Monday, April 28, 2014

Strolling x 2?

I had this whole post written about my wishlist of stuff I think I want for Rerun, which really is only three things long, but I had a lot to say about each of those three things, and then I guess my internet connection got funky and blogger ate it and you know I'll never be able to recreate the genius thought and elegant prose that comprised that blog post, so let's just abbreviate here and talk about strollers.

Who thinks I need a double stroller? My (original) plan (way back in 2010 when I was young and unafraid and dreams were made and used and wasted--just call me Fantine but hopefully I don't have to sell my molars) was to invest in our Phil & Ted stroller and then two and a half or three years later, we'd buy the attachment seat for the Phil & Ted stroller.

Now they don't even make the version of the P&T stroller we bought and finding the attachment seat is also not easy--eBay is basically my only option, and I've only found the seat is sold with the stroller.  So... what's a girl to do?

Originally, I really liked the idea of having a double stroller that didn't take up more room than a single jogger. BUT I also expected the Baby Ducks to be three years apart, which would mean that we probably wouldn't use a double stroller for very long.

As it is, Zuzu likes to do her share of walking when we go to the neighborhood park, but we use the stroller quite often for longer jaunts away home--to Forest Park, the zoo, the Botanical Gardens, etc. So I think that a double stroller would still be a good investment, especially since the Baby Ducks will be just twenty-five months apart.

So my question is, do I want a side-by-side stroller or a single with the rumble seat attachment? And/or do I want the running board attachment where the older kiddo can stand behind the stroller? (I saw a mom walking with this at the airport and she looked totally awkward).

I am unexpectedly leaning toward the side-by-side seats even though they seem HUGE and I swore I'd never want one. I just feel like the ease of getting the kids in would be simpler and I kind of like the idea of my super well-behaved children sitting side by side and holding hands and sharing snacks and whatnot. (Do not ruin this dream for me! I am CONVINCED this is exactly how it will be all the time. You know, when they aren't BITING each other.) But seriously. The side-by-side feels less complicated and more equitable, as long as it's not too horribly huge.

So if I go with the side-by-side... I'm liking the Baby Jogger City Mini. But I know a lot of people who are really happy with the BOB. Thoughts on this, Interwebz? I'm not a serious runner, but we do a lot of walking around the city so I know I want a jogger. I just want it to not be enormous.

Or should I stick with my somewhat original plan and figure out how to make the P&T work (even though it will basically mean buying another stroller and then keeping the seat and selling the stroller as a single)?

I do like the flexibility of using our P&T as a single stroller when I just have one kiddo with me, so we'll be keeping it even if we get a double stroller. I'm just really not sure what I want! So please feel free to confuse me more. I'll take other suggestions as well (Is Bumbleride really the best? I love our Bumbleride umbrella stroller but haven't tried their joggers and they are pretty spendy).

Other things I think we might need... a video monitor. And...? That's probably it. I mean, I have a longer wishlist, but let's just settle the stroller issue for now, shall we?

Oh, and P.S. I have plenty of time because I won't be buying any double strollers until Rerun is actually here, but of course I'd rather shop online for double strollers than do something that actually needs to be done (grading? what grading?).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What I've Been Reading Lately

Recently I've been forwarded or been forwarding some articles and links to friends, and I've e-mailed some links to myself to bookmark for future teaching (I teach a January term class on personal essay writing, so I like to have my students read and respond to provocative arguments).

So today I decided to just share a few of the things that I've happened upon and think are worth passing along...

This article on grief written by David Brooks for the New York Times: "What Suffering Does." My favorite part is, "Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don't come out healed; they come out different."

A lovely essay on kindness that made me get a little choked up thinking about all the sacrifices that parents willingly and lovingly make for their kids:  "Your Kindness is Good for You" by Casey N. Cep.

This article from the Atlantic about a professional baseball player who was questioned by the police while shoveling snow from his driveway. I talk with my students about the perception that money is the equalizer for race (though not for gender) and this article, written by former baseball player Doug Glanville, highlights the assumptions that people continue to make, based on skin color alone: "I was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway."

I just checked out Arianna Huffington's book Thrive from our library. I'm only in the first chapter (and feeling thankful that the biggest stress in my job is just getting student essays graded), and then a friend e-mailed me this article, which seems to be excerpted from her book. As I said to my friend, I really like the article, but I'm not sure the final quotation sits well with me. I still think that Eliza was meant for me, and I would be furious if someone tried to dismiss her loss or my grief by saying, "It wasn't meant to be." At the same time, I respect Huffington's perspective on her own grief, and I realize that when she presents that quotation, she's talking about gratitude for life in general rather than her specific experience with grief.

Okay, this one is for listening rather than reading, but if you haven't heard this old episode of This American Life about prisoners near St. Louis putting on a performance of Hamlet, then do yourself a favor and listen:  Act V.  I actually take a day of class when I teach Hamlet and have my students listen to the entire episode. I've found that it dramatically changes their attitude about the play when they hear it praised and analyzed by prison inmates.

As far as novels, I just finished listening to the audiobook of Longbourn by Jo Baker. I loved it. (And the audio version is well-read and not annoying.) It's the story of a servant living in the Bennet household--as in Jane Austen's Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice. The book is so much fun because it keeps with the plot of P&P--the militia are in town, Wickham comes over to flirt with the girls, Mr. Bingley hosts a ball--but it's not about the Bennet sisters at all, or is about them only as they interact with the servants, which is quite little. It has fascinating details about doing laundry in the early nineteenth century (in a word: Ew.) and the story it tells was so engaging that I looked forward to my commute everyday so I could listen to more. I will tell you that I did have to skip over a section that discussed Mrs. Bennet having a stillborn baby--a little boy born between Jane and Elizabeth. There was nothing insensitive or inappropriate about the part I heard, I just couldn't deal with it on my way to work that morning. I still highly recommend it, especially if you're an Austen fan (I'm totally going to reread Pride and Prejudice as soon as I finish To the Lighthouse, which I'm currently teaching).

