Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dailies 3/28

Smile
Westley lost his first tooth on Saint Patrick's Day. Two days before, we had no idea anything was different with his teeth. The night before, he was eating a pear and announced, "My tooth is wiggly!" And then, not even 24 hours later, as we were driving to my parents' house for some leprechaun mischief, a little voice from the back seat: "My tooth came out!"
First Lost Tooth

The Tooth Fairy left a Sacagawea dollar under his pillow. He's been checking the lost tooth's next door neighbor for wiggliness ever since.

Sibs
At some point in the past week and a half, Ivy went from sort of almost crawling to...actually really crawling.
Crawling
Crawling
Crawling
Crawling
Crawling
Crawling
Now that she's mastered the crawling motion, she's focusing all of her efforts on crawling FAST. Her goal is clearly to get into Westley's room and teethe on his large choking hazard toy collection before we notice.
Crawling

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Also, today is my brother's 28th birthday. He's celebrating with an art show because he's just that awesome and talented. I'm a little bit envious, but mostly I just wish I could be there.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Haven

Shadows
Spring 2011

There is a cemetery on the way to Westley's preschool. It's an old cemetery; the town's first police chief and mayor are both buried there. I recently learned that the grounds include a newer area, called "Baby Haven." It's exactly what you think it is. Itty bitty plots with tiny headstones.

As soon as I learned about Baby Haven, I felt compelled to visit.

On Thursday afternoon, I drove to the cemetery and parked next to a row of little markers with teddy bears watching over them. It was the second day of Spring, but snow was starting to fall from the gray sky. Ivy was in the back seat, happily playing with her toes, so I took a moment to read the names and dates on the markers closest to me. A little boy, four days old: We will always love you. Mommy & Daddy. Another little boy, with only one date beneath his name: One sweet day. My heart started to ache. Next, a little girl, from 2007, the year Westley was born. My chest tightened, my eyes were hot. I felt like I'd swallowed a cinder block.

I quickly got back in the car.

* * *

When I miscarried, I was sure I would never not feel the hurt. My spirit had been destroyed, and I was sure—absolutely certain—that I would never feel whole again. Two years later, when I recall the experience, I mostly feel anger over the horrible way I was treated by medical personnel. And I feel a sort of narrative unease, contemplating what a festival of ironies it was: from Westley asking me, starting at about eight weeks (when any fetus that might have been there stopped developing), "Is the baby still inside you?" to my writing lists of baby names on the back of my grocery list the day before I began spotting, to miscarrying on the first day of Spring. It's awful to think about, but it's no longer the crushing darkness that consumed me two years ago. I can think about it without wanting to die. It's safe to go to that place in my head again.

As I drove away from the cemetery with tears in my eyes and my lovely, healthy baby daughter playing in the back seat, on my way to pick up my beautiful, healthy son from preschool, I wondered about the parents who went with those little plots and those tiny, dead babies. Do they visit the graves often? Do they feel safe inside their own heads?

I really wanted to talk to them and ask. I wanted to hear the parents tell the stories of their babies. And then I felt silly and ashamed and horribly selfish for ever having gotten upset over miscarrying a fetus-less pregnancy at 12 weeks. That, after all, is something a person could "get over." I got past it. Here I am, past it. How could someone ever get past losing a baby?

I know, with varying degrees of familiarity, several couples who have lost late- or full-term babies. Their faces flashed though my mind as I drove.

Last year, I reflected on being pregnant again after experiencing a loss. How I felt so unsafe in my body, even as I passed each of the pregnancy "milestones"—but also how bolstered I'd felt in that year by other families' miscarriage stories. Talking about miscarriage was my refuge.

I hope that every parent whose pregnancy has ended too soon or whose child has come to the end of his or her life too early will find that kind of safe haven.


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The idea of miscarriage being a "festival of ironies" is borrowed from the anthology About What Was Lost.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Parenting Through Pain

This isn't about caring for children while dealing with emotional upset or depression—though I've written about that before. This time, I'm talking about physical pain.

Seven Months

I didn't realize how physically demanding parenting would be until I tired doing it while in near constant pain. My back first started bothering me when Westley was a baby, and I was only just starting to feel normal when I found out I was pregnant with Ivy. Despite taking care of myself and receiving regular chiropractic adjustments throughout my pregnancy, my back pain resurged in a big way after Ivy's birth.

