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October 11, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

The Pump House

One of the first contraptions you’ll see upon walking into our home is my breast pump. It sits like a statue on the coffee table next to the couch. I have stopped putting it away at night because I know I’ll be hooked up to it at some point every day.

At Edie’s last check-up, the doctor said that she’d like to see Edie gain a little more weight because she’s in a low percentile. (This brought me back to the nightmares I had when Edie was still in utero and doctors were already comparing her size to countless others larger than she. I hated all those comparisons. My baby was going to be just fine. And she was born a healthy and very average 7 pounds 10 ounces.)

I haven’t been pumping since the beginning of August when I got over my fear of the damn machine for one week and figured I should probably set aside some milk for the “someday” I couldn’t quite picture. Why would she need stored milk? I would be with her until February, and I could start pumping then. Well, the “someday” was last Tuesday when the doctor said I needed to give her some extra breastmilk, and so with a groan, I took it out and set it on the coffee table. It hasn’t left that spot since.

I keep reading that pumping is a “skill,” and that your boobs need to “learn” how to let milk down for a pump. It’s different for babies–those kids can suck you inside out and milk doesn’t stand a chance. But a pump is a robot and it doesn’t know how to “latch” (oh, the dreaded latch!) properly, or have a tongue, or a cute little jaw that goes up and down and never fails to trigger the let down when I look down at Edie as she begins to feed. I think I’ve already established that I hate learning new things and that I expect to be an expert the minute I start doing something new. That’s just one of my many character flaws. But pair that with the pressure of those fucking percentiles and the fact that I know my body isn’t nourishing my daughter properly enough to turn her into a butterball, and it’s like the perfect storm for feeling like a failure.

In fact, that’s what I said to my in-laws the other day when the topic of formula came up. Why is it that formula is like the most taboo word in parenthood? YES WE ALL KNOW “BREAST IS BEST.” But if you have breasts with stage fright like mine, then why is it inappropriate to think about another way to nourish your child? Why do we have to get all defensive when we talk about formula? (And this is the same thing with c-sections. We HAVE to put the word “emergency” before c-section as if that somehow justifies going through a birth experience that’s not “natural.” Fuck natural. I have a healthy, beautiful little baby because of surgery and that’s all I care about.) “Breast is best.” Pregnant ladies hear that stuff the moment they find out they’re pregnant. We are inundated with that message for months and months. We get questioned by doctors and family members and strangers: “Are you breast feeding?” And if we don’t answer “Yes,” then there’s a flash–and I KNOW this because I see it–a flash of judgment in the eyes of the questioner. I know “breast is best.” It may make for the best source of nutrition, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the kid is going to grow up to be the best person. Breastfed babies are just as likely to be assholes when they’re adults as formula fed babies are. When some jerk on the subway doesn’t offer me his seat after he clearly sees I’m carrying Edie, my first thought is never, “Typical formula fed douche bag.” Likewise, I rarely hear adults bragging about how long their mothers breastfed them. We don’t put “breastfed” on our resumes as if it means we are better qualified for jobs or would make better colleagues. It’s parenting that matters, in the big picture.

My in-laws said, “Just give her some formula.” And just like that, I was in tears claiming I felt like a failure for thinking about formula. Because it’s true. I do feel somewhat incapable of nourishing my daughter straight from my own body. I love breastfeeding. It’s my favorite way to spend time with Edie–just me and her, cuddled up and warm. I imagine it’s the way we all want to be–curled up in our mom’s arms, feeling full, feeling calm. To know that everyday, many times a day, I provide that comfort for my little girl makes me feel every bit a mother. (This is saying something because I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I am one.) But the fact of the matter is, I just don’t think my body is keeping up with the demands her growing body is placing on it. I have read in numerous places, “Your body will produce what your child needs.” But I just don’t think it is. If it were, we wouldn’t be talking percentiles.

So in an effort to make a whole lot more milk, I am pumping twice a day (because that’s all the time I have to do so) and drinking Mother’s Milk tea which tastes like the hot version of all of my least favorite flavors. I also bought some Fenugreek supplements. All of this is supposed to help increase supply and, as my personal lactation consultant says, “It will take time. It will just take time.” Did I mention that Dennis is my personal lactation consultant? Did I mention that whenever he gives me advice about lactation I glare at him? What does he know about lactation? His nipples are decorative.

