These are a collection of pre-blog journal entries. In reverse chronological order.
These are a collection of pre-blog journal entries. In reverse chronological order.
Passing It Down to the Kids 07.25.2005
Tonight at the pool Rebecca had a meltdown. She didn’t have her goggles, so she was borrowing Suzanne’s. Hers were at home, in her dresser drawer, which is a rotten place to keep swimming goggles, but then this is a kid with organizational problems. So she wore the goggles for about 15 minutes and then Suzanne said she wanted her goggles back and I called Rebecca over and suggested that she give them to Suzanne for awhile, seeing as how they were, after all, hers. Huge scene ensued. Red face, screaming, tears, holding on to me for dear life because she didn’t want to leave the pool. David grim faced, humiliated; Suzanne babbling and, for the most part, unconcerned—except that I did catch her smiling once at her sister’s distress. To her credit, she was trying not to, but she did smile. And Rebecca saw it, which just racheted up the hysteria several more notches. People were staring—some, I’m sure, with disapproval.
Screw them. They have no idea. The only good thing about Rebecca’s depression—the only thing—is that we got help for her years sooner than a lot of parents would have. When I was her age, with the same symptoms, my parents had not a clue. At least David and I have a clue. But that’s the only good thing.
Rebecca screamed at me all the way home—the usual: I am a rotten mother, I don’t care about her needs, she wishes she was dead, I love Suzanne better than her, she is never talking to me again ever, let her out of the car RIGHT THIS SECOND—all interspersed with ear-splitting screams. I am calm. I have been here before. We get home and I say to her, “If I were you, I’d get up to my room before Daddy gets here.” (We were in separate cars.) “NO I WON’T!!!” she screamed. Her face, at these moments, is frightening—those green eyes look ferocious, evil, as if she is possessed. I got out of the car and said to David, “Do me a favor, and just don’t talk to her.” She went upstairs; within 30 minutes she was okay again. She apologized to me, to Suzanne and to David.
And here’s the thing. While I’m drying Suzanne off after her bath, Suzanne said to Rebecca, “I have an idea about the goggles.” Rebecca started to growl at her; I said quickly, “Tell me your idea, Suzanne, don’t talk to Rebecca about the goggles just now,” and Suzanne whispered in my ear, “I could have them one day and she could have them the next.”
They both break my heart, in different ways—Suzanne, with tenderness; Rebecca, with her ferocity.
And it just made me think, the whole time, of the many rages I have had—the bookcases I have ripped bare, the precious objects broken, the screaming fits I’ve had; and the way I spoke at those times to God was the same way Rebecca spoke to me tonight. And I said to my daughter in my heart, You will learn. I love you even in this state. I can’t give you anything right now because you are not in a position to receive—and I know that infuriates you even more—but I can’t help it; it’s where you are. And all I can do is sit here and wait until your fury has exhausted itself and you come back to me.
Rebecca has insight at the age of eight that I did not have until I was in my 30s, which gives me hope. But events like tonight—when some transitory and minor frustration just rips through her limbic brain like a brushfire—also make me fear for her. I see this difficult road ahead of her and I wish to God she didn’t have to travel it.
Those are the bad moments. There are others, not so bad. Getting in the car the other morning on our way to drop Suzanne at Anne’s and Rebecca at camp, Suzanne says to Rebecca, “Tell me a story.”
“Okay,” Rebecca says. “I’m going to use real names, but it’s just a story, okay?”
“Well, Rebecca and Suzanne were in the car getting ready to take Suzanne to day care and Rebecca to camp, and Suzanne was being an annoying little brat. She was really irritating. And she kept talking and irritating Rebecca and Rebecca said, ‘Suzanne, please stop.’ But Suzanne wouldn’t stop. She just kept talking and talking and Rebecca said, ‘Suzanne, PLEASE stop talking.’ But Suzanne just kept talking and finally Rebecca got really really angry…..The end.”
There’s a pause from the back seat. Then Suzanne said, very soberly and without a trace of sarcasm, “That is a great story.”
In a Dark Time 01.31.2005
Bad time. Body aches; anxiety; hard to concentrate on anything; no pleasure anywhere. The pleasure is in not feeling pain. All I want to do is sleep.
Depression is the result of sensitivity to change: changes in hormone levels (monthly or circadian); changes in amount of daylight; changes in life. Depressed people are out of synch with the universe, and that is the root cause of our suffering.
The question for today is, as always: do I try to work? Or do I just give up and sleep? If I could think of anything that would help, I would do it. Maybe it’s best to just crawl in bed. Christ, for a little peace.
The other day I thought, if I bit somebody today, they would DIE.
Another Philosophical Moment 12.19.2004
When I was in the psychiatric hospital, I said to myself, If there is a God, it is not anyone I have ever met. This was true. It was a turning point for me, away from the simplistic religion I’d been taught as a child. I needed to give up religious practice entirely, for a long time, to get purged of that. Even now I’m not completely purged—there’s a bad taste in my mouth I’ll never entirely be rid of. I don’t like institutional religion; I’ll never feel comfortable in a church. But somehow in recent years I’ve begun thinking about God.
