12.30.2009

Happy Belated Anniversary

I just realized the anniversary of my blog was in November. I find that very hard to believe. I'm proud of myself for sticking with it this long, even if I often let a month go by without posting.

12.28.2009

all hoods make not monks

T: So who is Joseph, anyway?
A: What?
T: Joseph. You know, the guy with Mary.
A: What?
T: Is he her friend or something?
A: What?

I find Trent's complete lack of religious education mindboggling. But I love the perspective it gives me on the crazy ideas I've lived with all my life.

A: Joseph was Mary's husband.
T: Wait, she was married?!?! Then how did they know Jesus wasn't his kid?
A: Because she was a virgin.
T: The marriage was never consummated? And then she had a baby? Didn't Joseph have a problem with this?!?!

I wasn't at church on Christmas Eve with my parents this year, perhaps fortunately, but my sister tells me that when the priest made some comment during the homily along the lines of how generous it was that Joseph married Mary anyway, my mother let out an outraged "What?" loud enough for the people in the nearby pews to hear. And later she said something like "People actually believe this crap?" So I guess even people who lived with this stuff all their life can step back and be gobsmacked by it.

Apparently my family hadn't been to church in so long that one of my sisters said "Thank you" instead of "Amen" when she received Communion, and the other couldn't remember what she was supposed to say so she just mumbled something unintelligible. Fortunately the church was prepared for them, and had left pamphlets about lost Catholics coming back to the fold in all the pews.

12.26.2009

We two alone will sing like birds i the cage.

Trent and I are sitting next to each other on a couch each with a laptop typing a blog post. Not unusual, except that we are not online. We are at his mom’s house, far from cell phone towers and apartment blocks with overlapping wireless signals. The tribe has multiple wireless networks, but we can’t seem to connect. I have to resist the urge to sit at my computer trying over and over again, fruitlessly, to connect. It’s maddening to know there is a world of information that should be at my fingertips. Yet here we are, to all outward appearances doing what we always do, each staring at a computer screen. Are we closer because we are locked into our word documents, unable to publish, unable to connect?

At first I wasn’t going to do this, to write a blog post that I’d publish later, although several ideas were floating in my head waiting to be expressed. I didn’t feel like doing it without the promise of immediate gratification. Not that my blog offers any real immediate gratification. It’s not like anyone jumps on my comments right away to yell First! I could go to my AdSense statistics to see if I’ve gotten any hits, but usually they don’t start showing up til the next day. But the motivation just wasn’t there, and I shut down my computer and went back to my book until Trent started writing his post.

He’s writing about a Raymond Carver story I think. We named our son for Raymond Carver. I didn’t really know his work until afterward, I guess I just trusted Trent’s taste. I was thinking day before yesterday when I dipped into some Carver stories at Trent’s aunt’s house that Carver writes the way I would like to write. He paints his characters harshly but with sympathy. They’re not likable people, they’re often people you wouldn’t even want inside your home perhaps, but they’re accessible and forgivable. And the stories have a spiritual center, They’re sad and dark but not empty. Most short stories are depressing I find, at least if you sit and read a whole bunch of them, inevitably I find myself depressed after a couple hours. I think it’s the sense of futility that often imbues them—there’s no big movement or change in the characters, probably because they’re too short for such a change to be meaningful—and so the snapshot of a life in motion is often just a picture of life in all its big empty meaninglessness. Somehow Carver manages to avoid that, although he writes about drunks and death and the hapless violence of domestic life. It is strange though, to contrast those stories with my son’s joyful personality. He is such a happy baby. It thrills me and fills me with wonder that two such serious, reserved people could produce such joy. And I was thinking the other day about the fact that we created his happiness from nothing. From our bodies came his moment of pure joy, and what more could anyone ask to do in this life?

Of course, one could ask for a lot more, and one does. I read a small section of Infinite Jest tonight, because my husband, who is reading the book despite much grief from me, said it was a brilliant passage, and, since I incessantly criticize DFW without ever having read him, I decided to succumb to the feeling of encumbency and read at least this passage, which Trent said was only six pages. After getting through two, I asked him whether I could stop reading if I hated it. He said to read at least to the middle of the next page, and I did. It was a passage about depression, written in DFW’s signature (or what I understand to be his signature) pretentious, overly-intellectualized style.
We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self.… We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete.… Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right looking in fact dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.
I think DFW writes without sympathy, and that’s what turns me off. I certainly identify with this idea of a love affair with jaded ennui—ennui was my favorite word for a while in high school—and certainly, the naïve sincerity of a certain segment of a population fills me with a kind of disgust. And “encagement in the self” as he puts it is one of my central obsessions. But I guess I don’t see the point of writing about that without trying to understand it, and to me that understanding doesn’t come without sympathy. Not just empathy but sympathy. So maybe I’m being unfair, having read all of three pages, and maybe you have to read the whole thing to see the character development and the story and maybe that’s where the sympathy and the understanding and the emotional depth comes in. But I can’t help thinking, with the smugness of the living, that DFW killed himself because he didn’t have sympathy. If you can’t forgive other people their failings, you probably can’t forgive yourself.

DFW’s suicide is what I started out to write about before I got sidetracked with that little rant. Specifically this passage:
… the standard take on Dr. J. O. Incandenza’s suicide attributes his putting his head in the microwave to this kind of anhedonia. This is maybe because anhedonia’s often associated with the crises that afflict extremely goal-oriented people who reach a certain age having achieved all or more than all than they’d hoped for. The what-does-it-all-mean type of crisis of middle-aged Americans…. the presumption that he’d achieved all his goals and found that the achievement didn’t confer meaning or joy on his existence …
I guess it’s sort of obvious—and in fact it’s an explanation that the narrator rejects as overly simplistic in this passage—but it suddenly struck me in reading this that my reaction to DFW’s suicide: how could he kill himself when he was adored by millions? misses the obvious—that continuing to experience the bone-aching depression that he’d experienced before achieving the massive success he’d been striving for after achieving it must have been a shattering disappointment.

Which brings me to my point: what would happen if I got there myself? Would I be gutted by disillusion? I guess I’d still prefer to find out.

Trent put a hula hoop around me while I was writing this and I told him to leave it there—my magic circle. This isolation, me and the page, is something I’ve been thinking about lately. With all the writing that goes on these days—the renaissance of the written word stimulated by the internet and its ravenous hunger for content—I think there is still a place for the novel that one person slaves over for years without exposing it to the world until it’s been laboriously honed and shaped and polished. Not that this blog post is laborious—in fact the whole goal of my blog is not to be polish; to allow myself to be spontaneous and thereby, hopefully, to write, instead of being paralyzed by lofty aspirations. Which means that now I’ve written this post in a word document, I have to save and close it, and keep myself from reading it until tomorrow.

12.20.2009

that you alone are you?

This is the song I consider my anthem:
Leonard Cohen's A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes

I guess "the meaning of life" is a pretty personal thing. For me, it's telling my story. That's why however satisfying my current job is, and it is pretty satisfying, I don't know that I'll ever feel completely fulfilled in it. I was at a dinner one night some months ago that a partner held to thank some associates who'd worked on his treatise, and he asked us whether we had any desire to be famous. Only two of us had that desire. One is now running for the state legislature, and the other one was me. I've always had that desire, and I find it surprising to realize that other people don't. It's not a matter of immortality to me -- I don't feel like leaving a legacy is any substitute for actually continuing to exist. I guess though, if we really die when we die, I want to feel I did something. And for me -- I recognize this isn't true for everyone -- having lived well and died happy is not enough. Nor would a life of quiet, anonymous good deeds be enough. I'm not that selfless. And it's not just about doing something good, though I hope that telling my story would be useful for someone somewhere. I just feel that I have something worth saying. I hope one of these days I get around to saying it.

