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.

Not Much Time Left

My return to work date is less than 2 weeks away, and I’m not sure how that happened. Two months sounds like a lot, but indeed, it is not at all when it comes to transitioning to life with a baby. Even at this point, I have not reached a comfortable or familiar pattern. I am constantly torn between wanting to do nothing and everything. After being on two courses of antibiotics, I’m really trying to take it easy, but it’s hard to know how. The more I do, the more overwhelmed I become, but the less I do, the more anxious I become about not doing anything. 

I fluctuate inexplicably between wanting some time to myself without a baby attached to my body for hours a day, and literally not wanting to go downstairs to play piano because I don’t want to be too far from Little V. It makes no fucking sense. Sometimes I crave social interaction, but then the problems and timing associated with feeding, pumping, and changing make me never want to leave the house. Or the bed, for that matter.

Another difficult thing I’ve had to grapple with is how many fuckups there are because I simply know nothing and am completely unprepared. Every time we think we’ve figured something out, it stops working after a couple of days (which apparently is an expected phenomenon). Every time I think I’ve taken all reasonable measures in furtherance of a mess-free feeding or pumping session, some minor disaster occurs and I end up covered in milk, or with a new batch of laundry to do. Every time I make what I believe to be a productive effort to bathe her, trim her nails, or clean up, it seems the effort is undone within a day (crazy how quickly those razor sharp nails grow – they are not kind when she decides to give my nipple a squeeze).

I started elimination communication training with great zeal, but after a week or so, it’s feeling like too much effort for too little gain. I also wonder whether I’m training her or she’s training me. I’ve tried to pay attention to her cues before she goes pee and poo, and don’t feel I’ve made much progress. Apparently, we are both failing at training each other. I know it’s borderline ridiculous to have such expectations at 6 weeks anyway, but I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at an (in?)opportune time, which has inspired me, but also created a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me not to be lazy about being a parent, especially when I am not working. If I let things slide now, just how indolent will I be when I go back to work in 2 weeks?

As I finished the paragraph above, Little V gave some grunting cues indicating she wanted to poo. I figured I’d finish just the last two sentences, but in the 2 minutes it took me to do so, she had pooped and I missed the opportunity for potty training. Tiger mom would be tsking me.

Husband and I discussed working from home one day a week, but at 2 weeks out from my return to work date, I have not raised this with my boss yet. I’m going to have to bring this up within the next couple of days and I’m not real keen on having this conversation, mostly because I’m quite sure how to approach it. Instead, I’ve asked the office to throw me some work so I can get back into the swing of things, and prove by my actions that I’m fairly efficient and reliable when working from home.

The good part is I am indeed reliable and efficient. The bad part is then I don’t feel I am making the most of maternity leave. Rather than starting the day slowly, listening to some music, reading to Little V, blogging, and practicing a little elimination communication, I set up my laptop work station, put her in a rocker, and plow away at research and memos while peeking on her every once in a while. I’ve tried to type one-handed while feeding her, but that was excruciatingly inefficient.

I have no idea how I am going to return to work in a functional manner, given the current circumstances. I’m sure this is no news to veteran moms, but our morning routine is an unexpectedly time-consuming process alone. Feeding and pumping takes about an hour, and even though I can get myself ready in 15 minutes, I figure even if I skip breakfast, I still have to wake up at an ungodly hour to be able to take her to daycare and arrive at work on time. And I might add that when it comes to babies, she seems relatively easy: she sleeps through noise, she sleeps in long stretches at night, and she does not cry much.

I am constantly wondering how this will all work out logistically. I feel pained at the idea of sending her to daycare already, even though I have an ideal situation when it comes to daycare – she will be taken care of by family. Given my highly fortunate and favorable circumstances, I question how any other mother, perhaps with fussier babies, no family nearby, ever make it out alive.

Week 38

Monday

I woke up 3 or 4 times to pee the night before, and the 4th time, I think my body was like, “Oh, you keep waking up. I guess you don’t really want to sleep, then!” and I was unable to fall asleep for over an hour. It was pretty lame and I was pretty grouchy and tired all Monday so after work, I completed a short prenatal yoga focusing on leg and core strength, did some meditation practice, and we ate leftovers for dinner.

