Friday, August 31, 2012

I Write, Therefore I Am

It's our last day in the quasi-Berkshires. We're sitting on the deck of the house we've rented, drinking beer and admiring the view. Henry is babbling happily in his pack-and-play; Rayne is throwing a tennis ball for Hudson, who is pretty sure he's died and gone to dog heaven. The weather is perfect.

Vacation is coming to an end and with it, summer. I keep waiting to feel "ready to go home," like one often does at the end of a trip. 

I even got stung by a wasp today in the lake.

Still, I wait.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Buttered Popcorn and John Cusack

This week we are in the Berkshires, sort of. We're on the New York side of the border, so we're technically not officially in the Berkshires. So we've been told.

Anyhow, the other day we slipped across the border to Great Barrington. We happened upon an amazing candy shop called Robin's. Candy everywhere. My eyes were bugging out of my head. I walked around dazed, like a kid in a candy shop, if you will.

I put myself on an important mission to round up the best assortment of chocolate-covered things. Focus, Deb. FOCUS.

I then made a horrifying discovery.

Remember as a kid, you picked out the black jellybeans? Because licorice is revolting to most children, and I do not for the life of me understand why they get included in the mix. And then, when you discovered Jelly Belly jellybeans, you picked out the buttered-popcorn flavored jellybeans? Because seriously, who wants to contaminate a mouthful of sweet jellybean goodness with the taste of fake butter?

I demand to know: Who is buying this flavor?

I turned from my chocolate counter mission -- if my life were a movie, it would have been in slow motion -- to find my dear husband filling a bag with buttered-popcorn flavored Jelly Belly jellybeans.

I was speechless.

"So, it's you," I stammered.

It was like when we were first dating and he almost broke up with me upon discovering I found John Cusack annoying. And thought Grosse Point Blank was a stupid movie. And had never seen Say Anything. (I know, I know.)

For me, the popcorn jelly bean discovery was that egregious. Buttered-popcorn Jelly Belly jellybeans are my John Cusack.

"I like these," he responded, confused at my intense reaction to his candy-gathering.

I sighed. He hadn't actually broken up with me; he had just thought about it. I shrugged and filled up my own bag.

In other news, for a child who puts everything in his mouth, including but certainly not limited to paper of any sort, diaper bag straps, buckles of all stripes, Hudson's rubber ball, dirt and grass from the park, my hair, my face, zippers, necklaces and the fringe on our area rug, I cannot get Henry to eat "finger food." I've tried everything: banana, avocado, carrot, zucchini. All he does is smush it around the table or dump the food out and attempt to eat the bowl.

I welcome any and all advice on this one.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Three Billy Goats Gruff

This past Saturday, our marathon training team (Team in Training Brooklyn) was slated to meet in Prospect Park at 7:30 am for a 12-mile loop over the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Fun!

Rayne and I were pumped. We got up in time completely oversleptreadied the Baby Henry mobile and ran out the door. It was a beautiful morning -- sunny and relatively cool for August. Since we were running to the bridge from our apartment instead of the park with the rest of the team, we ran through Brownstone Brooklyn's tree-lined streets the projects. Henry was babbling happily to himself. So far, so good.

The path over the Brooklyn Bridge was picturesque covered over with construction, making it impossible to take in the views and relatively empty already packed with clueless tourists walking three abreast along the narrow path. I sailed labored to push the jogging stroller up over the span and down the other side to City Hall.

It didn't look like this.
Once there, I decided to try Nuun, a sugar-free energy drink I had substituted for Gatorade in the hope it was less revolting. I flipped open the top of my water bottle and quenched my thirst with the cool, refreshing liquid it exploded all over me and the jogging stroller. Apparently, it's effervescent, so I shouldn't have put the tablet in water and shut the bottle. Right.

There was still a little left in the bottle after the explosion. It tasted great like salty Crystal Light. A film of fake sugar coated my tongue. Blech. I tried to make Rayne trade with me for his water, but he took one sip and refused. [Anyone want the other 23 Nuun tablets I have at home?]

We turned right on Worth Street as planned accidentally went straight and ended up in the heart of Chinatown. We snaked along Bayard Street, which smelled like fresh flowers dead fish, dodging old Chinese women out to get their Saturday morning groceries.

At the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge (when we finally got there) Rayne graciously took over jogging stroller duty. Baby Henry was falling asleep for his morning nap. YES. We were back on track.

On the Manhattan Bridge, pedestrians run along the outside of the bridge, next to the Q train tracks. I guess the one good thing about subways being so patchy to outer boroughs on weekends is that we didn't have to worry about running next to trains were passed by the deafening roar of no less than four Q trains. Henry slept right through it went nuts. The poor thing screamed the entire way over the bridge.

By the time we got over, Henry was d-d-done. I carried him sobbing and whimpering around the underbelly of the bridge. We were pretty much back to where we had started out, since the bridges are so close on the Brooklyn side. We were parched and feeling, quite frankly, a bit deflated.

World's. Worst. Mom.
We put Henry back in the stroller and walked towards home until he fell asleep. Rayne stopped at a bodega local gangster hangout in our neighborhood for a water and a Gatorade.

Now that Henry was asleep, we had two choices: 1) call it a day and go back to our apartment, a mere three or four blocks away, or 2) turn south and head to the park to try to complete our 12-mile run. We opted to go home and try again another day head to the park in a last-ditch effort to salvage our workout. In retrospect, this was not the best plan.

The stroller glided over the smooth sidewalk pavement jostled angrily over our neighborhood's what-the-eff-is-this-post-earthquake-San-Francisco sidewalks. Henry screamed. After a mile or so, we gave up and went home.

