I’m can’t quite put my finger on the word for Arty’s expression here. It’s serious, but more than that. Is he bored? Resigned? Preoccupied? He’s in no hurry to get off Robert’s lap, that’s for sure, but he’s also not thrilled with his lot in life.
This is me before work this morning. Tall wooly socks and a puffy coat. This is exactly what I wore when I was a nerdy sixth grader. I’m really happy that nineties style is big right now. I mean, I don’t really know what’s “big” right now, but I do know that the mannequins in the Urban Outfitters window displays I pass on my way to work have been looking pretty grungy for the past year or so and the combat boots I’ve been awkwardly rocking since high school don’t feel so awkward anymore. I was just a kid in the nineties, but the decade still shaped my sense of what’s cool more than any other. For example, “cool” will always be my default slang term of approval. When I think of comfort, I think of loose-fitting, straight-legged jeans, a baggy college t-shirt, and slouchy socks. When I think of road trip music, I think of Tom Petty. When I think about the only leading man I’ve ever loved, I think of Keanu. When I think about how much I love him, I think about that song from Jerry Maguire (which I have not seen because my family did not watch R-rated movies). I know it’s only a matter of time before visible socks become uncool again and I know this nineties fashion comeback does not make my obsession with the Counting Crows acceptable, but I’m embracing it anyway.
Before and after I had a kid I heard women say that they thought working made them a better mom. Among other things, they say that being away from their kid for part of the day helps them to be more present when they are with their kid. I understood this reasoning, but didn’t think it applied to me. I would be a better mom no matter what. It might be hard, but I would be checked in all the time. No TV. No cell phone. No falling asleep on the nursery floor while the baby crawls all over me.
Well. It turns out that’s not so easy. Even though Robert and I were both at home during my maternity leave, and Robert is a super-involved parent, a lot of the hands-on responsiblities (ahem, nursing) in those early months fell to me. I know you all know this, but hanging out with a baby all day every day is exhausting! And it’s virtually impossible to be a focused, chipper, attentive mother 24/7. Obviously that’s the goal, but from day one I was failing.
Which means that from day one I was swimming in a whole new kind of guilt. A guilt stew. I thought I’d be a relaxed mom, I thought I’d have enough perspectives to forgive myself for not being perfect, but it was not so. Every day I looked forward to taking a long walk with the stroller because it was an opportunity to get out of the house and listen to a podcast and feel like myself. And Dylan liked them too, or she seemed to. But I felt guilty taking them because they felt more like something I was doing for me than for her, and that seemed wrong. Even though babies like walks! It’s good for them to see new things and the stoller lulls them to sleep.
On a similar note, at a certain point Dylan started rebelling against naps and it took a long time with lots of rocking and singing to get her to sleep. I fely guilty about trying to get her to nap! Because I wanted the break as much as she needed the sleep and, again, I felt guilty doing something that was as much for me as for her.
Of course, it goes without saying that I felt guilty when I went for a run or took a nap without her, when I passed her to Robert so I could take an unnecessarily long hot shower, when I couldn’t keep myself awake when she wanted to play, when I played candy crush while nursing instead of gazing at her lovely profile, when I bumped her head into a door frame, when I made her wait five minutes to eat because we were in the car, when I when I when I.
I know that Mom guilt is forever. But it’s subsided considerably since I went back to work. I really am more present when I’m with her. I am still exhausted, sure, but I know my time with her is limited, so I keep myself awake. I don’t need to think of ways to fill the hours. I don’t need to desperately carve out time for myself because I get plenty of it and want to spend the rest with her. I don’t feel bad about taking her for walks or putting her down for naps and I definitely don’t feel bad about working so that she can have a stroller to walk in and a bed to sleep because we’re going to have a lot of years together.
I was going to call this post My Selfie, My Self, and pat myself on the back for my cleverness, but then I realized that’s the title of that New York Times article going around, and I don’t want this to be like that time that kid in my Intro to Poetry class wrote a poem about having ocean water in his veins and everybody called him out for unintentionally co-opting Modest Mouse lyrics.
