Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing on my blog

You might have noticed that I haven't in a while. I feel kind of sad when I realize how long it's been, and how much of my kids' lives I have failed to chronicle here in the meantime. I blame my expanding participation in Facebook, partly-- it used to be, when my kid said something funny, I would create a (hopefully witty) essay about it, but now, I tend to just quote her on my status update and leave it at that. Maybe because I'm feeling like a mediocre writer, or maybe because I figure that the status-update-length version is enough, and my musings on the matter aren't as interesting to anybody else anyway.

But, no: I'm not feeling like a mediocre writer, which is great news. And it's the other reason I haven't been blogging this summer and fall, because I have an actual, legit, paying writing gig for the first time in my life. It's a pretty miniscule job, writing a "Farmer of the Week" feature in the Agriculture section of my local paper.

One story a week is about all I can manage these days, logistically. As previously discussed, I am an easily frazzled person who does not do well "serving two masters" and splitting my attention, even a little bit, between parenting my kids and fulfilling outside obligations. For example, I agreed in February to serve on the board of our homeowners association, a responsibility that demands approximately one hour of my time per month, and I AM SO STRESSED OUT by this. It hangs over my head all month, even though, every month, when I actually sit down to record everybody's payments of dues, it's easy and no problem at all. But yeah. Just thinking about this kind of thing makes me anxious. Clearly, I have a problem with anxiety.

But back to the writing. It's nothing super-creative or hard-hitting. It's just me going to farmers markets and talking to people about their goats or their tomatoes or their eggs or whatever, and writing a quick feature about them and their market. It's nice. And now, it's (hopefully) transitioning into a little bit of work that will continue after farmers market season is over. The umbrella organization that manages the grant that pays me to do Farmer of the Week is called Appalachian Sustainable Development, and it looks like they might continue to send a few writing projects my way (so far, a press release) when they come up. Again, it's not demanding much creativity from me, and it's not a huge amount of work by any means.

What it is-- and I hear myself saying this a lot-- is something to hang my hat on. It's something that gives me an identity outside of raising my kids. It's writing! It's related to my college degree! And most importantly, I'm good at it. It comes easily to me. I never wrote a press release before yesterday, but I found myself, nonetheless, entirely confident and easygoing when I met with ASD's director to get the information I needed.

This is not like me. Normally, I'm a little bit of a basketcase when I do something new, and I spend more time scrambling for validation than I do actually trying to improve my skills in whatever it is. I hover self-consciously around new bosses. I get stuck with a bizarre paralysis over really basic decisions. And when confronted with challenges, I throw up my hands and tread water (there's a mixed metaphor with a pretty dire literal meaning!) and find ways to justify being content with merely preventing disaster. (I'm looking at you, Habitat Philly. Sorry about that.)

Maybe I should be embarrassed to know that the more professionally-driven among my readers are probably thinking, "She's proud of being confident in writing a press release?" And I am embarrassed, a little, or at least kind of sheepish. But I'm going to be honest and say that never having work in my own field until now has taken a toll on my mental health. Being exceptionally successful in school and then really lousy at a series of low-level jobs has made me feel pretty crappy about myself. So I'll hang my hat on whatever I can. I'll hang it on a press release, for now anyway. And for the first time, I can envision myself carving out a freelance writing career of sorts. It will be hard work, but it's work that I leap to do, with no hesitation, no questioning my ability to do it right. It's the kind of work that I begin and the time just flies. It's what I need to be doing.

Who knows if it will lead to anything, but that's not important right now. What's important is that I remember, now, what it's like to feel capable, and that's going a long way to helping me feel like a well-rounded, healthy person. It's making me a better parent, too-- because now, the other master I'm serving (my kids being the the main one, still) is me. And not because the work is on a freelance basis and I do most of it in my pajamas, but because I am driven to do the work by my own aptitude for writing, my own ability to know when I've done the job well-- not my fear of letting somebody down. That's an enormous difference.

Life is good. I am so lucky that my skillset and my education and my geographic location and my good fortune in having a friend looking out for me have converged in this way and given me this chance to call myself a writer, for real. To see the folder marked "ASD" in My Documents. It makes everything else-- the still-awful sleeping habits of my youngest, for starters-- so much more bearable. I will never minimize the value of the time I have spent (and still do, for all practical purposes) as a full-time parent; childcare is important work, drastically important work, and my hat goes off to the women and men who take it on, for six weeks or several decades. But I'm learning that I do it better when I have a chance to use a different part of my brain from time to time, too. I just do better, in general.

