No, not the fitness kind. If you think that, you must be a stranger reading my blog, which makes me very happy.
“Wait,” you say, “Das Baby has heart problems? I knew he saw a pulmonologist for breathing problems, and a feeding specialist, nutritionist and gastroenterologist for the hideous GERD that makes him hate eating, and that he has a physical therapist and an occupational therapist to help with development, but what’s this about a cardiologist!?”
Well, Das Baby has a very mild (even debatable) case of pulmonary hypertension (PH), or high blood pressure in the lungs. It causes the heart to have to work too hard, and can be as scary as it sounds, but it’s fairly common in babies who, like Das Baby, have chronic lung disease (CLD). Das Baby was especially vulnerable to PH because his lungs were underdeveloped even for his gestational age due to my water breaking. Amniotic fluid is essential for lung development. It sort of seems like a design flaw that Das Baby was born with a full head of thick hair, but hadn’t really finished making his lungs yet. I’ve mentioned to him that things might have been easier if he’d spent a little more time on lungs and a little less on hair, but if he’s vain, he comes by it honestly. In all seriousness, we hope that as he outgrows the CLD, the pulmonary hypertension, if he even has it, should continue to improve.
Back in the NICU, the neonatologists were always trying to keep the pulmonary hypertension team away from Das Baby. It was like a turf war, except both gangs wore white. The pulmonary hypertension team’s one great act with Das Baby was prescribing, no joke, Viagra (see, the turf war even involved drugs), until the next day when one of the neonatologists decided it was way more than Das Baby needed (and no, we did not notice any changes in the way Das Baby filled out his diaper. Get your mind out of the gutter. We’re talking about a neonate here! He was still technically a fetus at this point!).
The pulmonary hypertension team had a way of popping up whenever I was alone by Das Baby’s
“isolette” or crib. They were captained by a woman with tetracycline teeth who moved like a snake. She was friendly enough, but I knew she just wanted to get her fangs in him and put him on more drugs (what would it be this time, I wondered, Latisse? Methadone? (which they actually do give in the NICU for babies who’ve been on morphine)).
At rounds the day before Das Baby’s discharge, the team decided he didn’t need a final echocardiogram; he’d been fine, they reasoned, and he could get one in Boston. It was agreed that no one would mention this plan to the PH team.
Later that afternoon, the pod was empty save for me, Das Baby, and his tiny neighbors. I felt the air shift, and there she was. “I like his o2 sats,” she said, leaning over him and looking deep into my eyes. “So he’s doing well on the cannula?”
“Yes,” I managed to sputter, “really well…” The silence was excruciating as she bored into my mind. I cracked. “He’s going home tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Well then he needs a discharge echo! I’ll see to it right away!” And she was gone.
It was the same in Boston; Das Baby’s pulmonologist had planned to follow his PH, but then Das Baby needed hernia surgery, and he had to be cleared by cardiology. And that’s when the PH doctor at Children’s got involved, “I’ll keep following him, if it’s all right with you,” he said. I was too powerless to say no. But actually, he’s lovely, and not at all snakelike. And so far he hasn’t offered Das Baby any street drugs.
The great news is that the PH Doc feels that Das Baby’s PH is likely better; he didn’t even think it was worth doing an echo to find out. Das Baby was his adorable, smiley, wiggly self the whole time we were there, and Doc was impressed with how alert and curious he was, remarking “He doesn’t even look like a preemie; I mean, look at his head shape.” Das Baby showed off his new trick of rolling from side to side, and crumpled up the exam table paper and shoved it in his mouth for good measure (the part that touched the table did not go in his mouth, which obviously would have freaked me out germ wise.)
Speaking of germs, the Doc also said that whatever we’ve been doing to keep Das Baby germ and virus free is clearly working–KNOCK ON WOOD (all of you, right now, KNOCK ON WOOD) and should continue to avoid worsening the PH.
“The paranoia’s paying off?” I said.
“The paranoia’s paying off,” he agreed.
So that means I’m going to continue to demand you wash your hands if you come within a hundred feet of us, and it means we’re going back into full-on sequestration once summer is over. Sad, but worth it. And, it’s a perfect excuse not to do cardio (the fitness kind), because I’ll be stuck in das Haus.
