toddler

Your Sister’s Ghost

It is 6:30 pm, Father’s Day is tomorrow, and we have nothing ready for your dad. To be honest, I was relying on your daycare teachers – for Mother’s Day, they helped you make this adorable and extensive art project that I completely love – but it seems like they don’t feel the same about dads. Your dad is a particularly chill one and not into fake holidays, but still, we have to do something. Or rather, you have to do something – I have to cook dinner.

“Why don’t you draw a picture of MommyDaddyLewis for Daddy’s special day tomorrow?” I suggest.

You run with this idea, literally, straight to your art table where you pull out a piece of blue paper and some markers. I wait until you’re settled then return to the kitchen to boil water for pasta.

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A few minutes later, I walk back in and glance at the three figures you’ve drawn in the middle of the page. I’m impressed; they’re the most detailed, complete images you’ve ever made, and I’m ready to burst forth in motherly praise. But before I say anything, you start drawing another figure in the top left corner, smaller than the rest of us and clearly separate. Without prompting or even a word from me, you say, “That’s my sister.”

“What?” I reply, taken aback.

“My sister.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes.”

I am stunned. We haven’t talked about Baby Wow since right after I lost her six months ago now. We actually haven’t talked about siblings at all since then. While her recent due date certainly triggered many things inside of me, I’ve been very careful not to mention this around you. In fact, I never even told you she was a girl. I first shared with you that I was pregnant when she was eleven weeks in utero, but then had to tell you just one week later that she wouldn’t be born. You were sad, but only for a couple of days. By the time the genetic test results came back and we’d learned her gender, you were long over it.

Thinking back to those days surrounding the procedure still hurts. But I have to put my own emotions aside so that I can be present and explore this moment with you. I don’t want to put words in your mouth or sway your thoughts in any way, so I decide to begin with, “Do you have a sister?”

“Yes,” you reply in the same intonation as an older kid might say, Duh.

“Okay. Where is she?”

“Here,” you say, tapping your drawing of her.

“I see. So do you have a sister for real, or just in the picture?”

Seriously and without hesitation, you say, “For real.”

“In real life, or just pretend?”

“In real life, Mommy.” I can sense the annoyance seeping into your voice, but I decide to push on just a little more.

“Okay, where is she for real?” 

“Mommy, she’s right here,” you say, pointing to the air beside you.

Lew's Family Portrait 2018.JPG

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Bamboozled

Did you know that toothbrushes are immortal? Unlike human beings, plastic toothbrushes keep on living even underneath tons of pounds of garbage. They keep on living even inside the bellies of dead dolphins. They keep on living even as they float all the way across the ocean until they wash up on Taiwanese beaches. Then, they keep on living even after they’ve become sculptures in the sand.

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— ◊ —

The past six months have tried to end me. The life I once lived in which I wrote, mothered, taught, sang, performed, took politic action, and somehow also relaxed, has been shattered. Instead of making art, going out, or sleeping, I’ve learned firsthand about anencephaly, the gray area of sexual harassment, and municipal regulations on basement apartments. I’ve dealt with wild hormonal swings. I’ve worked my ass off for a job I was promised that ultimately didn’t exist, then found myself in an uncomfortable situation when I said no more. I’ve packed, moved, unpacked, re-packed, re-moved, and re-unpacked – all with a cat, two dogs, and a busy-bee toddler who recently dropped nap.

I’ve never felt this much rage before, and while it has cracked me open in important ways, it has also shaken me to my core. My mind has raced in circles. My muscles have morphed into a single knot of tension. And my anxiety, after eighteen years of treatment, has found a new way to express itself: my throat is clenched tight, leaving my voice strained and hoarse, my neck and teeth throbbing with each heartbeat.

— ◊ —

Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the word? It is also one of the sneakiest. Its roots can run underground for over twenty feet before popping up again as a new shoot, called a culm. These culms then grow up to three feet a day for the next 120 years, sending their own runners out to sprout up in surprising, faraway places.

