What Can I Call It But ‘Great Expectations’?

My daughter, my own darling girl, is pregnant with a firstborn daughter. Being around her has brought back so many vivid memories of my pregnancy with her that sometimes I can’t tell whether it’s 1982 or 2015. (No, scratch that. The clothes and hairstyles are so much better; it’s gotta be 2015.)

Still! It’s impossible not to be absorbed into her expectant world. We sit and fold laundry one hot afternoon and I feel relaxed and dreamily content and fulfilled. Since when does housework make me feel relaxed and content and fulfilled? Since never, that’s when.

The nesting syndrome, I decide, must be contagious.

me, ctp preg

* * * * *

These days, the sonograms are eerily precise and, praise the lord, more obstetricians are women. In so many other ways, though, the experience of pregnancy hasn’t changed at all: For some reason, a pregnant woman is everybody’s business. The rest of the world notices and judges and comments.

“Wow! You’ve really put on the pounds!”

“You’d better get your sleep now!”

“Good grief, you’re about to pop!”

“Of all the rude, gratuitous remarks,” our daughter says, “‘about to pop’ is the worst.”

“They were saying ‘get your sleep now’ 33 years ago,” I tell her. “Three decades and they can’t come up with a better line?”

Much of the attention is kind and well-meaning — mostly from older, sympathetic women who smile and ask her how she’s feeling and when the baby’s due. They nod and say yes, they remember what it was like. And yes, it seems like it goes on forever, doesn’t it?

Other remarks range from innocuous to overly familiar. A few are troubling in their sheer idiocy (who comes up with the bright idea to tell pregnant women horror stories about childbirth and infant abnormalities? Where’s capital punishment when you really need it?). Odd to think that, at a time when a woman feels and is most vulnerable, she’s subject to more criticism, commentary, and even occasional hostility.

Why? I didn’t know in the 80s and I still don’t know now. There’s something about a pregnant woman that makes the rest of the world go a little bonkers.

But I love it that this generation of pregnant women is more defiant and in-your-face than my generation ever was. Thirty years ago, we shrouded our expanding girth in acres of perky floral material and prim little bows. We looked more like dimwitted shepherdesses than mature women, which was probably the point.

Our larger bodies, too, were a little embarrassing and unseemly. Feminists or not, nobody wanted to be a woman who took up too much space or who looked as if she were letting herself go.

Today — God, it’s so different! I love the pride in the baby bumps. I love the sheer insolence of pregnant women like Amy Poehler or my daughter’s friend Carolina who danced up a storm at my daughter’s wedding in a tight, brilliantly red dress that hugged her pregnant stomach. Or my daughter herself, whose wonderfully confident attitude seemed to proclaim, Hey, world: this is what an 8-1/2 months’ pregnant woman looks like. Deal with it.

So maybe it’s taken women millennia to get to that better place. But the point is, we’re finally arriving.

* * * * *

My husband and I leave Seattle on a beautiful summer day, our daughter still pregnant. I am convinced she will go into labor the moment our flight leaves the ground, but she doesn’t. She waits five days.

That whole day, I become a babbling idiot who accosts total strangers, an entire yoga class, and most of the people in a small restaurant with the news our daughter is in labor with our first grandchild. (My husband, quite unhelpfully, is on a flight to Toronto. He bored everyone on the plane with his almost-grandfather stories, he says later. Nothing like a captive audience.)

The hours pass. At first, I think our daughter is going to be live-tweeting her baby’s birth. Then the contractions get more serious. Our son-in-law sends a photo of our daughter, relieved and relaxed after her epidural. “I am a great fan of modern drugs,” she texts later.

Elizabeth Teal Blodgett, six pounds and 15 ounces, is born in the early afternoon of Saturday, August 8. She’s beautiful. I stare obsessively at the photos my son-in-law sends — the perfect, round head, the furrowed little brow, the open rosebud mouth.

etb -- first photo

It’s so funny when you notice that a wildly thumping little piece of your heart has suddenly taken up residence two thousand miles away. How did it happen, who agreed to it, and why? Stupid (almost infantile, you could say) questions. Six minutes, six years, or 65 years old, you still can’t begin to explain that fierce blossom of new love.

“You know what?” my husband says when he returns from his trip. “We thought we’d never have to go to Chuck E. Cheese or Disney World again. We thought that was all over — thank God — and we’d never have to show up at those horrible places any longer.

“But now I’m realizing — it’s all starting over again.”

