I need to apologize to my mother. For the last 30 years I have been so assured of my own immortality that I’ve probably terrified her within an inch of her own. Over Skype, “Surprise, Mom! I’m in the middle east! Hear that? It’s the call to prayer!” Late one night while home from college, “I really want to move to Uganda.” As a 16-year-old backing down the driveway with a breakfast taco in one hand and less than all my attention on the rearview mirror. As a 9 year old, squeezing myself into the washing machine.
We have a lemon tree. It’s right outside our bedroom window, and it’s really a charming, sturdy feature of the backyard. I’ve watched our meyer lemons come back after a freeze in 2011 when we thought they were gone forever. But here they are, slowing growing ripe and orange (which is weird).
What is it about reproduction that turns perfectly lovely and polite people into giant oafish wrecking balls. I’ve been genuinely shocked by how often certain things are said and done. Things I’d heard about and thought, “Surly no one really says that sort of thing!” They do.
And it’s funny, because no one feels like sex, the starting point of babies, is fair game for random questions at church, in line at the supermarket, or in the aisles of retail stores. No one asks you about your bowel movements or the color of your mucus in these situations. No one asks your IQ, weight, income, political affiliation. So many things we don’t talk about outside of an entirely appropriate context. But reproduction is somehow public domain.
So…some thoughts on discussing all things child related. Hopefully to contribute to a more decent society.
Things to Keep in Mind on the Topic of Reproduction/Child-Rearing …
Recently Lewis and I inherited a record collection from the most fascinating woman on earth. The story is amazing, but only Lewis can really tell it, because he was the one who spent the afternoon looking through nude sketches and still life paintings with a 91 year old German lady, and walking away with half her classical record collection.
Which led him to purchase a turn table. This worked out well, because our house came with a piece of furniture whose sole purpose is record and turntable storage. We’d already refinished it, in fact. The house also came with an impressive collection of 45’s.
So we began listening through the vintage treasures.
We have all of Beethoven’s symphonies. Peter and the Wolf. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
It also gave me an excuse to visit the purple record store near my old apartment, which I’d always been too intimidated to patronize, though I’d always admired the little sign on the corner that told how many miles to the North Pole.
Over Christmas we raided Lewis’s parents collection, which included some records he had bought in college. It also included spoils from his first ever dating relationship. Note: when our daughter gets her first boyfriend, we will not be giving him a bunch of great records. They are going to break up two weeks later, and he is going to keep the records.
Christmas yielded not only some classic Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Beatles, but also a collection of Sesame Street and Disney favorites. We now have both “Moonshadow” and “I Love Trash” on vinyl.
We also have some other amazing finds, and we discovered a fun game that we of the “make it smaller!” generation have been missing.
I’ve never been accused of being a homebody. Travel and adventure are probably my favorite hobbies. Jumping off of things, eating weird things, finding new modes of transportation. I love it.
And I still do, in theory. But as my belly grows, I’m finding this weird compulsion to stay in my house where everything is pasteurized and level. My fondness is growing for quiet evenings on the couch, familiar restaurants, and low-stress activities like raking leaves, watching documentaries on Netflix, and eating yogurt.
What’s going on?
They tell me it’s hormones, that I am turning into the Mama Bear, protecting my little cub from bacteria and collision and neurosis. I have excesses of dopamine pumping, so I’m more prone to sit around more and thing about how happy I am. Someone asked Lewis if he enjoyed my being pregnant, and he commented on how much more docile and cuddly I am.
It’s true. I just want to snuggle. All. the. time.
But there’s something else as well, and it’s the crazy fear mongering of our culture when it comes to children. Now that I have one growing in me, I have been coaxed into the deep end of the “Everything-is-bad-for-your-child” pool. I’m not sure what came first, nervous mommies or excesses of safety information/products/forums. It’s probably one of those chicken and the egg things.
If you search for ANYTHING followed by “while pregnant” you will find some forum devoted to people who worry about it. You can probably also find a product being sold to protect your little one against whatever it is.
There are a few things going on here. 1) Pregnancy is weird and full of symptoms that are oddly similar to terminal illnesses, 2) suddenly being a “good parent” is suddenly just as important as being “good in bed” used to be, as far as identity is concerned, and 3) the market is all over this, with a hormone-addled, socially beleaguered, physically uncomfortable consumer base.
