Expired Sunscreen

Hey friends, what time is it? Why it’s time for Andrea’s annual blog post!

I looked at the date stamps on my last couple of posts and laughed so hard — has it been a year already!? In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, some of my friends have given birth to their second and, yes, even their third children.

In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, my child has morphed from an infant to a sassy toddler. In the time it’s taken me to write three blog posts, my sunscreen has expired, but I used it anyway and we spent three hours in the park this afternoon so my face is prettttty red right now.

Amazingly, some of the stuff I was struggling with a year ago, I’ve finally figured out. My guilt over not writing down every adorable thing Alice said and did? We have a notebook for that now! Do my husband and I catch every little pearl that falls out of her mouth? No. But we’re keeping a running list of her special vocabulary so that on days when she suddenly starts saying “Cookie MONSTER” instead of “Cookie Monsah,” we know we’ll always have that list to look back on when all we really want to do is weep.

Writing? I dropped the novel revisions that were making me tear my hair out and started a new, invigorating project that I really enjoy thinking about maybe writing some day. When Alice is in kindergarten maybe? I’m fine with that. I’m actually still enthralled with the process of raising my tiny human, and will happily put writing on a low simmer for a while. I have a “mom writers” group that meets semi-regularly, and it’s enough for me right now.

The house? It is getting cleaner. Shockingly. I think I’m finally out of survival mode now, really. Things are stabilizing, normalizing. It’s surreal, but it’s happening.

If I could describe these past two years, I’d probably break it down like this:

The First Six Months: Complete fog and insanity. Lots of bleach. Major anxiety and OCD, and helpless frustration at the constant mess. No idea what I was doing. A terrible feeling of being torn between motherhood and career. An even worse suspicion that I was not a good mom and didn’t even enjoy being a mom.

Somewhere Around The Nine Month Mark: I made friends with my baby! We started to like each other. We came to an understanding. I started to believe that I was indeed a good mom. But I still had days when I didn’t enjoy it. Ongoing frustration with the mess in the house. Convinced Alice was hitting peak cuteness. Tired, very tired. Alice was still nursing and still not sleeping through the night.

Alice’s First Birthday: A mild sense of relief mingled with sadness that the first year was up. I was convinced that NOW Alice was hitting peak cuteness. When Alice’s first birthday party was over I went home and cried because we didn’t have enough snacks. Yes, I actually did that. I should also mention that Alice’s first birthday party took place on my actual 38th birthday. Which is to say that I, a nearly forty-year-old woman, cried because I’d failed to provide enough snacks at a child’s birthday party. Alice was still nursing and still not sleeping through the night.

At 19 Months: Alice slept through the night. I’ll never forget it. It was Christmas morning. We woke up and it was 8:21am. I nearly wept. If I hadn’t been up til 2am the night before, drinking Scotch and baking, I would have felt really, really well-rested.

Somewhere after this point, two things happened. First, I caught up on my sleep. I had strange, vivid dreams, the result of an entire year-and-a-half of little to no proper REM sleep. My skin repaired itself as I slept, and changed texture. The bags under my eyes halved in size. I felt unstoppable. I got a short bob haircut. I was on fire. After a year and a half, we were sleeping through the night! Perhaps appropriately, the overwhelming feeling at this point was that of waking from a dream, and I realized that I had probably been at least mildly clinically insane for at least the first year of Alice’s life. But I was better now, I was sure.

Then I developed insomnia.

I because anxious and worried and irritable. I decided I hated my new haircut. Winter came and with it came the colds…. one after the other. By late March, I’d had a head cold as often as I’d had my period. I counted somewhere between 3-5 days that month when I’d been able to breathe through my nose. Sometimes my depression would swing me low and limp and quiet, other times it fired up into screaming fits when I would yell at Alice or my husband. I would wake up at 4 or 5am and not be able to go back to sleep. I would wander around the house. I would scrub the kitchen floor.

