Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Extreeeeeeeme baaaaaaby!

far away.

Sometimes I just can't bring myself to believe that Miss Baby is real. How could I have got so lucky as to have my very own little tiny daughter, with perfect fingers and toes and a nose and that milky smell and that little breathy gurgle?

To reassure myself of her facticity, at least once or twice a day, I lift her up so that we are nose to nose and we rub our faces together while I say, "Extreeeeeme baaaaaby," owing to she's so very very close to me. Her eyes look huge and she usually slobbers on me or tries to eat my nose and she smells like milk and her fingers clutch and pull at my hair and her little feet wiggle against my tummy. I laugh. She laughs.

She's real. My baby. But I just like to make sure.

so close.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Grass is Always Greener

'Balance' used to seem so easy, or at least much easier, than it does now, and sometimes it seems I can barely keep my head above water, much less glide through it gracefully a la Esther Williams, with smiling face and crisp gestures, assured of flattering light and a warm audience. Sometimes, I'm not waving--I'm drowning.

Obviously, the work work work of new motherhood is a drag on my former bouyancy: all of the usual suspects--lack of sleep, the six-week crankies, mind-numbing boredom, guilt over this boredom, total lack of personal or couple time--weigh heavily on me. My maternity leave sees me missing the first back-to-school in 28 years, something of a blow to my sense of self. Pynchon is participating in a reality television show that requires him to work out for about 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. And this on top of a full-time job that makes fairly regular overtime demands on him. He's tired and run ragged, and we hardly ever get any time together with each other or as a family. This means we have enough trouble keeping the house clean, let alone completing many of our half-done renovation projects. And then there's the health troubles: one weekend we both had the flu consecutively, and then I was seriously ill with salmonella.

In short, I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself lately, to the point where I've fallen prey to GGS, or 'Greener Grass Syndrome', in which, of course, the grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence. The good news is that I think I've made the diagnosis before it threatens to become terminal.

Here's what happened. Last week, when Pynchon walked in the door at 5:10, I handed him Miss Baby and hopped in the car to go, well, pretty much anywhere that wasn't my own house. It had been a particularly gruelling day: too-short naps achieved only after a struggle, grumpy babies pooping through several outfits and then getting enraged by the redressing process, and neverending wet and grey weather trapping us indoors. In brief, short tempers and frazzled nerves made our home seem like my prison. Anyhow, I got in the car in the darkening wet gloom and zipped off in search of quiet and calm. I drove through the university area, and my headlights illuminated students, students, students--students in pairs, laughing; students singly, listening to iPods; students coupled, hodling hands. One young woman caught my eye, walking alone towards the library with a hopeful sort of look on her face (from what I could tell, zooming past) and a great big bookbag. GGS hit me with its full force.

What I thought was this: "Lucky girl! She can do anything she wants, go anywhere she wants, sleep if she wants, stay up late and read books if she wants. She's so free. Unencumbered. Lighter. God, I wish I was her."

Now, that's just nonsense, and here's why. Not so very long ago, three short years, in fact, I lived in another province and might as well have been that girl. Single. Student. Bachelor apartment. Footloose and fancy free. At the time, though, it seemed to me that everywhere I went, people were tightly coupled, forming little closed ecosystems of two, or of three if babies were involved. I so, so envied them their tied-ness, their responsibility to each other. Their guarantee against loneliness. The choices they were able to make, together. Their choice to be together. I felt so alone, steeped in a deep loneliness that I joked about when I grumbled about 'dying alone, surrounded by cats.' Only I didn't find it funny, really. Even earlier, living in Toronto, I used to ride the TTC, agog at the mix of languages and ages and ethnicities, full of wonder and terror at the sheer randomness of it: who were these people? Did they have families? Could anyone mean anything to anyone in such a huge place? Nobody knew me and I knew no one. Did anything I did matter at all to anyone? I felt utterly rootless, adrift. Terrified.

Three years ago, Pynchon and I met at a party. Soon enough we fell deeply in love; I graduated and got a faculty job two time zones away, where we moved, got married, bought a house, and had a baby. This is my dream come true. I am living my dream come true.

But still ... the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn't it? I can hear myself protesting, "But when I was single I didn't know what the pressures of family life were like ...", or "I wish I'd done more with my time before we had Miss Baby." And besides, now that I'm in a family, I'm tending to forget what single life is like. It was a neverending parade of martini parties, expensive new shoes, close-knit friends, and fascinating personal growth opportunities, wasn't it? Wasn't it?

