Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the month “July, 2015”

A shameful confession in selfish co-parenting

That first stage of parenting settled in and we were aware we had to look out for Baby’s every little need. I worried someone had finally given me my big chance and I was going to screw up the most perfect thing I had ever been given. I would only use bottled water for the formula since I had no idea if hotel sink water is clean. The sink is right next to the toilet, for god’s sake. I worried about SIDS. I worried he missed the sound of his birth mom. My overarching worry was that I’d hurt him. He’d fall when I bathed him. He’d choke. I’d drop him or cut him. At one point I remember thinking “what if I rip out his umbilical cord by mistake and he bleeds and it won’t stop?”

“Fear of horrendous mothering failure” would be the basic message, here.

At this point we have been living in the casino hotel for about two weeks. We have a good routine, if possible at that stage. Diaper station happens on the coffee bar, laptop is on the desk, minifridge stocked with grocery basics to avoid eating out every meal. The pantry (top shelf of the coffee bar) is where we store food. Eddie’s essentials: formula. Sarah’s essentials: chocolate and granola bars. Husband Mac’s essentials: Pop Tarts and scotch. Mac, actually of Scottish ancestry, drinks nice scotch to celebrate big life moments . He will only eat Pop Tarts if we are on a trip out of town. At the intersection of “having a son” and “we’re in a hotel” is my husband, having Pop Tarts and a 14 year old single malt.

The days went by in a pleasant haze of staring the baby and accepting the congratulations of our friends and family as our adoption was made public. We got cards, our students shared wonderful stories of how they cried when they saw the news on Facebook. Mac’s auntie started knitting a sweater for the baby. My in-laws Skyped with the three of us and never, not once, looked at their son or myself. They said, quite rightly, that he was a very beautiful baby and looked quite intellectually advanced for his age, too.

Then one morning I went to pick up the baby and discovered he had been mauled by Wolverine. My first thought was that this meant Hugh Jackman had been in my hotel room in the middle of the night and I’d missed it. That would really suck because like most women my ultimate fantasy is to have one night with Hugh in a hotel room. In my fantasy he’s arranging a a sitdown with his agent so I can sign a seven year deal to write as well as appear onscreen. I assume yours is much the same.

But what the hell happened to my child’s face? It was Death by a Thousand Papercuts. Then I see he’s not wearing mittens. That meant the scratches were from his nails. Right! This is one of those new parenting things I AM actually equipped to handle. One of the things we got as a gift was a little baby grooming set. There was a comb (pointless, his hair stood straight up all the time), snotsucker (pointless, the stupid little bulb was so hard to squeeze I needed two hands thus leaving no hands free to corral raging, angry newborn head) and a nailclipper. This is awesome, because after diapering, umbilical cord care and foreskin hygiene it was a relief to do something to the baby that I had at least done to myself.

This confidence lasted exactly nine seconds. Seven seconds to pick Baby up, one second to grab his chubby little fist and one more second to discover babies are not born with human fingernails. They are born with microscopic razors a millimeter thick that could scratch a diamond. I try to position the clippers but he suddenly moves his hands. What if I cut him? What if I miss? I can’t even see a pinky nail. It looks like a grain of rice. What the hell are my options here? I’ll bite my own nails but not his. Will I? Oh hell, I’ll try. Nope, I can’t get my teeth to work on something that tiny.

This is when, I’m not proud of myself but it’s true, this when I stopped. I didn’t even try. I put his mittens back on and did that whistling thing people do when they’re trying to act like there’s nothing to see here, officer. See, I knew eventually Mac would see the nails. Mac would try. If there was going to be a fingertip bloodbath it wasn’t on my conscience. This is, you will have guessed, exactly what happened.

One morning I bolt upright out of bed frantically heading towards my baby because I can hear he’s being murdered. I rush around the corner and Baby’s wailing while my husband is holding him. In the saddest, most heartwrenching little voice you’ve ever heard from a grown man Mac says “I cut him.” He felt miserable. He had taken the world’s tiniest sliver of flesh from my son’s finger and there was a little drop of blood. I think my husband would have cut off his own finger right there if it would undo this nightmarish scene.

And this, dear readers, is my shameful co-parenting confession. My very first thought was not to look at the finger or comfort my husband. I sort of did those on autopilot but they weren’t my first thought. My first thought, in its entirety, was

OH THANK GOD I AM NOT THE FIRST ONE TO MAKE THE BABY BLEED.

A short list of things that confuse me

There are times that I look around at the university where I lecture and think to myself “are we all sure I’m the person who is supposed to be up here?” Don’t get me wrong; theatre and how it intersects with culture is genuinely my passion. I have spent more than 20 years learning about it, doing it and writing about it. Passing that on to other people is freaking great. Generally speaking, I feel anyone who clearly remembers life before the internet has a place on the college campus; we are living history and what we went through will genuinely be forgotten by next Tuesday if we don’t tell people about life BPC (Before Personal Computers).

