My Pop Culture Birth Plan


I missed the memo about my pop culture birth plan.

So, I had a baby a few days ago.  And before I launch into some of the crazy details of how he came into the world, I want to first say that he is perfect and I am fine, and what follows is told through a hormonal haze.  I further disclaim that I am on drugs.  A lot of drugs.

To begin at the beginning…my due date came and went and so the time came to contemplate a chemical eviction of this little guy.  My first labor had been induced and it worked out reasonably well for all concerned.  I didn’t relish having all the medicines and interventions, but I had been assured by some very earnest people in lab coats that a second induction would almost certainly be faster and easier than the first.  However, as my labor progressed, this is the image that repeatedly came to mind…

CarolKaneLiar

Actually, the early part of labor was relatively smooth. And I have Tom Hanks to thank for it.  As the contractions got stronger and closer together, I summoned the images of “Castaway”…you know, the amazing scenes close to the end when he’s made that raft and is paddling for dear life, then holding on to crest those enormous breakers…As the contractions swept over me, I said to myself, “Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle!!!”  Inexplicably, this helped a lot.

holdon
Hold On!

After a while though,  the paddling image wasn’t cutting it. I got an epidural placed and it was amazing.  So amazing that when I later heard the sound of water cascading onto the floor, I had no awareness that this prodigious gush had come from my body.  When the nurse came in to check things out and get me cleaned up, I also had no awareness that my abdominal muscles were no longer functional, and thus I tried to pick up my entire upper body using only my neck muscles.  This turned out to be a very bad idea.

TLC-Waterfalls
Seriously, don’t go chasing waterfalls. Especially while you’re in labor.

I wrenched the muscles in my neck an upper back really badly. Turns out, when those muscles are spasming, it makes it really hard to get into an effective position to push out a baby who is nearly 9 pounds.  And sunny side up.  And jammed in your pelvis at a pretty obstinate angle.  The kid would not come down.  He would not come down, but my blood pressure kept going up, and my liver enzymes were getting all wonky.  So that’s when we made the call.  I wish I could say I was all cool and stoic, like this…

rocky

But at this point, I was truly hysterical and begging for whatever help or relief I could get.  The epidural had been turned off, so I was feeling all the pain and pressure of the contractions.  And this may be hard to believe, the muscle spasms in my upper back were on par if not worse than the contractions, so I was in this horrible no mans’ land of agony in which the one thing I could do to end the pain of the contractions was the thing my body couldn’t do because of the pain in my back.  It was really starting to suck.

Everything that happened next, happened really fast.  Thank God.  With the high blood pressure and  liver enzyme wonkiness, people started to get a lot more serious, and I had some dim awareness that folks were scared that I was about to go all Lady Sybil on them.  Mercifully, I was in the hands of doctors and nurses who worked quickly and cautiously, and it was all over before I really knew what was going on.

Unfortunately, the one salient memory I have from surgery was the fact that I was barfing right at the moment that my son emerged from my body.  I wish I had been more able to focus on him, but instead, I was having a little moment with a very compassionate person in scrubs who was basically doing a Garth for me…

spew
If you’re going to spew, spew in this.

So, there you go.  There’s the part about the magnesium drip and the spinal headache, but really, that’s where this birth story starts to sound like an Abbott and Costello routine.  I was grateful to have all these pop culture resources to draw upon throughout the experience…friends come and go, but movie and TV characters stick with you through the hard times.  And in the end, I was was justly rewarded…

meandsully
And now I have a few weeks to kick back and take care of a newborn and catch up on my TV and movie watching.  Just in time for the return of SMASH.  Good timing and memo received.

Blue Eyes, Big Hands, and The Art of Staying Busy


I missed the memo about blue eyes, big hands, and the art of staying busy.

A few months back, a wrote a little something about my Grandma, who died a few years ago.  After she died, my Grandpa decided to simplify things by selling the big old house where he and Grandma had raised their family.  He moved to a fairly swanky seniors community where he had a lake view, hot meals prepared every day, and no shortage of  female admirers.  In a place like this, any guy in his 80s who’s got most of his teeth is going to be the beau of the ball…but my Grandpa really was handsome….check him out:

Grandpa and me, 1980.

He was in his late 50s here, I think.  Back in his 20s and 30s, he looked like Mel Gibson.   And I’m not talking wild-eyed, mug shot Mel Gibson, I’m talking  The Year of Living Dangerously Mel Gibson.  Seriously, Grandpa had these big blue eyes that never lost their sparkle.  Even as an octogenarian, he was a cutie.

With my son, Atticus, in 2009. That’s a whole lotta blue-eyed trouble.

