063

fushimi inari taisha is kyoto's iconic shinto shrine.  i know it causes great astonishment to the three people reading my blog to know that i am not like, a particularly learned authority on shinto- so this isn't an travel essay on how i alone of all tourists just really *get* this magnificent shrine.

i have, however, mastered the art of waking ian at 5 am and fretting to him about the dire necessity for an early start.  the train ride to fushimi inari station is bleary-eyed but brief- i spend the entirety of it deeply immersed in facebook political strife, the most hateful and pointless activity a person can do while on vacation.

i am initially nervous about the chozuya, a water ablution basin set in a pavilion for symbolic purification prior to entering the shrine.  in addition to studying train timetables with the frenetic intensity of a serial killer, i am also mentally armed with a lot of anecdotes about dumb foreigners who botch this rite horrifically.  i've seen americans actually drink from the ladle, the learned weeaboos of the internet have sneered.  because my brain is just an feedback loop that runs an anxiety track between self-loathing and fear of social faux pas, i wonder if i will fuck up this act in an even worse way.

i saw this lady drink from the basin like a farm animal, they will say on tripadvisor.  and it looks like her husband was browsing best_of_grindr memes.

i'm happy to report that there are literal cartoon drawings of how to perform the temizu properly and no one was around to witness me desperately overthinking it.

fushimi inari is unbelievable.  i think a lot about one of my top 5 favorite video games, okami.  the beauty of the vermilion torii is as striking in person as it is in photos- winding paths crowned with seemingly endless gates.  i feel like i am going to come out to an unexpected landscape on the other side, like i am chihiro in spirited away.  instead, i end up accidentally photobombing a chinese couple's selfie.

even more impressive than the torii are the hundreds of stone foxes everywhere- they flank shrines with proud symmetry but also lurk in small corners and spaces like clever, curious little details.  because i am with ian, we get lost and are soon completely isolated in various nooks of altars and fountains.  i furtively pray over the senseless, horrific gun violence back home in america.  i know that inari is mostly about agriculture and prosperity, but the sanctity of this place verges on magical.  it feels like the right place to pray, and then whisper ban all white men.  coincidentally, ian falls down a set of steps shortly afterwards.

i reach the apex of my high-strung timekeeping here by insisting that we catch a train to nara for the sole purpose of spending less than an hour at nara park before rushing back to our hotel for checkout.  we achieve this feat primarily by running like two insane people in a mad dash to the train station.   it's hard to do this when you're mostly lost and completely out of shape, but we sprint our way past a lovely little farm, a high school, and a sleepy neighborhood.  ian looks back fondly on this pathfinding as one of his favorite detours.  i look back and hope those high school students didn't make fun of me.  they probably did.

but i am in this for the deer.  hundreds of sika deer roam freely around the park and temples and i think fleetingly that they will live up to their reputation and bow to me for treats and i will feed them from my hands like a gentle disney princess and we will all be beautiful and graceful with big eyes and thin legs and at some point this stopped being about deer.

as it turns out, the deer of nara and i do have a lot in common- we're hungry, annoyingly intrusive, disgruntled, and occasionally raggedy.  the deer crackers i purchase enthusiastically at the park entrance are immediately snatched from my grasp by an onslaught of these bold ass deer.  they surround us with hopeful mouths like a swarm of dementors.  long after we've exhausted our cracker supply, errant deer still follow us around and nibble hopefully at my purse.  i encounter only one deer that bows begrudgingly.  ian's pants are muddy from being headbutted so many times.  it is still an excellent time.

we are both starving by the time we head back to kyoto, so we break the social contract and i eat the most delicious box of food on the train.

then finally, after leaving hotel kanra, we board the shinkansen from kyoto station.  we're in an unreserved car, but seating is plentiful and comfortable.  there are outlets and tray tables and a little lady pushing a snack trolley down the aisle like we're on the hogwarts express.  it is an excellent way to travel.  in the blink of an eye, we arrive at tokyo station.  a handful of subway stops takes us to toranomon hills, then at the top of a 52-floor skyscrape- andaz tokyo.

this is japan's first andaz, and it is stunning.  every inch of the property feels like a cohesive marriage between midcentury modern design and japanese aesthetic.  even ian, who can't tell the difference between the four seasons and a mine shaft, remarks dang when we check into our room.  we have a glorious view of the tokyo tower at sunset.  the hotel concierge have surprised me with a thoughtful birthday gift- a very dry, crumbly brownie that i eat with determined gratitude.  

i am on the cusp of three fully-lived decades, and there is no better way to celebrate my adulthood than perching in this room, cuddling up with my love, looking out across the tokyo skyline, finding out that it cost me like a hundred dollars to use the hotel laundry service.

