Two months and three days.

Oh wow, the house alone for a few minutes. I wish I wasn’t this type of person but I keep on getting annoyed at B. for seeming like he wants to be alone, or for not being totally “present” with me, when actually I think it’s just me who wants to be alone. And the other day with my mother, I got annoyed as soon as she showed up to help with the babe. We hadn’t even had a conversation yet. And there I am holding my baby, two months into diapering and rocking and burping and serenading, into putting my immediate needs second when he needs me to, knowing that she did all this for me and more that I don’t even know about yet and really all I should be saying is “Thank you” and instead I’m annoyed.

I’m not sure I’m a person for constant company. And especially not constant company with constant opinions. Because we all have opinions about what’s best for the boy and we’re trying to be polite about it but we’re all a hundred percent sure we’re right. Thus my delay this morning. I went back to bed with the boy because he made it clear to me he wasn’t interested in skipping our last sleep interval of the night which has been a late (“late” as in after 7:30) cuddle together in bed. He’s very wise because in fact I didn’t really want to skip it either, but I was guessing at B.’s thoughts and thinking that he’d prefer us all to laze about on the couch together. I had started baking something and abandoned it to B. and happily went back to bed with the boy, but then spent the rest of the morning mind-reading and deciding that B. was annoyed that I had gone back to bed and left him with the baking. I do think that sometimes he handles the solitude issue by simply being alone while we’re all together. But I should know by now I’m not as good at intuiting his thoughts as I think I am. Sometimes I read his mind and get pissed at him for what I’m sure is there.

B. got offered a job two days ago. And it’s a good job. But it would have him leaving the cave sooner than we expected, and I’m surprised at how sad I am at the idea of him leaving every morning and coming back nine or ten hours later. He and the boy have their own rhythms and patterns completely independent of me and it’s hard to imagine that surviving a standard work week. We’re so used to fathers not being around as the mothers are around, and I am the source yes, but isn’t it possible that the fathers are as indispensable?

The packaging on every single baby item we were given shows a woman caring for the babe. All the internet articles and advertisements and pieces of advice are geared toward mothers and women. I felt for B. during the pregnancy. Where was his baby shower? The public invasion into the life (and body) of the pregnant woman could be too much for me, but there was nothing for B. He wasn’t advised and complimented and courted. There were no rituals to guide him into fatherhood, to mark the huge transition he was about to go through.

When I was a child and imagined myself as a mother it was as a single mother. It was what I knew. And in the midst of our ten thousandth shared decision I’ve had moments when I wouldn’t mind being the sole decider, but I just can’t believe that parenting was ever meant to be a solo affair. Two adults hardly seems enough. We’re trying to fill our house on the weekends; to bring in our friends and family as often as possible; to pass the babe around. It’s good for him and it’s really good for us.

B. told me that he read this study in which people were shown photos of crying babies. Regardless of the gender of the infant, when the viewer was told that the babe was a boy they saw anger, and when they were told it was a girl, they saw fear. Fear being an emotion we want to comfort and anger being one we want to battle. One relative says to us, “He’ll be an athlete.” I say, “Or maybe a dancer.” “No,” she says, “an athlete.”

How to protect the emotional life of this boy. I know we have to work, but can’t there be some swirling pattern of schedules so that we are both here?

My father was not around. I don’t understand yet what makes it possible for some men, so many men, to miss this, but B. has brought fatherhood into my life in a new, magnificent way. Last night, after I nursed and climbed back into bed, I watched B. do the re-swaddling and rocking. Their swaying silhouette was clearly outlined, the boy in profile with his tiny, rounded nose and B.’s face as he watched, and I could tell that he was exhausted and just waiting for the boy’s eyes to close and stay closed. But he kept standing and kept rocking him. He is often more patient than I am at this. My mother told me that only my father, when he visited, was willing to push me on the swings as long as I wanted to be pushed. I watched B. bend and lower the boy into his bassinet, and saw how he was shifting a blanket over him and it made me feel secure right in the center of my chest, in the bone there that connects the ribs, an actual and literal sensation.  I feel cared for by his love of the boy. It makes me feel safe in this time when I am made piercingly vulnerable by my need to protect and love this tiny new being.

