Domestic Bliss

Domestic Bliss

I’m interested in what you might call the domestic.

This interest is both personal (I garden, I make jam, I like to decorate, I got a little obsessed with Marie Kondo a couple years ago) and intellectual (read this). At a terrific?conference on motherhood a year ago, I was fascinated by a discussion of how motherhood isn’t all about the domestic noise?or domestic bliss?we think it is, not necessarily about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training (I know, I know). No, said the three amazing mother-writers: it’s also about the way time and space and identity close up, spread out, open, and morph when one becomes a mother. Memory fails. Projects go unfinished. Sleep deprivation turns ordinary occurrences into the stuff of magical realism. In other words: motherhood is about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training?but very much also about how we relate to those mundane things and still keep our sense of self.

Is this a struggle? That’s an understatement.

Now, dads change too?of course they do?but mothers are frequently hit with a tsunami when their kids are born: a tsunami of love, sure, but also the invasion of?a new kind of physicality that isn’t, always, welcome. Your body becomes something other the minute you get pregnant, in service to another human in a way it’s never been before. And this changes women. I know new moms who left academia after their kids were born, who realized they were in the wrong field entirely, moms who hated being mothers, who deeply resented breastfeeding. On the other end of the spectrum are the moms who, before they had kids, swore they would be rigid and scheduled and ended up soft, pliable, co-sleeping and nursing til their kids were three, all in a haze of domestic bliss.

Who knew?

But in some ways, the largest change when one has kids is the way one relates to the space at home. It may be that before having kids you were out every night, and your preferred dinner was takeout. You may have sent your laundry down the street. You may have worked in the evenings. Or slept until nine every day. You may have scarcely been home.

Once kids are on the scene, though, the center shifts drastically.

To the kitchen. The kitchen is like the eye of the hurricane.

I spend so much of my life now on simple food prep, it’s astounding.?I’ve always been into cooking and eating well, and I’ve worked a bunch in the food industry, but food prep became something else entirely when I had kids. Sometimes, when I see myself pumping one breast with my left hand?while shoving a sandwich into a reusable sandwich bag with the other, while reminding B not to forget the lunchbox of leftovers in the fridge as I pause to lift?a bite of cereal into my mouth, I have to laugh just a little. Into a bottle goes the milk, into a lunch bag goes the sandwich, into the backpack goes the grownup lunch, there’s a mad flurry to leave the house?and then it starts all over at dinnertime.

And then there’s the laundry. Oh boy, the laundry.

How one baby can make the laundry multiply four-fold, I don’t get. Granted, we do cloth diapers?most of the time?and that is a labor of love. But even without the dipes, we’re folding and hanging and dryering and putting away all. Day. Long. Perhaps it’s the spit up. Perhaps it’s that the baby’s arrival coincided with L’s penchant for wearing a new pair of pajamas every damn night. Probably it’s about the drool on the sheets and the bibs and the spit-up cloths.

Is motherhood all about the diaper genie and sleep training? Is it possible to find happiness and domestic bliss? Read on to find out.

Oh, and the sleeping.

Sometimes, at night, I feel the energy of the four of us in our various corners of the house, like we’re breathing sleepy life into the space between the walls. It’s a funny sensation, one I didn’t have when L was a baby. This past year, at various times we’ve slept in many different?configurations:

  • Baby S and I in the bed together,?nursing all night long.?B on the couch.?L in the lower bunk is his room.
  • Me in the lower bunk, L in the upper,?baby in his crib, B in the bed.
  • B back on the couch. Baby all by himself in the bedroom, L and I in the lower bunk together.

For three nights? L and S in their room together and B and I in our room?together.?(Domestic bliss.)

Aaand, since that didn’t work out so well, now B, S, L, and I in our bedroom, L on the floor, while S works it out in the boys’ room.

It’s musical beds around here, people.

Of course it’s easy for all of this?noise?to seem like the end-all-be-all of parenting. But is there still?intellectual curiosity to be found, that sense of morphing, that sense that the mundane has become something magical?

Yes. Sometimes.

