Monday, January 21, 2013

Buckle up, buttercup. You're going for a ride.

The following is a letter I've been working on for a close friend about to become a mother for the first time.

Dear Mother-To-Be,

The first words of advice I have for you, dear friend, is that any advice anyone gives you is probably going to be crap.

No two babies are the same. What works wonderfully for Baby A might be a terrific fail for Baby B, and there just might not be a good solution on this planet for Baby C and its poor mother is just going to have to drink heavily and use earplugs for the first year of her new miracle's life. Every mother who accidentally stumbles upon a solution for surviving being the mother of a fussy newborn is going to think she is a genius and spread her wisdom, and probably "tsk-tsk-tsk" at you when it doesn't work for your precious bundle, because it would SO work if only you were as awesome as she is.

I hate those mothers. You will, too.

So why am I even bothering to write my words of less-than-wisdom down for you? After all, I am the mother of an only child--some people would say this doesn't even count as motherdom, for I have never had to change a toxic diaper while battling morning sickness, break up a sibling fight thisclose to becoming biblical, or had two kids puking their way through a stomach virus at the same time.

My advice, unlike some others', comes well after the haze. I have had ten years to reflect on this shit. Ten years also might make some of this out-of-date, though, since pediatricians change the rules of effective new-baby-handling every couple of years and make the more veteran among us wonder how in the world our older children survived past infancy. They're still saying the safest baby sleep position is stomach-down on a big pile of clean laundry perched on top of a running clothes dryer, right? No? I guess I'll have to edit that part out.

I will start with this: parts of this ride do get easier. Remember when we rode the Diamondback and I sincerely thought I was going to die on the first hill, and I screamed so loudly you laughed at me the whole rest of the ride? Yeah, the first year's kind of like that. It's the first hill of the scariest roller coaster you've ever been on. And when that hill is over, the worst is usually over.

Which is not to say that after that hill you just coast into the station unscathed.

You will eventually sleep through the night again, there will come a day when you change your last poopy diaper, and your child will become his own person largely able to take care of his most essential daily needs himself.

But as soon as wiping asses gets to be less of a burden, you start being a taxi service, activities manager, school volunteer, homework tutor, amateur sports coach, cheerleader, detective, cyber terrorist, and psychologist. Your life slowly becomes not your own, even if you swear it will never happen to you. I swore it would not happen to me, as did a million other modern American moms before me, and yet there we all are every Monday afternoon at Starbucks with dark circles under our eyes wondering where the hell the weekend went and whether or not we can make it through the coming week of sports practices, musical instrument rehearsals, or academic team matches. And for all the hard work and sacrifices you've put in, your child will someday tell you how unfair you are, how you just don't get it, how you're the worst mother in the world.

Ready to give up yet?

Don't, because there are so many parts of this whole thing that are awesome. Wait and see.

But things will be tough for a while. So here's my advice, for what little it's worth.

1. Postpartum depression is a thing, and there's no shame in it, and there's no shame in being on medication for it or seeking other help if you find yourself feeling "a little blue." And by "a little blue", I mean any range in post-labor emotion between "everything makes me cry, including TV sitcoms and kittens and daisies and other should-be-happy things" and "I suddenly don't feel like living through the night." It doesn't make you a freak, it makes you a woman with a chemical unbalance brought on by hormones and sleep deprivation. Get help, and know that at least a few others of us went through it and will help you when you need it.

2. Breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural thing and clearly the best way to feed your baby. Unless it's not, and then you should switch to formula despite what the Boob Nazis say. It's your baby and your breasts. My generation was mostly bottle-fed, and we all turned out fine, except for that time I got cancer. But that's probably more to do with my parents being chain-smokers than with being fed Isomil. As long as you don't pick up smoking, feed your baby the best way for you and your baby and tell the La Leche Fight Club to back the eff off. (And in case any of "those" people stumble upon this post and think I'm the worst mother in the world, I nursed. While unknowingly having cancer in the area around my breasts, a thought that chills me to this day, wondering what kinds of awfulness entered my daughter's body the first six months of her life. So breast isn't always best, people.)

