Chinks in the Armour

Posted: May 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: My Body, My Temple, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 3 Comments »

I just got back from the chiropractor where I got the unsettling news that my seemingly bottomless wellspring of postpartum body issues—aches and imbalances which just months ago taunted me from the moment I’d swing my legs off the bed in the morning—appear to have rectified themselves. That I’m in good shape, all in alignment and shit, and getting stronger.

It’s so totally weird.

I mean, aren’t chiropractors programmed to tell you to come back next week? Isn’t that part of the Chirocratic Oath they swear to upon graduating from those New Age-ily named schools like Life University that they go to?

I feel like I’ve been in years of complex therapy and suddenly my shrink gave me a playful sock in the arm and said, “Cool, well, looks like you’re cured. Take care!”

But really, blessedly, I’m surrounded by subtle comforting reminders that my life’s not perfect. Like, every night when I go to take off my contact lenses and reach for the case, which currently has two green Right Eye caps on it. A couple of the white Left Eye caps apparently ran off together to a better life beyond my medicine cabinet.

Makes me feel like Eugene Levy’s character in the pants-pisser Best in Show, who had, literally, two left feet.

And then last night I’m rocking the responsible solo parent act with Mark away for a one-nighter work trip. I had the neighbor kid across the street—who I’m trying to sway away from going to college next year in lieu of occasional babysitting stints for us—come over for a couple hours while I went to my book group.

He’d just watched the kids at his house during our party on Saturday, which allowed for my drunk wig-bedecked friends to get into Paige’s crib and dance the Mashed Potato if they so desired. Far be it for me to repress one’s desire to make use of an innovative dance floor. Especially if they’re paying for a sitter.

So anyway last night he comes over and I have the kids fed, PJed, and both happily, safely a-snooze in their beds. I jaunt off, book in hand, reminding him my cell number’s on the fridge and the monitor’s on the coffee table.

When I get back he’s deep into one of Mark’s rape-and-pillage type video games. Such good clean educational fun. (Hey, whatever keeps him coming back at $8 an hour…) And he tells me at one point he’d turned the monitor on to check on Paigey, make sure she was quiet and all.

“But I hear this voice talking,” he says, “and I’m all thinking, what IS that? I mean, I know there’s not, like, anyone in there with her.”

And of course my mind goes to the Irrational Fear Mama Place of “everyone wants to steal my baby—someone broke into the house to take the baby.”

But I’m trying to mask my abject terror and feign relaxed light interest in his little story. While blocking out the blare of machine gun fire and screaming women from the TV.

“And I’m like, wait, I know that voice!” he continues.

And at this point I’m in a full-bore flop sweat. I’m holding myself back from running into Paige’s room to see signs of a struggle and a stark empty crib. Just waiting for him to say the voice he recognized was the leader of some violent gang from his school who was on some baby-stealing spree as part of a nothing-better-to-do-on-an-unseasonably-rainy-Monday-night antic.

“And then I listen again and I’m like, WAIT! It’s my mother! She’s all on the phone! And it’s like, wait, what?! And then I’m all, oh I got it. You guys forgot to take the other part of the monitor from our house Saturday night when you came to get the girls. So here I am all here and stuff, but I’m listening to what’s going on over at my house. How rad is that?”

And as my stomach unclenches I reach for the arm of the couch to steady myself, and emit a little sweet laugh.

“Oh, ha! Silly us. I guess we did forget to get it, didn’t we?”


Of Yoga, Yurts, and Republicans that Get You Thinking

Posted: April 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Books, California, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, My Body, My Temple | No Comments »

Mark and his friend Christian often do this thing when they’re relaying events in the recent past. They continue rambling on about what happened beyond the point of, well, interest, until they finally wrap up by saying, “And now we’re back to the present.”

I’m not really sure what the genesis of this is—some decaying collegiate joke, no doubt—but like many things between those two I just nod and smile. I mean, aside from these little in-joke foibles, there’s little I can complain about with my husband’s husband. (This being a JOKE, Dad, since Mark and Christian are known to carry on like an old married couple.)

