Friday, March 28, 2008

Dear Laura

My friend Anna and I had barely sat down to lunch before I moaned, “I think I hate my husband.”

(Anna is single right now. No kids. Nice shoe budget.)

I continued: “I’m tired of his dirty socks on the floor, wet towels on chairs, empty milk cartons in the fridge, dusting, vacuuming, washing bottles. He actually had the nerve to tell me—after barely watching the kid all week—that he needs a break!”

Anna proceeded to tell me about her sister, who is a mother to three, and how they had had an almost identical conversation days before. Here I was, thinking I was dropping some kind of bombshell about my husband when all along Anna and her sister had been standing at the signpost, “Men can suck,” waiting for me to arrive.

She wanted to know if I had asked my husband to contribute more. I said yes. About 500 times a week.

“It’s kind of inevitable, isn’t it—that women turn into nags?” she asked.

Which got me thinking (I feel like Carrie Bradshaw’s character in “Sex and the City,” clacking away at my laptop, waxing philosophical about women’s tribulations)…are women destined to become nags????

I defer the question to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who recently wrote, “Stop Whining, Start Living.” She answers with another question: “Are you the kind of wife your husband would like to come home to?”

If I’m nagging the answer, obviously, is no. My husband would like to come home to a wife who is waiting at the door in see-through lingerie, a plate of chocolate chip cookies nestled against her hip, a bottle of whiskey between her breasts, her puckered lips purring, “Hello stallion sex machine let’s go set the sheets on fire.” (Or maybe he’d just like me to hand him his Nintendo Wii.)

But there are a few good reasons why I can’t be that woman—very good, legitimate, perfectly acceptable reasons:

1. I’m probably passed out from exhaustion on the floor, gray mop hair stuck to my unmade face, child on my back riding me like some kind of rusty carnival ride.

2. I’m probably simultaneously paying bills, washing my hair, and feeding my son dinner (which sometimes entails whistling the entire time).

3. I’ve probably been eaten by the looming piles of laundry in my husband’s closet—laundry he promised to put away but never did that lying, lazy bastard!

Oh dear, I can’t even make a list without nagging.

Dr. Laura, I would like to be the woman my husband would like to come home to, I really would. But how can I be that women if my needs aren’t being met? Why should I be the one to rise above the proverbial skyscrapers of duty when my husband can’t even remember to throw away the granola bar wrapper that has been sitting on the counter for four days?

Which reminds me, I need to ask him to throw it away. Again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Go commando!

After wearing granny underwear—I hate, hate, hate the word panties—and my husband's briefs for the last eight months because of my C-section, my dear friend alerted me to a fantastic product, Commando underwear.

Since my son was lovingly extracted from my body, I have been complaining to everyone I know that regular women's underwear hits you right at your scarline. No matter how high-waisted in looks on the hanger, it knows right where to fall once you put it on. And it freaken' hurts, almost as much as my son's kicks to my groin when I'm dressing him.

As happy as I am, I'm also a little disappointed. I thought that the creation of seamless underwear was going to be my million dollar idea. I even drew up a prototype and gave it to my grandmother, who is an avid seamstress. The success would have been good for her, too. She really needs to stop making those homely angel ornaments. For God's sake the world has enough cheery crafts!

Alas, it was not meant to be. Though for $26 a pop, maybe the world needs a cheaper version for us commonfolk. I mean, I live in a town where the haircut du jour (every jour) is the mullet. How bout $10? Then we'd all have underwear and enough for the Supercut's special.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Et tu, date night?

Every parenting magazine says, “To stay connected to your hubby, plan a date night.”

Blah, blah, blah! We didn’t do date night before Junior, why should we start now? Date night implies cordial behavior, dressy clothes, and conversation. Right now I don’t feel like acting cordial (I have a cold), I’m still wearing yoga pants because I haven’t lost that last 10 pounds, and my husband and I are running out of things to talk about. Screw date night!

Except my mother—my over concerned, too-observant mother—insisted that Charles and I get out of the house together. Alone.

“It’s been eight months,” she said on the phone, injecting as much worry and heart wrench as possible.

