Exit, pursued by a bear

Nugget and I went on a safari this morning at the Olympic Game Farm. It's called a game farm because it is privately funded and not because you can shoot the animals. You can't. But I did bring the bright orange vest my mom bought Nugget when we moved here, just in case.

Visitors are permitted to feed the animals bread, and the animals have come to expect it. They were unbelievably pushy about begging for food. Had I stopped long enough, I think the car would have gotten surrounded, stranding us out there. We did not feed them bread, which did not stop them from terrorizing us in the hope that bread would be produced. In fact, I was afraid to even open a window most of the time.

The bison and elk did not bother to get up and come look for food, which is good because they really could have done some damage if they were hungry enough.

But the yaks and llamas, sometimes working collaboratively, were diabolically clever: they walked directly in front of the car first, forcing us to stop or slow down to a crawl (I don't think I ever got up to the 10 mph maximum), and then they came alongside and pushed their noses against the window. Nugget thought it was hilarious. I thought it was creepy. Some of the llamas even ran to get in front of the car to make us stop. Sneaky devils. No way was I cracking the window.

The carniverous animals--including lions, a tiger, cougars, wolves, and bears--were behind fences or in cages, fortunately for us. Unfortunately for them, some of the cages were quite small and depressing and I'm not sure I want to go back for that reason. Also because I may have nightmares about the llamas.

All of which is not the point of my post. I have a bad mom confession. After a while when I realized that Nugget could not see the shorter animals--rabbits and roosters and peacocks--that were all over the place, I freed him from his car seat and let him sit on my lap as I drove, Britney Spears style. And when he started complaining that he wanted to take a nap, which I did not want him to do because I paid $11 to get in and he was going to enjoy the hell out of my $11 whether he liked it or not, damn it, I fed him candy to keep him awake. I am going to mommy hell.

Back to the stay-at-home vs. working mom thing, because a dead horse can always use more beating, to my way of thinking. I have discovered that Trent was right--being home with a kid full-time is incredibly  hard, in many ways, some of which I did not really expect. Some things don't bother me, like the isolation. It may not be good for me, but I like to be isolated. So that's not affecting me yet, although if I don't force myself to get out and talk to people I likely will become increasingly weirder and sketchier until I have reached the Emily Dickinson stage and my doctor has to examine me from the other side of a closed door.

I think I have written already about the mental, emotional, and physical strain of having a very needy appendage that makes frequent demands, has a shallow grasp of reason, is subject to volatile mood swings, and requires that I be on my guard even when it appears to be content or at rest. By which I mean my beloved child, of course. I think I am coping pretty well with that, better than some but certainly no supermama farting sunshine.

Then there is the feeling that I am allowing valuable skills to lay fallow while the rest of the world toils on. The lazy sow rooting in mud with her piglets when she could be feeding the world bacon. OK, bad analogy because it implies self-sacrifice and I don't believe that's necessary. Which gets me to the breakthrough I had in thinking about this. SAHM vs. working is a continuum, not a choice between two exclusive extremes. I wasn't happy working 60-80 hours a week, and I won't be happy devoting myself exclusively to child-rearing and homemaking. That much is clear. There is a balance to be struck.

What's more, that balance is different for everyone. Some parents are happier at the extremes, most are probably happiest somewhere in between, but we all fall at different points along that continuum, and that's ok. It's ok for us as women, so long as we are the ones making the choice, and it's ok for our kids. If mom and dad aren't happy, the kids won't be either. There are no hard and fast rules about life and parenting, except maybe the one about not feeding your kid candy while you drive with him on your lap. We all have to find our own way. The tricky thing about that is that when you know you were miserable at a given point in the spectrum, it's hard to understand why other moms seem to be happy there. And so we get into these arguments about what's best that can never be satisfactorily settled because the answer is different for everyone. So stop it already. You're all right.

Sorry, I think I just farted a little sunshine there.



From Lynda V. Mapes's Breaking Ground, quoting Lower Elwha Klallam tribal elder Beatrice Charles:
"Because the Creator gave us Indians the salmon. So we respected it. This was our way of life. And so that was taken away from us. And then besides, when they built the dam, all the spiritual places where our people used to go up.... The sacred grounds, that was all taken away from us. And this dam has taken over the life of the Klallam people. It has taken away so much that you know that a white person can't understand how we Indians feel. You've got to be an Indian to have that feeling. Because it's in here," she said, pointing to her heart. "Not just in here," pointing to her head.
 The dams on the Lower Elwha river were built without fish ladders, which was illegal even at the beginning of the 20th century, when the dams were built. The dams will be removed beginning this fall, in the largest dam removal project in US history.