Two nights ago, out of nowhere, L, who’s been moody and teenagery of late, said to me out of nowhere, “You’re my family, mom,” and looked at me in this earnest, loving way.

“Do you want to hear a song about that?” I asked, and then I sang him this.

After?

L crying, pressing his earnest little brown-eyed face, his big mop of blondish-brownish tangly hair into my belly.

“I’m so lucky you’re my family, Mom,” he cried, and then I found myself crying too, telling him, “I’m so lucky. How did I get so lucky to have a kid like you?” The two of us there (in the kitchen! Where else?), embracing, loving one another, grateful. Wow.

And then we went and read Harry Potter with B while the baby slept.

Magic? Domestic bliss? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.


p.s. L is my touchstone.?And read “My Favorite Mommy Blogger, Karl Ove Knausg?rd,” on The Cut.

 

 

 

 

 

The Working Mom’s Lament

Because this working mom would be lost without her Medela. I’m not complaining. Really.?But it does suck to be a working mom sometimes. I’m up half the night nursing. I rally at seven (fine, maybe 7:30), stagger into the shower, out to make tea. Rush the baby to the nanny,?rush back home?to plan class. Pump. Wash the pump. Pack up the pump. Pack up the class notes. Head to BART. Get to school. Photocopy. Teach. Pump. Teach some more. Leave. Pump again at home. Wash the pump. Pump. Pump again. And again. And again.

My Medela Pump In Style?has become a wizened old thing, with a dangerous teaser of mold in the tubing (pipe cleaners, stat!), dried breast milk and dust adorning the stylish black carrier bag, and the bottle labels worn clean from four daily washings (let alone the twice-a-week-which-is-way-less-than-they-recommend sanitizing). My Medela, a gift from a friend, is my constant companion; I perseverate, while I’m teaching, about forgetting it in the classroom or leaving it on BART. I blindly sense its presence, glancing down to make sure it’s right where I left it in the middle of a lecture on “theme” or “sensory details.” If I lost the breast pump, then where would I be?

Turgid. My breasts would be turgid. And the baby might?have to drink formula?(gasp!).?

Breast pump parts drying in plastic "grass," one of the few baby purchases I have made (and adore) this time around.

Breast pump parts drying in plastic “grass,” one of the few baby purchases I have made (and adore) this time around.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not above formula. Baby S has consumed some in his day. But since I have these knockers that have been producing pretty well, and a baby with a champion latch (my friend said we should do a breastfeeding video!), and a whole lot of propaganda reminding me that “breast is best,”?I might as well use what nature gave me.?A working mom can only produce so much, however, and it is a little-known phenomenon (someone please tell me this happened to them, too?) that when the baby drinks from a bottle he drinks much more heartily.

To wit: In a day and a half, pumping three times a day and at?night, glass of wine be damned,?I produce three bottles. The next day while I’m at work? He might want?four. The math just doesn’t add up. When we’re home together, he’s fine; my boobs satisfy. When I’m not there, he’s like a ravenous little shark, demanding more, more, more (see above, under “the miracles of formula in a pinch”).

Working mom makes lunches for everyone.

Working mom makes lunches for everyone.

And so, readers, I pump. I enter the “Nursing Moms Room” at school, praying a student doesn’t pound on the door after spraining her ankle on the stairs, mistaking the meaning of “nursing” in this context (this happened last week). I hike up my dress. I situate the pump, plug it in. Attach the flange to the yellow doohickey to the white doohickey. Turn it on. Pop ‘er on. Scroll through my phone if I can get a hand free. I have twenty minutes for this adventure, plus any time I might need to, say, pee, or make a photocopy, or eat a bite of lunch. God forbid I need to?eat some lunch!

And when I’m done, I pull the dress back down, hopping around on one foot struggling with the zipper on the back (why did I wear this trickily-zippered empire-waist?dress that’s tight across the chest? Oh right, because it hides my postpartum?belly fat). I pack my breast milk into my handy freezer bag, and head back to the classroom, a tiny bit disheveled and hoping?I don’t look like I just had a quickie in the hall with a stranger (I assure you, class, my breasts were engaged in a different pursuit). I teach, perseverating on the breast pump stowed beneath the desk.

