Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: Year In Review

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

Can't stop, won't stop! Here's my year in review for the millionth year in a row:

1. What did you do in 2020 that you'd never done before?
* wore a mask in public
* worked from home at a new job
* spent 24/7 with my children from March until August
* accepted Zoom meetings as the norm
* lost sleep over a presidential election

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year my year of the word was "embrace." I totally and completely forgot about this, but it feels kind of ironic since I've hugged my immediate family and NO ONE ELSE for an entire year. I'm not a huge hugger but I really miss hugging people. 

Last year's resolutions...
- More yoga - Yes, I did this. I'm more flexible right now than I've ever been in my adult life, even though I fell of the daily wagon in early December (grief slump).
- Mantra for 2020: Remember you already have everything you need. I'm going to try to be very conscious about consumption and see if I can purchase most of our non-consumables (clothes, home items) gently used. I did pretty well with this, but definitely could have done better.
- Organize for the morning the night before! (This is so obvious. Why is it so hard for me?).  I did this at the start of my job and then it became much less crucial when I quit leaving the house.
- Try to chill out about my new job. I actually saw a therapist to help me stop freaking out, which was a great move. I was only at my job for 8 weeks before everything shifted to working from home, but at present, I really love my new job in ways that are somewhat unexpected. I feel very lucky.

This year's resolutions:

* daily yoga (even if it's one downward dog)
* no new clothes for me until June
* more veggies
* boost savings account
* buy used/local
* revise novel
* involvement in equity work at kids' school
* read 65 books

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
G's first babysitter, my friend Paige (who is also the SIL of my SIL) had a baby boy in November, whom I've seen briefly from 6 feet away.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, but I know too many people who have lost someone they love this year.

5. What countries did you visit?
Ha! Barely left my house.

6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?
Traveling and hugging my friends and eating in restaurants and going inside other people's houses.

7. What events from 2020 will remained etched upon your memory?
The COVID-19 pandemic & the election

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I was so grateful for the participation in my Eliza library donation project, and so proud to donate 150 books to the library at David's school. I also started a new job, shifted to working from home, taught a class at my new university that went well, supervised remote learning for the girls, and completed my Eliza book project (waiting on layout to be finalized and final proofread!).

9. What was your biggest failure?
I don't think anybody needs to focus on failure in the year of the pandemic. There were plenty of things I should have done differently, but we are all just muddling through right now and that is FINE.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had a sinus infection in January (like, an actual one--I clarify because I know a couple of people who thought they had a sinus infection later the year and actually had COVID-19). It was super gross and required antibiotics and an ear wax clean out that was horrifyingly satisfying and disgusting. But I took a round of antibiotics and that was the extent of it. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?
stretchy pants and a couple of sweatshirts, plus a lot of books from The Novel Neighbor, cute face masks, and chocolate and caramel drizzled popcorn

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
* Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
* the administration at the university where I work
* scientists and researchers finding a vaccine
* all healthcare workers 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The President of the United States and also Mitch McConnell (this hasn't changed since 2019) plus Josh Hawley, senator from Missouri, and people who think that this virus is a hoax and/or that the act of wearing a mask to protect others from germs is an attack on their personal freedoms

14. Where did most of your money go?
instacart groceries & Gee's babysitter (who deserves every cent she gets)

15. What did you get really excited about?
sitting outside six feet apart from friends & Marco Polo messages

16. What song will always remind you of 2020?
Taylor Swift's entire Folklore album

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? sadder... not in a personal way, but in an existential way
thinner or fatter?  unsure
richer or poorer?  about the same

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
exercise, reading actual books, and wearing my blue light glasses

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home. My parents joined us since we were all able to take precautions. We didn't see anyone else, except via Facetime or Zoom. The girls did a Christmas spectacular performance via Zoom a week in advance, which was fun. Coco sang "Rudolph" and Zuzu sang "Jingle Bells" and they performed a couple of dances. Gee was supposed to announce what Santa says but kept saying, "No, no" instead of "ho-ho-ho."

21. Did you fall in love in 2020?
not with anyone new! But I will say that this year has shown me that I honestly like working from home. I feel more rested and less stressed and I like not driving every day. It isn't sustainable--and I wouldn't want it forever--but I want to take lessons from 2020 about how I really want to spend my time and carry them forward into 2021 and beyond.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Bridgerton. Never Have I Ever. The Flight Attendant. Schitt's Creek. The Crown. Cheer. Thank goodness it was a good year for TV because it wasn't a good year for much else.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't hate anyone, but I'm really disappointed in one person I know whose choices and values shocked me this year.

24. What was the best book you read?
My top five:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

(Honorable mention: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Also important: Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi and Know My Name by Chanel Miller)

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
I'm not much in the way of discovering new music, so I can only say that we listened to a lot of Brandy Carlile, Jason Isbell, and Taylor Swift. Per usual.

26. What did you want and get?
work flexibility and a project that would help me commemorate Eliza's tenth birthday.

27. What did you want and not get?
the pandemic to be over

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Did I even watch a movie this year?

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 40. I was ready to party. In fact, I ordered a gold sequined shirt in February, planning to wear it for my birthday at the end of July. I threw it on with stretchy shorts and "partied" with my best friend and her family at my house, which was great but not quite the night out I had imagined.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Adequate government leadership.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?
business from the waist up, comfy from the waist down

32. What kept you sane?
good friends, good books, yoga with Adriene, being on the same page with David about most things, and Heather Cox Richardson

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kamala Harris

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
the election (the pandemic is not and should not be political, so it doesn't apply here)

35. Who did you miss?
I missed seeing so many people in person. I missed my friends and colleagues from my old job. Zoom is great, but not the same. I missed my would-be-ten-year-old girl. I missed seeing my brother and his family and all my extended family at Christmas. I missed being able to give my friend Erin a proper send off when she moved.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Surprisingly, I was able to connect with a group of women via Zoom who meet weekly to discuss issues of racial equity and they let me join their group. I've never met most of them in person--only over Zoom! But they are smart and funny and I'm grateful to get to show up and learn from and with them.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020.
2020 taught me some things that should be obvious: nothing really matters more than your health and safety, everything I truly need is in my home or can be delivered, maintaining friendships is worth the effort, and I am so lucky.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone's bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite
(from Taylor Swift's "Cardigan")

Monday, December 7, 2020

Ten Years (and one day)

One thing about writing about grief is that it is really hard because it always seems to come out as More Than or Less Than. Even when it's exactly what I'm feeling in the moment that I write it down, in the next moment (or the next day) it feels like Too Much or Not Enough to really describe what I'm feeling. 

This morning, I feel buoyed up by the love we felt yesterday. I feel clear-eyed and full-hearted. But the weekend was really hard. The dread leading up to the day. The memories of December 5, 2010, when everything was right in my world. I am always so aware of how lucky I am, of how many gifts Eliza has brought to us, but also I wish I could exist in this world without the heaviness of grief sometimes. Would it have been so hard for me to be one of those people who gets to have all their children live? Was that really too much to hope for?

At any rate, the day after her birthday feels like a bit of a relief--like we survived another year. I can let out the breath that I've been holding. 

But yesterday, I was feeling something else and I wrote about it, so I wanted to share it, too. Because grief is full of ups and downs and yesterday morning was really sad and hard. I had just a few minutes before Gee woke up, so I typed what I was thinking. Today, that second sentence doesn't feel exactly true. Or maybe it is still true, but not in the same way. Other things that once were lost--baby snuggles and diaper changes and staggering first steps and birthday parties and soft pajamas and pretty dresses on miniature hangers--I've gotten lucky enough to get those. My pain has softened because I've been able to have those things, and because time does help, honestly. But the central loss--Eliza herself, and the girl she would have been. That's the part that will always break my heart.

* * *

Thoughts on the Death of My Baby, Ten Years Later

It still hurts. It hurts every much as bad.
Ten years doesn’t blunt the pain so much as multiply it.
Take everything we’re missing.
Add a zero.
Ten years without her.
I text my friends, only the ones who also know what it is to take what you love most, wrap it in a blanket, and bury it.
I don’t know how we’ve survived, I say.
I don’t know either, they reply.

It’s different this time because ten years later I’m walking and eating and drinking.
But I’m still clutching that empty ache to my chest.

I don’t want to exercise or stretch or take advil or do any of the things that would make me feel better. I’m holding my breath. I’m tensing my muscles.

I’m bracing myself for the fall.

That moment when someone’s voice says, “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat”
And the earth falls away from me.

