Thursday, March 29, 2007

I shouldn't be writing this

...I should be packing. Tomorrow we're heading across the GW bridge and up the Major Deegan aways to see A.'s folks for the weekend before having first seder with A.'s Clan--Dad's Side. I am dubious about the weekend (after a good day yesterday, Z.'s fever was up today. But her appetite was back. But she never travels well.) But I'm also looking forward to it--two of my favorite of A.'s relatives will be there, and I have a date to go to the theater with an old college friend.

Depending, I may be able to blog a little. Or I may not.

If not, chag sameach everyone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On protecting innocence

I sing Z. three songs to help her sleep--the special slow version of the ABC song, Goodnight Irene, and Down in the Valley.

Goodnight Irene is not exactly child-friendly, so I've changed some of the lyrics and omitted the obsessive pedophile verse. Z. loves this song and asks for it more often than the other two, and I made the mistake of pointing the song out when it was playing on the Folkways cd in the car the other day. Of course that version is for grownups and completely unbowdlerized: "Sometimes I have a good notion/to jump in the river and drown;" "I asked your mother for you/She told me that you were too young/I wish to god I never seen your face/I'm sorry you ever was born." They skipped the verse that ends "I'll take morphine and die," but otherwise it was pretty much not-okay for toddlers straight down the line. And you guessed it, today when I asked her what music she wanted, Z. asked to hear that version again. I think I'll have to "lose" the cd when Z.'s around--a straightforward and easy solution.

What is more complicated is knowing that at some point I will have to tell Z. that Helen Hill died. When I was really wiped out by Helen's murder, the first month or so after I heard, we told Z. I was sad because my friend got hurt. It's not that she doesn't know about death--when Diva Dog died last summer she learned about death close-up, at least on her then-18-month-old level--but the death of someone she's never met is beyond what she can understand. I also don't see a need for her to learn that parents die, not at her age. I wish intensely that Helen's son were still protected from this knowledge. (Even though his name is out there, I feel uncomfortable naming him here so I will call him Charming Boy.)

I've been sending care packages to Paul and Charming Boy. Z. has been involved in putting these packages together and even made a couple of things to send. She's also very interested in the packages, in how they get from the post office to Charming Boy, and she likes to look at the postcard of him that Paul sent us as a thank-you note. It's the two-year-old version of having a pen pal.

Yesterday a friend sent videos of Charming Boy from a recent visit, and forgive me Helen, forgive me Paul, I was relieved to have pictures of him to show Z. that would show him with just his papa. There are wonderful pictures of Charming Boy with Helen on the memorial site that Cristin put together, but I haven't wanted Z. to see them. Their beauty is in how Helen glows with her love for this little person who made her a mama--that's why I love seeing them, and why they're heartbreaking, and why I'm not comfortable with Z. taking them in. She will ask about Charming Boy's mama sooner or later: I hope it's later. I don't want to explain that parents die--sometimes much too soon--until she has the wherewithal to understand death without nightmares, though maybe that point never comes. I hate the violence of the culture I have to raise her in. I want to be a barrier for her for as long as I can. And I can't stand that Helen can no longer do that for her son, that Paul is left alone to reconstruct what protection is possible. It makes me weep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I tried to set this week aside for Passover and tax preparation. Both are in dire need of lots of time and attention, and A.'s grades are due Thursday at midnight, so that attention has to come from me. Also, the tax stuff at this point qualifies as work, since my personal and business finances are not at all segregated from one another. I know, I suck, I already berate myself about it enough.

But I am self-employed, after all, so I can take a few days at home and do things like this. That's part of the idea of having my own business (I'm not quite a WAHM--I'm a Work-Next-Door-Mom, both literally and figuratively.) So what happens? First, Z. woke up just a little hot yesterday morning. Not a fever, but elevated. She had been coughing over the weekend and sleep has not come easily to her for a few days. This is exactly the kind of day when I would normally keep her home. But A. was staying home to grade, and her workday would be shot if Z. was home. And I do have stuff that HAS TO GET DONE on Mondays. So Z. went to school, despite my misgivings.

Next, I forgot that because of the tedious, complicated, yet-still-somehow-fascinating reorder stuff that HAS TO GET DONE after the weekend, the earliest I EVER finish on a Monday is 3:00, and Z. is done with day care at 4:00. I spent all day feeling like the minutes were slipping away from me when actually I got done as early as I could expect. Z.'s teachers told me she was coughing all day (read: "keep her home, mom!"), and she looked peaky as all get-out.