12.17.2009

symbols of redeemed sin

Trent and I have talked about whether we should get Nugget baptized. So far he's still in danger of eternity in limbo. Or whatever the current catechism is. I think it would be easier if my parents insisted that we get him baptized, then at least we could do it without feeling like we were buying into anything ourselves. But they don't seem too bothered about it. And I simply cannot stomach it on my own steam. First and foremost is the why: I cannot, will not believe in a god that would condemn a child. I do not accept original sin, with every fiber of my being I do not accept it. That makes baptism pretty superfluous. When we first discussed it, Trent did not know what the point of baptism was. When I explained the original sin doctrine to him, his reaction was: are you f---ing kidding me?!!!! Which, well, exactly. It is hard for me to have that reaction to it because I've lived with an understanding of it all my life, but when you step back, yeah, that about sums it up. Strangely, after living with that understanding for a little while, Trent has backslid on it and now wonders whether we should do it just in case. He doesn't want to be responsible for Nugget going to hell, or something. That's just the kind of guy he is I guess, however baffling this particular manifestation is to me. He's cautious. He's the one badgering our condo association about the fire extinguishers needing an inspection, for example. Which brings me to the second stumbling block, which tends to silence Trent when he wonders if maybe we should do it just in case: we would have to stand up and swear to all sorts of ridiculous things on Nugget's behalf. (Basically, the parents take the vows because the kid's too young, and then the kid has to "confirm" those vows when he comes of age.) Funny thing is, I think what bothers me most -- at least insofar as I dimly recollect the baptismal vows (they are repeated at Mass every year around Easter but I haven't exactly been to church much lately) -- the thing that bothers me most is the part where you renounce Satan and all his works. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not embracing Satan and all his works, but I find the idea of renouncing him ludicrous. I've really never bought into the whole Satan thing, I think even when I was a kid. Let's get intellectual about it, although my disbelief here is more deeply rooted than reason. First, an embodiment of all things evil is just way too simple. You can avoid all sorts of heart-rending moral dilemmas with this pat notion, and I think that's unforgivably lazy and cowardly. Not to mention likely to lead to ignorant intolerance for other people's perspective on those moral dilemmas. Second, to the extent I am able to believe in any god at all, I cannot and will not believe in a god that would relegate part of Creation to live outside His Love. ("His" and all capitalization used here for familiarity of reference.) Seriously, this is one thing I do not understand about religion: if you are just going on faith anyway, why the hell (no pun intended) don't you shape your faith to suit your needs? What is the point of sweating balls to hold onto someone else's ideas about how things should be? Anyway, so Nugget's not baptized, and sometimes we worry about it. Trent more than me, even though I was the one who spent ten years in Catholic school and had my forehead painted with oil by a priest when they thought I was dying once, and whatnot. Go figure.

12.13.2009

A Christmas Gambold

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax:
THE BOB DYLAN CHRISTMAS ALBUM !!!!
but it really is him: "Hark the heeeerald angels sing ..."
Hysterical.
(Didn't Bob go back to being Jewish?)

12.05.2009

the forc’d gait of a shuffling nag

The hubs posted a video of a poet reading a poem (the italics indicate nose-wrinkling) that--after I got over my initial irritation at that voice that people use to read their poetry that as far as I can tell is meant to convey how full of ennui they are--inspired me to write something here. Go listen first, it's actually good after a bit. (No offense, I just have to be this way because despite all my efforts I still don't get it. The poems and the poetry and all that.)

So here's what I thought about it: that lanyard? I think to a mom it's not such a humble gift. I would swoon for anything Carver gave me, especially if he made it himself. Although I don't buy Freud's thing that the first gift a child gives its parents is poo. Speaking from a whole two years of experience as a mom (I count pregnancy, it's just common sense to me, and if we all weren't all so f-ed up over the abortion wars I think it would be obvious to everyone else too), I think moms need very little in the way of returns on their investment. If my son is a good person and is happy with his life, there is nothing more I could ever want from him.

Funny how that can get twisted though ... good and happy are subjective terms, and it's all too easy to start meddling and controlling because you want to see your version of happiness and goodness in someone else. Which is why everyone needs to give their moms a break. Yeah, I'm talking to you.

11.25.2009

Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I

So much for blogging every day in November.

Nugget is sick with some sort of virus that has made him quite a butthead lately. Trent says it has made him backpedal on having a second kid. It hasn't had that effect on me, although admittedly I have been working 80-hour weeks so I am generally happy to see Nugget even if he is in full-out butthead mode.

I have noticed that I've come so far from those early nights of full-body-genuflection gratitude for a solid six hours without a peep from Nugget's room that I am now actually excited when he wakes up at night, as he has been doing all too often lately. I miss him after he goes to bed.

Except when he wakes up between 5:30 and 7 AM, even though at that hour it would make sense for me to be up and off to work early anyway. I just am not the same person in the morning. I am a person who has no other priority in the world but to go back to sleep, and damn the consequences.

11.10.2009

speak; I'll go no further

I think it is generally considered advisable to shelter your kids from things like family finances. But I've been wondering, does that create a distance between parent and kid? When the kid gets older, is it difficult to have a meaningful relationship when one half doesn't express the weightiest things on his or her mind? Especially when the kid is old enough to know just enough to worry about it? Obviously I am thinking yes, subject to difficult questions like at what age do you start to share. But is it just too painful for a kid to recognize the parent's vulnerability and/or fallibility? Or is that just a symptom of the problem?

11.06.2009

in the poorest thing superfluous

The other day I read some books with a third grader as part of a sort of community outreach program through my firm. This adorable, sweet kid stumbled over the word "and" and could barely sit still. He'd arrived at school late so had missed breakfast, and the supervising adult (I wouldn't count myself as an adult and apparently the Chicago Public Schools agrees) wouldn't let him go to the office to see if they'd give him some food, so he just had to wait til lunch. How exactly is he supposed to concentrate? I really regretted that I'd taken the cereal bar I'd grabbed for my own breakfast out of my bag and left it in my office. Of course, giving the kid food would be technically against the rules but seriously? F*ck that rule. Next time I'm bringing the kid breakfast. Anyway the reason I'm writing about this, other than to share the fact that this dear, sweet, and very astute kid thught I was in high school, is because it made me realize that I can just relax about how I'm raising my son. He's got about a million and a half advantages, and I don't think going to bed late is really going to hurt him that much. At this juncture. I do recognize that when he starts school, the kind that doesn't have naptime, the whole staying up til 11 pm thing needs to stop. But he went to bed at like 9 tonight! An improvement. I was home when he got back from daycare at 6:30 today, which may have something to do with his willingness to go to bed early ...

11.03.2009

Ode to Vista

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11.02.2009

perchance to dream

I count myself fortunate to have an insomniac toddler, because I can get home at 10:30 and still put him to bed (kicking and screaming). Of course, there are plenty of nights when our little night owl's stubbornness doesn't feel like fortune. And then there is the worry: does he fight sleep because I get home late? Is he getting the sleep he needs to grow up healthy and happy? Am I hurting his future hopes of catching the worm by failing to raise an early bird? But there are worse things he could have to complain to his shrink about someday. For now, I'm happy I got home in time to see my Nugget.

11.01.2009

the play's the thing

I have 15 minutes left to write a post to preserve the possibility of writing a post every day in November ... given my miserable record in October I'm not sure it's worth trying. But blowing it on the first day is more than I can bear. My husband says Mimismartypants has a rule that she never spends more than an hour on her posts. Maybe that's how she's been able to blog for so long. It probably helps that another ofher rules is never to revise. I'm going to try to follow her example, maybe that will get me through November. Funny thing, while I'm thinking about how little time I have for anything. I picked up a book of short stories today and discovered that I had put it down in the middle of a story -- something I don't usually do. The main reason I read a lot of short stories is that it allows me to finish something in one short sitting so I won't get sucked in and allow a good book to wreak havoc on my life, because one unfortunate thing about growing up is you can't afford to do that anymore. Anyway, I'd Dogeared a quote from this particular story on AUGUST 18. So I started it 2 and a half months ago and finished it today. And it's like a five page story. That's ... well, that's just one more sign that my life looks nothing like what I ever would have expected it to look like. And yet strangely I'm quite happy. I was "on trial" (the magic words that litigators love to say) a few weeks ago for the first time and had the absolute time of my life despite averaging three hours of sleep a night. And my first reaction to that is, oh sh-t, I have to keep being a lawyer now.

10.08.2009

the edge of doom

I've been meaning to post something about this: after something complimentary happened to me the other day, I realized that the only person [n.1] I could really tell about it is my husband. In other words: marriage means never having to apologize for bragging. [n.2]

n.1: Other than my parents, of course.
n. 2: Love Story reference. [n.3]
n.3: Footnotes are the enemy of subtlety. [n.4]
n.4: My husband has become a DFW [n.5] fan, and I'm concerned our marriage is in jeopardy.
n.5: Figure it out your damn self.

10.06.2009

But as the fierce vexation of a dream

Lately, at night after Nugget has gone to bed, I've been thinking a lot about what it was like to be a kid lying awake and listening to the adults still moving around the house. It is poignantly funny that I wanted desperately to be up with them. What I would give now to be in bed with Nugget instead of hunched over my computer trying to finish some work before I go to bed, pushing down the nagging ever-present worries that crowd my brain! How little I realized that my bedtime was not so much a magical time for grownups to enjoy their freedom as it was a time for the drudgery that makes a child's charmed life possible. I don't begrudge my son his turn -- I had an idyllic childhood, and now I want to give him the same. Well, better. But how silly and sad that I didn't know what I had when I had it.

10.02.2009

O, Reason Not the Need*

I took a class in the spring of my senior year of college called something like How Fiction Works, which was much less interesting and useful than it sounded and mainly involved the professor-- who had published a dozen or so novels but never achieved much success and was sort of lesser Saul Bellow--recounting anecdotes about famous writers he had met or known. There was a grad student in the class, a PhD student in comparative literature. He was odd. At one point he informed me that my feet were lovely and he derived great pleasure from admiring them during class. Eventually I realized that was him hitting on me, and was mildly disturbed.

