On Dogs and Rage and Parenting

the park

Yesterday, while I was taking the kids for a walk, a dog charged us and bit the stroller. I managed to wedge my way between the snarling and barking dog and my kids and just scream for help. Some lawn crew guys chased the dog off with rakes. The dog ran down the street after a high school girl walking home. And then bit an older woman, who screamed for me to call the police. I did.

I called 911, which I’m sure wasn’t the right number, but I got a new phone and haven’t reprogrammed animal control into my speed dial. Because yes, I have animal control on speed dial. I’ve been chased down by so many mean dogs in my history of running and walking through the neighborhood, that I don’t even hesitate to call.

While I talked to the dispatcher, I heard my baby was crying in the stroller. The 3-year-old seemed fine. But the baby was sobbing. The dog had been closest to him. And in my adrenaline-fueled rage, I was ready to attack the dog back, to call the police, to find the owners and tear them apart, but I had completely ignored the kids. My baby was crying. So, I got off the phone and I went to hug him.

When I first thought about writing about this, I wanted it to be a rage-fueled diatribe about people who let their dogs off leash. About people who don’t take their dog’s meanness seriously. I was once backed against a tree by a large mean dog and the owner shouted, “He won’t bite!”

I yelled back. “I don’t believe you! Get a damn leash!”

This is what I wanted to do. To rage against danger. To hunt down the things that had threatened my children and tear them to pieces. But all I can think about is that baby crying. How my first instinct should have been, not to run down the danger and seek vengeance, but to go to him. To hold him and reassure him.  My baby is a wild little warrior. Never afraid to scale a summit. But he also has a tender heart. He cries when his sister cries. He cries when I pretend cry. His heart is so big and open, that is what I should have been protecting instead of lashing out. What is rage anyway? I don’t know the situation of the people who owned the dog. I don’t know how the dog got out. Rage is just a blind swinging at what very well maybe windmills.

Seeking vengeance is what is natural for me. I often find myself fighting the urge to punish and correct and give myself over to the need to comfort and console. A few nights ago, after a particularly rough bedtime, I put the 3-year-old to bed without a story. A few minutes later, she was up again, whimpering at the top of the stairs. “What is it?” I snapped.

“I just need some lovins,” she said. “You forgot to give me lovins.”

I went to her. Scooped her up. Hugged her and apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was wrong. I should have given you a kiss. I am so sorry, I was just feeling frustrated.”

“Me too,” she said. “That’s why I needed lovins.”

I had to do the same thing to the baby yesterday. I went to him and held him. I knelt by the stroller and reassured my kids. “We are okay. You are brave. Mommy is here to protect you.”

But it isn’t just with them, is it? I’m struck by how often I find myself cowering in a corner and instead of taking the time to grieve or find grace, I stomp off in search of vengeance. There is a person who has hurt my family dearly. I find myself often stalking him on social media. Finding new ways to get angry at him at his selfishness and narcissism, that will continue to wound those around me for years.

When we came home from our walk in the park, I realized, I needed to stop that. That I was making myself miserable, swinging with blind rage, out with my pitchfork, hunting down sinners, instead of where I needed to be, comforting the girl in me who was crying.

A friend once told me that after she told her family about her rape, her father went out to hunt down the man who did that to her. She told me that instead of reassuring her, it made her feel awful. Because there she was, wounded and aching, and she needed something better than rage.

Her words are like a beacon for me as I try to navigate these threatening places with myself and children. Yes, rage has a place. I now have mace on my key chain and attached to the stroller. I hope I don’t have to use it. But the mace isn’t the point. The point is that I need to give my children and myself something better than rage.

 

Tome Club: Don Quixote 2

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.

We could talk about Sancho Panza and his wine skin or how my 3 year old keeps throwing stuffed animals at me when I try to read, but instead let’s talk about Marcela. She is a wealthy orphan, who takes to the forest to escape the unwanted attention of men. But even there, men follow her, and when she rebukes their advances, she’s made out to be the evil temptress. But what has she done but exist? A shepherd dies, presumably, from a broken heart after having his affection’s rejected by Marcela. At the funeral, the shepherds talk about what a giant bitch she is. But she shows up  and rebukes the men, telling them that she hasn’t invited their advances. All she is doing is existing and trying to lead a moral life. She had a great line where she asks if the object of love is obligated to love, just because it is the object?

Then, she walks away.

She never comes back. I know. I looked. She is a beautiful woman. One who, in these sorts of novels, would become the leading lady, the focus of men. But she doesn’t want that. She never consented to lead. So, she walks away and Cervantes let’s her.