But this post is about selfies. Whenever I read a defense of the medium I groan at the lengths people go to to explain away narcissism. Just own it already. I don’t think I look particularly good in this elevator photo, but I do like that I look kind of mysterious, and thin. Also, let’s not pretend that posting a hot picture your husband or friend took on the internet is any less vain than posting a picture you took yourself, because you’re making the same judgment call (I want people to see how good I look) either way.
I’m hyper-conscious of being perceived as vain, so I rarely make pictures of myself public, even though I’d like to. I’m also wary of presenting a dishonest picture of myself, so I tend toward posting unflattering pictures–you know, no makeup, messy hair, pulling a stupid face. Flattering photos feel like a lie. Or, maybe, I’m worried that even the good pictures aren’t pretty so I post bad pictures to preempt criticism. “Look how quirky she is,” people will think, instead of, “Look how blotchy her skin is.”
While we’re making confessions, I’ll say that I never really liked my face. I have big pores, and small eyes, and shapeless brows, and creases on my forehead and around my mouth. When I was 19, a boyfriend told me I looked old, and that stuck with me. Robert tells me he was wrong, and I don’t believe him. But, what do you know, my daughter has the same creases I do around her mouth when she smiles, and the same small eyes, and the same rounded nose, and she’s beautiful, so maybe Robert is on to something. Also, I’m increasingly starting to wonder, what’s so bad about looking old?
Shoot, this whole photo a day thing seemed much more feasible yesterday coming off a five-day Thanskgiving weekend. I didn’t even think to pull my camera out until I left work at 5:00. This is how dark it is at 5:00 in Chicago, by the way. I hate it. I meant to take a picture of the lights on the trees and was surprised to see that my building outshone them. I may not work in the tallest building in the loop, but it’s really pretty at night. Even better than that, I almost never see it at night, which still feels like a lucky break, even though I’ve now been at my “new” job almost twice as long as I was at my “old” job.
One more note about working downtown. As much as I love the idea of working from home and seeing my family all the time, working downtown makes me feel alive. I missed it when I was on maternity leave. I missed it when I didn’t go to the office last week. The first time I took Dylan downtown, when she was just eight weeks old, she came alive too, staring up at the skyscrapers and steeples, grinning at the protestors, and then passing out on my chest when she couldn’t take anymore newness, and I was so proud to be able to give her this city.
I want to do a Photo of the Day thing here for awhile. I can’t write to save my life, but I do take a lot of pictures, and not just of my baby. Plus, pictures give me something to write about. Here are some facts about this photo:
- This is what Dylan looks like right now, today, at just over 7 months old.
- Those pellets between her feet are these weird little raspberry wheat puffs that are not tasty at all. I feel compelled to tell you that we make most of her baby food, but she doesn’t like any of the purees as much as anything that comes from a box or a bag. She’s not great at eating, by the way. She grabs as many pellets as she can fit in her little fist (like, two) and then rubs her hand around near her mouth until something makes it in. She thinks she can chew, but really the pellets just dissolve on her tongue or fall out of her mouth onto the floor.
- She is perched on the very edge of a very high counter, but I am sitting behind her with both hands around her waist (but only one while taking this picture).
- The book under that receiving blanket is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I found it on the Fiction shelves at the library, but I’m afraid it is actually YA fiction, which would be fine, except that I’m a little embarrassed about the fact that all I read is YA fiction. Whatever, though, I loved it. I also read a book about birth order this weekend, which is also mildly embarrassing because I’m pretty sure it’s been debunked by the psychiatric community, but I thought it was totally fascinating and revealing. For example, I always thought I was an easygoing Type B personality in a profession dominated by Type A perfectionists, but it turns out I am just a discouraged perfectionist, which is a terrible thing to be. I feel like birth order is the key to understanding my whole family. I might talk about this more.
