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.

Books for Children: Reviewing the Moral Lessons of the Giving Tree

I’m going to a baby shower tomorrow, and I actually remember what I bought off the registry. Typically, when I browse a baby registry to decide what to buy, my head starts swimming at the unfamiliar, and admittedly boring, products: bottle warmers, bottle brushes, diapers, nipple cream, butt cream, baby shampoo, drying racks, other products I could not even begin to explain if I tried, etc. This has not changed since I became pregnant. I can feel my eyes glaze over as I scroll through these items, and I vaguely dread the day I will have to make a list of my own. How do you know what you really need? This shit is hard!

Except, for the baby shower I’m attending tomorrow, there were some items that got me excited: Books. There were many fantastic ones listed, and I ended up getting The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Where the Wild Things Are. Aside from these books, I also bought one other thing. A mat or seat or tray or something that might go in a car possibly. I have forgotten already. But that is of less importance.

Seeing children’s books had me contemplating what messages these books actually convey. While I love both The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, the contents of these books differ drastically. Where The Sidewalk Ends is a collection of short, fun poems that serve as a lovely introduction to poetry for children. My own father, who writes poetry, bought me this book when I was 7 years old.

The Giving Tree is where things get a bit more complicated. It’s wonderful in terms of illustration and story telling, but I do have reservations about the message it imparts at times. I remember being 15 years old and loitering at a bookstore with my best friend (one of our favorite pastimes), when I came across this book after not having thought about it in years. She told me she loved it and that it always made her sob. “Really?” I asked incredulously, because I literally had never cried from reading a book, much less a children’s story. She must have thought me equally strange, because she looked at me like I was the weird one for being skeptical of anyone crying at this book.

“I don’t believe you,” I insisted, and I opened the book and started reading aloud to her in the middle of the bookstore. Sure enough, to my genuine surprise, by the end, she was in tears and her face was red and puffy.

“Dude, fuuuuuck you,” she said. I looked around the bookstore awkwardly and felt pretty bad.

The Giving Tree is compelling because it is a tale of unconditional love and giving on the part of a tree, over the lifetime of a boy who eventually becomes a man. The boy/man takes everything the tree has to offer, until the tree has been stripped of her fruit, her branches, and her trunk, and she has nothing else left to give. Her love is apparently unrequited, because he never gives her anything in return. Seriously, he is sort of an asshole. I don’t think the book so much as depicts him watering her or providing fertilizer or anything.

When he is old and decrepit, she is nevertheless happy to see him, but laments she no longer has anything left to give. He states he does not need much at this point, and simply wants a place to sit and rest, to which she cheerily offers the only part of her left – the stump of her trunk that remains.

The ostensible moral of this tale is one of giving love without keeping tabs, which no one can deny is a positive way to go about life. Yet, something about the story never sits quite right with me, perhaps because the cynical part of me thinks this story glorifies suffering, martyrdom, and maybe even victimhood.

We are moved to tears until our hearts ache when we read stories or watch movies about unrequited, unconditional love, whether on the part of a lover or a parent, but the way it plays out in the real world is sometimes painful and ugly. Healthy relationships cannot endure an insistence on rigidly or constantly keeping score, but I would never want my child to be on the giving end of such a one-sided relationship. It’s not a recipe for a happy or healthy relationship of any sort. Letting someone constantly take without reciprocation at some point becomes a form of emotional abuse, doesn’t it?

Of course, this does not remotely mean I won’t buy this book for my child. In fact, I probably will, because it is stories like this that make life a bit more colorful. But as far as moral lessons go, it does leave one something to think about…