Sunday, November 21, 2010

(i wrote this last month for my writing workshop)


THINGS YOU MAY HAVE LEARNED,
HAVING BEEN A MOTHER FOR FIVE MONTHS TODAY

You used to play a game with a fellow waiter at a restaurant where you worked. “Could you kill someone with a plastic fork?” (His response, after zero seconds of hesitation: “Yep. I’d go through the eye.”) “If you had to, could you chew threw your own arm?” “Could you gut your own horse and sleep inside it during a snowstorm?” You always doubted your own drive for survival would be enough to come out a victor in any of your proposed scenarios, but now you know without a doubt that if anyone was coming after your girl, you could kill ‘em in a second with a spork through the eye.

It turns out that there is a reason sleep deprivation is used as torture. And while usually you get used to such things with time, this feeling actually tends to get worse as the night goes on. It is a grueling exercise in your own needs coming last, 154 nights in a row (so far).

You feel guilty about swaddling her but probably shouldn’t; you don’t feel guilty about drinking a glass of beer while breastfeeding but probably should. You feel guilty about once yelling at her dad while he held her and probably should; you don’t feel guilty about having her sleep with you and probably shouldn’t. You feel a vague, nameless guilt for her reliance on a pacifier, and a similar yet more lighthearted guilt for letting the dogs lick her face. You don’t feel guilty making her wear a fake mustache, though your mother thinks you should. You feel guilt drenched in gratitude for the electronic swing that lulls her to sleep; you feel socially motivated guilt for the disposable diapers she wears. And of course, you feel major feminist guilt for having any of that mother’s guilt bullshit in the first place.

Most men aren’t particularly interested in and/or are terrified by young infants, but every so often a man will come along who reaches out for a baby with the same zeal as every small girl you’ve encountered. (Literal swarms of neighborhood girls descend on you like baby-zombies when you pull in to your parents’ driveway: “Can I hold her? Can I hold her? Please, can I hold the baby?”) This type of man cannot be predicted: what a delightful surprise it is, to discover those men who walk gruffly among us as baby-lovers in disguise.

Olive oil cleans particularly dirty spots on a baby with ease. There are a lot of unfortunate baby clothes out there. A washcloth soaked in breast milk and frozen helps with teething. You don’t need a changing table. Elders tend to hate it when you sleep with your baby. Swaddling works, though executing the swaddle may make you feel a bit sadistic. Keep a spare outfit in the car. Dogs love babies; cats’ feelings toward them are a little more complicated.

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