Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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Snow day updates

Hey, gang.  Yes, I am still here.  ETA Yes, I started this on the blizzard day and now things are melting and I still not editing it to any kind of a reasonable length.  You have been warned.

I wrote a most of a really long post titled “The Things Grief Teaches You,” or words to that effect, back in, whoa, November, but even I got worn out by it.  Tldr: nothing I wanted to know.

Then I kind of hit a wall, because as much as I’d love to talk to you all in person about, for instance, therapy, it does feel odd to put it on the Internet.  Maybe a password post at some point, at least for some of it.  The expurgated update is that I have been going, I think it is helping, and my therapist is not an idiot.  Also, I seem to have developed a Pavlovian response to his office, such that as soon as I sit down, I start crying.  I blame the carpet.   

Christmas was…you know, I really am going to have to do a password post.  More on that later, I guess.  We stayed in town. I spent an enormous amount of money on a prime rib that was frankly one of the better thing I have ever cooked.  Jackalope got her heart’s desire, a doll stroller.  I cannot believe I have a kid who loves dolls, which fall squarely into the valley of the uncanny as far as I am concerned.  We got the Bean a fairly indestructible camera.  

  
My choir spent the fall learning about half of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.  (It’s six cantatas. We did 1, 3, and 6.) I somehow got appointed alto section leader, which means I take notes and write everyone an email each week.  It’s a good gig: altos thrive with a little attention.  And dick jokes, it turns out.  They love dick jokes.  (Example: why did Bach have 20 children? He had no stops on his organ.) 

We performed the piece at a number of churches around town, which was a nifty sort of tour.  Brooklyn is, after all, the Borough of Churches.  I should learn some architectural terms so that I could describe them to you.  Sometimes we sang with an organ and sometimes with an orchestra.  I regret to say, dear readers, that the trumpets were terrible, a real shame with this piece.  But, ah, amateur music making.  It is what it is.  We paid soloists to sing in most of the concerts, but we did a tiny one in January for which we did not.  The director asked who wanted to throw their name in the hat, I imagined for auditions, and after a week of anxiety on the topic, I decided what the hell.  Turned out that was understood to mean that I positively could sing the recitative and aria I said I liked, and with essentially no rehearsal.  Um.  So I did.  Not perfectly, by any means, and in a state of real terror, but at least the mistakes I made in performance were different from the ones I made in rehearsal.  And my favorite dress, the one with the dragons, zips again*.  So there’s that.

*This is partly because Jackalope is nursing a lot less — I know the party line is that nursing makes you lose weight, but my experience is that no — and partly because I have essentially given up alcohol on account of nerves.  Plus other things for that famous password post.  Basically, file under “lower weight does not equal ‘healthy.'”  But dragon dress! It is my favorite.

Sugar gamely attempted to bring both kids to one of them December concerts, but while Jackalope loved it, her love was…vocal.  THEY SINGIN’ A MOOOSIC SONG!  Ship abandoned for park. The Bean came to the one where I sang alone and has been very sweet about it since.  

The big recent excitement has been applying to (public) kindergarten for the Bean.  And by excitement, I mean miserable anxiety-fest.  Allow me to tell you allllll about it. 

In NYC, there are districts (many per borough) and, for elementary school, zones within the district. Most of the time, you are all but guaranteed a spot at your zoned school (assuming you have one).  You can also apply to other schools; you have a higher priority within your district. You rank the schools you like, get admitted to one, and get wait-listed at every school you ranked higher.  Then there is all kinds of maneuvering over the waiting lists.
The Bean currently attends public pre-k at our zoned school.  There are good and bad aspects to that.  We like his teacher, a kindly man who is obsessed with fishing.  They are raising trout.  Really.  As in, they got a jar of eggs at the beginning of the year, and on Friday, Jackalope and I were guests at a party celebrating the fingerlings’ graduation from the small enclosure to the main tank.  At the end of the year, we will take them “upstate” (I am guessing this means Westchester) to release them, presumably so the teacher can catch them again.  The Bean has friends, the school is remarkably diverse, the PTA seems to have its heart in the right place.  (I attempted to join the diversity committee, but all their meetings have been during my classes.)  They have a lot of art and music and so on.  It’s also more academic than I would prefer, and simultaneously operating below the Bean’s academic level.  (Which is okay! He isn’t in pre-k for academics.  It’s just, I’d rather have less of that, and if I can’t have that, I’d like it to be interesting, you know?)  

I wanted to fall in love with the school when I finally got to go on a tour, but instead I was taken aback.  The kindergarteners were having a spelling bee.  There’s a lot of homework, even at kindergarten.  The music teacher seemed as  grumpy as the Bean had suggested.  There’s red light/green light discipline.  Blah.  Not awful, not the end of the world, just not what I was hoping for. I’m worried that a smart, rule-following kid who isn’t a big advocate for himself could get lost here.

Meanwhile, I also went on a tour of an unzoned  school in our district (good chance we’d get in). Enormous, two story classrooms.  All the kids in a given grade are in the same class, with four teachers who loop with them.  Great teacher development program.  No homework.  The classrooms felt to me like preschool — lots of interesting things to do.  All the STEM you could hope for, great social-emotional stuff.  Lots of opportunity for independent work, which is what the Bean loves best.  But low on arts — just residencies part of the year.  And not walkable.  The city would bus him, as it’s in our district.  

Then I toured a shiny new school, not in our district but an easy enough commute, close enough to walk home in good weather.  And I happened to run into a savvier friend, mother of a classmate from the magical preschool the Bean went to last year (why can’t all schools be like that?), who pointed out that, gorgeous light aside, this place was at least as rigid as our zoned school.  So I did not list it, even though it was so shiny. (So shiny! But also I secretly suspected the parents would drive me nuts.)

Impulsively, I did list another school in that district, one I never visited, on the grounds that it sounds progressive and our pickiest neighbor is happy with it. Plus that district has better middle school options.  I can’t believe I’m expected to be thinking about middle school for my four-year-old.

The school I ranked first we will never get into — four other districts have priority over us (plus siblings, yadda, yadda) — and I don’t know how we’d manage the commute if we did.  But I just look at that place and think, I can’t just not even try to get my kid into the one place I really think looks magical.  And then I beat myself up for not being able to afford to live in that neighborhood.

The application is in now, and all that remains is to second guess myself to no end.  Am I making the right choices? Are there any? And mostly, what would my mother say?

I changed schools often as a small child, and it stunk. But it wasn’t for no reason, and I wish I knew the full, adult versions of those reasons.  I know that my mother held her nose and violated her own principles more than once to get me in a place that was better for me.  I know that when I was in a place that actually challenged me, that my whole world changed.  I think these things matter, is what I’m saying.  I just still don’t know what the right thing is. 

So now we wait for March, when placements come out, except actually, that’s not all, because how could it be that simple? Instead, next week, the Bean sits an exam for gifted and talented placement, and believe me, you don’t need to tell me how fucked up it is to be testing four-year-olds in this way.  Believe me.  I get it.  But also: in sixth grade I was in an all-day gifted program of students pulled from the whole town.  And it changed my life.  So.  We hold our noses and take the test.  The Bean is really happy with the idea of getting to do lots of puzzles with an adult whose attention is all on him.  He hopes there are a whole lot of questions.

The test results come out in April — that’s right, after the kindergarten offers have gone out — at which point kids who score high enough can try to find a district-level program they like — there are two in our district, but maybe  we could try for the one not in our district that we could still walk to, where our friends’ daughter goes.  Kids who score super incredibly high can attempt to get a seat at one of the citywide schools, but what with sibling priority, we’re talking a quarter of the 99th percentile, so phhht. (Except OF COURSE I believe my magical genius child is…oh, just ignore me.) 

Also I am considering moving to the woods and homeschooling them and also growing my own saffron.  

