Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning how to dress, or, how dogs are better than babies.

I am trying to remember when, if ever, I possessed a sense of style. And was it any good? How did I develop this long-forgotten style? Did I have time to notice anything beyond whether an item of clothing had a stain on it?

It is nearly impossible to dress and end up looking "put together" when there is a one-year-old tugging at your legs. Dogs allow you to dress yourself.

Forget ironing, unless it's a quick pass over on the front, and only the front, of a blouse. Forget accessories, unless it's a five-year-old wrinkled scarf that has magically surfaced at the top of your dresser. Forget mascara all together.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Small Accomplishments

It is hard to know what to reflect on lately. I am working a part time job at the university, and I’m working on a book project for a client. So far this has mostly involved reading background material, interviews, transcribing interviews, doing writing exercises with the client to get images, memories, reflection in her own words, and a lot of sleep-thinking about how the book will be organized, what topics I need to explore more deeply with the client, and how to honor her story, how to write it authentically, how to write in first person as if I am her. Sleep-thinking is so important to my writing process. 

I’m also being a mom.

That means laundry. A lot of laundry. Mine. Chris's. Desmond's. And bath towels and bed sheets and kitchen towels. Endless.

Groceries. How did I become a person who goes to the grocery store regularly? I’ve always hated the grocery store. Now I look forward to it just a little bit, because when I have Desmond in tow, he gets excited about the helium balloon that gets tied to the shopping cart. There is a small bit of magic that I feel, a little jolt in my heart, when I see him taking in the world, absorbing the existence of a helium balloon, a wonder to behold.

Playtime. Watching Desmond take apart Legos, try to walk, climb into the Radio Flyer and then struggle to figure out how to climb out. Reading books to him at night. 

Sometimes being a mother feels so easy and so natural that I feel stunned, like there is a stranger inside of my skin. I feel as if the real me, the person I used to know myself to be, has drifted away and is floating above watching the stranger who has entered my body. The real me is trying to figure out how to get back in that body. Most of the time I just feel like I'm two selves now instead of one. 

It has been just over a year. Ever so slowly, I am working to come back together as a unified person – someone who can do these things above, still find a way to work out (I really want to do another triathlon or try a half-marathon), still find the time and energy to write -- not just for a client, but to write fiction and revise it and submit it, and still have some semblance of a social life -- which means being able to listen to my friends when they are talking, to really listen; that is so hard right now. And it means being able to have fun in the company of others, maybe throwing a small dinner party, or going to a movie or to see a band play. The greatest challenges thus far, what I have yet to even attempt, are working out and writing. I’m inching toward them. Turtle that I am. 

Most of the time I still don’t feel capable of writing a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent paragraph that will be affecting and meaningful. I am very in the moment these days. A body swimming but not really able to focus on what's in the distance when I come up for air. Trying to be reflective while in the moment, those don’t go together, do they?

So I won’t reflect just now. I will just be thankful for small accomplishments, for moving through a day successfully. Most nights, we come home from work, have some time with Des, get him fed while we cheer on his eating habits, then once he is bathed and asleep we move on to cooking for ourselves, and end up doing dishes and finishing up late. Or we are too exhausted to do dishes and leave them for the morning.

But yesterday and today I worked a full day at the university. I drove home. I spent some time playing with Des before I set him down to play on his own. Tonight, he got a wooden spoon and big steel mixing bowl so he could cook while I cooked. I made dinner quickly. Set the table. Me, Chris, and Des all ate dinner together. Then we did his bath/play/book/bottle routine. After he was down, I did dishes. By 7:30 p.m. the day was done. Last night I got to watch the debate, then read a book. Tonight, here I am typing away on my keyboard. They are not the strongest words to emerge from my brain and on through my fingertips. But here they are.

Just wait a while. I might say something dangerous. Or true. Or both.

Friday, June 15, 2012


This is my son. I cannot believe how much I love him. That may seem crazy to some people -- that sense of disbelief about one's love for a child -- but it's true; I simply cannot believe the amount of love I feel for him. There's so much love that I cannot imagine how it is contained in my body. I have been caring for Desmond for 9 months now, and a lot is about to change. 

