Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My own, private, Inferno

We are once again in Europe - more specifically in Paris - pottering about, eating too many croissants and trying our best not to look like tourists despite the need to trot out our map when off course.  Having seen the sites in trips past, our intent is to wander, pretend our rudimentary French sounds as lyrical as Chopin and suss out the best cafe au lait.  A few days in and I have achieved a sense of relaxation so profound that I found myself staring out of a window yesterday as a rainstorm thundered by and when I finally moved - out of a pressing need for more wine - I realized 45 minutes had passed.  Such gluttonous stillness is my version of bliss.

The first leg of this trip was spent in London.  Marc had been there for a week on a business trip and Dylan and I came to spent a few days with him before heading to the continent.  I was beyond excited.  I've said this before, but I feel most like myself when out of the States.  This is not to say that I don't love America - Apple pie!  Baseball!  A pre-occupation with wealth! - but I have never really felt American.  Perhaps this is a function of my parents being immigrants and always having declared themselves people without a country.  I may have absorbed this lack of patriotic identity through osmosis, it's hard to say.

But I digress.  I was thrilled about this trip!  Of course, we had to GET there, and I was taking on this task with Dylan by myself.  ARE YOU CRAZY? everyone said to me.  Psh!  What could go wrong?  I was prepared!  I had secured a bulkhead seat and a bassinet on our nighttime United flight.  My plan was to board with Dylan in his pajamas, take off, put him in the bassinet, plonk a bottle into his mouth and then get him up as we approached London and voila!  I was a paragon of calm, confident that my own, placid attitude would cloak Dylan and render him equally serene.

Aha!  Hahahahahahahahaha!  HA!

Were Dante writing his Inferno now, I'm almost certain that he would reserve a circle of hell just for United Airlines and all of their stewards who seem to relish their passengers discomfort.  I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the worst ten consecutive hours of my life.  I'd rather go through the part of hard child labor I endured without an epidural than repeat United 930, SFO - Heathrow.  And my pre-medicated labor consisted of constant vomiting and a pain that I can only describe as doing the splits over a box of dynamite.

Before knowing any of this, however, we arrived, checked in, spent time getting Dylan sorted at the gate and then boarded, all with confidence.  Dylan was tired, fed, and ready to lie down and sleep. 

I boarded and walked back to our seat - 19E - which was supposed to be right behind business class, up against the bulkhead.  After passing the last of those gloriously roomy loungers, we came upon the bulkhead and I started to remove my bag to plonk it down on the ground.  BUT!  WHAT HO!  The row in front of the bulkhead was 17!  My heart dropped as I looked further back at 19 and my seat, E, which was smack in the middle of no mans land where nice people go to die.

This couldn't be.

I stood in the aisle for a while, eyeball deep in a pool of sudden panic and nausea.  Passengers started to bottleneck behind me and in a move of desperation and hysteria, I pushed my way back to the greeting steward who was ushering people into their first and business class seats.  Plucking at his sleeve, I said, "THE BULKHEAD!  I'm supposed to be in the bulkhead and I AM NOT."  Seeing the film of sweat that was covering my brow, he stopped rubbing the feet of the woman in 1A and followed me back to the proletariat section to see what was amiss.

He inspected my ticket closely as I breathed over his shoulder.  "I AM SUPPOSED TO BE RIGHT HERE!" I said, pointing at a seat that was occupied by a woman who already had her sleeping mask on.  Dylan stirred and mewed, hot against my torso.

"Ah!" he said, "Well, you see, we changed planes at the last minute, so your seat is no longer in the bulkhead.  So sorry.  No one gives those up, you know.  You'll have to hold him."  He said this with a frightful calm, as though holding an eight month old child for ten straight hours was really nothing.  Akin to sleeping on a cloud of kittens and butterfly wings, obviously.

"NO.  You have to ask people to move.  I paid extra for the damned bassinet." 
"Really, miss, no one will mo--"
"I don't care what you don't think people will do.  Go ask them to move.  Now."

