Annoying My Baby

Edith, who is typically a pretty active baby, is going through a phase where she mostly just wants to sit around and chill and chew on stuff, which is basically my whole life, but rather than enjoy the relative calm, I have decided to of course (a) PANIC and (b) annoy the living fuck out of her. I mean, in part, it is one million degrees outside, and in part, she is only just now becoming aware of her feet, which probably uses up a lot of energy, and here is her mother constantly tugging on parts of her body and being like, “Don’t you want to PLAY?!?!?! OH GOD PLEASE PLAY WITH SOMETHING!” and “You never talk to me anymore!!! PLEASE! SPEAK, my baby!” and “Am I FAILING you?!!?! HAVE I ALREADY FAILED?????”

She just got over being constipated and having me obsess about her butt all the time, and now this.

It must be hell having parents.

Cicadas

It’s cicada season for the 17-year cicadas, and I suppose for the usual yearly variety as well. On my run today, I saw various cicadas in every stage, from live shiny green to dead brown discarded husk. Cicadas always make me think of my grandfather, because when I was very small and my grandparents lived in Mississippi, my grandfather used to set me at picking cicada husks off their many trees. I worked very hard at it. One visit in particular, I seem to recall filling several brown paper grocery sacks to the brim with them, but that seems like an exaggeration of memory. When I asked him what we’d do with them, he said, “well, nothing,” and it was only then that I realized the task was an invented preoccupation to keep me busy and out from under foot. Which embarrassed me.

As an only child, I was always desperate to be accepted by adults. Usually, I was only around other adults, so I viewed them as my peer group even though they very much were not, and I would basically do anything they asked to feel included in whatever they were doing. Another time, my grandfather set me at sorting through a big bucket of spare change and wrapping the various denominations in paper wrappers. This was likely somewhat more useful than harvesting cicada shells, but the overall purpose was the same — keeping me busy. Not in a dismissive way. He wanted to give me something to do so that I wouldn’t be bored, and he always had a task or an activity for me when I visited my grandparents’ house. I also seem to recall him trying to teach me chess once, but I was far too stupid to learn.

Unlike gathering cicada shells (which I was very excited about) I remember being dismayed by the coin rolling task. I did not want to sit in a dark office by myself and stack coins, but I was anxious to please and also didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and so set about it with a will.

One problem with being an only child is that there is no backup. Adults can’t corral multiple children — even two will form a tiny army and rebel. Multiple children run households. Their presence cannot be ignored; their needs are paramount, and the days of their adults revolve around them. But an only child is an obsequious, easily controlled creature. She will sit silently for hours without complaint while the adults are talking, pretending to laugh at jokes she does not comprehend.

I always thought I would not have a solo child. I don’t even think it’s healthy to have solo pets, and several years after her death, I still feel guilty that I never provided my rabbit with a companion. But I waited a long time to have Edith and I’m pretty old now, reproductively speaking. I just finished up Klara and the Sun today, which envisions a future dystopia where children learn entirely through Zoom sessions at home, and so they are provided with AI companions to ward off loneliness. Even if remote learning became the norm, though, there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood. I don’t think Edith will be isolated.

Grocery Store, Masks

I went to the grocery store today for the second time in over a year. During the pandemic, I didn’t feel comfortable going inside because I was pregnant, so I had all my groceries delivered. And since the baby’s birth, my Mom had been doing the grocery shopping because she likes to (and also she cooks and I don’t).

One day about a month ago, I stopped in. It’s been remodeled since I last was there and it felt like an event just to walk around and look at things. In part, it felt like an outing because I’d been heavily quarantined for a year, and in part, it felt like an outing because I had a newborn at home and was not used to doing things without someone attached to me and usually screaming.

Today, I went for actual groceries since Mom is not here (Chex mix and canned wine). My local HEB isn’t really bougie enough for me; it caters to suburban families and not vegetarian single ladies who don’t cook and like to live on fancy little snacks and pre-made vegan wraps. But it’s never worth it to me to drive further into Austin to go somewhere else, so I spend a lot of time and money at this grocery store (or I did). I am happy to be able to go back and browse and to use my own bags again.

I am still wearing a mask inside places, but very few other people are. I am fully vaccinated, but I’m wearing one mostly because other people don’t know that I’m vaccinated, and I want for immunocompromised people and people with minor children to feel comfortable rejoining the world again also. But this seems like a pointless gesture as nobody else is wearing them, so I will probably stop soon.

