Saturday, August 30, 2008

On Birthdays

Last year I celebrated my birthday in Hawaii--E. and I decided we deserved a real vacation--the kind with tropical drinks and warm weather and sun and beach. It was exactly that--a perfect vacation. On the annniversary of my birth we were on horseback overlooking the ocean with a warm hawaiian drizzle anointing us. Approximately two days later, unbeknownst to my logical mind, though my body already knew, I was pregnant. Without getting into tricky particulars about the life of sperm and eggs, it's quite possible that the child swinging in his little swing right now was actually conceived in Hawaii on my birthday. Pretty cool.

Now, today, as I celebrate, unbelievably, a year later, I get to do so with my husband and son. My son. The concept of birthdays now takes on a whole new meaning. Not only because I have now experienced birth for myself, but because this is the last birthday of mine in which I will take center stage in my own life. (Not to mention that that was probably the last tropical vacation we'll be taking for a few years).


Coming up Short

Last weekend, while visiting family, we stopped at a local park to eat lunch. Across the way from me I spotted two women, approximately my age, both nursing babies while eating a delicious looking picnic. They both wore fashionable breastfeeding drapes and parked beside them were top of the line strollers. They looked remarkably clear-eyed and well-groomed for new mothers. I could tell from the sound of their infants' cries and the size that their babies were younger than mine. My first feeling was of a kind of new mother pride--here they were, these young women, nursing their babies in the summer sun while their husbands tossed a football back and forth nearby while my baby lounged on his quilt under a tree. How grand it seemed.

I was interested in the type of stroller one had, so I approached them, carrying my own babe alongside, to give me "mommy cred." I inquired pleasantly and learned the make and model and I should have stopped there.

But I wanted to be polite, so I asked how old their babies were. Both were two months.

"Are you getting much sleep?" I asked smugly, already knowing the answer. What mother of a two month old gets much sleep?

"Not bad," one said. "He sleeps three hours at a time." Hmmm. My boy didn't sleep three hours at a time until...well, he still doesn't sleep consistently in any pattern. Sometimes I'm lucky to get those three hour stretches, but occasionally he can still gladden my night with an hour and a half waking.

"Mine sleeps in four hour chunks," the other woman said. "And I wake him up for a midnight feeding."

"You wake him up?" I asked, in awe. "Why would you do such a thing?"

"So I can be sure he gets enough food, and to keep up my milk supply," she replied, smoothing an imaginary hair off her face.

Of course, because she's a good mother, rather than me--who would let my child sleep for two days if he so desired just to get the rest I crave!

The women were so poised and lovely, so calm and serene, that they could have been posing for a television ad of some kind. I came away remembering that sometimes it's better not to know how other people's babies are, or for that matter, how other mothers are. There's too much room to come up short.

And if another person glibly says, "Oh, well my baby slept through the night at 4 weeks!" I'm going to kick some shins.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oh yeah, and this interview conducted by Writer's Digest with me, as part of their author series, went up some moons ago when I was, myself about the size of a moon, heavy with child:

From the Writing Catacombs:

Currently on stands: my interview with Isabel Allende in Writer's Digest's October issue. Also in that issue, my profile of Gail Konop Baker, about her debut memoir, Cancer is a Bitch: or I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis--is mentioned. A great read!

Also, my interview with author (and a writer for HBO's series The Wire), George Pelecanos, is live at Writer's Digest online. Click here to read it.

Here's a tasty quote from his interview:

What was it like to write for TV, so different from writing novels?

"It’s collaborative; you really have to work with a team of writers because each episode feeds into the next and borrows from the past. Before each season we get together—sometimes we’d go away for a week—and we’d decide what the season was going to be about, and the characters and their arcs. Then we’d come back and start beating out each episode. We wanted four episodes written before production started. That entails a scene by scene blueprint of each episode—very intense work in a room, putting cards up on a board in order, [with] different colors for each character. By the time you’re done you have 35–40 cards that represent scenes, in order for that particular show. That takes several days for each episode. Then you farm them out to the writers.

