Eating

When I thought about parenting and how I would parent, I was very clear on one point: I would not be the type of mother who is constantly hovering over her child trying to get her to eat things. If my kid didn’t want to eat, fine, they could go hungry. I wasn’t doing that.

So of course, I now spend all my time trying to trick or force Edith into swallowing some sort of nutrition. I’ve mentioned this before, but the piece I hadn’t put together as a non-parent was that if they don’t eat, they don’t stay asleep. And while I might be indifferent to Edith’s palette, I am not at all indifferent to getting a full night’s sleep.

Edith eats like an emperor, which is to say like an asshole. She will eat if the following two conditions are met: (1) she is ravenous, and (2) she is presented with something she especially likes. If only one or the other of those things is true, she will refuse food. I don’t know if it’s possible for a 16-month-old to feel contempt, but her refusal of food is, well, contemptuous. She refuses it in one of two ways: she will either gently raise one of her hands to airily and firmly push it away from her, or she will fling it impatiently onto the floor. Whenever I put a vegetable on her tray, she immediately picks it up and hands it back to me, without even making eye contact with me. Her dismissal of any food she does not want is so conclusive and condescending that it makes me feel like an underling. When there is something she will not be eating, she is insistent about handing it to me or flinging it, because she does not even want it on her tray. It’s like she’s offended by its mere presence adjacent to her more desirable food. If she’s especially done, she will use both hands to very rapidly toss everything on her tray behind her underhand, the way a dog digs in the dirt — this move is so rapid and unexpected, I’m rarely able to interrupt it.

“Just consider it for a moment,” I will tell her, handing back, say, a chunk of sweet potato she has immediately returned. “You don’t have to eat it, just sit with it there, and see how you feel. If you would only try it, I think you would actually— well, now it’s on the ceiling. That is my fault, you clearly said you didn’t want it, and I didn’t listen.”

This all feels like a real trial for me; it’s endless and boring, and I don’t even care what she eats, really — if she would only stick to what she likes, that’d be fine, but what she can’t get enough of one day, she acts affronted by a week later, so I have to prep like six mini-dinners every night to ensure that I have something that will catch her fancy. The only time I really get upset about it, though, is when I am on my hands and knees wiping up whatever dinner she has flung onto the floor, and she flings more food down on top of my head which has happened more than once. In those moments, I begin to feel like a real doormat.

Meanwhile, all of this only applies to meals with me — when Edith’s nanny is here, Edith’s appetite is voracious and her tastes adventurous; I hear a great deal about what a terrific eater she is for her age. It’s difficult not to take this personally.

COVID

Well, it happened. My household finally fell to the inevitable. Last Wednesday I got home from having my first ever filling (the dentist did not apologize for his staff having chipped it in the first place, but then I most likely gave him COVID, so it all comes out) to find our nanny waiting with her mask on. Her husband had just tested positive; she ran out and texted me that she was positive shortly thereafter.

At first, other than feeling badly for her and her family, I was mostly just concerned about juggling Edith with my job because I really didn’t want to take off for a week, having just taken a week’s vacation. I’d always wondered how people work with small children at home and on Thursday I found out: not well! Edith tolerated the two calls I had that day and that was about it. And I use “tolerate” very loosely: on one call, she got out her banjo and began banging it festively as she marched around the kitchen island where I was on a Zoom; on another, she climbed onto a kitchen chair over my shoulder and well in the shot, and from there onto the kitchen table where she began to investigate jumping off. I was only half aware of this because I was concentrating and it didn’t really click for me until I saw everyone on the Zoom tensing up. I caught her just before she leapt.

But otherwise, we had a nice day together and I was feeling good about things as we went to bed. Then, at nearly midnight she woke up crying and I found that she had vomited all over her crib and was searing hot to the touch. I darted around half-awake, panicking and trying to do a million things at once. Somewhere in there, I took her temperature and it was nearly 105 and then I force-fed her children’s Tylenol and she immediately threw it up all over the bathroom. Finally I got us both to the emergency room– or, well, an emergency room. In my panic and confusion I took us to some sort of strip mall walk-in emergency room across the interstate from the real hospital and I await the staggering bill from what is undoubtedly some sort of no-insurance money trap any day now.