But here is the big picture. There is a virtually never ending supply of nourishment that I can purchase for Edie. She can have it whenever she wants and it will satisfy her. My breasts, although they are “best,” just may not be pulling their weight. At the end of the day I am empty, just completely unable to give her what she needs. Why would I turn down a few bottles of formula? My baby needs to grow. She needs to feel full. She needs to be nourished. I can give her all the love in the world and all the comfort and all the cuddles and all the kisses. But if I cannot give her all the milk, I am not doing my job as a mother. I’m doing my best. But I guess sometimes my best might mean making decisions that cause me heart ache.

I’m not there yet. Formula is still an idea hovering out there in the distance. If this shitty tea doesn’t work its magic then I may have to cross a bridge to a place I never thought I’d go.  It’s not a decision I will come to lightly, and as such, I will come to it with careful certainty and try to fight any feelings of failure or sadness as best I can. I know in the big picture, the long term one–the one where Edie is traveling the world and learning languages and getting a job and being an adult–the decision I make about whether or not to give her formula won’t make a big difference. Won’t make a difference at all.

But for now, the shaming and judgment shit has to go. How a mother chooses to feed her child is no one’s business. Just like everything else with pregnancy and motherhood, there is room only for the child, the mother, and her partner. I’d start by not asking a mother about her decision to breastfeed or formula feed and instead to support–to cheer–whatever decision she and her partner make, knowing that they’re doing what’s best for their family.

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September 26, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Get in my belly.

If there is prepared food in the refrigerator, I don’t care what the fuck it is, I’ll eat it. The sexiest thing these days is any food that will take one or fewer steps to prepare, and usually that step is: Remove From Fridge. Even better if I don’t have to go through the hassle.

Last week I visited a friend in New Jersey. She’d prepared rice and beans and chicken the night before and I was thrilled. I love rice and beans and chicken, but I also love when the food has already been prepared and all I have to do is eat it. One of the hardest things recently has been to mask the defeat I feel when Dennis lovingly tells me he wants to cook dinner for me. Because it takes SO LONG. Sunday, for instance, he said, “Tonight’s dinner will take me three hours to make.”

Three hours?

Might as well be seventy six years. Honestly, if the food is not sitting on the counter and I can walk by and grab it and shove it in my mouth in between diaper changes and baby talking at a pitch eleven octaves higher than normal, I likely won’t eat it.

Also, when I do get my hands on food that I’ve pulled from the fridge, I am so furiously hungry and busy that I just don’t give a shit what it tastes like. Have you had cold, day-old spaghetti–no sauce? Cold chicken soup? Leftover sushi? You probably have. But those would be exceptions to your diet. They are staples of mine. Anything cold, anything that was once supposed to be hot but is kind of edible cold, anything raw, anything that needs less than twelve seconds to deal with–this is my new normal. At my friend’s house in New Jersey, I asked for a second helping of rice and beans and chicken. I helped myself–pulling it out of the refrigerator–and took two healthy servings. I started eating it.

“Do you want to heat it up?” my friend asked.

“No, that’s fine,” I said, with one full serving already stuffed in my mouth. The truth is, until she suggested that I heat it up my second helping, I hadn’t even realized that the first helping had been warm. Rice and beans taste infinitely better warm, no? But I didn’t care. It was food and it was delicious and I was going to eat it. Cold.

Tonight, for instance, I am eating an assortment of food that is easily prepared and eaten. Two nights ago, Dennis made an egg salad of sorts. I hate egg salad most of the time, so when he offered me a bite then, I was like, “Hell no, get that away from my face.”

So I ate that tonight, and then followed it with a Guinness, and now a bowl of granola. Here’s why. Edie went to sleep around 8:15. That leaves me roughly 45 minutes of time to nourish myself before I know I have to be in bed. (Sidebar: My friend Tami is probably gagging at the idea that the foods I’ve just mentioned fall under my “nourishment” category. Tami’s a fucking triathlete. She posts on her blog about her ridiculously healthy food choices. She went paleo during her pregnancy, yo. We are in different categories of humanity, me and Tami. Her offspring will have bones of steel. Mine will have buns of cinnamon with extra icing and a side of Ben & Jerry’s. Hi Tami!) Anyway, I have to get to sleep as early as I can because I know Edie’s going to be up at some point in the night and if I don’t get as much sleep as I can, I am not a good human in the morning. Or for an entire day. I used to be a morning person. But now I’m like a teenager who hates mornings and hates her parents and jesus christ, mom, why didn’t you wash my dark jeans, no not those dark jeans, but the other dark jeans. gawwwwwwwwwd you are SO. STUPID.

Dennis texted me last night at around 10pm telling me he was on his way home from location. The location was 15 minutes away, in Forest Hills. “I hope I’m asleep by the time you get home,” I texted back.

