Thursday, November 25, 2010

the female of the species- by joyce carol oates

Waiting for a printer driver to download and install, I'm taking three minutes twenty-two seconds to see what I can get down in a blogpost about the Joyce Carol Oates book I'm in the midst of: The Female of the Species.

This is my first JCO. I have a long list of authors to get into, or to get into more deeply because I love them already, and she is on the get-to-know section. (This is all in my head, not an actual list, though I think that'd be satisfying and I've seen many friends' lists on Facebook lately.)


That was pretty much what I could get down in 3 minutes.  There's so much to say about this prolific author, though, I have a feeling that even three days or three weeks wouldn't be enough to tease out all there is.

On one hand, take a look at the back of this book. It will tell you that you're in the presence of an artist, as it's  supposed to.

And on the other hand, there's my own first impression.  And it's not that I don't perceive the work as artistic-- indeed, her writing conveys a confidence that the reader is willing to go where she leads.  That's the kind of confidence a writer has who believes she's an artist, a highest-order storyteller.

Yet though I appreciate this confidence, I haven't been able to sink into the stories in a satisfying way.  It's not because the stories in this collection are short. I find Jhumpa Lahiri's short stories to be breathtaking and fully formed and deep enough to sink into.  The sketches in The Female of the Species, however, sometimes seemed hurried, or broad. There were some brilliant moments-- some of the best suspenseful pages came with the voice of a six year old girl and her baby brother.  But there were also some stories that seemed to leave the art out, so that the gore and violence was just words on the page and nothing more.

A three minute blogpost (I can't call it a review, really, just some impressions) leaves much more to say. I'd love to hear thoughts from those who have read JCO!

Monday, November 22, 2010

what I'm doing while they're growing

It's a good question, really. What am I doing to grow and change as a mom while the kids are growing and changing?  There are tons of parenting resources for when they're babies.  (Not that I really was an evangelist for any of them-- I was very quickly skeptical of any book that deemed itself to be The Answer and ended up flexing around a bunch of self-made and online-mama-tested strategies that end up suspiciously sounding like path-of-least-resistance attachment-ish parenting.)

And that makes sense.  A new parent might feel overwhelmed or pretty content to hang out with the baby until the Real Mom showed up (or some combination, like I did), but either way, it was nice to know there was probably a book out there that affirmed whatever parenting style I'd adopted.  The never-ending stream of advice in books for parents of newborns feeds perfectly into the new-parent need to know "am I doing this right?"

But just because we're a few years in doesn't mean my questions have abated. They've changed. I no longer spend hours researching how long breastmilk keeps in the fridge, which carrier is best, the ins and outs of cloth diapering or where to find the cheapest paper diapers-- especially since Sabrina is now potty trained, night and day in underwear (whether it's a giant miracle or the EC we kind of sort of did with her when she was an infant or both, the fact is she definitely wanted to wear underwear like her big sister).

What I do wonder about is how to support my 4 year old's emotional needs and questions, and it's more heartbreaking and complicated than throwing out 6-hour old unrefrigerated breastmilk (although that's fraught too).  These days she's got some anxieties around pre-school, and it comes out in all sorts of ways.  Sometimes she talks about it, but often when I offer to listen she runs away. And it's so hard to know what to do next, when it seems like every skill I have as a parent and as a person is exhausted, and still nothing has worked.  When her answer to everything is to stick out her tongue. When hugs, coaxing, sharp tones, gentle tones, or any kind of communication gets no response because she's repeating endlessly endlessly endlessly, "I don't want to! I don't want to!" When she's too fast and strong to chase down, too smart to threaten. I'm not the strong-arm type of parent anyway-- those methods feel awkward when I try them on, and never work anyway.

So here we are, past the baby books.  I decided awhile ago that there was one book that might help.

From The Tao Te Ching for Parents- a new interpretation by William Martin:

49. Giving Respect
When your children behave,
give them respect and kindness.

When your children misbehave,
give them respect and kindness.

When they are hateful,
love them.
When they betray your trust,
trust them.

The River of Life nurtures
everything it touches
without asking for anything.
You will be happy and content
if you do the same.

Monday, November 08, 2010

potty trained and the end of babies

Not the end of babies for everyone as we know them, but just for our little family of four.  But first things first. The news of the week: Please don't let me be jinxing myself but I think Sabrina is potty trained! Basically on her second birthday she began insisting on underwear like her big sister, had one accident and has been happily an underwear wearer since. We even tried underwear this weekend while we were out and about, and it worked. IT WORKED!

Obviously, her sleep has gone to the crapper (heh).  But I'll take it. I think it'll all even out soon. And we will have a good sleeper who's also a fully toilet-trained kid. !!!

Also, a great music lover. Taken on her 2nd birthday with her new xylophone.

And then, then I won't have any babies! I will be done with babies. No more babies. It makes me catch my breath a little even now to think the baby-making phase of our family is over and the child-rearing phase is in full swing for the next 14-16 years, and then the young-adult support phase, and then! But this, I think, is a lesson of pregnancy that I absorbed very early on-- things change.  You're not pregnant, then you are, and if all goes well you stay pregnant but you don't stay the same, because every day your body is changing, until the Giant Change of Childbirth where a person (or people!) emerge from you, organs involute and rearrange, skin shifts, hair falls. Not to mention the changes of the heart and mind. Oh it all never stops changing.  So why would I think I'd be in baby-making land forever? It seems so abrupt to leave, I suppose, but also it makes sense. We're ready to keep moving. And even if we were not ready, not at all, wanting to carry around another little passenger and go through the extraordinary challenge of childbirth and stay up for hundreds more sleepless nights, even if we yearned for it, we know even more deeply that for our family, this is our circle. A circle of four to grow into.

So this is the end of babies. But it's only the beginning of reading and writing and counting and storytelling, climbing and camping and baking. The seeds have sprouted, the plants are growing, the metaphor is tired. And so am I, but not for long. Because I see the day when sleeping and pottying are issues of the past, when this time will be those days we survived the tantrums and food throwing, public potty accidents and inopportune naps. So bittersweet to say goodbye to these original challenges that strengthened my parenting soul. To challenges I know now that I can meet. And to say 'welcome' to the uncertainty of new challenges, but also to the beauty and wonder of my girls as they grow.