Saturday, March 30, 2013

Simulacra


My husband showed me photos of our son climbing ("kime-nin" in toddler-speak) like a fox upon fallen limbs. Our son loves the "whootsz" - the woods. He's so easy and agile, ready to clamber down any eroded stream bank, plunge his finger deep into any rotten log to make a home for "ahntsz" - ants.

Show him a pile of plastic debris and he'll play with that, too. Kitchen sets. Play houses. Slides.

Shame on you, toy manufacturers of the 1970s that remain in business today... As a child, I loved your, well, plastic, toys, but they had details, angles, edges. They were better than the bloated, featureless blobs that we give our kids to play with in 2013.

Notably, those bloated blob toys look so much like the bloated blob cars that fill up the dealership lots. Many adults like those blobs.

Let's do a side by side comparison:

Chevy Chevelle. My parents drove a Chevelle until a drunk cracked it up. He drove up our lawn, knocked over our lamp post, and totaled this beauty as it sat parked in our driveway. I cried over it because my mother cried. 

 I played with this Fisher-Price barn. Then my brother did. And now, my son does. YOU COULD KILL A MAN WITH THOSE HARD EDGES. NOT SAFE.

I would never drive a Chey Cruz. The styling is awful. Non-existant. I bet a collision with white tailed deer fawn would crunch this thing. I hope none of my friends or family, current or future, drive a Chevy Cruz and are offended by my comments. But this car looks like it was built from Legos and then superheated to smooth the edges. Confession - I do drive a Toyota RAV4 as does half of New Jersey drivers. It has poor styling, too, but I can get out of mud, snow, and the pot holes on my lane.

 Unlike the vintage Fisher Price barn, no child or man or mother will be impaled to death by this toy. All edges are rounded. So much so that you may not even recognize that it is, in fact, a barn. Luckily, it's red. In college I learned about signs and simulacra by reading Jean Baudrillard's work, so I know red building + animals = barn.

I do know that I will be bored to death by the animals that are stuck in place (if they were removable, it would be a CHOKING HAZARD). Wait, the sheep slides back and forth, offering realistic dynamism akin to a barnyard. "During 2003--2007, deaths occurring in the production of crops and animals in the United States totaled 2,334; of these, 108 (5%) involved cattle as either the primary or secondary cause." To read more, visit the CDC website.

***

Recently, Beren and I made yet another failed attempt to meet other mothers and kids his age. We arrived at the play group location. The building was dark and the door locked. We were let in by the fellow who has mopping the floors. "Changed that group to Tuesdays, I believe," he told me. Two kids ran around the darkened play area, observed by their childcare provider.  "Oh,"I said.

"Do you want to play with these kids, Beren?" I asked. "Looks like fun." He nuzzled his head into my neck. Reeling from the smell of Clean Green, we exited to the courtyard which was filled with big plastic stuff.



"Monkey, monkey," Beren repeated as he pulled at the animals on one toy. I couldn't be sure, but he seemed confident. Toy manufacturers not only make hideous, mostly featureless animal figurines, when animals are given features, those features are stupid. Truly stupid-looking. I have taken permanent marker to multiple toys to repair cross-eyed pigs, cows, and leopards. 

 Beren began to pick up handfuls of rocks, so I suggested we fill up the bizarre tube with the stones. He  added stalks of plants. The plant world and the plastic world cannot live side by side. The weeds looked so out of place - organic, brittle, with the possibility of becoming wet and softened - changing once again.

Once a plastic thing is done honking, twirling, and lighting up, it cracks and fades. That's it. And that is why this toy, an indoor toy, was abandoned outside to deteriorate - no one would want to keep this toy around and pass it on to their future grandchildren. It's too ugly. It's garbage.

Beren and I played in the courtyard for forty-five minutes. The sun was pleasant. Running from plastic junk-bucket to featureless blob, I could see my son was enjoying himself. I can rip it apart long after my son has gone to sleep for the night, but while he's awake, I won't be a killjoy.

