More on Texas

It’s hard to believe we were in Texas just a few weeks ago. Lu and I flew there after visiting California to spend a few days with my friend Kate and her family.

Having spent my entire life living in New York, the most astonishing thing about Texas was the wide openness of it; I’d never seen so much space between things. That goes for the housing developments, highway connections, and grocery store aisles. Everything is separated from everything else by flat expanses of dirt or slices of cobalt sky.

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We got there in the evening, exhausted but wired from another full day of complimentary diet cokes (me), and licking decrepit and polio-harboring airplane safety manuals (Lucy). I teared up when I saw them walk towards us at baggage claim; Kate in her hippie skirt with scraggly legs, exuding comfort, always embodying the tenderness of a kid with a permanently skinned knee. Her beautiful daughter wore a princess dress. She held Lu’s hand as we navigated to their car.

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That night I was spent. Lu wailed, refusing to sleep. I paced desperately, finally handing her off. Kate took her outside, wove through the housing development singing to her, the thick charcoal of a nowhere Texas night pierced through by front porch halogens. She wanted to take care of both of us, and I let her.

Kate is a force. I both admire and fear her intensity, and honestly believe she can do anything. We lived together a long time ago, but the wind blew us in different directions (or rather, the wind didn’t blow me at all- I stayed put, while she lived in a glorified chicken coop in Guatemala and delivered babies or on a Native American reservation in New Mexico where the only wifi in town was at a fried chicken joint).The truest thing I can say about her is that she tends toward the least obvious, most resistant path from A to B; nothing with her has ever been easy. But in that space she thrives, and it fuels a staggering wealth of creativity.

On day two of Texas, we decided to make the hour-long drive to Dallas and the Texas State Fair, which, in addition to food offerings designed to prompt cardiac arrest, promised a life-sized diorama made from thousands of pounds of real butter. Of course, we couldn’t just go to the fair, because this was Kate. First we had to research and print coupons, put the ten cans of corn she had in her house in a bag, and drive to the store for more cans of corn. Kate had read that tickets only cost five bucks if you brought enough canned corn.

State fair parking consisted of a series of private lots, which got cheaper as you got farther from the fairs entrance. We chose the farthest possible lot, underneath the George H. W. Bush highway. Kate pulled in, directed by a parking attendant, and hopped out to let her husband back the car into the designated spot.

“So you’re the parking expert?” I quipped at Mike, as he reversed the car gently into both his wife and the parking attendant, squishing their legs against the front of another car. Kate let out a scream. (Isn’t there an old dad joke about running your wife over?)

Everyone was fine, but the litigious parking attendant made a big show of doubling over and limping around like she’d been bitten during a zombie apocalypse. Kate yelled at Mike, I sat in the car with the kids, ambulances came, then a firetruck, then a couple of squad cars. Mike stared at the dirt, Kate crossed her arms, the parker dragged a leg around, the cops assessed, and eventually we were free to go. We got ourselves together, got our corn together, and waded through the Texas heat toward the fair.

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I can’t say I’ve ever been more confused by an event. There was a giant warehouse containing some kind of car show, except the cars were all unimpressive, practical mom cars. There was another warehouse filled with sample beds you could lie on to test the mattresses, presumably so you could buy one, or maybe you just liked laying on a sweaty, lightly dirt-caked pad. There were guys selling $30 shoe polish, who tricked me into getting my sneakers rubbed. There was a long wall of 5 inch shelves, stuffed from floor to ceiling with blue ribbon canned goods, which from far away looked like a very disconcerting medical experiment.

Of course, there was food, all of which was deep fried: oreos, bacon, lobster tail, cake, pepperoni pizza, jumbalaya (how do you fry that?), candy bars, peanut butter sandwiches, pickles, chicken, butter. Everyone in Texas drinks Dr. Pepper (so I did).

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We got back to Kate’s that night without further incident, with stomach aches, worn and dusty. The next day, my last one there, we did little more than build towers out of giant pink legos and knock them down, eat macaroni and cheese and tomatoes.

Mid-morning we went for a long walk through the development. Kate’s daughter rode her bike and collected acorns. I pushed Lu’s stroller, and Kate told me about her life there.

I still can’t quite understand how an artsy, liberal, former high school state champion slam poet moves to the middle of cattle country and thrives, not survives. She’s always been an expert at showing up somewhere, digging her feet into the dirt, and saying, “This is where I am now, and you can’t move me.”

She told me that she chooses to be happy, to try and let the bad stuff wash over her. She surrounds herself with strong women who love and support her (even if they’re also card-carrying NRA members, at least they’ve got her back, right?). She practices being present for her life.

I can’t tell you how far she’s come. It might take her five hours, twelve cans of corn, getting hit with a car by her husband, and a long walk through a very long line of mattresses to get to the top of the ferris wheel, but when she gets up there, she knows how to take in the view.

