September 2011

Post 30.

What stress. Since Monday, Zi has had a fever. Stone and I were up all night keeping her cool, checking her temperature, bathing her early in the morning, wondering if 102 degrees was medium or high, and whether she should go to a doctor. My own doctor was saying to wait it out another day or two and not to worry too much. My mother, being the worrying sort, took matters into her own hands and pretty much declared on the third day that we should take Zi to another doctor near her. I showed up at the house to collect them and found the other grandmother (also a worrier) there as well. this was an unusual confluence of persons. When two grandmothers decide something, i observed, best to just do what they say.

so the three of them (afro-Trinidadian grandmother, indo-Trinidadian grandmother, dougla granddaughter) and i were there in the doctor’s office watching him drip blood from her arm for a dengue test. both of them felt better we had been to the doctor, i felt better they felt better and zi seemed none the better for the visit.

in the midst of the visit, the doctor asked if this was the first one and if i was planning to have more. he asked me, not anyone else. i said probably not, amidst noisy disagreeing sounds being emitted by both grandmothers who, as i’ve said, were not asked their opinion. why people feel the need to tell you how many children you should have is beyond me. i happen to find it intrusive and a bit offensive. I’m the person going through the pregnancy and birth, making economic, career, marriage and life sacrifices, and generally being the most affected by the choice of having children. reproduction is also my choice and no one else’s (except, perhaps, stone’s) and its certainly not my job as a woman to make others’ reproductive wishes come true. if you are not making the baby yourself, i think you should have nothing to say about if there should be a baby or how many.

it may seem just a harmless typical insistence of grandmothers and others. but people have also told me its “selfish” to only have one. it’s not “fair” and “nice” and its better for the baby to have a sibling. This insistence on the need for me, as a woman, to be selfless, giving, thoughtful – if necessary through personal sacrifice and possibly against my own desires or needs – for the sake of reproduction is self-negating, treats women’s bodies like communal or family (or children’s) property, and perpetuates the idea that women’s sexuality and fertility is linked to the happiness of others and the family, just as it is often linked to expectations of community, ‘race’, class and nation.

having one baby is something i can do while managing my career – which actually is quite cool and important to me. having two makes it all more difficult, not unmanageable, but not necessarily what i want for myself. it might happen, it might not. but i’d appreciate not being told what to do given that no one else has to inhabit my body or my life or deal with the setbacks to my publishing or the exhaustion or the breastpumping or the costs to my savings or the changes to my marriage. i think it should be a rule, no one tells women what to do with their bodies, sexuality, fertility or reproductive choice. that’s why it’s called choice. after all, at the centre this whole nexus of work, child and family is me.

in the midst of looking after zi at nights and going to the the doctor and staying home in the day, i’ve lost days of work. it might seem that i shouldn’t be thinking about this now, after all my baby’s health comes first – and is all that matters. but i am pressed to stay on top of my job as well as stay on top of my mothering responsibilities. with all its flexibility in terms of hours and ‘face time’ on the job, academia doesn’t give you the chance to fall behind. you publish or you perish. no one in appointments committee cares that your baby had a fever when this week you were supposed to get that journal article out. so, half of my brain is on Zi and half is on the downward slide of work getting done. and both halves are tired.

turns out from the tests that Zi has dengue. good thing for grandmothers huh. as much as i rant about their interventions and their excessive worry and their dramas, i am also be grateful that my baby is being looked after, and looked after her well, so that i can work. the flip side of family’s annoying investment in your reproductive choices is their amazing investment in the outcome of your reproductive choices.

her platelet count is high so far, which is good. the front of my mind is fully on her. yet, at the back are also the thousand of other things that need to be held together, including me.

Post 29.

