Mama w/ Pen

For my (new!) regular column over at She Writes, called She Writes on Fridays (because “she’s” trying, really really trying), I wrote a very Mama w/Pen-ish post, which I wanted to share here.  In “Through the Maternal Looking Glass,” I struggle with the inevitable question: is “mommy blogging” narcissistic?  Of wider interest? Neither? Both?

Sayeth fellow GwP blogger Natalie Wilson in comments over there: “The “new momism” documented by Susan Douglas is alive and well. We are supposed to be do-it-all supermoms consumed with our children. Yet, dare we blog/write about this and we are narcissists. Post-feminist society my foot. Adrienne Rich is rolling in her grave..”

And sayeth my partner in crime over at She Writes Kamy Wicoff: Bad writing is narcissistic. The narcissist fails to observe the telling details; fails to achieve the clarity and compassionate attention which characterize the writing that moves us and changes us. Are male coming-of-age stories, so ubiquitous in our literature, narcissistic by definition, simply because of the perspective from which they are told? Diminishing women who write simply because they write about motherhood is indefensible — the deeper question, I think, is whether writing that takes place in nearly real time, a kind of continuous unedited “feed” from a person’s latest experience to a written form shared with the world, can be GOOD or not. If it’s good, I’m in. If it’s not, I’m out.

What sayeth YOU?

(Photo cred: We Picture This)

Last Monday, I closed on the first apartment I have ever owned. It took a year to sell. We had to move to a rental to make room for the twins before it sold. It drained my savings. It is a huge relief.

Closing was, quite frankly, exhilarating. But equally exhilarating was the odd thrill of having now four-month old twins, and especially my four-month old daughter, in that fancy mahogany boardroom with me, where the signing took place. Gave a whole new meaning to that cliched car window sticker “Baby on Board,” if you know what I mean.

Closings themselves are surreal, with multiple strangers in the room–bank representatives, lawyers, agents, plus the parties involved in the sale–and reams of papers passing back and forth. In my case, there were also two babies and one grandmother. Talk about crazy soup.

Humor me for a moment while I recap.

The transaction begins with the buyers’ lawyer asking them about their wills, and how, since they are not married, they would like to transfer the property should one of them meet with an untimely end. I sit across from them and try to render myself invisible during what seems like it should be a highly private exchange. My daughter sits perched on the dark wood table, staring into the middle distance. My mother paces the hallway with my son. My lawyer arrives, late.

The payoff woman arrives and sits with her parka still on, reading Something Borrowed, a chick lit staple. I find it amusing that the mortgage lady is reading a book with this title. I reflect, for a moment, on what’s really happening here. My life has changed drastically since the day I sat across a similar table as a first-time buyer. I have a new husband, two kids. I am 41 and at the beginning of what already feels like the very best chapter. Something old(ish) and something new. I inhale deeply. Baby Girl burps, then falls asleep.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly. Then, suddenly, mass panic over a missing lien search. Everyone’s on his and her cell phone, trying to track it down. I’m instructed to call the attorney who represented me during the purchase to see if he has it, only I can’t remember his name. At just this moment, my mother wanders in asking for help opening a formula bottle, holding Baby Boy, who looks nonplussed. Foreign words like “contin” and “endeminity” fly overhead. Someone says something about needing five thousand in escrow. All of a sudden, a fax comes in. Problem solved. And then, the furious writing of checks.

Baby Girl wakes up just as I sign the final documents. And it’s corny, maybe, but I flash forward and think about her in 40 years and wonder if she might be sitting at the head of a table like this one again one day. According to the latest report from Catalyst, women held 15.2 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies in 2009, the same as 2008. At this pace, it’s not looking good for Baby Girl if she decides she’d like to try her hand at corporate power, but still, a mama can dream.

And then, just like that, the closing is over. I awake. My broker pulls out a bottle of champagne, along with two Baby Gap bags with gifts for the babies. I kiss Baby Girl, I hug my broker, and my own mama and I pack up the babies and head back out into the Manhattan wind.

