Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just got back from my first yoga class in a looooong time. It was okay. No sun salutations, thank god, I never would have survived. I am coming down with a cold however and experienced the delightful sensation of impending head explosion each time I bent over. Still, it's good to be back in it.
Poor M is hacking away in the bedroom, the origin of this nasty little virus. Actually, his coughing is driving me crazy because 1) it wakes the baby and 2) it wakes me, too. My sympathy is predicated on more sleep than I'm getting these days.
Gabriel is 4 months old, and just got a whole passel of shots yesterday. He has been one unhappy little boy for the last day or so. Lots of crying, fussing, and a little knot on his chubby thigh. I don't have enough energy for my vaccine rant tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

child of consumerism

Gabriel loves to shop. When he gets cranky and tired of life at home with Ma, we go out in the bjorn. The grocery store was okay, but last week we braved the mall pre-xmas. I was expecting, well, I didn't know what to expect. The crush and stimulation of the mall make me want to cry usually, so I figured it would be a real short trip. Instead, he was entranced by the lights, the people, the bright shiny products. Now that he gets to face out in the carrier, he's turned into a flirt, offering those fleeting smiles to those who catch his eye. Finally, he did wear down, but instead of fussing himself to sleep, as usual, he peacefully drifted off, happy in his environment. I didn't even realize until I noticed people pointing and smiling at my droopy puppet. Today we're going back to exchange a few items, and I find myself looking forward to the trip. Finally, I've found an activity my son enjoys!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


So Merry Christmas one and all. May you spend the day preparing the things you will eat, gathering with others to celebrate the day. We're hunkering down as a small family to spend the next couple days. Today we're going to the beach, like we did last year. And one year ago today I found out I was pregnant. That was a pretty wild Christmas present. Tonight, we're making fondue, in the tradition of M's family. My family tradition of oyster stew on Christmas Eve is so horrid, I guarantee it will not survive this generation. There is something so very right in dipping bread in a pan of melted cheese. Truly a dish of celebration, warmth and excess. Tomorrow, though, Christmas pizza, a latter day tradition of my parents. Can't go wrong with homemade pizza. And while I know it won't be a good as my dad's, it'll remind me of home.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I have nothing profound to offer today (or any day for that matter). Only a recognition of the end of the year. It's been an exceptional one for me.
Gabriel is taking one of his many daily short naps. The house is quiet. The dog is snoring lightly. Outside the window, the sky is grey, the ground wet, the gutters dripping.
And in the silence a moment to be thankful, and hopeful, for what has passed us by, and what is still to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

another (disgusting) cat story

When we moved into our new house, we were thrilled that it had a garage. After several years of apartment living we were in raptures about storage! parking! a place to stuff the cat at night! See, dear Sammy, the kitty, curls up with you so very sweetly in the evening. He'll crawl under the covers and keep your toes warm till about, oh, 4:30 in morning, when he decides it's time to wake up and eat breakfast. His campaign has all the subtlty that you'd expect. He meows, he marches across the bed, careless of body parts. After flinging him across the room in a fatigued rage one early morn, I decided it would be much much better for all if he slept elsewhere.
Now the new garage has a little portal to an attic crawlspace, accessible to humans only by ladder. The cat, of course, gracefully skips along the support beam and scampers in to play. A year passes. I wonder why the newly designated baby's room smells distinctly of cat pee. Mysterious stains appear on the ceiling. I mention my concern to husband. He guffaws. We hear the distinctive scratching above our heads that can only be what we fear it is. Revulsion.
And indeed Sammy had decided to eschew (great word, perfect for a cat) his litter box in favor of the roof over our son's head. Parents of the year, right here.
Do not worry. We have rectified the situation. Hole in garage blocked up. Spots dabbed with bleach, awaiting application of sealant.
It does beg the question, why do we have a cat?

