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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.