Saturday, December 15, 2012

no words. but hopefully, there will be action.

I find myself out of words. What has happened in CT is unimaginable. Horrific. Devastating. 

I'm not going to repeat others' wonderful lists of things that might help the Newtown community. You've seen them and are probably doing something, too. For my part, I've called the President, I've signed some petitions, I'm going to send a donation to the Newtown Youth and Family Services, and I'm hugging the kids extra close.

I also just read Nicholas Kristof's excellent op-ed in the NYT in which he argues that guns are a public health crisis, not an issue of freedom or privacy. He asks why we don't regulate guns as strictly as we regulate cars, and he's right. So many Americans die from gun violence--we cannot allow our otherwise responsible and democratic society to continue this madness. Let's step up, together, and get the courage to stand up and demand change.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Three. Three!

Yesterday, my baby boy W turned three. He got one big gift, a little purple sparkly bike (a hand-me-down from a friends' 6 year old girl). We're trying hard to raise him so that gendered gifts aren't an issue one way or the other; i.e. it's okay to like trucks and dolls and it's silly to think that boys and girls can't share interests.

He LOVES the bike. My favorite moment yesterday happened after all the family members had gone home from our little party, after all the food was put away and the cake was eaten, and while M and I were just talking quietly while W was quietly admiring his bike. W interrupted to us to ask, "Mommy? How does it work?" and I turned to see that he had, in fact, been playing with the bike chain and trying to puzzle out how the chain related to the wheels. His hands were completely covered in black grease. We quickly ran over with wipes to make sure that the grease didn't spread all over our carpet (!). But I was mostly so proud of him. He was not only enjoying his gift, he was being curious about it. He was really interested in how it all worked together. I picked up the back of the bike and moved the pedals to demonstrate how the pedals move the chain and how the chain moves the back wheel to move the bike forward. I know he didn't understand it. He's only three. But the look on his face was absolutely priceless. I would be thrilled to raise a child who is curious about the world around him.

I am so honored to be a mother, and so grateful to have been given the chance to get to live with and learn from this sweet little boy.

Photo: Wyatt is three!

Monday, December 10, 2012

the long dark night of potty training

Indeed, the diaper rash is yeast! My ped has an interesting protocol. Lotri.min, of course, but then he also wants us to abstain from wipes and to use kleenex and baby oil at diaper changes. For three weeks! The goal is to keep her as dry as possible. He warned that even after symptoms are gone, the yeast may flare back up unless we go about three weeks being very careful the entire time to keep her dry.

What's interesting is how little I miss those wipes. The baby oil and kleenex thing sounds like it wouldn't work, but in fact, she's much cleaner than with the wipes, in some ways.

In other news, we've entered what a friend of mine calls the long dark night of potty training. W is wearing underwear over his diapers at all times (he LOVES his Thomas the Train undies!) and is sitting on the potty regularly. It's only pee so far, but I'll take it. At school, he's even better. No diapers at all--just underwear, though accidents have happened quite a few times, so I bought a bunch of cheap pants to keep around in case he doesn't make it to the potty on time.

This is where I am at the moment: knee deep in diaper rashes and potty training sticker charts. Other things are happening, of course. W turns three in a few days (wha?) and I'm in grading hell because it's the end of the semester. I'm also finally feeling healthy--I've had a string of headachy episodes and minor colds that are all but gone. It's a common end of semester thing for me. I almost always get sick or just physically unwell (you know, that feeling that something is off, even if you're not demonstrably sick). But it's clearing out. I'm feeling more like myself.

I also think that the last of the breastfeeding hormones have settled down. I find that the end of breastfeeding throws me for a real loop, and maybe that's what's been going on, too. I have no science about what kind of havoc weaning plays on a woman's body, but I bet it would be interesting. I suspect the answer would be that every woman is different and that the body adjusts in its own time, right?

Anyway, knee deep. I'll update on how it continues to go. I'm really posting this because I've been reading lots of other parents' protocols on potty training, and I'm always interested to see how it played out. Maybe someone will find my potty training attempts useful.

One last thought about potty training. My aim, in all of this, is to go at W's pace rather than my own. W is one of the last kids in his class to be working on potty training, and some of the kids younger than him (2.5-3) are already day potty trained. I just haven't pushed it because I wanted W to feel like it was his success, not mine. I think this is the right approach, though I'll have to reassess when we get farther along. My evidence so far is just that he's so freakin' proud of himself when he does pee on the potty or get stickers from his teacher for successfully telling her when he needs to go. That's what's telling me that we're on the right track.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

three year olds and fear; diaper rash from hell (a combo post!)

1. This weekend, we went to a three year old's birthday party at one of those places that has big inflatable slides and bouncy houses and other dangerous looking structures. It was terrifying on many levels, even for me and my husband. The noise! The bright colors! The screeching of three year old boys going down crazy inflatable slides!

W knew most of the kids because they're his three year old friends from school. But this inflatable paradise? Not his cup of tea. In fact, W had a full on panic attack (not really, but you know what I mean) when I was lightly encouraging him to climb to the top of one of the smallest slides. I was planning to go down with him and show him that they're meant to be fun, not scary. But he had none of it. He was literally clawing my shirt and screaming, so I went back down the stairs hugging him in my arms and told him that if he didn't want to go, it was fine with me. One of the other parents said, "you should have just made him go down with you--he'd have loved it." I said no way. I wasn't going to betray my son's trust, even on a small inflatable bouncy slide.

Maybe he would have loved it. Who knows. But I was not willing to take that chance. He's just a cautious kid. He watches to see how things go before joining in, and he's not the kind of kid who can be pushed into anything. I respect that about.

2. In other news, baby E seems to have a bacterial rash in her diaper area (though it's really spread out on her upper thighs and is less focused on the usual places). I'm treating it with bactro.ban, prescribed for this same thing last time by my ped. I'm going to call her again and make sure I shouldn't be doing anything different. No fever or anything, but she's really uncomfortable. Lots of little red dots and now, small blisters. I'm also using triple paste.

Does anyone have advice about this kind of diaper rash? My ped called it impetigo last time and it just seems to be back. I've talked to her daycare teacher and she says she's doing all the right things (changing her often, making sure she's really dry before putting on a new diaper, putting on this bactro.ban and triple paste). I even get the rash under control just in the evening and morning, but by late afternoon, her entire diaper area is bright red and she's clearly bothered.

Could this bacteria be something that resides at daycare and she's getting it back on her during the day? I do notice that over the weekend, I'm able to get it very much under control using my bactro.ban and triple paste protocol, but by Monday, it's back full force.

Any advice? Anyone see something like this? Does she need antibiotics (oral)? I know you're not my medical professionals, but the hive mind of blog writers is often better than my random googling powers (which have terrified me about mrsa and I'm having visions of these little blisters becoming antibiotic-resistant boils...). Talk me off the ledge?

Friday, November 30, 2012

What we all share

So my participation in NaBloPoMo crashed and burned. But I learned a really valuable lesson in sticking with it as long as I did. The lesson: it's not that hard to write more frequently and I enjoyed doing so. I hope to keep up more frequent posts from now on--it's rewarding to push myself to think and write and interact. I actually like blog writing, and I'm not sure I did before NaBloPoMo.

I went missing because life intervened and I had no time or words to write.

I had a friend--I'll call her M--who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She was a fighter. I didn't know her well before the diagnosis because we were just colleagues. I knew her to be a great teacher, a sweet coworker, and a hard worker. After the diagnosis, we became friends. She was encouraging of my starting a family late in life. She told me wonderful stories of her own path through motherhood. I didn't see her often, but I stopped by her house for tea several times and I was part of her email list, the list of friends to whom she sent updates on her fight against cancer and her attempts to rejoin the working world. For six years she fought. At one point, her doctors said that she was most likely cured, that the cancer was gone for good, and that they didn't expect to see her back. A few weeks later her left leg started hurting and it was cancer. Back. Spreading.

