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Archive for May, 2007

The Snapper, ever eager to start solid food, samples some of Cousin Banana Girl’s Face

Is there anything better than the smell of cooked apples wafting through your house, carried on the breeze from an open kitchen window curtained in lace?

I just made 2 months’ worth of mashed bananas, avocado, and apple sauce for the freezer in about half an hour’s time. Yesterday morning I did two ice cube trays’ worth of sweet potatoes; minus the microwave time during which I did the dishes, it took about 5-10 minutes. This homemade baby food thing is cake. Well, it’s fruits, veggies, and whole grains, but it’s easy as pie. Pie without sugar. Anyway, I’m loving making the Snapper’s food. It’s all fresh and I love not giving any money to the baby industry (foodwise, that is). I love being in the kitchen anyway, and on a day like today, when the sky is blue, Quaker Oats is shut down for the holiday (which means our neighborhood is QUIET without the telltale roar across the river), it’s not-too-hot-not-too-cold and a nice breeze is blowing, it’s pure joy.

Yesterday we had a nice trip to see the Snapper’s basically-same-age neice and had a lovely time (especially the Snapper; see above).

It’s great to be alive.

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YUM

Running out of cereal is that best thing that’s happened to me and breakfast in quite some time.  I made the below (completely on the fly!) and it was so good I almost cried.

Into warmed brown rice, mix the following to taste:

olive oil

flax seeds

pureed apple

crumbled feta

cardamom

pinch salt

Enjoy! If you have the apples and rice on hand it comes together in about a minute and a half.

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I am a tee-shirts and jeans kind of gal. I get bored blow-drying my hair and I’m bad at using the round brush so I don’t do it. Lately it goes up into a bun where little hands can’t yank it out of my head. I only put makeup on when I’m leaving the house and sometimes not even then. I tweeze intermittently, when the mood strikes. I’ve never figured out how to put together a smart-looking wardrobe that doesn’t cost a lot of money, and since I’ve never had a lot of money, I’ve never had a smart-looking wardrobe.

The above has a lot to do with being lazy but even more to do with privilege. I don’t have to worry that someone will see my raggedy ass and look down his or her nose at me (at least not in this neighborhood, in this city). I don’t live in that impossible space where if you don’t look good people cluck and say, “no wonder she can’t get a job, she’s so raggedy, she should really care more about her appearance, it’s her fault she’s poor,” and if you look fabulous people cluck and say, “if she spent her money on resume paper instead of that new weave she’d be able to get a job, I can’t believe my money goes towards getting her nails done [sidebar: who in their right mind thinks welfare is enough for this type of bullshit? too many people get miseducated by talk radio]” Of course I do dress up if I’m going to meet with professors or go to even a temp job, but day-to-day I can wear the same pair of jeans for a week and nobody will say boo.

Similarly, if my kid wears a stained onesie it’s because I’m a busy mother and kids are just messy, right? It’s not because I’m unfit and someone really should take those kids and put them with a mother who will do their laundry and clean their faces, for goodness’ sake. For the record, I’m talking about race and class both here. I may not be donning makeup but I have teeth that silently attest to excellent dental care, a face that I’m told looks years my junior (good nutrition, clean water), and as soon as I open my mouth my education is there for everyone to see. And despite the fact that I look a little young I am clearly not a teen mother, and my wedding ring says that my kid is not from one of those (gasp!) ‘broken homes.’

Since we plan on adopting where the need is, we will most likely end up with a non-Caucasian child. If fact, we prepared for not-Boomer to the point that we really feel a not-Boomer shaped hole in our family, so we’re most drawn to a transracial kind of situation. And we still feel good about our ability to do that kind of parenting. But we’re also still learning and I see this extra time as a gift to think even more about the implications.

Some people have been posting about the importance of hair and appearance for adoptees of color (please don’t kill me for being too lazy to link–the latest one was a link from another blog I link and I can’t find it again) and I am in full agreement that because hair is so loaded for a lot of black people it’s crucial for white parents to learn how to do it correctly, and also that appearance in general can communicate, “I care enough about my child to make sure she looks good.” Because I understand that we live in a world that looks at my son and says, “cute! bananas smashed on a baby’s face is adorable!” but will look at my other son(s) or daughter(s) and say, “see, black people are dirty and irresponsible.” Or, if he/she is Asian, “I thought Asians were supposed to be perfectly clean and neat. What’s wrong with this one?” Now I realize there are about a thousand nuances to the above but the general racism, no matter how seemingly innocuous, means that color and class very often come into play with kids and their appearance in public. And I am 100% OK with putting aside my laziness about my own appearance to make sure my kids don’t have to constantly put up with judgments about their hair and clothes on top of everything else, most of which I can’t control. A lot of this is shorthand and if you want me to expand it I can, but it’s not the main point of the post.

