058

years ago, i read many scathing takedowns of the postpartum body image issue.  probably on jezebel, and probably around the maria kang "what's your excuse?" era.  a bronzed, grinning mother of three clad in lycra and triumph, daring fellow moms to justify their own soft tummies and wobbly thighs.  an endless cyclical shuffle of women's magazines all featuring the exact same cover story- how i got my body back!  109 tabloid headlines about jessica simpson's baby weight. 

i was no closer to being a mother than i was to being a wombat at that point in my life, but it became clear to me that no woman- least of all, new moms- would ever be spared from this microscopic social gaze.  and it occurred to me that the postpartum vocabulary might contain more pervasive terminology beyond clinical and pediatric concerns.  colloquialisms like getting your body back, bounce back, baby weight, mom bod.

i swore i wouldn't write this entry.  all throughout my pregnancy, i fought off the urge to dig deep into my fear of the scale or grapple with my body image issues.  ain't nobody wanna hear about how you keep checking your belly for stretch marks, mimo.  just throw up one of them grainy ultrasounds and talk about you're woefully unfit for parenthood.

and afterwards- on that first day back home, when i peeled off my disposable mesh panties with the postpartum pad that was roughly the size of a continent- i looked at my swollen, unrecognizable body and cried.  i needed ian's help to shower, but i couldn't bear for him to look at me.

despite all evidence to the contrary, i am not a particularly stupid person.  i knew- and have always known- that cooking up a full human being, excavating it from your body, and nourishing it would be a challenging feat for even a relatively fit physique- let alone a garbage reservoir of bloody mary mix like mine.  but somehow, in the back of my mind, i filed away a vague possibility that my body would bear witness to childbirth only with a handful of rapidly fading stretch marks and a slightly softer belly.  i thought of my coworker, the indefatigable brazilian barbie who left the hospital in her size 4 jeans, imbued with all of her pregnancy glow and with none of the motherhood exhaustion.  maybe that'll be me, i thought hopefully.  maybe i'll bounce back.

and i tried hard to cling to that foolish optimism.  even on that first day back home- doubled over in pain on the toilet, breasts engorged to boulders and leaking down my puffy, bloated torso, abs searing in post-caesarean agony, when i felt barely human and completely dissociated from my own body- i thought, maybe it just takes a few weeks.

and through the challenging first few months of hospitalization, breastfeeding, pumping, and work, when my body lived for dual primal needs for sleep and milk production, i still harbored the hope that i would soon be able to recognize myself in the mirror.  even as i packed foot after foot of sterile strips into a pitted, gaping scar at my bikini line.  even as i poured my body into waist binders and shapewear that pinched and tattooed me with seams and sweat.  even as two seasons passed and my pre-pregnancy wardrobe remained out of reach.  breastfeeding burns calories, right?  maybe it just takes a few months.  

and when it became clear that the number on the scale wouldn't budge, and my waist gripped those additional inches with enduring tenacity, and i continued to look like a loaf of a bread, i genuinely despaired.  i felt like i had traded my totally average but still hard-won appearance for this bright-eyed little baby.  maybe this is just the deal.  guess we're both 96th percentile for weight, mr. james.  i tried hard not to resent it.  sometimes i failed.

and these are the thoughts i felt too embarrassed to really write, because what new mother should be weighing her self-esteem against an unrelenting 20 lbs when she has a beautiful and healthy baby to be thankful for?  every neurotransmitter in my brain should be reserved for the love and adoration of chubbo little james, every thought process must lead back to gratitude.  how could i possibly find room to wallow in my old stomping grounds of body image issues, when i've taken on such a significant new responsibility?

is it really possible, that after a fucking decade and motherhood, i am still actually just a teenager on livejournal just fretting about how round my face looks in photos?

i guess the answer to that is yes and will probably always be yes and i have made my peace with that.  but i wish i had understood earlier that to birth this glorious little dude with the wild hair and fondness for cheese, i swapped my body for a year and a half.  that the reins i tightened over the years to wrest control over my life through a tape measure and a calorie count had to be loosened to make way for anatomy and biochemistry.  and that this idea of getting your body back wasn't necessarily about reverting to your pre-pregnancy measurements and looking like you've never even met a guy, let alone made a baby with one- but about reclaiming ownership once pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding have all taken their turn in spotlight.

if i had focused more on waiting patiently for my physical autonomy and less on those 15 lbs, i might have felt less panic when the weight didn't readily fall off, might not have tried and test those old zippers so hard.  i wouldn't have been so hard on myself for this estimable cost.  i might have even put that scale up, to be retread when the time was right.

dr. katyal crows damn, mimi- bounce back! when he sees me walk down the hallway, back in my own size 4 jeans, and i want to tell him that it wasn't a trick of genetic fortitude or lucky resilience.  it was- as it always was- a dull, practiced grind of appetite and caloric reduction, of intermittent fasting, of working through lunch and eating a light dinner early, of cooking my meals instead of ordering them, of sharing my food with james, of restriction and careful choices and the control that came back when i finished breastfeeding and reclaimed my body.  and that my body still bears witness to these accomplishments we've taken on with slightly more scarring and exhausted breasts- but not much worse for the wear on this other side of nine months.  and most crucially, i finally recognize myself- not for my weight or waistline- but for moving past the despair and guilt, replacing them with focus and patience.  

- but then i realize he's just quoting that big sean song and literally no one is interested in my postpartum body.  not even james, who has recently only been enthusiastic about biting it.

057

once upon a time, well over a decade ago, my father told me could have pizza delivered for dinner.  this was an occasion more rare than a total eclipse, with a father so notoriously spendthrift that he regularly washed and reused paper towels.  he posed just one caveat- i had to call and order it.

my love of pizza warred with my abject fear of calling and talking to a stranger.  it seemed insurmountable.  a whole thing.  what do i say?  do i just start off with the order, or wait for them to ask me questions?  do i tell them my address first?  what if they ask me questions i can't answer?  what if i sound stupid over the phone?  i will definitely sound stupid.

papa stood there with his credit card in hand, waiting for me to dial.  i think he knew that my palms were sweating with the anxiety of having to do something unfamiliar.  it was a test, and i failed.

i don't want pizza, i lied.

i still feel that wave of panic sometimes, despite rapidly approaching my thirties and having constructed a career out of taking on the unfamiliar tasks.  racked with self-doubt and imposter syndrome, i muddle through the day buoyed only by google search and dumb luck.  fake it til you make it.   i have made it.  i am a full grown woman who pays quarterly estimated taxes to the irs, cooks well-balanced meals from scratch, and constructs my entire library of breakroom small talk in response to the ubiquitous question: how's your son doing?

my son is a smooth nine months old today.  he has finally been on the outside for nearly as long as he spent squishing my bladder on the inside.  how did this happen?  how many hundreds of times have i fought down that familiar wave of panic over this past year of my life?  the anxiety of anticipating that my whole life would change, the shock of knowing we could never go back, the overwhelming realization that there was no definitively correct textbook way to nurture this tiny 7 lb pile of flubber in my hands, the paralyzing fear of having to constantly learn and continuously adapt in new methods, new habits, new normal.  how will i ever figure out breastfeeding?  how will i ever succeed at sleep training?  how will i ever navigate daycare?  how will i ever do a good enough job for this bright-eyed little guy?

you just...do it.  there's no syllabus for this, no predictable learning curve or pace.  you do what you have to and you rise to the occasions because there's no alternative to growth.  i can't put the phone down, i can't pretend i don't want the pizza.  i lean hard on my family and harder on my husband, and the two of us learn these skills and routines until they become muscle memory.  there's no comprehensive enough guide to this, but the time has flown by in the way that everyone said it would.  slowly at first, so fucking slowly.  so slowly that i still remember every pen stroke of every date on every label of every breastmilk storage bottle.  eight labels a day, etching a tally in my prison cell.  just get through august 12th.  just get through august 13th.  and now it's may and time has rushed by in a blur, with only tinybeans photos and scattered memories as mileposts through this whirlwind.  he has been in daycare forever, right?  was there ever a time when he couldn't crawl?

james feels more like a real kid than a baby these days.  he's discerningly affectionate- he knows me, he actually knows my face and voice.  he makes a beeline for my legs, those little hands and knees scooting with astonishing speed across floors and toys and dogs in his singular haste to reach his mama.  but he still loves ian best, to nobody's surprise.  we coach his incessant babbling with shameless motive, prompting aav-a?  aa-va?  i hope fervently that his first word will be in mongolian, though i know it'll probably be food!   my dude can eat.  it is astonishing.  

you can tell that he's full, but he just keeps eating until someone takes it away, his daycare teacher marvels.  

same, i tell her.  

i read all the articles and blog entries about how to introduce foods, and all the gleaned knowledge promptly fell out of my idiotic brain.  purees and pouches only satiated him for a couple of months, then he rapidly took to inhaling anything we place in front of him.  he eats exactly what we eat, with the addition of some special pastries and treats my mother cooks lovingly just for him.  he has four whole teeth now, and never lets us forget it.  he prefers to use his unwieldy little fists, though he still opens his mouth obediently when confronted with a spoon.  but his absolute favorite method of eating involves enlisting jean-luc or momo to lick his food in between his own bites.  

babies; gross.