3. Walk away. When you feel angry, when you feel frustrated, when you don't recognize the thoughts circulating in your own head, leave the room. Breathe. Every mother loves her child, but every mother has moments where she doesn't love being a mom. (And if anyone tells you this is not so, she is lying, either to you or herself.) We need breaks, even sometimes just for five minutes. Someone who loves you will give that to you. Just ask. And if no one's around, and your baby isn't hungry, isn't wet, isn't sick, and has still been crying for 4 hours with colic, he can cry for five more minutes while you have a mini-meltdown in the next room. You will be able to come back to him a semi-calm human being. And you will both be a little healthier for it.

4. Everything will change. Everything. Your friends, your work days, your weekend nights, your wardrobe, your opinions on everything from your favorite restaurant to the movies you can stomach to the kind of car you want to drive. Everything. Seriously. Embrace it, don't fight it. You're one of us now.

5. Try, as hard as it may be, to treasure it all. They are only babies once, which is both a blessing and curse of motherhood.

You will be fine. You will. One morning at 3am when your baby has been eating, burping, puking, pooping, and thrashing for over an hour and you are more tired than you have ever been in your life, you might not believe that. You will wonder why sane people ever choose to do this more than once. And you will wonder when things will ever feel "normal" again, and you will envy those with children who sleep from 9 to 7 and can make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Envy away, but somewhere one of those moms just found a text message on her daughter's phone saying, "My mom is so lame!" (or something to that effect; these kids today don't even use real English). That mom envies you, with that little baby who looks at you with so much love (or constipation, hard to tell) and depends on you for everything. For a short time you, and only you, are that child's universe. It's you two against the big, bad world, and there is no love greater than what you feel for each other in that moment.

And that's why some sane people choose to do it more than once.

So hold on to that. Because that feeling will outlast the fatigue, the depression, and the frustration. I don't know if it lasts through the teenage years, though.

Ask me to write you another letter in a decade.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coffee 2

I had my first drink of coffee at age four from a chipped Sunoco mug in the kitchen of my childhood home. It was love at first sip, though it barely met the standards of being, technically, a cup of coffee. It was milk and sugar with a splash of percolated Folger's, but it began a ritual that continued nearly every Sunday morning of my childhood.

On Saturdays we were late sleepers. But by Sunday Dad was usually energized enough and/or feeling restless enough from an epic hangover to make it out of bed while the sun was still rising. I would catch a whiff and hear the gurgling of his early-morning coffee being prepared in a hand-me-down percolator and know that if I got up to watch TV, I wouldn't be alone.

He caught me staring at his steaming coffee cup one morning when I had crept wordlessly into the kitchen, bleary-eyed from being allowed to watch Saturday Night Live  the night before (not only allowed, but encouraged; my whole family napped after dinner on Saturday nights in the late 70s so we could at least make it to Weekend Update), still in my nightgown, curious about the beverage he couldn't make it through a morning without, the smell of which even at a young age could draw me from a deep slumber.

"Do you want some coffee, too?"

I nodded, and watched as milk, sugar, and dark liquid were mixed and stirred as carefully as a pharmacist preparing the pink antibiotic I needed at least once a year. It smelled warm and sweet and inviting--like a sunbeam through a bedroom window, if one could smell such a thing. I cautiously slurped the top layer, not even picking up the heavy ceramic mug at first. My dad told me years later that my eyes grew wide and the cup was emptied in 5 minutes flat.

The next weekend I didn't even wait for it to be offered.

"I want coffee two. You can have your coffee one, I'll have my coffee two."

Thus our code, and a family joke. Adult coffee, taken strong and nearly-black, was always "coffee one". My preferred serving of Sunday-morning caffeine, made almost acceptable to give to a small child with so much milk and sugar it was barely brown, was "coffee two", a misunderstanding of my father's original offer that was deemed so cute by my parents that it stuck for over 30 years.

For the rest of my time at home, I continued to have coffee two with my dad every weekend morning that he made it and I was awake early enough to have it. As I grew older, it grew darker, but it never went beyond a fair taupe. Until I went away to school.

