Journal

Those four years, I wrote compulsively, afraid I’d one day forget the details of days that were starting to melt and months that were starting to blend. At 18 I started marking time by reference to days out drinking and categorizing eras according to romantic interests of the moment. In between the bleeding, blurry, evenings, I documented the color of the leaves in my morning tea, described the exact shade of gold flecks found in his eyes only in a certain light, and recorded the pattern of sunlight creeping in through the pergola on the cafe patio. I was wearing a plaid skirt and fishnet shirt that day, and carefully noted clouds in my coffee on lunch break. This was the summer I worked in a teeny bopper retail store; on this particular day, my friends had gone skydiving.

I did not know that when I was 33 I’d read the deliberate loops and lines and still could not remember anyway; familiar though the handwriting may be, it was as if it was written by a stranger. This stranger was a bit neurotic and disjointed, vaguely touched by hackneyed angst. The whiskey-laden scrawls on some of the pages were less grand than Jack Daniels would have you believe, but rather, vacillated between nonsense and maudlin nostalgia. The stranger woke up at 9:00 in the morning on a Saturday one weekend (early for her), to a phone call from an old man from the coffee shop who wanted to talk about nothing in particular. She thought he had meant to call her friend, but she ended up talking to him anyway, after taking a seat on the kitchen counter of the sorority house, apple in hand.

The next time I saw the old man, he told me the tragic tale of his wife inexplicably leaving him, fleeing to Japan, and absconding with their child, when in reality he had been convicted of possession of child porn.

I eventually went skydiving, and it felt like flying, but I didn’t write about it.

 

January 20, 2018

Dear Vale,

Today, we spent all day together. You fell asleep after eating at 6:30 pm the night before, and slept longer than usual. You slept until it was almost your bed time. I was concerned your chubby little ass would be hungry, so I woke you up at 9:45 p.m. to eat again before sleeping for the night. You ate vigorously, fell promptly asleep, and slept until 8:45 a.m. today. Again, I questioned how your usual gluttonous self could possibly still be going without food, and woke you up, all smiles, for breakfast, but you wouldn’t drink breast milk, after many heroic attempts.

I eventually gave up, and went downstairs to feed myself, but did not get past the coffee. You were a bit fussy, even though I gave you your doll and como tomo, so I got distracted from my own food and decided to try my luck with your new sippy cup (failure), and then with your Dr. Brown bottle (expected failure), and then I decided I might as well make a breast milk avocado puree with the 3 ounces I pumped at 11:15 a.m. during my mediation the day before. You made a mediocre attempt at the avocado puree, though I suppose I should consider it fortunate that at least half probably made it into your mouth.

Eventually, you were convinced into breastfeeding at approximately 10:45 a.m., two hours after you woke up. The moment you were finished, I whisked you off to run errands before hunger struck again. You enjoyed browsing the aisles at Target, where we used my gift card from work to buy face powder, shampoo, baby sunscreen, and a sleep sack (pink fleece, with owls, 50% off, only $5). We went to Ross next, because I was hoping to buy a professional-looking name brand purse large enough to occasionally hold pump supplies, but I didn’t find anything that wasn’t completely boring.

I tested the limits of your patience, and took you to Barnes & Noble, where I spent many days of my youth, so you could be exposed to books. We then cruised into Starbucks, where I craved sweets, since I still hadn’t had breakfast, but I resisted.

We went home and you weren’t hungry for a while, so I took you on a walk. I called Ana while we walked to catch up, and see how things are going with your buddy Luka. The goal was to walk 4 times up the steep hill by our house, but you got bored on round 3, so we went home and I did a few half-assed squats instead. After your next feeding, you seemed to have fallen asleep, so I left you to rest, and practiced a Chopin Etude. I started on the Fantasie Impromptu, when I saw you squirm and flail on your baby monitor – quite a short nap – not even 30 minutes.

The balance of the day was spent pleasantly. I strapped you to my chest and folded and put away laundry. You watched me eat pasta and salad for dinner with great interest (you should be jealous – it was damn good!) I read from your Tang dynasty poetry book, and started reading Madeline and the Gypsies, but you started to get bored. I put you in your jumper while I did some ab exercises.

Your daddy called from New York and I realized the whole day had slipped by and you had barely napped, so I put you in your sleep sack, placed you in your bassinet hoping you would go to sleep at 9:00 p.m., and turned on your mobile You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray… I went downstairs to chat with your dad on the phone and make some tea. I heard you yell and scream bloody murder, and let you have at it for a few minutes, but then you began to cry, and I felt bad, so I came back upstairs to check on you. I cocked my head to one side and examined your behavior for myself. I asked you what could possibly be so tragic and smiled at you. At this point, you couldn’t help but start to smile back, yet you also clearly wanted to continue your act, so for the next 15 seconds you involuntarily vacillated between smiling and wailing while I laughed at you.

I picked you up and we sat next to the heater for a few minutes to warm up, and I put you in bed. (Daddy spoils you this way sometimes, so I can too!) I sang two songs in Chinese for you, but you were still wide awake, so I started singing Hallelujah. I had not gotten past the first verse when you decided you were just a little hungry. You had a night cap, fell asleep, and that was the end of our lovely day.

