Learning Curve

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
— Benjamin Spock

As I write this, we’re somewhere in South Carolina, heading north. We’ve spent the last week traveling down the east coast and now we’re on our way home.

We decided even before Maggie was born that we’d take this trip down to Florida before my maternity leave was over, since I had to use all my PTO for maternity leave and therefore a vacation later in the year couldn’t happen (I earn 6 hours of vacation every two weeks; it’s going to take me months to build up even a week).

I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of traveling 2500 miles with a breastfeeding 10-week-old in tow, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Our plan of attack for driving days has basically been to feed her right before leaving, then drive like hell for 3 hours or until she wakes to eat; stop to feed her and change her and give her 30 or so minutes to stretch her legs; get back in the car and drive like hell; repeat until we reach our destination. I feel bad that she’s spending so much time in the carseat, and on driving days she doesn’t give us the first long night sleep stretch we’ve become accustomed to, but she’s been a real trooper. Usually by the time she just can’t take anymore, we’re pulling in to wherever we’re spending the night.

I’ve become pretty comfortable nursing in public on this trip, too, out of necessity. Before this week, I’d only nursed anywhere besides my breastfeeding group and the nursing room at Babies R Us a handful of times and always with a cover. On this trip, I nursed in the car many times (surprisingly comfortable; I’d never tried it before because I assumed it wouldn’t be), at Epcot about 5 times (only once in their nursing room because, although it was very nice, it wasn’t very centrally located), in the mall, and in numerous restaurants. I still usually use a cover, but twice – both at Epcot – it was too hot under there and Maggie couldn’t get comfortable to focus on eating, so I took it off and just tried to be as discreet as possible. No one said anything, but if they had, I’d have politely told them that my daughter’s need to be fed trumped whatever offense they imagined they were suffering. And for good measure, I checked out the laws on breastfeeding in public in all the states we’d be going through, and in all of them except Virginia, breastfeeding in public is protected (in Virginia, it’s only protected on property owned by the state). I promised David before Maggie was born that I wouldn’t become a “lactivist,” in the sense that I wouldn’t purposefully try to goad people into challenging my right to breastfeed in public to make a point, but I have zero problem standing up for myself (and Maggie) if the opportunity should arise.
We’re home now. We got back yesterday around 9:30, later than we hoped, but about when we expected. We promised Maggie a carseat-free day today, and I think it will be great for her.

Some other things we learned on this trip:

  • Costco diapers, which are inexpensive and well-regarded by many parents, just aren’t for us.  We had been using Target brand, which also come highly recommended and cost approximately the same, because Maggie was too small for the Costco ones we bought before she was born.  Once she grew into them and we ran out of Target diapers, we started using them.  I do not know why it took us so long – and so many stained, adorable baby outfits – to realize that they are not the best fit for her.  We arrived in Savannah last Saturday night just as Maggie blew out the first diaper of our trip, then another one that night at dinner (this, after at close to two weeks of near-daily leaks), before it finally dawned on us.  We stopped at Target on the way home from dinner that night and were blessedly blow-out free the rest of the week.  David’s at Costco returning the unopened box as we speak.
  • We have everyone fooled. We so often feel like we’re floundering as parents, but everyone else seems to think we’re old pros.  I guess we’ve perfected the art of “fake it til you make it.”
  • We made the absolute right decision for us in putting Maggie in her crib in her own room from day one.  She slept in the same room as us in her Pack-n-Play the whole trip, and while she’s not a terribly noisy sleeper, she *is* a terribly noisy fall-asleeper and wake-upper.  At home, because she’s in the other room and the white noise machine covers some of her crazy grunts and groans, we don’t notice so much so we sleep a little better.  On vacation, we heard everything, and David finally has some sympathy for what I go through overnight (because he was waking up every time she did, which doesn’t usually happen at home).
  • Pro tip: If you want your baby to sleep for seven hours for the first time ever, take her to Epcot for 9.5 hours, where you’ll be required to take her in and out of the stroller a thousand times a day (because they don’t let strollers in many places) and there are a million things for her to see and she will be so worn out by the end of the day that she won’t even notice that you don’t move her from her carseat to the Pack-n-Play.  (As a first-time mom, though, you will be so freaked out that your baby hasn’t woken up to eat that you won’t be able to sleep after hour four or five.  Also, you will be so tired that you won’t bother to get up to make sure the baby’s still breathing.  Probably she is.)

In other news, David and I hardly fought at all on this trip, and when we did disagree or were snappy with each other, we were able to diffuse the situation fairly quickly.  We’re trying to not be so reactive and to communicate better, which I’m hoping will really help us.  So probably I’m not going to end up divorced before my baby is one, which is good.

