Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Babies and Bonks

My house has been more chaotic than usual the past few days with my parents in town and my brother and his family visiting. His two kids are almost-three years old and 15-months old, so things have been busy and loud and fun! The girls have had a blast playing with Curie, who is game for pretty much anything they want to do, especially because they dote on her and are willing to indulge her. She and Coco were especially good buddies, but then when Coco was at gymnastics last night, she and Zuzu played together that Zuzu was her mother and she needed to go to the doctor and it was pretty cute.

Curie is only a couple inches shorter than Coco even though she's two and a half years younger, and she has a ton of hair and is very smart and talks really well, so I think sometimes the girls forgot how little she is--she fell off the swing in the basement because she's not quite three, but she looks like she could be a four-year-old. (She was fine.)

Bucky is so cute with his big brown eyes and mischievous little grin. He also has an excellent set of lungs and tends to express himself at top volume when he feels he has been wronged, which is not infrequently. Last night the girls were running away from him and he was sort of enjoying chasing them but maybe feeling a little left out, too? Lots of complicated emotions to work though at any given moment. Sometimes he was sweet and snuggly with me, but in times of distress he only wants his parents and often just his dad. It is fun and kind of hilarious to see my brother as a parent. I think he's a great dad, even when he's visibly frustrated because a whining toddler is clinging to him and screaming for a bottle only to reject said bottle when it is offered. For someone who had maybe never held a baby before he met Zuzu, he's totally hands on with the diaper changing and milk warming and kiddo snuggling.

I have loved having them visit, and it's wild to think that the next time we see them (this summer) the babies will already have changed so much. I wish they were closer!

Vieves and Bucky are six months apart and not super interactive with each other, but Vieve definitely had her eye on him and was doing so much more standing and trying to take steps while holding on to furniture or the fireplace hearth. I felt like she turned into a wannabe toddler over the weekend! Oh the baby time goes so crazy fast. Six months ago, I could put her down and she couldn't move. Last night, she managed to crawl up on the bottom stair and I barely got there in time to catch her when she sat down and fell backwards off of said stair.

This morning I wasn't quick enough. She was fussing in my bedroom when I removed Clementine's raw hide bone from her fat little fist (oh! so sad!) so Zuzu picked her up and put her on our bed, where she and Coco were still lounging. The girls are usually very sweet about entertaining G in the mornings while I get ready. I had already done my morning yoga routine (only ten minutes today because it was hard to get out of bed) and I was in the process of getting dressed. I turned around to grab my shirt and next thing I know, there's a terrible bonk as Vieve tumbled off the bed and hit the hardwood floor.

I was NOT calm, cool, or collected and instead did all of the things you shouldn't do in the moment--panicked, yelled at Zuzu, swooped up the baby while shouting, started shaking uncontrollably, and yelled at David when he asked if she was okay. ("I DON'T KNOW IF SHE'S OKAY HOW WOULD I KNOW IF SHE'S OKAY IT'S NOT LIKE SHE CAN TELL ME SHE'S OKAY LOOK AT HER PUPILS ARE THEY OKAY???)

I really don't like starting my mornings with that kind of panicky adrenaline rush.

Anyway, she does have a bruise on her head but her pupils were equal and reactive and she quit crying fairly quickly. Her babysitter promised to keep a close eye on her, and G was all smiles when I handed her to the sitter, but then G cried when I left, which is only because she's been home for the past five days and out of our normal routine. Still, it's hard on the heart.

I drove my parents' car to work because my brother needs our bigger car to get his family and all their luggage to the airport today. We moved G's car seat base to their car and it seemed like it wouldn't be a big deal, except that my car has a mirror so I can see her and I couldn't see her in my parents car and she was so quiet (this is normal, but normally I can LOOK at her) so I was worried that she had lost consciousness in some kind of delayed concussed reaction to her fall. (She had not, but was happily sucking on a binky when we got to the sitter's house.)

ALSO my office key is on my car keys so I drove all the way to work and then couldn't unlock my office. Fortunately the director has a master key, but it was just one more way that Tuesday felt like Monday and I felt like a frazzled human who can't get her life together.

Things are settling with my new job. My hours are a bit longer, even though the commute is shorter, but the crazy thing is that I don't really think about work when I'm not there. I have always, ALWAYS been thinking about work. Teaching is exhausting and once the day is over there is prep for the next day and grading and specific concerns about students and other stuff on the departmental or university level. Now... I just show up. I do my job. I go home. I like it just fine in the moment--my coworkers are great, the students I work with are quite nice. It's just so different.

I do feel like I have more energy left at the end of the day, aside from this cold which has been lingering in my sinuses for over a week and is kind of sucking the life out of me (everyone at my house had the sniffles this weekend and we went through like seven boxes of kleenex). In general, though, I've realized how exhausting teaching is, when I'm basically putting on a one-woman improv show for two hours a day. Having one on one meetings and researching best practices for advising honors students is, like, way easier. But also I really miss teaching and reading (and rereading) great literature. I haven't read Hamlet in over a year. I miss it.

