Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Swear

I’m driving through Philly, headed South on 12th Street. To the right of me, there’s a UPS truck stopped and standing. To the left, a full line of traffic. There’s no room to swerve and by the time it registers that my passenger-side mirror is going to smack the truck, it’s already flying into the air and shattering into a million shards of glass on the street. “Shit SHIT SHIT!” I exclaim.

From the back seat I hear, “Oh no! Fuck! FUCK! FUCK!”

That isn’t my husband, back there, with a mouth like a truck driver. That’s my 18-month old daughter.

I need help. I can’t stop swearing.

Motherhood has not changed me in this regard. I have always loved to swear. I love words in general, but cuss words, with their taboo meaning, their vaguely onomatopoetic quality, their infinite permutations of usage, I find them to be so incisive. So perfect. So deeply satisfying. I have not been able to give them up. I’ve tried replacing them with other things, but in moments of anger, pain, frustration, or shock…there’s nothing like good fuck. Or a good shit for that matter.

Part of my problem is I don’t feel a strong enough impetus to renounce this portion of my vocabulary. I don’t get what’s wrong with swearing. Why is it so bad for children—for anyone—to swear? Sophia seems to find it just as pragmatic and satisfying as I do. Why do these words evoke such horror? Why do they imply ignorance or poor parenting? Don’t we need profanity to describe important slivers of human experience? As long as one does not swear at another person (which, I’m vehemently opposed to and never do), how is it harmful?

Kevin, who does not think it’s okay to swear in front of Sophia, posed this scenario: Imagine Sophia goes to nursery school. She falls down on the playground and says “O no! Fuck! FUCK! FUCK!” in front of her friends. Then all of her little playmates go home and stub their toes (or have some similar mishap) and exclaim (perfectly appropriately), “O no! Fuck! FUCK! FUCK!” in front of their parents. The parents are angry that after all this time of resisting the impulse to say “fuck,” someone else has gone and said it in front of their kid. So, enraged they demand retribution from the teacher, who has no choice but to expel Typhoid Sophia. She gets blacklisted from preschool and never learns appropriate 3-year-old language.

Perhaps, in order for Sophia to grow up conforming to societal norms and getting invited to play dates, I’ve got to kick the habit. But I haven’t a clue how to do it. And I’m afraid it might already be too late. Fuck.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In Transition

I can’t relate. I’ve never been a napper. If I allow myself the luxury of some afternoon reverie…I pay for it later on in wide-eyed insomnia. And I could never do 20-minute power naps. If I fall asleep in the afternoon, I go deep, my brainwaves slowing to a standstill. And when I finally rise, I’m groggy, disoriented, and cranky as hell. So, no napping, unless circumstances are dire.

Kevin and Sophia, on the other hand, both relish their naps. Kevin, who is utterly incapable of nocturnal sleep, seems to have little problem dozing once the sun breaks through the horizon. And Sophia has been known to beg for a nap when we have kept her up longer than three hours at a pop, reaching out for her crib as we carried her towards it, plugging her mouth with her thumb and assuming the head down, butt up position.

But now, at 18 months, Sophia is beginning to consolidate her naps, meaning the two hour-long baby-free periods I had each day are collapsing into one fitful siesta of indeterminate length. Everyone tells me this is better—that you can get more accomplished…and enjoy more of your baby during your wakeful time. I’m sure that one day this will be true, but right now we are in that no-man’s-land where two naps are too many and one is not enough. My formerly sweet, docile child is more like…well…me after a nap. Cranky. Clumsy. And wanting to be held.

And if it isn’t enough that Sophia's mood is darker, her poverty of sleep during the day is now affecting her sleep at night. As Kevin always says (and is living proof of this axiom), bad sleep gets bad sleep. And so, we are back to crying it out. Only this time, she’s more tenacious and more aware than ever before. She cries with the confidence that we are partying downstairs…without her. We sealed the crack under her door with a stuffed snake to muffle the sounds of us having a wild time washing the dishes, living it up sorting the laundry, and rocking out while we recycle.