In other other news, the grapefruit beer at the Germany Pavilion at Epcot is amazing.  Honestly, if I hadn’t been nursing, I might have sent David on his way with the baby and set up camp there and just proceeded to drink my face off.  I’ve Googled and I may be taking a trip to Total Wine today to see if I can find it in the store.

I think that’s all the news for now!

Maggie at Epcot

Maggie at Epcot


My Madeleine

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; . . . . But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
— from Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust (aka The Cookie)

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Do you have any foods that are tied to specific memories or emotions?

Huh. The title of this prompt was Eat Your Feelings, which is an actual thing that I do, so at first I was thrown by the substance of the prompt. But then I remembered that just last Sunday, on my birthday, driving home from dinner at the tapas restaurant where David and I had our first date, I posted this on Facebook:

It’s amazing how a piece of crusty bread with chorizo and manchego can so thoroughly transport me back to Spain. Proust was on to something.

So of course there could be no other quote to head this post. I’m telling you, I sighed audibly when I took my first bite last weekend. And really, I don’t even need the chorizo or the manchego.  Sometimes just olive oil, with a little salt and pepper, for dipping.  And sometimes just the bread is enough to send me back, especially when it’s still warm.

One of my favorite things in the whole world to do with the crusty bread is something I discovered in Spain: pan con tomate (I almost wish I  could reuse the quote from that post for this one – too perfect).  Trust me on this one. This is the dish that brings me most immediately back to Spain – to so many tiny restaurants in Barcelona where I had it for the first time, to Salamanca where I made all my new study abroad friends try it and felt like a native, to a private room at a restaurant way up in the hills way outside Barcelona with one old friend and 12 new ones where I had it for the last time in Spain. I’m tearing up just thinking about the last one now – I remember sitting there that night, listening to five different conversations floating around me – in both Spanish and Catalan – drinking wine, sharing bread (I don’t even remember what else we ate), laughing so loud, thinking how lucky I was and how I’d always remember that moment.

They See Me Rollin’

Money may not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.
— Francoise Sagan

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Talk about a car trip you’ve been on. Do you like to travel by car? Do you prefer to drive or be a passenger?

We drive to and from Detroit about twice a year.  We always take David’s car (since it’s his family we go to see) and he usually drives the whole way.  Car trips make me tired; I’m usually asleep before we hit Pennsylvania (we come from Northern Virginia). We play this license plate game that we picked up at the LL Bean in Freeport on our way home from our honeymoon to pass the time.  David thinks it’s unfair to have to suspend the game when I nap, so the deal is, he keeps track of the ones he saw while I was asleep and then if I find them twice before he finds them again, I get them.  Otherwise, he gets them.  He always wins.

I love taking car trips, especially by myself.  I sing as loud as I can to my iPod and car dance and don’t care what anyone around me thinks.

I’ve never been on a “movie road trip,” you know, you and your girls with the top down, music up, back seat full of snacks and drinks.  But I do own The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Open Road, which I’ve read cover to cover.  That counts, right?  Maybe when we turn 50, me and Aimee and Karen will ditch our husbands and kids and finally take that trip.

You Are Here

Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.
— from Love Over Scotland, by Alexander McCall Smith

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Show us a specific Google map location and tell us about its significance to you.

I have a good one:

That’s the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon, Portugal. Go ahead, zoom in.  I’ll wait.  See that statue of the guy on the horse?  The base of that is where I ended what I laughingly refer to as the worst day of my life.

When I studied in Salamanca, Spain, during my junior year of college, we had a 10-day mid-fall break.  My dad had colleagues in Lisbon, and they were kind enough to let me stay with them for part of the break.  I took the train from Madrid. (On the train on the way back, in the middle of the night, I met some Spaniards on their way to Paris to work in restaurants.  They told me they loved me and asked me to come with them.  God, I love Europe.)  I arrived on a weekend, but my first weekday there, my hosts had to work.  Manuela dropped me off near the water, not far from that statue, and I commenced my adventure.

At first I wandered around near the water, looking in shops and people watching.  Around lunchtime, like any good American abroad, I found a Burger King.  In my defense, I don’t speak Portuguese, which is shockingly unlike Spanish, and the Portuguese are big on seafood, which I don’t eat.  I figured, on my own, BK was a safe bet.  I had a Whopper with cheese, fries, and a drink, just like I would have if I’d been home.  Afterwards, I hopped on a bus.  I don’t remember my destination now, but it doesn’t matter anyway.  I’d never make it there.

