Wednesday, February 25, 2009

He’s just not that into them

It seems that Isaac has weaned. Every so often, I give it one last shot, just to make ABSOLUTELY sure that he has completely and irrevocably sworn off the boob. “Oh, come on,” I’ll say, offering him the breast just one more time. He has humoured me by halfheartedly latching on for a few seconds before squirming away. And then, last week, he took my nipple between thumb and forefinger, inspected my breast carefully, and said, “Ball.” And asked to read Goodnight Moon.

So, we’re done.

Which is fine. I’ve always categorized myself as somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to breastfeeding mothers. As in, I’m generally of the opinion that breast is best, unless, for a variety of reasons determined by individual mothers — and not, say, formula companies, governments, employers, relatives or doctors — it isn’t. And those reasons? None of my business.

For my part, I’m quite happy to have been able to nurse both kids. It was an immensely satisfying experience on many levels, even if I never felt the need to go to meetings to talk about it or write poetry on the subject. (Kind of like I never felt the need to make a cast of my pregnant belly. Because, really, it’s just not the kind of thing you can throw away in 15 years.)

I’m guessing that Isaac has similar outlook (about the breastfeeding, not the belly cast, about which his opinions remain inscrutable). Unlike his brother, who was quite passionate about them, Isaac has never regarded my breasts as anything much more than an efficient food source. Rowan, on the other hand, nursed for comfort and sleep as much as he did for food. And boy, did he nurse for food. We had a rough start, which I attributed both to our collective inexperience and the fact that my C-sectioned, Demerol-soaked body seemed — deservedly — in no hurry to produce milk right away. Still, we resisted the nurses’ efforts to give him formula, and persevered. Once he got the hang of it, though, Rowan was a champion nurser. In the first six months of his life, we fought for every calorie: I was ravenous constantly, couldn’t eat enough, and was thinner than I’d ever been in my adult life. And thirsty! The second he latched on, my mouth went dry, as though he was sucking the fluid out of my very pores. When he switched to mostly solid foods, I abruptly gained 20 pounds.

I weaned Rowan at 20 months, mostly because I wanted to get pregnant again, and breast-feeding was still messing with my cycle. Rachel took him on a trip to Vancouver Island without me in order to distract him, and when he came back, the milk bar had closed. I got pregnant the next month.

When Isaac came along, I looked forward to another period of Ferocious Eating Without Consequence. Sadly, it never materialized. Oh, my milk came in immediately and he latched on easily — which I attribute at least in part to his eleven-minute-long, drug-free home birth. But, from the get-go, Isaac seemed to eat just enough to take the edge off, and when he wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t particularly interested.

It took me a while to get used to his particular brand of moderation, and to the fact that nursing this time around wasn’t going to be the gastronomic free-for-all I’d been looking forward to for nine months (or, at least once I stopped barfing). For a while, I was convinced he wasn’t eating enough, despite his regular weight gain and constant output. And, for a while, I was convinced I wasn’t eating enough, stuffing my face while waiting for the baby weight to simultaneously, magically, melt away. It did not. After a while, I sulkily succumbed to my own brand of moderation. It’s true: each kid is different. Rats.

And now, again at 20 months, we’re done. No hoopla, no fanfare, no slow winding down, no trips across the country. Just, for the first time in five years, no small being, in utero or ex, relies on my body for nourishment. At least, not literally.

And while I wish I could say that part of me finds this bittersweet, I don’t, really. I don’t lack for physical contact with the kids, who crawl and cuddle and climb over and nudge our bodies constantly. I don’t mind dropping this particular aspect of indispensability — in a thousand other ways, I am still crucial. But the nursing, she is done.

And now, I am going to go get me some kick-ass bras.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More fame

The post Heart, Break was selected for this week’s Five Star Friday, “the best of what's being thought and said on the web.” I’m in some good company. Thanks to whomever nominated me!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

25 random things about my trip to Florida

There’s this meme going around Facebook that asks you to write 25 random things about yourself. I swore I wouldn’t do it because I overshare enough here already. But I thought I’d borrow the format to account for last week’s adventures down south.

1. Toddlers’ eyes and sunscreen do not mix. On two separate occasions, Isaac spent a couple of miserable hours weeping in his stroller and wailing, “Eye! Eye!” We decided to go with longsleeved shirts and pants rather than exposed skin.

2. Northwest Airlines routinely overbooks its Thunder Bay–Minneapolis route. Arrive early, or risk being bumped — as we were — to the next day. At least we got vouchers.

3. Despite their name, sandwiches do not taste better with sand in them.

4. Global Positioning Systems rock, and I will never drive in an unknown city without one again.

5. Our rental car was “upgraded” to a white Chrysler 300 — which ensured that we fit in well with the geriatric populations of Boca Raton. On the plus side, given that I normally drive my parents’ hand-me-down Buick, I felt right at home.

