Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Babies and Bonks

My house has been more chaotic than usual the past few days with my parents in town and my brother and his family visiting. His two kids are almost-three years old and 15-months old, so things have been busy and loud and fun! The girls have had a blast playing with Curie, who is game for pretty much anything they want to do, especially because they dote on her and are willing to indulge her. She and Coco were especially good buddies, but then when Coco was at gymnastics last night, she and Zuzu played together that Zuzu was her mother and she needed to go to the doctor and it was pretty cute.

Curie is only a couple inches shorter than Coco even though she's two and a half years younger, and she has a ton of hair and is very smart and talks really well, so I think sometimes the girls forgot how little she is--she fell off the swing in the basement because she's not quite three, but she looks like she could be a four-year-old. (She was fine.)

Bucky is so cute with his big brown eyes and mischievous little grin. He also has an excellent set of lungs and tends to express himself at top volume when he feels he has been wronged, which is not infrequently. Last night the girls were running away from him and he was sort of enjoying chasing them but maybe feeling a little left out, too? Lots of complicated emotions to work though at any given moment. Sometimes he was sweet and snuggly with me, but in times of distress he only wants his parents and often just his dad. It is fun and kind of hilarious to see my brother as a parent. I think he's a great dad, even when he's visibly frustrated because a whining toddler is clinging to him and screaming for a bottle only to reject said bottle when it is offered. For someone who had maybe never held a baby before he met Zuzu, he's totally hands on with the diaper changing and milk warming and kiddo snuggling.

I have loved having them visit, and it's wild to think that the next time we see them (this summer) the babies will already have changed so much. I wish they were closer!

Vieves and Bucky are six months apart and not super interactive with each other, but Vieve definitely had her eye on him and was doing so much more standing and trying to take steps while holding on to furniture or the fireplace hearth. I felt like she turned into a wannabe toddler over the weekend! Oh the baby time goes so crazy fast. Six months ago, I could put her down and she couldn't move. Last night, she managed to crawl up on the bottom stair and I barely got there in time to catch her when she sat down and fell backwards off of said stair.

This morning I wasn't quick enough. She was fussing in my bedroom when I removed Clementine's raw hide bone from her fat little fist (oh! so sad!) so Zuzu picked her up and put her on our bed, where she and Coco were still lounging. The girls are usually very sweet about entertaining G in the mornings while I get ready. I had already done my morning yoga routine (only ten minutes today because it was hard to get out of bed) and I was in the process of getting dressed. I turned around to grab my shirt and next thing I know, there's a terrible bonk as Vieve tumbled off the bed and hit the hardwood floor.

I was NOT calm, cool, or collected and instead did all of the things you shouldn't do in the moment--panicked, yelled at Zuzu, swooped up the baby while shouting, started shaking uncontrollably, and yelled at David when he asked if she was okay. ("I DON'T KNOW IF SHE'S OKAY HOW WOULD I KNOW IF SHE'S OKAY IT'S NOT LIKE SHE CAN TELL ME SHE'S OKAY LOOK AT HER PUPILS ARE THEY OKAY???)

I really don't like starting my mornings with that kind of panicky adrenaline rush.

Anyway, she does have a bruise on her head but her pupils were equal and reactive and she quit crying fairly quickly. Her babysitter promised to keep a close eye on her, and G was all smiles when I handed her to the sitter, but then G cried when I left, which is only because she's been home for the past five days and out of our normal routine. Still, it's hard on the heart.

I drove my parents' car to work because my brother needs our bigger car to get his family and all their luggage to the airport today. We moved G's car seat base to their car and it seemed like it wouldn't be a big deal, except that my car has a mirror so I can see her and I couldn't see her in my parents car and she was so quiet (this is normal, but normally I can LOOK at her) so I was worried that she had lost consciousness in some kind of delayed concussed reaction to her fall. (She had not, but was happily sucking on a binky when we got to the sitter's house.)

ALSO my office key is on my car keys so I drove all the way to work and then couldn't unlock my office. Fortunately the director has a master key, but it was just one more way that Tuesday felt like Monday and I felt like a frazzled human who can't get her life together.

Things are settling with my new job. My hours are a bit longer, even though the commute is shorter, but the crazy thing is that I don't really think about work when I'm not there. I have always, ALWAYS been thinking about work. Teaching is exhausting and once the day is over there is prep for the next day and grading and specific concerns about students and other stuff on the departmental or university level. Now... I just show up. I do my job. I go home. I like it just fine in the moment--my coworkers are great, the students I work with are quite nice. It's just so different.

I do feel like I have more energy left at the end of the day, aside from this cold which has been lingering in my sinuses for over a week and is kind of sucking the life out of me (everyone at my house had the sniffles this weekend and we went through like seven boxes of kleenex). In general, though, I've realized how exhausting teaching is, when I'm basically putting on a one-woman improv show for two hours a day. Having one on one meetings and researching best practices for advising honors students is, like, way easier. But also I really miss teaching and reading (and rereading) great literature. I haven't read Hamlet in over a year. I miss it.

I'm honestly loving the bigger margin/divide between work and home in a lot of ways. It just takes some getting used to. I still really miss the flexibility and total autonomy of my old position. That's the hardest thing. Even though my supervisor has been great about any time I've needed to leave early or the day I came in late so I could be at Coco's half birthday celebration at school or the afternoon I ran G to the doctor over lunch because I was sure she had an ear infection (she didn't--but her eyes were goopy! That was always a tell-tale sign for Zuzu!). It's actually easier to be gone because I'm not canceling class or anything--I had to reschedule one appointment with one person. But it's awkward and annoying to have to check in with someone else and feel kind of guilty about leaving instead of just being entirely in charge of my own day. I don't love that part. (I also realize how privileged I am that I've never really had to do that before.)

I'm also sort of in denial about the summer all together, so we'll just see how that plays out. I'm not really letting myself look that far ahead at this point.

Here are a few things I've been reading:

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Super weird, but I ended up really liking it.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. I'm listening to this one and it makes me look forward to my drive to/from work. Fascinating. Google the blue people of Kentucky!

That's all I've got. Babies bonking heads and a couple of book recommendations. Sums up life around here.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Loaded Girl Scout Cookies

On a sunny day in January, Zuzu sold Girl Scout cookies the old fashioned way: by pounding the pavement in our neighborhood. Coco was her very enthusiastic assistant, and my job was to push G in the stroller, remind Zuzu to say thank you LOUDLY, and break up squabbles about who got to ring the next doorbell.

Our neighbors were very gracious about ordering cookies and it was a pretty nice day, so things were moving along nicely. We knocked on the door of a house where a family had moved in fairly recently--I was pregnant with G when they moved, and although I had good intentions, we never stopped by with baked goods and greetings.

At any rate, Zuzu gave them her sales pitch and the lady very nicely explained that her daughter was also selling Girl Scout cookies.

(I had no idea there was another Girl Scout on the block, so I felt kind of bad for not sharing our territory, but also early bird, worms, dog eat dog world, capitalism is inherently evil, etc.)

Anyway, we quick did introductions and this family also had a toddler and the mom is pregnant--this time with a boy. I smiled and said something like, "Well that will be a new experience! We just have girls at our house." And then did the usual, "Hope to see you around, enjoy the sunshine, good luck selling cookies, okay bye" thing as I started to maneuver the stroller down the sidewalk. We were at least twelve paces away when Coco turned back and yelled, "WE HAD ANOTHER BABY. BUT SHE DIED!"

* * *

In the circles of baby loss moms, we talk about "dropping the dead baby bomb." It's a bomb because it instantly changes the mood of the room and the dynamic of the conversation. Often, it's a conversation killer. It's useful, though, in that it allows for a very quick assessment of whether a conversation might lead to a friendship.

We talk about whether to drop the bomb on sales clerks who ask "Is this your first?" or "How many kids do you have?" as conversation filler for the 30-second check-out transaction.

We talk about when to drop the bomb on new acquaintances--early? So you know whether to bother? Later? Once you've determined whether they deserve to know your personal history?

I'm selective about when I drop the bomb these days. I told my coworkers during my job interview for this new position, which was not what I'd planned to do, but it came up naturally in conversation and it seemed easier to go into the job with them knowing.

I skip the bomb in sales transactions. I always tell teachers via e-mail at the beginning of the year. I tell parents of friends, usually via text, before play-dates. ("We have two dogs, there is a hunting rifle unloaded and stored up high in the basement, and my first daughter died, so it's possible that will come up in conversation. Any food allergies?")

Generally speaking, I do not drop the bomb on visibly pregnant women.

* * *

Maybe I should have turned back and explained to this neighbor. Instead, I nodded my head and kind of "mm-hmmed" in Coco's direction, but I let momentum carry me down the driveway and back to the sidewalk.

Zuzu turned to Coco before I could say anything at all: "Coco! Why did you say that?"

Coco was confused, "What?"

Zuzu said, "Why did you tell her about Eliza?"

I intervened, "It's not a secret. It's fine to talk about Eliza. But usually we want to tell people at Eliza at the beginning of a conversation, when we have time to talk. Not as we are walking away from people, saying good-bye."