(What is dogeared?)


in thy orisons/ Be all my sins rememb’red

Hamlet has resonated with me more and more as I grow older because I think of him as paralyzed by thinking too much. It seems to me that is something that becomes more of an obstacle as one grows older and acquires more knowledge. Harold Bloom argued that it's not that Hamlet thinks too much, it's that he thinks too well. He may be right--I haven't done any careful reading to assess his viewpoint, and I certainly have not thought about the play as much as Bloom--but I don't find his interpretation nearly as compelling. Which is counterintuitive; surely it be more comforting to think that I don't act because I'm such a profound and incisive thinker. But it is much more satisfying to identify with a tragic figure than with a hero. I can't tell you why, but there is plenty of evidence. The best-loved characters in literature always have flaws. Maybe it's what makes them seem human. You can't identify with a god. That's what Jesus is for. He's human; he doubts. It's funny though, that most of us tend to spend a lot of time trying to convince other people that we don't have any flaws, as if no one will love us if they know we're not perfect. (That's not just me, right?)


to be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature

I just received an email from Babycenter with the subject line "Your 2-year-old: Normal? Or Gifted?" Hilarious. Inside, the email sagely advises, "As you watch your child this year, you might notice clear strengths. Maybe he's a whiz on a tricycle and can pitch a ball like a 5-year-old. Or maybe he seems to take in and use every new word he hears. At this age, it's hard to say whether this is a gift or whether it simply means your child is working hard to master a skill." Links lead to an article on "How to spot the signs of giftedness." One of the "signs" is that your toddler "Is relentlessly curious and never seems to stop asking questions." There are a hell of a lot of gifted toddlers around I guess. Thank god Babycenter is on the ball making sure their parents get them the help they need. 

I will forget my nature.

I'm reading Breaking Ground, an account of events in Port Angeles (our new hometown) in 2003, when a Washington Dept. of Transportation project on the PA waterfront unearthed a cemetery of the Lower Elwah Klallam tribe (my husband's new employer). WSDOT hired a consultant before starting the project to determine whether they would be running into any such issues, but the consultant neglected to speak to a single tribal member, many of whom could have told them that the cemetery was there. Somewhat laudably, as soon as the first remains were unearthed, WSDOT began working with the tribe to try to respectfully move remains out of the path of the project, and when that proved impossible they canceled the project--a really astonishing move, in light of US history, and one that probably still rankles local non-Indians (the project would have created a lot of  much-needed jobs and other economic stimuli), although it was also the only humane alternative, to the extent that matters to anyone.

Although my sympathies were with the Indians from the start, I did find it a little hard to empathize initially, I think because I am the recent descendant of recent immigrants, and have never been in a position to view long-dead ancestors as close kin. So I could kind of understand the local whites' POV, at least until I started reading the detailed accounts of tribal members who were working with WSDOT to move the graves having to, for example, pull apart skeletons locked in an embrace, in order to take them from their grave and put the bones in boxes. That's a far cry from some abstraction about the spirits of your ancestors.

But even aside from the desecration of human remains (note that this was not the first time--previous construction on the site, including quite recent utility trenches, had gone on despite the human bones being churned up and used as backfill), I'm finding it really hard to read at times.

I've literally felt nauseous reading a background chapter about the 1855 treaty that the US government obtained to justify taking this land from the tribes, moving them to a reservation, and burning their villages. I wanted to put the book down and try to go back to what I imagine to be the American status quo--a sort of collective willful amnesia about that horror show. It strikes me that we've come a long way in acknowledging American slavery and black apartheid, when you compare it to the denial that is still so rampant regarding Indians. I don't recall learning any of these difficult truths in school. My uber-liberal high school offered an African-American History class as an alternative to the standard US history taught junior year, but in neither curriculum did we take a close look at the "treaties" that still govern US-Indian relations today. At least not that I recall. In fairness, I didn't exactly pay a lot of attention to the curriculum in high school. *cough*

Maybe it's that I grew up in the Midwest, where it was easier to pretend that Indians are mythical creatures and any skeletons being swept under the rug are not actual skeletons being physically swept. But that's still no excuse. I actually find the willful amnesia more understandable here, where the truth is unmistakably real. It's easier to think about torturing a unicorn than a horse.