Thanksgiving break of my junior year at college, I broke my dad's heart.

"Coffee two?"

"No, I think I'll go with coffee one."

My father shot me a look of something like disappointment. I was 20 years old. I had just recently caved to peers' offers of adult beverages of various kinds, including strong almost-black coffee (out of necessity due to early-morning classes and late nights completing 12-page English papers) and Goldschlager. He had learned from my mom about my one spectacularly failed underage drinking experiment; I figured the coffee thing would have been much less of a shock.

"You drink real coffee now?"

"Sometimes. I asked Mom for a little coffee maker for my dorm for Christmas this year, and we picked one out yesterday that will be my gift from both of you. I won't take it back to school until I open it at Christmas. I thought you knew."

He shook his head sadly, and cautioned me with a seriousness that he really should have used before the infamous Goldschlager Shot Challenge of 1994.

"Be careful with coffee. It's addictive. It's good when you don't need it, but you won't enjoy it as much when it's a habit and you have to have it every morning."

My parents didn't know anything in the mid-90s, so I didn't listen. Sure enough, I had to visit the wellness center on campus that February when I almost gave myself an ulcer from my two-cup-a-morning habit during winter term. Weaning myself off of coffee for the sake of my stomach and my voice (the campus doctor told me that, just like the President at the time, I had acid reflux and would be able to do a great impression of him but little else with my voice if I didn't cool it on the caffeine a little) proved to be one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do to that point. I was in a play and needed to get rid of the chronic hoarseness and heartburn so I stopped cold turkey, only using my little coffee maker to heat water for hot chocolate. I did not, and could not, admit to my dad that he was right. Though on breaks when I was back home, I went back to coffee two. But the bond was over--I had to mix my own, and it never tasted as wonderful as when Dad made it for me in that old Sunoco mug.

Because I am in many ways my father's daughter, coffee went on to become one of the great rituals of my life. I've only been able to swear it off for so long, and even though I've had entire years of my adult life where I've forgone a daily cup, I inevitably find myself back at the fountain, sipping greedily. Having a husband who serves as co-addict and enabler doesn't help.

It was deja-vu all over again when I asked for a single-cup coffee maker for Christmas this year so that I can conveniently perk myself up on busy afternoons. I could hear my dad's voice in my head: Be careful with coffee. But I've been self-medicating with either home brew or Starbuck's for a while now. I have a high tolerance. I can stop whenever I want.

I doubt that I will ever again want to stop.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The best reason yet for wanting to win the lottery.

I've got it. The best perk ever for becoming instantly, insanely, outrageously wealthy: being able to have private concerts with my favorite bands without the pesky problem of other people being in attendance. Because 99% of concert-goers are assholes.

Don't worry, readers. In this one instance, you are part of the 1%. Congratulations! I know, because I've been to concerts with some of you, and you're fine. Really. It's everybody else I'm talking about. You know who they are, because you are also over 30 and mostly not an alcoholic, so you've probably had a concert experience marred by the rabble, as well.

So if I ever win the lottery, you can come to my private concert series. First up: reuniting The Dixie Chicks.You're welcome.

Maybe I'm the weirdo, but I actually like to go to concerts for the music. And I prefer to remember the experience. So I do not understand why people pay over $100 in some instances for tickets just so they can get rip-roaringly drunk, make "WOOOOOOOO!" noises throughout every hit song, talk loudly through every lesser-known ballad to the even drunker girl swaying next to them, hold their phones up for an hour with their back to the main stage trying to get a self-portrait for The Twitter, and make 450 trips to the restroom to rid their bladders of the twelve beers they felt necessary to the experience.

I've been to a few concerts that were not this way.* But only a few. And the very last one I went to, a show from one of my favorite bands where I happened to get invited to fill a last-minute private-box-seat vacancy, may just put me off of concerts for life.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun, mostly. The band was great. The gal that invited me to fill this spot was also a sane concert-goer, so I enjoyed her company. One would think that a private box seat that cost a good chunk of our post-Christmas funds would be filled with other people paying through the nose because they wanted to enjoy the music without fighting it out in the pit, but it turns out they really were just willing to pay extra for the private bathroom so they could literally piss away another couple hundred on liquor.

