Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mother's Day In: Rejected Essay #1

This is the first of a new mini-series, Rejected Essays. I wrote it many years ago back when I was a new arrival in Crabtown. I tried to sell it in various forms to the usual venues—Babble (they said they were too urban to pub an essay by a ruralmom! I told them urban is a state of mind and my essay was all about that very thing, but they nixed it anyway, the smug urban twits); also sent it to Brain, Child (I guess it wasn't brainy enough); Cookie (no room for first-person essays of this sort) and blah-di-blah. Having just read an interview with Cheryl Hines (the actress playing one of the moms in the new TV comedy In the Motherhood) at, my erstwhile home, I decided it was high time I published this essay. The actress mentions a similar anecdote to the one I describe here. I guess they are filming it for In the Motherhood.

Incidentally, I am boycotting In the Motherhood b/c they had the cheek to send their PRs to my and other momblog websites asking us to share our stories with their show producer in some sort of exciting phone call. I told them the Crabmommy's idea of an exciting phone call with their producer begins and ends with a discussion of money and credit. Wankers. Seriously, PR, read my bloody blog. I'm not here to help you with your TV show.

Anyhoo, Hines reminded me of a funny story I myself tried to tell many years ago, but couldn't get anyone to run. The beauty of a blog? You can just run your own dang rejects yourself. Hopefully you will enjoy, my dears! And Crabtown readers, there's a little poetic license taken here and there; I hope you will humor it. Okay, enough chit-chat. Rejected Essay Part Uno...

Mother's Day In

After our baby was born, we did the unthinkable. We did exactly what we had always scoffed at, what we swore we would never do, what no real New Yorkers–no truly urbane parents–ever resort to, no matter how challenging the life of cramped apartment and schlepping stroller into subway. We left.

We nixed suburbs (we’d both read Revolutionary Road), but when my husband got offered a job in a remote and famously charming mountain Rocky Mountain resort, leaving seemed better than staying. Because when you get knocked up and have to move so deep into Brooklyn it feels like the end of the world, switching city for town doesn’t sound, well, like the end of the world anymore. And so there comes a day when you look at each other and agree that having a baby in the city with no bucks absolutely blows, and let’s just finally, after all this talking about and conjecturing about life in other places–let’s just stun ourselves and our friends and get out of here.

But the decision was made in the full thrust of summer. To stroll gently upon alpine meadows containing bashful deer, or to stay in steamy Kensington, Brooklyn, mashed against the narrow corner-store grocery aisles by forceful Ukrainian matriarchs?

Problem is, summer’s gone now. And, I think I might have made a mistake. Certainly all this time, space, and distance is making me obsess over what I’ve abandoned, all those things I’d always taken for granted in New York, things you don’t even think about until you’ve left. For instance, one of the best things about living in New York City is that no one ever invites you on a hike. In winter. With your baby in a backpack and tennis rackets on your feet. In a big city, such activities can be avoided. In our new town, this sort of thing unfortunately happens all the time.

Here, winter lasts forever–longer if you’re lazy and have an infant. And Patagonia-clad moms’ groups deal with winter by getting into it, in snowshoes, scampering up ice-shellacked buttes, offspring stashed dorsally in high-performance carriers. But not me, not mine. No thanks. Having had no choice but to Bjorn my hefty daughter for the first nine months of her life, on foot from subway to bus and Brooklyn to Manhattan, why would I choose to pick her up and put her on my back when I finally have a car?

Except there aren’t many places to drive to with a tot when the playgrounds are frozen for most of the year. And without playgrounds we can’t make any friends, hence no playdates. No matter, we shall hunker down at home, the baby and I, and I shall entertain her with a hip-mom technology-shunning program involving books, wooden toys, and fetching felt finger-puppets.
That was the plan. But it does not go well. The all-day one-on-one mom-baby time is a clear and unremitting hell. I ditch the wooden toy mandate fast–show me a tot who actually likes a Haba spinning top!–and it’s on to television, preferably all day, though to my great disappointment Teletubbies don’t mesmerize a baby half as much as people caution.

The months move glacially. I revisit the options: what’s worse, staying home where baby and I are both crazed with boredom and isolation, or backpacking with a moms’ group into some nasty dark canyon, me huffing in the altitude while my poor chilly mite snots up the back of my puffy jacket, ice wind chapping her delicate cheeks…? To be sure, neither of us is digging it at home but still I can’t bring myself to climb a mountain instead, nor can I bear to exchange my MacLaren XT for a winterized jogging-type stroller adapted with snow tires for walks across the elk-inhabited tundra downtown.

But judging by the other mothers I see leaping, jogging, shushing through ice and snow, I am entirely alone in my distaste for activity, and I miss the sensible girls I once knew, for whom competitive knitting is about as aerobic as it gets.

