Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Madeline is Nine

Today is my daughter Madeline's ninth birthday.

It's also George Washington's birthday. Perhaps you've heard of him. And Edna St. Vincent Millay, of burning the candle at both ends fame. She's slightly less famous than George Washington.

Other notable birthdays include Drew Barrymore, she of the Laugh-Cry, Ellen Green, the actress/singer who portrayed the ill-fated Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and Edward Gorey, the author/illustrator who drew the Ghastlycrumb Tinies, as well as the classic opening credits of PBS's Mystery! And, of course, scores of sports figures, just like every day of the year.

That puts Madeline in pretty good company, Drew Barrymore notwithstanding, and at least she is in two of my favorite movies: E.T. and Donnie Darko.

It's bizarre that Madeline is 9 years old, just one short year away from her double digits. The fact that she is this age is both surprising and completely understandable, given that there are aspects of her birth that feel like they just happened yesterday, and other things that feel like they happened an absolutely LIFETIME ago.

One of the things that I find quite fresh in my mind is the pain of her birth. Everyone assured me that I would forget the pain moments after she was born. And that your body doesn't remember pain, anyway, at least not vividly. To all that I cry LIES. Giant, stinky, rotten lies. You better believe I remember her painfully long delivery, all 24 agonizing hours of it. Not that others haven't had longer labors. I know women who labored for days, and God bless 'um. But I'm not engaging in a pissing contest. I'm simply stating that I recall the details quite vividly, and it was very painful. That is all.

I also remember what it was like to bring her home. My mother was in town, so when we came home from the birth center, she kindly offered to sit up and hold Madeline while I got a nap in. After sleeping for I'm not sure how long exactly, I recall hearing a quiet knock at my bedroom door.
"Kandy...Kandy, wake up," my mother was saying. "Madeline is hungry."
In my exhausted haze, I thought, "Who the hell is Madeline, and can't she just make herself a sandwich or something?"

I remember my mother finally leaving after helping me for several days, and I think I cried and begged her not to go. "What am I supposed to do with this small helpless thingy?" I wondered. Who in their right mind would entrust me, ME, of all people, with an infant?! What kind of astonishing lack of foresight and responsibility would result in my mothering a child?? Someone probably should have written an angry letter to someone.

And then there was the crying. I remember the endless crying. Madeline was really colicky (I still don't really know what that means, but that's what everyone told me she was) for about the first two months of her life. (This was during the five seconds I got to be a stay-at-home mom before the bills started to pile up and it looked like we'd be living in a comfy refrigerator box if I didn't go back to work soon. You know, because some of us don't get a choice about staying home or working, contrary to what some people might believe). Madeline's father would leave for work in the morning, and I would start to sweat, knowing that I would be spending the entire day alone with Madeline, pacing endlessly around our 400 square foot hovel of an apartment while she screamed inconsolably, and I contemplated throwing myself out of a window in spite of the fact that we lived at ground level. Sometimes, I would just crank up the TV and cry along with her, begging her to give me some clue as to how I could comfort her. Some days were spent never leaving my rocking chair, because nursing her was the only way to keep her from crying night and day.

I got hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns. Two episodes would air back-to-back on FX starting at 6am, right after TVLand was finished showing episodes of Family Ties all night. All the other channels were showing infomercials, and I could only watch the one about the Vacuum Sealer so many times before my eye would start to twitch. I still remember the first Buffy episode I ever saw: It was the sixth season finale, the one where Buffy (SPOILER ALERT!!!) sacrifices her life for her fake sister Dawn by throwing herself off of the tower built by Glory's crazy, brainwashed minions. And the one they showed right after that was the pilot episode, so I really had no choice to but to get caught up from there.

One very early morning, just before sunrise, after a particularly excruciating night of Madeline screaming and crying, I remember looking at her while we sat on the futon couch in the living room, and I was once again for the 9 billionth time questioning everything about my abilities to be a mother ("What kind of mother can't get her kid to stop screaming?" was a popular question I asked myself) when suddenly, Madeline just stopped crying. And that was pretty much the end of that.

There are so many other things, too, of course. Like her first steps, her first words, her first birthday, her first haircut. Her first day of kindergarten. All of those milestones. For some reason, though, the little minutiae I've mentioned about her first days and weeks of life are so much more vivid to me to other things. It was just Madeline and me against the world during the day. That was the only time in my life when all I had to worry about was her, and that went away quickly when I got a night job when she was still very tiny.