I saw her at a party about two months ago and she looked great. She had just had a new set of scans done and they looked really good. No detectable cancer. She talked to me about maybe coming back to work. But things went very quickly downhill and a new set of scans found that her liver was shot through with cancer. She went on hospice about two weeks ago and within a few days, she was gone.

She died on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Her funeral was on Tuesday. It was incredibly moving. I'm not Catho.lic but I found the full mass and even the open casket to be profound. It brought home the point that M was no longer with us. Her body was here, but SHE was gone. And she left us with so much.

I wish I had known her better. I wish she had been able to come back to work on a part time basis. I wish I could see her smile. Her daughter spoke at the funeral and described her perfectly. I sobbed quietly as I listened. For her and for me and for everyone who will have to face the loss of a loved one. Because we all will. We will all bury someone we love, if we haven't already.

I never spoke with her about it, but her daughter said that she had made peace with death and that she believed she was going to serve G*d in a new capacity. I hope that's true. I hope G*d exists and that he welcomed her with open arms. I have no idea what I really believe--my beliefs are all sketchy and agnostic in nature. But really--if there are people who deserve G*d and life after death, M is among them.

In other sad news, another close friend lost his father on Thanksgiving evening. He was at our house when he got the news because he and his partner had come down from NYC to celebrate the holiday with us and M's family (we hosted a big buffet dinner for 13). His father had been quite sick, had just had bypass surgery and was not recovering from it well. But getting the call was a shock nonetheless. One minute we were sitting around the living room having wine and laughing and then in the next, we were comforting a grieving friend who was coming to terms with the sudden loss of his father.

We will all be there. Grief is something all humans share. We owe it to each other to be good at comforting our loved ones in their time of need. I know we're not. I don't feel particularly good at it, though I'm not shy about trying. I'd rather be awkward and present than hiding from grief and pain. I think it's vital to be a witness to people in their time of need and to let them know you're there for them, whatever they need.

I think we need classes. Required. Perhaps at the high school level. To process the fact that we will all die and that we will need to comfort others. Let's see: math at 8:00, physics at 9:00, english at 10:00, and death and dying at 11:00. Sound reasonable?

I'll return to lightness again soon, I'm sure. It's part of the cycle of life: deep sadness, awkwardness, silliness. Laughter is such a normal, real reaction to death. I remember a close friend who told me that right after her father died, she and her sisters started laughing. Giggling. They couldn't stop it and it wasn't disrespectful. It was relief after a long struggle with cancer.

If you can say a brief prayer of thanks for the life of M, if you're a praying sort, please do. She was a lovely woman and will be missed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

crawling out from under a rock

Baby E is finally better. The double ear infection is on its way out. But in its wake, I've gotten walloped by a migraine, or something like a migraine. It's a massive headache that is barely eased by a big dose of ibuprofen, and I mostly want to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. Today is better then yesterday so I can only hope that tomorrow will see some relief.

And now I'm going to crawl back under my rock, or in my bed (supposed to be working from home, which I'm interpreting as occasional email answering and doing not much else). Hope all is well with everyone else.

Oh, and great news about Pam and Blood.signs. I am relieved she's continuing on. Such great writing.

More tomorrow or whenever my brain isn't throbbing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


There is a great prompt for Friday's NaBloPoMo and I'm going to jump ahead and answer it. Here's the prompt: Would you buy your dream house if the price was right BUT you also were told it was inhabited by ghosts.

Answer: No. I'd pass.

I'm not a big believer in the supernatural, mostly because the prospect of it is too frightening to imagine. Even so, I wouldn't take the chance, and if my subconscious got too wrapped up in considering ghosts in my new fancy house, I'm sure I'd see things that were not there and hear voices that were mostly in my own mind. Just for my own sanity, I'd have to pass on the dream house.

I do have at least one possibly supernatural experience to share, however, even though it might make me seem crazypants. I don't think I've shared it here before. Many years ago, a family friend (Mr. G) died of a brain tumor. I had known this man since I was in third grade and he died when I was in my late 20s. I hadn't seen him much since high school, but he and my mother were very close, so I had heard a lot about his fight against the tumor over the past few years. When my mother called to say that he had died, I made plans to come home for the funeral and felt quite sad, in large part because I knew he was leaving behind two grown kids, a wife, and his best friend, my mother, all of whom loved him dearly. I loved him, too, even though I didn't really know him as an adult. He was the kind of man I knew I'd someday want to marry: kind, curious, smart, open-hearted.

The night after his death, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night to find Mr. G sitting on the end of my bed. It felt clear as day and I did not feel at all like I was dreaming. I can even remember the sensation of the foot of my bed being pressed down by his weight, and my blanket tugged a bit where he sat on it. When I awoke, he was in the middle of a sentence, so I'm not sure how long he'd been there. He never moved around the room or addressed me directly. All he did while he visited was talk. It was like he had to get some things off his chest and I was supposed to just listen. I remember nothing of what he said. Mostly, I was annoyed by this visit. I had been happily asleep and wanted desperately to get back to it. I asked him to leave a few times, but he ignored me and kept rambling on. He wasn't upset or angry or sad. He never even looked my way, in fact, but stared off in space or at the floor while he talked. I remember drifting off to sleep a few times, and each time when I awoke and saw him still chatting away, I felt annoyed and hoped to fall back asleep again soon. At some point when I woke up again from one of these little naps, he was gone and it was almost morning. He had been there for hours.

I've had many dreams in my life, some of which felt quite real at the time. But I've never had another situation quite like this one. I don't know how to explain it, but I would swear to you that he was there. He sat on my bed and talked. And then he went away. I've never been visited by him again and have no feeling that his ghost exists or is haunting me or anyone else.

I called my mother the next morning and when I told her what happened and how it felt, she burst into tears. She said she had a strong feeling that it wasn't a dream and it was him. Earlier that night, in fact, she felt like he came to her but left quickly before they had a chance to talk. Her theory was that perhaps he felt like he could talk to me, and that because we weren't close, I was a safe person to process some things with before heading away for wherever (or whatever) the next world might be.

If someone else told me this story, I'd be certain it was just a vivid dream brought on by the intensity of his death and my feelings about it. But I was there. I don't know how to make sense of it. I don't actually believe in ghosts, I swear. I just believe that Mr. G visited me before he was fully dead and after his body had expired.

Other ghosts? They're almost certainly fictional. But I'm not buying a dream house with ghosts in it, just in case.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Derailed and A Note For Pam (two posts in one)

1. I got derailed yesterday and didn't post because E spiked a sudden fever of 104.7 due to a double ear infection. Came out of nowhere. One day, she had a normal runny nose (it had been hanging around for a couple of days--I thought it was on its way out) and then boom. Fever. Pediatrician visit. Amoxici.llin. Feverish baby. Sleepless night.

So yeah. Posting wasn't at the top of my things to do list. Fevers are so strange. I get that they're a productive phenomenon. It's the way the body is actively fighting infection. Yet a high fever in a little child is so scary. I've been alternating tylen.ol and ibu.profen and it's coming down. I think after another dose or two of the antibiotic she'll be on the mend for real.

2. On another note, I'm very sad that one of my favorite bloggers, Pam from Blood.signs, is closing shop, even though I completely understand why it's happening and I respect her need to do what feels right. Unfortunately, her blog went private before I had a chance to post a comment saying thank you, and I don't know her personally to have contact info to say it via email.  I can't imagine that she reads my blog because I was not a regular enough commenter to be on the radar. And I'm not a very consistent writer, so even if she knew who I was, I'm not sure she'd come by a second time to read my sporadic posts. On the off-chance that she stops by here for some reason, I want to say this (and if you know her and can pass it along somehow, I'd be grateful!):

Pam, you were one of the first bloggers I read on a consistent basis and you are an amazing writer. Our paths have been quite different in some ways (not the same kind of IF journey, not living in the same part of the country, not the same family configuration, and so on), but in other ways, your story has often felt so similar to my story, specifically in terms of the relationship between you and your mother. It's been a wonderful thing to read your words these last four-plus years and I am grateful for all that I've learned as a result of your writing. You've allowed me to think about my own mother, my own childhood, in new ways. Such a major contribution to my life, and certainly, to the lives of others.