They brought her fever down and confirmed it was COVID, and once we went home, she ran a fever for about a day and a half and was during that time the most knocked-out I’d ever seen her. She lay in bed with me all day, which is not something I ever thought I’d see from Edith and was very droopy-eyed and low energy, except when it came time to give her fever reducer every four hours, at which points she fought like a bag of cats. Now she has a lingering night cough. I feel really guilty that I didn’t work harder to get her vaccinated promptly. I find the Moderna results much more compelling than the Pfizer for her age group, and her pediatrician only has Pfizer. The youngest I could find a pharmacy to do it is 18 months. I was going to see if they’d take her with a prescription but since she doesn’t go to daycare, it didn’t seem that urgent, and now I feel like a horrible mother.

I got COVID about 24 hours after she did and it was not too bad for me (vaccinated, one booster). I was very miserable for a night and the next morning until about noon, and then I felt regular sick. Then, I got the Paxlovid. The worst thing about my having COVID was that Edith really didn’t anymore, and I couldn’t take her out and about or do much and she was NOT understanding about this.

Our nanny was able to return on Tuesday (she and her husband had fortunately been less sick than we were), and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. I felt like I’d just crawled through the desert and spotted an oasis. Meanwhile, work had piled up, the house was a disaster zone, we’d eaten nothing but bread and fruit pouches for four days, everything needed washing and disinfecting, and I’d had to cancel multiple appointments which all now had to be rescheduled. I have learned that my life works and runs very efficiently as long as it all goes as planned, but dropping the to-do list for four days turns me into Lucy at the chocolate factory.

Additionally, while I wouldn’t say she enjoyed being sick, there were a few accommodations that Edith became accustomed to during her ordeal: sleeping in my bed, unlimited access to my phone, having me immediately do whatever she wanted me to do, 24/7 hovering and dedicated focus from Mom. She was not giving any of this up without a fight and this week has been a lengthy trial of ongoing screaming tantrums and sleepless nights as we reestablish boundaries.

While all of this was unpleasant and I’d rather have avoided it, I was conscious throughout of how immensely fortunate I am. I work for a company that gives me no grief about taking off as much time as I need for things like this (even if I’d just taken a week’s vacation), I have a very comfortable house with all necessary indoor appliances and a private outdoor space, I’m able to afford delivery of food and medications, and I have very good health insurance so I don’t have to think twice about going to the emergency room or whether a doctor will be available to give advice and/or call in a prescription for me or Edith. Everyone deserves the sort of security that I enjoy and very few people have it, and I am never more aware of my luck than at times when everything is going wrong and yet nothing goes that wrong. It’s horrible to think that for so many Americans — maybe most Americans — they would have the stress of crucial income loss on top of all of this, among many other problems. And in a nation this wealthy, it’s really unforgivable.

The End

In which I detail all my ailments in great detail like the old person I now am.

Well, over the past week, my body just completely fell apart. It was bound to happen eventually, but I didn’t expect it to be so concentrated.

First, I got my bloodwork back mid-week, and my cholesterol is, per the nurse who called, “extremely high.” I have six months to get it down with lifestyle changes, after which we’ll move on to medication. Not a shock given my lack of exercise and terrible diet over the past year, but still irritating to experience a consequence.

Then, on Friday, I finally visited the orthopedist (a foot expert one) about said foot. I tend to delay care, but it’s not because I have any anxiety about the doctor. It’s because I have learned that unless you have a broken bone or a clearly diagnosable disease, doctors always give you sort of vague advice that you could have figured out from googling on your own and it’s a big, time-consuming hassle to get it from them. Particularly if they don’t really know what’s wrong, they’ll order a million tests and possibly send you to specialists and each of those things eat up essentially a whole work day, and none of it ever helps. I work in tech support, and I know when someone is just distracting me with questions and attempts, while all the time hoping that I will forget or give up because they don’t actually know how to solve the problem.

In this case, after eating up a whole day driving into Austin and back, I was told that there was nothing clearly on the x-rays so to try a metatarsal pad and if that doesn’t help, we’ll do an MRI and a follow-up. The particular metatarsal pad they told me to try cannot be obtained online and is only sold at a running store off Burnet Road (which is far).

So after delaying care because the initial appointment was going to be time-consuming, I got a recommendation for….three more days worth of appointments and errands. Only retired people have the time to pursue health care.

I know that if I were to actually do all this, at the end of it, they would say, “huh, nothing super clear here, but we’ll try rest and physical therapy” and that would involve more appointments, and wouldn’t work either. Eventually I would give up and/or it will just sort of heal on its own. So I am just going to skip to that part.

