On Suicide and Empathy

This is a bit of a departure from my usual blogging (cw should be obvious from the title), but I’ve been thinking a lot about how people talk about those who die by suicide in the wake of Heather Armstrong’s very sad death. One thing I note about everyone expressing condolences is the way in which they are phrased: everyone is saying things like, “Heather, you fought so hard to stay here every single day, and I hope you have peace now.” This is a lovely way to talk about someone who has passed, in my opinion! It truly honors how hard people with medication-resistant clinical depression fight to stay here for their loved ones, how they live for years and decades in unbearable psychic pain and mostly hide it to spare their loved ones.

I am very fortunate to have depression that responds beautifully to medication and isn’t particularly severe at the worst of times, but in the periods when I have gone off medication, I have gotten just the tiniest taste of what people like Heather must experience on a continual basis, and I cannot fathom living like that year after year, working and parenting and persisting and advocating for yourself in a largely uncaring medical industry that makes it extremely difficult even for the most privileged to get personalized care.

People see how hard Heather fought, and I see her frequently described as a warrior. She was! But so is everyone else who fights this battle, and usually people do not talk about people who die by suicide that way. What I typically see are well-intended but accidentally insulting (or just vacuous) sentiments like: “I wish I had known how much he was hurting, I wish he had reached out to me” and “for anyone out there, if you are hurting like this, there is help available! And for any of my friends, call me and I will be there with no judgment.” I also see things like, “Oh my friend, if only you had hung on.”

Why are these things insulting? Because the person did hang on, they did ask for help, they did try absolutely everything. We just didn’t see it. With Heather, everyone saw it. Heather talked about her depression openly and widely, she talked about everything she tried and how hard she fought and how deep the pain was, she talked about her previous attempts, and so people knew when she died that it was not for lack of fighting and it was not a whim. Other people with this level of depression don’t talk about these things, but they are working just as hard. They don’t simply feel a little blue one night and decide to end themselves out of caprice, when simply chatting with a friend would have gotten them over the hump.

And what does “if only you had called me” actually mean? What do we think we could have done for this person when we say that? Do we think we’ll have some eloquent words that nobody else was able to find that will enable them to endure the pain they were under for one more year? Do we think we could somehow come up with some treatment that they weren’t aware of and hadn’t tried? Are we offering to move in with them for the rest of their lives and do a better job at holding space for them than their partner or spouse was doing? What a silly thing to say.

I’m not saying that people who are struggling shouldn’t reach out and shouldn’t hold on and that it’s never the case that asking for help can save someone’s life. Of course they should and of course it is. But what I am saying is that profound, treatment-resistant depression is a disease, the same way that cancer is a disease. People who live with it know more about their own depression than anybody else, and we should do them the courtesy of assuming they tried everything and fought hard. By all means, we should suggest suicide prevention hotlines, but we should also know that they are a bandaid on a gunshot wound. Imagine how other people who are battling this disease as hard as they can day after day must feel when they see the entire world saying that somebody who finally couldn’t bear it another day “gave up” and “abandoned us” and “just should have reached out.”

Of course, family members and close friends can feel any way they want to about a loved one’s death by suicide. Their children especially might be angry at them, they might well feel they gave up and left them, and that’s valid. But for anyone not intimately close to someone who takes their own life (certainly if we’re mourning a celebrity or someone we didn’t even know), I think the kindest and most respectful way to express regret and remembrance of that person is to simply say, “Thank you for fighting so hard to stay with us for as long as you did. Thank you for enduring this pain for so long and giving us so much despite how much it cost. Thank you for fighting every day to be here for us. We love you, we see you, we’re grateful, and you have earned your rest.”


I no longer have to think up things to do with Edith, because Edith is now old enough to know exactly what she wants to do and to force me to participate. It’s exhausting. Before I had a kid, I used to wonder what was so exhausting about parenting small children. It seemed to me that parents of small children overstated their exhaustion and acted as martyrs to their progeny in a way that could not possibly be supported by the facts. How hard could it be to oversee some little terrors? You didn’t have to participate; you were bigger and stronger and could refuse and simply sit there and let them run around and do whatever.

So now I often think how I would explain the current situation to my younger self, and this is the best explanation I can think of: imagine that you were personally in charge of a day trader who has ADHD, is having a manic episode, and is coked to the absolute gills. Now, imagine that this day trader has recently suffered a catastrophic brain injury, leaving him uncoordinated and physically clumsy and intellectually incapacitated — unable to express himself with more than a handful of words, and unable to read or write or think or do any other adult activities — but just as strong as he ever was. Now imagine that this day trader also has a condition that makes him especially fragile and breakable, like his bones are made of glass or something. Now imagine that you also love him more than your own breath. Because he cannot entertain himself or take care of his own needs or express himself or really do anything much, the only place he can put all that coked up manic irrepressible energy is directly into you. And sure, you might get him to stack objects for a time, or color on the walls with markers, or throw things across the room, but no one activity is going to hold his attention for very long. He is screaming and babbling and pacing the room, he is hanging from a precarious table and climbing onto the kitchen counter, he is shitting himself and he cannot calm down. Take him somewhere? Well, yes, you take him everywhere, and you can imagine how well that goes.

