Friday, January 31, 2014

The Grief and the Trauma

Grief has been rising lately.  But its henchman, Trauma, is the real problem.  Sneaking up on me.  Haunting me at unguarded moments when I'm tired, lonely, overwhelmed.  It's not the sadness that's unexpected.  Sadness has gotten softer, easier, gentler.  It's the sharpness of the trauma, coming back in a flash or in a wave.

A dear friend of mine is going to speak to nursing students about how they can help parents who experience the death of a baby at the hospital.  She asked some of us to share our experiences so she could report to these students what bereaved parents need--and most definitely do not need--when they are in the hospital.  I wrote to her about my experience because I think what she's doing is so important, can be so hopeful.  I read the stories my friends responded with because I know how much these stories matter.

But it was like relentlessly picking at a scab and then gasping at how much it hurt when the air hit that reopened wound.

When I wrote to her, those hours in the hospital come back to me so vividly.  I remember especially that weirdly embarrassed feeling of being duped, of being so cruelly tricked when I had least expected it.  I had been fully prepared by the world and the internet and everyone I knew for one version of having a baby.  Instead, I had the nightmare version.

I knew what hospital rooms were like after babies were born.  I knew how new mothers looked--all tired and glowing and happy, with a bundle of baby in their arms.

I did not know how bereaved mothers were supposed to act.  The only bereaved mothers I'd ever seen were on television or in movies.  Do you know how bereaved mothers are depicted on TV or in movies?  They are either hysterical or comatose.  Screaming and sobbing incoherently, or silent and sunken into clinical depression.

But what do you do when you've just lost your baby and you're trying not to lose yourself?  What do you do when your baby is dead and your husband is watching you with the most hollow, terrified, helpless expression on his face, and you can see how desperate he is for you to be okay? What do you do when you can't believe the reality you just experienced?  What do you do when you have to call your parents and tell them what happened?  What are you supposed to say when nurses ask if there's anything you need?  (My baby.  I need my baby.)  What do you do when you genuinely think that you might be losing your mind?  What do you do when you're afraid to take a pill because you think that you might never stop swallowing the pills and that just might be preferable to enduring another moment of this reality?  What do you do when it's the middle of the night and you're staring sleeplessly at an infomercial for a steamer and outside your room you can hear newborn babies crying and six hours ago you were pregnant but now you're not pregnant and your baby is dead?

Writing to her about what it was like to be in the hospital--about the kindness and compassion expressed by our nurse, about the way I wanted to die each time I heard someone else's baby cry, about how grateful I was to be discharged as soon as possible...  it brought back so many other shockingly vivid memories of our short time there--how shocked I was that Eliza's nose would bleed, how I would wipe it with a tissue while telling her I was so, so sorry, how David held her in the rocking chair and he was like any dad with a new baby except he was crying and she was silent and I had to bite my fist to hold back a howl because it was nothing, nothing like it was supposed to be.  It brought back all the guilt I felt about the way my body (and my ridiculous, careful, thorough research) had inexplicably failed my daughter.  It brought to the surface all my regrets of things we should have done differently, and that inescapable feeling of shame that I had failed her, failed all of us, that I was forever marked and set apart, that I'd never fit back in to my old life, my old self, my old friends.

I've spent so many tears on myself--crying for what I've lost in the daughter I didn't get to know, the life I didn't get to live, the person I didn't get to be, the family I didn't get to have.  And for all those tears, I've cried twice as many for Eliza, for the life she didn't get to live, for the family she didn't get to know, for the experiences she didn't get to have, for the pain she might have felt, for the death I couldn't prevent.

I cry, too, because in the short time I had with her outside me, I don't think I acted like much of a mother.  I kissed her forehead and I told her I loved her and I said I was sorry, but to tell you the truth, I was afraid of her.  I was afraid of holding a dead baby.  I wasn't prepared for this.  I didn't know what to do.  I confused newborn smushiness for the limpness of death and she scared me.  I was scarcely able to see beyond the too-dark lips and too-cold hands.  I couldn't believe the nurse when she told me Eliza was beautiful because all I could see was that she was dead.  I cry now because I didn't unwrap her blanket and look closely at her, because I didn't memorize every inch of her, because I can't even remember if I counted her little toes.  I cry because I didn't get to hold her long enough, because the nurse asked me if I was sure she could take her away and I said yes.  I cry because I had to get away from that room, that hospital, and I couldn't take her with me.

I cry because I remember getting home and sitting on the couch in our living room with absolutely nothing to do in the world and I turned to David and said that I knew this was totally creepy and messed up but I wanted to have her with us because I just wanted to hold her in my arms.  My arms just ached for her and she was gone and I thought the pain of it should just kill me too.

One of the things my therapist talked to us about in the early days is the way our grief was further complicated by trauma.  Although I had a relatively uncomplicated delivery, all things considered, the entire process of arriving at the hospital, being told there was no heartbeat and my baby was dead, and then delivering that baby, was nothing if not traumatic.  The link with trauma makes grief harder to process, and leaves many of us experiencing our own version of PTSD with certain triggers (one of mine was the voice of the one doctor who declared Eliza dead when she came in to say hello while I was in labor with Zuzu--she meant well, and I appreciate that she remembered us, but I honestly hope I never hear her voice again).

I know this complication of grief and trauma to be true now, because I live with the grief every day and I've gotten so much better at balancing it.  I've learned to walk and talk and laugh around the grief and while I never let it go, it's become easier to carry, to shift to one side when necessary.  I wear it like the bracelet on my arm that has Eliza's name.  It no longer feels like my defining characteristic, even though I carry it every day and it's become part of who I am.

The trauma lurks, sharp and scary and real, and when it surfaces, it takes me out.  Usually, this happens around Eliza's birthday, when the memories and the triggers are most vivid.  This December was busy--in good ways and in exhausting ones--and full of distractions and activities and the blessedly busy Zuzu, and while I grieved Eliza intensely, I managed to avoid reliving the horrifying moments of her birthday.  I didn't let myself go back there.  I didn't have the time or the energy, and my brain obeyed my decision to not relive every moment of that day three years earlier.

But then I had a good reason to think about it, and while I'm glad I did, I find that the sadness uncovered is hard to escape.  It's dark and it's cold and winter seems to stretch on forever.  I live everyday missing Eliza, but then there are moments when I realize all over again what happened to her, what happened to me and to David, what we have endured, and it knocks me to my knees and makes me feel like I can't catch my breath.