Monday, December 19, 2005

christmas party

It seemed like such a good idea. We would take Gabriel to his first Christmas party where all of M's classmates could ooh and aah over him. I would not have to make conversation and could instead concentrate on scarfing some yummy yuletime treats and then leave.
The way it went down, however, is a different story.
Matt brought G in, all cute in his little red overalls and blue striped hat. There was great commotion. Everyone wanted to hold the baby. All the women, that is. G's always been great with strangers, so I didn't think much of passing him over. There was intense exclaiming and snuggling. There was loud conversation. He ended up passed around like a little hot potato until, yes, he started screaming. Naturally. Duh.
I took him into a bedroom and tried to calm him down, with no luck whatsoever. Party debut: 5 minutes. Screaming in bedroom: 50 minutes. M brought me a samosa and we decided to get the hell out of candyland.
In the car, reflecting on the experience, I realized that I had shown remarkably poor judgment, and not for the first time. But, I hate parties myself. Why would my child love them anymore than I, especially when it means getting man-handled by a gaggle of strangers? Poor thing. I feel like I owe him a big apology. Who is supposed to protect a baby from these horrors, if not his mother, who just hands him over for a good-natured mauling?
He screamed raggedly in the car until he fell asleep a few minutes from home.
He did sleep well that night.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

what they tell you and you blithely ignore

All right, so having a baby has been a learning experience. No question. When my parents left after the first two weeks, I found myself hoping they'd take him with. I mean, seriously, they don't expect you to, like, take care of this ridiculously helpless creature day and night for the rest of your life! That's just CRAZY!
And that's when I realized that I am not special. I had until that point felt I lived a pretty charmed life. Many things have come easily for me. I have done well in school. I married the man I love. But this motherhood thing, so universal, so seemingly natural that any dumb teenager can accomplish, had brought me to my knees. Astonishing. Humbling. True.
And now that that baby is almost 4 months old, I don't feel like I'm drowning anymore. Just really wet.

Friday, December 16, 2005

cute things my baby does

Heading as warning for those unable to handle the blind adoration of a mother for her wee babe.
All right, so here goes...
He smiles, especially in the morning, and just about anytime you change his diaper. He likes to be free, of course.
He coos in the most charming, gutteral way, as if preparing to speak German.
He has discovered his lips and tongue and blows raspberries, whether he has an audience or not. Sometimes in the middle of the night I hear him razzing the mobile in his crib.
Spit bubbles. Absolutely adores them. Left to his own devices, he will soak his shirt with gleeful bubble blowing.
He stares at his hands as if trying to figure out what to do with them. They often catch his attention in the car, when it's very boring riding backwards.
And when he cries, which he always does eventually, his cups his right ear with his right hand. We call it the fetal distress signal and it's just heart breaking.
Thank you for indulging me today.
Love, Claire
PS. Lengthy post below somehow got shuffled in later. Check it out, if you are so inclined.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

thoughts late in the 30th year

Last night while I was changing for bed, I caught sight of myself in the full length mirror down the darkened hall. While I have inspected my body mercilessly since giving birth, I suppose I have always prepared myself. Engaged my abs just a smidge, stood up a wee bit straighter, and congratulated myself on having made it through pregnancy relatively unscathed. There, unready, I saw someone else. Someone older than the teenager I still see when I look in the mirror of my mind. But it was me standing there with a round, soft belly, saggy bottom on legs that I have always thought sturdy. I suppose I'll formulate a plan of attack someday soon and may even begin it: yoga, swimming, maybe some pilates. But they won't bring the time back, will they?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a little something...from the cat

My mom sent a tub of Christmas cookies two days ago. I have been gorging on English toffee, lebkuchen and date bars ever since. There are a few sugar cookies in the mix too, and I predict those will linger longest. Sorry mom. Why do we always insist on making sugar cookies at Christmas? Perhaps my palate has been jaded by way too much chocolate. Despite their inoffensive blandness (which offends me!) they seem to take the decoration best, though. That's probably why. Anyway, nothing makes you feel so loved as a big box of cookies. I don't think I've experienced that particular joy since college.
Sammy the kitty loves Christmas too. Mostly he loves the curly ribbon tied around presents. He doesn't play with it in adorable kitty fashion however. He eats it. By the yard. We cut off the ribbon from any and all presents under the tree in an effort to thwart his unnatural appetite. He also eats plastic grocery bags. And snubs his cat treats. But he will accept, on occasion, a small dollop of mayonaise. So last night after feeding him his supper in the garage, I go out to get the laundry basket only to find that he has puked up not a small quantity of Friskies on the roof of my car. It's sliding down the window and the front door panel -- got the handle, check! And resting in the puddle on the floor is a little cheery knot of green christmas ribbon. Joyeux Noel tout le monde!