This is what it is like to parent a toddler.

Except also, it’s really fun. Edith is curious and funny and cuddly and charming right now (in between screaming tantrums) and I love hanging out with her, even if it’s destroying me. What do we actually do? It’s hard to recall; at the end of the day, I have a vague exhausted impression of having been run off my feet from one end to the other (pausing briefly for a calm eight-hour stretch of work in my office), but I can’t really put my finger on specifics. We spend a great deal of time walking up and down the hall and all around the neighborhood while pushing a pair of strollers — Edith has a little doll stroller that she wants to push everywhere, and she insists that I follow along behind her pushing the cheap disposable umbrella stroller I bought for our last trip and didn’t use. If you happened to live in our neighborhood, for example, yesterday you might have looked out of your window and seen us pushing these strollers for about an hour in circles around the pool parking lot, and then through the surrounding landscaped beds, and then back around the pool parking lot again. There is nothing in the strollers.

Edith also spends a lot of time talking to me, and reading books to me, but only every fourth word or so is actually understandable. Edith’s vocabulary becomes more impressive every day (and in two languages) but yet communication is as elusive as ever. This is because language acquisition is entirely guided by what seems personally interesting and useful to Edith. For example, here are some new words that Edith has very easily acquired this week and now regularly deploys:


And here are words that despite hours of coaching and prompting simply remain beyond her grasp:

any simple noun or verb whatsoever that might help me understand what she is currently screaming about so that I can address her concern

Hilariously, although Edith can now breezily scale a climbing wall at the playground that five-year-olds need assistance to get up, she STILL has not figured out that she can get out of her pack-and-play at night, so I sleep undisturbed for now. But the longer she has remained confined in her bed-cage, the more companionship she requires to get through the night. Whereas a few short months ago, even her dearest Agatha was unwelcome in the pack-and-play and if she ventured into its confines would be immediately rejected with enough force to hit the opposite wall, now Edith sleeps atop a dragon’s hoard of books, animals, and blankets. Last night, I was not allowed to turn off her light until I had piled around her several Ollie books, Jojo, Agatha, Mama Duck, Daisy, a random baby duck, and Doorknob Bunny.

Speaking of Jojo and Agatha, both of them were finally left behind in the field one time too many, and were not recovered. They both vanished in the same week, and it was a real conundrum. Edith wandered around the house saying, “Where Agatha go? Jojo?” while I choked back sobs. In the end, she accepted both replacements with hardly a pause and no suspicion at all, even though Jojo had apparently had restorative face surgery and Agatha had had butt implants and full head-to-toe cosmetic bleaching. Now that they are back again, they are especially enjoying meals with Edith and when I tucked them into bed last night, I saw that Jojo had been enjoying a ripe strawberry at some point and Agatha had been muzzle-down in some guacamole.

So that’s more or less how we’re spending our time lately as summer descends heavily and wetly over Texas. I predict it will be hot and long.


I decided to bow gracefully to the inevitable and enroll Edith in “mini” soccer which meets every Saturday morning in a park in Buda. This past Saturday was the first class and I was really interested to see a group of two- and three-year-olds be corralled into soccer practice. I expected the class to mostly just be letting them kick balls around.

Turns out, it was very structured! I mean, the class was. The toddlers not so much. There’s a very wide gulf between two and three also, so there were a few older toddlers who were fairly focused on improving their burgeoning soccer skills and then some younger kids who had to be discouraged from wandering off toward the playground, and then there were two little baby two-year-olds in their first class — a little girl who mostly clung to her mother and cried, and Edith. (And if you are wondering, they were also the only two girls in the class.)

Edith really enjoyed the part where everyone ran in a pack from one end of the field to the other. She got the gist of that immediately and participated with enthusiasm. She was much too little to do the “control” exercises. When it came time to dribble (if you don’t know anything about soccer, and everything I know about it I learned in this baby soccer class, this means you control the ball across the field with little tiny kicks, which is a tall order for a toddler), she instead kicked the ball as hard as she could directly across the field cackling in triumph. She enjoyed making a goal while everyone chanted her name (each kid took turns). She loved playing with the cones and picking them up, although she didn’t grasp the purpose of them. They ran a little scrimmage at the end, seemingly for the entertainment of the adults as it was a bit like watching the puppy bowl. Overall, she was interested and engaged for about half the 30-minute class, and then she was over it, which I felt was a win at this age.

Meanwhile, I was absolutely pouring buckets of sweat under a scorching sun at only 8:00am in the morning, running much more than I expected, and wishing I had worn a sports bra and a hat. It’s going to be a long summer.

In other news, Edith has gotten so big that I cannot really bodily control her, and this coinciding with her turning two and still not being especially verbal is causing some problems. When I change her diaper now and she would rather not have her diaper changed, for example, she kicks and flails her legs around as hard as she can, and this is very hard! She occasionally catches me in the face (sometimes on purpose) and it’s just basically impossible to clean poop off someone flailing in such a way. She also demonstrates her will in other ways that aren’t my favorite, like throwing her food at me or across the kitchen violently while looking me dead in the eye. If she doesn’t want to be in the bathtub now, she will launch out at me, sopping wet and with windmilling arms. She has to be bodily wrestled into her carseat in a move that’s a lot like putting a puffy down sleeping bag back into its stuff sack, if the sleeping bag were also able to claw at your face and scream.