I think it’s reasonable to still be wearing a mask, because there has been a lot of contradictory information about whether or not vaccinated people can transmit the newer variants, and so people aren’t really sure what they should do. I also think it’s reasonable not to wear a mask, because from everything I can tell, vaccinated people can’t actually transmit the virus and it’s fine to stop wearing them. I don’t think it’s reasonable to get mad at other people for wearing or for not wearing a mask in this part of Texas right now, since either choice seems reasonable at this point.

But I am aware (thanks to The Internets) that some people are very angry at those of us who are still wearing masks. They feel that wearing a mask at this point is either due to sheer stupidity and sheepish media-driven fear, or is an obnoxious attempt at virtue signaling, or both. It’s never made sense to me to be angry at people for wearing masks, since even if it’s not necessary, it doesn’t harm anyone. Why the fuck do you care if someone else wears a mask? Maybe they just don’t like the way their face looks, what’s it to you?

I like mask wearing because it relieves me from the pressure of smiling at people, it covers up my jawline acne, and I don’t have to worry about my breath. But I don’t like it because it fogs up my sunglasses and is uncomfortable. I will probably stop wearing a mask soon, but I imagine I will still wear one on planes when I travel again. I always get sick after a flight, and K-pop singers and others have been wearing masks for travel for that very reason for long before the pandemic. I don’t know why it took the rest of us so long to catch on.

Park

There’s a lovely little park a block away from my house. It has a red dirt trail and lots of shady trees and benches and rocks and a playground and a wildflower meadow and landscaped flower beds and flagstone paths. It’s nearly always empty.

It’s been too hot here to take Edith on much of a walk most days, but I feel like it’s important for her to get outside at least briefly, so we’ve just been going down to this little park and sitting in the picnic shelter until we can’t stand it anymore (usually about 20 minutes), and then we check the mail and circle the block home. Sometimes it’s even too hot to just sit in the shade. As we sit, Edith stares at the park, inscrutable, and I browse Twitter and worry about climate change.

Today, there was a man and his two-year-old daughter playing in the park, and we had a conversation! I was so excited to talk to another adult, a parent! We talked about the ridiculous real estate bubble in Austin and the pandemic and remote work and the merits of the neighborhood.

Then, as Edith and I were coming home, my neighbors across the street were in their front yard, and they asked about Edith and we chatted for a short while.

Two conversations with live people! In one day!

I was so happy! I can’t imagine having been thrilled by unexpected small talk two years ago. In fact, I would have gone out of my way to avoid it. I’m not sure if this complete 180 in my personality is due to the pandemic, or to being a parent now and really wanting to get to know other people so Edith can eventually be part of a community, or some combination of both. I wonder whether it will last.

This little walk was the day’s high; after that, Edith and I didn’t really know what to do with ourselves all afternoon.

Baby Talk

I’ve never been able to determine whether I’m a creative person or not. Sometimes I think I am, but for me, creativity is something that happens every few years with great effort and in small doses. It’s more like squeezing a lemon than knocking the cap off a fire hydrant.

Some of the greatest works of children’s literature have been written by bored parents who spun tales to amuse their children and challenge themselves. Watership Down. The Pooh books. The Harry Potter series. And so on.

I won’t be one of those parents. I would love to be endlessly creative and inventive with Edith, but the second I sit down to play with her, my mind goes completely blank. I can’t think of any games or stories. If I try to think of a song to sing to her, all I can remember is a single commercial jingle from the ’80s, like I have never in my life heard music before. I can’t even think up small talk to have with her. I talk to her like we’re standing in the corner at a party neither of us wants to be at. I am truly the dullest dullard to ever wave a toy around.

My dialogue with her all day long is just:

“Edith! Who’s Edith? Are you Edith? Who’s my baby? Are you my baby? You’re my baby!”

“Baby baby baby baby.”

“Look! What’s that? Is that a panda? What’s that panda doing?”

“What are you doing, Edith? Are you looking at the panda? What’s going on? Tell me about it! Oh, yes, tell me all about it! What? What are you saying?”

“Oh boy! A panda! What do you think? What do you think, Edith? What’s going on?”

“Who’s my little bean? Who’s my booger? Are you my pooh bear? Are you my peanut?”

“Look at this panda. Wow.”

“Wooowoo buh. Buh! BUH! A panda.”

“Ok, you keep doing…that. Ok. And Mommy’s just going to look at the news here for a little second. Let’s see what Biden’s doing, what do you think? Probably not one fucking thing…”

[several minutes pass]

“What, what, don’t cry!! Oh, don’t cry! Mommy’s here, mommy’s paying attention. Who’s a bun? What’s a panda? When is baby! You run, you slide, you hit the bump, and take a diiiiiiiiive. A boo boo boo!”

I worry all the time for her development.

Alone Again. Sort Of.

After four months, my mother has had the gall to return to her own life temporarily, and has left me alone with my own child for two weeks.