Then, Saturday night, I was watching The Rehearsal and eating some muesli with soy milk (because cholesterol) and the back half of my front tooth just sort of crumbled into my mouth. This is because after not having gone to the dentist for two years because of the pandemic, I finally went several months ago, and the hygienist somehow took a chip out of my front bottom tooth. I didn’t notice it had happened until I got home and it was small and not noticeable, and I sure as shit didn’t want to line up a bunch more appointments and have conversations, so I let it go. But now the rest of the tooth has kind of flaked off to be in line with the chip, so my tooth has a ledge out of the back like it’s got a false second story on it. So now I have to get this fixed and am faced with a dilemma — find a new dentist to fix it since these fools chipped it in the first place, or have the old dentist fix it and pay for it? By the way, I had no cavities and have never had a cavity in my life, so the only thing I got out of finally going to the dentist was this catastrophe I’m so fucking glad I went!

After my tooth broke itself on some soft oats, I went to sleep and for the first time in my life, had a horrible burning sensation in my chest that kept me up all night and I woke up several times having to swallow repeatedly to keep from vomiting. Is this what heartburn is?!?!? It sucks, I hate it! And THEN, the next morning when I lifted Edith off the changing table, I wrenched my back somehow and suddenly felt like I’d been stabbed with a thousand knives. I couldn’t move for a good twenty minutes; I sort of waddled around sucking air through my teeth. I couldn’t get Edith into her chair for breakfast so I threw some Cheerios on the floor for her. I thought I had experienced back pain before, but I had not! I finally understand what all you whiners have been crying about all this time!

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, am I just going to disintegrate into a pile of dust on the floor? I feel like I’ve angered the gods somehow. Anyway, usually the way I handle an injury is to just get really furious at it and demand twice as much of the injured area to really show it how stupid it’s being. So I intend to work out a lot this week and also chew on ice all day. We’ll see how it turns out.

Monkey, Pee

Edith has a little stuffed monkey backpack with a leash on it that her nanny used to use when she was first running around and wanted out of her stroller, but now that she listens better it’s mostly just a toy around the house. Last night, while FaceTiming with the grandparents she became newly interested in it. First, she wanted to model it for them and after that was done, she became fixated on learning how to clip together the clasps on its straps. She focused on this for 30 full minutes. I have never seen her so absorbed in something. She didn’t stop until she managed it, and then mastered it, and then she wanted to keep repeating it even still. She wasn’t even interested in her night milk. She tried to take the monkey with her to bed, and threw a short fit when I made her put it down. I don’t know what’s normal for a kid her age, but I’m pretty sure this means she is a genius.

Meanwhile, us three adults sat and watched a toddler try to buckle a clasp for 30 full minutes, as riveted as if it were the new Better Call Saul, so you know, that’s what we’ve become.

This morning, while I was doing my usual getting up avoidance, the genius peed the bed. I have already sized up on night diapers but there is only so much that can be expected of a bit of absorbent plastic. This happened once before, and I thought, eh, I don’t need to get a mattress cover, I’ll just pay more attention. Now I had to newly Google how to clean it up, and I saw that this would require white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide or a specialized cleaner, none of which we had. It would also require baking soda, which was did have. So I made due with the baking soda until our nanny arrived so I could run out to the store, and meanwhile I bought a $90 mattress protector. While I was going around searching cabinets about this, Edith was screaming her head off and weeping and clasping my knees together and throwing herself at me repeatedly as if we were a separating couple in a ’50s stage play, due to her breakfast being delayed. I never regret having a kid, but mornings like this make it necessary to revisit my reasoning.

Snoozing

Before I had a baby, I had an impossible time getting up in the morning. We talk a lot these days about the advantages of remote work, but frankly, I have a lot of thoughts about how remote work exacerbates many people’s unhealthy behaviors to a very destructive extent, but this is sacrilege to talk about in my line of work, so I try to keep that under my hat. Mostly, I find that many of the people I work with are lonely to an almost incapacitating extent, they do not have social support networks in their lives and look to get everything through The Company, although I think that is also true for many people these days regardless of their work. But remote work really enables self-isolating, and I think it’s actually pretty terrible for people who have depression (myself included). That said, I would still rather descend into utter madness than ever have a commute and have to wear business casual and sit in a cubicle again. I think the real issue here is that we all need to reinvest in intentionally building communities outside of our workplaces, non-faith-based communities that provide mutual aid and support the way that churches used to.

This wasn’t what I was going to write about at all, how did I get onto this? What was I talking about?

Oh, right, so anyway working from home meant that I could fully succumb to the snooze button and it really became an issue. I spent hours at it, and nothing I did could combat it. Not moving the alarm to another room. Not setting up multiple alarms in a sort of obstacle course. Nothing. There was nothing so complex and time-consuming that I would not do it, and then get back in bed “for just a sec.” I was able to go ahead and get up if I had an actual appointment, so it’s not as if I really couldn’t, but there was no way I could fake that constraint for myself if it didn’t actually exist.