056

life seems to exist solely in three disparate blocks of times these days.  we are either at the office, working on our new house, or preventing this baby from killing himself.

this guy can SCOOT.  as if making up for all those lost months spent immobile on his belly, furiously paddling the air, baby james is rapidly becoming the most athletic member of this family.  he crawls.  he climbs.  he pulls up.  he is trying to stand unassisted, testing the lightest possible one-handed grip on a nearby object, swaying like a stubby little tree.

his social skills have now surpassed my own.  he intentionally feeds the dogs, teasing them with handfuls of scrambled eggs before allowing them to feast in his miniscule palms.  his babbling has reached fever-pitch, those nonsensical squawks taking on a conversational tone.  my dude is still wide-eyed and pointless around new faces, like he's trying to make sense of a terrible acid trip.  but around the handful of people in his daily routine- ian, me, my mother, that baby becky at daycare who's always trying to kiss him- he is engaged and excited.  

still, nearly nine months into this endeavor, it is an absolute wonder when i watch him scrabbling towards me exuberantly.  seeing those bright, dark eyes lock in on my face, those chubby little limbs coordinated confidently in rapid movement.  he crawls into my lap and grabs my face for a kiss (or at least his approximation of a kiss- placing his lips on mine and screaming directly into my mouth).  my dumb lizard brain floods with a pure and clear joy that feels like the first thirst-quenching gulp of cool, fresh water.  it lightens my chest, drives everything else out of my mind.  this is what a patronus feels like, i think stupidly.  

in my more cognitively sound and cynical moments, i fully recognize that babies are annoying and mine is no exception.  he sobs when we don't let him eat paper.  he grabs every fork within reach at a restaurant.  he is never quite sure whether he wants to drink water or splash his hands around in the cup.  he refuses to stay on his back for diaper changes and ends up with poop on his knees.  it is a testament to my immigrant upbringing that by eight months in, i am googling when can you start disciplining a baby don't report this search to cps.  and in these moments when he is being particularly whack, i am mostly relieved by the recognition that fundamentally, i am still not really a baby person.

i just like this guy, despite his consistently runny nose and his occasional refusal to put an arm through a sleeve.  

our routines are a lot easier this days, with the infrequent but tedious exceptions when james decides he wants to party for 8 hours instead of napping.  we've fallen into a rhythm quickly in this new home, and it is a surprisingly healthy, sustainable one.  mornings don't feel rushed or tag team, because james can amble around on the floor to entertain himself while we get ready.  some days, i even cook breakfast for him.   this is nothing short of a miracle to a girl who was unable to wake up for 1 pm lectures in grad school and could barely dress herself.  

ian and i have both lost our respective baby weight, which is maybe the true miracle.  like i guess childbirth is chill but the fact that i have been able to stop wallowing in self-pity and no longer eating like i'm being paid per chicken nugget is an even more incredible feat of biology and willpower and being too busy at work to fantasize about curly fries.  and from this side of the scale, the idea of trying for a second babby in a year or two no longer seems like a horrifying threat.

we are not in any rush yet, despite ian's secret hopes for a creepy quiverfull family setup (i assume this is what he means when he says 4 kids would be ideal).  i'd like to get this first goofball out of diapers and into cool hobbies like vacuuming up all this dog fur on a daily basis.

 

055

i haven't updated in nearly a month, mostly because i've been an ineffective sadboy about packing, moving, and unpacking.  we closed on our new home mid-march and finally left the little house on voss hills after two whirlwind years- the best ride of my life thus far.  i applied for that rental as a cynical, self-absorbed single girl and i walked out for the very last time as an equally cynical, self-absorbed wife and mother.  and of course, true to form, i've been mourning this transition, the bittersweet pangs of leaving the first place i've really made into a home, cataloging the memories tied into every single space.  the living room, where we decorated our christmas tree to a bing crosby-heavy spotify playlist.  the dining room, where ian knelt down and asked if he could spend the rest of his life making me happy.  the kitchen, where we gingerly brought home our tiny bleary-eyed son from the hospital.  the nursery, where we spent so many of our days watching james lounge, flail, roll, and finally begin to crawl.  the master closet, where i stood alone at night during the darkest depths of my postpartum sorrow and sobbed to u2's "without or with u" on repeat (why???).  

it feels like the most transitional chapter of my life has finally closed, but this is a deceptive narrative heuristic.  after all, we are still the same squad in approximately the same city, living pretty much the exact same life- but in a much bigger space.

and it couldn't have come at a better time.  mr. james is truly a big kid now, and the glimpses of who he'll become as a full-grown dude keep coming into view, faster and faster with each passing week.  he can now pull himself up into a standing position, which is a feat he attempts often on nearly anything he can reach.  he is also finally crawling, after two months of refining a strange and desperate belly flopping momentum.  it is a miracle to watch him, at long last, manage to coordinate all four chubby little limbs into forward movement.  my wonderment lasts all of 45 seconds, until i watch him crawl directly to the first available electrical cord and stuff it happily into his mouth.

everything goes into his mouth now- phones, cables, laptop screens, doorstops, shoes, all the food, and everyone's body parts.  it is less adorable now when he crawls over to me and gnaws on my knee, because my dude has two fully grown bottom teeth and wastes no time in testing them.  genuinely a pleasure to witness when he's munching on apple or cramming fistfuls of risotto into his face.  not so much when he rediscovers my breasts and tries to chomp on them for old times' sake.

it is the beautiful miracle of biology that i survive this encounter without reflexively flinging him across the room.

i don't mean for this entire entry to make him sound like a blossoming monster, all rapid movement and sharp teeth.  he's also definitely cognitively and socially a more interesting real guy than ever before.  yes this is what development is, you dumb ass.  ain't nobody thought your 8 month old baby would still be as helpless and pointless as his first day out, you might say.  and yes, you are right- but the inevitability still can't dilute the raw excitement that soars in my chest when james makes meaningful eye contact and babbles hopefully.  he knows me.  he wants to play with me.  he repeats actions that make me laugh.  he is almost as smart as jean-luc and definitely smarter than momo.

he still sleeps like a champion and his nursery is so far away now, on the second floor.  but we are long past the middle-of-the-night wakeups, and james snoozes from his usual 7pm to 7 am with astonishing consistency.  it is still our greatest collective triumph and probably my favorite discovery during this new parenthood adventure.  sometimes, you get lucky.  a baby rip van winkle, and a dreamboat husband who lets you sleep in until noon on the weekends.

don't get too jealous, though.  a few days ago james pooped in my new resplendent bathtub and the moment i felt the sliminess flow into my hands was probably the worst full minute of my entire life.

054

i'm driving back from a meeting at the coppell clinic, pulling into the addison parking lot when my phone rings.  it's james' daycare, and i am fully ready to receive my very first boo-boo report.  maybe james has tumped over in his increasingly desperate attempts to crawl.  maybe he has punched a bottle of milk into his own eye.  maybe his nemesis, that shady little ethan, has bitten him.

instead, the daycare director greets me.  she tells me not to be alarmed, but james has not been doing well.  he's had a low-grade fever all day and he's refusing meals, which isn't like him at all.  he's been lethargic and sleeping all day, we've been able to wake him up but he's not being himself.  he's got a deep cough and is showing signs of breathing retractions.

my stomach clenches and my mouth goes dry instantly.  the fear in my gut is visceral, and i u-turn back onto the tollway so automatically i am slightly surprised to find myself speeding north a moment later.  in an instant, i forget about my meetings, the conference call, the interview, my own appointments.  i call dr. macdonald's office.  i call ian.  i call my mother, and then i fight back tears for the rest of the drive.

and i will always be the first one to shrug it's okay, he'll be fine, babies get sick because cognitively i know that a 7 month old's only forte is absorbing all the germs in the world and transforming them to a free-flowing nose.  for all of his personality foibles, the only thing james really excels at is coughing.  he has been, to some degree, sick for the past two months.  i knew this would happen.  i coached ian on this very expectation.  but still, there is a sickening fear hollowing out the pit of my stomach when i see james looking back up at me, glassy-eyed and devoid of his usual cheer.  he isn't crying or fussing, but i know with an undeniable instinct that he does not feel cool at all.  my baby is in pain, and this one fact sends fear signaling pathways coursing through my autonomic nervous system.  

i speed down preston rd like i'm playing grand theft auto, terrified that the pediatrician's office will close while i am stuck in traffic behind a jetta that is slowly considering every possible right turn.  i normally drive at a painfully hesitant crawl like a blind elderly dog navigating through a school zone, but my babby is wheezing in the backseat and i am filled with a burning hatred for everyone who isn't dr. macdonald and his prescription pad.  

