Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spitting Image

I was talking to my mother on the phone. Next to me, Sophie took a deep breath and let out an extended sigh, “Ahhhhhhhhh.”

“That baby is always sighing,” I told my mom, “she’s got ennui.”

“What?” My mother always says “what” before actually processing what someone says.

“She’s bored with life.”

“She’s immitating YOU. You just sighed. YOU sigh a lot.”

And sure enough, when I started to pay attention, I realized the sigh started with me.

From sighs, we moved onto sneezes. And coughs. And burps. And any other sound that happened to come out of me.

“It’s time for you to stop swearing,” Kevin suggested.

“I'm working on it. I say ‘f-ing’ now, and m-f-er.”

Kevin just looked at me.

“Okay, okay, I’ll try.” I made a raspberry at Sophie. And she spit back at me.

With great power, comes great responsibility.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Sophia and I are driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, back from Narberth where we picked up my ailing laptop, rocking out to a Southern rendition of “On Top of Spaghetti.”
The sun is beating down on the car, and Sophie is joyfully dissembling her carseat. She’s pulled the sun shade down in front of her so I can no longer see her face in my jerry-rigged system of mirrors.

“Pee-eew. Do you smell that, Sophie,” I ask, rhetorically. “Mustardy. Kind of like your baby-poo….” I glance up at the mirror. With horror, my eye lingers over the image that bounces back at me.

One foot, covered in greenish yellow poop is suspended in midair. I am reminded of the first image I saw of her during her high-level ultrasound. One perfect formed tibia, tarsels, and metatarsels, glowing white. I swooned at that foot. And now, I am swooning again—but for completely different reasons.

I am at a choice point. I can either get really really stressed about this, or I can save it up as an anecdote I’ll write about later in my blog.

I go with the latter.

One thought keeps haunting me. If that’s what her foot looks like, what about the rest of her? But I will have to wait until I get home to find this out.

We arrive, 15 minutes later. I stop the car and pause, steeling myself. Step out of the air conditioning into the thick heat of the day. Open the back door. She turns to me, her face already breaking into a smile. Her legs kicking with glee. Shit smeared across her forehead.

It was everywhere. Covering her hands. Down her legs. Staining her outfit. Ground into every crevice of the car seat. I could only hope that she hadn’t sucked her thumb in the last fifteen minutes. Striving to maintain my good humor, I carried her and the carseat into the house.

It’s difficult to know where to start with a poop-covered baby. I weighed my options. The thought of sticking her in the sink grossed me out, after all, that’s where I rinse our fruits and vegetables. I’d have to do a surface clean and then stick her in her tub. I’m embarrassed to say how many wipes I used. In fact, I won’t.

But, eventually Sophia was smelling fresh, the carseat was spotless, and I had washed my hands enough times (out out damned spot) to finally feel like I wasn’t going to play a critical role in a local e. choli outbreak.

Like all things, the incident quickly transformed from reality to memory.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What is this crap, and where's my milk?

We’ve started Sophia on solids. I’m not sure if it was my mother, threatening to feed her lemon Italian ices as her first food or my own guilt that surged every time she reached for what I was eating. And I eat a lot. Thus, I was feeling guilty, a lot. Mom was over, watching Sophie while I worked. C’mon, she said. Just a little banana? She already had it half-way peeled and was dancing around, banana in hand. I have to admit, this was hard to resist.

Okay, I said. Let me text Kevin. Make sure its okay if we do it without him. (I had to learn how to text because my young, hip, very busy husband prefers to communicate with me that way.)

K-OK 2 feed bb if we send pix?

Kevin txted back—Green light. But send pix.

So I mashed the banana, as mom confined Sophia to her Bumbo seat. The the BB tugged uncomfortably at her Green Eggs and Ham bib. “I want to be the one to give her the first bite, mom,” I said, just in case she had designs on being the one. After all, she delusionally refers to Sophia as “my baby.” I just wanted to make sure she knew who was in charge.

I sat down on the floor in front of Sophia. Mom held the video camera, pointed at us, somewhat askew. Is this thing on? she asked, lens still covered. I pulled myself up to a standing position, popped the lens cap off, and pushed the button. Mom backed up, I can’t get both of you in.