Earth to NYC: These need to be fixed.

We had moved our bodies a grand total of nine miles over two-and-a-quarter hours. For the math-challenged among you us, that's a 15-minute-mile. (Rayne calculated that for me.) To put it in perspective, if we did the marathon at that pace, it would take us six-and-half hours. (I was able to figure that one out on my own. S-m-r-t.)

Not exactly PR* material. I think we might try another strategy for Saturday morning long runs....

You made it, Baby Henry!

*PR = Personal  Record, not Public Relations, although the latter could also fit the story.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Alimentary Education

In my doomed, ambivalent quest for Henry to speak Italian, I downloaded an album from iTunes called Canzoni per Bambini, Songs for Babies. It has all the usual suspects -- the alphabet, days of the week, months of the year, colors, numbers.

But, then! In an Italianissimo twist, one of the songs is called Il Cibo di Stagione, roughly translated as "food that is in season." Here are the opening lyrics:
Il cibo di stagione (Seasonal food)
Fa bene al pancino (Is good for your belly)
It goes on to name fruits and vegetables that are in season during summer, autumn, winter and spring.

Here's my question: Can anyone think of an American nursery rhyme, children's song or ditty of any sort that talks about the benefits of eating food that is in season?

Beyond the basics, like apples and oranges, most Americans would #fail at matching foods with their proper seasons. You go to a grocery store and everything is always available. The proliferation of farmers' markets in cities across the country reflects our slowly changing mindset, but we still have a long way to go.

I first became certifiably insane obsessed with food politics in early 2007 while reading Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Rayne and I actually got into an extremely heated argument in bed one night over farm subsidies. (Yeah, that's the kind of sexy pillow talk we have.)

But the seeds of my obsession were planted in autumn 1995, my first trip to Italy. At that time, I would have been hard pressed to name more than a few seasonal fruits and vegetables, mainly the ones that my parents and grandparents grew in their little suburban gardens -- tomatoes, eggplant, peppers.

While studying in Rome that fall, I discovered sweet, delicious fruit in the Campo de' Fiori market. They looked like orange tomatoes.

In Italian they are called cacchi, derived most likely from their Japanese moniker, kaki. I later learned they were persimmons, a fruit I'd never seen or heard of before.

I've sadly never found a properly ripe persimmon in the northeast. Unripened persimmons are astringent and tannic, almost angry. They attack your tongue with a furry coating of hatred. And who wants hatred for breakfast?

It was summer the next time I returned to Italy. Despite the ubiquity of creamy gelato, I asked, salivating, for my sweet cacchi. I was told they were not in season.


Can't you just go to the supermarket, where everything is always available?

No, as it turns out. Because Italians learn early on: Il cibo di stagione fa bene al pancino.

It was just the beginning of my alimentary education.

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thank You, NYRR, for Agreeing to Donate My Clothing

So, I just found out about the new no bag check marathon policy for the November 4 ING New York City Marathon.

Here is my imaginary interview with Mary Wittenberg, President of New York Road Runners (NYRR). I have used actual explanations (hard as it is to believe) from the announcement and FAQ for the responses.

Wait, what's going on?
For 2012, under a new policy designed to ease finish-line congestion, runners will no longer check baggage at the start of the race, and there will be no baggage retrieval after the finish.
Oh, why have you forsaken us, Mary?
The post-race walk-off has historically been too long and too congested, and was overwhelmingly the number-one complaint of our runners for years.
What if I want to change into warm, dry clothing or shoes after the 26.2 miles I've just run?
We recommend that those of you who have a friend or family member meeting you in Family Reunion have them bring along warm, dry clothes.
That makes sense. It's usually a cinch to meet up with family after the race. I mean, there are only, like, 40,000 other runners looking for their families.
Your friends in NYC and elsewhere can follow your progress during the race and upon your exit from the park with TrackMyRunners(TM) Via Web and Txt.
That service never works! Every year I get text messages eight hours after the race is over that my runner has crossed the half-way mark.
[No response.]
Anyway, my husband is also running the marathon. Should I ask my 10-month old baby to crawl over and bring us some dry socks?
We recommend that those of you who have a friend or family member meeting you in Family Reunion have them bring along warm, dry clothes.
What about those of us who don't have a family member meeting us in Family Reunion?
Your friends in NYC and elsewhere can follow your progress during the race and upon your exit from the park with TrackMyRunners(TM) Via Web and Txt.
Okay, I feel like we're in a bit of a loop, here. Let's switch gears. What about the warm, dry clothes I want to have beforehand, when I am stuck in Staten Island for three-plus hours in essentially the middle of the night, in November, huddling with others to keep warm?
[C]lothing left behind at the start will be donated to charity.
Okay, well, I was planning to donate the long-sleeved shirt used to start the race, but what about beforehand, during the long wait? Shouldn't I be wearing more expensive clothing that will actually keep me dry and warm?
Warm, water-resistant clothing is recommended for the staging area, which is outdoors. We recommend that you start to set aside clothing now to wear to the start and donate.
Thanks for the recommendation. What about other stuff I might want to bring, like food, my phone, water, race nutrition, gloves, money, a Metrocard, Tylenol, toilet paper for your gross bathrooms?
You must recycle, dispose of, or consume the items or carry them with you during the race.
Oh, so I can run with a little backpack if I want?
Backpacks and bags... are not allowed.
How am I supposed to get back to Brooklyn without any money or a Metrocard?
You can carry a credit card, Metrocard, and/or cash in a pocket, wristband, armband, or small waist pack, or have your friends and family meet you at Family Reunion or a nearby location and give you the items you need.
I just told you there isn't going to be anyone to meet me at Family Reunion. At best, my husband is going to have to wait, shivering and cramping up, for me to finish.
UPS is a valued partner of NYRR and has been a sponsor of the Marathon for more than 15 years. This year is no different. NYRR has been very fortunate to have UPS as a partner. In the past, UPS has provided more than 70 trucks and 300 volunteers to help transport baggage from the start to the finish. With the change to our policy, we are not able to utilize UPS trucks. However, UPS employees will continue to be key members of our team, including a partner of our clothing donation effort at the start.
What? That didn't answer my question at all. Who gives a shit about UPS? Why do you think runners care about UPS? Why is this on the FAQ of your website?
[No response.]
So let me recap. Essentially, your new policy effectively requires everyone to have a support team (i.e., friends and family) in order to have basic things like a phone, cash, car keys, let alone clean clothes and food. Every other major race in the world has a bag check for just these reasons.
We are implementing the No-Baggage Policy to ensure the best and safest runner experience at the marathon.
That seems implausible given all the inconveniences I have outlined here.
The post-race walk-off has historically been too long and too congested, and was overwhelmingly the number-one complaint of our runners for years.
You said that already, and it's true. But is this seriously the best solution you could come up with? Why not split the exit and allow those who want to use the bag check to go right and those that want to leave go left?
We have put a great deal of thought and planning into the No-Baggage Policy and its execution from an operational standpoint. We have worked closely with City agencies and the Mayor's Office and together have developed this plan.
Well, I'm comforted to know what good hands I'm in. I'm sure it will all go swimmingly. There's no way this marathon will live in race infamy. And I doubt you will have to issue a long apology on November 5.
[No response.]
I'm being facetious.
[No response.]
Well, thanks for agreeing to donate my clothing.

