As part of a random ongoing cooking relationship with a few of my friends from the Vermont Studio Center, I set to work making Christine’s lemon bundt cake. I really feel like I was accidentally included in this group, like I was mistaken for another pregnant woman at some point, because I’m not exactly a baker. Christine showed us a photograph of her bundt cake: perfect shape, lemons so yellow tucked in the cavernous center of the bundt shape.
I didn’t have a bundt pan. I was holding a baby and I couldn’t also carry the Cuisinart to my station in the kitchen, so I tried to blend ingredients with a spatula. I didn’t have enough lemon juice. The baby started crying. I stopped measuring and started throwing. Some egg shells fell into the batter. The oven wasn’t fully preheated: I threw the batter in the bread pan into the oven anyway. I forgot to set the timer. When it came out of the oven, the rusty bread pan left cancerous silver nonstick flakes all over the bottom of the cake, which Steve scraped off while I nursed the baby.
My friend Jennifer invited me to her house for dinner and I said I’d bring a bundt cake. She said I couldn’t, I had a new baby. I said it was so easy! It was! Christine’s recipe had no order — you gathered the simple ingredients and threw them all in the blender at once, then poured that into the pan, and voila!
The first cake was gone too fast. Steve and I each had two slices while we watched a movie that night. Rosie ate some when she came home from her activity, and it’s possible she ate some in the middle of the night, and then we all had some for breakfast. It’s lemon, right? It’s not chocolate. I could have poured them into muffin pans and called them muffins, right? Baked goods aren’t safe at our house, which is why I rarely make them. The most boring cookies will be gone before the oven’s cooled. Steve asked that, while I was making one for Jennifer, could I double the recipe and make one for him, too?
So I went to the store with the baby and bought more lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar and eggs. I bought a real bundt pan for $26.99 at ACE– so expensive! The baby was quiet while I bought the bundt pan, but he cried inconsolably at the grocery store while I raced through the aisles. I wanted to go home and take a bath. I wanted a drink. That crying is the most heartbreaking, sanity-destroying sound, especially while driving when there’s nothing I can do.
I made double the batter and preheated the oven. But how do you butter a bundt pan? It has so, so many crevices. I did my best with crisco and a paper towel, but really the pan looked so nonstick to begin with. I poured half of the batter in the bundt pan, put it in the oven with a timer, cleaned up the kitchen, asked Steve if he could take the cake out when the timer went off, then I jumped in the shower.
When I came out of the shower, the cake was destroyed. I hadn’t made the pan nonstick enough and Steve, trying to be helpful, had tried to take the cake out of its mold and it emerged in pieces. Thinking that maybe it was because he hadn’t let it cool enough, he washed the pan, didn’t nonstick it, and poured the rest of the batter in. That second one, surprise, came out in pieces, too.
I went back to the store to buy nonstick spray–a genius idea–and more sugar and eggs and lemon juice. I made the batter again. I sprayed that pan until it dripped with oil. Within an hour, the cake slid right out, a perfectly browned empty-volcano shape.
Four bundt cakes sitting in our house in one weekend. And a husband, and a nursing wife, and a teenager and her food-loving friend — who sat next to the cakes, right up on the counter, and dug in — and a Jack. And, apparently, two hungry cats, who got blamed the next day by the teenager for some suspected midnight snacking on the third cake. The second cake was unabashedly eaten by Jack, who first used a fork and then just his hands. At first it was fun — we never have baked goods in the house, let alone four cakes in two days, and we’re so sensible with food all the time that it felt like some sort of holiday, or like a shopping spree, and things have been a little tense sometimes with a new baby and his sleep-deprived parents — but after I said enough and he went back for more, the game was over. And then to wake up to the whole cake gone, every last lemony crumb, it definitely wasn’t a holiday anymore.
Only one cake was eaten on dessert plates with forks, the fourth one, at Jennifer’s house. Or at least I think so. I had to leave to get home to the baby just as it was being served.
This is probably incredibly boring, but I was thinking the other day about how to explain to a friend where my days go. I never really know, and I wanted to see it outlined for myself.
And I’ve been thinking about what I do each day when I write — this phrase came to mind: turning the day into language. I really do try to do that each day, at the very least for myself, to turn the day into language. So maybe this post is the least metaphorical interpretation of that phrase.