I read a lot of articles about matrescence. I wondered when, or if, winter would ever end. Alice was still nursing, is still nursing. Is that weird? Her canine teeth grew in and the vampiric effect seemed apt some days. I suspected that I was not a good mom and didn’t even enjoy being a mom. Parenting a toddler could sometimes be so…. boring. I was so miserable and exhausted there were days that I felt I might actually slowly be dying and I just thought, “Meh.”

Alice did eventually get used to a babysitter, and to daycare, and I was able to slip off on my own from time to time. Usually, in these precious hours when I probably should have been working, I went to the pool and swam. I reveled in the anonymity of my goggles and swim cap, rejoiced in being absolutely and utterly alone, and drank in the profound luxury of being unreachable by phone or any other means. I would spend hours at the gym, two hours at a time, hiding. Steam room/swimming pool/sauna, nobody can find me, I’m not here.

At the Two Year Mark: The same feeling I had at Alice’s first birthday (relief mingled with nostalgia) sweeps back over me. Doubled, this time, of course.

I ache inside when I think that my baby days are over. (Though there’s much joy in having a toddler. I find I identity with toddlers quite a bit. They’re impulsive, inquisitive, curious. They enjoy testing things and people and situations. They’re joyful and empathetic and capable of profound emotion. And they’re completely fucking bonkers. I get that, I really do.)

But I also feel… something else. I can’t put my finger on it or express it exactly. Mostly it’s a sense of being battle-scarred and proud of it, of enjoying something hard won. A sense of calm? A sense that a deeper well of empathy has opened up inside me? Or maybe it’s a sense of pride and comfort in the knowledge that if ever I had a friend who was a new mom and she wanted to cry over something that was seemingly trivial but felt utterly heart-wrenching (not having enough snacks at a child’s birthday party, say), I would listen, and let her cry, and assure her that she was only very mildly clinically insane and that it was totally okay.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I take great delight in reading my previous post from September — seven months ago — and seeing how excited I was to write. To write! Excited and determined! I’ve written almost nothing since.

I did take another whack at my novel-in-progress, the one I’ve been working on since 2014 and have already revised twice, but I discovered something about myself: I am very unmotivated to revise a novel for a third time under my current circumstances. My current circumstances being 1) I am now fully embroiled in the Time Warp that is mom life, in which the ruling equation of the universe is not E = mc 2 but E < TA (or Energy is less than Time Allotted) and 2) Well I actually forgot what #2 was in the process of writing Circumstance #1. I’m sure it was equally important, and may have had something to do with my essentially not desiring to write when faced with the many other much more enjoyable things in my life, e.g. eating tuna on toast with my baby while she laughs in her high chair and the many much less enjoyable but must-be-dealt-with things in my life, e.g. cleaning up Aforementioned Tuna.

(Shameful admittance and side note: I’ve never really been sure of the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.”)

As I write this, floors are going unswept and dishes undone. My old standards of housekeeping, which I had clung to as lately as September, were: does it sparkle? is it fragrant/redolent of Method cleanser/can I see myself in it? Seven months on, my new standards are: does it reek/is it rotting/is it dangerous/does it pose an immediate health hazard? I am amazed at the change in myself, at my newfound ability to watch TV with tiny sticky handprints on the screen (and finding the handprints adorable), at my ability to walk right by visible dust bunnies in my front hallway, to sleep in a bed alongside tiny crumbs of unknown provenance. (Pro tip? Flip flops. Wear them around the house so you’ll never notice or care how grubby your floors are. You’re welcome.)

And yet there is still so much to be done, so much that writing invariably gets shunted into the background again and again. On any given day, instead of writing I will likely be found engaging in one of the following:

  1. Laundry/laundry/laundry/more laundry x infinity
  2. Grocery shopping/running errands/etc.
  3. Cooking/picking up the house again and again and again….
  4. Feeding the baby/changing the baby
  5. Washing dishes/cleaning the high chair/wiping the floor around the high chair
  6. Walking the baby/taking her on outings/to playgroup/swimming lessons, etc.
  7. Napping with the baby (the world needs my novel less badly than I need sleep)
  8. Reading (a must for any writer, no? if you’re writing and not reading, I don’t want to read what you’re writing)*
  9. Stretching/exercise/self-care/personal grooming, showering, etc. (yes, I now have to budget time for this)
  10. Spending a precious 2 or so hours an evening with my lovely and adorable spouse (2 hours which mostly consist of bathing the baby, putting her to bed, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, eating dinner, cleaning again, looking at the 10,000 photos of the baby that I took that day, reading for 15 minutes, collapsing into bed)
  11. And, oh yeah, working on my business, a.k.a. that little thing that makes the money

And then there was that five hours I spent last Saturday in traffic school. Yes, I am learning to drive! Stay of the roads, New Yorkers!

Given that list of 11 Other Things I Do In A Day, you can see that the phrase, “I have no time to write” is a legitimate truth and not, say, laziness. I find myself nearly constantly asking other parents who write (or otherwise do Creative Things For A Living) how they manage their time. Note I am saying parents here, not moms. Dads I have spoken to also admit that it’s hard. That’s the number one thing you’ll hear from moms and dads: IT’S HARD.

In fairness to my child free friends, I understand it is also hard for you to make a living, especially in an expensive urban area where you likely live, while also writing/doing creative things. I recently noted that an email I received from a woman who is an incredibly hardworking person and a successful writer was time-stamped 4:30a.m. It’s hard for everyone. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard.

HARD. It’s a good word, isn’t it? No-nonsense, onomatopoeic. Makes me think of drudgery and NOT engorged penises, which is just where I am in my life right now.

So, anyway, I tried to re-work the draft of this novel for the nth time and I really found myself not wanting to do it. I couldn’t figure out why. Partly it was because I was in a very different head-space than I was when I started it, partly it was because, without an editor/agent/deadline, there was very little external motivation, partly for the previously mentioned reasons about being too busy/happy to want to, and partly because I found that I was shockingly blocked. I would stay up to 3am re-writing the first chapter again and again, and simply making it worse and worse.


Perhaps, after a relatively long writing hiatus during which my entire life, body, mind, and everything completely changed, I was so out of practice and so fundamentally different that I needed to ease back into writing this particular thing in a new way. Or possibly put this particular thing on the back burner for a while while I re-calibrated absolutely everything, while I learned how to write again after the writing muscle had atrophied for so long. Maybe I needed to work on a new project, or turn this novel into a more manageable novella or novellette (I do feel like I’m straining a bit to make a fairly slender ghost story meet novel-length word count, though at the same time feel like I could flesh it out more).

Or maybe it’s just science.

Anyone who has studied the concept of “Flow” knows that the first hour is just warm up and that the real creative work can’t get, well, flowing, until hour 2 or 3. And when you’ve got a wee bairn who needs you 24/7, you don’t have 2-3 hours. You’re lucky to get one. I got one this morning, and I’m happy that I managed to write this blog post. Now, just as the coffee is kicking in and I’m feeling warmed up, I have to stop and go get lunch started.

So maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe right now, at this stage in my life, what I need to do is document said life in little blog posts like this one. Because my other regret, in addition to not writing my novel, is that I didn’t really write down all the cute and funny things baby Alice did in the past year. Perhaps there is an elegant solution to both these problems.

I realize that some of you may be thinking, “Hey, lady, there’s this great thing called day care? a babysitter? ever heard of it?” Yes! Yes dear reader I have! Let me tell you what happened when I tried to put my baby in the care of another human being who was not me, in the exciting continuation to this post. Sneak preview: it did not go well. Stay tuned!

Now: turkey burgers, butternut squash soup, spinach, finish laundry, medication, baby story hour at the library, swings. That’s just my internal monologue for y’all, in case you were wondering what goes through my head most days.

Until next time.

*Books I’ve read in the last three months/am reading: Lincoln in the Bardo, Wilderness Tips, Killers of the Flower Moon. All amazing. I’m on an excellent reading streak right now.

