Monday, October 22, 2007

My bonnie lies over the ocean

A funny:

One of the songs I thought to sing to Josephine was "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." I had the first part down:

My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean

But then I couldn't remember the melody of the next line. I knew the words, but I couldn't attach them to the right notes. I could also remember everything after that one hateful line:

Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me

Egads! It's not exactly a difficult tune. This is, I thought, my personal idea of hell. After all, I have a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in opera singing. But I could not, for the life of me, think of how to sing the line "Oh bring back my Bonnie to me". This discomfort made me sing it even more incorrectly -- and over and over -- in an attempt to find the melody. I could almost hear it, but for some reason I couldn't get it out of my mouth.

So finally I called my dad -- known for his twist but not so much for his vocal stylings -- and had him sing it. Well, he didn't quite have it either, but we went back and forth and back and forth, and I finally found it. We laughed about it, and he, of course, wondered about all that money spent on voice lessons and college degrees -- sigh. It took me another two days of singing it wrong then right to finally be able to do it consistently. What a triumph.

I was so excited to sing it to Josephine and to rock and sway with her just like the very ocean itself. I could imagine her big toothless grin and fancied it might even earn me a giggle. I sang it for the first time correctly straight through and what did she do? She burst into tears.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Big shots

For the second time in four months, I held my daughter as the pediatrician gave her three vaccinations. These two moments have been, by far, the most unpleasant of my brief experience as a mom.

First, I should say how much I like our pediatrician. Besides his excellent credentials and the glowing references from other moms, he's just a nice guy. I remember thinking when I interviewed him that he's a person I wouldn't mind seeing just a few hours after giving birth. He makes time for as many questions as I have and doesn't make me feel stupid -- other doctors should take note. He's really fast with the injections, but it doesn't make it any better. Josephine lets out wails unlike any other in her repertoire, which widens by the day. Part of it is clearly shock, because until that moment, she is being cuddled and played with -- but part of it is just plain, ol' physical pain. She turns red and hot. She remains fussy for days.

The pediatrician believes emphatically that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. He dismisses the possibility of a link to autism, the rate of which is much higher in New Jersey than in other states. He even endorses the much debated cervical cancer vaccine for young girls. I am not looking forward to making a decision about that -- the commercials for it turn my stomach. I have seen the pharmaceutical salespeople pitching it to my primary care physicians, and I'm just so skeptical. The next big shot for Josephine, however, is the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), the vaccine most debated by the mothering community.

The television actor Jenny McCarthy has recently written a book about her experience in dealing with her son's diagnosis of austism. I am eager to read her book and weigh it as Josephine grows through the vaccination years, especially since we live in New Jersey. Once dismissed as a blonde bimbo and now dismissed as a wacko-mother, Jenny believes there to be a strong connection between a vaccine and her son's autism. Her general theory, as I understand it, is that a kid's system is like a big pot. Each kid has a certain amount of toxicity, allergens, etc. that will fit into her pot. Once that pot overflows, symptoms of the autism spectrum can occur. The medical community is in a huff, of course, but doesn't this theory on some level make sense?

Lately in medicine, it is what we don't know that bothers me, or rather the fact that we clearly don't know something but are given instructions as to how to deal with it. Doctors seem too eager to say that this or that is the prevention, the treatment, the cure -- even though we don't really know. We are given prescriptions upon prescriptions without looking deeper and wider at the cause of dis-ease. We are given definitive instructions based on approximated analyses, and frankly I'm not satisfied. I wonder why so many are.

As an infant, my daughter can't speak for herself, but if she could, I know she would tell me she doesn't like being vaccinated. It's not that she's worried about the trace quantities of thimerosal; it just hurts. This alone isn't a reason to avoid it, but are growing autism numbers more convincing? We just don't know. What's a mother to do? I know that I will put off the MMR for as long as possible. That way maybe her pot will be big enough to take the toxin whallop it delivers without overflowing-- and maybe by then I'll be strong enough to rock her through the pain feeling more confident in my decision.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


I admit it. On the night the Chicago Cubs won the National League Central Division, tears came to my eyes more than once. For only the second time in my life, I would get to root for my beloved team in the postseason. It was the beginning of a dream come true. I watched the players spraying champagne, hootin' and hollerin', and talking about eleven more wins. I heard them answer all the easy questions that follow a win. I should have known better. I did know better.

