The Simple 3

Sometimes I think my heart is going to explode

I’ve stopped reading how-to baby books, mostly because they don’t seem to have anything to do with the baby I actually have and also because my brother casually pointed out one day that the people who write baby books are probably the same kind of people who write relationship books.

I don’t know why that never occurred to me.

I hate relationship books. Trust me, I get that every relationship requires some amount of nurturing, and I definitely believe that we can all benefit from sifting through outside opinions now and then. But there’s something so… goopy about relationship books. I can’t help it. They gross me right out. All those ugly stereotypes about the way men/women think and relate. All that fear-mongering about how your husband will leave you if you don’t “take care of yourself” physically and all the jolly, nudge-wink sexism.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Baby books are a whole different kind of unrealistic, but it’s still there, and it was still depressing me. The only one I’m still chewing my way through isn’t so much about babies as it is about mothering. Not how to get your baby to sleep through the night by three months and save the world by six, but how to thrive personally despite the challenging times. I can handle that.

One of the chapters was about simplifying your scope, paring down the subconscious or half-conscious list of goals for yourself and identifying the ones most likely to actually make you happy. She said to limit the list to 3. Just 3 simple goals. Everything else needs to go.

It was a good exercise for me, because even though I rarely admit to having an ambition problem, I do keep a huge personal list for myself. Nothing is ever quite enough, and I am always trying to squeeze in one or two more things. So getting it down to three feels confusingly bare. Also incredibly relieving.

I’ve been using this list for the last few days, and it’s been good. It’s nice to feel good about mac’n’cheese for dinner and still carrying those 10 pounds of baby weight for a change. I’ll get to those things, but right now I’m focusing on my top 3 priorities, and I’m actually pretty awesome at them. Who knew it was so easy to get everything done, when everything is really only three things.

#1. Enjoy Iris.

I don’t worry about the necessary bits. There’s not one slice of a percent that I’m not going to be there to feed her, change her diapers, walk her to sleep, or punch the first person who fails to see her total wit and beauty.

Those are givens.

My goal is simply to enjoy her more. The quizzical eyebrows. The way her mouth holds in a firm O when she falls asleep nursing and all the milk dribbles out. The big eyes, drumstick thighs, and sticky fingers.

Even the neck jam.

I don’t kid myself about enjoying the fifth time she wakes up at night crying, but when I do finally wake up and it’s morning and I see her perfect, tranquil sleeping face next to mine—that is totally worth enjoying. And I do. Thoroughly.

#2. Spend time with just Carl.

It’s easy to get overly complicated when it comes to marriage. The truth is, we don’t need to work on our relationship. We just need to have one. When we spend time together, everything else is easy.

So the little goals can all go.

Asleep in her crib by 8pm is a nice ideal, but bouncing in the arms of a babysitter is a perfectly fine reality. When I stop trying to orchestrate perfection and just focus on the underlying priority, life is a whole lot easier.

#3. Take care of myself.

This doesn’t go over well with the martyr types, but the most memorable advice I ever got about motherhood was from a plaque. (Cheesy, I know).

If you love your children, take care of their mother.

Simple, but profound. As much as I love Iris, and as much as I want to be the perfect mom for her—loving, cheerful, consistent, fun—I can’t manufacture energy out of thin air. When I’m grouchy, I exude grouchiness. I can beat myself up for being that way, but I can’t really change it.

Bricks without straw, people. Always a poor idea.

Now, there are no hard and fast rules about this. Sometimes taking care of myself means going for that early morning jog or cooking a fantastic dinner, and sometimes it means stuffing the scales at the very back of the closet and asking Carl to pick up fast food. The only thing I really have to do is check in with myself regularly and stop feeling guilty about choosing to do the things that make me feel good (I can hear those puritan jaws dropping from here).

What it means today is that I’m spending Iris’s nap time blogging and ordering prints for her baby book instead of writing that article or doing the dishes. And you know what’s even better? I don’t even feel (that) badly about it.

I know.

Wild and crazy times.

Also weirdly relaxing.


Weekends of Memory

Hope you all had a long weekend full of somber, military-style thoughts!

