Inheriting the Fun-damentals

13 12 2009

When I was a kid the whole “Reading is Fun-damental” campaign was pretty much unnecessary for me, as were the summer reading programs where kids could earn a pizza or some other treat for reading a certain number of books. Or any of the other incentives adults came up with to teach children to make reading a habit. I loved to read. I still do. By the time I was in high school I would sometimes read up to 2 or 3 books a day. Yes. I meant “per day.” I’m not exaggerating.  One of my coworkers insisted that I must be lying about this statement. I’m not. I know you’re doing the math right now — how many pages per hour?

Well, I can read pretty fast. I actually read slower now than I did in high school and college. But I read so much because I quite simply couldn’t put books down. Once I started a book I had to finish it immediately. This means that I was frequently walking around with my nose in a book, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up in bed reading only to discover that the sun was once again rising. Luckily, I have  always been able to survive on very little sleep (a trait that has been very handy to me as a mother).

One of my sisters also loves to read as much as I do. We both still read constantly, and many of our conversations revolve around what we’ve read recently. My other sister is so very different from us, however. She does not enjoy reading. In fact, she’s not really very good at reading and was nearly illiterate for most of elementary school. It is this fact that breeds internal conflict in me.

See, I love reading so much that this is the one trait of mine I deeply hope Azita will inherit. If she has no interest in science and math, I won’t care. I won’t mind if she does not inherit my musical ear or artistic capabilities. I could care less if she looks like me. I want her to be a reader, and I want her to love it. I want her to be intensely curious about the world around her and to want to read everything there is to know about it. It is this trait of mine that has not only made it just about impossible for me to ever get bored, but it has made it possible for me to learn quickly and adapt to almost any situation.

I once had a professor who professed admiration for the fact that I learned new things by throwing myself into the deep end and learning as I did. It is true that I do this, and the only reason I am able to do this is because I feel confident that whatever I don’t know (and I don’t know a lot) I can learn from what someone else has written. I lack confidence in myself so frequently, but it is my confidence in learning that holds me together and brings me any success I may have in life. I want Azita to always feel secure in this way. To know that the great unknown is not so scary, because it is learnable.

I desire this so much that I obsess about it. I watch her every action around books. How can I tell if she will love reading as my sister and I do, and not dislike it as our youngest sister does? I mean, we all grew up in the same  household, and yet we are so very different in this aspect. How much of the love of reading and learning is nurture?

I frequently talk to my sister about my fear that Azita will not love books. Considering that Roger and I both love to read, it may seem irrational. But until very recently Azita would not let me read to her. Books were things to rip up and throw and chew on. On rare occasions I could make it through a couple pages of Goodnight Moon or Olivia before she would lose interest, but those occasions were very rare. My sister assured me that my worrying was for naught. “Just exposing your daughter to books will teach her to love to read,” she said. I had my doubts.

Then, this morning as I was feeding Azita her breakfast, she leaned over the side of her booster chair and pulled her “Colors” book over so she could flip the pages as she ate her mangoes and waffles. She was actually eating with her nose in a book. Just like I did at the dinner table when I was a child. Maybe all is not lost after all. We may yet be a family that reads together.



12 12 2009

Being a mother means that you are constantly a purveyor of TMI. Get two mothers in the same room, and it won’t be long before they are discussing the color and texture of the mucus they aspirated from their baby’s nose, the degree of their tears from labor and delivery or the ins and outs of their placenta. It’s true. When someone finds out you have a baby, they want to know how old the baby is and that leads to a discussion of how they sleep and how many diapers they go through in a day. Next thing you know, you’ve divulged that your baby’s last poop was green and was dotted with what appeared to be chunks of spinach and carrot.

This happens to every mother. I guarantee it. I am an extremely private person generally, but even I have fallen prey to this phenomenon. Maybe this is due to the fact that being a mother means you are completely responsible for taking care of another human being’s body. Maybe people who take care of ill and/or aging parents exhibit the same behavior. I can’t really say why this is the case, but I do know that I spent a good half hour last night at holiday party discussing with a woman I just met the position and length of umbilical cords in our pregnancies and the number of times we each vomited when giving birth to our children. And I am afraid this might happen again.

I don’t do this. I talk about music and politics and history and art and science and technology and other intellectual topics. I swear. But now there’s some woman out there who believes that I know nothing about anything outside of bowel movements and the physiology of a pregnant uterus. Next time I go to a party I’m sitting in the corner with the latest issues of the New Yorker and Scientific American and a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and I will only talk about their contents. I’m a smart and cultured woman, damn it. Hear me roar!

Say “Bye-Bye”

11 12 2009

Every weekday since I first dropped Azita off at daycare I have the same drop-off routine. First I get her out of her carseat. Roger opens his window and waves goodbye and blows kisses at Azita. Then I carry her into daycare. I talk to her daycare provider for a few minutes — tell her whether she ate breakfast, slept the night before, and basically anything else that might help her gauge Azita’s mood and behavior for the day. Then I hand Azita over and try to get her attention. “Bye-bye, Azita. Bye-bye. Can you say bye-bye to mommy? Say bye-bye. Please. Pleeeease. Say bye-bye. Can mommy have a goodbye kiss?”

