Fine, Loverboy, I’ll Work for the Stupid Weekend

Joanie is napping. I’ve just finished half the dishes, filled the slow-cooker, put the groceries away and found the first few minutes I’ve had to write this blog (with the exception of Friday night’s Grey’s Anatomy hour), in months. I took a hiatus from my weekly posts when I started working full-time in order to ease back into my usual overly ambitious list of projects. It seems fitting that my first post back should be about going back to work.

My intention was never to be a stay-at-home mom, but I did want to relish the first few month’s of my daughter’s life and to be physically present for as much of that time as I could. At least that was the way I approached the prospect of maternity leave during my pregnancy. After four long months of preventative leave and two months of maternity leave, I felt the walls absorb me as they did that poor woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall Paper.” Okay maybe not to the extent that. No one was oppressing me, but I was feeling terribly anxious. To combat the cabin fever I picked up two shifts at a restaurant. Twice a week I’d serve brunch, meet new people, wax baby with other young couples, and make a little cash to help support my family. The walk to work was my favourite part; ten brief minutes under the early morning sun, with no one around, no crying, no chatting, not even another pedestrian. It was magical. Then winter came and the stroll became a trudge, so nuts to that.

When Joanie was four months old, a spot opened up at the daycare. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let her go, but there was a time limit on the offer, and, as you’ll note in previous posts, it ended up being the right decision. Any job prospects I had weren’t due to start for a few months, so apart from my shifts at the restaurant I was suddenly flush with time, beautiful, luxurious to the point of naughtiness time, time which I used to tidy my apartment, write short stories, prepare lavish meals, and read the first three volumes of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This was magical too.

Then January happened. I picked up four more shifts, then quickly changed to a new job, overlapped the two positions for about a week and watched the tidiness of our home erode and the vibrant green of my houseplants turn to a crispy brown. I now write in short unproductive spurts, have abandoned the dream of a clean sink, and order pizza more often then I should.

I can deal with a chaotic life. A woman at the daycare recently said to me, “It’s amazing what the human body can put up with.” I repeat that phrase in my head a lot, usually when I’m pushing a baby carriage through six inches of snow and stifling all sorts of horrible words. It helps me stay proud of what I’m doing and of all the good things I’m able to manage, even when so much is left unattended. The one thing it doesn’t ease, the one thing I can’t deal with, is the amount of time I spend away from my daughter. Today is the first day in months that I’ve spent a full day with my daughter. We woke up, drank some milk in bed, read some books, folded and unfolded the laundry and played with blocks. It’s been the best day I’ve had in ages and I wish it would last for several more, but I have to work tomorrow. Joanie will go to daycare. I will rush home from work to pick her up, push that damn buggy through a blizzard, and make it home with just enough time to shove dinner into her face, sing a couple Journey songs in the bath tub and put her to sleep.

I finally understand that stupid Loverboy song.

Note: All this is to say that I will now be posting every other week. Sorry for the long winded explanation.

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If not a saucy baby, than…

Before I had one of my own to deal with, I’d never thought much about baby personalities. The idea had always been abstract. Babies were babies, akin to dogs in my mind. I was that person at dinner parties interjecting with stories of how silly, smart, dirty my dog can be. Babies were flat cartoons of themselves doing baby things like pooping and mimicking cuss words at inappropriate times.

Even now, after socializing primarily with an infant for seven months, I’m finding it difficult to grasp the concept of baby personality. There’s a thin line between what I perceive to be a trait and that which I have projected onto her, rendering her a white canvas. Of course her life has been short and she has little experience to draw upon, but Joanie is definitely not blank. There are specific tendencies she displays that are undeniable, despite my skepticism on the subject.

Joanie is first and foremost a sociable baby. She’s fascinated by faces and comfortable in anyone’s arms. Usually she’s very sweet, except for earlier this week when she grabbed another baby by the cheek and wouldn’t let go. I’m sure she meant it as a gesture of friendship, or at least an exploration into the world of other humans. Her caregiver couldn’t discipline for this act because Joanie did it with her big toothless smile, the very same that has won her the title of Favourite Baby at Daycare. Which leads me to her second trait: Joanie is cheerful, ecstatically so. When the other babies start to cry, following each other’s cue until they reach a crescendo of wails, Joanie remains smiling if not slightly confused. “Why are all you dummies crying,” she seems to say. They, those that wrote the ubiquitous baby manual, say one shouldn’t compare babies, but how else will I know which characteristics are specific to my daughter and which are just general baby qualities.