The Cubs 2007 postseason appearance was brief. They were a three-game wonder. In 2003, Steve Bartman took the blame for the end of their run. So who gets the blame this year? Well, let's see. The pitching staff that couldn't throw strikes when they needed to. The offense that ended the NLDS with a .194 average. There were nine runners left on base by the Cubs in Game 3 as they lost 5-1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. They hit into four double plays in the loss that left them swept. There were no clutch performances. For years Cubs fans have been asking the front office to spend some money on personnel, to keep up with the Joneses -- I mean the Yankees. So this year we got some big-bucks players. And what did they do in the three games that mattered most? Not much. We saw Lilly giving up homers and hits and walks. We saw Soriano striking out -- a lot. Not even D. Lee could save this sorry scene. Not even Sweet Lou.

After I wrote my first blog about my life as a Cubs fan, my dad emailed me to correct two items. First, he reminded me that I misspelled pennant because, of course, as a Cubs fan I haven't had much practice in writing the word. He also reminded me that I am not a third-generation, but a fourth-generation Cubs fan. This is quite a legacy. My great grandfather, Giuseppe Ciacioppo, was a rabid Cubs fan, and, my dad writes, "was alive when the team last won the World Series, and according to legend was at a World Series game, standing in the pastoral outfield." Lucky Giuseppe. We're all lucky that Wrigley Field still stands after all the subsequent losing that has taken place there. We have to be careful that the Cubs aren't sold to someone who doesn't understand that we don't need a nicer stadium or a move to Texas or somewhere else. We just need eleven more wins.

My newborn daughter is named Josephine, after my maternal grandmother who was a big sports fan, too. But her name clearly has more history than just that. My father's name is Joseph, and for those of you who aren't paesans, Giuseppe is Joseph in Italian. She's a legacy, too -- and, I might add, a fifth-generation Cubs fan. My dad had suggested that maybe the Cubs were meant to win it all this year -- for how else could they win their division with an 85 and 77 record? But maybe the gods have made us all wait so that Josephine would be old enough to understand and celebrate such a feat with us. Or maybe ninety-nine years just isn't long enough and we need to wait that perfect 100 years for our next World Series. You see, I am already thinking about next year. As a Cubs fan, I have to believe in next year. So I do.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I'm not usually a group activity kind of person,

... but I've been wanting to try one of those baby and me yoga classes. Yesterday, I happened to meet a yoga teacher as I searched for a copy of The Motherhood. The yoga studio was known to carry it, so I stopped in. After helping me find the publication, the warm Erica Furman looked at me and said, "You should come to yoga tomorrow!" So this morning, Josephine and I headed out to Shakti Ma Yoga and Living Arts. ( I was the first to arrive for the class and a bit early, but I was immediately made to feel comfortable. When I lived in the city and practiced yoga, the rules -- those written and unwritten -- could be overwhelming and intimidating. None of those vibes were in the air at Shakti.

For moms like me, transitioning from a career to maternity leave can be a strange and sometimes lonely proposition. It was neat to see seven moms like me -- looking a little weird in either their too-big maternity clothes or their too-small regular clothes -- enter with their babies and prepare for an hour or so to connect. The babies ranged in age from seven weeks to about five months. We were encouraged to play with our babies as we practiced, to stop and nurse and/or change diapers when necessary, and to include the children in poses when we could. And it was wonderful.

Let's face it. I'm fat and unstylish at the moment, but as I practiced, I felt true beauty well to the surface. As I laughed and giggled with my daughter -- who couldn't figure out why on earth mommy was doing all those crazy things -- I felt great. Even though my muscles and joints were stiff and slow to find each posture, I was happy to be where I was. Surrounded by women experiencing some of the same rites of passage that I am, I was supported. Erica led us through eight sun salutations that left each of us with a glow. I could feel my loose abdomen tightening as I connected with the earth and the sun and moon above.

By the end of the class, many of us were nursing. Babies who had gotten grumpy and fussy were calmed. We OMed together to close. Erica invited everyone to hang out and nurse as long as we wanted. A few of us did and chatted a bit. Josephine nursed until she fell asleep on a soft purple pillow. I think we were all pretty content. There was something about this group that was just what I needed -- something that helped me connect with the world and also with myself.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scratch that: October baseball is the best baseball

Cubs clinch the NL Central with a 6-0 win over the Cincinnatti Reds and a Brewers loss to the San Diego Padres. Life is good -- for now.

