I once could recite this by heart. Now it is just the last 2 stanzas I can recall. I’m re-learning it, and I’ll perform it for my husband and son on Christmas.
La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad
By John Keats
Source: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 1988)
I’ve tried not to preach my morals, but I have been giving a lot of thought to my vegetarianism, (excuse me: pescetarianism), of late, because I decided to raise my son as one.
Side note: I apologize deeply in conflating the two terms, which are obviously very different. I will address this soon, but I have to explain a few other things first.
I choose not to eat land animals for many reasons. It started off because I did not like the taste. I’d bitten into too many chewy tendons and inedible globules of adipose tissue to be able to look at my plates with a healthy attitude. Meal times were filled with fear, seeming to radiate the negative energy that went into putting the food on my plate. Just for a second, imagine you’re a hen. You cluck around the yard, peck at grains, lay some eggs, cluck some more. Maybe you have chicken thoughts of providing a nice life for your offspring, maybe you just cluck. You definitely feel pain though. A chicken is not going to willingly let its head get cut off. Think about how scary it must be for a simple little farm yard animal to get plucked up by its legs and flung around into tiny cages, eventually getting its neck cut off. Now, I am sure there is some science out there that can claim that chickens and hens and ducks are all killed in very peaceful and humane ways, that they didn’t feel pain. Those are undoubtedly rare cases, if they even work. I believe that the moment before a chicken dies he is horrified, the passage from life cannot be painless–or at least, fear-free.
Think about the last time you were scared. I can remember easily–a loud bang from downstairs that terrified me. I knew no one else was home, and my body tensed with nervous adrenaline and blood cooling fear. This was passive though, only sligtly akin to what that baby cow, or mother goose, has in its body when its life leaves. She yields her physical body for our nutrition. No thanks. I’d rather go hungry than have that poison energy as fuel for my body.
Ahimsa, a yogic doctrine of this idea, encourages you to stay away from “tamasic” food–mushrooms, for example, because they’re grown in darkness; blue cheeses, which are really molds and putridity. Of course, I love mushrooms (did you know you can put them in the sun to absorb vitamin D?), and cheese features prominently in my diet. But if you think about it, and really believe in a life force, it is a rational argument and makes even more sense when you apply it to flesh.
So that brings me to my side note from the beginning. I feel lucky that I’m now able to fully enjoy my meals and food, because it helps me to appreciate life. I pinpointed the aspects that were causing me anxiety, and now thrive on a highly vegetarian, often raw and vegan, and undoubtedly nutritious and wholesome diet.
However, I do eat fish, and the reasons are twofold:
- Though I feel sorry for the sea animals I eat if I consciously think about it, they are far enough removed from me as a mammal to give me the justification to eat them. They don’t breathe air or walk on the earth, mollusks don’t live in family groups or nurse their young.
- It is 100% easier and more enjoyable to go out to dinner if I have half the menu to choose from, instead of just one or two options.
I know these may be poor reasons, but that is my truth.
Eating fish (and eggs, and cheese) is one very small sacrifice I make to keep my marriage happy. I would never ask my husband to be a vegetarian, just like he would never ask me to eat a steak. I’m happy to enjoy a plate of mussels or calamari on a date, we eat grains, and beans, and a lot of meals at home with our own protein additions. I make my husband turkey sandwiches, buy his hamburger at the grocery store; he brings home new micro greens from his vendors, and has taught me how to cook perfect lentils. I enjoy telling people that my husband is a hard core meat lover, I feel like it humanizes what many view as a foreign and nonsensical diet.
Primum non nocere. Ahimsa. The Categorical Imperative. Treat others how you want to be treated. Love thy neighbor. All these terms and phrases get at the heart of one of my favorite maxims. Who can justify an action that does not bring good should everyone choose to act the same? Now is the time when I could on one hand spout off all the ecological goodness that it would do the planet if everyone ate broccoli instead of hamburgers, and on the other cite articles that warn us against eating rice. I’m not suggesting everyone should do what I do. I just like to draw attention to the possibility of latent energy inside things.
