I am writing with my laptop balanced on one knee, tilted against a stool, as Eden sprawls on my lap, mostly asleep for a few hard-earned minutes.
This is her third diaper in about an hour. She pooped on my leg somehow. Damn cloth diapers. I put a disposable on her, casually contributing to the destruction of the environment to avoid poop on my legs.
I am thinking about Maine. I have never been there, but it is paradise in my mind. Maine is the land of milk and honey.
Not breastmilk, though. It shouldn’t squirt like that, but it does. I walk around, milk spurting freely from my nipples, cascading down my ribcage, unstoppable. I think of myself as a cow. Eden’s cow.
She cries— “Come here, cow,” I say in my commanding Eden voice, “Ready your udder. I require sustenance.”
“Right away,” I say obediently, in my cow voice. “Your cow is here, at your service.”
“I am displeased, cow. You are slow.”
“I’m sorry. I am just a humble cow. I’m not very fast-moving, like a horse.”
“Hmm. Indeed. Still, you annoy me.”
“Enough, cow. Feed me the milk.”
Bear and I imagine Eden as a bit of a future galactic conqueror and possible Empress of All Things. She will command great fleets of battleships, bigger than the Death Star.
I am writing this on a Monday morning, and I feel that I should be working. It occurs to me that this is the first time in a very long time that I have not worked for longer than a two day stretch. It’s been over a month now and there is still no time. But strangely, I’m not as stressed out about that as I expected I’d be. I feel just as ambitious, in the sense that when I contemplate my mortality, as I do with neurotic frequency, I think, “I have to write books! Then I can die.” But I don’t feel quite as sharply that I’m failing right now, or not succeeding enough. Or maybe it’s just that I’m thinking more about other things and so my potential failure doesn’t seem as pressing.
“I might be failing,” I think idly, spooning chocolate peanut butter ice cream into my mouth and dropping some on the baby’s head in the process, “Shit. Where’s one of those burp cloth thingies to wipe this up?” And then, “Chocolate peanut butter is so much better than vanilla peanut butter. Seriously. No contest. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter are destined to be together.” And then, “Is it worth it to give her another bath? Probably not, right? Yeah, probably not…”
So far I have given her exactly one bath. Because I am a negligent mother. My friend Jess was the one who suggested it, since she was over and being helpful. Eden was offended by the whole thing and screamed and then pooped on the towel, still screaming. After, the water was several shades darker and her hair was several shades lighter. I realized that I should maybe give her more baths.
Instead of getting too worried about how I am not a big famous successful person who has proven her awesomeness to everyone who might ever come across her, I find myself thinking of Maine and of the books I want to write, which are all about girls with magical powers who live in crumbling, dangerous worlds that need saving. (Only one girl can save the broken world. That sort of thing.) Even though these worlds are crumbling and dangerous and the cities are dirty and decaying, there are great tracts of wild, deep forests somewhere near enough to get to, and mountains claw their way up from the grimy horizon line, and it smells fresh and evergreen, like Maine must smell, when you find your way to them.
I think, romantically, that I’d like to write these books in honor of my little daughter with her spiky thick dark hair and her round blue eyes and her pointed chin and her newborn assertiveness. Just by coming into existence, she reminds me of what I actually love.
A friend and I stood on the roof deck the other evening and watched Brooklyn unrolling endlessly into the pink sky. You can’t see the sleek, shiny lines of Manhattan from there because of the metal fence guarding someone’s private penthouse terrace.
My friend was talking about a job offer she’d just gotten. A sexy, impressive-sounding job that smelled like slim powersuits and tall, this-season shoes and perfectly applied eye makeup and New York City.
“The thing is,” she told me, “I don’t know that I actually want it. I just want to want it, because it would feel so good to tell people I had it.”
“I know what you mean,” I said, “I’m always secretly trying to impress strangers.”
“Everyone would think I am one of those cool girls,” she said. “You know, with the shiny hair.”
