a life in the day
Repetition becomes habit becomes tapestry. I remember a life without Pickles in the vague sort of way that one remembers a dream. It is vivid at first, weird, meaningful, maybe even interesting, but slowly fades into obscurity. Must not have been that interesting after all.
Definition Morgenmuffel: Not a morning person. Definition Morgenmuffel: Baby Pickles. Her roving hand keeps me half awake for the hour she she spends after 6 am, eyes closed, nursing and rolling and feeling around, nursing and rolling and feeling around. When she does wake up, sun shines from her face. One of the sweetest parts of co-sleeping with kids is waking up next to that sort of smile. (Also: The part where you never have to get up and move from the bed in order to get a woken baby back to sleep. That part may or may not be even better. The jury is still out on my priorities there.)
I stay horizontal for as long as I can while she toddles around the bed. She nurses. If the Beard is home she would throw herself onto his chest and he would pull her beneath the blanket to spoon for the moment’s patience she still has for laying down. He was not home this morning, so after 20 minutes I rolled myself out of bed to get Pickles some milk and me some coffee. Mmm coffee. She hops around on the bed and floor while I click around the internet for a few minutes. Then we both slip into rubber boots for the walk to the bathroom where I have to hide all the toilet brushes before setting her down to play semi-attended for the few minutes we’ll spend there. I always forget to bring along the laundry that I should be shoving into the washer.
After the usual morning dance (getting dressed, new diaper, teeth, hair, face), I load up the bike trailer (snacks, water, rain coats, tools for fixing flats, baby, toys) and pedaled north. I want to go for a ride—with the Beard at work staying home alone with Pickles can get a bit dull—and so pick a friend’s house as a destination. Wandering no longer suits me. Time has become too precious. A bike ride always means time just for me, with Pickles in the back playing notes on a tiny plastic keyboard, time for long naps (hers), and it makes up for the time I might have spent at the gym had the Beard been home to watch her himself. But a destination is necessary to get me out the door.
We arrive after almost two hours on the road, and my friend’s dog is barking, her son in tears. One of those mornings. But eventually our kids settle into entertaining each other, running back and forth across the apartment, passing toy cars back and forth, and we can sit and chat, almost uninterrupted. Add a social element to child care, and it is immediately, infinitely easier. This is where the village comes in. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep a parent. I will never understand why our culture promotes the isolation of the nuclear family. It’s not making anything easier on anybody.
After lunch I rush back to my bike, hoping to make it home in time for a neighbor to take Pickles for a walk. But it is only my second time riding this route (the first being that very morning), and I still have to stop and look at the map, still make a few wrong turns. I miss my neighbor, and we get home in an hour, too late. Pickles opens her eyes just as we are rounding the path before our Wagen. It is almost 3 pm.
It rains, and I am relieved to have a reason to stay inside. We sing songs (me: singing, Pickles: starting to muddily mimic the movements that go with the words of Twinkle Twinkle and Wind the Bobbin Up), and when Pickles becomes absorbed in removing and inserting a handful of objects into a cup, I read (Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman). When she needs my full attention, I put on an audio book (Sabriel by Garth Nix). If I don’t keep something playing, keep my brain somehow stimulated, I get bored of play time faster than you can say Abhorsen. I occasionally flit back to my computer, set up on the dresser, for a quick click around the internet.
Hunger follows, and dinner, which I cook in the kitchen Wagen with Pickles doing laps up and down the room. We eat in the red Wagen after I mop down the rain-wet high chair. We usually eat outside. Pickles eats attentively, her breath even and audible as it always is when she is concentrating. Bratwurst and mashed sweet potatoes (you know you live in Germany when…) disappear into her mouth, and I think of my parents asking me if I had a hollow leg the way I used to put away food as a kid.
Back into rubber boots we walk in circles around the property, following cats, stomping in puddles, going up and down a ramp, until suddenly Pickles is whiny and surly. I sweep her off to home, slip her into a thick diaper and pajamas, and within four minutes of laying down to nurse, she is asleep. I read until I can hold my eyes open no longer, and then I join her, her arm draped across my ribs, pressed together beneath two blankets.
bike hulk says: baby bike trailers win all the awards
Sometimes I forget how great being on a bike can make you feel. How exhilarating it can be. Like, for example, when you don’t ride a bike for two years because you’re pregnant (and then too nauseous and then too spacey and then too enormous and keep kneeing yourself in the belly when you try to peddle) and then because your freshly squeezed newborn doesn’t do anything but scream when you try to use the bike trailer. I forgot then.