I can say "stillborn" or "died when she was born" without dissolving into tears.  But when I let myself slowdown and really think about what those words mean--that I went to the hospital, that I was pregnant, that I had every reason to believe I was going to have a healthy baby girl, that I was told by a stranger that my baby didn't have a heartbeat, that I still went through labor pains and pushing and that she was born and she didn't move and she didn't cry and her nose bled and her fingers were long and perfect and she never opened her eyes and we held her and we loved her and she was real and we had so many dreams and expectations for her and we were so young and naive and we never in a million years expected that this would happen to us, to our girl, that the only time I've ever touched a dead body, it was my daughter's, that our entire future died with her and we had to stumble around to create a different life than the one we had hoped for and imagined, that we will forever live a life that has been shaped by Eliza without having her in it...

Sometimes it seems like a dream and I can't believe it was ME, that it really happened, that it was MY LIFE.  And sometimes those memories are so vivid that they take my breath away and I can't believe that I ever kept going, that there was ever anything else.

I cope with the trauma by writing about it.  By having a good cry.  (And then another and another).  By holding on to the things (and the people and the dog) that keep me grounded and keep me here and keep me safe.  By talking with friends who are traveling the same path as me, who understand my guilt and regrets and can say to me as I would to them, You did the best you could at the moment.  You did the best you could for Eliza.  You took care of her as best you could for as long as you could, and what happened afterward was for you, not for her.  She knew was loved.  I hold on to those thoughts and I take a deep breath and I try to put the trauma away.  The grief I can handle.  The trauma is still more than I can bear.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cooper's Latest Trick

Cooper really is the best dog.

He has (nearly) infinite patience with Zuzu (although he will get a little feisty if there's food involved).

He is the best snuggler in the world and loves sleeping under the covers (we call him the blanket whore because no matter whose lap he's on when the movie starts, he'll abandon post for the first blanket that gets unfolded).

Please, may I have some lap?
He makes VERY LOUD announcements when people arrive, but once you prove you're friend not foe, Cooper makes you a friend FOR LIFE.

But then tonight he pulled a new stunt, which I did not find very impressive.

We run a small space heater in Zuzu's room to make up for the low temps of the house at night since she doesn't sleep with covers.  We also run a humidifier and a fan so there's tons of white noise, which, in my totally non-professional opinion, I think helps with her sleeping as well as she does.

Tonight, her machines were whirring and I was wrapping up "You Are My Sunshine" and getting ready to lay her in her crib when Cooper nosed his way into the room.  He usually joins us for our bedtime ritual, but David had gone downstairs after storytime to get the pizza out of the oven and Cooper had followed him, then ventured back upstairs to catch the tail-end of lullaby-time (Because my singing attracts dogs?  Possibly he thinks I am communicating with him.)

ANYWAY, I swear to you that Cooper walked into the room, paused, and farted DIRECTLY in front of the space heater.

If you were wondering what would improve upon the smell of dog fart?  Try WARM dog fart, being oscillated throughout the room.

Thanks for that, Coop.  Thanks for that.  At least I got to put Zuzu in her crib and escape.  Zuzu settled down right away--although the poor girl might have been knocked unconscious by the fumes.

Zuzu loves him anyway.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Week of Work, Canceled School, and Fumey Fumes

Things at our house have been a little nuttier than usual this week.  Maybe because we've all been high on paint fumes since Wednesday.  It started out with Monday being a holiday for David and Zuzu but not for me (Instead I had a very disappointing and lackluster conversation with my students about race.  They will talk their faces off about gender but feel "awkward" talking about race.).  So I scurried off to school and left the two of them to have a play day at home.

That afternoon we met with our financial advisor for a thrilling conversation about life insurance and retirement savings.  At least we had the meeting at Bread Co., where she bought me a hot tea and bought Zuzu a cookie (I had been debating breaking my financial fast so that we weren't those people sitting at Bread Co. without buying anything, but then I didn't have to!).

We left that meeting feeling flush with cash and ready to retire tomorrow, (testing, testing--is the sarcasm coming through okay?) and then the next day was Tuesday.  I wasn't feeling well because I have a cold that will not stop lingering, so I gave up and canceled class and made my students write and submit essays instead of coming to class.  This was really good for me because I rested and didn't talk to anyone and I think it helped my throat finally stop being so raw and phelgmy.  David went ahead and took Zuzu to daycare for a short day so I could get some work done at home, but I also managed to do some other very productive things like finally defeat a Candy Crush level that had been stumping me for weeks and catch up on Downton Abbey.  Also I did laundry.  Because my life is a jam-packed thrill-a-minute.

Wednesday things got whackadoodle.  David had to go to work early so I was home and trying to get myself and Zuzu together to leave when the painters arrived to paint our kitchen cabinets.  I chatted with the painters while Cooper barked his everloving head off and then Zuzu and I headed out.  I managed to get through a day of class without coughing incessantly (only intermittently!) and we all got home to a kitchen without cabinet doors and a fumey house.

I was kind of freaked out by the fumes, so I made Zuzu a quick dinner and then decided she should play upstairs where it wasn't so fumey (definitely not zero VOC primer on the cabinets).  So we hung out upstairs which was actually kind of fun.  I'd put some frozen soup in the crock pot for David and me but it wasn't heating up fast enough, so David decided to put it on the stove.  As it was warming up, I was putting Zuzu to bed and then David wandered downstairs because he wanted to move some electrical outlets around before the painters started on the basement paneling.  As I was rocking her, I realized that the delicious smell of potato soup that had been wafting upstairs (along with, I'm sure, brain-damaging paint fumes), there was a new smell.  Smokey...  Burning...

I put Zu in her crib and ran downstairs to find the pot of potato soup boiling on the stove.  The bottom of it was completely black and burned to the pot and the whole pot of soup tasted burnt.  I mean seriously, we're lucky the place didn't catch on fire.  Because putting soup on the burner on medium heat and then walking away is actually not a great idea. David was beside himself because he hates making mistakes like that but I thought it was no big deal because I do stupid stuff all the time.  So I had oatmeal for dinner.  And the house smelled like smoke and paint fumes.

Thursday was the last day of my January term class, which was a relief even though that class was actually pretty fun.  The last day of class is always a relief.  I collected portfolios and let my students go a few minutes early.  Because I'm super fun like that.  David's school was canceled because it was cold but he went to work anyway because one fact about elementary schools is that you get way more work done when students are not there!

We got home to see that progress had been made and all the kitchen cabinets were primed BUT half the doors had the backs of their doors painted the wrong color.  So David had to e-mail the painter dude, who was really nice about taking care of it, but I was still kind of freaking out.  Plus the whole house still was stinky.  I left David and Zu playing upstairs and went out to meet up with a couple friends for a late happy hour at my favorite nearby wine bar.

