Thursday, July 28, 2011

I've come to suspect that my baby daughter might be possessed by the devil. I have several reasons for this.

First, I began to suspect the presence of dark forces in my daughter shortly after she was born because I would come home from work to find my wife singing, dancing with our daughter, just living it up but when I would then send my wife to bed or out of the house to give her a break, Ellie, my daughter, would wait until my wife was completely asleep or on the road, and then she'd start to cry. She would cry and cry inconsolably until something like five minutes before my wife returned. At that point, Ellie would drop off to sleep and would give my wife no problems for the rest of the night.

It was around this time that I started to notice the smell of brimstone lingering in our kitchen. My wife claims it was the Diaper Genie needing to be changed, but I suspect that it was the demon tainting Ellie's bottles. The fact that the smell disappeared shortly after I changed the Diaper Genie only goes to show how devious these dark forces can be.

My second reason for suspecting my daughter may be under the influence of some demonic force is that she has developed extra-sensory abilities specifically attuned to my bodily functions. When my wife's not around, my daughter can sense, for example, exactly when I have to use the bathroom. That's when she starts crying and needs to be changed or fed, both of which take much, much longer when I'm alone than they do when my wife is home. Now, if Ellie were to do this every time my wife went to a friend's house or ran to the store, well that would make me think my daughter was just gifted in some strange way. The fact that she only does it every so often--so that it keeps me on my toes--proves the demonic influence.

If you're not buying any of this, I will now present my final and most incontrovertible proof of demonic influence in our baby: her unearthly cuteness. Case in point: Despite having spent 18 of the last 20 minutes screaming her head off while my wife was upstairs and I was supposed to be "putting the baby down for her afternoon nap", Ellie is now sleeping with one arm wrapped around a pink, stuffed bunny. Her other arm is thrown behind her head. A Binky (i.e. pacifier) with the words "cutie pie" printed on the pink and purple bulb is firmly lodged in her mouth. She wakes occasionally to suck the pacifier. Just before she fell asleep she smiled beatifically at me, after 17 minutes of screaming, and dropped off to sleep. It was the smile that proved to me once and for all that her soul is owned by Satan himself. Like butter, heavy cream, cigarettes and all other things that are really good, a baby this cute can't possibly be good for me.

I've developed several methods of dealing with this situation. First off, I've been mixing just a tinge of holy water into her bottles. I've noticed it gives her a healthy glow, though my wife keeps remarking on her sweaty feet and slightly panicked look during feedings. Also, instead of reading Dr. Seuss to her, I've been reading the Lord's Prayer and the Catholic Exorcism ritual. She giggles at the funny-sounding words.

It's a difficult battle, resisting the powers and charms of my possibly demon-possessed daughter. Each day, I find myself swayed to do her bidding more and more. Earlier today, I will admit, when my wife put her down for her nap and went upstairs, I listened to Ellie cry to be held for just the briefest moment before grabbing her up and dancing around the living room despite my wife's admonition that she needs to learn to soothe herself--and I swear, for just a moment, I saw a Maypole and heard a choir of children singing in the background. And I swear, when I laid her down, I saw the briefest outline of wings.

But maybe I've got this whole thing wrong. There are moments of real beauty. That smile that made me forgive everything earlier, the way she puts one hand behind her head to guide it towards her thumb, the way her tiny fingers hold my thumb while she drinks from her bottle, the way she stretches for minutes on end when she wakes. I am being corrupted by cuteness. It's a battle I can't hope to win, and now I'm not even sure I want to.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I've been thinking of Cummings' poem "Somewhere I have never travelled." It's clearly a love poem, but it also works from the point of view of a parent to a child. Here's the poem:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

The opening stanza establishes a somewhat mystical 'otherness'. The subject--the person being addressed--carries certain experiences in (let's call it her) eyes from "somewhere (the narrator) has never travelled" (lines 1-2). So there is a difference of experience, which Cummings is glad about. Perhaps he wants this new life to have different experiences from his own. He is also extremely emotional--even powerless--when faced with his feelings. He considers himself closed off, but this other person opens him "as spring opens...her first rose" (7-8). So what is it about this person which enables her to penetrate his defenses--surprising him? Her "intense fragility" (14) which "render(s) death and forever with each breathing" (16). What is more fragile than a child? And what offers more surprises? Also, the reference to death and living beyond death supports the interpretation of the subject as a child--children tend to live beyond the death of their parents, after all.

