Sunday, May 29, 2016

Conversations With Zuzu: Thoughts on Babies, Her Parents, and 'InjaTurtles

Zuzu has been saying the funniest stuff lately, and if I don't get it written down, I can never remember it. Often, I grab my phone and make a note or voice record a note so I can come back to it later and post them here.

How did people parent before technology?

Here are a few of my favorite comments and conversations from the month of May.


Scene: Zuzu skipped her much-needed nap at school. She fell asleep on the drive home and woke up cranky. I made breakfast for dinner and served her scrambled eggs in a yellow bowl.

Zuzu: Mommy, I wanted the PINK bowl.

Me: Well, Coco has the pink bowl tonight. You get the yellow bowl!

Zuzu: (bursts into angry tears) MOMMY, YOU RUIN MY LIFE!


Scene: Three baby dolls lined up on couch. Baby Keya, Baby Maria (who goes by 'Aria), and Baby Tasha. (Baby Jenna is not with the others, and has inexplicably been renamed Baby Onion.)

Me: Where is Baby Onion?

Zu: Oh, well, she was in my tummy, but then when she got borned, she died. I miss her. 

Me: (Stunned silence. I pinch the bridge of my nose and try to think of something to say.)

Zu: Mommy, it's just pa-tend.


Scene: Trying on a swimsuit I ordered her. It's a modest two-piece with high-waisted bottoms and a full-coverage halter top that also has a large bow across the chest. The top is purple and the bottoms are shiny green and patterned to look like scales on a mermaid tail.

Zu: (pulling at the bow) What is this?

Me: That's a bow. And see how the bottoms are shiny so you look like a mermaid?

Zu: But Mommy, Ariel shows her boobies!

Not showing her boobies.

Back story: David is constantly picking up after me and the girls, which on a good day is a wonderful quality to have in a spouse and on a bad day means he moves stuff around so no one can find what we need when we need it. Whenever Zuzu can't find something, I tell her that Daddy must have hidden it and we'll have to ask him where it is (it's often true!).

Scene: I turn on my car in the carport. Windshield wipers are on and doing that screechy stutter across the dry windshield.

Zuzu: Why that happened?

Me: Daddy cleaned my car and must have turned the wipers on when he was cleaning.

Zuzu: Why he do that?

Me: You know how Daddy always likes to pick up our stuff. He just likes to clean.

Zuzu: It's a good thing Daddy didn't hide your car!


Scene: Last day of school. David is dropping off Zuzu and I'm dropping off Coco but we are leaving the house at the same time, which never happens.

Zuzu: Why are Mommy and Coco going in Mommy's car?

David: Because Mommy has to drive to work in her car.

Zuzu: But can't we all go to my school AS A FAMILY?


Scene: in the car on the way to gymnastics.

Zu: I would like to have Elsa and Anna decorations, and Spider-Man decorations, and 'Inja Turtle decorations at my birthday party.

Me: What are 'Inja Turtles?

Zuzu: Well, they are green and they are nice, but they knock stuff apart. And they are real! But they only come out at night.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reading Now...

Zuzu and I just wrapped up Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and I think that our next chapter book is going to be Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, though I'm also considering A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think Zuzu felt the same kinship to Ramona that I felt as a kid, and I hope she rereads the Ramona books as often as I did.

Recently, she has been into reading some of our kids poetry books. Most of them are collections from various authors, but one of her favorite poems is an excerpt from The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash.

