Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Here We Go Again

Well, we got through her birthday. This year, the lead up to it was less heavy and the day of hit me pretty hard. I think I was able to compartmentalize, as I worked and then took the 6th off. I woke up to texts and had a lot of tears.

As I told one friend, I am so grateful for what I have, but that doesn't cancel out the anger I feel about everything that we've lost.

I was angrier than I expected to be on her birthday. Just really mad that I don't have my nine year old girl here.

My friend Monica texted me that she'll always remember Eliza and the joy that she brought to me, and that just took my breath away because, oh, she brought us so much joy. Losing her broke me to pieces, but expecting her was one of the very happiest times of my life--a joy not balanced or tempered or shadowed by grief.

And now, we get on with the business of life, which still feels a bit sad and unfair, to be honest. We're barreling toward Christmas, but it's the day to day routine which gets me overwhelmed at times. Yesterday morning was a rush to get out the door because Coco had an accident, which meant loads of laundry and morning showers for both girls, who then needed their hair blow dried because it's freezing outside. We made it everywhere on time, but I still felt frazzled.

Then last night David was at a work event, and I lost my temper with Zuzu. We'd been having a perfectly pleasant evening, reading The Penderwicks before bed when the baby started crying. This was at the same time Cooper started crying because he wants to be upstairs with us but has trouble getting up the the stairs. So I hauled the 45 pound puggle up to the second floor, then went in to pick up the baby and get her back to sleep and Zuzu would not stay in her room--in her room with her sister, and the dog, and the lamp on, for just a few minutes while I shushed the baby. She wanted to be in my room, in my bed, distracting Genevieve. And perhaps in the grand scheme of things this is no big deal, and I should have let her lie quietly in my bed while I rocked the baby, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD this child WILL NOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Not if they are contrary to what she wants to do. I would literally have to beat her into submission, which is not my parenting style (although I've been tempted, trust). I yelled, which I hate doing, but it didn't matter because she doesn't care how pissed I am or how loud I yell, and then everyone was worked up--me, the dog, the baby--and Zuzu was STILL in my room, because I would have had to physically remove her to make her go, and my arms were full of baby.

(Sidenote, but illustrative of Zuzu's personality: She wrote me a note while at school that included a list of what her teacher has "tocin" (tooken = taken) from her. This included a balloon, a slime ball, fifty cents, and a book about Santa. All things she is not supposed to have at school. This note was NOT remorseful. This note was highly indignant that her teacher confiscated these things. Zuzu expressed a desire to homeschool. LOLOLOLOL. Bless her heart, I think she really expected me to feel bad for her, but obviously I'm feeling for her teacher, who fortunately seems to know how to manage Zuzu--she runs a tight ship but seems to have a great sense of humor.)

David got home just in time to rock the baby back to sleep and deal with the obnoxiously defiant Zuzu while I stomped myself downstairs to have a glass of wine and read Democracy in Chains, which did NOT improve my mood. I found myself scrolling facebook as a distraction because the book is depressing, and that made me feel even worse when I saw a post from a FB friend suggesting that we can't trust the "liberal media." I really like this person, plus I think a government who tells us not to trust the media is a government trying to keep secrets, so I found that quite alarming. I ended up crashing on the couch around 9pm, woke up bleary-eyed and still cranky around 11, and fell into bed without washing my face or brushing my teeth which is truly something I have not done since college.

(Possibly indicative that I haven't been getting enough sleep?)

I woke up early this morning, though, determined to have a productive day, and mostly got off to a good start. I took a long shower, and double-washed my face to make up for missing last night. I did get breakfast made and pureed some peas for G and packed a lunch and started another load of laundry and then realized that there was dried dog pee on the kitchen floor, so I ended up mopping the kitchen after loading all the kids in the car.

(I just talked to a friend about doggy diapers, and Cooper may be giving them a whirl if we can't get the pee thing worked out.)

I'm moving out of my office at work this week, and it makes me really incredibly sad. I read or heard somewhere recently that change always involves loss, even when change is good, and I'm feeling that now. I'll miss my friends and coworkers here so much, even though I went to a happy hour with my new colleagues and loved it and I think I'll really like it at the new place. It's still hard and sad to pack up three bookcases full of books and take down a bulletin board full of photos and quotes and poems. I did manage to empty two filing cabinets and winnow them down to one small filebox and one small stack of folders (good-bye articles I've had from graduate school on Chaucer and Melville and other texts I never want to read again).

And there's the fact that I'm feeling the stress of the financial crunch of two daycare/school tuitions on a lower salary, which is also bringing my mood down. We are trying to frame it as a no-spend challenge in the new year, and I am very aware of the privilege we have and are exerting in choosing a top of the line daycare, but damn it is breathtakingly expensive and honestly I'm second guessing that choice when I look at our January budget, but I don't have a clear alternative at present.

Friday is my last day of work here at the old place, and I'm ready for a week at home while the big girls are still in school. I plan to get organized for Christmas. I'll get everything wrapped, make some dough for Christmas cookies, and spend some quiet time with G. I hope this will lift my mood back up and energize me before the new year starts and everything changes again.

For now, I really want to say thank you--to anyone who is still reading, to everyone who held Eliza in their thoughts on her birthday, to anyone who keeps her memory in their hearts. We miss her still--we miss her because she brought us so much joy.

Monday, December 2, 2019

This Week

Grief feels like lethargy these days.

The duration of this heaviness is shorter than in previous years, but yesterday the calendar turned to December and my heart sank with the flip of the page.

I was trying to explain it to David last night... how I feel tired. Just knowing someone else is remembering Eliza is a gift because it starts to feel like something I carry alone. I'm grateful that Share continues to hold the candlelight vigil on her birthday because it's always something I can mark on the calendar, a prior commitment that holds that day apart.

Because otherwise maybe I would be okay enough to agree to doing something else? Or maybe I never would? And I'm honestly not sure which would feel worse.

I dread going to bed this week. I watch TV or read until my eyes burn, until I can be sure that sleep will greet me almost the instant I turn off the lamp because I just don't want to be in my own head. I don't want to think about what nine years means or who I would be with her here or who she would be at nine years old with long hair and loose teeth and a big laugh. I see her as some combination of her sisters with a something that would be just Eliza herself--like a vision that's just beyond the corner of my eye.

I look at her sisters sometimes as if I could get a hint of which one she might have most resembled. They have the same hair color, a golden brown, so I picture her with that same shade. Zuzu has brown eyes, Coco has green eyes, and so far Vieve's eyes are still baby blue. What color would Eliza's have been? It's no exaggeration to say I will spend my life wondering.

I participated again in an ornament exchange with babyloss mama friends. I am eagerly anticipating my Eliza ornament, which is always a bit of a balm in December, but those who have already received theirs have posted photos on instagram and the ornament I sent already made its way to my friend Veronica in Canada. I looked at several options on Etsy, but I knew the moment I saw it that it was the right one for her and her Alexander. It is a stamped ceramic heart and reads, "We will always wonder who you would have become."

As my friend Julie said on IG, it perfectly captures what we all feel all.

We are managing at this point. We are not completely crippled by our grief these days. We are all functioning pretty darn well, actually. But we will never stop wondering who they would have been.

After a visit with Santa last weekend (Coco wants “tie shoes” and Zuzu wants a Frozen II LEGO set), we are officially in holiday mode here (although I forgot to put treats in the Advent calendar last night as I scrolled my phone into oblivion before bed). We've started crafting some Christmas gifts, and made plans for viewing lights and participating in a Christmas pageant. It will be a jolly holiday with three little girls and two sparkling trees under our roof. And we will miss Eliza.

As Elizabeth McCracken writes so perfectly, "It's a happy life, but someone is missing. It's a happy life, and someone is missing."

It's a happy life, but I miss my first sweet baby girl and the big girl she would have become this year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Working Mom

I go back to work next week. If you remember the saga of my employment, my university is closing the campus where I work. Rather than attempting to consolidate faculty by offering early retirement packages or critically evaluating performance based on the annual performance reviews we’ve had to do, we were not offered opportunities for employment at the other (much larger) campus, but have all been laid off as of May 2020.

I’m finishing up the semester there and then starting a new position in January as manager of the honors program at another university in St. Louis. In many ways, this is a good move. I was directing the honors program at my old job, on top of all my other duties, so this feels both familiar and full of promise (imagine what can be done with more time and university support!). My interview there confirmed for me that college campuses are my jam. I love the energy, I love smart and motivated young adults. I love how much they teach me about what’s cool. The people I’ll be working with seem great. The campus is beautiful. My office has a big window and creaky hardwood floors. I love it.

