Archive for December, 2006

Kung Fu Mama

December 24, 2006

Before Charlie entered my life, I had achieved a black sash in kung fu. I practiced 2-3 hours a day, 4 days a week. I have never been a skinny person, or even an athletic person, and this was the most body well-being I’d ever had. I enjoyed it immensely, up until my body was too big for more than walking. And, then, of course, my newborn stole my sanity and my breath, as well as my time.

It has taken eight months for my new little family to develop a sort of schedule. In those wooly, frazzled months, exercise (not including walking, which we do daily, living in NYC) has gone the way of spontaneous Friday nights at the movie theater. I miss kung fu: the exercise, the stress relief, the intellectual stimulation, the breathing, the awareness of body movement. And in the new year, I hope to add movement back into my life, even if it is only in 15-minute increments.

But kung fu gave me more than just exercise. It honed my discipline and gave me a different mindset, one I was thankful for during labor. (I was a stellar breather, the nurse said, though don’t let anyone convince you that breathing reduces the pain of unmedicated childbirth in any way.) And I am thankful for my kung fu mindset when I must call on super-stamina to keep up with (and succeed in) a daily life full of parenting, marriage, working, family, friends, and . . . the holidays.

We arrived in Georgia a few days ago, after taking the Crescent Amtrak line (no wait, no traffic, no taking off of clothes and shoes–unless you want to–nice views, and we got to sleep through most of it.) But before our Christmas vacation began, I was heavily pressed for time: shopping; washing clothes to pack, then packing them; cooking CW’s food so he wouldn’t starve on the ride; wrapping gifts; schlepping; finishing up projects at work; and beginning some freelance projects necessary to our well-being in the new year. Through it all, I got very little sleep. The only way I made it through was to follow one task after another, one piece at a time, focusing only on that item. No past, no future, just the present. No focusing on the tiredness, the pain, the frustration–it was the discipline of kung fu applied to parenting.

It didn’t reduce my stress, however. (I did say I was out of practice, didn’t I?) Now, I just need to rediscover the skill of breathing and relaxing, too.

More than milestones

December 20, 2006

Pulling UpHere he is pulling up on the squishy sofa.

The rapid development of babies stuns me. Granted, during this first eight months I’ve reached some mothering milestones of my own (using one hand to do just about anything, diapering in any location, feeding greens first), but Charlie has managed to triple and quadruple the things he can do. When he first came home, he laid around and slept, when not crying. Now, he’s a ball of energy. Any new item within his reach is fair game for destruction, from the stereo to the kitchen stools. Just in the last month a tooth has peeked through his lower gum; he’s gone from rolling and sitting up to slowly crawling across the room one scoot at a time; he’s figured out how to pull up on our high and squishy sofa (something he’s been trying to do for a while, but hadn’t quite gotten the hang of); and he’s now whispering vowel sounds and trying out his ‘kaa’s’–he even repeated the ‘bu’ and ‘fie’ of butterflies the other day. I’m amazed by this tiny human. I wish I could learn so much so fast.

Holiday-style

December 18, 2006

A reflection of the nuclear family

For more photos go to: Holiday-style

We’ve kicked off the holidays right, here in the Big Apple. A few days ago CW and I viewed the Macy’s windows and were surprised by free photos and cocoa in Herald Square. Last weekend we traveled up to Inwood for a Christmas/housewarming party where Charlie was the life of the event. This weekend, our nuclear family participated in Unsilent Night. This is only the second year we’ve done it, but the concert/procession has quickly become one of my favorite holiday traditions. (A huge mass of people, many with boom boxes and ipod stereos, plays a composition. The music flows down the length of people and echoes off the buildings in a haunting and beautiful manner. Plus, the gathering completely takes over the sidewalks and sometimes the streets, walking slowly from Washington Square to Thompson Square. I don’t know whether it’s the beauty of the music or the anarchic quality of the crowd that I like more.) Yesterday, we visited the Botanical Gardens where we saw gingerbread houses and trains running through replicas of old New York made out of twigs, berries and bark. Jesse and I had a great time ooh’ing and ah’ing over the tiny houses and bridges (and wishing we could have seen some of those old mansions in person before they were demolished in the 20s and 30s). Charlie was more interested in the patterns the trees and ferns made against the conservatory ceiling. To each his own!

Profound Parenting

December 17, 2006

I came across this letter to the editor of Salon (in response to Rebecca Traister’s insightful comments about another letter in the San Francisco Chronicle) as I was browsing blogs. Here, the writer says there are two types of parents: First, those who say parenting changes everything and who look down on childless people; second, those who say parenting is hard work, but claim they are still the same people they have always been.

Well, for me, parenting has changed everything, including the way I see the world. How could it not? Any emotionally resonant event changes you: marriage, puberty, the loss of my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, the two-month-long cross-country trip I took with J where we had ultimate freedom and a car to go with it. Life is about change. It is about those experiences that shape you, strengthen you, test you and bring you joy. It is not about pretending that becoming a parent (or whatever else) hasn’t happened. It is not about pretending that one doesn’t get older and, hopefully, wiser as life goes on. (Though I know that’s a minority view, judging from today’s perpetually youthful culture, but that’s a post for another time.) Adult responsibilities—including, but not limited to, children, home ownership, community involvement, a daily job, volunteering, and caring for elderly family members—change the way you interact with the world. And they allow the world to affect you right back. Nothing wrong with that, and, I’d say, probably a lot right with it.