6. Isaac can sit, perfectly content, for hours at a time on the top step of a swimming pool, playing with a cup.

7. Ice cream cures almost anything that ails you.

8. Rowan asked, as we watched planes take off for two hours in the Thunder Bay airport, “Where’s the hill?” “What hill?” we asked. “The one the planes go up up up up...” he explained.

9. A disposable diaper can hold a vast amount of chlorinated water.

10. I have never been on a beach holiday where I cared less about getting a suntan.

11. Boca Raton is a strange, strange place, filled with gated communities and strip malls.

12. Shopping for bathing suits tests many of my feminist principles.

13. My dad and his wife were extraordinarily gracious and generous hosts.

14. Let Rowan press the buttons on the elevator, EVERY TIME.

15. Although I worried that we might get bashed, I also couldn’t resist asking the car rental guy if Rachel really had to pay for the privilege of being a second driver on the car. My exact phrasing: “Even if we live in the same household?” Once he confirmed that we were indeed “on the same insurance policy,” he put her on for free. So, folks, at Avis, the codes for “same-sex couple” are “same household” and “same insurance policy.” Stick that in your Pride parade.

16. I like the idea of shopping at Target better than actually shopping at Target.

17. No theme park beats making sand castles on the beach.

18. When on holiday with small children at your parents’ place, it is vital (or at least recommended) to commiserate and commune with your friends who are also on holiday with their small children at their parents’ place. Go to the zoo. Get the grandparents to babysit. Have dinner out. Drink lots of wine. Go to bed at midnight and get up at 5:30 with your toddler.

19. Although I have a mild phobia around butterflies, I enjoyed walking through the butterfly garden at Gumbo Limbo nature preserve.

20. Isaac climbed all six flights of stairs to the top of the observatory deck at Gumbo Limbo, and then insisted on bumping down the same six flights of stairs on his bum, followed by a horde of impatient 11-year-olds.

21. You never know what will end up on your camera when you hand it to a four-year-old.

22. Isaac is now big enough to go on a carousel horse on the merry-go-round, just like his brother.

23. The best thing about parenting principles is letting so many of them go while on holiday.

24. Isaac literally fell asleep as our return flight to Minneapolis taxied to the gate, after three and a half hours of ridiculous in-flight energy.

25. On our flight home to Thunder Bay, Northwest offered us $400 each in vouchers and hotel accommodations for the night if we would volunteer to fly out the next day. We seriously considered it, but decided we were too exhausted. Both kids slept the entire flight home.

Hey! An entire blog entry, and no need to worry about narrative cohesion. Cool.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Greetings from sunny Florida!

The best thing about this picture? No snowsuits. No snowsuits anywhere at all. Bliss.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Something old, something new...

This post was written for Robin Reagler's Freedom to Marry Week blog carnival, What About Love. Since I'm slightly late to the game, I'm combining yesterday's and today's themes: Something old, and something new.

On the ring finger of my left hand, just underneath my gold wedding band, I sport an engagement ring with a rock that would make any girl swoon — assuming she's the sort of girl who swoon over diamonds. I'm not, really. Sometimes, I think it would be better placed on someone with a French manicure, not close-cropped fingernails and chunky silver rings.

My wife didn't give the ring to me. Her proposal did not involve small velvet boxes or bended knees. Rather, it came over the phone, long distance, while I was rooting through my fridge for something to eat. Just finished her PhD and half a year into what would eventually become her first permanent faculty job, she wasn't in any position to spring for a multi-carat, round cut, bright white diamond, set in white gold band, with two smaller stones nestled on either side of it. Nor would I have wanted her to.

I suppose you could argue that, more than 40 years ago and fresh from his own engineering degree, my dad wasn't necessarily in a position to spring for the ring, either. But he — and, more importantly, perhaps, his mother, who worked most of her adult life, before and after her husband died, to help support her family — wanted to do right by the bookish, violet-eyed young woman who would become his wife. And since my grandmother worked at, conveniently, a jewelry store, she dropped everything to make sure that, when he popped the question, he had an eye-popping ring to back him up — staff discount, of course.

And when Rachel and I told my parents that we were getting hitched, my mother immediately dropped everything and began to plan. She phoned my entire extended family, as well as caterers and rabbis and loads of friends. I came home the next day to dozens of messages of congratulations on my answering machine.

Did my mother slip off her engagement ring and hand it to me in a selfless expression of her love and support? No. She didn't need to. Her love and support were tangible, but in any case the ring slipped off of its own accord, soon enough, too big to remain on her chemo-wasted finger. We put it away in a drawer for safekeeping. Still, we planned and planned for June wedding, and then a May wedding, when June became unrealistic.

And then we called off the May wedding, and attended a May funeral, instead.