Use the telephoto, mom. I said impatiently. I got up again to demonstrate. She played with it and started recording. “Sophia’s first food, take one.” I lifted the spoon, and instinctively, Sophia parted her lips. I shoved the viscous fruit in before she could close them. Sophia paused for a moment, her face neutral, then disgust transfigured her delicate features. Banana oozed out of the corners of her mouth. “MMMMMM….taste….” said my mother, in the background, smacking her lips.

Sophia smiled. She liked the sounds grandma was making. I shoved in another bite. More disgust. “YUM YUM YUM YUM,” said my mother, smacking away. Sophia smiled again. And that’s pretty much how it went—Sophia complicity taking bites, despite her obvious displeasure, my mother smacking away, and my clothes growing sticky with banana orts.

Three days later Sohpia had habituated to the taste, and even seemed to be enjoying it. She now saves her disgust for homemade organic applesauce (which I slaved over a hot microwave to make). Tomorrow, we move onto the truly exotic—avocado. I’ve thumbed my nose at the doctor-recommended baby food trajectory as well as the suggestions of well-meaning friends, opting for whatever I had in my refrigerator that seemed edible. I really don’t think what she eats now is going to dictate what she eats later--despite speculation to the contrary. Maybe I’ll pay for this someday, but I think if I feed her what we like to eat, she will develop a taste for it over time.

And my fears about her preferring solid food over mother’s milk? Completely unfounded. In fact, if anything, they’ve boomeranged. What if she won’t eat solids? What if I have to breastfeed her the rest of my natural life?

I take great comfort in the fact that most people eat a wide variety of foods. And sit up just fine. And walk. And talk. And lead rich lives. Sophia will eat in her own good time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Say “mama.”


Say “mamama”


Say “mama”


It’s just not fair that it’s easier for you to say dada than mama. I mean, I’m fine with you saying it. I’m THRILLED that you say it, but can’t I get a little recognition too? Come on, Sophie, throw me a bone.


Okay. Okay. You don’t have to rub it in.

Actually, it’s not that she never says mama. She does. It’s always in a desperate moment, just before she starts hyperventilating, as she comes lunging at me, her eyes trained on the area just below my neck, welling, “Mamamama!.” Or if she’s pulled herself up against the ottoman, is reaching for my laptop, and suddenly she’s down, headfirst, “Mamamama!” I don’t think she yet associates the word with me. I think it’s much more reflexive and visceral than that. Mamamama stands for comfort.

Dadaddada means fun. It’s her curiosity as she picks through the laundry basket and sucks on my dirty sweatpants. It’s her wonder as she pulls up to the dishwasher and rolls the bottom rack back and forth. It’s her joy as she slams the plush head on the floor. It’s her anticipation as she makes her way across my bed to a pile of books.

In many cultures, “mother” is some variation on “mama” and “father” is a permutation of “dada.” It is a chicken or egg argument, but it seems to me that we have shaped these infant utterances in accordance with our culturally-sanctioned gender-defined roles.

Why can’t I be dada?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Letting Go

Sophia is rarely out of my sight. At first, sleeping without her (I am still on the couch as she languishes in her crib next to my empty bed) was lonely. I remained hyperaroused, waking frequently despite the fact that she was sleeping deeply in her master suite. Eventually, I got used to it and now we both sleep through the night, happily reunited each morning.

The next hurdle was finding a babysitter. I resisted it for sometime, justifying that I could work during her naps and we couldn’t afford the expense. But Sophia only napped ½ an hour at a time—just as I would get into my groove, she would begin startling and tossing—a sign that she was reentering consciousness. I found myself doing work after everyone had gone to bed—sometimes typing into the wee hours of the morning. I was just as exhausted as when I was feeding her round the clock. Something had to give.

We invited a parade of overqualified, baby-loving grad-students into our home. First for dinner and a meet-the-baby session. Then for the occasional evening out. And finally for hours at a time as I worked out of my closet. I trust these women implicitly. They genuinely adore Sophia. Mimi and Roberta, who come occasionally, insist on non-payment—just the pleasure of her company. When they haven’t seen her in awhile, they call, missing her, wanting to know when they can babysit again, asking us to text recent pictures. Stacey, who cares for her while I work, takes her for outings and scours the internet for fun things to do with a baby on her weekends. When Stacey walks in the door, Sophia greets her with a smile she reserves for her most-loved people. I am lucky. Sophia is lucky.

