Monday, August 29, 2005

Mama’s night out

Yes, that’s true, you read that right. I went out on Friday night – without Milo! And I even drank a whole beer – my first since last October. Then I drank another beer… and then another.

It was craziness, I tell you. Sheer craziness.

And where did I engage in such non-maternal activity, you might ask? Where else but at a strip club!

You might think I’m kidding… but I’m not. It was my friend Tara’s pre-wedding “girls night out” bash, you see. (Yay, Tara! Huzzah! Huzzah!) Tara and I work together, and some of the other women in the office organized a bang-up evening which included a trip to a place called “Brandi’s.” Had I known that Brandi’s was actually an – ahem! – exotic night club**, I might have changed my mind about going out for the party. Let’s just say that strip clubs have never been big on my list of fun places to hang out.

(In fact, the only other time I’ve ever been in one was when I was in journalism school at Carleton in Ottawa – all because I refused to get out of bed and go to class one especially frigid morning. My good friend Liz [who’s now a producer at CBC, which means she’s probably walking the picket line as I type this] was miffed that I was still warm and cozy at home while SHE had made the bitterly cold journey to school, so she decided to sign me up to write an article about a proposed bylaw to get rid of strip joints, which involved going to an actual strip club and interviewing strippers about what they thought about the bylaw. Thanks, Liz. Thanks a lot.)

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. We started the evening off at Shannon’s very cool Gastown apartment (a propos of nothing at all, I thought I’d mention that Shannon’s a beautiful woman and an accountant. All of our accountants at work are beautiful women. Just thought you should know that). I left Milo at home at home with Rob with several large bottles of breast milk – about three times as much as he could ever possibly hope to drink in my absence. (Kudos and wet sloppy kisses go to Rob, for happily agreeing to stay home with the little man by himself, so I could go out and blow off some steam.) Milo had already gone down for the night, and I wasn’t expecting him to wake up looking for food until 3:00 at the earliest, so I didn’t feel like I was being too bad a mommy for going off and leaving him.

Au contraire. I felt great! My new D-cup sized best pals and I were going out for a night on the town. You should have seen me swagger and bob as I headed down to the SkyTrain station. I had a thirst that had been building since last October, and damn it, I was going to quench it! My only fear was being able to pace my drinking so that I wasn’t completely hung over the next morning.

So I got to Shannon’s apartment, where all of the other women had already gathered, and got caught up with what’s been happening at work in my absence. It was at Shannon’s that I drank two of the aforementioned beer. They were Coronas, and they tasted fine. Actually, I’d only been planning on drinking one beer at Shannon’s place before we went out to a club… but after I heard that our first stop was a strip joint, I immediately reached for a second one and took a very large gulp. I knew I was going to need a lot of liquid fortification if I was going to survive the evening.

(Thankfully, my tolerance has gone down to zero, so that second beer was all I needed to convince me that maybe a trip to a strip club wouldn’t be that bad after all.)

A group of us walked to the club, which was about ten blocks away from Shannon’s place. I found the walk to be rather surreal. It’s been about a decade since I was a regular participant in Vancouver’s night club scene, and passing by groups of guys who scoped us out head to toe (paying not so much attention to the heads and toes as they did to all the stuff in between), acted all flirty and tried to reel us into their clubs was a strange kind of déjà vu experience. I felt like an awkward teenager, without the proper skills to deal with such situations.

When we got to the club, it just got weirder. There was a long line-up of guys standing outside, waiting to get into the place. “Why would all these guys be waiting to get into a male strip club?” I wondered. At first, I thought they might be gay, but the way they were staring at us, as if they were inspecting slabs of meat to throw on the grill at a barbecue, made me suspect otherwise.

Finally I decided they must be straight guys looking to get lucky with women who’d gotten all drunk and horned up watching naked men display their goods on stage. “Sheesh!” I thought to myself. “They must be desperate!”

I realized my mistake as soon as we walked into the place and I saw the naked girl twirling around the pole on the circular dance floor. It wasn’t a male strip club at all – it was a girlie joint! I was immensely relieved, partly because there was a bunch of our male coworkers already there waiting for us (and I’m sure most of them would NEVER be caught in a male strip club), which meant there were even more friends to hang out with, but also because it meant I wasn’t going to have to spend a couple painful hours cringing with embarrassment while women around me debased themselves by hooting at naked steroid-swollen egos onstage. Blech. (For some reason, I have this idea that women behave far worse at male strip clubs than men do at female ones. Not really sure if this is true, though…)

Thankfully, Brandi’s was a relatively high-class establishment, as far as “exotic nightclubs” go. At least, I think it was. Maybe I came to that conclusion because all the strippers were dressed in white when they weren’t actually performing on stage. It made them seem so… clean. Wholesome, almost. They brought to mind priestesses in a temple dedicated to Aphrodite or Ishtar or some other fertility goddess of days long past. Looking around at the men in the club, I could easily see them as temple devotees, paying homage to the female divine and reassuring themselves by their reactions to the writhing priestesses onstage that their equipment was still in proper functioning order.