Zuzu added, "Yeah, Coco!" for good measure, and I looked at her, wondering when my seven-year-old had gained the EQ to judge when one should or shouldn't mention Eliza.

* * *

There's no right answer to when to tell and when not to. If not mentioning it would feel like a lie, or make me feel uncomfortable, I will probably say something. But as I meet other new people on campus, unsure how often our paths will cross, or as I introduce myself to students, if they ask about kids I usually say, "I have three girls at home."

When I'm showing my kids pictures on instagram and they ask questions about my friends' kids, I always mention their siblings who died. "Remember Finn and Mary who visited us? And their mom's name is also Caroline? And they have a brother Cale who died when he was a baby."

Despite my own reservations, I'd rather Coco feel comfortable talking about Eliza than feel like she's pressured to keep a secret, or like it's a puzzle to figure out when it's okay and when it's not okay.

It can still feel like a bomb, but when the dust settles and you see who's left standing, that can be how you find your people.

(I personally don't recommend it as a sales technique when you're peddling Girl Scout cookies door to door.)

Monday, February 3, 2020

Happy for a Friend

Zuzu came home from school the other day talking about a magic show that the second grade got to attend. She described a couple of tricks, and then said that her friend Maddie got chosen to be the magician's assistant.

Then, she was mad.

Because Maddie got to keep the balloon! That the magician made appear! And no one else got a balloon! And it wasn't fair that he only picked Maddie!

She was really getting worked up--like tears in her eyes, indignant about the injustice of the whole thing and really coveting that balloon.

I tried to do the wise mom thing, where I said, "Mmm-hmm. I can see that was disappointing. But maybe we can be happy for Maddie? We want to be glad for our friends when good things happen to them."

She looked at me like I was completely missing the point. "I AM happy for her. But I'm sad for me!"

And then I just hugged her because... yes. I'm very familiar with that situation.

I can say all the right words about not being resentful and being gracious and glad for other people. It's important, I think, to learn how to smile and nod when you are first runner up, or maybe didn't even make the first cut.

But those feelings of anger and jealousy are really valid. Even when they feel ugly and shameful, they're just an expression of longing.

I think that people voicing what they really want and can't have makes us very uncomfortable. Particularly when they are problems that we can't fix. Or whining that gets irritating fast because who cares about a stupid balloon anyway? (Zuzu cares.)

* * *

Here's the reframe:

What if everything is a gift?

What if I remember that I'm entitled to nothing?

What if I accept it as a shocking and delightful surprise that three of my children are alive, instead of expecting it as the standard outcome?

This is different from pessimism--expecting the worst--this is just living in a neutral where anything better than nothing is a gift. It's different from schadenfreude, where you're happy for someone else's misfortune. It's just marveling in the good fortune of ordinary life.

Real talk: I'm not sure this frame of mind is totally sustainable.

It's hard to sustain because it's like being healthy. You don't appreciate not having a sore throat until the day that you wake up and you can't swallow because your throat hurts so badly. But what if we could wake up and delight in being pain free, instead of accepting the lack of physical pain as our baseline?

What if I soaked up my whole life as a gift--unearned, undeserved, given to me when it easily could have gone to someone else (like a balloon, gifted by a magician at random).

Would losses be less painful if we didn't feel that we were owed the very thing that had been taken away?

It's not about equity or balance to fill what has been lost, but more like appreciating everything as abundance.

I guess that's the point of a gratitude practice. To acknowledge that the things we tend to take for granted are actually remarkable gifts from the universe.

* * *

The problem is, that it is so easy to see someone else to appears to have exactly what you want.

And we can go on and on about the way social media hides flaws and the perfect looking family/life/marriage is likely to be far from that.

But I'm not talking about perfect.

I'm talking about a slew of pregnancy announcements when you desperately want to be pregnant. I'm talking about a parade of healthy babies when you left your dead baby at the hospital. I'm talking about well-earned promotion announced when your company just laid you off. An anniversary party when you've just filed for divorce. Any milestone marked and celebrated (often deservedly so!) by someone else that highlights a place where your life veered unexpectedly off course.

Sure, we're happy for our friends. But that doesn't cancel the sadness we feel for ourselves.

(And why did he pick Maddie anyway, when Zuzu was RIGHT THERE with her hand in the air?)

* * *

I understood exactly how Zuzu felt.

So I bit back my lecture about being happy for friends. I also stifled my next impulse, which was to promise to get her a balloon the next time we were at the store.

(This is a part of parenting they don't talk about when they criticize helicopter and "snow plow" parents. Of course I don't want to be one of those. But also when you know firsthand how painful life can and will be, despite your best efforts, you really want to protect them when you can.)

I gave her another hug. I offered a snack.

As she was eating, I asked her about her "rose" and her "bud." (Obviously Maddie getting the balloon was the thorn in her day.) But there was a bright spot (weaving in art class) and much to look forward to (a birthday party on Saturday! cousins coming to town in a few weeks! Friday night movie night!).

We started these rose, bud, thorn conversations at dinner to try to control a conversation that otherwise tends to quickly devolve to complaining about the meal, but I'm seeing the way in which it actually is a gratitude practice.

This was an ordinary moment for which I'm grateful.

This is something we have planned that I'm excited about.

Zuzu said that she was looking forward to having me drop her off at school instead of Daddy. My heart swelled a little bit, since this is a change from our usual routine now that I have a morning commute again.

I asked her if she had been missing that old routine before I was back at work full-time. As hectic as it is getting out the door and getting to drop off, I feel so close to them when I'm the one to hug them good-bye and hello at the door of the school.

"Can I tell you something?" she said.

"Of course!"

"Well, this is personal. But I think your car smells better than Daddy's."

What a gift, right? The gift of a car that smells good.

*For the record, I don't think David's car smells bad at all, and I have a very sensitive nose. I'm not sure if it's because his car has plush interior rather than leather? Or maybe my car retains the scent of the lemon and lavender hand sanitizer I spray on them when I pick them up? I guess I like having the better smelling car, though.

Friday, January 24, 2020

New Year, Who Dis

Oh, this neglected blog. I hate writing about writing. I don't even really love reading about writing, although maybe it is very good advice Anne Lamott gives about writing a shitty first draft, and sort of fascinating to know what pieces Stephen King considers vital to his writing toolkit.

The meta aspect to writing about writing just bugs me. It tends too navel-gazy for me, I guess. Don't write about whether you're writing. Just write. Or don't.

And lately I've been falling in the don't.

January started with my job transition (let's call it... tricky). It's had some lows (week one was rough) and some highs (oh yeah... these are the things I thought I'd like and I do like them). I got an important reminder yesterday that emotions often feel like they are going to last forever even when we know logically that they won't... that times of transition feel never ending but they aren't... that life is full of options even when I can't see them clearly from this vantage point.

That sounds like I'm all optimistic and great-attitudey about things, which... do you even KNOW me? I am not exactly those things, though it is my nature to problem solve rather than problem dwell.

I was recently listening to this podcast about whether to put kids on social media and why we post on social media at all. It's a conversation that doesn't really interest me, as my social media settings are private and I share often for the Chatbooks record which is at present (and possibly forever) my only form of printed record keeping (sidenote: will someone for the love of God let me know when Shutterfly does their free extra pages photo book offer?)), but it came on automatically when another podcast ended and I was driving in the snow and needed my hands at 10 and 2 so I just listened. Anyway, the discussion included the way moms quit writing/blogging about their kids at a certain age (7-10ish) because the kids need more privacy and "it's not my story to tell." The caveat to that is that, of course, it IS the mom's story, too. All these shared stories, all these experiences that we want to put out in the world but we feel vulnerable and fearful of judgment.

As much as I thought I wasn't interested in the conversation, I found myself nodding along. I could put really personal feelings out on the internet when it's about grieving Eliza because those are my feelings and I don't require approval of someone else when it comes to grief. I am not nearly as confident when it comes to parenting living kids. Honestly, I WANT people to tell me I'm doing a good job. And when I fear that I'm not doing a good job, or my child's behavior is baffling (read: bratty), it's harder to brush off commentary. Even when it's a choice I feel confident in (like talking frankly and honestly to my kids about the biology of baby making), criticism feels exponentially painful when it's about my parenting. My tiny corner of the internet doesn't attract a lot of randos and I've mostly been spared rude commentary (Although a few have wormed their way in... Howdy, there, Anonymous!). But I still fear judgment, even though I'm sure the worst things people would say are the very things I've already thought myself.

And of course it's hilarious to think writing about writing is navel-gazy when writing a blog is... exactly that? Let's just word vomit into the internet and see if someone shows up to read it. But then again I won't really know! Because commenting is so hard on a phone! And I turn on approval-only comments to avoid the spam but then I forget to check for comments! So the reassurance or conversation or--occasionally--thoughtful disagreement that invites careful reconsideration of a previously held assumption is kind of lost.

