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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Notes from the Milk Cave

July 17, 2014 | by

Breastfeeding and boredom.


Detail from Stanisław Wyspiański’s Motherhood, 1902.

“You are an animal,” my husband told me. We were in bed. The context was not what you’d expect. A baby was latched onto my right breast while the left leaked an opalescent waterfall of milk.

“I’m a mammal,” I said. This is about as deep as our conversations got in the first month of parenthood. We were upstairs in what we have dubbed the milk cave—the dim bedroom of the nineteenth-century log cabin in southeastern Ohio, where we are currently living. I spend the better part of my days here, watching as my baby’s eager, sucking mouth goes rooting, and then latches on with the force of a heavy lid sealed shut on an overflowing container. There is nothing soft or gentle about my baby’s latch. It is the precise enactment of its definition: a clamping on, a fastening of two bodies. I feel a sudden tug of suction, a rasp of thirst, then sleepiness. I listen for the ker, ker, ker of her swallowing.

Before I gave birth, I knew breastfed babies needed to eat every two hours. But knowing this did not prepare me for the sheer amount of time breastfeeding would demand. Even if someone had told me “twenty minutes per breast per feeding,” it would still have taken sitting down every two hours for forty minutes for me to understand, because just like every other aspect of pregnancy and motherhood—morning sickness, contractions—the imagined experience turned out to be laughably unlike the experience itself.

I was hunkered down in the milk cave in a mess of sheets, sticky with an overabundance of milk, balancing the baby in the football hold and watching her eyes blink slowly open and closed with the rhythm of sucking. I’d finally finish, set her in her Baby Björn, and start digging into e-mails and then, again, she’d shove her fist in her mouth and start smacking her gums with comic franticness. Whole yellow and green summer days slipped by between the milk cave and the breezy porch, gazing at baby on the breast, at the whirring fan and the sheets with their pattern of roses, at the pastures of wavering grasses incandescent in afternoon light. Nights I awoke at two, at four, at six, and in the grainy coffee black, I’d hold the warm parcel of her, feel the eager pressure of those small gums, our animal bodies pressed together, the trickle of milk, the darkness undulating a bit in my delirium. I’d try not to fall asleep, have half-thoughts, then enter a space of no thoughts at all. Read More »


The Dadliest Decade

April 15, 2014 | by

Why were the nineties so preoccupied with fatherhood?


Robin Williams as Peter Banning in Hook, 1991

Some decades are summed up easily, the accretion of cliché and cultural narrative having reached such a point that we hardly need say anything at all. The sixties: hippies, drugs, revolution, rock-and-roll. The eighties: Young Republicans, greed is good, massive perms, Ronald Reagan. This is reductive, obviously, but it’s also helpful cultural shorthand. The nineties, like the seventies, have a less unified narrative: there’s gangster rap, Monica Lewinsky, Columbine, Kurt Cobain, O.J., MTV, white slackers on skateboards, and the LA riots, but they’re all disparate, disconnected. There was no counterculture powerful enough to write the narrative from below, no one mass-cultural or political trend hegemonic enough to make itself the truth. Some enjoy calling this diffusion postmodernism, though most everyone else agrees those people are assholes.

But there was, I contend, a current that ran through the culture of the nineties, a theme that has not to my knowledge been recognized as such. That theme is the heroic dad. Read More »


“Every Adoption is a Ghost Story”: An Interview with Jennifer Gilmore

April 25, 2013 | by

jenSR98x-1-222x300I first knew of Jennifer Gilmore as the author of two ambitious, warm, hilarious novels (Golden Country, 2006, and Something Red, 2010) that, placed side by side, provide an admirably thorough and thoroughly amusing take on the some of the most interesting ideas, inventions, characters, and past-times of the twentieth century—television, immigration, two-in-one cleaning products, radical politics, Joseph McCarthy, cults, and Ian MacKaye.