And anyway it's not just in the Midwest. Just think of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. It's like a Holocaust denial, but animated and broadcast on network TV. It's crazy. I heard the Wampanoag perspective on Thanksgiving in 2005 (I have spent way too long searching for an online version of the talk I went to by Tobias Vanderhoop without success, very frustrating) and I remember feeling shocked that I'd been lied to repeatedly in school long after we all should have known better. And here I am shocked again by the truth that we would all rather forget.

One thing that strikes me about this is how it must affect Indians, who do not have the luxury of choosing to forget. What is it like to live with those ugly truths, to have them be a part of who you are? I can barely imagine how potentially crippling it would be. In fact I've attempted to write the rest of this paragraph several times and keep rejecting my attempts to imagine and voice what it would be like. I can't. The fact is I've led a blindingly privileged life. It's amazing how easy it is to overlook that.

The book has changed how I view the landscape around me, for the moment. I can't take Nugget down to watch his beloved heavy machinery haul logs around the docks without thinking of the ancient village on its wide beach, buried somewhere under our feet.


The very list, the very utmost bound

The billable hour is not something I expected to miss. (For non-lawyers: imagine having to write down everything you did in a day, keeping track of every 6- or 15-minute interval, and--most detestably--having to scrape together at least 8 hours of actual productivity every day.) But I realized, while picking up the massive amounts of dog poo in our yard (note to self: picking up after the dog is not something one should procrastinate about when living in the soggy Northwest) yesterday, that I do miss it. I miss listing every little thing I do in a day--".25 - Picked up dog poo"--because it lends everything a tinge of purposefulness and accomplishment. A list is proof that the day was not wasted, even if spent on domestic chores that will have to be done all over again almost immediately.


Cut my heart in sums

A little over a week ago I wrote that "I am increasingly convinced that women should not devote themselves wholly to their children," and that having a kid in quality daycare is better for the kid than a stay-at-home mom. I may have to eat my words. I am starting to think Nugget is noticeably happier now than he was when he was in daycare.

Of course, Nugget was unusually emotional during the couple months just before I left my job, because Trent was living in Washington while Nugget and I were still in Chicago. So my baseline may be off. But I am starting to dread the morning I put him in daycare again and try to walk away.

For most of the year-plus Nugget was in daycare in Chicago, Trent had drop-off duty, so I escaped the emotional toll of weepy drop-offs. The couple months I did drop Nugget off every morning, when Trent was gone, it didn't really bother me. I knew Nugget would stop crying pretty much immediately after I left, I knew he actually liked his teachers and friends and enjoyed "school," and I knew he was well taken care of there. And I had a job to get to.

What worries me now is that I won't exactly have a "job" to go to after I drop him off. I'll be dropping him off so that I can work, but I'm not the breadwinner on whom the family depends anymore, and the work I'll be doing will not require that I clock into an office at any time. I think that will make it harder to walk away.

I've even considered whether I could in fact work with Nugget at home. In setting up my office I've designated an alcove for toys so Nugget can play nearby when I need to work and he's around. Could I get by with that?

Today I was pretty convinced that I could not. Not that I was trying to get much done -- just unpacking some boxes, making dinner, etc. -- but we had a bit of a trying day, including two timeouts (which I do only as a last resort, a subject I should come back to for another post sometime). It struck me that despite his increasing independence, his needs are still pretty constant, and there is no way I could put in sustained concentration on something intellectually and emotionally challenging, as I would like to do. It would not be fair to either of us. So daycare it is.

Our neighborhood is called, appropriately for me, "the End of the World." I'm living in the End of the World in Port Angeles, a town scarcely big enough to name its neighborhoods. In many ways, life is the same. We still have the internet, after all.