I thought having a baby fixed this, because while you can actually snooze a baby to an extent, mostly, they roust you out of bed pretty definitively.

But over the past couple of months, I have not only gotten back on my bullshit, but I’ve taken Edith with me. It started when Edith decided (perversely, randomly) that her new wake-up time was 4:30 (after we had agreed on 5:15 and had stuck to it for months). I could not accommodate this, so when Edith woke up, I stumbled through the dark to her pack-and-play, fished around on the floor with my toes to find the pacifier she had pitched out in a rage, and then hauled her back into my bed.

Weirdly, she permits this and now we often spend over two hours “getting up.” It looks like this: when Edith first joins me in the bed, we cuddle for awhile. Then, she begins to kick and flail, and I sort of clutch her to me and jiggle her madly for a bit. Sometimes she goes to sleep! More often, she doesn’t, and then I spend a long time alternately cat-napping and warding off blows. This is not restful but it’s better than getting up. I will at times turn my back on her and she’ll occupy herself somehow. When she’s starting to hit her limit, I hand her my phone (I’m not proud of this) and she fills up the camera roll with photos and videos of the pitch black while I genuinely sleep. Usually she does go back to sleep at some point for anywhere from 10 minutes to 40; it’s hard to say. I definitely get back into dreaming sleep, but I don’t know how long that lasts.

If she starts yelling at me, I put her on the floor and turn on the light, and then she runs around in the bedroom pulling things off shelves and out of drawers while I doze with an arm over my eyes.

Eventually, I get up. It’s really surprising that she permits this at all, much less for so long, and every morning! I’m really thankful for it, but I also think that it’s a testament to what a hold this habit has on me that I have somehow managed to get Edith (Edith! Of all people!) to tolerate it.

Still, sleeping in for hours now means that I get up at 7:00 am, which previously was my goal wake-up time. So in that respect, this problem has been solved.

Body Shit

(CW: eating disorders and body image discussion. Also an acknowledgement that everything I’m discussing here is from a position of extreme privilege compared to what many women have to deal with along these lines, etc. I know how lucky I am comparatively. These are small potatoes problems.)

I never wanted to deal with my fucked up relationship to my body and my weight and my disordered eating habits; I thought I could just continue to tolerate it and live with it until I died, and I would have, but then I had a daughter and I realized I had to fix myself so she didn’t model all of it, so for the past year I have been doing a lot of really hard and boring mental work. It is every bit as hard and boring and unrewarding as I always thought it would be, but it is also more complicated than expected, so although this is different and more personal than the sort of stuff I usually write, I want to share what I’ve learned so far.

My history is so standard, it’s not really worth going into. It’s the same story as most every white woman from the South: I was a pudgy teenager and then a moderately thin young adult and I wanted to be a very skinny woman (and truly thought that being one would fix all of my problems), so I starved myself for nearly two decades and along with that, I secretly binge ate, and I wrecked my metabolism and my hunger cues, and then I stopped starving and went into an absolutely manic extended binge for about five years, capped off with a global pandemic, deep isolation, fertility struggles and hormone injections, and pregnancy, throughout all of which I emotionally ate like it was going out of style, and now I am newly fat and also have a perfect little girl and am trying to fix my mental problems so that I do not hand all this down to her.

As soon as I had Edith, I got a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, and started to work on all this. As always with therapy, I saw the therapist for a couple months, and then got the gist and broke up with the therapist (although she was really great) because I really know what I need to do and I don’t need to talk about it, and now I am just doing it:

  • Accept myself at the weight I’m at now and any weight I happen to be at in the future, and give up on the idea that my weight is a reflection of my worth in any way, and/or something that I will actively manipulate.
  • Divorce my ideas about food from thoughts of good/bad, reward/punishment and let myself eat whenever I am hungry without telling myself stories about how I won’t eat tomorrow or whatever.
  • If I do binge, don’t beat myself up over it or promise myself I never will again, or try to starve for two days to make up for it, etc.
  • When I feel driven to eat compulsively, try to examine where that’s coming from and address the deeper need I’m having even if that’s hard or gross.
  • Really try to accept that other people’s opinions or thoughts about my weight are not things that I can control or do anything about, and don’t let my fears of other people’s perceptions of my body derail me.
  • Don’t put off doing things or seeing people with the vague idea that I will do those things or see those people when I “have my body back.” This is my only body.
  • Realize that Edith will see and model even those things that I think I am hiding perfectly. Everything I do to myself and my body and everything I say about myself and my body, she will internalize and imitate. It is not possible to hide your internalized misogyny and self-hatred from your kid.