Something that drives me crazy about kids books is when they are written to rhyme but the poetry is bad or off meter and painful to read. Ogden Nash's poetry is fantastic--he uses some made up words ("realio, trulio" and forces some funny rhymes "gyrate" rhymes with "pirate" in one poem), but it's always fun to read out loud. We liked Isabel so much that I ordered the full book (used, as it seems to be out of print) and did the same with another Ogden Nash book, The Tale of Custard the Dragon. I think Zuzu finds the poems so satisfying because they are not the Disney-fication of adventure. Isabel cuts off the head of a giant and Custard eats an entire pirate, head to wooden leg. It's a violent form of justice, but so is most preschoolers' vision of justice, right?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. It's historical fiction about Edith Wharton, and I found it fascinating. I've taught Age of Innocence by Wharton before, but I haven't read much else that she's written (aside from Ethan Frome) and this book has me eager to read The House of Mirth, so that's on my list for the summer. Before that, though, I'm reading a nonfictional biography of Wharton, so currently I'm about a hundred pages into No Gifts from Chance by Wharton scholar Shari Benstock (published in 1994). One thing that's interesting to me is that The Age of Desire focuses heavily on the relationship between Edith Wharton and the woman who served as her governess when she was young and later as her secretary and travel companion, Anna Bahlmann. The biography (so far) has not suggested that Anna Bahlmann had a significant influence on Wharton, so I was curious about why Fields would expand/invent that relationship so much. It turns out that she just felt since Anna was part of Wharton's life for so long, Fields just felt certain they must have had a more important relationship than biographers had suggested. While she was writing The Age of Desire (published in 2012), a collection of letters written from Edith to Anna was discovered, and Fields contacted the scholar editing them for publication and was able to read them and use them to help confirm what she had suspected about their lifelong friendship. (Hmmm... maybe I need to add that published collection of letters to my Edith Wharton summer reading list.)

I'm also reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I'd heard about this book a few years ago--it explores the hyped up femininity of girly-girl pink princess culture--but it recently came back into focus for me when I heard a bit of an NPR interview with Orenstein about her new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. (Oh, how that book could have changed Edith Wharton's life!) Girls & Sex is on my to-read list as well, but given that we are smack dab in the middle of princess mania around here, Cinderella Ate My Daughter felt like required reading for this summer.

My book club has decided on Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a local St. Louis writer) for the July meeting, and I'm super stoked about that. Additionally, I plan to read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (it was a book club pick before I joined, and was highly recommended by those who read it).

I am also looking forward to reading The After Party by Anton Disclafani. I need to get up to Subterranean Books and see if I can still pick up a signed copy. I really wanted to see Anton when she was in St. Louis on her book release tour last week, but had a conflict I couldn't reschedule. Anton was in the MFA program at Wash U when I was in the PhD program, so we were acquainted there. Although we did not know each other well, she reached out to me after Eliza died and sent me multiple notes and cards in the first couple of years, remembering Eliza on her birthday and extending her sympathy. I can't express how touched I was by that kindness, and even if I hadn't been completely taken in by The Yonahlossee Riding Club for Girls (though I was), I'd still buy everything she ever writes because I think she's a fantastic person as well as a compelling writer.

I'm also going to check out Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet. She's Stephen King's daughter-in-law and evidently writes some pretty creepy thrillers (I imagine them all discussing them around the dinner table and wish that I'd be invited over). Weirdly, I've never read a lot of Stephen King. I can remember in middle school one of my friends was reading It and I thought the clown on the cover was SO SCARY looking and I was curious about it (but also scared!) and my English teacher told me there are enough other good books in the world that I didn't need to be reading Stephen King right now. My parents had a few Stephen King paperbacks on the upstairs bookcase, but I remember my mom telling me that my dad was freaked out after reading Pet Cemetery, and I think that I decided any book that scared my dad was going to be WAY too scary for me. I do really like Stephen King's book On Writing, and after hearing a brief interview with his son on NPR this morning (not the one married to Kelly Braffet), I'm curious to read more of the whole family.

My tolerance for scary stuff varies these days--I liked In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, which is definitely a thriller, but I couldn't get through Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (whose other books I've enjoyed) because the premise is a woman (well, first a baby and a little girl) dying and coming back in other lives. So context is crucial for me! (Basically: all children and any animals to whom I get emotionally attached need to to remain alive, and right now World War II trauma is off the table). Josie and Jack appears to be a creepy, incestuous thriller (which makes me think of Flowers in the Attic, which I read while babysitting one summer and was so horrified and enthralled, I basically let the kid do whatever he wanted to I could get through the book (hmmm... Note that babysitting style becomes parenting style...).

My other literary read on order is Lady Susan by Jane Austen. It's the unfinished novel on which the new movie Love and Friendship is based. I can't wait to see the movie (it's babysitter worthy as far as I'm concerned!).