And I was. I was so deeply asleep that at midnight, I sat straight up in bed in a total panic that he hadn’t returned at all. But he was sound asleep next to me.

So it’s just after 9 right now and I’m doing the math about how much time I have for potential sleep and how writing this post is making me do subtraction. I have a beer to finish and a couple oat flakes left in my cereal bowl.

Mmm-mmm-good.

September 15, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Things you probably shouldn’t do.

Last night was one of those nights where everyone in the house was sleeping except for me. I couldn’t shut my mind off starting from the moment Dennis WOKE ME UP around 11pm to ask me whether or not the cat should sleep in our room.

Rule #1: Never wake me up.

Just never ever ever wake me up. ESPECIALLY to ask me a question that you can probably figure out the answer to by yourself based on the fact that for the past month the cat has not slept in our room. (Once, when Edith was 3 weeks old, Dennis woke me up in the morning to show me that he had put pants on her. My response was so violent that I thought he’d learned never to wake me up. Apparently not.)

From that moment on, I couldn’t get back to sleep. My mind was racing with thoughts ranging from the lyrics to this Brazilian song that was stuck in my head to what exactly is Ester C? I got up to drink a glass of milk at midnight and knew in about an hour Edith would be up for a snack. So then I had to weigh the benefits of trying to sleep for another hour (and we all know when you try to sleep, you don’t) or just riding it out until I was sure she would wake up.

Rule #2: Never be sure about anything.

But of course, OF COURSE, she didn’t wake up at 1. And as Zen as I was trying to be about staying up until she woke, I could feel myself crumbling. Melting is more like it. Or boiling? The Thoughts started creeping in. The Bad Thoughts.

Exhibit A–a glimpse at my thoughts anywhere between 1 and 3am:

Okay, fine, cool, just be cool about this. Dennis is sleeping, Edie’s sleeping, everything’s fine. Just be still. Be calm. Don’t think about sleep. Breathe deeply…

Maybe if I put a pillow between my knees I’ll feel better. Ahhhh…yes. That’s what I needed. What are those lyrics, anyway? “La vem a Baiana, something, something, something…” I wish I’d kept up with my Portuguese. That’s the only song on the CD that I can understand and it’s probably because she sings it slowly. I wonder if Kendra can understand lyrics to fast songs sung in Portuguese? It was great to see Mandy today. Remember the name of that dance place I went to? Cooperativa? That was a fun night. Was that the night I came home and passed out on the dining room floor and thought I’d lost my earrings? Which earrings were those–the ones from Anthropologie. I still have that gift certificate Sam gave me. I wonder when I’ll use it? Damnit, I wish Dennis wouldn’t breathe through his mouth when he sleeps. I hate mouth breath. Oh–was that Edie? Was that a sleep noise or a waking noise? Ugh, I’m hot. Why did I go to sleep with socks on? I never sleep with socks on. Jesus, he takes up so much fucking room in this bed. Pillow flip time! Nice and cool. I wonder what time it is? I bet it’s 2. Don’t check the clock. If you check the clock, the light will make your brain stop producing sleep hormones and you will have sealed your fate. Don’t check the clock. Don’t check…shit. It’s 2am. I knew it. Fucking hell. When is she going to wake up? If she wakes up now then I’ll be able to feed her and then fall asleep. Wake up, wake up, wake up. I can’t sleep on my stomach because my boobs hurt. If I could only lie down on my stomach I’d be able to sleep. Dennis get your pointy fucking elbow out of my side. Don’t touch me. Why in Christ’s name would he wake me up to ask about the cat? Seriously? He can’t use logic to figure that out? I sit up. He rubs my back. I let him. He lets his hand fall to my side. He’s asleep again. Too much touching. Get your hand off me. And another thing–why can’t he do some research about raising a baby? Why am I the one who has to tell him everything? Why does this all fall on me? He’s got the internet all over the place. Figure out how to thaw breastmilk, buddy. Why do I have to tell him the answers to all his questions? This is just like the birth preparation. I did all the reading and he did *some* of the reading. And in the end, it didn’t go as planned. I don’t think he took that seriously. But parenting is a whole new ballgame! He has to take this seriously! We have to be on the same page about everything. Why doesn’t he know what I know?

 

Rule #3: Never say anything out loud.

“Dennis.”

“Huh?”

“Dennis, wake up. Stay up with me please.”

“Okay.”

“It’s 3am and I’ve been up since midnight. I can’t sleep. Stay up with me.”

“Okay.”

