Monday, October 15, 2007

What's Good

M smells like pee in the morning, his own sweet pee, vaguely of breast milk, musky, distinctive as rain. His diaper's got to weigh 5 pounds. But his hair still smells like soap from last night's bath, his breath as clean and clear as tears. He is compelled to cry on waking up, no matter what, it seems; a noise that arches like a cat's back, snapping the morning into broken pieces and I crack awake to it.

"Noo-ooo!" is the first thing out of him, then a sob, then pitifully, in the dark, "mommy..."

"Sh! SH! SH!" I hiss. "I'm coming to you! Don't wake up the baby!" and I fight my way out of bed, instantly cold and sorry for myself. I pull him out of his crib clutching Bluey the blanket, and I take his quilt for me. We assume the position in the nursey chair, and I hastily wrap the little quilt around my shoulders while he tucks Bluey around his own body, laying on his side across my lap, mouth open, waiting for the booby, and blump, there it is. It seems to fall out of my pajamas these days without even being asked.

Eyes closed, he latches on with quiet relish, one hand delicately holding the ribbony edge of Bluey and stroking it a little with one finger, while in the other hand he keeps his binky, at the ready to replace the boob when he's finished. I feel his body settling into mine, and my body, into the chair, curving around him, warming up under the little quilt and M's skin, weight, heat.

The light outside starts to change; I've no idea what time it could be, but make out, squinting through a camouflage of random baby socks, nearly 6, on the digital clock. It's perfect. He's sleeping later these days, 6 is a luxury; but it's still early enough that I don't have to transfer him back into the crib and start the day right this minute. I stay where I am, drop my chin to my chest, and doze off with him, inhaling him, relieved, and greatful.

Half an hour later, he's still deeply asleep, and I decide to risk all this peace for a major indulgence; would he stay asleep if I carefully deposit him back in his crib, would they all stay asleep long enough for me to watch the news and eat a bowl of cold cereal.... all by myself?

I sneak my arms under his shoulders and hips and gingerly lift him up, then over the side of the crib and in, laying all 35 pounds of him out as gently as if he were 3 weeks old. I tuck Petey-Pie Penguin under Bluey, and M's arm creeps out to pull Petey even closer; he presses himself down into the mattress. My good boy. My beauty boy. For a moment I consider getting in the crib with him; B has done it, it's a good crib.

I want the news. Even for just ten minutes, I'll take a traffic report, weather, anything.

But as I tip-toe toward the door, Little H stirs; she only moves in her sleep if she's about to wake up. I wait, foot in the air; maybe not this time? Maybe she'll just shimmy a little and burrough back in?

"Wheeeeee," she croons, pitched just like a kitten, and without opening her eyes she sits right up in her gigantic big-girl crib, lower-lip protruding in insult, her face hot, smelling of camphor and sunflower lotion, her cheeks red and velvety. I scoop her up quickly, tuck a binky back in, and deposit her into the big bed alongside B, and cover her up.

Shirtless and stretched out for miles, his long, curly, mauvey-gray hair fanning across the blue pillow, the dawn light on him, he looks like a rock star; I poke him. He opens one blue, confused eye. I point at Little H, who is just about back to sleep next to him, laying on her side with her nose in his neck. I touch my finger to my lips. He nods, and crosses an arm over her, draws his legs up a little to make a bumper of his body. She works her binky for a moment, then lets out a little foal-whinny, the binky falling out, her little lips breath in angelic o's.

I look at them.
I turn and look at M.
My goodies. My goody darlings. They are so good, all three. How lucky I am. How the sight of thier faces feels like a kiss on my heart, on the real inside of my body.

I step out of the room on the floor's sweet spots that don't creak, and close the door all the way. I continue to walk lightly into the kitchen as if for good measure. There is my favorite cereal, cereal being my single favorite food in the world. This particular one looks just like dog food, but it's so crunchy and yummy. I could eat it a box at a time. I pour a huge bowlful and drown it in milk, I pick out the good spoon, and take a big, cold, delicious bite. I crunch and crunch, and munch along into the living room.

And who greets me there but my sad-sack Pit Bull, ears pressed back to her head in welcome, twisting onto her back in the big chair where she lay, her smooth, white, ropey-muscled chest open for my hand, her flat head upside down on the armrest, pink chin in the air, her rhumey eyes say, 'I am good, you know, I am. Give me something...'

I set down my bowl, kneel, and press my cheek to her chest, rubbing her side hard with the back of my hand as if starting a fire. I kiss her pink, musty old dog chin. I deposit one ring of cereal into her yellowing sabre-toothed chops. Her tail thuds consistently against the upholstery.

"Can I eat my cereal?"
'Ohh, all right.'

It's light out now, but softly so. I open the blinds, and turn on the tv; news. Luscious news. Hillary is ahead. A healthy baby girl was born in the Midtown tunnel and will be named Hector. No one died in any of the night's shootings. The market closed up. The Grand Central is wide open coming in and out of the city right now, and the forecast has a spot of rain for the morning, but otherwise, looks good.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fuck 'em If They Can't Take A Joke

Apparently my last couple of postings scared the crap out of everybody; and I thought it was comedy! Whoops! But the flood of concerned emails has been downright heartwarmimg. Here are a few faves.

Mommy-pal Kiersten gets Babyweekly, an e-newsletter that had this mind-boggling wisdom to offer on stressful moments, and she forwarded it to me thusly;

“I thought you’d get a kick out of this."

There's a reason parenting is called the toughest job in the world, and everyone has bad days. But if you feel as if you are at the end of your rope or you might take your frustrations out on your children, take a break. Put your child(ren) in a safe place (such as the crib) and take a moment to calm down. Have a friend or relative stay with them while you visit friends, sleep, take a hot bath, or go to the gym-whatever will help you recharge. Even a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood can do wonders for your state of mind. Reach out to others if you are at your wit's end-never take your frustrations out on your child.

Amazing, Kiersten and I agreed, how it’s all so simple!


I also got this concise and compassionate note, which I loved, from the wise and stylish Cousin Flora, a nodding, knowing….

“Ah yes, I remember those days….hang in there.”

From my devoted once-and-future shrink Ruth:

“I’ve been following your blog. Listen, Super Mom, or Super Jew, or whatever it is you’re trying to do over there; how about coming in for a few sessions?”

And finally, my favorite, from Fabulous Friend Kelly Kay Griffith, regarding Chapter 5, the car-screaming-episode:

“Jesus Christ. Are you alive?”

I have the nicest people! My kingdom for a podium at which to stand and wring the hem of my ball gown as I look with dewey eyes upon you all, proclaiming, “You like me! You really like me!”

Meanwhile, I am making arrangements for the fates of my detractors, the worst of whom is a relative who called Papa the Red to insist that Minky appears to be “overwhelmed” and “having problems,” and who FAILED to call Minky directly to offer support, or perhaps a few hours of free baby sitting (you see, the trouble with advice articles is REALITY,) that Minky might go and have a hair cut or a cup of coffee and a newspaper or, heaven forefend, an evening out with poor old B. No… that was not offered. Only belittlement and superiority were offered. So helpful!


But more to the point; any parent who asserts that they have never had something comparable to the afternoon of screaming I had with M, or a bout of clop-cup-en-vant such as was caused by the nightly game of Musical Sleep Deprivation that went on here, is either:

Drunk again
Not taking care of their own kids

But who cares about them, especially when I have the champ that is Papa in my corner, whose response to the relative was:

“You don’t understand. She’s not writing to complain. She’s writing to tell the truth. She’s writing to tell other mothers how it really is, and to not be alone.”

I could stand up clapping and do one of those cool, macho, long whistles right now, or in lieu of that, I could hoot like TV talk show audiences do; “Whoooo-hooo!” I say to Papa, “Tell it, Mister! Tes-ti-FY!”

I LOVE that man.

And as for the arrangements; I’ll probably go with this week’s special at my x-husband’s drive-thru contract service, ‘Bludgeon King.’ They get it done with your choice of a marble ashtray, Cricket bat, or my all time favorite… I love writing this almost as much as saying it… the Ball-Peen Hammer.



Sunday, August 19, 2007

Life With M, Chapter 5

We went to the beach with Papa, and probably shouldn’t have; it’s awfully hot outside. M and Little H’s cheeks turned a near-pulsating red within minutes of setting up our spot there. But I had promised M, and Papa, and couldn’t bear to reneg. They’d have forgotten about it eventually, but I couldn’t have tolerated the guilt, or the boredom of another long, long, sweltering afternoon.

They three sleep most of the way back and wake up in foul moods on Queens Boulevard. We drop off Papa and begin to search purgatory for a parking space; we circle, and circle, and I start to get jittery for caffeine and a snack; it had been too hot to eat lunch.

M and Little H are hungry, too, and need a drink. “Bwown dwink,” M announces, meaning chocolate milk. “Bwown dwink. Bwown dwink.” Little H just whimpers for a nurse.

“We will definitely get a drink at home, guy, we just have to park our car. Try to be patient,” I say, deliberately leaving no room to negotiate.

“Bwown dwink,” M insists. “Bwown dwink! Bwown DWINK!” He wants it right now, but he’s playing, too, his tone teasing.

“We’ll have it upstairs,” I say, seemingly unable to control my compulsion to answer every utterance he makes. It’s not a discussion, he has to wait, so why can’t I shut up?

“Bwown DWINK! Bwown DWINK! Bwown DWINK!” he yells, grinning in panicky sadism; he doesn’t believe me. Why? “Bwown DWINK! BWOWN DWINK! BWOWN DWINK!”

I hit the brake and turn to the 5:30 position, steadying myself by grabbing M’s car seat, and not M’s arm. “Please stop saying it, sweetheart, mommy’s trying to park the car and then we will go up and have the drink. Can you please wait quietly?”


“Thank you,” I say, and hit the gas a little, continue to search for a space, my fingers tapping the wheel because I know it’s coming-

“BWOWN DWINK! AAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!” M screams in mania, mouth open and smiling with cruel glee. “AAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” he screams again, this time so loud that Little H bursts into terrified tears, and I yell out in shock from the actual pain of noise slicing through my skull.

I pull over with a screetch and turn abruptly again to grab the car seat, all in slow motion; my rage at his screaming shoots down through my arm and the impulse to finally, just this once, slap him, is powerful; I don’t do it. I know I won’t. But I feel like I could.

Nevertheless I let out a bellow of anger so loud and alien I’m not sure it’s come from me at first; I sound like a man. I stop us all cold. M is momentarily stunned, and looks at my reflection in his backward-facing car seat mirror.


I don’t mean it, but the standoff is quiet, and I seem to have gained leverage. None of us move. After a moment, M’s frightened face relaxes, he smiles, laughs at me, and screams again. I put the car in park and bang my head on the steering wheel 17 times. Little H cries and cries.

