Monday, February 8, 2016

Two Weeks


 Things I know now that I didn't know two weeks ago:

Breastfeeding is hard. When I was a little girl, I yearned for big boobs. What I got were big, soft, large-areola'ed breasts that are more matronly than sexy, but whatever, it's fine. But those same big soft boobs are damned difficult for this baby to get a latch on. Every time I breastfeed, it's a complicated process of getting my hands, his head, my nipple, his mouth, all exactly in alignment. Also, I have ton of milk, so the poor little dude ends up getting sprayed, or choking, or getting his teeny shoulders hunched up with stress. It breaks my heart. This is getting slightly easier, but it's definitely been a challenge, and I can anticipate it continuing on that way for a while.

Postpartum sweating is a thing. Holy mother of God, I have never been sweatier in my life. I wake up to a mattress that has been soaked through; I get hot flashes when I nurse. I don't know why (I think it has something to do with the body shedding water weight?) but it's freaky-deaky.

TV you can ignore is key. We rewatched the first two seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and then moved on to Arrested Development. Having seen them all before multiple times, there's no real imperative to not fall asleep during an episode, but having the white noise and the comedy has been a real boon.

Having great friends and family is a treasure. In the past couple weeks, we've received soup, chili, cornbread, banana bread, cookies, macaroni and cheese, chicken stew, lasagna, quinoa salad, a fruit delivery, Polish donuts, nursing apparel, a hand-knit hat for NS, baby outfits, rides to appointments, and a slew of visitors who respect the fact that all we can do right now is 30-45 minute hangout sessions, and that I probably won't be wearing a shirt (#nursinglife). FYI: not having to cook is basically the best gift you can possibly give to new parents. When in doubt, bring food.

C-section recovery sucks. Surgery + no sleep + intense fatigue from labouring + emotional whirlwind + nerve damage + pain + coping with an unexpected procedure + figuring out how to process the loss of the birth I thought I would have = THE FEELS, both physical and mental.

Milk coming in = hormonal rollercoaster. A woman's body will produce colostrum, a super-awesome early milk that only shows up for the first few days of a baby's life. After that, she starts producing actual milk, but the transition between the two is a little bit...weepy. Okay, a lot weepy. Okay, I cried pretty much non-stop for 36 hours, including all over the baby.

The baby is going to cry. Our little dude is pretty mellow, but in the last couple days, he's really upped his squalling game. Why? I have no idea. Gas, probably. Or he's upset that Trump is leading the polls in New Hampshire.

I have never loved my husband more. Watching M these last fourteen days—the 3 AM diaper changes, the little songs when he's trying to soothe him, the dishes that get done, the snack bowls that appear beside our beds, the water glasses that get refilled, the chuckles when the baby farts, the gentle petting of my stretch-marked and scarred stomach—has filled me with such love. He's such a good dad, and it's amazing to me that, just a few days ago, he wasn't a dad at all.

I have Googled everything. Every time the baby does something, I Google it. I look it up in our childcare books. I text someone. Every damn time the kid does something new, or different, or makes a sound, or doesn't make a sound, or blah blah bah into the baby-related abyss, I'm right there on the Google-machine, trying to figure out if it's normal or if he's dying. (Spoiler: he's not dying.)

My instincts are actually okay. Everything from soothing to swaddling to sleeping, I'm like 80% okay at it. My encounters with breastfeeding experts (two lactation consultations, two midwives, multiple seasoned friends) taught me that nearly everyone subscribes to a slightly different school of thought, and will follow slightly different protocols. For example, the midwives told me to breastfeed every two hours; the lactation consultants said every three hours; the books I read said twelve times in 24 hours, whatever that looks like; my mom said don't wake a sleeping baby and the kid will let me know when he's hungry. By the end of my first week, I was a mess. But slowing down, and figuring out the timing that worked for us, really made a difference. And NS ended up gaining back his birth weight in a week and a half, a benchmark and milestone that made me incredibly happy.