Today I was back at work to proctor and evaluate essay exams for students who are new enrollees for the spring semester, which is way more tiring than it sounds.  David's school was back in session.  The cabinet doors got taken to the painter shop where the painters promised to work on them over the weekend so as to not fall behind schedule.

And now we're home and the windows are all open because even though it's cold it's not single-digits cold.  Yes, the house is [more than a] little chilly, but at least I don't feel like we're sitting around watching each other's brain cells die.  The kitchen cabinets are all still door-less, which is actually kind of convenient for emptying the dishwasher.  It does make drawer opening tricky since the drawer faces have all been removed also.

The basement has its first coat of paint up and I am already loving the transformation!  I know some people cringe at the idea of painting old paneling (or maybe that's only my dad?), but the more we looked at it, all I could see was that it was in really bad shape--nicked and dinged and scratched and scraped, and I think we're going to be really happy with the white.  Of course the new paint is going to have me desperately wanting new flooring down there because one project leads to another and the next costs more than the last and that's the joy of home ownership, right?
Next week these projects should be finished up and I'll post before and after pics and let you know whether I have any regrets about doing my cabinets in two different colors.  (Assuming they do end up getting painted two different colors as we requested...).  And next week is the official start of my spring semester, when I get to try to convince a whole new group of students that I know what I'm talking about.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce

How to describe Zuzu at 18 months?  Little.  Fierce.  Funny.  Loving.  Active.  Happy.  Demanding.  Curious.  Imitative.  Hilarious.  Adorable.  Opinionated.  Snuggly.  Determined.  Exasperating.  Delightful. Expressive.  Cute.

She turned 18 months on December 29.  A half birthday already.  And we're coming up on 19 months!  Doesn't seem possible.  And definitely requires an indulgent little blog post about what she's up to these days.

Making demands...  Zuzu is a girl who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to ask for it.  Lately, her most frequent demand is "Uppa!"  She accompanies this with outstretched arms and a beseeching look on her little face, and sometimes an on-the-verge-of-crumpling-into-tears expression if she's really going for high drama.  Occasionally she'll say, "Uppa, PEAS!" which is utterly irresistible, even in the middle of a kind of frantic snowy morning when we're trying to get ready for work (because of course she wants UPPA when she knows we're distracted with something else--the girl prefers to be the center of our attention).

Food preferences...  I'll be honest.  Since she gave up the boob and started subsisting on people food, dinner has not been my favorite time of the day.  It's such a mess, and she tends to get SO whiny before/during, and she'll rip off her own bib and announce "All done!" even though No, you are NOT all done, you've only eaten part of one piece of bread.  She requests 'nanas a lot these days, but it can be confusing because she calls bananas and little cutie oranges both 'nanas.  She still loves Greek yogurt, all fruits, any kind of bread or tortilla or pasta, some cheese, and chicken and turkey.

She's not excited about green vegetables, particularly rejects peas, and doesn't really care for sweets.  She's a good eater generally, although she does her best eating at breakfast and lunch and can be finicky at dinner--some nights she'll chow down on a cheese quesadilla, other nights she won't touch the quesadilla and will beg for grapes (which she calls bite-bites--it's really insane when we're literally speaking two different languages and not understanding why we can't understand each other).

She signs "More!" when she wants something, although she's modified the sign a little so one hand is making the flattened O shape but the other hand is flat so she's impatiently hitting her own palm until we hurry up and give her "MORE" (or any) of whatever it is she wants.  Sometimes this is cute.  "More yogurt?  Sure!"  Sometimes this is frustrating.  "No, you don't get to drink out of Daddy's water class because we just watched you pour it down yourself."  Or "No, you don't get to write with Mommy's pens because they are not washable!"

She likes this Signing Time DVD that teaches baby sign language.  It's totally cheesy with this terribly catchy song, "It's signing time with Alex and Leah!" and when she wants to watch it now, she'll carry the remote control over to one of us and sign "More! More!" while making desperate whining grunts. It's not as cute as it sounds.  And yet it is really cute.  Especially because if we do cave and put the DVD on (David is way worse about this than I am), she giggles and claps her hands and is so damn happy. And it is precious to watch her do the signs along with the DVD.

She loves her dolls and carries them around with her, shouting "Baby!"  Often she loads them up two at a time, and staggers around with one in each arm, saying "Uppa, uppa" as she carries them.  She'll shove them in her shopping cart and push them around but her favorite activity is making them go "Night-night!" which is VERY distorted (and somewhat disturbing) version of our real bedtime routine, as her version consists of covering the babies with the blanket and repeatedly shouting, "Night-night!" at them.  (Seriously, I was genuinely worried that her perspective of night-night was something similar to the rather aggressive routine that her dolls endure, but I SWEAR it is nothing like that.)

Speaking of "night-night," that's also her term for her binky or pacifier.  She'll beg for her "night-night" or even walk herself all the way upstairs, muttering, "night-night," and pull her pacifier and her little blankie (her hane) out of her crib.  I think she started calling it this because she would gesture for it and I'd say, "No, it's not time to go night-night."  I'm fine with her having it for nap or bedtime, but I prefer that she doesn't have it in her mouth constantly.  Of course, there are also times when she's fussing or whining and I'll offer it to her to just give me a moment's peace but she will impatiently shove it away.  So she is choosy about it.  Sometimes she just needs it to kind of calm herself down and then she'll take it out and resume playing.  She wanted the comfort of the pacifier when she had her cold, which was super gross because it would get all coated in snot.

Bedtime routine consists of a bath every other night and potty and tooth-brushing when the parent in charge of bedtime remembers (ahem, David, ahem).  She doesn't actually pee on the potty, but she does just practice sitting on it and saying "hooray!" every night.  Then we read three or four books, which Zuzu is very insistent about picking out herself.  Right now her favorites are Daddy Cuddles; Good Night, Arizona; Llama, Llama Nighty-Night; Good Night Moon; What Makes a Rainbow; and The Snowy Day.  Then we sing our regular lullabies each night--"Forever Young" and "You Are My Sunshine" and then--as long as she's not fighting a cold--she generally goes to bed with no or very little fuss.  Bedtime routine starts around 7, she's usually in bed asleep by 7:30pm and she gets up around 7am.

We know and appreciate how lucky we are that she sleeps so well--especially after last weekend when she was sick.  I had just commented to David how it makes me feel like a good parent when she goes to bed without fussing at all, which is so silly.  But when she was sick with a bad cold bedtime became a huge ordeal.  The first night she cried and cried and cried.  We would rock her and comfort her and then anytime we tried to lay her down, she'd scream and scream.  She didn't fall asleep until after 9:30pm!  I was beside myself.  Fortunately, regular bedtime came back as soon as her cold cleared up, but man-oh-man.  Made me doubly appreciative for her sleep habits.