So suddenly the fresh squeezed orange juice looks like a bottle of neurotoxins. Riding a bike is an extreme sport and requires a spotter. I am running out of yoga positions that are “safe.” (Meanwhile running out of sleeping positions that are comfortable.) And I feel terrible when other pregnant women see me eat deli meat…which I got permission from the midwife to consume, by the way.
And there are so many websites and apps to help you make sure that everything is on track with your pregnancy. They even found a way to turn my previously enjoyable evenings watching the baby move like a little alien under my skin into an anxious nightly test, making sure she gets in at least 10 kicks over a two hour tracking period. There’s an app to track it. That is two hours, every night of wondering which movements counted as “kicks” and worrying that she won’t get 5 more movements in before the buzzer in 20 minutes. (For the record, I don’t need to use the kick tracker, because from the hours of 7pm to 11pm every night, the kid never stops moving. Never. Her kick count is somewhere in the millions. However, if I took the reading between 11am-3pm, I’d be at the doctor’s office all the time. She refuses to be disturbed during that time.)
Of course everything comes with the caveat to “talk to your doctor” and that “every pregnancy is different.” And so so many people tell you just not to worry about it, to relax, to follow your instincts. As though that’s going to keep the Mama Bear at bay when she’s convinced that she just accidentally consumed 3 grams over the recommended weekly allowance of tuna. Mercury poisoning for sure.
Because for every person who tells you that “women in Japan eat sushi the whole time they are pregnant,” or that they drank raw milk during all 8 of their pregnancies or whatever…there’s someone else to tell you how nitrates are going to make your kid have low SAT scores, and you feel like an ass if you say, “Eh, I don’t really listen to that stuff.”
Again…none of this is “me.” That’s what’s so strange and new. I’m a homebody, bacteriaphobe, who will order any $30 bottle of snakeoil if it promises to keep my circulation healthy? When did that happen?
Further evidence that I am, in fact, becoming a hobbit. A safety-loving, creature of comfort who keeps an orderly and predictable day full of pleasantries and low risk activities.
But…like Frodo and Bilbo, I’m also going to have to go on an adventure, because kids are certainly germy, fragile, messy creatures. And if I’m going to go on this adventure with joy and bravery I’m going to have to do as the hobbits do. Trust my instincts and resist any temptation to Google my symptoms.
Florence visits the ranch and is aghast at how uncool Wiley is in the car.
(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)
I love my life in the city…it’s, like, full of energy and stimulation. The dogs on my block…they bark all. the. time. Bekah gets really really upset when we try to join in. I just wish she would, you know, relax?
It’s really stealing my joy.
I’ve been in trouble a lot lately. It just seems like everything I do (eat) upsets Bekah and Lewis. I just can’t get it right. Apparently I can chew on sticks and toys, but not painted wood or vines or little trees? Those things are just asking to be eaten. They’ve only been there a couple of months and they are totally flimsy.
It’s so much easier when we go to the ranch. There are like no rules out there. I feel like I can just…breathe?
Every trip to the ranch starts with a car ride, which is great, because it’s the only time when Bekah and Lewis say that I am better at something than Wiley. I mean, obviously I’m faster and prettier. But they always say that Wiley is the good dog…except in the car. I am really good at riding in the car. I even jumped in by myself this time. Once. The other time Lewis had to lift me in like usual.
Bekah can’t lift me in anymore because she’s getting…fat? Round? I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Wiley says she’s having puppies, but I don’t see any evidence of this.
Anyway, Wiley is a basket case in the car. He get’s waaaay too excited. It’s so…like….I’m embarrassed for him. He needs to get that under control. Delilah (the cool dog next door) can totally see him muttering and drooling all over the place like a moron. That’s why I play it cool and just lay down. I’ve been riding in the car my whole life. I’m just not impressed.
At the ranch, we get to run around ALL DAY. It’s all we have to do. And there are treats. And the Ranch Labs are there to admire how much fun we are. Cody gets involved sometimes, but Bella just shakes her head and makes disapproving looks. She’s very “classy.”