And more than that, I've truly enjoyed your writing. It's often beautiful. It's sometimes hard (both in the sense of being difficult and in being rough edged). And most importantly, reading your work has always been worthwhile. Thank you for challenging us readers to keep up. I know you'll continue writing, and if you do so in any public way, please do let me know (contact via rachael623 at gmail dot com). I would be happy to continue reading whatever you have to say in whatever genre you choose to say it.

So thank you. Blood.signs was well loved by this reader, and I hope to have the opportunity to read your words again.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

learning curve

My husband and I were talking today about how we've probably learned more in the last three years than we had in our entire lives (except for the amazing first year of life, when we all probably learn more than the rest of the years combined). In three years, we've bought a house and moved in with each other (we lived separately until then). We've had two children and have figured out how to do basic child care (neither of us had ever spent time with a baby until W arrived....I had only changed one or two diapers before 2009, in fact). We've survived a few health crises, including W's week-long stay at the children's hospital when he wasn't breathing on his own properly. We've dealt with a serious decline in my father's health and well-being (a story for another time, but it's taxing, to say the least).

There's a lot left on our plate, of course. We're still learning every day. And we are a bit worse for the wear. But we're still here. We're still attempting to make it all work. We have learned more these last three years that I could have ever anticipated.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Not much time to write, but thought I'd share a quick experience before heading off to bed (and to make sure I keep up with this month-long posting extravaganza).

We had a date tonight (!) and saw a concert. I won't tell you the musician, but it wouldn't matter anyway because he's not a popular guy. He's a musician's musician, if you know what I mean. Serious guitar players would have heard of him. My husband is the one who knew him, and so that's why we got the tickets. I had no expectations. I've heard about him through my husband and other musician friends, but couldn't recognize his voice or one of his songs if I was being paid a million dollars to do so. I don't even know how to describe the style: maybe blues, maybe a bit of bluegrass, some rock and roll. It was genre-less. In fact, even after the concert tonight, I'm not sure I know one of his songs, and that's a little odd, right?

Turns out, the concert was really great. Sure, the music was good. But what really blew me away was how generous this guy was. He had a backing band of guys with him (two guitarists, one violinist, a drummer, a trumpet player, a saxophonist, and a mandolin player), and essentially, they just threw around melodies. The main guy played the starring role, in a sense, but mostly because he made sure that the other guys all got the spotlight, and when he liked what one of them was doing, he'd keep the spotlight there, he'd yell "play it again," and the younger musician would have his moment in the sun.

As I watched this go on, I realized that this is really what good teaching is. Yes, it involves sharing one's rich knowledge of a subject, and it means controlling the classroom environment. But mostly, it involves being generous and allowing students to be in the spotlight. It means calling out their strengths, forcing them to push themselves beyond where they think they're good, and then stepping aside when they get there.

Friday, November 9, 2012

a mundane Friday

Yo, NaBloPoMo is hard! I don't think I'm interesting enough to post every day. I'll keep going, but seriously...I'm not cut out for this kind of blogging intensity.

I went to the dermatologist today for my yearly checkup. I was blessed (hah) with fair skin and so I have to have someone look over my entire body to make sure that there are no spots or things changing that need attention. I come from a long line of pale people, several of whom have had spots and freckles removed over the years (including both of my parents). This year was the same as usual: nothing to worry about, see you next year.

It was so routine that my palpable relief is a surprise. I've mentioned before that I don't always have great interactions with doctors. I don't know why. I believe in modern medicine, so I'm not the kind of patient that comes in with crazy remedies to suggest or self-diagnoses to push. I follow directions well. I'm relatively smart, so I understand most of what a doctor or nurse is saying (and I'm actually interested in what they're saying--I geek out at how the body works and how medicine addresses problems). Yet I still experience a bit of white-coat syndrome before and sometimes after a doctor visit. It's like I'm clenching internally, and once the visit is over, I finally relax and can breathe again. I don't even realize I'm doing it, in fact. I hadn't really thought about the dermatologist visit until I got there, and yet I clearly had been more freaked than even I realized. Interesting.

Other than the derm visit, I did very little today. I "work" from home on Fridays, which means that I should handle some business via computer and maybe do other things to prep for next week, like grade and read and write up some notes. But the doctor visit kinda wore me out and I spent the rest of the day puttering and doing some grocery shopping. I had many plans (organize photos into albums, do several loads of laundry, prepare meals for the weekend). None of them happened. Why do I set myself up for failure on these Fridays? Something to think about. Maybe next Friday I'll plan nothing. Nada. And then perhaps I'll actually get something done.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

keeping my hands full

When I picked up baby E from daycare yesterday, one of the infant room teachers said "you're going to have your hands full with that one." I chuckled and finished packing up her things, but then asked,"wait, what do you mean by that?"

Apparently, baby E has a strong personality and does not easily move away from things she wants. She's not mean or tempermental about it, but she's certain of herself, even at the ripe old age of 13.5 months old. She's insistent.

It's true that this could mean that her teen years will be trying, and this is what the daycare teacher meant--she imagines that E will continue to be a strong personality and that parenting her will be a challenge. For the most part, I think this is an exciting thing. I'm glad that she's strong-willed, as it's something I often wished I was, especially when I was younger. I look forward to knowing this little girl into her young adulthood (G*d willing), and if she's a challenge, so be it.

Ultimately, this brief exchange reminded me again that this parenting thing is an ever-evolving set of challenges. Just when I get to know one stage, W or E will move right out of it, leaving me to adjust and change along with them. Not a new revelation--I've known this since the early and sleepless days of W's babyhood--but it's a truth that never stops catching me off-guard. Parenting is like a mental form of yoga in which we bend and twist, thinking we're doing a great job, only to remember that yoga isn't about "winning," but is about continuing to bend and twist.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

post-election hangover

First, I am feeling quite relieved, both that the election is over and that the people I hoped would win mostly did. I'm especially thrilled about the same sex marriage amendments passing in Maine and Maryland, and that Minnesota voted down an amendment to exclude same sex marriage. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the disturbing discourse about rape and women's bodies was rejected with the defeats of Akin and Mourdock. As a feminist, I am thrilled all around.

Second, I like this article on Slate about how there is still lots of work to be done. Obama's win may be a clear victory, but it doesn't mean that he's necessarily doing everything right.

Third, normal life can now resume. I spent too much of yesterday with my jaw clenched. I couldn't move away from the fact that a major decision was coming and I had nothing (other than voting) to do with it--it was out of my hands and yet I couldn't wait to know what would happen next. I didn't make it to the gym on Monday because I was so overwhelmed with the looming election, and I'm not going to get there today because it's starting to snow and I'd rather snuggle in at home for a bit. But tomorrow. Tomorrow, normal life can resume. It's an exciting prospect.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

my first act as president

What would be your first act as president? This is such a great question (it's the prompt for NaBloPoMo).

There are so many possibilities, but I think I'll go with this one. I'd immediately push (again) for and end to the Defense of Marriage Act and I'd reiterate that I'd support any and all measures to ensure full legal rights for same sex couples to marry. I know there is little the president can actually do at this point to make it happen (it has to be a legislative process, if I understand it all correctly), but I'd make it one of the very first things I'd  talk about in the hopes that things might move forward.

I heard an interesting interview on NPR's Air the other day on which the person interviewed proposed a national draft in which all young people, male and female, college student and non-college student alike, would be eligible for the draft. If they were drafted, they'd get lots of benefits for their service (free college education and other great benefits for life, like special mortgage deals). Further, they could choose whether they'd do military or non-military service, and military service would offer the very best deals (non-military would be good but not as good as military). And to appease the libertarian types, there would be a third option in which someone could opt out of the draft altogether, but the deal would be that they'd have to take a penalty in which they'd never be eligible for government-backed things like student loans and special mortgages through the FHA.