And check out the paws on this guy.  As a child,  I was in awe of my Grandpa’s hands.  Within our family, it was widely rumored that Grandpa was fully capable of picking up a child by his or her head, one-handed.  I made it a point never to find out if that was actually true.

But those big hands were dextrous.  Grandpa worked for phone company for decades and in that time handled countless miles of wire, deftly handling the delicate stuff that made phones work before satellites came along and changed the game.

Even after he retired, he had to keep those big hands busy.  His house and car were full of all sorts of Macgyver-esque improvisations of engineering.  He became the neighborhood handy man and he loved to tinker and do jigsaw puzzles.  Anything to keep his hands busy.

While he enjoyed the ease and activities at his condo, I think my Grandpa missed having a whole houseful of stuff to tinker with.  He still mended the occasional clock radio for a neighbor, but it just wasn’t quite the same.  And I wonder if being less busy, and perhaps losing some of his sense of purpose, made life a little harder for my Grandpa in some ways.

My Grandpa died last month, somewhat unexpectedly, given his relatively good health for a man his age.   If we each get a custom-fit version of heaven, I suppose in his, he’s restored to the ravishing good looks of  his youth and there are broken toasters as far as the eye can see.  If he can rewire things for all eternity, then I think his soul will be at peace.  Love you and miss you, Grandpa.  Memo received.

Little Boys


I missed the memo about little boys.

This is not my little boy, but my son is also blonde and has a similar appreciation for feminine hygiene products.

When I was pregnant, my husband and I absolutely agreed that we didn’t want to know the baby’s gender before the birth.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret…I really wanted a boy.  Yeah, yeah…healthy baby, blah, blah, blah…I wanted a boy. 

So finally, the midwife got a peek at the goods and cheerfully announced, “It’s a boy!”  And I was tickled, and relieved.   Having been a good, but difficult, daughter to my own mom, I figured a boy had to be easier than a girl, right? Well, kinda. I’ll speculate that the emotional connection between my son and me will be a little less complicated than a mother-daughter relationship. But keeping him alive is a lot harder than I ever expected.

My son’s survival is threatened not only by the crazy, death-defying stuff he’s already doing, but he’s also at risk of being murdered by me on a nearly daily basis.  Well, “murder” is a strong word…I suppose the correct legal term would be “manslaughter” since if I ever kill my son it will unintentional, but in the heat of battle.  You see, my son has no regard for either his own or my cranial or abdominal integrity and thus he has battered me mercilessly in recent months.  He’s not an angry kid, but heavens, he’s rough.  He gleefully performs moves that the WWF would find impressive, just for the sheer joy of feeling his body fly through space and undoubtedly for the amusement of hearing me howl and shriek.  Life with my boy is one long isometric work out as I am always cringing and flinching in anticipation of the next flying elbow drop. 

Envision this leap being taken from atop a brown sofa and you get the idea.

Of course I  coddle, counsel, and scold my son to be more gentle with me.  And there are ridiculously tender moments when he strokes my hair and gives me sweet hugs and sloppy kisses.  After all, this kid loves his mama.  But gentle is really not in his DNA.  He may have the thrill seeking gene, and watching “Jackass” gives me a chilling preview of what’s to come. 

But here’s the thing…though all the rough housing is not exactly my cup of tea and one particularly vicious headbutt was good for two trips to the dentist, I don’t want to discipline the boy-ness out of my boy.  It seems like little girls are celebrated in our culture while little boys get demonized a bit.  I think that typical little girl behavior is just more convenient than typical little boy behavior, and as a consequence there seems to be a tendency to pathologize boy behavior a little too much.  Boys will be boys is kind of trite, but kind of true.  I hope I can let my boy just be a boy.

In guiding my son, I’m hoping  to keep him out of the emergency room and/or jail while ensuring he doesn’t lose the energetic zeal he seems to have for life.   So, Mrs. Knoxville, if you have any advice, please call me.  Fingers crossed and memo received. 

Popularity


I missed the memo about popularity.

What's your damage?

If memory serves, I was not particularly popular in high school.  I was one of those passably cute, but nerdy girls who mostly flew under the radar.  I occasionally mixed with the beautiful people, but was not established as a member of the “in” crowd.  I wasn’t prom princess or homecoming queen, but I also wasn’t bullied or tormented.  I mostly just did my own thing and mercifully, my high school years weren’t too terrible.  I did have an occassional pang of envy when I observed all the fun the popular people seemed to be having.  But I have recently come to appreciate that being popular ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Popularity has a  dark side and I’m currently living it.  In a development which I hope is both normal and temporary, my darling son has conferred upon me some serious most favored parent status.  So as to my son, I am extremely popular.  During our recent vacation, he was in full-blown daddy hating mode, so to keep the peace, I was stuck with most of the baths, bedtimes, and butt-wiping and it wore me out.  By any logical calculus, my husband should be the more popular parent, as he is a lot more fun than I am.  Maybe it’s Freudian, but whether it’s Oedipal or otherwise, I’m hoping this little phase is short-lived.

