Monday, September 29, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Homecoming

(I'm trying this #MicroblogMondays thing--keeping it short and sweet is my challenge!)

We were at my parents' for the weekend and went to the Homecoming football game. We met up with my BFF and her daughter.

front row: Zuzu and Ellie Kate
photobombing by Monica (center) and her sister Emmaly
Monica is one day short of exactly six months older than me (January 29 and July 28), and Ellie Kate is six months to the day older than Zuzu (December 29 and June 29).

It was kind of surreal to be at the football game with my kid(s!). It doesn't seem like that long ago I was painting my fingernails crimson with silver tiger paw prints and meeting up with Monica to sit in the students' section. This time, I was nursing a baby during the second quarter and some of the people who were just a couple years ahead of us in high school were watching their kids on the football team(!). We've got a few years to go, but our girls totally look like they have dance team potential, no?

The girls enjoyed themselves hugely, and although we left right after the halftime show, Nevada ended up winning the game. Go Tigers!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Universe is Not a Wish-Granting Factory*

One of my best friends from college was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her name is Beth and she's 34 years old.

She's married to her best friend (as in, they were best friends for years while they dated other people and then they finally figured out they were actually in love with each other--a case of opposites attracting). They have two little girls, ages almost-5 and 2. Beth works full time in a demanding job as a department manager at an upscale department store--the kind of job where she runs around in high heels and remembers to reapply lipstick and hosts trunk shows and has dinner with vendors who are selling clothes made by big-name designers.

She's a great story teller, she's hilariously funny and self-deprecating, and she's very devoted to her family. She's also sensitive, a good listener, and more than once has lent me her shoulder to cry on. In the months after Eliza died, she dragged me out for monthly dinners with our friends Jamie and Carol, and anytime I cried, her eyes filled up with tears too. When she gave Coco a baby gift, she wrote in the card that she was remembering and missing Eliza.

And she has breast cancer, you guys.

Specifically, she has triple negative breast cancer.

I can still hardly believe it. Even after seeing the place where the port has been put into her chest. Even after seeing the suture where they glued her up after removing some lymph nodes. Even after I gave her a chemo cap and she tried it on (over her still thick and beautiful auburn hair). Even after she texted me a picture of herself after she shaved her head (adding that she should have put on earrings and lipstick before taking the photo).

She bald, but she was smiling.

(She says her hair is her best feature, and she really has fabulous hair, but I think her smile is even better.)

Since her diagnosis, our group of friends has been texting and e-mailing a lot. What can we do? 

I don't know what it's like to get a cancer diagnosis. I don't know what it's like to face months of chemotherapy, to know that in order to get better you'll have to feel miserable.

Once chemo is over, she's looking at a double mastectomy and, depending on the results of genetic testing, possibly a hysterectomy as well.

All before she turns 35.

I don't know what it's like to endure major surgery. I don't know what it's like to lose your hair and to have your very bones ache from the shot that increases your white blood cells and to be so sore you can't pick up your toddler.

And Beth has told me that she doesn't care about any of the brutal side effects. She could not care less about the things that make me cry when I think about her going through them. For her, these things are minor inconveniences because she's just focused on getting past this and being around to watch her girls grow up.

I don't know what it's like to have cancer, but I can't help but compare our experiences of tragedy and grief.

I do know what it's like to get news that turns your whole world upside down and makes you realize that your life will always be different than you hoped and maybe even less than you had hoped.

I am familiar with the way fear and nausea combine until you can't tell what's a physical symptom and what's a mental one.

I know what it's like for that news to come out of the great blue nowhere. To knock the wind out of you with such unexpected force.

I know what it's like to have felt one moment like your life is in order, like things are falling into place, like you have finally earned what you've worked so hard for, only to be confronted by the desperate fear that it could all slip away.

I know what it is to consciously appreciate what you have, to feel so grateful, to know that you're lucky, and then to suddenly feel paralyzed by your vulnerability, realizing how much you have to lose.

I know it's not particularly helpful or comforting to have people say, "I can't even imagine" as though suddenly your life has become an incomprehensible nightmare they can't bear actually to think about. (I would prefer people say, "I don't know what you're going through, but I CAN imagine. And it sucks. And I'm sorry.")

I know it's not easy to hear people say, "You're so strong/brave, you can get through this," as though strength or bravery qualifies someone for tragedy or illness while the weaker, more fearful people are spared (if only!).

And yet, I've found myself on the verge of saying BOTH of those things to Beth--these ready-made, go-to phrases that come to me when I'm grasping for something to say in the face of speechless shock and dismay.

Instead, I make myself imagine. After all, I know what it's like to lose a year of my life to grief, and I imagine that in some ways you lose a year of your life to cancer treatments.

I haven't faced a cancer diagnosis personally, but I know how much it fucking sucks to have your life spin out of control and to realize how helpless you are and how scary life is and how quickly and easily it could all slip away from you.

Needless to say, Beth has been on mind all the time lately.

As her friends, we're doing our best to rally around her. The truth is that I feel helpless--I think we all do--and we just want to do whatever we can to let her know that she's not alone. Often when I pick up my phone to send her a text, I wonder if I'm bothering her, or when I talk to her, I wonder if she is tired of talking about cancer or if I don't mention cancer, I wonder if she thinks I'm not thinking about cancer.

(But I have decided to just text her anyway because I'd rather hear from people even when I was too exhausted to respond.)

Even though I've never been in Beth's situation, when I try to imagine what might help her, I find myself thinking about what people did that helped me when I was debilitated by grief. We're prepping freezer meals and buying friendship bracelets and sending up thoughts and prayers and good vibes and shaking our fists at the unfairness of the universe. We've talked about how we can't just show up now and then get busy in a couple of months--that she needs to know we'll be there for her as long as it takes.

(Sidenote: If our society treated grief like an illness instead of an inconvenience, it would probably make it easier for bereaved parents to cope--not with the loss itself, but with the reality of living life after loss. When bereaved parents are treated as though they are ill--people bring food, send cards, arrange for housekeeping, make donations to foundations in honor and memory of their child--I think we appreciate not only the actions themselves, but the recognition of the enormity of our losses.)

