Category Archives: stories

I GOT YOU BABE

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So I’ve been sitting and sitting on this blog post, trying to unspool something insightful about having a baby. But in the two and a half weeks since she’s been here, you know what I’ve come to realize? All the cliches about babies? Totally true.

Maybe you’ve heard things like this before from sniffling new parents, or have come across them on an Anne Geddes card:

Babies are miracles.

Babies are adorable.

The moment you have a baby, your whole life changes.

Looking at your baby, you finally understand true love.

In other words, babies inspire sap. Babies = Sap City! And I am Sap City’s new mayor.

Historically, I’ve never really been a baby person. Two years, three, when kids are starting to talk – that is my jam. My absolute favorite age. Babies, I always thought, were…fine, I suppose, if a little blob-like. You eat, you expel, you sleep? Ok. That’s cool, baby. I guess.

Until (and you knew this was coming) Nico arrived.

Now, I have to physically restrain myself from staring at her and openly weeping fat, salty tears all over her pink baby body.

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We’ve had a lot of delightful family and friend visits lately, and when they come over, I usually tell them something like the above. Then, I quickly qualify it with: “But that’s just the oxytocin talking.”

Why do I do that? Why the reflex to undercut my admittedly sappy and enormous affection for Nico with some cool-girl quip?

I’m not sure, but I’m trying to stop. As I told a friend the other day about having a baby, “it erases all of your cynicism and makes you feel like walking love.” That is how I actually feel. More to the point: I never thought I would joyfully cheer for chubby baby legs, or more surprisingly, diapers. Because every one is this unbelievable affirmation that things are working over here, and that holy shit — I’m keeping you alive! My body is making FOOD and you’re EATING IT and we’re DOING THIS THING! Game on, baby!

Here are some other realities / feelings I didn’t expect about having a baby:

* “I will never exploit my baby over the Internet.” Hahaha! Tooooooo late. This is something I said to myself a few times during pregnancy, born of some high-minded resolve that Nico would choose the time to share her own picture over the Internet. Sorry, Nico! I want to show the whole world my beautiful baby! Privacy be damned; the NSA will also be receiving your birth announcement.

* “I will never co-sleep.” As soon as you have a baby – hell, as soon as you’re pregnant – you start trying to figure out what kind of parent you’re going to be. You do this by assessing the available baby-rearing tribes out there: the attachment crowd? Bringing Up Bebe? Religious? There are lots of labels out there, but in the end everybody kind of mixes things up based on what kind of baby they get. Still, I knew enough about attachment parenting to determine that I’d never be into co-sleeping, the practice by which you and baby share a bed. Because, dude! What if you rolled over on them?! Or worse: had an eventual 15 year-old who insisted on crawling into bed with you? Terrifying.

What a surprise it was, then, that co-sleeping turned out to be 50 times easier than anything else we’ve tried. Maybe because Nico is still transitioning out of the good ol’ days in the womb? Whatever the reason, she sleeps the most soundly all cuddled up in our bed. I still feel guilty admitting this, because I’m still worried about rolling over on her; as a result we keep a bassinet next to the bed and usually start her off there at night. And even there, I thought I’d be such a hard-ass in terms of self-soothing (“oh, let her fuss! That’s what babies DO!”), but as it turns out, I’m just like every other freakin’ softie who jumps the very second their baby whimpers. And when she does, up into bed she goes.

* You’ll check if they’re still breathing roughly 100 times an hour. I always, always think Nico has stopped breathing. Even when she’s grasping my hand like a miniature vice grip, and her eyes are physically open as if to say, “hey, look! Still breathing!”

* You’ll constantly worry about dropping them. Here’s another paranoid thing: I envision her falling out of my arms constantly. My brain has no shortage of twisted/ridiculous scenarios for how this could happen, either, including but not limited to me stepping Three Stooges-like onto a rake and it stunning me into full-on baby drop (note: we don’t own a rake).

* You really will want to kiss their eyeballs. A fellow mom told me this once on Facebook when I mentioned I was pregnant. And actually, I think I successfully have (owing to the fact that I kiss Nico compulsively all over her face while she is crying, a new practice she probably finds extremely annoying).