This is the long game. The first two weeks have been a blur of cuddles and panic, of late nights and early mornings, of naps and walks, of trying to survive and thrive. We are learning this little baby; he's learning us. It occurred to me that I'm going to know this person for his entire life—aside from my younger siblings, there isn't anyone else I can say that about. And it fills me with joy, and nerves, to know that in a month, a year, a decade, there will be milestones that seem now like they're on the moon, and those days will come to pass before I can even catch my breath.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Baby, the Birth Story, and the Love

Noah Stanley Kochany Cinovskis! The son, our sun, the boy wonder, our sweetpea, our little guy, our tiny friend, the kiddo. Noah.

They say that birthing a baby is like running a marathon. In my case, I feel like the marathon route unexpectedly zagged through a raiding party, and at mile 24, we had to wrestle a bear. Basically, if birthing was a movie, I am Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, and I would like my Academy Award now, please.

I started labour on a Thursday. At first, it felt like nothing, or maybe something...it was hard to tell, really. Mild back pain, coupled with some prodromal feelings of unwellness—the kind you get before you come down with a cold—kept rolling through me. Instead of having coffee with my mom, as we had planned, she just walked with me up and down Saint Clair Avenue for an hour, which was nice. Every now and then I would say something like, "Maybe this is how it starts?" and she would say, "This baby is coming!" and then I would put my hands on my back and walk some more. It was a sunny day, it was cold, I was hugely pregnant.

Over the next few days, things started to form. The back pain went from being vague—was that a twinge?—to very much present. My mom told me that contractions felt like her belly was being squeezed by a blood-pressure cuff, but my "rushes" (thanks, Ina May) settled in my back. Still, we were able to work through it. M put on David Bowie and we slow-danced to "Kooks," I read about art conservation in The New Yorker, and while it wasn't quite pleasant, it felt constructive. It was intimate. When a contraction hit, M would talk me through it—"Breathe, breathe, letitgoleitgoletitgo," and time them. My job was to just keep my head down and yes, breathe. It felt doable

Saturday night, we called the midwives, who came to our house and informed me that I was three centimetres dilated. This apparently was not quite large enough to pass the watermelon that was coming down the pipeline. Also, distressingly, my contractions, though increasingly painful, hadn't formed themselves into a rhythm yet. They were still five, six, seven minutes apart, coming haphazardly. They advised me to keep labouring at home, and they left at about 2:00 AM.

Sunday was...a blur, but I do know Sunday night was awful. It is almost literally impossible to describe this pain. I felt like I was being tased while I had the flu. I couldn't always stay upright; sometimes, I would sink to my hands and feet and moan, or shriek, or curse, or just pant like a dog. Sometimes, I would throw up. Sometimes, I would have to kneel on the bed and press mightily into the small of back, or along the tops of my hips, trying to relieve any kind of pressure that I could on that area. Sometimes, doing that was agony. My knees were bruised, my back felt swollen, and the "space between worlds" that one holistic birth site talked about felt like it was full of demons.

Monday morning, we went to the Midwives Collective office for a fetal non-stress test, where they monitor the baby's heartbeat for twenty minutes and see how my labour is progressing. Now, every position change triggered a new contraction. Sitting up, standing up, walking up stairs, sitting down, peeing, getting in and out of a car. I threw up cheerful little chunks of optimistic melon on Bloor Street walking to the midwives' office.  There, I found I was now six centimetres dilated—progress!—and despite not being in that five-minutes-apart rhythm, we could go the Toronto Birth Centre. There was a huge tub there; for weeks, I had wanted to labour in that. I was dreaming of that tub. That tub was going to solve some shit for me.

The Birth Centre is beautiful, but I don't really remember much about being there. I have flash-memories: sinking to my hands and knees as soon as I got into the birthing suite, hit by a blinding wall of pain; being petted gently by my husband and midwives as I screamed, labouring on my side in bed; my whole body shaking underwater as a contraction ripped through me in the tub and I wondered, briefly, if I would drown; just hating the birth stool (which the hippie part of me thought I would love!). My lips were chapped raw from breathing so hard. I threw up again. I made noises like a horse, a cat, a distressed and frightened animal. The tub wasn't the balm I had hoped for. Nothing was.

