What sort of participant am I?

Despite my massive collection of participant ribbons from my failed attempt to become the youngest star athlete in the world without ever practicing, I am not a very good participant. Clubs, teams, groups, box socials, and all manner of gathering make me shudder. Having been obsessed with cool as a teenager, I was petrified of doing the wrong thing, the gauche thing, the foolish thing. As a result I missed out on a lot of terrific stuff, including, but not limited to, Kelly Clarkson, learning to drive, and doing as well as I could have done in high school.

There are many ways in which I have matured since then. I buy groceries now. I have five functional keys on my key ring. I even have enough pairs of socks to make it from one laundry day to the next. Cringing at the thought of a team, however, has held firm in my adult brain, and although I am a rational person and I know that humanity depends on co-operation, clubs give me the heebie-jeebies.

An unexpected by-product of getting pregnant and having a baby is you receive an onslaught of invitations to join various groups. Everything from breastfeeding to yoga to the very vague activity of mom-hood has some form of club dedicated to it. I’ve proudly resisted every newsletter, flier, and e-vite sent my way, putting on my best and most practiced scoff; rolling my eyes like a professional adolescent.

Swimming lessons. It was swimming lessons that chipped a small nick out of my stubborn aversion to participation. Avoiding drowning is the obvious reason to enroll Joanie in weekly lessons, but the broader reason is that I want to nip that fear of clubs in the bud before I pass it down to my impressionable, sweet, unsuspecting daughter. What kind of ding-bat mum would I be if I didn’t take my kid to swimming lessons because I don’t like groups?

The result: last Saturday I put on my big girl bathing suit, wiggled Joanie’s squirmy little body into a water proof diaper, and entered the pool to bob in a circle, mumbling along with the lyrics to some French song about how fun water is. At first she clung to me, leaving little crescent nail marks on my arms, but it wasn’t long before my daughter, far more daring than I, started twisting around in an effort to release herself from my arms, instinctively kicking, albeit with no coordination, determined to swim. She spun her head around to look at all the other babies, splashing with joy at the sight of their fun. Joanie, all of ten months old, doesn’t give a hoot about looking silly and not knowing what to do. She’s not afraid of doing exactly what the others are doing, but she’s willing to learn from them. She’s bold, and curious, and fascinated, and eager, and much much better at participating than her mother.

Be a Little Afraid

Donald, a young and fair-haired coworker, reads my blog. Hi Donald. After my recent post about getting caught at the airport covered in Joanie’s diarrhea, he told me that I have scared him away from ever having babies. I cautioned him about the efficacy of condoms then got to thinking about my readers. Hi readers.

In response to Donald’s feedback and in anticipation of a few friends’ due dates I want to clarify my goals with this project.

Dearest reader, I don’t want to scare you. Well, maybe a bit. What I’m trying to say is: be afraid, but know that you can do it

One of my goals is to combat the silly tone of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and other texts of that ilk. It’s unrealistic and patronizing and it makes the whole affair sound like a magical frolic through a meadow of cotton candy and pillows. I’m a grown woman. Give it to me straight.

The idea for this blog came to me while sitting in the back of a birthing class, trying to eat my carrot sticks quietly. It was the first day and we were watching The Movie. You know the one with the very close and graphic view of a birth. Eric and I watched it the same way we watch that show Hannibal. I cover my eyes and he tells me when the gross parts are over. When they finally were and our enthusiastic teacher turned the lights back on, I was surprised to find all of the other couples crying. All of them. Not the fearful crying you might expect but one of joy in the face of true beauty. My reaction was very different. I wanted to jump on my chair and yell, “That box got torn apart!” Luckily I was pregnant and it was unsafe for me to stand on chairs. Was I missing something? Am I colder that most people? Maybe, but perhaps it has something to do with an image of motherhood that’s been blurred of its gory details, like the picture of the woman with angel wings and perky boobs on the box of nursing fenugreek tea in the back of my pantry.