That said, there are things about baby gear that confuse the hell out of me. I don’t just feel curious, or befuddled, or even inadequate. Baby gear makes me feel DUMB. To wit:

  • why do baby bottles have rings? The ones in the hospital that you throw away every two ounces like you are a rapper in a video don’t have rings. But the at-home model does. Why can’t we just shape plastic like the ring is attached?
  • Without looking it up, tell me the differences between cloth diapers that are AIO, pre-fitted, pocket, hybrid and/or 2 in 1. For extra credit identify what a “leg gusset” is and explain why a diaper has something that sounds like part of a saloon whore’s costume.
  • Nipple sizes. Newborn, 2, 3…two what? three what? If you’re thinking of looking directly at a full bottle and squirting it to see if that edifies you, please take a picture. I’d like very much to know what the expression on my face was.
  • How does my baby know when I’m standing? We can jiggle him for a solid hour while he cries. Jiggle and walk, jiggle and walk. We jiggle him until our hands are numb and there’s a disturbing tic in my eye every time I move my shoulder. ANYTHING to keep him from crying. The second we sit to jiggle? The baby unleashes the hounds of hell directly out of his face. How did he know we sat while we jiggled? HOW?
  • He spent at least 36 weeks in utero hearing Spanish. Do I sound weird to him? If not, why not?
  • Finally, I own this and use this and it still confuses the hell out of me how I got here.
  • nosefrida-the-snotsucker-nasal-7898

An open letter to Mr. Donald Trump

Hello Mr. Trump,

You have recently announced that you would like to be the next President of the United States. I would like to take just five minutes of your time to review with you your qualifications for this post and invite you to my home.

I have heard you say many times that you are a billionaire and thus you understand our economy. I wonder if you understand the part where our economy runs on a large, underground network of people willing to do backbreaking work for cash in hand? Did you think that everyone who cooks meals, does nails, washes dishes, mows lawns, picks lettuce and packs meat is getting minimum wage and regular checkups from OSHA? If so, then you owe them respect and a thank you for doing what we are not. If you did not know that, then you are not qualified to be President. If you did know that and would like to change it, please mail me a copy of your plan and I’ll post it right here on this site.

You have said, as a candidate for President, that you don’t respect as war heroes the people who “got caught.” Am I to understand you do respect people fighting for a better way of life who do not get caught? What isn’t you didn’t like about Senator McCain? His service to his country or that he lacked an essential element to pass through a hostile territory unimpeded? Just curious. Oh, and if there’s an answer to that, I’ll post that as well. Right here.

But most importantly, Mr Trump: you have thrown your hat in the ring to become the leader of the United States. You seem pretty clear on what “States” are, you went down to a state next to Mexico and frowned thoughtfully at some fences. You promised better border control. I think where you are probably falling down is on “United.” Here’s why I think this. You want to keep people who are not citizens from coming over the border unlawfully, and that part holds water. We’d need to have a long talk about all of the bullet points in the first part of this letter, yet I see the essential substance. We say it’s illegal, and we don’t want people to break the law to arrive in our country. But (and I’m sure you could sense this coming) you didn’t say that. You said the “people coming over” (this is you talking, now)

…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people! But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East.

The people coming over aren’t The Right Kind Of People. You think the murderers, the rapists, the criminals, you think those are the people coming from Mexico. My husband came here from another country to blatantly take a job AND an American wife. I notice you don’t care he crossed the border. What exactly about my husband doesn’t concern you? Is he the Right Kind? He didn’t want an under-the-table job? He fits in? He fits in how? Use exact language here. Words have been important for at least 43 of our Presidents.

Good, decent, hardworking people desperate for a better life are just an afterthought you made a flippant comment about so you don’t get accused of stereotyping. We arrive at my problem. My son was born to people who came from Mexico. I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know how they got here, why they came, if they came alone or in a group. Just like everything else in my son’s life his biological roots are a mystery to me. Mr. Trump, help me solve my problem.

I am inviting you to my house, anytime from today until November 2016, to come look at my son. I need your expert opinion on which group of criminals he descended from. I’ll give you a head start. Here he is:

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I even made him look as Mexican as I could, what with the Zorro and all. Do you need to come hold him to determine if he’s more likely to be a drug dealer or a murderer? Would it help if I tell you his favorite food is peaches and he laughs uproariously when I tickle under his neck fat? Should you know he loves his stuffed elephant and cries when a sneeze scares him? Or do you need to know how brown he is? In case that’s the deciding factor, I have included this handy comparison:

PicMonkey Collage

Or, there’s one last metric that I’m sure you’ll agree works. Let’s give it 20 years. 20 years of him growing up in an America that makes assumptions about his status, his criminal history and life potential based on whatever an ignorant, racist asshole (trying to buy public office as a hobby) says when a microphone is shoved in his face. I’m sorry, have I unfairly characterized you based only on your past, words, deeds and self-presentation? If I have, come to my house. Come here and look me in the eye and tell me I am wrong. Tell me that you understand “United” means if I’m stuck with you then you’re stuck with us. I want you to hold my child and say, on camera, that you have some understanding of why what you said matters. If you really, really want a united United States I invite you to come meet Everything America Has to Fear. He’ll be in our living room, eating peaches.