Oh, yeah, I say, oh, yeah. I think you’re right about that.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Break

I’ll be taking off the summer, and spending much of it in Seattle close to my daughter and son-in-law. So … that’s silence you’re hearing out of me.

Have a good summer, all of you! — Ruth

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The Weather! The Weather!

My husband and I went to California on a business trip two weeks ago. At exactly the same time, our daughter and son-in-law flew to Austin for a wedding and stayed at our condo for a few days. We missed each other, but we kept communicating.

“It’s supposed to rain the entire time you and Bennett are here,” I told our daughter.

She’d read the forecast, too. She knew it.

“Has it rained much?” I asked her when I called a day later.

A couple of days later, I heard my husband talking to her. “How much has it rained since you all have been there?” he asked.

Minutes later, he hung up. “Teal says we’ve gotten really boring and obsessed with rain,” he reported.

“Of course, we’re obsessed by rain,” I snapped. “We’ve been in a drought for four years. Who wouldn’t be obsessed by rain?”

He shrugged his well-you-can’t-please-everybody-and-especially-not-your-adult-children shrug.

“Also,” I added, playing my trump card, “we’re both from West Texas. Naturally, we’re interested in rain. That doesn’t make us boring.”

Or does it? I don’t know.

I remembered coming back from a year in New York in 2010, wondering what it was I’d missed most about this crazy state of ours. It took me only a few hours to look up and see it — that vast, roiling sky. How had I gone so long without it?

You can’t escape being obsessed with the sky (the sky, the sky!) or the weather (the weather, the weather!) when you grow up in the flat, hard, unforgiving land of West Texas. The wind howls, the sun bakes, the dust blows, the tornado sirens scream, the skies part, and you — a puny, vulnerable human being — would be a fool not to pay close attention.

(Maybe, I’ve sometimes thought, this is why there are so many churches in West Texas, where a person’s insignificance and isolation are so frighteningly obvious. Then, I invariably wonder, why it is there isn’t more kindness and charity in those churches? I think about that till the skies begin to spit dust and grit and the clouds darken — and I realize that both the West Texas climate and its religions reek of Old Testament fury and certitude; the weak, the tolerant, and the sensitive should catch the next train to the coast, any coast.)

But anyway, in almost every corner of Texas, nature is often violent and humbling. What’s it serving us up next? Withering drought, blue northers, hurricanes, funnels — or the kind of merciless downpours that turn sleepy creeks into raging rivers that rip houses off their foundations and heave them downstream, destroying lives, killing randomly.

We’ve had those pitiless floods the past week or two and they’ve left death and debris in their wake. “Can you believe this weather?” we ask each other, over and over.

We’re transfixed by it, we’re boring about it, we’re newly aware, once again, of how vulnerable we are. We watch our skies and follow our forecasts with increasing care. Like our lives depended on it.

Texas weather — always interesting, always changing — has gone from being a diversion to a full-blown obsession. The only good thing about it, I sometimes think, is that at least it takes my mind off the Texas Legislature.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about How I Mark My Territory

 

 

 

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What Did Dorothy Parker Know About Glasses?

Take me to the ophthalmologist — and the old memory wheel starts spinning.

1953: my eyes get dilated with atropine.  They stayed dilated, my parents told me, for two weeks.

1954: dilation finally gone away and pupil size back to normal, I’m diagnosed with a lazy eye.  I have to wear a patch over my (dominant) left eye so I will use my right eye more.  Pirates may look great in eyepatches, but 4-year-old girls do not.  I have the black-and-white photographs to prove it.

1955: I persist in believing that, without glasses, I would be drop-dead gorgeous.  I take off my glasses and see a blur in the mirror.  Moving toward this beautiful blur, I break my glasses over my knee and tell my parents it was an accident.  They tell me to be more careful and order new glasses for me.  For a few days, though, until the next pair of glasses arrives, I’m sure I’m drop-dead gorgeous.

1958: I get new glasses.  I want the red-and-white gingham-check glasses.  My mother insists the red leopardskin glasses look better.  We get the red leopardskin glasses.  I look like an anteater in them.

1959: For some reason, I’m watching Oral Roberts on TV one afternoon.  Oral is healing all kinds of people — the blind, the lame, the arthritic.  He says anybody in his audience can be healed, too, if they pray and believe.  I squeeze my eyes shut and pray for perfect, glasses-free vision, so I can be beautiful.  I take off my glasses.  I still can’t see.  I am now officially finished with Oral Roberts.  What part of quid pro quo doesn’t he understand?