“I quit,” I mutter, and pretend that it’s so, just for this moment. I am totally at sea. I’ve lost my way. I have no idea what to do with us now. But a parking space opens up, and I take it. I don’t say another word. M screams a few more times, looking for my hilariously angry expression in his reverse-view mirror, but I don’t engage him. I start to unpack the car, yanking out the double stroller and smacking it against the curb, it springs open with a flourish, hanging toys and cup holders flopping brightly out like flowers from a top hat. Diaper bag over the right handle, my mini knapsack purse over the left, M’s sandals in the bottom basket, smash the towels in there, too; the plastic bag of wet bathing suits and the beach toys can cook in the damn car for the rest of the hot afternoon for all I care right now. Fuck it.

I go around and extract weeping Little H from her deep car seat, and immediately she begins to calm down. I love her so. She is so sweet, so good natured, so passive; I wish I could protect her from this, whatever it is that goes on between me and M. “I’m sorry,” I whisper into her peachy ear, and I bounce her gently around for a moment before laying her back in the rear of the double stroller.

M watches all this closely and on his face I see a new confusion. “Boobee,” he says sweetly, trying a different tack. “Mommy,” he goes on, smiling at me. “Mommy mommy, boobee. A bink a bink, see mommy, go upstas, pway, mommy pway? Wead books!”

As I pull him from his car seat he gives me kisses on my chin and neck. I kiss him back one time, and sit him in the stroller’s driver seat, and I crouch, and look him in the eye. “You know that the rules are no hitting, no pushing, and no screaming. When we go upstairs, you’ll have a time-out in the crib, because you screamed. Got it?”

He nods, and looks away.

In the elevator, Little H falls asleep again. And inside the apartment, I leave them both in the stroller for a moment so I can pee in peace. I splash cold water on my face, take a deep breath. I undo M’s stroller straps and let him out for a moment. As I turn to take my beach shoes off, he runs around the open back of the stroller and slaps Little H on the head. She screams, and cries, and I shout, “That’s it! That’s it. TIME OUT!” He was getting it anyway, how do I make it mean more? I yank his binky out of his mouth and throw it on the floor.

I stick him in the crib and go back to the stroller, scoop out Little H, rock her on the sofa till she’s calm, meanwhile M cries like hell.

I nurse Little H, while M cries. I change her diaper. I set her up sitting in her Boppy with a baby video to watch and a heap of little toys. I wash M’s binky, and go back to him.

“Bink!” he demands on sight of it, still crying.

“You can have your binky when you say sorry to me for hitting and screaming.”

“No! Bink!” he says, and cries again. We go around and around with this for a while, I leave once or twice, he cries more, I come back, and eventually we get it together.

“Sowwy, mommy.”

“Okay,” I say, and we make it up with hugs and kisses and a bit of boob. We talk it over. “I’m sorry that I yelled at you,” I tell him. “We both have to work on keeping our voices down. Let’s both try to be quiet like butterflies, for the rest of the day, okay? And gentle.”

“Buddafwy,” he says, leaning exhausted against my chest.

“I love you,” I tell him, and he nods. “Pway,” he says, and climbs off my lap, runs out to the living room, and I’m after him like a shot, because I just feel in my bones what’s about to happen, but I don’t make it in time, and as I careen around the corner into the room, he smacks Little H on top of her head, she lets out a shriek of insult and pain, I lunge for him, and we start the whole goddamn thing all over again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Life With M, Chapter 4

I sit on the playground bench next to my pal, a Russian grandpa who takes care of his granddaughter all day. The granddaughter, a little older and a little taller than M, is ‘sharing’ his trucks; meaning the two have been peaceably dividing the trucks between them for about twenty minutes and are now eyeballing each other in preparation for a good cathartic fistfight. M grabs, the Russian girl swings and lands one truck on M’s head, he shoves back, snatches away the truck of contention and comes flying at me in dismay, and I open my knees and fold him back into my body, my arms all around him, his yowls muffled in my sand-bag breasts. I hold him.

He should defend himself, but this time he really started it. “Why did you grab that truck from her?” I ask him. “You have enough. You were sharing so nicely.”

“NO-O!” says M, up into my face, as if I’m missing the point, and I probably am.

“Okay,” I say, “but we brought a lot of trucks. That’s your friend. Can you play some more?”

“No,” M says, burying his face in my thigh now, and anyway the grandpa is prying trucks from the little girl’s hands and getting ready to leave. My heart falls, and I imagine the grandpa to be disappointed in me, for some reason. I like this friend for M, she gives him a run for his money. She cries angrily and stamps her foot. M watches. I can’t tell if he cares.

“I’m sorry,” I say to the grandpa as he steers her away.

“No worry,” he says, “see you.”

Little H, busily chewing a velour duck till now, starts to cry.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Life With M, Chapter 3

We’re in the playground, as usual, M, Little H, and I. It’s beastly hot outside, so we leave our beast, the dog, behind at home. It’s also late, after 6, and B will be home soon enough to take the poor old thing out (not me, the dog!) for a drag around the block.

Just now is when the playground becomes approachable again. The sun is setting in earnest, and the treeless place titrates down a few degrees. People come out of the brickwork, spilling from lobbies and rolling strollers up service ramps of bulging apartment buildings all around. Kids swarm in, mothers drag behind with thier limp hair and perspiring smiles, fathers with loosened ties and sweaty suit jackets flap down the block to meet them. The playground comes back to life.

“Ice-ee twuck! Ice-ee twuck!” shouts M, pointing. Doodl-y doodle-y, doo-doo-doo, the monkey chased the weasel…

“You’re late,” I say to the ice cream guy, kidding around. “Gimme a flying saucer, I’ll pay ya tomorrow.”

“Why you so nice to me, lady, hah?” he says curtly, kidding too and handing over the treat.

“Pity,” I say. “Really, tho, I ran out without-“ but he dismisses me, saying, "Go, go, mommy..." My credit is good and he’s got a line of hot little hands waving crumply bills at him.

I pirouette back to M who is strapped into the stroller, waiting for the flying saucer, which I pass over his head, making space ship noises, "Zhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnrrrrrmm! BEEP! BEEEP! BEEP!"

“Ice-ee, ice-ee!” he says, breathing fast and reaching out for it, kicking his legs with excitement like he used to do on sight of B coming through the door at the end of the day. The treat is barely out of the wrapper as M reaches up, high now, his arms are getting long, and grabs it from my hands, starts nibbling away at the black, damp cookie part, licking the white ice cream investigatively, touching it to the tip of his nose and then looking at me, eyebrows raised, as if to say, 'Ice-cream-nose; does it work on me?'

I slurp the middle of his face and he shoves me away; I’ve gone to far, gooney mommy that I am. I sit on a bench, relishing the sitting, watch kids fly around with their ice creams. Little H sleeps in the back of the stroller, her round, pink face hot and peaceful. M eats.

And then is distracted. A bigger kid has run by and caught his eye, a girl, 5 or 6, pretty and birdlike and boney and definitively un-American looking, with golden colored skin and light hair, as if she has been to the beach, or camping. She has hazel eyes and large, gray-white, crooked teeth, an open-mouthed but cautious smile. She wears purple cotton pants, dirty white sandals, a ‘Dora’ t-shirt, the ubiquitous uniform of little girls, but there’s a sophistication to her face, her posture, something harder, something of memory. She has only one hand.

“Wha-SAT?!?” M shouts, pointing at the stumped, waxy wrist. “Wha-SAT! Wha-SAT!” He demands to know, eyes bugging out in alarm.

‘That happens?’ I imagine him thinking, ‘You knew about this, mommy? Where the hell is that kid’s HAND?’

Landmines, I imagine, but say nothing, of course. She has already seen us, the girl, and she pushes her little sister on a swing, steady as a metronome, watching us, the little sister a baby version of herself, in tact.

Can my eyes speak for me at all? I try carefully and hard to smile the right way at the girl, to convey to her that she is lovely and unusual and strong. But in his outrage, M drowns my silent admiration out.

“Wha-SAT?!? Wha-SAT?!?” His pointing finger, like his father’s are, long, articulated, practically scorns.

“Let’s go see,” I say. There has to be a way in.

We roll on into the swing area and M climbs over the stroller bar as I mop off him with wipes the last of his flying saucer. Shoeless and shirtless, all frayed, uncut blonde hair and tan limbs, he could almost be the middle brother to these girls; but he’s more primal than they, and fatter. M grips the bottom of the swing next to the baby sister and hangs from it. I pull and push him up into it properly while he gives the bigger girl a side-eye; up close, he’s not so blatant, not so brave. But he’s still looking, and he’s looking at me, too, and she’s looking at me, and I don’t have the answer or even the right question.

“I like your 'Dora' shirt,” I say to the girl, synchronizing our pushes. I pat my shirt front, then point to hers.

“No,” she says kindly. No English, she means. Then we all four look straight ahead instead of at each other, and keep swinging.

There is no way in.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sleeping On It

From now on I’m calling The Prince, ‘B’. It was just getting annoying.


Minky was sick; no, I’m not talking about sick in terms of Minky’s various depravities that we’re all painfully aware of ; I’m just talking about a bad summer cold. And am I inDIGnant! This doesn't happen to ME! It takes more than mere germs to fell the persevering Minky...but I was in a weakened state. Well over a year ago M launched a battle campain against his poor mother that I call the Nurse of Attrition. Night after night he chips away at my sleep and my sanity. His strategy is thus; in bed by 8:30, then wakes up anywhere from 1 to 4 times after that, and starts his day at 6:15 a.m. In between, it’s booby, booby, booby.

I used to think this was him and me bonding. These days… not so much.

Little H, on the other hand, is not one to bite the boob that feeds. She's reliably down before 7, sleeps till 6, and gets up once in between, if she can be bothered; “She could give a shit,” my mother would have said.

Meanwhile, I myself can't go to bed before midnight. I just can’t. I can fall asleep drooling on the carpet in front of ‘Sex And The City’ reruns no problem, but once I shlep my fat ass into the actual bed, I’m wide awake. What am I doing till that time of night? Oh... this, probably. Emailing. Watching various seasons of 'The West Wing' and 'ER' with B. Suffice to say, what I'm doing is having 2 or so hours out of 24 that don't involve the babies; some selfish bitch, me, hah?

Nightly, then, about half an hour after I finally drift off, I hear the first stirrings of restless M, and then I see the shadow of his messy, rectangular head, and my heart starts to race, ‘cause here it comes-

“Mom-EEEEEEEEEE!” he whines, loud, and it goes through my skull like screeching tires, my shoulders bunching up under my ears in irritation. B goes near him and gets a disgusted, “NO! MOMMEEE!” and a slap for his trouble.

