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.