Here's side-by-side pics of our group of girlfriends who have stayed tight since college--the top one was taken at the start of our senior year of college and the bottom one was snapped last weekend:

Beth's the one to the left of me in the jean jacket in the top photo, and the one to the left of me with the cute pixie cut in the bottom photo.

As a group, we were not totally untouched by grief even in our college picture--my friend Stephanie (the tall one with the curly hair) lost her mom our junior year of college, and although I didn't fully understand how to be there for Steph, I think we had all begun to recognize that life had its share of sorrow as well as joy, and that our friendships would help us get through the hard times.

But I also look at those pictures and I think about how losing Eliza makes me feel set apart, even from my dearest friends. For a long time, I pulled away from them because they couldn't really understand what I was going through, and I couldn't expect them to understand. I resented the fact that my baby died while other babies were healthy and alive. (Not that I wanted anyone's babies to NOT be healthy; I just didn't understand why MY BABY wasn't here too.)

I needed their love and sympathy but at the same time, I didn't want to be pitied or talked about in e-mail chains that didn't include me, even though they meant well. I didn't want to be given books with titles that sounded too sad to read or food that I was too sad to eat. I was tired and sad and miserable and didn't have the energy to be a friend or really to care about anything besides the loss of Eliza. Honestly, it's still hard for me to see how big their three-going-on-four-year-olds are and to wonder if I'm the only one thinking about the little girl who isn't there.

But my friends stuck by me, even when it wasn't easy. And if we disappointed each other in the process, we've found a way to get past that.

In some ways, I imagine cancer patients might feel the same way. It has to be difficult, frustrating, maddening to be The One With Cancer, especially when the days Before Cancer are still close enough to taste.

And although we celebrate cancer survivors and cancer remission, I would guess that being a cancer patient continues to be a part of one's identity, even when treatments are successful and life goes on. Of course it gets easier, but I expect that fear of recurrence and the thudding recognition of your mortality never disappears.

I know that random and terrible things happen all the time, so we might as well ask "Why not me?" But the fact is that when statistically improbable things happen to us, we ask, "Why me?" because it's so damn unfair, no matter what.

I know some people believe there is a greater plan at work, even in tragedy. My faith is different now. I don't believe in a God who uses tragedy and pain to teach lessons. I believe that random and terrible things happen in this world and we find God in the way we choose to get through them.

In my mind, God shows up not to cause (or cure) cancer or kill (or save) babies, but in the love we find amidst tragedy. We find God's presence in nurses who know that patients need hugs as much as they need medicine, in the friends who call or text even when those communications go unreturned, in the fundraising efforts to prevent future losses**, in the friends and acquaintances and strangers who add our names to prayer lists and wish better days for us, in the people we meet through the internet who end up being our tribe of support and understanding because they are walking the same path.

I'm writing about Beth today because terrible and shitty things happen to really good people in this world, and we don't know what will happen, but I'm really trying to believe that love wins no matter what.

And yet. One of my best friends has breast cancer. And at this very moment, there are so many people out there in the world who could say the same thing. There is nothing that makes anything about this situation ok.

* This comes from John Green's beautiful book about cancer, The Fault in Our Stars. I read it last year, saw the movie this summer, and just bought the book so I can read it again. I know some people don't want to read a "sad" book about cancer. While I completely understand the emotional fortitude it takes to delve into certain kinds of books, I also think that avoiding reading material that is sad or emotional is irresponsible. The plot that you find "too sad" to read about in the comfort of your sofa is someone else's real life--a life they can't simply dog-ear a page of and escape. And the truth is that there is a lot of beauty that is worth finding in the middle of tragedy, fictional or real.

** If you have an extra $10 (or more or less) you want to contribute to a worthy cause, please consider making a donation to Pedal for the Cause. Beth's husband, Curt, is biking in the event and all proceeds go to cancer research locally at Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Back Hurts and Other Thoughts

I freaking love you guys and your confessions.

In regard to the creative and intriguing title of this post, I am currently experiencing a new and incredibly uncomfortable level of back pain. It happened ALL OF A SUDDEN when I was doing laundry. I bent forward and WHAM! I gasped and would have collapsed to the ground dramatically except that would have hurt more than standing up straight. Now bending forward, bending to sit, and pretty much any movement involving bending and/or my lower back is excruciating. Twisting is fine. Lying flat is fine. How does this happen? It makes me feel very old.

I can remember my mom having ALL OF A SUDDEN back pain and lying on our family room floor doing that sort of hysterical laugh you do when it hurts really bad but it's also funny that you can't get up and my brother and I were also laughing except now I get that it's NOT THAT FUNNY.

Also David's grandma is still here so I feel compelled to act as though I am a much better housekeeper than I actually am and now it hurts to do the laundry.

Have I mentioned that Coco is a spitty baby? So I am doing laundry like nobody's business.

Sometimes I find myself jokingly keeping score with the girls:

Zuzu never spit up: one point

Coco did not run away and climb the steps on the employees-only ladder things at Home Depot: one point

Zuzu can be reasoned with most of the time when she's fussy: one point

Coco doesn't rifle through my purse when I'm not paying attention and then run to me with things she's not supposed to have (pens, mostly) and hand them to me saying, "Thank you, Mama," as though I asked her to retrieve them for me when she knows good and well that she's not supposed to get in my purse (she's pretty good with please, but the thank you / you're welcome thing continues to confuse): one point

Anyway, they are pretty much dead even. Equally challenging but in totally different ways! Although they both get cranky when they are hungry.

This morning I went to the dentist after dropping Zuzu at school and left Coco with David's grandma. Eek! It was only an hour and a half total but it felt like a long time.

She was fine.

And I was cavity free again! #34yearsandcounting #shamelessbragging #sonicareshouldsponsormylife

(I think maybe we as a global society are getting to the backlash where hastags are becoming uncool, but I'm obviously not there yet.)

This back pain may be making me a little punchy.