All of this is so hard and so, so boring that it makes me want to puke. But I can’t because I don’t do that anymore! (Little joke!)

I even finally told my doctor that I have a history of disordered eating and so do not want to be told my weight, and also will not be losing weight and so need her to help me be healthy at this size, which is something I never had the stones to do before, not so much because I was afraid of my doctor’s judgment, but because I felt that this sort of request was only appropriate for women who had had “real” eating disorders (like had been hospitalized) and was overly dramatic for my situation.

But what I really want to write about, because I didn’t expect this to be part of it and haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere, and it’s really kind of rocked me, is that doing this work has really brought home to me how much of my experience of the world and my life involves being an aesthetic object in it. I’ve never really thought of myself this way; I have of course had many girlfriends who were primarily interested in being a decorative part of whatever scene they were in, and sometimes I had fun with participating in that, but my primary self-worth has always been elsewhere and I didn’t think of myself as that invested in it. But now, I am having to re-learn how to exist in various environments and how to experience things like summer days, swimming pools, vacations, parties, winter scenes, etc. without looking the part. My habitual way of existing in the world has been more viewing myself as I am viewed than being in the world and experiencing it as something happening to me. And when I no longer am contributing to the aesthetic of an environment, I don’t know what I’m doing there, or how to enjoy it. Having a drink on a sunny patio is for me inextricably bound up with being a girl in a cute sundress. Going for a swim cannot be divorced from appearing in a swimsuit.*

And I think this is something that happens when you become a mom or just middle-aged generally; my friends and I all talk about the utter relief and weird dissonance of suddenly becoming invisible. But the big change in my body at this exact juncture is really compounding it.

There’s a sort of explicit metaphor for this with leg hair, because (as anyone who normally grows out their legs and has leg hair knows) our nerve endings are in our hair, so when you grow out your leg hair, you suddenly feel the breeze on your legs, which makes you realize that women’s ordinary experience of having summer legs is having numb legs. It’s more important to present a particular image to the environment than to actually be in and feel the environment. And with the extent to which having a child has blown my heart open in a way that it wasn’t before, I am feeling everything more these days, which is both good and bad, but mostly shocking, because I truly didn’t realize how utterly numb I was before.

Along with this is thinking about how much of my self-image relies on having models, and I don’t really have models for who I am now. Mostly when I am trying to figure out how to be present in a social environment, my models are now men. Frankly, I think about how I would exist in a space with other people if I were a middle-aged fat dad and then I do that: that helps me to really put aside the whole question of being a perceived object so that I can sort of learn how to just be a person. It also helps me stop worrying about how I compare aesthetically to other women (which is probably much easier for me to do than it would be for most women because I’m not trying to date ever again; I can’t imagine how impossible all of this would be if I were also still interested in being attractive to men). Then the question shifts from how I might look drinking a beer and/or what other people will think about me having one to just whether or not I actually want a beer and everything proceeds from that perspective.

It’s a hard shift to make and maintain, and I didn’t realize how much simply accepting my body would mean actively changing the way I view and exist in and experience the world. And of course, realizing this fills me with feminist rage and resentment, so then I have to also deal with that.

I kind of hate to admit it, but I do feel mentally healthier now that I’m working on this. I feel less conflicted about who I am and more authentically myself. I don’t feel physically healthier or happier yet, but I know that I will eventually.

Anyway, this is all probably not very well expressed, so I will share some a couple of resources that have been extremely helpful to me while I’ve been going through all this:

  • Maintenance Phase podcast. Not every episode, and it’s kind of spun out by this point, but the early episodes were extremely helpful to me. Mostly it has helped me really internalize that weight cycling is bad for me and that starving doesn’t even work.
  • The most recent issue of the excellent Pipe Wrench magazine, which is focused on medical fatphobia. Pipe Wrench is edited by my friend Michelle who is one of the most brilliant and funniest people I’ve ever met. Caroline Moore’s essay for this issue is so beautiful and absolutely broke my heart.

*I should note here that I am not intending to imply that you cannot both be a fat woman and an attractive aesthetic object. Of course you can, and young women are working on changing the general idea that you cannot be (and are doing a really good job of it). I hope that Edith’s generation will be more accepting of the genuine beauty of all different kinds of bodies, of every size, gender, race, and etc. Rather, my personal experience at the moment is that I am trying to figure out how to not feel like I have to be an aesthetic object in the world at all, because I don’t want to be one really, and I have always felt it was mandatory without really being conscious that I thought that. And my own body image and how I’ve tried to take control of it is inextricably bound up with my need to fit into an aesthetic that has been described and presented to me by a very particular social group.