“Has it?” I asked.

She told me she would be up at two. Charles and I could catch a movie. Grocery shop. Get a pay-by-the-hour hotel room.

“Mother!” (My mother is way too oversexed; at one point she thought our Golden Lab wanted to have sex with her. That’s fodder for another post.)

She arrived at three. Bless her heart she brought an Easter basket for my son. I like this age—he doesn’t know what presents are his nor does he care if his parents devour all his candy. It’s ideal.

We sat in the driveway for awhile wondering what to do. There was nothing good at the theaters. We had already had lunch. So Charles, being the party animal he is, drove to the package store and bought a six pack. Then he remembered he needed new glasses. He suggested we go to the mall, drink in the parking lot, then get his glasses.

Which we did. We parked behind the last few dirty snow mounds and pounded beer. It might sound sad and unglamorous (because it is) but I actually had a really good time. We talked for more than an hour, which is marathon talking compared to the drivel we rely on during the workweek. We talked about stupid stuff, like how people thought I was Amish in high school because I was such a goodie goodie and how he wore a suit and tie to school one day—just because he liked Alex P. Keaton—and got the shit kicked out of him.

As we walked into Lens Crafters, I was pleased to find myself thinking, Is it any wonder we came together? It was quite different than my usual thinking, which is, “This jerk might have to go.”

So thank you, stupid parenting magazines that suggest date night. I’m pretty sure our date wasn't quite what you had in mind but it was wonderful.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Say cheese!

Hair wise, our family is undergoing some strange transformations.

First, the top, front section of my son’s hair is fluffy with curls while the rest of his hair lies flat and straight. He’s a cross between a rooster and Madame de Pompadour.

Charles likes to encourage the poof by combing my son’s hair upward. I let him because sadly, my husband has no hair of his own with which to play. He’s bald as a bowling ball. He hid his hair loss well when we first started dating, but a year into our relationship he started shaving his head instead of adopting the dreaded comb-over—thankfully. He’s been told he looks like Moby, Phil Collins, and Billy Corgan. People always say he looks like someone. In fact, my friend recently called to say he looks like Les from "Survivorman." She was so excited about her conclusion—as if poor Charles has been walking around with a big bubble over his head that reads, Please, everyone, tell me who I look like.

Adding to Charles’ hair issues are the random occurrences of Alopecia in his beard and now on his body. It’s no surprise the poor guy always dons a huge wig come Halloween. I heard someone say once that, “You are who you pretend to be.” I like to think that when Charles gets his angel wings someday, the Pearly Gates will be bountiful with hair, much in the same way we envision our beloved pooches up in Heaven gnawing on an endless supply of rawhide. Some women wish riches and fame for their husbands; I wish functioning hair follicles.

I could easily spare some of my own: I’m growing all kinds of new hair on my head (hair I lost during pregnancy?). It’s not very flattering. Some of it is starting to encroach upon my ears. Then there’s a long row of short bangs that resembles a comb. It’s not long enough to look like a planned bang job; it looks more like a botched at-home crazed encounter with very dull scissors.

Our family photos are just lovely as of late. Charles resembles someone in the photos. I just wish I knew who it was!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The breastfeeding matador

One night, when I was seven months pregnant, I had a minor explosion. (I like talking about my pregnancy from the safe distance of motherhood; I can finally acknowledge that I rivaled Emily Rose from the “Exorcist” in terms of possessed behavior.)

My husband Charles was on the phone with his brother, Mike, who is a father of two. I was lying in bed, pillow under my knees, trying to make my way through the latest “Fit Pregnancy” magazine. Who was I kidding? I stopped giving a shit about being fit around month four when I surrendered—gleefully—to elastic waistbands. I overheard Charles tell Mike, “She’s going to try.”

“Try what?” I called. Nothing. “Try WHAT?” I yelled.

Charles stuck his head in the door and said, “Mike says breastfeeding is hard and that you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t.”