True story: one night many years ago, my husband offered to cook me a grilled cheese sandwich after a long day. Maybe he didn’t really want to and was just being nice, or maybe we got in an argument part way through, but when I went to eat it, I couldn’t. It was inedible. The cheese tasted like putrid plastic, and I nibbled around the corners for a minute until I threw it out. The yogis will tell you that the mental state and emotions of the cook go into the food that is being prepared. At the ashram I lived at, whenever we worked in the kitchen we sang bright chants and everyone was smiling. No wonder the food tasted beautiful. Like when the full cow wants to be milked, and when apples fall naturally from the tree, there is a goodness in eating food that is abundant naturally and peacefully.
I used to think my wedding day was forever going to be the most memorable 24 hours of my life. Yesterday was my son’s first birthday, and (forgive this hackneyed allusion to the archetypical woman’s life) I can confidently say his birth now ranks most memorable in my temporal lobe. Memories of a whole new person were initiated a year ago, and even though I sometimes can’t remember what I ate for lunch, October 23, 2011, feels like yesterday. I wonder if it always will.
So much has happened in the last year, but baby’s birthday is my most cherished memory. The smell of copal (which we only light on special occasions, like last night) ignites memories from our wedding, but I’m not able to remember the tiny details of that day anymore. I am glad there does not seem to be a fixed capacity in the brain to store sentimental memories. I would be tempted to choose reliving the days of being young, falling in love, and meeting my child over practical functions of the brain like walking, and remembering that 841 is one of my favorite non-fiction sections in the library. There is a lot of pressure in the beliefs I follow to stay in the moment and not to dwell in the past. But my dreams–a place where I spend 1/3 of my time after all–is made of beautiful and excruciating memories which have made me who I am today.
But on my son’s birthday, I feel justified to dwell on the past. He hardly appreciated our celebrations and special activities–a trip to the toy store, a walk around a special island, a visit from adopted aunties, and a waffle cone full of mint chocolate cookie, a special dinner. So I felt happy to accept the day on his behalf, reveling in the sun and the air, not trapped to a bed in a hospital. Life is so fair, because without a doubt, next year the labors from his birth will be a more distant memory, like how my wedding day is now. I will always remember the essentials: unyielding physical pressure, sharp seemingly unbearable abdominal cramps, the incomparable relief and overpowering happiness and love, a beating Mexican sun tempered by soft clouds and northern breezes. I’m glad I will always have my dear husband–and now my sweet child–to remind me of special days, physical proof that we existed in those pictures that simultaneously look like years ago–my baby is now five times the size he was a year ago, and yesterday–I have looked basically the same in pictures since I was 17.
Next year I’ll be happy to plan a real party for my son’s growing memories. I feel like your first child’s first birthday is for the parent’s nostalgia, and that is what we observed. Happy Birth day, mom and dad, and of course, our sweet son!
We’re moving in less than a month. Besides that temporary sojourn to the Netherlands, this is the biggest move I’ve ever made. I’m legitimately allowed to bring everything this time, (except my house plants–more on that to come), and I have three live beings to care for, unpack, and help acclimate when we become Southerners. I’ll keep busy tending to our new home, hanging pictures, potting lavender, finding reading spots, testing out bathtubs. I’ll visit all 16 branches of the Charleston County Public Library System. I’ll organize my bookshelves by some new aesthetic postmodern cataloging standard. Maybe I’ll bake bread.
But the truth is, I’m scared to death about staying home all day with the baby. And before I launch any further into descriptions of what I hope my new life as a Southern Belle will be like, I feel the need to explain myself. Partly out of socially induced guilt (I have lots of friends who tell me “this is the best time to be home with baby,” or “a mother is the most important teacher to a child,”), but mostly because I used to love life as a lady of leisure. I didn’t get my first meaningful, moneymaking job until I was 26 (two weeks shy of 27, actually). That is barely two years ago, but so much has changed in that time. I’m a wife and mother now, and I’ve embraced my responsibility to provide and act as a role model with focused and tenacious gusto.
