Archive for May, 2015

web_schenck-whitney-2014_05_19-dsc_5755_800_800Memorial Day was a study in contrasts for iDaddy and me. We spent the morning at the new Whitney Museum, opened recently in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan right at the southernmost end of the High Line. (Contrary to my expectations, based only on the way the building looked as it was being built, I loved the museum and thought that all the choices they had made, in terms of both architecture and curation of the current exhibit, were just right.) Then we spent the afternoon with Ur-Momma, hanging around with her in her senior-housing studio apartment, having pretty much the same conversation four or five times during the two hours we were there, in predictable rotation.

The conversation veered off into slightly new territory when Ur-Momma started talking about the thing that really bugs her about being 90 years old — that she’s not necessary to anybody anymore.”I don’t have any value,” Ur-Momma said. “Then maybe you should change the definition of ‘value,'” said I. It just comes with the territory, added iDaddy in his kind and gentle way. “We’re a lot younger than you, and we’re not necessary to anybody anymore, either.”

And it’s true, we’re not: our two daughters are fully adults and can get along fine without us, hardly ever check in with us, don’t really give us details about what’s going on in their lives (well, Meta doesn’t, at least). But maybe that’s one thing that a new grandchild will do for us: give iDaddy and me the feeling that we’re kind of necessary again. That’s what drove our actions the day before Memorial Day, anyway, when we spent at least half of it trying to figure out how to get the baby car seat into the back seat of our Toyota. iDaddy’s job — after I’ve done my own assigned job and aided as much as I can during labor and delivery — will be to drive Nutmeg, Southpaw, and the baby home from the hospital. Necessary indeed.

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delivery_room.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2How well I remember Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth, a book mentioned today in the front-page New York Times obituary of its author, Elisabeth Bing. Not that I remember what the six practical lessons were, exactly; just that it was one of my favorite books among all the childbirth advice tomes I found myself devouring back in early 1980, when I was pregnant with Meta. Bing’s book gave me comfort, made me think it might actually be possible to push out that baby without hurting her, without hurting myself, and without begging for drugs. All of which is the way it happened.

I was surprised to read in the obit, by Times reporter Karen Barrow, that Bing’s own childbirth didn’t go as easily as she led me to believe mine would go.

As Randi Hutter Epstein reported in her book “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank” (2010), she continually asked her doctor, “Is the baby all right? Is the baby all right,” until the doctor said he could not concentrate with her chatter and gave her laughing gas and an epidural.

“I got everything I raged against,” Ms. Bing told Ms. Epstein. “I had the works.”

But thanks to Bing, who was 100 years old when she died last week, women don’t get “the works” anymore if they don’t want to (and certainly not simply because they’re asking too many annoying questions). Thanks to Bing, Nutmeg is having a baby in a setting in which she’s asked, in advance, what her atittude is toward medication, toward walking around during labor, toward being monitored, toward being cut — all the decisions that, in my day, we women in labor had to just hope would be left to us, not to our doctors. I’m curious to see how the advance planning actually plays out in the delivery room, but I have to believe that asking them will make a difference — and that the existence of Six Practical Lessons, still in print 48 years after it was first published, helped create a culture in which those questions are asked of expectant mothers in the first place.

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large_subwayThe little girl drew my attention first, drawing and scribbling and labeling her picture with words like “ballerina” with a precision that seemed quite sophisticated for a child her size. Then I noticed the woman sitting on her other side, correcting her spelling. The girl kept drawing, fixing the one letter she had wrong, flipping to the next page, scribbling furiously all over again.

“You have to take care of yourself today,” the woman said to the little girl. “Use those wipes. You don’t want to get sick before your performance. Promise me you’ll use those wipes.” If the girl promised, I didn’t hear it.

And so it went as the packed 1 train barreled south along Broadway — 86th Street, 79th Street, 72nd, 66th. The woman, who was clearly the grandmother, issued nonstop commentary on the little girl’s drawings, talked seriously about what they would be doing next, and next after that. The girl, probably aged 6 or 7, kept up with her frantic drawing, moving her crayons so vigorously and intensely that the whole pad occasionally just flew right off her lap. It was awkward for her to bend over to pick it up amidst the crowd of standees; her huge Hello Kitty backpack seemed to be weighing her down. The grandmother criticized her for dropping the pad so often, noting that it might be too flimsy to use this way on the subway. “What does flimsy mean?” the little girl asked, the only time she did anything but ignore the older woman.

But then came 59th Street, and Grandma decided it was time to pack up. Their stop was next. Really? What kind of school could she be heading for at 50th Street, right smack in the middle of Midtown Manhattan? The only thing I could think of was the Alvin Ailey ballet school — the girl was African-American, and Alvin Ailey is famous for training minority dancers. And the grandmother, who was white, was lugging a huge rolling bag of something — costumes, maybe? She did mention a performance that afternoon, and the girl was indeed drawing ballerinas and proscenium arches all over the damn place.

When it was time to stop drawing, though, the girl pulled a tantrum. She didn’t want to put her things away. They struggled. Grandma grabbed at the pad and crayons. The girl tried to hold on to them, saying No. Grandma raised her voice. The girl said something I couldn’t hear, but I could hear Grandma’s response: “Don’t you dare talk to me that way.” The morning — or at least my sense of what their morning was supposed to be — was ruined.

Maybe the grandmother is an annoying person — she was, after all, issuing that running commentary on every fucking thing the child was doing. Or maybe it’s the child who is annoying, or the combination of this child and this grandmother. Maybe the the stress of getting a kid to ballet school is a bit much for a 65- or 70-year-old woman to handle. It’s that last possibility that worries me. I really want to help out with Nutmeg’s baby in any way I can, and if bringing her to Midtown for dancing lessons on a Tuesday morning in the middle of rush hour is part of the deal, I want to be able to do it. But I know myself enough to know that when I’m feeling stressed out about traveling somewhere, I can get a little crazy. Usually my traveling companions forgive me (and here I’m thinking of Nutmeg and Meta, whom I took to Florence 7 years ago, when they were both in their 20s, and spent way too much time making wrong decisions). But if my traveling companion is a 6-year-old granddaughter, if I do or say something wrong out of my ordinary traveling neuroticism, that might not be quite so easy to forgive.

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538087_com_leemiddletoncopyNutmeg’s best friend had her baby yesterday, and the delivery didn’t go well, from what I hear. Sounds like it was two days of labor, a C-section, and later an infection in the mother that’s still being treated, relegating the baby to the neonatal ICU. “She is (thankfully, and I’m sure deliberately) sparing me the details,” Nutmeg reported, apparently unfazed.

But I’m fazed, at least a little. It’s just a reminder that, no matter how healthy and hardy a woman seems, the quality of her labor and delivery is unpredictable. It went swimmingly for me, with both Meta and Nutmeg, and I’m hoping that I’ve passed on those easy-labor genes to my daughter. But I might not have. My picture of myself as the grandma in the labor room, the person charged with making sure that no unnecessary medical interventions are pushed and that attendants are actually in the room when needed, has always included an image of the mother in the labor room — a competent, focused Nutmeg doing what she’s done all her life, getting it done. But her best friend has those qualities of focus and competence, too, and the particulars of her labor nonetheless got the better of her. I know that Nutmeg’s friend and her baby will be just fine — and that the baby and Nutmeg’s baby will be great pals some day — but this story gives me pause. Probably a healthy reminder at this stage of the game, when that little fetus in Nutmeg’s belly is, according to Cute Fruit, now the size of a cantaloupe.

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