At that moment I saw every imaginable shade of red known to man. “Why is Mike concerned about my breasts?” I hissed. “Do I give him tips on his testicles? Do I inquire about their activities?” Although I hadn’t lived in the bygone time of Ward and June Cleaver I suddenly longed for men who were content smoking cigars alongside their male counterparts; men who weren’t allowed in the delivery room; men who didn’t give a flying hoot about a pregnant woman’s flippin’ jugs!

Charles said goodbye to his brother and tried to calm me down. “He was just trying to help.”

“I don’t need his help! I don’t need anyone!”

It turns out I did need help. I tried breastfeeding my son at the hospital, but my wee little boobs held about as much milk as a raindrop. The lactation expert assured me that the lack of fluid was a side effect of my excess water retention (i.e., elephantitis), painkillers, C-section, and long labor. She told me my milk might take longer to come in. Then she thrust the breast pump at me and told me to go home and pump ’til I could pump no more.

Our first day home I tried offering my son my boob but he screamed.

“What about the women in the movies?” I cried. “It’s supposed to be like that.”

Charles handed me tissues and the pump. I hooked up the horrible contraption to my boob and hit start. To say it’s a robotic and sterile experience to have a plastic cup globbed on to your cleavage, sucking your nipple forward and backward, is an understatement. I pictured myself in the janitor’s closet at work, pumping on my lunch break. I cried harder. Charles was wonderfully sympathetic, given the fact that his brother had overheard my breastfeeding rant and was now scared to visit.

I pumped for 10 minutes. After it was over there was just enough to line the bottom of the bottle. It was the saddest accumulation of breast milk in the solar system. But Charles got the eye dropper and dutifully squirted out the three drops. My son, asleep, grimaced as they hit his tongue.

In the days that followed we awaited my milk coming in like it was the tooth fairy. But no matter how much I pumped or tried to breastfeed the same sparse drops dribbled out. I called the lactation experts. They told me to keep trying. I asked everyone I knew who had breasts what to do. They didn’t know. They sympathized but always managed to tell me that when they were breastfeeding, they had had enough milk to feed 10 children. How it shot across the room. How their child had to wear a bib it was so messy. So flowing. So bountiful.

I felt like an arid McDonald’s, empty hamburger wrappers littering the parking lot like tumbleweed. I felt like a failure. I had had such high hopes. I was going to be one of those women who whipped out my engorged breasts in public—with as much disregard as men who pee on the side of the highway—and if anyone even looked at me crooked I would burn my bra and shout women’s liberation war cries. I felt so cheated; I had wanted to be a breastfeeding matador.

Still, I gave it my all for three months. Every two hours for three long months. It might not have been a monsoon but at least it was a passing shower. Ok fine, it was a garden hose with a big crick in it. But you work with what you’ve got.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hey, it wasn't me

I want to preface this post with the following: Before I had my son, I was barraged by “helpful” tips from parents. I swore I would never, ever inundate any expecting woman with parenting tips.

There, I’ve said it.

Last Saturday morning my husband Charles and I made the spontaneous decision to visit some friends and watch their town’s St Patty’s Day parade. We planned on being out of the house by 8 a.m. to make the 11 a.m. parade. Actual time of departure: 10:35 a.m. Number of bags for baby: 15. Number of bags for parents: two. Junior napped leisurely on the ride while Charles and I stopped for burnt bagels (can the Dunkin' Donuts chain please buy some decent toasters already?!) and coffee.

When we finally arrived, our single, childless friends were already lit. The parade was in full swing a few streets away but they were quite content fishing off their porch with a fishing reel and empty beer cans. When the beer cans fell off they used packs of cigarettes. Then they saw us.

They were nice about meeting the baby and all but come on, no drunk adult who is not tied down to a spouse or child wants to play with a baby in the midst of St. Patty’s Day debauchery. About the same time we finished arranging Junior’s 15 bags in the living room the porch grew very quiet. We went outside and were told by an inebriated straggler that the party had moved to a bar.

