A Wednesday Morning

My husband was still sleeping this morning when I walked into the bedroom, clutching Tolby to my chest. I was sobbing. "I just..." I gasped, "heard...the...saddest...THING!" The hysteria rose until I heaved out the last word in a phlegm-laden howl. Tolby mistook my extreme emotions for glee. She giggled.

"There was a baby in a walker and the father was in the yard and the baby rolled down the hill and then there was a truck and then THERE WAS AN ACCIDENT!" Amidst the tears and the frenetic run-on, a lesser husband would've had no idea what was happening. But me and Chris, I guess we just have that understanding.

I've heard about horrific events befalling children before. Some of them, like this one, have been local. But this is the first time that I was able to look from the newspaper article in front of me to a baby girl at my side. She was gnawing on an old hardcover version of Capote by Gerald Clarke when I scooped her up and pulled her to me so that her head slipped into the crook of my neck. She patted my back.

My husband looked at my face tinged with snot and Tolby's face tinged with drool and said nothing. It's best that way, which is what he's learned after almost a decade of knowing me. I stepped over my daughter's own grounded Exersaucer and got into bed again next to him. Tolby sat between us, blathering about "da" and "doh" and emphasizing each syllable with a spastic slap of her hand. Then she pulled at Chris's armpit hair and tweaked a nipple. Her laugh was a feathery staccato.

"She's so cute," Chris said, in the redundant way of fathers.

I tickled her so we could hear her laugh again, then I seized at the sound of it and wrapped myself suddenly around her slippery frame. "I love you, I love you, I love you!"

And I thought about this foolish risk we all take when we let our hearts leave our bodies.


The Cat's Away

My husband caught a plane to Vegas today. He's off with 11 friends to celebrate the imminent castration of one of his best buddies. Surely there will be much revelry, drunkeness and gratuitous snatch. But what else is on tap?

To hear my husband tell it, nobody ever gets so much as a blow job at bachelor parties. Yes, some men are stripped naked on stage and whipped by women in similar states of undress. Yes, these men may even roam the club floor, barefoot and in boxers, on their way to the bathroom immediately following their public humiliation (does this sound too specific for me to make up? It should.). They puke on strippers. They fall off chairs.

But service in any of its Clintonian manifestations? Nope, America. I did not have sexual relations with the stripper in my hotel room.

Sorry, guy, but I'm not buying it. I accept that there are many low-key events we can safely assume are a threat to nobody's morality. A keg, some hot wings and maybe a big screen with the game on. An inocuous display for the bride's father and for the groom's Uncle Bob. Maybe a round of golf or a spin in a Go Kart. But there's always the other end of the spectrum.

My husband is pretty open with me, I think. I mean, he's told me stuff that would make your toes curl (not that I haven't shared things with him that made his own pedal appendages fold over onto themselves). It's just that sometimes, when he consistently ends up the virtuous one in his tales of group debauchery, I have to wonder.

Maybe I'm jealous. There's a whole world of illicit excitement that I know nothing about. There's fraternity, nostalgia and the unadulterated quest for a good time. There's the cusp and there's the celebration. There's acceptance of the fact that what was may never be again.

In interviewing wedding industry professionals for articles I've written, it's en vogue to discuss how bachelorette parties are becoming "just as raunchy" as bachelor parties. I disagree. Penis popsicles and inflatable phallus headgear do not a bacchanal make. Again, there are exceptions to the rule, and I am perfectly willing to believe that there are more and more exceptions being written every day. But I know a lot of women, and most of them can't hold a candle to the blistering inferno ignited by concentrated testosterone.

Amy and Jene excluded. Where are you girls when I need you?


Better Cut This One Short Or She Might Learn To Drive While I'm Not Looking

I'm the kind of mother who can, despite being of the so-called "stay at home" variety, miss most of her daughter's milestones. I was folding laundered bedsheets the time she first rolled over. When I stood and held out the queen sized cover like a curtain in front of me, Tolby was on her back. Several awkward tugs later, the sheet was a wrinkled semi-square in my hands as Tolby gazed at me from a prone position. Just yesterday I was at the computer with my back toward her when she sat herself up for the first time. I'm sure I'll walk in on her inaugural crib-stand some morning when I'm too exhausted and bleary-eyed to even contemplate getting the camera.