I took three ibuprofen, but maybe I need to see a chiropractor? I've never been to a chiropractor. But I've kind of always wanted to go. It seems like a very adult thing to do. No? Anyone have any local recommendations?

I ordered the girls matching personalized pumpkin shirts from Etsy but I think I ordered Coco's a size too big. Dangit. Oh well. I'll just roll up the sleeves and stuff the onesie into a pair of jeggings and it will be fine, right?

Remember when I hit the resale lottery and found a little pair of capris that matched a hat we'd been handed down (scroll to the bottom and see them pictured here)?

(And if you don't remember, perhaps you should be reading this blog a little more closely and committing more of the minutiae of my life to your long-term memory. Because I really think I blogged about it, but maybe I only intended to?)

Well, I hit the lottery AGAIN when I found a little dress in size 3-6 months that matches a dress I'd already resale-purchased for Zuzu a couple months ago in size 2-3 years! I was so excited, and I know that Zuzu will be psyched to dress the same as her sister, which is adorable.

Yesterday Zuzu did the Daniel Tiger "ugga-mugga" nose rub thing on Coco and my heart exploded. (For those of you not familiar with Daniel Tiger on PBS, the Tiger family says "I love you" by rubbing noses and saying "ugga-mugga." Daniel also rubs his nose on the camera to tell his "neighbors" (the PBS viewers who are hypnotized by him) that he loves them.

I was getting worried about Zuzu not loving books because it seemed like every time I'd suggest we read books before bed, she would say no. (Except toddler-style, so it was way louder than that.) But then I realized that she was saying no to bedtime, not book-time. So I'm trying to do lots of book reading that is not associated with bedtime, and it's totally working. She loves books again.

HOWEVER, I'm kind of worried about her basic understanding of plot because we have this cute little book called Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin. In the book (PLOT SPOILER) Duck and Goose want to find a pumpkin but they don't know where to look. So they keep asking each other things like, "Is it in the log, Duck?" "No!" "Is it on the tree stump, Goose?" "No!" until their friend Thistle suggests they check out the pumpkin patch.

Anyway, we've read this book a zillion times, but Zuzu answers every question with an emphatic, "YES!"

"Is it under the water, Goose?"

"YES!" Zuzu cries.

No, dude. The pumpkin is NOT under the water. How do you not know this by now?

Or maybe she thinks she's tricking them and it's funny?

Who can know the mind of a two-year-old?

Speaking of her beautiful mind, she may or may not have an imaginary friend named Sofa or Sofie. All we know about her is that she is a "big kid," she has a "nose," her car is "brown," and she's coming over to Zuzu's house to see her. She told us this VERY SERIOUSLY at dinner last night.

Okay. I have an episode of Parenthood calling my name. More thoughts on sugar, baptism, and Halloween costumes to come later

Monday, September 22, 2014


If it were up to me, I would sleep about 10 hours a night most nights.

I need a lot of sleep.

My brother is the same way, so I think it's genetic.

Except evidently my kids did not inherit this quality.

However, I got six hours of sleep last night IN A ROW and I feel amazing. It probably won't happen again anytime soon, but damn. It was awesome. Thank you, Coco. You rock.

# # # 

I hate the way Zuzu abuses sticker books.

My friend Jamie gave her a darling sticker book as a big-sister present. It features a fair and has all these lovely fair backgrounds--a roller coaster, a ferris wheel, games and circus tents--and the stickers are super cute.

And she puts them in all the wrong places and upside down and it's all I can do to not redirect her sticker play. I keep reminding myself that she's two and I don't need to stifle her creativity. Instead, I think perhaps I need my own sticker book.

# # #

My patience with Cooper has hit an all-time low.

I feel really bad about it, because it's not his fault. I remember having a similar issue when Zuzu was born--like I focus all my energy on the baby and I have nothing left for the dog.

He wants outside, I'm annoyed. He wants inside, I'm annoyed. He barks at the mailman, I'm furious.

I know this will pass, and Cooper will forgive me for occasionally yelling at him and he probably won't even hold all my sighs and eye-rolls against me.

# # #

I feel a little smidge guilty on the days when I take Zuzu to daycare and then all I do is nurse the baby and watch a Parenthood marathon on netflix.

It's sweet, because I watched the first couple of seasons on maternity leave with Zuzu and now I'm catching up with Coco. 

I'm almost through season 5 and omg I just want Joel and Julia to work things out! 

But still, it's weird to not do anything else all day. It's just that the baby is so cozy and also she really only likes to sleep if she's cuddled up on my chest. So, you know. What's a girl to do?

I did get a load of laundry folded, so there's that.

# # #

I keep thinking that I really need to start exercising and probably also watching what I eat.

But then I remember that my boobs still don't really fit in a sports bra.

And then David buys Fritos to go with the chili.

And then I think that I can just start exercising next week.

# # #

I do not know how to make friends.

All of my friendships have started with. " Hey, we live on the same floor of this dorm. Let's hang out." (Except we didn't actually SAY that.)

Or, "We're in the same PhD program and therefore we likely share similar neuroses and nerdiness. Let's get drunk."

Or, "Hey, we work together. Let's have lunch."

Or, "Hi, I read your blog and..."

Or,  "Hi, I read your blog and I'm sorry your baby died. So did mine."

How do you make friends outside of college, grad school, work, or the internet?

I've gone to a couple La Leche meetings and met one or two people I think would be cool to hang out with outside of a LLL meeting but I am like nervous about it. What would I say? What if they don't like me? How does one start a friendship as an adult? Especially if one is sort of weird and introverted and carrying dead baby baggage?

# # #

I made a Lazy Cookie Cake. The directions say to take a yellow cake mix, add 5 tbsp melted butter and two eggs. Mix. Then throw in a bag of chocolate chips. Spread in a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

The directions did NOT say, "Eat a quarter of the pan by yourself while still warm."

But I did it anyway.

I really need to get serious about exercising.

# # #

I took Zuzu to the park after school one day last week as a special treat.


Because she got through the school day without hitting or biting anyone (specifically her teachers--she has a bit of an issue with authority figures, including her mother).