 

 

 

062

kyoto is a weeb's dream of japan- conjuring temples, geisha, and views of mt fuji- so i am surprised when ian chooses an extra night here instead of extending our tokyo stint. 

our second morning in osaka is lazy and leisurely, with a late checkout and my second-favorite ramen find of the trip.  ramenjikon is our first experience with ordering via ticket vending machine, and here we devise a perfect strategy for idiots- pressing two disparate buttons at random, one of which seems to be the most expensive or special option.  this nets me a shio ramen that is so thick and rich i initially mistake it for tonkotsu.  but this is a chicken-based broth with no oily mouthfeel.  i fish out the chashu and toss it into ian's bowl-  i don't fuck with pork.  it is not until literally just 2 minutes ago that i realize one of those pieces was actually smoked duck and now i feel like a fool for giving that up.

we walk to osaka station with our luggage- at this point, i feel much more confident in our grasp on public transportation than my ability to communicate with taxi drivers.  when we arrive, i locate the japan rail travel agency station and exchange our jr pass pass vouchers for the real deal.

like every other tourist who visits japan, i have spent a great deal of time poring over the jr pass situation.  for $256, it is a free pass to ride any train in the japan rail network within a 7 day timeframe.  it is a testament to how many consecutive wine-soaked weeknights i have spent studying japan rail lines and schedules that i can recite a jr timetable more readily than i can recall my own son's social security number.

it is worth noting that while i took endless evernotes on this train situation, ian spent the previous months at home just falling asleep to grim murder documentaries and giving not a single care as to how best to utilize a jr pass.

it is a simple process to exchange our vouchers for the passes.  an agent verifies our passports, gives us forms, and affixes the carbon copy of our completed forms to our passes.  they are infuriatingly clumsy- nearly letter-sized sheets of what seems like inflexible cardboard.  we're not supposed to fold them, so they take up room in my purse and feel like an unwieldy punishment for tourism. 

while in the travel station, i notice an excellent brochure for a travel agency's guided tour through kyoto.  i have no intention of ever opting for a guided tour, but i swipe one because it outlines an optimal itinerary for kyoto sightseeing.  hey let's hold onto this, i hand it to ian.  he loses it immediately.

i am h y p e to ride a shinkansen- bullet train.  our jr passes allow us to ride the hikari train on the tokaido line that runs from kobe and osaka to tokyo.  however, because we are traveling to kyoto and there are no bullet trains leaving from osaka station, we end up accidentally taking a perfectly serviceable rapid transit train that still takes us to our destination in less time than it would take me to drive from dallas to denton.  during this ride, we sit across from a japanese man and his children- one of whom is a baby who looks a little younger than james.  the father dotes on his infant lovingly and i think about our own son with a heartsick pang of envy.

we arrive in kyoto station and take the subway one stop to gojo station.  this is a completely barren little platform only one block away from hotel kanra.  this was the first hotel room i booked excitedly for our trip, but it turns out to be just okay.  the cedar wood bathtub is good, but it is no opposite house (still my all-time favorite).  we leave our shoes at the front door and i give ian the briefest of respites before i start yammering about owls again.

ignited by the joy of witnessing a barn owl get bathed, i spend the entirety of our train ride searching owl cafes and i have my heart set on fukurou no mise's outpost in kyoto.  their website contains a work schedule for each owl and i am overwhelmed by the preciousness.  i must hold an owl and cherish it with all my heart.  my husband has no ornithological interests but acquiesces readily to my fanatical mission.

the owl cafe is located in the teramachi shopping district on the east side of kyoto, and i waste no time in prowling the streets.  this turns out to be rather similar to the pharmacy mission- i enlist several different strangers to point me in the correct direction, stalking up and down the street with intense focus but unable to identify anything even remotely owl-related.  i worry that the cafe will be fully booked, and i will miss my chance.  as it turns out, fukurou no mise is quietly located on the second floor above a shop called SPAGHETTI COLLECTION.

as much as i love spaghetti, i make a beeline for the owl cafe- which turns out to be tiny and relatively barren aside from the family that walks in right before us.  our two groups watch a dvd about proper owl handling and are subsequently allowed to select our dream owls.  i go for a scops that i assume is pigwidgeon.  the next hour is everything i have ever dreamed of.  the owls are unbearably soft and perfect.  they do not even shit on us, though the other family is not quite so lucky and their daughter catches droppings in her hair.  halfway through our allotted time, the owls change work shifts and i am finally united with a barn owl- deko.  he is maybe the most beautiful creature i've ever seen- cuter than james but less cute than titanic-era leonardo dicaprio.  long after we leave the cafe, and then japan, ian and i reminisce fondly about deko.