Read anything good lately? I'm putting together a summer + maternity leave reading list and I'm happy to take suggestions!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Around Here Lately

It's been a whirlwind of something like excitement the last two weeks. Maybe less excitement and more general busy-ness, but still a whirlwind.

Today, for example, my heart stopped when Zuzu ran away from me in the carport and ran to the alley instead of the gate to get in the yard. I had (mistakenly) trusted her to walk the few feet from the car to the gate while I unloaded the dirty diaper bag, my purse, and the Target bags. A split second later, I had dropped everything in the carport and chased her into the alley--a total danger zone because cars drive way too quickly and she just darted out from the side of our garage. I was so mad and upset and freaked out by imagining the worst-case scenario that could have happened, that I just picked her up, plunked her inside the gate, and left her there crying while I picked up everything off the ground and carried it inside. Then we had a talk about cars and danger and not running away from Mama, which I'm sure was really effective.

Really it just means that I'll be carrying her into the fenced in yard and making a second trip to get all our crap out of the car. She cannot be trusted to walk alongside me!

It seems reasonable to hire a personal assistant to carry my purse and the diaper bag once Rerun gets here, don't you think?

David and I spent last weekend in Michigan, leaving Zuzu here with my parents. I left her overnight one time last August for a quick trip to the lake with some girlfriends. It was less than 24 hours and she was asleep for at least 12 of those, plus she was at home with Daddy. So this really felt different--it was THREE whole  nights. We missed her like crazy, although it was really freeing to be able to not watch the clock for lunch-time, nap-time, snack-time, bed-time. We just did what we wanted, which felt so weird because we hadn't had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted with our time without being totally burdened with grief since December of 2010. After Eliza died, we had all the time in the world, but we didn't enjoy a moment of it because all we wanted was to be answering to the demands of a newborn. By the time the worst of that fog of grief had shifted, we were answering to the demands of a newborn.

So it was a strange but nice sensation to browse aimlessly in gift shops and eat late dinners and see a movie in the theater. As for Zuzu... I'm not sure she missed us at all. She had a blast with my parents, ate and slept well the whole time, and basically seemed to enjoy herself hugely. My only complaint is that her wake-up time seems to have shifted to about 30 minutes earlier which is not okay. We are still working on readjusting that.

I will say, though, that her snuggles when we got home were pretty much the best thing ever. David got her up from her nap and she gave him a huge smile and a tight squeeze around the neck, but then looked at him and said, "Mama?" So maybe she missed us a little bit after all.

The purpose for our trip to Michigan was for me to attend a conference on Victorian literature, which was both interesting and productive (believe it or not), and we also had time to do some shopping, eat at some great places, see The Grand Budapest Hotel, and on our last day we even took a scenic little drive. I'd never been to Ann Arbor but I loved the college town vibe and how walkable everything was. We stayed at a kitschy little bed & breakfast and really loved it.

(Also my parents said that when we were gone, Zuzu kept pulling out the DVD case for Breakfast at Tiffany's and pointing at Audrey Hepburn and saying, "Mama," so that's basically the greatest compliment EVER. Way better than my previous look-a-like.)

I have felt a little crazed since getting home, I think mostly because I had grading that was leftover from spring break (that's FINALLY finished and returned to my students--just in time to get another batch next week). We count on our weekends to do laundry and grocery shopping, so that has felt a little crazy this week, too. Spring break flew by once I got home from Vegas, and between house projects and a couple get-togethers with friends and all that damn grading, we've been busy in a good (but tiring) way.

Zuzu is entertaining us with more and more words and starting to string sentences together. She is definitely a fan of warm weather as her favorite activity is anything "Out-sigh! Out-sigh!" She'll grab her shoes and struggle to put them on herself, shouting, "Help! Pease!" in a voice that is clearly a demand rather than a request. She loves her little pink Toms and I have to convince her to wear her cute little brown Mary Janes some days. She's wearing shoe size 4.5 now (as long as they aren't too narrow), so I'm waiting a little longer to order her summer sandals (which is fine since it's still annoyingly cold here--though I think it's supposed to start feeling like Spring this weekend).

Her favorite activity at swimming lessons is when we sing "If You're Happy and You Know It" and shout "Hooray!" because I lift her up in the air and splash her back down in the water. For the rest of the lesson, she kept asking, "More hooray? More hooray?"

I've basically convinced myself that a balanced meal at dinner can consist of crackers with cheese, crackers with hummus, and crackers with peanutbutter. Plus milk and a kiwi. Because someone's favorite food right now is most definitely "Craw-caw!"

We've discovered that the book No, No, Yes, Yes, as adorable as it is, may actually be giving Zuzu some naughty ideas--dumping water outside the bath and running away are two "No, no" activities in the book that she has given a try since we started reading it. Not quite the intended lesson!

She dyed Easter eggs with my mom and evidently really got into it. I'm a little relieved that they did that because I honestly wasn't planning on doing it--it seemed to me like a lot of mess and effort.  But they had a good time. The eggs aren't exactly gorgeous (no gold leafing here, Pinterest), but I'm glad Zuzu enjoyed herself. She's been hiding plastic Easter eggs and finding them around the house, and shouting "Egg!" when she sees Easter decorations elsewhere, so that's cute. I've gathered a few little things for her Easter basket so I'm excited to put that together at my parents' this weekend.