Don’t think me ungrateful.
To be able to wrap my arms around my good fortune. To smell their heads and soothe their pains.
I am rich in daughters. Luckier than most.
None of them is ten years old.
None of them is my first baby.
None of them was born on a cold December day, when I became a mother
with an extra adjective:


Ten years of motherhood shaped by grief.
There should be a better lesson here.
Something about resilience and fortitude. Or, if we’re feeling spiritual, faith and hope.
It’s a mess, not a lesson.
It's a dream in ruins.
My grief muscles are weak, despite ten years of strength training.

It’s not fair that she’s not here. And I hate unfairness. The arbitrary chance that takes one life and saves another. I know too many babies worth saving, all of them dust. I know their mothers—the ones with pain in their eyes.

Ten years is too long to be away from my baby girl.

* * *

Thank you for reading. Thank you for bearing witness to my pain and abiding here with me, and sharing your stories with me and celebrating with me, too. Thank you for remembering Eliza with us. Some of you have been here for a decade, or close to that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pandemic Holiday

We had our Covid-19 Thanksgiving. It was my parents and the five of us. The noise volume was louder than that sounds, mostly because the youngest member of our family is very loud and her sisters aren't exactly quiet. 

We usually have a few more faces around the table--friends who aren't going home for the holiday, international students who are in town until the semester's end, one of my in-laws--but this year it was just our quarantine bubble group. I felt very fortunate to have our small gathering this year, though, especially as I have friends who have lost parents and siblings within this past year and I know how hard it is when grief doesn't just have a seat at the table, but is a part of every bite you take, filling your stomach with a pit of emptiness that nothing really fixes. Except time, I guess, when the ache gets softer.

Highlights of the day included conversations starters at the table:

If you could be famous for anything, what would it be?

Zuzu: A famous YouTuber.

Coco: Babysitter, puppy-care, and gymnastics!

If you could eat just three foods for the rest of your life what would they be?

Zuzu: Tortilla chips, corn bread, rolls.

Coco: Pizza, bacon, and salmon.

Gee wasn't really part of the conversation, but she likes to make herself heard and finally as a few more words, including the ever-hopeful and quite-insistent, "CooKIE?"

We are coming into my Grief Season going full-throttle. I'm feeling more emotionally on-edge. There are lots of distractions, too. Kids are still on hybrid schedule for school, so they are home for virtual school three days a week. Gee is going to the babysitter, which is the only way we can function.

(I mean this quite literally, as I had to call the doctor in a panic recently, as in the time it took me to wipe down the high chair and table after feeding the kids lunch, she managed to get into a bottle of vitamin D supplements and I caught her chewing a few of them. I didn't think she'd swallowed any, but I also couldn't be sure... how long had she been out of my sight? Two minutes? Five minutes? I was crying on the phone with poison control, feeling like the worst mom in the world. Thankfully she had no side effects and probably the only tablets she consumed were the chewed up pieces that I frantically pulled out of her mouth with my fingers (she would have had to swallow 37 tablets to reach toxicity), but my heart races just thinking about it.)

(And I second guess putting things like this on the internet, because my already too-thin skin is thinner than usual this time of year, and the last thing I need is someone passing judgment on my parenting... although they couldn't say anything worse than I already said to myself...)

I'm still working from home, which is going well. This new job continues to have worked out more beautifully than I ever could have hoped. I'm busy, but not overwhelmed, and challenged but not exhausted at the end of the day. (Not exhausted by my job, that is. I am very much exhausted by my children at the end of the day.)

David has been working like mad to finish our mini-renovation in the basement. We paid a plumber to get the bathroom pipes ready and paid a drywaller to put in, tape, and sand all the drywall, but he's doing everything else: flooring, painting, trim, etc. It's a ton of work. It will be great when it's all done. I'm not convinced we really need the space, but I'm also not complaining about having a designated area for LEGOs and crafting. Last night, I discovered Zuzu had been building with Legos in our bathroom off the bedroom because she could keep Gee out of there. She picked up her pieces, but she missed a small white one that blended in with the title. Of course my foot found it this morning.

One of my highlights of the week was picking up the boxes of books that were donated for our book drive in memory of Eliza. It has been such an enormous gift to me to get the notification from the bookshop every time someone places an order from the wishlist, but seeing the books and holding them in my hands and putting the stickers in each one that say "Donated in memory of Eliza Duckworth" was just really, really great. I also got such pleasure from seeing Eliza's name jotted down on post-it notes placed on each book to designate them for our boxes. Nobody will ever say or write my girl's name as much as I wish they would, and just to know that the bookshop clerks were seeing it come through on their computer screens, or saying it on the phone with people and scribbling it on a post-it note multiple times... these are the little things that I appreciate more than people will ever know.

Our plan is to take the books up to David's school next week, or maybe the end of this week. I just love the idea of them being in the library there, and I'm so glad that we went through with this project. And especially glad that I started it back in October when I had more energy and it wasn't getting dark at 5pm.

My book project (the one I'm planning to self-publish) is also chugging right along. My goal is to have it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Assuming that things continue as they are right now, I should be on schedule. I'm nervous about typos, even having had a couple of readers and gone through it carefully myself, but I am trying to silence the perfectionism. I've definitely had some crises of confidence and more second-guessing myself (like, Should I even bother with this? There are many other great resources now!), but even while I may be plagued by self-doubt, I'm also pretty stubborn. I like finished projects. So, onward!

My semester of teaching is complete, as my students have papers due on December 4 but we are not meeting again as a class. I really enjoyed teaching this semester, but I'm also glad to hunkering down at home as our country braces for Covid numbers to jump back up after the Thanksgiving holiday. I expect to do the rest of my Christmas shopping online.

We will just hunker down at home for the month of December, which is how I like to spend that first week anyway. We've been watching lots of Christmas movies, playing lots of Christmas music, and we have our trees up and lit although one of them still needs its ornaments. (We have to schedule decorating during nap time, and there just aren't enough napping hours in the day to get done everything that we'd prefer to do without Gee's help/interference!) 

I imagine I'll have something to say about 10 years of missing her, but I'm trying not to pressure myself to come up with some illuminating essay on grief and love. We'll just see how the day/week unfolds. I'm still wrapping my head around 10 years. How much better things are than I could have imagined a decade ago, what gifts she brought into my life when she passed out of it, and how much I still want a world with her in it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Blown Away and More Big News

 I have been overwhelmed in the very best way by the support and encouragement and BOOKS that have been purchased for this project. We hit our goal and have had over 100 books donated to the Craig Elementary School library. As of this moment, there are literally just three books left on the wish list that still have the blue button indicating they have not been purchased. I can hardly believe it. People in other countries called the store and sent in PayPal payments. Like, what a hassle. I'm just so unbelievably grateful.

I mean, I expected people to help us out, I really did, but I thought we'd get a trickle of orders, and I'd remind people just before her birthday, and we'd get some more. I hoped we'd meet our goal but I was also preparing myself to be happy with whatever number we got. The outpouring of support and the kind words--it's just been so wonderful. I can't thank people enough.

I've ordered sticker book plates that are so special (will share pics when they arrive). I have been so emotional about all of it. It feels really vulnerable to ask people to spend money in memory of my baby and it's so validating and affirming when they are actually willing to do it. It makes me see how loved Eliza would have been--how loved she is.

My friend Renel bought a book called I Can Do Hard Things and she wrote in the comment section a note to Eliza that made me cry: 

I love you Eliza. For my birthday this year I am buying a book I wish you were here to read. “I can do hard things”... Your mama does hard things. Living a life without you here is a very hard thing. I know you would be a force for good in this world. I miss your voice and the universe we lost when you died.

That is everything, isn't it? We lost a universe when we lost Eliza. And so I'm here, doing the hard thing of living a life without her, and doing my best to be a force for good. Above all, I'm so, so grateful to the friends and family and blog readers who bought a book to show their love. I write a lot of words, but I really don't have enough words to say how much that means to me.

When I posted on Instagram that we were 3 books shy of 100, my friend Kristin wrote this note on my Instagram account that also brought me to tears:

I never had any doubts. Whenever I think of Eliza, I think of the library she would have had, the one you would have built for her, a book here and there, slowly growing with her. Her little sisters enjoying them as they grew along with her. It's always been the way I think about her on her birthday. What a gift it is that you've shared this Eliza library with others. There are few things in the world I love more than discovering a name on the inside of a book cover. It feels like a connection to someone in a very special way. It's how the library was built at my girls' elementary school--every book has a name inside. A few hold my niece's name in them too. Thanks for letting us be a part of this. That was a lovely gift for us too.

One of the first things I bought for Eliza was a book. We were in Korea visiting my brother, and I bought a children's book written in both Korean and English. I wanted to tell her about that trip she took with us to the other side of the world. There are a handful of books we received as gifts at my baby showers that have her name written carefully inside the cover in Sharpie--not as a mark of hope or confidence, but written in there after she died and was born, claiming those books as hers because I needed evidence of her in my world.