And though I neurotically typed a two page list of do’s and don’ts for babysitters (do narrate what you are doing; don’t let her watch tv), and left in the line about not making disparaging comments about your own body (my things are so fat) or the baby’s body (your thighs are so fat) despite my friend Nancy pointing out that it was “a little weird”….I’m not at all concerned about what they do with Sophia in my absence. I love the fact that she easily goes from me to them. I’m thrilled that they come up with fresh ideas for play and bring a new energy to my caffeine-fueled routine.

What bothers me is that I’m not with Sophia. That she is having an experience—the first of many—without me. That I don’t know what she’s feeling, that I can’t project onto her what she’s thinking, that I don’t know what she’s doing in the moments we’re apart. I remember once marveling at the infant who was me and yet not me. As she grows, she becomes more and more herself and more and more not me.

I tell myself: This is normal. This is what happens. I’m the one who’s developing separation anxiety. Sophia? She’s getting a life.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kicking and Screaming

No, not Sophia. I have yet to see her kick and scream. I mean me.

I imagine most mothers would be thrilled to watch their child careen through her developmental milestones. And don’t get me wrong. I am one of them. I feel enormous pride as I watch her, at six months, breakdance over to her toy box, pull up to a standing position, lean over the edge and grab a talking plush head (who gave us THAT?). She grins toothlessly, triumphantly, and whips it around mercilessly as it protests (Whee! Achoo! Faceplant!).

I kneel behind her, spotting. I am amazed at her strength. But at the same time I am achingly sad, cognizant of the breakneck speed with which she is growing up. Other mothers with older babies pick her up and exclaim over how tiny and light she is. But she feels pretty heavy to me. One mother sniffed her head and sighed, "she still smells like a baby. My baby lost that smell." I sniffed her child and indeed, the baby smelled grown up. Now, I sniff Sophie’s head, paranoid that her powdery newness will have worn off and all that will be left is hair.

You see, I know Sophie is like me. Or, rather, the way I was. Not content to be a child. Frustrated with the lack of power. Anxious to join the mysterious world of adults: To walk like them, talk like them, be like them. I wished my childhood away. At the time, it seemed to drag on forever. I felt imprisoned. And then suddenly it was over. Now I want to slow down time. No. I want it to stand still. I want to live in this moment forever. Me and my baby.

To make myself feel worse, I put on the Putumayo Dreamland album that we played over and over again during the first days that we had her home. I am transported back to that time, when there was no division between night and day—and time was measured in feeding intervals. When I was in too much pain to sit. Too much pain to stand. When Sophia was either sleeping or clinging to me, uncoordinated and near blind. When we had to take her clothes off, wipe her with a wet washcloth, and finally move her little limbs through a series of calisthenics as my mother chanted, ex-er-cise,ex-er-cise, babies need their ex-er-cise and she still wouldn’t wake for a feeding.

I weep, longing for the most difficult days of my life

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pots, Pans and a Cardboard Box

The whole time Nancy and I were pregnant, we kept saying we need to write down all the things we’d swear we’d never do.

These were some of the things on my list:

  • Feed my child fast food
  • Allow her to watch television under the age of three
  • Have a house that looks like Toys R Us

The idea was to check back in with each other and see what we were actually able to follow through with. I kept joking that all my child would have to play with were pots and pans and a cardboard box.

What I am happy to discover, is that you really don’t need much more than that. Sophie spends long periods of time just trying to climb all over my body, or explore the house, or swipe at a dangling blanket. And I honestly do not think that these activities are any less stimulating than sucking on a multi-colored combination rattle, book, teething ring “toy” designed by Baby Einstein.

She has a small box of such items in the living room—all of which were given to her by friends and relatives. She does like these things. When the mood strikes her, she inches her way over to the box and hoists herself up on her knees to grab whatever’s accessible, and then tries to cram as much of it as possible into her mouth. However, if I give her a spatula she pretty much does the same thing with it.