Still, the element of surprise is always there, regardless of whether or not you watch the newest first unfold. Maybe it's even more shocking to turn around and see your baby at a destination you have no idea how she reached than to watch her get there. They move fast, these little buggers. You won't always catch them.

You can only hope to contain 'em.


More French Kissing

During the same trip to France mentioned previously, my traveling companion and I hopped the TGV to the ville of Tours, which has a university and a proximity to many beautiful chateaux. After a day of tourism in which we biked 22 miles round trip to the chateau Villandry (oh, I was so proud of myself, so very proud) we returned to our hotel to shower and change before heading back out for a much needed dinner. Dinner was delectable and slow. I remember warm goat cheese. I remember tuna. In my life, I find I mostly remember the bad times, but I also remember the food.

What I can't recall as vividly comes to me this time around with the help of the journal I less-than-religiously maintained during our 10-day French vacation. Recorded for posterity are things like the French university students drinking in American fraternity style (sort of) at the bar we went to later that night. "One of them did a shot consisting of him leaning backward on the bar and having the bartender pour a swig down his throat," I wrote. "Well, this being France, the bartender leaned forward and kissed the guy square on the mouth, where he had been expecting alcohol."

But that is not all the froggy lip smacking I am here to report to you today. That very same evening, a young man from that group of university frolickers walked over to me and asked to kiss me on the cheek. I slapped both hands over my mouth to protect my virtue, then leaned into him with a flushed face. When in Rome, I figured. Except that in Rome, I might've been offering up a totally different cheek.

And then there was a line. No freaking shit. A queue of Frenchmen waiting to kiss my cheek. Methodical and quick, one after the other, no liberties were taken. I won't say that somebody didn't offer to demonstrate a real "french kiss," but I quickly put the kibosh on that native tongue. It was sweet, though. All of it. How could I not love them, these boys smelling of Pastis on a cobblestoned night in May?


Carmela Reminded Me

Once I was a tourist in France, gazing upon the Ecole Militaire, the Eiffel Tower at my back. I was especially enamored of military schools at the time, and it didn't matter at all whose homeland the cadets were being educated to protect. There was no lofty allegience on my part, only admiration for the unabashed masculinity of the shirts, the shoes, the hair and the ramrod backs of a few good men. I looked at the school, then back at the Eiffel Tower. All along my periphery couples dry-humped in the Parc du Champ de Mars. As I readied my disposable camera and took aim at the Ecole Militaire, I was as sure as I ever was that the real thing could only be preferable to phallic symbology.

Then a Frenchman walked in front of me and asked if he could be in the picture. I know that's what he wanted because, after eight years of instruction in this gentleman's native tongue, I still needed my childhood friend and travel companion to translate for me. Then he asked if I wanted a kiss.

"Bisou, bisou," he shouted with glee, zeroing in on my American lips with a determination I never expected from a man who should've been more culturally predisposed to bending over and taking it than to initiating his own conquests. His face had almost reached mine before I was shocked out of silence. I don't remember what I said, or even if they were real words, but the sounds I made were loud and shrill. Racous mimicry ensued as I bolted away, the Bisou Bastard and his friends slapping each other's asses and chattering in the lackadaisical ecstasy of Parisians in the afternoon.


I'm It

As proof of what a little pathetic whining can do for a girl, I have been tagged for my very first official Meme. What a delightful coming-of-age story for this late bloomer. You must realize, of course, that my luck dictates Memes will fall instantly and completely out of favor, making it so that I am the only one running around the playground looking for someone to tag while the rest of the girls huddle in groups comparing the size of their training bras and talking about the fourth grade victim of the Bovine Growth Hormone whose inaugural visit from Aunt Flo caused her to bleed all over the seat of her white shorts while chalking out a long division problem on the blackboard. That's just how it goes. But now for the "I Am" Meme, as sent by Redneck Mommy.

I AM: the luckiest lady on the block (not that that's saying much).

I WANT: to harnass the discipline necessary to write a novel.