But I'm reluctant to shutter this blog. Even though it's no longer serving its original purpose, and I'm not sure what I want its new purpose to be. It's not the scrapbook of our lives the way I envisioned it when I first began writing over ten years ago. It's no longer the grief journal and point of connection that I so desperately needed after Eliza died. And it's not the baby book document of sorts that it sometimes functioned as after Zuzu and Coco were born.

I know there are some folks still reading (more than I expected, honestly!) and I love that so much. I just wonder what it is that I want to say, although I find myself wanting to write and itching to say things and wondering what's the best medium or forum or is there even an audience for that? Do I need to save my energy and submit things for publication? Should I be writing private emails to my daughters instead of public blog posts? What am I trying to say or do here? Should I write a monthly newsletter? (I mean, a lot of cool kids are doing it.)

Ugh. Shut up. Nobody wants to read about your blog's existential crisis.

Which is how I end up not posting at all.

Well, that and the fact that I have a needy baby and a full time job and three kids going three different places on any given day and also I want to do some other things like finish my book for book club and go to dinner with friends and plot to dismantle the patriarchy.

How do we find the time?

Posting this before I decide not to, and promising to return with more musings... whatever 2020 brings, this little blog has been such a bright spot in my life and I'm so grateful for it being what I needed when I needed it.

Now, here are some things I want to evangelize:

I'm reading Amor Towles A Gentleman in Moscow and loving it. I'm listening to Dolly Parton's America, which is the best podcast. I'm watching The Morning Show on Apple TV. And I'm 24 days into Yoga With Adriene's January 2020 series "Home" and it's probably the best thing I'm doing for myself this year so far.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019 Year in Review

Hey! I didn't get it done in 2019, but I managed to finish this up today. No time to link previous years, but feel free to check out archives if you have nothing better to do with your time. Also checking out archives is not easy on your phone, so don't even worry about. Here's my year in review:

1. What did you do in 2019 that you'd never done before?
* had my fourth kid
* lost my job
* cooked chana masala
* sanded and refinished a kitchen table

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did something different last year, which was follow a wheel of resolutions and make goals for different categories of my life. Here's what I shared on the blog:

- Yoga 5x a week.
Nope. This was a fail. I have started doing yoga again (probably more like 2-3 times a week) and I want to get in a routine. Ideally, I'll be able to go back to doing it first thing in the morning, but this will require some cooperation from G. So for now I'll keep piecing together what I can do when I can do it.

Money & Career
- Use a budget app.
Nope. Fail. We did budget pretty well, but we still haven't found an app that we love.

- Plan a 2020 vacation.
I have not made this plan yet. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do for my birthday. See Alanis in concert with friends? (yes) Take a weekend trip just with David? (yes) Go somewhere fun with my whole family? (yes) How to choose?

- Encourage girls to craft.
Yeah, I feel like we did some crafting. Our cutest project was making nativity scenes out of air dry clay.
- Revisit (and revise) novel.
I really didn't get back to my novel, but I did do some big reworking on the Eliza memoir project, so I think that counts.

Family & Friends
- Host a game night.
Oh gosh, I didn't really do this. I do have plans to host a murder mystery party and I did host the English department end of semester party, which included game play. Plus we have made a BBQ with friends an annual thing and Zuzu told me it was the best thing we did all year--she had so much fun running around like wild things with a pack of kids.

- Plan a surprise date for David.
I did this, but it was a stay at home date because that's seriously our favorite thing right now as we are old and tired. So basically I just made dinner and let him choose what to watch on TV. LOL. I should do better!

Community & Activism
- Sign up for a new group/experience outside my comfort zone.
Yes! I completed the 12-week anti-racism workshop and it was truly eye-opening and game-changing for me. I'm so glad I did it. Now, I'm working with another friend to host anti-racism parent meetings at Coco's school.

- Read three books in the genre of religion/spirituality.
I read Barbara Brown Taylor but it didn't wow me, honestly, and then I wanted to do other kinds of reading. I did attend church on the regular and sign up for another reading group, so I feel that I still tended to my spirituality.

Yes, of course I will make resolutions for 2020, even though I feel like I kind of fell flat on most of these. I love the fresh start of new goals!

I've never done a word of the year, but this year I'm going to try the word "embrace." It's kinda hokey (I think all words of the year are) but it does encompass what I want to do. I'll be starting a new job and I'm nervous about it and our family is in a weird season of little kid getting to be big kid and baby and three different schools/daycares and also I want to stay connected with friends and continue to be involved in stuff that is meaningful to me outside of my family--like antiracism work and book club. So rather than being stressed about what's not getting done or what I should be doing more or less of, I just want to embrace where we are right now. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about next year when the baby is older and only napping once a day, or next summer when we're not paying two school/daycare tuitions and we can take a fun vacation. Instead, I want to embrace where we are RIGHT NOW. Also I want to embrace as in give more hugs (with consent, obvs).

Other resolutions...
- More yoga
- Mantra for 2020: Remember you already have everything you need. I'm going to try to be very conscious about consumption and see if I can purchase most of our non-consumables (clothes, home items) gently used.
- Organize for the morning the night before! (This is so obvious. Why is it so hard for me?)
- Try to chill out about my new job. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me! Genevieve was born on May 5. Also my bestie Monica had her baby Johnny Boone on her 10-year wedding anniversary, June 20.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Stayed homebound, mostly, as very pregnant and then with a newborn.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
Nothing comes to mind, and I'm glad, because we are basically trying to do a no-spend year!

7. What events from 2019 will remained etched upon your memory?
Genevieve's birth, the closure of my university campus, Johnny Boone's birthday

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
had a baby and submitted a short story for publication (both terrifying in totally different ways!). And no, I don't think the story was selected but publication, but the hardest part was submitting it and I'm unexpectedly zen about what happens next!

9. What was your biggest failure?
yelled at my kids, let housekeeping slide more than I'd prefer

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
no, thankfully

11. What was the best thing you bought?
a coffee table for the front room ($20 on Craigslist)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
* Something really surprising and touching for me was when my sister-in-law specifically requested one of Eliza's pencil portraits to put up at her house.
* I also have such great appreciation for my SIL's SIL, who babysat G for me for a few weeks as I finished things up at my old job.
* I admire Greta Thunberg.
* I also really adore Megan Rapinoe.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The President of the United States and also Mitch McConnell

14. Where did most of your money go?
groceries, NICU bills, Coco's school tuition

15. What did you get really excited about?

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
"Old Town Road" by Lil Naz (my kids were obsessed)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? happier
- thinner or fatter?  thinner
- richer or poorer?  poorer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
arguing with my spouse

20. How did you spend Christmas?
David's mom was here for the week prior, my parents came up the day before Christmas Eve. We had a pretty traditional Christmas at home, attending the Christmas Eve service at church, putting out cookies and milk for Santa, and finishing last minute touches on the dollhouse I decorated for Coco (Zuzu's dollhouse was purchased from a craft bazaar and was already finished). David's dad came up on Christmas day and David made a big meal. The next day we headed to my parents' house, expecting my brother and his family to come into town, but they had to cancel their trip due to illness. We celebrated with my dad's side of the family on Sunday, then visited friends in Kansas City on Monday and on NYE.

To be honest, it was a long break and I would have liked more time to chill at home, but I'm grateful for the time with family and friends.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?
with this baby currently sleeping on my chest!

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Fleabag! So good. Huge favorite. I loved Friends from College. Also Younger on Hulu is a delight. Oh--and I can't forget season 4 of Veronica Mars! It was a good TV year.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
This is so petty, but I'm in this FB group about parenting and I left a comment about not battling my kids over meals and telling another mom who posed a question that I thought it was fine to let your kid make a PBJ if they don't like what you're eating for the meal and some other lady SAD FACED my comment after writing that at her house you eat what's for dinner or you don't eat and I know every parent should do what works for them, but I kind of hate that lady now.

24. What was the best book you read?
I read so many good ones. My top five:
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

(honorable mentions: Circe by Madeleine Miller and Becoming by Michelle Obama)

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
I'm counting the podcast Dolly Parton's America as a musical discovery--it is an absolute delight and I'm an even bigger fan of Dolly Parton than I already was. Also David recently turned me on to the singer Emily Scott Robinson and I love both her albums.

26. What did you want and get?
a healthy baby and a coffee table

27. What did you want and not get?
to keep my job. Also a new pair of insoles for my Ugg slippers.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Little Women

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 39. We were driving home from a family reunion in Indiana with my dad’s side of the family. This year I'd like to do something more memorable!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If my new job had a higher salary than my old job.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?
Maternity, then nursing friendly. I hope to step it up in 2020!

32. What kept you sane?
good friends, good books, David, and perspective on what matters most

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Megan Rapinoe

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
the impeachment and the polarization in politics

35. Who did you miss?

36. Who was the best new person you met?
another mom at Coco's school who helped me form a diversity and anti-racism reading and discussion group for parents

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.
(last year I said "Plan for surprises" which is hilarious and stupid because I did not learn to do that and obviously you can't really plan for surprises.)