Don't worry, Moo Cow. I've got you covered.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hello, Fellow Human!

Can we all agree that dating sucks? When I hear stories about dating from single friends -- men and women -- I look at Rayne with a little extra love and gratitude. Thank the Energy-of-the-Universe I'm now exempt.

New York is a special kind of dating hell. People are so busy and there are so many potential distractions -- it's hard to commit to getting to know someone long enough to decide whether you want to get to know them.

I did some online dating in 2004 and 2005. That was awesome. In concept I am totally on board with online dating. In practice, it just didn't work out for me.

There was the guy who picked up a meat tenderizer off the street in Greenwich Village, brought it to dinner with us and then put it on the table. He then had the gall to call me a germophobe when I asked him to take it off the table. Guilty as charged. Also, he took his shoes off under the table because "his feet hurt."

First date, people. Get it together.

Then there was the sort of stalkerish guy who was initially vague about his employment. When I met him for dinner, I found out that he was not a "fund manager," but instead an unemployed day-trader who went on an unprompted tirade against "Ivy League MBAs" who supposedly took his job at Citigroup.

"So, what do you do?" he inquired, catching his breath.

Oh you know, I'm just a financial analyst with an MBA from Columbia. Check, please!

How about the guy I was dating for a few months who left me a voicemail soliloquy in bullet point format about why we should stop seeing one another? Way to put that PowerPoint presentation seminar to good use, buddy.

And those are just the funny/crazy stories. Let's not even get into the hurtful and traumatic stuff.

Of all the dating scenes, I hated the bar scene the most. I disliked the inevitable small talk, the awkward flirtation, the distractions, the posturing. To relieve myself of the anxiety and boredom, I would actually pretend to be different characters. Laura from Long Island City, opera singer. Sarah, New York Times staff writer.

I'm not sure, but I think if you are trying to meet people, this is not a winning strategy. Anyway, I reasoned, I wasn't going to meet my future life partner in a bar, for Christ's sake.

Then in 2006, suddenly and happily, I left the life of a dating New Yorker behind me for good.

Or so I thought.

People keep telling me that this stage of life is the easiest time to meet people. I beg to differ. At school or on my running team I shared at minimum one similar interest with others in the group. When I go to pre-planned mommy meet-ups, the only thing I definitively have in common with these people is that we are humans. With similar-aged offspring. That's it.

Hello, fellow human! May I interact with your similar-aged offspring?

I'm not going to make any friends that way.

Of all the new mommy (and daddy) scenes, though, Babies and Beer is the closest analog to trying to meet people in bars. Basically, a beer garden in Fort Greene opens its doors two afternoons a week and puts down mats and toys. (Only in Brooklyn.) As their children play, parents attempt to finish a beer while simultaneously feeding said children organic puffs and having the same small-talky, distracted conversation with every other parent there. Women nurse with their boobs hanging out, much to the thinly veiled chagrin of the poor, enlightened daddies who attempt to avert their eyes while still engaging in conversation.

Here. I've made a chart so you can see the parallels:

I don't even like beer. Last time I had a lemony soft drink, which, the bartendress informed me, was the official drink of Austria. What luck! (According to Wikitravel, it's true. It's called Almdudler. It was tasty, actually. I'm a fan.)

And did I mention this beer garden is nearly a half hour walk from my apartment? By the time I get home, I'm exhausted by the over-stimulation and underwhelmed by my chances of ever seriously, successfully dating again. I swear to myself I will never return.

But Henry needs the interaction. He's not used to having other kids paw at him while he's contemplating the wooden block in his hand, turning it over and over and over until he's uncovered the secrets of its soul. That's probably the biggest downside to having him home -- he doesn't get the same level of socialization that he would in daycare. So I have to create it for him.