So, apologies to the internet for being such a bad blogger lately. Maybe when my kids are a little bigger, I'll have space in my brain for caring for them AND writing to establish a professional identity AND writing for creative satisfaction, too. I'll keep you posted.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stroller Lady, Wednesday Morning

This morning, I made three deposits at the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church preschool. The first was Lea, three-and-a-half years old, who dashed up the stairs to the big-kid class, solo, when given the choice to do that or come along while I made the second: Susanna, the baby, sixteen months. Her first day in the infant-and-toddler room, where she will spend three hours with her peers and the phenomenal Miss Glenda.

It felt strange to leave my youngest for the first time, even smiling and entranced, as she was. And naturally, I know I'm not the first person to turn from that Dutch door with a lump in my throat; it's not even the first time I've done it myself, in fact. But now, on my couch with coffee and my computer, I have no mixed feelings about having sent my little buddy out into that one small bit of the world to give myself a break a day or two each week. This part is welcome, and feels right.

The third deposit is the one that left me reeling. I tucked it behind a rack of choir robes in the church foyer and walked out the front door face-first, like a normal person, instead of pushing my butt against the door to prop it open while I wiggled out backwards. I walked out onto Main Street without a stroller.

How long have I been holding a pregnant belly, a sleeping newborn, a flirtatious toddler, or a huge double stroller in front of me like a shield? Has it been the entire time? I've been transporting a baby in one form or another since February of 2006-- essentially my entire adult life when you consider the aimless, clueless amble through days and weeks that characterized my immediate post-college years, years that skidded to a bewildering halt when I found out Lea was on her way and I'd better get my act together.

Since then, I've gone about the work of defining myself primarily through raising my children. Wait, no: entirely so. And I have come to life in ways I never could have anticipated, and I have loved the task set before me, and tackled it strategically like I tend to do with a task. The loving and the tackling have both been ferocious. My life's work has been my life's everything. I feel that I am thriving, I do. But the collateral damage is certainly there-- my ability to sleep, for one thing, and the never-quite-there career goals further derailed by that still-growing resume gap. But mostly this: when I have a child in my presence, in my arms, I have a purpose that is visible to anyone, and I feel like a complete person whose worth on this planet is plain to see. I am a mother. Just look. This child is my responsibility, and there is no questioning that I have a function.

We walk a lot, my girls and I. We parade around this town with that big blue stroller every chance we can get, partly because we all like being outdoors, and partly because my day goes better if at least part of it is spent with my children physically restrained (I'm serious about that). People wave to us, and smile enormously. There are certain ever-present characters that spend a lot of time outdoors in this town, among them the Humorless Bicyclist and the Very Fast Dog Walkers. I have a feeling that I am Stroller Lady to the people who pass us day after day when we walk to school. And Lea is Front Seat Blondie and Susanna is Back Seat Cherub. After dropping Lea off, Susanna moves up front, leading our ship back up and down hills, toward home.

But with Blondie and Cherub both at school now, and their stroller parked in the lobby-- who am I? I am just a woman walking down Main Street, alone, at 9:30 in the morning. I imagine that the people are wondering: what's her story? Is that Stroller Lady? Can't be.

I don't even know how to hold my body. I try to walk extremely upright, something that I never do when pushing the stroller, or ever, really. I remember my eighth-grade lacrosse teammates teasing me that when I walked through the halls I leaned so far forward and walked so purposefully, nose down, it looked like I was always about a half-step away from tipping over. I find myself thinking about this, there on Main Street, with no one to hold. They were right, too-- I notice my body tilting strangely forward in my every reflection in every storefront. You might assume that now, as in eighth grade, each of my steps is motivated by some purpose: then, to make it from gym to French in under three minutes, but now-- what?

I have things to do, certainly. I have bathrooms that haven't been cleaned this calendar year, and I do have a part-part-part-time job of sorts, to write one short weekly feature in our local paper. But I have nothing in particular to hurry for, and certainly no real function that would be visible to my neighbors. This, then, is what grips me as I walk. This is what makes me tug nervously at the hem of my t-shirt, feeling conspicuous, feeling like an alien in my own body. My body has been my children's for so long now, pregnant, nursing, or both for over four years. How can I stand alone? How do I reckon with a version of myself that is no longer wrapped, visibly, in the existence of my children?

Last summer, Brian and I were invited to a gathering to celebrate a local political victory at the home of the Very Famous Author that lives a few miles from here. My mom was in town, and more than happy to babysit, but I spent the whole day leading up to the party panicking at the prospect of meeting new people, impressive people, with no child present to shield me from the small talk, the sizing-up, the inevitable: "And what is it that you do?" Because with my babies near me, the answer is plain, the question goes unasked, and I feel whole, and I know that I radiate fulfillment. That night, I tiptoed around the perimeter of the patio more self-conscious than I had been since eighth-grade lacrosse. So unnerved by my empty hands, I held a dry cup for hours.

I am fulfilled by my children, and that will not change even as they, and I, gradually shed the physical links. But soon enough, I will never again be able to mark myself as Needed by holding them out in front of me. I have worn my children for protection, sometimes literally. This is something I will have to unlearn, I suppose.