I just can’t help thinking that this too, their time, is an essential thing that needs to be protected.

And that’s it. Time to dress and to go.

32 days old.

I really don’t like it when people stand over me while I nurse. It’s the bride phenomenon all over again. Did I write about this already? At my wedding it was as if I was moving in a force field. Everyone stood a few feet back from me, staring and grinning, and I felt their love and excitement, but also wanted to remind them, “You can still talk to me.” The force field is back, and stronger. Sometimes it’s because people don’t want to come too near the open boob. This I can respect even though it’s still irritating. But I think it’s something else too.

I feel like I’m being nudged to the periphery. I know I’m still loved, but am I now also inconvenient? Perhaps it’s a speed thing. I don’t have any. We are a slow moving unit, the boy and I. We can’t keep appointments. We can’t work the crowd at the picnic. It’s creature comforts now. Eating. Sleeping. Staring at the leaves on trees. He, and thus we, don’t go anywhere if he’s tired or grumpy or upset. The feelings must be dealt with, can’t be shunted aside for the sake of a schedule. He, and thus we, don’t conform to the world at all. We move at the pace of need. It is indeed the great simplification. And yes, it’s freeing, but it can also be lonely.

At that picnic gathering I noticed the re-grouping; the mothers and children in one area and everyone else simply someplace else. This is what people talk about with this country; we segregate our mamas and children. We just don’t seem to be good at multi-generation living and I always preached about how it would be different with me when I had a kid but now I’m seeing that it’s not only up to me.

In the first two weeks everyone wanted to come and we wanted very few because in those days the color of the green leaves were electric against the blue sky and set me buzzing with joy, but also everything was charged and everything saturated and in that state of being a simple conversation could use an entire day’s worth of energy. And so we nestled into our cocoon of three and put off visits. But now I’m and craving that company and B. says just ask for it and I’m trying but am surprised by this feeling of distance.

My friend said that when I’m nursing it can be intimidating. In part because it appears so intimate. I suppose it is. (I don’t think I’ll ever forget one moonlit night in the first week when I was in the rocking chair by the window just looking at his face and weeping.) But it’s also been made mundane by the sheer number of hours, and I spend enough time doing it alone to want the company. As i’m writing this I know that I did this too, with the first round of friends to have kids. Saw them settle with their babes, and then shifted away because I didn’t know where to place myself in relation to them.

But now that it’s me I don’t want to be moated off from the world. I suppose it’s time to get a lot more vocal, and begin to send out invitations into this new land of ours.

Week 24

There’s a thing I’ve been avoiding.

Last week a student raised his arm to his chest, as if to begin a backhand, and asked, “Do you want me to slap you or something?”. He had been angry at me for two days, through two rounds of group meetings, because of a rule I was holding and the way I was holding it. This student is already in a man’s body; he is broad and strong, though not taller than me. In the moment I was relieved. I could even describe the feeling as happy. Odd, no? It was the second day, and his anger had been building, his tone when he spoke to me becoming more dismissive, his accusations both increasingly vague and vitriolic, and here finally was something that was indisputably wrong. He had crossed a clear line, and I could stop trying to handle it alone.

We began the necessary follow-up, he surprising me at first by not resisting our trip to the office, or the conversations that followed. I was calm, mostly, that whole afternoon, and into the evening. As the night progressed and I told B. the story, the certainty that I had handled the situation the right way, and adrenalin too, kept me alert, hyper even. This lasted until I wrote up the incident report. I sat down to type, recording the meetings and the conversations and then I got to the sentence, “Do you want me to slap you or something?” and I remembered suddenly that he had raised his hand to his chest when he said it, as if to begin a backhand. And instantly that I was sure and strong about, and the fuel of my adrenalin, drained away. And it’s still doing it, the angry glare, the sentence, and the hand, and I can see it and then I am not his teacher, nor he my student. I can’t see his actions in any kind of perspective, can’t weigh them against the challenges I know he faces, his unique needs and hardships in the world; all I can be is exposed.

The next day, when we began a new round of meetings I came to understand why he had not resisted our trip to the office, or any of the follow-up: He still thought he was right. He informed me that he had said that sentence, he would not use the world “threaten”, because I had “crossed a line.”