We do break out for Storytime at the library on Thursday mornings; nonetheless I feel trapped and glum. Other mothers seem happier, but in a town where people seem hell-bent on teaching their infants–and yours–how to high-five, maybe happiness, like stay-at-home motherhood and living in a snowy hamlet, isn’t really for me after all.

“I go to the rec center,” one mom, my neighbor says. She’s the only mom I’ve met here who complains about motherhood. (Another thing to miss about city life–all the abundant complaining!) “The rec center is great,” she says. “You dump your kid off in the daycare and then go swim. It’s the only way I stay sane. I practically live there.” Makes sense–she’s Amazonian, superfit, like everyone else here. “Besides,” she adds, “the daycare is only two dollars an hour.”
Two dollars? It sounds impossible, but having never set foot in anything resembling a rec center, how would I know? I heard something about these sports center thingies in NYC that came complete with daycare, but they always required a hefty membership fee. Besides, baby-toting was more than enough workout for me: I never had the slightest desire to re-firm my abs or deal with my wibbly thighs post-enfant. All I ever wanted was to rest, something entirely too costly for my budget.

But two dollars. That I could manage.

“So long as you’re a member and you remain on the premises, you can do the Kiddie Klub from nine to noon” a rec center employee, Bryce, verifies when I drive over to check things out. Bryce is both girly and butch, with a skimpy voice and huge lats. He takes me over to a gigantic tot-and-toy-infested gym room. “Kids love it here.” I feign concerned parental interest as he details the abilities of the Klub staff and how no child ever cries with so-and-so but my mind is on the money and the numbers make me giddy. “It’s a very fun and safe environment,” Bryce concludes. Fun? Who cares? It’s two dollars an hour! Safe? What’s the worst that can happen in a room lined with gym mats and life-size plush pandas? I mean, is an adult really even necessary? Hell, if they shaved a buck off the fee, I might forgo the warm body and take my chances, do two hours for the price of one…

Bryce keeps chit-chatting but all I hear is two bucks this and two bucks that. I can palm my child off for less than a cup of coffee! Less than a Nuk pacifier! It’s music to my desperate ears because, town for city notwithstanding, we’re still poor and any sort of paid childcare has been out of the question. Until now.

I pay the absurdly cheap Rec Center annual membership fee on the spot. There’s only one small problem: Now I have to swim. Or otherwise exert myself. I take a look at the bulletin board. Morning schedule lists lap pool and cardio-something in the only other gym room. I walk around. Two pools. A damp small lounge area opposite the front desk. Is swimming worse than playing with tot or better? Swimming worse than hiking or hiking worse than swimming? Why does it always come back to exercise? The rec center now feels like a rebuke, part of this town’s ploy to get a mother off her ample postnatal nether-cheeks and make her work out. Apparently if I want even a shred of time to myself, I’ll have to swim for it.

Or will I?

Would anyone check to see if I was actually swimming? The front desk, the daycare gym room, the pool, none are in view of the others. What if I just pretend to go swimming, pass through the swinging doors with a sports bag as though on my way to the pool and then just sort of…lurk. Under the radar and in a stairwell. Doing nothing. For a whole hour, maybe even two, if nobody caught on. I could read. Make phone calls. Or I could just stretch out on the floor of the capacious handicapped toilet. Bliss!

Day one. 10 am. Bryce signs me in, I hand tot over to daycare staffer, a teen whose golden looks, easy cradling of an infant, and blank expression made her seem a likely Mormon and therefore far more qualified to serenely look after an entire fleet of bleating toddlers than I am to mind my own single child. Bryce scans my ID. “Well,” I say, making a big show of throwing a towel over my shoulder and heading for the locker room, “If you need me, you know where to find me.”

Not exactly, Bryce. For I slip away, down the hall, dodge the locker room, pass the pool. I come to rest at cul-de-sac near the rear exit, spend some quiet time wedged discreetly in a nook between the snack machine and a water fountain. I see no one. No one sees me.

“Good workout?” the Mormon asks when I return after a phenomenal hour spent playing playing Minehunt on my Palm Pilot. “Great,” I reply and hug my daughter. “We’ll be back tomorrow!” And I shall bring my computer this time in my sports bag, hit the ladies’ locker room, and power up behind a punching bag. Read the Times online. Return emails. Maybe even paint my nails.

I’d like to say all of the above really happened. But the truth of it is, I lost my nerve right after signing the baby into the Kiddie Klub and signing myself in for swimming. This is what really happened:

Bryce scans my ID. “Well,” I say, making a big show of throwing a towel over my shoulder and heading for the locker room, “If you need me, you know where to find me.” But as I head for the ladies locker room I notice it’s busy today: brawny moms are filing in and I’m getting nervous. What if someone spots me and asks me what I’m doing? What am I doing? Whatever it is, it no longer feels so fun, so recreational. In fact being in this rec center is winding me up even more than trying to wrestle an Ajax-laced sponge from my child’s bleached gums. Such strenuous avoidance of exercise–it’s completely exhausting!

