Quick poll: what series should I consider reading?

Hey! Hello there. It's Saturday night and I am putting the finishing touches on the NIFW Book Club prep for next week and getting all jazzed about reading. (Reading! Oh, reading. Wherefore art thou, reading?!)

Quick question for all of you - I feel very in the mood to get invested in a solid fiction series, something following the same characters over the course of several novels. What have you read and liked lately? I am in the mood to INVEST in some characters.

Side note: there are a few spots left in February's book club. We're reading the new J.K. Rowling book and I cannot wait to start it and have a glass of wine post-baby-in-bed and sit at my kitchen table with my laptop and dish with all of the people in the club. If you're so inclined, register here.

P.S. The most confusing thing about PPD is that some days are terrible and other days are excellent. The past two days have actually been awesomesauce and I felt kind of weird about dropping the PPD bomb on this blog and then being like "HEY GUYS! CHECK OUT THESE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES I FOUND" the next day. So... I guess what I'm saying is sometimes there will be inspirational quotes and sometimes stories about crying.

Such is life these days.

P.P.S. Some days there will also be cute baby pix. Here, for example, is a censored baby in the bath:



I watched Oprah’s interview with Drew Barrymore the other day. Barrymore had a baby around the same time Noah was born and she was talking about how happy her daughter Olive is in the mornings when she wakes up:

"I get to wake her up and she's so fun and always smiling and doesn't have this history of all these thoughts you wake up with as an adult, going "oh my god, what did I say" or "I have that thing to do..."

“She’s clean,” Oprah suggested. What she meant by this was that Olive hasn’t yet had experiences that have caused her to lay awake at night or to examine herself, why she is who she is, what role she plays in life. 

What a beautiful notion, and yet how intimidating to think this about the child that you're in charge of. 


Yesterday at Breastfeeding support group, the leader picked up on something I said about having moments of not recognizing myself.

“That makes sense,” she said, “because you’re not the same person you were a year and a half ago. That person is gone… and you get to figure out who this new person is.”

This reminded me of something I wrote late in my pregnancy, about how much I was looking forward to the rebirth I predicted I would experience once Noah was born. There is, however, one slight difference -- I was using “rebirth” as the concept of returning to my old life of running and traveling and buying bananas. I guess I’ve been subconsciously measuring the dips and crests of life as a mother against life as a pre-mother… and when she said that yesterday, it finally clicked.

I get to figure out who this new person - me, redefined - is. 


I started seeing a therapist on Tuesday night in a first step towards treating the Postpartum Depression I was diagnosed with at the end of last week. (I’ll write more about that journey soon.) One of the things my therapist and I talked about was the notion that parenting is almost always in conversation with how we were parented. This is not just “how do I avoid doing something my parents did that I didn’t like?”… in many ways it’s actually very positive. How do I do what my parents did successfully? How do you replicate it? And how do you raise a child in a way that both echos how you were parented and allows for the ways that you are different from the family you came from?

This is not all conscious by any means; it took some digging to get there. But here’s what’s interesting to me: the  notion that I am a product of two people who parented me, the fact that I had a life for 31 years in which I played certain roles and not others… well, all of that is in direct conflict with the massive life event that has just reset the measuring stick back to zero. And here I am trying to grasp for straws in an effort to be GOOD at something I’m new at… I reach for memories from my own family, some sweet and some stressful, and I try to mimic or reject, depending.

And holy, holy shit, IT IS NOISY in my brain lately because of all this.

When I heard Drew Barrymore talk about how clean her daughter’s brain is when she wakes up, well, I felt so in awe of that. I had not been able to splice out what I’ve been needing lately, but that surely is it. The ability to wake up with no preconceived notions, no expectations, no career horizon or plan or syllabus or obligation… (And if I am very, very honest on this here blog, the ability to wake up in the morning without the forced reality of caring for someone who cannot yet care for himself… I had not realized how much this was weighing on me until just this moment.)

I don’t know how much longer Noah will wake up with a clean slate. A few years probably, though we are carving tracks through the fresh snow of his little brain every day. So far those tracks are limited to bath and bed routines and funny noises that elicit reactions from him. I sit here and know that I will make mistakes, that we will make mistakes, and that he will not live a perfect life. (I mean, obviously!) 

But even knowing that, I guess I still find it very difficult to know how to tread on freshly fallen snow.