It’s sort of hard for me to tell, still, what of this behavior is intentional. I mean, it seems awfully intentional, but my darling perfect daughter couldn’t possibly intend to be such a mean little pill, so I think it must be some sort of accidental pattern that just looks a lot like intent.

At any rate, I have begun to try employing a no-nonsense Mom voice. Last night, when Edith threw her dinner at me (which I should note was fair enough, because Grandma was out of pocket for the night, so her dinner was a hard-boiled egg white, a cold hot dog, half a banana, and some Saltines [although in my defense this menu was determined less by my limited cooking ability and more by my selecting foods she has a proven track record of actually eating]), I summoned my best “don’t fuck with me” tone (and I should note here that I am not a passive person and have a tendency to frighten other full-grown adults and a reputation for being formidable), and I said “Edith, stop that! Now!”

Edith looked at me, lowered her chin and grinned at me from below her eyebrows, and then she said, in perfect mimicry, “Edith, stop that! Now!” And then she threw back her head and laughed merrily like it was the best joke she’d ever heard.

So, this is the age when people start saying the fairies took their child and left an imp in its place, and I get that now.

Duck Birthday Party

Edith turned two last week. We had a COVID exposure, so we had to push her little party to another day, but it wasn’t much to move, since like her first birthday, it was just me, her grandparents, and her nanny. A friend recently pointed out to me that I’m nearing the end of the period where Edith won’t have friends and I can get away with not throwing her a party, and it was another one of those “oh” moments where I realized that I’d never thought about the fact that parenting would involve orchestrating and executing birthday gatherings for children. I mean, I’m never going to be an elaborate party thrower, but even a small gathering at the house with activities and goody bags is well outside of my comfort zone and current skillset.

Edith is very into ducks lately, so I got a bunch of duck stuff to decorate with and on the day of her party, her grandpa took her in the backyard to play while we set everything up. I had a duck banner and duck tablecloth and duck plates and napkins and duck hanging thingies and best of all, I had 50 little neon-colored plastic ducks. Initially, I had envisioned a backyard party with the ducks filling Edith’s little wading pool, but it turned cold again here unexpectedly and we couldn’t do water stuff. So instead, I just put them all around the house — I lined them up on the living room carpet and all around the playroom and all over her playroom table and in the hall.

When we let her in, she saw the ducks on the rug right away, and she said, “Oh!” And then she ran over to them and squatted down and said, “Oh!” And then she said, “Ducks!” And then she looked at me and past me, she saw some ducks on a table, and she stood up and she said, “More ducks!” And then she ran around trying to gather up every single duck and hold them all at once, which was of course impossible, so I brought her a bucket, and then she spent probably half an hour taking all the ducks to the bucket and then when they were all in it, emptying the bucket duck-by-duck and lining them all up on her little table, and then putting them all back in the bucket again.

She was so delighted, and so surprised, and why can’t we all just be children? Why can’t we be a world full of children forever? If I had known what perfect pure joy I would derive from watching a two-year-old discover $25 worth of plastic ducks scattered around the living room, I probably would have had a baby directly after high school and done nothing else in life but raise an endless series of toddlers.

But I just have the one, and she’s already two, and tomorrow she’s going to be 20. I didn’t get Edith any presents (other than one giant stuffed duck with five baby stuffed ducks in its zipper pouch) because she already has so many toys and she’s never really been all that interested in toys. I keep shoveling out her playroom and putting the toys she isn’t playing with in the guest room, and then the next day somehow the playroom is absolutely packed with bits and bobs and books and bits of paper and plastic spiders again. I cannot seem to keep on top of it. So I am not buying toys anymore.

We did also have a cake (which said, due to a miscommunication at the bakery, “Happy Birthday, Eden Grandpa”) and Edith was grabby and excited about it, but after she had a few mouthfuls, she ran off to attend to her ducks again, and us adults were able to have a lengthy and uninterrupted conversation at the table.

Oh, it was also my dad’s birthday, but nobody cared (least of all him).

Toddler Social Life

Edith turns two next week, so I am looking back at baby photos and weeping softly in my office. When I look at past videos and photos of my daughter, there is not a single one from about six months on when she is not pursuing some objective or other with steely-eyed tenacity. She has never not been after something.

As she enters the terrible twos, she is either a charming and easily delighted child or a psychotic nightmare, and it really pretty much is an every-other-day pattern. I can tell quite early on what sort of day it’s going to be. The main trigger for her rage is a fixation on controlling my movements. Everyone else is immune, but she views me as an extension of her aforementioned will, an instrument she can use to further it, and I need only take a step without permission to send her into an apoplectic rage. This behavior is so focused on me that one of the most frequent compliments I hear about Edith is “she is always so happy!” People are always saying this to me during our public appearances, as I quiver in terror at the brief reprieve from her demands. At home, I am to remain glued to her side, fully focused on her face, and ready to immediately carry out any subtle direction from her. When I realize I am being obedient (it takes me awhile to notice, because I’m just intuitively behaving in a way to avoid the alarm going off), I grit my teeth and go about my business as if nothing is happening while she thrashes on the floor and screams and flails and writes her congressman. I’m told by the books that eventually this will teach her that this sort of behavior does not get a response? But so far, the penny has not dropped.