But that's not the point I was heading toward. One day after class I was telling him that I had taken a job in a smallish town in Minnesota. I guess he was shocked that I would do such a thing, and in explaining why I was doing it I focused on the fact that the people there were very nice.** "Is that important to you?" he asked. I don't know what I said. I think I was speechless. It was not a question I'd ever thought to ask. In a way he had a point, because it turned out I didn't like living there. Of course, it turned out that the people were not that nice, they were mostly just passive aggressive. So I don't think it really proves he was right. I till value that a lot. And I really don't understand why anyone wouldn't, although I guess I know now that not everyone does. I just can't understand it.

Tonight my wallet was stolen. And then someone was rude to me for no apparent reason. And I'm not sure which event upset me more. I can understand why someone would steal my wallet. There are possible motivations there that I can comprehend, even if they're not nice and I don't agree with them. But the person who was rude to me for no apparent reason? I just can't understand that, and that makes it so much more upsetting. Even though it didn't cost me anything or require that I spend an hour on the phone cancelling credit and debit cards. Even though it didn't rob me of the little scrap of love note I've carried in my wallet since my husband gave it to me in the early days of our relationship.

Is there something wrong with me, that I need people to be nice to me? Or is there something wrong with the idea that being nice shouldn't be important?

* This is my favorite speech and scene in all of Shakespeare.
** I use the word "nice" in its bland modern sense. The history of the word is interesting but not relevant to my point. And the broad vagueness of the word suits my purpose. Don't be nice about it. If you don't have anything nice to say . . .

9.29.2009

Let us therefore eat and drink

A few months ago I made a very important discovery. I now know what I will eat for my last supper should I ever be executed. There's a gastropub in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood that serves the most decadent sandwich known to man or woman: cashew butter, fig jam, and fried cheese on sourdough. Words fail. To top it off, they serve it with Stilton mac & cheese and frites (actually, homemade chips, but you can substitute frites, which you should do because their frites are to die for (heh)). Mac & cheese AND fries? On the same goddamn plate? Picture me pushing you hard in the chest and shouting Get OUT because that about sums it up. But wait, there's more. Hopleaf, the genius behind this Plate of Perfection, also has a 16-page beer menu. Do they let you drink beer with your last supper when you're executed? I submit that it's unconstitutionally cruel and unusual if not. So Trent and I have been back multiple times and each time I have ordered this exact same thing. I can't even bring myself to try the chips. Bcecause why mess with perfection? Afterward we walk down the street to George's Ice Cream & Sweets for a waffle cone, because the CB&J with mac and frites and beer wasn't enough for my arteries. Oh, bliss.

9.28.2009

Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?

I'm really confused about how to raise my son these days. After reading this article by Alfie Kohn I bought his book Unconditional Parenting and started reading it over the weekend. He likens timeouts to solitary confinement, which sounds a little crazy but I think I actually agree with his point that the basic premise of timeouts is withholding love to coerce your kid into blind obedience. But I worry that ideas like this are the reason well-meaning parents raise out-of-control kids who desperately need someone to give them some boundaries. I don't want to make that mistake. But I also want my kid to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not because it's what I/the government/his friends tell him he should do.

I have no answers to that one so I'm just going to move along to another subject: special thanks to ResidentMommy for freaking me the hell out, um, I mean helpfully reminding me, with this chart that I'm sliding quickly toward infertility ... I'd been thinking it would be best to wait til Nugget starts to be more independent, like when he starts school, before having his sister (I didn't care about Nugget's sex, but now that I already have a boy I desperately want the matched set) but I had forgotten that I am already 30--oops, I mean 31, haha sigh--and I don't have the luxury to wait. Ah, mortality.

Lapland sorcerers inhabit here

I was very excited albeit a little puzzled recently to receive an email from a PR rep asking me to post about a retail site ... I am guessing their bar for how many readers a blog has to have is pretty low. Also, much as I love shopping, especially online, I don't think I've ever blogged about it so I'm not sure why they targeted me. Nonetheless, the info they sent me is worth passing on for two reasons -- one, I love a deal, and two, it's for a good cause. So:

Discount high-end makeup retailer BeautyTicket.com will donate 10% of proceeds to BreastCancer.org (a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete, and up-to-date information on breast cancer) when you enter the code “AWARENESS” at checkout, plus U.S. customers who use the code will get free shipping on all orders over $50.

Speaking of which, I do not understand why any online retailers charge for shipping. I really hate paying for shipping. Sometimes I will get all the way to checkout, do my usual check of retailmenot and similar sites for a free shipping or other discount coupon, and then decide not to buy the stuff after all because I can't get free shipping or an equivalent discount. On the other hand, I am a total sucker for the "spend this much, get free shipping" strategy. I am all about adding on stuff I don't need that costs more than the shipping did just so I don't pay for shipping.

p.s. I did not receive anything for posting about any of the sites referenced here. Also, I've never bought anything from BeautyTicket.com so this should not be construed as an endorsement.

9.21.2009

Dogeared

This piece talks about many of the themes that are foremost in my mind lately -- in particular, the sad and frightening feeling that one's choices are increasingly limited as one grows older. Some choice quotes:

Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before becoming
their parents.

Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.

Tim Kreider, The Referendum, NYT 9/17/09

(What is dogeared?)

9.18.2009

Stay, illusion! If thou hast any sound, or use of voice, Speak to me

I had this idea that giving birth would unleash my dormant creative powers and I would suddenly be able to sit down and write. That hasn't happened. I was thinking yesterday about all the germs of novels that have floated in and out of my life -- all those concepts I toyed with and obsessed on and even researched, but never wrote about. Now many of them don't speak to me anymore, so they'll never be written. They are ghost novels, a record of my mental life that was never made. Those books are lost forever. Would they have been any good?

9.10.2009

let us therefore eat and drink

We were out at the Chicago Botanic Gardens (I have lived in Chicago practically my whole life and, amazingly, only discovered this place recently--it is fabulous and currently my favorite place to take Nugget) the other day and wanted to get dinner afterward. I was really intent on having a good meal with a glass of wine but it had to be a kid-friendly place. The difficulty of which was really pissing me off. Why is there no Chuck E. Cheese for the foodie set??? I can't be the only parent who thinks this is a gap in the market.

It was also complicated by the fact that we were out in Glencoe and I don't know the suburbs at all. And frankly, I don't have a lot of faith in the quality of restaurants in the suburbs. Usually I would give in to my husband's passion for Fuddruckers, which we don't have in the city, but I really didn't want a hamburger. So we powered up the Garmin and scrolled through the nearby Italian restaurants, then decided to drive by two that were next to each other about a half-mile away. One was basically an outbuilding in the parking lot of the other, more upscale place. We went for the hole in the wall -- which was aptly named Francesco's Hole in the Wall.

It was FANTASTIC. I have to revise my prejudice against suburban restaurants. Slightly. They served hot, delicious garlic bread when we sat down, and kept bringing more (although I might have preferred they didn't because I couldn't resist the temptation to keep eating it). They had cheap house wine which was pretty good. My pasta was delicious, and Trent--who is a total snob about fresh seafood--enjoyed his pasta with lobstertail and various shellfish or whatever (I don't like shellfish so I tried not to notice what he was eating). And the best part is that the waitress was absolutely amazing about Nugget. She brought him ice cream and made him a rattle out of a takeout container with some creamers inside and generally tried to help us keep him happy so we could eat in peace. Soooo much better than Chuck E. Cheese.

9.08.2009

A thing most brutish

Here's another raising-kids-in-the-city problem: teaching both stranger danger and kindness. We went to Millenium Park yesterday to show Nugget the bean and the giant-spitting-faces fountain. As Nugget was tottering around near the bean, a friendly older couple began exclaiming over him (who can blame them) and trying to get him to interact. And I encouraged him to be friendly, but I was thinking, how am I going to teach him not to talk to strangers when I ask him to be friendly toward them when I'm around?

It just occurred to me that I don't even want to teach him not to talk to strangers. Of course I will, I have to, but it sucks that I have to. It sucks that I have to teach my kid to act like the whole world is out to get him. How do you do that and still make your kid feel safe? How do you do that and still teach your kid to be friendly and polite to everyone?

A little later we walked by a lifesize bronze cow statue. Trent jumped astride its back and I put Nugget in front of him, and then stepped back to take a picture. A woman who looked like she might be crazy came toward us. She kept staring at us, smiling, and coming closer, seemingly fascinated. It was really heartbreaking. I took the picture quickly and we walked away, but I wished we didn't have to. I have to protect my child, but I want him to know that it is important to be kind to people. How do I balance those two things?

I want to say screw the conventional wisdom, I'm going to teach him to be a decent human being and not to live in fear. But there is real danger--that story about the girl who was snatched right in front of her stepfather and held captive for 20 years is really haunting me right now--and this is my baby we're talking about.

9.07.2009

Come, shall we go and kill us venison?

