Thoughts on 37

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According to the calendar and math, I just turned 37 years old. This meets most definitions of adulthood. I’m a parent, and a wife. I have a professional portfolio with 15 years worth of stuff in it. I’m employable and pretty much have my shit together. Of course, none of this means a thing. I’m the same dumbass I was in college.

As I’m constantly reminding my daughter (who is 2 and concerned with such things) we get a little bigger every day until we grow up. For her, that’s enough. For me, growing up is an ongoing campaign.

After childhood, an extensive support network surrounding the products we buy encourages us to spend our energy trying to look and act like the people we briefly were in our early 20s. The desire to grow up is subsumed by a need to stop growing or changing.

I started dying my hair to cover up grey when I was 24. My fair skin and fear of the sun got me a brief reprieve from wrinkles. General immaturity and bad impulse control made me seem younger than my age. Postponing motherhood helped as well. I put myself on pause.

When I became pregnant, I stopped dying my hair. Weight gain and bloat changed my face, and I was too damned tired to indulge in any silly nonsense. Everything hurt and I aged ten years in a few months. I was still the same dumbass, but without the honors and privileges awarded to youth. There was some mitigating churn around “oh look a pregnant lady how sweet” but it didn’t kick in for six months and was offset by vomiting and crippling depression.

Some time has passed, and I’m suddenly 37. Parenthood has reshaped my priorities. I have become Erica’s Earning Potential, Erica’s Ability to Absorb Interruption, Erica’s Immune System, and Erica’s Ability to Feed Her Family.

Endless undignified tasks arise when you’ve chosen to subsume personal ambition to create an environment where a potentially decent interesting child can grow and exist. There are no awards, there is no press coverage, and everyone involved forgets the details.

This isn’t the narcissism of Midwestern modesty (“Oh it’s nothing, here let me get that. Well maybe someday when I’m rich.”) or a perversion of patriarchal beauty standards. My sudden need for mid-afternoon naps and my enduring relationship with Ibuprofen and the heating pad argue against anything so energetic. Being punk rock is a lot of work. This is different. This is mom jeans and uncombed hair.

This is some organic freerange not-giving-a-shit.

I don’t try to look younger unless it assists the new priorities which are focused around people other than myself. I clean up ok, and I’ll do the thing where I get into lady drag when I go to job interviews or meetings with people who aren’t my work bros. I brush my teeth so my husband will kiss me, and I continue to fool him into thinking I’m pinup-hot.

But seriously? That food stain on my shirt is going to stay there. And I’m going to look right at you and talk anyway. I’m going to have opinions and expect a response even though I’m not wearing a particularly coordinated outfit because that’s what I’ve gained by becoming my own age. I’m not on pause anymore, and I didn’t lose anything of value.

I’m still the same dumbass I was in college, so why shouldn’t I claim the column of space around my body and fill it with something useful? I’m not here to be decorative. I don’t have to be, and neither do you.

So here’s to 37 and the freedom it brings. Here’s to being alive for no particular reason and not mattering much. Here’s to reeling around doing your best. And here’s to writing about it, because questioning that urge doesn’t help much either.

Good to be here, everyone. Hope you are well.

Tube Food

My young daughter is eating solid food. She has two lower teeth, which she uses to great effect, scraping away like a reverse-squirrel. This is an exciting time for my husband and I, since we get to share some of our favorite foods with her. We also get to see these favorite foods converted into sneeze-splatter and spread across the front of our work shirts. Know this: Bibs are not just for infants.

After a few weeks of experimenting with toddler-cuisine, I’ve changed the way I shop for groceries. Instead of perusing the shelves of my local organic butcher, thinking “hmm would this hanger steak would be good pan-seared with truffle salt?”, I now think things like: “I wonder what other tube-shaped food this Safeway carries?” and, “Oh wow, you could really get a grip on those cheese sticks.”

As a freshly-minted Bay Area foodie, Elizabeth is more pencil sharpener than connoisseur.

As a freshly-minted Bay Area foodie, Elizabeth is more pencil sharpener than connoisseur. We hand her a Morningstar Farms veggie sausage when she wakes up, and listen for the high pitched buzzing sound as she fragments it into a light rain of sausage-shavings which patter to the floor. We then lift our soy-sawdust covered child out of the highchair, shake her up and down, and deposit her back in the living room where she carries out her daily experiments.

Bagels are her favorite. Despite its mammoth size, a cinnamon-raisin bagel is easy to grip in both hands and wave around. After a few minutes eating the proportional equivalent of a telephone pole, she holds the bagel over her head and shrieks in delight, praising her sky-gods for the gift of carbohydrates.

she holds the bagel over her head and shrieks in delight, praising her sky-gods

At the end of a long day’s eating, it has been my distinct pleasure to discover bagel parts at the bottom of my bra, where they have been covertly deposited by Elizabeth during one of her periods of arm-waving and violent twisting. I believe she has come to view my cleavage as some sort of pantry for the deposit and withdrawal of delicious food items. Rather than admitting defeat and covering my lingerie with contact paper, I’ve decided to try and interest her in vegetables, which I hope will be gentler and more refreshing in the knockers-region.

Things that now qualify as “me time”

Breastpumping
My commute to work
Taking a shower
The three block walk to return my library books
Sleeping
Leaning on my similarly exhausted husband and staring vacantly at something on a screen

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**UPDATE** I just finished Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants and was put to shame by her fantastic list of “Me Time” activities. I totally forgot to mention “Say you’re going to look for the diaper crème, then go into your child’s room and just stand there until your spouse comes in and curtly says, ‘What are you doing?’”

