RSS Feed

Cruising for Chicks

When you have a baby, there are certain things you expect: sleepless nights, moments of wide-eyed amazement (yours and the baby’s), hours of paranoia, an extra five pounds of what appears to be dough glued to your waist, and, in all likelihood, the desire to, at some point, have another one. (Aren’t you amazed that, even after a shitty pregnancy or an evening with a screechy newborn vomiting in your lap, you’ve already found yourself wondering: “So… when can I have another one?” You sick, sick weirdo.)

That’s what you expect when you’re expecting.

What you don’t expect is that, shortly after having a baby, you’re gonna be on the prowl.

No, hot mama, you’re not ditching your man to go cruise for some boytoy.

You’ve got bigger goals.

You, my dear, are cruising the preschool parking lot for moms.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Once upon a time you trolled bars, websites, and friends of friends looking for guys until you met your special one. But now? You have a much, much harder goal.

You’re going mommy-dating. And a good woman is really hard to find these days.

Mommy-dating is a leisure activity that I hadn’t anticipated either time I was pregnant. But yet somehow, shortly after popping a watermelon out of my vagina, the instinct was there: I’ve got to meet someone. Someone nice. Someone funny. Someone smart. Someone real. Someone with whom I would actually choose to be friends—not just someone I’m friends with because we both have babies. Someone who will laugh with me at the absurdities of parenthood and cry with me—or at least let me cry on her— over the things that are too hard, too terrifying, too overwhelming. Someone who will help heal the bone-crushing loneliness that inevitably comes at one point or another with having a newborn, no matter how cute that little mush-face is.

I remember very clearly the first moment I realized I needed a mom friend when Lila was born. She was sixteen days old; the nurse had just left, and I was feeling beyond lonely. Even now, three years later, I can still recall with razor-sharp clarity the sound of my husband closing our apartment door behind him at 8:01 as he left for the day for work. I’d look at Lila. She’d look at me. I’d say, half-ironically, “Who’s ready to have a great day?” She’d look back at me blankly. I’d look at her blankly. I’d look at the clock: 8:02.

Holy. Shit. What kind of people can do this flying solo all day long? Once upon a time, I used to judge the nannies hanging out in gangs at the parks on the Upper East Side. I used to look at them with such derision, pitying the poor parents who had hired these women to sit on a park bench and talk to each other while the un-nurtured babies stared emptily out into the abyss.

But man oh man, did I get it once I had Lila. When you have a new baby, you NEED someone to talk to, because, let’s face it, you can only narrate your day for the baby’s well-being for so long before you feel like it’s time to lock yourself up in an insane asylum. (Said in extremely irritating “Motherese” voice: “Is Mommy going to put the dishes away? Yes, Mommy is! Is Mommy going to walk across the room to pick up that piece of lint on the floor? Yes, Mommy is! Is Mommy thinking about slamming her head against a wall because she feels she has entirely sacrificed her own intellectual well-being and adult mental capacity by spending the day by narrating the minutiae of her life to an uninterested baby? Yes, Mommy is! Does Mommy feel guilty about having that thought just now? Yes, Mommy does!”).

And thus, Mommy-dating is born from any thinking woman’s need to talk to someone—anyone—other than a baby all day.

When I had Lila, I hightailed it to a new moms class at the 92nd Street Y in New York, thinking this would be the place where I could meet “the one”. I also attended a breastfeeding class (which is basically what porn looks like gone horribly, horribly awry). While I met only one nice mommy whom I legitimately liked/still like at these venues, I mostly sat on the ground with Lila in my arms thinking, “Who are these people and why are they talking about hiring a professional to come in and sleep-train their baby?” I also recall thinking, “That woman who says her three-week-old sleeps through the night is a liar, and I’m going to trip her on the way out.” And of course, “Why does that woman have a Louis Vuitton diaper bag?” I would routinely glance at my sad little diaper bag, lamenting already the ways in which my baby was living a life of hard-knocks compared to the well-heeled upper class of infant society. Occasionally, I also had disparaging thoughts about the other babies, which was cruel, but given that a woman in the hospital had openly commented that Lila “looked like a monkey” on the day she was born, I felt I had earned my sinfully delicious schadenfreude. That and the fact that at that particular moment in time, Lila had such bad cradle cap and baby exzema that the poor kid legitimately looked like the crypt keeper. And yes, I liked throwing rocks even though I too lived in a glass house.

With Eliana, the need for mommy friends is less urgent. Both of my sisters have three children; one of these children is only two days older than Eliana. And there are still the remaining mommy friends from Lila’s infantdom; many of these women are on the same “track” as I am, and in spacing their children three years apart, they too have their second child who is Eliana’s age to go with their parallel three-year-old.

But still. Like an online dating addict, I find myself gravitating back to mommy-get-togethers. Searching for someone special. Someone who gets it. Someone who gets me. Someone whom I can call and say, “Does your kid make spit bubbles for fifteen minutes at a time and then shove her whole fist in her mouth?” and then have them say, “Yes.” I have some of these women in my life already, and I am grateful for them beyond words. But still…I keep looking.

This past Tuesday there was a get-together for parents (read: mothers) of children in Lila’s class. As I got ready, I realized there was something seriously fucked up about all of this: why was I putting on more makeup for these women than I did for Husband when we went out? Why was I pouring myself into a pair of Joe’s jeans instead of going out in my crappy, dirty cords? Why was I wearing perfume?

Not. Normal.

I got to the bar, giddy with the feeling that I would not be in Baby World for at least 2 hours. The other moms were well groomed, too; it was clear upon arrival that no one had errant noodles or stickers stuck to their pants, which is really a quality I admire in women. It shows self-respect. Additionally, they had all been able to make it to the get-together, which meant that a. they too were looking for a good time (get your mind out of the gutter—that’s not what I meant) and b. their husbands were taking care of the kids, which is another quality I look for in a woman: a woman who isn’t going to be the martyr.

The lights were low. The ambience was good. The cocktails were flowing (for those of us who weren’t nursing…sigh). And boy, did it feel good to just sit at a table with some smart women talking about our toddlers’ crushes on one another.

At the end of the night, I got some new Facebook friends. I made some tentative playdates. I promised myself I wouldn’t forget their names.

And with that, I was on the prowl once more.

Advertisements

Suck It, Gloria

Thanks to the women’s rights movement, we mothers really can “have it all.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t really want it all.

Since I started work, I have felt more and more like a hamster panting wildly as I run laps to nowhere on a wheel that never stops. The day begins at 6:45: time to dress the kids, dress myself, eat breakfast, run out the door, drop Eliana off at daycare at my school while Husband drops off Lila, go to my classroom, check email for two minutes before the kid I tutor before school shows up in my classroom. Tutoring student leaves, and then class starts. I teach four classes straight from 9 in the morning until 12:20 with no breaks, at which point my boobs are ready to explode. If I’m feeling generous to myself, I end class at 12:18 so I have two extra minutes to hightail it to the handicapped bathroom I discovered in a remote corner of the school to plug in and pump out. Once the ta-tas are unloaded, I then have three minutes to pop in on Eliana and make sure she’s alive, which she is. She smiles at me with a huge grin, and though I desperately want to stay, cuddle her, use those three minutes to make her feel confident, smart, secure and happy, nurture her somehow, the reality is I’ve only got twelve more minutes left in my lunch period, so I run down to the cafeteria to wolf down my lunch, run back to my classroom at 1:01 so that I have another two minutes to check my email. Then it’s time to teach from 1:03-2:30 straight, and at 2:31, I heave a huge sigh of relief: I’ve survived another school day. Except now, it’s time for my real job: Being Mommy.