afterwards, we eat at a forgettable unadon restaurant that is also another tripadvisor failure.  we trek to the gion district, which i vaguely remember from that problematic ass memoirs of a geisha book.  the only geisha we see are likely tourists in costume, but i successfully locate a kaiseki restaurant worthy of tabelog.  ian has less fond memories of this place than i do, because his hamstrings cramped up from sitting with his legs folded beneath him.  nevertheless, the evening is beautiful and our view overlooks the kamo river.  adjacent to our table, inside the restaurant, a group of tourists laden with pokemon merchandise is getting lit.

i have a hard time sleeping that night, because i am scrolling through work emails.  after two hours of uneasy rest, we wake up and head for arashiyama.

a cursory google image search will always bring up a picture of a bamboo forest.  this is my destination, and i will rouse my husband at 5 am for it if i need to.  an early start is non-negotiable if you want a photo op that isn't teeming with chinese tourists.  i hustle us through gojo station to arashiyama in the west with annoying impatience, pacing in circles when ian takes too long in the station restroom.  it is a rainy, gloomy, grey sort of day, but we are armed with umbrellas from the hotel and my relentless focus on the capture.  when we arrive at our destination, i recall a blog entry about the scenic route and we follow suit.

the rain and humidity coil my hair into a repulsive frizzball and destroys my makeup, but it is worth it.  we are beyond elated to traverse this park, which is nearly totally empty.  arashiyama is beautiful in a way that makes me feel nostalgic for a place i've never even know before. the morning fog rolls in slow, elegant waves over lush mountain landscape dotted with lonely little temples.  even ian, a man immune to natural beauty as evidenced by his love for me, is stunned by the scenery.  i am reminded of a book my parents bought me nearly twenty years ago, a guide to painting watercolor landscapes that came with its own little tray of muted paint colors.  no matter how hard i tried, i could never replicate those delicate mists and mountains.  even decades later, armed with a leica summilux lens, i still cannot justice to the staggering, subtle beauty of mount arashi.  

we stand at that summit view for a long time, watching the fog drift over the river below.  i try to hold the memory of this close, burn it deep into my neurons, so that twenty years from now, i can still recall the lean lines of my handsome lover perched over the railing of this secluded ledge, across this mountain view.  this fraction of a second, this moment in time, belongs to us alone.

before we leave, ian remembers to facetime his parents in order to see mr. james.  our big boi has recently discovered how to climb to the highest point of our house (in the gameroom, above the stairwell, via the sofa) and shouting A DA DA! with unabashed enthusiasm.  his fondness for daring heights is an odd idiosyncrasy given that his parents are both placid cowards.  nevertheless, we get james on facetime and show him the stunning mountainscape.  he doesn't seem to miss us much and fumbles off-screen in search of books and toys instead.

no restaurants in arashiyama are open this early in the morning, so we head back to kyoto station.  here, we accidentally stumble across a well-known ramen hall on the 10th floor of south tower.  it is by the oddest fortune that my husband- king of falling asleep during all my netflix selections- recognizes a small photo of kazuo yamagishi outside the kyoto station outpost of taishoken based off one errant episode of david chang's mind of a chef.  i have always known that ian is my soulmate, but this cinches it.

taishoken's signature tsukemen is the best bowl of noodles we experience in japan.  

the rest of this day is a bit of blur.  we return to our hotel, and ian succumbs to a midday nap while i traipse miles around the rainy city in search of a readily available shiatsu massage.  we visit nishiki food market at night and i finally meet an oyster i don't really like.  i get lit off a grapefruit full of rum and eat a delicious bag of roasted chestnuts.

when we retire to our hotel for the night, my facebook feed lights up with news about the shooting in las vegas, back in the united states of ammunition.  and i think, for a moment, that maybe we should never return.