Iris Dement sings, “I don’t know just where God lives/Ain’t even sure of exactly who God is/I’m not sure there’s a church that deserves to take God’s name….” That pretty much sums it up for me. All I know is that the more I surrender to something outside of me, the more I am willing to be the agent of something outside myself, the greater the things I can accomplish. For me this is like trying to use a ham radio, getting the frequency right sometimes and then losing it again. I flounder and fail and I doubt myself, and I have periods of despair. But somehow in recent years I have sensed something else happening to me that is good, a kind of growth. It turns me outward more and more, away from the prison of self.
Someday my kids will ask me: Why is there evil in the world? I will answer with another question: how do you know it’s evil? Because we know what good is. How is that possible? How did good come into the world? When a python swallows a field mouse, the snake isn’t evil and the mouse isn’t good; it’s just the way life is. Joseph Campbell believed that to God, everything in our reality is like that—value-neutral—that God sees them outside the temporal stream, and that good and evil and purely human constructs. I can see how he might have arrived at that conclusion, but to live in this world I find it necessary to bring some judgments to bear, so I call some things good and some things evil. We have to do this. We are only human; we can only understand so much. And there is the necessity of self-preservation, both personal and societal. (Which is also the only good argument for prisons.)
We spend a lot of time thinking about evil and not much time thinking about good. Thinking about Good makes you look punch-drunk, slap-happy, simple-minded. I used to hold Mr. Rogers in contempt for this very reason. I confused him with Alfred E. Neuman. But Mr. Rogers was onto something: good is profound, and it’s all around us, just as much as evil is. I read somewhere in an interview with him that as a child he was disturbed by watching the news and seeing bad things happen to people. He asked his mother why those things happened, why God would let people get hurt. “Look for the helpers,” she told him. “Whenever bad things happen, sooner or later you will find a helper around.”
It’s as good an answer as I could ever think of. Our job is to find the good and expand it, and then dare to show it even in the presence of evil. Whenever we manage to pull that off, something powerful happens.
Child of My Heart 12.14.2004
Last night, I was in my study catching up on some things. Rebecca and David were in the family room watching "Harry Potter," and Suzanne (who is 3) was in the living room watching "The Fox and the Hound" because she finds the Harry Potter movies too scary. I was planning to join her in just a moment or two. So when I got done, I come out of my study and saw Suzanne sitting on the sofa, her face all red and tears just pouring down. I said, "Honey, what's the matter?" and she pointed at the TV--where the fox had just been dumped in the woods, far from all his friends, by the mean bad man--and she said, "I was just cwying because it was so sad, Mommy, it was just so sad." I scooped her up in my arms and we sat there and watched the movie for a few minutes. She regained her cheerfulness in a minute and when David came in to see what we were doing, I told him about what his daughter had been doing (which broke my heart)....David smiles at her and Suzanne says, "I was just joking, Dad, I wasn't weally cwying." So there’s empathy, which seems to me rather sophisticated for a three-year-old, and then embarrassment about having displayed emotion, which seems positively adult-like.
A few months ago, something similar happened--I was in the kitchen and she was in the living room watching "Dumbo" and she came in just sobbing. I said, "Suzanne, what's the matter, honey?" and without speaking she grabbed my hand and led me into the living room, where the movie was showing Dumbo having just been separated from his mother. She just couldn't stand to watch it alone.
Just writing this makes my throat clench up.
More Philosophical Moments 09.22.2004
What is it about this desire to hold onto moments? I kiss David goodbye for a trip, lay my cheek against his shirt and feel its starched fabric against my skin. I watch Rebecca running away from me, late to school (again), her legs impossibly long, that golden hair in the early morning sun. I look down into Suzanne’s face, smiling at her talk about her “spicy red balloon,” and I am stunned, once more, by the radiance of the smile she returns to me, the spark behind those clear blue eyes. –All this, and I want to say: stop. I want to hang onto it—to do what, I’m not sure. Put it in an album? The tenderness of these moments pierces my heart.
Part of what I feel is fear. It’s going—I can’t stop it—I will never be able to capture this thing called life. The sweetness always carries the taint of death, what Roethke called “the dire dimension of a final thing.” What if I were to lose them, or they were to lose me? How would they live? How could I? And yet, in a deeper part of my mind, I believe that this is all an illusion, that everything that has been, is still; everything that will be is already here. If we can look into telescopes and see the beginnings of the universe, it’s obvious that “now” depends entirely on your point of view. My fear is really a desire to control. But I am only human, and I desperately desire this control. I want to run this show, to slow the projector down at my favorite parts and fast-forward through the boring stretches or the pictures too horrible to bear.