Waking at 6, 6:20, 6:40. He fusses, his mouth roots at the fitted sheet, he stretches his arms, it touches me, he falls back to sleep. Again and again, this goes on for almost an hour — not quite asleep and not quite awake. When his eyes open I sit up, I lift him to me in one ungraceful swoop that causes his arms to shoot up as if he’s falling. He doesn’t wake smiling like he did the day before. I work for a smile, and finally on the changing table there is one. I go through the hellos with the baby, our ritual to the wagging tails: hi moby, hi joonie, hi roxy, hi lucky. Hi beautiful day: I open the curtains to show him. He looks at the light.
His arms still move as if he’s swimming in amniotic fluid. I have put on my blue robe, the temperature out there is 27 degrees. I take off his diaper, which is heavy with pee and cold. It’s a cloth diaper and the wet is wicked off the layer that touches his skin and sits heavy and freezing in the insert. He kicks his legs, he spreads his knees, I swear he helps me clean him up. We put on a clean diaper, then I put him on the bathroom floor and close the door to keep out the animals while I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.
I let one dog outside and then another as I hold him. I put him down in his soft baby chair and start to make oatmeal. I clean the kitchen some. I wash some bottles. Steve comes upstairs from his treadmill run as Henry has begun to cry again for more food. I sit down, unzip my robe, and feed him to prepare us for our walk. It’s 8:15. Steve showers. He holds the baby as I put on the baby carrier and my boots. I wrap the baby to my chest as Steve puts on his boots and leashes the dogs. then off we walk, downtown, stopping on the way to drop off the rent for my studio space, which I have not visited for a month. I write each day, but not there. It’s still so early, I’ve just figured out how to take care of the baby inside the house, I don’t yet know how to leave the house with the baby without feeling a lot of stress. My home will have to be my studio for a little bit longer.
Henry sleeps for the whole walk, as he always does as long as I feed him first, lulled to sleep by a full belly, having been up for two hours it’s amazingly already time for a nap, and inside my coat it’s so warm. We return from our walk at 10, and I hold the baby while Steve makes juice for breakfast, then Steve holds the baby while I pump milk for the day. I pump six ounces – the baby takes about four ounces per meal these days, though most of the day he seems to like to snack. I put some in a bottle and some in the fridge, and Steve feeds the baby while I shower.
I shower for a long time. I never know how to leave the shower. I leave it when there’s no more hot water left. When I get out, Steve is walking Henry around the dining room table, around and around, listening to Cat Power. Henry’s almost asleep, but he’s rooting for more food. I get my things ready to leave the house, then I feed the baby for ten minutes until he is asleep while I check the internet. Then I put him in his car seat, where he wakes but is calm and sleepy. This is the stressful time. It’s impossible to nurse while driving, and if he’s not asleep in the car then he’s usually crying. We say goodbye to Steve as he packs up his laptop for work. I put a pacifier in the baby’s mouth while I drive and he falls asleep.
I drive to the pharmacy and grocery store to pick up and return some items. Henry sleeps for the car ride there, then wakes when I take him out of the car into the bright and cold day. I haul his car seat into a grocery cart – I’ve learned to park by the cart collections in the parking lot — and he smiles at me throughout the store, up and down each aisle he stares at me and waits until I look back and then he smiles. We get back in the car and he starts crying as soon as my face is no longer in sight. I try to put a pacifier in his mouth while I drive, but he’s not calmed. I drive and hold a bottle of expressed milk to his mouth, my right arm in the backseat while my left hand drives. This isn’t safe, but it’s not safe to hear a baby cry while I drive, either. He’s calmed, but it’s impossible to find his lips with a bottle and I worry I’m digging it into his eye. I worry he’ll choke and I can’t help him. Steve has given me directions to get to the next store – I know I’ve been here for six and a half years, but I still need help with the highways. I misunderstand his directions and end up very far from town. Oh, this is how it’s stressful to be in a relationship when there’s the constant stress of a new baby. I call him, unhappy, and he directs me back to town before I abruptly and tersely hang up. I’m stressed out. Ah, love.