 After our failed playgroup attempt, I checked the time. My perfectly planned day - playgroup, picnic lunch, and then an appointment with our accountant (a generous man, who said "Ok to bring the baby.  A little noise may be a nice change." Of course, Beren was absolutely silent.) was rearranged.

Stupidly, I opted to go to Nassau Park Boulevard shopping malls to try to find Beren rain boots that actually fit. His current boots are two sizes too large. Draw some cross eyes on me - we should have walked along the Canal.

From Kohl's to Dick's to Famous Footwear to Target (their stance on GMO labeling - they don't want the labels - makes me hate the idea of shopping there) to Babies R Us. I explained to Beren, who was a great sport, "Your boots are too big. You like to run. It's tough to run in big boots." When I asked how many stores we had been to, he replied, "Ahnudah."

From then on, each time I mentioned "shoes" or "shoe store", he corrected me, "Bhootsz,"he'd say. We found one pair of red Mickey Mouse boots for boys at Babies R Us, our last stop. We tried them on. He pointed to the girl's magenta boots with polka dots, "Spots, spots." I wavered, and decided on neither. Too short. We like deep puddles, was my excuse for not obliging my son's wish for magenta polka dotted boots.

We stood in line for a pair of red sunglasses I had selected for my fair son. We were behind a tired, hungry kid who demanded Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of his mother and her companion. C'mon store merchandisers...what does crummy chocolate have to do with cribs and breast pumps?

"Candy is after lunch. You can have almond butter and crackers for lunch," the companion replied. "NO NO NO. Just crackers," wailed the boy. Beren clung to my side. It was 2 p.m., way past lunchtime. Don't let me get too uppity because on the following day, the afternoon sped by, and I fed my own tired, hungry son lunch at 2 p.m.

Candy was tossed into their cart. I felt a light tug at my hand. I let Beren guide me to the candy. He lifted and placed my hand on the Reese's bag. I felt my heart soften, but said "No, I'm sorry, bub, that belongs to the store, not us."

The companion heard me. I felt bad. I felt like I had showed off a little and should have whispered to Beren. I felt bad for her, the mother, the boy. I wondered, about myself, a mother at the cusp of her child realizing that certain items come home with us, what I would do. My son, tired and hungry, myself, tired and hungry, at the end of a shopping trip, faced with an aisle of candy. And, my son does love chocolate. "Tawh-kit."
Parked outside the accountant's office. How did, when did you get so big? Will you finally fit into your big boots once I finally find you a another pair? 

We emerged from the store with sunglasses I could not be sure that my son would wear. In the car, I nursed him and watched his eyelids become heavy. I buckled him into the carseat. Down the road, he demanded his sippy cup and fell silent. I looked back, and he was asleep. Worn out from a day negotiating plastic debris.

Once we arrived at the accountant's office, I let him sleep a little longer. When I pulled him from the car, I pointed out the puddles in the parking lot. He's typically difficult to wake and difficult upon waking, but instead he strode to the puddles and began to splash.

"We have an appointment with Ed, our accountant," I told Beren, thinking the big words would express gravitas - this will be an experience of the boring, inexplicable adult world in which a child is required to behave well.

"Poynment," Beren replied. "Did you just say 'appointment'?' I asked. Back to the puddles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Every now and then I scrape the bahmim

Kitchen's a mess

I love to hear my son's pronunciation and listen to his ways of expression.

Bahmim - bottom. Mahnkeyah - monkey. Yohgoot - yogurt.

When he sees a picture of something silly - Old Mother Hubbard's shoe house crawling with children, for example - he expels a wild, high-pitched laugh.

Upon hearing something agreeable, he says, "Yeah" so earnestly.

When he agrees emphatically, he says, "MMM HMM!" I think he is imitating me.

