Friday, October 18, 2013

Waiting. Worrying.

I should be grading papers. This is pretty much the mantra of the English professor. But my reason for not grading in this particular moment is not procrastination. Procrastination is sort of the opposite of what I'm doing. I'm not putting something off. Instead, I am waiting.

I have waited like this before, but I don't remember it being quite this awful. I spent five years waiting for the second half of every month. Hoping that something wouldn't, and therefore something else would, happen. And then, with the magical help of a virtual shit ton of medications, needles, and doctors, it did. Despite the four shots twice a day, the allergic reactions, the anxiety, the ultrasounds, I don't remember the wait feeling like this. I wasn't expecting the phone call when it arrived the morning of our garage sale. When it did, it was a revelation, probably because I didn't expect anything to happen at all.

In the last several days, I have felt feelings of joy and of misery that are, for the first time in two years, not connected to Nola. It has been liberating--I am a distinct person again--but horrible, because I know that we are moving forward into this new stage of independence. Both of us.

It is ironic that I recognized this feeling of independence only when I was trying to grow another tiny person. I have now spent the second half of this month waiting again. This time, there were no needles, although there was a doctor, so I suppose the process has been less hard. But the wait this time has been excruciating. Was that chocolate croissant a sign? Is that nausea I feel? Are my boobs sore or is Nola just really hungry? Am I tired because Nola woke up early, or is it something else? I have grown tired of diagnosing every physical twinge as relevant or not to the Big Question.

And then the day arrived, and nothing else did. But that first test was negative. I was sad, but remained uncertain. I had a bad feeling, replaced by a good feeling when the next day was also absent a certain visitor. And then the next day. And then the happiest test I ever had. Followed by the arrival of the visitor I assuredly did not want many hours later. In those hours, I worried about Nola: about what this might mean for her, about how she would adapt, about how she might feel about a companion.

And now I wait again, pretty sure I know she won't have this particular companion. But the not knowing is terrible. I have seen the test results, but this is one test I can't interpret on my own. The information is there, and as I assess the markers I can identify, I think I know. But even as I feel certain, I wait. I worry. I hope.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Has it changed me?

This isn't a question I think about a lot. In fact, I assumed that it had, as do all experiences, and I really didn't have time to think much about it. But recently, I had a little professional shaking, and it shook me right back to who I used to be, sort of. 

If you're in higher education, you know that things are changing. With each generation, students change, and with each new legislature (or governor), institutions change. I embrace the changes in my students. The changes to higher ed, well, not so much. I don't want to go to an online model because I believe it's not rigorous enough, or beneficial to students. And I especially don't want the whole of higher education to tumble down around my ears. This week, I was reminded that the current financial crisis in higher ed is real, and that the institution is maybe one that isn't impervious to destruction. My response: write a conference paper proposal.

I was a pretty productive scholar before Nola came along. I got pregnant shortly after I got tenure, and it gave me an opportunity to rest the scholarly part of my identity for a while. I embraced this hiatus, knowing I would one day be motivated to go back, and that I would be able to do so refreshed and with clear eyes. I assumed that once Nola was more independent and I was doing less laundry and nursing and playing and diaper changing, I would be ready.

Well, Nola has been a champion sleeper for some time, and yes, she poops her pants far less frequently, although the playing only gets more fun--and I still hadn't had the desire to pick up the pen (metaphorically, of course). And then I got scared. I was reminded that my scholarly identity might not be one that would last forever, because maybe my job wouldn't last forever (at least in the way I want it to). I felt I no longer had the luxury of letting my fields lie fallow. So I pulled out the trusty conference bulletin, and agonized over it when I was supposed to be grading.

This, of course, is change number one. I am a better grader. Because I have no choice. Because I want Nola's waking time to be spent playing with me, rather than watching me work. Take now, for example. Past Dana would have been watching Veronica Mars on a Friday afternoon. Now Dana has a big pile of laundry sorted and waiting to be folded. She has completed her grading for two of her classes (on the day it came in, no less), and has begun her grading for the more time-consuming class. She is very efficient during naptime. I kind of admire her. I have clearly interrupted efficient-mommy-Dana to write this blog (after FAR too long). And that's another change, I guess, too.