As I was riding the bus, my stomach began to rumble.  Clearly, Portuguese Burger King did not agree with me.  I thought about trying to get off the bus, but it was so crowded and I didn’t really know where I was.  I concentrated on taking deep breaths and trying not to think about what must have been in my burger.  Um, that didn’t work.  I threw up on the bus.  I was in a window seat, and I vomited on the floor by the wall.  I don’t know if anyone noticed, at least at first.  At any rate, no one asked if I was ok.  I kept my head down, too embarrassed to look at anyone or get up to get off the bus for fear of being discovered.  I can’t remember, but I’m sure I was crying hot tears of shame, too.

Stop after stop after stop, and no one helped me.  Finally, the bus stopped for good.  We’d reached the end of the line.  After everyone else got off the bus, the driver announced more loudly that it was the end, so I looked up, looked out the window, and realized I had no idea where I was or how far we’d come from where I’d gotten on.  I was utterly and completely lost.  I got off the bus and tried to get my bearings.

I started walking in what seemed like the direction of the water, but I really had no idea.  No one I ran in to seemed to speak English, and I didn’t even know the name of the location I was trying to reach and I didn’t have the Portuguese words to describe it.  I had no map of the city and no Portuguese-English (or even Portuguese-Spanish) dictionary.  I kept walking, but I was in a totally residential neighborhood and there weren’t very many people out.  At one point, I ran into some police officers and asked them for help, but we just had a complete language barrier.  It was comical in its inefficiency.

By this time, it was starting to get dark and I was starting to get worried.  This was, of course, in the days before ubiquitous cell phones (1996), and even if I’d had one, I couldn’t have told Manuela where I was.  After what seemed like forever, I finally stumbled into an area that seemed familiar from my visit to the city the previous day.  It was a street lined with shops and restaurants.  I went into several and mimed a phone with my thumb and pinky.  The first couple of people all shook their heads no, but the last one nodded and pointed to the back.  I nearly collapsed in relief as I put a coin into the slot and dialed Manuela’s number.

She picked up, worried because she hadn’t heard from me.  I told her I had been lost all day and didn’t really know where I was but that I thought we were close to where we’d been the day before.  She told me to ask the waiter for directions to the Praça do Comércio and wait there and she would come find me.  I managed to make out the directions, which turned out to basically be, “Go straight down the street til you see the guy on the horse.  You can’t miss it.”  I sat at the base of the statue, resting, catching my figurative breath, and scanning the cars that passed for Manuela’s.

All of a sudden, a tall, young African guy sidled up to me and sat down.  He started making conversation, asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Lisbon.  Then, out of the blue, he asked, “Would you like to come back to my apartment and smoke pot?”  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Before I could think of how to Just Say No, Manuela pulled up in front of us.

“That’s my ride.”


God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.
— from Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen

Today’s Writing Group prompt:  If there was a tattoo ink that disappeared after exactly one year, what tattoo would you get today?

I don’t have any tattoos.  When I studied in Spain in college, my friend Lisa and I had appointments to each get a tattoo on her birthday.  We had gone in a few days beforehand to check the place out (on a recommendation from a local) and look through the books.  Lisa decided to draw her own, but I found the most perfect one ever for me.  It was two dolphins, one larger than the other.  The larger dolphin made the top of a half-circle and the smaller one was underneath, facing the other way with its nose close to the other’s belly. To me, it looked like a mother and baby.  Dolphins, to me, are nearly perfect creatures, and at the time, I thought, the most important (although not the only) thing a woman could be is a mother, so the tattoo seemed to marry those two ideas perfectly to my 19-year-old self.  I showed the owner the picture I’d chosen and she quoted me a price equivalent to about $60.  Then she marked us down in her book for a few days later with a notation about what I had picked.

When we came back, she went about her business, then pulled my picture out and said, “Ok, so this will be $110.”  I was basically broke all the time in Spain, and at nearly double the price she’d originally quoted me, I balked.  Lisa and I told her that’s not the price she’d said a few days before and it turned into an argument (in Spanish, because we were awesome) about how she only wrote down  “dolphin” instead of “dolphins,” and so obviously we were wrong.  Whatever.  In the end, I refused to pay what she was asking and she got nasty with us, so we both left tattoo-less.  It was a sad day (until we went out drinking and dancing that night).

A little more than  a year later, I had an appointment to get a very similar tattoo, drawn by a friend, at noon on my 21st birthday, but we all went out drinking at midnight the night before and I ended up sleeping through it and never rescheduled.

Since then, I’ve never really seriously considered getting a tattoo.  The only thing I can  ever see myself getting at some point in the (knock on wood) way distant future is a memorial tattoo in my Dad’s writing.

But, if I could get something that would disappear in one year?  Based on the madness I feel creeping in more and more often lately since I went off my anti-depressants in September to try to get pregnant, I’d pick “Hold on.”