After a grueling job search, I've got a contract for a freelance project that's going to require a lot of time and concentration. That means someone else needs to be with him during the days. I'm also being considered for a part time position, and I'm trying not to jump the gun, but I think the job is mine.

I am going to miss that little face during the days. 

Friday, March 23, 2012


It's March, and I am in the full swing of job-searching. In January I could not fathom doing anything except caring for Desmond and watching him grow. But spring can make a wilty, haggard mom burst out of the ground and just stretch to the sky. I feel like a human being capable of taking on every ambition and interest I possess. So now Desmond and I will watch each other grow, is what I'm feeling.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to use cloth diapers

I committed to using cloth diapers while I was pregnant, in my head. But I was intimidated about actualizing that commitment. Would it be a hassle? Would it be gross? I wanted a clear "how to" so I'd know what to expect, what to do, etc. Here's my own version of what I was looking for. Hopefully some new mom who's considering cloth diapering will stumble across it.

SUPPLIES (These are further explained at the end, including cost considerations.)
In your diapering area
12-18 FuzziBunz cloth diaper inserts and covers (sold together)
4-6 doublers
Box/roll of diaper liners
1-2 large wet bags
15-30 cloth wipes

In your laundry area
Bac-Out Cleaner
Charlie's Soap

Months 0, 1 and 2
I used a diaper service for the first 2 months of Desmond's life and disposables for his third month  Why?

1. Cloth diaper companies will promise you can fit them onto tiny babies, and you can, technically. But with the diaper service, which provided traditional cloth diapers (that often are used as burp cloths) called "tri-folds" I could get a much better fit.

2. Using the tri-folds, I was never in danger of letting Desmond sit in his own pee. Disposables and fancy cloth diapers of today are very absorbent. Contemporary cloth diapers have micro-suede lining that sits against baby's skin and seems fairly dry after a couple of pees, so it can be easy to not realize the diaper is wet.

 3. I changed A LOT of diapers, but never had to wash with the service. We went through 50-70 in any given week (this amount decreases later on). Baby's bladder doesn't hold much at the newborn stage, so the 12-18 diapers I recommend having will only give you a day's use.

4. Using a service helped me ease into cloth diapering. If there's no service available to you, I think using disposables for these months is the way to go.

Month 3
Around 3 months of age, the cloth diapers seemed to fit. This is when I discovered that FuzziBunz had the best fit for Desmond. The FB Medium size are specified for babies who are 14-30 lbs. Desmond started wearing his at about 12 lbs. and I did not have leaking problems. Also, by this point, he needed fewer diaper changes, I was less frazzled and started being able to manage my time and responsibilities better, and Desmond was developing sleep and feeding patterns, so a schedule was emerging.

I was terrified I was getting into something that would be a hassle. But after two weeks of use I had it down and have never felt like I am adding more work to my mom-load.

Load the inserts into the diaper covers ahead of time so that when it's time for a diaper change you can grab one and snap it on. I put the diaper liners in as I diaper because I don't use a liner for each diaper. Some people may find it helpful to line each diaper ahead of time. If your child will attend daycare, you'll likely need to send the diapers ready to go. At night, right before I'm about to put him down, I'll change him and add a doubler into his diaper cover so that the diaper is more absorbent. During a change, I take the dirty diapers off and toss them into my wet bag along with the fabric wipe I used to clean him. In a nutshell, the process isn't much different from grabbing a disposable, wiping clean and then throwing away your wipe and diaper (except here you thow them into a wet bag).

These are the instructions that come along with most cloth diapers I found.
1. Pre-wash or soak in cold water. Add a capful of Bac-Out to this water.
2. Dump the entire contents of your wet bag and the wet bag itself into the water and Bac-Out.
3. After the pre-wash or soak, add Charlie's Soap and wash in hot water, rinse in cold water.

I wash every other day. If I had 24 diapers, I could probably wash every 3rd day. If you wait more than that, you probably will encounter issues with your wet bag starting to smell. 

