Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Few Things

Just when I had entirely given up on it, I found my lost library book!  It was in a plastic bin in our storage area that was full of rarely-used kitchen items (a sushi set, a fondue pot, some seasonal placemats).  Do we really need to talk about who put it there?  Hint:  His last name rhymes with Muckworth.  I will be returning it to the library with my receipt.  My perfect record as a library patron shall be restored!

# # #

I have a bracelet I wear everyday that has Eliza's name on it.  I also have a necklace with a disc for her and a disc for Zuzu on it that I wear fairly often, but I chose a bracelet for perma-wear because it's something that I wear no matter what my outfit is or what other jewelry I have on (kind of like my wedding ring).  I still give the bracelet two kisses every night when I take it off.  It's become a little ritual.  Anyway, I haven't added Zuzu's name to the bracelet, although I could.  I just don't feel the need.  She makes her presence known.  She doesn't need a bracelet to prove that she existed.

Anyway, Zuzu has been noticing this bracelet and will look at it and study it.  So I always say, "This is Mommy's Eliza bracelet."  And now she says "Eliza."  In fact, I just asked her to say Eliza, and she said it and then grinned and pointed at my bracelet.  David heard it, too, so it's not just in my head.  It's sweet that she's saying her name.  It's heartbreaking that she associates the name with a bracelet instead of a sister.

# # #

Zuzu has started talking to my cell phone.  She and Siri will have conversations.  A lot of the conversations go like this:

Zuzu:  Bye-bye!  Bye-bye!
Siri:  You'll need to unlock your iPhone first.

Zuzu:  Ahh-baah.  Bah-bye!
Siri:  I'm sorry. I don't understand that.

Today was my favorite:

Zuzu:  Bah!  Aaaiiiiiii-yaiiii!  Bah-bah-BAH.
Siri:  You're certainly entitled to that opinion.

# # #

So I may have mixed feelings about the holidays, but I'm a little excited about a couple of crafty projects I have going on.  Plot spoiler:  I'm making a 2-dimensional felt Christmas tree for Zuzu to decorate.  I also got my Christmas cards ordered already, and I feel pretty satisfied with the way they represent our family.  I'm also pretty proud of myself because I bought a Groupon for my Christmas cards and saved a bundle that way.  Yay for money saving.

# # #

Do you think you have a "uniform" that you wear more often than not?  I was getting coffee with two friends last week and when I sat down with my drink, I complimented one of them on her outfit.  It was super cute--a dress/tunic with pockets over leggings with tall brown boots and a scarf.  She started laughing because it turns out that she and my other friend had just been talking about how she was wearing a very "Brooke-like" outfit.  I guess she was right--I'd totally wear what she was wearing.  I just didn't realize until that moment that I basically wear the same thing everyday--a dress or tunic with leggings and boots or flats or booties, mixing it up with a scarif and a cardigan or jacket.  I mean, I do occasionally wear dresses with tights and heels or dress pants with button down shirts or sweaters, but clearly those are not my "signature" look.  Haha.

I think I do this in part because I am obsessed with these leggings.  They are fleece lined, which makes them super warm and nice and opaque.  I basically want to live in them.  In fact, last night when I got home, I changed out of skinny cords and dug a pair of these out of the dirty clothes and wore them around the house even though they had diaper cream smeared on one leg.

# # #

I snuggled Zuzu for an extra long time before nap today. She wasn't particularly fussy and she almost always goes down for a nap without struggle, but I just spent some extra time breathing in her neck and rubbing her fuzzy head and holding on to her.  It was the quietest, sweetest minutes of my day, and I still managed to run errands and make dinner and vacuum the dog hair of the sofa.  She is just so busy these days--always on a mission rearranging kitchen cabinets, or carrying one shoe around the house, apparently with great purpose, or chasing Cooper, or unpacking everything in her toy bucket(s).  I love it when she has nothing better to do than lounge on Mama's lap.

# # #

This weekend is bustling around here as we try to get the house cleaned up and ready to host Thanksgiving.  My in-laws were just here a couple of weeks ago, so for Thanksgiving we're having my parents and brother come in for the weekend.  David's dad and his wife are going to drive up for the day, and a friend of mine who doesn't have family in town and decided not to make the trek home until Christmas is going to come over.  That makes 10 people total, plus Zuzu, which should be a good number.  I think it will be fun to have a mix of people we don't usually see all at once, and I've made some "table topics" questions for people to draw out of a basket.  (They are very fancy because I wrote with a GOLD PEN on cardstock.  Somebody pin this, stat.)  My questions are things like, "Which political party is the worst and why?" and "What do you think people have to do to avoid going to hell?"

