Wednesday, April 30, 2014

FBW: The Guilt Tip

I usually put something in italics here to introduce Flogger Blogger Wednesday. So that's what I'm doing. Right now. I ate a double-cheeseburger for lunch, and now I have the meat sleepies. So let's just move forward, alright?  

Last weekend arrived like a liberator, busting down the doors of our home to free my family from a hellish 2 months spent under the iron fist of illness. On Saturday morning, when the day dawned bright and warm, the hacking coughs disappeared, the night sweats evaporated, the tide of poop receded at last. There was much rejoicing and eating of maple-flavored sausage links.

We spent most of the day laundering sheets in scalding water, bleaching all the hard surfaces, and collecting discarded tissues and crusty stuffed animals in a heap to be dispensed with a la The Velveteen Rabbit.

But we did eek out a little time to revel in our newfound health. For an hour before dinner, Pork Chop crawled around in the backyard with a giddy look on his face. He pulled stones from the moist earth and put them in his mouth. He snapped twigs and plucked leaves and put them both in his mouth. He smashed an ant under his rosy palm and put its corpse in his mouth. And I, too, took off my shoes and stepped out onto the warm stone path that cuts through our yard. I breathed in the green scents of spring, and then I fished a salad of yard debris from my son's mouth. It was a glorious.

The view from below the red bud tree in our front yard.
Mother Nature, you hussy!

In olden times, before our son was born, Shelby and I would have celebrated such a Saturday with a leisurely meal and some sexy outdoor boozing. In young'un times, however, Shelby and I celebrated by settling into our ass divots on the couch and drinking Two-Buck Chuck. It was an unsatisfying end to an otherwise good day. So I proposed a little romantic family outing for Sunday, which really begs the question, who the hell proposes a "romantic family outing"? Besides sister wives, I mean.

I suggested that the three of us take a jaunt to La Fromagerie in Old Town Alexandria. Normally, I would hesitate to bring a toddler to an eatery that specializes in expensive wine and fancy cheese, but I was dizzy with well-being! And my precious offspring was full of joie de vive! We would have such a glorious, French time!

We knew that La Fromagerie was small; we had dined there once before, albeit without Pork Chop. But it's a seat-yourself affair, with a wide front window and easy-going service. The fact that my son had risen an hour early that morning, that he woke from his 10 a.m. nap howling with mysterious baby anguish, that he lay in a motionless heap beside his toys as we readied to go -- none of that deterred us. The wheels of our romantic family outing were already in motion.

I figured that we could park our son next to a corner table, order up some grub, and sip wine while Pork Chop talked on his Elmo phone. And we did, in fact, succeed in securing a corner table and in not-very-gracefully cramming the stroller next to that table -- all while a guy in a salmon-colored polo shirt gave us the stink eye. And I'm not saying this guy was a douchebag, but I am saying that he was drinking a Riesling with his steak sandwich and that he was wearing a salmon-colored polo shirt.

After surveying the menu, Shelby and I glanced at each other. What, exactly, had we planned to order for our kid? The roasted rabbit sandwich? The orange-rind and cumin-spiced salami? A mound of paprika-smoked goat cheese with a side of crostini? We settled on an $8 tapas-sized plate of gouda mac 'n' cheese.

Pork Chop waited quietly enough for his lunch, mostly because his mouth was crammed with apple puffs brought from home. He jammed the puffs into his face so quickly and forcefully that half of each puff burst into a fine shower of crumbs that sprinkled onto the floor and nearby tabletops. Before Shelby and I could tidy up the mess, our waiter arrived with the tablespoon's worth of macaroni. To the waiter's credit, he took in the devastation wrought by the puffs, smiled defeatedly, waved at our son, and said, "Enjoy, big guy."

Our son, however, did not enjoy. Pork Chop looked at the mac 'n' cheese, his face clouded with confusion. "Surely this is not macaroni," he seemed to be saying, "The noodles, let me point out, are not orange." But Shelby, full of hope, handed our son a noodle. And the noodle was flung. I, full of hope and apparently suffering short-term memory loss, speared a noodle with my fork and held it to Pork Chop's mouth. And the fork was flung. And then the Elmo phone was flung. And then the sippy cup was flung. And when all of the available objects had been flung, Pork Chop flung himself. More specifically, he flung his belly forward, straightened his arms and legs, tucked his chin into his neck, stuck out his tongue, blew a raspberry, screamed "NAH NAH NAH NAH!," and slid out of his stroller and onto the floor.

Saturday's joie de vive had turned into Sunday's giant, steamy pile of merde.

A young couple, who had been chatting with the sommelier, turned to stare. They regarded my family with horror. And I regarded them back with smug disgust because they were being judgmental and because they looked really rich. And while the couple and I were playing some kind of silent, reproach-filled game of chicken, my husband picked up our kid and took him outside.

Parents of little babies: Go out drinking RIGHT NOW,
while your kids' are still weak and small!