12-18 FuzziBunz cloth diaper inserts and covers (sold together)
I have 13 and plan to purchase 3 more. Right now I need to use disposables at night. When I have 16-18, I can eliminate disposables all together. At first I thought it would be easier to use disposables at night, but I'm finding that, regardless of whether he's in cloth or disposables at night, there's no real difference in leakage or his sleep patterns. And changing diapers in the middle of the night is the same with both. You're bleary-eyed and slower no matter what.
I use both Perfect Fit, sz. Medium FuzziBunz and a few Elite One Size FuzziBunz. I tried Flips, Bum Genius 4.0 All-in-ones and FuzziBunz. I wanted to use BG b/c they were slightly cheaper and looked so much like FB in construction. The reality is that the FB fit my son with less bulk and less uncomfortable squeezing. The Flips seemed like a good way to spend less money and wash less, but once the baby gets more wiggly, the inserts (i.e. the actual piss-absorbing diaper) move around too much. And you'll have to wash the inserts no matter what, so why not just get one cover per one diaper insert (which is what you get when you purchase a FuzziBunz diaper) and wash them together?

Every baby's different, but three people highly recommended FuzziBunz to me. I still tried less expensive diapers first. If you feel like you want to try some different kinds out, it might be good to purchase one diaper of three or four different brands before you commit. I ended up selling my Flips and FuzziBunz online and got for not much less than they originally cost because they were so new and in such great shape. 

The Cost: If you buy 12 FuzziBunz, you'll spend about $180. You'll spend about $270 on 18. If I use only disposables (which I did for a couple of months), I spend $80/month. I could get them in bulk online and spend $70-75/month. But add that up and by month 4, you've already spent $280. You will be able to use your cloth diapers for the span of your child's diapering days, and if you care for them properly you'll have them for baby #2, if that's in your cards.

4-6 Doublers
What the hell are doublers? This is what I wondered. Essentially, they are smaller diaper inserts that you put in the diaper cover with a regular insert to "double up" the absorbancy for heavy/nighttime wetting.
Fuzzibunz charges about $4 for doublers, so you're looking at $16-20. 

Diaper Liners
These are super thin sheets (thinner than fabric softener sheets and softer) that you place on top of the diaper cover and next to baby's skin. When baby poops, he generally doesn't ooze outside of the liner. I can lift the liner and flush it. Occasionally, he oozes out, but it's not hard to rinse of the edges before throwing the soiled diaper into the wet bag. If your baby does have problems with rashes, liners are important. Petroleum products in diaper creams remove absorbancy from diaper covers, so the liners protect the diaper cream from getting onto the diapers. You can also find diaper creams that don't contain petroleum products.

Cost: I've been using Bumkins, spending about $8.00 for a box of 100. It took me a month and a half to use one box. So, at $80/year, this is my most constant expense with cloth diapering. I don't use a liner for every diaper. After Desmond poops, I don't use a liner for the next 3 or 4 diapers because I'm fairly sure he won't poop again that soon. So far this has mostly worked, and the occasional clean up when I was wrong hasn't been terrible.

For me, the Bum Genius sprayer/bidet thing that hooks to your toilet is more of a mess than a help. It's hard to control the water pressure, so it just sprays the water out too fast and furiously. 

1-2 large wet bags
These bags have a waterproof lining and zip closed. When you change a diaper, you put the soiled diaper in the bag and zip it. I have one large Planet Wise bag because they come in good patterns/colors. It would be nice to have two so when one is being washed the other is available, but I haven't had any problems using only one. I also only wash my bag with every other load of diapers and find that I don't have problems with odor. I feel like washing the bag every other load will help maintain the water-proof material inside the bag. I could probably even get away with washing it every third load/once a week.

Cost: These are pricier than they should be in my opinion. But you only need to buy them once. A large Planet Wise bag runs about $20 if you buy directly from their website. You can find them for less on Amazon, but watch out, because sometimes they are more on Amazon.

15-30 cloth wipes
Like the diapers, disposable wipes cost more money over a relatively short span of time. You're already washing diapers if you use cloth, so why not use cloth wipes and toss them in your wet bag to wash with the diapers as you go? I do keep disposable wipes in my diaper bag and to use for poopy diapers, but other than that, I have a wipe warmer where I keep fabric wipes moistened with water. Water is all the baby needs, and Desmond has never had a diaper rash, which is possibly because of less chemicals on his skin. His only rashes seem to be a result of skin chafing.

Cost: A set of 12 BumGenius will cost about $12 on Again, if you add up what you'd spend over a few months on wipes, using disposables, you'll see you get your money back pretty quickly.