I'm definitely feeling pregnant, which makes sense since I'm past 25 weeks now. Movement has gotten more pronounced--like, oh, that was definitely a kick in the ribs. I have to pee before and immediately after every class, so basically once an hour. Makes me wish that the ladies room wasn't on the opposite side of the building, but the walk is probably good for me. My office is on the third floor and climbing the stairs has started to take a real effort now that my center of balance has shifted a little. I had a vivid nightmare last night about ticks and rats, which was disgusting and disturbing.

In better news, the book Three Minus One is now available on Amazon (that's not an affiliate link, FYI, because I have no idea how to do that). I'm so honored that my essay was selected to be part of it, and I'm so happy that a topic that still feels taboo is being more publicly discussed. The movie Return to Zero, whose producers went on to collaborate on the book, premieres on Lifetime on May 17th.

I'm not going to lie. I think the movie will be hard to watch, and reading the book will make me cry and cry and cry. But the grief is great because the love is huge. And that love deserves to be honored and talked about and thought about and addressed publicly.

So that's what's going on around here lately.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Control Freak

Zuzu has been taking swimming lessons for a couple of weeks. She loves it, just as she did last year, and is even more fearless and opinionated than she was a year ago (shocking, right?).

We've gotten lucky in signing up for what is evidently an unpopular time (Tuesdays at 4pm) and so far our group class has been a solo endeavor! This means we pay a group rate but Zuzu gets a private lesson each week. Each time we go, one of the employees or another parent watching an older kids' class comments on how much she loves the water and at our first lesson the instructor couldn't believe it had been a year since Zuzu had been in the pool because she was so comfortable in the water.

Plus she looks great in a swimsuit.

I have been making a regular tankini work as a maternity swimsuit

[NOT PICTURED. You're welcome.]

because the maternity suit is still a little baggy in the boobs and belly as I'm in this weird in between stage where I am beyond the burrito-bump belly but not quite at the smuggling-a-watermelon stage.

At our lesson two weeks ago, the instructor was a Very! Perky! woman whose daughter (she mentioned having a daughter so I made myself ask) is seven months old. Partway through our lesson, Perky Swim Coach said, "So I'll feel really bad if I'm wrong about this..." and then asked me when my baby is due.

I was like, Seriously? You think you might be mistaken about this belly being pregnant? But I just told her that my due date is in early August. Of course, her follow-up question was whether we know if it's a boy or a girl.

So then I said that we're waiting to be surprised.

One real benefit of not knowing the gender is that it tends to shut down conversation pretty quickly (assuming you don't like to have in-depth conversations about your pregnancy with strangers--I do not). I have already been asked if we'll try for a boy if this baby is a girl (NO. Full stop.) and I know I would have a hard time stomaching comments about how great it will be for Zuzu to have a sister (yeah... wouldn't that be great?) or the comments about a family being "perfect" if it has one boy and one girl (hard to listen to when your definition of "perfect" is "everyone is alive"). Saying we don't know gives us very little to continue discussing. It also usually allows me to say, "We'll just be happy with a healthy baby!" which is my way of subtly reminding people (or so I like to think) that not all babies are actually born healthy.

Anyway, Perky Swim Coach was amazed that we weren't going to find out the gender and said to me, all wide-eyed and sincere, "Oh, I think that's great, but I'm way too much of a control freak to not find out!"

I smiled and said nothing.

Because that's exactly the point. My thoughts on this are actually pretty similar to what they were when I was pregnant with Zuzu. Not knowing the sex of the baby is a reminder of all the things I can't control about this pregnancy. Of all the things NO ONE can control.

I don't know if it's a boy or a girl. I may or may not get to decide the day this baby is born. I don't know if my labor will be easy or horrible or fast or slow or end in an emergency c-section. I can make plans and I can aim for best-case scenarios, but in the end, it's not entirely up to me.

Not knowing the gender keeps our plans up in the air. Yes, we are expecting and hoping so hard for a healthy baby. But we can't see beyond that. We can't make definite plans. I can imagine Zuzu with a little sister or a little brother, but both scenarios feel equally imaginary.

It doesn't mean it would be any easier or hurt any less if we lost this baby. All it means is that I am recognizing every single day that the outcome is unknown. Boy or girl. Premature or full term. Natural delivery or c-section. Alive or dead. Not all of these are 50/50 chances, but in my experience these statistics are skewed significantly (100% girls; 50% alive).

So while I may want to control every aspect of this pregnancy and delivery, all of my experiences with having babies have forced me to acknowledge that I can't. I don't get to decide when a baby is conceived or when it is born or what the gender is or whether it's alive or dead. So why should I pretend (or let anyone else try to convince me) that any of this is within my control?

I guess there's no cure for a control freak quite like having your baby die. When it becomes acutely obviously that you can't control the most important things in life, everything else seems utterly insignificant by contrast. After that, it's much easier to let the insignificant things go.

Just give me a healthy baby. (And plenty of time to plan nursery decor and buy baby boy clothes if necessary.)

Friday, April 11, 2014


I came across this quiz from Gretchen Rubin and thought it was an interesting way of thinking about personality types.


Although she mentions that most people can connect to aspects of each type, I knew immediately that I am a Questioner. None of the others even came close (although I do like checking things off a to-do list). I am self-motivated (though I crave positive reinforcement) and I like to gather a lot of information before I make a decision (sometimes too much). Perhaps the most illustrative: "It really bothers me when things are unfair or arbitrary."