I will walk back to the preschool upright, dig the stroller out from among the choir robes, and strap my children back in for the walk home. I will be Stroller Lady, and I will push us forward, Blondie, Cherub, and me-- toward home, yes, but also toward every successive little nugget of independence, for each of us. That is the task ahead of me-- not to discard this lovely, heavy cloak that I have knit them into, but to keep walking and allow it to unravel, stitch by painstaking stitch, the way I created it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Even though Lea's speech has progressed to the point where almost anybody, I think, should be able to have a pretty normal conversation with her, there are still a few quirks that remind me what a fascinating process language development really is.

She has a few of the typical toddlerisms: "brung" for brought, "gots" for has. And she has the funny habit of somehow recognizing when an irregular past tense is appropriate, but rather than using the actual form, creates her own by stringing together at least two "-ed" sounds to the root-- "runded (fastly)," "wakeded (up)," "draweded (a picture)."

She's also really actively working on her vocabulary. Just today she asked us what "politics" and "stability" mean, and at one point she gestured out her car window, gasping "I just saw a skyscraper!" This being Abingdon, um, no she didn't. I asked her, "what's a skyscraper?" and she said, "Well, it's just the thing from a plane." The white line? "Yeah, the white line from a plane."

But the part that I'm really loving right now is her response to the fact that sometimes people pronounce certain words with an "ing" sound at the end, and some other times, those same words get pronounced with an "in" sound at the end. "I'm going to the store" and "I'm goin' to the store" both show up, probably with equal frequency. Somehow (probably because we are liberal elites who listen to NPR a lot), Lea has figured out that the "ing" version is the right one. And she overextends the principle. "It's broking!" is a frequent lamentation.

This morning, I was getting her dressed for a ride in the bike trailer, and she insisted on putting on her zip-up sweatshirt herself. Struggling to get the zipper started, she was sighing heavily and making all kinds of (familiar to me) noises of frustration. "What's the matter, kiddo?" I asked her. "Can I help you?"

"No! It's just! Ugggghhh! Why is it stubbering?"


"It's just so stubbering!! It won't work!"


She looked a little confused, but then nodded. "Yeah, stubberin."

She let me help her with the zipper, a good thing, too, as it put me in perfect position to gobble her up, which is what I wanted to do more than anything, ever. These years are the best of my life.


Except, when they're not. We're still really struggling with Susanna's food/sleep issues, which may or may not be at least partly the same issue. (Someday, when it's all figured out, I'll find a way to put a Venn diagram up here.) The period of bedtime Thursday until 9:00am Friday was without question my lowest point of parenting ever. It was a horrible night. And actually, it didn't seem to have much to do with any digestive trouble for Susanna at all, just the cumulative awfulness and bad habits resulting from being woken by it so much in the past, I guess. And then, the real kicker is that MY sleep habits have changed over the last year or so too; my body seems to forget how to get back to sleep quickly once awakened at night, maybe because so often each wake-up has turned into a marathon of soothing, trying to soothe, trying trying trying anything to soothe, having to be ON instead of just semiconsciously nursing and depositing her back in the crib, which is what I always expected to happen.

So, less than 3 hours of sleep for me later, it was 6am and I was up, in the kitchen, baby wrapped around my calves, which is how I spent an hour trying to plan out how to feed this child according to the new plan advised by the pediatric gastroenterologist, and then the whole morning routine and the loudness and the neediness from both kids, and my body was just hating me, and then it was 9 and Susanna was showing signs of being ready for her morning nap, which she then decided to not take, when all I wanted in all the world was for her to TAKE A DAMN NAP so I could at least shut my eyes for 25 minutes while Lea watched Super Why.

And, I told her so. Or rather, I screamed myself hoarse. I don't need to go into detail about how counterproductive this was, and the domino rally of ugly events that followed. It was my worst Mom moment ever.

But, it's over. And we do have a plan, so that's good. The specialist agreed that all signs point toward an intolerance to fructose, but recommended trying a small amount of a new lower-fructose option each day to figure out what she can handle, at least in little bits. So far, grapefruit is a huge hit. Kid looooooooves her grapefruit. And it doesn't seem to hate her. About a tablespoon of blueberries seems ok too. Shredded spinach was less of a fan favorite, but didn't cause her any trouble. So we're getting somewhere.

We're also going to be testing for celiac disease, because sometimes fructose malabsorption shows up as a secondary problem caused by the damage done to the intestinal lining due to celiac. If that's the case, it tends to resolve itself very quickly once the celiac diet is observed. So right now we're in the "gluten trial"; two servings of gluten per day for three weeks, in order to make sure the blood test we do at the end of that period is accurate. We'd been avoiding a lot of wheat products because of the fructans, so this is the main change to her diet. Wheat all over the place. Little cheese crackers enjoy a similar reception to grapefruit chunks.