GGS is a recurring illness in my life. This is not one of my best qualities. Probably the only parts of my life exempt from GGS are my very clear-eyed memory of adolescence (there's no way I'm going to wish for the return of that particular hell) and my attitude toward age (as I become demonstrably happier and more confident with each passing year, why the hell would I not look forward to more of the same in the coming years?).

You know what? Life is, just like my mother always said, hard. That doesn't mean it's not rewarding, not full of joy at the same time that it's full of poop. But you miss a lot if you're always craning your neck to see into somebody else's backyard. I think the only cure for GGS is gratitude, humility, and a willingness to accept responsibility for one's own choices. I'm grateful for the love that my husband has opened up in me, for the love that my baby brings to me, and the depth she reveals in my marriage. I'm humbled by the sheer force of effort required to nurture these loves, and to simply keep body and soul together in a complicated world full of conflicting demands on my time, my energy, and my spirit. I accept that this is the life I have willingly, gladly, gratefully chosen to live. I know, deep in my heart, that I really wouldn't change places with the girl on the street.

And so I bought a Globe and Mail, and read it over a decent solo dinner--my cherished quiet and calm--before returning with lighter heart to my family. My home. My life. And I have to say: the grass over here is plenty green.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I was all ready to start off the day with another, possibly maudlin, list of things about Miss Baby at 5-and-a-half months old that I don't want to forget. Then I thought: wouldn't it be funnier, and just as worth noting, how The Mama and The Dada are reaching developmental milestones as well? Teehee. So here are some things about The Mama and The Dada at 5-and-a-half months, that I don't want to forget:

The Mama (um, that's me):

  1. My hair has finally stopped falling out, so the floors and the shower are nowhere near so icky. It was falling out in clumps, clumps, clumps. A good party trick: running my hands through the mass, and always always always coming out with 10 or more hairs. On the downside, my nails aren't so luscious anymore. Sigh.
  2. I can often be found expertly weilding q-tips to pluck massive boogers or earwax-chunks from a squirming baby. Really, this is a skill of mine I never knew I possessed.
  3. I have developed mid-night insomnia: I wake up when Miss Baby tends to wake up (but often doesn't) and then lay in bed cursing my wakedness for 45-90 minutes. Nice.
  4. I fit into all my old clothes again! Hurrah! (Let's just avert our gaze from the muffin-top producing mommy-tummy though, shall we?)
  5. I make up crappy but hilarious ditties and sing them endlessly. Often to the tune of 80s hair rock classics. Sing along with 'The Final Meltdown', or even better, 'Thunderpants!'
  6. I have a new and uncanny ability to schedule 'naked baby time' to coincide with 'massive green liquid poopy time' and thus hone my skill at catching flying poop with cloth diapers. And it doesn't really faze me.
  7. I wear earplugs to put her to bed.
The Dada:
  1. He is an expert at putting her down for a nap. Just as good as I am, now.
  2. He tends to jump out of bed less than half-conscious to tend to Miss Baby in the middle of the night even though she's always hungry, and it's not his shift. Can be put back to bed and have forgotten the entire incident by morning.
  3. He loves to make videos of Miss Baby, early in the morning.
  4. He is the swaddle king.
  5. He is willing, ready, and happy to dance the entire two hours of cranky-baby-supper-hour.
  6. He is rarin' to go on project Baby Learns to Crawl. Good luck, The Dada!
  7. He wears earplugs to put her to bed.
And, finally, because she is more photogenic than we are, and surely much more interesting ...

Miss Baby:
  1. She sometimes "sings" along during her bedtime routine.
  2. When something is really funny, she wrinkles up her nose when she laughs.
  3. She can put her toes in her mouth.
    Oh yeah. That's the stuff ...
  4. Actually, she puts everything in her mouth.
  5. She prefers sitting up to lying down.
  6. She has noticed and fallen in love with the cat.
  7. She has noticed and fallen in love with the baby in the mirror.
  8. She babbles, and also, weirdly, likes to do so while inhaling, and thus sounds like a Baby Pterodactyl.
  9. She all of a sudden got two teeth, in one day.
  10. And, how could I forget? She's developed a taste for whiskey ...
Mom ... Dad ... I thought you weren't coming home until Sunday!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lullaby voice

I think my singing voice is best suited to lullabies.