And yet the longer I live, the more I am convinced that our job here on earth is to embrace it all, to open wide and swallow, and that every moment I spend denying myself this experience—through some humdrum idea of duty to my shopping list, or just pure laziness—is to suffer a kind of defeat. The real thing to fear isn’t death; it’s the failure to notice. And yet this kind of wakefulness I experience sometimes—not often enough—is really painful, in the most joyous kind of way. It’s so much easier to just read the paper, turn on the car radio, go through the motions. “Here,” the universe keeps saying. “Here. Look at this!” And every once in a while I fight through the fog of unconsciousness that most of us spend our lives in, and I do see.
Conversation with Rebecca:
“Mom! I have a great idea for saving money!”
“We can send our old refrigerator back to the store and make a refrigerator out of a hollow tree! I just learned how!”
“Yeah?” And so she tells me, in excruciating detail, how we could cut the door in the bark of the tree, top door and bottom door, and then hollow out the inside, and put our food in there.
“What would keep things cold?” I ask.
She looks at me with pity; clearly, I am stone simple.
“Okay, but where would we get it?”
Why did God curse her with such a parent? “We’d get it at the STORE. Duh.”
“Okay,” I say. “But we’d have to drive the car to the store to get it, wouldn’t we?”
It used to be that I’d have to take her even further down this road before she got it, but she’s getting quicker every day. Now she looks thoughtful.
“Oh,” she says. There is a pause. Then: “I think I’ll stick to clipping coupons.”
Childhood Moments Part V 09.15.2004
Me (to Rebecca): “How is it that you know you don’t like certain foods when you’ve never even tried them?”
Rebecca: “It saves time.”
Who Needs Smart Bombs? Send ‘Em Toddlers. 04.23. 2003
We have painters here, which means that suddenly I'm spring cleaning (something about those grimy windowsills and several years' worth of bug carcasses)...Anyway I'm in Rebecca's room yesterday and year Suzanne behind me. I say to myself, "Better get her out of here before she gets into Rebecca's paints" and turn around, only to find Miss Suzanne standing there in her socks a pool of yellow paint looking at me like "So what's your problem, lady?" So far this week she has tangled the phone cord upstairs so tightly that when I picked it up to answer it I nearly gave myself a concussion; the whole thing came up with the receiver and I had to spend 10 minutes untangling the cord. Then she managed to wedge my Tupperware so that I cannot open the bottom kitchen drawer. After that, she demonstrated that she can access the kitchen counter by climbing the back of an easy chair and crawling over the counter divide that's between the kitchen and the (new) family room, at which point she immediately went for a bottle of prescription pills (I snatched them out of her hand just in time). Following this, she poured half a container of talcum powder on her carpet, then led me into the room where she did this, pointed to the mess and says, "Ooooh, nooooo!"
And just now, as Minerva was leaving, she stuck her head in my study door and said, “Rebecca is watching TV and Suzanne is sticking a broom handle in the VCR.” Gotta go.
Childhood Moments Part IV 02.01.2003
Suzanne woke up from her nap today and clamored for somebody to come get her. She got a haircut last week, and now has an adorable cap of curls, all frizziness gone. She was still in her jams and sopping wet, so I stripped her naked and put her on the changing table, where she stood up to look out the window, as she always does. But this time she turned to face me. Looking mom in the eye! What fun! So we explored each other’s faces for a minute, and then I pointed to a little scratch on my face that she’d made the night before. And perhaps remembering she’d done it, she leaned toward me and kissed it—just the tiniest touch of those soft baby lips against my face, like a butterfly’s caress. How much I love this stage—that wriggling little body, those pink, round baby buns, the protruding toddler tummy. The changing dimensions mark the passage from babyhood to childhood.
We’re Going to Bomb Who? 01.22.2003
is a weird time. We are preparing to go to war—though for exactly what is not
clear to me, or lots of other people. But more people are ginned up for it,
oiling their rifles, getting ready to ship out, bellowing rhetoric about
crushing evildoers and nipping them in the bud. A while back, the big evildoer
was Quaddafi; then Osama bin Laden; now it’s Saddam Hussein (even though North Korea Iraq Guantanamo Maine
Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Can Hurt You Really Badly 01.15.2003
Suzanne nearly broke my nose the other day. I had been doing my knee exercises upstairs when I heard her huffing and puffing her way up to find me. Such an adorable baby! So when I finished I lay down with her on the bed to horse around a little—she loves that. Next thing I knew, something whammed me right between the eyes so hard that I was seeing stars. All I could do was lie back and say, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” After a minute I became aware of Suzanne softly patting my shoulder and saying, “Mom? Mom?” I don’t know if she gave me a head butt or a full body slam, but she is remarkably strong for a baby her age and when she wants to, she can pack a whallop. Today, three days later, the entire right side of my nose is a brownish-orange and is sore and swollen. I think she almost did break my nose. All I know is, I don’t ever want to experience getting my nose broken if it hurts worse than that.
But she was really sorry. That night, in the bath, I was watching her and smiling down and she put her finger to her own nose and said, “Mom? Mom?” She wanted to know if it still hurt.
a wall in Rebecca’s school devoted to “students of the month”—one from each
classroom. Rebecca has noticed it, because Chad
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because you have to be respectful and good and nice,” she said.
