Last year on New Year’s Eve Andrew and I went to the hospital in the afternoon so that I could be induced. We stuck around for an hour, but not much was happening so they sent us home. I made pasta for dinner. We watched Treme. I paced around the house in circles because walking was supposed to speed things up and it was too cold to go outside. We were quiet. I paid close attention to my body, but it was quiet too. Either way, we had been instructed to return to the hospital at nine, around the time most people were heading out for New Year’s Eve parties. We got a birthing room, and we saw my OB who gave me another dose of inducing gel, but between then and midnight still nothing changed. It was the most boring and most memorable New Year’s Eve, and I will always remember being in a bed in that hospital room, drinking ice water, and trying to sleep. All that waiting. And then Clara was born late the next day, the first day of the year, and finally the waiting was over.
I can write an entire paragraph about the night before Clara was born, but I can only approximate the entire first year she was here in fragments. There was too much! So much happened! It was good, and sometimes bad, and sometimes harder than expected, but sometimes easier than expected too. It was so, so much in one short year.
When I was pregnant, I wrote a lot. I had an endless Word document that I used to record what pregnancy felt like, how I spent my days, how I was feeling. I thought I would continue once Clara was born, but it turns out that I barely wrote anything about her first year, didn’t record the dates of any milestones, hardly recorded my feelings about anything. I’m not sure why — it wasn’t necessarily for lack of time. It was lack of words, maybe. Even today, a year later, I still feel like I’m formulating my thoughts about the whole thing, like I still don’t have the right words. I took so many pictures on my phone, though. The funny thing is that when I look at the pictures now, especially from the very, very beginning, they aren’t the Clara I remember. She looks different from the baby I have in my head. Which memory is more accurate? I guess the photograph. Still.
But I want to remember everything about this year. I want to remember the earliest days in January, the snow outside, and being warm in our house with Clara wrapped in blankets, the days broken up by two hour feedings rather than by daylight or darkness. I want to remember the feeling of her curled up in my arms while I nursed her or how she stretched out across my lap sleeping. How we bundled her in the carseat and brought her out into the world, and how, before we got one of those mirrors for the car, whenever we stopped at a red light I would race out of the car and quickly check that she was still breathing.
I want to remember the feeling of returning to normal, of not being so irrationally afraid, of embracing the new routines and how nice it felt. Going to the café and writing while she slept. I want to remember the spring, and taking long walks with her in the stroller. Our picnics outside when it got warmer. Our trips. Watching Andrew carry her through the small winding streets of Hydra. Holding her close on an airplane during takeoffs and landings. Seeing her learn how to sit, how to clap, how to eat, how to drink from a cup.
The feeling of seeing her personality emerge, and her smiles and her laughs.
I’m grateful for a lot of things in 2015: that I was able to spend the entire year at home knowing my job was protected, that I went into the year knowing very few mothers and came out the other end with a group of women I could reach out to. I’m grateful for friends who offered help, who just wanted to hang out, who loved Clara like family, who incessantly texted back and forth with me. I’m grateful to our families and everything they have done for us. I’m grateful for Andrew, and of course I am so grateful for Clara.
The thing that’s hard about writing this is that I can’t convey the joy I’ve felt this year because of Clara. How she’s made us laugh so often over the silliest things. It’s almost embarrassing, and it’s kind of simple too, but what a lovely happiness, one that comes so naturally, so easily! We waited for it, and it was worth the wait. I feel so lucky for 2015.
That’s really all I have to say about it.
The launch party details have now been finalized, and I’m excited to share them with you.
Toronto, Sunday November 15, 2015, 8 pm. Holy Oak (1241 Bloor Street West).
Join Teri Vlassopoulos and Invisible Publishing for an evening of book reading + tarot reading to launch Teri’s first novel, Escape Plans. Teri will read from her novel and tarot reader + Bookthug author Liz Worth Tarot + Books will provide free readings throughout the evening.
Facebook invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/495028050678150/
Montreal, Thursday November 26, 2015. 7 pm. Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard Ouest).
