along for the ride

My two daughters’ baby books sit side-by-side on the shelf.  Each is filled out with meticulous details of their birth stories, their growth, the dates of their milestones, even photographs for each month of the first year of their respective lives.  Beside those pretty little books bulging with newborn booties and hair clippings and pre-kindergarten art is a big manilla envelope.

And that’s my third child’s baby book.  Or baby envelope.

On the outside of it, I’ve scribbled (when I’ve remembered) the dates of things like rolling over and crawling, and his height and weight for (almost) all of the required appointments through his ninth month.  (I don’t have the twelve-month statistics yet, though I should, since he’s now fourteen months.)  Inside the envelope (I just looked), there are hospital bracelets, cards we recieved just after his arrival, and a sign that says, “Welcome to Earth!” from his older sister.

He’s only had store-brand diapers and wipes and formula.  I stopped buying baby shampoo as soon as he was old enough to sit in a bathtub with his sisters.  He sleeps most soundly when a noise machine blares rolling ocean waves.  And sometimes it’s not until we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store that I realize his lunch is still stuck to his face and tangled in his hair.

Every time we’ve taken him to the pediatrician for a “sick visit,” he’s actually had something substantial.  (Not like the time I sat in the exam room with my middle child and my husband, who, when the doctor said, “She’s got a cold,” replied in my direction, “I could’ve told you that.”)

And he eats a lot of Cheetos.  Probably an unacceptable amount of Cheetos.

At this point, you might think that he has missed out, somehow.  That he hasn’t been pampered enough, that he hasn’t had the same care or individual attention as the others because he’s just “along for the ride,” as one good friend (and mother of three) put it.  But I would argue that he’s probably had the best babyhood of my children.  And that he’s been the happiest baby, by far.

It makes me wonder:  does this have something to do with me, as his mother?  As insane as you think it might be at times (and it is — at any given moment, there are diapers, discarded headbands, and a leaking sippy cup inside my purse), a strange sense of calmness has come over me since I became the mother of three.  I’m not a “young mother” anymore.  I’ll be 35 this year (gasp!).  And yet it’s now, six years after I had my first child and one year after I had my last, that I’m starting to feel some kind of confidence, that I’m starting to maybe understand this motherhood thing.

I remember the first time I felt it; it was October, a warm Friday night, and we were going to a party for my husband’s office.  I was meeting him there because he was going straight from work. I think it was the first time that I had to get all three of them fed and ready and out the door (after work) and across town for a party that would go late into the night (and way past bedtime).  But I remember standing there in the humid evening, rocking the baby and watching as my girls ran around the yard, escaping mosquitoes and dancing their tiny butts off.  And I thought, “Hey, I can do this.  I am doing this.”

Maybe it’s that confidence that has allowed me to enjoy my third child so much.  I’m not a new mom; I’m not filled with anxiety.  And so, if he wakes up at night, I give him a bottle without worrying that I’ll go to the pediatrician when he’s four years old and won’t be able to check the “my child is completely off the bottle” box.  (Besides, if we attempt to “cry it out,” well, by then we’ve woken up at least three more people.) And I do something completely out of character for me:  I plan my summer days around his naptime.  I never did that with the other two and often rolled my eyes at people who did.  But now there are three of them, and, well, if I am guaranteed that one will stop moving and be quiet for just a little while. . . Listen, I’ve learned to pick my battles.

He’s along for the ride, yes.  But so am I.

So, really, while some people might say he has missed out, I say he gets the better mother, one who now worries so much less that she can actually relish him as a baby (and babies just don’t seem to last as long as they used to).  And so even though everyone wants him to be walking by now (including me, sometimes — he is thirty pounds, after all), I’m kind of okay with the fact that he’s not.  I’m kind of okay with him being a baby.  With him taking his time.

I sometimes wish I could go back and give my first-time-mom self the gift of my third-time-mom self.  But I guess, maybe, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there.

And I probably wouldn’t have listened to me, anyway. 

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me and chaucer down by the schoolyard

I hate British Literature.

Well, for the most part, anyway.  There are things I can tolerate, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, and very few things that I love, such as the Irish (Who doesn’t love the Irish?  They’re not really British, anyway, are they?), T.S. Eliot (and he’s really American), John Keats, (and his Grecian urns and nightingales) and Hamlet (just Hamlet, himself).