“But you’re good and respectful and nice,” I said.
“Yeah,” Rebecca said grimly, “but Miss Pippert has to SEE you doing it.”
There is a sniper running around shooting people, including a 13-year-old boy shot about two miles from here as he was walking into school. So far, eight people dead and two wounded, including a woman killed last night. Rebecca’s class cannot play outside at recess, and everyone is on edge. As usual, I didn’t think it was worth much worrying at first—until the boy was shot near here. Since then the stress level has been racheting up, and—as usual—depression is right behind. My body aches, I have a lump in my throat, my eczema is flaring up, I can’t concentrate on anything requiring sustained mental effort, I feel constant anxiety, I have headaches. I am stress-sick. There is nothing I can do, nothing most of us can do, except wait for it to happen again (likely) and wait for the police to catch him. The guy can’t be everywhere at once, and yet everyone acts as if he is lurking in the bushes right outside the door. Irrational, but that’s what humans do.
If he keeps it up long enough, eventually everyone will incorporate this, too, into their lives—just as we manage not to think about the potential for sudden death while navigating the Beltway at rush hour. People have gotten used to a lot worse than this. It’s just another thin layer of dread on top of the ones we carry around with us already: random crime, accidents, cancer, terrorism.
I went out shopping alone, to try to get some relief. I was sitting in a
Starbucks reading the NYT magazine when I came across a story about an
earthquake in a backwards, rural area of China
I read this, and got to the words “14 days” and felt my face and neck get hot. “Ah!” I said involuntarily, and pushed the magazine away from me like it had plague on it, and sat there trying not to cry. Then I did my grocery shopping, feeling an urge to bolt from the store, to run away from what I’d just read, to—where? Some planet where there is no random suffering?
If I can hardly bear to read it, how is it possible to endure this? If that were me and my daughter, I would stop breathing. I would not be able to live. This mother lived, though. She told the story, she said, because she wanted it recorded, and after this time she would not speak of it again. I understand that. She will carry that story with her like a stone under her tongue.
People survive this, and worse, for the same reason some people live and grow old in wealth and happiness—which is to say, for no particular reason.
So, if there is a God, what is he thinking?
And, whether or not there is a God, what am I supposed to do? Give me something to do.
For this reason—for the stupid, muddled human reason that doing something, anything, seems preferable to not doing anything—David and I loaded up the van yesterday with baby stuff we no longer use (a car seat, the Exersaucer, a diaper pail, a child’s seat, toys, clothes, dishes) and took the load to an apartment complex I’d learned about where a bunch of recent immigrants from Central America live. They are the people you see pushing mops at the food court at the mall, or hauling mulch onto the traffic island at McDonald’s, and I’d often wondered where they went home to. This was it—a barren but neat complex of buildings that might have been designed by a prison architect: two long rows of two-story buildings, punctuated at regular intervals by one door, one window per apartment. Gray walls, no paint, a parking lot full of beaten up but serviceable cars and trucks. “These people have nothing,” said the woman I had talked to about this place, and I saw what she meant. A few people came out on the balcony of the second-floor apartments, curious about the unfamiliar minivan, but the two people I spoke to obviously did not know much English. We unloaded our stuff at the rental office, with the help of an older woman with dyed blonde hair who was manning the phone there. I put the Exersaucer down next to her desk, and patted it once, thinking of the hours my babies had spent there, absurdly reluctant to see it go.
“Isn’t it stupid, the way you get a sentimental attachment to things you no longer have any use for?” I said to the woman.
“Yes,” she said, succinctly.
And Life Goes On….. 09.05.2002
An afternoon around here:
School gets out at 2, and the walkers are the last to be freed. Rebecca comes trudging down the hall looking for me, and when she sees me her face lights up. She always gives me an enthusiastic hug. “Hello, Pumpkin,” I say. “Was it a good day?” And so we start home, me prospecting for details of my child’s life, Rebecca doing a running commentary on everything we see. She likes to explain things. “Mom, why are those dogs barking?” “Oh, that’s just what dogs do. They have their territory and they think we’re on it.”
Pause, while Rebecca digests this not-very-satisfactory answer. Then she comes up with her own. “Well, I think they’re barking at the cat” (an old neighbor of the dogs who is squeezing under a fence out of the dogs’ line of vision). “Okay, sweetie,” I say. I’ve learned there’s no point in engaging with her on subjects like these. She’ll ask me questions and four times out of five she doesn’t find my answers acceptable or interesting, so she just makes up her own.
So we get home, and then we get into the Daily Rant. This is Rebecca venting all the meanness she’s had to store up during the school day. She does this by tormenting Suzanne—picking her up and trying to put her various places, as if Suzanne were a large doll. But Suzanne isn’t really the target; Suzanne is just a useful way of picking a fight with me. I let them fight it out for a while, since Suzanne is good at defending herself, but after the fourth or fifth time Suzanne comes into the kitchen wailing and obviously distraught, I warn Rebecca sternly. Then she says, “So?” in this extremely uppity way she has developed lately, and I send her to her room, and we’re off to the races. Wails, screams, tears, threats, kicks, ultimatums…followed finally by sniffles and, finally, a small voice says, “Mom, I need somebody to cheer me up.”