She loves to go "bye-bye!" and she still loves going to school each day.  Her teacher says she runs the room, but she loves to talk about her friends Bea and Aria.  She struts into the classroom each day and we are so crazy about her teacher and the care and attention she gets at school.  I love to see all the creative activities they have the kids doing.

Bathtime is still fun time, and we plan to get her back in swimming lessons this spring (and maybe gymnastics as well!).  She's such a little fish and so content to play in the tub.

We're always laughing at the way she babbles and babbles, each word incoherent, but with pauses and emphases that suggest she's actually speaking a language that we just haven't caught onto yet.

She had her first full-out roll-on-the-floor-screaming temper tantrum last weekend because she wanted to go in the laundry room and mess with Cooper while he was eating and I closed the door so she couldn't go in.  OH THE HUMANITY.

Over the weekend when she had her bad cold she also ran a fever (poor, sad little punkin) and so David stayed home with her on Monday.  When I got home from class, she was watching for me at the front door and her face broke into a huge smile as she waved at me.  I can't even describe how my heart just filled up, seeing here there, and watching her get excited as I walked up the front walk.  I can't believe we've had her for an entire year and a half and I can't believe she's only been part of our lives for a year and a half.

Sometimes I find myself exasperated and even annoyed with the whining or the neverending demands (No, you don't get to give Cooper another liver-snap treat because you keep chewing on them and spitting them out yourself and that is disgusting).

I know that sometimes my patience is not limitless and sometimes I have to remind myself that dinner won't always be this messy, but everyday I try to make sure she can feel my love.  She loves to dance, to play peekaboo, to be tickled, to give kisses, and to tease Cooper.  Her giggle is contagious--even when she scrunches up her eyes and nose and fake laughs.

Every night I tell her that she's our sunshine and it never escapes me how very true that is.

Friday, January 17, 2014

On Cats and Grief

I have a friend who has a cat.  Her cat has cancer.  Several months ago, my friend paid for her cat to have one of her back legs amputated to remove the aggressive tumor that would have otherwise taken the cat's life very quickly.

The cat pulled through surgery, but things were touch and go for a while.  My friend took her cat home, then had to take her back to vet.  She almost didn't make it.  She ended up in recovery at the vet for three full weeks.

Since then, the cat has learned to function very well with three legs.  My friend has made accommodations for her cat--mostly small sets of stairs to help her up on furniture.  The cat purrs and eats and seems satisfied with life.  She sprawls in the sun and chases ribbons and does other cat-things.

Unfortunately, the cat's cancer is coming back.  Consultations with her veterinarian and with a feline cancer specialist have given her radiation and chemo options.  Radiation is prohibitively expensive--$4,000.  Chemo is expensive but financially manageable for my friend (who is single, has no children, rents a modest apartment in a quiet suburb).  It's $300 a session.  However, it only has a 50/50 chance of working.  They'll know after two sessions if it's working.  If not, my friend is out $600 and the cat won't get better.  If it does work, the cat will have six sessions total, and hopefully her cancer will be in remission.

(Important note:  Evidently, chemo does not make cats sick or make the fur fall out.  It doesn't affect cats the way it affects humans.)

My friend doesn't know what to do.

You guys know I'm an animal lover.  I grew up with cats and would have said I was a cat person more than a dog person until we got Cooper.  If it were Cooper in this situation, I would be beside myself.  I can imagine the agony of having to make a choice for an animal who doesn't understand what's happening.

My friend told me that she's not sure she can handle the guilt of not doing anything.

I thought about this for a long time.  Honestly, I think if I were in her case, David would make the decision purely financial and take it out of my hands.  He can be ruthlessly pragmatic like that.  But if it were simply up to me, I'm still not sure I would try the chemo.  I believe there's something to the idea of us being here to be good stewards of the earth and that taking care of animals is a blessing and a kind of obligation.  It's sad when a pet dies, but there are so many animals who need good homes, and we know when we adopt a pet that (hopefully) we will outlive it.  It's part of the tacit deal we make with pets--to give them a good life and then let them go.  She's already spent at least $2,000 on the cat's surgery and medical bills.  Her cat is 15 years old.
I told my friend that she has given her cat a fantastic little feline life and eventually she will have the opportunity to give her cat a painless death and, from an animal's perspective, that's basically as good as it gets, right?

But as my friend said, no matter how much the logic makes sense, it's an emotional decision for her.  And not an easy one.

I think my perspective changed after Eliza died.  Decisions got easier.  Priorities became sharp and clear.  Children outrank pets. A baby is irreplaceable.  I could have a million more babies and none of them would be Eliza.  None of them would make up for what we've lost.

Cats and dogs have individual personalities and quirks as well, but now I feel like it's just different.  We could never replace Cooper but we could get another loving, sweet dog and eventually remember Cooper fondly but not with an overwhelming sense of grief for all he should have been able to experience or share with us.

As much as I love my dog, the difference between Cooper getting a cancer diagnosis and Zuzu getting a...  I don't even want to write those words.  One is heartbreaking and sad and I'd want to do all I could to help him and make decisions so that he could avoid pain.  The other is a horror that makes my heart seize and my stomach churn at the mere thought.  (I can remember thinking that I love Cooper so much, how crazy would it be to love a baby even more than I love my dog?  And then I had Eliza and I loved her so much, I couldn't believe that I ever thought my love for my dog would compare.)

So there was an objective part of me that wanted to tell my friend that it's just a cat and think what $600-$1,800 could do for cats in a shelter!  There are so many cats who need good homes and this cat has already lived a good long life, and why would you put it through a stressful situation that it won't understand when it only has a 50% chance of even working?

A part of me was thinking that since my baby died, I just can't get as worked up about a cat who has already lived a good, long life dying of natural causes.  I mean, for god's sake, just go adopt another cat already.  IT'S ONLY A CAT. It's not like your baby just died.

But then I remembered the shitty things some people would say as though they believed that making an effort to diminish someone's grief was a form of comfort.  I remember the things people would say that started with "At least..."

At least you know she's in a better place.

At least you didn't actually know her.

At least you can have another baby.

And I remember how furious and devastated I would feel anytime someone tried to make me feel better by downplaying the significance of Eliza's loss and the depth and breadth of our tragedy.

It's a cat, and it's only a cat, but it's her cat, you know?  And she's had that cat for fifteen years.  And she loves that cat.  And she doesn't have a baby.  And she doesn't judge my grief for my baby.  Who am I to judge her grief for her cat? It's not a freaking competition.  She's not claiming that she's as sad about her cat as I am about my baby. She's just telling me that she's sad. Because this is really shitty and really hard.