Teri Vlassopoulos returns to her former home of Montreal to launch her novel, Escape Plans (Invisible Publishing). She will be joined by writers Lesley Trites (Echoic Mimic (Snare/Invisible Publishing)) and Saleema Nawaz (Bone and Bread (House of Anansi)). The event will be hosted by Ian McGillis of The Montreal Gazette.
Facebook invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/1649650425306857/
Looking forward to seeing you!
My book was officially published on October 1, although copies arrived from the printer early, so it was sold at Word on the Street in Toronto at the end of September. I’d forgotten the feeling of holding your own book; it’s so, so great.
Here are ways you can get a copy! (I’ll update as other options open up.)
- Directly from Invisible Publishing. There’s an international shipping option for anyone outside of Canada: http://invisiblepublishing.com/product/escape-plans/
- The usual online retailers: Amazon.ca (it’s not on Amazon.com yet); Indigo.
- From your local, independent bookstores! Ask someone working there to order a copy (Publisher: Invisible Publishing; ISBN-10: 1926743563; ISBN-13: 978-1926743561).
- Ask your local library branch to order a copy (see the info above). If you live in Toronto, you can place a hold here.
- An epub version is available as well!
- Oh, it has a Goodreads page.
- Toronto launch is on Sunday November 15 and the Montreal launch is on Thursday November 26! See this entry for more details.
(I’m still sending out emails through TinyLetter as well, infrequently, so don’t worry about me spamming your inbox.)
Thank you, and happy reading!
I just spent a month in Greece with Clara. A few people have asked me how it went and what tips I had, so I thought I would collect them in one post before I forget. Clara was 7-8 months while we were away, so past the newborn napping lump phase, but not fully mobile yet either. She figured out how to crawl half-way through the trip, and also realized that she wanted to pull up to standing whenever she could, so things got trickier once that happened. She also sprouted her two top teeth — drool machine, but thankfully not especially fussy. Anyway, tips!
I’ve subscribed to various TinyLetters over the past few months, and there’s something really nice about getting random missives in my Inbox. I like the (artificial, I know) intimacy of it, the chattiness, and most of all I like how easy it is. I check my email way more than I check blogs. And then I realized that I do so much writing on my phone these days, enough that I can cobble together a little newsletter much more quickly than a blog entry.
I’ll still use this space to talk about my book and various events in the fall, but I’ll save the chattiness for email, at least for now. So, subscribe?
Let’s start with this! Nomfiction, a nonfiction anthology about food, is out now. My essay, Messy, is about pregnancy cravings (or rather, the lack thereof) and eating a crab boil on Tybee Beach last September. I can’t speak highly enough of this collection: the other essays are wonderful and moving. Working with Amanda and Troy was a pleasure too.
In related news, Little Fiction/Big Truths is taking some of their writing to print: NOMFICTION (!), a fiction and nonfiction MUSIC anthology that’s currently under development, and a nonfiction TECHNOLOGY-themed collection that they’re seeking submissions for. You can pre-order your copy of the anthologies, and if you do it now, you can save 50% off the list price. I recommend that you do.
Now, looking back on the past month: in May we traveled!
We spent a week in Cape Breton, with its big skies and ocean and lakes and lobster. Clara was spoiled by her grandparents and I took time to finish another round of edits on my novel (so close!). Traveling is a kind of test when you’re with a baby, and Clara’s first flights went well enough. We swaddled her as if it was bedtime and she mostly slept, and when she didn’t sleep, the din of the airplane masked some of the fussy noises, and when that didn’t work, at least she made sure to give her neighbors gummy smiles so that they wouldn’t get too annoyed.
A week and a half after we returned from the east coast, I loaded up the car so that Clara and I could take our first roadtrip to Montreal. I’ve done that drive along the 401 more times than I can count, and the only difference was that this time we stopped for wiggle breaks so that one of us could flail their limbs around and stare at strangers and get their diaper changed before falling back asleep in the car. Montreal was perfect, not just for the chance to catch up with best friends, but to meet the glut of new creatures that arrived since I moved away – babies, puppies! I also ate many foods I missed, and returned to Toronto with the spoils from visits to both the Atwater and Jean-Talon markets. We’ve been eating our way through them ever since, except for the dozen Fairmount bagels that are tucked away safely in the freezer.