About three to five years after its initial sprouting, a culm can then be harvested and transformed into basically anything: food, medicine, toys, rugs, clothes, bikes, houses, roads, bridges. In fact, bamboo can withstand twice as much force as concrete and can hold up to 16 tons of weight. It can also cure cancer.

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— ◊ —

Becoming a mom has turned my home into a plastic palace. I look around the living room of my new new apartment, a place I hope will last much longer than the three months we spent in our illegal new apartment, and identify eleven items that will never die.

The bathroom isn’t any better. Three toothbrushes stick out from inside a plastic cup. A plastic bin filled with plastic toys is propped precariously on the lip of the tub. I move it to the floor, out of sight, then run hot water for a bath, but as I soak my stress-induced hemorrhoids and eat the M&Ms intended to aid in my toddler’s potty regression, I can’t relax; plastic is still very much on my mind. Also on my mind: pregnant women who’ve been denied access to proper health care, immigrants who’ve been detained for going to work, animals whose homes have been destroyed by loggers. I lament my now inactive Quick Action email list, my abandoned blog, the phone calls to senators I never placed. The enormous task of surviving my day-to-day has been all consuming, and while the depths of my strength have truly amazed and buoyed me up, I also feel like a failure of an activist.

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— ◊ —

Did you know that toothbrush bristles were once made from boar hair? Of course they contained loads of unhealthy bacteria, not to mention the moral issue of how these pigs were treated before they became tooth-brushing tools, yet, because animal hair is biodegradable and nylon is not, this is the only completely decomposable option presented thus far.

There are scientists who have dedicated their entire careers toward dissecting the greater impact of a single bristle. I think of these people out there in the world and feel the knot inside of me loosen a little.

— ◊ —

I’ve always approached my activism from the angle of who needs it the most, but for the first time, I’m now approaching it from the angle of what I can most reasonably do. I am not ready to jump back into the strict schedule that once worked for me, and perhaps I never will be, perhaps that life wasn’t sustainable with or without my recent crises, but either way, here I am, dealing with effects of events that, though they’ve calmed, are still very much present: an unfulfilled due date, a static career and lingering sense of violation, an unresolved case with the Department of Buildings.

I will never solve all of the world’s problems. I will never even solve all of my own problems. But as I hold my recently purchased bamboo toothbrush and move its brand new form of bristles around my teeth, I realize, I don’t need to.

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— ◊ —

You can buy your own set of bamboo toothbrushes by clicking here. And if you need some more motivation to start the long process of giving up plastic, check out Margaret Atwood’s compelling piece in the Guardian.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bamboo
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Herb
Brush with Bamboo
The Bamboo Solution
15 Creative Uses of Bamboo

Photo Credits:
1. Flotsam and Jetsam by F Delventhal
2. Bamboo by Serlunar

Living / Screaming / Trying

Love wins, we say, and I believe it. But hate is powerful, too.

When my anger over the sexism I’ve simply swallowed in the past week, past month, past year, past lifetime, bubbles up and makes me want to scream, I look at pictures of my dogs until it passes. Often, animals exhibit more humanity than we humans do.

But now I’m thinking I should be screaming more often.

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I am raising a son. My God, I have a son. There are so many things he must know and do. There is so much work ahead of us.

I wish it were a better world.

Is it enough that I am trying?

This Fine Life

“She started shakin’ to that fine fine music,” I sing along to the record as Lew and I dance hand-in-hand around our living room. He’s smiling brilliantly, hopping back and forth on his tiny toddler feet, throwing our arms up and down in an arrhythmic expression of joy. I’ve always loved to dance but never before motherhood did I just burst forth like this.

Lew Dancing.JPG

His ecstasy is contagious and in spite of all the freedom motherhood took away, being a mother has also freed me. We lose ourselves and I feel so full of love, love for this song and this kid and this life, and I don’t understand how my breastbone and thin skin manage to hold
the hugeness of my heart.