Monday, December 12, 2005

my favorite christmas

Actually, two Christmases stand out in my mind. The first, without a doubt: the Christmas blizzard of '82. Snow covered the windows and we didn't dig out for a week. That prescient old Santa Claus delivered a toboggan on Christmas morning and my dad and I spent many hours discovering the best sledding runs. We risked life and limb on Deadman's Hill, the snow had thickly blanketed the rocks and cactus that could be found there during the thaw. It was heaven.
Second is my first Christmas in Mali.
I had been at my site maybe 6 weeks and I was nearly overwhelmed with lonliness. In my heart I was savoring the knowledge that I would be able to leave at Christmas to spend the holiday with other volunteers and then on to Bamako for a training. The town I was to call my home for two years, Diamou, was accessible only by train. I realized how much I was counting on it when the report came back about a week before Christmas that one of the overloaded merchandise trains had derailed up the line damaging the tracks badly. By the 23rd I realized that I would likely be spending Christmas in a hot, dusty village where no one had heard a Christmas carol, no one knew what snow was and no one knew the wonderful, awful commercial spectacle that is Christmas as I know and love it. I reacted in a logical manner and marched down to the post office with money I had left over from my living allowance and asked the telephone operator ring America. My $30 let me call my dad and immediately burst into tears. We talked for about five minutes until the money ran out. Prior to that call, I had never felt so alone in all my life. But my dad, quiet hero, assured me that he and my mom loved me, yes, and that what I was doing was hard, yes, and they were proud of what I was trying to accomplish. Afterwards, calmer, I went back to my house and saw the repair equipment on the track passing through the village on its way to the derailment. I went to work the next day, Christmas Eve, in a pagne and t-shirt, ready to spend it like any other day. As we sat in the shade drinking tea, gossiping (the nurse and midwives), and trying to understand what anyone was saying about anything (me), I thought I heard “tren be na bi,” the train is coming today. I asked if the track was repaired, and everyone thought it might be. On my way home for lunch, I stopped by the train station, a two room building with a radio, a bed and a desk where they sold tickets, and was told, oh, definitely, the train will be coming soon. I ran home and packed quickly and ran back up to the gare. No one was at the gare, no one passed through the market behind it. I sat in the shade of the building as the afternoon wore on and the temperature climbed higher. One of the nurses from the clinic, Assetou, passed by on her way home and asked incredulously “what are you doing?” I said with as much dignity as I could muster, "I’m waiting for the train, it’s coming soon.” Assetou laughed, she said, "yes, it’s coming soon, it’s coming tonight, you’d better come to my house to wait.” I spent the rest of the afternoon at her house, drinking sweet, strong tea in little glasses and playing cards under the neem trees in her yard. We ate dinner together as it grew dark and still no train whistle was heard to herald the arrival of a train, which I felt by this time to be entirely fictional. Finally she said, "go up and buy a ticket, I’ll meet you on the train." I dragged myself back to the gare to find it alive with activity in the darkness. Women set up stands to sell food, grilled meat, rice and sauce, spaghetti. People carried large sacks and bags towards the track. Children ran about, on errands or at random. I bought the one dollar ticket to Mahina, 70 km away and found a tree stump to sit on not far from the track. The darkness had an odd radiance from the dust kicked up in the air by people's feet. The single fluorescent light bulb strung across the door of the gare and the swinging flashlights of people walking by seemed to make little headway through the transluscent fog. A small old woman, swathed from her head to her flip flop sandals in sheer cotton fabric appeared out of the gloom and sat next to me on the tree stump. A young man set down a large bundle at her feet and went to find a ticket for her. I greeted her in Bambara and she replied and smiled at me. We waited together for a long time. The gare seemed to grow busier by the moment, people calling out and piling ever larger mounds of luggage next to the track, and still no hint of the train. Then a bright light pierced the gloom and grew larger and a horn blast signalled its arrival. The train’s headlight sent strange shadows to play along the walls of the station building and in the particle laden air itself. The air itself was solid enough to support angular shadows from the cargo waiting to be loaded and human figures were longly silhouetted against the chalky night. Anticipation dissolved in a rush to board the still moving train as the crowd surged towards the tracks. We were left in darkness again as the engine passed us by and ground to a halt. Assetou materialized at my side with a bag of her own and clamoured towards the steep ladder steps of the passenger car. She called out to me, "come on!" I climbed up awkwardly with a backpack and shoulder bag pulling me back toward the ground as a dozen people all attempted to climb through the same door at once, grappling for purchase on the same step and the handrail. Finally, hoisting myself up and over those already seated in the doorway with their tubs and luggage beside them, I found Assetou inside who had miraculously found a seat for us. As the train pulled away from the station, I fell back against the cracked plastic seat exhausted, and completely satisfied for about one minute, before realizing that the train would get in to Mahina about midnight and I could not get a ride to the volunteer house until morning. What in the world was I going to do?