But Pickles doesn’t hate the bike trailer anymore. Now she tolerates it for up to two hours at a time. Now it almost always puts her to sleep for a 40 minute nap that she wouldn’t have taken at home (which, much to my surprise, seems to be resulting in better and more sleep nights, weird). Glory glory hallelujah, I am no longer a slave to the Deutsche Bahn.
Not that I don’t like the Deutsche Bahn. I love the Deutsche Bahn. Public transportation in Germany wins all the awards from me. But it can still be a hassle. And it still costs more money than I’d like to be spending on something I could be doing for free (2.60 a pop, 6.somethingorother for a day pass, 9.80 for a group day pass). Because of the lay of the tracks and the waiting and the walking time, I am actually faster than the train when it comes to going into the city. (A sentence that makes me feel like the bike hulk. Heh.)
Now I go out of my way to find reasons to go for a ride, places to journey out to. Like today, when I was here:
The ride took me to a village to the north of Frankfurt, and the way was almost entirely through fields that looked like this, on paved bike paths where I met the occasional walker, dog, or fellow cyclist. The weather looked mean (it was faking), so only a handful of people had braved the backsides of their doors. And the city lurked off in the background, far away from us.
Judging from the kilometer count, it should have taken me 30-40 minutes to find my way to my friend’s apartment this morning. But it turned out that Google maps had invented a path, and I did a lot of backtracking and stopping to check the map. In the end I was almost 2 hours in getting there. But it was a lovely ride.
all hail the yellow orb
Why is self sufficiency so attractive? Why do kids love books about survival? Hell, why do adults love books about survival? My theory is this: power. It is incredibly empowering to know that you can provide for yourself, that, left to your own devices, you will overcome, nary a supermarket or paycheck in sight. Our culture has become one of extreme dependence—dependence on strangers and resources completely out of our control, our concern, our sight. Not to say that dependence in general is bad, but dependence on finite resources, on processes we have no connection with or clue about, that is an uncomfortable kind of dependence. Day to day it is convenient, but if anything disrupts the system, well then, fuck. It is the premise of pretty much ever post-apocalyptic book ever written.
Which brings me to solar power. I would love to be completely solar powered. But having always lived on Wagenplätze where electricity was just an extension cord away, I have been lazy about it. Solar panels are expensive. Rewiring your plugs is annoying. Buying a computer capable of running on 12-volt juice is not something I am in the mood to do. (After Mac Air, Mac Sun?) For now, it remains a dream. But if we could power our fridge in the summer (we don’t really need it in the winter) with solar power, imagine how much we would save! Someday.
The first of what I assume will be many small steps toward solar power in our lives were two solar lamps. (You can see a picture if you click the link. Pickles wouldn’t let me get a good shot on my way out the door this morning.) I’d been eyeing them for a long time, ever since reading Deek’s review of them over on the Tiny House Blog. And shit, they only cost 15 euros (a bit more expensive over in America). Another friend bought one when he started a new Wagenplatz sans grid electricity (this is actually the standard for most Wagenplätze, fyi), and it looked pretty sweet.
What you get is a lamp, a bit futuristic looking in that Ikea modernity sort of way. A long bendable giraffe neck holds the bulbs, while a round base holds a small solar panel. You pop out the panel, lay it outside in the sun, and wa-la! Electricity. I love that they are cable-less, I love that they come in black, and I love that my reading lamp is now solar-powered. Win-win-win. Win!
I will admit it: I am wasteful with electricity. My main sin being that I sometimes leave lights on when it isn’t strictly necessary. Though it isn’t much (particularly considering that we have light bulbs that use very minimal power), it is something, and that is always too much. Shit, this electricity is coming from nuclear plants. From coal plants. Fuck! I hate that shit!