I haven't asked David to take this quiz, because I don't need to. I can tell you with great confidence that he is an Upholder. Such a rule-follower, that one. I can pretty easily put most of my friends in one category or another, too... (Jamie is an Upholder, Beth is an Obliger, Monica is an Obliger. I think my brother is probably a Questioner also, maybe even a Rebel...)

Where do you fall in these categories? And is your life partner the same as you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Weekend of Rainbows

It started out as a lifeline. A tiny thread, thrown out into the dark. From one desperate, hurting mama to another. I saw your comment. I read your blogpost. My baby died, too.

In another context, we might have been nervous, tentative. I don't usually e-mail strangers. I hope you don't think I'm a stalker. I'm so sorry about the loss of your baby. But our desperation made us brave. Please let someone else be awake at 3am. Please let someone else tell me that I'm not alone in this. Please let someone who knows tell me that I can survive this.

Slowly, carefully, I found a support system weaving its way around me. Daily e-mails as long as I needed them. Women who were a few years out, a few months out, and eerily right on my timeline (the December 4-6, 2010 Bereaved Mothers Group). Later, there would be new names and e-mails, more recent losses who looked to me for some kind of guidance, as though I had answers. (I didn't, but I could tell them we were all stumbling along together.) In the beginning, I went to Glow in the Woods. I went to Faces of Loss. I went to the Stirrup Queen's Blogroll. I read my way around this grieving corner of the internet.

I must have read hundreds of blogs, hundreds of stories. Sorrow and rage and shame and heartbreak self-publishing online with stories of babies loved and lost. It was a strange world. It made me wildly uncomfortable. It was like being on a new planet--Planet My Baby Died. I didn't want to belong here. This was the last place I wanted to be. But no, this was exactly where I belonged now. And the only thing that made it bearable was the discovery that most of the other people on this planet were actually kind and smart and funny and interesting and not completely defined by their grief, even when it overwhelmed them.

Eventually, I found my people. We started as an informal support group and eventually discovered we were truly friends. We cried and we laughed and we typed each others' babies' names. We commented and we e-mailed and we texted and we called and eventually, some of us met in person.

The weirdest part was that it didn't feel weird.

It doesn't feel like you haven't met someone before when you've already confessed to them your deepest secrets, your darkest guilt, your most painful heartbreak, and discovered that their pain matches yours. You become kindred spirits in the moment when your heart whispers back, "Me too."

Friends bond over shared experiences, and the experience of baby loss is no exception. It is a relief to meet up with people who have been through the experience of baby loss, and it's a delight when they are the kind of people you'd want to be friends with anyway.

Rainbow babies whose mamas read Anne of Green Gables
Two weekends ago, I met up for the second time (mostly) with just a few of the people who have shifted from Babyloss Lifeline to Real True Kindred Spirit Friend, and I can't quite find the words to describe what it's like to spend time with women who love my babies, who remember Eliza, who make me laugh, who cry with me, AND who live everyday with the same crippling loss. No judgment, no justification, no explanation necessary. Even experiences of loss that are different in some ways are met with understanding and acceptance.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I couldn't have come through those early months without the mothers of these babies, and the babies who came before them.

Don't drink the bathwater!
Our weekend was... let's say... complicated by a stomach bug that started taking people out on day two, but everyone (even those who ended up horking) said that the trip was worth it. We ended up with lots of adorable photos of our "rainbow babies" but, sadly, not one group shot of the mamas eating lunch topless or splashing in the pool in only our underwear. (Those things did not actually happen. That you know of.).

It makes no difference, really--we don't need photos to remember the benefit of what felt like a weekend of therapy. Of laughing and crying (and, for about half our crew, barfing) with women who are still grieving and still angry and admittedly kind of effed up (hey, we all are) but who are also kind and funny and smart and so full of love for all our babies.

The fact that the weather was sunny and gorgeous didn't hurt either. And while my precious little snowflake was, in fact, THE ONLY CHILD who committed a Toddler Felony (2nd Degree Biting, didn't break the skin but totally left a mark), not to mention a whole series of Toddler Misdemeanors and Party Fouls (baby stroller theft and sippy cup swiping to name a couple) the whole group was really nice about not shunning us and reassuring me that it's Normal Toddler Behavior to act like a real A-hole sometimes.

My Little Firecracker and Little Miss Mellow
When I think of the weekend, I think of laughing in the sunshine, and chasing babies all around a huge house, and splashes in a freezing cold pool, and refereeing a lot of toddler fights over inaccurate use of the word "MINE!" but I also think of our tear-filled discussions in the living room after the little ones had been put to bed, in which we could make confessions of guilt and shame, thoughts of suicide, seething jealousy, diminished friendships, unforgivable comments, ongoing sorrow, paralyzing fears, and frank admissions of the anger that we have found ways to live with but still haven't gotten over (and in all likelihood, never will).

And no matter what we admitted to feeling or having felt in the aftermath of our baby's death, someone else was always there to nod and say, "Me too" and pass a box of tissues.

I'm a contagious crier (as well as a contagious puker, although I managed not to succumb to the stomach virus) and I was overwhelmed with sympathetic grief sometimes. I live with the loss of Eliza every day and have gotten practiced at carrying that weight with me, but when I see the heartbreaking sadness in the eyes of my friends, when I think of what they have lost and what they have suffered...  I was trying to describe it to David, how surreal it is to feel so terribly sorry for someone who is going through the same thing I'm going through, and he got it exactly right when he said that I spend most of my time on the inside of grief looking in, and suddenly I was on the inside looking out at other people who were also in the trenches. I hate that we have to live without Eliza, and I hate that there are countless other parents forced to reckon with the same loss.