Alas, Babies and Beer is permanently on my calendar through the fall.

But wait, here's an interesting twist. I met Rayne at a bar. Weren't expecting that, were you? Me neither.

Granted, it was a private event with our marathon training group. Otherwise I never would have told him my real name. Or given him my real business card with my real phone number.

Still, it was a bar. In Manhattan's uber-trendy Meatpacking District. The last place on earth I expected to meet anyone.

Then he didn't call me, that jackass.

As luck would have it, we met again a couple of months later at a mutual friend's party. The rest is history.

I guess if I met the love of my life in a bar, there's still hope for Babies and Beer. Prost!

Momsomnia -- Fever Edition

Not too long ago, I wrote about Momsomnia's elusive origins. Tonight I can say with full certainty that my Momsomnia is due to Henry's 102.1 degree fever.

I guess it was inevitable, given how I sick feel. But it's still nerve-wracking. I've had 102 degree fevers in my life, but I've never before had a baby nor a baby with a 102 degree fever. I'm in uncharted waters.

I feel like the universe is giving me a giant smack-down in response to my recent post swearing off all baby books . Because, of course, as soon as I registered his elevated temperature, I flipped through the very books I had condemned, while Rayne cross-referenced my work with Dr. Interwebs.

Naturally, we came up with a variety of "truths": Give acetaminophen for discomfort regardless of the temperature. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen only for a fever of 102.6 degrees or higher, taken rectally. (This seems suspiciously specific, if you ask me.) Don't give acetaminophen, only ibuprofen, because acetaminophen can make the fever register higher. (??? That was from Dr. I.)

Luckily, all sources agreed that we should strip Henry down to his diaper to allow him to cool.

That was a few hours ago. Since then he has awoken us multiple times with piercing cries. To attempt sleep only to be woken up with a jolt time after time is a parent's Sisyphean task. Do I submit once again?

For now I watch him on the baby monitor -- my little diapered angel, thumb in mouth -- hoping he will sleep the rest of the night. For his sake, not mine.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It Doesn't Matter That You're Sick -- Running Edition

I'm sick again. This level of aches and pains can only come from... [cue old-time reveal music] baby germs.

But, as I wrote in one of my first posts, "Parenting Lesson #148: It Doesn't Matter That You're Sick," you never get to call in "sick mom." Even when dad's home, milk only comes from the moo cow's boobs.

You know what else doesn't care if you are sick? Marathon training. Time doesn't stop for you just because your bones feel like they are going to shatter like so much broken glass.

So this morning I got up at 6:15 am to feed and clothe Henry, force Rayne out of bed with the power of my nastiness and drive over to Prospect Park for a 10-mile relay race called The Battle of Brooklyn. Here are Rayne and Henry representing at the start:

I Insta-ma-grammed it so Rayne would look less tired. You're welcome, honey.

I ran my 3+ miles faster than expected, which is not the same as running a good pace. I still got passed like I was standing still a hundred thousand times.

In regular races, "corrals" ensure that I run alongside others who trot at my pitiful pace. But in relay races, runners don't line up according to pace. Inevitably most people glide past me with their lithe bodies as I plod along, wondering why I stubbornly continue to run -- for fun! no less -- as I'm clearly not cut out for it.

An illustrative anecdote: A couple of years ago Rayne and I did a 200-mile 12-person relay race in New Hampshire called Reach the Beach. There are 36 legs ranging from three to nine miles each. You and eleven of your closest friends pile into two vans and each run three legs through the night to your destination.

It's really way more fun than it sounds.

I'm slow to begin with, but couple that with exhaustion from working and commuting so much, and it's not pretty. Other teams' competitors blew by me, racking up "kill" (as passing is known) after kill. Some would slow a bit to call out a condescending little "good job" before they accelerated past, laughing maniacally (one can only assume).

My second leg was around 8 or 9 at night, and it was dark. I had yet to pass anyone and was determined to do so. As I rounded a corner on a gravelly, tree-lined path, I saw a figure running in the distance. From his pace, I knew I could overtake him. I set my sights on him. I was catching up! I was going to pass someone!

But as I got closer, something seemed strange. Maybe this guy was hurt? His gait seemed off.

And as I approached for the "kill," I saw the truth: this man had one leg. He was running with one regular leg and one of those "Cheetah" prosthetic legs from the knee down.

"Good job," I called lamely as I shuffled past. It was not my proudest moment, I assure you.

Anyway, today's race wasn't nearly that traumatic, and I did it while sick. So.

Good job, me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Frank Sinatra Never Carried Quarters

Last week I went to the Museum of Modern Art with a friend who is also at home with his infant daughter. It was inspiring to be amid great works of art and fun to hang out with my friend. But to get there required many, many flights of subway stairs as well as a little rain, so I arrived very late, caked in dried sweat and not-yet-dried rain.

Henry had missed his nap, so he started fussing immediately. I had to hold him in one arm and navigate the stroller through the throngs with the other arm. With my third arm, I carried the ever-heavier diaper bag.

Just kidding. I only have two arms. I can't remember which I used to carry the kettle bell diaper bag.

I hear you asking, Why didn't you hang the diaper bag on the back of the stroller?

Good question. There is a two-part answer. First, the Maclaren stroller is so light that it needs a counterweight to hold the diaper bag, like so:
Oh Hudsy, you are such a good boy.

If I take Henry out and leave the diaper bag on the stroller, it crashes to the ground, like so:
This has happened to me many, many times. It's embarrassing how many.