Joanie’s personality isn’t the only one I’ve noticed. There’s Shane and his excitable hops. There’s Tare, always striking a pose. I like to call her saucy baby. And there’s Siobhan, who screams when the attention is shifted from her, little narcissist that she is. Can a baby be a narcissist? Aren’t all babies narcissists? Is it narcissistic to call a baby a narcissist?

As for being blank, Joanie is anything but. She has her father’s scowl, her mother’s evening grumpiness, and her own urge to stand up and dance. Though I’d like to think I can shape her, and I’m not discrediting the value and efficacy of nurturing, my daughter’s personality will develop on its own. It’s odd, if not unsettling, that I have to remind myself that babies are little humans with agency, rolling, crawling or walking through the experience that will determine who they become.

Joanie is not a dog. I’m not imagining her smile, but I can’t presume to know why it’s there.

Everything I don’t Know About Boys and All the New French Words I’ve Learned

To hear a full grown woman with a medical degree ask another full grown woman how many “pee-pees” and “ka-kas” she has a day is off-putting. I asked a Francophone and translator friend of mine about this and she said it’s a common French idiom, at least in Quebec. I don’t care how common it is. It’s infantilizing and it makes me uncomfortable.

While on the subject, my friend and I discussed another word, one I have just recently learned: zi-zi, meaning penis. It is similar in tone to the way a child might say wee-wee, but more widely used. I first heard it in a conversation between two of Joanie’s caregivers at daycare, Lise and Esfir.

(I’ve translated their conversation because my French grammar is hopeless.)

Lise: Why is Lawrence wet?

Esfir: He is not. Is he?

Lise: He is. Touch his leg.

Esfir: (With her thumb and index finger around Lawrence fat baby thigh) Eh? It makes no sense I just changes him.

Lise: (Taking Lawrence to the change table. Bursting with laughter after removing the diaper) Esfir, Esfir, comes see. You put his zi-zi to the side and he peed out the leg hole.

Two things strike me about this exchange. One: adults can call a penis zi-zi in conversation with each other and apparently it’s not weird. Two: parents of boys have to worry about the direction of the zi-zi. It has occurred to me that while I have learned so much about parenting, and I understand that gender is fluid, and I believe that most of what is true for baby girls is true for baby boys, there are things about boys that will never apply to girls. I am so glad that I never have to worry about zi-zi direction. That is unless I have another child and it’s a boy. Then I’ll be fluent in zi-zi and speak comfortably about pee-pee direction with all the other full grown adults.

Note: I asked my friend if there was a female equivalent to zi-zi and there isn’t. Any word she came up with was either vulgar or Georgio O’Keefe.

My social baby

Without looking, without stopping, I walked quickly through the crosswalk and down the street. I had just dropped Joanie off at daycare for the first time and knew that if I didn’t get out of there I would lose control of the sob I had been wrestling with for the last twenty minutes. Despite my best efforts I was eventually tackled by tears, and I stopped, embarrassed and crying, in front of a group of tourists eating bagels from paper bags.

“As you’re enjoying famous Montreal bagels, look to your left and you’ll find an inconsolable weeping woman.”

The night before, as I wrote Joanie’s name on the tags of her shirts and folded them neatly into her new back pack, the purchasing of which had also made me cry, Eric and I repeatedly examined how we felt about sending our daughter to daycare so early. We agreed that is was the right decision though I still felt guilty. I realize only now that the thing that made me question my decision did not come from within me, but from the concerned looks and unsolicited “but she’s so young”’s that other people offered continuously.

Yes, she’s young. At four months she is among the youngest babies at her daycare. But this reflects a conscious decision we made as parents. At ten days old we brought Joanie to one of our favourite restaurants and in the last four months she’s been in more dining rooms than most food critics. She’s perfectly at home, sitting on a bar, watching chef’s work. Often, she prefers to be in restaurants or walking in her buggy in our neighbourhood than at home in her play yard. She smiles brightly as we meet friends in coffee shops. When we introduce her to other babies she reaches out to play. Joanie is boldly social. Everywhere we go people know her name. We’re not aiming for notoriety, that’s not the point, but it is important to us that she grows up an active and engaged member of her community, friendly and unafraid.

The daycare we have sent Joanie to is primarily French but its teachers sing to the children in Farsi, Arabic and other languages. At home she is spoken to in English. Our hope is that Joanie will gain an understanding of French and English in tandem while being encouraged to appreciate the beauty of other languages. So not only will she be introduced to other people but also their varied cultures, which will in turn contribute to our community-minded household philosophy.

When I pick her up at daycare I ask her what she got up to that day and her teachers relay her activities. They say: we ate and napped and had a big poop, “un gros kaka,” as they say in French, which I find a very strange expression as it is often used by healthcare professionals in the most formal of settings. And then I take her home and we carry on, a happy little family.