I was a childless adult for more than ten years. Children sometimes annoyed me, but more often the annoyance came from other adults. So why do some childless people act as if the public sphere is only for people of a certain age? (Lord help them when they get old. If children are only supposed to be seen at Chuck E. Cheese and Gymoboree then are seniors only allowed in retirement homes?) Sure the ‘childless’—there’s got to be a better description for them than this, not all childless people are selfish and mean-spirited—can be loud on their cell phones or take bathroom breaks in the middle of movie love scenes, poking and prodding everyone in their wake, but the presence of a child who wiggles is annoying? (You can read more about intolerance in the book I Hate Other People’s Kids. Also inside, more about parents who need lessons in managing their children. Warning: The author fails in her attempt to be humorous.)

Having a relationship with a child, whether as a parent, a family member or a friend, can be profound. Not because it makes you a better person or a more mature one, but because it makes you want to be better or more mature. It humbles you and opens your heart to spontaneity. (And, yes, it is a lot of hard, sometimes not very interesting, work.) Holding a baby, watching him grow, keeping him safe at all costs is the height of responsibility, but understanding that nothing you do, really, can determine who he will become is a lesson in compromise. And watching your carefully scheduled/organized/planned life take curves and leaps and jumps that you had, before, thought were impossible is a lesson in letting go of pre-conceived notions and finding joy where you least expected it.

Relationships with people of different ages and with those who have different viewpoints are what keep you tolerant. To love someone, to raise someone, or simply to enjoy that person’s company even while disagreeing on fundamentals like faith or politics (or even the role of children in society) is a testament to finding peace when violence would be easier. Kids, who ultimately disagree with you on everything, are not the only way to change your life, just one of the most efficient.

CW is sick

December 14, 2006

It started on Monday. My dumpling of a baby boy, who, usually, would drink milk and eat squash and carrots all day if I let him, nearly gagged on his breakfast of bananas and cereal. Hmm, I thought, is this his new way of saying he’s not hungry? But when he passed up his afternoon snack and spent all afternoon being cranky, I began to worry. Sure enough, the fever popped up the next morning. Followed by two two-hour naps–for a kid who usually can’t keep his eyes closed for more than twenty minutes at a time. Then yesterday the fever got up to nearly 104. The doctor assured us it was only a viral cold and that the fever would break in a day or two. But man…I feel so bad for him. The kid who usually grabs at every new object, from wires to shoelaces to plant leaves, couldn’t bother himself to grab the remote control (his favorite wanna-be toy). Listless and uncomfortable, he looks up at me with his red-rimmed eyes as if to say, ‘Please, make it better.’ And all I’ve got is Tylenol in a flavor he seems to hate and lots and lots of hugs.

Thinking ahead, as most moms do, I’m sure I’ll have this fever in a few days, right when I need to pack up our life for a week and a half and spend the night on the train down to Georgia for Christmas festivities. Did someone mention citrus and zinc? I’m on it!

A day in the park

December 12, 2006

img_2071.jpg

For more photos go to: A day in the park

In New York, it is easy to get caught up in the fast and competitive pace, even if you’d prefer to move more slowly. It’s not like I work on Wall Street. I’m an editor, and if anything is slow-paced in this techno world it’s publishing. But the pace in the city–fueled by horns, traffic, fast walking and screaming subway cars, not to mention deals and opportunities–infiltrates my leaning-heavily-toward-Type-A system. I can only think of a few times when I’ve ever truly ‘winged it.’ Living in NYC, I always plan out the best/fastest route from point A to point B and bring along some work in the form of manuscripts to read on the train/bus/line. Even before I moved here six years ago, I had trouble winging it. Since the age of 15, I have worked and/or studied full time, which meant I had responsibilities, bosses, deadlines, places to be at least five days a week and sometimes seven. Constant hard work is part of who I am.

And then last month my company re-organized to cut costs. My full-time position was trimmed to part-time. This was described by my superiors as a ‘silver lining’, since I obviously wanted to spend more time with my recently born son. (At least I had a job, despite the tremendous cut in pay.) But planning for and asking for fewer hours, less pay and less responsibility (hence less advancement opportunities) is one thing, being forced into that situation with no warning is quite another. I won’t dwell on the stresses of high rent and low pay now, or the anger that simmers in my competitive heart when I think about being relegated to the Mommy Track–those are totally different tales–but I will say that my two days a week have become a lesson in slowing down. Of course, I have to look for other jobs and drum up freelance work during some of that time, but, for the most part, I’ve been winging it, something I haven’t done wholeheartedly since the two-month cross-country trip I took with my husband J right after college.

On my days off, CW and I aim for somewhere fun and then, on the way, we run into adventures and odd people. We’ve discovered a daytime world of parades, funny dogs, free cocoa and lots of nannies. We’ve napped in the park, hobnobbed with NYU students, shopped at Whole Foods during the morning lull, and watched half-naked people dressed as yellow M&Ms run across the street. I haven’t quite settled into this new frame of reference (who am I if I am not the hardest and best worker?) but I have been enjoying the chance to explore a slower way of life.

Last week, when the weather was too warm for December, CW and I spent the afternoon on the grass in the Sheep Meadow playing with leaves, rolling around and screaming at people that walked by. (Well, I let him do all the screaming.) It was one of the silliest, happiest times in my recent memory. I loved every minute.

Welcome to life with Charlie

December 10, 2006

O RLY!

Photo art, courtesy of my imaginative husband,

to kick this blog off right.