I have always wanted to be a great singer. I love melodies and songs and beats and dancing. I can pick all the harmonies to my favorite songs and I love to sing backup in the car. I fancy myself (melo)dramatic and full of presence. What I lack, though, is a voice. Sure, I can hit notes, keep the rhythm, follow a tune, and, most importantly, remember lyrics. But to be honest, what I lack is tone, volume, colour, body. You have to imagine me, early teens, listening to Whitney Houston (doncha wanna dance, say you wanna dance, doncha wanna daaaaance ...) on my giant Sony Walkman and singing along while my mother tries unsuccessfully to muffle her giggling (with somebody who loooovees meeee-ooooo-ooo!). I'm not a good singer, though I really wish I were. No one would ask to hear me sing, ever. The sounds I make when singing are not heartwarming or soul-stirring or even window-rattling. Even Madonna is a better singer than me, and everyone knows she can't sing. I might be okay in a chorus. Maybe. The whole thing is a bit of a sore spot with me, actually.

My sister and her husband? Beautiful singers. Their oldest son has participated in musical theatre courses and can really belt a tune. Best friend? Could lead her own band. Husband? Not only sings in the shower, but even, sometimes, in his sleep. Tunefully. Me? Once, in high school, I appeared in a community theatre production in a lead female role--but I shared this role with another actress, who had the job of singing for me. Yes, that's right. I lip-synched. More gracefully than Ashlee Simpson, I hope, but still. Oh dear. Did I mention that my paternal grandparents were recording artists? Ok, it was with a Bible group in Florida, but their voices are immortalized on LPs, and I'm lip-synching in Of Mice and Men: The Musical, for an audience of twenty.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the lullaby and I are exactly suited to one another! As I made the effort, in the early early days, to hum to Miss Baby so as not to deprive her of an essential developmental stimulus and proof of love (sigh again), a couple of surprising things happened. First, songs my mother made up to sing to me popped back into the front of my brain from their 30 year hibernation in the dim dark who-knows-where. Where did that come from? Three or four songs that I'd forgotten I'd ever heard pop full-formed from my mouth and into my daughter's delighted hearing. I really like that part--it's feels strong, like family, like tradition, like love from Gramma to The Mama to Miss Baby. Our own language. Second, I found that, at whisper-level, my voice is actually kinda nice, or nice enough to soothe the savage baby--on pitch, nice range, full of expression, and sleep-inducing. Who knew? Miss Baby really enjoys her songs and I enjoy singing them, unselfconsciously, tunefully, and with love.

Just one more nice thing about bringing a baby into the world, I guess.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


You know how sometimes people say things in code, as a way of saying something and thus fulfilling a social obligation, but managing to not explicitly saying what they really think? Like when faced with a friend with a truly ridiculous and tragic hairdo, you say "Wow! You got your hair cut." The trick is to state a fact in a positive enough tone of voice that a compliment is inferred but not actually articulated. If you hate the hairdo, you're not lying and saying you like it, nor are you rudely disabusing your friend of the notion that she looks like a cooler Joan Jett, updated for the new millenium.

Herewith some examples from our own family life.

"Your house really has character!"
As far as I can figure, this means, "your house is really (old | squeaky | oddly-shaped | weirdly renovated by seven separate owners) and I would thus never live here." We hear this a lot from suburban relatives and small-town relatives. Our house is in fact nearly a 100 years old, but more in an affordable-labourer-housing way than in a chic-Victorian-bourgeois-gingerbread way. And it squeaks, features weird angles and not-quite-square doors, and has indeed seen some interesting and not altogether coherent renos in its long life-span. We love it, but you can almost smell the disdain from those people (mostly relatives) who make this comment on our house. A variation on this theme from my mother: "Well, you'll be living here a long time ...", which means that surely the budget and fortitude for a proper reno will eventually tidy it all up.

"You're really in the thick of things here!"
This is another house comment, and this means "you live on a really busy street a stone's throw from downtown. Eww! The noise! The smells! The sketchy people walking by!" I think we'll have the last laugh here, as the abandoned factory our guest room overlooks is being overhauled into a chic loft / retail / office development, and a Starbucks just opened up a block and a half away from us. Sure the traffic is loud. I wear earplugs to bed, because our master bedroom overlooks the street. But I love walking everywhere with Miss Baby, and as she has a 2-hour wakefulness window, I'm grateful we can go out and be back in that timeframe. And it's really cool to watch all the joggers and foot-commuters and students troop past our house--it feels vibrant.

