Thursday, July 07, 2005

The first five minutes of every conversation...

So since my child was born, pretty much the first five minutes of every conversation I've had when we are out together goes like this:

Stranger: Cute baby. How old?
Me: Uh, [insert age. Currently it's "almost six months"]
Stranger: Wow, he's a whopper/big fella/bruiser/meatball/big 'un (yes, these are actual responses)
Me: Yes, he's a big boy. And very happy and very sweet!

Now, where the conversation goes from here varies. If I'm talking to someone in the generation before mine or someone who doesn't have a baby, they either a. tell me something about their (now grown) baby/niece/nephew/friend's baby or b. ask about whether he's sleeping through the night and whether he eats cereal yet.

If the person has a kid of his/her own, we usually have to do the So-at-what-age-did-he Tango. It's so strange. Normally, I'm just not that competitive--too much of a slacker for that--but when people say "Gosh, Jayden/Logan/Riley is just 12 weeks and is sleeping through the night" I feel like I can hear the opening strains of Carmen and clicking castanets as I fight the urge to snap back, "yes, Davis did that too...until about 16 weeks. Now he's up several times a night." It even makes me grit my teeth sometimes when my mother-in-law, God love her, pushes my husband's age of firsts back every time we trade stats. You know the drill: the perfect child slept through the night at 4 weeks, walked at 8 months, read at 2 years, and wrote a pilot for his own TV series atage 7. Apparently the only reason he's just now getting his PhD is because she made him wait so as not to make the other children in his preschool feel bad.

But this odd waltz we do, it's not only a competitive thing. In fact, most of the other mommies I meet apologize for whatever their good fortune is and kind of show their karmic hand a little, as in "Oh, I'm so sorry you're not getting any sleep, but hey, at least he's a good eater. I can barely get Madison/Jordan/Aidan to eat anything." We even downplay our ideologies: "Oh, yeah, I'm doing cloth diapers, but you know, I'm finding it's not as big a cost savings as I thought" or even joke about them: "Oh, we let Jacob/Brianna/Taylor cry it out, and who knows, he/she will probably move out of the house and get emancipated at 18."

But whether we're joking, apologizing, one-upping or being a martyr, we are always, in the backs of our minds, comparing. I think my friend Beth who has twins a month older than Davis keeps mum about some of Sam's and Nina's new accomplishments just so she doesn't have to hear me carry on about why Davis isn't doing whatever it is yet. And it's not just me--this is epidemic. On the forums at, for instance, one post will be about "why doesn't my kid do X yet?" and it will have fifteen replies, all variations on the "don't worry about it; all babies are different" theme. Every single piece of baby literature I have read, from whatever ideological camp, repeats this "every baby is different" mantra ad nauseum. So it's not like moms don't already know that comparing their infants to one another is futile; they do. But we do it anyway.

I wondered why for a long time as I thought about this post. In fact, I thought Very Ponderous Thoughts about this state of affairs and how it came to be. I thought, "perhaps are wrestling with our own mothers in the depths of our very psyches or we are seeking some pre-Oedipal affirmation from our fathers of our own worthiness to be mothers or we are reliving our childhoods through our children," but you know, I don't think that's it. Not for me, anyway: my parents are almost as rhapsodic about my childhood as my husband's parents are about his, and I remember it that way, too (only with more zits and fewer traffic violations). So I don't think it's necessarily a Psychiatric-Issues free-for-all.

I think for me that the answer is much simpler than that: I'm getting used to be identified and linked socially with a person who is not my husband. I guess because I'm cast in my Mommy role all the time anyway, I can just keep on playing the part; I know exactly what to say and am starting to get to the point where I don't even really have to think about it (unless you ask me how often Davis was up in the night the night before last. That requires Higher Math.) These conversations allow me to talk about one of my favorite topics, sometimes flirt with and compliment another baby (or have my own child admired), and talk to a human being who already has all his or her own teeth. (That last one is not to be underestimated after a day with an infant.)

In fact, when my husband was working a long day, I fully admit to sometimes going out just to attract such conversations; I felt like the Sally Field character in the movie Soap, who has her assistant pretend to be an adoring fan in order to attract crowds of admirers. It's pathetic to admit this, but on days when I've been particularly baby blues-y, I've been known to get my feelings hurt when people fail to even notice that I have a sweet baby (which happens often enough in this college town. My husband swears that half the young women who see Davis start muttering under their breath, trying to reassure themselves that they took the Pill that morning)! I am daily amazed at how much I identify myself with and through my son. Sometimes I'm even horrified: like this kid doesn't have enough on his plate, what with growing up with Bush in the White House? I should make it harder for him by linking my identity with his?