Rachel and I exchanged rings privately that day, new rings, that we bought in a rush at the mall — no time to linger over choosing, or have something made or engraved. We thought that we'd replace them when we had more time, but they've grown on us, become laden with meeting. And then, on our original June date, we exchanged those new rings publicly, in a small, bittersweet, ceremony.

A couple of years later, when I decided I needed a more tangible reminder of her, my father let me take my mother's engagement ring. I rarely take it off. If you look closely at the diamond, you can see a small chip, a tiny flaw in the perfection. I don't mind it — it makes sense to me in a world without my mother.

And so now, on the ring finger of my left hand, I wear two bands, one old and one new. My mother didn't live to see my wedding, but at least — in Ontario, Canada, in 2004 —she could have. One day, the world?

Monday, February 9, 2009

(B)oy, was it early

So, this guy gets on this train, and he’s settling in with his magazine, when the old man across the aisle starts complaining: “Oy, am I thirsty. Oy, am I thirsty!”

Every 20 or 30 seconds, just as the guy manages to read a couple of sentences, it’s the same thing: “Oy, am I thirsty!”

This goes on for about 20 minutes, with the old man yelling and the guy getting progressively more annoyed, until finally he gets up, walks through three cars to the dining car, gets a huge glass of ice water, carries it back to his car, and hands it to the old man. Who thanks him profusely and drinks the water.

And all is quiet.

And then, just as the guy is really getting into his magazine article, the old man sighs. “Oy, was I thirsty!”

Sometimes, Rowan is kind of like that

I’m thinking in particular of this thing that happened, oh, last May, when we woke him up at 4 a.m. because he and Rachel were catching a 6 a.m. flight to Vancouver, via Winnipeg. We thought she’d just carry him to the waiting taxi and that he would sleep through the first part of the trip.

We were wrong. He threw a huge fit, crying and flailing and going on and on about how he didn’t want to get in a taxi, that he just wanted to go to sleep, in his own bed, and why why why did we wake him up? He didn’t want to go to Vancouver, he didn’t want anything, and no.

Rachel managed to shove him in the cab and eventually get him on the airplane, but he wasn’t really over it until somewhere over the Prairies. And even now, he’s not really over it. Eight months later, we’ll be going about some routine part of the day when will say, “Remember that time you woke me up?”

How could we forget?

I mention this only because next week we are going to Florida — no snowsuits for an entire week! I swear, even if there is a freak blizzard in Florida I will not put snowsuits on those boys — and our return flight leaves at 6:30 a.m.

So, if, sometime next Saturday, very early in the morning, you hear screaming from somewhere in the southern United States, don’t worry. We’ll have it under control.

Take the toddlers bowling, take them bowling

We took the kids bowling on Saturday morning, part of an ongoing quest to quell cabin fever and fill the yawning chasm formerly known as the weekend with wholesome activity. I’ve taken to mentally dividing up the weekends into quadrants — Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon; Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon — and things seem to go smoothest when at least three of the four have some kind of activity booked.

And this past Saturday morning was bowling.

Every so often, on a whim, you do something you don’t usually do and you realize that there exists an entire world of people who live to do that thing, who have created entire communities and languages and art forms and T-shirts devoted to that thing. For me, bowling is one of those things. Na├»vely, I expected Mario’s Bowl to be fairly quiet on a Saturday morning in Thunder Bay. As we pulled into the only vacant space in the parking lot, I realized I would have to rethink my assumptions.

We managed to snag the only available five-pin lane left in the entire, buzzing, place. Children’s bowling leagues were practicing in the first twenty-odd lanes, while adult leagues took up the bulk of the ten-pin alleys. We came with a school friend of Rowan’s, and his little sister, who is the same age as Isaac, and their mom. The two older boys played (and, let me tell you, little is sweeter than a four-year-old boy in bowling shoes) while the toddlers ate Goldfish crackers and stuck their hands up the gumball machine chutes and then, in Isaac’s case, discovered the bowling balls.

While Rachel bowled with Rowan (who was, I must say, a model of turn taking and cooperation), I was in charge of ensuring that Isaac harmed no one — himself included — by, say, lobbing a five-pin bowling ball into the path of an innocent junior bowler, or dropping a ball on someone’s foot. In essence, we formed a miniature assembly line: he picked up a ball, and I immediately relieved him of it. Repeat a million times.

In an effort to distract him for at least a little while, I took him on a forced march throughout the rest of the bowlerama, placating him with said gumball machines and the exploration of the bowling ball lockers. (Again, who knew? Who knew that dozens and dozens and dozens of dedicated bowlers would need lockers to store their balls and shoes and gloves and the like? Of course, now it all seems obvious in retrospect.)