I’ve been feeling really happy these last few days and I’m not sure why. I keep wondering if its being with Zi. I’m kind of in awe that one little being could create such an endorphin rush. it feels like being in love. there is air beneath my feet.

these days she’s smiles all the time with stone and i. and that first smile in the morning is addictive. it’s not just mimicry. i smile at her and she bubbles with pure, unmediated joy. too young still to say hello, not yet saying mama, but saying so much with her eyes and crinkled nose and grin back at me.

unlike many other babies, it took her more than five months to start smiling. she wasn’t a smiley baby. in fact, she has a serious screw-face when she’s ready. one i’m sure she’s going to be using on people when she’s an adult.

though she’s always smiling and laughing at home, when i take her out she gives friendly people the most deadpan look. like she’s still deciding whether to engage them at all. and if she does, its going to be on her terms. i didn’t really know babies could look skeptical. but she’s got this look which tells people that she may or may not want to interact with them, but she definitely doesn’t want to be touched. some babies smile and go off happily with everybody. not my child. she not smiling with you jes so. she not going anywhere with you at all. she doh play. a tiny tough crowd.

it’s not surprising. her dad is pretty anti-social though he’s super friendly to those he knows and loves. i’m friendly too, but i keep those close to me close and most others get a bit more arms length. i tell Zi she doesn’t have to smile with everybody – something my mother, an old school lady who believes in the power of relating to people with a bright smile – completely disagrees with. But, times have changed, and girlhood doesn’t have to be all cutesy anymore. i tell Ziya that her emotions are hers. feel what she wants. show what emotions she wants. and if anyone does anything to her she doesn’t like, i’m going to tell her what mariel brown’s mother told mariel-the-little-girl to shout. not ‘no!’, not ‘stop!’ but ‘ fuck off!’. lol. you have to raise girls for a tough world these days.

still, i get that first smile when she turns her head in the morning. i get her last smile while breastfeeding before bed. i see her smiling in her sleep. i don’t know if it’s these smiles, given only to us who have earned them, that are making me so happy. maybe its age, maybe its the whole combination of husband, baby, house, dogs, friends and job, which i work hard at and get back a lot from in return. maybe its that golden minute before something bad happens. maybe its just this precious, fleeting moment, where the everyday difficulties of life, are outshone by silver lining so luminescent that everything else is in shadow.

i teach in women’s studies that its important to value women, not because of what they do or how they look or how good they are at something, but simply because they are. i feel that way about Zi. i hear a lot from other parents about how early their baby is walking or how they just love brushing their teeth or combing their hair and, of course, how they’ve been sleeping through the whole night since four months old and never give trouble to eat. i try not to get into those kinda conversations that compare Zi to other babies, and what they’ve learned or how good they are or the things they do. who she is right now is her call. i value her just because she is and, as she grows into womanhood, that’s something i want her to know she deserves from others too.

From awards to meetings to movies, she goes everywhere with me, chilling, being herself, being with me. we have real fun and have managed to do it both on her terms and mine. i expect it to be more difficult the older and more active and wriggly she gets, so i’ve been enjoying it right through.

maybe that’s why i’m so happy. maybe its just the euphoria of living in the now, the unmatchable delight of giving and receiving so many smiles, the pleasure of watching life spring forth in front of me, the decision to feel such happiness rather than let fear of loss take away from each moment, each day. i’m appreciating her and me, just because we are. and somehow, inside and out, i’m smiling.

Post 28.

Suffering from only my second period since getting pregnant, and the sleeplessness of a baby not only sleepless but teething, I sent zi over my my mother for the night. This was only the second time I did so. The first was for stone’s birthday and he kinda expected it. This time, you know I was at the end of my end for me to send my baby away. Of course, as stone put her in the car seat i started to miss her. she hadn’t even left the driveway.

then i was left alone for one of the few times since she was born, in wonderment at how you can live on the same planet but in a totally different dimension, moving around in all the same spaces but with totally different meanings, after a child has come, filled your life and taken over your home. even being alone isn’t the same anymore.