How We Tell (and Edit) Our Stories

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the micro memoir. I’m a wordy writer (and person in general), and I typically fall victim to over-explaining my ideas in an effort to be extra sure that what I’m trying to say is understood. This often results in clunky sentences and unnecessary repetition, not to mention how time-consuming it is. When I edit both my fiction and nonfiction, I try hard to channel my inner Hemingway and delete, delete, delete. Focus on the power of what is left unsaid. Except I’m bad at leaving things unsaid.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make when it comes to the mood and tone of our stories, about the language we use silently in our minds versus the language we share with our mouths and our fingers. So much of how we see the world, our place in it, ourselves in general, is our own choice, and this is so deeply affected by the way we frame our own stories. Yet how much of this framing really is our choice? How much of our personal narrative comes from our parents their parents, and their parents? How much comes from early childhood memories we don’t remember but feel like we remember because our family has remembered them for us? From our genetic makeup, from the makeup of our neighborhoods, from the makeup we put on before we go out into the world?

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Last year, Lew loved the ocean water. He would run into it and shout with glee, jump, splash, run away, run back. This summer he is two-years-old and has developed the capacity to fear. Now when he goes close to the water, he freezes and screams, partly playful, mostly afraid. He loves it when I carry him in, he’ll beg me to go deep enough that the waves splash against his delicious round belly, yet he clings to me so tightly that I can let go of him and he doesn’t even slip down my torso. The other day, as he and I were digging holes in the sand and filling them up again, my friend asked me if Lew liked the water and I said, “Oh he loves it but he’s also scared of it. It’s a new development this year. I hope it doesn’t last long.” Later that afternoon, Lew and I walked to the shore hand-in-hand and then right when we approached the ocean’s edge, he stopped, scrunched his nose and eyes together, reached his arms to me and cried, “Mommy, up, up, I scared of ocean water!” He had never used the word scared before.

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In thinking about my story, Lew’s story, the story of my family, and the tiny pieces that come together to make up these stories, I am deeply grateful for all the things I get to experience. Yet at the same time, I am deeply exhausted. An editor might say that my story is going in too many directions.

Leave more unsaid.

I’m reminded of Rivka Galchen’s book Little Labors, a beautiful, unique collection of short essays about new motherhood. I feel like these snippets, these micro memoirs, capture the reality of our existence so well. In the end, isn’t life really just little pieces of memory put together and called a whole?

The Terrible/Terrific Twos


Lew is two-years-old now, and it’s like he received a text message on the night of his second birthday: Time to be terrible! Literally the next morning, his tantrums escalated from the occasional, short bursts of frustration that marked the past few months, to long, frequent, very loud, full-blown screeching, in the morning, the afternoon, bed time, any time. The craziest things set him off, completely nonsensical to us but SO REAL to him, and then, as quickly as he goes off, he comes back. “All done crying now,” he said the other day, quite calmly despite the fact his little neck vein was still taut and his face still red and tear-streaked from screaming only seconds earlier.

But, the other side of being a terrible two is all the amazing developmental leaps. He helps with the chores (like, actually helps), talks nonstop, recognizes letters and numbers, even pranks us (seriously – he hides our keys! – which is funny when it happens to Dave but not so funny when it happens to me). We’ve got an actual boy on our hands who does all the things an actual boy should be doing, and that’s a good exciting thing.

At least this is what I tell myself. And, as you probably guessed, it doesn’t provide much comfort in the middle of an outburst. So here I am, blogging about the ridiculousness of toddlerhood so that we can all laugh at Lew’s expense and thus make me feel better about having made the decision to create a sweet, beautiful baby that turned into a Jekyll and Hyde toddler monster.

Mr. Hyde: Top Ten Reasons Why Lew Was VERY ANGRY This Week

10. He ate all of the blueberries in one sitting – literally the whole pint. When I said that we’d go to the store later to buy more, he lost it. “Noooo, I want Mama go buy bluebeggies NOW!”

9. The dog walked into the room and sat on her bed. The bed that was way across the room from where Lew was playing. The bed that Lew has never expressed interest in before or since.

8. I gave him banana/milk/water/puzzle when he asked for it. (This happens so often with so many things, and it drives me crazy).