Anyway, so I finally found a panel I was interested in, and which intersects with a project I've begun thinking and writing through. So I began to write my proposal, and whoosh, I felt that old feeling. That feeling of being taken over by the idea. Of my fingers not moving as quickly as my brain. Of the loss of self that occurs in the moment of composition. And when I was finished, I felt like old Dana, who would sit on her couch watching t.v. and processing ideas, and go to the gym and process ideas, and then BAM! in a writing frenzy, pump out fifteen beautiful pages in a weekend. It felt so good, and I felt renewed, but I also felt scared.

It's because I know I'm not entirely her anymore, precisely because I do have that stack of laundry on my couch (and I can't wait to see Nola in her new tiny denim jacket, so clearly it cannot be ignored), and those papers must be finished during naptime today, tomorrow, or Sunday, without exception, or I will lose control over the runaway train that is grading papers. It's because while I felt that great power of composition and new thinking, I can't forget the feeling of watching Nola laugh uncontrollably when I make my fingers crawl up her leg to tickle her or dance on the table like a tiny gentleman while she eats a snack. Those pleasures are new and wonderful, too.

I suppose motherhood has changed me in that I feel more. I feel it when Nola bonks her head, or when she doesn't eat like her normal self because those stupid incisors just won't cut through yet. I feel it when she's sleeping with her head resting on a book (and oh do I love that feeling). I feel it when she goes down the tornado slide all by herself, and when I drop her off at daycare, and when I pick her up again.

And because I feel more in all things involving my daughter, I suppose I feel more for those around me as well. It's not that I didn't care for my students before I had a baby, but now I feel that unique pain that perhaps their parents feel when I see them upset, or suffering, or excited. I don't think of myself as a parent to my students, but their emotions arrest me in a new way.

I am pulled up short by my empathy, and perhaps it's this that makes the complete selfishness of writing harder for me to glory in. I will, of course, write. I always have. But I don't want to lose myself as I have before, I suppose because I have too much to lose.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Last Name Game

It's the first week of classes and I actually have a lull (which means there's no grading yet). I could be writing one of the two lectures I have to give in the next two months, or writing up Administrative mumbo jumbo. But instead, I'm going to write this post that I've been stewing about since last fall.

When I got married, I didn't change my name. Even when I was in junior high, I knew I wouldn't change my name. When girls were scrawling "Mrs. Dana Johnson" on their notebooks to indicate their crush on whichever boy du jour, I would try it, and it just didn't feel right. I knew I would never be Mrs. anyone, even though I also knew I wanted to be married someday.

Anyway, when we got married, I told Drew we could either hyphenate or have two different last names. He wasn't super excited by this conversation, but he has always known who I am, and I know this was not a surprise. It's not that his last name isn't cool--if I was going to change my last name for anyone, it would be for a Carmichael. Dana Carmichael sounds like a spy. She would have excellent trench coats.

It took his parents a little while to get used to it, but the most I ever got from them were a few good-natured jibes. From time to time, a friend will formally address a letter or card to Mr. and Mrs. Drew Carmichael, which I understand, but which, I must admit, I am bothered by. I am not the property of Drew Carmichael and his family, nor is he my property. I am all-too-aware that my current last name is my father's name, but hey, you've got to start somewhere.

So WELL before Nola came along, Drew and I had the conversation about last names. I said that we had two options. Our potential children would have my name OR we could hyphenate her last name and she would then have both. His last name only was not an option for me. I was not about to have a different last name from my child, and I knew Drew wouldn't want to either. It's a clumsy solution, particularly since his last name is so stinkin' long, and it wasn't one that he liked much. However, neither of us wanted to give up our own name or invent a new name, or any of those thousand compromises we had discussed when we got married. So Nola's last name is hyphenated, starting with his last name.

The order of our names was an easier discussion. While we both kind of wanted to be first, of course, but then we started thinking about our future. Yes, this poor kid is going to have a 17-letter-long last name (SOO many bubbles on the standardized test sheets--sorry, Nola), but more importantly, we are going to be sitting through a lot of graduations. Wouldn't it be better to be out of there more quickly? So we went alphabetical, ergo, Carmichael is first. Drew can complain all he likes--but it's his last name that has 10 letters. I only have 6.

But now the problem of the mis-addressed envelope is much more pronounced. The reason that I'm still irritated by these mis-addressed missives is that I'm too big of a pansy to correct people. I don't want to be perceived as a feminist pain in the ass, even though clearly I AM a feminist pain in the ass. So I usually don't say anything, but it DOES matter to me when people call me by the wrong name. And now it's starting to happen a lot more.