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More to come.

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PODCAST GEEKDOM, PREGNANCY HAIR, BEYONCE FEMINISM.

Oh, blog! Blog, blog, blog – how I have missed thee.

As I write this, it’s a rainy Sunday, and exactly one day before my 32nd birthday. But lo, it’s the first year I haven’t felt compelled to make a big deal about it, or subtly entreat my friends and family for gifts* (*please refer to the end of this post for a mailing address to send birthday checks).

“Perhaps,” I think, “this is the beginning of parental selflessness. When for once, I think about other people more than I think about me, people like my baby, and all the things I need to do for her instead of me.”

That’s a nice thought. But in truth, I’m just too lazy to plan a birthday party.

I haven’t been too lazy, however, to enjoy the hell out of the podcast I was telling you guys about, “Statesman Shots.” The experience has given me a tremendous amount of respect for all of my favorite existing podcasts – Slate Culture Gabfest, NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour, the Dinner Party Download – and the amount of work that goes into each one. The topic planning, the guest scheduling, etc. – Shots is this tiny, mewling baby of a podcast that stands on the shoulders of giants, giants with way more involved shows than ours, and yet we still bust our bootays getting it all ready each week. We want to talk about stuff that is fun, but also thoughtful; we want GUESTS who are fun, but also thoughtful, and that regular challenge has yielded one of the most singularly fulfilling creative assignments I’ve ever had.

Besides the opportunity to talk with smart people each week like Omar, my co-host, the other lovely thing about the show is that it gives me an excuse to mouth off about whatever cultural topic I feel like. It’s exactly what I wanted grad school (in a very practical field – English Literature – shut up) to be! Here are a few stories I’ve written for the Statesman that were hatched out of Shots conversations:

Locating the heart of Wes Anderson films

How LBJ’s ghost haunts House of Cards

There’s so much insightful pop cultural criticism on the Internet these days, but I’m grateful to have this one little corner of it. In fact, writing here has made me think about the recent shuttering of Television Without Pity, the early aughts-founded site where Omar, and a ton of other glittering culture writers (like Linda Holmes, host of Pop Culture Happy Hour and NPR’s Monkey See blog) got their start; a site that pioneered the TV recap form.

Now, I’m not sure how many people read the Statesman Shots blog yet (Mom? Dad?), but hear ye, hear ye, Internet writers: claim those nascent website homes! When you see a promising new site, one that doesn’t yet claim a huge following but does glint with quality and smarts – pitch it. Pitch it now, before it becomes huge. Writers for TWOP didn’t just go on to contribute to NPR, some became novelists and program show runners. That means fancy TV show writers, y’all! 

Anyway. Aside from podcasting, I’m just doing all my writing work before le bebe gets here in six and a half weeks (whoa), winding down my yoga classes, and enjoying the last halcyon days of pregnancy hair. Here it is in action:

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Ok, well, you can’t really see said hair here, because it’s all tucked up under a hat. (Note: there’s also a handwritten message on the rock in the background that I believe says “BE HAPPY,” but could also have said “BE HARPY,” which is solid advice for new mothers.)

I did a maternity photo shoot last weekend A) because I want to document this time in my life, and B) because I am very vain. Someday, I’ll haul out these photos for my teenage daughter and be like, “look!!! You were just a sweet little baby in my belly back then!!!!!” -To which she will probably roll her eyes and stomp off angstily to text her friends via her contact lenses, or whatever teens of the future do.

The other guiding force though in my maternity shoot was – ahem – Beyonce.

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In the world of feminism, Beyonce is a polarizing figure. Me? Totally in her pocket.

Here’s a reader comment from the Bitch magazine article linked to above:

“She conforms to the beauty ideals and does nothing to fight them. she may not be an anti-feminist, but she doesn’t seem like a feminist to me. Maybe she’s a sex-positive “feminist”.”

That comment immediately got jumped on by others in the Bitch community and rightly so, because who says you can’t be sex positive and a feminist?