So I guess my point is that even for co-parenting, liberal, strong-woman feministas like myself, there's still a big part of me that's getting used to being identified as Davis's Mommy, and I find these conversations to be a way to remind myself that no matter how much I thought I'd fight identifying myself with my child (or would even have a choice as to whether I'd do so), I have fallen--irrevocably and usually quite cheerfully-- into doing just that.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It takes a village of mojo...

Have you noticed that some people have baby mojo and some do not? By baby mojo, I mean the ability to get babies to laugh/calm down/go to sleep/remain coherent long enough for mommy to swipe her credit card at the grocery store...yes, it seems, some people have it and some do not. I, unfortunately, do not. Oh, I can calm down my own child passably well, sure, and a couple of times, I've gotten lucky and a kid will laugh at a funny face I make in the grocery store, but for the most part, nope--no mojo. I tried to calm down my friend Beth's twins one day and ended up making them cry even harder. I was working in the nursery at my husband's church and took a child in order to spell the woman who'd been holding him and he instantly melted down. I evidently am the AntiMojo.

So, thanks God (as my Polish students often said) that I have so many mojo-heavy people around me. My mother, God be good to her, has always had much mojo and apparently got a bonus when she became a grandmother. My husband, too, is muy mojo-rific. I was gone all day today and my husband was in charge (obviously; like who else would be in charge--the kitties? Opposable thumbs are fairly necessary for child care.) and the child, whose unwillingness to nap has been documented elsewhere in this blog, took two naps--one was 2 1/2 hours. My man (ooh, ick, that sounds like we're in a Levitra ad) has since been crowned The Naptastic One.

I even know people who even have baby gift mojo--I mean, there are the presents so perfect that even a bonehead like me can see they'll come in handy--the baby spoons, endless cute outfits, bibs, onesies. And then there are the heartbreakingly sweet gifts like the handmade baby book and the quilt my nana made for my sister. But true babygift mojo is like a sixth sense-my friend Ellen found these little critters-- a dog and a sea monster--that are made by the Sassy company, and I honestly remember looking at them and thinking "how sweet, but ahhhh, no, he won't like these" and, yes, you guessed it, they are now my son's absolute favorite items to slob on, aside from inappropriate things like grocery lists ("well, apparently we need some red pleagh, whatever that means"), pages from glossy magazines, and our living room carpet (does cat fur count as a major source of fiber?). I have personally done the grocery-store baby toy dance when we thought for a horrifying moment that Sassydog had disappeared.

But babymojo still eludes me, even with my own kid. Oh sure, I can still whip out a boob when I think my status is threatened, but when Davis stuck out his tongue for the first time, it was for my friend Laurie. When he first laughed, it was at my husband. First time rolling over on his own? Not for me! He did it for my mother instead. And now the new forays into being naptized (in the name of the crib, the pacifier, and the holy swaddle) by my husand!

Am I jealous? Sure! But am I confused as to why? Not a bit. I know these folks all have found the magic mojo, and I'll tell you why: it's because they aren't worried or afraid of what will happen if they lose their mojo. I on the other hand (as you might have noticed) tend to be something of a worrywart who has not seen a molehill that couldn't be made into a mountain with the right amount of fretting and unsubstantiated anxiety. I don't know where this came from; I've become, over the years, quite philosophical about my own path; I say--and actually believe--that the right job will be looking for me, just as I'm looking for it, and that I will be able to do whatever I need to do to make the dissertation happen. Even when we seem dangerously low on funds, I don't panic, reasoning that the good Lord didn't bring me this far just to drop me on my head now. But for some reason, when it's my kiddo on the line, I feel like God has made me head coach and we're shy a couple of touchdowns in the third quarter.

Deep down, I know this isn't true. I mean, why believe in a Supreme Being if It isn't smart enough to know someone like me shouldn't be running the show, right? What kind of lousy fire-sale God would think that was a good plan? It's probably a huge act of arrogance to believe I'm anything more than a glorified babysitter for this wonderful boy, but that's the beauty of insecurity, isn't it? You believe that you suck so much that you're all anyone can think about (or, as Operating Instructions would have it, you're "the piece of sh*t around which the world revolves").

So maybe I should give myself a break. And start enjoying the fact that my kid is secure enough to let other people work their mojo on him. And maybe, just maybe, I'll stop scaring little kids in the supermarket by trying out my tricks from Charming an Infant 101. Or if I do insist on practicing my skills, let's hope it's more about actually cheering them up and less about putting another notch on my baby mojo burp cloth.