The drama of the incident is passing. The staff has had to shift to considering the over-arching questions of the relationship between this student and the school.

I haven’t gotten to the thing I’ve been avoiding; that thing is about skin, meaning skin color, and that will come, but this comes first, because of course this is not the first time a man, a boy, whatever, has reacted with rage to what they determine to be my crossing of a line. It’s not the first time a man has hated me. It happens on the street and on subways; it happened when I stood posing and hustling behind a bar; and it’s happened in my family.

I do wonder what memories my brain has locked away from me. I’ve wondered that for a long time. But regardless of what I may never remember, I do know the feeling of my body as symbol, as key that unlocks male fury, and I can never be quite sure what will do it. It comes at random, punctures days that begin peaceful and sure. Sometimes it beads right off me. Sometimes it seeps in and quickly, collects and stays and sloshes in me while I go about my day.

And sometimes there are days when my sense of who I am splits entirely from my body. I am me and apart from that me is my body: a thing that was done to me; a thing that traps me; a thing that draws attention even when I don’t want it to. Sometimes the very fact of being seen, of walking down the street, is exhausting.

I’m grateful that nothing more happened than a threat. That my life is not violent. But, and I can’t explain it, a few sentences and the sweep of an arm have been enough to shake me.

My body is the safest space this babe of mine knows. I thought that this was my grace period; the nine months I get to keep it absolutely safe before I expose it to the world that is. But that’s not true. And maybe that’s why I’m uneasy these days. Because I can’t give what I can’t get.

Week 23

In the last twelve hours, I have become significantly more pregnant. It began while we were watching TV last night–we have a whole new world of options because a friend gave us her Hulu log in–and it’s funny because I’ve barely watched any of the shows that I hear talked about and now they’re all at my fingertips. I haven’t meant not to watch. Often it’s been a matter of limited resources. Of money for one, not wanting to pay, but mostly of time. These last two years, I’ve been so tired when I get home from work I’ve had about three hours of wakefulness and of the potential evening activities–eating dinner, talking to B., having sex with B., watching TV, showering–something had to go.

But also true is that nothing holds my attention. Again, I don’t want this to be true, but these shows, especially all these critically acclaimed giants, seem like the same plot with different costumes. And that plot always manages to center on a flawed, but charismatic, white man engaging with his inner uber-traditional masculine (and capitalist) self against a back drop of sacrificing, or naked, or murdered female bodies. The only series I’ve watched to completion in the last five years was Battlestar Galactica. Do you know that David Byrne and St. Vincent song? The first verse goes like this:

I used to think that I should watch TV
I used to think that it was good for me
Wanted to know what folks were thinking
To understand the land I live in
And I would lose myself, and it would set me free

That’s me, only present tense. I still think I should be watching TV. I do think it will set me free. I do want to know what folks are thinking. So I keep trying.

Anyway, last night, by the end of the first episode of the first season of Scandal (is anyone else annoyed that the kryptonite for this badass woman’s spidey sense is a man who is sleeping with at least two other women?) my belly had become half a planet. All day I’d been like a kangaroo, hopping around with my babe tucked neatly inside of me, and then suddenly, they’re kissing on the edge of the oval office and I’m an overturned turtle.

This morning it was worse. My leggings were too tight, and my long underwear had a tag designed to annoy the shit out of me, and my tunic shirt made me look the hippie mom character in a sitcom whose quirky politics are represented by her brightly, patterned leggings. Which mine are.

I handled all this by changing into a different pair of leggings; the ones I would wear every day if I thought no one would notice. As it is, I do wear them for days in a row if I know the only who’s going to see me on each of those days is B.. And even to him, I said, “You know I’m wearing tights under these so they don’t get totally dirty.” Not that that’s even all the way true. He, of course, just shrugged. “Whatever baby.”

The problem being that I look so very pregnant in everything I put on.

Last night it stopped making sense that I was pregnant. In my brain, I was just me, the same familiar me, same types of thoughts, same personality, but I couldn’t connect to the body below. My back was tingling and the skin of my belly taut, and when I tried to sit up from my sunken couch, I needed to push first and then roll, and it was awkward and weird and foreign. My body very much not my own

Movies I will not be watching: Rosemary’s Baby, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien.