As I think about this reading list, I'm trying to imagine how much reading I'll get done while away from home. We are doing a fair amount of traveling this summer--at least the girls and I are (yay for the academic schedule!). We'll spend a week at my parents', a little over a week in California visiting friends and family, and another week in Branson near Table Rock Lake with my parents. Vacations with the girls definitely limit the amount of reading I get done, but I'm trying to plan what books to take and how to pack them. I had an ancient Kindle (it's more than five years old and it was the kind with the screen that doesn't glow) but it doesn't work or hold a charge anymore. I could use the kindle app on my phone, which allows me to check out electronic texts through the library (both audio and e-books) but my phone is not one with a huge screen. Or I could just take the actual books like the old-school person I really am...

I actually have nothing against reading on an electronic device, but for me personally, my recall and memory of a text is SO MUCH better if I read it on paper. It's like the process of holding the book and seeing the specific font just helps me remember the plot and characters and everything. Often, when I think back about specific moments in the text, or particular passages that were moving, I picture exactly where they were on the page and how many pages into the book. The books I read on a screen all blur together. On the other hand, audio books stand out because the different voices reading them make them memorable. Is that weird? I feel like it must be that way for everyone, but maybe it's just me.

(Speaking of which, I never got through Year of Wonders, though I thought it was well-written and interesting, because of the unease I felt knowing that the book was building up to the point where her sons die of the plague, and because the voice of the actor narrating it kind of grated on me.)

Any recommended reading for the summer that I should add to my list? Anyone else feeling conflicted about Princess culture? (I say this as I plan a Frozen themed birthday party...) Anyone else think it's normal to pack a few paperbacks in one's suitcase instead of downloading them to a screen?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Water Works

I mentioned before that Coco has not been enjoying swimming lessons. She spends the entire lesson (30 minutes) being held by me or David. We do not dunk her or splash her or force her onto her back. And yet you'd think we were torturing her.

The thing is, she's never loved the water. She and Zuzu have been taking baths together since Coco could sit up safely and securely on her own, and she is always "All done!" long before Zuzu has finished wriggling/splashing/blowing bubbles in the water.

Coco will turn two on August 7. When I look back now at the way Zuzu played in the water the summer she turned two (on June 29)--well, there's just no way:

The other day Coco got sprinkled on her head when David was watering the garden and she started crying. There's NO WAY she'd run into a fountain like that. And jumping into the water on her own? Forget about it.

I realize now that Zuzu's enthusiasm for the water might be a little unusual, but I do want Coco to feel comfortable. I had hoped that swimming lessons would do that, but trying to get a sobbing baby to realize that singing "I'm a piece of popcorn!" in the water was actually supposed to be FUN seemed to be an exercise in futility.

Things really came to a head for me last weekend. Coco was sick (Just a virus, but one that was so gross that she woke up with nose AND eyes oozing yellow gunk. I kept her home on Friday and took her to the doctor, certain she had an ear/sinus/eye infection, but nope. Just a virus.). I decided not to take her to Saturday morning swimming lessons since she obviously wasn't feeling well, so we hung out at home while Grammy and Bops watched Zuzu participate MOST enthusiastically (and overheard her coach tell the program director that Zuzu really needs to be in the class the next level up. Noted!).

Anyway, the problem materialized Sunday morning when we went to the Botanical Gardens. My dad was pushing Coco in the cart as we entered, when she suddenly burst into tears and thrashed like she was trying to escape the cart. "Wa-wah! Wa-wah!" she kept repeating urgently. A moment later I realized she was freaking out NOT because she was thirsty, but because he was pushing the stroller in the near vicinity of a fountain. And she was evidently TERRIFIED that we were going to make her swim in it.

At this point, I began rethinking swimming lessons. Were we traumatizing this baby? Did it matter if she took swimming lessons at 21 months old? Could we wait until she was older? Her tears subsided as I reassured her there would be no swimming, but she continued to announce every fountain, stream, and puddle in the gardens with trepidation, "Wa-wah!" Her panic became more of a solemn warning tone, but it was still sad.