I read this in a NYT book review yesterday:
Under what conditions are people willing to help others? Urbanites, or the
social dynamics of urbanism, have been particularly implicated in these
inquiries, whether by “diffusion of responsibility” — the more people who
are around, the less any one person feels compelled to act — or “information
overload,” the idea that city people must filter and limit what they take in,
including appeals for help. (Tom Vanderbilt, "Up from Calamity," Sep. 6, 2009)
It got me thinking about the implications of raising my kid in the city. I grew up in the city, and loved it, so I don't have any of the usual qualms about it. I suppose it would be nice to have a backyard, or to go out and catch frogs in a nearby pond (this, for some reason, is what I think of as the quintessential perk of growing up in a suburban/rural environment). But I don't feel like I missed out that much. I had other things instead--like the zoo that I used to visit just about every day on my way to school, the classes I took at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a fluency in jive. (One of those is a lie.)

But what effect does it have to grow up with that urban "filter"? Or, perhaps more importantly, the awareness that the people around you aren't interested in you or concerned about your welfare? Someone once told me that when she first started college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she smiled and said hello to absolutely everyone she encountered, because that's what she was used to in the small town where she grew up. In contrast, I sometimes don't even say hello to people I've met, because I assume they don't remember meeting me.

There's also that weird phenenomenon where you don't say hello to people you encounter repeatedly because they live in your neighborhood or they're in one of your classes--unless you encounter them somewhere unexpected, like an airport. I often think about this sort of thing in elevators--how bizarre it is to be in such close quarters with other people without acknowledging each other. If the elevator broke down and you had to wait hours for help or figure out a way to rescue yourselves, those people would become your lifeline. It's unnatural, but it's what you have to do to protect yourself when you share a small area with thousands of strangers. (Interesting fact: there were 12,750.5 people per square mile in Chicago according to the 2000 census.)

Would I have less difficulty with social interactions if I had grown up in a small town where everyone knew each other? Would I be less jaded about humanity?

I actually did know most of the people in my neighborhood growing up, and it was a fairly closeknit community. And we were part of other communities--my school, our church, my dad's work colleagues. It's probably important, when you raise your kid in a city, that you find and cultivate those types of relationships. I think one of the reasons my parents came to dislike the high school I went to is that they were never able to break into the parents' social circles and feel a part of that community. And that probably contributed to all the trouble I got into there. This is somewhat troubling because neither I nor my husband are very social. We could go weeks without interacting with anyone but each other and not even notice. I really want my son to be more outgoing, but I'm afraid both nature and nurture are working against him.

I do find it funny, however, that when you set Nugget down outside on anything but asphalt he is completely nonplussed. When we were at the beach a few weeks ago, it took him the whole first day to get used to the sand. The second day, some people came up to us and expressed shock that he'd started walking overnight--he was so thrown off by the sand that they'd assumed when watching us the day before that he wasn't walking yet.

In a related aside, yesterday we went applepicking at this fantastic farm about an hour west of Chicago. Nugget tried to bite the apples while they were still on the tree, and he went crazy for the cow they had on display. I do love a day in the country, especially when it involves fresh-baked apple-cider glazed doughnuts.

9.04.2009

How now! a madman! Why, thou peevish sheep

Pet peeves

1. Misspelling the word "yay" as "yeah." I will accept "yea" although it is somewhat arcane, but I will not accept "yeah." "Yeah" means "yes." Imagine yelling "Yes!" when you mean to yell "Yay!" Douchey, isn't it? So don't be a douche. Learn to spell.

2. Misspelling in general. Seriously, how hard is it? It's not hard. I have no desire to think you are stupid, believe me. I want to believe the best of you. But if you cannot spell, I will not be able to help myself.

3. Using the right turn lane to jump ahead of a line of cars - if you try to do this to me I will gun my turbo-charged subaru and dare you to a game of chicken. Consider yourself warned.

4. Reclining on an airplane. If you happen to sit in front of me on a plane and you're wondering why your seat won't recline, it's because my knees are in the way. If I want your head in my lap, I'll let you know.

To be continued

9.02.2009

the play's the thing

There is a picture on my sister-in-law's photo site of my nephew sitting on the most gigantic toy truck I've ever seen. He's sitting on it like it's a ride-on toy, and he's not a small 15-month-old. For some reason I feel that I should buy this truck for my son. Mind you, it's not so much that I "want" to buy it, it's that I feel I "should." I don't know, maybe it's some sort of sibling rivalry thing. (Although according to my mother there is no sibling rivalry in our family because each of us believes he or she already won.)

I love that it is so big you can sit on it. But I am also unwilling to buy it because it is so big, and I am picturing it in my house, and it is just so BIG. Now, this is odd. Because I didn't hesitate for a second to buy this enormous play tent, which dominates our living room. Maybe because this is a truck, not a tent, and kids don't have just one truck, they have multiple trucks, and I am afraid that if I start him on that kind of scale I will end up with an oversized traffic jam clogging my home.

I have a small condo in the city, my brother has a large house with yard in the suburbs. And it occurs to me: is this just the tip of the iceberg? It has already become clear that having my son trail my brother's son by three months is exacerbating the tendency to track my son's development with neurotic vigilance, something I'd already feared would be an issue given my personality and something I was determined to suppress. Now I am afraid that my nephew is going to become a focus for the worry that I should be raising my kid in the suburbs.

But back to this truck. My house (I almost changed that to "our house" out of consideration for my husband but decided the possessiveness that crops up in my pronouns when speaking of the domestic sphere is too interesting) is increasingly cluttered with toys. And I really don't mind. In fact I rather like it. I certainly prefer Nugget's colorful, happy clutter to the jumble of bills and legal files and magazines that collects around my husband. Ugh.

I am, however, somewhat reluctant to buy him a ton of toys. Why? Well, for one thing I really hate expending money and space on toys that he ignores. He'd much rather throw CDs on the floor, root around in the trash, and dump the dog's water bowl on his head. I suppose that will change as he gets older? I also am a bit wary of buying toys that he has to grow into. Like I'm contemplating a really nice set of wooden blocks for his birthday in a few weeks but I'm hesitating because I think they'll be bigger and heavier than is really appropriate right now. On the other hand I am reluctant to buy stuff he will grow out of quickly, which kind of leaves me in a bind. I also get really hung up on buying the "right" toys -- the stuff that encourages imagination and creativity, as opposed to stuff that maps out how he is supposed to play with it.

Frequently when I buy toys or consider buying toys, I actually research the BEST musical instrument set, the BEST water table, the BEST tricycle. It's a toy, for crying out loud.

8.30.2009

let us therefore eat and drink

Habana Libre, an unassuming little Cuban place near my house, has inspired me to add restaurant reviews here. It was one of those rare finds--a little shabby on the outside, cheap and easy to get a table, yet delicious and delightful and the kind of place that becomes your go-to for a casual meal. I'm in love. Some highlights: It's BYOB with no corkage fee. The fried plantains with a little pot of very potent garlic oil for dipping were so good that it was only with great effort that I resisted the urge to go back for more the very next night. The empanadas were everything you can ask of an empanada. And they have guava empanadas! There was another appetizer that I don't know the name of but that my friend aptly described as "meat-and-potatoes comfort food rolled up in a ball." And my ropa vieja was delicious, even accompanied by the unappetizing sound of my friend slurping marrow from the crevices of his oxtail. I'm no foodie. In fact, I am an unadventurous and ridiculously picky eater. But I dearly love to eat out and so: I present these opinions for what they're worth.

Why, he will look upon his boot and sing

Trent and Nugget are out of town visiting Grandma T (Trent's mom), leaving me here to play bachelorette. I went out the last three nights and had a blast--and tended to some sorely neglected friendships, but I am missing my Nugget terribly. I even slept with one of his toys, drinking in the lingering smell of him.

I miss Trent too of course, but it's so much harder that Nugget can't talk on the phone. He does smile and grab the phone when Trent holds it up so I can talk to him, which makes me relieved that he still remembers his mom. Trent has sent me several videos that I watch over and over. I wish he could send more, but there's no cell phone reception where they are. Technology is beautiful. I think I may invest in webcams next time they travel without me.

Hard as it is, I'm glad they went and I want them to go out there as often as possible, although I can't take the time off work to go with them. It's important that Nugget spends time with his family.

It's ironic and terrible that at the same time that families have become more geographically scattered, we have less and less leisure time to visit each other because of the premium society places on work. I have it better than most, with fairly generous vacation policies and the financial wherewithal to travel. On the other hand I can't take all the vacation to which I'm technically entitled because there's always too much work to do and I have to worry about racking up the billable hours.

I did take a vacation last week, and actually did almost no work. It was the best vacation I've ever had, even though we just went to South Carolina, where I've been a hundred times. This time was different because Nugget was there. His wonder and joy at swimming in the ocean made it new to me too. And I got to sit and play in the sand with a carefree abandon I haven't had since I was a kid at the beach myself. You lose so much when you grow up -- I didn't anticipate how much I'd get back through him.

