Thursday, October 6, 2011

Riots Schmiots (August 2011)

I don’t claim I was in London during the riots but that is also a boast that neither Boris Johnson nor David Cameron can make. Being resident on the beach in North Carolina while London burned - according to the headlines - doesn’t preclude me from having an opinion in the same way it didn’t deter them. And just as their alleged previous criminal enterprises didn’t disqualify them from being judgmental, why should I let mine stop me.
I shoplifted candy as a kid and a pair of indecently tight Lee jeans as a teenager and in high school I was involved in “borrowing” a car to go to a party. I recently learned that my biological father was incarcerated at the time of my birth for fraud, which was one of the reasons I was given up for adoption, so it was not me, it was my genes! Why take sole responsibility when I can share the blame?
“Why do people steal, Mommy?” Mister Baby asked me after someone stole my wallet in Sainsburys (what comes around goes around, my own karmic slap). “It’s like when you had to have that stick the other day even though it was Henry’s in the first place. You want what you want when you want it and you don’t care about anyone else.”
When you steal you think you deserve the object more than whoever has it, and when the victim is more remote, like Sainsburys or “the tax payer” it’s a lot easier. They’re so big they don’t need it; they probably won’t even notice.
However, like my “forgetting “to pay for wine at Sainsburys it wasn’t technically illegal as long as I paid for it once caught. When Boris and his Bullingdon buddies wrecked a restaurant after dinner, it wasn’t apparently illegal because their fathers paid for the damage. It is not apparently illegal to wiretap a murdered girl’s mobile phone if you are willing to pay off her family and give a million to charity. It is not apparently illegal to give newspapers access to police information if you are willing to fall on your sword. It’s doesn’t even seem it’s illegal to bankrupt a 300 year-old institution and dump the debt on the public; in fact you are rewarded with bonuses and massive pensions. The rioters’ crime, it would appear, is that they don’t have enough money to pay for what they stole which, in David Cameron’s own words, is a “deep moral failure.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Glamp Town Girls (August 2011)

Looking at me now no one would mistake me for the outdoorsy, gung-ho camping type. Peel off the Alice Temperley dress and Michael Kors clogs, however, and you might just find a long buried Girl Scout (that’s Girl Guide to you) complete with mess kit. You might also find, should you dig deep enough, that every single vacation until the age of twenty took place in a tent. In my cups I might even admit that I was a Girl Scout camp counselor – and loved it. But that was long ago, and as my friend remarked when I contemplated camping (after being coerced by The Pater): “For me, three star is camping.”
Growing up, camping was not my favorite, but, as family activities went, it wasn’t the worst. It beat being locked in the basement in lieu of hiring a babysitter, for example. For summer vacation we either camped at the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia or in some avocado groves while visiting my grandparents in North Miami Beach. Highlights include tailgate picnics on St. Augustine beach in Florida, despite Mom serving us spoiled chocolate milk - chocolate because it better disguised the rancid curds. Another highlight was the breathtaking beauty of a scenic overlook of the vast Smoky Mountains, all the more appreciated having survived a bear the night before.
My mother didn’t want to stop at that mountain campground but the car radiator was overheating. Nevertheless, we had the air conditioner blasting and the windows rolled up tight. “Bears can pull down windows with their claws if you leave the tiniest crack,” my father warned. It was late afternoon when we arrived and the campground was nearly full. “An uncouth bunch,” my mother sniffed, noting the predominance of motorcycles and mullets among the campground’s occupants. My brother and sister went exploring and reported that a group of campers were following a bear around the campground, poking its back with sticks. My father took the precaution of tying up the extra food in a tree but he thought the cooler was sturdy enough to stay put on the picnic table.
As the youngest I had the dubious honor of sleeping on the floor of my parent’s tent beneath their cots while my brother and sister got the back of the station wagon. As the baby, I was also first in bed. What woke me was the top being ripped off the cooler quickly followed by gulps of chocolate milk glugging down the bear’s throat. I unzipped a corner of the tent window to witness massive claws scooping up peanut butter, Hershey’s chocolate and marshmallows for s’mores before lumbering into the night. Only then did I notice the four faces of my family gaping behind the car’s tightly rolled up windows.
At the scenic overlook the next morning, we were giddy with relief and I felt grateful to that bear for wrecking the cooler: no more sour milk!. I was also a touch resentful at having been left with a mere piece of moldy canvas between me and those claws. I announced to my brother and sister “After Mom and Dad got back to the tent, Mom was so scared that she pooped in one of Dad’s hankies and threw it out the tent door.” Slap went my mother’s hand across my mouth.
So comparatively speaking, The Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons was a civilized affair. The weather cooperated and after a couple of mugs of wine I forgot the four, arm-lengthening trips from car to campsite. I recommend a few choice essentials to ease any potential discomforts:
Hot water bottle (fuzzy cover inclusive)
Aeropress coffee maker
Tempur pillow
Blow up mattress
Ear plugs (worn religiously since Mister Baby was born)
Festival dress (black and white polka dot maxi as high res garment for Mister Baby to spot)
Vintage fur capelet
Welly socks
Box of wine (the equivalent of three bottles!)
Merchant Gourmet ready-to-eat Mixed Grains and Black Beluga Lentils
I do think it is high time to cut off the festival bracelet. At age 44 it’s probably not necessary to wear it until it drops off. After all I can get another one next summer.

A Door Opens (May 2011)

“Do you have a picture of your other mother?” Mister Baby asks over fish and chips in Wimbledon. We are celebrating having successfully folded The Pater’s lanky frame into a Nissan Figaro, the adorable, affordable and most importantly automatic car we have settled on just as soon as one of us procrastinating late bloomers gets a driver’s license. Don’t hold your breath.
“You mean my birth mother?” Mister Baby nods. For a second, I think he might mean my father’s new girlfriend. He did once sweetly pronounce “you have a new mommy now,” after a weekend spent with them. “No, I do not!” I spat back and then tried laughing to temper the vehemence of my reaction. I believe I succeeded in looking crazy.
“No,” I answered, “I don’t know her. Do you think I should look for her?” He nods again.
I gulp back the tears that suddenly choke me. “That really makes me miss Grandma.”
Mister Baby knows I was adopted, as were my brother and sister. “Why couldn’t your mother take care of you?” Separation and abandonment come immediately to his mind. I too felt abandoned when I first found out, but not by the mother who birthed me. I no longer, as I had naturally assumed, belonged to my parents, the fact of my adoption put me at a remove from them. This feeling of being deceived by the people I loved most was exacerbated by the fact that at age six it was my sister who told me. “We’re adopted and if you don’t believe me, ask K. He’s six years older than you and he would remember when you were brought home.” I waited eight years to confirm this with my brother. Yet another four years went by before I plucked up the courage to ask my mother directly; her curt response was: “I know you know you were adopted through channels in the family.” It made us sound like the Corleones and our inter-family communication could be just as cryptic and treacherous. What I didn’t grasp until years later was that my mother was referring to the fact that my sister had bragged that she had spilled the beans right after telling me, when I was six. When I asked her why she didn’t say anything until I brought it up twelve years later, my mother said, and I quote: “The cat was out of the bag. I figured if you had any problems with it, you would come and talk to me.” This might go some way to explain why I foist as much information – wanted or not – on Mister Baby.
Throughout my twenties, I followed up these early individual queries with persistent questioning to the point of haranguing. I eventually wore my parents down to a point of comparatively open discussion. It was in this spirit of openness that I related a comment I had made to a friend. “I’ve never met anyone that looks like me, “ I said, “except Judy Davis, and if Judy Davis was my mother, I would drop my mother like a hot potato!” They were as tickled by this idea as I was and many conversations about me as a teenager and my adoption ensued as I wrote a play about a teenage girl who is reunited with her mother, Judy Davis, on Oprah.
I have always been reluctant to look for my birth mother in part because my curiosity has seemed superficial. Does she have the same curly hair or cartilage drip on the end of her nose? Does breast cancer run in the family? I didn’t want to know her; I only wanted to know about her. And while I presumed that it was a traumatic event in her life that she might not want to revisit, I’ve also been afraid of what I might find: I see polyester, slipcovers, blue eye shadow and an ashtray on a chain around her neck. Finally, and most importantly, I didn’t believe that I would ‘find myself’ through contacting this other woman and that for better or worse, I had a mother who I wasn’t prepared to replace. That said, however, I did harbor the thought that I merely wasn’t ready. When my brother first attempted to find his birth mother, the adoption agency’s social worker said: “You’re only looking because you have other problems in your life that you want to ignore.” As I have always been blessed with problems I would rather ignore, this also worked as a deterrent for me as well.
I thought I might look once my adoptive mother died, but since that has come to pass it has only occurred to me once. But now, a year and a half later Mister Baby asks me if I have a picture and my years of ambivalence evaporate. I want a mom again.
“Guess what I just found out?” I ask Mister Baby who is home from school, wheezing and coughing on the sofa.
“There’s a book in the New York Public Library that has the name I was given when I was born. Should we look it up this summer? ”
Mister Baby nods.