I WISH: I was better at showing my husband how much I love him--but not too good, because he'd never get over himself.

I HATE: any recipe derived from liver. Pate. Foie Gras. Liver and onions.

I MISS: certain people in Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida and remote portions of Connecticut with whom I used to interact daily and are who are now relegated to sporadic phone and email communications because I am a horrible long-distance friend.

I FEAR: any phone call between midnight and 7 a.m.

I HEAR: the baby crying in her crib upstairs, which just doesn't have the effect on me that it seems to have on most other mothers.

I WONDER: if there's really anything wrong with my inherently laissez-faire approach to child-rearing. Or if I'm just rationalizing a cold, unfeeling maternity.

I REGRET: not realizing earlier that my mother is a human being. Not that I could've figured it out before becoming one myself. A mother, I mean.

I AM NOT: a registered democrat.

I DANCE: the same booty-shaking way no matter what song is playing.

I SING: really badly, repeating the same song fragments over and over, and always to the chagrin of my husband.

I CRY: regularly while listening to NPR.

I AM NOT ALWAYS: good at consoling people. I find it hard to reach out. More often than not I cross my arms across my chest, nod, and make sympathetic clucking noises.

I MAKE WITH MY HANDS: damn good cheesy meatballs. I usually take off my wedding and engagement rings when working with the 93 percent lean ground beef, then promptly forget about them so that it's days before I notice them sitting next to the kitchen sink and put them back on.

I WRITE: magazine articles, blog entries and copious posts in the local section of a newlywed bulletin board.

I CONFUSE: thinking about starting my novel with the actual act of putting my ass in a chair and writing it.

I NEED: to be more conscientious about bathing my daughter. It was easy when she was smaller and I had to throw her in the tub three times a day because of her explosive poops, but now her outwardly non-foul veneer makes it so I can go days without realizing she could do with a good scrub down.

I SHOULD: run at least four miles a day, pushing the handy dandy new jogging stroller I received on Mother's Day as a gift from my fabulous in-laws.

I START: my tenure as president of the local MOMS Club chapter this July. Wait, what's that sound? It's the angry hum of all my blog traffic slamming into reverse and high-tailing it out of here. That is, if anyone's still reading after I admitted to not being a democrat.

I FINISH: my plate. Always. Once I ordered an omelette at IHOP and devoured it. My waitress ogled the shiny plate with only the slightest trace of shredded cheddar remaining and said, "Wow, I have to give you credit. I could never have finished that whole thing by myself!" Do you think she got a tip? Do you?

That's all, folks. Now for the tagging: Chicken-and-Cheese, you're it!


Much More Than A Hallmark Card

I've learned the best way to get what I want from my husband is to tell him exactly what that is and how to make it happen. Photo illustrations help. Verbal encouragement is necessary (or, to put a different spin on it, oral encouragement). But he cannot be left to his own devices. Someone wise once told us to do things ourselves if we want them done right. But I say we can trust our partners more than that. If you want something done "right," I say, leave your husband a detailed plan, and even then, interpret the term loosely.

It was my first Mother's Day as the one on the receiving end of maternal goodwill that spilled into my home via telephone lines, satellite, wireless computer networks and one small luxury sedan. The in-laws, unknowing pawns in our Mother's Day plot, came to spend the day with their one-and-only treasured granddaughter.

Rule #1: I do not want to change ANY diapers on Mother's Day.

My husband saw to it that his mother was on hand for all diaper changing exigencies. She also fed the baby and cuddled her for roughly 5.5 out of their 6 hour visit.

Rule #2: I do not want to lift a finger in regard to anything involved in the cooking process.

Thank God for the grill, paper plates, and plastic utensils.

Rule #3: I would like an artistic rendering of my husband and daughter like the one I saw in the window of the photography studio downtown. Black and white. 16x20. A senstive downward gaze and an adoring smile shining up. Naked baby.