In Toronto the weather seems to have skipped straight from winter to summer, and we love it. Clara is now rolling like a champ – all that practice paid off – and her constant drooling yielded two tiny teeth poking up from her bottom gums. At first I could only feel their serrated edges with my finger, but now you can see them when she smiles or cries. Teeth! How do these things happen?
April! April was a nice month, a light month. The newborn baby phase is so heady, so emotionally intense, and while I’m a sucker for intense emotional feelings, I was ready for some levity. It helped that the winter weather cleared – the snow melted and the temperature increased, so much so that there were a few walks along the boardwalk, some afternoons sitting in the sand, a few outdoor meals, a patio drink or two. Clara cries whenever I put her sunhat on, but I’m forcing it on her because, well, sun. She even sometimes tolerates her sunglasses.
I like April because my birthday is in April, which usually means there are a few good meals. I ate lots of cheese with some friends and we were able to sit outside because the weather was so warm. I went to a Spanish tapas restaurant with Andrew and had things like thin slices of Iberico ham, razor clams, long chewy strands of wild onions, bread dipped in the best olive oil. I’ve been cooking from a cookbook I’m going to review, modern twists on Greek classics, so everything at home has been spiced with cinnamon, thyme, oregano. When I’ve had little energy to cook, Marcela Hazan’s tomato sauce has done the trick – a can of tomatoes, an onion, some butter.
We’re settling into a more summer routine of walks and outdoor dinners, and I like it.
My Bookslut column about Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. It is a lovely, cozy book that I highly recommend. It also briefly touches on my foray into Marie Kondo-ing our home, and how it didn’t quite work out.
An aside: It’s funny that I have this section here. “Writing, elsewhere” is more aspirational than realistic. While writing with a baby hasn’t been impossible, it is hard. Sometimes I’ll look wistfully at my laptop and count down the hours until Andrew gets home from work, but often when he does get home, I’m too tired to get anything done anyway. The day I got Fika in the mail, for instance, had been a tough one, all inexplicable baby meltdowns, no coffee in the house, and then this adorable book about coffee breaks that I wanted to read staring at me from across the room.
But, meltdowns pass, naptimes come, I find time to write or read. It helps to set little, manageable goals. Words on paper is often the only goal. Publishable writing is more daunting. The reason why this entry was only posted now, almost mid-May, is because I’ve been working on another round of edits of my novel and there hasn’t been much time for anything else. I’ve had my own adult versions of meltdowns about it, but it will get done. Things just take more time; it’s okay.
Clara has been teaching herself to roll over. It’s interesting seeing these skills develop gradually, how she works and works and sometimes gets frustrated and sometimes enjoys it. Sometimes she needs a push so that her muscles understand what they need to do. Sometimes she gets tired halfway through and rests her forehead on the ground and cries (poor baby!). And then every so often it all comes together fluidly, easily: she flips over, just like that. Her face when it works is so happy, and she is so proud of herself. There’s a metaphor in there about writing, right? About the work required, the practice, the muscle memory, the frustration, the crying, the happiness, the pride?
So, I’ll leave this section up because I would like to have more links to “writing elsewhere” in the future. I’ll get there, slowly, but eventually.
This month has been a blur. I thought the earliest days would feel similarly blurry, but they were distinct in their newness, their strangeness. Now, just over 12 weeks in, the day-to-day fuses together. The first half of March was different from the second half, though, since I was editing my book. I alternated between either working on it or looking after Clara, and there wasn’t much time for anything else. Luckily Clara was still in her newborn hardcore napping phase because I don’t think I would’ve been able to get it done otherwise. (Thank you, baby! And also thank you Andrew for also making sure I had plenty of time to work.)
The thing that I found interesting about editing was how much of the work was shifting sections around to fit the right way – it wasn’t really a matter of adding new sentences, but changing the order of the existing ones, like a puzzle. The answer was there, but I couldn’t see it until I looked at it from a few different angles. I also realized that the best way for me to edit was to read the words out loud, so for better or for worse, the book that Clara has had read to her most has been my own. It put her to sleep more than a few times; I won’t be asking her for a blurb.