This means I am now rewarding my child for meeting the most basic expectations of social interaction.

Next thing you know, I'll be bribing her with screen time if she pees on the potty.

Oh, wait. #triedthat

# # #

Anyone else have anything shameful to confess? Come on now. We're all friends here. Weird internet friends, most of whom who have baggage, but friends all the same.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Copying Janet at Love is Blonde, here's what I've been up to:


David's grandma was visiting (she arrived Thursday afternoon). After six weeks of basically being a sloth with a baby on my boob (and feeling JUST FINE about it, because as we discussed at the last La Leche meeting I went to, nursing a baby is work), having another adult in the house kind of kicked me into gear. Not only did I have things to get done, but I had an extra pair of hands that was more than happy to hold the baby.

So I took Zuzu to the shoe store--just the two of us--and got her a cute pair of silver StrideRite mary janes (or, as she calls them, sparkle shoes!) for fall. I had planned to get tennis shoes, but she demonstrated a preference for the mary janes and I figure she can wear them with anything she could wear tennis shoes with, plus tights and dresses so maybe they're actually more useful. But she still needs some kind of bootie or sensible closed shoe for winter. I saw a couple styles I loved at the shoe store but I had a little bit of sticker shock (kids shoes cost as much as adult shoes, you guys!) so we're waiting on those and watching Zulily.

But just so you know, I have my eye on these.

Zuzu was well-behaved at the shoe store, although she needed a minute to warm up to the sales lady. When the lady started to measure her foot, Zuzu said, "No, Mama's turn!" But I explained it was actually the sales lady's turn and I'd stand right next to her and then it went just fine.

After the shoe store, we stopped by home so Coco could have some mama-milk and then I took Zuzu to the park before lunch.

While the girls were napping and Gma Peggy was watching Days of Our Lives, I decided to use up the peaches in our fridge and make a peach cobbler. The recipe called for four cups of sliced peaches. I ended up having a bit more than that (maybe five cups?) but I figured more fruit couldn't hurt, so I threw it all in.

(Side note: I suck at peeling peaches and tried to do that thing where you boil then and then put them in ice water but it didn't really work so David's grandma peeled and sliced them for me. She also mocked my lack of culinary skills, but I'm used to that by now.)

AND it bubbled over onto the bottom of the oven.

Because of course it did.

And then the oven started smoking.

Because of course it did.

And then David's grandma freaked out because messes of any kind make her lose her mind. I seriously shouldn't have even attempted to bake something with her here. Too stressful for both of us. 

I would have let it go (I mean, eventually it will just burn up and quit smoking, right?) but Gma Peggy insisted I call David and have him buy oven cleaner on the way home.

So then she cleaned my oven. With super chemically spray that I would have never ever used.

And I had a beer with dinner.


David's parents are also here and this morning we are heading downtown to walk around the ballpark village by Busch stadium. David's mom is a huge Cardinal fan, so she's looking forward to this.

This afternoon we're going to brave the crowds and head up to Forest Park to watch the hot air balloon race. We're not going to attempt to get close to the launch site, but plan to take sandwiches and spread blankets out for a picnic on the other side of the park. 


We are heading to Grant's Farm with the girls and grandparents. I'm excited for Zuzu to see the elephant show and I might even sip a free Summer Shandy. With highs in the 80's, it kinda feels like our last summer weekend, so we are making the most of it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Conversations with Zuzu

Scene: Morning. Zuzu almost always asks for pancakes for breakfast. Pretty much every morning, she eats Greek yogurt with fruit (or fruit spread) mixed in and five silver dollar pancakes from Trader Joes. I give her three, she eats them and asks for more pancakes, and then I give her two more and tell her they are all gone now. She asks for more and I say, "You ate ALL the pancakes! Oh, wow!" It's like we're following a script. Anyway, each morning as we're getting up and around, I ask if she wants to go eat something and she always says "Pancakes!"

Me: You ready to go downstairs and eat something?

Zuzu: Yes. I want meat-meal.

Me: What?

Zuzu: I want meat-meal! Eat-meal!

Me: Oatmeal?

Zuzu: Oatmeal! I want oatmeal!

# # #

Scene: The day after we had Face-Timed with my friend Monica and her daughter Ellie Kate. That conversation had ended when Monica and Ellie Kate had to go have dinner. Zuzu did not take it well. She did not want Ellie Kate to hang up the phone, and she took out her aggression on me. The next afternoon, we were in the car on the way home from school.

Me: You ready to read some books when we get home?

Zuzu: Me call Ellie Kate? No worry, Mom. I no bite you.

# # #

Scene: Coco needs a diaper change.

Me: Okay, Zuzu, I'm going to go change Coco's diaper.

Zuzu: My turn change diaper? I change her diaper. I be careful. Baby Coco no fall down get her head broken.* No [poke] her eyes. That would be sad.

Backstory: Zuzu has a favorite book called Oh, What a Busy Day. (If you're looking for a great kids' book, this one comes highly recommended by two generations of my family. It was my cousin Angela's most favorite book ever--in fact, my aunt Peggy still has the whole thing pretty much memorized because she read it so many times.) Anyway, there's one page in the book about times when it's okay to be sad. And one of the times it's okay to be said is when your dolly gets broken. There's a picture of a little girl crying and her doll has been dropped and its head is broken.

Zuzu just noticed this particular illustration recently and asked me repeatedly how the baby got broken and kept pointing at the picture and commenting "She is sad." Since then, she's been really conscientious about baby Keya (who is not breakable), and she'll give her a hug and then say something like, "It's okay, you no broken, be careful." I'm glad to know she's equally concerned about Coco.

# # #

Scene: At the park. She crawled through a tunnel and noticed that a stick was lying on the platform. She grabbed it and tossed it down to the ground.

Zuzu: Look, Mama! Look! I got that stick outta there. That is guh-ross! I no like it.

# # #

Scene: At the park. A U-Haul truck drives by.

Zuzu: Grammy and Bop go bye-bye big truck. Go home, see Bert.