I'm not having another child, sort of by choice and because it's a little too late. I'm going to be 36 this year and don't really have it in me to start all over again with an infant. And there's something slightly bittersweet about the fact that never again will I be able to smell my newborn's wee tiny head, play with her stubby little toes and fingers, stay awake all night trying to quell her cries. But I really don't mind. All I have to do is stop for a second and experience the near-total recall of Madeline's life as a bitsy, darkhaired squirt of a girl, and it's like I'm there all over again.

So happy ninth birthday, Madeline. You're a great kid, and I have no doubt you'll be an amazing adult when the time comes. And it's a good thing, too, because you're the only try I get at this whole parenthood thing.

Oh, and also, happy birthday, Drew Barrymore. Maybe you'll make some better movies from now on and I won't spend quite so much time making fun of you and your signature laugh-cry.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yet Another Foray Into Something I Suck At

I am descended from a long line of crafty folk, so one would think the ability to make tangible things is coursing through my veins like coursey things do through veiny things.

I can't. Doesn't mean I haven't tried, nor does it mean that I've given up.
My mother is the Queen of the Crafties. To this day, I'm still not sure there's anything she can't make with her own two hands. She knitted us sweaters, sewed us all kinds of clothes, made dolls and toys and canned and jarred food. I wasn't terribly interested in all of that when I was younger because had other goals, mostly involving music and performing. Not only that, I kind of knew deep down that I didn't have that special kind of mojo, that odd gene that makes you look at a ball of twine, some bark off of a tree, a hot glue gun and some sequins and think, "Christmas presents for everyone!!!" and then dash off something fabulous. Silk purse from sow's ear? Forget it. I can't even make a sow's ear out of a sow's ear.

It's really quite remarkable what my mother can do, and I'm told it's somewhat rare, although I'm lucky enough to have lots of crafty friends who can crank out the homemades on a dime. In fact, now that I really think about it, it seems that I'm the only one I know who isn't good at fashioning beautiful art or clothing or photography or crocheted things or perfume or lotion.

I was once again reminded of my ineptitude recently, when I found myself desperately in need of something to do while unwinding after a long day at work. A bit of active relaxation, if you will. Or even if you won't. Either way, I decided to take up knitting.

Why knitting, you ask, and not something a little less ambitious, like, for instance, cross-stitch? That is SO FUNNY that you mentioned cross stitch just then, because I did, indeed, attempt cross stitching long ago. Back in the sixth-ish grade, I faintly recall, I began cross-stitching while I was competing in swimming tournaments where I would be forced to wait long periods of time between events.

I always began a cross-stitch project with the grandest of aspirations. I'd pick out an insanely difficult pattern, put the stitching cloth in my little wooden stretching ring...and within 15 minutes, I'd end up with a giant mutant ball of string instead of a nifty crissy-crossy pattern like on the picture. My tolerance for painstakingly pulling out every individual stitch until I could start over would only sustain doing it twice, so eventually, after the crying and the cutting of the wrists and blood shooting out of my eyes from looking at something THAT FRIGGIN' SMALL, my tear and blood-stained project would end up discarded and ultimately forgotten.

After several thousand aborted missions to craftihood, I managed to finish one solitary cross-stitching project, and it was quite possibly more painful than passing a child through my lady-bits. I was asked to do a square that was going on a quilt for my grandmother.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there is actually a law on the books which states that you can and will be tried by a jury, found guilty, sentenced to death and subsequently executed by hanging and lethal injection AND gas chamber before having your useless and naked corpse dragged through the village square for all to spit upon if you are asked to do a quilt square for your Granny and you fail to do such quilt square? Seriously. It's no joke. You will forever be compared to Hitler if you do not deliver. Tea Partiers will hold YOUR picture up next to President Obama's if you cannot finish your square.