Here’s what happened when we arrived in Mahina. Assetou took pity on me as she would do over and over again. We set off for her parent’s compound under starlight. The village of Mahina is bigger than Diamou, with wider streets more shops. We entered the yard and Assetou clapped to waken her parents. Her mother came out to greet us. She handed Assetou a sheet and lit a kerosene lantern. We slept in one of the small huts thatched in grass that made up their family compound. A straw stuffed mattress on a bed of stacked bamboo was the most comfortable bed I could have imagined that night. I lay awake briefly, my heart racing with exhilaration in the knowledge that I had no control over so many things. I felt that I had left a part of myself behind in Diamou – the sensible part that would never jump on a train in the middle of the night, because I liked to know what was happening next and why. I smiled in the dark as Assetou lay beside me with a cotton pagne pulled up over her face and the mosquitoes buzzed around our ears. The train engine continued to rumble long into the night.

The next morning, Christmas Day, I begged a ride to Manantali, 90 km away, in an NGO truck. I didn’t know where I was going when we arrived in the town and just figured it would work out. It did. I have the sweetest memory of walking into that volunteer house, Christmas carols playing on the dinky tape deck and people busy making cookies and mashed yams. Instead of feeling like the shy outsider I usually do, I felt right at home. I spent Christmas drinking beer in a hammock, watching monkeys play in the trees above and talking a bunch of English.

blogger's block

tune in later for something wild and fantastic.

yeah, right.

Not terribly much going on today. Christmas stuff. Wrapping presents to send off to family. Still need to buy a thing or two for M.
Read in the paper that the Christians want Christmas back. Boycotting Target because they're advertising for the "Holidays", not Christmas. Since the Christmas spirit has long since been inextricably bound up with the spirit of wanton consumerism, I don't see how getting Target to acknowledge Jesus is any great victory for those who are upset by anemic "holiday" wishes. I guess if you're spending your money, you should keep Jesus in your heart. Or something.
President scolded for not sending out Jesus-y cards. I asked for Christmas stamps at the post office and got a sheet of the Christ child and mother. Felt too stupid to say, "No really, I meant the snowmen, or maybe even angels." So, even though my cards have very little New Testament about them, the envelopes have been innoculated with the Holy Spirit. Oh man, I'm going to hell, right.
I've never found Christmas difficult to reconcile with a non-devout heart. As a kid, there is nothing confusing about getting presents. And I like good stories, so I dug the whole birth of Christ saga, too, though I've never been to church. All right, I've set foot in a few, and followed a few friends to vacation Bible school. All I really remember of that, though, are craft projects involving popsicle sticks. But Christmas has always made me dewy eyed and sentimental. I am a unrepenent watcher of Christmas specials. Just saw Charlie Brown's: Linus reminds us that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, but remember how all the mean kids feel bad for laughing at Charlie, fix up the tree and then sing all together. I love that feeling that goodness and magic are possible. I like lights and I like cookies and I like wishing people merry christmas, or holidays, anything, really. I like the holiday's give us an excuse to move out of our routine: love more, give more, buy more, eat more. And more, sometimes, is more.