Having spent a fair amount of time on the floor of my living room, assembling and studying swings, exersaucers, and jumperoos, I have become deeply suspicious of the whole baby industry. It all seems so unnecessary. These bright, ugly toys designed to make your baby smarter, are alarmingly over-stimulating. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a deleterious effect on brain development. In fact, I would even venture to say that these things were not designed for babies, but for their parents—to relieve them of their infant burdens, to provide time to do other things, to minimize the social interaction and human contact that truly fosters healthy development

I’m willing to bet: if it didn’t exist 100 years ago, chances are we still don’t need it today.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No Need to Feed

We sat in a circle, our babies perched in front of us, drooling over the teething rings, unbreakable mirrors, and rattles the facilitator had laid out on the floor. Each mother took a turn sharing her story of initiating solids. Then it was my turn.

I’m going to delay solids for a little while.

A stunned silence.

The facilitator asks, how old is she?

Six months. Six months, today, in fact.

The mothers look at me squinting, their heads tilted, not understanding. They hadn’t taken me for one of those “Breast is Best” people.

How come? Another mom asked.

Where do I start? I launched into my list of practical reasons, beginning with the most trivial:
I’m not ready for her poop to stink
I’m not anxious to take on the added work of preparing baby food, feeding her and cleaning up
It took me forever to get to a point where I could breastfeed painlessly and I don’t want her to self-wean prematurely.

But the real reason, the one that I am slightly embarrassed about:
I am in no hurry for her to grow up

Already those early days spent in pain and exhaustion—recuperating from the hematoma while feeding Sophia around the clock—are barely visible in my minds’ eye. I need my friend Elisa, who helped bring Sophia into the world, and my mother, who stayed up with me night after night and lifted her into my arms to feed, to be my memory.

The thing is: I may never have another child. Sophia might be it. I feel so very grateful for this opportunity to be her mother. And so I have to cherish every minute of her babyhood.

I take pictures. I write. Hoping to capture and preserve this thrilling present. But, like everything, it slips away and only that which has a strange salience remains.

Sophia has her whole life to eat solid food.

And how do we know six months is the magical month anyhow, when suddenly they need something more than that which has sustained them for and made them double in weight in half a year? When I was born, the pediatrician told my mother to give me solids after one month. Now, the research tells us that a baby’s digestive system isn’t ready to handle solids, and a baby doesn’t have the fine motor skills to eat until 4-6 months. If breast milk is such a perfect food, why not delay even longer? I’ve read the studies—the three primary concerns are:

  • Nutrients: Iron, in particular—an infant is born with iron stores that he/she utilizes over the early months. Breast milk contains very little iron. After these stores are depleted, the infant needs another source of iron. But that might not occur until somewhere between 9 – 12 months, depending on the size of the infant at birth. Babies are typically assessed for anemia at 9 months.
  • Growth faltering: The baby fails to gain weight and grow longer.
  • There is a window in which you need to introduce new tastes and textures or the baby will be a picky eater.

Only the first reason has any science to back it up, and still, it doesn’t point to the necessity of starting at six months.

To soften the blow, I told the group that I was going to check in with my pediatrician about it. The facilitator exhaled, relieved. The mother next to me whispered, I’m the opposite of you. I can’t wait until he’s out of this stage. Her baby kicked the air, like a turtle on its back.

At the pediatrician’s, the nurse weighed Sophia. She was right at the fiftieth percentile, just an ounce under 15 lbs. I was disappointed to learn that our regular doctor was out sick. Dr. Cromley, who had never met Sophie, would be standing in.

I asked Dr. Cromley if she thought I could wait. She looked at me like I had three heads, why would you want to do that. This surprised me a little. I didn’t expect it to be quite such an uncommon request. Again, I went into my reasons, this time feeling a bit more selfish and a bit more irrational. Dr. Cromley launched into the “picky eater” argument, surprising me again. I thought for sure she push the nutrients one. When I told her I wasn’t able to find any research supporting this notion, she said her years of experience with countless babies who became picky eaters was evidence enough. (I doubted this, since it didn’t seem like very many people were trying to delay solids in the first place.) She begrudgingly told me no later than eight months. Okay. Fair enough.