Obviously what I should do here is just remove Suzanne as a provocation and a tool—go off and do something fun with her—but there’s dinner to fix, and unless I keep Suzanne occupied for every minute, sooner or later she will go back to the living room and onto Rebecca’s radar screen. It doesn’t help that lately Rebecca has been developing an Attitude. I'll say, "Rebecca, if you don't stop torturing your sister there will be no TV for the rest of the day." "So?" she says. "I don't care." This in a very screw-you tone of voice. So things escalate, and eventually I send her to her room and…here we go again: more wails and screams and protestations of utter despair.
That’s bad enough, but lately Suzanne has developed this really disconcerting habit: while I'm in the middle of something—a phone conversation, the crossword puzzle, cooking dinner—she will walk in the room and suddenly scream "BAH!" loud enough to be heard down the block. Some days they both get going at once. Rebecca's noise I am somewhat used to (to the extent one can ever be used to living with a human air raid siren) but the randomness of Suzanne's outbursts is really more than any human being should be asked to bear. My eczema is breaking out and I am starting to develop an eyelid twitch. The afternoons seem very long these days.
And War Came 10.30.2001
These times feel like the end of the world to me. We are
getting involved in a war that may last the rest of our lives, in some form or
the other, and the penalty for dissent—for daring to suggest that U.S. Afghanistan Afghanistan
We’re flying the flag out front, because I do love my country. I wanted to fly it upside down, as a symbol of distress, but David vetoed this idea; he said it would be interpreted as simply a mark of disrespect and would get our house vandalized. He’s probably right.
Nine Eleven 09.23.2001
Even now, almost two weeks later, I go to bed at night trying to unspool the movie reel in my head, trying to make it so that the plane is not there. That impossible image—a commercial jet flying so low, right into that huge tower! It does not compute. I’ve had dreams like that, of being in a 747 flying under bridges, of having to watch a plane crash. This was like that, and so that makes it all the harder to believe. It’s like a nightmare that has become so awful that your mind says, “Enough. Time to wake up now.” My mind won’t accept that there is no way to somehow reverse the reel, to make it so that it does not happen. I want to think that this is one possibility in an unbearable universe, and that having been shown that it could happen, we can now make sure that it doesn’t.
No, my logical mind says, it’s real.
And so my brain flips over into denial. I’m so numb that
the other day I heard someone on the radio say “—in these trying times” and I
thought, What trying times? –Oh. I hold Suzanne and I think, not here. Nothing
could ever happen to her, or to Rebecca, or David, or anybody I love. We’re
Americans! We live in Maryland Kabul Somalia
We’re going to war, but nobody knows for sure who the
enemy is, or where he is, or how many of them there are, or what plans they
might have or what weapons. Other than that, we’re the baddest thing on the
planet, and we plan to squash our enemy like a bug. People compare this to
Pearl Harbor, but at Pearl Harbor we knew the Japanese did it; we even knew
where to find Japan
There is so much good about this country, and so much
bad. There are the hundreds of skilled workmen who saw the towers fall and just
got in their trucks and drove to New
I keep thinking about the finale to “Candide,” and the words: “We’re neither pure nor wise nor good/We’ll do the best we know/We’ll build our house and chop our wood/And make our garden grow.” I do not know if plan that constitutes sanity or the worst kind of denial. I do not know.
Rebecca: “I saw a big building fall down!”
This is the only world Suzanne will ever know.
Childhood Moments Part III 08.07. 2001
Rebecca says to me, “Mom, I need some paper.” “What for?” “To do my homework.” So I give her a bunch of my printer paper, and she sits down at her desk and gets busy scribbling with a ball point pen. After awhile she comes to me and hands me something. “What’s this, sweetie?” I say. “It’s a letter.” “Can you read it to me?” Here is what she wrote (I wrote it down immediately afterward:
“Dear Mom. I love you so much. I love you as long as the grass. Your arms are so wide open, and your tears start to dry. Love, Rebecca.”
I walk into the kitchen. Suzanne is in her baby swing and I lean over to say hello, and on my deathbed I will remember her sweet, small round face cupped in my hands, looking up at me with delight.
They All Come Out of the Womb Different, Don’t They? 04.26.2001
Suzanne is Miss Bright Eyes, a smiley baby who is utterly and effortlessly charming. When she fusses, it is with a specific reason in mind: change a diaper, feed her, or just pick her up, and she is all smiles and charm again. When I walk into the room, she cranes her neck to see where I am, and gives me a blinding grin—but, still, she seems less fixated on me than Rebecca was, and is equally generous with her affections when David or Rebecca are around. I think she’s going to have curly hair, judging from the soft fuzz that’s growing on her head now, and she is going to be fairer-skinned than Rebecca is. Somehow, to me, she looks more like a Thompson than Rebecca did—and the full toothless grin she has looks like pictures of me when I was about eight or nine months old. Maybe all babies’ toothless grins look the same, maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I think I see a resemblance. She is a cuddly baby, folding herself into the folds of whoever is carrying her, and so far her temperament seems very easy going: I can put her to bed at night while she’s wide awake but quiet, kiss her and walk out the door, and she will either cry very briefly or not at all. At the same point with Rebecca, we were putting her into the crib asleep, handling her like she was plutonium, hoping that we didn’t pop an ankle joint or sneeze before we crept out of her room—because if we did, it was all over.