Some people recommend cutting up flannel receiving blankets. I did this because at first I was afraid my 28 cloth wipes would not be enough. In the end, the homemade ones are less soft and the edges fray. I think the $20 bucks was worthwhile, as they're holding up nicely.

Bac-Out Cleaner
People's advice on how they use this in the cleaning process varies slightly, but at the end of the day it's the same: pre-treat your dirty diapers with Bac-Out to remove stains and odor. This product has enzymes that eat away bacteria and thus, odor.

Cost: $8.00 for 32 oz. I use one capful per load, less than one oz for sure. I think a bottle will last for appx. 3 months. If you buy directly from their website it's cheaper than from other sites and stores, and they reduce the price if you buy in bulk.

Charlie's Soap
I did a lot of internet searching and tried a few types of laundry detergent, including Seventh Generation and an herbal detergent. People kept recommending Charlie's. I was hesitant at first, but am convinced it's all I want to use on all of my laundry. The gloopy stuff that thickens detergent is something used in glue. It creates residue in your machine and on your clothes over time (you may have noticed your towels stiffen after a while). There's none of the gloop in Charlie's (this is noticeable). For a small load (i.e. 12-18 diapers), you need only 3 tsp./1 tbsp. of soap. For a large load, you need only 6 tsp./2 tbsp (1oz.).

Cost: Appx. $28 for 128 oz. bottle, which is 128 large loads of laundry. If you are only using this for diapers, you'll wash small loads appx. 3 times/week. This comes out to 144 times/year - but remember, these are small loads, not large loads. That is to say, one 128 oz. bottle will last you over a year if you are paying attention to how much soap you use per load.

If you use 18 diapers, 6 doublers, 2 wet bags and 30 cloth wipes, you're looking at about $350. Throw in the Charlie's soap, and you're up to $380. Add in a year's supply of liners, and you're up to $460. That sounds crazy, right? But if you use disposables, at $70/month, you'll spend $840 in 1 year for the diapers alone. You'll also spend a significant amount of money on disposable wipes. So the first year, you save half the money. The second year you're spending pretty much nothing on diapering. With a second child, you're spending nothing for both years of diapering.

Do you spend more in water bills? Probably. But you do a lot of laundry having a baby regardless of whether you use cloth diapers. And honestly, for a while I just combined my diaper loads with baby clothes because the clothes were/are full of piss, spit up, drool and poop leaks anyway.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Know that Beatles song, "I'm so Tired"?

On Saturday night, as I was driving to pick up a pizza, I thought to myself, "I have never felt more tired, old, and haggard in my life." And I felt so heavy with that exhaustion. I thought, "I don't know if I'm cut out to be a parent around the clock," as if there's a choice.

The heaviness lifted.

But then Tuesday rolled around. Desmond has had a cold for several nights and keeps waking up through the night because his nose is stuffed. When I got him back down in the crib at 5:40 a.m. on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I was desperate for him to stay asleep so that I could catch up on sleep. Of course, he woke up forty minutes later. I almost cried, literally almost cried. Being tired will make you act like a baby I guess.

Thank goodness for last night when he went down at 7:15 pm and did not get up until 5:30 am. It's good to feel rested.

Friday, January 27, 2012

All the world, anew

The whole wide world is new to Desmond. Watching him discover it one finger or dog bark or leaf-patterned, cotton curtain at a time is the most charming and profound experience; I get to discover the world all over again with him and because of him. When you don't have a baby, you think, "Oh, infants are so boring. They just lay around looking wormy. They don't do anything." That's what I thought.

Babies are scientists, investigators, explorers, the wisest observers. Their bodies are new and fascinating territory, tiny tongues rolling around the roofs of mouths and over the edges of gum lines, penises spouting out pee (Desmond definitely now knows something's down there.), fingers attached to palms--little grabbing mechanisms. Lately he likes to put his hand in my mouth, grip my teeth and smile when I gently bite and tug at the fingers. Or else he stares at his hands, curiously turning them in front of his eyes and seeming to make a mental recording of each curve and line. It must be no coincidence that the hand is such an early discovery but remains, throughout life, one of the most challenging parts of the body to accurately draw, as if the subtle reminder that in the world there is always some pleasure left to discover, at any age, is physically embedded in our bodies.