Here’s what Beyonce says about her own sexuality, shortly after releasing her latest album, and shortly after becoming a mother:

“I’m still finding my sensuality, getting back into my body, being proud of growing up. It was important that I expressed that in this music because I know there are so many women that feel the same thing after they give birth…I don’t at all have any shame about being sexual and I’m not embarrassed about it and I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me because I do believe that sexuality is a power that we all have.”

This is a dated quote to point out by now, since it accompanied her album release back in December. But it’s a sentiment I’ve been thinking about so much lately being pregnant, and on the verge of becoming a mom.

When Beyonce uttered those words, I was immediately like THANK GOD. Then I wondered, wait. Why do I feel such relief hearing that? It’s not like tabloids don’t play up the sexy celeb mom thing all the freakin’ time.

But isn’t there also a very real, deep-rooted value in our culture that sorta asks moms to tuck away their sexuality? That associates sexuality with greed? That says you can’t simultaneously be greedy and also nurturing…right?

Usually I think no – we’re past that. But then, there was a slew of posts a few months back from Christian blogs on yoga pants that totally fascinated me. Here’s one. In sum: yoga pants provoke lust and cause men to sin, so don’t wear them, ladies.

Now, if sexuality –> lust –> sin is in your rubric of religious beliefs, then that’s that and we don’t have to argue about it. Also, not all Christians think this way. But! I am weirdly fond of thinking through the issues surrounding sexuality and motherhood, and Internet discussions like these reveal something even more profound: we’re still sorting out sexuality and womanhood.

I don’t have a concrete answer to any of this, by the way. Except to say that there’s a difference between being an object of sexuality, and an agent of your own sexuality, and this is the novel thing I think Beyonce is doing here. By voicing desire, and by democratizing it (“sexuality is a power that we all have”). She’s certainly not the first pop star to have done so, but to assert both that side of herself as well as her joy in being a mom, on the same album!, is incredibly cool in all sorts of ways.

(And if it wasn’t clear before, this is all a brief way of saying that my maternity shoot was made up entirely of Beyonce dance move gif’s. Werk!)

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FIND YOUR CENTER

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I’m sitting in a circle with my husband and six other couples, in a softly lit room with hummus and lentil chips perched invitingly in the corner. At the head of the circle sits our leader, an earthy woman in jeans and two loose pigtails rolled into buns. We’re going around the circle introducing ourselves, sharing how far along we are and at least one interesting fact about ourselves.

“This is our first child,” says one of the expectant mothers. “And we’re having a boy!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,”  says our leader. “So you’ve already done your anatomy check with the ultrasound, then?”

“Well, no,” says the husband, he and his wife exchanging a knowing glance, “but we met his soul already. It was in a tantric spiritual ceremony.”

Welcome to my birthing class.

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Ever since before Ross and I got pregnant, we knew it was going to be either birthing center or home birth. In this way, we are card-carrying Austinites: one screening of The Business of Being Born, and boom, done – no hospital for us. Not that Hollywood depictions of birth in the hospital looked all that appealing anyway, but The Business of Being Born viewers are a self-selecting group, so in many ways it preaches to the choir. I am a member of that choir, as well as – when it comes to the pain associated with all-natural, drug-free birth – hugely naive.

But am I hardcore enough to birth at home? Nope. I liked the idea of being whisked away to another location, where a whole staff was on-hand to take care of me. Plus, I am easily seduced by interiors, and between our house and the birthing center, the birthing center — with its chiffon curtains, satin throw pillows and general atmosphere of Enya — totally wins.

“It is like a spa,” says Fabiana, a Brazilian beauty friend of mine who also gave birth there. “Bed, shower, huge whirlpool. I am almost positive -” she leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper – “they keep champagne in the refrigerator.”

Which sounded like my kind of place. After my first visit, I broke up with my old obstetrician with all the sensitivity of a cheerleader dumping her original prom date for the quarterback, and threw myself at the birthing center’s mercy.

“Records release form? No problem!” I sang to the birthing center receptionist. “Where do I sign? Can you get me in for a visit next week? Does that mean you have room for me to give birth here in May? Yes? You need a deposit? How much? Here’s a check!”

