Tag Archives: parenting

A new beginning.

Two weeks after the beginning of a new year, and everything is already very different… and yet completely the same. I’m sitting in the bedroom, watching mosquitoes hover in front of my cat-eye frames, and blaming myself for not remembering to close the window screen after Riley opened it to make sure I heard him yell, “Mama! Mama! Mamaaaaa!!”

That was his greeting when I got home from school. 

I’d come home early because of a headache and my body’s need to relax, and there he was, happy to see me, positively radiant and beaming in his I-LOVE-my-mommy!-ness. Micah was in the bath, and when he saw me, he lit up like a firecracker and I swore I saw heaven. 

And then I remembered that Rob’s mom had passed away from lung cancer and that she’d never see my babies’ smiles, and I wanted to smoke and eat and shop and act out every other vice I have. 

It’s been a hard year so far.

I miss Rob’s mom. There are money issues plaguing me. My extended family is showing itself to be more and more bat-shit crazy. Rob and I are having a hard time being Rob and I. And in the midst of all this, I’m tentatively putting one foot in front of the other, making my way towards something better than what I’ve got, and mindful that everything could blow up in my face at any moment.

 

Interpreter wanted.

This is what I dreamt two nights ago: A humongous tidal wave was coming toward me, and sharks were the masterminds that created it. Their goal was to submerge all of the land underwater, so that they could kill all the mammals. I swam to meet with the leader, who was this guy:

Bruce the shark, from Finding Nemo.

I asked Bruce, the animated shark from Finding Nemo, why he wanted to kill all the mammals, and he told me it’s because he’s jealous of the immense pleasure that we get from having sex.

And somehow, this made sense to me, and I pretty much resigned myself to my fate. From now on, Sharks are going to try to kill me and my loved ones because of our capacity to find pleasure from sex. No big deal. We can swim really fast.

I kind of shrugged it off and thanked Bruce for the information. Then the dream ended.

Now, somebody tell me: What in the flying fish was that all about? I mean, other than an obvious indication that I have to stop reading Finding Nemo books to Riley before bedtime.

Here comes the rain again… Wait. That’s not rain!

Since school let out a week ago, Rob and I have been going through some hard times, and they’ve all had to do with one thing: BLADDER CONTROL.

You see, we got a new puppy* back at the end of September, and only after my semester ended was I free to paper train him.

And also?

Riley started showing signs of potty training readiness.

So we were faced with a question: paper train the puppy or potty train the toddler? And me being me, I answered, “We’ll do both!” Of course. Because I’m masochistic that way.

We spent several days getting Riley used to his potty. Then, for two days, without a hitch, whenever he had to “go”, he’d do a pee-pee or poopie dance as he ran to us, and we’d bring him to the potty so he could do his business.

On the third day, I had to run errands. I’m not sure what Rob did with Riley while I was out of the house, but by the morning of the fourth day, Riley was all about the diaper again. (Much to the dismay of our maid, Joy, who’s been washing sheets by hand for a week straight.)

Now, it’s touch and go. If Riley and I are home, he might run to me and gesture that he’s about to poop or he might just sit there and grunt one out into his pull-up.

I’m disappointed and kind of frustrated. While I’d love to be a manic micro-manager and see this thing through to the end, there are too many things** that I have to physically take care of – and they all involve going to Manila, aka leaving the house without Riley.

And as much as Rob’s on top of things and Riley loves his father, I just- I-I-I- don’t have the slightest clue what’s going on with that. I just don’t. The simple fact is, Riley learns more easily when I’m around. He’s more apt to want to do what he’s supposed to do. He’s quicker to learn things.

I’m just chalking this all up to the fact that Riley’s 14 months old and Rob’s keen on doing things his way, aka the way that Riley’s not used to.

We’ll try again in another 6 months. As for now? At least the puppy’s paper trained.

* He’s the house’s dog. As in, we won’t be taking him to live with us back in NYC.
** Legal-type stuff. Student visa, foreign adoption, lawyer meetings… Fun!***
*** That was sarcasm, by the way.

Finding joy AND fun as a parent.

We used to go out every night, get drunk and high, fuck strangers in strange places, and meet up for breakfast or brunch after taking our respective walks of shame. Now we talk on Skype every chance that we get:  she, with her eyelids droopy from staying up late, grading English 1 and English 2 papers; and me, seemingly always energetic, even after the grind of school/family/work/dream-job-chasing.

“Holy fuck,” she always says. “Your life is so different now.”

“Yup,” I say, as a grin spreads smugly from ear to ear.

She sees the look on my face, the one that’s a step away from being condescending and holier-than-thou, and she pouts before laughing. “Fuck you and your perfect life!” she bellows before exploding into a tumult of contagious merriment.

I find freedom in her howls of joy and allow myself to feel whatever is in me to feel, and at this moment it’s a split-second of self-righteousness. I feel like I’ve won the greatest prize ever, like no one has ever reached the kind of perfection that I’ve achieved, like I have all the answers. Like I’m God. It’s taken me almost a year to reclaim this feeling, and just as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I feel the change and am grateful. Luckily, in that same year, I also learned to be gracious; to let the feeling recess into the last fat folds of my ego and dispense into a calm pool of confidence.

She watches the changes take place: The overwhelming surge of bravado, the back-straightening confidence, and the tranquility of inner peace. “Good,” she says as she earnestly  nods her head. “You deserve every bit of this.”

*****

There’s an eye-opening and controversial article making the rounds in social media, and when I read it last night, a zillion ideas for blog posts came to mind. Because, yes, I totally understand the feelings brought up by the writer. The thing is, I can’t really relate to them.

The title says it all, All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already. If you’re a parent, you’ll most likely find yourself nodding your head in agreement; if you’re not a parent, you’ll most likely learn something that will help you relate to your friends who are parents.