Tuesday

I woke up 4 times to go pee the night before, but at least I had no issues falling back asleep each time. Anyway, it was still a tiring day and I was not capable of much beyond some yoga. I did a power yoga video, and called it a day. It was actually pretty hard.

Wednesday

I drank my regular 80 or so ounces of water a day but did not drink beyond two sips of liquid after 8:00 p.m. the night before and only had to wake up twice to pee! Victory is mine! It was a good morning. We had a doctor’s appointment and it was all good news. Fetus is still head down despite her totally insane movements that make me feel like she’s doing acrobatics, grating on my spine, and trying to punch a hole through my uterus. Again, I think of aliens inhabiting people’s bodies and trying to burst out, like this:

Unfortunately, the decadent eating and Taiwanese bakery treats caught up with me and I somehow gained 2 pounds overnight. Literally. I was 139.6 pounds on Tuesday morning, and 141.6 pounds Wednesday morning, which made me really irritable as my thoughts immediately floated to thigh cheese. The good news is, in the absence of freakish weight gain in the next 3 weeks, I should still fall within the recommended weight gain range, and will be successful in heeding my mother’s warning to avoid gaining 45 pounds as she did.

I went to Lazy Acres for lunch to switch things up a bit, and had an amazing salad with salmon poke, beautiful purple radishes, beets, peas, garbanzo beans, sweet peppers, and greens. Yeah yeah yeah. Raw food is so unbelievably delicious sometimes, especially in summertime.  I have not been very fond of cooked salmon since eating it while having morning sickness, but that slight distaste has not translated into the raw version. I thoroughly enjoyed the buttery, cool, cubes of salmon in my salad and savored the lovely texture.

Thursday

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and could not sleep for 2 hours, so that blew balls. This day sort of sucked so I treated myself by skipping my workout to go shopping after work. I tried to return some baby clothes, but they said I had to exchange the clothes that day and use store credit. The whole point of returning the clothes was because I believe we have more than we need and I did not want to buy more clothes without really knowing how many of each type of clothing is necessary, so this was a fruitless endeavor. I browsed some winter coats and was enamored by this faux suede, faux fur-lined hippie vest,  but it was $32! As if!

I also looked at some baby accessories, but the only thing I found useful was a pair of infant sunglasses, which were $10. They were tortoiseshell patterned and cute as hell, but I was like fuck this… $10 is like what I pay for my own adult sun glasses the fuck am I going to pay $10 for infant sunglasses? Ridiculous. No!

Later in the evening, I mixed some henna powder to prepare for use. The directions I found online said it may take 24-48 hours for the dye to release. We’ll see if I can execute this successfully.

Friday

The no liquids after 8:00 p.m. thing really does work. Only woke up twice to pee again, which I consider the second win of the week. I wake up feeling like a rock every morning because my bones feel tight and heavy. I also found stretch marks on the underside of the left side of my belly which was really sad and awful.

I was angry and and sad so I did some sprints, followed by triceps dips and then some prenatal yoga focusing on leg strength.

We don’t have any more major baby preparations or purchases to make, but I am trying to squeeze in some more piano, another massage, and a pedicure before she comes. My wonderful husband has asked me if there are any fun things I’d like to do before the due date, but La Traviatta and Magic Flute aren’t playing at the opera this season, I can’t find any recent Swan Lake performances, and anything else I can think of probably involves drinking. Regardless, it will be nice just to take it easy and spend some time together over the next two weekends.

 

Tiger Mother

I recently read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was both hysterical and inspirational. I didn’t think it was possible, but Amy Chua makes 90% of strict Asian parents seem like lazy bums. I intensely admire her devotion to the betterment and education of her children, but am completely baffled by the discipline and drive required to execute her methods.

I’m really not sure how it’s possible for a full-time attorney or Yale Law Professor to attend music lessons, oversee hours of music practice for two daughters, create measure-by-measure notes and reminders for their pieces, write multiple books, and walk and feed the dogs daily, while still living any sort of humanly existence. Does she ever… eat? Shower? Breathe? It’s mind-boggling.