What I’m getting to is that Attic Man and I have to start thinking about how to parent the Snapper with our future family plans NOW. I was lurking on a POC (people of color) message board once and someone was saying that because black kids are judged very harshly for any bad behavior (even to the point of being put in special ed at far greater rates even when no learning disability or mental problem is present), it’s OK for a parent of both black and white children to have a double standard. I was horrified that anyone would think it’s OK to have different behavioral standards for your kids just because the social consequences are different. When you have people of color in your family, you give up some privileges. So what if the Snapper is not going to get followed around by security guards in a department store? If his brother can’t horse around neither can he. We can’t do anything about the inequities outside, but we sure as hell aren’t going to replicate them in our own home.

Which takes me to appearance, and is why I’m carefully screening the Snapper’s clothing for stains and making sure there’s no dried banana on his face before we leave the house (at home, the onesie is king). I want to get used to, and get him used to, giving up the privilege of looking raggedy. Believe me, if we weren’t planning on adding to our family in this particular way, I wouldn’t expend the energy. But I don’t want him to hit four or five and all of the sudden have a different set of standards.

One of the things I’m juggling mentally is how to accomplish all of this without reinforcing materialism and commercialism or shallow appearance-ism. What I’m going to teach my kids is that being well groomed and behaved communicates self-respect to people. Until they get to know you, it’s all they have to go on. You have to make sure that how you feel about yourself on the inside gets heard on the outside. It’s NOT going to be about brand names or the latest of anything. It’s going to be about being neat and clean (and hopefully creative) and that’s all. Maybe they’ll get teased for not having the latest $400 sneakers but not for being unkempt, and I’m OK with that. As far as I’m concerned the former is a rite of passage, but the latter is avoidable, and completely in keeping with our family’s values. I’m alright with them internalizing that their family is old-fashioned or uncool but not that they’re dirty or bad.

Sorry, Snapper, but I’m already taking away privileges 🙂

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What my blog is not

It was a nice idea, that well-crafted-essay crap.  Two problems: 1) I am not an essayist, except in the narrowist sense related to my profession; and 2) I have at least fifty things in the air every day that are not my blog and I can no longer afford the mental/emotional space angsting about it takes.  Lots of you have, say, two hundred balls in the air and blog brilliantly, and I am in awe of you.  But I can’t be you.  Despite the fact that writing is my  bread and butter (well, at the moment I am paying for the privilege) it does not, and never has, come easily for me.  I write one paragraph at a time–sometimes one sentence–before I have to take a walk, do a load of dishes, call for reinforcements (hi, Robin!), space out in front of some brainless sitcom, etc.  I delete a lot.  I utter the words, “well that is stupid/reductive/cliche” at least once a page.  It’s hard, and I love it.  I just don’t want to do it here.

I think this blog works best when it is nothing more than an outlet.  Blogging for me, I’m coming to realize, is about clearing out the mental clutter so I can get on with my day.  I’m no good at just working things out internally.  I have to splatter my guts everywhere to get anywhere.  If I’m working on anything mentally and I don’t figure out how to write or talk it out it gets in the way and I end up having a day like today, where during the baby’s nap I read an essay for my first dissertation chapter, flip through my notes, decide the endeavor is worthless and that I will never have anything original to say about my topic and spend the rest of my precious work time wandering aimlessly around the house, alternately randomly decluttering to convince myself I’m not wasting time and staring out the window at Quaker Oats and wondering how the hell I found myself in (a place I actually love), fucking Iowa.

Mainly I am tired of the pressure I put on myself to write well here.  This is not, thank God, the writing that I hope will get me a job, or that will change somebody’s life.  I am not an accomplished or polished personal essayist.  I am a woman with a husband, baby, two dogs, and a dissertation.  I spend my days doing the balancing act like everybody else.  When things spill over and get messy, I write. If it’s good, great!  If it’s not, well, I can’t afford that little knot in my stomach.  It will have to wait in line after the constant guilt of parenthood, never getting enough schoolwork done, trying to be anticapitalist (ha!), whether or not to save baby bunnies who are going to die anyway (dumb, dumb, dumb), trying to keep up with friends…

In essence, I have a hard enough time feeling good about myself.  I’m tired of making my blog just another one of those things I’m failing at.

Mainly I like blogging because it connects me to other people who I admire and who have interesting and important things to say.  I have to give up trying so hard to be admirable and to say something earth-shattering every day.  I have to teach my kid how to be OK with himself at the same time that I’m teaching him to make friends with people who are better than you (this is what I’ve done, and I’m the better for it: if you are my friend rest assured I say you and said, “wow–that person is amazing”).