Desmond's very laughter is new to him--both discovering what surprises cause it to occur and the millisecond during which the sound of it stuns him. The first time we heard him laugh it was at a stuffed bee that I was zooming over his head and toward his face. Now he laughs at a stuffed lion (Why? Why? What is it about that lion and not another toy lion that brings such a huge, wide grin to his face before giggles spill out of his belly and mouth?). He laughs when I pretend to eat his fingers and toes and tummy, and he laughs when he gets swooped, starting low, between my legs and then moving upward until he's over my head.

These are the discoveries I am making about Desmond: His hands are perfectly elegant and substantial at once. Little silver-dollar-sized starfish or a painter's palette with five paintbrushes. His eyes are dark and light at once, sparkling like God cut out two perfect circles of a starlit night sky and used them for Desmond's eyes. The humming moans he makes as he's trying to fall asleep, the laborious grunts that come out as he's reaching for a toy, and his startling and startled laughter all sound like chimes being jostled in the wind. Just listen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How does your garden grow?

Everyday is not a yoga pants day anymore. In fact, "real clothes" days are starting to outnumber yoga pants days, so that now, if I stay in pajamas for a long time, like I am this morning, it feels like a small treat instead of a massive failure. Everything is getting easier, or rather, I feel more competent. And each day I am more in love with this little boy who is my baby. Mine! That seems unreal, still. I think all the time, as if I'm trying to convince myself it's true, "I have a child." And then, "I have a child?" Baffling.

I felt guilty all day yesterday for writing in my last post that I loved him "more" while he played in his crib in the morning than I had loved him the previous night when we had had a hard time getting him to sleep. It just isn't true. It's possible I loved him "more" when he was inconsolable because I simply felt so sad and desperate on his behalf and mine and Chris's all at once.

After my mom died, I had this vision for what my life should be. It just became sharp in a matter of seconds, like a Polaroid, and I didn't even know I'd needed or wanted a vision. But the picture guided me at that time, and I return to it now and then, check in to make sure it's still what I want and to take measure of how I'm doing. In the picture, I'm outside working in a garden that is thriving. The sun is shining down, and the color of the sky and the grass are crisp. My hands are blackish-brown, covered with moist soil. A corner of my house is exposed, a corner with an open window. If you look very carefully, you can see through the window that there is a desk inside with papers all over it and a tiny computer, and it's where I write. The only part of this picture that has been blurry at times, like the part of the Polaroid that takes longest to come into focus, is whether there's a child in the garden. Occasionally, I have seen, clearly, a little kid sitting on the ground lifting soil to its mouth while the sun shines on both of us. Other times, I've seen no kid at all. So I suppose it's the first vision after all, the one with a child, that is meant to be.

I still have no garden, but I swear I am inching toward one. For my birthday, Chris gave me a wonderful book to help me brainstorm about landscaping and gardening our yard. He also made a steel planter box filled with little containers of herbs and hung the box outside of our kitchen window. I planted the herbs the same day. Then yesterday, I had this moment in the sun. I had just put Desmond down for his nap, and I went outside to water the herbs. I was watching the water mist in the air and land on all the different colored and textured leaves and my picture flashed before me. I thought, "Oh, look at you. This is sort of it, isn't it? You lucky girl. You're gardening. You're writing. You have this little house and this little baby and this husband who makes things with his hands, things that are necessary and masculine and feminine and beautiful all at once."

Earlier in the morning I'd been beating myself up because a web journal that I respect, and one whose editor has invited me to submit new work twice now (upon rejecting what I'd already submitted), had done a call for submissions from Indian authors. The deadline was January 15, and I could not muster the energy to work on my fiction or to tweak a nonfiction piece I have. I was angry at myself, thinking, "Well, there's a chance you blew off," as if I've been doing nothing else. Then I sat down and forced myself to write yesterday's blog entry, a kind of punishment.

A little while later, I was outside in the sun and had that moment, that revelation. So I decided, I will write a little something everyday. And if that something is a blog entry, that's what it will be, until eventually I am back to working on fiction and essays and back to submitting and back to the business of trying to be a writer. But along the way, I'm going to have gratitude for what my life is in the moment.

