Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's the day before Christmas...

And eerily, not a creature is stirring in my house. That's quite a feat, considering that this household is comprised of a prowly cat, a dog who is set off into fits of futile barking whenever he hears the slightest peep in the hallway, a strong-willed infant and two adults who are excessively fond of television, talking and iTunes (often all at once). But for now, the pets and infant sleep sweetly and my husband is probably the only person in the universe at the gym today. 

Our ambitions go no further than tidying up, taking showers, stopping in at the drugstore and setting all the presents up under the tree today. Then tonight...Piglet's first restaurant outing! We are going to take on the moderately priced Chinese establishment two blocks down...hah. And even the prospect of this gives me the heebie jeebies. God help me, but this is an inscrutable child. I was never destined to be one of those confident moms who seems to know without any doubt what's going on with her baby at any moment. ("He's hungry...Oh, it's been forty-three and a half minutes since he ate, he's gassy...Time for a nap, see, his eyes look tired...That's definitely an overtired cry!") No, I bumble along and attempt a mishmash of soothing techniques before I just lie her down and nurse her. No wonder she's in the 90th percentile for babies her size...the bar's always open. But anyway - all this to say that I still feel like her behavior is completely out of my control, and I have no idea what to expect tonight. A full-on screamfest (I have come to affectionately calling it her "angry baboon" screaming) could commence as we take our seats. Last night she inexplicably screamed the house down for half an hour. No idea why. And then out of desperation, we swaddled her up and she fell asleep shortly thereafter. 

Like I said. Bumbling. And she calls! Gotta run.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Deep Thoughts on Mommyhood (or, "Shove your bubble bath, Chatelaine")

Good work in keeping to the chosen theme, right? I know...but frankly, y'all should just be grateful that I'm not waxing philosophical about poop and lactating and oooh BabyGap just e-mailed me a 20% off coupon and zomg what should I buy?? Because these are the things I fill my husband's ear with I have correctly surmised, however, that he's more interested in those things than what Maureen Dowd or Arianna Huffington have to say today.

Today's topic is in a way the flip side of last week's. Or actually, in a way, its necessary complement...the yin to its yang, sorta kinda. I, again, have a bone to pick with my fellow moms and perhaps it is the mirror image of the mommy guilt issue: since when did motherhood become some kind of sick competition to see who can out-martyr everyone else??

Okay, yes, that was entirely rhetorical. I think we can all figure out when this happened. And that is, uh, the beginning of time, in a way. Good, virtuous, socially-sanctioned femininity has always been synonymous with self-deprivation and the suppression of self. You don't show off your smarts, lest you make others uncomfortable. You don't ask for much, lest you look greedy. You don't talk about your accomplishments, lest you appear self-aggrandizing. And when babies arrive on the scene? Sayonara, former self.

I guess I just didn't realize that this attitude was still in fashion. I stupidly believed that we'd moved past the motherhood as sublimation and self-denial era - thought it was as passe as wedge heels and wood beams, actually - but now I realize that that's just a high-larious trick we've played on ourselves. It's all smoke and mirrors, right alongside the magazine articles that tell us, "There there...mommies do so should really do something for yourself! Like, take a bubble bath! Yeah! That'll recharge your batteries, and get you all revved up for your next 24 hour shift of servitude!"

UHHHH...excuse me? I didn't sell my personhood for a bubble bath and weekly glass of wine, thank you very much.

My sociology professor taught us that the main characteristic of a status symbol is that few people can attain the coveted object: essentially, that once it becomes mainstream, something new, exclusive, difficult to attain and expensive takes its place. I feel like martyring motherhood is like the new status symbol. It's not enough to avoid alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy: now, you must fanatically avoid defiling yourself with sushi, chocolate, mayonnaise, Caesar salad and relaxing hot baths. It's not enough to breastfeed for a year and then introduce your regular old homogenized milk: now, you must breastfeed until the baby "self-weans" (oh, which apparently doesn't happen for at least two years! enjoy!), cut out dairy and spice and everything nice, and then search high and low to provide goat's milk (nutritionally superior to cow's, don't you know anything?). It's not enough to take a few months or even a year off with your new baby: now, you "belong" at home into perpetuity because your children "need" you. What kind of evil mother would entrust her baby's care to a STRANGER? Or even worse, deposit her child at the germ infested cesspools they call daycares? Never mind that you once had ambitions. Never mind that you had goals of your own. You will have to wait. 