What particularly surprised me was the number of women who were at the club – other than us, I mean. If you ignored the naked women dancing on the circular stage in the middle of the room, it was almost like a regular nightclub, with the man-woman ratio only slightly out of whack. There were girls clustered in groups of three or four circling the room and strutting their stuff, clearly checking out all the guys while pretending not to notice any of them. There were girls in pairs, and girls who arrived as part of a large, co-ed group (which is what we were, I suppose). There were even women who were obviously there with a date – their boyfriends or husbands, I presumed, although I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them were on a first date, and if that were the case, whether there would be a second date to follow. Heh.

After my initial bemusement, I realized that for women on the make, a strip club was probably a great place to meet guys. Quite possibly shallow, sleazy guys, but is that any different than the kind you’d pick up at a night club like, say, the Roxy? (Shut up, Brad. My mom reads this blog.) And where better to score with a guy than in a place where all the men have been eyeing naked female flesh for the past couple hours? Only thing is, all the dancers that I saw were in perfect physical condition. Who’d want to go home with someone who still had the impression of hot naked women with perfectly perfect bodies imprinted on the backs of his retinas? You’d have to be pretty confident in yourself – or pretty damned drunk – to want to bear the brunt of that comparison.

The other thing that struck me was the power relationships between the dancers and the guys watching them. I’ve always thought that strip clubs were demeaning to women, that they reduced thinking, three-dimensional humans to mere objects. Just another way that patriarchal society diminished the power of women, I thought. However, in this club it was definitely the dancers who were in control. The guys sitting in the chairs circling the dance floor were gawking at the strippers while trying to seem nonchalant, nudging each other, whispering, and smirking bashfully whenever a dancer seemed to show them any particular attention. I got the impression that any one of them would have screamed if a dancer had lunged at them and said, “Boo!”

As I watched the men watch the dancers, I realized there was something in their expressions that was startlingly familiar. Then it hit me – they looked just like Milo does, when I’m lifting him to the breast for a feed. Booby worship, that’s what I was seeing. Suddenly, as I watched men’s eyes roam over the dancers’ naked bodies, I was no longer seeing men reacting to the strippers’ sexuality, but little boys seeking comfort and nourishment.

I thought of my own boys – my little one in his crib and my big one in my bed, waiting for me – and wondered what the hell I was doing in a strip club. I wanted to be with my boys, right then and there, to feed them and comfort them and be comforted by them in turn.

Just then, without warning, my boobs filled with milk, suddenly rivaling the most surgically enhanced stripper’s rack in sheer size and roundness. “This is what you’re drooling over, boys,” I thought, watching the men watch the naked, bobbing breasts of the dancer on stage. “Baby food dispensers.”

I guess old habits are hard to break…

They’re called jugs for a reason, people…

** Brandi's was where Ben Affleck got caught getting it on with a stripper or three, which apparently was what led to him and J. Lo breaking up.

(Note: I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of Google Ads get conjured up by THIS particular blog!)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I fell head over heels in love today

Me and Milo, on our two-month anniversary

Milo smiled at me. I mean, REALLY smiled at me - three whole times. And it definitely wasn't gas. He was flirting with me all the way - acting all wide-eyed and cutesy as he stared into my face, wiggling and gurgling and doing his damnedest to turn me into putty.

Well, it worked.

It happened when he was on his change table, his new favourite place in the whole wide world. Last week, he hated the change table. Hated it. Would scream so hard when I place him on it, I thought his eyes would pop out of his tomato-red face like baseballs being shot from a pitching machine.

This week, however, his frowns melt into wide-eyed wonder as soon as his back hits the change pad. Now, all of a sudden, he loves everything about getting changed, and will even cry when I lift him off the table.

Well, they say the only true constant is change, and I suppose that applies a thousandfold to babies. I'd better get used to the feeling that I'm standing on a floating log and learn to roll with it. Stability? Permanence? Predictability? Pah! Who needs 'em!

Actually, not so long ago, I did. But I'm willing to give those things up if it means I'll be a better parent to Milo and score me some more of those heart-melting smiles. Oh, those smiles. They made me feel all gooey inside. Just goes to show you what a smart kid I've got. First, he screamed and cried and deprived me of sleep, thus ensuring that I'd be reduced me to a quivering sac of nerve tissue and tears. Then, just when I'd lost all powers of resistance, he threw me a few smiles, no doubt knowing full well that I would henceforth go to any lengths to merit another one.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "putting out," I tell you...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

My baby SUCKS

How'd ya like to spend all day looking at a mug like that?

