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Friday, December 29, 2006

For complete disclosure purposes

I've been spending a lot of time over the past few days trying to come up with things that many of you don't know about me. This is a light exercise assigned to me by Bethany over at Mommy Writer. I've been such an open book and mostly have not censored my thoughts based on who may or may not be reading.

I have never felt compelled to do a list of this or that. They remind me of the junk email that well-meaning relatives forward around. They get to send email without really writing anything meaningful--they just hit the forward button. This exercise is sort of like that because it's a relatively easy way to write a post without being all that creative. But since Bethany writes one of my favorite blogs, I read her 5 Things list and I actually learned something--something about her outside of her crazy busy writing life.

So in the spirit of trying new things, not being negative, and sharing juicy tidbits...

5 things you probably don't know about me:
  1. I had a fling with a cast member from the first season of Survivor. The fling took place years before Survivor. I was in college, it was a lovely summer in Colorado, and life was so uncomplicated.
  2. I wrote about said relationship in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and in the Colorado Daily.
  3. I was a paid extra in the movie Sweet November starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. My Volkswagen Cabrio was also a paid extra.
  4. In the mid-80s, not long after Madonna came out with her second album Like a Virgin, two friends and I won third place and $25 in a talent show for lip-syncing Material Girl. I portrayed Madonna. Poorly, I might add.
  5. My mom (center of bottom picture) is a bellydance instructor. As a result, I know some moves. When I was in high school, I got all dressed up and did a demonstration in front of my class. It seemed like a good idea...
When I started this exercise, it was fun thinking about the exciting things I did in my past. In the end, however, it's sort of sad and pathetic that all the exciting, daring, gutsy things I did in my life happened 10-plus years ago. I can only hope that I don't continue to get lamer and lamer and more predictable as the years go by. If that does happen, at least I have these few things (and some others that didn't make the list) to think back on with a little smile.

UPDATE: I guess I didn't know all the rules of the game. So to continue the fun, I tag: Father in Chief, Grampy, Babs, Bay Area Shutter Babe, and Erika-Renee. Go forth and share.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The New Yorker of women's magazines

How could I be a writer and an intellectual, thinking mother and not know about Brain, Child magazine? It is fabulous and smart! And while I'm thrilled to now finally be a subscriber, I'm bummed that I didn't know about it for the first three-and-a-half years of parenthood. I proudly shout it accolades as a reader and I aspire to be a contributor. Along with completing my non-fiction book, it is a 2007 goal. I'd like to thank Aspiring-Writer Friend for introducing me to it. And not a moment too soon. Please excuse me if the rest of you already knew about it.

The articles remind me of the bright and thought-provoking pieces I read in Literary Mama, the compilation of essays assembled by Andi Buchanan. Brain, Child is the antithesis of mainstream parenting magazines. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones that can't get beyond the child part of parenting. The ones with all the how-tos on creating a well-rounded, good-natured kid who is a good eater and a good sleeper and is good at sharing and never bites and always picks up his toys before starting a new project. Those kids always eat all of their peas and can wipe their own butts the moment they figure out how to climb up on the potty themselves. And if they don't do all of those things--or didn't do them at the right moment on the developmental chart--well, then you probably didn't read the articles properly.

Don't get me wrong. I subscribed to those magazines in the beginning too--probably before my baby was even born. I even saved articles that I believed would eventually come in handy on the aforementioned topics. But then I realized much of what they offered was mostly gloss with little substance. They fed my desire to create the perfect kids and to be a smiley, happy mom, but my brain was hungry for information that pointed towards the more realistic side of parenting. The part that acknowledges that parenting is hard, is not always pretty, and does not always include the time to make the really cute cupcakes. Brain, Child nurtures the moms in the two-person parenting equation.

I've been savoring every article in my first issue as a Brain, Child subscriber. I've enjoyed it so much that subscriptions--and/or copies of the Greatest Hits--have been given to friends for Christmas. I even subscribed my friend on the receiving end of our Secret Santa gift exchange. I'm singing its praises because I want this to be a successful magazine that continues to fuel the brains of smart moms everywhere. I especially enjoyed the current issue's debate on prenatal sex selection. It amplifies what my lively debates with Laid-Off Dad for Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby blog were missing--the space to delve into a topic. Oh! was pithy and fun, while Brain, Child's version offers substance and compelling arguments without being dry.

So there you have it. Read, learn, think, grow. Finally a parenting magazine for me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How about work and kids?

Would a three-year paid maternity leave change your life? Would you have guilt-free parenting? How about the luxury of not having to choose family over work or work over family? And easing back into the workforce? How about going back to a guaranteed job? It's a dream here, but reality elsewhere.

On our drive home from a Christmas party on Saturday, there was a story on the radio about the generous three-year paid maternity leaves that French women get. Then at the end of three years, there is universal, full-time preschool and guaranteed jobs awaiting the returning moms. After a little investigation, I found an article about this in the Washington Post from October. I guess KCBS was airing some Saturday night fillers. Still, I was thinking about how different things would be if all women were given such generous and rightly-deserved programs in this country. Many women here--including my Bank Friend--get a six-week maternity leave before heading back to work. These inadequate leaves not only affect who is raising our kids, but also other personal decisions like whether or not to breastfeed. Bank Friend felt it would be too overwhelming to try and get her baby to nurse only to have to transition to bottles and formula so quickly.

This lack of options leads to picking one or the other. Work? Or Baby? And in my case, since there is no actual job to return to, the thought of searching for a job and interviewing is very intimidating. I've been out of work since early 2003, and I'm sure I'm a bit rusty. There's also a big gap in my resume now. And sadly, "Motherhood" isn't always an acceptable resume place-holder. In some cases, it's probably a liability because companies might equate parenthood with someone who will need time off for sick kids or someone who won't want to work 50 or 60 hours a week. But in France, where the leaves are extensive and paid, women don't have to choose. They get both. Be with the kids until they are three years old, then head back to work.
France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women. The government also covers some child-care costs of toddlers up to 3 years old and offers free child-care centers from age 3 to kindergarten, in addition to tax breaks and discounts on transportation, cultural events and shopping.
These programs were started because France was hoping to boost its birthrate, and it worked. According to the article, France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe. There are 1.94 children born per woman, slightly lower than Ireland's rate of 1.99. The fertility rate in the U.S. is 2.01 children per woman. "Politicians realized they had to encourage people to have more babies if they didn't want to live in a country of old people," said France Prioux, director of research for France's National Institute of Demographic Studies in the article.
This summer, the government--concerned that French women still were not producing enough children to guarantee a full replacement generation--very publicly urged French women to have even more babies. A new law provides greater maternity leave benefits, tax credits and other incentives for families who have a third child. During a year-long leave after the birth of the third child, mothers will receive $960 a month from the government, twice the allowance for the second child.
As a result, 75 percent of all French mothers with at least two children are employed, according to the article. If only we had half of those benefits here...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dirty talk

Picture this: It's dark out, past my bedtime, and I'm out of the house without kids, without my hubby. I'm sitting in a bar, drinking a strawberry margarita, waiting for it to be time to go see the Barenaked Ladies at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco. I'm with a girlfriend and two people I've never met before--her unmarried guy friend and her sister.

Then it happened. I can't believe I did it. I swore I would never be one of those women. But I just couldn't help myself. I opened my mouth and I couldn't stop myself. I was talking about my kid's dirty diapers. In public. Hello? With people who don't even have kids. What is wrong with me?

I don't even remember how it came up. We were talking about something and my friend mentioned that I use cloth diapers. (So is it her fault for bringing up diapers in public?). Well, something happened, and I'm talking about how easy it is to wash them and how they're not gross or smelly and all the personal gratification that comes along with being a little kinder and gentler on the environment. But no one cares. No one wants to talk about your kid's shit. No one wants to think about it swirling around your washing machine. Especially not single, hip, childless people who live in San Francisco. I don't even want to talk about it. I should have been talking about the election, going out dancing, cool new bands, what I'm doing for the holidays. How about that book I'm working on? Anything but shitty diapers.

Anyway, it was disgusting. I'm disgusted with myself. And how many of you were hoping I was writing about that other kind of dirty talk?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A burden lifted

An inevitable part of having relationships with people--friends, family, acquaintances--is that there will be arguments and fights and disagreements and misunderstandings. That is part of life, part of relationships. And it's too easy to be angry. To be negative. To hang on to bad stuff.