Just kidding. Hope you had at least one or two—if you’re American, anyway—and a happy weekend regardless of nationality. (I think that’s the most awkwardly PC thing I’ve ever written, in case you’re keeping track).


I hope you had fun. We sure did.

Although it didn’t really look promising for a bit there. I think it was about 7am on Saturday when I handed a squirming, half-asleep baby to Carl and wished him joy before bolting to the car with my pillow and blanket. Yes. You read that correctly. I totally slept in the car like a homeless woman for two hours AND IT WAS AMAZING.

Iris had been on this cool wake-every-hour plan for a few days, and it was kicking my butt. Actually, it was more like having my face kicked in. Same bloodshot eyes, same headache. She has never been a “good” sleeper (not unlike someone with whom she shares a surprising amount of DNA), but waking up 5-8 times every night seemed a bit excessive even by crazy person standards.

I was making breakfast a few hours later when my mom called and asked what we were doing for the weekend. Nothing much, I said, relating my sleep woes. Oh, I recalled. We did have a bunch of Carl’s coworkers coming over for a cookout on Monday evening.

My mother pointed out that I was insane, reiterated her invitation for us to come up to GR for a few days some time in the next few weeks so she could help out with Iris and I could catch up on sleep, and hung up before my bacon burned.

Carl and I conferred.

I took him to work, packed our bags, and by 6:30pm we were zooming across the state, Carl repeatedly talking me down from my 85mph autopilot. Iris, bless her tiny heart, slept the whole way.

It was a magical 30-some hours. We slept in, went for long walks (even Carl!) and stared out windows full of green. We made a baby-free pilgrimage to Starbucks, watched a movie, and ate meals with both hands. My dad helped out with bath time, my mom snapped photos, they both played with her and worked hard for those gummy grins. Just a nice, summery weekend with the fam. I don’t know much about parenting, but I do know that it helps to have grandparents all lined up before you embark on the whole parenting thing.

Much refreshed, we zipped back to Plymouth on Monday, just in time to throw together a few pies and get the house in order before the party. It was crazy hot in our no-air house with 90+ degree weather, but nobody died and everybody seemed to have a good time.

The weather has cooled off now, and I’m savoring a house still clean from all the tidying we did before the party. Iris had two stretches of 3 hour sleep last night. Carl hung out with her this morning while I went for a jog.

And best of all, my dad has a meeting at a hospital two miles from our house today. Which means my mom is coming to hang out with me. I have chicken defrosting for a chicken/spinach/artichoke pizza tonight.

Things are looking up.


A mother duck hustling her brood up the driveway. Frozen drinks. Fuchsia colored peonies. A sleeping baby in her carseat…

These are the things that make my weekdays ok.

On our busiest days, Iris and I spend a lot of time in the car. We take Carl to work at 10. We might stop on the way home to pick up whatever random thing we need that somehow didn’t make it onto last week’s shopping list. If I’m lucky, Iris falls asleep in her carseat and her morning nap runs long enough for me to park her in the living room and put away the laundry or wash a few dishes. She barely has time to wake up and eat before we have to zip out to shuttle Carl from work to his PT, where his appointments are now so long and intensive that it no longer makes sense to wait in the parking lot. We drive home. I eat. We pick up Carl and take him back to work. It’s mid afternoon now, and I’m wiped. Having napped so long earlier, Iris isn’t very interested in napping now. It’s also almost 90 degrees. I strip her down to her diaper, turn on the fan, and lie next to her on the floor, pretending that she’ll go to sleep anyway. She gurgles and kicks me gleefully. When hunger kicks in we enter this weird twilight zone of nursing and dozing that lasts until Carl texts to say he’s ready to be picked up, and I’m not quite sure whether or not I slept but I must have slept because it’s now too late to set out that steak to defrost, so I’m going to have to improvise something else for dinner when we get home.

Busy and not busy. My body is moving, working, sustaining life at all times, but my mindscape is wide open—if a bit foggy from lack of sleep. I think a lot. I process.

It’s good.

Although I think I’m going to punch the next person who tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” If I did that we would both be roadkill.

Ants & other Small Matters

I didn’t kill an ant today.

It dropped out of some peonies I gathered this morning, the armload of white and ruffled blooms fresh from the garden’s morning sunbath. It seemed a shame to waste the flowers, since Carl is too unsteady to risk the crumbling steps out back and Iris too fidgety to enjoy sitting out on the lawn with me.