We’ve had the solar lamps for about a week now, and already they have completely changed the way I relate to electricity. Where before I might have turned on a lamp while it was still light outside because it was getting dim in the Wagen, now I think, well, if I turn it on now, and then want to read for hours and hours later, will the juice run out and leave me in the dark? (The instructions say the lamp can do three hours, though my friend said he’s gotten four.) Electricity and its consumption has instantly become more concrete. If I remember to set the solar panels out in the sun, I will have light (nine to 12 hours charge time needed). If I do not, I will have no light. It is a simple equation, but one we are rarely forced to consider. I can’t wait for the next solar step.
she who must not be named
And with a huge sigh of relief I can finally say it: spring! Spring spring spring!!!!!!
From now on we will be spending all day everyday outside.
From now on we won’t have to make kindling because we won’t have to light the wood stove.
From now on we will cook in the purple Wagen.
From now on we will eat outside.
All dresses all the time! Vitamin D! Sunglasses! In the moment of spring, our living space increases twenty fold. Welcome to mansion season.
But spring has snubbed me once already. On March 8th I said its name out loud, and after one glorious t-shirted afternoon of sunshine, it slipped back into the shadows without a trace. Does spring really mean it this time? Will it abandon me once more?
Has spring hit you yet?
the triumph of spring
Spring has officially arrived on the first day that I wear short sleeves outside. That day was yesterday, and I don’t care if it is going to be -5 this weekend. The laundry is hanging up outside, and spring is here.
In celebration, the Beard shaved. Now I am perplexed. Do I start calling him the Chin?
Everyone is sick, has been sick, or is about to get sick. Maybe spring will cure us all. (The sunshine is at least sure to do our collective mental state some good.) The Beard was sick one week. I was sick the next week. Pickles was sick the week after that. When Pickles is sick we don’t sleep, this time for two nights in a row. The two nights following were consolation prizes at best. Then both the Beard and I got sick again. Today is the first day in a long time that I have felt vaguely good. I’ll take it.
With Pickles walking and the sun shining, we have taken to spending hours toodling around outside. She rubs her hands into the mole hill and rips apart flowers. She takes off down the path without a single glance back to see if I am following (I’m not). Eventually she turns back. She is not yet willing to let me disappear entirely. On days like these, I am enamoured with the way we live.
ticks and lice and everything nice
Life with a Gorilla. Already got the grooming down. And when she’s finished picking bugs out of his hair she usually gives him a big kiss, which looks a lot like biting his nose off. And now, another day in the life of Click Clack…
Around six a.m. Pickles begins to stir. She nurses and turns, nurses and turns. She is asleep, but I do not sleep again. When I turn my back she paws at me with increasing urgency. If I turn, she quiets. If I do not, she wakes, disgruntled and loud.
When she is finished sleeping, she opens her eyes and smiles, kicking off the covers, repeating her favorite syllables over and over again. She crawls to the window and looks out over the yard. There is a bird. She waves, bangs on the glass. “Ooah. Babababababa,” she says, looking back at me over her shoulder. The Beard disappears under a blanket.
I push back the comforter and stand up. A voice from beneath the blankets mentions that it is cold. The kindling basket is empty, so I pick up a log, shrug on a large black wool sweater and go outside. The ax rises and falls as the log turns into a small pile of mid-sized wood. Inside, I stuff newspaper on top of the embers, then a hand full of freshly chopped bits. Close the wood stove door, rattle the little handle that moves the grate at the bottom of the stove, and in a few seconds the fire is burning again. No lighter required. This thrills me in a way that I cannot explain, and I think of the girls in Jean Hegland’s book Into the Forest. If the fire never really goes out, your hoarded matches would last for years.
The Beard muddles out of bed, bundles up, and heads to the kitchen to make coffee. I mix oats with water from the kettle on the wood stove. Chai amaranth porridge with oat milk. (Testing a possible sudden lactose intolerance. First soy tries to kill me, and now milk? What will remain when my body is finished with me?) Pickles eats chunks of banana between spoonfuls of porridge, sitting then standing then climbing on the bench next to me. Did I tell you that she started to walk? Two weeks ago. Watching her (less and less) wobbly little steps makes me feel strangely euphoric.
We play. There is a stressful telephone call from work, and then another. I pack a bag and go to the gym. There is only one way to shut down my buzzing brain: physical activity. Though this has its problems. Empty my brain of thoughts, and you empty it of both the good and the bad. When it comes to creativity I find myself less brimming when I am active. At the same time, the gym has become a sort of haven. It is a place where I do not have to look after Pickles. It is a place where my brain can shut itself off. It is a place where I can read, uninterrupted. Where I can hop into the sauna or take a long hot shower and no one will ask me to change a diaper. And after just three weeks of attendance, I feel much different, happier, more balanced.