Backstory: When my parents were here last, their car konked out on them on our way to lunch on Labor Day, shortly before they were ready to head home. They needed to get back and decided to get it fixed at home instead of here, so they rented a U-Haul truck and trailer and towed the car home themselves. Zuzu was most interested in the big truck they left in. And she's always sad about Grammy and Bop leaving, so I explained that they have to go home to Bert (their cat).

Two weeks later, she's still talking about the truck and the cat!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of an Era

When I met David, he was a bachelor with a crazy little white dog.

She had bulging eyes and crooked hips and she growled at me when I petted her.

Eventually, I won her allegiance and she dumped David to side with me.

But in spite of her wee size, she was never a snuggler, never a lap dog. She needed a wide circumference of personal space and only wanted attention or affection if she initiated it.

Little Mac lived with us in our first apartment in University City, where we had to take her out to pee on a leash and this became a power struggle as she only wanted to go out on her schedule, which typically did not align with our schedule. But if we would so much as approach her with a leash in hand when she didn't feel like going outside, she would growl and snap at us.

I thought that David would get rid of Little Mac if she were ever to bite me.

She bit me.


But by that time, I was invested.

And that was the thing with Little Mac. You sort of liked her in spite of yourself. And in spite of herself. She was just the weirdest, quirkiest little thing.

We had a party once and a guy in my grad school department tried to engage with Little Mac by playfully taking her peanutbutter-filled kong toy that she was chewing on.

He bled through three bandaids, but said it was his fault since she obviously didn't want him touching her toy.

And just when you thought you couldn't stand to be around such a nasty, hateful little dog, she'd suddenly bound in the room like a puppy with a toy in her mouth, or push her head into your shin like a cat asking for attention, and your heart would melt.

Her treat of choice was popcorn. She loved it so much that she would come running when she heard it popping and then sit in front of the microwave and WAIL at the top of her lungs, so overwhelming was her excitement and anticipation.

She and Cooper had a tenuous but mostly collegial relationship. Basically, Cooper respected her crazy and she let him be. Getting him was actually really good for her--it relaxed her personal boundaries and exposed her to some normal canine social skills, which improved her attitude overall.

In her later years, when we'd moved to our little house, she was almost always up for a walk or a car ride. She didn't always want a leash, but she was usually up for adventure. She loved riding in the car.

One night, David was out for his cousin's bachelor party. In the middle of the night, he called me from a club on the East Side, begging me to come pick him up because he was sick and the guys weren't ready to leave.

At first I thought he had been drinking too much and made himself sick, but he insisted he hadn't been drinking at all, but his throat hurt and he was pretty sure he had a fever. As best man, he was trying to be a good sport and not complain, but the group showed no signs of being ready to go and he was desperate to get out of there.

Driving over to East St. Louis by myself in the wee hours of the morning was not high on my list of desirable activities, but Little Mac was more than willing to ride along with me. So the two of us loaded up in my little red Mustang and picked up a miserable and shivering David (who ended up missing a full week of work due to a wicked case of strep throat).

She loved going to David's grandparents' house on the lake, although she didn't ever want to get in the lake and she wasn't much for riding in the boat. A warm, sunny spot on the patio was her happy place, and she'd sleep in the sunshine all day long.

She and Cooper were my buddies when I was writing the dissertation. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but they enforced the advice that health experts give about taking frequent breaks when you sit at a desk all day--not only did I walk them every single day, they also were constantly interrupting me so they could go in and out the back door. Little Mac in particular would not be ignored--her wailing to get in or out of the house was so extreme that when we first moved in, our next door neighbors came running out of their house when they heard her, and later told us they thought someone was getting raped in the alley. Nope. That's just our dog.

My brother would always ask why Little Mac was constantly staring at him--with those buggy brown eyes. And I would laugh and say, "That's just her way."

As she got older and crankier, she would want up on my lap if we were in a new place (at one of David's ballgames, or visiting his dad's house where there were other dogs). She would get nasty and snarly once she was up there--and God forbid I shift my weight and irritate her with my movements--but I still sort of loved that she came to me.

She wasn't smart around cats, and would charge my mom's cats. One day during a visit to my parents, David and I were getting ready to go somewhere so he was in the car and I ran back inside to get something. I heard a cat yowl and then heard a God-awful wailing noise, so I raced upstairs. Little Mac was sitting at the top of the stairs, and her face was all bloody. At first glance, I thought the cat had clawed Mac's bulging little eye out, and I started screaming and crying and ran outside, nearly collapsing on the front porch as I screamed at David to come inside.

Upon closer inspection, her eye was intact, but she did have a scratch going down her nose. You'd think she'd learn her lesson, but she would still charge those cats every now and then.

Little Mac didn't like kids ever. And she especially didn't like them as she got older and her eyesight got spotty and her hearing failed. She was easily startled and her response to fear was always fight, not flight. She made us really nervous around David's little cousins, and she wasn't shy about snapping and growling at them.

I would lie and tell strangers she was a rescue dog because it seemed the easiest way to explain her unpredictability and aggression. I was especially mortified when she tried to bite my friend's dog-loving and extremely elderly grandmother, and a friend of mine who dog-sat for us one weekend said she felt terrible when she had to tell a little girl with special needs that she couldn't pet the cute little white dog.

We'd been concerned about her intolerance for small children when I was pregnant with Eliza. Little Mac was already ten years old by that point, and we just told ourselves that we would see how things went once the baby was here.

But we didn't get to bring our baby home. And while it was Cooper who was my loyal companion on the sofa, day after day, providing comfort with his solid warmth and quiet companionship, it was Little Mac--who never wanted on my lap, who always slept in her own bed on the floor, who growled if we walked by her to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night--who got up on the bed with me the day after we got home from the hospital, and who curled up and lay down next to me. She just knew that I was hurting like never before. I will never forget her offering that comfort to me--even if she did eventually growl quietly at me before jumping down off the bed and resuming her usual place in her doggie bed. That was just her way.