Job requirements include: providing stimulating educational/emotional play so that your kids will some day turn out to be smarter/kinder/more thoughtful/more loving than you, equally engaging both children simultaneously though their interests never coincide, making nutritious dinner that will encourage physical growth, bathing children so no one calls Child Services on you, encouraging and bolstering children’s egos without spoiling them or making them into arrogant asses, maintaining your sanity when both children howl in an atonal symphony of whining, healing imaginary boo-boos, negotiating with three-year-old about exactly how many piece of chicken constitutes dinner, nursing a baby while reading “Miss Moo-Moo and the Art Farm” (which, naturally, involves a rather unwieldy puppet, thus necessitating a third and fourth arm), shushing a baby to sleep while the other kid insists on turning the light in the baby’s room on and off on and off on and off on and off, creating a strobe-like, seizure-friendly Nursery Disco.

With the baby in the crib (still crying—shit, time to run in and stick a binky in her mouth for the four-hundredth time and hope for the best; why has no one yet invented  something that I will call “Binky Glue,” ideally made of Omega-3s so your kid can get smarter while being pacified!?), you finally get the bigger one in her pajamas, finish having the tea party you promised could happen after the bath only, and wrangle her into the bathroom to brush her teeth to avoid “troll teeth”. “No, Mommy, not that toothbrush!” The day is drawing to a close—you glance at the clock: half an hour more, and liberation is in sight. But just as things are starting to wind down, you hear it: beep-beep-beep-beep. The door code: Daddy’s Home.

Based on the look in your daughter’s eyes, Daddy’s return signifies one thing and one thing only: The Messiah Has Arrived!

With Daddy’s return from work, the universe plays a cruel trick: his very appearance has the same effect as intravenously shooting up your toddler with Red Bull.

Here’s the good news: Mommy, if your husband is great (read: grateful/guilt-ridden that you have fulfilled all of the job responsibilities listed above in addition to your own job—you know, the one that pays), you are absolved of parental responsibility now, which is good because you’re tired, but kind of annoying because all the work is done already. Daddy’s home, and you’re “off duty.” With love, Husband encourages, “Seriously, go downstairs, relax for a bit!”

And while you want to do this—while you actually want nothing more than to sit on the couch, put your feet up, and just close your eyes and hear for a second what silence in your brain sounds like (or what you imagine it might sound like), you know that’s not really an option in the world you live in. Because you know in your heart there is no time to relax. It is time to clean up Kid Dinner. It’s time to make the living room look just a little less like a bomb of toys and princess gear detonated in it. It’s time to sort through the mail. It’s time to set the table for Adult Dinner. It’s time to put away the laundry. It’s time to sterilize the bottles. It’s time to make the bottles for daycare tomorrow. It’s time to sort through the three-year-old’s backpack. Dear Lord: how old are those Cheerios? Briefly, you wonder if carbon-14 dating could track those puppies back at least four months.

And by the time you accomplish 1/8 of what you planned on doing in that twenty minutes that Daddy is upstairs putting one of your kids to bed, you’re frustrated that you didn’t finish the other seven-eighths of your agenda. And hell, why is Daddy taking so long? You head upstairs, and there he is: asleep in the three-year-old’s bed.

Awesome.

So here we are, ladies. Finally, we women can have it all! We can leave the cult of domesticity…to live in the working world…AND the cult of domesticity. You know what? If this is what having it all is, well, I think I’m gonna have to be the one who says it. No thank you, Gloria Steinem. And Betty Friedan? You can just suck it.

There may be women out there who relish this “having it all”ness that I can’t get my head around. (These may be the same women who work because they feel like it, not because they need the money. They may also have personal chefs, daily housekeepers, and 24-hour childcare. Now THAT is “having it all”.) I suspect that these awesome Alpha women would be horrified to learn that yes, just last week, Lila found some sort of fossilized snack on the floor of my car that neither of us could identify, and before I could say, “I’ll take that, please,” I was looking at her chewing in the rear view mirror as she said, “Mommy, this is crunchy.”

The problem with having a job and having a family, something always has to give. Having it all is an impossibility: at some point, the patience wears out, the stamina falters, the ego is crushed a grape squished on the floor. So yeah, we’ve got it all…but holding the weight of it all can be sometimes near unbearable.

And even when superheroes like Daddy rush in to save the day and lift the building before it falls, let’s face it: Daddy can’t do it the way I can, now can he? Through no fault of his own, he is an entirely different person, and in spite of our eight years of marriage and thirteen years loving one another, he is not a mind reader. He will put away the laundry—but not in the neurotic way I would do it. He will dress the kids—but not in outfits that look normal (how does he always manage to dress them so they look like they crawled out of a 1930s orphanage?). He will put the girls to sleep—but it will take longer than if I did it myself. And I’m not saying that his way is wrong, but, well, it’s not my way, and control freak that I am—and I suspect many of us who “have it all” are those freaks—if I’m “having it all”? I want to have it all…MY way.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” right?

Right. Because she doesn’t.

So lately I’ve been crashing into bed at night making mental lists in the moments before I fall asleep about all that needs to be accomplished. Hilariously, on top of the turbo-speed of regular life, I’ve taken it upon myself to run a 5k this weekend, though a) I’m not a runner/quit cross-country in high school because it was too tiring and b) I’m only three months post-partum with a belly that shakes like it’s got it’s own Richter scale every time my sneaker hits treadmill.

But I will run the race. And though I have no idea what the finish line looks like, I’ll keep going. Because Gloria? Even though I’m still kind of pissed about the “having it all” thing, you were right about this one: “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”

You said it, sister. You said it.

Where There’s A Will

Nothing says “romance” like writing a will with your Husband.

In our life together, a will was something that Husband and I had always discussed with the same kind of bored disinterest that we had when saying things like, “Do you want to eat chicken for dinner tonight?” or “When do you think one of us going to break and pick up that sock that’s been in the hallway for three weeks?” Making a will was an Adult Thing To Do, and we never really felt pressed to do something about it. For the eight years of our marriage, we had never really sat down to do the thing because, well, if one of us died, well…hey, does anyone want chicken for dinner tonight?

The extent of our discussion was generally self-limiting. Husband has rolled his eyes at my (pathetic and absurd) Family-Circus-esque view, which means that I will haunt him, much in the same way that the creepy grandma in the comic haunted all the kids all the time. (“I wish Grandma was here.” “I am.”) I’ll always be there, even when he ends up making it with some semi-attractive woman with a cat with a kidney problem (because somehow that always happens; when women die, the husband always ends up in a second marriage to a woman with a cat with renal failure).

But now that we have children, the issue of our deaths becomes much more complicated. Because it’s not just about Husband or I being alone and heartbroken, sifting through boxes teeming with the letters, photographs, detritus and mementos of our romance and life together, sorting through clothes that smell wonderfully like one another, lying awake at night wanting to share thoughts or stories that only the other would understand. There’s Eliana and Lila to think about, who will also be alone and heartbroken.  Children who, hopefully, won’t get totally messed up just on the off chance that both of their parents die—perhaps simultaneously—in their formative years.