At three PM, after about five hours of labour, the midwives asked me if I wanted to keep labouring at the Birth Centre, or if I wanted to switch to Mount Sinai for another non-stress test and to start a pitocin drip to see if we could get the contractions more regular. I asked if I could have an epidural along with the pitocin; I cried when they said yes. My mom, who had appeared at some point, marched into traffic on Dundas Street and held her arms out like a warrior so we could pull out. I would have laughed if I could have.

At this point, I had been in early labour, or pre-labour, for nearly 80 hours. Here's how exhausted I was by then: I fell asleep during the epidural. For those of you who have never had an epidural, it involves shoving a long needle into your spine, and then a catheter the size of a pencil lead in along the same path. It is not exactly a back massage. And yet, by then, I was so ruined on pain that I barely felt it. The midwives were still with me, having switched from tee shirts and jeans to hospital gowns, but now I also had an anesthesiologist (two, actually, whom M described as "bro-y," and we agreed they were incredibly kind), and an OB, who wore pink-rimmed glasses and reminded me of my best gal Liz: competent, funny, and completely unwilling to fuck around when it came to health.

Now, finally, things were starting to happen, although not exactly in a way I might want. The baby's heart rate started to dip after every contraction; the OB discovered meconium in the amniotic fluid (meaning our little dude had taken his first momentous poop inside the womb), and now, instead of administering pitocin, we would all be heading to the OR for an emergency c-section.

I will pause here and say that, while I had visions of beautiful natural birth—himalayan rock-salt lamps! tub! birth stools! a sweaty, healthy glow!—I'm not an idiot. Birth isn't an emergency, and I would have preferred a natural experience, but the only outcome that I cared about was a healthy baby. The narrative around modern birth is, or can be, problematic and overmedicalized, but I am so happy that I live in a time where what happened to us wasn't a death sentence for our baby. It kept occurring to me that, one hundred years ago, it would have been. The thought makes me nauseous.

In any case, back to the OR. The whole thing would take about 40 minutes. They administered the numbing agent through epidural pathway, but this time, they wanted total coverage. M waited outside while they prepped me, and the midwives stepped to the side as the surgical team worked. I started to shake uncontrollably, and then my hands went numb (they use the same amount of numbing medication no matter how big the patient is, which meant that 5'1" me was frozen right up to my neck), and I could barely speak, my jaw was clenched so hard. When I told the anesthesiologist I felt fucked up, he helpfully told me that it was because my uterus was "outside my body and upside down," which, like, I am all for knowledge, but that was TMI.

In any case, the baby was born! The respiratory therapists aspirated all the poop-water from NS's lungs, M got to cut the cord, he introduced me to our son, I clenched and shook, and then somehow we were all in the recovery room with our parents, with everyone crying and laughing and me topless. (Everyone—and I mean everyone—related to this process has now seen some combination of my vagina and boobs.) When we introduced him to my parents, my dad started to cry—Noah Stanley is named in part after him—and everyone else started to cry.

And we were all happy. And we were all healthy! And we are now all home, after two days in the hospital, after lurching to the bathroom on unsteady feet, after kind nurses and lactation consultants and pediatricians, after learning how to swaddle our son, after M sleeping in a chair for two days, we are home, in bed, resting and sleeping and nursing and watching The X-Files in bed and trying to hang on for dear life as my post-partum hormones surge and pulse.

I won't tell you that it was easy. But I will tell you, without a doubt, with no hesitation whatsoever, that it was all worth it. This kid is great so far: warm, cute, a good sleeper, a healthy cry-er. He sleeps with one eye slitted slightly open, just like his papa, and looks terrific in hats, just like his mom. We are a family. We are all doing just fine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Details


Babywatch update: no baby yet.

I've been using this time to hang out with M—yesterday, we poked around the Salvation Army and went for scones, ate macaroni and cheese and played a board game—and also goof around by myself a little bit. It's starting to sink in that, what with having a baby, and with my husband being on parental leave, it's likely that this week will have the last few moments of alone time for a very long time. Which is...scary? But also interesting?