This past weekend, I decided we were taking a different approach. David took Zuzu on out to her lesson while Coco and I got changed in the locker room (she started sobbing the moment I began to put her swim suit on her). I held her and promised her she didn't have to get in the water if she didn't want to, and we started out just sitting at the very edge of the 12" wading section of the pool. With all the other kids occupied in lessons, this part was mostly empty. Still, she sat on my lap, clinging to me and crying for daddy.

Eventually, she warmed up a little. She was willing to sit between my legs so that her feet were in the water. Then she realized she could touch and started wading while holding tightly to my hand. I walked her over to David and we sat by him on the stairs, so the water was only a few inches deep and she was safely in between us. She noticed that her class was playing with floating balls, and started asking for a ball, so I picked her up and carried her out in the water (3' deep, holding her so only her feet were in it) and she got a ball and actually tossed it and helped me chase it--reaching out her arms to grab the ball instead of clinging to me.

We took the ball and went back to the wading pool and she eventually got to where she was walking around by herself. She fell a couple of times and fussed, but when she realized she could stand back up, she kept on going, tossing the ball and chasing after it. She was even LAUGHING. It took about 30 minutes for her to warm up and enjoy herself, but I was counting it as a huge success since previously she'd spent the entire 30 minute class crying.

When Zuzu got out of class, she wanted to play a bit longer in the 3' water, so I went with her and David stayed with Coco (and her ball). She actually wanted to join us, though, so David brought her out to us and after a bit of playing, I was able to get her to perch on her bottom up on the edge and then scooch/fall into my arms! It was her version of jumping into the water, and she would laugh just like Zuzu did after making a wild leap. It was great to see her actually relax and have fun at the pool--a drastic difference from the previous two times we'd been.

It's definitely interesting to see how different these girls are. In some ways, I'm relieved that Coco is more cautious. I just want to make sure that she's not fearful around water. I definitely think that she wants to make her own way, though, so we're going to skip the formal "lessons" and continue to just have playtime for Coco while Zuzu swims with her class for the next couple of weeks.

I've called to arrange private lessons for Zuzu at an outdoor pool this summer, but I think a wading pool on our patio will be sufficient for Coco. I'm curious to see how she does at Zuzu's favorite water play parks, as I imagine we'll be doing a lot of splashing this summer.

And if Coco wants to sit in the shade with Mama and have some snacks? I can support that choice, too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bird Brain

Where have I been for a week?

Right where I am now. Sitting in my office chair and grading papers.

I'm ALMOST finished with the grading. Grades are due tomorrow.

I've gotten nothing done today, though, because as I got here and settled in and started productively responding to e-mails and getting ready to tackle my stack of student portfolios, I looked up and saw A BIRD strolling down the hallway in front of my office.

My door was propped open with a door stop, so I knew immediately I needed to get the door to my office closed before I ended up with A BIRD trapped inside.

Here's the thing: I know birds are not vicious or scary (mama geese excepted), but when they are WILD and SCARED and TRAPPED IN A BUILDING, they are going to FLY  AROUND LIKE CRAZY and ram into things and SWOOP and then THEIR FEET ARE GOING TO GET CAUGHT IN MY HAIR and then they are going to claw out my eyes and also POOP ALL OVER ME.

This is what is going to happen. There is no AVOIDING this scenario, should I end up in a room with a bird. I have seen the future, and that is what it looks like. There is no escape.

There is only shrieking.

And so, shriek I did. And as I shrieked and gasped and leaped up from my chair, hoping to startle the bird away so that I could shut the door.

But, you guys.

When I did that, I startled ANOTHER BIRD that was already INSIDE MY OFFICE. It had apparently sauntered in without me realizing it. And it was just HANGING OUT next to my desk. Lurking. Spying on me. Biding its time until I would inadvertently startle it, at which time it would no doubt play out the scenario detailed above, ending with my eyes clawed out, my hair cut off, and blood and bird poop everywhere.

But somehow, thank the Good Lord and Baby Jesus, it flew OUT of my office door. While I screamed my ever-loving head off.