Fashion for Infants

As a new parent, one of your most basic obligations is keeping your child appropriately dressed for the weather. Plus, we all know those little tots attract lots of fans looking for adorable photo ops! By following these simple steps your Baby will be Red Carpet ready in a flash!

1. Determine the size of your baby. Baby clothing can be listed in weight or in months. If you have a fat baby, the months will seem too small. If you have a skinny baby the months will seem too big. If you have twins the months will seem to last forever and ever and you’ll drink a lot. The most important thing is that no matter what size your child is now, that will change in a week and you’ll have shrunk all of the clothing in the dryer by then anyhow. Your best bet is to befriend very forgetful people and get them to throw you a shower approximately four times a year.

2. Determine the season. If it’s warm out, dress the baby in that outfit that looks like she’s going to the beach. If it’s cold out, start with that and then add layers until she’s spherical. Then add a hat. Everybody fucking loves babies in hats.

3. If you don’t know how to put on a onesie, follow my handy guide:

  • Baby clothing is often colorful and fun. If your onesie looks muted or boring, ask yourself if you are Amish. If you are not, then you probably have a fun and colorful onesie that is simply inside out. Fix it or don’t, nobody here is judging you.
  • Put your hand in any random onesie hole. Pull the baby’s arm through that hole. If it looks like the baby’s wearing a turtleneck, you’ve identified an armhole. Rotate onesie 90 degrees and put that hole on an arm.
  • If you see snaps over the baby’s head, you’ve identified where his butt goes. Turn the onesie 180 degrees and try again.
  • If your baby has an arm through each hole, a head out of one hole and his butt down by another hole, then I’d call it good because it has been 20 minutes and we haven’t even gotten to pants yet.
  • If you insist on pants, put one leg through a leg hole. Put the other leg through the other leg hole. Notice the pants are too loose. Realize you forgot a diaper. Pull the pants off. Put a diaper on the baby. Diapers are supposed to be colorful and fun. If your diaper is not colorful and fun, ask yourself if you are Amish. If you are not, then you have been using old-fashioned white cloth diapers for no reason and boy, am I about to BLOW YOUR MIND.
  • Now that you know we have colorful absorbent diapers with wetness indicators and all they are costing us is Mother Earth, back to the pants. Put one leg in the leghole. Put the other leg in the other leghole. Then put the first leg back in the first leghole. Repeat until you figure out you have to grab him and slide up the pants over his butt really fast.
  • Socks. It’s important that the socks match, so that when she kicks one off and you file the Missing Sock Report you can tell the police “it looked just like this one.”

In the final analysis, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to dress a baby, unless you put high heels on an infant. If you do that, then I’d like to come to your house and tell you about all the things being Amish has to offer. Otherwise, have a good time and don’t forget the hats.

Hoods are also acceptable

Hoods are also acceptable

Don’t do The Thing

Attention! Due to extenuating circumstances visits to the doctor’s office are now limited to the following scenarios: baby is too hot, baby is too cold, baby eating too much/too little/too often/not often enough/without perceived appropriate amount of zeal, baby farts in a manner inconsistent with previous farting behavior, or baby displays ambivalence towards the color teal. Calls concerning the health of either parent will be adjudicated on a case by case basis if and only if the other parent has time and a winning lottery ticket.

We need to take Baby for an extensive, and I do mean extensive, set of tests, checkups, metrics, go-sees, drop-ins and passing glances. This happens when an adopted baby doesn’t have any medical history forms for one or both sides of the family. In our particular case there was such a lack of info on Baby it was almost like we had negative background. Less than zero, on a scale of 1-10 we had -3. Consequently he needed to see a pediatrician while we were in Council Bluffs. The doctor, who was friendly and never let on that she was capable of destroying the entirety of my womanhood with a single sentence, suggested I should breastfeed Baby. In Nigeria (the doc’s native land) I guess it’s common practice for women who have not given birth to still breastfeed a family member. They get the milk to flow by placing the infant on their breast several times a day.

It hadn’t occurred to me this would even come up. Some insane person who was using my vocal cords chirped “Hey! That could sure be worth a try!” No, Sarah. NO IT WOULD NOT. I have no clue what my vocal cords were thinking. This was a genuinely terrible idea. You see, we didn’t simply adopt because of the reasons one would imagine, like I need to keep my figure for my big time Hollywood career or my eggs are lazy. Nope, we adopted because I live in North Korea.