Every adorable baby/toddler in that photo above represents another beloved child who is dead. It seems like it should be impossible, but it's true. I miss Eliza, and I am terribly sorry for the losses of Anna and Otis and Camille and Hayes and Bear and and Addy and Elizabeth and Liam and Evelynn and many, far too many, others. I'm so terribly sorry that their parents are living with that grief. And I am so, so grateful that somehow in the depths of our despair, we managed to throw out a lifeline and extend a hand and find each other.

We tried to take a "rainbow hat photo"--guess whose rainbow REFUSED to cooperate? Hint: She's standing in front of the sofa, looking the wrong direction.
The mamas I saw last weekend number just a few of those who have touched my life and those who have enabled me to cope with the loss of Eliza. I still wish that somehow I could thank in person every single one of you who helped me cope while also grieving your own loss. This path we walk is nearly impossible, and I think we manage only because we are not alone. The best advice I can give to parents whose loss is so painfully, impossibly new, is to tell them they aren't alone and encourage them to find their cohort, find their people, use the internet to make those connections.

When we are very lucky, we manage to get together in real life with one or two or more of those who share our pain and understand our loss and, simply by doing so, lighten our burden. And it helps so much when they love our rainbow babies, too--even the ones who bite.

Caution: The cuter they look, the harder they bite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fireplace: Lookin' Hot, Hot, Hot

I had big plans for spring break--lots of projects I wanted to do around the house. Not all of them got done (I may have been a little ambitious thinking I could quickly repaint the dining room, considering that I also had around 80 exams/papers to grade--which also didn't get completely done!), but I am really pleased with how this one little update turned out.

You may remember our fireplace in the living room.

I love having a fireplace, but the brass surround was looking pretty dated and the mismatched brick surround and hearth was not super attractive. Not to mention the reddish/orange brick wasn't doing the warm-colored wood stain any favors. I decided that the fireplace needed a little contrast.

I was dreaming of tearing out the brick and putting in glossy marble tile surrounding the fireplace doors, but that project seemed (1) ambitious and (2) expensive, so I decided to start a little smaller and just paint the brick with a semi-gloss paint to hopefully mimic the look of subway tile. I chose the same white that we put on the walls--Dover White by Sherwin Williams. But I decided to save a few bucks and the extra stop when I was running errands, and I just had Home Depot color match a Glidden semi-gloss paint+primer. I knew that I didn't need an exact color match since it wouldn't be right up against the wall and it would be glossier than the flat wall paint. Plus I totally like living on the edge.

I taped off the edges while David was making dinner (Zuzu helped me because she is a SUPER good helper) and then I painted on the first coat after Zuzu was in bed.

After getting the first coat up there, I was already loving the way the white draws the eye to the fireplace and totally makes it more of a focal point, but it was obvious that we were going to need one or two additional coats to get good coverage on the brick. (I was expecting this, since brick is porous and soaks up paint.)

This wasn't a big deal since it's such a small area it only takes a few minutes to slap a coat of paint on, even with the extra effort to get good coverage in the grout and along the edges. The biggest pain was having to wait the recommended four hours in between coats!

After three coats of paint, I still had a few touch-ups I needed to do, but I was already pleased with the improvement.

It became glaringly obvious, however, that something had to be done about the dated brass surround. I'm not anti-brass exactly (I love it in certain light fixtures, for example) but I definitely felt like this had seen better days. So I picked up a quart of high-heat tolerant black paint while I was at the Depot. This is the kind of paint you can use to cover a BBQ grill, and a little googling assured me that other people had used it on fireplace surrounds also.

Although the Glidden paint I got for the bricks was zero VOC, the high-heat paint is more chemically, so I slapped on a mask, opened windows, and was thankful that the room is quite open and well-ventilated.

I started by wiping off the dust and then lightly sanded the brass surround with fine sandpaper.

Then I used a foam brush for first coat, which was pretty messy and awful looking. Of course, this is when my process got interrupted by the invasion of a small rodent (we determined that the "mouse" was actually a baby squirrel--slightly less gross, but no less terrifying, since this scene kept running through my mind). I was too distracted by RODENT INVASION and TORNADO SIRENS to get photos of the first coat of black. So you'll just have to trust me that the paint is super thin and runny and goes on really yucky looking at first and you have to be patient in waiting for it to dry or you'll just smear it around.

The next day, the rodent was gone. Because the glass doors were literally taped shut with painters tape, we're confident that there is no way it could have escaped into the house. David brought home a humane trap that we baited with peanutbutter and he put in the fireplace while I took deep breaths in another room. The trap remained empty for a 24 hour period and we heard no more scratching or scampering.  Our theory is that the poor little squirrel was seeking shelter from the tornado, fell down our chimney, was scared and disoriented, then managed to climb out the next day when the sun came up and it could climb toward the light. Perhaps Mama Squirrel assisted in rescue efforts? I don't know--I'm just relieved it was gone.

So after that small delay, I could get back to painting. I put the second coat of black on the front with a foam roller, which went on really smooth and looked great. I did have to watch out for drips since the paint was so thin, but it took a while to dry so mess-ups were an easy fix.

I thought I could get away with leaving the doors on the fireplace while I painted, but no such luck. The brass edging was still visible, especially since we leave the doors open in the winter when we're using the fireplace. So the next day, David removed the doors (I was slightly freaked out just imagining WHAT IF those doors had been off when the squirrel was in there??) but we had no more rodent spotting.  I put a quick coat of paint on the tops of the doors and around the opening of the fireplace after Zuzu had gone to bed, and one more quick coat before we went to be, then let it dry overnight.

