill-equipped parents, too immature or young to handle parenthood by themselves. Although he did credit single parenthood with contributing to this phenomenon, he also cited a rise in working mothers. He went so far as to shame the mothers for allowing their children to be "raised" by their grandparents. Now certainly I'm aware of situations in which this occurs. But I wonder what Mr. Rainey would have to say about my situation.

Aunt Nae is not Mirabella's grandmother. She is not related to us in any way, but she is the precious lady who loves my baby every day. She feeds her three times a day, keeps her warm and dry, plays with her, worries about her diaper rash, comforts her, and meets her needs until I come screeching up the driveway and down the stairs to scoop her up and squeeze her tight at 4:56 every day. I spend my days thinking about my daughter, providing for her, longing for her, and wishing and planning for days when I won't have to because I'll be with her. I spend my nights holding her, bathing her, rocking her, feeding her, playing with her, reading her stories and singing her to sleep. But am I really not the one who is raising my child? Should I be ashamed that we are unable to afford for me to stay home? Or, delving deeper in the guilt and shame department, does it mean I am less of a mother because I am not sure I'm cut out for being a full-time stay-at-home mom?

Nearly three years ago, newly engaged, on the day before I would start classes in the advanced degree program I now feel I may never finish, I proudly talked it over with my extended family. "But why are you going back to school," a relative asked earnestly, "don't you want to have children? What would be the point?" I remember talking lowly and slowly; I remember my face and neck turning red; I remember The Boy meeting me in the kitchen and, in soft tones, telling me we could leave. That's how I felt when I heard the words of Dobson and Rainey: defensive, inadequate, guilty, ashamed. Not remotely uplifted or encouraged, and I wonder if I'm the only one missing the point.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Not Really Not Guilty

On Wednesday, I was a defendant. Thinking better of the grey pants I had intially chosen, I wore a skirt and uncomfortable heels because that's what I remember Winona Ryder and Paris Hilton doing when they went to court. I was the best dressed person in the court room, but it didn't matter.

It all started a couple months ago, when a Transit Authority officer appeared in the middle of the road and motioned me to the side. I despise this; it is terrifying and not the first time it has happened. I am a reasonably defensive driver, but why would I assume a law enforcement official, or any individual for that matter, would be standing between two lanes of opposing traffic on a busy road? I pulled over and might have sworn, realizing I did not know the speed limit on that road. I prepared this defense, then scrapped it when I saw a speed limit sign (the first posted on that road) directly ahead and mocking me while I waited. The officer was friendly, despite my terse responses. Mirabella wailed.

"She probably wants to be moving," the officer offered, "mine were always that way." I wanted to remind her why I had stopped and that I was not interested in small talk. After taking every bit of ten minutes, she returned at my window with a $90 ticket and apologetic smile. "I had to give you a ticket; 43 in a 25 is a bit fast. But I would fight it." She would repeat that suggestion, making me wonder why we couldn't just skip a step and forget the ticket. It was my first speeding ticket in over 10 years of driving.

I decided to take the officer's advice. I did a dry run of the drive to the court house and promised myself a trip to Starbucks when it was over. I practiced how I would plead and what I would say with The Boy the night before. And in the morning I waited. A lot. Immediately I noticed that "District Court of Maryland," the phrase that encircled the seal above the judge's bench, was not centered. I could not believe how much this bothered me. I kept thinking if they would just scoot it a little to the left all would be well. I turned around every time Court Room 5's door opened to see if my officer would show up. She did not. At least 50% of the defendants failed to appear, but oh the ones that did...

I learned that in the future, should the officer show up and I really am guilty of the charges, pleading not guilty will get me nowhere. I had suspected this. I was hesitant even to go to court, because I do not understand the concept of pleading not guilty when clearly I was doing whatever they said I was doing. Kudos to Maryland for the "guilty with an explanation" plea. This seemed to work better for most of the defendants.

There was the guy who looked vaguely like someone who would have gone to my high school who was charged with driving with expired registration and no tags. He politely explained that he was in the middle of a nasty divorce, and his ex, unbeknownst to him, had removed and returned the tags. " I didn't even believe it when the officer told me why he pulled me over," he explained, "I had to see for myself." The cops seated behind me snickered; "Cut him a break," they said. The sympathetic judge lowered his fine and removed all points from his license.

He was not as forgiving to the diminutive teenage girl who pleaded not guilty of speeding in excess of 20 miles over the limit, and following too closely as she changed lanes. Repeatedly. Her defense didn't make any sense, ("He said he was right behind me, but I didn't see him" and "I was not following that close"), yet she chose to CALL A WITNESS. Really. The blonde girl she called had allegedly been in the car with her for the stop. She angrily disputed the officer's claims.

"Were you the one driving?" the judge asked.

"No, she was texting the driver," one of the cops behind me scoffed.

The judge noted that the offense occurred on the same day the girl in question had been in court for a previous speeding ticket. "How long have you been driving?" he asked.

"Almost a year," she said, dejected.

"Where are her parents?" the cop behind me wondered aloud. I had to second that emotion. The judge upped her fine to more than $500, and I wondered why she hadn't just paid the initial ticket.

