To raise a little boy

In my current state, I am not to be trusted with basic tasks. I rarely know the day of the week. I was once very adept at remembering names, and now I have a hard time recalling the names of people with whom I’m casually acquainted, people whose names I really ought to know. The burners on the stove have been left going for an uncomfortably long time. Four or five times since Moses was born, we’ve left the front door either (a) slightly open or (b) with the keys in the lock all night long. It’s amazing we’re all still alive, unmurdered, safe in our beds. We may have all of our limbs, but we do not have all of our faculties.

I am also strangely clumsy, in a way that I was not before. I trip over things; I stub my toes; I catch myself going up and down stairs. Moses has been an unfortunate victim of my clumsiness as well. The other day, I dropped the small portable sound machine on his face while trying to put him down for a nap. He released that scream of betrayal, winding up with soundless rage and then releasing a florid wail; it’s such a genuinely heartbreaking sound. I bumped his legs against the outdoor umbrella. I caught his foot under the arm of a rocking chair. I somehow scraped his temple with the prong of my engagement ring. Guion watches me do all of these things and looks at me with silent (but still gentle) reproach. I know, I know; I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.

Despite these notable declines in my ability to function, I have become extremely efficient in simple domestic tasks. In the hour or so of free time I get between feeds (if I’m lucky), I run around the house, possessed. I can finish a small calligraphy print in half an hour. I can clean both bathrooms in 10 minutes. I can unload the dishwasher, get dressed, and make our bed before the little dragon wakes.

I am not sure how to relax. Everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and I’m all for that between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., but I can’t seem to master the art of daytime napping. I’m too distracted; there are too many (little, meaningless) things on my to-do list. To sleep in the day seems to squander what little productive time I have. It is difficult to give up this mindset. Perhaps I am not meant to be productive right now. I have already done a hell of a lot of producing. See example below:

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He is six weeks old now, and while we are still in the thick of it, I feel less afraid. I no longer dread nights. (By all accounts, for his age, he seems to be a pretty good sleeper. Some nights are much better than others.) I do not spend my waking hours wondering if he is OK. I am pretty sure he is OK. He will live. One day, he will be a small boy, and then a man.

. . .

I loved reading this column by poet Sabrina Orah Mark in the Paris Review while pregnant, and it has taken on a greater resonance now, now that I too have a son. She writes beautifully about fairy tales and the intersection of these long-held fables with her work raising boys.

This passage, from her latest essay “Sorry, Peter Pan, We’re Over You,” stuck with me particularly:

I dropped Noah home, and ran off to Target. I pass the girl’s department, and a T-shirt flashes at me: THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. Sorry, Nibs, Tootles, Slightly, Curly, Twin One, and Twin Two. Sorry, John and Michael. Sorry, my sons: the future is female. Sorry, Peter Pan, we’re over you.

I think a lot about boys. About raising mine to be sensitive, and effective, and strange, and lovely, and kind, and funny, and brave. I want them to be boys who keep their shadows on, and who belong to a future. Boys who understand the difference between a thimble and a kiss. Worry picks at me like Hook’s metal claw. I want their boyness to bloom. I want to keep them safe.

In our well-intentioned desire to give girls as much chance and confidence as boys have been historically given, I sometimes fear that we have swung too far. Our feminism for our daughters is notoriously shallow, rooted in empty slogans and engineered to pit girls and boys against each other. These days, among adults of our social order, girls are better; girls are prized. Boys are difficult; boys are troubled.

I’m guilty of buying into it myself. While pregnant, I wasn’t shy about expressing my hope that our baby would be a girl. Everyone else seemed to want a girl too. Girls are marketed as easier to raise and temperamentally superior.

Now, of course, I feel differently. I want to openly reject this paradigm; I lament that I was seduced by it. Girlhood ultimately does not profit by our denigration of boyhood. Both girls and boys must be allowed to blossom in free, natural ways, ways inherent to their natures. Specifically, I reject this expectation that boys, if they are to be labeled “good,” should conduct themselves — in play, in public, in school — like girls.

I don’t know anything yet about raising a child. I’m still figuring out how to keep a baby and myself fed every day. But I want to be more thoughtful about raising a boy. I want to start pondering that work now, to consider how I can help Moses’ boyness bloom. The future is his as well.

The magical village of Wield

In which we escape to the English countryside for a weekend with friends and are able to avoid our phones and (temporarily) forget the enveloping darkness that our homeland is lurching into…

Wield weekend(Everything about this village = dream life to the max)

The Yew TreeDogs in pubs, dogs everywhere! #heaven

Wield weekend

The beautiful Kate with lots of pups:Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend

And a glorious day at Manor Farm.Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendFinnWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend

Boy time

Before dinner calm
Pre-dinner calm.

We went to Davidson this weekend, for Chris and Lauren’s wedding. It was one of those rare weekends back home in which most of the time was spent with BOYS. (With Kelsey and Grace gone, there is little incentive to fill up the harem.)

Boys, boys, boys:

Lil Bro Peep is all grown up
Sam, all grown up.
Pyrrha and Jak
Jak and Pyrrha.
Husband!
Husband.
Caleb!
Caleb.
Mom and her daddy
Da-Dan and his youngest daughter.

Gotta love boys. Patrick also showed up, but he is not featured here, as I was in the throes of post-wedding food poisoning when he arrived. So happy to get to see him, too.