7. We went to the park instead of riding the subway to nowhere.

6. I took a sip of my coffee.

5. After watching 28 videos of sea lions, YouTube loaded a dolphin video. “NO! I WANT SEAYIYON!”

4. I refused to eat the soggy, chewed-up piece of rice cracker he’d taken out of his mouth and thrust in my face.

3. He got cream cheese on his finger while eating a bagel. (This one was particularly pathetic because it happened every time he took a bite until he finally finished the bagel, which was a feat considering the amount of screaming/crying/tears/snot.)

2. I sang “pat your head” instead of “nod your head” during If You’re Happy and You Know It.

1. I took off his poopy pants and suggested that he put on pajamas. “NO JAMAS! I want sleep pants wit poop!”

Dr. Jekyll: Conversations With Lew

Cuddling in his bed on the night of his zoo birthday party where we spent over 45 minutes watching sea lions.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me: Yeah, we saw sea lions at the zoo today.
Lew: Mama, seayiyons go poop.
Me: Yep, sea lions poop.
Lew: Seayiyons go poop make mess.
Me: I guess?
Lew: Poop on floor.
Me: A lot of animals poop on the ground, it’s true.
Lew: MAMA!
Me: What?
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP IN AGUA!
Me: Yes, I suppose they do.
Lew: No no no, Mama! Seayiyons go poop make mess in agua!
Me: Oh, it’s okay. There are zookeepers, the people who work at the zoo, who take care of the sea lions and clean up their water.
Lew: People clean up mess agua.
Me: Yep, they clean it up.
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP AGUA MAKE MESS CLEAN UP PEOPLE POOP SEAYIYONS MESS AGUA CLEAN UP SEAYIYONS –
Me: Lewis.
Lew: Mama.
Me: It’s time to go night night.
Lew: Okay. Night night.
Me: Night night, my love.

Six seconds later

Lew: Mama?
Me: What, dear.
Lew: Monkeys!
Me: No honey, it’s night night.
Lew: Mama, monkeys!
Me: Okay, fine, what about the monkeys?
Lew: Monkeys trees!
Me: Yes, monkeys live in trees.
Lew: Monkeys go poop in trees!
Me: Probably some of them do.
Lew: Monkeys poop trees.
Me: I’m so glad you had fun today. Happy birthday, baby.
Lew: Lewis birfday.
Me: Yep. And now, it’s time to go night night.
Lew: Time go night night.
Me: You got it. I love you, honey.
Lew: I wub oo.
Me: I love you!
Lew: I wub oo!
Me: You’re the best.
Lew: Monkeys go poop trees!
Me: Okay. I’m gonna get up now and give you a kiss and you’re gonna go night night by yourself, okay?
Lew: Okay! Night night, Mama.
Me: Night night.

I give him a kiss, walk halfway across the room.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me:
Lew: Mama, seayiyons!
Me: Goodnight, Lewis.

I leave the room and close the door.

Lew: Seayiyons! In the agua!

This Extreme Love

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Dave and I recently took our first vacation without Lew, a glorious five days in Los Angeles in which our main concerns were how bad the traffic was on this or that road, if we needed a sweater or could get away with just a t-shirt, and if my new diaphragm felt better or worse than condoms. Yes, we missed Lew like hell, and we even missed our pets, our home, and our busy New York life, to the point that by day four I woke up feeling melancholy, but that California sun, the crisp Pacific water, the happy hour cocktails and fresh fish tacos and the not at all worrying about things like nap time or diaper rashes or how many hours had passed since we last let the dogs out, was enough to dampen the longing. I spent the week relishing in my husband, in the beautiful, sexy ways he smiles, laughs, talks, and I let myself feel everything that bubbled up, the love and happiness, the angst and anxiety, the joy and the fear, and I thought, Whoa, it is such a luxury to just be able to sit here and think and feel. I’d never before considered ruminating to be a luxury, but in my regular life where someone needs something every thirty seconds, it’s nearly impossible to follow a thought through to its end. Passing all that time just breathing and thinking felt lavish.