This year: The right decision isn't always a decision that you like. And it can still be right.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Resdesigning women
Running the world while we're cleaning up the kitchen
Making bank, shaking hands, driving eighty
Tryna get home just to feed the baby
Skipping the bread for the butter
Changing our minds like we change our hair color
Yeah ever since the beginning
We've been redesigning women.
How do we do it? How do we do it?
Making it up as we go along.

How do we do it? How do we do it?
Halfway right and halfway wrong.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Here We Go Again

Well, we got through her birthday. This year, the lead up to it was less heavy and the day of hit me pretty hard. I think I was able to compartmentalize, as I worked and then took the 6th off. I woke up to texts and had a lot of tears.

As I told one friend, I am so grateful for what I have, but that doesn't cancel out the anger I feel about everything that we've lost.

I was angrier than I expected to be on her birthday. Just really mad that I don't have my nine year old girl here.

My friend Monica texted me that she'll always remember Eliza and the joy that she brought to me, and that just took my breath away because, oh, she brought us so much joy. Losing her broke me to pieces, but expecting her was one of the very happiest times of my life--a joy not balanced or tempered or shadowed by grief.

And now, we get on with the business of life, which still feels a bit sad and unfair, to be honest. We're barreling toward Christmas, but it's the day to day routine which gets me overwhelmed at times. Yesterday morning was a rush to get out the door because Coco had an accident, which meant loads of laundry and morning showers for both girls, who then needed their hair blow dried because it's freezing outside. We made it everywhere on time, but I still felt frazzled.

Then last night David was at a work event, and I lost my temper with Zuzu. We'd been having a perfectly pleasant evening, reading The Penderwicks before bed when the baby started crying. This was at the same time Cooper started crying because he wants to be upstairs with us but has trouble getting up the the stairs. So I hauled the 45 pound puggle up to the second floor, then went in to pick up the baby and get her back to sleep and Zuzu would not stay in her room--in her room with her sister, and the dog, and the lamp on, for just a few minutes while I shushed the baby. She wanted to be in my room, in my bed, distracting Genevieve. And perhaps in the grand scheme of things this is no big deal, and I should have let her lie quietly in my bed while I rocked the baby, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD this child WILL NOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Not if they are contrary to what she wants to do. I would literally have to beat her into submission, which is not my parenting style (although I've been tempted, trust). I yelled, which I hate doing, but it didn't matter because she doesn't care how pissed I am or how loud I yell, and then everyone was worked up--me, the dog, the baby--and Zuzu was STILL in my room, because I would have had to physically remove her to make her go, and my arms were full of baby.

(Sidenote, but illustrative of Zuzu's personality: She wrote me a note while at school that included a list of what her teacher has "tocin" (tooken = taken) from her. This included a balloon, a slime ball, fifty cents, and a book about Santa. All things she is not supposed to have at school. This note was NOT remorseful. This note was highly indignant that her teacher confiscated these things. Zuzu expressed a desire to homeschool. LOLOLOLOL. Bless her heart, I think she really expected me to feel bad for her, but obviously I'm feeling for her teacher, who fortunately seems to know how to manage Zuzu--she runs a tight ship but seems to have a great sense of humor.)

David got home just in time to rock the baby back to sleep and deal with the obnoxiously defiant Zuzu while I stomped myself downstairs to have a glass of wine and read Democracy in Chains, which did NOT improve my mood. I found myself scrolling facebook as a distraction because the book is depressing, and that made me feel even worse when I saw a post from a FB friend suggesting that we can't trust the "liberal media." I really like this person, plus I think a government who tells us not to trust the media is a government trying to keep secrets, so I found that quite alarming. I ended up crashing on the couch around 9pm, woke up bleary-eyed and still cranky around 11, and fell into bed without washing my face or brushing my teeth which is truly something I have not done since college.

(Possibly indicative that I haven't been getting enough sleep?)

I woke up early this morning, though, determined to have a productive day, and mostly got off to a good start. I took a long shower, and double-washed my face to make up for missing last night. I did get breakfast made and pureed some peas for G and packed a lunch and started another load of laundry and then realized that there was dried dog pee on the kitchen floor, so I ended up mopping the kitchen after loading all the kids in the car.

(I just talked to a friend about doggy diapers, and Cooper may be giving them a whirl if we can't get the pee thing worked out.)

I'm moving out of my office at work this week, and it makes me really incredibly sad. I read or heard somewhere recently that change always involves loss, even when change is good, and I'm feeling that now. I'll miss my friends and coworkers here so much, even though I went to a happy hour with my new colleagues and loved it and I think I'll really like it at the new place. It's still hard and sad to pack up three bookcases full of books and take down a bulletin board full of photos and quotes and poems. I did manage to empty two filing cabinets and winnow them down to one small filebox and one small stack of folders (good-bye articles I've had from graduate school on Chaucer and Melville and other texts I never want to read again).

And there's the fact that I'm feeling the stress of the financial crunch of two daycare/school tuitions on a lower salary, which is also bringing my mood down. We are trying to frame it as a no-spend challenge in the new year, and I am very aware of the privilege we have and are exerting in choosing a top of the line daycare, but damn it is breathtakingly expensive and honestly I'm second guessing that choice when I look at our January budget, but I don't have a clear alternative at present.

Friday is my last day of work here at the old place, and I'm ready for a week at home while the big girls are still in school. I plan to get organized for Christmas. I'll get everything wrapped, make some dough for Christmas cookies, and spend some quiet time with G. I hope this will lift my mood back up and energize me before the new year starts and everything changes again.

For now, I really want to say thank you--to anyone who is still reading, to everyone who held Eliza in their thoughts on her birthday, to anyone who keeps her memory in their hearts. We miss her still--we miss her because she brought us so much joy.

Monday, December 2, 2019

This Week

Grief feels like lethargy these days.

The duration of this heaviness is shorter than in previous years, but yesterday the calendar turned to December and my heart sank with the flip of the page.

I was trying to explain it to David last night... how I feel tired. Just knowing someone else is remembering Eliza is a gift because it starts to feel like something I carry alone. I'm grateful that Share continues to hold the candlelight vigil on her birthday because it's always something I can mark on the calendar, a prior commitment that holds that day apart.

Because otherwise maybe I would be okay enough to agree to doing something else? Or maybe I never would? And I'm honestly not sure which would feel worse.

I dread going to bed this week. I watch TV or read until my eyes burn, until I can be sure that sleep will greet me almost the instant I turn off the lamp because I just don't want to be in my own head. I don't want to think about what nine years means or who I would be with her here or who she would be at nine years old with long hair and loose teeth and a big laugh. I see her as some combination of her sisters with a something that would be just Eliza herself--like a vision that's just beyond the corner of my eye.

I look at her sisters sometimes as if I could get a hint of which one she might have most resembled. They have the same hair color, a golden brown, so I picture her with that same shade. Zuzu has brown eyes, Coco has green eyes, and so far Vieve's eyes are still baby blue. What color would Eliza's have been? It's no exaggeration to say I will spend my life wondering.

I participated again in an ornament exchange with babyloss mama friends. I am eagerly anticipating my Eliza ornament, which is always a bit of a balm in December, but those who have already received theirs have posted photos on instagram and the ornament I sent already made its way to my friend Veronica in Canada. I looked at several options on Etsy, but I knew the moment I saw it that it was the right one for her and her Alexander. It is a stamped ceramic heart and reads, "We will always wonder who you would have become."

As my friend Julie said on IG, it perfectly captures what we all feel all.

We are managing at this point. We are not completely crippled by our grief these days. We are all functioning pretty darn well, actually. But we will never stop wondering who they would have been.

After a visit with Santa last weekend (Coco wants “tie shoes” and Zuzu wants a Frozen II LEGO set), we are officially in holiday mode here (although I forgot to put treats in the Advent calendar last night as I scrolled my phone into oblivion before bed). We've started crafting some Christmas gifts, and made plans for viewing lights and participating in a Christmas pageant. It will be a jolly holiday with three little girls and two sparkling trees under our roof. And we will miss Eliza.

As Elizabeth McCracken writes so perfectly, "It's a happy life, but someone is missing. It's a happy life, and someone is missing."

It's a happy life, but I miss my first sweet baby girl and the big girl she would have become this year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Working Mom

I go back to work next week. If you remember the saga of my employment, my university is closing the campus where I work. Rather than attempting to consolidate faculty by offering early retirement packages or critically evaluating performance based on the annual performance reviews we’ve had to do, we were not offered opportunities for employment at the other (much larger) campus, but have all been laid off as of May 2020.

I’m finishing up the semester there and then starting a new position in January as manager of the honors program at another university in St. Louis. In many ways, this is a good move. I was directing the honors program at my old job, on top of all my other duties, so this feels both familiar and full of promise (imagine what can be done with more time and university support!). My interview there confirmed for me that college campuses are my jam. I love the energy, I love smart and motivated young adults. I love how much they teach me about what’s cool. The people I’ll be working with seem great. The campus is beautiful. My office has a big window and creaky hardwood floors. I love it.