At home, I tell the Beard that I would like to write for a while that afternoon. Go! he tells me. Take three, four hours. Have fun! Three, four hours? That is like three days in parent time! I pack my laptop up and walk into town to find a cafe where I can spend the time typing. Since Pickles’ arrival I have been surprised at the way my focus has sharpened and intensified. Now I get more done in an hour than I did in days, when all my days were free. I suppose I can thank Pickles for that. Priorities have become crystal clear, and my bullshit detector is functioning on high.
After two cups of espresso I return to hot zucchini cream soup and freshly made croutons. (I don’t know who has the pants on, but the Beard certainly has on the chef’s hat.) Pickles stands on the floor, and we spoon soup into her mouth between shimmies and crawls and bababa monologues. By the end of dinner she has food on her forehead and chin, a little creamy beard. It’s been a while since her last bath, so the Beard gets water while I set up a big round metal tub in front of the wood stove. She hates the water, unless one of us is in it with her. Instead she stands on towels next to the tub while the Beard scrubs with a frog-puppet wash cloth. She doesn’t mind.
In pajamas all, we sit on the bed and read books that I already have memorized. (“Hello little person, how are you today? Is your mood quite terrific or only ok? Are you happy as a hippo? Or angry as a duck?”) Then Pickles plays quietly while I read a book of my own, and eventually a distressed complaint signals that she is ready for bed. We lay down stomach to stomach and within minutes she is asleep, rolling away from me and in the process occupying the Beard’s entire side of the bed.
The Beard wants to watch Walking Dead, but I would rather read. We compromise with an episode of the Simpsons that is longer than my ability to stay awake. Pickles wakes to nurse around one, and I find myself wide awake (fuck, the espresso). Insomnia usually makes me hysterical, but tonight I accept it and finish reading Louis Lowry’s book Son. In it a dystopian world a mother searches for a son taken from her directly after birth, and though the story is a bit dull, predictable, I am glad to be reading it beside my Pickle, knowing that I will never have to trade a sorcerer my youth to find her again.
cloth diaper diary: eleven months
Finally. A black diaper. I had put them on the registry, but they were sold out. Most companies don’t even offer a black option. Too metal? Too goth? Too morbid? Apparently. A lot of people have an aversion to putting babies in black. But me, I like black. It matches everything, and it doesn’t show stains. I for one think that black-shod booty up there is absolutely adorable.
The diaper in the picture is our latest, ehem, booty from BabyKicks. It is their Premium Pocket Diaper, with a velcro closure, and I was so relieved when it came in the mail. Baby Pickles is going through a squirmy stage, and she won’t stay still for long enough to get a diaper on her lying down. That means all her diapers need to be snuck on while she’s standing. Prefolds are completely out of the picture. Snap closures are good, but you have to be fast. Velcro is the perfect solution for the squirms. The downside is that Pickles can take off a velcro diaper herself when I’m not looking and pee all over the carpet, but as long as I remember to snap her onie closed at the crotch, it’s all good.
Though the FuzziBunz diapers are growing on me, now that the squirms have made them the most viable diapers in our collection, the diaper pictured above has become my favorite very quickly. Besides loving the color and the velcro closure, it came with a hemp insert (have I raved enough about hemp inserts? they are cloth miracles. MIRACLES). One hundred points for BabyKicks. And another hundred points for the fact that they make all of their diapers with natural fibers. This one has a Bamboo Velour lining. It is the kind of thing you just want to rub all over your face. When we first got it we may or may not have all wore it briefly on our heads. Ehem.
This diaper in particular has one feature that I am still iffy about: the fleece leg gusset. So instead of waterproof fabric along Pickles’ leg, there is breathable fleece. This is lovely in theory, and, I imagine, very comfortable. I bet it’s particularly good for babes who get diaper rash a lot. Once the diaper is full, however, the wet starts to soak through the fleece. But seeing as most diapers start to leak at the leg when they are totally full, it doesn’t phase me much. I’d gladly trade a little extra comfort and air for a reason to remember to change her diaper before its full to flooding.