When Zuzu came into the picture, things got tricky. Mac didn't mess with the baby, but she did start having accidents (or "on purposes"?) always in the baby's room.

Once Zuzu became mobile, and increasingly interested in the dogs, it became apparent that our household could not accommodate a curious baby and a crotchety old dog. Especially because Little Mac was getting increasingly aggressive when she felt threatened or bothered (even by David and me), and continuing to have more and more accidents.

So the pee and poop situation was getting worse, and Mac was making me more and more nervous around the baby. In desperation, when Zuzu was about 9 months old, I took Little Mac to the vet and asked them to check and see if she was in physical pain or if there was something causing her to have accidents that we could fix. She was 13 years old, deaf, and mostly blind. I tried to explain to the vet that it was going to be impossible for us to keep her because she'd been known to bite and she was peeing and pooping in the house even when I was there to let her out. As impossibly difficult as it was, I needed to get some information about having her put to sleep.

Instead, the vet guilt-tripped me into paying a couple hundred bucks for a comprehensive blood test (which came back PERFECTLY HEALTHY, because of course it did) and suggested I look into senior dog rescue. She made me feel horrible for even SUGGESTING that I might need to choose my baby over an aggressive 13-year-old dog who had, at various times over the years, bitten and drawn blood from me, my husband, his grandmother, his five-year-old cousin, and a friend of mine from graduate school. And really, do you think it would be easy to re-home a dog with that kind of track record?

I called my mom crying after I left the vet because the vet had made me feel so terrible when I was ALREADY feeling terrible, but David and I knew that Little Mac and Zuzu living together was just no longer possible.

My mom loves her granddaughter AND loves dogs, and bless her heart she called us later and offered to take Little Mac home with her.

So Little Mac moved to her retirement home in Nevada. She lived with my parents for over a year, and celebrated her 14th birthday with them (I used the word "celebrated" loosely). She learned to get along with their cats (who remained aloof and skeptical, but would at least tolerate being in the same room as Little Mac). My parents were home often enough to give her the frequent bathroom breaks she needed, but as time went on she began having more and more frequent accidents at their house as well. Frequently, she would wet her bed. Then there were a few incidents where her back legs--those crooked hips--gave out on her.

My mom gave her a daily dose of aspirin and then some medicine to help her kidneys. But the accidents were happening more and more often. Then on Sunday she had a seizure and they knew that it was time.

This was not unexpected news because my mom had let us know that Mac wasn't doing well and that they were taking things day by day. But when we got the e-mail from my mom yesterday, telling us that Mac had made her final trip to the vet and her last meal was her favorite popcorn, we both took it kind of hard. I felt bad for not being there, even though Little Mac had transferred her allegiance to my mom just the way she once dumped David for me.

And even though Mac wasn't living with us anymore, even though she was difficult and aggressive and peed and pooped everywhere and barked at old people and growled at people in wheelchairs and snarled at little kids and snapped at us... it wasn't easy to know that she was gone.

She was David's first dog--a gift from his mom when he graduated from college--and she was our first pet. She saw us through dating and engagement and marriage and pregnancy and loss and a baby. She was there from the beginning--for the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful.

She wasn't always easy, but she was ours, and there will never be another dog quite like her.

We love you, Little Mac, and all your crazy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cute Feet!

I don't want to sound conceited here, but I should tell you that my feet are pretty cute. In college, I had the cutest feet in my group of friends (none of them would dispute this). Cute feet don't get you many favors in life, but they do make sandal season enjoyable.

Anyway, the real reason that this is noteworthy is because it appears that Coco has inherited her mama's cute feet. At least, according to Zuzu.

This video is a typical interaction between the two of them. Except there is usually more kissing. Zuzu loves to kiss Coco's cheeks. I wondered where she got this, and then I realized that almost every time I pick up either one of the girls, I kiss their cheeks. They're just so deliciously kissable, you know?

I love the part where she says, "I like you!" Heart explosion.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sisters, Side by Side

At the request of my Aunt Peggy (and for my own viewing pleasure) here are a few comparison shots of Zuzu and Coco.

First, the newborn shots I used for each of their birth announcements (because is there anything cuter than a baby in her birthday suit?):

Zuzu, 9 days old
Coco, 9 days old
I love how Zuzu is curled up in a baby ball and Coco has her little frog-legs stretched out--I swear that's why I was so uncomfortable when I was pregnant with her! Coco was stretching those legs out when she was still in my belly.

And here's pictures on the same chair. Zuzu slept through her entire photo session, so I have no professional newborn photos of her with her eyes open! Coco on the other hand was bright-eyed until the very end, when Katie snapped the photo of her snoozing on our ottoman.

And the one-month comparisons...

The youngest sister is not getting weekly photo sessions. Well, honestly she usually gets at least a snapshot a day on my phone, but I didn't get the weekly stickers. We're going to do the monthly thing and leave it at that. I took monthly photos of Zuzu, too, but had her propped up in a chair, so I thought this was the best side-by-side comparison. But here's the monthly side-by-sides:

It's funny to me that Zuzu looks kinda crabby in her photo, because right now I would say that Coco is the fussier baby. But maybe that's just because I'm living it? This weekend there was a LOT of fussing, although today has been (knock on wood) smooth sailing. Anyway, she's still a total doll when she's not pissed off at the world.

So when I look at the comparisons, the hair is obviously different, but I think you can tell they are sisters--same shaped faces, same chubby cheeks. But I think their eyes are different (they look most alike when they are sleeping). This makes me wonder if maybe Coco has my eyes... so maybe hers will stay blue instead of turning hazel like Zuzu's did. It will be interesting to see if her hair gets lighter like Zuzu's did (you know, once it grew in).

I'm always telling Coco that she's so lucky to have Zuzu for her big sister, and I'm always telling Zuzu that she and Coco are going to be best friends. I love how much Zuzu loves the baby. Even when she has acted out negatively to get attention from David and me, she has never been anything but loving to go Coco. It's Coco she wants to kiss first thing in the morning, and she always wants to help change her diaper. It's really impossibly sweet.