I've been talking with my brother a lot in the past two weeks. I'm trying to get him to patch things up with my mom. They've been estranged for years. He took sides in my parents' divorce. And 10 years have gone by. It breaks my mom's heart. It breaks my heart. I think about my two boys and wonder what it would feel like if they didn't want me in their lives anymore, wouldn't speak to me. I would be crushed under the weight of that sadness. She is my mom. My dad is my dad. He is my brother. It's time to move on. To unwind all the damage that has been done. To begin the healing. I hope he will have the courage to take a step towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

I've been exchanging email with a college friend, a college roommate that I had lost touch with. She was hit by a car while riding her bike several years ago and had numerous broken bones. She wrote, "I've realized its poisonous to hold on to bad feelings. I even have forgiven the kid that ran me over...I don't have bad feelings towards him- I hope he's straightened out his life and become a better person...I want to celebrate being alive and be grateful."

These two scenarios have reminded me of something incredibly important. It was as if I'd forgotten so many lessons I learned during Toddler in Chief's hospitalizations. To be thankful, to be grateful for all the things I have in my life. Because I do have so many things to be grateful for and have come too close to losing the things that mean the most to me. Life is so short and precious.

I realized I too had some growing and forgiving to do. I have spent the better part of the past year being angry at my sister-in-law over an argument that nobody won. We were both hurt, both angry, both sad. How did I waste so much energy being angry? It's exhausting and all-consuming. It's stressful and negative and steals sleep. And I'm stitching up the torn relationship.

I want to teach my children to love and to forgive. This means I too need to love and forgive. It is one of the hardest things, but it is so important. And it is so freeing and refreshing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When an apology doesn't cut it

When you're caught being yourself, you can't apologize. Or at least no one will take you seriously.

That's the problem with Michael Richards. The ex-Seinfeld star's racist outburst at a comedy club likely (and sadly) showed his true colors. That's why his pathetic apology via satellite on The Late Show with David Letterman Monday isn't going to fix anything. He fell short of saying that he'd like to meet with African-American leaders. (In an effort to save face after shouting anti-Semetic remarks during his drunk driving arrest on July 28, actor Mel Gibson said during his subsequent apology that he would seek out Jewish leaders to confront his problem.)

When Jerry Seinfeld spoke on his behalf on The Late Show, he said that he has known Richards for years, loves him, is good friends with him, and that Richards is really upset about what happened. However, he failed to say that Richards isn't actually a racist. I think that's pretty telling. But honestly, is Richards upset because he was caught being a racist or because he is a racist?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lost interest

How long can the creators of Lost expect us to wait to find out what the heck is going on with Jack and Sawyer and Kate and the Others and the polar bears and the black smoke and the hatch? Indefinitely, they presume. But they're wrong. Lost is on a 12-week hiatus--the next new episode doesn't air until February. And frankly, I'm not sure I can wait that long.

I think Adam Sternbergh of NY Magazine was onto something in his article "Never-Ending Stories: How to fix shows like Lost." His November 13 article suggested that these kind of shows--these drama, suspense, mystery shows--need an ending when they first begin. Instead of being an open-ended show, "we need the TV equivalent of a novella: the limited-run show." These Lost-type series "driven by a central mystery (Twin Peaks, The X-Files) peter out precisely because they have indefinite life spans. The writers are forced to serve up red herrings until the shows choke on their own plot twists," wrote Sternbergh. Perhaps if there was an end from the beginning, we wouldn't have 12-week breaks. And fans wouldn't be abandoning the show in droves.

This 12-week break is the Lost equivalent to the summer break, another thing I still don't understand about television. Last time I checked, people like to watch television year-round, and we don't like watching reruns. Come on TV executives. Can't you come up with any new material to keep our interest all year long?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I don't have time

A few days ago, NPR was airing an hour's worth of Perspecitives. The topic was choices and how our choices affect our lives, for better or for worse.

At one point the host of the show was ad-libbing about choices. His example was about a writer. He said that the writer who never got around to writing that novel shouldn't complain that they never could find the time. It's not that the writer couldn't find the time--the writer didn't make the time. Everything we do, every choice we make is a trade-off for something else.

That really hit home. Many times I've commented on Bethany's blog that I don't know how she does it. How she manages to work and raise her family and blog and write and re-write and edit her novels and shop them around to book agents. In a recent email exchange about her writing projects I wrote:

I read about your rewrite after rewrite and the little-to-no sleep. I cannot live on four hours of sleep a night. I really don't know if I could live on seven hours a night ;-) I need lots of sleep. I used to joke when I was in college that I'd sleep when I was dead. But really, if I don't sleep enough, my family would be dead. There is no way I could keep everyone alive if I wasn't well enough rested, or at least sort of rested.

And that is my choice, for better or for worse. I have chosen sleep over my writing projects. I have chosen to sit with Father in Chief and watch a little mind-numbing television before bed. I have chosen to have my kids with me everyday--although I'm in the process of getting Toddler in Chief into some kind of preschool. My choices have kept me in denial. I say to myself that I haven't been able to find the time to really hunker down and get to work. When really, I haven't made the time. To be clear, it's not that I'm never writing. It's just that I'm not into a writing routine that would actually produce meaningful results. I do a little here and a little there, but I haven't carved out chunks of time just for working.

The same is true of so many things in my life. Not just my writing. There's all those emails to friends I've never replied to. There's all my photographs locked away on my hard drive. There's all those calls I've been meaning to make. My excuse is often the same--there was this and that, and, well, life got in the way. But did it really? I doubt that I couldn't find the time. Really I just chose to use my time in other ways, for better or for worse.

But when it comes down to it, I'm the only one to blame for my choices.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Blog Book Tour: Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook

For as long as I can remember, Toddler in Chief has been an active participant in the workings of our kitchen. When he was too wee to put forks and napkins on the table, he was right there observing. Perched in his bouncy chair on top of the counter, he'd get to touch the smooth skin of red and green peppers, smell vanilla for baking or basil for pesto, and watch me as I chopped, measured, and mixed. As he grew, he would sit on the floor behind me with measuring cups and wooden spoons. Eventually he was put in charge of getting cans from the pantry and picking which pasta shape to cook.

Books have also been a big part of our lives. We started reading together not long after he came home from the hospital. Now that he's bigger, we combine our love of food and the joy of books. We often browse through cookbooks, look at the pictures, talk about what we'd like to eat and what ingredients must be added to our shopping list in order to make them.

Now there is a cookbook that is much more fun for him to look at than our regulars, like Vegan with a Vengeance, the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, or Lean, Luscious, and Meatless. The Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook is 42 recipes inspired by the illustrations and words in Dr. Seuss stories. The spiral-bound book is big, colorful and packed with pictures and excepts from the Seuss classics. If you ever wondered what "Blueberry Bumplings" or "Glunker Stew" would taste like, here's your chance. Other recipes are "Schlopp with a Cherry on Top," "Pink Yink Ink Drink," "Zans' Cans Chili," "Schlottz's Knots," "Cindy-Lou Who-Wreaths," and of course "Green Eggs and Ham."

As the executive chef of a vegetarian household, I'm a bit disappointed. Not sure what I was expecting from a cookbook with Ham in the title. Fortunately, some of the breakfast, lunch, and snack recipes can be modified to be suitable for vegetarians by omitting the meat. But the dinner section--which includes shrimp, ham hocks, fillets of fish, chicken, and Italian sausages--is off-limits.

Regardless, TIC loves that he now has his very own cookbook. He has enjoyed turning the pages and telling me what each recipe is about and how we're going to make it. Every recipe includes elements for kids--from mixing, to pouring and assembling. And some recipes require no cooking or chopping so that kids can create these snacks and drinks with little guidance. So far, TIC has mastered "Brown Bar-ba-loots' Truffula Fruits," which is an easy to make snack of fruit and yogurt and "Silly Sammy Slick's Sodas," which is a foamy combination of juice and sparkling water.