I don't even know what I'm hoping for. If her fructose problems are pretty significant and don't go away, that's a lifetime of having to figure out how to have a balanced diet with very little plant life involved. There's also a lot of research being done about highly increased rates of depression among the fructose-malabsorbant (it has something to do with tryptophan). But, otherwise, there's at least a little wiggle room; messing up the diet or accidentally having a few bites of a "bad" food isn't likely to cause anything worse than a bad bellyache. Celiac disease involves a much stricter diet, with all-or-nothing implications; even a contaminated utensil can make you really sick. But it seems to me that if you manage to be totally gluten-free, you can have a very healthy, colorful, varied diet. And I'd venture to guess that staying gluten-free is getting easier all the time, with so many new celiac-friendly foods on the grocery shelves every time I look.

Getting ahead of myself, of course. What else is new? Let me stick with today: today we rode our bikes to the Creeper trail, where Brian took the girls (in the bike trailer) on a long ride while I went to the Abingdon Friends meeting. It was lovely, and I feel like I belong there. We had a smiley lunch, a quick afternoon nap, time at the only tree-shaded playground we can find, and a relatively painless bedtime. I'm trying to let the rightness of my time with the Friends get me through these tough days-- I will seek peace wherever and whenever I can. And as a parent, I will make it a priority to reflect as much peace onto my kids' lives as possible. I have a wee bit of an anger problem, I guess, so this is a real task for me. Wish me luck.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

A meat-and-potatoes kind of girl

The other night, for pretty much the first time in months, Susanna got through the night with absolutely no sign of a bellyache. No being startled awake and alternately stretching out and drawing in her knees, no shouting in discomfort, desperate to get herself back to sleep, no gas.

It was lovely. And it was simultaneously exciting and very daunting, because we think we figured out what we need to do: we need to feed her no fruits or vegetables, ever. It seems that she has a lot of trouble with fructose, which is in a lot of pretty prevalent foods: all fruits, most vegetables, table sugar, honey. Then there are these things called fructans, which are long chains of fructose, chemically speaking, and some people (including my little person) have trouble with those too. Foods containing fructans include wheat, brown rice, legumes, and lots of other vegetables.

Here's a little science lesson that I've cobbled together for myself over the last three and a half days of frantic research: none of us can actually digest fructose, in the truest sense of the word "digest." In other words, there is no digestive enzyme that breaks fructose down, the way lactase breaks down lactose. There's no such thing as fructase, as far as I know. A certain amount of fructose can be absorbed by most people's small intestines, which is important because if it gets to your large intestine, the bacteria there have a bit of a feeding frenzy. Except they're feeding themselves, not you. And that's a bad thing, and it can make you very uncomfortable, and it can make you startle awake and alternately stretch out and draw in your knees to relieve the acute gas pain, if you're a little baby named Susanna.

At least, that's what we think is happening. We think she's, at least for now, unable to tolerate much fructose at all. The other day, when I was hot on the trail of this fructose business, we tried a no-fructose day for her, and that night was the lovely one. It was a dramatic difference. I can't attribute it to anything but the diet.

So I'm relieved, for the short term, to have a plan to keep her comfortable (meat, potatoes, eggs, white rice, and breastmilk). But my long-range brain is frantic, because there's a wide range of conditions that we could be dealing with. And of course because I am this child's mother, I fixate on the most severe one, which is something called Hereditary Fructose Intolerance. This is a serious disease which involves a lot more than gastrointestinal discomfort. It involves the possibility of liver failure if a strict diet is not followed (and even sometimes when it is). It usually shows up as soon as solid foods are introduced to a child's diet (eek! that's how it happened for us!), and it usually means extreme reactions to sugar of any kind (not the case for us, whew), and extreme aversion to sweet tastes (doesn't look like that's the case for us).

The next possibility is known as Fructose Malabsorption, which is a long-term problem requiring major diet modifications, but can't actually make you acutely ill. You just have to to figure out the severity of your problem-- how much fructose your small intestine is able to absorb-- and avoid foods containing fructose and fructans to the extent that you need to. Some people report that they do ok with citrus fruits, for example, and others can handle berries. The trick for most people seems to be to make sure the balance of fructose and glucose is in check. If you have more fructose than glucose, that's bad. Apples and pears have bad ratios. Grapefruit is better. Apparently, if there's enough glucose present, the fructose can chemically bind to it before it becomes a problem, and be whisked away without ever getting the opportunity to wreak havoc in the large intestine. In fact, some sufferers will even carry around a little bag of glucose powder to sprinkle on foods that they suspect may be overly fructose-ified. Or eat Smarties. Smarties are 100% glucose. (Ericka Samuels Nicol, are you reading? One testimonial I read was about a guy who craved Smarties all the time and literally wore away the enamel on his teeth because of all the citric acid. Later he found out his IBS was actually undiagnosed Fructose Malabsorption. His hunch was that his glucose-craving was an instinctive measure of self-protection.)