Occupation: Housewife

"All I would like is a small raise in salary"  Doodle by Shirley Jackson
“All I would like is a small raise in salary”
Doodle by Shirley Jackson

When my daughter Alice was born on May 24th, I was filled with all the usual emotions of a new parent — you know the ones that have been felt by millions of parents over thousands of years but that still feel fresh to you. The astonishment that this tiny creature was mine and was real and I could actually bring her home and keep her; a love so overwhelming I’d burst into tears of joy while bouncing her to sleep on the yoga ball; a deep gratitude to all those friends, neighbors, employers (my husband’s) and employees (mine) who gave us gifts, support, food, and time to ourselves. I also experienced some fairly-typical-but-no-less-disturbing-for-that postpartum feels, namely a keen anxiety and suddenly worse-than-usual obsessiveness about germs and cleanliness. There was, amid the joy, an undercurrent of stress. Alice was diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism seven days after she was born. I’ll never forget the day a doctor from NYU labs called us and told us we had to take Alice to the ER immediately or she would suffer irreparable cognitive damage (“She may have already lost a few IQ points,” he told us, making me cry). We spent the day frantically taking taxis to various clinics, trying desperately to find a lab that would draw a newborn’s blood, and wondering if we had found ourselves parents to a special needs child. I spent five hours without eating or drinking, save for a tiny cup of that very cold water from a cooler at the lab, the kind that tastes like damp, squishy paper cup, crying and trying to nurse my newborn in the hallway because I couldn’t bear to sit in the waiting room filled with sick people when her delicate immune system was completely uninoculated and vulnerable. By day ten of Alice’s life we had started her on a course of levothyroxine, which we fed her daily, drop by drop with a syringe like a baby bird. It was a drug upon which we depended entirely for her normal physical and cognitive growth.

The first day my husband went back to work, he called me in the middle of the afternoon and asked how I was. I was fine, I told him. “But I’ve done nothing today.”

I’ve done nothing today.

I said that as I lay on the couch pinned under seven and a half pounds of newborn baby. She, like most newborns, refused to exist in any other state than in mother’s arms, and therefore for about, oh, six weeks, I barely put her down. I learned to do things with one hand. My left thumb still hasn’t recovered from all the texting and Facebook-baby-picture-posting. I read Wuthering Heights one-handed with Alice snoozing on my chest. I spent most of the summer in a postpartum haze of half-sleep-half-waking, where nothing mattered and nothing happened except the care and feeding of my daughter. I was nurturing a human life but the entire time I felt a nagging sense of something, possibly terror, possibly despair, as I one thought whirled through my mind:

I’ll never write again.

My time was no longer my own. What little non-baby time I did have was filled with the triage of everyday life, taking care of the most acute things first: showering, eating, keeping the house and myself looking somewhat acceptable, obtaining groceries somehow in a city where I am car-less and my nearest supermarket is a fifteen minute walk along a steep incline (thank god for online grocery services). The nearest thing I managed to write during Alice’s entire “fourth trimester” was a 1500 word blog post, which I’ve already bragged about on this site because my god, I had a newborn and I wrote a thing!

But what about the other things? The short stories, the novel, that I was supposed to be writing? A blog post can be managed fairly easily. The creative heavy lifting of finishing my horror novel in progress? Where was I supposed to find the time and, more aptly, the energy? And how could I get back to a story that was filled with so much death and darkness, how could I inhabit that headspace with Alice in my life? (Oh yes, there is dead baby stuff in my novel, which is why it was shelved for nine months.) As for short stories, well. My god, I mean, how on earth could I even come up with any new ideas? I was absolutely creatively drained and imaginatively bereft. The only thing I could think to write about was…. mom stuff. Nobody likes mom stuff. Nothing makes you seem less literarily viable than writing mom stuff. Nobody wants to hear my birth story (induction at five days post due date, a day or so of labor, stalled at 5cm, surprise magical 3-minute C-section), or my witty observations about life as a new mom (New Mom recovering from a head cold: “How long have I smelled like this?!?”), or my well-thought-out and carefully crafted treatise on the terrible parenting on display in Wuthering Heights (I don’t really have one), or my musings like, “How are nature sounds on a baby swing supposed to soothe a newborn with no frame of reference? She doesn’t know what birdsong is.” Even Twitter doesn’t want to hear that shit. Because mom (or worse, mommy) stuff is fluff and also really annoying because –shocker– you’re not the world’s first new mom, and also no one will ever take you seriously again if you blog about being a mom, and it doesn’t matter anyway because you don’t need to build an author platform because you will never write again.