This is not to say that my body is located in North Korea. I am contained within a perimeter that surrounds North Korea. You cannot imagine a more contentious, petulant little war zone than the one located between my ribs and knees.

I have spent a long time making peace with the war zone. An especially painful detente came in 2009 when, like most childless couples, we tried to cook at home before getting carry out. Permit me to sum up how hopeless fertility treatment was: when we got back the final batch of tests my doctor came in, sat beside me, and in a friendly tone started my diagnosis with “I want you to know I have two adopted children I can’t imagine my life without.” I’m not just barren, or infertile, or whatever weird thing the Tea Party seems to think makes me worthless as a human. My reproductive organs wage all-out war on my body. I had North Korean ovaries. They were so committed to shutting down my system that after I removed the first one (Kim Il-Sung) AND the second one (Kim Jong-Il) they left behind a SURPRISE SUCCESSOR, a non-cancerous tumor I called Kim Jong-Un because everybody was surprised he showed up after we thought we had cleared out the worst of the insufferable shittiness. Also because he was tubby, potentially dangerous, and a very literal pain in my side.

There were procedures, pills, shots, treatments, therapies, acupressure, yoga meditations, visualization exercises, and surgeries. A lot of them. This is how I became a young(ish?) person who sometimes walks with a cane. I won’t offend people with a genuine disability by saying I have a disability. I don’t.  A cane is nothing more than a tool I have in my arsenal to keep my less-than-optimal body running around. When my insides are cooperating I don’t need the cane. As it happened when we got Baby I needed the cane constantly.

So here I am, in Council Bluffs, trying to radiate New Mommyhood Glow and basking in all the attention Baby gets. I’m trying to radiate and bask but I’m also carrying my cane and suddenly feeling very defensive, old, defective. If I were meant to have this baby I’d have working breasts. I wouldn’t be afraid of what all the hormonal stimulation would do to me. I’d go off of all the medication I have needed since 1996 and give Baby pure, nourishing breastmilk no matter what it did to me personally. Hell, nothing would matter what it did to me personally, it’s not just a food issue.

If he had gotten the right mommy, not an old defective one, he could take 20 car rides a day. His mommy wouldn’t need help to lift him. His carseat would be in the middle of my backseat, not off to one side because I can’t reach the middle when I need to use the cane. His younger, healthier mommy wouldn’t need to leave him (as I was about to) to go to a pain clinic for 3 days where they evaluate and treat nerve damage due to scar tissue. In short, I should have been the perfect mother babies are supposed to get when they get their big Second Chance through adoption.

This is when my best friend, henceforth known as “AJ,” comes in. I call her AJ because when I say “AJ!” she responds. AJ listens to my self-pitying tale of basking, glowing, canes, Kim Jong-Il etc and then puts on her Stern Voice and sends forth an astonishing piece of wisdom which I now pass on to you. She says “Sarah, you are doing The Thing. Don’t do The Thing.

AJ explains to me that The Thing is something all mothers do, biological, adoptive, step-, everyone. The Thing is letting “the best I can” not be good enough. Mommies hear about the Ideal. Ideal mommies behave a certain way, do a certain thing, have a certain appearance, they are perfection. The perfection doesn’t exist but we think it does because somehow our society has gone way, way the fuck overboard on telling women how to be the Perfect Mommy and we’re too tired/overwhelmed/outnumbered to sit society down and give it a good talking to. The Ideal is not always possible so we do what we can. As I tearfully admit I can’t have his carseat in the middle, I just can’t reach that far, she looks at me with compassion (with a soupçon of mockery) and says “what do mothers of twins do, Sarah?”

She continues “your Baby is the one always meant for you, right?” Yes! Of course he is! “So, exactly how would you have gotten the son you were always meant to have if you didn’t adopt him?” Holy crap. She’s right! We never would have adopted him if we had conceived a baby, and while I know we would have loved that baby it also makes me sad that we wouldn’t have had this one. Because this one, this particular baby, was always meant to be my kid. He didn’t get the perfect family– he got his family.

So, a million doctors appointments for him, because we don’t know anything about him. And a million more for me, in case my abdomen ever wants to call a truce. A constant, expensive reminder that the Imes Bordens are good enough– we don’t do perfection. We don’t do The Thing.

The meaning of adoption

Adoption is hard enough to define as an adult, I had no idea how to explain it to kids, even my own. Especially my own. What happens when he wants to know why his biological parents didn’t raise him? Will he question how we were picked? Will he think my definition of a Christmas miracle is his definition of a Christmas forever ruined?

My cousin Maid Marian came to visit Baby along with her family. This makes perfect sense when you know I’m Lady Cluck. Her family includes Sis (age 6) and Skippy (3). She’s married to Dan. I have no idea why you expect she’d be married to Robin Hood, he’s literally a cartoon fox and what the hell goes on at your house?