I know we'll have our share of bickering and sister-drama, but I sure hope they grow up to be close and take care of each other. I have a feeling that they will be quite the pair.

That's Zuzu's "tent" in the background.

Sister Love

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Writing a Blog Hop

Sarah at Harry Times tagged me for this Blog Hop. I started reading Sarah's blog way back when I was writing a dissertation and thinking about getting pregnant. I guess I googled something related to that and ended up on her blog--she's a PhD who had two kids when I first started reading and now has four, so she seems to know something about balancing academia and motherhood (I could be wrong, but I believe her secrets include fresh-baked cookies and also wine).

Anyway, here's Sarah's blogpost and here are my answers to these questions:

What am I working on?

This would be more accurately phrased "What should I be working on?" or "What would I like to be working on?" or "What do I imagine I'd be working on, if I were motivated to work on something?"

In that case, I'd be working on revising the novel that met the word count but was still quite unfinished/unpolished/hanging together by a thread at the end of NaNoWriMo last year. I really do want to revisit it, but I've definitely been preoccupied. Still, I should try to carve out some time...

I should also be working on revising the paper I wrote for that conference back in April. It's about how Charles Dickens uses child abuse as a rite of passage for his characters. I was kind of drawing on a biographical approach, though, which is tricky. I got a lot of useful feedback, though, and I'd really like to turn that paper into an article.

If my blog counts as "work," then I'm still doing that--and these days it's mostly keeping track of Coco's early weeks and life with two lively little girls.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh this is the kind of existential question that plagues all writers, right? I can remember having a meltdown with a friend in graduate school and I was like, "I think everything I wanted to say in my dissertation has already been written by other scholars who said it better than I ever could!" My practical friend was like, "Yeah, that's what every academic says. Just get over it and keep writing."

I think that I do have a unique writing voice and I like to use humor in my writing (even when I'm writing about grief or writing scholarly articles). My novel is a small town murder mystery love story that also involves research and made up facts about the Ku Klux Klan and a white supremacy church in Southwest Missouri. Honestly, I'm not sure how different it is from other small town murder mystery love stories except that I'm the one writing it.

Why do I create what I do?

The novel is truly just for fun. I don't have a thick enough skin about fiction writing to put it out there. I just like to write stuff. I keep considering taking some fiction writing workshops for fun and the thought freaks me out--oh, my fragile little ego. One of these days I need to just go for it.

The scholarly article is partly because I find Victorian novels endlessly fascinating and partly because I want to prove to myself that I can do this--that I have what it takes to be a published academic even though I'm not teaching at an R1 school. (Also it helps my case for a course release when I can prove that I'm doing scholarly research that gets published.)

And I write on the blog for a bunch of reasons--because I want to have a record of what my life is like ever since I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books at age six or seven and decided I, too, should have a multi-volume memoir, because I want to connect with other people, because putting my thoughts into words on a screen is incredibly therapeutic for me, and because it's still a nice way to keep long-distance friends and family up to date on what's going on here.

How does my writing process work?

I usually sketch a very vague outline and then I write the way I would talk if I were telling the story to a friend or lecture to a group of enthusiastic students. I almost always have to write a "zero draft" which is messy and terrible and then I do a lot of revising. For my scholarly work, I ask for feedback. I used to meet weekly with a friend and we'd read and comment on each other's work and it was so fun and helpful and I really miss that since she up and moved to Japan. Obviously I find deadlines to be extremely helpful since I could write a novel in a month when I had to, but seem unable to find the time to write ever since.

I do most of my writing on a laptop and I like to write in coffee shops but I can also write at home on the couch or at the dining room table--assuming I'm the only one home or everyone else is asleep! I can revise in my office, but I don't write well there at all (strange, but true).

When I was writing my dissertation, I would force myself to sit down for 30 minutes and just see what I could get done. (It's amazing how much I can get done in half an hour.) When I was doing NaNoWriMo, I had a strict word count I had to meet. I think the timer thing would work well for me, so I should really just try to carve out 30 minutes a day... even if it means getting some help from Daniel Tiger.

Okay! Enough of my angst about the writing I'm [not] doing. Now I'm passing the torch to a friend and fellow St. Louis blogger, Kristin at thirdstory(ies).

I found Kristin's blog when her daughter E's nursery was featured on Young House Love and when I realized we lived in the same city, I e-mailed her to ask if she could recommend a day care in the city. That's how we ended up at the children's center we love so much, and after meeting Kristin in person at the Farmer's Market (she actually recognized David from photos on my blog), we became friends in real life, too. She's an architect with the kind of artistic talent that easily translates to various DIY projects, including some serious cookie decorating, and she and her family are some of my favorite people on the internet (and in St. Louis).

Friday, September 5, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Baby Coco is pretty much up every three hours squawking for what we're calling "mama-milk" around these parts.

I think Baby Keya sleeps more soundly.

Anyway, the lack of sleep isn't making me too crazy. I keep Coco an arm's reach from the bed, so it's easy to feed her at night--I don't get out of bed, I just nurse her while lying on my side. Also David and I have given up on having much (any) time to ourselves in the evenings and we go to bed at 9pm.

Yesterday I woke up at 7am and things started to fall into place for the morning. Zuzu ate a good breakfast. Coco went back to sleep. Zuzu played quietly while I actually took a quick shower (!). I was dressed and had clean hair by 9am. It was a small miracle.

So I decided to make the most of it, and I loaded up the girls and headed out for storytime at the library. The branch closest to our house doesn't have toddler storytime on Thursday, but another branch not too far away does. So we trekked up to the Central West End (one of my favorite parts of town anyway) to hear stories.

It felt like a quintessential SAHM moment. I wore Coco in my homemade Moby wrap. Zuzu was fairly timid at first since it was a new place (she wanted to walk independently and not hold my hand--sigh--but she also stuck her hand in her mouth, which is her go-to comfort when she's not yet comfortable somewhere, and ended up sharing my lap with Coco during storytime).