It's not about comparisons--losing her cat isn't the same as losing my baby. But matters of the heart can't be weighed and measured as "more" or "less than." It's a loss. It hurts. It's the loss of a source of unconditional love and acceptance and company and comfort. And that sorrow deserves acknowledgment and respect.

(Because, yeah, people who make comparisons between the death of their pet and the death of your baby--as someone in David's family did to me--even if it's preceded by "I know it's not the same thing, but..."  No.  Just no.  There is nothing else to say about that.  Just SHUT THE HELL UP and eff you very much.)

So I thought for a minute about what I needed to hear when I was sad and grieving.  While a cat does not equal a baby in my mind, grief is grief and hers deserves my respect.  And she's my friend, so she deserves for me to not be an a-hole. And I realized that what she really wanted wasn't advice, but solace.

Then I said,

This sucks.  I'm so sorry you have to make this decision.

This is really hard.  I wish things were different.

No matter what you decide, you shouldn't feel guilty.

I'm really sorry.  I hate this for you.

These words don't seem to offer much of anything.  There's no advice.  There's no reassurance. There's no promise of better things to come.  There's no lightening the load or changing the subject or improving the situation.

It's like I'm not even helping her AT ALL.

But that's just the point.  The only way to lighten someone's grief is to share the load with them.  Affirm how huge and heavy and terrifying it is.  Tell them over and over how sorry you are that they have to cope with this.  Don't try to fix it--it's unfixable.  Don't try to offer them advice. Even if you've been in a virtually identical situation, what worked for you may not work for someone else.

The only thing you can do for grief is acknowledge it and sit in it.  It's hard to do.  It feels uncomfortable and fruitless and you feel helpless and frustrated.  But that's because grief is a bastard.  There's nothing you or your friend can do about it.  The only thing you can do is show up and acknowledge how shitty it is, even if you can't wrap your head around it.  Even if it's "only" a cat. It's her cat, you know?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

First Hair Cut

I did it, you guys.  I cut Zuzu's hair.

I know it's hard to believe, given that she doesn't appear to have a whole lot of it.  She's really challenged in the bang-area.  But the back was moving past wispy to stringy and instead of looking cute and whimsical it looked unkempt and ragamuffin.

My mom had been nagging encouraging me to trim it up for a while now--assuring me it would "look thicker!"  I had mixed feelings though--I was afraid it would make her look grown up, and she did have this one little curl in the middle (well, sometimes it curled) that was really cute, in a mullet rat tail sort of way.

Um, this is cute, right?
But then I took this picture of here, and while it just captured her at an unfortunate moment, I could no longer ignore the fact that her hair looked, well, horrid.

I mean MY GOD, is she feral?  Judging by the fact that she actually chewed the styrofoam cup behind her in half and then covered herself in her dinner (hence the strip-down in the kitchen), it seems quite possible.  Also, the short-on-top, long-on-the-sides look is just not super flattering.
So I sat her in the high chair, gave her some fruit to snack on, and trimmed it up across the back.

I'm not sure it really looks thicker, but it is more even and definitely looks less like she's being raised by wolves.

And it's still wispy and sweet.

The nice part of her not having any hair on top is that cutting her hair didn't age her the way haircuts sometimes do.  She still looks just like our little punkin from the front.  It's just a bit more... civilized... in the back.

And yes, I taped some wisps of hair in her baby book.  Memories...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Living Room Shelves

David and I have been talking about bookshelves for the living room since before we moved into this house.  I knew I had to have them (I like the idea of books having a place in every room in our house) but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted.  I love the look of built-ins (even the faux built-ins that we created at the old house) but with our stained pine trim, I didn't really think white painted built-ins would be a good fit, and with wood trim and wood floors I didn't really want to add a wall of more stained wood.

Then I happened upon this photo on Pinterest (of course) and loved the look of it.

on Pinterest; original from Style Me Pretty Living
I liked that the shelves were asymmetrical and more open than traditional built-ins.  I also like the sort of industrial vibe of the pipes, even though I wasn't sure how that would look in our home.  I showed it to David, not sure what he would think (he usually doesn't like things that are asymmetrical).  But he thought it was really cool.  So I told him I needed to keep thinking about it.

While I was continuing to mull it over, David and my dad started making plans, and it turned out that these bookshelves were a Christmas present for me!  Due to unexpected illness before Christmas and a shortage of supplies, they didn't get put up until after Christmas, but David told me on Christmas morning that we were ready to go with getting them up.

Of course, I had a quiet little moment of panic because I hadn't actually decided for sure that these shelves would look right in our living room and maybe we should just buy a couple of ready-made bookcases (I still love the look of these from World Market).  But considering this wall of shelves was going to cost a quarter of the price of two bookcases, and they'd already purchased most of the supplies, the decision was pretty much made.

David copied this picture (almost exactly) and followed this very useful tutorial to gather our materials and put up the shelves.

Doesn't everyone's husband look this happy while working around the house?
First, we spray painted all the piping (oil-rubbed bronze) and stained the shelves (dark walnut).
Then David measured where to drill the holes through which we would thread the pipe.  And then it was just a matter of piecing the puzzle together.

Step one--the first shelve leans unsteadily against the wall.
Good thing one of them knows what she's doing.
Almost finished!

Tightening and securing (Obviously I couldn't resist sticking a few things on the shelves immediately)
Like many people with an adventurous toddler, I was a little nervous about how sturdy the shelves would be if Zuzu would get the crazed notion to, say, scale them.  We tried to preempt this by keeping the lowest shelf high enough off the ground that she couldn't get a knee on it--it's about shoulder height for her, so she can reach her things but (hopefully) isn't tempted to climb up there herself.

But I also discovered that the shelves are actually sturdier than many inexpensive bookshelves with adjustable shelving, precisely because once the shelves are put up, they are not adjustable. Although the back of the shelf simply rests on the end of pipe (and isn't screwed into the wall), the pipe in the front locks them into place and they can't tip forward because the hole threaded through the pipe is too small to allow for the shelf to tilt.

The snug fit of the pipe through the shelf.

View from the side.
We attached the ends of the pipe to the wall at the very top of the shelves, and for extra security, we went ahead and drilled the bases into the floor.  (The floor already had a couple of holes in it from what we assume was the previous owner's television--probably before they built on the extension and created a family room in the back.  So while screwing into the hardwood made me a little squeamish, we felt like the safety element was worth it.)  These babies aren't going anywhere.  Even if I decide to climb them.

The foreman approves of Dada's workmanship.
And here's where we ended up!

