Adventures in Overparenting

My laptop is currently balanced on my knees so that Nugget can sleep on my chest while I type. He used to sleep on my chest like this all the time when he was a newborn and I didn't yet realize that it's a very good way never to get anything done. I'm spoiling him today because he is sick and his hoarse whimpers are irresistibly pitiful. He is a little too big for it now: his kicks threaten to send my laptop flying, and I have to react quickly to keep his restless head-tossing from colliding with my face. Of course, I never tried to use my computer while holding him back then. I thought such inattention might constitute Being a Bad Mom, and anyway I was pretty content to just sit and get drunk on his newborn perfume.

Yesterday we took new parent overkill to the ultimate heights and brought our baby to the emergency room for a cold. In our defense, we only did it because the nurse at our pediatrician's office told us to go when we called to ask what to do about his labored, phlegmy-sounding breathing. She asked us stupid questions like "Is his stomach moving in and out when he breathes?" Trent and I and my mother bent over him and watched his stomach. It moved in and out, of course. The ER doctor told us later that the movement would have been much more dramatic if there was cause for concern. It certainly sounded like he was wheezing, and you could feel the rasp in his chest. The ER doctor, who was very nice about it, acknowledged that it could sound like there was fluid in his lungs although the infection was only in his upper respiratory system.

We did recognize, when we went, that he was probably fine and we were just being overcautious. Since we weren't really very worried about him, that left plenty of room for me to worry about other things, like whether the ER personnel would think I was a Good Mom. When the nurse took off his sock to put a heart rate monitor on his big toe, I was horrified to see that it was the toenail I'd cut too close the other day, leaving a tender red line along the edge. And I was unreasonably embarrassed that the diaper he was wearing was a size too big, because I'd put one of his cousin's diapers on by accident. But I thanked God he'd actually had a bath recently, and was warmly dressed.

In retrospect, I think the folks at the ER probably were not that worried about the parents who brought their baby in for a cold.


The Sweet Smell of Manila

Yesterday's post got me thinking about how my dad used to take us to church while my mother stayed home. I used to think it was because of her differences with the capital-C Catholic Church, which it probably was in part, but now that I am a mom myself I realize the obvious: she just wanted some time to herself. She got to sleep in and have a few hours alone while my dad took us all to church and out to brunch at our favorite greasy spoon diner, Roma's (which unfortunately closed many years ago).

Another slap to the forehead: my dad did not take us to work on Saturday afternoons because we enjoyed it, or because he wanted to spend time with us. We did love it, though. In my own work now when I come across old case files in those brown accordion folders with the elastic fastener, I get a very incongruous case of the warm fuzzies. I guess I never really stood a chance.


In Which I Blaspheme Mightily

My family goes to church once a year, on Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, my dad took us to church every Sunday, but he became less observant as we grew older. The final straw for him was when Cardinal George told Chicago Catholics to vote for Bush in 2004. Despite that outrage, my dad still insists on Christmas Eve mass.

Which means I get to enjoy a little righteous indignation as part of my holiday tradition, along with the eggnog and stockings. This is the Gospel reading for the Christmas vigil mass:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

Now I ask you. Why is the story of the birth of Jesus all about Jesus's stepdad? Doesn't anyone want to know what HIS MOTHER was thinking and feeling at this moment? I grant you, the whole my-bride-is-pregnant-but-says-she's-a-virgin thing is a pretty pickle. But how about the I'm-about-to-have-my-first-baby-so-I'm-scared-shitless-plus-some-angel-says-my-baby-is-the-son-of-God-and-my-new-husband-probably-thinks-I-cheated side of the story?

Also, I really want to know. Was the birth of God the usual bloody, shitty mess? Was Mary screaming with pain from contractions all night? Did she grunt in terror as baby Jesus pushed his way out from between her legs? Did he gasp and scream as he entered the world? Did Mary put God to her breast to feed and comfort him?

You're probably thinking I'm about to be struck by lightning. But I'm completely serious about this. I'm fascinated. This is the ultimate paradox for a person of faith. Because if religion is all about antiseptic purity, white light and shiny halos, then it exists in a vacuum and has no relevance to real life. But if religion is indistinguishable from real life, with no line delineating the sacred from the profane, then it can't give us a space in which to see meaning in the chaos. Isn't that why Jesus is so appealing? Because God descended into the blood and the shit with us? Because Jesus himself, in my favorite part of the Bible, cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Because Jesus is somehow both human and God?