Honestly, I'm offended that no one raced up to the third floor to check on me because it must have sounded like I was being attacked. It was a genuine shriek of startled terror, followed by blood-curdling screams of a very hysterical nature, and I was left shaking, my heart racing, the back of my neck crawling with the fear of a Hitchcock-style invasion.

It was outside my office, yes. BOTH birds were now in the hallway. But then I was afraid to shut the door. Were there MORE BIRDS, lurking in my office? Waiting and watching until they found the right moment to panic, get tangled in my hair, and shit everywhere while flapping their wings and accidentally clawing my face apart? I did a cursory stomp/scream around the office to keep birds out and scare any lurking birds out of hiding, then closed the door, then called my friend and colleague whose office is down the hall.

"THERE ARE BIRDS IN THE BUILDING!!!" (This announcement preceded and followed by unintelligible screaming.)

She reacted more calmly and logically, venturing out to close classroom doors and keep the birds confined to the hallway, while I peeked cautiously out my office door, helpfully gasping and shrieking anytime a bird fluttered its wings.

At one point, I ran and called maintenance, who seemed TOTALLY UNCONCERNED. So my friend tracked down another colleague and between the two of them, they managed to catch one bird in a blanket and get it outside, while the other one observes us from the top of the window blinds in the classroom across the hall.

We (okay I was not involved at all because I won't enter the classroom where the bird currently resides because WE ALL KNOW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN) put a lure of breakfast bar crumbs on the window sill (I provided the breakfast bar) but the bird hasn't moved and I fear this coaxing plan could backfire and we could end up luring MORE BIRDS into the classroom, Hitchcock-style.

I've now consulted with two colleagues in the biology department (one of whom specializes in animal biology, although she studies tortoises, not birds) and they have a net they are going to use so they get rescue the bird because they are afraid maintenance might hurt it. They are going to let it rest first because it seems somewhat stunned and exhausted. (I KNOW THE FEELING.) They have identified it as a mourning dove, which is evidently not known for being very bright.

I'm still riding the adrenaline wave of being NEARLY ATTACKED by a BIRD IN MY OFFICE.

I have calmed down some. The reassuring presence of the biology professors was helpful. Birds are nice creatures. Birds do not want to get tangled in my hair. I just want the bird to be safe and happy and NO WHERE NEAR MY OFFICE.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Once More

Mother's Day is always tricky. This year it felt like less of an event, which is saying something. I interviewed Zuzu and then read into Zuzu's answer to number 9, which made me want to cry, but otherwise it was an okay day. Good, even. My parents were in town, and I gave my mom a Vera Bradley wallet and wristlet and keychain that my brother and I went in together on. The girls made me cute things at school and David evidently got me something that hasn't come in yet... (so mysterious!).

One really nice part of the weekend was going out to dinner on Saturday. We met up with my friend Christine and her husband and we all had pizza and then walked and got ice cream. It was a nice evening, and it felt right to spend part of the night before Mother's Day talking about Eliza and about Christine's son, Matthew.

It is no exaggeration to say that I'm not sure I could have survived the past five years without the community of baby lost mamas who became real friends. It was crucial for me to connect with mamas who were on similar timelines to me, but it also helped me a lot to talk with women who were a few years ahead in their journey. While they couldn't ever promise me that everything would be okay for me, they could give me a glimpse of what it was like to live a life that has space for sorrow and happiness both, without letting the former diminish the latter. I know that people in the early days of their grief still stumble across this blog, and I hope it's something that I can do for other people.

* * *

In keeping with Where I Am Now, I saw these questions when Cup of Jo linked them from here and decided to interview Zuzu (who will turn four in less than two months!) to see what she had to say about Mommy. I abbreviated the list slightly. (Lauren at Crumbbums also interviewed her three sons and their answers are funny, too.) Her answers are sometimes accurate (#3), sometimes flattering (#15), sometimes revealing painful truths (#12), and sometimes exactly right (#17), and sometimes bizarre (I am not sure that Zuzu has ever seen me climb a tree, but I definitely used to be pretty damn good at it...).

1. What is something your mommy always says to you?
Never pick flowers.

2. What makes mommy happy?
If I don't pick flowers.

3. What makes mommy sad?
If I don't listen.

4. How does mommy make you laugh?
Tickles me!

5. What was your mommy like as a child?

6. How old is Mommy?

7. How tall is Mommy?
one hundred

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
See Megan. (Megan is my good friend from work.)