We packed up Junior and walked down to the parade, trying to locate a non-rowdy section (i.e., an adults-with-kids section). A radio station once played sound clips of a St. Patty’s Day parade in the adults section and the adults-with-kids section. In the plain old adults section people yelled, screamed, and laughed. They cheered on the parade marchers. Blasted horns. Fell over. In the adults-with-kids section, one sober soul clapped—not out of actual enjoyment but because they were trying to instill in their child some enthusiasm for the Shriners in their mini carts.

That was the section we found ourselves in thanks to our child. It was boring. So back to the house we headed to wait for our other friends, Jan and Eva, to arrive. Why weren’t they at the bar or parade? Because they were pregnant. Very, very pregnant.

We relocated Junior and his 15 bags to Eva’s quieter, more child-friendly home. Remembering my vow, I kept my mouth shut while they waxed idealistic about breastfeeding and pumping for the first five years. I didn’t even laugh out loud when they mentioned the natural, drug-free water birth and birthing plan (not even when Eva’s husband, Rick, commented on my son’s “big fat head” and the fact that he is more attractive than me and Charles combined).

Nope. Not a word. In fact for the rest of the day I didn’t have to worry about saying anything…because Charles would not shut up.

“You guys have to get a swaddler. Do you have a swaddler? Not just a regular swaddler but one with Velcro. What about the Amby bed—have you read about that? And rice cereal. Don’t be afraid to try some rice cereal. Have you interviewed pediatricians? Did you get a breast pump? And what about one of those backpacks—what are they called, honey?”

My darling husband fired more tips at those pregnant woman than the whole series of “What to Expect.” Until that point I hadn’t realized just how much of the parenting experience he had ingested. Ingested and digested and sent merrily through every cavern of his sweet fatherly body. I kept wanting to reign him in—their lids were growing heavy—but I was so impressed by the knowledge he had amassed. It was if the man had given birth himself.

On the ride home I told him about my promise to myself. And do you know what he said?

“I bet they really appreciated that. They seem a little overwhelmed with the whole parenting thing.”

I told him it must have been Junior’s 15 bags.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ladies Night

My mother babysat Saturday night so I could go out for a much needed ladies night. My husband was off camping (he’s promised I can “take the next two weekends off,” which means he might actually wash a flippin' bottle or two).

I had bought a cute green shirt that tied around the waist and was excited to wear it until my mother told me she thought it was great I was still getting some wear out of my maternity clothes. So I changed into another top and was disappointed to see that awful back roll I inherited from pregnancy was right there for everyone to see. I want to write a book about those insidious post-partum rolls. Basically it would be a picture book of all the rolls you get in weird places you never had before, like right over your rib cage and along the small of your back. The text would be simple: “Stupid roll! Stupid roll!” It wouldn’t be a very long book or maybe very interesting.

The ladies night was organized by a friend of a friend of a friend so I only knew one of the ladies. There ended up being 12 of us at a trendy restaurant where beers started at $9. We sat at a rectangular table; I ended up smack in the middle. To my left were five moms.

I wanted to like the mommies, especially now that I could contribute my cute, little anecdotes and insights, but I have always found mommy talk horrible and boring. When my husband and I went to parties pre-baby I always stayed with him and the men. They drank and smoked and swore! They didn’t spend hours talking about their child’s fecal accomplishments. They also didn’t seem quite so angry.

The mom next to me was very angry. She didn’t really like her husband (“he fucking yelled at me for not breastfeeding”) or daughter (“I‘m not fucking doing circle time!”). The mom across from her hadn’t had sex since she and her hubby made the baby 12 months ago. The mom next to her was so in love with motherhood that she had three kids and wanted a few more. Being such a great mommy had turned her insides into candy, rainbows and sunshine, so much so that her wide smile held up her face like bat wings. Finally, the mother at the end of the table wouldn’t take her daughter to any public places, like malls, because she knew someone was lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch her.

And these were just the introductions.

I walked away from ladies night having drawn a few conclusions:

1) Conversation with mothers gets intimate fast. I think, after having squeezed another human being from your body, you cut to the chase a little more quickly.

2) Having a child brings your crazy a little closer to the surface. I might not believe that someone is waiting to kidnap my child while I try on bras at the mall, but I do often worry that my mother looks at me like the Rebecca De Mornay character in “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” looked at the asthmatic mother.