But I won’t be an English professor anymore. Or, rather, I feel like I’ll be an English professor doing something else. And on the one hand, that’s fine. It’s premature nostalgia that has me forgetting the frustration of seeing blank, apathetic, unprepared gazes (or total lack of eye contact) in the classroom. I won’t be in the classroom every day, but I also won’t come home knowing I still need to read or grade or prep for the next day. I’ve never had a work/home divide—It’s always been a messy overlap and the thought of leaving work at work is delightful!

That said, it sounds like next year I will have the opportunity to teach freshmen in an honors seminar of my own design, which honestly sounds like a dream come true. One class? Taken by students who want to be there? About any subject we find mutually interesting? I’m already daydreaming!

The major downsides: lower salary. And—the kicker that almost prevented me from accepting the job—it’s 12-months. I’ll have to work in the summer.

Some folks are likely (and perhaps rightly) rolling their eyes at this, but I have wept over this situation more than I care to admit. I want my summer at home with my kids! It’s taking a lot of pep talks for me to begin to feel ok about it. I’m telling myself that I have vacation days and I will take them. That perhaps after being the best employee ever for a few months, I’ll have a bit of room for negotiation in terms of schedule flexibility. That there are plenty of summer days when I’d love a break from being at home. That my kids didn’t even blink when I told them I would be working this summer and just asked if they’d get to go to more camps. Of course, not having those months at home with Vieve is weighing on my heart. I’m telling myself that this path doesn’t have to be forever—if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I am capable of finding something else. In the meantime, it’s certainly the most appealing of relatively few options, and I do feel lucky to have been offered the position. It seems reasonably flexible in terms of hours (I already brazenly inquired about taking a long lunch during my first week in order to give a presentation on a poet to a women’s group and my boss was very gracious about agreeing to it). I do get holidays off for which the university is closed, so I don’t have to take vacation over Christmas.

Another realization is how stressful my previous position had become, which I didn’t fully realize until stepping away from it. We were running a skeleton crew with what often felt like the bare minimum of administrative support from the higher ups. Requesting things like pizza for a department salon was virtually impossible, so professors just used their own money. I was managing adjunct faculty, teaching four classes, directing the honors program, and serving on various other committees, and the only thing that made it bearable were flexible hours that I could set myself—but which always met bringing work home with me. Of course, I love teaching literature, but that was only one component of a lot of other things I was doing. This job feels like I may have less autonomy (as a team member with a direct supervisor rather than a faculty professor) but it will definitely require less of me, while still promising to be meaningful and fulfilling and—hopefully—fun. It just feels like less pressure.

So I’m trying to be optimistic and at the same time acknowledging the grief I still feel about the big loss of my job. It’s a hard thing. I hope I love the new position, as the benefits are great and the summer sacrifice is big.

Meanwhile, I go back to my old job next week to finish out the semester. I have a few projects I’m helping with, senior theses I’m overseeing, and I’ll be packing up my office, giving away books, and saying goodbye to my first real job, which I’d hoped to have forever. Not to mention the enormous loss of working daily with dear friends, whom I will miss so much.

I have a friend who has so generously agreed to watch G for me these few weeks as I’m back on campus, and I’m very grateful to her. It’s making the transition back to work a bit easier, though I’m currently holding a baby who has now been sleeping for over an hour and I should have put her in her bed, but I just want to soak her up, you know? I can hardly believe she’s already six months old.

I feel so grateful that I’ve gotten this time with her, also angry that six months home with a new baby is practically unheard of for working moms in this country. Work life is hard.

Part of me is craving the return to days that have more structure, adult conversation (I miss laughing with my friends at work!), and most of all—uninterrupted stretches of time during which I can finish a thought and keep myself focused. That’s the hardest part of staying home for me—the frittering away of the day into teensy tasks and bits of time so disconnected that it’s a good day if I’ve done a load of laundry and everyone has eaten! Staying home feels like treading water or paddling against the current or some other metaphor in which it’s hard to feel a solid sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I see the danger of basing self-worth on productivity (damn you, capitalism!) but last night I moved a laundry basket of clean, folded clothes off my bed so I could go to sleep and thought about all the things that didn’t get done. At least I did 20 minutes of yoga? I’m happier when I have time to think and work on projects and write and read, and some days I get that at home, but always truncated by wake ups or fussiness or pick up time. Or, like today, I’m literally sitting on my tush to hold a sleeping baby because she’s so precious and it’s so fleeting!

Anyway, I’ll take all the good vibes as I move into grief season and holiday season and budget stretched incredibly thin and we pay for two daycares on a lower salary season. Optimism is not always my default—I vacillate wildly—but I know that the antidote to anxiety is gratitude, so that’s where I’m trying to land.

I still feel some of the mom guilt about working, but I’m finding that’s really externally imposed. In my own heart, I know that I’m better at momming when I’m working outside the home because I’m more fully myself. And I know that while staying home is the better choice for some women, I’m happier when I am contributing in other places besides my own home. And my kids benefit most when they have a happy mom, even if that means sacrificing quantity of hours I spend with them for quality of my own mind and energy. I also recognize that other people land very differently in regard to what gives them energy and fulfillment, and others can’t really even afford the luxury of making an active choice.

So I’ll just be here, hoping I can squeeze into my work pants and breathing into this baby’s bald head in my nights and weekends.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Weekend Update

We've had some pretty great weekends this month. We did a trip to my parents' the first weekend of October, had a weekend at home, then went to Kansas City to visit my best friend from high school and do the pumpkin patch thing. This past weekend was busy but in all kinds of delightful and restorative ways, although we had some last-minute schedule changes due to weather and we missed out on an adult Halloween party I would have liked to go to, we had a great weekend all together.

On Friday, I met up with a friend and walked Forest Park. From there, I picked up the girls and we did a quick costume change (literally into their Halloween costumes) and sandwiches for dinner so that I could then take them up to David's school for Trunk or Treat.

hippie flower child & cowgirl
In the middle of this, I got a call that Cooper had wandered off AGAIN. We've had an occasional problem with this, and thought that we had solved the problem with some additional fencing. Clementine wears a collar for the invisible fence, but Bubba has always been cool just sticking around. Suddenly, though, he seems to have a desire to wander, despite the fact that he sort of staggers when he walks and moves very slowly. Honestly, I'm a little worried he's getting senile.

Anyway, he's super friendly, so we've gotten very lucky in that a neighbor finds him and calls the number on his tag and we walk over and pick him up. But back up a minute to last weekend (as in two weeks ago), I was getting the car loaded and everything ready to go to KC and he must have slipped out the door without my noticing. When I realized he was gone, I walked to our nearest neighbor's house, as he occasionally likes to visit them. No Cooper. So then I walked around the adjacent neighborhood, where he has also gone before. No sign of him. We were supposed to leave for KC around 11am, so I started getting anxious as the morning went on. I loaded up all the girls in the car and we drove around everywhere I could think that he might be. No puggle.

David got home from his morning meeting and he went walking around. Then he drove around. When he got back, I went walking. By this time, it was long past the time we'd planned to leave and we had to make a decision. We had tickets to see Dear Evan Hansen at 7:30pm in Kansas City. David had a friend who was willing to pick up Cooper if we got a call about him, but I couldn't stomach the idea of Cooper coming back home and us just being gone for two nights. I'd wanted to get a dog sitter, but David had talked to our friends and they said it was fine to bring the dogs, so we were planning on bringing them with us, which meant Coop would return to an empty house if we didn't wait for him to show up.

Time kept ticking by and Cooper still hadn't been found. I'd spent forty minutes walking around and yelling for him (which is silly because he's so hard of hearing). At last, we decided to sell our Dear Evan Hansen tickets. We were still hoping he'd turn up--I was sure he'd make it home for dinner time!--but we had hit the deadline of when we needed to leave to make it to the show.

I was bummed about selling the tickets (fortunately, we were able to get face value for them, but I still REALLY wanted to see the show), but I was even more worried about Coop. As it got to be 4pm and he still hadn't turned up, I started crying because he is so food-driven and I felt like if he could make it home for dinner, he would. It didn't help that as we drove around the girls kept saying things like, "I hope we don't find his smushed body" and "Is this how sad you were when Eliza died?"

At 5:15, we got a call that someone had found Cooper and David drove over to pick him up. He was a little farther than we'd expected, but at a house we'd driven by three times, so we don't know what he was doing or how we missed him. At least we got him back! And we made it to KC so we were able to go to the pumpkin patch even though we missed the show. We did have a great weekend with Monica and Johnny and the kids.

Anyway, we blocked what we were pretty sure was his path of escape, but he found some other way to wander this past Friday, so I'm afraid I'll have to put the invisible fence collar on him, which I don't want to do because he's old and he's my baybee. BUT obviously I need to keep him safe. We got a call that he had wandered and a guy found him and put him in his garage but had to leave for the afternoon before David got the message, so after I dropped the girls at Trunk or Treat, I swung by and picked up Cooper and then made it home in time to do an Adventures in Babysitting style clean up of my house (tell me you know that scene in the movie? Elisabeth Shue is so great.). 