So next I’m going to write about preparing to be an adoptive family and it’s going to involve some intellectual inconsistences and maybe some typos and I’m not going to stress (and please don’t hesitate to point them out–I am still more than fine with honing my intellectual skills even though I’m not going to stress over how they are manifest here).

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May have time to get this all out before naptime is over. Since the Snapper runs the show round here, it’s always a gamble.

Whattayaknow? just heard some fusses. Let’s see if they go away.

Hum. He’s awake.

Post soon on motherhood and saving bunnies.

Wait. It’s quiet again. (don’t you love this blogging in real time?)

Motherhood has changed me in all sorts of surprising ways, from strengthening traits I was weak on (patience, ability to multitask, efficiency and productivity, and necessarily, humor) to supressing those I can no longer afford to indulge (selfishness, tendency to sleep in till noon, love for television and eating while food is still hot). Mainly, though, I’ve found that it has made me more me, amplified. For instance, we’re starting solids this week, and of course I went to the library to check out every book they had on feeding infants and of course I’ve chosen the incredible, encyclopedic “Super Baby Food” full of whole grain and vegetabley homemade goodness to guide the Snapper’s diet. I can’t afford to jump on and off the health train anymore; the child needs consistency, so I’m going to have to pretend I’m good at sticking with it.

Anyway. I’ve always been partial to Life issues, which for me run the gamut from abortion to animal treatment and hit poverty on a fairly regular basis. I don’t have a very complex or nuanced sense of the need to protect life. It’s probably the only thing in my world I can say that about. Survival is the most fundamental drive we have, and the obligation to allow others to do the same is crucial. The decision to let one another live (and prosper, not just hang on gauntly) is the only thing that keeps us from degenerating into war, violence, and cruelty. Of course we, as individuals, communities, nations, etc. haven’t done a very good job of it, ever. It’s a sad irony that while we all have the innate drive for survival on an individual basis we seem to have a death-drive as a species (why else would we be destroying our air and water?).

When I got pregnant I didn’t get a lick of morning sickness but I did get physically ill at even the mention of violence on television. Fictional stuff was bad enough, but when it came to real-life violence on the news and such I was done. I had to leave the house for Attic Man to watch Deadwood (which was a pity; great show) or The Shield. I couldn’t stand to hear about Iraq. I did, of course; I felt an obligation to know, and to see, so that I would never get comfortable with it.

Then the babe came and fictional violence was easier, but now anything real-world sends my heart to the basement. Because now, everyone is someone’s baby. It was intellectually true for me before, but now I feel it in a visceral place, in a way that makes me feel inextricably connected to the fabric of everything and everyone else. Watching someone, anyone suffer or die, or even hearing about it, is watching my own child suffer or die. There’s an empathy there now that knocks me over. It’s a bit like the contractions that I thought might lift me right up off the floor. It’s possession via motherhood.

Most days I’m good at keeping those emotions in check so that I can function, do my work, take care of my kid. I try to avoid images that will send me wallowing (because what good is feeling bad about it? it’s what we do with those feelings that matter…I will not collapse into pity) and I check myself before I picture the same happening to my baby.

But then there’s the little baby rabbit under the grill, and it’s squealing desperately in the mouth of my dog. And I am yelling at my dog to drop the tiny, struggling ball of fur, and then yelling at the other dog who has picked it up after the other has dropped it. Miraculously, he is dropping it and I am holding them by their collars, watching the small body rise and fall on the walkway, trying to figure out what to do with it, the dogs, and the Snapper. After putting the dogs in the other side of the yard and barracading it, putting on gloves (all with the baby in his seat in the yard, watching wide-eyed and open-mouthed), and grabbing a piece of newspaper, I am carrying the body, with wide eyes and a mouth that is searching for its mother’s teat, across the street, where I am hollowing out a place in the mulch under a bush so that it can die in peace and not in the jaws of another animal.

It makes me wonder why I am so OK with killing animals for food when there are other ways to eat that are actually better for our bodies anyway, and how easily I don’t eat meat (except for fish) but don’t press on the cruelty issues. It’s partly a matter of that overwhelmed feeling I get when I take on too many social issues at once, but really, when I’m holding the warm body of an infant rabbit in my palm it’s hard to say, “let someone else take care of it.”

The rabbit probably faced death anyway–there we no other rabbits under the grill (you bet I checked) and its mother was nowhere in sight. Still, I didn’t want to watch it die being pulled apart by two dogs (who routinely lick my own baby’s face).

