Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Really Dark Days

I have a confession to make: after Max was born, I never cried or felt anything resembling dispair. I never wondered if I was making a terrible mistake by attempting to raise a child or if I would ruin his life by virtue of being his mother. Between the sciatic nerve injury to my left leg that I sustained while in labor (ohh, that horrible sciatic nerve) and the ordinary difficulties of learning to nurse and how to sleep again now that I was fully responsible for a person who was both helpless and deeply loved, I had plenty of physical struggles, but no mental or emotional ones.

Pretty amazing, considering that less than ten years before, I had survived some incredibly dark days.

I thought about dying, every day. When I say that I thought about it, I don't mean that I thought about how terrible it would be to die with so much of my life left unlived. I thought about how my mother would be sad but would be able to worry less. I thought about how I seemed to be interrupting everyone's life, including my friends and even the Olive Garden customers who I waited on for a living. I thought about what a relief it would be to not feel the incredible weight of all the pain that seemed to be leaching from me.

On a good day, I would get out of bed, take a shower, and walk to class--and then, at the door to my classroom, I would turn around and walk home, lock the door behind me, and get back into bed. On a bad day, I would never get out of bed at all, except maybe to throw up. And the whole time, I thought about dying.

A lot of strange and terrible things happened to me to contribute to all of this, including my brain becoming (apparently) temporarily but horribly mis-wired. Eventually something even more strange and terrible jolted me out of the black hole that I was in, and I got therapy and medication and realized that I could do more than just hold on, that with help I could fight the darkness and eventually, even if everything would never be perfect for me, even if I would never be perfect, I would eventually feel something besides damaged and gutted and as though I would always be lying in the gutter with the world's foot on my neck.

And I did. And I do. And my life isn't perfect, but I have Max, and Dan, and every day, I get out of bed and I do the best, the absolute best that I can for them. It is my deepest hope that every day, I do it like I'm dying. Because I'm not.

In that year that I was in the dark, I thought about hurting myself a lot, but I never thought of hurting anybody else.

This afternoon, I saw this story--please beware, this is a terrible story and I can't fathom what it must have been like to have to write it, let alone live through it. It's the story of a multiple-murder-suicide in Texas, the only survivor of which is an 8-month-old, and if that's all you need to hear to understand, by all means, don't read this story.

I can't fathom what it would be like to go through everything I went through ten years ago with a child, especially an infant. But women do it all the time--they do it every day. Mostly they find the help they need, and they make it out of the dark. But God, what they go through is unimaginable.

Being a parent, a mother, is a hard job. It's the hardest job I've ever felt compelled to be great at. But it's also the most important thing that I will ever do. I am compelled to do it right, not perfectly, but right. Most mothers, I think, feel this way.

New Jersey Governor John Corzine recently signed into law a bill that requires screening for postpartum depression. There are other bills to this end in the works in a number of states.

I think it goes without saying for those of us--and I know that there are many of us, who've lived through dark days like these. Those of us who've suffered, and our loved ones, should not have to struggle unnecessarily.

It is so sad, just so goddamned fucking sad, that the medical profession, as a whole, has to be legislated to care for the mental health of their patients, not just the physical health. As patients, we have to order our government to order our physicians to care for all of us. I can't believe that this is the way it should be.

I think, I really believe, that every woman who gives birth in America should be screened for postpartum depression. I don't think that this is the heart of our health care crisis, but I think that it is part of it.

Mothers will have dark days, I know. It's the nature of the beast. But eventually, the light should come on. We should be able to leave those dark days behind.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Long Weekend, In-Laws Visiting


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

According to Dan: I would have thought it was science.

Molly: Do you think astronomers ever get tired of Uranus jokes?
Dan: I think it's their bread and butter.

Monday, May 21, 2007

23 Months: Dear Max

Dear Max:

Today you are 23 months old. All of a sudden, you are telling me in a thousand ways how grown up you are, and how much you know and can do on your own, and I’m knocked out every day by what an amazing kid you are. It’s not so much that 23 months is so much older than 22 months was, but it just seems so much closer to two than 22 months did. When people ask me how old you are now, I usually tell them “Almost two,” because you are, in so many ways. Daddy spent a lot of time and energy in the last couple of weeks trying to teach you how to say “I’m two!” even though you’re not. He figures that by the time you learn, you actually will be two.