Secret Vacation

I am starting day two of my secret vacation. I took the week off some time ago, and I am not going anywhere or doing anything. Instead, when our nanny gets here, I go into the guest bedroom and I lie in bed all day reading novels.

The one goal I have for the week is to assemble the exercise bike I finally bought because my foot still won’t heal and even when it does, I’m sure that I will suffer repeated injuries from jogging from here on out and so I need a backup method for exercise. I was going to assemble the bike yesterday and then start using it today. I am looking at it now, in pieces on the floor.

It’s not that hard to assemble, per the instructions. But every time I look at it, with the plastic sleeves and the zip ties and the screws and the bolts, I just go back to my book. I am considering paying for their overpriced home assembly service just to spare myself the frustration, as a vacation gift.

Meanwhile, ERCOT is warning that there might be blackouts due to the ongoing extreme heat in Texas (another reason for an indoor exercise option). I love heat, I moved here in part for the heat, but this heat is so scary that I can’t enjoy summer anymore. Every time I step out the front door, there’s a tangible reminder pressing in on all sides of my body that this planet is becoming increasingly inhospitable and that life is going to be increasingly hard for my daughter and for everyone else’s children. So now the summer just makes me feel sad and guilty and angry and helpless. Like many people, I have had this constant knot of panic in my chest for several years now, and it is just sort of always there, but sometimes I can ignore it better. I’m trying to ignore it this week, but it turns out that not having work as a distraction makes things worse rather than better.

Exercise will help, if only this stupid bike would assemble itself.

Baby Gym Mid-Week

On Wednesday, our nanny had the day off so I was off with Edith and in the afternoon, I took her to baby gym. It’s open weekdays for open play, but not on the weekends, and I’m always baffled by this with all things for babies and kids. Childcare at gyms is the same — it’s only offered nine to five during the weekday, and like, nobody needs childcare at the gym if their kid is already at daycare? Offer it nights and weekends when people are working out! And who brings their kids to classes and play places during the week? There aren’t very many families anymore with a SAH parent, so how do all these places make money?

Well, when Edith and I arrived at baby gym, I got my answer to who goes there during the work week: nannies go there. There were six nannies and an au pair there with their charges and they were having an excellent time together. They had ordered pizza for lunch and I listened to them as they all planned a lunch outing the next week for one nanny’s birthday, and then I eavesdropped on the au pair telling the youngest nanny about some guy she’s seeing who is being a fuccboi.

(Side note, and I know I am always on this beat but what the fuck is wrong with men? This girl was gorgeous [and French], and she’s talking about some scrub who keeps ghosting her for weeks on end and then calling her late on a Saturday to see if she wants to hang out that same night, and like, men, what are you even doing? Why are young women still bothering with this shit at all, the best advice I have for the younger generation is just focus on getting yourself into a good financial position to have kids on your own and hire your help. It’s the best choice I ever made.)

Later, another mom showed up with her baby and we got to talking and they were there because their nanny also had the day off. We both said, essentially in unison, “I wonder if my nanny should bring my baby, she’d probably love to, and then my baby could socialize with other kids more, which she is seeming to want to do, but I don’t know, I don’t know, I just worry so much about the driving, the traffic here, so dangerous!!!!” And then a bunch of other stuff like that, and when I have these conversations, I always have this unreal feeling of how we’re all just a bunch of animated bots in varying categories. I mean, this mom and I were identical in our concerns and opinions and our relationships to our (only, precious) daughters and I didn’t even ask her, but I know she works in tech from home, we might even work for the same company. We definitely vote the same and eat the same and shop at the same stores, and I guess if I were a less cynical person, running into someone who is almost the same as me would feel exciting, like I’d met someone I’m really in sync with, but it usually just makes me feel creepy like I’ve been manipulated into a very specific social class by market forces and any ideas I have about my own uniqueness or freedom of choice are illusory and naive.

Anyway, I would have liked to be friends with her, but once again, I failed to give her my phone number.

Flags and Shit

Edith and I had another delightful weekend. She’s becoming ever more fun to hang out with, and I love rolling around town with her.

We took another trip to Target Saturday afternoon to return some of the stuff I’d bought the previous weekend and I got to experience what it’s like to have a tantruming child in public. Not great! I had somehow failed to connect the more frequent tantrums of late with the fact that she would also at some point be doing this in front of other people. She threw her first tantrum as we approached the returns counter — Edith wanted to run off into the wilds of the store, and I wanted her to hold my hand and stand next to me until I could accompany her, and as she registered her disagreement with this plan, the young woman being helped next to us looked at us the way that I used to look at screaming toddlers.

