Saturday, September 29, 2012

Volume IX: The Village

In Southeast Nigeria, there is a group of indigenous African people called the Igbo.  The Igbo are mostly farmers, living in small towns and villages.  Long before Hillary Clinton adopted the phrase and wrote a book by the same title, the Igbo have used a proverb that says "Ora na azu nwa," the translation of which is that it takes a community and village to raise a child. 

Before I had children, the phrase meant nothing to me - but not because I didn't yet have children, but because no one in my immediate circle did either.  I didn't grow up with younger siblings that I helped raise.  My brothers didn't have children of their own before I had mine.  All of my close friends were childless.  And I didn't grow up babysitting other people's kids.  Essentially, when I had my first child, I knew exactly nothing about them or how to raise them.  I was completely clueless, and so was my husband.  We went into parenthood as the blind leading the blind. 

The day I found out I was pregnant, I was both overjoyed and scared shitless.  I was a 28 year-old woman with a husband, a house, and a career.   I was responsible, not a partier, but yet I nevertheless felt like a kid having a kid.   The pregnancy was rough - I almost miscarried in the first trimester, and despite the fact that I didn't experience any morning sickness until I was pregnant with my second child, I was miserable.  I gained an atrocious amount of weight and never once had that glow I'd read pregnant women were supposed to have.  For all intents and purposes, I was (or at least felt like) a disgusting beast of a woman.   

The last few weeks were particularly horrific.  I was absolutely enormous and a day didn't go by at work that some moron would see me in the break room and say something like "Whoa!  Look at YOU!  You're about to POP."   As the days progressed, I found myself going from responding with, "Yeah, I know," to "Gee, thanks for the tip" to (on a couple of occasions I'm not proud of), "Thanks. Fuck you very much."   I was  seriously unpleasant to be around. Three days before my maternity leave was to begin, I showed up to work in my pajamas.  Literally.   I showed up to work wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an extra large sweatshirt.   No one, not one person said a word to me.  Good thing, too.  I very likely would've stabbed them in the throat with a letter opener.  

Needless to say, I wasn't the picture of grace and dignity.  Two days before going into labor, I developed a rash all over my body.  ALL OVER MY BODY.  My OB/GYN told me I had The PUPPP, and that it sometimes happens to women in the days before giving birth.  He suggested a calamine lotion, so I sent Jess out for calamine lotion.  It did nothing for me other than turn my already disgusting skin pink.  I sent Jess out for something stronger.  He came back with Benadryl cream.  That did absolutely nothing for me.  For the next two days, Jess made a dozen trips to the pharmacy, each time coming back with something new, something supposedly stronger.   But nothing worked.  Without a doubt, it was the worst part of the pregnancy.  I literally cried nonstop for two days straight from the agony of the itching.

And then I went into labor.  

You'd think after the 9 months of the aforementioned pregnancy, giving birth for me would've been the horrific, blood-curdling cherry on top of an already dreadful sundae.  But much to my absolute joy, it was not.  In fact, it was glorious.   My initial labor pains were not nearly as bad as the pain when I almost miscarried, and they took a very distant second to the pain of having a root canal.   Not having the slightest desire to rest on my laurels, I nevertheless elected to get an epidural almost immediately.   I slept soundly for hours as the contractions got stronger and stronger, with me blissfully unaware of any of them.  And then, when it came time to push, I did so for exactly 23 painless minutes and out came by beloved, beautiful Vivian, with ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. 

Enter The Village.

The day after Vivian was born, I got my first visitor (outside my in-laws, of course).  My assistant from work, Jaynee, showed up with a stuffed bear.   I was sitting in my hospital bed frustratingly trying to figure out how to breast feed.  Vivian was crying inconsolably.  She was not latching on and I was convinced (as all new mothers are) that I was starving my child.  Jaynee, who had a child of her own,  told me that I might want to try changing Vivian's diaper first.  I looked up at her and with a panicked look on my face said, "I don't know how."  The nurses had been taking care of doing that for me for the last day and I had absolutely NO IDEA how to change a diaper.  I remember feeling embarrassed in front of this woman, who was 8 years younger than me and who reported to me within the confines of the office, that I did not know how to change a simple diaper.  Jaynee kindly and gently said, "Here, I'll show you."  And she did.  That one small, seemingly insignificant gesture was my first indication that I needed a village - and that I was developing one.

The day I was released from the hospital, I panicked again.   Vivian was still not latching on very well and I was exhausted.  When the nurse came in to tell me that I was being discharged, Jess and I looked at her like she'd lost her mind.  What, just like that?  This woman had no indication whatsoever that either one of us was qualified to care for a baby.  And she was going to just send us home?  With a child?   Alone?  What the hell was wrong with her?  We'd had to go through a series of interviews and home visits just to adopt  our dog from the pound, and this woman was just going to let us just waltz of the hospital out with a human child and a pat on the back?  Are you insane?  Who’s in charge here?  Is there a supervisor we can talk to?

"You'll be fine," the kind nurse said. ”Just don't forget to ask for help when you need it.  You'll. Be. Just. Fine."