Second, I could have used the seat of the stroller, but I put that diaper bag down everywhere, including the floor of the subway and some bathrooms. The grime would transfer itself onto the straps of the stroller and then into Henry's mouth when he inevitably chews on said straps.



On the final leg of my exhausting journey home, a 12-minute walk from the subway to my apartment, I saw a hipsterish guy in his 30s messing around with his bike on the curb. At first I didn't give it another thought, but as I passed, it seemed like he was struggling.

Are you okay? I asked.

Um, I think so, he answered, which was clearly code for NO.

I went over. He had changed a flat and couldn't get the wheel back on. I'm no champion bike-tire-changer, but I held the frame up (with my fourth arm) so he could use both hands to get the chain back on the gear and the wheel into the proper spot.

He thanked me sincerely and I walked on.

It occurred to me that, in Life Before Henry, I never would have stopped. There is something about New York that makes you think people don't want your help. Like, by helping, you're cheating them out of their Frank Sinatra moment, and now they'll never know whether they can make it here, or anywhere.

Now that I'm on the other side of the equation, the soundtrack that accompanies my adventures in the big city is much more "Help" by the Beatles. In Life After Henry, I am a most grateful recipient of offers to get the stroller through the subway turnstiles. Sometimes it's true that it's easier for me to hoist the stroller up the stairs myself, but I'm still incredibly appreciative of the thoughtfulness.

When I finally got home, I was wiped out. I dropped the diaper bag to the floor, and it fell with an unusual clank. I reached my hand in and pulled out... a roll of quarters.

And then four more rolls of quarters.

Not only had I carted Henry, an umbrella, the diaper bag and my sorry ass up and down subway stairs and through a museum jammed with oblivious tourists, I had also carried the added weight of fifty dollars in quarters for the lame machines in the lame laundry room in my lame building.


If you can make it here as a mother, you can make it anywhere. Accepting a little help up the subway stairs won't change that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Streets and Hybrid Fruits

This weekend was Summer Streets, where the city closes Park Avenue from 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge for pedestrian recreation. The whole city comes out to run, bike, walk, roller blade, skateboard -- you name it. There are games, water fountains, food and free bike rentals all up and down the avenue.

In short, it was perfect for my first 10-mile run in four years. I gathered with my NYC Marathon training team at 8 am to get ready.

It was there, in Foley Square, that I realized I've become a yet uncategorized hybrid fruit.

You know the shapes women's fashion magazines say we are? Either an apple (dense in the middle, skinny legs) or a pear (flat belly, big hips and thighs)? I've always tended toward the pear, but pregnancy left me with a ghastly soft belly that won't flatten out no matter how many times I skip dessert.*

I took out my Fuel Belt, a nifty little piece of gear you wear around your waist or hips to hold water and nutrition for long runs. Here is my actual Fuel Belt, with only one of the bottles strapped in:

I sadly have only three of four bottles and two of four caps to those bottles. 

It's a size small, because I bought it six years ago when I was over twenty pounds lighter. My stomach sank as I discovered that the only place the Fuel Belt fit -- and just barely -- was around my lower rib cage.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the narrowest circumference of my body is now my rib cage. Which fruit does that? Some pear-apple combo that I've never met until now, that is for certain.

I drew a picture so you can see what I mean:
So, that's cool. The silver lining is that back when I was just a young, tiny pear, the Fuel Belt would sometimes slip uncomfortably between my waist and hips. But now! Now, it stays right where I put it, wedged in between my boobs and my waist. Victory!

Anyway, once I got going, it didn't matter (that much). Summer Streets is basically a sweaty love poem to New York. I started running near City Hall, the beauteous bastion of bureaucracy responsible for closing down Park. I snaked up through Chinatown with its fishy smelling streets that have all but swallowed what used to be Little Italy. Up through the blocks of SoHo and the East Village, once home to tenement housing and now to fancy boutiques and fashionistas. On to Union Square, past the Green Market to stately Gramercy, the "uptown" of the 1800s.

Through the 20s and 30s, heading straight for the former MetLife building. Up over the bridge that circumvents Grand Central Terminal, exiting in the shadows of the tall, stifling buildings of Investment-Bankistan. Through Hedge-Fundlandia in the East 50s. Finally into the Upper East Side, where skinny, overly Botoxed women walking their Pomeranians looked askance at my sweaty hybrid fruitiness.

And finally to the turn-around point: Central Park. All that in only five miles. It reminded me why I love New York.

I turned around and ran back to City Hall. Ten miles! Who cares what kind of fruit I am? Botox can kiss my ass.

TEN. MILES. It felt good. I'm back, baby.

*I hardly ever skip dessert.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why It's Good to Shun Parenting Books: A Case Study

I don't read parenting books or magazines. There is a shelf in Henry's room filled with books that I refuse to pick up, because every time I do, they teach me something pointless to worry about.

Febrile convulsions? If Henry starts convulsing, I'm not going to leaf through the index of a book... F... F... F... Feet, FemCap, Fenugreek, Ferberizing, Fertility Awareness, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fever - convulsions during. Honey, I found it!

No. I'm going to call my doctor. Immediately. So why read about these things in advance and get worked up about the possibility of something that is unlikely to happen? There are enough actual things to worry about.

But thanks to my Italian-American upbringing, my brain is a steel trap for fear-tchotchkes. Once I know that febrile convulsions are a reality, I can't un-know it. It will rattle around in the back of my head. And the next time Henry has a fever, I will secretly look to see if he is shaking.

Not. Helpful.