There’s still work to do, but I think the heavy lifting is done, and I’m happy with the manuscript. I still can’t believe that after all these years of working on it and fussing and revising, it will be available for others to read. It freaks me out a lot as well, but I have a few more months to psych myself up.
The other half of the month, the non-book half, was more quotidian. I took Clara for long stroller walks when the weather warmed up. I cooked dinner more often and tidied up a bit. When she napped and I was too tired to do anything useful, I watched many episodes of The Mindy Project, Togetherness or Better Call Saul. We went to mom and baby yoga classes and I met up with my mom group a few times. I spent a lot of time trying to make Clara laugh with my animal impressions, which are much less impressive than Andrew’s. It’s so fun that we can actually make her laugh and smile now! You can’t take for granted the heart eruptions caused by gummy baby smiles – they’re the best.
I also read Elissa Albert’s After Birth, a messy and passionate book I sometimes related to completely and sometimes… didn’t at all? Either way, they were very strong reactions in both directions. I can’t quite get my thoughts together coherently about it, and I think I should read it again when I’m beyond these first few months. Maybe the subject is too close to me right now, especially if you consider that I read most of it on my phone, scrolling through the text as I was nursing the baby, often in the middle of the night. For a much better rundown, read the always insightful Kerry Clare’s review of it over here.
Despite my flip-flopping feelings, I highlighted many parts of the book as I read it. Unfortunately I must have done it wrong on my phone because I can’t find them now; I blame reading too late at night. There was one highlight that worked, though, from a part where the narrator is pondering the dissertation she’s been working on while she drops her son off with a babysitter:
So the dissertation thing is pretty much a lie. But you need an identity, some interest and occupation outside of having a kid, you just do. Otherwise the kid has to be your sole interest and occupation, and we all know how that works out for everyone.
It’s funny that this is the one excerpt that worked because I often thought of it during the second half of March, the idea that all-encompassing mothering is dangerous. I do know that having a writing project grounded me, helped me feel more like myself, so when I didn’t have anything formal to work on, I felt a little aimless. But sometimes it also felt good to have no other obligations, to just focus solely on being a mother, especially as Clara becomes a fascinating little human (her latest trick is sticking her tongue out; it kills me.) It’s a double-edged sword and I’m not sure if I’ll ever figure out the right balance, but I’ll keep trying.
At our prenatal class back in November, we were told not to worry about anything other than simply surviving the first six weeks with the baby. Things would get better after that, the nurse said. We passed six weeks in mid-February, and I guess things are “better” in that we’re now more accustomed to having another little person in the house. It feels more normal than discombobulating, except for those times when it still is more discombobulating than normal.
At the beginning when it was all new, I was convinced I would remember every single thing because it was so radically different from the days before, but even those first days are slipping between my fingers. I realize now how dazed I was then. My body felt more foreign than it did when I was hugely pregnant. The c-section incision, breastfeeding. Something about labour made my vision temporarily blurry and my ankles, which had stayed their normal size during pregnancy, swelled up for a week or two afterwards. I was also afraid I would walk past the stairs and somehow tumble down them while holding Clara. How was I so sure that I wouldn’t trip and drop her? Those fears seem strange now; she’s sturdier and bigger and I’m sturdier too, I suppose.
This month we started giving her bottles so that Andrew could feed her and I could leave the house alone for longer than two hour stretches. I went out to dinner, I went grocery shopping, I saw Roxane Gay read and speak. Before all of this I wondered what it would be like to go out in the world without the baby. I would miss her, wouldn’t I? The truth is that I wasn’t sad to be away from her. I was happy, actually, almost giddy. Not because I was away from her, although the breaks did feel good, but because I knew she was there, at home and waiting for me to return. How amazing that was, this knowledge that my baby was now a part of the real world, that she was no longer theoretical, something that lived only in my head, but a separate creature who existed even without my presence. My body, though, recognizes the absence differently. If I’m away from her for more than two hours, my breasts start feeling full – my body knows its obligations.
- I’m back to reviewing cookbooks over at Bookslut. This month I looked at Prune and Twelve Recipes, and loved both of them, even though Prune is kind of impossible to cook from.