Friday, September 30, 2011

Teach me to be mean

As you know, I'm the sweetest, kindest person on earth, with never an unkind word for anyone. But one of the things I have to do today is write a tepid letter of recommendation for a student's grad school applications.

The student got Bs in both the classes it took with me, and produced a course project indicating no understanding of experimental design or data analysis. It also appeared to spend every class on Facebook. So when it approached me to write a letter for it, I explained that the letter would not be a good one. I reviewed the facts above. I urged it to find someone else, and even went through various possibilities with it. Turns out it truly didn't have any better options, so in the end I agreed to write the letter, with the understanding that a tepid letter is better than no letter at all. That is, the student genuinely wants me to write a tepid letter.

Okay. When I sit down to write it, though, I kinda have NO IDEA how to approach the whole thing. Worse yet, it's applying to my former PhD program, and for whatever reason, this makes me feel extra self-conscious about the whole thing. I fear the easy way out will be to emphasize its good qualities and say nothing about the important lacunae in its skill set. I know there are a couple of experienced academics who visit me here, and I could sure use your advice. And those of you in other areas, perhaps you've encountered the same quandary in your fields? (And yes, I'll ask my senior colleagues, too, but what do they know that THE INTERNET does not?)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


When Bun Bun was a few months old and Mr. Bunny had been back at work for a bit, I asked him to wrangle a four day week. He's the VP of a tiny company with a boss who raised two kids while starting the company. She is extremely understanding, and generously agreed to let him take Fridays off.

The first few Fridays, Mr. Bunny urged me to go out, to take some time for myself. I didn't want to. Where the hell was I going to go? Plus, I didn't want to be separated from Bun Bun. So I'd just hang around, interfering with his attempts to be a solo parent. I wasn't sure what I wanted, to be honest. I'd made this request because I felt like the weekend was just too short, that there wasn't enough time for me to see him, AND be a family, AND accomplish anything I couldn't do with a baby tied to me. But soon enough, the semester started. Since I'm technically supposed to be doing research this semester, I've started going to the office on Fridays.

It's a weird experience, having this professional alter ego.

There's the fact that the rhythms of the two parts of my life are so different. Monday through Thursday, it's an incredibly fine-grained existence. I live from book to tidying to finding a sunny spot for Bun Bun to practice rolling to nap to laundry to walk to another book... and then on Friday, a week's worth of meetings and e-mail and writing and thinking and paperwork. Considerably more hectic, and I'm required to think about things happening on a much different scale. How to analyze data I won't have for six months, for example.

There's the weirdness of being a lactating professor. It's strange to shut the door every few hours and hook myself up to a machine, while trying to relax and think about my baby so I can maximize milk output. To shift gears from thinking about experimental design to thinking about nursing. And I feel like there's a giant sign on my door that says: BREASTS. BREASTS. BREASTS. THINK ABOUT YOUR PROFESSOR'S BREASTS. THINK ABOUT MILK COMING OUT OF HER BREASTS.

Then there's the horrible ache of having to say goodbye to Bun Bun in the morning. My throat constricts, I feel tears coming, and I shut my mind down so I can get the hell out the door. She's always so smiley and happy, and it's an awful moment. For me. She doesn't care.

And of course there's the experience of my husband as primary caregiver. When I was around, he felt so scrutinized. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't resist making recommendations. If I were you, I' might want to try...ummm....NO, DON'T DO THAT! Alone, he gets to make his own discoveries, and of course he does brilliantly. Plus, he seems to find the whole thing very taxing and difficult, and as a result, has a vastly increased appreciation for the work I do. Which is fabulous. Meanwhile, I've learned that she can adapt, and that I don't always know best.

For all the weirdness, I'm enormously grateful for this gift of a day. Walking home from work, the air pleasantly autumnal but still warm, the bustle of campus giving way to the quiet of my neighborhood, I wonder if I'll look back on this as the happiest time of my life.

Of course, I've been wondering that since the day she was born.

Except for when I was FUCKING DEPRESSED and my nipples were bleeding.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bun Bun vs. Mama

Mama and I have gotten along quite well since I was a fetus. I like to think I've been good to her--I've slept a great deal and hardly cried at all ever since I was born. Sure, I may have made her nipples bleed, but that was only because I'm such an eager and efficient eater. I've never been sick a day in my life, and I've given her a delightful crop of hair to entertain herself with, and loads of smiles. What more could a mama want?