~

Ever since I can remember, I’ve operated under the idea that I was supposed to make everyone happy. In order to do this, I had to be perfect. People loved me because I was pretty and nice and smart, and it was my duty to be all of these things so that they could be happy. I honestly don’t remember a time in which I didn’t feel this way. In fact, I distinctly remember being four-years-old, emerging from the basement of my childhood home into a kitchen crowded with family members, and delivering a serious but also sarcastic speech about the food we’d just eaten (yes, I was a hyper-verbal preschooler who used sarcasm). At that young of an age, I knew I’d said something funny and that I wanted to be funny, but even more so, I’d said something serious and wanted to be taken seriously. But when everyone laughed and no one engaged me in a real discussion, I burst into tears. Mom rushed over, gripped me in a tight hug, and said, “Honey, that was funny, we’re just laughing because you’re so smart, not because we’re making fun of you.” This made total sense to me, and I remember formulating the idea for the first time that it was okay if people laughed at me without understanding what I’d said, because laughing meant I’d make them happy.

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This idea came to rule my life. Getting straight A’s, being first chair in band, memorizing verses for Sunday school, cleaning the house, learning to cook, reading college-level novels when I was 12 but also still playing with the dolls Mom had bought me – all of this meant everyone else was happy and therefore I was good. Sure, some of this was motivated by my personal likes (reading and cooking have always been favorite activities of mine), but there was a constant current of pleasing others that ran underneath all of it.

Of course it exploded. How could it not? I was primed for an eating disorder and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just was.

~

After years of working on the project of myself and my life, I’d made my way to the milestone of the first vacation as a new mom without the kid. My husband and I were lounging in Topanga Canyon on a breezy spring day, surrounded by horses, donkeys, birds, and roosters, listening to our friend tell a story about walking his dog with a neighbor who he later realized was Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks. I laughed and then turned inward as he moved onto an anecdote about Gary Busey. I noticed that I felt heavy, emotionally weighed down somehow, but also excited and inspired and eager to be creative, and I realized that all that hippie shit about California and its vibes is so real, like straight up totally for real. Somehow, the strange land of Los Angeles is genuinely healing, filled with an indescribable magic that vibrates in your bones, yet is also completely consuming, devouring, even devastating. No wonder people do so many drugs.

IMG_0456I couldn’t put these feelings into words and I didn’t even try (a rare moment in my life). Instead, I just sat in them and let the vibrations do their thing. I thought about my own healing process, my own magic and potential, my own ability to consume myself. Out of all the remaining pieces of “residue,” as I like to call my old bad patterns and habits, the idea that other peoples’ happiness is my responsibility is the hardest to kick. I’ve made progress with this, but it’s an ongoing struggle.

My brain wandered on to how crazy it is to have a child, to have this part of yourself walking around outside of you, how being separated from it is so relieving yet also terrifying. I thought about how much parenthood has changed me, how it’s brought me closer to my understanding of humanity, closer to my core. I see so much of myself in Lew. The way we both move through an empty room, the way we love Dave, the way we need to talk. He’s got my boundless energy, my desire to help and please, my fast-paced brain, my passion to express and to learn. “I’m running in a circle, running in a circle, running in a circle!” he shouted one day as he literally ran in circles.

Oh dearest Lew, you act out the inner workings of my mind, I thought as a rooster crowed somewhere in the canyon hills. But I will teach you how to breathe and to meditate and to reign this all in. Our kind of mind is a power and a curse, and I’m going to teach you how to use it. The real gift is in accepting how the you and the now are always changing, and just letting that be.

~

The sunbathing, hiking, ocean swimming, sexing, thinking, feeling, breathing, all did me good. I left LA relaxed, refreshed, eager to tune in to the NYC vibes I love yet take for granted, ready to reunite with my family and bring this tranquility home to them.

But then, within a mere three hours of picking everyone up from the grandparents, I found myself with Lew’s poop on my pants, a dog peeing in the house, my keys dangling from outside the apartment door, my shoulders tense and tight, Dave unreachable at work, and I thought, “THIS is what I missed???”

I took a deep breath. Yes, this imperfect life with its messy emotions, these constant yet gratifying responsibilities, this extreme love, this is what I missed.

Baz&Lew