I guess that's why I got bangs

I got bangs last week (a fringe, for my British friends) in what I believe some might call a ‘self-own’. Since having the baby my once-luxe curls have thinned and straightened. This is, I have learned, not that uncommon: all of those hormones can uncoil your hair, or wind it up. Whatever it’s not used to.

You’d think I’d be delighted by this. Over the years of my life that I’ve had curly hair (about 20, the curls broke out around the time I started college) I’ve purchased countless products and probably at least ten heated styling tools in an attempt to straighten it. Twice shelled out hundreds of dollars on terrifying chemical straightening. But now that my hair is naturally flat, well, of course it just makes me feel like not myself. 

Bangs are not me, either, but I decided that I might as well lean in to my limp coif, try something different, even though my friend K wisely told me that the postpartum bang is a mistake she’d made so I wouldn’t have to. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t like the bangs.

And I don’t. I watched the hair fall to the floor in one swoop of my stylists’ scissors and I thought: Damn. When the blowdry was finished I looked in the salon mirror and thought: I should not have gotten bangs! I had bangs in middle school, they were terrible, I worked hard when I was in my freshman year of high school to grow them out, pinned them back with those snappy metal barrettes. 

You get a free bang trim in between cuts! my lovely stylist said, and I thought, I’m absolutely not going to do that! On the train home, I looked at women without bangs and felt raw envy. They were so chic. I thought: I used to be chic.

And yet. When I think about my life before becoming a mother, I don’t feel a great deal of loss — I really wanted to be a mother, I was fortunate to have a lot of free time and freedom before becoming a mother, I really enjoy being a mother. I miss seeing my friends as much as I’d like to, but I feel OK about the restaurants I’m not going to.

But maybe what I do long for, just a touch, is the freedom to exercise poor judgment without causing someone else harm or discomfort or inconvenience. I guess that’s why I got bangs.

JHE

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New Yorkers — on Monday night I’m giving a talk about writing memoir at Sayers and Doers in Harlem. Come along!

A responsibility that just isn't conferred on fathers

Thanksgiving — that’s a holiday I’ve always enjoyed. I guess because I like cooking, and eating, I enjoy dinner parties, I don’t mind a bit of family gossip. When I lived in Canada, and England, and Germany, even though Thanksgiving was not a thing, each year I found a way to make it happen in some shape of form: a potluck, a dinner out. I’d somehow get an invite, or do the inviting — one year I cooked for twelve, if I correctly recall. I burned half the potatoes in J’s oven downstairs, banging through the door in an orange dress and a cloud of acrid smoke. 

At the time I was dating some man who didn’t really get me. I invited him to the dinner and he turned up late and seemed bemused. And when the next week he texted and suggested that we have lunch and I said, No thanks! We hadn’t known each other long enough to have a concluding lunch with someone who decided he didn’t like me after spending time with me and my friends at Thanksgiving.

In any case, I tell you this not because I want to wax lyrical about Thanksgiving but to provide contrast, when I tell you about how I felt this morning, on the dollar van listening to people on a radio show chat about Thanksgiving foods they hate. What I felt was a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought: If it’s Thanksgiving that means that next it’s Christmas, and now that I’m a mother, A Mom, am I responsible for providing a magical Christmas?

I’m not a Christmas fan. I think that’s OK. I try not to ruin it for other people but I don’t find it, by and large, interesting. Growing up with a Jewish dad, a British Christian mum, and no real formal religious practice, we celebrated it in our own funny way. But once I became a young teenager, a very depressed one, I mostly looked forward to the 26th, because then it would be all over. I suppose it was then that it became apparent to me, with the acute clarity of a very depressed teen, that just because it was Christmas didn’t mean that the world was full of joy and warmth and light; in fact, I was still very depressed, and many other people were also probably very miserable.

 Over the years I’ve participated sometimes and opted out others, and it’s the opt-out years that have been my favorites. When I first found out that B was due just after Christmas last year I thought Great! because I figured that it would mean that I would be too pregnant to participate at all and no one would give me a hard time. In the end he was born a few days beforehand and we came home on Christmas Eve, ordered Chinese food on Christmas Day, and I didn’t give B a present because...well, it just hadn’t occurred to me that I should get him something. I’d already given him a lot of things, such as: life! A name! My entire heart!