Have I gotten my point across that ONE DOES NOT RENEGE EVER FOR ANY REASON on one's responsibility to provide a quilt square for their grandmother's quilt?
So I did it. I picked an exceedingly simple pattern: A yellow flower, I believe. I'm not sure how long it took, but I'm certain that I started over countless times. I was in school, studying music, and I remember sitting in my music history lecture first thing in the morning, secretly stitching under my tiny fold out desktop. I took it to every class with me, every performance, every rehearsal, every bus ride, until that damn yellow flower was finished. I think that flower was about the size of Post-It note, but it seemed so huge when I had my nose pressed up against it for months.

In spite of this, I soldiered on to the sewing machine, with typical results: Balls of tangled thread, yards of ruined fabric, broken needle after broken needle. My sewing machine now lives over at my neighbor's house, where my daughter took sewing classes a while back.

But again, the urge niggled at me, so I went out and bought knitting needles, yarn and an instruction book.

That was my first mistake. The instruction book was absolutely useless. Just in case you don't believe me, here's how they instruct you to knit:

Did you get that? Because I didn't. The pictures made absolutely no sense to me. But lucky for me! We live in the Youtube age, so I moved away from the book and watched this:

I gotta hand it to the instructor in this video. She does an amazing job of making it so simple, even a room full of surly, angst-ridden teenagers convinced to star in her tutorial taking place in a fake coffeehouse could do it! I, however, had to watch this video no less than 2 dozen times before I finally managed to cast off. That's as many times as it took to drive my daughter from the room and to force Michael to put headphones on. Jury's still out on whether there was anything actually playing in those headphones, but if it was anything short of Iron Maiden, he got to hear me swear a lot, too. Probably even more than normal.

Casting on at last, I moved on to part two of the tutorial, where the perky Teen Whisperer teaches us all how to knit stitch.

Given that it's been almost a month since this happened, I'm getting to the point where I can almost talk about it without a nervous breakdown. Were you kind of bad at math in school? I was. Very much so. I remember feeling this ball of nausea cement rise up from my stomach to my throat whenever I would be sitting in class, and a mathematical concept was being explained that seemed so foreign and distant that if I attempted to comprehend it, my head would instantly supernova into a red pastey substance. That's how I felt after around the fifteenth time watching the knit stitch video. Because every single time I attempted it, I would end up with the same result: A sad ball of knotted up, twisted yarn that looked nothing like the Teen Whisperer's magical, pretty knit stitch that was almost as petite and adorable as her. But I kept trying. I even undid the lot several times, starting all over again with the cast on, just in case I had screwed something up there.

Eventually, eyes hazy with hot tears of failure, I stopped watching the video (mainly because I wanted to punch her in her cute little stupid dumb knitting face) and went back to the book:

"Oh, right," I said. "The pictures only make me want to eat blue spaghetti for some reason." So back to Youtube I went.

Did you know that there are about 800 trillion knitting tutorials on Youtube? There are ones that make you stitch with your right hand. There are some that make you stitch with your left. There are ones that tell you to use red yarn. Others tell you that green yarn was woven by Satan's minions but that yellow yarn is okay. Some videos call it a knit stitch. Some videos call it "Der knitten stitchen". And some even call the knit stitch Henry and use it to knit toilet seat cozies. By the time I had watched all of these videos, the only thing I wanted to do was take the knitting needle with the cast off stitches in my right hand, the empty needle in my left, and force both of the pointy ends into my eyeballs until they were sticking out of the back of my head.

And so the yarn and needles sit on the shelf in my living room, shoved carelessly and even angrily into the plastic Joanne's bag in which they came, languishing in the dashed hopes and dreams of scarves that everyone would compliment, mittens that Madeline could brag to her friends at school about how her crafty mother made them, hats with wee little puff balls on top, sweaters to keep us all warm and, most attractively, the prospect of never having to buy a single Christmas or birthday present ever again.

But I'm just not that person. I'm 35 years old, and maybe it's time to accept the fact that I'm good at, like, two things, and making stuff ain't one of them. The world is made up of makers and consumers. Perhaps I need to accept my role of consumer and go back to secretly envying my awesome and creative friends who can say things like, "Oh, that? I made that one afternoon while the baby was asleep."

And don't try to tell me that people who love me will appreciate my homemade attempts. Nobody wants a sad, lopsided ashtray (who even still smokes??) made by an adult, or a napkin holder cobbled with dribbles of glittery hot glue and Scotch tape. Just give me the scotch, and hold the tape. And look for your gift card in the mail next Christmas.