Pregnant Meanings

In the South, a compliment is never a compliment.  Okay, sometimes, it's an honest compliment. But often, it's cause for paranoia. 

I am 37 weeks pregnant, and have been showered with compliments lately.  I am proud to say that I have strenuously resisted the temptation to question those good words with my own cynicism. In other words - I decided to take what I could get. 

Most of these kind words came last week when school started, which meant orientations and class visits, and showing up in crowds of parents with my 37 week old watermelon.  Since it was over 105 degrees of misery every day that week, I wore a sundress which did nothing to hide the size of me, and maybe even accentuated it.  Southern ladies were all over me with southern kindness. Oh, you're so cute, they said. Don't you look adorable! Look at you, they said, You are ALL baby! Wow, they said, All Baby. You look great! they said. The compliments were abounding but I admitted to some that I felt humongous. No, way, they said, you're all baby. But, I said, if I need to switch sides in my sleep I have to wake up and heave ho to flip over. 

Baby's all up front, is what it is. Straight out. Far out. Really far. By all accounts, one can't tell I'm pregnant from the back, and then I turn and wham-o! There it is, huge protruding ovality.  Sometimes it's a shock. I have turned to the side and met with people who exclaimed, "Whoa! You're pregnant!"  I am over 40, with 2 girls about to be seven and nine years old, and I've been careful not to stop exercise (until now), and not to gain more weight than I can possibly take off before I die, but still...Cute? How cute is all this bigness, really? ALL baby? I know, if I really think about these compliments, that gaining 30 pounds is not quite ALL baby. 

Never think too hard about a Southern compliment. 

And I didn't. I did not think too hard about it. I took these kind words with gratitude. 

Then my husband went to a kids' birthday party and ran into a friend who is a successful, middle-aged, self-invented Southern straight talker. A huge talker.  She knows everything about this place and the people in it, and she shares. She shares all. 
"How's C?" she said to him.  
"Doing great. She won't slow down, though."
Then, in emphatic hushed tone,"I hear she's biiiggg!" 

Oh well. I was cute and adorable for a week before she took the sugar off.

Compare this to my experience up North this summer:

Days into our trip back to New York, one mother of three young girls asked when I was due. When she heard it was 2 1/2 months away, she asked how many I was having. I laughed. One, I said, Just one. She said that during her third pregnancy, she was also asked if she was having twins, based on her size.  

On one trip to Target the female cashier said, "Oh, boy. I bet you're ready. Any day now?"
"Nope," I said. "Not quite."
"When are you due?"
"Oh." Look of pity.

Southern men say absolutely nothing. Men here are afraid.  No matter how obvious it is, out of fear of being wrong, the Southern male keeps his eyes diverted from the belly and pretends it does not exist.  Making the mistake of assuming a woman is pregnant when in reality she is belly-heavy, seems to be a common experience, common enough that I heard relief from a majority of Southern men when I mentioned the upcoming baby. One after the other confessed. The last mistaken pregnancy with a woman who had a bloated belly. The glare that was so hard it left a scar for all eternity.  

I never heard such a confession from a Northern man. I wonder if that's because the Northern guy is less likely to be mortified by a mistake he probably feels is the woman's fault  - I can see him shrug sheepishly, say: Hey, serves her right for having such a pregnant-looking belly. 

In reality I preferred all those sweet lies. How nice it was before straight-talking Southern woman blew it all up.  In my heart I knew I was big. But I would have been very happy as an ignorant. Now I know that they were talking about me and saying I'm Biiiggg...and I will go back to thinking of those ladies as two-faced Southern bitches. 

I'm kidding, y'all! 

Kind of. 

things that drive you mad in suburbia. thing 1: Laziness

Every morning, when driving the kids to school, we pass a Mercedes wagon parked and idling at the start of my neighbor's driveway, next to their mailbox.  Until today, I assumed one of them was leaving for work at the same time we leave to drive the kids to school, but I'd heard that this couple worked at home, so it puzzled me.

