Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Gym of Fabulosity

Going to the pool is a rare occasion these days. With a six-month-old baby at home, I can barely manage to take a shower and dress myself, much less afford the time to go to the local pool.

The pool is a meeting place for many people in our neighborhood, especially for those individuals over sixty-five. They've seen me at the height of my pregnancy, wobbling around the locker room, towel in hand, trying to lower my fat ass gracefully into the pool. They've cheered for me in the pool when I would unintentionally race the macho men who think they can outswim me. For the record, I am a fish.

On the rare day I find time to go, I always choose to go in the afternoon, when the morning and evening crowds can't get in the way of my serene unwinding. The other day, however, I felt as though someone intentionally threw a couple of crazies my way.

Instead of the calm, light crowd I had grown used to, there were suddenly four people in each lane, all vying for time to swim. I had come at the worst possible time, but it was too late to go back. Jumping into the pool, I join three men who are also in the FAST lane. They look at me suspiciously as if a small asian woman couldn't possibly dare to join their rank. I lower my goggles and pass all but one of them. Never underestimate a woman by her size.

After thirty minutes, I leave the pool and the competitive men, and head over to the shower. This is a community center so I forego the luxury of a private shower stall in order to go to this gym for fifteen dollars a month.

I wish people knew that talking in the shower may not be the most comfortable situation for most people. Some women, however, talk as if they're fully clothed, sunbathing on a lawn. While shampooing my hair, I hear a strong Irish accent. (FYI: Woodside is filled with Irish and Korean immigrants. They don't have much in common except for their love of drinking. Enough said).

'You lactating?'
'Excuse me?'
'Oh, I recognize you from before. Looks like your chest is full.'
'Uh, yeah. I am.
'How old's the baby?'
'Six months.'
'That's it. I haven't seen you in ages.'
'Yeah, I've been busy. Breastfeeding's a full time job. I'm either feeding or pumping.'
'Oh, I believe it. I remember those days.' She continues scrubbing every part of her body and, five minutes later, resumes the conversation.

'You don't mind me asking you a question, do you?'
'No...' Where is she heading with this? I thought.
'You said you have a lot of milk, right?'
'Yeah.' Seriously, what is this woman talking about?
'Mind if I ask you for some?.... For my son?'
' old is your son?'
'Oh, he's six.'
'Same age as Adelle.'
'No girlie, he's six-years-old.'
What the $%^&!!
'When I know a lactating woman, I always ask for some milk. Very good for kids, ya know.'
'Do you feed it in a bottle?'
', don't be silly.' She's calling ME silly??
'I put it in a cup. Sometimes hot cocoa or I sneak it in his mac and cheese.'
Her kid is going to be soooooo scarred.
'Well, if you get a chance, I'd appreciate any for him. He's always a little sickly in the winter.'
I nod, not knowing what to say. She doesn't seem flustered at all.
Vigorously scrubbing her face, she says, 'Just leave it at the front desk if you don't see me.'
Now she's taken it too far. She wants me to bring my pina-colada colored frozen breastmilk to the gym and leave it with the guys at the front desk. I can just imagine their reaction, 'Uh...okay. I'll just put it here next to the donuts.'

The woman wrings her hair, tosses me a smile, and leaves the room. I close my eyes, relieved not to be talking about donating my breastmilk to a first-grader. A few seconds later, I hear a weird crunching noise. The woman next to me, (my sister nicknamed her 'shark' because of the way she swims; hands cutting the water like fins) is eating, of all things, a tomato! Water streaming down her entire body, she is chomping into a large, unripe tomato.

She catches my eye and asks me if I've eaten lunch. I nod. She says that she's starving and holds up her tomato. I'm surprised she didn't ask me if I wanted a bite. Maybe she had some mozzarella in her soap case.

Eating should be prohibited in the communal shower. Imploring people for breastmilk should also be a no-no. But I guess for fifteen bucks a month, you can't really expect much.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For Natasha Richardson and My Mother

I dreamt about Natasha Richardson last night. Alex told me that she died yesterday and my heart ached for her family, so much so that these anxieties and compassion invaded my subconscious.