“Mommy, booby…” M weeps, changing tactics, so I get up, and hoist him out of the crib, into the nursing chair, he has a boob, falls back to sleep, and I put him back into the crib, and go back to bed. Fair enough.

Then GLINK, GLINK go my eyelids as I lay there awake. 20 minutes pass. No sign of sleep. Now it’s 1-ish. GLINK, GLINK. In my mind I start itemizing the refrigerator contents… one wilty romaine, half a box of baby spinach leaves, a salvageable red cabbage, 2 bags of baby carrots…and my eyes start to close….

Rustle, rustle, “Eeenh,” mutters M, “race car…” and he fidgets, then kicks…


I could have sworn that’s what he said.

I leap over B, irate; WHY is M awake? He CAN’T be hungry! “Sh! SH! SH!” I hiss at M as I fish in the crib for the damn binky, find it, and tuck it into his face. But that won't do.

"Nooo...BOO-bee," he whimpers, so I haul him out of the crib again. “Come on,” I stage whisper, half-hoping B will wake up and suffer with me. I plunk myself and M down into the nursing chair, M across my lap, his long, Princely limbs folding all over themselves, bink pulsing in his mouth, and I flop out a boob, but he’s not interested; he’s asleep, and I've been bink-winked.

I dump him back in the crib. Fine, I think, fuck it. I unfurl my big quilt onto the floor, grab the pukey-smelling nursing pillow, and lay down in the middle of the room. Why keep climbing back and forth over poor B? It’s almost 2 now. She’s due, Little H, she’s been down for 7 hours, and if she wants to keep those ham-hocks happening she’s gonna need a Booby-shake. I lay there, GLINK, GLINK, look up at the digital clock, 2:20;


Scramble up off the floor, scoop her out of the minicrib, jostle her into position on the nursing pillow and stuff her mouth full of nipple; she nurses for exactly 5 minutes, and is back to sleep, the efficient little darling.

Okay, I mutter, okay. Was that out loud? Am I alive? Okay. It’s a quarter to 3. That’s not so bad, right? I’ll just lay down here on the floor again rather than push and drag what seems at this time of night to be all 8 feet of B over to one side of the bed or the other, because by now, he’s set up camp twisted into the blankets and smack in the middle, arms and legs everywhere, not to mention nose and hair. Let him have the bed, the poor old dude, he works hard. That big jerk. I could kill him. I’m here on the floor pretending my face makes cartoon noises and he’s been blissfully asleep for 4 precious hours. The bastard. He’s obviously trying to gaslight me. He wants me to go insane so he can have me committed and run off with our beautiful children and someone willowy with her own paycheck. Well, if I was on the old episodes of ER, I’d be Carol’s best friend from childhood, and I’d be a paramedic, and I’d have my own subplot, and I’d date Carter for a while, but he’d turn out to be too young and optimistic for me, and I’d turn to Dr. Green one evening in Doc McGoo’s over a beer, we’d have a laugh about something, and then a wonderful affair that turns out too good to be true, and I’d be killed horribly when one stormy night on the way to rescue a child pinned under an airplane, my rig flips over into a ditch! And THEN my husband, I mean my real-life husband, B, would finally realize how wonderful I am and all my books and stories would be published posthumously and that would show EVERYBODY!

When suddenly, I’m snoring! Hooray, I’m snoring! I hear myself snore! This must mean I’m asleep! Except that I’m not asleep, I’m awake! Which is how I heard myself snore!

“BOOOOBEEEEE!” M howls into the night.

“boobee,” he reiterates, pitifully… none of us really understand his suffering.

I stand up. I stumble. I grab him. We’re back in the chair. He nurses. He falls asleep. I toss him in the crib. It’s 4:16 or some fucking time. I give up. I go out to the living room. I eat a bowl of cereal and watch the super-early news. I lay on the couch. I hate our couch. I start to doze off. I hear the bedroom door open, then B’s feet, heavy, because he’s carrying M.

“Minky?” he whispers carefully.

“He’s not,” I mutter.

“He is,” he says. “If you just give me one more hour, I’ll….”

“NOPE,” I say, “No hour. I’m sorry. No,” and I storm off to bed, because it’s after 5 a.m., and I’m just shit out of magnanimousness.

And that is a typical night at Minky’s, and Mother of Christ, am I tired.

I am not often given to wondering if I’m doing it wrong. Usually, if I wonder anything, it’s why somebody else is doing it wrong. But in the case of month after month beyond month of sleepless nights, I’m beginning to consider the possibility that I fucked up but good.

M has always gone to bed, as in lain down for the night, beautifully, because I nurse him to sleep. It works, so why mess with it? Many moms told me not to do this. “They have to learn to put themselves to sleep,” is what a lot of people, A LOT, say. Not until Little H arrived did I know what this means. But when M was really tiny, I thought it was a bunch of BS, and in many ways, still do.

First of all, why did he have to learn to fall asleep by himself? Was he getting his own apartment? And how exactly, if nobody showed him, or helped him, fall asleep, was he going to learn it at all? Because babies usually didn’t get the memo, you know? And then there was all this sadistic crap under discussion about leaving the baby in bed by itself, the really obscenely inhuman “CIO”, or Cry It Out, big-finger-quotes-gesture “method”, or to my understanding, abuse system, of purportedly teaching the baby to go to sleep alone.

Yea; I’m going to leave the person I love most in the whole world, who weighs like 15 helpless pounds, and who happens, in the bargain, to think I’m God, all alone, in the dark, to cry himself sick, thereby learning, if he doesn’t choke or vomit or die in the process, that I don’t give a shit about him. Yup, that’s a good idea. That’s just what I’m going to do.

It kind of reminds me of my mother’s old friend Elaine, who 36 years ago said, “I heard that if you just throw the baby into the pool, they’ll automatically swim.”

“Tell you what,” said my mother. “You throw yours in, and if it works, I’ll throw in mine.”

Elaine was not, in fact, willing to try. But in the case of sleep, a great many moms seemed to be insisting that not only did they try, but that it worked. So I had to wonder; did it work? Or were they lying?

Listen, I really get it, I do, that there are babies out there who will not go to sleep; I heard once of a colicky baby who began her nightly screaming shortly after midnight and continued till sunrise, for 2 months straight, and I think those parents deserve a highway named after them or something; I'd have gone Kool-aide by the end of the first week. I'm not talking about truly unusually uncomfortable babies. I'm talking about regular babies, and our expectations of them and for ourselves.

In a birthing preparation class while pregnant with M at Realbirth in Manhattan, educator Hallie Grieder frequently said, "Having a baby means things aren't going 'back to normal.' Remember, folks, this is 'the new normal.'"

Nobody gets that for a long time, it seems. It's hard enough for new moms to adjust to so little sleep, and with the added pressure of everyone from our families to perfect strangers asking the same question over and over, it's practically impossible, without feeling like a total exhausted failure.

My mommy-pal Danielle, mother of Anya, who’s almost 2, and president and publisher of, once wrote to a brand new mom on an e-chat, “If anybody asks if your baby sleeps through the night, just lie and say yes; because that question is code for, ‘Are you a good parent?’ and if your baby doesn’t sleep through, then you’re not.”

And everyone else on the chat with slightly older babies, who had, in other words, some experience, concurred. The e-chat belonged to a breastfeeding organization (guess which one) which insisted that nursing to sleep was the only humane way to get a baby down for the night, and that nursing it throughout the night, as frequently as the baby requested, was the reasonable extension. While I myself had no need to insist about what other moms should do (I make myself laugh that I even have the balls to write that; okay, how about, I try really hard not to be too jugemental,) I felt then and maintain that there are a variety of moral, emotional, and safety related problems with leaving a crying baby alone. But when I was brand new at this, it was a relief that at least somebody, in fact a whole bunch of people, thought I was, well, doing it right.

I wanted validation, and maybe even an excuse to go on, because the central issue for me, beyond the right way or not, and beyond even that nursing to sleep worked, was that I liked it. I still do. To sit in a comfy chair, in a safe, peaceful, twilight room, holding one’s baby against one’s naked skin, to smell their bath-time freshness, to watch their blissful face, to listen to their grateful suckle, and to just be, to just be together, to just sit there and love and nourish one’s baby…is there any other reason to have the baby to begin with? Isn’t this moment the dream come to life?

What’s not to like?

Anyway it wasn’t as though I had anywhere else to be. In fact, I didn’t go anywhere at night till M was about 17 months old and I flew off to Rochester one weekend to visit The Elegant and Productive Nancy, who is one of my 3 self-adopted sisters and who is also probably the most prolific artist I know personally. I was about 6 months pregnant and my milk supply had dropped considerably, so whatever nursing M was doing was almost purely recreational or ritual, and B and I hoped that with an excess of exercise and a big dinner and a long bath, he would be able to get M down for the night without me for just one weekend, and he was.

Had I consulted my crystal ball (I must clean out the closets and find that thing,) I might have night-weaned the kid right then and there. But I didn’t, so I didn’t. Besideswich, I also thought at that point that given his age, the low supply, and his changing role from baby to Big Brother, M would soon see fit to night-wean, or totally wean, himself. I just wasn’t worried about it.

All right, I was worried about it.

I wasn’t worried that M would not ween, I was worried that he would.

In my heart, in the soul of my body, in the center of my life-force, I nurse my babies. I cannot bear the thought that one day they will stop. I love to nurse them. And they love to nurse.

Nevertheless, I’m exhausted. It’s one thing to nurse a baby through the night for a year, or even two. And it’s not such a big deal to go on doing it, as I did, through pregnancy, as long as you’re eating right (translation - a lot) and have basically no other responsibilities. But it’s another thing to nurse a big, fully verbal, probably somewhat spoiled, little boy, 3 or 4 times over the course of just 6 hours or so, in the depths of night, when he’s fully capable, as Miranda on “Sex And The City” once said, “of chewing steak,” even if his infant sister is taking is going very easy on the night nursing herself and even if, yup, you have pretty much no other responsibilities. It’s a thing, in fact, that can maybe make a person sick; not because it's unhealthy, but just because it makes a person...



And so the gland thingies under my jaw that my mom would always touch to see if I was faking had been about the size and texture of walnuts for over a week. I had a headache every day. My nose was runny, my eyes itched, my joints hurt, and I basically felt like crap, but I ignored it; after all, I was really tired, right? But by Wednesday, I was running out of steam. And Saturday after noon, I crashed.

I had taken M and Little H and The Dog to the playground so B could have a nap (let’s not compare notes on who slept how many hours this week just now, shall we? Someone’s liable to get stabbed.) We ended up staying about 3 hours. When we got back I was hot and sweaty…but B was making waffles! From a good mix this time! So I sat down to tuck in, and half way through, the room started spinning. I was more than tired. I was about to pass out. I even put down my fork.