***

I work just part-time, well, except for this new business we're starting, and mothering. And, trying to be a decent wife and companion. So, really, I work all the time. I'm exhausted. My chest is tight. My left shoulder aches. Carpal tunnel, acting up a bit. A wave of sadness hits me now and then. I'm tired.


***


When I leave for work, I tell my son, "I'm going to give you a hug and a kiss." He looks away as I hug him. "Can I have a hug and kiss?" He wraps his arms around my neck. He flattens his lips to his teeth and "kisses" me on the lips. He's become a "hugger on request" over the past several months.

Family would ask for kisses and hugs upon our comings and goings and visitings, and he did not oblige until recently. I think 1.) He did not know what was being asked of him, and 2.) He's never been a cuddly child. He likes to sit on my lap or my husband's during meals and storytime. He sometimes nestles next to one of us. Should I stroke his check or rub his back, and he will likely and assertively remove my hand.

When I come home from work, my son tackles me. He wants to nurse. It's 5:45 p.m. and he's tired. As a family, we have just 1 hour 15 minutes to eat dinner, bathe (maybe - bath time can cause a dreaded "second wind"), pick up toys (maybe - can be disheartening waste of time with a pooped 2 year old, so I prefer to skip that most nights), and read stories.

After story time with Papa, my son crawls into my lap and passes out in 5 to 15 minutes. That means we spent about 2 and a quarter hours together on this day.

One hour is in the morning - with some of that time spent making and eating breakfast, dressing, making beds, grooming, excreting, packing lunch, and searching for cell phone/keys/child's mittens/any missing object. Sometimes we get a story in. My husband is on task also, with us often weaving our efforts. I crack eggs into the pan, he flips them before they dry out. I fill up water bottles, he caps them. Then, one or both of us go to work.

After work, we toss our lunch boxes, bags, shoes, and coats near their resting places. We greet each other. We heat up dinner. Sit and eat. Chat about the day. Clear the table. Move to the living room for stories, pajamas, prepare the bed. Read. Snuggle. Sleep. One hour fifteen minutes.

Two and a quarter hours together on a work day. I'm so glad I work part-time. I'm tired.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The circuit of my life

 Jared and I went for a hike last Thursday, just us. We were looking for ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) spores for a restoration project. We're not very good at spending our "free" time in a leisurely way. We like to work. Working makes us feel good. And so, we recently declared Sunday "family day" so we wouldn't work on our work-work, but fun-work, like digging in the garden.

"The circuit of my life is very narrow these days," I comment to my friend as she bends to pick up her one year old daughter's toys. "Sometimes I feel like I'm walking in circles putting things away all day long."


She agrees. "I don't mop the floor. There's food everywhere. She's into throwing food. We do vacuum often. She likes vacuuming. It's something we can do together."

I glanced at the vacuum a few feet from the door I had recently entered. I hadn't noticed it until now. As a mother, I accept that anything could be anywhere at anytime. Most things, so long as they are not nailed down, are not in their place. Ever. Or at least not until my son goes to sleep, and my husband and I tidy the house.

I often ask my friend who is an artist, a talented, sharp-witted artist with excellent craft, if she has made any work lately. "No," she says. "If I had time, I'd make something for my daughter."

Most of my creative work also revolves around my son. He's in my photographs, my writing. When he's not in my images, he's somewhere just off screen, present in the corner of my eye.

Occasionally, I get a break. Babysitting from my mother or mother-in-law. Once or twice a couple friends helped out. I haven't yet felt ready to find a stranger for childcare. After a little time away, I feel refreshed and ready to mother again.

Eight hours at work and an hour's worth of commute don't count, though. Today at lunchtime, I call my husband. I was lonely, sitting at a big wooden table with no one to share my meal with. Another grey day.

My son croons, "Momma. Momma. Momma. Home. Home. Home. Home." My throat and eyes burned as they did when I left him in my parents' care when he was just 4 months old. That was just short of two years ago. How I did not want to return to work, not even part-time, but our savings account, our future, our yet to be purchased dream shanty were slipping.