As for my present world, the book I’ve been obsessively reading whenever I have 30-plus seconds to myself (which averages to a 3-minute reading window) is Curtis Sittenfeld’s excellent American Wife. Of all random things, it’s the quasi-fictionalized account of Laura Bush’s childhood, running up through her utterly unanticipated stint as our very own First Lady. And believe it or not, she’s quite a sympathetic character. There’s friendship, tragic death, literary references, and even sex scenes! All in all, it’s good reading.

It’s the second selection for my new book club—a group I’m thrilled to report that with my girls at the ages they are now, I can solidly make the time commitment to be part of.

I’m not aware that I read book club books terribly differently knowing I’ll be talking about them later. But I guess there is a small part of me that underscores in my mind whatever weensy insights I’ve managed to muster along the page-turning way. And the one thing that I can’t help but come back to with American Wife, is this concept of how utterly surprising it was for Laura—or rather, Alice, the character who’s based on Laura B.—to one day call the White House home. At age 9, or 20, or even 41, she’d have never believed it to be her fate. (And really, married to HIM as she was, you can’t deny it’d come off as a fairly big shocker.)

On Friday I found myself at the dazzling nature-groovy gorgeous Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach. In a small yurt. In a downward dog. Or alternatively, chanting, “Ommmmmm.”

It having been a day-long yoga retreat which my friend and neighbor, Jennifer, told me about, and for which Mark graciously jumped through a fair amount of childcare hoopery in order to allow me to attend.

And despite the yogic practice of attempting to clear the mind, live in the present, and focus on one’s breathing, ommmming, or corpse-posing, I did find my mind wandering at times, thinking once during the morning session that this was a setting that not too far back I’d have never imagined myself in. Back when, at age 11 in Rhode Island, I was most concerned with how many layers I could don to perfect my turbo preppiness (a base of two turtlenecks of complimentary pastel hues being my secret weapon of success). Or at my Midwestern college at age 18, when acquiring a hand delivered invitation to a Deke party seemed to have equaled attainment of nirvana.

Even in my mid-twenties when I’d migrated to San Francisco like a big girl, my hummingbird-paced temperament was still so much the essential core of my me-ness. The thought of sitting in a room (nevermind a yurt) of strangers, eyes closed and in a cross-legged position for even three minutes would seem like some form of brutal custom-made Kristen torture.

Sure, my “and now we’re back to the present” moment is hardly on par with holding court in the White House or anything. It’s just that on Friday, as I reveled in hearing birds singing outside and strove to attain a perfect chest-opening Side Angle Pose—and wondered intermittently how Kate and Paige were faring without me all day—I also couldn’t help but think that my being in that setting seemed very, well I’m hesitant to even say it, but so very California. You know, for me to be chanting, and singing in Sanskrit, and partnering with unknown kindly long-haired men to enact prone spine-lengthening poses.

Really. Who’d a thought?

And my chaser thought that I really shouldn’t have had since by that point I definitely should’ve gotten back to focusing on the silent intention I’d set for myself that day or at least my Ojai breathing, was how very grateful I was to have somehow found my way there.

And so, as I gently pushed my chest upward into Cobra while drawing the tops of my legs down flat into the earth, I decided that years from now, when I find myself skulking around the White House kitchen for midnight snacks like it’s no big thing, I’ll have to make certain one of my agenda items is to clear out a section of, say, the Situation Room, and build a yoga studio there.

Or maybe I can just set up a little yurt in the rose garden.

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Not Quite Ready to Be Set Free

Posted: January 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero, Miss Kate, Mom, My Body, My Temple, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 2 Comments »

Yesterday was Kate’s first visit to a dentist. And as we sat in the cheesy Hawaiian-themed waiting room, another mother came in with two older kids. Her daughter immediately flounced to the floor to engage with Paigey. And the mom pulled up a tiny surfboard shaped chair, sat, and smiled down at them.

After a few minutes she looked up at me and said, “Please pardon the loud rumblings from my uterus.” A comment which took me a beat to grock, but then totally slayed me.

Me: “Oh God, I hear you. She’s my baby and she has the same effect on me.”

Her: “Here I am, I’m 43, and I already have three kids. When’m I going to get over this?”

Which brings me to the rhetorical question, just how supremely do women rock?