Food poisoning aside, we had a lovely, calm weekend. Pyrrha acted like she owned the place. She’s become very comfortable with Davidson living and I daresay she was rather disappointed to come back to our shack after three days at the family estate. Dublin has become her constant companion and has been showing her the Ways of the Normal Dog.

You may have noticed an improvement in photo quality (although not necessarily photo skill). This is because I picked up my new camera, Louis, which I bought from Grace. I feel very honored to have him in my care. I am sure I won’t use him half as well as his first owner, but I am going to do my best to learn everything I can. There is so much to learn! It is a formidable piece of equipment.

How nice to be away, how nice to be home.

That which you do not know

Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

I recently started Annie Proulx’s collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (which includes the story “Brokeback Mountain,” famous because Ang Lee adapted into a film). I have loved Proulx since I read The Shipping News a few years ago and was excited to begin this collection. I’m only 60 pages in, but it’s been wonderful so far.

Here’s what it’s making me think about:

Annie Proulx comes from a different universe, as far as I’m concerned. She lives on a 640-acre ranch in Wyoming. These stories are about Wyoming people: Ranchers, weathered wives, wannabe bull-riders. I don’t know the first thing about life in Wyoming, but Close Range makes me feel like I do.

This collection stands in contrast to another set of short stories I read a few weeks ago, I Sailed with Magellan, by Stuart Dybek. I Sailed with Magellan is focused on the trials and tribulations of boys growing up on Chicago’s South Side. That’s another universe I don’t know anything about. I’ve never been an immigrant boy fighting my way through life in downtown Chicago. Neither have I been an aspiring bull-rider in Wyoming. But Proulx succeeds in something that Dybek does not: She manages to make her universe accessible to people who have never seen it, who have never known it. Dybek, while also a gifted writer, drops some kind of veil between his characters and their stories and his readers. I couldn’t get close enough to Dybek’s characters to really know them.

The distinction has been puzzling me ever since. What is it that Proulx does to make her universe accessible that Dybek does not? The best I can get at an answer is that Proulx’s characters seem to have more globalized, relatable flaws and desires. Dybek’s boys are very localized; they have Chicago problems with Chicago answers. Proulx’s people live in the vast, empty planet of the Wyoming plains, but their problems are our problems, too. In “The Half-Skinned Steer,” we recognize the self-sufficient old man who thinks he can make it on his own. We know Diamond Felts and his experience of the conflicting tug between freedom and protection in “The Mud Below.” We have seen them all before.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is not related to my thoughts, but this passage is from Annie Proulx’s 2009 Paris Review interview. I love her description of the joy and arduousness of writing, as if it were like manual labor:

There is difficulty involved in going from the basic sentence that’s headed in the right direction to making a fine sentence. But it’s a joyous task. It’s hard, but it’s joyous. Being raised rural, I think work is its own satisfaction. It’s not seen as onerous, or a dreadful fate. It’s like building a mill or a bridge or sewing a fine garment or chopping wood—there’s a pleasure in constructing something that really works.

The secret lives of girls

Click for source.

We could never understand why the girls cared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other, but sometimes, after one of us had read a long portion of the diary out loud, we had to fight back the urge to hug one another or to tell each other about how pretty we were. We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

. . . . . . . .

Appropriate photo, because I had a (brief) sleepover with Betsey last night! So good to see her after so many years. She is a wise, wise woman. So, it’s not exactly a profound quotation, but I think it’s the best passage in The Virgin Suicides and it proves why Eugenides can write about the things that he does. Happy weekend, everyone! Hope your minds are active and dreamy.

Monday Snax

General rule: If I don’t have any photos from the weekend, it means that we had a very peaceful, uneventful one, which, in this case, was true. Except for the mice infestation, which is something I am not brave enough to discuss right now.

Snax:

Formerly Known As. A thoughtful and great article by a Christian man on why he decided to take his wife’s name when they married. (The Curator)

Kyoko Hamada: Letter to Fukushima. A poignant photo essay and journal of a photographer’s journey back to Fukushima. As the media frenzy dies down, the residents of Fukushima still carry on their extremely difficult lives in a barren town. (The New Yorker)

Veiled. Unbelievable Italian sculptures of veiled women. I remember my mother talking about the incredible beauty of these in an art book when I was young. Since then, I’ve always been mesmerized by them. (Even Cleveland)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write The Marriage Plot. Jeffrey Eugenides reflects on writing his long-awaited second third (edit: Thanks, Jonathan) novel, which appears this month, nearly nine years after Middlesex. (The Millions)

Ten Types of Writer’s Block (and How to Overcome Them). A practical list for stuck writers. Eugenides himself might have appreciated this. (io9)

Flick Chicks. Mindy Kaling reflects on the absurd and limited number of women that are permitted to appear in romantic comedies. My favorite tropes: “The Klutz” and “The Forty-Two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead.” (The New Yorker)

All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed. Now this is truly sad. (The Atlantic)

Alyson Fox. Fox shoots a series of very different women, all wearing the same shade of Revlon lipstick. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Tom Boy. A serious shoot for serious women. I like it. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Gun Safety Class at an Indiana School, 1956. Their faces in that first frame! This is so classic BOY. (Retronaut)

Suspended Greenhouse Lamp. Want! Although I get this feeling that the plants would start to singe over time… (Unruly Things)

Ask an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity is also incredibly fascinating to me, and it seems that way for all of the people who asked questions here, because they all sound like they want to convert. Interesting answers, though! (Rachel Held Evans)

It’s Nearly Halloween. Yet another reason why I have always deeply disliked Halloween. (Gemma Correll)