It just sounded great. I have no idea if this is a feasible option and I'm sure I'd be pretty annoyed if my college plans were disrupted for a few years in order to do domestic projects (I'd certainly choose non-military service). But it seems to me that this is one solution to the problem of fighting wars in which the wealthy and privileged among us get to opt out altogether. I've been horrified at the fact that we've been fighting wars for years and young people have died to protect this country while the rest of us take a pass and watch reality tv (myself included). And like any other big program, once people got used to it, it would be normal and part of our everyday lives. I'd be happy if my kids had this option, I think, and while I'd certainly hope and assume they'd choose non-military service, just because I'm not really ever on board with war (except in extreme circumstances), I'd like for them to feel invested in their country and their government in a way that most of us don't feel.

Monday, November 5, 2012

tomorrow's the big day

I'm not terribly shy about my political leanings. I'm on the left. Pretty far left, in fact, although I am not so far left that I don't find common ground with people in the middle and on the right, even. I've known many--too many--lefties who were so hardcore in their beliefs that they couldn't relate. I do relate. We're all humans. We all have beliefs and hearts and minds, and while I can't often understand why someone from the other side thinks as they do, I respect them for having those ideas and for caring about the political process enough to take a stand. In fact, I sometimes have more trouble with complete middle-of-the-roaders than I do with people on the other side. Strange, right? The lack of taking a stand is what gets me.

It seems to me that in order to have a true participatory democracy, we need to have true respect on all sides, and that's certainly lacking in today's political discourse. I don't watch or listen to much of it except for a little Jon Stewart when I have the time and have remembered to DVR it. I get most of my news from NYT and NPR in the car, and I feel relatively well informed.

It's probably clear where my vote will go, then, when I step into the booth tomorrow morning. And I will be hoping that the other guy doesn't win--I feel a bit terrified at the prospect. It seems too close for comfort all around, though maybe superstorm sandy will remind people that the government is necessary and that taxes go to support real people who need that support in times like these.

I hope this doesn't drive away any of my three or four readers. But if I'm going to blog, I'm going to be true to myself. And I'm not expecting to change anyone's mind here. Just trying to state where I am and what I believe, in short.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

sunday blahs

It is COLD today. I went for a very long walk with W. He was on his tricycle (it's got a thing on the back that I push because he's otherwise not very good at sticking with it for long). The intention was to do a few laps around the block, but it was so cold that I wanted to keep moving, so we wandered out of our neighborhood and explored some nearby streets. All in all, we were outside for almost two hours and he was a real trooper. He not only wanted to keep going, but he even got off the bike and ran a bit the way toddlers do. I love toddler running--it's so free and open!

But since we got back around noon, I've settled back into what I often call the Sunday blahs. The week is upon us, with all its lunches to be made, sippy cups to be washed, commutes to be made, and work to be done. It's the last respite. It's not that I don't like Sundays. I do, sometimes. But with little kids around the house, my fave Sunday activities are impossible (reading the newspaper and doing the crossword in a leisurely fashion, for ex, or taking a long afternoon nap...oh how I miss napping!). Instead, we're trying to have a peaceful day while gearing up for the week that is coming.

In short: all is well here in our little warm house. Sunday blahs are fully in session. And I'm huddled under a blanket blogging and reading blogs for a while before the kids wake up from their naps. Hope you're having a peaceful (maybe less blah-like) day!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

mommy outsider (a one woman pity party)

Yesterday, I went to daycare because they were having a halloween parade--the kids all wore their costumes and walked around the parking lot while we parents went crazy and took pictures. Sweet.

But it was also bitter for me because I came face to face with the old feeling of social exclusion. I was chatting with the other parents in W's class, people I've known now for almost three years. I see them at pick up and drop off and occasionally at birthday parties and other non-daycare events (the few that exist). And I mostly like them. But I feel like such an outsider. Today, one of them referenced the fact that she texts with one of the other mothers and I realized that I don't have either of their phone numbers. None of them text me, and I got the sense that sometimes they all get together with their kids without me and W. I've tried to make overtures on occasion, but they seem not to pick up on those moments and so I'm not invited.

It's like high school all over again. I left feeling totally hurt, sad, and confused about how else to get into this little community of mothers who seem to like each other. And maybe they just don't like me.

Part of me says: this is ridiculous. Adult women aren't like high school girls and they're probably not excluding  me on purpose or out of spite. But it still is what it is. I'm still on the outside and not only am I hurt by it, but W is being left out of some social events that he might really enjoy. How do I get in without seeming desperate? I really think I've done all I can. I even came home after the parade and thought that perhaps I'd look for them on FB to share pictures from the parade, but didn't find anyone (not sure I have their names exactly right....not sure if they're even on FB).

I'm sort of surprised at how painful this is. I actually thought that these women and these kids didn't get together much outside of school, so I imagined all this time that we'd eventually build an outside-of-daycare community when the kids got a little older. Turns out it already exists, just not with me in it.

I am socially awkward. I know it. I often can't think of what to say and I don't know how to connect with people. I find it hard to relax in settings with new acquaintances. I do best when someone seeks me out, pushes past my awkwardness and just befriends me, whether I like it or not. Most of my friends, in fact, have evolved this way: they've chosen me and I've embraced them, making eventually for a lovely friendship. Once I become friendly with someone past that initial awkwardness, things usually smooth out. For some reason, I'm having trouble finding that post-awkward sweet spot.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I spent many years living in a small town in the middle of a midwestern state when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I expected to hate it. I grew up near a major city in the mid-atlantic region and even though we rarely spent time downtown, it was always an option. And because we were near a city, we got all the benefits of city spill-over (lots of good movie options, plenty of restaurants, great shopping, easy public transportation). I grew up thinking that everyone had these things. Oh how wrong I was.

In fact, I loved living both in the midwest and in a small town. There was a strong sense of community there, perhaps because we all had nothing else to do but hang with each other. I felt like my friends were actively part of my life--I saw a friend or two (or three) every single day, either at my house or at a local coffee shop or in the grocery store. It's true that there was nothing to do. We had one movie theater with three (maybe four?) screens, we had one Tar.get that was updated to a Super Tar.get right before I left, and we had very few international restaurant options: one Indian restaurant, one sushi place, and a couple of Chinese take-out places, largely because it was a college town. I could walk everywhere and there was a sweet little downtown that had antique stores, brewpubs and bars, a bookstore, a thrift shop, coffee shops, a wonderful public library, and a river to stroll along in the afternoons.

There was something very empowering about living in such close proximity to other people, too. That period of my life was the most politically active one to date. I cared about my town, my community, and my fellow midwesterners. When a tornado warning sounded, I climbed into my bathtub with my cat knowing that everyone else was doing the same. We were all connected, somehow.

It was also cheap. I mean really cheap. I rented a huge Victorian house, alone, for $325/month. Two bedrooms, huge kitchen, big dining room, great living room with a beautiful fireplace, two bathrooms, a front porch, and a backyard. How was that even possible? Answer: it was small town America where prices were low and there weren't very many bad landlords out to get as much cash as possible.

I may be romanticizing it all now that I live back in the same metro area where I grew up. Its true that there were other factors making that period of my life so lovely. I was in grad school, and that fosters immediate community. Of course I had many friends around me at all times--we were all taking classes together, we were all in the same kind of emotional and intellectual cauldron, and we were all bored, to some extent. We needed to have parties to fill up the long hours between tornado sirens and dissertation writing.

I wouldn't go back to a small midwestern town again. It feels like that part of my life has ended. But I wish there were elements of that life that I could have now. So perhaps the best option for me would be another small town, this time in the northeast or mid-atlantic region, that was no more than an hour away from a major city so that I had options and urban life spill-over. Technically, this is what I live in now, but the little town I'm in does NOT have a clear identity. It's more like suburban sprawl. There is no sense of community, really, and no real town center. We can't walk anywhere. When my car is in the shop and I'm not at work, I'm stranded at home--there is literally nowhere to go.