i got to finish off my friend elspeth’s lovely little book, daisy chain (yaay spec!) and fell asleep expecting to wake at 10am like i used to on a saturday. eh heh. 1.30. 3.30. 5.30. 7.30am. yuh gyul waking up. for no reason, except routine. my friend michelle, daughter of 4 year old leah, said to me that she gets up in the night even now that leah doesn’t. i hadn’t even realised that that happens. eventually a kind of used-to-being-responsible-at-all-hours insomnia can set in. who knew? i didn’t feel so bad though. my body was clearly coping at some level with the demands it is dealing with if its ready to be on call at all hours. the nice thing was going to the beach this morning without having to worry about it being too sunny for Zi or too rainy or carrying everything she might need. i walked with a towel. that was it. i felt like a teenager. and it was great to go out without having to be responsible for her or leave her with stone, wondering if he’s going to look like he survived both world wars when i get home.

thank goddess for my mother. grandmothers! you can’t live with them. you can’t live without them. she knew that i hardly ask for anyone to take care of Zi when it is supposed to be me. looking after her at the times that i am able and supposed to is something i am very conscientious about. Zi is responsibility i dont expect anyone to have to take on for me and i’ve insisted on doing the majority of everything for her myself. but, for a mother, an extended family can make all the difference. at least you know when she’s not with you, you haven’t left her with a babysitter. my mother is only too glad to be needed, and Zi’s coming has given her new meaning and filled the house, where she lives alone, with fresh life.

i’ve really had a sense of life stages since having Zi. there were 36 years of complete freedom before, almost two decades of responsibility ahead and then there will be this freedom again, but it will be different. Even as i’ll be wandering around the house alone in the far future, as i used to before she came, Zi’s spirit will be ricocheting around me, making being alone a new place to define after so much devotion of self, constant relationship and care. its funny how you make a shift and can’t go back to who you were. and who you were can seem a long time ago, even if its not, and not just because you’ve been up so much that a lot of time seems to have passed between then and now.

still, i’m sitting here in the house where I hardly ever am without Zi. and i see how everything has changed. my time, my sleep, my relationship with stone, my understanding of my mother, my desire for time to myself, my responsibilities to everyone around me. and i’d clearly miss this new reality even if i could get back some time or solitude or autonomy. just like, here now, when i have to think hard about what to do other than get over-excited about her coming back home. i’ve clearly become a mummy.

Post 27.

If i had the choice, i would have stayed home for the first year with Zi. Unfortunately, that’s not a state-ensured right – which of course it should be, especially in an oil-rich republic that could afford it. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford.

After my three months of maternity leave, i took two extra months of leave without pay. Then, I had to go back to the sphere of waged work. I think the year for caring is necessary, not only for the baby, but for the mothering woman who may be breastfeeding throughout day and night, who is likely to be exhausted and who probably has to organise – and possibly pay – someone else to take her place when she is not at home.

sometimes, i wish things were different for me. Zi is in great hands with either my mother, my helper or my husband, but I risk missing first steps or words or gestures while i’m busy earning the money to keep everyone paid and to know that i can look after my child almost regardless of what happens. this risk is not so different from what many working women, of all classes, face as mothers.

if i wasn’t working, life would be so much more relaxed, i’d spend more time playing and napping and playing music with Zi, we’d be at the beach every week, i’d exercise, cook more often, go for massages, have the energy to go out in the night and even give some attention to stone. i’d have time to read those baby books on the shelf. i’d definitely do an ‘If I was PM’ video blog, create a picture album for her first birthday or paint some t-shirts; small, enjoyable things that express my creativity. i’d even take my mom out somewhere she wants to go on the weekend, because i’d have the energy to leave the house and be nice. I’d be a mom with time and energy for my family and me, which is so much better for raising a baby.

but, that’s not to be.

it’s tough, really tough to hold together a full-time demanding job and a family, to budget and think about my savings, to drive to work and home in traffic and still take my baby out, to make time for sex and manage time without sleep, to plan and write publications, to see my friends and to make time for myself. those are just the basics, all the extras are not even on the list.