Or, two books say the exact opposite thing:
If you have a family history of peanut--or other--allergies, it's probably wise to avoid peanuts and foods that contain them while breastfeeding. Research has found that peanut allergens may be passed through breast milk from the mother to the nursing baby. Heidi Murkoff, What to Expect the First Year, p97
...delaying the introduction [of peanuts] makes no difference; he'll develop the reaction no matter how old he is when he first tastes a peanut. Michel Cohen, MD, The New Basics, p232
Don't make me hurt you, books.

For the record, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says here:
The AAP has concluded that at this time, there is no evidence that dietary restrictions in a nursing mother can play a significant role in preventing allergic diseases such as eczema, food allergy, or asthma.
Plus, I find the "milestones" these books and magazines offer generally unconstructive. Henry will be eight months next week and is still completely toothless. (It's kinda cute.) I met a baby in swim class this week who is a day younger and just got his sixth tooth. Clearly there is a range of normal. I can't pull a tooth out of my baby's gums. When they are ready, they'll come out.

I do, however, receive the Babycenter's weekly "development" emails, whose updates are short and innocuous. No cautionary tales about iron deficiency due to snubbing fortified cereal (What to Expect the First Year, p363).

But the other day, I received Your 7-Month Old's Development: Week 4. The lede was disconcerting, because it wasn't about the baby. It was about the parent.
[E]ven though your baby's just beginning to learn about her emotions, she's picking things up from you. Over the many months (and years) to come, your baby will likely copy the way she sees you treat people. 
See, now, this is the problem. It's not like I roam the streets of Brooklyn pushing old ladies down and kicking kittens. But I do, once in a while, you know, tell someone I'd like to rip his face off. Not behavior I want to model per se.

"What do I do?" I wrote to Rayne on gchat. "I'm not a nice person!"

"You're a nice person. You're just a meany sometimes," he replied.

Not. Helpful.

When I recounted this to a friend, she nodded. "Yeah," she said. "My [three-year-old] daughter is kind of bossy, and I think it's because she sees me bossing my husband around."

Not! Helpful!

I've been a relatively calm parent. I let Henry cry a little before I pick him up; I try to follow a schedule but I'm not a slave to it; if he doesn't want to finish his spinach-peas-pears puree, I don't force it down his throat; if he falls and bangs his little noggin, I smile (or laugh, but only when it's funny) and help him back up. To be fair, Henry makes it easy -- he is a good-natured little guy.

But what about those moments when I am not actively parenting? The swear words, the temper tantrums, the shoving an entire chocolate bar into my mouth in ten minutes flat? I can strain to be a sanitized version of myself around my children. But I can't change who I am entirely.

Do I go back to a full-time job, giving Henry different role models to emulate? Or will the stress of career-plus-parenting make me unbearable? Do I stay home and try to make a career of writing? Or will being home so much backfire?

Did my parents do this? Did they sit around wondering how not to rub off on me and my sister? I don't think so. They had me in their mid-twenties. At that age, the navel-gazing quotient for their generation was low.

I know. I'll go eat a bowl of cereal.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Boston Fail

This is my corgi, Hudson: 


He has become insanely neurotic. Things he is afraid of include, in no particular order: swimming in water, driving in cars, going through doorways, the Swiffer, the vacuum, my Medela breast pump and anything that squirts out of a nozzle.

Of these, the only one that makes sense is swimming. When Hudson was eight months old, Rayne decided it would be brilliant to teach him to swim by tossing him into my parents' pool where I was waiting. As I lunged for him, Little Hudsy rose to the surface in a frantic fit of desperate doggy paddling and has never recovered.

I've tried many, many times to get him back in the water, even submerging my body in a small, warm, undoubtedly pee-filled dog therapy pool in downtown Manhattan. Hudson spent the entire time clawing at my body until he was up on my shoulder, clinging to my scalp for dear life. The place refunded my money. The whole experience was awesome and not at all embarrassing or revolting.

Let's just say that Rayne won't be taking the same approach with Henry.

But I digress.

This weekend we had plans to go to Boston for our friends’ son’s second birthday party. In the past, I might have left Hudson alone in our apartment for the one night and arranged for a dog walker. But I have a good deal of dog-mommy guilt about how unhappy Hudson has been since Henry arrived and we turned his world upside down by moving.

So in a bid to make my life extremely difficult, I found a friend to watch him. A friend who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at least two hundred thousand miles from my apartment in Brooklyn, metaphorically speaking.

“Okay where are we dropping Hudson off?” Rayne asked as we were piling the stroller, two pieces of luggage, the diaper bag, the Pack-and-Play, Henry, Henry’s binky, Hudsy, Hudsy’s bag o’ tricks and our already-exhausted selves into the car. He was not mega-psyched about my response.

“Let’s take the Brooklyn Bridge and go south on the FDR, around the horn. We’ll zip right up the West Side Highway,” I offered unhelpfully (as it turned out).

After over two hours in the car, we were not yet to the dog's weekend destination. Hudson was apoplectic from having been in the car so long; Henry was waking from a nap. Boston was another five hours away according to our GPS and another six according to Google Maps. We were going to miss the birthday party. And our friends, who had just brought home a new baby, were unlikely to want to split a few bottles of wine with us into the wee hours.

Rayne parked the car in a tow zone on Broadway in the 70s, where we sat while eating take-out mediocrity from a Euro-pan cafĂ©. He was furious, which he seldom is. “Our life is complicated enough. Why can’t we make decisions that make it simpler?!”

I didn’t have an answer. Taking the long way has always been my specialty. I walk the fine line between “doing [what I think is] the right thing, even if it’s harder” and “being compulsively stubborn.”