Shelby and I had each ordered a glass of wine. We had also ordered a large plate of cheese and cured meats. But rather than savoring the wine and food, I scooped a handful of cornichons into my mouth and washed them down with a gulp of my $13-per-glass Albarino. I watched through the sunny front window as Shelby bounced our son on his hip. Pork Chop calmed. I gestured for them to come back inside.

We opted to keep Pork Chop in my lap so that I could feed him cubes of "pungent, semi-firm cow's milk cheese with nutty, earthy undertones." And for 3 whole minutes, Pork Chop noshed on the nutty, earthy, not-cheap cheese and kicked his legs contentedly under the table. Then I made the fatal error of trying to eat a dried apricot. Pork Chop lunged for the fruit. "No, no, baby boy," I said. Pork Chop turned to face me, to stare coldly into my eyes. "No, no," I reiterated, "This food is for Mommy." Very quietly he turned back around and then swung his arms wide. One arm caught a glass. The other arm swept cubes of cheese and a pile of macaroni from the table. "And that, too, Mommy, is for you," he said (in my imagination). Then his face crumpled and the screaming commenced anew.

One person walked in the restaurant door, caught sight of our little brouhaha, and walked back out. The kindly waiter stopped by to ask if we'd like to box up the rest of our lunch. He had our check in hand.

My husband looked over the check, snorting at the cost of our romantic family outing. "How much should we tack on to the gratuity for sheer guilt?" he asked.

I looked at the food piled on the floor, the pools of water on the table, my howling child, the fleeing diners.

"A lot," I said. "A whole lot."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Kid's Alright

Somedays you take stock of your life, and by life I mean blog, and you wonder, "How will I be remembered?" And if your life, I mean blog, is filled with posts about your kid, you might wonder more specifically, "How will I be remembered by my son?" So you reread your posts about your son's unending tango with diarrheal diseases and about how he hatchet murders all of your plans and then wears the skin of those plans as a full-body mask. You read those posts and wonder, "What will my son think about me as a mother? How will he react to being described as an incontinent sociopath?" And you figure that, more than likely, he will think you're douche.

And, yeah, a little bit maybe, you are a douche, and by you I mean me. But, c'mon, Pork Chop! Stories about perfect kids are the worst. No one likes a success story.

"Little Johnny just said the funniest thing in Mandarin." Nope. Not gonna be funny.

"This morning, during baby yoga, Sally confused her uttanasana with her svanasana. Just hilarious!" Not hilarious. Probably not even a real language. Possibly child abuse.

See? High achievers never make anyone laugh. And moms who actually like their high achievers are only slightly less offensive than puppy mills or low-fat mayonnaise. Those are just scientific facts.

But, the thing is, I love my son. And I know the latest blogging trend is to be all like, "I love my kids . . . even though they're assholes," but I don't think Pork Chop's an asshole. Actually, I think he's better than all the other kids -- even the Obama girls and that awesome little Bat Kid, who, I realize is very sick, but my blog is a place of honesty. Better even than my readers' kids. And most of those kids are my nieces and nephews.

And I know, baby boy, that you will still probably put me in a home one day. But when you wheel me into Mercy Ridge, I hope that it's because I'm just too batshit crazy to be left alone with a stove and not because you ever felt unloved.

So, today, I give you:

Ten Reasons My Kid Rules and Your Kid Drools:

1. When it comes to most of those percentiles the pediatrician rattles off, Pork Chop is pretty average. Except for his head. His head is a 98th percentile WONDER! So much brains, y'all.

The Boppy's gonna give!

2. His favorite word is "baby," pronounced "behbehhh," with a throaty growl. Very sexy. Possible future in R&B.

Hello, behbehhhs.

3. When he's happy, he can't contain himself. He is a master of the high scream. When we roll through the 'hood on our afternoon walk, dudes in Cameros and pick up trucks slow down to head bang when they hear my son. Possible future in heavy metal.

4. Pork Chop is uninterested in television or movies. He doesn't give a shit about Elmo or Caillou or my need to distract him for just 10 damn minutes so that I can, please, for the love of God, take a BuzzFeed quiz. But he can watch videos of himself for hours on end. Possible future in pop music or politics. 

5. Eyelashes and moobs.

6. His idea of a kissing is to suction onto the side of my face like a remora while droning, "Ahhhhhh."

7. He calls buttons "butts," Haha. Butts.

8. Every time I open his closet, he crawls in and attempts a conversation with the baby on the side of his diaper box. This may be a sign that he needs more play dates or that we have a poltergeist.

9. Pork Chop is obsessed with ceiling fans. He finds them to be a source of infinite wonder and hilarity. This may be a sign that he needs more play dates or that my baby is smoking weed.

