Archive for November, 2005

ordinary lives

Jules had her two-week growth spurt last night, right on schedule. The good news is that Jeremy is sleeping through the night. Julia can be yelling at the top of her (admittedly not especially penetrating) voice and respected patriarch can snore right through it all. Last night I had to kick him seven or eight times to wake him up enough to share the fun. Actually I think he was awake by kicks three or four, but I kept going just to be sure.

As you may have gathered, my husband is an extremely good sport. Jules was belching groggily this morning and he said to her: “That’s what you get for a hard night’s drinking, miss.”

This will sound odd but I had an absolutely wonderful time in the hospital. With Claire I was off like a rabbit as soon as they’d let me go, but this time I stayed my mandated 48 hours and relished every one. Nurses brought me apple juice and painkillers on demand – two of my favourite things. Meals were hot and nourishing and furnished at stated intervals. I spent most of my time reading and eating chocolate biscuits while Julia dozed. The chocolate helped to replenish my depleted theobromine reserves. Medicinal. Ahem.

I took the brand-new Vikram Seth book, Two Lives (I picked up a review copy at the Book Bay), and a Nancy Mitford novel called The Blessing. Two Lives is brilliant. It’s the joint biography of Seth’s great-uncle and aunt, Shanti and Henny, an amputee dentist and German woman who lost her mother and sister in the Holocaust. As in his A Suitable Boy, one of my favourite books (and one I reread when Claire was tiny), Seth is interested in the ordinariness of people as well as their greatness, and vice versa. His is a generous, democratic aesthetic that rivals Shakespeare for magnanimity and grace.

“Behind every door on every ordinary street, in every hut in every ordinary village on this middling planet of a trivial star, such riches are to be found. The strange journeys we undertake on our earthly pilgrimage, the joy and suffering we taste or confer, the chance events that cleave us together or apart, what a complex trace they leave; so personal as to be almost incommunicable, so fugitive as to be almost irrecoverable.”

My passionate admiration for Seth’s prose is a matter of public record, so shall I confine myself here to pointing out the mastery with which he plays on the two meanings of the word “cleave”? The Blessing is out of print, so go frequent your local public library. A love story set in post-WW2 France, it’s essentially Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country retold as comedy. Like all Mitford’s novels it’s hilarious, melancholy and wildly politically incorrect. I love it.

Got home with Jules in tow and dived into Katharine Graham’s Personal History, which bookended the other two perfectly. Kay Graham inherited The Washington Post Company after her husband’s suicide. Her prose is modest and hesitant and tells a completely absorbing story: a privileged childhood and adolescence in the 1920s and 30s sheltered even from anti-Semitism and awareness of the Holocaust; a corporate wife raising four children in the 1940s and 50s; a stunned and grieving widow taking over a Fortune 1000 company in the 1960s; a woman steering a remarkable newspaper through the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and the pressman’s strike in the 1970s.

Taken together the three books made me think a lot about the sheer weirdness and unpredictability of the 20th century. I tried to imagine secret police going through my friends and colleagues and making an almost random selection for industrial murder on the basis of Jewishness: Steve, Sally, Jonathan, Recheng and the kids. I thought a lot about the limited options available for women until almost the end of the century. Kay Graham wrote movingly on the way the low expectations for even highly educated, privileged women became a self-fulfilling prophecy: not being required to think, women like her began to think that they could not.

It’s very easy to sit back and judge people when you don’t know their stories or the choices they had in front of them; when you do know a little more about the precise nature of their predicament, it becomes very difficult to reduce them to a guilty verdict or a score out of ten. Life is extremely complicated and I don’t see there’s much we can do about it, except to work hard to be kind to each other and (where possible) to forgive those who persecute us. But I’m still working on that.

Two Lives has inspired an excellently fun project for my mother and me. Today we sat in Cafe Commons while she answered my questions about her childhood and adolescence, and I made copious notes. We’ve already got over 5000 words and we’re only up to her wedding…

this rocks

Me bathed in the unhealthy glow of my iBook. I must get a haircut.

Julia is a fabulous baby.


too happy to blog

J: What do you mean, she’s not a toy? She’s small, she’s fun. How is that not a toy?

