Her Bad Mother

Friday, April 7, 2006

The Vagina Dialogues

*WARNING. What follows is long and confessional and likely only interesting to women who think that Our Bodies Ourselves is good fun beach reading. Proceed at own risk.*

**Nothing to see here, Google pervs. Turn back.**

You know that there's fire in the brain (and that WonderBaby is having some good naps) (Dudes! Unswaddled!) when I post twice in one day.

I might have simply posted multiple comments in response to the excellent comments to my post of this morning (which you can read here to get caught up), but I decided that the thoughts that those comments provoked were worthy of their own post. What follows might be somewhat incoherent, being entirely off-the-cuff and the product of a mind that is racing faster than fingers can type, but here goes...

The Vagina Dialogues - the thoughtful commentary that was provoked by my blitheringly confessional query concerning how parents refer to their children's genitalia - have further proven to me (although I needed no further proof) just how valuable a learning tool the parenting blogosphere is for a new mother.

If you've read the post, you'll know that I was feeling prissy about refering to my daughter's vagina (vulva! Thanks, Moxie! It's been a long time since what passed for sex ed in Catholic school!) by its proper name. Not that any sex talks are pending with a five-month-old baby; the issue came up for me when I realized that our bathtime body-part-naming song was, um, lacking in pedagogical rigor when it came to certain body parts. I felt uncomfortable singing about WonderBaby's vagina (vulva!), and wondered whether that was weird of me, and wondered further how other parents went about refering to the nether regions of their children.

So what did I learn? Well, the fast lesson, for me, was that there are some good reasons for overcoming one's prissiness regarding language (which, hello? Hypocritical from a woman who derives great pleasure from swearing like a trucker in the company of Husband, close friends and blog-peers) and keeping to the correct terminology when talking or singing about Those Parts with one's children. There's the obvious, educational reason: children should learn the correct terms for things. I was concerned that insisting upon preciseness in the language used to refer to genitalia in bathtime songs would put me over the pedantic edge (over which, my very small collective of regular readers will know, I already regularly dangle. Or - fine - fall over entirely.) But if the Cool Moms are doing it, well, hell, so will I.

But Sunshine Scribe provided another, very important reason:

The reason I don't call his penis a peepee or something cute is not because I want to be "correct" but because I have read and been told by a practioner in the field that using anatomically correct intead of "funny" terms is a molestation-proofing strategy. Whoa. Stay with me. The idea is that if they understand that it isn't a silly part that has a funny name and they can correctly identify it then it is less likely someone can talk them into a funny game with their funny-named part and also that they'll be able to articulate themselves better when you are explaining how to handle those situations. Very long winded, badly written, run-on sentence way to say:if I ever have a girl, no matter how clinical it will sound, I'll call it a vagina.

Her comment speaks for itself. That, my friends, is more than enough reason for me to overcome petty prissiness and start singing songs about vaginas (vulvas!) rather than tooties and woo-hoos.

(A question, though. Should I not be singing silly songs about those parts? I'm serious - does making those parts at all funny get in the way of an anti-molestation strategy? 'Cause if it does, I'll stick to 'Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.' Sunshine Scribe? Anyone?)

So - vulva it is.

But there were a few more lessons for me here, beyond Why You Should Use Proper Names for Certain Body Parts and It's a Vulva, Stupid. (That 'Stupid'? That's for the laugh. At my own expense. I really did appreciate the reminder.)

The first lesson: that however much I might like to say that I was being prissy about it because I wanted to Avoid Being Pedantic, or that, yes, my reluctance to use the term was pure prissiness but that my prissiness is not a function of Bigger Issues, neither of these statements is truthful. I do have - have long had - issues about the/my body and the sexuality thereof. And however much I might protest that I don't want to impose such issues upon my daughter, that hasn't stopped me from letting those issues inform - already - how I communicate with my daughter.

Bear with me here; I'm coming to a point. (Really.)

Sky said this: When you think about baby talk, you think about sweet songs, butterflies, teddy bears, cute toes and knees and not "anatomy class".Do you tell your baby "now I am going to wash your spinal cord"? or my baby has cute "abdomenal region". No, you say belly. You try to be cute... When I read this, my immediate thought was YES. But the thought that immediately followed was WHY?