After all the rushing around, it was time for a book club meeting. My old book club is on a bit of a hiatus, although I'm hoping we'll reconvene at some point, so I've joined another book club. Anyway, I was telling the whole Cooper saga at our meeting and how sad I was to miss DEH, and one of my friends who was there mentioned that she has DEH tickets for this week, but her husband recently saw the show in Des Moines. Because they are the BEST people ever, he's letting me have his ticket! I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.

And a Friday night with bookish conversation with new/old friends and some champagne was just what I needed. 

Saturday morning, David I took the girls to the City Museum. He was working an event for his school district, so he had to do some set up but then he was able to hang out with us. The girls love the City Museum and G was content in her carrier, so we had a good time. The step team from the high school performed, which is always so fun to see, and the girls were really into it. Such great energy and love in the room when they perform!

We parked in the parking garage, but I felt like my car was too big to get into the parking space they directed me too so I freaked out apologetically and then they directed me to a bigger parking spot for my soccer mom car ("I'm not a regular mom. I'm a cool mom."). As I walked through the parking garage in total mom-mode with the diaper bag on my back, the baby on my front, and one kid holding each of my hands, Coco said, "Mommy, you look like a teenager with that backpack on!" LOL. Man, I love that kid.

Saturday was a rainy, dreary day, so that afternoon we got home and watched the new version of Aladdin. I also watched YouTube tutorials on braiding and practiced on Zuzu's hair. Her high physical pain tolerance makes her fun to practice hair styles on because (unlike Coco) she doesn't complain about a little scalp-tugging, but her low tolerance for anything scary or suspenseful on TV meant that she was really stressed out by the movie, even though she'd seen the animated version and knew what was coming. She hid behind me for a lot of it and was almost in tears at one point. It's a little baffling, but we just try to be reassuring and not make a big deal out of it. It explains why she prefers shows like Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse and Shimmer and Shine, because they are so formulaic and predictable, and apparently that's what she likes in her TV!

Anyway, we mostly enjoyed the movie and then the girls had a long bubble bath and David fixed dinner and they all went to bed early and I read a mystery novel and it was a lovely evening.

Sunday morning was one of my favorite services at church, when we do a remembrance service. Everyone is invited to bring a photo or memento to place at the front of the church on the altar, and then you can write down the names of those you are remembering to add as well. This morning got off to a rough start though, and it was honestly because I had nothing to wear. I can fit in most of my pre-pregnancy clothes, but they don't fit the SAME, and I can't stand wearing any fitted shirts while I'm still breastfeeding. I hate it. Plus I really, really need to get a decent bra instead of the nursing tanks I've been wearing for almost six months. So I felt gross in everything I put on and it was terrible.

Anyway, we made it to church but I had forgotten that remembrance Sunday was this weekend, so I hadn't brought Eliza's portrait and that made me really sad. David was like, "It's fine. Really. It's FINE." I held it together and I wrote her name on a card and put my bracelet with her name on it up there as a little memento, which was fine. The whole service was so lovely and sad. I cried off and on through the whole thing. The pastor who spoked works in hospice care and he talked about the glorious Nora McInerney and how you don't move on from grief, you move forward with grief. So that was perfect and the music was so beautiful. It all made me cry. G fell asleep, so I held and snuggled her warm, heavy, perfect little body and breathed in the smell of her baby head while I tried not to drop tears on her.

After church, we headed over to Coco's best friend Evelyn's house for brunch, which was super fun. I need to do more family brunch dates with my friends with kids. It's easy to prep in advance, everybody likes breakfast food, and it's early enough that you can get out of there before tired meltdowns start. Evelyn's mom had even made salt dough cookies for the girls to paint (and she even let them use glitter because she is a kindergarten teacher and a saint). They were delighted. They  all played really nicely and we had a great time. Coco and Evs got a little silly during clean up (there was a lot of soap suds being applied directly to faces and hysterical giggling) so that was our cue that it was time to go.

We decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather by heading out to old town St. Charles and walking around on Main Street. They have a Halloween festival so there were spooky characters out on the street and the kids could collect stamps from each one. We saw Ichabod Crane and the Weird Sisters and Medusa and Lizzie Borden and the Big, Bad Wolf. We also browsed in a few shops (I bought G a hat). 

We made it home in time for me to get to my Sunday night restorative yoga class. I left David mowing the lawn while wearing G in the carrier and had a relaxing hour just breathing and stretching and trying to clear my mind. It was glorious!

I'd be happy if every weekend played out like this one. We have more to look forward to this week--tomorrow is gymnastics and ninja night, I've got Dear Evan Hansen coming up, and of course the girls are already pumped for Halloween. This feels like a really sweet season (particularly right this minute with everyone already in bed asleep, haha) so I'm trying to soak it all in. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

My Favorite Age

Baby G, Almost 6 Months.

Genevieve can roll over both ways, entertain herself with her feet and hands, grasp toys, put all the things in her mouth, and--most delightfully--belly laugh at her sisters' antics. She just rolled herself from her playmat all the way over to my desk and is lying with her legs under my desk chair, just grinning up at me and occasionally sucking on her thumb or fingers.

She's not sitting up on her own yet. She's mastering the yoga "superman" move, but she's not crawling. She makes her needs pretty well known, but she's generally a happy baby, especially in the morning, which is her best time. She'll lie around and coo and giggle, needing little more than a diaper change and some mama milk to keep her content.

She's still very portable, although the carseat is getting heavier by the day, and she's a good sport about carriers, strollers, and other means of transportation. She's just glad to be in the mix. She travels without complaint to school drop off and gymnastics and keeps her cool pretty much until the end of the day when--especially if naps have been spotty--she will lose her mind during the evening hour.

My stresses... we're still not on much of a regular schedule. She's not a huge fan of napping more than 20-40 minutes some days and then other days she'll sleep a solid 90 minutes in the afternoon. I read that she should sleep 3 - 3 1/2 hours during the day and 12 hours at night. She's getting those 12 hours in at night (she basically sleeps 7-7) but those twelve hours also include two wake ups during which she DEMANDS mama milk. I keep thinking that surely we can break her of that habit by just rocking her back to sleep, but no. Last night she was literally screaming. Not crying, mind you. SCREAMING. And I have this interior battle about staying strong and comforting her other ways and then my brain is like "OMG she's a baby and she won't be a baby for long. Just give her what she wants." So I nurse her and she falls asleep with a smile on her face and I'm like, "Why did I fight that for so long?" But then I think I should be working harder to get her on a regular schedule so life is easier for both of us...

I worry about her going to daycare, of course, and I want her to be able to be soothed without my boobs. But I also know that she'll be another two months older and everything will be different by then. So I'm trying not to stress about it too much, while also recognizing the irony that this is the baby who literally slept 8-10 hours a night at 1-2 months old and then hit 4 months old and was like hahaha just kidding let me have your boobs as an all-night buffet.

Coco, Age 5.

I really think that five is one of my all-time favorite ages. They're so little but so big and so smart but still learning so much and asking such big questions. Coco is a joy at five because she loves to report what she's learned at school, which is fascinating, and she's always singing songs she learned at school and solemnly reminding us of rules for behavior (which she also conveniently forgets quite frequently, as she seems to enjoy putting her feet up on the dinner table, which grosses me out).

She's such a big helper, but she's still little enough that she cried this morning when Vieve got a really good yank on a handful of her hair (to be fair, Vieve seems to have supernatural strength when it comes to hair-pulling). She knows her own mind and can rarely be convinced otherwise. I thought Zuzu was stubborn, but compared to her sister, Zuzu was actually more pliable, particularly when it comes to what she wants to wear. I've essentially given up on anything except enforcing what is weather appropriate and Coco has a strong preference for soft knits and dresses--the longer the better. She also likes tights, but they must be pulled "up to my vulva" because a saggy crotch in tights is obviously a total deal-breaker.

She loves babies and still asks frequently if she can hold Vieve and, last weekend, Johnny Boone. She likes to change diapers and help babies get dressed, and Vieve loves to laugh at Coco. She's blowing my mind with her reading skills, which just goes to show that every kid is completely different and you can parent them pretty much exactly the same, but they will do what they want when they want. Zuzu was not at all interested in reading at the beginning of kindergarten, and Coco always wants to practice her skills. She's also going to be the kid who enforces that you read every word on the page--Zuzu never minded if I summarized some of the longer, more tedious passages. Coco lives for tedious children's books.

She came upstairs bellowing, "Mama!!!" the other night when I was trying to get Vieve down for the night. I wasn't yelling a response since I was rocking a sleeping baby, so she burst into the bedroom, "MAMA!" and I whispered to her that I was trying to get the baby to sleep.

Coco: I need to tell you something!
Me: What do you need to tell me?
Coco: I know how to spell "toot." Tuh-oh-oh-tuh.
Me: Thank you for telling me that.
(Coco exits)

She also has the sweetest, most serious conversations. In the bathroom at a restaurant last weekend, she asked me how I could still be her mom when she's a teenager.

Me: I'll always be your mom, just like Grammy is still my mom.
Coco: Even when I'm a a grown-up?
Me: Yes. I'll still be your mom when you're a grown-up.
Coco: Will you die before me?
Me: I hope so!
Coco: I want to die when you do.