I love the ranch so much.
This time, it was Christmas, and so we got PRESENTS! Before we left I got some Chum Treats from my friends the Walkers. They taste so good. Made with real salmon. And Bekah has to hold her nose every time she tries to feed them too us, which just makes me even more excited about them. She’s not a “high taste” person like me.
But then, when we got to the ranch, as though that wasn’t enough, Judith gave us ribs. Again, Bekah was not so excited about the look and smell of them, but she’s such a stick in the mud about these things. I loved my rib. I went and found a special place to enjoy it all day.
Special treats are another thing that makes Wiley act weird. He gets nervous and looks at me like I’m going to, like, attack him and take his special treat. I HAVE MY OWN! Obviously! I don’t need yours. Until I finish with mine. If you haven’t eaten or buried it by then, well, it’s your fault for being slow, and I’m going to come and steal it. That seems…fair, right? It seems fair.
In the end, we loaded back in the car. Wiley was still a mess. Sigh.
We made it home, and I have never been so tired in my whole life. I forgot to beg for food, that’s how tired I was…and we went to sleep with happy dreams of Christmas with our favorite (though still a little overzealous about furniture and plants) people nearby.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve had a conflict with Christmas.
There were the “social constructivist” years, in which I was loathe to celebrate the holiday because I believed it was nothing more than a modern American holiday celebrating sentimentality and excess. I was so much fun to be around.
There were the “socially conscious” years, in which I believed that at Christmas, the only redemptive thing to do was to celebrate Jesus by donating to non-profits instead of buying actual gifts. I think my siblings are still enjoying their “share of a dairy cow.”
There were the “buy local” years, in which I thought that supporting local artisans would be as ethical as donating to orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m a sucker for malnourished people.
Then there was last year, when I abandoned all of that and just gifted the people I love with things I thought they would like. Only to find out that Christmas is not a time when you can just get gifts for people you love. There’s a list of other people (many of whom you do not know personally) who must be given gifts and it’s actually pretty awkward when you don’t. Trust me. You are not in college anymore. You can’t scrimp on Christmas gifts.
Now there’s this year. The year I set out to make peace with the reality of Christmas. And so I found myself at 9:45 on a Sunday morning standing in Macy’s looking for some way to get all the gifts on my list for less money than the cost of insulating our entire house. Which is also happening this month.
We did it like pro’s too. We got there early and snagged a prime spot. We waited for stores to open. And hunted for deals.
Because I don’t have enough money to buy a whole Christmas list of fair trade artisan goods. At least not the kind that people actually like. I can’t afford to donate enough to World Vision to get “plush goat toy gifts” for all the kids on my list. So Amazon.com and North Star Mall and one day trip to Fredericksberg later…I was done (thank goodness for 10,000 Villages, a pleasant and ethical resource, but only for the adult women on your list).
And then…I gift wrapped the suckers. (Caveat: this year’s ethical effort is recycled wrapping. All of my presents are wrapped in reused paper grocery bags and yarn. But I’m telling people we were going with the theme, “Brown paper packages tied up with string.”)
Because part of being an adult is that you don’t get to bring a manifesto instead of presents. You don’t get to show up with a treatise on the rampant materialism and excess of America instead of a baked goods. You don’t get to ruin how everyone else celebrates Christmas, and if you want to be a part of it (meaning you want to share in the relationships forged over shared meals and memories), you have got participate. Without being “that sister/cousin/niece/grandkid.” Without being disdainful.
And in the true spirit of American Christmas, I got carried away. I made an impulse buy for my unborn daughter (not on my list)… at Restoration Hardware Baby and Child, all the while worrying that I would never be able to create a family Christmas tradition focused on Jesus and generosity. Wondering how I would mold her young mind to resist the siren song of greed…I bought her two $18 toys from the single most pretentious children’s catalogue on earth.
So I did Christmas like America does Christmas…and yet…
I also got an adult-sized portion of Christmas shame this time around (from myself, no one in their right mind shames a working, pregnant woman for this stuff). No Christmas cards went out from our mailbox. No lights wrapped around our porch. No nativity is set out on our dining room table. There’s not a pine needle to be seen in this house. Nothing has been (or will be) baked and distributed to mailmen, cleaning helpers, neighborhood patrolmen, and co-workers. I didn’t even deliver grapefruit this year.