Number Two Arrives 01.26. 2001
Suzanne has slid into our lives as easily as a tongue in groove; it’s as if she’s always been here. Rebecca’s birth was a seismic upheaval; Suzanne’s was serene.
I feel much, much less anxious with Suzanne than I did with Rebecca, but that is not to say things have been easy. I have had all the postpartum symptoms I had with Rebecca—it’s just that with Rebecca, there registered a 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, and with Suzanne they’ve measured, at most, a four. Even so, I am taking a lot of meds: Paxil and Ativan, plus medicine for hypertension (my blood pressure has soared since delivery), plus antibiotics for a slight inflammation around the site of the incision. Breastfeeding has gone much better than it did with Rebecca, but even so I doubt I’ll be able to keep it up for too much longer; Suzanne is outgrowing my milk supply, and—as with Rebecca—the decision to cut out night nursing (because sleep deprivation literally drives me insane) has basically spelled the premature end of nursing. I can keep her satisfied from about 6 a.m. to noon, and from then on it’s only a partial solution at best. And after 7 p.m., she’s entirely on the bottle. This time around, though, I am finding it easier to reconcile myself to this eventuality.
I would give almost anything to be able to nurse easily, but breast milk is not worth my sanity. That was a calculation that I found unbearably hard to make with Rebecca; somehow, this time, it’s easier. Not easy, but easier.
Election Night 11.08.2000
It was a wild election night. CBS declared Florida Florida Florida Maryland Florida Palm Beach County Florida
Number Two Is On Her Way 09.27. 2000
I am very pregnant, with some but not all of the usual pregnancy complaints. Heartburn, mainly, and finding a comfortable position in which to sleep. But overall, this pregnancy—okay, let’s face it, I’ve named her already: Suzanne—though David refuses to talk about names for some reason—anyway, Suzanne has been much easier on me than Rebecca was, and let’s hope that is an omen for the future. Second children are supposed to be easier, right? (Okay, I wasn’t.)
Mentally, I am becalmed—absent-minded, and not inclined to read anything more intellectually stimulating than, say, People Magazine. Life has slowed down and this time—unlike last time—I am inclined to let it. When I was pregnant with Rebecca by this time I felt like I was swimming in molasses; accomplishing the tiniest thing each day took the utmost effort. This time I have (almost) given up already; I am entering my Late Bovine Period, and it’s okay. There are worse things than being a cow, and that’s being a cow with a magazine deadline.
Childhood Moments Part II 05.18. 2000
Rebecca (coming up to me while I’m typing at my computer): Mom, can you play wif me?
Me: (very busy, trying to check e-mail): No can do, sweetie.
Rebecca: Then we have to BUY some can-do!
Childhood Moments Part III 07.01.2000
Rebecca: Grandma, look at my shoes!
Grandma: They’re pretty, honey, but don’t you have them on the wrong feet?
Rebecca (looking down, just to doublecheck): No, these are my feet.
Childhood Moments Part I 04.01.2000
Me, groggy, early in the morning. Rebecca, equally groggy, comes into the bathroom wearing a soggy pull-up, with her hand stuck down the back.
Me: Rebecca, take your hand out of your pants, please.
Rebecca: I can’t, Mom. It’s stuck!
Me (playing along): Okay, let’s get it out. (pulls out her hand, with appropriate sound effects)
Rebecca (wicked gleam in her eye): Oh, look! It’s going back in again!
And, Once Again, Up from the Hole 02.01.1999
Things are some better. I finally called Michael Diamond and got him to prescribe some anti-anxiety pills, and though they make me fuzzy-headed, they do allow me to function. I spent last Wednesday in bed, most of the day. My body hurt. My brain hurt. Everything hurt. And still, nothing silences the little voice in my head: get up. Quit malingering.
If the illness doesn’t kill you, the shame of having it will.
Why is this always such a bad time of year? It is next to impossible to start a task. My brain is a creaky engine that works in fits and starts, so that somehow, by the end of the day, interviews are done and calls are made and words appear on paper—but the process is excruciating. It’s like I have to consult the manual on how to breathe; nothing is automatic. I am aware of the fact that my life is going well, that I have no major worries, that there are many reasons to be happy—but always I feel as if I have a secret sorrow, an old loss that nobody knows about. I forget it for a moment, and then—wham! it’s back to remind me. Oh, that, I think. But what is “that”? I can’t remember.