Lu and I left early the next morning. I forgot to take a photo of the sign a mile past the edge of her development:

via http://gentlepurespace.com/blog/archives/typography-photography-3

image via gentlepurespace.com

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Flying on a Plane with an Infant: It’s Not That Fun

Let’s get this out of the way first: there is no way not to panic about flying on a plane with a baby for the first time, unless you are a Buddhist monk or so filthy rich that you have eight nannies tending to her tiny highness while you sit in first class and get bombed on morning bourbons. I spent the weeks before my five flights with Lucy (FIVE) in an increasing state of sheer terror.

I knew, logically, that everything would be fine. The worst that could happen was she’d annoy passengers by bleating like a tyrannical, satanic goat for three straight hours, and then I’d never see those people again. Telling myself that offered little comfort; logic was eclipsed by emotionally-provoked certainty that nothing would ever be okay again ever.

But of course, everything was totally fine. Here are my tips:

1. Don’t spend a lot of money on new toys. Do download a bunch of videos.

does not care

does not care

Every advice post I read before I left said to buy Lu a bunch of new toys for the plane, which would magically entertain her for dozens of in-flight hours. I would estimate that each new toy I bought entertained her for an extra 14 seconds. Skip the expense and save your money for gallons of life-sustaining airport coffee.

More helpful than new toys: we maxed out the memory on an old iPad with free Baby Einstein videos downloaded from YouTube. Be sure to give the double stink eye to anyone who gives you a disapproving glance because you’re letting a tiny angel wither into zombie dust due to five hours of screen time. Screen time saves lives (yours).

2. Once you are seated on the plane, make sure that all of your personal (for you) items are readily accessible. Your baby may pass out at any time, and once she does, you will not be able to move.

whatever you do, do not wake this thing

whatever you do, do not wake this thing

I brought two books with me on this trip, which was unbelievably ambitious. When a 20 pound chicken nugget is sleeping on your lap, do not attempt to move your arms for a page turn! Think of yourself as a T-rex: you have two disproportionate hand-claws you can sort of use to poke or drop things, and that’s it.

A better bet: download a bunch of music or podcasts to your phone and have headphones out and ready.

3. Bring extra clothes. For both of you.

was it something i ate?

was it something i ate?

Since you asked, I will divulge to you that Lucy has had some issues in the past with constipation. At one point, we tried everything to help her: water, prune juice, special formula, massage, and so on. As it turns out, the secret to getting her to empty her bowels with the force of a royal army is: put her on a plane.

The least awful way to change a baby in a teeny tiny airplane bathroom is by sitting down on the toilet (lid on) and changing them on your lap. However, I would not recommend this during jolting turbulence (that was fun) or when your baby has shit herself up to her ears (even more fun). Use the changing table. Also, bring a change of clothes for both of you to the bathroom, just to be on the safe side. I had to carry my mostly nude baby down the entire length of the plane and dress her in dirty pajamas at my seat.

4. The best airplane game is “contract an exotic disease game”.

i taste hints of biscoff cookie and polio

i taste hints of biscoff cookie and polio

When all else failed, Lucy’s number one favorite method of in-flight entertainment was pulling all of the ancient safety manuals, barf bags, and Sky Magazines out of the seat pouch in front of her and alternately throwing them on the floor or licking them. I tried SO HARD not to let her put all of these disgusting things in her mouth, until I gave up and let her put all of these disgusting things in her mouth. What is wrong with babies?

5. If you’re alone, ask the stewardesses for help.

You will need someone to hold the baby while you fold up the stroller at gate check or pee for the 40th time (see above gallon of airport coffee). I found the stewardesses to be mostly willing to hold a cute baby while mom frantically does a thing and tries not to lose her shit. No need to be more of a hero than you already are; take advantage of all available uniformed strangers.

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see that arm next to lu? that belongs to a 22 year old male who no longer wants to have children of his own.

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I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s going to be great, but it’s definitely way less bad than you think it will be. The worrying is the worst part.

And who knows, maybe you gave birth to one of those unicorns that just sleeps the entire flight. If so, please let me know when your baby is available to give my baby lessons.

What I Learned From Three Amazing Moms in Ten Very Long Days Across the USA

Last week, at 2:30 in the morning, I got up out of bed, packed a taxi up with an enormous suitcase, stroller, backpack, diaper bag, carseat, and a seven month old and left home for our first of five flights to four states in ten days.

Yes, I am fucking crazy.

I need a 10-year-long nap

I need a 10-year-long nap

I also now feel capable of doing basically anything, but not without the simultaneous experience of a month-long low-level panic attack and raging insomnia. I’ll accept the tradeoff, because even though I cried in the airport on the way to baggage claim after the last plane touched down through bad weather, I feel brave as hell.

There were a few reasons why I booked this trip four months ago, mainly to launch my very first business. I expected a crazy adventure, the excitement of sharing our new project with the world, the exhaustion, and the relief of home. I’m surprised, however, by the thing I keep thinking back on, the meatiest conclusion: I feel like I just returned from a corny but insightful Goldilocks-style pilgrimage to see how other mothers raise their babies, and how each of these styles fit into my own perception of motherhood.

Lu and I spent time with three other mothers on our trip. Here’s what we learned.