yet, sometimes, i’m also glad that i work. i feel good when my brain is thinking about theorising Indian girlhood or working through the meanings of an ‘Indian modernity’. i feel proud that i’m shaping my first well-funded research project, on women and politics, into something that will have great publications, action-research actually useful to women, and media elements that give something to the public. i feel like a power-house when i teach. not because of any sense of being an ‘authority’ but because i’ve created a course that takes my students on an adventure and its like watching them navigate the rapids of a river, and knowing there are going to be unique twists and turns along the way. and i’m so involved in these and other projects that i am happy not to be home, missing out on being here, at a stage in my career that’s quite cool.

of course, as with other academic women, i risk staying at this stage as it comes just when the phase of family comes in our life cycle. and, really, women with babies should get some time off the tenure track because of an institutional recognition that they can’t act like they are childless or men. there are changes to press for and, as i’ve said, it’s not easy.

i guess i’m reassured to know my brain, which i’ve heavily invested in, is as it should be. work enables me to fulfill parts of me mothering doesn’t involve. it’s also a sphere of my own, unrelated to Zi or Stone or my family. i work because its a necessity, but i am glad for it because it reminds me of my autonomy, enables me to not be overly focused on Zi, keeps me in dialogue with worlds i’m interested in and helps me feel powerful because, through work, i have a wider reach on the world.

so, despite the serious challenges of meeting both mothering and working duties, i’m thankful for the opportunity to keep in touch with the pre-baby workaholic gab. she’s was more driven than i am now and probably would have achieved more, but this gab is figuring out how to get the best of both worlds. and i’m probably going to be a better person because of it.

Post 26.

I had a great day today. Taught my third class in a course i love. today, i tried to convince my students to say ‘Woman the species’ instead of ‘Man the species’ when referring to us human beings. After all, every single one of us is woman-born. Or, alternatively, if they want to stick with ‘Man the species’ and will argue that it refers to women as well as men, then to think about phrases such as ‘Man the species breastfeeds for up to two years’. I like to see them thinking, not necessarily convinced by what i’m saying – which is good, skepticism is good – but also that look they get when you can see them figuring out what they really think. it’s a real privilege to be in the learning business. fun, fun, fun.

i then got home to baby that shakes with excitement when she sees me. like a rattle or like when dogs are so happy that, not just the tail, but the whole body wags and shimmies. makes me laugh. she tries to meet your eyes, crinkles her nose and gives a toothy grin, kicks the legs and bounces the arms around. and, truly, its only shak shak and zouk that also give me such a zestful homecoming welcome. its such a joy to walk through the door, tired as i might be.

she had a big bowl of oats (more oats!) for dinner with not a complaint. feeding a baby who is happy to eat is so fulfilling, but even more is the exchange you can have over a meal. Zi and i laugh – a lot. i sing the alphabet in ways she finds funny. she screams scandalously because she knows it makes me laugh. when each of us laughs, it makes the other laugh more. a good dinner is full of giggles.

then we sat to breastfeed which is something i always look forward to. it’s dark and quiet and snuggly. she looks in my eyes and i get to kiss her fingers. its magic and i will really miss breastfeeding when its done.

on nights like this, despite the lack of sleep and overdue deadlines, waiting emails and unpublished papers, its easy to feel really good. teaching what you love is a joy. mothering the baby you love is a joy. i feel like here is exactly where i am supposed to be.

there’s still a long night ahead of multiple wakings and a long day tomorrow where my aspirations will not match the time i have at work. i’d like to get out a bit more, especially to hike in a forest or by a waterfall, but haven’t yet. now none of my pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, immediate post-pregancy or mid-year post pregnancy clothes quite fit because i’m the smallest i’ve been since my pregnancy but larger than the size i was before. i’d love to spend a day at the movies, but maybe that’s just not for this year. and i’ve got way too many things on the go to really do them well.

what i mean is, there is all the usual ups and downs of life, love, work and family – all of which i’m managing with as much realism as i can. but, otherwise, there is no way else to say it. my life has passion (of the romantic and political kinds), fun (of the academic and with-friends kinds), love (of the family and life’s work kinds) and much more.

i feel lucky and really really really happy!