In any case, I'm feeling lazy, so here's a sort list of things other than "Was that a contraction? Was that a contraction??" that are occupying my brain:

  • Every few months, I realize that my insides and my outsides don't match in a very specific way, which is the way of fashionable accessories. I have a couple girlfriends and chums who are very good at putting the finishing touches on their outfits—beautiful bangles, dangling necklaces, glinting little rings, even a slightly elaborate hairdo—whereas I just wear the same tiny necklaces and tunnels and big buns over and over and over. I've been trolling around, looking at glorious necklaces and interesting little rings, but I am also Dust Bowl-levels of broke right now, so it's not the most opportune time to invest in, um, frivolities. But I want to! I want to. 
  • I am super into my Himalayan rock salt lamp, which has a place of pride beside my bed. I'm sort of convinced that it has mystical powers, which is great, because in addition to being overdue and grumpy, I currently have a head cold. But my lamp is crazy pretty and I love its soft pink glow. 
  • In internetting news, I am here for The Toast's morning link round-up, which is where I get probably 90% of the interesting stuff I read on a daily basis. It is consistently well-curated: a mix of politics, gossip, isn't-THAT-weird articles about missing people or genetic disorders, animal pictures, and misandry. Even the off days are worth checking out. 
  • I'm super relieved and excited that my parents renewed my subscription to the New Yorker (also, I am happily in the club of 30-something women whose parents buy them expensive magazine subscriptions, and it's great), so I get another full year of amazing articles like the one about weather in literature, or girl rock climbers, or the weekly restaurant review (which, frankly, I live for). I plan on reading the meal write-ups to the baby every Tuesday.

  • I have a cold. The less said about that, the better, but suffice it to say that I've been mainlining tea with honey and ginger, swallowing zinc tablets like whoa, and trying to sleep about 14 hours a night. I've also been putting my face right next to the salt lamp, because mystical powers??

  • This morning, M and I woke up early (just kidding, we woke up at 8:30!) and then read in bed for a while—him about Drake's new club at the ACC, me about medical workers in the Himalayas—and ate grapes and had a cuddle, and it was all very nice indeed. I felt very cozy and civilized, like we had sailed off into the middle of the ocean. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pregnancy in Three Parts


I have now been pregnant for 39 weeks and three days, or, if you're measuring on emotional time, since the Reagan administration.

I've learned some things in the last 39 weeks. I've learned that, if I cry hard enough, I will have a great big nosebleed in public. I've learned that maternity clothes are actually a necessity. I've learned that stretch marks can lead me down a dark and self-loathing garden; I may compare my belly to the alien heads from Mars Attacks! I've learned that sex becomes something other people do—I recall it fondly, the same way Martin Scorsese recalls the New York City of his youth. I've learned that carbohydrates are truly a non-negotiable part of this process, and any attempt to fend them off will end poorly.

QED: Pregnancy is a beautiful, disgusting, competitive, life-affirming, lonely, amazing process.

First Trimester
Terror level: I will probably have a miscarriage

The first trimester is all about secrets. I have a vivid memory of riding up to my parent's farm in a packed car, five weeks along, and utterly terrified that I was going to have a miscarriage right there on the highway. The car was full of friends, gossiping and laughing, and I was gossiping and laughing right along with them, but my skin was absolutely buzzing with anxiety. No-one knew I was pregnant—at that point, telling people felt astrologically unlucky, as if revealing the pregnancy would make the tiny magician growing inside me disappear.

This was a few weeks before morning (or, in my case, early-evening and every-time-I-opened-the-fridge) sickness began in earnest, but I was already feeling averse to farmhouse dinner classics like steak, and booze was off the table for all the obvious reasons. Over the next weeks, I boomeranged from a Paleo-ish diet to one that was 80% carbohydrates. Rice noodles, potatoes, perogies, macaroni and cheese—soft, white foods for my soft, white body. Red meat was disgusting, vegetables doubly so. I had to pretend like it was all normal, like I was my usual self. But keeping up appearances, all while trying to secretly process this massive life change, was exhausting. I was cranky and sore. I said mean things. I went to bed at 9 PM.