It was all very whirlwind, but fortunately, I think this is going to be a good fit. This was all the more affirmed at our first birthing class last week, which at the birthing center is called “centering class.” It’s where you meet other couples giving birth around the same time as you, and talk about things with the midwives like nutrition, financial planning, etc. But this is not just any centering class – this is a centering class in Austin, as the following conversation attests.

“Does anyone have any recommendations for allergies?” one of the expectant mothers, a bubbly engineer in glasses and a bob, piped up.

“You could try honey? From local bees?” suggested one of the husbands.

“There’s a natural serum at People’s Pharmacy that is soooo helpful,” added a mom, seated in lotus.

“Often, allergies are a reaction to a larger toxic issue in your body,” someone said. We all nodded in solemn agreement.

What was not suggested, however, was Zyrtec. Not once did anyone say, “just get yourself a steroid shot, yo.” Ross leaned down and whispered, “heh — only in Austin would the very first recommendation be the local honey thing,” then immediately raised his head back up to share a special gut-healing dietary method with the group.

I looked around at all the local honey acolytes and beamed. Hello, my people.

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Next time in centering class, I’m going to ask about the phenomenon of “baby brain,” which at first I regarded as an infantilizing insult, and am now convinced is scientific fact. Science is also convinced it’s scientific fact. It’s been coming up lately because my own brain is basically divided into two creative halves, the movement part and the writing part, and as aerial gets f-g impossible slightly challenging, writing has taken over. I’ve been pitching story ideas right and left, wrote a cover story here, am starting a podcast here – but not without herculean effort. It’s like the words aren’t blocked, exactly, but chugging along like a wheezing, beat-up Pinto. Rather than fingers flying lithely across the keyboard, it’s more like fists clubbing the keyboard, me banging away at various keys until logical sentences start to appear.

But the one arena in which I don’t feel like Lennie and the rabbits? The kitchen.

Everybody is shocked: my husband, my friends, even myself. Once a champion of reheated veggie burgers rolled into a tortilla (“it’s a tofu taco, you guys”), I now research actual recipes online, and buy things like lamb and cooking sherry. At times, my efforts are punctuated by brief moments of panic, as the Pregnancy Industrial Complex would like to convince you that even common household comestibles are fraught with peril. “Sure, go ahead and enjoy that coffee!” they seem to say, “IF YOU WANT A HORRIBLE AND TRAGIC MISCARRIAGE.”

The funny thing is though, right from the very beginning, I’ve always had this fundamental belief that our girl was going to be alright. Which didn’t stop me from crying at the anatomy ultrasound, when we checked for all her fingers and toes and happily discovered that all parts were in working order. But way before the kicks, which happen all day long now, I sensed she was going to be a badass. A tougher cookie than I ever was.

We meet her in May.

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SO THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

You may have noticed that I’ve put this blog out to pasture lately. That words were not forthcoming, that I assiduously avoided the Internet, that Austin Eavesdropper was quickly becoming a twinkle in your memory if not in your eye.

Well, I am here today to report that there is a reason for all of that.

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It may appear as though I’m currently showing you a picture of a lung blockage or perhaps a tumor; what I’m showing you however is a baby. That’s right, a baby.

I’m about three and a half months into things, but have avoided telling you all until now because:

A) I don’t know how to be cute about these things on the Internet. Some women create these adorable photos with empty baby shoes or their pets holding signs or whatever, but internal soul searching has finally revealed that I am not one of these women. I applaud them though, because…

B) Pregnancy turns you into an insufferable moaner. I mean it REALLY DOES. You guys: no one warned me about first trimester! I whine, I complain, nothing tastes good, and I can smell for miles. I am like a she-wolf who can pick up your gym socks from Marfa. The fact that all these pregnant ladies of the Internet post cheery pictures of their bumps while they are nauseous and headachey and heart burny and overheated and snapping irrationally at their partners and have probably just thrown up is nothing short of heroic in my eyes. Happy, pastel-hued pregnancy blogs: I salute you!