In a lot of ways, I felt like I failed at Christmas. I failed at the principled Christmas of my past and the commercial Christmas of my present. I haven’t been warm and fuzzy, and I haven’t really paid that much attention to Jesus.
And that is why Christmas is for grownups like me. For us, Christmas isn’t magical. It’s not warm and fuzzy. It’s stressful. It’s conflicted. It’s expensive. And we can’t possibly pull it off flawlessly with joy in our hearts, goodies in our ovens, all the while remembering the “reason for the season.”
Christmas, this year, rather than being this ultra reflective time of special devotionals, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and finding that perfect non-profit to bless…was a mess. It damn near slipped by without my even noticing, but for the full calendar of holiday parties. I certainly didn’t slow down and reflect on advent.
This Christmas, I needed Christmas. I needed Jesus, because I can’t even celebrate his birthday well. This Christmas I got to remember why God had to come down to earth in the first place.
I sometimes work from coffee shops. Like when my house is being insulated and there’s drills and sawdust everywhere.
Starbucks in not my favorite, mostly because after 15 seconds inside, I smell like burned espresso for the rest of the day.
I don’t usually go for the ultra cuddly coffee shops with the overstuffed couches and “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” novelty signs on the wall, because they usually only have one plug and the internet doesn’t really work.
So yes. I go to the slightly pretentious, Creative Class joints where the baristas have amazing tattoos and the internet is fast, and everyone is on a Mac. (I’m not on a Mac these days, for the record).
I have three or four where I go regularly. One because Lewis loves it, once because it’s convenient, one because they have the comfiest chairs, and one because they have my favorite chai latte EVER.
I hadn’t been the Best Chai coffee shop in a while. And today when I came in, I noticed some subtle, but distinct changes. I worked for a few hours, noting little things that seemed oddly familiar, but out of place.
Then I put the pieces together. I could be wrong, but I think Best Chai coffee shop is now under the management of Christians. I thought of other Christian coffee shops I’ve been to. [Note: Christian ministries often run coffee shops as an outreach. I’m all for it. Giving people a place to gather is humane and generous, and coffee shops have been that place since the Belle Epoch, maybe earlier.]
Christian coffee shops are warm and welcoming. They are also usually a haven for neuvopuritans and emergent types. Emergent is probably the dated term, I don’t know what the anti-establishment Christians are called now. I’m out of the biz, so I’m losing my jargon. But they are the Christians who are doin’ their own thang with Jesus. I like them lots.
So yes, I like other Christians and their coffee shops. But I show my love by caricaturing and gently mocking, as my family and closest friends will tell you (go ahead and tell me how not okay that is). If we can’t laugh with ourselves, we’re doomed, folks.
These were my clues that Best Chai had been Christianized:
1) There were more lovely, benign, sepia tinted pictures of Italy on the wall. Before Christian Management Best Chai was more…starkly contemporary. Christian establishments don’t like stark. They are okay with sleek, industrial, etc. They don’t like stark. I have no idea why. So they will usually add something universally pleasant to the otherwise minimalist decor. And for people who have never driven in Italy, ridden the bus in Rome, or paid for a bottled water at the Vatican, Italy is the very definition of “Universally Pleasant.”
By comparison, at Comfy Chair coffee shop, the art on the wall is borderline disturbing (I love it). Lewis’s Favorite coffee shop is stark. Convenient Coffee doesn’t have any art. They have a chalkboard.
2) There was a child screaming and throwing herself around on the floor while her mother had what appeared to be a meaningful conversation 10 feet away, ignoring the amazing volume of her child’s screams. This only happens in places where mom’s feel like families are valued enough that she won’t be judged for the absolute din her child is creating.
Sorry lady. I love families. I love kids. But my thought was most definitely, “Um…deal with that, please. It’s making my unborn child twitchy.”