Last night, she took a million years to go down, for the third night in a row. I was completely infuriated with her and finally handed her off to A. I think she likes her bedtime routine so much she draws it out. I mean, I know this, but this is not a problem that yields to a quick solution.

When I finally got to sleep, a few hours later, Z. was panting and there was a catch in her breath. She was really hot. She's been sleeping on a wedge pillow since the coughing started, but she had slipped down. I moved her up. She woke up a little, asking for na-na. I nursed her. She wasn't all the way awake, but wouldn't go back to sleep, she wouldn't settle. Not even in the cuddle of last resort (Me lying on my back, Z. draped across my torso, legs willy nilly). In my bed I have enough pillows to prop myself up and sleep with her in my lap, closer to upright, so we moved into the Big Bed, something Z. normally thinks is a treat.

Instead, things got really bad. She didn't want me to put her in my lap, but when I let go of her she still wouldn't settle. Now A. was up and also involved. Z. wanted snack and milk--not surprising because she had barely eaten dinner, and that had been hours earlier. She got snack and milk. At some point she got tylenol. At some point we took her temperature--over 100 at the armpit. She still kept popping up, asking for different things.

Finally I resorted to just grabbing onto her and holding her until she was ready to sleep. This is a discipline tactic I've done a few times when she's just off--it's not that far from what Martha Welch describes in Holding Time, and it infuriates the kid (Z.'s reaction is apparently typical) so it involves a lot of screaming as the kid tries to get away from you. I'm usually not sure it's a good idea, but sometimes it seems to be the only thing that will work. It kind of reorganizes her.

So Z. screamed and screamed. She told me to stop cuddling. She told me I didn't love her. (She told me this over and over, but luckily I happened to know it wasn't true.) She told me to let her scream. I told her she could scream as much as she wanted I would hold her as long as she screamed. She told me she wanted to get out of my arms. This whole thing went on for maybe 15 minutes, maybe longer. Finally, she realized that all she had to do was stop screaming. So she stopped. And she went to sleep.

And she stayed home from school, and wouldn't settle for nap, and her fever's still up so she'll be home again tomorrow. And on Thursday I'm working the register, so there goes my window for taking care of things that need taking care of.


Monday, March 26, 2007

What kind of flower?

Snapdragons also aren't quite up to the winters in this climate--they suffer and are bedraggled but if they can make it through they usually bounce back when the sun returns.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

The end of babyhood?

(with apologies to anna.)

Over at Phantom's today, she wrote about her daughter saying she's not a baby anymore. Since Z.'s 24-month appointment, I have been thinking about the end of her baby stage. When they told me that we wouldn't have another check-up for a year (I thought we'd still be on a six-month schedule) I realized I could no longer call them "well-baby visits." Z. also picked up on the significance of two, and has corrected us when we call her a baby. She's willing to accept little girl or big girl (or little kid or big kid), and even declares herself a "toddle-er" but says no to "baby girl," unless she's fairly tired or indulgent.

She's right. What she's working on now is moving out of babyhood. She's talking up a storm, with full sentences, and recently the first person and second person have mostly settled into their expected places (though my transcription erases the start-and-stop rhythm of her sentences as she pauses to frame the next statement in her mind). For goodness sake, she tells stories. She's taken on the massive enterprise of potty training. She's learning her letters, or at least the ones that start her classmates' names. She's making friends on her own terms, negotiating the whole world of sharing and offering. She's working on politeness and table manners. When she draws, there's form to what she puts on the paper, not just a massive block of color. She knows a huge repertoire of kids' songs and literary references, and she pulls them out all of the time. She's starting to make her stuffed animals hug each other.

There's a little cartoon I draw of Z. It has a nice round head, a mass of curls, including one going down over her forehead, a mobile mouth, a little button nose. Recently, I've been drawing it so that the eyebrows suggest an actual bridge to her nose, so that it looks more like her. Even her face is growing up.

Mostly, of course, this is wonderful: more interesting conversations, a perceivable end to diapers, pictures actually worth taping to the wall (at least for a week or two). And it's so much more pleasant to get things for a kid who (when prompted) can ask "please maine I have some?" instead of hollering "Dat!" and pointing.

But sometimes now when I'm carrying her she asks to walk. And soon she'll be walking away.