I’m at a gas station and the tank is empty so I buy gasoline, feeding the baby from the bottle as the tank fills. He cries briefly when I get back in the front seat, but then he sleeps and I arrive at the local baby store. Henry sleeps as I haul him and his car seat into the store, and he sleeps as I talk about baby carriers and receive a demo on how to better use the moby wrap and I learn how to use it while nursing. He stays asleep while I try on a nursing bra, but he wakes when I’m putting my clothes back on, and he’s crying. Crying, I’m learning, is a language, not a manipulative tool or a sound that might annoy me. I answer it as much as I can. I love to heed it, I do. I go to the bathroom and feed him from the bottle, squatting on the tiles beside his car seat, until he stops crying, then I quickly pay for the nursing bra and leave.
He cries the whole way home, and I can’t seem to find his mouth with the bottle, my right arm in the backseat, my circulation and patience dwindling. Driving alone with a baby sucks. I keep having to take arm breaks, stretching my shoulders, and he cries harder. When we’re home it’s 1pm and I run to let the dogs out, grab some water and tortilla chips, then sit down with him and nurse. As soon as he’s out of his seat he smiles at me, and he smiles for so long that it’s hard for him to form his lips to nurse. He is so beautiful, my God. I check the internet and feed him until he sleeps.
I put him in the moby wrap and carry him while I write thank-you notes for some baby presents until he cries, then I nurse him in the wrap while I eat lunch too late, 2pm, beans and rice, leftovers from last night’s dinner. He sleeps this way for a few minutes, then he wakes up crying and calms when I take him out and put him in his baby chair on the kitchen counter. He sits there while I clean the kitchen and write some more thank-you notes.
He hasn’t had a solid nap yet today and it’s 3pm, so I lie down with him in bed and nurse him until he sleeps. I fall asleep, too. He wakes with a start at 3:30, I don’t know why, and he cries and nursing doesn’t stop his cries, so I take him to his changing table and he calms down. I change his diaper – it’s not the diaper that bothers him ever, but the changing table almost always calms him. He’s so serene and playful there, kicking his legs and staring at the wall and at my face. I put him in the moby wrap and bring the dirty cloth diapers downstairs to the washer. We talk as we go down and the dogs follow us. We go in Rosie’s room and turn off her bedside lamp. We climb over her piles of clothes. We go upstairs and I go on the internet to do some research for a bit more until he cries — maybe crying is a harsh word for these sounds that signal that something inside of him is looking for balance. But that word ‘fussing’ doesn’t feel right, either.
I feed him as I work at the computer, pecking away with one hand unproductively, and he sleeps briefly until Steve comes in the door at 4:30. Steve holds the baby until he cries, when I feed him some more, then give him to Steve while I get ready to write for an hour. There’s some milk in the fridge for them. As I leave the house, Steve is walking the baby around the dining room table and they’re listening to Cat Power together.
I spend so much time looking at a creature who is less than a foot away from my eyes, sometimes it’s hard to adjust to looking into the distance as I drive. I order some decaf coffee at a coffee shop and write and feel so different without a baby attached to me. I feel strange, like I’m lying to people by not having the baby with me. They don’t know what I know about myself, they don’t know who I am. It’s a Friday early evening and there are babies with their parents all over town it seems, and I want to show them that I’m one of them. I feel like I’m missing an arm.
I drive home and assemble the cloth diapers while Steve tends to Henry, then I feed him while we wait for our friends to come. When they come, we drive together down to the neighborhood restaurant/bar, but the wait is an hour. Maybe before we would have waited an hour, but babies are heavy and unpredictable. We drive to the vegan restaurant and only have to wait fifteen minutes. With this new diet — no dairy, no soy, no onion, no spice — I am able to eat a salad, which makes me feel sorry for myself but it’s actually surprisingly good. His stomach still seems sensitive to something, and I worry that when we go to his doctor’s appointment this week, the doctor will suggest that I also surrender all wheat.
Henry is asleep the whole dinner after a day of no solid nap. Beautifully asleep in my arms, heavy in my right arm and I wish he were leaning the other way so that I wouldn’t have to hold my fork so awkwardly in my left hand. He sleeps from 7-9:30, sleeps for the car ride home, then wakes to eat as we talk over whiskey in our living room (our friends insist we try it, we’ve never tried it before, and the tiny glass they pour me is so sweet and also dark). I’m so tired by 11pm when our friends leave, too tired to be helpful and articulate. Looking outside of yourself for so long, every minute tending to another creature, holding a twelve-pound baby all day, it is surprisingly exhausting. Steve puts Henry to bed without a diaper change — we’re still traumatized from a week ago when he woke him to change his diaper and the boy would not sleep for four hours after that — and he sleeps through the usually impossible transition from arms to mattress. I fall asleep beside him instantly, blissfully.