Okay, obviously I'm kidding.  The questions are much less divisive and are more about memories or hypothetical situations.  But I hope it will be fun to do something a little different and get people talking about things we might not typically cover at the dinner table.

# # #

One more week of NaNoWriMo.  I'll be honest, the second half of the month has been waaaaay harder than the first half, and the structure of my novel is pretty weak.  I've started just kind of writing major scenes and not messing with transitions, and I know my timeline got messed up, which frustrates me!  But I keep reminding myself that the whole point of this month is to keep writing, not start editing.  If I want to fix this, I can go back and do it later.  But I have to get it WRITTEN first.  So I'm still plugging away, somewhat less enthusiastically and more resentfully than I was at the start of the month.  It's almost over!  I can't wait to have time to watch TV or exercise or blog (have you missed me?) or work on projects that don't involve my computer...  I should gain back an hour to an hour and a half everyday, which will feel like a Christmas gift in itself.

# # #

And since I've been short on words here this month, I leave you with a bunch of pictures.

Zuzu's first taste of wine.  She grabbed my glass off a side table when I ran downstairs to switch the laundry.  Parenting fail.

Sometimes the time it takes for me to make her dinner is the MOST DIFFICULT part of the day.  For both of us, obviously.

Just chilling in her crib.  I discovered she's happy to read books while I shower and dry my hair in the morning.  Win-win!

It was a windy day but weirdly warm--almost 70 degrees out--when we were in Nevada, MO last weekend.

Big girl on the playground.

First time on a merry-go-round.  She loved it, and so did her buddy Ellie Kate.

Giving Bubba Coop some love.

Playing in the leaves with Ellie Kate.

Sitting pretty.

Striking a pose with Coop in the morning before school.

This photo got lots of compliments on IG--Zuzu is totally strutting it and looking adorable.

I neglected to post on IG this picture that was taken moments later.  It is obviously devastating to be forced to come inside when all you want to do is play with wet and muddy leaves in the freezing cold outdoors.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On Being "Nice"

I've been talking with my students about gender and social expectations, and what the differences are in advice that parents give girls rather than boys.  (This was prompted by the assigned reading of the brief but fascinating "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid.)

One of the things that came up in our discussion of the text (besides why girls are "sluts" and boys are "players") was the idea that girls/women are expected to be "nice" in a way that men are not.  That is, men who are not nice may be called aggressive, assertive, angry, authoritative, or commanding.  A woman who is not nice is called...  a bitch.  (My students came up with "bitch" with no hesitation and couldn't come up with any other terms for "not nice" women except "Maybe... bossy?")

So, feminist readings of literature aside, these discussions have got me thinking about the things I say to my daughter because one of the things I've caught myself saying lately as I redirect her behavior is "Don't do x, y, or z.  That's not nice."

Now it's true that kicking me while I'm changing her diaper, or smacking Cooper too roughly on the head, or attempting to BITE me when I drag her away from the bottle of stain spray she managed to reach on a shelf that I thought was too high for her in the laundry room--these are NOT NICE behaviors.  But I have to wonder... Would I use the same language if she were a boy?  And, even if I would tell my son that his behavior wasn't nice--does it matter?  Are we really supposed to be "nice" all the time?

The thing is, she absolutely should not be doing those things.  I do not want her to kick, hit, or bite me when I prevent her from playing with potentially dangerous items.  But I also don't want her to think that being "nice" is the standard of behavior.  "Nice" is just too emotionally loaded.  It implies feeling a certain way as well as behaving a certain way.  It's not just about being kind (although I certainly want to emphasize to Zuzu that it's important to be kind).  Being "nice" means something a little different.

Nice means behaving in a socially acceptable way, but I think also implies that your behavior is a direct correlation with the kind of person you are.  For adults, this may be true.  For toddlers, it's not true.  She's not being "mean" even when she tries to bite me.  She's maybe testing boundaries or expressing frustration, but her intention is not actually to cause me physical pain.

So I want to move beyond the issue of "nice" and all of the loaded connotations behind the word.  I notice in my own career that to be a "nice" professor is to be "easy"--to give good grades for minimal effort.  (In case you're wondering, I do NOT fit that definition of "nice").  More generally, to be "nice" is to always be friendly and pleasant, to never get angry, to never raise your voice, to always be polite.  These are not negative qualities.

But how far is that from never standing up for yourself or never disagreeing even if someone else is wrong or not holding students accountable for their failure to adequately prepare for an exam?  I just think it can be a slippery slope.  And I think the messages about niceness that I sent Zuzu are important.