I would love to be more adventurous and to have said that I'd like to live in Costa Rica or Rio DeJaneiro or Paris. I'm not that person, though. I'm sort of a homebody, someone who likes having a little nest and a place to call my own. I DO have that, at least. My nest is mine and it looks like me, it contains my loved ones, and it's where I can relax. In the end, that's really all I need.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gotta start somewhere

I decided to try NaBloPoMo for November. Am I crazy? Apparently. I almost a non-existent blogger as it is and now I'm going to try blogging every day for a month?

For my first post, I'm sticking (loosely) to the prompt: What is a favorite quotation and why?

This is not my favorite quotation--I can't even imagine choosing one quotation and naming it favorite--but it's a quotation from a poem I love, and I've read it multiple times in the last few days because I'll be teaching it this afternoon in my undergraduate class on women in literature. It's from Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck," which is a poem that I read to be about a woman who is diving into the ocean to see a wreck, a ruined piece of history. Instead of mythologizing that wreck or spending too much time imagining what happened to bring the ship down, or telling stories about the relics that remain on the ocean floor, she wants to see the wreck as it is:

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

What I'll explain to my students is that this poem is, perhaps, about how Rich wants us to see beyond stories, especially stories that have left women behind and off the page, obscuring their contributions to famous "wrecks" in history and achievement. Rich wants us to envision ourselves (women, in particular) as explorers, not as people formed by old arguments and ideas, but as people outside the old system. Starting fresh, more or less, not without history but without hangups about history.

Or, as Margaret Atwood said about Rich's poem, "The wreck she is diving the wreck of obsolete myths, particularly myths about men and women. She is journeying to something that is already in the past, in order to discover for herself the reality behind the myth, 'the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth.' What she finds is part treasure and part corpse, and she also finds that she herself is part of it, a 'half-destroyed instrument.'"

When I'm reading it today, I'm not paying much attention to the existing story that says that this poem is a vital work from the second wave feminist movement. That it's about hacking away at old myths of men and women.

Instead, I'm gravitating toward the diver's desire to see things as they are. To strip away emotion and myth and to really SEE the damage, the "threadbare beauty," and the wreck itself. To appreciate a thing for what it is rather than what we say about it. To stop telling stories and to just be. Without mythologizing or providing a running narrative of what should be or what might become.

I feel like I'm often telling stories about myself, not in the sense of lying or of pretending to be someone I'm not. I hope that at the ripe old age of 43, I'm not doing that in a public way anymore. I used to play fast and loose with the truth when I was young. When I was a teenager, in fact, I spent a year or so telling my friends that I was dating John Stamos and that he and I went on secret dates in his limo, hiding from the press (which is why they couldn't meet him or know more about the relationships). I was so terribly ashamed of being relatively poor and uninteresting that I invented a life I thought would work to make me into a person worthy of friendship and love. It never crossed my mind that they wouldn't believe me. Or worse, I found that some friends played along. Maybe they were deluded, too (I think this was the case with one friend, someone who had invented a life of her own and perhaps somehow understood my desperation). Or, as is most likely, they didn't want to hurt my feelings by suggesting that I was lying. I wasn't who I said I was at all. Eventually John Stamos and I broke up--I was sad for weeks about it--and I returned somewhat to more petty lies about my home life and who I really was.

But today, I live more as I am. I wear less makeup than I did in earlier parts of my life so that I look like my real self and not a socially-acceptable creation. I say what I mean and I think before I speak, both of which make me feel more true to myself than not. I give my attention more fully than ever before, by which I mean that when I am with a friend or my kids or even myself, I am mostly there, in the moment. I'm not daydreaming about what I'm doing later; I'm present and am soaking in as much of the interaction as possible.

Being just Rachael is easier than dating a fictional 1980s-era John Stamos. It's closer to being with the wreck, to being the diver seeing the ribs of the disaster and the threadbare beauty of the boat's contents.

I wonder, though, how to apply this concept throughout my life and not just in a few hard-earned places. In my relationship, for instance, I fall back on old myths and stories about who we are and how our marriage is plagued by seemingly insurmountable problems. I see him as he has been, not as a person who he is right now, someone who is also trying (I think) to make things better, even if he's going about it in a different way than I am. I don't always (ever?) see him for him. I see him as I believe him to be.

In my academic writing, I berate myself for being a terrible scholar. I tell myself, in that mumbling interior voice, that I have no new ideas, that I never really did, and that I should settle for being just a teacher because that's what I'm good at. The worst version of this story goes like this: Rachael, you're really good at asking provocative questions of other people and at nodding your head and making supportive noises at the right time, but you're not really very smart at all. You're pretending to be smart--and you're totally getting away with it--but there's no real intellect behind that pretense. It's a good thing you're a good actor in the classroom. This is a terrible story to tell oneself. Why cannot I not give myself credit when it's due? Why do I persist in seeing the myth of my academic self and not the actual flawed but fully interesting scholar and teacher that I probably am?

. . . .

Just got back from teaching.  I don't know if I was just "off" today or if they were genuinely unmoved by this poem, but I had a really hard time getting discussion going about this Rich poem. Sigh. It wasn't a total wash--one student came up at the end of class and told me that she'll be writing a response paper about it because even though she didn't get it when she first read it, now she thinks she has something worthwhile to say. That's a bit of success, right? I'll take it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

where I am (October 2012 edition)

Oh, it's been forever. I've been swamped at work and at home, trying to juggle too much (I know I'm not alone in this--feel free to nod in agreement!). I read off and on, though, and am thrilled about Mo and Will's new baby news. Such a long-awaited miracle and such sweet chubby cheeks in that newborn photo!

It's lifting a bit and I look forward to getting caught up on everyone's lives, so expect a few comments here and there as I do, even if they're on old posts. Some of you post so quickly I can't keep up in real time. I admire that ability to post on a regular basis.

I hate to do it, but I think bullet points might be a good catch-up technique for today, and then I'll try to expand on these bullets over the next few weeks. I really need to write out what's going on, just for my own sanity and self-preservation.

- The kids, W and E, are fine. E is 13 months (how the f did that happen?) and she's toddling all over the place. Fell down the stairs this morning, however, perhaps to remind me that she's not as competent as she sometimes looks (she's fine--she rolled down the carpeted stairs, cried, and then demanded a piece of cinnamon raisin bagel as though nothing happened, though I told daycare to watch her and call me if she seemed in any way different than her usual self).

- W, who is nearing 3, seems to have moved mostly out of a fairly defiant and difficult stage that hit around 2.5. Everything suddenly had to be done his way and by him. Predictable, I'm sure, but so hard to live with. A little sweet-faced tyrant. He still demands that I not sing in the car or talk to him when he's busy, but I can live with it because he's mostly returned to himself. I expect that we'll go through more at 3.5 (which I hear is far harder than 2.5). G*d help us all.

- My relationship with my husband is still rough. Rough, rough, rough. I know it's weird to switch from lovely updates about babies to miserable sadness about my relationship, but this is what it is. This is how it feels. We go from smiling at each other when the kids do something adorbs to ignoring each other so that we won't exchange sharp words in front of them. Well, this is what I do. He is not quite as good about it and doesn't see the problem (apparently) with having tense exchanges in front of them (perhaps even while holding or feeding at the dinner table). So not my style. I'd prefer to keep the kids away from our tension. This seems to all stem from the difference in our families--mine was silent and sometimes tense (not often), while his is chaotic, loud, and rather shout-y. I'm unfamiliar with that dynamic. And in fact, I'm quite uncomfortable with that dynamic.

- I'm not sure how to proceed, then, in this relationship with a partner who I believe loves me but who is somehow not really equipped or able to be the kind of partner I want. And to be fair, I suppose I'm not what he wants. I suspect he wants a stay-at-home perfect house kind of partner who cooks his dinners and does his laundry. As you know, I'm not that person and do not aspire to be. This is an old record, playing yet again (I'm sure I could link back to several posts where I've said this exact same thing). I want to remove the record player altogether, but I can only do that if he's on board. Sadly, he's not. When I suggest that we need to restructure our expectations (both of us!), he starts telling me that if I just kept the house a little cleaner, everything would be okay. So yeah, there's no restructuring of expectations on his part.