Right now there is a debate about women on the internet. Women who receive criticism and death threats merely for existing as themselves online. This topic is salient to me because I have received criticism online. Not the amounts of some women like Emily Gould or Amanda Marcotte, but enough, to where I don’t read comments on essays that are published not on this site.  And I have received enough emails threatening to call CPS on me that I do worry about it. In an essay for Buzzfeed, Emily Gould writes about walking away from criticism isn’t enough. How we need to put up sustained resistance.  I loved what she had to say about sustaining resistance to the rhetoric that keeps us chained. And I thought of that essay when I read about Marcela. The woman who never consented to be your idol and your muse. The woman who resists. The woman who walks the hell away. I don’t see her walking away as a passive aggressive technique. It’s very aggressive. She Feems to be saying that this whole system is messed up and she can’t change it, so she wants nothing to do with it. She is resisting anything that will keep her chained.

And now I feel like a shepherd. I love her. I want more of her. But I respect that she wants to walk away.

I am finding that I am only able to read one or two nights a week.  And my Kindle app says I’m 20% through with the book. That puts me somewhere near page 200. Where are you?

Have you started? Do you love you some Sancho Panza?

That windmill scene was a bit anti-climatic. I mean it’s this scene that has been replayed and riffed in all of literature and that was it. Also, could the Sancho Panza dialogue be any better?

Burning books? Oh that reminds me, that whole discussion of if books are a bad influence was discussed recently, here. Do you think books can be a bad influence?

Sleeping Through The Night Is An Evil Lie

Stars in the sky

My brother and his wife have an 8-week-old infant, who is six adorable pounds of sheer sleep deprivation. She is little and demands milk on a 1-2 hour basis to fill her adorably pink cheeks and keep up her supply of knuckle pudge. Food is an understandable request from child, but the consequences are the dark circles under my brother’s eyes and the desperate look of longing when someone says the word “bed.” My husband and I went to visit them when my niece was only three weeks old. After passing around the baby and commenting on her perfect nose, my brother asked, “When do they sleep through the night?”

He looked so sad and forlorn. My sister-in-law sat next to him, her eyes were hopeful. “Umm, maybe when they are about 10 pounds is when some babies start sleeping 6-8 hours or more,” I lied. It was like holding up steak to a starving dog and then throwing it in the trash. I felt cruel. But I didn’t want to crush them with the heavy weight of the exhausting truth just yet.

You see, the truth is: No child sleeps through the night.

When my daughter was born, she demanded food every 1-2 hours. I remember sitting in her room in the middle of the night, nursing her, falling asleep, waking and nursing. Those were my nights. When she was three weeks old, I collapsed on my bed sobbing to my husband, “Why do I even bother trying to sleep? Why?” We started giving her a bottle not long after that. At eight weeks, we began sleep training and it worked. By nine weeks she was sleeping 10-12 hours at night, we had made it. This baby thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all. That’s when we learned. Sleeping through the night is like the fountain of youth, science says it’s possible, but always seems to be just beyond our reach.

You see, once a baby learns to sleep there are a myriad of factors that come and ruin everything. For example, rolling over. When babies learn to roll over they start rolling over in their sleep and then waking up and freaking out. Here is a list of things that prevent a baby from sleeping through the night: getting their legs stuck in the crib slats, eating too many blueberries, sitting up, standing, talking, colds, the weather, the neighbor’s dog, the flu, the alignment of the planets, a random virus that the doctor says isn’t a big deal but makes your baby scream from 2am to 5am and, as they get older, sheer cussedness.

A few nights ago, my three year old stayed awake from her bedtime at 8pm until almost midnight, because as she said, she had “no sleeps to get out.” Once she fell asleep, the baby woke up and talked in his crib from 1-2 in the morning. Just because he could. Do you see what I mean about sheer cussedness? So, sure. Read your baby sleep-training books, believe in the hope that those monsters sell you, but know this: it’s all a myth, an evil tale that other parents tell so that we will procreate and be just as miserable as them.

This is another Gazette column. I wrote it months ago. My fabulous niece is now six months old and still not sleeping. Good lord, I love that kid.

I Am Not Sad About Weaning

From when JQ was six months old.
From when JQ was six months old.

The baby quit nursing three months ago and I don’t feel sad.