This year he is still too young to be aware of Christmas, of course, and perhaps that buys me some time. But he’s interacting with other kids more these days, and I suppose that’s what makes me worried: that he’ll come home in a year or so and ask me who Santa Claus is, why his pals have trees in their living rooms, what is the meaning of all of these lights? Will it be enough for me to say: Well, B, it’s because it’s your birthday at this time of year! Everyone is celebrating!

Or will I, too, feel compelled to hang paper garlands and bake cookies all so that no other parent will say to another: Jean is the kind of mother who does not care about Christmas. Because, I realize, that is really what’s at the heart of my concern: that my personal indifference will be regarded as a kind of shirking of maternal responsibility. A responsibility that just isn’t conferred on fathers: to make things festive, to make things nice.

JHE

This holiday always reminds me of how square I am

This holiday always reminds me of how square I am. There was a time when this made me feel sad, like in 1990 when I expressed reluctance to push on with trick-or-treating on a cold pre climate-crisis night and my friends told me to live a little, I mean they actually used that phrase, we were nine and they said: live a little, Jean! and I was like, huh. I had just recently moved to the neighborhood, and changed elementary schools, and of course their exhortations — learned, I presume, from some mom telling one of her friends to have a second glass of wine on a school night — sent me into a panic that I would be rejected by my new under-10 pals for failing to live.

I pushed on through the chill, wearing my winter coat over my costume which that year was — if I recall correctly — ’glamorous witch’. Let me tell you I felt so relieved when we got home and I could dump my candy out on the family room carpet and know that I would not have to plod the streets for sugar for another whole year. 

Don’t get me wrong, I liked making costumes, enjoyed coming up with a creative vision and manifesting it with a trip to JoAnn’s Fabrics, but the actual walking around in the cold made me quite anxious. What a relief it was when I hit my teen years and could beg off a costume because I was too old; what a horror it was when the tide turned and adults started wearing costumes, too. 

Fast forward twenty years from that fateful evening of trick-or-treating. The wisdom of my years had made me confident about who I am. I was writing copy for a seasonal campaign and my creative director sat me down and took issue with the fact that I had spelled Hallowe’en with an apostrophe.

Well, I said, that’s correct, it does have an apostrophe, it’s an abbreviation for ‘evening’. I can show it to you in the dictionary.

You’re uptight! the creative director said, not joking. I crumpled: I was new at the job, I wasn’t used to this kind of criticism, but worst of al l this assessment was  correct. I was uptight! And it was being leveled at me as if it was a bad thing. I guess some people like dressing up because it gives them an opportunity to be someone else? I don’t have a problem with that, with them. But at this stage of my life I just like to be me.

JHE

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I’m still raising funds for three weeks from now, when I run a short distance to combat colon cancer.

Certainly it has robbed me of the old pleasures of having a cold

You know them. The languishing parts

The baby is sick and so am I, and I’m not going to make a joke about Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy because that would be in poor taste, but every time he wails his sick wail I think: I have a headache, you probably have a headache! and then I wonder if I am an incredible amateur diagnostician or just projecting my own suffering upon him. Don’t worry, it’s not serious, we just both have a cold, we are just both very snotty. It’s not serious, but it’s not fun. Certainly it has robbed me of the old pleasures of having a cold: you know them. The languishing parts. 

On Saturday (this cold has been going on for some time) E went out to a punk festival for dads in Queens — not specifically for dads, but Mogwai was playing and there was a range of craft beers — and since he and the other dads had bought their tickets with such enthusiasm so far in advance, I felt couldn’t tell him not to go. That meant a whole afternoon and bedtime of looking after the baby on my own. Well, with our colds. I felt acutely that it would be my usual practice on a sick Saturday afternoon to watch many hours of television, but that this had been taken from me. 

Instead I watched the baby crawl around, interrupted his play-work here and there in order to wipe his face with a muslin. I thought about how when I was small I believed that my mother was impervious to colds. Not because she never had a cold, but because as a stay-at-home-mother with a husband who traveled for work a great deal, she did not have time to have a cold.

Because the baby is sick, he’s more interested in breastfeeding than he’s been for a while. We’ve been winding it down, which feels strange because we tried so hard to do it. Our first collaboration. It was not easy for us at the beginning. He was too small at his one-month appointment, I can’t tell you how bad that made me feel. I mean, I can say: I felt really bad about that! but that doesn’t scratch it. We had to attend an appointment with a lactation consultant who had on display, among the breastfeeding-themed artwork decorating her office, a framed photograph of a woman escaping from a war while breastfeeding. I found that pointed, but the lactation consultant was very helpful. After she assigned me a feeding and pumping regime that was the most grueling mental and physical challenge I’ve ever taken on, the baby and I got it to work. 