The F Word (April 2010)

Upon stubbing one’s toe it is natural, and purportedly even helpful, to exclaim loudly, if not curse outright. When a small child is present, however, it is best to modify one’s language. So it was one Saturday morning that I stubbed my toe on the door jamb. I was aware of Mister Baby in the bedroom I had just exited; he was the very reason I was awake and in search of coffee. In a superb display of self-control, I hissed “For fuck’s sake!” in what I deemed a whisper.
Five minutes later, Mister Baby comes waltzing into the kitchen singsonging “for fuck’s sake, for fuck’s sake, for fuck’s sake.” The Pater followed. “We’re ignoring that, “I said neutrally to his upraised eyebrows. This recommended tactic of glossing over unattractive behavior seemed to work and we heard no more of the F word.
It is also natural to raise one’s voice when your child’s life is imperiled. I was vindicated in my pleasure at Mister Baby’s only crawling until 16 months because as soon as he walked, he ran, usually away from me. Several days after the ugly toe incident Mister Baby had escaped from the buggy and was running wildly ahead of me. I wasn’t too worried as we only had one more street to cross before home. He actually stopped at the zebra crossing and waited for me and I took the opportunity to grab his hand as we started across. We were crossing the far side when we both spotted the Mini bearing down on us. Not only was it not stopping, it was unmistakably speeding up. “Jesus Christ!” I bellowed. “For fuck’s sake!” shouted Mister Baby and continued to yell it all the way down the street. My slight embarrassment was tempered by pride in his appropriate usage.
Since then, there have been further slips of the F word from my lips. One notable incident was a very hung-over and sleep deprived morning at the airport when the Pater had thrown my bag at my feet spilling the passports onto the floor. Once I gathered them, I instructed Mister Baby: “Go tell your father to fuck himself.” This is the one instance I can recall that my instructions were followed without hesitation or argument.
There was also the matter of the of the cloth shopping bag that a friend sent from New York that read: I need some fucking groceries. “Wow, what great sounding out! Groceries is a big word,” I said as I shoved it in the back of the drawer behind the shoe polish.
The Pater recently decided that the time to put aside childish theater had come and got tickets for Jack Rosenthal’s Smash with Tom Conti and Richard Schiff. Despite Mister Baby’s refusal to go to the bathroom before the start, he behaved beautifully during the first act. He was entranced by the idea that the food on the buffet was real and that real steam was rising from the cups of coffee – the magic of live theater. There was enough rude language and slapstick to keep him entertained. A few audience members complimented us on his good behavior and we were feeling more than a little smug. Act two continued the theme of slapstick and shouting until the very crescendo was reached and the actress projected: “Why don’t we get in a circle, take our clothes off and FUCK!” CLOSE CURTAIN.

Festivus for the Rest of Us (November 2010)

Until you entrust your children to other people, you alone decide what information to give to them. Once they stray further abroad you remain the primary example setter, but the information highway gets hijacked by teachers and equally ignorant classmates. I understand why people homeschool when they want to, in the words of George Bush Jr. “control the message.” One sticky point in the general maelstrom is religion; it crops up early and sticks around.
I am culturally Jewish, so although we didn’t belong to a synagogue nor was I bas mitzvahed, I learned Yiddish and being Jewish is part of my personal identity. However, for the Pater, religion doesn’t feature. When we first met, he told me: “I think we’re Presbyterian.” What do you mean you don’t know? Your parents met in church! Which one? If I’m going to marry a goy, I’d like to know what kind.
My grandmother advocated marrying within your religion purely for the ease of decision making; “one less argument,” was her theory. We have never argued about religion (it was the Pater’s idea that we get married under the huppah but I think stamping on the glass was the big draw) but decisions have to be made regarding holidays. And because of our different nationalities further decisions have to be made about whose family we visit and when. This is why I created Hanukmas , a fast and dirty version of Hanukah which only lasts 4 days : two candles, two prayers and two presents a night and leaving us free to travel during the festive season (frequently in different directions). On Christmas morning, Mister Baby wakes to one gift from Santa at the foot of his bed. This already sets up a dichotomy because the Hanukah presents are from us, but the Christmas present is from Santa and Santa only, which I found out when we were visiting my father in North Carolina. Post present opening, Mister Baby was fairly obnoxious all morning so I tapped into the time honored tradition of emotional blackmail. “I don’t think I got a thank you for that present,” I prompted.
“It wasn’t from you, it was from Santa”
“Well, I told Santa where to find you, ingrate!”
Another sticky religious point, which we have been forced to face is the afterlife. We have discussed the current whereabouts of his two grandparents and grand uncle who have died but not those of our upstairs neighbor because Mister Baby has never said her name aloud since the morning following her suicide. I have been steadfast in my denial of all knowledge of their current locations. However, due to the mandatory religious education in the UK, Mister Baby has a GPS lock on them.
“Where’s your mommy now?” asks Mister Baby, possibly rhetorically. “I don’t know, baby.” “I do, she’s in heaven. She is.” This last is said with the same singsong and much nodding of the head that he employs when trying to convince me he’s washed his hands and face when there is abundant evidence to the contrary.
On Remembrance Day, I was roped into bringing the 40 children of all creeds and colours from the two Year 1 classes to the memorial which is a quarter mile from the school. This journey takes 45 minutes and 10 adults to negotiate. Once there, the children were posed a few questions. “Where are the soldiers now?” asks the religious education /art teacher. “In heaven, “ is the fervent reply. For some reason this question is asked not once but twice.
Religious education is both valuable and interesting but I thought it was the job of schools to teach facts and the distinction between fact and opinion. Can you tell me definitively that the soldiers are in heaven? Since it’s supposed to be religious education and not indoctrination, I fail to see what’s wrong with saying that some people believe that we go to heaven when we die and some don’t, which is what I say every time the subject comes up. London is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and this school is a microcosmic reflection of that. I have to wonder what the other parents there make of the information being spoon-fed to our children. On this occasion, I don’t ask but instead roll my eyes at my friend whose husband is also a secular Jew to which she says: “M would be livid.”
I understand Mister Baby’s need for black and white information so having recently discovered David Eagleman’s new religion, Possibilianism, I’m signing up. It allows me to change my answers from the wishy-washy ‘I don’t know’ to the more positive ‘It’s possible! ‘ And really, anything is possible.

The Magic Begins the Moment You Tell Them (October 2010)

“I will never, ever, ever take you to Disney World or Land. Ever!” I tell Mister Baby. Three weeks later I am forced to eat my words, having capitulated in the face of free tickets to DisneyLand Paris acquired by a friend. Mister Baby is thrilled; I focus on the Paris aspect.
It doesn’t help that I envision Disneyland as Dante’s version of medieval hell, and that I have cast my friend in the role of Virgil as guide to my Dante. “At least we’ll be together,” chirps Virgil. Somehow, I‘m not convinced. I don’t imagine the greedy denizens of the Hell’s fourth circle ceasing their cries of: “Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?” to gloat to their co-sufferers: “At least we’re not in Circle Five, those angry sinners have sunk ‘into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.’” And even if they did, would that really make them feel better? I doubt it.
We are accompanied on our tour of the underworld by Mister Baby, Virgil’s daughter and her school chum. The elated innocents are blissfully unaware that we are passing through the gates of Hell (the ones that say: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”). The queues, if not the promised magic, begin the moment you arrive; the line for ticket collection, the line into the castle, the line to see the princesses (complete with medieval pointy hats!) a snaking procession of the souls of the uncommitted. We, like them, are pursued and endlessly stung by the wasps and hornets of “when is it our turn?” and the “I want a toy” suck of maggots on our blood and tears.
Like many a sinner before me, there is some of the sinning I enjoy. We wander like the guiltless damned through Limbo until the gusts of Lust sway our reason. There’s no turning back and we slip in the vile slush of Gluttony. Mister Baby craves popcorn, which is a mere 15 minutes of wasps’ stings until we are next in line when he announces: “I don’t want popcorn anymore.” We retreat from the line and rejoin our party only to find that Francesca has decided she does want popcorn. More wasps and hornets. Then, as the other two miscreants want ‘barbe à papa’(cotton candy or candy floss to me and you) we throw ourselves onto that queue. The very nice Australians pass on the secrets of obtaining Grandpa’s beard: you must first purchase a ticket from the kiosk next door. I understand why when I see the poor gluttonous malefactor who is serving the giant balls of spun sugar. She is arm deep in the stuff, her face and protective goggles are covered in a hoar frost of sugar, a veritable witch at work at her cauldron. Cupfuls of the powdery poison are cast into the centrifuge and scraped from the sides until a glistening pink sputnik is conjured. The witch is far too sticky to also be a moneychanger. We are only a soul sucking half hour from the front of the line, plenty of time for the little gremlins to gobble popcorn and pester us for crude offerings from the kiosk. The Australians depart with their pound of sugar in the form of four shimmering globes. I move forward, tickets in hand, but the French man who was behind is now, curiously, in front of us brandishing his tickets. I muster my pride and scorn and spew forth: “It must be the magic of Disney: one minute you’re behind me, the next you’re in front of me!” And perhaps this is the magic at work at last because he and his wife stomp off. I feel immediately if only briefly repentant but Virgil assuages me: “French people cut in all the time.”
The Parade of Dreams (The eighth circle of fraud)is the crescendo of the day’s Disney fervor. An unctuous voice peals incessantly, exhorting us panderers and seducers in numerous languages to line up, line up. The grotesque and distorted caricatures lurch past- our journey through hell made flesh. Cruella Deville drives up in a gleaming Studebaker (Why do I hoard?), she leans out, devil red talons flashing and beadily eyes Virgil’s sinfully snowy faux fur and shrieks: “Dahling, I love your coat!”
The lurid Disney shop - the treacherous ninth circle - is our final penance. We emerge dispirited, laden with our traitorous sins and trudge to the train back to Paris.