Sofie just might be one of the most divisive issues of our time. If you’re a parent (or at least a parent of a certain socioeconomic bracket), you know who she is. If you’re a normal person, you have no idea what I’m talking about.
Let me bring those of you without kids or an excess of cash up to speed.
This is Sofie.
Everyone I know who has a baby has a Sofie. She’s a required element of yuppie child rearing, even more ubiquitous among this set than a Bugaboo or an Uppababy (we’re totally team Uppababy, btw).
Sofie is the bestselling infant/toddler toy on Amazon.com, where she can be had for $17.32 instead of her retail price of $24. She’s a squeaky rubber giraffe and she costs $24. I wish I had been the one to come up with the idea of marketing dog toys to babies and inflating the price twentyfold.
Now, full disclosure. We have a Sofie (part of an adorable gift from my fabulous former boss, herself a preemie mom to a now wildly successful young woman). The gift also included an adorable preemie outfit and blanket, both of which also featured a giraffe. So Sofie fit right in.
And Das Baby loves Sofie now that he is teething (we think–copious drooling and an uptick in whining suggest either teething or transformation into a dog, inspired perhaps, by playing with a dog toy!). He tries to fit her whole head into his mouth. Maybe he won’t be a vegetarian like his parents. As long as he’s not a Republican (sorry, Republican friends/readers! Yes, that’s right. I have Republican friends).
Call me a bad yuppie mom, but I still don’t get why Sofie is such a thing. How do these marketing geniuses manage to convince us that we must have such things for our children? Do they use mommy guilt? Creepy mommy competitiveness? Is it that Sofie is French? Is the friendly half-smile painted on her face (see above) actually a Svengali mind control stare that makes us think we need her? What will she try to make us do next?
I’ve got my eye on you, Sofie. You’re not going to make me do anything. Unless you can make Das Baby stop crying when he’s teething. In which case I’ll do anything you want. Anything. Except vote Republican…Unless…
Damn, Sofie’s good.
Now doing book reviews is risky, because it implies to the world that I have copious amounts of leisure time, which I assure you, I do not. But one of Das Baby’s special traits is that he still has to eat every three hours, but he also sleeps though the night, leading to something we call Schlaffessen, or sleep eating. So while I sit there holding a bottle (more later on why he has to take breast milk from a bottle) in his mouth at 3 am, I like to read. Still, know that I write this review at personal risk because Herr Husband may use it against me next time I claim I don’t have time to shower.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is one of my favorite books, and it was my favorite book to teach: densely packed with philosophy, teeming with the kind of evocative prose that makes an English teacher go all weak in the knees, and as ambiguous as life itself. The perfect book for young people who are obsessively charting their place in the world. Yes, it’s racist, but 1) Everybody’s a little racist 2) It was written during a racist time (all times being racist, but that’s another story) and 3) Maybe it’s social criticism.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (353 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99) both mirrors and inverts Conrad’s slim masterpiece, inserting women in both the Kurtz and Marlow roles, and centering around a moral core that is both simpler and more life affirming.
Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher whose simple and structured life is upended by a letter from deep in the Brazilian rainforest reporting the death of her lab partner, Anders. Her boss (also her lover, though their attachment and attraction are rather hazy) wants her to go to Brazil to track down the information that Anders sought on the development of a drug that would indefinitely extend female fertility. Anders’s wife wants her to find out the truth about his death. And so Marina, unnervingly passive for much of the novel, finds herself swept along by the currents of others’ desires, eventually traveling upriver through the rainforest to see firsthand the research of Annick Swenson, who functions as a Kurtz-like figure in her uncomfortable moral certainty.
Once at Swenson’s station, Marina finds herself startlingly well-adapted to the life of the fictional Lakashi people. Patchett’s dehumanizing descriptions of these natives echo Conrad’s–the women’s compulsion to groom one another is likened to that of monkeys–and both uphold and critique these attitudes. “‘I tamed them,’ [Dr. Swenson says of the Lakashi], taking not the least discomfort in the word”. Marina, with an Indian father and white American mother, blends in with the Lakashi–who like Conrad’s natives don’t enjoy the benefit of being named for the sake of individualization. Only Marina’s height marks her as different, causing one tourist to remark, “Take my picture with this one…she’s twice the size of the rest of them”. The cringeworthyness of the scene is only slightly diminished by its ham-handed directness.