 

061

i make three good decisions before ian and i leave for japan.  i purchase a japan rail pass.  i order a pocket wifi.  and i leave mr. james in texas.

it is an accepted universal truth that it is hard to be away from your baby.  but i didn't actually feel torn up about it the first time i went on a weekend trip at the 3 month mark.  there was no mom guilt, no anxious nail-biting or constant facetiming.  and i didn't stress about it even at the 3 week mark, when i was hospitalized for sepsis after my c-section incision burst open unceremoniously and sprayed gouts of blood across the living room floor.  we've routinely enjoyed date nights on weekends when james is happily paraded around in my parents' house.  i feel like i am borderline sociopathic in my carefree approach towards alloparenting. 

but even still, it is hard to depart to the other side of the world without my big boi.  after all, he is no longer a potato.  he is vivacious, curious, animated, talkative.  he is a real dude, not just a flailing ball of fat rolls and eyelashes.  he wears socks and shoes and knows how to climb up on furniture with the aid of footstools.  he is a person with thoughts and emotions, and i worry that he will miss us and wonder why we've abandoned him in favor of takoyaki and timely trains.

i write up an anxious evernote for both sets of grandparents with instructions regarding his meals, sleep, and safety.  ian deems it correctly as fully annoying.

he's gonna have a great time!  my husband reassures me, with his usual dose of placid optimism.

and as always, he is right.  james suffers through the tail end of a cold, but happily soaks up the undivided attention of his grandma, grandpa, aunt bekah, 爷爷, and 奶奶.  he is spoiled beyond belief and probably forgets about us entirely.  when we facetime him in kyoto, he is entirely distracted by a wicker cabinet full of toys and books.

we talk about his ridiculous grin and round belly nearly every day in japan, but we are also perfectly at ease on vacation.

i have never willingly checked luggage.  unlike my sister, who checks multiple bags for the shortest weekend jaunts, or my parents, who fill suitcases with costco candy buckets for their trips back home, i travel light.  it is not a principled stance on minimalism, because i say gross consumerist shit like, i can just buy it there if i need it- i am just not into hauling around baggage.  so i bring a small carry-on and a purse.  ian brings a weekender bag with room for my extra shoes.  i remind myself to take an annoying photo of my passport, headphones, and leica q for a basic bitch instagram #travel vibe.  i immediately forget to do this.

the leica q isn't mine, of course.  i rent it for this trip, because i remember how much i hated lugging around my nikon df and lenses last year in beijing.  despite my poor photography skills, this is absolutely worth the expense- i fill two memory cards and purchase a third in the span of a week.  i seriously consider outright purchasing this camera, but am dissuaded by the possibility of explaining to james that he can't afford to attend college because mom couldn't stop spending on outrageously expensive hobbies like photographing her own butt.

of course, i am sick on day one.  i wake up on our travel day with a sore throat, smoldering its way up with the ominous threat of illness.  when we land in vancouver, i buy a weird canadian version of zyrtec in the desperate hope that it may be allergies that can be kept at bay.

in the vancouver airport, i get to flex on these priority pass cards that are a perk of our chase sapphire reserve account.  this is only worth noting because the premiere lounge receptionist initially rejects us, being momentarily confused by our names.  as it turns out, our legal names now look remarkably similar- ian and i both have first names that begin with n and are rather long (9 and 11 letters, respectively), followed by the same surname.  lookin' like a real squad out here. 

vancouver to osaka is a 9 hour flight, which does not faze me.  i fly back to the prc annually, have very short legs, and am armed with a bottle of xanax.  ian is not as well-suited or prepared for a long flight, and resigns himself to watching the help for 9 hours.  

we arrive at kansai international airport at 3 pm the next day.  our first victory is locating the post office despite having interpreted the airport map incorrectly.  i pick up the japan wireless package that is being held for me- a pocket wifi hotspot with unlimited data.  while i wait in line, i send ian to do a small currency exchange.  i immediately regret this decision, because we make no arrangements for meeting back up.  i momentarily lose my husband in the airport and desperately wonder how people ever lived before smartphones.  

but we finally find each other and eventually also find the exit corresponding to "airport limousine."  this is deceptive nomenclature- the limo is actually just a bus.  we are thrilled with ourselves for figuring out how to buy tickets for this bus, which isn't actually very hard because the ticket machine has an english language option.  still, we high five.  we did the bare minimum- we found our way out of the airport.

the glow of our first success as two idiots abroad is immediately vanquished by the bus attendant, who speaks to us rapidly in japanese and displays a luggage tag printed with a list of hotel names.  conrad osaka is not on this list.  i curse myself for not learning any japanese prior to this trip, out of a weird admixture of this compulsion to avoid any weeby behaviors, along with a fear of disrespectfully butchering vocabulary.  the next ten minutes is an agonizing stretch of pantomiming, feverish googling, and repeating ourselves.  a younger man in line behind us intercedes helpfully with only slightly more english, and i am not exactly sure how the confusion is resolved at all- but our luggage is eventually sorted onto the bus and we sit tight for an hour-long ride in osaka.