This is my story of the cast:

Z. broke her arm last September. She was a week shy of 19 months. It was the Monday after Rosh HaShanah, a gorgeous sunny day, and we were heading off to school. She pushed her stroller down the walk, too small to see over it. I opened the gate and maneuvered the stroller out. She wasn't touching the stroller. I turned to the right and took a couple of steps to pull two figs off our tree for her lunch. I turned back and she and the stroller were in motion.

My mother has a story about when I was little, probably around Z.'s age now or a little younger. She was on the phone and I was on a little ride-on toy. I headed to the top of stairs and said "Bye-bye, mommy, going shopping." She says she never moved so fast in her life.

By the time I turned back to see Z. launching herself into space, it was too late to move. There are five tall steps down from our yard to the sidewalk. The concrete sidewalk. The stroller was in flight, and Z. was in an arc over it. There was nothing I could do. In the instant it took her to fall, I calculated that if I threw myself after her I couldn't reach the ground ahead of her to catch her. I hoped, then despaired that the stroller would break her fall. She flew clear of it. She flew headfirst. I knew she would land that way, on her crown. The words "Oh, god, Z.," tore out of my mouth. I think it's the purest prayer I ever made. She landed on her side with her arm above her head, the thump the kind of sound you never want to hear. Instantly she was wailing, crying harder than I had ever heard her.

The crossing guard from the school on the corner had seen it all and came to find out if Z. was okay. I had no idea. I was imagining all sorts of internal injuries. I was trying to get her to nurse. She was crying too hard. I wrestled the stroller back into the garden, took Z. into the house, gave her arnica, called the pediatrician, gave her more arnica, called A. at work, gave her more arnica, called school, gave arnica. Z. was still wailing, just wracked with sobs. (But she didn't bruise at all.)

A. had the car that day. She had to come home to drive us to the hospital. A.'s school doesn't have enough spaces in the parking lot so the teachers practice the innovative technique of parking each other in. Those drivers had to be paged. Finally, maybe an hour or more after the fall, she was home. Z. was only just calming down.

The pediatrician had advised me to take Z. to the emergency room at a children's hospital, advice I was grateful for because otherwise I would have taken her to the closest one, and Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania is really a much better place for kids, and as un-scary as a giant, high-tech hospital could manage to be. (Fyi, CHoP was the hospital with the good NICU nurses where our friends' baby was treated for high bilirubin.) On the drive down, Z. was mostly quiet except when we went over bumps, when she half-cried, half-whimpered. When we got her to the emergency room, she was calm enough to play with some of the toys there.

The triage nurse asked if Z. was favoring either arm. That was when we noticed that she was holding her left arm carefully by her side and not using it at all.

Once we were taken back into the treatment rooms, we had a multi-stage wait. We weren't ever waiting for one person more than moderately long, but there were a lot of people to wait for. Z. was terrified all over again by the x-ray, which probably also hurt like the dickens, since her arm had to be held in place at a certain angle. Except for that, she was a real trouper. She finally nursed. We fed her from her school lunchbox. Finally, while we were waiting for the orthopedist, she fell asleep on the examination table.

She fractured her elbow in two places: the humerus just above the joint and the radius just below. Her cast went from across her palm to past her elbow. I bought her a laundry cycle's worth of oversize t-shirts.

Annoying Dog had a cone collar on at the time (the dog managed to impale her paw on a piece of garden edging two days after we adopted her, which had also required emergency medical treatment--and we adopted her only a week before Z. fell.) Between the toddler in the cast and the dog in the collar we had a lot of little falls and crises. Z. wanted me to hold her and carry her all the time and her sleep regressed. She fell down a lot even when the dog didn't knock into her. Annoying Dog learned how to remove her collar and pulled her stitches out three times--each time requiring a vet visit. Z. needed to get checked up at two weeks: more x-rays, more terror. At that point they extended the cast to just below the shoulder, making it even bulkier and harder to itch under. And the cast room itself terrified her. Then the cast got soaked in the bath when I wrapped it in a plastic bag that happened to have a safety-conscious row of perforations. So a return to the cast room for a brand-new cast and instructions forbidding full bathing.

(Silver lining: the new cast was much less bulky, since her arm wasn't swollen when it was put on, it was done all at one time, and the techs in the now-petrifying cast room did the wrapping, not the doc on call to the e.r. Since the season was changing by then, this saved us buying a bunch of oversize long-sleeves.)

When the cast finally came off we went to the toy store and bought the best damn digger in the place.