Patchett’s prose delights, particularly when she’s creating a sense of place. The jungle seethes, and I’ve never before read such brilliant writing about insects: “At dusk the insects came down in a storm, the hard-shelled and soft-sided, the biting and stinging, the chirping and buzzing and droning, every last one unfolded its paper wings and flew with unimaginable velocity into the eyes and mouths and noses of the only three humans they could find”.
But at times the plot shows too much of its undercarriage, relying on convenience and coincidence rather than smoothing down its edges. Annick and Marina’s intertwined past looms too large and too conveniently over the novel. And Patchett is obvious with leitmotif. Blindness and deafness and disabling anomalies abound in the story, and come to feel overdone in showing us how unaware we often are of each other’s motives and feelings. Marina’s lost luggage and cell phones similarly heighten this sense of disconnect.
And yet at its center, State of Wonder, the very title of which echoes Conrad’s novel in its cadence, offers us Wonder rather than Darkness. The characters are achingly human in a way that highlights their (and all of our) yearning to be good. For the novel has heart in the traditional sense, and while some human connections are lost, others are forged, uneasily upending Conrad’s message that “we live as we dream…alone.” For much of the novel, Marina is haunted by malaria-drug induced dreams of isolation and disconnection, but by the novel’s end, she has come to see the possibility for connection, love, and comfort. It is this possibility that lies at the very heart of Patchett’s skillfully rendered novel, making it a worthy read.
So I give it four out of five strollers. Worth taking for a spin.
It’s clear that I’m somewhat ambivalent about die Familie’s move to the suburbs. Having grown up in the suburbs, gone to college in the boonies, and lived in cities for the last eleven
years (DC, New York, Boston, New York), I always swore that I’d be the parent to raise my family in the city, or at least in the kind of town I could pretend was a city (see Brookline, Massachusetts). But bedbugs, Das Baby’s complex arrival, and Brookline real estate prices conspired against me. Plus I wanted a yard and family support, and I didn’t want to have to think about private school from the moment Das Baby was conceived.
My attitudes towards the suburbs come from not so much from my experiences growing up in one (which were largely pleasant), but from the realizations I had after leaving home: diversity makes for vibrant communities, not everyone is exactly like me and that’s a good thing, it’s really nice to be able to buy wine near my house. And then there’s the attitude fostered in urban communities about the suburbs: they’re soul-sucking pits of sameness, split levels, and strip malls.
As part of the heated city vs. suburb debate, Gawker had a piece yesterday about how
“Everyone has always known that living in a bustling metropolis like New York City will make you a psycho, fast. That’s why everyone with the means gets the f*** out as soon as they have kids. They’d feel guilty if they didn’t even give the kids a chanceto be normal, for a while.”
It was a cheeky interpretation of a Nature study that showed how people who live in cities are more sensitive to stress caused by other people. I found the anti-suburban comments the article inspired particularly interesting:
“Sorry, but isn’t it the suburbs that breed serial killers? If you act like a nutjob crazy here in Manhattan, you’ve got 80,000 eyes on you at any given moment, so someone’s bound to notice. The suburbs, and the isolation they foster, scares me way more than this place”
“In your split-level ranch home, no one can hear the screams. “
So now the suburbs aren’t just colossally uncool; they’re also deadly.
Every time I tell someone about Herr Husband’s and my move, I feel like I have to explain myself (baby, priority shifting (gag), bedbugs, etc.). I get defensive of my new community and home: no strip malls in sight, walkable village with a cupcake bar and the best ice cream ever and a really good Indian restaurant, borders Boston on one side (West Roxbury, but still). And our house is a 1929 Cape/Colonial with great detail and built-ins and a fireplace.
We were over at our new house yesterday (we haven’t moved in yet), and as dusk settled, the neighbors were all out and about, popping into each other’s houses and coming to meet us. It was friendly and warm and lovely. Everyone wanted to tell us all about the Fourth of July fireworks and parade, which will be extra big this year because it’s the town’s tricentennial. How charming is that? We met a baby just a few months older than Das Baby who lives across the street (best friend? prom date? arch-nemesis? only time will tell). And our next door neighbor, in a turn of Cleaverish delight, is actually named Ward.
I might point out that this is a vast improvement on our next door neighbor in Brooklyn, who was schizophrenic, which was sad, and made racist comments about our president, which was horrible. Also, his family didn’t treat their bedbug problem, so their bedbugs set up a suburb in our apartment.