"You're so lucky to have a husband like Pynchon!"
Now, don't get me wrong: I feel very very lucky. I'm in love with a wonderful man who loves me back, understands how important my career is to me, who is truly enlightened about the skills and work of marriage, and who is almost entirely ego-free. But somehow, the inference is that he's some sort of gift dropped from the sky onto undeserving me--like we don't work at being lucky to have each other. Or that what he brings to our marriage--compassion, silliness, an even split of housework and childcare--is unusual and noteworthy. Naomi Wolf, in her book on pregnancy, wrote how, as a culture, we tend to congratulate the father who tends to a crying child during a dinner party, while if the mother were to undertake the same action, it would go unremarked. Interesting. Actually, I shouldn't complain about this. I really am lucky, no matter how you slice it. Word out to The Dada!

Ok. All of those I can decode. The one that has me stumped is what total strangers always offer about Miss Baby ...

"My! Is she ever alert!"
I would guess this is code for "your baby never sleeps", but how would they know that? If she's awake, she is, as a matter of course, alert, right? Perhaps this refers to the look of mischief she tends to manifest. The way she lifts her eyebrows really high, the better to crane her head out towards the world. It just freaks me out a little that the word everyone uses is 'alert'.

By alert, of course, you mean 'attuned to political happenings in my community, right?

Hey! You know what else they say?

"Wow! Look at her hair!"
I guess that kinda brings us back to where we started, eh? Teehee ...

The Mama forced me to do this ...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Names, part one

In this blog, I refer to my baby as 'Miss Baby', which was not a hard pseudonym to come up with, because, well, I actually called her 'Miss Baby' rather than by her name until about a month ago.

Here's what I'm thinking: babies are actually kind of generic, even when you grow them in your own midsection and push them forcefully out into the world in a rush of violence and love. Babies are sorta all the same: purple, squally, squinty milk vampires who poop a lot and sleep a lot and have absurdly sharp fingernails that are impossible to trim.

So. I had the hardest time applying the name I had chosen for my daughter to the 9 pounds of instinct-driven need I came home from the hospital with. The name was my maternal grandmother's. It's unusual but traditional. Let's just call it, urrr, 'Hortense'. The 9 pound milk-vampire was clearly humanoid, and clearly female. 'Miss Baby' nicely designated her. The nickname could clearly only refer to the baby, but it was also abstract and generic. To call her 'Hortense' seemed grossly inappropriate: such a big name, full of resonance and history, applied to something (someone?) so wee and incapable struck me as ridiculous. Likely, I was also chicken: to name Miss Baby, to call her by her own name, made her more real than I was comfortable with and she was plenty real enough already, thank you very much.

I can honestly say that for the first four months of her life, it was only with great effort that I could bring myself to call my daughter 'Hortense'--she was always directly addressed as 'Miss Baby' ("You sure are hungry today, Miss Baby!") and referred to as such in my conversations with others, as in, "Miss Baby's fingernails sure are sharp!"

But as we have come to know each other, and as she has learned such human skills as making eye contact, smiling, chirping, wiggling, and generally communicating her own quite particular personality, she becomes more and more 'Hortense' to me. As she becomes driven more and more by her own will and less and less by her instincts she seems to more fully inhabit this burden of her own name. Not generic. Specific. Her own sweet self, just as stubborn as her namesake, with her father's ears and her mother's long neck, all combined into something I can now see as distinctly ... Hortense.

From this ...
... to this

Date Night !!!

Reader, I married him.

... then we had a baby and didn't leave the house, together, as a couple, for more than five months. Saturday night, Pynchon and I went on our first date, post-baby. It's astonishing how much good a simple date with your husband can be, non? Five blissful, adult, romantic, candlelit, skirt-wearing, dinner-eating, movie-going hours of couple time. As we have no family near to us, and no real support network of any kind that might offer child care, and as our Miss Baby is a bit of a, um, nocturnal handful, we've not been able / willing to leave her with anyone until now. My sister made the trip from a neighbouring town, with her 11 year old son as her assistant, and we. left. the. house.

It was amazing. We dressed up like grownups and drove to a fancy restaurant. No one had to sing in the car to appease Miss Baby. We stared deeply into each other's eyes over a lingering meal. There was a roaring fire. There was smooching. We drove to the movies, and held hands through Stranger than Fiction (loved it! As an English prof myself, I can say that Dustin Hoffman's office was bang on--all the poured concrete 60s architecture and sun-faded books--except it was too damn big by half), which we then discussed on a leisurely (and still song-free) ride home. Most miraculously, we managed to not talk about she-who-must-not-be-named until the ride home. It was a wonderful, wonderful evening. I can't believe we went so long without this kind of night: as happy as I am in our new family unit of three, I miss the two that we used to be, and I didn't really realize just how much until I got a little piece of that dynamic back.