Your daddy misses you tons and will be back tomorrow.

Bubonic Plague?

My friend of almost 20 years told me recently she had fallen ill. There’s a particularly virulent and severe strain of flu going on this year, and she came down with fever, chills, and a horrible headache. A doctor apparently thought it was not the flu, but rather a common cold, and two days later she told me she also had diarrhea and vomiting, followed by pus oozing out of her eyes, which would make it pretty much the worst fucking cold in the history of existence. And then, shortly thereafter:

I asked her if she had come down with the bubonic plague. I was half kidding, though there was definitely a case of it in Yosemite just a week after we left, a couple of years back. Despite the diarrhea, vomiting, oozing pus, and minor loss of bowel control, she insisted she was feeling “really good” compared to earlier.

Almost as good as the time she threatened to kill me, in writing, in the Spring of 1998 when we first met. Almost.

Vale at 4 Months

Vale at 4 months is all smiles, and no longer is as serious as she used to be. She drools a lot and enjoys being with her friends at daycare. She still does not have much hair; though she has some serious eyebrows. She smiles at everyone and is not afraid of strangers. She likes to chew on things, suck her thumb, and do sit-ups. She can sit and stand assisted, and recently started rolling over. Her thumping kicks at night are harder and louder than ever and she is quickly outgrowing her bassinet.

We read her stories from her Madeline treasury, and I recite Tang dynasty poems to her. We also watch Youtube food travel shows with her. She seems to enjoy them. Incidentally, she is becoming curious about solid foods and took a keen interest in our homemade Saag recently. She excitedly reached for the bowl, and cried bitterly when we wouldn’t give her any. It was all eaten anyway, but I don’t blame you, kid. Saag is good stuff.

She is also becoming curious about beer (that’s a modern times tropical IPA pictured below, by the way. Delicious stuff). In a similar fashion as with the Saag, she fussed when we tried to take the pint glass away. Indian food and beer. In case there was any doubt that she is indeed our offspring.

 

Vietnamese Coffee

Even as the more vivid details of our Vietnam vacation recede into the ever more distant past, something as simple as Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk can bring it all back on occasion. This past weekend, I took just a sip and was reminded of the days at our resort in Phu Quoc, when we developed a brief ritual of taking a seat by the window in the restaurant level of our resort, and starting the day with a small cup and saucer of Vietnamese coffee.

We followed our coffee with a combination of breakfast treats, including a pho bar and bahn mi. Aside from the smorgasboard of Vietnamese delights, there was a large selection of western morning foods as well, though we avoided the boring fare, like cereal. We concluded the daily decadence with an assortment of tropical fruits, my favorite being passion fruit, though the juicy dragon fruit and mango were equally memorable. The juices from these fruits trickled down the back of my hands, dried there, and interacted with the island sun, causing a strange dark patch to appear. I discovered that what I initially thought was a sunspot (expanding at a freakish rate) was actually a temporary tropical fruit scar when I casually consulted with a physician friend via Gmail.

While on the island of Phu Quoc, every morning, we ate and drank slowly in this way, enjoying the contrast between the smoky, dark coffee, and the pellucid, bright island atmosphere, treating ourselves to the ocean view and sea breeze floating in through the gigantic windows like a quiet new dream.

Tijuana

So if it hadn’t been for a friend’s baby shower and a close call with mastitis #4, we were seriously considering going to Tijuana for new years with Vale. Add on top the fact she has been eating every hour and a half, and we decided against it, because I didn’t know what kind of TJ activities we could even do with her incessant need to feed.

However, I haven’t given up completely on a TJ trip in the near future, so I Googled “Tijuana with a baby” and was met with the following encouraging headlines:

  • Baby Found Dead in Tijuana, Left By Mom and Boyfriend
  • Mexico’s Bargain Babies
  • US-born Baby Found Dead at Empty Lot in Tijuana

You get the point. These aren’t the most encouraging links when planning a short trip down to TJ. I get it. TJ probably has a sketchy reputation for a good reason, but I still feel there’s a significant element of paranoia when it comes to Mexico. The odds of something terrible happening on a weekend in TJ is probably extremely low. There are plenty of crime-ridden cities in the United States, but fewer people seem to bring up murder as the first point of discussion when mentioning Chicago or Detroit.

As for us, our primary concern with traveling to TJ with a baby is a matter of logistics. Driving back on the way home is always hellish at the border crossing, which turns a 1 hour drive into a 5 hour nightmare. This is because the War on Drugs keeps border patrol employed and well-paid, cracking down on non-violent violations of the law, and because American immigration policy is full of shit. The border crossing located right on the edge of Mexico is the worst, but let’s not forget that there are border checkpoints all over southern California, as far as one hundred fucking miles north of the border.

Anyway, the government’s barbaric insistence on violating human rights is such that walking, rather than driving, across the border is the transportation method of choice. However, we have yet to figure out what baby items are absolutely necessary over the course of a weekend, and whether it’s possible to minimize our stuff to the point where we can carry these things and walk across the border.