In summary:  I want Zuzu to know that doesn't have to be "nice" all the time (It's okay to be really angry when Mommy takes away your awesome Oxyclean spray bottle!), but she DOES have to be non-violent and not inflict harm on living things.

So my new attempt at a solution is one that I borrowed from Bringing Up Bebe (a book I read shortly after she was born).  Instead of telling her to "be nice," I say, "You don't have the right to do x, y, or z."

It's not "nice" to kick a chair or bite a pillow or hit a stuffed animal, but I'd say she has the right to do those things if that's how she chooses to express her frustration.  It's only when her actions infringe on someone else's rights (ie. bodily harm for me or Cooper) that her behavior needs to be modified.  And that has nothing to do with being nice.

I suspect my students think I'm over thinking this, but as someone who (1) spends a lot of professional time thinking about the social messages that shape gender expectations and (2) believes that how you say something matters as much as what you say, I'm working really hard to change "That's not nice" to "You don't have the right."

Other parenting statements that I'm planning to purloin from the French for future use?

It's me who decides. (Instead of "Because I say so.)

I don't agree with your behavior. (Instead of "Stop that.")

Be wise and be gentle. (Instead of "Be good.")

Go into your room and do what you want.  (Instead of "Go to bed.")

Any gems you might add to that list of go-to parenting phrases that may not come intuitively?  Any potentially-sexist phrases you want to eliminate from your own vocabulary?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ups and Downs

Up:  David came home from work Friday and reported that a fourth-grade student had told him, in all earnestness, that he looked "elegant."  Possibly my favorite elementary student compliment ever.  He was wearing a gray argyle half-zip sweater over a white button down with khakis, in case you'd like to replicate Mr. Duckworth's elegance at home.  This same student--a little boy--dressed up as Mr. Duckworth for Halloween, sporting a suit and tie.  You can safely assume that David's ego is through the roof.

# # #

Down:  I have one student who aggravates the heck out of me.  Constant pushback on things, wanting to argue about marginal comments on his essays, raising his hand in class to ask questions before I've finished explaining assignments.  I snapped at him today and I regret it.  I wish I could just not lose my cool with him.  I'm not sure what it is about him that drives me crazy.  Perhaps I'm just cranky because no one is telling me that I look elegant?  I only have four weeks left in the semester, and I need to go totally zen when I'm around this kid.

# # #

Up:  Last night I was folding laundry.  I'd carried a basket of sheets and towels upstairs so I was folding them in the family room while Zuzu played.  When I started folding the sheet, I flapped it so it covered her head, then lifted it up again.  This cracked her up, and she grabbed the edge of the sheet to lift it again, and kept wanting to do it over and over.  This resulted in an impromptu game of parachute with the bedsheets, which is what we were doing when David got home.  It was so much fun to have Zuzu instigate a silly game.  It totally made up for the screaming meltdown she had while I was trying to make her a grilled cheese for dinner.

# # #

Down:  I got in a fender-bender on my way home from work on Friday.  Imagine the last place you would like to be in a car accident, because OF COURSE that would be where it happens to me.  How about in the middle lane of a bridge spanning the Mississippi river at 4:30pm on a Friday night?  There you go.

I am not usually so late on Fridays, but I'd stayed on campus for a NaNoWriMo event.  So I was on my way to pick up Zuzu.  Traffic always gets backed up on this one lane as everyone slows for an exit that makes a rather sharp curve.  I had come to a complete stop behind a little orange car when a big black SUV rammed in to the back of me.  I was totally rattled, literally and metaphorically, and as I was on the phone with the police so they could dispatch motorist assist, the a#$hole who hit me FLED THE SCENE.  I didn't get the license number.  There was crying, then my car wouldn't start, then a very nice motorist assist man showed up, then I had to get out of my car in the middle of the bridge and walk to his truck with the traffic speeding by and it was very dramatic.  I sat in the motorist assist truck and watched them hook my car up to a tow truck and had a quick cry and then pulled myself together so as to get on with life and not look like a big crybaby.  Long story short, my car had to be towed off the bridge, although it turned out that the battery had been jolted loose so I was actually able to drive it home.  The car in front of me had a scratched bumper but no serious damage, and no one was hurt.  My car has a big SUV-shaped dent in the back hatch so it will need some work, but it was drive-able.  Obviously it could have been much worse, but it was pretty scary.  I'm just glad Zuzu wasn't in the car with me.