9. What does your mommy do when you're not around?

10. What is your mommy really good at?
climbing trees

11. What is your mommy not very good at?
I don't know

12. What does your mommy do for a job?
clean up the floors

13. What is your mommy's favorite food?

14. What makes you proud of your mom?
trees (laughs)

15. If your mommy were a character, what character would she be?

16. What do you and your mommy do together?
We do our game with squares (a matching game)

17. How do you know your mommy loves you?
Because you love me!

18. Why does Mommy love Daddy?
Because you're married.

19. Where is your mommy's favorite place to go?
A party.

20. How old was your mommy when you were born?
You were grown up and you were sixteen.

* * *

My other plans for Mother's Day this year? Finish writing the final exams I'm giving tomorrow (I'm supposed to be doing that now...). Do some more laundry. Put kids to bed early and watch Trainwreck. And flip through Lovable Livable Home and map out some summer projects/plans. Not too bad for a Sunday in May.

It would have been nice to get a preview of this year's Mother's Day when I was in such a sad place in May of 2011. (The hardest part of rereading this post is seeing how hard I was working to try to give myself a pep talk.)

Or pregnant and fearful in May of 2012. (My favorite part of this post?  Why do we need a stupid day for smug people who had living babies and now demand breakfast in bed and jewelry and gift certificates on top of it.  Really?  Because your LIVE baby isn't enough?  You want PRESENTS also, you selfish wench?)

Here's what I wrote about it--and the grief trigger of rubber duckies--in May of 2013.

May 2014 (Zuzu's teeny tiny pigtails! Oh my heart.)

May 2015 (perhaps going to the Botanical Gardens is getting to be a tradition... I still think of Coco as such a baby, but her cheeks in this post are evidence that she's actually growing up fast).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Suffering and Sandwiches

Today in my poetry class, we talked about ekphrasis. That's a fancy (Greek) word for description in literature, particularly when it's a work of art being described. One of the poems we talked about was W. H. Auden's "Musee de Beaux Arts" in which he describes Bruegel's painting called Landscape and the Fall of Icarus.

this is from Wikipedia
Of course the ploughman's red shirt draws the eye to him, and then you see the shepherd behind him, looking up at the sky, but what's not as immediately obvious is the pair of legs sticking out of the ocean in the lower right corner--that's Icarus, post-wing-melting journey up to the sun. The whole idea of the poem (and the painting, I guess), is that this amazing and terrible thing has just happened--a boy with wings has fallen out of the sky!--and everybody around him just carries on with their ordinary activities.

W. H. Auden knew something of grief, as evidenced by his poem "Funeral Blues"--one of many poems I copied into a journal after Eliza died. The last stanza reads:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And damned if I didn't feel that way for the longest time. Stop all the clocks. This is it. Life is over.

* * *

I took the girls out for dinner tonight. David was playing a ball game and I just didn't want to fix dinner and clean it up and clean up the kitchen while being barraged by demand after demand from two tiny tyrants.

(Also, I've come to the realization that my children have extraordinarily LOUD voices. As in volume. Like, all kids can be screamy and demanding, but my kids just happen to have super loud voices, even in comparison to other kids. Coco's teacher confirmed that Coco cries SUPER LOUD and Zuzu's voice is similarly gifted in volume, plus she has no sense of lowering one's voice when someone else's ear is, say, inches away.)

In the car, we rehearsed my definition of Restaurant Manners: Quiet Voices, Listening Ears, Walking Feet.

I repeated this list of three a few times, with both girls promising they would have Restaurant Manners. As I parked and repeated the list one more time, Zuzu chirped, "AND NO RUNNING!"

I said, "Right. That's what Walking Feet means. Walking. Not running."

Zuzu replied, "AND I will be a good listener."

You can see why I had my doubts.