Reading this article reminded me of chemistry class: the comparison of known values to unknown values often shed light on subjects I’d previously considered myself an expert. I’d feel my base of knowledge expanding, expounding, becoming more brilliant and yet, somehow, also sinking back into itself as the thing that I’d always known.

To be clear: I loved the writing of the article, but I didn’t find the subject at all groundbreaking. The studies, though important, simply corroborate what I’ve always known to be true, and are therefore far from shocking. Of course most people are let down by parenting. Most people have no idea what parenting is like until they’re a parent.

*****

Riley turns 1 year old in less than a month, and though I won’t say that this leg of the parenting journey has been easy, I have to admit, it hasn’t been as hard as I was expecting it to be. Everything from the actual labor and delivery; to the decisions of not circumcising Riley and of anointing him in a spiritual/non denominational ceremony as well as a Catholic one; to the processes of finding childcare and making baby food from scratch; to being able to provide everything I want to provide have been a walk in the park. Riley’s an easy baby to take care of: he hardly ever gets sick, he has a loving and good-humored disposition, and he’s been ahead of the curve, developmentally, pretty much since the day he was born. Maybe my case isn’t the norm, or maybe the first year is really the easiest, or maybe my approach to parenting is somehow different from that of most other parents. All I know is, I’m always finding joy and fun in every sphere of my life – including parenting.

*****

How can this possibly be the case? For one thing, though I always miss my son, I don’t ever feel like I’m missing out on anything concerning him. I take active participation in everything about his life, and I don’t get all up in arms about the small stuff. To me, what matters is that he’s happy and healthy, and that I’m providing the best life possible for him.

Obviously, best is a subjective term, and though I can’t tell you directly what my idea of the best parenting style consists of, I can tell you what it doesn’t consist of: doubting my instincts and my self, hovering, over-planning, lack of common sense, and lack of hard work. I find that a pragmatic and knowledgeable approach makes life a hell of a lot easier. For example, I’m a nursing student, and as such I know more about diseases that I’d care to know. So I take every single precaution necessary to keep Riley safe and healthy, and after I’m satisfied that I’ve done everything I can possibly do, I relax. Because, sure, inevitably shit will hit the fan. But preparation doesn’t mean worrying – and it sure as hell doesn’t do anyone any good.

Another thing the article talks about are strains in a couple’s relationship, and how couples with kids inevitably have more stress than their childless counterparts. Again: Duh! Take two people and give them a big project – say, raising a child – and it’s inevitable that the stress pile gets bigger, if only because um, did you not read the part about having a big project? Likewise, take two classmates who are having a blast while their teacher is away, then pair them up and assign them a term project, and I guarantee you that their levels of stress will also increase. Why? Because no matter how compatible their views, the very fact that there is a new task raises points that have never before been posed, and simply having those questions is stressful, let alone having to cooperate and act on them.

It’s the cooperation and acting part, though, that I think Rob and I have got licked. The great thing about Rob is that he comes in two settings, Completely Involved and Leaves It All Up To Me. For the most part, he’s the former, but for things like Riley’s baptism and lack of circumcision, aka Things of Great Importance to Me That He Can Go Either Way On? It’s the latter. And this system makes it a hell of a lot easier to cooperate and act.

Of course, it also helps that I’m feeling nurtured – not only by Rob and my parents and brother, but also by my friends and extended family and even the students and faculty at my school. They are sources of great strength, love, faith, creativity, hope, understanding and solace. They are accepting of who I am, and give me many homes at which to lay down my problems. They make it possible for me to give my all as a mom and a partner, and as a friend and a sister and a daughter, et al. I get so much in return, and I haven’t had to give up anything that I wasn’t willing to part with.

*****

Becoming a mom has been the single most life-altering act I’ve experienced, and yet for all the change and turbulence it’s caused, fundamentally, things are still the same. I still love to work and party harder than anyone else. I always find time and energy for my priorities. And I have a million things coming at me from all angles, some of which are issues I’d never even thought of. Maybe the contours of my life have changed a bit, but the process? The giving of my all? The knowing full well that it might all be for nothing, and that that’s okay? That’s the same.

Hello. My name is Maria and I am a parent who loves parenting.

Hodgepodge: Counting my blessings, and what goes up may go higher.

Things I’ve been doing that are paying off:

  1. Scheduling time to write. Every morning for the last month or so, the first thing I’ve done when I start writing  is blog. I decided to do it that way to clear the cobwebs, purge myself of any subconscious issues, and empty myself of the run-off, so that when I’m ready to really write, I get only the good stuff. Now I’ve reached a stage where I can tackle fiction-writing straight from the get-go, and it feels fluid and natural.
  2. Practicing guitar and singing. Mistress Mom Fact #958: I used to front a band called Ruben’s Daughter. It was a stereotypical band experience: I dated the guitarist; we had a mad and passionate affair that can only be described as winding; then when things stalled with our band, he upped and left for Cali and later died of a drug overdose. It’s one of the stages of my past that is so different from my present experience, a slight tinge of disbelief coats my tongue whenever I talk about it. Anyway, I used to have a kick-ass singing voice, and lately I’ve been learning guitar and trying to pick up the pieces of my smoke-stricken voice. And just when all this is happening, the band’s only fan one of our fans found me on Facebook and messaged me. “I know I’m really late on this one, but have you heard of Kings of Leon?” she asked. “I swear, the second I listened to their album, I thought of you and Ruben’s Daughter.” I’m thinking about putting away funds to record a few of our old tracks and maybe even pen a couple new ones, even though truth told, I read some of my old lyrics and physically shuddered. God, I was young then! [Says the 25-year old.]
  3. Job hunt. The thing about finding a telecommuting job is that not only are they hard to come by, but finding a decently paying one is crazy-difficult. I mean, not only are there a zillion and one people applying to the same position, but really, what’s to stop someone from just not paying you? Luckily, I’ve found a handful of places that are the real-deal and *enter trumpet* I’ve had my first big cumulative pay day. Here’s hoping this is steady and reliable work, and that the things that Rob has in the works (that have been paying off already!) continue to do well, too.
  4. Exercising. Remember when I said that I wanted to re-sculpt my body, and that I was willing to try stuffing my face in order to achieve that end? Yeah, that wasn’t such a great idea. My gut and ass ballooned, and my boobs didn’t. (Boo! Yay! Boo!) The really awesome thing about working out, though? It put me back in touch with my body, which was really hard for this yoga aficionado after giving birth. Something about running three miles in the blazing tropical sun makes me feel like G.I. Jane, though, and I gotta admit, going all boot-camp on my own ass fulfills a long-held fantasy of mine.
  5. Keeping in touch with my parents and my in-laws. I’ve had a really rocky relationship with my folks, but no matter what, they’ve supported me. They’ve never questioned my decisions and have always respected me as an individual, and I’m getting to think that it was my judgmental mentality that really fucked things up in the first place. Now that I’ve gotten to my judgment-free happy place, all of that has lifted, and oh-em-gee, I’d forgotten how funny and wonderful my folks are. Rob’s parents are a different bag altogether, which I hear is the norm when learning to deal with (might as well be) in-laws. I keep in touch with his mom’s side of the family via Facebook and email his mom frequently. There’s so much about Rob that can be explained by talking to his mom, and I love that just as much as I’m perplexed by it. His dad and I have always had a really great relationship, and I love Rob’s little sisters (half-sisters, via his pops) like my own. Thinking about all of this gives me the warm and fuzzies.
  6. Keeping in touch with my friends. I have a lot of friends. Got that? Not acquaintances. Not people I only know via social networking sites. Not friends of convenience. Actual friends. The kind that will bail me out of jail at 2 a.m. even though they have to get up for work in two hours and their kid has the chicken pox and holy fuck, what was I doing getting into a fight with a group of thuggettes on the train anyway? My friends pretty much span the whole spectrum of varied and awesome. They are corporate lawyers and slam poets, bartenders and military moms, party-hoppers and fashionistas, etc., and holy crackwhore, it is hard keeping up with what’s going on in all of their lives. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to do it, and the feelings of being immensely adored by such amazing individuals and being able to immensely adore them are sometimes more than I can stand.
  7. Bonding with my extended family. Something happened when I became a mom. All of a sudden, I felt an incredible urge to connect with everyone who might have a chromosome or two in common with me. It’s been a hard-won and completely worthwhile experience, with lots of set-backs and drama thrown in for good measure, and I recently exchanged emails with folks on my mom’s side and had a coffee-cum-martini-fest with a few cousins on my dad’s side that confirms my suspicions: awesome runs in my family.
  8. Bonding with my brother. He and I joke that he’s my first kid. After all, if you ask him who he was raised by, he inevitably answers with my name – even though I’m only five years older than him. Watching him make the same mistakes that I made was really tough for me. Every time he fell down, I felt the overwhelming inclination to run to his side, coo at him and dust off his knees. But I caught myself. Stayed on the sidelines. Watched him pick himself up, dust himself off, learn better for the next time around. It was heart-wrenching and completely frustrating, but now that I’ve found my cool, I’m dealing a lot better with it. We understand each other in a way that is so amazing, it compels me to make sure Riley has multiple siblings because surely this kind of love can only grow exponentially with size.
  9. Making it work with Rob. There are times when I’m sure things just can’t work out between us, and then something happens to reaffirm my belief in Rob and our relationship. It’s not just the fact that we have a baby together; truthfully, Riley in and of himself doesn’t justify staying with Rob. It’s the random texts to tell me about something only I would understand. It’s texting me little poems about how much he misses me. It’s emails with obscure music videos and being able to vibe about the most seemingly unimportant tangents. It’s taking the time and energy to work through our misunderstandings (and excusing my short fuse when I ultimately get frustrated and angry). We come from such different lives and experiences. We see things in such different ways. We talk such different languages. And with our well-meaning parents whispering in our ears, it’s hard to avoid getting suckered by a Jedi mind trick. And yet, somehow, in each other we find home. Fuck, we’re lucky.
  10. Being a mom. I watched Riley chase our housekeeper as his nanny held his hands and he kicked his feet with the power of a tiny stallion. Later that evening, as he practiced standing on the couch, he bent down to kiss me, then got up again, then bent down to kiss me again, again and again, making me absolutely surge electric with all that is good in the world. Then he repeated the same action, except instead of kissing me, he held his face in a way that suggested, “Mommy, my turn! Kiss me!” And of course I did. Again and again and again. Eight months old, and his love fills me with an intensity I never thought possible.

Rereading this list gives me the feeling of being stuffed by a really delicious holiday meal. Pure wonder how all of it is possible! *content sigh* It’s 12:45 a.m. Now off to edit fiction…

“If I’m not overwhelmed with cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, I don’t feel like a *real mom*.”

I wrote that as a Facebook status, then took it down three minutes later. That’s how long it took for me to get over that particular sentiment.

I’m sure I’m not the only mom who’s ever felt that way, and 180 seconds after the thought entered my brain, I was thinking: That’s just silly. Being overwhelmed has nothing to do with being a real mom, or even a good one (whatever the fuck those mean in the first place). Damn all of these judgmental pricks. Damn all of the media hype about moms being too busy to cut their hair or buy a decent pair of heels. Just because I have time to do both, does it mean that I’m not doing a good job? (And for that matter, just because I’m able to run around while wearing 3-inch heels, and I like doing so, does that make me less of a feminist?)