I think the four inches of height I towered over him pressed him towards action.  With a very annoyed huff, he turned and went marching further into the bowels of coach to see what he could do.  For all I know, he spent the next 15 minutes in the lavatory filing his nails before returning and saying, "Well, as I said, no one will move!  Good luck!" and before I could protest, he was back off to first where the passengers were jostling for champagne and caviar, seemingly unaware of those of us suffering on the other side of the curtain.

Having no other options, I slid past two people into the cramped middle seat of the middle section.  The rather large man to one side of me looked at Dylan with all of the hostility of the childless and the woman to my right seemed to favor hand-crocheted coats and was most likely unaware that she gave off an odor of saffron and garlic.

We took off.

There is really no way to make this amusing.  I would love to tell you that there was a liberal amount of comedy mixed in with the misery, but alas, I just want you to feel sorry for me.  Dylan cried for 8 of the 10 hours.

I cried for 2.  During a particularly raucous session of wailing, I retired to the bathroom, held my tiny, tired and hungry son on my my lap while I sat on the closed toilet and sobbed along with him.

Two hours in, dinner service started and proceeded as an exercise in barely contained chaos.  Dylan, bored and out of sorts, lunged constantly towards my tray which I hastily returned to the steward after being liberally sprayed with tomato sauce and salad dressing.  All of the drama was obviously very bad for the digestion; the pasta didn't sit well with the gentleman on my right who proceeded to regurgitate it into his airsick bag.  Having explored the seams of paper sac to their fullest extent, I handed him my own which he filled within moments.  The stench of bile and tomato was overwhelming.  Feeling better, he got up to visit the lav, leaving the bags on the tray table next to me.  I watched as they slid gently to one side and then the other, sagging under the weight of their contents.  During an air pocket, one lurched my direction and I defensively thrust out a hand, making contact with its side.  The contents felt soft and warm.

During the lonely insomnia of the middle Atlantic, I wondered what I had done in the recent or long forgotten past that God felt the need to punish me so.  Dylan played listlessly with my necklace while intermittently letting out plaintive cries and I felt the weight of exhaustion settle on me like iron shackles.  I considered stopping by the kitchen for a bracing shot of tequila, but I didn't need to add "unfit parent" onto the list of things that were stacking up against me and so I slid down further in my seat and sat mutely, looking for significance in a long vertical crack that bisected the tray table in front of me.

We had five hours to go and Dylan had finally fallen into a fitful sleep.  The woman at the end of the row reached across my crochet cloaked, sleeping neighbor and quietly whispered, "Why don't we trade seats?  This way you can get up with your son if he needs walking about without crawling over everyone."  I burst into tears afresh at this kindness and carefully, with all of the dexterity I could manage under such crushing fatigue, crawled over to her seat, thanking her the entire time.  She stood in the aisle towering over me, an expansive woman with generous cleavage, wearing a suit wholly unsuitable for such a long flight.  The skirt was of expensive material but unexpected brevity and no shirt was immediately obvious under the matching jacket.  As she crawled over to my seat, I felt the need to shield her bottom which briefly made an appearance.  The gentleman who had emptied the contents of his stomach earlier openly leered at her pendulous bosom, wondering at his sudden good luck.  She settled into the seat and was soon fast asleep. The man spent a good portion of the next hour looking down her jacket until he caught me giving him a dirty look and with a harumph, sunk down into his chair and slept.

The rest of the flight passed largely in darkness with my pacing between my new aisle seat and the lavs.  Dylan slept fitfully for a while and then woke again, bellowing out his displeasure at the lack of civilized sleeping quarters.  We played on the changing table in the toilets.  We paced some more.  I acquired three new blisters and a backache.  I was studiously avoided by any and all stewards, shuffled aside when they came through with meals and drinks, forced out of the aisle by the carts.