The Joys of Sex (October 2010)

Maybe it is all about sex as Mr. Freud would have it. Sex, as in gender, is the first thing we know about our babies and the first prompt for our presumptions about their personality and behavior. I can only assume this is why that couple in Canada has decided to bring up a gender neutral child. Good luck!
As a parent you are forced to talk about sex almost as soon as your kid pronounces his or her first word. First we name the body parts that pee and poo and reproduce. It was already hard enough for me to say wee instead of pee and poo instead of poop (Poor Winnie, what did he ever do?). So then I tell Mister Baby that he has a penis but he says he has a willy and insists that I have one too. “No, I really don’t. See?” I say in the bath. “I have a vagina.”
To a six-year-old boy there are no funnier words than poo, bum, willy, fart, etc. and they are great fodder for insults. “Poo-poo head ,wee-wee bum,” one clever little boy will say to which his cohort will respond, “you’re a wee-wee, poo-poo -willy-bum head.” The girls are by no means exempt. When little Renee was given anatomically correct information she put it to good use. Unfortunately she did so at a friend of her mother’s house, a friend who is particularly reserved. The girls were playing nicely upstairs while the mothers drank tea downstairs. The girls thought it would be funny (after a stage whispered conference) to call the moms names. Down the stairs came “Poo head,” followed by giggles and, “Mommy you’re a vulva head!”
Every parent has to decide what they tell their children and when - although why anyone would call anything a front bottom is beyond me. It is not my job to hand out reproductive information to five year olds, especially other people’s five year olds. However, like many other rules, this is one I have transgressed. In my defense I must point out that this lapse occurred in the midst Dante’s forgotten tenth ring of hell that is Disneyland Paris, located between the circles of greed and rage.
We were a party of five, Mister Baby and I, my friend, her daughter and her daughter’s friend, Francesca. After a nerve-fraying day of lines and whines, we gorged ourselves on monstrous towers of cotton candy (another line). Francesca and I needed the loo (another line) and, probably inappropriately, she and I used the same toilet, as I often do with Mister Baby. While I was weeing, Francesca asked me what the box on the wall was for. “Well, women’s bodies prepare to have a baby every month and if they don’t, our bodies get rid of the extra stuff they don’t need and blood comes out. We use a pad to soak it up and they go in there.” Somehow I knew that this was a no-no, which my friend confirmed, scolding, “It’s up to her mother to tell her about that.”
Yes, it is, so why hasn’t she told her yet? It’s not like she’s two! She’ll be a pregnant teenager in eight years, hurry up! Instead, she lets her go to the make believe world of Disneyland where the ‘Parade of Dreams’ is accompanied by the sound of children’s imaginations being sucked out of their heads and replaced with sexism, consumerism and diabetes!

Not Guilty (January 2007)

I get to the Natural Café before the Otha Mothas and surreptitiously close the door. I pop Mister Baby in the ‘play corner’ and order a sandwich and cappuccino. There’s only one other kid there with his mother so I figure Mister Baby can’t do too much damage. I return after two minutes and the Otha Mutha tells me that Mister Baby has gone into the bathroom area. I find him ‘helping’ the workmen who are sawing and drilling a new door. He sees me coming and scurries away, almost upsetting the open container of vegetable oil that is propping open the dish room door.

The waiter brings my sandwich but delivers my coffee to a table outside, latching open the door. Mister Baby wanders over and plucks some chicken from my sandwich. Meike arrives with Anya. In the commotion of hellos and hasn’t he/she grown and when was the last time I saw you, the waiter brings the cold foamy coffee to our table and Mister Baby slips out of the open door. I lure him back inside with fragrant chicken in my hand and close the door.

I get in two bites of sandwich in while Meike passes around some dry oat cakes to the kids. Mister Baby rejects his, steals Anya’s, rejects that and grabs more chicken. I slurp some coffee and get in another bite. “I just had my lunch but maybe I’ll get a coffee,” says Meike. I nod, my mouth full of baguette. Mister Baby follows Anya to the play area where they find some remaindered focaccia on the floor and start parcelling it out. We remove it, proffer more chicken in its stead and go back to trying to have a conversation. The Otha Mutha’s baby starts squealing. My back is to the play corner so I look at Meike: “Was that Mister Baby?” “I don’t think so,” she says. I go over: “That wasn’t mine was it?” “Oh no, he’s fine,” she says, crooning to her son. I know Mister Baby’s fine, he’s always fine; it’s the other kids I have to worry about.

Helen belatedly shows up with a serenely napping Isabella so Mister Baby decides he wants to play with her. He’s just kissing her which is sweet and as she’s asleep she’s being more receptive than usual but I can see his dirty mitts heading for her face. We want Isabella to stay asleep despite the fact that when she’s awake, she just sits in her mother’s lap - lucky old Helen - but more importantly, we don’t want her to undergo scarification at the tender age of 19 months. “Here’s some more chicken,” I distract him.

Helen kindly offers to look after Mister Baby so I can eat the rest of my sandwich which now consists of lettuce, tomato and bread. Thank you, thank you, I munch while I watch Helen not see Mister Baby go behind the counter and then back to the door. The waiter, with an exasperated look, latches the door open again, not seeing Mister Baby merrily slip out behind him. An old man, on the other hand, does see him but can do little to deter Mister Baby from running toward his beloved cars rushing to and fro on the high street. Helen gamely fetches him a time or two until my coffee is done and I’m back on duty.

Mister Baby grabs an orange from a basket conveniently at his level by the cash register and takes a bite. As we’ve now bought it, we may as well eat it and since it’s messy, we may as well eat it on the street. Mister Baby picks the back alley and it’s a fun game chasing him out of the back of the MacDonald’s dumpsters and away from the pile of puke: “No, Mister Baby, that’s pavement pizza, not eating pizza.” I herd him into the parking lot of an adjacent building where he hands me the chewed and sucked husks of orange segment and blackens his hands on car wheels and then we return to the café.

Isabella still hasn’t woken up but Anya, as per usual, is following Mister Baby in every mischievous move out the front door and as many times as we close it, the hapless waiter opens it again. Mister Baby grabs another orange and before I can stop him, bites through the skin. Helen has the bright idea of going to the playground so they’ll be at least corralled and maybe we can chat. Fat chance, but we’ll give it a whirl.

The nearest playground, otherwise known as Needle Park, is only popular due to its location. The jungle gym is fine and the slide is nice enough but there are only two swings for babies and behind the boarded up canteen is littered with used condoms and the odd syringe. I know this because Mister Baby is inexorably drawn to this disgusting corner and it’s a lot of work to flurry him away. My efforts are hampered by the fact that there’s a line for the swings and the nannies in possession seem to be impervious to the glares of the polite English moms and squealing toddlers.

We stand in mommy formation with our backs to each other, facing our respective toddlers and occasionally darting out to spot them as they precariously scale the jungle gym or muscle their way through to go down the slide or try to climb up the slide as a four year old is barrelling down. We are fast coming to the conclusion that perhaps we should go out for dinner some night so that at least one of us can complete a sentence. Personally I have my doubts about this; I think my brain now only works in 30 second spurts, anything more than that might be too much pressure and I might just freeze up. However, I’m sure there will be wine to grease the wheels.

Anya is trying to scale the jungle gym but is too slow for the Great White toddler who has lumbered up behind her. He grabs her mop of blond hair and tugs her off the first rung. She lands in a ragdoll heap on the ground behind him. Mieke leaps across the playground to her howling bairn.

Helen and I stare stricken at the wreckage. “The good thing about that,” I say to Helen, “is that it wasn’t Mister Baby.” She can barely hear me over the din.

I leave while the leaving’s good and reflect upon another successful day: no maimings, no hospital visits.

Older Mom (November 2006)

They say there’s no perfect time to have kids, but some times are clearly worse than others: teen pregnancy does no one any favors and women in their 50s and 60s having babies boggles the mind and raises all kinds of questions, (the first being: WHY?). That leaves the two other age groups of new mothers, the young (20s & early 30s) and the older (late 30s and 40s). There are pros and cons to both but I fall into the latter camp so I’m naturally biased.

It might be nice to have had children younger. I could demurely protest when I was mistaken for the sister of the handsome, if surly, teenager at my side. But that youthful dew would surely evaporate in the face of his staggering college bills and I would sag, literally, at the thought that I will have to work for another 25 years to pay for it all. No thank you!