This condition (what exactly is wrong is still a mystery) is unlikely to resolve on its own. I'm trying different treatments, and I'm hopeful that eventually I'll get back to where I was in Fall 2011. In the meantime, I have to accept that I'll have big pain spikes from time to time—which is much more often than I would like.

Yesterday, I threw my back out while sitting. Sitting. I was sitting in the one chair that doesn't seem to aggravate my back too badly, and when I went to stand up, I couldn't. Something spasmed, something else pinched, and I collapsed into the chair. Did I mention I was holding the baby when this happened?

I did eventually make it out of the chair, and I immediately called Rob for some sympathy. Which brings me to the only thing that has made it possible for me to continue raising my children while in pain: an understanding partner. When Rob is home, he does all of the lifting and bending. At night, when my back is at its most painful, Rob picks Ivy up out of her crib while I settle in to feed her. Then he stays up with me while I breastfeed, so I don't have to lower Ivy back into her crib. Rob's sleep is much more interrupted than it would be with a perfectly healthy spouse, but he has never once complained to me.

During the day, of course, I'm on my own. That's when the line between physical pain and emotional pain gets blurry. Because everything hurts, my impulse is to do nothing. But doing nothing is my express train to depression. So I have to kick my own butt a little and force myself to get out of the house, go to the store, even though putting the baby in her car seat and driving and getting the baby out of her car seat and carrying the baby and putting the baby back in her car seat and driving is going to hurt. But getting outside, seeing other adults, walking around—all of these things do more for my morale and actually feel better physically than sitting at home does.

Some things really are too physically demanding for me (I have yet to brave the zoo on my own with two kids), but forcing myself to do a few errands or household tasks is a great reminder of all the things I can do. On days when it hurts to put on underwear, I need those little reminders whenever and wherever I can find them. So I can't make the bed while standing, but I can do it on my knees. I can't bend over to put the baby on the floor to play, but I can drop straight down to sitting and set her next to me. I can prepare and clean up from meals easily (sweet hallelujah!). I can't give Ivy a bath, but I can take a bath with her. Even when my pain is at its worst, I can sing, and read out loud, and talk to my kids.

Even when it hurts too much to hug them, I can still be with my children. Instead of focusing on the pain (and frustration, and fear), I can look into their eyes and listen to their stories.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Seven Months

Seven Months

I sat down to write Ivy's six month post and realized this is her seven month post. My tiny baby girl turned seven months old yesterday!

And she still thinks her feet are totally it.

Seven Months
(Just between us, they totally are.)
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I was going to brag just a little tiny bit about how at night, Ivy is the sleepin'-est baby who ever slept. How she goes down without a hitch at 7:00 every evening, wakes up once to chow down at 3:00 AM, and then sleeps another four hours. But then The Devil's Daylight Savings Time happened and threw everything off. You'd think that "springing forward" one hour would mean that everything would shift by about one hour. You'd be wrong.

Ah, Baby Sleep, you crazy beast.

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Ivy is days away from crawling. Rob is sure she'll have it mastered by next Friday. She can get up on her hands and knees no problem. All fours, nothin' to it. Then she takes a crawling "step" and collapses face first into the rug. It's exhausting to watch her, but also kind of inspiring. She never once falls down and goes, "Well, screw that. So not worth it."

Ivy is surprisingly mobile for a non-crawling baby. As in, we should have baby-proofed weeks ago. And she's very pleased with herself for being able to do this.

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Sittin' pretty.

Sitting up is the best! Ivy loves sitting up because now she can sit up! And play with toys! And see the world from an upright position! Hallelujah!
I love it because I can plunk her down in front of her little toy piano and run to the bathroom worry-free. As long as I hear the experimental symphony going on in the other room, I know all is well.
The piano was a big hit, now that she's able to sit up at it. Her other favorite toys are her jingly worm (which goes inside a much-less-interesting plush apple), the zippers on my boots (endlessly fascinating), the book you're trying to read, and the glass you're trying to drink out of.
Birthday Brunch
She's a very social little lady. She loves to smile and coo at friendly strangers. When we took my dad out to brunch to celebrate his birthday, Ivy decided to initiate a conversation with the bus boy by grabbing his sleeve and beaming up at him. 
I know it's too early for her to be saying any real words, but she makes a sound that I'm sure is meant as some kind of greeting. It even sounds a lot like, "Hi-eee!"
Seven Months

Getting Ivy dressed is a nightmare now that she's determined to learn to crawl. She can flip over in the blink of an eye, and she's strong, so flipping her back over (when she doesn't want to be moved) is no easy task. I've given up on the idea of a quick diaper change for now. When I put her on the changing table, I know we'll be there for at least 15 minutes.