The most striking differences often have to do with socioeconomics. That was one of the things I noticed the last time I lived in a smaller town, in Mankato, Minnesota. When I'd visit my parents in their leafy, townhoused neighborhood on Chicago's north side after being in Mankato for a while, I found it hard to adjust to the stark extremes of wealth and poverty that are constantly in your face in an urban setting. I hadn't noticed it before. But in Mankato, as in Port Angeles, you don't see homeless people and you don't see a lot of flashy money. Even the homes on the water here are pretty modest. There is no status symbol culture, probably because there aren't enough people wealthy enough to sustain it. And those who have more money than most--which includes us, though we are now almost poor by the standards of most people I know back home--are too conscious of being in the minority to want to engage in conspicuous consumption. That's my current theory, anyway.

I have a lot more thoughts on this subject but it's a tough thing to talk about. Socioeconomics are the greatest American taboo. So taboo we can't even admit it's a taboo. So taboo we'd rather talk about race, for god's sake. Anything but acknowledge that the American dream--whatever you may believe about its functional reality--cannot change the fact that there will always be haves and have-nots.



From Mary Karr's Lit:
If you lie to your husband--even about something as banal as how much you drink--each lie is a brick in the wall going up between you, and when he tells you he loves you, it's deflected away.
The head can travel a far piece while the body sits in one spot. It can traverse many decades, and many conversations can be had, even with the dead.
(What is dogeared?)

to thy sweet self too cruel

In a reply to the "stay at home mom guilt" email I discussed the other day, someone said "Thank you [redacted], for posting that it is ok to be a stay-at-home mom in the face of sometime guilty feelings brought about by moms who do work outside the home." Huh? Amazing how direct that was-- the guilty feelings those working moms purposefully inflict on us! Oh, how I would love to esplain to this woman how guilt works. But I am being the wise (if rusty) yogini. Namaste.

I suppose both sides of this issue see the other as the enemy, when in fact (I believe) we're all just trying to stay afloat. But maybe my view is colored by the fact that my own mother was "stay-at-home" so it seems normal to me. I was shocked a few years ago when she shared some of the criticism she endured from working mothers. And there is certainly a "shame shame" aspect to the many articles about hypereducated women "opting out."

And what prompted me to raise the working mom issue in response to the "stay-at-home mom guilt" email--triggering snark from both sides--was that the argument put forward in the article that originated the email thread, making the case for the importance of stay-at-home moms--necessarily implies that working moms are doing their kids a disservices. So either stay-at-home moms have to accept that they are doing it for themselves, not their kids, or working moms have to accept that their kids are being shorted, in order for the two sides to come to some agreement on the way the world turns. Not gonna happen. Better to avoid the subject entirely.

Does going on ebay just to look around ever end well? I should not be spending money right now, but Nugget has a brand spanking new backyard and no outdoor toys, and a particular obsession with the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe -- the red and yellow car that celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. He used to "borrow" one from my mom's neighbors (with her complicity of course) and has thirsted for his own ever since. The other day he noticed one in the driveway of a house on the next block, and was immediately all, "My go there? My go there now? Noooooowww!!!!" It really cracks me up when he thinks getting louder will be persuasive. He is not amused. So I am bidding on one now, after going on ebay "just to see what's available." My spend money now? Nooooowwww!!!!

There is more I wanted to write about but my implacable alarm clock will be screaming "Mommy ouuuuutt!!" in approximately 7 hours, if I'm lucky.


one man in his time plays many parts

We had internet installed in our new house today. It's been frustrating to be stuck in the house because of Nugget and unable to take advantage of free time when he was napping or playing independently. I can understand the proliferation of "mommy blogs." It makes such a huge difference to be able to get online. Especially when there isn't even that much I can do around the house because the truck has not yet arrived with our stuff. I've had a lot of food for thought lately but no online time to blog about it. I'll try to cover some things quickly.

I joined a yahoo group for local moms before we moved here and have been watching the traffic on it with interest. There is a lot of garage sale type stuff that makes me aware of the different socioeconomics of my new life. I used to be a mom with more time than money--for whom selling old toys, clothes, and books (the inevitable detritus of quickly developing children) for $5-50 was not worth the time. Now I should probably pay attention to such strategies. There is also a lot of breastfeeding information that is no longer relevant to me and that I shovel aside quickly lest I allow myself to feel guilt for abandoning breastfeeding after 7 months, in significant part because of the difficulty of nursing while working long hours.