The Sweatsuit Alternative

I'm a little upset with Tim Gunn.

As a Project Runway fan, I was excited to see his new makeover show, Tim Gunn's Guide To Style, debut this month. I was particularly interested to hear his silhouette advice to women with fit difficulties -- this seemed tailor made (pun obviously intended) for women like me, those of us not blessed with the 5' 10" 125-pound body. The show's promos suggested a kinder, gentler version of TLC's What Not To Wear. So far, it certainly hasn't been a grand slam. Both Tim and his cohost, supermodel Veronica Webb, seem a little stiff yet; perhaps there are some first-season jitters to work through.

One of the ideas behind the show is that a woman's closet needs ten essential items. I love this concept, and the closet cleansing through which Tim and Veronica coach their guests. Most of the women I know have the tendency to buy too many poorly made, ill-fitting "fashions" that don't necessarily flatter them. The cleanse leads women to keep the clothes that make them look and feel terrific. Many of the essential items are expected: a skirt, a trench coat, a blazer, etc. As someone who has a tendency to buy too many grey t-shirts and the daughter of someone who buys too many turtlenecks, I like the idea of having a shopping (or closet-purging) list of must-haves.

That brings me to "the sweatsuit alternative." In the two episodes of the show I've seen, the women are encouraged to find something to wear in place of a sweatsuit -- and in both cases the alternative was a short, bare dress. WIth all due respect, these women -- one a working mother of three and the other a pediatrician -- need comfortable clothes for running errands or doing housework or just hanging out with friends that don't require strappy designer sandals and specialty undergarments. My guess is that Tim has never tried to heave his strapped-in-the-12-pound-car-seat child into the back seat while balancing a stack of slippery, plastic-wrapped dry cleaning. Doing this while managing to keep a strapless bra from slipping down to my waist would probably qualify for the 35+ Summer X Games.

I don't know if the show is too NYC-centric or just out-of-touch with what real women actually do during the day. Perhaps both are true. I don't know -- even when I lived a more fashionable life in Manhattan, it would never have appealed to me to run errands in a halter dress. The fact of the matter is that women need functional clothes infused with a touch or so of fashion that fit well and wash well. I wish that one of these women had challenged this particular outfit, or at least questioned it. Ladies, how are those little dresses working out for you?

Perhaps I really have lost track of the fashionable me, but I don't think so. When I'm wearing cargo capris (a no-no, according to the experts) and a t-shirt in a pretty color that hugs my curves, I can still look pulled together while having a place to stash a half-consumed bottle, a paci, and my car keys. I feel beautiful when I see my husband gazing at me as I hold and nurse our daughter, not when I'm wearing uncomfortable shoes that might make my legs look longer. So where is the middle ground? I would love to have Tim and Veronica help me clean my closet and shop for clothes that fit me properly, but I'd need something that really is a sweatsuit alternative rather than a pipe dream.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September baseball is the best baseball

My husband is not a very good Cubs fan. He wants to be, but as a Yankees fan, he just doesn't understand what it's like to wait. And wait. And hope. And believe -- and then to be let down. Way down, usually. I am a third generation Cub fan, and so I'm more than accustomed to having my hopes dashed, or as has more often been the case, for there to not have been hopes to begin with. For the last ninety-nine years, the Cubbies have only rarely been in a pennant race, let alone in the playoffs.

Last night, the Cubs won a nail-biter in the ninth, as Bob Howry struck out two to give the team a 3-2 victory over the Reds. I enjoyed every pitch of that last inning like it was the World Series. In a way, it was the World Series for me. How many times in my thirty-seven year life have pitches meant so much? As the battle for the NL central continues, every game counts -- the Brewers sharing the same goal as the Cubs -- the penant and a spot in the 2007 post-season race. In a way, the Brewers are just as unlikely as the Cubs, since both teams are barely above .500, but the Brew Crew started the season hot, hot, hot. It is thanks to their slide, in part, that Lou Piniella and the Cubs are even in the conversation.