Two weeks ago, you and I were sitting on the couch with an alphabet book, when you pointed to the cover and said, “A. Blue A.” It was a blue A, and when you opened the book and began pointing at things: “Nanana” on the B page, “Shoesh” and “shocks” (shocks can be either socks or sharks, depending on what you’re pointing at, but in this case, they were socks), and, absolutely most hilariously to your father and I, a t-shirt was a “shit,” Daddy and I looked at each other in total amazement. Neither of us had any idea you knew so many words, and I wasn’t sure if we just hadn’t been paying attention or if you’d simply been saving them up, but with great juvenile glee, we’ve been urging you to tell us what it is that we’re pulling over your head every morning when we get you dressed.

Your grandma and grandpa Chase are coming to visit this week. That means that you will probably go for lots of long, slow walks through a borderline-bad neighborhood to the grocery store to buy animal crackers. Grandma and Grandpa don’t know yet that you now demand to be given everything in the grocery store, but considering your record of never throwing a tantrum for anyone but your father or me, you probably will be wonderfully well-behaved for them, and they will buy you anything that you can ask for by name. That is what this particular set of grandparents do. So hurry up and learn some more words, like “swingset” and “Audi” and “discretionary income.”

This month I’ve started to wonder what regrets I’ll eventually have about your childhood. Will I be sorry I didn’t stay home longer with you? Will I wish you knew your family better? As much as I make fun of all of your grandparents, I love them, and they will not live forever. Will I regret that you’re growing up here in the city, where I suspect I won’t ever feel like you are safe, between the shootings and kidnappings and the unbelievable rash of high school kids killed in car accidents?

The answer, I know already, is that I will regret all of these things, and I still wouldn’t change them. I will always wish for more hours in the day to spend running around the park, jostling you up and down on my shoulders to make you laugh. I will miss your whack-a-doo assortment of grandparents and uncles when they aren’t around to make fun of anymore. And I will always be a little afraid for you, because you never love anybody like I love you without the realization that people are vulnerable, and loving them makes you vulnerable too.

The answer is probably that I will have lots of regrets, but that regrets are part of the human condition, and life with you is so limitlessly sweet that I can live with the regret, and the frustrations and annoyances of being constantly responsible for a nearly-two-year-old, and all the rest of it. I can ignore the rest of the flotsam and jetsam that this life brings, all because of you. And when you throw yourself face-first off the couch and bash your adorable nose in, or throw a tantrum in the middle of a public place, or repeat at top volume whatever colorful swear word I just said (all things you did this month), and your Daddy looks at me and says, "Still worth it?" neither of us need to hesitate for a moment before saying to each other, "Hell yes."


Friday, May 18, 2007

Still Bershon After All These Years

Schedule for the next month or so:

May24-??? Grandma and Grandpa Chase are here.
June 6-??? God(ess)parents here for God(ess)mama's ELST surgery. Hang in there, lady.
June 17th Dan's birthday
June 18th-25th Grandma Tift is here.
June 21st Max's 2nd Birthday.

Much baseball and seafood-eating about to commence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tuesday Morning Max (and Dan)

Originally uploaded by MollyChase.
My boys.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Boring and Annoying and Obtuse, Thanks. And You?

It’s a fact in your average only child’s life that they will spend a fair amount of time alone. I am proof positive of that, and maybe this was made more true by the fact that I was raised primarily by a single mother who worked at a very demanding and time-consuming job throughout my childhood and adolescence. Couple this with the fact that when I was fifteen, she married a man who deeply valued his privacy and “alone-time,” and you’ll find that being alone is a central factor of my life.

Mostly I value having this particular personality trait—at least, I do now. During a period of time in college, it was probably, in retrospect, an extremely bad idea for me to attempt to live alone which led to a year of mornings that I woke up wondering whether, were I to throw myself out the window of my apartment, if I would actually manage to kill myself or if it would just be an embarrassing incident that would have to be explained to a lot of people. Lots of things have changed for me since then, and my mental health is in nowhere near as precarious a state as it once was, but to say the least, I am not anywhere near as unwilling to be alone as I once was. I value it, like most women who have a job and a husband and a son do.

But I have a problem: I have trouble making friends. Part of the problem is that I am inherently shy, and I know I can’t change that about myself and have learned to cope. The other part is that three-quarters of the time if I’m around somebody who could potentially be considered a friend, I am afraid of being boring and annoying and obtuse, and the other quarter of the time, I suspect, I am boring and annoying and obtuse. Which leads me to avoid situations in which I am given the opportunity to be boring and annoying and obtuse.