[silence. silence. silence. silence.]

“Dennis.”

“What?”

“Are you awake?”

“Yes.”

“Why aren’t you saying anything?”

“What should I say?”

“You’re sleeping.”

“Okay.”

“You know what? Fucking ENJOY YOUR SLEEP.” [Grabbing a book that I have zero intention to read, I storm out of the bedroom to the living room, where I proceed to call him an asshole, but very quietly so as not to wake everyone up. After a few minutes of quiet rumbling to myself and feeble attempts to sleep (with my glasses on. Really, Gina?) I go back to the bedroom.

I fumble around with the bedsheets, making a big production of getting comfortable. The Bad Thoughts start again, this time about Noise. The construction site across the street from our apartment begins making noise Monday through Friday at 6:30am. Saturday mornings, the new low-flying (read: directly over our building) flight pattern at LaGuardia airport gets going at 6am. Sunday, therefore, is the only day of the week when my mornings are quiet. Factor in that Saturdays and Sundays are the only days when Dennis is around to allow me a couple extra hours of precious sleep in the morning and when yesterday was Saturday and the planes were going and going…well, my only hope for *any* sleep is on Sundays.
Suddenly, it is 4am and in the distance I hear the familiar rumblings of an airplane. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. I push Dennis awake and sob that Now I hear planes and it’s 4am and I’ve been awake since you asked me about Otis and why in the world would you ever ask me about Otis? I get out of bed, flop myself on the floor in Child’s pose for several minutes and then flop back into bed. When I am certain (See Rule #2) that Dennis is asleep and that I’ll be awake until the end of time, I whisper, “I hate you.”

For the record, I whisper this every time he is able to sleep and I’m not. Even before Edith was in the picture, I hated him for mouth-breathing the night away while I lay awake, my mind a boiling mess of evil thoughts. Also for the record, and he knows this, he is the last creature on Earth whom I hate. There is not a second that goes by when I am not grateful and full-on in love with him and feel completely lucky to have that man as my husband and father to my little girl. But sometimes I hate him, and them’s the breaks.

Somewhere around 6am, Edith wakes up fussing for food.

I hear from Dennis, “Do you want me to take her?”

“And do what?” I respond.

“I don’t know.”

I feed her. The sun is up. I give her to him. I sleep.

 

Rule #4: Never stay mad.

I hear Edith wailing. It’s nearly 10am. She must be hungry. I take her from Dennis, feed her, watch her fall asleep. I smell crepes coming from the kitchen. Dennis walks in with a sample of crepe that he’s improved upon from yesterday’s attempt. I eat it silently. I do everything silently for the next hour, unless it’s talking to Edith and then I am joyful and happy. But with Dennis, I answer him in one-syllable grunts, or shrugs. He cuts fresh fruit. He puts on Ray Charles. Asks me if I want maple syrup for the crepes. Asks if I want tea. I make coffee.

Slowly we begin to warm to each other, or, rather, I warm to him. What was I mad about last night? Is it something I should talk with him about? I should let this go. I can’t even remember why he was the target of my frustration. More than frustration. I look at a magazine he’d shown me yesterday with a rug he was interested in getting. I consider it. I tell him I want to go to a store today to get another outfit for Edith. We talk about the consistency of the crepes. Indeed, they are better than yesterday’s. We look at Edith. She’s asleep in her swing, finally. He’d had trouble with her morning nap. I can empathize. I have trouble with her naps all the time. I’ve had three months of feeding her myself, putting her down for naps; he hasn’t.

And then, as I’m browsing baby outfits online, adding them to my shopping cart, Dennis starts to laugh. He bends over to kiss me on my cheek and he is still laughing. I ask why he’s laughing, but he’s laughing too hard to say. Is it because I’m shopping for $8 onesies with the same amount of seriousness I’d previously shopped for Anthropologie clothes? “Don’t laugh at me! Why are you laughing??”

And before I know it, he’s whispering: “I hate you” in the same tone I’d used just a few hours before when I was certain he wouldn’t hear me.

What can I do? What can I do but laugh and say it again: I hate you. And he is kissing my cheek and laughing and I am laughing and so thankful the tension is gone. He’d heard me. He’d heard everything. All the swears, the groans, the cursing, all night long. He’d been awake the whole time, just like me. Talk about the strong silent type.

 

Rule #5: No one said this was going to be easy.

 

 

September 9, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Regression.

