Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Beginning of the End of a Long Wait

The only element that the births of my son and daughter had in common was the waiting.  Well, and the cesareans, I suppose!

On my son's due date they gave me a sonogram.  What baby is this for you? the sonographer asked in a hesitant tone.  My first, I answered cheerfully.  Ummm... don't panic, but we're gauging him at just over nine pounds.  With an extra big head.  But maybe that's a mistake!  Let me look back at previous sonos!  Silence.  Oh.  No mistake.  He's always had an extra big head.

I was planning a natural birth in the birthing center attached to the hospital.  They did offer pain relief (this was my one requirement; I knew I wanted pain relief of some sort available!), but not an epidural.  The news from the sonogram shook me, but it felt too late to reconsider the birth plan.  It was my due date after all!

I waited nine days, and went into labor the night before I was scheduled to be induced at 41 and a half weeks.  I had rejected an earlier induction offer, still committed to the closest thing I could get to a natural birth, even though the reality of a great big first baby loomed larger in my mind as the days passed.

I was so pleased when I finally went into labor naturally, and again when I made it to ten centimeters (even though by this time my birth plan had been tossed out the window and I'd been transferred from the natural birthing center to the hospital for both Pitocin and an epidural), both signs (in my mind) that I would be able to birth this big baby.

In fact, I've believed for over two years now that if I had just been willing to push longer, eventually I very well might have birthed my son without the cesarean.  Two different doctors have disagreed with my amateur assessment, but I've stubbornly continued to believe what I believe, regardless.  None of us knows for absolute certain what might have happened, after all.

What I remember most vividly almost two and a half years after the fact though, is not the labor or the delivery. More than the failed attempt at natural birth, or the bitch of a nurse who put Pitocin in my IV when item #1 on the birth plan read: I do not want Pitocin during my labor. More than the relief of the epidural, or the disappointment when pushing and pushing did not result in any progress, and my younger sisters finally had to leave town before my son was born after waiting all day to meet him.

More than any of the vivid details of the day itself, I remember the waiting. The nine days between his due date when the sonogram offered the first confirmation that the child I carried in my belly was, indeed, as big as he felt to me (my OB-GYN, at 38 weeks told me: we have no reason to believe this is a big baby, when I expressed my concern that my belly felt a little out of control, as if I could clear forests by simply swaying side to side, if only they could figure out how to safely attach a blade large enough for the job). Those nine days were endless, an eternity of waiting, a purgatory I sat through; I remember it hazily, but I remember it well.

This time the waiting started --and ended-- earlier. Around 35 weeks I had a number of experiences where I thought I might be going into labor. Add to this my doctors repeated assertions that in my particular case it made sense to wait until my due date to allow a fair shot at a successful VBAC, but less and less sense to wait beyond it, especially if she seemed like another big baby as we got closer to the due date. And my chiropractor's repeated assertions that I was overproducing relaxin and my body felt soft, pliable, and ready for labor. When my coworkers moved my two baby showers up by a number of weeks because they couldn't watch me walk down the hall without fearing that I was going to go into labor momentarily it just felt like the stars were aligning. The waiting began in earnest about a month before my due date.

I had to report to the hospital at 6 am last Monday morning, and at 5 am, I was still waiting. I had worked through the middle of the month, finishing the last pay period before my due date. I had made it to my mom's arrival, which was hugely reassuring as far as child care for my son went. All weekend l I waited for signs that labor might start on its own, seeing some spotting that I thought was my mucus plug (it may have been, for all I know. It stopped after Friday morning.), continuing to experience Braxton-Hicks contractions and watching closely to see if they were anything I could consider regular, no matter how far apart (they weren't). I finished packing last minute items in the hospital bag, put on my coat, took my husband's hand, stepped out into the snowy early morning, and finally stopped waiting.

I'd wondered, when the waiting ended and the cesarean became a definite reality rather than a back up plan for a better possibility, if I'd be disappointed. But I wasn't. What I felt was peace. The sky was grey and white, with a bit of a yellow hue. It was so quiet. We drove to the hospital through some of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Everything was white, quiet and peaceful. We passed a black teenage boy on a bike, stopped to let him cross the street in front of our car. He gave us the teenage chin jut of greeting in return. He has no idea we're going to meet our daughter! I thought with a giddy sort of joy. It seemed like a magical secret that no one knew but us, alone in the quiet white morning, in the sleeping city.

We arrived at the hospital. I met my nurse and prepared for surgery. I met the surgical team and we proceeded with all the usual tests, pokes and pricks, weights and measures, questions and forms in triplicate, wrist bracelets amassing like silly bands in a classroom full of children. The surgery proceeded as planned, and when the doctor pulled my daughter from my belly he held her up over the curtain that blocked me from watching what they did to my insides, so that I could see her right away. Then they took her to warm and weigh and measure (she was 8 pounds, 10 ounces, significantly smaller than my son, though I shudder to think what she might have weighed had I not followed the diabetic diet, which prevented blood sugar spikes that act as a growth hormone on an unborn baby!) and begin her collection of wrist and ankle bracelets that marked her entry into this hospital, in this city, on this day, into our family.

My eyes filled with tears.

The waiting was really over now. And her life was beginning.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


She's here!  We're healthy and home from the hospital, released a day early to settle in and enjoy the holidays as a brand new family of four.  I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It is the wee hours of the morning before Saturday begins.  There is no baby yet, at least not outside of my increasingly crowded womb.  I went in for my 38.5 week appointment just over a week ago, hoping for more good news: this baby is significantly smaller than your first; we anticipate a successful VBAC; oh look! you're already 5 cm dilated; would you care for an epidural while you wait for her imminent and painless birth?

Any of these options would have been pleasing to the ears.  In fact, at 36 weeks, the first two pieces of good news above were, indeed, what I received, and from one of the more pro-just-schedule-your-section-already doctors in the practice. 

But at 38 weeks instead I heard:  She's clocking in at over 8 lbs.  Hmmm, she appears to have gained about the same amount of weight as you have in the past two weeks.  How big was your son? (9 lbs, 15 oz)  And how late was he? (9 days)  Yeah, if we let you go that late, you very well might be looking at another baby that size.

To which I replied: What is she EATING in there!?  I'm on a DIET!  I haven't had sugar since AUGUST!  And then promptly developed an overwhelming craving for cheesecake which has neither been indulged nor abated in the past week plus.

But this time I was seeing one of the more pro-let's-try-this-VBAC-thing doctors in the practice, and so, while he did reiterate (which I've been told by multiple other doctors for some months now and more or less come to accept) that they don't want to wait past my due date, he was fine with waiting until my due date and trying the VBAC if she comes naturally by that time.

Tomorrow is her due date.  My mom is here.  My husband started his paternity leave yesterday afternoon.  I'm scheduled for a c-section first thing Monday morning.  And just as I began to wrap my head around the fact that I'm going to have a c-section, I began to lose my mucus plug.  Very slowly, over the past 24 hours.

Which, like the sonogram's estimated weight, could mean a great deal.  Or it might mean nothing at all.  After all these years, so much about birth is still a mystery.  My sister, a veteran of two home births, and I, awaiting and preparing for what might well turn out to be a repeat scheduled cesarean, talk often about how little is guaranteed, and how much available information is emotional and biased.

Which I suppose is preparation for parenting itself!  I'm more vulnerable to the shoulds and the ought-tos around birth.  My first experience turned out very different from the way I envisioned it.  I wasn't traumatized by it, nor even particularly disappointed, but I suppose I did have a story in my mind where I could "correct" the elements that didn't go according to my plan or my liking the first time with my second birth.  That this time, if I did everything right, if I tried hard enough, I could control the outcome.  It's always worth a shot, to try and do things right, to attempt to control your own fate.  But there is folly there too.

And so we wait.  And when she kicks me hard in the ribs I say to her father:  She's grounded after she gets here for that one.  But then I think:  She's alive!  And healthy!

And all the shoulds and ought-tos fade into background noise.  And while we wait, I meditate on gratefulness.  And fantasize about cheesecake, with gloopy cherry sauce and graham cracker crust.  And although I'm not entirely sure I believe it, I think:  Everything happens for a reason.  It's one of those things we say to make ourselves feel better in the face of uncertainty.  Not as good as cheescake would feel, but sometimes what we have are our words, and so we do what we can.

And here comes Saturday, as the night sky slowly lightens, still grey where I am, over the white snow-covered ground.  Waiting feels fruitless, but it does eventually result in getting you somewhere else entirely.  I hope Saturday wherever you are is lovely!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Other People's Stories

I was awake, sitting at my dining room table sipping coffee and looking out the window onto a cold blustery morning recently between 6 and 7 am.  Looking down my hill I can see two rental houses next door to one another, both with double entry doors and covered front porches.  From the house on the left, a white woman in a white hoodie emerged and lit a cigarette.  From the house on the right, a black man in a black hoodie emerged and lit a cigarette.  I watched them smoke in the still dark morning, their lit cigarettes the only light and heat source around, both of them alone.

Because of their odd symmetry, I wanted them to be friends, but they never spoke.

* * * * *

Earlier this afternoon, I was debating getting on the computer to finish the entry that began with the story above.  I looked out my window and saw two teenage guys walking down the street in the fast-falling snow.  A white dude in a white hoodie, and a black dude in a black hoodie.  Maybe my city -or at least my neighborhood- is self-segregating by hoodie color.  Kind of sucks to be me, because pale-skinned round people (in other words, me any winter, but most especially this one) do not need to be wearing white.  

Shit is unflattering.

* * * * *

The parenting class I taught today had me laughing out loud.  We're talking about managing stress on children, and got onto the topic of having extended family move in with you, and the stress it causes, especially in conjunction with the holidays.  People had stories -oh, did they ever have stories!- and by the end of class we were all roaring with laughter and I could barely get them out the door on time.  I find some comfort in the notion that all of us -no matter our socioeconomic status, background, ethnicity or region of origin- have in common at least one crazy-ass relative we have to deal with.  And that humor is such a universal way of coping.

One of my students, in the midst of a huge family fued, recently put differences aside to support and witness her aunt give birth.  It's amazing what the body can do, she said.  It was beautiful.  It was disgusting.

* * * * *

My son has been demanding and quick to dissolve into tears and whining if he doesn't get what he wants recently.  He woke up from his nap this afternoon and had a hard time telling me what he wanted (a cup of water) without whining and crying.  I was able to ignore the whining and crying and just softly repeated a few times when you can tell me with your words, let me know and I'll help you, then left him to work it out.  Eventually he told me he needed water, and when I gave it to him along with a hug, he said I need you, I need to get up, and reached to me with both arms.  I guided him to the rocking chair in his bedroom where we read books and listen to lullabies at night.  Then I pulled him up onto my lap and we sat, rocking in silence, the only light coming in through the glimpses of window at the bottom of his curtains.  It was pure white, bouncing off the freshly fallen snow, and our house was late-afternoon dim.  We sat until he was calm and relaxed, and then he asked about his daddy.

When I said he was at the hardware store buying a spark plug to fix our second hand snowblower (we've had it for two years, waiting to buy a part for it that turned out -when we finally took action- to be available locally for under $20 with an easily found free online manual with directions for replacing it, although once we did that we discovered it also needed a new spark plug) my son was ready to get up and get going in good spirits.  I need to go to the store, he said.  I  need to get barreties (batteries) and fix that blower for Dada.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Some days I feel so ready to go into labor it's a shock to find myself still pregnant and standing.  Other days I feel so good I imagine I could last forever in this waiting state.  One night I was possessed to pack a bag for my son with clothes and food for the next day.  I told my husband he'd have to be ready to drop him off with his sitter first thing in the morning and meet me at the hospital because I felt the baby was coming sometime that night.  The next morning I woke up feeling fine.  Another night I woke up every few hours and refused to get out of bed to go to the bathroom.  I was certain if I stood, my water would break, and since we didn't have anywhere to take our son until morning, I was determined to remain in bed until then.  Again, the next morning I stood up and walked through the house without incident, feeling better than I had in days.  Every day is different.  If I make it halfway through this month at work, I get a final, full paycheck.  On the bad days, I remind myself of that paycheck.  I envision it like a light at the end of a tunnel.

* * * * *

My husband painted the nursery over the past week.  Walking through our house now, we have color in the kitchen, dining room, one out of two hallways, and both downstairs bedrooms.  Last year at this time we had nothing painted.  It feels like an enormous accomplishment.  Our living room is still stark white, but the paint is in good shape, and I haven't settled on a color scheme for that room yet, so I'm not too concerned.  It's been a whirlwind of activity preparing the house, and I'm glad for so many good days when I can clean for hours, do the stairs and carry laundry, and organize things.  This morning I had to clean a foot of snow off my car, and I realized that three weeks ago, I couldn't have done it.  Today I could.  What a relief!

My Christmas shopping is also almost finished, and I'm so excited to get the house decorated for the season, and spend our first Christmas together at home.  I'm not a shopper at all, but I've had a blast buying gifts for my boy this year, even when I can barely walk around the stores!  Our tree is up, but we're waiting for the branches to dry and settle before we decorate it.  I will miss the tradition my husband and I started years before we had kids, of polishing off a bottle of red wine while decorating the house for the holidays.  I thought kids were supposed to inspire traditions, not put an end to them!  Ah well, I guess the wine can wait until New Year's, and my husband can have more than his fair share since I'll be nursing.

Sitting in our warm house with our two babies, a brightly lit tree, almost every room painted colors of our choosing, and maybe a fire in the fireplace will leave me warmer and probably happy-weepier than half a bottle of wine anyway!

* * * * *

My sister is now a week overdue.  Her midwife recently decided she doesn't feel comfortable waiting 42 weeks, so she'll try acupuncture to induce, and if it doesn't work she may end up with a hospital birth instead of the home birth she's been planning all along.  She's anxious, but so ready to be finished with a difficult pregnancy that I think it will be a relief to give birth regardless of the circumstances.

I, too, find myself less and less concerned about how the birth plays out, the closer it gets.  I'd like my sister to have her baby first, so my mom is available to help her, as well as travel here when I need her without leaving my sister pregnant, overdue, and waiting.  My sister has other family there to support her, and has been generous about saying my mom can come to me, but I'll feel better if she's given birth and had some time to recover first.  

I've also been piecemeal-ing together child care for my son when I go into labor.  If it's daytime he can stay with his sitter, who is available 8-4.  If it's late afternoon or early evening, I'm sure she'd keep him for the 3 hours it will take my mom to get here.  But she lives in another town and drives back there at 4, so even getting him to her if she's already left would be an hour trip, or double that if the driving is bad (schools are closed today because of snow).  I have a friend just 15 minutes away who's willing to come over in the middle of the night if he's asleep, but she works until 10:30pm.  

My worst case scenario is that my husband drops me at the hospital alone for 3 hours while he cares for our son and waits for my mom to arrive.  Last time I went into labor the contractions started off at 5 minutes apart and were 3 minutes apart by the end of the first hour.  I went to the hospital after that first hour and stayed there.  Because we're attempting a VBAC they want me at the hospital as soon as I have regular contractions this time, no matter how far apart.  I'm trying to psyche myself up mentally to spend a few hours alone at the hospital before my husband can come.  Some moments I feel tough, and tell myself I can handle it.  Other moments I want to hide in my bed and cry at the thought

All these difficult logistics make the possibility that she won't arrive by her due date and I'll end up with a scheduled c-section seem awfully convenient.  I could arrange my mom's visit and child care!  I'll make it home before Christmas Eve!  So if she doesn't come early, there are benefits.  The closer I get, the easier it is to simply shrug, and be willing to accept.

* * * * *

After moving the furniture back into the nursery and setting up the bassinet next to our bed (we're going to share the nursery with our daughter for the first few months and then eventually move into the attic and leave it to her.  I don't want to worry about walking the stairs right away after giving birth, and if I'm nursing all night at first anyway it's just easier to stay downstairs.), I lay down in my bed and looked over at the bassinet, remembering setting it up beside our bed in our old apartment when our son was born.  Then remembering waking up to nurse and change diapers every few hours.

And then I realized that I've been so consumed with preparing for my daughter's arrival: for the birth itself with my doctors, for my leave at work with my colleagues, for the house and holidays with my husband, for the arrival of a sibling with my son, for the logistics of child care with my mom and sister and sitter and friend, that I have given next to no thought whatsoever about what it will be like to be the mother of a newborn baby again.  I'm not a woman who puts myself last most of the time.  I'm inherently rather self-centered and have no problem taking care of my own needs, and asking and expecting others to respect them.  But in this case, I have worked very hard to prepare everyone else for this upcoming event, and it suddenly struck me how unprepared I am! 

I spent a few minutes thinking about incessant breastfeeding, and interrupted sleep, and soft skin and fuzzy hair, and remembering to support the head, and the intoxication of every little thing they do.  And then I got up and gave my boy a bath, and tidied his toys, and folded a load of laundry and put it away, and there was no more time for reverie.  But soon enough there will be plenty of time to sit and soak it all in.  For now, we finish our preparations.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


... That there is a holiday dedicated to being thankful.  In a country as rich as ours, it's good to remember to stop and count our blessings.

... For the time I spent standing outside the other day, waiting for my son and his sitter to come downstairs from putting his friend down for nap and answer the door.  The view from the house on the hill where he stays each day is amazing.  I could see layers of fog hovering over the earth in the distant sky.  Rain fell light like mist around me while I hovered under the covered porch.  The world seemed full of mystery and ultimately unknowable.

... For the fire my husband built in the fireplace last night.  The room was warm and the couch piled with more blankets than we could put to use.  The world seemed cozy, safe, and familiar.

... For every morning that we hear the crows call Caw Caw while we ready ourselves for the day.  My son said to me last week:  Mommy, the little birds say tweet-tweet, but the crows say CAW-CAW!  We like to listen to the sound of the crows.

... For the little birds too, who dip and weave through the sky like a symphony is playing, that only they can hear.  Two flocks rose together and danced in front of my car window while I drove to the doctor yesterday morning, and it was like art rising up from the highway, a ballet in black against the grey white of the sky.

... For this morning, when I inexplicably woke at 5am, finally rising from my bed at 6, and still, walking through my house, my thoughts weren't grumpy or bitter.  Instead, I thought:  I love this house.  I'm so happy it's ours.

... For my husband and son, who bring laughter and delight to my world every day.

... For my daughter, dancing in my womb and preparing for her grand entrance into the world.  And for all the work we got done yesterday, preparing to welcome her: the attic is semi-organized (a feat unto itself), and furniture is moved and rearranged, paint is purchased and ready to go on the walls, and we are closer to welcoming her every day.

... For the basics: a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, medical care when we're sick, and then for magic: laughter and delight are magical, and I am most thankful for how much magic I find in the daily details of this ordinary life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

One More Month

I feel substantially better yesterday and today than I have in a while.  Last Monday I was afraid I might go into labor at any moment.  I would find myself bent over a countertop swaying and moaning, and wonder: what am I doing?  I'm not supposed to be in labor!  I fluctuated between hot flashes and bouts of cold shivering, and I had to race to the bathroom multiple times during the day to empty my body out, fearing it would empty itself if I didn't run waddle at top speed.  My face took on that soft, almost swollen glow that I recognize from seeing other women in late pregnancy, and the baby dropped noticeably lower in my abdomen.  My chiropractor and coworkers both noticed and remarked that I looked like I could go anytime.  I started to believe that I wouldn't make it to my due date, and a VBAC seemed more possible by the minute, since she'd likely be substantially smaller than normal coming so early.

But then Tuesday I felt better than Monday, and Wednesday better still, and now at the end of the week I feel almost like a regular person again.  It feels wonderful to sit, stand and walk without significant pain, and even these small abilities make me feel so much more powerful and capable!  Still, I decided against traveling for Thanksgiving weekend, which will be 37 weeks, and I'm doing my best to wrap things up at work and leave my colleagues with enough direction to make their lives as easy as I can while they cover for me for three months.  I'm scheduled to work right up to the Friday before my due date, but we'll just be playing it by ear at the end.

For quite some time I didn't believe there was any chance my daughter would come early.  I know this is a direct reaction to what happened with my son.  I was so huge with him that people commented all the time that they wondered if I'd make it to my due date.  I was so uncomfortable being so huge, and so hot in July that I chose to believe the man-on-the-street report and thoroughly convinced myself that I was going to go into labor early.  I stopped working at 39 weeks, and then spent the next two and a half weeks sitting in the one small room in our apartment with a window unit air conditioner, reading and waiting.  After that experience, I just had no faith whatsoever that any baby of mine would ever come early.

But I went to the doctor today, and the news was a lot more positive than my last visit.  She's measuring exactly average, and at this point there are no contraindications to trying for a VBAC.  That will change if she suddenly balloons into a little fatso, but for the time being, things look good.  Also, I've been having contractions all week, and my cervix is beginning to thin out, in addition to the ridiculous amount of relaxin I've been producing for months.  All of these are signs that my body is preparing for labor, and I had none of these signs last time with my boy, especially this early.

The doctors are still hoping she comes early, and in the meantime we wait and continue to check on her growth.  I'm making my peace with the wait-and-see approach.  In fact, I'd rather the universe decided this for me: either she'll come early, and be small enough, or she won't come on time, and I'll have to have a repeat section.  I feel better leaving it in the hands of fate than having to make the decision myself.  Practice for all the moments in parenthood that are more fate and chance than choice!  So my due date, like the title of this post, is a month from today.  My daughter's birthday, on the other hand, well ... we'll leave that up to the whims of the gods.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Normally, I like paperwork and hate housework.  My job requires a rather ridiculously large amount of paperwork.  I get a certain satisfaction out of organizing all this paperwork into systems I think work best for our staff.  I want the paperwork to reflect the work we do on the ground; I want it to paint a picture of the magic we create with families.  I usually believe I'm the best person to do this job, and the endless reading and printing and editing and piling and filing are part of this job, parts I do willingly, and with great satisfaction when I do it well.

Housework ... well, I guess I'd rather just skip to the end result.  My son's too-small clothes are semi-organized.  Meaning: that one time when my sister came to town and organized the 0-12 month clothes?  Those ones are still organized.  The 12 month to 2T can be found in an assortment of bags, both paper and plastic, and piles, most of which are found in the general vicinity of the attic, with no organizing principle whatsoever, except get-this-out-of-my-face.  I don't necessarily believe that I'm the best person for this job.  My sister showed me that in one weekend visit.  In fact, I'm pretty sure she's the best person for the job!  But the fact that she'll be birthing a baby any day now makes it substantially less likely that she'll show up and do it anytime soon.

And lately I've made a switch, as complete and dramatic as a florescent overhead light in a pitch black room.  My disorganized attic calls out to me.  It haunts me while I hobble to and fro on the first floor of my living quarters, trying to tidy things as best I can.  I daydream sitting cross-legged (I can't sit cross-legged; are you freakin' kidding me?  I can hardly sit at all.) behind the walls, in the uninsulated eves where we store all the belongings with no defined place, all the too-small baby clothes, boxes of Christmas decor, and bins of books awaiting the future purchase of bookshelves big enough to contain them, all our homeless, forlorn belongings.  They whisper my name while I'm sleepless in bed, and I imagine myself creating order from that chaos, moving like a whirling dervish (yeah, highly unlikely) through stacks of stuff we've chosen to keep, but left neglected while trying to manage our everyday lives outside the attic eves, the parts of our lives the world sees.

And paperwork?  Bah humbug!  My dad recently retired from teaching, and has long enjoyed the cynical teacher's past time of scoffing at any new development designed to improve the learning of students, but seemingly more likely to create a new set of hoops for teachers to hop through on their way to wherever they were already headed.  Usually I'm more optimistic.  I readily adopt, and adapt whatever is sent to us, and attempt to use it to show how amazing what we do really is.  I look at the endless forms, reading between formulaic lines for hidden poetry to unearth ideas for how we can be better.  But now?  Ugh.  My desk?  UNcomfortable!  Forms?  A PAIN in my ass!  Paperwork?  WHATever!  I think I'm ready to be done with work.

My chiropractor recommended I not teach my last yoga class, scheduled for this Thursday evening after I told her I don't mind the stretching, but the students, my God!  What are they doing there?  What do they want from me?  They need to chill.  She told me about her last day of popping backs before her maternity leave a few years ago.  She knew it was time to go when clients told her about their back problems and all she could think was:  You think YOUR back hurts?  I'm eight months pregnant here, buddy!

I want to retire to the cave-like clutter of my attic eves.  My husband and son can come with me, and we can unearth treasures like children in a junkyard of discarded toys.  I want to leave my office abandoned, let the spiders weave their webs between binders on my bookshelf, and my paperwork  pile up to the ceiling, sniffling in sudden neglect.

I want to come home.  I want to prepare my nest.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Bits and Bame-ing

My brain is skitter-scattered, and I hop from one train of thought to another.  It's hard to finish anything.  I have five weeks left at work, and I need them to prepare for my three months out.  My doctor said yesterday that we should hope I go into labor naturally at 37 weeks for my best chance at a successful VBAC.  That would mean two weeks left at work.  If I could focus for those two, I might complete five weeks worth of planning and preparation.  The aching in my knees gets in the way of my focus.  So do thoughts of my attic.  And daydreams of Christmas trees.  I have little desire to focus, or finish, even though things are lining up, piling up, begging to be done.  I finish novels and naps, and books with my boy.  I finish bathtime and bedtime, but we are often running late.  And then again in the morning: running late.

If my daughter runs late, they want to open me up and fetch her from my womb.  I try to balance all the medical information, but I'm easily distracted, and I've read it all before, and there are no real answers there.  I find myself wondering: is that rude?  To slice right in and fetch her just because she's running a little late?  I wouldn't appreciate it.  Then again, I didn't appreciate it when my son decided to burrow in and remain in my belly for nine extra days.  I didn't hold it against him because --being unborn-- he hadn't yet learned about overstaying one's welcome, but clearly it's a lesson we'll need to review at an age appropriate time.

I had a dream I had a baby boy.  As soon as he was born he knew how to run, throw and bang.  He had my long hair, which made him look like a tiny rock star.  He threw toys everywhere: at me, in the fireplace, on the floor.  He was a little bit scary, actually.  A newborn with toddler capabilities and desires.  I woke up relieved I'm having a girl.  Not that she'll refrain from running, throwing and banging, but she won't be the dream baby, that destructive rock star, and for that I'm relieved.

My son's personality continues to change before my eyes.  He's developing the kind of characteristics that make people look at him and say: that one's all boy.  Throwing and banging are currently high on his priority list, and I'm trying to entice him to pound on my back and shoulders, although he hasn't entirely bought into this plan yet.  He plays with verbs and verb tense all the time too.  I tumbled.  I dumbled.  I dumbaded.  I dommed down.  I dommded down on the floor.  I banged.  I bammed.  I boomed.  I bamed.  I bameded.  I bameded Mommy!

Ouch!  No more bame-ing, I say.  I don't know precisely what bame-ing is, but I don't want any more of it on my head.  No bame-ing Mommy in the head.  That hurts.  You can bame and pound on my back if you want.  But you need to be gentle with my head.

The doctors seem less and less VBAC happy with each appointment.  They don't want me to go past my due date.  And did they mention my slim chances of success?  And oh!  Look at the increased risks to our lives and well-being if I try and fail.  There are numbers, and the numbers look worse every time.  But there are other numbers they aren't reciting, and those numbers tell a different story.  And then the fact that all the numbers in the world can't tell one woman's story. 

What do I do?  What do I decide?  I told you, my brain is skittery, and my thoughts are slippery.  They don't stay in my head.  Also, my knees ache, especially the left one.  Is there anything you can do about that?  No?  Then how can I be expected to juggle all these numbers and come to a conclusion?  My knee aches something awful, and my attic is a mess.  It needs to be organized.  Doctor, can you offer me something for attic organization?  No?  Would you like to hear about my Christmas tree?  It's going to be beautiful!  The numbers will have to wait.  Why are you always bame-ing me in the head with these numbers?

In another dream I drove a monster truck and had a pet bear.  We cut through someone's house, and my monster truck got stuck in their hallway and I had to abandon it and travel by foot.  But they had a pet gorilla who began to chase me.  My bear hightailed it out of there, and I was so pregnant, racing through the city streets with the gorilla hot on my tail.  I woke up breathless.

Birth seems like the perfect time to let go of the illusion of control.  I have a voice in my head that says: you create your own reality with your thoughts.  You need to BELIEVE you can do this, and WILL it into being!  Another voice responds:  That's both silly and arrogant.  Sit down and be quiet.  Give it to God.  Let go.

And the numbers float in and out of my daydreams, hanging on my Christmas tree, gathering in the boxes in my attic, poking me in the knees with their perpetual ache.  And in my dreams I have rock star babies with personalities too big to manage, and monster trucks and pet bears and gorillas out to get me.  How can a woman possibly juggle numbers, or complete lists of tasks on a teacher checklist, or make a life and death decision about one's daughter with all these distractions?  I wonder if they'll understand if I just explain how the distractions are constantly bame-ing me.

I'm sorry doctor/ supervisor/ State Department of Education.  I was not able to complete the tasks you entrusted me with.  You see, I've been bamed in the head with all manner of distractions.  What's bamed, you ask.  Well, I think that's a perfect example of the type of distraction I'm talking about.  Let's talk about the word bame.  What does it mean to you?  If you're not the type to define your own words, then perhaps you'd like to hear about my pet bear instead.  He rides beside me in my monster truck.  I think it's clear I'm going to need an indefinite extension on those responsibilities.  Might I recommend a pile of novels while you wait?  A lovely afternoon nap?  A life and death decision to ponder while you rest?  Just relax right here, and try not to bame each other in the head.  Be gentle, authority figures.  Just be gentle while you wait.  All this bame-ing me in the head isn't helping anyone at all.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Strange Fruit

There is a story here.  It's a story about death, and birth, and the swelling of fruit and bellies, and the decay of flesh, of everything that lives and dies and settles back into the earth for another round.  It's the story of the day last week when my last remaining grandparent --my father's mother-- died, and both my parents became orphans.  It's the story of three sisters at a funeral with babies growing in their bellies, one of whom is still a whisper yet to be spoken aloud.  It's the story of an apple tree bearing fruit right outside a wake where the rosary is recited, a two year old boy who buries himself in leaves while the woman inside waits for her own burial, flesh painted like a poor rendition of a song that will never measure up to the original.  It's a story about family, about the things that divide us and bring us together.  A story about hope and regret, and the passage of time and distance, minutes that become hours, and days that become years, steps that become miles and seemingly small spaces that become insurmountable.  There is a story here.  I'm just not sure how it goes yet.  Perhaps if I had tasted the apple instead of taking a photograph ... perhaps I would know the words by now.  Or maybe I'd be banished.  Maybe I'm still in Eden.  Perhaps I'll never know the words.  Perhaps that's for the best.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Freedom Reigns

I'm not sure whether to be amused, appalled, or impressed by my two year old's growing independence.  As a baby, he was a cheerful, social little thing who would seek the attention of strangers and bestow upon them the sunniest of gummy baby smiles.  By the time his first birthday rolled around he had developed a keen case of stranger danger, and has remained relatively clingy and Mama-centric ever since.  While this is occasionally tiring, it seems to me that all kids have ways in which they are easy and ways in which they are difficult.  All things considered, having a shy child who hides his face in handfuls of my hair and responds to friendly overtures with a mumbled Iwantmommy isn't that difficult to deal with.  Keep in mind that I work with toddlers who occasionally call me a bitch and belt me in the face.  It offers perspective.

Recently my son has begun to break out of his shell.  Fortunately, he hasn't made the leap to face belting or calling anyone a bitch (at least, not to my knowledge!), but he is definitely developing -or perhaps returning to- a social side of his personality, and in conjunction an independence, defiance, and sheer bossiness I haven't seen before.  Sometimes it's amusing; occasionally it's appalling.  And at times I find myself impressed with this sudden display of chutzpah.

We were playing in the backyard the other day and I stepped into the kitchen for a moment.  While I was inside, the neighbors let their large dog out, and he ran up to the fence just a few feet from my boy, jumping and barking furiously.  As I stepped from the kitchen into the hallway leading out to the deck, I heard my son reprimanding the huge dog in an even bigger -and bossier- voice:  Doggy!  No barking!  I said no barking!  I tell my Mommy!  He turned to the door and addressed me in the same domineering tone:  Mommy, get out here!  I tell that doggy no barking!  He turned back to see the dog bounding away from the fence and calmly finished his lecture:  I tell that doggy be quiet and he runned away.  Very self-satisfied, but it was clear he expected no less.  His Royal Highness, the Tyrant of Two, had spoken.  Even large dogs are expected to stop their barks when the Tyrant of Two gives his orders.

*  *  *  *  *

I took my son with me to work last week.  The morning was surprisingly productive and we had a pleasant time playing together in the toddler classroom.  Things were going so well I decided to make an appointment at the Teacher's Center to laminate a pile of curricular materials that had been piling up since the start of fall.  We arrived and the laminator hadn't finished heating up.  The room we waited in was surrounded by offices, most of them with open doors and empty desks, oh-so tempting for a toddler!  He would approach an open doorway and look to me, eyebrows slightly raised and the start of a mischievous smile on his lips, waiting for the warning he knew I would repeat each time:  Stay in this room, sweetie.  You can look, but don't go through the door.

Then he would place a hand on either side of the door frame and leeeaaan into the office, belly protruding through the doorway, back arched, up on his toes, coming as close as he could to entering the office without actually doing so.  If I said his name in a warning tone, he would respond evenly, without altering his precarious position in the slightest:  Mommy, I just yooking!  I not going.  Content only on the razor's edge of being right, parsing the language in his retort until the truth becomes exactly what he wants it to be.  Part of my brain was saying:  For God's sakes, kid, just stay out of these stranger's offices so we can laminate this crap and go home!  And another part couldn't help but take a step back and say:  True, child, true.  And if you can use language so that what you want becomes the truth, well, the world is your oyster.  Well done, ya little punk!

*  *  *  *  *

I've had the displeasure of reviewing a motley collection of parenting literature recently featuring the following commonality: deep admiration for authoritarian discipline.  It would never work for me.  Philosophically, I'm opposed to it, and personally, I admire the spirit of defiance, the magic of chaos, the messy potential and slightly scary surrender to freedom that children display in their play far too much to even desire authoritarian control over it, or them.

A recent question raised by one of these so-called parenting experts at a conference I attended was this:  How many of you want -more than anything- for your child to obey you immediately and without argument?  My hand remained in my lap.  Really?  More than anything?  I sit without judgement in the presence of parents who have no idea how to discipline without the use of a sharp smack, but in the presence of an "expert" who holds blind obedience as the highest of parenting ideals, I can't help but sniff like a snob with my eyebrows raised in disdain and think:  What a terrible poverty of imagination.  Give me literal poverty over this any day.

There are any number of things I can think of wanting more than the quick, unthinking obedience of my offspring.  I'd take a half hour of simple gastronomic pleasure, a smoky glass of Malbec and a small plate of shrimp with cocktail sauce over a lifetime of lobotomized children, trained simply to make my life easier, or neater, or whatever it is that obedience -that most overrated of virtues in my book- is supposed to offer.  If I strive to keep my possessions simple, my house neat (which, admittedly, I do halfheartedly in any case), it's only so there's room for minds, hearts, imaginations, to expand into the space, making all the mess they want.
*  *  *  *  *

Two years ago, I'm driving.  I have a newborn baby in the carseat and NPR on the dial.  I hear a radio show, and it says the best way to prevent your child from becoming an eventual smoker is to ensure that they never, ever take that very first puff.  I look in my rearview mirror and see my brand new baby reflected in the safety mirror I later learn is not so safe at all, being that it can break the baby's nose on impact, in the case of a collision.  His cheeks are so fat they protrude on both sides as he shoves his hands in his mouth, gumming his fingers like they're teething toys, drool glistening like sunlight hitting a drop of morning dew.  My love for him sparkles like glistening drool.  I turn down the volume on the radio and speak to my infant son:

Oh sweetie, I say, you will probably try a cigarette someday.  You'll hold it clumsy between your too-young fingers and if you figure out how to inhale, you'll nearly cough your lungs out as you exhale.  And if you never, ever want even a drag of a cigarette, I hope -and I'll help- you have the confidence of your own convictions.  When you know what you want, it's not nearly as difficult as the world will tell you to stick to your own guns.  Pressure from peers, and media, and our culture exists, sure, but you know what, kiddo?  You can be stronger than that.  You are stronger than that!

You know what else?  You might want a drag of a cigarette someday.  You might find yourself in an alley at dusk, under the glowing light of a streetlamp.  Maybe there's a drizzling rain, and a girl with a Marlboro between her fingers.  She cups her hand over the flame from the lighter and when her eyes rise to meet yours, smoke trails up around her face, and you find your fingers reaching out toward her mouth and you pluck the cigarette from her lips and with your eyes locked to hers, turn it around, place it between your own, and inhale.

Now if that's your first time, you'll go on to choke, sputter and spit like water just went down your windpipe.  The girl might laugh.  Can you blame her?  But sweetie?  You will survive this.  One drag of a cigarette?  Will not ruin you.  You, my dear baby boy, you are powerful beyond measure.  No single cigarette, let alone a dismal drag, can take you down.  As your mother, I'm telling you:  If you want one, go ahead and have one.  Life is dangerous.  None of us survives it.  And sweet baby, we all have more power in the tips of our pinky fingers than a cigarette has in it's smoky spark, even under the glow of a streetlamp, even in the dusky haze of a drizzling rain.

*  *  *  *  *

The house where my son goes each weekday for babysitting has a very long driveway.  When we come outside in the afternoon to get into the car, he has recently taken to running away.  It's not a safety issue; it's a private drive the length of a football field at the end of a dead end street with little traffic.  But this is the point in the day when my energy level begins to wane.  My workday is done and I'm rushing home to have lunch.  My arms are loaded down with bags and the bottom of my belly is sore with the weight of my daughter's head.  My lower back and hips -while no longer in pain, thanks to the weekly administrations of my chiropractor- remain loose enough to ensure that I waddle more often and easily than I walk.

I do not want my son to scurry down the driveway each day, laughing like a loon, head half-turned to gauge my response, tongue hanging out like a dog in the back of a moving pick-up.  My life would be easier, neater, in those moments each afternoon if I chose to prioritize obedience.  If I shut down the daily scurry before it began, prevented the loon-like laughter, the half-turned head, the tongue freed from its mouth to permit the cackle that escapes across the blacktop as he flees, yelling:  I wun away!  I wun away fwom Mommy!  Mommy gonna gitchoo!  I smile as I sigh, toss the bags into the car, and gather my strength.  I take my growing desire for lunch, the pressure of my daughter's weight on my internal organs, any lingering frustrations left over from my work day, and channel them into a growl, growing from deep in my chest and escaping across the space between myself and my racing boy:  MOMMY GONNA GITCHOO!!!

And I waddle his way, picking up speed as my growl grows into a roar.  We run together, eschewing obedience, ignoring easy, neat and sensible, fleeing toward freedom, laughing like loons every leap of the way.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fighting Fire With Prayer and Poetry

Today, before my husband woke up, breakfast was made.  The boy was fed and read to.  The house was cleaned and tidied.  The weekly menu was planned and written on the chalkboard.  The bills were paid and the budgeting was done.  Hot coffee was waiting in the pot.

Shortly after my husband woke up, my body began to whisper, urgently: slow down, slow down.  I heard it.  I acknowledged that it had spoken.  Then I ignored it.  We went to the Farmer's Market, like we do every Saturday, and I asked my son: stroller or walk?  He chose walk, which meant run, and so while my husband poked and prodded the produce and purchased our weekly supply of staples, I morphed from mother to coach (which is especially amusing considering if sports in their entirety disappeared from the face of the earth overnight, it might well be years before I noticed).   

Eyes ahead!  Watch for people!  Follow the white lines!  Okay, slow it down!  No crashing the people!  NO CRASHING THE PEOPLE!!!  We're working on this incredibly specialized sport-specific skill called watching where you're going.  It's handy when sprinting.  He's not quite there yet.  The Saturday Farmer's Market is like a grueling battle against a particularly tough team of rivals.  Multiple times, in order to avoid certain collision, I was required to intervene by tossing my little speed racer up onto my shoulders and containing him there until we passed through a danger zone.

We got in the car to come home, and my body was no longer whispering.  It fairly shrieked:  STOP already!  I listened, mostly.  There was lunchtime to get through, and naptime for the boy, and then I napped.  And woke up with a soreness more suited to a player the day after a bruising game of tackle football than the fat bellied coach I'd spent the morning impersonating.  I tried to relax in the evening, I really did, but after sitting with the television on for two hours and another hour to go until the little one's bedtime I could stand it no longer.  We went out for a walk in the dark.  Up the hill, and down the hill, and up the hill and down the hill, and this is the only way to walk in my neighborhood because we live on a hill.  And have I mentioned how steep that bad boy is?

I am sore, and hurting, and still smarting at the truth of the lecture my husband gave me when I got back inside and collapsed on the couch, about how I have to slow it down, and how I shouldn't be lifting my boy so much.  He's not the first person to tell me this and  I. do. not. want. to. hear. it.  Yes, my shoulders are burning, and my back is throbbing, and I am busy being a stubborn, bitter bitch about it.  You can see how well my yoga instructor skills are serving me now.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Consider being slightly less of a stubborn, bitter bitch, why don't you?  Good, good.  That's the direction in which we need to move, dear.

Below is a poem.  I didn't write it today.  Oh, most certainly not.  I wrote it a number of years ago.  But I probably need to read it today.  Perhaps I need to read it a few times over, repeating lines like an incantation, reminding myself that life is long, and my body is a gift, like my children, including the child my body is so kindly carrying.  And like children who whisper, and are ignored, it will eventually shriek to get my attention.  I would not ignore my children until they were forced to shriek.  I should offer the same courtesy to myself.  And so I will fight the fire in my shoulders and spine, not with harsh words and recrimination, but with prayer and poetry.  Oh, and biofreeze and an ice pack.  Even prayer and poetry appreciate a little practical assistance every once in a while.


My body is
this whole world
is my body.
Limbs stretch out like rivers;
fingers, tributaries;
toe-ponds resting at the bottom of
my sand colored skin.
Breasts like mountains,
pink snow capping
nipple buttes.
An explorer looking down could see
a vast prairie of belly,
navel looping down like
a river whirlpool.
My callused heels
are old volcanoes
crusted over with lava,
now layers of igneous rock,
and my back is testy territory,
that fault line spine
running up it.
My thighs are tree trunks
in some ancient forest,
where the sun of love peeks through
to unfold a blossoming flower.
Waking is the shift of the earth’s plates
deep beneath the surface.
Sleeping is the ocean
on a windless night.
Orgasm an earthquake,
Death a gradual erosion of my soil.
Thank-you Lord for giving me this body.
Thank-you Lord for giving me this woman
that is me. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Close Call

I woke up early this morning, and had everything prepared and packed before my son even began to stir, which is unusual for me, especially lately since my stiff back has me moving slowly in the early mornings.  I walked into my son's room and found him curled up on his side, still wrapped in his blanket, snoring.  He snores when his nose is stuffed up, which it has been the past few days, and he didn't wake up to my presence beside his crib, which is also unusual.  I didn't have the heart to wake him right away, seeing him sound asleep like that, so I puttered quietly around his room, packing extra diapers and wipes in his bag, and choosing an outfit to send with him to the sitter for the day.

When he did wake up, a few minutes later, he was sobbing.  I got him from his crib, and the poor kid was inconsolable.  His nose was still stuffy and he was slightly warm, but didn't seem to be sick other than that, and his two year molars have been giving him grief on and off for a couple months now, so I thought maybe it was that.  It took me forever to calm him.  He didn't want his diaper changed, or his teeth brushed, or to be put down for even the moment it would take me to pick up his shoes or his sippy cup of water.  Despite my early start to the morning, we were ten minutes late by the time I was strapping him into his carseat.  And then the sirens started.

I had carried him out to the car, but left my keys and all our bags inside, because he was so insistent about not wanting to be put down, and I couldn't carry everything at once.  So I was texting the sitter to let her know we were running late, and explaining what the siren sound was, and debating whether to leave the car door open or closed while I ran back in the house to grab our bags (it was chilly out, and I couldn't tell if he'd be more comfortable closed up in the cold car or with the door wide open), and I was distracted and not really processing what was happening except, damn, that siren was getting awfully loud; maybe I should shut the door, does the noise seem to be scaring him? but no, not really, let me just get these bags and my keys so we can go, and by the time I got back to the car with everything we needed for the day the siren was silent, and we were fifteen minutes late by that point and so we set out on our way.

We drove up the hill, turned left, and then right at the stop sign, like we always do, and the intersection ahead was completely obstructed by a huge fire truck, and behind that I could just make out the blackened frame of a car that looked as if it had just recently been completely engulfed in flames.  It all happened quickly, and we were so late, and I immediately began to reverse back around the corner to the stop sign so I could turn left this time and take an alternate route, that all I really remember is that the car was all black and grey, almost like an old movie made before technicolor, except that it was just the car that looked this way, nothing else around it, and somehow it had burned itself back into black and white.

We did the stop at the sitter's, and I left her the tylenol and instructions to text me if it seemed like he was sick instead of teething, and then I drove to a conference and spent all day immersed in a tool used to assess parenting skills.  It was a busy day examining the research behind the instrument, and how we can use data to drive curriculum from rubrics describing four scales and fifteen subscales measuring various abilities related to literacy instruction.  I went right from work to the chiropractor's office where I was promptly scolded for overdoing it after my appointment on Monday and told to lie down with my feet elevated and ice on my back for the rest of the evening.

I arrived home just before my husband, who picked up our son today since I had the full day conference followed by the chiropractic appointment.  I did my best to lie down and still play with my boy, letting him crawl on me as long as it didn't hurt too badly, and reading book after book.  My husband was kind enough to do bathtime and then the bedtime routine so I could continue to ice my back, but after he left our boy's room the little guy began to cry for Mama.  I'm usually the one who does bedtime and it broke my heart to hear my boy cry for me on my night off, so I hobbled in, and cuddled with him in the big armchair rocker by the crib for a few songs from the lullaby CD.

It had been such a busy day, and so mentally demanding, that I had hardly taken a moment to think until I settled into that rocking chair, kicking up the feet so as to stay as close as I could to the doctor's recommended position and relieve the back pain that kicks into gear whenever I sit.  And so it wasn't until this evening that I replayed the morning's events in my head and realized: we heard those sirens ten minutes after we should have been crossing that intersection.  Our car was supposed to be right where I saw that black and white movie of a car, except that it wasn't a movie.  It was a car, belonging to a person, and it had burned up until I couldn't tell what color it was supposed to be.  I don't know what happened to the person, or people, who were inside the car.  I don't know if anyone was hurt.  I only know that we should have been crossing that intersection shortly before the sirens began to blare this morning.  And that we weren't.

My heart began to beat harder in my chest while my daughter kicked a beat against my bladder like a little hamster running on a wheel, and my son shifted in the crook of my arm, adjusting and readjusting his blanket and snuffling his still stuffy nose.  I pulled him closer to me and nuzzled the top of his head, while my other hand moved to my belly to feel my daughter's crazy kicks.  Oh baby, I murmured into the top of his head, thank God you cried this morning.  Thank God you made us late.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One More Day

They really trick you with those three day weekends, don't they?  Every Sunday I find myself saying: if I only had one more day...  And then I get one more day, and decide it would be a perfect weekend to finally paint the hallway.  We bought three samples back in May, slapped them on the wall, gave ourselves a week to choose, and even planned the weekend to make it easy.  I would take the toddler to my Mom's house; she was overdue for a visit anyway, and my husband would take a day to paint the hallway in peace, without battling a small boy for dominance of the whole middle of the house (the hallway in question separates the living room, where we do most of our living, from the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, where we do need to go on a fairly regular basis).

Then we didn't like any of the samples, so we skipped the painting that weekend.  We uploaded photos of the hallway into paint-store websites and compared shades.  Found a few we loved, and bought more samples.  Our hallway began to resemble a poorly made quilt, while the shades on the wall bore scant resemblance to the online photos.  Summer came, and if you read anything I wrote here all summer long, you know we were far too busy doing nothing to accomplish a single damn thing, and so we drifted through our patchwork existence with only the vaguest plans to eventually finish the hallway.

In the end, we settled on one of the original colors.  We could have finished the room in May!  But then where would that leave October, bereft of any extra work on its one and only three day weekend?  So in these three days the hallway was painted, and an endless amount of laundry was done (but not folded or put away.  It's still in baskets on the desk in the dining room if you're interested.  I'll love you forever.), and ditto for the neverending pile of dirty dishes (done, but left to dry piled on the kitchen countertop), but somehow on Monday night, I still found myself saying: if I only had one more day...

That extra day is an illusion, isn't it?  It's just an idea.  The Day Where Everything Gets Done.  You can't find it on a calendar anymore than you can find NeverNeverLand on a map, or the Fountain of Youth in Florida.  But I've always believed that some magic is real.  For example, it now appears predestined that my hallway was not painted until October.  And if you're feeling anything like Linus this Halloween, come on over.

This just might be the year the Great Pumpkin finally makes an appearance.  We've got the space all decked out in it's finest October glory!  This room might not have impressed me as much in May, but as the weather gets cooler outside and we prepare to hibernate indoors for many long months, I love that we went bold, and warm, and a little wilder than we usually do, with our safe greys and pale beiges.  Here is our finally finished hallway:

Now if only I had one more day, I could fold and put away all that laundry...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gestational Update

I just returned from my third prenatal chiropractic visit, and I think once the stiffness wears off (I'm always a little stiff for a few hours after the visit), I will be pain free. I was significantly better after the first visit, and almost all better after the second. She's like a miracle worker! I'm sure in a few days I'll begin to take for granted that I can sit, stand and walk without pain, but for now it's still an amazing ability! She also showed me a model of the spine and pelvis, and how these adjustments will make a VBAC more likely. The shape of my pelvis had twisted from a circle to an oval, with one hip significantly higher than the other. In addition, my spine was over-extended, and blocking the pelvic opening, so had I gone into labor that way, I would have ended up with back labor when her head bumped into my spine, and a less likely chance of her circular head fitting through my oval pelvic opening for a successful vaginal delivery.

Speaking of the VBAC, I got some bad news at my last appointment. The latest doctor I met with (I'm rotating through the practice, and it seems to be a rather large practice, so I meet someone new each time) told me that the success rate for VBACs ranges from 30%-70%. Because of the circumstances of my last birth, I'm starting off at the low end of that spectrum, with a 30% likelihood of success.  Specifically, because there was no precipitating event leading to the c-section that we can point to and say "well, if this doesn't happen again..."  With my first birth, the baby was head down, not breech.  I got to 10 centimeters, and didn't get stuck along the way.  I pushed for 2 hours, and made no progress.  He was never in distress.  I didn't gain an excessive amount of weight (35 pounds), "causing" him to be big.  My husband was over 10 pounds at birth.  My mother had 6 c-sections because her pelvis is too small.  The doctor kindly told me "you did everything right, and it just...didn't work".

While it's always nice to be told that you did everything right, given the context, it was unwelcome news.  I cried in the car on the highway coming home.  But then I thought it over, and decided: a 9 pound, 15 ounce baby IS a precipitating event!  I can point right to that and say "well, if this doesn't happen again..."  They want to give me extra sonograms near the end to see how big she looks.  If she's over 9 pounds at 38 or 39 weeks, they would prefer I agree to a scheduled c-section on my due date.  This led to a long conversation with my husband, who asked me: why do you want to have a VBAC?

I thought it over, and told him it's the same reason I always imagine that my father goes to church.  It seems like the right thing to do.  Deep in my heart of hearts, am I personally passionate about having a VBAC?  Not particularly.  But it seems like I ought to at least try.  I've never heard my father express any feelings of deep, personal connection to the Roman Catholic church.  That's not to say he doesn't have them;  I can't speak for him in that regard.  But I always imagine he attends church in much the same way one puts the salad fork on the outside of the dinner fork.  It's just the way things are done, and you ought to at least try to do things that way.  I try to exercise, recycle, and buy organic food when I can.  I know these are the right things to do, mostly because I've read about them.  Other than exercise, which has grown meaningful to me over years of practice, none of these things excite my passion.  But I do them nonetheless, because I feel like I should.  And I guess that's how I feel about a VBAC too.

In the meantime, there is nothing much to be done except to continue along the same path: eat well, exercise, go to my chiropractic visits, and keep up my verbal suggestions to my growing daughter:  6 pounds, baby girl, c'mon, 6 pounds, you can do it!  I promise to stop berating her about her weight as soon as she's born, but in the meantime she's off the white carbohydrates.  And there's another example!  Whole grains.  Tough to give a damn about them, but they're just the right thing to do.  And in the end, once she's in my arms, whether she slithers through my loosey goosey pelvis or is pulled through a precise slit in my stomach, so long as we're both in decent shape when she gets here, I will be grateful.  My dad has long told me: sometimes you just do the best you can.  And so I will.  And that will have to be enough.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I imagine it like a commercial.

It starts off with a montage of peaceful pregnancy shots: soft lighting, smiling women with gently rounded bellies in gorgeous homes, or moving in slow motion through flowered fields in perfect weather, maybe even a long french braid on the type of woman who can carry it off and still look like a supermodel, rather than a fundamentalist Mormon.  I'm imagining fundamentalist Mormons don't test well in commercial focus groups.

How many times I've thought in the past few weeks alone: One on my belly, and one in my lap, and I couldn't be happier.  She kicks when she hears her brother's voice, and I'm so full of joy I can scarcely breathe.

They'll have to get someone from advertising to punch up that slogan though.  It might be how I feel, but it doesn't sound like it will sell.

Then, like a TV ad for a rugged pick up truck, you'll hear brakes squealing over all the glowing gorgeousness and a loud, snarky voice over interrupts, and right away you can tell it's reality intruding into this perfect dream.

Reality, right now, is that my body has produced so much of that wonderful hormone, relaxin, which does exactly what the name promises, and relaxes the ligaments, especially around the pelvis, that my pelvis is looser than Elvis's.  So loose, in fact, that I have to watch out so my hips don't pop out of their sockets.  So loose that sitting quickly goes from uncomfortable to downright torturous because the hips want to spread out in the seat and don't have any sense of when to stop.  I spent the last two days in a conference that required sitting down all day long, and while it was incredibly interesting and valuable information, I know that what I will remember most about it is the agony of my lower back, butt and hips while I hobbled in the hallways between sessions trying to relieve the pain.

My happy, easy pregnancy has taken a sudden turn for the terrible.

Fortunately, I go to the doctor tomorrow, and I'm hoping for a remedy.  A friend told me this morning that she had the same affliction with her pregnancy and twice weekly chiropractic visits eliminated the pain within a week (although the treatment continued for a month).  She was also given a hip harness to wear, which I've read about, and is supposed to hold your hips in place, since the ligaments no longer have any interest in the job, being so relaxed and all.

I can only hope this means I'm a prime candidate for a successful VBAC.  If my hips can't be bothered to hold my legs in place, surely they're ready to slide to each side enough for a baby to fit through.

In the meantime, it feels as if I've been hit by that monster truck whose brakes were squealing right over the glowing gorgeousness of my previously perfect pregnancy.  That bastard broke my hips!  And my butt.  And the left side of my lower back.

So for now the ad ends with my hobbling about, and occasionally letting out a gasp of pain, perhaps a whimper when it gets really bad.  Yes, I know that's pretty much a terrible ending.  And I haven't even managed to figure out what I'm selling, let alone convince anyone to buy anything.

I knew there was a reason I never went into advertising.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Outrage, Determination, and Faith

Three of my facebook friends posted the same link over a period of a few weeks.  I got a very vague idea of the content by the comments on the first post, and I didn't bother to click and read it.  Second time, same story.  The first two friends were people I really like and admire.  I wasn't in the mood to ponder our differing political philosophies.  The third time was weeks later.  This time it was the sibling of an old high school friend.  I barely know her.  For some reason, when she posted it this past Sunday morning, I clicked on the link.

It was a letter to Obama, or the Administration, or someone in Washington, the exact details escape me.  Written by an emergency room doctor, it told the story of a woman without healthcare who could afford cigarettes, fast food and a gold tooth.  Based on this single interaction, the author suggested that rather than a healthcare problem, we have a culture problem.

The Culture of Poverty.


Where do I begin?

* * *
I found myself furious, sick to my stomach mad, swinging punches and sneering lips and everything I had to say came out in a hiss.  It was all fuck you and fuck this and fuck that, bare feet stomping on the hardwood floors while my husband slept peacefully in our bedroom and my toddler played trucks, bathed in the warm sunlight from the bay windows.  I argued with imaginary critics; I got all up in the faces of the smug and sanctimonious; I lectured like a pissed off college professor in a class full of freshman I wanted to cow; I sighed heavily and explained things laboriously in my most earnest imaginary voice; I threw my hands in the air and gave up, too disgusted to bother; I thundered my righteous judgment down on anyone who dared to disagree with me.

I muttered under my breath while pacing in my pajamas, making emphatic hand gestures that no one -save my child- saw, and no one understood.

* * *
I sit with "the culture of poverty" every day.  I teach parenting classes to (mostly) mothers and (some) fathers in poverty. I read the latest research, ask questions, listen, observe, theorize; I meditate on that shit when I wake up in the middle of the night.

I also come from a childhood of relative poverty.  I always say relative, now that I've been sitting with other people's poverty for all these years.  My poor is not someone else's poor.  But according to the federal guidelines, I qualified for free government lunch.  And because I had the mother I had, who made me sandwiches every morning although I was the oldest of six she had to care for, I never once had to eat it.

So I ask myself every day what poverty is, if there's a culture to it that offers any insight.  My whole life has been spent with one hand empty, and the other hand holding a book, trying to find out what it means to live in the richest country in the world, and still have people hungry.  I haven't ever stopped studying the subject.

And yet, I'm in no position to judge.  No position to make sweeping generalizations, even based on interactions with people I've known for years, people who share the most intimate details of their lives with me, people who trust me to hold their babies and their hands as they navigate circumstances you frankly can't imagine unless or until you have been there.

Or even then, oftentimes.

* * *
I have a tough crop of parents this fall.  We teach them: you are your child's first and best teacher.  But what happens if they don't want the job?  I find them sneaking out before parenting class, texting in the hallway when they're supposed to be teaching their lessons in the children's classrooms, coming up with a suspicious number of appointments requiring early dismissal already in the month of September.

Oh, it would be easy to demonize.  So nice to blame them; damn students don't want to learn.  So much nicer than stepping up my teaching efforts.  So very much nicer than catching them in the hallways with a smile, an open ended question to temporarily trap them, followed by a firm escort down to class while stubbornly continuing the conversation they would clearly prefer not to have, my demeanor too decidedly kind and oblivious for them to confront me, too much faith in their potential to let them slip out the door before I have a chance to peddle my medicine, even though they already think they know I've got nothing but snake oil.  So much nicer to place the blame than to overlook rolled eyes, repeat directions ignored the first time, strategize with my teaching team every day until I'm almost late to pick up my son, and repeatedly remind myself of the virtue of patience.

I don't do the authoritarian, big boss, my way or the highway thing.  It's not me, for one, and for two, I'm not here to force feed anybody anything.  This is not compulsory education.  This is people who ain't buyin' what I'm sellin'.  I take it back to the drawing board.  I step up my efforts at marketing.  I dig my heels deep into what I believe to be true, pull out every tried and true teaching trick in the book, work at it every day, and I wait.  And wait.  And wait.  I believe I will prevail.

I don't go to church on Sundays.  But I have faith so as to move mountains.

* * *
My husband awoke and asked me how my morning was.  I did not rant and rave; I did not rage against the dying of the light of intellect on my facebook page.  I spoke in measured tones, and I told him the story of my morning.  I calmly spoke my desires for fuck you and fuck this and fuck that, and in the open air of my kitchen over pancake batter in a big, glass bowl, the futility of the authoritarian, big boss, my way or the highway approach --even disguised as David rising up against Goliath, for don't we always cast ourselves in the role of David?-- revealed itself in the silly emptiness of my words spoken into the air instead of inside my head.

People believe all kinds of ugly untruths about human beings in poverty.  Sometimes we have to, in order to live with the status quo.  It's also very easy to judge that which you do not know.  And there are sometimes very ugly truths about human beings in poverty, just as there are about all of us.  The world is full of beauty, and still, we are savage beasts.  And time rolls on.

But none of that is really my concern.  I have to get back to work.  I have mountains to move.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dada and the Morning Dew

When we walk out to the car in the morning, the grass is frequently damp with morning dew.  A few weeks ago I told the toddler what it was called.  We haven't talked about it since.

Yesterday he commented that the grass and the car were both wet as I was buckling him into his carseat.  Do you remember what that's called?  I asked him, not really expecting that he would after a few weeks, and only having talked about it that once.

He screwed up his face in a look of concentration, and then announced:  Dew!  It's a morning dew!

I was so surprised and impressed that he remembered!  A few minutes later he told me:  Dada get up early.

Focused on the road, I murmured my agreement:  Mmmhmm, dada does get up early.  It didn't occur to me wonder about the seeming non sequitur.  He's two.  Non sequiturs are more or less par for the conversational course.

But in this case, he was still following the thread of our conversation, and solving one of the mysteries of his universe.  After another few moments, he announced triumphantly:  Dada get up early and get a hose to make a morning dew!  Dada put a morning dew on a car and a grass with a hose!

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Dog's Breakfast

My uncle once wrote a novel (unpublished) entitled A Dog's Breakfast.  The title referred to the messy variety of odds and ends that can compose a meal for a dog.  The story shared bits and pieces of a life that began in an Irish-Catholic family of ten, moved in and out of a stint in the seminary, and spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Africa, where he met a native woman who became his wife.  She now lives in Southern California, where she finished raising their three sons in his absence after he died of cancer a few years ago.  I read the novel in a makeshift office in an industrial wasteland where I served as secretary for an eccentric small business owner one summer home from college.  The job was such that I wore boxer shorts and tank tops to work every day, and never encountered another human being, outside of the business owner himself and a handful of confused coworkers, none of whom understood the nature of the business or the haphazard methods the man employed.  Some mornings the motley crew of us showed up outside the gates, waited awhile, and then went home when he failed to show up at all for the day.  When he did come to work, his office phone number was shared with his home, and the only person who ever called was the three year old friend of his daughter who lived next door to his family, to ask me every day:  Can you pwease open da gate so we can pway?  I had to explain each day that I wasn't at the house, and that she had to ask her mommy to take her over and knock on the door to play.  I had plenty of time to read my uncle's novel.  And today is a dog's breakfast sort of day in my mind.  Don't say I didn't warn you!


This pregnancy is so much easier than my last one!  Part of it is probably that I taught about fifteen hours a week of fitness classes last time, and pushed up against my limitations on a regular basis.  I do a lot less this time around, and don't feel particularly limited in my day-to-day life.  I'm just beginning to feel twinges of discomfort while moving about, and I'm entering my last trimester.  Also, I've gained as much weight in two trimesters this time as I did in my first last time!  I'm really hoping this is an indicator that my girl will be smaller than my boy.  I'm not hungry with the ferocity that I was last time, but it recently occurred to me that this could also be due to the fact that I'm not constantly working out either.  I'm trying to psyche myself up mentally for a VBAC, telling myself that I can do this, and that it will be easier than it was with my son.  But at the same time I'm trying to keep a certain sense of detachment from the birthing process itself.  It's a funny balance to try and strike!  Although I'd like a VBAC, my interest in the birth, and how it plays out, pales in comparison to my excitement about the baby.  Honestly, if she's healthy, I'll be happy no matter how she gets here.  It's a bonus that the pregnancy is relatively easy and stress free.


I fall more in love with my two year old every day. His personality is unfolding before our eyes, and I get a huge kick out of watching it happen.  I babysat a little friend of his this past weekend, another two year old boy, and they had a lot of fun together.  His friend is a louder, more exuberant child and it was a lot of fun to watch the two of them play.  We went to the park, and it was full of kids running and climbing on the playground.  Mu husband and I sat on a bench keeping an eye on the two boys in our care, surrounded by older children.  Suddenly I noticed my son standing off to the side in a funny looking position with his neck arched forward and his eyes on the sky.  What's he doing?  I asked my husband.  I don't know!  he replied, and we laughed together and agreed that he looked awfully silly standing there in his weird little stance while all the other kids whirl-winded around him.  After a minute or two he looked over at us and announced:  Lotsa clouds in da blue sky!  Then he slowly bent down to rub his fingers over the grass and told us:  And da grass a yittle bit wet!  He sat down, sunk his hands deeper into the damp grass and slowly rolled down on his spine until he was supine on the ground, looking back up into the cloudy sky.  Da clouds and da grass...  he murmured aloud in a voice full of marvel, and my heart filled up so fast it overflowed, spilling over the park like a tidal wave, drowning us all in a sunny, blue certainty that parenthood is the most beautiful thing ever, more marvelous even than the clouds and the grass.


Fall has fully arrived, no matter that the calendar might say not until tomorrow.  We're experiencing the busy bustle of the start of the school year, such a regular rhythm for a family of teachers.  I feel like we've really found our footing with the toddler, and our work, and the constant needs of the household.  The passing seasons are starting to develop their own rhythm in our family, and we're adjusting to that rhythm, figuring out how to move to it.  And waiting for our daughter's arrival in December: a delightful cog to toss in the wheel of our rhythmic progression!  I'm predicting that she will have to adapt to our family slightly more than my son had to.  As our first baby, we adapted entirely to him.  All our friends ended up leaving the city while I was pregnant, and then we moved into our new house with an eight week old, so we effectively started a new life with our baby boy, and his rhythms set our tempo.  Our daughter will be born into a slowly moving marching band.  It will be so interesting to see how all of us adapt.  I'm curious about her, and can't wait to meet her!  But in the meantime, fall is here, and I have this last season of harvest to work through, steady dawn to dusk tasks to prepare for the long coming winter.  Driving with the toddler each day we talk about the leaves changing: yellow, and orange, and red, and purple, and then they'll all fall down off the trees I tell him.  And then winter, and the baby comin'?  he asks.  Yes, little sweet.  Fall, and then winter, and then the baby, I say.  And so we watch the leaves begin to turn, and keep working on finding our footing, marching to our own little family rhythm, and marveling in the moments we have left, before fall goes, and everything changes again.