I was prepared for tantrums, but what I didn’t expect is that even when my child is being patently ridiculous, I still respond to her crying face as if she is genuinely hurt. I hate seeing her cry! Even if I know that she is crying because she wanted me to continue dancing Agatha on and off the bookshelves, which I had already done for thirty full minutes, and instead I briefly dipped out to pee — I still feel terribly distressed by her distress. I realize this is biological, but like, when does it end? She’s not a helpless infant anymore, and is no longer served by my limbic system going into turmoil whenever she is mildly displeased.

I think we’re ready for a new weekend routine. On Saturday mornings, we still go to baby gym, but for some reason, the older toddler’s class which she is in now has more circle time than the one for littler toddlers. Edith cannot sit still for even so much as a minute, and I’m worried for what this means about preschool. Most of the other kids at baby gym sit in the circle and participate in the group activities, but Edith is off like a shot and on the trampoline. I wouldn’t mind except that the staff members there keep picking her up and bringing her back to the circle. They don’t seem to absorb the fact that I can either restrain her bodily and make her stay while she screams bloody murder, or we can just let her run around and play like a toddler is supposed to do on goddamned Saturday morning in a gym full of ball pits and trampolines. I have signed Edith up for baby soccer in the park (fml) which starts in a couple weeks, so we’ll do that instead now.

Edith still loves music class, where she is free to do whatever her heart desires and no one tries to restrain her or make her behave in any way. She can even bring Jojo and throw him around if she wants (and she often does want). She dances, she runs, she plays with the other kids, she has started trying to sing. And meanwhile, I think it’s such a nice communal way to spend Sunday morning, singing with other adults in a circle while our kids play and dance. It’s good for my soul. The music class is at a Montessori school and after class, most of us go to the playground out back and the kids play while the parents stand around and talk, and I really look forward to it. The problem is that since we’re all the way down in Kyle, there’s not much potential for play date friends.

Sadly, it seems that Edith is bored with her swimming class. She has always loved swimming and never minded being dunked underwater or taken from me by an instructor; she’s a happy little fish who has no angst about the pool. And so over the past year and a half as I watched other toddlers tantrum and rage and shriek in terror, I felt very smug. “The trick,” I would tell a fed up mother, “is to get them started when they are very young.”

Well, now my own baby is that age, and I have to bring a little stool to sit on so I don’t get too wet while Edith clings to me and keens every time it is her turn. This has been very sudden. She only has begun over the past few classes — at first, she mildly protested taking her turn and now it’s escalated to outright refusing. I don’t want to force her because I want swimming to be fun, but this past Sunday, she wouldn’t get in at all. It’s not that she is now afraid of swimming or going underwater or anything. She very happily gets in the pool and paddles around independently in her tube when it’s playtime, so she is not afraid of the water or of being in it without me. But I think she’s bored of the work of swimming class; she doesn’t want to float on her back or practice skills. She wants to do exactly what she feels like when she feels like it. And she wants me to get in the damn pool with her. If this keeps up, we might take a break from swimming lessons and just go to the neighborhood pool on our own.

Anyway, I originally signed her up for swimming as a chance for us both to socialize but there is only one other little girl in her class. Edith is really interested in other children now and loves being around them. I’d really love to find more opportunities for her to socialize with other kids locally here in Kyle, but the one little kid dance class I took her to here was so depressing to me personally that we couldn’t go back. Her nanny takes her over to her house a couple of days every week; a family with a five-year-old is currently living with her and this little girl LOVES Edith and follows her around everywhere and pets her head fondly and does whatever she does. Her nanny has a trampoline and a playhouse and a piano, and the kids work in the garden and play in the mud, and Edith always comes home covered in dirt and utterly exhausted.

I do not have anything planned for Edith’s birthday next week, but I suspect this is one of the last years I will be able to get away with that.


I happened across this photography project by Annie Wang on Instagram, and I find it so moving:

At the first level, the progress of the photographs captures in a concentrated way the velocity of a child’s growth, how strange it is to have an encapsulated life unfold entirely in the middle of your own, how they begin and then leave you in such a blink of time, and how the compounding years eclipse the long moments of babyhood. Although Edith is not yet two, I already feel this. Her babyhood felt like epochs unfolding as it happened but already it is a tiny speck in the past; I can hardly recall it. I look at baby pictures of her from less than a year ago and feel a great sense of longing for her, even though she’s still here in front of me. Time becomes something altogether illogical when you are a parent; it expands and leaps and compresses in disorienting ways.