And if you're wondering what makes the eggs green in the recipe for "Green Eggs and Ham"--it's avocados! Yum. Perhaps we'll just make the eggs. Or maybe we'll modify it to be "Green Eggs and Tofu."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

We're only so safe

Apparently I've given birth to another super-sized baby. He's just three months old and he's already wearing 6-12 month clothing. It's not that he's fat (although he is getting those super juicy thighs), he's just really long. So sadly, we'll be saying good-bye to the super convenient infant car seat and snap-n-go stroller in the next few weeks. That means we need another car seat.

The easiest thing to do would be to bump Toddler in Chief into a booster seat and put Baby in Chief into TIC's five-point harness car seat. We were bummed to find out that those booster bases (for which you can buy a two-pack for $35), your kiddo must weigh 40 pounds. TIC is still seven or eight pounds away. So we can either buy one of those booster seats that accommodates 30-poundish kids or we could buy another five-point harness seat for Baby in Chief. It would have to be one of those Marathon seats that is usable until 60 pounds and switch TIC into that and put BIC into TIC's seat.

The latter is the more expensive option, but this convinced me. Sometimes I'm amazed that any of made it to adulthood without the car seats and helmets and flame-resistant pajamas and safety gates that kids have today.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Weird Al is back!

There are many of Weird Al Yankovic's parodies stored in my childhood memories. Some of the ones that come to mind are "I lost on Jeopardy," "Yoda," "Eat it," and "Girls Just Want to Have Lunch." And he's always had a special place in my heart because my dad, well, sort of looks like Weird Al with the glasses and all those curls. He even was Weird Al for Halloween one year.

But Weird Al is back. And I had to share this because I laughed and laughed. And I honestly don't know what song he is parodying here, but it doesn't matter. The video, the lyrics are just so darn funny.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Afraid to commit

I've been wanting to get back into the shoes of the old Mother in Chief...the spunky writer taking issue with public figures and corporate America when parents--especially moms--are given few options when they want to pursue a family and a career.

I have several--well at least a couple--posts just floating around in my head. Even though I'm a little tardy, I'm ready to rip Michael Noer a new one over his marriage and career opinion piece in Forbes. But something is holding me back. Probably the time-commitment-thing. I used to blog daily way back when I just had one kid and no book to work on. And even then it took a lot of time and effort to write. Ahem, to write good, entertaining, smart stuff.

So I hold back. Afraid to jump in again. Afraid to start and then stop. I just don't like being a quitter. So, if I never start, I guess I'm not being a quitter, right?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Traveling with two

I decided to brave the airports with two kids so that we could go visit our families on the east coast. When leaving San Francisco, I didn’t have to fold my stroller. They just took it over to the side and examined it for explosives and dangerous water bottles. But the Atlanta airport was not so friendly. How exactly are you supposed to fold up your stroller to get through airport security while holding a baby? I ended up setting Baby in Chief on the table. Fortunately he’s not big enough to roll off, and Toddler in Chief is a good listener so he stayed right by my side. Once I got through the metal detectors, the only table-like structure was the one with the rolling conveyor belts. I clearly couldn’t put him on that, so I just stood there and wondered what to do. Eventually one of the security personnel came over and told me I needed to move because I was blocking the aisle. But TIC and I didn’t even have our shoes on yet. Finally, I was able to talk the security guy through the process of opening my stroller and we were able to move all of our crap to another table out of the way. Good times all around, and I can’t wait until I have to transfer planes in 40 minutes or less on my way back home.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Because the Giants didn't make the playoffs...

Can you blame Baby in Chief for being so upset? Actually he was very happy in his Halloween costume until he started to ponder its deeper meaning.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Back to work

I don't think I've heard the words, "Get back to work," since I was 16 years old and I worked at Sunny's Restaurant. That directive was most frequently hollered my way when I was trying to avoid washing a drum of frozen, bloodied chicken wings. I want to wretch just thinking about it. Well now I'm saying it to myself. I've procrastinated enough and I refuse to let 2006 go down in the history as the worst year of my life. I won't use anymore lame excuses to avoid working: my kid's in the hospital, I fell down the stairs, I had a baby, my kid's in the hospital again, my husband was hit by a car while riding his bike. Wah. I want this year to be a year of good stuff too: I had a baby, I started to work--again.

Besides, my whole tag line was beginning to seem a little far-fetched and off-kilter: "Driving to playgroup, but driven to work." Not! Yes, I've been driving to playgroup and the museum and friends' houses and to the store, but work? Um, I think my position was downsized and I was escorted out of the building after I handed over my badge. Then as I drove home, I realized I was left with nothing but diaper duty and a longing.

Enough, I say!

I'm not going to an office or to a punch-clock or to lunches with coworkers. I'm writing my book, the book that's been floating around my thoughts for months, years. There, I've said it. And now I will do it. I even put my glasses on for other purposes than looking the smart-girl part while out on the town. I've done actual research. And I am setting goals and deadlines. It feels good. Sure I'm on the honeymoon, but I plan to ride it out until my loins and my brain are sore. And then hopefully I'll keep going. Because that's what you do if you want to succeed, if you have drive. And I'm driven, even if my drive was on hiatus for a bit. So MIC, "Get back to work!"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I love being an expert

Few things perk me up and make me hold my head up higher than eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, followed by an invigorating walk and a venti soy latte. One such rarity is a little undeniable, indisputable prestige. Last week's dose came when my mug (and giant belly) landed the premiere spot on my photographer's web site. And this week's dose comes via an online magazine's article on starting a mom blog. In addition to being the perfect parent, now I'm an expert on blogging as well.

Ah, fame, fortune, my name in pixels. Who says you can't have it all?!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fear, illogical fear

How I long for a nice anonymous, boring life with nothing but the laundry and a three-year-old's tantrums to piss me off.

I don't want any hosptial staffers to know us by name. I don't want anymore exciting ambulance rides. And I don't want to be afraid of what might happen next. I'm just sick of it. Everyday I worry that my son will get an infection that his weak immune system won't be able to battle. Everyday I worry that his heart will get worse and he'll need that transplant sooner rather than later. Everyday I think of the hollow life I will have after we lose him. Everyday I worry that my husband won't come home from riding his bike. His most recent crash landed him in the ER just four hours after we got Toddler in Chief home from the hospital last week.

Have I been afraid all my life? Or do I become more afraid of things as I get older? Am I more jaded? Am I just more of a realist? Or have I just seen too much tragedy to feel safe, cushioned? Fear. Illogical. Fear. Mostly, I think I'm just tired of seeing the people I love hurt and banged up. I know that my son's health problems are not the same as my husband's bang-ups, but I just can't take it anymore. I feel like my head is going to explode worrying about people, worrying about things that I cannot control.

I shared my fears with Father in Chief, and he listened with compassion. And being the logical and rational guy that he is, he set about to fix my fears with knowledge. He emailed me some statistics about how safe road cycling is compared to other life activities, and how the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks of cycling. I appreciate the effort, but that doesn't change how I feel. Feelings aren't logical or rational. If only it were as easy as reading a few thousand words on the topic. If only there was some pill I could take or salve I could apply. Maybe I've just been through too many emotional blenders this year to be able to step back and brush off the illogical, emotional mind-fuck that life is playing on me.

If only I could rewind my life back to when my biggest problem was who is going to walk the dogs. I'd be well-rested, physically fit, and emotionally stable. And my boobs wouldn't be quite as saggy either.

Friday, September 22, 2006

TIC hospitalized

For the 15 of you still reading my very slow moving blog, I wanted to let you know that Toddler in Chief was admitted to the ER on Tuesday afternoon before being transferred by ambulance to UCSF. After a couple of days of trying to diagnose the problem, it seems that he is having complications from his surgery this past March. You can find more details and updates here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It really was just 15 minutes

I guess my kind of fame is very short lived. Almost as soon as I posted about my Internet fame, it was gone. Easy come, easy go. Good thing I saved a copy locally. Sadly the copy I saved is just a fraction of the actual photo. The real version has much more sky and weeds, etc. was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm practically famous

One of my biggest regrets from my first pregnancy is that it wasn't properly documented. Sure we had the mandatory monthly belly snapshots taken in our living room. But I wanted to have real portraits done. And yet I didn't manage to get my act together enough to actually do it. Then I got another chance--I got pregnant again. We already know that second kids are destined to a life of hand-me-downs and that they get significantly less one-on-one time with mom and dad. But this second kid will have something his big brother doesn't have--very cool pictures of him in my belly. Not that he will care about that at all.