I used to think my parents were sort of strict. Relatively speaking, they were, as I was surrounded by peers who had what Chua characterizes as “Western parents” in southwest Virginia. I was not allowed to go out to play unless all homework and piano obligations were completed, even if I had just gotten out of Chinese school, music theory class, art class, or some other activity. I was in big fucking trouble if I got any B’s on my report card, while white kids were rewarded for B’s. There was some of, “_____ got a 97 on his Algebra test; you only got a 93” [oh don’t worry, eventually I beat him in Algebra], or “Your cousin is younger than you and is already setting goals to be a doctor, what are your plans?” Summer was not a free-for-all because I still had to take music and music theory class, practice piano, and memorize ancient Chinese poetry. You know, typical Asian parent stuff.

Of course, even in southwest Virginia, there were stricter Asian parents than mine. One time, when I was 10 years old, after a Taiwanese friend who was over to play at our house had gone home, my mother told me, “You know what her mother said? The 4 hours she spent at our house was the longest period of fun time she’s ever had. She’s usually constantly doing something productive.” I was somewhat horrified. While my life seemed more structured and restricted than those of kids with Western parents, clearly, I had it better than I thought. Anyway, in retrospect, I needed this because I was not always very motivated, and was often lazy. I had a tendency to cut corners and daydream, or not take things seriously unless I was doing something I really enjoyed.

In second grade, I was categorized as a gifted student and along with 3 other students, and was given some material to read and write a report as an extra challenge. The material involved some completely boring species of bird, so I procrastinated until the last minute, and then plagiarized some shit when it was due. My parents never found out about this because they were not told about it, and the assignment was not graded.

In fifth grade, I was assigned to perform a duet called The Dolls Have a Party with one of my close friends, Michael. He played the bass part while I played the treble, and he was even less keen on the piano lessons than I was. We performed to perfection at the music school recital out of fear of our teacher’s wrath (she was a Tiger Mom before she even had kids). We were subsequently also volunteered to perform the piece at a nursing home. By the time of the nursing home performance, we had fallen out of practice, completely fucked it up, and played probably a third of the song being a complete measure off from each other. Fortunately, the old people did not notice it and loved us regardless. We could hardly contain our laughter when taking our bows, but I could see our teacher glaring daggers at us from the front row.

So I was the sort of kid who needed a serious dose of discipline every once in a while.

By the time I got to high school, my parents loosened up, either because they trusted me or because they were too old to bring down the hammer constantly. My freshman year, history was optional, and 3 out of my 7 classes were fine arts classes. After freshman year, I didn’t really have a curfew. I got occasional B’s because my parents accepted that I despised math. I signed up for computer science at the community college over the summer and flunked because I got bored and stopped going. I also signed up for Spanish one year, but skipped two weeks of class because I had a friend visiting from Virginia, and also went to New Orleans for a school activity, so the teacher flunked me.

I suffered no repercussions for these devious acts, and never had to practice piano for more than an hour a day, so compared to Amy Chua, my parents probably seemed like they were running some sort of laid-back amusement park.

And I did not completely fall apart. Being surrounded by my beloved friends who were also products of Tiger parents, I succumbed to peer pressure and took every honors/AP class available and felt guilty for my 4.3 GPA (4.5 was the max, and I never got a 4.5). Yes, it is actually very possible for peer pressure to work in a positive direction.

I appreciate the way I was raised and will strive to impose equal structure and discipline for my own kids, but Amy Chua takes it to an unfathomable level to which I dare not even aspire. The only way I could come close to her level of dedication would be if I was not working, and even then, I think it would be an incredible task. Employing her tactics necessarily leaves almost no time for the self, but indeed, as Chua points out in her book, the things she did for her daughters were not at all for herself – for who enjoys being a constant disciplinarian, the bad guy, a target of your children’s frustration and ire?

Irvine

i was getting close

content rolling on the counter at the community pool

fleshy limbs on pleasant concrete sipping a milky mixer scrolling down my phone for people to call

boiling alive in the jacuzzi alongside people who might be my neighbors

i can smell the chlorine on my skin when i move and remember

i came home to pound out old furies

to attempt to chat incoherently with immortal lovers

she’s floating next to me, equally bored, suggesting names of acquaintances to rope into drinking with us

some boy who will undoubtedly grope us before the night is over

some old creep who has children our age

then my father calls and says

she is dead