But the other thing that is so interesting to me about this photo series is the way in which it depicts how motherhood erases and then remakes you. In the first series, there is nothing in the pictures but Wang and her son. There is no time for anything else, he is all-consuming and her life has been packed away elsewhere. Her days are sparse, her appearance low maintenance, her personality has been tacked somewhere out of the way, to be retrieved when he needs her less. And then with each year, while her son grows and develops interests and his life expands and colors, she is there in the background also growing back into herself. We see her with evidence of gradually more interests and obligations, her appearance becomes more intentional and varied.

This has been a surprising and not unwelcome aspect of motherhood for me — that in giving birth to a baby, you are forced to undergo a sort of rebirth yourself, or at least a reset or a remaking. Throughout my first 40 years of life, I often wanted to fundamentally change myself or my life in some way, but I was never able to truly; I would try to jolt myself out of my familiar patterns, but I’d settle back into them eventually. But having a baby forces you into an utterly new world, irrevocably and absolutely, and quite overnight. You go into the hospital one person, and you come out another. And for a year, I had no idea who I was, other than the person who was keeping Edith alive. There was no time for any of my old habits or routines, my familiar thinking patterns, my coping mechanisms, my old obsessions. And my brain was swept utterly bare of any preoccupation other than my daughter. And gradually, as she becomes more independent by fragments I have a bit of space again and the interesting thing about this is that my priorities have permanently shifted. I value time more, I procrastinate less. Anxieties and concerns that preoccupied me for 40 years seem laughably irrelevant now. My values haven’t so much changed as that I am able, finally, to honor them. I am a better, more intentional person than I used to be, and a more genuinely happy one.

I don’t yet have much free time and I won’t for years, but I imagine that when I do, the way I choose to spend it will be utterly different than in the years before Edith. Time is more valuable both because I have less of it, and also because I am aware on a much deeper level of its brevity.

For over a year now, when Edith finishes her dinner, I pick her up and shake her over her high chair, and then I heft her up backwards over the top of my head, and carry her to her bath. She loves this and giggles and kicks, and if there are other people at the table, she waves goodbye elaborately while upside down. We’ve done this every single night since she was….six months? Seven? Lately, she’s been so heavy it’s a real strain to do this, and I was worried about the day she would be too heavy for me to lift. But then three nights ago, when I went to heft her over my head, she said “no, down!” I thought I must have misheard, or maybe she didn’t know what she wanted, so I carried on, and she shouted, and said “down!!!” again. I put her down and she ran to the bath on her own two feet. I thought maybe this was a weird anomaly, but she did it again the next night, and the night after and it took that long for me to finally get it.

I’ll be quicker on the uptake for the next one.

Puerto Rico

Some months ago, I was talking to a friend who has a three-year-old about her trips with him and what gear she takes and so on. I told her that I knew I needed to travel with Edith at some point, but I just couldn’t face the logistics and also had decision fatigue about where to go and who to visit first.

“Come to Puerto Rico with us in January,” she suggested. “I’ll just send you our itin and you can book the same thing.”

“Ok!” I said.

The thing about plans (which I’d forgotten about since the pandemic) is that it eventually does become time to carry them out, so last week, Edith and my mother and I all flew to Puerto Rico to spend three days at a beach resort with my friends. The last time I traveled was in November 2019 to Rochester, Minnesota for a few days on a family trip. This is very strange because I used to travel at least once a month and essentially lived at the airport, and now I think nothing of going multiple years without leaving home.

Anyway, I was right to be wary of traveling with a toddler. I don’t like fussing about with gear and toddlers require a TON of gear. I did the most minimal amount possible for this trip, but still for the three of us for five days we still had a massive checked bag, a stroller (which turned out to be unnecessary; we never even got it out of the gate check bag), a car seat, a wheeled carryon suitcase, a stuffed diaper bag, a small backpack, and my waist pack “baby bump” carrier. But other than the stroller and some extra swimsuits that I brought for myself and Edith and that neither of us wore, we used every single thing we brought multiple times.

You can check a car seat and a stroller for each child traveling free of charge, which is nice, but they’re likely to get torn up in handling, so these are things I would prefer to gate check, but you can only gate check either a car seat or a stroller but not both. The way frequent travelers get around this is to get pricey travel ones that fold down compactly enough to carry on, but for this trip, we just installed Edith’s old baby car seat in her seat on the plane (which was worth doing because she slept in it and I don’t think she would have slept in the seat, and also I don’t think we could have kept her from taking the seat belt off), and then gate-checked a super cheap lightweight umbrella stroller I bought from Wal-Mart.

An additional complication is that if you are traveling to Europe, European cars require a different model of car seats than US cars and it’s illegal to use an American car seat over there and vice versa, which feels like misogyny somehow? But I’m not sure quite how. Anyway, that’s a problem for future me.

I opted not to travel with any sleep stuff, because here at home Edith sleeps very independently in her pack-and-play but only because she hasn’t yet figured out that she can climb out of it (I live in fear of the day she does). I didn’t want to travel with a pack-and-play and she wasn’t going to sleep independently otherwise, so I figured we’d just co-sleep. This worked ok; I was dreading it, but Edith kicked me for an hour in the middle of the night the first night, and after that, she didn’t wake me up that I was aware of. It took me literal hours to wrestle her asleep in the first place, and I think I was getting poor sleep just from having her moving against me all night, but she wasn’t up and actively trying to play with me multiple times throughout the night like she was the last time we tried to co-sleep, so I’d call that a win overall.