Cummings seems to be studying his subject almost as though witnessing an alien. He is overwhelmed. He leaps from observation to observation. He is trying to understand something profoundly new. He uses images of new life--of flowers in spring--opening much like a child being born. Likewise, he sees himself changed. He sees the world anew. Finally, all he can do is marvel at this new life: "nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands" he concludes (20). Personally, I've always found this line somewhat troubling to have been included in a love poem. It is profoundly non-erotic, for one thing, while focusing passionately on a body part (my apologies to anyone who finds small hands sexy). Cummings could very well be marveling at a new life; these tiny hands could easily belong to a child.

There are moments in the poem that don't seem to completely support this interpretation. Much of Cummings' discussion of 'opening and closing' in the second and third stanzas would seem to belie uncertainty in terms of the emotional relationship. It is a little melodramatic to be parental love. Still, taken in conjunction with Cummings' opening--detailing a difficult path--perhaps this intense emotion is more Cummings' attempt to find a balance in this relationship--to not be distant, for example, but to also not be smothering.

Regardless, though I've loved this poem for several years, I've found that I never truly, completely, connected with it until I viewed it from the point of view of a parent.
29. At Home, by Bill Bryson. Usually a travel writer, Bryson decided to stay at home for this one and write about the histories of everyday things, including the home itself. Normally given to tangents, Bryson constructed this one of almost nothing BUT tangents. Still, it's quite interesting and entertaining.

30. Before the Great Troubling, poems by Corey Mesler. This is Mesler's second full-length collection. Of course, he's got probably 2-dozen chapbooks as well. This is a really strong collection. Mesler has made clear strides since his previous full-length collection. His descriptions, especially, are deciptively profound. I reviewed this one for the American Book Review.

31. Pulleys and Locomotion, poems by Rachel Galvin. Fairly weak and thin collection. There are strong moments--mostly when Galvin moves beyond the stunted vagaries of language that seem to pass for 'poetry' these days and delves into her family history. But there wasn't a single poem in the book I'd pull out as exceptional. I was supposed to review it, but I don't see any point.

What I'm reading now: Sundown Towns, by Loewen. This is a study of racial violence primarily in the North and Midwest, after Reconstruction. I'm also reading a handful of poetry collections.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So it's been a busy summer, here. We've been redecorating and childproofing our house. We've got two rooms left--the TV room and the hall. It's difficult when you're broke, but there you go. We've actually accomplished a lot, considering our little helper who kept one of us busy most of the time.

I had a nice bite from a very cool small press for a poetry collection. It has been a while since I placed one. Probably won't know anything for quite a while, but it gave me an excuse to completely redo the collection. Right now, it's at 112 pages. It's tentatively titled Driving Around, Looking in Other People's Windows. I was able to just about put together a second collection just from the stuff I cut.

I placed a poetry chapbook--this odd little cycle of possibly post-apocalyptic, or possibly the ramblings of a madman, journal poems. It will be an e-book. It's called Leap Year.

I also turned in my next novel. Waiting for edits. This one, hopefully, will be part of a series. It's supernatural/humor. Working on the title. The series is called The Necro-Files. This installment might be called Toil and Trouble or The Wicked Witch of West Baltimore. Or, you know, something good when I come up with it. I'm terrible at titles.

I've got a pretty good start on my Civil War era, steampunk slave/gollum narrative novel. I'm at 40-something-thousand words, I think. Most of that I wrote in a crazy marathon week of 5000 words a day, but I hope to wrap it up this summer. Some really nice moments in it so far. I've been threatening to write this book for a couple years, now.