Yes, that is me and my eight-month-pregnant belly featured on my very talented photographer's web site. Ah, fame is just a web site away.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Another new family member

About three weeks ago we welcomed a nice Toyota Prius into our family. This replaced my wonderfully reliable Honda CRV. I have had to do some mourning over not being able to charge into and out of our very steep driveway. I need to slowly and carefully back out into the street. If I don't do it just so, then I scrape the underside of my car. And sadly, I can only back out one way. That means if I need to go the other direction down our street, I need to turn around in our neighbors driveway. Seems silly. And I'm sure it will be very annoying when I'm in a big hurry.

We've been learning how to drive our new baby to get the best mileage out of it. But so far, we're only averaging in the high 30s. I suspect this is because we live on a hill. Every time I go out for an errand and have to drive up the hill to get to our house, my overall mileage dips. Still, even with less than stellar mileage and having to go at a snails-pace in and out of my driveway, I feel better that I'm a bit less reliant on fuel. Even if I continue to get in the high 30s, I'm getting 50 percent more miles than my CRV got.

And to the obnoxious Hummer owner on my street (I don't know you, but I know you're obnoxious simply because you purchased a Hummer): sure you could drive up and down our driveway no problem (not that you're welcome here), but you can't fit into your own garage. So there. And by the way, I hate you.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dressing up the smart girl

Tonight I cashed in some chips and had some girl time out with Therapist Friend. I put on a form-fitting, stain-free shirt, some cute and forgiving gouchoes, and sexy dance shoes. I styled my hair, brushed on a little eye shadow, and lacqured up my lips. I even put on a necklace, knowing that no tiny hands would be groping at my neck.

As I waited for Therapist Friend to come take me out into an adult world of coctails and dinners that don't include a cup of complimentary crayons, I dashed upstairs to get my glasses. This isn't the first time I've done this--it's just the first time I noticed. When I go out to get in touch with the other me that used to live in an adult world of socialization and libations, I wear my glasses--my sassy, I-work-and-am-cute-and-smart glasses. I used to wear them daily when I had a real job to go to that required that I could read small print and type several words minute while talking on the telephone. But now, in addition to helping me read the small print on the menu, they make a statement. They say that I know how to talk about stuff that has nothing to do with matchbox cars and the cool new stroller that I just bought on eBay. They've become the accessory that says I'm smart.

And apartently others think so too. Therapist Friend and I had barely scooted up onto our bar stools when two guys came over to settle a bet: Was I the designer that they met at a friend's party just a couple of weeks before? Nope. Not me. But it was very flattering to think I had done such a good job camoflaging my post-partum self as to be mistaken for a party-attending designer. I confessed that I was a writer and not a designer, but never mentioned that I was a mom. That will have to take backseat to my sassy glasses-wearing alter-ego.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I am powerful: I am woman

It was terrifying. It was exhausting. It was by far the most powerful thing I have ever done. It was one of the most normal things in the world.

I laughed. I sobbed. I doubted. I rocked back and forth. I growled. I screamed. I swore. I sang Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire between contractions. But mostly, I trusted my body. I gave birth--without drugs.

The female body is amazing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The sicko lactation diet

Okay, here's the real reason I breastfeed: I can eat lots of food and still lose weight. But that's not all. I can use the breast pump in lieu of exercise. For example, this morning while Baby in Chief was asleep I pumped five ounces. Five ounces equals 100 calories. I don't think there is any other way on the planet I could burn 100 calories in about five minutes. Perfect. Now where's my chocolate croissant?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More than a mom: my eternal link to me

On many days it seems that I am not much more than a maker of food, a cleaner of spills, a organizer of activities. And under all that mundane, there is just not much left. It's so easy to forget that there is a real live person under those necessities who has needs and wants and desires and interests and passions. Or at least a real live person who used to have those things.

So where is that person now? I know she's in there somewhere, and hanging onto that person is essential to remaining sane. Photographer friend told me that her link to her former self is going out and talking shop with other grown-ups, maybe only mentioning her two daughters in passing. Because in that circle, they aren't the glue. They aren't the most important thing, or only thing defining her or connecting her to those other adults. Don't get me wrong, the kid connection is hugely important and the women I have met through my kids have saved my life.

But being a mom isn't the be all, end all. I think that having a newborn has made that much more difficult for me to remember. It seems that having another baby has pushed me farther away from myself because I am nurturer and protector and everything to this new puny human. My wants, my needs, my passions are virtually nonexistent because of this other incredibly important person who I love dearly.

Still, I know the old me is in there and I'm staying connected every once in a while. My link is dancing. I loved going dancing when I was in high school (I met Father in Chief in a roundabout way though a very cheesy club in Western New York called the Yellow Jaguar back in 1989), I loved it in college (Venus de Milo, Avalon, TT The Bears, and others in Boston--especially because my college sweetheart was in a band and I was one of the most dedicated fans), and here and there in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 10 years. Most recently at the Little Fox Theatre while my three-week-old baby was home with FIC.

Dancing reminds me that I'm still me, even if I smell like spoiled milk and you can see my breast pads under my shirt. I'll probably out there shaking my groove-thang when I'm 75--and for those few hours I'll feel like I'm timeless, ageless, and childless. I know that dancing isn't the be all, end all either. And it's not more important than my kids. But we all need something fun once in a while just for us.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Knocked up at the prom

What includes a black stretch limo, a high school year book show and tell, oodles of tell-all girl talk, gabs of glittery eye shadow, and 80s pop superstar Rick Springfield? It wasn't a high school prom. Nope. It was the Second Chance Prom--a local-radio-station-sponsored event in San Jose on June 10. I was a mere eight months pregnant.

Don't know what your high school was like, but a ripened-fruit like me was not an unusual sight when I actually was in high school way back when. There were probably 20 babies born to classmates during the four years I spent at Lockport High School. And who knows how many other pregnancies no one knew about.

But at this prom--this Second Chance Prom--I was proud of my blossoming belly. Sure my massive middle left me a little off-kilter and my left foot was still sore from my falling-down-the-stairs incident in May, but I danced and laughed and revisited my youth for a few hours. It was by far the best baby party ever, the best prom ever. There were no annoying jocks or popular kids to avoid, there were no curfews, no parents to lie to about where we were headed afterwards, and no boyfriends trying to score--that mission had been accomplished at least twice since this was my second pregnancy. That night, those couple of hours were about me and my girlfriends connecting, not necessarily as moms, but as friends. We forgot about laundry and dishes and diapers and husbands. And we remembered how to laugh and reminded ourselves that we need to do stuff like this more often.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

...and then my milk let-down

Baby in Chief is almost four weeks old, and I recently started using the breast pump so that Father in Chief could help out with those gruesome middle-of-the-night feedings. I'd been avoiding the pump because I had used it so frequently when Toddler in Chief was nursing--to establish my milk supply when he was born and hospitalized for the first three weeks of his life, to always have milk to offer after every feeding at the breast (because breastfeeding is hard work and was sometimes too exhausting for TIC when he was brand new), for the two weeks he was hospitalized for his second heart operation, for the six weeks he was on a non-fat diet after his surgery, for relief from engorged breasts, or just a night out.

I was standing in the kitchen assembling the pump and the freshly boiled assorted accessories when I had a funny little reminder about how my body remembers the milk let down. Most women get that when their baby cries or they think about nursing. Not me. I just need to see an assembled breast pump.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Permission granted!

Okay, so I'm alive again and I feel ready to write and to live and to just be. It's been months since I have felt this way and I wasn't sure if I ever would again after my son's long and difficult hospitalization earlier this year. My life had temporarily ended and I wasn't sure it would ever begin again.

But it has. I'm smiley. I'm cheerful. I'm happy to have my life back.

For a long time, I didn't think I was capable of writing anymore. I didn't think it was worthy of my efforts because it wasn't as profound as the experiences we'd had in the hospital. It didn't seem that I should allow myself the joy of writing because I didn't think I deserved to be happy, to have joy, to laugh, to live for anything other than my son.