The next morning, I thoroughly cleaned the glass doors before David reattached them, I touched up black paint in a couple spots and... TA-DA!

My hope was that the black trim would sort of fade into the background and let the white glossy brick make a pretty contrast with the wood and that duo could steal the show. And while it's not quite the stunner that the bathroom grout is (haha), I have to say that it makes me happy every time I walk into the room. Total cost of two quarts of paint, one roll of Frog tape, a foam roller, and two foam brushes came to right around $40, which I think is a good deal for a nice little fireplace update. Hooray for budget spending.

And how about a quick before and after?

I may not have gotten all my exams and essays graded over spring break, but at least I knocked out this little project. I'm also quite pleased that my list of 8 big projects I wanted to accomplish this year has been almost entirely crossed off! Granted, my craft area still needs more organizing, but I've made some good headway down there, so the only other thing on the list that I haven't gotten to at all is possibly locating a buffet for the dining room. That has fallen lower on the priority list right now because if I'm going to drop a big chunk of change, I'd rather buy a new rug for the front room (I'm so over the rug in there. Seriously.).

Of course, the list of projects continues to grow... I need to think eventually (hopefully) about what we are going to do to create a space for Rerun in our bedroom and how we'll want to set that up. I also want to repaint the dining room (I have a new vision!) and freshen up the kitchen (still can't decide what color...) but the house really is starting to feel like ours with all the updates we've managed to do on a pretty tight budget.

Here's to small changes that make a big difference!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sharknado? Try Mousenado. Way Scarier.

My morning started at 5:30am with David waking me up by gently patting my head and telling me that the tornado sirens were going off and we needed to head down to the basement. I couldn't believe he'd even heard the sirens and in fact he hadn't--Cooper woke him up, all frantic and shaking.

We got Zuzu out of bed, I grabbed my little box of Eliza's things, our fireproof box with our important documents in it, and my daily journal, and we headed downstairs where we watched the weatherman spaz out about the tornado. I was hoping that Zuzu would curl up with me on the futon and we'd go back to sleep together, but instead she thought it was super happy fun basement playtime in the wee hours of the morning. There was no going back to bed, so by 6:30am David was heading in to work to make sure there wasn't any damage at his school and I was making breakfast for Zuzu with Cooper underfoot--he's so terrified of storms.

I have a huge stack of exams and essays to finish grading before next week, so after breakfast I took a shower while Zuzu harassed me in the bathroom by flinging open the shower curtain and yelling, "Uppa! Uppa!" and then wailing when I said, "Just a minute, honey, I'm almost finished, let's close the curtain," because CLEARLY it is a violation of parental duty not to pick up one's fully-clothed toddler and hold her while standing naked in the shower and rinsing one's hair.

Somewhat related: I finally bought some real child-proof locking device things for the bathroom cabinet to replace the tightly wound hair elastic that is supposed to be keeping Zuzu out of my hairspray and lotion and toilet bowl cleaner, but I could not figure out how to make them work, so she was also entertaining herself by chewing on one half of the locking system. (I have since figured it out but in my defense the directions were rather misleading.)

At long last, we were out the door and on the way to daycare. I made Cooper go outside in the rain to pee because the night BEFORE he had pooped in the house. He's so afraid to go outside he just holds it until he can't hold it anymore. So that meant that when I got home from running errands yesterday, I got to flush dog poop, spray and wipe up the places his turds were sitting, and then steam mop the dining room floor.  Gag gag gag.

He peed, then ran around all panicky and tried to get in the car until I herded him back inside the house. I dropped Zu at daycare and then headed back home. My plan was to spend the morning grading papers at a coffee shop, but I'm also working on this little fireplace painting project (another blog post on that to follow) and I wanted to get one more coat on before I left for the day. I knew it wouldn't take more than a few minutes, as long as I didn't have Zuzu around to "help" me. So I went upstairs to put my painting shirt on over my clothes and discovered that Cooper had POOPED at the bottom of the stairs AND all over the landing at the top of the stairs (which is carpeted, with carpet that David just cleaned last weekend).

I then proceeded to clean up dog poop for the second time in less that 24 hours while Cooper cowered and shook and was so totally pathetic I couldn't even yell at him (fortunately it was easy clean up). I got my little fireplace project finished and then headed out to the coffee shop.

My day mostly went as planned--graded papers, went back home for lunch, put another coat of paint on the fireplace. I'd wanted to go to the post office and make a quick Target run but there were severe thunderstorm warnings out by the afternoon, so I decided to delay those plans until tomorrow and I picked Zuzu up from daycare. She'd had a good day today, in spite of falling asleep in the car on the way to daycare and waking up fussy in the parking lot, and she'd taken a long nap to make up for her 5:30am wake up.

It wasn't until after David got home that things got dramatic. We'd just put Zuzu to bed and I was back at work on Phase 2 of the fireplace project when I heard the wire mesh curtains in the fireplace moving. I couldn't understand how this was happening--was the wind so strong that somehow it was reaching down the chimney to shake these curtains? And then I saw it.

There was a MOUSE. Trapped in my fireplace.

A live mouse. With a tail and eyeballs and feet capable of climbing the metal curtains.

I know mice are small, but my fear of them is like my fear of needles: illogical and all-consuming. I screamed, "David! David! DAVID!" and then climbed up on a dining room chair, sort of blubbering. David had just sat down to eat dinner (leftovers) but he jumped up to see what was wrong and found me spazzing out about the mouse in the fireplace--which he thought I was imagining until he saw it himself and said it looked like a sugar glider because apparently he is some kind of rodent expert.

