…I had a baby

While I was supposed to be writing my dissertation, I had a baby. That baby turned 2 last week. So two years have passed, and I fear I have become dumb.

To clarify, I know I am smarter in a lot of ways. My whole being exploded when my child was born, and a whole lot of other cliche things. I am more patient, I am more intuitive, I am more grateful, I am aware of my impending death. I am more sympathetic but also more protective of my family, even if it comes at others’ expense (“Homeless, struggling man,” I think to myself, “you break my heart. You probably had a mother. What happened?” Simultaneously, I move to the other side of the street with my kid to avoid a possible interaction that might frighten or injure her. Two years ago, I would have gone out of my way to give him my spare change).

In other words, I am a multitude, even more of a multitude than I was before having a child. But when I sit down to write about my research, I am straight-up-dumb. It takes me a long time to focus, and then that focus lasts for five minutes. I lose words, really simple words like “consequence” (real example from just this morning).

Yesterday, my daughter and I were in the middle of her favorite game, the “come here” game. This is where she sits in her toddler-size chair and points to a place on the rug where she wants me to sit. I go to that spot, kneel down, open my arms and say “come here.” And the brilliant girl  “comes here.” What a game! Seriously, I love it. But, yesterday while playing, I realized just how dumb I sometimes am. Most of my day is made up of activities no more complex than the “come here” game. I take that back. Along with these activities, I constantly imagine scenarios in which my child will get hurt or die. Some of these scenarios are spin-offs of what we are actually doing together, some are more creative. In all of these scenarios, I am at fault. This takes up any brainpower left over from the “come-here” game. And it continues when my child is asleep and I “have time to work.”

I used to hate when people would say stuff like “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain.” I guess I still don’t like these terms. But when I didn’t have kids, I thought it was offensively dismissive of women. Now I know that it is real. Or at least for me. How did you other brilliant moms get your brains back so quickly? I feel like mine is gone for good.

 

 

Bird by Bird

I want to finish this thing, but I don’t want to write. Writing is hard and I am lazy.  I am ashamed of my laziness, and regret my wasted time. Then something clicks and I sit down to work. I pour through notes, I type, I scrap together a few thoughts that will hold up in a final draft. Soon, my block of time expires and I have to get my kid from her crib, make dinner, do laundry, whatever. I think about how hard I worked in that chunk of time and how little there is to show for it. There is still nothing I can send my committee.

Quotes from other writers have been helpful. They reinforce what I already know. Just sit down and do it. Just sit down and do it, already.  This one calmed me down this morning:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Separate Cars, Separate Checking Accounts

 

Last year, one of my best friends got married. At the reception, the dance floor was truly joyous- especially for me- I knew and loved almost everyone that was bopping around. My beloved parents were among the boppers. The DJ had braces- this is not important to the story, but it is a signature detail in my memory, so there you go.

Soon came time for the couples’ dance. “Couples who have been together more than a year,” said the DJ (with braces), “continue dancing. Everyone else take a seat.” “Couples who have been together for five years or more, continue dancing….ten years….15 years, etc etc” Soon, my parents were the only ones left on the dance floor.

The song finished and the DJ brought his cordless mike over to my mom. “Any words of wisdom for the Bride and Groom?,” he asked. My mom, without hesitating: “separate cars and separate checking accounts.” The rest of the dance floor chuckled- many knew my mom and this answer did not surprise them. The DJ was a little confused- I think he was expecting something a little more, oh I don’t know, romantic?

My mom had said versions of this to me before when I was much younger. I think we were at a bank? I was probably depositing checks from family members after a birthday. “If you ever get married, you have to keep your own checking account,” she said. Sure thing, I thought. I was an textbook overachiever as a kid, with no doubt in my mind that I would be able to take care of myself regardless of my romantic entanglements.

Hearing this advice again, at this beautiful wedding filled with all my loved ones, two (or three) glasses of wine deep, crushed me. You see I was  holding my three-month-old baby girl. I had been easing into my new role as a stay at home mom, and a week before, I had closed my checking account, transferring the remaining $50 balance to our joint account. I had originally insisted that we keep it open, telling my husband (and myself) that it would help me keep track of what I was spending. After the second month, when the balance was getting kind of low, my husband transferred some money immediately after getting paid. That was when I first realized that this might be a silly exercise.  Then I started to notice a minimum balance charge (go F yourself, BofA). This was not practical.  I was holding on to a piece of advice that didn’t make much sense for me in this new phase of my life. And the fact that it didn’t make much sense- that I wasn’t making my own money, that I was completely dependent upon my husband to feed and shelter me, that I was making no monetary contribution to the family- was terrifying. Hearing my mom’s words again, at the wedding, was hard.

Now my daughter is 19 months old. I started working part time. I can cover childcare costs plus a little more. This makes me feel a little better- though I wonder when my work outside the home will feel less like a vanity project and more like a real career that provides some financial stability for us as a family.  I don’t think money is everything, and of course I know how very lucky I am- and I truly love it and am grateful for the opportunity to do it. So many do not have the opportunity (including my husband, who has the happy misfortune of making way more money than I could in my own field). But it is still hard not having my own, separate checkbook. Thank god I have my own car.

This is inspired by writer’s workshop at Mama’s Losin It. I’ve tried to paste the code and believe that I’ve failed:

<center><a href=”http://www.mamakatslosinit.com&#8221; target=”_blank”><img src=”http://i913.photobucket.com/albums/ac331/mamakatslosinit/workshop-button-1.png&#8221; alt=”Mama’s Losin’ It”/></a></center>

Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

1. Before your flight, encourage your toddler to burn some energy. At Southwest gates, special poles to organize boarding groups are perfect for an impromptu obstacle course. Pat yourself on the back for being a perfect, fun, resourceful parent, considerate of the other flyers who will appreciate a tuckered-out, calm toddler once the plane takes off.  But try not to be too smug while strangers smile at your bumbling angel being adorable.

2. Pick up toddler to return to your gate for prompt boarding.

3. Try not to make eye contact with fellow travelers as your toddler vomits.all.over.you. They JUST saw you making your child do sprints after feeding them french fries and a milk shake. They have no sympathy and do not want to engage.

4. Tell partner to buy two new shirts at the gift shop. $30 polyester blends with generic city logos are always a nice keepsake. Use the plastic bag from the store for hazmat containment. T

5. Don’t worry about your daughter wearing only a diaper and child’s size t-shirt in February. You can cover her with your pashmina, which survived the vomit.

6. While boarding the plane, don’t make eye contact with those already seated on the plane. See # 3. Also, you have to sit down somewhere, its not personal. Eye contact will only compromise your ideal seat choice for fear of others’ opinions of you.

7. Tell your seat mate that your child is not wearing pants because they “spilled.” If the fellow passenger witnessed the vomit, hopefully this will provide a more pleasant fiction for them to cling- the chubby hand pawing at their magazine is clean and fresh in this fantasy. If they did not witness the vomit, this cover kindly prevents your neighbor imagining much more disturbing truths (e.g that there are families among us who don’t believe in pants).