Then my son started getting stronger and healthier, and had become his cheerful, car-obsessed self. And that was a relief. And then I had another son. Having a healthy baby is a totally different experience. I don't worry when he cries. I don't fret about every sound and wonder if every moment is our last. I marvel as his body without scars and think how strange it looks--so clean, so smooth, so uniform in color, so free of pain.

It's as if I have permission to continue living. So I've taken the liberty of writing about some very un-profound things--preschool, post-pregnacy clothing. Because I can.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sign me up, Scotty!

I've never been a huge fan of sending little kids to preschool or having them enrolled in too many structured activities. There is so much to learn in everyday life and soon enough they will be locked into routines and schedules and structure.

But now I have a brand new baby. And that seems to change everything--especially my attitude.

Toddler in Chief has been participating in a Spanish "transitional" preschool at a friend's house for two hours twice a week. This started several weeks before the arrival of Baby in Chief. I figured since it's at a friend's house, it's no big deal. He'll be with buddies from his playgroup in a familiar setting. It's like a playdate without me there. And maybe he'll pick up a few Spanish words along the way. He'll get used to having another adult in charge without me there. He'll have some special playtime with friends. I'll have some alone time with BIC.

But it doesn't seem that two hours twice a week is enough.

So now I'm going to have to hunker down and find a real program for him. I'm thinking three days a week for three hours a day sounds like a nice break, ahem, I mean a good amount of time for him to be out there learning new things in a new and positive environment without me.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The unflattering in-betweens

They say nine months on, nine months off. But surely it would be nicer if it only took labor and birth to burn off all those calories and be back in our pre-pregnancy clothes. I remember thinking that there were several stages of pregnancy clothing--one for when none of the regular clothes fit, one for the cute-and-six-months-pregnant phase, and the hello-I'm-about-to-pop-the-seems-on-this-dress look. But postpartum has wardrobe issues of it's own.

My kiddo is just three weeks old and I'm totally frustrated with myself. And it's not even my weight that bothers me. Sure I'm a little rounder, a little softer, and more voluptuous thanks to nursing, and I'm okay with it. What was driving me crazy was the fact that I'm in a terrible in-between stage for clothing. My pregnancy clothes looked ridiculous and my non-pregnancy clothes were sizes too small. There was simply nothing to wear.

That left me in sweat pants and bulky T-shirts. As if the lovely things that happen to our bodies postpartum aren't bad enough--the crazy hormones, the bleeding, the night sweats, the sleep deprivation, the leaky boobs, the hair loss. It would be nice if I could at least be wearing cute clothing. Frumpiness is simply not acceptable. So I took steps. I went shopping for this unflattering in-between stage.

If we don't feel good--and who does with a three-week-old baby?--we need to at least feel like we look good. We need to have an illusion to grasp onto to convince ourselves that we feel good. Restaurant-owner friend told me that it's not how to feel, it's how you look. And I think that if you feel like you look good, it improves how you feel.

I've only had these new in-between clothes for a few days now and so far my attitude has improved immensely. Imagine what a little more reliable sleep would do...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Just showing us who's boss

Thirteen days after my due date, I was finally induced at 10am on Saturday. The pitocin was discontinued a couple of hours later and Carter MacLeod Norton was born at 5:12pm. The serious contractions really didn't kick in until noon so things went very quickly (I was in labor for 20 hours with Toddler in Chief). TIC had an opportunity to meet his baby brother before bedtime!

We were discharged just 18 hours later. Our family has gained some valuable hospital management skills. Here are the first pictures.

Now for some rest!

P.S. for those who've asked, MacLeod is a family name - Carter's paternal great-great-great grandmother was Lydia Ann MacLeod. She was born to Scottish immigrants in Prince Edward Island in 1864, joining most of Carter's paternal ancestors who had already been in America since the early 1600s. Carter's maternal side would arrive years later from Germany, Ireland and Italy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

And the days go on

I'm still pregnant--just nine days past due is all. I had a non-stress test today and my doctor said she could let me go until the 16th. My amniotic fluid is borderline...something about me having seven millimeters (whatever that means) and five is the cut-off or something, but the baby is fine for now. Anyway, unfortunately, July 16 is a Sunday and they don't induce on the weekends, so it will have to be Friday or Monday.

I originally said Monday, but we get into problems with airports, etc., with family leaving and arriving on Tuesday. And it would be really sad for Grammy to have been here for three weeks and not ever get to see baby brother or only see him for an hour before leaving, since induction can take 24 hours or so. That said, I guess if I don't go into labor by Friday, I'll have them induce me, which is really frustrating. I just hate the idea of being given and IV and being pumped full of pitocin, which means really intense contractions and the likelihood of an epidural or C-section.

I know it's silly, but having a little bit of control or at least the illusion of control is important to me. After having no control over anything with Toddler in Chief's birth, I want to be in charge of something. I want my body to work like it's supposed to and I want to birth my baby--my way. I know the most important thing is that baby comes out healthy, but I hate feeling like I'm losing control of the situation before I even get into things.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What lies ahead...

As the inevitable approaches--I'm four days past my due date--I try to remember the joys and stresses of having a new baby. I try to remember everything that I have forgotten. Only the odds suggest that our experience first time around will be avoided. So in many ways, this birth will provide many firsts. I don't know the weight of my brand new baby against the top of my stomach. I don't know what it's like to hold my baby and nurse him when he is new. I don't know what a belly button stump looks like, or how to clean one. I never changed a meconium-filled diaper. Many of the firsts we'll experience this time will be firsts indeed, even though this is our second baby.

Then there is a big part of me that is terrified that other things will be wrong. It's like my brain is trying to shield itself from the inevitable pain by convincing myself ahead of time that things are going to be bad. Don't be optimistic. Don't be hopeful. Don't take anything for granted. I'm afraid to have this baby because I'm afraid of having a regular baby. I'm afraid of having a regular baby, only to find out later that he has so many problems. I'm afraid of having a sick baby because I've already been through that and I can't go through that again. Father in Chief says if our baby is sick again, we'll get through it--just like we've gotten through it with Toddler in Chief. I wish I felt that optimistic. I think all of my strength has been used up. I just don't feel capable of doing it again. In some ways I feel bad for this new baby. It's as if all of my energy, all of my hope, all of my optimism is gone. And if I need to pull some of that strength for the challenges that inevitably lie ahead--the challenges of a perfectly healthy, normal baby--it won't be there.

I can only hope that when he is born, all of my fears will disappear because he will be real. He will be perfectly healthy and normal. And I will fall into the rhythms and ebbs and flows of being a parent, of having a newborn, and finding myself in a new and wonderful "normal."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

How dare I have another?

For at least the first year of Toddler in Chief's life, I couldn't imagine having another baby. We had been through so much. We were still bruised, still reeling from what we'd been through early on. We were still haunted by what was to come. But after his second surgery, we realized that having another baby was like giving ourselves permission to keep living. Our life didn't end when we had a child with life-threatening health problems. It had just become part of who we are. Even though our experience could never be described as normal, it's the only experience we know; it's our normal. There will always be life before and life after. But that doesn't mean we need to be totally defined by where we've been, what we've seen, the sorrow we've felt, the mourning we've done, the uncertainty we face.

When TIC was in the hospital earlier this year--during one of his darkest days in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit--one of the nurses asked me, "So, why did you decide to have another?" The tears fell on cue. Her tone suggested that she couldn't believe that we decided to have another, considering things obviously hadn't worked out so well with the first one. I have often suspected that people have wondered that about us--not that it's anyone's business if we decide to have more kids. But especially as I waddled around the hospital for those six weeks, I often felt like I was being judged. And from the tone of that nurse's voice, I apparently was, even as I hovered over the listless body of my three-year-old son.

But why shouldn't TIC have a sibling? Why shouldn't we have the joy of another baby? The joy of a bigger family? Even with all of TIC's problems, he is amazing and I feel honored to get to know him, to spend time with him--even if he drives me crazy occasionally.

