Can I tell you a story about how some essays come into being?
I first wrote this piece, about my grandfather’s death and the secret I didn’t know about his work and his life, in college, oh, 20+ years ago. I wrote it as fiction, because it was a fiction-writing class and I didn’t know that I wasn’t really a fiction writer and I figured, what the hell? Who will know this is all true?
Over a decade later, I resurrected it for a workshop in graduate school, this time in its proper memoir form. Then, a few months ago, I decided to take a look at it again, make a few more changes, and send it off.
So what you’re reading here — or what you will read here, please and thank you so much! — is a piece that started in 1999 and is now seeing the light of day in 2019. Sometimes this is how it goes.
Is there a chance in hell that I could be more excited to have my first piece up on Epicurious(!)? No fucking way.
It is not an understatement to say that baking kept me from going nuts when my baby was born. And as anyone who’s had my banana bread/chocolate chip cookies/scones/granola thrust upon them–and I do mean thrust–already knows, it still does, and my baby is no longer a baby (sobsobsobsobsob). What is it about baking that is so soothing, so life-affirming, so, well, joyful?
Read on to find out. Then please, please share your favorite recipes with me.
What now feels like a gazillion and a a half years ago, I gave birth to a baby girl in Vienna, Austria. (That’s her about to fall out of the sandpit.)
A few weeks ago, the lovely and brilliant writers/podcasters Edan Lepucki and Amelia Morris interviewed me about the joys and travails of having a baby abroad for their fantastic podcast, Mom Rage. We talked about everything from figuring out how to find a doctor in a foreign country, to the fantastic maternity leave policies, to the Austrians’ very entrenched ideas about motherhood. It was a total joy to chat with them. You can listen here. (Interview starts around 29:00, but do listen to it all; their banter at the beginning is always one of my favorite parts.)
If you listen along and think, I must move to Vienna and have a baby! (I do recommend it), here are a few essays I’ve written on the subject (not sure whether they will convince or dissuade you, but anyway, you decide):
For months my daughter has been taking ballet and tap at the local recreation center, and she recently came to the requisite end-of-year performance. My kid is only four, so her part was minimal—a few short, absurd appearances, flanked by all the other little giggling girls in her class. The real show started and ended with the older girls. I knew I wasn’t in store for something professional, but I still didn’t expect what was coming.
It’s summer, August maybe, and our family’s boxy purple Peugeot is parked at a rest stop gas station. My father pumps gas in his leather sandals. My 13-year-old sister, Rachel, slumps in the backseat, listening to her Walkman with her hood up over her ears. My mother, in a billowy fuchsia sundress, stands next to the passenger’s side of the car with the door open, one sandaled foot propped up on the runner, one palm resting on the top of the car, waiting. Her gray hair is cut very short. Her oval glasses take over much of her face.
I’m five, and have gotten out of the car to dance around on the cement for a few minutes, my white Tretorns, striped T-shirt, and shorts glistening in the sun. I skip over little puddles of oil between the cars, making a game out of not getting my feet wet.
There are several adults clustered around the pumps, filling their cars. I hop over to one of them, look up and say, “My Mommy had babies that died.” Then over to another: “My Mommy had babies that died.”
My mother did, indeed, have babies that died; so did my father, of course. I guess my sister did, too — baby-siblings. But these babies — a boy, a stillbirth at 23 weeks, and a girl a year later, at 24 weeks, both big enough to swell my mother’s belly but small enough to fit in the palm of my father’s hand — died seven and eight years earlier, respectively. I came next; I was the one who made it.
And! I wrote about getting up at the crack of dawn to have some time for myself (for crying out loud!). (It will shock no one to learn that since I published this, my kid’s been waking up much earlier. #Momfail.) This one was for Healthline.
Every morning for the last six years, I’ve woken up in an apartment that isn’t my own. I roll out of a bed I didn’t purchase, pour coffee into whatever mug I find in the kitchen, and stare out on to walls adorned with art that makes me cringe.
Before I met my husband, I found this kind of life absolutely unthinkable.