When we got back Nugget spent a day at backup daycare so Trent could get some work done before heading to Washington, and the sudden change was rough on Nugget. I had to leave work and go over there because they couldn't get him to eat anything, just like the first day he ever spent in daycare. After six solid days with me, Trent, and G-Ma (my mom) constantly around, I think it was a tough adjustment to be alone with strangers. On the one hand it hurts to recognize that Nugget suffers our absence like that, but on the other I think it's good for him to get exposure to other people and learn some independence.

We are going to put him in regular daycare part-time as soon as we get around to researching and organizing it. Trent needs more time to work, but also I think Nugget needs to be around other kids more. And it will be better for him to get that exposure on a regular basis, with a regular routine, rather than these random one-off trips to backup daycare.

Reading over this post I am tempted not to publish it. What value am I adding to the internet with these overthought personal ramblings? Does the world really need one more chronicle of obsessive parenting? I love that I am creating a record for myself of what I'm thinking and feeling, but why am I doing it on the internet? Frankly, and I find this embarassing to admit, I don't think I would be writing this much (such as it is) if there was not the chance that someone else might read it. I've started many diaries in my life and never been as faithful to them as I am to this blog. Case in point: my journal of letters to Nugget has not had an entry since he was six months old -- he's almost 1 now.

At the same time I feel I need to work harder at increasing my readership. The thing is, it seems to me that the way to get your blog read is to read other blogs and develop relationships with other bloggers. And I can barely maintain the friendships I have "IRL."

8.29.2009

Dogeared

From a letter Jane Austen wrote to the Prince Regent's librarian, quoted in The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes:

I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

(What is dogeared?)

8.18.2009

Dogeared

From Jean Rhys' In the Rue de l'Arivee

Miss Dufreyne (Dolly to her friends when she had any) stepped out on to the Boulevard into the soft autumn night, and the night put out a gentle, cunning hand to squeeze her heart.

8.17.2009

Monday! ha, ha!

Last week I was cogitating a post about how coming back to work after maternity leave didn't make me cry, and leaving every morning has not been that hard, even when Nugget clings to me and cries, as he tend to do lately. I feel a little awkward when other moms talk about that sort of thing; they seem to take it for granted that we all felt the same way. But I don't recall a single tear when I came back to work, in fact I think I was pretty thrilled about it. And I don't feel like that makes me some sort of unnaturally cold woman. I'm okay with it. I think it's a totally reasonable attitude.

But. Today I considered a one-line post (until it was complicated by my recollection of the above): Mondays are the hardest days. I don't think it's untrue that I am totally fine with leaving my Nugget for work, but I do think that on my "good days" I tend to forget the "bad days." The good days may outnumber the bad, but the bad still exist. All I want to do today is go home and make Nugget laugh.

8.16.2009

thy dial's shady stealth

Having another baby no longer seems like an insane idea. It only took 11 months! When I had lunch the other day with a woman from my birth class, I had to ask her to repeat herself when she mentioned she was pregnant. And then I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. She got pregnant again when her first was six months. I was so far from ready to procreate again at that point, I can't even begin to comprehend how she could have done that to herself willingly.

But thinking about it in the last few days, I realized that a second child no longer seems completely unreasonable. Which is good, because for a while there I thought Nugget was going to have to be a lonely Nugget. I'm sure people who grew up as only children don't feel that their parents cruelly deprived them, but I really love having siblings and would feel very bad if I didn't give Nugget any.

Now I have to figure out where the balance falls between having kids close in age so they can get the most out of each other (and I can benefit from the efficiencies) and waiting until Nugget is more independent so both children can get what they need from us. Subject to Trent and I first figuring out what we want our lives to look like, because I think our current state of rudderless befuddlement is maybe not the ideal time to expand the family.

I still don't know whether we'll go beyond two. Two seems very small to me. But also very manageable. I work with someone who has four kids under eight, and he tells me his home is a madhouse. He also gets judgmental looks from people when he's out with his family. I was one of four, so it doesn't seem like a crazy big family to me--five seems a little nuts, but four seems very normal. But I know when my mom had her fourth, the nurses in the hospital openly criticized her. Can you imagine? Outrageous. It never ceases to amaze me how outspokenly judgmental people are on the subject of children.

I suppose when it comes to the size of your family there is an argument that it is everyone's business because you're taking up too much of the planet's limited resources with your selfish overbreeding, blah blah. But I don't buy that. I think the wasteful way we use our limited resources has way more of an impact. And it makes way more sense to regulate that than to get into the dicey business of regulating reproduction. But oh no. The government is welcome to crawl up into a woman's uterus but keep your dirty hands off my Hummer!

Anyway. I also worry that with a larger family it will become impossible for me to keep working. Especially in my current job. There isn't enough of me to go around as it is. Trent called me from Costco the other day and asked if I needed anything. Time, I said. Can you pick up some extra time? I could really use some.

8.09.2009

Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand

We were at the lake having a picnic last night when I saw a guy go by with a newborn in a stroller. I imagined he was giving his wife a break, and thought about how she was probably on maternity leave. And then I reflexively thought, I wish I was still on maternity leave--I wish I had 12 months, like some countries. Then I thought about it some more and realized I didn't actually feel that way. The last few months have been tough. I billed over 280 hours last month. There were plenty of days when I saw my son for 20 minutes. There were some days I didn't see him at all. I really don't like that. But I loved what I was doing. I was preparing for trial (scheduled to start tomorrow, but now postponed to October) and I was having a blast. It was great experience, and I wouldn't trade it. I'm not going to apologize for it, either. My dad was a great dad even though he worked crazy lawyer hours, and I don't begrudge him that for a second. Why should it be different because I'm a woman?

I've been pondering a question raised in a very early post and procrastinating about trying to answer it: why have children at all? I wish I had attempted an answer back then because I think my answer is different now and it would be interesting to compare. My answer now will be based on what I now know about being a parent--which is much, much more than I did then.

So. Why have children? First, I should note that I did not exactly choose to have Nugget; Nugget chose me. I probably would have had children at some point anyway, but I didn't set out to get pregnant when I did. Nugget wasn't willing to wait a few years til we felt ready. Nugget is an impatient nugget.

When asked whether I planned to have children, I said for many years that I would only have children if I happened to meet and fall in love with someone I wanted to have children with, someone who would be a good father. And I did--I met and fell in love with Trent. I think that's an important part of answering this question for me: I don't just want "children," generically speaking, I wanted our children, Trent's and mine, specifically. [Sensitivity side note: this does not necessarily mean genetically "our children"; if we had adopted, they would still be "our children."] Now, that doesn't exactly answer the question. Why do I want our children? I can't answer that yet. Maybe there's something about loving someone that makes me want to build a family with him, as an outgrowth of our love. I don't know. I'm gagging a little just writing that, so let's move on.

Here's some part of the answer that I am clear about-and this is the part that I don't think I understood before I'd been a parent for a while. Watching Nugget learn about the world is the most fascinating and rewarding thing I have ever experienced.

Here's another, somewhat related part: shaping his understanding of the world, helping him grow up to be a strong, happy person, is important to me, and something that seems worth doing if you can. I think I can do it, and if I didn't, I wouldn't want to have children. There have been times when I've thought I didn't want children because I was afraid I'd be too controlling and demanding; that I wouldn't be able to turn that part of myself off to give a kid space to grow. I was wrong about that. It will probably get harder as he gets older, but so far I've been pretty good about stifling the urge to push Nugget too hard.

Another, selfish reason: not having a family of my own around me as I grow old seems like a lonely prospect. I think my life would feel empty without it.

I will have to revisit this topic, but I think that's a good start at an answer that's true for me.

[Skeptic side note: There is, underneath my thinking in all this, a part of me that says the desire to have children is a basic imperative of life, nothing more than a primal instinct to preserve the species. And maybe that's true too.]

7.16.2009

This were to be new made when thou art old - Morning Edition

Ways my morning routine has changed since I had a baby:

1. The frantic search for where Nugget put my blackberry --this morning it was in the sink.

2. Trying to figure out whether the wet spot on the shirt I just put on is water from leaning on the bathroom counter or pee from Nugget climbing on me while I put on my socks.

3. Deciding I don't care.

7.15.2009

To Be or Not to Be

Yesterday (as in 33 minutes ago) was my birthday. I billed 13.35 hours.

7.10.2009

toil and trouble

I often write here about being a non-traditional family, and I tend to think of my husband as a stay-at-home dad because he is in fact at home all day. But he does actually "work" (ok, look. I know stay-at-home moms get their panties in a bunch about how raising kids and running a household is a hell of a lot of work. I know. But what am I supposed to call it? How do you distinguish one from the other so that we can have a conversation about it? But the interesting point here is why it is that our vocabulary is inadequate. I guess it's because the word work traditionally did distinguish men's business from women's domestic sphere, but at the same time it also served as the opposite of play -- so when women set out to reshape attitudes about the domestic sphere, the word "work" had to be co-opted.). So right now, for example, we are experiencing the special difficulties of a two breadwinner family. He's got a draft brief due Sunday morning, and I have to be in the office all weekend doing pretrial prep. If we didn't have my parents nearby and eager to spend time with their precocious and insanely adorable grandson, god knows what we'd do. Even so, it's going to be a rough weekend. Not to mention how much it sucks to lose my weekend time with said precocious and insanely adorable one.