Ordinary Life, Part II 01.12.1999
Yesterday Rebecca and I came home from playgroup and she wanted to watch the Teletubbies tape. I put it on for her, thinking I’d get her to go down for a nap momentarily, but she got more and more excited by the tape. “Dance, Mom!” she kept imploring me, and she’d drag me back into the living room to prance around with her. So finally, why I don’t know, I got two metal bowls out of the kitchen cabinet, one big one for me and a smaller one for her, and we put them on our heads and marched around the sofa in time to the music. The look on her face when I put the bowl on my head was pure joy and light: Why didn’t I think of that?!?
Ordinary Life Part I 04.27.1998
These are sweet days, the best days of my life. My little girl is happy and healthy (mostly, except when her nose runs), I love my husband, I love our life…and why is it so hard to write about happiness without sounding insipid? The days are made up of quiet pleasures. We take Rebecca to a country fair with Jean and Carl and Katie, where Katie is mesmerized by the ducks at the petting zoo and Rebecca pets the baby calf. Where Carl and David are both balancing their little girls on their shoulders, standing in a grassy meadow after lunch, talking to each other several yards away from us and I say to Jean, “Wish I’d brought my camera,” and realize, as I glance at her, that she was thinking the same thing.
Or we work in the back yard, Rebecca pouring water from one bowl into another on the deck while David mulches the azaleas and I pull weeds from the ivy bed. Our neighbors, Penny and Joe, come over to the fence to tell us that they are expecting; her baby is due around Thanksgiving, near Rebecca’s second birthday. It’s a cool April day, just warm enough in the sun, and the breeze is playing music among the leaves. I’ve bought Rebecca a sliding board (courtesy of grandma) and she now has that and a sandbox, so the back yard is Nirvana to her. She goes up the sliding board ladder over and over, grunting with the exertion, her little legs barely able to navigate the last step at the top—then stands triumphant at the top, waving to Marie next door, who doesn’t see her. Look at me! Every day, there is dawning comprehension; her speech gets clearer and the words more specific and appropriate. She is in love with her mom and dad, running to us across the yard with her arms held out stiffly behind her, like David does when he imitates an airplane…so pleased with herself, hurling herself into my arms and just as quickly wanting down again. Now what? That’s her motto. Pour sand from one bucket into another. Now what? Check out Kelly, the dog behind the fence next door. Now what? Find Dad, to see what he’s doing. Now what?
Drugs. Again. 07.20. 1997
Back on the meds--Wellbutrin this time. No time yet to see if it works.
My mind’s on fire. I walk around, I look more or less normal, I talk, I play with Rebecca, but the reality is that at this point a hospital stay is starting to look attractive. It gets worse as the day goes on. There is no pleasure anywhere in the world. I am too sad for tears.
Reality bites 07.17.1997
Last night Rebecca was up for several hours. I don’t know if it’s teething or the heat or an ear infection or all three, but it took two and a half hours to get her back to sleep. David finally resorted to the “crying it out” tactic, and that finally worked. It’s been hellishly hot in her room, so that was part of it. I put a tiny fan on the end of her crib, but it turns out she doesn’t like it; David said she kept turning around to look at it and making a face. In any event, I tried for 15 minutes or so to get her back to sleep--not very long--and when she was restless and fussy and sweaty, and I couldn’t get comfortable in the rocker, I just snapped. I kicked her door open and walked into our bedroom and handed her over. Then went downstairs to the guest bedroom, pulled a pillow over my head to block the noise, and thought about how nice it would be to never wake up again.
David just left with Rebecca to go over to Arthur’s for dinner. I watched them drive away and thought, What if I never see them again?
I have to get some help. This has to stop. I can’t do anything-- I can’t write, I can’t be a wife and mother, I can’t feel joy, I can’t be myself--I can’t even fucking TYPE--until I get rid of this slimy thing. This ugly slimy thing.
It’s coming. Checklist:
--Irritable with David, especially in the mornings. Sometimes extreme, resembling those anger attacks I used to have years ago. Yesterday morning I broke a coffee cup, and it took me half an hour to calm down.
--Persistent feelings of sadness and self-doubt. Paralyzing.
--Fears about my health (I got incredibly worked up over a routine mammogram) and Rebecca’s safety.
--Days when I cry for reasons I can’t explain
--Anxiety (taking Klonopin for, but that’s a short-term solution)
--Sleep disturbances. I never sleep through the night, regardless of whether Rebecca gets me up. Though this has been going on for so long I don’t know if it counts anymore.
I’ve been trying to do without meds, because I wanted to think I had this problem under control. But I feel myself sliding.
And keeps on dawning… 04.15.1997
The pleasure of work. The smell of fresh laundry. Folding it, making into neat, clean piles what had been a soggy pile of dirty clothes smelling of spit-up. Bathing my baby, pouring warm water over her sudsy head, seeing her squint her eyes tightly shut, holding her wet and naked against my body to warm her, the smell of her when she’s dried off and powdered and in a clean pair of jams for bed. Cooking--peeling carrots, grating orange peel, chopping basil--seeing a meal come together out of whatever had been in the refrigerator. Planting pansies in the urns at the front door. Even scutwork, like vaccuuming, scrubbing the toilets--when I’m done, the gleam of a clean bathroom, the sense of order restored.