A friend is going though the process of having a second baby with a surrogate. She is 44 years old and the surrogate just went through a failed IVF cycle. My friend and her husband were thinking it was getting to be too late to try again because they are in their 40s. But her fears, her hesitations, her concerns about the future reminded me of why we decided to have another baby. We don't know how much time we have on this earth. All we can do is make choices based on where we are right now and what we want for ourselves. When my son was born, I realized that life doesn't come with any kind of guarantees. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for the best life we can build for ourselves, complete with all the ups and downs. Even with all of our downs--and we've had more than our share--the ups, the joys of being a parent to my special kid, far outweigh all that other stuff. Don't get me wrong, that other stuff is real, it's there everyday. But sometimes we forget about it for a few minutes and we live and we laugh and we just are. And it's all worth it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The weeks after

It seems like a lifetime ago when I would write--almost daily. My day wasn't complete until I sat down and shared some introspection with the world. It was so important to me, to my identity as an invisible at-home parent. It mattered. When I wrote I wasn't invisible anymore. I would sit bleary-eyed at the computer until late at night when the only sound was the tapping of my fingers against the keyboard and the ticking of the Einstein clock above my head.

Then my kid needed surgery--yet again. I could barely write. I could barely sleep. I could barely eat. Those are all bad things for a parent. Those are all really bad things for a pregnant parent.

Now we're on the other side of that harrowing experience, and I'm trying to remember who I am, who I was before we went into that storm. And it seems that I've come out a different person. I'm not just a woman or a mother or caretaker or a friend or a wife. I'm someone who watched my son nearly die. I'm someone who cried for hours every day. I'm someone who felt pain so deeply that it hurt to eat, to drink, to wait, to breathe. I watched my son crawl back from the edge. I watched the staff draw blood from his neck, rip tubes from his chest, be so weak that he didn't have the strength to hold up his head or lift his arms. He wouldn't look at us, talk to us, ask us for help or tell us when he was hurt. He wouldn't smile or laugh. He barely cried. He was stoic. He was sad. And there was so little we could do besides be there with him and try to comfort him. During those five-and-a-half weeks his body was transformed. After surgery, he was swollen, so bloated. Then he started to disintegrate, losing nearly 20 percent of his body weight. And now he's so small, so skinny, so boney, so different. He has been cut and poked on every part of his body. He has scars on his arms and legs and wrists and chest and stomach and neck.

I was scared to feel optimistic. I was afraid to love him completely, as if my body was trying to shield itself from more hurt, from what seemed inevitable. So many times my brain was trying to capture the essence of what we were going through. Even when it seemed that things were getting better, they often got worse again. My mind kept focusing on life after death. I'd always thought about those words as if it was for the person who had died. The journey they would take after they died. But those words seemed to take on a new life during those weeks. My mind was thinking about my life, my husband's life, my unborn child's life after the death of my son.

We are so grateful that we have him home now, even if he is smaller than before. He's alive and we have been given the gift of getting to know him more as he grows. Writing no longer sustains me. Those weeks in the hospital were so raw, so physical, so present. My writing is so abstract, so sedentary, so transparent, so insignificant.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

TIC doing better; MIC not so much...

We finally celebrated TIC's third birthday today--just seven weeks late. From a cardiac perspective, he's doing great. Unfortunately, his lymphatic system isn't healed and he's back on a non-fat diet for another month. As for me, I'm 34 weeks pregnant and I fell down the stairs last night and broke my left foot. As if my life wasn't exciting enough. Now I'm on crutches and practically useless as a caretaker. Ugh. Actually, at this point, we're not sure if my foot is broken or just sprained...we didn't get an x-ray. But I'll either be on crutches for two weeks or five weeks. At least I didn't fall on my belly and go into labor.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Day 27 in the hospital

My three-year-old son Riley had his third open heart surgery on March 23rd and he's still in the UCSF pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. Fortunately, Father in Chief, Grampy, and I are all taking turns with the overnight shifts. That schedule allows FIC and I a chance to sleep in our own bed every third night or so, even if we don't actually feel refreshed in the morning--we're just too emotionally and mentally exhausted to have a night of sleep perk us up.

It's been a frightening ride but we're on the road to recovery. We don't know how much longer we'll be here: maybe a week, maybe months. But we're grateful that our little guy is alive and we're desperately looking forward to having our old lives back (and our own beds). We've already celebrated two birthdays in the hospital (FIC's and Riley's) and are hoping there won't be a third (the next one would be the birth of our second son--due July 2). Follow the progress on Riley's blog.

*Much of this was lifted from FIC's blog... too tired to organize my own thoughts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Toddler in Chief heads to hospital

This blog will be on hiatus while my almost-three-year-old son R heads to the hospital for his third open-heart operation. Thursday will include a 10+ hour day at the hospital for a cardiac catheterization and other tests in preparation for surgery, which is set for March 9. If you are interested in regular updates regarding R's health, please visit R's blog often.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oh! Baby: Breaking the gender-stereotype mold

Even when our babies are too small to know the difference between blue and pink and boy versus girl, we are already--consciously or unconsciously--steering them in one direction or another. Girls are typically surrounded by frilly and pink; boys are surrounded by blue and trucks and trains. Kids barely have a chance to explore their own likes and interests before being told that dolls aren't for boys and tools aren't for girls. Whether this steering happens at home or at school, it's inevitable. I'm doing my best to let Toddler in Chief be who he wants to be, but even then, I've made some mistakes. Breaking away from 30+ years of my own biases and experiences is a hard mold to break.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Gravy train nears its final stop

As fabulous as my super flexible part-time writing gig has been, Oh! has decided to not renew our contracts. From what I know, they are shutting the whole thing down. Or at least they decided to not pay for their content any longer. Or at least they decided to not pay for my super content any longer ;-) The juice debate is set to end mid-March.

I'm definitely bummed because it's been a great writing experience, complete with deadlines. Still, it will be a proud addition to my stagnating resume, and came complete with a sweet monthly paycheck. But I'm also a little relieved because TIC is about to go into the hospital for several weeks, which could make focusing on my writing and meeting those deadlines a little tricky (I could have totally done it though).

The good news is that I feel completely encouraged because I've proven to myself that my brain is still fully functional, even though I've been mostly removed from the workforce for the past three years. Perhaps I'll be motivated to get out there to drum up some new work after TIC is home and fully recovered. Without fully ripping off Bob the Builder: Can I do it? Yes I can!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bye bye student loans...where am I now?

Almost ten years after graduation, I've paid off my $20-some thousand dollars in student loans from my undergraduate degree. I sent a check for the final lump sum last month, and the letter congratulating me arrived a few days ago. "This letter is official verification that your Federal Perkins Student Loan/s with Northeastern University is paid in full."

It feels like a huge accomplishment to have those loans paid off. Not only did I go to college and graduate, I managed to actually pay for that degree legitimately. I'm proud of myself for my success so many years ago, but it's also a sore spot simultaneously. Where have I come? What have I really accomplished? What do I really have to show for it?

Ten years after graduating from college, I'm not using my degree, my skills, my rolodex. My diploma hangs on the wall opposite me as I type this and I wonder what it really means to have that framed piece of paper. I suppose it means at some point in my past I was disciplined. I set a goal and I fulfilled that goal. But now that I've officially paid for that piece of paper, it's almost as if it mocks me. What I'm doing now as a mother requires no previous experience. No degree. No special skills. No references. No letters of recommendation. No essays. Anyone can do what I do. That's probably why it is not a respected position in society. No prerequisites. No qualifications needed.

I had a good run as a journalist. I was respected and had a lovely sizable paycheck to back it up. I traveled to exciting conferences in Napa and Boston and New York City, ate in fancy restaurants, and slept in cozy, swanky hotels on the company's dime. It was so glamorous. Then I realized it wasn't for me. I didn't like many parts of being a reporter--the deadlines, the annoying editors standing over my shoulder, the pressure to break stories before the Wall Street Journal. So I mustered up the courage to try something new, and then I got pregnant. And now more than three years later, I'm pregnant again.