Anyway, it's probably neither of those things. There's also something called "toddler's diarrhea," which is just this weird, chronic diarrhea full of undigested food, that can last for weeks or months or even a couple of years in an otherwise-thriving kid. Almost everything you find if you Google it says that nobody really knows what causes it, that it eventually goes away, and oh by the way you should probably steer clear of apple and pear juice, because that seems to make it worse. Hmmm, apple and pear juice, you say? My mama-detective brain saw that and flashed "fructose!" So I dug a little more and found one study that postulated that fructose malabsorption is probably responsible for most cases of ongoing toddler's diarrhea. The problem that usually goes away before anybody's able to pin down exactly what's causing it.

It wasn't a conclusive study, and that's not exactly the problem Susanna has. "Diarrhea" wouldn't be my first descriptor of what's been plaguing her, "acute gas pain" would. ("Chunks of apple in her poop" would be the second.) But I'm certain it's all related, and I'm optimistic that what we're dealing with here is just a digestive system that is developing more slowly than we might expect. I keep saying to myself: newborns can't digest anything but milk-- adults can usually digest almost everything-- the process of getting from point A to point B can't possibly be the same in every person, and even though Lea was happily slurping down applesauce and mainlining green peas by this age doesn't mean that every child is ready to do that. I've even seen it theorized that a lot of pureed baby foods are probably passing straight through a lot of babies' guts without actually being absorbed at all, but nobody notices because let's face it, a lot of baby food looks something like baby poop in the first place. It seems to me that the ability to absorb fructose is one that perhaps develops a bit more slowly in some of us, but if we don't recognize that and keep pushing produce, ouch.

So, for now, we're going fructose-free, as much as we can. I've been doing some wheat-free baking and forcing myself to rethink my notions of what's a "healthy diet." As much as I'd like to institute good veggie-eating habits starting today, vegetables are not, at least for the moment, healthy for my particular child. We'll try to give fructose- and fructan-containing foods another shot, one at a time, every month or so and see if there's any change. In the meantime, we have an appointment with a pediatric GI specialist in a few weeks, who will be able to shed a whole lot more light on the situation and maybe administer some tests to see if we're on the right track (and hopefully rule out the much more serious HFI).

So that's where we're at. Susanna hates to be left out of the fun at mealtime, and we've got to supplement the (still mercifully easy for me) breastfeeding with a fair amount of table food. That means lots of scrambled eggs, meatballs, ground turkey, plain potatoes, oatmeal, and samples of the various wheat-free breads I'm experimenting with. Dairy seems to be ok, though she's never had much of it, so we'll go slow with introducing that as well.

Poor little girl has just been in so much pain for too much of her life so far. All I want to do is fix that. I want these screamy nights to be a thing of the past, and so far, switching up her diet is at the very least, a step in the right direction. I really hope that this problem, whatever it is, resolves itself soon, and you get a sheepish "Um, nevermind" post from me sooner than it usually takes for me to update this blog. I hope my little girl can eat apples some day. I hope she's not grinding up Smarties in her spaghetti sauce. But if she is, I know someone who just got a brand new flat-top stove that will be more than happy to help her come up with the perfect recipe.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Little baby girl

This is insane. It's hard for me to understand how it is possible that the little tiny wrinkled bug-eyed beautiful baby we named Susanna is about to be a year old. I know that there's nothing more predictable for a parent to say than "I can't believe it's been a year" when this happens. I know, I know, I'm nothing new here. But I guess what is really getting to me is just how different Susanna's first year has felt than Lea's did. Lea's first year, as I tell people all the time, felt like a lifetime, in good and bad ways, and it actually makes perfect sense when I think about it, because it WAS my entire mothering lifetime. This time, it's all pretty familiar (again, in good and bad ways). That doesn't mean it's all been easy, of course.