She was the exact age my mother was when she died in a freak accident. Forty-five is too young to die. Kids barely grown, your life is ahead of you, you've come to that comfortable place where you know who you are, where life should get somewhat easier, more rewarding. It should not abruptly end in a random, meaningless accident.

And so, my heart aches for her children, her husband, her mother, and everyone else around her who feel the impact of her death, her loss, her love and her life.

I'm sitting here writing, trying to stay stealthily quiet as my husband and baby sleep in the next room. There exists, for me, a new vulnerability as I cannot imagine my life without these two people. Tragedies like the one the Neesons face force us to remember how fragile life hangs, how our hearts float in a tender space between tragedy and loss. In that hollow of wholeness, lies our peace and our happiness, but it is threatened by the unpredictable, the many permutations of chance that could crush our present bliss.

A year after my accident, I decided that I would take chances, live life to the fullest because I was acutely aware of life's fickleness. I went to England, studied, made friends, traveled around the world, moved to New York on a whim, starting writing a book, fell in and out of love with someone in Paris, worked in the lives random families, and finally met my true partner, a man with whom I can finally trust to catch me when I'm down.

Having a baby completely changed my spirit for adventure. There is a caution I feel, heavy against my heart, that prevents me from going on the same excursions and living as whimsically as I did before. It is now, that I realize how I have not completely gotten over my mother's death. The thought of losing someone else I love just about kills me.

I am slowly starting to trust more in Alex, in myself, in God, but there are moments like these, when the world feels senseless and my heart feels burdened, that I have a hard time accepting the axom; 'everything happens for a reason.' Sometimes, it feels as though there is no reason good enough to lose someone who shaped your life.

Here is a poem by Rilke that I have put in a chapter of my book;

Roads leading nowhere
between two meadows,
as if detoured from their
end by design,

roads that often have
nothing to face
but the season
and pure space.

Originally written in French, the words don't have the same power that they do in their original state. However, it conveys exactly what I think about random tragedies. Nothing makes sense and nothing appears as though it has a design, but time forces us to deal with what comes ahead, the 'season and pure space' of life. I pray for Liam Neeson, his boys, and their family and friends, on getting through that next bit of road.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Playgrounds and Playdates

It was sixty degrees a couple weeks back, a record high this blistery cold winter. Everyone came out to don their latest hoochie outfit or new toy. Cars, skateboards, strollers roamed the streets while pedestrians leisurely walked in the midday sun.

Adelle was in a fairly good mood (i.e. not-screaming-her-head-off) and we decided to venture outside. Most of the time, we cloister ourselves in our 600 sq ft apt so we protect her from the elements, or more accurately, protect others from her incessant fussiness.

We could see the hoards of kids with their look-alike parents swarming the playground. Alex steered the stroller to the benches where other parents with babies were hanging out. There was an immediate 'checking out' when we approached our designated bench. Parents were scoping us out as we plopped ourselves down on an empty bench. The playground, I realize, is just as much a place for parents to socialize as their kids.

I felt like I was on a first date. As Alex undressed Adelle from her Siberian outfit, a woman with reddish colored hair smiled at me. It almost made me blush. She picked up her baby's arm and waved it at me. I felt vulnerable without any chubby arm to grab so I feebly waved back. Her husband also smiled but his was far less charming.

As I walked around with Adelle, I noticed that parents were checking us out. Call me paranoid, but I am certain that they were sizing us up as possible companions. The red head finally came our way and introduced herself. 'I'm Donna. This is Seth,' she says as she forces her kid to say hello. The kid is a cutie. Red haired like his mother, he dashes a smile toward Adelle. She looks back at him with disinterest and looks the other way. It's already begun...our little heartbreaker.

The little baby boy keeps looking at her, vying for her attention by moving his arms around, trying to touch Adelle. She just holds onto me tighter. Perhaps she's intimidated by his bib, 'Let's do lunch. It's on me.'