* * *

They were actually quite well-behaved--I think mostly because they were actually hungry. We went to McAlister's deli because kids eat for 99 cents if you eat at the restaurant. Since my kids seem to toss a coin before decided whether to wolf down a children's meal or leave us feeling like idiots for shelling out $4.99 TWICE over just to have them nibble on an apple slice, this feels like a good deal.

Zuzu ordered a PB&J, but then told me she really just wanted the bread and jelly, and could I please take off the peanutbutter. (No. And also: Whose child are you? Peanutbutter is MY LIFE and David's.)

Coco ate a few bites of her mac and cheese but was enthusiastic about her applesauce and some of Zuzu's crust. She was also enthusiastic about people-watching. As we were eating, a young woman walked past our booth on the way to the restroom. She was blond and pretty, and Coco's face lit up as she approached. She waved energetically, her little face crinkling into a smile and her fat little fist opening and closing.

The blond woman looked right past her and walked into the bathroom without acknowledging Coco at all. My heart did this kind of weird thing as Coco's face fell. It's not like it made her cry or anything--she went right back to playing with the straw in her water cup and later waved and smiled at several other people in the restaurant, who were more than enthusiastic in their responses. But her bright smile faded fast when the woman ignored her, and it physically hurt me to see it.

I had a moment of feeling angry at this woman--like can't you just acknowledge my kid, who is actually being pretty well-behaved and was politely waving at you and obviously extending a friendly greeting? Why do you have to crush her? Do we really have to let her know before she turns two that not everyone in this world is going to be nice to her, even when she tries to be nice to them? Like you're too important to freaking say HI?

And then I thought about the Auden poem we'd discussed today--not "Funeral Blues" but "Musee de Beaux Arts." The opening lines are:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

* * *

There was a time not so long ago when I would have looked right through a baby waving at me. When I would have gone out of my way to avoid eye contact. When I would have chosen the table farthest away from the mom with two little kids--and not just because children are animals and should not be taken out in public (although I still sort of subscribe to that belief, at least on some days).

I may be able to smile at strange babies now, but I still have my moments--those families with three little stair-step girls that twist my heart up. I don't know what's going on with that blond woman. Maybe she doesn't like kids. Maybe she was preoccupied and truly didn't notice Coco's friendly wave. Maybe she just got her heartbroken or failed a final exam or bombed a job interview. Maybe she just took her umpteenth negative pregnancy test. Or, you know what? Maybe her baby died and looking at my kid makes her chest seize up.

Because that's the thing that Bruegel and Auden know about suffering. It happens while someone else is eating a sandwich. Or opening a window. Or just walking dully along. It doesn't knock the entire world off its axis. It's barely a blip on the radar. A boy falls out of the sky, and the ploughman doesn't notice and the shepherd is a few seconds too late to figure out what's going on.

One of the hardest parts about living in the aftermath of your own personal suffering is figuring out how to do it when the rest of the world is carrying on as though everything is fine. It's figuring out how to make small talk with the cashier when all you can think about is the fact that your baby died. Your life falls apart and eventually you still have to call the cable company and get your oil changed and return that pair of shoes and go out and grab lunch in a world full of other people. You have to find a way to interact with a world that just kept living its ordinary life--having its babies and eating its sandwiches and opening its windows.

* * *

I said to my students today (rather dramatically), "This. THIS. Is the worst day of someone's life. Someone out there in the world has just lost the person they care about most, or experienced a level of tragedy that has shattered them completely. And here we are, sitting in class, talking about poetry, getting ready to go to lunch, and complaining about studying for finals."

I asked them if they thought the poem invites us to accept this as a fact of life, that people would always suffer unacknowledged in the midst of ordinary activity, or if the poem asks us to change, to be aware of suffering that is too often ignored.

Blessed idealists that they are, they all thought that it was a call for awareness and action--empathy, compassion, connection. Don't just walk dully along! Pay attention to the suffering of others!

I'm not so sure. Bruegel painted that landscape sometime in the 1560s, and it doesn't seem that much has really changed since then. Children fall out of the sky to their deaths (metaphorically, for the most part) and still someone has to plow the ground and tend the sheep. How could we function if every tragedy in the world drew our attention? (And yet, how do we keep going on, ignoring the suffering that's all around us?)