What has been easier than I expected:
-Sibling adjustment issues, months 0-9. Really, during that time, there was exactly one epic tantrum that I could trace directly to Lea's totally animal-like jealousy of her sister. They had both fallen asleep in the car, and when we got home, it became clear that Susanna needed to nurse immediately. But Lea was also uncharacteristically cuddly, and asked, forcefully, for me to hold her like a baby. I just couldn't. Susanna was tiny and she was starving, and Lea lost her freaking mind. It was like nothing I've ever seen from her, before or since. But that was it. One time. The rest of those early months were pretty smooth sailing. Whenever anyone asked about it, my honest answer was that Lea was doing GREAT with having a new baby around.
-Incorporating baby into everyday activities. Two things: I had a better sense of what kinds of activities were worth attempting with a baby in tow (not, for instance, volunteering at the ASP office in Johnson City). Also, Susanna loves her some lap time. She would happily just sit with me and watch the world go by, sometimes for 45 minutes or more, at a coffee shop or friend's house. How about that.
-Nursing. We had exactly the same problems I had early on with Lea-- oversupply, super-fast overactive letdown, just way too much milk way too fast. I know, of course, that this is a good problem to have, as supply-related problems go-- provided you know that that's what the problem is. If not (as it was for me the first time around, when nobody could figure out what the deal was), it can be mystifying. Why is she acting so hungry? Her belly's full! Why is she pulling off the second she latches on? She's starving! I know that if external conditions had been somewhat different with Lea, I would have strongly considered giving up. This time, the problem was solved so quickly, and since then it's been smooth sailing. No mastitis, no thrush, good steady supply.
-Feeling confident. Maybe this is obvious, but I did pleasantly surprise myself many times throughout this year, when it has occurred to me that I just did not give a crap about what some other person, parent or not, thought of the way I was parenting. I've stopped visiting a number of online parenting communities that had been bringing me small amounts of camaraderie in exchange for a lot of zealotry, and in turn a lot of self-doubt for me. And I've stopped not because I felt like I needed to cut myself off, but I just wasn't interested anymore. (Having in-person friends helps, certainly.)

What has been harder than I expected:
-Sibling adjustment issues, months 9-12. As soon as Susanna grew interested enough in Lea's toys, and mobile enough to get to them, bad bad bad things ensued. Oh man. We're turning the corner, I think, but I think the most uttered sentence in our household for a while now has been "Susanna's getting into my STUFF!" (Um, ok, no, probably the most uttered sentence has been "My God I'm tired.") We've also put the girls into a shared bedroom, which has proved complicated, and even though Lea seems to sleep through Susanna's frequent nighttime screamfests, I do worry that her quality of sleep is suffering. Ugh.
-Sleep. But I'm just going to leave it at that, because I'm annoying myself with how much I go on and on about how bad it is. It will get better.
-Food. Susanna seems to have a much more sensitive system than Lea, so when we introduce new solid foods, she often has pretty significant digestive issues (which I've long suspected contribute to the sleep woes). There are times when I start to relate more than I ever expected to the exclusively-nurse-for-as-long-as-possible crowd (see online zealotry, above). As recently as last week, I've found myself wondering if she might be better off if her diet was still 95% breastmilk and just a few other very bland foods. Poor belly. Poor baby.
-Feeling at peace with the passage of time. Oh, lord. This is hitting me hard. I admit to being a tad smug when Lea's first birthday approached and I thought, "WTF do all those other mothers freak out about? It's a birthday! It's a happy thing!" Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Lea was already so ambitious about doing new things, doing things on her own, so the new chapters were pretty much exclusively a relief. All sweet, very little bitter. Susanna, my lap buddy, wears BABY pretty comfortably. And of course, I'm pretty comfortable with that too. It's gratifying, I'll admit. She still really needs me and I feel so good to be able to meet her (still pretty baby-like) needs. I do look forward to her increased independence in some ways-- mostly in the ways that will make it easier, someday, for her and Lea to play together at a similar level. But mostly, yes, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this first huge good-bye to her babyhood.

Good-bye, zero-year-old. See you soon, sweet gap-toothed, thumb-sucking, about-to-walk, belly-laughing one-year-old. Sleep well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Anyone who is in even semi-regular contact with me knows this: Susanna is a terrible sleeper. In fact, that's my number one chit-chat-with-strangers line of small talk, after they (inevitably) say "Look at that smile," (because she is not at all shy about doling out the friendliest grin you've ever seen): "Yep," I'll say, "she's such a happy baby, but she doesn't sleep!"

I'm not sure why I always share that-- maybe because chances are good the next question is going to be "Does she sleep through the night?" anyway. Or maybe it's because I feel like I need to excuse my beyond-exhausted face. I don't know. But people nod sympathetically and then go back to flirting with my kid. And friends hear me gripe about it and nod sympathetically too. And I'm a broken record on the phone with my mother, who has heard all about the not-at-all-fun game of musical beds that goes on in my house (the newest option is a futon mattress on the floor of the girls' room, which gets a lot of use).

Nobody is sleeping well in my house. And, in all honesty, the last month has been really ugly as a result. I haven't been proud of the way I've handled my temper, and the lack of patience with which I've been responding to Lea being the very young child she is. I have been No Fun at best, and probably a little bit scary at my worst. Worse yet, I think there have been times when Lea has even started to worry about me, which she should not have to be doing. Period.