3) Duh, the men at the parties were more fun because they were drunk and not watching the children. At the next party, my husband can stay inside with the mommies while I get loaded in the driveway because when I got home from ladies night and my son was crying, my husband was safely tucked in a sleeping bag in the middle of some wooded glen three hours away, gently sleeping off his buzz while I rocked my son back to sleep.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The neighborhood bar

If the woman in my son’s electronic guitar tells me one more time that she plays the guitar and wants everyone to sing in her band I’m going to place it in the street and clap my hands as traffic grinds it down into a million, tiny pieces. Obviously she plays the guitar. But really, do five sheep, four kittens, three horses, two chickens, and one pig really count as band members?

The woman sounds like a “Donna.” I don’t always dislike her. On good parenting days I even catch myself humming along—“Sure Donna, you’re a great lead singer for your band”—but on the days I dislike her, I really dislike her.

For one, she’s too freaken happy. All the time. I bet she has long, shiny blonde hair that she calmly brushes before bed, like Marsha Brady. As she hums her one pathetic song. And I bet she doesn’t drink or overeat or bite her nails or pick her nose, even in her own bathroom. I bet her poop comes out in perfect little logs that thank her perky butt cheeks for gently squeezing them out. I bet she never speeds or gets pimples, never farts accidentally while her husband is spooning her, and never, ever contemplates the logistics of a new identity and life in Mexico when her baby won’t stop crying.

Some days I imagine meeting her at a bar and how the encounter would go down. I imagine it’s a day that I’ve been awake since 5:30 and my son is really grumpy (like on my birthday—he was awful and it’s recorded in his baby book so he can feel appropriately guilty when he’s an adult).

I imagine the encounter goes something like this:

I walk into the bar. My hair is a curly, unruly mess because I couldn’t stand having my poor kid watch me blow dry it again (he’s watched me dry my hair every two days for the last eight months, for a total of 120 times—I don’t know why that bothers me so). Anyway, I have a good buzz already from the bottle of wine I had for dinner. I’m wearing sweats because it’s the neighborhood bar and that means I’ll be the best dressed. Until stupid Donna gets there with her little, plastic guitar and entourage. The livestock stink up the bar but no one cares. The town we live in is so forgotten, so remote that people are grateful for something new, even if it’s a super happy woman with five sheep.

When she steps in front of the microphone her white teeth catch the light of the neon Bud sign in the window. It takes people’s breath away. She arranges her band members behind her, settling them into place in a motherly fashion: fluffing feathers, brushing manes, petting the kitties.

Oh gawd, I think. But everyone else is lapping it up. Especially the guy with the mullet.

Donna puts her guitar up to her designer jeans and Anthropologie sweater set and shouts out a greeting like it’s a crowd of 500. She’s smooth and skinny. She smells good, despite the pig and wet sheep (it’s raining). The guy behind me, the one I thought was passed out in his greasy meatless chicken wings, shouts back. The lights dim. And she begins.

“I play my guitar who will sing in my band?” She turns to her band members. The sheep baaah five times, the kittens meow, the horses neigh, and so on. When the pig oinks once, the song is over. No one calls for an encore but Donna doesn’t care. She’s so fucking satisfied with her pathetic one-line song.

As she waves goodnight and packs up her guitar I realize—happily—that without the animals she’d be nothing. I’m about to tell her as much when she sits down next to me, but before I can say anything she’s already offered to pay everyone’s tabs. There’s a soda with lemon waiting for her; the chicken wing guy sent it over.

When she sees the empty line of beer bottles in front of me she smiles: a real, genuine smile like her world is soft-petaled daisies and organic milk and fair trade coffee. God I can’t stand her.

“Your song sucks,” I say with as much fortitude as I can.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, your song sucks. It’s not even a song. It’s one stupid line. I hate it. I don’t want to play in your band. Ever. And I don’t want my son to play in your band. If he traveled the country with domesticated animals and you”—I point my drunken finger—“I would be devastated.”

“That’s not very nice now is it?” she asks the pig.