I had one of those existential shocks that are becoming very frequent in parenting. Like, I know I’m a mom, I’m mom-ming 24/7, but I don’t always really get that my position in life has permanently and fundamentally changed and then I’ll have a stark reminder that I have fully moved into a different bracket of humanity. I was “sneering pretty girl” and now I’m “hassled and mildly apologetic mom.” This change wasn’t fast or anything — it was incremental and ultimately took several years. But at moments like this, I feel like I’m suddenly looking back at my old world over a chasm. Going from alive to dead is a major life transition, certainly, and I feel like going from “non-parent” to “parent” is as vast! There are probably other transitions that feel as transformative and irreversible, but this is the only one I’ve gone through.

Anyway, it was a brief tantrum and then I wanted to let Edith exhaust herself by running around the store as much as she wanted (again, it was too hot for her to do this outside). In some areas of the store, Edith trotted along adorably, dangling my car keys from her hand, and people cooed at her and grinned at me and we were bathed in approval. In other areas of the store, Edith would take an interest in a stranger (usually one with kids) and follow them up and down the aisles, and when I pulled her away, she would have a meltdown and everyone would glare at us, and we were scalded by disapproval. My child was the cutest kid ever born in automotive, and a horrifying brat in housewares. Two minutes and three aisles and it was the opposite. One young woman was so taken by Edith that I heard her say to the guy with her “ooooh maybe we should have kids.” (I realize this sounds made up, but I promise she really did say this.) This was in office supplies and I wanted to say, “if you’d just been over in the freezer section, your original decision would have been reinforced.”

Having a kid makes it much easier to talk to people, and I am getting to the point where I think I might have an opening to make friends in a couple of these classes we go to. There’s one couple at baby gym especially who have a little girl Edith’s age and have been making a point to talk to me every week and say hi and bye and stuff. I don’t know how to make friends and have never been good at it, but there’s a certain level of attention between parents that seems to be an opening for more than a nodding acquaintance. I don’t know how to move it to the next step, though. I know I’ve missed the window a few times — a woman with a baby in Edith’s swim class brought Edith a little present for her birthday, which definitely seemed like an opening but I didn’t do anything and then they switched class days. I met a mom my age at the park one weekend and our kids were the same age and I liked her so much that I had to collect Edith and leave abruptly (this is an old habit from my younger days of social anxiety — if I like somebody and want to be their friend, I get so anxious about messing it up that I have to leave immediately). It’s been well over a decade since I made a friend, so I’m really using some atrophied muscles here. But I have to figure it out, because I want Edith to have friends!

My neighborhood has a Facebook page and after procrastinating about it for weeks, I finally posted saying that I had a one-year-old and would love to do a playdate with anyone else in the neighborhood who had kids the same age. I got one reply…from a lady with a bunch of “vaccines cause autism” and “COVID was a government lie” stuff all over her profile (I did not respond). I’m not sure how well I’ll fit in with people in this neighborhood. For example, on Thursday night upon rolling the trash bins out to the curb, I discovered that a small American flag had been placed in my front yard. There was one in every yard and it turns out that the neighborhood social committee does this for the fourth of July.

I am not a flag person (I know, you’re shocked). I have always been deeply creeped out by mandatory loyalty displays, particularly pledges of allegiance and saluting the flag and all that. It’s just gross and weird to me, and it always has been. I felt like a robot in school whenever we did the pledge. I don’t think this happens in other countries; I know Europeans find it very strange. Also, not for nothing, but our flag is ugly. I might feel differently about it if it were rad, like Seychelles or Bhutan, or at least inoffensively neutral like Hong Kong or Finland.

Even still, in past years, it’s possible I would have let this slide just to keep the peace. But for fuck’s sake, this country just overruled my legal right to make decisions about my own goddamned body! I am now only a free person insofar as I am not pregnant; otherwise, I’m owned by the state of Texas! I can’t even look at a flag right now!! I put it in the garage, and whatever, I’m sure no one will hassle me about it, but I feel like I’m surely not the only person who feels this way? And yet, I have not spotted a single other yard without a flag. It’s possible I will have to drive into Austin for friends.