Don’t let me forget you, I pray. We need each other now.


p.s. More about being a mom.

5 Loving Tips for Political Parenting

5 Loving Tips for Political Parenting

The other night, I had a big old nasty cry.

Many of us have cried since the 2016 presidential election, some of us every day, some of us more sporadically, and some of us, Trump supporters or those more measured or those whose tear ducts no longer work, not at all.

I?d woken with a terrible cold, the kind that escalates from a mildly scratchy throat at four a.m. to aches, burning throat, and uncontrollable sneezing by nine. B was in Orange County for the day, had a six a.m. flight, so I handled the whole night with the babe myself, the babe who slept great until 4:00 and then barely at all. L was grumpy as we walked to school. B was not due home until 8:00. It was pouring down rain, a relentless, gray rain, and every time I had the baby close to falling asleep, I?d wake him up with a sneeze or because my nose was a fountain, running down my face and onto his blankets?I kid you not, it was disgusting. So circa 7:00 p.m., when he and I were both exhausted hot messes and I hadn?t managed to get dinner on the table yet, I crept into the bedroom and, all of a sudden, began crying like I haven?t cried in ages, big old wracking sobs (as silently as I could, because I was holding Baby S and doing the baby dance). I cried for my stupid day, sure, but mostly? I was crying because of the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an appointment that is more disastrous than the election of Trump himself. *

Eventually, I emerged from the bedroom. Putting the baby to sleep was futile, and L still hadn?t eaten, so I quickly put a bowl of soup on the table. Through tears, I called, ?Bunny, dinner?? at which point he walked into the kitchen, took one look at my face, and said ?Mumma, what?s wrong??

?I?m okay,? I said. ?I?m just having a hard day.?

?But why??

?Oh, well, I?m sick?and the baby won?t sleep.? And then I paused and added, ?and I?m still just really upset about Donald Trump.? As I said it, I wondered if I shouldn?t have. I don?t want L to worry too much about Trump. I want his childhood to feel intact, blissful, ignorant. But I also didn?t want to lie, so I said it. He ate dinner, and that was it.

Are you an activist mama? Looking for practical advice for political parenting? Click through to learn my five tips for being a politically engaged parent.

Here?s the thing, I realized later: unfortunately, L?s childhood won?t be blissful, ignorant, intact. In the next 4-8 years?and who knows how much beyond?he may well see his national parks drilled and his Latino friends deported and his Muslim friends harassed. He?ll probably lose his affordable healthcare and we?ll somehow find $1,200 a month to put him on one of our plans instead. He?ll see his parents wringing their hands and writing letters to nowhere and slavishly following Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie looking for someone we trust to make sense of this world for them. He may see his mom?s reproductive rights taken away. He may be raised in an era where there is no safety net if, God forbid, he gets a girl pregnant by accident. In eight years, L will be fifteen.

There have been so many articles this election season asking ?what do we tell the children in the wake of the election?? Tell your kids, “You’re safe,” the articles say. “We won’t let you come to harm.”

But what I wonder is, what do we tell the parents who feel, quite rightly, totally lost and deeply unsafe? Click To Tweet

1. Don?t regret your children. A friend asked me the other day, ?what?s it like having a new baby in the midst of all this?” I paused, and then told her something that I have been thinking but have been a little too ashamed to say: “I honestly don’t know, if Trump had been president, if we would’ve pursued having a second child.” I know how that sounds; of course Baby S is precious to us. But when we created that baby, we didn’t live in quite the same world as we do now, and I feel so sorry for what we?ve brought him into. But regretting my children and despairing for their futures? That may be just what they want us to do, and damned if I?ll do it.

2. But?don?t create an us versus them narrative. At least not towards your fellow citizens, and not in front of your kids. This is a hard one, I know: I feel such a wall of anger towards Trump supporters right now. But many Trump supporters liked his economic policies or were fed up with Hillary or disenchanted by Obama or were uneducated, or didn?t think it would be this bad. In the end (you know, when we?re in a nuclear war with North Korea, and our water and air is too toxic to breathe anymore) it will be our commonalities?that we all love our kids, for one?that help us reunify this damaged country. I will not support or condone this government and the monsters who will be in charge of our environment or our bodies, but I will try to model openness and tolerance to my fellow citizens as much as possible.

