February 2010


“I NEED TO DRINK BOOBIES!” screams Sage as she crawls into our bed at 4:45 in the morning. “No boobies” I say and then I proceed to give my weaning speech, “I can get you water or milk…do you want water or milk? How about you drink right out of a cup, you’re getting to be such a big girl you don’t even need boobies.”

“I NEED THEM. I NEED THEM” she responds desperately.  Then she begs, “Take them off. Take the boobies off!” like if I’d only give her control of them we could avoid this whole conversation and all get back to sleep. I take a deep sigh, knowing that if I am going to hold my ground there is only one thing I can do. “Sage,” I say wearily,  “how about we just wake up and play?”

“Yeah,” she whimpers. “We can play.” And so the day begins, still dark, so quiet. We go into her bedroom and just stare at each other as we try to adjust to the light. “Maybe boobies, just a little bit?” she asks, as if she just has to be sure that I am for real. My heart sinks. I want to say yes, but that is not my answer, “No boobies.” I respond. Then I rally. I become determined to change the energy. We begin playing and I pull out all the stops to keep her mind off nursing. Complete and utter distraction is my only tactic.

I let her ride me like a horse. We go round and round the apartment till my knees start to give. We dance to Prince. Mostly we dance to “Let’s Go Crazy” and we do go crazy. Every time. I put on play after play, I balance all sorts of things on my head, I pretend to run into the wall and fall down, I bust out the guitar and somehow (even though I only know three chords) I sing every song she knows. I pretend to be Elmo, I pretend to be Miss Piggy, I pretend to be a talking washcloth, a talking snow boot, a talking spoon, a talking binder clip… the routine is elaborate and intense. We both work hard.

At one point during one of the puppet shows or horse rides it strikes me that this game of distraction is not only for her. It exists for me too. I am so utterly insecure about what will happen once I have weaned her. I worry that my magic as a mom is completely dependent upon my boobs. I’m like Sampson about to get his hair chopped off, and I can’t stop thinking about what will happen when it’s gone. Will my daughter still lie on my chest at naptime? Will she still gaze up at me like I’ve got all the answers and am the keeper of all the secrets? Will she still run to me when I round the corner or walk through the door? Will she feel betrayed? Will she lose her spirit of adventure? For the past two years, nursing has been our private language. It’s the way we are quite, calm, and still. It’s how we take each other in at the start of each day.

To stop means that I will have to run after her in order to catch my glimpse.  She is always on the move and I know that this is not going to stop. She is just going to keep getting faster and faster. And time will accelerate too. And soon she’ll have a “do not enter” sign on her door and a diary with a lock. She’ll have a gaggle of friends who all think I’m lame, and a closet full of boxes with little skulls and crossbones on them, and I’ll start finding empty beer bottles hidden in ridiculous places like the laundry machine (in a panic my friends and I did this once), and she’ll start using catchphrases like LOL and OMG except I won’t understand them. And she’ll say “fine” when I ask her how she’s doing, and she’ll say “fine” when I ask her how school was, and she’ll say “whatever” when I ask her to please elaborate on what she means by “fine”.

And so, to avoid thinking of how my two year old will some day become a twelve year old and then a twenty year old I slip on a hat and I twirl a banana and I cheer, “Let’s have a parade!” And on, and on, and on we go…

The other day we were in the car. I was driving as my daughter slept in the back. We were stopped at a light and I guess I must have been lost in thought because somehow my finger found its way into my nose (I swear I am not usually a nose picker. I really just did it this one time. And the other time I mentioned in my previous posting). Suddenly I looked up to discover that there was a guy on the side of the road taking pictures for what appeared to be google maps and he was pointing his camera right at me. I immediately removed my finger, the light turned green, and I sped away. Panicked, I took the nearest opportunity to pull over and call my husband. “ JD?” I squeaked, “Ummmm you know google maps, you know how you just click on an address or a location and it zooms in and shows you a picture of that place? Well… can you remember how close up those pictures get? I mean how detailed are they? Could you like… see someone picking her nose in the car?”  JD laughed, “No, it’s not that close. I think you’re fine.”

I felt immediate relief, but then my next thought was, “Man, I’ve really let myself go.” When we got home I parked in the driveway and just sat there as Sage slept in the back. As I waited for her to wake up I started making a little mental list of all the ways that I have recently become sort of… well…gross.

Like sometimes I skip a bunch of meals because I just don’t think to eat. But then I find myself suddenly hungry and in the car with no food. So occasionally I have been known to root around in the cracks of the seats looking for old cheerios and raisins that my daughter has dropped. The other day I found a half eaten piece of toast under her car seat and I actually became excited like “Now THIS is what you call a good lunch!”

Or there was our trip to the swimming pool last week. I couldn’t find my bathing suit so I just packed a bra and a pair of old biker shorts. When I saw myself in the mirror, I felt like I was watching an eighties workout video. Then when I jumped in the water and discovered that my ensemble was see-through I felt like I was in a really, REALLY low budget porn.