10. To mangle a line from Ben Jonson's solemn "My First Son" -- This boy, this boy right here, is my best piece of poetry.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

FBW: Not So Great Expectations

Followers, friends, relatives (mostly relatives), welcome back to Flogger Blogger Wednesday. As I type, my son is clacking two wooden balls together and staring at me mournfully; he wants me to pay attention to him. But I am way behind on blogging this week (sorry!). And playing with wooden balls sounds super boring (sorry I'm not sorry!). Let's flog, shall we?

As I've mentioned before, I have a thing for order, for organization. You know: a place for everything and everything in its place. Unfortunately, motherhood is a place for everything and everything in a filthy pile. To make matters worse, "everything" includes, well, everything: food, toys, laundry, dishes, hopes, dreams, etc.

And so it goes that my fetish for order extends beyond the confines of my home. I am a list maker. I am a calendar keeper. I am a planner. I have expectations. And expectations, my friends, are dangerous company to keep when you're a parent. Expectations are always moping about during holidays and on family vacations, drinking all the good liquor, eating the last piece of cake, smoking in your house, not flushing.

To further compound this problem, I enjoy a good story. And when expectation meets a juicy plot line, there is bound to be trouble or heartache. Yesterday, for example, Pork Chop and I had plans to picnic in the park with a gaggle of moms and kids from MOMS Club. The weather was warm, but not too warm. The sun was shining, but there was a tint of green to the clouds, promising a sprinkle of cool rain later in the afternoon. I had slept well. My kid had slept well. Our collective hearts were bursting with the promise of a few hours spent in communion with both nature and nurture. We would arrive at the park in our sun hats, roll out our blanket, enjoy fresh fruit, laugh, play, and make all of the other families stare in slack-jawed wonder at the togetherness of our shit. Instead, expectation got wasted and pissed in our basket of snacks.

We were a full hour out from picnic go-time when my dreamy little yarn began to unravel. We needed to arrive at the park -- just over a mile from home -- by 10 a.m. So, at 9, I plopped Pork Chop in his crib for a nap. Nothing unusual. He conks out for 30 or 40 minutes most mornings. I figured that I would use that time to apply sunblock to my fluorescent white face, pack a bag of supplies, and slug one more cup of coffee. Instead, Pork Chop stood in his crib and screamed bloody murder for 15 minutes. In the haze of noise, I applied a full face of makeup, including brow pencil and frosty lipstick. It must have been some kind of panic autopilot, and the autopilot in question was apparently on course for ladies' night circa 1995.

When I came to while applying cheek shimmer, I trudged into the nursery, plucked Pork Chop from his crib and set about prepping him for our outing. I dutifully rubbed sunblock on his arms and neck and face. Then, just like in my story, I placed a sun hat on his beautiful, massive head. This was the result:

Foolishly thinking I could still salvage my son's skin and his will to live, I donned a hat of my own. "Look, buddy! Mama's wearing a sun hat too!"

Witness expectation moving in just a little too close, laughing in my face with its hot, stank breath:

Needless to say, the hat came off, but not before Pork Chop had cried himself into a sweat, a sweat that melted the sunblock, sunblock that ran into his eyes, eyes that began to sting, stinging that triggered a new bout of sobbing. By the time we arrived at the park, 30 minutes late, Pork Chop's face was red and puffy, his eyelashes still wet. I waved gamely at the other moms as I spread our blanket on the ground.

"Aww, does he have allergies?" one of the moms asked.

I looked down at my son, sitting slumped on the ground, dragging a tiny fist back and forth across his eyes, across his nose, smearing snot from ear to ear. He clutched his stuffed elephant in his free hand. The giggling, energetic toddler of my picnic fantasy was instead a crusty heap of defeat. For a second, I thought to say, "He's just waking up from a nap!" Then, Pork Chop literally toppled face first onto the blanket, pulled elephant to his nose, gave a great sigh of anguish, and lay there, eyes open but fixed in the distance.

"Yeah, it's allergies," I said.

For an hour I chased after expectation: I unloaded toys from my bag, hoping that something loud and blinky might bring my son around. No dice. I hauled out his favorite foods -- bananas and puffs. He ate all of them, but it was a quiet joyless meal; he plucked one puff after another from the blanket, placing each on his tongue as though he were taking bitter medicine.

One family brought a friendly young pup to the park. Pork Chop loves dogs, but most dogs do not love toddlers and their slappy-grabby toddler ways. Not this pup. This pup sniffed and yipped and bounced happily about Pork Chop. For a moment, I thought, "This is it! This dog is going to save my picnic!" And sure enough, the dog gave Pork Chop a sweet lick on the hand, but Pork Chop glared up at him with a look that said, "Listen, doggy, you can never understand the depth of my sadness. Go peddle your cheap affections elsewhere."

All the while, babies cooed, toddlers toddled, and kids raced and tumbled about the playground. But not my child. My child stole someone's graham cracker, tried to eat a stick, cried when I wouldn't let him eat a stick, and then laid his head on my knee and closed his sore little eyes. That's when I finally showed expectation the door.

