I’m beginning to suspect that having babies has become a cool enterprise. Seven years ago, when A was an infant, there wasn’t all of this positively delectable (and useful) baby gear. Now I feel covetous, though it seems impractical to invest in a Swedish-built gorgeous high chair that converts to an ergonomic chair as the child grows (oh, but doesn’t that sound practical? baby CJ could use it till he leaves home). Not cheap, I must add. The baby carriers, the slings, the wooden toys, the darling leather bibs (okay, I just got that one, today, in fact; it attaches around the baby’s neck with magnets, can be wiped after every use, and hangs on the fridge between meals).
I know a lot of it seems excessive. Babies outgrow things quickly, and don’t care whether they’re chewing on a fabulous handmade sock puppet or a dog toy from Zellers; but in all of this excess, I sense a growing movement away from disposable and cheap and breakable, to the well-designed and durable–not to mention tactilely and visually appealing. Today’s selection in cloth diapers and accessories seems indicative of the fringe becoming mainstream, in a good way.
Which is how I’m justifying my covetousness … see, this stuff will really last! (Note to self: that justification only makes sense if one actually needs said “stuff” in the first place. Sigh. Thanks for the reminder, self).
Okay, F just ate one and a half pita pizzas for lunch and baby CJ tucked gratefully into his bowl of rice cereal, and we’re heading toward puzzle time and naptime. Baby’s not sleeping much at night (without simultaneously nursing), and I’m wondering how long it will be till we make a big change in our sleeping arrangements. Could be awhile yet. I’m surviving quite handily on cups of coffee and long moments of staring idly at things, and still seem to have the requisite amount of parenting patience; and it usually takes a drastic downturn to push me to make a big transition like this would require.
Always leaves me foggy. Today I was pleased by what got written, but almost felt distressed when I was done–not by the fact that my time was up, but because I hadn’t spent that “lost” time with the kids instead. It almost seems like a waste to spend these hours in an imaginary world when my actual family is actually doing and being and experiencing their youngest years. It’s funny, but the story I like best that I wrote this spring is about the passage of time. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m really writing about. About time past, and passing, hurrying us along and away from where we are this moment. And here I am, missing out on what’s hurrying past because I’m so busy writing about it.
And now I’m writing more, instead of responding to the game the kids have started playing spontaneously: something to do with cleaning the house??? Is this possible? AB: “Whoa, your house is really dirty!”
Then again, by writing about it, I also get to keep it, at least a few shreds …
AB to her brother: “Do you think this is the dirtiest house we’ve gone through?”
Good grief–I know it’s messy in here, but has it gotten that bad?
The problem is that once I get going writing, it’s so hard to turn it off. I need a little switch in my brain that can be flipped … ok, done thinking, now just BE. Writing is intensely private and requires such interior concentration that it takes time, maybe even hours, to crawl back out again and be properly engaged with this house and the needs of these little people populating it.
Will now turn away from the glowing screen and attempt re-entrance into the afternoon.
Baby CJ’s been studying us as we eat for the past couple of weeks. Because he’s often strapped onto our torso with the sling, it’s almost as if he’s an extra body part, and he’s awfully close to the food as it’s lifted from plate to mouth. His little head swings and his eyes grow wide, and his mouth opens as the food enters–someone else’s mouth. I may be projecting, but he looks kinda … hungry. Or at any rate fascinated. I had planned to wait till he was a full six months to introduce any kind of solid food, but after observing this hungry baby phenomenon for the past couple of weeks, I decided to give feeding a try. It is an awful lot of extra work. Breastfeeding is so simple, basic, fast, and by this point, not at all messy. We’re old pros now. (Breastfeeding at earlier stages in a baby’s life can sometimes be none of the above). It seems like whenever we get the hang of something, life invents another challenge.
So F and I headed uptown after school drop-off this morning, and bought a box of organic rice cereal. We came home and I pumped some milk while baby CJ worked the other side, and then we dug the high chair out of the attic, and mixed up a tablespoon of cereal with some breastmilk, broke out a bib, strapped him in, and proferred the spoon. I’ve done this a few times before, and the result is often disappointing, as I warned F (who was extremely excited, and imagined herself wielding the spoon). The tongue comes out, the facial expression says “disgusting” and the bowl’s contents eventually work their way onto every surface surrounding baby, including baby’s outside; with absolutely nothing swallowed. Both A and F refused solids till seven or eight months. But somehow, they didn’t look quite so hungry.
To F’s delight, baby CJ had no qualms at his first taste. He’s still working out the tongue and the swallowing, but he took in a lot more than expected. He cleaned the bowl, and then sucked the tray. Most went in. I’m proud of him, and glad that I tried feeding, since he’s clearly ready, but also know this will complicate life. The baby food grinder is out of storage once more, there will be extra bowls and spoons and bibs to wash, and a careful menu to introduce over time, as we watch for potential allergies. But he wants to be one of the gang, and he’s working so hard to get there. Babies. Their instinct is to grow up! No wonder people are always delighted to catch sight of an infant–they’re rare. We spend a vast proportion of our lives large and unportable and complicated–and, let’s face it, not nearly so cute.