Usually all of the other kids there say “bye-bye” to me about 20 times while I stand there making an ass out of myself. Azita never says bye-bye. She knows how to say bye-bye and hello even. She says it to her dad, and continues waving to him as I walk up to the door. She waves hello to Miss. Gail, her favorite caretaker at daycare. She waves bye-bye to Miss Gail when she is leaving daycare. She waves hello and bye-bye to guests visiting our home and to people whose homes we are visiting. She waves hello and bye-bye to perfect strangers on the street. She’ll even say “bye-bye” or “hi”, or at least her cute little baby version of the words. She basically says it to everyone but me.

It’s a little disheartening, but then I remember that her face lights up for me more than it does for anyone else. So, who cares if she won’t wave to me or give me even a little hello or goodbye? Not I.

Then there’s this morning. She waved goodbye to Roger as usual and even said “bye-bye” this morning. She waved hello to Miss Gail when we walked in and gave her a winning smile. Then she turned around and looked at me before I’d even removed her hat and coat and started to wave. “Bye-bye bye-bye bye-bye bye-bye…,” she said. Before I’d even really dropped her off.

She’s not even a year old and she already doesn’t want me hanging around. I know I asked for it, but does she have to be so enthusiastic about sending me off? I tell you, motherhood is one harsh blow after another.

And I love every minute of it.

Please Don’t Take My Baby

8 12 2009

Azita is wobbling through life these days. And climbing. Every time I turn around she’s either doing the zombie walk — you know the one where she puts her arms out in front of her and takes very wobbly and jerky steps, as if her legs feel dead — or she’s climbing something. So this is why all that childproofing stuff is necessary. I’m finally getting it. The thing is, no matter how fast I act, she somehow manages to pull things on top of her, run into things, and fall — she’s a master of the faceplant.

Now I know all of you seasoned mothers out there are laughing at me. I know you told me so. I just couldn’t fathom what you meant at the time. Plus, don’t we all think “that” happens to other people, not us? So, here I am, mother to a daughter that is part adorable baby girl and part psycho mountain goat. It’s actually fun. Yes, it is tiring, especially after a very long day in the office, but I love playing with her much more now that she interacts with me in more interesting and active ways.

The problem is that, as I said, this girl is accident-prone. Just like her mom and her aunt. And just like the both of us, she is also always covered in bruises. They are all over her body. She looks like a Dalmatian. Or a victim of abuse. Here’s where the irrational fear kicks in. At least, Roger says it’s irrational, but I am not so sure. What if her daycare providers think she is an abuse victim? Or her pediatrician? Or anyone else who might see her without her clothes on? I can’t say that I wouldn’t think so if I didn’t actually see all the accidents. My sister knows what I’m going through. Her middle son inherited our clumsy ways, and he is a regular at the ER and urgent care. She’s also always afraid that Child Protective Services will come knocking on her door any minute now.

It can’t be an irrational fear if we both think it, right? The thing is that this fear, irrational or not, is leading me to bring up my daughter’s clumsiness in just about every conversation I have. You know, just in case someone notices the plethora of bruises and decides to report me. Maybe I should just make a sign to wear around my neck: “Please Don’t Take My Baby. She did this all herself. I swear.”

Minding One’s Own Pounds

7 12 2009

When I was a kid I was a lard ass, and this abundance of fat stuck around into adulthood. When I was really little, I guess it was cute. I was one of those kids whose cheeks were always getting pinched. I remember the day when it turned from cute to embarrassing. It was the day I had my first ice skating competition. I won a gold medal. There were only two of us competing at that level, but still I was beyond proud. I was so proud that when they took a picture of the two of us standing there on the platform with our medals, my entire torso was puffed out in all its glory. I was proud. My mother was mortified at the size of my stomach. Thus began my first diet and a lifetime of yo-yoing weight.

When I look at the offending picture as an adult I wasn’t really fat, but this started me on the path to fatness. Dieting taught me what it felt like to be so hungry that when you finally ate you had no sense of when you were full. It was dieting that made me fat. And as I got fat, people got interested. Instead of “hello” and a hug, I got “hello” and a pinch of my waistline to see how much it had grown since the last time someone saw me. People recommended different exercise programs and sports that were sure to solve my issue. Everyone had ideas about what I should or shouldn’t eat. Suddenly it seemed as if my body was everybody else”s business.

When I became pregnant, this whole childhood ordeal came rushing back to me. I was acutely aware that people were staring at me and thinking things about how much I’d gained. And, just when I convinced myself that I was being paranoid, my aunt would tell me I had gotten so fat or a perfect stranger would ask me if I was having twins as I walked by her on the way to work. It was embarrassing and humiliating, especially in the context of my life at the moment which consisted of getting weighed and having my belly measured every two weeks. Luckily I soon had a darling little newborn to distract me from these troubles.