I packed up my blanket and bag and mournful boy. As we trudged off to the car, we passed a mom snapping photos of her son and daughter. The two kids sat cross-legged in a bed of red and yellow tulips; they were smiling, hugging, posing beautifully. The mom beamed at her twosome with the strawberry blonde hair and rosy cheeks. She paused briefly to wave goodbye to Pork Chop and me. "They really have their shit together," I thought to myself. "Cocky assholes."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Near Mrs.

As a little girl, I never dreamed of my wedding day. As a hardcore Barbie addict, I often dreamed of my wedding dress -- the puffed sleeves, the satin bows, the beaded bodice straining against my huge full-grown-lady boobs -- but never about the groom or the heartfelt vows or, as it turned out, my drunk wedding guests screaming "Go have sex" at my husband and me as we turned in for the night. I had a thing for sweetheart necklines; everything else felt like a necessary evil.

Even as a middle schooler, I recoiled at the thought of becoming Mrs. somebody else. I'd come to really enjoy my percussive Sicilian last name -- Rapisarda. It's not an easy name exactly, but it's got rhythm. My last name sounds like jazz hands and chorus line high kicks. My last name feels like one glass too many of jug wine. But most importantly, it's my last name.

When Shelby proposed in 2010, I told him matter-of-factly that he'd have to take me for richer, for poorer, and for Rapisarda-er. My last name would stay.

He asked only once: "But don't you like the sound of Dr. and Mrs. Shelby Highsmith?"

Hmm, did I like being referred to by my husband's name? It's a great name. I love his name; it sounds like the love child of Steel Magnolias and The Sound and the Fury. But it's not my name. And I'm not his livestock. So, no, I did not like the sound of it, I replied, totally calmly, I swear.

And Shelby left it at that. He literally gave a shrug and said, "Okay." He had bigger fish to fry, I suppose, like living with my hair-trigger feminism for the rest of his life.

For richer, for poor, in sickness, and in mental health

Certain family members, however, were baffled.

When I explained to my dad that I would be keeping my last name, he asked, "Can you do that? I mean, can you do that and still get married in a church?"

"Yes," I responded, "I can do that. And still get married in a church." I added that women can also vote and even own property. But my dad was unimpressed.

"What does Shelby think about all this?"

"Well, Dad, Shelby is fine with all this. Not that I need Shelby's permission to keep my own damn name."

"I don't know, Jess. What are people gonna think?"

"Which people, Dad?"

"You know what I'm talking about."

At that point, I just changed the subject, because there is no good outcome once a conversation with my father turns to the mysterious, ever-present "people who think things."

My mother-in-law was much more politic about her response. She's poised and impossibly stylish and exudes decorum. When Shelby explained that I wouldn't be taking his name, he said that she was quiet a moment and then piped, "How modern!"

Our families are wonderful. They are fun and funny and deeply caring. But they are also traditionalists, and my rumpus of a last name perhaps threw that tradition into a bit of chaos.

But here's the thing: I don't need my husband's last name to feel married to him. I don't need his last name to feel like we're a family. We are a team. We're Team Shelbicca or Team Jesselby, which is like Team Brangelina but with less money and thinner lips.

At our wedding reception, after a tender slow dance, the music took a sudden turn toward something more energetic. My brand-new husband plucked up the DJ's microphone. Then, in front of our parents, our siblings, elderly great-aunts and distant cousins, Shelby serenaded me with that classic love anthem, "Baby Got Back."

And because I love Shelby and didn't want to ruin the touching moment by literally dying of embarrassment, I delicately twerked across the dance floor until I ripped the bustle on my wedding gown.

See? Teamwork!

A few days ago, Shelby and I were loading Pork Chop into his car seat for a trip to the grocery store.

"Aw damn it," I said, "his face is still covered in peanut butter."

"If anyone gives us a dirty look," Shelby instructed, "I'll just say, 'Like your kid's never been covered in dog shit before.'"

"Boom! And I can add, 'What? Everyone knows that dogs' buttholes are cleaner than ours.'"

Then we high-fived and went to the store, because, well, teamwork!

And even last night, when Shelby was miserably sick, shivering through a fever of 103, he had my back. He lay under a pile of blankets in the bedroom, his face turned toward the humidifier. I knelt next to the tub in the adjacent bathroom, scrubbing mac and cheese from Pork Chop's scalp.

"No, wait! No, no, no, no, no! Don't move. Dear god, don't move!" Then, maniacal baby laughter. That's all my husband heard.

And despite his sore throat and aching head, despite the cough syrup delirium, Shelby croaked, "Poop in the tub?"

"Yes! Help!"

And he came stumbling and hacking out of the bedroom, searching for a poo retrieval device as I held our soaking kid under the armpits above the murky waters.

That, my friends, is some beautiful damn teamwork!