Nope. Of course one doesn’t have to do with the other, just like the facts that I feel free to smoke; my wardrobe choices are singled out as “questionable” (tank tops, V-necks, shorts, skirts, tight jeans, high heels, platforms, etc.); the neighbors see Riley with his nanny more than they see him with me – those have nothing to do with my mothering skills, either. But people think they do. And that fact is something that I’ve simply learned to ignore. Truth: generalizations and stereotypes are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you have to try to fit them.

It’s become second nature to not become fazed by other peoples’ criticisms, expectations, or opinions. When someone voices their thoughts about me, I coolly drag on the conversation for however long I’m comfortable, then change the topic. Fact is – and I don’t mean to sound like a superior bitch  – it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that I’m perfect, and I’ll definitely engage in intelligent discussion/debate, but at the end of the day, more often than not, my perspective won’t be moved. Because, ya know what? Me and my life might sound crazy to you, but believe it or not, I’ve thought long and hard about the shit I’ve done before I’ve done it, and I’m damn proud of the road I’ve traveled and the person I’ve become.

Along with this renewed sense of calm and confidence is a definite identification with social liberalism, which to me basically means “I may not get you, but I respect and appreciate you and whatever it is that you’re about – up until you molest a kid/rape someone/etc.”

Social liberalism, to me, means a suspension of judgment [up until a point; see above]. It means not having double standards. It means that when you say you’re okay with a lifestyle, you’re really okay with it. Not any of this, “It’s okay to be [insert profession/sexual preference/race/ethnicity/nationality/age/etc.] just as long as you’re not [a person of social status/my loved one/romantically involved with my loved one/etc.].” Point blank: If you say you’re okay with people being gay, but you have a problem with your kid being gay, then you’re not really okay with gay people in the first place. You’re faking it – most likely because it fits in with the ideals that you’d like to espouse – but you really see being gay as inferior, and that just ain’t cool.

I identify with people who are offbeat, unusual, misunderstood, and queer (sexually and just plain strange). I’ve battled my own demons, taken paths that were right for me, and fought for acceptance, respect, and legitimacy – and I deserve all of the acceptance, respect and legitimacy that I’ve gained. For every part about me that soothes the majority’s worries about my identity, there are a million other parts of me that make the average Joe raise a judgmental eyebrow. And although I will play to the sympathizers, I will also acknowledge that that’s what they are: I appreciate their kindness and empathy exactly because this isn’t their fight, and they’ve chosen to take up arms. Thank you, sympathizers. But also: Be weary of claiming possession of this fight because it isn’t really yours. You may only help where permission is granted.

And if you choose not to heed my words, that’s fine, too. Because, really, what the fuck do I know? Keep on pushing, and you’ll eventually find a niche that fits your groove. Just because it ain’t my niche doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. Even if I think it is…

Maybe this is inner peace or freedom or simply not giving a fuck. All I know is, it works for me. My competitive streak has disappeared. Now I just feel… complete. Like a force of nature. A force to be reckoned with. A force that’s completely blessed. I’ve come to the conclusion that I may never know the *right* answers, but I know which ones are definitely *wrong* for me, and that’s all I really need to know. I’ll grant you the respect to go about living the best way you know how; I’ll never look down my nose at you or expect you to do anything than what you’ve promised; I’ll engage in heated discussions with you and will be quick to apologize if I come off as offensive in any way; I’ll be honest with you – and I’ll even try to be honest with myself. And all I ask of you is the same.

Brownout, blackout, burnout. (Part 2)

black·out (blkout) n.

1. A cutoff of electrical power, especially as a result of a shortage, a mechanical failure, or overuse by consumers.
2. The concealment or extinguishment of lights that might be visible to enemy aircraft during an air raid.
3. a. The sudden extinguishment of all stage lights in a theater to indicate the passage of time or to mark the end of an act or scene.

b. A short, comic vaudeville skit that ends with lights off.
4. A temporary loss of memory or consciousness.
5. a. A suppression, as of news, by censorship.

b. Restriction or prohibition of telecasting a sports event in order to ensure ticket sales.
Synonyms: blackout, faint, swoon, syncope
These nouns denote a temporary loss of consciousness: suffers blackouts at high altitudes; fell in a dead faint at the sight of the body; sank to the ground in a swoon; was taken to the clinic in a state of syncope.
The air condition is lulling Riley into a deeper sleep in the downstairs living room. I should be taking this opportunity to look for work. Instead, I sit next to his play pen and inhale his cookies and lavender scent.
It’s just past noon on a weekday and Cecil and Joy have the day off. I hear my brother’s dogs shuffling their feet in the driveway as they search for shade and lap up water from their bowls. My brother is sleeping upstairs in his room, and will likely continue to do so deep into the day. As I sit here, staring at my baby’s chest rising and falling, I can’t help but think of how immensely lucky I am, and how thankful I am for my parents.

For a long time, I weaved the mysticism of my parents’ pre-family lives with grim tales of our family struggle. I had no idea where fanciful fairy tales might give way to real life, and if I’m honest I can tell you that I still don’t know. Did my father really stab a man? Did my uncle really kill people? Did my grandfather really have the ability to talk to bees and an amulet that kept him from getting shot by bullets? Historical accounts, exaggerations and whimsy – they are all mixed up into one gigantic mass of maybe.

In the transcript of life, these accounts are not italicized, omitted, or blacked out in broad strokes of ink. They sit side by side on a page, claiming equal importance and validity, as if memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts.

*****

It is warm when I realize that the power has shut down. Lost in my thoughts, I must have missed the collective groan of my neighbors and the expected declaration from the man across the street. “Brownout!” His announcement ushers in a collective sigh: not just of acquiescence, but of relief. It’s okay, we paid the electricity bill.

I open the windows and front door, pick up the wood and cloth fan, and try to stop Riley from sweating. There are already droplets on his brow, which doesn’t surprise me since he can sweat even when the air conditioner is on full-blast.