You see, growing up, my mother never worked. And yet she was present for fewer of my field hockey games and swim meets than my friend’s parents who worked as lawyers, magazine editors, and pilots. I regularly had to hitch rides home with these families because my own mother was too busy with her own life. Its not that she was a bad mother–on the contrary, she was superbly nurturing and caring. But she didn’t represent the archetype that traditional “stay at home mothers” portrayed in my small New England town. She is an artist, and by definition emotional, flighty, and self-absorbed. That she was teaching me about feelings, life, and the great world was irrelevant to me when I was a child.
I wanted her to be exactly like my friend’s moms who didn’t have jobs. I wanted to come home to freshly washed sheets, elaborate dinners in the process of baking, to find her on the back porch catching up with a neighbor over a pitcher of lemonade. Instead, she’d be shut off in her wing of the house (we were forbidden from entering if the door was shut). Sometimes we wouldn’t see her until hours (and as we got older, days) after we’d gotten home. Sometimes we’d see her after making our own dinner, she’d glide into the living room with her friends–the gay jeweler, the rambunctious Greek book artist, the waitress-cum-writer from their favorite restaurant. My sisters and I were doted upon by my mother and her friends during these impromptu parties. We had our portraits painted dozens of times, I had a jewelry collection to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s by the time I was 16, (not to mention I was introduced to my first real Librarian–a mentor who still serves me to this day).
This was not the traditional life I wanted, but I know it was also not the artistic life my mother wanted. Her parents refused to pay for her to go to art school, so she studied archaeology and met my med school bound father instead. When he died, she was left alone with three young daughters to raise. I cannot even imagine how terrifying that must’ve felt–suddenly being solely responsible for parenting three children. I know she did the best she could. The same friend that told me mothers are “the most important teachers” a child can have also told me that as mothers, we have to find our own balance and take care of ourselves.
My great fear: that I’ll lose myself in my own ambitions. OR: I’ll lose my great goals for life while I’m busy playing baby games.
I know balance is the key to not falling into either seesaw pit of these extremes. But balance has been a tricky thing for me to grasp throughout my life. It usually takes me some trial and error. Like just now, two weeks before putting my career on hold indefinitely, I am getting into a groove with my writing, reading, spending time with my husband, with my child, running, sleeping, & eating. I’m even able to sit and breathe for a few minutes every day.
So, lovely lookers of my lexicon: please do not judge me too harshly, or write me off too quickly as a selfish person when I say I’m not super psyched to be a stay at home mom for the next phase of my life. But great things never came without some adversity first, right?
- Coming home, feeling sick, and realizing it will be at least 2 hours until I can curl up in bed
- No comforting rhythmic breath beside me while I fall asleep at 3am
- Morning runs have been put on hold
- No one to make me fresh chocolate chip cookies, then serve them to me in bed with a cup of tea
- Taking out the trash is always my responsibility
- I have no one to blame for leaving dishes in the sink
- My sounding board, comforting presence, personal masseur, chauffeur, and the love of my life are all almost 1000 miles away
- You can’t smell via face time
- I walk out the door each morning not entirely sure if I’m covered in dog and infant detritus or not
- I have to take my car in to the shop to diagnose the weird humming
- I feel really guilty getting a babysitter so I can just have an hour to myself when I’m not sleeping or working
- Its a little weird writing yourself love notes to put in your lunch
- I’m terrible at cooking one of my favorite foods, salmon
- No one gives me a hard time for eating pizza 5 nights in a row (only bad for my healthy side, however)
- I have no idea if the Celtics have won or not when I go to bed
- There is no one to steal sips of coffee from
- I have to decide for myself if an outfit is work appropriate or not
- Hauling a load from BJs out of the car takes 3 weeks
- I have to remember to pay all the bills
- Its hard to hit the minimum amount for restaurant delivery
- The first adults I talk to for the day are usually either the Brazilian maintenance man in the building, or my co-workers
- Those horrible diapers (you know, the ones that make you wish you had 4 hands) set me back 30 minutes and two outfits
Are these superficial? At least they’re true. I spared my (two, three?) readers the lovey points I think in my head every other minute. I miss kisses, cuddles, and other thing too. But like the song says, a big yellow taxi came and went, and took away so much more than just the one I love.