This one was trickier for my husband. After repeated calls for what it was, exactly, that I wanted, he whisked the baby off to the Picture People (52 miles, round trip) one night after work. He chose the chain for a number of reasons, not the least of which were the facts that a) they could turn photos around in an hour and b) the more reputable studios were out of our price range. So, on the Thursday before Mother's Day, Picture People it was. Tolby stole hearts with denim overalls and a pocket-sized giraffe attached to the front panel. When she disrobed for the pre-ordained naked time and snuggled against her father's chest, she peed on him. He said "oh, crap, she's peeing," and then wiped it up with the long-sleeved onesie she had been wearing minutes before. When he brought her back to our house, where I had been enjoying a strange solitude, I saw her silky skin gleaming from under those overalls like Farmer Jane after a day in the corn fields. I thought it was funny and sweet.

On Mother's Day, when he gave me the fruits of that labor, I was touched not only by the framable result, but by the blood, sweat and piss that went into it. And he did it because I asked him to. I've come to realize that he'll do almost anything if I ask, because he loves me that much.

Surprises are nice, but not if I expect them. It's the way he finds out what I really want and tries to make it happen that means the most to me.

What more can you ask for?

[Note: More of my musings on life, liberty and blogging can be found today at Motherhood Uncensored, where I have unleashed my guest-posting prowess as Kristen enjoys a much needed vacation. Come on down!]


My Mother's Day

One of the most disappointing aspects of becoming a woman is the realization that your mother is not the perfect person you thought she was when you were a little girl; one of the most liberating parts is embracing the fact that you don't have to be perfect, either. You can try to be better. You need to learn from her mistakes. But there's freedom in knowing that you are allowed make your own.

Maybe I would've been a happier person growing up if I didn't have to give birth to my own daughter to realize parents aren't cut out of a faultless mold. Just as a mother must feel pressure from her children to show no flaws, the children, too, have to perceive the weight of a promise unkept. Not that my mother made any such promises. How could she have? I just wonder how I ever translated the words "I love you," and "you are safe," to mean "your life with me will be complete harmony." Because that's a loaded expectation that can lead to nothing but the feeling that one has been cosmically gypped.

I know my daughter will hate me for reasons totally different from the ones that bred my own contempt for my mother. It's only logical. I fear that Tolby will even harbor resentment for some of the same exact things she sees in me that I railed against so ferociously when I was young--twenty years ago, fifteen, five. I'm trying hard to prevent the latter from coming true, and am accepting the inevitability of the former. I can only ever be me, and that's a person who messes up a lot despite the most benign of intentions. I am not my mother. But I am not perfect.

With my first Mother's Day looming, I am grateful to be able to share it with my mom on solid, level ground, packed down by so many tiny footsteps and welcoming in its earthiness. Tolby will feel the warmth as she swirls in and out of our space, and maybe she will mistake it for perfection. That's what childhood is, I guess.

I'm finally growing up.


The Bitter, Bitter Irony

Maybe I have too much testosterone.

Exhibit A: Excessive body hair
Exhibit B: The inability to multi-task
Exhibit C: The complete and total lack of any mechanisms to aid in the silent exit of gas from my body

In the past there would've been an Exhibit D with a "sex overdrive" designation, but I'm married now, and no longer is anything about my sex life notable. As someone with a likely overabudance of testosterone, this fact causes me endless grief. Though I would love to do something about the hum-druminess of it all, we all know it takes two to do the horizontal tango. And I think my other half has a metaphorical headache.

See, the dichotomy between my husband and I is much different than most other romantic relationships we encounter. This may or may not be true in the marriages you've studied, but it is clearly manifested in my casebook: the woman is the nag and the man is the lazy one. Or, if he's not lazy, he is at least perceived as such by his wife (to be fair, I should probably extend that line of thinking to state that sometimes the woman is perceived as being a nag even when she's not--but, let's face it, she usually is).

My parents certainly fit into that mold, and I spent the entire thinking part of my life trying not to turn into my mother. I was a walking, talking reactionary timebomb. I tick-tick-ticked my way through school in anticipation of graduation and my explosion into adulthood. I didn't want to live under a cloud of criticism, blame and restriction. I wanted to be respected for my opinions, or at least feel entitled to them. I wanted to be my own person instead of somebody's scapegoat. I wanted somewhere to go and a way to get there.

Maybe you can guess what happened.

I married my mother.