Oh, my heart.

Zuzu, Age 7.

David and I were just saying last night that we can hardly believe she's already in second grade. By age 7, Zuzu has officially learned pretty much everything and knows more than her parents, although admittedly slightly less than her second grade teacher who is the authority on all things. We had a funny conversation about being a good friend the other day and Zuzu said, "The only rule is, you just give people a chance! Just give them a chance!" and she did this really specific inflection with her voice and gesture with her arms that I actually recognized from meeting with her teacher (who's really animated in conversation) the day before. She is apparently taking some lessons to heart.

She's so confident and proud of her ninja warrior skills and we had such a great time at Elephant Rocks state park last weekend. Zuzu was in her element, climbing and jumping, with Coco working so hard to keep up with her.

She still can't handle any books or shows that are "too intense" which means really the least bit scary or suspenseful. Annedroids on Amazon Prime is a favorite, but she'll also still return to Shimmer and Shine--I think she finds the predictable storylines really comforting. It was the same with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for a long time. She likes knowing exactly what's going to happen and being surprised only by her brand of humor.

She loves her sisters fiercely, and she and Coco remain best of playmates, punctuated by frequent spats. She is also very good at making Baby G laugh and Baby G is absolutely smitten with her.

She still wants to snuggle if she wakes up in the middle of the night and she told me that last night she had a bad dream about aliens and video games, which is puzzling because she's never played a video game except for nintendo wii sports. She's just getting so big so fast I can hardly keep up with it. I love that she's big enough that when Coco is having a meltdown or just being silly, Zuzu and I can exchange glances and little smiles like we're in on a joke together. I can remember my aunt Peggy doing this with me and it made me feel so cool and grown up. She's excited about being a "flower child hippie" for Halloween after seeing a picture of a costume on Pinterest.

She still prefers that I read to her over reading to herself, which blows my mind, but I'm trying not to stress over it. She will occasionally pick up a book unprompted and read to herself, which is a fairly recent development that I'm celebrating, and she's very kind about reading to both of her sisters.

She'll still tell me that she's not sure who she is going to marry, but probably her best friend Gemma or maybe Will, but Oliver S. and Tyler B. both have crushes on her.

Me: How do you know?
Zuzu: They told me.
Me: Well, it's fine to just be friends.

Her problems are still little and she asked to take a stuffie to school to play with at Adventure Club and she still isn't much of a people pleaser and she'd much rather ask forgiveness than permission. She's clever and funny and kind and confident and she has gotten SO much better about being rational and listening to me when I explain something. Seven looks good on her.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Making Chili and Other Big Deals

Tomorrow is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. There's a wave of light that starts at 7pm in every time zone, so we'll be lighting our candles tomorrow evening. I'd love it if you'd light a candle in memory of Eliza, too.

* * *

I've been thinking more about how I'm enjoying maternity leave and also looking forward to going back to work... a couple of weeks ago the sermon at our church was about letting go of expectations.

I'm an anticipator, so this is really hard for me. I enjoy planning. I like envisioning how things are going to go. I enjoy party planning more than the party itself (at least when we're talking kids' birthday parties, lol). I felt like my expectations were flung back in my face when Eliza died so much that I became afraid to plan ahead--how dare I allow myself to assume that any of us would even be alive next week? But now I'm falling somewhere in the middle--dutifully filling in my paper planner and buying clearance clothes a size up in the off-season--and yet still reminding myself that there's only so much we can control.

What I'm trying to do right now is really enjoy this time without dreading a return to work or wishing away the hours that feel dull and lonely when I'm just home with a baby and relying on social media to make me feel like I'm still connected and part of the world. I just want to focus on what's happening now that's really good without feeling like I'm missing out or that something unpleasant is looming. Most days I succeed, but I do better if I have some kind of project for the day--besides laundry. Today I started redecorating a dollhouse I got the girls for Christmas and it's so much fun that I think I'm going to do two of them. I'm not even kidding.

* * *

I've been listening to a podcast called 10 Things to Tell You and one of the early episodes is something I keep mulling over. It's about whether you are a chili cooker or a pizza orderer, and how that might change depending on where you are in your life. The host, Laura Tremaine, tells about an ex-boyfriend of hers who was called to ministry and who explicitly wanted her to fill the role of pastor's wife and chili cooker. She explains that this is the kind of person who offers love and support by nourishing others behind the scenes. It's a crucial role, but some people find it more fulfilling than others.

Being a pizza orderer means you're willing to skimp on the quality of the food you're providing so you can be right there in the moment, at the table, hanging out. It's not better or worse than making chili, but different people tend to be drawn to different roles. Spouses might trade off who is being background support or they might outsource chili cooking so they can both order pizza. (I'm stretching the metaphor here a little, but I think you get me.)

I see this show up in different ways--for example, on family vacations, my mom is very much a pizza orderer. She'll lay out a menu for the week, but it's always super simple, quick-fix meals. Spaghetti with sauce from a jar and frozen garlic bread. Tacos stuff with the meat pre-made and everything else ready to just heat up. And then restaurant meals or take out. She doesn't want to miss out on the swimming or games or whatever by being in the kitchen. My aunt Tammi is the opposite. At our family reunion, she planned a menu that included homemade bread and my great-Grandma's zucchini cake and she spent a lot of the weekend in the kitchen preparing delicious food. It was a sacrifice of sorts--she had less time to simply hang out by the pool--but it's also apparent that she enjoys loving people in that way, by making food and coordinating meals. And that's not to say that my mom doesn't cook for us or Tammi doesn't spend time with her family. Both my mom and aunt Tammi are amazing grandmas/moms/aunts. They just prefer to show up for their people in different ways.

I definitely fall in the pizza-ordering camp. I don't want to miss out on what's happening by being behind the scenes making chili. Still, as I was literally making chili yesterday, I was thinking about how this moment in life allows me time to be home and it means showing love for my family in a different way--by doing more cooking and cleaning than honestly I'd really prefer to do.

(Sidenote: I find the mindset of "this is how I can show love for my family" to be HUGELY helpful in motivating me to clean the house... I'm also hoping that when I go back to work our budget can cover housekeeping again and I can show love to my family by paying someone else to do the chores that take up precious evening and weekend time.)

Basically, I'm trying to enjoy the shift and remember that I'm not locked in to any one way of being, but that some moments in life I have time to make the chili, and other times we'll be grateful that pizza delivery is also delicious.

* * *

For the longest time after Eliza died, it was so easy to imagine what my life would be like if she had lived that I couldn't stop doing it. Eventually it got trickier, and although I still think wistfully of what it would be like to have her here with us, it's harder for me to imagine. I just have no idea what kind of third-grader she would be.

Zuzu has two little friends at school who both happen to have little sisters who are in kindergarten. I think this is great as far as playdates go, and even better, I really like both of the moms. And I was thinking about how different my phone contacts would be if Eliza had lived. I would know the third grade parents instead of the second grade parents. I wouldn't know the babyloss mamas of 2010 and 2011. I would be a completely different person, connected to completely different people.

It's a strange thing, to feel mostly happy and settled in this life (I mean, job drama and daily annoyances aside), but to still ache a little bit for that other life that was almost mine.

I've played the game for so long... what would I give up if it would mean getting her back? And really I'd give up pretty much anything as long as I could keep her sisters, too. But I guess what I'm saying is that it would be a lot to lose. The choice doesn't feel so simple anymore, nine years later, and much of the good that I have in my life (and in my phone contacts list) came this way by way of Eliza. We've managed to cobble together a decent life here (midlife job crisis again is the exception) and it makes me so happy.

But I still sometimes think about how I'm supposed to be a third grade mom and how different that would feel.

* * *

I'm also ruminating on the fact that the next three months are the last three months of a decade. For me, the past ten years have held the deepest sorrows and greatest joys of my life--it's been my entire parenthood journey beginning with my first pregnancy and ending in 2019 with baby G. I can't remember now who it was (maybe Elizabeth Gilbert) who said that at a certain point in life every woman's autobiography could be called Not What I Had Planned. That's certainly what I feel in many ways, but gosh there's been so much unexpected goodness alongside the pain that blindsided me almost nine years ago.

I wonder what I would have felt if I could have gotten a glimpse back in December of 2010 of what life would look like in 2019. It certainly wouldn't have made Eliza's loss any easier, but I just feel so damn grateful for what we have now.

As for what the next three months (and subsequent decade) will hold... I'm envisioning my Eliza book in a slightly different way (more on that soon), I'm trying to be open-minded instead of fretful and fearful about my career path, and I'm doing that by letting go of expectations of what will come next and working on being grateful for what is here and now.

* * *

As for the here and now, currently my seven-year-old and five-year-old are sharing a crib in my bedroom while the five-month-old still sleeps in a bassinet. They wanted to try out the crib, they actually stayed in it all night long (and therefore out of my bed) and asked if they could sleep there again tonight. So... okay then!

I used to be really judgy about family sleeping situations and I have no idea why. Like, it's NO ONE's business and people should absolutely 100% do what works for them.