With my daughter, nursing was hard. We couldn’t find a rhythm. My nipples bled through my shirt. Every time she latched it felt like glass rubbing on my skin. I was told the pain would go away. But it never really did. So, at three months, when she quit for the bottle, I didn’t push it. I eagerly embraced that breast pump and my freedom. It’s weird to call pumping freedom, because it’s the opposite. It’s being attached to a giant white machine that makes a sound that your tired brain thinks could be BOB HOOOOPPPEE BOB HOOOOPPPEE over and over. It means always having it with you. Along with cold packs, refrigerator access and clean bottles. It means hiding away for 20-30 minutes 5-10 times a day. But at least I wasn’t bleeding. When she was nine months old, I got the stomach flu and lost my ability to juggle motherhood, a job, a baby and a pumping schedule. Or maybe, I just realized that motherhood doesn’t have to be martyrdom. So, I bought formula and packed the pump away. I had few regrets.*

When JQ was born, I freaked out. I had to make nursing work. There was no way I could parent a two-year-old and keep track of a baby while pumping. It was either nursing or formula. In the hospital, when I felt that familiar pain of cutting glass on my nipples and I thought, Oh no, here we go again, I began crying. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to Dave. He just gave me a hug. What else can you do when your wife is bleeding from her nipples?

When JQ was a week old, I got mastitis. I didn’t know it was mastitis. I just knew I was in pain. The lactation consultant had seen me that day and declared me fine as I peppered her with questions about latching and cuts and pain. “You’ll toughen up,” she said. Later that day, my mom came to visit and found me feverish on the floor of the living room. Sobbing, I lifted up my shirt. “Go to the doctor,” she said.

I didn’t toughen up. I got antibiotics. A friend gave me a cream that helped my cuts heal and I muddled through. Then, I was there. Nursing wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t searing pain either. I wasn’t yelling swear words while the baby ate and making my daughter cry. So, progress. I’d made it.

But then he wouldn’t take a bottle.  It’s a cosmically cruel joke to have one kid who won’t breastfeed and another who won’t take the bottle. It felt like punishment for whatever parenting sins I had made before. Nothing worked. I would leave the house to go grocery shopping and 30 minutes later get a call from Dave asking me, very politely when I thought I would be home. I could hear the baby screaming in the background. I did a lot of crying myself. I had quit my jobs so I could be with my kids. The cruel calculations of income and childcare didn’t pan out in my favor. And here I was, now, drowning in the sea of everyone’s needs. The baby wouldn’t let go of me. The toddler wouldn’t stop licking my shins.

Even my few stolen moments were short, because the baby would cry and the boobs would come out. Every part of me, mentally and physically, had been colonized by others. My hair wasn’t washed. No time between morning feedings and the toddler waking. My hands were dry and cracking from endless diaper changes and butt wipes. My knees were red from kneeling by the potty and they ached from the endless hours I sat cross-legged feeding the baby. Even my eyelashes, unadorned, seemed to be a product of someone else’s design.

JQ finally took a bottle around nine months. I left for a trip to Boston to visit a dear friend and I discovered that even my sleeping patterns had been overtaken by my children. I woke at 3am, every morning, completely unbidden. After the trip, JQ began to drop feedings. It happened fast and I didn’t fight it. His needs had met the limits of my abilities.

By a year, he dropped his final night feedings. That was three months ago. I’ve been waiting to feel a sadness or a sense of loss. Instead, I just feel relief. I’m happy that it doesn’t have to always be me. I’m happy I can hire a babysitter and we can go out for disappointing chicken wings and good beer. I’m happy that Dave can do bedtime and I can clean the kitchen or drink a beer, or just lay on the floor in a middle of detritus of our day and breathe–Cheerios, dust bunnies, blocks, crowns, necklaces, trucks, half-chewed apples.

And here it is, in black and white: I don’t like always being needed. I don’t like this model of parenting that takes the whole load for everything about our children on our shoulders. I don’t like having the entirety of my children’s world limited by my abilities. I don’t like falling down the rabbit hole of the deep and abiding needs of my children. I can’t be everything to them all the time. It’s wrong of me to try to be.

I don’t know when “mom” became this all-encompassing, die-to-self, loss of selfhood. But it’s a lie.

So, nursing is over. I am so happy.

 

*Sorry, I know a lot of this is review if you read my site. But I always feel weird being self-referential, because people have better things to do then remember details about how my babies fed.

Tome Club: Don Quixote 1

This is part of the ongoing #TomeClub series, where I and a few of you suckers decided to read Don Quixote together. I am not going to title these in a clever manner. I am sorry to disappoint you.

This might be a picture of Cervantes. No one knows for sure. Despite the imperious mug depicted, I think Cervantes knew how to party.
This might be a picture of Cervantes. No one knows for sure. Despite the imperious mug depicted, I think Cervantes knew how to party.