But I won’t be an English professor anymore. Or, rather, I feel like I’ll be an English professor doing something else. And on the one hand, that’s fine. It’s premature nostalgia that has me forgetting the frustration of seeing blank, apathetic, unprepared gazes (or total lack of eye contact) in the classroom. I won’t be in the classroom every day, but I also won’t come home knowing I still need to read or grade or prep for the next day. I’ve never had a work/home divide—It’s always been a messy overlap and the thought of leaving work at work is delightful!

That said, it sounds like next year I will have the opportunity to teach freshmen in an honors seminar of my own design, which honestly sounds like a dream come true. One class? Taken by students who want to be there? About any subject we find mutually interesting? I’m already daydreaming!

The major downsides: lower salary. And—the kicker that almost prevented me from accepting the job—it’s 12-months. I’ll have to work in the summer.

Some folks are likely (and perhaps rightly) rolling their eyes at this, but I have wept over this situation more than I care to admit. I want my summer at home with my kids! It’s taking a lot of pep talks for me to begin to feel ok about it. I’m telling myself that I have vacation days and I will take them. That perhaps after being the best employee ever for a few months, I’ll have a bit of room for negotiation in terms of schedule flexibility. That there are plenty of summer days when I’d love a break from being at home. That my kids didn’t even blink when I told them I would be working this summer and just asked if they’d get to go to more camps. Of course, not having those months at home with Vieve is weighing on my heart. I’m telling myself that this path doesn’t have to be forever—if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I am capable of finding something else. In the meantime, it’s certainly the most appealing of relatively few options, and I do feel lucky to have been offered the position. It seems reasonably flexible in terms of hours (I already brazenly inquired about taking a long lunch during my first week in order to give a presentation on a poet to a women’s group and my boss was very gracious about agreeing to it). I do get holidays off for which the university is closed, so I don’t have to take vacation over Christmas.

Another realization is how stressful my previous position had become, which I didn’t fully realize until stepping away from it. We were running a skeleton crew with what often felt like the bare minimum of administrative support from the higher ups. Requesting things like pizza for a department salon was virtually impossible, so professors just used their own money. I was managing adjunct faculty, teaching four classes, directing the honors program, and serving on various other committees, and the only thing that made it bearable were flexible hours that I could set myself—but which always met bringing work home with me. Of course, I love teaching literature, but that was only one component of a lot of other things I was doing. This job feels like I may have less autonomy (as a team member with a direct supervisor rather than a faculty professor) but it will definitely require less of me, while still promising to be meaningful and fulfilling and—hopefully—fun. It just feels like less pressure.

So I’m trying to be optimistic and at the same time acknowledging the grief I still feel about the big loss of my job. It’s a hard thing. I hope I love the new position, as the benefits are great and the summer sacrifice is big.

Meanwhile, I go back to my old job next week to finish out the semester. I have a few projects I’m helping with, senior theses I’m overseeing, and I’ll be packing up my office, giving away books, and saying goodbye to my first real job, which I’d hoped to have forever. Not to mention the enormous loss of working daily with dear friends, whom I will miss so much.

I have a friend who has so generously agreed to watch G for me these few weeks as I’m back on campus, and I’m very grateful to her. It’s making the transition back to work a bit easier, though I’m currently holding a baby who has now been sleeping for over an hour and I should have put her in her bed, but I just want to soak her up, you know? I can hardly believe she’s already six months old.

I feel so grateful that I’ve gotten this time with her, also angry that six months home with a new baby is practically unheard of for working moms in this country. Work life is hard.

Part of me is craving the return to days that have more structure, adult conversation (I miss laughing with my friends at work!), and most of all—uninterrupted stretches of time during which I can finish a thought and keep myself focused. That’s the hardest part of staying home for me—the frittering away of the day into teensy tasks and bits of time so disconnected that it’s a good day if I’ve done a load of laundry and everyone has eaten! Staying home feels like treading water or paddling against the current or some other metaphor in which it’s hard to feel a solid sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I see the danger of basing self-worth on productivity (damn you, capitalism!) but last night I moved a laundry basket of clean, folded clothes off my bed so I could go to sleep and thought about all the things that didn’t get done. At least I did 20 minutes of yoga? I’m happier when I have time to think and work on projects and write and read, and some days I get that at home, but always truncated by wake ups or fussiness or pick up time. Or, like today, I’m literally sitting on my tush to hold a sleeping baby because she’s so precious and it’s so fleeting!

Anyway, I’ll take all the good vibes as I move into grief season and holiday season and budget stretched incredibly thin and we pay for two daycares on a lower salary season. Optimism is not always my default—I vacillate wildly—but I know that the antidote to anxiety is gratitude, so that’s where I’m trying to land.

I still feel some of the mom guilt about working, but I’m finding that’s really externally imposed. In my own heart, I know that I’m better at momming when I’m working outside the home because I’m more fully myself. And I know that while staying home is the better choice for some women, I’m happier when I am contributing in other places besides my own home. And my kids benefit most when they have a happy mom, even if that means sacrificing quantity of hours I spend with them for quality of my own mind and energy. I also recognize that other people land very differently in regard to what gives them energy and fulfillment, and others can’t really even afford the luxury of making an active choice.

So I’ll just be here, hoping I can squeeze into my work pants and breathing into this baby’s bald head in my nights and weekends.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Weekend Update

We've had some pretty great weekends this month. We did a trip to my parents' the first weekend of October, had a weekend at home, then went to Kansas City to visit my best friend from high school and do the pumpkin patch thing. This past weekend was busy but in all kinds of delightful and restorative ways, although we had some last-minute schedule changes due to weather and we missed out on an adult Halloween party I would have liked to go to, we had a great weekend all together.

On Friday, I met up with a friend and walked Forest Park. From there, I picked up the girls and we did a quick costume change (literally into their Halloween costumes) and sandwiches for dinner so that I could then take them up to David's school for Trunk or Treat.

hippie flower child & cowgirl
In the middle of this, I got a call that Cooper had wandered off AGAIN. We've had an occasional problem with this, and thought that we had solved the problem with some additional fencing. Clementine wears a collar for the invisible fence, but Bubba has always been cool just sticking around. Suddenly, though, he seems to have a desire to wander, despite the fact that he sort of staggers when he walks and moves very slowly. Honestly, I'm a little worried he's getting senile.

Anyway, he's super friendly, so we've gotten very lucky in that a neighbor finds him and calls the number on his tag and we walk over and pick him up. But back up a minute to last weekend (as in two weeks ago), I was getting the car loaded and everything ready to go to KC and he must have slipped out the door without my noticing. When I realized he was gone, I walked to our nearest neighbor's house, as he occasionally likes to visit them. No Cooper. So then I walked around the adjacent neighborhood, where he has also gone before. No sign of him. We were supposed to leave for KC around 11am, so I started getting anxious as the morning went on. I loaded up all the girls in the car and we drove around everywhere I could think that he might be. No puggle.

David got home from his morning meeting and he went walking around. Then he drove around. When he got back, I went walking. By this time, it was long past the time we'd planned to leave and we had to make a decision. We had tickets to see Dear Evan Hansen at 7:30pm in Kansas City. David had a friend who was willing to pick up Cooper if we got a call about him, but I couldn't stomach the idea of Cooper coming back home and us just being gone for two nights. I'd wanted to get a dog sitter, but David had talked to our friends and they said it was fine to bring the dogs, so we were planning on bringing them with us, which meant Coop would return to an empty house if we didn't wait for him to show up.

Time kept ticking by and Cooper still hadn't been found. I'd spent forty minutes walking around and yelling for him (which is silly because he's so hard of hearing). At last, we decided to sell our Dear Evan Hansen tickets. We were still hoping he'd turn up--I was sure he'd make it home for dinner time!--but we had hit the deadline of when we needed to leave to make it to the show.

I was bummed about selling the tickets (fortunately, we were able to get face value for them, but I still REALLY wanted to see the show), but I was even more worried about Coop. As it got to be 4pm and he still hadn't turned up, I started crying because he is so food-driven and I felt like if he could make it home for dinner, he would. It didn't help that as we drove around the girls kept saying things like, "I hope we don't find his smushed body" and "Is this how sad you were when Eliza died?"

At 5:15, we got a call that someone had found Cooper and David drove over to pick him up. He was a little farther than we'd expected, but at a house we'd driven by three times, so we don't know what he was doing or how we missed him. At least we got him back! And we made it to KC so we were able to go to the pumpkin patch even though we missed the show. We did have a great weekend with Monica and Johnny and the kids.