Once I finish the gollum book, I hope to finish a book I started last November but had to drop because of time constraints tentatively titled Odyseus Among the Swine. I'm about halfway through, 26,000 words. It's a sequel to The Saviors, a novel I have coming out from Black Coffee Press in 2013. I envision this as a trilogy. I've got a mostly finished draft of the third book--about the same length as the second. I started that one a couple years ago but was never happy with the ending. They're all somewhat autobiographical. With a lot of luck, I'll finish all of that this year. I can't really say with any certainty what I'll do beyond that. I attempted a zombie book a while back, but it didn't work out. I don't know that I'll tackle that again any time soon. I have half a dozen possible projects I might pick from after that. Odds are, I won't do any of those and will, instead, start some completely new project.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

When my wife became pregnant, a lot of people gave us advice, mostly the same advice: your life is going to change. To which we'd reply "No shit? Really?" This is similar to the platitudes people feel compelled to share at funerals and equally meaningless. Your life is going to change. My life changes when I have a good BM or a decent sandwich, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they were stumbling towards some kind of prophetic statement they were simply ill-equipped to express. Here's what I say to people who are having a child: it is the hardest fucking thing you will ever do. Then, when they laugh nervously, I reiterate: no, seriously, it is so fucking hard you don't even understand. You can't understand. Why do you think some animals eat their young? Then, when they're on the verge of tears, I add, but it will make your life worth living. 17 of my friends have had abortions in the last year. (I'm kidding.) Maybe that's why everyone else just says "Your life is going to change."

So some friends of mine are having a kid, and I thought I would share some practical advice I've learned in the last couple months in no particular order.

1. Buy large bottles of carpet & fabric stain remover. You’ll need them. We keep them in Ellie’s closet on a high shelf near her laundry basket so we can just treat the stains as they are produced. We also keep more in the laundry room, just in case. I also suggest having a little scrub brush nearby for removal of poo. There will be poo. We have an old toothbrush in the nearest bathroom for this purpose. So: guests, be warned. Don’t borrow a toothbrush from the Bledsoes. As soon as possible after a mess is created, we try to treat it/clean it. Neglect these things & you will have many stains on everything.

2. As I said, there will be poo. You’d better get used to bodily fluids because you will soon be wearing them. It’s okay; chicks dig baby vomit. Also, when a baby vomits on you, it’s not like you can just set her/him down and go change your shirt and take a shower, maybe come back in an hour or two after you’ve had a smoothie and some time to meditate while listening to Conway Twitty. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn. The first thing you have to do is make sure the baby isn’t inhaling whatever just came out. This is way more important than your comfort level. If s/he inhales this liquid, and it gets into her lungs, welcome to pneumonia! So clear out her nose. Then you clean the baby off. Then, you keep feeding him/her. Then you hold him/her upright for a good 15/20 minutes at least so s/he doesn’t vomit anymore. Then, if s/he goes to sleep, maybe you can clean the vomit off; we’re talking maybe an hour later. Deal with it. Maybe your partner can tag you out at some point, but don’t rely on it. There have been nights where I woke up smelling myself and realized I’d worn vomit to bed. What did I do? I took the shirt off and went back to sleep.

3. Buy things in bulk. Duh. Newborns go through something like 6-10 diapers a day. For each of those, you’ll go through at least two baby wipes, probably 3 or 4. I have, personally, changed Ellie no less than 4 times in one hour on more than one occasion. Of course, I’ve also not had to change her for the better part of a day. But that’s because I made Jillian do it. (kidding) But that’s obvious. You also need many, many burp cloths and pacifiers. (Jillian's note: But not Gerber Birds-Eye cloth diapers; they are too rough on babies’ skin.) You might think “Do we really need 20 of these?” Yes. Also, make this stuff easily accessible EVERYWHERE. We have a 3-story house because we’re better than you—I kid. It’s not like we pay for it, seriously. Anyway, we have diapers, wipes, spare clothes, bibs, pacifiers, etc. on every level. We have a backpack we take in the car. My wife has spares in her purse. I often shove a burp cloth and a pacifier in my pocket just because. My students all made fun of me when I brought the baby and a pink blankey to class, but hey, real mean carry pink blankeys.

4. Sleep when she sleeps. This is the one piece of practical advice we were given that actually makes sense. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to do, but maybe you’ll have more luck than we did. We mostly just don’t sleep. You get used to it. You really do.

5. Don’t take her to the emergency room every time she coughs. We pretty much did the first week or two. News flash: babies cry. Really, they do. They also throw up. Babies, especially newborns, appear to be the most delicate things—like little blobs of China. They’re not. They’re strong like bear. You will know this by their poo. Learn to trust your instincts. Stay calm and carry on. Call your pediatrician if you have questions. Ours answers them and sort of lets us know we’re being crazy, but in a nice way.