We drove an hour home, for a final tally of nearly four hours in the car. And a net total of zero miles traveled. #Fail

Saturday, August 4, 2012

BlogHer '12: Because I'm So Meta

Yes, I am blogging about the BlogHer conference. I get how unoriginally meta that is, I really do. And yet....

The idea to go to the conference occurred to me on Tuesday afternoon of this week; I bought tickets five hours before the deadline late Wednesday night. Let's just say it was one of the better spur-of-the-moment decisions I have made.

After spending the day with 5,000 (!) women bloggers and entrepreneurs, I felt strangely, incredibly energized. Usually after spending even a couple of hours with a large group of people, I am sufficiently depleted that I need to vacate the premises immediately, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Two Hundred Dollars. This is true even in social situations. Friends poke fun at my penchant for leaving parties at exactly 10:15 pm. I don't turn into a butternut squash after that hour; it's not that I don't love you. It's just that I've reached the max on my social stimulometer.

So, the BlogHer conference was extraordinary in its ability to galvanize me from beginning to end.
By the end of the day, however, I do admit to having felt a bit loopy. I wandered wild-eyed around the expo, accepting fliers and swag willy-nilly. I agreed to "like" some toy company on Facebook just so they would give me a piece of their strawberry-filled birthday cake. SU-GAR. I agreed to take a marketing survey about HotPockets, which I have never in my life eaten, because I wanted, inexplicably, with the core of my very existence, the HotPocket plush toy. I talked to the woman from Manilla so long I think she pressed a button to have me removed from her vicinity.

One of the most unlucky beneficiaries of my fatigue, however, was Travis, a designer from Britely in Palo Alto. The poor guy could hardly make it through his pitch, interrupted as he was by my questioning. The questions were good ones, I modestly maintain, but they were delivered with a sort of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest flair. I did promise him I would try out his product, though, and I think it is only fair that I do so immediately.

So without further ado, here is my "Brite" guide to my BlogHer 12 Conference spoils. I know you're jealous.

Read "Swaggerific" by Deb at Britely!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Latch On NYC

I was an exclusively formula-fed baby. I didn't even get the "first milk" (colostrum) from my mom, because at Brooklyn Hospital in the 1970s, that's not what was done. I think they gave her a shot to "dry up" her milk. It's all rather Brave New World.

Nevertheless, I have (knock on wood) always been healthy. I've never been hospitalized. My blood pressure is low; my cholesterol is normal. I've never even had strep throat.

As a baby, I didn't have pneumonia, ear infections or diarrhea. So what to make of the subway posters for the NYC Department of Health's latest campaign, Latch On NYC?

The Latch On NYC campaign's subway poster.

The DOH's breastfeeding brochure goes further:
Breast-fed babies are less likely to have asthma, ear infections, allergies, and diabetes. They’re also less likely to become obese.
I don't have asthma. I have mild seasonal allergies. I am not diabetic. And although I sometimes throw, much to Rayne's dismay, screaming "fat parties" in my bedroom, wherein I basically try on everything I own and thrust it on to the bed in tears when it doesn't fit right, I am not obese.

The point? Formula is just one part of the equation.

But it is part of the equation. And we know now (or rather, again, since I'm pretty sure we knew it before and convinced ourselves otherwise) that breastfeeding is best.

Breastfeeding is a fraught issue. It's way more difficult than you want it to be, and there is a ton of angst, especially in New York, about giving your child the best shot at...I'm not even sure what. And there is a lot of loud, unhelpful judgmental behavior out there by uber-boobers, a term I just made up which I'm sure needs no explanation.

It is natural in this environment for women who fed their infants formula to feel defensive and attacked. As a result, they're out there carrying on about "choice" and the "nanny state," as in this article from the Christian Science Monitor. They're focused on the formula being locked up, as if it's any different from anything else in a hospital. When you ask for Tylenol for pain, the nurse goes to the locked Pyxis machine to retrieve the medication. This is done, in part, to keep track of what and how much each patient is getting. No one is outraged that this otherwise easily attainable over-the-counter medicine needs to be requested and is held under lock and key.

Listen up, naysayers:

1) Contrary to popular outrage, the Latch On NYC campaign (whose stated purpose, by the way, is to "support mothers who choose to breastfeed and limit practices that interfere with that choice") provides mothers with more choice than we had before; and

2) The initiative is not about you. You are free to formula feed exclusively if you so choose. All you have to do is ask. The campaign is aimed, rather, at hospitals and the formula industry.

Today, everyone, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agrees that breastfeeding is preferable when possible. Some nurses, however, have not gotten the message. At Mt. Sinai Medical Center, where I gave birth, a few nurses preemptively and pointlessly alarmed me with the news that I was "going to have to supplement" if Henry's glucose numbers were "too low." I emphatically stated that no, they did not have permission to give my son a bottle of any sort. They tsked tsked and sighed and gave each other knowing glances, as if to say, Here we go again with this crazy talk.

Henry's numbers were fine. But I admit to having been worried. What if they had been a little low? If I were not (a) a hospital administrator who is unafraid of questioning medical authority and (b) an educated, well informed consumer, I might have freaked out at their alarmist behavior and given Henry formula. And despite (a) and (b), I might have been too tired to resist.

And who, under the current system, chooses which formula nurses provide or which freebies moms take home in their goody bags? The formula makers, of course, some of the biggest of whom are global pharmaceutical companies. These big companies provide free samples to hospitals hoping that mothers will stick with whatever worked in the nursery or will use whatever is given to them in the goody bag instead of shelling out more money.