Before Milo was born, I voraciously read every single baby book I could get my hands on. I didn't want to dealing with any surprises with my newborn. Oh, no - I wanted to be prepared.

The more I read, I thought, the better I'd be at identifying any issues or problems that arose with the baby and knowing how to neutralize them. Is the baby having trouble eating? Easily resolved! Simply consult pages 85-97 in book A and pages 112-136 in book B and all your problems will be over! Having trouble getting the baby to sleep through the night? Tut, tut, not to worry - pages 53-89 in Book C and pages 94-127 in Book D will have your baby counting sheep in no time!

After arming myself with a mountain of book learning, I figured I was ready for whatever my baby would throw at me. "Bring it on," I thought, fancying myself to be like Neo in The Matrix after he'd had the kung fu program plugged into his brain. "I know babies!"

An expecting parent's cluelessness knows no bounds...

Ever since Milo was a couple of weeks old, I've been fighting to get him to behave the way the books suggest a "proper" baby should. According to conventional wisdom, a baby under three months old SHOULD...

  • Eat every three hours

  • Be fed off a different boob for each meal (according to some; others say that a baby should go for 20 minutes on the first boob, then for long as he or she wants on the second, then start on the second for the next meal. Still others say you should feed on one boob for five minutes, then the next for 20 minutes, then back to the first if the baby's still hungry. Confused? Lord, tell me about it.)

  • Be finished his/her feed within 30 minutes

  • Have four-five naps a day, each lasting for at least an hour

  • Always be put down to sleep while still slightly awake

  • NEVER be awake for longer than 60-90 minutes at a stretch

  • NEVER be given a breast right before naptime or bedtime (for fear of the breast becoming a "prop" - something the baby NEEDS in order to fall asleep)

  • NEVER be rocked or walked to sleep - again for fear of forming bad prop-reliant habits

  • NEVER be allowed to nap in a stroller or car (PROPS! PROPS!)

Well. With all due respect to the experts, who have reached their conclusions after working with dozens, if not hundreds, of babies and MUST know what they're talking about, they haven't met Milo.

For weeks, I laboured under the belief that I had a difficult, colicky, chronically peeved, truly Satanic child. Milo seemed to spend all his waking hours fussing and crying - unless there was a boob in his mouth to plug him up. If he was awake, he was miserable. Needless to say, I tried to arrange it so that all my friends would drop by to visit him while he was asleep. "Oh, what a darling angel!" they'd cry, seeing how peaceful he looked. "Um, yeah, right," I'd agree nervously, all the while thinking, "He's going to wake up soon - leave! Quickly!"

During each feed, Milo would pull away from the boob several times, look up at me and promptly start crying. It was like he feared my milk would poison him, as if he thought I was the reincarnation of the person who had murdered him in a previous life - and man, was he pissed to see me again.

I debated changing his name to Stewie after the matricidal baby on The Family Guy. At one point I even used the magnifying glass on the baby nail clippers we have to make sure that the stork bites on the back of his head don't actually read, "666." I half-expected him rotate his head in a full circle and then projectile puke pea-green vomit all over me.

To me, Milo's constant fussing and crying just seemed so... unfair.** I did yoga and meditated nearly every damned day of my pregnancy, firmly believing that by doing so, I'd be awarded with an angelic little Buddha baby whose shakras were all perfectly aligned. (Heh.)

Then, once he'd made his way into the world, I did everything the books told me to - or at least, I tried to. I set up a three-hour feeding schedule, and stuck to it like meconium poop on a cloth diaper. I offered him the boob every day at 7:00, 10:00, 1:00, 4:00, and 7:00, just like clockwork. And after he'd been awake for an hour or so (fussing and crying for most of it), I'd put him to bed, still awake, (and fussing and crying, more often than not). I'd then spend the entire time I'd allotted for his nap trying to soothe him into sleep. I spent more time bent over his crib patting his back and "shushing" him than HE did actually sleeping in it!

To make matters worse, when I'd get up to feed Milo in the wee hours of the night, he'd often keep me up for two, sometimes even three hours at a time. I'd feed him, burp him (or at least try to), change his diaper, then change his diaper AGAIN because he'd just pooped very loudly in his fresh one, and then spend an hour or so trying to settle back down to sleep. I developed a permanent eye twitch. My hair started falling in clumps. Huge, gaping ulcers started forming in my stomach.

Well, no, not really, but given the stress I was feeling, I wouldn't have been surprised if they had.