I would like to say that my body and brain have been reunited with my outfit change into my favorite leggings, but so far, I’m still itchy and fidgety and discontent. And irritable. Also, restless. Probably one of those days where it’s a good thing that I work with a gaggle of energetic teens because in a very short while I won’t have the time or mental space to pay attention to myself.

I would like there to a right shirt to fix it, a right breakfast, maybe if I go get a muffin, maybe if I wear hoops. I don’t know.

And as a final complaint, the fruit and vegetable sizing system has completely broken down. This week the babe is said to be a mango, but last week it was supposed to be a spaghetti squash, and spaghetti squash are bigger than mangoes. And also, two weeks ago, it was a banana. Because of the length. Not the girth. No comment.

For now, it’s time for me to get this body of mine in motion; to bundle it up, take it work, and see if over the course of the day we can make up.

Week 22

On the pleasures of being alone…

The first time I travelled alone I was nineteen years old and I went to Spain. Or, this is the first big trip I took alone, by then I had ridden countless Greyhound buses between New York and my grandmother’s in New Hampshire, between New York and college in Providence, and I already knew the exquisite pleasure of a solo bus ride on an off day; the bus mostly empty, two seats to myself, headphones, a book, the window, sometimes a bag of M&M’s, always plenty of water. On a bus, on a train, the land unspools beside you, for you, and you can pee whenever you want and your brain is soothed. My brain is soothed. My restlessness stilled by the fact of being in motion. Once, tucked into the back of the bus, I secretly masturbated while hidden under a giant shearling coat that had belonged to a man who had almost married my mother when I was ten but decided instead to move to Austin, Texas. (I had loved him, and cried when he told me he was leaving, and after him I vowed never to get close to a boyfriend of my mother’s. Something I pulled off until she began dating the man who became my step-father. But that would be later, when I was out of college, 23 and 24.) It was not even dark on the bus, only a grey afternoon, and the climax was a teeth clenched, muscle bracing, moment of complete stillness, which sent the sensations pulsing through the muscles of legs and back and neck. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a Greyhound.

But this trip to Spain…I took a semester off of college because currents of anxiety were pulling me under with frightening frequency and also I was smoking too much weed, drinking too much, all of it too much, and I had not seen nor heard from my father since I turned my back on him when I was fourteen years old and I thought it was time to explore that. I arranged to live at home, work, do therapy, but also to travel alone for a month. I extended my loan money to pay for it, and they sent me a glorious check. Spain is the land of my father’s parents and it was my first step towards him. I bought a round trip ticket. I had not been out of the country since I was six years old and visited my cousins in Norway. (That’s my mother’s side.) As the weeks brought me closer to departure, a pattern emerged: The very rich parents of the very rich kids at the after school where I worked looked at me with envy, with longing, wistful to the extreme, and said to me, “Do it now while you can.” Said, “This is the right time to go, soon you won’t be able to get away.” Said, “This could be your last chance.”

My last chance! To me, it was my first chance, the first of what I hoped would be many trips, a future dotted with movement and places and packed bags. But this too; these parents were so very rich, and yet felt so very locked in. They saw their own lives as limited, finite, without options for such adventures, and this most of all: They felt that they had no say in the matter. They were sure that outside forces were locking them out of things they might want to do. Not one of them saw, or could say honestly, that it was they themselves preventing them from those adventures. How much better it would have been to hear, “I used to want to travel, but now I’m content to be at home with my kids.” I wouldn’t have understood it for one second, and probably would have made fun of them to B., but I hope some part of me could have heard the honesty in it, the embracing of one’s own life and choices.

Everyone has warnings for me these days. According to the world at large it’s going to hurt a lot; i should definitely get an epidural; I will never sleep again; B. and I will never be alone again; moving is not a good idea; everything’s going to get harder; my breasts are going to be destroyed; and I better start wearing smarter shoes.

I bought my ticket to Madrid for October. On September 11th, September 11th happened. I lived about a mile away, but was protected by the span of the East River. The ash coated the playground, and we prayed that the parents of all the children would appear to pick them up. They did. And Christa’s husband didn’t go to work and survived, and somehow Danny’s three brothers survived, though he would not know it for hours. At sunset I stood on the Promenade, beside me a man with a bloody bandage wrapped around his head, and watched the ribbon of ash blow over us and further into Brooklyn. We’d breathe it in for days.