Moving on, we met down in the lobby so the kids could run around and I could see a different set of walls. When it’s negative 15 degrees every day and your hotel window overlooks the bricked up side of a casino you start to get starved for sensory input.

The kids are playing, we’re discussing how winter break is going, I gratefully receive a gift that includes yet other things we didn’t know we needed, especially XL-sized swaddling blankets. Baby barfs all over one corner? Not a problem! You’ve got plenty left over to clean up, wipe off your own shoulder, clean off the counter, then roll up the messy side and use the clean side for the next burp! In the middle of the Christmas cheer I had one of those moments when real life suddenly throws up many more questions that you have answers. Sis loves looking at the Baby, holding the Baby, noticing how small the baby is. Sis is also as smart as her mom, meaning when Marian says “Baby was adopted! Do you know what adopted means, Sis?” Sis is ready with all the pertinent questions.

“It was this week? Was he ever in an orphanage?” I tell her not exactly, some very nice nurses took care of him for us before we met him. I add that right before Christmas we brought him home from the hospital. She wants to know if he’s going to be ours forever. The answer is yes. I have no idea where this is going.

So, while I’m stumbling over 10 different ways to explain that sometimes mommies and daddies can’t take care of a baby, and they loves that baby so much they give that baby a home with another mommy and daddy, and those parents love the baby just like he was born from her tummy, and it’s hard to understand but everyone did this from a place of compassion and care for the infant, and and and and and…

Sis does the math: Baby at Christmas + forever home + a spirit of goodwill =

“Elf! Your baby is just like Elf!”

I haven’t seen Elf, but Marian says “yep! Like Elf!” and she has excellent judgment so I decide to check it out. Weeks later, I’m home at four in the morning (I stayed awake all night, husband had early morning shift) and Elf comes on TNT. Why playing a Christmas movie in late January represents a good scheduling decision is a mystery to me, but it was appreciated nonetheless. I sit down with some pretzels and begin to watch the story of Buddy. Five minutes in and I’m crying (let’s blame hormones, shall we? Ignore that I wasn’t pregnant). There he is, the inimitable Bob Newhart, telling me that sometimes you work so hard that having kids simply doesn’t happen the way you thought it would, and then one day Santa Ed Asner brings you a mystery child that you will love no matter what he’s good at, how different he looks from the other elves, where he has to go to find himself. I’ll be damned. It’s right there on the screen for anybody to see. I’m Bob Newhart.

I am going to QUIT wasting time when it comes to explaining to kids how this Christmas miracle occurred in our lives. The new standard answer, which has yet to fail me, is “Elf. Our baby is just like Elf.”

bob

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

It is Boxing Day and we are still celebrating. As a child I celebrated Christmas in a traditional way, with Santa, Christmas Eve church, being the angel in the nativity play, and so on. As our own family my husband and I celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, a time when we honor our heritage by continuing traditions. That works well in what I consider to be a mixed marriage; I believe in Something, he does not. We also share strong bonds with our families and we like getting together, giving gifts, telling the old stories, all of that. We celebrate Boxing Day since it’s common in Canada and my husband has great memories of roving from house to house eating leftovers with his friends. That’s no different than what he did with his friends most other days of the year but it’s free to call it Boxing Day and it makes him happy.

On Boxing Day 2014 we would be debuting the Baby Swing.  There were certain things that could make life in the hotel easier. Mom would buy them and she and dad would bring them up to Iowa. She mentioned that we should get a swing. My mom likes to shop and she is very smart about shopping for baby things. She gets them at consignment stores with creepy names like “Once Upon a Child.” Seriously? Didn’t a single person involved at the franchise level even hear that sentence out loud before they slapped it on a store?

Mom was buying what we didn’t have waiting for us in NE.  Remember, we had started out with nothing. As people learned of the Extenuating Circumstance they generously donated things we could use at home. My sister ended up running a whole consignment shop out of her basement so friends could drop off whatever they no longer needed for their own little ones. Oh–a word on my sister. She has declined to have her first name show up in this blog. She said she will only answer to “O Captain, my Captain!”  Very well. Robin Williams it is.

So my sister Robin sifted through the donations, reported that there wasn’t a swing available, and mom went to Once Upon a Molestation Charge and bought one. It looks like a papasan chair and a hammock had sex with a space ship. There’s a soothing basket chair hung on a space-agey motorized plastic and metal frame. It has bumble bees hanging overhead, palm fronds, plays music and nature noises, comes with 7 speeds and is generally nicer than my first car. Mom got that up to Counciltucky and could not WAIT to get the baby in it.

