Monday, May 29, 2006

Bridget Jones Has a Baby

It's Memorial Day and I'm tired of thinking about the war dead, the high cost of crappy plastic cemetery flowers, and why it is everyone else I know has cookouts but I mostly have bowls of Fruit Loops.

So let's talk about babies. It seems timely. The media can finally quit telling us that Baby Jolie-Pitt is about to be born, has been born, has been given the name of a Golden Retriever, has been made an honorary Namibian princess, etc. (The downside, of course, is that we'll be back on Britney-watch.)

Also, in other celebrity baby news, it seems Helen Fielding, the author of _Bridget Jones's Diary_, has just had her second child at 48. I like this story because it gives me almost a decade to still keep motherhood on the table. I keep a list of "older" mothers just in case--at some later date--I need a role model.

That said, today I visited a friend who recently had her first baby, and I'm not sure what compels rational people to procreate. A little over a year ago the two of us got together for the ballet and dinner, where she confessed that she was thinking of having a baby but she really wasn't sure she wanted to, had never wanted kids, had never seen herself as a mother, etc. (I encouraged her, for the record. It seems like a thing you are supposed to do if you can.) Then about three weeks later she wrote that she was pregnant and so she guessed the decision had been made. Before Baby, we met in bars and talked about men and what we wanted to do with our lives. Today we met at Bob Evans. On the surface, she looked as fresh and well-organized as she always has, but something was off. She seemed scattered and a little unsure of herself. She kept apologizing. She confessed that she knows nothing about babies and so still has no idea if he is exceptional or below average in what he does, though what he does mostly is chew things and smile. She said that while she used to think about climbing the corporate ladder, she now suddenly wants a job where she can work less than 40 hours a week and wear comfortable shoes. I felt both sorry for her and a little envious. There's this cocoon around a mother and a new baby that third parties just can't quite penetrate.

She's younger than I am and I (being so very old and so very jaded) have lived through several of these get-togethers in the first six months of Baby's life and it is wrist-slittingly tedious while the two of you try to re-navigate your friendship since you are no longer in the same boat...or floating on the same body of water. I'm sympathetic to how hard this transition must be for the parents. In fact, on a couple of occasions with close friends, I've enjoyed watching the transformation and hearing about the feeding schedule and quality of diaper contents and the features on the Bebecar Stroller (which costs more than my first vehicle) and how really, you just can't be a GOOD parent without a Diaper Genie. I take mental notes so I can have rational discussions about things I know nothing about with whomever has the NEXT baby. And maybe I take notes in case my ovaries are as hearty as Helen Fielding's. Maybe.

I've always wanted to be one of those cool single people who "understands" the trials and tribulations of marriage and a childless one who totally "gets" what it is to be a mother, so admitting any of this is like blowing my own cover, but here it is: when friends have babies it totally sucks. At least it does in the early days because suddenly the glow of the spotlight shining on the baby is just wide enough to shine a bit on you and expose something you've never known before about your own life, which is this: it is silly and insignificant. I want to be clear: this has nothing to do with the mothers' attitude. For instance, my friend today generously praised my writing and asked several about my life, but then when I went to tell her, the baby would coo or shake his stuffed cow and we would BOTH stop mid-sentence and grin at him like a couple of idiots. She asked what I'd been up to, and nothing I've been up to seemed noteworthy--eating Fruit Loops on Memorial Day hardly qualifies as news. I've been to Ireland. I've taught some classes. I've flirted with some men. But how can we discuss that when she so recently brought new life into the world and here it is sitting before us, filling its diaper?

We gave up after awhile. We made faces and weird sounds at the baby and assured each other regularly that he really is the most beautiful, smartest, and most cheerful baby ever (as all babies are). When I pulled away, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, his mother looked pained at the thought of the hour long drive she had in front of her, and I cranked up the Pearl Jam in my own car where there were no little eardrums to worry about, which is another kind of satisfying.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bad Book; Good Dog

I’ve been reading the same book since mid-March and when I reached page 612 today I realized the book sucks. For two months I’ve been berating myself for not reading more, for letting the internet, the TV, student papers, etc., pull me away from reading, and then today I discover it wasn’t really my fault. It was the book’s. True, I could have put the book down at anytime—I’m not one of those people who has to finish what she starts (which explains a closet full of craft projects beginning with 1970s plastercraft and ending with a sweater I’ve been knitting since 1999—but let’s not blame the victim). I was so convinced by this book’s cover, by jacket blurbs, by it’s sticker declaring it one of Richard and Judy’s choices (I assume this is the UK version of an Oprah pick—I bought the book in Ireland), and the subject matter that I just kept plugging through eight centuries of religious persecution and grail mythology to come to the conclusion—with only twenty pages to go—that this was not a good book. Perhaps it was historically accurate, but the writing and presentation was. Not. Good.

This always causes some anxiety—the bad books that get published. I could do this. I could do better than this. How does K.M. get her crap book about the Crusades published when mine just sits there, ignored by agents and editors alike? Well, here’s how: my book is invisible. It exists only in my mind and therefore is difficult to market. You can’t get bitter about someone getting all the publishing laurels when you have been busying yourself with postcard writing and season finale watching.

What I’ve been writing instead of chapters for the writing festival I’m going to in Aspen at the end of June: a journal for the Wonder Dog. I’m cracking myself up with it, putting words in his mouth, seeing things from his point of view, writing diligently every day. In yesterday’s entry he wrote about going to an Amish greenhouse where he was in awe of a horse. I’m thinking he might start a blog of his own. With my luck, he’ll get a book deal and I never will. His work ethic is stronger than mine. That’s all.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Cheerleader and the Brain

Today I was walking the Wonder Dog and listening to my iPod. It was a perfect, beautiful day after about eight days of rain. So glad was I to be at one with nature that I took the time to smell the peonies. I took three deep sniffs, mindful of not inhaling the ants, stood up, caught my earphones on the blossom, unsnagged them with a jerk, and catapulted about fifteen ants right onto my head and down my blouse.