My doctor advised that I get out sometimes, just "to see how good it feels to come home." When I did, I was ashamed that I did not want to come home. Yet even more powerful was the terrible feeling of going away.

Then again, there are those days. "I just need a break. I need to get out of the house," I say to my husband. "Anything. I'd do anything. I'm going food shopping."

"OK, but don't waste your solo time by going food shopping," he replies.

I feel deflated. What would I do, if not some task that needs doing?

Later, my husband says, "I don't mean to tell you what to do. Go. Do what you want."

Forty-five minutes later, I am lovingly selecting Kerrygold Irish butter from the dairy aisle at Shop-Rite in Flemington. My cart is brimming with meats, crackers, apples, and milk that some other creature produced. I feel relaxed, certain, and productive. I choose foods I know we all like.

When I arrive back at home, I open the front door and call, "Heh-lloooo!" My son races through the house and jumps into my arms. I kiss my husband. I feel more open, affectionate, less grumpy and put out. I'm happy to be home.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Out of the mouths of babes

Skunk cabbage's fowahs are yed

My son can't yet pronounce 'r' or 'l'. The combination 'st' is also difficult. There's the colors "puh-pah," "boo," "yed," and "yeh-whoa." There's a host of words that I can't yet interpret, but mostly we understand what Beren is saying.

"Stack" sounds like "dack."

"Stick" sounds like...

"Block" sounds like "bock."

"Clock" sounds like... At a party featuring all adults but one other child, he surprised a room full of young, unmarried men and women by shouting "Cock! Cock! Cock! Cock!" No rooster in sight, eyebrows were raised until I agreed, "Yes, that's a clock on the wall."

Early on, he got the 'x' sound, but then lost it and replaced it with a 'k' sound. It made the word "fox" sound like... Luckily, the 'x' sound is back.

Oh, and is favorite food is "taw-kit". Can you guess what that is?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Last Night

Vernal pool in the Sourlands - Last night a warm rain fell. I wonder if the salamanders and wood frogs migrated to their breeding grounds in vernal pools. Was my son highly attuned the energy of the night?

Last night Beren awoke at 1:30 a.m. We fell back asleep no sooner than an hour later.

Following the advice of the only child rearing book I have read (Mothering Your Nursing Toddler), I offered water and a small snack. Following the advice of my father-in-law, a dentist, I gave him cheese which does not stick to the teeth, not that I have brushed my son's teeth more than ten times in his life anyway. I continued following the advice the book: rub back, murmur soothing words. I gave up and nursed my son again.

Following the advice of every wise parent I have known, I went down the remainder of the Your Child Can't Sleep Checklist. Starting from the top: 1.) Wet diaper? Yes. Sopping. Pants sopping. Our mattress  and sheets also wet. No need to proceed down the list.

Jared changed Beren, who warbled on. "Cat."

"Cats are sleeping, Beren."

"Mouse."

"Mice are sleeping, Beren."

I rubbed my child's back. I went through a list of animals that might be sleeping somewhere in the world.

I heard Jared tinkering with our tinctures of Passiflora, skullcap, and lemon balm, each with their own powers to help one back to sleep. The diaper that Jared had placed on the wet sheets was increasingly wrinkled and lumpy beneath my back. The down comforter was horribly hot.

"Momma's going to sleep on the floor."

Jared rocked Beren in his arms as I settled under the much cooler cotton blankets on the floor.

We finally fell back to sleep. As I drifted off, I recall high anxiety dream state thoughts. I can still vaguely picture tables filled with neatly arranged blocks and rectangles. Possibly circuit board pieces.

Of course, we slept in this morning.

***

Note about reading: I've also read The Childbearing Year by Susun Weed, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Naturally Healthy Babies and Children by Aviva Romm. None I'd consider to be about child rearing, specifically.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

EKG across NJ

Please don't make me get into this vehicle again.

Yesterday's trek across New Jersey looked like an EKG strip. We drove in all cardinal and tertiary directions.