"When I became a producer and story editor, I was there every day, full time. When you work on a TV show it is literally 12–16 hours a day for 7 months. It’s a huge commitment. Producers are in charge of everything. Again, it was pretty nice for me to learn a new craft—it’s another job in my arsenal. If I ever fall down the stairs and hit my head and can’t write, I can always do that."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Changing Channels

Before my son was born I didn't think I was going to blog much about motherhood--I felt sure that I would continue to whittle out writerly insights, post the interviews and results of my writing life. This was when I still clung to the notion that my life would be relatively unchanged--as if my child would be a little doll sitting in a chair obediently, easily tended to between my work hours. Ha! Even though I suspected that motherhood would entail a lot of work, until he was here, "a lot of work" was all theoretical. I didn't have a true context for what that would look like. However, I also had no idea that writing--which has been my sole focus, my passion and even, at times, my obsession for most of my life--would come to feel almost insignificant in the face of being a mother. That even though I hunger for time alone, sometimes when I get that very time, I have to remind myself that it is okay to go and write again. I can't tell you how many times I have sat watching my son sleep rather than do something for myself.

I admit that I undervalued the work that mothers (and all parents) do. I let my own lack of experience bias me. Though I know many, many talented, intelligent women who are also mothers, I still viewed motherhood as a kind of bland mini-mall which, upon entering, you sacrificed brain, beauty, individuality and sense of self for a time. Now here, there is definitely the mark of the mundane on aspects of motherhood--but that's true of any tasks you do repeatedly day after day. What I did not expect was the profundity of it, the powerful emotional toll of being physically and mentally connected to a being who relies on you for everything. Sometimes I already get maudlin thinking of the inevitable days to come when my son will need me less and less, and the worst case scenario--where he could want nothing to do with me at all. Hopefully it won't come to that, because hopefully I will be good enough at the self-sacrifice on his behalf.

So while I do continue to write and it remains the third most important thing after my child and spouse, I'm surprised at how okay it is for it to fall to the wayside for this initial, important time with my son.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Invisible World

Before baby I lived a smug life. I hoarded my freedoms and squandered time. I regarded harried parents dragging uncooperative toddlers out of stores with that same feeling you get when the guy in front of you gets pulled over by a cop and you don't. I handed off screaming babies to their parents with a shrug, relief washing over me. When you are not a parent, life is uncomplicated, but you have no way of knowing this. It might be complicated in other ways--say if you have a drug addiction or some variation on the dysfunctional family or a withholding boyfriend...but it's still not kid complicated. You can leave the house at a moment's notice, grabbing only your keys and your wallet. You do not have to lug:

--diaper bag (which contains a whole world of items you don't know you need until baby comes ranging from pacifiers to spare diapers and clothes for inevitable diaper accidents in the middle of supermarkets)
--car seat
--stroller frame into which car seat goes
--baby bjorn in case kid doesn't want to be in stroller
--drape to cover baby's seat from sun
--toy that plays music to dangle from car seat in case baby gets cranky while driving
--oh yeah, and baby :)

In the process, you forget your own sunglasses, keys, purse, directions to where you're going, your shopping list, one shoe and to brush your hair.

Or as the eloquent Rachel Cusk writes in her book about motherhood (thanks Myfanwy) A Life's Work:

"The baby's physical presence in my life is not unlike a traveller's custody of a very large rucksack. On the subway people tut and sigh at our double bulk, the administrative headache of us, and stream away at stations leaving us struggling with straps and overflowing detritus on the platform...Because I am the baby's home there is nowhere I can leave her and soon I begin to look at those who walk around light and free and unencumbered as if they were members of a different species."

While this may sound like me complaining, it's actually me observing. There's a bit of the anthropologist in every new parent. I never used to check out other parents' strollers or wonder where they bought their baby's outfit. I barely noticed babies, to be frank. (You don't have to be obsessed with babies to want a child of your own).

Now, it is as if an invisible world has opened up that was there all along, parallel to my world, but which I couldn't see because I did not have the key. And this world is both more strange and more magnificent than I could have ever imagined.