How could she?!?! I’m not prepared for this, obviously! Who approved any of this?

After over a year of more extreme isolation than even I am accustomed to (I am an especially isolated person even in normal times, but even I typically take trips to see other people every few months or so), it’s been comforting to have company for so long.

I like being alone — I don’t really get lonely like other people do. I sort of live in my own world. But toward the end of quarantine, it was starting to be enough already. And then at some point, it occurred to me that I was about to give birth and then I would probably never be alone ever again (the economy being what it is).

That was hard to wrap my mind around, but over the past few months, I haven’t pined for solitude much. Maybe a bit at odd moments. And now that Mom has left, I feel a bit melancholy. I normally do when a houseguest leaves, but I didn’t think I would this time because I have Edith. But I’m finding that she doesn’t really feel like a separate person to me. She feels more like an extension of myself, like there’s just more of me now, and it’s even more troublesome to take care of my basic needs than it was before. That’s surely healthy for both of us, right?

Probably it will be different when she’s talking and mobile and can exercise her own will.

Meanwhile, we played for awhile, and then Edith watched from her swing, appalled, as I attempted to gasp through a 25 minute HIIT video. She was pretty patient (if obviously humiliated for me) until I propped her up in her donut in the bathroom and got in the shower at which point, she was like, “BITCH THIS CAN’T WAIT TILL I’M ASLEEP?” Which was fair enough. She played some more, and then she fell asleep for several hours and I watched TV and finished the novel I was reading. It was too hot today for our walk.

When she woke up, I managed to give her a bath in the sink by myself, which I was proud of, because it’s unwieldy, and she only pooped in the tub a tiny bit. And now she’s propped in my lap while I type this over her shoulders, and for some reason, she is tolerating this. Soon we’ll go to bed.

So, all in all, a successful first half of a day? Only 13.5 more to go, not that I’m counting, because I’m perfectly capable of parenting my own baby. Perfectly capable!

Deer

I’m lucky to have a large park within jogging distance of my house. It’s along a rural-ish (although increasingly busy) road, and I often see deer there. The other day, a mother and her fawn were eating right in the park, and were completely unperturbed by the joggers and cyclists going past. I took this video of them grazing:

They headed down to the road after, so I followed to see if they got across it ok, and took this video of them wading across the creek on the other side:

A couple of days later, I was jogging along a path outside the park, and a doe sauntered across it right in front of me. I was close enough to touch her, but she was completely unconcerned and took her time. I think it was this same doe.

I really enjoy seeing the deer, but it also saddens me that they are caught in the middle of this rapidly developing area. There’s not really much woods here for them to live in, and they are frequently hit by cars (I also see remains on my runs, which is less charming to mention in a blog post). This city is currently building up this area, cutting down trees and expanding the road, and adding more four lane roads to intersect with it. I don’t know where the deer will go.

Tough Crowd

The baby smiles at me a lot and talks to me periodically, but she will not laugh at me. I thought she didn’t laugh at all, until I mentioned this one day and my mother said, “oh, she laughs all the time!” Then, the other day, I heard her absolutely losing her shit at something the nanny was doing. I ran in, and she wasn’t just laughing, she was waving her arms and legs back and forth in hysterics.

Today, I was determined to make her laugh. I spent the whole day pulling faces at her and dancing around maniacally, and she stared at me soberly, brow knitted. She looked confused, maybe slightly concerned, but I could elicit nothing even approaching amusement.

At the end of the day, her grandmother got back from running errands and came over to say hi, and the baby immediately broke into a delighted peal of laughter.

Nobody thinks their mother is funny, I guess.

Mom Guilt

I thought that I would be immune to mom guilt, because I typically am not subject to the pressures that come from wanting to be socially accepted or approved of, since I am genuinely comfortable being entirely isolated from other people (this is not really a good thing). However, I have been surprised to find that I am not immune.

By “mom guilt” I specifically mean guilt over something that I do not truly believe is harming my child, but still feel guilty about due to social stigma. This is to be distinguished from worry over things that I do suspect might be harming my child, which I shall term “mom anxiety.” I have a shitload of mom anxiety; I’m constantly worried that I’m not doing enough for Edith, or that I’m doing things wrong or making mistakes that will harm her, or even just short-changing her in some way. But this is surely inevitable if you actually care about your child? As a parent, you assume 100% control over the body, environment, health, happiness, and life of a tiny, helpless, extremely fragile infant. If you don’t worry constantly that you’re messing that up, you’re a sociopath.

Mom guilt is different. Mom guilt is feeling guilty for not adhering to the social expectations for mothers even if you don’t feel those standards actually affect the health and happiness of your child. I did not expect I would give a shit about these pressures, and I mostly don’t, but I do find that I constantly feel guilty and bad for doing my own thing instead of playing with Edith while the nanny is here.