I obviously felt some ambivalence about having children, as I’m sure I could have managed to get pregnant before the ripe old age of 37. But I did the usual things: moved to New York, worked, traveled and dated. After numerous frogs I finally met my prince when I was 29 but it took awhile for him to make the leap across the pond from London. It took even longer for him to pop the question and after we were married, I wanted to enjoy being married for awhile, just the two of us. Besides, we were busy New Yorkers, rushing here and there; going out every night. Who had time for kids?

I like to call myself a late bloomer, but in reality, I am merely the world’s worst procrastinator. And on top of that, I’m not terribly fond of change. But that old biological clock was ticking, not demanding to have a kid, but whispering that I’d regret it if I didn’t. It seemed as good a time as any. On one hand, I was ready for a lifestyle change, yet on the other, I was keenly aware of what I was giving up. This is the biggest difference between older and younger moms. If you have a kid in your 20’s, you haven’t started living your own life yet, so your adulthood becomes defined by parenthood. But see, I had already defined myself, thank you very much, and it wasn’t as a mom.

I don’t think age matters one iota in the first humbling months of new motherhood - sleep deprivation hits us all like a ton of bricks. But as they grow, the advantages of being older become apparent. Your first baby is like having a really ornery boss and since I’ve worked for one or two, I know you have to either anticipate his needs and placate his rages or quit – not an option with a baby. You just have to roll with the punches, hair pulling and howling that is babyhood, and not take it personally.

In some ways, your work experience can, however, work against you: gone is the sense of accomplishment, of starting and completing a single task within a reasonable amount of time. Let alone performing just one task at a time, and with two arms, no less! The only tasks I do get to complete from start to finish (like cleaning the kitchen floor three times a day) are so repetitive that they give me mental carpal tunnel syndrome, but never mind, that could happen to anybody; age is no barrier to boredom.

If I get to sleep no later than 7 at night and drink a vat of coffee, I still have the energy of a 25 year old, and the wisdom (such as it is) that has come with my age makes me a better parent. I’m more relaxed: bad things happen in the world but most kids survive, and when they don’t it’s not because they ate more dirt than vegetables at 19 months. As a new parent everyone throws advice your way, invariably unsolicited, and as an older, more formed person, I feel more adept at discerning what’s useful for me and my parenting style. It’s always helpful to talk to people in the same situation (misery loves company?) and although most of the moms my age in my London neighbourhood are on their third or fourth kid and have neither time nor interest in us newcomers, there are a few of us. We band together to share our secrets, joys, doubts and frustrations - like teenage girls talking about boys (and talking is all they ought to be doing!).

The best advice I have received to date has been to pretend the cameras are rolling and do the best you can. And ultimately, that is all we parents can do, the best we can, young or old. I just hope no one accuses me of being my son’s grandmother!

My One and Only (October 2006)

“Is it your first?” everyone asked when I was pregnant. And my last, I thought. “Is he your first?” asks the Otha Motha at the supermarket. And only, I think. Her 10 month old girl smiles up at me; I cringe at her eczema encrusted limbs.
“How about you?”
“Oh no, my other daughter is 3 and I’m done. Are you having another?” she asks expectantly.
I candidly express my reticence: my age and the difficulty of the first year in particular.
“Oh you don’t look your age,” she butters me up (I had bathed and was wearing massive sunglasses) and then pithily dishes up: “Well if you don’t, he’ll grow up and hate you.”

Hate me, why would he hate me? He gets daily showers of ‘I love you’ and doesn’t have to share with any one save the cat. He might feel pressure, but hatred, I think not.

“Are you going to have another baby?” Mieke asks me over coffee in the park.
“Are you nuts? I don’t even know where this one is,” I answer, looking around until I spot Mister Baby stealing a tricycle. “I seriously doubt I could keep track of any more.”
“But everyone says the second one is so much easier,” she says as her daughter clambers onto Mister Baby’s back to get at the bike.
“How much easier can it be? Do the math, there’d still be two!” I counter as Mister Baby drags her daughter off the tricycle by the hair, steps over her and rides away.

I tally the pros and cons of having another child as babyhood slips from Mister Baby’s body. I conclude that it would be great for him and suck for me. I’d like a house filled with life and noise and activity, but what I miss most about life before Mister Baby is reading and having an attention span longer than it takes to make toast (and that’s generous). ‘They play with each other so you can do other things,’ so the argument goes. Like what? Climb Mount Everest of a morning? What they mean is that I can clean and cook some more. And while I love my siblings now we’re older - most of the time - the thing I remember most was the constant squabbling. The ‘she’s-on-my-side’ whine from the back seat followed by the bellowing of: “Don’t make me pull over!”

Perhaps it isn’t fair to create another spoiled only child but on the flip side is my sanity. I piously think of the environment, natural resources and all the unwanted children. But more importantly, I barely made it through Mister Baby’s first year in tact so what might happen the next time? Granted, that first year also included an international move and my mother’s prolonged, near death hospitalization among other traumas.

I would love to wake up and find another couple of delightful, potty-trained kids, a big house and garden and a fulfilling career, and a dog, maybe even some chickens. This seems possible if I have twins quickly followed by a nervous break down and emerge from the mental institution when they’re four.

Let’s face it, as older parents, if Mister Baby waits as long as we did to have kids, we don’t have a prayer of seeing any grandchildren while we’re compos mentis and cataract free. According to actuarial tables, the Pater and I will be checking out early on in Mister Baby’s life. I don’t want him to be lonely; I want him to have a family of his own. So I have devised a twofold plan combining forced marriage and teenage pregnancy. I have proposed marriage contracts to the parents of his more attractive playmates. Failing this (and unsuitable dowries), I have decided not to mention birth control. I’ll be one of those cool moms who lets Mister Baby’s girlfriends stay overnight, and in his room, no less. I hope to still be ambulatory so I can baby-sit. If I happen to be in diapers, I’ll still be an expert.

Mostly I wish I had met The Pater five years earlier and started on this journey sooner but I can’t rewrite history. An essential part of growing up is hating your parents, so the question remains: will Mister Baby grow up to hate me because he’s an only child or for some other crime?

Natural Born Killers (August 2006)

Just before breaking off her engagement, a friend of mine dreamed that she was sitting between her perspective mother-in-law and her fiancé when the mother’s mouth opened like a cobra’s, and in a flash and bit the son’s head. As my teeth are about to close over my own son’s shoulder, I wake up and like Gregor Samsa waking as a cockroach, I think: “This was no dream.”

“I want to bash The Pater’s head in,” I spit. “I have nowhere to wear them anyway.”
“Don’t you think it’s helpful that we all want to as well?” Mieke asks.
“No, because I still want to kill him. And it’s not even him, it’s just because he’s there, I just want to bash somebody’s head in.”
“I once got so mad at Flavio that I threw my wedding ring in his omelette,” Helen adds.
“Did he eat the omelette?” I giggle at her.

“Have you ever threatened divorce?” asks Mieke.
“Of course,” Helen and I say in unison.
“Well, when I do it really seems to unsettle Rob,” she says.
“He probably thinks you’re serious,” I say.
“But I’ve never had a baby before,” she counters.
“You didn’t say you were going to divorce the baby,” I point out.

I have so much anger inside me, I always have but it’s definitely worse since Mister Baby was born. Or perhaps I notice it more because I don’t want my hideous temper mirrored by him. I tend to flare when I haven’t slept enough and when I have little or no time to myself, hmmm, I’m thinking that it probably is worse now. But the rage that electrifies me is terrifying.

It’s Saturday morning and The Pater was out late last night, the poor dear fell asleep on the train on the way home and missed his stop. Not my problem, though, and I start in on him like a pit-bull.

“What time did you come home last night?”
“What difference does it make, you were asleep?”
“What time?”
“I came home, when I came home.”
“What time?” By this time my voice is shrill and Mister Baby, in my arms, is looking between us, a cowed expression on his still sleepy face.
“I got home at two.”
“At two?” I explode with a stamp of my foot. “And you didn’t think to call me? No one had a cell phone? Why do I have to call you and you never even think to call me?”

And then my arm darts out and I punch him on the arm, hard. We look at each other, there’s stone in his eyes and we look at Mister Baby who’s horribly frightened and withdrawn, and I start sobbing.

“I’m going back to bed,” he says.

I shakily make a bottle for Mister Baby and take him into his room. I croon to him and drip tears into his fuzzy head until he falls asleep. I make tea and clean the kitchen. For the rest of the day we are quiet and normal and go shopping and play with Mister Baby. We even laugh but my belly rumbles with fear. A year ago, a punch from me would be laughable but since hauling Mister Baby around and some yoga, my punches pack some wallop but more importantly, I hit The Pater! I am a batterer, I am an abuser. I am shocked by my aggression and fury.

“I can’t believe I hit you. Did you see Mister Baby’s face? He hates it when we fight,” I start over a dinner of risotto with pancetta and gorgonzola that I have carefully, deliberately prepared while sipping at some red wine. I apologize and The Pater graciously excuses me, he thinks it’s a little funny, bless him. He doesn’t see that I’m an out of control sociopath that will turn her rage upon her family and wreak a litany of physical and verbal abuse. Or maybe he can’t face it.