And I'll be fair: she's been pretty good to me, too. She gives me lots of kisses, and has the tastiest breastmilk. Why, just last night, I got carrot-ginger soup breastmilk with notes of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Delicious! She does her best to entertain me, too, and if I'm bored to death by those three toys she's always pulling out, well...I try to be polite.

But it seems we've hit a bump with this whole self-soothing business. First, let me be clear. I'm perfectly capable of self-soothing. What the hell* does she think I do when I wake up in the middle of the night? I KNOW she hears me sucking on my hands. And then I go back to sleep, don't I? DON'T I?!? Yes. Yes, I do. SO WHAT if sometimes when she puts me to bed at night I need a little extra help falling asleep? SO WHAT if sometimes I don't want to go down for a nap? Is it my fault she let me get over-tired? Certainly not.

And I feel a bit bad for saying this, but it's clear she has NO IDEA what she's doing. On one occasion she'll let me wail for ten minutes while standing there looking like a trapped animal, and on another occasion I have only to let out a few shrieks and she'll scoop me up and snuggle me. What on earth is she thinking?

She keeps telling me she wants me to learn to fall asleep without her, but I DO, some of the time. And she says she wants me to grow up to be a self-actualized, independent person, whatever the hell that is, not a needy, clinging brat, as if I could ever become such a thing.

I mean for fuck's sake, I am only barely capable of voluntarily rolling myself over into whichever position I feel like being in. And sometimes when I get upset, I forget how. And my fat little legs and arms are constantly getting caught in the bars of this stupid sleeping cage she puts me in--what does she expect!

SO. Could you people PLEASE tell her that all this exploring your limits and experimenting with your ability to self soothe is just unnecessary? When I cry, the correct response is to pick me up and snuggle me, with that swinging back and forth thing that makes her creaky old knees hurt. Not sitting down, standing. Every time.

It's so obvious, even to me, and I'm only a baby.

*I know such language is shocking in a baby, but like my mama, I believe in the value of a good expletive.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This is NOT how to get laid

I recently checked in with my husband on the topic of our continued abstinence.* We'd had kind of an ugly not-quite-fight-that-would-have-been-a-fight-had-either-of-us-had-the-energy-and-not-been-afraid-of-saying-things-we-didn', so it was time for a state of the union conversation. The sex part went something like this.

Me: Blah blah blah plus I just feel repulsive and deeply unsexy.
Him: Yeah, me too.

Later I realized that I'd been a little hurt when he hadn't protested and reassured me that I was still the most ravishing beauty he's ever laid eyes on. I was like, Way to make me feel hot!

And still later I realized that he'd probably been hurt when I failed to reassure him.


*Going on five months now, friends. I sort of can't believe that. But then I consult my libido, and totally can believe it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The venting circle

My older brother is visiting next week to see Bun Bun. He and I are pretty close. He tormented me an appropriate amount when we were children, but it never stopped me from idolizing him, and since we were about 12 and 14, he has treated me like an equal, even actually hanging out with me when we were in high school. We've talked about some intimate things, and I feel like I can be open with him about most matters. Not that I always choose to.

I know I'm going to want to talk to him about the effect parenthood has had on my marriage. He warned me to expect that it would be hard, and I want someone older and wiser to tell me it will all be okay.

But should I? I've been thinking about loyalty to one's partner, and who is allowed within the venting circle. To whom can you complain about your partner without it being an act of disloyalty?

Total strangers on the internet, of course. (Though I do make an effort not to complain qua complain. It's just that the effort sometimes...fails.)

Friends, of course, at least if they're partnered themselves, and I think it has to be understood that friends are not allowed to say rude things about one's partner. They can echo the things you say, but are not allowed to say new ones. For example, Oh, he sounds so frustrating! But not, Wow, your husband is a lazy-ass slacker, huh?

Parents? For me, parents are not within the circle. I know this is not universal, but I would never complain about my spouse to my mother or father. I'm not sure why. Well, I mean, my dad's dead, so what would be the point. Anyway, I'm sure there are whole books written on this subject...