On the first eve of the one-nap days, she roared her terrible roars for a good 45 minutes. Kevin, sick of watching me cringe, decided he would go to her. I heard him through the monitor say, “Oh you made a poo,” and Sophie sniveling, “Poo! Poo!” We felt badly that we had let her go on for so long when clearly the poo was the issue, but we were relieved that there was something wrong—and that she wasn’t regressing to her infant ways. But later that night…around 3 am…I heard a tiny voice call out, “Poo Mama, Poo!” And, though I knew I was being had, I felt compelled to check.

Sure enough, no poo.

So now, Sophia has become the girl that cried poo. And sometimes there is a poo. And sometimes there’s not. Either way, neither one of us is getting much sleep these days. I know, like all things, this too will pass. But I feared that if I didn’t write about it, this would be the sort of memory that fades with time. The quotidian disturbances that mean so much to us in the moment, that stress us out, that we rant to our friends about, but that leave no permanent markings. We are always in transition, always moving on to the next thing. "Everything becomes something else and slips away (e.e. cummings)." But this moment, even this moment, is precious.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


We have been held prisoners in the Jiffy Lube waiting room for over an hour. Sophia has briefly manipulated and discarded every toy that I brought along, we’ve scoured OK! magazine for shots of celebrity babies, and I’ve exhausted my supply of organic cheddar bunnies. She is wilting. Sophia looks up at me, or rather that area just below my neck, points to her own chest in an invented sign and pleads, “mi, mi, mi.”

Not just yet, I whisper, feeling the eyes of all four men in the room upon us. When we get home. Soon.

My name is Melissa, and I am an extended breast feeder (EBFer). For those unfamiliar with the term, this means that I have chosen to continue to breastfeed Sophia beyond a year.

There is some irony in this. I can remember years ago, before I was a mother, before Kevin and I were even married, I ran into an acquaintance on the street who told me she was headed to a La Leche League meeting. Because she from Spain, I assumed it was a ex-pat mothers’ support group. But when I mentioned the encounter to another friend, she rolled her eyes and said, Oh, THOSE PEOPLE. They’re the ones who believe in breastfeeding ten-year-olds. And we agreed, if a baby could ask for it, it was probably time to give it up.

Years later, but still before I had Sophia, a very respected colleague and dear friend of mine confided that her four-year-old was still breastfeeding. I know the shock registered on my face. I am ashamed to say I made an inappropriate joke, because I didn’t know how else to react. I didn’t understand why someone would even consider this. I assumed that it was attachment parenting gone wild.

Now, here I was, 17 months post-partum, in the Jiffy Lube with my hyper-verbal toddler requesting the goods. How did I get here?

1. I don’t mind sharing, in fact, I feel compelled to share that breastfeeding was a hard-won success for me. As “natural” as it may be, in the beginning both of us had no idea how to do it. Certainly, it didn’t help that I hemorrhaged after the birth, developed a rare hematoma, and lost a ton of blood. Because of the trauma, my milk came in late, and Sophia lost over 10% of her bodyweight before things got flowing. Throughout this period, I pumped to stimulate production, which led to a surplus that rendered me able to feed every hungry baby on the block. When she nursed, Sophia choked and sputtered as the milk shot down her throat. She clamped down on my nipples to stem the flow until I was cracked and sore and bleeding. I cried every time she latched on, with pain and frustration that I was unable to do this very simple thing. It required every bit of tenacity I could muster to see it through.

One saintly lactation consultant and eight weeks later, Sophia and I found our groove. When the pain finally lifted, it was one of the most deeply satisfying experiences I have ever had. I was feeding my child with food produced by me. When Kevin would come home at night and we would exchange stories of the day, I would begin with, “I kept our baby alive with my body. What did YOU do today?” I take great pride in the fact that I stuck it out for her sake—not in holier-than-thou martyry sort of way, but in a I-kicked-breastfeeding-ass kind of way.

2. I would never continue breastfeeding simply for my sake, or jut because I worked so hard to get to this point. I’ve always thought that if Sophia initiated weaning, I’d go with the flow. And so, as she’s grown busier with life, she’s generally less interested in breastfeeding, and we’ve cut back. I don’t whip out the boob every time she gets a distressed look on her face. I don’t nurse her to sleep. It doesn’t replace food or all fluids. And I very rarely initiate. She generally asks first thing in the morning, once during the day, and once as part of her nighttime routine, and I oblige. Fact is, she likes it too. Sometimes, as she’s drinking she pulls back and exclaims, “Mmmmmm!” I like knowing that she thinks my milk is delicious.