Anyway, we blocked what we were pretty sure was his path of escape, but he found some other way to wander this past Friday, so I'm afraid I'll have to put the invisible fence collar on him, which I don't want to do because he's old and he's my baybee. BUT obviously I need to keep him safe. We got a call that he had wandered and a guy found him and put him in his garage but had to leave for the afternoon before David got the message, so after I dropped the girls at Trunk or Treat, I swung by and picked up Cooper and then made it home in time to do an Adventures in Babysitting style clean up of my house (tell me you know that scene in the movie? Elisabeth Shue is so great.). 

After all the rushing around, it was time for a book club meeting. My old book club is on a bit of a hiatus, although I'm hoping we'll reconvene at some point, so I've joined another book club. Anyway, I was telling the whole Cooper saga at our meeting and how sad I was to miss DEH, and one of my friends who was there mentioned that she has DEH tickets for this week, but her husband recently saw the show in Des Moines. Because they are the BEST people ever, he's letting me have his ticket! I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.

And a Friday night with bookish conversation with new/old friends and some champagne was just what I needed. 

Saturday morning, David I took the girls to the City Museum. He was working an event for his school district, so he had to do some set up but then he was able to hang out with us. The girls love the City Museum and G was content in her carrier, so we had a good time. The step team from the high school performed, which is always so fun to see, and the girls were really into it. Such great energy and love in the room when they perform!

We parked in the parking garage, but I felt like my car was too big to get into the parking space they directed me too so I freaked out apologetically and then they directed me to a bigger parking spot for my soccer mom car ("I'm not a regular mom. I'm a cool mom."). As I walked through the parking garage in total mom-mode with the diaper bag on my back, the baby on my front, and one kid holding each of my hands, Coco said, "Mommy, you look like a teenager with that backpack on!" LOL. Man, I love that kid.

Saturday was a rainy, dreary day, so that afternoon we got home and watched the new version of Aladdin. I also watched YouTube tutorials on braiding and practiced on Zuzu's hair. Her high physical pain tolerance makes her fun to practice hair styles on because (unlike Coco) she doesn't complain about a little scalp-tugging, but her low tolerance for anything scary or suspenseful on TV meant that she was really stressed out by the movie, even though she'd seen the animated version and knew what was coming. She hid behind me for a lot of it and was almost in tears at one point. It's a little baffling, but we just try to be reassuring and not make a big deal out of it. It explains why she prefers shows like Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse and Shimmer and Shine, because they are so formulaic and predictable, and apparently that's what she likes in her TV!

Anyway, we mostly enjoyed the movie and then the girls had a long bubble bath and David fixed dinner and they all went to bed early and I read a mystery novel and it was a lovely evening.

Sunday morning was one of my favorite services at church, when we do a remembrance service. Everyone is invited to bring a photo or memento to place at the front of the church on the altar, and then you can write down the names of those you are remembering to add as well. This morning got off to a rough start though, and it was honestly because I had nothing to wear. I can fit in most of my pre-pregnancy clothes, but they don't fit the SAME, and I can't stand wearing any fitted shirts while I'm still breastfeeding. I hate it. Plus I really, really need to get a decent bra instead of the nursing tanks I've been wearing for almost six months. So I felt gross in everything I put on and it was terrible.

Anyway, we made it to church but I had forgotten that remembrance Sunday was this weekend, so I hadn't brought Eliza's portrait and that made me really sad. David was like, "It's fine. Really. It's FINE." I held it together and I wrote her name on a card and put my bracelet with her name on it up there as a little memento, which was fine. The whole service was so lovely and sad. I cried off and on through the whole thing. The pastor who spoked works in hospice care and he talked about the glorious Nora McInerney and how you don't move on from grief, you move forward with grief. So that was perfect and the music was so beautiful. It all made me cry. G fell asleep, so I held and snuggled her warm, heavy, perfect little body and breathed in the smell of her baby head while I tried not to drop tears on her.

After church, we headed over to Coco's best friend Evelyn's house for brunch, which was super fun. I need to do more family brunch dates with my friends with kids. It's easy to prep in advance, everybody likes breakfast food, and it's early enough that you can get out of there before tired meltdowns start. Evelyn's mom had even made salt dough cookies for the girls to paint (and she even let them use glitter because she is a kindergarten teacher and a saint). They were delighted. They  all played really nicely and we had a great time. Coco and Evs got a little silly during clean up (there was a lot of soap suds being applied directly to faces and hysterical giggling) so that was our cue that it was time to go.

We decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather by heading out to old town St. Charles and walking around on Main Street. They have a Halloween festival so there were spooky characters out on the street and the kids could collect stamps from each one. We saw Ichabod Crane and the Weird Sisters and Medusa and Lizzie Borden and the Big, Bad Wolf. We also browsed in a few shops (I bought G a hat). 

We made it home in time for me to get to my Sunday night restorative yoga class. I left David mowing the lawn while wearing G in the carrier and had a relaxing hour just breathing and stretching and trying to clear my mind. It was glorious!

I'd be happy if every weekend played out like this one. We have more to look forward to this week--tomorrow is gymnastics and ninja night, I've got Dear Evan Hansen coming up, and of course the girls are already pumped for Halloween. This feels like a really sweet season (particularly right this minute with everyone already in bed asleep, haha) so I'm trying to soak it all in. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

My Favorite Age

Baby G, Almost 6 Months.

Genevieve can roll over both ways, entertain herself with her feet and hands, grasp toys, put all the things in her mouth, and--most delightfully--belly laugh at her sisters' antics. She just rolled herself from her playmat all the way over to my desk and is lying with her legs under my desk chair, just grinning up at me and occasionally sucking on her thumb or fingers.

She's not sitting up on her own yet. She's mastering the yoga "superman" move, but she's not crawling. She makes her needs pretty well known, but she's generally a happy baby, especially in the morning, which is her best time. She'll lie around and coo and giggle, needing little more than a diaper change and some mama milk to keep her content.

She's still very portable, although the carseat is getting heavier by the day, and she's a good sport about carriers, strollers, and other means of transportation. She's just glad to be in the mix. She travels without complaint to school drop off and gymnastics and keeps her cool pretty much until the end of the day when--especially if naps have been spotty--she will lose her mind during the evening hour.

My stresses... we're still not on much of a regular schedule. She's not a huge fan of napping more than 20-40 minutes some days and then other days she'll sleep a solid 90 minutes in the afternoon. I read that she should sleep 3 - 3 1/2 hours during the day and 12 hours at night. She's getting those 12 hours in at night (she basically sleeps 7-7) but those twelve hours also include two wake ups during which she DEMANDS mama milk. I keep thinking that surely we can break her of that habit by just rocking her back to sleep, but no. Last night she was literally screaming. Not crying, mind you. SCREAMING. And I have this interior battle about staying strong and comforting her other ways and then my brain is like "OMG she's a baby and she won't be a baby for long. Just give her what she wants." So I nurse her and she falls asleep with a smile on her face and I'm like, "Why did I fight that for so long?" But then I think I should be working harder to get her on a regular schedule so life is easier for both of us...

I worry about her going to daycare, of course, and I want her to be able to be soothed without my boobs. But I also know that she'll be another two months older and everything will be different by then. So I'm trying not to stress about it too much, while also recognizing the irony that this is the baby who literally slept 8-10 hours a night at 1-2 months old and then hit 4 months old and was like hahaha just kidding let me have your boobs as an all-night buffet.

Coco, Age 5.

I really think that five is one of my all-time favorite ages. They're so little but so big and so smart but still learning so much and asking such big questions. Coco is a joy at five because she loves to report what she's learned at school, which is fascinating, and she's always singing songs she learned at school and solemnly reminding us of rules for behavior (which she also conveniently forgets quite frequently, as she seems to enjoy putting her feet up on the dinner table, which grosses me out).

She's such a big helper, but she's still little enough that she cried this morning when Vieve got a really good yank on a handful of her hair (to be fair, Vieve seems to have supernatural strength when it comes to hair-pulling). She knows her own mind and can rarely be convinced otherwise. I thought Zuzu was stubborn, but compared to her sister, Zuzu was actually more pliable, particularly when it comes to what she wants to wear. I've essentially given up on anything except enforcing what is weather appropriate and Coco has a strong preference for soft knits and dresses--the longer the better. She also likes tights, but they must be pulled "up to my vulva" because a saggy crotch in tights is obviously a total deal-breaker.