- I think I'm really angry and sad about this relationship thing. I have a right to be, I know. I hate that I'm even writing about it, in fact, because it makes me sad to admit that this is still going on. What the hell?

- Work moves along fine. I'm having a great teaching semester. Not that I'm necessarily blowing their socks off every class period, but it feels rewarding most of the time and I feel like I'm giving them their money's worth, which is satisfying. And next year, I'm teaching two graduate classes, one in the spring and one in the fall, which is pretty damn lucky for someone who is not on the tenure track. I'll have to write more about it...I feel lucky. I think I've earned it all, don't get me wrong. But lucky nonetheless.

- Insomnia. Weird. I usually sleep well, but perhaps all the stress of homelife is what's disrupting my sleep. It's too bad. Sleep was always a refuge where I could let myself be.

- Oh, body image. Why do you hound me? I joined a gym (one of those $10/month no frills kind of chain gyms). I've actually done a little bit of running, going super slow in order to protect my wonky knees. It feels good. I only get there three times a week or so, but I love it. I can't seem to exercise outside, but get me into a gym and I feel motivated.

- I'm not yet back on my ADD meds. I mentioned that I used to take them, right? Back before TTC for W (aka 2008). I've missed them every day since, and now that I'm not breastfeeding or pregnant, I want to go back on. But my thyroid meds had to be adjusted and I've had some odd heart palpitations (a story for another day....they seem to be benign), and until that's all sorted out, the dr. wisely has said no to meds. So I wait. I suspect they'll help me feel more like myself again, too. Might not help the insomnia, dammit.

- Yes, weaning. We did it, finally. The cabbage leaves seemed to have worked. Right around the time that I stuffed cabbage leaves into the bra and used a few icepacks, the girls stopped being so full and milk seems to have finally dried up. It all took longer than I had expected and I'm sadder this time than I was with W. Also, the girls seem to be very different than after weaning last time. They're really soft and mushy where they used to be firm. It seems they've become what I had feared. I'm mostly okay with it, but I do sometimes feel wistful for their firmer, bouncier selves. They just feel so textureless. Strange. Same size as before babies, though, so that's good.

I will definitely write more about most of these things, but getting them all off my (sad soft) chest feels better. I look forward to catching up and being back in this space a bit more--I miss it when blog reading (and occasional writing) is not part of my life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Be the Match

Are you a bone marrow donor? Please consider joining at Be The Match. It takes no time at all--they send you a swab and you get some cells off the sides of your cheeks and mail it back. Then, if you're matched with someone who is in desperate need for bone marrow, they'll call you and you go through the process of donating. Donation will mean the difference between life and death. My mother has been registered as a bone marrow donor for as long as I can remember (back when the only way to register was to go through a donation process!) and she's never been called up, but stands ready. As of a few months ago, I, too, stand ready and will be thrilled to donate if needed. BTW, I don't work for Be the Match or have any stake in the issue other than compassion.

I bring up bone marrow donation because the family at reproducing genius is experiencing a potential diagnosis of a rare form of leukemia in their beautiful three year old son. Please go there, donate some money via paypal if you can, and sign up for Be The Match. One never knows if their son will need bone marrow donation or not, but it cannot hurt to have as many people signed up as possible. Please offer support in whatever way you can. I've been an occasional reader there over the years, but because I have an almost three year old boy and a connection to the academic world, I feel immediately called to send out the word, hoping that someone would do the same for me if I were in that situation.

Life is so unpredictable. It often seems that horrible things happen all the time, especially when we are part of the ALI community in any way. We are privy to each others' moments of pain on a regular basis. But beautiful things happen too--all the freaking time--and we have to band together and send beauty and love and hope and money and bone marrow and whatever we have (--everything we have--) to anyone who is going through a time of need. Please join me in doing so.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the long process of weaning

Last night, I slept with cabbage leaves in my bra. A true sign of desperation!

How did I get to cabbage leaves? Well, I've been thinking about weaning for a while. I started the breastfeeding journey with E with small goals. 2 weeks. 2 months. 3 months. Hey, maybe we'll make it to 6 months! And ultimately, I hoped to make it close to a year like I did with her big brother W. Around 9 months, she started to be much less interested in nursing than in food. It became a challenge to get her to latch on long enough to bring on let-down. I skirted mastitis twice during months 9 and 10 because of plugged ducts. I got shoddy about my pumping at work, abandoning it altogether at some point because my output was so low and I didn't feel engorged during the day. Even worse, she started chomping down on me with her four little teeth, especially during those middle of the night feedings where we were both half asleep. Around 10 months, I decided I had enough.

If you've read any of my previous entries, you know that I'm generally pro-breastfeeding but am also very supportive of formula feeding--my philosophy is that babies need food and love, and the kind of food doesn't really matter. That said, I've been feeling some anxiety about not making it closer to a year. You know how it is. A philosophy for others is one thing, but a philosophy applied to ME? Different. I think I've worked through that anxiety for the most part. Remembering those little teeth biting me is helping!

So our last breastfeeding session was a middle of the nighter about 10 days ago. I felt a pang of sadness and then a bit of relief to know that this would be it. She barely took anything and seems mostly to have adjusted. There were a few days where she'd kiss my chest or bury her head in my clothed breasts, but I took this as a signal that she was hungry and that she could use extra cuddling, both of which I provided right away. Now, she seems to be okay with the sippy cups of formula and on her end of things, all seems to be well. In fact, she has started sleeping through the night after almost 11 months of at least one wake-up (often two or three). It took a few days of my husband going in and cuddling/rocking her to sleep, but she almost magically stopped waking all on her own.

The weird part--the part that leads to cabbage leaves--is that I seem to still be making milk, and in fact, am again skirting plugged ducts and mastitis. I actually got up and pumped briefly last night because I was certain that if I didn't, the blockage might get worse. Do cabbage leaves really work? I'll let you know. So far, they just seem soggy and smelly and weird.

One of the hard parts of this transition is that my baby girl seems suddenly closer to toddlerhood than babyhood. I'm not great with the baby phase, but seeing it end is still very sad. I loved breastfeeding, especially in those early months where it's just you, the baby, and the endless cuddle. I don't plan on having any more babies, so in all likelihood, I'll never snuggle a baby to the breast again and just writing that makes my eyes well up.

But it's time. It's time for me to go back on medication that helps me control my anxiety. It's time to enjoy being with baby E more than when I was wincing in pain from being bitten or when I had to force her on. I sometimes wish I was the kind of mother who was all extended-breastfeeding-is-for-me. And again, I support whatever works for other people. Most of my friends are extended bfers and I think it's awesome.

For now, I'm reeking of soggy cabbage and hoping that this new phase of milk production winds itself down soon. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

a rough spot

I haven't written much because I'm in a rough spot. I'm having a completely mixed summer. The kids are my joy and give me the happiest of moments. I have a few posts in the works about who they are, what they're up to. I have plenty of things to say about them, but I'm not in the mood to write those things today.

Today, and for the last few weeks, I've been worrying over the rough spot I'm in. What's happening is that my relationship with my husband is completely on the rocks, and not in an interesting or casual way. We're not having a fight. We're not clashing over an issue that we'll finally resolve with a hug and a kiss. Instead, we're silent. Angry. Furious. Most of the time. How did this happen? When did this happen? What the hell shifted and left us here?

I feel very tender. Like a big part of my life is an open wound that I return to again and again, unsure of what to do to make it feel better. Worrying that it will never feel better and it will always be open and sore. We have good days and bad days, and I just don't see how we'll get out of this rut. I miss him and yet I feel nervous when we have long periods of time together because these days, the silence is crushing.

Even worse, the summer is ending and the fall semester begins in a few weeks. He's a high school teacher, so he'll be returning to school and I'm a college professor and will be doing the same. Our lives will suddenly get much more complicated and stressful than they are now, juggling too little money, too much responsibility, two full time jobs, two little kids who are in part time daycare (yes, seriously, I do my full time job in far fewer than the hours needed to do it well because we can't afford to put them in full time's hard and stressful and I really wish we had the money for full time care). How will we handle all this given that we're in the rough spot now, during the relaxed summer season?

