Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shamed By Mr. Rogers

Having purchased the hilarious book-about-books How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books, Mr. Flossie was inspired to pull off the shelves his own little collection of odd books. One of them, Mister Rogers Talks with Parents, initially charmed me because it contains in an appendix the sheet music to all the Mr. Rogers songs. Plus, who doesn't love Mr. Rogers?

But then, of course, I had to torture myself by looking up what Mr. Rogers had to say about working mothers. Although he concedes that children are not "bound to suffer emotional damage if they don't have full-time mothers," he also opines that "if a mother has a choice about working during her baby's first years, she does well to think long and carefully about what that choice will mean." Foreboding words. He quotes a working mother:
From my own experience, I would like to suggest that sometimes the decision to work during the first year or two of a child's life is made in too much haste. I had already worked for a number of years; I had an advanced degree. How could I possibly stop midstream, and take a few years off? My brain would atrophy! I would lose my momentum; I was meant for better things. There are few decisions that I now regret more.

Thanks, Mr. Rogers! I now feel terrible. He hastens to add that many mothers have no choice and have to work. It's those who choose to work just for kicks that he wants to gently remonstrate with. Well, guess what: I work for kicks in the sense that we could, if we wanted to, with effort, subsist on Mr. Flossie's salary. And yet I still work. I freely admit I would much rather stay home with Buddy than head in to the office every morning—I'm not one of those women who feels relief at getting away to the relative calm of work. Furthermore, I know it would be better for Buddy if I did not work: even though we have the best nanny in the world, there are certain things that only Mommy can provide, especially if Mommy is breastfeeding.

So for all those reasons, I really should be at home. And yet I'm still working. Why? The money! And secondarily, because I sort of like my job. Although we were far from poverty-stricken when I was growing up, there was always the pervasive feeling of there not being enough money. And my adult life has been dominated by low-paying jobs and graduate school. My Scarlett O'Hara rock-bottom "I'll never go hungry again" moment of grad school was the day both my credit card and debit card were maxed out, and I had to abandon a cart of groceries at the co-op. I got paid the next day, so I hardly starved, but it was just the embarrassment of it all.

With that background, at this point in my life I need to know that I could support myself, Buddy, and my family if I needed to. And then there is sort of liking my job. It's definitely the best job I ever had—the most flexibility, the most independence, the best colleagues, the best bosses, the most creativity—and I am good at parts of it (though on some days I feel like the only parts I'm good at are the paper-pushing parts, like processing payroll vouchers). It's also in a very desirable, liberal-arts-major field. If I gave it up, I'm a hundred percent certain I'd never get as good a job again.

And those are the paltry reasons why I abandon my baby son for thirty hours a week. I hope that in the end, the harmful effects of my absence will be at least partially mitigated by the positive effects on the family of Mommy having a job she likes that brings in some money. I tell myself he doesn't seem horribly unhappy with his lot in life. There are still plenty of these smiles, and as I am well aware—and fully embrace—facilitating these smiles is my most important work.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shamed by the UPS Man

If you have a baby, and you are me, you don't get out to stores a lot. Even getting through the door of a store with a stroller can seem like too much trouble. And yet, you need things. For me, ordering online became a habit. Especially lying in bed late at night during marathon nursing sessions, I would multitask by using those oh-so-handy Amazon and Zappos apps on my iPhone.

Well, the other day I got word that the UPS man—the UPS man!—had raised an eyebrow about just how many boxes I was receiving. Oh the shame. So I've declared a moratorium on ordering merchandise by mail. Not only will I try to stop abusing my Amazon Prime privileges (okay, maybe cut down to every month or so), but I have unsubscribed from those daily temptation emails from the likes of Zulily and Baby Steals.

Late at night, I'll just have to read more books on my iPhone instead of pressing the "buy" button. I may still have to spend money on downloading books from iTunes, but at least no one will know but me!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dinner Party for One

My dear readers will recall that this is a blog about the desire to have a domestic life, despite impediments (school, job, neuroses, cluelessness). Having a baby presents so many more openings to be domestic, so much less time in which to do it, and so many more ways to feel inadequate. Today, eight months in, I realized that despite working nearly full-time and raising a baby, I've been blaming myself for not doing more—like I should be planning elaborate dinner parties or writing a novel on the side. I decided to give myself permission to shelve the dinner-party-and-novel plans for now.

Dinner parties for one, however: eminently doable. I didn't always think so. Making baby food intimidated me a lot. But then I realized that mashing a banana or avocado is pretty easy. Even the whole steaming-freezing-pureeing routine isn't too hard. I've made pears, plums, and butternut squash so far. How many other people you cook for are going to be satisfied with a one-ingredient meal? Extra bonus: lots of leftovers. I made about twelve baby servings of butternut squash puree and still had half a cooked squash left over, which I devoured on the spot.