All I know of this particular neighbor is that the couple works at home and have a son in fourth grade at the school my kids attend. Their address is listed in our neighborhood directory as a Post Office Box, which struck me as odd since it is a directory for our neighborhood after all, and clearly they live here. 

Today my husband saw me looking at the idling Mercedes again and asked if I knew why the car was there. I said, No, what do you mean?  He informed me that the man drives his car up the driveway with his son each morning to wait for the school bus.  The distance from the front door to the end of the driveway can not be more than 30-40 feet, not even a quarter of a city block. After the bus picks up his son, he drives the car back into the garage. Rain or shine. 

Every day. Drives from garage to mailbox. Waits inside idling car.  Bus comes.  Drives back into garage. 

We knew something was odd about this family. In our very quiet, crime-free neighborhood, they installed 2 large surveillance cameras at their front door.  My husband and I wondered if they were in the witness protection program, or ran an internet porn business.  They work at home, though no one knows what they do, and still put their son on a bus to take him 6 minutes down the street to school. I have never seen any member of the family up close, and to make it worse, one day when our dog escaped our gated yard, our friendly neighbors called Animal Control who roamed our street in a nasty mean van ready to nab our "potentially dangerous" pampered pet who is so friendly he would lick a porcupine.  

Every day. Drives from garage to mailbox. Waits inside idling car.  Bus comes.  Drives back into garage.  

The laziness is unbearably astounding. And the utter waste of gas; not to mention two pairs of fully capable healthy legs. Of course, I always have to wonder, is there a good reason they drive down their driveway to meet the bus instead of walk? Something legitimate that would humble us for judging them? Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe they're afraid of a drive-by mob hit, and have to live their lives in constant readiness to flee the scene. Maybe the father is arthritic, or in pain? But maybe --maybe -- they are just paranoid and unfathomably lazy. 

It might, literally and no pun intended, drive me crazy to see that idle car every school morning. Simple scenarios like this are the stuff that drive people mad in suburbia.

To See or not to See

My husband and I desperately needed clarity when deciding if we should move out of NYC.  We made a thorough and lengthy Pros & Cons list only to find that the Pros column equaled the Cons.  In the end, the issues weighed differently, and as you know, the South won.  At least, on paper.  One of the weighty Pros issues was: “Prolonged childhood for our kids.”  Longer innocence.

 I know from experience the turbo speed of maturity for city kids.  We wanted the girls to stay young a long long long time.  For as long as that sort of thing is possible.  

But recently a little thing happened that made me question the whole idea of what prolonged innocence is, and where it leads.

I was leaving a movie matinee with my two daughters and their two friends.  A black man with dreads, dressed in baggie urban garb, passed by us saying, “Excuse me.”  The man and I smiled at each other, then I crossed the parking lot with my quartet of young girls. The two oldest girls (age 8) were suddenly breathless and giggling.  The word “man” kept surfacing in their gasps for air.
“What’s so funny?” I said.
“Nothing,” they said, still laughing.
“Nothing? That only means it’s a big something. What’s so funny?”
“Spill it. What man are you talking about?”
By then, the younger girls (age 6) were desperate to know, too.
My daughter opened her mouth to tell me, but her friend hushed her.
I was determined to get it out of them. “Did you see a man picking his nose or something?”
They howled now. The young ones were hysterical too, without a clue why. 
A moment after the girls climbed into the car, they finally let it out, now safely enclosed and unheard by others: “We saw a man’s underwear!”
“There was a man walking around in his underwear?” I asked, incredulous I could miss such a thing.
“Yes!” they screamed.
“Wait. Do you mean that man who passed us at the movie theater?”
“Yes!” they screamed.
Now it was me who had to laugh.  The man was wearing a typical outfit of baggy pants sitting low on his hips so that his boxers were exposed. “Girls, that’s his style. He knew his underwear was showing.”
The girls became convulsive with laughter. They could barely breathe. Naturally they assumed I was kidding.
“Lots of guys dress like that,” I said. “His friends probably dress like that.”
The girls hugged their rib cages.
“They’re probably standing around in a group somewhere, all with their undies showing, and they think it’s cool.”
 “Mama!” my girls yelled. “Stop!”
“I’m not kidding you,” I said.  Then I mentioned that when we left Brooklyn, most kids in the Middle School dressed like that.
My oldest daughter’s friend said, “Oh, then he must have been from Brooklyn!”
“No, no,” I said. “Boys all over America dress like that.”
Laughter explosion. The girls were treating me like I was a comic.