We sat for a while at a table above the lanes with two women and a boy who looked to be around ten years old. I guess that they were grandmother, mother, and son, watching what I guessed were grandfather and father roll a series of strikes and spares oh so casually down their lane in wide, graceful arcs. Isaac climbed into a chair and smiled at the women, who obliged him by cooing. “Are you a busy boy?” asked the mother. “Are you? Yes?”

“Yeah,” said Pres., laughing, as I rolled my eyes and nodded in agreement.

The mother laughed too, and pointed at her son. “Oh! He was all the time, back, forth, back, forth," she said in accented English, her index finger swinging left, then right, then left again to illustrate. “I never sit down. Oh! When he was year, year and a half” — and here she drew an imaginary knife across her neck — “I want to cut off my head.”

I love it when people say things like that.

But I’m glad that I didn’t cut off my head, because then I wouldn’t have seen a tiny, tiny boy in grey sweatpants gets to pick up his own bowling ball — finally! — toddle up to the foul line (under Rachel’s careful tutelage), gently set the ball down, and push it with all his might towards the pins. It rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled toward its destination. For all I know, it’s rolling still.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Heart, break

Rowan takes me by both hands and leads me to the couch, where we sit, side by side. He looks at me solemnly, earnestly. Still holding my hands, he gazes deep into my eyes and says, “Okay, Umom, now we’re going to talk about when your mom died.”

And so we go through the story, again: how my mom was sick, very sick, with a disease called cancer. Not sick like bronchitis or an ear infection or a cold, where you get better. A different kind of sick that she couldn’t get better from. And that she was very tired of being so sick. So all her family came to visit her and they got to see her and tell her how much they loved her. And then she closed her eyes and she died.

“And then what happened?”

And then lots of people came to say goodbye to her and tell us, her family, how much they loved her and how wonderful she was.

“And you were sad?”

Yes, I say. I was very sad.

And then I tell Rowan how he and my mother never met, but that he was just a tiny baby inside my belly when she died, and that she was so happy to know that he was going to be born. Which he was, three days after what would have been her 60th birthday. And that the reason his name starts with R is because her name did, too.

“You miss your mom?”

Yes, I say. I miss my mom. I wish that she could have met you and Isaac. She would have loved you so much.

I tell the whole story from the neck up, a technique I’ve practiced for getting through these conversations. It helps if I don’t have to look at Rowan — or, God forbid, Rachel — directly in the eyes the entire time but can focus instead on some spot in the distance just above his head or, if necessary, his eyebrows. It helps that the story is of necessity simplified.

Because if I got into the details, if I let the telling sink down to heart level, things might get a bit overwhelming. Not just for a four-year-old who is just beginning to wrestle with the concept of death and its finality, but for his mothers, who still struggle with the fact that Bubbie Ruthi is never coming back, no matter how good we are or how long we wait. I can’t yet tell Rowan that the death of my mother remains my life’s biggest heartbreak, that I have to refrain from making Faustian bargains in my head about what I’d trade to have her back, to be able to call her to report each milestone, to tell her what we’re making for dinner.

I don’t mention that she had cancer three times and that the first time she got sick I was nine years old. I don’t tell him that her funeral was standing-room only. I don’t say that the reason her entire family came to see her was that Rachel and I were supposed to be married that morning — a hastily thrown-together ceremony meant to outrun the course of her disease. And that she must have known, because she was that classy, that the two events — a wedding and a funeral — needed more than a day’s space apart. I don’t say that, in fact, she died and then I closed her eyes. I just say that I miss her. And that I was very sad.

And then Rowan pats my knees, rises from the couch, walks over to Rachel, sitting on a black leather chair, squeezes in beside her, and takes her two hands in his. “Okay, This Mom,” he says. “Now we’re going to talk about when your dad died.”

He’s been doing this often in the last month or two. And we tell him our stories. And it all percolates, until a few nights ago, when, sitting in a black leather chair, he said, seemingly out of the blue, “What if you die?”

And I said the only thing I felt I could say in that moment: “I won’t.”

Of course, we’ve had conversations since then, conversations about how everybody dies one day, but that most people die when they’re very, very old. About how Rachel and I won't die until we're very, very old and Rowan and Isaac are old enough to take care of themselves. About how if anything ever happened to me and to Rachel — which it won’t, but just in case — that we know who will take good care of him and of Isaac, where they would live, what they would eat.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll keep my promise. But I don’t think Rowan is old enough yet to handle the thought of my death, or of Rachel’s, as a conditional maybe.

And I don't think either of us can handle, at least not yet, telling the full story.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In honour of International Hug a Jew Day

Check out my article, “Small-Town Jew Blues,” at, on being a queer mom raising kids who are Jewish in Thunder Bay: “For my sons, having two mothers is natural, omnipresent, what they've always known. It's being Jewish that requires more work.”

Note: I did not write — nor can I vouch for the accuracy of — the caption. Sleeping Giant versus strip malls: you decide.