I've also given up on socks. Baby socks are ridiculous. Ivy has decided that they're more fun to teethe on than they are to wear. She loves to take her socks off and stuff them in her mouth. It seems to give her a real sense of accomplishment. If she can reach her feet, there's no way to keep her socks on. For a minute, I thought, "This is what baby shoes are for!" and dug out Westley's old Robeez. No luck. She can get those off too—though there's some complaining involved.

Even so, Ivy remains the happiest baby I've ever met.

Seven Months

Happy Seven Months, Chickadee. I love you like crazy.

Seven Months

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Post-Kid Kitchen: More Rockin' Sweet Potato Spinach Squares

Sweet Potato-Spinach Squares

One of my favorite recipes ever is the recipe for Potato Spinach Squares in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch. My copy of Vegan Brunch just naturally falls open to page 116 now, I've made this recipe so many times. I ate these for every meal the day after Ivy was born. In fact, it's a great recipe to bring your friend who just had a baby; it's a perfect side dish or main meal (depending on how generous you make your "squares"), and delicious at any temperature.

But sometimes you don't want plain ol' white potatoes. Even Yukon Golds can get old after a while. Sweet potatoes to the rescue! The original recipe gets its tastiness from oregano and nutritional yeast, but I am a sucker for sweet potatoes with sweet-spicy Moroccan seasonings. It's the spice blend that makes these squares "more rockin'."

"More Rockin'" Sweet Potato-Spinach Squares
Makes 16 small pieces or 8 big ones

3 lbs. cubed sweet potatoes (I used a combination of yellow and orange sweet potatoes; peel them if you prefer a smoother texture)
1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
1 16-ounce package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp EACH ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Zest from one lemon
1 cup almond meal

Place sweet potatoes in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and place them in a large mixing bowl. Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mash the potatoes with the oil using a potato masher or tough fork. Remove some of the water from the thawed spinach by pressing it in a colander, and combine drained spinach with the sweet potatoes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Spread sweet potato mixture in evenly in a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with additional paprika for prettiness. Bake 30 minutes. When it's done, the top should be nicely browned and the edges should be looking nicely crispy. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Sweet Potato-Spinach Squares

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Two: Many

Two

I used to mentally roll my eyes when I heard people say they didn't have time for something. Especially when it was something undeniably beneficial, like exercise or meditation.

If it were really important to them, they'd make time for it, I said to myself, adjusting my Judge-y Pants.

After all, I was pretty good at making time for things that mattered to me, carving out fifteen minutes here, a half-hour there.

And then I had a second child.

Two

Some days, I don't feel like I have enough time to catch my breath. I squeeze the basics—feeding and and clothing myself—in when I can, and often end up with simple chores and projects half-finished. Because somebody always needs my attention.

They're not so difficult to attend to, these somebodies of mine. Loving them is easy, even on my worst days. But in terms in terms of time, two children is so many more than one child. It's not Our Family Dynamic + 1, as I had (naively) imagined. Instead, it's Dadaist math. 1 + 1 = giant squid.

Really, how am I supposed to make time for anything when there's this giant squid in the living room?

I have a long "wish list" of life-enhancing activities I'd like to fit in: reading, journaling, real yoga (not just a stretch here and there), better exercise, the occasional movie-watching-on-the-couch-with-Rob-and-wine evening. (Not to mention the things I really need to fit in, like those doctor and dentist appointments I never rescheduled.) But it won't all fit into that hour-and-change between the time when the kids going to sleep and the time I should be getting in bed myself. So where do I start? What do I prioritize?

Two

I know I can't do it all all of the time. I'm not even sure "doing it all" should be the goal. (In fact, I think the idea of doing or having it all might just be a sneaky, sexist way of controlling women by telling us that we can change the world as long as we also maintain beautiful homes and look hot. But that's another story for another time.) I also know that this version of my life will not be my life forever. Westley starts kindergarten in the fall; that will change our time. Ivy will learn to crawl and talk and drink from a cup and nap without being nursed and swaddled; that will change our time. Two won't always feel like quite so many.