It's not even that I want to complain, just discuss. See if he has any wisdom. I guess I have to figure out whether my brother counts as friend or family. But maybe the fact that I'm even considering whether it's a good idea means it's NOT.

So tell me, who falls within your circle?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cribs are safe! Cribs are Safe! A series of deeply boring updates.

We accomplished the bed-to-crib transition. I couldn't pull the trigger, but Mr. Bunny said he was ready to give it a try, so on one of the nights he was in charge and I was in the guest room, he did it. Bun Bun slept normally. Mr. Bunny, on the other hand, reported that he slept nary a wink from the time we put her down to the time he came to get me for her middle of the night feeding. It all became clear the following night when I was on duty. While it was hard going to sleep without her next to me, her room is quite close and I can hear every little noise, so I just repeated cribs are safe* until I fell asleep. And slept for about half an hour, until she made her first little peep. And then I spent the rest of the night startling wide awake at every little noise, certain she was about to start shrieking with terror. That she'd wake up and find herself alone and freak the fuck out. In reality, she did not give a shit. I expected her to be lonely and heartbroken, she did not appear to notice that one of us was no longer there by her side.

It hasn't been perfectly smooth. There have been a few nights when I've been up every hour, soothing her back to sleep. And there have been more nights when I've simply been unable to sleep because of her noises, but I'm sure that would have happened if she'd been in our bed, too. And putting her to sleep for the night is more elaborate now. Our former routine was to put her in our bed and then just go about our business. You know, brushing our teeth, whatever. She'd usually fall asleep pretty much on her own. But now we have to do that whole book, snuggling, singing, rocking thing which is just UGGH sooooooo awful. That's sarcasm. It's lovely, and something I've always dreamed of, though half the time it involves screaming with rage, too, which is less lovely. We have also been tinkering with eliminating her middle of the night feeding, as it wasn't clear she really wanted it, and hey, turns out many nights she doesn't. So, on the whole, it seems like she's happy. And there may just come a day when I have to share a bed with a wolverine again. Sigh.

There are a couple more insanely boring things I wanted to mention, in case the information proves useful to anyone.

1. I ordered some swaddle straps before they were even available, but how did they actually work out? Great! They got us through the hellish hot days wonderfully. And we're still using them on those occasions when she seems to want a swaddle. Can she escape from it? Absolutely. But unlike the blanket swaddle, I never find it OVER HER FACE. Which, you know, was terrifying. The design prevents it from moving beyond the shoulders. And since she's probably entering the end of her swaddle phase, I have no problem with her getting her arms out. In fact, I sometimes leave one arm out on purpose. I should note that I never bought any of the many other swaddle products out there (except I did get a woombie, which she kinda hated), so the strap may not actually be all that superior to existing items with cold weather coming on. But it was a life-saver for me, and might be worth having in your arsenal.

2. I mentioned this before, but never again because it's soooo boring. Bun Bun has torticollis. No, it's not a tasty filled pasta, it's basically a stiff neck. I'd never heard of the condition, despite the fact that it's apparently insanely common. It typically happens because of position in utero or sometimes because of injury during delivery. It's easy to fix early on and hard to fix later, so at her two month visit, we were advised to take her to a physical therapist. I was like SERIOUSLY? But we decided to do it. (Actually, we decided to switch practices, and met with a new pediatrician, who is lovely, and LIKES babies [imagine!], and gave us the same recommendation.) Fortunately, the therapist is a lovely woman, and I basically sit there for an hour every week while she stretches Bun Bun and we talk about babies. And then I have to do some exercises at home, which Bun Bun hates, and I suck at, so I'll be super happy when she's better. I've been at it for about eight weeks now. Blech. ANYWAY, the reason I mention it is that our slacking on the tummy time interacted poorly with this condition. Not only was she not getting the chance to develop abdominal and neck strength, but as her head got flatter, she had a greater tendency to lie with her head turned in a direction that exacerbated her torticollis. ANYWAY, the REAL reason I mention it is this: if your baby hates tummy time, you might try putting a rolled up towel under its arms to ease the strain a little. Also be sure to have a flashy toy on hand for distraction (the ItzBeen, a MUST HAVE already, turns out to be awesome for tummy time distraction. It has a pretty red/blue light that works great for getting your little one to stretch that neck!). And be comforted by knowing that even a minute or two as often as possible will lead to rapid results--we saw a remarkable improvement over the course of a few days. Bun Bun is fine with being on her belly now and does all the proper milestoney things, so I have not ruined her.