She loves babies and still asks frequently if she can hold Vieve and, last weekend, Johnny Boone. She likes to change diapers and help babies get dressed, and Vieve loves to laugh at Coco. She's blowing my mind with her reading skills, which just goes to show that every kid is completely different and you can parent them pretty much exactly the same, but they will do what they want when they want. Zuzu was not at all interested in reading at the beginning of kindergarten, and Coco always wants to practice her skills. She's also going to be the kid who enforces that you read every word on the page--Zuzu never minded if I summarized some of the longer, more tedious passages. Coco lives for tedious children's books.

She came upstairs bellowing, "Mama!!!" the other night when I was trying to get Vieve down for the night. I wasn't yelling a response since I was rocking a sleeping baby, so she burst into the bedroom, "MAMA!" and I whispered to her that I was trying to get the baby to sleep.

Coco: I need to tell you something!
Me: What do you need to tell me?
Coco: I know how to spell "toot." Tuh-oh-oh-tuh.
Me: Thank you for telling me that.
(Coco exits)

She also has the sweetest, most serious conversations. In the bathroom at a restaurant last weekend, she asked me how I could still be her mom when she's a teenager.

Me: I'll always be your mom, just like Grammy is still my mom.
Coco: Even when I'm a a grown-up?
Me: Yes. I'll still be your mom when you're a grown-up.
Coco: Will you die before me?
Me: I hope so!
Coco: I want to die when you do.

Oh, my heart.

Zuzu, Age 7.

David and I were just saying last night that we can hardly believe she's already in second grade. By age 7, Zuzu has officially learned pretty much everything and knows more than her parents, although admittedly slightly less than her second grade teacher who is the authority on all things. We had a funny conversation about being a good friend the other day and Zuzu said, "The only rule is, you just give people a chance! Just give them a chance!" and she did this really specific inflection with her voice and gesture with her arms that I actually recognized from meeting with her teacher (who's really animated in conversation) the day before. She is apparently taking some lessons to heart.

She's so confident and proud of her ninja warrior skills and we had such a great time at Elephant Rocks state park last weekend. Zuzu was in her element, climbing and jumping, with Coco working so hard to keep up with her.

She still can't handle any books or shows that are "too intense" which means really the least bit scary or suspenseful. Annedroids on Amazon Prime is a favorite, but she'll also still return to Shimmer and Shine--I think she finds the predictable storylines really comforting. It was the same with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for a long time. She likes knowing exactly what's going to happen and being surprised only by her brand of humor.

She loves her sisters fiercely, and she and Coco remain best of playmates, punctuated by frequent spats. She is also very good at making Baby G laugh and Baby G is absolutely smitten with her.

She still wants to snuggle if she wakes up in the middle of the night and she told me that last night she had a bad dream about aliens and video games, which is puzzling because she's never played a video game except for nintendo wii sports. She's just getting so big so fast I can hardly keep up with it. I love that she's big enough that when Coco is having a meltdown or just being silly, Zuzu and I can exchange glances and little smiles like we're in on a joke together. I can remember my aunt Peggy doing this with me and it made me feel so cool and grown up. She's excited about being a "flower child hippie" for Halloween after seeing a picture of a costume on Pinterest.

She still prefers that I read to her over reading to herself, which blows my mind, but I'm trying not to stress over it. She will occasionally pick up a book unprompted and read to herself, which is a fairly recent development that I'm celebrating, and she's very kind about reading to both of her sisters.

She'll still tell me that she's not sure who she is going to marry, but probably her best friend Gemma or maybe Will, but Oliver S. and Tyler B. both have crushes on her.

Me: How do you know?
Zuzu: They told me.
Me: Well, it's fine to just be friends.

Her problems are still little and she asked to take a stuffie to school to play with at Adventure Club and she still isn't much of a people pleaser and she'd much rather ask forgiveness than permission. She's clever and funny and kind and confident and she has gotten SO much better about being rational and listening to me when I explain something. Seven looks good on her.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Making Chili and Other Big Deals

Tomorrow is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. There's a wave of light that starts at 7pm in every time zone, so we'll be lighting our candles tomorrow evening. I'd love it if you'd light a candle in memory of Eliza, too.

* * *

I've been thinking more about how I'm enjoying maternity leave and also looking forward to going back to work... a couple of weeks ago the sermon at our church was about letting go of expectations.

I'm an anticipator, so this is really hard for me. I enjoy planning. I like envisioning how things are going to go. I enjoy party planning more than the party itself (at least when we're talking kids' birthday parties, lol). I felt like my expectations were flung back in my face when Eliza died so much that I became afraid to plan ahead--how dare I allow myself to assume that any of us would even be alive next week? But now I'm falling somewhere in the middle--dutifully filling in my paper planner and buying clearance clothes a size up in the off-season--and yet still reminding myself that there's only so much we can control.

What I'm trying to do right now is really enjoy this time without dreading a return to work or wishing away the hours that feel dull and lonely when I'm just home with a baby and relying on social media to make me feel like I'm still connected and part of the world. I just want to focus on what's happening now that's really good without feeling like I'm missing out or that something unpleasant is looming. Most days I succeed, but I do better if I have some kind of project for the day--besides laundry. Today I started redecorating a dollhouse I got the girls for Christmas and it's so much fun that I think I'm going to do two of them. I'm not even kidding.

* * *

I've been listening to a podcast called 10 Things to Tell You and one of the early episodes is something I keep mulling over. It's about whether you are a chili cooker or a pizza orderer, and how that might change depending on where you are in your life. The host, Laura Tremaine, tells about an ex-boyfriend of hers who was called to ministry and who explicitly wanted her to fill the role of pastor's wife and chili cooker. She explains that this is the kind of person who offers love and support by nourishing others behind the scenes. It's a crucial role, but some people find it more fulfilling than others.

Being a pizza orderer means you're willing to skimp on the quality of the food you're providing so you can be right there in the moment, at the table, hanging out. It's not better or worse than making chili, but different people tend to be drawn to different roles. Spouses might trade off who is being background support or they might outsource chili cooking so they can both order pizza. (I'm stretching the metaphor here a little, but I think you get me.)

I see this show up in different ways--for example, on family vacations, my mom is very much a pizza orderer. She'll lay out a menu for the week, but it's always super simple, quick-fix meals. Spaghetti with sauce from a jar and frozen garlic bread. Tacos stuff with the meat pre-made and everything else ready to just heat up. And then restaurant meals or take out. She doesn't want to miss out on the swimming or games or whatever by being in the kitchen. My aunt Tammi is the opposite. At our family reunion, she planned a menu that included homemade bread and my great-Grandma's zucchini cake and she spent a lot of the weekend in the kitchen preparing delicious food. It was a sacrifice of sorts--she had less time to simply hang out by the pool--but it's also apparent that she enjoys loving people in that way, by making food and coordinating meals. And that's not to say that my mom doesn't cook for us or Tammi doesn't spend time with her family. Both my mom and aunt Tammi are amazing grandmas/moms/aunts. They just prefer to show up for their people in different ways.

I definitely fall in the pizza-ordering camp. I don't want to miss out on what's happening by being behind the scenes making chili. Still, as I was literally making chili yesterday, I was thinking about how this moment in life allows me time to be home and it means showing love for my family in a different way--by doing more cooking and cleaning than honestly I'd really prefer to do.

(Sidenote: I find the mindset of "this is how I can show love for my family" to be HUGELY helpful in motivating me to clean the house... I'm also hoping that when I go back to work our budget can cover housekeeping again and I can show love to my family by paying someone else to do the chores that take up precious evening and weekend time.)

Basically, I'm trying to enjoy the shift and remember that I'm not locked in to any one way of being, but that some moments in life I have time to make the chili, and other times we'll be grateful that pizza delivery is also delicious.

* * *

For the longest time after Eliza died, it was so easy to imagine what my life would be like if she had lived that I couldn't stop doing it. Eventually it got trickier, and although I still think wistfully of what it would be like to have her here with us, it's harder for me to imagine. I just have no idea what kind of third-grader she would be.

Zuzu has two little friends at school who both happen to have little sisters who are in kindergarten. I think this is great as far as playdates go, and even better, I really like both of the moms. And I was thinking about how different my phone contacts would be if Eliza had lived. I would know the third grade parents instead of the second grade parents. I wouldn't know the babyloss mamas of 2010 and 2011. I would be a completely different person, connected to completely different people.

It's a strange thing, to feel mostly happy and settled in this life (I mean, job drama and daily annoyances aside), but to still ache a little bit for that other life that was almost mine.