Then, a few nights ago, I had a dream: Sophia was dead. I hadn’t fed her enough. My mother was hiding her from me in the car, but I found out. I was screaming with grief and wracked with guilt.

Might I cause her harm, simply because I’m not ready?

As a parent, you are always trying to decide what’s best for your child. Sophie will get her first taste of rice cereal on Father’s Day—when she’ll be exactly 7 months. Until then, I’ll enjoy that I am building her face, her body, her brain with my body and my body alone.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Not Good Enough Mothering

So I called up Emily, after my last post, in a panic and left a message:

I wrote about you without checking in. I don’t think the post is that bad, but I realized that you might not want me broadcasting your adventures in parenting (I’m paraphrasing here) over the internet. So if you want me to take it down, let me know and I’ll do it right away. But again, it’s not that terrible. At least I don’t think it is. But don’t hesitate to tell me if you want it down. I totally understand. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Later that evening Emily called me. She saw the post and after reading the disclaimer, “My friend Emily is a wonderful mother. Let me preface this story by saying that.,” she braced herself, imagining the various confidences that might follow. She was relieved to “just” read the story about accidentally locking her daughter in her bedroom. Emily, quite generously, gave me the green light to keep the story up—but it did get me thinking about boundaries and privacy and the fact that my personal choice to blog about my forays into parenting does not mean I get to make that choice for others. So, friends, unless I explicitly get permission from you to write about you (and allow you to preview the content) rest assured you will not be making any guest appearances here. My family members, well, you might not be so lucky. (This means you, Jenny. Payback for reading my diary as a kid.) And, Nan, who called me, flattered, when she read the post that mentioned her boys, Reid and Mitchell, unfortunately positively reinforced me to do it again, so Nan, expect to see your name in print here. Often.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to share some of my “not good enough mothering moments.” After all, it’s easy to write about someone else’s struggles. It’s quite another to write about your own:
  • Early on, when first learning to cut Sophia’s nails, I snipped the tip of her finger. Twice. Now I only file them.
  • Today, though I knew Sophia had pooped her diaper, I took a detour to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a decaf iced coffee before heading home.
  • My coffee is rarely decaf

A couple nights before I got married, Nan (!) and I had a drink at an inn on the Delaware River. We met a guy who had gone to Bard, years before I had. He was older. With kids. He told us that every time he or his wife did something they thought had the potential to screw up their kids, they'd throw a dollar in the "therapy jar."

So far, Sophia, you've got a couple bucks in the bank.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good Enough Mothers

Sophie has her first cold and remains the most pleasant creature on Earth. Snot forms two transparent trails down to her smile. She coughs like an old man and then grins toothlessly like one. Only when I try to squirt saline solution up her nasal passages does she complain and arch her back, which of course makes it worse because I wind up poking her nose with it, or squirting her in the face, validating her protest.

It’s hard to know what to do with a sick baby. I took her out for a walk the other day (it was in the 70’s and gorgeous out). Every time she coughed, I said loudly, “oh, you poor thing, I’ve got to get you home,” even though I had just left the house and had no intention of going home. The disapproval of others is oppressive and can wring the pleasure out of our ventures outdoors (“Shouldn’t she be wearing a hat?” “Do you have a blanket for her?” “You poor thing, are you sick?”) I wish I didn’t care what other people think. But I do. I want people to think I’m a good mother.

Every mother I know worries about being a good mother. We call each other up with our bad mother stories, looking for reassurance or perhaps a story of how our friend is an even worse mother. My friend Emily is a wonderful mother. Let me preface this story by saying that. She is one of the least anxious mothers I know. Before I had a child, I secretly thought that I wanted to be just like her—comfortably bringing the baby with her wherever she went, not getting frazzled when the baby cried, nursing the baby wherever, whenever—even through the searing pain of mastitis. Last week Emily called me in tears. Her one-year-old Sophie (she has a Sophie too—but that’s another story), locked herself in the bedroom and was screaming. Emily had already called the locksmith and had tried soothing Sophie through the door, but that only made the baby scream louder. Why was mommy talking to her, but not coming in to get her? Emily had needed someone to talk to—someone to distract her from Sophie’s cries—until the locksmith arrived. He came shortly into our conversation and rescued the half-naked Sophie, who had ripped off her socks and pants in despair.