I told everyone I knew about this story, thinking I was telling a story about innocence.  How to see things from young eyes – how underwear could possibly be fashionable when in a girl’s life, if a boy glimpses her underwear it’s a scandal.

But then gradually my thoughts shifted. If we remained in Brooklyn they would have noticed this much earlier in their lives. Today neither child would even see the underwear-showing guys. Is that good or bad? 

My daughters’ friends are sisters also, same age as my kids, and they are true African–Americans, their father being from Nigeria, and their mother a 2nd generation American from Cameroon. I don’t know if that’s an important or even necessary detail, but one I mention only to take race out of this story.  It’s not that they hadn’t been around other skin colors (several of their classmates are black or Indian), but maybe not American black urban culture. Maybe not much of anything but this mainly white upper-middle class mainstream America.

The longer my children go without seeing such city things, the more unnatural it will feel to them when they do see it.

Suddenly I was wondering if the adorable innocence I was pointing to was simply the beginning of a narrow childhood and maybe an eventual narrow mind, rather than the prolonged childhood we thought we were providing.

Seeing is thinking. Thinking is growing.

Well, there is another way to look at this…

The Question of Innocence:

I was born in New York City, but when I was nearly two, my parents decided to try out a New Jersey suburb 15 minutes away.  My mother was not a fan of suburbia, but my father was content, and I was very happy. What’s not to like about unsupervised outdoor play until sunset, riding a bike to school and anywhere I wanted with no one asking where I was going.

Just before I moved to the city, in sixth grade, a boy in my class warned, “Be careful of the Subway Slasher!” and he laughed maniacally knowing the torment he would plunge me into.  The what, Slasher what? I thought. I went home in a panic. Turned out there was a lunatic on the subway slicing people with a meat cleaver and the police hadn’t caught him.

I’m not going. NO WAY, I told parents.

One week after moving from New Jersey I was in Central Park participating a French-kissing contest during which myself, and a black girl, named Kim, took turns kissing a shaggy-haired Italian boy, until I reached French kissing exhaustion. I was 11 years old and had played Spin the Bottle in New Jersey, maybe twice.  From Spin the Bottle in the basements of our homes to frenching in Central Park under a big tree in a matter of days; welcome to growing up in Time on Amphetamines.  Two years later, I was at the Central Park Bandshell with a tiny paper Donald Duck on my tongue leaching LSD into my system.

My girls will most probably not be taking paper acid at 14 here, but I don’t know about the French kissing.  Kids these days are doing a lot worse at a younger age.  A lot worse, several years younger.  But let’s just skip that gruesome thought for now.

So, maybe not psychotropics at the age of 14, but early sexual introduction seemed to be widespread – city, suburbia, North, South or Middle, no matter where you live. Where did that leave me in the question of prolonged innocence?

I remembered this incident in New York:

Two years ago, on a summer visit to Brooklyn a drunk man attacked our minivan in prime daylight.  I was with a friend and her two kids, plus my two, plus another girlfriend of my oldest;  2 adults, 3 six-year olds, 2 four-year olds. 

We piled in to the car after a full day in Prospect Park as an unsteady 30-ish man watched from the sidewalk.  As soon as the doors closed he charged stumbling at the car door, pressed himself against it and banged forcefully while trying the door handle over and over.