I've played the game for so long... what would I give up if it would mean getting her back? And really I'd give up pretty much anything as long as I could keep her sisters, too. But I guess what I'm saying is that it would be a lot to lose. The choice doesn't feel so simple anymore, nine years later, and much of the good that I have in my life (and in my phone contacts list) came this way by way of Eliza. We've managed to cobble together a decent life here (midlife job crisis again is the exception) and it makes me so happy.

But I still sometimes think about how I'm supposed to be a third grade mom and how different that would feel.

* * *

I'm also ruminating on the fact that the next three months are the last three months of a decade. For me, the past ten years have held the deepest sorrows and greatest joys of my life--it's been my entire parenthood journey beginning with my first pregnancy and ending in 2019 with baby G. I can't remember now who it was (maybe Elizabeth Gilbert) who said that at a certain point in life every woman's autobiography could be called Not What I Had Planned. That's certainly what I feel in many ways, but gosh there's been so much unexpected goodness alongside the pain that blindsided me almost nine years ago.

I wonder what I would have felt if I could have gotten a glimpse back in December of 2010 of what life would look like in 2019. It certainly wouldn't have made Eliza's loss any easier, but I just feel so damn grateful for what we have now.

As for what the next three months (and subsequent decade) will hold... I'm envisioning my Eliza book in a slightly different way (more on that soon), I'm trying to be open-minded instead of fretful and fearful about my career path, and I'm doing that by letting go of expectations of what will come next and working on being grateful for what is here and now.

* * *

As for the here and now, currently my seven-year-old and five-year-old are sharing a crib in my bedroom while the five-month-old still sleeps in a bassinet. They wanted to try out the crib, they actually stayed in it all night long (and therefore out of my bed) and asked if they could sleep there again tonight. So... okay then!

I used to be really judgy about family sleeping situations and I have no idea why. Like, it's NO ONE's business and people should absolutely 100% do what works for them.

Also, I don't really want my kids to sleep in my bed except when they are breastfeeding babies, but then I get too anxious about it, so the bedside bassinet will suffice.

David is much more chill about bedsharing and when we've discussed it, he tells me that when they come in and ask if they can snuggle, he just can't say no. I was like, "Well, actually you CAN!" and then he said, "There's going to come a time really soon when I can't fix everything for them just by snuggling with them. So I want to do this while I can."

So then I got all misty-eyed--I mean, how can I say no to that? Plus, he's right. It feels like forever, but it will just be a tiny blip.

Seriously, though, how long will it take before the novelty of the crib wears off? Thinking about bringing in a trundle bed and creating a family bunk room... then I could turn their bedroom into something like a yoga studio or craft room or something fun...

* * *

We had family photos taken on Saturday. I asked David to throw some snacks in the car as we had to go to photos straight from Zuzu's Brownie ceremony and Coco gets really cranky if she's hungry. When I got out to the car, I saw he'd put a bag of Doritos in the front seat. Nacho cheese flavor, naturally.

A BAG OF NACHO CHEESE DORITOS. For a snack. Before a photo session.

I might have asked him whether he was out of his g.d. mind in front of our children. Zuzu called us out for fighting in front of the baby (I'm always telling her and Coco not to fight in front of their sister) and I said, "What's important is the baby sees us make up after we have a disagreement. And in this case, I'm going to say I'm sorry and I'm going to need your dad to admit that he was out of his mind."

After apologies and a snack switcheroo, we went the nature preserve to meet Zuzu's girl scout troop.

The girls wanted to paint, so I took off their sweaters, rolled up their sleeves, hovered and reminded them to be careful, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when they finished painting their "toad houses" without getting any paint on themselves! I took them to wash their hands and felt very proud of myself for being chill enough to let them enjoy painting and proud of them for being tidy about it.

Riding that high, I agreed to let Coco have a hot chocolate with marshmallows. She promptly spilled it all over herself.

I took her into the bathroom, took off her dress, sent her out in her cardigan sweater (buttoned up, obvy) and her leggings (off-white, with her patterned underwear boldly shining through the fabric) and then washed and dried the dress under the hand dryer. The hot chocolate washed out of the dress just fine, but the leather cowboy boots look like she's actually been shoveling out horse stalls.

Once we started the photos, things seemed to be going well. David was holding G for the first few photos. Then he handed her to me. She chose that moment to spit up. It was like I could see it coming, so I stretched out my arms, trying to save my shirt. As a result, she only got a little bit of spit up on my shirt--just enough to drip down my boob. The rest of it fell on Zuzu's hair. She was totally horrified and I was wondering if we should just give up on the whole thing.

But! We mopped up her hair and my shirt and continued smiling. Mostly.

Zuzu kept wandering off to try to climb trees and I had to keep yelling at her to come back (and then she got yelled at by a super grumpy park ranger because apparently you're not allowed to climb trees in the park).

Coco was so sweet and asked for a photo of just her and me.

The photographer invited the girls to throw some leaves in the air, which they were all about last year, but this year Zuzu was Too Cool. So Zuzu suggested a pose where she and Coco stand back to back with their arms crossed, not smiling. The photographer obliged. It will probably be the best photo of the bunch.

After we finished all the photos, we went to Ted Drewes and a women in line next to me was like, "I don't want to be rude or anything, but I wanted to tell you your sweater has the tag on it still."


I have no idea how the photos will turn out, but the Great Pumpkin concrete (a piece of pumpkin pie chunked up in custard) is still the best thing at Ted Drewes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Making Bank, Shaking Hands, Driving 80

Spitting out all the things that have been rattling around in my mind and seeing how many I can get through before Vieve wakes up from her nap.

I'm just starting to actually try to get Vieve on a real schedule. Like yesterday was day one. I've been letting her nap willy nilly, mostly in the car seat while we run errands at my convenience or on my lap at her convenience (Mama not complaining about being forced to sit under a sleeping baby while watching TV or reading, I mean that's basically my dream afternoon). But the truth is that eventually I'll go back to work (sniffle and also yay) and we'll all function better at that point and in the meantime if she has some kind of schedule.

The good news is she has taken to it like a fish to water, to use a tired cliche. I'm loosely following Taking Cara Babies recommendations (she's on IG and someone in my nursing moms group recommended her to someone else so I started following her). So far it's going well in terms of naps, but then baby was up three times last night where normally it's one or two. I don't think that's a reflection on the nap system, though. I return to the only truth I actually know about babies, which is that they are their own people doing their own things and that as soon as you get used to something, they hit a developmental leap and it all changes.

I still wasn't thrilled to hear her fussing at 1:45am with David gone at a conference and the other two girls in my bed, snuggling sweetly at first but later unconsciously flinging a knee or elbow my way. But when I sit up groggily and reach into the bassinet (I know, she's really outgrown it. We're moving her to a crib this weekend.) and I pick her up, she quits fussing and nuzzles her fuzzy little head into my shoulder, and I push my nose into that warm little part of her neck just under her ear and I just melt. Worth waking up for, even when I'd rather not.

* * *

Coco is half day today because her school is having their first round of parent/teacher conferences (ours are next week). She's playing so nicely and quietly by herself with little characters while Vieve sleeps and I type this. It's positively delightful.

Also the house is (briefly) (mostly) clean and laundry is put away (except for the two loads currently running in the washer and dryer) and it still smells like the pumpkin spice candle I lit this morning.

I've been thinking about the word "fall" and I read somewhere recently that it developed as the linguistic corollary to "spring" but it nicely literal what with falling leaves and quiet settling. Because my grief season is early December, fall feels a little unsettling, even now, nearly nine years out. I am usually very productive in early fall because I want to build a cushion around that first week in December. I put up fall decorations and Halloween stuff and later I'm early with Christmas decorations, knowing that I'm falling into both the literal and figurative darkest part of the year for me. I am able to look forward to the Christmas holidays now, and I think cope better with grief in general, but I still feel like I'm descending in the fall.

I fight the dark moods by making the house cozy, but fall will never be my favorite season. I can get behind pumpkins and candles and flannel, but even my most delicious vegetarian chili (my friend Natalie would be SO PROUD of me because I've used her chili recipe for years and years but yesterday was the first time that I made it from start to finish without LOOKING at the recipe and just kind of winging it with what we had in the fridge--and it's delicious!) does not beat summer's offering of stone fruit and tomato mozzarella sandwiches. Sorry, Fall, but your slimey squashes are no match for summer produce.

