Friday, November 22, 2019

The Stroller

Twice recently I've seen the stroller come up in things I've read. Most recently, there was a New York Times op-ed, ostensibly about the ethics of sharing stories about your children online, but with a part philosophizing (in fairness, the author, is a philosopher) about how "people warn prospective parents that having a baby is expensive, but that isn’t exactly true. What’s expensive is getting away from your baby." Among the items listed: "A stroller so you don’t have to carry them."

Then there was the (brilliant, and to be discussed more elsewhere) short story, "The Feminist," by Tony Tulathimutte, in n+1. It's the story of a disillusioned and ever more resentful male feminist. He sees those around him settling down, thinks everyone else can find love, but that he's somehow cursed. But his breaking point is "a fleet of strollers":

He flattens against the plastic wall to let three, four strollers pass, then tries to enter the restaurant when a fifth woman approaches, pushing an enormous three-wheeler with BMX tires and a crusty-eyed baby scrunched inside it. ...

[H]e catches up to them and (carelessly, with his injured foot) delivers a solid righteous side-stomp to the stroller’s chassis, which the mother catches just before it tips over, and he gives another wild kick before he shoots off through traffic across the street. Their shouts degrade into noise as he rounds the corner at a hobbled gallop, and he makes sure they hear him laughing.

We own basically one expensive thing and it's this stroller. More than this 4-year-old computer, and more than the non-existent car. More than any item of (Ikea and Craigslist) furniture. More than those other carlessness-related 'investments', the giant Canadian parkas. It seemed ridiculous, and still seems it, but wasn't.

Is it a status symbol? It is and it isn't. Yes, it's practical - snow-compatible (necessary for a December baby in Toronto), and this particular model came with a detachable bassinet that was also the 'crib' for the first I no longer remember how long. But there's something pleasing about getting your child the best possible start in life, with something new (a used stroller being apparently but probably not really a death trap?) and, why not, a bit glamorous. Only the best. Expensive baby clothes are clearly not useful, but in the case where the expensive thing is also the most useful one, why not lean into that?

If it's status, it's perhaps less the stroller itself (and the prices of these would horrify even those who were merely assuming they're expensive) than the implication: The stroller-pusher, if the parent of the child, has everything sorted out. If the stroller is big and/or the mother is older, her life got to a place where a baby was possible, a desirable abstract situation even for many with zero interest in having kids.

There was also, I'm remembering, a third stroller reference, in a tweet I'll never locate, something about a homeless man holding forth about all the dogs and strollers in some gentrifying area, shared not by the homeless man, but rather by someone (presumably) less destitute but in solidarity with the annoyance at those people with the strollers and the dogs. In a city, stroller plus dog implies a lifestyle. Implies, but doesn't necessarily accompany.

I feel guilty when I press the button with a wheelchair icon for it to get through doorways, or sit in the blue seats on the front of the bus. A baby stroller is and isn't a mobility device. It's indisputable that babies aren't about to climb subway stairs or walk down the street, and that if only for medical appointments, they do occasionally need to leave their homes. But there's this alternative, a carrier, that works well for the blip of time when you're recovered enough from childbirth to use it but your baby is not yet too big and squirmy to walk around with strapped to your torso. And the carrier doesn't quite fix things, because you will still take up more than one seat on the subway (the baby's legs need to go somewhere!).

To go around with a stroller - and yes I read the Rachel Cusk excerpt about moving through space with a baby, yes it's amazing, yes I still need to read the book itself - is to engage, despite yourself, in an endless stream of feelings-projection.  You know your presence annoys everyone around you - both from others' responses and from reading accounts of people annoyed by strollers - but you can't know why, so you start guessing. It could be anything! It could be something understandable (your stroller is blocking someone's way to a make-or-break job interview; the person annoyed seeing a stroller is childless not by choice) or obnoxious (someone thinks, because reasons, babies don't belong in coffee shops/farmers markets/supermarkets/cities). It could be, if fiction's to be believed, that the man annoyed at you for pushing a stroller is an incel.

All you can know for sure is that the stroller reads as optional. Optional because babies are often understood these days as an entitled lifestyle choice, but also because look at the space that thing takes up, surely there'd have to be some alternative, not that it's for the annoyed onlooker to articulate what that alternative might be.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

In defense of buying trendy clothes

The New York Times has a guide called "How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last." It's in the Climate section, and so has a slightly different approach than investment-piece fashion advice along the lines of, here are some super-expensive trench coats that you will Wear For Years. Except, is it? Consider the opening sentence: "You may have removed last season’s hot fashion trend from your closet, but the effect of that item still lingers, from the energy used in its production to its continued presence in one of the nation’s landfills." Or, further into the guide: "we can rewear an outfit that our friends saw us in on social media." The idea being that the obstacle to sustainability is trendiness. It's a truism. But is it... true?

The actual reason people keep buying new clothes is that clothes only function properly for so long. Our culture defines 'polished-looking' as 'wearing the sorts of clothes that show wear, so that you can make it clear you have not in fact owned them for years.' So even though my sweatpants (one pair in gray, the other navy) have held up for years and despite tremendous amounts of wear (including I think to the hospital to give birth?) still look and fit as well as ever, these do not, apparently, count as 'dressed.' Our culture expects us to wear clothes that fit properly, which limits shelf-life, unless your build never fluctuates, in which case, by all means do buy a single pair of jeans to get you through the next decade.

And even if you don't think of yourself as trendy, you will very likely find something unclassifiable that's just off about clothes bought a while ago. Not all old clothes, but some, and... it's impossible to know which those will be ahead of time! When I look back at clothes I've purchased or admired over the years, some still seem interesting, others not, and I can't find much rhyme or reason to the divide. While I may have (repeatedly) overestimated my interest in button-down shirts and brown leather accessories, these are personal patterns, not related to trends. If my interest in pleated midi skirts has waned, it's coming to terms with how they look on me. The style itself is still around. If anything, when I've gone for 'classic' I haven't ended up much wearing whatever it was. The strategy of steering clear of trendy-seeming clothes does not work. Which brings us to the point of this post.