Edith is going to be 15 weeks old on Thursday, just about two weeks shy of the dreaded “four month sleep regression” that I keep seeing pop up when I google “14 weeks infant why am I in hell”. Last night may have been a preview of that regression, a little amuse bouche if you will, that had me texting Dennis in the middle of the night, “I can’t do this shit, come get me,” or something to that effect. We decided this weekend that I would stay in Connecticut at his parents’ house for a few nights while he went back to NYC for work. The weather was supposed to be good this week and I had nothing planned in the city. So why not, right?

So wrong. So fucking wrong. Edith knew something was up almost as soon as Dennis pulled out of the driveway. And she was like, “Either you bring my father back to me right now or I will murder your nipples with my gums and smile while I’m doing it.” She did the latter. For like twelve hours. All through the night, every two hours. For the record, she hasn’t done the every two hour thing since she was about three weeks old. So I have had a deliciously wonderful time getting used to sleeping in chunks of four to seven hours. So this two-hour thing is bullshit. If I’d have been a cartoon, at 4:12am my eyes would have been those black and white hypnotic spinny things that Daffy Duck used to get sometimes.

All this makes me think Edie’s experiencing that 4-month sleep regression. That just means she has more trouble sleeping, is having a huge growth spurt, and will come through on the other side with some new talent. I’m hoping that new talent includes the ability to tell time and to empathize with others regarding the need to sleep but I’m not getting my hopes up.

I started thinking about all the things that would make this growth spurt easier for me. For babies, it’s easy. All they say to do is hold and feed. “Take the baby to bed,” they say. That just means stay in one spot and let her suck you dry. I welcome any of you to try that out. It works for about eleven minutes and then you’re stuck in bed with a baby. A kicking, whining, irrationally hungry baby who stares–and I mean STARES–at your nipples with more intensity than a 12-year old boy with access to the Internet and a realization that he can google “nipples” from the quiet and safety of his own bedroom. It is scary. Scary mainly because I’m not sure if my body will produce all the food she needs. Listen, she’s just drained my boobs twice in forty minutes. How can I possibly have time to refill so she can do it all over again? But anyway, that’s all she needs. Lots of holding and lots of food.

Turns out my needs aren’t that much different. Here’s what I came up with last night to make Edie’s growth spurts easier for me to handle:

1) A bed shaped like an egg and filled with down pillows and comforters. The bed also must be on wheels and able to be moved upstairs and through doors to the outside.

2) An endless water supply, and a selection of other beverages from which to choose once I get sick of water. Those beverages, in an ideal world, would be: lattes, blood orange Pellegrino, chocolate milkshakes, the occasional Mexican beer, and iced tea.

3) A catheter. But it would have to be the imaginary kind that you couldn’t feel go in or come out. No need to add insult to injury. Well, better yet, I’d like a bottomless bladder.

4) All the movies Tom Hanks has ever made.

5) The book I started 5 weeks ago for the second time (

    A Prayer for Owen Meany

. I’m on page 180. Out of, like, seven thousand.)

6) My phone and computer. And their chargers within reach. Maybe built into the bed frame of the egg shaped bed.

7) YOUR nipples. Obviously to take the place of mine when Edith chomps down and squishes them between her lips. That’s a new trick that I can’t possibly be more excited about.

8) Quesadillas or nachos.

I think that’s all I require. But, really, I’d give them all up if I could just have Dennis here. He has this incredible ability to just sit down and soothe her. She just has a sense that he’s around and that sense alone is enough to balance her out. This morning I got the idea that maybe, after Edie was born, maybe she imprinted on him instead of me. (Or is it that he imprints on her? That must be it.) So I’m just the food source and he’s the real soother. That’s one of those terrible thoughts that comes to me when I haven’t gotten sleep and makes me feel even worse than I already do. But whatever. I don’t care if she imprinted on a postage stamp if he could just be here and help us through the stress. As he pulled out of the driveway yesterday, I started crying. At the time I had no idea Edie would have such a bad night, otherwise I would have run after the car and pulled it back into the driveway by my teeth. I cried because last night was the first night we were away from each other since Edie was born. Like away, away. Not just away because of work. And I miss him. I miss our tiny family and being in the same room.
I guess there’s a first time for everything, and last night was a first that I’m glad is over. And I know that when this growth spurt is over Edie Bear will be able to do new things and it will mean she’s growing up and developing and all that. I also know we will get through it together, like we did with all the others. There will be good days and bad, sunny days and sour. I know all of this. It’s just very hard to remember it when the little baby I created is crying in my arms and, for what seems like the thousandth time that hour, to give her my entire body, my whole self, everything I’m made of.

September 6, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Hell-Ohhh!