Dogeared

Justice Ginsberg in the NY Times magazine this week:
"I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked off my shoes. Including the time some reporter said something like, it took me a long time to get up from the bench. They worried, was I frail? To be truthful I had kicked off my shoes, and I couldn’t find my right shoe; it traveled way underneath."

(What is dogeared?)

7.08.2009

Lord, let me never have a cause to sigh

And here are some of the things I thought would change (and maybe should have changed) but didn't (also to be continued):

1. I still drive like a lunatic in a fit of rage.

2. I still can't get up in the morning to save my life.

3. I still have colonies of dustbunnies in every corner of my house ... which Nugget will try to eat if you don't watch him ...

This were to be new made when thou art old

When you're pregnant for the first time, every single person you encounter tells you at least once, "everything is going to change!" It gets annoying, but it's certainly true. Here are some of the less obvious ways my life has changed (to be continued):

1. I drink the office coffee. Just can't justify the $2 - 6 a day anymore.

2. "Cruising" now describes a baby walking while holding on to furniture.

3. Sadly, I no longer miss my dog when I don't see her for a few days.

(Backtrack: The Newest New Year)

7.06.2009

Dogeared

From Sherman Alexie's Flight:

1. "Art and Justice fight on opposite sides of the war but they sound exactly like each other. How can you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when they say the same things?"

2. "Then I remember that God is really, really old. So maybe God has arthritis. And maybe that's why the world sucks. Maybe God's hands and fingers don't work as well as they used to."

(What is dogeared?)

7.05.2009

no time for a shakespeare reference today

One more thought about this spouses-who-work-outside-the-home-have-more-stress thing. I think a big part of it for me is the fact that I'm performing on a larger stage at work. My failures and successes, big and small, are seen by many more people, people who don't know me very well, people who don't care about me, people the world considers Very Important, etc. I do wonder whether that's something that translates to other people in my position, because I do have particular sensitivity to that sort of thing--what people think of me. But you don't have to be self-obsessed to care that Corner Office Partner X and Federal Judge Y and Opposing Counsel Z think you're an idiot, right? I suspect not.

Baby's crying.

6.29.2009

ay, there's the rub

I'm trying to get a handle on what it is that I think is so stressful about "the working world" that is mostly absent for people who stay home with their kids. I don't quite have it yet, so bear with me as I try to shed my legal and editorial training and attempt some free-associative writing (hilariously, the last 16 words were a mid-post edit). It feels like a sort of wilderness survival thing, like the lion pride I wrote about earlier, but I don't actually think I'm likely to lose my job anytime soon. I do think I will lose my job eventually if I don't continue to succeed--which entails not just treading water, but continually speeding up. And I worry that I can't do that. Or that I won't. Or, sometimes, that I will, but I'll be unhappy, but the further I go the harder it will be to stop. All that is part of it I think. And--sort of separately--there's ambition and pride and ... competitiveness maybe: whatever I do, I have to do it well. Which is not just ambition/pride/competitiveness, but also existential anxiety: if I'm not doing something Important and Meaningful with my life, what am I doing? What am I here for? Ack. Shiver. So what I am getting around to is ... a lot of that wouldn't go away if I were a stay-at-home mom. In fact, some of it would get a lot worse because I'd spend my days looking after the kid(s) and the house and the husband and not having time to Do Something and feeling desperate and guilty because if I can't find the time to Do Something when I don't even have to go to work then there must be something wrong with me, never mind that looking after the kid(s) and the house and the husband is a 24-hour job, especially when one is compelled to try to do it superhumanly well (e.g., reading the book about how babies' brains develop that has been collecting dust on my beside table for 9 months (I know it's ridiculous, but I sometimes feel like a bad mom because I'm not reading books about childhood development (yes, I am using not just parenthetical asides, but parentheticals within parentheticals, the horror! (suck it, my sweet grammatolatrist spouse (this is cool: http://www.visualthesaurus.com)))). Anyway. At least one more thing in the mix, and I think this is closer to what I have in mind: the responsibility. I know, stay-at-home moms are responsible for their children and what could be more weighty, but so am I. And on top of that I have to worry that I'm going to misread a statute or forget about a rule or miss a deadline or do any one of the million other things that could seriously damage my client's case. Enough with the whining, and I really probably shouldn't be wading into the minefield of working mom versus stay-at-home mom debates, but it's fascinatingly complex and shaded everywhere with gray and, well, quite germane.

6.28.2009

the roof of this court is too high to be yours

The few readers I had probably abandoned me after more than a month without a post, but I decided to keep plugging away at this anyway. It's an easy way to have a space for reflection in my life, and to create a record of my thoughts that I can look back at later. And if a blogwriter I liked posted this seldom, I guess I'd still prefer to read them every five weeks than not at all. I feel a particular responsibility because we have this non-traditional lifestyle right now--breadwinner mom and stay-at-home dad. I want to share my thoughts about it for any others in our position looking for information from their perspective, or for anyone with an interest in this as a sort of social experiment. That seems kind of ridiculous, that even now in 21st century America this could be viewed as unusual, but my experience it's still worthy of comment. When people ask me what my husband does, I feel the need to explain that the kind of work that he does is not really available in Chicago, but that he does still do some work for people in Seattle, and he was recently nominated to a prestigious part-time position, etc. I suppose it could just be me, but I suspect that impulse I have, to be defensive about my husband's choice to stay home, is not completely unwarranted. And frankly, I think I would be defensive if I were the one staying home as well. I'm not even sure it's unjustified. I know being a stay-at-home parent is not a walk in the park, but it does shelter you from the stresses of the working world. That's part of the attraction of it to me. But it's also what makes me glad I'm not doing it. When the scope of your responsibility is limited to your home, it's got to be easier. But it seems to me that you'd be almost childlike--you worry about keeping order in your little patch, and let your spouse worry about ensuring the very existence of that patch. That would be nice. But I rebel against the idea of being a child in my spouse's keeping. If I had readers, I'd ask stay-at-home parents to weigh in on this. I suspect they wouldn't agree with that characterization. But that's how I feel right now--like I'm the roof of our house, buffeted by the outside forces. And my husband is the foundation--vitally important and working hard to hold everything together, but still sheltered from the outside world.

5.18.2009

A Stranger in the World

Adulthood is living in a house of cards. Or perhaps it's knowing that you're living in a house of cards. I guess it's a testament to what a sheltered childhood I had (and I use the term "childhood" in a broader sense than is really linguistically justifiable) that I'm just now waking up to how fragile my lifestyle is. We watched a nature show about lions the other day (I know he's not supposed to watch TV yet, but Nugget really liked the lions) and I keep going back to it in thinking about this. It was a lean year for the lions (is it just me or is it always a lean year on nature shows?) and the pride was teetering on the edge of survival, always one kill away from starvation. Color me melodramatic but I keep comparing that to the possibility that I'll lose my job and we won't be able to pay our mortgage and ... well, I guess we'd move in with my parents, which is not exactly the same thing as starving. But it would suck nonetheless.

It occurred to me to wonder whether we do our kids any favors by sheltering them this way. Would it be better to let Nugget have a taste of adult worries as he grows up, so it doesn't come as such a shock someday to realize that life is a bundle of worry tied up with compromise and sprinkled with hope? The answer I came to is no: it is better that he grows up feeling secure so he can develop the confidence and faith to face the challenges in his future. Also, it is better that he have a happy, carefree childhood, like mine, which was pretty damn sweet.

4.25.2009

I Cannot Draw a Cart, Nor Eat Dried Oats

Last week my mom told me on the phone about putting my son in the swing at the playground for the first time: how he clutched the chains and looked astonished. And a few days ago I walked in the door after work to see my son come crawling toward me--he'd figured out how to move that day. That's really hard, feeling like I'm missing so much, when he changes so fast.

And then there's how stressed and distracted I am even in the short time I do get to spend with him. I keep trying to remember what my dad was like when I was growing up--trying to reimagine it from this new perspective: how he must have come home from a stressful day at work and had to put all that to one side of his head and adjust to our wavelength. The memory of him sitting at the kitchen table with papers and gussets all around is a familiar one, but it looks different now. He must have brought work home so that he could be there for dinner. I know now how that looks, how that feels, from his perspective. The difficulty of making the shift back into work mode when you've been at home for a while. The added stress of trying to get enough done that you can leave at a reasonable time and steal a few hours away from work.

I like my job, mostly. I like working, mostly. I don't want to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. But this is hard.

4.19.2009

The Fiend that Lies Like Truth

I saw This American Life live tonight (yes, I am that much of an NPR nerd), with a story by Dan Savage that hit me with the gut-punching force of a potential revelation. (It may have been a revelation, but I have to think about some more. Although, if it makes me stop and reevaluate the way I look at the world, is it still a revelation, even if I ultimately decide to stick with what I already believed?)