One would think that the screaming that came from our shaking van would be enough to alarm a bystander, but nothing of the kind. 

There was a traffic cop directly across the street – a busy one, by the way (5th Ave. in Park Slope).  I yelled to him to help get the man off our car.  “I have kids in the car and he is trying to get in and they’re terrified.”  I could not simply take off. There were cars whizzing by, and he was pressed onto our car.  The traffic cop stared at me blankly. 

I called 911.
“Do you know him?” the operator asked me.
“No, I don’t know him!”
I saw a moment to get my car out and took off finally, with no hope whatsoever that a police car would show up.  That was the end of the whole incident.

I drove my friend to her car parked somewhere else close by and went to a friend’s house in our old Brooklyn neighborhood.  Her daughter, who was in the car, never mentioned a word of the incident to her mother.  In fact, she was almost non-plussed about the whole thing.

As for my kids, they interrogated me for the entirety of our 2 hour drive back to my parents house on Long Island.
“Mama, why did that man try to get in the car?”
“I don’t know,” I tried to explain. “He seemed confused,” I said. “I don’t think he wanted to hurt us, but something was wrong with him.”
“But why?” 
I tried to explain the concept of drugs. I told them that there are doctor drugs that make sick people well again, and drugs sold by bad people who will tell you drugs feel amazing and wonderful, but actually make you feel awful.  Horribly miserably awful, I said.
“Like it makes you want to throw up?” my older one asked, “I HATE throwing up.”
“Right,” I said. “Right. They make you throw up and then they make you want to take more drugs, and then you throw up again.”
How I took satisfaction in my dramatic liberties.  I felt like this was my chance and I took it. Call it brainwashing. Call it lying. Call it whatever you like. It could not have felt better.  
Five minutes later, “But why did he want to get in the car?”
Okay, drugs didn’t work, what else?
“Drunk,” I said.
I dropped that; too much wine in our house to preach about to the hypocrisy-finders that are my children.
Five seconds after that, “But why?”
“Crazy,” I said. “Broken in his mind,” I said, “Not like you and me.”
“What if he got in?” they asked.
“He couldn’t, it was locked.”
“But what if he did?”
“He didn’t. He couldn’t. It was locked.”
 “Mama,” my 4 year old daughter said, “Know what I would do if he got in the car? I’d kick him in the wenis!”

So on the one hand, my sheltered children were inquisitive and our Brooklyn buddy of the same age was unmoved.  A year later, again visiting Prospect Park with that friend and her daughter, my girls noticed a man walking on stilts, painted green head to toe. He was by himself with seemingly no reason for the strange dress and stilts and greenness. My kids were tickled by it. The Brooklyn kids ran right by tall green man without seeing him at all.

On the one hand, who cares about underwear-showing people, or green men on stilts? 

On the other hand, what does it mean for a young person to see a drunk on the street, or a homeless person, or a Mohawk head with nose piercings, or a flamboyant cross-dresser, or a big, fat white guy holding a confederate flag and chewing tobacci and spitting it into a cup, or a stunning glammed-out business woman, or a college guy painted head to toe in his university colors bellowing some kind of warrior-like incantation?  That last image, by the way, is perhaps the most perplexing to me because I am a city kid who rarely, if ever, saw such things and had no idea what fraternities and sororities were until I got to college. To most of college-going America, the drunk, overzealous fan at a football game is so common as to be expected.  I feel that way about all the other things I just mentioned. This run-on paragraph is all to explain why I wonder if the less kids witness that is different from what they are used to, the less they will accept without judging as they get older.

Once again, the pros and cons list of living North or South remains in tottering balance. The weighty issues become less weighty, and many smaller issues grow heavier.  I am not including Prolonged Childhood on my new version of the Pros/Cons list, but the weighing continues.