I turn around, return to the front desk. Bryce is picking his thumb. “Look,” I say. “What if I come here, put the baby in the daycare but I just lie on that couch over there.” “Lie on the couch,” he repeats. “What if I pay not to swim,” I plead. “Like, three dollars an hour?” “Why?” Bryce is not the brightest bulb. Or maybe it’s just that in this place where the word “accessory” denotes the yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet, no other mother has ever suggested such a thing. “I just want to relax,” I confess. “I’m tired.”

“Oh, honey.” Bryce smiles. “That’s no problem. So long as you pay your two dollars and stay on the premises we don’t care what you do.”

No judgment, just compassion. Were it not for the men in Speedos, one might think one were in a Buddhist temple and I am duly humbled. Having had no experience with rec centers before, I had no way of knowing, but I had been pretty sure the staff of a sports center, in a town obsessed with physical fitness, would get peppery with some cheapo parent’s taking advantage of the daycare pricing so she could do absolutely bloody nothing at all. I was wrong.

“Go ahead, Mom,” Bryce says. “Put your feet up.”

I lie on the couch. It is brown and orange. Ancient, granular bits of protein bar fleck the creases. From here through glass doors I can see–but, joy of joys, not hear–my little moppet playing in the Kiddie Klub, happy with her new friends while capable two-dollar-per-hour Mormons look on. I breathe in the rich, mossy athlete’s-foot-and-chlorine aroma of the rec center. Ambrosia. Outside snow falls, but inside it’s heaven. I could live here.


Sara said...

I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog. Reading it while here at work has kept me quite entertained indeed.

I can relate so much to this essay. While my husband was deployed overseas I stayed home alone with our infant with absolutely nothing to do. We had recently moved to a new state, with no friends or family for support. Going to the gym was always the best part of the day. A little time away from my infant daughter was probably the only thing that kept me sane. It was the only place I had the nerve to shower sans baby. The joy of taking a shower while not watching over my daughter was the peak of my day. Oh, I don't miss those days.

Keep 'em coming, lest I have to do real work at this here job, Crabmommy :)

Anonymous said...

crab mommy, you are brilliant!! I absolutely relate to this! I think every mom does, write a book damn it! You are reading our minds!!

All of Us said...

Shame on those magazines that rejected your essay! Like all your essays this one is great.

I've had my mother watch the children while I pretend to go to work. I usually go into the office of my very part-time job once a week for a couple of hours. But one day I called and told them I couldn't make it - but still had my mom watch the kids! I went to the bookstore for some coffee and browsing. Totally worth it. She never would have come overwise.

Cassie said...

Love the essay.

Anonymous said...

Love it.

from a Mormon Crabmommy ;)

baby carriers backpacks said...

Love the article. We can relate. I needed something like this , this morning, thank you

Alexis said...

I can't believe no one would publish this. Their loss!
I go to the Y every Wednesday and plop the kid in daycare for the two-hour maximum. She loves it, and I ADORE it! I actually like swimming, so I do that sometimes, and I usually do some time on the treadmill, but I also take the longest shower I can and...wait for it...blow dry my hair, something I never do at home. I am even thinking of bringing in my own hairdryer with the diffuser so I can do up some nice curls. It's basically my spa day.
Jessica: I also have my mom babysit when I have "homework" and go do some leisurely browsing at a thrift store or read a book at a cafe. Bliss!

Carolyn said...

Love this! I GO to that rec center. I KNOW that orange couch. Fortunately, my one and only child is now old enough to swim on his own, so I just watch him do laps on that giant, giant slide from the conveniently located hot tub.

daniel kuntschik said...

Brilliant essay!! My husband is a sea captain, ,I spend a lot of time alone with tots, my parents live 3000 km away and there is no free daycare at the local gym! I thrive on time alone, I pine for time alone, I'll do anything, even swim if I had to for time alone!

crabmommy said...

Say hello to that couch for me. I think the first time I fully relaxed after having my child was on it! So long ago, come to think of it...about 3 years now. Crabtown didn't work for me as you know, but the rec center surely was a great sanctuary.

Like you I am now discovering the joys of a hot tub here in the public pools of Crabcity. Swimming with kids is so much more civilized when jacuzzis are involved.

Alexis, the blow-drying of hair--doesn't it feel so luxurious? I swear even sitting next to the Coke machine deletng old phone numbers off my cell phone felt like luxury when I commenced my $2/hr rec center visits.

Jessica, i'm sorry you have to sneak out around your mom. That sucks.

Lawyer Mom said...

Well done. I liked this one a lot.

mommyknows said...

OK ... ummm, uhhh, now your unemployment is starting to make sense!



You know I am kidding CM.

I loved it.

MK xo

tonypark said...


dunkan said...

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me & my juicy couture cargo said...

I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting it.