Monday, June 15, 2009

Notions of Womanhood

I've been attending a sewing class all week. At 2:00 in the afternoon. While almost everyone else I know is at work. In fact, around noon on Monday, when most people were stepping out to take a break from his or her office, I found myself rummaging around Britex Fabrics, less than three blocks from where I used to work, looking for a pattern to use in my class. And fingering through swaths of cotton to select the appropriate texture and design for my project. And rummaging through mounds of ribbons and webbings to find the right notions (a new word I learned that day).

When I walked down the street to a nearby mall to grab a bite to eat, past mobs of people in their business attire, a part of me felt like an imposter. You know, the person who does not belong. The kid playing hooky. There I was in my strappy sandals, a coral skort, my black fleece. Like another tourist in the middle of San Francisco's Union Square. No business casual for me.

Early last year, when I was pregnant the first time around before I was fired, Jeff asked me (very gingerly) whether I wanted to keep working after we have the baby or whether we should look into alternative arrangements. I remember feeling stumped for an answer. I have no idea, I said. The thought of not returning to work scared me. What if no one hires me once I decide to return? Wouldn't I be jeopardizing my entire career by taking a break? Besides, what would I do with myself? Does the baby really need me full time? Could I become one of those women who stay at home to raise a kid?

And even if I wanted to be a full-time mom, would I dare admit it?

Even saying that maybe I wouldn't mind a period of staying at home seemed like too much of an admission. What kind of a throwback to women's lib would I be to say such a thing publicly? A lot of suffering and fighting went into giving me the option of being able to participate beyond the domestic sphere. Besides, other women manage to work and raise their children. Why couldn't I? What if people assume I'm freeloading off of my husband? Or typecast me as one of those women who have nothing else in their lives but the baby?

So the picture of pregnant me taking a sewing class when everyone else is at work strikes me as a bit much. What happened to all my concerns about living up to my professional womanhood? Wasn't there a time when I would have bragged that I simply don't have the time to sit around and sew loose buttons on a jacket?

I'm not really sure what happened, but living up to my professional womanhood no longer concerns me as much. Sure, I still have my cases that I'm handling and the writing projects I'm working on, but putting them on hold for a couple of years while I focus on the baby seems to be less of an issue. Maybe because my desire to protect my career -- or at least my big lawfirm career -- evaporated when I sent my mass email. Maybe from the other side of that career implosion, I now realize there are more choices -- and more flexibility -- than I had assumed, and choosing one role does not necessarily preclude the other, at least not forever.

For now, I'm planning to be a (mostly) full-time mom for at least the first couple of years of the kid's life (and his brothers' or sisters', if we are lucky enough to have more than one kid). And then I'll try to establish a part-time solo practice, as I'm doing now, while continuing to work on my writing.

Who says I can't be a writer/lawyer/mom who makes cute little lady bug hats? What do you guys think of my second completed project from my class? It's for the little guy. I have to admit that I'm quite proud of it. I feel like I'm making up for lost time for skipping home ec in high school. And feeling incredibly lucky now to have found the time -- and to have the choice.

Our New Phase

Maternal instinct had been knocking at my door for some time now, but I had kept it at bay until a couple of months ago. After the spina bifida ultrasound, the floodgates opened and I have been swimming in it since.

First, it started with a simple list. A to-do list. No lawyer is complete without her to-do list, and it appears mothers-to-be suffer from the same affliction. The list began with ten or so general items, such as "Read parenting books," "Buy baby gear," and "Organize house for baby." The one list has since proliferated to at least 10 different ones, including "Baby Gear," "To Do Before Baby's Arrival," "Feeding Tips," "Sleeping Tips," "Car Safety," "Medical Tips," "To Do for Delivery," and so on and so on. Each list is peppered with details. For example, under "Baby Gear," I have "Car Seat" listed as item number 3. This particular item is followed by 15 different points to consider during purchase, such as "Look for straps that clip, not just slide in" and "Thicker belts that don't twist are better."

I put my lists on google docs, where I can share them with Jeff, who is reminded no less than five times a week that the lists are to be examined regularly since they are constantly evolving. And that the due date is drawing closer and closer and closer. And that we really need to get going on some of the items on the list, like cleaning out our second bedroom and moving our furniture around to make room for the crib and all the baby things we'll be getting. And that they should have been done yesterday, and they're still not crossed off the list!