I never see my own face when I look down at Desmond's face. I usually see Chris's face. But often, while I'm nursing Desmond, and he's decided he's had enough, he puffs out his cheeks and purses his lips (think of a Cabbage Patch doll), and for some reason, the expression reminds me so much of a face my mom made often after her stroke. She'd be nodding approval at you for whatever you'd just done or just understood. and looking completely satisfied. I also see her face in his when I'm rocking him, and he finally succumbs to sleep. His eyes shut without resistance, peace overtakes him, and he looks exactly like my mom. The expression says, "Here I am with you, and I'm proud." I am not rich by most standards, but when I see the picture of me in my own lush garden and the image of my mother's face in Desmond's, I have to remember I'm some kind of quiet millionairess.                               

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A whole lot of work

Every morning, when I see the bottom of my coffee cup I get angry inside. You'd never know looking at me that I feel volcanic over this last sip of coffee, but there is definitely a fiery, eruptive rumbling present within. Hot coffee feels like one of the few relaxing comforts in the day, no matter what other stress or frustration is occurring simultaneously. I used to work in an office where, every day around 2 p.m., someone would stop whatever she was doing to make a pot of coffee. Then we all stopped to fix a cup, and the ritual and comfort of that afternoon coffee made everyone seem slightly drunk. I wish I could drink coffee all day long without disturbing Desmond's sleep pattern.

I've decided that it is criminal that women are expected to return to work six weeks after giving birth. Criminal and the antithesis of humane, moral treatment of children, women and families as a whole. A woman I've been working with on a freelance editing project told me that her first child was born in the Netherlands, where a nurse came everyday for a month to help her, and that in Germany, where she is from, women get ten months maternity leave with 2/3 of their salary paid. Nothing about those benefits seems like a luxury. They just seems fair and sane compared to the insanity of going back to a job in six weeks as if nothing has drastically changed in your life.

Yesterday I checked in on my neighbor. She is two weeks into being a mom. At one point, she looked at me, her eyes tired and slightly shell shocked, and said, "It's a lot of work." And I could tell there was so much going on that she didn't know where to begin explaining. I just nodded and understood in a way I never could have before.

I was panicked and distressed at the time, but now I am grateful I could not find a full time job before I gave birth, even if every penny of Chris's salary gets swallowed up by bills. This too shall pass. In the meantime, I get to adjust to being a parent, learn how to manage my time so that I can be a productive individual and a mom too (and there's quite a learning curve), and most of all, enjoy this little person we created. It is a lot of work, and it is surreal.

This morning I listened to him cooing and sort of grumbling in his crib for fifteen minutes. The grumblings got louder and I went into his room expecting him to be near tears. But he was just looking at the giraffes and parrots and other animals on his blanket and making boy noises. So I put away his laundry, fixed my coffee and did a few other chores. He played with toys and talked to the animals in his crib for over thirty minutes, which made me love him more than I did last night when, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs, he fought his sleepiness while Chris and I, hungry and exhausted tried to console him.

I look at job postings every single day during his first nap. I have yet to find a single job that seems more necessary (to the world or our basic survival) and desirable than caring for Desmond, no matter how overwhelming it gets at several points during the week. This is the only job I can handle at the moment. I never knew I'd feel this way, but I do and I've decided to embrace that feeling and all of the spit up, piss and slobber without shame.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nervous or neurotic?

I'm trying to decide what the difference is between an appropriate level of nervousness and simply neurotic. My birthday is coming up, so I asked my cousin if she can watch Desmond on Saturday night while Chris and I see a movie. Today I went online to purchase tickets and saw that the movies I want to see play at times that will mean leaving the house before I get Desmond down for the night. I'm sure my cousin, a grown woman who is also a pediatric nurse at a children's hospital, can handle rocking a 4-month-old to sleep and putting him in his crib for the night, but the idea of it made me so anxious. Voice ringing like a siren in my head at seeing movie times: Desmond will freak out  he is not comforted to sleep in exactly the way that I comfort him and he will stay awake howling all night, feeling miserable, sad and abandoned. So I bought tickets to a later movie that I'm not as interested in seeing. So much for keeping my perspective and staying level.