Your baby or your life: wilderness edition

The family and I went camping and as we checked in heard the same dire warnings that we’d heard before: our local bear problems mean lock up every single thing that smells like food. Not in your car, because they’ll claw it apart. Not in your tent because that’s like gift wrap to a bear. If your kids spill, change their clothes and store them in the bear locker. If you have a chance, vacuum out the carseats before you enter the park.

On and on. Lip balm will draw them. A closed can of soda in a car will draw them. Referring to your unsightly waistline as a muffin top will draw them…okay, not that last one. But close.

So we always heed the warnings. Spouse and I watch the kids carefully and pick up every crumb they drop. We put dirty clothes and washcloths in the bear box. We store the bug spray and sunscreen and lip balm in the bear box. We even lock up the backpacks that might have at one time had a cracker in them.

And on night three it occurred to me: I’m still lactating.

I think Butter has weaned. He went from nursing before bed every night to several nights a week to a couple of times a week to forgetting for two weeks to forgetting again for…I think it’s been a month now. I’m a child-led weaning sort, and I don’t offer, don’t refuse. And he’s a toddler, so he’s busy and he forgets and…

What if a bear can smell that you make milk for months after weaning? I’m not kidding. Tiny babies can smell if mama is in the room. Bears are about seven billion times better at smelling.

When my first child was born we visited a wonderful friend. My four-months’ pregnant friend held my four-month-old baby, who took about two minutes before he opened wide and went right for her fully clothed breast. Made a hilarious (or mortifying, depending on whom you ask) wet circle on her shirt.

Because he could smell that her milk had just come in (at about 20 weeks).

If my four-month-old can smell milk through several layers of clothes and unused milk-delivery system, I’m guessing that a bear can smell me through the single-layer-mesh tent windows better than that closed soda in that closed car.

And riddle me this, readers: What week of the month do you think we happened to be camping? I was surprised to find (on day three of the trip) that it was the time during which an old myth holds that women are attacked by bears and mountain lions much more frequently. Blah blah blah pheromones…blah blah blah bleeding…blah blah blah unsubstantiated claims that mostly apply to polar bears.*

Whatever. These wee hour machinations did not inspire relaxed appreciation for the scenery: firmament, heavens, flora, nor fauna.

So now, wide awake at 3am, surrounded by the most beautiful bear country, after three glorious days with my boys and husband, who do you think felt more small and threatened than any woman should?

I lay there, reeking of honeydew ice cream on one end and of sloughed nutrients on the other, desperately hoping I’d live to plan the next camping trip a little better.

It’s rather unfair, I raged, after I spent an hour *terrified* and flinching at every sound. The two things that give me superpowers, the two things that make me the most vital I will ever be in my biological life…those things should not be a life-threatening liability.

I wouldn’t, even if I could, stuff my breasts and uterus into a bear box. I don’t care if the mountain lions and the bears and the wolverines all planned a hunting party with my photo on their usenet.

I can make a human and feed a human. And that means bears will come from miles around to feed on my superhero flesh?

Oh, hell no.

Except there was no “hell no.”

There was a small creature lying next to me who cried, in his sleep, “No! No! Carry!” And he reached his arms toward the sky lit with more enormous stars than I have ever seen in my life. I silently rolled him closer to me and curled around him. Knowing I couldn’t protect him. Knowing that, if anything, my very existence threatened his.

But he twined his fingers in my hair and settled into the warm, sweet baby sleep of a mammal with its mama.

I wanted to sink into our nest.

But his damned breath was so loud I couldn’t listen for bears. I had to choose whether to take this time to be his mama, in all its painful and scary challenges, or to roll away in the name of vigilance and preparedness.

I woke up exhausted and stiff with his fingers still in my hair, hoping the bear would at least wait until I had my patented campfire coffee and cocoa blend.

Sometimes weakness makes you strong. Sometimes strength makes you weak. And sometimes you gotta hope there’s a bumper crop of blueberries, honey, and salmon several miles away.

*Public service note: the myth about bear attacks on menstruating women is patently false. See this article and this study, to which I did not have access in the wilderness, because apparently a wilderness without cell access seems more attractive to nature snobs like me. Must rethink that position next time I’m awake at 3am.

Things we learned today

I’m working on those other requests, but today I have the following highlights for you:

The rookie human in our family learned that if you fill your pockets with rocks at the beginning of a hike for the mid-point lake rock throwing, you will spend much of the hike yanking up your drawers.
Caveat: true if you’re built like Spouse; no guarantees made if you’re built like post-weaning me.