So, no, my husband and I do not share a name. But we do share the same dubious taste in music. We do share the same love of a good poop joke. We share a child, and all of the disgusting wonder that comes with being a parent. We inevitably share every virus brewed in the bowels of daycare. And sometimes we get to share a quiet hour at the end of the day, a little time to linger over a strong drink, to wonder how we got here, and to lean against each other like we always do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

FBW: Hosting a Play Group or Running a Fight Club in 10 Easy Steps

Now that I live in the honest-to-gosh 'burbs, I joined my local chapter of MOMS Club International. For a $25-per-year membership fee, other mamas in my neighborhood are obligated to invite my kid and me to picnics and story time and holiday parties and weekly play groups. It's the only club I know of where whipping out a boob mid-conversation is considered normal. Except for strip clubs maybe. At least at MOMS Club no one is expected to pick up money with her butt cheeks. Then again, strippers aren't expected to sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in an endless loop while tiny lunatics bounce in their laps. (Unless they're working the VIP room. In which case, someone's for sure sticking a feather in her cap and calling it "macaroni.")

For me, the best part of MOMS Club is the weekly play groups, which are organized by birth year. My son is part of the 2013 play group. Most weeks, there is a respectable turnout of about 6 or 7 moms and at least as many kids. That's a dozen or more people per play group. Usually in one room. And not just regular people -- toddlers!

And until this past Tuesday, I had weaseled out of hosting a play group. Despite my naturally luxurious guilt, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. What if someone got hurt? What if someone was allergic to our dog? What if no one came? What if everyone came? What if all the kids started screaming and crying at once and I accidentally yelled, "I hate you. I hate you. I hate every single one of you!"?

But guilt did, eventually, prevail. I signed up to host a play group and, lo, I lived to tell about it. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say I nailed it. Blood loss was minor and the carpet is free of diarrhea. So, as a public service to those moms wondering what it takes, I give to you:

Hosting a Play Group or Running a Fight Club in Ten Easy Steps

  1. Buy snacks. If their mouths are crammed with store-bought sandwich cookies, the moms can't tell you that your house looks like the Barbie Hoarder Dream Hovel.
  2. Enlist your husband to help erase all evidence of your child from the home: Scrub oatmeal from the highchair, milk from the floor, pee from the walls, boogers from the carpet, whiskey from the mugs.
  3. Brew a pot of coffee to mask the smell of the Diaper Genie's corpse.
  4. Hide all of the stuffed animals, or, as they're called in our house, "the Kleenex." 
  5. Stick a note on the door, reading, "Moms, join us in the basement for play group. Don't mind the barking dog; she's been corralled in the bedroom." Another option might read: "Want to burgle my home? Act now!"
  6. Welcome your visitors. Offer them cookies right away. Jokingly offer them whiskey in a mug. "Jokingly." Wink-wink. But seriously, offer them whiskey in a mug. Jokingly.
  7. Watch as the children swarm the VTech activity table. Watch as the children bash the VTech activity table with a xylophone hammer. Watch as the children bash each other with a xylophone hammer. Watch as hair is pulled. Watch as a cheek is scratched. Watch as Cheerios are stolen. Watch as baby gates are scaled. Watch as tears are shed. Watch as snot flows like a deep, slow-moving river of toddler grief. Simply watch. Because this is the natural order of things. Because this is the jungle.
  8. Kick everyone the hell out.
  9. Pluck your dazed child from a heap of alphabet blocks. Settle him into his crib for nap, even as you wonder -- Why is he sticky? Why is he missing a clump of hair? And whose tooth is he clutching in his sweaty fist? 
  10. Pile all of the toys in the backyard. Douse the pile liberally with Lysol. Burn it to the ground.
Hooray! If you followed the above steps, then you just hosted fight club and/or play group! Enjoy having the flu, pink eye, or fleas within the next 2 days.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Writing Process (or How the Sausage Is Made)

I met Callie Feyen thanks to Listen to Your Mother DC. Both Callie and I are part of the 2014 cast, and after blog-stalking each other, we founded a mutual admiration society. Callie's writing is meditative and layered and funny. You don't have to take my word for it, either. Check her out at the helpfully titled Callie's Blog. And if you don't think she's the cat's meow, then you can go to hell and die. And let me just tell you, there are no good writers in hell. It's gonna be nothing but Nicholas Sparks and saccharine-drenched first-base erotica for the rest of eternity.

By comparison, my writing is less meditative. It's more, I don't know, shout-y.

To parse out the subtleties of our writing styles, Callie invited me to participate in a blog tour of writers discussing their writing process. So if you've ever wondered how the sausage was made, folks, here goes:

1. What am I working on?

Besides this post? Well, my blog is still in its infancy -- not quite 2 months old. I only post twice per week, but I'm working on new posts constantly. As a blog groupie myself, I get very offended when a blogger posts erratically. I need to know that there will be posts waiting for me on Monday and Wednesday, for instance, so that I can plan when to put the batteries back in my kid's musical toys. I can only stomach the Baby Mozart Hellraiser Music Cube while I'm buried in a good blog. With that in mind, I try to post on the regular (emphasis on "try"). I also try to write longer, meatier posts -- something readers can lose themselves in while the Baby Mozart Hellraiser Music Cube opens a portal to the underworld.