C) We’ve been waiting for first trimester to pass. Not only so that I can wipe the permanent frown off my face and bask in the glow of second trimester, but because Ross and I were pregnant before last summer and it didn’t work out during the first trimester. That’s a tale for another day, but the proverbial silver lining to that whole ordeal was that it affirmed that yes, we wanted this thing, and were lucky enough to get pregnant again soon. HOWEVER:

D) Uh…we don’t know what we’re doing. I know, nobody does. You’ll figure it out! our friends with kids reassure us. Your maternal instincts will kick in! And while I believe them, and have dutifully read Bringing Up Bebe for pointers, sometimes I’m not so sure.

Vanity, for instance. Did you know that is is possible to still be very vain while you are pregnant? My little May birthing cohort on BabyCenter.com and I are firmly divided into two camps: those who plan to girdle postpartum, and those who do not.

LIZZY61NYC: So are you guys going to wrap your belly after birth?

MOONMAMA912: Honey, you won’t care about any of that after you give birth!!! So your body will be squishy after but you’ll be holding your brand new bundle!! JUST ENJOY IT! :-D :-D :-D

TOLLYAUSTIN: I’d like to hear more about this “wrap.”

SUSHIGIRL124: SECOND. Didn’t Jessica Alba do that???

2STARFAERIES: omg u guys, post preg bodies are gorg/luvly no matter the SIZE or the STRETCH MARKS or the WHAT HAVE U so just ACCEPT CHANGES and GIT OVER IT. And LOVE UR BABY that is what MATTERS—-!!!

TOLLYAUSTIN: Sound points all, 2StarFaeries, but seriously if anyone has a link to order an online belly band I’d love to have it.

LIZZY661NYC: I will private message it to you!!

SUSHIGIRL124: Me too!!!! Oh please!

MOONMAMA912: I’m telling you ladies, YOU WON’T CARE! :-O :-O That extra belly flub is just going to be the very last thing on your minds!!!! Forget the girdle and let nature take its course, bigger feet & wider hips & all of that is part of *being a mom* ;-) and your sweet little baby won’t care a bit what you look like!!!!

TOLLYAUSTIN: I’ll look for your message, Lizzy661NYC.

LIZZY661NYC: Totes!

2STARFAERIES: wutever.

BabyCenter.com conversations like these don’t just illustrate my (admittedly irrational) body anxieties; they get at something deeper that I now think about all the time.

“Shouldn’t I be a little more selfless?” I’ll think. “Will I care more about my waist than my baby? Will I be one of those narcissistic, cold mothers? Shouldn’t I be over all that stuff by now?”

Anyway.

The good news is: I physically feel much better now. Also, I’m still happily shocked every time I see an ultrasound image of our baby on the screen – like, are you serious? We did that? We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet; it could be a banana for all I know. I’m trying to follow all the little pregnancy rules, but I cheat here and there. Just a bit of raw fish at breakfast sometimes. Kidding! I’m kidding. What I really mean is crack. I enjoy crack on my cereal.

I’m sure I’ll keep writing about pregnancy on this blog, under one condition: please, PLEASE do tell me if I get boring. Ok? I realize that feeling kicks and early contractions and yada yada might be fascinating to me, but about as compelling as a lecture on vermiculture to you. (Unless you’re a vermiculturist. I don’t know.)

What else to tell you? My friend Omar Gallaga and I started a podcast! An Austin culture podcast for the Statesman/Austin 360 called “Statesman Shots.” That link right there is our first test show. We don’t know yet if it’s going to become a real thing or not come 2014, but are super hopeful. Each week, we’ll discuss a handful of topics salient to Austin, and have a guest on our show to discuss them with us. I think the tone is: Sardonic? Maybe I’m flattering us. Chatty? It’s the kind of stuff Omar and I get together and talk about anyway, things we adore about Austin and things that annoy us about it too. We’re annoyed because we care! Our first topics were: festival overload in Austin, can Austin stay affordable for artists, and techbros.