Now over a year later, the weight has mostly come off, but it’s been replaced with a little anger. What makes someone think it is acceptable to make fun of a coworker’s weight in front of the rest of the company? Why would a person feel entitled to ask someone if they “really should be eating ‘that'”? When did one’s weight become anyone’s business but one’s own?

Last night I was recounting to my cousins how one of my aunts used to feel my belly every time she saw me to gauge whether I had gained or lost since the last time she saw me. After more than a decade of this, I finally lost it and told her to mind her own business and keep her hands off me. That offended her enough so that she didn’t talk to me for a very long time. The question I still have is how did I offend her? She started it, right?

Right? Well, maybe, but my behavior was wrong. When all else fails, I turn to one of my heroes, Miss Manners. “When one is treated badly, behave courteously.”  After all, I am only the master of my own behavior. I cannot make other people mind their own waistline instead of mine, but I can watch that I am not guilty of judging others for their size. And I can, as Miss Manners suggests, dismiss such inferior behavior as coming from inferior people. I may be fat, but damn it, I’m not rude. And that makes me a better person.

Hi Ho Hi Ho

30 11 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I wish I could say that it’s because I’ve been busy celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday and being thankful for everything in my life.  But that’s not true, unfortunately. I mean I have been thankful and thought a lot about what I am thankful for. And, I do plan on finishing the declarations of thanks I started last week. However, the point is that I spent the entire weekend working, with a little family time thrown in here and there, and I’m really unhappy about it. That is, with the working, not the family time.

In the current economy, I am certainly grateful to have a job that pays me a paycheck that pays my bills and allows me to buy my daughter some nice things here and there. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful, and I am not whining. But allow me to whine just a little. I actually like what I do. For a long time, my career was the most important thing to me. In fact, my career was the most important thing to me next to my brand-spanking new marriage about 6 years ago when I first started my job at Blackboard. So, it shouldn’t surprise me that since my current boss was also my boss at Blackboard, he might expect the same undying devotion to my job.

Well, I can tell you that devotion no longer exists. I still love what I do, but I love Azita more. And, when I spend a four-day weekend that is supposed to be about thankfulness and family and friends working until 2am while my daughter cries for my attention, I start to get pretty damn annoyed with what I do. Heck, I start to get pretty angry. I’m angry that my boss expects me to ignore my daughter and work nearly 24 hours a day just to make a minute dent in my workload. I’m mostly angry that I just did it. I should have explained it wouldn’t be possible and that my family comes first.

But I didn’t. I didn’t because I’m afraid that I’ll lose my job if I don’t lose myself to it. It’s an irrational fear at first glance, but it really isn’t if you live in the D.C. area where nearly everyone is married to their jobs. It’s easy to look at the employment landscape and to fear that unless you also give your job everything you have, including a relationship with your daughter, that you won’t be able to continue earning.

I have to say that this is one reason it is becoming more and more tempting for me to get up and move somewhere where life is a little slower and family is a little more important. For now, I’m off to the mines every weekday morning, but I need a change. Azita needs me to change, and I’ve decided that I need to start taking the steps I need to take to make that change happen.

Crossing my Fingers and Knocking on Wood

19 11 2009

I believe in science and mathematics. If I have a question about why something is the way it is, I know science holds the answer. I’ll admit that I have a problem with faith in that I need a scientific explanation for everything, and I’ve just never been able to reconcile faith and science.  I’m definitely not the superstitious type.

So explain to me why motherhood has completely knocked the pragmatism out of me? Explain to me why I actually really believe that if Azita eats breakfast one morning when I happen to be wearing my blue pajamas with the red apples on them and I’m holding a squeaky toy with my left hand, then the way to get her to eat breakfast the next day is to wear the same pajamas and hold the same squeaky toy. With my left hand. At the same exact time as the day before.

Why has parenthood made me so superstitious? I really think it’s the desperation of being so utterly out of control over just about everything in your life just about every day of your life. Especially when it comes to getting Azita to eat or sleep or do any of the other things that, you know, keep humans, specifically my little human, alive.  It’s not that I really believe that any of these superstitious rituals will work. It’s just that it’s 11:30 on a Monday night, and I really, really need Azita to fall asleep so I can go to bed because I have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning tomorrow damn it. Or maybe Azita has refused to eat anything for 3 days, and I just know that next time she goes to the doctor they’ll tell me she actually lost weight and somehow grew shorter. Or Azita will not let me buckle her in to her car seat and I’m late for work but I obviously can’t drive her to daycare until she is safely protected against all the crazy drivers out there. Or she’s doing any of the fifty other things she does that I fear will damage her for life, and there is nothing I can do to make her stop.

I read the books. Books based on science. I know all of these things are completely normal. I know how to handle most of them, and I know that sometimes just riding these situations out is the only way to handle them. Still, what I wouldn’t give for some kind of ritual that would actually get Azita to eat or sleep.