I borrowed a really good, helpful discipline book from a friend, and more than anything, it's helped me adjust my expectations of Lea, and really slammed home for me that no, she is not actually TRYING to be a jerk. She's just trying to cope with the world, and with her ideas being greater than her fine motor skills, and with her sister getting to the age where she can actively ruin a game. That's a lot to contend with, and she's going to behave in ways that annoy the crap out of me as a result. But the best thing I can do, I think, is just try try try to understand her-- and that doesn't just mean saying "I understand," but really wanting to actually understand, even if I can't do anything about it.

The other thing I've been resolving to do is recognize when the absolute most I can ask of myself is to simply not yell. When I have to throw every discipline system or process or technique aside, and not strive for teachable moments or even consistent consequences, but just: stay. as. calm. as. possible. And that's it. And on the days when that's difficult, I should be able to congratulate myself for achieving it, because it takes more strength of wills than I, honestly, have ever had to muster in my life.

This is part of a larger picture of self-care that I've been trying to pay more attention to. I think the main reason it's easy for me to give up on that is because really, if I had it my way, self-care would mean one thing, and that's more sleep. Since that's just not possible most of the time, I kind of throw up my hands and say, screw it, and grit my teeth through most days. But, that's dumb. And on Saturday morning when it was 4:45 and I had a restless baby in my arms, and I realized that I was so stressed by the sleeplessness that my heart and thoughts were racing to the extent that I couldn't even fall asleep if I wanted to, even if the child passed out right that second, I started to think-- and I don't know why this is-- about a quotation about prayer, which had been a favorite of ASP staffers and often ended up on the walls of summer centers.

"To say prayer changes things," says Oswald Chambers, "is not as close to the truth as saying prayer changes me, and then I change things."

I always liked that, but never had such an appropriate moment to put it into action. I knew that I felt foolish praying for Susanna to go to sleep, or for me to be able to sleep. It just never felt like the right kind of thing to be praying about, I don't know. So I thought to myself-- why do I want to go to sleep so bad? And the answer was, because I want to feel good in the morning. OK, fine, came the answer. Do something right now that might help you have a better morning. Take action.

I took a shower. Susanna usually plays happily on the bathroom floor for as long as it takes me to do that, and this time, I took an even longer, hotter one than usual. I washed my hair and shaved my legs and did some deep stretching, willing my body to feel more ready for the day. I got dressed, made the bed, folded clothes that had been in a heap, dried my hair, put on lip gloss, and went downstairs.

Yeah, I was still exhausted by the end of the day. I'm not going to pretend that I felt so rejuvenated I bounded through my activities and forgot all about how far in the red I really am when it comes to physical rest. But I would've been exhausted anyway, and at least I had shiny hair and lips. And it made me realize that I can take care of myself in non-sleep ways way better than I've been doing.

One of those ways is to cut myself some slack if the highest parenting standard I can attain is merely to not scream at my kid.

It's to be a little less of a tightwad, and realize that a few bucks spent frivolously on something that makes me feel good today is not going to make or break our financial security. (Hello, James Taylor at Christmas! You have already put many smiles on my face!)

It's to quit it with the weighing myself, at least for a while. I'm eating as healthfully as I can figure out how to, and no, I'm not exercising, but really. That's not what I need to freaking worry about right now.

It's to investigate a computer of my own, a NEW computer, even if it's a sub-$300 netbook, as a Christmas gift to myself. And to use it to write, and to blog even when I'm foggy-headed (as now?), and to put stuff out there even if it's not up to my normal standards.

It's to try to have some perspective about the fact that treasuring Susanna is not going to scar Lea forever, or, if it is, it's a scar she will share with countless other firstborn kids, so tough. And to TREASURE this baby because she is an AMAZING baby and OH MY GOD I LOVE HER TO PIECES. She is so snuggly, and so affectionate, and so peaceful (mostly, in daylight), and such a total joy. Really. She is an AMAZING baby and I am so lucky to get to hang out with her all the time. She is pulling up on furniture, scooting around all over the place, still sucks her thumb-- and sometimes tries to keep sucking it while smiling, which is hard to do and unbearably cute, says Dada (even when she means me), loves to splash in the tub, and lights up like a Christmas tree when her sister decides to play with her. Apart from the sleeping, she is pretty much 100% happy. So-- I need to allow myself to enjoy that, no guilt attached.

Since I am indeed foggy-headed, I have no suitable ending for this blog, but that's ok, right? Right.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Lea loves school. She has loved school for over two full years now, ever since we started sending her one morning a week, then two, to the infant/toddler room at her preschool. She has made so many friends (as have we) through this school, that even if it weren't for the excellent teachers, perfect schedule, and short (and lovely) walk from our house, I'd still consider it a great part of all of our lives. It's just been awesome.

I was talking to my friend Lindsay (mother of Rylan, Lea's best buddy, met at school), as I have many times before, about how much my mental health was suffering during the summer of 2007, when Lea was 7-9 months old and we knew NOBODY in town and a two-minute chat with a barista every now and then was all that was passing for my social life. I say that flippantly, but really: I was in some serious trouble that summer.