So it was with a trembling sense of our own frailty as humans that I made the call to Herb the Lawyer about making a will. When he came to our house to discuss the will, a mere two days before Eliana was born, Husband and I sat in the kitchen, sipping coffee and eating bagels as we cavalierly discussed our immortality. My belly had grown obscene, and in my final nesting instincts, it seemed extremely important to map out what would happen to our children if we both died. Call me an optimist.

Herb the Lawyer went through the questions clinically. Who would the kids go to if we died? (My parents.) What would happen if my mother and father couldn’t care for our children? What would happen if only one of my parents were living; would we want the children to go to the one surviving grandparent? What if both my parents were dead? Which sister would get the kids? Who would control the money for the kids? When should the kids have access to the money? What if we both died, and our children died, then who would get our remaining assets?

Each question was nauseating. I mean, I love bagels, but sitting at a table contemplating the people I love in my life dying and the emotional and financial ramifications of those deaths—well, it put a damper on my cream cheese and lox. It really did.

And of course, the most fun was coming up with the living will part. As in, let’s say I’m a vegetable. What do I want Husband to do? (Answer: keep me alive for as long as possible through feeding tubes no matter what/no matter how miserable an experience this is for my surviving family members or me; if possible, cryogenic-freeze me until science has caught up to cure my vegetableness. When I have been unfrozen, get me awesome plastic surgery so that I look like a Brazilian supermodel.) If Husband is a vegetable, what would he like? (Answer: Husband Unplugged.) With horror, Husband and I realized simultaneously that, in the case that one of us is left a vegetable, the other would likely want to do the exact opposite of the vegetable’s wishes.

And unfortunately, vegetables can’t voice dissent. Which means that I’m probably gonna get unplugged if the situation presents itself, and Husband is going to live forever and then get plastic surgery so that he looks like a Brazilian supermodel.

Awesome.

After Eliana was born, the envelope with The Will came in the mail.

Husband and I both avoided it—as if making eye contact with it would somehow kill us.  It sat on the island in the kitchen for days. Then weeks. Then months. We avoided confronting our mortality like it was that sock in the hallway.

Then the Lawyer started calling. We thought, at first, that he cared about our well-being and our comfort level with the documents. Or that he wanted to see if the baby had been born. Or that he wanted account numbers or something like that. As it turned out, he just wanted to get paid. And he wanted us to sign the wills.

We couldn’t avoid it any longer. When mortality stares you in the face, eventually, it’s mortality that wins that staring contest.

We made our appointment to drive to north Jersey to sign the papers. It was a rainy day– the kind of gloomy, depressing day that seemed just cinematic and perfect for signing a will. As a family, we drove to drop Lila off at nursery school together, with Eliana in tow. As we drove, Lila whined about not getting jellybeans, which she now seems to think are “owed” to her for doing normal things like brushing her teeth, getting dressed, and generally acting like a normal person. She whined for ten minutes and then cheerfully bounded down the hall of the school into her classroom, without looking back. As I watched her light brown pigtails dance behind her as she skipped on her merry way, I thought about how nice it must be– to be three, and to truly believe your are invincible. I remember feeling that way once.

Husband and I got back in the car. The large envelopes with the wills sat between us like grave markers. Eliana snored lightly in the back seat as rain streamed down the car windows.

As we pulled out of the nursery school parking lot, I asked Husband, “Do you think we should read these? Like before we get to the office?”

“We’ll probably look like idiots if we don’t. Yeah, why don’t you read them while I’m driving, and we’ll write down comments or questions.”

“Okay.” I opened the sealed envelope and tried to relax. “Well, this is fun, isn’t it?

I slipped the first will out of the envelope and started reading it. As I read the words, “The Last Will and Testament” and then my husband’s name, I felt a sob well up in my throat.

And no one was even dead yet.

“You know, the next time this document is out, only one of us will be reading it probably.”

Both of us went quiet.

“I don’t want you to die,” I whispered. Tears welled up in my eyes, as if I was already in mourning, already drowning in a sea of loneliness. Husband’s eyes began to water, too.

In sympathy, Eliana started to cry in the back seat. I unbuckled my seatbelt as we drove on the highway, turning around from the front so I could give her a pacifier.

Sweetly, Husband commented, “Try not to die before we sign the wills, okay?”

Finally, still intact, we arrived at the lawyer’s office– a sad-looking, dreary place with mustard-colored carpeting and ripped orange leather chairs.  Herb walked us through the wills and then invited two witnesses who worked in the building into the room to sign the wills with us.

And that was that. We were all set to die. Yippee! We wouldn’t have to look at those documents again until….well, until.

As parents, we don’t get a whole lot of time for reflection. The moments that we get are few and far between– a minute in the shower, thirty seconds in the car before someone cries out, when you sign a will, and in the dark of night as we try to sleep but worry instead. Life moves forward at a frenzied pace when you live with a baby and a three-year-old; it’s time to get dressed, time to eat, time to go to school, time to have a snack, time to play, time to do work, time to clean up, time to pump, time to go to the supermarket, time to take a bath, time to sterilize the bottles, time to go to sleep so you can do the whole thing over again ad infinitum.

After writing our will, I can’t say I’ve wanted to make time to think about my own or my husband’s mortality. In fact, our deaths still  fall squarely under the heading “I’d rather lick my kitchen floor than spend my free eight seconds of the day discussing/thinking about this.” But whether it’s subconsciously or purposefully, since we signed our wills, I’ve found myself making more of an effort to enjoy the time that we have together.  Yes, it is hard to enjoy when you find yourself fighting a war with a three-year-old about why the shirt with the bunny on it wearing a tiara is in the wash. Or why there are only Oreos in the car for snack, not White Cheddar Cheez-Its. And it’s not easy to enjoy when you’re up at three A.M. trying to get a cranky, coughing baby to go back to sleep when you’re so tired yourself you feel like your eyelids need scaffolding to stay open. And there’s just no denying that parenthood and adult life just plain suck when your child staunchly refuses to listen to you, or when you feel so overwhelmed that even making dinner that does not include a chicken nugget seems like a Herculean feat. But these moments are just that– they are moments. They are seconds in the flip book that is your life and your family’s life together. That frustration you felt welling up inside you dissipates, and the days go on, with that familiar rhythm that is known only to your family. But one day, it will happen– you’ll notice that you’re still Mommy or Daddy, and you’re still wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods, telling the same jokes, making the same plans, and you haven’t changed all the much, but suddenly, your three-year-old is using words like “enormous” and “actually,”  and your baby is squealing with laughter, or trying to roll, or is she really reaching her arms out to you or are you just imagining that? Your eyes catch Husband’s, and though you say nothing to each other, you can tell from the smile in each other’s eyes that you know you’re thinking the same thing at the same moment: “We’re just really unbelievably lucky, aren’t we?”

So yeah, we’re “ready” now– in the financial and legalistic sense– to die. But in this moment as a parent? I’m ready to live and savor the seconds that we have together– the bad and the good– before they get lost.

Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Pump Up the Jam

Having been at work all of one week, there are some things that I have figured out about this whole “I’m-a-working-mom-and-I-have-two-kids” thing. This much I know:

1) In order to save your sanity, you need to make dinner for your three-year-old the night before you intend to serve it. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you are a brilliant sous-chef/snake charmer at once. I don’t care if you’re a child psychologist, a teacher, or a prison guard (these are all professions I assume would be helpful to anyone who becomes a parent). The fact is, your older kid—and I don’t care how old your little genius is—that older one will do whatever she can to thwart you as you try to make a healthy dinner (which she will then merely look at rather than eat, much to your annoyance). Attempts to derail your best intentions include (but are not limited to): random tantrums, the “carry me!” routine (though said three-year-old has nowhere to go), requests to play hairstylist (which usually end with your having tufts of hair ripped from your scalp), and supplications for “Sesame Street” (“NO, not THAT one, Mommy! The OTHER one! With Bert!”). And the worst: “accidents” that you know damn well were done on purpose simply to get attention and manipulate you. Truly, there have been moments this week when I have genuinely thought that Lila spent the entire day at nursery school/daycare plotting how she could undermine me. Sure, she says she’s “coloring” over there (why am I paying $1500 a month for this!? For this price, she should be fluent in Japanese and making ME dinner each night.), but I think we all know that “coloring” really means “I sat in a corner with my best friend constructing ways to ruin Mommy’s well-oiled-parenting-machine while simultaneously looking adorable and naïve.”

In a moment of parenting glory, I realized that I had to out-fox the fox. If she wasn’t going to let me make dinner, well, I wasn’t going to let her SEE me make dinner. After Lila goes to sleep, and Eliana is also asleep, I come downstairs to get dinner together for me and Husband. As I make our dinner, I set aside the food that she will eat (look at) for dinner the next day. This is a fucking genius strategy; even Lila is amazed. Each day, she has asked, “Hey, when did you make dinner, Mommy?” which I interpret to really mean “Curses! FOILED AGAIN!” Eat it, Lila. Mommy’s won.

2) To successfully bathe your baby, you must distract the older child. Short of giving your kid firecrackers and a match, I don’t care how you do it—just get the job done, people. On an ambitious day, I will distract Lila with fingerpaint, which paralyzes her in her seat at first because she loves painting, and in the end, because she hates being dirty and will refuse to do anything until her fingers are cleaned by a professional (read: me). Fingerpaint works on a good day. On a day when Mommy is feeling creative, inspired, and like if there was some sort of Mommy Olympics, I would totally kick ass and take names. (Mommy Olympic sports categories should include: Fastest At Shape-Sorting Clean-Up, Quickest Bottle Assembly, and Fastest Feeding. Alternatively, if you and your other mommy friends are looking for a way to pass the playdate hours, may I recommend somehow making a drinking game out of this? I’m pretty convinced that, minus the moral depravity of it, this could be a fucking phenomenal business idea.).

More frequently, Mommy is feeling like a bum who just needs to catch a break, for the love of God. At this point, the TV is my best friend. There, I said it, and you know what? I’m not ashamed at all. The only downside to this strategy is that as your older one watches, your baby is going to have the theme song to “SuperWhy!” ingrained in her subconscious so deeply that, even as an adult, it is likely that when she takes a shower, she will start singing something like, “Super readers…to the rescue!” Small price to pay. Pop on the DVR, enjoy the mellifluous sounds of “Superwhy!” in the background, and clean that dirty baby up! Relish in your own awesomeness as you have one kid cleaned and ready for bed. And it’s not even six o’clock yet!

3) Bedtime is a fucking nightmare. There’s just no getting around that. With one kid, it was a sweet, lovely time of day when Lila and I could cuddle, whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears without a care in the world. One more story? Sure! Why the hell not? Life is short! Now that I’ve got two kids? One more story? Are you out of your gourd!? Life is short!

However.

Bedtime need not be a nightmare; you just need to reassess what “bedtime” means. If you thought it meant snuggling with your baby in a glider in the purple glow of dusk as you read various “touch-and-feel” books to your precocious eleven-week-old, well, that was back in the day when you had just one little critter. With two kids, if you’re alone without a co-parent at bedtime, you are up shit’s creek, my friend, and you can toss sentimentality out the window, along with What to Expect The First Year. Eliana doesn’t get that special baby-Mommy-time, sadly. Am I vaguely concerned that she’ll grow up feeling less loved as a result, never make a meaningful adult relationship, and go on to feel unappreciated and isolated as an adult because of it? Yup, I sure am! Can I do anything about it? Therapy perhaps, but truly, who has time for therapy when you have two kids and a job?

Instead, Eliana’s in her pajamas and swaddle (read: baby straight-jacket) promptly after her 5:30ish bath, and then it’s time for her to rest on my lap as I feed (read: show) Lila her dinner. I jiggle my leg incessantly like I’ve got the DTs in order to get Eliana to kick off into dreamland while I simultaneously read Lila stories as she pretends to eat. By the time Lila is done eating (read: looking at) dinner, Lila and I head upstairs to put Eliana in her crib. If I’m lucky, Lila will not ask to be carried at this point, and we can go up the stairs together like three civilized human beings. If I’m not lucky, Lila will demand to be carried, and the three of us go up the stairs like one large, deformed Quadimodo-esque ogre because I’ve ended up caving in rather than dealing with a three-year-old-tantrum forty-five minutes before Lila’s bedtime. Feel free to judge me. Then I’ll feel free to punch you in the face.

Once we are in Eliana’s room, it’s song time. “Baby songs,” as Lila likes to call them. Lila and I sing songs to Eliana together—in a nightly moment of true tenderness that is appreciated, and in all likelihood, will be remembered, only by me. Eliana’s nose is nuzzled in the crook of my arm, and she is asleep, or not really asleep. The softness of her cheek reminds me of the cool, smooth feel of a nectarine in the summer. She sighs contentedly, and in her sleep, her arm spastically reaches towards me as if it’s compelled by some magnetic force. At this point, Lila starts to get impatient, so I tell her to turn on Eliana’s nightlight, which is already on, but will give Lila something to do as I try to make The Transfer from arms to crib. Eliana turns her head, and her soft cheek presses firmly against my arm, as if she senses I am ready to move her, to begin the don’t-cross-the-red-wire-with-the-blue-wire-transfer of sleeping child to crib. With Lila distracted, I lift Eliana up, place her in the crib, put a binky in her mouth, take Lila’s hand, and shut the door behind me. And with that, victory is MINE. One down, one to go. Then, Lila’s bedtime can proceed, much to her delight, as if Eliana never existed.

So those are the things I have figured out. There is a list that could go on for centuries about things I have not figured out, but the most serious thing I have not figured out it this: pumping at work.

First of all, I’ll say it: I resent that in the one free moment that I have at school when I’m not teaching, I’ve got to haul ass to some sad-looking individual bathroom stall in order to pump milk out of my near-bursting boobakas. Like all nursing working mothers, before returning to work, I spent several night feeding strategizing how and where I would pump. Best option: the single female bathroom stall at the front of the EXTREMELY conservative private school where I teach.

Last week, with my fourth period class over at 12:20, I booked it down the hall with my “Pump In Style” bag to the single stall bathroom. (If this bag is “pumping in style,” I’m really interested to see what “Pumping-Looking-Like-You-Popped-Out-of-an-Eighties-Mentos-Commercial” looks like.) With only thirty-seven minutes for my lunch period, during which I would have to pump, eat, and visit Eliana in her upstairs daycare room, I furiously tried to open up the single stall women’s bathroom. SHIT: someone was in there. In my new teaching schedule, I literally do not have time for someone else to poop. I glanced at the men’s single stall next door. The door was ajar. It was empty.