Welcome to the Bundle is pretty lowbrow most of the time, and I'm okay with that. Poop stories are kind of my jam, which is helpful when you're the mom of a toddler. But I also try to find time to coddle my uppity, authoress side too. I'm working on a piece of creative nonfiction about the summer after I graduated from college, when I worked on an archaeological dig in the high desert of Arizona. It's still what I would call a humor piece, but I steer clear of mentioning bodily fluids, so it's pretty classy. Except for the part where a guy at a bus stop tries to buy an hour of "my time" with a six pack of beer. That part is just pure filth.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Okay, it's about to get confessional, you guys. You've been reading this blog, thinking I'm just a salt-of-the-earth mama with aspirations of selling out her kid for Internet fame. But the truth is (deep breath) I write poetry. I actually have an MFA in poetry. It's not that I don't want to sell my kid out for Internet fame, because I really, really do. It's just that I also like rhyming couplets and rousing sestinas and metaphors. Oh god, the metaphors. Fact: I'm not really telling you how to make sausage; I'm using a metaphor.

Stop judging me!

It took me years before I came out of the closet as a humorist, but I can't quit you, poetry. So, if you look closely, every once in a paragraph or two, you'll find that I lapse into language that aspires to rise above the poop/puke/pee-pee story I've been telling.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I come from a long line of story tellers. Back in the day, all of the neighborhood kids would pile onto my family's front stoop to listen to my dad tell stories. His ghost stories, in particular, were a big hit at slumber parties. I felt proud and awed when my dad got going: embellishing here, adding sound effects there, frequently laughing at himself. Now I'm just chasing that dream of, um, being idolized by middle-schoolers, I guess. So, what I'm saying is that I want to be the Justin Beiber of mommy blogs. Do middle-schoolers still like him? He's a pretty big asshole. What else do tweens like? Too much eyeliner and those Monster energy drinks, maybe? Okay, then that. I want to be the slutty makeup and go-go juice of mommy blogs.

Ugh. Fine. I also just like telling stories, okay? I like that story telling is a communal act, that really good story telling is a game you play with your audience. You need to decipher where the funny bones are, where the soft spots are, and when to hit them and in what order. It's a pretty violent game, but if you play it right, you'll get in a few good belly laughs before anyone bleeds out.

4. How does my writing process work?

Haha. Process. Yeeeeah.

I work part-time and I also have a toddler and a dog and aspirations of resuming an adult relationship with my husband. (An "adult relationship," by the way, means having conversations about the news or about work, not about how Mum Mums taste pretty good dipped in hummus. (Mum Mums, by the way, taste pretty good dipped in hummus.)) Occasionally, I'll pick up a freelance writing or editing gig. I stay busy. My writing process is less a process than a mad scramble.

Sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m. I throw on my super-sexy grey velour robe, creep down to the kitchen, make some coffee, and tap out a few paragraphs on my laptop before the kid wakes at 6:30. Sometimes I try to write while Pork Chop is napping. More often, I write after my son has gone to bed, while Shelby whips up dinner.

I keep a notebook on my nightstand, but I found that if I wait until I crawl into bed to write, then I just write about how tired I am or about how I need to be a more disciplined writer. And no one wants to read a story about how I meant to write for an hour but instead fell asleep on the couch while my husband watched Sabado Gigante on Univision. Although, I probably should write a story about my husband's obsession with Sabado Gigante and its amazing mix of near-nudity, awkward product placement, and little people.

The truth is, if I think about my writing, I won't write. I worry that my writing won't be funny or moving or relevant or syntactically coherent. I write before I can talk myself out of it. I write by the seat of my pants. I'm basically having a blackout right now. It's like Zen psychosis.

And that's it, folks. That's the "process." Maybe one day I'll be one of those respectable types who goes to the gym and writes for 2 hours every day (cough, cough, Callie Feyen, cough), but in the meantime, I've made peace with being respectable-curious. I'm one of those types who begrudgingly hunkers down in her cold, dark kitchen; who slugs coffee; who prays her kid will sleep for 30 more minutes; who writes and writes and writes against her own better judgement.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

FBW: Florence Nightinfail

Flogger Blogger Wednesday (henceforth "FBW" in blog titles, because I say so) makes its triumphant return after a 1-week hiatus -- that is, if Flogger Blogger can ever really be considered triumphant. So, yeah, enjoy the schadenfreude, you jerks.

Last week, I wrote a post called "It Got Better" (check out Part 1 and Part 2). Granted, I was talking about mothering newborns when I wrote that post, but my timing was poor at best, because this month has (if you'll pardon my technical jargon) sucked a big fat one.