3. It’s also about health. I was sick with chronic ear infections throughout my toddler and preschool years. So was Kevin. I wound up having three myringotomies. We both had our adenoids removed. The mantra we heard in our birthing and breastfeeding classes was that breastfeeding reduced the incidents of ear infections. Ditto for diarrhea. We hope that Sophia will not have to go through what we did.

4. And then there’s vanity. You just can’t beat the calorie burn.

So, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, Sophia and I will continue to breastfeed as long as it is mutually desirable, which might be next week or it might be months from now. But one thing I am certain of: I am sorry for having judged others for the choices they made.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Pig Says Ah-choo!

I’m not a germ-a-phobe. In fact, after the NYTimes published an article citing research that eating stuff off the floor builds babies’ immune systems, I just recycled the pieces Sophia flung at the ground, blowing on them and sticking them back on her plate. Each time my husband cringed, I cited the Times—much to his annoyance. Still, we sailed through the first 17 months, relatively illness free.

That was, of course, until this week when Sophia got the diarrhea. Five straight days of it, during which, she barely ate or drank. On the fifth day, a Sunday, when Sophia, who ordinarily has no time for cuddling, hoisted herself on top of me and sagged over my body, lovingly limp, I called the triage nurse. Nonplussed, she instructed me to “call the doctor when it’s been two weeks.”

“TWO WEEKS?” Sophia, my baby, would desiccate and blow away by then.

“Well, is she producing at least three wet diapers a day?” She isn’t.

“Does she have a fever?” She doesn’t

“Start giving her Pedialyte. Or Gatorade. Two teaspoons every ten minutes.” This, for the baby who will eat or drink next to nothing.

“But she won’t eat or drink.”

“Then you’ve got to force feed her. And if she doesn’t wet her diaper in 12 hours, you’ve got to take her straight to the emergency room.”

I sent Kevin off to Rite Aide to purchase every flavor of Pedialyte and Gatorade he could find. He came home with five bottles of neon-colored liquid.

The Pedialyte was colorless, like water. I tried that one first. Sophia took one sip of it, gave a look of disgust and threw her sippy cup on the floor. I poured a glass of the iridescent orange Gatorade. She regarded the drink with suspicion. “Juice,” I ventured, and quoted from an alphabet book, “J is for juice, how thirsty are you?” She took a sip, scowled, and then took another. I turned, so my face wouldn’t betray my relief.

I called my mother for help. “It sounds like the swine flu,” she said.

“The what?” I hadn’t seen or heard the news for days.

“The swine flu. That bug that everyone’s sick with in Mexico. You were just on a plane right?”

“Out of Illinois.”

“I’m telling you. It’s the swine flu. It’s everywhere. She’s got the symptoms”

“Mom. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Nausea, diarrhea, fever….”

“I’m looking this up….”

“Fine. Look it up. Then get back to me.”

Kevin barely glanced up from his book on the history of obscure, ancient British kings. “She DOESN’T have the swine flu. Aside from the swine flu being a respiratory illness, there are no confirmed cases in the area.”

So I did what I always do in times of doubt. Internet research. Lots of internet research. Of course, he was right. But the more I read, the more I was able to visualize the swine flu stretching out across the country. Inhabiting. Infecting. And suddenly in our home, like a purple miasma rising up from the basement, engulfing our daughter, as I try, in vain, to get an appointment with the pediatrician.

Fear is virile. It spreads with the passage of misinformation, far more insidious than any germ.

The next morning, after another dry diaper, I called the doctor’s office again. “I’m freaking out.” I told them. “Bring her in,” they conceded.

Sophia, of course, did not have the swine flu. Nor did she have celiac disease, as the nurse practitioner suspected. Nor did she have a case of an over-reactive mother. She had a double ear infection, which can, I’m told, also lead to diarrhea.

After several days on amoxicillin, she was eating and drinking again. And not like she was before the infection. She was ravenous. Oh, she still flings bits and pieces on the floor (which, by the way, I’ve stopped recycling). But a fair portion of it winds up in her mouth.

Now hear this: I resolve to stop counting calories and bites. I will measure Sophia's health by how she looks and acts, not by the numbers on a scale. You are all my witnesses. I'm done. I will not live in fear.