I did what I had to do—I went in, and I didn’t look back, in spite of the fact that I knew damn well that my going into a men’s stall would be extremely controversial at my extremely conservative private school. But the boobs needed juicing, and it didn’t really matter where it had to happen. There, I set up shop. Bottles? Check. Funnels? Check. Weird yellow piece with white “membrane” thingies? Check. Tubing? Check. I was ready to go. I set up the pump—which always feels a little like what I imagine setting up a bomb must feel like—and got to work milking myself. Nothing like attaching mini-vacuums to your tits to help you relax in your downtime. I mean, that’s what I always say.

That was when I heard it: a knock on the door. SHIT. I couldn’t say, “Hang on! I’m pumping my ta-tas!” because then I would expose myself as a woman in the men’s bathroom. Scandale! My heart started racing, and I just prayed fervently the man would just go away. But the dude clearly had to poop—he knocked on the door again—this time, louder. He even jostled the door in that threatening way that screams, “I’m going to dump in my pants if you don’t let me in right now!”

I did the only thing I thought I could do: I made the loudest, most offensive farting noise I could muster with my mouth.

And thankfully, that was when I heard the man’s footsteps back away, slowly but surely. It was like two alpha lions had crossed on the savanna, and one had been defeated. I was victorious, but what was the price? My dignity. Honesty. And an extremely compelling fart noise.

So yeah, I can put the kids to sleep on my own now. But no, I can’t figure out how to milk myself in the middle of the day without making it into an even more degrading process than it already is.

Win some, lose some.

Working Girl

Recently, I’ve had this heavy feeling of doom inside like I’m approaching my own gallows.

On the plus side, I’m not actually awaiting execution.

On the down side, this feeling exists because, come Monday, I’m going back to work.

GAME OVER.

My blissful maternity leave from teaching is drawing to its close, and I have that wistful feeling that I assume normal children get when camp is over. (As for me, I was generally rejoicing at the thought of leaving camp since I spent much of the summer penning tear-strewn, histrionic letters to my parents that said things like, “Only 28 more meals to survive till I get to come home!”)

As I changed a shit-filled diaper this morning (the first of six in a row; note to breastfeeding mothers: eating FiberOne is a VERY bad idea), I found myself growing homesick for my maternity leave. Every small gesture was tinged with a certain heart-hurting sadness. “This is the last time Eliana and I will drop off Lila at nursery school.” Because Husband will get to take over that job as I have to be at my own school by 8. “This is one of the last times I’ll be able to nurse Eliana in the morning.” Because come Monday, I’ll have to pump like a homeless degenerate in a school bathroom, praying that none of my sixth graders walk in and wonder what I’m doing. “This is the last time Eliana and I will have our morning talks—without anyone else around, no Lila, no Husband.” Because from now on, the only private time Eliana and I will have is on the way to pick up Lila at her school after my school day is done.

With each smile on Eliana’s face today—the smiles I worked so hard to get in my intensive Smile Training Sessions—I couldn’t help but feel sad. Because come Monday, someone else will get these smiles, not me. Someone else will get to hear her first squeals—the ones that I’ve started to hear at the tip of her tongue when Lila plays with her. Come Monday, Eliana’s fingers will instinctively curl tightly around someone else’s finger, not mine. There will be smiles that I’ll miss and weird, goat-like cries that I know how to interpret as Eliana’s mother: cries that someone else will have to learn. Who will sing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to her in a snooty French accent? Can anyone else’s performance of “Open Shut Them” rival my own Tony-worthy display? Her early morning shitstorm—her babysitter at my school’s daycare will have to discover that Eliana poops endlessly at 10:45 AM, often necessitating three consecutive outfit changes. (In fairness, I’m not actually lamenting missing this particular motherhood experience.)

With my own return to school, it’s like the sun is setting on Eliana’s newborn-ness, and my return to work makes it feel like a door is closing—like this is the end of Eliana’s sweet, small, baby phase. Like I didn’t take advantage of it enough. Like I should have spent more time staring at her, drinking in her newborn-ness while I had the chance. Like I should have marveled more and been aggravated less. Like I should have relished holding her when she wouldn’t nap in her crib instead of resenting her for not napping in her crib. Now, the patience that had been solely reserved for my own children will have to be distributed among them and my one hundred students.

There may not be enough to go around.

But now, here I am, and it’s too late for should’ves and could’ves. Because on Monday morning, I will be standing in front of a room of sixth graders who only know me as “the teacher”—not a mother who misses her baby. I will spend the day teaching other people’s children, not my own. I will think of Eliana at those moments when my breasts feel like they’re filled with pins-and-needles—a biological side dish to my own heaping portion of maternal guilt. Eliana will be upstairs with a babysitter, starting the first day of her own independent life: one that I will often know very little about.

At ten weeks, she’ll already be flying solo.

At thirty-one-years-old, I’m still not good at doing it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’ll get over it. When Lila went to daycare at 12 weeks old, I cried when I dropped her off that first day in November. Husband and I held hands as he walked me to the school I was teaching at then, his hand squeezing mine as I quickly tried to brush away tears as my students passed me on the street. Then, day by day, slowly but surely, it got easier. My time with Lila outside of school hours became more special because we weren’t together all day; our daily reunions were hilariously dramatic and euphoric. Even now, each day when I pick Lila up from daycare, she runs towards me with a huge smile on her face, often throwing her arms around my shoulders, burying her face in my neck before pulling away and confirming, “You have a snack for me?”

So I know that Eliana will be happy, just as Lila’s happy. Neither child will lie awake at night wondering, “Why don’t I get to stay home with Mommy every day?” because neither one will have ever even known that in some far-off world from ours, that’s a reality for some kids.

Instead, it will be me lying awake at night wondering, “What did they do today?” Because there’s never really a way to know for sure. The best intel I’ll get from Eliana is some spit bubbles and a shart. And Lila, in her three-year-old world, will continue to tell stories that border on lunacy. (“Once, yesterday, this boy hit me and we went bonk but then I rode a giraffe at the zoo. I know ballet!”) With two unreliable witnesses, I will only be left to imagine what their lives are like.

What if I miss everything?

            It’s that question that makes the thought of going back to work nearly impossible.

***

             It’s 3:45 PM, and I’m picking Lila up from school with Eliana. It is one of our last days together on my maternity leave. Eliana is screeching in the back seat because, horrid parent that I am, I decided to have a Diet Coke at lunch, which apparently is the equivalent to lacing my breastmilk with LSD, given Eliana’s horrified, banshee-like, bad-trip screams. The music in my car is blasting—partially to calm Eliana, but mostly to blare out her screaming, which is not-so-slowly starting to drive me insane.

We pull up into our parking spot as Eliana continues to wail. I pop open the trunk of my SUV to pull out the Graco Snap-n-Go stroller, which was obviously designed by some masochistic asshole who wanted to make otherwise-intelligent people struggle with its deceptively simply “PUSH” red button. I squeeze the button at least five times before the damn thing unfolds, and with the stroller base set up on the ground, I’m ready to open the back door to get out my Bucket o’ Banshee. I take a deep breath, steeling myself against Eliana’s screaming.

That’s when I hear it: SMASH! Followed by white bubbly foam dripping all over the pavement.

Nothing says “Degenerate Mommy” like two beer bottles rolling out of the trunk of an SUV, breaking in the nursery school parking lot.