We decided we’ll put it in the room she and my dad are sharing, and after Mom helps us give Baby his first-ever bath he can relax in his new swing. Bathing a child in a hotel is hard because they are slippery. If we could safely attach wet babies to a luge (and I am not for one second suggesting we should try) we would revolutionize the Winter Olympics. Anyway. Mom, dad, husband, baby and me; sitting around, looking at the new swing, talking about next semester’s classes, prepping for the bath. Mom asks if I’ll be teaching my Irish Theatre class again. Yes. I tell her about the religion segment, Husband mentions he is adding a new religion segment to one of his theatre history classes. Dad asks why. Husband answers. Baby lays on the bed. I talk about the role religion played in Irish playwriting. Mom asks intelligent question. I pontificate. Husband wonders if we need more towels for the bath. Mom says “yes.” I undress the baby. Dad asks about particular play. Husband pontificates. Baby pees. Mom  goes to look for baby shampoo. Husband mentions Christmas memory. Dad laughs. Mom asks for shampoo. I take key card and go to the room.

I return to my parents’ suite to…silence? I come in with the shampoo. Mom is sitting on the bed with a slightly befuddled expression.

“Mom? Are you ready for the bath? Where is Husband? And dad?”

“Oh! Yes! Sarah! Hi! Yes! Baby is ready for the bath, Husband went to get more towels and your father is an atheist.”

WHAT?

I left for 30 seconds and my father renounced belief in a higher power? What the hell HAPPENED while I was gone???

Here’s the funny thing: as mom and I put down 87 towels for the bath and dad returned from getting a cup of coffee in the lobby it emerged that this wasn’t a very big deal. Mom had suspected it, he hadn’t given much thought to formally putting it into words, and then when everyone was tired and happy and discussing religion it just sort of slipped out. If anything, we can all look for the positive in a 40 year marriage where your spouse still has the ability to surprise you at the holidays.

We gave the Baby his bath, which took three adults 10 minutes and 7 towels plus bathmat, baby washcloth, cotton swabs, shampoo, lotion and reading glasses (“can you see if that’s poop?” “Does it rub off?” “No, that’s why I wonder if it’s poop!” “Could it be a mole?” “Well, does it rub off?” “NO.”). Then we put him in the swing and spent half an hour fretting over whether it was too fast, too forceful, too stimulating, too much. We wondered. The baby didn’t, he fell right asleep, leaving us to think about what celebrating holidays means to different people we love and why we gather with them no matter where they are.

It wasn’t until the next day they discovered I’m Bob Newhart.

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I am a roadie

My son stays up until four in the morning, screams at his entourage, ingests dust that costs more per ounce than platinum, and drinks til he pukes in my hair then face plants into it, fast asleep. I’m parenting Keith Richards.

As we settle into our life at the Casino/Hotel, I become aware that there isn’t very much substantive parenting to be done at this stage. He doesn’t need to be disciplined, taken to soccer practice (I married a Canadian. There will be soccer practice. My husband wrote it into our wedding vows) or helped with homework. What I am, in reality, is a roadie.

Everywhere we go the baby is the superstar. His job is to Be The Baby. Everyone will adore him for this. My husband and I have the job of making sure The Baby makes his appearances. The Baby sleeps whenever he wants, throws a fit when everything isn’t to his liking, and is expected to be moody, well-dressed and then covered in vomit. Our job is to stage manage everything that goes on behind the scenes of Being the Baby.

The baby is supposed to meet new family? Great. The first thing people will notice is the New Baby Multi-Sensory Experience. They expect him to be soft, smooth and have that luxurious New Baby smell. Get him bathed, dried, lotioned and diapered. Pick out what Baby will be wearing. Be CERTAIN that is what Baby is in the mood to wear, because you know how he feels about those little tags that poke out. Get him dressed and looking sharp.

Coordinate with staff at the venue. Make sure The Baby will be arriving in a warm car, right at the door, there will be no waiting to get inside. The fans wait for Baby, never the other way around. It’s winter in Iowa and there will be a backup plan for all roadtrips in case there is ice, snow or biting wind. The Baby does not do inconvenience.

Assemble all of the gear you need to travel. You know if he’s gone for any length of time there will be peeing, pooping, spit up and gassy farts. It’s the roadie who loads everything in the car to make sure these events are handled properly. You’ll also need a way to get him around (what, you thought he’d walk? He’s The Baby, not some peasant) and then a place for him to sit. He requires entertainment at all times if the people surrounding him are too much/too little/too whatever to handle. Remember that he has special dietary requirements. He will not be ordering off the menu no matter how swanky the restaurant thinks it is. The Baby eats on his own schedule. Should the roadies also want to eat, they may do so when it is convenient for The Baby. For this reason, roadies ordering food designed to be served at a certain temperature are foolhardy.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all the glare of the spotlight. At the hotel you get to see a side of private side of him when he’s not “on” and that feels pretty cool. Just remember, that doesn’t mean you’re actually equals. He sets the schedule, he dictates the mood in the room, he makes the staff rota. It doesn’t matter if Daddy hasn’t slept since Tuesday, if Mommy is boring as hell and we want Daddy, then Daddy better quit working on his (unapproved) side gig as a “professor” and come back to his only real responsibility. Right. Now. DAMMIT.