It was the kind of thing that could happen to any of us. It did, in fact, happen to my mother, which is what I told Emily on the phone. When I was about three, and my sister was fairly new-born, I locked the two of us in the bathroom. The only difference was that I wanted to kill my sister, who had mysteriously arrived on the scene, interrupting my blissful only-childhood with her colicky cries. My mother was terrified that I going to try to drown her. She got the neighbor to come and rip the door down. (This neighbor was frequently called upon to help with such domestic emergencies, once killing a garden snake on the front steps with a spade after I had innocently told my mother, “Mommy, come look at my snake.”)

My therapist reminds me that it’s not about being a good mother, but a good-enough mother. She’s got resources you can’t imagine, he said. But what Winnecott (the psychologist who coined the term and wrote about the concept of the good enough mother) meant by good enough wasn’t “passable” or “semi-competent” mom. A good enough mother is one who doesn't try to satisfy every need of her child. Rather, the good enough mother allows her child to experience frustration and disappointment and to learn from it in a graduated sort of way. The concept is not a pass for our daily blunders. Still, its reassuring to know that it’s ultimately okay. That pain is part of living. That everyone eventually must get sick. And somehow, most of the time, we recover.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sophie and Melissa Say Goodbye to Max

I had been waiting for a sign from Maxwell that it was time. Though his health has declined significantly in the past year, and his quality of life along with it, he still seemed to take pleasure in our presence and ate with gusto. (Max has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for over three years and this year was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.) I couldn't justify euthanizing him when he didn't seem to be in any pain. What a Catch 22--do you wait until the animal is suffering before making the decision, or do humanely let him go before he reaches that point? Months ago, I had a sad, but beautiful dream. Max's was lying on the hardwood floor of my childhood bedroom, his body had turned to golden sand. The particles were rising in the air, floating away and I was trying to capture them in my hands, blocking his departure. I wasn't ready. Then, last Thursday, Max threw up repeatedly and refused to eat or drink. I sat down next to him on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and petted his oily fur. He managed to work up a purr for me, but his eyes were pleading. What more did I need?

Coincidentally, friends of ours, Ada and Jeff, had come to Philly for a visit. Ada used to be Max's veternerian, before he ws diabetic. On Friday, she gently examined him, gave him some Pepsid-AD and syringe-fed him my mother's chicken soup, leftover from our seder. It's healing powers, however, apparently do not extend to cats. Later that day, Max had thrown up the little food she gave him and his water remained untouched. I was afraid to give him his insulin--I didn't want him to hypo on me. I tried to test his blood, but he was so dehydrated, he wouldn't bleed freely. After three tries, I decided to stop tormenting him. I tried syringe-fed him some water, but he wrestled with me and I don't know how much he actually drank. The next morning, Ada called to check on Max. She reminded me that most vets have saturday hours. In my anxious state, I had completely forgotten the Cat Doctor would be open until 1. I called and they gave me the last appointment of the day.

Before I got there, I made up my mind that this time--no heroic efforts. No tests. No life-extending medicines. It was time to let him go.

Resigned, I strapped Sophia to my body, carried her car seat in one hand and Max in the other. Helen, the receptionist, gave us a room where we could be alone together and brought me a glass of water. I sang to Sophie and Max, trying to soothe both of them at once. In waves, the magnitude of the decision that weighed upon me would hit me, and I'd begin to sob. Sophie looked up at me from her Snugli and laughed, tickled by the sounds I was making, unaware of what I was feeling. Of what was happening. The incongruity of it pained me. After an agonizing 45-minute wait, the doctor arrived and transferred us to a warmer room with a large comfortable chair. She took Max out of his cat carrier. I was ashamed at how filthy he was. Max had long stopped using his litter box and had been urinating and deficating in my bathtub. I would clean it out and sanitize it three times each day, and Kevin and I would give him a bath each week, but his underbelly was still soaked with urine. And he smelled.