It’s a day of closure and a fresh start. Snuggled down in the Double Snap N Go, Baby Boy gurgles and gives me his broad, toothless grin. Baby Girl is sleeping again, and I can’t wait to tell her one day when she’s old enough to understand about the day she sat at the boardroom table, her hands in tight little fists, taking it all in.

This week there’s a heated thread running through the Park Slope Parents listserv about the appropriateness of reprimanding other people’s misbehaved kids in public spaces. The thread hits a nerve, because I definitely used to be that cranky person who scowled silently when other people’s children ran reckless in a crowded restaurant or played freeze tag in the checkout line. And then something changed. My twins were born. Since their arrival, that wave of annoyance that wells up when somebody else’s child whoops it up at the very moment I crave peace has not exactly subsided, but it’s transformed. Now, instead, I get curious. I project: What will my children be like when they’re that age?

Until I had my own, I was never a kid person. I hated babysitting. I was raised sibling-free. I grew into a grown up who often found kids who weren’t related to me bothersome. In my twenties, I knew (hoped?) that I’d want a kid of my own one day, but only vaguely, the same way I thought it might be nice to have a puppy. Rarely did I think concretely about what it might be like to be pregnant, or raise a child, or be someone’s mother. There were times in recent years when I actually wondered if the ubiquitous maternal instinct would kick in when my time came, or whether it would pass me over. I knew that if I had kids I’d love them. But would I love being their mother?

As part of a generation raised to view the so-called phenomenon of abandoning hard won careers for full-time motherhood with a healthy dose of skepticism, my unease about whether motherhood would suit me also meshed with fear. Coming to late motherhood in the shadow of all those dread media stories about women opting out, part of me feared motherhood for its very lure. I wouldn’t be able to quit working once I had a child, due to financial necessity, but I wondered if I would wish I could.

Now that the twins are here (4 months old next week!), and I’m engaged in compelling work with like-minded collaborators–some of whom are themselves similarly struggling to make work fit with motherhood as well as the other way around–I’m not so worried about being tempted to abandon my other life’s work. It’s not merely financial. It’s core.

And as for my proclivity to scowl at other people’s children, and my worrying whether maternal instinct would kick in? While I don’t think I’d call this instinct, my maternal lens has come into focus since my babies arrived. To wit: On a snowy day like the one we had this week, my Brooklyn neighborhood is a cornucopia of cuteness. Kids stuffed into snowsuits slide by our apartment window, pulled by their parents on toboggans on their way to the park. Must be something about the coziness of winter and all those teeny mittens. I pass a child on the icy sidewalk holding his father’s hand and flash forward to the day when my son and my daughter will be walking by my side, each of their mittened hands holding one of my own.

I’m a day late in posting this month’s Mama w/Pen column because, well, this mama has gone back to work. With huge passion for the venture and a pang of guilt in my heart (froze my first packet of breast milk last night in preparation for spending feeding time away), I join the legions of working parents who work at paid employment and at raising kids. Canned words like “juggle,” “balance” (which, from what I’ve seen and heard, is nonexistent) and “prioritize” (clumsy, inhuman term) allegedly now take on meaning. In truth, it’s always been a juggle—far before parenthood set in.

And yet. As my brain works to adapt to new realities, the imperative to multitask feels more intense–and actually absurd. This morning, when my partner Kamy Wicoff came over for a kick-off meeting with me, I actually found myself thinking “Will you take this breast and feed Teo for a sec while I write that email?” As if the parts were interchangeable—a milk-producing breast and a keyboard being merely two comparable peripherals to accomplish what I needed to do. It’s the same impulse that’s made me want to hit control “s” when I’ve had a thought I haven’t wanted to forget, but no pen in hand. Funny, how the brain plays tricks on you. My desire to be hyper-effective is that grand.