If you listen and have feedback for the show (“I loved it! It was just right!” or “I hated it! It was too long!”), OR have topic suggestions for future episodes, we’d be delighted to hear both.

Whew. I better stop running my mouth and let you get back to your day. But, in summary: Baby! Podcast! Vanity! Life!

It’s been good to catch up, y’all. Let’s do more of this.

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OUR NIGHTLY VISITOR

Late at night and sometimes during the day, we face an intruder in our home.

He stares at us through the windows with hungry eyes and a cloudy visage, waiting until we’re gone so he can sneak in. And once inside, he steals things. Things whose absence is readily missed, things we paid good money for. Usually this happens while we’re asleep, but he’s even gone so far as to break in while Ross was minding his own business, sitting in the living room. He just strode on by, acting like he didn’t even see him.

We call this intruder Gray Cat.

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Gray Cat, as you might imagine, is no friend of Claudia’s. Here is Claudia, being an adorably cuddly kitty, the way she acts with most humans:

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And here is Claudia when she encounters Gray Cat.

When we moved into our current home, it came with a doggie door that leads from the kitchen to the outside, or as Gray Cat has learned, the other way around.

This is perfect! we thought, because Claudia, always an indoor/outdoor cat, never really learned how to use a litter box. When we first moved in we kept her inside for two weeks, against her door scratching and yowls of protest, to get her used to the idea that we were in a new place now and she couldn’t just go wandering off. During this period we hauled out a cat box, which Claudia regarded with a bathroom instinct of zero. We’d see her prepare to go poo somewhere, then have to pick her up and physically place her inside the box, where she’d stand, confused, until she eventually did her business. When it was finished, instead of burying it, she’d just kind of paw around it, like…is this right? After I go poo I just move some dirt around, right? Sort of like a human going poo, then wiping the toilet paper on their arm. She had all the right steps, but didn’t ascertain what the end goal was.

So it was a great relief for everyone when we un-barricaded the doggie door, and Claudia could go outside to wander, explore, and go to the bathroom in a less mysterious environment. I’m free! she thought. Until, that is, Gray Cat came around.

You have to understand that on our street, there’s a hierarchy of animals. On top is a black German Shepherd mix a few houses down that any small child could ride as a horse. But even though he’s enormous, he’s also on a leash, so he almost doesn’t count. Next is Orange Cat, who prompts the sad meow in Claudia: that low, throat-resonant sound that sounds like a concerned kitty cry. Orange Cat is like a big, fat mafioso who could certainly take Claudia, and likes to wander into our backyard from time to time just to show her what’s up.

And finally there is Gray Cat, who doesn’t scare Claudia, BUT PISSES HER THE EF OFF.

Why? Because he constantly comes into the house and eats her food. Poor Gray Cat is skinny, probably wild, and a total scavenger. Claudia gets the mad, high-pitched screech going whenever she sees him, as if to say, “bitch!!!! Get outta my yard!”

This phases Gray Cat not at all.

We’ve started feeding Gray Cat, leaving out bowls of dry food, so as to discourage it from coming inside. We’re not sure if it’s the right approach or not. We also have been barricading Claudia’s doggie door at night, which is fine until she starts frantically pawing at doors and windows like, “hello? Have to pee! And there’s no weird box of dirt around for me!”

It’s a classic Mexican standoff between us, Claudia, and Gray Cat. Mostly, we and Claudia are a united front. But sometimes we have to limit her independence to salvage her food bowl.

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No one is sure what to do. Some have suggested we take Gray Cat to a shelter, so that if he and Claudia ever did get in an actual scrape, at least he’d be clean and have his shots. That seems reasonable.

What Claudia’s dream scenario would be, however, would be to live in a world where there are no other cats but her. Which is the bizarre thing about cats: their supreme lack of camaraderie with their own species. Can you imagine what a weird existence that would be? To actively hate your own kind?

Fortunately, Claudia likes people. She may never understand that other cats are her, that she is in fact what she despises. But until that day comes, we’ll barricade the doggie door, chase Orange Cat away, and generally be her human protectors, because we love her. And also because she’s trained us well.

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