And so we landed.  Dylan fell asleep again as we taxied the runway and I was able to get him into the front pack as he snoozed.  I don't recall going through customs, though obviously we did and didn't end up in the Room With The Rubber Glove.  Or did we?  I don't know.  My bottom was numb from the flight.  Regardless, we somehow made it to the hotel where Marc met us and I blacked out until the next morning where I woke up on a feather bed, wondering if I had died or perhaps had just been admitted to a sanatorium where I would spend the next ten years convalescing or perhaps just drooling on myself.

We did survive.  Dylan took a few nights to recover but snapped back and I found that a few glasses of wine put me in the right mind set as did nearly 12 hours in the prone position.  Marc had to work for a while the next day and so Dylan and I sat in the hotel room, our heads against the cold glass of the window, looking out at the drizzle over London.  We had endured the worst case scenario and it occurred to me that perhaps I am made out of sterner stuff then I give myself credit for.  Though most of that flight was bathed in tears, it was also punctuated by the kindness of fellow passengers who offered sympathy, glasses of water when I couldn't move from my seat and the reassurance that they knew I was doing the best I could.  Though the horror of those hours will be forever imprinted in my mind, so will the generosity of strangers, and for that I am thankful.

The plague of that experience has been somewhat softened by being in Paris with friends, but I wonder at United and their cavalier manner about relegating a mother and child to a middle seat when I had been told that I had to pay extra for both the bulkhead and the bassinet that of course never materialized.  They will receive a carefully penned letter from me and a few phone calls just so that I'm sure my point is amply made that they totally suck.

In the meantime, I'm off to eat a crepe and enjoy the Bastille Day festivities and bid you au revior and that none of your travels are thusly stained. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I had dinner with an old friend last night (hi Justin!  Look!  I'm writing!) - someone who came to know me just as I was getting to know myself.  Without meaning to, he shamed  me a bit about how I've neglected this here little old blog of mine.  And I have.  It's been thrown up into my virtual attic and lost amongst my mental cobwebs with old stories and memories and last night I realized that I'm not really sure why as I can't blame the arrival of my son for my lack of entries.  I have been successfully making time for writing since caring for Dylan has become a little bit easier and have entries littering my desktop that still need "polishing" or "editing" which is what I told Justin last night.

But why?

As I lay in bed last night with Dylan snoring on one side of me and Marc on the other (we were in London - and now Paris!  I know!  my life is really hard! - hence the cramped sleeping quarters) it occurred to me that I haven't been posting with my usual regularity out of fear.  Motherhood, while wondrous in every single way, has made my head somewhat two dimensional.  Days are full of feedings and are we going to get home in time for the next nap? and is there enough formula in the house and look at this new noise he is making now, isn't it darling?  And while I relish each moment, there is some concern that perhaps I don't have anything left  to say that hasn't been said before.  I've mentioned this - this worry that parenting would knock the creativity out of me and that time would be so occupied with keeping Dylan alive and well that there would be no room for other thoughts to take root. 

Thankfully, this hasn't been the case.  In those quiet moments when my mind isn't making mental lists of what I need to get done on any given day, idea come to me and I find myself writing good sentences on scraps of paper that litter the inside of my diaper bag and purse.  My wits seem to be knocking about up there, but are those wits as amusing as they were in the past or are they harder to recognize under the thin veneer of snot and poo?  It's really just a small and silly identity crisis that is probably born out of too much navel gazing and not enough just getting on with it.  Which is essentially what Justin said to me last night even though I hadn't confessed all of this to him over my chicken shawarma.

Justin and I met when we were both the American equivalent of juniors at University of St. Andrews.  If I look at my life as a time line, certain moments stand out in perfect bas relief, so important were they in forming who I am today.  That year carved out entire portions of my soul.  On the day that Justin and I met, I had just taken a long walk on the St. Andrews pier and stood at the edge looking out over the North Sea wondering if I would be able to figure myself out in this rough and windy place and perhaps learn to live without fear and accept just exactly who I was.  We met later that afternoon and over coffee he confessed his love for the woman he is about to marry in a few weeks and I think that might be the moment that I first said, out loud, "I want to be a writer".  I was shocked that I wasn't smote down as I made this declaration (such fanciful thinking was verboten - I was supposed to become a doctor, you see) and it was the first tiny step I ever took in becoming my honest self.

