’twas ever thus

dorothy_parker_kris_hedingWhen you use a Dorothy Parker quote from three generations ago to highlight a phenomenon you’re trying to suggest is something new inĀ this generation, maybe you need to consider whether the phenomenon you’re talking about is actually all that new. That’s the advice I’d give, gratis, to David Brooks, whose New York Times columns are often provocative and interesting but are occasionally a bit smug — especially when he’s talking about his new favorite topic, morality and character-building.

The Dorothy Parker quote in today’s column concerned child-rearing. Americans children aren’t raised, they’re incited,” Parker supposedly said. If it was true then, it’s even truer now, Brooks continued; “a thousand times” more true. Maybe he just had a bad day at the Google quote machine.

His point is one that many others have been making for a long time — and I hope they’re all wrong: that this latest generation of kids is being excessively praised and excessively “honed,” to the point that they feel that the only approval and love they get from their parents is contingent on their performance. Quite apart from the fact that this is an argument that is internally inconsistent — how can you object to parents praising their kids for just being themselves, but also object to them praising their kids only if they show their talent? — I think it’s just plain wrong. I like to read pieces like this in a different way now, with an eye toward imaging what life will be like for my incipient grandchild. I’m afraid that this time, Brooks offered me nothing interesting to think about.

hardy pregnant lady

jicamaI’m not surprised that Nutmeg is turning out to be, as Southpaw puts it, a “hardy pregnant lady.” She’s pretty much been hardy her whole life — or maybe the better word for it is uncomplaining. I actually can’t remember a time when she complained about anything, other than when she got chicken pox at about the age of 7 and seemed to think it was somehow my fault. (She was always very angry at me about her chicken pox, and refused to let me try to soothe her — I have a photo of her glaring at me from a baking-soda bath with terrible accusation in her eyes.)

So it’s nice to see that this hardiness, or stoicness, is getting her through pregnancy. She’s at Week 32 now, her baby currently the size of a jicama — the iPhone app CuteFruit no doubt runs out of less exotic produce to compare fetus sizes to over the course of a whole pregnancy, and this week jicama it is — and yesterday Nutmeg’s doctor did another sonogram, apparently just because she could. All is looking good in there, Nutmeg reports to us. She and Southpaw could recognize a fist and not much else. The doctor assured them that after the baby is born, things like arms and legs will be a lot easier to identify.

small circle

huge.49.247975I never had a whole lot of friends, so the ones I do, I treasure. And in much the same way that I was the first person in my small circle to have a baby, I seem to be among the first in my slightly-different small circle to have a grandbaby.

Here’s the best thing about those friends: they’re so curious about how it all feels. One of my oldest friends from junior high, whose son is the exact same age as Nutmeg but is still single, keeps begging me for photos so she can vicariously experience the thrill of Nutmeg’s growing belly. And my friend Wisteria, whose daughter has known Nutmeg since they were both in day care together when they were TWO MONTHS OLD, wrote an email today about the impending arrival. “It’s weird to think that your life will forever be punctuated by her birth,” Wisteria wrote. “My god, don’t you already understand all those people who do nothing but talk about their grandchildren? I’m already doing it and she’s not even my grand baby.”

Friends who revel in my good news — how lucky is that? We’ve all waited for what feels like a very long time for our kids to start procreating, watching with trepidation as our own bodies start to give out, hoping still to have the wherewithal to change a diaper or run after a toddler when the time comes. I’m glad my own time is approaching (and not a moment too soon; my right knee is killing me), and glad that friends like Wisteria are waiting in the wings to cheer.

life worth living

treesToday was the kind of day that makes life worth living — and I took a photo of what I mean by that just so I’d never forget. Gorgeous day in early spring, a walk across my beloved Central Park just north of Sheep Meadow, cherry trees in bloom, and an ice coffee and chocolate chip cookie in hand.

I was thinking about what small pleasures, exactly, MIGHT actually make life worth living because I was on my way to New York Hospital, where Ur-Momma has been since Thursday. After 30 hours in the ER she was finally given a room, and it’s a surprisingly nice one; she’s been at this hospital a couple of times in the past 4 or 5 years, and never before has she had a bed with a window, and a window that looked straight onto the East River. On a sunny Saturday, that’s pretty great.

cookieIt would be more great, of course, if Ur-Momma could remember why she was there (GI bleeding and severe anemia), or could remember that she was in a hospital at all. But she was alert enough during my visit this afternoon — she even had gotten dressed and was sitting up in a chair, eating her cherry jello and clear chicken broth and reading the New York Times — to tell me that the days at home have been passing very very slowly for her, and she feels very very lonely. Can a person be truly demented if she’s able to describe her own isolation as “feeling de trop“?