“Your hair is kind of shiny already,” I said.
“Not really,” she said.
“Pretty much,” I said.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “I don’t really want to get dressed up for work every day. And never be able to wear the same thing twice or something.”
“Yeah, that sounds silly,” I said.
“But I want to sound impressive,” she said. “And even though I love my job now, it doesn’t sound great when I describe it. It’s just a job.”
“You love the people there,” I reminded her.
“I love them,” she said. “And you know what? I don’t think I even like the people I want to impress, half the time. Why should they matter? I don’t even like the shiny haired girls who are so perfect at New York. So why do I even think for a second that I should try to be one of them?”
This is such a good point.
So often, I try to be like people I don’t even know or don’t like, and impress people I don’t even care about. I have spent so many days doing this that really it’s been years since I haven’t.
Even when I’ve caught myself at it, it’s felt impossible to talk myself out of it. “Just be thankful and happy!” I admonish myself. But then, there I am, crouching in some shadowy corner, furtively scribbling the latest puny accomplishments onto the bottom of my bloated resume. My eyes are wide and guilty when I startle upright and frantically stuff the paper into my pocket, grinning sickly.
(I’m not sure why I always picture myself as Gollum in these instances….source)
The truth is, in general at least, I love being a mother. I don’t know if I expected to, but I do, so far (I know, it hasn’t been very long, and she’s only a baby). I love Eden even when she is yelling wildly in my face. In fact, perversely and specifically, I almost love her more then, sometimes, because she is so fierce and ridiculous and helpless. Because she needs me so much, and because she refuses to be a sweet, calm baby.
I love her little furious face, and I love myself for creating it.
And I love being a writer. It’s so good and reassuring to know what I want to do with my life. And to go ahead and try to keep doing it.
“We should figure out what we want from life,” Bear said to me the other night as we were pushing Eden in her stroller up and down the Promenade for hours, trying to get her to sleep.
“We should figure it out so we can tell her what life is about.”
“I already know,” I said, cockily.
“Oh yeah?” he said.
“What do you want?”
“To write books in Maine,” I said. And then added, practically, “And in New York.” We were momentarily distracted by a couple hard-core making out on a bench. I continued: “To have kids and be with you and with them and maybe row a little boat on a lake once in a while.”
“That’s cool,” he said. “You can probably make that happen.”
“Probably,” I said.
It’s weird and fun and bizarre and normal, to be me and to be a mother, suddenly. And I can’t help but feel lucky, for everything. For my fussy, enraged, perfect daughter and the perspective she’s given me. For the promise of the rest of my life and the simplicity of my goals, when I see them from afar. For New York City, and how easy it is to be outside here with a newborn everyday, walking for hours, discovering interesting little cafes and quiet, brownstone blocks. For the books I know I’ll write and for the time I’m taking now, to not write very much at all, but to just be with her. That’s really lucky.
Even if I am a bit of a cow. Honestly, I’m writing this with my boobs out. Readily accessible. Just in case.
“Hmm…I find that I may soon require a feeding.”
“Cow! Come here at once.”
“I will count to three.”
“I am extremely displeased. Where is the damn beast?”
* * *
Where is your Maine? Where do you imagine yourself ending up? Or at least spending next summer?
Unroast: Today I love the way my body looks so surprisingly sleek to me, now that it’s not pregnant anymore. I am appreciating it’s backwards transformation
L’shanah tovah to my Jewish readers!! So early this year, but I can feel the season shifting, and that newness always makes me think of Rosh Hashanah anyway. It’s the first year in over ten years that I’m not going to be leading services, and I feel a little guilty and strange, and also relieved, because I don’t know how I would have had time to prepare. Instead, maybe I’ll write in my journal and try to sit in the congregation for a couple hours, at a different synagogue, and think about that gentle, constant turning that brings us back over and over again to the same places, even as we keep changing.