“Bitchiness used to just be my domain,” I say.
“You sound proud of that,” he says flatly.
“I’m not proud of it, but it’s true, you never used to snap like that.”
“You’re not the only one who gets mad, why do I always have to be the nice guy,” he says. Um, because you are the nice guy? We’ve established that: I’m the bitch and you’re the nice guy and while I seem to be staying true to type, you’re unnervingly deviating from the flight path, mister.

It is the lesser of two evils if my fury is focused on The Pater instead of Mister Baby but it flares at Mister Baby as well. When he pulls my hair, when he bucks and squeals and spreads poop everywhere, when he spits out his dinner and upturns the bowl, when he’s madly prodding the unflushed bowl with the toilet brush (hey, it’s a drought, give me a break), in other words, being a deliciously mischievous little boy. The Otha Mothas pretend it doesn’t happen to them; it’s like masturbation though, everybody does it but nobody wants to admit it.

“I think it really helps to talk,” says Mieke.
“To The Pater or you guys?” I ask.

Yes, to both, to anybody, pride be damned; smothered secrets mean more smouldering rage.

Better Living Through Larceny (July 2006)

or Home Economics

I am sitting in the sunshine with my book and my coffee on Mister Baby’s last day of playgroup; his first day of summer freedom, my last. A well-dressed - other than the turquoise crocs – fifty-ish woman is slowly circling the benches and surreptitiously foraging among the litter. She reminds me of my mother collecting cans in the park next to our house. The box for deposit bottles was by the front door. “Who’s drinking malt liquor?” I asked incredulously one day. “The guys in the park,” she answered. That day I laughed. The day when they picked me up at Vassar and she was collecting beer cans, I crouched in the back of the station wagon keening with embarrassment. “She’s New England thrifty,” my dad had said.

It’s a terrible moment when you realize you’ve turned into your mother, and the most gut wrenching, mortifying bits of your mother to boot. But being dependent on only the Pater’s income has ignited a thriftiness all my own. We’re not poor but I feel, like my mother before me, that my financial contribution to the household is to economize. So, in order to cut fiscal corners I frequent the 2-for-1 aisle, for example. I also may have put wine in the bottom of Dexter’s stroller and “forgotten” to pay for it. This may have happened more than once. And, as in many criminal enterprises, success may have bred audacity and the quality and price of the wine may have increased over time. The wine may even have been joined by the fancy olive oil and the aged balsamic vinegar. And then I may have been busted.

“Did you pay for the wine, ma’am?” the security guard asks, pulling Mister Baby and me aside at the exit. I have the impression that he knows the answer to this question.
“Oh, my goodness, I must have forgotten,” I attempt to exclaim in surprise. He is unmoved and my stomach turns inside out and I feel see-through; I had been monitored. “Can I just pay for it now, I’m really sorry, I forgot, can I just pay for it, please” I beg and swallow.
He allows enough time for the image of me in handcuffs in front of Mister Baby to sink in before he intones, “If you ‘forget’ again, ma’am, we’ll have to ban you from the store.”

“Oh my goodness, baby, Mommy forgot to pay,” I whinny. Although my hand is shaking I do manage to hand over my Nectar card.

I am so deeply ashamed at getting caught – let’s be honest – that I don’t think I can tell the Pater. However, the full-price Gigondas goes very nicely with the paprika chicken and leeks served over red Camargue rice and I loosen up and admit to being busted and ‘ma’amed,’ all in one day.

The Pater is both amused and affronted. “I’m going to start calling you Winona,” he jokes, but his pride is bruised. “It’s not like we can’t afford wine,” he says.
“Well, don’t get used to this one,” I say.

We still have the joint checking and savings accounts in the States as well as joint checking and savings here. I also kept my checking account in the States as well as what I call my plastic surgery fund. This is the only way I can maintain a fiscal identity, and the idea of independence, for myself. This is my version of the thousands of dollars in twenties we found in my grandmother’s drawers after she died. It was left over from shopping money that Papa would give her each week. So not only have I turned into my mother, but I’ve also channeled my grandmother. I’m Old England thrifty.

The woman in crocs toes at the littered cigarette packs to make sure they’re empty and finding nothing, leaves the green. A man sits down next to me. I have half an hour, half a chapter of my book and half my coffee left when he starts stroking himself with his eyes on my legs.

“Hey” I wheel on him, “this is the last day I get to sit in the park on my own, go somewhere else to do that.”

It’s going to be a hot, dry summer.

Farewell to All That (May 2005)

“Uh, this is Dad. Your mother…your mother had a bad thing. An aneurism burst. She’s in surgery now; it’s going to be eight hours. I’ll call you when it’s over. This is a serious thing.”

Everything stops inside me but Mister Baby doesn’t stop. He’s still strapped to my chest, squirming to be changed and fed. I call The Pater to please come home. I call my siblings. I call my uncle but he doesn’t have any fresher news. There’s nothing more to know until my father calls again. There’s nothing more to do but hold my breath.

Also languishing on the answering machine is her annual tuneless recorder rendering of Happy Birthday which I save all year, every year. Just two weeks ago we enjoyed a wonderful visit with them and I had been thinking, however unrealistically, that I can’t imagine my life without my mother. While we were there she gave me her mother’s jewelry; we bent over each piece, remembering when Nana wore it. She kept back one necklace, “I don’t know why, but I’m going to hang on to this for now,” she said as she held it up, making it sway like a hypnotist. She also gave me two travel clocks, my Yiddish workbooks, my elementary school report cards, some essays from high school, an ice bucket in the shape of an owl and a spaghetti spoon.

Fear prickles along my skin. I hold her in my belly, where Mister Baby used to be. If I cradle him with the utmost tenderness, it is her caressed; if he sleeps easily, it is her sleeping; if I can soothe him, it is her comforted. If I cut this tomato in perfect sixths, this garlic razor thin, it will keep her whole.

The phone calls ping pong up and down the eastern seaboard.

“She made it through surgery but they’re talking about collateral damage.” His voice is stretched and scared and I can see him with his palm to his upturned forehead, eyes squinting.
“What do you mean collateral damage?” I ask.
“Brain damage.”
She is her brain and I wish I could hold it, bathe it, lick it clean.

“I think you should come down,” my father tells me.

“She’s two dimensional, flat, like she was run over by a truck,” my father tells us, smacking his hands together, his eyes screwed tight and his mouth gaping open like a bass on ice to demonstrate what to expect at the hospital. He tells us how she just bent down to pick up a carton of milk that had fallen out of the fridge, how she had worked so long the evening before in the garden tending Gerte’s god-damned heirloom tomatoes. He says if he hadn’t been home, she probably would have just gone and lay down. The housekeeper was here, he says, and she kept vacuuming even after the ambulance arrived. How the ambulance got there so quickly and how he followed in his car. He tells us that she knows what happened, she was conscious when he told the doctor that her mother died this way. My uncle, her only sibling, looks bilious.

She is tubes and wounds and pain. She comes to consciousness like a fish swimming up for air. Her liver-flecked, work worn hands do her talking in familiar gestures, performing solo where they were once members of an ensemble. Her shrugs, nods and eyebrows act in concert to tell us about her pain and discomfort, her fear and questions. My brother plays his violin while I comb her hair and sing her favorite song from the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, the one I sing to Mister Baby. There is dried blood in her hair at the base of her neck. I am her simian daughter, picking nits from her big grey head.

When my father tells her he has bought a cell phone, her eyes go wide with cartoon shock and mock horror. I don’t know if she’s reacting to the idea of a cell phone or the fact that the situation requires one.

My sister and I flit back and forth between Mister Baby and my mother. We have dinner as a family, my uncle, brother, father, sister, Mister Baby and I all at the Chinese buffet. We have Sunday dinner at the dining hall with Gerte as they do each Sunday. I do the laundry. I throw away the threadbare t-shirt she was wearing, torn down the front to get at her chest.

“Did you tell Paddington?” I ask, looking at the 25 year old, stuffed bear at the foot of their bed.
“He was here,” my father says, “he saw the whole thing.”

I bring her a clipboard and pen when Gerte and I visit. She looks at Gerte and writes: How are you? She underlines the ‘you.’ Then she writes ‘pain,’ and we get the nurse. She will remember none of this.

To Grandmother's House We Go (May 2005)

We are moving to London in July so mid-May we trek to North Carolina to say farewell to my folks. This will entail Mister Baby’s first flights and the first time we’ve all slept away from home. I can barely remember all the things I need to go around the corner for lunch, let alone what I’ll need for five days away. I place my faith in lists as my “working memory” is still on maternity leave. We only have to redirect the cab home once.

“Nurse him on the way up and the way down,” a friend counsels. I do and Mister Baby gurgles beatifically, keeping up his reputation for being better out of the house than he is in. According to my mother-in-law, this is the first sign that he takes after me.

We find my mother pacing the baggage carousel and her face draws up like a stage curtain when she sees Mister Baby. We wrestle the baby seat into the car and load up the back with the stroller, the suitcase, baby bag, laptop, etc. When we arrive at the house within the assisted living facility, I am thrilled with the gently sloping walkways and life on one level - so much easier than hurling the massive perambulator down our steep Brooklyn stoop with one hand while clutching Mister Baby with the other.