Everywhere I go I hold a pile of crumbs in my hand. It really is the weirdest thing. Sometimes I don’t even know where they have come from. It think I spend like 25% of my day crawling around on the floor gathering things that my daughter has thrown or dropped. Sometimes when we go to a restaurant now and I see food on the floor  (other peoples food) I have to stop myself from picking it up. It’s like the act of having a kid has turned me into a human vacuum cleaner, I just can’t stop the impulse.

And forget about personal maintenance. I get dressed in the morning only to discover halfway through the day that I have a chunk of dried play dough hanging from my pants and an avocado handprint on my back. I haven’t had to buy new shampoo or conditioner in six months. Most of the time when I bathe I am too busy trying to entertain Sage with a game of shower curtain peeka-boo to even consider washing my hair.  And anything extra like applying lotion or makeup is completely out of the question. We had a houseguest staying with us and my daughter saw her using makeup. She was absolutely mesmerized. “What’s that?” she asked in complete wonderment having NEVER seen makeup before.

I have even begun instituting my old collage laundry rule: The clothes at the bottom of the basket are the cleanest. Because they are the ones you wore right after doing a fresh load of laundry. And you are always frivolous when the laundry is fresh. You are like “I’ve got all these clean clothes, I’m just gonna wear this pair of undies for like 45 minutes, just till I’m about to leave the house. And then I’ll change into another pair that makes my ass look better.” So…that means that when you’ve run out of clothes, all you have to do is fish around in the bottom of the basket and you’ll find something that is basically clean! It’s kind of magical!

My husband, daughter and I make glorious messes almost every day. We finger paint to music, we make concoctions in the kitchen, we use funnels to pour rice and sparkles into birthday balloons, we squeeze fruit with our bare hands to find out what kind of juice will come out. And I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. BUT after each of these messes I whisk Sage away to the tub for a bath while I myself continue to roam around basted in paint and sparkles and fruit juice for days. And sometimes it’s not because I can’t find the time. It’s because I have started residing in this alternate reality where all I can do is focus on weather or not my kid is eating enough chickpeas or weather or not I am showing her enough magic tricks or teaching her to be good at sharing and manipulating small objects. And in this reality clean clothes and sustenance and personal hygiene just don’t seem to take precedence.

So this incident with the nose picking and google maps really does need to serve as a wake up call.  This needs to be my second chance, my opportunity to get my groove back. Because despite the gross name, I do aspire to be a MILF or at least…presentable.

My daughter and I can often be found at the local maternity store. We visit several times a week so that she can play with the display babies. Usually the routine goes a little something like this: I go over to the crib where the display babies are modeling swaddling blankets and hand one down to Sage. She strips it naked and takes it around the store. She makes it ride the rubber horse, she feeds it with the bottles that they have for sale; she takes it up and down the ramp teaching it to walk.  She brings it over to the door and pushes it up against the glass saying,  “look baby cars, look baby moon, look baby trees” as if showing an inmate some tiny glimpse of everything she is missing. She puts it in a stroller and then a highchair. Then she drags it into a dressing room and pretends to change its diaper. As she goes about her routine something magical starts to happen around her. Everywhere all the parents-to-be who are roaming around looking for slings, and BPA free bottles stop what they are doing.  They become utterly distracted by her cuteness. They just lock in on Sage and stare and stare as she plays. They give this wide smile and these sort of longing eyes and I imagine that they are thinking, “This is my future…” As they linger on her, I know that they are hoping to catch her glance so that they can practice loving a kid. They want to interact. They want to connect. Then they look at me, sometimes they make a comment but usually they just give this lovely soft sigh.

Cut to today. Sage is reeling around the store with the display baby, she beelines for the bottles. She inspects each one and then tosses it on the floor. “No, no, no! The baby wants a different one!” she says as she rejects the bottles. Then she high tails it to the stroller display. There is a young couple getting a tutorial on how to strap in their future son or daughter. Sage walks right between them. She throws her baby into the stroller. Before I can reach her she pushes the stroller into the window display. All the other strollers begin to slide off of the little hill where they were so carefully mounted. I tell her “no”. She flails about. I know in my gut that she is moments away from a tantrum; this will be our first official tantrum in a public place. I make a last ditch effort to re-direct her energy. “Sage,” I say, “What if we go change the baby’s diapers!?!”  It is too late. She will have none of it.  I brace myself. Sage is now completely beside herself.

As she begins her melt down I look up and notice that both members of the “stroller couple” are actually averting their eyes. They are actively trying not to register this scene. The husband has directed all of his attention to a button on his coat. He rubs its edges like it is a worry stone. His brow is furrowed. The wife looks out the window and pats her pregnant belly, as if trying to calm her unborn child.  I wonder to myself what they might be thinking. I try to make eye contact but they aren’t interested in meeting my glance. Then all at once it dawns on me, they are thinking the exact same thing that all those other people were thinking all those times when Sage was being so cute and charming. They are thinking, “this is my future” it’s just that the subtext has totally changed. Before these words were filled with longing, they were filled with “I can’t wait”. This time they are full of anxiety and fear, they are filled with “holy shit!”