I know this post sucks. It's not telling you anything specific about my life and it's not ending on a happy note (like: we had a fight but we worked it out and all is fine!). It's just messy. But this is where I am today.

One last thing to mention. I really want to stop breastfeeding baby E because I want to go back on medication to help me manage all this anxiety. But adorable baby E has no interest in weaning. So on top of the messiness of my relationship, I have this sweet girl who practically crawls inside my shirt when she's hungry, and I can't deny her because it's so wonderful that it makes me smile just thinking about it. How do you wean an 11 month old baby who doesn't want to wean? I guess the answer is that I don't. I'm going to keep going for a little while longer. Hopefully I can just keep managing the anxiety until then. Breastfeeding is so complicated! And even though I want to quit bfing, I'm also heartbroken at the thought of doing so--I envy women who can breastfeed until the baby becomes a toddler, and yet I know I'm not one of those women.

Maybe this is all part of a bigger question: What kind of woman am I? What is my relationship to my husband, my kids, my job? It feels like I return to this question again and again in my writing, and perhaps that's where I should spend some time meditating. Perhaps if I figured out my own self, my own needs more fully, I'd be able to be less caught in the (often ordinary) chaos of life? Perhaps the rough spots would feel a little less rough?

p.s. The answer of taking an SSRI compatible with breastfeeding is not possible because I've had negative reactions to SSRIs in the past. I've spoken to my doctor and therapist about it. I just have to wait until bfing is over to take meds. But this is not to pass judgment on someone who takes an SSRI and bfs. It's just a personal thing for my body's chemistry.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

advice to a 32 year old woman

I mentored a graduate student this past semester, which meant that we sat in my office for an hour every week to talk about teaching. I gave her advice on how to handle problem students, we shared ideas for generating class participation, and we compared notes about how to comment on paper drafts. At times, we talked about the sorry state of the profession and the limited job prospects of a new Ph.D. in English, and as we grew comfortable with each other, we chatted warmly about our lives outside of the university. She is young(ish), about 10 years younger than I, and after a few months of this, she began to feel like a friend, not a student.  I genuinely enjoyed her company and am sad that the mentoring relationship has ended (which it has because she's not teaching next semester and I probably won't see her very often given our very different schedules).

In one of our last meetings, she jumped right into a discussion that I didn't anticipate by asking, "How is it to have children and be a professor of English?" Huh. Well, I said, it's pretty great. My schedule is flexible and I can make time to take them to pediatrician appointments, the zoo, and have a relaxed daycare protocol in which neither child is in full time (W goes to daycare four days a week, and E goes three). It's pretty ideal, in other words, and even though I sometimes feel like I have more work on my plate than I'd like, it's work I can complete on my own time.

What she was really driving at, though, was a deeper, more painful, question, which she asked as the conversation continued. At 32, she explained, she was in a new relationship, in the third year of a Ph.D. program, and was starting to worry that between the graduate program, the awful job market for new Ph.D.s in our field, and her fledgling relationship, she might not find a way to have kids before her fertility ran out. How important was it, she asked, to get her degree finished and her career started before having children? What advice might I have for someone in her situation? Should she even continue seeking the Ph.D. and instead, should she prioritize kids and family by getting a regular full time job and finding something a little more stable?

Whoo boy. I joked that we really needed to be having this kind of conversation over cocktails. I told her that I wouldn't dare to really give advice--every person's life is different. Every path is unique. And each of us must figure out our own paths pretty much on our own. I can't tell her what to do. I've often wished for a mentor who would take away my many options and would simply tell me what to do to be most successful in whatever I was worrying about at the moment. But that kind of mentor doesn't exist and we should mostly be thankful for her absence. It really is best to own our decisions and choices, and being told what to do takes away that power.

But, I offered, it seemed very wise that she was puzzling over these choices now and not waiting until the clock is ticking so loudly. And at 32, her time is probably not up, though one never knows. I am all too aware of women in their 20s who have fertility issues, so it's never enough to assume that age is the only/best factor to consider.

I said that it seemed to me that the Ph.D. is, indeed, not a clear means to a career. If she knows this and still wants to continue, even if it means going into debt, go for it. I did, and while I hate the debt (oh, you have no idea!), I don't regret the graduate school experience or the fact that I'm in a relatively great job as a result of it, even though it's not on the tenure-track. I would mostly do it all over again, though I'd take out fewer loans and I'd have focused on a slightly different field than the one I did, which has turned out to be the most saturated field in the profession. Ugh.

I also suggested that she think about these issues separately, rather than all in one big mess, because it might be easier to sort out her feelings about these issues one on one. So figure out whether the Ph.D. is really important. Once you know that, you'll be able to think about the baby question and the relationship question more clearly.

As for the baby question, I relayed what I have heard from other academic women, which is that there is no "good" time for a woman in academia to have a baby. If you have a baby in graduate school, you get accused of not being serious about your work. If you have a baby in the first five or seven years of your career, you get accused of not being serious about your career. If you have a baby after you've been established, seven years or more into the career, you get accused of not being a good colleague and of being not serious about the profession. See? It sucks all around. So the advice: have a baby when you damn well want to have it or when modern medicine suggests that you do, not when it makes sense in the academic career.

As for the relationship part, I had no real advice, as that's something she's got to play out on her own. They just started dating, though they've been friends for years, and she said they both know they want to have kids. One part of my brain was screaming: get moving! Do it now! Don't wait because it's possible that your fertility or his fertility is compromised. Go, go go! The other part of my brain, the more rational one, was saying that the two of them will hopefully reach a time when it seems right to them to start trying, but I did throw in a few caveats about how hard it is after 35, etc. I reminded her that men aren't always aware of how fertility works, so she should certainly broach this subject with her boyfriend when she felt like the relationship was headed in a committed direction.

How'd I do? It sounds here like I gave her lots of "advice," but really, I hope what I did was to relate my story, share some stories of others I knew, and reinforce that she was doing an excellent job of thinking these things through in a responsible way. My ultimate advice was to take these big decisions in 6-month increments. Think a bit and then revisit decisions/thoughts again in six months (and six months later, and so on). Don't make any rash decisions yet about the Ph.D. or the relationship or babies. But don't dally, either. And in the meantime, I said: live your life. Enjoy today and tomorrow and the next without spending too much time worrying about what's around the corner. Be smart, be diligent in thinking through your choices, but then live. We never know how long we have on this earth, and so it's worthwhile to savor it in all its uncertainty and messiness.

I wish someone had told me all this when I was 32, though I was a very different kind of 32. At 32, I had just finished my doctorate and had gotten my first non-tenure-track job at a SLAC in the northeast. I was full of hope for my career, and that memory makes me smile ruefully. How little I understood at 32! And babies were not anywhere on my radar, really. I thought I might want to have them, but I assumed the "right" guy was around the corner. As soon as he arrived, we'd get started on all that. Well, the "right" guy didn't show up until I was 35 and he didn't want kids at all when we began our relationship. I wouldn't have had this kind of mature conversation at 32.

What would you have said to this promising young person if she was in your profession? Or if you met someone like this in your travels and she had similar concerns? How much do we offer to people we don't know well about fertility, motherhood, and the complications of being a woman? Surely men don't have these kind of conversations, do they?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

me, myself, and I

This morning, as I was crawling back into bed at 4 am after nursing baby E, I felt a sharp pain in the middle of my chest. I lay still and prayed that it would go away, that it was a muscle spasm brought on by anxiety and/or a strange position during the most recent nursing session. I willed it away because I’m only 42 and can’t imagine not being around for my baby and preschooler. I begged and pleaded with God to keep me safe and alive and healthy.

It seems to have gone away and I think it must have been a muscle spasm. While laying there, I renewed my commitment to making a doctor’s appointment for a check up. I’ve been between doctors for about two years now—my old, favorite, primary care doctor is in the city and I have no time to get there these days (and I have yet to find a new, hopefully wonderful, doctor in the ‘burbs near us).

