From Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping:
We had been assured by our elders that intelligence was a family trait. All my kin and forebears were people of substantial or remarkable intellect, though somehow none of them had prospered in the world. Too bookish, my grandmother said with tart pride, and Lucille and I read constantly to forestall criticism, anticipating failure. 
 I ate lunch wherever I could find enough space to seat myself without appearing to wish to insinuate myself into a group, or a conversation, and I read while I ate. Lunches were terrible. I could scarcely swallow. It seemed as if I were trying to eat a peanut-butter sandwich while hanging by the neck. It was a relief to go to Latin class, where I had a familiar place in a human group, alphabetically assigned.
Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occurred in darkness and I was unconsenting. I (and that slenderest word is too gross for the rare thing I was then) walked forever through reachless oblivion, in the mood of one smelling night-blooming flowers, and suddenly-- My ravishers left their traces in me, male and female, and over the months I rounded, grew heavy, until the scandal could no longer be concealed and oblivion expelled me.


that womanly defence

A couple months ago Nugget and I were at the library and he lost me for a few minutes. I was looking at books about ten feet from where he was working on a puzzle and when I sat down on the floor to examine the lowest shelves, I was hidden by a bookshelf. He looked up and, not seeing me, set off--in the wrong direction--to find me. When I found him a minute or two later, the tears were starting to well up in his eyes. I can't forget the look on his face just before he caught sight of me again. I laid awake last night thinking about it and how he must have felt.

I don't know why I was thinking about it last night, months after it happened. Maybe because of a headline in Sunday's paper about a local two-year-old who died in a fire a couple days ago. I have diligently avoided thinking about that article; perhaps this is how those suppressed thoughts bubbled up.

As I lay awake last night thinking about the library incident it occurred to me that by having a baby I am doubling my chances of unbearable pain. Two children. Two little death grips on my heart. I could almost regret my decision now it occurs to me.

A couple weeks ago at a local open mic night Trent read a poem he'd wrote in which he imagined that he had a son with a fatal illness. The poem was ... very angry. Like, homicidally angry. This is definitely one way that Trent and I differ. If something happened to my child, I don't think that's the direction I'd go. When Trent and I watched The Road together, I was quite certain I would have taken the same path as the mother in the story, and Trent was quite sure he would take the path of the father. (There is some sort of Armageddon-like event that destroys civilization and leaves a couple in a desperate, brutal struggle to survive, just before the birth of their son. After a few years, the mother gives up and lets herself die, after failing to convince the father that they should all die together. The father goes on trying to protect his son through unspeakable horrors. It's an incredible book and movie, but I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone.) I suppose our reactions are not really that different, since anger is a way of numbing pain. Or so the psychologists tell us.

Well, this is a depressing blog entry. I told Trent after he read his poem that I didn't think it was healthy to dwell on possibilities like that. He pointed out that I encouraged him to write the poem after a conversation we had  about a story in The New Yorker, about a kid with leukemia. I have absolutely no recollection of this conversation, but that's typical. But I still maintain it's not healthy and I'm not sure why I'm dwelling on these thoughts now myself. I guess I can blame pregnancy, that's easy enough.

Funny thing about these sorts of thoughts though. They are accompanied by a distinct feeling of shame. Shame at their inherent selfishness. The fear for my son seems inseparable from the fear for myself, for what I would feel if anything happened to him. I actually keep getting the urge to delete this paragraph because I find it so shameful.

I suppose, to put a more flattering spin on it, my awareness of the selfishness inherent in parental fear (let's call it universal, shall we? It's not just me?) is a good thing. I make a conscious effort to suppress the constant urge to shout, "be careful," and to forbid Nugget from doing anything that carries some risk that he will be harmed. He climbs high and jumps far, and I silently hold my breath, feeling his tiny hand squeeze my heart.


From George Saunders's comments on his short story Bohemians in The Best American Short Stories 2005:
It's not uncommon for me to to feel nauseated after reading one of my paragraphs, but this was a special kind of nausea, related to how overwritten this paragraph was, how full of a young writer's desire to invoke exotica about a part of the world he had never been to. It sounded like Isaac Babel on stupid pills, as if Babel had also taken some dishonesty pills, then decided to write about an Omaha, Nebraska, he had invented in his mind in order to serve a secret moral purpose, then taken some inefficiency pills.  


do not say ’tis superstition

Pretty much everything in my life, including this blog, has been on hold for the last 7 weeks while I coped--poorly--with the nausea and exhaustion of early pregnancy. I'm on the cusp of the second trimester now and (knock on wood) my symptoms seems to be easing up. It's been at least ten times worse than my first pregnancy. Which I take as evidence that my determination to have a girl is working out.

Why do I want a girl? I don't know. Really, given the kind of daughter I was/am to my own mother, I should probably be praying for a boy. I did ensure that my daughter will not be born in Cancer, like my mother and I. That's more than a little batty, I acknowledge, to plan your pregnancy by astrological sign, but there is no room in my life for another female Cancer. My husband heartily agrees with this approach. What he didn't realize is we may have landed ourselves in a worse fix with a Leo due date. When I told my mom the baby was due August 1, she  said, "A Leo girl? Ha! You deserve that." When I told Trent that Leos are more bullheaded than Cancers, he visibly paled.