I brought them inside and trimmed the stems and arranged the blooms in a square, shallow glass bowl that I set on the center of the table. Iris being asleep, I decided to do a little writing, enjoying the sweet, heavy scent of the flowers at the same time.

And then an ant dropped out.

I don’t go looking for insects to kill, but I generally do kill the ones I find in the house. Spiders, ants, earwigs. I know they all have a part to play in the great circle of life, but I have never been fond of the living room floor as wild savannah motif. I don’t want to think of them hiding out in the closet, scuttling up the sleeve of the sweater I’m about to put on.

So I dashed to the living room for a tissue, came back, and… laughed.

The ant was standing about three inches from the flower bowl, tense and poised, his tiny antennae going up and down like a kung fu fighter raising and lowering his guard. Then he made a dash for the edge of the table. Scooted out to the very edge. Flicked a leg down the side, and pulled it back to safety. A no go. Went scouting the other way.

Poor ant! Just a worker, doing his job among the arced ruffles of the peony blooms. He didn’t ask to be on a flower that got cut. He didn’t know he was In My House. Frankly the notion of a house this size would be incomprehensible to an ant… assuming ants comprehend.

Of course, now that I’d actually gotten a good look at him, imagined his life and the confusion of having one’s work environment suddenly transplanted to a foreign country and laughed at his kung fu cuteness, killing him was totally out of the question.

So I didn’t.

I put him outside, feeling a bit sad that having lost his own trail he would probably never find his way home. Odysseus, I thought, trying to make his prospects seem less mournful—or at least bring some gravity to the moment.

I liked that ant, and the more I thought about him the more I liked him.

… Coming back to this post a few days later, still ruminating on my Facebook encounter with the feminism-hating pastor, I like the ant even more.

It’s so easy to get caught up in killing the things you’re brought up to kill.

It’s easy not to think in general. To imagine that the boundaries you live by are a universal standard for all of life, and to see the lives and pursuits of others as being rather small, insignificant—even “cute”—compared to the obvious importance of your own… what? blogging?

I appreciate that ant.

I need more of those moments.


Thou Annointest My Head with EVOO

Iris has cradle cap—a mild case, it’s true, but enough of the little scalies that I decided it was time to act. The scales first appeared as a minor dusting on her forehead. Dry skin, I thought, rubbing a little unscented baby lotion in. They never turned into that awful crusty stuff some babies get (knock on wood), but they were definitely THERE. And they seemed to be spreading.

I tried a tiny smidge of dandruff shampoo, which only seemed to result in the entire top of her scalp turning into one of those dry riverbeds you see in artsy photo mags, cracked tiles of flakiness.

I googled. I talked to her pediatrician. I solicited for remedies from friends.

Olive oil was the only unanimous answer.

Which sounded like crazy talk, so I kept searching but nothing popped up with the same regularity as a little squeeze of extra virgin olive oil. The acreage on her scalp was increasing by the day, so I finally gave in (although I resisted the urge to paste it on with a pastry brush). Just a few generous dabs with my fingers, let her sit in her bouncy seat for ten minutes or so while I did the dishes, and then into the bath. It was all very biblical.

And you know what? IT WORKED!

For like three whole days. I just noticed yesterday that the scaling is coming back, although in more limited areas. She’s about due for another bath, so we might give it a try again. But I’m not sure I’m up for weekly olive oil dousings. I guess it’s better than the scalies. Truly, parenthood is an exercise in least-worst-choice scenarios.

At least she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s the Esther Williams of three month olds, grinning and wiggling in the tub.

Cute, cute stuff.

One More for the Files

Well, it’s official: I have now unfriended every pastor on my Facebook friends list.

This is both true and highly overblown, as I only ever had 2 pastor friends on Facebook. I unfriended the first last year after some incredibly unsavory remarks about Mexican immigrants in a discussion he proctored on his wall (remarks I occasionally still think about when I look at my one-quarter Mexican daughter), and I unfriended my second this morning.