The large, smiling woman wearing what appeared to be a modest beach cover up was charged with not displaying her tags properly. Though she acknowledged she was guilty, she pleaded not guilty and mentioned that the officer was very "cordial" during the stop which, she noted, occurred on her way to church. After her sentencing, in which one charge was dropped and her fine was lowered, she asked to approach the bench. "No," the judge said with a straight face.

Finally, when all of the police officers had left, about ten of us remained, and apparently, we all had the same officer, who just happened to be in County court that morning. Hallelujah. I was the last person in the room. "Ma'am, since Officer Miller is not here, you want to plead not guilty, right?" The judge asked. I tried not to smile as I accepted my papers that said there would be no fine. Not even court fees.

And now, lessons learned:
  1. The speed limit on half of South Clinton Street is 25
  2. They really do monitor it
  3. Always, always appear in court for moving violations. Unless you have already paid a fine, which one girl did, causing the judge to add another fine once he noticed that she has had five offenses in just 2 1/2 years of driving. "I'm also going to send you to driver's improvement class," he told the girl, who protested because she'd already been there. "Well, you're going again," he replied, "apparently it didn't work the first time."

I might just start showing up in District Court for the stories.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Exercise in Abstract Dreams

It was a weekend of news stories, and not the drive-by shooting or election kind, and best of all, not the kind that has anything to do with me. I am hoping to stay out of the headlines of my own life for a while.

We put The Boy's mother on a plane Saturday night and breathed a collective sigh. Not because we did not thoroughly enjoy and appreciate our time with her and all the ways she helped us, but because our living space is small, and Mirabella's exersaucer is not. At about 9:30, while making banana pudding squares for my little brother's belated birthday celebration, I realized we had eaten Triscuits and salsa and cheese, but no dinner.

"Do you want me to make you something?" I asked The Boy.

"Why? I just had dinner," he said. Ah, the y chromosome. How could I go about getting myself one of those?

Sunday morning, after church, Ansley, the beautiful daughter of friends of ours announced, "My mommy didn't have a baby…yet." I raised an eyebrow at her mother. No news, she confirmed. We giggled, even though we shouldn't have.

The birthday celebration featured barbecued chicken and a cake that prompted The Boy to say, "Wow, this fetti really is fun." My fussy five and a half month old wanted nothing to do with her doting great-grandparents, presumably because they were not me. She is developing something that seems to border on obsession, but then she also seems to be developing teeth. I'm hoping she gets over both soon.

The Boy played with water balloons and college kids and seemed energized despite complaining earlier that he never gets a chance to relax. On the way home, he played a voicemail for me on speaker that made me cry. "Expecting twins," our friend's measured voice said, all too calmly, despite using the word, "pumped" in the delivery. We listened to our daughter moaning herself to sleep and tried to imagine multiplying that by two. But they had longed for parenthood for longer than we knew, and they were ready. I closed my eyes and saw their sprawling, light-filled split-level that backs to the park and will make a gorgeous place to grow up. I thought of their genuine joy and gifts of a toy Moose (Mirabella's favorite so far) and excellent pizza when our sweetheart was born, despite their quiet desire to be on the other end of the exercise. So when we heard the news, we glowed with thoughts of November babies and our children knowing each other as they grow. My heart felt full.

While The Boy checked his messages, I checked my own. Two from one of my favorite people. They were short without content or her typical cheerful intonation, just "call when you can." "She's engaged," I told The Boy, "I just know it." For months every time I saw her name on my phone I answered, "Can't talk, running out the door, but what's going on?" just in case she had news to share. When she actually had it, I missed her call twice, international roaming charges on her end, diaper changes on mine. Finally, I heard the story of the first place on the east coast where you can see the sunrise where the man we've never met asked for her hand. She talked about the vintage carnival theme we all giggle about, but she has always been able to see things we couldn't see. I wondered about the logistics of her December wedding, all the while knowing it won't matter; of course, I will be there.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


"You're over the hump; you're on your way!" a man once proclaimed to me, unprovoked, in a freight elevator we weren't supposed to be taking. I had never met him before. It was a Monday. I smiled, befuddled, on the way to my office with the half sandwich and salad that had cost me nearly $7.00. Back in my cube, I asked my neighbors what such a declaration could possibly mean on a Monday.

"It's probably because it was lunch time," a coworker shrugged, leaving it at that. I wrote it down because that's what I do, and it encourages me, accidentally, when I flip backwards in the planner Tara gave me for Christmas that is called A Year of Days Worse than Yours. She had written on the first page, "Thought you could use this…" I keep thinking the book will become a conversation piece, but no one has ever asked. I sit at the ready with examples from the book like The Valentine-less Valentine's Day, Bris, and Going Hunting with Dick Cheney, but I've ever had the opportunity to share. It's becoming a test on which I will evaluate the character of strangers. Like if I, as a friend recently has, began carrying my lunch in a Dunder-Mifflin lunch bag. The moment I saw the Dwight K. Shrute bobblehead on her desk, I knew I'd underestimated her.