Urgency is the word that best characterizes my current sense of momentum. In my rational mind, I know that four months is more than enough time to prepare for the little guy. I mean, how demanding can he really be? Babies just need food, sleep, and shelter, right? And we are currently equipped to handle such demands. But another voice from somewhere in the crevice of my mind starts to shrill at the least unexpected moments. Four months?! Four months?! How the hell are you going to be ready in just four months! Just four months to read all these books, to research all the gears, to learn to become a parent! To become responsible for a little human being who can't even keep his head from rolling around.

In addition to this maniac, another strange being seems to have inhabited my body. All of a sudden, I find myself signing up for a sewing class. Sewing class?! I am the person who couldn't be bothered to sew a button on a shirt. Why waste the time when I can simply drop it off at the dry cleaners? Some of my casual pants have been cut off with a scissors because I couldn't even be bothered to take them to the cleaners for alteration. I've never even used a sewing machine. And here I am having fantasies of sewing my childrens' Halloween costumes.

And then there's the knitting. I blame my friend Hugo for this. Shortly after his mother passed away, he brought down a box of his old baby clothes his mother had saved during his entire life, which spans over four decades. In the box were elaborately decorated sweaters the size of my two palms. Along with socks, hats, and mittens the size of my fingers. Imagine, mittens for a baby born in Brazil! Each wrapped individually in plastic bags, protected from the environment and time. These were the clothes she had knit for him while she waited for his arrival. His dear mother, who had her only child at the age of 40. How she must have longed for him. And how she waited and prepared. I came home from that visit and longed to learn how to knit. Me, who always assumed knitting must be such a bore and only saw the hazard and liability in carrying around long needles.

Let's not even get into the photography class that starts this week or the baby album I've already purchased or the Thomas the Engine song that has been stuck in the head the last two days. Or the contentment I felt at my friend's daughter's 3d birthday picnic where I spent my day on Saturday.

So many changes. So many changes that feel perfectly natural. As Jeff and I discussed over dinner last night, we couldn't feel readier. Even as we sit surrounded by our to-do lists. We're ready to hold the little guy in our arms and nuzzle him with our noses. To fill him with our love.

Just four more months...

Monday, June 8, 2009


A few months earlier, I flipped through Lennart Nilsson's photography book, Life, at Border's and was fascinated by the images he was able to capture. He had photographed every stage of human development, from conception to birth. There is an egg descending into the fallopian tube. An egg magnified god knows how many times that it looks like some magnificent planet. A sperm penetrating the egg. Fetuses at various stages of development floating in their amniotic sacs. Looking through the book felt like spying into another world, one so foreign, bizarre, and completely captivating.

I ordered one of my own. I wanted a book to help me visualize what was happening inside of me. We found the illustrations in the Mayo Clinic Guide helpful for imagining the growth of our baby from week to week, but I wanted more. I wanted to peek inside, see him as he is, not as some penciled drawing. I didn't order the same book because Life is more of a coffee table edition, glossy and expensive. I ordered A Child is Born, which has most of the same images but more text to explain what the images capture.

So when I received it from Amazon on Saturday, I immediately plunked down on the couch to finger through it. Many of the images were ones I had seen in the other book, but I scoured them again, trying to extract as many of life's secrets as I could. Near the end of the book, I came to the section on "Labor and Delivery," and I saw photographs of women, bare chested, legs propped up, faces in obvious agony, as they prepared for delivery. I was amazed that they had agreed to be photographed as they were. Then I turned the page and was stunned to see photographs of women and babies mid-delivery. The first in a sequence shows the doctor grabbing the baby's head as it emerges, then the torso, and then the whole body dangling from the doctor's arms with the umbilical cord still in tact. The next two-page spread is a photograph of a woman mid-delivery with the baby's head protruding from her, and the image is captured from the top, as if the camera were dangling from the ceiling.