We went to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. My friends had been there the year before after looking for a resort in Puerto Rico that had both swimming pools and beach access, and they found it a very chill and manageable spot to vacation with toddlers. And indeed there were a ton of families with toddlers there, which was nice because nobody minded when we spent all day with ours in the swim-up bar pool because they wanted to climb on the submerged chairs, or when they spent an hour running toy cars up and down the railings of the patio at the fancy dinner spot.

I had grand ambitions to spend one day visiting the El Yunque rainforest which was adjacent to the resort but even as I first thought it, I knew we would not end up doing it. We left the resort exactly one time and it was to go to the supermarket for toddler food and bottled water. Otherwise, we spent all three days wrangling the kids poolside in between eating giant portions of very rich food.

Edith’s routine was sort of annoying for a beach vacation. She woke up about three hours before anyone else and Edith wakes up like she’s been shot out of a cannon, so fifteen minutes after her eyelids flickered open, we were dressed and sunscreened and hatted and outside hardcore exploring. By the time my friends met us for breakfast, I had already been doing laps around the resort (and getting an angry case of inner thigh chub rub) for hours. Then, Edith would enjoy the breakfast buffet, and then she’d pretty much crash immediately after, so while everyone else went to the pool, we went back to the room and went back to bed for anywhere from two to three hours. Then, around two in the afternoon, Edith woke up again, we spent thirty minutes covering every exposed inch of her transparent redhead skin with zinc, and then joined everyone at the pool for a couple of hours. Then, it was time for dinner and then it was bedtime.

Parents often say that traveling with small children is just going to a new place to take care of the baby, and I did feel that. Every portion of the trip and every activity was mostly me wrangling Edith on that portion or during that activity. But it was still well worth doing, mostly because I got to spend time with my friends who I never see and it was really fun to watch our kids playing together (even if at this age this mostly involved them tolerating each other). And also, Edith is a lovely travel companion. She was mostly chill on the flights (which blew my mind, as I fully expected her to scream her head off the whole way), she was game and interested in everything we did, she ate whatever was available, she slept wherever she was when it was time to sleep (well, after fighting with me about it and wrestling for a couple hours), she was curious and easy-going. She’s such a great little buddy.

Edith loves to swim and so a vacation mostly centered around multiple pools suited her perfectly. I got her a little floaty harness. She had never used one before and when she realized she could stay afloat and paddle around on her own her entire face lit up and she paddled and paddled and paddled, only stopping to repeatedly climb out of the pool and ask to be “jumped” back in. The swim-up bar pool had submerged ledges with these sort of slide chairs, and a long slow ramp up out of the pool that could be walked up, and the kids loved this. Also, a staff member was trying to teach a salsa lesson poolside on the afternoon we spent at this pool and the attendees were one drunk lady and Edith, who swam over to that end of the pool, climbed up on the submerged ledge, danced her booty off briefly to the great delight of the assembled guests, jumped back into the pool and paddled across to the other submerged ledge, climbed up on it, jumped back into the pool, etc. etc. etc. In addition to “swimming” Edith back and forth, and holding her hands as she leapt into the water, my role also included applauding her dancing and if I forgot, Edith would patiently clap lightly to remind me. At one point, Edith was walking up the gradual ramp out of the pool and she slipped and fell face-down in the water and floundered there for what seemed to me like an eternity but was really probably ten seconds, until I was able to get ahold of her and fish her out. Nobody noticed, least of all Edith, who…wasn’t bothered? By this? At all? But just kept playing in the water? ?!?!?! It took me a good hour and a stiff mojito to get over it.

The other, bigger pool had a waterslide and Edith LOVED this. I went down it with her in my lap and when we got to the bottom we were both drilled down into the bottom of the pool and our hats flew off and when we regained the surface, Edith was spluttering and saying “more, more” and making the “more” sign she learned from Ms. Rachel. I lifted her to the edge of the pool and she took off at a dead run over the ice slick tiles before I could get out after her. We went down the slide several more times and the attendant at the top found this hilarious. “No rest for mama!” he hollered at me.

Edith also really enjoyed swimming with her grandma, and her grandma (who has been waiting her entire life to have a grandchild to swim with) did not half mind it, either, and while they were doing this, I got to have a cocktail and talk to my friend (mostly about parenting small children). The only unfortunate thing about spending time at the pool was that Edith is so little that she can’t really keep her body heat up in the water. After only 20 minutes or so, her teeth would be chattering and her lips would be blue. She didn’t let it cramp her style and insisted on continuing to swim, but it worried me and made it hard for me to relax.