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48 Hours in Washington D.C. with an Infant

Last weekend, Kyle, Lucy, our elderly dog Donald and I packed up the car and drove from New York to D.C. for 48 hours in our nation’s capitol. Although Lucy was hesitant to interrupt her busy schedule of pulling lamp cords and eating fistfuls of cat hair, she was surprised on her arrival to receive two helium balloons tied with string to a beanie baby (and in all of human history, a greater artifact has never been discovered).

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We stayed with my aunt and uncle, who have the kind of house you want to absorb every part of so you can replicate it one day, and be 60 and hosting dignitaries and philosophers for a delicious eight part dinner you threw together in an hour with no effort while rhapsodizing about your years spent traveling in Africa. They make a huge sectional sofa match antique Asian (I think) chairs and a (maybe) Afghan rug with the bust of a guy in a backwards baseball hat my cousin made in 8th grade effortlessly. They get up early and show you to their coffee station and then take you on a walking tour of the National Cathedral gardens and farmers market before you’ve even had first breakfast. The level of energy and goodwill was inspiring.

Saturday morning, we tied Donald up in the backyard to laze in the sunshine and get frustrated chasing squirrels with limited mobility. We packed bottles for Lucy and 400 toys to keep her occupied while we ran around D.C. like lunatics on speed trying to hit every museum and still find time to drive by the White House and wave to the Obamas like eighth graders.

Our first stop was the Hirshhorn (the Smithsonian’s museum of international modern and contemporary art) a.k.a. the “I don’t get it” museum. Here we see Kyle showing Lucy her first Rothko, while explaining that this is the guy who causes 75% of grandmothers to remark, “what’s the fuss, even I could paint that.”

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Lucy’s interest in modern art was no doubt piqued.

modern art all day

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(Am I the only one whose baby’s head looks completely detached from her body when she falls asleep in her stroller? Like it’s about to tilt off her neck and roll loudly off her body onto the floor? I’m afraid someone is going to call the cops on me one of these days. I generally encourage her to use a stuffed monkey as a pillow so it’s slightly less horrifying.)

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“Look, Lucy, a brown wall.”

I found myself so inspired that I decided to do a little improvisational art, captured here by my husband. I call this one “Dan Flavin x Sophie the $28 giraffe.”

dan flavin x sophie

Perfect advice for anyone with a newborn:

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Next we went to the National Museum of the American Indian, where we had a delicious lunch, and I undoubtedly impressed my tablemates with my knowledge that in the bean, squash, and corn dish called “The Three Sisters,” the beans, squash, and corn actually referred to the three sisters in native american legend (I’m always pleased to have the opportunity to prove I went to college).

Lucy sat in a wooden high chair for the first time!

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I also drank a half gallon of diet coke, which is not authentically native.

We also took a high-speed tour of the National Air and Space Museum, which was absolutely packed. Trying to navigate a giant BOB jogging stroller through a tightly packed aeronautical museum is certainly the circle of hell that Dante forgot to mention.

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Our last stop of the day with the National Portrait Gallery. Here we are trying to figure out what Bill Gates is looking at.

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And lest you think I’m sophisticated and global for visiting all of these museums, my only real incentive was the opportunity to take this photo, of my husband next to a butt:

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We walked something like 8 or 9 miles around D.C. on Saturday, so that night we ate four loaves of bread dipped in cheese followed by sandwiches for dinner at a local restaurant, and then went to bed at the ungodly hour of 10pm.

Sunday morning, Kyle and I took Lu to the playground for her first go at the baby swings. It was CUTE.

swing!

We also went to the National Museum of Natural History, where, for some reason, we mainly focused on the Minerals and Gems exhibit, where we watched throngs of tourists take flash photos of diamond bracelets and necklaces through a thick wall of smudged glass, a baffling activity.

Of course we also visited Lucy’s sort of namesake, the early hominid Australopithecus:

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Doesn’t she look good in a tux?

I’m pretty sure the rest of Sunday involved full body collapse into various states of nap (me on the bed, kyle on the floor) while Lucy continued to investigate the balloons tied to a beanie baby and searched the dining room floor for any small flecks of garbage that may have been missed by a vacuum to dispense gleefully into her mouth.

On Sunday night, we gave Lucy a bath and a bottle, dressed her in pajamas, and loaded up the car to drive back at night. While Kyle and I were both exhausted (and only survived the drive at all thanks to several icy cans of diet mountain dew, gross, I know), it was blissfully peaceful. We got to actually talk, like, discuss things other than whether Lucy had had a nap yet or did you feed the dog, a rare treat for new parents. We might have even remembered why we like each other, especially after the incident where I made Kyle pose next to a butt sculpture and then posted it on the internet.

I still can’t believe how much we packed into two days. For anyone who has a similar trip coming up with an infant, my only advice is to do whatever you want to do: the baby will be fine. And take lots of pictures, because they won’t remember a thing. (And someday they might want a FutureFacebook profile #tbt of them thoughtfully admiring a Rothko.)

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