Friday, July 30

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Tuesday, July 27

Still a Fool

The Fool, Key 0 in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, has long been a talisman for me, mainly because it represents so much that I am afraid of. I am afraid of risk, and I am afraid of looking foolish. The Fool, on the other hand, though inexperienced, is open to experience. The Fool is often surprised, sometimes happily so, and sometimes not. The Fool makes mistakes, but the Fool learns.

"The edge which opens on the depth has no terror;
it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him,
if it came about that he leaped from the height."
— A. E. Waite

Let me tell you, I was a big fool when I decided to become a work-at-home mother! My foolishness had nothing to do with the decision to work at home—as a freelancer, I had been doing so for more than a year before the Critter was born. I already had the necessary skills, clients, and discipline to work at home. No, my foolishness was that I knew nothing about caring for little ones! Nothing! I actually thought that I could just do my work at home while my infant and then toddler occupied himself! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Alas, now I know better. Nevertheless, I forge on. Meanwhile, I've been seeking books and other resources to help me figure out how to take care of the Critter during the workday, how to structure our days, whether I really have to work only while he sleeps, and etc. I've found that the resources intended specifically for work-at-home moms mostly focus on the work side of things, including tons of information about how to choose, start, and maintain a home-based business, but not much information about how to take good care of your children while you take care of your business. First, I thought, why don't I create the resource I've been looking for? Later, I thought, yikes, I'm doing a crap job of balancing mothering and work, how dare I think I should try to provide a resource for others attempting to do so? More recently, though, I decided: what the hell, why not?

And so, going forward, on Tuesdays: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway. I'm still a fool, but I'm learning....

Next Tuesday: lists galore!

Monday, July 26

On My Mind

As I wrote last week, I did finally read that article in New York magazine about parenting and happiness. I was curious whether or not it addresses the extraordinary lack of support afforded to parents in the United States. As it turns out, it does, and it doesn't. Author Jennifer Senior cites a study by sociology professor Hans-Peter Kohler, who found that "countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents," but does not explore just how bad we have it here. Remember, only four nations in the world provide no paid leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia, and the U.S. Furthermore, as is pointed out in a magnificent post at PhD in Parenting on this and related articles, we're all out here on our own, with no village to help us out. It's no wonder we're all so stressed out.

Also, my initial argument against the quotation I cited earlier still holds. The article distinguishes between in-the-moment happiness and the happiness gleaned from working toward a greater purpose and suggests that in parenting, one may be sacrificing much of the former type of happiness in favor of the latter. OK, maybe; but on the other hand, unhappiness does not inhere to such activities as washing dishes and doing the laundry (both of which I should confess Beckett mostly does around here), or changing diapers (a shared duty), or comforting a sick child (usually my gig), or anything else. One can—and I often do—experience in-the-moment happiness doing any of these things.

However. As Katrina Alcorn found in her "Who clips the nails?" survey, even in homes where both parents do paid work, Mom is still the one doing most of these things. Unhappiness may not inhere in these activities, but they do constitute a burden. No wonder mothers tend to report less happiness than fathers.

*   *   *
At ...infinitely learning..., a recent post titled "Rekindling My Affair with Books" got me thinking about reading, specifically how I don't do much of it anymore. Poetry, yes; nonfiction, haphazardly; blogs, obviously; but fiction, hardly at all. And it's not just because I don't have the time for fiction, as I once claimed. The very idea of entering a fictional world and sticking with it through the course of a novel actually exhausts me these days. "Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality," writes T. S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton." Probably so, but these days I find myself not wanting to escape reality, but rather seeking to connect to it more deeply. Where else is my life but right here, in this moment?

Friday, July 23

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Monday, July 19

On My Mind

I went a little bonkers after reading this recent post by Lisa Belkin at Motherlode. I am grateful for this passionate reply by Courtroom Mama (via @BirthingKristen). Yeah, what she said, exactly. And, to add to what she said ... Belkin also fails to acknowledge the larger context in which women give birth in this country. The context in which, for example, the c-section rate is above 30%—more than twice the upper limit recommended by the World Health Organization. Should mothers really just be sucking it up, however their birth goes, or should we be demanding better care? After all, while the United States "spends more on health care than any other country and more on pregnancy and childbirth-related hospital costs, $86 billion, than any other type of hospital care", it "ranks 41 on the list of global maternal morbidity rates."