I love that within three minutes of being in each others’ orbits this total stranger and I are revealing our deep down irrational-but-real want-another-baby cravings. It’s the kind of intimacy that some men who were college roommates and have been playing tennis together every Saturday since the first Bush administration still haven’t achieved.

And her remark is timed perfectly to my just-the-other-night musings. Paige refused to nurse, which had me convinced she was harboring a devastating rife-with-hearing-loss ear infection. (I’ve never understood when mother’s say their kids just stopped wanting to nurse one day, since that’s so not been how my boob-junkie kids roll.)

Paigey was back to her old milk-chugging self a few hours later, but the experience got me thinking as I was a-sway on the ugly Dutalier glider. If I were to suddenly stop breastfeeding, it seems like I’d need to put my body to another practical use. Truly. In much of the past four-and-a-half years I’ve either been gestating or breastfeeding, and odd as it is even for me to realize, it’s set me in a kind of groove I’m not sure how to get out of.

Doing neither of those things seems so, uh, kinda lazy. Or maybe it’s not that so much as just not productive enough.

Years ago when Mark (then I) started seriously obsessing over cooking, we read Michael Ruhlman’s excellent The Making of a Chef–a great first person account of a foodie journalist being thrown into the mix at the hardcore Culinary Institute of America. Aside from food chemistry and knife skills, clean-as-you-go, and never serve anything that you know ain’t right, one of the critical things you learn at cooking school is how to be crazy efficient. If the walk-in’s at the end of the kitchen, you think of all the things you’ll need from there so you can make just one trip. And on the way back to your station you grab the Chinoise or mixing bowls or grater that you’ll need from the drying racks. It’s all piled up in front of you so your arms are breaking and you can barely see, but the other thing that you learn in cooking school is cooking is hard work. That is, it’s physically taxing.

In cramped, fast-paced, and (proverbially and literally) hot restaurant kitchens, running around in circles is for rookies. It’s just not done. It confuses your mind, expends unnecessary energy and ultimately puts you in the weeds. In other words, a quick way to find yourself out on the sidewalk, considering getting an office temp job to pay the rent.

So Ruhlman. He describes how this hyper-efficient planning and intense economy of movement unsurprisingly slipped over into his out-of-the-kitchen time. (Kind of like when I played so much backgammon in college I’d look at a pub booth packed with people as a cluster of pieces–all safe since there wasn’t one sitting out alone. For my brain at least, that was the result of excessive backgammon. Imagine if I’d used that time to study!) So Ruhlman described how one day he realized he was getting ready in the morning in turbo efficient mode. Get socks and shoes and grab car keys and knife case all in one quick sweep of his apartment. Socks and shoes on mechanically fast, grab keys and knife case, and up and off you go. Or something like that.

And so here I am, just three days away from Paige’s first birthday and realizing how this mother thing has managed to wire me in a similar way. Efficient? Yes. Getting kids bathed, diapered, dressed, fed, snacks packed, car toys grabbed, hats, sweaters, shoes that have been already pulled off put back on. All that glamor that you know every mother–including your own back in the day (call her right now and thank her, please) goes through.
But aside from the machinations of kid tendin’, there’s of course the physical connection us mothers have. And whether we’re precious about it and read non-stop about how it all works or not, it just happens. We’re using our bodies to the fullest of their capabilities, like old-school VCRs that–though baffling and unused to their max by most folks–without even reading the manual we’re instinctively able to do the trickiest things to like updating the clocks, and setting them to advance record.

It’s actually weird how mindlessly one can grow a healthy baby.

There are the glossy hair ‘I am woman hear me roar’ pregnancy highs, and the all-my-friends-are-dumb-when-they’re-drunk-and-I’m-sober resentment. Stuff even outsiders can cotton to. But more discreet, and ultimately more powerful, is the latent accustomedness your body seems to develop for being put to these practical maternal uses. So from where I’m standing, at the precipice of not having such a physical Mama task ever again, one might be left feeling somewhat un-tethered. A bit lost.

It’s the place where some woman, no doubt, feel liberated, set free. Back to one’s skinny jeans for good.