Edith and I gave the 4th of July pool party a pass — not because of the flags but because there’s no shade at the pool. Swimming was canceled, also, and so I set Edith’s paddling pool up in the backyard under the trees, and after we’d invested the 30 necessary minutes of prep time to coat ourselves in zinc oxide and struggle into all our Coolibar layers, we had a lovely afternoon splashing in it. Edith enjoyed herself immensely, and I almost did. Our next door neighbors have a pool and they love playing the radio very loud — the actual radio of top 40s hits, with ads and everything — which makes me feel like I’m attending a junior high dance or shopping at a Kohl’s in my own backyard. It sets my teeth on edge. (I realize this post is making me sound like I might be a little hard to get along with.) But other than that, it was very pleasant.

When we went in, I took Edith into my shower to hose us both off. One aspect of parenting small children that nobody talks about and so I was really unprepared for is that toddlers don’t really digest a lot of foods, and so their poop is often just that food again. Edith had had wild rice for dinner the night before, and when I removed her swim diaper, I was surprised by wild rice suddenly being all over my shower like someone had just popped a piƱata full of it. And if you think it would be difficult to clean up a bunch of wild rice poop from the floor of a large walk-in shower, imagine doing so with a 15-month-old who wants very much to involve herself in the proceedings. Cleaning all this up while also cleaning Edith up (repeatedly) took a sort of sequence of showers and baths, and in the end, involved multiple tubs and sinks and a succession of towels.

This was late Sunday afternoon and it thoroughly depleted my remaining patience and energy reserves for the weekend, so I am very happy to be at a global company with an open vacation policy where the place doesn’t shut down on stat holidays and so I was able to have a normal work day yesterday and hide from my child for eight hours.

A Half-Baked Theory on ADHD

Everyone’s just been waiting for me to dispense completely unfounded medical opinions based on a hunch, right? Well, having had occasion recently to closely observe various people going about their daily routines, I have been thinking a lot about ADHD and focus. The traditional line on ADHD is that it’s an inability to focus, that it makes you easily distracted and you forget what you’re doing. But what I have more noticed is that for most daily activities, neurotypical people don’t use their brain to accomplish them; they get into their muscle memory and then their body just executes them while their mind wanders free in the clouds. But for people with ADHD (at least those I have lived with, which is quite a few), this never seems to happen — they have to focus mentally on a task no matter how many times they’ve performed it because when their mind drifts, their body simply stops performing the task and wanders off from it.

I am praised as being an especially focused person and always have been, but I actually am almost never thinking about what I’m doing. My body is just going through the day performing tasks. I even write sometimes while thinking about something else entirely. I would never have to remember where my keys are, because I don’t ever think about my keys. My hands store and retrieve them in a location automatically when I come in the door. I don’t have to focus on doing laundry while also making pasta, because my brain is not involved in that combination of activities — my brain is thinking about the recent loss of my human rights while my body carries on with whatever chores it has started.

So what if everybody is equally unfocused, and this is less about our focus and more about the extent to which our bodies function as programmable automatons, or fail to?

Driving, on the other hand, is an activity that never gets into my subconscious muscle memory, because I am terrified of driving and of being in cars, and that never goes away no matter how many times I do it. So while other people can easily drive and carry on conversations, if someone in the car is talking to me, driving becomes impossible for me. I cannot split my attention in that way, because my brain is always actively involved in the driving — the fear acts as an interruptor that blocks my body from taking the wheel (literally). But that is the exception on tasks I regularly perform; usually, my brain isn’t involved at all.

By the way, sorry if any of this is accidentally offensive in some way (I don’t think it is?), but before you cancel me, I’m allowed to say it, because I also have been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t really think I have it, but I’m not above indignantly claiming that I do in order to make a point. Although actually maybe I do have it, because whenever I do have to fully focus my mind on something (a conversation, reading, writing something complex), I have to spend like 30-60 minutes sort of meditating myself into it by force, because otherwise my brain keeps wandering off to obsess about other things like, say, the fact that over half the US population is now not in full possession of their own bodies. And I also can’t listen to anything anyone else says unless there are subtitles or I’m also playing with a coloring app on my phone. I took adderall for awhile and it fixed all this, but when Edith was born I decided I cared about longevity and although I don’t know for sure, I just feel like taking speed every day probably doesn’t contribute to living into one’s dotage, especially when combined with all my other unhealthy lifestyle factors which I am making no serious effort to improve, so I cut it out.

And so if you’re ever talking to me and it becomes clear that I have not been paying attention to what you’re saying whatsoever but have just been nodding and smiling and interjecting politely while my brain is obsessing about something like, oh, I don’t know, a massive backslide in women’s rights that will make our overall society substantially worse by just about any metric you could think of, you can’t get mad at me about it, because I’m just trying to stay healthy for my child.