* * *

This story is the first story Z. ever told. First she told as I prompted/fed it to her when people asked what happened.

S.: Can you tell what happened, Z.?

Z.: Fall down.

S.: And what did Mama say?

Z.: "Oh gosh, Z."

S.: And did I scoop you up right away?

Z.: (nods)

...etc., ending in Z. showing the cast to the questioner, proclaiming its color "peupoo."

After the cast came off, at the end of October, there weren't as many requests for the story, but she would still say "fall down!" when she was leaving the garden, right at the top of the steps. Sometimes she would say it on other stairs, and she mostly wanted to be carried on stairs, even after "fall down" had mostly faded from her repertoire.

Sometime around January, she started talking about it again, saying "Z. fall down," or "Z. pushing dee strolleuh, fall down" or "Fall down dee stairs, go to dee docteuh." Falling down was definitely the topic. Being on any kind of stairway would trigger the topic. I took her to the chiroprator, who said she could work out any body/emotion stuff. Z. liked the treatment, but I didn't see any result. A. thought, and I think she's right, that Z. was just telling us about it because now she could.

Then last week she started talking about the elevator. That's right. The big, big elevator we rode in at the hospital to go to the doctor who put on her cast. She rode in it with Mama, you know, and she'll use the first person to tell you all about it. And this weekend she came out with something completely unexpected. When her cast was cut off for the second and final time, I had them give it to me. I tucked it quietly away in our bag and did not mention it to her after. She showed no sign of noticing at the time. It has been hidden in a place she can't reach. And yet, yesterday she said "Mama bring home my peuple cast in a plastic bag." (And indeed, they did wrap it in a plastic bag, long since discarded.)

Working through trauma and cognitive development, intersecting before my eyes.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On anonymity and pictures

(NB: This post used to be called "Check it out!" I revised it to put it in my posting policy links)

It's as clear to me as always that I want to keep names off the blog. This is not an anonymous blog, exactly. I'm happy for readers to know who I am and I know a lot of you in real life already. Most people who find me from comments in other blogs will already know my first name because I use it all over the place.

So why not use it here? I want to keep this blog off search engines so that I don't need to worry about people from my professional life reading it. Needless to say, this also means that any references to my business will not be by name. I am trying to stay vague about my neighborhood for the same reason, though it's readily identifiable to anyone who knows Philly. If you slip up, no big deal, but I will delete the comment and invite you to redo it in my next post.

But photos aren't so googleable, so I decided that there's no reason not to put up a picture, and a few reasons to do so: I just plain like seeing pictures of writers on other blogs. It's fun. It also adds to my feeling that the person is real by shorting out the function compulsive fiction readers develop of deciding what the character looks like in our heads. And you know, I'm real, too. Also, there's a picture in my files that I think is a good match for this blog. For copyright purposes I should say it was taken by a wedding photographer at my friends' wedding.

Then I couldn't get Blogger to shrink the one I wanted to fit the sidebar, so I stuck it in my profile--if you want to see what Z. and I looked like when she was at about 17 months, click on the tiny little postage stamp over there. This way everyone can learn about my Helen Mirren fixation, too. (Jane Tennison--wow. Rocks my world. She was pretty good as Elizabeth Windsor, too.)

When Z. saw this picture she said, poking the screen, "Dat's Z.! Dat's Mama! Dat's Z.! Dat's Mama! Dat's Z.! Dat's Mama! I'm Z.! I want a binky!"

Are you sure you want to leave the house with your hair looking like that?

This was what my mother would ask me instead of telling me to brush my hair. That little cartoon was bugging me because in it my hair wasn't braided. So, it had to go.

And so do I. I'll post again later if I get a chance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Opinions please

Okay, I added the little cartoon portrait earlier today, but I'm not sure I want to keep it. I kind of like parts of how it turned out--my smile really is a little lopsided--but they didn't have "one long braid" in the hairstyle options so to the extent it kind of looks like me, it kind of looks like me in disarray. I mean, more disarray than usual.

I also think if I'm going to put a picture of myself on the blog maybe I should just put a picture of myself on the blog. I'm not really doing the anonymous thing here. I don't mind my readers knowing who I am, I just don't want this blog to turn up on a Google search anyone might be doing on my business and my first name is fairly distinctive. Z.'s first name is even more distinctive. A search on my first name, my town, and the word "bookstore" turns up links to my store twice in the first ten hits. A search on just Z.'s name and "bookstore" turns up my store's website itself on the top of the list, and a profile from our synagogue newsletter a bit further down the page. In short, keeping names off the blog seems wise. But most of you reading this know me in real life, and I use my first name pretty often when I comment on other people's blogs. So should I just put up a photo already?