To be fair, it’s hard to hold a grudge against a superstar whose shit literally doesn’t stink. **A sidenote here to thank Mother Nature for that grace period. Think about that for a second…two people new at diapering and there isn’t another room in which to throw away the diapers or put dirty laundry.** It’s also fair to say that he never, ever lets down a crowd. Sure, the hotel room looks like a bomb went off and feeding him costs more than the GDP of Finland. Isn’t that the price of stardom? Who ever hears of a really big name that picks up his own socks, eats generic soup and turns in at 9:30?

So I’ll pack the gear and buy the special formula. He can barf on me and I’ll take it. Hell, I even paid for the privilege. Tune in next time, when we cover the Farce of the Swing and it turns out I’m Bob Newhart.

The State of Iowa Congratulates You!

Congratulations! You have decided to become parents in another state over the holidays. Let us be the first to say, your timing is ludicrous. When your adoption agency tells you it will take a few days to settle the Interstate Compact, what they are really saying is “you’ll be lucky to get it done before your child is eligible for Social Security benefits.”

For your reference, here is a guide to what you can expect from the State of Iowa concerning your Interstate Compact.

  1. The fingerprints you have done every year that you were with an Iowa-based adoption agency are not sufficient. Neither are the ones you had taken in Nebraska by both the Sheriff and Police Department. You will need a new set taken in Iowa and sent to the FBI. This must be done before we start the paperwork. You arrived on the 22nd, we don’t work over Christmas, and then after you get it done we won’t submit it to the court until after the New Year.
  2. The only place to get your prints done in Council Bluffs, this is absolutely true, is the UPS store. We don’t know why, either.
  3. While all of this is happening, you cannot cross into Nebraska for ANY reason with the child. This means that you will need to spend three weeks in a hotel. This is above any costs you have already incurred for home studies, adoption fees and necessities for the baby.
  4. All paperwork sent to Nebraska is sent via traditional mail. The government can communicate with people living in the International Space Station, but they cannot use email to complete interstate adoption paperwork.
  5. For anyone wishing to express a grievance with this antiquated system, you may lodge a complaint between 2:00 and 2:07 pm on every other Thursday. The Complaints Division is located at the UPS store. We don’t know why, either.
  6. Incidentally, we are well aware that this is the least-gross way to conduct the business of adoption. Your small, private agency allowed you to apply for an adoption when you were turned away from several traditional Nebraska venues. We know you were turned away because you hadn’t been married long enough (three years for the State of Nebraska, which is understandable) or because you could not register with a religious adoption agency. If you are atheist, as your husband is, you have very real trouble adopting in Nebraska. In fact, some agencies want a letter from your pastor to help prove you’re a good person before you can start the process. It doesn’t matter that you hold good jobs, are involved in your community, pay taxes and genuinely care about helping humankind…if you are Good Without a God then you are also Childless Without a Chance.

Let us not ignore, though, that this bureaucratic bullshit is nothing, absolutely non-existent, compared to what you found when you began looking for private adoption agencies. We are, of course, talking about the sliding scale of race that you got from most of the agencies you researched. The documents that laid out, in black and white (pun intended but still repugnant) how skin color determines what you pay for your adoption.

So that this is COMPLETELY OBVIOUSLY CLEAR, we are going to explain it like we’re talking to a four year old. IN AMERICA, WE PRICE BABIES ACCORDING TO HOW WHITE THEY ARE.

Here is a price list from an agency in Florida. Similar scales were sent from MO and GA.

African American track (100% Black) adoptions are free to apply for. Final cost of adoptions, about $14,000

All other adoption tracks cost a non-refundable $500 application fee.

Biracial (mixed with black) $14,000 to $18,000

Latino, other designations $14,000-$20,000

Biracial (not mixed with black) $18,000 to $25,000

Caucasian boys $25,000 and up

Caucasian girls starting at $30,000

Prices vary according to medical expenses and needs of the birth mother.

You will hear many debates on why this is fair. It mostly has to do with white people not receiving as much government assistance, so the birthmoms deserve more money. Nobody ever points out that these fees can be held separately from medical fees. There’s a mysterious wormhole in the fabric of the adoption universe that sucks up more money when everyone involved is white. So, in conclusion, while there are many conversations to be had, ranging from “this is a supply and demand equation” to “doesn’t this speak directly to why we need to discuss race more, not less in America?” let us not forget the most important factor here: this is fucked up.

All in all, it takes three weeks, tons of money, a paperchase that will end in 2022 and you’re living in a room the size of a postage stamp. But this is what happens when you use a small, ethical agency that collects one uniform fee for one beautiful child. Your child, who is at once the most expensive thing in the known world and the most priceless.