Still adjusting displays and needing to purchase some book-ends.

Another angle--this picture is already outdated, I've moved so much around, but you get the idea.
And now that they're up, I love them.  They leave the room feeling open, which is exactly what I wanted, and they add interest and storage and personality without competing with the stuff we love about the house itself (the original woodwork and the arched doorways).

The total time required was a day for painting the pipes, a day for staining and sanding the shelves, and a day for drilling the holes and piecing it all together.  Once everything was dry and ready to go, putting the shelves together only took a couple of hours, but it definitely required two sets of hands since the first few layers are pretty unsteady until the shelving really takes shape and then gets fastened down.  Still, if you have the drill and the manpower, it's not a difficult project (especially if you keep your measurements easy--we made the shelves 8' wide so we could buy pre-cut boards and spaced our shelves so that the pipes were standard lengths as well).

I'm still trying to figure out the "styling"--mostly trying to pare down my favorite books and tell myself it's okay not to have all of them in the living room (especially those sporting the neon orange "USED" sticker from the campus bookstore).  I have a tendency to add too much so I'm really trying to leave some open space and let the shelves breathe, while still displaying all (or some of) my pretty and sentimental things.

Related:  I totally want to start collecting the cute hardback edition of the Penguin classics that I love--at roughly $20 a pop they add up fast, but I'm thinking I could use them as a special treat/reward now and again (and put them on my wish list for holidays...) to amass a little collection of them.  Alas, they are not an "essential expense" so they are off the list for the next 21 days!  (Financial fast began today.)

So that's our latest home improvement.  We have a couple more projects on the horizon that we are outsourcing--I'll be posting about those soon!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

So That Happened Yesterday

This week, the craziness began early.  Following the massive amounts of snow and freezing temperatures of the POLAR VORTEX, my January-term class that was supposed to begin Monday was pushed back to beginning on Tuesday, David's school was canceled on Monday, and Zuzu's daycare was closed on Monday.

We spent Monday hibernating at home, finishing up work on the new shelves in our living room (post on that to follow eventually), and organizing the basement (exhausting work, but it is much improved).

Tuesday (The Yesterday of the title) was time for things like showering and leaving the house.  It's hard being a grown-up.  But we got up early and got ourselves ready to go early since it's not like any of the snow was melting and we wanted to allow plenty of time.

My class started at 9am.  David needed to be at a principals' meeting at 9:30am.  We both left the house at 7:30am, feeling good about that cushion.  Zuzu was with David so he headed to daycare to drop her off, giving me a bit of a head start.  My commute normally takes 30 minutes (not counting daycare drop-off time) so I was confident that even with icy roads and slow-going, I'd get to campus at least early enough to make a cup of tea, make my photo copies, and collect myself before showing up for class to perform my charade teach my students.  I had a mild freak out when I thought I might not be able to get out of the alley, but after a bit of tire spinning and some very tight reversing and driving and turning, I managed to get on the road.

About twenty or twenty-five minutes into my drive, traffic on the highway was crawling.  My phone rang.  It was Zuzu's daycare teacher.  I put it on speaker, white-knuckling the steering wheel even though the center lane of the highway was clear of ice.  She was calling to let me know the daycare had to close today because they had a water main break.

We then proceeded to have a very confusing conversation because she thought I was on my way to the center with Zuzu, but I was assuming by this time David had already dropped off Zuzu at the center.  I said something like, "Oh, no!  I'll have to send my husband back to pick her up!" (because First Day of Class trumps Principals' Meeting in order of importance) and the teacher said, "No, Caroline's not here..."  Then it clicked into place--David hadn't made it there yet!  So I explained to her teacher that David was dropping her off but must not have made it there yet, so I'd call him.

It turned out the side roads were so bad, the normally 10 minute drive to daycare was taking him much longer.  He was mildly frustrated when he answered the phone, and then I dropped the bomb that Zuzu would be accompanying him to his meeting unless he felt comfortable leaving her with Cooper.

Honestly, I'm so glad she wasn't with me that morning because she seriously would have had to accompany me to class (I wouldn't have had time to turn around and take her home at that point, even if David had been there), and I can only imagine how well she would have done in a 3-hour J-term class on essay writing (it's more fun than it sounds, I promise, but still not quite suited to the toddler set).

I hung up the phone, leaving David to call his assistant principal and figure things out.  (In the end, the meeting got canceled anyway, so David and Zuzu just worked from home.)  Meanwhile, the highways on my drive were relatively clear--not crazy terrible, but not great.  Still, traffic was just CRAWLING.  I was only going 10-20 mph.  The drive that normally takes 15 minutes stretched out until I realized that I hadn't even made it to the bridge and I'd left my house AN HOUR AGO.

As I crept into downtown at a snail's pace, the good news was that I was able to finish my audio book that was due back at the library.  The bad news was that it go be 8:45am and I was still stuck at the point in my commute where I was 15-20 minutes from work on a normal day.

I finally discovered that the one lane to get onto the bridge that I needed to cross had been blocked at the entrance to the bridge by a semi that had stalled out or gotten stuck in the snow.  Everyone in that lane had to merge back into the incredibly dense and slow moving traffic, and then move back over, one car at a time, to get on the bridge.  The space between the semi and the entrance ramp was uncomfortably small, and downtown traffic was not moving, so it basically took FOREVER.

Finally I had to admit that I was not going to make it to campus by 9am.  There was no way.  I was totally going to be late for class on the first day.  So, I called my friend and fellow-English professor and asked her to go to my classroom and tell my students they had to stay there and wait for me (none of this "professor is 10 minutes late, we're out of here!" B.S.  Thankfully, she was also kind enough to give them a sheet of "Personal Info" to fill out in regard to the class, and she made up a brainstorming exercise for them to do until I got there.  YES!  Almost as though I'd planned it that way.

Once I (FINALLY) got on the bridge, I was liberated!  The roads, but for the on-ramps and exits, which were scary as hell, were ice-free.  But I still got to campus twenty minutes AFTER classes had started.

I hurried inside, breathless and flustered.  Now, I have had plenty of experience feeling flustered and discombobulated and scattered and off my game.  But usually when I feel that way, it's my own fault.  These were circumstances entirely out of my control!  So I put my game face on and went into the classroom, trying to embody that friendly-and-fun-but-also-serious-and-authoritative persona of Professor on the First Day.

About ten minutes into my discussion of the syllabus (including a classroom etiquette section featuring "I find texting unacceptably rude"), I realized that my students were wearing gloves and hats.  In fact, in spite of being rather frantic, I was also cold.  A quick check of the thermostat on the wall informed me that it was 58 degrees in my classroom.  Excellent.