We’ve run into a problem: Max needs to be baptized, and his god(ess)parents will not do in the eyes of the Episcopal church. Inflexible as they are, the pesky Episcopals ask that the godparents be practicing Christians. (Don’t worry, Goddessmama, we wouldn’t fire you from the job for anything, but we also would never ask you to play Christian for the sake of Max’s eternal soul.) The practicing Christian that I would have wanted for him unfortunately died ten years ago next month (more to come on this topic.) Father Mark, the perfectly lovely Episcopal priest who is the rector of our particular church, suggested that we ask a couple, the Proctors, to serve as his godparents, that he thought they would be pleased to be asked by us. They have an older son, as well as a little boy who’s a few months older than Max.

We’ve talked to them several times, and they seem like genuinely nice, interesting people. She seems to lack a few of the aspects that I tend to list as foremost for friends— regular and repeated dropping of the F-bomb, a laugh that makes strangers turn around and stare, genuine social awkwardness that coordinates succinctly with my own, that sort of thing—but, after all, there are only so many opportunities to use the F-word in church, and she seems genuine and educated and liberal and just exactly the kind of friend you’d meet in church (word up, Gerry, Joy, and Cristina.)

Yesterday, the husband mentioned that he’d been wanting to get in touch with us and had even looked up Dan’s school email address online, but hadn’t wanted to seem intrusive. Dan and I assured him that we would have been thrilled to hear from them, and in my head, I wished that they had been more intrusive, because that’s really the only way I make friends—when somebody is assertive enough for me to not have to make the first move.

Part of the reason I blog is because I like the fact that this is a great place for me to hide. It’s hard to really connect with people this way, although I do like that there’s a community atmosphere, people are supportive and generous with the friends they do make. And it’s clear to me that they do make friends—the pictures and blog entries published by Dooce, Suburban Bliss, Finslippy, Mighty Girl, and Fussy of their long weekend together are evidence of that. But I particularly value this medium because I don’t have to feel like a raging jackass on public display, due to my ability to edit before publishing.

I’m not sure why I don’t connect with many people. It could be the whole only-child thing again. It could be just a by-product of my built-in reticence. I don’t have a problem keeping friends once I’ve made them. My friend Gerry’s girlfriend has become a great and surprising friend via email over the last few months, and I’m thrilled to have met her. She’s smart and savvy and terribly funny, she speaks her mind, has great taste in books and TV and music, and she just bought a house with one of the finest men I’ve ever known. But I don’t have Mom friends, or really very many local friends at all, and I want them, desperately.

I am lonely, and I’m not sure how to fix it. This has been the case for most of my life. We will probably ask the Proctors to serve as Max’s surrogate godparents, because Mark is dead and Joy and Kyle are in Texas and Gerry and Trina are in Michigan, and I can’t think of any others I’d ever want. It is my hope that the Proctors will become friends, but in my head, I am afraid to ask them, because I fear rejection.

Elementary school was much easier. You and whomever bonded over your love of Fruit Roll-Ups or Elmer’s Glue or whatever, and there you go, you’re friends. But now that I’m 31, it’s harder to find people I click with, or click with people who I don’t already know well.

Gahh. I’m a mess. Fuck it. Does anybody want to be my friend? Anybody?

Friday, May 11, 2007

According to Dan: Song Lyrics

Dan, singing along to Elvis Costello: "Gaaaaaaaalveston..."
Molly: "Did you just say Galveston?"
Dan: "Isn't that what this song is called?"
Molly: "Galveston?"
Dan: "Yeah. That's the name of this song, right?"
Molly: "...No."
Dan: "What's the name of this song?"
Molly: "This song is called 'Allison.' I love this song. I play it probably every other day. How can you not know this?"
Dan: "It's not about a city in Texas?"
Molly: "No, it's about a woman whose name is Allison."
Dan: "Oh. I thought it was about the city in Texas."
Molly: "..."
Dan: "My brother was born in El Paso."
Molly: "..."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not Today, Fred.

While reading this...

I found this...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ben and Liam

Every day, when I take Max to daycare, he cries.

I know he loves our daycare provider. I know he loves her son, who's a few months older than him. I know he loves her two older sons too, who teach him to play basketball and read to him. He loves daycare, and Angie has told me a dozen times that he stops crying two minutes after I walk out the door.

The only thing that makes it possible for me to leave my son crying and reaching for me every morning is the fact that I know that every night, I can come home and hold him for as long as he'll let me. I can tickle his armpits and laugh at his open-mouthed full-on bellow of a belly laugh. I can share my dinner with him. I can splash in the tub with him.

He's mine.

He's real.

He's okay.

I can protect him from most of the world, for now. I can scare away all the monsters and barking dogs and bad men. I am Mama.

Ben and Liam's mother Kate is struggling with her inability to protect her sweet boys from the world. Born Saturday, May 5, at 28 weeks gestation, they are hospitalized in the NICU and will remain there for some time.