The tone I want to use is closer to my first impulse. It’s hard and painful and gross but I’m very happy about it. That’s the paradox I want to address.

The first day at home with Joanie I was astonished by how impossible parenting appeared. I was tired, sore, and emotional and my life had quickly flipped from quiet anticipation to frantic action. It was amazing that people had been doing this since the beginning of humanity, but they have and so would I. I’ve recovered, I’m used to sleep deprivation and I have a firm grasp of the basics: diapers, boobs, etcetera. I’ve trudged through the worst of it, and the troubles are probably not over, but I’ve reached a point of happiness amidst all the gross parts.

My reward: Joanie.

I finally get to know what unconditional love is. Even if she becomes a thief or an arsonist or uses the word adorbs, I will love her. Maybe that’s why people create those images of winged women. My intention is to be an alternative to her, one who acknowledges the hair and blood and poop but remains encouraging.

So be afraid, but know that you can do it.

I hate the fat man on the chair

“Help,” I meekly called from the bottom of the stairs up to our apartment. I was caught in the doorframe between the two parts of the stroller.

Eric looked down at me from above and over the sound of Joanie’s shrieks and Frank’s bark he yelled down, “can’t.”

We could have fought. I initially felt a pang of ire but it quickly subsided as I wiggled my way through the frame and up the stairs to meet Eric’s laughter. When I was pregnant I may have been fat but I could still fit through door fames. Situations like this one that elicit bouts of anger were sparse. There was simply less to get argue about. Now it seems like every day there’s a new opportunity for rage. But we don’t fight, not really any way. We bicker about wearing socks in bed but there’s little emotion behind those spats. It’s probably a combination of our mutual aversion to raised voices, our active senses of humour, and a whole bunch of adoration that keep us so calm in our dealings with each other. We high-five a lot.

However, anger has to go somewhere. It’s like the first law of thermodynamics (forgive my layman’s explanation) which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only change forms. Instead of a familial argument, my ire changes form and becomes rage directed at another man with whom I have no real contact: the fat man on the chair. I hate the fat man on the chair.

For the past few weeks there has been construction in the street behind my apartment building. I don’t drive and I’m usually awake at seven when the bulldozing begins, so I’m not bothered by the work itself. What works me into a flushed, exaggerated, perhaps disproportionate rage is the fat man on the chair. His only job is to guide trucks and pedestrians through the intersection, and he’s terrible at it. Yesterday I made it all the way to a giant hole and back again before he called, “le trottoir est barré!”

In Montreal corruption is assumed, especially when it comes to construction. It’s normal to see twelve supervisors standing around a hole while one worker digs. Quebec is a welfare state, and I’m all for paying high taxes for the sake of public programs but the mismanagement of funds is so catastrophic that citizens rarely see where taxes are spent. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our high school drop out rate is astronomical and we are still dealing with asbestos in public institutions. The fat man is emblematic of that corruption, or to put it mildly, that poor budgeting. His job is so utterly pointless that he has brought himself a chair from home. I walk by him at least four times a day and he never moves from that spot. He is constantly sitting, sometimes eating, usually smoking and always soaking up public money. I hate his stupid snide grin and his fat calves stuffed into work boots, a likely indicator of gout. I hate him. I hate him. Oh damn it, I hate him.

Now I know that the fat man on the chair is not the cause of all of Quebec’s problems, but he, as a symbol, has stumbled into the path of my expelled anger. Aristotle wrote about how anger is a good thing when directed at the right object and used to fuel political action. I could use it to write fervent letters to the city, or speak passionately at counsel meetings, but my rage is not being used for such lofty ideals. It is instead directed at a man who I have never met and with whom I have only exchanged a few curt words.

Aristotle would be very disappointed with me, but I hope he would understand. Between family, writing, groceries and work I don’t have the time to be as politically active as I would like, and at least no one is feeling the effects of my vented ire. The fat man on the chair has no idea who I am. He doesn’t notice my seething glare, and by directing my rage at him the people I love most escape it.