The little guy is an interested, if initially skeptical, diner:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Letting It Slide

I don't know how childrearing and housekeeping started getting assumed to be possibly concurrent occupations, because I'm finding it well-nigh impossible to to both. To wit: a) Babies want to be held, like all the time. Even if they're asleep and you try to set them down, they know. b) Holding the baby precludes doing much else with one's hands (even if the baby's sleeping and one's attention is otherwise free). c) Put the baby in a sling carrier, you say? That gives you a free hand or two, but forget about bending, reaching, or doing much in the kitchen. d) Offload the baby on someone else? Sorry, you are the Mom Café, and besides, you feel guilty about going back to work 30 hours a week, so you're determined to spend every moment you can with him.

Hence, the burnt-out light bulbs, the stacks of laundry yet to be put away, the unopened mail, the weeds starting to dominate the plantings outside, the notice that the water bill has not been paid.

And you know what? I couldn't care less. Being immobilized by a nursing or playing baby is the best thing ever. We've spent so many deliciously "unproductive" hours together.

A friend recently brought this poem to my attention:

Advice to Myself
by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dept. of Minor Improvements

I'm finally retiring this annoying thing:
I got sick of buying the replacement sponge heads. Instead, I'm going to use these dishrags:
They're great dish scrubbers, they're washable and reusable, and best of all, I can make them myself (knitting pattern here)! I have several left over from a knitting phase a few years ago, and more recently, with my knitting on hiatus,* I bought some at a winter farmers' market. The woman at the booth was surprised. "The older ladies are usually the only ones who know what they're for," she said.

Hurray for older ladies' wisdom!

*the reason my knitting (and anything else requiring both hands) is on hiatus? Hint: this is me right now, typing with one hand on the laptop.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


These last few weeks of maternity leave, I've embarked on an excavation project. There was a certain Closet of Neglect, where I threw things to forget about them, that gradually grew into a Room of Neglect. What I found in the first layer is a time capsule of just about a year ago, when I entered pregnant-and-dissertating land.
  • Running shoes I bought in March 2010, right before I found out I was pregnant. Brand new, still in box.
  • Meditation CDs from a meditation class I was taking and never completed because of morning sickness.
  • Normal, non-maternity winter clothes.
Further layers go even further back in my life:
  • A small collection of baby things I had accumulated before I was even pregnant.
  • An Obama sticker.
  • My wedding photo album.
  • Reading packets from graduate school seminars.
  • A box of golf pencils from the days I was teaching rhetoric.
Is it possible to be organized? Theoretically, yes, with a place to put everything. Some people out there must be. Is is possible for me to get organized? Armed with a plethora of big clear plastic bins and a labelmaker, I'm going to find out. As I empty the Room of Neglect, things are going into bins (and a great number of things are going to Goodwill). As a bin fills, it gets a label. So far the bins have labels like Office Supplies, Photos, Crafts, Memorabilia, Maternity Clothes, Old Clothes/Rags, Holiday Stuff, Wrapping Paper/Gift Bags/Gift Boxes. And of course, there are already baby-centric bins: Toys Not Yet Age-Appropriate, Baby Clothes Still Too Big, Baby Clothes Already Too Small. Let's not forget the labeled drawers in the foyer desk: Batteries, Things That Stick (tape, post-its), Random Cords and Electronic Stuff, Note Pads, Light Bulbs.

With a place for everything, will everything find a place?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spaceship to the Moon

At first, having a baby is as if someone kidnapped you and sent you to a country you've never visited before. Or put you in a spaceship bound for the moon. You're ripped from your old life and suddenly need a whole different skill set than you did before. Carseats—how to install them? Clothing—what do babies wear? Breastfeeding—really? Burping, diapers, onesies, baths: they're all mysteries, and those who know the secrets—like the nurses in the mother-baby unit in the hospital—are our new gods. We hang on to their every word.

Soon enough, it's the same world that I lived in before, only with a difference. Home starts out being 99% of our world, since it's the dead of winter. When we emerge, the heavy-as-lead carseat limits our jaunts to about ten feet from the car; the purchase of a foldout stroller that fits the carseat opens up our range exponentially. Yet curbs and stairs still stymie us. Previously unnoticed aspects of the landscape have new interest: handicapped accessibility; secret doors opening to luxuriously private lactation rooms; restaurants so chaotic that a crying baby bothers no one. The big local mall, which I had never fully appreciated before, provides us with our first extended stroll.

And at the center of it all is a wiggly, grunting, squirming, panting, chortling, wheezing, honking little creature. He reminds Mr. F and me of a Chris Ware cartoon: those jowly characters with old-man hair and bags under their eyes, even the children. Needless to say, we find him completely adorable.

In fact, any description of this experience would be incomplete without adding how very smitten we are. Everyone told us how hard, inconvenient, exhausting, and stressful parenthood would be; fewer mentioned the swoon factor. I guess it goes without saying, but it's something I never could have fully anticipated.