Meanwhile, teething Little H just couldn’t get into her nap, and the third time I went in to settle her, I actually stumbled through the doorway, and found her crying her big blue buggies out, so I gathered her up like a bunch of laundry and set her at B’s feet.

“Good luck,” I said, and went to bed.

Four hours later, they were in the exact same position in which I had left them, sitting on the couch watching old episodes of The Muppet Show, only they claimed to have been, in between times, on a walk, to a park, and eating ice cream; in fact Little H was sitting primly on The Prince’s lap having some yogurt just then, the no-dairy-till-one-year-old rule long since discarded in my cheese-inhaling-household and incidentally aren’t formulas (not that ONE DROP of the stuff has ever passed my children’s lips) based on the genetic structure of cow’s milk so who’s kiddin’ who? Anyway B took care of all of us for the rest of the weekend and by Sunday night I was somewhat on the mend.

Lucky for Minky it all happened when B was home; if I’d collapsed like that early in the work week we’d have been screwed. I am quite sure it was all due to nothing other than the sad fact that I haven’t had more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep, except for Saturday afternoon’s nap, and my weekend visiting Nan, in over two years. I can’t go on like this.

All right I’ll go on.

I’m gonna try the Dr. Jay Gordon night-weening plan..soon. I don't know when. But Dr. G’s is the only one of all the sleep adjustment plans out there that’s remotely relevant for us, because he designed it for use with babies who sleep in a “family bed,” or it’s evil cousin, the crib-3-feet-away. You see, the real problem here is not just habitual, my friends, it’s structural; we all sleep in the same room. That’s how we ended up in this position.

We live in a one-bedroom apartment because that’s how we survive on one income; and when everybody sleeps in the same room, you give a loud baby anything that will shut him up at 2, and 3, and 4 a.m.. Here at Chez Mink, it’s the boob. I didn’t start out wanting to get up 5 times a night, I started out wanting to take good care of my baby. I read, I listened to other moms, and B and I talked a lot. Nursing, actually, is the foundation, the guiding principal, of all my parenting, and for all the mistakes I may make, for all the late-night expletive hurling that I do about the night nursing, the truth is that I’m not sure either M or I are ready to stop.

Did I, in fact, fuck up? Did I have another choice? The world will never know.

Meanwhile, Little H has learned how to fall asleep by herself, and I helped. In the beginning I just let her pass out wherever she was, which was mostly on the couch or in our bed, and at the end of the night, one of us would crawl in with her. We'd trade pairs through the night according to boobular need. Eventually, I started to transfer her into the minicrib. And when she was 3 months old, I remembered that I started putting M down formally to sleep at 6 p.m. when I noticed that she started getting really cranky at that same time. I would give her a bath, and a final boob, but M would be bouncing around in the living room, and I couldn’t just sit there in the nursing chair as long as I had in the old days of one baby. So as soon as she stopped nursing, I would put her in the minicrib, still awake but drowsy, and go out to the living room with M, and listen for her. If she cried, I ran in and gave her a binky, and then went back to M. If she cried again, I ran back in again and re-binked her. If she cried again, I gave her another few slurps, and put her back in the crib, awake, because I had to. And in a few more minutes she’d be asleep, and that is how we do it now.

I didn’t leave her alone to cry. I will never do that. And frankly, I don’t think you should, either.

What I’m saying is, I didn’t use a system. I didn’t count minutes, I didn’t follow a series of steps that anyone else delineated; I met the babys' needs. That’s my job as the mom. And babies are pretty nice, they will usually tell you what they want, and it’s almost always one or two of just a few different things. Except, of course, when it's not, and I don't have experience with that, and I'm very fortunate.

I’m not saying I’ve got this beat; there are always curve balls. She could change! Growing children will do that! The very thing that's wrong with books and systems and experts is that there is not, in fact, one kind of baby, one way of doing things, one answer.

(Except don’t give the baby Pepsi and Doritos for dinner. And don’t leave it alone to cry. Yes, this is Minky insisting on how other mothers should do things.)

I just think that change is incremental, and suddenly the babies grow up. We have to listen closely, look closely, and take it moment to moment. Sure, I may try Dr. Gordon, but then again I may not (I guess I'll sleep on it.) Oh who am I kidding. This is about M and me bonding. This moment with M, and Little H, too, is all there is. New York could blow up tomorrow, in fact it often does that. If my family survives the unknown of the next ten minutes, ten years, holding M at my breast in the night will be a memory, one that I’ll be lucky, very lucky, to have.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Babies Are The Center of the Universe, Part I: Father's Day Is For Babies

Happy Fathers’ Day! Yes, yes, I know, Minky’s a week late… or later… can we focus here people? I got The Prince a fancy waffle maker, underwritten by my father, Lenny the Red, who we did not get to see till the next day. And while the waffle maker was itself a success, the homemade pumpkin waffle batter was less impressive; gluey, and not terribly pumpkinny; not that I let this stop me from eating the leftovers for Second Breakfast this morning.

The Prince was also supposed to sleep in as part of his present; sleep in! Ha ha hahahahahahah, oh, that's rich! Sleep in! What a knee-slapper! These days, The Prince takes M on compulsory (compelled as they are, or perhaps jettisoned, by Minky,) jaunts to the playground at SIX A.M., lest he spend the early morning watching upwards of 2 hours of television while The Prince dozes face down in the dog hair, M thus becoming so hysterically overstimulated and underexcercised that by 7 he's givin' me whiplash, how he's running up and down the 3 rooms of this apartment SCREAMING HIS GODDAMN HEAD OFF and bringing Minky dangerously close to … becoming really dangerous.

Suffice it to say, The Prince did not sleep in, though he was granted a reprieve nap later in the day. And then we were on to a birthday bar-b-que at cousins out on the Island, where The Prince skulked with yard-envy and M raided the battlefield of lawn toys belonging to the not-home people next door.

I carried Little H around, which I almost never get to do, what with M in his ever-increasingly gorilla-like condition of boyness, climbing up and down my “Big Mommy!” body and swinging from my tireless boobs, the poor dears. That Little H is delicious. Her smell is like pretzels, calamine, and brown sugar, her sturdy, rubbery skin fairly springs back at you when kissed, her smile is so joyfully gooney that all her prettiness of great blue eye and Kewpie mouth just falters in her hilarity on seeing your obviously preposterous face. And she happens to think Minky is the kitty cat’s PJ’s, thank you very much!

And because I am a shameless glutton (if I said I was ashamed I was lying) of every kind, all I could think about as I toted on my sweaty hip her insistent denseness of flesh hither and thither across the lawn, was that I want



I’m not going to make another one, I just want another one, and I’m always going to want one, because babies are the CENTER of the universe.

Lenny The Red would disagree. “Men don’t know that,” he said. “Men don’t really know. Only women know. Because they know in their bodies in a way that men can’t, and I really believe that.”

He’s a believer, all right, mostly in his own time-tested theory that people are no goddamn good and that he himself has got no mazel. My sister’s myriad psycho-medical conditions of the past 50 years are at the forefront of his bitterness, to be sure, followed closely by all the people who abandoned her. His mother suffered. His father disappointed him. The loss of my mother haunts him every day. And I didn’t turn out as all I was cracked up to be, either.

My babies, however, seem to assuage all that; my beamish, blonde-beaned offspring, a pair of two-fisted nursers as ever have boobed. Lenny the Red won’t come right out and say that my lusciouses represent the hope of humanity, but you can see it in his misty eyes as he watches M’s every move, the grandpa lurching in a panicked sweat this way and that to keep the kid from taking off out the playground and into traffic; you can see it as he holds Little H on his lap with growing confidence as she packs on the pounds week after week, gripping under her plump pits and raising her up and down evaluatively like she’s a roast, frowning in affirmation and saying, “Strong. Strong baby.”

He loves them, deeply, loves the promise of their bodies, the lineage of their DNA, he loves them instead of himself. He doesn’t need to see them a lot, he doesn’t need to know them all that well. They’re me, and I’m him, and as weird as it is that they’re blonde, he claims them.

My old dad; Lenny The Red; for M, he’s “Papa! Big Papa!” For Little H, “Yeee! Uuuuuurlp!” and all four limbs jerking semaphorically on sight of him. For the bewildered Prince, he’s "my father-in-law." For myself, I couldn’t do without the man.

On the Monday after Fathers’ Day, Papa The Red took us to the beach. The Prince was at work, otherwise he’d have taken some of the load off the old guy; but as it was, Little H was unsatisfied to remain in her tent, demanding instead to be shaded only in Minky’s lap, and not for love or money could I make that fuckin’ umbrella stay put anyway. So it fell to Papa the Red to run after M, continuously, up and down the beach, for almost 3 hours.

No mean feat. Because M spontaneously turns into a racecar now, a scientifically documented phenomenon that other boy-owners warned me about but I did not believe until it began to happen in my own home. One moment I’ve got a hairless chimpanzee lolling in my lap and babbling about boobies, when suddenly without warning he’s a racecar, upon which metamorphosis he must tear off his clothes and run naked through the apartment, or down the beach, for that matter, screaming, “I very fast race car! Very very very fast! Very big! Racecar very loud! Rrrrrrrmmmmmmmm!”

And there was Papa in his yellow bathing trunks, flapping after him, tirelessly, until the two of them were utterly exhausted. I piled the whole gang and that damn umbrella, the wet towels, the sandy blanket, the bucket of beach toys, and even the half-eaten sun-soured sandwiches back into the station wagon, and we headed home, all of them asleep before we got out of the parking lot. I didn’t begrudge them the nap even as I hauled us the hour plus home slurping very bad ice coffee from a MacDonald’s drive-thru; they had all worked hard making mommy-work for grateful Minky. And besides, there’s no knowing how many more of these Papa’s got in him.

Father’s Day; not so much for the dads, maybe it’s for the babies, but it feels like it’s for me.

Babies Are The Center of the Universe, Part II: Getting On With Life, Indeed

The same grizzly-wise relative who told me my father is a superstitious old grinne said to me on the phone last week, apropos of what I have mused upon;

“You have to make a decision to put a stop to having children at some point.”

(I do?)

“Women can spend their lives talking about poop and diapers and shit and it’s not that interesting.”

(It’s NOT?)

“You have to get your brains back and get on with your own life.”


I reached for the nearest pair of bundled up tube socks and stuffed them into my mouth, rather than say back:


He may have thought he was speaking on my father’s behalf; my father may have said to him that he fears I will go on having babies exponentially beyond what The Prince’s paycheck can endure; my father may have insinuated that the more babies I have, the less clear the distinction becomes between myself (and himself by association,) and the frumme; he may have said none of these things and the relative was simply taking the initiative to school me on what’s important for a woman in the modern world, which is most likely.