Belkin's post (and many of the comments) also give the false impression that to plan to give birth without interventions is somehow unrealistic, possibly masochistic, and done solely for the desire to win a "gold medal" in the end, presumably for having gone through all that torture without drugs. Leaving aside the question of whether or not such a birth is the ideal, it did happen to be my ideal. It also happens to be not only how I did give birth, but also how I plan to do it again. Not because I'm masochistic (it was hardly torture). Not because I'm hoping to win a "gold medal" (I don't think anyone is actually giving those out). But because I liked it that way.

*   *   *
Nina Power on feminism (also via @BirthingKristen): yes, yes, yes.

On the other hand, Elisabeth Badinter on motherhood: a thousand times ugh. Do we really want to call the most helpless members of our species "tyrants" because they have needs they cannot meet on their own? And is attachment parenting (or whatever else you want to call it) really anti-feminist? I don't think so. I have long wanted to write about this topic; sounds like it's time to get started....

*   *   *
Elsewhere (that would be Facebook), I promised a follow-up on my previous reaction to this article. Or, more accurately, my previous reaction to one teensy-weensy quotation from that article. Which I hadn't read. But which I now have read. I was thinking about my response, and then the Critter spilled some coffee on my laptop. (I wasn't in the room. Beckett was. Ahem.) Anyway, this event put me in no mood to write about parenting and happiness and the lack thereof. So ... next week? In the meantime, please send good vibes in the direction of my laptop, which is currently being treated at Tekserve.

Friday, July 16

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama (and new for me!): A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Tuesday, July 13

Beginner's Mind

Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself.... In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

— from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Scribble in Pink and Orange

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge: More time for kisses, less fuss.

Monday, July 12

On My Mind

First, be warned: I'm going to geek out on you in this post. Second, I'll admit that I have not read the recent New York magazine cover story about how very unhappy parenting is making us all. Frankly, I'm not sure that I can stomach it, based on one quotation from the article, in which Stumbling on Happiness author Daniel Gilbert says that prospective parents "have to think about which kind of happiness you’ll be consuming most often." Seriously? Happiness is something that people consume? Like cornflakes?

What if happiness is not an object—in either sense of the word: neither a thing, nor a goal?

Stephen Batchelor, in Alone With Others:
At the very roots of our language we find two verbs: 'to be' and 'to have' ... [and] they denote two of the most fundamental dimensions of our existence: those of having and being. These two dimensions reveal two distinct attitudes towards life. In terms of having, life is experienced as a horizontal expanse precipitating towards ever receding horizons; in terms of being, life is felt in its vertical depths as awesome, foreboding and silently mysterious.
Having always presupposes a sharply defined dualism between subject and object. The subject thus seeks his or her well-being, as well as his or her sense of meaning and purpose, in the preservation and acquisition of objects from which he or she is necessarily isolated. The maxim becomes: "I am what I have" (Fromm). As a result, any sense of fulfillment will necessarily be illusory, because there is nothing one can have that one cannot fear to lose. Absorption in the horizontal dimension of having is the origin of all states of ontological insecurity. Anxiety, alienation, loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness are the fruits of living as an isolated subject amidst a multitude of lifeless objects.
And Jonathan Lear, in Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (yes, once upon a time I really did read this stuff), goes back to an older English sense of the word happiness, similar to happenstance, meaning "the experience of chance things' working out well rather than badly":
Happiness, on this interpretation, is not the ultimate goal of our teleologically organized strivings, but the ultimate ateleological ["not teleological"] moment: a chance event going well for us—quite literally, a lucky break.
As I've written before: the yellow light is in fact shining all around us. This (cheese-and-mustard sandwich, this life) is what we have been waiting for. Mysterious, surprising, Eden is right here.

Friday, July 9

... And Home Now

So, it's happening again: water making its way from our upstairs neighbors' apartment down through the ceiling and into our apartment. Last summer a soggy chunk of the living room ceiling fell onto the floor. The summer before that, we had a hole in the bathroom wall that after many, many calls to building management was finally patched up the day before the Critter was born. This summer (more specifically, Wednesday morning), the leak dripped dripped dripped onto the thick pile of towels I placed on my desk, in the corner of our bedroom by the fire escape.

For years I struggled with my apparent inability to arrange and organize a beautiful, comfortable home. It felt like an existential crisis. It actually probably was an existential crisis. As in, why can't I get my shit together? As in, what do I want? As in, who am I, anyway? Now, finally, after much Apartment Therapy and many consultations with one of my sisters, our apartment has begun to take shape. Beckett and I still stack piles of stuff everywhere (which the Critter merrily tears apart, then points at afterward, saying, "mess"), and I often don't have the space to work properly in the kitchen, but at last I do see colors and forms in my home that make me happy. Like the green-and-blue-and-brown striped rug in our bedroom. Or the bright red pillows on the dark gray sofa in our living room. Or the dark brown shag rug beside the bed. I have a shag rug! Lucky me!