Storytime was cute--there were just five kids there (plus Coco): a dad with his daughter, a mom with her son, and two nannies with two little girls who knew each other (one of whom was named Caroline). Zuzu was too shy to participate in the stories, but I've noticed that she prefers to observe and learn before jumping in to give it a try. When she watches Signing Time, she'll watch the same episode a few times before she actually starts doing the signs. Anyway, she was really interested in the alligator puppet the librarian had and after the stories were finished, she was the first one up to pet the puppet.

We played in the play area a little bit and read a couple more books on our own after storytime was over. 

We skipped this one:

and when it was time to go, Zuzu negotiated with me: "Ten minutes, Mama! Two minutes! One minute!" but ultimately we got out of there without fuss and it went so well I decided to press our luck and go to the park before lunch. I was thinking I'd wear out Zuzu so she'd nap easily.

Unfortunately, the playground was not shady and I'd underestimated how hot it was. It only took a few minutes for me to decide that it was too hot for Coco. So then I felt bad--like I'd offered Zuzu this "teaser" of the playground only to say we had to leave. To compensate, I told her that she could play in the water splash part before we left--even though I didn't have her swimsuit or a change of clothes.

So she ran through the water and had a great time and then it was time to go and she tried to run away from me and then I grabbed her hand and she bit me. I couldn't just pick her up and carry her since I had Coco in the wrap, and I was feeling stressed about getting the baby out of the heat, which made me feel HOTTER. So I employed some combination of bribes (lunch!), threats (Do you want Mama and Coco to leave you here by yourself?), and guilt-trips (biting HURTS Mama) and we made to the car.

Once we got there, I was really regretting the trip to the park. And I felt like I had to strategize how to get us loaded up and out of there. I started the car, blasted the AC, sat a soaking wet Zuzu on the passenger seat up front, took Coco out of the wrap and loaded her up in the carseat, went back around to Zuzu and stripped her out of her wet clothes, put her in a dry diaper, and then loaded her up in the backseat.

Coco slept through all of this, but she was pretty sweaty from being in the wrap so then I was worried she had gotten heatstroke. And then I was worried that she'd get chilled from the AC on her sweaty little body. It's a ten minute drive home and I worried the whole time that she was going to stop breathing. (She was FINE.)

Zuzu ate a good lunch and, except for the biting incident and the fear that I'd exposed the baby to heatstroke, I still felt like things were going pretty well.

But naptime totally fell apart. Coco and Zuzu and I spent an hour and a half in Zuzu's room and no one wanted to sleep. Except me.

At 2 o'clock, I finally gave up on naptime and decided to give in to screen time in order to save my sanity. When Zuzu gets tired, she gets so ornery. And she knows when I'm helplessly nursing the baby and unable to chase her.

Of course she fell asleep at 3 o'clock next to me in the recliner, which was sweetly adorable since she's not much of a snuggler these days. 

By 5pm, she was awake and Coco started her seriously fussy time and she was crying while I was trying to make dinner for Zuzu and David didn't get home from work until after 8pm and WOW. I keep reminding myself to treasure these moments, but I have to REMIND myself, you know?

At one point (I believe when she was systematically unpacking our camera bag after I told her to put it back and then THREW the battery in my general direction), I even said something to Zuzu that I swore I would NEVER say to my kid: "Do you want a spanking?"

She said, "Yeah!" with a huge grin.

Obviously has no idea what a spanking is. Aggravating as it was, her enthusiasm made me laugh. And made me feel like my parenting is totally ineffectual.

But she does crack me up. Even when she's naughty.

I don't even have a caption for this.

 And Coco is so sweet when she's sleeping. Or looking around skeptically. 

So we have our good moments, too.

Right now our moment consists of Coco snoozing on top of me, Cooper giving me puppy-dog eyes for dinner, and Zuzu frollicking naked (long story) on the couch, singing the theme song to "Signing Time."

It feels crazy and chaotic and I mostly feel vaguely incompetent and hungry and also like I need to take a shower. And I would like someone to clean my bathroom and mop the kitchen floor and fix dinner and pour me a glass of wine while I do that. Anyone? Anyone?

Well, tomorrow is another day. So for now I'll just try to be content sitting here smelling Coco's head and watching Zuzu's antics. As long as she doesn't pee on the couch (or the carpet), we'll call this one a good day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I'm so relieved to be able to tell you that we finally got the results of Coco's second newborn screening and, in the words of her pediatrician, "it came back perfect."

I was pretty sure it was going to be okay, but I was still flooded with relief when I heard the voice mail her doctor left me. 

Three different friends of mine have recently had serious health issues come up for them or one of their children and in addition to my anxiety for them, it has been an unsettling reminder of how easily my priorities get skewed. Because if someone you love is sick, if a member of your family is struggling with a life-threatening illness, then truly nothing else matters. 

I hope that one way I have created meaning from Eliza's loss is by valuing even more highly the people I love. I don't want to take this life for granted. 

Tonight, I'm snuggling my youngest daughter close (David drew the short straw and is attempting bedtime for Zuzu--wish him luck!) and I'm feeling overwhelmed by our good fortune. Her test didn't have to come back perfect. It could have gone another way. Life can blindside you with bad news. And I can't help but think that another family somewhere got another phone call today and they heard the news they were dreading, or information they were never expecting, instead of the result they were hoping for. 

I keep thinking about a young Amish couple I saw when I took Colette to the hospital for her second test. The mom was carrying their baby in her arms. The dad was pulling the baby's oxygen tank. I think about that family, in the city, out of their comfort zone, away from the familiarity of their home and their way of life, doing whatever it takes to make their baby healthy. I think about how our lifestyles may be so different, but we share the same fierce love for our babies and the same unspeakable fear that we could lose them. My heart goes out to anyone who has a sick baby--I can all too easily imagine the helplessness and heartache of witnessing your child struggle with health issues you cannot fix, no matter how desperately you bargain with the universe.

I always have a long lists of wishes and wants and worries. But tonight I'm reminded that there are really only two things on that list: let us be healthy and safe from harm.

I will welcome a six to eight hour stretch of sleep again at some point, but tonight I'm just so grateful that she's here and healthy.