(Not so very small; she topped the scales at a mighty 10lb today. Julia, Queen of the Amazons.)


OK, so let’s get it over with: she’s cried maybe twice since we got her home, and she sleeps six hours at a stretch, from 2am to 8am. She’s incredible. Her week one performance review is going to be stellar.

As many of you doubtless surmised, I spent much of last weekend in a godalmighty snit because the baby hadn’t been born yet. My sacro-iliac joint was a hinge of fire, my sciatic nerves two red-hot pokers jammed into my butt cheeks. More than say, a tablespoon of food gave me acid reflux like molten rock. I was peeved.

Saturday night, contractions ten minutes apart; Sunday morning, five minutes apart, though I could talk through them. Then nothing, nada, zilch. On my part, passionate rage at an uncaring universe. We walked up to the playground. The sun shone, the flowers were out. I scowled indiscriminately.

Sunday night we tried out Pomelo, a restaurant up near Mum’s B&B. I had the risotto. It was excellent. When we got home I watched an Abba film on TiVo while Jeremy worked on his garbage collector. Abba is very odd; it would be a quite convincing fictional phenomenon, like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but it’s totally implausible as real history. Contractions ten minutes apart. I shrugged and went to bed.

Mum woke with a start at 4am. So did I, although I had an excellent reason; a strong contraction, another at 4.15, another at 4.30 and then at 4.45 one so powerful I had to tone through it. Jeremy woke up. I apologized and went to have a bath; Yeshi had said that real labour will continue and accelerate even in the bath. 4.55, 5.00, 5.05. Jeremy called Salome to wake her up.

I laboured a bit in the living room, over the couch and yoga ball. Contractions now 3 or 4 minutes apart and so painful I was astonished to have forgotten what they were like. Labouring in my bedroom at dawn, with our Christmas-lights reflected on the window in front of an indigo sky. Salome, Jamey and Mum tiptoeing around and whispering. I loved my house and my friends and felt very safe. On the phone, Yeshi said it was time to come in.

I had a contraction in the car, which was about the most awful thing ever; each single bump in the road was a javelin straight up my cervix. I had contractions in the corridor from the ER to the elevator. We got to my labor room, where Yeshi and Olivia were already setting up the tub. I ripped off all my clothes and got down on all fours on the futon, toning loudly.

“Now that looks like a woman in labour,” said Yeshi, with evident approval.

My God, it hurts. I had forgotten, in spite of having written a lengthy and explicit Note to Self immediately after having Claire. It’s like a giant nutcracker around your hips, like nothing else, like a freight train hitting you in the pelvis every two minutes for seven hours, like dying. It made me want to throw up. I promised myself that the unbearable pain would never continue for more than five breaths, and actually it never did; I cheated, by stretching out the breaths and making the tones lower and lower, until I heard the onlookers refer to my foghorn. Jeremy and Salome were telepathic. I only had to point at something – the tub, a towel – and it was there for me. They made me drink after every contraction. My God, it hurt.

“I want Fentanyl,” I said. “Try the tub first,” said Yeshi serenely.

The tub helped a lot, principally by taking the immense weight of my belly off my aching hips (this, incidentally, was A Clue that will become significant later on). I think I was in there half an hour or forty minutes, and it was good, but not as good as with Claire, when labour went slower and I was in and out of the water a lot. When I found myself biting the edge of the tub, I mentioned casually:

“I really want Fentanyl.”

“Of course,” said Yeshi serenely.

As ever, it took two tries to get a line into my veins, and I ended up with a livid bruise up my arm and the heplock in my hand anyway. Then came the Fentanyl, sweet sweet opiate, one hundred times stronger than heroin. I sat up and smiled at everyone.


The Fentanyl doesn’t touch the pain – everything hurt just as much – but it completely eliminates the fear. I didn’t worry about the last or next contraction. Jeremy stroked my back and I preened like a cat. As with Claire, I snoozed between contractions during transitional labour. I dreamed about the ceramic works in Avanos in Turkey, and about wild horses galloping. At one point I stared Salome in the face and said:

“I love you. And it’s not just the heroin talking.”

Much laughter.