Any thoughts on pictures, anonymity, etc.?

Year 5 begins

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. The NYT had this piece on Sunday about various events leading up to the war. This was to highlight that the truth about the situation, you know, what everyone says they didn't know at the time, was being "hidden in plain view."

Hidden? As I recall, it was being very loudly trumpeted by everyone on the left, certainly everyone in the anti-war movement. At the time I was living in Madison, which has a great community radio station that carried lots of Pacifica programs, and I just had it on all the time. (This certainly contributed profoundly to my alienation from A.'s Republican sister.) The truth was readily available. The reason most people in the country didn't know was either that Clear Channel and Rupert Murdoch had bought all of the media in their communities, or that they just didn't want to know. The country was still pretty high on vengeance-tinted patriotism. Facts were simply irrelevant. This was a war we entered because of popular emotion--mainly fear--manipulated by oil tycoons who had seized the highest levels of government.

Where is the impeachment movement?

You do not want by the way will meet me?

The cafe at the store received the following email this morning:

Hello, cafe.


Forgive that so long did not write to you.
There was a lot of work. Here at last that
I was released from work and from the former friend.
You do not want by the way will meet me? :)
Wwould descend at cinema... Would talk.

There can be you have forgotten as I look?
I send you the new favourite photo
if there is a desire you can see :)

Only I ask you to remove it or do not show its friends!
I Look forward to hearing

Dood bye. kiss)

Best regards,

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Breaks your heart

Z. was crying last night because we had to remove some stuffed animals from her bed so there would be space for her. Things were settled after a few negotiations. Then she pushed at my fingers. "Close your hand." I made a loose fist. Z. tugged at my sleeve, so I pulled my sleeve down past my hand. "Wipe my tears."

This morning she had a dream that made her laugh in her sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ice and Daffodils

So much for the end of the heating season--we've got hail and sleet, temperatures back in the 30's, and nasty roads. We also have our first daffodils in bloom, in the former laundry sink that's now a planter in front of our house. When I noticed the patch of yellow yesterday I was so surprised that at first I thought it was a candy wrapper that had gotten caught. These are miniatures (always the first to bloom for me): tiny and perfect and covered in ice. Poor things.

Most of my full-size daffs are showing buds, too. I decided to give in to my daffodil love last fall and planted them in a bunch of beds and borders that had previously been daff-free, and the project took me until December to finish. Most of the new ones are well up, but the last ones, the ones that only went in in December, were nowhere to be seen and I was despairing of them until this week. But if you get close to the dirt you can see the very tops of the leaves poking up, green and distinct.

Yesterday the co-op had pansies and other annuals on sale and Z. and I picked out a flat of the most purplest ones; now they're sojourning in the kitchen. I had this idea about planting the zenobias earlier in the week. Thank goodness I didn't have time.

And how are the zenobias doing? you ask. (I know you've all been losing sleep over this.) The answer is, they're still in my living room, which is still cold, and they've broken dormancy. Both are greening up and have new growth, which means I'll need to harden them off before planting. Not too big a deal, I hope.

I realize that being a gardener is really a way of being highly attuned to the weather. I wonder if other SAD (seasonal affective disorder) sufferers are drawn to gardening? I think this is my favorite season in the garden, because it still look so ratty but it's coming back to life. I'm not much good at doing fall clean-up, so there are dead perennials and vegetable stakes and red plastic tomato mulch and all sorts of things strewn around and the whole place looks fairly abandoned. But if you pay close attention to the dirt you'll see amazing things coming out of it. Blood-red tips of bleeding hearts, fleshy tulip leaves, furled tips of trillium, leafy and chthonic in equal measure.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Books recent and current

PLEASE, PLEASE, if you like anything you read about here, buy it from your local independent bookseller. You can find someone near you at the Booksense website. Really! You can type in your zip code and everything. Or find a little guy with a website who'll send it to you.