But for me, and it seems for the dental office Mama too, it’s a much harder transition. Bittersweet in all the love and intimacy and care that was associated with all those bodily demands, despite how grueling they could sometimes be. There’s an unaddressed expectation, a void that some of us reckon with, when our bodies are suddenly not called into service any more.

Perhaps I’ll have to take up tennis. My mother always played a wicked doubles game. Maybe I can just try to make that do.


Crashing and Burning Across the Finish Line

Posted: January 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Little Rhody, My Body, My Temple | No Comments »

Saturday afternoon Mark made his long-awaited return from Vegas.

He entered the house to see the typically-banned-from-TV Kate lying languid on the couch, a Sesame Street-watching zombie, hear Paige wailing miserably from her crib, and find me splayed out in bed with a brain-crushing migraine.

Not exactly the Bree Van de Kamp meets Heidi Klum greeting I’d had in mind.

But in the glamorous, fast-paced, take-no-prisoners Domestic Engineer life I lead, reality often misaligns with expectations. 

When I was in high school my friend’s little sister was crazy fired-up to have been asked to prom by a guy she’d been moony over for months. As mature oh-so-over-it-all seniors, my friend and I marveled from the sidelines as her sister dragged her mom dress shopping to every mall in Rhode Island (which I think was a staggering three shopping centers at the time, maybe four). She obsessed over limo rental, where they’d eat, and whether she could trust her best friend and her boyfriend to be sufficiently un-dorky double dates.

When the big day arrived–much to our collective relief–she bathed herself silly for hours (ah, those bygone epic soaks with Cosmo and Glamour), then got her nails done and her hair up-doed. A couple hours before the event she decided to bleach her moustache, left the stuff on too long, and burned the shit out of her upper lip.

Which just goes to show it’s sometimes the home stretch that screws you. 

As for me on Saturday, I eventually managed to drag my sorry ass out of bed and wince into dim light without recoiling in agony. And a couple hours after that I even combed the sleep-induced rat’s nest snarl out of my hair. I’m not sure I ever got around to brushing my teeth, but the way things unfurled that day I think Mark planted our long-anticpated welcome home kiss atop my aching noggin anyway.

Thankfully by yesterday I was back in the pink. We romped with the girls at the beach in Alameda, drank beers at a kid-friendly burger joint for lunch, and rolled our eyes at each other over Kate’s intermittent three-year-old no-I-won’t-ever-put-that-jacket-on fits. I got to sleep in, had what I’d humbly report was a fabulous hair day, and managed to perform myriad other maternal and wifely, uh, ‘duties’ with a little that’s-what-I’m-talkin’-about spring in my step.

Mark’s back. I’m back. Yay.  

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Things that did not happen today

Posted: January 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Friends and Strangers, Misc Neuroses, My Body, My Temple | No Comments »

Today part-way through an article in Us Weekly about how celebrities lost their postpartum weight—or maybe it was the story about George Clooney and his ex-girlfriend having recently “kept in touch” via email—I set the magazine down in my lap and ran my mind though a voluntary exercise of abject terror.

I was at the chiropractor. Sitting on the table in a blue hospital gown and an absurd little triangular lead apron, a grossly inadequate-seeming shield for my baby-makin’ parts from the x-rays I’d just had taken. X-rays of my lower back and neck–standard stuff the new doc figured would confirm his garden variety “baby trauma, computer hunch, yadda yadda” diagnosis about my bag of bones.

At some point in the middle of whatever article it was, I suddenly realized just how long I’d been sitting there reading that crappy magazine. Long enough to envision a scenario whereby the doctors were all in the other room, leaning with concern into the light box of my x-rays and discussing just how they’d break the news to me about the wretched thing they saw–long enough to make that terrible image suddenly seem as though it was without a doubt what had to be happening and why I was waiting so damn long.

And here I’d been. Haplessly reading a magazine. Ignorant and blissful. Expecting that after scanning the pictures showing celebrities doing things ‘just like us’ (putting money in the parking meter!) the doctor would come back, inform me the x-rays were just fine, tell me to get dressed, direct me to another room for a heat pack and a few righteous neck crunches, then send me on my way home to collect Mark and the girls for a rainy-day visit to the wildlife sanctuary.