And of course, we were.  Thanks to The Village. 

The Mayor, President, and CEO of The Village (aka my best friend in the whole entire world, Cristina), moved to California when Vivian was two months old.  By then, I'd mastered breast feeding (thanks to another member of The Village) and Jess and I had the diaper-changing thing down to a science.  Still, Vivian was not sleeping well and I was dog-ass tired.   Cristina swooped in and, despite the fact that she too had little experience with babies, helped me by holding Vivian when I needed to take a shower, rocking her when I didn't have the strength to do it myslef, and giving me the cold hard truth that Vivian was not going to die from letting her cry every now and then. 

By this time, The Village was growing rapidly.  My parents, neither of whom lived in California, had visited to help out in the first few weeks.  My mother and sister in law were ever present and helpful.   Neighbors brought food, and friends visited.  Even PiƱata, our beloved basset hound, became a member, despite being usurped from her role as Number One, demanding less walks, cuddling next to me when I was feeling down.  By the time we celebrated Vivian's first birthday, Jess and I had a handle on things - in huge part, thanks to The Village.

Three years later, I got pregnant with my second child.  This pregnancy was much easier, despite the morning sickness I suffered through for 6 months.   I'd lost all the weight from my first pregnancy and was hell bent on this one not turning me into a blob.  I bought really cute maternity clothes, allowed myself to visit my hair stylist every 6 weeks, and glory of all glories, did not get The PUPPP.

At the time my son Jesse was born, our very close friend Kevin was living in the apartment on the side of our house.  Over the prior year, he and Vivian had become very close.  He adored her and was a supremely important member of The Village.   The morning I went into labor, I was awakened by the telltale signs of early labor.  I got up and went into Vivian's room, where she was sound asleep on her queen-sized bed.   I lay down next to her, knowing that this was it, that our family was about to increase by 1/4th.  Just then, my water broke and I knew it was time to go.  It was still very early, about 6:00 AM.  I woke Jess up and knocked on Kevin's door.  Our game plan was that if I went into labor before our nanny showed up, Kevin would stay with Vivian until she did.   Kevin emerged from his apartment, groggy, barley awake and stumbled into Vivian's room.  He plopped down on the bed, asleep again before his head hit the pillow (and yes, right smack on top of my amniotic fluid).    I called the CEO and told her it was show time. 

Several once again joyful and painless hours later (God bless the inventors of the epidural), with Jess holding up my left leg, and Cristina holding up my right, our beautiful Jesse was born. 

This time, my first visitor was Jess's business partner, Ken.  God love him for being the first, but Ken showed up not the next day, but within hours of me giving birth.  I was lying in my bed, not feeling too great down there despite the fact that the epidural had not entirely worn off.  I desperately needed to pee.  At that point, after having given birth in a teaching hospital where half a dozen people come and go and see you in all your glory, all modesty was gone and I let Ken help me to the bathroom.  As I stood up and started walking, my legs collapsed underneath me, but Ken was there.  He held me up and helped me all the way to the potty.  I'm sure it was quite a sight - a 60+ year old man practically carrying this bleeding, unstable 32 year old woman to the bathroom.   And while in hindsight I cringe at the image (it's embarrassing now, but wasn't at the time), I realize that members of The Village come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes help you with things that under different circumstances, would seem absolutely inconceivable.

Present Day

Vivian is now 10 and Jesse is 7.  The Village is abundantly full with people who love our children deeply.  Cristina, John, Vanessa, Maureen, Gerber, Tony, Greg, Dad are just a handful of people whom we could not have done this without.   Cristina has helped Vivian with her math homework and has shown up to every one of her horse shows to coach her and lend support.    John has shown Jesse how to drum and has taught Vivian everything he knows about the constellations.  Gerber and Tony have helped Jess build, take apart and rebuild Jesse's quarter midget car.   Vanessa and Maureen have showered the kids with love and affection, and have made themselves available time after time to babysit. Greg will undoubtedly be the one to teach our kids urban disaster survival skills.  Dad has stayed with Vivian and Jesse for 10 days so Jess and I could go to Honduras, and he taught them how to make the perfect omelet.  I could go on and on and on for days on end about everything these wonderful people- and so many more - have done for us - for our kids.   Thank you, Village.

Paying it Forward

Last week, the CEO went into labor at 11:30 at night.  Jess was out of town, so I called John (who for all intents and purposes is Second in Command of The Village) and repeated to him the same words I said to Cristina years ago:   “It’s show time.”

Within 20 minutes, John was at my house to stay with the kids so I could go to the hospital.  12 hours later, my godson, Jack was born and Cristina began building her own Village.  And I fully intend to become her Mayor, President and CEO. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Volume VIII: Freddy Mercury is King

(Disclaimer:  This post has videos that you absolutley must watch.  So make the time.  Turn up your sound or switch over to a device that allows you to watch.  Because watch you must if you want to come along with me on this long, strange trip down memory lane) 

"Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

I love that line.  I love the movie it came from.   I love the decade it was made in.  I love that decade's music, the movies, the television shows, the memories... 