when we arrive at the clinic, james throws up on ian's shoulder by way of greeting.

dr. macdonald detects no respiratory distress, and my own breathing finally eases.  james' strife and listlessness are the byproduct of a double ear infection.  apparently, that round of amoxicillin he just finished might as well have been cotton candy.  dr. macdonald reassures me, once again, that this is still well within the realm of totally normal things that happen to all babies all the time.  and then his medical assistant promptly fails to call in the prescribed antibiotics.  by the time we realize this, the clinic is closed.

when we return home, ian feeds james a mouthful of baby tylenol.  that was 3.75 mL, right?  i ask.  

my husband freezes.  no, it was 5.  like a sitcom sight gag, i watch him refer to the directions on the bottle only to discover there was a second page revealed by peeling away the first layer.  a page that specifies that babies under 24 lbs need dosing instructions from a physician.  but i am a proud member of a facebook mommy group and i might as well have that infant acetaminophen dosage chart tattooed behind my fucking eyelids for how many times i have gazed upon it during a 3 am nursing session.  

i am pretty sure that james' liver will not immediately fall out of his butt, yet i call the after-hours nursing line for peace of mind.  it reaches a registered nurse at children's medical center, and she asks me if i want to call 911.  only to arrest my husband, i tell her.  she gets poison control on the line.  i remind everyone in this conversation once again that this was definitely ian's fault and not mine.  can you write that in his chart?

poison control lectures me sternly but reassures me that my baby should be fine.  ian is contrite and i am exhausted but james looks pretty pleased with himself.  he babbles happily, blows raspberries incessantly, and proceeds to down 10 ounces of milk to make up for the lost meal.  he is so unfathomably easy, so calm and tolerant that i am left saying who's a good boy?  you're a good boy! over and over again because everything is basically a dog and i have the communication skills of an amoeba.

and now, for the first time in a long time, i am awake in the nursery.  not because james is having trouble sleeping- on the contrary, he is basically comatose and seemingly mad comfortable.  it's just that i can't stop staring at him, stroking his goofy-ass hair that only grows on top, memorizing the impossibly vulnerable curvature of his cheeks.  and maybe for the first time ever, he doesn't just feel like a baby that someone left in my house for me to do a bad job of raising.  he feels like mine, but so much better and more than i deserve.  everything well-intentioned, earnest, or good about me exists in this 19 lb stack of biscuits.

please get better soon, mr. james.  and give me my dang heart back. i'm gonna need it for this hyped up new zelda game. 

 

053

james is riding a tidal wave of discomforts- he has a cold, an ear infection, endured his six month vaccinations, and his very first tooth is erupting.

(isn't that gross?  that this process of tooth development is referring to as eruption?  i am already deeply creeped out by dental imagery because the idea of a skull full of nascent and adult teeth crowded in waiting madly triggers my tryptophobia and i feel itchy just thinking about it, but to also picture them exploding through the gum like a cluster of jagged little volcanoes is truly disgusting.)

but while i am an irredeemable weakling of a human being who gets upset thinking about holes and bumps, james is a shining beacon of strength.  he is, by nature, so good-humored and easygoing that we do not even realize he's sick until dr. mcdonald prescribes the amoxicillin.

everyone has different pain tolerance, he says affably while i berate myself for being such a lackluster parent that i can't even detect my own baby's illness.

true to form, james wails in surprise when he receives shots in both legs- but five seconds later, he is all smiles.  i am distracted by yet another work crisis on the other end of my phone, but ian cradles our son, holds his little hands, tells him he's okay.  the nurses slap spiderman bandaids on his chubby, ham hock thighs and james just peers up at ian adoringly.

there's this photo in the jake rasmussen facebook archives that was taken a couple of years ago at a birthday party, back when ian was still firmly ensconced in my friendzone.  in my drunker moments at that time, i was coming around slowly to the realization that my gay friend ian smith might actually be my soulmate.  in this photo, i am clearly 75% malibu rum and my eyebrows are filled in too liberally, but i am staring up at ian with undisguised hopefulness, clarity, and joy.  i am asking him to drive me to taco bell.  

it's this face i see when james looks up at his father, and it's this dynamic i keep falling in love with harder and harder, until the enormity and depth of it feels like it will swallow me entirely.  before james made his debut, my vain, self-absorbed ass could only fixate on what it would be like to see myself in a tiny little brand-new person- but now, this father-son dynamic has wrecked me completely.  i can't describe it.  i can only feel my heart laid bare with an intense vulnerability that has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with my whole world condensed to the sound of james giggling while ian tickles him.

it makes me finally feel like a real person connected to the generational weft of history and family and humanity through this minute, fleeting understanding of how and why to love.  and not just like a jaded product of the internet subsisting entirely on memes, drag race references, and a pervasive attitude of mechanical saltiness.

sometimes i think about what it would've been like to have a baby with anyone else.  i mentally run through a very short list of dudes who have known me biblically and an even shorter list of those who might have wanted to hang around me for a minute and it's clear that this journey would've been a nightmare in any other context.

we are so lucky, i tell ian constantly.  james is always such a good sleeper and so happy, we really lucked out with an easy first one.

but it's clear to me that if this is his nature, then there is also nurture at play and i see its loving, careful details in the way ian sings the alphabet, washes the bottles, buckles the carseat, and watches the nest cam from the minute he wakes up.  if james is mercifully predictable and surprisingly optimistic for a baby, it's because he is learning from the best.  i sit around generally vexed all day about the trump administration and how enormous my thighs look in light wash jeans- but my two boys are twin beacons of enduring cheer, listening to a podcast and cuddling happily together.

and ian did drive me to taco bell that night, but i didn't even let him come up to my apartment.  i kissed him impulsively and then immediately flounced off in a drunk messy heap of mixed signals.  he ate that bag of burritos alone in his car in my parking lot.  it is a testament to his patience and optimism that he never once bailed on his crush.  he was warned.  he was given an explanation (that i am the worst).  nevertheless, he persisted.  

so while i tell everyone how we are lucky to have james, i know for a fact that james and i are both luckier still to have ian.

052

i am done.

long before ruth in the recovery room showed me how to cram my entire breast into a 2-hour old mouth, my best friend maggie told me once: don't let people make you feel guilty about formula feeding, there's nothing wrong with it.  it hadn't even occurred to me at that point, as far removed from the mommysphere as i was, that formula could induce guilt. 

in fact, guilt is not a state of mind i inhabit very frequently- even as a mother.  i don't mean for this to sound sociopathic, but somehow my brain has figured out a way to metabolize that emotion immediately into either corrective action or a lifetime of self-loathing.  fix it or transcend it.

so why this long eulogy to my breastfeeding experience?  why the theatrics of sobbing in bed, blubbering to ian it just kills me to think that the last nursing session will really be the very last time?  why do i feel the need to write this out, to get this off my chest (get it ha ha i am very funny)?

ian always tells me my autobiography should be titled that was a sad story (that i made up) because i am so habitually swept up in the poetry of loss, the art of morbidity.  i eulogize garbage relationships like a widowed woman who lost her one true love in civil war.  i can't bear to part with ill-fitting items of clothing i wore less than 0.3 times because i distinctly remember feeling an emotion or intent when i purchased it.  my philosophy on being kind and patient with the ones i love is predicated on a dramatic fear that my last encounter with them could be the final one, because of car accidents or murder or savage tropical storms.  when ian leaves for the grocery store down the dang street, i yell drive carefully! in lieu of a normal farewell.  my dude, in his honda civic hybrid, is not doing tokyo drifts in the kroger parking lot.  but still, my palms sweat when i think about goodbyes.   i have spent the entirety of my adolescence and young adult life learning how to write about loss.  it is a masochistic skill to have acquired, even more pointless than learning vape tricks.

so it's this that i grappled with when it came to the end of breastfeeding.  not so much a fear of substandard nutrition, nor guilt for cheating my son out of the absolute optimal meal.  not the worry of being socially perceived as a lazy or selfish mother (i am both of those things all the time).  james tolerates formula exceptionally well, with no discernable variation in his gastrointestinal tricks or weight gain.  maternal igg antibiodies in breastmilk decline by 6 months while an infant is producing his own at normal levels.  ian, consummately supportive and optimistic, encourages me to do what is best for me.  there are so many bags of breastmilk stored in the freezer that he is visibly displeased about what this means for his meticulous kitchen organization.

i am not even excoriating myself for giving up, because i have not entirely tied up my ability to grind to my identity as a mother.  being two sacks of milk is not my character-defining accomplishment.  i suspect there will be more crucial tests of motherhood in the future- though this feels like the first big letting go.  and i know it has to be done one of these days, that he will not be breastfeeding in the car shortly before his freshman orientation on campus life activities.  it's just so...preemptive at the six month mark.