It bought me three centimeters, from four to seven. When it wore off I went back to work, toning hard. Stumbled into the shower and straight out again, shivering. Remembered that aching note in Salome’s voice the morning Milo was born: “He’s amazing.” And another story from birth prep class: “Thy will be done.” “You’re amazing,” I said to Julia. “Your will be done.”

“I need to push,” I said. Olivia ran to get Yeshi, who checked me internally.

“Seven centimeters.”

“So I have to hold it in?” I asked in despair.

“Oh no,” said Yeshi (serene). “Your cervix is tissue-thin. Push as you get the urge. Julia is coming very soon.”

She broke my bag of waters and it ran clear. I was standing over the futon, watching bloody show and then my mucus plug fall onto blue plastic covers. I was on my knees, pushing and arching up my back, my even blue tones fractured into low gutteral screams, an animal.

“You might want to stop toning now and bear down,” said Yeshi conversationally. “Don’t want to damage your throat.”

I was hanging around Jeremy’s neck (it took me a while afterwards to realize this is when I strained the muscles in my shoulders). I glanced over at Yeshi, who was sitting in a shaft of sunlight, smiling at me, perfectly unconcerned. I was lying on Jeremy’s lap and we were both trying to hold my left leg up.

“Are you comfortable?” asked Yeshi.

“What? NO!”

Everyone laughed. Julia was crowning. Julia was taking her sweet motherfucking time. Yeshi kept making me stop pushing and holding compresses to me, giving my skin time to stretch.

“Reach down,” said Yeshi, “hold her in your hands, here she comes.”

Julia was born.

Like Claire, she was a grunter; it took her a little while to figure out how to breathe. Eventually they carted her off to the ICU with Jeremy in hot pursuit. (Like Claire, Jules recovered on the way to the ICU and came straight back to me.) Olivia replaced Jeremy and I lay in her lap for a while, bleeding freely and giving birth to a giant 3lb placenta. I think I talked manically the whole time, mostly about how incredibly relieved I was that the whole thing was over, that I was never having another baby, and that it had hurt a very great deal.

Well, 9lb 4oz is almost two and a half pounds over Claire’s birthweight – and my little human rights activist was born with her tiny fist raised. We all knew Jules was bigger but if I’d ever put together the clues as to how big she was – feet in my ribs, fist in my cervix – I would have begged for a C. I had no idea I could push out a giant baby in seven hours. Thanks to Yeshi’s genius and care, I didn’t even need stitches, which has made the recovery and babymoon far easier and more fun.

I never posted Claire’s birth story here, because although it was another textbook birth (and how I would love ten minutes alone with whoever wrote that damn textbook) the experience left me somewhat traumatized: bright lights, metal instruments, strangers coaching me in how to push and telling me I was doing it wrong.

“Trust your body,” said Yeshi, “follow Julia’s lead.” This birth was much, much harder work and hurt far more than Claire’s, yet it’s an unalloyed happy memory, an unqualified achievement on my part and a peaceful journey for Julia from sea creature to land mammal. Even my mother said so! Except for the land mammal part.

As for Julia – well, I asked Quinn (of all people) whether she thought it was possible to love a second child as much as the first. Now I know, and like childbirth itself it’s one of those things you can’t even imagine until it happens.


we are rich beyond the dreams of avarice

julia, child

is present and accounted for. Born at 11:14 on 11/14 weighing nine pounds four ounces; so now I am entitled by law to address the rest of you as “puny mortals”. Lookswise she’s a cross between Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and an East German lady wrestler called Helga.

We all like her very much.

due date, what due date?

Milo proceeded across Bernal today in a stroller propelled by Cian, Ada and Claire.

“We should harness them to it somehow,” I said. “Make it a tod sled.”

guess what?

Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya.

Fab massage this morning – I can walk now! Jamey rocks! We were thrilled about the election results: Arnie is now being called the One-Terminator. He’s certainly not the worst Republican in office (Cheney? Gonzales? Rice? Rumsfeld? How to choose?) but it’s nice to see his virulently short-sighted anti-union propositions squashed like the bugs they are. I dropped Carole and Jeremy at City Art to take pictures of Carole’s big green canvas, then had a long chatty lunch with Mum at Lovejoy’s. Got buttons for cardigans and tie-backs for the pretty champagne curtains at the big fabric store under Thrift Town. Slept while Mum watched and thoroughly enjoyed 42 Up.