Savage's story was about his mom's death and his resulting furtive visits to a local Catholic church, "like an addict visiting a crackhouse." (see the show live yourself.) He suggests that his difficulty coming to terms with death is the result of his Catholic upbringing: his difficulty is not because of his current lack of faith, but because he once had the faith he now lacks. When you grow up hearing about a guy springing out of his tomb, Savage said, it's really hard to believe that death is permanent.

I'm not sure I've mentioned this here before, but I've become terrified of death in recent years. I'm don't know whether it's because I have a kid or just that I'm getting older, but regardless it's pretty new territory for me. I haven't believed in the Catholic view of the world I grew up with since around the time of my Confirmation--thirteen--but I've never really believed that death is the end. Now I'm not so sure, and I can't deal with it at all. I've never understood how people are able to live with that particular view of the world.

I can barely stand to hear it discussed anymore. It's kind of funny, because when I was about thirteen and thinking a lot about God and death and other heavies, one of my friends told me she couldn't be my friend anymore because I talked about death too much and she wasn't ready to think about it. We actually didn't stop being friends, although I don't remember how it was resolved, and now of course we're not friends anywhere but on Facebook, but I've never forgiven her for it. It baffled me at the time. Now I finally understand it. Death is scary stuff. Who'd have thunk.

So I think I'm just going to stop writing about this now. I may revisit.

3.29.2009

Drum and Fife vs. Tabor and Pipe

I've been busy at work, which is good, but it's been hard seeing Nugget so seldom. I've been thinking about the reversal in traditional gender roles in my family--my husband is home with Nugget while I work full-time--and wondering if men find it so hard to miss so much, and to always feel like their spouse knows the baby better. Is it easier when it's the way things have always been? I suspect it is. If nothing else, they don't have the worry that people are judging them for being an unnatural mother--how can she be at work at 8 o'clock at night instead of home with her baby? She must not be that into motherhood. Maybe she hasn't bonded with the baby. The ironic thing is I've had similar thoughts about other women. I could kick myself for it now, but it makes me more sure that people are thinking those things about me. I don't love my baby any less because I'm at work all day (and sometimes night). I truly believe that I'll be a better mother if my whole life doesn't revolve around my son, and I've been trying to be a laidback parent, but the thing that gets in the way of that the most is the judgment of other people--whether it's real or just in my head. Our society seems to value intensive parenting (even as it ridicules "helicopter" parenting and decries "the overparenting crisis"), and the amount of judgmental scrutiny parents come in for is truly astonishing. Someday soon I'll be trying to teach my son to follow the beat of his own drum, and I'm trying to practice what I preach now. It's not easy.

3.01.2009

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?

I just replaced my ipod, which died quite a while ago, and am once again enjoying music on my commute. I've always loved the way a walkman/discman/ipod gives my life a soundtrack that gives meaning to everything I see. I love the juxtapositions and ironies it creates, like listening to The Ramones on my way to work for the Establishment the other day. The way Strauss's waltzes synchronize perfectly with the movement of the city is one of my favorite combinations. I have a vivid memory from probably ten years ago of listening to a friend's mix that included a Native American group who combined traditional singing and drums with a modern rock sound--the song became an angry lament that haunted the glass, steel, and concrete canyons of downtown Chicago I walked through.

Music can create a still, even spiritual, center as the sights of the city wash over me. I used to say I wanted to found a church and have worship services that consisted of piling everyone onto a bus and driving around the city listening to music and watching the world go by. Somehow music lets me see the world from a godlike perspective of detachment and peace, and yet also recognizes and celebrates the joy and heartbreak swirling around me. It's not detachment in the sense that nothing matters, but rather that everything matters, and it's beautiful.

I've often said, with an only slightly tongue-in-cheek touch of melodrama, that my lack of musical ability is my great personal tragedy. There's nothing like it for capturing the meaning of life, and I wish I could wield that kind of power of expression.

2.17.2009

Still My Snugglebum for Now

When we were visiting Trent's cousin in December, she commented while snuggling her 20-month-old son that he is almost at the age where he won't let her do it anymore. That comment came back to me like a punch in the stomach when I was nuzzling Nugget's irresistible cheeks tonight. You mean, he won't let me do this someday??!!! But I'm his mother! He's my baby! MY baby. Does he really have the right to deny me that exquisite pleasure? I think not. But even now, he will often push me off and turn away to babble at the lamp (he loves lamps). My little snugglebum--it also occurred to me today that he probably won't let me call him that as soon as he gets old enough to understand it--is not going to be mine forever, and--ironically--that would be unbearable if I didn't love him enough to let him grow. On the bright side, maybe my husband's grizzled cheek will get a few more nuzzles then.

2.14.2009

Dogeared

From Cynthia Ozick's At Fumicaro:

"No belief! No belief!"

The terrible words, in her exhausted croak, stirred him to the beginning of a fury. What had he done, what had he endured, to be able to come at last to belief! And a chambermaid, a cleaner of toilets, could cry so freely against it!

He knew her meaning: she was abashed, shame punched out her tears, she was sunk in absurdity and riddle. But still it shook him--he turned against her--because every day of his life he had to make the same pilgrimage to belief all over again, starting out each dawn with the hard crow's call of no belief.

(What is dogeared?)

Thus kan I preche agayn that same vice which that I use

Apparently the Catholic Church has brought back indulgences. I was surprised--despite my years in Catholic school--to learn from this article that when you go to confession and get absolution for your sins, you still have to pay for them in purgatory for a while before you get to go to heaven. The emphasis on forgiveness is one thing I've always liked about Catholicism. But is it really forgiveness if you still have to pay?

Apparently you can get an indulgence if you go to confession, receive holy communion, say a prayer for the pope and achieve “complete detachment from any inclination to sin.” The prayer for the pope seems pretty self-serving. But what I'm most stuck on is the complete detachment part. Is that really possible? I can't imagine. And how meaningful is it to confess something you no longer have any inclination to do? That seems pointless.

Oddly, this article did make me want to go to confession--something I haven't done since my very first confession back in about the third grade. It's not the desire for absolution; I've always said that if there is really a god who sentences people to eternity in hell for their mistakes, I want to go to hell to be part of the revolution. But I do like the idea of a ritual that creates a space for me to reflect on how I would like to live my life differently. The thing is, I suspect the stuff I feel most guilty about doesn't necessarily match up to the stuff the Catholic Church views as sin. Like smoking. Is that a sin?

And would I have to confess every sin I've committed since the last time I went to confession, more than twenty years ago? Even the stuff I've come to terms with on my own? Or what about premarital sex with my now-husband--does that really matter now that we're married (putting aside the fact that I don't feel any guilt about it whatsoever)? If I do go to confession, I'd better tell the priest ahead of time that he'll need to clear his schedule for a couple days.

2.09.2009

Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb

One of the strangest things about pregnancy was becoming unpregnant. That's true for many reasons, but the one I want to talk about now is the way the focus suddenly changed from me to my baby. When I was pregnant, I was the center of attention and the focus of much solicitude. When the baby became physically separated from me, the attention shifted to him and I realized a fairly obvious thing: all the attention I got when I was pregnant was not really for me, it was for him.

This might make sense, but it feels very wrong. It makes me feel that all those months I was being treated as a glorified incubator, a vessel that once empty loses its significance. I suddenly "get" in a meaningful way a large swath of feminist thought that was previously merely theoretical. The upshot is that pregnancy and birth have made me shift a little more toward the pro-choice side of the abortion question. That seems pretty ironic.

(I was essentially on the fence before--I find some arguments on both sides to be very compelling, and mostly I just find it outrageous that people can be so strident about something so full of deep emotional conflicts. Which actually put me more on the pro-choice side, but just barely.)

I don't know why I decided to post about this after midnight when I have to go to work in the morning, but there it is. Now I have to go to bed.

2.04.2009

Dogeared

When I come across a passage I especially like in the book I'm reading, I fold the corner of the page down. I've been doing this since high school. When I first started it was so I could go back later and transcribe the passage into a notebook. It's been a long time since I took the time to do that, but I've continued to dogear pages (which drives my bibliophile husband crazy).

I marked this today in the title story of Cynthia Ozick's Dictation:

[Joseph Conrad's amanuensis, explaining to Henry James' amanuensis how she and Conrad work together, admits to secretly correcting Conrad when he misspeaks an English idiom.]
"All that is similar to my own experience with Mr. James. Mr. James, however, is beyond correction."
"Mr. James was not born in Poland."
"But he was born in America, which makes his intimacy with the English language all the more remarkable."

2.02.2009

More about Boobs

So this is very old news (give me a break, breastfeeding news wasn't exactly on my radar in 2005) but I've only just read that Barbara Walters--Barbara Walters!--said on the air that she felt "uncomfortable" when a woman seated nearby on a plane breastfed her baby. Are you bleeping kidding me? I said a few weeks ago that I was itching for a fight over breastfeeding in public, but I really had no idea that it was so common and accepted for people to get upset about it. People, IT'S WHAT THEY'RE FOR. Get the f**k over it. Should I wear a burka too, to protect you from the temptation of my womanly flesh?