It has been 24 weeks and 2 days since my last full night of deep sleep.
I don’t mind it, for the most part. Fatigue used to make us all very punchy, and I was frankly quite worried about how I would handle the transition from sleeplessness being a temporary condition to a permanent state. In days long past, at least we could comfort ourselves with the fact that the weekend was approaching. Or coming straight home from work and going right to bed. Luxurious rainy Sundays when we didn’t get dressed except to walk the dog and buy a newspaper. Sleep begat sleep. It was an addiction of sorts.
I’m so proud to report that our marriage is not suffering in the slightest, despite the varying degrees of sleep deprivation going on here. There have been a few harsh words, snaps to “turn off that light!” and “SHH,” but overall, its a battle we’re all fighting together. Our adversary is this little 17 pound boy, who hasn’t the slightest idea in the world the change he has brought. He lives in every moment as fully the Buddhas strive for, and truly does not think about anything except what is directly before him. Happy, hungry, sleepy, lonely, and lovey are, I believe, the extent of his experiences in the world. He is pure truth, and I wish responsible adult lives were permissive of this kind of lifestyle. But we have to worry about our things: the weather, the traffic, the dentist, the laundry, all the books we haven’t had time to read yet…
Before I digress much further, I want to write about my weekend reflections. Husband came with me on a very spontaneous trip to Maine. He was “happy to come” and I happily sat in the passenger seat as he drove. Much less than a year ago, I used to pout when I had to do the dishes, walk the dog in the rain, have to be the one to get out of bed to shut the light. I don’t complain about those things anymore, (there’s not time) because I grew up. I recognize that I’m the adult and there are simply activities in this world that must be done in order for life to roll on how we want it. I like a clean kitchen, so I respect the process of getting it to that state. I used to lecture my husband about proper produce storage and the necessity of stacking the good china separately from the everyday plates. Suddenly, 24 weeks and 2 days ago, all those stuffy details of life faded into the background noise where they belong. Or, maybe I’ve just been too tired to care. Either way, its working for us. We’re in it together, and we both know that neither of us needs to be stretched any thinner than we already are. So I ignore husband’s inability to line his shoes up by the door, and he drives me on last minute trips to visit my mother. Its this glorious unspoken agreement to make life easier in any way possible, and its working! Now if only we could communicate this to the baby…
Happy anniversary, to us!
We had such a fun day, two years ago. I am constantly reminded by the people who came to celebrate with us that it was such a fun way to commemorate our nuptials. Seriously, when was the last time you went on vacation with your sweetest friends and funnest family members? Huzz wrote this on my facebook wall today: “2 years ago I was playing golf in Mexico before our wedding, drinking baby bottles of beer and shots of tequila. I was ordering two entrees at every meal and snacked on these crazy little tacos that may have been made from Mexican puppies. Today my shirt is soaked in baby drool and milk puke, I have had no time to make coffee or drink any water, and I haven’t eaten anything since 7 o ‘clock yesterday…But I wouldn’t change a thing. I love you. Happy Anniversary! xo”
He is my prince charming, and I am so lucky. In fact, he captured the essence of the day quite well. There was a lot of leisure that day in paradise (well, 10 days for us). While the boys played golf and indulged in Mexican cocktails, the girls visited the spa and took a walk on the beach. I wasn’t even faintly nervous, just SO excited, I could hardly contain myself. Even our photographer commented on their blog about my overflowing squeals of happiness! Check out our slide show to join me in a walk down memory lane and some fun in the sun.
I have been happy in my life, very happy. But two years ago today, I was ecstatic. It was an overflowing of joy, (maybe fueled in part by champagne), that I simply could not experience again because I’m not sure my heart could handle that much excitement and pure energy! Although the wedding, the first honeymoon, and the second honeymoon, are all long in the past, the joy continues to this day. It is a sleepy kind of bliss, but just as sublime.