But I loathe Dickens (I mean, you want to talk about bleak).  And please don’t make me read anything by the Bronte gals (sorry, Jane).  I know, I know.  How can I call myself an English teacher?  It’s sacrilegious.

And here’s the rub:  I teach English IV, senior English.  Traditionally, English IV is British Literature.  And it’s no different at the school where I teach.  But for the last five years, I’ve taken some liberties.  (Okay, a lot of liberties.)  Let’s be honest.  It’s hard to get the kids interested in something if I’m not intereted in it (and with some of my struggling students, it’s hard to get them interested in anything).  I’ve covered Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon so that I can justify covering Yuself Komunyakaa and Brian Turner and Tim O’Brien.  And, really, I had no true justification for asking my darlings to read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (except that Dave Eggers speaks English) last year, but a lot of them actually read it.  One even came into the classroom the morning after he finished it and said, “This is the best book I’ve ever read.”  I swear.

This year, though, we are implementing the Common Core curriculum, and so I have decided, finally, to come to terms with the literary canon and embrace the Brits.

And what is my first unit?  The Canterbury Tales.  Awesome.  I hated it in high school (sorry, Mr. Baker) and have since avoided Chaucer like the . . . well, yes.  Like the plague. But I do remember being awestruck when I stood before his tomb in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.  And maybe I even felt a little guilty for it; if I had never appreciated him in the first place, then was my reverence some sort of writerly obligation, something I felt I was supposed to feel just because he was Chaucer?  Just because he was . . . old?

I can tell you right now that answer is not going to fly when my sixth period class starts asking, “Why are we reading this? It’s not even in English.”  They’re going to want an answer. A real answer.  And, as their teacher, I owe them one.

But these kids also know me well enough to expect some kind of honest explanation.  The students I have this year as seniors I also had as freshmen.  Two-thirds of them had me as their English teacher during their sophomore year, too.  We’re close.  Really close.  (There are about five or six of them that I eat lunch with every day in my classroom, or outside, if I have lunch duty.  We solve the world’s problems, share each other’s potato chips and rice krispie treats and veggie straws, and celebrate each other’s birthdays.)

This is both good and bad (but more good than bad, I think); it’s good in the sense that I know what I’ll be up against during sixth period every day.  They’re disliked (to put it mildly).  And it’s partially their fault (but only partially).  There will be around thirty of them,  including the one who sometimes forgets I’m not his mother and yells at me like I am (he’ll apologize later; he always does), and the one that I can count on to stand in front of the class and read The Wife of Bath’s Tale in a feminine and terrible British accent; there will be the one that tries to be a big man (though he’s no bigger than I am) and we’ll go nose-to-nose each day, but we’ll end up on the same side; there will be the one I look to for commiseration, and he’ll roll his eyes at his friends’ antics because he understands.  Completely.  And the girls, oh, what those poor girls will have to tolerate (all four of them).

It’s bad in the sense that I’m going to laugh a lot (when I’m not crying).  I always say that I’d be a much more effective teacher if I didn’t laugh so much.  But, God, teenagers are way too funny.

So I’ve given myself a relatively tall order for the start of the school year; not only do I need to put aside my own propensities and put forth the effort to find the true value (and I know it exists) of The Canterbury Tales, but I also need to attempt to convince a large group of twenty-first century adolescents of its worth, and maybe even more importantly, of its relevance.

The latter, of course, is a much more daunting task.  And to be completely honest, I have no idea, yet, how I’m going to tackle it.  But I know that it will have to involve performance.  Actors, costumes, and props.  A soundtrack, maybe (I’m banking on mostly rap and country).  The thing with teaching is that it’s all trial and error.  All of it.  And that’s not just for each unit or each lesson plan — it’s for each period, each day.  What worked yesterday might not work today.  What worked first period might not work third.  So you just have keep trying until you figure out what does work.  Even if that means you have to dress yourself as the Wife of Bath and project your own terrible British accent.

Whew.  I’m sweating already.  And it’s not even August.

word to your mother

I was pregnant with my first child when a very wise friend said this: “Women used to pick cotton, squat down to have their babies, and then stand back up to pick more cotton.”