I am reminded to be grateful for the ordinariness of my son. The everydayness of our life together.

I am reminded of his birth and how frustrated I was when the nurses came and told me that he was hypoglycemic; would I prefer that they feed him by bottle or give him an I.V.? I don't care! I don't care how you do it, just do it! Fix it.

Some fixes are easy. Ben and Liam will have a much harder uphill run than little Max did.

Ben and Liam: welcome, little men. Be strong and well.
Kate and Justin: You and your precious boys are at the center of the thoughts of people everywhere. Those of us who pray are praying. Those of us who hope are hoping that hope is enough.
Max: I love you, Bubba. Thank you for all of the kisses and sweetness and lessons. Mama will be home soon, and we can read a cookbook together on the couch. You can pick the cookbook.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tuesday Afternoon Max

Originally uploaded by MollyChase.
Chicken legs.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Back to Eastern Market

As I mentioned a week or so ago, Eastern Market burned last weekend. This weekend, the Eastern Market area of Capitol Hill held their annual Eastern Market day. Dan and I went down, put Max in the stroller, and braved what we knew would be very difficult to see.

We could see the damage to the building before we'd even reached the flea market area in the lot behind the middle school. The roof was destroyed, with gaping holes chewed in the peak and the air vent intakes warped and bent. We both sort of groaned out loud when we saw it.

Eastern Market has become a cherished part of our short history in the area. We like that we're supporting regional farms and artists when we buy there, but we admit that more than being responsible consumers, we're food nerds, and Eastern Market is food nerd heaven. Whenever we have guests, we take them to Eastern Market. Part of it is the food, but the bigger part is that in a city where everything seems transient, overpriced, and posturing towards trendy, Eastern Market is old, established, and a community onto itself.

We saw what remained of the community this weekend, when the streets around Eastern Market were closed off to makes space for food vendors and artists and political and non-profit groups. Many of the 14 indoor vendors whose spaces were destroyed by the fire set up outside, and more than once, I saw butchers or grocers stop what they were doing to hug their regular customers and assure them that they were fine, they would be fine, they would be back when Eastern Market rebuilt and reopened, and until then, they would set up behind the market or across the street or wherever they could, to continue doing business and continue paying the employees who depend on them.

I am of the opinion that living in a small town is, for the most part, highly overrated. Big cities are crowded, impersonal, expensive, and full of little annoyances. But I still prefer them to a place where, even when you don't know what you're doing, everybody else does. In my hometown, I always felt very visible: my parents are fairly prominent in the community, and I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and young-adulthood feeling self-conscious and on display. Here: not so much. Small town life never even appeals to me when I'm tired of sitting in traffic on a Friday afternoon.

The exception to the rule is the fact that Eastern Market, like lots of neighborhoods in D.C., seem to be a little like a small town within a big city. We love the Barracks Row neighborhood, sandwiched between Navy Yard and Eastern Market, three blocks filled with Belgian and Irish restaurants, one of the few not-so-nice areas of the city where I would consider living, thanks to the Marines at the gates at the barracks. I also like the North Michigan Park and Woodridge areas in Northeast, with old houses that don't, in any way, look like the fake-brick mini-mansions being thrown up in the suburbs.

We love it here. I wasn't sure we would when we moved, and I really worried about Dan, how he would adjust to the traffic and the noise and all the cultural differences. He's really a small-town boy to the core; growing up in Northern Michigan, never really learning his way around Kalamazoo very well, even after he'd lived there for years. But Dan is the kind of person who expands to fill any space you put him in, and he's developed an appreciation for Washington D.C., partially because it does feel like a series of small towns.

Although most of Eastern Market is fenced off , the main entrance isn't. There is a fence just inside the door, so that people can see what's happened there. We went and gazed in for a few minutes, dismayed at the scorched walls and empty, shattered display cases, the ceiling open to the sky.

Eastern Market will probably be back, and Dan and I will be too. We're relieved that the fire happened at night, that no one was hurt, that none of the buildings around the Market were damaged. We're terribly sad about the fact that a piece of the history of the city was lost like this; it is so tragic. I've developed a greater sense of appreciation for the city's architecture, after reading about Adolph Cluss, the architect who designed the building. There are not many original Cluss buildings left in the city that once had his signature all over it.

Mostly, we are eager to see the Market rise from the ashes, to see that the sense of permanancy that we've craved in the city will return. The city that we've chosen to love and live in deserves to keep Eastern Market. So does the community that has loved it for so long.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

According to Dan

"An acquaintance will save you a seat. A friend helps you move the body." --While watching "Grosse Point Blank."