When we finally started telling people around week 12, it was a huge relief. It felt like I had accomplished something, even though the only thing I had done was be healthy and genetically on-point enough to make a bundle of cells multiply without any major disasters.

Second Trimester
Terror level: The baby is dead inside.

All the books I read mentioned this phenomenon of waking up one morning and feeling just dandy. Morning sickness would have vanished overnight, and the four or five pounds over the last few months I'd gained wouldn't yet be noticeable. I'd be normal again! Hooray! The books also mentioned that, for some personality types, this sudden shift would provoke a feeling of dread—they stressed that no longer "feeling pregnant" didn't mean anything sinister was happening inside; my body had stopped fighting the fetus as a little intruder and had instead distracted itself with Twizzlers and sleep.

One of the biggest hurdles I've faced in this pregnancy is coming to terms with the fact that I am very, very, annoyingly, normal. For years, I believed I was exceptional, and that the rules of nature and man didn't really apply to me. I took eight years to do an undergraduate degree, but dagnabit, I did it! I peed in the streets and never got caught! I was the only writer in the history of the world who struggled with her own worthiness! I was the most jilted of exes, the most damaged of drinkers, the most sanctimonious of bank customers. I was a unique and special snowflake!

Yeah: no. My pregnancy has been textbook. I have suffered all the aches and pains of the childbearing sisterhood—no more, no less. I've had the emotional rollercoaster, the sleep issues, the back pain, the leaky boobs, the nosebleeds, the mood swings, the stretch marks, the anxiety, the separated abs, the nesting instinct, all of it. (My only exception was a greater reliance on mental health resources—after we moved in September, I spend three weeks weeping and imagining myself walking out in front of a Mac truck—but even that faded with time.) One of the great realizations of my adulthood, coming late in the game and awash in hormones, is that I am not special. I can't escape that I am part of the crowd, and my experiences are firmly mid-pack. I didn't invent, or even improve on, any aspect of this process.

Thanks for that great reveal, baby.

Third Trimester
Terror level: I will go into labour any second now.

I biked until I was seven months pregnant, and I walked until there was too much ice on the ground for it to feel safe. I reveled in my luxurious pregnancy hair, and marveled at how clear my skin was. I rubbed lotions and oils onto my belly, massaged cream onto my poor chapped nipples, and finally started eating vegetables again. I wore black; it was slimming. 

I still feel disgusting. It wasn't just the weight gain, although that was definitely challenging. It's all the auxiliary events. For instance, I started lactating at five months along, and have woken up most nights since with either a wet shirt or stained sheets. My crotch is perpetually swampy. I've had heartburn so bad it's left me in tears. Getting out of bed in the morning is a full-body spasm of tight muscles and hips that feel like they might just explode out from under me. And my back! My poor back. Sing songs of remembrance for my back.

In some ways, this trimester has been easier than the others. I'm sleeping okay, even with the heartburn, which is a blessing. The baby is big and active, with lots of sea-monsterish kicks and rolls. (Hello, you are alive!) My husband has been an absolutely dreamboat, reassuring me that, yep, he still thinks I'm beautiful. He's thanked me for doing this with him, and we have been more tender with each other than ever before. I'm also shifting into feeling ready to be a mom—to have this tiny stranger come live with us. To teach them things, to learn things in return. Even labour, which I had been dreading, is starting to seem more like something I can actually do, not just a torture I will have to endure.

***

Everyone says that having a baby will change everything. I believe this is is true, but I believe it in the same way that leaving home changes everything, or the illness of a loved one changes everything, or gaining or losing a lot of money changes everything. These things have an impact on us. This is a step, a change. We'll lose some things—and maybe some people—and gain others. What, exactly, that entails, remains to be seen.