We had one of those unproductive and irritating exchanges yesterday—the kind that gets deleted after a few hours, leaving people scratching their heads at all the response posts that remain, responding heatedly to empty space. Wavering between amusement and irritation, I posted my own status update:

I used to be astonished by the number of misinformed and antagonistic people there are in the world. Then I realized I was a feminist Christian.

The pastor immediately commented below: Or maybe we just disagree [smilie].

I love a good difference-of-opinion caveat, and I’m being totally sincere about that. I appreciate it when people can see past their own opinions enough to grant that others might view things differently. I love the step back and deep breath approach to touchy subjects, and mostly I like the idea of getting on with life and allowing other people to do the same.

Unfortunately, the difference of opinion move comes with a few requirements.

Actually…. just one: you have to be discussing opinions. It’s hard to have a difference of opinion about a basic fact.

Yesterday, my pastor ex-friend posted a link to a CNN article and wrote a long couple of paragraphs about feminism including the real humdinger: “To the modern feminist, the pinnacle of womanly achievement is the ability to abort your baby and free birth control.”

Since I couldn’t think of a single feminist who would affirm that statement, I capped this fascinating quote and asked what feminists he had read that led him to this conclusion.

His response: I would reverse that question: what feminists have you read that would NOT lead you to this conclusion?

And then things got ugly, because I told him about the books I’d been reading and he never did give me a title of any books he’d been reading or how he came to his conclusion. Feminism can never offer the freedom of Christ! He said. I agree! I said, but it’s a bit like calling your auto mechanic a failure because you’ll never love him as much as you love your kids. You can’t fault it for failing to deliver something it never offered. Feminism is a tool, not a religion.

The closest I ever got to an explanation for his view of feminism was that all feminists agree that reproductive rights are important (which, by the way, is somewhat different from abortion) and Antonia Senior’s quote that the two concepts “cannot be separated.”

Just because two concepts cannot be separated doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable, I said, trying to find an explanation that might mean something to him. You can’t separate the idea of Christianity from the idea of hell, but that doesn’t mean that the ultimate expression of Christianity IS hell.

(For the record, I do realize there are Christians who do not believe in hell. In the same way, there are also feminists who do not believe that abortion is morally acceptable. We were talking about the mainstreams of both movements).

Anyway. That’s about the time I stopped talking to him, posted my own irritated status update, and went to make dinner (steak with cauliflower and Brussels sprout gratin, because Carl has always claimed that he HATES Brussels sprouts, which of course can only be viewed as a personal challenge. Ladies and gentlemen: he liked the gratin. It had a full cup of cream and a full cup of parmesan, but I wanted to start with something at the outer limit of Brussels territory. We can titrate back from there).

And then I saw the pastor’s comment. Or maybe we just disagree [smilie].


No. I’m sorry. That just isn’t going to work for me anymore. Because this isn’t personal, this isn’t some fine distinction between friends. This is you, living in a fantasy world where it apparently makes sense that some guy who dislikes feminism has the right to decide what it means to be feminist. That’s so mind numbingly stupid, I just can’t waste my brain cells with it any more.

One more quote for the files….

I’m not sure why I tend to catalogue all the ridiculous [hateful] statements I come across. I think I started doing it to convince myself the sexism was real, because I felt my way to feminism pretty blindly, growing up in an environment that vehemently denied male privilege (letters requesting funds from my alma mater now call me Mrs. Carl Johnson on the envelope and misspell my name inside, which I take as a passive aggressive reminder that I have NEVER donated). I’ve long since convinced myself, but I keep storing the comments away, imagining they’ll be useful someday. Maybe for writing. Maybe for understanding.

In the mean time, I unfriend. My own private protest against people who abuse their spiritual authority to slander people and movements they have never bothered to understand. Whether that serves any useful purpose is actually a matter of personal opinion.

You are free to disagree with me on that one.

Our First

Yesterday, while we were nursing, Iris stopped out of the blue. Looking up at me intently, she said goo. Then she said it again. Each time with great deliberation, like a four-year-old lining up sand shells at the beach. Or a gambler with a full house. Goo. Goo. Goo.

Goo, I said, smiling back at her.

Goo, she said.

We said it to each other for a minute or so and then, with a funny little smile all to herself, she went back to eating her lunch.

I think we just had our first conversation.