Friday, April 27, 2007

The Crying Game

Dutch's post about tears and children's books made me think of something that happened a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday, and we were nearing the end of a weekend-long move-the-furniture-around-and-clean-the-carpets binge. While we waited for the living room to dry so we could go over it one more time, we started fixing lunch and flipped channels. That silly Steve Martin movie Parenthood was on, and we stopped flipping to watch. We exchanged glances, because we both realized that in a few weeks, we would be part of this club, we would be parents. It was a little weird.

When it got to the end part where everyone's at the hospital waiting for a baby to be born, and there's babies and kids and moms and dads everywhere, we both got a little sentimental. I suppose we can't be blamed, there are like twenty babies or something in that final scene, all tiny and cute and being held and adored and receiving misty-eyed gazes from loving members of the Buckman clan. Anybody would be doomed. It's all so cheesy and the life-affirming-ness of it clubs you over the head like you're a baby seal. There's no escape.

I could hear Max sniffle next to me, and I felt my eyes grow warm and watery. I clenched my jaw and told myself I will not cry at this stupid movie, I will not, it's so hokey I will have to be ashamed of myself forever, but I lost the fight. There were fourteen babies too many, I could not fight the tide of parents beaming at their drooly little wonders while changing diapers on a hospital waiting-room chair. A tear slipped out and trickled down my cheek, and I wiped it away fast, before Max could see. He was sniffling and rubbing his eyes, and he reached over and hugged me tight and buried his face in my hair. I tried to fight off the waterworks I could feel building, but it was no use. Some of them got out. After Max let go, I raced into the kitchen and pretended to finish lunch. I didn't want him to see me getting all teary like, you know, a girl.

He wandered in and, between bites of carrot stick, made a comment about how it's funny that he's much more emotional and sentimental than I am, especially where this whole baby/pregnancy/parent thing is concerned. "I'm the girly one," he laughed. "I'm the weepy emotional wreck."

I just smiled and handed him his sandwich, then pretended to be fussing with my hair as I checked for stray tear-tracks on my face.

Friday, April 20, 2007

California, You Break My Heart

A couple of weeks ago, we drove the hour-ish out to Newport Beach to see a friend of Max's. Usually I don’t get along with this friend very well. I mean, we make nice conversation, but end up arguing about stupid stuff. I try to make all these highfallutin’ points about how if you’re a real fan, you’ve got to be willing to admit when something sucks and you need to maintain some objectivity or you’re a mere sheep who will wind up watching the new Star Wars trilogy while sucking down a Big-Gulp and raving about how funny Jar-Jar Binks is. Much of my ass-talking about art and artforms is lost on my husband’s friend. But Max loves this person as though they were blood brothers forged from the same unholy mold, so I try to shut the fuck up and make nice. I often get the impression that Friend doesn’t quite know what to do with me, he’s unaccustomed to a girl who talks about which actresses she’d like to sleep with and curses like a sailor. And I don’t know what to do with him, either. He has an engineering degree, he’s from the same small town Max is from, we have some TV shows that we both like. That’s about it.

This time, we did better. We managed to find some things in common. We went to Huntington Beach and walked the windy, chilly pier up and down. It was a fun outing.

Friend lives in a tiny studio apartment. He doesn’t have much stuff, mostly a few clothes, a big-ass computer (with two huge monitors), and a really big-ass television. You know, the usual trappings of an unattached guy with disposable income. We gazed around his small, just-moved-into place with envy. I think, in our hearts, we both long to live like that. Barely any stuff, able to pack up and go whenever we please. But we have a lot of stuff, and nine cats. We have school debt and car payments and will usually opt for groceries over a faster Internet connection. There are no studio apartments near the beach in our future. Which did not stop me from being filled with a terrible longing to live where Friend lives. He’s just up the hill from the beach, less than two miles. In my head I saw myself pushing an expensive, streamlined stroller full of baby those two miles and back to our tiny, uncluttered apartment. I saw myself working at a desk, doing freelance writing, and actually making enough to help with the gargantuan cost of living so near the ocean.

It was a stupid thing to imagine, stupid stupid stupid. Unchecked fantasies of a life so completely different from the one we have now are dangerous; they are insidious, creeping like vines to infiltrate the brain. They grow like cancer, and poison everything in their path. Weeks later, I still find myself drifting off to sleep lulled by these visions. I ache for this different life, this fantasy life. The longing fills my days and makes me useless to manage the life we already have.

But, truthfully, can I be fully blamed? I love it when we go out to the coast. We’ve never been in the summer, so I haven’t gotten the full-force experience of noisy, rude tourists crowding every square inch of space and crawling so far up the locals’ asses it takes the Jaws of Life to pry them out. We go in the off-season, November or February or other months when the sunlight fades fast and breezes are more chilling than welcoming. I still love it. It’s always about twenty degrees cooler there, the wind is incessant but not dry and baking like it is here. There’s little or no graffiti on the buildings there; here anything that doesn’t move for 12 hours will be covered in spray-painted scrawling. There are sidewalks everywhere, and real bike trails; it’s not like here where you’re lucky to even find a sidewalk and the drivers consider anyone on a bike a moving target. There are actual things to walk to along the sidewalks there, shops (albeit full of overpriced souvenirs and “beach wear”) and restaurants and grocery stores. We’d hardly need our car.