We didn’t go all the way to the beach and not take Edith out to see the ocean. I took her out there the very first morning right after we woke up. I couldn’t wait for her to see it. I have mentioned before that whenever Edith encounters something very new and vast that she can’t really process, she just goes completely pokerfaced and contemplative and does not react to it in any discernible way; it’s as if she’s making up her mind how she feels about it. She did this exactly with the ocean. She squatted down at its edge and looked out over it and she just froze like that for a good five minutes (an eternity in Edith time) without moving a muscle of her face. I squatted down next to her and talked to her about it, but she didn’t look at me or engage; she just kept staring fixedly out at the ocean like a widow on a rooftop. Finally, I got up and waded out to where the waves were coming in, and she jumped up to follow me and a wave came up over her foot. This was not like a wave wave; I wouldn’t have let her go that far out. It was just a lap of cold water, but it surprised her and she fell backwards onto her butt and started crying, so I went and picked her up and then I carried her out into the waves and we stood out there for awhile and then we went back to the pool.

We took a walk out to the ocean every day and every day was about like this — Edith seemed intimidated by the vastness of the shore, which makes sense. It’s vast and incomprehensible even for adults, so for a toddler, it’s especially surreal I’m sure. She got nervous when her grandma went out to swim beyond the breakers, but then I always get nervous when she does that, too. By the third day, Edith was into playing in the sand, and happy for me to carry her out into the surf and then dip her down into the waves while she paddled her little legs in the water.

While Edith wasn’t sure how she felt about the beach, she was demonstrative about her deep love for the footwashing station. Every time we passed it, she stood there for an age dominating one of the spigots (to my embarrassment because the resort was busy) playing in the water and eventually submerging herself before I could stop her, which was rather obnoxious when we were on our way to breakfast or dinner and not in swim gear. She also kept trying to drink it.

I think Edith loved being on vacation because I let her have as much screentime as she wanted, which is something I’m usually fairly strict about, and she got to eat endless sleeves of Ritz crackers AND she learned that it is actually possible (if you’re persistent enough) to be let out of a high chair at a restaurant meal and to run around on your own. She did not love the flights, but everything else pleased her and she will happily travel again.

I’m on the fence about whether I want to do more vacation trips with her while she’s this small. I’m glad we went and I enjoyed myself, but it was a lot of work, and the constant vigilance required with a toddler is incredibly draining. There are some other trips I want to take with Edith to see people I owe a visit to, though, and then my mother wants us to come with her to France late this summer when I’ll be on a sabbatical from my job. I’d really love to go with her, but whenever I think about it, I feel myself reflexively curling over at the waist into a protective position, so it remains to be seen whether we go through with it or not.

Creative Play

Great news! Agatha has shown up again! I know everyone was very worried. She appeared in the hallway one day and was absolutely filthy, so I suspect she spent a long weekend in the park. I was so happy to see her, and I have since explained to all concerned that she is to be left at home. It remains to be seen whether Edith will agree.

Edith is now at an age where she likes playing with more creative toys. We have markers now for drawing and blocks for building and play dough. I was looking forward to this, as I felt it might be less tedious than baby play, but now that we’re here, I’m feeling unequal to it. When I was younger, I used to consider myself a relatively creative person, but I’m realizing now that any imagination I once possessed has degraded past recalling. There is absolutely nothing in my head.

When Edith and I play with blocks, all I can think to do is build a tower. I know there are other things that you can do with blocks; I know people build structures. Edith’s nanny builds them. But when I am presented with a pile of blocks, I can no more think of how to manipulate them into an interesting shape than I could break down the properties of a single block into elements with my bare hands. “How about,” I say, “we stack them? Look, they can go so high!”

Edith then hands me a marker and invites me to draw and I draw a series of three-dimensional cubes. Maybe some stars. I try to think of something else to draw, and it is as if I have never encountered a noun before. I draw more cubes.

With play-dough, I make a ball and I make a worm. That’s it, that’s my repertoire.

And forget about inventing new games or activities or playing pretend. When Edith wants to be entertained, we just stare at each other. She hands me a doll to play pretend, and I hold the doll up and say, “I’m….a baby. I’m a baby.”

“Do you want to read a book again?” I say.

“You do not need to be told how to play with your own child,” parenting books reassure me. “It will come naturally! Or have your child help you with what you’re doing around the house.”

What am I doing around the house? Edith can’t help me with leadership development, she just types nonsense into Slack. She can’t help me with reading novels, either. And I don’t seem to do anything else. I’m not even creative with food; I just give Edith cashews over and over whenever she wants a snack. “How about some cashews?”

Good lord, what a dull lump of nothing I am; how does anyone stand me? At least Edith has other people in her life.

Visitors Come, Agatha Goes

Edith has had a busy week of receiving my coworkers from around the country. The leadership team of the division I work for all came to town for a work meetup and since a number of them happen to be friends of mine, they very kindly came down to Kyle to see me. (Well, they came to see Edith. But they did not mind if I was also here.) Edith was predictably delighted to have more people show up to pay her homage, and she responded by bossing them all around. First, she made one friend march all over the back yard behind her; whenever he stopped following her around, she would turn back and say “Come!” imperiously and he would hustle to keep up. Then, three other friends came during a weekday so we went down to the playground to find Edith (who has a very busy routine during the week that cannot be put aside for mere socializing), and the very second that she had been introduced to them, she began to dance, and raised her arms to indicate that they, too, should dance. We all did so, in a circle around her, and whenever one of them stopped dancing, she stopped dead in front of them and pointed at them sternly until they began to dance again. The dancing went on for much longer than any of them thought that it would, and then everyone was ushered over to the play structure and made to go down the slide repeatedly.