I have to go lie down. And maybe reread The Second Sex.

2.01.2009

Dressing for Someone Else's Life

I want to live inside the Athleta catalog: yoga on the beach at sunrise, then off to the farmer's market to pick up some fresh organic greens for my dinner. Never mind that I went to the farmer's market maybe twice when I had one literally at my doorstep, or that my idea of picking up some greens for dinner is going to Costco for a bag of broccoli florets to put in my mac and cheese. And the only yoga I've done in recent years was prenatal yoga, which hardly counts. When you're abdomen is roughly the size of a baby walrus, getting from a standing position to the floor passes for yoga. I'll just say this: what other kind of yoga involves a folding chair? It's not exactly ashtanga, if you know what I mean. (OK, I don't know what that means either.) Anyway, my point is this: whoever puts that catalog together knows what they're doing. If it weren't for the dire looks my husband gives me when he sees me with a catalog (I may be the family breadwinner but I still rely on my husband to keep my spending in check ... so much for 21st-century gender roles), I'd have a closet full of Athleta gear. Yoga pants are great for lounging on the couch.

1.31.2009

Karma Schmarma

Sometimes when I'm nursing Nugget or rocking him to sleep, I think about how offended I'm going to be someday when he tells me it's his life and I should mind my own business. The worrying and night-waking and butt-wiping and all the rest of it gives me a proprietary feeling that turns my memories of my own adolescence on their head. Cosmic justice be damned, I hope to hell my son isn't the sort of teenager I was.

1.26.2009

Heigh Ho!

Today was my first day back at work, which is supposed to be very emotional and difficult. So am I a bad mom if I really enjoyed it? It felt like I was getting back a part of myself that had been lost. All day people asked me how I was doing, and I felt like I had to fudge the answer: "well, I'm sure it will get more difficult as the day goes on, but ..." and "of course I miss him, but ...." Which was further complicated by my feeling that I needed to reassure people that I like my work, and I'm not going to quit to stay home with the baby--or worse, become a dead-weight associate marking time with minimal effort.

I probably shouldn't underestimate the difference it makes to know that Nugget is at home with my husband and my dog, just like every other day of his life except that mommy's missing. If he were experiencing his first day of daycare, in a strange place with strange people, it would have been a lot harder for both of us.

Funny thing about that: the guilt and worry that many working mothers feel was a little different for me today. It was my husband I felt guilty and worried about, not my son. Trent spent eleven straight hours alone with the baby, and I have just enough experience with that to know it can drive you insane no matter how much you love your kid. I even dreaded coming home a little bit, afraid I'd find my husband boiling with resentment as I tried not to gush about my wonderful day. He wasn't, because he is a treasure of a man, and I am very fortunate, but I am going to try to remember this so when he does get grouchy I can see it in perspective.

1.24.2009

In Which Reality Comes Crashing In

I planned to go back to work on Thursday, but pushed my start date to Monday after my husband threw his back out on Wednesday. Leaving him alone with the baby for the first time when he could barely walk just wasn't an option. So instead of embarking on working momdom, I spent the last few days experiencing for the first time what it would really be like to be a stay-at-home mom.

Trent's been home with me throughout my maternity leave, so I've had the luxury of sharing responsibility for the baby. There were a few days when he went out of town for conferences and I was alone with the baby, but that was early on, when Nugget was still sleeping through most of the day. It wasn't until Wednesday evening that I first experienced the mind-numbing exhaustion of being the only one who can respond to the baby's cries. I have reached a new level of respect and awe for single mothers, and stay-at-home-moms, and people like my neighbor, who runs an infant daycare in her home. Alone with multiple babies all day, five days a week? I would lose my mind after one day. I nearly did lose my mind Wednesday night.

It probably would not have been so bad if Nugget and I weren't having trouble in our breastfeeding relationship. I think he's frustrated with my slow letdown, or inadequate milk supply, or both, so instead of being restful cuddletime, an easy way to soothe him, nursing is a tearful wrestling match of escalating infant fury. And all the while I'm mentally chasing my tail in a downward spiral of worry and guilt (What if he weans after only four months? Is it juvenile diabetes? Am I not drinking enough water? Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I too stressed out? How do you stop stressing out about being stressed out?)

You'd think all this would make me look forward to going to work Monday morning, but the eagerness I felt earlier this week has evaporated. For some reason the last few days made me recognize that going back to work will increase the stress on me, not decrease it. (Duh.) I'll get home from a long day of billing like mad (or worse, not having any work to bill and reading about law firm layoffs on abovethelaw all day) to take over from Trent, who will be exhausted from a long day of keeping Nugget happy and entertained while trying to fit in a few hours of work. If it's this hard now, how much harder will it be then?

I guess I'll find out come Monday.

Sweet Home Chicago, Part III

video
(Daley calling Blagojevich "cuckoo")

Chicago politics are endlessly entertaining.

1.22.2009

It don't beat the way it used to

Trent and I went to a Killers concert Tuesday night. I'm not going to attempt a review of the show, because I can't. The difference between a good show and a mediocre one--and possibly even a bad one--is really not a distinction I've ever been able to make. I enjoyed it very much. I will say this: I was very surprised that they didn't mention the inauguration, especially since they were playing Chicago. And I thought the stage graphics were overly literal--the beating hearts during Human and the globe during The World That We Live In bordered on the ridiculous. One funny moment during Human: Brandon Flowers commented,"Is it denser or dancer? I don't know." And when I was in the bathroom for the start of the show I heard some girls yelling to each other over the stall partitions, "Oh no! Its the only song we know!"

But really what I wanted to write about is how going to shows like this can make me feel so old. I look for gray hair in the crowd to make me feel better, but when it belongs to parents escorting their preteens it's just not the same. Whenever I feel that way, though, I always immediately reflect that I would not for the world trade the self-assurance I have today for youth. If I could keep my hard-won confidence and still go back to being 19, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I don't think it works that way. It's astonishing how much more I enjoy my life now that I feel at peace with myself--despite the admittedly sad fact that the older I get, the less I seem to be able to change who I am and what I am doing with my life.

I find the process of growing up fascinating. I'm 30 years old and I still feel like I am growing up. The obvious changes of adolescence and then becoming independent were replaced by the learning processes of my first post-college job, then law school and law firm life, and now marriage and parenthood. I don't think I'll be done growing up until I switch to growing old. Which may not be far away.

1.20.2009

Free at Last

This quote by Barack from a 1996 interview with the Obamas is such an insightful statement about marriage I wanted to share it:

And then what sustains our relationship is I’m extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It’s that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.

Thanks to the New Yorker (click to see the great accompanying photo of the Obamas at home in Hyde Park in 96) for publishing it and Broadsheet for leading me to it.

I can't even begin to express how excited I am today that this man is our president, for so many, many reasons. I will admit to a twinge of regret when Hillary arrive at the ceremony, thinking about how it would feel to finally be witnessing a woman become president, but that day will come too. I'm thrilled today for black Americans, and for all of us as we take this step toward healing the still-gaping wound that is race relations in America. I'm ecstatic and relieved and yet still a bit angry to finally be rid of the worst president in American history, whose destructive legacy we are only just beginning to understand. I'm proud and gratified and yet even now still surprised to welcome a politician who I can actually admire and who inspires me. He has a hard road ahead of him, and I can't wait to see him lead us down it.

1.16.2009

In Which I Talk about My Boobs

Yesterday I breastfed Nugget while gazing at several Monets at the art museum. It was kind of awesome. I'm trying to be very confident about breastfeeding in public, although it is somewhat hard. I feel awkward about whipping out my boobs in front of strangers (that incident at a Grateful Dead concert when I was 16 notwithstanding), and I can't help worrying about making other people uncomfortable, however unreasonable I think their discomfort may be. I did once breastfeed him in a mall restroom--mainly because I expected such a fancy mall to have a nice lounge in the restroom, and when I found only a bench next to the stalls, I went ahead anyway--but I am determined never to do it again. I wouldn't want to eat in the bathroom, so why should he? Nor do I really want to sit and listen to other women peeing (not to mention the other possibilities). So I confirmed that Illinois has a law protecting my right to breastfeed in public, and I am just waiting for someone to say something to me so I can fire off a verbal ass-whooping full of lots of legalistic hoopla. Brrrrrring it.

1.13.2009

Sweet Home Chicago

I took my dog for her monthly walk today (kidding ... sort of. ok, well I wish I was kidding.) and decided that Conor McPherson's description of hell in The Seafarer could have been taken from a Chicago guidebook: "And it's so cold that you don't even feel your angry tears freezing in your eye lashes and your bones ache with deep perpetual agony…." Have you ever had the snot inside your nose freeze? It really hurts. My poor southern-California-bred husband kind of hates me. I like to remind him it could be worse--I could have been from Ohio.