A few weeks back my father called and asked if I wanted two cemetery plots that his Uncle Larry gave him years ago. Being a New Yorker, my mind immediately responds to real estate offers but I belatedly remember that I want to be cremated and I seriously doubt The Pater wants to be buried in the middle of Long Island.

“I’ve asked around the family and I don’t think anyone wants those plots,” he says after dinner.
“Why aren’t you guys going to use them?” I ask. Hey, he brought it up and I am known in the family for asking pointed, if a propos questions.
“I’m not going back to New York,” my mother sneers.
“The traffic’s terrible,” my father chimes in.

Mister Baby sleeps well at my parent’s house, thank god, there should be somewhere he sleeps. It’s relaxing to only be looking after him and not trying to keep up with the rest of life; I even get to bathe after Mister Baby craps down my skirt. We mostly hang around the house and Mister Baby is mesmerized by my father; they make gurgling sounds at each other and laugh like goons. They look like before and after pictures.

Mom has a recorder recital on Sunday. “It’s not an official recital,” she downplays. “It’s really just for us and another group to play for each other but you’re welcome to come.”
“Paddington wants to go; he always gets to hear you practice but he never gets to go to the concert,” my father says.

Paddington is the stuffed bear you would expect. My father bought him for my mother when I was in eighth grade. I remember the night he picked me up from my cello lesson and Paddington was in the back. I thought he might be for me and while I welcomed all presents, a teddy bear wasn’t the top of my list, Sassoon jeans yes but Paddington not so much. Paddington has accompanied my parents on every trip, become the fourth and best behaved of their ‘children’ as well as a medium of communication between them. When Dad brings back a milkshake and some fries after running an errand, he’ll say “Paddington thought you might like a treat.”

My mother leaves early for the recital. The Pater stays behind with Mister Baby who is supposed to be napping. “Paddington really wants to go,” my father says as he puts one of his battered and taped oversize briefcases by the door. “He always gets to hear her practice but he doesn’t get to go to the concerts.”
“What’s in the bag?” I ask as we head out the door.
“It’s a secret,” he says. I know from experience that my father keeps his secrets and when it’s a private joke it stays private so I don’t ask again.

We arrive at the church hall during the rehearsal. We pick our way to seats through the thin audience scattered around. There is a cacophony of sound as 25 recorders attack a tune that is discernible only after the third run through. When the recital finally begins, my father leans down and opens the briefcase. Tucked inside, arms and legs thrust up before him, is Paddington. My father carefully props open the flaps of the case and takes out Paddington’s baseball cap (the original felt number having disintegrated long ago)and puts it his own beach ball of a head.

“This way she’ll know that Paddington is here,” he explains.
“Is that his hat?” I inquire.
“No, it’s my hat but I let him wear it.”

My mother had been nervous about the pieces they were going to play. She shows me the music and says that she doesn’t know when to come in. “Do you count the rests?” “No,” she says grinning. She doesn’t seem to do any worse than anyone else.

After the concert, we meet at the car where my father has propped Paddington on Mom’s seat.

“Oh,” she exclaims, “Paddington was there?” her voice high and warm with pleasure. “He always gets to hear me practice but he never gets to go to the concert.”
“Didn’t you know he was there? Dad was wearing his hat.” I say.
“I saw the hat but I thought it was symbolic.”

Every love story is different and there’s nothing I love more than how old people show love. I’m reminded of my mother’s words at my wedding when she turned her back on the rest of the wedding party and addressed herself to me: “If you’re lucky, with time, comes an even deeper love.”

Material Girl (April 2005)

I have worn the donut-shaped breast pillow for months; when I wash the faux-denim cover, the foam still girdles me. I can’t manage to transfer a dozing Mister Baby to his bed, so he fusses for a half hour in my cramped arms before nursing, again. I loathe the Otha Mothas who tell me: “I have to wake her up to feed her after 6 hours, I worry she’s not eating enough!” Why didn’t I get a sleepy baby or at least one I could put down for 5 minutes? “She just loves the bouncy chair,” and “the swing saved our lives,” they brag.

We’re moving to London and while we pack up our own belongings we seem to be amassing heaps of baby stuff. We’re running out of room so instead of the swing, we buy a flat-packed bouncy chair. This is going to be great, I think, this will change everything. And it does, for precisely fifteen minutes. Long enough for me to wash my hair but not remove any of the dreadlocks that formed in the week since I last bathed. I sing to Mister Baby, I croon desperately and ultimately join his howling as I tear at the conditioner-globbed tangles. I’m sure the Otha Mothas would abandon their baths but after seven smelly days, I cannot.

I strapped him into the Baby Bjorn pouch for the first 3 months and went out for lunch, covering his sleeping head with a napkin. He’s big enough to face out now but there’s 20 pounds of him cliff hanging off my chest, wriggling like a worm on a hook; and he will not tolerate the Baby Bjorn inside. At home, I have resorted to pumping Dexter in my arms on my pilates ball, dizzying myself in an effort to get him to sleep. This has proved no more effective than standing and rocking him but at least it saves my back. For added value, I feel my legs getting stronger by the bounce.

But last night a miracle occurred: Mister Baby slept for 5, yes, 5 hours! And I have had coffee and to top it all off, my brand new baby sling has arrived. I pop Dexter in the sling and with my two free hands I make a phone call and a bottle.

“All you have to do is survive for the first four months,” I tell Lynn over the phone in London. Her first baby, Petal, is perfect: she sleeps on cue and feeds like a dream. I ignore Mister Baby kicking and punching my breast.

“Hearing your baby cry is doing funny things to my breasts,” she says. Why is it that half a day away, on another continent, she lactates when Mister Baby cries and I have ‘supply issues?’

Never mind, I have the sling and Mister Baby has finally fallen asleep; we chat until Petal wakes up, politely mewing for milk. I’m itching for adventure with Mister Baby still asleep and slip on some flip flops. I am going to get a pedicure! I still can’t see my feet but other people can; I consider it a public service.

I trip lightly down the stairs into the gorgeous, breezy Brooklyn sunshine, Mister Baby’s head tucked beneath my wing. The Baby Bjorn is common amongst the Otha Mothas but it’s your more hippy moms that cradle the babies in the comforting fetal position of their pre-born lives.

Getting a pedicure seems a little at odds with the hippy look but then I spy Mother Nature herself with a massive one-year old dangling from her paisley, raglan sling. She bellies up to the pedicure bar right behind me. I ease myself into the big comfy chair and dunk my feet into the soapy water, sighing with pleasure as I shift Mister Baby’s weight onto my middle. I push the button to start the chair’s rhythmic massage. I grab a magazine but can’t focus. He’s asleep, he’s asleep, he’s asleep, I chant and rock to the massaging chair.

I have found my savior in the sling. I turn to Mother Nature next to me. Her daughter has nursed to sleep in her raglan nest, milk oozing from her open mouth.

“I just love the sling, don’t you?” I ask with conspiratorial smugness.

Be Careful What You Wish For (March 2005)

Against my obstetrician’s advice, I gained a substantial amount of weight during my pregnancy and by substantial, I mean 55 pounds. Mister Baby weighs under eight pounds at birth so I don’t look much different once he’s out. The Pater, on the other hand, seems to disappear. Each afternoon he comes to the hospital, he looks thinner and more gaunt, his eyes protrude from sunken cheeks. But while I notice it, I don’t have the capacity to worry about anything else but the tiny squalling baby in the neonatal ICU with a chest tube trailing from his tiny torso.

He is the biggest and loudest baby in the unit. I can barely look at the premies, with heartbreaking legs the size of my pinkie flanked by life monitoring machines constantly burping, ringing permanent alarm. When I am released home, all of my energy goes into hauling my swollen, c-sectioned carcass to and from the hospital on foot three to four times a day. I am rocked by the news that my best friend is in a Prague hospital near death, her body slowly being paralyzed by botulism.

I eventually have the courage to clamber onto the scale and the Pater got on after me. We are like a fairy tale couple: Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean. The Pater weighed what I used to weigh, and while I had already lost 25 pounds, I had swelled to his former weight.

In that deep Brooklyn winter of snowstorms and freezing temperatures, The Pater was my supply chain to the isolated island I inhabited but still I begged him to go to the doctor. “I’m fine,” he said, when he vibrated when I hugged him. “Go to the doctor,” I said, when his shoulder blades were more out of his skin than in. “I’m fine,” he said. “Go to the doctor, for my birthday present,” I pleaded when he threw up one morning.

My brother and my uncle are in town and we meet for dinner. My chubby brother recoils when he puts his hand on The Pater’s jutting shoulder. The Pater guzzles water throughout dinner. My uncle and I put my brother in a cab and as we say goodbye, I turn to the sound of gushing fluid. The Pater, with Mister Baby strapped to his chest, is doubled over throwing up his dinner.

“How’s he feeling this morning?” my uncle asks when he calls to check in early the next day. “He looks terrible.”

“I’m not going to hear the end of this from your family if I don’t go to the doctor, am I?” he asks when I get off the phone.
“Nope,” I agree.