1963: I’m in puberty.  For some reason, while everything else in my life is going down the toilet (my complexion, my crooked teeth, my social life), my vision improves dramatically.  I no longer have to wear glasses!  Someday, the ophthalmologist tells me, maybe when I’m middleaged, my eyes will change and I’ll have to wear glasses again.  It’s like he’s talking about life on a distant planet.  Who cares about middle age?  I’ll be old then, anyway.

I rush to the mirror.  This time, I can actually see my face without glasses.  The blur is gone.  I’m beautiful, aren’t I?  No, I’m not.

1972: I go to the ophthalmologist.  It’s been years since I’ve gone.  Since then, they have some kind of menacing blue light that sits — actually sits — on your eye to see if you have glaucoma.  I don’t like blue lights and I don’t like anything sitting on my eyeball.  I practically have to be peeled off the ceiling.

1994: New city, new ophthalmologist, new glaucoma test.  Just a brief burst of air, the doctor assures me.  It’ll be over in a second.  No big deal.

This test takes place, for some malicious reason, in the doctor’s waiting room.  As it turns out, one of my husband’s colleagues is in the room.  “You should have seen how high she jumped!” he chortles to my husband.

Today: Still another city, another ophthalmologist.  Has your right eye always been that weak? The physician’s assistant asks me.  Yes, I say.  I had to wear a patch when I was four.

The ophthalmologist comes in.  He tells me that, after all my middle-aged years of buying reading glasses, losing reading glasses, and buying new reading glasses, I finally need glasses full time again. Bifocals, in fact. Here we go again.

What ever happened to atropine? I ask him.  They don’t use it any longer.

And that awful rush of air test?  Oh, everybody hated that, he says.  We haven’t used it in years.

I don’t ask about red leopardskin glasses.  They’re all the rage now — except for those of us who had to wear them when we were eight.  For us, they’ll never come back in style.

This time around, I think I’m going for purple.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read Speaking of Brazilians

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Why Age Gracefully When You Can Make the 10 o’clock News?

You’ve seen the videos and you’ve read the news articles. They’re always about some older woman or guy doing something highly age-inappropriate like walking a tightrope or doing a backwards flip or swimming the English Channel with a broken arm.

Look at that! The headlines scream. Can you believe this old guy (or dame)?  They’re still rockin’ after all these years!

The breathlessness, the wonder of it all always make me think of the Samuel Johnson quote after a friend reported hearing a woman preach to a Quaker congregation. “Sir,” Johnson said, “a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

Precisely. Everybody’s always a little too surprised about these feats — in a patronizing kind of way. Then — even worse — they start wondering why the rest of us, who are aging a little more gently and decorously, aren’t out there storming glaciers and speed-hiking deserts.

Good grief. I didn’t survive to this age — enduring everything from adolescence to menopause, pimples to cancer — so I could go climb some damned mountain. (Sometimes, it seems, the dog doesn’t want to prance around on his or her hind legs, whether she does it well or not.) Also, I should add, I have developed a special relationship with indoor plumbing, and the two of us prefer not to be separated for long.

I think it’s fine people my age and older want to challenge themselves physically. But I’m a little exhausted reading about their exploits. Or about the 65-year-old German woman who’s now pregnant with quadruplets, bringing her sum total of children to 17.

(Even if I’m a pro-choice feminist who automatically points out that nobody raises an eyebrow when some terribly peppy 65-year-old guy trips the light fantastic into geriatric parenthood, I had to lie down and take deep breaths after that last bit of international news. Quadruplets? Seventeen children? Honey, did you ever think about giving your uterus a vacation?) 

(But, as usual, I digress.)

I know I’m ranting, but I’m a little tired of the headline-grabbers and the feverish expectations and Samuel Johnson’s prancing dogs. So much of what makes a life worthwhile at my age or any age are quieter pursuits — friendship, reading, learning, kindness, empathy, concern about the world we’ll leave behind to our children and grandchildren.

Oh, sure, nobody ever writes anthems about Climb Every Elliptical or garish newspaper spreads about the amazing exploits of a 65-year-old soon-to-be-firstime grandmother. But, at my age, I’m not sure I care.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

As long as you’re here, please buy my new book about aging, Pucker Up! The Subversive Woman’s Guide to Aging With Wit, Wine, Drama, Humor, Perspective, and the Occasional Good Cry

 

 

 

 

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