but my supply is dwindling and the fear of precipitously obsessing over my pumping output distracts me from my work, my marriage, my child.  i have survived so many rounds of mainlining fenugreek, power pumping, doing the fucking most and still on high alert for any fluctuation along those ounce markers.  i nurse daily, but it is a less than idyllic affair when james slashes at me wildly with his little claws, distracts constantly, and casually blows raspberries while latched, causing my milk to spray wastefully around us.  i catch myself feeling irrationally annoyed that he is spitting out this hard-earned liquid like a damn geyser. 

i am done feeling so precious and anxious about breastmilk; i am done with the psychological toll; i am done with the physical labor.  i want to set my pump on fire and fling the charred remains into the sun.  there are lots of stances out there on just how hard breastfeeding is.  in my personal experience, it is easier than working in a mine but harder than trying to parse a trump speech for substance.

new orleans, i tell ian.  that's my cutoff.  we'll go on vacation, i won't pump, then i'll be done.

the night before we leave on our trip, i bring james to my parents' house.  while my mom and dad hover over ian anxiously, urging him to eat an entire rotisserie chicken by himself, i sit with james in their master bedroom.  he is tired and fussy, and i take out my breasts one last time to calm him.  and this is the nursing session i will always remember, that will still be burned into my mind decades later when my breasts are no longer a thing that anyone cares about, when james is a grown man who has never given a single thought to his nutrition in infancy.  i will always remember the warm yellow light from the nightstand, the black silk dress i slipped off hastily, his big, dark eyes searching mine while he latched.  one tiny hand gripping my finger, the other windmilling around.  i will always remember thinking this is the one thing that only i can do for him, and fighting back a hot surge of tears.

and i will always remember that right after i choked back a sob, james unlatched and punched me.

when i return from our long weekend in new orleans, my supply has officially dried up.  but my tears have too, and i realize that the sting of the last time is abated by the experience of so many other things.  he is a vibrant, growing, funny little guy and feeding him is only one small part of the equation.  there are a million more memories to make and they will not always be ones of loss or finality.

for example, on valentine's day, he did a poop so horrifying it flowed down his arms.  cool memories like that.

 

051

we've made it to six months.  ian and i have kept a child alive and happy for half a dang year.

well, mostly ian.  i have been spending most of these six months complaining endlessly about pumping and pretending not to hear the baby monitor at 5 am.

things that my dude can now do:

  • eat solids voraciously.  i give him small pieces of whatever we're eating for dinner when it's not taco bell, and he handles this with astonishingly bad dexterity.  he also achieves a poor ratio of ingestion vs mess, but seems satisfied with the journey.  the dogs have never been happier, but i am not thrilled that i have completed yet another annoying evolution.  shamefully, i am now the type of person that delights in seeing my kid with peanut butter smeared all over his dumb face.  what is this genetic sorcery?  why have i become a monster?
  • bully his classmates.  james has been officially deemed worthy of moving on to the second infant room.  he is the oldest, the biggest, and probably the worst.  he roll around, keep stealing socks off the other babies.  then he try to chew their feet, one teacher tells me.  we have to grab him, tell him he can't eat other people.  i secretly hope this is just a precious anecdote and not a dropped pin in his life story of becoming a murderpedia.com article.  but the teachers all praise him for being consistently happy and easygoing, fond of smiling and quick to put himself to sleep.  still, it is time for him to move on.  his attempts at socializing with the little potatoes in his class go unnoticed and rebuffed.  starting next week, he'll begin transitioning to the adjacent classroom, where there are bigger feet to snack on.
  • begin babbling.  technically, very technically, his first words were mama because he makes those sounds repeatedly while trying to scoot.  it's a trip listening to him really trying it, figuring out how to make sounds with his lips and tongue.  but we won't be calling first words until he actually knows what he's attempting to communicate.  and i'm still hoping it'll be jet fuel can't melt steel beams.
  • show signs of starting to crawl.  little man already scoots backward with astonishing ease, but recently he has learned to assume the position- raising himself up to a quadruped pose.  this is a big one, because the idea that my helpless little 7 lb meatloaf can now become a real mobile person is hard to wrap my mind around.  like yes, cognitively i know that babies grow and explore and do things and become toddlers that become children that become taxpayers.  i understand this on an objective level, but i am also acutely aware that these months of development are far too fleeting.  he is becoming impossibly heavier, squirmier, and one day ian will no longer be able to cradle him to sleep for hours in his arms.  one day he will want to move from one place to another and he won't need to look up at me pleadingly for help.  the pains and drudgery of the newborn stage that made me long desperately for development feel like a very distant nightmare, and now i am left with a constant bittersweet taste.  every sign of growth feels like a reminder of loss.  parenting is just one long letting go, my friend from the august 2016 birth month group tells me.  i think about the truth of this daily.  we are only six months in and i am already wistful.  i will be unbearably maudlin by the time james is school-aged.

things that i can now do:

  • be an annoying sadboy all the time.

 

050

 

amar baina uu, temujin james?

i don't ever call you by your first name and i harbor the suspicion that you'll ditch it the moment you are legally able- though i would hope you'd just formally adopt james and not reinvent yourself into some bullshit hippie living in a commune calling yourself krishna om rainstorm and misappropriating locs.  

i know, without a doubt, you will sit through every roll call of every semester of your education years bathed in a cold sweat of anxiety as your teachers finish with the grahams and move on to the h-names.  they will pause somewhere after hicks or hoffman and there is a visible hesitation while they grapple with two distinctly foreign choices and every cell in your body wants to disappear under an invisibility cloak, your knuckles drawing white from the tension of just waiting for the inevitable sheepish chuckle of sorry, i just know i'm gonna mispronounce this one but... 

and will it be hoshut?  will they opt for the shorter last name with the unknown vowel sounds?  your grandfather chose that one, in a nod to his lineage from the oirat mongols.  your great-great-great grandmother was the last princess of the khoshut khanate.  all my adolescent life i wished my dad had chosen an easier, less conspicuous surname when he immigrated to america.  why couldn't he have picked jones, or williams?  or if he insisted on being conspicuously asian, why not even chen or lee?  man, it'd be so cool to be a smith.  i could fit in with a last name like smith.

in sixth grade, a girl named ebony was egged on by her friends during recess to saunter up to me while i stood alone, probably reading a book about shark attacks.  they wanted me to tell you that your last name should be ho-shit, because you're a ho and you're made outta shit, she informed me while mean-spirited giggles cued behind her like a laugh track.

i didn't even know what a ho was, but my face burned hot and in that moment i hated my name, hated my ethnicity, hated my foreignness with an anger that i thought would never really leave me.  and this idea that i will change my name somehow echoed into the idea that i will change myself.  and one day the boys i liked wouldn't pull up the corners of their eyes at me, one day strangers wouldn't call me a chink, and i would live in a good neighborhood that friends would be allowed to visit and i could host sleepovers and my parents would make hot chocolate with peppermint swizzle sticks instead of suutei tsai and i would wear brand-new abercrombie and fitch t-shirts instead of an oversized hakuna matata sweatshirt my mom fished out of the church donation bin.  i would be paler, prettier; more normal, more white.   

but james, you will never have to know that feeling- except during the roll call.  maybe your teacher will bypass the surname and gamble on your first, because they remember coming across that one in the world history books.  it's an easier one for sure, except where an american tongue betrays the sound of the j.  maybe they will pat themselves on the back for recognizing the birth name of one of the most prolific, accomplished leaders who has ever lived.  and maybe they'll wonder why your parents named you after a tyrant.  but most likely, they will move on to howard without a second thought.  

i go by james, you will explain.  over and over and over again.  you'll be mad at me in your youth, i know, because i birthed your white body with my mongolian one.  because i tell you i love you in three languages and i want to hear them all in return.  because we live in texas and i speak with no trace of an accent but i will never stop reminding you how far east your roots truly run.  because your peers will make jokes about asian guys and you will shun that half of you with a resentment that runs deep through a toxic channel of racism that questions asian masculinity and sexual attractiveness.  and you will hate me for naming you.

but know that i don't regret, even for a minute, blessing you with a name that is synonymous with greatness.  and yes, i know it's corny in the way that it might have been for a wave of baby boys named barack in 2009, but i gave you the strongest name i could in the hopes that whoever you become, whatever your motivations- you are able to embody strength in character above all else.

and know that after two solid decades of self-loathing, of resenting the yoke of difficult, anglicized syllables, of yearning for a normal american name, i sat across the desk from a ucsic agent during the final steps of acquiring my u.s. citizenship.  she asked me if i would be changing my name.  i told her no

and when i held your father's hands in that courtroom and promised to love him for as long as we both shall live, i finally had the golden opportunity to at long last become a smith.  i told him no.

james, you will have your father's features and the comfortable upper middle class life of your white peers, so your name is all i could give you.  we are mongols, temujin hoshut.  no matter where we live or what language we speak or how much trap music we listen to.  our blood is the blood of khans; our bodies borne by the bodies of the tengger desert.  if you take nothing else from me, just remember that always.  

happy tsagaan sar, my little love.