Yesterday there were several emails about stay-at-home moms. The first was titled "stay-at-home mom guilt" and contained an article from an attachment parenting guru (hmmm, think she's biased?), about why stay-at-home moms perform an important role. The sender of the email commented that the article helped her with concerns about being "just a mom." The first email was followed by several rah-rahs for stay-at-home moms, including a link to a Laura Schlessinger book. Which made me throw up a little in my mouth.[n.1] "Dr" Laura aside, I was bothered by the total absence of representation or acknowledgment of the other side of the coin. First off, I think the originator of the the email thread meant "shame" rather than "guilt." It wasn't clear to me why her feelings about being "just a mom" would be labeled guilt. And it was ironic to me because I think guilt is more typically the province of the working mom. I suppressed the urge to reply with heavy sarcasm but finally sent a very balanced, pacifist email (I swear, it sounded like a yoga teacher wrote it. I was so good.) noting the obvious.

It wasn't my true feelings though. I try to walk the line of not judging one side or the other in this working/stay-home mom dichotomy, trying to respect everyone's choices or burdens, but honestly I am increasingly convinced that women should not devote themselves wholly to their children. It's one thing to step your career down and find alternatives that allow you to spend more time with your kid(s), as I hope I am doing now. It's another to completely sacrifice your life for a short period and then--inevitably--expect that your kids will be willing to serve as your magnum opus. I don't think it's healthy for anyone.

I also am fully convinced that daycare is really good for young kids. Whenever I am faced with a mom (as I was again tonight) saying she "wasn't/isn't ready" or is concerned that her kid(s) isn't ready for school/daycare, I have to keep myself from rolling my eyes. For one thing, it totally ignores the many, many children who are in daycare because they and their mothers had no choice in the matter (or had overriding concerns), and those kids have turned out perfectly fine. For another, studies show that kids benefit from quality daycare. This makes total sense to me. I consider myself an educated and intelligent person who is engaged and puts in effort with regard to raising her kid, but my efforts to mimic Nugget's "circle time" in the last few weeks since he left daycare are I'm sure a poor shadow of circle time with his teachers who held degrees in early childhood development and were following a curriculum. There is no substitute for a mother's love and attention, but let's give the professionals their due.

I'm currently walking a line that neither side finds satisfactory, and I've experienced some pushback from the other side, too. Subtle things, like women asking me what I'm going to do now and when I'm going to start doing it, with an edge that perhaps I am imagining ... but I don't think it's just my imagination. Or my persecution complex. That is why I would prefer not to take sides in this debate ... the constant judging involved in parenting today is so unbelievably tiresome.

My plan is to get my son through the transition and get my family set up before I put Nugget in daycare and start my work in earnest. I am already a little done with the full-time mom thing though. Maybe that's swaying me. I'm just not cut out for this. If someone Freaky-Friday'd me and I had to spend a day as a daycare teacher I wouldn't last a week. The whining, oh the whining! It would be worse if he couldn't "use his words" at all, but god it is frustrating enough when he chooses not to all the time. I am so worn out with it by the end of the day, but I am all too aware that my husband has had his own long day at work and however much he wants to spend time with Nugget and give me a break, I can't expect to just hand over the reins when he gets home.

This is an abrupt transition but I wanted to move on to some pros. We went to a science museum on Saturday and for the first time in Nugget's life I wasn't checking my email every five minutes during our family outing. I didn't have to go running out of the museum back to the office. I didn't have to get online and work for a few hours when we got home. It was fantastic.

I have been thinking though about these screeds I sometimes read online where parents speak critically and disdainfully about other parents on their smartphones at the playground. First, there is the fact that it is very possible that parent could not be at the playground at all were it not for the smartphone allowing them to continue monitoring developments at work. Second, why are these parents so convinced that one needs to hover constantly over one's children? It depends on age and situation of course, but shouldn't we let our kids figure out how to handle it themselves when another kid cuts in line on the slide? I don't want Nugget growing up with his mother solving every problem for him almost before it arises.

More later, obviously. That's the point of a blog.

n.1. My husband abhors this phrase. He is wrong. It conveys a particular experience that is distinct from the broader "I threw up." It is when a small amount of bile enters your mouth and is quickly swallowed. Unpleasant, even disgusting and embarassing, but private and brief. [n.2]

n.2. Using footnotes is making me throw up a little in my mouth.