"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

September 22, 2009

What Strikes Her Fancy

...is anyone's guess. But I rank this afternoon's laugh session (which lasted about 15 minutes, and the whole of which doesn't really belong on YouTube) right up there with the time I laughed so hard that the milk I'd been drinking actually came out of my nose (Julianne Marron-Wise can vouch for this 8th-grade mishap, because it went right on her dog Pepper). If you're not at least smiling by the end of these 45 seconds, you probably don't like babies. Or sunshine.

September 21, 2009

Standing Up for Hygiene

{It took me two days to press the "publish" button for this blog, so first, let's get this straight: I am totally mortified that I am blogging about this, but there is some technology out there that the Sistahs of the World need to know about. Mom, I'm sorry. This information may change lives, so it's really my responsibility to bring it to The People. Aren't you proud? But I am discussing hygiene here, and making women's lives--especially those of us who like to be On the Go--just a little bit easier. So let's all just take a collective breath and proceed.}

Okay. Now that I've clarified that this post is in everyone's best interest, let me introduce you to two contraptions that we all need. Ladies, meet the Go Girl. Had I had this contraption while I was in India, I would have saved a bunch of cash on toilet seat covers. If you've ever been in a wedding dress or a bridesmaid's dress, and that rather full feeling hits, and you know it will take a team of at least three to help you in a tiny stall, this little pink thing is your best friend (aside from the maids of honor, of course). Imagine going hiking when the urge sneaks up on you: no need to worry about soiling your own pants while squatting downhill in the brush with your pack just heavy enough to tip you into being wet for the remainder of your climb and descent--just aim and go, like the proverbial bear that does what she does where she does it. Wow. I was so moved by the ingenuity of this little handy device that I alacritously wrote to the company, and, because I am writing about it here, they are sending me one for FREE! Yay! I'll plan to use my Go Girl in almost every germy public restroom I step into, from the Far East to Eastview Mall. Maybe someday they'll make them for little girls, too, so I don't have to worry about Devi's precious, perfect, little heiny picking up something we don't want.

Before I go on, I'd just like to make it clear that I am not obsessed with all things automated commode. But traveling around Japan opened up whole new worlds for me, and some of those involve Zen Buddhism, and some of those involve automated commodes.

Therefore, next, a product that is well known in Japan: the Washlet S400. It's a cross between the Supercomputer in Wargames and a toilet seat. Please keep reading. Now, then. I won't need to say much if you click the link for this Toto product, because the two videos pretty much say it all themselves--but please note that the spokeswomen for this product ARE sitting on the commode as they pleasantly talk to you throughout the demonstration. (Yes, demonstration. It must be seen to be believed.) If you find yourself laughing while you watch this video, I just want you to consider all the little presents that pregnancy and childbirth deal the female body, and you'll want to begin petitioning for our local hospitals' natal units to install these in every single lavatory.

Nevermind that they had me at the words "heated seat." I'm ready to put one of these in each bathroom in my house. Now accepting guest reservations.

September 04, 2009

And For My Next Trick...

It's 3:15 p.m.: school has ended, and there is a void on my desk where shortly, over 100 papers will wait to be graded over the weekend. It's sunny, and my sneakers are waiting in my car next to the stroller, and I'm about ready to leap out of my seat to pick up Devi and take a much-needed walk by the canal.

We're still not quite on Eastern Standard Time. This doesn't matter much, but this morning, the second day of classes, I found myself at 6 a.m., staring at my sleeping baby--no: she wasn't just sleeping. She was dreaming, breathing deeply, engrossed in visions of toys, milk, and dancing sugarplums, her face intent on holding fast to those heavenly visions, her tiny hands clinging to her blankie as though to let go of it were to evaporate those lovely dreams. Her stillness, apart from that gorgeous, whistling breathing, was the picture of contentment. So when I disrupted it, stroking her rosy cheek and cooing my good morning to her, it was no wonder that the look on her face was probably exactly the same as what it will be when we explain how babies are made.

This, so far, is being a working mother: the day is doled out into these parts: getting ready for the day (getting dressed, out the door, etc.), our time at work, our time at home, and getting ready for the next day (preparing lunches and clothing, etc.). It necessitates a kind of organization to which I'm not accustomed--that kind of organization (some are born with it) where you've bought the birthday card weeks before the birthday and even sent it on time. I find I'm trying to figure out what I want to cook for dinner and eat for lunch a week ahead so that I can grocery shop without having to return to the store a few days later for that one more thing; I'm trying to plan classes way in advance in case a sub needs to step in for more than a day; I'm trying to plan rehearsals around Jewish holidays, Homecoming, faculty and department meetings, and book club. And in between all of this planning, I'm hoping to make food (both for us and said holidays), grade papers, attend rehearsals, and teach. And be a sane, great, loving, supportive wife. And a dynamic, great, fun teacher. And a sane, great, dynamic, supportive and fun mommy.

There's the rub. A friend, who happens to be my colleague, told me prior to my beginning maternity leave last year, that "something will give: your job as a teacher or a mother--but one has to be compromised, and you'll make a choice."

This may sound juvenile, but I'm not ready to compromise my role as a mother (nor wife) nor my role as a teacher. I think of something I heard on a momversation not long ago: that the word "balance" is misleading. To paraphrase, and I'll try to remember who said it, "balance" has connotations of one teetering on a tightrope, trying, with every able fiber, not to lose focus and slip.