For now, my diploma and my skills will continue to gather dust, and I will continue to rack up years of experience in my new profession. Perhaps ten years from now when I look back on my years as a struggling mother, I will no longer wonder if I was doing the right thing. Hopefully my kids will be my daily reminder.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Oh! Baby: To snip or to tie, that is the question

Just five days ago, Systems Administrator Friend had her third baby via c-section. While her belly was open, she had her tubes tied. She said that her husband will also have a vasectomy because they don't want to take any chances for a possible fourth baby. For a long time I thought Father in Chief would be the one to take on the burden of managing our birth control after we retired my uterus, since it's been my thing--from the pill, to a diaphragm, to an IUD--for so many years. I'll admit, though, that after all my research on circumcision, I don't anyone to cut up FIC's special parts either. So where does that leave us? I guess right back where we were for all those years before kids...because I'm not having a tubal ligation. From morning sickness to labor, my body has been through enough! I guess we could always resort to condoms, but they really are lame.

Monday, February 20, 2006

And the gender is...

After not posting all weekend, I thought I'd take the easy way out and publish a picture of my expanding waistline. And I thought I'd share the good news that Toddler in Chief is going to have a brother! Both Father in Chief and I come from families with an older brother/younger sister, so we're breaking the trend. Brothers...I think it's pretty cool.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Does a grunt count?

Technology connects us and pushes us apart. In so many ways I'm communicating with Father in Chief during the day. We instant message each other, send email, talk on the telephone. And when he's on his way home, he always calls to give us the heads up. But after he pulls into the garage and actually comes up the stairs, there are many days when I barely acknowledge he's entered the house.

It's not that I don't care--I'm actually relieved to have some parental back-up--but usually I'm just in the middle of something, usually getting dinner on the table (call me old-fashioned, in that way). In Maggie Jackson's February 12 column entitled, Repeat after me: 'Welcome home, dear', she wrote about a study that found that that classic phrase is going the way of the VCR. Jackson wrote:

"[W]ives stop what they are doing and welcome home a returning spouse only a little more than a third of the time. Mostly, they are too irritable or busy to do so...Husbands do better, with more than half offering a positive greeting to a spouse. Children greet their fathers, who are mostly the last to return, positively only a third of the time, and often don't even look up when the dad reenters the house."

If we did not have a way to communicate throughout the day, I'd probably be a little more energetic to run and greet FIC when he came in. But since I just talked with him 30 minutes earlier, there isn't a wave of information to pass his way. Plus, I know that we'll get a chance to connect while we're eating. Sure Toddler in Chief will make it difficult for us to have meaningful discourse, but we will be talking and sharing and together.

For TIC's sake, I have decided to try and be a little warmer when FIC comes in. I want him to know that it's always exciting when Daddy comes in. Sure when he's a teenager, we'll be lucky if he comes out of his room for meals. But until then, I'd like to try and instill a strong sense of family. And maybe a nice greeting and acknowledging that someone has joined us is a good way to start.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Oh! Baby: Diciplining our kids and others

Figuring out proper discipline for our own kids is a life-long process. Usually it's trial and error. When it comes to disciplining other people's kids, it's even trickier. Sure we don't want to tell our friends what to do, but we don't want to stop hanging around with certain friends because their kids are really annoying either.

I believe that learning to parent and discipline is a process that includes the helpful (and sometimes not helpful) advice of friends and family. And just as parenting advice in general from friends and family can be overwhelming and sometimes unwanted, I think that there are nuggets of good stuff in there that we can actually learn from.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

One out of every hundred

Heart defects are the number one birth defect, affecting one out of every hundred babies born--more than 40,000 in the United States alone. We're grateful to live in a country where medical technology is able to save the lives of many babies, including our son Riley.

To coincide with Valentine's Day, February 14 is now widely recognized as Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day. Over the weekend, we went to two heart-related events. On Saturday, we trekked two hours to Modesto for a fundraiser for Camp Taylor, a free summer camp for kids with heart defects and their siblings. And on Sunday, we enjoyed a festive party, hosted by Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.

For a few minutes every day, I try to remember how grateful I am for how far we've come, despite all the obstacles and challenges. And with Riley's third open-heart surgery just three weeks away, my thoughts have shifted to be more focused with what is to come, rather than where we've been. My mind has been overwhelmingly occupied with thoughts of hospitals sights and smells, doctors, and the overall reality of being in the hospital round the clock for several weeks. And with the hospital so close, it makes CHD Awareness Day all the more important to me this year. I'm thankful that there are wonderful organizations out there working to raise awareness and funds to help strangers--regular people like us.

See Father in Chief's post for more information on CHD Awareness Day and things you can do.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fetal echo looks good

The belly was examined Friday and the baby's heart was checked out -- every chamber, every valve, every artery, and vein that could be identified was examined and looks good.

Don't know why I'm not comforted by this information.

The first time around, I was convinced that everything was fine. I was so laid back and had a blissfully ignorant pregancy. Now this time around, I'm convinced that everything is wrong. Okay, so the pediatric cardiologist says the heart checks out, but then it will definitely be something else. So the genetic counselor says my expanded AFP looks good and there are likely no chromosomal defects, but it still could happen. I guess I'm just not that comforted by statistics. Sure my chances for Downs are 1 in 3,900, but that's nothing to me. Toddler in Chief's chance of ending up with his smorgasbord of defects was around 1 in 100,000, so 1 in 3,900 sounds like a pretty significant chance.

Even if Baby is handed to me and the docs say everything looks great--a perfect baby--I doubt I will ever feel that he is really okay, that I can finally stop worrying. I'm sure he'll be blind or deaf or in a couple of years, we'll find out that he has a mental disability or autism or a life-threatening peanut allergy. It just seems so unlikely that I could possibly grow a healthy baby. I've never done that before.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Blog Book Tour: Literary Mama

Motherhood is one of the most misunderstood professions. Or, perhaps it is one of the most falsely-advertised career paths. The mishmash of helplessness, hurt, anxiety, love, joy, and sadness is not something that is readily advertised in parenting magazines. Those promoted images portrait happy, thriving women in spotless clothing with cheerful, well-behaved and well-adjusted kids in tow. Those women are rarely hurt or depressed or alone. Occasionally you'll find the story of a women who overcomes adversity or whose child was ill. But even then, the guts of the story was removed and the end piece reflects the glossy pages it was printed on. That makes the rest of us feel like failures when we don't feel perky, totally satisfied, completely fulfilled, or in love with out kids every day.

One of the reasons I started a blog and have become addicted to reading blogs by mothers is that our personal journeys connect us and remove that layer of isolation. I read about mothers who struggle the way I struggle, who feel the way I sometimes feel: blank, unwritten, erased.

Andi Buchanan, author of Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It and Amy Hudock, PhD, coeditor of American Women Prose Writers," have edited a new book called, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined. It's a collection of creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry that captures the many faces of motherhood. It applauds all of the roads that lead to motherhood and acknowledges that every struggle and every triumph--big and small--was not in vain because there is someone out there who can empathize with the experience.

In many of the essays, I could see myself. I could feel the pain and the joy of mothering.

In her essay, Out of the Woods, Lizbeth Finn-Arnold found a way out of a nurturing rut and ultimately rediscovered herself, her interests, and her passions. She wrote: "I had become stuck in a maternal pattern of nurturing others before myself...It has become easier to reclaim some of my former self, as my children get older, become more independent, and spend more time at school. I have also learned to take the time to nourish my soul, mind, body--without feeling guilty."

In her essay, Johnny, Heidi Raykeil learned to hurt, to heal, and to live after the death of her newborn. She wrote: "If only I could put him back, where he was safe and alive. I would go on being pregnant for a lifetime if it meant he would be healthy and happy, turning somersaults and kicking the days away inside me...(After his death) [t]hey commented on how amazing we through the whole thing, how miraculous Johnny was, how we were somehow bettered by the experience. But to me it seemed like a load of crap..."

While mothering is an individual journey, there are few paths that have not been walked on before. And reading other women's experiences is like having some kind of map; it does not tell us where to go, but rather, it allows us to feel good about how we've managed to get this far and where we're headed. Even when the destination is unclear.

Read the book introduction here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Oh! Baby: What's on your kid's butt?