She did come up with one thing that might entertain her — being brought to the Met and pushed around in a wheelchair to look at the paintings. I think this is something I’m going to see about having her aide do one day soon. Not yet, though. First we have to figure out how to make her bleeding stop (it doesn’t seem to be doing it on its own, so there might be a colonoscopy and cauterization on the horizon for Monday), fix her anemia (after 4 transfusions, her blood count is now pretty much normal, but we have to see if it holds), and let her get used to being home for a while. In the meantime, many people who love her — her sister, THREE of her grandchildren, her daughter-in-law — called during my 4-hour visit. So clearly, her feeling of being de trop is mostly a mind set. And, I guess, a reflection of the fact that when you’re 90 years old, no one needs you anymore, so the definition of happiness can’t be the sense of being needed. When you’re 90, frail, widowed, not especially mobile and relatively alone, you have to come up with a new definition of what makes your particular life worth living now.

sister’s kids

images-1The Word of the Day today on the Word Spy web site is niephlings, a new portmanteau that means one’s collective nieces and nephews. It seems like a good idea for there to be one word to mean all those kids, no matter what their gender — though an earlier version of that word, niblings, is a lot more appealing to me. (Word Spy explains that niblings comes from niece/nephew plus sibling, which is something you probably know without having it explained to you.)

This all puts me in mind of how lovely Meta has been about Nutmeg’s baby, Meta’s own little nibling. It’s been wonderful to watch her excitement at her impending aunt-hood — something made possible partly, I think, because Meta so sincerely likes Southpaw (and has always loved Nutmeg). And it’s made possible, too, by something I suspect is true about Meta but have never felt it was my place to ask: that she doesn’t really want kids of her own. This little niece/nibling/niephling/sofralia — or, as we like to refer to her in our mostly-journalist family, TK — will be Meta’s chance for a baby to love and nurture at close range. I’m delighted to see how much pleasure she’s getting from it in prospect.

big beautiful giraffe

c26-B00009YEGL-5-lI had coffee with Nutmeg before work yesterday, and she walked into the cafe wearing a beautiful new maternity dress in an animal print. It was tight and sexy and showed off her fast-growing belly. She looked gorgeous.

“Wow, the world’s largest giraffe,” I said.

Luckily, Nutmeg heard the admiration and love in my voice, and not only didn’t take offense at my comment, but repeated it to Southpaw when she got home that night. And Southpaw, who’s a world-class son-in-law, promptly sent me an email thanking me for giving him the best laugh of the day.

Nutmeg laughed, too, he wrote; “she fortunately has an excellent sense of humor about growing bigger at a strikingly rapid pace.” And then he added a sentence that melted my heart, and made me know that Nutmeg had made exactly the right decision when she waited for a man like Southpaw to come along (ignoring all the “case for settling” messages she was getting from the media – and even, I’m ashamed to admit, from her own mother): “Also that giraffe is the most beautiful pregnant woman, ever, as I’m sure you would agree!”

family tree

history-clipart-aTqzgkLTMThe great thing about my mother-in-law is that she never imposes. But it’s the tough thing, too, since sometimes you have to kind of intuit what she might really want. Usually we just speak to her and my father-in-law once a week, on Sunday afternoons about about 5 — by then it’s about an hour into cocktail hour, and they’re sitting out on the lanai of their house in Florida. But recently — ever since Nutmeg’s pregnancy, really — she’s been calling every couple of days, just to say hi.

We only see my in-laws a couple of times a year, including about a week at the beach when Nutmeg and Meta, their menfolk, and iDaddy’s sister and her husband also are there. It’s a lovely family time. And this year, there will be a new addition: a new baby, still unnamed, who will be the first bud on a whole new branch of the family tree.

But summer seems so far away. Hence, I believe, the new frequency of my mother-in-law’s calls. I could tell she missed everyone with more intensity than usual, and I could also tell she was resisting asking for an invitation to come up and visit us. So I issued one. Would you like to come up to New York in a couple of weeks, we asked, to attend Nutmeg and Southpaw’s co-ed baby shower with us? The invitation made her cry — which is just what I had hoped.


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