It’s part of a theme I’m pursuing these days in which I am committed to taking care of myself in as many ways as possible. I went running on Sunday with our new (to us—thank you Craigs.list) double jogging stroller. I’m not buying mass produced cookies and am instead indulging my cravings for dessert with one or two squares of dark chocolate. I’m turning off the TV to read whenever possible. I’m trying to look at myself in the mirror with kindness, the way I would look at someone I love and respect. I’m considering getting off the diet-coke-train that I’m on. (Hey, I know I should just get off right now, but I have an incredibly addictive personality and I can’t imagine giving up my 20 oz of the bitter drink every morning. I’ll get there eventually.)

This—my commitment to myself—may be the biggest and most important commitment in my world. Yes, my relationship with my husband is an important commitment. And of course, my commitment to care for my kids is vitally important—they’re my heart and soul living and breathing outside of my own body. I cherish these family commitments with everything I have and am. But all of these other commitments fall apart if I don’t keep a strong and centered commitment to myself. If I don’t care for myself, I’m not caring for anyone. I remember this, oh, some of the time, and my goal is to simply remember it and practice it even more often. It’s not selfish to care for yourself so that you can care for others. In fact, I wish more people practiced it (Mom, even though you don’t know this blog exists, I’m looking at you, here!).

I think I’ve found a doctor—a small practice connected to a bigger practice in my little suburban town. I’m going to call today and make an appointment, and I’ll definitely mention the muscle spasm and the other various and sundry physical complaints of middle age that I’m experiencing. I'm really enjoying this life, these days, and have no intention of compromising it any longer by not caring for myself.

What are you doing to care for yourself today? How are you keeping your commitments?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

up to date

I cannot believe it's been so long since I last wrote. What a bummer.

Maybe a brief list of items would be reasonable here, just to catch up quickly?

Item One. The semester is ending and I will really miss my current students. The theme of the course is graphic novels, and they've risen to every challenge except one, in which I tried to introduce them to the amazing comics of Charles Burns and most of them had the following reaction: "Ick. This book scared me." It is a kind of horror comic, though I cannot stand true horror, so it's really not that scary and it's more freaky and beautiful. I will miss them, though--they were talkative and smart and (mostly) interesting. I love when I can say this kind of thing at the end of a semester.

Item Two. I have been meaning to comment on a powerful post by Esperanza a few weeks ago in which she discusses how hard it is to be off meds while TTC. I have now commented but thought it deserved a mention here, too, because it's just such a great post. In fact, her recent series of honest and raw posts have been so moving I've found myself in tears. They're bringing back feelings I thought I had successfully buried. Surprise! Not so much. Anyway, the comment I want to make out loud here is that I, too, take meds for adult ADD and I'm currently off them because I'm still breastfeeding. I've been off them since January of 2009. I miss them every single day. Without them, I'm tired, often cranky, scatterbrained, and incredibly prone to procrastination. If I'm fair, though, I'm still a procrastinator and a bit scatterbrained even ON the meds, but less so. If you've ever wondered what life for someone who takes/needs meds for ADD is like without them, read her post.

I struggle with the "need" aspect of them the same way she does because it really seems like I "should" be able to motivate myself better/smarter/more successfully without medical help. I berate myself for not being "good enough" to live life without them. And the fact that they help with weight loss and maintenance makes it all worse because it seems like I'm making an excuse for taking them through my scatterbrainedness, even though I don't really think (in my calmer, more rational moments) that's the case. Whatever. I am coming out as a person who takes meds and needs them and who knows that there's no shame in getting the help you need.

Item Three. E is sitting on her own these days, only occasionally toppling over when she reaches over to grab a toy. When the hell did she get so big and strong?

Item Four. Reflux, the old devil, is back in my life yet again. I described E's symptoms to her doctor a few weeks ago and sure enough, she said we might benefit from meds. So we're in the middle of trying a second level medication for it, prev.acid. W was on it until 18 months and it remains to be seen how E does. She's taking it in suspension rather than in solutab (W was on solutabs) and there is controversy over whether the suspension method works as well as it's supposed to. Solutabs are apparently in shortage at the moment, so we can't switch over (yet).

Item Five. I generally dislike poetry. But I've had the hankering to start writing poetry lately. Strange. It's like poems keep popping into my head. I haven't written any down yet because I assume I really cannot write these poems (because I'm not a poet or a real writer--I teach because I cannot do). I know that makes no sense. So I'm going to start writing poetry one of these days. What an odd midlife thing to do. It might be because I'm hanging around poets IRL these days and they're on my FB page a lot, writing snippets and posting cool poetry links. Maybe I'm just going through some version of high school envy? Poets are cool and therefore I should become a poet (much like in high school when guess jeans were cool and I was poor, so I worked 20 hours a week at my part time job to buy myself guess jeans?). I'll keep you posted on whether this poetry thing manifests itself.

Item Six. A friend is going through last chance IVF in June and my heart is in my throat for her. Think good thoughts in early June for her. She's 46 and this is almost certainly her last chance.

Item Seven. I have a post brewing about a conversation I had with a graduate student I'm mentoring. She's 32 and asked me whether I thought it was important to have children before establishing her career or not. I'll let you know what I said (spoiler alert: if you want children badly, put off your career; if you are on the fence, live your life and check in about it again every 6 months until you make a true decision).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

breastfeeding (a PAIL theme post)

In the 1970s, my mother was a La Lec.he Lea.gue group leader. I remember, as a child, sitting on the floor with other kids whose moms were similarly passionate about breastfeeding. We sat though so many damn meetings. She was hardcore about breastfeeding, too. Apparently, she not only allowed me and my brother to nurse LONG past the time when we could ask for it, she also allowed a close friend who had a child around my same age to feed me if my Mom had run to the store or was otherwise busy. I assume she fed her friend's child in the same manner. WTF. Feeding another woman's baby, just because you can, strikes me as odd. And breastfeeding a preschooler just isn't for me. I have nothing against it, per se, but I think there are many interesting foods out there beyond breastfeeding by the preschool years that are/should be more nourishing than breastmilk. (Yeah, yeah...I know it's the perfect food and all...I'm just sayin'.)

All that said, I'm a pretty passionate breastfeeder. I have been committed to it with both kids. I breastfed W, my two year old, until he chose to quit at almost a year old. I was getting ready to quit it if he hadn't, but even so, I felt a bit disappointed when he refused the breast the first time. And now, with baby #2, my 6 month old, we're still breastfeeding well. It's a very different experience the second time around. My son would nurse constantly, even when not hungry. He got the comfort-nursing thing. E, the baby girl, is more interested in breastfeeding for food. She is much quicker to reject it if she's not hungry.

I fought hard to be able to breastfeed. In both cases, my kids started life with a few days back in the hospital drinking formula from bottles. I pumped and pumped to get my supply going (I'm a late milk doesn't tend to come in until at least a week after birth). And I tried finger feeding and other measures to keep them both from loving the bottle and refusing the breast. I'm very lucky that it all worked--it was just as likely as not to have failed.

I'm also a very poor pumper, and I'm not sure if it's just that I'm not doing it well (I sometimes forget when I'm at work) or if I'm just a low producer. Perhaps both are true. So when E is at daycare, she gets one bottle of breastmilk and at least one of formula. To me, formula is a total blessing. It allows my child to eat while I'm away from her and it takes some of the pumping pressure off of me. And for so many people, formula is the only option and I really hate when someone looks down on that choice or situation. A good lactation consultant will say that the first thing all mothers should do is feed their child, whether it be breastmilk or formula.

When I meet a pregnant woman and she asks me about my breastfeeding experience (it does happen!), I almost always tell her how difficult it is going to be. It's painful for the first few week and worrying about whether your child is getting enough food will drive you nuts, but if you can get it all to work, it's wonderful. And if you can't get it to work and you don't breastfeed, either by choice or by situation, it's also wonderful. Feed your child and don't worry too much about how.