Thursday, December 31, 2009


My five-year-old guessed what I was thinking last night. Then he said, "Mom, I read your mind!" (pause) "I took a book out of your mind and read it, and then put it back." (pause) "The book WAS your mind!" Me: "You took my mind out? Did you put it back?" He: "Not yet. Here you go."

On that slightly scary note, Happy New Year!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reader Response

When Little Man started to memorize books, when he was able to recite all of "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" over dinner, I had a feeling I'm not sure I can describe. It's connected to another feeling I can't describe, one which always comes over me while I'm reading to him. Let me preface this by saying that I really, really enjoy reading aloud. That whole learning to read silently thing we all get to in elementary school, after the stage of sounding out all the letters, one pudgy finger under each word; it was a real falling off for me, the end of something good. There's not much reason to read aloud anymore, once you're beyond that stage, until you find yourself doing a reading at a wedding, or, say, mocking a mean-spirited ex-lover by reading his narcissistic letter out loud to your drunken girlfriends. (You've never done that? Um, me neither.)

Maybe I'm a frustrated actor or something, but it's fun to me, much much fun, to wind your way through someone else's words, letting just the right expressive tone slip in, paying attention to meter and volume. It's like singing. I used to try to read to my partners, romantic or erotic poetry (what can be sexier than The Goblin Market, for example? all that licking and sucking and dripping juices, warmth and open mouths?), but usually they were politely unimpressed, and in one case actually fell asleep. (I ended up marrying that one, so probably I didn't hold it against him, but rather chose to interpret it as his being soothed by my voice into a profound state of relaxation. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what it was.)

But now! the luxury of it! the rapt audience! how many times a day do I hear "Mommy, can you read this book to me? and this firetruck one too, and this one with the goats?" It's a guilty pleasure, running out to the library to pick up 10 more delicious books for him from the lovely buffet of the children's room, knowing that he will page through them in his car seat on the way home, and immediately upon regaining the house demand that I read all of them to him, immediately. I like everything about reading to him: the cuddly presence on my lap, the rapt attention, the stream of questions "Mommy, why is that donkey sitting in her dress on that rock?" "Mommy, why is the sun leaning down in this picture?" "Is that a frog or a bug?" And I love the trance I get into, every time, as if coasting on the current of someone else's words, someone else's story, the emotional lives of donkeys and fish, my voice like a canoe, slipping through the ripples. ("Mommy, why are you beating this water metaphor to death?")

And the weird internal jokes: am I the only one who thinks of Fergie's "My Humps" every time I read "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish"? ("Mr. Gump has a seven-hump gump!") and try to get through the page without my adults-only internal guffaw coming out of my mouth? ("What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?" Hm, Seussical echoes in Fergie? No? Maybe just me, then.) This internal dialogue I have with myself cracks me up, literally, every time. A very weird but satisfying pleasure -- it's the aburdity of the connection that gets me, I think.

It's odd that I should enjoy this activity so much, since usually, I hate the sound of my own voice. I occasionally leave messages on my home answering machine for my partner, making arrangements for dinner or the plumber or picking up the Little Man, and as soon as I get home I hurriedly erase it, as if fearing that someone will hear how awful I sound, as if they couldn't hear that every time I open my mouth. But somehow, when it's "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" instead of "should I stop and get some veggie burgers for dinner?", somehow it's ok. Weirdly, it's a more bodily experience of books than reading silently to yourself, and I can see how different tones or expressive choices can effect Little Man differently. Depending on how tired I am, I can put more or less expression into what I'm saying: "Frogs are frogs and fish are fish and that's IT!" And he will correct me if I accidentally, in a moment of failed attention, lend Piglet's voice to Eeyore's words, or (unimaginable, really) vice versa. As well he should.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Since I went back to work (in the fall of 2007), the sleep arrangements in my house have deteriorated badly, and I have not had the wherewithal to turn the tide. Little Man's dad used to put him to bed: after reading a few books together in his dimly-lit room and singing a few songs, Little Man's dad would place him gently in his crib, pat his back a few times, and leave the room. Little Man would sing sleepily to himself for a little while, maybe hold a brief, one-sided conversation with himself on possible breakfast foods or doggie escapades, and then go quiet. No problem. We were blessed (after a period of utter sleep hell in his infancy, during which no one in the family got more than 4 hours of sleep in any 24-hour period, we felt we had earned the right to this bliss).

Then I went back to work, and Little Man went to daycare. And got sick. And got sick again. And got sick some more. And coughed all night, feverish, crying because his throat hurt, his stomach hurt, he hated the coughing, he was too hot. Etc., etc., etc. We were still nursing then, only minimally (usually once a day at bedtime), but we ramped it up again, because it helped with the coughing and sore throat. I finally took him to bed with me, during the worst of it, because I had to get up and remember how to teach the next day.
Then he got better, and we tried to get him back to the old ways. But he had seen a glimpse of paradise, and he wasn't going to let it go that easily. I can sleep with Mama? really? why would I stop doing that?