I might as well call Child Services on myself.

Foamy beer runs down the asphalt, and the entire parking space stinks like a college kegger. There are shards of bright green glass everywhere. Eliana continues to wail in the car.

Frantically, I look around—thankfully, no one is in the parking lot but me. Desperately, I search in the trunk for something—anything—to wipe up the spill and save my car tires from getting sliced by the glass. I don’t like what I see, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

With a diaper, I gingerly pick up about a thousand pieces of broken beer bottle glass. With another diaper, I try to mop up the spill.

With things cleaned up enough, the parking space still stinking of beer, I get Eliana out of the car and put her car seat in the stroller base. She’s stopped crying—she looks at me thoughtfully, her baffled face suggesting her thoughts: “Wow, Mommy’s really lost her shit this time.”

Instead of being defeated, I toss back my hair, hold my head up high, and walk into the school to get Lila.

And it’s moments like these—these are the ones that make me think that maybe going back to work won’t be so bad after all.

Paranoia Express

Every time I read part of What to Expect The First Year, I kind of want to vomit.

It’s not just because the book prompts me to think about things that I never ever cared about (anyone else interested in penile adhesions? Inverted baby nipples? ME NEITHER.). It’s that the book FORCES me to think about things I never would have cared about…and then to panic about them.

Some parents are warriors.

I, however, am a worrier.

In terms of things that upset me about this book (the paragraph about some babies being born with teeth being high on the list), let’s start with the milestone thing: aka, Crock of Shit Numero Uno. With each month, this parenting “bible” basically dictates at the start of each chapter what your child “should” be doing at whatever age he or she is. For instance: “By the end of two months, your child SHOULD be able to:

  • Smile in response to your smile
  • Respond to a bell in some way, such as startling, crying, quieting”

That’s when the book starts to become insidious and bitchy. Because what comes next are categories like “your baby will probably be able to,” “may even be able to,” and “may possibly be able to.” The writing may seem unassuming—pleasant even. After all, the gradation categories of skill development are so wishy-washy, nearly imperceptible to non-adverb lovers. You personally could be fooled into believing that the authors are well-meaning individuals who simply want you to be aware of how your baby is progressing developmentally.

That would be the normal assumption. Because that’s exactly what they WANT you to think.

In reality, these “milestone” lists are created for one simple purpose: to drive you insane. (Because if your newborn isn’t doing that already, well, it’s just not fair for the rest of us.)

Because, let’s face it, the list itself is fucking awesome if your kid is doing all the things at the “may possibly be able to” level (aka Baby Ninja Level). As you read the checklist and realize your child is doing all of those things (and more!), you relish your superiority, drinking it in with the same gusto that your brainiac baby inhales your (genius-creating) breastmilk. And, well, when your diamond-dusted-DNA is combined with your stellar parenting? There’s just no stopping YOUR brilliant baby! Your ten pound bundle of baby perfection could pulverize any other baby intellectually, physically, and emotionally. And you? You’re on top of the world because, just as you and your partner always secretly suspected in the three free minutes you have before you collapse into bed at night, your baby basically is a confirmed prodigy, and every other kid in the world is a sad sack of stupidity by comparison. As you spot other babies at the supermarket, lying in their Graco carseats like limp, deranged, cross-eyed, drooling vegetables, you and your own baby exchange knowing, smug—and yes, pitying— glances. As your eyes lock with your baby’s, you both share the same thought as you pass other mommy-baby duos: “Why, those poor, poor simpletons.” Your baby thinks it about the other baby, and you think it about the other mom. The two of you share a patronizing chuckle…but you both know there’s no time for that. After all, if you’re going to take advantage of the beacon of brilliance that is your baby, why, it’s time to get out those Mandarin flashcards and schedule in a Suzuki violin lesson! And God knows it’s only weeks before Juilliard starts banging on your door, aching to see that little kinesthetic wunderkid who can lift her head 90 degrees while on her stomach at a mere two months!

However.

If your baby is NOT doing all the things at the most advanced level—or, let’s be honest, even at the Baby Brown Group remedial level— well, you’re up mustard-seed-shit’s creek without a wipe or a spare diaper. And that, my friends, means it is time to enjoy the gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing ride on the Paranoia Roller Coaster.

I hopped on this horrible ride when Eliana turned five weeks old. It all started simply because I knew other babies (okay, just one) who were five weeks old—and they (she) were (was) smiling frequently.

All it took was one baby doing something my baby could not, and it was enough to nearly make me lose my mind.

Eliana wasn’t smiling—at least not unless it was gas-related. Don’t get me wrong—I superimposed emotion on those smiles like I was a three-year-old slapping stickers on my shirt. But in my heart, I knew. I knew it was the farts and sharts making her smile…not me.

That was when the paranoia set in. And worse, I didn’t want anyone else to know it had set in, so I had to act covertly.

Each morning, I waited until Husband left for work. I waited until Lila was in nursery school. I waited until it was just me and Eliana, home alone. Showered, dressed, and ready, with Eliana fed and content, I became, for twenty minutes each day, the Tiger Mom of the Newborns.

I would get this baby to smile if it killed me.

“Eliana?”

Blank stare.

“Are you in there?”

Blank stare. Drool.

“Today, you are going to smile. Because by the end of this month, the book says you should be able to smile in response to my smile. Got it?”

Very blank stare. Refusal to make eye contact. Staring at wall above my head as if purposefully trying to avoid my gaze.

Sickening even myself, I began to speak in the high-pitched “Motherese” voice that makes me want to punch someone every time I hear it. (Please read this next sentence in your squeakiest, Minnie Mouse voice while simultaneously plastering a huge, fake smile on your face the size of Texas.) “Are you ready to rock and roll, Eliana? Are you ready to rock and roll, my wittle baby?”

I vomited a little in my mouth even as I did the voice, but if this is what it was going to take to make Eliana smile, well damn it, I was willing to repulse myself.

Truly, the things we do for our children.

Eliana looked at me wide-eyed. Then cross-eyed. I covered her eyes and then removed my hands with the hope that she would no longer be cross-eyed, which sometimes works.

No luck: Cross-Eyed Chick was here to stay.

That was when the Ariel Extravaganza began. I sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” ad nauseaum. I did it in a British accent. I did it in a Mexican accent. I did it as if I were a snobby French waiter. Then I did “Open Shut Them Open Shut Them” until my hands cramped. I sang “B-I-N-G-O” over and over and over again until I forgot how to spell it. We did the hokey-pokey together with such vigor that I swear to God I nearly dislocated that poor kid’s shoulder.

Still, Eliana stared at me. Or rather, she seemed to stare through me. At one point, she nearly nodded off even though I was seriously giving her some of my best material. I nearly cried one time when I saw the hint of a smile curving her lips upwards…and then I really started to cry when I realized it was just gas.

The sad reality was this: a shart was funnier than I was. It is a dark, dark day when you realize this.

I tried to be cool about her not smiling, I really did. Casually, I mentioned once (read: four hundred times) to Husband, “So…do you think she’s….okay?”

“Why?” (Notice: Husband did not provide the CORRECT answer, which is, “Of course she’s okay. Why, she’s better than okay! She’s the smartest, prettiest, nicest, kindest, most well-adjusted newborn on the planet. She is the fruit of our love, and there is nothing in the world more perfect than that. Now stop worrying your gorgeous head about it, and let me give you a foot massage while I simultaneously pay all the bills, make you a gourmet dinner, and clean up the entire house just because I feel like it. Did I mention how much I love you both for your extraordinary beauty and brilliant mind, my most precious jewel of a wife?”)

