18 February 2008


Becoming a parent changes everything. Okay. Not everything. I didn’t lose my political conscience, for example. I didn’t lose my ability to recognize that Zoe benefits by being part of a civilization that takes care of its elderly and disadvantaged, provides for the health and well-being of its citizenry and provides assistance programs to help those in need. I want my baby girl to understand compassion, tolerance and acceptance on their deepest levels.

We went for our first big sojourn on Monday past – Zoe, Secret Agent Dog and I – on a four mile trek through the Water District, around one of the reservoirs. Hiking with a 5 week old baby is like carrying a bowling ball with tiny feet. The entire mission of that bowling ball is to lose its socks.

I’m pretty committed to finding a way to get back to a life of some normalcy and integrate Zoe into activities and routines. The first several weeks of her life were pretty overwhelming – not just because she has an absurd schedule of need, but because I experienced some pretty debilitating post partum health complications. Now that my own health is gradually improving, I’m feeling more capable of rising to the challenge of motherhood and figuring out how to create a more dynamic life for the lot of us.

My first observation is that this whole notion of hiking with a baby includes a tragic design flaw. As I set out on our journey I was prepared to push myself physically in order to begin that process of rebuilding my body. I gained about 50 pounds during pregnancy and while I’m currently within about 5 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight, those previously mentioned post partum health problems laid me up for several weeks and resulted in a phenomenal amount of muscle atrophy. Also, regardless of the added complications, it’s pretty inspiring how pregnancy makes mash potatoes of one’s abs.. That has been quite the surprise.

So anyways – the design flaw. The baby needs to eat about every three hours. It’s important to time activities to accommodate this need. This isn’t just for the baby’s comfort, but also for my own, because I engorge on her schedule. (TMI???) This requires that I keep a good pace on the hike, which is my intent nonetheless. But here’s the kicker – the whole time I’m huffing and puffing, pushing my physical limits, that little bird of a bowling ball, trying with all its might to de-sock itself, is sleeping. So at the end of the activity, I’m spent and she arrives refreshed, nicely napped and prepared to caterwaul for her dinner. There’s no setting her down, catching my breath, regrouping in a serene post-hike haze. To the contrary, she’s spent the last several hours in deep repose categorizing her needs and devising new indecipherable ways to communicate them.

In addition to the little glitch in baby-on-board hiking, we add the variable, the veritable wild card of Secret Agent Dog. The most awesome dog on the planet who has suffered and endured beautifully not only neglect associated with the physical compromise of my post partum issues, but really the prolonged neglect extending into the last month of the pregnancy. Despite it, she’s a champ, even though she’s showing overt signs of anxiety not only over the decrease in activity but also over the stress of the sock-hating interloper.

So it’s near the end of the hike and the bowling ball is getting agitated, making the socks ever more loathsome, and I’m tired, though mentally plotting the challenge in front of me – transfer screaming baby to car seat, drive windy road home, pour lemonade, promptly peel off shirt and shove a breast in baby’s mouth, lay on sofa and drink lemonade. This is where the wild card comes into play.

“Where’s my dog?” is equivalent to “come” in Secret Agent Dog coded language – so as I approach the truck and she’s not on my heels I turn around and call out. She fails to respond with the sharpness of her training – which usually means something’s amiss. I peer down the trail and spy her rolling on her back in distracted, euphoric glee. No good can come of this. No good can ever come of this. Enter the wild card: rancid diarrhea-covered dog.

On the turn of a dime, or a phrase, or however that works, ubermom in training rethinks the strategy. As I pull into the drive, as though on queue, the now hungry and angry sock-loathing, hat-hating bowling ball begins to make its full presence known by exercising her operatic lungs. It’s as though an unholiness has been unleashed into the world and she the only siren of warning. This warning, of course, first pierces the air of the truck, which is rank with the smell of rancid diarrhea-covered dog.

I place the car seat, replete with baby, in the crib, which is really just a staging area given we co-sleep with her in our own bed (the BEST invention!) I haul her highness Ms Princess Honey Bee into the yard for a hose down and washing, all the while, Princess Stinky Buns, Ruler of the Baby Do’s, is busy in her car seat making messy and hollering loose hell’s gates.

I towel the dog, wash my own hands and proceed to attend to the unholiness in her panties while she squirms and screams – now red-faced and spent. This is truly the saddest moment, when she begins gasping for air, her vocal chords quivering as does her entire chin and lower lip. This is the most heartbreaking and deeply sincere form of baby sign language – her rendition of Hamlet …. “Is there no pity sitting in the clouds that sees into to the depth of my sorrow.” She is profoundly inconsolable. She has suffered her first tragic abandonment by her mother and the world. There is no coming back from the darkness now touched. For the first time, she has seen the abyss.

I try to alter the tenor of the moment by tossing a joyful air into the tone of my voice. I scoop poop off her naughty bits and freshen her with clean diapers and a nice change of clothes and as I change her I remind her, “Change comes from within, Zoe. Change comes from within.” If she had the coordination and wherewithal, I’m sure she’d roll her tear-filled eyes at me. She screams at my attempts to comfort her.

I grab the lemonade and back track to the original plan where I peel off my shirt and stick a breast in her mouth. This is where I begin to understand why new mothers never find time to eat - I’m starving but I can’t wait to feed her – it wouldn’t be right in the face of her all consuming sadness. As we cozy up on the sofa and being the ritual, I’m struck by the smell of Secret’s offense. The longer I sit, the more nauseated I become as the rancid poop smell curls twice around the house and goes to sleep – or rather, doesn’t sleep, doesn’t go kindly into that good night – begins its own rage of life. The bowling ball has had vengeance on the socks and its greedily eating while I spy Secret Agent Dog with unspeakable disdain. It’s the one and only act that makes me lose love for her – and she knows it in this moment.