But I actually happen to really like this guy, and he happens to be a father himself, so I give him a break, because clearly, he is not well; it is more than evident that he has…


Well Intentioned Macho Arrogance, a qualifiable mental illness I made up, which, by the way, women can get, too.

In fact, I used to have it.

Ooooooohhhhh where do I begin … all right, how about with an apology long owed to Gingy, and you know who you are, you skinny little dish-towel; Gingy, I’m sorry I was an idiot but I was very, very sad.

About 100 years ago, when Gingy was first pregnant and I was chewing off my own leg in an alcoholic marriage, I wrote Gingy what I thought was a compelling, but was in retrospect only desperately jealous, email about why she must reject such bourgeoisie pressures as childrearing and instead use her Ivy-educated brain-powers for the advancement of the millions and billions of women withering worldwide under the oppression of their own offspring. Though the email itself is long lost thank god in a 3rd hand computer The Prince stripped of its hard drive eons ago, the pungently adolescent radicalism of its verbiage still singes the nose hairs on reflection.

In my own defense, Gingy did not tell me that she actually was pregnant at the time, only that she was thinking about getting pregnant; so she gets one fore-finger-from-thumb-flick between the eyebrows for side-swiping old Minky. Of course, Minky wasn’t so old then; it was actually just seven or eight years ago, not 100 (has my SSI check arrived yet, for cryin’ out loud? And get outta my yard, you kids!), but the future for Minky’s uterus was bleak.

My husband at the time, Killer, had made it redundantly and abundantly clear that we had not entered into marriage to pursue any such tasks so laborious, so to speak, as reproduction (especially as we had met working in a copy shop in the Village; the irony… deafening); rather, we got married so we could go on getting it on and drinking into the wee hours as continuously as possible before one or with any luck both of us departed the firmament for points west.

I pined for a baby so badly I couldn’t even tell myself. I used to sit with my madly beloved friend, the fabulously talented actress Kelly Kay Griffith, on a bench in front of the first hip coffee shop on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, watching all the arty-style yuppies walk by with their little kids named things like Chloe and Piper and Hamden and Corliss and Kennedy and Henry and god-knows-what-all affected bullshit in some new-money-lefty conflicted ambition of WASPitude-driven granolaship, and I would say;

“I hate children. I HATE them. I’m not kidding, Kelly. I hate them.”

“Really?” she would say back to me, sucking a cigarette and without the slightest mockery.

“Really,” I would say, staring down any 3-year-old that dared look my way. Then she and I would smoke some more, complain about our art – my writing and her acting – complain about our mothers, our metabolisms, our men; she, too, was stuck in a perversely compelling relationship which was rapidly becoming more perverse and less compelling. Kelly didn’t have the baby bug yet but she knew I had it, and was much too kind to say so; also, I was a crazy person running around talking about kid-hatred, so she was reasonably afraid of me.

Separated for the 3rd time, I asked my Killer to have lunch with me. “Is there any chance,” I whispered over $12 Smith Street hamburgers, as if my reputation would be jeopardized were I heard, “that if we got back together, we could have a baby?”

“No,” he said, biting into the beef. “Besides, you only want one because your friends are having them.”

Ow. OW! He meant Gingy, and another friend at the time, The Philosopher Mom. I didn’t entirely blame him; what had I ever done to make him think I was sincere about family? Smoke and drink? Leave the marriage three times? Anyway we seemed to finally believe each other after that, and parted ways.

And I began, as I’ve written before, to search for a baby-friendly husband in earnest, and despite my most self-destructive efforts, found The Prince, who begot M, followed by Little H, and here we are, rattling down the road with Papa the Red in tow.

So am I doing something criminal, that would inspire this first of comments by my relative, this apparent urgency of making “a decision to put a stop to having children.” Am I a dog? Am I having litters? Am I on the dole? Why don’t I go get sterilized, for christ’s sake.

But before I do, let me invoke the Philosopher Mom. When we were 19 and knew everything, she said, ”I don’t want to just fall into something, I want to make decisions.” I never let her forget it; in fact I would say I stuck it to her for the next nearly 20 years. And that’s because I wanted to make decisions, too, always have. And I wanted her to go on wanting to make them with me. I wanted to be affirmed in my fantasies of control, is that so wrong?

Wrong, shlong, she wasn’t one to bullshit; where babies are concerned, she realized on having her own, then advised, throw your decisions out with the bathwater, and I’ve come to agree. The babies are the new sheriff in town, are they not?

Whether it’s peanut butter vs cream cheese, nursies vs the powdered stuff, getting out the door in time for Mommy-n-Me vs calling it quits for the day at 9 a.m. and staying in to play with trucks for the next 11 hours, these tiny little schizophrenic martians don’t seem to speak the language yet will tell you in no uncertain terms:

I’m not eating that
I’m not shitting in there
I’m not going to sleep
I’m not staying asleep
I’m not being quiet

and I’m not going to behave as you would like me to now or for the next dozen years, because I have ONE item on my agenda, lady, and that’s keepin’ your ass right here next to mine every minute, every second that I can, whatever it takes, because I LOVE YOU, MOMMY.

Never, in fact, have I been so loved, nor have I loved so much. I even, I especially, love delivering; I’m great at it; I squirt ‘em right out au naturale, no dope, no nothin’; in fact I know if I could do just one more, it would be absolutely perfect. And after my euphoric deliveries, the actual children make me happier than I thought humanly possible. Why would I want this to end?

And whether I stick with two or have ten more, I don’t, FYI, actually have to make a decision about it; it’ll get made. And the irony is, if I do my job right, then sooner or later, the kids will leave me, and even if I have 20 of them, it will break my heart.

As for "not that interesting…" according to whom? Members of the Letters-After-My-Name-and-a-Fat-Paycheck Society? They have clearly not met my children, the poor deprived dears. You know, my kids are not a hobby. They’re not a right of passage. They’re not items to cross off the To Do list. They are human beings and I’m in love with their health, their minds, and their feelings, with every investable atom of energy I can muster; that’s my purpose, because I’m their mother. What, WHAT, is more interesting than my children? And never mind MY children, what about YOUR children? YOUR children are the center of YOUR universe, smart guy! You needed ME to tell you this???

If you did, then forget it; you’re a day late and a dollar short. Go read The Times and pat yourself on the head.

Maybe I’m really trying to talk about some kind of liberation. I’ve never heard of another endeavor that begins so selfishly; “I want a baby. I WANT ONE!” and proceeds so selflessly.

Begin with the body; goodbye, vanity! Never mind the few moms (though in our envy they seem ubiquitous) who gain a total of 18 pounds with each baby, lose it during delivery, and scamper home wearing their pre-pregnancy jeans. As for the rest of us, packing up those skinny clothes for the thrift shop and scooping our boobs off our knees, it's bon voyage to the bodies we knew; this body is not really ours any more, anyway. It's baby’s first fort, first food source, first home of the soul. Wouldn’t you trade your old waistline in a tiny heartbeat for the the sight of your toddler running from insult and injury to the solace of your legs and face-first into your crotch? I would. I do! And even if we didn’t want to trade, too bad! Too late!

Au revoire, too, to control of all kinds. First of all, what does that expression mean, ‘save money’? And what time are we leaving? When they wake up from nap! What’s for dinner? Cereal, at Minky's! And how does she get her kids to eat vegetables? How does she keep them so clean? Why are they so well behaved? I didn’t get to the laundry today. Didn’t get to the gym. Haven’t had a haircut in two years or remembered to kiss my husband when he first walks in. Sex life? Ha HA! They sleep in my room! And as for the floor? This place looks like a staging of a Fisher Price war. Pick up his own toys? Sleep through the night? Not raise my voice? No sugar? Yea, right…

…and my all time favorite, “I will never use bribery.”

Let it go, baby… let it go. You’re doing the best you can. I know I am, and you look as wasted as me.

And strung out as I may be from getting no sleep ever, I’m on the most intense learning curve of my life; my brain crackles with appetite and electrifying discoveries all the time; I am a scientist of M and Little H! I read books, articles, blogs, and more importantly, I talk to other mothers, who are the one true source, and you know what? I learn things! Imagine! Learning from a mother!

Not that it’s of any interest to my relative, but I happen to be getting on with my life, and at breakneck speed. I just shot out two kids in two years, old man, and I have never been a more terrific lady than I am right now.

But no matter how good or lousy I may be, and believe me I leap the spectrum from one day to the next, circumstances will dictate. And The Practical Prince will have his say. We’re civilized. We’re also on a shoe-string-french-fry budget.


Babies Are The Center of the Universe, Part III: The Bottom Line

When M was seven months old, in January of ’06, dad had emergency multiple bypass surgery. Afterward, he strode around the hospital telling everyone he was fine until they kicked him out. Three days later, at home, he developed congestive heart failure, known in the medical business as CHF. He couldn't lie down to sleep; his body wouldn't let him, because his lungs were filling up with fluid and he'd have drowned in his own dry bed. At first he refused to go back to the doctor, but when he hadn’t lain down in four days and was afraid to sleep sitting up because he thought he would die, back he went.

I went with him, and M, still compliant and reliably cheerful at 7 months, tagged along. Though dad seemed to be holding his own while sitting there in the office, the doctor wanted him to have more tests in the hospital, so I took him home to get his overnight bag. Then I dropped off baby M with The Prince, got a warmer coat and a cup of coffee, and headed back to pick up dad once again; about two hours had passed.

I called him from the car to say I was ten minutes away, and he answered the phone barely able to push words out, growling, "Where are you?" He gutturally whispered that he couldn't breathe, and that he was having an unstoppable nose bleed, the blood running down the back of his throat. I said, “Hang on, Dad. Hang on.”

I put on some speed and called 911 from the car and paramedics arrived as I did. My father had blood all over his shirt; it was all over the bathroom. His face was a dusky blue. He couldn't finish a sentence. The paramedics slapped an oxygen mask on him and we went lights and sirens to the hospital.

I had never seen that terror in my father’s eyes before.

Amazingly, the color was already coming back to his face just from the little bit of oxygen he’d received on the way to the hospital. And once in a bed, with fluids coming in through and IV, and more oxygen, his voice came back, and the panic began to abate, for both of us.

But for the moment, my father had been a helpless old man. Ragged at the eyes, thin, gray hair wild, and face hollow, this was my lonely father, finally lost without my mother who had herself died of a heart attack five years before. Now he was facing his own mortality and not sure it wasn't a relief to be doing so.