As it turns out, we're still very much in love. And we still have things to talk about! And we're capable of flirting with each other!

And Miss Baby? She had a grand time with Favorite Auntie, but nevertheless kicked up the usual bedtime fuss. Despite this, Favorite Auntie, mystifyingly, desires a return engagement as babysitter. Hell yeah!

Shroud of Poopin'

Deep down inside (well, actually, not deep down at all--I just flat out know it), I know that this photo crosses some sort of threshold from cute to gross. Sorry. But I can't help myself.

Yes, this is a poop outline of Miss Baby, from The Diaper Change to End All Diaper Changes. My goodness, but those breast milk poops are plentiful and runny. So this is the actually, unedited, marking that she left once the diaper and the onesie came off--that shmear up at the top right is where she, um, proceeded to pee in the whole mess. Ultimately, I just wrapped her in a receiving blanket and marched her off for an impromptu mid-day bath. And, of course, took this picture. The clarity of it appealed to me, the line-drawing quality, and, yes, the bum-cheek outline adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that, for me, places this photo back in the 'cute' category. But then, I'm her mother. I lack perspective.

Friday, November 17, 2006

True Story: Cat Edition, part 2

As usual, when Pynchon came home from work last night, I handed him his Miss Baby (or, as I like to call her at 5pm, 'your baby') and darted from the house to Starbucks, muttering stuff like 'she needs a nap' and 'hasta la vista, baby' while clutching my laptop like a life preserver.

Once more, while I knew that Poor Crazy Kitty was asleep in the nursing rocker in Miss Baby's dark room (did I mention we covered the window with black garbage bags, in hopes that maybe that would help her sleep?), I failed to pass this information along to the replacement shift.

Long story short: PCK slept right through the wind-down routine, with all the singing and pacing, a couple of minutes of Miss Baby token protest whines, and then the entire nap with the door latched shut, only to be discovered by Pynchon after Miss Baby woke up.

Don't tell my mom, okay? She's always hated PCK and is convinced that said pet harbours murderous intent towards Darling Granddaughter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life becomes more civilized?

Witness the contents of my fridge last weekend ...

Yes, that's right! It's miniature bottles of champagne alongside miniature bottles of breastmilk! Hurrah and praise be, Miss Baby is well on her way to bottle expertise. The miniature champagne is for the miniature celebration that Pynchon and I later had over a friendly game of Scrabble (recreating our first date). He was celebrating finally being able to feed his baby daughter, and I was celebrating finally not having to feed his baby daughter.

Here's the act in progress. Doesn't she just look like a pro, and her Dada, too? I was so proud that after I took this picture, I kinda got the sniffles. I was very relieved, but also a little weirded out. I mean, no one but me has ever fed her before. Holy smokes. Um, and yes, she's swaddled. To within an inch of her life. Helps her concentrate ;-)

Anyhow, Miss Baby cried for about an hour for The Dada, before, as he says, "it's like a little light went off in her head" and she realized there was food in them thar nipple. Now, she drinks like a pro, I tells ya, a pro.

And the Scrabble was great. I won. The champagne? Delicious, and well-earned, if you ask me!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Neglect, guilt, and broken promises

Oh, blog, how I've missed you. Yes, the neglect has all been on my own side. But it's not my fault! Miss Baby has engaged in a campaign calculated to test the sanity of the hardiest of Mamas, and I'm not the hardiest! The Husband's work and reality-television obligations have removied him from our home for more hours than he manages to spend in it! And my free time has been spent reading reading reading, in five-minutes snatches, some of the most inspiring, moving, funny, and just generally awesome mommy blogs. How's a girl supposed to follow that up?

Oh, and then there was the salmonella poisoning, 8 hours in emerg, and 3 days in the bathroom. That kept me away from writing.

And then there were the fairly regular, "I can't do it" parenting-related crying jags. It's hard to type while you're sniveling and hysterical.

Well, I did spend all day yesterday shopping for new, non-maternity, non-stay-at-home-shlump clothes yesterday while Pynchon introduced Miss Baby to the bottle. Retail therapy is sometimes more appealing than a burst of bloggorhea. Sometimes :-)

Of course, it doesn't help that I have officially zero readers among the demographic segment that is not married to me. Hard to feel much compunction to keep up to date for, ah, myself.

But! Herewith a slew of posts, to make up for lost time, lost topics, and lost sleep ...