The State of Iowa regrets that we’re out of copies of our free booklet Explaining to Your Children Why It’s Offensive to Designate Them 3/5 of a Human Being but Not Offensive to Charge 3/5 of a White Child to Adopt Them.

Congratulations again on your newest tax break.

Your Guide to Adopting and Raising a Baby in an Iowa Casino

Everyone with a new baby is excited, anxious, head over heels in love. They also have a new routine to build and person to bond with. It’s not just being a new parent. You are now a new type of unit with your spouse. You talk about how you see responsibility, how you picture the future. You can’t help but dream, like they show in the movies, that all those things happen in your own apartment/home. You snuggle your little bundle in the nursery you painted with stuff you picked out amidst a collection of sturdy but tasteful baby furniture made by IKEA, Target or similar.

Believe me, I am very well aware that this is the ultimate White Whine, but having a newborn in a hotel is weird, y’all. Three weeks. I’ll explain the three weeks next time. For now, what’s relevant is we had a small suite with a minifridge and place for the crib. This extra space was heaven sent. If nothing else, it meant one parent could “sleep” in the bed while the other person “worked” or “read” on the couch. In reality these things were never accomplished as every cell in our body was tuned into The Infant Channel. In a space like that, your lizard brain picks up on every minute thing the baby could possibly think about doing. He made so many weird noises we nicknamed him Bubble and Squeak. A very big shoutout goes to all the grandparents, who paid for the room. After all of the adoption expenses thus far, what we could have afforded for 3 weeks was to take turns committing petty thievery and staying in county lockup.

Our friends and family drove up to meet the baby. You can picture how it was to sit with them, trade Christmas stories, take pictures, and play our new favorite lobby game “Winner or Loser?” The game is simple; by watching the body language of people coming out of the casino you guess if they won or lost. The correct answer, by the way, is “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how drunk and undignified you get.”

Our visitors also brought us baby gifts! They were very sweet, with the exception of the Light-Up Rudolph that went berserk at four in the morning and scared the everloving bejesus out of me. More importantly the baby gifts corrected oversights we had committed during our midnight Walmart mission. Now, I believe in thinking through scenarios. I am a strategist. I’d like to think contingency options and foresight help me win most battles I face. And yet.

In the harsh light of day it became obvious we had underestimated the size and scope of matériel needed to win this war. For example: mittens for the baby. We didn’t know babies need special mittens so they don’t scratch themselves. Other examples: sleepsacks, warm onesies and burp cloths. Want to know how naive we were? We had a Christmas outfit, one sleepsack and six onesies. We figured one outfit per day, wash every six days. Christmas onesie? Stretches it to one laundry day a week. One sleepsack, wash with onesies. One package of 5 burpcloths would probably last a week. We also had one package of diapers, the formula the hospital gave us, some things in a diaper bag my sister gave us plus TWO blankets AND A HAT. How much does one family need?

If you aren’t laughing yourself stupid right now, then it’s only because you have fallen off your chair and died.

If you are going to unexpectedly get a baby and live in a hotel for three weeks, then benefit from our lack of preparedness. Print off this list and carry it your wallet.

  • 7 outfits per day+ two pajamas per day. Buy more if, like me, you don’t know you need to place a boy’s penis facing down so he doesn’t shoot pee straight up the waistband of his diaper
  • Mittens, socks, booties. These serve a dual purpose: they make the baby comfortable plus they save you from female relatives constantly asking if the baby isn’t cold.
  • Hats. Everyone knows they are warm, but do you also know how fucking cute babies in hats are? It could be an entire British television series; “…and now back to our popular ongoing series, Little People in Hats.” See? You read that with a British accent in your mind.
  • Formula. Formula isn’t to feed the baby. Have you SMELLED formula? If you came across formula in the wild and had no idea what it was for, would you stick it in your child’s mouth? You would not. You would gingerly replace the cap and give it a decent Christian burial. Besides, all that formula gets burped up anyway. Babies live on the energy they suck directly out of your marrow. This is why new parents are tired all the time. No. Formula is for something much more important. It is for pissing off the Breastfeeding Brigade. You want to feed your baby breastmilk? Great! Good luck and go to it. You want to tell me how to feed my baby? Then prepare for an asskicking while I explain to you it’s none of your business that the both the baby and the food couldn’t be made at home so I catered in.
  • Those swaddling blankets. My sister was right! You need a bunch of them. You swaddle the baby at night, when he cries, when he’s scared, when you want to take that picture everyone calls Baby Burrito. They are also great towels, mops, hairwraps, aprons, oven mitts, hankies, you name it.
  • Diapers that have a strip to show wetness. This is so much better than the “stick your finger down there!” method.
  • Finally, after you have all of these things, put one of each on the baby. If you do it right, it doesn’t matter where you’re living, because you still have this.

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