Today I passed another motorcycle accident on my road. It was the second in as many weeks, and one of the several I've driven by since we moved here more than two years ago. The ambulance hadn't arrived as the slow line of traffic filed through on the opposite side of the road. As soon as I saw chrome on its side and police officers huddled around, I turned off my peripheral vision and stared at the road in front of me. My chest was tight. Tolby and Roxie were in the backseat, oblivious.

Last year my husband and I were driving across an overpass when we noticed cars and motorcycles parked next to the sidewalk that lined the chain links looking down on the highway. Below, cars were backed up as far as I could see. It must be an accident, we said. How sad, I thought. Then, just as quickly as I had started, I stopped thinking. See, I'm an avoider. That's similar to being a procrastinator, only it's more highly evolved. Avoidance is the only thing that allows me to be a functioning member of society now that I'm a mother. If I sat down and entertained the myriad ways in which life could crumble down around me in one bat of my twitching eye, I'd be rendered useless. So I don't think. My husband, on the other hand, does. He just doesn't care. That's why he stopped the car and got out to see what was going on. I stayed right there, belted into my seat, disproportionately proud of myself for not going out of my way to gawk at tragedy. A minute or two later, he got back into the driver's seat. Bunch of rubberneckers, I sniffed. Then, So what happened?

The next day I looked in the newspaper for an account of the accident. That's what I do, as if time and newsprint make a window thick enough for me to safely view other people's misfortune. But it's about hope, too. Like maybe I'll find out the rider was taken to the hospital with only minor injuries. It's easier to be hopeful if you can glaze over things as they happen and wait for analysis after the fact.

Let me say, in summation, that I am glad we are too poor to purchase the bike my husband would so love to own. If it means we never get one, I will happily live month-to-month for the rest of my life.

Speaking of my husband, he has heeded your pleas to show his face via a guest post on this blog, but his first submission was rejected by the editor. In the only line from his failed attempt that will see the light of cyberspace, he wrote "I'm a sucker for flattery and some of the comments poured it on really thick." He is currently working on his next idea.


Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?

Yesterday night a book called "What to Expect: The First Year" jumped out of the bookcase into my hands as I walked jauntily through the den enroute the television set. I was jaunty because the baby was sleeping; the dishes were done; and the house was somewhat clean. I felt less encumbered than I had in months--nine months, to be exact. I was free to throw more than a casual glance at the tome resting in my grasp. I had time to peruse.

I cracked the virgin binding of the book in which I now had less than 1/4 of an interest (in a strictly calendarial sense). For nine months, I had been too busy living my daughter's first year to do any reading about it. Not that I would have chosen this post-partum member of the "What to Expect" series if I had had the time. The original guide, "What to Expect When You're Expecting," was filled with enough old-wives and old-doctor crap to keep me on the cutting edge of pregnancy science well into the 1940s. I didn't buy them, by the way. They were gifts.

So I flipped through to the Ninth Month section and realized it was laid out exactly like the pregnancy version. Eureka! Oh, the ease with which I can assess my daughter's development and completely freak out because she's developing at her own pace and not theirs. As I read about "pincer grips" and the discriminate v. indiscriminate "da-da," I realized this was crap I did not need. For three quarters of a year we had been doing just fine with the knowledge that her doctor thinks she's doing swell. To begin comparing her in any depth to other kids would be the start of a journey down a slippery slope better left ungreased by my ass. I'm doing the best I can. A book won't make me better. Not that kind of book, anyway.

Back to the collected works of Dr. Seuss.


The Polls Are Open

The first time I saw the name "dad" show up in my comment section, this is what went through my head:

"How the hell did my father find out about this blog?"

Then I thought about it a little more and, as is often the case, got it right on the second try. The dad in question was Tolby's, not mine. And that realization was more than a little weird.

Any mention of, or comment by, Tolby's dad (or "my husand," or "Chris") on this blog is usually met with an enthusiastic response by my other four readers. See, he's quick-witted. He has timing. He's a hit at all the Internet parties.

When I met him on AOL nine years ago, I was in love with him before I saw his face.

But that's my side of the story. I've written a lot about my other half and I think it's time to let him have his say. How about getting a little He Said action going on here? Leave a comment below if an 8 Hours guest post by "dad" would interest you.