And now, full circle. There was an enormous snowstorm in the wee hours of October 13 that blanketed everything that came before it and I, too, am looking out at a new beginning. This is both exhilarating and annoying. How well I knew those paths! How easy it was to fall into a routine, to ignore some of the larger questions of life because I was comfortable in my ways! I miss my job and my pre-baby life most on the days that I am afraid at home. I reach for something familiar, something I know I am good at, because I do not really feel good at mothering some days. 

(If this were some kind of reality TV show, I feel sure that someone would force me to finger paint right now just to prove that messy and imperfect is good.)

But I guess what I hope for myself is that I do not retreat back to the comfortable only because it is so. I hope that I do not grab my snow shovel and start digging out the paths according to where I remember them existing. I hope that I can find the strength to, even for a few moments, appreciate the beauty of the snowy lawn before me.


Les livres de 2013: round 1.

On days when I want to get out of the house but don't want to buy something, I head to the library. (You'd be surprised how often a good excuse for leaving the house is "we need more XYZ!" and it makes me feel like a giant consumer...) The selection of books I've been reading lately has been pretty diverse as a result; since I'm not shelling out for anything, I put books on hold at a whim.

As with other times in my life, reading is a solid escape for me, transporting me from the given moment to another time, place and situation. I can read while nursing, before bed, in the subway while the baby sleeps in his stroller, at the coffee shop... it's my one constant hobby in a completely new world of parenthood.

So here's how I've started the year:

1. Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton
I wanted to read this book because I thought it would be a memoir about Richard Holbrooke's widow (and therefore I'd learn something about Holbrooke and current events in the process). Instead I learned a lot about Holbrooke's widow and her relationship with Paris. I recognized the phenomenon of having a relationship with Paris that spans many years and it made me pretty nostalgic for Europe, living abroad and travel. I'm not sure this was the best book to read at the moment... it made me think a lot about how I'm pretty pinned down in Brooklyn lately.

That said, my favorite parts of the book were the glimpses of other well-known people through Marton's eyes. Peter Jennings (her ex-husband), Hilary Clinton (a good friend and colleague of Holbrooke) and more...

2. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Great. GREAT. So worth reading... the story of a woman and her family in the years after the Great Migration. (Side note: isn't it funny how some fiction books make you interested in periods of history? I'm now kind of obsessed with the Great Migration.)

The writing was beautiful, the characters were memorable and I can't wait to read this again.

3. Open Heart by Elie Wiesel
This is a tiny little memoir about Wiesel's open heart surgery and I wish it had been more medical than religious. He paints the scene when some routine tests reveal a serious issue that can only be fixed by heart surgery. He contemplates what it might be like to die on the operating table after living through so much, including the Holocaust.

But can I say something? The Jewish history and religious references are HEAVY. I can't think of a specific example but I left this book feeling like a cloud of gloom had hovered over a little book that describes a dark humanity and a dark and guilt-obsessed god.

4. January First by Michael Schofield
I'd seen this family on Oprah a few years ago and they stayed with me. Their daughter, January, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at 5 or 6 years old. This memoir, written by January's father, describes the journey to her diagnosis. And while part of me was worried I'd project some of this onto Noah in a weird way, I didn't. Instead I gave him extra smooches, relieved that the little guy is healthy and doing great so far.

The book isn't going to win any awards for writing but the situation is so compelling that it was a fascinating glimpse into this family's struggle.

5. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
I read Oscar Wao a few years back and remember liking it well enough. I wasn't Pulitzer Prize bowled over, though. This book, on the other hand, disproved that original impression. The dude can write the hellllllll out of a sentence.

I'll risk sharing a spoiler here but only because I wish I'd known before I was halfway through the book. This is a collection of short stories that are all about the same people. I wish I'd realized it faster so I could track Yunior and his story a little more attentively... as it is, I may want to read it again sometime. I think it would hold up really well in a closer reread.



Also captured at 3130292827 and 26.


Team '13 (revisited).

Oh. OH. When I themed this year Team '13, I didn't realize that a team would come to support me. I assumed that I was the supporter, the one who would help make the teaminess of the world more teamy. But you guys, with your blog comments and emails and texts and phone calls and Facebook messages and general support... oh. As it turns out, I ended up needing a team this year before I was able to be part of the team.