If you buy something you really like, you're more likely to wear it. That's the only pattern I can figure out. What does it mean, this really-liking of a garment? Maybe you were persuaded by purveyors of trendiness to like it. Maybe the desire didn't emerge spontaneously and timelessly from your heart of hearts. Maybe your attraction to the garment wasn't pure and untainted by the influence of other human beings. But what of it? Maybe a very of-the-moment look from 2019 will turn out to be part of your look forever or at least for a good long while. I'm sure trendiness influenced my 2011 boots decision but I still have those boots! I still wear that sale-rack athleisure reflective-material jacket! And yep, still on the Breton-striped bandwagon.

Oh, and: still doing the ombré hair even though that's over and would not say no to a skim mocha or arugula salad, either. I spent more than was sensible if still not as much as I feared might be necessary on an Aritzia blazer in this fall's plaid, Frank Costanza-inspired trend and it's so fabulous that I get the sense it has staying power for me, whether or not the college students to whom the blazer is explicitly marketed (I'm not kidding; a "dorm room" is referenced in the description) still wear theirs years down the line. Best to face facts that everything might be a fleeting trend and even if it is, you personally can extend it indefinitely.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Life without cheese: worth living, but complicated!

For reasons relating to nursing, I'm on a no-dairy diet for the foreseeable (nursing) future. Yes, I'm now one of those people. What follows is... something? Advice, I guess, fully on the nursing-mother end of things, or really for anyone in a similar conundrum.

The thing is, I'd apparently been on an all-dairy diet previously, given how difficult this has been. I thought of myself as someone who was sort of squicked out by plain cow's milk, but it turns out this was very selective squeamishness-veganism as it were, and that once you put together steamed milk in espresso drinks, milk in cereal, cheese (including those soft ones I couldn't eat while pregnant), baked goods, chocolate croissants in particular, and just generally eating foods whose ingredients I couldn't begin to guess, that's a lot of dairy! I keep returning to the Kate Moss line about nothing tasting as good as skinny feels, and thinking how false it is. Because unsurprisingly, eliminating cheese, ice cream, iced lattes, and pastries from my diet has made me thinner than pre-pregnancy and I would prefer the version with food. (My days also involve library baby time, not runways, which might enter into it.)

That said, I'm trying to get creative about this whole no-dairy thing. After all, there are people who give up dairy to be chic and wellness-y! Which comes in handy I suppose when needing to eliminate the ingredient for other reasons. So many vegan bakeries! So many milk imitations to put in coffee for an additional charge of 50 cents!

That said, my impression - perhaps Toronto-specific - is that Western approximations of dairy-including foods are ugh, and that the answer is (some) East Asian food. With that in mind, I went to H-Mart and rather than buying almost everything, went with full-on everything. Stroller is useful for this.

Going with cuisines that wouldn't be expected to contain (much) dairy also has the plus of not being the thing where it's assumed that you're eliminating dairy as part of a general all-ingredients-pose-problems diet. It's really just dairy I can't eat (at least, as far as I know at this point; I am jinxing myself), which makes me that much more interested in the presence of all other ingredients. If I can't put milk in cereal, I'm not going to rule out soy milk as well. If baked goods can't contain milk or butter, am not about to leave out eggs and flour. And yeah it's probably the moment to get past whichever near-vegetarianism I'd landed on.

I'm trying to treat this as an opportunity to buy the fancy groceries I wouldn't otherwise when I was still spending (redacted) per grocery trip on cheese. I have visions of complicated meals, of the surf and turf varieties. The reality: three halves of Montreal-style bagel with - because I'm running out of non-cheese topping ideas (enough peanut butter, enough avocado) and can't look at another egg - tahini. A steep learning curve, this.

Sunday, June 23, 2019


When I first thought about "weaning" I imagined a situation where yes I'd still be nursing, but if something came up - say, if I needed to be out for more than an hour, or to do something decadent like sleep through the night - my husband could offer our child some food. I don't know if I could call my persistence in this belief naive exactly, because I spoke with many other mothers of slightly older babies - first at postnatal exercise classes, and then, at library baby time - and learned that "weaning," in this context, for a long time just means adding an extra step to your schedule, without any reduction in time or frequency of nursing. But I kept on imagining the time was imminent that my husband could just hand our baby a sandwich while I caught up on sleep.

Well! Baby is now solid-foods months old, and the other mothers were correct. This *is* an additional daily task. But an exciting one. Like most of humanity, I'm a big fan of food, and so I'm looking forward to introducing my child to more of it.

The old model, I guess, was purees from jars. There are now purees in pouches, but these are Bad and for emergencies only. Cheaper and (allegedly) easier: purees you make at home. This I have been doing, and just requires some advance planning. It fits with my own general approach to meals, and seems fine? And it turns out if you roast sweet potatoes for a long time, then puree them, that's really good! Not a new discovery in general but not something I'd otherwise have had the patience for.

But I'd read and heard good things about something called baby-led weaning. Just give your baby small bits of your own meal! Which sounds even better. Food is great! Purees, not super appetizing, although the freezer is now an interesting multicolored array of ice-cube-tray fruits and vegetables (and, less effectively, tofu).

There are a few issues with the baby-led weaning approach. Such as: this concept of an adult "meal" seems to have been imagined by someone with a lot of technical cooking skill (everything has to be just so texture and shape-wise) but zero interest in cooking itself. As in: what is this food you're preparing for yourself, without any salt or oil? (No sugar, either, which I could see getting annoying but is less immediately difficult in cooking.) And why no oil, if babies are supposed to be getting enough fat? Why is fat Very Important if in yogurt but not if in butter or oil or whatever? Why are you meant to give your baby cheese and bread and things of that nature, but watch out for salt, which is an ingredient in everything purchased outside? What if you're still in the eternal-seeming stage where you're slowly introducing ingredients - then can you offer foods containing more than one?