As my arms take turns swathing Riley in the cool breeze of broad strokes, I remember the last big black out of New York City. According to the internet, it happened in 2003, but my memory places it much earlier, to a time when my brother was not yet a ‘tween and I had barely entered my teens.

It was summer: humid, sticky, and oppressive. The workday was almost done, and inexplicably, the power had gone out. My parents were home with me and my brother, and having grown up in the Philippines, were old pros at dealing with electricity outages. They bought take-out and set up foldable tables and chairs in the backyard, and we all talked and laughed as we ate dinner and complained about the heat.

Mom dug through the bottom drawers of the china cabinet for candles and matches, and while she was bent over, examining her finds in the diminishing sunlight, she muttered to herself, “Geesh. I thought this only happened in the Philippines.”

Dad talked to us about looters. He was sure they would appear. How many and in what neighborhoods, he couldn’t say for certain. But a crime wave would pop. He swore it was unavoidable. (It didn’t happen.)

Later, as my family and I sat on the front stoop, I thought about the Summer of Sam. One of my favorite pastimes was imagining what I would do if faced with historical drama: would I cower in fear, or would I stand up for something? Would I fade into the background? Would I die?

The older men of the block congregated to the side of our house, exchanging news of how long the blackout was expected to last and where else it was happening. I watched it all – the terror, the fright – and felt as if the beginning of a horror movie was unfolding before me. A high-pitched shriek of fear and adrenaline ripped through my body. What if this was it? What if all hell broke loose in New York City on this particular night and hordes of people mobbed the streets, flipping over cars and tearing through houses in order to steal and satiate their primal need for bloodlust? Should I sleep with my shoes on and a small bag of necessities packed and ready to go? Should I tell my parents about the escape routes I had planned? Who were our allies? I never trusted the mechanic on our block…

My father turned away from the other men and stubbed out his Marlboro Light with the seasoned efficacy of a man who’s been smoking since his early teens. Despite his chain-smoking, his chest seemed puffed up. He had the air of no-nonsense, been-there-done-that. Other times, his display of machismo would signal to me a superiority complex, and my need to rebel against the existing patriarchy would rear its head. During the blackout, though, I was grateful for my dad’s leadership and charisma.

When we went back inside the house, I noticed that my mother had washed the dishes and tidied the house more than usual. This confirmed my fears of a raid, and my paranoia was only assuaged by the knowledge that with everything in its right place, there were no impediments to our speedy escape. I wondered if my mom had the same thoughts. I also wondered if she equated “robbers” with “guests”.

My senses seemed to be working double over-time, and the night was loud with static: summer, sex, and police sirens; an audible but obvious awareness of the blackout’s effects and implications; heightened energy; anxiety; urgency; danger; lust. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would get high off of the warm warning signs of war, and succumb to sex. Or violence.

It was darker than I thought New York could ever be, as if the city’s parents had come home early, kicked out the party people, and sentenced its offspring to steep in dark solicitude and worry. There were plans brewing beneath the blackened streetlights. Moon-made shadows faded into the all-consuming blanket of darkness. Party people were dispersing the streets and congregating in other strees, possibly forming lynch mobs and riots.

The darkness was thick and black as a cauldron as all of these sensations bubbled to the top of my skin. I felt like I was watching from behind the curtains of my own eyes, as if the magnitude of reality was too much for me to stand. I saw my dad bring our dog, Kato, into the house, and that’s when I knew my dad meant business, and that my paranoia was well-founded.  Kato, was a chow-chow/collie mix with the ferocious heart and golden fur of a lion. He was loyal, obedient, and house-trained, and the only reason he stayed outside was because of my mom’s fear of him.

That night, after my mom had gone to work and as Kato kept sentry in front of the master bedroom door, my dad fanned my brother and I with a copy of The Daily News. The heat was flying off of us in huge waves. Sweat must have been pouring from his forehead and armpits.

As I stand over Riley’s playpen and dutifully fan him, I see myself in my dad and mom: responsibly taking charge of household tasks then shuffling to work; never complaining or making us feel inept or unloved; feeling one with the role of parent. They have instilled in me not only the capacity to act in this loving manner, but also the desire to do so, if only to prove my love.

So easily, as my back becomes sopping wet, other parallels dawn on me. Rob was 27 and I was 24 when Riley was born: the same ages as my parents when I was born. I spent the first few years of my life shuttling between New York and the Philippines, a lot like Riley’s doing. And my parents, even though they saw warning signs of hardship and difficulty, surged on with their relationship because it’s the only thing they knew how to do.

The other parts – my angsty teen years, my parents’ dysfunctional marriage, mine and Rob’s many problems, etc. – are conveniently blacked out from this version of my story as I stand over Riley’s playpen and ensure his comfort and good health. Most cleverly, my brain has wiped clean all of the assumptions and generalities that one could draw from my life and experiences. They are reduced to a loose collection of acts as the actors fret about on stage: my parents, me, Rob, my brother, Riley, Rob’s parents, friends, etc. Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it… Learn from others’ mistakes. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Perhaps, if I was smarter, I’d pick apart the pieces, overturn all the parts, and find a spine of meaning connecting it all and shining some reason onto the whole ridiculous and amazing affair.

In due time, perhaps that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Right now, I just want to experience the play-by-play as it’s happening and trust that it will etch itself onto my soul so I can share it after I’ve had my fill.

Blackout.

Brownout, blackout, burnout. (Part 1)

brown·out (brounout): n. A reduction or cutback in electric power, especially as a result of a shortage, a mechanical failure, or overuse by consumers.

For several days now, we’ve been getting brown-outs. They start before noon, and end before 1 p.m. The longest we’ve gone without electricity in the last week and a half is three hours, which isn’t exactly a life-or-death portion of our day, but it’s inconvenient and annoying enough to throw off the rest of my schedule.

