Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What's in a name?

We've taken a dark turn here this week, into the world of gas pains. Augie spent two nights and a day crying and nursing and spitting up continuously. I'm not exaggerating. He nursed 18 times in 24 hours and he nurses for at least 35 minutes each time. You do the math. I spent two nights and a day thinking I was losing my mind (how do mothers of colicky babies stay sane?) until I retrieved -- from the furthest recesses of my memory -- a mention of infant gas drops. I sent J to Walgreens and prayed. I'm pleased to report that they were a rousing success and Augie drifted into sleep almost instantly. But anyway....amidst all the crying, I pleaded with Augie to stop. I found myself begging: "come on Aug, please Augie, breathe August, you can stop Gus, really, you can." You get the idea. I'd cycle through all his names and all the variations on all those names. And it reminded me why we named him August, or at least partially why: so we'd have scores of nicknames to use. But that's not really why.

J and I had talked about baby names for a few years and we always hit upon the same problem. There were dozens of terrific girl names. We had lists upon lists upon lists of them. But in the world of boy names, we were utterly impoverished. It's not that we didn't agree; it's that nothing sounded right. There seemed to be no beauty in boys names; nothing rolled off the tongue; nothing sang, at least not in our ears. Neither of us wanted a tough, macho name and we were both attracted to old-timey ones (maybe that's why we have a dog named Homer). For a long time, we considered naming our son Arlo and I think that's the name we both loved the most, but ultimately I couldn't do it. It just made me too sad and frankly, I didn't want people horrified that I'd named my son after my dead dog. There'd be too much explaining.

I don't remember how we first hit upon August. I've always liked the playwright August Wilson, but not enough to name my kid after him. We both thought of Bellow's Augie March. In the end, I think we just liked the way it sounded, kind and quiet, with a bit of old wisdom thrown in. When he was still in utero, we often called him Baby Gussie and I thought that I'd call him Gus (another canine tribute to my childhood poodle). But since his arrival, I've settled into Aug and Augie and the Gus variations have fallen away.

His middle name, Emanuel, was easier. That was J's grandpa and we decided early on that we wanted to honor him. He died before I met J, but everyone tells me that they were two peas in a pod: both fastidious (ahem, neurotic?) and hygienically precise. It also felt important to include J's family in his name because he has my last name.

When we decided to stay in Berea two years ago instead of moving for my work, I issued a series of ridiculous demands. I've forgotten them all except the promise that any children we had would bear my last name. I know the logic here might seem fuzzy, but I reasoned that I was giving up a tenure track job to move to Kentucky, with no guarantee of continued employment; the least J could do was give up control of a hypothetical child's name. This was marital compromise at its most crude. But it turns out this didn't need negotiating. J was happy to let me use my name. I think it makes him feel good every time he can remind people that he's a feminist and so taking my name just makes sense.

At the very end of my pregnancy, I learned that August is actually a family name on my side. It was my grandfather's grandfather's name and the middle name of his other grandfather. And then it's scattered throughout 19th-century genealogy of the family. So maybe my liking the name is actually a vestige of aural memory deeply encoded in my DNA. Either way, we still just like the name, and five weeks in, he's decidedly an August.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

one month

At one month August is:

:: Still alive! I reckon this a major accomplishment for two parents who had virtually no experience with newborns.

:: Awake for longer and longer stretches in the day.

:: Asleep for 4+ hours at night. We're exhausted, of course, but on the nights when he wakes up just twice, I feel terrific the next day, like I've slept for twelve hours.

:: Still unwilling to find a regular rhythm during the day. We haven't yet found distinct nap times and Augie still eats whenever he pleases, upwards of 14 times a day.

:: Wearing cloth diapers during the day and paper diapers at night. The cloth is working well and I really don't mind the extra load of laundry every other day. Right now we're using prefolds and covers. J isn't yet a fan.

:: Transfixed by "his balls," the felt balls that hang over this changing table. We call them baby T.V.

:: Taking a bath every couple to come.

:: Enjoying a walk most mornings in the K'Tan or the Ergo.

:: Drank his first bottle. Then promptly threw it all up.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

3 weeks and a brain

Today is my 37th birthday. For most of the day yesterday, I thought it was my birthday. J asked me if I wanted to do anything special. I thought about it and decided that I think I could handle a slightly longer walk than usual, and I asked for a case of cold caffeine-free diet soda. Nothing sounds better. I'm sure that it's not good to drink soda when you're nursing, but a birthday treat seems acceptable, especially after two rough nights of hour-long feeding sessions.

As embarrassing as this is to admit, I've spent the last two afternoons breastfeeding while watching the Master's golf tournament. This confounds me for several reasons, chief among them is my—former—hatred of golf. But in the late afternoon, when I'm effectively seeing double from lack of sleep, I find the greens at Augusta to be visually captivating. I also think the utterly slow pace of golf soothes my mind. Fortunately, I get two more days of it. But amidst my putting reveries, I had a revelation: I'm not only supposed to be feeding my baby's belly. I'm also supposed to be feeding his mind....Oh crap.

I've spent most of my nursing time (when the Master's isn't on) reading contemporary novels on my ipad (the best breastfeeding gift ever). It has sort of felt like studying for my Ph.D. exams because I was reading an entire novel each day and it felt totally great. But then I realized (partially from this NY Times reminder) that I was supposed to be talking to Aug instead of silently reading for myself. 

So yesterday, I got out some black and white animal cards and we talked about identifying primates (yes, that's a ring-tailed lemur) and then a gift from NYC led to a conversation about penguin marching. A friend suggested reading aloud from the novels, but that would kill my speed, so I'm thinking a compromise is in order: one chapter and then five minutes of talking. That seems reasonable to me....

Monday, April 8, 2013

2 weeks

August is two and a half weeks old. We’re tired, anxious, and smitten. We sleep in little bursts, which can work for a few days and then you start to feel like you’re moving through life in slow motion. You start seeing double and you forget what day it is, not that it matters. In any case, there’s much that I don’t want to forget, but probably will if I don’t record it somewhere:

:: the first week was punctuated by bursts of my crying. I’d weep because I was afraid something might befall the baby. I’d cry because I was convinced that he’d stop breathing and I’d cry because I was quite sure that his being alert signified a life-threatening neurological disorder. I’d cry because I felt overwhelming love and I’d cry because I was afraid that love was doomed. And then, for no apparent reason, I stopped crying.

:: the crying was a symptom of a much larger feeling of utter vulnerability. Within days of Aug’s birth, I realized that I felt more attached to him than I had to any other being, which, of course, is nature’s intention. Nevertheless, this attachment felt (and continues to feel) more terrifying than anything I’d experienced.

:: august loves to study the light. A few times every day, I catch him enraptured by the light filtering through the windows. His eyes go wide and he doesn’t blink for a full minute. He seems transfixed in these moments, enamored by certain slants of light.

:: i haven’t been able to get anything done. Aug and I sit together all day and most of the night. I’m sure that I’ll figure it out soon, but I just don’t quite understand how mothers of newborns manage to cook breakfast or do the dishes. The most we can master is taking a walk in the spring sun. Thank god the weather is turning.

:: i’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of others. For the last week, friends have been bringing dinners over for us. This has saved us the burden of cooking when we’re exhausted and J is back at work. Mom and Don have also helped tremendously: taking Homer for hikes with his true love, Lucy, cleaning my house, doing my laundry, making sure my cup is full of hot tea. My sister, Molly, also swooped into town last week and made everything work for four days. J’s parents were here too and we enjoyed introducing them to their newest grandson.