Go buy her book.

A Parent’s Life as a Video Game

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I work in the video game industry, so I tend to think of life in these terms. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I realized that pregnancy is essentially a really immersive resource-conservation RPG. I was always asking myself questions like: “Do I pick up this stuff on the floor, or do I save my Bending Over points for later?”

Recently several of my coworkers became parents, so in celebration of my fecund and nerdy cohort, here’s a description of my last week written entirely in video game terms:

Select character

  •   Warrior (Battle baroque parental leave laws)
    .
  •  Wizard sprite Wizard (Create nutritious meals for baby using own body)
    .
  • Rogue sprite Rogue (Sneak around to accomplish things while the baby sleeps)
    .
  •   Paladin (The power of the Coffee God will protect your party)
    .

New player tutorial

Read Kid Wrangling by Kaz Cooke, SuperBaby by Jenn Berman, and The Cat in the Hat over and over and over and over.

Challenge

Find outfits for upcoming family photo. Avoid decade-indicating fashion or hairstyles.

Parental achievement unlocked!

Raffi song stuck in head for more than four days.

Bonus

How long can you deflect drool from your work clothes? GO!

Level up!

Child can now turn pages of a book. Good work!

Save game

Improve your long-term memory by adding minutes of sleep during train commute

Cheat

Enter “Up up down down left right start” in the deductions section of your tax form

Parenthood by Percentages

image courtesy of Thorne Enterprises

In case anyone is interested in the relative effects of a New Baby, I ran a few numbers this morning.

-65% Cussing
-50% Cups of Coffee Consumed
-98% Cups of Coffee Consumed While Still Warm
-98% Alcohol Consumed Before Childbirth
+98% Alcohol Consumed After Childbirth
+50% Loads of Laundry/Week
+100% Loads of Laundry Involving Poo
+350% Smiles from Strangers
+60% Visitors
+300% Visits to Library
+10% Upper Body Strength (12 pound weight)
+75% Breast Size
+30% Body Size
-5% Brain Size
-50% Sleep
-100% Uninterrupted Sleep
+200% Jokes About Sleep
+200% Jokes About Poo
+50% Actual Poo
+10% Unsolicited Advice
-10% Need For Unsolicited Advice per Weekly Age of Infant
+3000% Life/Injury Insurance
+25% Ominous Feeling That Adulthood Has Arrived
+100% Heart-stopping Baby Smiles

Out in the daylight with a stroller

By Mo Kaiwen 莫楷文

I’m sitting at a cafe with my infant daughter. I feel like a monster of productivity, having successfully left the house twice in one day, eaten actual meals, and avoided being covered in poo (for the time being).

Elizabeth is the daughter, three months old. She sleeps in the stroller I thought I would never use. As a non-parent, I had overlooked its function as a laptop/sweater/blanket/grocery/diaperbag-carrier, and had no understanding of the speed at which it knocks out a fussy baby.

The last three months have been a time of great change. I am clocking in at about one life lesson every three hours.

Recently I’ve learned:

  • To type fast and not muck about with formatting while the baby’s napping. Editing is not for parents.
  • If you can afford it, fresh fruit is always a worthwhile purchase.
  • That you can’t go for a walk in my neighborhood without tripping over a stroller or a border collie.
  • Sweden makes awesome baby equipment (Jané: the 4×4 truck of strollers)
  • If you join a clan and are online regularly at 3am, you can make lots of friends in Finland, and Norway.
  • Other Scandinavians mock Swedes out of some obscure national rivalry. The punchline of every joke is inevitably “Svensk”. If you understand this, please let me know.

Right, that’s it for now. Elizabear is waking up and we’ve got some major walking to do.

Top Five Things I Have Learned About Babies

My daughter, Elizabeth West Firment, was born in early November. The last…ever since…has been a nonstop, nonsleep blur of boobs, love, fuss, and delirium. In the process, I have learned these five things:

  • Ceiling fans are TV for babies.
  • At week six, nursing goes from being a special woodchipper for your nipples to something fairly ok. Eventually, it will become rather pleasant, and you will be able to play World of Warcraft while feeding your child, like my friend Kelly’s wife does. I’m pretty sure she levels up faster by simultaneously breastfeeding and p0wning n00bz.
  • The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day.
  • There is a 4am. It comes before 5am, which is that time  you read about once that precedes 6am. You do not have the right to a full night’s sleep. You have given that right to your baby, who may use it as she sees fit.
  • Your baby’s smile generates a burst of hormones that if necessary will enable you to lift a car or cut out your own spleen.

Photos are up on flickr. Thanks for all the casseroles!

Allergy alert stickers

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I have a life-threatening peanut allergy. My lungs fill up and my throat closes and WOW are nuts a bad thing. Which is why I want these vinyl “No Peanuts” stickers by Jeeto.

Chuck and I have been trying to translate the word “peanut” into 30 languages whenever we go to a restaurant. It would be nice to have a visual aid.

When I was a kid, nobody had heard of “allergies”, so I didn’t get a lot of cred when I pouted and refused to eat my snickerdoodle. My folks fought for me when they could, but there were plenty of incidents. There was the Evil Girl Scout Leader with the PBJ, the home economics class with the peanut brittle, my forgetful grandma and the cracker jacks.

Having it in writing might help a kid stick up for herself.

So, yay to Jeeto and a generation of militant parents! Yay for continued access to oxygen!