It's possible that my friends who are Red Sox fans can understand what this is like. Watching the Cubs is a thrill and torture all at the same time. It is a game-by-game, inning by inning journey, taking nothing for granted. Think about it: in recent history we've had two of the greatest pitchers to accomplish nothing (Prior and Wood), the unsung pitching hero who finally gets his due (Zambrano) and a closer who, well -- has trouble closing (Dumpster -- oh, I mean Dempster). We had -- dare I even mention him -- Bartman. Don't get me started about Rothschild or Hendry. I'll just get too mad. So the Cubs finally spent some money on players in the off-season, and now we're blessed with Lilly, Soriano, and DeRosa, to name a few. But did this get us an easy ride through lame NL Central? Nope. That would defy the ninety-nine year story line and the Billy Goat himself. Who are we to hope?

My dad thinks that maybe this year the Gods have ordained it. He grew up in the shadows of Wrigley Field and often attended games with my grandmother. He's waited seventy-one of the ninety-nine year drought. Last year we bought him a paver to commemorate all that waiting and hoping. So maybe he's right? What else could have kept the Cubbies in the race?But here's the thing -- even if the Cubs do win the division -- it's that or nothing as the wild card is way out of reach -- think of all the great teams they'd have to beat to win it all. The Diamondbacks. The Mets (if they don't blow it). What ever slugging team the AL puts forth. Oy. In April, it seemed like the Brewers had been chosen, but now I'm not so sure. The Cubs have had some great comebacks this year -- is momentum building? Maybe Harry Caray is up there working some kind of voodoo. I don't know. I just know that I cringe every morning when I check the standings. It's crazy, but I am still, dare I say it? Hopeful.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Barf is the new black

When I finally got dressed this afternoon, after wearing my nightgown and robe for the better part of the morning, I put on my favorite black maternity t-shirt. Within 5 minutes, Josephine had spit up on it, leaving a gooey, smelly wet stain from my shoulder to my boob. I am gorgeous: I wear the glow of new motherhood accessorized with the stench of barf and the drag of excess weight. Fashion means wearing something that has a waistband with a button rather than elastic, but let's be honest: I prefer the elastic. My maternity clothes remind me of one of the happiest times in my life, in addition to being the most comfortable, forgiving garments ever created. Maternity clothes are not the tent dresses of yesteryear; many highlight and celebrate the bump with bows and arrows (and worse), so even those of us who started out Rubenesque can feel cute. sexy, and beautiful when we're expecting. It's hard to give up these clothes.

Let's be honest: society allows women to be heavy for nine months times the number of children she has. Fat outside of those guildelines is very much frowned upon. Somehow, after giving birth and while we're nursing (and in some cases, recovering from major abdominal surgery), we are to quickly morph back into our pre-pregnancy shape. I'm warned on a daily basis to lose whatever I've gained before I get pregnant again for fear it will make pregnancy even more taxing next time. So after having a difficult time conceiving, I am in awe of what my body produced, and at the same time, but impatient with the aftermath. In the three months since Josephine was born, I've been taught to hate my body all over again.

It's interesting. I never once felt fat when I was pregnant. Even at nine months, teaching in an un-airconditioned school, my feet so swollen I could barely walk, I never felt fat. I was encouraged to eat, and my burgeoning belly was celebrated by all, friend and stranger alike. But after baby arrives and as time goes by, baby weight becomes a more complicated issue -- and they don't make postpartum clothes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I guess I don't have an occupation

...according to the list of options, anyway. I didn't see an option for someone who works in the home, cares for children, procures supplies to feed and clothe the family, prepares meals and all the other stuff a stay-at-home mom or dad does. I wonder why? My friend Liz, who also works in the home, says her business card should list her as CEO of her family. Another friend told me that some moms get business cards that list their position as parent to their child -- so mine would say "Josephine's Mom." Hmmm.

I am a teacher, by the way; it's just not my current occupation. For the last two years, I've been at Newark's Arts High School, and the two years prior to that I taught in the Bronx. On maternity leave, I'm still a teacher; my class is just much smaller. It still shocks me that one infant can be more exhausting (but also more satisfying) than one hundred twenty-five freshmen. I love this job. But seriously, the books about parenting don't tell the whole story -- and I found the same to be true of the pregnancy and birthing books. (More on this later.) I also found this to be true of most of the books I read on pedagogy. It's just that with people, there are so many more exceptions than there are rules. This is what makes parenting interesting. We don't all start out the same, so it is unlikely that our paths will be the same.

So I'm back to thoughts on my own path. Where am I? At home, for awhile, I suppose, and in the most wonderful profession not listed on the drop-down menu.