He sleeps until 1, then is up every hour from 1 until 7 for just a small drink before he falls back to sleep again. The sleep is too fitful, I can’t get into it deep enough and I feel so hot, the night is warmer than others previously and our heat must be too high. I want someone to take the baby for an hour so I can have just a little more sleep, but there is no other food source in the house and so we all wake, Steve lets the dogs out, I feed the baby and we head out to the grocery store to buy some food and coffee for a weekend breakfast.
Me: Rawrrrr. Henry’s a lion. I do think his animal is the lion. Like I think we all have an animal that is most like us. I think your dad’s animal is the ox.
Rosie: What animal am I?
Me: I think you’re a bear.
Rosie: Why, because I’m big and hairy?
Me: No. Because you’re strong, and loyal, and cuddly.
Rosie: Aww, thanks. It means a lot that you think I’m cuddly.
Me: What animal do you think I’d be?
Rosie: Um, I think a snake.
Me: A snake?! Why?
Rosie: I don’t know, that’s just what I thought of.
Me: Come on, you can’t say I’m a snake and not say why.
Rosie: I don’t know.
Me: I was sort of thinking I was a deer.
Rosie: Um, I guess I can see that?
Steve: This is a dangerous game.
What are you doing? I’d ask Steve, who’s been fiddling in the garage each day.
Filling buckets with ice, he finally offered.
Yesterday I walked outside to this:
1. An onion with yarn knotted around it.
2. A broken-off piece of a dog toy. I couldn’t throw it away yet, the colors were too beautiful.
Steve got us a wide angle lens for Christmas. I can see as much in the lens as I can see with my own eyes, it’s almost panoramic.
My friend Jennifer brought over some cookies she made.
Photographs are beautiful, and there is so much chaos that goes on that isn’t as beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of photographs reminds me what to cherish, and sometimes it feels like a lie.
Rosie had to go a friend’s house after an hour and a half of baking so we were rushing, and Jack was in a mood and I was exhausted, but we did it, we made four kinds of holiday cookies this year.
Sometimes when Jack’s in a mood he gets critical and voices his complaints and criticisms. Sometimes it’s smart criticism, and sometimes it’s just mean. So much the opposite of Rosie, who has always thought, perhaps too much, of how her words will hit another’s heart.
He was chattering away, clearly anxious, unsettled, who knows why, while we were decorating our cookies. Courtney you definitely cut the hole on your icing bag too big. You really put too many sprinkles on that cookie, Courtney.
It’s not nice to criticize someone else’s work like that without being asked, I told him, but while I said it I was walking up to him from behind and went to push him kickbox-style with the ball of my foot for emphasis. Because I was annoyed, and because I knew he would laugh at the jolt. He doesn’t get under my skin like some people can — I can sense with him that most of what he does that bothers me comes from a place that isn’t too deeply scarred; he’s just being a kid.
But as my foot went toward his back, Joon’s head got in the way — she was trying her best to get a cookie — and then she was in the dining room rubbing her mouth with her paw. I was crushed. My Joonie, and I had just hurt her. All my heart ventricles opened up and I was on the floor with her.
Look she’s scared of you now. You made her scared of you. That was Jack, and he was wrong, she was next to me and accepting the love. Dogs are forgiving. Humans not so much.
Cool it, Jack. Because this part of him has been growing, the critic inside of him that comes from some insecurity, some need for power, or some fear maybe. He is growing ever-thoughtful and sensitive and his energy is enviable and he’s clearly very smart, but there are moments where these pieces of him come to the surface that bother me — because I have so little control over him, because he’s not mine, because he’s in my house and I love him and can only half-parent him. Standing over the most colorful frosting, we talk about words and bratty behavior and being sensitive to other people. He quiets for a brief moment, then he begins to rattle on again, this time without harm.
Of course Joon’s fine, and my heart is receptive to her in this way that I hadn’t felt for a few weeks — I’m so ready to see her beauty and goodness and spirit now.
And the cookies are delicious, though she didn’t get any.
And obviously, does it even need to be said, there is no such thing as too many sprinkles. Though we all felt pretty sick to our stomachs and colorful in the mouth with the stained sugar by the end of the night.