Between my son, my husband, and I, we have been to the doctor's office six times in the last 4 weeks. Here's the tally: torrents of diarrhea, pink eye, bronchitis, more pink eye, an ear infection, and a throat infection. For the record, Pork Chop did not get pink eye because I farted into his eye, as my sister, a nurse, suspects. However, I can say with absolute certainty that Pork Chop gave me pink eye because he likes to use my face as his personal Kleenex. Frankly, if the kid wipes snot on my cheek one more time, I will definitely be farting into his eye and also possible into an ear. I'm pretty sure this is how you get the bubonic plague or maybe dropsy. But I'm willing to let CPS sort that out.

Every time I put my hand in a pocket, I discover an impossibly damp wad of tissues. There are antibiotic drops, pills, and liquid suspensions fighting for space in our medicine cabinet next to the mentholated cough drops and economy-sized Tylenol PM. I had to wash my favorite sweat shirt three times in a week thanks to three different bodily fluids -- two of which weren't even my fluids. If it doesn't smell like poop, puke, or bleach, then don't worry, you're not at my house.

I don't care that spring has finally arrived and that the tree in our front yard is bustling with pink blooms and bumble bees. I don't care that the breeze is warm and carries the scent of rich, teeming earth. I don't care about the giddy kids on bikes or the dads loping after them. I do, however, care about the cardinal in the tree outside of Pork Chop's nursery; if that little asshole starts chirping at 5 a.m. one more time, if it wakes my sick kid up one more time, I will grab it by it's cheery red neck and I will fart in both of its stupid bird eyes.

I cannot deal. The dog cannot deal.
Just bring us our hot toddies and go away.

I am over it. All of it. Mostly.

Being sick on and off for a month would make the best of us cranky. But toddlers, as we all know, are not the best of us. And, as such, my son has been a screaming, whining, tantrum-throwing mess. He's 14 months old. He feels terrible. We have to pour medicine down his throat or drop medicine into his eyes several times per day. I can't blame him for flinging his oatmeal at the wall or for trying to throw himself from the changing table. I can't blame him, but I don't like it either.

Except, there's this thing that he does when he's really miserable, when he's so sick that the fight has just gone out of him -- he wants me to hold him. Just hold him. He curls into my lap, drops his hot little head against my chest, and sighs like the enormous weight of his toddler life has been lifted. And I like that. A lot.

My boy is already so independent. He's assertive. He's adventurous. He'd sooner scream than laugh when he's happy. He rarely sits still. He hasn't quite mastered "gentle touch." He smacks what he loves. He smacks what he doesn't love. Today he smacked a kitchen cabinet because, I don't know, maybe it was spreading rumors about him. He also smacked me when I stopped singing "You Are My Sunshine." My mama friends have assured me that this is a typical toddler phase, but that's hard to explain to the infant my son nearly (nearly) walloped upside the fontanelle. In short: Pork Chop is not what you'd call a "cuddler." He's a bruiser and a tiny beastie and force of nature and more fearless than I have ever been in my whole life. He awes me. But he won't hug me.

So here I am, on the Internet, confessing that I take a small pleasure in my son's misery. If I could wave my magic Lysol wand and make his stuffy nose and aching ear and itchy eyes go away, I would. Lord knows I've tried. And it's not as though I enjoy waking to the sound of Pork Chop's hoarse cries at midnight. And I don't like lifting him from the crib to find that he's spiked a fever again. And I hate feeling him shiver against me as we settle into the rocker. And I'm no fan of the humidifier, humming and burbling, making it impossible for me to nod off, even as my son settles into the crook of my arm, petting my fuzzy robe, relaxing into a snore.  I hate this whole month. I hate all of this sickness and discomfort. But, I'll be damned if my boy, cradled in my lap, isn't some of the best medicine I've ever had.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It Got Better: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of "It Got Better." You can check out Part 1 here

When last we parted ways, we were discussing new motherhood and infant airplane pilots and crying and a mysterious link sent to me by my longtime friend, Gina.  But let me back up just a little. 

I've known Gina since elementary school. I don't recall what bonded us precisely, but I do have a vivid memory of first being dazzled by Gina during recess. She was ice skating. And, this being Baltimore, we had neither ice rink nor frozen pond behind our school. The Winter Olympics were in full swing, and Gina, inspired, would choreograph intricate skating routines to be performed in the alley. Because, this being Baltimore, recess was in an alley.

She would swoop about the asphalt, leaping with graceful, extended arms. She would twirl, arching her back, holding her hands prayerfully skyward. She would run in figure eights around the boys playing WWE Cage Match and around the gaggle of girls who, in utter confusion, were watching the boys. Even as a dorky kid, I found her skating routines kind of bizarre, but I was impressed. She just didn't give a damn. And her triple Lutz was stunning. Eventually, I was swooping around next to her.

And that's how our friendship has sailed along for almost 30 years so far: Gina, the intrepid adventurer, and I, her awed and slightly terrified fan girl. By the time college rolled around, Gina was stomping about the woods in Outward Bound or hiking through a canyon once she had moved away to Northern Arizona. She went rappelling and rafting and generally trekking through places that sounded beautiful and remote and full of super-big bugs.