049

in high school, it only took me two weeks to say i love you to the swoopy-haired emo boyfriend of my dreams.  nearly 15 years later, it takes me so much longer to find these words for my son.

but it finally happened.  like falling asleep- slowly, and then all at once.  

james has been sick this week, hampered by a minor cold.  it's not unexpected, given the rapid change in weather and his introduction to the world of daycare germs (i am side-eyeing one particularly sketchy baby what had his nose running like a dang slip 'n slide).  we take an unnecessary trip to the pediatrician, and dr. macdonald confirms that it's clinically nbd.  he also tells me that james looks like robin hood in his cool new booties.

lil man takes after his papa in the most important ways.  the slightest illness will have me geared up to do the fucking most.  i mope, i sob, i buy the entire contents of a walgreen's, i wrap myself in every blanket i've ever owned, i write my last will and testament and think of returning as a ghost to haunt the fools that might have coughed within 10 yards of me.  ian, on the other hand, is somewhere between stoic and comatose.  he makes a hot toddy, sleeps for a full day, and remains a pleasant person.  in this approach, james is his father's son.

he's not himself today, miss jemi at the daycare tells me.  but he's still such a happy baby, only sleeping all day and not much playing.

so i know james is fine, but his big ol' bobblehead is still a giant ball of mucus.  he snorts and coughs through every hour, snuffling like a little piglet while his nose stays permanently running like he's serving a consistent wet mustache look.  and in an uncharacteristic fit of parental anxiety, i gamble with both my sleep and his to bedshare carefully in the spare room.

we've never really done this and i am mentally berating myself with a nightmare ticker tape of sids articles, but my dude lies beside me in his sleep suit and grips my finger with his tiny fist.  i listen to his struggling breaths and feel like my own sinuses are massively congested.  for a wild moment, i think that i must have caught his cold.  then it takes me several minutes to realize that i am not at all sick and breathing just fine- but fuck, his little snorts and coughs somehow physically pain me.  this is a wild phenomenon.  i am not a particularly empathetic person, but here in this moment i know that every neuron in my brain and every fiber of my body is reacting to this little man's desperate snuffling.  please feel better, please feel better i think pointlessly, redundantly.  and i do not sleep until his breathing eases.

another night, before bedtime, we are playing with mr. james in the kitchen in sort of the only way you can play with a floppy 18 pound pile of cheeks- swinging him around and showering him with kisses.  lil dude tries to suck on my chin while ian tickles him- and he can't decide whether he wants to commit to slobbering all over my face or giggling like a lunatic, so he does both and it sounds seriously dumb while i type this out but it was so fun.  legit, present, unabashed fun.  and for one moment i was finally in a beautiful headspace where i was no longer thinking about work or commitments or how i'm faring as a mediocre parent but 100% immersed in my little family and all i could think was, my god i am so in love with these gorgeous boys.

tonight we bring him home from a dinner that he slept through completely, and he is out cold.  he looks like a corn dog stuffed into a very cool new jacket.  when i bring him to bed, hoping for a little dream feed to bolster his immune system, he continues to snooze relentlessly in any position we place him in.  i cradle him in my arms while he grins in his sleep, somewhere between barely nursing and maybe having a fun dream about petting puppies.  i realize that ian and i are both just staring at him, wearing nearly identical goofy and soppy expressions.  and i think i could probably look at him forever, freeze framing and savoring these minutes that have rapidly gained momentum and traction in my life, snowballing into the massive, inexplicable, and unrestrained love i knew was waiting all along.

i literally threw up while halfway through writing this damn entry and i'm not sure if it's because i decided to inhale a metric ton of food and hot chocolate OR because i am the lamest cheeseball and someone should take this blog away from me before all my entries devolve into generic mommy bullshit.

048

when i pick james up from daycare, his daily report is already full of demerits.  it reads played with bottle :( at his 11 am feed.  playing with nipple :( at 3 pm.  he is too delighted with his own newfound strength to sit still for a full meal.

i'm worried that he'll lose weight, i express to his daycare teachers while simultaneously struggling to pick him up.  he is heavy and dense.  like a fat roasted chicken stuffed with gnocchi. the ladies exchange glances briefly before laughing, and i realize i sound ridiculous as james peers up at me through a mountain of cheeks and chins.  he is as round as ever, despite his daily frolicking and bottle foolishness.

the kids r kids facilities are all equipped with webcams, but some are better than others.  my colleague's facility in north frisco has three different camera angles and records all footage for playback like a damn tivo.  the camera in james' room, on the other hand, looks like it's just two potatoes fused together with yarn.  it is mad grainy and choppy, but i can still discern my dude with no difficulty- he's the white blob with the mass of dark hair who is boppin' around in a jumperoo like he's on speed.

he is the oldest baby in his daycare class now, so he's a little different from the sleepy little dumplings around him.  he's not like other babies, the lead teacher tells me.  i think that she is about to throw a compliment my way, because what parent doesn't want to think their child has exceptional qualities that would showcase well in a presidential biography?  instead she tells me, the other babies like being held, they relax and sleep in my arms.  but james gets very tense when i hold him, he's just twisting and turning to look at everything.

i type baby not cuddly into google and it autofills ....autistic.

he loves attention, the second teacher tells me on another day.  he doesn't even need to be touched, he just wants you to look at him.  he even tries to get the other babies' attention.  

my dude is not even 6 months old yet and he already seems like an aspiring instagram thot.  people talk about "personalities" at this age and i roll my eyes like nah, all babies are the same drooly dorks until they start reading chapter books, but i might be wrong in this regard.  james certainly has proclivities and interests that could pass for a personality.  he is mad giggly, obnoxiously loud, and fond of grabbing faces with his steely little fingers.

despite his rambunctiousness, he is still sleeping well.  the four month sleep regression never hit, and he has sailed through the past two months with no middle-of-the-night wakeups- though recently he has had a few early mornings that ian bravely handled.  i've watched him learn how to connect his sleep cycles on his own by self-soothing, which is fascinating.  almost like clockwork, around 11 pm every night he jolts into a bloodcurdling scream unlike anything i've ever heard from him.  but before i can extricate myself from a pile of blankets and a privileged dog to reach the nursery, james falls silent.  a review of the nest cam shows that lil man found his fingers, brought them to his mouth, and instantly fell back asleep.  this is what pamela druckerman discusses in bringing up bebe, quintessential pregnancy reading- le pause.  i get more confident in james' own abilities day by day. 

parenting gets easier too.  we have a semblance of a morning routine these days.  ian feeds james while i doggedly pump a few sad ounces out of my capitulating breasts.  i stuff my dude into a too-small outfit like a fat little sausage while ian carefully sculpts his hair for an hour.  we leave james to his own floor play while ian makes a few bottles of formula for daycare and i try to do something about my rapidly aging face.  my two boys trundle off for daycare and spreadsheets and i leave for work shortly thereafter with my dresses only halfway zipped.

and then i sit in a meeting with two overeager sales guys, both of them on the verge of becoming new fathers (not with each other).  they congratulate me on my return from maternity leave, which is a weird time to remember because i feel like i was only gone in a mire of sadness and breastmilk for about a minute.  one of them asks me what it has been like to have a baby, and i know it is just friendly filler conversation before they wheedle me into spending too much money on hr services, but i cannot resist any opportunity to intimate that i am not a suburban mombie with platitudes about living/laughing/loving.  and i want these strangers to know that i am still jaded, still lazy, still obsessed with my work and my growth as an individual.  that my heart still beats fast and hard for ian with an all-consuming love and respect that is unmatched by anyone or anything else.  and my life isn't necessarily better or harder or vastly different- but somewhat richer and more nuanced in unexpected ways.

but instead i say something wry and dumb like well i still hate babies but i like my own that was just a nod to a season 5 sex and the city episode but of course these dudes don't get it and we all move on but later i will realize that of course it would have all panned out like this, of course i should've known i was always miranda hobbes.  in life, in love, in my cynical skepticism of mommyhood.  definitely a miranda.

but with a carrie rising.  that's why i keep writing in this stupid blog and wearing unsuitable heels.