The number of times I say “Hello” to my 13-week-old daughter is ridiculous. Every single time I look at her, I say, “Hello.” When I pick her up in the morning, it’s the first word I say to her. When I change her diaper, when I breastfeed her, when I put socks on her, when I walk from room to room, while I put her in and take her out of her swing…Sometimes I mix it up and say “hi,” but mostly it’s “hello.”

But it’s not just “hello.” It’s “Hell-Ohh!” Always a surprise, like I haven’t seen her in ages, like I was just thinking about her and turned a corner and there she was. Why can’t I mix up the words I choose to say to her? Why is it always “hello”? Why not complicated words, or words that might be useful to her in the future–like “credit score” and “masters degree” and “self respect”?

I’ll tell you why. Because the moment I see her face, all language eludes me. I cannot remember song lyrics, nursery rhymes, poetry, Shakespeare…even animal sounds escape my memory, especially when she’s crying or about to cry. I am left with grunts, zerberts, whistles, and oohs. My friend Micaela, who has the exceptional ability to make up songs (and limericks, and dances, and stories) from scratch at the drop of a hat told me that songs sung to babies need words. That’s all well and good if you’re as talented as Micaela, but if you’re me, baby songs include loads of words like “la la la” and “blrp” and lots of tongues being stuck out. They barely have a tune and, if they do, they may or may not include several well-known tunes patch-worked together. “London Bridge Is Falling Down” can easily follow a verse from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” which of course will follow “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg (Dan Fogelberg? What?) with a second or two of unintended yodeling as my voice calibrates to the new tune that I have just miraculously pulled out of my subconscious. I sound like Bjork, but not in a good way.

“Hello” seems to be the easiest word for me to say because I just don’t know what to say to a 13-week-old baby. I mean, I know I can say anything and she will just let it wash over her. I’ve read New Yorker articles to her, read my email, read the New York Today section in the NY Times (which is an awesome way to start your day, by the way, especially if you live in NYC. But maybe it’s just in the mobile version?) And then I’ve tried talking to her about my finances, internet providers, past boyfriends, upcoming plans. But it’s hard to just wax on about all of these topics. (Not the boyfriend one–I could go on for months about those guys.) After a while, it just gets boring. She can’t respond to any of my questions about Syria nor help me reflect about when exactly that one long-term relationship twelve years ago took a turn for the worse and how my insecurities led to its eventual collapse. The only thing I can do to elicit some kind of response from her is to make weird noises with my lips. At least she smiles when I do that, and sometimes she even laughs and copies my noises. So I figure why bore her with long-winded readings of the New Yorker fiction section when I could just give her something she understands? Zerberts.

But there’s all this pressure. RESEARCH SHOWS that children who hear something like 30 billion words before age three (or 30 million. Or 3 million. Or 3 billion. Or 30 kajillion. Something absurd, whatever the number) have a better chance of being successful in kindergarten. So with every zerbert sound I make, I kind of kick myself. That could have been a WORD, Gina. Next time, use a word. Even use the word “horse.” Just say “horse” and you’ve gotten Edith one word closer to being successful in kindergarten. But is it 30 billion individual words? Or just 30 billion words in general? So, like, do repeated words count toward the 30 billion? There must be an app for counting unique words so that you’ll know which percentile your baby will be in by kindergarten.

(And another thing: fuck percentiles. I went through such nonsense with percentiles when she was in utero. She was in twenty different percentiles every week for her size and I had to get all sorts of tests for the last 30 million weeks of my pregnancy because someone somewhere thought she was going to be smaller than someone else’s big fat fetus. There is no better way to make a pregnant woman nervous than by suggesting that someone else’s baby is bigger than her own and by sticking a fetal heart monitor to her stomach 17 times a month so she can watch the heart beat rise and fall and think about her baby struggling to grow every time she feels a hiccup. All this to give birth to a perfectly healthy, perfectly normal little chicken baby who’s reaching milestones as she should and is cute as hell. I wish Science would just lay off of measuring everyone and let all the babies just grow up. Keep your double-blind, peer-reviewed studies off my baby, man.)

As a teacher, I’ve been trained to understand the value of “meeting students where they are” and scaffolding to get them to a more advanced place. Okay, so, with Edith, I’m meeting her with zerberts and a whole lot of hellos. That’s okay right now. We’re both happy with the way things are. And frankly, I’ll do anything to see her smile.