This is why I don't go to church anymore, although the opportunity to sit quietly within the familiar rituals and think about the big picture has at times been something I've enjoyed. When they get to the homily, when the priest is supposed to bridge the gap for us and relate the Gospel to our lives, they don't talk about stuff like this, and I get frustrated. Of course, there's also the abominable history and policies of the capital-C Catholic Church. That tends to ruin the quiet moments for me too.

At any rate. Merry Christmas, if you're so inclined.


Can Punctuation Be Blasphemous?

Trent and I were listening to Christmas music while we decorated our stockings (maternity leave is making me crafty), when we heard this, in the middle of a story about Jesus (imagine it with solemn, posh-British-accented intonation): "he had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of his divine manhood." Let that sink in for a minute. Are we really immature for laughing hysterically? Also, would you believe that I once wished I could enter the priesthood?

The liner notes call it "The Christmas Poem," but Google reveals that it was originally a sermon by James Allen Francis (1864–1928), and--get this--it was published in the Congressional Record in 1969. Now I am really tempted to go to the trouble of looking up the CR citation to see why our legislators are talking about Jesus' naked manhood.

The first time I heard this "poem"--we really need to change the CDs in the stereo--it was the last line that caught my ear: "nineteen wide centuries have passed and today he is the centerpiece of the human race." Really? That might surprise some people. And by some people, I mean most people. Statistically speaking. This is in the Congressional Record? Oy.

Sidenote: I asked Trent whether the possessive of Jesus should have an "s" after the apostrophe, and he informed me, without missing a beat, that traditionally, Biblical names are made possessive with an apostrophe alone. He then theorized that adding an "s" would be blasphemous because it would make Jesus and Moses just like any other man. I suggested that the phrase "Jesus' naked manhood" might be blasphemous without any help from punctuation.


Keeper of the Poop

This Wall Street Journal article describes a dilemma that has been on my mind a lot lately. I want my husband to be an equal partner in raising our child and running our household, but I have a hard time letting go. As the countdown to the end of my maternity leave dwindles, my worry grows. It seems increasingly likely that my husband will take on the "stay-at-home-dad" role when I go back to work. I will have to work full-time; I have no choice if we want to maintain our current lifestyle. And full-time in the litigation department at a large law firm is not 9 to 5. Or even 8 to 6. So I'm very worried that I'm going to be calling home to check on whether Nugget pooped yet that day, and asking Trent fifty passive-aggressive questions about what he and the baby are doing, not to mention coming home at 10 pm to start cleaning the house and doing the laundry because my standards for a clean house are higher than Trent's.

It's hard not to think about this in terms of Trent being a good stay-at-home-dad, when I should be focusing on whether I can be a good working mom and learning to relinquish control. If I don't get that straightened out, it's not just my stress level that will suffer--it's my relationship with my husband. I already find myself stifling--or sometimes failing to stifle--the urge to criticize him for not holding the baby enough, not playing with him enough, not putting his shirt on the right way, etc. Even when I succeed in keeping my mouth shut, I often just take the baby and do myself whatever it is I think he's doing "wrong." Then I get resentful because I'm doing the lion's share of the childcare.

It's funny, I have this desire to end posts like this with some sort of conclusion so as not to be too abrupt, but I'm usually writing about something because I don't have any answers. I don't know how to end my posts. I could end them with a question, "What worked for you, internet?" like many bloggers, except that would feel pretty silly with a readership of about six people, one of whom is my husband (Hi Trent! Didn't know I was such a simmering pile of resentment lately, did you? Actually, and sadly, you probably did ...).

The end. More later.



My husband's cousin told us to pick up an application for Nugget to be made a member of their tribe, the Makah, when we were visiting last week; she said it as if it were a given that we would submit such an application. I appreciated her confidence and warmth, but I worry about making such an application, and I am pretty sure my husband's feelings about it are even more fraught.

If you aren't born on the Makah reservation, but you have some minimum amount of "blood," you can become a member if the tribe votes to admit you, if I understand it correctly. But my son will almost certainly look white, and he will probably have a privileged urban upbringing far from the reservation. I'm not sure he can gain acceptance from the tribe, and I'm not even sure he should. I want to take him there as often as possible, to spend time with his family and to understand their (his?) culture, but I hate that he's sure to feel the pain of someone who belongs a little but not enough.