And now here we are, almost 10 years later, filling up a library with over 100 books that have her name inside, and passing down Eliza's books to her little sisters. 

Gee doing a little light reading

Now I'm teary again! I am so grateful to everyone who has supported this library donation project and really grateful to everyone who has supported ME over the past ten years. It is no exaggeration to say I might not have survived without this blog, without the framework and the outlet for expressing my grief, without the connections and the feedback and the comments that kept me going. I can't even express how much I miss my Baby Duck, but I am also so grateful for these gifts that kept me going in her absence. I am blown away by the sense of community I'm feeling, which is huge, given how fractured and fragmented things have felt this year. Losing Eliza ripped away my sense of certainty and optimism, but I am still holding onto some faith in humanity--thanks to people like you reading this.

Oh... and did I mention there is more big news? 

Here is an announcement that I am making here but I am not ready to share on social media... 

I am planning to put out a book.

I've been mulling this over for years. I have gotten several emails over the years from people actually asking for this, which is incredibly sweet and flattering and makes me feel so good. A couple of years ago, I started looking into agents and publishers and what I discovered is that to publish nonfiction, they mostly want you to already have some kind of platform on social media.

Here's the thing, though: I don't want to be a public figure. I don't want to run social media like it's my job. I want to have private accounts, to accept followers I know, and to post photos of my toddler eating a hunk of cheese without second guessing whether it's the kind of content people want to see (of course it is, right? We're all here for the cheese content). I don't want strangers to DM me and criticize me/my kids/my parenting/my grief. I do not have thick enough skin for that nonsense.

So I started talking to a friend and fellow baby-loss mom about the process of self-publishing. I'll be honest: as someone who reads a lot and got my PhD in a profession that is known for the slogan "publish or perish" when it comes to academic publishing, my initial feelings about self-publishing were that it was a kind of failure. It was what you do when you can't really get published. But the thing about really getting published, especially nonfiction memoir books, is that it takes more than writing talent. It enormous effort, lots of rejection, and a willingness to market and brand yourself.

That last part is where I hit a wall. I don't want to sell my book. I don't want to market it or advertise it or ask people to pre-order it. I don't want to be a brand. I don't want that pressure. I just want to make it available. 

I've been told enough times that I believe it that my words have helped people. I know that writing them has helped me. I want to put it out there so that if there is someone doing a desperate search on Amazon for themselves or their best friend or their sister, my book could pop up. There are some really good books out there already, but I've learned that it's not really about telling a different story so much as it is about providing a different voice. My voice and my writing style resonate with some people (and undoubtedly miss the mark for others), so if my book is the one that helps in some small way, that is what I'm hoping for. 

I still love writing here, but blogging has changed so much and my energy is moving in a different direction than grief content these days (most days, anyway).

So, it's time. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it now. 

I have a manuscript drafted. I'm tweaking the end of it because DAMMIT conclusions are my Achilles' heel and how do you conclude a story that is ongoing anyway?

Once I've finished, I'm sending it off to my incredibly brilliant and generous friend Samantha, who has encouraged me in this process for the past TWO YEARS and then when I'm satisfied that we've caught 99% of the typos and I have a conclusion of some sort and I've put all the sweat and tears into it that it deserves, I'm going to self-publish it and put it out in the world. Amazon makes this process pretty easy. I'll make it available as an e-book and a paperback book (they'll print on demand, which is amazing) and price it so it's affordable and put it out there in the world. My goal is to have this done by the end of 2020.

So there you have it. It feels scary to put it out there, but there it is.

It would have never happened without this blog, without everyone who reads now or used to read or read once and commented. It just feels like the right thing to do.

*Hahahaha* insert crazy laugh here because while everything I just typed is 100% true, I am also TOTALLY FREAKING OUT! This is a HUGE deal! I can't believe I'm doing it! And yet, here we go.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Love & Eliza's Library Wish List

 I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it will be ten years in December since Eliza died and was born and my entire life turned upside down. An entire decade of my life that I've been a bereaved mother. It was ten years ago that my life split between before and after, and here I am now. Still standing, still missing her, and living a life that I couldn't imagine would be possible in the early days and weeks after her death.

In the ten years since she was born, I've cried more than I did in the thirty years before she was born. But I've also laughed more than I could have believed. 

The thing that has gotten me through are the people who showed up. The friends who sat unflinching in my grief. The friends who flinched, and then came back and apologized. The friends I met because their babies died, too. The people who showed up to read this blog. 

Ten years feels big because double digits is big. It also feels like a grief milestone because it feels harder to talk about what comes after ten years. The grief doesn't go away, but I think it gets quieter.

I wanted to do something to mark ten years, to mark a decade without my Baby Duck. I wanted to find something that felt meaningful and important, that felt right for our family, that did something good, that would honor Eliza. In a way, I feel like I've been thinking about this for years. And I think I landed on it...

In honor of Eliza's tenth birthday, we are inviting our family and friends and blog readers and instagram community and basically our entire community of support to help us with a project. We have come up with an ambitious list of 100 books that we would like to donate to the library at the public elementary school where David works. It is a diverse and vibrant community that we have fallen in love with, and we want to ensure that the library reflects that. We have worked with the school librarian and selected our favorite titles to come up with a list of books to make reading fun, and to make sure that there is diverse representation.

We are inviting anyone who wants to help to purchase a book for the library through our favorite indie bookstore, The Novel Neighbor. We have partnered with them to make this happen, and while it would have been simple to create a wishlist you-know-where, I want to support independent bookstores and I'm so glad they were willing to work with us. They have created a wish list for us so you can see what has been purchased and what is still requested, and when you select "pick up in store" at check out, they will hold the book for us. We plan to pick them up in December, shortly after Eliza's birthday.

Each book will get a bookplate sticker that indicates that it was donated in memory of Eliza Taylor Duckworth, and then it will get placed in the library at Craig Elementary School.  

I know that it can be a hard season in what has been a hard year, and I'm nervous about this because it feels like a big ask. But if this blog has taught me anything, it's that every time I put myself out there and take a risk by being vulnerable, you people come through for me. So if you are able to make a donation, and you'd like to help us commemorate our sweet Baby Duck, I would be so grateful if you'd like to visit our wish list and donate a book to the library.

Thank you in advance for your help with this. And thank you for everything. For ten years of helping me hold it together and showing up when I was falling apart. For being a place of kindness and connection when I needed it most. And for remembering my Eliza, even ten years later. I am sending so much love, to all of you.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Mom Brags; Mom Gripes; Book Talk

 Yesterday I participated in the launch of a new We Stories cohort. Families in St. Louis and across the country joined in the start of a new program focused on reading diverse kids' books as a way of starting important conversations about race and anti-racism with their families. This program was an important part of my own learning and has meant a lot to our family. So when one of the directors of the program asked if Zuzu would want to read a book out loud on Zoom for everyone in the launch, I asked her what she thought and was delighted when she said yes.

We'd originally thought she'd read our family favorite, Please, Baby Please, but that book is up at David's school. So she read Squeak, Rumble, Whomp instead. It's a book we don't read very often because I actually don't enjoy doing the sound effects (voices, animal sounds, and efforts at foreign accents, yes... random sounds, not so much). Since it wasn't very familiar, I had her practice reading it a few times. It's a bit challenging to read out loud because you really have to sound out the letters to make noises like "Tlock" and "Grrrrrumble" and it has words like "pizzicato violinists," which she kept pronouncing as "pizzical volcanoes." We actually have her on a wait list to be tested for dyslexia because I've noticed such a discrepancy between her oral language processing and her writing/spelling abilities, so I honestly wasn't sure how she would do sounding out silly or unfamiliar words.

But then it was time to read out loud to 100 families in a Zoom call, and she did fantastic! I was so proud of her! She read with such expression and spoke loudly and clearly. She had told me just a bit earlier, "I'm kind of shy, Mom. I don't really like the spotlight." But she did so great! I was beaming. It was seriously just the cutest.

It helped to soften the irritation I'd felt the night before when she and Coco carried their name stamps upstairs. They each have a self-inking stamp that prints their first name on paper. Honestly, I had a strange sense of foreboding as they carried some art supplies upstairs and I said TWICE, "We only stamp paper." 

Then I went upstairs and discovered that the white fabric lamp shade on Zuzu's dresser had "CAROLINE" stamped in pink across it. 

WHY? WHY? Why would she deliberately ignore what I had JUST SAID TO HER in order to graffiti a lamp shade?