Eventually I just can’t take it anymore – I can’t take the smell or the idea that she’s rubbing that smell on the loveseat, reclining chair and anywhere else she goes for comfort. She feels my displeasure and is cowed on the loveseat, tucking herself into pillows and throw blankets, making herself small. I cut the feeding short and draw a bath – begin to begin again with more potent shampoo.

Zoe’s needs left incompletely fulfilled, she starts caterwauling again as Secret sheepishly gets into the bath without protest. At the end of the task it’s like an explosion set off in the bathroom – the tub drain clogged with dog hair and water on every wall and surface. Nothing escapes the madness. All the while, we’re serenaded with the melodious crooning of blood curdling screaming baby.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Okay, rewind again to the original plan. I leave the bathroom a mess, throw the blankets from the loveseat in the laundry and again retrieve the baby from her freshly inconsolable darkness.

This time we retire to the bedroom – baby’s sense tension, tap into your mood, as do dogs. We all need to calm down. I made the bed cozy, crawl in, plant pillows all around and recommence with feeding. Breathe, okay, let’s all just love each other. Secret Agent Dog, seeking emotional reprieve, hops up on the bed and I lazily pet her and I start trying to relax and deconstruct how this beautiful day devolved so miserably. I close my eyes and start making a mental list of things I now need to get done before I start dinner. It was 1 pm when we left for our first magical outing together – it’s nearly 6 pm now. Finish laundry; clean bathroom; feed Secret; change Zoe; clean out poop-covered back of truck, etc. And as I’m finding a place of contemplation and calm, I sense Secret starting to shiver. She cowers in the face of disapproval and is in her own way inconsolable until she finds a way to redeem herself. She relies on the love between us, comes to expect it like air, and really, no one could love her better. I pull the blanket up around her and give her reassuring works and gestures. It’s okay. It’s all okay now. And I think it is, until she throws up all over the bed. Which seems to put a cherry on this disaster. I just exhale and let it go.. something else to add to the list… wash bedding, clean vomit off bedframe and floor.. and I just let it go and keep feeding Zoe… so she does it again.


Eleanor said...

I have missed your regular posts. This was hilarious because it is all true. I never had to deal with the dog issue, but it reminds me of the time I had two in diapers, a three-year-old in a stroller and a 7-week-old in a snuggly, and my friend had two in diapers (a three-year-old and a two-year-old), both in strollers (her mother-in-law was pushing the second one) and they all four of them had loaded pants in the funicular headed up the cliff face in Quebec City. There was no screaming, thank goodness, but the looks on the faces of the other occupants of the conveyance spoke volumes.

Harriet said...

This may be the truest blog post I have ever read, and so funny to read. Thank you for sharing your pain with us -- I'm suddenly feeling a little better for all those idiotic things I did and said when AJ was small.

FreshHell said...

God, yes. I stopped at two children (and sometimes I wonder at having the second!) and every time I see a woman with a newborn walking around - upright and not sobbing quietly - I shudder. I want that baby out of my sight. Because I remember very well what those first months were like. A dark hell with moments of bright happiness. Eventually, the brightness overtook the darkness but there were times when I didn't think that would be possible. Hang in there!

alison said...

I've missed you. I'm glad you are feeling better. I am currently hiking around a 17 lb sock hating bowling ball with freakishly large feet. Adjusting schedule is the hardest part. I am amazed at how long it takes to leave the house now and how important planning is to the trip (I work in a stop to feed him). I don't believe they retain any memory of their inconsolable moments and soon recognize the incredible healing powers of Mommy hugs and kisses. Hugs to Dear Zoe for Auntie Alison.

titration said...

O my word. I laughed so hard I got all teary. That is insane! You get major bonus points on this adventure!!!!

Anonymous said...

What a remarkable story of a mommy's world and doggie love. I fell right into this piece with a visual of the entire ordeal. What an awesome entry, so true and insightful. I loved it. I am happy to hear you are regaining your strength and have set a plan in motion to get your life back and allow Zoey to unfold life as you have. What an awesome experience for her, for both of you. No wonder women are waiting to have children later in life, unlike those new moms like I was that took off on a wing and prayer…bringing baby along for the ride. Bumpy is what I see in hindsight. Keep writing Zuzu, I'd buy your book on being a new mom hiking with a bowling ball with sock hating feet. Sandyz

Zuzu said...

Eleanor -

Just one word... "ew!"

Harriet -

If my pain brings people comfort, then it was worth it! (heh)


Well, you know that they're sobbing quietly somewhere else if they're not doing it right there. I couldn't imagine going for two. I don't quite understand how anyone handles the logistics of it. I think of my own mother with four, all before the age of 30. I think I sob quietly for her.


I can't believe he's 17 pounds already.. that's insane!

Just Me (aka Titration) -

I'm loving on your blog these days. I wish you'd write more about LO.


Of course I'll hold you to the committment to buy the book (kidding.) I'm still reeling that "Sunshine State" aka Francis Nash was just a fictional character on Diaryland. I just loved that girl! It's nice to see you here.


Madrigle said...

it's so VERY good to see you posting. whoa.... I guess we are writing at the same time... I just got a notification of your notw. THANKS! I'm very fond of that painting. I'm very excited cause a very talented friend in Austin is writing a screenplay revolving around dia de los muertos and wants to use it for the handbill image. it's comforting in some way to know were writing simultaneously. HUGS.

somaserious said...

Well, that was a great story. My baby is now three and I'm still remembering those first weeks. I had a dog and two cats, one of which decided to get into a fight the day after we got home from the hospital. Two hundred dollars later....drainage tubes and residing in a blocked-off kitchen. It's an adventure that goes beyond anything we've ever done or hope to do. Have fun with your little one, it goes quick.