My husband, who doesn't really talk about it (or his feelings generally), is the son of a Makah woman and a white man, but he looks white and grew up in suburban L.A. It makes me angry sometimes, especially when he was devoting his legal career to representing tribes, that he is not always accepted in the native community because of the color of his skin or the quantum of his blood. I can understand somewhat that people who grew up with poverty and the other ills that often affect reservations, or who experience discrimination based on their appearance, would resent having to share their hard-earned identity with someone who did not suffer similarly. But shouldn't that identity be defined by positive things, as well? I know these are complicated issues that don't have any easy answers. It's from that emotional morass that I would like to protect my son, if I could. But I can't, and I don't want to, because doing so would rob him of the good things about it. Our son will be even further removed from the Makah identity than his dad; will that make it easier or harder, I wonder?

Of course, I'll want to shield him from "my people," too. At the rehearsal dinner before I married Trent, a--probably somewhat drunk--friend of my parents' told me excitedly, "It's so great that he's Native American! It will help your kids get into college!" Well-meant but definitely wince-worthy. Will my son be subject to whispers that he didn't earn what he received? I've always been a little conflicted on the subject of affirmative action, not least because of the stigma problem. Now I worry that it will affect my son. On the other hand, maybe it will help him get into college. Am I allowed to be pleased by that? Probably not, since another of the problems with affirmative action that I've always stumbled upon is that it benefits those who don't need it as much as it benefits those who do--and my son, the child of two lawyers, would undoubtedly be one of the unintentional beneficiaries.

At the moment, though, the only pain Nugget is feeling is from teething,which seems to have come very early. Poor little man. And poor me, too, as I doubt I'll get much sleep tonight. And poor Trent, because if I don't get to sleep, I'll be damned if he does.

p.s. I ran this post by my husband before publishing it, and he tried to suggest that the part about not talking about his feelings was inaccurate, but he couldn't keep a straight face long enough to get it out.


Lolita and the Vampire

We are visiting Trent's mom in La Push, Washington--home of the Quilleute werewolves in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, "now a major motion picture." I'm reading the book because being here is a good excuse to read what is essentially a romance novel. After I expressed interest, Trent's mom bought me a copy at the Forks Thriftway, which is mentioned in the book. They stamped the title page with the store's name and address, so Trent suggested I can sell it on eBay when I'm done. Apparently a letterman jacket from the Forks high school went for $2,500. How crazy is that?

Forks is definitely making the most of their sudden fame--the Thriftway featured "Bella's Brew" and "Jacob's Java"coffee blends, restaurants advertise "Twilight specials," and two new Twilight-themed stores have opened. But people are also a little irritated that Meyer never visited Forks before writing the book. Trent's family--who are Makah, not Quilleute--thought it was hilarious that the Quilleutes are described as abnormally tall and handsome in the book, because Quilleutes tend to be built for canoeing in cold waters--short and round.

Although I'm enjoying the story--it's a good pageturner--I'm a little creeped out that this vampire, Edward, who is hundreds of years old, is going to high school and hitting on a seventeen-year-old. I mean, he may look seventeen, but he's technically an old man, right? That's a little disturbing in my view. Especially because he's always laughing at Bella, the seventeen-year-old. It is frustrating that this pattern of the paternal man and naive girl falling in love is still so common in our culture. Yet another generation of women is growing up with an unequal relationship as their romantic ideal. Fabulous.

For a different take on why the book's popularity with young girls is disturbing, check out this video from the delightful Sarah Haskins.


On blogging

My husband made the mistake yesterday of mentioning that a girl he used to date had a blog that detailed all of her past relationships, including one with him. Of course his mother and I had to read it, and the silly man helped us find it. It was strange reading another woman's account of how my husband wooed her; on the one hand I was touched by the sweet things he did (such as offering her a pinecone in lieu of flowers because it would last longer), but on the other hand, of course, he wasn't being sweet to me. I'm not a jealous person generally, but it is still difficult to see in such detail the evidence that I'm not the only person for whom my husband ever had feelings--the only person to whom he ever was romantic. I guess it makes me--us--feel less special. But on the other hand, he married me. I win! 

That's not why I bring it up. The three of us cackled over it so much that I found myself worrying about this whole blogging thing. It's so easy to sit in the privacy of your home and write about your private life and then hit "publish" without really thinking it through. I did read through all my posts a few times before linking to this blog on my facebook account, trying to decide whether I felt comfortable letting people who knew me read it. And I actually waited a day to publish this post, and discussed it with my husband first. Even if I'm comfortable baring myself to the world--and I'm not always sure I am--I'm not likely to write only about myself. This girl didn't use my husband's name, but he is certainly recognizable from the details, and ultimately he came out rather badly depicted. Moreover, my husband and his mother questioned the accuracy of several things this girl wrote about Trent and his family. But memory is  a funny thing. In her mind, it probably did happen that way. 