- The photograph on the wall behind Dylan is of me and Robert during the toasts at our wedding reception. We are both holding flutes, but his was full of champagne and I was sipping sparkling apple cider. Alcohol is tricky to figure out for a mixed Mormon/non-Mormon wedding. Most people expect to see alcohol at weddings. Champagne, especially, is a harbinger of celebration. Mormons, on the other hand, are surprised to see alcohol anywhere. We decided to do a champagne/cider toast, and I suspect that some of our Mormon guests were uncomfortable when they realized they had a choice between the two, and I suspect that some of our other guests thought we were cheap, but it felt right to us, and was a good lesson in negotiating interfaith and familial differences. Plus we had a stupid amount of soda pop, including Dublin Dr. Pepper and Leninade. I wish you could see Robert in the photograph, because he looks very handsome and very happy and very much like a groom.
- Yes, those are corgis on Dylan’s pants, and yes, those corgis are wearing sweaters. There are more cardigan-wearing corgis on her socks and on her onesie.
See you tomorrow.
I know some women are transformed in motherhood. They feel the difference in pregnancy, in birth, in caring for a newborn. I didn’t. I don’t. I don’t doubt that motherhood will change me, immeasurably, I hope for the better. I don’t deny that my life looks different than it did a year ago. But I feel the same. Mom is just another name I carry, like Sandy, like Mormon, like wife, like lawyer, like Dracelhonious Nut Puppy, the absurd nickname my dad bestowed upon me in childhood. I already had a family that I would die for, now it’s just a little bigger.
The thing that motherhood has done for me is that it’s expanded the already huge range of emotions on the verge of washing over me at any given moment. Love, yes, but also grief and sorrow and terror. Motherhood is like a demon sitting on your heart and that demon’s name is My Baby Might Die. My Toddler Might Get Run Over By A Truck. My Nine-Year-Old Might Disappear. Someone Might Rape My Teenage Daughter. My Grown Up Child Might Know A Sadness I Can’t Fathom.
Not too long ago I got into an argument with a woman who suggested that female teachers should not take maternity leave during the school year because the disruption set the kids back. “Do you understand the implications of what you are saying?” I asked? “Do you realize that this kind of thinking can be used to justify barring women from all kinds of jobs?” She insisted that she was a feminist, but she rejected the idea that she should consider the needs of other women, who can speak for themselves, before the needs of children, who can’t. She was right in theory, though wrong in this specific instance, and I rolled my eyes hard at her pearl-clutching THINK OF THE CHILDREN attitude.
When I was in law school I knew a handful of students who focused their studies on children’s advocacy. I didn’t fully understand this as a professional or intellectual interest. “Lawyers? I said, scratching my head. “For children?” I mean, of course kids have rights, but I didn’t understand wanting to represent children just because they are children. Surely there are needier populations who don’t already have the world’s sympathy, like, say, criminals or undocumented Americans.
I used to hear about child abuse and of course I knew it was horrible, but I knew it in an intellectual, sanitized kind of way. I figured that I was desensitized to it, they way I am to all kinds of tragedies like war, and environmental destruction, merely by virtue of living in a fallen world. Like, the first trial I ever observed was of two parents who let their infant child starve to death. I listened to a fireman testify about finding his little body. I thought the case was “interesting” because the parents thought they were doing right by feeding the baby a vegan diet. I used words like “criminal negligence” because they hurt less than “starving your baby.”
Like, I once recommended shaving 38 days off the prison sentence of a man who molested his four-year-old because the law required it. I used words like “sexual assault of a minor” because they distract from the horror of the crime.
Like, while doing research for an appellate brief, I found a case about a father who killed his baby son by throwing him at a dresser from across the room and I thought, “This is a great case!” because it articulated the precise legal argument I needed. I used words like “felony murder rule” and “merger doctrine” because that’s how you acquit on murder charges when there’s a dead body.
Just this week I read four stories about parents who committed unspeakable crimes against their own children. I don’t even read the news. These were just stories I stumbled into. I know I should shut the window when I find stories like this, but I can’t stop. I feel like I owe it to each those kids to read and acknowledge that they’ve been the victim of the greatest injustice. I won’t describe any of the crimes. I can’t bring myself to write the words honestly and I refuse to protect those parents with legalese. I read about one of them at work yesterday and started to cry until I remembered I don’t have time for that. So I worked without breathing instead. The demon on my heart grew a little bigger and I shrank in fear.