Post 25.

i had a thousand things to do this week. thousands of words to read. thousands to write. thousands of these remained undone.

but i was having a conversation with my friend tessa that left me feeling like i should still feel proud that i’m doing fine.

we were talking about oats. is it possible to have too much oats? i fear so! i feel like Zi eats a lot of it, and i wonder if somewhere inside that super alert and eternally active child might be suffering from mal-nutrition.

as a vegetarian, sometimes i myself wonder if i eat too many cheese sandwiches – which is basically what i lived on throughout writing my phd (ask stone, he made 90% of them) – and if in between everything i eat, i’m somehow not getting the variety, kinds or amounts of nutrition i actually need. i had a conversation with a nutritionist about this once, confidently recounting the fruits, peas and beans, rice and breads i eat, and she flat out said that i wasn’t actually eating as healthy as i thought. gawd. who knew.

i’ve kept Zi on a similar diet. She eats everything so far, except fish. and i’m not about to feed her meat, though stone probably will (a negotiation which i’m sure will end up in a later entry). sometimes she eats well, sometimes not (recently not, but two top teeth emerged during this period too). every night she still breastfeeds, seemingly lying attached to me all night.

but i guess i still worry if its enough. is this something all first mothers do? it’s not worrying as much as its trying to be conscientious about my child. maybe somewhere in there is guilt too. maybe not guilt, but me knowing that i don’t give her as much time as perhaps i should.

after all, i work. and i could spend more time teaching her japanese and sign language and stacking, but at the end of a manic week when there are still three days to go – consisting of carrying her around and awake all day – I’m not out there making my own baby sorbets. i hang out, i read, i feed her when she seems hungry, i breastfeed when she fusses, i walk about, rock in the hammock and sing a lot of ‘do de rubber duck’ among other things.

but is it enough?

of course, everyone has advice. wanted and unwanted. one family i know gave their daughter fish oil and are all about its impact on brain development. listening to them, i wondered if maybe i was slacking off. i figure Zi will be happy, healthy and smart pretty much whatever we do. i watched so much tv – bad tv – in the 80s, from scoobie doo to love boat – and i survived it well. am i being lazy not doing the fish oil, baby einstein, vitamins, every-moment-a-teaching-moment thing?

of course my pediatrician took one look at her propelling, like fireworks, in every direction and said she is fine – despite the fact that she gets half the sleep expected of babies and isn’t a big eater. and though she said forget vitamins, i still wondered.

when you make decisions for your baby, you hold their life, health and future in your hands, and who knows when those decisions do or don’t matter. i made a decision not to give my baby processed food – not cereals nor (especially) formula. though certainly almost everyone else around me seemed to be doing so. strictly ital for my girl. to this day, its been only breastmilk and food, with some organic goat and rice milk in between. but sometimes i wonder if she’s missing out on stuff those packages give babies while i think i’m doing good mixing meh lil oats. my brother still gives his 3 year old formula, and looking at his chubby cherub, i wondered if i wasn’t doing something i should for Zi.

then i talked to tessa. she told me only what the doctor already did, but it helped hearing it from a real person and a vegetarian and a mom with three gorgeously healthy girls. i’m really proud i managed to exclusively breastfeed every two hours for several months – night and day, i started working when Zi was 5 months old and i haven’t had a week off since and still i’ve managed to keep to the ideals i wanted for her and myself when we began. considering that unlike some of my amazing friends, i’m not a cookist. and unlike others, i can’t stay home to look after my baby. and like all the other times i’ve thought about and then dismissed the idea of formula, i’m glad i’ve somehow managed to get this far. and she is healthy, happy, alert and assertive.

i guess when i take a moment to notice i’ve accomplished this, the thousand things not done don’t seem so daunting. its not that i’m not behind on just about everything. it’s just that on the list of current priorities, because of her current stage, Zi is at the top. If i can drive, work, teach, breastfeed, steam her fruit and veges, spend hours combining amazon reviews making sure to get her non-white dolls and books, manage a big research project and join an academic book reading club, then maybe i’m only supposed to focus on the top to dos. and maybe i should feel good about those. and i should just stop there.

its hard to know if you are doing all the things you should right. but if you can do it for the top few and your child is clearly living la dolce vita, then maybe this is not a case of too much oats or too many things left undone.