I’ve become a creature of habit. I wake up at 4 a.m., do sit-ups and stretches, then play and read with Riley before handing him off to his nanny. By the time I see him again, I’ve written at least 10 pages, job-hunted, showered, and drank my coffee; he’s gone out for his morning stroll, had some breakfast, and screamed at the TV. Then it’s Riley’s bath time, then he gets his first bottle, and it’s his nap time. And even though I’d like to say that I’m still 100% hands-on and that I do these things by myself, really, Riley’s nanny handles those parts of his/our day. I get to talk to him and laugh with him and splash around, and she does the legwork of scrubbing and wiping and rinsing.

It took a long time for me to get used to this arrangement, and admittedly, I still have days when I doubt my title as mommy because so many of my responsibilities are handled by someone else. It’s hard, seeing Riley and knowing that most of his day was spent with someone else – especially when I’m at home. But then I think about the evolution of this arrangement and the fact that the portions of the day that are handled only by Cecil are when Riley’s asleep, and I’m forced to pause and give myself due props.

When Riley was born, I was your run-of-the-mill neurotic and extremely particular first-time mom. I was completely hands-on, and the only other person I felt comfortable taking care of him was Rob (and sometimes, not even him). Then Riley and I moved overseas, and I continued my role as primary caregiver as I simultaneously found a way to keep my identity intact while experiencing enormous life changes. In truth, as much as people pleaded with me to loosen up and let others help me out with my maternal duties, I just couldn’t do it. Like so many other new moms, I felt the urge to prove to myself and to others that I was worthy and capable of my new role.

But then I became a full-time student, and we hired Cecil to be Riley’s nanny, and I found myself slowly learning to give up my daily routine and my role as Riley’s only caregiver. Adjusting to the demands of school and a new culture drained me, and there were many days when I was certain I’d keel over the moment I walked in the front door. And while I was – and still am! – very thankful for Cecil’s help, the implications and overt nuances of having live-in help are not lost on me.

Cecil is in her mid 40s and has 5 kids of her own. She comes to the table with valuable experience and expertise, and although I am quick to hear her advice, I am also not necessarily apt to use it. She doesn’t seem too pleased with this, but does her best to conceal this fact. At times, though, I catch a glimpse of the parts of her personality that she’s trying to hide: the rebellious, wise-cracking, hustling side of her (which, honestly, I don’t mind too much because I know how to deal with it).

There’s also the issue of Filipino gossip circles: they are everywhere, and your business spreads like seeds on the breeze, planting themselves wherever they land, taking root, and germinating into God-only-knows-what. Just by living here and leaving the house, Cecil is necessarily a part of these gossip circles, and while I’m not ashamed of much, the Filipino politics behind information and its distribution is a huge power play. The more people know, the more inclined they are to look down on you, thus diminishing your standing. (But then, I’m American, and therefore automatically granted high social status.)

And lastly, there’s the language barrier. Cecil is from another region of the Philippines, and occassionally speaks her own dialect. The difference between her native dialect and the one that I speak is like the difference between Portuguese and Spanish: if you know one, you’re most likely able to figure out the other, but there are some changes in accent and word use that make this a little difficult for me. (In fairness, I only ever hear her speaking Waray (sp?) when she’s on a personal call, and I wonder if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.)

My way of doing things is most certainly not the way my parents would like me doing things, and it’s definitely not the way Cecil’s used to doing things. And even though I know I wouldn’t be able to devote so much time to my dream of authorship if it wasn’t for Cecil, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. If she wasn’t around, I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of attitude or rebellion; or gossip; or language differences. I would know for certain that Riley’s being taken care of the way I’d like him to be taken care of, and that no corners are being cut. And we could save a few bucks from our budget.

But then I wonder if these feelings are just my way of attempting to exert control over the unpredictability of life.

In my attempts to “figure it all out”, I’ve only come up with one certainty, and that’s that I probably don’t know a damn thing. And that’s okay. Sometimes, I just have to write my wrongs to realize they weren’t mistakes at all, but symptoms of living.

How much is too much?

Family visited today, and when I pointed out Riley’s new trick – that he can stick his tongue out on command – a cousin of mine was flabbergasted. “He’s not even three months old!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t he too young to be taught these things?”

I’m proud of his progress, but it occurred to me that she might be right. Maybe I’m pushing him a little too hard, a little too quickly. According to the online experts, by three months, babies are supposed to be just learning to hold up their own heads. I noticed his new proclivity for tongue-sticking-out, and I started giving him a lot positive reinforcement. Maybe positive reinforcement in large quantities is bullying?

Riley and I made the rounds to my nearby relatives’, and only then did I realize that my son has an opportunity to be multi-lingual by the time we get back to the States. My aunt is fluent in Arabic and agreed to teach him; my cousin is fluent in Chinese (Fukienese and Mandarin) and offered to teach him both languages; my grandma’s willing to teach him Ilocano (the Filipino dialect that Rob’s mom’s family speaks); countless relatives are willing to teach him Tagalog; and I’m brushing up on my Spanish so that I can speak to more patients when I’m a nurse. Granted, the odds are good that some of my relatives might flake on their offer, but still: there’s a chance that Riley will be a multi-lingual four-year old.

I love this idea, and I know Rob would love this idea, too. Riley would be learning through conversation, and not through memorization drills. He would be skilled in a way that most adults are not. Coupled with his amiable disposition, already he’d be a worthy university candidate. But am I pushing him too hard, to quickly?

I’m pretty sure that by the morning, I’ll have figured that in letting the cards fall where they may, I’m not really pushing him at all. But before then, I thought I’d pose the question to you. What do you think?

Dear Internet

NOTE: This letter is about 2 weeks old. I didn’t have the opportunity to post it since I was sans internet.