It's a race to the unattainable ideal...and the more you elevate everyone else's needs above your own, the better. Because your babies are only small once and you can always go back to work later and become a world-renowned concert pianist at age 45, right? No harm, no foul.

The obvious question that I'm sure arises from this rant is...well, who cares? Who cares what other people choose to do? If they want to play the who's the better mommy chicken, why does that matter to me? Well, besides the fact that my inner Gloria Steinem is screaming, it's a simple matter of setting norms. It becomes the standard against which all women's behavior is measured and reinforces a certain mode of femininity as ideal. Anyone falling outside those parameters is "weird." A little Googling will demonstrate all too clearly how women marginalized in this way - who don't act in accordance with our ideal of womanhood - draw the short stick. Consider women who dare to, say, run for public office when they have small children at home (Sarah Palin); don't break down and sob for the cameras in the face of unthinkable tragedy (Kate McCann); or who don't play nice with the big boys (Hilary Clinton; Joan of Arc; you get my point). They have to contend with much more than just the judgmental glares and disapproving clucking of other mothers. Society throws the book at them.

And ultimately it does also circle back to the issue of mommy guilt. As much as I say I'm not going to play ball, these new norms worm their way into your head and surface to make you feel like crap when you're already doubting yourself. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mommy Fail No. 1

I keep a secret "see me in hell" list upon which Smug Mummies (heretofore "SMs") place in at least one of the top five spots, depending on my mood. Oof, but I hate those SMs. Even when in a moment of rare honesty I have to admit to myself that I actually agree with what they're saying, or can maaaaaybe see what they might be driving at, it's how they say it that makes me want to beat them with their own copy of Dr. Sears's Baby Book. 

"We've never had problems like that here. I'm glad I did my research beforehand."
"My heart just breaks for the poor babies whose parents let them cry."
"I haven't slept more than two hours straight in sixteen years, but I don't mind. I always knew that motherhood required sacrifices." 

*muffled shriek*

But keeping with the whole honesty thing I'm trying to go with here doesn't seem so wild and crazy that parents can get verrrry cozily comfortable in their ideas of what good parenting is when things are going well (at the very least, in their own minds - the rest of us can continue to shoot venomous looks when their pweshuses channel hooligan guerillas in the middle of JFK). My Piglet isn't really old enough to reflect good or bad parenting back at me yet, or so I've convinced myself. She's...small. And so, kind of a blob, if you will. We cuddle on the couch, nurse, sometimes get on the ground with her playmat, sometimes swing in the baby swing when mummy needs a minute to herself, and sometimes walk around the house and point out things ("Dog! Cat! Christmas tree! Mirror baby!") and then Discuss. But other than that, she doesn't have particularly fearsome needs. I'd lulled myself into thinking that this wasn't all that bad and that I wasn't botching it all up too badly.

And then yesterday. Piglet had her first set of vaccinations...which in and of themselves weren't a huge issue. She shrieked through them, but I think those were more shrieks of rage at being ignominiously stripped nekkid, examined and restrained by these odd people in white coats. Our bright idea was that, since Josh was taking part of the morning to go to the doctor's with us, we'd rent a car and do some shopping for the rest of the day. And oh! Let's see some apartments in Hoboken, where we're thinking of moving. 

I'm not going to go into detail about the horrors of the day, mostly because I don't want to read back over this blog and feel sick to my stomach every time. But suffice to say that a long day of being carted around, interrupted naps, pain in her thighs at the injection sites, and less-than-predictable feedings that occurred in the backseat of a car had a not-so-soothing effect on my sweet girl. I tried to downplay some of the fussiness as just business as usual, until the complete meltdown at 3pm. 

I will always remember holding my baby and just crying from guilt and fear because she was inconsolable; sitting next to her and not being able to comfort her through her screams (with real tears and everything) because we were in a BARELY moving car (#&#@^*$ing Holland Tunnel!) and I was too scared to take her out of her car seat. It all ended with a stupid fight with my husband, which cut our shopping trip short (or rather, nonexistant) and a horrifying hour-plus ride home where she wailed and cried the whole way. I can't believe I was so incredibly stupid as to think a day-long excursion after her first set of shots was a good idea?!?!

Now, with her chubby little body laying against mine for the last few hours, I still don't quite have enough perspective to write it off as one of those days. My induction into the world of mommy guilt is complete: I realize now that no matter what little tragedies befall us, I will always blame myself. And that doesn't even feel irrational. She's the most precious thing I will ever be given; how can every misstep, every miscalculation, every minute mistake not be magnified into an epic parenting fail that will replay over and over again in my mind?