Also, I don't really want my kids to sleep in my bed except when they are breastfeeding babies, but then I get too anxious about it, so the bedside bassinet will suffice.

David is much more chill about bedsharing and when we've discussed it, he tells me that when they come in and ask if they can snuggle, he just can't say no. I was like, "Well, actually you CAN!" and then he said, "There's going to come a time really soon when I can't fix everything for them just by snuggling with them. So I want to do this while I can."

So then I got all misty-eyed--I mean, how can I say no to that? Plus, he's right. It feels like forever, but it will just be a tiny blip.

Seriously, though, how long will it take before the novelty of the crib wears off? Thinking about bringing in a trundle bed and creating a family bunk room... then I could turn their bedroom into something like a yoga studio or craft room or something fun...

* * *

We had family photos taken on Saturday. I asked David to throw some snacks in the car as we had to go to photos straight from Zuzu's Brownie ceremony and Coco gets really cranky if she's hungry. When I got out to the car, I saw he'd put a bag of Doritos in the front seat. Nacho cheese flavor, naturally.

A BAG OF NACHO CHEESE DORITOS. For a snack. Before a photo session.

I might have asked him whether he was out of his g.d. mind in front of our children. Zuzu called us out for fighting in front of the baby (I'm always telling her and Coco not to fight in front of their sister) and I said, "What's important is the baby sees us make up after we have a disagreement. And in this case, I'm going to say I'm sorry and I'm going to need your dad to admit that he was out of his mind."

After apologies and a snack switcheroo, we went the nature preserve to meet Zuzu's girl scout troop.

The girls wanted to paint, so I took off their sweaters, rolled up their sleeves, hovered and reminded them to be careful, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when they finished painting their "toad houses" without getting any paint on themselves! I took them to wash their hands and felt very proud of myself for being chill enough to let them enjoy painting and proud of them for being tidy about it.

Riding that high, I agreed to let Coco have a hot chocolate with marshmallows. She promptly spilled it all over herself.

I took her into the bathroom, took off her dress, sent her out in her cardigan sweater (buttoned up, obvy) and her leggings (off-white, with her patterned underwear boldly shining through the fabric) and then washed and dried the dress under the hand dryer. The hot chocolate washed out of the dress just fine, but the leather cowboy boots look like she's actually been shoveling out horse stalls.

Once we started the photos, things seemed to be going well. David was holding G for the first few photos. Then he handed her to me. She chose that moment to spit up. It was like I could see it coming, so I stretched out my arms, trying to save my shirt. As a result, she only got a little bit of spit up on my shirt--just enough to drip down my boob. The rest of it fell on Zuzu's hair. She was totally horrified and I was wondering if we should just give up on the whole thing.

But! We mopped up her hair and my shirt and continued smiling. Mostly.

Zuzu kept wandering off to try to climb trees and I had to keep yelling at her to come back (and then she got yelled at by a super grumpy park ranger because apparently you're not allowed to climb trees in the park).

Coco was so sweet and asked for a photo of just her and me.

The photographer invited the girls to throw some leaves in the air, which they were all about last year, but this year Zuzu was Too Cool. So Zuzu suggested a pose where she and Coco stand back to back with their arms crossed, not smiling. The photographer obliged. It will probably be the best photo of the bunch.

After we finished all the photos, we went to Ted Drewes and a women in line next to me was like, "I don't want to be rude or anything, but I wanted to tell you your sweater has the tag on it still."


I have no idea how the photos will turn out, but the Great Pumpkin concrete (a piece of pumpkin pie chunked up in custard) is still the best thing at Ted Drewes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Making Bank, Shaking Hands, Driving 80

Spitting out all the things that have been rattling around in my mind and seeing how many I can get through before Vieve wakes up from her nap.

I'm just starting to actually try to get Vieve on a real schedule. Like yesterday was day one. I've been letting her nap willy nilly, mostly in the car seat while we run errands at my convenience or on my lap at her convenience (Mama not complaining about being forced to sit under a sleeping baby while watching TV or reading, I mean that's basically my dream afternoon). But the truth is that eventually I'll go back to work (sniffle and also yay) and we'll all function better at that point and in the meantime if she has some kind of schedule.

The good news is she has taken to it like a fish to water, to use a tired cliche. I'm loosely following Taking Cara Babies recommendations (she's on IG and someone in my nursing moms group recommended her to someone else so I started following her). So far it's going well in terms of naps, but then baby was up three times last night where normally it's one or two. I don't think that's a reflection on the nap system, though. I return to the only truth I actually know about babies, which is that they are their own people doing their own things and that as soon as you get used to something, they hit a developmental leap and it all changes.

I still wasn't thrilled to hear her fussing at 1:45am with David gone at a conference and the other two girls in my bed, snuggling sweetly at first but later unconsciously flinging a knee or elbow my way. But when I sit up groggily and reach into the bassinet (I know, she's really outgrown it. We're moving her to a crib this weekend.) and I pick her up, she quits fussing and nuzzles her fuzzy little head into my shoulder, and I push my nose into that warm little part of her neck just under her ear and I just melt. Worth waking up for, even when I'd rather not.

* * *

Coco is half day today because her school is having their first round of parent/teacher conferences (ours are next week). She's playing so nicely and quietly by herself with little characters while Vieve sleeps and I type this. It's positively delightful.

Also the house is (briefly) (mostly) clean and laundry is put away (except for the two loads currently running in the washer and dryer) and it still smells like the pumpkin spice candle I lit this morning.

I've been thinking about the word "fall" and I read somewhere recently that it developed as the linguistic corollary to "spring" but it nicely literal what with falling leaves and quiet settling. Because my grief season is early December, fall feels a little unsettling, even now, nearly nine years out. I am usually very productive in early fall because I want to build a cushion around that first week in December. I put up fall decorations and Halloween stuff and later I'm early with Christmas decorations, knowing that I'm falling into both the literal and figurative darkest part of the year for me. I am able to look forward to the Christmas holidays now, and I think cope better with grief in general, but I still feel like I'm descending in the fall.

I fight the dark moods by making the house cozy, but fall will never be my favorite season. I can get behind pumpkins and candles and flannel, but even my most delicious vegetarian chili (my friend Natalie would be SO PROUD of me because I've used her chili recipe for years and years but yesterday was the first time that I made it from start to finish without LOOKING at the recipe and just kind of winging it with what we had in the fridge--and it's delicious!) does not beat summer's offering of stone fruit and tomato mozzarella sandwiches. Sorry, Fall, but your slimey squashes are no match for summer produce.

* * *

I've been having some really sweet stay-at-home-days, and greatly appreciating the flexibility of being here at home in a very busy season for our family (season as in fall--heh--and season as in kids in school at two different schools and new baby). At the same time, I'm looking ahead to going back to work. I return to my old campus for a few weeks at the very end of this semester and I have a new development for future employment that I will say more about when things are finalized with my current employer. At any rate, with all the upheaval, I'm having a lot of second thoughts and questions about working, budgets, my identity, a feeling of purpose, what gives me the most satisfaction, what makes me happy, where I should devote the majority of my time and energy, etc.

You know, just light and fluffy considerations over here while nursing the baby in the wee hours.

Anyway, I read this article that captured exactly for me the reason that I want to work but that I also want to have a job that allows me flexibility and focus on my family, too. It's called What It's Like to Be 90-Something and it's written by a female pastor who interviewed 90-somethings in her church. To her surprise, they all said that the most stressful years of their lives (when their kids were young) were also the happiest. And they all valued relationships (or mourned them) far above any other achievement or accomplishment. It was her reflection on her own career that articulated exactly how I feel but had never quite put into words when I puzzled over why I want to go back to work when I also love my tiny little squishy babies so much and I know how fast the time with them goes:

"I certainly won't be giving up my job to hang out with my family more because I also recognize that satisfying careers and financial stability are great sources of fulfillment, which in turn, affect family well-being. But these different perspectives helped me to focus on what really matters in the face of competing responsibilities and priorities."

I hope that the next phase in my career allows me to find that focus, and I know that I need to be brave enough to make changes if it doesn't.

* * *

Today on the way home from school, Coco asked to hear "the song about feeding the baby." She meant "Redesigning Women" by the Highwomen which is SO GREAT (the whole album, really), and I especially love that song right now... "running the world while I'm cleaning up the kitchen / making bank, shaking hands, driving eighty / tryin' to get home just to feed the baby."

I've definitely felt that rush even now before I go back to work as I think about what to prioritize in parenting and my own life/self/interests. Things I've thought about in the middle of the night:

- At what point will I let my hair go naturally gray?
- How many updates to the iphone will there be in my lifetime?
- Will Clementine ever be the kind of dog that I could take to work with me?
- Do I need to enroll my kids in music lessons?
- Why won't my kids play team sports? Should we be concerned?
- Why didn't I play team sports?
- What play would I want to be in if I were in a theater production right now?
- How do middle class people ever actually pay cash for a college education?
- Who benefits from our society being polarized and divided politically?
- Do deer eat pumpkins?

More musings later--I'm off to play mancala with Coco.