* * *

I've been having some really sweet stay-at-home-days, and greatly appreciating the flexibility of being here at home in a very busy season for our family (season as in fall--heh--and season as in kids in school at two different schools and new baby). At the same time, I'm looking ahead to going back to work. I return to my old campus for a few weeks at the very end of this semester and I have a new development for future employment that I will say more about when things are finalized with my current employer. At any rate, with all the upheaval, I'm having a lot of second thoughts and questions about working, budgets, my identity, a feeling of purpose, what gives me the most satisfaction, what makes me happy, where I should devote the majority of my time and energy, etc.

You know, just light and fluffy considerations over here while nursing the baby in the wee hours.

Anyway, I read this article that captured exactly for me the reason that I want to work but that I also want to have a job that allows me flexibility and focus on my family, too. It's called What It's Like to Be 90-Something and it's written by a female pastor who interviewed 90-somethings in her church. To her surprise, they all said that the most stressful years of their lives (when their kids were young) were also the happiest. And they all valued relationships (or mourned them) far above any other achievement or accomplishment. It was her reflection on her own career that articulated exactly how I feel but had never quite put into words when I puzzled over why I want to go back to work when I also love my tiny little squishy babies so much and I know how fast the time with them goes:

"I certainly won't be giving up my job to hang out with my family more because I also recognize that satisfying careers and financial stability are great sources of fulfillment, which in turn, affect family well-being. But these different perspectives helped me to focus on what really matters in the face of competing responsibilities and priorities."

I hope that the next phase in my career allows me to find that focus, and I know that I need to be brave enough to make changes if it doesn't.

* * *

Today on the way home from school, Coco asked to hear "the song about feeding the baby." She meant "Redesigning Women" by the Highwomen which is SO GREAT (the whole album, really), and I especially love that song right now... "running the world while I'm cleaning up the kitchen / making bank, shaking hands, driving eighty / tryin' to get home just to feed the baby."

I've definitely felt that rush even now before I go back to work as I think about what to prioritize in parenting and my own life/self/interests. Things I've thought about in the middle of the night:

- At what point will I let my hair go naturally gray?
- How many updates to the iphone will there be in my lifetime?
- Will Clementine ever be the kind of dog that I could take to work with me?
- Do I need to enroll my kids in music lessons?
- Why won't my kids play team sports? Should we be concerned?
- Why didn't I play team sports?
- What play would I want to be in if I were in a theater production right now?
- How do middle class people ever actually pay cash for a college education?
- Who benefits from our society being polarized and divided politically?
- Do deer eat pumpkins?

More musings later--I'm off to play mancala with Coco.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reasons Coco Has Cried Recently*

1. I read a bedtime story with a British accent. ("STOP! You don't SOUND like that!")

2. I read a bedtime story in my best imitation of Holly Hunter (which is pretty good, if I do say so myself).  ("MOM! You are NOT Elastigirl!")

3. I asked Coco about her day at the same time she started to say something. ("You KNEW I was talking and you still INTRUPTED ME!"

4. I asked her to sing the peace song she said they'd sung at school. ("You don't know the PEACE SONG?!" *sobs*)

5. Zuzu kept talking about how much she's looking forward to Field Day at her school. ("You're making me LEFT OUT!" (*wails*)

* The real reasons she cries are almost always that she's tired or hungry. She's a pretty easy one to figure out that way. (Although I'm still kind of offended that she doesn't like my accents.) But in response to these after-school melt-downs, I've started packing a snack to give her in the car. I heard recently that we can think about the "dinner hour" when feeding our kids--basically, anything they eat in a two hour window can be "dinner." So I've been trying to bring a healthy snack and think about it as her appetizer or first course for dinner rather than a snack that will "ruin" her appetite when I pick her up from school--makes the drive home SO much more pleasant.

Friday, September 13, 2019

On Luck

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf writes, "She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day."

Clarissa Dalloway and I are in agreement on this one.

* * *

This was the first year that I talked to my kids about September 11. They must have discussed it at Zuzu's school--from what I could gather, they read a book about helpers and about the sun coming up on September 12. At any rate, she had questions about the towers and the dust when they fell and why the airplanes ran into them.

It was a pretty heavy conversation for before school on a Thursday.

I don't shy away from heavy conversations really--I think we probably talk about death more than most families with young kids. We've been talking about cancer and cancer research with Pedal the Cause coming up. We talk about systemic racism and segregation and white privilege and the way poverty gets criminalized. And we've It's Not the Stork! and had conversations about gender and how babies are made and born. I'm not claiming my kids totally GET these concepts (in fact, there have been some REALLY problematic misunderstandings!), but we value honesty and giving them the whole picture. I generally let them lead the conversation and answer their questions as honestly as possible.

But I found a catch in my throat when Zuzu said, "Wait, the people on the airplanes died?"

And then, after a pause, "Wait, were there kids on the plane?"

And then, after a shorter pause, her small voice coming from the backseat, "But where were their parents?"

* * *

I still can't read WWII books. I just don't have the stomach for it. It makes my heart race to imagine being in a situation where there is nothing I can do to protect my children. I feel desperate and powerless at the same time, which is agonizing.

I feel the same way when I think about climate change and our government's refusal to address it. Is it still genocide when we're killing ourselves?

* * *

September 11 happened my senior year of college and I can't center myself in that disaster, but it did seem suddenly and painfully clear that the world was far more dangerous than my limited universe had ever let on. In fact, it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

I saw on FB a collection of statements about what happened after September 11, and I know it's far too simple to say "The country came together!" Yes, there was a lot of that. But also our government failed to adequately compensate and care for the first responders whose health problems developed over time after breathing in the dust on 9/11. Also innocent Muslims were attacked simply because they shared a religion with the terrorists--as though we are all culpable for crimes committed by another person who claims to share our faith.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say that 9/11 stripped us bare and in doing so revealed the best and the worst in us.


On September 11, I went to a bar called the Heidelberg and huddled in a booth with friends from my hometown, drinking a pitcher of beer and watching the televised progression of skyscrapers becoming rubble.

There was a new tea shop and cafe a few doors down. It had opened over the summer and then business had boomed when the college students had moved back to town. I'd been there once, just a few days earlier. It was buzzing with conversations and tables were full of students with headphones and laptops. I'd sat down and talked with my favorite professor and his wife about graduate school applications.

That cafe went out of business weeks later. It was called Osama's.


I heard on NPR that 9/11 was the day our country lost its innocence. The commentator explained that when the first plane hit the tower, we all collectively assumed it had to be a terrible accident--a pilot had a heart attack. Someone in an air traffic control tower made a fatal error. People continued on to work, even those in New York, because it was a terribly unfortunate thing, but that's all it was.

Now, the commentator continued, a motorcycle backfires in Times Square and people panic, running for their lives. This is the difference, eighteen years later. We're no longer innocent. We're more afraid.

I wanted to object. It's not the same, is it? That motorcycling backfiring, that fear of a mass shooting, that's homegrown, domestic terror, isn't it? We're afraid of angry white men with guns, not Muslim terrorists. At least, if I had to bet who was more likely to kill a bunch of people in this country tomorrow, I'd put my money on an angry white man.

But I guess it's still terrorism. It's just that going to Wal-Mart now feels more dangerous than flying in an airplane. And maybe that's because a terrible thing happened and 3,000 innocent people died, and we changed EVERYTHING about how we fly on airplanes.

But now terrible things keep happening. Kids in schools are forced to hide from imaginary intruders who are all too real. Seventeen children in St. Louis died from gun violence last month. And we're not changing anything about how we regulate guns. We're just relying on luck to keep us safe. And that does not feel like enough.

* * *

I've been following an artist on Instagram whose seven-year-old daughter has suffered a traumatic brain injury from which she may never recover.

She fell off a golf cart.

She was a bright, giggly, imaginative second grader with strawberry blonde hair and big brown eyes and now she is a shell of a little girl who may never wake up again and even if she does regain consciousness, she is unlikely to be who she was before.

Her father is convinced that God is working a miracle in his daughter and that she will wake, fully recovered, to astonish the medical community.

I want him to be right. I want him to get his miracle. I want that little girl to wake up and be herself again.

I'm not convinced that God works the way he believes God works, but I'm still praying for his miracle. Because that could be my little girl. Because they're all miracles. Because it's so dangerous to be alive in this world. Even for a day.

* * *

I read an article about luck on 9/11--about how a minor decision to change a necktie or pick up a cup of coffee changed everything. It literally determined who lived and who died in the World Trade Center. A typo on a travel itinerary made someone miss their plane. And then that plane hit the pentagon.

How do we account for luck? And when is one person's good fortune another person's terrible fate?

Luck is such a precarious thing on which to build a life.

I remember being so angry after Eliza died when a friend of a friend narrowly avoided being hit by a car while crossing the road and someone attributed that to the hand of God. I was furious that God might reach out a hand to save this person and turn away from my baby dying.