Now, obviously, babies are the very definition of cute. File that under DUH. And it is also, obviously, a truism that one usually associates one's own baby with All That is Cute, whatever cute means to you. I myself draw the cute line well distant of treacly Winnie-the-Pooh gear, choosing instead to identify cute with things like Mutha Sucka t-shirts, but still. WonderBaby, for me, is all sweet, sweet innocence and light. Maybe with a few bows in her quiver - and yes, she's packing a quiver - but all-in-all, She Is Love and Love Is Sweet.

And that's all well and good, but really? In the real world, love is not all sweet and good. Love bears arms. And the world is, and people are, messy and messed up and not reliably good at all. I want to protect my daughter from this (see above re: DUH). I want to preserve her innocence as long as possible. I want the world, for her, to be all sweet songs and butterflies for as long as it can be that. But I also want her to be prepared for the world that is not that.

And I don't know that I serve that end by neutering her. She is not a sexless Cherub (however much I might want her to be.) (And, for the record, Renaissance Cherubim are not sexless. They have Parts.) She's a future woman. And she's got the parts (and the attitude, I might add) to prove it.

Maybe I wouldn't have the issues that I do if I hadn't gone forward into puberty and, later, into adulthood thinking that my Part was, or should be, a Barbie-like mound of tidy, neutered tootyness. Maybe my first period wouldn't have felt so shameful, or my first sexual experience so painfully destructive of my sterile ideas about the body and love. Maybe if I'd had a more honest relationship with my body I'd have gone out into the world a more powerful woman, and less a prudish romantic with a Barbie complex. And maybe then I'd have fewer issues. And be better able to preserve my daughter from same.

I want my daughter to be powerful. Now, during her babyhood, is not, I know, the time to be full-out stressing about that. Now is a time for innocence and sweet songs and butterflies and all that. But I do want to lay the right groundwork. And there's no wrong time for that. So - viva la vulva!

There was something else... Oh yeah: the second lesson. Which is: mom/my bloggers are entirely responsible for the first, epiphanal lesson. Which is huge. HUGE. The wisdom and role-modeling and opportunities for self-reflection that you all provide are invaluable: today's lesson confirms that absolutely. So, thank you for that.

And thank you all from refraining from pointing out, in your comments to that last post, that I am, indeed, a tripped-out vulvaphobe. I'm very grateful that you all, instead, inspired me to come to that conclusion myself.

Head and shoulders, knees and...?

I have a question. It might not seem so at first glance, but it's a serious question.

Some time before WonderBaby arrived to take over our lives - indeed, some time before an ovulation predictor kit heralded the moment of her creation - I participated, during a stay with my sister and her family, in the bathtime of my youngest nephew and niece. At some point during the bath, my nephew, then about four years old, announced that it was time to wash his penis. To which I said, gaily, something to the effect of "OK, pee-pee washing time!"

At this, the sweet young fellow responded, "No. Penis." O-kay. Penis it is. My sister, who was hovering nearby, explained: "We encourage them to use proper names for parts of their body."

I thought that this made good sense. We take pains to ensure that children learn the proper names for everything else - why not teach them the proper names of these parts of their bodies? All part of a thorough education! The Pedantic Bore in me vowed to do the very same thing with my future children: penises would be penises, and vaginas would be vaginas.

Fast-forward 18 months. The nightly bathtime ritual is WonderBaby's favorite part of the day. She splashes about in the water and plays with the bubbles and has a grand old time and then we scrub away at her various parts (which collect a surprising amount of grime given her limited mobility). During the bath there is much singing (splish-splash I was takin' a bath) and chatting, and when the scrub-down takes place the singing and chatting turns to scrub-down commentary: now we wash your hair... now we floss your neck... now we scrub behind your ears... now we wash your bum... now we clean your...?

The first time that we did the scrub commentary I stopped cold here. How to refer to her nether regions? I could not - could not - bring myself to say vagina. Or pubic area, or whatever would have been most accurate. So I just said 'parts.' Now we clean your parts.