She had already had five children.  She knew what she was talking about.

Six and a half years later, I’m still grateful to her, probably even more so now than I was then.  What she was saying, essentially, was, “Suck it up.  Stop whining.”  And she was right.

The truth is that there are some women who believe we are supposed to be coddled and pampered while we’re pregnant, and even during the birthing process.  But why?  We are not doing anything extraordinary; and by that, I mean we are truly not doing anything out of the ordinary for women.  Women have done this for as long as women have existed.  We are designed for this.

I have even heard that some women now schedule their babies’ births prior to their doctors’ vacation weeks, or specifically when their own doctors are on-call. They have labor induced so that their doctors deliver the baby.  I’m not trying to be a jerk, but other doctors from the practice know what they’re doing.  And so do those delivery-room nurses.  Even when there’s no doctor there.  I promise.

I’m not saying that pregnant women shouldn’t have access to all of the Cheetos and Carribbean beef jerky they desire, but here’s my question:  when did giving birth become a novelty?  A generation ago, women didn’t stop each other on the street to compare birth stories.  The only thing I’ve ever been told about my own birth was that it almost happened in an elevator.   And, probably, in my mom’s mind, that’s the only thing that separates my birth from my sisters’.  I mean, after you’ve had a few, all the stories start to collide.

Maybe pampered mom (who still wants to show off her mommy muscles) = coddled child = something worse than the entitlement generation.

Two generations ago, (and long before that, even) many women worked while they were pregnant, and even shortly after giving birth.  And, a lot of the time, it was physical work. (Family lore has it that my grandfather, while my grandmother was at work, accidentally used Bengay instead of Desitin on my newborn aunt’s diaper rash. Poor poor Aunt Winnie.  I feel like I should mention that she was the first of seven.  I never heard a single birth story from my tiny, powerful grandmother.)

And then there’s this whole pregnant-Yahoo!-CEO thing.  Apparently, we’re now allowed to question Marissa Mayer’s choice to take a “working” maternity leave.  She’s an adult woman (clearly one who does not require coddling).  A grown-up.  She knows what she can handle.  Let’s stop patronizing her.  Let’s stop treating her as though she were some sort of Faberge egg.  On Morning Joe, recently, Brian Sullivan said:

Mayer’s only 37, she is pregnant. So, and fortunately she said she’s going to work during the maternity leave, that — that’s gonna be tough. Y’know. Take some time off. Yahoo’s been in trouble for years. My advice: take some time off. Get your baby. Raise the kid for a little bit, and then, work on the company when you can.

First of all, I feel the need to say that this guy sort of sounds like an idiot (I mean, yes, Marissa should certainly take his advice, because he’s had LOTS of babies.  And where, exactly, does one “get” a baby?).  Second of all, if this is the way men view pregnant women and/or new mothers in today’s society, then our desire to be spoiled only perpetuates the idea that we are the “weaker” sex.  And, this entire movement (if that’s what we’re calling it) seems slightly anti-feminist (to say the least).  When I spoke to my mother about it, she said, “You might want to temper it if you’re going to write about it,” but she knew that I wouldn’t.  The truth is that our strength lies in being able to do what we do without whining, without much complaint.  I’m not saying it’s easy (and, truly, I hate hearing “You’ve had easy pregnancies,” or “You’ve had easy births.”  Uncomplicated?  Yes, thankfully.  Easy?  No.).  But no one ever said it would be easy.

Because here’s the thing (yep, the thing, again):  once that darling baby is here for a while and the “newness” wears off, no one is going to coddle us.  Then, we’re just moms, like all of the other moms who have gone before us.  And whether we’re working or staying home with the kids, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and loaded (perhaps while we’re fighting off a toddler whose chubby fingers keep reaching for the knives), and the laundry that is piled only a foot from the ceiling needs to be folded.  And it will be a long long time before we get a good night’s sleep.  (Once, when I was nearing the end of one of my pregnancies and probably looked swollen and uncomfortable standing in the office of my school, the parent of one of my students placed her hand on my protruding belly and said, “Just remember:  they’re a lot easier to take care of when they’re in there.” I often think of how right she was.)

Let’s be honest — it’s hard.  But it’s going to get a lot harder before it gets easy.

Woman up.