But one cannot be a writer unless one writes, no?  And so here I am, somewhat mired down by anxiety, but promising myself that I will indeed just get on with it despite my internal jitters and dread that whatever I produce might just be complete and utter crap.  Because really, who cares?  I mean, I obviously do, but I'm trying to get over that and just keep moving forward.  So off I go.  Promise.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What! I'm back!

Hey there!  It’s good to see you!  Have you lost weight or is it a new haircut that’s making you look so different?  Me?  Well, it’s been a while.  A LONG while...I’m a horrid friend, I know.  But there’s a good reason.

So.  Nearly six months ago, THIS happened:

That would be Dylan, or Pickle as we call him.  (Dylan–Dill–Dill Pickle-Pickle in case you’re wondering what circuitous path brought us there.  Just please don’t call him Dillie…it makes my soul weep).

Of course, he didn’t come out looking quite that charming.  I thought I would spare the childless amongst you THAT horror show.  No need to frighten everyone into ill-advised hysterectomy’s over fear of what you might spawn.  You’re never really prepared for how ugly your newborn may be.  Dylan, poor chap, had been so squished in the birth canal that upon his arrival, Marc and I just sort of looked at each other and silently worried - this HAS to improve, RIGHT??? - while everyone politely coo’d over our sons misshapen face.  One family member got it right when she accurately stated, “He looks like a little prize fighter!” though she forgot to add that he was on the losing side without the benefit of a corner coach.

There was a smushed nose, a cone head that listed eastwards and a lazy eye that wouldn’t open properly.  We slapped a hat on him and peeked over the crib each morning in the hopes that things had smoothed out over night.  It was rough going for a while but fortunately, about two weeks later, his face unpuffed and his features settled into something more angelic and less like Gollum.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I mean, it’s a crapshoot, right?  Just because you are reasonable looking people doesn’t mean that your children won’t get the unfortunate genes that are swimming about in your respective pools.  So we’re just enjoying these adorable years that Dylan seems to be heading into.  What I’m sure of is that his teenage years will be less kind and awkward seeing as both Marc and I barely skated through that era with our dignities intact - there was a braided tail for Marc and some perplexing fashion choices on my part.  In fact, dignity might have taken a hiatus and caught up with us around 25.  It’s hard to say.

But in the interim, here we are.  In the deepest of love with our tiny boy.

And what can I say about parenthood that hasn’t already been said?  All of the clich├ęs are true.  Every one of them.  That your heart explodes and suddenly is outside of your body in the form of your child.  That it is the hardest and most rewarding job you will ever have.  That you will suddenly have a completely different kind of appreciation for your own parents.  That you never knew the depths of your capacity to love until you are holding the little person that is a part of your very soul.  It’s true.  I thought I loved Kylie with all of my heart.  And I do…I mean, my blog is named for her (and she is doing swimmingly, by the way – she feigns disinterest but goes and sits outside Dylan’s door the minute he cries) and I like her more than most people.  But THIS love…I just had no idea.  I marvel at it.

One thing that I have been shocked at is my ability to power through the fatigue.  I’m a girl who likes her rest.  In fact, I require it medically being immune system challenged.  And of course with a newborn, there is none of that.  It’s like freaking Nam…you’re up at all hours, waiting with ears pricked for the next shriek from the nine pound enemy that you’ve let into your home.  I was worried that I might crack under the pressure of the constant care seeing as gone were the languid afternoon hours that I spent on the couch allowing my body to rest up for the remainder of the day.

But it’s incredible.  Caring for Dylan, in every capacity, is a delight.  My body, though broken in many respects, has responded to the task of being a mother in ways I didn’t think it would or could.  I feel that motherhood has healed parts of me that were sad and downtrodden for a long while.   I’m intensely aware that his very life, his existence depends on my being present for him at all times.  And I’m here.  I’m showing up for this little man and will continue to do so for as long as I draw breath.

For him, I would fight tigers.