 

 

047

DSC_0053.jpg

in honor of james' first day in childcare, here's an entry about my daycare scramble, alternately titled why don't you want my caucasian money.

first and foremost, if you are expecting- if you are even thinking of expecting, if you have just met a person who you wouldn't mind having children with- start scouting your daycare options.

i started calling and touring daycares during my third trimester.  once, a lifetime ago, i drove past a creme de la creme facility and rolled my eyes so far back i think i glimpsed my parietal lobe.  what a stupid name, i thought.  what a white ass place that must be.

fast forward several years, and creme is my first choice for daycare.

have to be the best, my mom despaired.  james has not even been born into this cruel world yet but already she has elevated his potential to the stratosphere.  he is treasure, so small, have to be best safest daycare.  

i've been reading up on creme de la creme, i tell her.  it's literally more expensive than the last apartment i lived in-  $1600 a month.

these are the magic words.  my mother prizes expensive things as the hallmark of quality.  she throws her support behind creme, urging me to abandon any fiscal reticence.  childcare is not where you pinch pennies, after all.  

we tour creme before james is born.  it is not particularly impressive- the a/c is broken when we visit and there is a backup unit with some sort of exposed pipe cooling the infant room.  three ugly babies vibrate placidly in baby swings while a caretaker cradles a fourth.  the director of curriculum and i have a hard time communicating.  i keep asking her about their vaccination policy because i don't want some fucking anti-science hippie parent who follows david avocado wolfe on facebook to put my baby at risk.  but for some reason she thinks that i am an anti-vaxxer lunatic and reassures me that i can enroll my child as long as i sign a document indicating my wishes to abstain from vaccination.

we have parents who choose not to, she reassures me.  i want to scream and shake my fists and tell her this is the wrong way for her to pitch her house of disease to us.

but it's supposed to be the very best daycare!  even the babies have an education curriculum!  there are like 1400 security cameras!  look at these adorable uniforms!  i am suckered in despite some misgivings.  i fill out the form to get him on the waitlist.  he's the second one on it, i am reassured by the director of curriculum.  it shouldn't be a problem to get him enrolled in january.  i ask her if she's sure.  she reassures me everything looks good for the projected start date of january 3rd.

i call the center in early september, having heard nothing from them and expecting to fill out a ream of paperwork.  they tell me that they have no record of me or james.  as it turns out, i was never placed on any sort of waitlist.  i guess i just had a frustratingly misunderstood dialogue about vaccinations with this woman for literally nothing.  but we are still 4 months away from january, and i am reassured that looks like an achievable start date.  i rush to the facility after work, pay their nonrefundable registration blood money of $200, and rest easy knowing that my son will be cocooned in the mayonnaise white privilege of this disneyland-ass daycare.

i don't hear from creme at all, so toward the end of october i call to confirm that we are still on for january 3rd.  miss lindsey is on vacation right now, i can have her call you back as soon as she's back on november 1st, the receptionist chirps.  

miss lindsey never calls me back.  i try to reach her again at the beginning of november.  she seems bewildered by my need to confirm a start date with certainty, and i am bewildered by the fact that they cannot offer one.  she explains that daycare enrollment is a nebulous, unpredictable game of tetris with children transferring rooms and jumping the waitlist based on an unfathomable algorithm of development and nepotism.  part of this makes sense, but i am staggered at the burden of unpredictability placed entirely on the family.  so, i guess we just hang out and don't make any career moves until y'all work this equation out?

she reassures me again that the january start date for james looks attainable, but sneaks in i can't guarantee like conversational fine print.  

we should know by the end of november, she tells me.  

nobody contacts me by the end of november.  i have moved beyond surprise to a dogged tenacity.  i call again.

i am told that january is now a pipe dream, and we have been shunted to maybe february.  but what about the "second one on the waitlist" thing?  we give preference to parents of existing creme students, miss lindsey explains.  we recommend that you find a backup option.

HOW MANY NEPOTISM BABIES HAVE BEEN BORN DURING THE LAST TWO MONTHS TO HAVE PUSHED MY SON INTO THE DREGS OF THE WAITLIST ROCK BOTTOM?

sounds like they give preference to white people, my sister quipped.  should've had ian do all the work on this one.  

i laugh this off but secretly wonder if i have been too annoying and thereby deemed an undesirable parent.  miss lindsey has been polite and friendly on these calls, but there is an unnerving detachment bordering on flippancy towards a family on the waitlist.  like maybe if there is no contact or update for long enough, i will finally disintegrate into dust and stop pestering them.  i feel like i am trying to get into an uptown club on saturday night but the bouncer has pocketed my $200 and is hell-bent on not making eye contact with me.  

so i frenziedly scout backups.  now it is december and things look dire.  the daycare centers in our area have waitlists extending out to may.  i start thinking that i will need to buy some business casual looks for james and just take him to work with me every day.  his first words might be revenue cycle.

stela in my addison clinic suggests kids r kids.  this name is only slightly less wretched than creme de la creme, but i know for a fact that her daughter has been enrolled at one of their frisco facilities since she was six weeks old.  gisella is now 2.5 years old- confident, charismatic, social, and bright.  i seize on this ray of hope.

when i drop in for a tour, a very kind and professional lady named emily guides me through the two infant rooms.  they are clean, brightly colored, and immaculately organized.  there are live webcams accessible to parents at all times.  the infant room teachers have an average tenure of 4 years thus far.

we only have one unvaccinated student, but they're an older child in a different classroom on the other side of the building, emily tells me.

i am sold.  she guarantees a january 3rd enrollment.

ian and i dropped james off this morning, lugging a bin of carefully labeled supplies.  his teachers are warm and welcoming.  they do not betray the slightest impatience while i explain his feeding schedule over and over again.  james lies on the playmat and is immediately enthralled by a bucket of toys.  he doesn't seem to know or care that his parents are leaving him in a new place, with new adults, and a whole squad of ugly babies.  

he does not cry.  we do not cry.

and creme still has not contacted me at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

046

my dude turned 5 months old on january 1st.  new year, new mr. james.

things that baby j can now do:

  • grab at his chubby feet
  • pet the dogs clumsily
  • sit unsupported for all of 30 seconds before the weight of his big ass head tumps him over
  • hold his own bottle for a little while before he gives up and lets it roll away and dribble into the caverns of his neck fat
  • punch anything within reach- a wine glass, a plate, my breasts, my face
  • roll around constantly, get his fat little leg stuck between crib rails
  • splash and kick around to swim in a bathtub with the help of his otteroo floatie
  • grab my finger and gum on it vigorously like he's eating corn on the cob
  • grin and giggle when he hears инээд (ineed), the mongolian word for laugh

things that i can now do:

  • remain stoic while getting punched in the face a lot 
  • say that i've produced roughly 4,000 ounces of breastmilk (i don't really know who i would say this to)
  • deflect any and all potentially interested dudes at bars immediately by using a baby photo as my lockscreen

045

i have always lived my life in a perpetual state of self-loathing.  just, steady hating myself for consistently being the fucking worst.  sometimes it's because i've pulled up to the mcdonald's drive-thru window pretending to be on the phone taking orders for other people but secretly planning to eat three whole meals in my car.  sometimes it's because i wasted so many years of my life obsessing over ain't shit dudes.  and very often it's because i slept in a full face of makeup once again and my pillowcase looks like a jackson pollock canvas.

but most recently, it's because i've become that person.  your acquaintance from bygone high school or college years who is constantly posting photos of her stupid baby.

while i was still lugging james around like a fanny pack, i swore i'd never be this person.  i will confine the majority of james' photos to tinybeans, i thought loftily.  maybe upload a facebook picture once in a while.  he might not even be that cute.

but of course i think my baby is cute.  that's some sort of biological destiny that even my cynicism and awfulness couldn't fuck up.  you could literally tell me that objectively, my child looks like john wayne gacy- but i would still be swooning over his chubby little cheeks.  there is some neural wiring here that cannot be undone.

so i take and post photos of him.  everywhere, nonstop, hating myself for being so basic all the while.  ugh stop it you are OUT OF CONTROL, go back to posting memes or talking about cheetos or amassing your collection of simpsons screencaps.  lose the damn baby weight and get back to posting age-inappropriate thotty selfies.  write a review of a book to convince people that you know how to read something other than a babycenter.com thread about cradle cap.  WHY ARE YOU STILL POSTING BABY PHOTOS.

but he's got a cool smile in this one!

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044

should we do santa photos?  i quiz ian more than once.  it seems like we should do santa photos.  that's a parenting thing right?  it feels seasonally appropriate and family appropriate.  welcome to my caucasian home, i will say, ushering guests into my living room where they may pause to admire a santa photo decorating the fireplace mantle.  

we take santa photo for you and mel, my mom reminisces happily.  i remember that picture.  it was taken with a disposable camera in the anemic fluorescent light of our neighborhood albertson's.  we perched unhappily on the stocky legs of a very unconvincing santa posted up in front of a display of soda boxes.  i believed fervently in santa until an embarrassing age, but even i did not think he would've been hanging out at my local grocery store between the mountain dew 12-packs and the bin of discounted day-old bread.

we do not end up schlepping james to the mall for santa photos.  we don't even take a family christmas photo ourselves because the dress i order for the occasional turns out to be too small (i take this disappointment about as well as you could expect- pouting and moping and flinging myself facedown on the bed yet again).  we do not even put up our christmas tree.  it's sitting sadly in a corner, only halfway assembled and devoid of ornaments.  

we haven't even been particularly busy, so there is no excuse for the lack of festivity in the hoshut household.  james is fussy and desperately cramming anything into his mouth these days, but he is still sleeping predictably and perfectly at night.  instead of embracing the christmas spirit, i lie in bed and try to calculate how annoying i would be for posting the 864th baby photo of the day while ian watches mad men (write a blog entry about how much we love mad men, he suggests).