Thank you. Thank you, a thousand times, thank you. The past two days have been better. This morning I had a few friends from high school visit with their families for birthday bagels (time moves forward for me on Monday, when I turn 32). It was nice and lighthearted and I laughed. I saw Lincoln on Thursday night by myself and had so many thoughts about our country and Abe and now I want to visit a thousand places in DC. Noah and I took the subway to Union Square yesterday and had lunch with a friend. The occasions to get out of the apartment (with or without the little bean) have cleared my head in a way that the long, lonely hours of sitting at home cannot. (Even though I do need some days when we're just here, all day, alone, so that we can both rest and be quiet.)

I'm feeling very grateful for people, for all of you. Thanks. You are helping me. xo


One day at a time.

When I was a junior studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, I had to take this painting class for an art credit. Each week we were taken to a different location to paint. One week we painted Mont Sainte-Victoire and another week we painted a bucket laying on its side near Cezanne's house and another week we did self-portraits in front of mirrors in my teacher's stunning house.

Each week, someone in the class cried. Their mountain was misshaped. Their bucket wasn't the correct color. Their curly hair was impossible to recreate with paint. Painting, as it turned out, brought out extreme emotions in all of us.

The week that I cried was the week we visited a farm. I was painting a barn and some ducks who were hanging out nearby. It was windy that day and my easel kept nearly tipping. My palette caught a gust, flew off my thumb and landed face-down in a pile of leaves, wasting all of the paint I'd mixed. And those effing ducks. How does one successfully paint moving targets?!

The point is, I too had my week to cry. One by one, painting took us all, humbling us and bringing us to our knees.


I attend a breastfeeding support group every other Wednesday and every week someone else cries. This was my week. Having held strong through the latch issues, the exhaustion, the gas problems, the puking problems, the pumping problems, the challenges of a baby refusing a bottle and much, much more, this week it wasn't even something breastfeeding-related that got me. This week, I admitted to the group that I no longer feel interesting. And then I started to cry.

I've worked my entire adult life. And before I worked a full-time job? I had summer jobs and work study jobs and babysitting jobs and way before that I got paid $2.50 an hour to be a mother's helper for the family down the street. Working has given me purpose and it's given me something to talk about. It's also give others something to latch onto in conversation.

"How's Arc going?" people would ask. "How's teaching English?" "How's working in the PR department?" "How's the babysitting business?"

Working outside the home gives others a simple topic for small talk. What, then, does one ask when you no longer work outside the home?

In my limited experience, they don't ask much of anything at all. They ask my husband how his job is going and then we skip over me to someone else at the party. Don't get me wrong - I don't honestly know what they're supposed to ask me. What would I ask myself? 

Because herein lies the issue. I don't know how to explain what I do all day. Somehow it is 9am when Chris walks out the door and 6pm when he walks in the door and I have made it through via a combination of cleaning someone's butt, wiping puke (repeatedly) off my shirt, soothing and swaying someone to sleep only to have him wake up four seconds after I put him down so I can do something luxurious like eat a yogurt or turn on the TV or go to the effing bathroom. Amidst all of that, the struggling and the smiling, what could I possibly discuss that would be of interest to someone else at a cocktail party?

So this afternoon at breastfeeding group when it was my turn, I talked about how Noah won't stay asleep and how he hates his carrier and how he pukes all the time. And the wonderful woman who runs those meetings said, "Ok Jen, but what is really going on?" 

And that's when I took a breath, started to cry, and admitted that I no longer feel interesting.

I'll skip the part about how the group was wonderful (they were! oh how they were!) and move on to say that I am in a decidedly better place at 8pm than I was at 8am this morning and it is all due to that group. This morning I teetered on the edge of a large void of sadness. I reread some of Heather Armstrong's earliest posts about motherhood and I understood them in a way that I never had before Noah was born. I emailed a few friends to let them know that I'm not doing so hot lately, still unable to truly understand why. I don't have the energy or strength to go back to work, but without it the horizon stretches as far as the eye can see, displaying only day after day of exactly the same things. 

I don't know if I want to use the word depression; that still feels too strong. But I write this post for someone out there who will eventually have a baby and wake up one day feeling gray and like nothing will ever change again. Get yourself to a support group, breastfeeding or otherwise. I don't know if I'll wake up feeling better tomorrow, but it seriously changed the course of today and at this point, I'll take as many positive afternoons as I can get.


My very own book club.

Hey! Come read with me.
So I'm reading this book called The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. I got it from the library the other day and one evening last week Chris took the baby so I could take a bath. There I was, submerged in bubbles, ignoring all baby sounds in the other room, TOTALLY falling in love with that book. That doesn't happen to me so often anymore and it is a total pleasure when it does.