It's easier for me to wrap my head around the idea of luck than of some kind of God who carelessly knots umbilical cords and nudges little girls off golf carts and lets bullets torpedo their way onto quiet front porches on warm summer nights.

But what's terrifying about luck is the implicit acknowledgment of how little in this life we can control.

* * *

In Hamlet, Hamlet and his buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a jokey little exchange in which Hamlet asks how it's going and they say that it's fine because they're not at the top of Fortune's cap, but they're not under her feet either. They're somewhere in middle--nestled around her nether regions, which the three of them find funny. One of them calls Fortune a strumpet. Last semester, I asked my students what a strumpet is (it's footnoted in our text: a whore) and then I asked them if they had any ideas about why Fortune is personified as a woman instead of a man.

One student raised his hand and said, "Because she's always changing her mind?"

* * *

Almost every night when all three girls are asleep, we check on them a final time before getting into bed and David will invariably look at sleeping baby G and say to me, "We are so lucky."

And I know what he means. Of course we are lucky in the first world, white privilege, middle-class, access to quality education and healthcare kind of way. These are blessings that we don't deserve any more than any other person on this earth, though they are denied to many. We acknowledge that luck, too.

But what he means when we gaze on the round cheeks and soft eyelashes of three sleeping girls is that we're lucky because in a world full of golf carts and stray bullets and grapes that close off airways and planes that fall from the sky and all of the other dramatic and mundane ways that life can end, we made it through another day relatively unscathed.

It is very, very dangerous to live even one day, although we don't really have the energy to reckon with that danger every moment. We put it out of our minds and we go about our business trusting that we'll ride out the day somewhere around Fortune's midsection.

And at the end of the day, here we are--thanking our lucky stars that we can wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Friday, September 6, 2019


Coco has been counting down the days to G turning four months old like we were going to have a huge party and a ticker tape parade or something. Every morning at school she'd give her teachers the update, "Genevieve turns FOUR MONTHS OLD in THREE MORE DAYS." Her friend Evelyn's mom told me that Evelyn solemnly announced to her that Genevieve was going to be four months old soon. The other day when I picked up Coco, one of the teachers was trying to comfort a child who had fallen and hurt himself. He was sobbing and the teacher was kneeling next to him. Coco was next to the teacher, her hand on the teacher's shoulder, patiently waiting her turn to talk. The teacher turned to Coco between sobs from the other kid, assuming she needed something urgent. Coco said, "Genevieve is going to be four months old tomorrow!"

Apparently this milestone is a Very Big Deal.

Definitely worthy of some photos, anyway.

It hit me today, as I cleared off my desk and stacked the stickers numbered for each month in her first year, that we've already gone through one sheet of stickers. We are 1/3 of the way through G's first year. In just a few weeks she'll be sitting up on her own, then scooting or crawling... I mean, I know it goes fast, but living it still leaves me kind of breathless.

The other day at an art fair, an older lady asked me how old G was and then commented on how tiny she was and asked if she was a premie. I said yes, but I was kind of taken aback since she's been at the higher end of growth percentiles without adjusting for the three weeks early arrival. But then today a grandma at Coco's preschool, who had a charming foreign accent I couldn't quite place, asked to see the baby and asked how hold she was and then exclaimed, "Oh my God! So big! Four months?!"

So I think it's pretty subjective.

She feels huge to me, filling out her carseat and her bassinet where she was once just the teensiest ball of baby, wearing size six-months clothes, and still not really rolling over much. She's still only done it a couple of times since her dramatic debut of rolling skills in the middle of the table at a faculty meeting. I'm trying to make sure she gets lots of floor time and tummy time in between the times she spends in a carseat getting carted around to sisters' schools and activities!

I'm looking forward to the coming months as she gets even more active and engaged, although I'm dreading policing legos and tiny toys as potential choking hazards! Just when the dog has (mostly) stopped chewing, the baby will start!

Zuzu asked me to have lunch with her at school today. Eating lunch in a grade school cafeteria has absolutely zero appeal to me. But she asked and was really sweet about it, so I'm going to oblige. My other plans for today include cleaning the bathroom and a trip to the farmers market to buy stone fruit and eggs.

A few other things on my mind:

If you're looking for a podcast to get you feeling more motivated and organized on the home front, I've been tuning in to The Lazy Genius. Her tagline is that she helps you to be "a genius about the things that matter, and lazy about the things that don't." I like that concept of prioritizing, and her thoughts on things like routines and efficiency. A lot of it is directed toward people with kids, but not all of it.

I can't stop eating peaches and plums. Which makes me think of this William Carlos Williams poem. And the many delicious parodies. #sorrynotsorry

I am loving this book, and it's great for reading in small doses: I Miss You When I Blink

I'm still thinking about this essay. I don't know Chris, but our time at Wash U overlapped, so our paths must have crossed at some point. His writing is stunning.

Finally, Pedal the Cause is coming right up! Zuzu and Coco are riding in the kids race again this year--but this time WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS! That's a big deal, folks. We are soliciting donations that go directly to Pedal, which funds seed research projects at Siteman Cancer Center and Children's Hospital here in St. Louis. We're asking people to consider making a $10 donation ($5 to each girl or $10 to each girl, if you can swing it). Their goal is to raise $300 each. Every little bit helps, and we would really appreciate your support. We're riding in honor of my friend Beth again this year, and you can find out more about our team here: The Mud and the Muck.

You can donate to Zuzu and Coco at the following links:



Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Scene: Getting Silhouettes Made, Expressing Uncertainty

Me: So we are going to go have your silhouettes done.
Coco: What's a silhouette?
Me: An artist looks at the side of your face and then he cuts the shape out of paper.
Coco: Will it hurt?

Scene: Fussing Baby, Knowledgeable Big Sister

Coco: I think I know why Genevieve is crying. I think she just wants to grow up!

Scene: Making Dinner, Preparing for the Future.

Coco: Mama.
Me: Yes?
Coco: Do you sleep at college?
Me: Yes. You sleep in the dorms with your friends.
Coco: (teary-eyed) But I want to sleep here!
Zuzu: Don't worry. When you're older, you're more tired, so you sleep all night without waking up. And when we are at Cottey, we can stay at Grammy and Bops's house.

Scene: At the Doctor's Office, Pondering the Origins of Life

Coco: How did they make this? (gestures at walls)
Me: Well, these fish on the walls are actually stickers.
Coco: No, how did they make this world?
Me: You mean the doctor's building? The hospital?
Coco: No, this world. Like, how did they make us?
Me: What?
Coco: Like in the old days? How did they make us?
Me: Are you talking about creation? Or evolution? I mean, science tells us that life begins at the cellular level--
Coco: Did they put googly eyes on us?
Me: ...

Scene: Riding in the Car, Throwing Shade at Sister

Zuzu: Novelle got to wear pajamas to school yesterday!
Me: Oh, really? Why?
Zuzu: She got TEN dojo points!
Coco: I wonder why YOU didn't.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Appearances, Expectations, and Reality

Things I thought I would do after dropping my kids at school today:

- Work on job search and job applications.
- Write.
- Meal plan and grocery shop.
- Yoga.

Things I have actually done today after dropping my kids at school:
- Watched that Michael Buble video and cried
- Read articles by moms dropping their children at college and cried
- Stepped in puddle of dog pee, took several steps before brain caught up to what just happened.
- Mopped entire dining room and kitchen and hallway.

My expectations are clearly not quite matching up to reality, but I'm feeling really grateful for the flexibility to make all that happen.

I was e-mailing recently with my friend Julie (we're so old school like that!) and she mentioned one of the photos from G's newborn photo session:

I know... aren't we precious?

Look what a perfect, happy family we are. Just sitting around on the couch, admiring the baby, laughing at each other's jokes, wearing coordinating colors and a lot of white. Like you do when you're one week postpartum.

Please see how well-behaved my children are! They are like this all the time. We spend hours simply cuddling on the couch and enjoying each other's company while gazing at our newborn. I mean, do you see Coco's chin in her hand? And Zuzu's gentle touch on G's head? It's darling! How lucky I am to have such delightful offspring! This is just a normal part of our day! We sit like this for hours!

And look at our pup. He's just the best dog. He's certainly not the kind of dog who would refuse to go out in the rain and then pee all over the kitchen floor, ignoring the puppy piddle pad three feet away that I had actually remembered to put down for him just in case. He definitely wouldn't nose through a photographer's bag and try to eat the chocolates that she'd brought me as a gift. He doesn't shed everywhere! Oh--and look at Zuzu's little hand reaching for G's tiny foot? It's so cute that I can't even.