I build this life in my head and then idealize it. In this dream-life, we’re both the trim, athletic versions of ourselves we've always wanted to be. Our daughter is adorable in her tiny tank tops and sandals as we let her toddle about in the sand. And there I am, sipping coffee in a real cup from a local coffee house as our adorable girl slumbers in the stroller beside my table and I type furiously on my laptop. The baby and the stroller and the laptop and I walk all the way home to our tiny uncluttered apartment, and a few minutes later my husband arrives, smiling. He loves this job, which actually pays him enough to live on. Later, we turn out the lights and crack the window, then fall asleep in each other’s arms with the ocean smell wafting in.

You see? It’s poison. I ache so badly for this future that can never be. We will never have this, this simple but happy life in a beautiful place we love. At least, that's how it feels from where we are now.

While we were in Newport, I kept thinking that California is evil. Because this, this was the California all our friends are shocked we want to leave. Sandy beaches, breezes, a sense of freedom – it’s the California you see on television, the one they write songs about. It in no way resembles the place we actually live. And it broke my heart to get in our car and drive back out to the dust and sand and the terrible kids my husband tries to teach all day and the trash everywhere and graffiti covering everything. I felt so miserable as we came back to all this, miserable and trapped and filled with rage that we couldn’t have our tiny slice of the good life.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Let's (Not) Get Naked

We realized early on that one of the drawbacks to becoming parents was that while children often enjoy Naked Time if it involves them running around bare-bottomed and swingin' in the breeze, our own Naked Time would be severely curtailed. We would probably even have to, we speculated, wear pajamas to bed.

We are naked sleepers, you see. We've never routinely worn clothes to bed, the whole time we've been together. If I am cold, I will attempt it, but what usually ends up happening is I wake up tangled in the middle of the night and shuck everything off in frustration. Max never wears anything to bed, and I have occasionally had to remind him that naked sleeping is inappropriate when we have company for the night or when we're guests somewhere. Naked may be a comfortable state, but only for the naked person. When your sister comes in to wake you up in the morning and ask where you keep the coffee or you have to use the bathroom right outside your friends' bedroom door, it's better to be clothed.

We like our Naked Time. We are not hang-out-around-the-house-naked people, but we will often wander around naked for a few minutes after a shower or get a snack on a sleepless night without putting clothes on.

My parents slept naked. I know this because once in a while they'd leave their bedroom door open a crack, or in cases of dire emergency I'd have to violate The Forcefield of The Master Bedroom Doorway and come in to tell them that my brother was bleeding all over the front porch or I had "accidentally" just smashed the obnoxious neighbor kid's toe with a brick. So one or both of them would get up, and they would be naked, my parents, adults, naked. I don't think I was necessarily grossed out, but I remember thinking pretty much every time it happened, Jesus, can't you people put some fucking clothes on?! I didn't really want to see them naked (or in their underwear), and I wore pajamas to bed, so I figured it was only fair that they should, too. Max has expressed similar sentiments about his parents. Much as we both respect our parents as people and realize that they exist as more than just "our parents," we both wish they would've worn pajamas.

Of course, now that we're about to be on the other side of this issue, we both wonder if we'll be able to manage it. Naked sleeping is so...comfy. The cool feel of sheets against bare skin (or the soft warmth of flannel sheets in the winter), the pleasant unemcumbered slide beneath the covers, the ability to wriggle and turn and twist into a comfortable sleeping pose without restraint. Whenever I try to give pajamas a go, I wake up with tank-top straps digging into my skin or twisted around my arms and breasts, lounge pants with the legs hiked and wadded up past my knees, t-shirts that have worked their way up and around my neck like a noose, nightgowns that catch on the sheets and trap me like a mummy. It is definitely not comfy. I remember that I used to sleep in pajamas, all the time in fact. I just can't remember how I did it.

We both feel pretty strongly about this, so I'm sure we will find a way to manage it. And if all else fails, we can always use it as leverage against our daughter when she's in Bratty Teenage Mode - "We have made sacrifices for you! We wore pajamas for your sake! Pajamas! To bed! Don't tell me I never do anything for you!"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ten Good Things

Ten Things I Thought of That Will Be Good About Having A Kid
(in no particular rank, importance, or order):

1. Will never struggle for a conversational topic with my in-laws again.

2. Baby is a girl and therefore we could have our own crack dealer - I mean, Seller Of Girl Scout Cookies - in a few years.

3. I will never have to go into the toy aisle at Target, K-B Toys, Toys R Us, or any other toy store with my husband again. He and the kid can walk up and down every aisle punching all the noisemaking buttons, looking at every single action figure, and waving the toy swords around to their hearts' content. I will be outside on a bench with some knitting and a double skim latte.

4. We will now have an excuse for getting out of any family parties/"traditions"/events we want to skip. Kids get sick, crabby, or onery a lot.

5. It will be interesting to see what the other mothers/PTA members/members of parenting groups think of my pierced nose and lassiez-faire hair.

6. Those teething toasts are way yummy. Nobody has to know the second box is just for me.

7. Will have an excuse to eat mac n' cheese for 4 of every 7 meals and not feel like I'm pathetically trying to re-live my college days.

8. I get a big smile thinking about all the obnoxious kids I know whose asses my kid will be able to kick.

9. When I drop/spill things on myself, like I ususally do at least once a day, now I can blame the kid.

10. Will be able to watch Teletubbies every day and not feel like a creepy whack-job.