Everybody wins.

Grannie, Poppy, Nana and Gramps (or Grumps depending on the situation)

In the wake of Joanie’s first meeting with her paternal grandparents and the birthday of my own grandma, I reflect again on the role of grandparents. When I was pregnant there was a lot of discussion about the names we would use to address each grandparent. Eric’s parents already have a grandson so their names were chosen: Nana and Gramps. My parents had yet to decide. I’ve always referred to my father as Pops. The natural progression from there is Pop Pop, but since that’s the name of the selfish buffoon of a grandpa on Arrested Development we settled on Poppy. My mom was more torn over the issue. She wanted a name that both acknowledged her role as grandmother but didn’t make her sound old. We settled on Grannie because of its regular appearance in fairy tales, though I’m not sure how it reflects her age.

Just as there are different styles of parenting, grandparenthood differs as well. Consider my own grandparents and their wonderful influence. My paternal grandpa Pama, a name of which the origin is a mystery, taught me that every thing has a use. He constructed from garbage tables, boats and even a surf board type contraption complete with a deck chair, sail and pontoon. My Grandma Nina, with whom I have always been close, is a pillar of warmth and companionship. When I was small enough she perched me on the back of her kayak and rowed around the lake. Sometimes I’d slide off on purpose just so she would tug on the collar of my life jacket and save me. Grandpa Bob once grabbed a book of poetry from my mother’s grasp because she was “not reading it with enough conviction,” and proceeded to read it with his rich British accent, the likes of which David Attenborough could never compete.

Motherhood is really really hard. Aside from all the practical stuff, diapers, breastfeeding, finding tiny socks stuck to the inside of the drier, I am constantly concerned about the less tangible aspects of parenting. Is she understanding what is said when the T.V is on? Will she remember all the times I cursed around her? Does the macabre song about the Titanic effect her notions of class and engineering hubris? It’s all a little much to deal with, but if Joanie’s grandparents are anything like mine, they’ll be a huge help.

The Magnificent Exploding Baby

Dedicated to the very nice lady with the mystery novel and the red bookmark.

When I started this blog I wanted to stay away from poop humour, because it’s gross but also because everyone already equates poops with babies. There’s nothing more to learn. Nothing, except the extent to which parents are acquainted with poop. No honest account of motherhood would be complete without a poop story.

Last weekend was Joanie’s first excursion into air travel and despite the stigma of terrible babies on planes, and aside from a few spats of tears, she was quiet and well behaved. The horror show was the lead up to the flight. On our last day in New York Joanie and I came down with a cold. I struggled through a fever, headache and runny nose to pack while she wailed. We had done some shopping and had acquired a whole new bag of stuff. We were also running late as people with young babies perpetually are, something my previously maniacally punctual self has recently come to terms with. Frantically, I packed, crawling on the floor to find socks (I celebrate the minor victory of all our socks returning in pairs), throwing all of Joanie’s accessories into whatever bag was closest.

We arrived at Laguardia airport with a large bag on wheels, a diaper bag, a computer bag, a canvas bag of souvenirs, our coats, Joanie and the car seat she refused to sit in. On top of all this I am a nervous traveler who insists on having my passport and boarding pass in my hand where I can see and feel them. Immediately after checking in Joanie started crying her long loud hunger cry. “Let’s just get through security and then I’ll feed her at the gate.” I figured that as long as we were there with our bags checked and our passports ready everything would be easy. We would have time to feed her and ourselves. We’d board early and comfortably. We would only have an hour flight and short cab ride. Then we’d be home. Boy was I mistaken. The great explosion of 2014 was awaiting me at Gate 15.