Spent the evening loving Mission Street in the November rain. The Argus Lounge has started a night called Stroller Bar – free goldfish crackers and juice boxes for the sproglets, $3 Cosmopolitans for the child-bearing hipsters, Enzo Garcia on penny-whistle and saw. It was fan-freaking-tastic. All the other bars were empty, and Argus was overflowing into the street. I’d meant to mail Thor and Amy to tell them about it, but forgot; nevertheless they were the first people we ran into there. Little Quinn is now a fine figure of a boy.

Claire and Ro danced for a little bit, then had a pool game that descended into a brawl. Born San Franciscans, the pair of them. We walked back up to Yo’s where we met my wonderful obstetrician, all sexy in her blue scrubs. It’s her favourite sushi bar! On her medical recommendation, I gorged on maguro and sake maki. Claire had a minor strawberry tragedy at the front door but everything turned out okay in the end. Oh, and did I mention that Spencer’s EP turned up in the mail, and that it’s awesome? And that I’m hugely enjoying Time Traveler’s Wife? With a life this busy and fun WHO NEEDS A BABY, ANYWAY???

son of bride of waiting for baby

Glorious sunshine. Appointment with midwife, Cafe Commons, library, Muddy Waters, nap. Julia is perfectly fine. Claire watched Totoro. We had chicken for dinner.

I can’t stand much more of this.

continuing to wait for baby

The tricks to waiting are well-spaced errands, busywork and naps. This morning I filled a prescription, picked up my disability form and mailed off two Netflixes (The Pillow Book, which was ok, and Rabbit-Proof Fence, which was beautiful and unbearable and made me cry). We met Mum at a cafe, then I caught the J-Church to Open Door and rocked a yoga class. Yoga’s weird; it doesn’t look at all strenuous and isn’t really, but ten weeks ago I couldn’t keep it up for more than half an hour, and now my lunges and squats are strong for an hour and a half. Happy sense of achievement.

Open Door is closing at the end of the month; a shame, because it’s a beautiful studio.

Vast lunch at Goood Frikin, then home to sleep the afternoon away. I didn’t start The Time Traveler’s Wife after all. Instead I am rereading The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, and remembering why I love Nancy Mitford so much I’d like to be her when I grow up. Her writing breaks half the rules, major events take place offstage, years go by in a paragraph, and yet the whole effect is acutely observed and effortlessly funny and will crack your heart in bits. It’s fascinating to me that she and Edith Wharton and the good parts of Dorothy Sayers and even Alan Hollinghurst and Roy Jenkins all seem to write in the same high-realist universe. Maybe I’m just an unreconstructed Anglophile. You think?

Peaceful evening; rain on the skylights, Claire funny and sweet. In the bath: “TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR, HOW I WANT YOU STAR. I SINGING!” I burned the zucchini orzo but it was still delicious. We ate it with cherry tomatoes and excellent parmigiano reggiano and a decent Western Australian shiraz. Cocoa and oranges for dessert. I’ve figured out how to use Nextmuni to save Mum waiting twenty minutes in the rain for a bus. Between that and the $10 monthly unlimited Muni pass, the public transport thing is really working for her this time around.

On my to-do list: return library books, have baby.

more waiting for baby

Reading like a crazy woman. Heck, I’m not working or sleeping, what else am I going to do? Bird by Bird is exactly what you’d expect from a writing book by Annie Lamott. Salome doesn’t like her because she’s frumpy, but of course that’s a key part of her schtick. Salome’s also squicked by what we shall call the faithiness, but Lamott’s Jesus seems fairly harmless as Jesi go, what with the not-wanting-to-throw-my-gay-friends-into-the-lake-of-fire. It’s not much, but I’ll take it.

Oh, and everyone who said to me “You have to read The Line of Beauty, you’ll love it”; why didn’t you add “NO, SERIOUSLY, READ IT NOW!!!”? It’s a fantastic and lovely and amazing novel that all the reviews made sound like a turgid Thatcher-era coke memoir. What makes it unturgid, if you will, is that the protagonist Nick Guest is a completely sympathetic Thatcher-era cokehead parasite nob aesthete starfucker. No, I know, but anyway, read it now, it’s just gorgeous.