The first time was at daycare. All of Nola's documents and sign-in sheets and what have you were addressed to Nola Carmichael. Not Nola Carmichael-Oswald. I didn't notice at first, because I was always in frenzy, getting in and out of there before my hour-long commute to work. But then I noticed. And I stewed, for about a month. Finally, when chatting with the director, I said it. I said something like "I've noticed you just use the first part of Nola's last name, but my name is the last part. It kind of hurts my name not to be included." The director apologized far too profusely, and said that it was only because of the length of the name--understandably!--but that this would be fixed. And it was. She even had to change the spacing on the sign-in sheet a little, but I felt both a little ashamed and a lot happy when I signed in the next time. I know this won't be the last time this happens. I think I will speak up more quickly next time.

But the bigger concern is one with larger social connotations. What should children call the parents of other children? Should they be referred to by formal titles? I appreciate the respect that such a practice indicates, and the manners that it teaches children. But titles are uncomfortable for me. I am not a Mrs., although I am married. I SUPER HATE this title. My actual title is Dr. That Ph.D. did not come easily, although no, friends, if you are having a heart attack at a restaurant, I won't be much help. I don't like the snobbery that's attached to Dr., but I like it a hell of a lot more than Mrs., because it's a title I actually earned, rather than one that indicates if I am sexually available (okay, an overstatement, but seriously. Men's titles don't change when they get married. It's stupid.).

I would prefer to just be called Dana, but I absolutely respect my friends' desires to have their children use formal titles. But how do I communicate my preference for Dr. without sounding like a jerk? I don't know. People are embarrassed when they are corrected, and that feels very rude to me. But I do suspect that if a man were a medical doctor, this wouldn't be an issue. He would Dr. without any hesitation--and it might be true for a woman as well. But so far it's not true for me. So friends, what do I do? Can't I just rule the universe and get rid of our horrible titles and replace them with non-sexist ones? That would make my life as a parent so much easier.

Anyway, I guess I have many years of being called Mrs. Carmichael ahead of me. But I really don't think I can grin and bear it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Used to Love Violence, but now...

Does anyone remember the movie Doomsday? I'm sure it was a critic's nightmare; it was garish, disgusting, violent, and probably lazy from a film perspective. It's a movie set in England, wherein a mysterious disease is unleashed, and the northern part of the country is walled off (the medieval geek in me loved the re-appropriation of Hadrian's wall--see, it was educational!). Those north of the wall are left abandoned and descend into savagery, depravity, and cannibalism. In one scene, a guy drives recklessly through the countryside with his decapitated girlfriend's body (head sloppily reattached) in tow, seeking revenge. You can guess what happens to the head. Anyway, I loved the garishness post-apocalypsy trashiness of this movie, and its uberviolence (as you can probably tell from the glee with which I composed this paragraph).

But no more. I can hardly watch this season of American Horror Story. Its constant barrage of brutality makes me cranky for the whole evening, and I am generally unhappy after watching it. What happened to me? In part, I think culturally we may be growing sick of violence because it's so ubiquitous (to give credit, I heard a great analysis of this on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour), but in part, I think it's mommyhood.

I live in constant fear that something will happen to Nola. It was so hard to make her, and she is so precious to me. I can't imagine my life without her, and after the Sandy Hook shootings in December, I find myself thinking about the possibility of one day having to do so. It's horrifying--and nothing new for mommies across time and across cultures, I suspect. I've been obsessed all week with anchoring all the furniture in our house after reading a story posted to facebook about a dresser falling on top of a 3 year old, and killing her. The pathos of dead children is awful and terrifying and makes me hold Nola closer, even when she's woken up (uncharacteristically, to be fair) 4 times in one night and I am desperately tired.

But it's not only TV and movies. Oh no. Apparently it's books, too. And it's not just me! It's Daddy, as well. We're both reading Justin Cronon's new book, The Twelve, a follow-up to his novel The Passage. (side note: must be inspired by vampire culture and turn from impoverished college professor, like Cronon, into best-selling novelist. Seems like a good gig. Except I haven't written a blog post in 4 months. Damn.). There is a great deal of violence to children in this novel--or at least, there is a great deal of anticipation and inevitability of violence to children. We see various narrators watching parents with young children desperately trying to save them as the vampire-y apocalypse falls upon them. We know that all of these people--the parents as well as the children--will likely not survive. And yet it's the children that bother me.