3) There’s a big note proclaiming that they will be closed Dec 25- Jan 1 because they value family and community and they want their staff to be able to participate. Every coffee shop I’ve know to be run by Christians has had weird hours. They take care of their employees, so no one has to work the weird hours, like, say, 3-5 pm on a Sunday or 1-4 on a Tuesday. I have absolutely no problem with this. Except on December 28 when I want a cup of Best Chai.
4) There is a man with a voice far too loud to be appropriate in doors, with a salt of the earth accent talking to the baristas and the people in line with him. Again, clearly he feels confident that he is not being judged, and the baristas are not simply tolerating him. They are engaging and smiling at him. This is welcome behavior here. I have to put in my earbuds because things he is saying keep working their way into my emails.
Just wanted to let you know that your wife’s mother’s scone recipe will arrive as scheduled to your hotel in Witchita Falls on December 25th.”
My client will be thrilled, as he actually requested a bottle of scotch delivered to his hotel in Buenos Aires for his anniversary on January 5th. (the details of this statement have been altered slightly to protect my client’s confidentiality)
5) The playlist is something like this:
“When We Were Young”- Lumineers
“Little Lion Man” – Mumford and Sons
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – Sufjan Stevens
“Timshel”- Mumford and Sons
“Brackett, WI” – Bon Iver
Something else by Sufjan Stevens
“Big Parade” – Lumineers
“Hallelujah” – the Jeff Buckley version
“Awake my Soul” Mumford and Sons
Something explicitly Christian that I’ve never heard before
Something by Derek Webb
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” – performed by the giant Hawaiian guy with the lovely voice.
And finally the entire Babel album.
First off, I have zero complaints. I like almost all of those songs. As my co-worker so aptly worded it, I’m into “folk revival” music. However, almost the whole playlist has this heavily emotive anthemic quality that ranges from the vaguely spiritual (Mumford) to the overtly Christian (Come Thou Fount is a hymn…like from a hymnal). Christians love that stuff! Give me something I can FEEL!!! Better yet, give me something I can analyze. I’m not sure how the Lumineers and Bon Iver ended up on the list, except that I have to assume that the list was made by someone with similar taste in music to me…and I would totally put them on the list.
6) The guy working at the table next to me keeps referring to people on the phone as “Brother” and embraces both people who come to sit with him for a meeting. He’s also white and over 25. Very very white. Very over 25. The only white men I know who refer to each other as “brother” and openly embrace in public are employed by the church or in a fraternity. (no comment on the amazing similarity in some cases)
I must say that the presence of clergy is not an immediate sign that a place is managed by Christians. Clergy love coffee.
7) The barista is someone who once, in a former life, invited me to church.
So, here’s to you, Best Chai coffee shop, and your new Christian management. You’re doing a great job. It’s good to know that when I have a screaming two year old, there will still be somewhere for me to grab my favorite chai and a deep conversation.
In which Florence explains her favorite things and goes on an adventure.
(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)
Okay, I’m like waaay to old to believe in Santa. I gave that up when I was, what, 10 weeks old? Something like that. I had my first birthday last week though, and I laughed at the memory of myself last year, totally believing in Santa. I was so…young. Sigh.
But I still love Christmas. And there’s this song, it’s not really a Christmas song (according to Lewis and Bekah), but people still play it at Christmas time, so doesn’t that like, make it a Christmas song? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s about some woman singing about her “Favorite Things.” Wiley says that we should boycott it because the woman talks about dogs biting, and she should be singing about how petting dogs is one of her favorite things.
I mean, I agree…but still…I like the song.
So in honor of Christmas, I decided to think about my favorite things. Yeah, so there are two things I love in this world: people hands and food.
Note: corn tortillas are not food…I hate corn tortillas. Wiley likes them, and he always swipes mine because I don’t eat it fast enough. But that is neither here nor there.
People hands. The pet me, they taste salty when I lick them, and they deliver food (and then they taste like food when I lick them).
Food….I. LOVE. FOOD. (except corn tortillas)
And you know where those two things come together? Napkins. People hands and food, in one convenient, shreadable, delicious rectangle of grease, sauce, and seasoning.
So I’ve been really bummed at Bekah and Lewis’s newfound vigilance about leaving paper towels, tissues, and napkins lying around. All I want for Christmas is a well-used napkin, preferably one that was used at a bbq.