Sharing a private room with drunk strangers was not nearly as awesome as it sounds.

I know I sound old and cranky. But I am old and cranky. I do still enjoy live music, though, and not just of the symphonic variety where I and my fellow blue-hairs can sit in peace. I do not feel I am a stick-in-the-mud concert-goer, either. I stand up if everyone else stands up, and don't holler at the people in front of me to sit down and stay off my lawn. I sing along, at appropriate volume, at times when the performer seems to be encouraging that. I get loud and rowdy between songs and when the soloist has wowed the crowd. I've even been known to imbibe an adult beverage or two. Yet I am respectful of those around me and really just want to hear and see my favorite artists do their thing live without stomping on everyone's toes, sticking my camera in their faces for extended periods, calling out for "Freebird", publicly displaying my affection for my significant other, sloshing the contents of my cup all over my neighbor's jeans, spending more time crossing in front of the people in my row to get beer/go to the bathroom/chase down boys than I do standing in my ticketed spot, and generally being as annoying and self-centered as possible.

There are others like me who can have fun without being jerks. Yet for major acts, we seem to be vastly outnumbered.

The answer then is clear. Win the Powerball, buy a large tract of land in the middle of nowhere, have my own personal Woodstock. You all are invited, of course. BYOB, just not so much of it you turn into That Guy and That Girl. Problem solved!

*DMB and Barenaked Ladies come to mind. Both magical. And somehow completely jerk-free, at least in my section. Wait...does this mean I was the jerk?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

It was real. It was fun. It was not real fun.

I decided to keep a low social media profile the last few days of 2012. I was afraid to speak too loudly about what a spectacularly tragic and awful year we were wrapping up, lest 2012 overhear me and give me one more spiteful jolt before passing into the blue.

But now that it's over, I can say...2012, you sucked. Like, hard. I am pretty sure you were my worst year ever, even beating out 2003, the year I went through chemo and radiation, in your relentless suckitude.

Yet the year was not a complete disaster. If I erased the whole thing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -style I wouldn't remember the first time my kid made finals at a swim meet, or the weekend we spent seeing Zac Brown Band out under the stars, or the pride I felt when UK won the championship. Though that went down the same night my mom died, so...yeah, maybe this whole year should just get wiped clean from my memory.

New years are new beginnings, though. Or so I hear. I woke up on New Year's Day sick with the cold my daughter and husband had had the week before, so it really felt less like a new start and more like a continuation of mild suffering. A way for 2012 to say, "You're not rid of me yet, sucka!" Nothing really feels different yet about 2013 yet, but I am telling myself to be positive, take extra vitamin C, and look toward a future that should be, if not bright, at least one shade less dark.

I haven't made a New Year's resolution in several years, but I need to take charge and do my part to make this a better year. So here's my big resolution for 2013, the one thing I think I can do that will make this a happier one for all of us:

Attend fewer funerals. I need your help here, loved ones: look both ways before crossing the street, wear your seat belt, designate a driver, watch your step, take your narcotics only as prescribed, don't assume that shooting pain on the left side of your chest is just indigestion, keep your firearms in a safe and secure location, just say no to skydiving and bungee jumping, and keep air travel to a minimum. Oh, and don't visit the Holy Land for vacation. And try not to investigate creepy basement noises without backup. Did I also mention to avoid illicit affairs with high-powered political figures?

See, it's quite simple, really. If I can keep everyone I love healthy and happy, I will be healthy and happy. This is largely out of my hands, and I know this deep down, but allow me a few moments to think that if I could convince everyone I love to just drive a little slower, eat a little better, visit the doctor a little more often, and basically enclose themselves in a big-ass sheet of bubble wrap for the next twelve months, it will all be okay.

I promise I will do the same. Let's make 2013 the year that we follow the sage wisdom of that modern-day prophet and visionary, Jerry Springer:

Take care of yourself. And each other.