Please. Let me tell you The Rest of the Story. There is so much more truth behind these photos. Casey Rae Photography did capture the bleary, hazy love-fest that was G's early days at home, but there's a lot of reality going on that her beautiful, "lifestyle" photography does not reveal.

Let's start with me: I'd tried to do my hair for the first time in a week and was unhappy with the way it turned out. My face is still swollen from pregnancy. We'd been home from the NICU for three days and I was nowhere near caught up on sleep. I was exhausted. My boobs were so engorged that I could barely button that blue shirt I put on, but G was still so sleepy that she wasn't nursing well. I was stressed out about the photo session to the point that I was sweaty. I put on white jeans because I wanted us all to color coordinate with light, springy colors, but those pants did NOT fit me and I had to fasten them with a hair elastic. Wearing white pants while still bleeding from having a baby a week earlier is pretty ridiculous, but my only other option was black yoga pants and those just didn't fit the "aesthetic" I was going for. So I put in a gigantic pad and hoped for the best!

On top of this, I had wicked hemorrhoids. These were problematic throughout my whole pregnancy, no matter how much water I drank or Colace I dutifully swallowed along with my prenatal vitamin. They only got WORSE during delivery and they were truly the most uncomfortable part of my recovery. A natural birth with no tearing, no stitches, but a hemorrhoid that was so huge and painful it hurt me to move at all--walking, standing, sitting. I winced and moaned every time. All the Preparation H and Tucks pads in the world couldn't really fix it--it took two and a half weeks for it to go away. I was googling things like "hemorrhoid surgery" (word of advice: don't look it up). Anyway, my butt hurt so badly that I had to grit my teeth every time I moved for photos.

Plus these were all taken on Mother's Day. In my sleepless delirium, I'd texted Casey to let her know that G had shown up three weeks early and we'd like baby pictures as soon as possible after we got home from the NICU Thursday evening, so would Sunday work? I hadn't even realized we'd scheduled them for Mother's Day. When I discovered the date, I thought it would be fine--kind of sweet even. But really it was hard. Having G's baby pictures on Mother's Day was NOT a happy ending, silver lining, big fat bow wrapping up my motherhood story. Yes, I got my first positive pregnancy test on Mother's Day in 2011. Yes, I had a newborn photo session with my last baby on Mother's Day in 2019. But nothing about it was easy. How is it that this baby's decelerating heartrate was caught and she was safely delivered and we were all home and okay but eight years earlier I left the hospital empty handed? And was G going to be fine? The NICU stay had been hard on me but it was also hard to be home and on my own with a teensy tiny baby.

I was pretty stressed about G. The night we got home from the hospital, I called my pediatrician in a panic about her looking jaundiced. The girls wanted to hold their sister constantly, but I was so scared they would hurt her because she was so teensy and I needed them to be sooooo gentle. When G slept, she was so small and so still that I would constantly check the Owlet app on my phone to make sure her oxygen levels were good. I was scared that she'd need to go back to the hospital--or worse, that she would just stop breathing.

I was feeling the baby blues in a way that I hadn't with the other girls. And although I wanted pictures taken soon after she got home, this was still TWO WEEKS before her due date! G was so bitsy and skinny and yellow--especially compared to her sisters (who weighed in at 8 pounds and 8 pounds 7 ounces). I wanted to have G's newborn photo be a naked photo just like Zuzu's and Coco's were, but naked newborn G looked like a tree frog. She was so scrawny and had no butt cheeks and you could see all the bumps of her little spine! It made me feel like my body had failed her--that she had to come out into the world before she was ready. I was afraid there would be complications we didn't know about yet.

Then Zuzu and Coco, who appear to be devoted big sisters, were actually not very cooperative and pretty bratty about the photos, although they were very enthusiastic about the baby. Poor Coco spent the month of May having a ton of meltdowns. She had a really hard time adjusting to the sudden change of routine when Mom and Dad essentially disappeared to the hospital for a week and Grammy and Bops showed up to take care of the girls, except then Grammy got a stomach bug... then we got home but the baby was here and everything was different and Mommy was tense and exhausted. So anyway, while the girls had been super great for family photos back in October, they were not into it in May. Coco hated her dress and called it ugly because it wasn't as twirly as Zuzu's was. Zuzu liked her dress, but had no interest in doing the things the photographer or I would ask her to do--or she would do them in such an exaggerated way that it was not what I wanted for the photo. I seriously wanted to cry in frustration because they were being so difficult. And yet... this is what Casey photographed:

It may have been the one split second they weren't arguing or whining. And it's freaking adorable.

G also had a huge blowout mid-diaper change that nearly got all over me but was caught in her blanket instead and we had to switch swaddle blankets and David snapped at me as though it was my fault that I hadn't predicted she would shoot mustard poop out of her bottom the moment I removed her diaper. Clementine had to be kept in her crate because she wouldn't stop barking. I asked the photographer to re-do the naked baby shots at the end of the session because I was afraid the first time we tried hadn't looked the way I wanted it to, but G wouldn't go back to sleep and it wasn't working. I collapsed in exhaustion when it was all over.

(Casey the photographer had brought me good chocolates as a new-baby-mama gift, which was so incredibly thoughtful, and at one point I heard Cooper nosing around in the paper bag in the kitchen and I ran in there--yowch, hemorrhoids--and rescued the chocolates before he'd been able to access them. And they were delicious. I sampled several of them on the couch after our session was over.)

So trust me when I say that the pictures don't tell the whole story! I know too well what was really going on that afternoon.

And yet, when I look back at the photographs, I just see us dazed and delighted with this gorgeous new babe. I know that we were running on not enough sleep and too much adrenaline, the girls had not adjusted to the change in routine, I was experiencing huge anxiety about G being so tiny and fragile, and David was trying to keep the house clean and keep me happy and keep things as normal as possible for the girls while also wrapping up the busiest month on the school calendar... but the photos blur those harsh edges of that reality and just capture the best parts of all of us together.

The good was there, of course, it was just hard for me to feel it in that moment. And yet when I look at the photos, I marvel at the way the good is ALL that shows up in the edited pictures--big smiles, good lighting, forgiving camera lenses.

A lesson for all of us that when someone else is making it look easy... it's not. It's so not easy or pretty or fun all the time. But the loveliness is still there, in and around all the hard parts. You just need the right camera angle to see it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Conversations with Coco and Zuzu

Recent conversations I've typed up in my phone notes.

Raising a Future Vegetarian?
Coco: Did this chicken strip come from a chicken?
Me: yes.
Coco: Did it die?
Me: Yes.
Zuzu: Wait. Did they kill it?
Me: Um, yes.
Zuzu: Seriously? Like with a gun?
Me: Well, probably not with a gun.
Coco: I know how they kill them. WITH FIRE.
Zuzu: I think they just let the chicken get old and die. So then you get the meat but you don't have to hurt them.

How The World Works
The girls recently took an online survey about how kids think about race and one of the questions was about two kids living in two different houses (one nice, one crappy looking). The question was whether one kid lives in a nice house and the other kid lives in a not-nice house because of things that happen in the world or because of who they are on the inside. Coco chose "because of who they are on the inside" (OMG so much work to do) Zuzu (much to my relief) chose "because of things that happen in the world."

Zuzu: Everyone is kind on the inside, so that other answer doesn't make sense. Except for bullies. Like Donald Trump.

Coco: Why do we lock the doors at night?
David: To keep us safe.
Me: To keep the critters out.
Coco: Like worms? And werewolves?

Jokes for Days
Coco: I know a joke for Halloween. How does a house get inside a house?
Me: I don't know. How?
Coco: Someone puts a little house inside a house!

Coco: I've got a cute joke!
Me: Okay.
Coco: How does a dog bark?
Me: I don't know. How?
Coco: (laughing) Out its mouth!
Zuzu: That's just the truth, so it's not really a joke.

Questions to Ask Your Mom in the Car When She Already Has a Headache
Coco: When you die, do you have skin?
Zuzu: Why do people have nakey time if they don't want to have a baby?

Clementine's Middle Name is Actually Cutie-Pie
Coco: Clementine Audrey! Oh, I have a great idea for Clementine's name since we're the Duckworth family. (dramatic pause) Clementine Duckworth!
Zuzu: Yeah. That IS her name.

Watching Shimmer and Shine
Shimmer: My favorite color is glitter!

Brushing Dolls' Hair
Coco: Shimmer and Shine are really good about tangles. They don't even fuss!