As she got bigger and more interested in the bathtime (and diapertime) songs and commentary, the term 'parts' began to seem too vague, if not entirely misleading. Her arm is a part, too, as is her head, and her nose, etc. Wasn't the point of the commentary to distinguish between parts? I had to start calling it something.

But I still couldn't bring myself to say 'vagina' in refering to my daughter's nether regions. It's just too Eve Ensler. I'm not up for having Vagina Dialogues with my baby girl. In fact, I suspect that I will not be up for uttering or hearing the word 'vagina' in conversation with my daughter until we're at the 'Are You There God, It's Me Margaret' stage of her development. Part of this has to do with my own prissiness - 'vagina,' for me, is just too naked and clinical a term for casual usage. Some things really just demand euphemism under certain conversational circumstances: this, for me, is one of them.

(What's my own euphemism, the one used to refer to myself? Not telling. Unless, maybe, you tell me yours...)

I do believe that women should celebrate their bodies. I want my daughter to celebrate her body. I want her know what her vagina is properly called, obviously, and I don't want her to be squeamish about calling it whatever she wants to call it. I don't want to mess her up with my issues, such as they are. (For the record, I don't think - and Eve Ensler and most Women's Studies majors would probably disagree with me here - that my ambivalence about the word 'vagina' and its more vulgar synonyms being used in casual conversation represents a serious issue, beyond whatever issues my general prissiness represents. I could be wrong. But this post isn't about that.) But then I remind myself that I play fast and loose with many proper names in my conversations with and performances for my child - cat is usually kitty, toes are tootsies, blanket is blankie, stuffed doll is two-headed whore of death, and everything else is 'dude' - so what's the problem, really?

End of the day, I think that I'm really just weirded out by the idea of hearing the word 'vagina' being gaily uttered in what will no doubt be my baby girl's high-pitched girly voice, when she acquires that voice. Or maybe it's more that I'm weirded out by the prospect of hearing the word 'vagina' in my high-pitched girly voice, the one that is used for bathtime songs and the like: la la la now we wash your vagi-i-i-i-na! your vagina-a-a-a la la la!

La la la la tooty sounds better.

So. Am I a tripped-out weirdo with vagina issues? Is all of this just evidence of my oppression by the Penis-Wielding Vagina-Fearing Man? Or is this just a normal mommy thing?

And - what I really want to know - what do you call it?

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Of Socrates and sleep

The ancient Greeks had a word to describe the condition of being at a loss: aporia, άπορία, from a poros, which means, roughly, to be without a passage or a way. It is to be without direction, without resources, to have no way out. It is ordinarily used in a philosophic context: the Socratic stance is the aporetic stance, the assertion and demonstration that one does not meaningfully know what one thinks one knows; that one is, in fact, at a loss with regards to the thing that he thinks he knows, and so in the condition of aporia. From this, it is hoped, one will be filled with the desire to pursue knowledge of that thing (and, if one is truly philosophic, the desire to pursue knowledge more generally and fully.) Aporia, then, from a Socratic perspective, the perspective of the philosopher, is a good thing.

From the perspective of the new mother (whose aspirations to philosophy took a baton to the knees with the birth of WonderBaby) the condition of aporia, in its most mundane, prosaic form – the form of “WTF?” that rears its ugly head when you realize that whatever it was that you thought you knew about sleep/breastfeeding/shit/whatever has been reduced to the most shadowy and mistaken opinion and is now hindering your laborious climb out of the Cave of Ignorance that is new parenthood – sucks hard.

This Bad Mother doesn’t have the time or the inclination to savour the philosophical condition of aporia. Bad Mother has no interest in elenchically interrogating the nature or character of sleep as it pertains to babies. Bad Mother would very much like to smack hard any character – even if that character is a voice in her own head, which admittedly makes smacking difficult, if not impossible – that tells her that real understanding comes with knowing that she does not know. Because Bad Mother needs more sleep and she needed it yesterday. (Which explains why Bad Mother persists in refering to herself in the third person and driving herself and her three readers slowly but certainly insane.)