Not Again…

On Christmas day of all days, I started to feel another bout of mastitis coming on (#4!) I was so unbelievably fucking fed up by this time, and did not need to think twice about immediately instituting the preventative measures. As I watched my temperature climb on the thermometer, I took ibuprofen then got super aggressive with hot baths two-three times a day, I doubled my lecithin dose, doubled my probiotic dose, pumped twice a night, iced after feedings, used cabbage leaves, etc. I called my doctor’s office, and they prescribed antibiotics for me to pick up just in case things worsened and I needed the meds after business hours.

Despite my initial doubts, I also boiled and drank the Chinese herbs my mother mailed me (desperate times call for desperate measures). The herb concoction is a combination of peach pit, dandelion leaves, peony leaves, red jujubes (Chinese red dates) and some other plants, the names of which I do not know in English. I Googled these things, and was faced with a slew of non-information and/or warnings indicating these plants had not been proven safe for breastfeeding. Oh yeah? We’ll I’m pretty sure oregano, dill, and cayenne pepper probably also haven’t undergone vigorous FDA testing for breastfeeding safety, but no one’s worrying about random spices, so I’m not going to worry about random plants. Plus, I’m pretty sure the three courses of antibiotics I’ve required thus far aren’t exactly the best for breastfeeding either, so I’ll take my chances with the dandelion, peony, and unidentified roots.

The herbal “tea” tastes awful. Husband doesn’t think it so bad, but I imagine it tastes similar to flavors you’d find from a muddy puddle of stagnant water in the forest. Very appetizing.

After 3 days of this time-consuming and maddening routine, I declared victory, having avoided full-blown mastitis for the fourth time.

Christmas

As usual, this month has been filled with delightful gatherings, dinners, and parties. I have loved this time of year since I was a child, whether in the form of wintry, white Christmases in rural Virginia, or sunny holidays in southern California, set to Christmas music by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and David Brubeck. Christmas with a baby brings a new twist, because she is seeing everything for the first time, including Christmas lights, sparkly ornaments, candles, glowing decorations, etc. After having celebrated Christmas annually for over 3 decades, it’s fun to see how see a little person experiences the festive details as a newcomer to this planet.

This year has been no less busy than before, and we even had a wedding to attend in Los Angeles, among the other usual festivities. My boss was excited I can drink again, and we took a shot together at the company party (tequila for me, Fireball for him). I was offered the Fireball, but had to refuse. Fireball spells downfall for me; the sugar in that “whiskey” is death in liquid form. I don’t think I’ve ever had a shot of Fireball and not had severe regrets. On the other hand, bottom shelf house tequila never tasted so sweet, after an extended absence.

This is indeed the time of year to enjoy a nice glass of Cabernet, along with a winter-flavored Belgian, and new IPA’s. Still, I’m careful not to get too drunk because taking care of a baby while hungover sounds like total hell. Speaking of hell, Vale will go to church for the first time on Christmas Eve, and we hope she does not catch fire at the threshold.

This is not to say this holiday season has been without its bumps in the road. I was graced with mastitis round 3, more antibiotics, and all the accompanying frustrations. While Vale has slightly backed down from her insistence on eating only while lying down, the combination of this predilection, along with a distaste for the bottle, and dislike of eating with a cover draped over her face, makes feeding her in public or at social functions somewhat of a nightmare. For this reason, I’m sadly inclined to pass on a visit to Irvine, and a night out at Korean BBQ, and instead will opt to indulge at home, where wine is plentiful, and breastfeeding is easy.

Another first for this holiday season: This is the first time in 11 years we have not gone to get a tree together (Vale was a milk monster and we were running out of time, so Kyle had to go get it himself).

Three Months and Some

Vale is 3 and a half months. She enjoys looking at fire, her own reflection in the mirror, and the Audrey Hepburn poster on our bedroom wall. She still looks pretty serious most of the time, but started laughing on occasion recently. The first time she did it took me by surprise; I laughed at her while we were laying in bed, and she laughed back at me.

We put on the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer claymation (a holiday favorite of ours), but she seemed more engaged watching Bruce Campbell’s antics on Evil Dead (the show). She has progressed quickly from carefully inspecting her hands and realizing they belong to her, to using them to grab things, and unfortunately, sometimes pinch and twist. I was working from home one day with her in my lap, when Fiona decided there was just enough space remaining in my lap for her to squeeze her butt in and join the party. She came upon my lap with her flank facing Vale, who proceeded to grab a handful of fur and twist. Fiona didn’t seem to mind, but I admonished Vale to be gentle.

She is becoming a bit drooly, and likes to bite on her hands (among other objects). The lactation consultant thinks she will have teeth soon. She also seemingly grows out of her clothes overnight. All the cute onesies and outfits we’ve received from friends and family seemingly get less than a handful of uses before they become a bit tight.

V

Shares the beginning letter with

victory vanquish valiant virtuous vice vim veritable voracious (eater) vie vine

rhymes with ale

my verdant valley

my Vale of the fairies