It’s hard to be the center of someone else’s universe, but as a parent, I suppose that’s what I signed on for, so my complaints are actually kind of petty.   But when people are clamoring for your attention, it can make your head a noisy place.  I suppose I’ll miss the noise when my boy is all grown up, but these days, I do sometimes miss the quiet.

And here’s another pernicious thing about popularity…when you’re admired it can mess with your head and make you think you have to be problem-less and perfect.  If you’re adored, you should make yourself worthy of adoration and never complain, right?

Remember reading “Richard Cory” in high school English class?  This Edwin Arlington Robinson poem always just devastates me…

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

For the record, I am not suicidal, but I totally get this poem.  It’s a weird sort of irony that the people we glorify sometimes end up isolated and sad.  I’m no Richard Cory, but I relate in my own small way. 

I’m not sure if I’ve got this memo entirely figured out…I suppose it’s ultimately about figuring out whether the cost of popularity is worth its benefits.  So while I think about it, here’s some Nada Surf.   Memo received.

Perspective, Gratitude & The Miracle of Flight


I missed the memo about perspective, gratitude, and the miracle of flight.

I’ve just returned from a week-long midwestern odyssey with my husband and three-year old son.  While our return trip was nearly perfect, getting there was not half the fun.  In fact, the start of our trip was such an inauspicious beginning that I was nearly in hysterical tears a couple times.

Let’s begin with the flight time…departing out of LAX at 6:00 a.m. is just a gnarly proposition under the best of circumstances…the airport is not fully functional at this ungodly hour, the surly TSA agents are just shuffling in and all your fellow passengers are equally sleep-deprived and harried.  The vibes just aren’t good.  Add to this mix a pre-schooler with an unnatural attachment to his shoes and an understandable unwillingness to walk through that weird metal thing and you can understand why my nerves were already jangled before we even reach the gate.

The nerve jangling continued as we flew on a packed plane, sandwiched between seat kickers and seat recliners.  My darling son, whom I presumed to be potty-trained, went on a toilet strike during the flight and resisted all coaxing to pee in the airplane lavatory.  Lest you think he did not have to go,  he peed his pants promptly upon returning to his seat.  At his age, accidents will happen, but there is nothing so crazy-making as knowing a child has consumed a whole bottle of Odwalla, wrangling his resistant body onto a toilet, engaging in a battle of wills as said child uses all his bodily strength to combat the urge to urinate, and then experiencing the tell-tale warmth on your leg once the child lets fly with a pee in his pants.  Seriously, crazy-making.

Once my darling boy was changed and dry, the early wake up call finally caught up with us, and we all fell asleep with only about a half an hour left in the first leg of our journey.  We were bound for St. Louis with a quick scheduled stop in Dallas.  I figured we’d sleep pretty much straight through.  My rude awakening, literally, came in the form of a flight attendant announcing that St. Louis-bound passengers would have to de-plane because some unscheduled maintenance was going to take a little longer than anticipated.  I’m not proud of this, but as  I angrily staggered off the plane, I gave every American Airlines employee I saw the stink-eye.

What we hoped would be a short stop in Dallas turned into a nearly 2 hour layover.  And guess what?  My darling boy peed his pants, AGAIN.  This time, stripping off his wet shorts and skivvies in the middle of the terminal and scampering around bare-assed.  At this point,  I was out patience and also out of extra clothes, so I was ready to put a diaper on him.   But I didn’t have any diapers, and you can’t buy diapers in an airport.  You can buy true essentials, like Clinique skin care products, from a vending machine no less, but you can’t buy diapers.  Seriously.

Once we got going again, I was nearly at the end of my rope.  But mercifully, my husband reminded me of this gem from Louis C.K.

 

Even though I was still really tired and kind of frustrated with the misadventures we’d experienced, thinking about how amazing it is that we can get across our vast country in a matter of hours does help to keep things in perspective.  With a little perspective, I can appreciate that I have mostly high-quality problems in my life.  And for that, I’m grateful.  So what if my son went commando from Dallas to St. Louis?  When I focus on how lucky I am to have the means to travel at all, and that I had some pretty wonderful people waiting for me on the other end, it gets a lot easier to tolerate the petty inconveniences that accompany the journey.  But next time I’m packing some Pull-Ups in my carry-on. Memo received.

Snoring, Selflessness, & Sociology


I missed the memo about snoring, selflessness and sociology.

In honor of Father’s Day, I tell one of my favorite stories about my Dad. 