What totally amazed me, and made me a little sad that I didn’t discover BabyKicks products until well into Pickles’ life, is that you can fold these diapers over and BAM they suddenly fit newborns. I haven’t been able to try it myself, but I mean, shit, how smart right? (If you have no idea what I mean, watch the video below. I didn’t understand at first either.) One of the main issues I have with FuzziBunz One Sizers is that they simply didn’t fit right for ages and ages (too big, mad leaky). But this option makes the BabyKicks Pocket Diapers feel like they are truly one-size-for-life.
As for the rest of our cloth diaper collection, the squirms have really cut a number of favorites out of the running (and less diapers equals doing laundry more often meh). I always liked prefolds, but can only use one when I change Pickles while she is drinking a bottle. (Instead I’ve been using them as inserts for the other pocket diapers.) The Kissaluvs, which also used to be a favorite and which I liked to use to keep things dry at night, no longer stay on. I have no idea why. I put them on, and they slip all crazy, and I end up sleeping in a puddle of pee (mothering is glamorous, eh?). It could be a Snappi issue. Maybe. The GroVias finally fit well, but they need to be changed more quickly than most of our others.
Some information you should have: The folks at BabyKicks send me diapers I need in exchange for my writing reviews. The opinions are my own, however. Most of the links on this post will take you to amazon, where you can look at a picture of what I’m talking about. If you happen to buy the item through my link, I get a little cut. Also: if you are in Germany and want to buy BabyKicks or any other cloth diapers, this is the place. Those people are not paying or trading me anything to say that, but a number of folks have asked about where to get this stuff in Germany. Most cities have at least one nice hippy mama/papa store too, though they tend toward brands like Popolini and don’t have most of the diaper brands I’m always going on about.
The coming year is sparking. Potential. Idea rubbing on idea. Soon: a flame. The number thirteen stands falsely accused.
Has the winter tricked us? It spent months playing at fall, and now, at the end of January, it is showing itself for the first time. The ground is frozen hard (and yet the moles still throw up mounds of dirt, the ground we walk on must be riddled with tunnels), and snow has tucked it in for a sleep that might last until April. We are going to have to order more firewood.
Two construction sites (Wägen in the making) stand, shivering naked skeletons, on the lawn. People stay inside, and you can go for days without running into a neighbor, though there are foot prints in the snow and the children leave their sleds at the bottom of the hill. Somewhere, a trampoline is creaking.
The shrunken world of winter—a single red Wagen, one 2m by 7m length of space—feels tight, cozy, chaotic. The potential for claustrophobia is enormous. But it doesn’t come, and there is nowhere else I want to be.
In the middle of the night, the wood stove that has smoldered for hours bursts into sudden flame and dances light across the walls. The baby has woken me up, pawing for food, and we fall asleep stomach to stomach to the sound of fire devouring air.
Photo by the lovely JP.
right about now
Babies in Bauwägen. Oh flutter my heart! If only I was as photogenic as Baby Pickles or that window.
Life trickles onward, and my days are filling up, moving faster. On Fridays there is the English-speaking playgroup where I am getting to know more and more awesome local parents, and as of Monday two and a half eight-hour blocks of time will disappear into the grey-ish room where I spending my working days. It is exciting and daunting, but mostly exciting. It is easy to be excited about going back to work, but hard to stay excited once you’re there.
This morning someone asked me how I liked being back in Frankfurt this time, having lived here before. The answer is that it is different. Very different. But I do still like it here, though I wish I had a baby-friendly bike situation figured. (We have a two-kid bike trailer. When Baby Pickles is in it she spends most of her time screaming. It is very painful for everyone involved, and we only use it when absolutely necessary. Soon we will have one of this sort, which will hopefully solve all my baby-bike problems.)
The Wagen renovation looms nearer, and it turns out that the Beard and I don’t have even remotely the same vision for our Frankensteined dwelling. He wants a roofed porch to connect our Wägen, I want a walled/roofed/insulated/usable room to connect them. The difference isn’t huge, and we’ll land somewhere between, but I still have no idea where that is or what it looks like. I find big compromises when it comes to my living space utterly soul wrenching, but it is good practice in consensus decision making at the very least.
The fake winter that has been hanging out since November is being replaced by real winter. At this point it almost feels absurd. Shouldn’t it be spring now? And winter is just really arriving? Damn it. At least the frozen ground will mean being able to get our new Wagen moved over here all the sooner.