Long story short, I really wanted to finish painting (I'm super excited about this project) but I was afraid to be in the room with the mouse by myself (even though it was trapped behind glass doors, taped shut with painter's tape). I made David sit down next to me to protect me but eventually he had to take over my painting project because I couldn't stop screaming and jumping every time the mouse moved and before long I was actually crying. (I know it's insane. Phobias are not rational. That's what makes them phobias.) It was very sweet of David to help me out, but he is a messier painter than I am so I'm going to have to go back and touch up his mistakes, which I cannot do until this mouse situation is resolved. I left him to his messy painting and went into the other room and turned on all the lights and blubbered a little longer and then called my mom to get some sympathy.

We don't have any mouse traps and I wanted to go out and get a humane trap so we could catch the little bugger and let it go outside, but by this point we were under a severe thunderstorm warning so it's not like we were going to hop in the car and head to the hardware store. Crafty Cousin Amanda's suggestion to trap the mouse under a bowl and slide a piece of cardboard underneath got ruled out because the fireplace is dark and the gas logs are in the way and I'm probably going to have to be out of the house when David opens the glass fireplace doors because otherwise I will lose my shit (figuratively, I think, but possibly Cooper-style). So David promised me he'd get a trap and take care of it tomorrow, and I started making plans to spend the entire day out of the house so I won't have to be here alone with the mouse (these plans consist of a coffee shop followed by browsing Target and Home Goods, so basically a perfect day except that I have to grade a bunch of papers).

And then the tornado sirens went off and we had to get Zuzu back out of bed after she'd been asleep for forty-five minutes and head down to the basement. BECAUSE THE DAY WAS NOT DRAMATIC ENOUGH what with the POOP and the MOUSE and OMG THE MOUSE.

(Honestly, at this point I was thinking that if a tornado took out our house, at least that would solve the mouse problem.)

Anyway, the tornado blew on through with no significant damage, the baby went back to bed surprisingly easily, and I'm assuming the mouse is still chilling on our gas logs even though I'm too scared to look. Now I'm exhausted but adrenaline from the mouse + tornado has me wired and I don't know how I am going to sleep tonight without dreaming about a mouse climbing up the bedding and getting under my sheets and nibbling on my toes and having mouse babies under my covers and pooping everywhere and giving me rabies. You can see why the prospect of a tornado is actually somewhat less terrifying.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lost Baby and Last Baby

So here's the thing.

If Eliza were here, chances are that I would have already had my last baby.

Plan A (you'll remember, my most favorite plan EV-AH) was to have two babies, approximately three years apart. The first in January 2011. The second in the spring of 2014.

Well... things have not gone according to plan.

Eliza's not here. Family planning and baby making has not gone the way I imagined at all. None of this has been under my control, timing of pregnancies included.

Some of the mixed emotions about this surprise pregnancy had to do with the fact that it felt like it came out of nowhere. After very consciously trying to get pregnant with Eliza, and then REALLY TRYING to get pregnant after her loss, I never dreamed that it would happen when I wasn't expecting it. Another baby was still a "Yeah, sometime in the future, we'll start trying after Zuzu turns two..."  As excited as we are NOW, back when those two lines showed up, I was just shocked. It wasn't something we had deliberately planned and honestly it caught us completely off guard.

I know that some of my mixed emotions about this surprise pregnancy had to do with the timing of this baby's due date: just a month after Zuzu turns two, at the start of a new semester, which means taking months off of work with significantly reduced pay, and then there's the strain of paying double daycare tuition for three years instead of one or two...

And there was also the timing of the positive test itself coming two days before Eliza's birthday, two short months after Zuzu stopped breastfeeding, a week before finals, two weeks before we got another offer on the old house, and three weeks before Christmas. It was an emotionally loaded and stressful time, pregnant or not.

But I also think that some of my mixed emotions had to do with the fact that not only did I not think I was ready to cope with the anxiety of another pregnancy or the financial and mental stress of two kids two years apart, I also didn't think I was ready to be pregnant for the LAST time.

Now don't get me wrong--I don't love being pregnant. Even before everything fall apart with Eliza, I just wasn't one of those women who loves pregnancy. I don't like feeling so big and cumbersome. I don't like having to grunt when I get up or sit down. Sure, I like the miracle of feeling the baby squirm in my belly, and I like having thick, shiny hair for a few months. But that's about it.

So it's not really that I wanted to postpone and savor pregnancy, which is mostly associated with anxiety for me these days. I think I just wanted to postpone the finality of having my last baby.

Some of my friends who've experienced baby loss had the opposite reaction. Many of them wanted to have Rainbow Baby #2 as quickly as possible after Rainbow Baby #1. Be finished and done with the fear and the trauma of pregnancy. Others aren't sure they ever want to go through another pregnancy for mental or physical health reasons.

My situation is a little different, because while we don't know what went wrong for Eliza, until the moment I found out she was dead, my pregnancy was not traumatic. I was not ill, things were not unusual, everything seemed fine. I look back now at things that maybe could have been signs--I had terrible carpal tunnel during her pregnancy and my feet and hands swelled with her, though they never did with Zuzu--but carpal tunnel and swelling can be symptoms of totally normal, healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies. While pregnancy has lots of emotional and mental obstacles for me, it doesn't threaten my physical health in the way it does for women who have experienced hyperemesis gravidarum, preeclampsia, HELLP, or other issues that can endanger the mother as well as the baby.