Friday, May 4, 2007

Obscure: British women and Ice Cream.

So this morning, while reading the little commuter version of the Post on the Metro, I read that Margaret Thatcher was, once upon a time, a chemist who invented soft serve.

Being a fan of British women and ice cream, I find this fascinating. I really do.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Oh My Goodness.

Rebecca Woolf at Girls Gone Child wrote earlier this week about being a good mother. There is something to what she said: in spite of all of my self-depreciation and cynicism about half-assing it as a parent, I am, I think, a good mother. I think I’m actually pretty great at it.

There’s a lot of talk about the Mommy Wars, a syndrome that I find more boring than pretty much almost anything else on earth. Your kid walked at 7 months, talked at 8? He was potty-trained by 18 months? Oh--bi-lingual by 2? And a musical prodigy? Wow. What does my kid do?

Oh. He chews on his own sock and laughs at “America’s Funniest Videos.” Sometimes he punches himself in the mouth and yells “Ow!” and then laughs. Okay…well…I mean, I guess…all kids develop at their own…whatever. Whatever.

It’s fine to be proud of your kid’s accomplishments. I mean, at this age, they kind of reflect on your abilities as a parent. But much more so than that, they reflect on your interests. Sweet Juniper can recognize Medusa and Narcissus and Athena, and she’s just a few months older than Max—but then again, Juniper’s father has probably forgotten more than I ever knew about Greek Mythology. Max can use the melon baller to scoop cookie dough onto baking sheets and scrape out a mixing bowl with a scraper—because we cook together a lot on the weekends.

The fact that he can’t name the presidents in order, or tell me he has to go potty in Swahili, or compose a sonata on his four-key Fisher-Price piano doesn’t actually reflect on my “goodness.”

It starts pretty much as soon as you find out you’re pregnant: Are you planning on nursing? Co-sleeping? Stay at home or work? Stay at home and work? Spanking, or time-out? At every step, somebody is questioning whether you’re a “good” mom or not. Usually, you’re the somebody doing the questioning.

So, what’s with all the self-depreciation?

Being a parent feels kind of serious. Talking about how good I am at it feels like tempting fate. It’s like when you’re seven, and you’re so busy telling your friends how awesome you are at riding a bike that you don’t watch where you’re going, and you run into the back of a parked car. Except as a parent, the knee you skin will not be your own. It will be the knee of your baby, the knee you would throw yourself in front of a train to protect.

I don’t have any idea what makes a good parent or a bad parent. Like I tell the Goddessmama all the time, there’s the way I’d do it and the way somebody else would do it, and people might not see eye-to-eye with me, but I think I’m consistent in trying to do what’s best for my kid and my husband and me. And I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to make a call on how anybody else is doing it, so I don’t really know what makes a “bad” mom, except for what would make me a bad mom.

Max is doing fine, in pretty much every way that’s important to Dan and I. That’s enough evidence for me that I’m a good mother. But I don’t know what goodness has to do with it. Max is very much the way I imagined he would be, back when I was first imagining him. He’s funny, and affectionate, and independent, and he has is own way of doing things. He gets frustrated, but he doesn’t stop trying.

But I like how I am with him. I feel like the best version of myself with him. I like that I trust my instincts when it comes to him. I like that I have instincts to trust. I like me, as a parent. I’m the kind of parent I would have wanted.

And he likes hot sauce on everything but his cereal. I don’t know if the fact that Max is quirky makes me a good parent, but it definitely makes him a good kid.

Or, if not a good kid, at least it makes him mine.

Things I Learned While Commuting This Morning

1. Max can chew through the lid of a container of strawberry-banana yogurt like a rabid ferret. And I do not carry a spare set of clothing for him. Because I'm stupid.

2. A short Starbucks straw will disappear completely into a venti iced coffee. I also do not carry a spare straw. Again, because I'm stupid.

3. My husband never took trigonometry in high school.

4. No matter how inconvenient it seems at the time, don't take 495 south to the 295 exit just before the Wilson Bridge during rush hour traffic. Get on at Indian Head Highway and just take the goddamned flyover, because no matter how backed up traffic seems, it will be infinitely worse anywhere else. Did I happen to mention that I'm stupid?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sweet Juniper's Mythological Alphabet

A guy with whom I went to high school is now a semi-famous-in-the-world-of-blogs blogger and stay-at-home-Dad. This is a link to his second children's alphabet book. This is comprised of graffiti illustrations he's photographed and has an ancient myth theme. It is AMAZING, simply breathtaking.



Tuesday Morning Max

Originally uploaded by MollyChase.
The duck's name is Mr. Quackers. The kid is eight days old.