3. Realize that if you?re a progressive, or even a conservative who believes in things like climate change and equal rights, that you?re raising your kids in an era of resistance. In fact, L needs to know that his dad and I are upset about Trump. I won?t shield him from the nasty realities of the world he?ll inherit; instead, it?s my job to prepare him for it and for the work that will inevitably fall to him to take on.

4. But keep it light. At all costs, assure your children your anger and depression are not about them. It?s hard to be emotional in front of kids, and harder to be measured when your world is falling apart. But your kids can bring you enormous joy, and in the end, your family and children are the people who will watch out for you and keep you whole. So make some time for watching movies, taking hikes, going to Berkeley Family Camp (can?t wait!), seeing friends. Your life still has light and life and value.

L and J Voting!

5. Model being an active citizen. This is the most important, parents. I know we?re all tired; the baby won?t sleep, the minivan needs a new carburetor, the school is harassing you to volunteer for the PTA. You have college essays to edit and kids to drive to sports practice. But you can?t put on Netflix just yet. You need to write, call, text, email, march, donate, and protest. And your kids need to see you doing it. We have to raise the next generation to raise hell, think critically, and protect their rights and the rights of their friends. Because apathy may be what got us into this mess in the first place.

Warmly,

Susie

* Footnote: I try my best to be an empathic person. In part because I teach to a very diverse population, I need to make space in my life for people from all political walks and belief systems. I?ve taught staunch right-wing gun nuts, people so far left they don?t make sense anymore, and, for the most part, a bunch of young adults whose lack of engagement makes me want to pull my hair out. We do alright together, and I care about all of them deeply (and urge them to vote!). But climate change deniers are beyond my empathy. Denying that climate change exists is like denying that the Holocaust existed. It?s morally reprehensible, and more than that, it?s stupid. Climate change will kill us all, but not before it makes our planet a hell of an awful place to live. Quite honestly, I don?t understand why it?s even a political issue, why climate change is not merely accepted and embraced as a bipartisan challenge to address, and I partly blame the fact that whoever?was it Al Gore??used the phrase ?global warming? for too long, giving people the false impression that if we had some bitterly cold winters, that meant we weren?t really experiencing climate change. I believe we all have our issues: some of us worry most about reproductive rights, some about human rights, some about healthcare. Me? It?s the environment, in part because I have spent time in some of the loveliest wild places on earth and know their value, but also because, let?s face it: all of our other rights will be totally irrelevant if the planet becomes uninhabitable.

Ruth Whippman’s Refreshing Take on American Parenting

Ruth Whippman’s Refreshing Take on American Parenting

I wanted?to?plug a just-released book by my brilliant friend Ruth Whippman, which I had the good fortune of reading parts of in utero (uh, the book’s utero, not my own, though, fun fact: Ruth’s book release date was the same as my due date for Baby #2: October 4). America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks is out now, and it’s a doozy of a read: laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly insightful, at times infuriating in the way that things you know are true but don’t quite want to believe about yourself are infuriating, and above all, smart. Ruth’s premise? That here in the good old U.S. of A., we’re so concerned with making ourselves happy that we’ll try absolutely anything to get there?even when the tactics (yoga, mindfulness, self help, slavish devotion to work) leave us, ironically,?incredibly uptight and anxious.

Of particular note is her chapter on parenting, in which she gently disembowels the American practice of attachment parenting (frankly, on most points I’m with her) and illustrates with research and hysterically funny vignettes from the playground how American parents sabotage their own possibility of happiness by putting their entire emphasis on making their kids happy instead. My jaw dropped when she?described?a Facebook post in which a mom?laments telling her child to “wait a minute” while she finishes doing the dishes, and when the child cries, realizes that she’s mistakenly given her the (wrong!) message that cleaning comes before her own flesh and blood.?Ultimately, the mom reports, she’s decided she will “never make [her daughter] wait” again (and all her Facebook friends praise her for her selflessness). Talk about a nation of nervous wrecks.