Overheard: F with Kevin and baby CJ in the living-room: “It okay, daddy, baby be happy. You can go to work now. You can go your office and sleep.”
This afternoon I spent cooking. Chopping veggies endlessly, using up the bits and bobs in the fridge, the wilting clumps of CSA parsley, the bag of collected beets and beet greens, fretful-looking cabbages, and on and on. I made borscht, an obvious choice given what was lurking in our fridge, a positively giant pot, though not with a typically meaty broth, just added a frozen steak bone to the brew; fresh dill from Nina’s, bought specifically for this meal. Meanwhile, I prepared a second giant pot, this one of fresh tomato sauce, using tomatoes from Nina’s, garlic, onions, celery, and a couple of despondent eggplants from the bottom drawer. I was going to toss in some green pepper, but luckily tasted first; they were CSA and an odd shape, and turned out to be hot peppers. So I chopped and froze those for later, a theoretical later because cooking for kids means leaving out the spicy-hot. Kevin and I douse our food at the table with a variety of hot sauces to satisfy our tastebuds. Maybe I’ll make a spicy salsa someday this winter??
The above paragraph doesn’t sound like it should have taken two hours of my day … but it did. In fact, it was probably more like three hours when all was said and done, and I’d placed supper on the table–the borscht is what we ate tonight. We also ate a small bowl of oven-roasted teeny-tiny potatoes, a whimsical mixture of varieties. These particular potatoes represented a joint family effort. I discovered a handful of forgotten potatoes this past spring, sprouting in a paper bag in our cold cellar. I’d just read somewhere that potatoes are easy to grow, so I suggested we cut them up and stick them in the ground. Kevin and A planted them out back along our fenceline, which gets a bit more sunshine than it used to. And lo and behold, the potatoes grew. A and AB dug them up yesterday. Okay, it amounted to a couple of generous handfuls, but they were beautiful and wholly ours. That was our first course for supper: our summer’s crop of potatoes, roasted with salt. We’re totally biased, but man, they tasted good.
Fortunately, we don’t have to live off them all winter long …
The other food, and indeed, the leftover borscht, is for meals later on this week. I’m finding the post-school-scramble to be unfavourable to cooking (it’s madness, actually, to be preparing meals from scratch amidst the melee), so this week I’ve planned and cooked ahead. This will only get more crucial as we add in music lessons and swim lessons, both after school, along with our other commitments, both pleasurable and necessary, adult and kid.
I also boiled eggs for the kids’ lunches (one egg per kid, per day), and made the kids’ school lunches for tomorrow. I always make the lunches the evening before, usually while preparing supper (I’m not a morning person at the best of times; it’s wise not to overload my dawn duties). This year I’ve been sending a container of cut-up fruit (peaches and plums and pears right now), a simple sandwich of Nina’s ham and a bun/bread with either mustard or butter, a baggie of cut-up veggies (carrots, celery, green pepper–actual green pepper, that is), a container of dried fruit and seeds (apricots, raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds), the egg, and usually a little something extra too. AB gets a cookie because she’s been brushing faithfully after her meals at school; A still needs to prove himself, but I did send each of them a little container of sesame snacks for tomorrow.
Alright, this has been a stolen moment (or three) and things have gotten positively out of hand behind me … meaning, it’s time for mama to cease the ceaseless typing and read a bedtime story. We’re nearing the end of Little Town on the Prairie, and Laura is already 15 years old. I’m admiring how her parents trust her as they encourage and watch her develop a social life in this brand-new frontier town. The next book (These Happy Golden Years) was always my favourite, but that was when I was a teen and I’m recalling there’s some pleasantly romantic stuff, which may not fly with the seven- and five-year-old crowd. We shall see …
Saturday morning and it’s time to clean up. The more children you add to a household, the more opportunities for instant disasters and chronic mess. This morning, for example, I came downstairs to discover the kids were “cleaning” the puzzle and games cupboard; translation: they were taking out every single puzzle and game and opening the boxes to inspect for missing or broken pieces and parts, and dumping some into plastic baggies, and … well, you can imagine this was not the kind of cleaning project I had planned for the morning.
To their credit, everything got stuffed back into the cupboard.
I am now sipping a cup of coffee and pondering all the things that need doing … and feeling weak and wishing I could instead read the paper. But the truth is that I like a clean and tidy house. I like to walk into rooms that are organized and free of spilt crumbs and feel airy and uncluttered. A place for everything and everything in its place, is something that runs through my mind on these mornings. Which is not the scene right now. I’m wading through diapers that need folding and laundry that needs doing and a dining-room table still plagued with loose garlic bulbs, not to mention a multitude of other neglected areas (toilets, anyone?). During the week there isn’t time to do this work, just barely time to keep head above water and say hello to Kevin.
I did have a writing morning yesterday, and in fact used it to write. I started another story in the Nicaragua collection. It’s slow going and feels personal rather than political. This project has changed so much over time, and undergone such a variety of incarnations that I no longer believe automatically that I’ve landed on the shape in which this story belongs; but I’m comfortable with this form and take great pleasure from it: stories rather than chapters. Whether or not it’s the form this story belongs in, it is the form that I most enjoy exploring–to read, and to write.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, soccer coach, teacher, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.