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)