The idea is to avoid raising a picky eater, but make sure there is no sauce on any of your baby's food, except if it's a dipping sauce, which is the only way "BLW" babies are allowed to eat puree. If you put a spoon in your baby's mouth, it might as well be a joint, is the impression some of the books give. Some but not all - some are realistic about foods having different textures and that maybe putting some mashed-up avocado on a spoon and offering this up to an enthusiastic enough baby will not be - I mean, read the news! - the worst thing that could happen to a baby, and is in fact a good thing to happen to a baby, all told. Other books, however, are more like, purees, even of fresh ingredients you prepared yourself, are setting your baby up to never learn to talk or lift a spoon or whatever and - and this (not rejection from Harvard!) is the undercurrent of apparently all parenting advice, except I'm imagining some subset of it that's out to consciously avoid that theme - be fat.

Which, who knows, but also remember that at six months, babies start needing nutrients from more than just milk or formula, so "food before one is just for fun" isn't actually a thing. But also, iron-fortified oat cereal is processed and therefore unacceptable, except when I have oatmeal myself, I mean, someone or some machine has presumably processed the oats in question.

Also: choking. Which could happen regardless but seems as if it would be more likely if you're handing your baby an ear of corn or a drumstick, but what do I know.

Oh and: one of the books had the nerve to say that if your own family meals aren't baby-food compatible, as in if there isn't something salt-and-sugar-free of the correct texture and nutrient content, all ingredients verified - you could hand your baby, then there's clearly something wrong with how you eat and by the way here are a bunch of nauseating-sounding quinoa recipes as suggestions. It's like some extended, extra-bonkers version of the thing where pregnant women are said to be infantilized by health tips. And, I mean, I was fine with the nine months not drinking thing! But am I about to cook only unseasoned food and once again stop eating runny cheese?? Hmm!

Meanwhile it would seem that babies can indeed go from milk to purees to soft foods to regular food without the world ending if a step or two in the middle aren't skipped. There are also sensible advice-givers out there, prepared to admit that you can try both these methods, at the same meal, even, without the sky falling in, or winding up with a baby who'll grow up to eat only mushed banana. And I can - I tried this evening! it worked! - cook without salt, and only add the salt after (along with a gallon of soy sauce) and not quite as much oil as I might have otherwise. It's fine!

The same part of my brain that's able to turn off 'get wild salmon not farmed because reasons even though wild is $50 a pound and often tastes worse' when it comes to my own food consumption can do that as well for the baby-food variant. But oh, do I see (she types, having spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which is the appropriate First Yogurt, like Borat encountering the cheese section of an American supermarket) how it could all lend itself to making someone sort of lose it, when just as you're finally getting a tiny bit more sleep, but only just, you're meant to become instant expert in a dreary sort of home cooking, all for a person who is, simply on account of their age, more likely to offer the food in question to a can't-believe-the-luck dog than to put the carefully-prepared chicken shreds into their mouth.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On not buying new stuff for a little bit

At the supermarket checkout just now, I saw a magazine cover headline suggesting that readers stop dieting but still lose weight. An eternal promise! And yet, and yet.

So too, I guess, with spending. Principle-of-the-thing, I don't believe in cutting fun-spending that isn't adding up to much. But, what if it is? What if you live in a really expensive and getting pricier city, with future daycare costs and eventual not-one-bedroom-home costs to think about? What if you're on maternity leave, so the find-ways-to-earn-more part of the equation isn't something you can address immediately? What then?

Coffee out is just too bleak to give up, and as Helaine Olen has well demonstrated, it doesn't add up to much. But new clothes and accessories, this seemed - seems? - doable, and worth addressing. Partly it's that I went about a year unable to wear my existing wardrobe, so there's been a certain amount of excitement at all these 'new' clothes. (Some jeans from Before will probably never fit right again, but otherwise it's back to normal wardrobe-wise.) But it's also that... I mean, when did I buy all that clothing? When did I go from being shocked that anyone owned anything from Lululemon to realizing I've got something like six pairs of their leggings (of which two were for maternity - and very wearable beyond - but still).

This reaction to clothes-type stuff is, I think, a very normal aspect of being a decade or two into adulthood, but that gets confused with having some sort of maturity-inspired epiphany about materialism. For most of your life, getting new clothes will have been obviously necessary due to growing, then to life-stage issues such as, even casual work environments demand slightly different clothes than do 12th-grade classrooms, even if some of those clothes still fit. But then you're 28, 33 and the clothing from 23 is maybe fine in all sorts of ways - size, appropriateness - but you still want new stuff, and buy it, and then it's like, did you actually need-need to do this? What if the old stuff hadn't - not all of it, at least, disintegrated? What if it hadn't even gone out of style, but you just saw these other things, these new ones, that caught your attention?

And then you find that you're 35 and own not just half of what North American Uniqlo's sold for the past decade-plus, but also a significant amount of Everlane, some purchased from Canada despite duty because you are in fact that ridiculous. It won't be that you were ever all that ridiculous. The aggregate... situation in your wardrobe isn't the result of a spending spree, but of the fact that you purchased clothes in 2009, 2010, etc., and still own and wear this stuff. As in, I did not go out and spend $500 at Lululemon in one afternoon! And yet, I look at what I own and it feels like I'm seeing the results of someone doing just that, and hitting up a bunch of less-expensive chains and thrift stores as well.

There is probably a way to do this that doesn't involve self-flagellation at having ever bought anything, ever, and good on you if you've found it! But in any case, I have very solemnly vowed No New Clothes Or Accessories For Myself Until 2020. I did so I guess a few weeks ago? Shortly after (and thank goodness, not before) replacing a crumbling pair of white Birkenstocks with new, silver, ones. The challenge was going to be Montreal - land of tempting French-ish stuff, but in CAD - but it turns out spending your days with a baby strapped to your torso kind of gets in the way of clothes-shopping, and not just because of the difficulties of physically trying anything on. Also helpful: most of the clothing I remember really liking in stores now seems too young for me, so I'm not even sure what it is I would want. Accessories, maybe? But there, too, the need to combine whatever it is with a carrier means most of the more chic possibilities are out and the LL Bean camouflage zip tote continues its unchallenged reign.