I really enjoyed seeing all my colleagues — I had not seen most of them since before the pandemic. It was a little difficult to catch up much since they were so busy carrying out my daughter’s commands, but we did get a little visiting in where we could.

Also last weekend, Edith went to a birthday party at her nanny’s house for her (our nanny’s) three-year-old grandson and she got to take a whack at her first piñata! She was more interested in investigating the piñata than whacking it really, but everyone was very supportive and celebratory of her efforts nonetheless. She didn’t really understand that the prizes came from the piñata and had to be helped to collect them, but because she was the second youngest child in attendance everyone was very happy to help her and she ended up with quite a lot. She also enjoyed the cake and said “more cake?” hopefully for the rest of the evening, when we had come home from the party.

This week, we’ve suffered a minor tragedy. Agatha the lamb has gone missing. I suspect she went out to the park, which she isn’t supposed to do, and was left behind and kidnapped. I had always had a feeling this might happen — it’s occurred to me a few times to let our nanny know that Agatha is strictly an indoor lamb, really, and cannot handle herself outside the way that certain Jojos are able to do, but I never got around to it, and now she is out there in the wide world and who knows what has befallen her. Edith loves Agatha when she’s present, but she takes her for granted. If Jojo went missing, we would have to hire a private investigator to bring him back again, but Edith is unlikely to take much notice of Agatha’s departure. But I am bereft! I can hardly think about it; it is not at all out of the realm of possibility that I will cry real tears over Agatha sometime this weekend (I am still in denial and telling myself she might be found under a piece of furniture eventually). I could of course simply buy another Agatha, but…it wouldn’t be Agatha! And this is a disturbing thing to ponder, that I have formed a sentimental attachment not only to a particular object but to a particular iteration of that object, such that an identical Agatha would only depress me further. I am nearly 42 and this does not seem developmentally appropriate.

2023 Reading

Somehow I read 66 books this year, not counting the 12 I abandoned. I don’t know when I manage this. I read a little bit in the early mornings when Edith and I are waiting for her nanny to arrive; I don’t always manage this but sometimes she plays independently and I sit on the floor of her playroom and read my book. Edith goes to bed at about 7pm and I go to bed about 9, so usually I spend at least an hour of that time reading. And on the weekends, I read during her nap — usually I fall asleep for 30 or 45 minutes and then when I wake up, depending on how much longer she sleeps, I have about that much time again to read. That’s it, really, but I guess it’s enough to really get through some volume.

This year, I didn’t absolutely love that many books I read. Maybe I didn’t happen to read many truly exceptional ones, or maybe I’m just getting more critical. I really loved:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Actually, I initially rated this one as very good, but now I think I loved it, because I have thought about this one quite a lot over the past year. It has stayed with me. This might be because I have a daughter who adores her nanny and whose nanny adores her and sometimes I think about how devastated I would be for both of them if that relationship was severed.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I almost never truly love nonfiction books, so I’m extra impressed by those I do.
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I’m late on this one, but boy does it live up to the hype. Single person representation!!! There’s so little of it, and this book gets so much right.
  • Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Books that I thought were really great, but didn’t quite adore:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • This Is How by M.J. Hyland
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. The writing in this is phenomenal. I can’t say I loved it, because I just do not care about a pack of animalistic men brutalizing everyone and everything they come across. But the writing brought me as close to caring about that as anything could, which is saying something.
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
  • A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Books that I enjoyed:

  • Agatha Christie (I finished up the Marples this year and started in on the Poirots): The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, A Caribbean Mystery, At Bertram’s Hotel, Sleeping Murder, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, The Thirteen Problems, Three Blind Mice and Other Problems, The Mystery of the Blue Train
  • Death In Venice by Thomas Mann, trans. Michael Henry Heim
  • Far to Go by Alison Pick. Incidentally this was by far the most painful book I read this year. I think of it often when trying not to think of it and every time I think about it, I have to jerk my thoughts away like I touched a hot stove. It really destroyed me.
  • Wise Children by Angela Carter
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  • The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
  • On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Also a tough one.
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Weather by Jenny Offill

Books I thought were pretty meh:

  • Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
  • A Heritage and Its History by Ivy Compton-Burnett
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • Changing Places by David Lodge
  • Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
  • I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom
  • Agatha Christie: Nemesis, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, The Big Four
  • Animal by Lisa Taddeo
  • The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  • The Great Mental Models vol. 1-3 by Shane Parrish

Books I thought were bad:

  • Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
  • Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Books I didn’t finish:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel D. Cervantes, trans. Edith Grossman. I know it’s foundational and all, but I got the gist.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
  • About the Author by John Colapinto
  • Mort(e) by Robert Repino
  • The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
  • Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald. I will probably revisit this some day, I just wasn’t in the mood.
  • The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I will probably finish this some day.
  • The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman