It turns out that blogging is much more easily accomplished from a Days Inn hotel room in an unfamiliar town during a blizzard than on a birthday or a visit home for the holidays. I’m not sure I have anything particularly insightful or pertinent to put out there, except to express my gratitude for warmth and safety. We sat on Interstate 90 for hours today with our surprisingly patient four month old in her car seat in the back, chattering (I’m assuming) about her hopes that we would change her diaper and feed her again some day. Finally, the state patrol kicked everyone off of the freeway and we found ourselves on even more treacherous country roads. There’s nothing like seeing car after car in ditch after ditch to remind you how lucky you are to be creeping at a snail’s pace ahead. On that potential metaphor, I think I’ll call it a night– only adding that in the past, I’ve spent the first few days of new years looking back and tallying up signs of progress. This year, I would rather look out at sideways snow and be glad that there’s more than a car between it and my family.
I finally got back to work as an Artist (Writer) in Residence at the children’s hospital last week. My warm-up was an art project at a tree lighting ceremony for chronically ill kids. It went beautifully, but when I got home and discovered I just missed tucking my baby into bed, I was a wreck. All I could think was, how do moms do this? How did my mom do this? Late that night I was as actually happy to wake up at 1 and 4 and 6 a.m. to feed and snuggle my little one. I didn’t know how I was going to leave her for eight hours that day and worried over whether or not I’d left enough milk for her. This must be the Italian mama in me. You know the ones who cook the ten course meal and wonder if that’s enough. In any case, getting back into the swing of things went more smoothly than I expected. It helped that the other artist and dancer I worked with are amazing and that one of the first patients I met said she loved, loved, loved Shakespeare. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me to see unwell babies and their parents.
A few weeks ago, I created the word, mom-athy. Now I feel that its definition needs to be expanded. Evidently this sort of deep empathy extends not only to your own ailing child, but also to those of total strangers. You don’t usually take an infant to the hospital unless something is very wrong, so you can imagine the condition of the babies I saw when I first walked through the automatic doors.
… and how I became that mom.
You can already guess, this is more minutiae than crucial. If you want something on the grounded and meaningful side from me, go back and read my birth story.
This all starts back when I was a kid and wanted to be an actress more than anything besides having lots of dogs and rabbits and a pony. I took acting classes, got headshots, and did a victory dance when a local talent agency wanted to sign me. Then my lawyer mom read all the fine print and became concerned about someone “owning” any part of her daughter. End of my career, thanks Mom. (Just kidding. I find writing far more rewarding.)
Cut to: Monday night when I got an e-mail looking for babies 1-3 months for a commercial shoot with a certain famous toy company. I thought of my friend’s niece who was all set for college by age five because of the Baby Gap ads she did, asked the potential star’s daddy for permission, and sent in her pictures. The next day I got a call that yes, they wanted to “use” Francesca and maybe me as well. Could I send in a full-length shot of myself? I was flattered, but completely unprepared. I found a couple of candids where I’m holding Francesca, and I’m wearing tennis shoes and not much makeup. Why was I surprised when the response from the agent was… “Yeah. They just want Francesca.”
I was thinking of going to the dermatologist. Should I tell my provider that I have skin? This was my reaction to a dizzying fight over the bill I received for the delivery of my baby and our hospital stay. We’re lucky to have insurance, I know that. But imagine my surprise when my provider wanted me to pay a penalty of several hundred dollars for not clearing it with them when I arrived at the hospital at 2:30 a.m. to have a baby.
“You must have known at some point that you were pregnant, and that’s when you should have told us.”
“You’ve been paying for my pre-natal visits. Isn’t that–?”
“With your doctor. This is a hospital bill. It’s completely separate.”
“Why exactly? Never mind. I did pre-register with the hospital, and we did call you to find out what would be covered months ago.”
This is really nothing compared to the nightmare my friend is facing. After severe back labor at her home for 14 hours, she went to the hospital and was advised to get an epidural. Now she’s got a bill of a few thousand dollars for using an anesthesiologist who wasn’t in network. Evidently she was supposed to ask in the thirty seconds between contractions. They would have told her that he was the only anesthesiologist in the hospital, so I’m not sure what she was supposed to do after that.
In Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the lovable narrator, 14-year-old Arnold Spirit (based on Alexie himself), touches on an idea that’s been goading me for years. We spend most of our life running from or trying to get into a particular tribe. By tribe, I mean social group identity.
Being from nowhere once made me feel like I had no place and therefore no “people.” Of course, I have many tribes, probably three of four that resonate most with me. There is something poignant about Arnold’s quote below, with its wonderful teenage-hood ness and cultural context. In 2009, how relevant is the fact that we are being asked to step away from the one or two tribes we clutch to in order to breed some tolerance in this world? Very, I think.
But how does one do this without watering down an identity?
I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And the tribe of cartoonists.
And the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids. Continue reading
<a href="Our very own Courtney Martin is up for Next Great American Pundit at the Washington Post, and she would love your vote before tomorrow (Monday, Nov. 9) at 3pm EST!
Courtney’s blurb about her latest entry in the contest:
I may not have a Nobel Prize, but I did manage to work the phrase “inaugural orgy” into my column. Vote for the next Great American Pundit at the Washington Post now through Mon. at 3pm: http://postfun.washingtonpost.com/post/entry/americas-next-great-pundit-vote
I found myself online late last night, later than I wanted to be. I try not to be on the computer after 10 p.m. anyway, but it happens. When it does, I don’t like closing the internet browser on a work-related screen or on something disturbing or sad. Instead, I find something good, true, or inspiring before I shut down and go to bed.
Last night, having already browsed my favorite sites of beauty and community, I typed “something beautiful” into Google and hit “I’m Feeling Lucky.” And Google took me straight to the blog titled “Something Beautiful,” subtitled, “When everything seems to be going wrong, something beautiful can really help.” The blogger says, on the About Me page, “When in need of an antidote to negativity, I often turn to beautiful things on the Web. I know when I have found something beautiful because I can feel my inner chemistry change almost the moment it appears on the screen.”
I didn’t even click on any of the links, nor did I plumb the 5 year archive (the site began in October 2004). I felt better, lighter, just knowing that someone else is out there seeking, and finding, the Beautiful.
Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.
“Don’t tell Mom.” = An e-mail from my sister.
“I know.” = My response.
We hadn’t done anything illegal (you’re shocked, I’m sure). We hadn’t broken anything or hidden any evidence, and we weren’t re-enacting the Christina Applegate movie. We simply decided to protect the woman who bore us from: news of the Return of the Thrush. It may not be grammatically correct to capitalize the name of the infection or to put “the” in front of it, but it feels appropriate. We just weren’t sure Mom could handle it, even though she’s dealt with much greater crises with one hand behind her back and the other one cooking a gourmet dinner. You could hear her teeth grind every time she asked, “Is it any better?” and a pained sigh every time I said, “No, not really.” And I might have thought she was overdoing it a bit, had I not discovered for myself that knowing that your daughter is in pain is a whole new kind of anguish.
Jennifer Gandin Le
- The 6th Annual Amazonas Film Festival in Manaus, Brazil, will screen Jennifer’s short film “Small Changes” as part of the 3rd Cine Water to Drink/ 3o. Cine Água de Beber exhibition about water.
- On Friday, November 6th, Courtney will speak at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, as part of The 1st National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-Violence Groups.
- Courtney will speak on a panel about the documentary film Who Does She Think She Is? – check the link for screening dates, times, and information.
- “Between Work and Life” on The Washington Post.
- “Work/Life Balance is Not a Woman’s Issue” on The American Prospect Online.
When my mother turned 50, I sent her a card that declared joyfully “Congratulations, you are now officially a crone!” like she’d been reaching for that moment her entire life. She was horrified. She felt as if I’d labeled each one of her wrinkles with a proper name; but I, on the other hand, believed the word crone to be the most flattering thing to call a woman. As a child, I couldn’t wait to escape ingénue-hood for when oh when could I be that crone, an old woman who oozed grace and insight from having lived a life, a real gritty passionate life. I once dramatically confessed to my friend Maria, “I can’t wait to be old,” to which she responded in 7-year-old solidarity, “I can’t wait to wear lipstick.” She didn’t understand that “old” for me meant wise.
In pursuit of wisdom, I grew up trying to define it. I assumed that it looked serious–a solemn face furrowed in Deep Meaningful Smart Thought and often staring into the grassy distance. When I spotted people like this, I gazed upon them like a dutiful servant, terribly impressed by what they might know about the world, but never particularly soothed.
As I step into my 30’s (and therefore become supposedly wiser, though I’d trust a toddler’s insight over anyone’s my age), wisdom is begging for a new wardrobe. Be-gg-ing for it.
What I’ve noticed is that the people I respect the most do one thing consistently… Continue reading