The rookie mom of our family learned that if your small human fills his pockets with rocks, the action of walking 3 miles (no joke…I bribed him with two lollipops and a fistful of licorice, but he walked—without whining—3 miles. Did I mention that after the pockets were empty he walked another half mile? Uphill? A steep one? Kid is built like Spouse on the outside and like me on the inside.)
Anyway, if a pocket full of rocks is emptied of said rocks after 3 miles, two things are true: 1)rocks will have shed approximately 1/4 cup of dirt, all of which will go into the bed at naptime (you vets know to take them off first; I am a rookie); and 2) a standard cotton pocket will act as a fine sieve and a good portion of the dirt will filter through onto underdrawers and thighs, the result of which is impossible to shake out before nap. Believe me. After I found my mistake I shook that kid like…just kidding shaking is not funny. Except that it is.

I also learned that if you’re really crave making a whole pot of cream of potato ssoup just so you can pour it all over a casserole dish of your home-baked mac-n-cheese and eat it all with a soup spoon, maybe, just maybe, you need some sodium. But probably not that much.

And to cap it off, I swear, this is exactly the sixth step in a recipe for cream of potato soup.
“Add flour and create a rue.”
How would I create a rue? Burn the meal six steps in? Or get to the sixth step and realize I’m still eighteen steps from some damned soup?

Thank dog for small favors

Dear Universe,

Thank you, thank you for making fruit that does not need to be peeled or cut.  Washed, sure, mostly. Thank you for berries and grapes; they make my life so much easier I might actually cry. (All you chocking-hazard types can just get bent because I’m having a freaking moment here, and I sit with him when he eats, and I haven’t cut grapes since he was a year, and I’m bending over backwards here not letting him cry and respecting him so if I want to endanger his life a little it’s my business since I’m the one whose given up almost everything I know as happy and good in the world to give him things that are happy and good so just back the hell up and choose another blog to safetyvangelize.)

Thank you, Universe, for screwcap wine being okay now instead of all box winey.

Thank you Universe for my son’s perspective. On our hike I saw a deer and three wild turkey (not the former because of the latter, though that might be a good story, too) and he showed me a hawk, about 20 feet across a gorge, in a tree. I see stuff that’s moving and blow past things that are still. He sees everything. I’ve never before seen a hawk sitting still, watching.

Thank you, capitalism, for making pipe cleaners so cheap. Seriously. That’s like an hour of free thinking time while we quietly make fake flowers together for the house’s many vases. (Cat bastards make sure no real plant goes unmolested. For those keeping score, cats are more trouble than a fetus; newborns and infants and toddlers are more trouble than cats. Now cats are back on top, causing way more headaches than a three-year-old, even one without child care or preschool or any time away from me god help me don’t know how to make it through tomorrow or the next day.)

Thank you, Universe, for hummus. I would thank you more for avocado if my kid would eat it, because it’s an even more complete meal than hummus. But, we play the hand we’re dealt, and I appreciate hummus.

Thank you, youtube. Just for being you. Except all the creepy parts. I don’t appreciate having to prescreen searches to make sure some Plushy doesn’t pop up when I search for aardwark vids. But, still.

Thank you, England, for losing. We totally dig our fireworks. And the kazoo parade at the Russian River. I’m a total Yankee Doodle Dandy, macaroni and all. Seriously, how would we make it from Memorial Day to Labor Day without an excuse for outdoor cooking and excessive desserts? Thanks, British Empire. Most of the other colonies got totally scrod, but we did okay.

And thank you, Spouse, for the help yesterday. Your willingness to move the dust mop AND the whole pile of dirt about four feet out of the way when shrieks from our child interrupted my progress really helped. I was able to pick up my mopping again the next day, almost as if nothing had happened. You’re a peach.

And thank you Universe, for continuing to throw a freaking bone to the family you keep tossing about like a plaything. Thank goodness the illnesses (times thrity-two, by now, I think) and the car accident and the spitballs of bullshit you keep hurling at them just miss. There, CB. I’m grateful for you.

Underestimating kids…

Peanut is a trooper. Though he is a Tasmanian Devil of energy and freakishness and age-appropriate irrationality, I am often surprised at his moments of calm, reflective, general good naturedness. I shouldn’t be. Add it to the list of reasons I’m a crappy parent, or reasons to send me a free TV. (Seriously. Send me a TV.)

Today we went hiking. We were supposed to be at the dentist, but the dentists here, as in L.A., are charlatan assmunchers who want to build swimming pools in their backyards so they can show you pictures on their iPhones of how ducks have landed in their pool. Jerks. Plus,  their staff called to cancel, saying the dentist had surgery, even though the exam was done and this was just a cleaning, so i crossed them off, aand they called later to say, oops, we’re dumb, game on and I said no way bitches, I’m going hiking. Or, maybe, I said, so sorry but let’s reschedule. One of the two.

So Peanut and I went hiking. Slightly overcast, a little chilly. Quite nice as spring hikes go because we could wear long on long and didn’t need much sunscreen. One minute in it’s drizzling. Ten minutes in it’s pouring. We have sixty more minutes to go because he wants to go to the Little Farm and there ain’t no way I’m going the easy way when I’m 3000 pounds over racing weight and feeling like making up lost (crutches) time. So. Off we go. Thank heavens he picked the stroller over the backpack. ‘Cuz I’d rather slide down a mountain in running shoes caked with five inches of slippery mud than slide down a mountain in study hiking boots with a 30 pound kid strapped to my back.