I first met Jennifer Gilmore on an early spring day nearly two years ago when we both went to meet the same writer friend for a late afternoon drink at the same Brooklyn bar where another writer friend bartends every Tuesday. We soon discovered that we are around the same age, live one Brooklyn neighborhood apart, and have many more than two friends in common. That spring, Jennifer was working on her third novel, told from the perspective of a woman trying, and mostly failing, to adopt a child through the byzantine process of domestic open adoption. I was about to go back to my twentieth high school reunion, during which I planned to visit the school for pregnant teenagers run by the Salvation Army where I spent the spring of 1989 believing I would release my own daughter to another couple through domestic open adoption. Jennifer and her husband, like the fictional couple in her novel, The Mothers, released last Tuesday, had already imagined themselves into the lives of many mothers and their children, only to find that the mother had chosen another couple, or decided to parent her own child, or, in the most outrageous cases, was not even pregnant at all. In 1989, I became that kind of mother when, two days after my daughter’s birth, I told the couple I had chosen to be her parents that I planned to do it myself instead.

Jennifer had read some of the stories I had written on my own failed adoption when they had appeared in Salon (where I was once an editor, and to which both of us have contributed essays). Although we had been on opposite sides of the story, our mutual fascination with what we sometimes referred to as “The Topic” was one of the reasons we became friends. We had both read and thought and obsessed over the tangle of race, class, and politics throughout the institution’s history. We both knew about orphan trains and maternity homes and the Hague Adoption Convention. We also both knew well how sometimes the end of the story could feel like just plain dumb grief all around.

Last month, Jennifer and her husband brought home their son. Last week, Jennifer and I met for a late afternoon drink on a early spring day at Lavender Lake, the Brooklyn bar with the name that references the exotically colored Gowanus canal that connects our two neighborhoods, to discuss her new novel, first person vs. omniscient narrators, open adoption and all the intellectual, political, and emotional issues it raises that should be fascinating to anyone at all.

Your first two novels were sprawling, multi-generational social sagas: Your first novel, Golden Country, took place in your grandparents’ era and covered, among other things, the Jewish-American immigrant experience, World War II, the World’s Fair, and fortunes built on mob life, cleaning products, and the invention of television. Your second novel,  Something Red, which takes place at the end of the seventies inches closer to your own childhood.  That novel dealt with radical politics, the Cold War, and the D.C. straight-edge punk rock scene.

The Mothers is totally different: it is your first novel narrated in the first-person, and your narrator, Jesse, along with her spouse, is trying to adopt a child through domestic open adoption, as you have also done. You also wrote the novel while you were going through the process of trying to adopt. After so many years of writing your fictional characters from a certain distance, what like to write a character whose experiences veer so closely to your own?

If I was going to come closer to myself in this particular trilogy of history, I wouldn’t have chosen this particular book. Given the situation, I just wanted to make my life interesting to myself, as opposed to wanting to blow my head off.

Read More »



February 25, 2013 | by

whisking-eggs-lgIt’s unsettling how some stories come around again. When I was eight, my mother and I were in our garage in Lubbock, Texas, when she suddenly yelled, “GO!” and shoved me through the door. I ran to my parents’ bedroom. Suddenly, my mother was there, shaking, muttering “No. Oh, no.” She called someone, asked for an ambulance, said there had been an accident. She told me to stay inside, to not look out the windows. Not long after, I heard sirens. And the sirens, it seemed, kept coming. It’s been more than thirty years since that moment, and the pieces of it in my memory are scattered, like shards of glass.


I usually wake by ten o’clock on Sunday mornings, but this Sunday was different. From my bed, I could see through the hallway to the bathroom, where Indie, my nine-year-old daughter, was leaning over the black rug in the bathroom. She was sitting on her feet, her hands on her knees, as if she’d been running all night in her sleep and had woken in recovery mode. It was the end of October, and this was not the first time I had found her here, vomiting into the toilet. Her bobbed hair sticking up in the back, tousled, blonde. I asked if she needed me, hoped that she didn’t, because I was exhausted, my head tight, pounding, a hint I must have had too many glasses of chardonnay the night before.

We had only lived in the house since August, so Indie didn’t yet have a pediatrician. The week before, the pharmacist at the Price Chopper suggested Pedialyte, maybe Ensure if she didn’t start eating more. Fiber, he suggested. She’d be fine. Read More »