I've always thought I would eventually publish a novel that would draw upon my life and therefore raise some of these issues, but this feels different for several reasons. It's not disguising itself as fiction, and it's published in close to real time. But most significantly, to me, it's not clear that this is worth it. 


If I Could Bottle It I'd Be Rich

Nugget doesn't smell like a newborn anymore. It's a smell that makes you want to bury your nose in your baby's neck all day, and I miss it. I think parenthood would be a constant state of grief if we weren't always distracted from what we lost by our excitement about what came next.


Walking a Mile in a Mom's Shoes

I've been spoiling myself with a few personal trainer sessions to jumpstart my post-pregnancy workout routine, and the woman who's been training me is lovely, and a working mom to two school-age children. So I was a little shocked when she expressed a rather unenlightened view of working momdom the other day. She had expressed surprise that my law firm's maternity leave and flextime policies were so generous, and I explained that keeping female lawyers is a challenge that large law firms are very concerned about; the ratio of male to female associates is usually about 50-50, but the number of female partners drops to something like 10-15 percent. She nodded and said that several of her clients are lawyers who work very long hours, and when they say that they have or want to have children, she thinks, you better get used to a nanny. And then why have children at all? She asked.

It wasn't so long ago that I thought that way myself. I cast a judgmental eye on female partners with children and wondered how they could do it. Their children were probably messed up by the neglect, I thought. When I got pregnant, figuring out how--or whether--I was going to balance work and family was one of my primary concerns. I had expected to have a few more years to think about it and get my life arranged the way I wanted it before children arrived on the scene. Finding myself unexpectedly pregnant after practicing law for just a year and a half and being married for just a few months, I suddenly had to figure it all out very fast.

I bought Leslie Bennetts' book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? hoping it would help me think through the issues. As the title indicates, it's not exactly an objective look at the issue. Bennetts argues quite forcefully against staying home with the kids. I suppose I chose that book because I already knew which way I wanted my decision to go, and just needed help convincing myself it was right.

It's one thing to be young and childless and thinking idly about other women's choices. (And looking with momentary envy at the young mom having a leisurely morning at Starbucks during my mad dash to get to work.) It's a whole different ball game when you yourself consider completely abandoning a significant part of your identity in favor of a lifestyle that many look upon--however misguidedly--as easy and brainless. Except that last bit wasn't really what I stumbled on most. I'm definitely not above caring what other people think, but having had a stay-at-home mom myself, I know it's not easy and brainless, and I know it's a worthwhile thing to do. Besides, people judge you just as much for not staying at home. In fact, I think the pressure to stay home might be greater than the loss of cocktail-party status, at least initially.

Being pregnant gave me a taste of what it would be like. Suddenly everything revolved around my uterus. People assumed things about me based solely on my pregnancy. Of course I was thrilled to be an expectant mother, of course I would willingly chuck everything for the baby. And I was happy and excited, and I often did find it hard to think about anything other than the baby. But there were conflicting feelings too. I felt helpless and out of control, and angry about it. I looked at young women on the street, imagining them to be single and childless and carefree, and envied them. I was angry with myself for not being in better control of my reproductive organs, feeling stupid and incompetent. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things I still wanted to do, which now seemed out of reach with a small child in the picture. And the hardest part about all this was that I felt I couldn't express it, I wasn't supposed to feel it.

I guess what this has to do with the stay-at-home versus working mom question is that I'm afraid giving up my career would mean giving up my independence and individuality, and allowing myself to be defined solely in relation to my child. When people ask me whether I want to quit and stay home, I usually say I'm afraid I'd be bored, a way of pointedly referring to the fact that I am more than just a mom.

The current fad to wring hands over the "overparenting crisis" gives me strange comfort. By keeping my job, I'm making sure that I'm not stifling my child. He'll be better off if mom has her own life, I figure. Because I'm definitely the type to obsess and overdo it if I have the time and energy to devote solely to him. Home on maternity leave, I swing wildly back and forth from thinking I have to play with him every second, even if he just wants to sleep or stare at the shadows on the wall, to feeling guilty when I put him in his swing so I can surf the internet and write e-mails.

I don't have any answers yet. But I have a lot more empathy and understanding for moms of all kinds.