I was grateful that the doctor didn't mind and didn't seem to judge me for this. I pet him as she inspected his mouth for signs of dehydration. She tried to take his temperature, but he cried so pitifully that we decided it made little sense to put him through the trial of the examination. She turned to me and said simply, I fully support your decision.

It is a difficult thing knowing where to draw the line. But I had already made up my mind. I nodded, language clogged with tears. She explained what would happen and gave me some time to say goodbye. When she left the room, Maxwell beelined for a corner and crouched down next to a bucket of hazardous waste. I sang taps to him, and hoped that it would not scar Sophie, to whom I sing taps when I put her to bed. (It's not as morbid as it sounds--the words are quite lovely--my father used to sing it to me when I was a child: Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the skies, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.) The doctor came in and gave him an extra-large dose of Ketamine and Valium to relax him. I asked how we would know it was working. She said that he'd start to put his head down. She left the room and I continued to pet and sing to him. Sophie began to cry for milk, and in the middle of this ordeal, I sat in the large comfortable chair and fed her. The tension around Max's eyes, which held them wide open, relaxed, and he almost looked happy, the way he used to when he would sit with Kevin and me in the livingroom--Kevin on the couch, me on the the chair and a half, and Max perched on the coffee table between us, lording over his people. The doctor returned with the drug that would stop his heart. She placed him on the table. The vet tech took Sophie, and I stroked Maxwell looking deep into his eyes. It's okay, I told him. I love you. I will always love you. You won't hurt anymore. I'm letting you go.

I couldn't tell that he was gone. His eyes remained open, staring into mine. The doctor checked his heart and assured me he had passed. I cried at this reality. They took him away to wrap him in a blanket and duct-taped it closed.

The vet tech placed Max in the trunk and I made the 2-hour drive up to my father's, to bury Max in the yard next to my childhood cats, Patches and Shadow. I stopped half-way in Princeton to feed Sophie. When we finally arrived, Sophie was a mess. We had blown through her morning and afternoon naps. I tried to put her down, but she just screamed and screamed. Dad and I went out to the yard, which was riddled with rocks and roots. We tried a spot next to Patches, then under the lilac bushes, and finally in the abandoned rock garden in the back yard, before being able to break ground. Dad picked at the stone-infested dirt, and I dug up what he loosened. It took a while to dig a shallow Max-sized hole. I want to dig it deeper, I told him. My father thought it was deep enough. What if an animal digs him up, I worried. There's nothing larger than racoons around her, my father replied. We'll put rocks on top. I removed Max from the trunk. Through the blanket I could feel his body, still warm and pliable. Dad took Max out of the blanket and dropped him in the hole. I cried out as his body flopped inanimately and settled. Dad hurried to cover him. Together, we built a pile of rocks over his fresh grave. Standing back, it looked nice. Intentional and artful.

Dad and I returned to the house and spoke for a bit about the funerals we had attended. So much loss these past years. Kevin's mother. The miscarriages. Parents of friends. And now Max. Dad retreated to the television. I fetched the still-miserable Sophia and left, desperately needing some time alone.

Goodbye Max, Mr. Bootles, Max-a-million, Gluteous Maximus, the Notorious C-A-T. Goodbye my companion of 14 years. Goodbye my pet. I love you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm ready for my closeup...

I have a few fading portraits of myself as a baby, looking rather googly, with a bobbing head, large eyes and a wet mouth. A snakeoil salesman came to call and sold my unsuspecting mother several hundred dollars worth of pictures that left us eating cans of cambells soup and pb&j sandwiches the rest of the month so we could pay the mortgage. Yet, it is nice to have these pictures, and ones taken in subsequent years (until suddenly they stop abruptly when I'm 4 or 5): Jennifer, my sister, looking ant-like, her head far too heavy for her slight body, the photo tinted red with age. The two of us posed in matching dresses--her hair curly and wild, mine matted and stuck to my cheecks--holding on to each other in a rare, loving moment.