Finding Pokey

My Southern friend on the phone:  "Did you read the paper today?"
            Embarrassed that I never read the local paper, I answered her quietly, “Uh, no.”
            “Well, A.H., that developer in town, is going to the pokie.”
            My Southern friend giggled.
             “Who? He’s going where?”
            “The pokie,” she said. “You’ve never heard that term?”
            “Never,” I said.  I’ve heard of Hokey Pokie.  I’ve heard slow-moving folks being called “pokey.” I had never heard of pokie, the place. 
            “Jail,” she said. “He’s going to jail.”
            “Oh! Really?”  I had no idea who the developer was.  Turned out he was an embezzler and he was goin’ to the pokie.
            My friend gently reminded me that I should probably look at the local paper once in a while. 
            I felt I had to know more about the word pokie.  I figured the term, like most of the people here, had a story attached.  My search for the origins of pokie led me on a bizarre word-odyssey.  First I thought it was spelled “pokie,” which upon a search from Google produced the “Urban Dictionary,” - a dubious, unofficial guide to slang words.  This is the definition it provides:

1.  West Indian word for pussy.                                          
Urban dictionary then gives a helpful and illustrative example of how it might be used in a West Indian sentence:  EX:  Da gyal pokie big, huh?
2.  A nipple that seeps through a shirt, t-shirt, dress, cloth. Generally, most visible when nipples are hard, excited.                              
EX: Did you check out what Britney Spears was wearing on Conan last night?  You could see her pokies!  (This entry is tagged by “yellow pimp”)
3.  Something used for packing down the contents of a joint.
4.  Another word for prison, slammer. 
Illuminating example:  Yo, B. Don’t get caught or we’ll both be in da pokie.
5.  Australian poker machines.  And finally –
6.  Another word for erection.

            Wiktionary sticks with the cleanest version of the word: a poker machine, coined in New South Wales in 1970. showed a picture of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s pokies and added that the Latin term was nippilus erectus. (By the way, nippilus is bogillus; Latin for nipple is papilla.)
After reaching my limit for protruding nipples, it was time to take a break from the Internet and call another Southerner.  I asked my sister-in-law if she’d heard of the word.  She is from the most southern part of this state, raised in a farming town with a miniscule population, where her dad ranks close to Jimmy Carter in peanuts.  She said, “No one uses that word anymore. That’s antiquated.”
            So it was an old word.  That seemed more promising.  If it were a newer word, the use of pokie as jail would likely be of lewd and sickening origin – like getting poked in the pokie, something like that….
            My sister-in-law declared the word “countrified.”  That’s a sugar-fied way of calling it redneck, but my Southern friend who used the term pokie is rather highbrow, so clearly when used by people like her, it is more for coyish, dramatic effect. 
            For example, I have heard her say: “I just want to hug your neck,” which means she wants to see me and give me a hug, but out of the mouth of a redneck, one might cringe.  (Actually I cringed a little anyway, thinking of my refined buddy smooching my neck.)  The point is that countrified sayings, when used by more educated Southerners, is done in the spirit of down-home cuteness.  “I’m going to love on my children,” my friend often says when she is getting off the phone to pay them some attention.             
            Deciphering which of these colloquialisms is okay to use and which are not is tricky.  That same friend was appalled when her daughter came home from school and said, “I’m fixing to go outside,” which her daughter had apparently copied from her teacher. (Same teacher who confused my daughter by referring to the letter “w” as “dubya.”  Just to make it more confusing, this smart and organized teacher is not a redneck, but perhaps a little countrified.)

