When Son-One was a few weeks old, Hubby and I impulsively moved from our little furnished apartment outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania to my grandmother's house in the northwestern wilds of the state. I say impulsively because we had had no intentions to move, but while helping my parents move their household to that area, Hubby decided to apply for a job at the same grocery store where my mother was applying. It was a Saturday. He was hired on the spot and they wanted him to start the following night.
Hubby had desperately wanted out of the position he had at a shoe factory near Altoona and the move would mean we would be closer to family so I was all for it, but the logistics were a bit daunting. Yes, our belongings were meager. But, I would be moving them all from a second-floor apartment and trying to squeeze them into the back of an Escort GT with only a breastfeeding newborn and Youngest Sister for help. Oh, and did I mention I'd had a C-section only a few weeks before? Heavy lifting and repeated frequent stair climbing were not an endorsed part of the aftercare instructions I'd received from the doctor.
Anyway...we moved in with my grandmother, my Nan, who was mostly happy to have us. She was, of course, full of advice for us first-time parents. Much of the advice sounded hilariously outdated, especially to the ears of someone who had prepared for motherhood with both book learnin' and the hands-on education of younger siblings, cousins and babysittees.
For instance, she firmly believed that holding a toy in front of the baby's face for even just a few seconds could make the baby cross-eyed. She believed, like many of her generation, and many even still, that picking up a crying baby too soon or too often resulted in a spoiled baby.
But the thing about which we butted heads most often was the importance of keeping the baby on a schedule. I was not working outside the home at the time and I had read a lot about the benefits of on-demand breastfeeding, especially in the earliest months. Add to that the fact that Hubby worked nights and there didn't seem to be any good reason not to let the baby dictate the schedule.
In the beginning, Nan warned, "That baby's gonna get his days and nights mixed up."
Eventually, of course, she declared, "That baby's got his days and nights mixed up."
And he may have a little, but it all eventually righted itself.
I have been thinking a lot about getting days and nights mixed up and what it means to be on a schedule that goes against your own natural rhythms. I have been working second shift (2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) for a little over four years now. Early on, I assumed I would adjust to it, but that hasn't happened so far.
I think I would be better off if I could just come home and go to sleep, but of course, I can't do that anymore than someone coming home at 5 p.m. would immediately go to bed. The minimum wind down for me seems to be about 2 hours, so I'm usually going to bed somewhere between 12:30 and 1, but on particularly stressful nights I'm up (or at least awake) until well after 2 a.m.
Since adulthood, and maybe even earlier, I have always been a very light sleeper who wakes frequently and has a hard time going back to sleep. That, too, has not gotten better with time. I often am awake at least once per hour all night long. It seems miraculous to me to make it through two or three hours of sleep without drifting to consciousness.
I linger in bed longer than I should, hoping to feel more rested, but instead, when I finally do get up for the day, I usually feel like I've been bludgeoned.
There's an old Steven Wright bit that I've always loved, he says, "My girlfriend asked me if I slept well and I said, 'No I made a few mistakes.'"
Sleep seems like it should be the easiest, most natural thing in the world, but I can't seem to get the hang of it. I wish my Nan were still around--I'm sure she'd know just what to do.
"...it crossed my mind that to know others on a superficial level only is a desperate hell and that life is worth living only if the veneer is stripped away, the polish, the wax and we see the true grain of the other no matter how far less than perfect, even ugly, even savage at the heart."
Tonight's journal excerpt features a 21-year-old me (mother of one, enormously pregnant with the second), gushing with gratitude over the thoughtful gifts her family has given her for Christmas. Or not...
Wednesday, December 27, 1989
I have a few comments about the gifts--I got two in particular that I'd like to talk about. Mom got me a pair of red sweatpants. Not a subtle shade of red but RED, as in fire engine red, as in screaming RED sweatpants. Dad asked Mom why she'd picked such a loud color and she said, "Because she always buys dark back or dark blue for herself and I thought she might want to brighten up her wardrobe." Now, pardon me, but if I liked or wanted red pants, wouldn't I buy them? Isn't there probably a reason why I choose black or navy?
On the same note--the note being inappropriate gifts--Nan got me a sweatshirt and stationery with Garfield on them. I had a raving passion for Garfield when I was 13--my first journal is in a Garfield notebook! but I've outgrown him. I'll wear the shirt, but who can I write to on Garfield paper at the age of 21?
I guess my message is about how depressing it is to me that no one in my family knows me well enough--or likes me well enough--to buy gifts for the me I am right now. My mother wants me to be someone I've never, ever been. And my grandmother wants me to be the person she thought I was at 13 or 15. (The truth is, I was probably never that person either--though I pretended to be. I've never pretended to want to wear red (RED, folks RED!) sweatpants. Surprisingly, I'm not offended by any of this--just--well, if bemused weren't such a stuffy word, it's the one I would choose.
"Ah, the sweet smell of procrastination in the morning, er, afternoon or, you know, whenevever I get around to it."