So when my friend Nancy showed me pictures taken at Babies R Us of her twin boys, Reid and Mitchell, propped up on their elbows, looking very much like they were waiting for someone to bring them a beer, I decided I needed to immortalize Sophia in a down-to-the-diaper (they won't do naked) sexy-baby pose. I went up to my mom's and squeezed Sophia into a never-worn but already-too-small hand-made blue ballerina-esque outfit my mother gave her at birth (one of many such outfits). She fussed as I pulled the cerulean tulle up over her bulging milky-belly. At the studio, we chose a simple, but dramatic black background and the photographer set to work, stacking blocks to prop Sophia in unnatural, adult poses. She did an excellent job of making animal sounds, evoking broad, laughing smiles from Sophia. In between shots, Sophie slumped, and once, almost took a nose dive off of the platform. My mother practically knocked the camera over, diving to catch her, stumbling over the photographer in the process (if only we had captured THAT on film), but Sophia emerged from the experience, unscathed, if not a bit grumpy, with some lovely portraits. All in all, I'm glad we did it. I hope that they are a source of pleasure (as opposed to humilliation) when she is older.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sophie's Gettin' a New Crib

No, not the kind you sleep in. We're talking the MTV variety. That is, a house. Yes, Sophia will finally have her own room and mommy will have some peace. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about no longer "rooming in" with my girl. I will miss the intimacy of sleeping side-by-side, the ability to look over and see her face placid with slumber, feeling the nocturnal incredulity that yes, she is here, she is real, she is mine. But I will not miss the noxious routine we had adopted.

This is how it went: At first, she was sleeping for five or six hours when we put her down. Then, she would wake every 3-4 hours after that until morning. She would cry. I would wait five minutes to see if she really meant it. She did. I'd get up, in a daze, and go through the motions of feeding her, and we'd both go back to sleep. But pretty soon she realized that if she woke and cried in the single-digit hours of the morning, I was going to feed her, no questions asked. If I didn't, she would fuss and fuss and we both would get no sleep. That's the thing about kids. They have more stamina than we do. Sophie began waking every two hours, then every hour. I'd feed her, going against everything I know to be true. Sated and soothed, she'd drop off, and I'd lie there, staring at the ceiling, wide awake, knowing the next feeding was not far away.

I resisted letting her cry it out. After all, Dr. Sears, that bastard, wrote that babies who cry it out lose trust in their mothers. If I didn't soothe her, she'd form an insecure attachment and then she'd never get into Harvard, or have a healthy relationship, or listen to her mother.

I shared my frustration with some other mothers. One I spoke to had just let her son cry it out. He looked happy. She looked well-rested. I was at my breaking point, and decided to give it a try. That night, I put Sophie in her pj's, read her"Goodnight Moon," gave her a massage, sang taps, and put her to bed. Kevin and I had a lovely dinner on the terrace while Sophie cried for 10 minutes and fell asleep. That was it. None of the hour long soothing sessions where Kevin and I would take turns letting her suck our finger until she'd finally stop whimpering and pass out from exhaustion. Yes she wakes up a couple times during the night, but five minutes later she's back asleep. Or if she is genuinely hungry, I feed her, but then she doesn't wake again until morning. Yes, I'm sleeping on the couch. But I'm sleeping!

Needless to say, I will be happy to have my own room again.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Roll-Over Queen

I'm laying blankets down on our filthy rug, trying to stay one step ahead of four and 1/2 month old Sophia who just figured out how to roll over completely. My goal is to create a semi-hygeneic barrier between her mouth and the cathair that's embedded in the berber, but its not working. There's a sharp black hair stuck with drool to the side of her mouth. I break to applaud her efforts and she looks at me with a dimpled toothless grin. My roll-over queen.

It's a scary development really. "Now you have to watch her all the time," my mother, my boss, my friends warned me the first time she rolled from back to front. And I do. But now, rolling is a mode of transportation. It can take her across a room. And it would be one thing if she was lazy, but Sophia is motivated as hell. She can stay on her stomach for forty-five minutes, air-planeing and butt-arching her way over to a toy I've placed just out of reach. She grunts and retches from the effort, but she always gets her toy. In these moments, I catch a glimpse of her personalitity--determined, perservering, perfectionistic. And I don't know if its a blessing or a curse.