we pass a long stretch of an wildly dense and complex factory that looks exactly like the chemical plant zone from sonic the hedgehog 2.

our taxi driver at osaka station also has no idea what i mean by "conrad osaka" but google maps eventually prevails and we arrive at a the foot of a posh skyscraper in the nakanoshima area, a narrow sandbank sandwiched by two rivers to its north and south.  it is not a touristy vibe, surrounded by museums and office buildings, but it's adjacent to some rich people shit and this newest conrad property lives up to its brand. 

the lobby smells really good.  there are also visually arresting custom art installations and incredible city views, but i am mostly still wondering how i can get my hands on whatever air freshener situation they're working with. 

there is a nespresso machine in the room, which i think is also a sign of fanciness.

fresh off a long travel day filled with dejected airline food, i am hype to dig into our first meal- i have endless tabelog aspirations.  we wander north, unknowingly, into the kitashinchi nightlife area.  the city on friday night is the best kind of vibrant- bustling, but not busy.  ian is visibly exhausted and i am stupidly traipsing awkwardly in my kindest louboutins, but we do our best to make our first meal a memorable one.  i want to make it count.

as it turns out, it is hard to find a restaurant you have only previously identified on tabelog, with no firm grasp on kana recognition.  my confidence falters, as gps leads us in errant circles and it dawns on us that one address might house like 14 different restaurants, stacked upon each other and digging into deeper basement levels like a tantalizing layer cakes- every square foot probably delicious but which one are we looking for?

we finally find my first choice, and are rejected politely and immediately.  maybe for lack of reservation, but most likely because we are obviously idiotic tourists in unsuitable shoes.  i despair.  after much anxious ambling, we finally slink dejectedly to an italian restaurant that looks approachable.  there, we drink quietly and scrabble hungrily at a dish of unidentified tapas that are all some form of seafood or potato salad.  it is good, but we are ravenous.  we people-watch the passersby outside the bar and ian finally asks what's up with all these old men with much younger girls?  i protest maybe they're all dads and daughters.  

it is at this point that i discover i've left my wallet- and our yen- back at the hotel.  luckily, cucina cucina accepts ian's credit card.  but we are hungry boys, and a milligram of potato salad does nothing to sate us.  i have my eye on a ramen joint- chikamatsu- that is allegedly nearby.  it takes us an embarrassingly long period of wandering to locate it.  i finally break down and ask a nightclub doorman where the restaurant is.  and by ask, i mean show him the tabelog page and also my dumb puzzled face.  he gestures us helpfully to the building right across the street, and then jogs over to guide us even more acutely when it becomes clear that we are literally incapable of anything.  chikamatsu is tucked away in a nondescript basement level with no obvious signage.  they do not take cards.

we admit defeat.  my feet are in agony.  i am unwilling to face a third rejection from a restaurant and ian is barely awake, so we trudge back to the hotel and only get lost twice along the way.  when we return to the conrad, i break down and order room service.  it costs $100 smooth american dollars for a burger and fish & chips.

the next day is a triumphant 180 from the hopelessness and ineptitude of our first night in japan.  well-rested with an early wakeup, we start a long, adventurous day in osaka that makes 12 hours feel like 36.  our renewed vigor coupled with no real itinerary provides us with a string of little gems: a delicious caffe mocha, a detour to the modern art museum, a trendy ramen joint, a hearty bowl of unadon, a leisurely stroll through the tenjimbashisuji shopping arcade, and most importantly- a woman shampooing her barn owl outside on the sidewalk.  the only predetermined destination- a sushi restaurant highly recommended by tripadvisor- turns out to be a long queue followed by an underwhelming experience.

at sunset, we visit the conrad's 40 sky bar- a swanky bar & lounge off the lobby featuring an impressive crystal sculpture and assessing a bonkers cover charge after 7 pm.  we are 40 floors above the osaka skyline at dusk and it is unbelievably beautiful.  ian sips through a whiskey flight while i drink a cocktail that i later discover cost $24.  i mar the elegance of this moment slightly by complaining vociferously about my worsening sore throat.