For the majority of Toddler in Chief's life, his bum has been wrapped with cloth diapers, secured with Snappi Clips. A diaper service makes this choice a little less gross, although there are lots of people who wash their own cloth diapers and don't think it's so bad either. Sure I secretly like when we go out of town and I have to use those evil disposable diapers. No soggy remains of that big glass of juice that TIC had at breakfast. No stinky reminders of TIC's dinner heavily wrapped in the diaper bag (which makes me feel like a dog owner carrying around a plastic bag of poo). I hate that I secretly enjoy those using those things. If only my conscience didn't care.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Modified mission accomplished, sort of

Despite yesterday's curmudgeon-like attitude, I signed up for the pre-natal fitness class and actually attended the first one today. Getting out the door without Toddler in Chief was a feat all by itself. No, it's not anything to stimulate my brain, like an actual class where you learn stuff. But at least I'm doing something for me--even if it is directly related to motherhood.

They say the first step is always the hardest, right? Perhaps this will build confidence that I can actually manage to get out of the house and attend a regularly-scheduled event without TIC (and no, going out dancing doesn't count--only because it's not a regular enough outing).

And the verdict is that it was great fun, and there were some potential friends there (yes, still mourning the move of my fabulous dance partner-in-crime). Yes, I was scoping out the class--probably would have been asked to leave if anyone knew. I tried to do it on the sly, but I'm a bit out of practice.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Psyched for the impossible

As Toddler in Chief gets bigger, more verbal, and independent, I fantasize about gaining a bit of my old life back. My photography-loving, hiking, can't-sit-home-for-a-minute, want-to-get-an-advanced-degree me. I start looking at university web sites, figuring out deadlines for admissions and start wondering how I'm going to get all those essays and recommendations from former professors who haven't heard from me in 10 years in by the deadline. I get excited about the thought of being on a college campus, surrounded by the enthusiasm of young students who haven't been jaded by real-world corporate BS just yet.

And then I realize I'm almost 20-weeks pregnant.

I can't help but wonder if my enthusiasm is heightened by the unconscious realization that can't realistically go back to school right now. There's no way I can be in school in the fall (not to mention that the deadlines for admissions have already passed). I'll have a tiny baby and I'll be nursing round the clock and totally exhausted. I'll have two kids needing my attention and twice the laundry to prove it. So I scale by my ambitions. I thumb through our town's continuing education catalog and pick out photography, Spanish, cooking and pre-natal yoga classes that I'd like to sign up for. I get excited about getting out the house to do something just for me, without any kids in tow (except for that little creature doing summersaults in my belly). And I get almost euphoric as I realize that the classes are starting this week!

And then I realize that TIC is going into the hospital in just a couple of weeks, which means I'll miss a month of class, maybe longer.

I can't help but wonder if I get excited about doing stuff for myself only when it isn't possible. I get excited about stuff that I know that I'll never actually do. At least not for a bunch of years. How pathetic is that?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Review: Postpartum Euphoria

With every choice we make, we give something up. And for any working mother who has struggled with whether she should stay in her corporate job or shift to being an at-home parent, it's hard to really know the consequences of that choice without giving up the job completely.

Bethany Hiitola, of Mommy Writer, gives us a look into the life of a woman going through a somewhat unintended transition to full-time motherhood in the updated version of her short story called Postpartum Euphoria. It's the story of Leslie Croft, a working mom who is fed up with her mundane job and all that it stands for. From an inappropriate office outburst, her subsequent unpaid leave of absence and mandatory therapy sessions, to her baby steps into the world of playdates and domesticity, Hiitola's character in the book gives readers a chance to make that transition.
Domesticity was my worst nightmare. All I'd ever dreamed of was a successful career and glamorous social life. Instead, what I got was closer to hell, or, at the very least, some form of ancient Chinese torture. All I found myself doing was coordinating outings to Gymboree in the midst of finding the latest must-have cleaning product, all the while being forced to talk to women whose only life's ambitions were to become mothers....

...But it didn't take long to realize that I really didn't fit in -- and I began to wonder if I really wanted to fit in. The mindless chatter I found stultifying. All they did was incessantly gloat about their kids. They didn't really converse. They didn't talk about anything of real substance. It was just "My kid did this. My kid did that." I didn't really know any of them. And how could I know them? They acted as if they never existed independent of their kids.
Sometimes it's hard to step outside of our routines and find out who we are. While Croft's job and career-self was hanging in the wings during her leave of absence, she had time to explore the idea of becoming a permanent at-home parent, without fully letting go of her former, corporate self. I believe there's something empowering about having an option out there, lingering, even if it's not appealing. It's something to compare your current situation to. She was able to explore the other life without fully letting go of the one that she'd know for so many years. By the end of Croft's leave of absence, she knows where she belongs. And her optimism about her decision is encouraging.

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oh! Baby: What's drugs got to do with it?

We'd all like to think that when our kids are born, they come out as perfect creatures and that they'll need nothing but love and encouragement. But sometimes, things aren't quite right. With Toddler in Chief, it was his heart. And along with heart surgeries, he takes a lot of medication. I don't like filling him with an assortment of drugs everyday, but I've gotten over that because I know that they keep him alive.

Some women I know have a hard time even giving their kids over-the-counter medicine when they are sick (although I do know at least one mom who gives her kids Benadryl when they fly, so that the kids will sleep). For us, we didn't have a choice and TIC's meds were from day one. We don't know a life without them.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Viva Las Vegas -- Pregnant-style

Woo hoo! Three nights in Las Vegas without Toddler in Chief. It was just me, Father in Chief, and the sights, sounds, smells, and sensory-overload in general of Sin City.

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

My bag was packed with sassy pregnant outfits--polyester gauchos with glittery sashes, sparkly tops, flared short skirts, clunky black boots, small and fashionable handbags that did not contain a single diaper, goldfish cracker, crayon, or matchbox car. I had glitter eye powder, roll-on body glitter (courtesy of fabulous former dance companion Babs), liquid blue eyeliner, loud necklaces, negligees, massage oil, and red hot lipstick. (And there was no one's ass to wipe but my own.)

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

Few of those outfits ever saw the flashing lights of slot machines or disco balls. The morning after we arrived, I dropped some cash at the Walking Company because my clunky boots were killing my toes. My grand intentions were to live it up and make this trip--this glorious, child-free getaway--a comprehensive excursion of every hip spot along the Strip. I aspired to strut my pregnant self through a memorable extravaganza of dancing and late nights and people watching. All my plans were quickly redefined. My sore feet, upset stomach, and overwhelming exhaustion redirected my three child-free days.

If only I hadn't been so exhausted.

Sure I was just a tag-along to FIC's Amazing Meeting conference. So there I was, walking the strip in my comfortable and practical shoes, feeling tired and yes, very lame. How lame is it to go to Vegas and prefer to stay in and watch March of the Penguins on Pay Per View instead of heading out to one of the hundreds of dance clubs? It almost seemed wrong that such a G-rated movie was one of the choices on our hotel television.

Penn & Teller was our nightlife highlight. No dancing. No blackjack. No glittery shows. Just my tired ass seated for the two-hour show. And all that passive entertainment was so exhausting, that we promptly went back to our room…and slept.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So what difference did it make?

After recapping the Lawrence Summers speech that trashed women in the sciences, I started thinking about what I've done since his speech more than a year ago. At the time I was angry, disgusted, disappointed, and motivated to participate in some kind of change for women who work--in the sciences or elsewhere. I wanted to be the voice for women who felt that they had no voice when it came to maternity leaves and job-shares. I wanted to rally women to speak out for what they needed and deserved in their jobs when it came to creating realistic expectations for balancing work with home.

But in the end, I have done little to nothing besides spout about inequities. I have been angered when women I know can't find what they are looking for and give up. I have been saddened by the stories I hear. I have been discouraged. In my own private life, I didn't want to curl up and give up on myself. So in that aspect, I have had some success. From a minor freelance stint to a regular part-time writing job, I have been successful. But what has that done for other women?

Several months ago, I even gave myself an assignment to get involved with two groups that work to help parents achieve fairer choices about returning to work post-baby--whether it were job shares, longer maternity leaves, paternity leaves, or flexible hours. And I even failed at that simple task of reaching out to say that I'm here to help, I want to help.

Maybe it's just the journalist in me, reporting what I see, but not really getting involved. The reporter isn't the story. If the reporter becomes part of the story, the story has failed. I suppose I need to stop thinking of myself as a reporter. I'm not a reporter. I have not been a reporter for many years. I'm just a writer. And I'm a person. And I'm a mom. Maybe changing my perception of myself is the first step in motivating me to be a little bit more like the person I want to be.