When someone can't (for any of the hundreds of completely legitimate reasons) or doesn't want to breastfeed, well, formula is the next best thing. But that's no reason for hospitals to be the conduit for the marketing strategies of Johnson & Johnson (Enfamil) or Nestle (Gerber) or Abbott (Similac).

Indeed, part of Latch On NYC's plan is to:
- Discontinue the distribution of promotional or free infant formula [and]
- Prohibit the display and distribution of infant formula advertising or promotional materials in any hospital location

You see, Latch On NYC actually puts choice back into our hands by giving us the right to request formula, instead of having it foisted upon us by behind-the-curve hospital providers or marketing directors at multi-national corporations.

Hallelujah! The choice is ours!

One other thing. According to the Centers for Disease Control's report, the women least likely to breastfeed are the poor:
Breastfeeding rates in 1999-2006 were significantly higher among those with higher income (74%) compared with those who had lower income (57%).
Those are the very people who can't afford the education and prenatal care from which women in my own over-privileged cohort -- who seem to be the loudest in decrying the new initiative -- benefit. Low-income families in New York may have the most to gain from the city's new initiative.

Formula is not poison. I, along with hundreds of thousands of healthy human beings, am alive to disprove conspiracy theories of uber-boobers everywhere. But breastfeeding is better when possible. And as the head of a public health system that is straining under high rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma and other chronic diseases, Bloomberg is right to put choice back into the hands of mothers by asking hospitals to educate patients about the benefits of breastfeeding, reduce the influence of corporate marketing and track subsequent formula use and health outcomes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saving Face

I went for a facial today at Bliss using a gift certificate given to me by a friend. The Blissworld experience was a far cry from my horrendous massage at Essential Therapy last weekend. For one, no one interrupted my treatment demanding $13 to continue, as if we were playing a game of Buck Hunter in a sticky-floored dive bar that reeked of stale beer. Also, the showers didn't smell like mildew.

I've been getting Bliss facials for years now; they are the only ones I like. Almost without fail, the estheticians are women from a former Soviet Republic. Facials, at least the "extraction" part, can hurt, and the sharpness of Russian-tinged English is the perfect prerequisite for providing such a service. The providers' speech patterns are just so... authoritative. It's almost as if they enjoy hurting you, like real-life analogs to Steve Martin's character in Little Shop of Horrors, only with facials instead of dentistry.

I relaxed in the waiting room, nibbling on two ultra-mini pieces of a chocolate chip blondie and sipping lemon-infused water. Julia (probably Yulia, right?) fetched me right on time. When we arrived to the treatment room, Yulia smiled and asked if I had just had a massage.

No, I replied.

She looked confused. You didn't just have a massage before this? she asked again.

I shook my head. She looked quizzically at me, her eyes floating up for a brief moment to my hair, which was pulled back into its usual elegant bun messy clip arrangement. My hair was dirty. So dirty, in fact, that it might have looked like I just spent an hour getting my head massaged with essential oils. Only no, no. It was just dirty. From not washing it.

These days when I go in for a "personal care" service, I always wonder if I should volunteer that I am the mother of a young baby in order to explain why my toenails are claw-like or my leg hair is two and a half inches long, for example. I try to gauge whether the person in question would care or understand. Like, if I said, 'Oh, I have a baby at home,' and someone nodded knowingly, that would be okay. But if I then had to explain further, in the face of a blank stare, that this means showering is a luxury I can only sometimes afford, well, it starts to get a bit rambling and awkward. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

What products do you use on your face? Yulia asked as she examined my skin. I desperately wanted to cry out, I swear I wash my face! The reason I have a huge zit on my chin is because it's always covered with slimy, saliva-drenched baby hands!

Bliss estheticians are notorious for up-selling. The $120 basic facial is not enough, you see, to correct all your glaring deficiencies. Truthfully, Yulia was not as pushy as some, and for that I was thankful. Her pitch was an enzyme peel to get rid of the dead skin and "all those blackheads" that I didn't even realize I had.

If only she knew that an enzyme peel is powerless against slimy baby hands. I declined without explanation. She shrugged. I had guessed right -- Yulia wouldn't have cared about the baby hands.

As she began cleansing my face, my thoughts strayed to the beautiful woman waiting for the elevator with me downstairs. She was carrying her baby in an Ergo, effortlessly it seemed, as opposed to looking uncomfortable and sweaty like I usually do. Her clothing was stylish and her hair was brushed. She even had makeup on.

How does she look like that, I wondered? I was happy to be wearing a necklace and a new skort from Athleta. (I had already gone down the tankini road; skorts were just a matter of time.)

The truth is, even before I had Henry I wasn't that fashionable or put together. I mean, don't get me wrong -- I wouldn't have been caught dead in a skort or a tankini. But it wasn't like I was rocking Christian Louboutins up and down the avenues. In a bid to discover my hidden hipster, I recently bought a pair of funky-ish glasses by a French designer called Lafont (I had to take my glasses off to look for that information). I immediately regretted the purchase. There is no hipster in here; I just look silly.

Part of me thinks it's time to get over myself. I'm the mom of a young baby; there should be no shame in wearing a skort and Birkenstocks (yes! I bought them!) or having messy hair. On the other hand, there are some really thin, graceful, stylish mommies out there. I could be one of them, couldn't I?

Well, not today in any case. After the facial was over, I used what little time I had left to wash my hair in the clean, quiet shower. I put my rockin' skort outfit back on and rushed out...into the pouring rain. And because I'm never prepared for the weather, I arrived home to the sitter looking like a semi-drowned rat. But at least I hadn't apologized to anyone about my appearance.