it feels like i am swallowing glass shards, so this ignites a wild chase through one of osaka's underground shopping malls.  i resort to the clumsy hesitancy of a pocket translation app, keeping my thumb firmly planted on where is the all-night pharmacy? and i have a sore throat.  devoted readers of my pointless blog will remember that i am a grade a tittybaby about ailments, and it should come as no surprise that i divert our romantic happy hour to a pharmacy hunt.  the beleaguered receptionist at the luxe festival tower west office building adjacent to the conrad makes a call and finds the nearest drugstore that is open for the next 15 minutes- she says something that sounds like kokomin and directs us to the dojima shopping mall.  this is one of many long, fascinating stretches of underground retail and restaurants leading to a subway station- in this case, nishi-umeda station.  we race past bakeries and cheap men's suits, but can't locate a drug store.  finally, a kind woman walks us directly to the kokumin, which i initially mistook as possibly a japanese sephora.

i think, for a moment, that i can finally stop being totally inept and figure something out on my own now that i'm facing down a selection of otc drugs.  the shelves are full of packaging festooned with cartoon animals that look upset, but i feel confident when i select a box with a more clinical illustration of a man's silhouette with an angry red target at his throat.  however, a store clerk arrives shortly to inform me- by way of pantomime- that this is for cough.  i end up with a throat numbing spray featuring a vexed hippopotamus.

it is a miracle that at this point, my husband has not served me with divorce papers.  ian is as imperturbable and amiable as always, despite my whining.  after this exciting detour, we finally head to touristy ass dotonbori.

i am immediately thankful that i didn't book the cross hotel in namba for the sole purpose of being close to dotonbori.  this area is a mess.  it is a crushing, swarming mass of bodies and their respective cameras and we do not fuck with this level of noise at all.  the lights are so bright and omnipresent that even at nighttime, the iso required for photography might as well be for broad daylight.  i pay $9 for two small pieces of crab that taste mostly like carbon.  this is what i deserve for being seduced by a giant animatronic crab display.  i take some photos of the famous glico man ad but don't even bother editing them because it is impossible to capture a shot that isn't filled to the brim with tourists.  a hundred thousand selfie sticks, a hundred thousand goofy glico man poses.  at one point, i wait patiently for 12 minutes through several meiji chocolate ads for the chance to see myself on a jumbotron screen, but am immediately swarmed by less polite passersby.

eventually, we struggle out of the light and haze to find ourselves in an empty takoyaki joint that is mostly doing brisk delivery business.  the friendly young guy manning the pan asks us if we are on our honeymoon.  the takoyaki balls are so good- one of my favorite bites in the whole trip- that i am momentarily driven to distraction by the scalding hot, lush batter and unbelievably tender octopus.  wait, why are we on vacation?  i forget about my 30th birthday.  i forget about parenthood.  all i care about are these takoyaki balls.  i swipe ian's portion while he is preoccupied with his gin and soda.

at the end of a very long night, we trek back to the hotel.  i feel like i have mastered the osaka subway system.  i have mastered walking endlessly in flats.  i have not mastered my sore throat or its accompanying harbinger of increasing malaise, but i solemnly promise myself that i will stop whining about it for the sake of my dear, patient husband who deserves better.  ian falls asleep immediately and reliably when we return to our room.  i stay up a few more hours to indulge in my other three loves- a soaking bathtub, japanese kit-kats, and campy historical fiction.

i eat a piece of meiji chocolate that i purchased solely due to the brainwashing influence of those jumbotron ads, but it tastes like crumbly cardboard.

 

 

060

one!  year!  old!  

from my survival in the first year of the wilderness, here is the opposite of an FAQ- in that no one has ever asked me these questions and my answers are both unsolicited and unhelpful.

does it get better?

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google probably thought i was a gay teenager for one intense month in 2016 because i was searching the question nearly every waking minute of my postpartum life.  no amount of reading blogs about ppd could've prepared me for the shock, fragility, and hopelessness of the first two weeks.  a year out and far, far away from that glass cage, i still remember exactly how the burnished bronze light of sunset through the nursery blinds fell across my chest like a weight, trapped me like a panicking animal, filled me with a sunday night dread and sadness.  i thought it would never happen to me- no history of mental illness, no issues with hormonal mood swings, surrounded with support from loving family and friends.  but neurotransmitters are real and they fucked me up.

it takes a couple of weeks if you're reeling hard from the baby blues- but longer if it evolves to ppd.  it's okay to cry through every roll of toilet paper in your house.  it's okay to mourn for your former life.  it's okay to not immediately love your baby.  just know that the squall will pass, and weeks will rapidly feel like milliseconds in due time.  your new normal might actually just feel a lot like your old normal, except with ugly nursing bras.  ask for help- from your partner, your parents, your friends who have been through it, your mom groups, your physician.  just know it's not hopeless, no matter how bleak and unrecognizable things feel.  that little tomato-faced catalyst will become your best buddy.  it gets better.  you get better.