On October 1, I flew. I had thought I was scared of flying, but I’d learned that death comes and that miracles and tragedies are lightening bolts that can strike two people standing inches from each other. That we truly have no say. I decided simply that to fly was to risk death but that it was worth risking death to get me to Spain, to live a life I wanted to live. And then when I saw the clouds below me, it was only confirmed: to fly was a foray into the afterlife. And ever since, flying has become the same as embracing the fact that I can die at any moment. Over a decade later,  every time I board a plane I think I am risking death in pursuit of a full life.

I swear, it feels like an optimistic perspective.

Here is one prediction that does seem true: Once this babe is born, I am never again going to be fully alone in the world. I am bound to B., my friends, my family, yes, but I have a hunch this is going to be different. I am housing her. Him. This babe. I am its first home, it is literally forming inside me, and won’t my heart always be lodged a little inside this new person? Won’t this new person take a portion of me wherever it goes? My fears, my love, my hopes: I will want so much for it, and yet it will have to go forth without me and won’t it pull my heart along with it…aching, celebrating, worrying, exulting? I really don’t know what solitude is going to mean to me in a few months. And I am quite sure I can’t know until it comes.

In Madrid, it took me about two hours of chain smoking to leave the airport. I rode the metro, a monumental achievement, and disembarked into the center of the Plaza del Sol, an immense expanse of stone in the middle of the city. It was morning, maybe nine or ten, and throngs of people were criss crossing the pavement around me. The sky was a brilliant blue (every blue sky a reminder of that one Tuesday blue sky; that knowledge never leaves us, does it?) and the sun both warm and sharp. The buildings were white stone and grey stone, and intricately carved. I stood and it felt as if sky and stone were rushing through my legs and arms to meet in a long denied embrace. I was humming with it. I was exultant. I am in Madrid. I am in Madrid. I am in Madrid. The fact of it, that I had lifted my body out of New York and landed it there, in that city, in Madrid, in Spain, it was a miracle to me, and absolute proof that anything was possible. In my life, it was all possible. I am going to be ok. This is going to be ok. Life is going to work. It is still the moment I return to when the currents return to tug at me. Whatever else happens, that day happened.

I am at the close of a two night solo vacation all the way across the river into Manhattan. I’ve spent two days and two nights eating alone and walking alone and reading and writing and sleeping. It was a much shorter trip than that first voyage across the Atlantic, but it was still hard for me to get myself here. I thought of a million reasons I shouldn’t go, shouldn’t spend the money, and on and on. But I did. And when I checked into my room alone and thew my bag on the bed? Total bliss.

A last chance? A first? I’ll let you know in a decade.

Week 21

For the first time since I was secretly trying to starve and exercise myself into another body, the general public are commenting on my body. The consensus is that I’m “carrying well.” As in, I’m not getting a lot of weight. This is also a sign that I’m having a boy since the girls curse you with weight gain. Although, the girls are also said to curse you with nausea, so my tortuous first trimester means a girl, while the “blessing” of carrying small means a boy.

From two New Yorker articles I’ve read in the last month:

“[Angela] Merkel has lost weight–bedridden last winter after fracturing her pelvis in a cross-country-skiing accident, she gave up sausage sandwiches for chopped carrots and took off twenty pounds.”

“In photographs, Cheryl Strayed looks like a big bodied woman.”

Merkel is the German Chancellor, and the same piece refers to her as “the most powerful woman in the world.” Strayed is an award winning, best-selling author. Amid the countless articles and profiles I read of notable males, there are very few that mention body size and if they do, the subject is usually Bill Clinton, commenting on his post heart surgery veganism, or Chris Christie, whose weight is almost an asset, some kind of shine to it–as if it is a symbol of his individualism, his defiance. Can you imagine a woman of his size being taken seriously as a potential presidential candidate? Can you imagine her being taken seriously at the post office?

Last night I watched The Wolf of Wall Street. The first wife was a super hot brunette with curly hair. Obviously, she was left for the super hot blonde with straight hair.