Frantic for a solution, I reread every baby book on my shelf, desperate for a cure to this problem. Surely Milo's constant fussing must be caused by some sort of physical ailment, I thought. It had to be gas, or reflux, or maybe gas AND reflux. Maybe he was constantly too hot or too cold. Or maybe he had some sort of invisible itchy rash all over his body that was driving him crazy. There had to be SOME sort of explanation. It couldn't possibly be... his personality. My blood would run cold as I'd envision Milo as a 16-year-old malcontent, reaching the culmination of his miserable, angry life by charging into his school with a couple of semi-automatic machine guns and blowing away his classmates.


I finally shared my concerns about Milo with Terrylyn, our midwife, and she offered me an incredibly simple solution. After weighing and measuring him and discovering that he's above the 100th percentile for his height (25 1/2 inches) but only in the 50th-75th percentile for his weight (around 12 lbs), she suggested I feed him more. He was getting enough food to be healthy, she said, but because he was growing so quickly in length, he probably had a really fast metabolism (just like his incredibly tall and slender dad) and would benefit from eating larger, more frequent meals.

And so, with hope in my heart and guilt in my gut, I abandoned the advice of the baby gurus and started feeding Milo whenever he became inconsolably fussy. He went from eating every three hours to eating every two hours - sometimes every 90 minutes - and I'd let him go as long as he wanted on both boobs each time. I even started drinking a special herbal tea with fennel and blessed thistle in it, in order to boost my milk supply.

And oh, the difference it has made! Seems there WAS a physical cause behind all of Milo's fussing and feuding: he was HUNGRY! Despite all my best efforts, I was letting my baby down in the most obvious possible way - I simply wasn't feeding him enough. Oh, I thought I was - I was feeding him every three hours or so and letting him go for as long as he wanted on a boob. I thought I was doing exactly what the books told me to do. And since it was always him who ended the feed by pulling away from my boob and crying, I thought that was a pretty obvious sign that he was full.

Um, nope.

It turns out I have a fast letdown with my milk - in the morning, at least. This means that the milk comes out of me so thick and fast that it makes it difficult for Milo to swallow it all. He wasn't pulling away from me because he was full or being poisoned or simply angry at being alive, he was doing it to keep himself from choking. And in the midst of all his crying and sputtering, he'd end up swallowing a fair amount of air, which caused him to have painful gas, which made it even more difficult for him to get enough to eat. So when I thought he'd finished a feed, he was really only halfway done. And once the gas had finally worked its way through him (usually escaping in the form of an incredibly loud, explosive fart), he'd be ready to eat again - but by that time, I'd have closed up shop and wouldn't let him have another go at the boob for three more hours.

But now that I'm allowing Milo to eat more often and have longer feeds, he's a much more content little boy. GO FIGURE. He sleeps much better now and will go for 10-11 hours with only one wake-up and then will go straight back to sleep once he's done eating (though I fear he'll never be much of a daytime napper, alas).

And what's more important, he's HAPPY after he's finished a meal. Instead of screaming and crying all day long, he wriggles and babbles and coos. He now looks into my face with wonder and contemplation instead of anger and frustration, and is content to be sit in his bouncy chair for 15-30 minutes at a time - which is wonderful, because it gives me time to do things like eat a bowl of cereal and go to the bathroom, and it also encourages him to learn how to entertain himself. Of course, his idea of entertainment at this point is kicking his legs and staring at the curtains or the Haida killer whale print we've got on our wall, but hey, whatever works.

He still hasn't smiled at me yet - I mean, REALLY smiled at me, in a way that has me certain he's thinking, "Hey, boob lady! I'm having fun hangin' wid ya!" but I know that will come in time (and just a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't sure...). We're taking baby steps here, but we'll get to our goal eventually.

So yes, it's true: my baby sucks - all day, every day, as long and as often as he wants to. Whatever makes him happy, makes ME happy. Oh sure, all his constant feeding has left me with practically no time for myself (or, say, this blog), and I do still worry about the precedents we're setting by not following the strict feeding and sleeping guidelines set out by the baby experts. I'm sure there will be a price to pay later on, but right now, for the first time, I'm really enjoying all the time I'm spending with Milo. And I wouldn't mess with that for the world.

** To be honest, Milo didn't REALLY cry every single minute he wasn't on the boob. Just most of them. If you asked Milo's grandparents, they would all tell you that he wasn't NEARLY as bad as I'm making him out to be. Truth be told, ALL newborn babies cry an average of an hour a day, and Milo probably didn't cry much more than that. But when it's YOUR baby, each minute of crying seems like an hour in itself, especially when you don't know WHY he's crying or what you can do to make him or her happy. It's the trial by fire that all new parents must go through, I guess, in order to build up enough scar tissue to last them through the next 18 years...