how much baby stuff do i really need?

as it turns out, not a lot.  we were blessed with an average baby with average constitution and habits, so i can probably count on one hand the supplies we use daily at the one year mark.  i wrote this entry after the first three months, but the usefulness of those supplies waned over time and we're down to the basics.

i'm not going to proselytize about how baby products exist for parental convenience. when your infant is magenta from screaming and your dogs are licking breastmilk off your calves and you still have to show up at the office tomorrow and pretend to be a human being- you will take any contraption available at any cost to mitigate the pain of being alive.

james is drinking whole milk and water well from his sippy cup, so we'll soon be bidding farewell to the babybrezza, orb bottle warmer, and comotomo bottles.  ian might even finally give up the breastfeeding pillow that he still uses despite not nursing james and not actually needing it for anything.  we are well on our way to becoming a fully decluttered family with only an exhaustive collection of every zara baby apparel item ever created.

special shoutout to the retired but incredibly useful: inglesina fast dining chair (7 months of use, lots of compliments at restaurants), cybex aton q infant car seat (6 months of use, survived a car accident), the and all the white wine selections offered by my local kroger.

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what about baby toys?

i don't know.  james prefers to use a bottle of pinto bean seasoning as his favorite rattle.

should we do baby-led weaning?  

i read a lot about starting solids.  more than i read my textbooks during a semester of graduate school.  there are a lot of schools of thought here, and arguments for baby-led weaning vs homemade purees vs directly depositing your carefully masticated food directly and lovingly into your baby's mouth probably.  i chose a balanced approach- a selection of finely curated squeeze pouches for daycare (read: purchased on amazon), and letting james eat whatever we eat at home & restaurants.  as a result, he has a voracious appetite for bread, eggs, and crunchy vegetables and also i have stressed exactly 0% about his nutrition.  we all win, especially those opportunistic bad dogs.

what does it feel like to love a baby?

i definitely googled this line of questioning more than once, because i am mentally whack and incapable of trusting the most basic of human instincts.  from the outset, it seemed like an insurmountable task.  i could barely even hold him properly, let alone love and cherish him infinitely and unconditionally.  i don't even know him, i thought.

but i know him now.  i know that he lights up like no one else in the world when he sees me in the mornings, his face breaking into the most gleeful smile i've ever witnessed.  i know that my heart swells with pride when i see him wobble across the entire length of a room, leading with his belly.  i know that he likes to chase the vacuum cleaner, and purposefully slips around dramatically when i mop the floors.  i know him better than anyone (except ian), and the pleasure of this ongoing discovery is like nothing else i've ever experienced.

it's even better than petting an especially cute dog. 

059

august 1st is rapidly approaching.  how did this happen?  when did a full year sneak past me so unobtrusively?  it feels like just yesterday that ian and i ate hot dogs outside a home depot to commemorate our last weekend of being non-parents.  little did i know that we would still just be eating hot dogs and doing whatever we want on saturday afternoons, albeit with the addition of an unwieldy diaper bag.  

i don't even know why we carry one anymore.  james' bowel movements are wonderfully routine and he doesn't fuck with toys or pacifiers.  i'd be better off just walking around with a loaf of bread to thwart any fussiness (either his or mine).

baby james will be toddler james in a week's time.  and dang, he is toddling.  he walks like i do after three tequila cocktails, swinging alternating hemisphere of his body with an aggressively uncertain lurch.  he pushes himself up to standing, and squats back down with ease.  i am relieved that this newfound skill might relieve him of constantly calloused knees, but not as excited by his ability to reach the burner knobs on the range.  he continues to be knocked down regularly by an overly effervescent jean-luc.

in addition to mobility, his brain seems to have also unlocked a few new levels.  i keep saying hey he learned a new trick! like i think babies are essentially uglier dogs.  moms and pediatricians and also normal humans will refer to these advances as cognitive milestones but hey i let a stern man sink a scalpel into my uterus for this child so in this household they will henceforth be referred to as tricks. 

one of these tricks is shaking his head when he hears no, jamesy.  he wags his own finger in admonishment and shakes his head solemnly.  as if he truly comprehends the gravity of no, no, no.  but he clearly does not, because he immediately returns to rooting through the trash can for treats.

and yeah, my son tries to eat garbage in his spare time.  this is how i know he is mine. 