6. Find a good pediatrician ASAP. Right now, you’re focusing all your attention on your birth plan and whatnot (which, I’m telling you, could very easily go right out the window—don’t be surprised when the nurses laugh at you, btw). Try to channel some of that energy to finding a good pediatrician. This person will be your lifeline. Our doc. came highly recommended by several parents of multiple children—people we trust. (How to know who to ask for advice? Try to watch some parents in action and see if they are, in fact, good parents. Then ask who they use.) He came to the hospital and met Ellie right after she was born and even corrected some clerical errors on the hospital’s paperwork for her. He runs a small practice—some people prefer a large practice so there are ‘backups’. To each his own. We picked our guy because of his track record, his manner, and his location.

7. Dads: be there. This is the most necessary advice I can give to new dads: in the first few weeks after your baby is born until s/he starts sleeping nights, your wife will be going crazy. Cra-zy. She is a slave to the whims of this desperately needy newborn who has to be fed every two hours. She won’t be able to bathe. She won’t be able to eat. She won’t be able to do anything but SERVE THE BABY.

Your wife doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than you do; no matter how confident she appears, she’s just making this stuff up as she goes along. She’s exhausted. She’s terrified. She’s cut off from the world. Be there. When you come home from work, don’t think “hell, she’s been sitting around all day, I’m going to play X-Box.” Bullshit. She’s been working her ass off. You think you’ve had a hard day? It was nothing to what she’s been going through. You can’t even imagine. Seriously, you can’t. Time to grow the fuck up and kick in.

Here’s what you do: walk in the door, kiss your wife and compliment her in some way or just listen to her rave, and clean something. Clean the kitchen, clean a bathroom, whatever. Do it while she talks, if you can. Do it while holding the baby. Do it fast. But do it. She’s been trying to do it all day and probably hasn’t been able to. And it’s depressing the hell out of her. Then, take the baby. If you have to pull a gun on your wife, do that. Send her to bed, send her to a friend’s house, send her to a movie, whatever. Either put her to bed or get her the fuck out of the house. I’m sorry if your feet hurt or you’re stressed out. Be a man; take that baby and kick your wife out. The first time I actually got my wife out of the house (the first few times, she just slept) it took me nearly an hour to get her to leave “for an hour”. She didn’t come back for three hours. She walked around outside for the first half-hour, amazed that there was a world outside the house, and then got in the car and was gone. I was a little worried she wasn’t coming back.

8. Be prepared for the long haul. You’re going to be feeding this baby often (every two hours at first), holding the baby. Think of lullabies. Find books to read to her. Or to yourself. In the first three weeks after Ellie was born, I read like 5 novels because I had so much time just watching her, holding her to comfort her, etc. You won’t get a lot of important stuff done, but remember: this is the important stuff. Keeping her from crying so she can actually sleep is the most important thing you’ll do today. Keeping her quiet so your wife can sleep just means you’re awesome.

My proudest accomplishment was rigging up various chairs to be sleep-compatible so I can nap during 2 a.m. feedings. This is harder than it sounds because I have to be able to hold the baby without dropping her while dozing. You'll figure it out.

9. Never say no to a rocking chair. When you're having a baby, people will give you things. Take them. You’ll need them. Or give them to someone else. They need them. Babies are expensive. Also, don't think "oh, that's going to be too big" or "too small" or whatever: you won't know until you know. We thought our baby was going to be huge because, well, we grow them big, but she's tiny. We had to dress her in preemie clothes for the first few weeks. You never know.

10. Take everything with a grain of salt. This is hard. Listen, when Ellie was born, the doc. told us we were feeding her too much because she was throwing up a lot. (We were actually feeding her too fast, I think). So we effectively starved her and couldn’t figure out why she was crying all the time. We would feed her, and she would stop crying. "Huh," we said. Then we started feeding her as much as she wanted pretty much whenever she wanted. Ellie is in the 10th percentile of weights, which means she’s tiny. I’m not saying we’ll continue this diet plan indefinitely, but right now, if she’s hungry an hour after we just fed her, then we feed her again. Likewise, we've gotten all kinds of suggestions and advice from people who claim to know, and most of them have been bunk. The bottom line is: you're the parents. You know your kid. Trust that. And keep your pediatrician on speed-dial.