And then, the leak. Reminding me not to get too comfortable, that nothing is ever fixed, and that after all, we're just renters. But it's OK. Well, Wednesday morning I was plenty pissed off, but overall, something has changed in me in a big way, to the point where we're seriously talking about giving birth to our planned-for next child at home. I never would have considered it before, mainly because I never felt at home at home. Whereas now, my favorite Critter word is what he says when we've returned from an outing: "Humm." As though our home were a song, or something very good to eat.

Thursday, July 8

Home Then ...

Fifteen years ago today I made my way from Simsbury, Connecticut to New Haven (I don't remember how—did my father drive me?) and from there via Metro North with my then-boyfriend to New York City. From Grand Central Terminal we took the shuttle to Times Square, and from there maybe we took the 1 train to 79th Street, except that I dimly recall that there was some kind of problem that forced us to take a different route, because I remember studying the knot of colored lines on the subway map and feeling certain that I would never be able to learn that map or find my way around this city that extended for mile after dirty, crowded mile in every direction from the small unfurnished studio apartment on West 80th Street between West End and Riverside that I shared in those first few weeks with Andrea and Laura, the two friends from college who were going to be my closest companions in my new New York life. We ate our meals on the floor and slept in sleeping bags while we waited for our converted three-bedroom apartment with exposed brick and not much else going for it to vacate at the beginning of August. Living in that studio was like living in a microwave oven; and outside, the buildings seemed so tall and the sky so far away. At last I could call New York City my home, and never in my life had I felt so out of place.

Tuesday, July 6

Growing the New Life

My first thought upon waking on January 1, 2007 was that I did not want to wake to another new year still working for the company I was working for at the time. Seven months later I quit and began freelancing.

My original plan, however, had been to quit back in 2005, after my wedding and the completion of the largest project my group had yet undertaken, but for various reasons (not the least of which was probably fear), I kept on working there, often feeling more than a twinge of jealousy each time another co-worker announced his or her plans to move on. For some time after I finally quit, I regretted those two additional years I worked for a company I could never entirely respect. But then I realized that without those two years, my freelancing career might not have been possible, because it was during that time that I made the necessary connections at the companies I work for now. All that time that I felt I was wasting my time, I was actually growing my new life inside of the old one.

Hearing that the squirrels in my head have begun to chatter about finding other work, one of my sisters sent me a link to this article about another work-at-home mom who feels that her "expensively educated brain could be helping people." Indeed. But I'll gladly take credit for what I've been doing, late nights and all. And so I've decided to stop worrying about what I'm supposed to do next. I'll just keep on writing, keep in touch (OK, I'm not so good at that, but I can work on it), and trust that I am in fact gestating a new life inside the old one. Having lived through the nine months of unknowing before the Critter was born—Will the baby be a he or a she? What will he or she look like? What will the birth be like? What kind of mother will I be?—and now living day after surprising day with him, I'm learning to be okay with not knowing.

What seeds for tomorrow are you planting today?

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge: More time for kisses, less fuss.

Saturday, July 3

On My Mind

I've been obsessed with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch since I first heard about it on This American Life (episode 253: The Middle of Nowhere). Nevertheless, whenever I hear about projects like Taina's attempt to eliminate the use of plastics for one year (via Apartment Therapy), I have two contradictory thoughts:
  1. To eliminate or at least curb my use of plastics: what a gift to give to the Critter!
  2. I am so exhausted.
OK, so I don't have the energy to make such a big, revolutionary change in my life—certainly not all at once. But what I can do is make small changes, one or two at a time. Though one change that I've been contemplating for some time would be a bit bigger than small (though a bit smaller than huge): urban composting, such as through the Fort Greene Compost Project. Composting would mean fewer plastic trash bags, which, in our case, are reused shopping bags. Beckett isn't too fond of the idea of our keeping food scraps in the freeze, to which I say: tough shit.