In my planner each day is filled with tasks, marked pressing or not by their case. "MAIL MOTHER'S DAY CARDS" contrasts with scribbles like, "send photos to Ritz," "crushed tomatoes," and "grilled chicken and veggies," which is crossed out and replaced by "Noche de Mexicana," which is crossed out but not replaced at all, which probably indicates I gave up on making tacos and we went out to dinner. Tasks completed are checked off; circles remind me of what is yet to be done.

I see fragments of the nonsensical in my daily encounters. On April 21 I find, "What does the customer want? Do they really want to go down to the nuts and bolts?" Which is not notable except that it points out how buzz-word laden and ineffective at communication my work culture is. And how clunky subject-verb agreement is as it relates to the word "they" in our language. If I wrote something down today, it would be "interface," and it would be overused and it would be used incorrectly. April 4 takes me back to the inexplicable conversation about the Double-T diner that contained the quote, "the Greeks don't put a lot of sugar in their cakes;" a phrase I'm sure I wrote in an effort to keep a straight face.

Nearly three years ago, preparing to move from the suburban townhouse I shared for two years with two (and eventually three) other girls to a tiny apartment in the city, I went through notebooks, personal and academic, eager to lighten my load. Always they were marked with lines of tiny cursive; songs that were stuck in my head ("Round Here" by the Counting Crows and "Stories in my Pockets" by Sarah Masen were standbys), ideas for stories I usually didn't follow through on, snippets of conversation, lines of prose. Ideas to keep my eyes open and my mind alert while making it seem to anyone watching that I was being studious. I wonder what I might have taken with me had I not been so focused on filling the margins. I wonder what it will mean if I ever stop.

"The stories in my pockets are the best I've ever lived; so what if they don't sell, sell, sell?"

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ever Mine, Ever Thine, Ever Ours

We devoured tortilla chips, mini chimis and big margaritas, frozen for one, top shelf for another, sugar-rimmed for me. We talked fast and laughed loud and I gestured wildly enough to jostle my drink, sending the bartender over with a rag and a quizzical gaze. I almost ended up seated beside strangers twice after potty breaks, but eventually we settled in the dark, together, and watched women in impossibly high stilettos live outrageous lives nothing like the three of ours, which are nothing like each other's. Walking to our cars, I looked down at my Naturalizers, which were red, but still Naturalizers, and asked if anyone really wears $500, six-inch tall shoes. "They must have lots of corns," I said.

"Well I went from Easy Spirits to Crocs," Nikki said, gesturing to her flip flops, "and I'm pretty sure these have spit up on them."

I got in my busted up Acura and called my long-suffering husband, who, I would soon learn, had emptied the dishwasher and prepared bottles and cared for our baby and finished his homework, and who didn't for one second make me feel guilty for my ill-timed break. "We're getting ready for bedtime. We were just about to read a story," he reported. I suggested Little Big. "Last night we read There's a Wocket in my Pocket, so maybe we'll take your suggestion."

I rolled down all the windows and opened the sunroof and let the indie rock blare. Even though I was wearing jeans a size bigger than the size bigger I was before I got pregnant, and that coupled with my cropped hair puts me nowhere near the ladies I had just watched on the big screen, I thought of my own group of four. I thought of the women who would drive through the night and run in heels in the rain to be with me if I needed them. And when I have needed them, they have. I thought of so many other drives, with one of them beside me, our hearts screaming through open windows. And though I've never found their equal, I thought of the awe-inspiring women I've met since. The wives who are trudging beside me, the mothers who are teaching me, the girls who sat beside me with my spilled margarita and laughed with me.

I thought of my sweet husband who loves me and our daughter and tells us all the time and shows us even more. And even though I was coming home to a house upended-- my poor mother-in-law on the couch because her broken foot will not allow for stairs, my sister-in-law working a double and then sleeping in our guest room so she could help her mother with our baby since we don't have daycare this week, a bathroom no one can use easily because it lacks a floor and some walls and a sink or counter, a poorly-equipped kitchen because I chose Sex and the City with the girls over grocery shopping by myself-- I couldn't wait to get there. I went about the monotonous litany of tasks I perform every night, chatting away.

"You can tell she had a margarita," The Boy said to his mother.

I advised them that was hours ago.

"Are you just in a good mood because you had a good time? Because maybe you should go out more often."

"I had a wonderful time," I told him, but that was not all.

Our life is more making do than making it big, and I can sometimes get stuck underneath the tedium of the quotidian. But not last night. I felt enveloped by the beautiful in my life that no one is entitled to and that can slip away in a moment. As usual, I felt overwhelmed, but not in the usual way.

I had missed bed time and settled, sadly, for a kiss on the cheek. I was thrilled when my sweet girl awoke crying, just before 1:00 and for the first time in months, apparently because she was cold. She beamed at me while I dressed her in warmer pajamas and rocked with her before
putting her back to bed. I nuzzled my face in her fuzzy hair and whispered her songs and held her tight.

It's not that the movie was great. It wasn't. My city and my world may be much smaller and far grittier and more cluttered than the one I watched last night. But every so often something interrupts my busy day to remind me that it's all the little things I take for granted that constitute a life. It doesn't mean I won't ever complain or forget. But, at least for today, I get it and am unspeakably grateful for it.

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