And then, I took a leap and invited myself to lunch with an acquaintance of Brian's who had young kids, whom I'd met once for about 15 seconds. She graciously fed me vegetable orzo and handed me a flier for the preschool open house that evening. She also gave me the phone number of the preschool director. I could not wait until that evening. I could not even wait to get home to place a phone call; I actually drove straight from Marybell's house to the church, where I frantically introduced myself and my need NEED NEED for this preschool to the first person I found (who turned out to be the spouse of a custodian, but she pointed me in the right direction). Within 15 minutes, the deposit was paid and Lea was signed up for school.

Since then, Lea's school time each week has increased. She first started going four mornings a week when I had just gotten pregnant with Susanna and was dealing with round-the-clock sickness. She still goes four days, plus now she has the option to stay for lunch, which she does once or twice a week. She gets so excited about "lunch bunch," and I get to do that age-old Mom think where I write her name with a little heart or a flower on her little Tupperware lunch container. Overall, it makes her seem about six and a half years old and it's almost too much to bear. The kid really is growing up.

Except, she's still only two. Two! I cannot believe sometimes that this child who talks in paragraphs and has favorite songs and picks out her own library books is still only two years old. Which brings me to the title of this post.

The preschool director decided to be a stickler this year, and so, even though every single other member of her class from last year has moved up to the three-year-old class, Lea is still down with her old teacher from last year with the current crop of two year olds. She does great there, actually-- I'm so proud of her. There's always somebody screaming and crying, and there's lots of pacifiers and non-verbalness but she gets right in there and plays with them and helps her teachers and it's wonderful. But on Tuesdays, oh, glorious Tuesdays, the three-year-old class is small, so the teachers arranged for Lea and two other 2006-born kids to spend the morning upstairs. The big kid class.

Every morning, Lea asks if it's Tuesday. She loooooves Tuesdays. She gets to see her best buddies, and do very grown-up things like carry her own paint and learn a new song every week and make crafts all-by-herself. She still loves school every day, but on Tuesday she comes home with a twinkle in her eye.

And I start to feel the wheels turning in my head, fast-forwarding to kindergarten and grade school and wondering: will she be challenged enough? Will she get to do things that excite her, that make her proud to be growing up? And this isn't even an age-related worry, although I do kind of wish we'd at least have the option of sending her to kindergarten at almost-5 instead of almost-6. I think it's just the first time I've really been faced with the concept of my children's academic lives, and how much control I will really want or be able to exert on them. And it starts a whole slew of other lines of thinking about the public schools in this region (not too great) and in Virginia in general (way too ruled by state Standards of Learning, as far as I can tell). I know people who homeschool for that reason, and I know people who just go with the flow and hope for the best, and I also know people who choose public school but very intentionally supplement that education with family reading projects and educational trips and real-world learning in the form of planning and planting gardens, or building things, or extra art classes.

It's a lot to figure out, but it's three years away, so I know that the best thing to do right now is just nurture Lea's love of learning whether it's a Threesday or a Twosday or not a school day at all. And soon enough, Susanna will start to go to school too (although she's ten times more stranger-phobic and cling-to-parent than Lea ever was, so we'll see how that goes). I hope very much that I can send them off to school with confidence, and that they both come home most days with twinkles in their eyes.


While I'm here, I should also mention that Susanna is crawling all over the place, pulling up on furniture, eating some solid food, babbling away ("Dada" might be intentional-- it's hard to tell), but still not sleeping any better than when she was about 5 days old. We switched our bedrooms around so all the girls furniture, and theoretically both girls, are up in the big room on the top floor, and Brian and I in the smaller room that used to be Lea's. It's working out really well in terms of space usage and storage, and it looks GREAT, if I do say so myself. And Susanna does start the night out in the top room, and typically has one early wake-up that can be dealt with quickly, allowing a swift returning to the crib in that room, but. Invariably, there is a freak-out sometime between 1 and 4am during which the child is so enraged and so unbelievable loud, we're way too afraid to try to deal with it in the room where Lea is still sleeping. So, down to our room Susanna comes, where she snuggles in contentedly and drifts off, clearly very satisfied with herself for getting exactly what she wanted all along. Not sure how to deal with that.

She's wonderful, though. I love this stage of babyhood, the way she's soaking up everything and interacting more and generally being very happy and bubbly. I will miss it when she's big. But there's a lot to look forward to there, too, as I see glimpses of what it will be like to have two kids (rather than a kid and a baby) who can actually play together and have similar experiences and enjoy each others company instead of just regarding one another with amused tolerance.

And now Susanna is awake from her nap and I didn't do any of the things I meant to get done during that (short) kid-free time. Oh well. Maybe I'll post again before a month passes.