You may recall that college-wise, I kinda put all my eggs in one basket.  So when I was invited to come to the campus of Oglethorpe University to compete for a full scholarship, I was pretty excited and really, really nervous.  The competition consisted of doing some reading in advance, participating in a group discussion with a professor and other hopefuls, and doing some writing.   

Somehow, I chose to be in a discussion group whose focus was sociology, a subject about which I knew pretty much nothing.  As I attempted the advance reading, I realized I was probably in a bit over my head.  I had always been a big smarty-pants, but this was the first time that I recognized that there was a really big world of really complicated  ideas out there and I really didn’t know shit.  It brought about a poorly-timed crisis of confidence.  And did I mention a full scholarship was on the line?  No pressure.

My mom and dad dutifully drove me down to Atlanta and the night before the competition, we were all bunked down in one hotel room.  My Dad fell asleep and promptly began to snore.  Loudly.  I put a pillow over my head, stuffed Kleenex in my ears…to no avail.  After a couple of hours, I was starting to get a little desperate…

I suppose nature eventually called my Dad and he discovered me attempting to sleep in the bathtub.  As it dawned on him that his snoring had contributed to my situation, he shooed me back to bed, quietly got dressed, and slipped out of the hotel room.  Rather than risk a resumption of his snoring, he drove around an unfamilar city in the middle of the night. 

He returned a few hours later, cheerful and with doughnuts.  He must have been exhausted, but he didn’t let on.  He chauffeured me over to campus right on time.  And when the competition got started, it was clear that I had just jumped into the intellectual deep end, but I managed to tread water most of the day.  I didn’t win the full scholarship, but managed to earn a substantial partial scholarship.  Under the circumstances, I considered a partial scholarship a complete triumph.

Here’s the thing about my Dad:   He didn’t attend college himself and even though he has an awesome natural intellect, he hadn’t really had any experience with academic competition or sociology, so he couldn’t really help me prepare.  But he could make sure I got some sleep on the night before a very big day.  Good dads can’t do everything, but they do what they can do, and they do what they’ve got to do. 

Happy Father’s Day and Memo received.

Talking To Strangers


I missed the memo about talking to strangers.

My son is a natural-born party crasher.  He’ll toddle up to just about anyone and introduce himself and immediately begin mooching toys and food.  I’m simultaneously proud and alarmed at this behavior.  And I cringe with recognition, because I think he gets this from me.

It’s really lovely to see how my son has no fear of rejection.  To him, the world is full of friends and the default is set to share.  It simply doesn’t occur to him to be inhibited or shy, even around people he doesn’t know.  When it comes to outings, we’re still in the don’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-him-not-even-for-a-second phase of his childhood, so I’m always supervising these exchanges with strangers, and so far nothing bad has ever happened.  But I know he needs to start appreciating “stranger danger” and it breaks my heart that I’ll have to break his heart in this way.

To all the people in the world who prey upon kids…you suck.  You give me nightmares and it makes me furious that I have to explain to my kid that people like you exist.  I know there aren’t very many of you out there, but there are just enough to make the world really scary. Just stop, already. 

So yeah, as a parent, one of my responsibilities is to teach my son to appreciate the gift of fear, to understand that there are real dangers in the world, and that some of these dangers come in the form of other people who mean to do him harm.  It’s my desperate hope that my kid, and every kid, can learn this lesson, grow safely into adulthood, and then forget it just enough when they’re  older and a bit more resourceful.

For defenseless little kids, “don’t talk to strangers” is perfectly sound advice.  Avoiding strangers is their best chance for avoiding contact with someone who might want to hurt them.  But what about us grown-ups?  We’ve got our cell phones and pepper spray, and those killer self-defense  moves we learned from watching “Kill Bill“.  We’ve got years of life experience and  have clocked a gazillion hours of people watching which informs our discrimination between axe murderers and non-axe murders.  This doesn’t inoculate adults against predatory behavior by other adults, but we’ve got more of a fighting chance. 

As a grown up, I’m all for talking to strangers.  I’m that lady who’s always chatting up the cashiers at grocery stores and striking up conversations with airplane seatmates.  As I go through the endless series of transactions that seem to form my life, I do feel a need to connect, to make an impression, to interact.  Sometimes it’s just small talk, but once in a while, there’s a spark of friendship, or even just a little moment of genuine communication.  I think it’s nice and I’d like to think it’s a mutual day-brightener, but I sadly estimate that I annoy a minimum of 37% of the people I talk to.  I can definitely take a hint, though, so if you crack open your Kindle or plug in your ear buds, I’ll shut up, I promise.

So as it pertains to my little party crasher, for now I suppose it’s one of those “do as I say not as I do” situations.  But when he’s older, I hope he’ll talk to strangers, too.  Memo received.