For now, I'm looking forward to nursing in the soft pink glow of my salt-rock lamp. I'm looking forward to sleepy baby yawns. I'm looking forward to exercising again! I'm looking forward to sleeping on my stomach. I'm looking forward to watching M chat with the baby as they cuddle on the couch. I'm looking forward to seeing the little sneaker grab for our food. I'm looking forward to naps, to walks, to figuring out the baby carrier, to pouty lips, to first words. I'm looking forward to my parents becoming grandparents! I'm looking forward to reading Where the Wild Things Are to our child, and being able to see their little face when we do it.

We'll eat you up, we love you so.

Image via Creative Thursday

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Graceland, and Other Problems


In 1986, Paul Simon released what was widely regarded as one of the albums of the year, if not the decade. Graceland, which debuted at #1 in the United States, regularly topped critical top-ten lists that year; it remained important throughout the rest of the century, appearing as #81 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All Time list, as #69 on the Guardian's 100 Best Albums Ever, and on NPR's 300 Most Important Records of the 20th Century rundown. It moved more than five million copies in the US, and went platinum five times over in the UK.


Graceland, which was Simon's sixth studio album, wasn't without its critics. He recorded with South African musicians during an apartheid government; as a result, he was denounced by the ANC for breaking the cultural boycott that had been in effect since the 1950, which was enacted to bring attention to the plight of Black artists living under the regime. While the UN supported Simon—and his stance that he was working with the musicians, not the government—others saw the album as creating solidarity with Pretoria.

The album is a deeply personal expression of loneliness and loss enmeshed withing a global sound. South African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo share billing with American artists like Linda Ronstadt, while the musical influences range from straight-up mbube to N'awlins-flavoured zydeco. Simon fuses these sounds with his own boy-from-New York sensibilities; in the end, Graceland is one of those albums that defines an artist and a moment in time.

Okay, so: why talk about Graceland in 2016?

Because I don't think Graceland could have been made in the 2010s. I don't think Joe Strummer and the Mescalero's excellent 2001 album Global a Go-Go could have been produced in 2016. Our world has become more global and more tuned-in to injustice, both historical and on-going, and we've become more politically correct. We're much more willing to point to cultural appropriation when we see it happening, and say, "hey, that's not right."

But I'm struggling with something: exactly how, in this moment, do I tap into things like hip-hop music, or yoga, or reggaeton, or Asian fusion food, and not seem like I'm stealing something? Globally influenced music produced by white people is one of the easiest things to point to in this category and go "hmmm," but there are lots of others.

Tina Fey was in the news this week when she talked about "opting out" of apologizing for media—in her case, it was the Jane Krakowski-is-a-secret-Native American storyline on last year's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey told Net-A-Porter that from now on, her jokes would speak for themselves. This week's episode of movie podcast The Canon focused on Gunga Din, the 1930s swashbuckling adventure set in colonial India—drink every time the hosts said the word "problematic" and you'd be soused before the commercial break—but they spent a lot of time wondering how to fit older, less evolved media into our current understanding of the world. Do we discard it? Do we keep it in the history books, albeit with an asterisk? Jesus, what do we do with Flula's cover of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop"? A uber-white European dude, aping a white Seattle rapper, aping Black hip-hop?

We live in a global world. Hell, Toronto is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and it would be weird to have so many different types of people mixing together all day long without someone influencing the other. But I'm also aware that "mixing" is a relative term here—Toronto still struggles with the ghettoization of immigrants and people of colour, of queer and trans people, of poor people—that creates this false impression of diversity without ever creating real challenges to people's expectations of others. We can pat ourselves on the back for creating Drake, while still allowing Black men and women to suffer the indignities and injustices of racial profiling by police.

I'm a white lady, living a comfortable lifestyle, and I know—I know—that a lot of this could be read as "but I want my yoga class and my Ethiopian food and my hip-hop jams!" But the truth is, I feel a bit frozen. I don't want to be an asshole. I don't want to take, or take over, something that isn't mine. But I also don't want to feel like the only stuff I can believe in in an authentic way has to spring from the potato-girded loins of my Polish foremothers.