As soon as we got to the gate, Eric left to find us some tea and sandwiches while I settled in to feed Joanie. Just as she started to feed she looked up at me with wide eyes and then surprised herself with the thunderous noise that came from her little innocent looking bum. Everyone looked as I smiled and continued feeding her. I couldn’t take her to the bathroom until Eric got back to watch our bags. Anxiously I waited, until another thunderclap cracked. This time I felt wet seeping in my hand. Joanie, uncomfortable for obvious reasons, started crying. I sat her on my lap and streaks of greenish brown appeared on my jeans. I grew more and more impatient as the mess in her diaper became unbearable. “Oh hell,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear, unfolded a mat and started to undress my gross little daughter. Joanie, who loves having her diaper changed, smiled wide as I struggled to remove her shirt without smearing anything onto her face. She reached up to put her poop-covered fingers in her mouth and I fought to keep them down by her sides. A very kind woman in the seat next to me took notice of my catastrophe and offered to help. Embarrassed, I declined but she knew better and insisted, grabbing Joanie’s hands and entertaining her with silly faces. Together, in a frenzy of poop and limbs and diapers, we were able to wipe her down using the rest of the wipes I had and a few tissues I’d stuffed in my pocket. The woman, her heroism complete, left to wash her hands that were now covered in a stranger’s bodily fluids. Just as I was strapping Joanie into her diaper and singing her changing time song, Outkast’s So Fresh and So Clean, Joanie let out her third and final thunderclap. Without any more wipes I used the diaper to clean her up and dressed in her last diaper, the others I had brought were stupidly stored in our checked luggage.

Eric came around the corner to find me holding his naked smiling daughter with my elbows, my fingers spread wide and away from her. He put down the two camomile teas and two sandwiches he had brought for us and took over while I left to scrub my hands and clothes. When I returned Joanie was shaking her stuffed Elmo and babbling away as if nothing had happened. Eric borrowed a spare diaper from a family nearby and we ate our sandwiches.

In the end it was just another day.

That’s my poop story.

The “I Dropped My Kid” Club

This week’s installment is a day early as Joanie, Eric and I are off to New York for the weekend. All our fellow passengers on the plane are in for a real treat.

My friends watch me with what I think is unease as I flip Joanie around with much more calm than I did when she was first born. All the photos of her and I in the first few days of her life feature my tensed shoulders and thin nervous smile. As I grasped my new baby I would think, “just don’t drop her.” Although I have since become significantly more comfortable holding my daughter, I still fear the inevitable first drop.

Everyone has a story about accidentally hurting his or her kid. My parents have both independently told me the story of pulling my brother out of the baby carrier on a plane and smacking his little head on the overhead compartment to the shock and chagrin of all the other passengers. Oddly enough they both take responsibility for it and can’t agree on who actually did it, which is a nice thought in a weird way. It implies that they were a  parenting team.

While the idea that every parent has dropped their child at some point creates a sort of club of commiseration, it is still terrifying. My initiation is both daunting and horrifying.

As I watch Joanie struggle somewhat successfully to roll around on my bed, I am tempted to leave her there I while run to the W.C with some certainty that she isn’t mobile enough to make it over the edge. The fear of her falling stops me because she is only incapable until she is capable. Who knows when that will be? It was only recently that she couldn’t pick things up. Now her favourite activity is putting stuff in her mouth. All of a sudden I have to be vigilant about the little bits and pieces that find their way to my floor.

The same goes for the words I carelessly drop here and there. When Joanie was still in her first weeks we didn’t pay much attention to the language we used. Both Eric and I have a touch of the sailor’s tongue and have since had to retrain our speech idiosyncrasies. We’ve replaced all curse words with foods. I might exclaim, “Oh Hamburgers,” or Eric might complain about some Muffin Fluffer Nutter. If Joanie is accidentally privy to a violent scene on T.V we are sure to say, “he’s spilling his ketchup everywhere.” We know that she doesn’t speak yet and she probably won’t for some time, but who knows when she’ll start understand if she hasn’t already. I would be mortified, but also perversely proud if her first words were “I’d fucks with that.”

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.