I had watched Nova's "Miracle of Life" in seventh grade, and I had heard delivery stories from my friends. I assumed I knew what I was in for. But I have to admit, these photographs were a shock. A part of me reeled from it - mostly from fear and perhaps a tinge of disgust - even as I threw the book in Jeff's face with "You have to look at these." I hadn't spent too much time imagining the delivery part, focusing instead on the baby's development. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who was coming upon her due date. She said, "I am so scared." Now I understood a little better, not just mentally, but emotionally.

I wondered why I had that reaction -- fear and disgust. Maybe all the blood and gore signaled to the brain that something horrific is happening to the body, even as I know mentally that it is something quite different. Maybe we live in such a sanitized world - where pieces of fish and meat come sliced in geometric arrays wrapped in saran wrap - that we're out of touch with life in its naked form.

But whatever it is, I'm still looking at the photographs two days later and re-living the same shock. Jeff and I joke that we hope our baby's head won't be too large, even as we anticipate it will be given the sizes of our own. We comfort ourselves that billions of women have experienced it before us, so how bad can it be? Then we talk about the time when so many women died during child birth, and feel eternally grateful that we live today.

I want to face my fear head on. I promptly put Miracle of Life on our Netflix queue. I want to find other sources to help me process this fear, so that it no longer seems a stranger come delivery day. But then I remember that strangeness has entered our lives, as I feel the little guy kick inside of me. A day hasn't passed for a while now when Jeff and I don't turn to each other to say, "Amazing... it is so damn amazing."

Monday, June 1, 2009


[This is one of my favorite incidents from last year.]

The afternoon started on a better note. I laced up my running shoes for the first time in weeks. The fog had not yet starting rolling in, and I wanted to squeeze in a trip to the beach to make up for the dog walker we had recently canceled. With Jeff away on a business trip, I was a single parent for the week, and the responsibility of ensuring Sherlock's physical and psychological well being rested on my shoulders.

I threw the beach towel, the leash, and his poop bags into the car, and drove along Portola down Sloat onto a short stretch of 35 before hitting Fort Funston as Sherlock played ambassador greeting other drivers with his tongue and wagging tail out the rear window. We parked, hopped down the ladder of sand, and hit the beach as the Pacific greeted us with its fanfare of waves and wind.

The tide was already far in, narrowing the stretch of sand, and I ran along the tide line, where the sand was not too sandy and not too muddy, with the leash in my hand, poop bag and keys in my pocket, and one eye on Sherlock to make sure he didn't stray too far. Just a few other dog walkers and couples strolled the beach.

Less than ten minutes in, I felt for my keys and thought to myself that I should move my keys to my other pocket with a zipper. Just then, I saw Sherlock pick up and drag a log the length of my leg, threatening to take down an unlucky pedestrian, and I ran back toward him, searching for a small stick to distract him. When I started running again, I reached into my pocket to feel for my keys again. And felt nothing. Nothing.

Shit. Where are the fucking keys?

Not time to panic yet. I threw my hand into my left pocket, then my right pocket, then the left and the right pockets of my fleece. I dragged my hand along the inside of the hood of my fleece, stuck my face in it, then shook it as if I were doing some crazy jig, turned it inside and out, felt all along its sleeves and body, stuck my arms in to put them on front side out, and reversed by pulling the sleeves out of themselves. I groped all around my ass, my thighs, my belly, back, and chest to see if the keys had somehow slipped out and were wedged somewhere, as if keys can spontaneously defy gravity to flip themselves upward and hoist themselves into my sports bra like some hoop game at an amusement park.

No keys.

Still not time to panic. I started walking back, retracing my steps, eyes wide open like a howler monkey. My head scanned back and forth like a hand held metal detector. I retraced my steps to where I last felt the keys, looking at every pebble, every smooth piece of seaweed.


I turned back, walked up the stretch again, telling myself to focus this time. As I walked back and forth, I thought of having to call for a cab and realized that my cell was in my car. The locked car. Shit. I'll have to borrow someone's cell. Oh, no, did Jeff leave the other set of keys at home? What if he took them with him to North Carolina? Double shit. How many parking tickets would I find when I returned with the keys at the end of the week?

Five rounds later, I was still scanning, no keys in hand. I looked down the beach, and Sherlock was busy digging his hole, having the time of his life. The irony of having a dog named Sherlock at a time like this.