And then two things happened.

One: I came across the following article about Shirley Jackson, one of the spate in recent weeks pegged to the new biography (side note: I was trying to read the review of A Rather Haunted Life in Bookforum and baby kept grabbing the magazine and yanking it off the table, and I scolded her for making her metaphors too on the nose), and it contained a sentence that made my heart explode with happiness and relief:

“Her career began to gain traction only after she became a mother.”

Holy shit! I couldn’t believe my folly. Here I was, gulping Betty Friedan’s cool aid and thinking that Jackson’s writings about her children were somehow lesser than her fiction. I hadn’t realized how one informed the other (silly, in retrospect, when you consider the presence of children in her short stories, which I’ve read numerous times), or how inspired she was by her children. Writing about motherhood does not negate your badassery as a horror writer. How could I have been so blind and stupid?

Okay, but what about this whole “my time is not my own” thing? Sure, the pressure to keep silent all my myriad feelings and observations about motherhood had suddenly lifted in light of this revelation, but wouldn’t the whole thing be moot since I would never, ever have the time to write until Alice was in kindergarten at least? Because lest you think I’m being a bit over-dramatic, I’d also like to point out that, at the same time as all of this, I am also running a small business so, yeah, I don’t have a lot of fucking free time.

Well, here’s the second thing that happened: she napped.

She NAPPED.nap

If you’ve never parented a non-napping child, you cannot understand how exhausting it is. (You will understand if you’ve parented one of those non-sleeping children, and if you have, I feel for you.) People will tell you, “Oh, well, at least she’s a good night sleeper.” Sure, I only get up once or twice at night, but that still means I spend at least a full hour awake in the middle of the night, every night. Follow that with a full day of naplessness, ten solid hours without rest, respite, or reprieve, five days a week, and you’ll begin to see why I’d contemplated printing up t-shirts that said, “Fuck with me at your peril.” (People I have yelled at in public in the past week: a woman who failed to cover her mouth when coughing, school children for walking too slowly.) Last week I was at my breaking point, overcome with exhaustion and despair. For the first time in my adult life, I literally cried myself to sleep.

And then she napped.

It happened suddenly, this week. She went down. She cried a little. Then she slept. And stayed asleep. One hour. Two hours. And then again. And again. And she’s asleep right now.

When it first happened, on Monday, I puttered around the house, at a loss for what to do. On Tuesday, I did the same. On Wednesday, I read a short story. Yesterday I napped. And today?

Today I fucking wrote.

The Weird Web of Washington Square

The last time I updated this blog, I was thirty pounds heavier and much better rested. Since then, I’ve had a baby, weathered the first summer with a newborn (my rosy visions of baby-wearing flew out the window during those heat waves) and somehow managed to actually write something. “The Web of Disrepute” went live on Literary Manhattan some weeks ago, but it is only now that I’ve actually had a few moments to share it here. It was written over the course of two weeks, in increments as short as four consecutive minutes. But I’m proud of having written something, even a 1500-word blog post, as a new mom. Writing, running a business, taking care of the old homestead, and managing the basics of self care (flossing! face washing! shampooing!) will have to operate on new, heretofore unheard of levels of efficiency now that baby is here. Perhaps I’ll post some Shirley Jackson-esque dispatches on motherhood here some time in the future…. For now, please give “The Web of Disrepute” a read. It’s surprisingly coherent! (I want that to be the pull-quote on my book jacket one day.)