And so on and so on. We worked on it, we stopped working on it, there was strep throat, there was weaning, we worked on it, finally ending up with a pattern of my lying down with him in his now-big-boy bed, reading bedtime books and telling a long, serial story we make up together about Sally-the-Cow and her many and varied animal friends (living in some kind of throwback commune on a mountaintop), and I lay with him until he's asleep. At various points, that would be the end of it and I would eventually be able to retreat to my own bed/life; at other points, he would wake up at some point and call for me and I would have to repeat the process until he slept again. For weeks I might fall asleep in his bed before he does, and wake up groggily at 2 a.m. to stumble into my own bed, only to find that I can't sleep (because I had slept from 8:00 to 2:00!) and end up downstairs, reading. Until he would wake up and call for me again, and I would go up to him and lay with him until he fell asleep again.

Drag. Double drag. If I had to go out at night, Little Man refused to even think about going to bed until I returned. Daddy would NOT do. Daddy doesn't have the right voice for bedtime reading, Daddy doesn't know the Sally story saga, Daddy takes up too much room when he lies in bed with me. So I would come home after a dinner out with my friends, to find Daddy and Little Man both asleep sprawled on the couch, all lights on, everyone still in their clothes. Rebelling against any changes in sleep management. All alert to any possibility of going back to the old ways of independent sleep. Vigilantly defending his post.

And the thing is, I get it. Really -- it's nice to fall asleep with your arm tossed around a loved one, a foot leaning against a knee, a butt cozying up to a stomach. I can't reconcile this: I need to sleep in my own bed, with my own husband, vacationing from parenthood for a few precious hours. I myself don't particularly want to sleep alone, and I am an adult. Not four, unclear on the existence of robbers and/or bad guys, negotiating the pull towards independence and the desire always to stay a baby, cuddled in mama's arms. (I mean, you know, on a good day I'm not.) Why shouldn't he prefer co-sleeping to isolation in his own room, away from the family that makes him feel safe?

It's not that I hate it myself. There are times, curled up like spoons with my small son, his hot little bare feet resting on my bent knees, my arm around his waist, my face leaned up against the hair on the back of his head, when I feel as happy and cozy as a blind newborn kitten, surrounded by siblings and nuzzled up against her mama cat's belly. He will say, sleepily, in those moments: "Mama, I love you." "Mama, you're my best friend." "Mama, you're the best best best best best best best mom in the wholewideworld." Or there's the night we had a long sleepy conversation about my extended family, and his dad's, and the grandparents and great-grandparents and what were all their names and where did they live? He was thrilled to find out that my aunt was his great-aunt: "She is my aunt and your aunt too?" he asked delightedly. Anything that means we are the same, related, connected forever, makes him happy. And the tales of our family's interconnectedness made me feel happy too, unconscious for a moment of the factors which separate, divide us in conflict or disagreement. We both fell asleep content that night. Still, the fact remains that this system is not a good long-term plan.

This post is too long already, but the upshot is, I think we may have fixed it, via a surprising ally. More in next post. I will miss the weird intimacy, but I think it may be over, or on the road to being over. And since it's appropriate and right that it be over, I will reserve my ambivalence on the subject to this blog, and celebrate with my husband and son our new independence.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tag, I'm it!

I was tagged on Facebook and thought I'd reproduce my list here.

25 random things about ME:

1. I often surprise myself by enjoying things I hate doing (like scraping ice off my windshield), and hating things I love doing;
2. Maybe that's why I tend to deprive myself of doing things I love doing, like writing. I don't want to find myself hating it;
3. I am a fool for old-school funk;
4. Dancing is one of the few areas of life in which I have very little self-consciousness. Well, there are a few more, but not many;
5. Cooking is weirdly stressful for me. Even things I've made a million times. Even when it's only me who's going to be eating it. I love food, though. If I were rich I'd hire someone to cook me gourmet health food meals every day (hi Karen);
6. There are areas in the world I love beyond all reason, for reasons of nostalgia: Portland, OR; the Catskills; Edgartown, MA; the Isle of Skye; and a small mountain town in Morrocco the name of which I can't spell and am too lazy to look up;
7. I am ambivalent about most poetry. Not all, though;
8. I have a short list of novels I read at least once a year. I have to work to wait that long, but if I don't, the magic doesn't work as well. It's a great and very rare pleasure to add to that list;
9. Becoming a mother, somewhat late in life, shattered me, in almost exactly the same way a sprout shatters a seed. After four years, I'm still trying to figure out where some of the pieces of me went;
10. I have daydreams of getting together everybody I've madly loved, men and women, for a dinner party, without telling them what the connecting link is. I'm pretty sure lots of them would not like each other. (Some of them might not even know they were madly loved by me at one time.) I like to think of them sitting around, asking themselves, "Why am I here? who are all of these people? Some of them are VERY ODD." Or trading phone numbers.
11. I love driving, and also riding a bike;
12. Jazz always makes me think of my dad, and the expressions on his face when he listened to it;
13. I miss my dad (who died while I was pregnant), all the time. He lacked a few parenting skills, but he was a wonderful friend;
14. I like getting things done in very short spurts. I am also very good at doing very little (read: nothing) for long stretches of time. It doesn't feel like doing nothing when I'm doing it, but technically, that's what it is;
15. I am getting very good at telling elaborately detailed bedtime stories (see #4). I feel as though I should write them down;
16. I read several mommy blogs, and feel oddly close to the writers, whom I've never met;
17. I like talking and writing about myself, but I fear I enjoy it too much;
18. Some of my goals in life are mutually exclusive, but I have no real intention of reconciling them;
19. I am not always consistent, but I am excellent in an emergency;
20. When I think about my own death, I feel a sudden shock which isn't entirely unpleasant. It's good for me to have deadlines;
21. I am happiest when I'm socializing more often than I usually have time for;
22. I often think of a Shakespeare professor I had in 1984, one of the smartest and coolest women I've ever met, whom I haven't seen since;
23. I am sensitive to the sounds of people's voices, and remember them vividly no matter how much time has passed;
24. I once sold a book to David Byrne, in a bookstore in Cambridge, Mass. It was a book by Doris Lessing (hi Jean);
25. I should give up coffee, but I never, ever will.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Irrational desires