"Daughter-Only and I do two kinds of arguing--the get-out-of-my-life-I-utterly-hate-your-guts-door-slamming stuff and then the other stuff, which we tend to do in front of her friends--an entertaining bickering which they all seem to enjoy greatly."
"We may have fallen short in a thousand ways as parents, but I count our openness with our kids about sexuality as one of our greatest successes. I do not harbor the illusion that my kids tell me everything, but I have little doubt that they know they can tell me anything."
"A week or so ago, I had a dream in which Mr. High School was trying to text me. I was somehow waiting to receive the text while also able to see him as he was trying to peck out the words with fingers that appeared to be freakishly large above the itty-bitty keyboard of the teeny-tiny phone he was holding."
"How far down your drunk-dial list do you have to get to call the girl you had a crush on in seventh grade?"
"A cigar may sometimes be just a cigar, but around here, a dog is hardly ever just a dog."
"It's a weird time to pursue 'fame and fortune' in a given field. In some ways--the American Idol, Survivor, and clones ways--it's easier than ever to achieve some semblance of fame or notoriety. But I think it's also harder than ever to get recognition for real talent without being dismissed as a 'wannabe.'"
"Eventually, Gram took to sending us to the library at the beginning of each period to 'study math.' Air quotes weren't in Gram's repertoire, but her tone made clear she knew that precious little studying was going on."
"A week or so before Thanksgiving, a friend complained in an email about his wife's hyper-elaborate holiday planning. He talked, mostly good-naturedly, about the binder in which she kept her sheet-protected, color-coded recipes and ever-growing shopping lists."
"She liked to sit in the car. Marianne sometimes sat there in the driveway not going anywhere for hours. She enjoyed the quiet, the way it felt to be sealed inside of something, the suction of the air as the door slammed shut."
~~Hannah Tinti, "Bloodworks" from Animal Crackers
Daughter-Only and I competed in our second Team Trivia night at a local art center café. Last time, we came in second out of five or six teams. The teams can be up to eight members and we were the only two-person team, so we were patted on the back (mostly by other people, but a little by ourselves) quite a bit for doing so well "especially for a two-person team."
We went into tonight with some fairly high hopes/expectations--our own and those of some of the repeat competitors, a few of whom mis-remembered us as the winners from last time.
Right out of the gate, the first question stumped us: "When Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for the first time in 1993, he signed a minor league contract with what Major League baseball team?"
No idea. We scribbled down the Mets, just to put something down. When I handed the sheet of paper to Daughter-Only to take to the moderator, I said, "That's the only question we're getting wrong tonight."
How wrong I was...At the end of the first round, the moderator announced totals and we were in fourth place. Out of six questions in the first round, we got three right.
The moderator did not update the standings after that until just before the bonus round and there is no big scoreboard on display to keep track of other teams' scores. It didn't matter, though, because I knew we were failing miserably to narrow the lead the other teams had on us.
We got four out of six questions right in the second and third rounds and just three out of six in the fourth and final round.
I hate to admit this, but my face was burning, my stomach was churning. I was utterly mortified by how poorly we were doing. I could not believe I had taken a night off of work to get so horrifically trounced at trivia in public. I kept trying to give myself little "It's just a game" and "We're having fun, that's all that matters" pep talks, to no avail. Then came the reading of the points totals before the all-important bonus question, in which teams wager points (much like Final Jeopardy).
Daughter-Only and I had 175 points. The team closest to us had 145. We wagered wisely (I've not been an armchair Jeopardy player all these years for nothing), making the most of our lead.
The bonus question: "The Carboniferous Period is divided into two Epochs, each named after a U.S. state. Name the states."
Yeah. Okay. Uh, California & Illinois?
But...everyone else got it wrong, too so...we won!
We won even though I had spent two hours feeling like the biggest loser on the planet. We won even though I was absolutely certain we were humiliating ourselves.
I'm pretty sure there's some kind of lesson in there somewhere.
Maybe it's just a really long story about how badass Daughter-Only and I are at Team Trivia.
"...your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate my subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."
~~Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday
Tonight's quote comes to you courtesy of an all-day Vonnegut binge which promises to carry on (even) later into the night. Thank goodness reader's block is nowhere near as common as writer's block.
So. The first few days of NaBloPoMo around these parts have been lackluster, to say the least. I have high hopes for the coming days, though I make no promises.
In the meantime, please enjoy* this gratuitous ultrasound picture of my first grandchild. ETA: January 13, 2014.
*You are under no obligation to enjoy this ultrasound. In fact, I will totally understand if you do not enjoy ultrasound photos at all. As I said to Hubby's Little Sister, I personally find them about equal parts adorable and disturbing. Many people find them baffling and meaningless, unable to pick out anything resembling a human being in the grainy gray murk. In this case, as Son-Three (the soon-to-be father of said grandchild) said when he texted this shot to me, "There's a face in there somewhere."
Who is that Masked Mom? I'm the mother of four children, ages 21 to 28, grandma to one, employed full-time in the chemical dependency field, writer in personality if not always in practice,married twenty-eight years, waiting less and less patiently for all the hard-earned wisdom to kick in so I can relax and coast a while....