I’d always heard how stressful NYC school stuff is, but I kind of thought that was for people who can afford private school.  (Which at one point we’d thought might be us, but the generous tuition reimbursement program at Sugar’s job has now become a “give already rich people a little bonus” level of reimbursement, so yeah.)  I didn’t expect to find myself lying on the floor in the middle of the night crying because I just really, really, really want to ask my mom what she thinks.  I want to ask her a lot of things, of course, but this one surprised me with its intensity.  I just always thought in the back of my mind that she’d help with this particular kind of decision making, probably because she was so very active in getting me my education, in finding a way to get me to better places when one place or another wasn’t working.  She had a plan, is what I’m saying, and she pushed and listened and made calls and made it happen.  And that sounds like a terrible, pushy thing to do, I realize, but the fact is that I was a smart, shy, melancholy kid who made it through relatively psychologically intact and able to get into and thrive at a tough college that was without question the best place for me.  And I don’t think that just happened by accident.

In Jackalope news, she is nearly two, smart and gigantically tall, into music and dinosaurs and her big brother.  She’s far more physically explosive than the Bean has ever been, and I suspect this version of two will be quite a ride.  As a family friend noted at four months, she remains an “Imma do it baby.”  I wanna do it MYSELF, Mama. She’s named or renamed all the stuffed animals, starting with “Baby Dog” and “Naked Baby Snake” and “Baby Fish” (a blue whale) and now “Eyebrows” (a monkey we’ve had for years, who does have a prominent brow, since you mention it), and the bear she got for Christmas, “Eyeballs.”  She’s charmed the cat into letting her pet him, and though we laughed, she really did chopstick this dumpling into her mouth at dim sum.   

 


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Thoughts from the road

Greetings from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I can’t be more specific, as the Bean has commandeered the GPS device (which actually is a GPS for motorcycle use), it’s too mountainous for our phones to be speaking to us, and I have allowed technology to get the better of my map skills. Oh, here: mile 253.2 of Interstate 80. Some peculiarly specific mile markers around these parts. Somebody’s brother-in-law has a sweet contract.

Jackalope is sitting in a giant pile of chocolate cookies. And yet fussing! Not my genes, I tell you what.

We are en route to Chicago, where Sugar has pictures in a group show, and then to the the Sugar Family Manse in midMichigan. (Chicago friends, how I wish we could visit you! We will be under house arrest at the Sugar Family Pied-a-Terre, which is to say her late grandmother’s house on the far, far, far South Side.) We are driving because, well, money. It’s good to have a car, though. This would be a real drag on foot with the granny cart.

Summer, man. It’s a pretty good season.

Item: You know those free tourism magazines at rest stops? They have weird depths.

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Item: We have continued the beach trips. The Bean is getting more comfortable with the water, in his incremental way. He likes me to carry him out into the water while Jackalope naps, and lately he will sometimes release his legs enough to kick wildly, as long as I grip his upper body to me. His friend S, who is a very strong and brave swimmer, dives into the waves around us while they both laugh. She has the sunniest nature, and they are an age when it does not seem to yet have occurred to them to let their differences in skills and constitution get in the way of their fun.

Item: It is now Saturday, and we are in Chicago. The opening was a real pleasure — in a fancy Mies Van de Rohe building and everything. Jackalope marched me directly to the cheese table, and the Bean got a Sprite after he and I examined all of the architecture students’ models. Most of the gallery guests were (like Sugar) alumni of the Institute of Design and true to type, brain-wise, to judge from their satisfied reactions to the Bean’s vigorous use of his name card to swipe them out of the gallery as they exited the porch. Systems people understand each other.

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Also pleasant was visiting with Sugar’s first cousin and his family, which includes two girls, 9 and 5. Isn’t it funny how babies born three months apart are radically different until age 15 months or so, at which point they are functionally the same age? Neighbors of ours have a daughter eight months younger than the Bean, who suddenly became his age when he was three and a half. Likewise, the five-year-old cousin, who was older than the Bean at Christmas, is now his age. The nine-year-old remains amazingly cool. The Bean sat on the sofa next to her, saying hi. Hi, she replied, and returned to her book. They talked dot-to-dots later. Jackalope was beside herself.

Item: Remind me not to let my kids play with the ostensibly nice neighbor here, who helps keep up the lawn and makes generally friendly offers of, for instance, letting the kids come swim in his pool, followed by announcing that the girls — who are FIVE and NINE — don’t have to wear bathing suits. Actually, no need to remind me. I think I’ll remember. Between this and Swamplandia!, which I just finished and recommend highly, I am nauseatingly reminded of the dangers of girlhood, in particular the way you are never quite sure which things are dangers and which are jokes and which might become dangers if you don’t treat them as jokes and the way you are certain it’s your fault for not getting it.

Item: Apparently, Chicago has ended the social promotion of street trees. I assume this is a Rahm Emmanuel thing.

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Item: On the topic of failure, I give the Ohio Turnpike website an F minus minus for their lyrical bullshit description of the history of Indian Meadows, the location of a service plaza in the eastern part of the state. It’s named for the redmen who lived there, you see, prior to the white men who, “unlike the red-skinned farmers, […] learned to conserve the soil.” European conquest was pretty much the least healthy thing to happen to the soil since glaciers, but in fairness, it is responsible for bringing to these lands the Gift of Sbarro.

Item: Guess how many hours we’d been with the Midwestern family before the first non-sequitur remark about the racist/awful South?  (Yes, the South is plenty racist.  It is not, however, uniquely racist, and the comfortable assumption on the part of white folks in the rest of the country that it is the home of all bad things perpetuates racism that doesn’t fly a confederate flag (which frankly, has far more power to harm than most of those flag-wavers) and gets on my last nerve.)

Item: My mental health still blows. A very brave friend with very significant head-demons recently noted that she can do all kinds of hard and scary things, yet have a panic attack at the idea of leaving her apartment. We made a list of panic attack triggers, the things our brains have evidently determined to be so dangerous that Attention Must Be Paid. My list included grapes, cinnamon, and bottled iced tea. Also guacamole and every medicine in pill form. Lo, how the mighty Better Living Through Chemistry have fallen! I can’t take an Advil without wondering if I am swallowing cyanide; I wish I were joking. The world seems so thin, so easily broken. I don’t know what’s become of me.

Item: I am, for the record, actively looking for a therapist. Criteria: does CBT, takes my insurance, is older than I am. I have some issues surrounding talking parental death stuff with chipper young people. Possibly unfair, but there you are.

Item: So far I haven’t even gotten anyone to call me back. This does not make me think good thoughts about the profession or humanity in general.

Item: The other things I think would help are sleeping more and creating things. I haven’t figured out how to manage either. Getting hungry makes everything radically worse. Looks like I will be dumpling-shaped for the foreseeable future, as eating my feelings seems far healthier than acting on them.

Uh, item: Not everything is misery. Jackalope is talking up a storm, which is my favorite, “LET’S HAVE ALL THE BABIES” aspect of child development. She calls her brother “Bam” or “The Bam” and our cat, Orson, “Ohrsine,” in a very French way. She can say “paleontologist,” but somehow not “yes.” “I see you, [person or item]” is a frequent announcement along with “wanna [x],” and “no biting,” usually right after biting me. She eats everything with gusto, followed by hurling it around the room with equal vigor.

She has in no way given up the idea that she should be allowed to nurse for any or all of a day’s 24 hours, despite my having officially stopped nursing on demand six months ago, and she’s come up with the most fiendishly clever way to ask: what’s the one thing a child of mine could request that I will always, but always, drop everything to help them with? That’s right: “wanna nap.”

Item: I have fallen for that a lot of times.

Item: The Bean is no less a marvel. He is tall and tan and proves to have a deep love of capoeira. Brooklyn being Brooklyn, we found a group that does lessons for four-year-olds and will give it a try in the fall. He is not a huge fan of the car, but has learned from our road trip with my Aunt Explorer the joys of chewing gum and washing the windows, which take the edge off.

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“GUM! No gum,” says Jackalope. No gum for babies.

He remarked the other day how funny it is that everyone in our family has the same color skin, an observation whose logical basis I credit to his magical pre-school of the past year. He’s off to public pre-K in the fall, and even though I think that is the right choice — it’s free and around the corner and full time — it’s hard for all of us not to feel wistful. (He could technically go to his old school for another year, at great expense even for a part-time schedule, but he is demonstrably ready for more class time.) The local school is good, certainly fine for pre-K, but I have to take deep breaths when I think of my baby in a building where police officers run the front entrance. Plus the uniform is ugly, no matter how egalitarian in principle. I had a dream the other night that it was the picture for an article about ugly things.

Update: while I was nattering on, we got ready to leave Chicago for the Sugar’s childhood home in rural Michigan. Then the phone rang with the news that her father’s little brother, who, like the rest of the siblings, lives in suburban Chicago, had had a stroke. So we weren’t going anymore. Then, in the morning, his sister the nurse said no more visitors, as he tries to pull his feeding tube out to talk every time he recognizes anyone. So suddenly we were going again, with Sugar’s parents planning to come back in a week. (It is about a four-hour drive.) Everyone is being very sensible and stoic and Midwestern.

Uncle Little Brother is the family clown, the one who cheerfully submits to being the butt of the joke while making you a Manhattan, who somehow knows the perfect presents for the kids at Christmas, who in the pictures of the (large) family as children is always the one mysteriously in a cowboy costume or dressed for a children’s theatre production of Guys And Dolls, in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin. They say he is likely to recover, and I hope they are right.

Item: We are now in Sugar’s tiny hometown, in the house she grew up in, which is somehow also the very cleanest artists’ studio you ever saw. I’ve gotten used to the place over the years and forgotten how cool it is. I’d take a better picture, but I am sitting with a not-sleeping Bean. Update: too dark. You’ll have to take my word for it. Paintings, prints, sculptures everywhere, yet somehow extremely clean. Lots of books. A large cat named Teddy.

Here is the living room:

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The air conditioning is broken, but after freezing my tail off at the Chicago house, my thin, Southern blood is finally coming in handy.

Update: a mighty thunderstorm. The green wet smell of summer camp insomnia.

Item: This is honest to God the sign at the edge of town. The town is too small for a stop light and recently removed its downtown flashing yellow, so you see how this kind of thing could get to emergency levels.

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Item: MIL and I went to the new butcher shop at the edge of town — this is big news, as Carl’s grocery closed some time ago, leaving the town with zero food stores that aren’t a gas station. The new place sells great steaks, fifteen kinds of bratwurst (blueberry???), a smattering of produce, and a surprising array of bulk spices. They will also butcher your deer. Savvy business move, which I attribute to the owner’s wife working at the bank. The staff uniform is a camo hunting cap, which matches the wallpaper near the coolers; transactions are observed by a small black bear, a caribou, assorted fish, a fox, several whitetail, and some others I have forgotten. I have taken an immediate liking to the place. Good steaks, too.

Item: It turns out matching pajamas are crazy-cute. “We’re twins!!” says the Bean.

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Item: I am supposed to go take a nap. Cheers for now.


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Geography Lessons

Or: Things I Learned By Getting A Car

1. Brooklyn is a beach town.

Queens, too.  Oh, and Staten Island. Brighton Beach/Coney Island and the Rockaways are accessible by public transit, yes, but by car they are ~45 minutes and I don’t have to schlep the stuff for three people plus, to one degree or another, those actual people using only my body.  And then we are at the beach.  The beach, I tell you!

Since moving to New York ten years ago, I’ve made a handful of day trips to the beach.  Fewer than ten, probably.  In the first six days after getting the fuel pump replaced (ahem), we went four times.  We’re planning to go tomorrow.

Brooklyn Beach

2. Children like the beach better than overcrowded apartments.

Again, who knew?  Jackalope and the Bean do pretty well together, but, well, siblings gonna sibling.  Turns out putting them in smaller cages doesn’t help.  At the beach, well, I have two buckets and there’s more than enough sand for everybody.

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4. My apartment likes it better when we are at the beach.

We had to stay in last Tuesday morning.  There was marker all over the sofa before 9 am.

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Not the culprit, for the record.

3. Mamas like the beach better, too.

Partly this is because of the relative tranquility and because, duh, who doesn’t love the beach?  Some of it is harder to pin down.  Why should sand and salt and an environment where I really do need to be sure no one is drowning at any given moment make me feel so much more substantial, more tied to the world of the living?  I can’t tell you why, but at the beach I’m not thinking about whether this shortened breath, that mild headache is the beginning of the end.  It makes a pleasant change.

4. There is no Facebook at the beach.

Or next to none, anyway, as my phone battery is trifling and see above about real environmental dangers.

5. It turns out I spend too much time on Facebook.

I knew that, on one level, that “pay attention to your children/wife” level. What I did not realize is how much the click and click and click was increasing my anxiety. UGH. Facebook is a silly place, yes, but it’s also how I keep in touch with the world of adults and friends and complete sentences and big ideas. I just started a group for discussing anti-racist parenting, for instance. Also cat videos.

The things people dislike about Facebook — the way it provokes envy, for instance, or a sense that one isn’t living correctly — aren’t the problem. The problem is the very act of watching those notification numbers light up red, feeling compelled to check them, again and again and now again. I love it, and apparently it’s terrible for me. UGH.

Luckily, there is the beach to take my mind off it.


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Gee, but it’s great to be back home

There’s no place like it, for real. Let’s never leave again, except to visit Starrhillgirl.

Hi, internets. Thank you thank you thank you ten thousand times for your comments on that desperate post so long ago. They were one of the few, precious lifelines that I clung to that week in Little Rock, which was almost entirely miserable. In brief:

Item: I at no point told my father to fuck off, though he without question deserved it on several occasions. I did leave the room abruptly a few times to avoid fighting with him in front of his grandchildren. Peak risk of saying things that can’t be taken back came late on our second to last night there, when he took me faux-jovially off to his room to announce the imminent wedding, in March, since that’s when Ms. Alaska’s sister has spring break. Frankly, March is a great deal sooner than I would wish to face dragging my children across the country, even for an event I wanted to attend, even if I had a break from work, which I don’t, and even if Sugar had vacation days available, which she doesn’t, on account of this delightful trip. When I said March was very soon for us to travel (this after a long, upsetting conversation during which I neither cried nor yelled, but I did break the cardinal rule of disagreements with him by showing even a trace of emotion), he told me that was my fault for, get this, not asking after his girlfriend during our phone conversations.

Item: I spent much of the trip trying not to be a total bitch to Ms. Alaska, on the grounds that she is in my view exhibiting ruinously poor judgement but is not a terrible person. I did at one point try to tell her something along the lines of, “my anger is at my father for being an ass to me for the past year,” but she interpreted that as (only), “I am just so terribly sad,” and proceeded to do this saccharine “Ah’ve knohwn yew yore whole layfe,*” thing which made me want to see if my right hook is still functional. So.

*note that Ms. Alaska originally hails from west Texas.

Item: I was immensely proud of the Bean for showing discretion well beyond his years in the face of a truly underwhelming offering of Christmas presents. Can I just tell you how easy it is to please a kid his age who loves vehicles? Here’s the whole thing: buy. A. Vehicle. It doesn’t even matter if it’s one he already has! But a rolling elephant with a tag announcing it is for 6+ MONTHS is frankly a crappy present from a grandparent with the means to do otherwise if he could think about someone besides himself for two minutes. Anyway, the Bean was a complete champ about it, and he did get a present he loved, which was very cheap and from Walgreens but given with some thought to what he likes, because…

Item: Two of my mother’s sisters came. And, internets, their presence is a terrifyingly large part of the reason I’m still rolling along. The trip was so much worse than I’d thought it would be, and they were so amazing. They were like angels, in every sense. They were kind and loving and cared for my children in every way, to the point where I’m tempted to ask them if they’d like to be the grandparents. They were also my very favorite kind of angels, the Old Testament kind. The ones with swords. I don’t get the impression my dad or Alaska were all that moved by their many firm exhortations to not be such jerks/nitwits, but they protested vigorously, and it was so immense to feel so defended.

Moreover, they were sad. Really sad. It’s not that I’d wish this on anyone, but I can’t overstate the sheer relief of being with people who loved my mom and are sad that she died. I sure did not expect that to be in short supply, but the ongoing jolly from my father…. Well, it makes a person feel insane. Listen, I know the man well enough to have a pretty good idea what the basis of this behavior is and to know that it’s late in the day for him to change, because looking at any of his pathological denial reactions would necessitate facing some hard facts about how crappy his own parents were to him. I get that, and in an abstract way I can have some sympathy. But I can do without being asked to play along in this particular case.

Item: my father just now interrupted this rare moment of peace (I am sick and so Sugar has taken the kids to a birthday party without me) with a “save the date” phone call for early June. Whee. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those times when I wish I smoked. One can just look so detached with a burning cigarette in hand. I do have a flask I’ve never used.

Item: I don’t have to get them a gift, do I? Jesus.

Item: I have other things to say, maybe not on the Internet.

Whew! Now that you’re sort of caught up on all that, I remember that this blog was supposed to at least tangentially concern children. So.

The Bean

Wonderful, amazing, funny, clever, and absolutely maddening. In other words: almost four. Do the elevator button tantrums stop someday? I really hope so, because I think I reached my lifetime maximum at MOMA two weeks ago. And I sure hope his college roommate isn’t bothered by all the night wakings.

But. He’s also so wonderful, you guys. He helped me shovel the whole sidewalk in front of the community garden, with such gladness. He suddenly draws people who have real, thick limbs and bodies, having previously barely drawn anything figurative. He still favors sculpture and abstraction, which he describes as such. He’s a three-year-old who wants to go to MOMA, of all things. Clearly, he’s Sugar’s.

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Possibly he’s overdosed on modern art.

Jackalope

She’s nearly one, and I predictably can’t believe it. She loves every food ever except hot peppers, raspberries, and avocado. Why don’t my babies ever love avocado? They were supposed to be my excuse to buy them by the dozen! She adores her brother and biting me. Guess which I find more endearing.

Her latest trick is standing up in the middle of the floor, unassisted and unsupported. She is immensely proud of herself. The first time, she stood there saying, “oh, wow, wow,” and she has lately mastered clapping while standing. Here is a painting the Bean made of her on that first day. It’s an excellent likeness, I must say:

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Okay, it’s late, I have to teach tomorrow, and an old friend is mysteriously having a Facebook tantrum at me about how unfair the campaign against manspreading on the subway is. I will not stay away so long this time, for reals.


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Back To School

Lord, y’all. Feels like I have to commit grand larceny of time even to get a quick post out these days. Hello from the Metro North Railroad, where I should really be grading.

Item: The Bean’s school is popular with all of us. He’s had a few slightly rough goodbyes, but nothing major, and he is happy when I get there to pick him up. A typical day is 9-ish to 3:30; he stayed for afterschool one day last week and loved it. They made chocolate chip scones, a magnatile city, and a newspaper. In two and a half hours. His contributions to the paper were a drawing of something hairy (?), a weekend update that Sugar was going out of town for the weekend, and a wish that the world might always contain “construction, outside, and dust buffaloes.”

Item: Our apartment contains a gracious plenty of the last. No fear of shortage.

Item: Yes, that is a french fry Jackalope is eating in the picture I posted recently.  They weren’t the first food she tasted, but they may have been the first she swallowed. That’s my girl and, I might add, my mother’s granddaughter.

(Pause for crying.)

She loves other foods, too; in fact, we’ve scarcely found any she doesn’t love. She ate everything on the table at dim sum this weekend, objecting only to the bite I had accidently drenched in hot pepper sauce. She especially loves peaches and bananas and waffles and her brother’s rejected crusts and graham crackers and ricotta and stir fry bits and Peking duck and basically anything she can get her hands on. It’s gratifying.

However, she won’t touch a bottle of formula for love or money. It’s aggravating, but I decided I wasn’t going to pump for a seven month old who loves food that much. Pumping hurts, it sometimes results in lasting nipple damage for me, and my work days involve long, complex commutes. But also: pumping is annoying, and I just don’t want to do it. 

So far, she hasn’t wasted away. She always wants to nurse the minute I come home, but she isn’t hungry. I gather immediately dousing me in regurgitated milk is an effective means of both venting her spleen regarding my absence and reestablishing her dominance.
Item: I am back to teaching. Freshman comp at a community college, health care history at my grad-ma mater.

Aaaand then the train got there and the rest of the day came down like rain and even while I was beginning to type that, Jackalope woke up and required intervention and it is after nine and I haven’t eaten dinner. So until next time, have some pictures from my phone:

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In which I over-compensate for not having a proper lunch bag for the Bean’s first day. He helped with cutting and pinning. (And it doesn’t look like this anymore, because I haven’t ironed it after having to wash it before its first use, because of pee. So.)

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Celebrating her seven month birthday by figuring out how to be unsafe in her crib.

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Not pictured: Mama having a heart attack while saying encouraging things.

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Ekeing out a little more summer.


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Quick Things

Two of them, because it is a weekend and because I am turning over another leaf and mean to — for real, this time! — start posting tiny things more regularly.

1. The Bean started preschool, two days a week, at an immensely loveable place that is, get this, both next to a major construction site AND technically in a subway station.  (Don’t fret: it’s above ground and not flecked with old gum or mysterious ceiling drips.)  It’s hard to imagine a more perfect campus for him.  More on this later?  Probably.

First day of school

2. Jackalope is NOT AT ALL PLEASED about being away from me for more than a few hours, far less if her company is someone other than Sugar.  Her first long day with the babysitter is Wednesday; please pray for them both.  And for us, lest the sitter quit.  Jackalope’s track record with childcare at the coop is abysmal.  Last time, they didn’t call me up to rescue her for an hour or so, by which point everyone had heard a great deal of crying.  When I arrived, a small girl came running up to me, brimming with excitement.

“She said her first word!  She said her first word!”

“That’s very exciting,” I replied.

“It was, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!  That starts with A!”

Unconvinced


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Midsummer

This much-delayed post brought to you by my visiting in-laws, Sugar’s taking a day off work, and my realization that even more than a donut, I would like some peace and quiet, alone in the apartment while everyone else goes to the coffee shop. It is indeed quite sweet.

The long silence, here and in your comments, is brought to you 70% by Having Two Small Children All Damn Day, 25% by How Can I Do Anything If I Don’t Even Know If We Are Moving In A Month, 5% by a mild case of the blue devils. In the 19th century sense, not the NCAA one — can you tell I am reading Patrick O’Brian again? I think I may just plan on slowly cycling through that series for the rest of my life, I like it so much. I’m in my favorite part now, the voyage that is Diane to Southeast Asia, Surprise back, and so far the best bits (Stephan’s orphans; the Edenic crater by the Buddhist temple; the demise of Andrew Wray) are only improved by anticipation.

For the moment, anyway, the blue devils seem to have been put paid by the sheer joy of a week on Cape Cod, celebrating the marriage of two friends. They did the city hall bit in the fall, and rather than having the usual wedding feast, invited some friends and family to visit them at a big house in Wellfleet, hanging out doing the things one does at the beach and cooking big dinners for each other in the evenings. (Maybe I will give you my shrimp and grits recipe one of these days.) It was heavenly. There was a tidal marsh in the backyard, suitable for kayaking on at high tide and chasing fiddler crabs on at low tide. There were other kids, so ours weren’t the principle disruptive force, and plenty of adults used to children, so we got some breaks here and there. All the charm of a family vacation with someone else’s family. We saw whales and no one threw up on the boat, an act of sheer will on the part of the Bean. He caught snails and hermit crabs on the beach and declared a love of being barefoot even when there were clam shell driveways to cross. He also ate his first s’more and huge numbers of “sea beans” from out back, actually some sort of succulent grass that tastes a little spicy and unbelievably salty; Sugar ate her weight in lobster rolls. I had my first oysters and Jackalope her inaugural french fries: we are both extremely pleased.

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I imagine there may be gasping in some quarters at that news in concert with a glance at Jackalope’s age ticker: she is just over four months, and there is a fashion at present for ritual purity until at least six. When the Bean was this age, plummeting through the weight charts, and his doctor recommended letting him start tasting foods, I know some friends were appalled. My reading at the time suggested there wasn’t much difference in four versus six months for starting foods; the research cited to say otherwise conflates starting solids with ending breastfeeding, which we had and have no intention of doing. In any case, these fries were not her first foods. The Bean, flush with the joy of a “living room floor picnic” (dinner on a table cloth spread on the floor, a speciality of my mother’s, to make up for a rained-out attempt to eat at our community garden), let her taste an apple and a pickle a few weeks ago. “Come on, [Jackalope], get out your tongue….”

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She liked the apple more than the pickle, the opposite of the Bean at that age, but Lordy, does she love a french fry. I had intended only to let her touch her tongue to the one I impulsively offered at our post-whale watching lunch in Ptown, but the look on her face! Only a monster could have taken it from her.

In fact, I am pleased at her hunger for fries, for reasons greater than my usual contrariness. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was in medical school. (No, she didn’t take time off, and yes, I am permanently out-classed.) The only food she could stomach at the hospital cafeteria was french fries, and so for the rest of our lives together, she seemed especially pleased when I ate them. “Eighty percent of your protoplasm was french fries, after all.” I think she would like to see the pattern carry on.
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On our last morning at the house, watching the Bean balancing on the wall above the marsh, I teared up thinking of how she would have liked to hear about our adventures, more than anyone else would, in as much detail as I could render. It’s a hard thing, losing that. But I also realized that was close to the first time I’d cried that week, a new record, more noteworthy even than whales.

Now to the 25%: we are not moving this month, it turns out. Sugar had or perhaps was a fish on the line for a job in a town we would really like to move to, but then the line went slack. There are reasons it would be better to move in a year (principally to do with homophobic legal crap), but it’s exhausting, getting worked up about the prospect of a sudden, major change and then, BAM, never mind. And meanwhile, when you’ve thought you might be throwing everything in a truck on short notice, it’ seen hard to bother with niceties like cleaning the apartment or arranging a fall teaching schedule. Sigh. The only good I can see in all this, is that it did make us feel that yes, we are ready to leave, at least for the right situation. I’m trying to train my mind back on the things we like here, which is somewhat tricky. But the Bean has a neat preschool two days a week in the fall, our friends are still at hand (except for the ones who are leaving themselves), we saw an amazing free concert in the park (Janelle Monae, SWOON), and there is all the dim sum I can eat. (And a wonderful cousin of mine, just moved to the city and especially beloved of the Bean, to eat it with.)

Seventy percent of why I haven’t been in better touch is just, wow, two small children is a lot for me to keep up with, especially in the absence of a backyard. (Oh, how that house in Wellfleet made me long for a yard!) But while having two has made me a worse blogger, I think it may be making me a better parent. I just can’t obsess in the way I could with just one. Jackalope’s schedule is erratic and sometimes frustrating, but on the other hand, I barely remember it by the next day. The Bean is still a radically picky eater when it comes to food not growing right in front of him. (When it comes to the category of “leaves,” he could use to be just slightly pickier, for the sake of safety, though it does my heart good to see him wolfing down fennel leaves and lemon balm at our garden, even if I have also had to make him spit out some unauthorized attempts as well. Luckily the monkshood is nowhere near our bed.) But while I hope he will one day venture beyond peanut butter sandwiches, pancakes, and two specific flavors of yogurt, there’s just only so much energy I can spend fretting about it. He at half a spicy fried chickpea at dinner last night. That was something. Being willing to taste or even touch a food before rejecting it is extremely novel and welcome behavior.

Meanwhile Jackalope remains an easier baby than he was. Far more than half of my relative sanity is due to her sleeping more than he ever has, though she insists that most of it be in our bed, which I do not love. Lately this has meant “all-night milk bar” action, which is not my idea of relaxation. I got my stupid period back at one day shy of four months (the night before we left for the beach, naturally), so now my nipples hurt half the time. This is exactly the timing of its return following the Bean’s birth, almost to the day. And I have heard far earlier stories from other friends. Why on earth do breastfeeding advocates continue to all but promise at least six months off? I am less angry and bitter this time around, but hell, if we were straight (and fertile) I could be pregnant. No, thank you.

Where was I? (Surely you have realized by now that no editing is happening here, lest this never be posted at all.) Oh, right, my daughter.

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She’s enormous, by the standards set by the Bean. We’ll see where things stand at her appointment next week, but at two months and change she was 90th%ile for length, 70th for weight. She is a capital wiggler, maneuvering herself off of play quilts in no time flat. She is smiley and charmed by the world — the look on her face at the first service plaza we hit on our drive to the Cape was less restrained than I’d have expected upon arrival at Disneyworld. Which is good, because there is no way Sugar is agreeing to a Disney trip. She is particularly enraptured with her big brother, who so far shares her delight at least some of the time. (Yes, I know that’s unlikely to outlast her ability to steal his toys, but I am nevertheless enjoying the moment.)
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The Bean particularly loves to have us tell him what she is saying, and to in turn put his own words in her mouth. For a while she was telling, via his voice, very short stories in the narrative format of Runaway Bunny, mostly concerned with consumption. “Once there was a giraffe who wanted to eat a lion. So he said to his lion, I am going to eat you. And that was the end.” This habit has led to my greatest recent parenting coup, one that has radically increased the speed of getting dressed in the morning (a lucky thing, since it is suddenly hard to get Jackalope down for that nap except in a moving stroller, and I still come completely unhinged at certain kinds of crying). Here’s hoping it might work at your house, should you be in a similar situation:

The Bean no longer wants us to choose his clothes, which is fine and unsurprising. However, he also won’t choose them for himself in anything like a timely manner. It’s excruciating, and all previous attempts to speed things up have been fast tracks to tantrumland. But you know who is allowed to choose? Jackalope. It goes like this:

ME: Bean, do you want to choose your clothes today, or should Jackalope?

BEAN: Jackalope!

ME: Okay, Jackalope, which underpants should the Bean wear today: Friday, race cars, or octopus?

BEAN: She says octopus!

And so on through shirt and pants. He still insists on making his own shoe choice, which is fair enough since she can’t walk. I have no idea why this is so magically successful, but wow, it is. The only downside is that sometimes we have to wait for her to wake up from a nap, but if we plan ahead, sometimes she will choose his clothes the night before. Then he takes some mischievous pleasure in slyly choosing a different shirt while she is out of the room.

Ah, there is the sound of the door now. And the sound of a small and hungry person. How nice it has been, internets, spending this time with you. Let’s not leave it so long next time.

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Red Beans And Ricely Yours

Happy Spring, Internets.  It is about damn time.

Lots has been happening here.  And yet, when I think about what to write to you, it’s hard to know what is of consequence.  The days are just packed, as Calvin said once. Jackalope got her first cold, and as much as I rail against the rhetoric, I was very grateful for those breastfed antibodies.  The Bean was much sicker.  He and I made pickles, before all that hit, and they are tasty.  Jackalope sleeps well, except when she doesn’t.  She’s outgrowing everything, and we can’t find some of the cuter things I saved.

The Bean has lately become enamored of rhymes.  Jackalope is starting to coo and chatter at us.  And, to paraphrase Frances’s father, a girl looks up to her big brother.  So imagine her delight when he sat by her swing this weekend and began listing -oo words — zoo, boo, shoe, and so on — while she cooed and oo’ed back at him.  I don’t know how straight, fertile people don’t end up with a dozen of these creatures.  They are so very charming.  I am saved from ruin by not being able to decide to have more purely on a whim.

Today (and yesterday) we went to my favorite playground, made of large trees that fell in Sandy and other major storms of the past few years.  I haven’t been there since October, and it is nice to be back.  (Fun trivia fact: we had planned to go there the first weekend in November, to take pictures for a Christmas card.  And then my mom died.  So.  And with the grief and the travel and the end of the semester and more travel and the being huge and uncomfortable and the wretched winter weather, this is the first I’ve been able to get it together to drag us all there.)  Have a few pictures.

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Pastoral with tongue.

 

Also today friends of ours whose daughter is ~3 months younger than The Bean had their boy.  He is huge and healthy and we are glad he is here.  I plan to make them a batch of red beans and rice when they are home from the hospital, which is a really healthy food, which people can complement with supplements, if you want to increase your protein intake, you could purchase some protein online for this. I thought I’d write the recipe for the beans and rice down here.  It is Monday, after all, the traditional day for these things. And laundry, but c’mon, did you see the size of that blooming crab apple? Laundry will wait.

My recipe is basically this one, with some minor changes.  I like more vegetables than the original, slightly different spices.  His beignet recipe is also worth your time.  I’m not a big one for measuring, so this is vague.  His is very much more professionally put together.  You should read it, especially if you like precision more than tangents.  The other differences are that I don’t use tasso, because I never have any, and I do throw in some pork neck bones, which are delicious and very, very cheap.

I find this works well in a slow cooker, too, with one very important caveat: if you use dry red kidney beans, YOU MUST BOIL THEM FIRST.  Either 30 minutes at the start of soaking or 10 minutes in fresh water after they have soaked overnight.  They contain high levels of a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin, and it is not your friend.  Boiling breaks it down, but slow cookers do not get hot enough to reliably do so; apparently there was quite an epidemic of sick whole foods folks when slow cookers first became popular in the bean-crazed ’70s.  I prefer to use small red beans, which are more traditional and don’t have this problem.  Then again, these days I’m such a lousy hippie that I often used canned beans to begin with.  Don’t tell, but I don’t really notice the difference. Our slow cooker is huge, so I generally double the recipe if I do it that way.

  • A few Tbs Butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1 Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 ribs Celery, Chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • ~1 Tb dry thyme
  • ~1/2 t garlic power
  • dash of cayenne
  • ~1 Tb majoram
  • Dry basil, if you feel like it. Not too much.
  • 2 links Andouille Sausage, diced
  • 1/2 lb. Small Red Beans (soaked overnight) or 2 cans or whatever I can scare up without going to the store
  • 2-3 pork neck bones. Nothing wrong with a little more.
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock/water — less if you are using a slow cooker.  If I don’t have stock on hand, I use some “better than bullion” paste.  This stuff is handy as heck.
  • 3 Fresh Bay Leaves
  • Good splash of Red Wine Vinegar, somewhere between a Tb and a 1/4 c
  • 1/2-1 Cup Tomato Sauce — or a couple of Tbs of tomato paste or leftover pizza sauce or just a bunch of tomatoes
  • Handful of flat-leafed Parsley, Finely Chopped, plus more to serve
  • 2-3 Green Onions, sliced, plus more to serve
  • Long- or Medium-grain rice
  1. Combine the trinity — that’s onion, green pepper, and celery.  Melt the butter — as much as necessary — in a large, heavy pan with a lid, over a medium-high flame.  Add half the trinity, the andouille, and the spices.  Cook until the vegetables get some color.  (Do this step in a separate pan if you are using a slow cooker; you can do everything else in the slow cooker itself.)
  2. If you are using the slow cooker, just dump everything in except the vinegar, tomato, green onions, and parsley.  NB: You probably don’t need that much liquid, since not much will evaporate; just put in enough to mostly cover things. If you are doing this on the stove, you can either put everything in at this point, or you can put just the beans and neck bones in and cook for a few minutes first.
  3. Once everything is in, bring to a boil if on the stove top, then lower the heat to medium low and cover.  Cook 2-2.5 hours, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on the liquid level.  If you are using a slow cooker, use a medium-high setting for 4-6 hours.
  4. Thirty minutes before serving time, when the pork is falling easily from the bones:
  • Pull the bones out, clean the meat off of them, and put the meat back in the pot.  Feel free to skip this step if you are lazy.
  • Add tomato, parsely, and green onions.
  • Add vinegar.  Isn’t that nice?  Vinegar with beans is a magic trick I learned from this recipe.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  • Cook your rice.

5. Serve in large bowls, a pile of rice with the beans on top.  Garnish with parsley, green onions, and hot sauce, if you like.  A little extra vinegar is sometimes nice.  Watch out for little tiny pork bones.

 

Welcome to the outside world, Seabass!  We will feed your mama up on this, and with any luck, her milk will be extra tasty.


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Fits and Starts (Take 2)

Did this pop up in your reader once already, when it was much, much shorter?  Thank the awkward interface of the WP ipad app!

Hey, look! I got as far as a title for that post I didn’t write on Tuesday! Fancy that!

I was sneezing my brains out, and the state of my pelvic floor is such that I was put in mind of the notion of…let’s say ideas escaping a bit at a time. Then my allergy meds kicked in and I was left with the cognitive skills of a not-so-bright houseplant. So you missed out on an extended pee metaphor, is what I’m saying.

I know. I’m sad for you, too.

Meanwhile, in no particular order:

Item: The mother of one of the Bean’s friends, who also has a six-month-old, says of taking care of the two of them, “it’s really fine. As long as you don’t want to do anything else.” That about sums it up so far. Jackalope, praise heaven, remains about as easy to care for as it is possible to imagine for a baby her age (7 weeks today yesterday). Sometimes I also do one other thing, like some laundry or most of the dishes. We do not always leave the apartment. I shower on the weekends.

Item: I have found this game invaluable for achieving a sanity-sparing trance state while nursing. I have even won, once. If you are troubled by excess productivity, give it a try.

Item: Yes, I play games while caring for my children. I also mess around on the Internet and, in the rare occasion that I have access to both my hands and a source of light, read books. (I have been known to talk on the phone, too, though not so much now that I have lost the one person I could call anytime, even when there wasn’t much of a story to tell, and just…talk.) On Friday I was chided in a faux-friendly way by a (childless) acquaintance for bantering on Facebook rather than giving my children my undivided attention.

Item: I do not give my children my undivided attention at every moment.

Item: I do not feel bad about that. They do not need my undivided attention, most of the time. There are moments when one or, merciful heavens, both need all or most of my attention, and in those moments, I do my best to give it to them.

Item: I am a fully-fledged adult human, with a big brain and wide-ranging interests. No one needs my undivided attention at all times.

Item: Speaking of gender essentialism (because I believe that’s what is in play above), it continues to amaze me how casually it crops up in my life as the mother of a boy child. (I expect the girl child parts will kick in soon.) The mother of the Bean’s friend mentioned above expresses genuine surprise that I am not teaching the Bean to pee standing up. As if the presence of a Y chromosome demands it. (Or maybe it’s the testicles? An issue of airflow?) For the record, the first person to inform him that such an option exists gets to teach him; such behavior will be for outside of the house only until he is able to be in charge of cleaning the bathroom. Meanwhile, another friend — and a butch lesbian, at that — expresses relief that she is expecting another girl, because she knows “what little boys are capable of.” I am baffled.

Item: Our particular little boy is capable of more and more things, lately, almost all of them good. Potty training, pee-edition, is suddenly going much better. (Let us not speak of poop.) He prefaces questions with, “I’m curious,” and tonight at the computer remarked, noticing the connection for the first time, “it’s funny that you guy call that a mouse.” He “imsisted” the other night that I stop doing the dishes and instead eat ice cream. I was helpless to comply.

Item: Jackalope is up to new tricks, too. Last night, age exactly seven weeks, she had her first absolute fit of smiles, cracking up over my singing along to the Mendelssohn and Mozart Sugar was playing. She’s a funny baby in general. For reasons only the gods of hand-me-downs know, we own in her size what amounts to a black unitard. I tried, later on last night, to get her to smile for a camera, but was treated instead of pose after pose of hamming. Method baby, I guess.

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Eyebrow work

7 weeks Nathan Lane
Nathan Lane Impression

7 weeks
Hitchcock

7 weeks
Comedy

7 weeks
Tragedy

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Fin

Item: We have all gone to our respective doctors again. The Bean had has three-year check up, passed with flying colors. Suddenly he is in the 40-somethingth percentile for height and, more surprisingly, for weight. This from a child who spent much of his first year clinging to the bottom five percentile points. He weighs in the neighborhood of 31 pounds and is roughly 38 inches tall. He is extremely glad to now be able to reach the green button that releases the lock on our building’s front door. City kid milestones.

Jackalope is huge. At that appointment, at which point she was five weeks and change, she weighed in at 9 pounds 12 ounces, somewhere in the 60s by percentile. Two pounds over her birthweight, three pounds over her lowest recorded weight in the post-birth drop. Imagine what she’d weigh if she didn’t spit up so much! She is deemed otherwise healthy, and now her acne is clearing up, too.

I took Jackalope with me to my six-week OB check-up. It was lovely, really. As different from the postpartum appointment of abuse and despair as can be imagined.  We were thoroughly fussed over by everyone from the receptionist to that very young OB I only met once at my first appointment. I stuck my head into the office of Dr. Joy, the OB who delivered Jackalope, and she was so completely charming in her neon pink lipstick and her exclamations that I wasn’t even annoyed that she had to ask my first name. She clearly remembered me. “Oh! Was it better for you?? You were so traumatized! I just really wanted it to go really well for you!!  And you did so well!” She danced around the room holding Jackalope and praising her and me for ages, even though I know she had a patient waiting. (Sorry, patient, but I did need that.) I just love her. I almost want to see her now for my annual exams, instead of the doctor I came to the practice for. But I also love her! Maybe I’ll let them each do one cervix.

For the actual appointment, I saw the younger of the two OB midwives, whom I didn’t meet before Jackalope was born but who gets a gold star in the birth story I will eventually write, for being the person answering the phone when Sugar called to say I was having contractions. Young Midwife could hear me in the background and, in marked contrast to the bitch of a nurse at Dr. Russian’s, who in similar circumstances told Sugar, “she needs to calm down,” said, calmly but firmly, that we needed to leave for the hospital, even if I’d only just started having contractions that made me sound like that. Thank you, Young Midwife, for your help in making sure our daughter was not born in a cab.

At this appointment, we mostly just chatted. My poor, tattered hooha had started behaving itself again, so no treatment for that. Isn’t it always slightly more frustrating than relieving when symptoms resolve prior to an appointment? My pelvic floor is nothing to write home about, but it does seem to be getting stronger; I kegel every time I think of peeing on myself, which is often enough that I occasionally overdo it and exhaust everything. YM told a story of being invited to the country house of a homebirth client and making an ill-advised decision to get on the trampoline with her kids. My own hopscotch misadventures pale in comparison. She asked about penetration and I said I’d let her know if the children were ever simultaneously asleep; she countered with a story of nursing while…multitasking. (Why is it that they tell you no penetration with anything prior to the six week appointment, and then, at the six week appointment, ask how it’s going? C’mon, people.)  I am cleared to do everything, including sit-ups, but I told YM I’d be much, much to busy attending to my precious children to do anything so selfish as that.  The Bean and I celebrated with a bubble bath.

Item: It’s taken almost a week to write this, and I can’t remember what else I meant to include. Time to wrap it up, perhaps. Good night, y’all.
Visiting monkey and Julia

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17 Comments

Bionic Family Newsletter

Hey, y’all, she remarked sheepishly. I am sorry it has been so long. I thought I remembered about this phase, how it means just nursing 27 or 28 hours a day, but I crucially forgot that nursing a newborn requires, at least for me, both hands. Also, by 28 hours a day I mean 40.

But anyway, here I am. Mostly because how many places am I free to talk about my nipples and hooha hurting? Y’all are a special group, internet. I don’t have real hope of managing a narrative post in the next two years, but I will indulge myself in some categorized items. (Spoiler: my nipples hurt. Also my hooha.)

[Several hours later….]

Where to begin?  Jackalope, I suppose, since she’s the most novel:

Jackalope

Item: She’s marvelous.  Disregard all the time I spend begging her to go the hell back to sleep at 3am.  She’s healthy and growing and sleeping more than the Bean did, even if I could frankly use a lot more hours.  She seems to be that proverbial easier baby that some people have.  Now I understand the magical beliefs that persist about babies — how they give explicable cues before screaming that they are hungry, for instance, and how they like things like swaddles and pacifiers and soothing.  I imagine some of this is our being more experienced parents, but mostly I think she’s just a wildly easier baby than the Bean.  (Knock wood, knock wood.)

Item: She’s huge!  She was almost two pounds heavier than the Bean at birth (7/13 to his 6/1), and she’s growing much faster.  She was over eight pounds at her last appointment, at age 2.5 weeks.

Item: She’s tough.  At five days old, she reached down during a clothing change, took hold of her umbilical cord stump, and tore it off.  No crying.

Item (related): She nurses well!  This, I believe, is both cause and consequence of being larger (and born two weeks later).  Consequence, because her mouth is larger, her stomach holds more, and she is just more coordinated and, well, finished than the Bean was.  She latched on and nursed better in the delivery room than he did for a month.

Item: I have SO much more milk than last time.  Funny, it’s almost like a person is healthier when she keeps most of her original complement of blood.  Someone should study that.

Item: Nursing a baby who is into it while yourself making adequate amounts of milk is SO MUCH EASIER than nursing a weak, tired, young baby while making not enough milk.  It still takes forever and wears me out and hurts my nipples and drives me a little crazy, but really, not at all in the same ballpark.  I did have a small nervous breakdown at her first out-of-hospital doctor’s visit, when she had lost still more weight and I imagined us spiraling into the same nightmare we had with the Bean.  I took home formula samples and cried and refused to use them, which confused poor Sugar badly.  I couldn’t decide whether it was more irrational to begin supplementing a baby I knew didn’t really need it yet, or to dig in my heels, the way I did last time, and allow us to go back down the road of failed exam after exam, needlessly starving baby, etc.  (Side-item: I really wish we’d been able to see our preferred pediatrician for that visit instead of her young partner.  I think she might have been able to calm me down.)  But then, like in the books, my milk came the rest of the way in, and at our next appointment, she’d regained her birth weight.  Just like they say happens!

Item: As much as I like the lactation consultant we ended up eventually seeing with the Bean (as opposed to the ones we saw before her, who were various flavors of useless), I like not having to see her even more.  And even more than THAT, I like having a baby who can just be fed when she’s hungry and gain weight, without my having to go through routines of timing and facial exercises and diaper changes to wake her back up and horrible teas and pumping and crying and guilt.  Funny.

Item: At the second weight check, when she’d regained her birth weight, I also had my first experience of really feeling like an experienced parent.  The NP we saw that time, who had repeatedly praised her weight gain, asked about her sleep.  At the time, she had been sleeping a 4-6 hour stretch at the beginning of the night, which, I’m sure you can imagine, was heavenly.  (I mean, the Bean doesn’t even always do that, and he’s THREE.)  Oh no, she said, you can’t let her go that long.  You need to be waking her up to eat.  And I thought, lady, you just said this baby is gaining weight and looking great; like hell I’m waking her up.  But what I said was, “We’ll see.”  Because I realized in that moment that not only did I not have to do that, I didn’t even need to tell her I wasn’t going to.

Item: We don’t always get that stretch anymore.  Or it isn’t always at night.  Sugar generally ends up in the Bean’s room, and I am alone with Jackalope, who likes to have a couple hours of being awake for no earthly reason sometime in the 1-5am stretch.  I am tired.

Item: On Monday, my first day home alone with both kids, she stayed awake from 5am until 10:30, napped for 40 minutes, was back up for a couple of hours of continued, constant nursing, took another cat nap, was up again, etc.  There was a period when all three of us were wailing.  It was precious.

Item: On Tuesday, Sugar came home from work early and I took Jackalope to a department meeting at adjunct-institution-community-college.  I had written to ask permission and not heard back, and I need brownie points over there.  No idea if I scored them with the right people.  I missed half the meeting, including the topic I’d come to hear about.  A woman next to me was snide at me while using FB on her phone.  It was one thousand degrees and packed; turns out my comfort level with public nursing does not extend to the front row of such a setting.  I had the unsettling experience of realizing that the woman I thought was the chair of the department isn’t.  But several people said kind things on their way out the door, and I reminded the person who hires adjuncts that I’d like work in the fall.

Item: Poor Jackalope is a second child when it comes to pictures, I’m afraid.  We remember to take them, sometimes, but then they are stuck on the camera.

The Bean

Item: The Bean is THREE.  How in cheese’s name did that happen? We got him a tea set.
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Item: He turned three the same day Jackalope turned three weeks old.  I tried to get a cute picture of them near each other.  Ha.
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Item: We had a tiny little party and a cake with trains on it.  My mom tried to send the trains for his last birthday, but they arrived too late. He liked it.

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Item: Still not eating many foods or sleeping through the night or reliably using the potty. But he can do a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle with almost no help. (Still figuring out how to work that “but” into his doctor’s appointment on Monday.)  I am an unabashed puzzle pusher, and am beyond thrilled that he likes them, too.

[There’s Jackalope waking up….]

[And then the rest of the afternoon and the evening and the night happened, and most of the next morning.  There was an interlude for an unexpectedly early first brother/sister bath, which damn near killed me with the cute.]

GandJbath

Item: The Bean is so much better with Jackalope than I thought reasonable to expect.  He likes to put his nose against her toes.  We failed utterly to move him to a big bed and decommission the crib/toddler bed in time that he wouldn’t associate the loss of his familiar spot with the arrival of the baby, but as soon as it was converted back to its baby configuration (he helped), I heard him stop mid-sentence, correcting himself to call it “Jackalope’s bed.”  She was fussing in there one afternoon, while I was stuck on the toilet.  I was a little concerned when he went in to her — he is a lot larger than she is and unaware of her comparative fragility — but he sat down on the floor with his legos and said, “don’t cry.  I am making you a tower to make you happy.”  Melt.

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[Whoops, there went the whole weekend.  My dad visited.  There’s a lot to say about that, almost all unbloggable.  He is charming with babies.]

Rotten Things

Item: Our older cat, Michaela, died.  She was diagnosed with kidney failure right before Jackalope was born.  Sugar learned to give her sub-cutaneous fluids every night.  There were supplements but no real hope of recovery.  She seemed okay for a while, and then suddenly wasn’t.  We all miss her, and of course this has started another round of questions and pronouncements from the Bean about his dead grandmother and great-grandmother, with lots of crying from me especially.  I know these questions are a typical part of being his age, but really, the last four months have been over the top for our family.  I am so sick and tired of death.

Item: Michaela came to us as a teeny kitten found in the woods, so dirty we didn’t know she was white.  (Really, she was a secret calico, with a smear of grey and buttery-tan on her head as a kitten.)  She lived with us in Massachusetts and Chicago and New York.  She nearly died of hepatic lipidosis in 2005 and after recovering, slept on our feet every night.  Despite being standoffish with strangers (“Michaela has boundaries,” said an approving friend, comparing her to our more dog-like Orson), she turned out to adore babies, both ours and others’.  We called her the Bean’s nanny.  Here she is with the Bean, in 2011, and with Jackalope:

A Boy and His (Very Patient) Cat

Great Minds Think Alike

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Item: Yesterday morning, Sugar’s paternal grandmother died.  (Her maternal grandmother died in December.)  It wasn’t a surprise, but it is awful.  I am so tired of death.

Item: Sugar is going to Chicago for the funeral for the first part of the week.  I’m not ready to be alone overnight with both Jackalope and the Bean, but, well, I guess I’m about to be ready.

My Addled Brain

Item: Despite everything, I don’t seem to be depressed.  At least, I don’t think so.  It’s almost weird.  I am sometimes sad and sometimes overwhelmed, but yeah, not depressed.  I do still cry about my mom a lot, but I have a hard time categorizing that as pathological; crying seems pretty rational to me, and naturally I think of her all the time, especially looking at this baby, whom she would so have wanted to know.  There’s not much I can do to make that not awful.

My Body, Upper

Item: Remember that Cold of Filth I was complaining about before Jackalope was born? (COF is trademarked to either May or Mrs. Hairy, not sure.) I had this fantasy that somehow the intensity of labor would drive it out like a demon.  Yeah, no.  Instead, I was sick for a solid month, coughing my brains out.  (Other things also coughed out, too, thanks to an enlarged uterus and a pelvic floor that went on strike altogether.)  The Bean and Sugar were sick, too, but luckily Jackalope was not, nor does the codeine cough syrup I was living on seem to have bothered her.  Still, I do not recommend the experience of being that sick immediately postpartum.

Item: Dateline: NIPPLES. The Reynaud’s is back.  For new readers, this means that my nipples are spasmotically seizing up in response to breastfeeding, and if that sounds horrifically painful, well, it is.  I got on the nifedipine in short order this time around, following some minor difficulties getting my OB to prescribe the extended release version in place of a “take as needed” regime of regular capsules.  (Let me tell you, you take one of those at the same time as a slug of cough syrup and WHOA, good luck standing up.)  Unfortunately, the nifedipine isn’t working quite as completely, though things are a great deal better than they were a few weeks ago, when many tears were shed.  Now I mostly have spasms at night, and they aren’t so terrible.

Item: I can’t try a higher dose of nifedipine, apparently.  I called the OB office a couple of weeks ago, when things were getting very bad, to ask about that and about some renewed locchia.  The nurse insisted I come in to see a midwife.  On the one hand, it was nice to feel they were concerned about my health, in marked contrast to Dr. Russian’s nurse.  On the other, schlepping into the city is not easy, nor was there a point.  As I had suspected, the bleeding was normal.  Meanwhile, they are afraid my blood pressure will bottom out on a higher dose.  I suspect that’s not right — my understanding is that, while nifedipine does lower BP in people with pathologically high pressure, it doesn’t have much effect in someone like me, whose body doesn’t have difficulty maintaining a steady BP.  Certainly my BP while I was taking it last time was at my usual level every time it was checked.  But, since my usual level is on the low side and I don’t want to pass out all over the place, I guess that’s how it is.

Item: I started taking some extra B6, on the advice of the internet.  Hard to say whether that helped, but  I already had it in the house.  At least I won’t get pellagra.

Item: The Reynaud’s has new tricks.  Several times a day, associated with let-down, I have what I think must be massive spasms in my milk ducts.  (This happened sometimes with the Bean, but not this early or this fiercely.)  The only reason I’m not weeping over this is that it doesn’t last that long, just a minute or two each time.  It is more of a sore feeling than a sharp one, but it is intense, like each duct suddenly has a fist inside it.  Not recommended.

Item: It was an act of purest optimism to have ordered that breastpump, wasn’t it?  Sigh.

My Body: Lower

Item: I know y’all mainly read this blog for hooha news.  It’s cool.  I mainly write it to talk about my hooha.

Item: Ouch.

Item: In so many, many ways, my recovery from Jackalope’s birth has been nothing at all like my recovery from the Bean’s.  Thank whatever it is you like to thank.  I am healthier and happier and in much, much better shape.

Item: My pelvic floor is shot, but recovering.  For a while there, advertising algorithms were chasing me across the internet with ads for protective undergarments.  Depressing.  Now I am mostly okay as long as I go to the bathroom a lot and, I discovered yesterday, don’t attempt any hopscotch games.  Bad idea.

Item: The hemorrhoids are likewise retreating, like big, ugly glaciers.  Butt glaciers.  Thank God for witch hazel.
(Gratuitous witch hazel shot because I also love the plant, mostly because it blooms so early.)

witch hazel

Item: Stitches still beasts.  The proverbial they say you don’t tear as much the second time, and I guess I didn’t, inasmuch as I’d already, erm, resected my vaginal septum and it’s hard to tear more than that.  Nevertheless, I was fairly shredded, inside and out.  My new vocabulary word is “sulchal.”  That all hurt in a predictable way at first, then got worse around week two, when everything got irritated and the lines of stitches felt like they might rip right out every time I coughed.  Or God forbid sat up.  Things improved again, with a delightful interlude of suture ends poking me in personal places.

Item: Except now I have these hard spots I suspect are scar tissue, and nothing is stretchy enough.  As in, it hurts to sit again, in sharp little ways, and then there is blood.  Not a whole lot of blood mostly, but I think I am tearing a little bit every day now, just from sitting.  I am so not into this, I can’t even tell you.  I have my postpartum appointment on Tuesday, and I sure hope there is something to do about this problem.  I’d like to, um, use that part of my body again someday, for one thing.  Ahem.

Miscellanea:

Item: Sara started blogging again!  Check that OUT.

Item: I have spent an absurd amount of time giggling at this, featuring drawings the Bean describes as “some funny folks!”