September 4, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

Adventures in Diapering

A rough calculation of how many diapers we have used to date since Edith’s birth yields something like 700. This is just a staggering number when I think about the trash my daughter has created in her short life. Well, she hasn’t created the trash. We use disposables, so our choice to do that has created the trash. (We are also using g diapers, an alternative to the plastic disposables; but they’re so expensive we can’t use g diapers exclusively.) It’s also astonishing that I have changed a diaper 700 times in the past three months. That means that I have breastfed her well over that number. When people have asked me lately, “What’s new?” or “What have you been up to?” I just kind of stare at them. Diapering and breastfeeding is apparently what I’ve been up to, I guess. I have nothing to contribute to any conversation about anything beyond diapering and breastfeeding. In short, I am not the person you want to go get coffee and catch up with. I will likely grin at you and try to repeat the sounds you’re making.

This is what I’ve been doing with Edith. They say to teach conversation skills, it’s a good idea to repeat the sounds babies make. So I spend most of my day saying “Ooooh,” “gah,” “bllllrp” after she does, and filling silent times with other zerbert noises and one-sided conversations that sound like this: “Do you want to go for a walk? bla, bla, bla, Biba, baby Edie, bla, bubba. Oooh, let’s put you in the Ergo! Would you like to go in the Ergo? You love the Ergo! Okay! Let’s put you in the Ergo! And then we’re going to go for a walk! Where are we going to go? Oh, Biba, Biba, Biba! Oops, Mama should really call you Edie so you know your name. Okay, let’s go! And we’re walking, blah, blah, bllllrp!”  The years of talking to my cat, Otis, have prepared me for one-sided conversations with my daughter, but nothing prepared me to have these conversations for ten hours a day. I’m sick of hearing myself and have to make a conscious effort to lower my voice an octave when Dennis comes home at night.

But back to the diapering, because I know that’s what you’re really excited about.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had extreme gas. And this leads to just the most disgusting and explosive diapers I’ve ever seen. I know, I know: “Wait until she starts eating real food!” But no. For right now, these remain the scariest things on the planet and I am forced to confront my fear and control my gag reflex at least once a day, and then do laundry. Edith’s diapers are the closest thing I have come to seeing dysentery.

I think the diapering thing is kind of like a dance, albeit a kind of gross one. But it’s all about timing, swiftness, prayer, and when it’s gone really well, celebration. I have to whisk her away to the changing table when she’s given me a clue that it’s time, usually a strong and audible vibration, and often accompanied by a very serious stare. Then it’s a quick check to determine the severity of the damage, a mustering of nerves, a smile to the babe to let her know everything’s going to be okay, and then it’s into the trenches armed with wipes and prayers. “Please don’t poop on me. Please don’t poop on me. Please don’t poop on the table.” This begging gets more desperate if I realize half way through that I haven’t opened the fresh diaper to slide it under her when she’s all cleaned up. I’m telling you, they are precious seconds when really anything can happen. Yesterday, during those seconds, she peed all over the table. Last week…last week? In those couple of seconds? You guys, I saw poop come out of her body.

And then it’s fucking war and I am the least prepared soldier out there–bombs and guns and people yelling orders everywhere and I’m standing there letting it swirl all around me, unable to move. It’s like rational thinking goes straight out of my head and I turn into one of those dads in movies–like where they hold the naked baby away from their bodies and look around for help as the baby cries and continues to pee. Do I put Edie on the floor? In the bath? How do I turn the water on? No, I should probably put her in the crib while I clean up. Where’s a clean diaper? Wait, no, I have to put her down first. But how do I put her down when she’s still dirty? Oh no no no no! Stop peeing! Stop! Stop! And when it’s all over and the clothes and changing pad cover are soaking in the sink and Edith is smiling and my blood pressure has returned to normal, I reflect on the order of things and prepare for the next time: Open the new diaper, place face down on the table, open the wipes container, pull one out and make sure it doesn’t stick to the next one, unbutton onesie, take a deep breath through the mouth, unfasten dirty diaper, attack.

Do you see now why we should not go to coffee? This is all I have to offer.

August 30, 2013 / ginavoskov2013

The end of summer.

The school year has begun and for the first time since I was three years old, I will not be in a classroom the day after Labor Day. I am taking the first semester off, until the beginning of February, so I can stay at home with Edith. At first, I thought this was a lovely idea. And it truly is. But I can’t help feeling like I’m floundering a bit now that I’m not thinking about curriculum and meetings and getting to know the 24 new faces in my homeroom. I don’t know what a September feels like outside of a school. For the first time in the 10 years I’ve been a teacher, I haven’t had a back-to-school dream. I haven’t thought about getting new clothes for the school year and I have walked down the paper and pen aisle in the drugstore without even a glance at the Sharpies and Bics.I have also gone through the motions of looking over my roster and reading announcements and beginning-of-the-year meeting minutes as if I am going to be responsible for them in a couple of days. I’ve sent email to my colleagues with ideas for units and materials, and yesterday, when I walked by my school on the way to meet up with friends, I looked up to find my classroom window as I always do when I walk by the school. It’s hard to break my work habits.