I want to scream at the world, THINK OF THE CHILDREN. I want to rewind my career and become a social worker, a teacher, hell, a CPS worker, anyone who might be able to PROTECT THE CHILDREN. I want to throw myself on my knees and beg forgiveness from every person I judged for asking the question, “How can you believe in a God that lets bad things happen to good people?” I want to stop time so that I don’t become desensitized to this new sorrow. I want to never have another child so that I can put everything I have into protecting the one I’ve got. I want to have ten more children so that I can put everything I have into protecting them, too. Mostly I want to gather my little family together and hug them tight, because that’s the demon relaxes his grip and I can almost forget he is there. I can’t protect the children of the world. I can’t even protect mine. But I raise her in a home filled with love and hope that’s enough.
On the first day of school I told Sofia I was new, too, from Ohio. I told Sofia I was Mormon. I told Sofia my parents weren’t nudists, even though she used to know another Mormon whose parents were.
In the ten minutes before math class I told Sofia that I liked a boy from second hour and that he liked me, too, even though he had a girlfriend and another girlfriend after that and another girlfriend after that.
In the middle of the night I told Sofia I’d never doubted God’s existence, but that I believed in science too, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive and because science is something that just is. I told Sofia I’d never marry somebody who wasn’t Mormon because I would never fall in love with somebody who wasn’t Mormon because I wouldn’t let myself. I told Sofia I thought oral sex was gross.
On the phone I told Sofia M. Night Shyamalan was better than she gave him credit for.
Junior year I told Sofia I wanted to go to college on the East coast, but I only applied to four schools and only got into two of them and ended up following her to Tucson.
In the driveway I told Sofia we should steal booze from her parents.
In the car I told Sofia there was a connection between us and there always would be. I told Sofia we would be neighbors forever and get pregnant at the same time and our kids would be best friends.
In the dorm I told Sofia she was being a bitch.
In the dorm I told Sofia I hadn’t sat on her bed when she went back home for the weekend and no, I didn’t know how all those Cheez-Its got in there.
In the library I told Sofia I was so depressed that it scared me. She told her mom who told my mom and I told her this made her a bad friend.
Sophomore year I told Sofia I didn’t want to live with her.
Junior year I told Sofia I did want to live with her. I told her the green and orange walls in her house were amazing. I told her we’d decorate the whole place together. When I moved in and found her boyfriend on the couch I told her he was a loser. I told her his friend tried to assault me and she didn’t believe me. I told her I was moving out.
I told Sofia nothing for one, two, three years, except that I was in love, and that I was leaving Arizona.
By email I told Sofia I was coming back to Tucson for just one night.
In the middle of the night I told Sofia I was Mormon again. I told Sofia I was getting married to a man who wasn’t. I told Sofia she could say I told you so. I told Sofia to come to my wedding.
On the phone I told Sofia I worked too much. I told Sofia I got a dog. I told Sofia I changed jobs. I told Sofia I was pregnant. I told Sofia about my c-section. I told Sofia about breastfeeding. I told Sofia I would come visit with the baby, but the months flew by and I didn’t buy a ticket and then I went back to work.
I told Sofia there was a connection between us and there always would be. I told Sofia we would be neighbors again someday and our kids would be best friends, but that she needed to get pregnant right away. Sofia laughed and said, God, I hope not.
Today is Robert’s birthday. I wanted to write something amazing for him. Something that will show you how good he is, and kind, and funny and stubborn and generous and loyal and creative and supportive and decisive and resilient and good. Something with anecdotes so you know that I’m not just saying words, but that these things are true.
Two weeks ago he made a pot of applesauce and we had some for dinner and then I took the leftovers to work for a week. He didn’t eat a bite after that first night. I asked him if he didn’t like it, if he wasn’t as happy with it as he was with his last batch, and he told me no, he loved it, but he remembered that I once said eating applesauce is the best part of my day at work and he couldn’t bring himself to take that away from me, even for one day, by eating some himself.