I've been imagining reasons why the black SUV drove away...  I was not feeling very generous toward them, but I imagine that if they fled the scene of a car accident they caused, then they probably have bigger problems than a dented hatchback.

# # #

Up:  I'm over 19,000 words for NaNoWriMo!

# # #

Down:   David got in a fender-bender.  No, I'm not kidding.  A week and a day before I did.  It was rainy and wet on Halloween morning and he got clipped by a van.  Evidently car accidents are contagious at our house.  Once again, we're grateful that no one was hurt.  And we're also glad that our insurance plan includes accident forgiveness because seriously.

# # #

Up:  We made the most of lovely November weather over the weekend and went to the zoo on Saturday and the park on Sunday.  Zuzu was such a big girl for these outings.  We've taken her to the zoo a few times before, but this time she was really noticing the animals (and occasionally shouting at them).  It was just so cool to see her enjoying the experience.  The zoo still makes me miss the almost-three-year-old Eliza, but it's worth the pangs of heartache to watch Zuzu watch the baby wild asses, which were super cute little ponies.  (David and I were also at our most mature, commenting on the wild asses.  We went on to rename every animal in the zoo some version of wild ass:  "There's the wild ass hippo!  There's a wild ass bear!  It's a wild ass duck!"  We amuse ourselves.)

# # #

Down:  At the park, Zuzu was climbing (gleefully, fearlessly) on the playground equipment and there was another little boy there also.  He looked a year or two older than Zuzu, and he was very cute. He deftly climbed around her and she watched him and copied him, going down the slides all by herself.  This little boy was delighted to have found an abandoned toy tractor and he carried it everywhere.  His dad asked us how old Zuzu was and then said that his little guy would be three in February.

So that's what going-on-three looks like at the playground.

Then the friendly dad added that it seemed like just yesterday they were bringing him home from the hospital.

I wanted to tell him that he has no idea what a time warp really feels like, how confusing it is to be pregnant for a total of eighteen out of twenty four months and only come home with one baby, what it's like to lose a year of your life to grief and sadness, what it's like to have that tender bruised heart stomped on by the sight of an innocent two-year-old playing at the park.

Instead, David said, "Yeah, we know the feeling." And then I told David I was getting hungry and we should head home.

# # #

Up:  An essay I submitted got selected for Three Minus One, a book being put together for publication by the same people producing the film Return to Zero.  (Which I mentioned here and here).  I'm honored to see my name on this list, but mostly I'm just glad that these projects exist and people are doing more to draw attention to a devastating reality.  Sadness shouldn't be silenced.  Our stories and our babies matter.

# # #

One more Up because I seem to drone on and on about the Downs...  I'm making my freshmen come conference with me about their upcoming essays.  After a meeting today, one student said, "Wow.  That was really helpful."  I was like, "Yes.  That's why you should meet with your professors.  We're actually really helpful."

Changing lives, people.  That's what I do.  I just don't look quite as elegant as some people while I'm doing it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Remembrance Walks and Somethingness and Sorrow

In John Green's novel, The Fault in Our Stars, the protagonist/narrator has cancer.  One of the things she feels bad about is how sad it makes her parents that she is sick.  There's a scene in which she overhears her mom crying and saying, "If she dies, I won't be a mom anymore."

* * *

A friend of mine went to a cancer fundraiser walk two weeks ago.  She wrote a beautiful post about how the speaker asked a simple question and the crowd of people who had gathered suddenly split themselves into two groups.  One group was given white balloons to release.  She watched those parents, letting those balloons, go, wondering how they could bear it--how they could bear to be at the fundraiser at all.  In her words, "How can they be here, supporting a cure that is already too late?"

* * *

I can't tell you how many times I've replayed in my head the conversation David and I had after he told me that our friends had lost one of their twins, a little boy named Max.  I said to him, "I don't know what I'd do if we lost our Baby Duck.  There's no way I could handle it."

I thought I couldn't handle it.  And I was right.

There are an awful lot of people like me who are living everyday through something they would have thought unbearable.  It is unbearable.  And yet here we are.  Bearing it against our will.

* * *

How do we do it?  How do we show up at Walks for Remembrance?  How do we raise money for research that will never benefit our children?  Why do we release balloons or light candles in memory of children who will never see them?

I think we do it because what else is there to do?  We can't hold them in our arms.  We can't comfort their cries.  We can't kiss their smooth foreheads or their squishy cheeks.  We can't tickle them until they belly-laugh.  We can't read books or dry tears.  They don't need lunches packed or laundry folded or toys picked up.  And yet we are their parents.  We have do something.