We took a short break after the syllabus discussion and reconvened in the computer lab for essay drafting work.  The lab was marginally warmer than the classroom, but due to various glitches with computers, five of my students didn't have a computer to use.  So I made a desperate call to IT and got someone down there to fix that problem.  Once they all had a working computer, the IT guy left just in time for me to discover the printer wasn't working.  The idea was that they'd print their first drafts so we could spend the last section of class reviewing and revising their work, so this was problematic.

I left the IT two messages in which I tried to sound pleasant although I felt murderous.  He never came back.  So then I had to send the students across campus to the library to do their printing, admonishing them to "Hurry back."  (Miraculously, they all actually returned.  Thankfully it's a pretty small campus.)  During that break, I tracked down a maintenance guy and asked what I could do to make it not 58 degrees in my classroom.  Answer?  Nothing.  The heating system was freaking out and overworked and couldn't deal with the below zero temps so it was uneven and crazy all over campus.  So we kept gloves and hats on and I promised my students I'd find us another (warmer) classroom the next day.

After class I was heading home to make it to our closing.  Unbeknownst to me, while I had been dealing with computer tech issues and a cold classroom, David had gotten a call from our real estate agent telling us there was a problem with our buyer's loan paperwork and it looked like we were going to have to push back closing another week.

Say it with me:

Fortunately, David spared me this wrench in our plans, figuring I didn't need to get that phone call while driving home.  So he called the utilities people to tell them the transfer/shut off should NOT happen after all while I drove home, blissfully ignorant that ONCE AGAIN everything seemed to be falling apart.

But THEN--before I got home--our agent texted him to let him know that we were BACK ON.  (Evidently the issue was that the buyer wanted a 20 year loan, but due to some mix-up with her bank/lender, the paperwork she got was for a 30 year loan.  She wanted it redone, but when she found out that would take a full week and she would have no where to go with all the stuff she had loaded up in the moving truck, she accepted the 30 year loan.)

So by the time I got there (the drive home was a cinch compare to my morning commute), David was able to tell me that closing was back on, although he sounded slightly less than absolutely confident.

We loaded up Zuzu and headed out to the title company, braving some truly terrible side roads.

Everything went smoothly at the title company.  Zuzu was enchanted by a sweet dog named Chewy and David and I marveled at her fearlessness.  Some little kids would cling to their parents in an unfamiliar place.  Zuzu made herself right at home, greeting the employees with a cheerful "Hi!" and cackling in delight when she threw the tennis ball and Chewy actually fetched it.  (Chewy soon became a little suspicious of her high-pitched squealing and tendency to throw the ball directly at him, and started avoiding her, much to her distress.  Fortunately, he and the employees there were very patient when she followed him under desks, patted his back, and hugged him like she does Cooper.)

With David, myself, and our realtor taking turns chasing Zuzu down and signing paperwork, we finally got everything taken care of and possession of the house was transferred to the new owner!

It was less of a giddy celebration and more of a sigh of relief, but it was still a really good feeling.

We got take out for dinner, read some books with Zuzu, put her to bed on time, and truly relaxed with that weight off our shoulders.

Today's Update:  David's school was canceled AGAIN today (water main breaks) but daycare was back in session so he could head into work.  Roads were clear, and the second day of my class went much smoother than the first day, and the heat was on in my classroom.  I'd like to think it will be easy-going from here, but if our past experience is any indication, there's going to be something else that will come along and surprise us.

That's okay, though.  Bring it, 2014.  We've totally got this.

Monday, January 6, 2014

For Those of You Living Under a Rock...

Allow me to share with you the trailer for the movie I'm producing* this year:

Let the countdown to March 14 begin.

*By "producing," of course, I mean "Donated money to the most successful Kickstarter campaign in history so I am an official movie backer which loosely translates to Executive Producer.  In my mind."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rite of Passage

Warning:  This post contains somewhat vivid descriptions of vomit and is probably not suitable for reading while eating or preparing to eat or having just eaten.  You're welcome.

I have given birth twice (sans epidural).  I have grieved and celebrated babies.  I have breastfed for fifteen months.  I have wiped up snot, wiped up poop, changed countless diapers, laundered countless diapers, pureed baby food, refilled sippy cups with milk, held chubby hands in mine, and kissed soft, perfect cheeks.

But I totally felt like a mom on Friday night when--for the first time ever--we dealt with a barfing child.

Zuzu has (knock on wood) never been a vomiter.  Even as a baby she never spit up.  Actually, she spit up twice.  Once on my friend Vicky (Vicky's daughter Kenley got me back by peeing on me when I visited her) and once when she had a fever.  She has never thrown up since she started eating real food.

Until Friday night.  She'd been kind of cranky from the time I picked her up at daycare.  I'd been on campus all day, prepping for my January-term class, and David was back at work.  He was late getting home because he'd stopped at the store to get groceries so I whipped up a quick and easy dinner with what we had on hand--a pancake and scrambled eggs and some fruit.

Usually this is a favorite meal, but Zuzu wouldn't eat any of it.  She ate three blackberries and insisted she was "All Done."  I was annoyed that she was feeding Cooper the entire dinner I'd made for her, annoyed that she wasn't eating anything I'd prepared, annoyed that David wasn't home yet, and hungry myself.  I decided to get her out of the high chair and let David try to feed her when he got home.

He got home around 6:30, which is getting close to bedtime (usually between 7:00 and 7:30pm) and David tried to entice her with a potato pancake and Greek yogurt.  She cried when he put her in the high chair and tried to give her a bite, so he let her get down.

As annoying as this is, we really try not to make dinner an issue.  We give her things we want her to eat, she eats them or doesn't.  We'll encourage bites (and yes, I will hide broccoli behind a mac & cheese noodle) but we don't insist that she try everything or eat everything.  Generally speaking, she's a pretty good eater.  It's true that she is not a huge fan of green vegetables and if left to her own devices, she'd make an entire meal out of a loaf of French bread (but honestly, so would I).  So mostly we try to be chill about it.

Generally, she eats more at breakfast and lunch than she does at dinner, but it's very unusual for her not to eat any dinner at all.  David and I had made burritos for dinner and I was just sitting down to eat mine in the kitchen and commenting to David that I don't think she'd ever chosen not to eat anything for dinner before.  Zuzu walked into the kitchen, stopped in front of the refrigerator, turned to face me, and blew chunks everywhere.

She barfed all over the floor, all down her front, on her feet, all over the little dress she was wearing.  It just kept coming and coming.  David knelt down by her and patted her little back as she heaved out more and more vomit.  I sat frozen on the kitchen chair, gaping at them.  I was sort of in shock, and then almost started crying because I was so freaked out.  But I didn't want to cry because I didn't want to freak her out.  She wasn't crying, although her eyes were watering when she finally quit puking.