I have never been one of those people to say "but won't you just think of the children?" I hate the pathos appeals of childhood innocence as somehow being superior to other lives. The loss of any life is terrible--why fetishize children's lives above adults'? And yet, with the arrival of Nola, I (unsurprisingly) care more about her life than those of other adults, and perhaps even my own. I'm not sure yet if this care spreads to all children culturally--but Sandy Hook shook me, as it did most people. I don't want damage to be done to children. I wonder if it's because I think of the parents, though, as much as the children? I think of the loss those parents endure, and it makes me feel sick. I try not to imagine it.

Sandy Hook didn't start this reaction to violence, though it has surely affected its continuation. Having Nola has made me see all people, not just Nola, through a different lens. All of you had a mother who loved you (perhaps in a misguided way, if your relationship with her is troubled or nonexistent), and for whom you were the whole world. She stared at your head and watched as your hair grew slowly over your ears, as your teeth popped through, as you went from being a tiny thing who couldn't reach for a toy to being an army-crawling machine of dog and kitty torment, leaving a tidal wave of toys in your wake. She couldn't wait for you to fall asleep at night, but once you did, she missed you. I feel kinship with all these other mothers out there, and I see more clearly that adults were once the beloved babies of their mothers. It makes me more patient with idiots. It makes me see history differently.

I short, I have become a different person, because of Nola. I suspect my negative reaction to violence will fade, and I think I still secretly love Doomsday, but for now, I might retreat to the land of gentler stuff, with puppies and rainbows and mommies and babies who grow old.

It's good to be back.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Baby (not) on Board

I was in a fender-bender this week--really very minor, and Nola was not in the car with me. And yet I have had bad dreams involving Nola for the past two nights, for the first time ever (although probably not the last).

I have this little twinge in my shoulder now, probably from the seatbelt, and it's not a big deal. But every time I feel it, an image of Nola being jerked side to side in the carseat pops into my head. And I feel sick. How little would it take to hurt her? Babies are tougher than we think, but not tough enough for a car accident, especially one involving side impact, I fear.

So when I dropped off my sad little Prius yesterday (and wrangled the carseat out of it and into the rental car by myself in the rain--ah, mommyhood), I was incredibly paranoid about driving with the baby, in a way I have not been since she was first born. This was motivated, not in small part, by a horrible experience of one of my colleagues, who, well before my time at my institution, was involved in a car accident and whose young daughter died as a result. When I was late for a meeting because of the accident, one colleague said that she thought immediately of that situation. And so did I. I remember her anguish on what would have been her daughter's 16th birthday, and it makes my chest hurt.

I don't know if I have anything funny or clever to say this week about this experience. It was scary, and minor, and quick, and inconvenient, and it in no way involved my daughter. But there it sits, on my shoulder, making sure I tighten the chest strap on her carseat enough, even though doing so makes her cry. And although she's getting bigger and stronger every day, it reminds me how fragile and how dependent on me for her safety she is.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Being Pregnant and then Not Pregnant Anymore

First: no, I'm not pregnant again.

Now then: for some reason today, a moment from one of my baby showers popped into my head.

A brief aside about baby showers. They are awesome and intimidating. People offer advice, if they have kids, or had lots of siblings or nieces and nephews (which I loved getting--keep it coming, people), or look vaguely as if they are wearing particularly itchy wool skivvies, if they don't. As the pregnant person, I was on both sides of this equation at once: a former dreader of baby showers and all that talk about hoo-has and nipples, and yet the person desparate for advice and craving people's MOST horrifying birth and baby stories. If you needed 800 stitches in your nether bits, I was the person who wanted to hear ALL about it. In detail. All the sentimental parts of the baby shower--well, that still made me a little nauseated (except for opening presents. I don't care what anyone says. Presents are always good, so sit your ass down and watch me open 300 different onesies, bitches). For me, all the sentiment happened after she was born.

Anyway, so there I am, being all ambivalent and trying to think of nice ways to cajole people into telling me awful stories about their kids, when someone asked me what was the best part about being pregnant. I was literally unable to say anything for a ridiculously long time. And not because I hated being pregnant or anything (although really, enough with the peeing).