Which is to say: I've spent a great deal of time looking for that elusive knowledge, the Secrets of Babycare, that wisdom that will light the way out of the cave and out into the sun-drenched world of predictable schedules and consistent and abundant sleep. I've been looking for a Way Out.

I haven't found it. But stay with me.

So we’ve had a few rough nights - very rough nights - recently. The whole sleep thing suddenly, although not entirely unexpectedly, went tits up: WonderBaby outgrew, literally overnight, both her bassinet and her swaddle. And her Bad Parents, despite all of the fretting and hand-wringing about whither the swaddle, did not have a plan in place for adapting to these new circumstances. What used to work, and all that we thought we understood about baby sleep, has been revealed as nonsensical, useless crap. Welcome to Mommy Aporia.

Oddly enough, sleep conditions during the recent Royal Tour had been unexpectedly excellent: WonderBaby slept blissfully in her odd little hotel crib (which, as I noted last day, did not resemble a crib so much as it did a cage in a zoo. Or a shopping cart.) And she napped easily between Royal Visits, even going so far as to indulge in a little swaddle-free napping.

But we had only been home some hours when the crib-sheets hit the fan. Her bassinet had clearly shrunk in her absence, so it was decided that she move to the crib. This seemed an excellent plan, as she had slept so well in the hotel crib. That is, it would have been an excellent plan but that her own crib, despite its decidedly un-shopping-cart-like construction and plush bedding, was deemed by WonderBaby to fall short of hotel standards. Cue screaming.

After a flurry of swaddling and shushing and nursing, WonderBaby settled, only to awake a few hours later, having unraveled her swaddle. So WonderBaby was re-swaddled and re-settled, only to unswaddle herself again a short while later. The swaddle, clearly, was being rejected. Freestyle settling was attempted, and failed: WonderBaby would drift off happily, unrestrained, on the bed, only to immediately awaken and flip out when transferred to her crib. So it was that she was relocated into bed with her Bad Parents, where she slept soundly - unswaddled but firmly cuddled - for the rest of the night.

To which we might say: all’s well that ends well. Whatever works, right? If WonderBaby sleeps best in the bed, then let her sleep in the bed and a good night will be had by all. Not quite. There is not quite enough mattress real estate on a queen-sized bed for two adults and one unswaddled, off-the-growth-chart baby who insists upon practicing her floor routines while sleeping. It only takes one well-aimed kick to the boob from a tiny unswaddled foot to drain all of the charm out of co-sleeping. (Yes, bearing witness to the cheery baby grin than accompanies the robust baby fart first thing in the morning mitigates the unpleasantness of being treated like a floor mat throughout the night. But only just. And that happy experience can be had simply by bringing baby in to bed in the morning, after all parties have had a restful sleep in their own beds.)

We were, in other words, determined to persist with the swaddle-free crib sleep. So over the next day and night, we rolled with the baby punches, persisting with the crib and refusing to fall back on the swaddle. And it seems – seems – to be working: WonderBaby sleeps, this very moment, a sound, unswaddled sleep in her crib. As she did for a full five hours last night. Not a full night, but a good stretch, and desperate sleep-deprived parents who have been at a serious loss as to how to cope with an apparently high-sleep-needs baby will take what they can get.

It hasn’t been easy, and I expect that the next few days will continue to be challenging. But there is progress. And where there is progress, there is hope.

Four things that seem to be making a significant difference:

1) We replaced WonderBaby’s crib mattress with an extra-extra-firm model. She spent most of the first four months of her life sleeping in a bassinet with a very firm base, with only a plush chenille blanket, well-tucked into the base, for padding. The original mattress wasn’t nearly that firm (it was, in fact, somewhat springy), and we speculated that she just didn’t find it comfortable. So we bought the firmest mattress that we could find, and she settled into the crib last night without a complaint.
2) We're allowing for some controlled fussing-it-out. We tried some crying-it-out, but under the new sleep conditions this seemed to be counter-productive: the crying would escalate and WonderBaby would inevitably flail herself awake. But a little bit of patience with the fussing – hovering nearby, ready to put a steady hand on a frantic little arm or gently stroke a furrowed brow – seems to be working. WonderBaby goes into her crib awake but sleepy, and wriggles and mumbles for some minutes before settling down. If she starts getting upset, we soothe her, and she settles back down. But we ignore the mild fussing, and this seems to work.
3) We've temporarily moved our mattress into her nursery. This probably seems crazy, but it’s working for us. It was meant to facilitate the transition to the crib – her bassinet has been in our bedroom from Day One, and our nightly sleep ritual moves from bath to nursing and cuddling in bed to putting drowsy WonderBaby in bassinet beside the bed. The idea of moving the mattress was to keep as closely to that sleep ritual as possible while WonderBaby adjusts to the other changes. But it’s less a sleep-ritual aid for WonderBaby, though, than it is a sleep-shortcut for me: sleeping nearby allows me to respond more quickly and easily to her middle-of-the-night demand for boobies. It’s very crowded in the nursery right now, but it’s temporary: once everyone has settled into the new swaddle-free, crib-centric sleeping arrangements, Bad Parents will move back to their lair.
4) The Husband has taken over the night shift. This is the big one, the thing that, I think, has made and will make all of the difference: once WonderBaby has had her midnight feeding, I retire to the sofa in the living room and the Husband remains. There are two huge advantages to this. First – and foremost – I get extra sleep (which, among other things, affords me the strength to get through the days with a more wakeful WonderBaby, whose naps have become abbreviated in the absence of the swaddle). Secondly, it seems to be our best bet for lengthening WonderBaby’s nights. I’ve always tended to wake up at any and all sounds emanating from WonderBaby’s sleep zone, but the Husband is very well-practiced at ignoring her completely unless she cries. By removing me from the room, and so removing the possibility of me waking her with preemptive feedings, we figure that there will be more opportunity for WonderBaby to soothe herself through her periods of light wakefulness. And so far this seems to be the case: once I've left the room, everybody stays down. (And did I mention about how I get extra sleep?)

Again, this is all entirely experimental. We know that we will continue to face challenges, that some of the above strategies may be misguided, that they will fail. We’re totally winging it, going with what works, with what is practicable, with what feels right. It's all that we can do. But by doing so, by following our guts and acting on our well-considered instincts, I feel that we’re gaining something, that we are no longer entirely at a loss. And maybe, just maybe - lack of sleep aside - coming to love this whole messed-up, mapless journey. We're in this together, the three of us: this is family. Blind, fumbling, loving family. I don't know why, but somehow the 'blind' and the 'fumbling' seem to have everything to do with the 'loving' and the 'family.'

So I still have no idea what the fuck we are doing, but I’ve come to understand (however reluctantly) that I cannot simply think my way through the challenges that new motherhood throws at me. Motherhood – parenthood – is, I think, all aporia. And it is not the aporia that can be met by philosophy. This aporia is a condition that can only be met by the gut, and the heart. It's the no-way-out that you come to love because you love - with whatever difficulty - the struggle that defines what's within.

It's taking some time, and some work, but I'm coming to understand it. I think.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Distress Call!

An Urgent Message From WonderBaby

Attention all mom/mommy/dad/daddy/breeder bloggers: a brand-new mommy (yes, mommy) has an impending crisis and needs advice.

Urban_Mommy, mother to WonderBaby's brand new deputy-in-training, BoyWonder, is facing a postnatal visit from her mother, with whom relations are, shall we say, strained. Said visit cannot be avoided, and Urban_Mommy urgently requires advice on how to cope with such a visit.

WonderBaby cannot, herself, proffer such advice. WonderBaby's powers over Nanas do not extend to repelling the Nanas, only to drawing forth the Nanas and their gifts. So WonderBaby calls upon you, her legions of adoring fans and future imperial subjects, to provide this advice and Save Urban_Mommy.

Help them. Save this child and his mother. WonderBaby cannot do it alone.