Will this last as long as planned? Who knows. The best aspect of it has been rediscovering a reflective-material jacket purchased many years ago, that I was on the cusp of donating, but am now wearing daily. The worst: the mere fact of rules of self-restraint, which I oppose, even when seeing full well where they can come in handy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Highly specific travel guides, Canadian edition

It had been a while since I'd left Toronto, and an opportunity popped up to go to Montreal (as I'd been meaning to do again, since moving to Canada) so I figured, the time has come! But in the weeks leading up to the trip, I couldn't quite believe it would actually happen. It just seemed so involved - figuring out various baby-and-dog practicalities, and... well, really just anything beyond getting from one day to the next, something that's gotten simpler in the past month or so, but sleep sort of comes and goes, so. I'd swing back and forth between thinking I should be making lists of things to do and people to see, and thinking that that approach to a trip was something out of a past life.

Below, some tips for travel - to Montreal, in general - with a 5-month-old:

-Trains are good for baby-naps. Planes, I'm thinking, maybe less so. The train part went fine. Mostly.

-Beware the changing table on Via Rail. It has that warning about how it might suddenly and unexpectedly bop a baby on the head for a reason.

-Carrier yes, stroller maybe not. Subways in Montreal rarely have elevators, and everything (including the hotel some of the time, argh) has steps at the entryway. And there's no consistency whatsoever between Toronto and Montreal in terms of policies for getting the stroller on and off the train. (Toronto has elevators but no assistance, Montreal the reverse.)

-You want to wait until the baby's neck control situation is sorted before going far from home along these lines. Travel requires a lot of lifting/propping and carrier-using (ideally occasional front-facing stretches, so baby can see some of the sights) and that just makes things easier. If we'd tried this a month or so ago it would have been a really bad idea.

-Bring everything with you that you brought for the whole trip because you never know when you might need absolutely all of it. Like, say you've been in Old Montreal, having this lovely stroll, and are feeling really on top of things, having changed your baby (in a magnificent all-silver bathroom) just after opening time at a concept store. Then a half-hour or so later, you're feeding your baby in a supposedly VIP area of a mall, except it's mainly people who seem elsewhere on the socioeconomic spectrum so you're not shocked a guard permits you to sit there as well, and it becomes clear a further changing will be necessary, but that mall has no place for this, so you figure a market will, but guess what? The Jean Talon market isn't all that near its associated subway stop.

-Bring extra baby clothes every time you leave the hotel. Do not assume that just because the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto sells tourist knick-knacks every tourist-oriented market will have souvenir onesies to be purchased in an emergency. Do not panic. Remember that the sweater plus your own jacket as a leg-wrap will actually be fine for a few minutes when it's not even cold out.

-Accept help, even from the older woman who admonishes you in French for not having your baby warmly dressed. Don't get annoyed, just explain to her (also in French, of course!) the insufficient-change-of-clothes preparation situation, and you will be directed to a nearby thrift store where all baby clothes are $2.25 (and untaxed). Seemingly a good selection and I would have liked to have a better look, under other circumstances. Bought one outfit and one backup outfit (LESSON LEARNED) only.

-Try not to scream - in French or English - when the bathroom you're told is fine to change baby into the newly-purchased outfit in has no changing table, and is completely filthy, and you have to go back into the main part of the store and do this in a tiny dressing room.

-Bring a (large) backpack for an outing like this, because when you find the enormous French patisserie cookbook you've been looking for for years, you will buy it, despite being already quite encumbered. That free tote bag from a Swedish cultural event in New York might look nice but will not work for any of your purposes.

-Nursing is super awkward and some people will be bothered by it (I guess Ontario and Quebec have different approaches, but also, when am I ever out for the entire day like that in Toronto?) but if that's how the baby eats, that's how the baby eats. If that means nursing on a minute and filthy plank-bench in front of a (very good) Portuguese roast chicken place, on a narrow sidewalk, or on a picnic bench surrounded by 15-year-old boys, or in a bakery-café where a woman with a laptop had really wanted all four nearby seats for herself and her stuff, so be it. Let Montreal see your nipples for the requisite milliseconds. It's not the end of the world.

-When you meet up with a friend you haven't seen in years, and are speaking French in a social situation for the first time in a while as well, after... that, don't overthink the fact that you're maybe slightly less able to express yourself than under other circumstances.

-Dining out with a baby is totally possible if it's at breakfast time. Remember this when deciding what to order. Go with the bomboloni and the bagel and lox, even if that seems a bit much, price- and quantity-wise. Because dinner? Not necessarily happening.

-Nothing is going to happen at/after the witching hour. If your train arrives past that point, don't even bother trying to go to a pizza place, even if it's referred to online as family-friendly, and even if it is right next to the hotel. And definitely don't (what was I thinking??) order an appetizer. Accept that the day ends at 5pm, which is not all told a terrible approach to travel, if you've been out walking since morning.

-And about that walking: Remember that walking around with a baby in carrier is ever so slightly more tiring than doing so without. Your phone's automatic step-counter might tell you you just covered 5-6 miles but it will feel marathon-ish. Accept that there's wandering that will not happen. Figure out where the bus stops are located because you will sooner or later (sooner) have to get on a bus.

-Remember that for the baby, everything is new. That's exciting! Reminding yourself of this is the trick to making the whole thing fun, rather than just challenging.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


This is a good old-fashioned what-a-silly-article blog post. So let me be clear: I don't think its author is a Bad Person, and yeah, this could easily have a clickbait or cynical editorial strategy explanation. So maybe this isn't about how the article was Bad (which gosh but it was), so much as about where, precisely, it - and others like it - went wrong.

The article, which you've likely already seen, is about how millennials prefer "fur babies" to baby-babies. (An assertion in no way demonstrated in the piece, but, moving on.)

The opening anecdote is an extended riff of fury directed at "the lady I’d identified as childless," a woman at a new-mom-only (?) party who had the audacity to speak about her dog. The grievance, I think (?), is partly that some ~millennials~ are choosing not to have kids, but more that some who don't have kids do have dogs and aren't sufficiently meh about their pets: "Whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make. But nothing can substitute for that. So don’t pretend that a canine companion is the same thing." And then, in case this were not clear: "A dog is a huge commitment, a fabulous friend and, fine, call it part of the family. But having a baby is something entirely different."