Realistically speaking, the risks of pregnancy for me are not likely to be physical risks. They are mostly emotional ones for me, centered on the health of the baby rather than my own health. My desire to delay pregnancy was mostly for emotional and also practical reasons--I didn't feel "ready," I wanted to really get back in shape first, I wanted more time to save money, I wanted a little more breathing room between breastfeeding Zuzu and gestating her sibling, I didn't want to pay double daycare tuition or double college tuition for more than a year or so.

I also wanted Zuzu to be "the baby" as long as possible. I want to be able to give her my undivided attention. (Or, if I'm being honest, to not further divide my attention from her, since I do work full-time 9 months out of the year). I'm not ready to put her in a big girl bed. I'm not ready to redecorate her nursery for another baby. I'm not sure I'm ready for her to be the big sister! Just last night I looked at her sleeping in her crib, so big and so tiny all at once, and got choked up thinking of some other baby coming in and being the new baby (I mean, I know it will be great once Rerun is here... it's just that such a big change will shift everything around in our family and that makes me emotional).

Zuzu has outgrown all but one dress that was purchased for Eliza. It won't be long before I can no longer accept a compliment on her outfit by saying, "Thanks. I (or my mom) bought that for Eliza."

That seems like a small thing--we're only talking about clothes after all--but it brings tears to my eyes just to type that.

I know we don't ever leave our babies behind, I know we carry them in our hearts (and even, according to this scientific article, in our bloodstreams). I know that Eliza is forever a part of me and an influence on me, and it fills up my heart everytime I hear that someone else is thinking of her, too (pictures of pink saucer magnolia trees on instagram are like a balm to my soul). But my physical connection to her is really limited and beyond those heartbreaking, traumatizing hours in the hospital, holding her tiny body, the material reality of her is in the things we bought for her and the things we were given for her--items purchased especially for a baby who never got to use them.

Being finished with babies will eventually mean packing away the crib and its carefully-researched organic mattress (we bought the crib and the mattress for Eliza) and getting rid of cloth diapers (we bought those diapers for Eliza) and giving away our stroller (we picked that out for Eliza).

These are just things, but after Eliza died, the only real evidence that she had existed became the material possessions we had gathered for her. For months these things were painful to look at, but they later became a comfort.  Zuzu can use the blankets we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can wear the clothes we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can sleep in the crib we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can poop in the diapers we bought for Eliza. It was a way of remembering our first baby and all the ways she mattered at the same time we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the health and existence of our second baby.

We who have lost babies talk a lot about how our families will never feel complete. How it will always feel like someone is missing, no matter how many babies we might have. How "two" will always be "but really there should be three" or "three" is actually "but I wish you could see there were four" or "one" is often "I never thought she'd be an only child. I never expected my life to be like this."

Hopefully, come August, we will be a family of four-but-really-five. And while having four of us here will be freaking awesome, it's also deceptive because it doesn't look like anyone is missing, you know? From the outside looking in, a family of four appears to be "complete." In a way, it seems to render Eliza even more invisible. It's nobody's fault--certainly not Rerun's. But it simply feels like having my last baby moves me further away from any physical link to my lost baby.

As much as the question, "Is she your first?" freaking stung, as much as it will be a relief not to have to navigate that minefield (I hear that people stop asking that once you're carting around two kids), it also means fewer opportunities to talk about Eliza (whether I feel up to doing it or not).

I'll have three charms on my mama necklace. I'll still wear my Eliza bracelet daily. Her portrait will still hang in our home. I'll still whisper sometimes to David that I miss her and he'll still hug me and say, "Me too." My dear friends and family will still commemorate her birth and let me know they are thinking of her.  She will always be my first baby.

But sometimes I'm afraid that with the excitement of a new baby, everyone might forget that no matter how many babies I might have, the ache for Eliza never stops. We are incomplete without her here. I miss her still.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Zuzu and Mommy Weekend

Zuzu and I just returned from a long weekend with friends in Las Vegas and I'll have lots more to say about that (or just adorable photos to post) but I just had to do a quick post to remember how amazing the weekend with Zuzu was.

I have to admit, I was nervous about traveling on my own with her. David and I make a pretty great parenting tag team, by which I mean that when I am overwhelmed and losing my patience with her, I just tag him in and take a break from the whining.

This weekend, though, she was amazingly cooperative. She sat quietly in the stroller as we went through the airport. She waved and smiled at strangers and airline employees. She charmed the people we sat next to on the airplane. She looked out the window at the trucks and airplanes and then promptly fell asleep as soon as the plane took off.

We shared a house with 8 other moms and babies ranging in age from 6 months to two and a half years. Not only did Zuzu share her toys and gently hug her friends without prompting, she also ate  vegetables with every meal, said "please" and "thank you," and went down for naps and bedtime with virtually no fussing.  There was no biting, hitting, pushing, or toy-stealing all weekend long. It was the easiest, most restful weekend of solo-parenting that I could imagine.


APRIL FOOL'S!!!! (You saw that coming, right?)

So, the long weekend was true and the trip was honestly wonderful (and she did eventually fall asleep on the airplane). Solo-parenting her actually wasn't as hard as I feared, thanks to the help from my eight fabulous friends. Zuzu's behavior, on the other hand, was more along the lines of Typical Toddler With Assertive Personality and a Fondness for the Word "MINE!" We still had a great time though, battles over a certain pink doll stroller notwithstanding, and I hope that Zuzu didn't come across as too big of a pill (at least not so big she couldn't be taken with a spoonful of ice cream or applesauce).

More updates to follow when I dig my way out from under these piles of laundry.