Meanwhile, Donna coos at Claire. 'Oooooh, you're so cute. Yes you are. Sooo cute.' Then in human speak, she addresses me, 'Yes, your daughter really is beautiful.' This is not the first time someone has said this to me. Of course, I'm biased; she has my DNA and every parent thinks their child is da shiiiiit. How else would you explain the Jean Bonnets of this world? To her credit, Adelle is stunning. She has almond shaped blue-gray eyes, dark hair, and pouty lips. She draws more attention than anything I have ever made or done in my entire life. out!

I know Donna is waiting for a reciprocal comment, but I've always been a very bad liar. (Lying to my mother about eating donuts with powdered sugar on my nose, circa 1985) Her baby looked disproportionately huge. He looked like the baby version of the MAD comic book kid, except ginormous. He was charming, but not a stud by any means. Looking for my response, I spew out the first thing that comes to mind, 'You baby has long eyelashes.'

Donna doesn't seem too pleased, but she continues the conversation. She gives us advice on preschools and toys ('Oh, you must get the exersaucer!) and shudders when we mention that we bought a walker for Adelle. 'Oh, you should return that. They're terrible. I read they delay walking and besides, they're really dangerous.' She might as well have pointed her fingers and said, 'Baaad parents' while slapping our wrists.

Yes, I've read that they're not the safest, but considering that we live in a small apartment, the size of some people's closets, Adelle has little room to bump into anything. Besides we're on her like hawks, monitoring her every move with our peripheral first-child-paranoia vision.

As for her other concern....Adelle is going to walk sooner than later. The girl could lift up her head at birth and bear her weight on her legs by three months. She's like her papa. I, on the other hand, didn't walk till I was almost a year and a half. According to my mom, I was afraid and lazy, like my dad who didn't run till he was five. The first male grandchild to a family with five girls, he was pampered beyond belief.

Adelle looks around, staring at the other babies and burrows her head into my chest. Meanwhile Harry, Donna's husband, suggests that we met up again in the park. Alex looks at me in our unique couples' speak and I know that we are NEVER meeting up with them. Harry looks like my dad and his techie job doesn't score huge interest points with Alex.

I had better luck with Adelle at her first playdate. My friends Nina and Emma had two babies around the same time. Actually, they were born two weeks of each other. I decided that it was time they meet. We live in Woodside which is in Queens, which feels like it is about a million miles from Manhattan. Raining that day, we decided to rent a Zipcar and drive into the city. Our nearest Zipcar location is a couple train stops away so it is not as convenient as it sounds. The trains were messed up, (when are they not?) and we ended arriving late. With a baby, this is more often than not.

Adelle loves the car. I wish we had a car just to put her to sleep. When we finally arrive, she looks at the new babies and mothers with curiosity. She hasn't quite gotten to the point where she understands that there are other tiny human beings out there.

These babies are about twice the size of 'dainty' Adelle. They are supercute, with rolls and creases, dimples where babies should have dimples. Adelle looks like a lanky version of these healthy kids. She gets it from her daddy.

I need to take off my jacket so I hand her over to my friend. Adelle immediately looks at me with anxiety, but doesn't start screaming until I pick up Harry. My goodness! The girl can belt. I was perversely touched that she cried, a sign that she knows who her mama is.

She looked at her fellow babies and kept looking back at me as if to ask, 'What universe is this? There are other babylings out there like me?' Perhaps it was too much to take in for one week. She suddenly went from a world with giants to a world where there are others out there like her. She was good for the most part. She only cried at the end when she was hungry and tired, something she would have done at home anyway.

I should take her out more. It's hard when you feel it's too cold, or when you need to rent a car to see friends. Maybe I should just hold her in front of the mirror in different outfits and pretend that she's seeing her friends; babies that smile when she smiles, that laugh when she laughs. Or better yet, maybe I need to overcome my extreme paranoia about germs on the subway, my laziness at getting her dressed and out the door, and fear that she will scream the entire time we're out.