When we were still in our early twenties, she took me on a hike through Sedona and on another through the Grand Canyon. For my benefit, both were novice-level excursions, but I was still awed by her competence. Her confidence. Years later, when Gina married and became a mom of two boys, I imagined her just as she had always been: Competent. Confident. In hiking boots. But now with a kid tethered to her backpack by a bungee cord. And thanks to Facebook, I got to see just that (almost) -- a photo of Gina in a wide-brimmed hat and hiking boots, making her way up a steep trail with her youngest strapped to her back in an Ergo.

Gina and the boys looking pretty happy about being in nature,
even though nature is where the bugs live.

My life took a decidedly more cautious turn than did Gina's. I've never once felt the urge to rappel from anything. I can barely ride in the elevator without hyperventilating. My weekends were spent doing brunch and recovering from doing brunch. Then, at 36 (weeks shy of 37), I became a first-time mom, and I suddenly felt crushing fear, despair, and vertigo. For years, I'd been hunkered down in a cubicle, correcting a comma splice here, adding a sentence there -- thinking that, somehow, I was building a desperation-proof bunker around my life. But motherhood flattened my bunker like it would, eventually, flatten my boobs.

My son had jaundice and then he wouldn't latch and then he had reflux. When he finally starting nursing with gusto, he clamped down for an hour at a clip; I would hum or flex my feet to keep my mind off of the shooting pain. To help with his reflux, my OB suggested I cut out dairy then soy then nuts then wheat. I wandered around the apartment topless, eating corn chips, while my son screamed in his sling. It was February. It was cold. It was wet. I was stuck. Forever. With a baby who hated me.

Let me tell you what I think about your problems, mom.

It's nothing that millions of moms haven't been through before. But I hadn't been through it. I didn't know. My plane was in a nose dive. So on a murky afternoon, I put Pork Chop in his crib and let him cry while I tapped out an email to Gina. "I feel so clueless that it's a wonder my kid has survived this long with me for a mother," I said.

Then Gina sent me this link:

More importantly, she told me that, when her second son was born, she had to read the article in the link every day (every day for many weeks) just to keep a grip on sanity. I did not understand. Gina had a grip on everything. She was, and is, one of the most sure-footed people I know. But colic, as it turns out, can make the ground beneath any mom's feet just fall away.

I read the article, and it was comforting. More than that, I felt like less of a loser for being scared and sad. Because my friend had felt the same way. But I also felt hope. Gina wasn't still reading that article on the daily. Things really had gotten better for her. If I could just hang in there long enough, I reasoned, things might get better for Pork Chop and me too. I still wanted someone to hose down the runway with flame-retardant foam, just in case, but I was starting to suspect our little plane might touchdown safely after all.

Unlike Gina, I didn't read the article ever day, but I referred to it a lot, especially in the middle of the night, when my son would wake for his regular 4 hours of inconsolable crying practice. I also started taking long walks with Pork Chop, despite the cold. I swaddled him layers of fleece and circled my block, letting the chilly air calm my nerves as it calmed my fussy boy. I finally invited friends over, praying that they could still love me even if I smelled liked B.O. and baby puke. And they did. Or were too polite to say otherwise. And their company made me feel better.

Better. Yes. It really happened. At about 3 months, Pork Chop started sleeping. More than that, I stopped feeling perpetually panicked and was able to sleep too. We finally got the hang of breastfeeding; I actually began to enjoy the time just being close to my son. (Fourteen months in, and he's still nursing.) Pork Chop started smiling and then giggling and then full-tilt belly-laughing. He finally noticed our dog and his mobile and his stuffed animals, and he found them all wildly entertaining. I could put him in his crib, turn on his mobile, and 15 minutes later, he'd still be staring at it so intently that I suspected the mobile was sending him secret messages. But as long as the messages were friendly, I didn't care; 15 minutes was long enough for me to shower or to eat a sandwich. And when you've been wandering around your apartment topless, eating nothing but Tostitos, while a screaming baby is strapped to your body, a shower and a sandwich are gifts. In fact, a shower and a sandwich were the collective sound of my landing gear being lowered as we made our final decent.

How 'bout I do the flying from now on, kid? 

As Pork Chop enters his toddlerhood, we are exploring new terrain. There are tantrums to navigate and baby gates to install and food to be scrubbed from the floor, walls, ceiling, tables, couches, toys, and dog. And, yes, when it snows until April and my family is stuck in a perpetual illness loop, motherhood doesn't feel easy. But it still feels easier than those early days. It's still better. I'm more competent, more confident, more rested. I put on sturdy shoes with ankle support. I took a shower. I ate a sandwich.

But I couldn't have gotten to this place of easier and better without the support of friends and family who sent me links, ignored my B.O., listened to me bitch, suffered through my mixed metaphors and confusing analogies, and who, it turns out, were waiting to greet me with three cheers and a stiff drink in the airport lounge.