Wait what? A dog and a baby, not the same? This is a surprise.

This fear that people (women) are confusing their dogs for human children is a persistent one, if ridiculous. Why (I repeat) is it troubling for someone (or just someone without kids) to spend money on ('on') a dog, but not on, say, home decor? The concern seems to be that this is energy that could just as easily be channeled into child-rearing, which is to say, the only people confusing dogs with babies are... the people writing hot takes about why it's bad to treat a dog like a baby.

Below, then, the enumerated musings of someone who has finally kind of figured out going outside with leash and carrier:

1) Contrary to popular opinion, it is not harder to have a newborn than a puppy. Babies are human beings and it's to some extent intuitive what to do with them. Puppies are far more mysterious on account of, they're dogs. Society is set up in such a way as to assume people have kids. Dogs, meanwhile, are understood to be a nuisance-luxury. Neighbors can feel entitled to oppose the mere presence of a dog; of a baby, it's just too universally recognized that they're in the wrong for them to make a fuss and get taken seriously. A baby can come with you to a coffee shop or restaurant. A dog, not so much. There are all kinds of meet-ups and activities for new parents. New first-time dog owners, however, might find themselves struggling alone with housebreaking and unpredictable whimpering and feeling like the choice to get a dog meant never leaving the country, town, or home-and-nearby-grassy-patches ever again. Some of this had to do with the timing, and the differences in location, but I found getting a dog so much more disruptive than having a baby. Not physically, of course - there's no middle-of-the-night nursing of a dog! I did not give birth to my poodle!* - but in terms of the thud to my life of not being able to come and go as I pleased? Of being responsible for this other creature without means to communicate its wants and needs?

The author has no idea, and even sort of admits as much: "Canines don’t exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do, and, although I’ve never had a dog, I’m struggling to imagine that owning one causes quite the same level of cranium-cracking, body-battering, tear-inducing sleep deprivation that’s part and parcel of early parenthood." Emphasis mine. If you've never had a dog, it's not impossible you'd have means of comparison. Not all knowledge must be firsthand. But this just seems like a from-thin-air guess?

2) Once more: no one thinks their dog is a baby. It's not A Thing. It's a way of insulting people who don't have (human) children.

2a) There is no reason given in the article - or that common sense summons - to think that anyone in the history of humanity has actually thought, hmm, dog or baby, weighed pros and cons, and been like, OK, that's it, dog! or for that matter, baby! It's just not how any actual human beings think.

2b) The person who is in a place in their life where they absolutely could have a baby but they've opted instead to have a dog, so as to facilitate travel (????), is... not a myth, exactly, but you can't assume the reason someone has a dog but not a kid is that they've decided a dog is lower-stakes. There are 10,000 different reasons people who don't have kids are in that situation, 9,995 of which are not things they're going to tell randos at a party. So they will come up with something for situations like that - 'too busy' or 'dog instead' - and maybe that's it or maybe not but if you stop and think for a millisecond you'd realize that you don't know if that's the real reason. Does the author imagine schnauzer-lady is going to open up to her about financial or fertility limitations? About her trouble finding the right partner?

3) What was going on at this party that it was a crime that one woman there didn't have a baby, but instead made some lighthearted remarks about her schnauzer? I could see if this were, like, a new-moms support group and someone came in and, in a Carrie Bradshaw twist, insisted their dog were their baby. But that appears not to be the case. Just a party which a woman without a baby dared attend.

4) People are WAY more judgmental about dog-raising than the human variety. There's first the question of where the dog came from, which can of course be more openly discussed than re: the human baby. Then there's how to prevent the dog from turning your home into its toilet, and training in general. If you do crate-training, your home will not be a dog toilet, but you will have, in your home, a cage, which will strike some as cruel, even if your dog isn't in it much of the time (or at all, past puppyhood). If you only ever walk your dog on a leash (going off-leash only at fenced dog runs), you're crushing the poor creature's spirit! or maybe just doing your part to avoid the dog bothering people on the street, or getting lost. I don't know. Dogs have a universal, communal-property quality in a way babies - so special to their own parents - do not, plus there's no sense of it being taboo to offer unsolicited criticism of a stranger's dog-handling choices.

5) And what if some people do confuse dogs and babies? Is that the end of the world? A woman on the street recently, whose poodle I'd just admired, asked if what was in my carrier was a baby or a dog. OK so this ought to have been obvious, but in this one case, evidently not. So what! And everyone confuses their dogs' and babies' names but also dogs' and adult relatives' names so it's not a big deal at all and one should feel free to chill out about this.

*OHIP, the Ontario universal health care system, covered childbirth but we're on our own at the vet.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In defense of paying a ton to get your nails done

When I was 11 - and I remember the age exactly, because of friend-group fluctuations and which friend this was - my best friend at the time got a gift certificate for mani-pedis, and brought me along. It was... fine? But the pedicure was plainly not for me - too ticklish. Also the whole thing seemed a bit too much like going to the dentist.

In grad school I got a grand total of 3 manicures, one with pedicure. The two manicure-onlies were pick-me-ups of some sort. The first was the French variety, and I remember it as looking great (which I knew even then to be a basic thing to think - a basic style to have requested to begin with) and being impossible to replicate at home. The mani-pedi was when I got married, and again, pedicure, not for me.

But this notion of The Manicure lingered as the ultimate frivolous indulgence. You can, after all, just paint your own nails! (Which I do!) Any bottle of nail polish, even a fancy one, is going to cost so much less than a manicure. I'd both congratulate myself for savvily avoiding this unnecessary expenditure, and feel a certain degree of envy of peers who clearly took themselves seriously enough (Because You're Worth It TM) to think their looks (and their careers?) were worth investing in, in this way.