So he’s talking about the rain and the dogs and keeping a tally of how many people we see versus wildlife. Fine. He’s mentioning that he’d rather be at home. Not gonna happen, but you’re entitled to your opinion. I know the whining will begin, so I offer snacks. He passes on the super awesome tube of carrot appleasauce because he says he wants to save it for when he’s at the farm where there are new piglets. You want your squishy sauce later because it’s more fun to eat when you’re watching piglets?


So when the whining begins, 45 minutes into the freezing, sleeting, drenching hike, I ask if he wants his sauce. He frowns at me, like I’m stupid. “No, I’m waiting for the pigs!” Oh. Well, did you know it’s pudding day and I have pudding, too? so you could have sauce now and pudding with the pigs…

Big smile. Huge smile. “No way. I want pudding now and save sauce for farm. Pudding day?!”

Yeah. It’s Tuesday. Everybody knows Tuesday is pudding day. (Or, realistically, everybody who counts their days not as workdays and weekends but as interminable days of sameness and neverendingness and milestonelessness knows Tuesday is pudding day. And Wednesday is movie day. And Thursday is library day. And Friday is chocoolate day. Because if we can get through Friday alive, Mommy can pretend that’s a milestone.)

So I slid/skiied down the trail in running shoes, dragged by the 900 pound jogging stroller, and screaming “Sh*t” every dozen feet as I think we’re gonna plunge off…okay, not off anything, but overturn into a big puddle of mud because I’m not such a terrible parent that I take his stroller, the one time he asks for it, on a  narrow cliff path. But I scream sh*t just because I want to and don’t really want to be soaked and muddy when I meet the new piglets. I also kind of avoid overturning jogging strollers because bruised and broken kids don’t let you go jogging next week.

He polished off the pudding and told me that this was his best pudding ever, EVER, and if it’s ever raining again, he wants to go hiking.

Damn, kid, you’re one in a million. (That means, if you were Chinese, there’d be thousands of you, but as it is, there are only 300 or so like you in this tiny country.)

I totally underestimated you.


Peanut and I were hiking and passed a group of teenaged girls, probably 17-19. They had stopped and were cleaning up after their dog, a feat I found impressive since there were, I think I’ve mentioned this, three teenage girls in the middle of a hiking trail. No witnesses, no garbage cans.

So we walked passed, and they continued on…about half a mile ahead I passed a bag on dog poop sitting at the edge of the trail. I thought about picking it up, but I was feeding Peanut (in the backpack) and needed two hands clean to divy up sliced tofu. So I walked past the disgusting remains of a jerk who felt compelled to clean up but not dispose of his ward’s waste.

But guess who stopped and picked it up? Those ladies behind me engaged in a conversation about how gross poop is, and as I turned around to look, the young lady already holding a bag of poop bent down and grabbed the second bag. Different color, different…um…size, so clearly not her dog’s poop.

I told her she was the nicest human on the face of the earth. She blushed and all the girls fell back, waiting for Peanut and me to hike away and leave them alone. I did. Peanut asked what was going on, and I explained.

Kids these days.

“The Unfinished”

It has taken several days for me to finish D.T. Max’s New Yorker article, biography of sorts, of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King. The article is moving, and includes correspondence from Wallace to Franzen and DeLillo, and quite a bit from his wife, Karen Green, whose pain I cannot even fathom and would love more than anything to salve with…what I don’t know. Because it’s none of my business, but if I cry reading a biography what must she do living in it?

Aside from being a touching portrait of an intensely intelligent writer who wanted simply to make readers feel “less alone inside,” and who in that quest felt increasingly more alone (except in the sunshine that was his marriage…thank heaven for Karen Green, who from the article I gather made him feel more at home and comfortable in his own skin than, it seems, anything else could outside really great writing).

What compelled me yesterday, reading the final pages of Max’s article (I still haven’t read the new piece of fiction that follows—I can’t yet) was Wallace’s root idea for The Pale King, as he articulated it in a typed note amongst his papers: “Bliss—a second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—likes on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious things you can find…and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”

I think that technicolor bliss can probably come after any intense “almost kills you” period of intense focus on undesirable emotions (fear might work as well as boredom).  As melodramatic as I oft am, I know that the weeks of intense three-year-old battling, of taking each breath as though it might be the only thing that could keep me going, is part of what made yesterday, a gorgeous, sun-filled day of hiking and strawberries and camaraderie with Peanut, the second-by-second bliss it was.

It was not a perfect day. It was a perfect-as-human-existence-can-get-if-you-have-a-dollop-of-realism-adorning-the-top-of-your-daily-trifle day.  And I’ll take it.