Maybe a Southerner in New York City might wonder what the word schmuck means and where it came from. If you are a Southerner reading this, then you should know this word when visiting NYC, so I will clear it up for you.  My college roommate from Oklahoma once yelled at a bad driver,  “Smuck!”
            “Did you mean Schmuck?” I said.  “It’s Schm. Schmuck. Smuck sounds like a castrated curse word!”
            It’s a Yiddish word, shmok, which literally means ‘penis,’ but is used to call someone a jerk.  That’s straight out of Merriam-Webster.  (And if you don’t know what Yiddish is – Oy! It’s a German language of Jewish origin, fused together from German dialects, Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and even some Romance language.  It is mostly used now in Hasidic communities.)  Where once it was Yiddish, now the word schmuck belongs entirely to New Yorkese.  At any critical driving juncture in NYC you may be called this. It’s okay - just flick them off. 
            Why do I go on this tangent about schmuck?  The word reveals something about the influence of Jewish immigrants on New York.  I had hoped “pokie” was a tidbit of Southernese, with an ethnic or historical story attached to it.  So far, nothing of the sort.
            One of the things I miss most here is ethnicity.  This part of America is not exactly a Melting Pot, and I’ve met people here who would say (out of my presence) that they’re glad about that.  Others would love to see more variety in their local humankind. This particular city is more multicultural than most large towns in this state, but there aren’t large numbers of any one culture beside Anglo-Saxon Christian.  Being a Manhatto, the absence of other prominent ethnic groups is stunning. This is America without the late 19th and 20th century émigrés who’s deep influence on New York it’s hard to imagine without. 
            One can argue that émigrés here truly assimilate. They don’t settle in groups large enough to sustain the culture of their old country.  There is no Chinatown, no Italian neighborhood, no Little India.  They just habituate here the best they can and go on with American life.  Wait, that sounds like me.  Still, I am fond of the non-assimilator.  I like to hear other languages spoken around me.  I like to smell authentically different foods.  I like to see faces with different marking characteristics – the light eyes of a Slav, the expansive and bright smile of a West African, the Indian grandmother wrapped in fuschia silk.
            The absence of other cultural groups here forces me to idealize a bit, but I think there is more to it.  It is not just about wanting to see more of a mélange of humanity; it comes from living somewhere in which there is clear majority of one culture (White Christian American).  I simply have never experienced a one-culture place.  There is much more to explore on this subject and what having a singular group dominating an area does to the politics, the mindset, the range of empathy and acceptance, and so on and so on – but I have to get back to the meaning of pokie.

On Wikipedia, I found pokie spelled “pokey.”  It gave a list of definitions and references:  Pokey - the Penguin, Pokey - the character from Gumby the TV series; and then, at the end of the list, slang for jail.
   provided the one and only historical explanation. It was a little far-reaching, but was the closest thing at arriving at background.  I still encountered Internet definitions like- “Guyanese word for vagina,” but this was the most relevant for our purposes.
            Pokey, as slang for jail, dates to early 20th century America.  It seems to have begun as “pogey,” a 19th c. English word for “poorhouse” or “welfare hotel.”   According to word-detective, in the 18th c. “pokey” was used to describe something that literally pokes, which then in the 19th c. came to mean “cramped” or “confined;” “As a small room might make a resident feel “poked at” by the walls.”   Eventually the word to describe a jail cell became the word for jail. There you have it. The meaning of pokey.
            All that blogging for this bitty factoid.  Well, tis’ about the journey…

North-South Jokes

Two jokes, sent from a Mobile, Alabama gal living in Brooklyn:

Where are you from?

Southern girl and Northern girl sit next to each other on an airplane.
SG: Where are you from?
NG: I'm from a place where we know better than to end a sentence with a preposition.
Southern girl sits quietly for a moment, finally turns back to Northern girl and asks: "Where are you from, Bitch?"

Bless your heart

A Southern girl is sitting on her front porch. Her new rich friend from the north comes over and sits down next to her, and says, "Daddy says I can have a new car."
Southern girl says, "Bless your heart.”
Northern girl says, "Daddy says I'm the prettiest girl in the county." Southern girl says, "Bless your heart."
Northern girl says, "Daddy says we have more money than all the other people in the state combined."
Southern girl says, "Bless your heart."
After a while, Northern girl asks Southern girl, "What does your daddy say?"
Southern girl says, "My daddy says, when someone says something you don't like, and you want to tell them to go fuck themselves, you should just say, "Bless your heart.”

If you have any North-South jokes, please send!