September 29, 2011

Girl Power!

"Need help," Gracie said, tugging me over to the toy box and pointing inside. "Need tac-tor."

Since the tractor was already in her hand, I deduced she wanted a driver for it. I asked, she confirmed, and I scooped two little people out of the box without paying much attention. Only after the driver was settled in the seat, and the extra person sitting happily in the wagon, did I look more closely to see that I had given my daughter two females.

Boo-Yah, that's right, girls can drive tractors too!






Wait, did I really just say boo-yah?


Growing up in farming land, it was never really that unusual for me to see girls on tractors. So it surprised me, this instinctive and vehement reaction. It had to be, I surmised, in response to having daughters, rather than being female myself. After all, I worked eight years shoulder-to-shoulder with the guys in the local hardware store, hauling freight and unloading trucks with the best of them. Dad taught my sister and me both to fish, to shoot a gun, to throw and catch a baseball (I hate softballs - they are so much bigger; it's nearly impossible to throw them well) ... at my grandparents' summer camp, all the grandkids would chip in with Gram and Grampie to haul brush away, all seven girls and the one lone boy cousin. My family moved to a fixer-upper house when I was nine, and since Dad worked all day, it was Mom, Lis and I who would tear down walls and help put up new sheetrock.

In other words, when you grow up without people throwing stupid ideas at your head about what girls (and boys) can and can't do, it's not too likely to feel violent feminist emotions on your own account.

But when people start making assumptions about my daughters, and trying to impress on them from birth that there are some things off-limits or unacceptable just because they are girls ... well, Mamma gets pissed.

"Be gentle!" one mom of boys chirped to her sons as they were playing with Joy. "Girls are fragile flowers."

"Oh, she's all girl," someone else will say about Joy, for no reason but that she's tiny with delicate features.

"Oh, girls run and scream and act crazy too?" a friend asked as we tried to talk on the phone, as her boys ran wild on her end, and my girls did the same on mine. (Another time, it was, "Girls put their underwear on their head too?")

"They like to play with trucks?" people will ask blankly, staring at their toy collection.

And it drives. me. nuts.

Why shouldn't they play with trucks? Who was the idiot who decided vehicles had to be for boys alone? Joy's latest fascination is with trains, while Grace, as mentioned above, is showing a bit of interest in tractors. And do people really expect that they are going to sit quietly and play softly all day long, simply by virtue of being girls? Aren't all kids supposed to run and shout and act free and crazy, isn't that just part of being a kid?

(This works the opposite direction, too, as I realized with something of a sad shock when I heard one mother worrying about the fact that her son would rather spend time cooking in the kitchen than playing war outside with his brothers.)

And yes, Joy also likes baby dolls and the color pink, and Grace is a darling snuggler who showers affection on everyone and everything in her vicinity, but that's awesome, too, that they are already so diverse, that Joy can like trains and dolls all at once, that Grace can be my crazy wild child and my sweet darling in the span of ten seconds. I want them to pursue anything and everything that interests them, to not succumb to societal pressures, to not be ashamed of "non-girly" interests, or even, on the other end, not to feel like they have to be embarrassed if they really do like pink or purple or sparkles. I want them to be their own person, regardless of what others think.

So yes, boo-yah to girls who drive tractors! As for their driving abilities ...



Well, the less said about that, perhaps, the better.

September 28, 2011

FYI: Your parents are cool(ish)

Because I am a loving parent (and also probably extremely overprotective), I haven't really had many nights out since Lulu was born. I live in fear of wearing out the few babysitters that are willing to watch our child for us. And I think I have PTSD from being separated from my baby for the first days, and weeks, of her life. So J.D. and I are the annoying people who take our kid everywhere with us, and haven't really had a proper date night since Lulu was born. We even took her with us to our anniversary dinner back in May.

But when J.D. told me that X, my favorite band of all time, was playing in Maryland on Monday night, and that there were tickets left, and that it might be fun to go, I carefully weighed the pros and cons of leaving my baby called my MIL and asked if we could dump Lulu's ass with her for the evening. How could I not take this opportunity? I listened to Wild Gift pretty exclusively from about 2003-2006; it was the only CD in my car for a while. I think at one point, it got stuck in my CD player, and that was fine by me, since it saved me the hassle of having to find it in the detritus on the passenger-side seat. Plus, everybody in the band is in their 60s. Who knows how many shows they have left?

So Monday night, we went. I put on real clothes (as opposed to yoga pants). I did (run a brush through) my hair. I put on MAKEUP (lipgloss counts), and EARRINGS and even perfume! We left the baby and a heap of her stuff with my in-laws. And J.D. and I drove to Annapolis, and we heard X play.

And! We talked about so many things on the ride there! Things that were not child-related. We talked about politics and home values and music and gossiped about people we know and it was SO QUIET. And yes, there were a few times when I looked back and saw the empty carseat and freaked out for half a second, thinking we had left the baby in the parking lot or on the roof of the car or something, but I soon calmed myself because THERE WAS NO CRYING and it was just so peaceful I couldn't help but relax.

This show was the strangest punk show that I have ever been to. Instead of being crammed in a basement or a sweaty room in a bar, we were seated at a table surrounded by a bunch of other tables in a pretty upscale restaurant. A waiter came by to take our drink orders and left carrying a tray of empty martini glasses. There was a list of specialty beers and available tapa-type appetizers and a bunch of people in business casual work clothes and I was the youngest person there by about 15 years, which is what happens when you like bands that rose to popularity before you born. We watched a documentary and then the band played through their most famous album, and then they played for another 45 minutes or so. Altogether, we were there for about two hours, and in those two hours, I listened and sang and talked and drank (iced tea) and generally had an AWESOME time.

A picture of the band, and also the pole that blocked half of my view of the stage. But it was a very upscale pole.

I had so much fun. I had forgotten what it was like to be able to give my whole attention to something without wiping up drool with one hand and calculating how long before I needed to breastfeed again in the back of my mind. Between sets, I went outside and bummed a smoke off of a young crust-punk and got into a very heated discussion with him about the definition of anarchy (lack of state, not lack of laws) and why Haiti is so f-ed up (corrupt government and deforestation). I quoted Thomas Jefferson and brought up the whole lawyer thing to make a point. And then I realized that zipper on my $14 Forever 21 jeans had been down the whole time and that I was possibly not as cool as I thought.

I slunk back into the venue and drank more iced tea and listened to Exene wail and watched Billy Zoom play the guitar, cool as a cucumber, and was happy when the band played my favorite one of their songs.

After the show, J.D. and I sat in a deserted park in the center of town and talked for a while. And then he stood up, and said we should probably get back. My first thought was, why? And then I remembered: the baby. For a minute, I felt like a bad mom, because I kind of...forgot. I had a picture of Lulu in my head, her blue eyes welling, missing me...when I'd been chugging iced tea and singing at the top of my lungs. How could I have wanted to be away from her? What if she needed me?

But then I got over it, and decided that going out and enjoying myself was the best thing I could have done for my child. Lulu, if you are reading this thirteen years from now, do not take this the wrong way, but right now, being your parent, while fun and often funny, is not always very intellectually stimulating. And you, like all babies, can be rather selfish in that I DO NOT CARE IF YOU ARE IN THE BATH, MAMA, I NEED TO EAT NOW. Tonight I got to recharge my batteries, and remind myself of who I am outside of you, and I can't share all the things I love about the world with you if I do not experience them and thus cannot recall exactly what they are.

Plus, if I had not gone away from you, I wouldn't have gotten to come back and experience tons of delicious baby smiles when you saw me again. That was pretty great.


Other things I learned tonight: pregnancy has robbed me of my iced tea tolerance, which was once pretty impressive. I think I spent about 30% of my night out going back and forth from my table to the bathroom. Luckily, it, too, was far more upscale than the bathrooms I am used to at these events. There was no drug use going on in there (that I could see). And no hanky-panky between people reeking of B.O. And there was one of those hand dryers that's so strong it moves the skin on your hands all around. FANCY!

September 27, 2011

Making mistakes

Last week, in conversation with J.D. and in front of our kid, I used a word, unthinkingly, to express frustration with a person in the service industry who was inconveniencing me. Total asshole move on my part. The thing is, later I realized this word is more than just a curse word, that it can be really hurtful to a lot of people. It's not something obvious, one of the words that is right at the top of the DO NOT USE list. It's one where you kind of have to think about why it's wrong. And thinking, that's something I don't do a lot of, obviously.

And once I realized what I had said, I was horrified. And disgusted with myself. I tried to apologize, and to soothe my guilty conscience, by donating money to an activist group. It didn't work. I still felt bad, and I realized that the only thing I could do to make myself feel better was either 1) hop in my Delorean and ride back to the past and NOT SAY IT, or 2, and more realistically) resolve to never do it again in the future and really watch myself.

But here's the thing: I thought I had been watching myself. And now I wonder: how many of these kinds of mistakes am I, as a mother, going to make? Mistakes that I don't even realize I have made until later, or mistakes I NEVER realize that I've made, where I sail blithely on, unawares, after leaving a lasting impression on Lulu's mind that THIS is bad, or THIS is wrong, even when I don't believe that myself?

I think the song from South Pacific is wrong. You don't have to be carefully taught, necessarily. Sometimes you just have to be carelessly taught.

How many mistakes have I made already? How can I undo them when I'm not even aware of what they are, where they happened? How can I live with the fact that I am going to fill this marvelous, beautiful, wonderful blank slate of a kid with neuroses and biases and ideas about the world that might be hurtful or just plain wrong? I chatter on unthinkingly and don't remember half of what I said as soon as I've said it. But I can't control what Lulu will remember and what she will discard. I can't control which phrases and ideas that she hears from me will stick with her, and shape her. I can only control myself, the things I say, the things I put out there.


And I'm not used to doing that. To looking inward, to weighing my words, thinking before I act. It feels like A LOT, you know? Too much responsibility. And it's turning out to be far more difficult than the responsibility you think about when you bring the kid home from the hospital, the feeding her, the keeping her alive.

I thought at first that the hard part of motherhood was the sleep deprivation, the blowout diapers, the fear your child will be hurt or lonely or worse. But I also thought that parenthood could be separated into two categories of important and less important events. That in the valleys between the peaks of important things, you could relax a little and enjoy yourself and not have to worry about it or try so hard.

I am starting to realize, now, that it's all important. Everything. There are no valleys. It all counts.

Tragedies, And How We Deal With Them

There was a lot of talk, around the eleventh of this month, about how to talk to your kids about tragedy, and when to start. I didn't pay that much attention to it, partially because I rather prefer to go case-by-case and deal with each thing separately and personally, instead of having one over-arching "method" for dealing with tragedy. And it was partially because my littles are so little that there hasn't seemed much need for preparing myself for this particular stage of motherhood yet.

Or so I thought, until last Sunday morning, when we were out to breakfast with my parents before church, and the older gentleman at the table behind us had a stroke.

It was a quiet stroke - since I was sitting with my back to their table, at first I thought it was just a gentleman with Alzheimer's out with his family. The daughter kept saying "Dad, it's time to go home now." Then there would be a pause, then she'd say again, "Dad, are you ready to go home?" Then the staff brought out a wheelchair, then my own father went over to ask if he could help (he knew the gentleman personally), and it slowly dawned on me that this was more than just Alzheimer's stubbornness.

(On a side note, "just" Alzheimer's stubbornness sounds ridiculous, when you think about what that entails. Which I do, all the time, thanks to my grandmother's condition.)

Eventually, they had to call 911, and the paramedics came and loaded him up on a gurney and carried him out to the ambulance. By that point, he was responding physically, squeezing their hands when they asked and even attempting to smile, though he wasn't speaking.

And my girls sat there through it all. By God's grace, Joy, who would have paid exquisitely close attention to it all and been very disturbed by it, was sitting next to me, and could only see bits and pieces out of the corner of her eye (thanks to our persistent reminders that turning one's head to stare at anyone is not polite). Grace could see it all, but she was more interested in the pond out the window than anything else. She pays attention to everything, too much of everything, to be affected much by any one thing.

So all I really had to do was explain to Joy that the funny-looking bed was for when people weren't feeling well enough to walk on their own, and they were taking the nice gentleman to a place where they would help him feel better. And she accepted that, and Grace was persuaded to not run over to try to climb on the gurney, and then the paramedics and the family left, and that was that.

Not a huge deal, not like someone died behind us, but still enough of a poignant reminder to me of the fragility of life, and the ever-hovering presence of tragedy. What would I have told them if it had been more dramatic, if it had been so noticeable even Grace couldn't remain oblivious? What will I tell them, in a year or two years or however much longer she holds on, when we have to go to Great-Grandma's funeral? How do you explain death, and sickness, and tragedies, and the cruelty of some aspects of life, to children who, thank God, have only ever known the beautiful side of this world?

Even more, how to explain the deliberate cruelty of some people, whether it be a schoolyard bully or a terrorist?

I'm not sure, yet. But I think I need to start figuring it out, at least how to break things down into a basic explanation that can be adapted to specific circumstances, lest the next time we confront the harsher realities of life, my children turn to me for answers, and I am left with nothing to say.

September 25, 2011

6 months

Photobucket

Likes:
  • Rolling from front to back
  • Physically abusing Captain Calamari
  • Eating solid food
  • Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Dislikes:
  • Rolling from back to front
  • Sleeping in
  • Long rides in the car

Happy half-birthday, Baby!

Love,

Your tired (but happy) Mama

September 24, 2011

Storytime



These pictures make me so happy.

That's all.

September 23, 2011

The question

A few months ago, people didn't dare to ask. Lulu was scrawny and bald-patchy and newborn-screamy. They would be insane to ask. But now that she's sleek and fat and so so so cute, they can't help themselves.

I don't blame them for asking. I like to think that my baby girl is so freaking ADORABLE and winsome and charming that people think it's my responsibility to bring more like her into the world. So these people--never family and friends, they know better--want to know:

When do you think you'll have another?

And I really don't know what to say.

I suppose I could tell them, these people in the park, the grocery story, these high school friends, these neighbors, about the one perfect week I had after seeing that positive pregnancy test before my pregnancy went entirely to shit. I could tell them about the half-dozen middle of the night ER visits in the first trimester alone, the blase faces of the doctors who told me that they really couldn't say whether my pregnancy would continue. Wait and see. My least favorite words in the English language. I could tell them about the horrible night in the ER at 8 weeks, when the triage nurse gave me detailed instructions on what to expect from the miscarriage she was sure was imminent. About the followup sonograms, laying on the table with my stomach in knots, hoping to see that little flickering heartbeat and being shocked and not shocked, each time, that it was still there.

I could tell them more than they wanted to know about slow-doubling HCG levels, progesterone suppositories, subchorionic hematomas. I could tell them about how I learned at a glance to tell whether the amount of blood on the toilet paper was "normal."

I could tell them about cervical insufficiency, about the thirteen weeks I spent in bed on my left side. I could tell them about the deep, soul-crushing boredom, the resentment, the two full seasons that I missed completely. About the crown I had to get on my upper back molar because nobody told me that spending 91 days with your hand propping up your jaw could put so much pressure on your teeth that they'd crack. How when I bought a pair of skinny jeans after Lulu's birth, I was so happy to fit into a smaller size than I'd worn before I was pregnant--until I realized that the only reason I could was because my leg muscles had atrophied from months of disuse.

I could tell these people who ask about how it felt to go into labor two months early, the prick of the needle as the nurses gave me steroids that would develop my baby's premature lungs. How there was talk of giving me magnesium, of keeping me in a weird twilight state between labor and delivery so that "the fetus" had more time to develop. How I panicked at the words HOSPITAL BEDREST, because as shitty as regular bedrest was, at least I could be at home with J.D. during it. I could tell them how the neonatal doctors came in to talk to me when it became apparent that I was having a baby that night, that it couldn't be put off, and how it felt when they used words like "ventilator" and "cerebral palsy." The long, long, long, long few seconds between pushing Lu out and hearing her finally give the squalling cry that meant that she could breathe.

How I got to hold her on my chest for thirty seconds before they took her away.

I could tell them about those two weeks in the NICU, the angry, jaundiced red color of my baby's skin, her skinny, skinny arms and legs, the IV in her HEAD. How she didn't have the energy to eat and lost so much weight--weight she didn't have to lose. How her heart rate plummeted and she stopped breathing when we tried to feed her. How it felt to leave the hospital with just J.D. I could talk about the visits to the hospital, four times a day, and then three after I nearly collapsed from exhaustion and hunger next to my daughter's isolette. About the baby in the isolette next to Lulu, who needed a machine to breathe, who looked more like a piece of fruit than an actual human being. He was Baby B Miller, a twin, and I couldn't see a Baby A, and to this day, I worry about where he was, what happened to him. I could expound for hours about the nurses whose kindness I still can't talk about without wanting to cry.

I could also go on and on about all the people who tried to "comfort" me by saying things like, "Well, at least you'll be able to catch up on sleep!" and "She's getting better care than you could give her," about the people who were upset about not being able to see the baby, and let me know how disappointed they were, like I had just decided not to let them come over today, like she wasn't hooked up to a bunch of monitors in the HOSPITAL. Like it was my fault.

I could tell them how I wonder to this day if it IS my fault, if there was something I could have done to make my pregnancy last longer. How I go back over those 33 weeks, trying to pinpoint the place where I did something that made her come earlier than she should have.

But then, on the other hand, I could tell them about how awesome it was to have Lulu inside of me, how every day I was pregnant felt like Christmas, full of the same excitement and promise. How I finally liked the way I looked, for the first time ever in my life, even though I couldn't see my toes or shave my legs. How I wonder what on earth I was doing with my life before I had her to fill my hours with smiles and coos and Lulu-ness.

I could tell them that we feel so complete, so perfect together, just the three of us. How I can't imagine loving anybody else that much, how when I do contemplate having another child, I feel a little sorry for those other kids of mine, because I know I will always love Lulu the most out of anybody on the planet, and nobody else--not even them--could possibly compare. How Lulu has made every moment I've ever been miserable in my life WORTH IT, because without them, I never would have gotten to meet her.

I could tell them how I can't imagine not doing this again.
But this all seems really TMI. Nobody wants to be that crazy lady talking about her cervix in the produce aisle.

So instead I just say I'm not sure.

September 22, 2011

You Know You're A Parent When ...

You spent two hours online hunting for old (not even that old! 2003 and 2007!) My Little Ponies, so your kids' toys can have the right names, instead of something made-up (even though the made-up name would be so much more imaginative - Butterscotch and Star Flower, really? That's the best they could do?).

You tell your children at 9:00 that they have to start getting ready for the chiropractor appointment at 4:30. And even so, you run late.

Apple crisp is perfectly legitimate for breakfast, thankyouverymuch. Apples and oats - what could be healthier?

Your kitchen sink can't be used for washing dishes because it has a sweater soaking out apple juice stains, and you can't use your bathroom sink to wash hands because it's full of wet underwear you haven't had time to wash yet.

"Good enough" becomes your mantra regarding family pictures.

This was our sixth or seventh take


You reheat your morning coffee five times, and finally give up and drink it cold (if you call it "iced," you can feel much better about this).

You step over Lego blocks so many times you stop seeing them, only remembering they are on the floor when an unsuspecting guest discovers one with her bare feet.

Your bedtime is 7:00; the kids' bedtime is 8:00.

A snuggle from your sleepy baby can make all of this fade into the background, and remind you of just how much you really do love these little monsters devils terrors darling children.


September 21, 2011

A weekend without Daddy

So J.D. went out of town this weekend. Note to friends and family: please stop getting married in cool faraway places. We are poor, and we have a baby that we can't take on a plane and who views the car as a torturemobile spiriting her toward her doom. Also, I do not like having the full yoke of parenting squarely on my shoulders. If J.D. ever leaves me with primary custody of the kid, I am going to have to join a cult just so that I have someone around to tell me when I am doing something stupid, like letting the baby have a taste of the fake butter goo in my bag of microwave popcorn.

So I went home to spend the weekend with my family. They are v. v. good at telling me when I'm doing something stupid, so I feel safe with them.

We had a busy weekend. We gave Lulu her first taste of solid food (not counting the popcorn goo).

It was funny. While she happily nommed the fake chemical butter sludge, she kind of acted like the organic bananas and carefully expressed breastmilk I fed to her, one fingerfull at a time, were poison of the rankest degree.


Those are tears in her eyes. TEARS for the saddest banana in the world.

After the first rush of crying, she seemed to start to warm up to the whole eating thing. But she didn't seem to enjoy it as much as you would think a baby who rocketed from the first percentile to the 85th percentile in weight in a mere four months would enjoy real, honest-to-goodness food.

My child: defying expectations since March 2011.

___________________________

We went to the beach! Because we are contrarians, my family, all of us, we saved our first beach visit of the year and the first of Lulu's entire life for a 60-degree day at the tail end of a rainy weekend in SEPTEMBER. The surf was rough and the beach was deserted, except for some people playing with their dog and a couple posing for engagement pictures.

My dad did his best Richard Nixon impression in his work clothes, walking on the sand in his suit and dress shoes:


I dabbled Lulu's feet in the waves, and watched her brow screw up in confusion as she touched sand for the first time.


I love the beach. I especially love Ocean View. It's a humble bay beach, kind of scrubby, ringed with twisted live oaks, dive bars, and wind-stunted pine trees. Real houses border right onto the sand, where real people live year round. One of those houses, a modest brick rancher, belonged to my great-grandparents, and was the hangout for everybody in the family for forty years. It's long since been sold, but it feels like our house, still, and so the beach still feels like our beach.

I know that in a couple of years, a trip to the beach with Lulu will involve a long hot walk over burning sand with bags and bags of sunscreen and umbrellas and toys and shovels and snacks and water and OH MY GOD IS THAT A SHARK? and WHY CAN'T I SEE YOU ARE YOU DROWNED? and NO, I SAID WE ARE LEAVING AND I MEANT IT GET BACK HERE. Long gone will be the days of baking thoughtlessly in the sun with a stack of magazines and a pack of cigarettes. I know that having kids is going to ruin the beach for me.

So I am glad we got to enjoy it together at least once.

___________________________

The weather continued to be beautiful through Monday, and Monday night, I decided that I wanted to get some fresh air as I slept. My mom and aunt came in as I was getting ready for bed and saw the bedroom window wide open, Lulu's portacrib perched right under it.

And this was apparently one of the stupid things that my family is not afraid to tell me I am doing. Because. The crib. Under the window. I was just asking for my child to be stolen away from me in the night. A terrible burglar was going to creep in and take her. They were sure of it. They saw it on America's Most Wanted. There was that woman who killed herself after Nancy Grace accused her of murdering her kid even though she wasn't a suspect? Her baby was stolen out of his crib in front of an open window on a night JUST LIKE TONIGHT.

It really isn't worth arguing statistics with them. Especially not my mom. She lectured me for weeks about taking down a huge heavy mirror over Lulu's crib in our room at home and I sighed and didn't want to, but then I finally did and the next day THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE. It was like God reached down his mighty hand and said in my mother's voice, "I TOLD YOU SO." My mother's nagging has now been sanctified by God, and she knows (KNOWS) that she is the only thing standing between my child and certain death.

So I closed the window. And then when she left, I opened it again.

And then I had the kind of really delicious night you have when you sleep in the fresh air and it's all cool and then I woke up at 6 AM and I looked over and there was one perfect beam from the rising sun falling on the crib, illuminating it, and IT WAS EMPTY. Lulu was NOT THERE.

And I freaked out. And I am ashamed to say that most of the freaking was not, oh my GOD, my baby has been kidnapped, so much as it was oh my GOD, my baby has been kidnapped and my mom is going to be so mad at me.

I sat there, doing what I usually do in situations like this. I tried to figure out a way I could blame this on J.D.

But he was in Maine! This was all me. I'd lost my child and now I would have to go on Nancy Grace and kill myself.

I had just taken the first ragged breath of hyperventilation when my aunt came in holding the baby who had apparently been crying in her crib all morning while I slept on, unawares (more evidence that I am a BAD MOTHER). Lulu had a poopy diaper, and my aunt doesn't do poopy diapers, and I was so relieved, and nobody mentioned the WIDE OPEN WINDOW RIGHT THERE and all was well.

All the same, I was glad when J.D. got back yesterday, because now if this happens again, I can blame it on him. And also because I missed him. But mostly because he brought me pretty earrings. From Maine.

September 20, 2011

(Pre) School Daze

I was so proud of myself for figuring out a school schedule for doing preschool with Joy this year - I felt like a real homeschooling mom, with a schedule on the refrigerator and everything.

Until we started this morning, and I realized that I did not take into account my child's devouring interest in all things school related. She tore through the planned materials in less than half the time I had anticipated, leading me to sprint upstairs and dig out Thursday's workbook for her to do as well. Not only is she doing more books each day than I had expected, she is going to end up going through them in a shorter amount of time than I had expected, which means I am already ordering more workbooks for her, and looking at the very real possibility that we'll be finished in what I thought was a half-year's curriculum in two months.

Yay! And also: what have I gotten myself into?

I am so very much not a natural teacher. I know preschool workbooks and curriculum aren't necessary for this age, but I am terrible at trying to come up with fun ways to teach these basic pre-kindergarten skills. So the curriculum saves me from frustrations and headaches, and gives my girls a great way to learn. Having a kid this smart already, pushing me beyond what I was expecting (and I'm her mother, so you know I obviously think Joy's a genius) (Grace is a genius too, only hers is more the creative kind, not so much the academic kind. Also, I think she's a musical prodigy, because she already has an opera singer's range - just ask anyone who's ever listened to her cry), is both exciting and kind of freaking me out.

You want to give your kid the best of everything. You want them to have every opportunity to reach their fullest potential. You don't want to push them, or place your goals on them, but you do not want to see them fall short because of your failures.

And so, having a child who is already so academically inclined is a little scary. What if I don't give her the right materials, and end up having her hate school because I didn't teach her properly? What if I push too hard and she gets frustrated? What if I don't push hard enough and she gets bored and loses interest? What if I start assuming she's headed for greatness, but this is really fairly common? What if she is uncommonly gifted, and I miss it because I don't want to be one of those mothers?

And so I tentatively advance one half step at a time, holding my breath at every moment, hoping I'm doing the right thing.



And here I thought the baby stage was hard.

September 16, 2011

This messy life

I've always prided myself on my ability to keep a clean house. It's something that has always been very important to me. There are a hundred thousand neurotic reasons why. I got married at 21, and so I think having a perfect, spic-and-span abode felt like some way I could prove I was mature enough to be somebody's wife, that I was ready for it. Also, J.D. and I have always lived in small spaces, and there just isn't a lot of room for clutter. Clutter actually makes things take longer: try cooking dinner in a 30 square foot kitchen that's laden with dirty dishes. And then there's the fact that cleaning is such an easy way to feel like a success: you do the job, and then you can step back and see it's done, see what you've achieved. When I was in law school and struggling with thorny legal issues that had no real resolution day in and day out, I found it difficult to sleep unless my entire house was clean, everything put away, all the laundry folded, all the towels hanging the same way on the rack in the bathroom. Which...is probably something I should discuss with a therapist.

Having a baby changed things. For one, there was more clutter. Little toys, onesies, cloth diaper inserts, all needing a home, a place. Tiny socks needing a mate. Bottle bladders, guaranteed to reduce colic--all of these things needed to be washed, dried, matched with corresponding parts. And then, of course, there was less time to do all that.

I tried my best for a while to keep up. I followed the Fly Lady's protocol. I downloaded the Motivated Moms app for my iPhone, and received a list of tasks to perform each day. But both programs made me feel like more of a spazz, not less. Organize my crafting corner? WHAT crafting corner? Clean guest bedroom? I vacuumed the couch, looked inside the cushions, found three forks. I got sidetracked for an hour by a note directing me to scrub my upstairs bathroom--oh, what I could do with an upstairs bathroom! And an upstairs!

I started to fall further and further behind. A few dishes left in the sink when I went to bed. A jumble of shoes in the corner, instead of neatly put away in corresponding closets. And then, almost without my realizing it, this happened.




































At first I felt bad about it, fought a little harder. I'd decide to tackle that front closet, pull everything out as the start of a massive decluttering project. Then the baby would wake up, and I'd have to leave everything where it was and go change her, and oh, shit, do a load of cloth diapers, and all the shady things that had been hidden away at the back of the closet slowly became permanent parts of the surrounding landscape. It was like quicksand: the more you fight, the faster you sink.

So I stopped fighting. One of the most liberating moments of my life was the day I realized that I was a better mother because I had stopped putting such a premium on a clean house. Before, Lulu spent a lot of time in her swing while I folded clothes, listened to way to much of the Toddler Tunez HD music channel. The song about walking to school, bouncing like a kanga-ranga-roo? On a trampa-lampa-line? I think that was driving both of us insane.

Now we do a lot more of this:


And this:

And yes, there is still some of this


But in the end, it's probably a lot less brain-damaging than the trampa-lampa-line.

And now, if you'll excuse me, Lulu just woke up, and I need to go hike up Mt. St. Laundry to find a burp cloth. Wish me luck! I may be some time.

September 15, 2011

But They're So Cuuute

Lately, it seems all I've been hearing about are pregnancies. Or friends who have just barely given birth and are posting pictures of their darling little bundle all over the internet and making my womb go "WAHHHHH."

Carl and I decided, during my pregnancy with Grace and confirmed after her birth, that we were done with having children. A lot of thought went into this process - finances; lifestyle; how well we could raise the children we already have if we had more; the fact that I SUCK at being pregnant; etc.

And we're both content with that. I love, love, love that my littles are getting older. I love that they can both communicate verbally (ok, Grace still needs some work in that department, but she's MOSTLY verbal now). I love that they don't need me every second (every minute, yes, but I occasionally get two seconds to myself to go to the bathroom once in a while these days). I love that I can have conversations with Joy, even if they don't make much sense always. I love watching them play together.

I've never been a "baby" person, although I've always enjoyed holding and cuddling other people's little people. I've always been more than happy to give them back, too! And that didn't change much with my own littles; while I loved cuddling with them, I enjoy them so much more each year older they get.

And yet. When people post pictures that remind me of this moment:

Joy's first day home

And this one:

Our first family photo (not counting the hospital ones where all three of us looked like we just survived a horrific battle - which, considering it was twenty hours of labor, we pretty much did)

And this:

Grace, a few hours after birth. Only five hours with her!

And this:

Grace's first day home, snuggling in after a good meal

Well, it's easy to forget the very very good reasons to stop with two children, to forget the tortures of pregnancy (nausea all! nine! months!; fatigue; aches and pains; hormones bogging me down in a sea of depression; a fog of not knowing how the days pass; the hemorrhoids and the yeast infection and swollen feet and - did I already mention the puking? Entire first four months, brief respite in the middle where I just felt like crap but never actually threw up, and then back to full-blown morning sickness during the last two months); to forget the shrieking, hitting, furious pain of labor, to forget the sleepless nights and the pain of breastfeeding, and the constant crying, and the intense neediness, and to just go,

"Awww. I want another one!"

Thankfully, my husband's desires are not so affected by a biological clock and maternal instincts, so whenever I mention the possibility to him, he just laughs and shakes his head and says,

"No."

Good thing one of us can keep some common sense on the matter!

September 14, 2011

Swing Time

Dear Child Protective Services,

I want to apologize for traumatizing my child on the swings the other day. In my defense, I didn't really know how much they would scare her. I mean, the first time we put her on a swing, she seemed to really enjoy it.


So how was I to know how skeptical she'd be when we tried it again?
Also in my defense, there were times when she seemed to think it was OK.

And I thought if I kept pushing, she'd change her mind about it. And after all, good parenting involves giving your child new experiences.

Although I do apologize for that one big push I gave her...


where she almost toppled out.

And for abandoning her on the torture device so I could attempt an artsy wide-angle shot with the camera. It will never happen again.


But I want you to know that I came right back the VERY MOMENT she started to cry.


And that when Lulu made this face

I took her right home.

And while we are apologizing for things, I am sorry for those three episodes of Big Rich Texas I made her watch with me while we snuggled on the couch afterward. It didn't really seem to affect her all that much...


But I know that you are afraid I have done lasting harm to her tender psyche. Sorry for that, too. I promise you I will do my best to make sure my daughter does not grow up to abuse facial fillers.

But even if she does, I promise not to mock her. (Much.)

Thanks for understanding!

Until next time,

Cath

September 13, 2011

Fighting the Frump: September Style


 

September is one of my favorite months, when it comes to getting dressed. You get to do fun things like boots, and scarves, and sweaters, but you aren't in full-blown Winter Wear yet. Hurrah!

I really, really wanted to stay in my pajamas today, but I had promised to start this series on trying to keep some sense of style even with littles around, so I dutifully showered and got dressed, and even applied a little makeup. Clearly my self-photography skills need some work, but I think you can get the general idea here.

 I love me a skinny scarf for dressing up the most basic outfit. And these copper flats are my go-to shoe this time of year. The top is a basic Old Navy t-shirt that I altered at the shoulder seams so that it didn't hang down my front and get me in danger of being arrested for indecent exposure every time I picked up one of my kids. That's the trick with clothing, I've found - you don't necessarily have to buy the expensive stuff, but either have someone who sews alter it to fit properly, or do it yourself if you have the ability (and the time). It looks so much more polished! J'adore stripes, don't you? So very French, and very chic. I've had the skinny jeans for a while - I have to wear them with long-ish shirts, but I do love how they visually lengthen my legs. And they look awesome with flats or with boots, which is a definite plus in my book!


So this is my basic style every day (well, every day that I do get out of my pajamas): simple and neat, with a touch of flair somewhere, just to make it distinctive. As for makeup, I don't usually bother with much, but I do like to wear mascara and lipstick if I'm going out, just for a more finished look.


This copper cuff is my favorite piece of jewelry, ever. My sister is a silversmith, and I wear as much of her jewelry as I can pilfer from her stash, but there is something about copper that I love even more than silver. This cuff is one-of-a-kind; my sister picked it up for me at a jewelry show she was selling at years ago. This cuff goes with me on every trip, even if I don't think I'm going to wear it, because along with my wedding ring, it's the one piece of jewelry I would be devastated to lose if my house ever burned down. If I ever find a pair of earrings to complement it, I will be delirious with happiness.

Well, there you have it: nothing terribly fancy, just a mom trying to keep up a semblance of style. There are days when yoga pants are certainly a girl's best friend, but having kids doesn't mean we have to turn into frumps, right?

Right!



Whoops! How did this one get in here? My little ham.

Edited to add: By 5:00 today, the shoes were appropriated by the four-year-old; the scarf was long gone; and the hair was pulled back out of my face. Just to keep it real. But the cuff stayed on all day!

September 8, 2011

Coming Home

"What's that?" Joy asks, pointing out the window.

"That's the college where Oma goes to school, and where Mamma went."

"Oh. And what's that?"

"That's the library. And the fire station."

...

"Where's Grandpa?"

"He's at work. Did you know that Mamma used to work there, too? And this is where Mamma and Grandpa used to come have lunch a lot, when we worked together."

...

And around the other corner, there is the college where Papa, and Auntie Lizzie and Uncle David all went to school, and graduated the same year. Here is the movie theater where Mamma and Papa had their first date. The church where we got married. Here is the bank where Mamma cashed her first paycheck, then after a few years opened her first checking account. This is the bridge I used to shiver my way across on my way to work from school when it was too cold for my car to start (and yes, the irony of walking across town in weather too ferocious for my car to run in has never been lost on me).

These are the streets I know like I know my own name. This is the town where, if I don't know you, I know someone in your family, and if you don't know me, you know my father, or my grandfather. You or someone in your family probably went to school with one of my seven aunts and uncles.

This is home, and I love being able to share it with the littles every time we come back to visit my parents, especially now that Joy's old enough to ask questions and understand.

But it is bittersweet, too. We have moved five times in seven years of marriage, and will move again soon. And again. I accepted that when Carl and I chose to pursue a different path, a path that requires more schooling for him, and in different places, and maybe, in ten years, a chance to settle down and put in roots.

But it won't be here. And my girls will never have that sense of family history in a place that I do.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing after all. Maybe it's good for them to start fresh, to make their own way, unencumbered by family baggage or expectations.

And at least I know that we will always have this to come back to. This land where my roots are sunk deep, it is a part of them, whether they know it or not, because it is a part of me, and I am part of them.

Maybe, just maybe, we can carry some of home with us wherever we go, instead of needing to come to it. I hope so, anyway.

We are home for the Annual Memory Walk this year, in honor of my grandmother who has suffered from Alzheimer's more years than anyone deserves. Memories, especially family memories, always hang heavily on me around this event. And so the homecoming is even more poignant than usual, especially with Joy starting to ask more questions about family and history.

But I do have a law degree.

One of my favorite new blogs is written by a mom who, after a few years of practicing law, decided to give it up and stay home with her kids. I enjoy her blog because it's funny, and well-written, and a lot because there are so many similarities between our lives. She lives in the DC area. She stays at home with her kids. She blogs about her children and their quirks.

She calls her blog But I Do Have a Law Degree, because she wants people to remember that she has a J.D., that she went to law school and worked hard, that she has a strong legal education behind her.

And that's where we're different. Because I have spent a lot of time wishing people would forget.

I started law school in 2005, mostly because I didn't know exactly what to do with my B.A. in English Literature. Pretty much right away, I started to have suspicions that this career choice was not for me. But I thought it was normal 1L jitters. By the time my first year ended, I was almost 100% certain I'd made a mistake. I stood at the crossroads of my law school career and peered down each path, as far as I could. On the one hand, I didn't want to be a lawyer. On the other, I was $50,000 in debt already. Did I really want to drop out, to have a pile of debt that like that and nothing to show for it? Besides, having a law degree didn't mean that I had to be a lawyer. You can do anything with a law degree. That's what people said to me, over and over.

I decided to press on, and finish. But I dreaded going to school. Every morning, I woke up with the taste of metal in my mouth, with adrenaline spiking my blood. One day, I had a panic attack in class. What are you doing, what are you doing, why are you doing this? A few days later, I had a panic attack in the grocery store. I left my cart parked in the produce section, a lone green pepper rolling miserably around in the back. And I ran to my car, where I burst into tears. I panicked all the way home, and I panicked the next day in class. I started panicking in every class. My hands would go cold and clammy, my throat closed up, I shook and trembled and felt like I was going to die. I lived in fear of more panic attacks, and since going to class brought them on, I stopped going to class. I took a semester's leave of absence from the school. And then another.

But my panic didn't go away when I wasn't at school. I started having panic attacks in the car. In the video store. In church. Eventually, I stopped leaving the house, too. I sat at the window of my apartment, smoking cigarettes and looking down at all the people rushing to the Metro, to their jobs. I withdrew from the world, from my friends. I wondered how I could have messed everything up so badly. I thought of myself as a modern-day Rapunzel, with bad hair and more cynicism. Only, unlike Rapunzel, I liked being locked in my tower. The tower was safe. It was the real world that was scary, unpredictable, full of danger.

The next paragraph sums up about three years' worth of cognitive behavioral therapy: I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder, with agoraphobia, with depression. I slowly got better. I started going places again: small jaunts at first, then larger ones. Soon I was able to go to the store without wanting to throw up. I started driving again, riding the Metro, when once I hadn't been able to. One day, three years after the first rush of panic, I went to my husband J.D. and told him that I thought I might want to go back to school.

"You want to be a lawyer again?" he asked, dubiously.

"No," I said. Because I didn't. But I felt it was important to finish what I started. Once I thought I wouldn't be able to. Now I knew I could, and I wanted prove that I could do it.

And because I was only proving something to myself, the last semesters were easier. I read cases for fun. I took classes I thought were interesting. Space Law. Law and Sexuality. I didn't fit my academic career around a template that would get me into a big firm job because I didn't want one. I watched my classmates scuttle around, mainlining espresso, crying in the bathroom before exams, and I thought, this is why not.

I graduated from law school, cum laude, in 2010, five years after I started. And then I took a job working at home, editing for a scientific journal. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the law, and I like it that way.

But people were confused. "Don't you want to make money?" my family members asked. "Why finish at all?" asked my friends. And then, one day, riding the Blue Line home from seeing a friend's band play, I saw a guy with a sticker on his bag, showing that he was an alumni of the same school I'd graduated from. "I went there," I told him proudly. Then he asked what I did, where I worked. I told him, and he dismissed me with a glance, with three words: "What a waste."

I should have called him an asshole, because he was. But I didn't. I was stricken. A frisson of shame crawled through me. I realized then that my family and friends had been saying the same thing--hadn't they? All that work, all that suffering, all those loans. For nothing? What a waste. I wished, suddenly, that I could erase the past five years of my life, that I could wave a magic wand and make people forget I had a law degree at all. Then they wouldn't be disappointed in me for what I had--or hadn't--achieved.

It was Lulu's birth that brought me some peace with the whole matter. Because I don't have a job at a firm, because I work at home, part time, I can see her all day, every day. I can breastfeed for a year or more if I want. We can go to the park on a whim. I can save the article I'm working on for later, after she's gone to bed, and I can scoop her up out of her swing and love on her for a while whenever I want. Yes, I'll be making the minimum payments on my loans until I die. Yes, we live in a condo in a "underdeveloped" neighborhood in the burbs instead of a row house on Capitol Hill. Yes, we go without some things. We are rich in time together, though, and that feels good.

And there are things I gained from going to law school besides a knowledge of the law. I learned a lot about myself, my limits, my priorities. I tested my mettle, and learned how strong I was. I read a study once: it turns out the more educated parents are, the more graduate degrees they have, the longer their children live, the more educated they themselves will be. My law degree will help my daughter, even if I never use it to make money a day in my life. It's not entirely a waste.

Maybe one day Lulu will resent me because we're not as well-to-do as the kids she goes to school with. Maybe she'll look down on me, because my job isn't high-powered or important. DC is a place that values power, and I don't have it. Maybe she won't be proud of me that way.

But I think Lulu will be happier, overall, because I went to law school. In order to get better, to go back and finish, I had to learn that it's important to listen to your heart, to consider what you want, that if you don't, your body will just simply give in to stress. I had to redefine my definition of success, and in doing that, I found out that there are so many ways to measure success. I learned to be confident in my choices, that being happy is the greatest success I can attain. I learned not to worry about how other people look at me, how to live with setbacks, how to overcome them in the way that feels right in the context of my own life.

I learned these lessons in law school. I'll pass them on to my daughter. And it was worth every penny, all the blood, sweat and tears, to be able to do that.

September 7, 2011

Riding in cars with babies

So you're going on a long car trip with your infant! I have some tips for you.

1. Everything you might need during the ride needs to be easily accessible, NOT packed away in your suitcase in the trunk. Fill a diaper bag until it is bursting at the seams with toys, wipes, burpcloths, portable pump and parts, change of clothing, et cetera. Be sure to put your wallet away down deep at the bottom of the bag, so that you can hold up a whole host of cars at tollbooths. Don't think of it as being unprepared: think of it as helping all the people in the other cars cultivate the virtue of patience.

2. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to introduce your child to some of your favorite music. Cue up some Clash on the old iPod. Turn the volume up so baby can hear.

3. Oh no! It appears that infants, like everybody else, do not like Sandinista! Turn up volume even louder to cover sound of crying.

4. When you realize the crying can be heard over Joe Strummer's jangling guitar, take the exit for the nearest gas station in order to effectuate a diaper change. Yeah. Tell yourself it's the diaper, not your own stupidity, that's the cause of this.

5. If it turns out the meltdown was partly caused by a DEFCON-5-level diaper blowout, be sure to park near a trash can. Or else you will have to carry a compact tricorn bundle of baby shit all the way across the parking lot, with people looking at you and wrinkling their noses in your wake.

6. Now that she is clean and dry, Baby has decided she is hungry! Good thing you packed that travel breastpump and all its little parts, right? Commence to pump in backseat under cheerful-patterned Hooter Hider. Realize you are inept at using Hooter Hider, and have accidentally flashed bus of church campers parked at the neighboring pump. In situations like this, a rueful smile is appropriate. Also, putting the offending boob away posthaste.

7. Resort to can of poisonous formula in trunk in order to feed child. Even though you just said you were done with formula, forever. Everyone knows the normal rules don't apply to the open road.

8. Go into convenience store for bottled water to mix said formula with. Listen to the dulcet sounds of your child screaming from inside a car 50 yards away while your husband presumably tortures her. In a fit of temptation, buy pack of cigarettes with water. It doesn't mean you smoke again! It doesn't mean you've UNQUIT! You're just having an interlude. Take one secret, beautiful puff off vile, tempting cigarette while hidden behind Dumpster.

9. Realize what you are doing. Hurl cigarette and rest of pack into Dumpster. Pour water all over face and hands to get rid of offending smell/dangerous second-hand smoke. Feel guilty. You are a horrible mother. Go back to car, horrible mother, and mix a bottle for your starving child. When you reach car, she is no longer screaming, and no longer hungry, but still fussing with the kind of general unhappiness experienced by characters in a novel by Dostoevsky.

10. Salvage horrible situation with artistic picture taken of child and husband at outdoor picnic area. In twenty years, you will not remember the migraine mounting behind your left eye. You will look back fondly on this picture and think it was a nice trip. Be sure to mention to young parents how easy it all was, so that they can simultaneously hate you for being smug and despair about why WHY GOD it isn't that easy for them.


This post brought to you by a whole lot of bad parenting. And also Coca Cola!

September 6, 2011

I'll keep it with mine

My mother's family--cousins, aunts, uncles, greats--all lives in the same town I (and they) grew up in. My dad's family, however, is scattered across the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast and all in between. When I go home for a visit, I usually see bits and pieces of the large puzzle of my mom's family. I hardly ever get to see dad's all in one place.

But over Labor Day weekend, the stars aligned. My dad's sister came into D.C. from the Pacific Northwest for a work conference. My aunt and uncle, who live an hour out of the city, decided to drive in to see her. Not wanting to feel excluded, their sister, who lives in the Midwest, decided to drive down. Then we all drove down to the beach, where my parents and extended family live, as one big wagon train of folks and fun. So much of my family--mom's side and dad's--all in one place. It was heaven.

The visit was perfectly timed. Not only because the weather was perfect, or that we could all say goodbye to summer together, or that there were no hurricanes or earthquakes, but because, selfishly, I wanted to show off my child at her best. And Lulu is just a peach at this stage of her development. She's little enough still to be squishy and cuddly, a perfect helpless smoosh of baby who just wants to be held and cuddled. But she's old enough now to be fun. She smiles and coos and jabbers and leans over toward people when she likes someone and wants them to hold her up, the first compliment she's ever been able to give. She laughs at everybody's jokes. She's obliging that way. I loved being able to see my family interact with her. And I loved seeing her interact with them.


She was very popular, as you can see.

There were so many wonder moments for me in this weekend visit. Seeing Lulu with her cousin, Kay, who's eleven and the most awesome kid. That was one. They already love each other so much. Kay is an only child, and after the difficult pregnancy I had, there's a very real chance that Lulu might be, too. I worry about that, about her possibly lacking the kind of bond that I have with my own sister. But Kay calls Lulu "Sissy," the way my sister does with me. "She's my sister," is how Kay introduces Lulu to people. "My sister of the heart," she says.
A quick kiss isn't just a kiss, then, you see. It's a sweet little moment between sisters. It's the start of a lifelong friendship.

Seeing Lulu with my Aunt Judy, who is young and cool and who I always have looked up to--I like to think that I was the Lulu to her Kay. She has two great, creative, funny, passionate, super-smart kids, a wicked sense of humor, an adventurous spirit and is pretty much my role model for all things parenting, if not all things in general. I don't get to see her often, and when I do, I want to get her opinion on everything, to talk things over, to study her and learn about how to do the things she's done. During this visit, I found myself watching her with Lulu, watching so intently, to see how to do it, to make sure that I do things the right way.


There was one picture I took, of Lulu and her Mammaw, my mom, that reminded me so much of a picture of me and my own Mammaw, one that is creased and a little worn from being carried to every law school final, so that I could have her smile there with me for support, urging me on.




















I love the thought that one day she'll take this picture with her to her first surgery or when she plays for the first time at Carnegie Hall or to clown college for her make-it-or-break-it juggling final. We're setting the bar high for her, obviously.) I know Lulu's not really laying down memories yet, but until she can, I'll keep them for her.

_________________________

On our last day in town, we caught up with some old friends--both mine and Lulu's. Mike is my oldest friend in the world--I met him the first day of kindergarten, twenty-six years ago this month. We went all through school together, elementary and middle and high school, where we met Sarah, and Erin, who became Mike's wife. Almost a year ago exactly we all found out that we were having babies, and that we were due exactly one week after another, like stairsteps. Of course life is full of ups and downs, and we ended up, thanks to prematurity and going over due, missing our due dates by a mile. But our kids are still like stairsteps: Lulu was born in March, Erin and Mike's little boy in April, and Sarah's in May, a week or two later than expected. Whenever J.D. and I are in town, we like to catch up with our friends and favorite little fledgling families.


As you can see from the photo, the kids don't seem to take too much notice of each other right now. But I know that they'll be fast friends someday. And I love it so hard, the symmetry of it: my oldest friend's kid being my kid's oldest friend. I love that Lulu has friends, already, even if she doesn't have, you know, fine motor skills and control of her bladder. Friends are far more important than those things, anyway. Right?

By the time we left, Monday evening, I was fighting allergies and sunburn, nursing an ear infection, worrying about work. I was also about ready to kill all of these people I love so dearly, as my sleep-deprived child wailed for the third day straight for her nap and was denied it by all of the people who wanted to play with her and love on her. I just wanted to go home and go to sleep, but we had a four-hour drive ahead of us, made even longer by the myriad stops I knew we would have to take to soothe our screaming infant. My mother and I started World War III as we packed the car over whether or not the baby would succumb to overheating and fry like an egg if I made her wear SOCKS on the long ride home.

"Why the shit do I put up with them?" I asked J.D., as we drove northward, homeward. It was finally quiet--except for Lulu grizzling and the ringing that had started up in my sinus-goop-logged ear. "They're so crazy. They're all insane."

"Yeah," he said. "They are. But they're worth it."

And I didn't say so--it would only encourage him!--but he's right, you know.

September 5, 2011

Littles Unboxed

We went to the NY State Fair this weekend with my sister and brother-in-law and our cousin visiting from North Carolina. Unexpectedly for September in upstate NY, it was horrifically hot, and so humid my glasses kept steaming up - kid you not. Even my cousin, who is from Vermont originally but has lived in NC for the last ten years, was wilting.

It was great fun, though, especially since even last year we could not have done something like this - Carl and I and the littles left our house at 7:30 in the morning, and got back at 11:00 that night. The girls were troopers through the entire day - no meltdowns, no tantrums, only a couple times where they needed reminders of the importance of having good attitudes. They had so much fun with everything - from the cow barn (my brother-in-law's cousins were there showing cattle, so we had to stop there to see them first thing), to the pig/goat/llama barn, to ... well, everything. Even Joy, who does not like crowds and noise, held her own quite nicely, even standing right up to the chain separating the crowds from where the six- and eight-horse hitches came thundering by with Mamma and Auntie Lizzie. No fear, just awe and delight at the magnificent horses (she liked the all-black ones the best - Mamma was partial to the Clydesdales, black with white feet, and Auntie Lizzie liked the dapple greys). In fact, she loved the horses so much, that at the end of the day, when I asked what her best favorite part was ("best favorite" is a phrase of her own coining, and I love it), I fully expected her to answer "horses." Especially since that was what she was talking about ever since we told her about the Fair.

If not horses, than I figured she would say the little chick that Papa held while she petted it. Or even say that her best favorite part of the day was drinking half of Auntie Lizzie's maple slushie, or watching Dan Duggan play hammer dulcimer (he is just brilliant with that so-tricky instrument).

Not a bit of it. Joy, my petite, tidy, finicky, dainty little maiden, liked the big black mama pig the best. Even better than the piglets, which at least have the advantage of being little! Nope. No matter how many times she was asked, she answered the same:

"The big black mama pig was my best favorite."

I love that she's almost four, and still surprising me every day. Just as I think I've got her figured out, she comes out with something completely unexpected. I love seeing all these disparate bits come together to make one cohesive Joy.

If I am honest, I have to confess that I really hated the baby stage. I loved them, of course, but the real fun is starting now, when they get to express their personalities and there's a new delightful discovery waiting around every corner. Sometimes it gets frustrating, as when I can't buy clothing for Joy without her along because she already has decided opinions, and won't wear something unless she likes it (thank goodness Grace is still young enough to have to wear Mamma's preferences!), but even that has its fun side, as I get to see her decide, already, what styles she likes and what she doesn't. Although I did put my foot down when she wanted to buy a leopard-print jumper. Mamma will allow a lot, but I do have my limits!

Grace is still little enough that she mostly goes along with whatever Sissy says ("Grace, what was your best favorite part of the day?" "Pigs!" Never mind the fact that she barely paid any attention to them, that's what Sissy said, so that's what she liked, too), but we're starting to see glimpses of her independent personality peeking out here and there.

These kids, they cannot be put in neat and tidy little boxes, ever. And why would anyone want to? Life is so much more fun when it is unexpected.

(Sorry about the lack of pictures in this post - we were a bit too busy experiencing everything to stop and take pictures! Maybe next year.)

September 2, 2011

In which I discuss my boobs.

Oh, breastfeeding. I had such high hopes for you.

It seems like every mother I know has had some problem with breastfeeding, with supply, with weight gain, with latch. I kind of couldn't believe all the drama: it's breastfeeding. You put the baby to the boob and it eats. Cavewoman did it. How hard can it be? I definitely didn't believe it would be difficult for me. Still, I tried to prepare myself. Just in case. I read all the books, and marked relevant passages. I hired a doula to give me tips. I visited lactation consultants, had my nipples examined, took lots of notes. I felt pretty confident that I could do it, that it would be easy.

And then Lulu was born two months early, and all of my plans and preparations went right out the window. We've had so many bumps on the road of our breastfeeding journey--SO many, and it's only been five months.

Bump #1: Prematurity.

I wrote in my birth plan that I wanted to try and breastfeed right away after Lu was born. I wanted to try the breast crawl, where the just-born baby is placed on its mother's chest and pulls itself up to latch onto the breast when it's ready. It sounded pretty cool to me. But when your baby is born at 33 weeks, they don't really give you a lot of time to try things like this. Lulu was whisked away the second she came out--I got to see her for about half a minute before she was rushed down to the NICU and attached to host of wires and monitors. I didn't see her again for four hours; I didn't get to hold her until well into the next day. I wasn't able to try to breastfeed for a few days after that, and by the time we tried it, we had missed that easy introductory period. We were already playing catchup. Only we didn't get a lot of time to practice, since Lulu was pretty badly jaundiced and couldn't be out from under the bilirubin lights for very long. And she was so weak and small that she couldn't really feed properly when we did get the chance to try it. Which leads us to...

Bump #2: The Nipple Shield.

Lulu weighed less than five pounds when she was born and within a day or two, had dropped down to four. She was tiny all over: hands that were too tiny to grasp, feet that were too tiny for the monitors that slipped right off, a mouth that was too tiny to latch on to my ginormous boobs. When we finally did get the chance to breastfeed, we needed a nipple shield, a flexible piece of plastic--a lot like the nipple that goes on a bottle--that is placed over the breast. It's usually smaller, narrower, and longer than an actual nipple, and a premature baby finds it easier to latch onto it.

I remember crying when the NICU nurses handed the nipple shield to me, being so supremely grateful that someone had thought to invent this marvelous device. We could use it for a while, the nurses said, and then wean off of it. But that's easier said than done. By the time we brought Lulu home, 15 days after she was born, she was bigger and stronger...and firmly addicted to the nipple shield. Trying to wean her from the shield caused her to scream and scream, presumably in order to alert CPS to the fact that we were trying to starve her. In the end, I stopped trying to wean her off of it. But as she grew, her mouth got too big for the shield. Then she wouldn't take the breast at all, which leads us to...

Bump #3: Bottles.

Lulu had colic. For four months. The only thing that came remotely close to soothing her was food. Tons and tons of food. I fed her as best I could from the breast, but it wasn't ever enough to sate her. So I pumped and pumped and PUMPED, and we gave her bottle after bottle after bottle. It didn't take long for her to develop "bottle preference," which is exactly what it sounds like: she preferred the bottle to me. It was easier to eat from the bottle. She got her fix faster, and didn't have to work as hard for it. Finally, she had had so many bottles that my supply of frozen milk was gone. Which leads to...

Bump #4: Formula.

We already had to give her four ounces of formula a day, doctors orders, to help with weight gain. And formula was so EASY. I didn't have to spend a half-hour hooked up to the pump. I could just go into the kitchen and mix a little powder with a little distilled water, dump it into a bottle. And voila: quiet, happy, satisfied baby. Four ounces a day became six, which became ten, which became thirteen. And then...

Bump #5: My supply dropped accordingly. I was giving Lulu so much formula that my body didn't need to make as much breastmilk as before.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years in order to reap the maximum health benefits. I had wanted to do that. I had resolved to do that. But over the last week, I started to face the possibility--the very real probability--that, with the way things were going, we wouldn't make it to six months. And that made me so sad; it made me feel like I had failed my preemie, who needed the health benefits of breastfeeding even more than other babies. It was a relief that Lulu would take her bottle so peacefully, without screaming. But I missed breastfeeding. I missed the sleepy, happy noises she made when she was curled up with me, I missed the way she would put her little hands up under my chin and sigh. I had missed out on so much time with her, early on--I needed this bonding experience to make up for that loss. But every day my supply dropped more. I had a decision to make: use it or lose it. Breastfeed the kid exclusively or wean her entirely.

So J.D. and I replaced the bottle with a sippy cup, to be used in cases of emergency ONLY. We put the formula up on the top shelf of the cupboard, and resolved not to use it at all. We don't need to; Lulu is a tubby baby now, with Michelin-man style fat roles on her arms and thighs. I hooked myself back up to that blasted turquoise hospital-grade breast pump, the pump I had thought was so pretty in the beginning, the pump I hate now. I drank cups and cups of tea that tasted like licorice-flavored feet, and took so much fenugreek that my sweat now reeks of maple syrup. My supply bounced back all at once, right in the middle of the Safeway, so that I had to pay for my groceries with my arms carefully folded over the wet spots on my shirt.

Now, when Lulu hollers for her supper, I pick her up and wait patiently--as patiently as I can--for her to latch on. It takes a long time, and she isn't too pleased about it. She misses her bottle. She screams, she uses her tiny fingers to pinch me, her nails to scratch me, her feet to kick me while she thrashes in protest. I know, rationally, that it has nothing to do with how she feels about me as her mother. It's nothing personal. She just wants her baba back. I know that...but still, it's hard not to feel rejected, to feel like my child doesn't want this thing that I am trying and trying so hard to give her.

I try to be calm while I feed her, to sing to her and soothe her. But afterward, sometimes, I can't help crying out of defeat and pure tiredness. I wonder if we will ever get it right? In times of extreme pessimism, I know that we won't, that we'll be back to formula in a week, if that long.

But then, at other times, Lulu latches perfectly; she cuddles up to me and makes those happy noises that I love and feeds like she's been doing it like this all along. Sometimes we get it right, so right that I know I have to keep pushing. And it feels so right that I know all of this hard work is worth it, no matter what bumps are waiting for us down the road from here.