Jared and I awoke at my parents house in Hunterdon County and ate a bowl of sweet cereal apiece. We were on the road before my son was up. He does not like that. Jared and I don't like it too much, either, but to arrive at 8:30 a.m. at an environmental conference in Newark, the early embarkation was necessary.

We arrived in Newark at the appointed time. The cereal had worn off. I chatted with colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and strangers on my way to a table with platters of danishes, muffins, and bagels. I selected a rectangular-shaped flour boat covered in granulated sugar and a blueberry muffin. For protein and nutrition, I slathered each with several pats of butter.

I poured myself a cup of decaf and impatiently breathed down the neck of the man who was good-humoredly breathing down the neck of the woman who was chatting to another woman hovering around the sugar. Four environmentalists, one bowl of sugar very early in the morning.

It was Saturday. Have I mentioned it was Saturday? This particular conference always occurs on the first nice Saturday of the year. Did I mention it was early? And that my mother had already called me to say my son awoke a little distraught? And would I like to talk to him? Or did I think it better to not remind him that I existed?

The early wake-up, the phone call, the decaf, the chalky tasting orange juice, the baked goods, and my impending presentation (due to begin at 10:15 a.m. in room 240) all caused an unsettled lower intestine. Jared dashed off with his thumb drive to give his presentation (due at 9 a.m.).

Later in the morning, my co-presenters and I gave our talk at lightning speed. After the question and answer session, I ambled through the hall of exhibitors, following the smell of lunch. At lunch, Jared cracked some jokes at the expense of a famous New Jersey author who does not wanted to be filmed at public events.

One of the people dining with us has seen the author speak recently and had observed cameras in the room. "Maybe the camera was an electromagnetic field disruptor, blocking the functionality of cameras  or a spirit capture device. Come on, think outside the box," Jared said.

His comment was met with blank stares and barely suppressed laughs by only myself and one other diner. Environmental conferences are not known for big laughs. My arm brushed against my right breast and I felt a painful smarting - a plugged milk duct, which sometimes happens when I get poor sleep.

From the conference in Newark, we drove down Route 9 to a defunct nursery on the outer coastal plain. The owner had invited us to take some pots and trays before he dumpstered the operation. We clambered into a partially roofless mobile home and tossed 10" by 20" flats (called 10 20s in trade lingo) and pots out the back door.

Water the color of tannins leached from pine needles, or the color of god knows what leached from pink fiberglass insulation, dripped onto my forehead each time Jared handed me another stack of weathered nursery supplies.

We filled the RAV4 with 10 20 flats and quart pots and headed west towards Trenton and then up through Pennington to our home in Hillsborough. We tossed the pots in the backyard and climbed back into the car. Our final destination was LongHorn Steakhouse Restaurant in Flemington to meet my parents, brother, his girlfriend, and our son.

The lot was packed. My parents were late. I called my brother and got no answer. This was very atypical behavior of my family. My digestive system was backing up into my brain, and I considered ordering an appetizer at the bar or driving off to find my son.

The wait for a table of 7 would be 35 minutes the hostess said. We had put our names in 20 minutes earlier, and at that time the wait was also 35 minutes. Another electromagnetic field disruptor at work. At this time, my head was pounding and the top quarter of my right breast was red and angry-painful.

We drove to Five Guys to get a round of burgers and fries. My son devoured the fries. I shoved a wilted piece of lettuce into his mouth a couple times. "Look, Mom is trying to keep it healthy," my brother quipped.

After dinner, my mother wished us all safe drives, noting that we had the shortest drive of all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Kid Made This


Isn't this really nice? C'mon, it is.

My son is fairly evenhanded, so we let him play with all kinds of things. At the day's end, the sprawl of playthings can't simply be dumped in his toy box.