When I was in high school, I started getting into hip-hop in a big way. I read books, watched documentaries, listened to dozens of different albums from the late 1970s through to the present. I was fascinated by the genesis of the genre, because when I was sixteen, the idea of being alienated and underrespected, of having no job and no money, of having friends and music and of needing an escape, were things I saw in myself too. I was obviously not running from the cops, or enveloped in a systematically racist society, or living in a drug epidemic, but there was some overlap. It met my emotional needs in a way that, say, N*SYNC did not. And now I wonder, was I being appropriative? Or appreciative?

I want to consume media and culture from the people who make it, not the people who ape it. This seems clear, and morally and ethically okay. For example, buying terrible Native American rip-offs from multinational chains is bogus, and can easily be corrected. (Just buy your Native art from actual Native people, jagoffs.) There are weird blurred lines, like all the Korean-run sushi places on Bloor street, where someone is ripping off someone else, but it's not up to me to get involved. And then there are moments where I just need to stand in solidarity: post the link, make the donation, push for the interview, but know that the community members are leading the actual work under their own auspices and priorities (see: trans* activism, for example, or #BlackLivesMatter).

But when there's collaboration and crossover—when Graceland happens—the waters become murky. And I don't really know what to do! Can I appreciate, or participate? Or is my role to stay on the sidelines and witness? This is maybe the only actual instance of "white people problems"—how to move through the world without causing more problems, compounding the sins of the people who look like me, who act like me, who are me.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Intentional


I love making New Year's Resolutions, but because I'm human, I am truly terrible at keeping them. They're a perennial (literally) favourite of mine! And, not to brag, but a lot of the resolutions I've set for myself over the past few years have come to pass, even if they were sort of by accident. I've made my peace with my body (or at least I had; we'll just have to see what a post-baby incarnation looks like and what kind of spirit work it requires), which means I no longer "need" to lose x-number of pounds. I've accepted my Coke Zero habit, mostly don't eat junk food, and I quit smoking ages ago.

But that doesn't mean there aren't things in my life that wouldn't benefit from some changes. Resolutions, adjustments, goals, habits to break or create, things I need to examine or challenge, and all the other work that goes into the improvement of a human being. In the spirit of the new year, here are some of my 2016 goals:

1. Set a monthly intention. A friend of mine does this, and I think it's pure genius. Whether it's practicing more gratitude, getting outside more often, working on a relationship that needs some TLC, or some other goal, holding it in my mind for a month seems doable. I'm a person who, every so often, will "make a five year plan": this is literally just a half-baked spreadsheet with columns like FINANCE and LOVE and I'm stumped on how to fill out the cells. I do much better with short-term goals, like giving up sugar or social media for a month, and I often find that these experiments act as a window into my priorities. Like, giving up sugar was horrible, because it tapped into the obsessive, punitive part of my brain. Better to just have a bit of chocolate and be cool with it, you know? Anyway, a monthly intention may just be enough focus in a year which I'm sure will have its share of hairiness.

2. Stop taking everything so damn personally. I am...not very good at this. From other people's weddings to celebrity bodies, it can be a real challenge to remember that these things are not happening at me, and I don't need to react to them as though I've been personally wronged. This happens literally all the time, from the mundane (I didn't win an Instagram giveaway! I am bad at Instagram and am also a loser!) to the meaningful (before I was married, unchecked jealousy over other people's engagements left me feeling like I'd been doused in lye). Being able to celebrate people's milestones and accomplishments is the mark of a healthy soul, and it's something I need to cultivate in myself before I shrivel up into a husk. I've been working on this for years already, so this is more of a reminder to, you know, keep at it!

As a corollary, if my husband happens to have a grumpy face when he's talking to me, he might not be grumpy at me (although he definitely might be: I have been known to push a button or two). I want to be able to hear past an angry tone, an interruption, or a misspoken word, and not weaponize it and turn it back onto the person. I want to be able to hear the message without getting all bent out of shape about the delivery. Personal criticism is vital for growth (prune the dead branches, etc), but it doesn't always come in an embossed envelope, delivered by singing baby angels.