Oh my lord, that was boring. I almost fell asleep just writing about it all. But I serve the public, you see, and must report on my fascinating experiences.

*I know, it is silly, considering that the APA would have me believe it's bedsharing that's the danger.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time is a human construct

I remember the first time it really sank in that time does not exist. It's something we constructed, and all our ways of thinking about it and talking about it are just that. Sure, there are biological cycles, from the oscillations of neurons firing to the seasons, but that ain't time. You might think this realization came early on, like when I read Madeleine L'Engle as a kid, or when I took physics in high school or some shit. No, it wasn't until college.

Having a baby has made me realize it all over again. Time passes so strangely--both too quickly and too slowly. And so many things get lost and forgotten, or pushed aside.

Because Bun Bun has been amazingly easy, those things are NOT sleeping and bathing. But you may recall I bought a pattern for a tiny dress a while back? I made excellent progress at first, and this is how:

But then I made no progress at all for MONTHS. In fact, the project would still be sitting there half sewn had it not been for the fact that one day I remembered I can sew with MY HANDS. Yes, friends, sewing does not require a machine. So now the dress and bonnet are completed.

Yes, it does match my skirt. I used scraps for Bun Bun's dress, and while the whole matching mother-daughter outfit thing is not really me, Mr. Bunny insisted for the photo.

Mr. Bunny took her out in the carrier while she was wearing her bonnet, and some scruffy shirtless guy washing down his orange Camaro and saw them and said OH MY GOD! WHAT A CUTE BONNET! That's just a beautiful image. Everybody loves a bonnet.

Anyway, TIME. The semester is starting this week, without me. And while I am so, so, SO happy not to be resuming my duties, and still not quite able to imagine doing it again in January or, like, ever, it's odd to have the rhythm of life not changing much as fall comes on. Fall has always been a time of anxious anticipation and energy. This year it's a bit of a blank canvas.

Fortunately, it's about time to start on Bun Bun's Halloween costume.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Ghost Mama

It was a dark and stormy night. Rain lashed against the windows and flashes of lightning illuminated  dark tree branches outside. A dim lamp cast ominous shadows over the nursery walls. On the rug lay a forlorn baby, alternating between stuffing her hands in her mouth and crying angrily. In a rocker sat a bedraggled woman, rocking, rocking, rocking. Like an autistic person. Staring at the wall. Rocking.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Bunny went out of town. His absence happened to coincide with my menstruation-induced milk supply dip, and possibly also a growth spurt, but most certainly a fussy, angry baby. entirely different baby from the one I am accustomed to caring for. And I began to lose my shit. On the night the scene described above took place, Bun Bun spent much of the day wailing and refusing to nap, and I was tore up. After rocking her and cuddling her and nursing her and singing to her and walking her around etc., etc., etc., I put her down (gently, safely!) and just took a moment. And then as I looked down at her with a stoney face, it suddenly felt weirdly familiar. As though a ghost had briefly taken possession of my body. The ghost of my very own mother.


I wondered, was this what it was like when I was a child? Was I remembering being on the receiving end of such behavior?

As I've mentioned, my mother went through some rough shit while I was young, including depression. Because of that, and because of my own tendency to become cold and detached when under pressure, I've always secretly feared that I wouldn't be able to handle motherhood. That I'd turn into a silent, angry presence. Certainly during my episodes of FUCKING DEPRESSED I felt a bit like that. Remote. Cold. However, aside from those times, I actually feel like I've taken to motherhood pretty naturally--the love and playfulness and patience (you know, SORT OF) and strength are there after all.

Just not always. And my brush with the ghost mama made me wonder: will having this spectral presence just outside the door ultimately be a good thing? Will it put me on my guard, make me extra wary of becoming angry or withdrawn? Do people who had less than perfect parents make better parents themselves?

Of course not. I simply experienced a typical episode of being worn out, the kind every parent goes through, even those who had perfect milk and cookies parents. People with good parents have good parenting models, and are therefore just as likely to be good caregivers as those of us cobbling together a ramshackle model out of our favorite books.

That's the conclusion I came to in the light of day, anyway, with the phantoms of night all banished and so forth.