I stayed with him till about 10:30, just until I began to feel the room swim around me from pure exhaustion. My breasts hurt so much, as I hadn’t nursed M in 6 hours at that point; in fact it was the longest time I’d ever been away from M. So I left my father and went back to my baby. There was nothing else I could do.

I took my father's clothes and his jacket and his tall black faux fur hat and his $10 glasses from Riteaid and I left, feeling utterly beaten as I walked up the street, and like my dad, weirdly relieved of my will at the same time.

I climbed the stairs to the elevated N line, and as I stood there, thinking of my baby, aching with menstrual cramps and terribly thirsty, the dry, medicinal taste of the ER air still in my mouth, I started to shake with the hunger to be pregnant again. It seemed to be suddenly revving every cell in my body like the diesel engine of an ambulance, and it made more sense in my mind than anything other than the baby I already had; that the only answer to all this work of not dying, and to the work of dying, too, its inevitability, is to have



Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Big Prince

How do you like my new blog art? The Prince made it for me because that’s the kind of guy he is; talented, selfless, and puffed up like a rooster over his gorgeous kids. At first he didn’t want their pictures flying around cyberspace for any perv or murderer to examine, but his growing awe at the very luminousness of his own offspring has recently outrun his paranoia.

(As a matter of fact, an X of his, a warm and hilarious woman, actually has a huge rooster for a pet; scant substitute, I say! My dear, you must eat that thing and move on!)

“I don’t get this,” the Prince said, staring at the kids, misty-eyed, “they’re sooooo … beautiful…” Meanwhile M launched trucks around the living room and H laid on a blanket, gurgling and spitting up on herself. “I mean, you and I,“ he went on, “at best, have… off-beat good looks…and that was before, when we were slim, and got sleep…”

It’s true; pretty people we are not. Nor were we exactly catalogue material as children, either. He was all teeth and elbows, and I was a slightly lopsided butterball with perpetually sticky hands and one eye bigger than the other. We had darling personalities, of course… but…

Anyway tomorrow is our 2-year anniversary. Yup, that’s it; 2 years. We got married 8 days before M was born, mostly to satisfy my father and his mother.

“Um, don’t you think it would be helpful, I mean, if something went wrong, or, I mean, for the birth certificate, if you, of course you two know best, but maybe…” said my poor mother-in-law, who would rather have hives than step on our toes, being as she is the kindest, most tactful, and optimistic person currently living.

“It’s a shonda b’leiten!” muttered my father, who M now calls Papa, “a baby and not married.” ‘A shame for the people to see.’ That’s why he hadn’t told my uncle, my aunt, or any of the thousand or so other people in our extended family. Not that he wasn’t delighted; it’s just that evil eye, you know. I forget that he wasn’t born here, at least his soul wasn’t.

“Why can’t he take a compliment about his grandchildren?” I recently whined at a cousin. “People say ‘congratulations’ to him about H, and he says, ‘I had nothing to do with it!’ It’s so weird! Or they say, ‘How are your grandchildren?’ and he says, ‘They’re 8 feet tall and they speak 5 languages!’ I think it’s very hostile,” I went on, complaining at expansive, excessive length, a specialty of mine.

“Whatsamatta with you,” growled my relative. “It’s bad luck in the old country to get a compliment. You’re lucky he doesn’t spit on the floor.”

A point.

Meanwhile, The Prince’s father wasn’t worried about it. Grandpa B believes in The Prince, wholeheartedly. He is a steady man of sense and reserve, a man who works with his hands even now at 71, and will likely move on to the next plane of existence with a grease-black fist full of nuts and bolts, a man who loves like he works; consistently, patiently, and without fanfare. He was certain that The Prince knew what he was doing, marrying a loud, bitchy woman he’d known for less than 6 months and accidentally knocked up. Not everybody’s dad can support that.

Maybe he was just hoping for the best. The Prince’s not-too-boastable history with mates made up for with masochistic endurance what it lacked in variety, the polar opposite of Yours Truly’s trail of bloody limbs, some of her own included, emotio-logically speaking, of course. Meanwhile our clocks were ticking, loud.

We actually met on-line. The Prince’s remarkable nose stuck formidably out from under his chic shades in the middle of his picture and I thought he was Jewish. I myself did not put up an ad, I lurked. I was hunting husbands, after all, and I had no time to waste. Other candidates had included a brilliant and funny journalist I almost adored except that he weighed 300 pounds and lived with his mother and nine cats and ate salad with his fingers; and a comedian who, when I coyly touched his hand across the table over drinks, screamed, “No no no! Too soon for touching!” and jerked his arm away so suddenly that he fell over backward in his chair.

About to give up, I took one more cruise on the web that night, and there was The Prince, standing ruggedly on the lunar landscape of Idaho while visiting friends out there, big hiking boots on his big feet at the end of his long, cowboy legs, a video camera balanced on his shoulder and a goony grin I would grow to relish, under his big beak.

“That’s it,” I remember thinking, as I furiously typed a response, “that’s the one. I want that one.” I wrote something incoherent about my great sense of humor and my big boobs and he called me the next night.

I almost didn’t get him, though we had a great first date and a precious first kiss on the subway, and I thought we were off and running. He was shy but he wasn’t afraid of me. He was profoundly intelligent but never showed off or spoke out of turn. He was, and is, very handsome, with blue eyes and silver streaked hair and great shoulders, and still doesn’t know that, and he has a way of looking at his shoes and smiling while reveling in my attention, and the smuttier I get the more ‘awe shux’ he still becomes, this sinewy old horn-dog. He’s from California, and lopes like it, with a mile long stride in his Chuck Taylors and a high, muscular butt lost somewhere in his Levi’s, perennially seventeen. Boy, was I sweet on him.

But the X he had moved out here for haunted me, half my size, half my age, with a fat paycheck and a pretty face like a china tea cup. The Prince did little to reassure me, I thought, though probably the only gesture that would have assuaged my insecurity would have been matrimony… but at the time I said, to a very close female friend of his, “He’s going to get strong on me, and then leave.”

“He’s not,” she said to me. “You don’t know him. Give him a chance.”

And then an X of my own suddenly appeared, literally stumbling out the door of a bar and into us while we were out on a date. He was a charming and witty drunk who couldn’t hold a job but who always had made me feel like the star of a movie about a preposterous fantasy of the bohemian lifestyle I dreamed of as a teen, that would in reality have looked a lot more like something off COPS in the final analysis, except with books about post-modernism and old issues of The Onion lying around amongst the empty beer bottles.

For a moment, the X and I went on dates. We saw “Coffee And Cigarettes” and X raved about it over burritos I paid for. I thought Jarmusch was a charlatan but kept it to myself.

Meanwhile The Prince was visiting his parents in California. He called me that night (afternoon in Cali) from an outdoor antique car show he was at with his dad.

He held his cell phone up in the air so I could listen to the marching band.

“Can you hear the parade?” he shouted.

I could.

We alligator-wrestled the relationship all summer. In September we decided to get away for a weekend, so we took my dog to Cape Cod, hoping to find out something, though I don’t remember what. I took the opportunity to torture both of us by asking repetitive and detailed questions about the pretty, young X, and he got me back by answering them. I seethed all weekend. Yet somehow, we also managed to get pregnant with M though of course we wouldn’t know that for another month.

I felt fat days later and lost track of my period. My bras shrank. The Prince and I decided we should take one last break from each other and make a decision after his parents’ visit in October. The days passed slowly. I wasn’t doing much of anything except smoking and bitching to my best friends. But I felt funny. And my period never arrived. And I took three home-pregnancy-tests and they were all positive.

I broke into a cold sweat and remained there for a week. The Prince’s parents were in town. I had no actual intention of having a termination, but I scheduled one at a nearby clinic because I knew I could get a cheap sonogram the same day, and I needed to see the heartbeat. But I told my father I wasn’t sure what I would do, because I didn’t know how he would take anything else. He drove me to the clinic, without comment of any kind, because he loves me.

“Before we go through with the procedure,” said the technician, “I need to show you this sonogram, and you need to sign this document stating that you understand what you are seeing and what the procedure means.”

But I could feel my face glowing and tears were streaming down my cheeks. She waited for me to answer her but I just sat there, staring.

“You’re not having this abortion, are you,” she said.

“Nope!” I said, and I skipped out of the place and threw my cigarettes in a city garbage bin. Then I called The Prince from my cell. It was 9:00 on a Saturday morning.

“What are you doing?” I sputtered.

“Uh, my parents and I are about to go out to breakfast,” he said.

“Don’t,” I said. “Meet me on your corner in 20 minutes.”

I hailed a big Lincoln Town Car cab and we fishtailed along Queens Boulevard at warp speed because I told the driver I had big news to tell my boyfriend! As we careened along I prepared my speech. When I got out at his corner, The Prince was standing there looking just plain happy to see me.

“Hi,” he said goofily, almost as if he knew something was up.

“I’m pregnant,” I said, “and you can-“

But he cut me off by opening up his face into that giant grin, then slapping his hand over his own mouth because he didn’t know if I wanted him to be happy or not.

“Why are you smiling?” I asked him, smiling.

“I don’t know,” he mlffphed from behind his hand.

Laughing now but not to be robbed of my Moment, I went on bizarrely with my speech, something about him coming along or not, and as I babbled he put his arms around me, and then I cried and then he cried and then we went upstairs and told his parents and his mom cried and his dad was happy and not all that surprised, and even my father was happy when we called him, at least he was relieved someone would be taking me off his hands and that I would have something to do other than just hang around his place, smoking with my big ugly dog.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I had never imagined being as happy as I was the day I realized that The Prince and I were going to spend the rest of our lives together, and we kind of owe it all to M. And Little H is the icing on the cake.

Because The Prince is, and I say this without apology, a truth. He is a standard for men. He is honest all the time about everything. He has a full range of human emotions that he never hides, able to cry and wanting and willing to laugh in the same moment. He’s masculine without machismo, he’s gentle without being a sissy, he’s careful but not fearful, he’s modest but he knows he’s the original Great Guy. He loves his children, misses them all day and washes them and feeds them and kisses them at night. I wish I could clone him because I would make a LOT of money and then he could stop working and stay home with me and the gang all day. If I am very, VERY lucky, M will grow up just like him, and H will look for a person like her dad to marry and will have a bunch of kids before I’m too old to help her out and be a major pain in her ass.

And meanwhile, for our anniversary tomorrow, The Prince will probably make me one of his lovely cards; a picture of the kids I haven’t seen yet with a sweet caption, which will take its place in a plain glass frame alongside the rest, which are scattered along the walls of this one-bedroom apartment, where the three luckiest people in the world live with the guy who made them that way, and their big, smelly dog, who also wants to marry him. He may also stuff me full of sushi then have his way with me if the kids stay asleep, unless we pass out on top of each other. Which would also be fine by me.