I told myself to look just one more time, even though the tide was encroaching rapidly, and I pictured my keys submerged under sand and water. Caught up in my search, I almost stepped on a round shimmery thing in front of me. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was a seal, and another few seconds to realize that it was dead. The tide had come in so quickly that the seal that I had obliviously passed the last round was now blocking my path.

I looked up and suddenly realized that there were no pedestrians left on the beach. The fog was getting thicker and the sun starting to set. It was a lost cause. And time to give up.

Sherlock and I dashed up the never ending stairs, and I borrowed a cell phone from a girl playing fetch with her dog at the top of the hill. I called Yellow Cab.

- Yes, hi, I need a cab please. I'm at Fort Funston. Yes, I'm right in the parking lot. How long will it take? Oh, ok, fifteen minutes. Great. yes, I'll be right here. Excuse me? No, it's not by the Golden Gate. It's all the way on the other end of the city, near Daly City. It's off of Great Highway, right across from the Olympic Country Club. Are you looking at a map? You found it? Ok, you sure you know where it is? No, I can't call you back. I don't have a phone. This isn't mine... Ok, I'll wait. And I also have a dog with me. Ok... Thanks.

Forty minutes later, I was still waiting by my car, as a couple made out in the parking space to my right. The fog was cotton candy thick by now, and the sun no longer visible. The guys on the edge of the cliff were starting to fold up their hang gliders. I borrowed a phone from a guy sitting in his Honda with his music blasting as he was chomping down on some food.

- Hi, I called for a cab over forty minutes ago, and it's still not here. Yes, I'm at Fort Funston in the parking lot. It's off the Great Highway, across from the Olympic Country Club. No, I've been here the whole time. He couldn't have missed me. I've been watching the entrance. So he's coming again? Are you sure? How much longer do you think it'll take? Fifteen minutes? Ok... are you sure someone's coming? Ok, I'll wait.

I dragged Sherlock over to the fort entrance so that the cab wouldn't miss us. Sherlock, the perfect dog in almost every respect, was a pain on the leash and tried to drag me in every other direction. When I finally got to the entrance, I stood there and felt the minutes pass. And pass. The highway was filled with commuters going home from work, and I kept my eyes open for a taxi. I looked around to see if there was anywhere I could secure Sherlock while I jogged over to Sloat Blvd. where there would be better chance of finding a cab. But the image of Sherlock freeing himself and running into the traffic kept me glued to my spot with my fists firmly over the leash.

I'm sure more than 40 minutes passed. I felt like an orphan. There was no cab in sight. I was trying to decide whether I should drag Sherlock along the busy road to try to find a cab or drag him back to the parking lot to borrow another cell phone to call my friend Sarah - the one friend whose phone number I knew by memory - when an orange minivan pulled over.

The girl behind the wheel rolled down the window and asked, "Are you ok?"

I'm sure I didn't look ok shivering in my jogging shorts with knuckles whitened from clutching Sherlock's leash so tightly.

"I lost my car keys on the beach and I've been waiting for a cab, but it looks like he's not showing up..."

"Do you need a ride somewhere?" she asked.

I looked at her as if she had told me I won the lottery. "Well, I live in Noe Valley..."

"I live in Glen Park, and I'd be happy to drop you off."

"Oh, my god, you are a life-saver."

I bounced toward her car and pushed open the sliding door. "Come on, Sherlock, up, up. Good boy."

As soon as I sat in the passenger seat, she said, "Oh, funny, I just met a dog named Sherlock last week."

As we pulled out, a little black dog came up and sat on my lap. As I was thinking that he looked exactly like my friend Sarah's dog, I heard the driver say, "Charlie, get off that poor lady."

I looked at her and said, "Charlie? Did you just call him Charlie? Wait, is this Sarah's Charlie?"

At that moment, we did a double take.

"How do you know Charlie?" she asked.

"What are you doing with Sarah's dog?"

"Wait, is this Sherlock, Sherlock?"

It turned out that she was my friend Sarah's new roommate, whom I had heard about for the past few weeks. And Sarah had watched Sherlock the weekend before while Jeff and I were away. And Sarah was the one person I had thought about calling when I was stranded out there. And here was her roommate saving my ass from this predicament.

Ah, the funny turns in life. And the warmth of living in a world that turns out to be smaller than assumed.