The thought that used to get me up and out of bed in the mornings before work was the first coffee of the day that I would get at a place on 23rd and Park after getting on two trains from Queens. Their lattes have the best crema and the flavor of the coffee is so sweet and smooth. At 5:30 on a rainy Tuesday morning in March, for instance, not much can motivate me out of the coziness of my bed except for the knowledge that a latte like the one at My Way Cup is out there, waiting for me. And so I drag myself up and out, taking solace in the first sip and hoping the M23 bus will be a few minutes late so I can at least savor the warmth and dryness of that coffee shop.

Now the thought that gets me up out of bed is the hope that Edith will have a smiley morning. No matter how rough the night or how cranky and exhausted I feel, I cannot wait to see her smile in the morning. It’s somewhat less exciting when she greets me by crying, but sooner or later she will smile and talk and we’re back to normal and having a good time. On weekend mornings, if Dennis hasn’t worked an overnight on set, I let him have the mornings with her so I can get a couple extra hours of sleep. It’s important for him to get those hours with her, the early morning hours when she’s giggly and grinny and playful because he sees her awake so infrequently. Like this week, for example, he changed her diaper yesterday morning and then won’t see her again awake until tomorrow morning. He came home at 1:30am and left around 7 while Edie was still sleeping. And he won’t come home until tomorrow morning at 2 or 3. As much as I love the mornings with her–they’re infinitely better than her crabby evenings–I want Dennis to have them on the weekends. He usually takes her for a walk or sits and reads with her, and when I come out of the bedroom, she is sleeping on his chest and he’s watching a documentary about German landscape architecture or something else I’d rather not watch. It’s lovely to see, even though it means I’ve missed those smiley moments.

I think about going back to work in February and, even though it’s hard for me to imagine not being in school right now, I am *terrified* of going back and leaving Edith with someone I don’t know. This year is really unique–I go back to work in February, Dennis ends his job in May. So we need only three months of daycare before Dennis can be a stay-at-home dad. Who is going to take a babysitting/daycare job for only three months? These are the times when I get really mad that my mom isn’t here anymore. She would be down here in a flash if it meant she got to take care of Edie for however long, and I could go back to work knowing Edie’s in good hands. But all the wishing in the world won’t change that, so why even think about it? We have time to figure daycare out, but still it makes me very anxious. Last Saturday morning when we were in CT at Dennis’s parents’ house, the thought of leaving Edie at daycare got me up and out of bed, foregoing the extra sleep time, and interrupting the time Dennis and Edie had alone. I just needed to put my hands on her in that moment. I was choked with panic at the thought that someone might not love her like I do, wouldn’t respond to her cues like I do, wouldn’t play or read with her and she would just be lying there in a crib, calling for me. She will be eight months old when she finally has to go to daycare. I know she’ll be older and more mature than she is now–at 12 weeks she’s still pretty helpless even though she’s so much more alert and able to interact. But I keep imagining the first day when I leave her and the thought cripples me. And then I’m supposed to go spend seven hours teaching other people’s children?

Part of my insane attachment to her right now is because for the past three weeks, we have been having exceptionally good days. Lots of activity, more of a routine, and so much more fun. The time is flying by and when I stop to think, I realize that if August ended this quickly, what will happen with September and October and all of fall and half-way through winter when it’s just a week or so before I have to go back to work? It feels like she was just born and she’s nearly three months old! How is it possible that I have a three-month-old baby? And how is it possible that she is just so beautiful? All of her faces, her tears, her giggles and coos and sounds–they just cut straight to my heart. I want to eat her. She is just the most sweetly, heart-crushingly beautiful thing I have ever created–and I can’t believe I created her.

She does this thing with her hand when I’m nursing her–she waves it up and across my chest, back and forth on my skin until she falls asleep. I can’t do anything but stare at her, watching her eyes flutter as she drifts off, her little chin moving up and down faintly, her body warm and heavy against my stomach. Sometimes I see her dreaming–she will smile or laugh or cry while she is still nursing and in those moments I am lost in a world that contains only the two of us–my sweet little girl, smiling in her sleep, and me, her mama, smiling down at her. I want to stay in that world forever.