A month later, he does make an appointment with the doctor. “Great,” I say. “Well, it’s your birthday,” he says.
“Well for your birthday, I’ll go to the gynecologist!” I slam down the phone. What happened to the diamond ring after giving birth?

Meet the Grandparents (February 2005)

It’s exactly 11 a.m. when I see them out the window. They look bleached in their matching anoraks, careful in the snow. I grab Mister Baby and open the front door before they press the buzzer. Their faces infuse with utter warmth as they spy grandchild number 6. They open and soften as they bend over him in the hallway; their eyes moving forward in their faces.

“Looky what we did, Mom!” I say.
“Yes, he’s beautiful, really beautiful,” Big Ruthie marvels, shaking her head.
“Wow, looky that; it’s Mister Baby,” says Dad.

We sit down in the living room and start passing around coffee and the baby. My mother is tucked into the corner of the sofa and her shoulders slope around Mister Baby’s small form, his froggy legs kick complacently. He is long and thin, his limbs still hold their fetal form; he stares up at her, never blinking.

“Do you want to hold him, Dad?” I ask.
“Okay,” he says stretching out his arms. “He sure is cute,” he says, grinning down at Mister Baby, comfortable in the crook of his arm. And I’m glad for my father because traditionally he‘s held the grandbabies last and by that time, they had enough and would invariably bawl their heads off the instant he touched them. I take Mister Baby away after a few minutes; he looks like he might start missing me in a loud sort of way.

“Anyone mind if I feed him?” I ask. “Go ahead,” my mother shrugs and gestures ‘knock yourself out,’ with her arms. I strap on the breast pillow. “It’s saved my shoulders,” I say by way of excuse for the ugly, faux-denim foam donut. “Whatever works,” laughs my mother.

Big Ruthie hands me a bag of ‘goodies’ before we head out to lunch. I look in and take out a box of cheddar crackers. “Those were only opened a couple of days ago,” she says. The Pater straps on the Baby Bjorn and Dexter. My heart surges with the sunshine and my free arms as we leave the house. “I might run away,” I grin at Big Ruthie.

They like the food at the Waterfront but they’re not used to waiting so long for it to arrive; they’re also nervous lest Mister Baby wake up. Funny, it does seem to take longer when you don’t have a glass of wine and a cigarette to wile away the time. We pick up dessert on the way home and they’re gone by three, they want to beat the traffic back to their motel in Queens.

The visit feels just long enough and I settle back down with the pillow and Mister Baby and my boobs. For the first two months if people want to visit, they should do it at your schedule: come in for 15 minutes every two hours or alternatively, take the baby away for an hour and a half, bring him in to be fed and then take him away again and keep doing this for about 24 hours. Sounds annoying and fatiguing? Welcome to my world.

My parents spend the following day with my aunt and uncle on Long Island where they too live in an assisted living facility. My uncle alternates days of dementia and dialysis, but it is a good day so they visit my grandparents’ graves.

“We have a great view of Shea Stadium from our motel,” my father tells me when they arrive in the morning and shows me “Shea at Sunset” on the digital camera.

The food is even better at the seafood place on Atlantic Avenue but the wait’s even longer. It doesn’t matter though, Mister Baby has once again burrowed into The Pater’s chest and doesn’t look like he’s budging any time soon. After lunch, we get brownies and then they go. I want these days to go on forever but that’s it, they’re off back to North Carolina. “This might be our last trip to New York, the traffic’s unbelievable,” my father says. “Terrible,” my mother adds, “and so rude.”

After they leave, I look through the bag my mother gave me and find fortune cookies, some biscuits from their Chapel Hill dining hall, some packs of grissini also from the dining hall, the open cheddar crackers, some lemon shortbread (also open), some fruit and a package of McDonald’s fries with 9 fries left. The cardboard has been carefully folded over a few times so that the fries don’t fall out.

Here Goes Nothing (January 2005)

One of the last things the birth coach said was “When the doctor says that you’re baby’s in danger, you either fight or you go with it but it gets medical fast.” We pack ‘the bag’ including the pilates ball and Bob Marley and The Cure cd’s and head to the hospital. After admission, a vaginal pessary full of prostaglandins to “ripen the cervix” is applied and a drip jabbed into my hand. We spend the next 24 hours in an airless tomb occasionally being visited by a nurse who invariably scolds me for moving from the bed. We order thai food, play cards and my family sips vodka and contractions do start.

I take a giant poop and in retrospect realize that it also included the pessary in the evacuation. The contractions taper off as The Pater snoozes away the night on the bed next to mine.

The berating I received from the night nurse is passed like a baton to my day nurse. “You don’t have time to shower,” and “What? You haven’t slept? You’re going to be too tired to give birth!”

I make concessions hourly and with each concession natural birth recedes further. After the Pitocin drip and baby monitor are installed I am allowed to sit on the ball until my water breaks. “I thought I didn’t have any water, that’s why we’re inducing?” Unfortunately, also apparent with the water breaking is the fact that the baby has violated the first rule of etiquette: you don’t shit where you eat. Stressed from all the fake hormones flowing and the adrenalin I am splashing around, the baby has produced the meconium (baby’s first poop – awww) inside of me, how charming. I am hauled off the ball and strapped to the bed with another tube to “flush out” the meconium.

The nurse goes to lunch leaving the eye-in-the-sky nurse at the front desk in charge. An alarm sounds and the room fills with 12 people. In seconds I am flipped, oxygenated, prepped for surgery and a baby monitor is screwed into the baby’s head. Then they notice that the external baby monitor had slipped and was monitoring my much slower heartbeat. The mask is removed and I am eased back but the monitor and four other tubes coming from me in a spaghetti junction strap me to the bed.

Dusk of day two is obscuring the view of Staten Island Ferry toing and froing from Manhattan when Dr. Whatchamacall convinces me of the efficacy of an epidural. I hear a woman pushing out her baby in the next room and even if I won’t be able to feel it, I’d like to do it. I love the epidural and the Pitocin is cranked to the max. Five hours later, I have been drunkenly chatting nonstop but I haven’t even begun to dilate. Dr. Whatchamacall now wants a cesarean. With half an hour left of our anniversary, we acquiesce. “It’ll make it easy to remember the date.”

Half an hour into the following day, the wail announces the arrival. A BOY!!!! Because he has inhaled the meconium, pediatricians are literally standing to whisk him to the neonatal ICU.

“Let me see him,” I yell as I can feel them mucking me out. They hold a bundle above my head. “I can’t see him!” They lower the swaddled, screaming form so my craned neck can see him for a moment and then they take him.

Great Expectations (January 2005)

I love being pregnant once I am showing and past the “dangerously close to fat” phase as my darling friend opined on seeing me in a bikini. “Say that to my face,” I retorted, gesturing to my pornographic cleavage.

My cleavage did garner a lot of attention which seemed to mirror racial stereotypes. Many a white man would look at my pretty, glowing face propped up by my enormous breasts with interest until his eyes traveled down. Upon seeing the bump, his face would flush baby girl pink. On the other hand, black and Hispanic men were not put off by the fact that I was with another man’s child, rather it was seen as evidence that I was goer.

“You need a birth plan,” says the birth coach. This is pronounced with the same inherent judgment as a friend might say: “You used a condom, right?” if you slept with an intravenous drug user. So I devise a plan to listen to a John Le Carré book on tape while bouncing on my Pilates ball and making lasagna. When I’m fully dilated, I will walk the three blocks to the hospital and give birth on all fours in the birthing center while the Pater massages my back. I will eschew all medical intervention that is designed to deny a woman her natural right to birth her baby.

Our abbreviated course in the Bradley method instills us with a fear of Pitocin and distain for epidurals. The birthing warrior teaches us all the techniques that the Pater will oversee as coach, advocate, doula and keeper of interventionist medicine at bay. We watch videos of homebirths and witness a freshly born German baby crawl up his mother’s belly, latch on to one breast while keeping a wary eye on the other. The only time medical intervention is considered acceptable is if the life of the baby was at risk “But you know your body best.”

For this reason, I made the unorthodox move of switching obstetricians at 5 months. I wanted at least the option of the birthing center down the street but since the midwives were all booked I got Dr. Whatchamacall. I couldn’t believe The Pater hadn’t clocked this verbal tick of hers to call everything, including the womb and baby, whatchamacall. Of course, he cottoned on about 3 seconds before she walked into the exam room and loudly said: “Whatchamacall!”

After work winds up on Christmas Eve I still have three weeks before it’s due to wallow in being pregnant. At Christmas dinner, all that can be seen in the photos are my knee caps, the rest of my lap is baby. I love being enormous, I love the baby moving around and around and around in me. The cold weather doesn’t bother me; I am a portable oven. My idea of nesting seems to consist of soaking up as much me time as possible. In lieu of a physical space for the baby I prepare a mental nest, layering self-indulgence on top of self-indulgence.

My due date is the culmination of this self-centered bliss. Aided by free samples of a chocolate-coffee concoction at Starbucks, I set down on paper, for the first time, the events of the night I was raped over ten years ago. I have only recounted this to the police and in court and I have long considered the ability to write it down, facing each scene in sequence, in its full detail, every smell put somewhere else other than inside me as the final act of expulsion or integration.