Aaaand then there was the big exposé about nail salons - how exploitative and toxic most of these places are. At just the historical moment when scorn for sex work (and often, by extension, the people - the men - who patron sex workers) became problematic, the Woman Who Gets Her Nails Done became emblematic of consumerist insensitivity. It all seemed a little hmm. Like perhaps the motivating force here wasn't so much a goal of a safer and less exploitative norm in the nail salon industry, but rather a world where women feel that much more terrible about primping and not primping. (Because it always cuts in both directions.)

Then, back in Toronto, I started noticing a whole new nail-art world. Students at the university where I teach would have these elaborate nails, sometimes with rhinestones (?) embedded in them. It looked neat and fun and... especially impossible to replicate at home. And not all chipped off, like my own DIY polish attempts inevitably were. (I'm decent a painting my own nails, but less so with not absentmindedly fussing with the results during a meeting.) I decided that I would, as a sort of end-of-year reward, go get my nails done, probably at a fabulous-looking place I'd seen on Instagram, on Dundas West. It would be a whole outing, once it was warm out. I would get the famous gel nails, the ones where the polish doesn't chip. With some sort of nail art, because that was clearly what this place is known for.

Then I learned I was pregnant and it didn't fit with my panicked first-trimester mode, when I wasn't even having any coffee, to do this, plus I wasn't awake enough.

Then it was later in pregnancy and I was too tired in a different way, and concerned that there's something where during childbirth they need to measure your blood oxygen so I couldn't get polish that wouldn't come off easily, and if this was just going to be regular nail polish I should just do this on my own.

Then it was the first six weeks, when I was doing fine as it goes, which is to say, only mildly incapacitated, and also had to feed too often to commit to more than brief poodle-walks.

Then it was too cold.

And then somehow, it seemed... possible? But, expensive. Could I justify this? I felt confident the salon was a Good One but not that I, personally, had any business spending over $50 plus tax and tip on my nails.

I don't know what the ultimate catalyst was, but after many visits to, then away from, the booking site, which requires credit card info and everything, I took the plunge.

The outing itself was decadent if not all-out relaxing. (Subway to streetcar-replacement bus, yeah.) But the salon - Naked Beauty Bar - was spectacular. As were - and are, a week and a half later - the results. Actually getting my nails done in this manner - where a manicurist does all sorts of things to your nails and cuticles and all of that takes longer than the polish itself - shouldn't have appealed to me, because aw shucks I'm too low-maintenance for that but given my state of haggard frazzledness upon arrival (or given that I am not in fact too low-maintenance for that), it was just lovely.

Then I picked up tacos to bring home from Good Hombres, home of many a satisfied third-trimester craving, but apparently just as good after the taco fixation had subsided. The whole thing improved my mood tremendously. With tip it was, I believe, $78. Not including the tacos. Frivolous, yes. Shocking, as in, I'm re-startling myself as I type this. But worth it.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Breast is OK-est

It can be challenging in the beginning.

That much is admitted even by breastfeeding proponents, but what "challenging" meant remains remained mysterious until it all played out.

First came the span of days when baby's eating needs exceeded my milk production. And the things you're meant to do to help this (insofar as it even can be helped - there's basically the day when the milk comes in and that day hadn't yet come) are, eat well and get rest, neither of which were possible what with the days-old baby in the house. This was, at the time, all-out terrifying.

Eventually I spoke on the phone with a lactation consultant who (for free! Canada!) explained everything. But first, the healthcare hotline I called instructed me to feed every 1.5 hours, as in to *start* each feed at those intervals, which effectively meant feeding continuously because newborns eat more slowly. It didn't make sense. It still, in retrospect, doesn't make sense. I was also advised - as I later learned this hotline advises everybody, no matter the reason for the call, but I had not realized this - to go to the emergency room.

Then came engorgement, something I suspect is discussed less than it ought to be because it sounds vaguely erotic, although it is, I promise, anything but. It started with armpit pain, then became what it sounds like, and ultimately escalated to a very frightening shivering spell, where I was just shaking as if I had a fever, but I didn't (yet another emergency room near-miss), and this is a thing that can happen, but won't necessarily, so you don't learn about it ahead of time. This is the much-awaited milk coming in, but it paradoxically makes it more difficult to feed. It will then repeat itself, if less dramatically, on the occasions when the baby sleeps for more than 3 consecutive hours in the night.

Next were the three or so weeks of intense pain every left-side feed. (Present from the start, but initially overshadowed by the rest of what was happening.) Of the there's-nothing-to-do-about-it sort (not the famous bad latch, just something about how my own body apparently works), so I was advised to take over-the-counter painkillers, which I was already taking what with having recently given birth. Took a bunch of those!

Eventually the feeding bit itself got sorted. Enough so that despite the above, I'd fall into the category of women for whom nursing - thus far, at least - works. The above is, again, what it looks like, or can look like, when it works. With enough maternity leave to give it a proper go (though even in Canada, recommendations for length of nursing well exceed leave), with a body that wound up being capable of this, and a baby prepared to do her part. My nursing's-been-a-breeze privilege is showing, except for the few days when I thought (and had medical reason to think) it wasn't working and that my baby was going to starve. And now - now! - I can appreciate the positives. That it's easier than preparing bottles, for one thing, but also, the bonding bit - present from the start, of course - is more front-and-center when the throbbing-pain part has subsided.


There's the general advice for those first few weeks, aimed at all new parents but especially those feeding the baby from their bodies: Just focus on the baby, and ignore what can be ignored, and let those assembled around you deal with everything else. This makes approximately no sense, either. It assumes a next-level support system, some sort of amalgam of the best of what everyone on online mom forums describes, without any of the worst. There's this assumption that chores are things like dusting or scrubbing the bath, i.e. that can be ignored. Well! Laundry and dishes, those really can't be put off indefinitely. (Big regret: not temporarily switching to disposable dishware for 2-3 weeks at the start.)

Basically, the ideal situation for breastfeeding assumes, then exceeds, such things as 'supportive partner' or 'maternity leave'. It assumes a woman sort of permanently reclined, emperor-style for (at least) the first six weeks, getting non-intrusively fussed after by an army of people whose single focus is making sure she feeds the baby. Who think breastfeeding is a worthy pursuit (maybe hard to believe in some haute-crunchy milieus, but not everyone does!), but who will also be supportive if for whatever reason nursing doesn't work out and formula is needed.