After a morning playing outside, we pulled out a drawer harboring my collection of fabric and ribbons. Beren and I spent part of the afternoon adorning our necks with ribbon scarves, tossing skeins of yarn, and stuffing my grandmother's Sunday gloves with batting. Then, there's herb play which results in dried hawthorne berries scattered across the floor. Or, 'magic beans', the mix of dried beans that Beren makes 'soup' from. Jared sighs as his footfalls create a crackling spray of cannellinis and pintos.

Daily, Beren turns the house on its ear. Ask my husband who is currently lumbering through the house. He's saddled with the bottom drawer of our bureau, which contains my fabric and ribbon collection. (Little does he know, he's playing right into my blog, here.) He's cursing as he puts the drawer back in. It's a tough corner of the house. There's barely enough room to maneuver the drawer before it hits the chair that our printer sits on.

Today Beren asked for the ceramic salt and pepper shakers - a pair of birds, one black, one white. They sit on a shelf cluttered with glass bottles, dried flowers, feathers, and nests that we found in the woods. He then asked for the cardinal feather and the thrush feathers. Communications were a bit more drawn out than I describe here, but I got him the correct feathers.

This is what he made.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A walk on the beach

Sea Bright, 2/24/13 

We visited my brother and his girlfriend at the end of last month. They live a few miles from the Jersey shore. We arrived at their apartment and nearly took out my father who had already busied himself with a home improvement project - gluing something on the wall directly behind their front door.

Their door remained open the rest of the visit, making me feel uncomfortable. I have been countrified. Perhaps I have always been countrified.

"Mildly anxious", "depressed", and "suspicious" describe my state of mind when Jared and I lived in Philadelphia and later, Queens. Sure, biking to work across the Schuykill River via the Market Street Bridge was exhilarating. Eating delicious cheap Middle Eastern food at Saad's in West Philly was a treat. So were the Ethiopian restaurants. Then, there were squatter punks and arty ironic mustache guys and girls. We never really fit in.

I can't really say too much that's nice about Queens or NYC. Shortly before we left, a dust storm swirled outside our apartment window. Grit began to cover our furniture and floor. As I attempted to close a window, some flew into my eye. I rinsed my eye numerous times, but could not alleviate the irritating feeling. Upon examination, I discovered a sliver of glass embedded into my pupil. I rinsed again and again. Finally, Jared removed it with a cotton swab. I probably have written about this event multiple times on this blog, but what are the odds of hating a place so much and also getting a sliver of glass stuck in one's eye while living in that god forsaken place?

If forced to choose to live in one, I go with depressing Philly over brutal NYC. Horror of horrors.

Back to the Jersey shore and my brother - after a tour of the apartment, we drove to the beach. I think they locked the door when we left. Anyway, we stopped for ice cream at Thomas Sweet's. Beren sampled everyone's selection, including Grandpa's pretzel cone. I sampled it, too. Salty sweet goodness.

At the beach, the sky was grey and the wind whipped. My brother and his girlfriend, recent refugees from Florida, left shortly and returned to their apartment (door locked?) to cook dinner for us.

My parents and Jared combed the beach. Superstitious, I touched the water. I can't go to the beach without touching the water.

Beren walked to the water's edge, which of course is constantly changing. We began to play a game. He ran towards the water. My heart palpitated. I grabbed him and ran backwards, shouting "Watch out for the water." Again and again. The line between fun and fear was changing as quickly as the position of the water. My feet, shod only in lightweight Pumas, sunk into the soft sand.

On a nearby jetty, a couple walked. One of them carried a baby in a foward-facing carrier. I watched them, remembering the Baby Bjorn days. I wondered if they watched us and imagined days to come. Possibly they thought, "That Mom is crazy."

They'd be right. I felt a little crazy.

The water came towards us quickly, more quickly than I expected. I ran backwards, gripping Beren by the waist as I had dozens of times before. This time, I stumbled. I landed on my forehead and right knee. Beren was laughing, protected beneath the arch of my body. Water swirled near. I shuffled back, my forehead still holding us up. We were dry and unhurt. Unfazed. Crazy mom.