And time: lying on the floor next to Rebecca, lost in each other, making nonsense sounds, seeing her work on new skills, like rolling over or discovering her toes. She turns toward my voice, reaches for my face; her hands explore my mouth, my hair. When I put my face up to hers, she tries to bite my nose. Little baby pants the whole time--hah!....hah!--and squeals of delight. She lies on the floor, amusing herself, and then I come to her. When she sees me; her whole body goes rigid with anticipation--mouth a perfect O, arms and legs outstretched, waving: pick me up! Come play!
This is life as I remember from my own childhood. Home had a heart; it was a refuge. On good days, the floors were polished, the rugs vaccuumed, there were nasturtiums in a cobalt blue bowl in the center of the kitchen table; there was the smell of pork chops frying, and the dappled square cast on the kitchen floor by the late-afternoon sun through the screened back door. The days had a rhythm. The climax was my dad’s arrival home from work. We ran, screaming, out to his blue Corvette, climbed on the hood and rode down the driveway, yelling for no reason in particular. Uncomplicated joy.
Reality begins to dawn 01.27.1997
I need help, and yet I don’t want to ask for it. Partly, it’s my own defensiveness--a feeling that help isn’t there to be had, so there’s no use even asking. And partly it’s from the outside: in a society which sees motherhood as a lifestyle choice, new mothers are just expected to do it alone. I keep seeing women with babies in stores now, and some of those babies are very small, and I think: how can they do that? Aren’t they as dazed and exhausted as I was?
I saw a guy in Baby Superstore several weeks ago with a tiny infant. He was with a woman who was walking slowly and who still looked slightly pregnant. I said, “That’s a very new one,” and he said, “Two days old.” She should have been home in bed. What a nutty society this is.
What’s also shocking is how devalued I feel, how lacking in self-confidence--not just in mothering but in other aspects of my life as well. Instead of getting up in the morning and putting stockings on for work, I put on a pair of ratty jeans that make me look even more overweight than I am (I am too demoralized and too pressed for time to go shopping for a pair that look better), and I spent a large part of every day dealing with urine, shit and vomit. Is it any wonder I don’t think of what I do as important anymore?
Postpartum depression 12.15.1996
In those first two weeks, overwhelmed by a kind of terror I’d never felt before, I would collapse in bed at strange hours--day and night began to blur into one long twilight--and I found myself relying on a trick my mother had taught me in childhood when I was afraid of the dark. “Hold our your hand beside your pillow.” she told me, “and your guardian angel will hold it while you go to sleep.” I remember vividly feeling the soft brush of an unseen hand against my own, my palm warm and tingling as I drifted off to sleep. I hadn’t thought of that more than twice in 30 years, I suppose, and yet I found myself doing it, as needy as a four-year-old again. “Help,” I said, over and over--addressing myself to the cosmos. Over and over, until I fell asleep.
Now that I think about it, it seems that the entire
first two weeks of Rebecca’s life, it was always 4:30 p.m. on one long
afternoon of a nuclear winter. I felt intense dread, and an itchy anxiety
vividly reminiscent of the old days of serious depression, the winter of
1990--a harbinger of horrors to come. And then ,the second week, David had to
go to Boston
Even now, just writing these words, I feel residual tears--just at the memory of how terrified I was. For no reason.
Rebecca is born 11.22.1996
…A lot of bustle. I closed my eyes against the nausea and the cold, and then David came in, sitting just to my left. I felt no pain during the surgery, only some intense tugging sensations. I couldn’t see anything. There was no sound except for the doctors’ mutterings to each other. “Placenta is posterior,” I heard Bulger say; David made some remark to the anesthesiologist. And then: a tiny gasp. Rebecca.
What does a baby think when she’s being born? Is this memory somewhere buried in the coils of the brain? It must be like dying--to leave one state of being behind for a new one, unimaginable, horrifying and new. I wouldn’t be surprised if babies feared birth the way we fear death. Why wouldn’t they? How could they know what lies ahead?
Then, a moment later, a real baby cry--not a loud wail, but a kind of agonized breath, uttered once, and then quiet again. The nurses had taken her away and were suctioning her nose and mouth, cleaning her up. Within a few moments they had handed her to David, and I saw her for the first time: dark hair, fat round cheeks, eyes just slightly upturned at the outer corners. Clearly, David’s child. I couldn’t hold her, but I think I touched her cheek as David held her close in his arms. She was quiet, eyes shut.
A few minutes later--how long I’m not sure--they were done sewing me up and took me into the recovery room, where I held her for the first time. I put her to my breast, and I think she sucked briefly. Both of us were exhausted.
I never could have imagined this. My old life is gone--blown away more completely than if a bomb had destroyed my home and my workplace and everything I own. I am left with my husband and this child. Everything else is unreal. I am a new person, as raw to this world as if my skin had been peeled away.