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.


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.


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

(Daley calling Blagojevich "cuckoo")

Chicago politics are endlessly entertaining.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Very Exciting News

My pants fit. MY PANTS FIT!!! I've never been so thrilled to put on a pair of pants in my life. And few items of clothing have ever made me feel so good as the tweedy wide-leg work trousers I wore tonight. Hurray!

Before I discovered that my pants fit (MY PANTS FIT!!!) I was trying to figure out what I could wear to the opera tonight (Madame Butterfly--pretty good although opera is not really my cup of tea) which led me to try to remember what I wore to work for the first month or so of pregnancy, which got me thinking about how I didn't actually realize I was pregnant for several weeks even though my pants were getting tight already--I just thought I was getting fat I guess--and that got me thinking about those stories you hear about women giving birth when they don't even know they're pregnant, and how unbelievable I find that, particularly after experiencing what it feels like to have a baby move around inside me, and that led me to this realization: I can't really remember anymore what it was like to feel my baby move inside me. That makes me sad. My memory sucks.

On another note, although I think it will dovetail nicely in a moment, when I was nursing Nugget just now I suddenly saw my face in his and it freaked me the hell out. I mean, I've looked for traces of my features in his and sort of thought I could see a resemblance before now, but this was different. It felt like I was looking at my own face. Only 3 months old, and a boy, and sucking on my boob. It was eerie. That's the best word for it. I haven't really been able to get my head around the fact that Nugget is half me, and suddenly I saw it, but having my head wrapped around it so suddenly kind of made my head explode.

The funny thing is, for quite a while after he was born I had a hard time getting used to the fact that he wasn't part of me anymore, at least not physically. And now I guess I'm over that and instead I'm having a hard time with the concept that he used to be part of me.

Parenthood is just WEIRD.


Love Letter

3 Reasons I love my husband:

1. When I showed him, just for kicks, a poem that I published in my high school's literary magazine, he spent about twenty minutes trying to understand it.

2. He watched the Golden Globes with me and laughed when I read aloud from the Fug Girls' live blog of the red carpet.

3. He has a subscription to Wholpin and put it on after the Golden Globes so I could feel all high brow again.


the tempest in my mind doth from my senses take all feeling else save what beats there

I finished Zadie Smith's White Teeth last night with disappointment. Aside from the lack of a plot--at least until the last 100 pages or so, which then ended abruptly--I thought it lacked what you might call soul. The book fell into a category that I like to call "testosterone intellectual," which I might have to rename. So far the books I've categorized this way were written by men. They are books that paint the world as a grand carnival, filled with outlandish characters and unlikely events. Their great fault is that they depict the horrors of human life without acknowledging the suffering that must accompany such horrors.

For example: in the chapter of White Teeth titled "The Root Canals of Hortense Bowden," Hortense's fourteen-year-old mother barely escapes being raped, saved only by an earthquake, during which she gives birth. But there is hardly a whisper of fear and pain in all this. In fact, Smith summarizes my problem in the sentence that leads into these events: "Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories." Apparently Smith is not interested in writing the inside history. And I guess that is a valid choice, but I'm just not that interested in reading a purely outside history.

I saw Steppenwolf's production of Conor MacPherson's play The Seafarer this afternoon, and it crystallized for me what was missing from White Teeth. There is no doubt that the mad drunks of The Seafarer are suffering. Like King Lear, the play demands: "Break, heart, I prithee, break!" This is a play that can make you weep. Smith's characters are colorful and alive on the page, but I'd never shed a tear for them.

I'm Sure He's Cute But Please Shut It Already

Last night after we got off the phone with my brother, who updated us on the latest doings of his six-month-old son, my sister asked me whether having a child makes one more interested in other people's children. My answer was mostly no. I think I'd be a lot more interested in my nephew if I hadn't had my son three months later. (Does that sound terrible? It's true.)

I almost don't want to hear about other people's children because it takes away from the feeling that everything my son does is the most miraculous event that ever befell the earth. Because to me, it is. And everything connected with being a first-time parent feels like an astonishing discovery. The knowledge that it's already old news to everyone who's had a child is an affront to my sense of wonder.

One of the most magical qualities of a baby is that every second is an adventure in unfamiliar territory. Nugget is seeing the world for the first time, and I get to close my eyes to all my cynical experience and see it with him. I'm content to view it at the pace he sets, until you tell me that your baby was walking and talking and fixing toasters at his age. Id just rather hold onto the illusion that he's the only baby who ever laughed when you tickled him and cried when you wiped his nose.


The Newest New Year

Someone asked me the other day how my life has changed now that I have a child. My immediate answer was simple: everything has changed.

I have this new appendage--a semi-autonomous creature who never leaves my side for more than a few hours or my thoughts for more than a few minutes. I'm sharing my life now in a way that dwarfs even my marriage. I could attribute the intensity of this connection to breastfeeding, but I think that is just a physical manifestation of something that goes much deeper. I don't think I'll ever feel truly alone in the world, so long as my son exists, even when he is thirty years old, with a wife or husband and kids of his own.

That sounds like it would be comforting, an end to loneliness, but it is more of a feeling of responsibility than comfort. And in some ways, responsibility is lonely. I'm more afraid of death now than I've ever been before. Isn't that strange, now that my immortality is somewhat assured? Somehow my son makes me keenly aware of my mortality. Maybe because I know he will most likely (pray God) survive me.

Other people talk about the unconditional love one gets from one's children, but I have no illusions about this. Children don't love their parents unconditionally. We have to earn their love and trust, right from the start. And there is no one who will judge us more harshly than our children, because there is no one who will be more deeply affected by our failures. And for us, the parents, there is no one whose judgment, whose giving or withholding of love, can so deeply wound or save us.

My son's power over me is beyond even his own control. Even before Nugget was born, when I was still pregnant with him, I felt this new fear. The very existence of my child is like a sword of Damocles. The latent potential for unimaginable pain entered my world with him. I wondered, will that feeling ever go away? Will I ever be able to watch him climb a jungle gym or get in a car without terror? I don't think so. I think I'll just get used to its constant presence.