Still, I will never judge anyone for "not having enough time" again.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

To Be Real

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I am often astounded that this life is my real life. I don't know whether that's because I'm in such a different place than I thought, or if this eerie feeling is just a story I keep telling myself.

This can't be real. How is this real?

But the reality is...this is my reality. The toys on every surface. The cold, forgotten tea. The children who look so much like my partner and me while also looking exactly like themselves. It's all very real, and yet, most days I can't wrap my mind around it all.

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Why does real life seem so unreal? Am I not living "in the moment" enough? I don't think that's it. When I tune in—really tune in—to chopping vegetables for stew, hugging my little boy, feeding the baby, I prickle with the awareness that this is real, this is how the body part of me was built to live. My hands (holding carrots, guiding the knife) are busy being hands. My arms, wrapping and holding, get to be arms. My breasts...well, regardless of what I think of their appearance, and separate from my wishing they looked like someone else's, they do their job well and with ease. I can hear the baby swallowing huge gulps of milk—my milk, the milk my body makes for her without my even trying—as she nurses. (She doesn't fall asleep with a mouthful the way her brother always did, milky drool trickling down into the space behind his ears. She chugs it.) She's stronger every day. It's the realest thing I can think of. And still. Unreal.

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It's not that I'm unhappy with my life. Far from it. Occasionally I wish I were doing something else (who doesn't wish that sometimes?), or I suffer from nostalgia for other people's lives. But I'm aware of the goodness, the wholeness of this life. Yes, I struggle with my health and I agonize over what to eat, and I'm not very good at sticking to a budget when it means putting off a fun experience, but I have absolutely every material thing I need. I have more than enough. My non-material wealth is enormous. My children are healthy and growing. My partner loves and supports me. How is this real?

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There are two ideas wrapped up in unreal. One is awe. Yes, it is completely mundane to have a baby. Babies are born all the time. But here is a person—a brand new person—who was not here before, and that is awesome in the pre-slang sense of the word. Having signed a big stack of papers a few years ago means I own the the house I'm standing in. And the giant poplars I can see through my back window. Those huge, beautiful trees are are my trees. Um...what?

The second piece of unreal, for me, is disbelief. Disbelief is my leitmotif. I've been trying to figure out why this is, and I'm beginning to wonder if it has something to do with a sense of being unworthy. I can't believe this is real is really I don't deserve this. My favorite priest, the Rev. Marlin Connole would probably say yes, none of us deserves any of this. That's what capital-G Grace is. We are blessed.

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Whether my little human heart accepts it or not, this is real. This house. These children. It is real, this privileged, blessed life of mine. And the work of life—real life—is to strive every day to be worthy of the abundance.

And to say thank you.

Sitting
Thank you.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

ECCC &c.

Line Ride

Rob suggested skipping Emerald City Comicon this year. And I, much to my surprise, immediately said, "No! We have to go!"

I'm not now, nor was I ever a fan of comic books (or the culture that surrounds them, which is often only tangentially related to comic books, as many a con fan will tell you). I didn't really want to go. But Westley loves comics, and everything that's even sort of close to comics. We've gone to ECCC as a family for a few years now, but this is the first year that Westley knew what it was and was looking forward to it, even if his sense of time is still shaky at best. Westley started asking about Comicon—when was it, and could we go?—shortly after Halloween.

Rob and I both worried that the event wouldn't live up to his high expectations. And then we arrived and even though Rob had bought the tickets ahead of time, the wait for a pass was an hour and a half long. But Westley was remarkably philosophical about it. I was amazed. (He was remarkably more patient than the whiny twenty-somethings behind us.)

Once inside, he could hardly contain his excitement.

ECCC 2013
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R2-Awesome
ECCC 2013

Sometimes I feel like I don't relate to Westley right now, because he's passionate about Star Wars and Pokemon and I just don't get it. Because I'm an old, uncool adult who can't get behind laser swords and mutant animals beating each other to a pulp. But watching Westley squeeze every last drop of fun out of his Comicon experience totally made me want to get it. 

Next year, I'll probably be looking forward to Comicon right along with him.

ECCC 2013

* * *
After Westley's excitement, the highlight of my Emerald City Comicon experience was repeatedly overhearing, "Aww, little Link!"

Little Link
That's right.

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