That desire isn’t new, only newly inflected. Now that Anya and Teo are here, the thousand and one things my brain focuses on in any given day here in this hyperstimulating city of New York become a thousand and two—or rather, a thousand and three, a thousand and ninety-four (there are two babies, after all!). The beloved new additions occupy not just bandwidth, of course, but a supersized chunk of my heart. They say your heart grows extra chambers when love is this big, and I’ve definitely felt those chambers expand. The trick, now, is how to put body, mind, and heart in service of the multiple jobs that must be done. I’m going to need a word far better than “juggle” to accomplish that trade.  I’m open to suggestion. Any takers?

(PS. Today is my mom’s birthday. Happy Birthday, new Grandma Renee!)

Anya and Teo are 7 weeks old today, and those first foggy days postpartum are only now coming into hazy relief. Going in, I’d feared postpartum depression; having had a few run-ins with that dark night before, I was all too aware of the risks. Thankfully, depression hasn’t hit. But my mind played some serious tricks on me those first weeks with the babies here at home.

My mind—anxious—obsessed. As in, when not attentively focused elsewhere (diaper, nurse repeat), my mind would wander into spin cycle, grasping over and over again a singular script. You’ll laugh when you hear it. The script went like this: I pretended I was Sarah Jessica Parker. Or rather, I wished I were.

SJP you say? Yes, that’s right. SJP became the object of my relentless postpartum mental gaze because SJP—a soon-to-be Brooklyn neighbor who had recently had twins herself via surrogate—was waited on, I was certain, hand and foot. Nursing at 3am and craving cinnamon toast and fresh orange slices, for example, I’d think: “Sarah Jessica’s cook would be bringing her cinnamon toast and oranges right about now.” And so on. It was the fantasy of the new mother who rather wanted to be cared for herself, and it just didn’t let up.

Until, that is, my hormonally crazed postpartum mind found a new object to twist itself around like a weed: spiders. I’d been up late one night after the hospital watching a National Geographic Special on newborn behavior in the animal kingdom. The program featured a breed of spider for which offsprings’ arrival signaled the mother’s death. Baby spiders hatch, so it’s not like the mother spider died in childbirth; rather, once the voracious offspring hatched, the tiny multi-legged carnivores would feed on the mother’s body, destroying her along the way. I watched, spellbound, repulsed, as she let it happen. It was nature taking its course. And while nursing, I just couldn’t let it go. It was the fantasy of the nursing mother who feared she might disappear.

My obsession with the baby spiders slowly gave way to one more—a fixation that is with me still and one I hope will not go away (unlike the others, which, thankfully, did!). This last postpartum fixation had to do with Marco, and our work/life arrangement, which is in flux. Following the mind meld with SJP and the fixation on the spiders, I became obsessed with the notion of Marco as a stay-at-home-dad. It’s one of many arrangements we are trying on, but in my mind, it stuck like glue. It’s the working mother’s fantasy, and it’s one that many couples have, of course, made real.

I never got my cinnamon toast exactly, though Marco makes me waffles, which do the trick; I no longer worry that I am that mother spider (phew!). But I do still dream about Marco, pictured here reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs with Teo strapped to his chest, being a primary caregiver. Postpartum blur, or potential solution? We shall see. In the meantime, we’re both enjoying these babies, and being home with them, so very much!

On October 20, 2009, I became a mother.

Since it’s all far too big to digest, I’m starting with a small bite first: the hospital, where mothers are made, not born.

I’d always thought I’d cry in the delivery room or, as happened to be in my case, the OR. The way I pictured it, I’d hear the wail of a healthy baby (in my case, two) and I’d be so overcome with relief and beauty and gratitude, moved by the sheer spectacle of it all, the tears would flow and flow and flow. Because that’s what mothers, and fathers of course, do. But to our surprise, neither Marco nor I cried. Surprising, since both of us consider ourselves gushers.

Instead, it was more a feeling of frozen awe.