But really what I want to say, in a turn of cheesy, is that where you live is about what works for you. And making things work is a choice. I can wax nostalgic for all things Brooklyn, even our nutty neighbor, or I can throw myself into our new community and plan a really sweet Fourth of July cookout. And as for our friends who are slightly horrified by our new digs, I’m sure they’ll come around once we ply them with wine served on our leafy and quiet patio and put them up in the guest room with its own bathroom. Even if the wine has to come from the next town over, because we live in a dry town. Now THAT’S scary.
Well-meaning folks often ask me how my writing is going, in light of the year I’ve just had. If you need an overview of my previous year, click here: My Year in Review.
So yeah, I’ve been kind of busy. Not putting as much work into ye olde book (or showering, or remembering to eat) as I’d like. Although I did manage to complete my final semester of classes for my MFA in creative nonfiction writing at The New School this spring. And I bought a house. And I kept Das Baby alive.
But fear not. I have found some creative outlets. Like song writing. I love to make up songs to sing to Das Baby, and I recommend it as a way to bond with your kid and amuse yourself. The good news is, your baby finds you hilarious no matter what, and it will take him/her a while to discern that you have the vocal range of a frustrated hippopotamus.
My dear cousin (Dear cousin, you know who you are, and if you want a bloggy code name now is the time to suggest one) doesn’t believe in parenting advice because she knows how individual each parent’s experience is. But she did tell me this: “Never, ever play them children’s music, because then you get stuck listening to it. All. The. Time. You can kiss your radio stations (and your sanity) goodbye.” She speaks from experience. The last time I saw her, the Annie soundtrack was blasting from her car. “Hard Knock Life” indeed.
So I’ve made Das Baby some great mixes of songs that I’ve rewritten to be about baby experiences. “Summertime Blues” is “Tummy Time Blues.” “Funkytown” is “Tummytime.” And MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” has the lyric “Stop! Tummy Time!” (We were working on tummy time for quite a while there). And now I’ve broken a mutual promise with my child because we both swore to never, ever tell anyone that the other likes MC Hammer. Sorry, Das Baby.
But, artist that I am, I also write my own material. I’ll leave you with a favorite (click the link to hear a performance):
Where is the burp, where is the burp, where is the burp, my baby?
Where is the burp, where is the burp, where is the burp, my boy?
Is it down, down here?
Is it up, up here?
Is it over on the left?
Is it over on the right?
Is it somewhere in the middle?
Is it all around?
Where is the burp my boy?
Where is the burp my boy?
Where is the burp my boy?
And yes, my boy does oblige by burping at the end of the audio. He is his mother’s son.
Yes, I’m reentering the blogosphere under a new moniker: the Hipster Hausfrau. I know what you’re thinking. If you’re one of my hipster-type Brooklyn friends, it’s: “Leda, you’re not a hipster” (eyeroll behind thick black framed glasses).
If you’re my husband, who’s seen my homemaking skills firsthand, or if you’re one of my suburban stay-at-home-mom-friends (and yes, I’m admittedly still looking for you, so please leave a comment and we can set up a playdate), you’re thinking, “Since when are you a hausfrau?”
But the truth is, I’m a hipster among the hausfrau set (see my large collections of hats and irony), and I’m more hausfrau than any hipster you know, except for maybe the Jello Mistress of Brooklyn, and I think even she has a paying outside the home job (I would also like to be friends with you, Jello Mistress. Playdate next time I’m in Brooklyn?).
Actually, not having a paying job is something that my lives in Brooklyn and the ‘burbs have in common.
I want a place to write about transitioning to ‘burban life (not to be confused with Bourbon life), about parenting (preemie parenting in particular), and about books. Also, about whatever else I want.
You might be an old subscriber to the dearly departed Doubleawk.
There were, like, six of you. Why, you ask, couldn’t you just post at Doubleawk? Well, Doubleawk was urban in tone, and dealt with things like celebrity stalking. That’s not my life anymore. The celebrity I’ve seen most recently is my son’s pediatrician, Dr. John Cloherty. He wrote the Manual of Neonatal Care. I’ve been too shy to ask him to sign my copy. But not too shy to ask nine-million questions about baby poop.
So here goes…