I look at the pig. He’s got cherub cheeks and a patch of brown on his nose that reminds me of Canada, the friendly country. My God, I bet she’s Canadian. That makes perfect sense. I bet if I tripped her she’d thank me for the quarter she discovered on the floor. Or the stray peanut she can feed to the homeless man she recently took into her home.

“My song,” she tells me, “encourages learning, participation, and enthusiasm. If you don’t care about these things maybe you shouldn’t have had a kid.” She keeps going: “Maybe you’re pissed at me because you’re not the perfect, happy parent you thought you’d be. Maybe you’re pissed at me because I’m not still wearing maternity clothes and instead I have cool, trendy clothes and a paying job that lets me travel.” She lets me digest what she’s said before adding, “Or maybe you’re just a bitch.”

“I don’t think Playskool would like it if they knew you were talking to me like that.”

“When I’m not playing my guitar they don’t care what I say.”

“Apparently.” I look at my watch. It’s ten o’clock. Time to start the mile walk home through town. “I don’t drink and drive,” I offer feebly.

The pig rolls his eyes.

“Can I brush your horse for you?”


“Sheer your sheep?”

“I think you should just go.”

On the way home I realize there’s some truth in Donna’s comments. She does indeed play the guitar.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I'm not a lesbian, Dad, I'm pregnant

Every year for Christmas my husband, friends, and I pick out a tree and trim it at my father’s house. My darling Bob-Villa-wannabe father has been in the midst of home repair projects since the early ’80s and enjoys the bachelor lifestyle. So while the tree may be picturesque, the accoutrements of the backdrop (a poker table, missing molding, bare light switches, and mismatched curtains) are not. Did I mention dust balls the size of small continents? Dust mites that have colonized, hoisted flags and are threatening to secede from the rug?

This year it was just me, my father, and my friend, Sarah. Sarah had recently leapt from the closet (”came out” seems so moored for such a bold move) and I had told my father as much before we arrived. I hadn’t really planned on telling him the news of my pregnancy without my husband, Charles, there (Charles was home trying to pass an eight millimeter kidney stone, poor guy) but I was vomiting pretty regularly and anxious to get the news out in the open. I had been able to puke indiscreetly behind pine trees as we were walking through the Christmas tree farm—”Oh look, do you like that tree waaaaay over there?”—but back at his house, my father was giving me the eye. As in, “How hung over are you?”

My news was especially good because no one thought Charles and I would make it. It took us close to nine years to get to the alter (we had a lovely ceremony, except for the Justice of the Peace who was missing some teeth and spit occasionally while we said our vows). Eight months later, on Halloween night, Charles and I dressed up as a Viking couple (I wore a dress I had worn in college, when the vintage-Goth-bohemian movement was in its heyday). We had a wee bit too much to drink, abandoned our candy-giving posts on the front steps, and adjourned to the bedroom. Viking magic ensued, as did a baby.

Anyway, this is how the big news at the tree trimming party went down…

Me: (green and exhausted) “I think the tree looks great.”
Father: “It sure does.”
Sarah: “Yup. The tree looks great. Just great.”
Father: “Yes, I think we are all in agreement that the tree looks just fine.”
I look at Sarah. She nods to go for it.
Me: “Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Father (looking nervous): “Should I sit down?”
Me: “If you want to.”
Father (looking at Sarah): “Do I need to sit down?”
Me: “I guess it’s a good idea.”
Sarah: “The tree looks really great.”
Father looks strangely at Sarah. Sits.
Me: “Dad, I have some really exciting news…”
Father (again looking at Sarah): “Did you have anything to do with this?”
Me: “Why would Sarah have anything to do with me being pregnant?”
Father (silent, then finally): “Wow. Doesn’t the tree look great?”

I’m dedicating this blog to my brother, in response to his question, “Why can’t you just be normal?” You see, I can’t be normal because in front of a Christmas tree abutted by fascist dust mites my father thought I was running away with my lesbian lover when in fact I was just trying to tell him I was carrying a Viking baby I had made with a man who was home trying to give birth to a little crater.


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