Someone once told me that when you are a parent, you are always in the process of “trading up”. He said “each time your child reaches a new phase you think to yourself, ‘this is the best,’ and then another phase comes along and it trumps the last.”  I’ve only been a parent for two years but so far this is absolutely true. It does keep getting better and better and better. Each day your kid discovers new ways to be herself and each day you discover new things to love about her. What he didn’t mention, however, is that in this process of “trading up” you actually GO UP, you actually CLIMB UP.  Sometimes you are climbing a reasonably sized hill, like something you’d find in San Francisco but sometimes you are climbing a mountain, and it’s a mountain like Everest or K2.  But unlike the professional climbers who usually frequent these mountains you don’t have a tank of oxygen or a Sherpa to help you along and give you advice like “I think there’s gonna be an avalanche.” So sometimes you are just trudging away and wham, you are in the middle of a whiteout. In thinking about this it makes me want to go back to that maternity store and find that couple who was probably going to drop $800 dollars on a stroller. I’d walk right up to them proudly bearing my two year old as she screams and flails in my arms. I’d just stand there and stare and stare until they finally got up the courage to look me in the eyes. Then I’d say with complete and utter sincerity, “fuck the stroller, buy a good pair of hiking boots and a tank of oxygen.”

Sage, JD, a lovely dinner guest, and I all sit together at the dinner table.  Sage tries to shove a blueberry up her nose. “No blueberries up there” I tell her. “It isn’t safe.” She pauses a moment and then tries for another one, this time with great force. “No.” I say putting more power behind the word. She pauses. She puts down the blueberry. Then, staring me in the eyes, she sticks her finger up her nose. “Yes,” I cheer, grateful for the fact that she has abandoned the blueberry, “Fingers are fine.” A few minutes later she picks up a piece of chicken sausage and has another go at her nose. “No” says JD. “No” I echo. “No food up there, only fingers.” JD sticks his own finger up his nose to demonstrate “Like this” he says. I join in. Then, reluctantly, as if not wanting to derail this parenting moment, the dinner guest does too.  We all sit there with our fingers up our noses. “Only fingers” we chant together. She takes it all in. She puts down the sausage. She shoves her finger up her nose like an obedient daughter who does not want to disappoint. We gaze at her proudly.

As we sit there, a multigenerational nose-picking bunch, I think to myself, “we are going to have to undo this lesson…”

This is not the first lesson that will need to be undone. I am actually amassing quite a list of ill-conceived teachable moments.

Like the other day… In my continued efforts to wean my daughter I offer the occasional bribe.  We lay in bed and she wailed as I tried to explain that there would be no more boobie for the afternoon.  She looked so sad and desperate and I felt so guilty for denying her that I said, “Well, there is no boobie… BUT…I have boobie chocolate!!”  She immediately stopped crying and looked up at me with these hopeful eyes.  “Yes, boobie chocolate” she yelped in delight, “Yes, yes!” I proceeded to take her into the kitchen and introduce her to my secret stash of holiday candy.  Now when I say “no boobie” she responds wistfully… “Boobie chocolate…?” Occasionally, in my weaker moments, I oblige.

Or there was the very stupid move I made when trying to get Sage to hurry out the back door so that we could make it to sing-along on time.  I stood at the top of the stairs and said, “run to mommy”.  Obediently she ran straight for me. Now when she sees me at the top of a staircase she shouts, “Run to mommy” and begins charging towards the staircase. The other day she ran towards me as I was halfway down the stairs. “STOP” I had to callout in utter horror. And then with equal horror, I thought to myself, “I taught her to do  this.” Now I clutch her with both arms every time we are anywhere near the stairs. “No running” I say in fear.

There is also the epic story of “Fuckin’ Christ” (read the “Watch you Mouth” post for chapter one of that tale). I have come to realize that she associates this phrase with tense moments in the car. SO when we get cut off or stop short at a light she asks, “You say Fuckin’ Christ mommy?”

“No I tell her. Mommy doesn’t say Fuckin’ Christ.”

“Fuckin’ Christ!” she yells as if doing me the favor of saying it for the both of us. Now when we go to the neighborhood gym which is full of ride-on toys like CARS she climbs in and starts pedaling her feet and shouting “ Fuckin’ Christ” like that is something you say in order to make a car go.

In looking back at this list (and this is really and truly just on small portion of the list) I feel like I should probably make a little timeline for “undoing”. First I should prioritize. The stair thing has got to be number one. If I don’t undo that one quickly my child may end up with a serious injury. Number two will have to be Fuckin’ Christ because sooner or later she is going to say it in the wrong crowd, and then I might end up with a serious injury. Then I think I’d have to rank boobie chocolate as the next priority because my daughter’s health is right up there with her safety and replacing nursing with chocolate is just plain bad news.  So that leaves nose picking as the lowest priority.  Because really nose picking does not become an issue till middle school when someone decides it’s gross and spreads the word and then anyone found nose picking gets labeled a social pariah. I certainly don’t want this for Sage but up against tumbling down a staircase, overdosing on sugar, and being charged with blasphemy I take nose picking. At least for now…