I tried to remain cool.

“Because she’s not smiling. The book says—“

“The book says at the end of the second month! She’s only six weeks old! She’ll get it! Give her a break!”

I nodded and tried to let it go, by which I mean I let it simmer and fester in my brain like a bloodied blister that’s rubbed raw. Why couldn’t Husband understand—I didn’t want Eliana to simply “get it” by the end of the second month. For the love of God, she’s OUR CHILD. And isn’t our child supposed to be a genius? She should have gotten it three weeks before she was born, and that wouldn’t have been soon enough either.

Each day, I tried to make Eliana smile. And each day, I grew more and more paranoid that something maybe was wrong with her. My heart sunk to my feet each time the thought crept into my mind. No matter how hard I shoved it away, there it was, lurking in the corners, waiting for me. It’s the thought that makes every mother sick any time it enters her head.

Furiously, I began reading the “mastery” list of “by two months.” Could Eliana “smile spontaneously”? “Squeal in delight”? “Laugh out loud”? My heart started to race; here we were at week seven…and where were these skills!? How could she possibly fend for herself in the Real World one day if she couldn’t even pull it together to do the advanced skills in the second month?!

And then…that’s when it happened. Lila, Husband, and I were in the kitchen. I was sitting at the table, speaking to Eliana in that cloying, sickening voice that makes me want to vomit.

I shook my head, disgusted by myself again. What had I become? A monster. A zealot. A smile terrorist.

Dropping the Motherese-voice, I looked Eliana in the eye.

“Eliana? Can I just please get one smile? That’s all I want. One smile.”

And, just then, as if all she had been waiting for was for me to simply ask, it came. Her eyes started to arch upwards. There was twinkling. The lips curved. The mouth opened. The eyes wrinkled, and there it was: the smile I had been aching for, the smile I was terrified would never come, the smile I had craved each day during our daily Smile Training Sessions.

I waited…surely a shart was to follow.

Pause.

No shart.

Pause.

No fart.

Eliana locked eyes with me. And then, she really let me have it: the biggest Muppet-smile I’ve ever seen in my life.

As it turned out, all I had to do was ask.

That was when I put on the brakes and got off the Paranoia Railroad. I had reached my destination.

 

Baby Got Back

This much I know: six weeks post-partum, and while no one puts Baby in a corner, Mama’s gonna put herself in a corner soon…if she can still fit in one. Because when Mama sits around the house? Mama sits AROUND the house, if you know what I’m saying.

You know it’s bad when you hear a “your mama” joke, and you immediately think of yourself.

Cheerfully, I will announce to the world right now that according to Weight Watchers (aka “Land of the Mayonnaise Eaters”), I am a mere seven pounds above my pre-baby weight. (Insert sad little rah-rah cheering sound here.)

Unfortunately, I will simultaneously announce that those seven pounds hang around my stomach in an unsightly bulge where my integrity used to lie. Now, in place of the semi-normal looking stomach I possessed once upon a time (possibly in fifth grade; realistically, third), there is a doughy, fleshy mass of sad-looking mush: an unsightly albatross clinging to my guts like maternal guilt.

“You had a baby!” is what supportive do-gooders say. To your face, that is. Behind your back, it’s more like, “Whoa—she had a baby…but why does she still look like she HAS the baby??”

And look, I get it. I had a baby. In fact, I’ve had two of them. Maybe I should cut myself a break. And really, the way I see it, I can ride that whole “I had a baby” excuse out for as long as I’d like. If I play the “I am mother” card, no one can really talk shit because, well, I’m peopling the Earth: what the fuck are you doing with your time? And really, as long as we’re milking things around here—which yes, still happens seven to eight times a day here at the Dairy Queen— I’m gonna milk that excuse as often as I’d like.

And as long as it’s confession time, I’ll come right out and say it: while I hate my new stomach (a word I use loosely here that simply stands for—medically speaking— the Fleshy, Unrecognizable Mass of Horror that serves the function of linking my esophagus to my small intestine), I firmly believe that the person who invented maternity pants deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I understand that it’s probably not socially acceptable to wear cheap, hideous pants with elastic waistbands and enjoy it as much as I do, but if this is a fashion sin? Well, damn it, make me a sinner! How could something that looks so wrong feel so right?

Quite frankly, I want to wear them the rest of my life. And look, if eight-year-olds can wear pants that shout “JUICY” from their asses, surely I should be allowed to wear a harmless pair of sad, pathetic maternity cargos, right?

The very fact that I wrote that last sentence may very well make today the darkest day of my personal history.

My second confession is more disturbing than my timelessly unfashionable preference for maternity pants, though. It is this: I am owning the move that I like to call “the Granny Hike”. And I’m doing it all the time.

It’s official, folks: I’ve finally reached the dismally low point of an adult woman’s life when I instinctively and eagerly pull my pants up over my belly button the second I sit down in a chair, as shame-faced mothers of every generation before me have done. I like the illusion I can create for myself that I’m just tucking my fat away some place safe for a rainy day, and that if I shove that unsightly muffin top (let’s be honest—it’s more of a baguette in its entirety now, isn’t it?) far enough down, I can forget that it exists and go on surreptitiously eating handfuls of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins at 9 PM, hoping that if the kitchen lights are off, the calories won’t count, and I will miraculously wake up looking like Beyonce, shaking my hot ass in a brilliantly choreographed dance video that instantaneously unfolds in my kitchen. Black leotard optional.

Realistically, it’s more like “Baby Got Back” in my kitchen. Possibly “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard.” Just replace “milkshake” with “breastmilk” and “boys” to “babies” and “yard” to “Graco Pack n’ Play”.

I know what you’re thinking: “now THAT is hot!”

In spite of my love of maternity pants and my Granny Hike solution, in my heart, I know it is time to fix up the remnants of my stomach “muscles,” which is, again, a term I use loosely as it seems to suggest that muscles, in fact, ever existed in the middle section of my torso. How do I know it’s time to get to the gym? Yes, the belly perpetually jiggles. And yes, that’s upsetting. But more recently, I swear that in the past week I have heard my gargantuan, gaping mouth of a belly button inexplicably whisper “Liverpool” with each step I take. (Incidentally, the breast pump also mutters “Liverpool-Liverpool-Liverpool” as I pump, which may indicate that some day, something truly terrible is going to happen to me there.)

The belly is talking, and it’s time to take action.

Six weeks post-partum, and it’s time to go the gym.

***

            I’m just going to say it: perhaps going to a class called, “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body” was not the best choice for my first foray into physical exercise.

Thankfully, I went to the class with my sister, who gave birth to her daughter a mere forty-eight hours before Eliana was born. This means that both of us exist in the same hormonally psychotic state that makes us able not only to tolerate but also appreciate one another’s neuroses. Together, we were ready. Solidarity, Sister.