his mimicry is pretty good.  he sticks his tongue out when someone else does it, and puts toys on his own head if you start stacking things on it first.  he's a decidedly playful kid, above all else.  curious, intrepid, and persistent.  my mom loves to delight in how he's such a boy! when he does something bold and dumb like bonk his head while trying to tear the baby gate off its hinges. these statements naturally evoke a lot of eyebrow raising and terrible millennial soundbites from me about gender neutrality, but i suppose she just means that he is unlike any baby she has personally raised.  as a mother of two unequivocally femme daughters, she attributes' james character to boyishness.  

you not brave, she tells me.  you always talking to yourself, reading book.  not exploring.  i can't tell whether she's referring to me as an infant, or me as a 29 year old adult- but the characterization holds up either way.  i am a verbose coward, and james is probably a brave adventurer who likes to fall down the stairs.

tomorrow, he begins transitioning to the big boy classroom in his daycare (12 - 18 months).  he's already the oldest in his current class full of wide-eyed, slightly mobile potatoes.  the teachers tell ian that james presses his face against the door in desperate longing when he sees the older children play outside during the day.  they also tell ian that james is a perennial favorite among all the teachers, due to that particular fondness for mashing himself up against the glass doors between classrooms.  they say he likes to press up against the door and dance, sticking his tongue out and lifting up his shirt to show everyone his belly.  this just sounds like a story about my son being disgusting, but apparently the employees of kids 'r kids are deeply charmed.

these anecdotes are described to ian, because the punishing stress and longevity of my workweeks means i rarely get to pick james up from daycare.  my clinic closes early on fridays, but i work later and later.  this is the albatross of my life these days, because my obsession with doing a good job has left me grappling with the realization that my professional success can't hinge on one job- and my personal fulfillment and happiness can't hinge my professional success.

i've been thinking a lot about this quote from 1998 disney channel's original movie brink!

i didn't know who i was anymore.  i used to define myself by my job title.  but you wanna know something?  after being laid off for six months, i finally figured out that construction foreman is what i do.  not who i am.

andy, you are defined by the company you keep and how well you keep it.  not by what you just happen to do.

and kids who skate, come on, california is filthy with 'em.  but you- you are andy brinker.  you are a good son.  and you are a good friend- who just happens to skate. and tomorrow, if you never happen to skate again, you are still andy brinker. 

okay maybe that last bit doesn't apply to me, but it's a scene i've carried around in my brain for nearly 20 years.  not just because erik von detten looked particularly fine, sweaty, and dejected in it, but because the line i didn't know who i was anymore is a phrase that my mind casts back to over and over again in my life.  after each degree, each job, each breakup.  i have shapeshifted in the mirror.  i have cannibalized myself.  and every time, i think- i don't know who i am anymore.  and i have loved my job, leaned so hard into my career, carved an identity for myself out of one tenure.  i have said the words- when i had nothing else in my life, i had this clinic.

my life is different now, and it's so ridiculously full of love and light.  so i've been retooling my perspective, and redrawing the lines.  i make space in my brain and make time to meditate.  i think a lot about gratefulness, compassion, and relationships.  i am becoming a complete stereotype.  i may even take up yoga.

i've fought really hard against the trope of becoming a ~*~mommy~*~, because i've long maintained that parenting is something i do and not who i am.  and now i'm finally realizing that this applies to so many other passions and pursuits as well.  time and time again, the well-tread paths of change lead me back to the same conclusion.  you can't carve an identity out of roleplaying.  after everything is stripped away, it all comes back to the relationships you have nurtured- the company you keep.

when james celebrates his first birthday, we will do a 抓周 ceremony- lay out a few objects of significance and let him make his selection, ostensibly sealing his future career or personality trait.  i voted for makeup brushes and pokemon cards.  this is a chinese custom, not a mongolian one, so nobody will assign any particular weight to the results.  it's most likely that james will ignore any proffered objects and instead rummage through the nearest trash can.  but for the sake of tradition, we will probably speculate about his future pursuit of knowledge, art, or wealth.  my mother will hope for medical school.  my father will hope for anti-prc activism.  

but i will hope for non-identification.  i will tell james about this quote from a 1998 movie and he will ask why i keep trying to follow erik von detten on instagram even though i'm married and we're 30 years past erik's tiger beat prime.  but i will keep driving home this hard won lesson that the most important thing is not what you do, but who you are.

who are you, mom?  he might ask me.

and i'll finally get to answer-

i'm basch fon ronsenburg of dalmasca!

(can you tell i wrote most of this entry while drinking an entire bottle of wine)

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.