Despite my ambivalence about the poem's message, I watched Coco's cute, friendly gesture get ignored and after my initial moment of being offended on behalf of my adorable cherub of a child, I checked myself, and I wondered if that blond woman at McAlister's was hurting.

I wondered if something had happened to her that made it painful for her to make eye contact with a smiling, messy-faced toddler, and I wondered if I was the only person who was paying attention.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the situation (or the poem). I mean, maybe she was just preoccupied with something inconsequential, or maybe she just doesn't like adorable kids with sticky hands and messy faces.

Or maybe she was, in fact, literally suffering while I ate my sandwich.

In which case I say to her: One breath at a time. All you do is keep going. It might not get better, but YOU will get better. Better equipped to deal with this, anyway. You'll find a way. You don't have a choice in the matter, and that's terrible and unfair and I hate it for you, but you'll find a way because you have to. I know. I know it feels like your suffering will ruin you, but ruins are the beginning of something else, and that something else that you're becoming--it won't be as terrible as you think. I promise you'll find the good again.

And in the meantime? You're in good company.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Illness Updates

Quick Update on the Spots Situation at our house:

Coco had fever on Saturday, fussy Sunday, spots on Monday. By Tuesday, she was feeling better and past the point of contagion, so she was back at school with a terrible looking spotty face.

On Monday morning, Zuzu had already left for school with David when Coco woke up and I saw her spots. We called Zuzu's school to let them know Coco had HFM and Zuzu might be contagious, but we weren't sure. I kind of expected them to have us come get Zuzu right away. But Zuzu appeared totally fine, and they just said that they'd keep an eye on her. She was great on Monday and seemed totally fine Tuesday morning as well.

Tuesday evening, David picked up Zuzu from school and she was looking kind of droopy. She came home, picked at her dinner, and when we took her temperature, she was running a fever.

David kept her home on Wednesday. Her fever didn't come back, but she was low-energy. I kept anxiously texting him from work, "Does she have sores in her mouth? Any spots yet?" Nothing popped up.

Wednesday evening, I was convinced that a red spot in the corner of her mouth was a sore. I was bracing myself for The Outbreak. I kept her home from school on Thursday.

Thursday, she had no fever, no spots, and spent a good deal of the day playing in the backyard, happily announcing to our neighbors, "I'm SICK!"

Friday she was back at school, and all seems well. So... I'm cautiously calling it and saying that HFM has made its rounds and is on its way out of our house.

(Of course, Coco woke up with a cough today, and I always think every cough is a "barking cough" so I'm fretting about that now, but I think it's entirely different.)

I'd feel much better about us being over and done with the disgusting HFM, except that my cousin's sweet little girl, Mesa, whom Zuzu played with at my parents' party last weekend, has come down with a nasty version of it. The sores are concentrated on her hands and especially her feet, which are covered with them (and painful). She barely had any contact with Coco at the party, since Coco was literally attached to me the entire time, but I guess there was enough touching/hugging among everybody that the nasty germs got transferred.

Tangentially related: I'm reading this book called Year of Wonder: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm reading it cautiously because you know from the start that the narrator's entire famiy dies of the plague and after being overwhelmed with Sue Klebold's real-life grief, a fictional grieving mother may be too much for me to handle as Mother's Day approaches with its own triggers.

But anyway, whenever I read historical fiction that touches on disease I always marvel at the idea of living before germ theory. Can you imagine? Assuming that illness was simply the wrath of God? Or came from miasmic fumes from the cemetery? Meanwhile you do all your daily business without disposing properly of raw sewage? As a kid, I would have said that I'd love to time travel and live in the past, but now I realize that I was probably meant to exist in the time of orthodontic work, eyebrow maintenance, safety razors, and modern medicine.

Though it does NOT escape me that the great strides of modern medicine could not prevent the greatest tragedy of my life, and in some ways pregnancy still seems to be as mysterious as it was in the days of midwives and confinements. There's a lot of guesswork still going on.

Today I'm washing all the sheets and towels. I should get some sage to smudge and cleanse the house... Maybe tomorrow. For now, we're burning candles and wiping door knobs and hoping that this is the last we see of HFM. Good riddance.