3. Stop swearing (in conversation). I love salty language. I've peppered my speech with forbidden words since the fifth grade, when I realized that my parents weren't actually in class with me and couldn't do much about it (my big transgression? Telling a classmate to shut up, which, along with hate, stupid, and dumb, was definitely Not Allowed in my house). I swear like a sailor with my friends and my therapists, and I love it. It's fun! But, if I'm being perfectly honest, swearing is also sort of déclassé and aggressive. I hate that I'm more likely to drop an f-bomb when I'm angry, or when I'm trying to come across as cool or tough. Removing rough language from my speech doesn't mean I don't feel angry, or want to seem cool or tough; it just means I don't have a convenient crutch to lean on to convey those thigs. And I can definitely keep using the whole dictionary, including the R-rated entries, in my writing. Sometimes, a sister just needs to write fuuuuuck, you know?

2016 is going be a nutty year for a lot of different reasons. We're transitioning from a two-person family to welcoming a third. My parents and siblings are in flux right now, and "home" is undergoing a radical redefinition. I have creative projects simmering in my brain, but they've not yet come to full boil. And, as the year passes, time will stretch and slow like it always does. The days will be long and the weeks short, and vice versa. "One day at a time" is such a cliche, but even cliches have their usefulness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Girl and the Bird

 Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in the city. She was a happy girl, more or less: she had friends and family near and far, and she had a bike to ride, and good food to eat, and a happy boy by her side. The girl was a wild one: she wore feathers in her hair and rode her bike on the empty streets of the midnight city, daring the world to come up and meet her.

Most often, the world did.

One night, the girl was riding her bike when she happened across a tiny bird in the middle of the street. The bird did not fly away when she pedaled towards it; instead, it cocked its head at her and blinked. Despite its tiny size, it seemed fearless. The girl slowed her bike down. The streetlight pooled orange glow across the road, and the moon rose slowly beside them.

The girl looked at the bird. The bird looked at the girl. Nothing around them moved. Even the treetops were still. The girl smiled gently, silently inviting the little bird closer. The bird hopped, once, twice, then stopped. The girl smiled. A tenderness flew through her, unexpected on this ordinary night.

Then the bird let out one small sound, and its body fell to the side. Its tiny talons curled up, and its eyes closed.

Dead? Dead.

The girl let out a cry she did not hear. Without thinking, she scooped the little bird up into her hand. It weighed barely anything at all: it was lighter than a rose in bloom, smaller than a handful of snow. It did not move as she held it near to her face. She looked through tears for signs of life.

Nothing.

The girl was still astride her bicycle, still in the middle of the street. Because she didn't know what else to do, she swung leg over her frame and carried the tiny body over to the sidewalk. She placed the bird gently on the pavement, then stood and looked at it from her full girl's height.

It was so small. Surely nothing this small could have suffered for long.

The girl sat on the curb and allowed her sadness to rise up. A sob slipped out, then another. The night around her blurred into orange light and shadows. The moon's full face disappeared under her tears. The bird lay beside her, quiet in death.

Then the girl heard a sound. Another bird had landed, cheeping madly at the girl, at the tiny body beside her. Then another bird landed. Soon, the girl and the body were surrounded by a tiny quorum of birds, all crying into the night.

The girl pushed herself back up to her feet. The birds fell silent for a moment, watching her rise. Then they turned their attention back to the death at hand. It was impossible for the girl to know—were these other birds friends? Family? Perhaps a lovebird, drawn to the scene by the tidal knowledge of death? All mourning in their own raptorish way?

As the girl watched, each took a turn running its beak along their fallen friend's feathers. It was a gentle thing, made strange and beautiful under the orange glow of the streetlight. The birds paid her no heed as they tended to their friend.

The girl walked back to her bicycle and looked once more at the birds on the sidewalk. They were silent now, looking down at the tiny body.

The girl did not smile as she rode away, but neither did she cry. Instead, she felt the love she held in her heart for her own flock rise up over the city like a wing on the breeze.

Image via Karl Martens via My Modern Met