In addition to consulting astrology to plan my pregnancy, I am currently planning a natural childbirth. My crunchy new hometown is really rubbing off on me, I guess. When I told Trent, he did not react for a good three minutes, then suddenly said "Wait, what?" He was having trouble getting his head around the idea. Then he asked if his mom could stand in for him as my coach. To which I said certainly not, of course. I am not one of these women who like to have a million people hanging out for the birth. The only people welcome during my labor and birth are medically certified strangers and my husband, who is only there because I'll be damned if he gets to escape the suffering I'm going through.

My reason for wanting to skip the epidural this time though is purely pragmatic. I'm convinced that my labor will be considerably faster and shorter without painkillers, so ultimately no epidural = less pain.

This crunchy stuff is quite the slippery slope though. The more I think about and plan for my natural birth, the more I understand the appeal of home birth. Don't get me wrong: I am not going there. There are two quite unassailable reasons I would not do a home birth -- (1) whatever these crunchy mamas want to tell you, birth is dangerous for the woman and the baby, and I want all the medical staff and technology I can muster hovering close by; and (2) childbirth is unbelievably, horribly, stomach-churningly messy--why would I want that in my house where I will have to clean it up? hell no. But. Those two very important reasons aside, I get it. Trying to prepare myself to cope with the pain of natural childbirth is harder when I know there are so many things I can't predict or control. The small amount of control and predictability that birthing in one's own home affords is definitely appealing.

Next up: organic vegetable gardening. So far all I have done is this regard is look at some books at the library and feel overwhelmed. But I'll keep at it. One of these days I might actually buy my own book. And everyone knows that owning a book about something is practically like doing it.


From a blog post by Dr. Laura Markham (not that Dr. Laura) on Aha! Parenting.com: 
The secret work of adulthood is that we are all still growing up, and parenting forces us to learn to parent ourselves as well as our child.


A wilderness is populous enough

We just moved from a new-construction tract home on a cul de sac to a charmingly rustic and rather remote log cabin in the woods. It's a bit different. Before the subdivision we were in a condo overlooking a major street in the heart of Chicago, so we're on quite the journey here.

My sisters wanted to know whether I chose this house because it looks like the Little House on the Prairie. I was a big Laura Ingalls Wilder fan growing up. Like, a BIG fan. Not the TV show, the books, mind you. Don't give me that TV show bullshit. When I lived in Minnesota I drove up to the museum at Walnut Grove and I was extremely irritated to find it overrun with references to the TV show.

Anyway, my sisters are wrong.

This is obviously the Little House in the Big Woods. I told my husband that I was looking forward to sitting around the woodstove, darning socks while he mends harness. You know, like The Little House in the Big Woods, I said. Because of course everyone is familiar with this, right? "There you go," he said. "You should wrote a book. That's a great title." Sigh.

Living out here means learning all sorts of new things. Like where my trash goes. No trash pickup in the boonies, unless you arrange it yourself. I thought we could just toss a bag of trash in the back of the car every day or so and throw it out in the dumpsters at the grocery store or whatever. Apparently that's illegal? So we're getting some giant trash cans and once a month or so Trent will have to drive them to the dump. "It's $10 for up to 140 pounds," he told me. "Wait, what?" I said. "You have to pay?" He looked at me like I'd just sprouted ass ears.

The thing that appeals to me about hauling our own trash, aside from saving money, even if it's not free, apparently, is it makes me much more aware of the trash I create. There's an old compost heap on the property, and I'm thinking about reviving it. Thing is, composting involves bugs?

Last night I picked up what I thought was a clump of thread from the floor and screeched like a starlet in a horror flick when I realized I was holding a half-dead spider. And at our last house, my single attempt to do something about the planters full of dead plants that were all over the yard a few months after we moved in--I make no admission of liability here, I think they were dead before they ever became our responsibility--was quickly foiled, never to be reattempted, when I stuck a shovel in one and about a hundred earwigs came boiling out. Ugh. I am still shivering at the memory.

So. Yes. To the extent we realize the full possibilities of this property -- vegetable garden! chickens! -- it will be something of a miracle of personal growth for me. Keep your fingers crossed. (But don't hold your breath.)



From Jane Austen's Mansfield Park:
"I am a very matter-of-fact, plain spoken being, and may blunder on the borders of a repartee for half an hour together without striking it out."

From Lionel Trilling's essay, Mansfield Park:
The city bears the brunt of our modern uneasiness about our life. We think of it as being the scene and the cause of the loss of the simple integrity of the spirit--in our dreams of our right true selves we live in the country. This common mode of criticism of our culture is likely to express not merely our dissatisfaction with our particular cultural situation but our dislike of culture itself, or of any culture that is not a folk culture, that is marked by the conflict of interests and the proliferation and conflict of ideas.