Shortly after M was born, I bought these little figurines of The Little Prince, my favorite story, about a pilot whose plane breaks down on a tiny planet inhabited only by a tiny little prince and his friend, the flower. The Little Prince teaches the pilot invaluable life lessons, not least of which is about himself and a fox. If you tame me, the fox tells the Little Prince, I will tell you my secret. And with quiet patience and very gentle friendship, the Little Prince tames the fox.

“And now I will tell you my secret,” says the fox. “You are responsible forever for what you have tamed.”

Lucky for me, forever is a long, long time, and my prince is no little boy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Life With M, Chapter 2

"Ssssssssssssss....." hisses M last night, trailing a wretch-worthy knot of my wet hair along the edge of the bathtub. I step out of our shower and he's still in there, messing around while I put on my night shmata. "Mommy-hair, snake!" he shouts victoriously, as if he and the mommy-hair-snake he trails around the drain with his finger have just won the Make Your Mother Gag Sweepstakes! and a life-time supply of chocolate covered raisins, known to M only as special treat.

"Special treat,
" he whispers this morning in the playground, whimpering into my neck after scraping the same knee open and bloody for the 3rd time. And oh how his wet, salty cheek against my ear stabs me with love. He knows he's using me, and he knows I know it, and here is a handful of chocolate covered raisins my darling, my darling, I am your fool...

Ok, I'll have a few raisins, too. Why not. My hair is coming out in sheets, due to my endlessly post-partum, hormone-soaked state. Two different people today alone have told me I look like I've been sick; also common and thanks very much. But my overriding condition is that I am so tired that somehow being tired seems to logically entitle me to chocolate covered raisins, off which I suck the chocolate then ritualistically chomp up the raisins with my front teeth only, wondering not at all why I

We are at the end of the morning, and stumbling, exhausted M (hence the fall and split knee) will pass out in the Giant Double Stroller the moment I strap him in and put up the canopy; Little H is still asleep in there, a first class park bum after her grandpa's heart, loving nothing more than an outdoor nap. The question is, will she stay asleep once inside the apartment long enough for me to extract M from the stroller, sneak the sneakers off his stinky feet and quietly hustle him into the bedroom, switch on the ambient noise machine and tuck him into my middle for a quick boob to cement the dream state then haul his hulking body into his crib where god willing he'll nap for real??? for maybe like, 2 solid hours? man, could I use 2 solid hours.... to nurse H guiltlessly and undisturbed, to make myself a horse-size portion of Cardiac Arrest In A Bowl (being a sloppy salami and cheese omlette) which I have been craving all morning, and, to do THIS...

this... blog.... thing... that I love so... how are you all, by the way???

I get him in, with skin-of-my-nerves cooperation from Little H; as in, just barely; she begins to yowl with insult the very moment my nipple plops out of M's slack, sleeping mouth. "Bay-bee cwy...." he mutters, then falls into deep sleep, bless him, I put him in the crib, and squeeze out the bedroom door to rescue H from the stroller where she lay, legs jerking in dismay and real dolly tears rolling down her velvet cheeks, blue eyes big as panicky eggs.

We clean her mooney and change her dipe, putting miracle-cure Calmoseptine on her diaper-rashed giney and bottom (I'm telling you, try this stuff), button up her outfit-crotch and fold her polkes up under the sweaty boobies for a nursey, committing the cardinal sin of baby-sleep, the crutch of the truly lazy mother, that method which always works and which one dare not admit to in Ferberized company, 'Boob 'em till they pass out!' I watch H's peachy jaw work; swa-low, pull, swa-low, pull, swa-low, pause, and she's down for the count with a successful lap-to-couch transfer.

The dog follows me into the kitchen to talk about my salami and eggs; of course I'm willing to negotiate, I'm a sucker. We call her, actually, The Pitiful Bull; 70 lbs. of hairy, cow-eyed dejection, she reminds me most of Marvin The Robot from 'Hitchhiker's Guide,'.... "Life," she could say at any moment, "don't talk to me about life..." Slicing salami I absently fling one generous meat-frisbee at the dog, who clips it out of the air, scarfs it, and ambles away wisely; I will find her later stretched out on the couch, her cheek and snout alongside Little H's ribs, black nose poked up into H's tiny armpit.

I beat up the eggs and consider my options. What are my options? Well, I could procrastinate about absolutely everything for yet another day; that's what I usually do, and it kind of works. I mean, I cover the basics; we're all fed, washed, and dressed to greater and lesser degrees of adequacy on any given day. Little H has plumped up like a shabbas chicken and now yells, yodels, and giggles with conviction and glee; M asks for books instead of TV, and eats broccoli and whole wheat pasta reliably in spite of displaying near-violent devotion to the ice cream truck. Meanwhile, The Prince claims to have gained 25 invisible pounds since M arrived, has stopped getting haircuts, and undaunted by my flab or his own exhaustion continues to make me laugh and bite my wrists with every kind of pleasure and hilarity. The dog, at 10 years old, stays fat, and vigilant, and loyal. So I'd like to think I'm doing something right. Maybe even a few things.

Of course, I also don't clean the apartment, ever. I don't save money well at all. I don't write enough. I haven't visited my boyfriend Shaun T. for a hot session of Hip Hop Abs! in almost two weeks, not that anything has changed much one way or another. I don't visit my sister, I never read the paper, or books, I have 7 different unfinished art projects laying around this place and my stack of unopened New Yorkers is mounting. "Don't put off today what you can put off tomorrow," says my father.

My father, former Action Hero and carpet installer turned cantankerous old Red, haunting the chess tables at his local park when not starting riots at the Senior Center with his conspiracy theories. I couldn't do without the man. I made him chase M all over Target yesterday so I could buy 4,000 diapers, and I thought he was gonna hit the floor clutching his chest by the time I was ready to check out. He loves the babies but I kiss them so much it makes him nauseous.

"Stop," he says, as I hold H up in the air before my face and smooch her and smooch her all over her head, "STOP," he says again as I keep on going, pulling her earlobes with my lips and sticking my whole nose in her mouth for a snort of her sweet, pukey, nutty, boobish breath, "Oh my god, leave her alone!" he says. "Enough!"

"She likes it!" I say.

"Oh, yea?" he says. "How do YOU know? Did she call?"

"I'm gonna call YOU in a minute..." I say.

But overall he seems pretty pleased with my parenting. He likes it that I'm patient (most of the time) and that I give in on a lot; he doesn't believe that spoiling is possible at this age, and I agree. He thinks ice cream makes kids happy and happy kids mean happy moms, and I pretty much agree with that too.

"Remember, when things get tough," he says, "that YOU invited THEM."

So if it's my party, what the hell happened to me in the shower that night? Yes, the same night of the mommy-hair-snake, when everything was perfect? Only moments before, I had turned into a monster.

M has recently figured out that shouting in the shower is really, REALLY, LOUD! and man, is that cool. He was puppeteering various animals on the floor of the tub as I washed his hair, and in the role of Baby Einstein's Pavlov, he began to yelp. And that made a nice little piercing sound that shot around the bathroom neatly. "Mm mm, mm," I said, combining warning and pleasant tones, "no yelling, please. You'll wake up the baby." So he yelped louder. "Yalp! Yalp!" and that ricocheted off the walls, and my skull, profoundly. "M, stop please," I said, all business, which he told me I could stick in my hat by hurling a shriek out into the air that shook my eyeballs and caused him to smile triumphantly. "YALP! YALP!" he shrieked. "STOP!" I yelled at him. "REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!" he screamed, and I mean screamed.

"AAAARRRGH!" I bellowed, "THAT'S IT! You're OUT! OUT OF HERE! GET OUT!" I shouted at him from the bottom of my most vulgarly baritone fury. I hoisted him by the shoulders and put him out of the shower and firmly on the bathroom rug. "You're not coming back in. I'm not playing with you ANY MORE!" I said.

He started to cry. Just cry. It wasn't the whiney, manipulative cry he'll use to get my attention away from Little H. It wasn't the scandalized cry at a new injury. And it wasn't the pitiful whimper of overtiredness. It was just pain. I had really scared him, and probably hurt his feelings.

I counted to sixty, just letting him ride it for one minute and hoping the word 'stop' would sink in; hoping that all this would somehow indicate for him, in a concrete way, that once in a while, mommy really means it. Though I suspect that all that might have come through is that once in a while, mommy is really mean.

"Do you want to come back in?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said, nodding and wiping his eye with the back of his hand.

I gently picked him up and brought him back in. I knelt down under the spray, face to face with him, and said, "When I say to stop, you have to stop, ok?"

"Yes," he said, and nodded.

"Are we friends?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said, and he put his arms around me, and I held him close to me, in the hot water that bounced off the tub thudding like rain.

"I love you," I said, and he continued to hold on to me. "Here's your cow," I said, and I marched the rubber animal up his leg and into his hands, peeled him off me, rinsed myself, and stepped out, and it was all over, and we survived.

Of course, we're not really friends, per se; we're mother and son. But sometimes you need a simple language to make up, so I say 'friends'. I do everything for him, every day, all the time, and for Little H, too. All I want is to be a really, really, really good mother for them. And I am, I'm patient, I am, and I'm incredibly loving, and I nurse them all night, and I give M good food, and ice cream, and we read, and we run around, and we nurse some more, and I am here for him.

And it's not too much for me to INSIST that he not scream so ferociously in the shower that I feel like he's stabbing my brain with an ice pick.

Is it?

They're all sleeping, M, Little H, and the dog. The omlette is ready. I sit in the silent kitchen and eat it and consider again, my options. Of which there are none because I'm doing the best I can. And I'm not always great or even good. But I pretty much wouldn't change a thing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers' Day, In My Mother's Voice

In about 1995 I was living in Williamsburg, BK just before it exploded; I had a studio right by the water, underneath the bridge and next to the Tung Fa Noodle Factory, for $400 a month. This was back when the truly cool already thought Brooklyn was old news, the Manhattan snobs felt sorry for them, and packs of stray dogs roamed the neighborhood. I used to hitch-hike over the bridge in the winter, to work the breakfast shift at a diner in midtown.

In an unprecedented gesture of god-knows-what that still mystifies me, my mother came and stayed over with me on a Saturday night, and I took her out the next morning for Mother's Day brunch at a fantastic but short lived restaurant called The Garage, where we ate almost an entire rotisserie chicken together, with mashed potatoes and a salad. In the afternoon, she made me curtains and some throw-pillows, and drapes for my doorless closet, on a very, very small sewing machine that she had brought along, and which was not new but which I had never seen before. When she left at sunset, the little sewing machine stayed with me. I think she had hoped to excite me about the possibilities of that kind of domestic creativity, but I never opened the thing again.