But this is all painfully obvious and so familiar to me, as I imagine it is to every woman who might read this, that it is totally boring. Boring to think about, boring to write about, barely worth talking about. Feminism, the notion of it, was not something I had given any real energy to in years, but this fall my school began doing work around sexism and gender identity. And also, I was pregnant. Turns out being pregnant and talking about sexism is a surefire way to ignite long dormant anger. The students were really the ones who did me in. Because they are young and female and they are very angry. New to the experience of objectification, they can remember more clearly than I being 8 and 9 and 10 and 11. They are closer to that time before breasts (for some of us) and puberty, years when we were mostly free from the constant gaze, the constant fusing of our identities to our physical appearance. They are just recently coming out of the shift into sexual beings and the new way they are treated pisses them off. They call out the perpetual disrespects leveled at women that I had stopped paying serious attention to years ago. And of course, at the same time, no matter how brilliant and bold and defiant they are, they are tortured by the expectations…comparing their thighs and breasts and hips and arms to the computer polished images of the female form that bombard us.

From a fashion blog, “It’s not that I idealize skinny-ness, it’s just that I am entranced by the aesthetic of the skeleton. I am drawn to the beauty of bones.”

I read that five years ago. Haven’t forgotten it yet. Nor that little whisper of agreement, like Gollum convincing Smeagol, “Yes, yes, that is pretty, the clothes flow, how nice and long and lean.”

Last night during The Wolf of Wall Street naked women swarmed the screen like schools of fish. And they were fucked in more ways than I usually see in one movie; their bodies on desks and beds and floors and airplanes and cars. Their bodies their bodies their bodies. White. Pale. Public hair ripped off, leaving bare little-girl vaginas, hip bones jutting, asses often flat actually, little muscle tone, just thin. A pregnant character nagging her husband, no longer the desired sex object, replaced by others, by hookers, her body unaltered except for the prosthetic bump beneath her tight dress, her body after the baby showing no signs of pregnancy, or nursing, simply back to her stunning self, but still replaced by other women as the desired one. The woman in the house, with the baby, spending the husband’s money, no longer putting out.

And yes, you could ask, what else would I expect from this particular movie? The point of the plot is the depravity and debauchery and so on. But this is not so much a critique of this one movie because what I just described is true of countless movies. You all know it. It is the perpetual narrative of the transformation of the beauty, the one sought, the one desired, into the one taken for granted, the nagging wife; the timeless triad of virgin, wife, whore.

Really, I’m writing about the movie because last night I forgot to be angry. I forgot to critique. I was too tired. Just wanted to absorb and not think. So mostly what I thought, without realizing it, the words simply seeping into my consciousness, was this:  My body will never look like that. Of course, my body was never going to look like that, but I could always hold the delusion in reserve. No longer. Some of these changes are going to be permanent. These veins and bones and skin are never going to be quite what they were.

I battle future stretch marks with tubs of shea butter. I fear post-nursing breasts as flat and useless as popped water balloons. I anticipate those months after the baby is born when my abdomen sags and flaps. I anticipate hating it. I see myself grabbing that extra skin in my hands. I see myself feeling ugly.

B. says my body is luxurious.

One of the things that kept me from acknowledging that I had an eating disorder was that I assumed I was simply too much of a feminist. Also, that what I was doing seemed normal. Everyone cleanses, reduces, refuses, runs. I didn’t look sick. I just looked smaller. I just looked like a New Yorker.

My grandmother spent years eating only one banana for lunch. In her last months, ill and in pain, she mourned the loss of her waist.

How mundane to be a woman writing about body image. How commonplace and ubiquitous. How repetitive. In the movie the early scene of a man snorting coke out of a woman’s white, naked ass gave me a little shock and thrill–Caught my attention. By the end of the three hours, the vaginas were only background. Scenery. And boring scenery. I want to be wary of the dulling of my senses. I think we should all be. The flash of a woman’s naked form should always excite. And the equating of her worth to that form should always enrage.

I don’t say thank you when the women appraise me body, nod approvingly at my size, give what they believe to be compliments. Because I can’t afford to agree with them. I have to believe there’s no such thing as there being too much of me, just as I’m piecing together that it’s not possible to be too much of a feminist.