Today, you may pay homage to WonderBaby, but then you must proceed henceforth to the domain of Urban_Mommy and the BoyWonder and draw upon all of your experiences with mothers/MILs in order to help U_M in her battle. If you have no advice to give, then you may pay homage to WonderBaby and then meditate upon your good fortune in having happy Nana relations.

Go forth, now, and help Urban_Mommy!

WonderBaby Powers: Activate!

Monday, April 3, 2006

The WonderBaby Royal Tour

WonderBaby has just returned from her tour of the provinces, and the Royal Household is happy to report that it was an unqualified success.

It was the first time that WonderBaby has journeyed any great distance from her Throne, and there was some concern that she would be displeased with the conditions of travel and with the gruelling pace of a Royal Tour. But WonderBaby sallied forth nobly, and comported herself like the royal personage and future Imperial Leader of the Universe that she is. Which is to say, what WonderBaby wanted, Wonderbaby got, and all activity proceeded smoothly so long as all of WonderBaby's needs and desires were met.

Which meant that, among other things, the Royal Motorcade was required to make numerous stops en route to its destination, thereby turning a 4 hour drive into a 6 hour drive.

Further, the required sojourns at dodgy truck stops posed certain difficulties for the Entourage because, although rich in kitsch and entertainment value and so worthy of pause, such truck-stops have the unfortunate effect of compelling those members of WonderBaby's entourage who eat solid food to take their meals at McDonalds.

Which would not be so bad - Bad Mother has taken many a meal beneath the Golden Arches and regards the McDonald's French fry, when served very hot and salty, as a singularly satisfying gastronomic experience - were it not for the fact that road-trip stopovers at truck-stop McDonalds bring out the worst impulses in people (OK, in Bad Mother) and the first of the Motorcade's stops saw Bad Mother partaking of a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry, chased by a McChicken (because, duh, one doesn't want the McFlurry to melt while the McChicken is being eaten), at 11 o'clock in the morning.

Which made for some gastro-intestinal discomfort, and so some general crankiness, neither of which was helped by Bad Father's insightful observation that both could have been avoided if Bad Mother were better able to exercise impulse control.

All, however, was forgotten when the Royal Entourage arrived at what would be home base for the Royal Tour: Very Nice Suite in a Very Nice Hotel in a Very Small City Not Known for its Very Nice Hotels. Here, WonderBaby was delighted to discover baby-friendly carpeting, a king-sized bed and a swimming pool.

And one very high-concept crib, which bore an unfortunate resemblance to a zoo cage, but which was nonetheless received happily by WonderBaby, who has something of a predeliction for confinement.

So it was that WonderBaby was able to sally comfortably forth to greet her subjects, her basic needs having been well met.

And sally forth she did, to commune with adoring fans, among which various beloved cousins, fawning aunts and uncles, and a smitten Nana...

Buttery baby fist clenched around Nana's tissue-soft finger. Love is all in the hands.

... and one small angry dog, who quite rightly regarded WonderBaby as a potential usurper of the Quebec throne.

WonderBaby was unable to win over Le Chien Noir, who refused to relinquish her hold on the Lap of the Aunt, but direct conflict was avoided and the visit was nonetheless considered by all to be a triumph.

The Entourage later retired to Tour Headquarters, whereupon WonderBaby decided to avail herself of the spa facitilies. Aided by First HandMatron (aka Bad Mother), WonderBaby donned her bathing costume and took to the waters.

(Of note: First HandMatron made her first appearance in a bathing costume since the arrival of WonderBay, and was not traumatized. Further, First HandMatron permitted that photographs be taken. All relevant parties regarded this as a special triumph.)

(You didn't seriously think that First HandMatron would permit publication of said photographs, did you? First HandMatron is not that well-adjusted. Not remotely.)

She wore an itsy bitsy teeny weeny polka dot bikini... and Bad Father trembled a little in anticipation of a future in which a bikini-clad WonderDaughter will cause his heart to be filled with a deep distrust of all male persons and very possibly cause him to rethink his position on gun-ownership.

A lovely time, in sum, was had by all.

Phase One of World Domination: Complete.

WonderBaby thanks you all for your attention.