Dear Internet,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you regularly, and for that I apologize. You’re one of my dearest friends, and the least I owe you is regular correspondence. Thing is, since moving back to my folks’ place, I don’t have an internet connection. I’ve tried leeching off of my neighbors’ wireless, but all of them have protected access. Go figure.

As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s been a lot going on with me. I don’t even know where to begin. This is where I’d usually launch into some raunchy story about my experiences as a dominatrix, or (in my earliest blogs) about my sexcapades out in public with random men. But alas, dear Internet, I’ve settled down and become – in comparison to my old life – a boring old lady. Wanna hear about my day-to-day? It goes something like this: Feed Riley. Burp Riley. Change Riley. Cuddle Riley. Read to Riley. Swaddle Riley so that he can sleep. Use the breast pump. Repeat ad nauseum, until Rob’s shift kicks in and I can get a solid 5 hours of Me time. Somewhere in the mix: Squeeze in a shower for myself and a bath for Riley. Bond with Rob. Oh, and remember to eat.

Yup. I’m a barrel of laughs.

It’s funny, this change. There are days when I take it in stride and think, Hmm… So this is what it’s like to be a real grown-up. Then there are days when I think, Why did I wanna grow up so fast? This blows. In between those two thoughts are a bunch of others ideas, mostly centered on the act of writing and my lack thereof. A million article-, story- and blog-ideas clog my brain every day, and I’ve taken to re-reading my copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I wonder what’s to become of my stunted writing career, of all the stories I’ve written and still want to write. I think about the plans I’ve made and broken. I find myself empathizing with the character so often portrayed in art-house cinema: the washed-up, middle-aged American who fels drained and lifeless.

How did this happen? It’s like I’ve been running after the school bus and even though I could’ve sworn I’d already hopped aboard and become the most popular and exciting passenger, I’m really still outside, feet pounding the pavement, trying in vain to catch up. How did I wake up one day and become a 24-year old woman with a boyfriend and a baby? Why am I wondering that, anyway? What’s so wrong about being a 24-year old woman with a boyfriend and a baby? Does this line of thinking mean that I’m not fulfilled? Or that I made a wrong turn somewhere? And here’s the kicker, the question that I’ve never asked and that is begging to be answered: Did I take a wrong turn somewhere, and am somehow living one big mistake?

***

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m in the kitchen, fixing a bottle for Riley. He’s due for a feeding in 15 minutes, and I’ve learned to prepare in advance if I want to save myself from his screams. These are screams that are supernaturally strong; I’m convinced they hear him down the block, around the corner, and in other time zones. They’re screams that are so loud and violent, they have Rob’s mom wondering if we’re abusing her grandson. At their most intense, they turn Riley’s chubby-cheeked and cherubic face beet red, and make Rob and I question our right to be parents – so you can see why I’m doing my best to avoid them.

In case you’re wondering, it’s breastmilk that I’m warming in Riley’s bottle. Sometimes, it’s formula or a mixture of the two, but this time it just happens to be straight breastmilk. I know, I know. Why aren’t I breastfeeding? Wouldn’t that be simpler than having to fix bottles? Don’t I know that breastmilk is the best milk for babies? What kind of mother am I, to deprive my child of my breast? Yeah, I hear your screams of disapproval, and believe me, I wish I were breastfeeding. I feel pangs of guilt whenever I consider the visiting nurse’s advice, that all it takes is one day of trying to get Riley to breastfeed; she swears that given the choice between starving and breastfeeding, his sucking reflex will start working double overtime. But this just hasn’t been the case. I’ve tried this method for all of 6 hours (aka 3 feedings) and all I learned was that I can’t stand to see my baby’s frustrated and starving face scrunch up and let out screams.

So here I am, fixing a bottle and consoling myself with facts. Fact One: In another 7 weeks, Riley and I will be in the Philippines and I’ll be attending classes, so he’d have to be bottle-fed anyway. Odds are good that after the bottle, he wouldn’t want to go back to the breast. Fact Two: I breastfed him exclusively for his first day of life, then fell asleep too long on the second day and ruined his feeding pattern. By the time I tried to breastfeed, he was so hungry that he didn’t have the patience to breastfeed. Then nurses convinced me that I was starving him, and that I should bottle-feed him. After that, he hasn’t wanted to breastfeed at all. Fact Three: I’m making up excuses, I know. But I just don’t have it in me to attempt breastfeeding. Not right now, anyway.

As the seconds tick by and I remember that I should be using the breast pump to keep my milk supply up, I feel like I’ve already fucked up royally as a mom. I’ve been inundated by so many facts and figures about why breastfeeding is best, and I’ve convinced myself that the most natural way is indeed the best way, so there’s no wonder why my lack of patience and persistence bothers me so much. I tell myself that I’ll try breastfeeding again. Right after this next bottle feeding.

I climb up the stairs, to the master bedroom, and realize how slick with sweat my neck is. Ever since Riley was born, I’ve been waking up between early-morning feedings with an alarming amount of sweat on my body. I realize that there’s a physiological reason for this (it’s my body’s way of secreting excess pregnancy hormones), but dammit, it makes me break out in the least attractive of places. Pimples have sprung up on my neck and congregated on my upper back, and all I can do is wait for the sweating to stop.

Speaking of waiting, I still have three weeks to go before my six week post-labor check-up. There are 15 or so pregnancy pounds still left around my middle and on my thighs. And I can’t do much more in the way of exercise than Kegel’s and carrying Riley till I get the green light from the doc. This is all especially alarming since my ass has disappeared, making me look like a funhouse mirror version of my former self. Take a look, ladies and gents, at the amazing assless fat woman!

Okay, okay, maybe there are some positives to all this. Like, when I lay on my side, it’s evident that my Coke bottle figure is all the more accentuated after having a baby. And I’ve gained considerable muscle in my back and arms from carrying Riley so often. And I was able to wear normal pants a week after giving birth. So yeah. Maybe I shouldn’t complain so much.