Friday, December 09, 2005

more than I bargained for

Is it better to write everyday, even when one has so little to say? Or should I save up for a humdinger when something really exciting happens. By even contemplating this question, you know which one I favor. Lucky you.
So my dear husband M is going out for drinks with friends from work tonight. I have encouraged him to do this because that is what mature, understanding partners do. And he hasn't been out in months. He deserves a good time, I say. Yet, naturally, I harbor a wee acorn of resentment that I have not been able to go out with MY friends. At least not without G strapped to my chest. There is an imbalance that I have been loathe to mention because to acknowledge what is really going on makes me feel like I've let down feminism, my mother, and myself. Instead of sharing the work (and it is work, though joyous and amazing and blah blah blah) of caring for a baby 50/50, or even 75/25 (since he's at work earning the money that keeps us in kibble), we've developed a system where I really do almost everything baby and house related. Even when he's here. It is bizarre and unexpected (at least to me). I have become the scary housewife.
And since we're trying to be honest here, part of me is reluctant to take the bold steps needed to rectify the situation. I enjoy the baby's dependence on me. I am proud of feeding him, bathing him, putting him to bed. It's twisted but I'm unwilling to let M have the reins because he won't do it as well as I will. Eek. And instead of calling me out on this, he's let me go on with my illusions of control firmly intact. Utter shock at waking up and finding oneself in a 50's era sitcom. Without the laugh track.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

chlorine lament

It's too cold to swim. I know that those of you in northern climes are like, no shit, but out here we tend to cling to summer a bit too long. Now it's December and though the pool is heated and the wee swim team kids swim late into the night, I just can't bring myself to strip down to a suit in the dark. The thought of my bare feet walking across chilled sodden concrete as the wind whips across the surface pulling steam off in clouds somehow does not appeal. Sitting on the edge as I tuck my hair into a cap before plunging into water that now feels extravagently warm on my feet and tushy is too much for my wimpy soul to bare. I have no Scandinavian blood. I'm all Scottish, German -- my natural inclination is to hole up somewhere with a drink when the weather turns squirrely.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

peasant parenting

So last night around 2, I was lamenting that the latest scheme in getting baby to sleep longer was not working. Focal feeding -- waking up the baby before you go to bed to feed him one last time supposedly to encourage him to sleep right through the night. Except, I, myself, had to be woken up for the focal feeding, as I had gone to bed very shortly after I put the wee one to bed. But still, 3 hours later, who do I hear awake and ready for whatever comes next? I was nearly beside myself, stumbling and blind with fatigue. Gabriel snorting and gurgling away in his crib getting up a good head of steam. I felt betrayed by my experts. I felt like a failure My husband declared that, like Pol Pot, he would be burning all books related to babies and their moods. Shoot the intellectuals, be a peasant, he's just a baby.
He's just a baby. Not an experiment. So at 5 am when he wound up again, I went and got him and brought him into bed with us. I fed him and we all snuggled together for another hour or so. And I felt a lot better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

woo hoo

rough day. baby crying. cranky pants whining at husband.
To make myself feel better I dressed Gabriel up in striped elf pants and took him to school. he was properly admired and I feel like not quite the loser I felt at home in the cold house.
Crazy Dr. C told me that Gabriel is teething. I have been suspicious of this for a week or two but theory was shot down by own pediatrician. Naturally, I prefer people who agree with me, crazy or not.