But really what would-could-might be about to go down would make these few page-flipping minutes seem like the happiest carefree bored would-that-I-could-go-back-there time ever. What if the doctors came in, stern and serious? And after our talk I had to dig out my cell phone, call Mark, tell him he needed to come meet me there, or maybe even at the hospital? What if something suddenly on this otherwise nondescript day sent me into a mother-love panic about my fragile and about-to-crumble mortality jeopardizing my happy-go-lucky magazine-reading life and my heretofore inadequately appreciated days and months and years with my beloved husband and those blessed beautiful girls?

It could happen.

But in some deep deep place I think I somehow knew that this whole mental spiral was only meant to act itself out in my mind. Based in part on the odds. But also because if I thought it might really be happening I don’t think I could even bear to conjure it up. To take it all the way though to the sickening horrible thought that I can barely force myself to return to now—my sweet small children, motherless.

Who knows what triggered this sudden ardent need for a heroin-heavy dose of life perspective. Maybe, God willing, the doctor’d come back in, all in a flurry with some double-booked back-up of neck-wringing to wrangle with, and like some hairdresser who’s gotten behind on one appointment that’ll screw her for the whole day, apologize as he hastily loaded a heating pad on my back to move me through the rotation and out the door—one more down.

And thankfully, blessedly, thank you thank you thank you Mr. Universe, Sir, some version of that did happen.

But still in my relief the thought lingered that maybe one room over there was another woman who wasn’t so lucky. And if not in this doctor’s office surely somewhere nearby someone was getting crappy news. Someone’s plans to go home and heat up leftover chicken soup for lunch were about to be shot to shit.

I had a professor in London my junior year of college. A rapid-fire-talking layered-clothing-wearing kindly woman whose voice was as high-pitched as it was shrill. Truth be told I don’t even remember what genre of lit she taught, though it seems like it should be 19th Century.

Anyway, one day I went to her office for our tutorial—the one-on-one sessions that comprised the Brit’s collegiate learning structure. (“Here’s the syllabus. Read the books. Meet with me every other week–maybe over a pint–to chat. And turn in five papers by the end of the term.”) So I walk into her office. She’s all in a tizzy–much more so than her usual state. Wisps of gray hair flying out of her bun and glasses low on her nose. Standing up behind her desk slapping together teetering piles of books and papers and folders and a tea cup or two while clucking to herself, “Oh, Margorie. Come on now! Come on.”

Then, having done nothing to acknowledge my presence at her door, she lets out a sudden shriek, “Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes!” And clutching a little ratty brown leather billfold to her chest and exhaling deeply closes her eyes for a moment then flaps them open wide cackling, “Kristen! Dear! I am so very happy to have you be the first person to know that my wallet is now found! Hiding right here in plain view! And you know really, it’s such a thrill. Sometimes,” she said leaning closer to me, and I can still picture her grinning giddily on the verge of this, “when you think something is lost—you’ve utterly and uncompromisingly convinced yourself of it, and then—behold!—why it’s suddenly right there! Right back there for you! Do you know how sometimes it’s really such a wonderful delight to have it back that it sort of makes having lost in the first place actually quite worthwhile?”

Yes, Margorie. Yes, I do.

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Too late to be cool? I think not.

Posted: January 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: My Body, My Temple | 2 Comments »

A couple days ago my new chiropractor informed me I have a mild scoliosis of the spine. Something, he said, that likely developed when I was 13 or 14.

And here I’ve been all this time with a crooked back and totally unaware of it. Which is distressing.

I mean, I can’t even fathom the cool factor this information could have granted me had I know it in my teendom. My ability to dramatically align any teen-caliber life shortcomings with Judy Blume’s  Deenie character might have been utterly transformative.

Sure, at this point I won’t be required to wear a back brace for four years like Deenie had to. Nor will my aspirations to become a model be dashed by the diagnosis. My goals during my Deenie-reading era were more about getting attention from cute Junior Instructors at my rundown town yacht club and less about walking runways in Milan anyway.

Regardless, it still feels like not knowing this then represents some kind of missed opportunity. And the second I realize how I can capitalize on it, I’m riding my bike straight over to Amelia’s house where–if I screw up enough courage, that is–I’ll call Phil Kinder, or maybe one of the other JIs, and make sure they’re the first to know.