Which leaves that other bit: If you're the only one who's feeding your baby, and your baby needs to eat every couple of hours, you're not sleeping. (For your partner to support the endeavor, they're not sleeping either.) And you're not going anywhere. Or maybe you are, but bringing the baby, but if it's winter in Canada and too cold/icy to go out with a baby, then yeah, no, not going outside. The latter only becomes an issue, I found, when the former has (in its limited way) resolved. That is, if you're getting three hours of sleep a night, it's hard to get stir-crazy. If, however, you're at 7 or so, albeit interrupted, the outside world again seems quite interesting, but what are you meant to do about this? In my case, it's meant leaving the apartment when possible, but trying to accept that Fahrenheit single digit days, we're staying in. There's a mall nearby, and we're regulars. There are baby fitness classes semi-nearby (for mothers' fitness, that is, but apparently there's a way to bring a baby?); those have had to wait until weather permits a trip to semi-nearby.

To go the nursing route, you have to believe in it, which means reading, yes, but not getting bogged down in contrarian and feminist literature about how it's all pointless and correlation is not causation and you may think you're doing the right thing but Actually you're just engaging in the choice that happens to be favored by the Brooklyn haute-clog-wearing set. (I used to live in Brooklyn and once had mid-range clogs, but foolishly did not time that part of my life for the baby-having one. But I'm sure it made some sort of cultural impact on me all the same.) If you're breastfeeding, you're in many key ways opting into being pseudo-pregnant for another year or so. And pregnancy? Worth it for the end result, but not the most fun in and of itself. There, it's the difference between baby and no baby. Breastfeeding or not, it's between one sort of feeding and another, so the stakes are a touch lower.

Some of the rules (the ones that drove me up the wall, at least) go away, and you can resume eating sushi and runny cheeses and soft-boiled eggs and lox and and and you get the idea. (I'm still in the mode where I neeeeed to eat these sorts of foods as often as possible.) But alcohol is either forbidden (according to one government pamphlet) or just needs to be very carefully timed, to the point that it is, in effect, forbidden. (After full-on abstaining during pregnancy, and being too tired for the first month or so after, I have on a couple occasions reminded myself what beer tastes like, but what an entire beer is like, that I have only the vaguest recollection.) Curious about those actually-effective skincare products you've been reading about (now that you've gone and started looking a decade older, all at once)? Nope, not starting on those, either. Coffee... I guess that's also something you're supposed to avoid, but there's also the thing where you're supposed to stay awake on no sleep...

And maybe the most daunting: Interested in not having quite as much of a paunch aka not still looking pregnant three months in? Exercise needs to be carefully timed in terms of feeds because there are only certain points in the nursing cycle where jogging could possibly be comfortable. And making any sort of change to your diet is risky because - as when pregnant - it's not just you you're feeding. So, eat up! But you also maybe don't want to swing too far in the food-restriction-is-evil direction, when you know full well the reason you're where you're at is a continued third-trimester approach to, specifically, salt-and-pepper potato chips. Or when your physique goal remains fitting comfortably (as versus squeezing) into the cold-weather winter coat that cost $$$ a few years ago, such that you're for sure not about to buy another one, but now, when you try to zip it up, it feels like the zipper's about to break. I don't know.


Ultimately, the answer to why I've gone this route (thus far - always add the thus-far because you never know and also because in some estimations, being a completist as it were means lasting for years plural) is, because it's what's done, what I started doing, and it's maybe the better way, maybe? For reasons it's not so much that I can't articulate as that I'm not sure about, having read conclusions in all directions, and having zero expertise in this area myself. I don't believe, in general, that natural is better, or even means much of anything. I don't feel cooped up in the sense of wanting to run away with the circus. I do, however, eagerly look forward to the days when my now-infant can join me in eating a sandwich.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dream apartment listing

So I (mostly) love where I live, but it's too small, or will be, and yeah. But I'm a millennial, which means I've spent all my money on avocado lattes and thus cannot buy a townhouse in the Annex next to where Margaret Atwood lives. Below, the sort of thing I'm looking for, if you've seen one of these lying around...


-In downtown Toronto. (OK, on Ischia, but trying to be realistic here, and Toronto does have much better Asian groceries, so.)

-Laundry in unit. (Not just in building! It's Toronto, ensuite laundry is the default, a girl can dream!)

-Dishwasher obviously but I don't know if I've yet seen a Toronto apartment that didn't have one? (Ones without ovens, however...)

-Gym in building. (Between the traffic and the endless winter, jogging outside is maybe not a thing in this city and definitely not one where bringing a baby along could possibly work.)

-An actual second bedroom, as in one that could fit an actual twin bed, as versus (say) an apartment-staging crib and nothing more.

-Both bedrooms have doors. I'm sorry but there's no improvement over the current situation if baby's (eventual) room is just a loft overlooking a downstairs. (Also: Why are all these tiny condos spread out over two floors? Because duplex sounds glamorous even if the reality is, this is two dorm rooms one on top of the other? See also: Why do so many apartment buildings here in the arctic have cabanas among their amenities?)

-No Kitec plumbing.

-Maintenance fee not in the rent-ish range.

-Dogs permitted. (Legally as I understand it they have to be but I'd still avoid a building with a huge sign up in the lobby stating otherwise.)

-A non-stair-involving entrance. (Not actually such an issue in Toronto and also how am I the same person as the one who once helped carry a full-size bookcase up to the top of a Park Slope walk-up??)


-A living room large enough to seem not too claustrophobic. (Current rental is #blessed in that regard.)

-Not a box-bedroom situation. As in, bedrooms both have windows. (This had been on the essentials list but am getting desperate.)

-Two bathrooms.

-Not on the gazillionth floor because for personal reasons with geopolitical significance that would sidetrack this post, that freaks me out.