So I had to corral my frenzied brain to answer this serious question. I thought really hard. Was it the blissful glow of pregnancy? No. Decidedly not. In fact, I realized I had not thought about this at all, although I had bitched about virtually every aspect of the experience, from not being able to sleep on my back (NOT cool, baby), to giving up wine (mostly), to wearing maternity pants (which are clearly made by the devil). So what was it that I liked?

And then it came to me. I had been watching some ridiculous Entertainment Tonight-like show, and the ubiquitous go-feel-bad-about-the-size-of-your-ass-because-this-celebrity-works-out-8-times-per-week-and-eats-one-almond-per-day segment came on. I usually flip channels at this point, and I did the same that day. But the feeling I had at that moment was one of liberation instead of fleeting shame. I realized that I was removed--temporarily, to be sure--from this obsession with weight and appearance. I was exempt. I was exempt because I couldn't possibly worry about getting thinner or why I wasn't doing anything to get thinner, or critiquing myself for worrying about getting thinner. It was like I could shut out of my brain a whole part of the world. And it felt delicious.

During my pregnancy, I went to the gym probably 3-5 days per week, and walked the dogs almost every day too. I ate pretty well, largely because inside-Nola was not terribly interested in food, beyond demanding that I eat a doughnut after most workouts, and telling me stoutly to fuck off if I even considered eating rice. In essence, I was probably healthier during my pregnancy, and I had nothing to really feel bad about--but that wasn't even the point. The point was that when I went to the gym, it wasn't about how my pants fit, it was about what I wanted my body to be able to do: at first, I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be completely disabled by my pregnancy at 39 weeks, and later, I wanted to make sure my body would be able to kick labor's ass.

What drove me to the gym was not what I wished to look like, but my desire to be strong for delivery.

It's not that I don't like the gym--I really do. But there's so much icky crap invested in our perceptions of "health." And I could just blow all that off when I was pregnant.

After this conversation at my baby shower, I became acutely aware of this sensation, and reveled in my new dismissal of body-shame culture, as I silently did a count-down to when I would have to start worrying about how long it would take me to "get my body back."

Gross. This is a phrase I hate. I love what my body was able to do when I was pregnant. It was always mine. I just shared it for a little while with this stunning little person.

So last week at the gym, an older gentleman stopped me to tell me how great I look. It wasn't creepy or anything--he actually witnessed a contraction shoot down my belly when I was pregnant and doing reverse curls, and was one of the only men at the gym who ever acknowledged that I had something going on down below my neck when I was pregnant (most of the older men at our very ritzy gym generally looked horrified and felt certain I would give birth on a weight bench, I think, and handled this by averting their eyes whenever I walked by). His compliment made me feel good--and I was grateful to hear it.

But now it reminds of the sense of my body that I lost when I achieved my fitness goal, ran my marathon, swam my English channel--whatever metaphor best suits 21 hours of contractions followed by shooting a human being out a tiny tiny hole. I want that pregnant sense of self back. I want to love my belly, instead of feeling like I should loudly make declarations about how I still have a little baby (and therefore cannot be judged) whenever I put on spandex.

But to conclude on a happier note. One of the best moments of my life--aside from seeing that amazing little person for the first time--was that first night after she was born. I got to sleep on my back again. And it felt glorious.

This is me doing squats on my due date:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

When was the last time I washed my hair?

So here's my metaphor for parenting. I shower less, but shave my legs more.

I know that's weird, but bear with me.

Before I had a baby, I didn't understand when parents would say they couldn't take a shower. Why not just put the baby down for ten minutes and wash yourself? What's hard about that?

But it's not about just putting the baby down. It's about the 800 things you have to do competing for that ten minutes. In ten minutes, I could get the mail, or water the plants, or fold my laundry, or grade some papers, or empty the dishwasher, or let the dogs out, or...write this blog.

So when I do choose to spend those ten minutes on a shower, it had better be good.

Before Nola, I knew the next shower could be had any time. I could say, nah, not right now, hairy legs. I'll shave you later. Now, the next shower might be days away. And I might need to wear a skirt tomorrow. And there will definitely not be time for a shower between now and then, because God knows I need to wash some underwear. Or grade some papers (because English profs always need to grade papers, unless it's between June and August).

And now you can infer that you should not sit too close to me today, because I spent that ten minutes on this blog.