(i'm not really watching it and only have a vague idea what it's even about.  seems like just scene after scene of white people looking at each other tensely while smoking.)

this is our last week before we haul james to daycare at the beginning of january.  i think i will feel chill and stoic about dropping him off for his very first day but it is likely that i will sit in a chick-fil-a parking lot and sob through a mouthful of biscuits.  it will feel disconcerting to leave our #1 most precious treasure in the hands of a stranger, but i know that it will end up being a great experience for him in the long run.  maybe he will meet some cool babies.  maybe they'll start up a baby gang.

on the subject of new adventures, james had his first taste of legit food last night- a tiny bit of garlicky tomato sauce.   then (more out of curiosity than anything) i spoonfed him some rice cereal dissolved in milk.   start slowly, just see if he shows any interest in food, the resources on starting solids all advise.  you can believe this fat-assed child of mine showed interest bordering on indecent enthusiasm.  

when i finally took his spoon away, he cried with a familiar, desperate sadness.  it is the same way i cry when i am drunk at 2 am and remember that taco bueno closed at 1.

043

i pull up to an unfamiliar, imposing office building off the tollway and scroll through my emails in a blind panic.  is this the right location?  did i accidentally show up at the corporate office?  this doesn't look like a medical practice.  my cheap h&m blazer is too tight in the armpits.  it's only march in texas but i am starting to sweat.

call this number when you arrive, the recruiter had emailed me.  i call, and a man tells me to hang tight.  a minute later, he comes striding down the hallway to meet me.  he is in his early forties, but has a boyish, grinning charm.  he wears a perfectly tailored suit with ease.  the word 'rakish' comes to mind.  

i'm brandon, he introduces himself assertively.  i try to shake his hand with a practiced confidence that says BUSINESS but i end up sort of hopelessly squeezing it with a clammy tenacity that says OCTOPUS.  he leads me into a clinic that does not look clinical, into an office full of rich woods and gold accents.  i perch on the edge of a couch trying to hold my posture into a position that isn't my native gelatinous slouching.

brandon leans forward conspiratorially and asks: so tell me, mimi- can you talk shit?

nearly four years later and i still remember this job interview like it was yesterday, can see myself in those polyester pants and black ballet flats (i didn't even own heels), desperate to land this job and steer myself out of the no man's land between graduate school and the adult workforce.  only a few months after my optimistic promotion to management at the surgery center, my new boss had swept in through a regime change with leadership books, disparaging comments about my clothing, and a way of delivering simpering criticisms through insincere smiles that made my skin crawl.  and when i had one semester left until graduation, the dolores umbridge of healthcare pulled me into her office and threw down an ultimatum- school or work.

both, i thought, with an uncharacteristic anger that burned deep.  and i started the job hunt.  i interviewed with a cardiology group in search of an office manager, escalating through several rounds until i was happily chatting with director of operations about the future of healthcare technology.  well i'll be honest with you, mimi, he told me at the end of our interview.  you're obviously very qualified and i think you'd do a great job.  but i have a feeling you won't settle until you're the vp of a company.

nooooo, i wanted to cry out in protest.  no i am very unambitious!  i just want enough money to preorder video games and buy indian food. 

i didn't land the cardiology clinic.  but two weeks later, i sat in that ornately decorated office and met brandon and johnny.  and two weeks after that, i started the first day of my new life.  

and then these two men became collectively "the boys" to me, and their clinic became my second home, and all of the nonstop expansions and purchases and endeavors far beyond what i originally signed up for became my obsession.  not so much healthcare management or human resources or revenue cycle, not the actual substance of what this job entailed- but what it demanded of me.  more time.  more focus.  more presence.  more integrity.  more loyalty.  more strategy.  more resilience.  more more more.  and it never got easier but somehow i always got better.

and this whole entry so far seems apropos of nothing because this isn't about pregnancy or parenthood but it never fails to surprise me that somewhere along the way, my meandering lack of ambition that always made me think idk maybe one day i'll just be a wife or work at a gamestop or tell my parents i'm in med school but actually go to optometry school became a honed and practiced priority in my life.  motherhood widened that lens, but didn't refocus it.  these days i am working longer and averaging 2 hours of face time with james.  it's not the ideal setup, not when little man is becoming so vibrant and lively and social- but it feels like the inevitable push in the endless ebb and flow of work-life balance.

and i often remind myself- the self-development of my career path bleeds over to my growth as a mother.  learning patience, learning flexibility, refining communication.  remembering that change is the only constant, that pragmatism sometimes needs to trump principle, that empathy will always be a valuable asset.  and i didn't accept the ultimatum between school and work back then, and i don't accept it between work and baby now.  

after 16 years in practice and 14 as the CEO of his professional association-turned-multidisciplinary group, johnny appointed me as his COO this monday.  i have been fulfilling this role de facto, but receiving the recognition of the title was a gratifying moment.  it was also a beacon of reassurance- becoming a mother doesn't mean giving up your professional edge.  

both, i thought, with an unfamiliar pride that swelled in my chest.  i arrived home late that night and watched james fall asleep to the gentle tinkling of his tinylove mobile.  it occurred to me that there is still so much ahead of us, so many more late nights at work, doctor's appointments, school plays, deadlines, acquisitions, pta meetings, board meetings, unforeseen crises, unscheduled disruptions.  there's a long game of balancing acts up ahead for me, ian, and this darling little dude with the bright eyes and loud yelps.

but here, right now, in this very moment in time, we are all doing a great job.

042

young james why you trappin' so hard? 

baby boy endured his slightly belated 4 month checkup today, an ordeal that involved yet another round of vaccinations.  after the first of three consecutive shots, james locked eyes with his beleaguered nurse and growled at her like a very small bear.

he has been rife with cute antics these days now that he is a real human guy.  on monday morning, i finished my nine millionth pumping session and walked into the nursery to see baby james propped up on elbows, sprawled across his activity mat.  the arch of his back and the steady strength of his neck were astonishing to me in that moment.  hi mr. james!  i said.  he turned his head towards me, peered at my face, and smiled.   a real boy.

his pediatrician seems as impressed by him as i am.  you're the best-looking baby i've seen all day, he tells james amiably.  my dude weighs in at 16 lbs, 9 ounces.  he is 26 inches long.  a big, tall boy, dr. macdonald says approvingly as he jots down "97th%" next to both measurements.  i realize fleetingly that one day this little loaf will loom above me.  my pointless brain sings IT'S THE CIRCLE OF LIFE AND IT MOVES US ALLLLLLLL but now dr. macdonald is asking about james' average length of sleep and i am bursting with excitement to tell him that all three of us are blessed with 11-12 hours straight for the past two months.  

i read this sleep training book while i was pregnant, i gush.  at this point i feel like i have promoted myself to suzy giordano's hypeman.  she is my new george r.r. martin, though i have only read her book once.  once was all i needed.  though i have muddled through the rest of new parenthood with graceless, frantic googling through a wormhole of chrome windows, james' eating and sleeping are the two things that i feel like we've managed to approach with some level of confidence.

the first 3 weeks of his life were a tearful, exhausted blur of leaking breasts and misplaced glasses and praying fervently for continued sleep.  we feed on demand and wake on demand and james sleeps in a bassinet beside our bed, jolting me out of halfhearted dozing every couple of hours with his confused little sobs.  after 3 weeks, my mother encourages us to start stretching out the time between his meals (calculated from the start of one feed to the start of the next)- little by little.  so slowly, 15 minutes at a time, day after day, we increase the wait from 2 hours, to 3, then finally 4.  james quickly becomes less demanding and fussy as his mealtimes settle into predictability.  7 am, 11 am, 3 pm, 7 pm.  pretty much ian's mealtimes as well.  and like his father, james begins to eat significantly more during each feed. 

by 5 weeks, just the regularity and quality of meals drops his nighttime wakings to a manageable 2, and we move him into his nursery.  i begin to use the bassinet as just another hamper for clean laundry i can't be bothered to fold.  i stub my toe against it many, many times.  step 2 of suzy's plan is to drop the night feeds by slowly reducing the nursing time of each feed in turn.  it takes several weeks because i am unwilling to preemptively pry my sleepy little newborn away from my body and second guess my approach every single day- but it finally works.  i go slowly, shaving off one minute every couple of days.  surprisingly enough, james neither protests nor clings, and falls back asleep whenever.  by 10 weeks, he decides that 3 minutes of nursing is not worth waking up for and sleeps straight through the night.  ian and i track and tally his 4 daily meals with obsessive detail, counting every half ounce to ensure that he's receiving all his calories during the daytime.  

the third step is about nap schedules but james is not here for that.  for all of his perfect angelic nighttime sleep, he fights naps like a insomniac demon who needs to be held at exactly the right angle and bopped with exactly the right tempo and velocity to even consider closing his eyes.  the lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

and finally, the fourth step is keeping him in his crib for roughly 12 hours straight, from after his 7 pm feed to the start of his 7 am feed.  there is something here about encouraging babies to quietly entertain themselves and self-soothe, but mostly it falls into place like a natural byproduct of the previous efforts.  james drifts off to sleep on his own while chewing on his fingers and wakes up with the biggest, goofiest grin plastered across his little face.  we greet each other with these big smiles in the morning; he shouts and kicks and giggles with a level of excitement unbeknownst to me at any hour prior to lunchtime.  he looks so ridiculous, a big pink meatball head poking out of a puffy yellow spacesuit, flailing tiny, icy fists and crowing in triumph- but man, it is a beautiful sight.  