Once a month when the bill is due, I go to the gym. I can’t say it does much for muscle tone or weight loss, but I am dedicated even though I don’t see results. Once a month. Like clock work. I go to the gym at 10:00. This is the perfect time to go because the only people who are there are usually older people who have either had strokes and are rehabilitating or older people who are healthy and trying to ward off the strokes. Nobody is there who looks like they’ll be on the next series of Real World in other words. The older people don’t really work the machines right. They do things in a lopsided fashion. I say this not to make fun of them but to point out that for me to feel good about the hour I sometimes spend in a gym requires me to be surrounded by people bent over with osteoporosis and propping themselves up with canes. I am not what you would call a natural.

When I was in high school, I was one of those girls who always had her nose stuck in a book and who was always the last one in from the mile run around the track in gym class. Because there were no books involved with gym, I considered it a waste of my time. I didn’t particularly like my body (though I would certainly like to have access to that version of myself again) and so tended towards maximum coverage in oversized Amy Grant sweatshirts and army jackets. Gay men loved me. Boys who read The Lord of the Rings found me a worthy enough companion.

On the other end of the mind/body spectrum was a girl, let’s call her Trixie, who wore her parachute pants so tight that little was left to the imagination. She was spoiled and cute. She had a horrible reputation as being both a bitch and a whore, though I knew her as neither. She was just someone in general math and English classes whose wardrobe and body were enviable, who had gone out with a lot of different guys, and who had a contagious laugh. Also, she was a cheerleader.

Yesterday when I got the gym, there on the steppy-uppy machine I haven’t the stamina to use, was not one of the geriatric regulars, but Trixie, chewing gum, reading a celebrity gossip magazine, and talking to a trainers. She saw me and greeted me warmly, as she always does though we were never friends, and we talked about school and old acquaintances and life. She was sheepish because the last time I saw her was at a restaurant where her eleven-year-old son announced across the aisle separating us that she’d been married and divorced twice and that he and his brother had different fathers. This announcement caused her to clam up and me to eat the rest of my deep friend dinner in uncomfortable silence.

At the gym, we were able to laugh this off. Obviously, this is her domain. She effortlessly talked to me as she climbed an invisible K-2 while I huffed and puffed on the 0% incline of the treadmill. She told me how good her boys are—how they are so much better than she is. She said she wished I had a kid that would spill MY secrets to her, and it struck me how sad it is that we humans go through our lives worrying about what other people think of us. Trixie thinks I sit in judgment on her because she’s been married twice, didn’t go to college, and knew how to have a good time. Meanwhile, I think Trixie is judging the size of my treadmilling ass, judging me for my no mate, no children, and lack of fashionable workout clothes.

Why do we torture ourselves this way? I allowed myself about 120 seconds of the masochism and then forced myself to focus on her and what she is: a thing of beauty. Not just because she is firm or tan or has long blond hair, but because she still cracks her gum and giggles and tells you she likes your shoes instead of mentioning how you look fatter or older or more single than you did in 1985.

As we were getting ready to leave, the trainer she had been talking to earlier was rubbing a kink out of her back. In six years of semi-irregular gym attendance, no trainer has bothered to smile at me let alone rub a kink out of any of my muscles, but here was Trixie, getting a post-workout backrub and telling the trainer that she thought perhaps she was so tense because she hadn’t had sex for so long. Gum crack. Gigggle. Maybe its something I should try to incorporate into my life.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Future's So Bright

The university’s graduation ceremonies were this weekend. My first as faculty because I usually skip town the minute grades are in. I don’t like ceremony and I loathe long speeches full of empty slogans and clunky metaphors. Also, normally because I teach lower level classes more frequently than upper, by the time “my” students have graduated they’ve forgotten both my name and how to document properly. So those are my reasons. My excuses. This year though it was made clear that faculty participation in graduation is mandatory. For two days I stewed. My rebelliousness turned me into an instant four year old (“You are NOT the boss of me”) but my need for approval sent me running for a last minute gown and appropriate cap and hood.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the hood color for humanities is white and with my alma mater colors of red and white, I was not nearly so colorful as my peacock-y colleagues. In fact, I looked like a nun. Also, I felt inferior in my non-velvet trim un-PhD robe. Until, that is, I discovered that my special master’s sleeves had secret pockets for lip gloss, Kleenex, and mints.

There is always a little too much optimism at graduations. When I graduated from high school, someone had cut out Old English letters that spelled out our class motto: The Future Is Ours: Therefore, the Best is Yet to Come. Though I was no good at math, this equation didn’t add up for me. Why would the future be better simply because it was ours? Who were we? After the masking tape letters started to unstick, the art teacher saw it and thought it was an apathetic motto for an apathetic generation. The “b” had fallen and she thought it read: The future is ours; therefore the REST is yet to come.

This is a better motto, in my opinion. The pressure is off. There will be no let down when the best doesn’t happen because it’s really just the rest. Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.

Back to this more recent graduation. The speeches were long and the metaphors were clunky. But I liked the medieval-ness. The tradition. Seeing the biggest class my division has ever graduated marching through the tunnel of us. Who knew that would be such a good feeling? So, yeah, I’ll go next year. I won’t feel the need to rebel. But I’m hoping to use those sleeves to smuggle in some Oreos and maybe my iPod.