-Near groceries that meet my exacting, pain-in-the-neck specifications. (Kensington or St. Lawrence Market, an H-Mart, Whole Foods, Chinatown...) Or, failing that, groceries. (No Frills is better than Loblaws is better than whatever the thing is that's like Loblaws but tiny.)

-Over 950 square feet. (Under 800 and this is definitive just-stay-put territory, I don't care how many 'bedrooms' they're claiming a space contains.)

-Very near a subway stop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


The verdict is given at the six-week appointment: Are you back to normal? Your normal, not Gisele's, but both may seem similarly implausible. Six weeks is when - at least if you're nursing - your uterus is supposed to have shrunk down to its original size. This is a giant unspoken euphemism for: if you still look pregnant at that point, it's the pregnancy-exacerbated addiction to salt-and-pepper potato chips, but not pregnancy itself. (Or just... pregnancy more generally, which involves more than an expanded uterus? But anyway.)

The personal: It has been 10 weeks and while I feel a bunch more with-it than I did, say, 5 weeks ago, I still look... not just bigger than pre-pregnancy, but somewhat pregnant. I had and hadn't expected this. All bodies are different, so there's no actual answer to how permanent this and all other bodily changes might be.

There's all sorts of empowering language about this online: You just created and birthed a whole new human being! Be easy on yourself! Which, sure. But then there's life in the clothes limbo where the maternity clothes are excessive (or just too dreary to keep wearing), but all pre-pregnancy clothes - pants at least - seem like they belong to a small doll of some kind, so little of your current body would they possibly contain. (Admittedly this was the case with those black Levis from the get-go. What was I thinking there?)

And then this is all paired with the not-vanity physical aspects of recovering from childbirth - as much as a line can even be drawn.

And if it's winter in Canada, and your preferred form of exercise is jogging, and the only gym nearby costs $180 a month and that's with a discount, getting back (?) in shape - at whatever size - is a challenge.

What I've found, maybe of use to others, maybe not:

-Move more, but don't diet. This is essential if nursing but probably the way to go regardless. So I'm forcing myself to jog, a bit, despite the terrible weather. (High school winter track, in an only slightly less-cold climate, was good preparation.) Also to do many dog-walks I might otherwise pass off to spouse or dog-walker. But apart from trying harder to remember that vegetables exist (even in winter, in Canada) and staying away from potato chips, I'm not changing how I eat.

There are practical aspects to this choice as well as values-ish ones. Practical being, having a newborn means scarfing down something, and quickly, when time permits. (I have not turned into a different person, so there are not casseroles or bean soups going into my freezer on Sunday nights. But now is not the moment for the David Tanis recipe where use of foraged asparagus is encouraged.) Values more like, I have a daughter, one who for better or worse will not be coming of age on the Upper East Side in the 1990s. Worse perhaps global-politics-wise but in terms of having the option of avoiding thinness-is-everything culture, better, I hope?

It can hard if you grew up in that culture to look at your newly-very-pudgy waistline and not think, this is a problem something must be done about. So I sort of allow myself to think this, but then remind myself that whatever the build is that results from eating normal food and getting some exercise is the one I'm best off having.

-'Invest' in jeans in the size you actually are. Just do it, don't overthink. I resisted doing so at first, both because I believed (correctly) that my build at 3 weeks postpartum or whatever would not continue, and because I figured (incorrectly!) I'd be fine alternating between sweats and leggings indefinitely. Turns out, it does wonders for a sense of normalcy, of resumption of life outside a postpartum haze, to put on some pants - yes, with stretch - that have a zipper.

But... get nice jeans. I don't necessarily mean $200 (a road I personally have yet to go down, now or otherwise), just ones that you genuinely like, and that don't feel temporary. Because who knows! They very well might not be temporary, and you don't want to be aiming for size goals rather than in-shape-ness ones all because you're sick of wearing crummy jeans in your 'just for now' size. I ordered two pairs from Everlane - one in black, inspired by Andréa in "Call My Agent!", and another in dark denim inspired by my need for a pair of regular jeans that can close around the waist - that are so nice that this will be the silver lining if I wind up having to get rid of all my previous pants.

-In-person clothes-shopping is not going to happen. Certainly not if you're carrying your baby in a carrier, or exclusively nursing (which in my experience means you never have more than 2 hours apart from baby, and get antsy after 30 minutes). Or if it does, don't expect to try anything on in the store. Normally I don't do online shopping. I have gotten over this.

-Accessories, always the obvious choice when clothes are for whatever reason complicated. But shoes are tricky because walking around with a baby (in winter, at least) is limiting style-wise even to those who don't normally wear anything all that impractical. (Got a pair of Blundstone boots in the third trimester and am trying to remember that I own other shoes, but the traction they provide on the perma-ice outside is making this difficult.) Bags, same - whatever it is will need to fit some baby-stuff, if not necessarily nearly as much as diaper bags suggest. But I ordered myself a bracelet (this, from Shlomit Ofir), which just arrived, and now feel massively more elegant. Have painted my nails red to go with. And the velvet scrunchies I bought in my last third-trimester outing-of-sorts (tacked onto a trip to the dentist) do liven up a sweatpants look.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019


-House-leaving. Including baby classes, meet-ups, whatever it is one does, and I have some promising leads on that front but am open to more suggestions. But also a bit of leaning into home-with-baby hermit-ness where needed.

-Exercise, once this is medically possible. Jogging and weights again, I guess? But also keep up with meals, which is trickier than it sounds. (I may not look Worryingly Thin - and by "may not" I mean I certainly don't, as in I was only barely able to squeeze into my usual winter coat in time to need to do so - but for baby-feeding and hangriness-avoidance purposes, this is key.)

-Move to a place with an additional bedroom.

-Maaaany writing goals, including getting somewhere with the beginnings of fiction (heh) and non-fiction (more realistic but still heh) drafts.

-Find a few hours at some point, when few-hours excursions become possible, to go to this incredibly hip-seeming and expensive-but-worth-it-looking nail salon I was planning to try pre-pregnancy but never got around to, and get something minimalist but complicated done (gel, half-moons, something along those lines), and combine this with a trip to the nearby taco place.

-Sleep for five or more consecutive hours.