041

honey, i still don't think james even knows who i am.

you should spend more time with him.

what time?  i'm so busy-

-pushing that car around in final fantasy?

ian is not wrong.  final fantasy xv came out last week after a full decade in production and i've logged 26 smooth hours of circling around marshy patches looking for five dumb frogs.  my autobiography should be titled i know i am wasting my life but i can't stop.

mr. james turned 4 months old on december 1st, cruising on an arc of sensory and motor development that peaked in the constant desire to cradled by his father like a baby otter.  he is less excited about being carried by his mother, who has such astonishingly poor upper body strength that she might clinically be an anemone.  i also need to sit down a lot for reasons unknown.

he is exhibiting all the symptoms of teething already.  his little cheeks always look mad flushed like he's tried on every blush at sephora, there is a steady river of drool pouring from him at all times, and he is gumming ferociously on anything and everything within reach.  he has rolled over a grand total of twice and decided that he wasn't about that life.  he is also now a real enough person to clutch his own bottle and put his own pacifier back in his mouth, albeit with arduously clumsy and fumbling motions.  when he flails awkwardly with his little ham fists and biscuit arms, he finally looks like me- a drunk person.

in addition to his physical development, baby james has also picked up a mental shrewdness that has definitely surprised me.  after 3 solid months of being a turnip, james now recognizes his favorite faces (ian, my mom, his own) and cries when there are too many people around (same).  he has even locked eyes with momo a few times, but continues to ignore jean-luc (same).  and most importantly, he is happier and louder in leaps and bounds with every week that passes.

the curse of the infamous and dreaded 4 month sleep regression, that flame of udûn, has yet to plague our household.  james has truly been sleeping 11 hours through the night, every night, since around 11 weeks old.  i try not to gloat about this but every day feels like an undeserved miracle.  the desperate scrabble for two hours of sleep during the first month seems like a distant memory of a half-forgotten hazing.

and of course, i'm squandering all these precious nights by staying up too late reading old lipstick alley threads, trying to find that tea on what weird stuff drake is into.

 

040

cool things about having a baby:

  • you instantly become a more relatable person and develop a small talk expertise
  • people are finally interested in your iphone camera roll
  • it's finally okay to go out for dinner at 4:30 pm
  • everyone thinks you look tired because of new motherhood but really you just stayed up all night looking for woke memes
  • you can touch his chubby little body and smell his buttered popcorn cheeks all the time
  • and also he looks like a turtle when he laughs
  • you fall madly in love with your man daily when you see him on that dad grind
  • you gain a newfound appreciation and closer bond with your own parents
  • you can excuse yourself from every social interaction in the whole world by blaming the baby even though his meals and his sleep are better and more predictable than your own have been in all 29 years of your dumb-assed life
  • somebody finally stops crying when you hold them
  • nobody calls you after 8 pm
  • well nobody ever called you anyway regardless of your family situation

dumb things about having a baby:

  • you have to do laundry every other day as opposed to the once a lunar year schedule you honored in the past
  • you have to learn how to eat with one hand and positioned 5 miles away from your plate but somehow avoid spilling food over his little head
  • even 4 months out he's still kind of floppy and you secretly still don't know how to hold him
  • working full-time means you see him for like 3 hours a day and you develop the sneaking suspicion that he'll never really know who you are or why you make him dance to spotify's rap caviar playlist
  • being a milk machine is uncomfortable and inconvenient and nowhere near as serene as all these asshole hippie moms all promised
  • your wild dogs' barking will become 100 times more annoying
  • when he cries and fusses but you're embroiled in a pokemon battle you secretly hope that he'll chill or your husband will scoop him and then you wonder if you're an awful mother or suffer from postpartum depression and spend a great deal of time silently berating yourself for not feeling all these grand sweeping emotions of motherhood and martyrdom and you wonder why on earth you were given the gift of fertility when you would've been totally cool just drinking yourself to an early and better-looking death and your baby probably deserves better than a mom who is resolutely unchanged as a person but at the end of the day it has only been a few months into a lifelong journey and there is still time for personal development and sacrificial commitment to parenthood and you are still very much in love with his big bright eyes and chubby buttery face and despite your best efforts to be dispassionately objective he is still the cutest and happiest little light you have ever known

sorry not sure what happened to this entry i am a little drunk

039

it is last weekend in new orleans, and i am sitting outside in the courtyard at pat o'brien's.  the four of us, veterans of last year's vegas trip, sip hurricanes that taste like cough syrup and talk about instagram.  priscilla is pretty and sullen, her face in repose looking like an expensive mask.  stela is the brazilian beyonce, a bombshell in short shorts with bronzed legs that could be measured in kilometers.  claudia is a petite and effortlessly beautiful salvadorian whom ian once dubbed "circus boobs."  i am a walrus wrapped inside a stale taco shell and wearing borrowed clothing because i left my own pants in the dryer at home.

but for the very first time, i have something in common with these three party hoes aside from a shared love of inebriation.  we are all mothers, 500 miles and 2 overpowered drinks away from our babies- refusing the self-flagellation of mom guilt.

so he says "how do you travel so much when you have a kid?" and i'm like, "my son has a father."

no one would ever ask a guy that question.

right?  people expect you to stay at home all the time when you're a mom.  excuse me?  i love my daughter and i do everything for her but i'm not going to stop living my life.

we live our lives unapologetically this weekend, stumbling up and down bourbon street, giggling and yelling and failing to locate our uber drivers.  priscilla angrily kisses a stunned middle-aged dude in cargo shorts.  some unspecified members of our group flash their circus boobs.  cheap, tacky beads rain down from balconies thronging with drunk onlookers.  a kind indian man hands me an extra chili dog while our two disparate gangs idle on a street corner at 2 am.  crowds gather around a guy breakdancing to "pump it up."  stela gushes about how much she loves this city while i criticize a misspelled smile if you masterbate sign held up by a group of vagrant teenagers who panhandle for booze.  i pour out half of my hand grenade for them regardless.

in between the raucous, blurred events spanning friday and saturday night, i make my escape to public restrooms.  the girls flit around me anxiously and one of them holds back my hair.  these detours feel so overwhelming familiar but this time i am 29 years old and no longer a drunk neophyte throwing up in bathroom stalls.  instead, i relieve the mounting pressure in my breasts.  it is an indignity of a different kind, milking myself ineffectually.  i did not bring my electric breast pump on this trip, hoping to save space in my suitcase for the pants i forgot to bring.  so i resort to hand-expressing all weekend, an arduous and pointless exercise in giving myself hand cramps.  a drunk blonde girl who has more instagram followers than i have hair follicles offers to help me squeeze my boobs.  she tells me that she just turned 22, and for a moment i feel like performance art of the elephant graveyard.  the strobe lights of the dance floor can't touch me here, in this grimy stall, in this aching pressure, in this deepening realization that no matter where i am or who i'm with, i am always and forever a mother.

as daylight savings time rolls back and gives us another hour to waste in the club, these girls' thumbs are glued to their phones.  they try to take poorly lit selfies and tap out increasingly drunker text messages to exboyfriends or future boyfriends.  i recall vaguely that two years ago, i would've been doing the same.  but i am a different creature now, and my phone is a permanent gallery of my little family.  even here, at  3 am, in the middle of the bourbon heat dance floor, i am smiling stupidly at a picture of my boys.   

so you're like the mom of the group, huh?  a dude who's been hitting on me ineffectively all night comments while i shepherd the drunkest girls into a pizza place for medically necessary sustenance.  mimi's always taking care of us, claudia slurs as i corral them all into an overpriced cab.  even the cab driver calls me mami, though i suspect with sexual overtones.   it is inescapable, like a poorly written tv show plot device.  we arrive back at the airbnb and the girls scatter upstairs to drink, gossip, and hook up.  alone downstairs, i tie back my hair and perch at the edge of the bathtub to wring out my unforgiving breasts.  and i never stop thinking about baby james.  how he has been making increasingly louder noises, delighted to hear his own squawking.  how even his feet are getting fat, looking like puffy little boots.  how he always smells like a bucket of buttered popcorn.

three of this gang of four return to dallas on sunday night, exhausted and desperate to be back with our babies.  for all of our carefree revelry and flagrant disregard of parenting double standards, we are blatantly relieved to be back home.  no matter how often i protest that my life is still the same, all the telltale signs of motherhood are there.  my center of gravity has unmistakably shifted.  it realigns my thoughts, pulls me closer in.  

ian and james, my sun and stars.