Initially, we approached the enormous task of making our stomachs look semi-normal with both gusto and enthusiasm. Why? Truth be told, we were going to work out at the JCC. As anyone who has ever been to a JCC gym can tell you, many of the group exercise classes are largely comprised of retired old women who are taking an hour break from berating their daughters on the phone in order to stave off heart disease or osteoporosis while simultaneously trying to score it with a sun-spotted old guy on the rowing machine named Stan who is lapping it up because the rest of his competition is dead. Admittedly, in my past experiences at the JCC gym [including but not limited to 1) Zumba with the grannies and 2) watching Dr. Oz while exerting minimal energy on the elliptical], I enjoyed shimmying with these octogenarians like we were drunks in Havana in 1951. With our shared lunch-lady arms undulating in the wind to the tunes of Marc Antony, I—Gym Hater Extraordinaire—felt sexy. Some people like “sweating to the oldies.” Personally, I prefer sweating with them.

I was ready—eager, even—for that experience once more. But where were my granny comrades this time around? I assure you they were not at “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body.” They may have been at “Eat a Bagel, Pick Up the Dry Cleaning.” Surrounding Sister and me were many—gasp!—normal-looking women who were in their thirties, like us. Normal-looking women who seemed to know what they were doing. They were picking up strange objects that I think are called “weights”. As they reached for their fancy five-pounders, my sister and I exchanged somewhat apprehensive glances. Silently, we communicated, as we have done our whole lives.

One pound weights for us, please. Sister was feeling like a hero, so she got two-pounders.

Then the women started getting these bouncy half-ball thingies that I subsequently learned are called “BOSU” balls. Sadly, when I heard this term, I began thinking about mozzarella balls—I had recently seen some exquisitely delicious-looking ones at Shoprite— and how much I would rather be eating them than standing in a gym class surrounded by people who 1) have stomach muscles and 2) give a very convincing impression that they know exactly what they’re doing with something called a “BOSU” ball.

I am much more comfortable with a cheese ball.

Before the class started, Sister and I laid all the cards out on the table for our teacher/torturer, Sharon. With an unassuming, please-go-easy-on-me smile on my face, I said to Sharon, “We both just had babies and this is our first time back at the gym…just so you know. Oh, and we both have to leave early because we have our post-partum check-ups right after this, so…yeah.” Which was true, but the second I said it, I recognized that it sounded like a huge lie, and I hated myself for sounding like I was making up an excuse even though it happened to be the truth. What sicko would lie about having her vagina probed postpartum rather than choosing to stick it out in some lame-o JCC gym class? The answer was obvious: people like me.

I’m that sicko.

Sharon smiled at us—a sick, Cheshire cat smile that made me very, very afraid. “Don’t worry.”

That was when I started to worry.

She turned the music on, and that was when I should have known we were in trouble. Loud and clear, her music selection was a smack in the face—a punch in the non-existent abdominal muscles. That bitch had chosen Shakira.

What kind of manipulative monster chooses the soundtrack of the world’s most famous belly dancer after two women have just told her they had babies?

A deranged lunatic, that’s who.

Things went from bad to worse. As I glanced around the room at all the normal-looking women, it was clear that they all knew what they were doing. She told them to kick their legs, and these women did it. Where were the sad grannies I was used to working out with—the ones who had once upon a time transformed me into Angelina Jolie among their sea of Betty Whites?

Sharon, however, was unimpressed. “What, you all got a case of the Mondays or something?!” she shouted at all of us. Some women—women clearly with little joy in their lives—laughed.

Sister and I exchanged glances. It was clear we both wanted to hurt Sharon. Badly. The only thing worse than going to an exercise class is going to an exercise class in which the teacher somehow manages to weasel in a Garfield reference.

Surprisingly, the Garfield reference got the crowd going, and soon, their legs were kicking higher in the air. That was when Sharon demanded that people pick up their weights and start jumping with them, which is something I’m pretty sure they made the detainees do once upon a time at Guantanamo Bay. (Obviously, forcing the detainees to do a “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body” workout was never really publicized because it clearly flies in the face of government sanctions against torture.)

That was when Sharon glanced at me and Sister and shouted sweetly, “If you can’t use the weights because it’s too hard, just do the motions!”

My sister was not willing to accept the insult, but I was. Cheerfully, I dropped my weights to the ground and began doing strength-training exercises…without weights. Hey, this wasn’t so bad, after all! Minus the feeling that I was a total loser combined with the sensation of my belly fat jiggling lock-step with each rep, I was “working out”. Eat your heart out, Richard Simmons. Eat your fucking heart out.

Then it was time to get on the BOSU balls.

“Lay down—and for those of you who are new, just put your butt way down, close to the floor.” Sharon glanced at me and Sister. “Some of you may not even be able to feel your muscles. Remember, we’re trying to work your core. Remember what a core is?”

At that moment, I hated Sharon with the very core of my being.

As I lay down on the Ball of Stomach Upheaval, I started to curse the world in my head. With each attempt to raise my body to create the semblance of a “sit-up,” I grew angrier. Angry that I couldn’t feel stomach muscles. Angry that I could feel rolls of fat mushing up against each other with each angled move. Angry that my stomach and belly button closely resemble a bagel now in terms of physical appearance. Angry that a Rubenesque figure is no longer ideal. Angry at Kate Moss and the entire 90s for ruining what “normal” should look like. Angry that I was basically working out only so that my stomach looks semi-normal for the off chance that should I happen to bump into someone from high school or college they won’t think I look like I am the “Before” picture in a SkyMall ad for some weight-loss drink. Angry that I feel this weird societal pressure to make my stomach look like Rihanna’s, when, realistically speaking, the only celebrity stomach my own stomach has ever resembled is the Pillsbury Doughboy’s. And he’s never even been in the “Stars, They’re Just Like US!” section of US Magazine.

In the middle of my mental tirade, that was when Sharon screeched, “MUFFIN TOP!!!!!!”

And she was looking straight at ME.

At that very moment, I looked at Sister, and she knew what I was thinking. We walked out on the class and any hope for my abdominal muscles faster than you can say I-would-get-a-tummy-tuck-if-I-had-the-money-and-wasn’t-afraid-of-dying-from-the-work-of-some-shitty-doctor-who-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-doing-and-what-if-I-decide-to-have-a-third-baby-then-the-tummy-tuck-would-have-been-a-total-waste-and-really-I’d-rather-go-on-a-really-awesome-vacation-instead-but-Europe-is-so-expensive-anyway-but-I’d-rather-sit-on-a-beach-and-read-shitty-magazines-anyway-who-am-I-kidding-we-need-that-imaginary-money-to-pay-for-daycare.

Sister swears up and down that Sharon actually said, “From the top!” but I swear to you, I heard it loud and clear: Sharon, screeching at me like an exercise bulimia banshee, “MUFFIN TOP!” It was like that last scene in “Streetcar Named Desire” when Marlon Brando screams “Stella!” Just as there would be no mistaking “Stella” for “Blanche,” there was no mistaking “MUFFIN TOP!!!!!!” for “FROM THE TOP!!!!”

Please—I’ve lost my abdominal muscles. Not my mind.

Sharon may have won that battle, but that bitch didn’t win the war.

This week, I’m going back to the gym. I will not “feel the beat,” but yes, I will shake it with my grandma friends. I may even go into the pool and do “Aqua Cardio” to the sounds of Josh Groban with my fellow old ladies. We will swing our lunch lady arms with pride, and maybe, just maybe, old Stan will hit on me, and I will be reborn.

Stomach be damned, I am only six weeks post-partum. The show’s not over till the fat lady sings, and I’m just clearing my throat.