My next door neighbor, Dawn, is an incredible acrobat in this respect. She has three boys, ages 7, 4, and almost 2. Two of the three attend school in the same place, which is literally around the corner from us. Her husband works from home but is occasionally asked to travel; she works at an elementary school and so must leave the house early each morning--in fact, our garages open around the same time, 6:45. And somehow, I've noticed, it seems that dinner is being made around the time I get home with Devi (around 5 pm), and the kids get to play until 7, and then are in bed sometime thereafter. Their house has not blown up. She has not run screaming from it, either, tearing out her hair. There is no sign on the lawn of mayhem or chaos. So it begs the question: HOW THE HELL DO THEY DO IT? I'm going to ask her--but on a weekend, when these questions can be discussed at greater length and over much wine.

I knocked into a desk on my way out of a classroom today. There is a plum-colored bruise on my upper thigh. (Standard job hazard, those bruises.) I was rushing from room 339 to 345, because I do not have my own classroom, and so teach in four different ones: not an issue, except when students want to tell you about their summer AND want to recommend books you should read that they read over the summer AND want to ask you questions about tomorrow's auditions ALL during the passing time, theirs and mine, and so all of us are about to be late to our next classes. So after furiously scribbling out some passes, I dismissed them and started running (yes, in heels) to my next spot, then BAM! The desk corner. Ow. And on my very late way to room 345, I remembered the standard job hazards of new mommyhood: wearing baby vomit and maybe the occassional poop stain, unknowingly, to the grocery store. Sore body parts that accompany midnight feedings; a nasty tendonitis that is common to new mothers which makes inserting and removing a baby in a carseat (nevermind carrying that carseat) excruciating. These are the cons of a job I love, though, and I'm the better for it.

I'm always comparing these jobs. Teacher, mother. Roles that involve children, surprises, teaching, improvising, humor, and bruises. Mistakes made in these tenures can have devastating effects; successful days are weighed and measured in connections made through glances, language, smiles, and sometimes, yes, touch. I mother my students sometimes (if you even THINK about drinking or texting and getting in a car, your idiocy trumps my current opinion of you), and I'm always teaching Devi something (This leaf is green. It's waxy and green, it's a waxy, green leaf). They're demanding posts that require vigilance and humor, an ability to go-with-the-flow, they require more of you when you're already exhausted. And I love them (almost) equally. Am I allowed to admit that?

Now that I'm teaching a Creative Writing course to upperclassmen, my raison-d'etre as a teacher is more clear than ever. I get to instruct, learn, and develop as both teacher and writer all at once. Joy! Fulfillment! And for my next trick, I'm going to try doing this for the next 20 weeks--40 weeks--30 years--without complaining that life as a working mom is very hard. Because that's obvious to all of you who do it, and who've found the balance. I'd just like some advice here and there about how you really make it work.

Even tightropes come with nets that cradle and cushion your fall. And I know that fall is going to happen once in a while. Feel free to post your comment about how you get back up there.

September 03, 2009

Final Night: The Delicacies of Japan

By the week's end, it was definitely time to come home. Devi's cold had me admittedly worried, and her sleep habits had changed significantly enough that I had visions of sleeplessness (as I did when she was brand new) forever. We'd been up almost every night with sniffly, and sometimes, coughing Devi, running a hot shower to steam out the cold at 3 or 4 a.m., and that, plus all the running around during the days, had us pretty wiped. [At some point, I'll blog about The Truth of Traveling Abroad with a Baby, but that's for another time. Let's see how long it takes her to recover from her jet lag first.]

There was one meal left to enjoy: our last dinner in Japan, with Yagi-San. We wound up not far from our hotel in a quaint but trendy sushi joint that overlooked the Osaka skyline. It was a perfect moment for Heath and I to reflect upon our time on the island-country (though we'd have 18 or so more hours in transit to do the same), and as we supped, Yagi continued to introduce us to delicacies we might not see again until our return. Red Miso. Unidentifiable fish. A kind of saki we wouldn't find in the States. As I like to do when I travel, I had eaten my way through Japan and loved every bite (except for nato, which made me wretch). I suppose it's hard to savor a culture without literally tasting it.

Our chef quickly prepared our meal--not for our sake, but because it was his training:

And how he made all of that sushi just perfectly, well, was in itself an art.

Beyond the food, though, I'll miss many things about Japan. There are just so many cultural idiosyncrasies that let you know where you are, and it's unmistakably Japan, but that are so hard to define outright. (It's lost in translation, again.) I've said to friends that this is a culture that values beauty and the aesthetic--even of its food--to such an extent that sometimes, roadsigns are a pleasure to look at. Delicate, rice paper windows on real, wooden doors; lanterns that hang from small, roadside shops; the occasional woman donning a kimono--perhaps a maiko, perhaps just a traditional woman, in and among the modern-dressed commuters in a subway train; the practice of washing your hands with a hot washcloth prior to eating; the fresh smell of the sea when you pass a small restaurant, its door open just enough to entice you to enter; the friendly smiles of the people who, though they cannot speak English and you cannot speak Japanese, are only too glad to help you find your way with nothing more than a map and a guidebook. I'll miss the quiet of the shrines and temples, and the bustle of funky Tokyo; doffing the shoes at the precipice of a home so as not to bring in the grime of the street; and maybe most, just enjoying the beauty and calm of a garden with my favorite little girl, whose bluest eyes took it all in with me.

Our last night in Japan....Or was it? By our calculation, we left Narita Airport at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday--and left Chicago bound for Rochester at... 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Somewhere, over the Pacific, we gained a day or night. And somewhere, over the Pacific, many miles up, up in the air, we all slept soundly, our little family unit all snuggled together between armrests and among airplane pillows and blankets, all tangled around each other, our wanderlust satiated for the time being. (I think Uncle Walt would be proud.) Here's to returning someday to Japan. Kampai!