And so perhaps you can understand that it’s a little odd to be stopping the thing that I fought for with all of my postpartum being, but the baby is just rather nonplussed by the boob these days, especially when he has the option to eat other things. It’s a funny feeling to be in competition with peanut butter toast, with spinach and ricotta cheese pureed together (a puree so delicious that when he made too much, E served some of the overflow as a dip when we had friends over for dinner).

I’m looking forward to being done with breastfeeding altogether, I’m excited for less biting and kicking and for my time with the baby to spend enjoying other activities together (is he old enough to fingerpaint?). But in the last few days as he’s regressed just a touch, for it to appeal as a thing that takes the edge off what ails him. What ails us. I don’t mind. In my book I wrote a line about motherhood being a long process of a part of your body moving away from you, and since I wasn’t a mother I noted that I couldn’t know this firsthand. But now I do.

JHE

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I’m running a 5K to raise funds for colon cancer research, because I’m not very good at running, but I’m also at very high risk of developing colon cancer.

I've stopped feeling relaxed about the dairy industry

Is there oat milk? I said, and then I said: I’m sorry, I know it’s so pretentious, and the barista shrugged and said, Sure, it isn’t really. And then I realized that he has grown up in a world where it’s never been in question that plants are milked! Could this be the true divide between millennials and members of Generation Z, between people like me who were raised to feel ashamed of their lactose intolerance, and people like him, who have never believed that the default way to cream your coffee requires a touch of animal cruelty? Because let me be clear: I love yogurt and cheese, I’m a fiend for ice cream, but ever since I learned to hook myself up to an electric breast pump I’ve stopped feeling relaxed about the dairy industry.

I think of myself as a barista at heart, always have since, you know, I was a barista. I worked at Starbucks in Wolf Road in Albany in the summer of 2001, which at the time was just a summer, but which just weeks later became the last summer, or at least a last summer. I worked there even though I made less in my hourly wage than I’d made the previous summer, as the receptionist at a dying healthcare company where I read books all day, answered the phone three times a week. Every now and then I was called upon to fix the photocopier because I was young. That job made me feel like I was dying inside, even though it gave me the opportunity to read a hundred novels, and so I guess I thought that working at Starbucks would be more fun, more active, an opportunity to make friends with my fellow baristas. 

I guess I did, though I don’t remember any of their names. I remember things about them like: one of them had a little soul patch on his chin that he called a ‘pinch’. One of them was in a seminary to become a Catholic priest and was also so extremely mean to the customers that he got fired after two shifts. One of them was a conventionally attractive woman who served people Frappucinos and then turned to me and said, The calories in that would choke you! I remember that one of them was also Jewish, because one time he told someone that he was Jewish and then the guy he had said that to frowned and looked at me and said, Ya got Jew blood? and I said Yes and laughed thinly, the way I laugh when I feel under threat. One of the things about working at Starbucks at that particular time is that we could not become Facebook friends or exchange cellphone numbers, and that’s very refreshing, that they’re lost to me, as I’m sure I am to them. A prelapsarian time.

Two women came in every day of the week several times to get five-shot Americanos and one of my fellow baristas whose names I’ve forgotten said, They’re in a cult! and I said, Really? and they said, Yes! and in fact it was true, they were very bad people and I believe that they’re now in prison. But I was less concerned about the cult at the time — after all, I couldn’t google it — than the fact that I hated the part in the day when we pulled up the foam mats from the floor and mopped the lake of spilled coffee and the grit of the grounds off the floor. Working at Starbucks wasn’t any better for me than working in the office. Maybe it was worse. I had to start my morning shift at 5:30 am and I hated that, profoundly. I even hated the time that I saw a man running down the street in boxer shorts and a satin bathrobe during my 5 am drive, clearly interrupted in the midst of an affair. I couldn’t appreciate it! Whereas now in retrospect I recall that scene and think How interesting. 

Ever since those three months of my life I’ve identified as an ex-barista, and that means I’ve been a generous tipper when it comes to coffee. Sometimes I even say something tragic like: I used to be a barista! before I lovingly place a dollar bill in the tip jar. But today when the guy just accepted my oat milk order like it was nothing at all I realized: I’m wrong. I cannot relate, I do not know this young man’s life, I am old, I am old.

I tipped him a dollar, yes. But I think it won’t ever feel the same.

JHE

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