Friday, March 13, 2015

mise en garde!, or: baby stuff and the cathedral of time

1. watching yourself watch the leaves

Right now—when I’m not reading People Magazine or federal grant proposal requests—I’m reading Devotion, in which Dani Shapiro tries to address her lurking anxiety through a spiritual lens that includes the Orthodox Judaism of her childhood and a variety of Eastern practices that can (or maybe can’t) be boiled down to mindfulness.

Read this book if you're the kind of person who's drawn to AA meetings even though you barely drink.
I picked up the book because I’ll be taking a workshop with Dani Shapiro soon, and I didn’t feel like reading her more recent memoir, Still Writing, because reading about writing sometimes stresses me out.

Devotion really speaks to me, though. Some of Dani’s anxiety is a holdover from a serious illness her son had as an infant, and my own anxiety (well, arguably everyone’s) is equally bound up in birth and death. As grateful as I am for the medical and psychological approaches that have helped me tackle it, spiritual and philosophical questions seem to be the most fundamental ones, not to mention more interesting.

Paraphrasing another writer, she talks about the two axes on which we live: the world of time and the world of things. Time can be a cathedral, the writer says. And every American who needs to clean out a closet or two is aware that materialism can be a prison—even as Dani confesses that she doesn’t really want to stop coveting cashmere sweaters, which makes me like her as well as envy her book sales a bit.

But the time thing—how to make it a cathedral and not just a list of task we do each day until we fall in bed each night, exhausted?

I am a sucker for all things ombre.
She takes a road trip with her husband and son, and delights in beautiful fall leaves and her son calling her “Mommy,” but she’s aware of her own awareness the whole time. How do you savor something without going all meta and losing the thing you’re chasing?

2. target women

When I posted about Dash’s birth, one of AK’s college friends (who has four children) commented: “You are moms so enjoy the good parts and suffer through the bad parts, people who say you have to enjoy every moment miss the worst and best parts of mothering because it all gets watered down. And you deserve to just be his mom, without having to enjoy every second because he finally found you!”

Sweet and wise words.

One of my first parent-related observations was that I was going to Target almost every day. When I think of my own childhood and even my teen years, I think of going to Target with my mom, and before Target was Target,* we went to FedMart together, in the same box of a building.

It’s easy to get mired in the world of things, because although everyone says “babies don’t need much,” there are a lot of baby things out there, and figuring out which ones they need and which they don’t—and by they I mean we—is a task in itself. My parental daydreams always involved the purchasing of cute baby clothes and tiny shoes, but as my superego got thinned and squashed during our wait, the things (and the ideas of perfection they represented; thank you, advertising) became less and less a part of the picture.

World's shortest, saddest short story: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."
I’ve been reluctant to reengage, because the dialogue around the world of things—what stroller do you like, what carrier, what bottle—seems to push away the essence of being a big creature taking care of a small creature. It turns parenting into a series of brand loyalties, and each consumer choice is shorthand for the kind of parent you’re trying to be. Tiger Mom, Free Range Mom, Helicopter Mom, French Women Don’t Get Fat Mom, all those terms that I seem to know without voluntarily participating in any of it.

But if you read between the lines of the baby things, that whisper of birth and death is still there. Almost every single baby item we own is equipped with a giant warning label in multiple languages.

That's some solid advice right there.
“Mise en garde!” I announced to Dash this morning as I buckled him into his car seat. The label (the English part) reminded me that children have strangled while sitting in unbuckled seats. Other products let me know that babies can fall off changing tables, drown in one drop of water, choke on teddy bear eyeballs.

The subtext of every baby product is: This will make your baby happy and healthy and make you a fantastic and relaxed parent. The text of every baby product is: This can kill your baby.

Baby-wearing is the thing now, and we are fond of our Baby K’Tan, which is essentially two infinity scarves bound together by a fabric loop. It cost about $40, which is on the low end of baby carrier prices. When I wrap Dash close to my chest, I feel snuggly, primal and vaguely European. Like, this is what being a parent is all about.

You are a fantastic and relaxed parent.
Dash’s car seat, on the other hand, is bulky, heavy and plastic. It has been heavily tested to withstand impact from various angles at various speeds. He is small in the middle of this big protective pod. When he’s in it, he seems safe, protected, American. I’m like, this is what being a parent is all about.

I dunno. It’s all too early to have any kind of real takeaway. I should add, maybe, that while I may have a certain immunity to the world of things, I have very few defenses built up against the digital world, and my personal battle may be to not scroll through Facebook with one hand and hold a bottle with the other (a battle I’ve already lost many times). Hey, at least Dash is learning a little French and Spanish.


*When Target moved in, I must have been around seven. From the name, I was worried they sold guns. Later I learned that’s Wal-Mart.

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