Nevertheless I was smitten with the curtains, made out of the patched-together good-parts of a pair of 30 year old bedspreads that her own mother had made; wild black and orange paisley on a gold background that weirdly matched the remnant of rust colored carpeting that covered the cold, splintery floor. I called my mother the next day to thank her again, and it was only then that she told me the story of the sewing machine.

As she spoke, I wrote down what she said, word for word, as fast as I could; I don't know what possessed me to do that, but it became the poem that follows here, which was published in 1999 in a magazine called Earth's Daughters, Issue #53: 'Punchin' In and Punchin' Out (Work).' My grandmother died when I was 7, and my mother died the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2001. My daughter, Little H, turned 3 months old on Mothers' Day, that was yesterday, and she's named for my grandmother.

On Sewing Machines, In My Mother's Voice

My mother, my mother said to me,
saw this sewing machine thirty-five
maybe forty years ago and
said about my aunt,
"Only my sister would buy that!"
Everything my aunt touched had to be cute.
"It's tidy," she used to say. Now your cousin
Celia, and my mother, thought she needed a slap.
"Oooooooo, so cuuuuuuuute...." they would say.
They mocked her.

This sewing machine, it's like something for a child but
from this sewing machine my aunt made drapes, she made bedspreads, she made
curtains and skirts, and dresses she made, and a coat she once made me, I remember.
You wouldn't believe what came out of this sewing machine, I mean
slip covers, lamp shades, table cloths, she...
she was an artist, my aunt.
She really was.
From all the putche, putche, putche, with
her bony little hands everything just so came, God
only knows,
You can't imagine it.

Now my mother, on the other hand
only had on her mind an industrial sewing machine.
She wanted a machine like she had in the factory
as big as the dining room table, I don't know
where she meant to keep it, how
she would even have gotten it into the apartment but
You have to understand
my mother didn't think that way
she knew what she wanted, that was IT.
These sewing machines were MONSTER sewing machines they
were unbelievable You can't imagine it, I mean
these factory sewing machines were so powerful
they were so fast you could barely get your hands out of the way in time when
you set your foot down on the pedal they went rrrmmm rrrmmmRRRMMM!
Like a motorcycle!
You could run a twenty-foot seam in about two seconds, no joke, and this
my mother felt
belonged in an apartment so small
that sitting at the kitchen table
you didn't have to get up to reach the salt on the shelf over the stove.
You don't know what poor is.

You would understand this if you ever saw my mother sew.
You never saw anything like it
three feet back from the machine she sat
like in the sweat shop
bent completely over
for her it was easier, that way she didn't have to move the chair to stand up but
to me it looked awful
the way she was hunched over, sweating
she was a worker, my mother.
Sewing was her work.
She was an animal, my mother.
She was a monster.
You never saw anybody work like that.
The shop bosses called her 500 Horse Power
she made more money than the men
men used to sew in those days, it was considered work
it was all right for men to sew
but she was faster, my mother.
Faster than all the men.
She supported the whole family for years.

Now, your cousin Celia is so happy.
I told her I got you the machine from Cousin Lois so
Celia has regained her faith in you. She said,
"I have an idea that she will learn to sew yet."
She's determined to make a respectable person out of you.
By teaching you to sew, takke.
I guess there are worse things to know how to do.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Fat Am I???

"Do me a favor," says my friend Candice. "Stop calling yourself fat. You just had a baby three months ago. You're reminding me of Kelly Ripa or something. I mean, she was still pregnant when she was saying, Ewe, don't look at me.... but really. You're being ridiculous. You're making me feel bad. All right? I'm sorry. Am I making you feel bad? I'm sorry. It's just.... you're a beautiful mommy. With your hair back last week you looked like an adorable shiksa. That's all I'm saying. You're fine. So stop. All right?"

I love my pal Candice. She's such a good kid. She so much wants everyone to be happy, and she's sincere about it. She even admitted to me that she tells her new-mommy-friends who are o-BEAST that they look great, because it's nicer, she says, to get a compliment than to be reminded of bad news one already knows; and it's probably more helpful, too, she says.

(so is she lying to me??? oh, who cares....)

She's not wrong. Take for example me and my father's neighbor, a kvetchy, middle aged gentleman who lives alone and prides himself on his lean physique and sartorial stylings, who has now told me on three separate occasions that I need to lose weight; each of which times caused me about 24 hours of alternating bouts of food deprivation and cookie orgies, and during which times I was snappish to my husband, impatient with my kids, and outright mean to my dog.

"GET off my chair! GET! And stop making that smacking sound with your chops, you make my skin crawl. God, dog, you are disgusting." This I said to a 10-year-old, sad-sack excuse for a Pit Bull who already slinks around our apartment in a state of humiliated depression since the children arrived, having been far demoted from her former position as Center of My Universe. She was my best friend, confidante, protector, and warm body at night during the worst of my divorce years, and now, I get to feeling so crummy 'cause I got told I got fat, as if I needed telling, that I talk to this once-dignified creature like she's a bag of her own shit. And my kids get to see me behave that way! So nurturing!

Thanks, Dad's neighbor, we've all really benefitted here from your helpful hint.

Grumbling, nevertheless, one wants to reckon. So I went to The Gap, where surely much reckoning is done. Back when I was thin and hot, and too insecure to know it, I was sure they used long, stretchy mirrors there to make you look model-fabulous in all their clothes, which also I was sure they big-sized; I couldn't possibly have been a neat little 6, could I??? NOW, however, I am sure they use the special sinister expaaaaanding mirrors, because I can not possibly be THIS WIDE. Oh, but I AM! Putting too fine a point on it, I'm a 12 on a good day, now. But I also own one pair of their pants that's a 14 and snug, and one 16 that are only a little too big (but were on sale.)

But whether the mirrors are rejects from a fun-house or not, what's there is there; I have a really big, flabby tummy. I just do. I used to have a tiny waist, and now I have no waist. My boobs are gigantic, granted in part due to nursing my babies, as I am blessed with milk for the masses, it seems; but not everyone gets big boobs from nursing. I know many nursing moms who are Bs, Cs, even Ds; but I am calling in from waaaay out here in E-land, me and my two-gallon-jugs. Hello! The echo resounds through the maw of my cleavage! My upper arms are jello-y. I'm losing my chin. The flesh of my thighs seems to have separated entirely from the ligaments and bones and swings freely in my skin as I jiggle down Queens Blvd., my flab flapping so that in a stiff wind I'm liable to become airborne, stroller and all, casting an ominous shadow across the land of Rego Park....

This is it; Fat Minky.

And then of course, there's the scary stuff; first and foremost, the psychological well-being of little H; I don't want her to carry on my life-long food-fight. I want to eat with her. I want her to eat! I love food, M loves food, my husband loves food... I just won't torture H the way my mother tortured me; I have been on a diet since I was born! So to H, Champion Nurser, She Of Dimpled Elbows, I say, Viva La Suckle! Pack on those polkes! Slurp it, sister! I'm channeling my mother in too many ways as it is; with the flab and and the mounting freckles and dots all over my body, I have started to look unhealthily like her, and she DIED at 64 of heart disease and adult-onset diabetes, not to mention Parkinson's, high blood pressure, all obesity related, is all the good the dieting did her. So vanity, shmanity; I don't want to die.

Okay... okay Fat Minky... get a grip... listen, most of the time, I'm very optimistic. This is actually a much more realistic body for me. I've been fighting my weight for 37 years, and now I'm not. I'm just not. My appearance occupied nearly every conscious moment of my life till I had M, and now it doesn't; now M, and little H, do that. It was exhilarating for me to get rid of all my size 6 and 8 clothes that I smoked-and-coffeed myself into for so long; 17 years I'd been smoking when I got pregnant with M, and then I quit, cold turkey (gee a turkey sandwich sounds good right now...,) so I'm probably not gonna die young of smoking-related cancer (of course I'm also not so young...) I've grown out a beautiful head of long, un-smelly hair (with a little gray...), my teeth aren't yellow, my face isn't yellow, my hands aren't yellow, I don't have dragon-breath, I don't spend $50 a week on smokes (I spend it at Toys-R-Us for race cars and at CVS for diapers, and at Starbux because I am NEVER giving up coffee....) and best of all, I no longer obsess about getting fat! Because here I am! And you know what? It's not so bad.

There's a relief in this, a liberation. I don't live in fear anymore of tiny numbers on little tiny pants that will mock me if I eat a peanut butter sandwich. And I don't, actually, look completely terrible. No, Candice is not wrong about that either. I'm well within the range of normal mothers. I'm not shopping at Avenues yet or the plus size department at Old Navy, in fact some days I happen to be cute, in my nifty new capri pants and scalloped-neck top (I still love The Gap even tho their mirrors continue to betray me.) And I feel very good, I get around like crazy, humping and bumping along with that goddamn stroller up and down Austin Street sometimes for 25 blocks to a playdate or a change of playground scenery. I'm up those jungle gyms like a shot and M has yet to beat me out the gate into the traffic though he seems hell bent on getting his little ass knocked off by a livery cab.

It's not like I'm not trying, either. I bought a DVD home-aerobics set, 'Hip Hop Abs with Shaun T!' who says to me half-way through my sweaty 40 minutes in hell; "We got to DANCE! Too much booty in the PANTS!"


But I do it! 3 or 4 times a week! Ok, sometimes I cheat and do the 30 minute modified. Some times I do yoga instead. But I do something! No one could tell, but I do it.

More than all that, though, is that I am more than all that. There's more of my butt, yes, but there's also much more of my soul. I'm more person than I ever was when I was thin. Inside I was always fat, and outside all I did was run away from it. Oh-mi-god, I'm gonna get fat... over and over... so boring! Now, I am interesting, at least as far as some people are concerned; little tiny people who look up at me, licking their chops, from under my great, big boobies. And I have friends, which I never used to, who are also mommies, some of whom are nursing, and some of whom are fatter than me, and by the way? Let nobody insist that nursing will make you skinny. It makes SOME people skinny. It makes other people very hungry, as me and my mommy-friends Red and Cinderella (not their real names) and our un-lost baby-weight attest! And there we are in the playground, fat Minky, fat Red, fat Cinderella, skinny Tinkerbelle (also not her... you get the idea,) and Ciao Bella somewhere in the middle, everybody sweaty, eating ice cream, climbing up the slide, wiping noses, catching little hands mid-slap, mid-shove, uprighting tricycles and breaking up brawls, kissing toddlers, missing our husbands, dreading cooking, thinking of lovemaking, needing a bath, a nap, laughing, grateful, the sun is setting, we collect the race cars and scooters and wrangle the wild babies back into the strollers and roll on home.

Am I fat? Sometimes I don't even notice.

Candice....don't worry.