Adelle taught me an important lesson this week. I don't need to protect her in bubble wrap and wipe every surface that she touches. Babies are bound to get exposed and contaminated. They are expected to puke, pee, poop on themselves and their parents. I guess the hardest thing about being a parent, even at this age, is learning how to let go.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adult Assholes

I think it was Samantha from Sex and the City who said that children are little assholes. At the time, there was a screaming baby in the restaurant where the fab four gab about men, sex, and love. 

I agree with this sentiment to some extent. Children are practicing what comes naturally to them, screaming for what they want, which is interpreted as asshole behavior. My mother once told me something I will never forget. 'Ninety-nine percent of the time, you are great. Really fun. The other one percent, you are an asshole.' I think I was eleven when she said this. 

I could buffer my mum's statement by saying that she was an immigrant, that she didn't understand the complete connotations of the word asshole, but then, I'd be lying. She knew exactly what it meant; not the anal aperture one associates with going number two, but that whiny, rude, inconsiderate, and sometimes, plain evil person that roams the society, looking to create havoc on the lives of others. 

So, yes, I understand Samantha. Crying, whining children are annoying. Some of them probably exhibit real asshole personas, especially when they don't get their way. However, most children, like people, deserve a little compassion. It's difficult to communicate when you're an adult at times. Imagine being two, barely able to speak, and getting frustrated with the idiots around you who try to pacify you by doing the exact wrong thing; changing a diaper instead of feeding, feeding instead of hugging, hugging instead of.....and the list goes on. It's hard to ask for things even when you have the words, much more so when you can't even form a complete sentence. 

Most children I encounter are pretty rad individuals. Without fully understanding rejection, many of them launch into conversations with complete strangers, ready to show them their new toys, favorite words, and weird body tricks. They fascinate me and not just because I'm a parent, but because they truly don't have many of the anxieties that plague adults. 

Yes, some of them are truly annoying, but looking at how their parents react, I can't blame them. During an outing to the local supermarket when I was seven, I remember seeing a mother hit her child on the head for grabbing a pack of gum. Kids grab! That's what they do. It's an instinct. This mother just lost it. 'You fucking little piece of shit. I told you not to do that.' Okay, mama! We all get it. The kid disobeyed you, but what about speech instead of a smack? We're not animals. We can communicate without gruff physical gestures. 

This blog entry was inspired by an article I read in the times. It's about a man who travels with his infant and his tips on how to cope with the ordeal. I blogged about it before, but he did have some helpful suggestions. The comments to his article were unbelievable. Adults stating that children should never travel. In his words, 'Society expects you to be considerate and refrain from bringing your child to certain places at certain times...If you can't live with those inconveniences, please don't have babies.' Okay, asshole, we get the point. You don't want babies near you at dinner at a nice restaurant, but what about Denny's or the local diner? We can't cloister ourselves in our cramped-ass apartments to satisfy your need for peace. YOU should be the one to stay home. Another jerk wrote, 'If being a parent is the culmination of your lifelong desires, just do the rest of us a favor and stay home to enjoy it.' First off, parenthood happens. It's not always planned and it doesn't necessary have to be the culmination of anything other than unprotected sex. I'm not saying parenthood isn't great, but it doesn't have to completely define you. People can be both an artist and animal advocate, so why are parents forced to just be parents? His logic errs. In his universe, only people that fit his bill should be allowed to partake in society. If that isn't selfish, I don't know what is. 

The point of this entire diatribe is that children are assholes (often) because they don't know any better. Adults don't have any excuse. Living in a society means cooperating with others, whether or not they are five or fifty. There are more perils than a child in a public space. Perhaps looking outside one's own comfort zone would ensure that adults have a better perspective about what really matters. Why are people bullying little children and their parents when there are much bigger fish to fry? It doesn't make sense. But I guess that is the number one rule of asshole behavior; nothing that comes out of their mouths ever makes much sense.