I'm honestly loving the bigger margin/divide between work and home in a lot of ways. It just takes some getting used to. I still really miss the flexibility and total autonomy of my old position. That's the hardest thing. Even though my supervisor has been great about any time I've needed to leave early or the day I came in late so I could be at Coco's half birthday celebration at school or the afternoon I ran G to the doctor over lunch because I was sure she had an ear infection (she didn't--but her eyes were goopy! That was always a tell-tale sign for Zuzu!). It's actually easier to be gone because I'm not canceling class or anything--I had to reschedule one appointment with one person. But it's awkward and annoying to have to check in with someone else and feel kind of guilty about leaving instead of just being entirely in charge of my own day. I don't love that part. (I also realize how privileged I am that I've never really had to do that before.)

I'm also sort of in denial about the summer all together, so we'll just see how that plays out. I'm not really letting myself look that far ahead at this point.

Here are a few things I've been reading:

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Super weird, but I ended up really liking it.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. I'm listening to this one and it makes me look forward to my drive to/from work. Fascinating. Google the blue people of Kentucky!

That's all I've got. Babies bonking heads and a couple of book recommendations. Sums up life around here.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Loaded Girl Scout Cookies

On a sunny day in January, Zuzu sold Girl Scout cookies the old fashioned way: by pounding the pavement in our neighborhood. Coco was her very enthusiastic assistant, and my job was to push G in the stroller, remind Zuzu to say thank you LOUDLY, and break up squabbles about who got to ring the next doorbell.

Our neighbors were very gracious about ordering cookies and it was a pretty nice day, so things were moving along nicely. We knocked on the door of a house where a family had moved in fairly recently--I was pregnant with G when they moved, and although I had good intentions, we never stopped by with baked goods and greetings.

At any rate, Zuzu gave them her sales pitch and the lady very nicely explained that her daughter was also selling Girl Scout cookies.

(I had no idea there was another Girl Scout on the block, so I felt kind of bad for not sharing our territory, but also early bird, worms, dog eat dog world, capitalism is inherently evil, etc.)

Anyway, we quick did introductions and this family also had a toddler and the mom is pregnant--this time with a boy. I smiled and said something like, "Well that will be a new experience! We just have girls at our house." And then did the usual, "Hope to see you around, enjoy the sunshine, good luck selling cookies, okay bye" thing as I started to maneuver the stroller down the sidewalk. We were at least twelve paces away when Coco turned back and yelled, "WE HAD ANOTHER BABY. BUT SHE DIED!"

* * *

In the circles of baby loss moms, we talk about "dropping the dead baby bomb." It's a bomb because it instantly changes the mood of the room and the dynamic of the conversation. Often, it's a conversation killer. It's useful, though, in that it allows for a very quick assessment of whether a conversation might lead to a friendship.

We talk about whether to drop the bomb on sales clerks who ask "Is this your first?" or "How many kids do you have?" as conversation filler for the 30-second check-out transaction.

We talk about when to drop the bomb on new acquaintances--early? So you know whether to bother? Later? Once you've determined whether they deserve to know your personal history?

I'm selective about when I drop the bomb these days. I told my coworkers during my job interview for this new position, which was not what I'd planned to do, but it came up naturally in conversation and it seemed easier to go into the job with them knowing.

I skip the bomb in sales transactions. I always tell teachers via e-mail at the beginning of the year. I tell parents of friends, usually via text, before play-dates. ("We have two dogs, there is a hunting rifle unloaded and stored up high in the basement, and my first daughter died, so it's possible that will come up in conversation. Any food allergies?")

Generally speaking, I do not drop the bomb on visibly pregnant women.

* * *

Maybe I should have turned back and explained to this neighbor. Instead, I nodded my head and kind of "mm-hmmed" in Coco's direction, but I let momentum carry me down the driveway and back to the sidewalk.

Zuzu turned to Coco before I could say anything at all: "Coco! Why did you say that?"

Coco was confused, "What?"

Zuzu said, "Why did you tell her about Eliza?"

I intervened, "It's not a secret. It's fine to talk about Eliza. But usually we want to tell people at Eliza at the beginning of a conversation, when we have time to talk. Not as we are walking away from people, saying good-bye."

Zuzu added, "Yeah, Coco!" for good measure, and I looked at her, wondering when my seven-year-old had gained the EQ to judge when one should or shouldn't mention Eliza.

* * *

There's no right answer to when to tell and when not to. If not mentioning it would feel like a lie, or make me feel uncomfortable, I will probably say something. But as I meet other new people on campus, unsure how often our paths will cross, or as I introduce myself to students, if they ask about kids I usually say, "I have three girls at home."

When I'm showing my kids pictures on instagram and they ask questions about my friends' kids, I always mention their siblings who died. "Remember Finn and Mary who visited us? And their mom's name is also Caroline? And they have a brother Cale who died when he was a baby."

Despite my own reservations, I'd rather Coco feel comfortable talking about Eliza than feel like she's pressured to keep a secret, or like it's a puzzle to figure out when it's okay and when it's not okay.

It can still feel like a bomb, but when the dust settles and you see who's left standing, that can be how you find your people.