Because I might need a little help convincing him, and this I have learned: flattery will get you everywhere.


Update on the Job Interview

It was several weeks ago that I blogged about my interview for a part time writing position at a local university. This follow-up post is a bit on the belated side, considering that I contacted my potential employer the very next day to ask him to withdraw my name from consideration.

I thought I wanted to go back to work, but until the possibility became real, I didn't think about it very hard. The cursory concept of writing and making money over the course of a 19-hour work week seemed ideal. I'd pull in just enough cash to at least psychologically ease my husband's bacon-bringing burden. I'd be writing instead of perfecting the art of literary procrastination. And this new schedule would only take up about 2 and a half day's worth of my time.

Except that it's not my time. It's Tolby's time, too. And it is so fleeting and amorphous that to miss any of it, or to put it on a schedule, sticks me right in the subconscious part of my being that actually knows what's going on. See, it was never rationally apparent to me that "staying home" with my daughter was the best thing to do. It still isn't, necessarily. But there's that voice, deep and ingrained, telling a different story.

I usually don't do my best thinking consciously. And I NEVER write that way. My best ideas and my truest held beliefs have always been layered in such a way that requires digging to reach. I can't speak eloquently off-the-cuff. I can't assess a situation with one glance and know what to do. But when I sit down with a pen or a keyboard, and with time, I can knock out a pretty good strategy.

The plan this time is to believe in myself and my family. I'm lucky that they believe in me. You see, there was never any question that something needs to be done about our miserable financial state. I am grateful for my husband's contributions, which were significantly greater than mine even when I was working full-time, but the fact remains that one income is not enough. Fortunately, I am blessed with a portable talent. I can do it here or there, I can do it anywhere! I don't need an office job. I want to write for a living. And I know I can. I think my husband is even more sure of it than I am. It's just a matter of mining those same recesses from which I pull my inspiration as I endeavor to dredge up the determination and single-mindedness necessary to be successful as a freelancer.

I've been in contact with a professional acquaintance who emailed me the other day with this message: "I would like to offer you the opportunity to be the writer for the lead book in the new venture we're planning, and we would like to spell in out in detail the concept we are working on to see if it's something you are interested in."

Doors opening, doors closing. My husband, daughter and I are walking through the thresholds together.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

In parts of southern and eastern Africa, and in a small corner of Connecticut, USA, natives communicate by a tongue known as the Click Language. To some indigenous tribes of the lower hemisphere, clicking is prehistoric in its longevity. In the 8-6-0, a nine-month old named Tolby is hoping to bring the trend stateside as she works with her elders and her peers to convey the nuances of this little understood mode of communication.

Tolby clicks to be picked up, or to be fed faster, or to suggest to her mother that no socks and no sweater is a degree of undress not well suited to early spring in New England. She craps, then she clicks. When she wakes up in the morning, there are clicks and coos mixed in with the occasional shriek. She'd probably click upon retiring, except that gasping sobs seem better suited to her feelings about her crib at bedtime.

Everything is new to Tolby--from the tongue in her smooth, wet mouth to sounds of her own making ringing in her ears. And it's new to my husband and me, too. We are aware that our daughter must not be the only one out there clicking, but she's the only one we know. Her explorations into the realm of language are as funny and sweet as they are enlightening. With her active participation, we become more of a family every day.

Sometimes we sit around the table and click together. Tolby gets frenzied, ramping up her tempo to match ours and raising both hands in a lobster-pinching kind of wave that means something we haven't quite figured out yet. She bobs in her high chair and sounds off inside flushed cheeks. We're loud and it seems like we're not making sense. But we get it, finally.

"It took you long enough," Tolby clicks. "This is what I've been trying to tell you."

[Note: Today is a banner blogging day as I have been nominated by none other than Mom-101 for the "Perfect Post" Award given out at Suburban Turmoil and Petroville for my post titled Lifestyles of the Penniless and Overlooked. I'd shout it from the rooftops, but it probably would be best if my neighbors didn't find out I was writing about them.

Thanks, Mom-101. It really is good for my writing soul.]