The starting point here is that I have screwed up nearly every major decision of my adult life (I won’t even go into my pre-adult life), so really, things turned out markedly better than anyone, by which I mean my mother, had any right to expect. Married? Homeowner? A kid, a car, a dog? A paying job, with a paycheck in real money and everything? Yeah, Ma, back off. I’m doing fine.

OK, so there’s a little more debt than income, so what? And yeah, so maybe our house is tiny and cramped and full of secondhand toys, and maybe I was the oldest first-time mom in my son’s playgroup. I’m extremely immature, so no one noticed. (Except they did, apparently: one measly little missed cultural reference led to one mommy to comment, placidly, “Well, I’m a little younger than you, I guess.” What, my willingness to hide from monsters under the laundry basket in your living room with a roomful of two-year-olds didn’t fool you? Whatever. )

The problem is that, while my husband is satisfied, and my kid, being four, thinks things are great (he hasn’t learned to feel embarrassed by us yet), I’m not there yet. I want another baby. Even though I’m forty-three, and the chances of it happening naturally are, well – let’s just say, Dionysus might stand a chance of impregnating me, but neither my husband nor even my genius and beloved (if Grateful-Dead-loving) fertility doctor can manage it. (OK, Ma, I hear you. I know, I started too late. My Fallopian tubes resemble the frayed ends of the shoelaces on my decades-old sneakers; my ovaries are like drooling, pinched-faced old men with prickly whiskers; my womb reminds one of – oh, nevermind.)

I want to adopt. I want the second-baby experience. I want to be able to say, in response to a friend complaining about her children’s inability to pick up after themselves, “Oh, my kids are just the same.” Saying “my son” isn’t quite it, somehow, even though I know I’m lucky, more than lucky – blessed. More than blessed. Still, though. I want more than I deserve. (I also want to triple my income and to go on European vacations and have someone cook for me, but those are further down on my list of entirely unreasonable desires. I’ll get to them later.) I want my son to have a sibling to hate and squabble with and complain about, but who will still hold him when he cries at his grandmother’s funeral, as my often-hated oldest brother did for me.

Do I browbeat my husband into agreeing to adopt? He doesn’t want to, but he didn’t know he wanted the first kid, either, and he has never been happier in his life and is a truly gifted and hilarious dad. Doting. Playful. Patient, most of the time. All those qualities that show up when you least expect it, in your black-humored, cynical New Yorker husband. Actually, I knew, though. The spousal unit has an uncanny combination of the darkly cynical and the – well, the not. I wouldn’t say I picked him at least partly for his potential parenting ability, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t, either. He has the most gallows-like humor of anyone I knew, and yet when I first brought him to visit my family (and, typically, he hates this story with the white heat of a thousand suns), he spent several hours – several hours -- helping my then 2-year-old niece do a big wooden snake puzzle. Granted, he was studiously avoiding the rest of my family at the time (and honestly, I don’t blame him), but still. None of my former boyfriends would have had that kind of patience with a very young child, whatever they might have been avoiding at the time.

All right. It’s clearly worth starting a conversation, even worth having to listen to the spluttering, not-amused bark of laughter that will certainly ensue when I bring up the topic, not to mention the aghast references to the meager nature of our current kid’s college fund, the space issue, preschool fees, the continuing need for new shoes, the fact that we have already (um, did I mention this?) given away a fair amount of our hand-me-down baby stuff. (Oh, yeah. That.) I’m not saying I’m being rational: if we were rational, who among us would have a kid in the first place? They’re expensive. They’re a pain in several areas of parental anatomy, on a daily basis. They make it impossible to read The New York Times Book Review in peace (or, you know, People magazine, or whatever). They force you, merely by existing, to hemorrhage money that you could be spending on European vacations.

But we want them; and when we have them, sometimes, some of us at least, want more.