The next morning, the Pater and I stroll down the street to the weekly checkup confident that it will be routine and we will be told to call when the contractions start. The nurse technician applies the goo and starts scanning while we look on the screen with pride and wonder. She scans again, and then again. “I’ll be right back,” she says. She returns with another pretty young woman with a dark ponytail and they scan me again. The second woman turns to me, “I’m Dr. P and we’re going to have to induce you immediately. You don’t have any amniotic fluid so we need to get the baby out.” “Where’s Dr. Whatchamacall?” I shout, immediately hysterical. “I thought you kept producing amniotic fluid?” I ask her when they have tracked her down. “Why can’t I drink a bunch of water and we’ll check again.” “I’m sorry but we have to induce now.” “Well, I’m not ready.” We convince her to let us go home four blocks away to pack a bag. “What if we don’t come back?” “I’ll track you down if you’re not back in an hour,” she threatens.

We go home, we pack a bag, have lunch, make phone calls. “There’s nothing we can do,” the Pater tries to cheer me up. “Oh yes there is!” and we have a glass of wine and make love with much pitosin producing pulling on the nipples. “Pull harder!” I shout. This produces predictable results but no contractions so it’s back to the hospital.

Start Spreading the News (June 2004)

‘I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant,’ thrums through me all day at work. It thrums through me when we meet the boys at The Urge on Friday night. Douglas overhears my order to the shirtless bartender. “Can I get a vodka tonic and a seltzer with lime?” I shout over the unz, unz, unz of the music.

“Do you have news?” Douglas asks. Oh how well my dear friend knows me: why else would I turn down two-for-one booze at happy hour? My attempt at a Mona Lisa smile dissolves into a huge grin and the cat’s leapt out of the bag. We grab pizza in the Lower East Side before the next club. The boys are all questions and agape as I have a third slice. “Cravings already,” Douglas comments.

I’ve made it to the three month mark, but we don’t have the amnio results so we haven’t told my parents. I want to tell them in person at our family reunion on the North Carolina coast but my mother’s friend Gerte is also coming. As a never married, Auschwitz survivor, she is sensitive about not having a family so I don’t want to upset her. When the Pater and I were first engaged, my mother asked me not to mention the engagement or the ring in front of her. So I call.

“Hold on, I’ll get your mother,” my father says as soon as he hears my voice.
“Okay, but stay on the phone, I have some news.”

“Mom, you’re going to be a grandmother again,” I say over the crackle of the speaker phone. I bask in their joy and the joy of telling them. “I wanted to tell you down at the reunion but I was worried how Gerte might react,” I tell my mother.
“Oh, that’s no problem, she loves babies,” she tells me.

“Does this change your plans to move to London,” my mother asks shyly.
“No, we’re still going to move,” I say as gently as I can.

My two siblings and I were adopted and my mother wasn’t involved in the pregnancies of her five other grandchildren so this is her first pregnancy. The Pater forwards her updates from each week and since my pilates partner has given me sixteen pregnancy books (I don’t understand why I need 16 ‘how to’ manuals? Haven’t The Pater and I done our bit?) I send some down to my mother. She doesn’t like them because they mostly deal in fear and what could go wrong; so she gets a book out of the library with details about the positive development of the fetus.

The Pater and I share my gluttonous disgust at the hot dog I purchase at Port Authority for the bus ride to my uncle’s house. My sister and her family are there too and I tell them all over dinner. “You’re pregnant!” my sister keeps beaming. “We know, Mom,” her kids say after she’s said it for the eighth time.

When we all arrive at the beach the next day my parents and my brother’s family are at dinner. My mother stares at my belly and pats it in wonder. “So you’re joining the club,” my brother slaps The Pater on the back in congratulations.

I wait until my parents and Gerte go to bed to have a beer. All five kids are still up and bouncing around the living room until they bounce off the sofa and my eldest nephew has to go to the emergency room with a broken toe. “This is what you have to look forward to,” my brother says to The Pater as they get into the car with his ashen faced son.

Domestic Bliss (August 2004)

I find La Bella Dotoressa difficult to warm to. She seems immune to the beatitude that my overflowing hormones have bestowed upon me. For the most part she is all business but as her business is babies, she seems reasonably pleased that I am providing one.
At the first scan she is running late; she just got out of surgery. “I just removed twenty- foura fybroidsa,” she says, and from the impersonal way she says it, it’s hard to know whether she removed them from a woman or a pig. The Pater is dealt with in the same peremptory way: “You are the father, yes?” She might just as easily have said ‘sperm donor.’ But we forget all about her when we hear the heartbeat, that exhilarating galloping of wild baby hooves.
I am over 35 and therefore require an amniocentesis test. We know the test carries a risk of miscarriage but our mantra has been “this is an exercise in getting pregnant.” But my body is already wedded to its new occupant, however tiny.
The Pater is tense, doing the worrying for me while I wallow in my hormone balloon.
In her brusqueness, La Bella Dotoressa tends to leave out information. The morning of the in-office amnio, we learn that she shares the practice with her husband who will be performing the test with her. At first I think it’s cute that they are having a marital spat until I realize that they are arguing over the two foot needle that is going into me, into my uterus and at my baby. The baby doesn’t panic, unlike me, but moves tactically as far from the needle as my womb will allow. It’s suddenly all wrong, it looks wrong, feels wrong, despite the impossible thinness of the needle I feel its path through me. The steel has exposed our mutual vulnerability.
La Bella Dotoressa belatedly informs me that I have to take the rest of the day off. I suppose I should know these things but as I haven’t read the 16 pregnancy books piled up at home, there’s a lot I don’t know.
The Pater and I retire to the diner for a leisurely omelet breakfast. I go back to the office and gingerly finish up some work before dumping the rest on my assistant. I am due to attend a birthday party that evening, so I go home to rest up. I take the next day off just in case and for good measure, the day after that.

The Belly of the Beast (May 2004)

In New York, good gynecologists are like good men: already taken. I resorted to a foreign import for my husband and I find myself doing the same thing for the gynecologist. The recommendation came from an expat living in Moscow. Her Italian OB/GYN accepts my insurance and is taking new patients: she’s as good as it gets.

She conducts the first appointment like a job interview. We pour over my past experience and then discuss my goals. (Where do you see your ovaries in five years?) Recently married, I admit to vague thoughts of children. “You’re not getting any younger,” she tells me. “Do you know anyone who is?” I ask.

“Okay, so now we test for everything.” And she means business. Eighteen vials of blood later it transpires that I’m not immune to German measles and am given a vaccination and a four month injunction on pregnancy. She also prescribes prenatal vitamins. She is way more gung-ho for this pregnancy lark than I am.

I never really wanted kids so why do I want one now? When asked, I can’t muster better reasons than I think The Pater will make a great dad, it’s what I’m supposed to do and I think I’ll be good at it. I do know I’ll regret it if I don’t have kids, but that hasn’t translated into urgent action yet. It took five years for The Pater to answer my marriage proposal (a week after we met) and I want to enjoy being married before I take on another commitment.

The vitamin package portends initial nausea, black stool and diarrhea. I try to focus on all the folic acid and add it to the morning coffee ritual. I elbow my way to a seat on the number 4 train and we promptly get stuck in the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. My mouth fills with saliva and my head fogs. I fight my way to the doors, swallowing furiously. I sag slowly to my heels. “Move train, move,” I urge as my head lolls between my knees. At Bowling Green, I stumble onto the hatefully bright, orange platform, sensing the other passengers’ relief. I can’t blame them; we all hate the sick passenger.

I allow the Pater to think that we’re ‘trying’- a term he abhors - and nothing happens, mostly to my relief. It seems that we’re always traveling and it would be inconvenient (in other words, I can’t drink) if I were pregnant, the holiday season, a trip to New Orleans, etc. I let The Pater suffer the illusion of trying because it suits my reluctance. I don’t feel ready exactly, but eventually my competitiveness kicks in and I buckle down. Needless to say, The Pater enjoys the near constant sex for 10 days with interruptions for work and refreshment.

Meanwhile, back in Murray Hill, La Bella Dottoressa is getting impatient and hurrumphs when I show no signs of morning sickness. I understand: it’s a business and a bun in my oven means food on her table. There are the monthly appointments, the tests and the big daddy of billing: delivery. If it’s a C-section, she can really cash in. A pap smear and a vaccination don’t add up to much; she needs babies or cancer, some operable fibroids at the very least.

The easiest, and non- invasive, test is of The Pater’s sperm. Once we rule him out as “the problem,” we can start dissecting me. Somehow he doesn’t see it that way.
“But you do it all the time,” I protest.
“Only in the privacy of my own home, no one knows I’m doing it,” he claims.
“They know, trust me, they know. But, fine, I’ll be the guinea pig.” I know the stubbornness of The Pater.

Two weeks later, my intuition is confirmed in the advertised three seconds. The urine soaked stick sports a positive symbol and we’re instant, conspiratorial parents. Next stop, the doctor’s office. “No wonder your progesterone count was so high,” La Bella Dottoressa exclaims, grinning. I detect only the slightest remorse that she didn’t get to run a few more tests.