When Anya and Teo were pulled from my open belly 14 days ago and I first heard their newborn gasps for air, in stereo, I felt numb. Literally, figuratively, emotionally. Eventually I cried, when we brought them home and laid them on our bed and together with my parents sang a Shehechiyanu, the blessing of gratitude for having reached this season. But I shed not a tear in the hospital. Don’t get me wrong. I felt relief and beauty and gratitude. But I mostly felt surreal.

Me? A mother? Of two? In all honesty, it still hasn’t sunk in. And I’m thinking maybe that’s ok. When I spoke to a dear friend, a mother of two, about this feeling of disconnect between the love I feel for these two new beings and the sense of myself as someone’s “mother,” she told me she still felt that way–and her oldest is now four.

I get that mothers are of woman born, but do all women immediately, naturally think of themselves as mothers at the moment of that becoming? I’d love to hear your experiences, your thoughts.

One of the things I like most about blogging is that your subject can change as you do. This summer I’ve been blogging pregnancy, and now, with just a few weeks more to go, and to keep up with the changes going on here at GWP, I’m changing the theme to (drum roll) Mama w/Pen. From here on in, keep an eye out for monthly contributions from me on the topic of emergent motherhood, feminist and otherwise, on the first Monday of each month.

And speaking of becoming a mama, I just put an “away” message on my email, in preparation for The Big Event. In the meantime, you’ve not heard much from me this past month because I’ve been either in the hospital or on bedrest, spending much of my time lying on my side (best for babies’ circulation for some reason)—all of which makes it rather difficult to type on anything but an iPhone.

What started as a very cutting edge pregnancy—all those high-tech fertility interventions!—has ended up an anachronism. I now understand, in a very personal way, why pregnancy was once called “confinement,” or “lying in.” Hospitalized for early contractions at 30 weeks, I’ve spent the past 3.5 flat on my side, holed up with Marco, Tula (pictured here), my parents for a little while, and the occasional intrepid visitor from Manhattan and beyond. While Tula thinks bedrest is the cat’s meow, for me, it hasn’t been easy. Never in my life have I felt so limited by my body. I’m a a 21st century woman on a 19th century cure.

There are days when I think, “I can’t believe women, everyday, everywhere, go through this kind of thing, have gone through this, from the beginning of time.” Intelligent design? I think not. There are days when I’m in awe of my sisters who bear pregnancy gracefully, stoically, and without complication. Granted, some pregnancies are easier than others. For me, all attempts at grace and stoicism went out the window with those early contractions, which seem to only intensify as the weeks go by. My knees buckle from the weight of me. I have dark, dark circles under my eyes.

But I’m trying not to complain. Or rather, at least not in public, not out loud. I still can’t believe the technology worked. I’m still in awe that at ages 40 and 48, we’re lucky enough to become first time parents, and that we’re having not just one but two.

So rather than kvetch, which I confess is indeed my inclination right now, I’m trying instead to embrace the absurdity of it all while I bide my time and courageously hope not to give birth for a few weeks more—even though I’m more than ready to be done. Though it’s become increasingly hard to breath, there have been moments of buckling laughter. Like the night Marco wheeled me in a wheelchair with no leg support to the church down the block where Kol Nidre services were being held. Like the other day, when Marco walked me over to stand in front of the full-length mirror. “See? You’re still hot,” he said. “In a funhouse mirror kind of way.”

Funhouse aside, I feel like a character from a Margaret Atwood novel—an incubator and not much else. “Having children is sacrifice,” says Shari, one of the kind nurses I see regularly when I go to the hospital for my twice weekly monitoring appointments to check on the status of my contractions and the babies’ heart rates. “It starts right here, right now.” But what about the incubator? I want to ask, incredulous that becoming a mother has to involve such prolonged discomfort and pain. Instead, I hold my tongue, think of my roommate during my stay at the hospital, who gave birth to twin boys at 26 weeks, and feel immensely grateful to be here, with babies still inside me, at week 34.