When your child dies, do you stop being a parent?  No.  But, for all intents and purposes, you stop parenting that child.  You have no choice in the matter.  Aside from planning a funeral (if you choose to do so) there's so little left for you to do.

Walks, balloons, t-shirts--to be honest, sometimes these things frustrate me because they seem so superficial and futile given the enormity of what we've lost.  Nothing could ever fill that gaping hole.  But we wear t-shirts and we release balloons and we walk miles or kilometers or laps or whatever distance we can so that we can do something.

We do it because the alternative is nothing.  And we have enough of nothing--enough of that gaping absence where someone ought to be.  Nothing is what we are left with when there's no baby crying in the middle of the night.  When there's no doctor to call for a second opinion, no specialist to weigh in on what could be done.  When there's no pink or blue socks to be washed, no vegetables to be pureed, no need to send someone to the store for formula or whole milk, no toys to pick up, no books to read out loud for the millionth time.

Balloons and walks and t-shirts can't fill that emptiness, but they can put us--for an hour or a morning or a weekend--in the role of being an active parent.  It's a time when I'm not just thinking about her or writing about her.  This is something I can do.  I can wear this shirt with her name on it.  I can release this balloon, with my little love note tied to it.  I can do this for her, because of her.  I am at this place because of her.  Because I am her mom.

She still matters.  She's still remembered.  She's still my daughter.  I still love her.  I'm still her mom.

We may feel on a regular basis like we want to scream this to the world, insisting that everyone acknowledge the invisible child who made us parents, who completes our family, whom we miss every day.  But (rarely) do we have the opportunity to draw anyone's attention to the much-loved child who is no longer here.

And sometimes we don't have the strength or energy to do so, and that's understandable and not a reflection of anything but the depth of our love and grief, which may be too tender for public display.  (I say this because I stressed out about my complete lack of desire to participate in any kind of remembrance anything the first year after Eliza died.  But I was doing something in my own way--basically by crying my eyes in the privacy of my own home out every single day.)

Parenting a child through fundraising and remembrance walks and grief support groups and symbolic things like balloon releases and candle lightings is futile and frustrating and heartbreaking.  It's never, ever enough.  It's just something.  And it's something to do surrounded by other people who know what you're feeling.

And I think sometimes, something--anything--is better than the nothing we live with every other day.  So we replace nothingness with somethingness, even if it's just for a few hours at a time.

* * *

Unfortunately, my friend and her family are now in that other group--the ones with white balloons.  Days after the fundraiser, they lost her niece to cancer.  Another shattered family, living an impossible and unbearable reality.  New members of a tribe (like mine, only different) that will rally to hold and comfort them, knowing that no condolences could ever be enough, ready to stand with them in a field full of broken-hearted people holding balloons.

It's not enough.  But in the face of nothingness, that companionship is truly something.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bum-Kin How-To

So Halloween has passed, but it's not too late to make a little memory with your own little punkin!  After seeing a friend's instagram post of her son's bum-kin project, I decided that I had to capture my own little bum-kin on canvas.  (Because of course.)  So when my mom was here, we set about Making Magical Holiday Memories AKA Embarrassing Future Zuzu with Holiday Art.


A baby-butt-sized canvas (available at your local craft store--I got mine at Hobby Lobby in a two-pack for something like $5).

Some orange finger paint (I used the non-toxic Crayola stuff, purchased a while back in a 4-pack of tubes).

A foam paint brush.

A cute baby tush.

A helper (this is a two-man one-baby project for sure!).


Step 1:  Strip the baby nekkid and stand her up on the sink.  Place blank canvas on closed lid of toilet.

Step 2:  Squeeze some orange paint onto the foam brush and apply liberally to the baby butt.

Step 3:  Maneuver baby over the canvas and gently stamp her butt onto it (your helper should assist you in positioning baby's butt just right).

{No Photo:  Our hands were full!}

Step 4:  Squeeze a little green finger paint onto the canvas to make your pumpkin patch grass and add a quick swipe for the stem.  Try not to think about it looking like poop.

{Optional Step 5:  Set canvas on stair bannister to dry, then knock canvas down the stairs so the grass smears and call it "rustic".}

Ta-da!  Now you have an adorable baby bum-kin and a fall decoration to put up year after year.

David and I considered buying a bigger canvas and making a family bum-kin patch with ALL our butt-prints, but in the end we decided that only one of us has a cute enough butt to justify stamping it on a canvas.

So that's our one-of-a-kind, borderline inappropriate fall artwork!  (Thanks to Asher for the inspiration!)

Remember painting with Zuzu about this time last year?