This witty, from-the-trenches reporting is the hallmark of America the Anxious. Part memoir, part research study, it’s a thought-provoking and terrific read. Check it out!


Get America the Anxious?on Amazon

Or find it at your local bookstore!?(Here’s mine.)

Visit?Ruth’s website

 

My Touchstone (Ruminations from 39 Weeks Pregnant)

My Touchstone (Ruminations from 39 Weeks Pregnant)

“No one really loves me except you,” L tells me one recent night, because he’s mad at his dad for taking away his Pokemon cards at bedtime.

“Lots of people love you,” I tell him. “Especially Dad. You’re just angry with Dad right now.”

He wants me to tuck him in that night. He wants to tell me about the upsetting thing that happened at recess. He wants to hold my hand on the way to school the next morning, for me to head up to the second floor (dragging my 30-pounds-heavier body up the steps) to show me how the guinea pigs in his second-grade classroom have grown. Do I say yes? Of course I say yes. Because I know that I am the sun, and L is the earth. He always knows where I am in the world. I am his?life raft, his?default, the one who really counts.

Luckily, we can also be apart. L is secure without me. He does not, as I did at seven, dread leaving mom for?school or a play date or a sleepover. When he’s not mad about Pokemon, his dad is the coolest?person in the world, his other life raft. When they have “Guys’ Night”?a phrase I came up with to describe any night it’s just the two of them?he’s delighted, can’t wait for me to leave. Once, after B and I returned from being in Hawaii for five days, he asked us to go back. I guess I don’t make meatloaf like my mom does, or indulge quite like Grampa.

I hold onto this?I think they call it “secure attachment,” those psychologist types?gratefully. I feel like maybe it means we have done something right. I do not want L so attached to me he can’t be apart. Honestly, the idea terrifies me. But still I find myself surprised by how true and deep his love is for me, by how fully his understanding of the world revolves around mine, by how, when he comes home from a birthday party or a weekend away with his grandfather it is to me he beelines, his mouth full of words. “I had so much candy, Mom, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says, or: “We went to the zoo, Mom, and out for sushi, and watched a movie, and…” or simply an urgent “Mumma. Mumma. Mumma?” and I await what comes next.

I am his touchstone.

DSCI0067.JPG

And here at 39 weeks pregnant with his little brother, it’s making me pensive. Early on in this pregnancy, I suffered from an intense depression. It surprised me, and it made me feel really, really ashamed. I had engineered this pregnancy using the best 21st-century technology; I had finally won at the infertility game. I was supposed to be so deeply grateful and humbled to be pregnant I should have been falling over myself. Instead, I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t stop crying. I’d walk all over town, sobbing, feeling like I wanted to vomit, my perpetually full bladder pressing into my yoga pants like a reminder of the crazy thing we’d done, the crazy mistake we’d made. Eventually, once the feelings abated, I realized that intense hormones were mostly to blame?but also, and this surprised me, grief: all those long, infertile years, it was just L. There was something so beautiful and redeeming about his constancy that I knew I would finally be giving up. I was terrified of betraying him, and of losing him as my one and only: the inside jokes and the tuck-ins and the way we just get each other.

Because, truth is, he is my touchstone, too, my measure of nearly everything.

That time in my pregnancy passed, thank God, and next week, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe in three days?who knows??our lives will all change forever. It makes me weep a little, to write that (but what doesn’t, these days?). I’ll have a new baby in my life, a new planet for my sun. Maybe this one will want his dad more. Maybe this one won’t get my jokes. With this one, I won’t be able to play the “who’s the cutest person in our family?” game (L: “you!” Me: “No, it’s you….”). Maybe this one won’t be a talker like L. Undoubtedly, he’ll be different. Undoubtedly, in some ways he’ll be the same.

But I won’t be, ever again. And L won’t be, either.?And I’m smiling when I write that, because in the end, you know, it feels just fine.


For a funny take on a similar subject, read “The Default Parent” on Huffington Post

And a cheerful retort (“How Being the Default Parent is Your Fault”) on Dr. Mama Esquire