(I personally don't recommend it as a sales technique when you're peddling Girl Scout cookies door to door.)

Monday, February 3, 2020

Happy for a Friend

Zuzu came home from school the other day talking about a magic show that the second grade got to attend. She described a couple of tricks, and then said that her friend Maddie got chosen to be the magician's assistant.

Then, she was mad.

Because Maddie got to keep the balloon! That the magician made appear! And no one else got a balloon! And it wasn't fair that he only picked Maddie!

She was really getting worked up--like tears in her eyes, indignant about the injustice of the whole thing and really coveting that balloon.

I tried to do the wise mom thing, where I said, "Mmm-hmm. I can see that was disappointing. But maybe we can be happy for Maddie? We want to be glad for our friends when good things happen to them."

She looked at me like I was completely missing the point. "I AM happy for her. But I'm sad for me!"

And then I just hugged her because... yes. I'm very familiar with that situation.

I can say all the right words about not being resentful and being gracious and glad for other people. It's important, I think, to learn how to smile and nod when you are first runner up, or maybe didn't even make the first cut.

But those feelings of anger and jealousy are really valid. Even when they feel ugly and shameful, they're just an expression of longing.

I think that people voicing what they really want and can't have makes us very uncomfortable. Particularly when they are problems that we can't fix. Or whining that gets irritating fast because who cares about a stupid balloon anyway? (Zuzu cares.)

* * *

Here's the reframe:

What if everything is a gift?

What if I remember that I'm entitled to nothing?

What if I accept it as a shocking and delightful surprise that three of my children are alive, instead of expecting it as the standard outcome?

This is different from pessimism--expecting the worst--this is just living in a neutral where anything better than nothing is a gift. It's different from schadenfreude, where you're happy for someone else's misfortune. It's just marveling in the good fortune of ordinary life.

Real talk: I'm not sure this frame of mind is totally sustainable.

It's hard to sustain because it's like being healthy. You don't appreciate not having a sore throat until the day that you wake up and you can't swallow because your throat hurts so badly. But what if we could wake up and delight in being pain free, instead of accepting the lack of physical pain as our baseline?

What if I soaked up my whole life as a gift--unearned, undeserved, given to me when it easily could have gone to someone else (like a balloon, gifted by a magician at random).

Would losses be less painful if we didn't feel that we were owed the very thing that had been taken away?

It's not about equity or balance to fill what has been lost, but more like appreciating everything as abundance.

I guess that's the point of a gratitude practice. To acknowledge that the things we tend to take for granted are actually remarkable gifts from the universe.

* * *

The problem is, that it is so easy to see someone else to appears to have exactly what you want.

And we can go on and on about the way social media hides flaws and the perfect looking family/life/marriage is likely to be far from that.

But I'm not talking about perfect.

I'm talking about a slew of pregnancy announcements when you desperately want to be pregnant. I'm talking about a parade of healthy babies when you left your dead baby at the hospital. I'm talking about well-earned promotion announced when your company just laid you off. An anniversary party when you've just filed for divorce. Any milestone marked and celebrated (often deservedly so!) by someone else that highlights a place where your life veered unexpectedly off course.

Sure, we're happy for our friends. But that doesn't cancel the sadness we feel for ourselves.

(And why did he pick Maddie anyway, when Zuzu was RIGHT THERE with her hand in the air?)

* * *

I understood exactly how Zuzu felt.

So I bit back my lecture about being happy for friends. I also stifled my next impulse, which was to promise to get her a balloon the next time we were at the store.

(This is a part of parenting they don't talk about when they criticize helicopter and "snow plow" parents. Of course I don't want to be one of those. But also when you know firsthand how painful life can and will be, despite your best efforts, you really want to protect them when you can.)

I gave her another hug. I offered a snack.

As she was eating, I asked her about her "rose" and her "bud." (Obviously Maddie getting the balloon was the thorn in her day.) But there was a bright spot (weaving in art class) and much to look forward to (a birthday party on Saturday! cousins coming to town in a few weeks! Friday night movie night!).

We started these rose, bud, thorn conversations at dinner to try to control a conversation that otherwise tends to quickly devolve to complaining about the meal, but I'm seeing the way in which it actually is a gratitude practice.

This was an ordinary moment for which I'm grateful.

This is something we have planned that I'm excited about.

Zuzu said that she was looking forward to having me drop her off at school instead of Daddy. My heart swelled a little bit, since this is a change from our usual routine now that I have a morning commute again.

I asked her if she had been missing that old routine before I was back at work full-time. As hectic as it is getting out the door and getting to drop off, I feel so close to them when I'm the one to hug them good-bye and hello at the door of the school.

"Can I tell you something?" she said.

"Of course!"

"Well, this is personal. But I think your car smells better than Daddy's."

What a gift, right? The gift of a car that smells good.

*For the record, I don't think David's car smells bad at all, and I have a very sensitive nose. I'm not sure if it's because his car has plush interior rather than leather? Or maybe my car retains the scent of the lemon and lavender hand sanitizer I spray on them when I pick them up? I guess I like having the better smelling car, though.