Have you started reading DQ yet? I started yesterday. I downloaded the $1.99 Kindle version. I don’t actually like reading books on electronic devices. In this way I am a Luddite. But this was the easiest option.

So, I felt like I should give you a sweeping overview of Cervantes, because I actually sometimes teach writing and books. And this is my modus operandi, to introduce the book, to make everyone care. To present a case for the book’s relevance! But it’s really an artificial way to read. No one picks up a Dennis Lehane book and says, “Before I read this, I must familiarize myself with Boston gang culture of the 1990s.” No one. You just pick it up and read it.

Some books, I think it is almost impossible just to read. One of my favorite books, The Sound and The Fury is almost inaccessible without some hand holding. My professor gave us a road map to the book and when I read it I had to make a chart to keep track of who was who and who was the narrator. I don’t know how I could have read it without that. But then again, I read  As I Lay Dying without hand-holding. So, who knows.

Most often, I just love to attack books the way the US conquers Middle East. No research and going in guns blazing. Maybe this is my bias. This is how I read most of my life. I was home schooled, so I would just pick a book off the shelf and read.  And in that way, I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Gone with the Wind and The Fountainhead and others. Sometimes I will pick up a book to read, get halfway through and then remember I’ve read it before, probably when I was nine. I’m not sure which is the better way to approach a book. We can’t all take master’s classes on the literature we read. And we shouldn’t have to. That shouldn’t be a requirement to read a book, any book, even a “classic” tome that people have OPINIONS about. But some books don’t transcend their time. Some books are only valuable and relevant by what they did in a specific time and place and to read them in a meaningful way you have to understand that or else you pick up the book and think, This is garbage. I’m looking at you, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But with a few exceptions, the very idea that a book is a “classic” is that it transcends time and place and has meaning beyond. *Gestures erratically into the air.* So, why is there such an emphasis placed on understanding their context?And I wonder if we wouldn’t read more of these “classic” books if we weren’t forced to interact with them in such an artificial way.

So, this is the other thing I want to bring up. When I do read a book like this. I skip the introduction by famous author and literary critic. Sorry, not sorry, Harold Bloom. I will go back and read it later, if I feel like I’m still missing pieces. But I just don’t like being told what I need to think about a book before I’ve actually read it.  Did you all read that introduction? I just skipped to the prologue. Which is hilarious. Let’s talk about that.

The prologue: I love how it’s a send up of snobbish writing. And the narrator is hand-wringing because he doesn’t have smart footnotes and literary allusions and his friend just says, “Meh, make them up!” So then, we get all those fake poems by famous people about how wonderful DQ is. I cackled. Then, of course, there is that great piece of writing advice:

…instead you should strive, in plain speech, with words that are straightforward, honest, and well-placed, to make your sentences and phrases sonorous and entertaining, and have them portray, as much as you can and as far it is possible, your intention, making your ideas clear without complicating and obscuring them. Another thing to strive for: reading your history should move the melancholy to laughter, increase the joy of the cheerful, not irritate the simple, fill the clever with admiration for its invention, not vie the serious reason to scorn it, and allow the prudent to praise it. (8)

And while we are talking about the narrator. How great is he? I have a weakness for a heavy-handed narrator. But his narration is so perfect. Like when DQ is musing about his decided upon love and his quest on page 25 and the narrator writes, “Then he resumed speaking as if he truly were in love.” Or the repeated insistence that this book is completely and utterly true always. The narrator is the straight man for DQ. He is the David Spade to DQ’s Chris Farley.

I’m only on page 50 right now. So, I’d love to hear what you all think so far. Are you finding it funny? Do you like the narrator? Did you giggle at the image of DQ trying to eat with his pasteboard helmet? Is this really boring for you?

I recognize that the book is supposed to be a send up of the romantic hero. Someone I think we are all familiar with due to, well, life. Right? This hero is everywhere still. He is Superman. He is Batman. He’s freaking Christopher Columbus. He is everyone we idolize with a savior complex.

So, I keep thinking if Cervantes lived now, which genre of “hero” would he lampoon? The hardened cop with a white man’s burden to save us all from our sins? The image of the soldier? The foreign policy wonk insisting everyone needs American interference?

If you haven’t started reading yet, you can just chime in and tell us why not.

Also, a lot of people are freaking out about which version to read or that they haven’t started yet. Calm yourselves. We’re all friends here. Just friends, trying to navigate a sea of semicolons and obscure jokes about Spanish knights.

In this way, I end my rambling thoughts. Your turn.

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