I know kids make impulsive decisions--and Zuzu is more impulsive than many other 8-year-olds--but it was still infuriating. I stomped off to treat the lamp shade with rubbing alcohol and the suds of blue Dawn in hot water. It helped some, but I can still see the faint pink outline of her name.

* * * 

Coco usually wants to read out loud to me during their Zoom school reading time. I had her read a couple of the books included in her reading curriculum, and then I suggested that she continue a beginning reader "chapter book" called Little Bear's Friend that she'd started yesterday. Little Bear's Friend is just a little more challenging, and Coco really likes to read the books that she has nearly memorized. She wanted to read Nibbles the Book Monster (her longstanding favorite... we read it almost every night. She loves a good metanarrative.). As she was reading Nibbles, she pointed out the books that he was eating, "Oh, look, Mom, he ate The Secret Garden!" and I looked at the illustration which shows the book with a nibble out of it and said, "Oh, no! The Secret Garden is my favorite!" Then she pointed to a book that didn't have a title printed on it in the picture and said, "Uh-oh. Nibbles ate Little Bear's Friends!" That made me laugh. Guess that solves the problem of having to read it... 

Coco gets very cranky when she is hungry, and at the start of mealtime (especially if it's a non-preferred meal), she will occasionally need to be reminded to speak nicely. I often say, "I don't want to hear you mean-mouth Daddy when he has worked hard to fix this dinner." Now she has started to use that phrase and if Zuzu says something rude and hurts her feelings, she'll say, "Zuzu is mean-mouth!" It can be a noun, verb, or adjective.

* * * 

Genevieve continues to be our little wrecking ball, but she's got such a stinking cute grin that it's impossible to get mad at her. She was a real champ on our walk/hike yesterday at Powder Valley, although you've got to keep a close eye on her, as she will veer off-path, or turn around and start walking the other way. I'm always astonished and slightly alarmed at how unconcerned G is as to whether we are in her line of vision, even when we are away from home (which is rare, so I always think she'll be more cautious in unfamiliar places!). My friend Erin reminded me that I'd once told her (in reference to her son) that this habit of running away is actually a sign of a healthy attachment because it means the kid is very secure and knows that the parent will always be there. I must have read that somewhere? In that case, it seems that our G is definitely feeling secure and attached. 

G's current favorite book is Busy Doggies. She loves the pictures of real dogs and will say, "Woof, woof!" as we read it. (Her "woof, woof!" is very cute.) I had to laugh the other day because she picked up a stuffed Corgie dog and said, "Woof, woof!" and I was so amazed that her knowledge of what is a dog extends to all kinds of breeds, even sort of strange looking dogs like Corgies. I even said something to David like, "She's so smart! She's figured out that dogs breeds can look so different but are all the same species!"

Then I read her Very Busy Spider and when we turned to the page with the cow, G pointed it and said, "Woof, woof!" And proceeded to do the same for the horse, the sheep, and the goat. So much for my insistence on her toddler brilliance! LOL. We're still at the "all quadrupeds are dogs" phase of life.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Pedal the Cause, Year 4

 It's Pedal the Cause time again! And we are ready.

Six year ago in August, I brought newborn Coco home from the hospital and my friend Beth called to tell me that she had breast cancer. She was 34 years old.

Our lives have been touched by cancer in other ways, too. Our grandparents, my friend Brad from college, other friends of mine--moms in their thirties!--and students at David's school. 

As I wrote on facebook, in the year of the pandemic, many things came to a screeching halt. But cancer doesn't stop for Covid-19. So our girls are riding for Pedal the Cause again this year. Beth's team, The Mud & the Muck, is also a Ride for a Child team this year, so the girls have seen pictures and heard the story of a three-year-old named Paige who is fighting cancer. This year they are old enough to really understand that it means something to contribute to finding a cure.

They have an incentive program going so anyone who donates $20 to Pedal can request work of art that will be mailed to them. Zuzu will draw a portrait from a photo (examples below--I know I'm biased, but she's pretty good!) and Coco will draw a butterfly or rainbow (your choice). Even without the race happening as usual this year, the girls are excited about fundraising and making a difference for cancer research!

Here are the links to their pages:

Zuzu's rider profile

Coco's rider profile

Pedal the Cause is especially important to us because the money they raise is considered "seed money." It funds projects and research that are still in early phases--too early to get the big grants for funding, but full of potential. The Pedal the Cause money allows researchers and scientists to establish their work so that they can get the grants that they need. This means that for every $1 donated to Pedal, an additional $7 is obtained (on average) through federal funding. When we talk about cutting-edge research and the possibility of really finding a cure for cancer, we are talking about this kind of work.

Thanks for considering a donation!

Friday, September 4, 2020

On Childcare After Loss

G & Mama. Photo by Casey Rae Photography

Sometimes I think I've already written everything there is to write about loss, but a parent who is coping with a recent loss of a child commented and asked how I reconcile sending G to the babysitter after losing a baby, so I thought I would write about it a little. I think most working moms feel some level of mama-guilt, but in my experience, babyloss working moms get a double dose.

Yes; the question did make me feel a little defensive at first. I understood what the person was asking, though. When I was pregnant with Zuzu, I planned to go back to work, but I though at lot about how hard that would be and whether I'd want to stay home. 

Before I share my thoughts on this, I do want to say that of course the situation is different for everyone, so I'm just writing from my own experience and what felt right for me. Some moms--loss or not--never feel comfortable putting their kids in full time childcare. Other moms--loss or not--feel that it is vital for their mental health to outsource childcare. Every individual should do what is right for them, and should feel free to do so without judgment. Also, not everyone gets a choice. It would have been a financial adjustment for us if I'd quit my job--the kind of adjustment that I preferred to avoid--but we could have made it work. Not everyone has a partner whose job could provide for the household, so I'm acknowledging the privilege that comes with feeling like this is a decision to make, rather than a financial necessity.

I should also clarify that I am not currently furloughed--I'm working from home full time, plus teaching a class in person two afternoons a week. Zuzu and Coco are self-sufficient enough to make that work, although it's still not easy. I spend a large portion of my day in Zoom meetings, emailing, record-keeping, and researching, and that's all on my computer. That kind of work--and really any kind of work that requires sustained concentration--is not easy or really even possible when a wrecking ball of a toddler is around, so for me, outsourcing some childcare for G is pretty much a necessity since David has gone back into the school building (schools are virtual, but buildings are open and many teachers work from their classrooms). If she were a different kind of kid, maybe I could have kept her home longer. But she is a 15 month old who learned to open the back door and let herself outside. She's not really the sit and play quietly on a blanket and stay in my line of vision kind of baby. She is alarmingly independent and there is a reason we call her Wrecking Ball.

I think this person was really asking about the kind of philosophical mindset. Like how did I wrap my head around leaving my baby with someone else. When Zuzu was born--and really, with all three girls at first, especially after G was in the NICU--I did feel for a while that if I let her out of my sight, she would slip away from me. There is a reason that I had Angel Care monitors and (for G) the Owlet monitor. All of the loss parents I know have an increased level of anxiety when it comes to the health and well-being of their living kids. I spent a lot of time in therapy after Zuzu was born talking about this anxiety and finding healthy ways to cope with it.

I did think about quitting my job and I know that, having lost my child, many people expected me to do so. I had a lot of people ask me if I was going to stay home, so many that I thought that maybe it was what I was supposed to do and I felt guilty about not quitting. I certainly knew some people who did that, settling full time into motherhood, unwilling to put their baby into care, and I didn't want it to appear that I loved my baby less than SAHMs or that I took her for granted. 

When Eliza died, though, I had just earned my PhD. I wanted an academic career at a university. I wanted to teach and to learn and to have conversations about interesting and complicated ideas. I had worked very hard on my degree and was just starting my career after seven years in graduate school. It seemed doubly unfair for me to have to cancel that out as some kind of trade for having a baby that I got to keep, and it would have been impossible for me to talk time off and then enter into an academic track. I would have had to change career paths. I also resented that people would just assume I was going to stay home, as though my degree and the work that I put into it was meaningless or pointless, or as though not staying home meant I wasn't grateful enough for my living children. (This was probably my guilt talking more than what they were actually suggesting!) And I'm a feminist, so I was irritated that my husband was never asked that question.

One of the hardest things to come to grips with after Eliza died was feeling like I'd become a completely different person. I had worried that becoming a mom would make me boring or something, but living in a fog of grief made me feel like my entire personality was smothered by sadness. I did, however, emerge from that fog eventually. Of course I've never stopped missing Eliza, but I was able to find interest eventually in the same things that have always interested me. In fact, for me, going back to teaching at a university after Eliza's death was enormously helpful. It made me feel like I had a purpose and that I was capable of doing something meaningful. Talking about all of that in therapy and having someone assure me that these feelings didn't mean I didn't love my baby was extremely helpful.