But ya know what? I don’t recognize my physical self as MY self. I don’t like the way my hair falls, or the scar I got a couple months ago on my right cheek from an oil spatter. I don’t like the dark rings that have circled my eyes, or the silver stretch marks denting my stomach, or my inability to work out. I hate not being able to do anything about disliking my figure. I hate that my sense of humor has pretty much vanished; Rob and my dad joke about my lack of ass or the extra fat around my middle, and I’m reduced to tears. I hate that even though I know it’s only a matter of time before I can get a haircut and my scar will fade and I can resume working out and gaining back my butt, I still have issues. I know full well that all I need is a little patience, but I can’t summon it. I’m just not used to having to wait. I’m not used to being at the mercy of Fate. I’m not used to not having my way. And that, Internet, is what really bothers me. I chose to become a mom, but now I feel like I don’t have any choice about much else.

***

I think of the person I used to be: So confident, so self-assured. I could walk into a room and command attention and respect. I could be brazen and bold. I could own any situation. I could bend people to my will and make them love me. I knew how to read situations, how to read people, how to come up on top in any predicament. And now all of these traits seem diminished, if not gone altogether. They’re replaced by my ability to keep sane, stable and responsible – three traits I was not in the habit of having before I became a mom.

The trade-off was definitely worth it, especially when I consider what my previous person would’ve probably become. But still: I miss her. I miss being loud and obnoxious. I miss feeling like things could be new. I miss being the life of the party. I miss not worrying all the time. I miss not second-guessing myself. I miss my wicked sense of humor.

Now I can’t leave the house for more than an hour without feeling the urge to call home and make sure Riley’s doing okay. I doubt my abilities and second-guess every decision I make on Riley’s behalf. I take every criticism of my mothering skills to heart. Everything now is filtered through Riley’s eyes, and although I love sharing everything with him, I miss being the primary person. I miss experiencing things first-hand. I miss feeling my own self. I’m a slave to my newborn son. He takes up my every thought, causes or taints my every action, chooses the emotions that fill my head and my heart, and controls every other detail about me.

My heart melts when I see Riley’s bundled figure in his cream-colored bassinet, and I realize that he is perfect. He is everything that I need in order to become the person I’m supposed to be. And yet, this change in persona is the hardest I’ve ever come up against. In my desire to be a perfect mom, I’ve lost sight of my knack for making everyone believe I’m the perfect version of the person they’re looking for. And that trait, that singular characteristic, is what’s always been at my core.

Riley’s eyelids flutter as he closes in on wakefulness, and I scoop his warm little body into my arms. I feel his softness push into my chest and his legs curl up inside his swaddle blanket. He is flexing now, his hands taking advantage of the looseness of his cacoon and pushing up into the air as I sit in a chair and bring his bottle to his mouth. He happily accepts the latex nipple and begins sucking, and as I feel his appreciation emanating from his cute little face, my guilt is momentarily curbed.

I think of the other people I’ve been, the other versions of myself that I’ve left behind, and I wonder why those were so easy to slip on and take off. They were so unconventional, so unusual, and so controversial. When I was busy being those people, it felt so rogue and dangerous. And yet this role, this task, MOTHERHOOD, is so antithetical to those roles. It’s so conventional, so relatable, so everyday. People don’t ooh and aah or do a double-take when I say that I’m a mom. They don’t want to hear stories about my day-to-day life. They don’t suddenly find me more attractive or alluring. And maybe there’s a simple explanation for this: Motherhood is more real than any other persona I’ve ever taken on.

Before having Riley, I had a list of experiences to check off – and not just any list. I’d made it my goal to know as much of life, first-hand, as possible. I wanted to be able to empathize with every walk of life, with every decision that could possibly be made, with every cornerstone and milestone and building block of being human. But in order to do this, I could never entirely indulge in any way of life; there was always a danger that I would lose myself in it. So even though I did all those things and became all those people, I guess in a way I can say that none of it was ever real. The experiences impacted me, sure, but they didn’t seep under my skin and boil my blood. They didn’t leave me sleepless and take away all of my control. They didn’t dictate my life, change my outlooks so irrevocably, or undermine the very core of my being the way motherhood does.

Riley is done feeding and I’ve burped him and put him to sleep. I lay him back down in his bassinet and start pumping my breasts while resuming my typing. Somehow, despite my lack of sleep, the right words are finding me and I’m able to zip across the qwerty board, finding the correct keys while my breastmilk funnels into two clear containers. I decide right then and there what I’m going to do: There is a phone call I’ve been putting off, one that I thought of making two years ago, when I was working at Penguin. I’ve been putting it off because it has the potential to become the first step in a real writing career, and being that close to a fulfilled goal seems too good to be true. It’s so much safer to dream without trying, to keep goals in the realm of fantasy, to stand on the precipice instead of taking the plunge into the great unknown.

I realize as I close in on the three-ounce mark that motherhood is a detour that’s brought me to the edge of every opportunity I’ve ever wanted. Now, I write because if I don’t do it now, I’ll be swept away with the currents of whatever Riley’s presently up to. I’m going back to school because the light that is in me and finds fuel in academia might never burn as bright as it does when parenthood is still new. I’m traveling because I want to be able to be young and loud and flamboyant and strange while visiting foreign lands, and I’m not sure how much of that will eek away as I get older.

I guess, Internet, what it boils down to is this: My life, up until now, has been a rehearsal. Now I’m in the thick of reality, smooshed in the heady and intoxicating realness of every decision and opportunity, lost in an ecstacy caused by cliched sayings: Carpe diem. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Take the bull by the horns. The time is NOW. Maybe right now I’m sleep-deprived and not finding myself attractive, but that’s going to change. Everything is changing right now. And something tells me, Internet, it’s not just for the better. It’s for the best.

XO-M