I. Love. The. 80's.

And here is why:


Every generation has movies that define it.   70's movies were campy, cheesy, and often low-budget.   90's movies were crass, vulgar, and often scary.  80's movies were funny, and innocent, and often totally and completely unrealistic.  Ask anyone to name an 80's movie and 8 times out of 10, they will say Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club or Weird Science.  They might also mention Top Gun (ladies, remember that stirring in your loins the first time you saw the beach volleyball scene?).  They might quote Inigo Montoya's famous "You killed my father.  Prepare to die" line.  Or Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd's "looking good, Billy Ray.  Feeling good, Louis."    And they will definitely tell you to turn it up to 11.

The 80's gave us "The Karate Kid" and "The Terminator."  It gave us "Stand By Me" and "Wall Street."  It introduced us to the Brat Pack (Rob Lowe, you rocked my world), and Gordon Gekko ("Greed is good") and blessed funny man, John Candy (taken far too soon).    John Hughes defined a generation of angst-ridden, but remarkably mature and  quasi-functional teenagers.  James Cameron scared the shit out of us with the terrifying notion of thermonuclear war brought on by hostile cyborgs, and big-budget movie guru John Landis directed a 13-minute music video phenomenon called "Thriller."  

Admittedly, many of my favorite movies were not made in the 80's.   But the thing that is so unique about 80's movies is that when you watch one, you immediately not just identify it as one, but will often flash back to vivid memories of having watched it when it first came out.  80's movies are so uniquely, well, 80's.  Watch the following and tell me I'm wrong.  You won't. You can't.   Because you know it's true.


Alex P. Keaton and Dr. Cliff Huxtable.  No other explanation needed. If you don't know who they are, leave immediately.  Your kind is not welcome here. 


Leaving the best for last.  Whether or not you agree with my statement that the 80's was the best decade (there, I said it), and even if you were still wearing diapers in the 90's, you have to agree that what defined the 80's more than anything was, in fact, the music.  When I was in boarding school (1987-1990), my roommate and I used to take turns choosing which music to fall asleep to.  Samantha was a pop kinda gal (Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, etc), while I leaned more toward the stuff coming from the other side of the pond (The Cure, Depeche Mode, etc.).  Sure, there was plenty of crossover - Samantha would (rightfully) call bullshit on me if I claimed never to have  lip-synched to The Hooters - and my greatest prep school victory was turning Sam into a bonified lover of Pink Floyd's "The Wall"  (which by the way, is the greatest album ever made.  Period.  End of Discussion).  And we both  LOVED Erasure (who the hell didn't?).  But the point is that while we both had somewhat different tastes in music, there was very little I loved that she hated, and very little that she loved that I hated (with one very strong exception:  Rick Astley.  God, that guy SUCKED).   

The 80's was all about the music. And with the music came The Look. Whether you (girls) wore crucifixes and bustiers, or you (men) grew your short hair long and started wearing eyeliner, chances are you adopted some sort of look based upon on the music you loved. I suppose the argument could be made that adapting your look to go along with the musicians you admire is not a phenomenon belonging solely to the 80's, but I would say that music in the 80's changed people's looks more so than any other decade.  Why?  Because musicians defined their music with their look.   And there were SO many different looks to go along with SO many different kinds of music.  And the truly remarkable thing was that you rarely just identified with one look.  You couldn't.  There was just too much good stuff out there.  There is a reason there are more cover bands out there playing 80's music today than any other kind.  Because it was simply that good.

I can't end this without paying tribute to Live Aid.  For those of you too young to know, Live Aid was a concert put on July 13,1985 simultaneously in stadiums in the UK and in Philadelphia to help raise money to feed the millions of Ethiopians that were quite  literally starving to death before the world's eyes.  British musician and humanitarian, Bob Geldoff masterminded  the concert and pulled together an extraordinarily impressive list of musicians to play in both venues. When all was said and done, Live Aid became one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time, with an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations.  I was one of those 1.9 billion viewers, watching the entire concert live on a TV in my living room in Mexico City.  I remember, being 13 at the time, thinking "NO WAY, they've got Madonna AND Wham! AND Phil Collins!   And  Holy shit, U2 is there, too, and so is Duran Duran!!"  It was so cool.    But then Queen came out on stage at Wembley Stadium.   Freddy Mercury, in a white tank top  and tight light blue jeans,  sat down at his piano and starting playing "Bohemian Rhapsody."  He then stood up, grabbed a floor mike, and began singing Radio Gaga.  And suddenly, in a moment that can only be described as absolutely freaking  mind-blowing, I watched Freddy, live, get 100,000 people to simultaneously, and in perfect synchronicity, sing and clap along to his song.  It then, and to this day, absolutely blew me away.  A description of his performance cannot be described.   Do yourself a favor, and whether or not you liked Queen, whether or not you liked, loved or hated the 80's, watch this video.  And turn it up.  Turn it way up.  Turn it up to 11.  Therein lies the reason the 80's rocked my world.  Therein lies the reason Freddy Mercury was King.