I was also incredibly fortunate in that I didn't have to go back to work until my kids were older. Zuzu and Coco were each 6 months old before they went to daycare. G was 8 months old. That's not to say that I didn't still worry about them, or that it wasn't still hard, but I didn't feel that same kind of panicked urgency to keep them close to me the way I did when they were newborns. If I'm being totally honest, having time away from them made me enjoy them more when we were back together.

I'm not going to lie--going back to work at first was HARD. All three times. The first week was a real struggle and lots of crying (at least from me). With Zuzu and Coco, I started out piecemeal, just going back 3 days a week for a semester, which was really helpful. Then I was home all summer, and then they were over a year old before I went back 5 days a week. It's still hard on the mama heart, but it also felt good to be at work, even though I was also sad. It felt good to get absorbed in a task and to focus my brain power on something. My therapist also talked to me a lot about prioritizing myself and my needs/wants. We've all heard the thing about putting on your oxygen mask before you assist others, and for me that oxygen eventually included help with childcare so that I could work. 

It helped that my kids thrived in daycare. They loved their teachers, they loved being around other kids, they loved the variety of toys and games. They got a more consistent routine than I was able to provide at home, and a different kind of engagement. It was important to me that my kids be loved by a community, that they knew there are people who love them and keep them safe besides just their parents. And since we are far away from extended family, we outsourced some of that to their daycare providers.

I was also surprised that instead of being extra worried about how they were doing in daycare, I felt a sense of relief that someone else was temporarily responsible for their well-being. I don't know if that makes me sound terrible, but especially in the early months/years, I felt (feel) so much stress about keeping them safe and keeping them alive. The world can feel so full of risks and potential deathtraps. Sometimes it feels like a statistical miracle that any of us lives to grow up! I feel like I'm always on high alert with the baby--is she climbing too high? is she putting something in her mouth that isn't food? is she choking? is she still sleeping?

For me personally, perhaps because my trauma was specific to pregnancy rather than infant loss, and definitely because I found care providers I really trusted, I was able to relax while my kids were there. I was able to trust that they were loved and cared for and--most importantly--safe. And the responsibility was not on me to keep them safe! Instead, I got to have adult conversations and read books and write things and teach, and then I could pick up my kiddo at the end of the day and love on them. 

I worried about whether they missed me, or if they understood that I'd always come back for them, but I was able to trust that they were kept safe, fed, warm, and mostly happy, and that allowed me to feel comfortable leaving them in someone else's care. I think part of that is because Eliza died before she was born, so rather than saying I couldn't trust anyone else to keep my baby, I honestly feared sometimes that I couldn't trust myself. After all, I was the only one who could have known something was wrong when Eliza died. I liked the idea of a daycare with a director and cameras and multiple teachers keeping my kiddos safe. It was a relief to share that responsibility. Being vigilant gets exhausting. With my newborns, I still felt that I had to be on alert all the time (and, I mean, you do need to be alert all the time when it comes to baby safety!). Allowing a daycare provider to carry some of that responsibility was good for me.

On a more superficial note, I didn't have to prepare and clean up breakfast and lunch and snacks and craft messes and sensory play experiences. The tedium of meal prep and clean up is the bane of my existence--although at least my babies/toddlers were pretty appreciative eaters (unlike my 6yo and 8yo). I thrive when I have time to myself, when I have extended projects to work on, when I feel appreciated and productive, and when I can engage with others, share ideas, and get meaningful feedback. As much as I love my babies, life at home with them is basically the opposite of that. I feel so lucky that I got to have as much time at home with them as I did, but it felt like the right choice for me as a human person to go back to work. I do not feel like my best self when I am doing the difficult but tedious tasks of being a SAHM and trying to keep our house clean all day everyday. 

So, that's my answer to how I was able to drop my baby off at daycare. I was able to do it because I had several months at home with them first, because I started out going back part time, because it felt important to me that they had a community beyond our immediate family, because I found providers that I really trusted (recommended by friends whose parenting choices I also admired and trusted, and, in G's case, her babysitter was recommended by friends of mine who've also lost children and she herself had a stillborn baby, so she really gets how complicated it is), because I talked through my guilt and concerns in therapy, and because ultimately it was good for me as a human person to go back to my job.

That doesn't mean that because this was the right decision for me that it is the right decision for everyone, but I am relieved to say that I don't have regrets about those choices. We all feel guilty and judged, no matter what we decide, and after losing a child, these decisions feel even more loaded and fraught. I don't think the SAHMs I know have regrets about their choices, either. Somehow, it works out in the way that feels right for your family. Sending big love to anyone grappling with this decision, particularly in pandemic times. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

First Day of {Virtual} School

I taught at my university last week. Socially distant, in masks. It was weird, but less weird than I expected. I'm not feeling optimistic about us staying open after watching the news about UNC and Notre Dame. It's just asking too much to ask college students to sacrifice their social lives for a risk that feels minimal to them. I don't mean that in a snarky way, either. I get it. It's just a crappy situation all around.

Last Thursday was a busy day and the kind of running around I haven't done since March. I taught on campus in the afternoon, then picked up G from the babysitter, then met David at his school, where he had the big girls. They were playing outside while he sorted school supplies for pick up. I dropped off Coco at gymnastics, took Zuzu and G home and fed G dinner while Zuzu tried to login to her third grade meeting. We had trouble with the login in her schoology account and needed to use the login from my email but by that time we had to go pick up Coco so she only got to see a bit of the meeting on my phone in the parking lot while we had gym wifi. It felt like an inauspicious start to the year--minor technology mishaps, plus conflicting schedules, and multiple kids competing for my attention.

On Friday, Coco woke up with pink eye. I'm just hoping we don't all get it. So far, so good. She's been on medicated drops since Friday and having no other issues. A friend messaged me that pink eye can be a symptom of Covid-19, which had me spiraling a little bit. I did some googling and found that it is "unlikely" to be a symptom on its own, and we are already hyper-vigilant about any potential cough or sneeze or fever, so I almost wish I hadn't known! It caused a lot of worry and angst. Fortunately, her pediatrician was not at all concerned and she seems to be doing just fine. Her eye looks normal now, but we keep the drops up for a week. Unfortunately this means we're saying goodbye to her beloved make up kit she got for her birthday! 

G has been her active, busy, curious little self and continues to basically leave a path of destruction in her wake. She's continuing to earn her nickname Wrecking Ball (also Hurricane Genevieve). She still likes the mama snuggles and has finally, finally, started signing "more" and "milk," but she still does a lot of general screaming/shouting, which makes breakfast several decibels louder than I really like things to be at point in the morning. Today, amid the chaos, Coco helpfully asked Alexa to "play calming music" and she put on some mellow folk, which was soothing for all of us.

G colored on her adorable romper and the carpet on the bottom stair with an Expo marker yesterday. We installed a dry erase board in the dining room, which is now doubling as a classroom. The big girls were sword fighting with markers and marking on each other's skin, so dry erase marker privileges have been temporarily revoked and we ended up mounting the board upside down so our remarkably tall 15-month-old (she's in the 90th percentile! What?) can't reach the marker ledge. 

G climbed in the bath tub while D was in the shower the other day and broke a candle I had sitting by the edge of the tub (taking candlelit baths is 100% aspirational and not reality here so why do I even bother?). Anyway, D cleaned it up and vacuumed the glass out of the tub, but he missed a few tiny pieces, so the next day G climbed back in the tub and cut her knee and her little foot. She has also discovered she can open the dishwasher and then reach the kitchen counter, so that's a delight. Basically, no surface is safe from her except for the fireplace mantel, so it's frequently decorated with our phones, lego sets, remote controls, drinking glasses, and anything else the baby wants that we don't want her to have.

The girls started remote learning today. It's a lot. Even though they are pretty independent and savvy with technology after their experience in the spring, it's still a lot to manage and it's still hard to hold their attention. Coco worked very hard on an adorable self portrait and she wasn't quite finished and wanted to keep working on it even though her teacher told everyone to finish up and move on to the next thing. Since her teacher is just on a screen, she's not especially motivated to follow those directions. The project that is here in person feels more pressing or exciting. I can hardly blame her!

Zuzu was excited about the first day of third grade--up and out of bed early, dressed herself in her cute "Hello Third Grade" t-shirt from Grammy and did her own hair with a cute bow in it. Coco handles transitions more like her mama--kind of grumpy and reluctant. She has settled in just fine (we always do!) but she was a little crab apple for pictures this morning and I didn't get any of the two girls together. I'm going to make them pose at lunch.