Do you know that feeling? The feeling of admiring the way an author puts words together, a swoon-worthy love story or a heart-breaking tragedy or suspense that builds from one chapter to the next... this is why I read, to hopefully end up submerged in someone else's world, captivated by story. The only thing better is sharing that feeling with someone else.

When the NIFW Creative Summer Camps ended this August, I really wanted to start a book club but knew it wasn't a good idea until I could handle it alongside baby raising. And now that I'm on extended leave from work, it feels like the perfect time to make some friends and talk about books.

So here I am, introducing the No Is For Wimps Book Club!

Here's the scoop: starting February 1, I will be running a month-long online discussion of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Conversation is organized through a handy piece of software called Basecamp (this is what I used for Creative Summer Camp) - and structured so you can avoid spoilers! Read, log on to see what others are saying, add your own two cents, and enjoy being part of a real reading community.

One of my favorite things about running CSC was meeting wonderful people from all around the world... and this is a serious hope I have for Book Club as well! Are you in the mood to meet cool people? Dive headfirst into a book? See for yourself if J.K. Rowling had anything left in her after the final Harry Potter book?

Then join us from wherever you live in the world. I'm limiting it to 20 people to make sure the conversation stays small and manageable and the entry fee is $20. Can't wait to get started!


Sliding doors.

Already busted out of his newborn swaddles... time flies!
The feeling started when Noah was three weeks old and I was writing a letter to my friend Jess. It was nearly November and when I made the quick calculation in my head, that there was only one more month past November that I'd be home with Noah, I melted into a puddle of tears. (To be fair, it did not take much back then to do this). He was so small! We were barely on track with his weight gain and I knew December would fly with holiday celebrations and I'd imagined all this time with him, taking him to meet friends, car trips, enough days in a row to develop a routine that would eventually be broken when I returned to work on January 2.

This was all very overwhelming for a person who loves working and her job and her colleagues.

I wrestled with it for all of November. Some days I vowed that I would not, could not, should not go back. Others I missed the projects and the people so much that it almost made it imaginable to go through the labor of finding an elegant solution to our lack of daycare.

Here, in no particular order, were things I thought:

  • People say they grow up so fast. If we can find a way for us to afford me staying home for a bit, shouldn't we do it now?
  • We put SO much intention into preparing for Noah... doesn't it feel wrong to leave him to spend his days with someone else?
  • But my career! Will I never get promoted/a raise/a gold watch if I take time off?!
  • And my degrees! Won't my brain sink into a pile of mush if I stay home all day? 
  • Not to mention... what will I DO all day? Bake cookies? Eat said cookies? Get fat? Hate everything?!?
  • But the baby. We want him to be a good boy who grows into a good man. I can't imagine leaving him at such a young age, seeing him for a few minutes before his bedtime each night and on the weekends. 
So, ultimately:
  • I will not regret spending time raising my son. I may later say things like "yeah, I could have done more XYZ if I'd gone back right away," but it won't be regret. I'll still feel that I did the right thing.
You have got to make the decision that's right for your family, even if the decision feels like the last thing you ever thought you'd choose. I know people who went back to work at 6 weeks and it was totally the right choice. I know others who never went to an office again, who stayed home and did the massive amount of work it takes to raise babies and clean laundry and manage a household and forage for dinner. You've got to weigh everything and make the choice from there.

"Of course you're conflicted," my friend Leigh told me when I broached the subject with her early on. "It's 2012. We're supposed to be modern women who can do everything."

Well here I am raising the white flag. I cannot do everything. I can do some things - and even that feels like a big statement right now. I can do a few things well enough that they are worth it. And the primary thing that I need to be doing right now is raising my son and supporting my husband as we work out the kinks of being a family of three.

I am fortunate to work for a company that is allowing me to take the time I need. When I feel ready to add exterior work back into my life, we'll have a conversation about when and if and how. In the meantime I am soaking up the first months of our boy's life. Today, instead of having my first day back at work, I read books to him and took him on a stroll and spoke to him in French. 

And later this week, because I want my brain to remain active and adult and because I have too many ideas to know what to do with them, I'll have some exciting news about a new No Is For Wimps offering. Stay tuned - and thanks for the support. This has been a difficult decision and so many of you have helped me embrace the change.