Strictly speaking, I do not technically need a nanny while I’m on parental leave. I hired one to come a few days a week in preparation for something that didn’t end up happening, but she really is wonderful, so I’m glad that I hired her anyhow. Edith adores her and has an excellent time playing with her. I do not worry that spending time with the nanny instead of me is harming Edith. For one thing, research pretty clearly indicates that it’s good for children to bond with multiple adults and to have lots of people who care about them in their lives. For another, I am dealing a lot better than I thought I would with the lack of sleep that comes with having a baby, but still, I am largely braindead and frequently on autopilot, and even on the best days, I am not fresh and creative and engaging as a playmate, and the nanny is. I’m pretty sure Edith has more fun with her than she does me, and while I’m occasionally jealous of this, I do not worry it’s a bad thing — I want Edith to be having as much fun as possible. I want her to have fun with lots of people. I want her to be having fun all the time!

So, I don’t have mom anxiety about the nanny, but I do have mom guilt. I do not feel guilty if I use the time to exercise, or to shower, or to nap, or to do necessary chores and errands. And I would not feel guilty if I used the time to do something that would advance my career or earn money (I don’t), or to cook (I don’t cook). That is to say, it seems acceptable to take advantage of help in order to look after my physical or financial needs.

But I can see after all my physical needs and still have time left over, and what I mostly want to use that extra time for is to read, think, write, etc. That is, I want to use the time to look after my intellectual needs. And I feel great guilt about this, because as a new mom, I am not supposed to have any intellectual needs. I am only supposed to be interested in my baby. But I have not had a lobotomy and I need to use my mind now just as much as I needed to use it before I had Edith — more actually, because I have so much more to think about now.

I didn’t realize I was feeling this way until one day, I noticed that I was pretending to be napping when I was actually reading. Why was I pretending, I wondered? And I found that I felt guilty about reading while someone else played with my child. And then I thought that if I had a husband, he would 100% slip off to watch sports or something while the nanny was here, and people might think that was exasperating or even shitty of him, but no one would actually expect any different, because we do not expect men to be endlessly absorbed by the mostly stultifying work of caring for an infant, but we do expect for that work to be inherently interesting (or at least satisfying) to women.

Women admit to each other pretty readily that there is little more tedious than caring for an infant, but still, I feel like it’s not acceptable to outsource any of that. And I can already hear the women reading this saying, “but taking care of your own needs will make you a better mother to her!” and ok, that is true when it comes to my physical needs (which is maybe why I think it’s acceptable to take advantage of help to meet them), but honestly, spending time on my intellectual needs doesn’t actually make me a better mother; I’m the same with Edith either way. It’s just for me. And that’s the key of the mommy martyr pressure — once you have a child, you are not supposed to care about yourself at all anymore.

And the thing is, I don’t! Hell, I barely cared about myself before I had a child. But I still get bored, and I find boredom is a more difficult thing for me to tolerate than exhaustion, and I’ve surprised myself by feeling ashamed of this.

Pool Day

Today, we (my mother, the nanny, and I) took the baby to the neighborhood pool. It’s a nice pool, with a covered baby pool and a pretty elaborate splash pad. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over two years, but I’d never used the pool, because I figured it’d be full of kids. But now I have a kid, so I took her down there.

You would not think it would take three adults to transport one very small baby to a pool, but between the diaper bag, the towels, the changes of clothes, the baby in her car seat, someone to take video of the experience, etc., we all had our hands full.

Edith is a very expressive baby generally, but when she is experiencing something new, she has a winning poker face. I swam her around in the baby pool for awhile, and she remained quite stoic throughout. She complained a couple of times when she knew for sure she did not like something (being tipped onto her back, for example), but otherwise, it was tough to say whether she was enjoying herself or not. If she could talk, I believe she would have said “I’m processing.” I think everything Edith does is perfect, but I especially think this is a rad way to be — she doesn’t feel pressured to perform delight or to provide feedback she isn’t ready to give. If you saw a movie with her and upon emerging asked “what did you think?” she would say, “if I cared to express an opinion, you would already have it.” Power moves.

Later, I perched her on my knee on the side of the baby pool and let her dip her feet in periodically. She seemed extremely interested in all the other children at the pool, particularly the big boys who were cannonballing off the side of the deeper end, and a little girl all in purple who was playing with swim rings in the baby pool.

I really wanted to walk her through the splash pad, but one thing at a time. We have all summer.

The experience wore us both out, and Edith napped all afternoon while I watched Mythic Quest. A delightful day.