I’m blown away by my reaction and wondering what it means for how I choose to live from now on. Will I give up fish, too? Will I try to insist that Attic Man only eat kosher/free range/ organic meat (or will I decide that my gastronomical ethics are my own?)? The universe is trying to tell me something, I’m sure…

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I’ve been struggling with confidence issues surrounding my work again, as most of us do in academics (I’ve asked widely and apparently the “I’m a fraud” thing is the monkey on everyone’s back).  I have been working steadily, though of course not nearly as much as I’d like, which will always be the case no matter how much time I have to devote to it (oh, to have read and understood everything!).  I have a decent pile of notes.  I have been making progress.

But I have this dirty little secret, and it is that I approach each new poem I read exactly the same way I did when I was an undergraduate student cowed by the intellectual prowess of my professors: with unmitigated, unabashed, abject fear.  My first reading of most poems (most really good poems; instant clarity is best left for journalism, creative non-fiction, criticism, and the like, which is arguable, but can we leave this thread hanging for now?) fills me with dread.  The words swim on the page like schoolless fish, fish that bite at your ankles.  The poem sucks every last bit of oxygen out of the room and I immediately go into fight or flight.  I wish my fight or flight went something like this: “Do I want to pull out my poetry-reading tools and knuckle down to work on this or should I have a pint of ice cream and watch Judging Amy?”  Instead, it goes something like this: “I am stupid.  I am too stupid to do this work.  I was stupid to think I could ever do this work.  I am not smart enough to read all but the most hackeneyed and unoriginal poems with any understanding.  I don’t know enough about poetry to read this poem.  I don’t know enough about French/Irish/African history to read this poem.  I don’t know enough about Symbolism to read this poem.  Maybe I can ignore all these thoughts and pull out my poetry-reading tools and read it anyway.  Maybe if I pretend I’m not afraid the monsters will go away and I will be able to read this poem.”

Then I read the poem, and it is hard, and I start to make observations, just like I teach my students to do.  I tell myself to just notice things, and when I notice things, I connect them to other things I’ve noticed.  Then I remember something I’ve read (a cause for great rejoicing!) that helps me read the poem in a way that makes the endeavor worth continuing.  …until the next line or stanza.  Then the abject fear takes over again and the internal angst returns.  It is exhausting.

On the other hand, reading a poem with another person in a class (or with students, most especially), is transcendent.  Pure joy.  It is pleasure the likes of which I get doing nothing else.  I am astounded by others’ readings, bowled over by their observations.  All of the sudden my own excellent readings make their way into the conversation.  We make something of the poem, together.  Sometimes the poem resists us, but when it does we know it is the poem doing the resisting, not the failure of intellect or memory.  Fear doesn’t enter the room.  Fight becomes play, flight becomes transport.

Here’s something you may not know about ADD if it doesn’t shape your life the way it does mine: it makes us psychic vampires, creatures that need other people’s energy to live.  Ideas come to me while I’m talking and interacting, not while I’m sitting with a pen in my hand (and if they do, it’s because I have learned to simulate a conversation in order to generate them).  I get passion, energy, and insight from being with other people.  It is killing my work to be doing it alone.

I am not stupid.  I am smart enough to be in my program (I passed my exams, didn’t I?) and smart enough to finish this dissertation and get a decent job doing what I love with other smart people.  I have mistaken the need for interaction and conversation with inadequacy; I need a network to complete the circuit.  Of course I am going insane–I left my entire social/intellectual framework behind to do my work alone on the prairie.  For four years I went to classes, taught classes, met professors and peers for coffee.  Why should I be surprised at coming unglued?

I guess what I need to do is to find willing hosts.  Any suggestions?  I have the U of I but I can’t begin to know how to meet people in my field (I once thought of begging the library to tell me who had to give up the Beckett books I recalled) or look for discussion groups.  OR I need to learn how not to be a vampire.  Probably I need to do both.

Probably now I need to get back to that book.

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New Direction

I’m tired of reading my own writing about the mundane details of sleep and poopy diapers, especially since there are so many great blogs out there that do it better than I do it here.  I have no desire to piggyback on a genre–I’d rather contribute.

To that end I’m going to try a more essayistic approach.  I love Better Make It a Double and Crunchy Granola for their thoughtful reflections, and I’d like to see if I can pull something similar off.

I’d like to write one well-crafted essay a week.  I’m sure there will be lots about parenting but hopefully I can make something of it, which was always my intention…somehow I got lost in writing about stuff better suited to the boards of pregnancy.org.

I’m in the thick of reading about modernism so I don’t have any topics in mind at present, except maybe thinking about my 30s and how I’d like to stop angsting and just start DOING for once, for goodness’ sake.

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