Post 24.

Drama. In the past twelve years of relationship with Stone, one thing we’ve managed to almost completely avoid is drama. We both prefer letting the small things slide and being direct and straight up about the big or accumulated things. We don’t play games, don’t do passive-aggression, don’t create mixed messages. We don’t always agree and sometimes we annoy each other, but we then give each other some space for a while and we talk later.

Essentially, this is because we are on each other’s side and are, through thick and thin, allies and friends. We recognise that we are learning to be better people together, that neither of us is perfect though both are trying their best, and that life should be kept as simple as possible. So far, we’ve been living a simple, happy life.

Our relationship is like an oasis from a world where simple, straight up happens far too infrequently. We each came into the relationship with a low tolerance for drama and i think we’ve lost even more tolerance, knowing how much its possible to live without it.

So, when I encounter it, my first response is the straight up one. Sometimes that works, but usually only if the other person is invested in being direct and moving on too. When it doesn’t work, i side-step, knowing a lot of energy will be expended unneccessarily. But doing so also requires me to accept that things to be said or tensions to be resolved may remain, and, well, that’s just life.

With my great impatience for drama well known, my friends know they can just say what they have to. And, I reciprocate. With my family, I’ve been able to establish boundaries to protect the stable nature of my emotional being and space. And, as with families, mostly it works, though sometimes it doesn’t. In my working life, i don’t deal at all.

office politics are part of working in any space with different kinds of people. sometimes they are worth the conversation, but sometimes people will hold to their approach regardless of the consequences. As with everything else, in the end i think my child is healthy and safe and happy, my husband is at home waiting for me and i am fine. nothing else matters and, if it does, a mutual resolution will be found. With that, i find the discipline and focus from which i draw great fulfillment, and i press on.

now that Zi is reaching 9 months and beginning to express herself, stone and i are beginning to pay attention to the question of drama. if Zi wants the remote (of course, with all the toys she has, she’d want the remote) and it gets taken away, she sometimes starts to fuss and kick up. If she wants to be picked up and i’m getting ready for work, more fuss potential. if she doesn’t want any more food, the fuss could extend to getting bits of food in her eyes and hair and swept to the floor. all this is part of babies learning to identify what they want, learning to communicate as well as manipulate, and learning the emotional tiers that humans respond to.

but in the balance of letting things slide and making others stop is drama. this is one thing that stone and i want Zi to know is not going to fly in our family. Stone and i don’t throw tantrums and neither will she. We won’t get this through immediately and we know its a back and forth process, as all child rearing is, and we are going to need to stick with good strategies, but we have true consensus on this one. drama is a big no no.

i guess we both look around and see how much energy, effort and time gets wasted in relationships, families and workplaces by people unable or unwilling to be direct. most trinidadians are like this it seems. they talk around whatever needs to be said, and often with or to other people, until there is need for some small or large open confrontation. this is one cultural characteristic that Zi is going to be schooled out of.

i dream for her that she has the confidence, emotional clarity and honesty to not mix her words. especially when they express her desires, feelings, hurts, apologies, wants and needs. though i hope she can say them with sensitivity, certainly more than me. i dream that she doesn’t ever have to read between the lines in her relationships, and interpret clearly spelled out actions in lieu of unsaid words, the combination of the two being the way that people speak loudly without taking responsibility for their voice. i dream that her family, love, friend and work relationships are as simple and straight up as possible, knowing that her brain and heart are better focused on achieving her dreams. I dream that she knows that lasting love is possible without stress, second guessing and inner dialogue. Although, of course, true self-reflection is a life long practice and art.

And in those moments when these things don’t come true, I dream that she will know how to focus, let go, be careful and move on.

but in my own heart, i know that stone and i will together do our best to help her learn what makes relationships of all kinds happy, productive, simple and lasting. trust us, it’s no drama, Zi.

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