And then we just did what parents do when the kid barfs.  David carried her upstairs, I started a bath, we stripped her down and got her in the tub.  I put her in clean pjs while David (bless his heart) soaked up the barf and then steam-mopped the kitchen floor.

(Can I just say that the grossest part is that a lot of the barf was curds of mozzarella cheese?  I mean seriously.  I actually had to pull a few chunks of cheese out of the washing machine after doing the laundry.  Gag gag gag.)

She seemed to feel better after that, and I gave her a little bit of water, which she gulped down.  I also gave her a saltine cracker but she wasn't interested in eating it.  She didn't have a fever, so I snuggled her in the rocking chair and we did our night-night reading and singing routine.  By this time it was going on 8pm (well past bedtime) so I tucked her in to her crib and she went to sleep without protesting.  We hoped it was just a freak thing and talked about how lucky we were that we'd gone 18 months without having a barfing incident.

An hour later, her pukey clothes and towels were in the laundry and we were watching The Good Wife when we heard weird sounds through the monitor and I just knew.  She wasn't crying or making any other noises, but I hurried up to her room and found her sitting up in her crib, bewildered, vomit everywhere.  I couldn't believe she still had that much left in her tummy after all the puking she'd done in the kitchen.  Gross.

So then it was clean up again--wipe down the baby, strip the sheets, pull off the mattress protector, change the sheets (and changing crib sheets is the WORST!), get Zuzu in clean pajamas, and get her back in bed.  I took her temperature again but it was fine.  Once again, we snuggled and rocked and then I put her in the crib and she went back to sleep without a peep.  Poor little punkin.

We managed to get in another episode of The Good Wife, and David even ate his burrito (gag) and we didn't hear anything else out of her all night.  But the next morning when she woke up, we discovered that she had, in fact, thrown up again at some point during the night and just slept in it.  GROSS ME OUT.  Also, POOR BABY.

So it was time for another bath, another change of sheets, another load of laundry, and we both spent the day in pajamas (because it was a sick day, obvs).  She seemed to be feeling much better and asked for milk but after the curdled milk/cheese vomit, we couldn't stomach the idea of giving her more dairy, so we stuck with water and diluted juice.  She ate toast and oatmeal for breakfast, and again for lunch, plus a bit of applesauce.  Dinner was plain noodles and we had no more barfing.  Hallelujah!

I guess it was just a freak little stomach bug, and I'm glad it didn't slow her down for long, but it sure was gross.

And, weirdly, it totally made me feel like a mom to have to clean up my barfy kid and to realize that I could make her feel better just by holding her.  Which I did.  Even when her hair smelled like vomit.  Oh, Zuzu.  There really is nothing I wouldn't do for that girl.  But I hope we can keep the barfing to a minimum.  Once every 18 months is more than enough.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Financial Fasting

I have never fasted on purpose.  Not for spiritual reasons or dietary/weight loss reasons.  When I get hungry, I get super cranky and monstrous to be around.  Sometimes I'll snap at David and he'll say, "Are you hungry?" and then I get really annoyed, but the thing is, he's usually right.

But I heard this interview with Michelle Singletary on NPR yesterday about financial fasting, and I'm intrigued. Now, with two mortgages for the majority of 2013, we spent the year being pretty frugal.  In some ways.  But we also bought a lot of stuff for the new house (we spent wisely and made careful purchase, but still, we were definite consumers of material objects) and although we didn't go into debt, we didn't save a lot of money beyond what was automatically taken out of our paychecks for retirement. I know we can do better.  It was not so long ago that we were living on a graduate student stipend and a PE teacher's salary!  So I think it will be really good for us to reevaluate our spending.

The thing that really struck me in the interview is something I've heard before--that no matter how much money you make, you never quite feel like it's "enough" because your spending rises to meet up with your salary.  So it's not about being richer or really even about saving more.  It's about feeling financially comfortable and not wasting money on things we don't need.

I've never been a daily Starbucks junkie, and (no matter what David says) I almost always limit my online shopping to things that we actually need (or have been wanting for a really long time) that I can get for a good deal.  Since Zuzu has been born, I don't hit the mall very often and since I'm just now fitting into clothes I couldn't wear through two pregnancies, I haven't had to buy a lot of clothes.  I seriously think I've purchased two tops and two dresses for work in the past eighteen months.  So generally speaking, I think that we actually are pretty careful about our money.  But I've never done anything like a financial fast.

One of the things I'm most looking forward to in 2014 is having a little more financial cushion each month (since our cushion won't be spent on the second mortgage), and socking away some cash for a rainy day (or Zuzu's college fund...  whatever).  I think that this fast could help us prioritize where we want to put our discretionary spending and help us save even more.  In 2014, I really want to focus less on material things and more on spending money on experiences--or not spending money at all and just making use of what we already have.

The idea of a financial fast (here's a detailed article from the Washington Post) is that for 21 days, you don't spend money on anything except on absolute essentials.  In our case, the only things that qualify for absolute essentials are food, medicine (if we needed it), and gas.

To be honest, most of the time I feel like ALL our money goes to gas and groceries, so I'm really curious about how much money I would be saving.

For me, I think the biggest challenge will be that I basically can't let myself go to Target for three weeks.  But the other thing this fast may reveal is just how much I do spend on non-essentials without realizing it.  Lunch with coworkers, a chai tea latte, that cute greeting card, a decorative tray or basket, a new pen to boost morale at work...  I'm curious to see how deprived I feel when I quit buying these things and how much money it actually saves me.

Nationwide, this financial fast begins January 13.  As I told David, this gives me a little bit of time to prepare, so any essential non-essential shopping for January (like a second car seat) will have to be done by the 13th.

And then we'll see how I do for 21 days of ONLY required spending.  I think the fast appeals to me because (1) it's all or nothing so I really have to commit and (2) it's only 21 days.  It's not just "be smarter about money" or "don't go out to dinner this month."  It's also a good reminder that we really have everything we need and that only buying gas and groceries for three weeks isn't exactly deprivation.  There will still be organic yogurt in the fridge and veggie straws in the pantry!  I'm hoping after three weeks that the fast will work and I'll be less inclined to purchase non-essential items.

Anybody tried anything like this before?  Anybody want to join me so we can commiserate and then congratulate ourselves and feel smug and superior to all the materialistic bougies around us?  David's on board for this idea, so I think we're really going to give a try.  I'm hoping that when February rolls around we feel a little richer in every sense of the word.