Meanwhile, I'm squeezing in my own appointments in Zoom meetings and preparing for teaching class tomorrow and we are making it work. A year ago, I would never have imagined being here. And here we are, sliding into the New Normal and figuring it out as we go. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Early August: Birthday Recap, Nursery Plans, Pandemic Life

The summer seems to have slipped away in a whirlwind of... never leaving my house? I guess it's not quite fair to say that since we did take a road trip to West Virginia in July, but it continues to be months of mostly staying at home and definitely social distancing and while I have plenty of bright spots--including this face in particular:

like pretty much everyone else, the pandemic is wearing on me. I've recently had two different friends comment on how lucky I am to live with a cute and snuggly toddler, and I think about that all time because they are so right and also I had to stop in the middle of my yoga routine at 7am this morning because she wandered out of the room and I knew she'd be getting into trouble, and sure enough, she was on top of the kitchen table eating markers (literally eating them--she bites the felt tip right off). Just a little bit later, after I got her dressed and picked up her room, she opened the diaper drawer and started throwing diapers out on the floor and when I put my hand in the drawer to block her from being able to remove diapers, she slammed the drawer shut, smashing my wrist. All this to say, I'm so lucky to live with a snuggly toddler and also I feel like I'm just chasing her in circles. 

And so G has returned to her babysitter during the workday so that we can actually get work done at home and it is for the best for all of us. She truly needs an adult's undivided attention.

I don't want to write much about the stress and mixed feelings and angst about back-to-school, so I'll just say that our district had a hybrid plan where the kids could go two days a week but they have now shifted that so the kids will start fully remote for the first nine weeks. Which means we will all be home full-time until October 23 and there will be a re-evaluation in October. IMHO, I think it was the right call. Too many unknowns, teachers and administrators who are not earning hazard pay, so many big risks. But also... kids are suffering, teachers WANT to be back in the classroom (just, without significant health risks), and I think this article by a superintendent in Arizona really sums up the costs on both sides of a lose-lose equation.

My university still plans to open with modified face-to-face instruction and I'm expected to teach a class on banned books two days a week. Plenty of mixed feelings about that as well, since I'm excited to teach a small honors seminar on banned books and to have a reason to put on real clothes and leave my house. But also... I'm obviously the person who is exposing my family to additional risk, considering that I'll be hanging out with a dozen or so 18- and 19-year-olds for an hour and fifteen minutes two days a week. We'll all be masked and I'll be careful, but given that Covid cases are rising most rapidly in the under-30 age range in my area, it's a concern.

I have finally decided on a plan for G's nursery. I guess I've been waiting for the inspiration to strike. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to decorate a number of little-girl rooms in our different houses. I loved Eliza's yellow and pale-blue duck nursery at our first house, which became Zuzu's nursery. I loved the carnival-tent ceiling of Zuzu's nursery at our second house, which became Coco's nursery. Remember this? It brought me so much joy:

I also loved the pink girly-girl room with the gold polka-dot wall that was Zuzu's big-girl room at our second house. I love the girls' shared rainbow room at our current house. But G's room here--which she only moved into in May, when we finally moved the crib out of our bedroom--was a sort of catch-all... it still has a twin bed in it, plus the crib. We switched out the blue ticking-striped nursery rocker for the neutral-colored Dutalier glider because D thinks the glider is far more comfortable. It has a pink rug that came from Zuzu's old big-girl room and the window treatments are white roman shades with pink borders. The bed has a sweet duvet cover on it that has pinks and greens and a secret garden theme--bunnies, deer, plants, and golden keys. It's fine, but it doesn't feel particularly special, and I enjoy making the girls' rooms feel special. Here are pics of its current state:

What is has going for it is that it's full of things I like--the Jenny Lind crib, the still-cute-IMO rug, the classic Roman shades, the gallery wall of photos and sweet art prints. But it still doesn't really feel like Genevieve's room as much as it feels like a mishmash of hand-me-downs (which it is). So I've been considering an accent wall of wallpaper! Or maybe I need some kind of window treatment in addition to the shades? But I've finally landed on a plan, which is a scalloped paint treatment around the room. Here's an example from Pinterest:


I've decided that I'm actually going to keep most of the wall color the same sort of griege-putty color that it is currently. I think the scallops are so cutesy that keeping it a neutral color will balance it a little--kind of like the picture above. Plus the color blends really nicely with the backdrop of the duvet and will let the white trim pop. (I'll be painting the window trim and the trim around the door and the closet and baseboards.) I'm going to take the scallops up higher on the wall than the picture above--probably 2/3 of the way up, with the top part of the walls being white. So that's my next project!

I'm a few books behind of my annual reading challenge I set for myself. I wanted to read 65 books this year, but I really slowed down in March and April. I read two books over the weekend this past weekend, but I still need to catch up, and I'm not sure how that will go with having to read for teaching again. I guess I can count those books, but still. It kinda slows me down. Self-imposed reading challenges are kind of pointless except if it makes me quit scrolling my phone, then that is probably a good thing.

I should talk about celebrating my 40th birthday! I had a lot of mixed feelings about the day, but you know it was honestly an easier milestone than turning 30. At 30, I had a dead baby and was not pregnant and I remember being out on my deck--it was blazing hot--and painting a little table for our entry way and just crying the whole time because I was so sad. It had been over six months since we lost Eliza and I wanted to be pregnant again so desperately and I didn't know why it wasn't working and all of my friends were turning 30 and had little babies and were so happy because their lives were working out exactly as they had planned.

Now, of course that wasn't true of all of my friends, and of course no one's life works out exactly as planned, but that is distinctly the feeling that I had on that day. It is no exaggeration to say that it was one of the most miserable days of my life.

A decade later, my birthday was on a Tuesday. My bestie and her family came to town the weekend before and it was so, so good to see them. It had been months since we'd been together and the babies were such a delight (six weeks apart) and the girls had fun together and everyone got conversation and some space and David made themed meals (ball park food on Friday, upscale BBQ on Saturday, complete with a peach-pound-cake trifle that was out of this world). Plus we had champagne and an impromptu little birthday for me Saturday night.

On my actual birthday, David let me sleep in (until 7:40am!) and he and the girls had decorated the house with birthday balloons and the girls made sweet cards for me. I did yoga and worked from home and had one of my green smoothies, just like any other day, but we also did a pool rental for a couple of hours. The plan for that night was to pick up Indian food for dinner and watch Michelle Obama's documentary on Netflix as a family.

Instead, Coco and Zuzu were playing some kind of game they call "basketball" that involved the balloons (but no ball and no basket--go figure), and Coco fell and hit her forehead on the fireplace hearth in our living room. I heard her crying, but honestly Coco cries very loudly when her feelings are hurt, so I did not think it was an emergency. I was upstairs, logging out of my work computer, and then Zuzu came running up to tell me that Coco was "really hurt, really bad."

By the time I got downstairs, David had her sitting up on the kitchen counter with a paper towel on her forehead, but the paper towel was turning red and there were drops of blood on the kitchen floor. It was gross and alarming, and she was super freaked out. We got her mostly cleaned up and it turned out the cut on her forehead was pretty small--less than an inch across--but it looked deep. Of course it was 5:10pm at this point, so our pediatrician's office was closed. I called the after hours phone number and the doctor on call called me back right away (one of the many things I love about our pediatrician's office--also there are just two doctors, both women, and I feel like they both really know our family, even if one of them is our "primary" doctor). I explained what happened and she told me to text a picture to her phone. Then she texted back that she thought it needed a couple of sutures so we should probably go to the emergency room.

I was sitting on the couch holding Coco, so I told her that we needed to go have a doctor take a look at her head. David was just starting to make dinner for the girls, so he threw cream cheese on a bagel for Coco to eat on the way there and I drove her to the hospital. She was very brave and such a little trooper, wearing her mask, chatting away to the nurses and doctors and explaining what happened. At one point, the nurse asked who lives with her in her house and she named everyone, including Cooper and Clementine. 

She chose to watch Shark Week while we waited for the numbing cream to kick in on her forehead and then she watched a video on my phone, holding super still while the doctor put in the stitches. He complimented her on how still she was. Honestly, I think she really enjoyed the attention and having a fuss made over her. I texted the mom of her bestie to fill her in on what was happening and Evelyn sent Coco a couple of video messages, much to Coco's delight. And when the nurse brought her a popsicle, she was basically living her best life. 

I picked up Indian food on the way home and David had called the restaurant to explain I'd be later than we first expected because I'd had to take our daughter to get stitches. The owner came out to talk to me when I got there and then gave me a special smoothie drink to take to Coco. Ending the day with everyone home safe, eating chana masala, and winding down with G snoozing upstairs in her crib and the rest of us crowded on the sofa together to watch an episode of The Office was actually a really perfect way to cap off the night.