Monday, December 05, 2005

what the gnome knows

Being rather new to suburbia, and my particular suburb being rather on the shabby side, I'm somewhat shocked by the fearlessness with which my neighbors decorate their lawns. Here in V-town, the trees are tall, the houses small (but selling for half a million in this over-inflated economy), and people are not afraid to park on their lawns. Right next to the shingled wishing wells, and the pink flamingoes, the tiled moorish fountains, the plaster statuary menagerie: kittens, deer, puppies, frogs, the iridescent orbs, the flags for Jesus, the humping dolphin fountain (seriously), the politically incorrect stablehands, the acres of silk flowers that have been stuck in the ground to impersonate spring. It's NASCAR country snuggled between San Francisco and Napa. I feel embarassingly right at home here, despite our lawn's unadorned state. Always a bit white trash at heart. Sure, I wish there were parks and cute little shops and movie theaters, and fewer vicious dogs, but there are two Starbucks within walking distance -- the fact that I consider that an asset now, does that mean I've lost my soul?
Anyway, got a Christmas tree yesterday -- going to decorate it tonight. I am almost giddy at the thought. The tree itself is a little Charlie Brown. We scoured the lot thinking they were all twenty five dollars as promised on the sign. Gabriel wasn't in the spirit and started wailing, but we picked out our favorite and were told that that tree, well, that tree is going for $9 a foot. Wow, that's like, a lot of money. Isn't it funny the things you cheap out on. All of a sudden paying $60 for a tree was, like, way beyond the ken. And just today I spent $116 in the grocery store buying all essential items, of course. So we were pointed to the actual $25 trees which looked okay, I thought. Until we got home and realized our poor little tree has, oh, 80% of its needles on one side. Actually it's quite brilliant, as we can now mash it up against the wall with ease. It still has taken over our living room, making it impossible to sit on the couch and watch TV at the same time. Oh well, we only get two channels anyway -- but that's another story. And not a very interesting one.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Actual frozen stuff on the blades of grass on the northern hills when we walked this morning. My cheeks are a little chilly now that I am back inside. It's almost like weather!
It has been suggested that I need to socialize more. No doubt! The problem with that is that I'd actually have to talk to people, and you know how much I hate to do that. Well, I'm kind of kidding.
In the last two weeks my sweet baby has gone from waking up once a night to waking up three times a night -- and then rising and shining around 5:30. Why is he doing this? Can you tell me? I think grumpy thoughts with remnants of disturbed sleep under the covers of my warm bed, but when I pad down the hall and peek into the crib he smiles at me like he's been waiting for me on a sunny patio with a drink. I'll fall back into despair some other time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

and in conclusion

Despite a rocky start to the day, Gabriel did fantastic at the doctor's -- waiting 2 hours for a flu shot with hardly a whimper. Crashed out hard for sushi. I found that I can wield chopsticks with my left hand. But not well. G now somewhat spotted with wasabi. Ice cream, however, was one step too far and more inconsolability. Wonderful friends pretending that they'd like nothing better than to be trapped in a car with my screaming child. And then even calling up afterward and offering to babysit! What would I do without you guys?
My arm hurts now. Stupid flu shot. I got bullied into it by the pediatrician. Grr...

no good

so everything i try today is wrong. and the very tiresome thing about an infant is that he will let you know it in no uncertain terms. he will turn red, he will shriek, he will reflexively open and close his little hands tipped with razor sharp nails over your trachea, he will make you kick the dog when she doesn't get out of the way fast enough because you cannot throttle him. now he is sleeping sucking on a pacifier with a very grumpy expression on his face. can't wait to wrestle him into the car seat for a trip to the doctor. his rage is scary -- it is close to the surface and immediately global. my rage is... where? so far below the surface as to be mythical, like a ship wreck. and if i do a good job as a parent, one day his will be sunk too. Right? I don't know what's right anymore.
i'm supposed to meet S and S for sushi after the doc's. we'll see how that goes, eh.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

rainy day

Trapped in the house with an infant. We were denied our morning walk by a downpour. The dog is walking around with a constipated look on her face. She is such a wimp! If the grass is the least bit wet she refuses to set her paw on it. This is no fancy pants little pooch -- she's a 55 lb pit bull, with the face of a hyena and the soul of a buttercup. She'd much rather snooze the day away in front of the space heater. Luckily, she has bladder of steel.
The baby himself is looking out at the magnolia tree, relatively content for the moment. He's still pretty small, I have to remind myself. Three months of life is nothing. That's like a summer vacation. That's as long as he's been counted among the living. Pretty wild.
I think we'll get in the car and go for a drive -- I must get out of the house, if only to the post office. Perhaps we'll manage the library. And if we're very very good, a cup of coffee.
Life holds many small rewards if we're willing to call them as such.