*   *   *
On the one hand, the Midwifery Modernization Act was passed in New York State this week: hurrah! On the other hand, as reported over at Birthing Beautiful Ideas, an OB/GYN practice in central Ohio just sent out a letter banning doulas and individualized birth plans and offered their own cookie-cutter birth plan. My outrage about the birth plan was somewhat delayed, because it wasn't until Monday that I received The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer from the library (it's on the DONA International required reading list for birth doula certification). For example (to address just the first point on the cookie-cutter birth plan), I already knew that the correct answer to the question whether IVs are necessary in labor is "No!" What I did not know is that not only is there no benefit to hooking up a laboring woman to an IV and certainly no reason to do so, but the IV introduces unnecessary risks to the woman and her baby. These risks include fluid overload, which can in turn result in fluid in the lungs of both mother and child; if the IV fluid contains glucose, another risk is hyperglycemia in both mother and child. The OBs' argument in favor of IVs is not only ridiculous (after all, you might end up in an emergency situation if you drive or ride in a car, but no-one is suggesting you should be hooked up to an IV while doing so) but pernicious: it treats every laboring woman as an emergency about to happen.

Obviously, the requirements of an OB/GYN practice in central Ohio have no direct effect on me. My outrage is simply the outrage of a feminist. For one thing, don't let those white coats fool you: just because you're going to a doctor doesn't mean you're going to get evidence-based care. (To find doctors and midwives who do offer evidence-based care, refer to the Guide to a Healthy Birth produced by Choices in Childbirth for a list of questions to ask potential care providers.) For another thing, by banning individualized birth plans, these OBs are in effect telling their patients that because they are not "experts" (even though "expert" apparently has nothing to do with basing practice on what actual medical research shows), they have no right to decide what is done to their bodies.

Friday, July 2

We Survived Week 1 of the CSA!

In fact, I'm finding that the CSA makes my life easier, not harder, because the contents of the half share make my decisions for me. No more drawing a blank when it's time to write up our weekly menu.

Last week we got lettuce, kale (my choice from a selection of greens), an onion, tomatoes, string beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, and beets. I made a salad and sandwiches (Thursday), string beans as a side with tofu and rice (Friday), kale with scrambled eggs and muffins (Sunday), baked beets and homemade hummus (Monday), and zucchini with pasta (Tuesday). Beckett had the tomatoes in his sandwiches for lunch, the basil turned black before I could make pesto (I'll be making it tonight or tomorrow with this week's bunch), and the onion and cucumber were left over. My biggest challenge: I baked the beets in foil, per Mark Bittman, who writes, "If you want to serve them right away, peel, then serve hot with butter, any vinaigrette, or freshly squeezed lemon juice." O the mysteries of that one word, "peel"! Please tell me, Mr. How-to-Cook-Everything, how do I peel hot-from-the oven beets?

But alas, I'm not sure if the Critter ate a single bite of any of the glorious veggies that I served up for dinner last week—not even the beets, which he usually likes (when we get them at Top CafĂ© Tibet, anyway). I have received many suggestions about how to get greens into him, some via a comment from my good friend at MyGreenMouth, and some via Facebook. I plan to try out just about every suggestion, depending on my energy level and the contents of our half share. However, if I'm going to follow through on this project, I need a checklist—my mind is not what it used to be. Here goes:
  • Frozen peas, left frozen: Intriguing. Gotta follow up on this one, though, because I'm not sure exactly to serve it up.
  • Crispy kale: Hm. Will definitely try this recipe, although it does involve the mysterious term "chiffonade strips."
  • Spinach pasta: I wonder how much of the spinachy nutrition is still there after the spinach has been added to the pasta? Is there whole wheat spinach pasta?
  • A blend of spinach, peas, and pears: Okay, but I'll have to come up with a recipe for this one. I remember reading a while ago (don't remember where) about a mom making something she called "Monster Sauce" (or something like that), which was applesauce mixed with spinach. She served it for dessert. Can spinach be pureed? I suppose it should be cooked first.... (See how boldly I display my ignorance!)
  • Avocados: We tried avocado last year, and to my surprise the Critter rejected it. Since I received this suggestion, I've bought a few avocados each week ... and I've been eating them all myself.
  • Green rice: Cilantro? Garlic? Sounds good to me!
  • Less bitter greens, such as snow peas, green beans, zucchini, edamame, okra: We already regularly eat zucchini with pasta, and the Critter loves edamame. The green beans: rejected (see above). Will try the others.
  • Celery: Probably still too difficult to chew.
  • Bean sprouts: Not sure how to serve them up to the Critter. 
  • Mix the greens with sweeter veggies; for example, some finely chopped spinach with sweet potato: The Critter eats sweet potato happily; let's see if I can sneak something extra into him through it.
Finally, to my amusement, after my complaints (on Facebook) about the possibility of getting radishes in our half share, we have not received a single one! And I now have at least two recipes I'd like to try, here (shared by a friend) and here. But I'll have to wait; instead, I'll be making enough coleslaw to last us a month with the cabbage we got this week.