It was not how I expected to spend my fortieth birthday, but all I could think, snuggled up with Coco on the hospital bed as we waited for her to get stitched up, was that it could have been so much worse and I was so lucky.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Look at Me Now

Posting again! Already! First of all, thanks for the awesome feedback on the library donation for Eliza's birthday. I will keep you posted here as I figure out a host (I might avoid Amazon) and the best way to make this happen. My heart is feeling really warm and fuzzy about it, though.

* * * 

I have decided to stay off Facebook for a day or two because the posts about back to school plans are causing me stress. It's impossible for me not to compare my choices to other parents I know/like/admire and to wonder if we are overestimating or underestimating risk. It makes my stomach churn. It's hard to have faith in leadership--not because the leaders (at the local school level) are bad, but just because we have so little information about this virus.

I am trying to focus on what I think is both equitable for all kids and best for my kids and hoping that we can stumble through this school year. 

* * *

Been having a pretty big Pity Party in lieu of my nonexistent birthday party. I'm turning the big 4-0 next week. Honestly, I haven't exactly been looking forward to it. It's cued a lot of existential angst as well as unpleasant contemplation of my own mortality (particularly acute during a global pandemic). I have not made much of my birthdays since Eliza died, honestly. It has just felt different.

BUT. I'm very aware that it is a privilege to grow older and I'm lucky to be forty when some get half as many (Ask anybody why we livin' fast and we laugh, reach for a flask / We have to make this moment last, that's plenty...) (The Hamilton lyrics do not stop.)

So I'd told myself that I was going to totally embrace forty. I was planning to borrow the idea that a couple friends have done and send a big email/facebook invite to anybody who wanted to meet us out at a bar and have a drink or two. I thought David and I would go to dinner first and then we'd meet up with friends after. I'd wear a gold sequined tank top that Coco helped me pick out and I would make the most of it! 

Whomp, whomp. Enter Covid-19. So now I'm readjusting my plans. My friend Brandy suggested I make a 40 in 40 list--not a list of things I must accomplish (that's where my brain went) but more like a list of fun things I want to do this year. I think I'll take her up on it. I would like to have a few socially distant backyard patio dates and drinks with friends--no big crowds, but spaced out over the next several weeks, maybe. I'll wear my sequined shirt anyway. I'll have a caprese salad and crusty bread dunked in olive oil for lunch. We'll get take out Indian food for dinner with a bottle of champagne and maybe do a Swimply reservation in between. I might even set up a Zoom happy  hour next week with some far away besties. 

And I'll toast to another trip around the sun.

* * *

Speaking of eternal youth and longevity, I have started making green smoothies. Which means I've made exactly one (although it made two servings). To be honest, I didn't mind the taste at all, although my banana needed to be riper and I wanted the whole thing to be colder. Maybe I'll add ice next time? Or freeze the coconut water? I don't know... And I didn't quite blend it smooth enough so there were a couple chunks that kinda made my gag reflex act up. BUT I didn't hate it and I feel so virtuous and healthy after drinking more fruits and veggies than I would ever eat in a day (just being honest). So I plan to keep it up. I'll aim for four smoothies a week and see how it goes. It's a lot of produce!

I'm using this recipe, which I got from my friend Reese Witherspoon, who got it from our other friend Kerry Washington:

2 heads romaine lettuce
handful of spinach
half a cup coconut water
one apple
one pear
one banana
one lemon

Celery and almond butter are optional, so I didn't include those. I'll probably mess around with adding whatever fruits we have on hand, and maybe some flax seed or chia seed since those seem really healthy. LOL. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
(Not my photo. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash. My smoothie was chunkier.)

* * * 

I've been reading a LOT a lot lately. Right now I'm about halfway through Chanel Miller's Know My Name and If you don't know her name, you may know the name of the man who attacked and assaulted her while she was unconcious, Brock Turner. She writes so clearly and poignantly about being a victim and reading the things people said about her online (even when she was still anonymous). It's really moving. I want every college student to read it.

I also really loved a throwback vintage novel called A Woman of Independent Means. If you like an epistolary novel (and I do... I do I do I do-ooh-ooh), then you will probably enjoy this one. It's letters from a woman named Bess spanning her life from grades school to her deathbed. It had me reflecting rather morbidly on my own deathbed, but all the same it was a delight to read and I'm still thinking about it. I got a library copy, but I think it's one I'd like to own and reread. 

I flew through The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires. It was a little vividly gross at times, but definitely a compelling page turner. I stayed up until 12:30 one night to finish it. (If you're wondering, G has no respect for my late-night page turning and still woke up at 5:45am.)

I finished reading The Tale of Despereaux to Zuzu and we both loved it. A little mouse falls in love with a princess and goes on a quest to save her. It was really sweet. One of my favorite things about it--and perhaps the secret to writing a great children's book--is that it had very short chapters. This is excellent because if it's a late night, you just read three pages and that's a whole chapter. If you're into the story and you have more time, you can read several chapters and it's very satisfying that way. I highly recommend. 

I think Coco would have liked it, too, but she gets really weird about chapter books that I'm reading--she would prefer to read picture books out loud to me while Zuzu would still prefer that I read to her. So we end up having to listen to Coco read Knuffle Bunny and The Pigeon Wants a Cookie on repeat, and then Coco passes out while I'm reading out loud.

* * *

As if drinking a green smoothie wasn't enough of an accomplishment for one day, I also bought little bins for the girls to organize their Legos. And they did ALL of the sorting themselves. G was napping, they were happily organizing Legos instead of making a huge mess or zoning out in front of a screen, and I was able to get my work done. A blissful afternoon!

* * *
A friend was asking me if I have a serum I like and I realized that I actually have all kinds of opinions about serums, so I thought I would just share a few unsolicited recommendations for skin care gems (you know, now that I am approaching a certain age!).

Here are some of my favorites:

This mask is amazing. I sleep in it a couple times a week. (Price has gone up since I bought it, though, so maybe watch to see if it goes back down... although it's $55 everywhere else!)

I use this moisturizer with spf every day, mostly because it has the best smell.

These under eye things actually work (it's a short-lived effect, but it is real!).

Finally, I tend to follow the regimen recommended for "signs of aging" (go here and scroll all the way down to see the product list for signs of aging AM and PM) and I think these products are the most well-priced of their sort on the internet. I'm not crazy about their rose hips oil, so I use this one or coconut oil in its place.

But, if I'm feeling spendy (and I'm usually feeling spendy once a year around my birthday, lol), I get the Ole Hendriksen Truth serum and eye cream.

* * *

Okay... I'm off to sip some wine on the patio and NOT check Facebook so I stay out of the fray when it comes to school plans for Covid. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Dispatches from Midway-Through-2020

After getting a surprising number of gentle and concerned inquiries about silence on the blog, I wanted to post a quick hello and let everyone (anyone? Bueler?) know that we are all here and fine and healthy and at home. I haven't posted in the last couple of months for big and small reasons. The big ones are that in the wake of a global pandemic and the social shifts that (I hope) are happening after George Floyd's murder put the spotlight back on the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been trying to listen rather than talk. Sharing the domestic trivialities of my day to day life felt tone-deaf, but I also didn't want to write some kind of diatribe of a nice white lady commenting on systemic racism.

We had family pictures taken in June--G's one year photos, six weeks late, thanks to Covid-19. This one is my favorite: 

Photo credit: Casey Rae Photography. Highly recommend, STL folks!

It's also harder to talk about parenting as my kids get older--not necessarily because I'm concerned about their privacy (LOL) but because my frustrations make me feel like a failure rather than a "rite-of-passage," can't we all relate kind of thing. Like, sure, it's frustrating that the baby is constantly in the dog water or climbing on top of the kitchen table, or waking in the night because she's getting four teeth at once, but it's also frustrating when my older child's life motto seems to be "Ask forgiveness, not permission, but don't really ask forgiveness either, just sort of expect it and also don't really care if you piss people off, especially your parents, and maybe see if you can get a fake ID to get a face tattoo before you turn 18." I'm reminding myself that I'm raising a strong, independent woman who will not be crippled with the kind of people-pleasing anxiety that I know can prevent women from achieving great things as well as finding self-satisfaction, but also raising her is really exhausting and sometimes demoralizing.

(And YET, she turned to me last night, sort of out of the blue as we were watching Downton Abbey and said, "Mom! I have a great idea for a sign: 'ALL LIVES DON'T MATTER UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER.'" I know for a fact she's seen signs that say this very thing at the marches we've attended, but the fact that the premise seemed to occur to her days later as we sat on the couch watching television felt like a win.)