On to Poppy Z. Brite’s thematically-oddly-similar Prime. I met Poppy the first time I was in New Orleans, and I’d been reading her hurricane-survival Livejournal, so even though her early horror stuff did nothing much for me, I picked this one up at the library. It’s set in top-restaurant-land, with knowing references to French Laundry and Ferran Adria that I just ate up (HAHAHAHA oh never mind), and like Beauty it’s about gay men circling in a somewhat mystified way the centers of political power. I liked Prime just fine and will push it onto my foodie friends, but did I mention that Beauty is probably the best novel I’ve read in years, and one that will still be read in a century? It’s THAT GOOD.

On again to Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes. I know I bitch-slapped her over In Her Shoes, but it turns out I like books about career women having babies much more than I like books about women who really, really like clothes and makeup and shoes. (I wear both kinds of shoe; Blundstone and Rossi.) Obviously the appeal of chick lit is largely in recognizing yourself and your friends, and I do relate to prenatal yoga classes and infant-induced sleep dep; but still, honestly, it’s a pretty limited appeal. Tell me something I don’t know.

Next up is The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I bought on defective yeti’s recommendation along with Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas is technically remarkable – the same character appears in six or seven stories spread out across two hundred years, changing nationality and gender as she goes. A gimmick brilliantly pulled off but still a gimmick, and in the end I would have been happy with a whole novel about the Depression-era bisexual composer. Also the 19th century section was distressingly clunky. Still, as I said to Jeremy when I finished it, I wish I’d written it.

After Wife, I’ll read EVERY OTHER BOOK EVER WRITTEN, since Miss Julia is clearly NEVER GOING TO BE BORN.

waiting for baby

Watched about half of Ang Lee’s The Hulk before Jeremy got bored with the Nick-Nolte-genetically-manipulating-his-own-kid shenanigans.

J: It’s like Lorenzo’s Oil in reverse.


Mum tripped on a rough piece of pavement and fell flat on her face on 20th Street. She was miraculously unharmed. I think she was trying to scare me into labour, but it hasn’t worked yet. I’m kind of bummed, because to balance out Claire’s Christmas birthday I was hoping to have Jules on Halloween or, failing that, the Fifth of November (“Gunpowder treason and plot!”) I guess the next respectable candidate is Remembrance Day, November 11: and in fact that is her due date. Stay, as ever, tuned.

apparently we’re doing daily puns now

R: She reminds me so much of her cousin Kelly. Especially when she does that naughty little chuckle.

C: Chuckle? (then, hopefully) Chocolate?

are they supposed to be punning at two?

After the Korean man’s story and the lost children of Hurricane Katrina, I taught Claire this little call-and-response:

“What’s your name?”

“Claire Fitzhardinge.”

This morning she climbed into bed with footless pajamas and icy little feet. She tucked her feet under my warm belly and said happily:

“Claire feets hiding.”

mi mamacita is IN DA HOUSE

Picked Mum up from the airport this morning. She flew business class and looked dewy and fresh, straight off the plane. As I drove her to the B&B I pulled over – imagine a screeching of tires, though there was none – and said “Here’s someone I’d like you to meet!” Blanca was walking Milo and Claire to the playground. Claire hurtled into my arms, and I presented her for inspection.

“My grand-daughter!” said Mum.

“Kiss for Gemma?” I asked Claire.

“No,” said Claire, curling into my neck.

Mum was very cool about it. “Don’t push her,” she said. We hung out at the playground for a while, and Claire included Mum in a game; later, Claire thanked Mum for her new pink cardigan. But wasn’t until Mum had gone back to the B&B, and Claire and I were walking down to the Peruvian restaurant for dinner, that Claire had a chance to reflect on her day.

“Cardigan so pretty,” she said, admiring it. “It’s so great.”

“Gemma will be glad you like it.”

“Gemma tomorrow?”


“Hi Gemma!”

“She’ll be so thrilled if you say that!”

Claire thought for a minute, then said: “I love you Gemma!”

Be warned. If she gets up the nerve to say it to Mum’s face, the universe will explode in cascades of rainbows and unicorns.