So the other day, Bekah put the leash on me. I love the leash. It’s the first step in all our best adventures. And she DIDN’T put Wiley’s on. So I knew it was going to be a special walk and NOT a trip to the vet (which is always more fun on the way and not as fun in reality). I get to go on special walks. I don’t want to, like, rub it in or anything. I mean, I don’t want to make Wiley sad…but…I really love special walks. Bekah and Lewis both pet me the whole time. Even though they are sort of grouchy about it and they make me sit more than we actually walk…still…I just love being special.
I got really excited while Bekah was putting on her shoes. Why didn’t she do that before she put my leash on? She knows I can’t be still once the leash is on.
So we headed off toward the river. That’s what we do on our special walks. We go to the river and I get to look at things (that are NOT for chasing), and see people (who are NOT for greeting), and smell plants (that are NOT for eating or pooping on).
But this time the air was different. There were shiny things and unfamiliar green, needly, plants everywhere. These are not native to my back yard. And Bekah and Lewis have none of this twinkly, greeny Christmas stuff in the house. Bekah keeps talking about it, but it never appears.
Anyway…so we’re walking…and then, at the top of the river, where we usually turn around…we just didn’t. We walked up into the tall buildings and suddenly we were surrounded by…PEOPLE HANDS and FOOD!
Everywhere. It was, like, my Christmas Wonderland. The Pearl Farmer’s Market. Nothing but people hands and food.
Then Bekah and Lewis got two Chinese Chili Dogs. If you imagine all that sounds delicious to a dog, that’s what it is. That’s why it’s called a dog. I wanted it so bad. I just…couldn’t…contain…myself. So Lewis had to tie me to his chair. I still did my best to express my desire for food and dislike of being excluded…I mean…isn’t this special walk for…me?
I thought Bekah was going to give me some of her Chinese Chili Dog…but then I realized that she’d just poured some water in the tray to “quench my thirst.” I DON’T WANT WATER! I thought. So I tipped it over and tried to lick the remnants of sweet pulled pork and Chinese spices off of the dish. Not the same.
Then we left. And there was no special food for me! My Christmas Wonderland was not so magical…until I saw it. Fluttering against a landscape rock…a white morsel in the wind…a napkin.
It was the best napkin in the world. Eventually Lewis pried it out of my mouth, but not before I got a Christmas size helping of my two favorite tastes: people hands and food.
This Thanksgiving, Lewis and I headed to West Texas, a favorite destination of ours. My mother in law spearheaded this adventure, and Lewis and I ended up learning a few new variations on the journey. Mainly…train travel.
Here are some tips on train travel.
1) Get a sleeper car. Even if the trip is supposed to take place in daylight hours, get a sleeper car. We boarded the Sunset Express at 2:45 am at the station 4 min from our house. We tucked in an went right to sleep.
We woke up 5.5 hours later to see this.
A quick calculation showed that we had moved two blocks, approximately one more minute from our house. Two minutes, if you have to sit at the light because there’s a train crossing.
2) Another advantage of the sleeper car is that your meals are included, and the train food is surprisingly, not bad at all. Trains have that on planes, for sure.
3) On the way to your destination, if there’s daylight (thanks to a 5.5 hour delay), take advantage of the view car. West Texas is lovely when you are not behind the wheel! I enjoyed getting an upclose look at all the train bridges I usually admire from Hwy 90 as we pass over the Pecos River and Lake Amistad.
4) If you are pregnant, get a room with an en suite bathroom. Ignore the fact that there is a shower in there as well, and the thought of trying to shower on the moving train in a 3 sq.ft stall seems like the recipe for disaster. You will love not having to get up every two hours and walk down the hall with your maternity jeans on backwards, bouncing from wall to wall as you stumble toward the bathroom. Plus, you can reach the sink from the bed.
5) Here is a fun game. Train signage is the best. Few enough people travel by Amtrak, that they have not had the mountains of “What IS that?” feedback that have, over time, honed the signage on airplanes and highways. Thus…we have these gems. “Create your own captions” was our favorite train game. (ABC by the Roadside is not so much fun on Highway 90. If you have not gotten past Q by Del Rio, you’re not going to win).