* * *
I'm using Downton Abbey and The Office as an antidote for news and podcasts. The fact that the president seems to be a parody of himself, a sort of hilarious reality TV persona robot gone haywire can really overwhelm me at times, so I just escape into early-twentieth-century England or Scranton, PA in the aughts and it's easier to fall asleep at night.

* * * 
We watched Hamilton twice over the weekend. The girls got really into it, doing a lot of interpretive dancing alongside the ensemble. I love it still, despite some important criticism about glossing over some of George Washington's flaws (for example, that he became very wealthy by enslaving other humans and put their teeth in his mouth) and I feel that because I suspect I'm not the first person to notice that Christopher Jackson is smokin' hot. Still, Hamilton and the brilliance of Lin-Manuel Miranda gave American history a boost where it had been given a sedative and I still think it deserves all of accolades, as well as a nod to the criticism.

Watching it makes me wistful, too. Because I still want my Eliza here. I want to be saying her name a zillion times a day. I want to be singing the lyrics of Hamilton to her and changing the words to be about my Eliza. I want to make up a song about the Duckworth sisters instead of the Schuyler sisters. I am still angry and sad that she's not in my life. And the music reminds me of all the silly and light-hearted moments we've missed with another girl who would no doubt have had a huge personality and my favorite name in the world.

(Side note: Another dear friend of mine, Veronica, lost her son Alexander a few months after Eliza died and seeing and hearing their names together is so sweet and also so freaking sad.)

As much as I love the play, I've found that in my head the soundtrack and lyrics become absolutely intrusive. I know that ear worm songs are a common thing for a lot of people, but I wake in the night and my brain is literally reciting the entire Hamilton soundtrack. It's impossible to shut off. I'll put them in parentheses throughout this post, so you can see what I mean. I hear a phrase that shows up in the play, and there goes my brain singing the entire song. This happened to me in college with Rent when my roommate and I played the soundtrack on CD nonstop ("The man is nonstop! Why do you write like you're running out of time..." See--that's from Hamilton.) but this is even more intrusive. And it's another illustration of why I need a reserved, aristocratic British family to lull me to sleep with their posh accents.

* * * 
I'm still working from home. For the foreseeable future. Except I'm supposed to be teaching face to face starting August 17. But they only want us on campus when necessary--two afternoons a week for me. I assume they need enough people back so that things feel normal-ish and campus doesn't feel like a deserted movie set. But they also don't want everybody back all the time and the campus becoming a Covid-19 hotspot. College students responded overwhelmingly in the survey that they want to come back face to face. OF COURSE THEY DO. Face to face courses are way more fun and engaging and living on campus is way more fun than living at home and also when you're nineteen years old, you are not risk averse!

Meanwhile, my stomach is churning as we wait for the school district ("Wait for it! Wait for it!") to announce the plan for back to school for kids. I worry about the girls and David being at two different buildings. I worry about what it will mean to go back to juggling remote learning with working from home. I worry about them getting sick, I worry about me getting sick, I worry about us not seeing my parents because we don't want them to get sick. It just feels completely lose-lose, no matter what we decide.

Relevant side note: David asked Zuzu if she's excited about going back to school. She said yes; she wants to see her friends. He asked her if she'd be sad if we have to do distance learning again for a while because of the coronavirus. "No," she said. "Because I'm not going to do that. I'll just refuse."

Readers, she's serious. 

Sometimes we are just at a loss with her and how two generally agreeable people (that's David and me) made a person who is so defiant and gives zero effs. (She'd rather be "divisive than indecisive".)

* * * 
Zuzu also let Coco cut her hair recently. Longtime readers may recall that Coco has a long history of making poor choices when it comes to scissors and hair (please review Part I and Part II of her hair saga), but apparently Zuzu was on board for this one. She came upstairs all nonchalant with her ends completely ragged and uneven, missing 4" hunks of hair here and there. She seemed surprised that I noticed.

I didn't even get mad because WHAT IS THE POINT, but I trimmed everything up outside so it was all even and it actually looks really cute and bouncy around her shoulders. She says she loves it, so it seems there was no lesson learned, despite my lectures.

Also I asked them if there was a mess in the basement where they'd cut the hair. 
"Then where is all the hair you cut off?"
"Under the couch."

* * * 
I've been letting them have TV time starting at 3pm. Some days are a countdown to 3pm. Last week, I caught them around lunch time heading down to the basement with a bottle of melatonin that they had apparently climbed up on the kitchen counter to reach from the top shelf of an upper cabinet. When confronted, they explained that they wanted to take a nap in the basement until 3:00pm. 

As David says, Zuzu is full of bad ideas that she thinks are really good.

* * * 
We took a no-contact road trip to West Virginia over the fourth of July and stayed in my brother's cabin. My brother and his family and my parents were also there. We've all been careful about social distancing, so we felt comfortable seeing each other. The drive was nine hours and we stopped only at rest stops, which were all very clean. We wore masks to use the bathrooms and packed coolers with food and didn't go inside any gas stations. We spent the weekend out on the lake with their pontoon boat and swimming in the cove, playing Pinochle and doing some little fireworks in the evenings. The girls had so much fun with their little cousins (ages 3 1/2 and 1 1/2). I'm sad that it's over because now we're on the downhill slope toward back to school and it makes me feel a little panicky. ("I make the other side panicky with my SHOT!"

I didn't to do all the reading I'd hoped to do (not a vacation; just parenting away from home!) but I did get through A Woman of Independent Means which was an absolute delight. I'm currently reading American Spy, and my book club read Just Mercy for June. If you haven't read that one, I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

* * * 
I ordered the Bug Bite Thing when we got home from WV because instagram seemed to know my suffering. My verdict is that it's not a complete fix for itching, but it does seem to help considerably.

* * * 
Have you ever listened to a podcast called The Lazy Genius? I discovered it this past year and I really like it. The target audience is definitely "moms in their 30's and 40's" but the premise is useful for anyone: Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don't. 

She offers lots of practical tips for managing a household and meal prep kind of stuff--strategies for dealing with clothes that kids outgrow and planning your trip to Aldi--so she's basically talking directly to me. But I also just like to keep her major principles in mind--is this worth my time and energy? Or is someone else just making me think that it should be? We can't do and be all the things, so what matters TO ME and what can I just allow to matter to other people without feeling guilty or weird about it? 

* * * 

I just went upstairs to put away a small load of laundry and when I got back downstairs, the toilet brush was in the hallway outside the bathroom. What are the odds that G put it in her mouth ("What are the odds that the gods put us all in one place?") before she dropped it in the hallway? If I think about I'll start gagging, so let's just move on.

* * * 
One final thing (for now! I hope to be back soon!): I think I've decided what I want to do for Eliza's 10th birthday.

I have a lot of angst about the tenth birthday, not because it will feel significantly different from 8 or 9, but because after ten I worry that it becomes Too Many. Like Too Many to keep talking about. It gets weird. I can remember early in my grief finding a blog post written by a mom about what would have been her son's eleventh birthday and wondering what she could possibly say about it that she hadn't said already. I worry that acknowledging the loss just becomes harder. I don't think it SHOULD but I fear that it does. 

Anyway, I think that this year I am going to create an Amazon wish list of diverse books that we'd like to donate to the library at David's school. His school is a Title I school, which means a large portion of students qualify for free or reduced lunch because of their socioeconomic status. It's also incredibly diverse when it comes to race and nationality/language of origin. It's such a cool and vibrant community, and I would love to make sure that the library reflects that, full of books in which every child can see themselves. 

(Sidenote: I also think it's really important that mostly-white schools have a diverse library because our society needs to be less insulated and white kids need to see people who are different from them!)

So I think I'll make a wishlist for the library and invite anyone who wants to help us acknowledge a decade without our first daughter to purchase a book that will be donated to the school library. I'll order nameplate stickers that say, "Donated in memory of Eliza Taylor Duckworth" to stick in each book.

This project feels really meaningful to me, and like something good I can do in her memory that will also put her beautiful name down on paper and in front of the eyes of a bunch of people (kindergarten through fifth-grade kids, but still! Those would be her peers, after all.). 

Anyway, I mention it now because I know it's important to plan in advance (I get increasingly useless as her birthday approaches). My hesitation is out of fear that people won't participate. What if no one does it and it feels like no one loves or misses or cares about my Eliza? I've learned that when I am stressed and anxious, my tendency is to withdraw. But I think maybe it's important to invite my community to step up and support us at a really hard time--especially because, like I said, I'm not sure I can do an ask like this once we get past 10 years. It just feels like the time is right for this. Wish me luck.