Eight and a half years ago I sat on his bed and he sat on the floor going through his stacks and stacks of books, telling me which ones he loved, and tossing them in my lap. Later he gave me CDs to copy and he gave me other CDs loaded with songs that made him think of me and I listened to them and liked the way I looked to him. He rewatches movies every year, even bad ones, just because I never saw them when they came out. He leaves a dozen tabs open on the computer and makes me watch funny YouTube videos when I get home and I groan about it because I don’t even like Bad Lip Reading and Will Farrell gets on my nerves, but I shouldn’t groan because he watches them all and thinks of me. He asks my opinion on every piece of legal news he gathered over the course of a day from podcasts or Reddit or wherever else men spend their time on the internet.
Loving. I forgot to say that he is loving. And funny. He would want me to mention that one again.
He bought a Dremel and set up shop on our balcony and carved a clock for Dylan’s room. The he carved another for my sister’s boy. A few months after we bought our brand-new car, he bumped into something, a pole, a tree, I don’t know, then somebody scraped our bumper on the street, and then I gestured wildly and got pen on the ceiling, and he spent weeks banging out the dent and sanding and painting whenever the forecast was clear, and rubbed the pen out with alcohol or goof off, I don’t know. He wears motorcycle boots when he comes to church.
I went back to work last week and I was afraid that it would hurt, that I would cry on the train, or randomly in the middle of the day, and at night after putting Dylan to bed, but really it’s been easy. Not for him, but for me, because he’s home with Dylan, and he is the best dad. The best.
In fact, he’s home with her right now. It’s his birthday and I am at work, and he just texted me a picture of himself, a thermos of coffee, Dylan, and Arty, with Uncle Buck on TV. I wanted to give Robert a better birthday, because he deserves it, but I can’t because I’m here, at work. Instead I will take him out for an absurdly early dinner and hope we don’t get any dirty looks carrying a baby into a nice restaurant and then we will go home and eat cake and open gifts and he will crack a birthday beer and I will show him this post and he will get mad because he thinks it makes him look bad, but he will be wrong, because he is everything good.
Happy Birthday, love.
Today I posted a comment on a blog post about Mormon Feminism sincerely asking other Mormon women what they believe are the innate differences between men and women that warrant our different spiritual and ecclesiastical roles. One person responded, “Well if you don’t want to rely on the Family Proclamation…” before delving into the rest of her answer.
Many months ago I posted a comment on my own blog confessing to my difficulty with the parenting role the church assigns to me because of my gender. A friend and reader responded by referring me to a talk by a church authority articulating gender roles in the exact same manner I had just expressed frustration with.
Many years ago I confessed in a college-level church education course that I didn’t understand how God could have asked the early Mormons to practice polygamy. My instructor told me to “pray about it” and that one day I would understand.
Here is some relevant background information you might find handy when engaging with a member of the church who has questions about certain highly controversial aspects of our history, culture, and doctrine.
We want to rely on the teachings of the church. We have consulted our scriptures and read our conference talks and articles. We have prayed, oh Lord we have prayed. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here asking questions. When I have trouble understanding why gender roles in the church are the way they are, the Family Proclamation is not going to solve my lack of understanding. It is the source of my lack of understanding. When I become frustrated trying to conform to my prescribed role, a talk about the importance of motherhood is not going to solve my frustration. It is the source of my frustration. When I express opposition to religious practices that my heart and mine tell me are not from God, prayer is not going to bring me back in line. It is the reason I am falling out of line.
It is insulting to presume that the unorthodox believers, the agitators, the so-called radicals, are starting from a place of opposition to the church. We are starting from a place of faith and love. I know women who went to the temple to find God and came out in a tailspin. I know Sunday School teachers who delved into Mormon history to better serve their wards and came out shocked. I know I turned to scriptures and to the leaders of my church to confirm my divine worth as a daughter of God and came out ripped in half. God might love me, but the institutional church does not.
It is insulting to assume that we do not spend hours on our knees, praying for clarity, for guidance, for strength to become perfect people because then, maybe then, we might see as you do. Praying for absolution when we fail. It is insulting when you pity us for this trial of faith when it is not our faith that is lacking, and the only trial is living in an unjust world.
We all have more to learn. If you have information about or insight into one of these issues, please share it. I’d especially love it if you explain how the information shapes your perspective or how you came to your view of things. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you don’t have all the same questions, you must have all the right answers.