The Devil in the White City, Erik Lawson. I read a lot of mysteries, not much true crime, because I think true crime is sensationalist without having much plot or character interest. Everyone wants to be Truman Capote, but most people wind up closer to Ann Rule. The serial killer thread of this was pretty much what I expected. Howmmmsoever ... I'm secretly in love with Chicago and its architecture, so I really loved all the stuff about the world's fair, and in the two days since I read it have seen two items crop up (in my constant swim through print) that tie back to something I learned from the book, so I feel this was a good part of my continuing education. I understand why this is a perennial Booksense bestseller.

The Black Book of Secrets, F.E. Higgins (US edition forthcoming, Fall '07) For middle grade readers. I'm in the middle of this. This is a quasi-Dickensian story about a pickpocket who finds himself apprenticed to a highly unlikely pawnbroker. I'm really liking the pacing and the writing is very accessible to kids without being clunky. A good choice for Lemony Snicket fans, I think (though I haven't finished).

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. She and her sister (Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of the young adult book Dairy Queen) came to speak at the store last summer and it was one of the best events we've ever done. I'm only just at the beginning of this and I can't imagine what took me so long. She combines snarkiness and emotional availability in this absolutely stunning way. I think anyone drawn to blogs would love this book.

Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan. I read the first section of this, on apples and John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed, many years ago, loved it, and got stuck in the second section, tulips. I just didn't care that much about the tulips. But I went back to it after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is one of the few books that I think everyone in the world should read (really: if you eat, you need to know what Pollan has to say). Botany is not a masterpiece, but it's awfully fine. I still think the apple section is the best one in the book, with its strong historic vein, and I still don't think the tulip section is nearly as interesting, but the marijuana and potato sections (sections 3 and 4) come close. There's a clear path from the potato section, in which Pollan contemplates genetically modified crops and monoculture, to the work he's doing in Omnivore. Gardening isn't as universal an experience as eating, but I think this should be on your list if you spend any time reading gardening books or catalogs.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. I actually am not prepared to write about this, seeing as it's all about grief and all. But I loved it.

Next up: The Coldest Blood, Jim Kelly. I love smart British mystery novels. Unfortunately St. Martins is only publishing Kelly in hardcover here, but you can see if it cost-effective to get a used paper copy from the UK by looking on abebooks.


Yes, warm weather and crocuses. I think the heating season may really be over and the plumber might now be willing to give me a bid on the work that needs doing in the store's little cafe. Have you noticed that the winter months bring out every plumber's latent superhero? If you have heat, you aren't a citizen in distress and they just can't be bothered. We actually did lose our heat, and mighty miffed we were too--it was last Friday, what appears to have been the last day the radiators will be needed this season. If your thermocoupler is going to give up the ghost it should be in November so you can think, "wow, we got off easy," not "it would have been so nice to have that hundred bucks for another eight months."

But the crocuses, they are so cheerful and diligent, emitting little zings of color with absolutely no trace of grandstanding. There are these little wild crocuses--naturalized, I'm pretty sure, not wild, wild--that take over some of the lawns around here. They're a very pale purple, almost translucent. Cultivated varieties look much sturdier, but clearly these little purple ones have figured something out. If they were any less pretty you'd call them a weed--probably if I had them, I'd call them a weed (I do think that way about star of bethlehem). I was walking over to the credit union after therapy this morning, and seeing all the purple lawns made me so happy.

And therapy--well, I'm not going to report my therapy sessions online, you know. But we were in a different room from the one she was using last fall. It's temporary while her home office is being renovated, but I like that, having a new room for a restart.

Daylight savings

First, daylight can't be saved.

There is a set amount of daylight in any given day, and all we do when we mess with the clock is we shift the workday earlier in that time period. That makes the evening longer, sure, but you can look at that as squandering daylight just as easily as you can look at it as saving it. If you have lots and lots of daylight--if, for instance, you have more daylight than darkness in your 24 hours, then you could say that this trick is saving an hour you didn't really need in the morning and attaching it to the evening is pure lagniappe, letting us enjoy lazy barbecues without turning on an incandescent bulb anywhere.

But wherever you put that hour, it's gone by sundown. You can't hoard them and give yourself an extra day down the shore on Memorial Day weekend. It just doesn't work that way.

If you have less daylight than darkness in your day, and you are already desperate for time at the beginning of your day to get everything done, and your spouse and (barking, disruptive) dogs wake at 5:30, which has just been moved closer to the middle of the night, and your toddler wakes at daybreak, no sooner, and the days had just become long enough to get her to school on time without misery, then a valuable, greatly appreciated morning hour has been tossed down the garbage disposal of the evening. Worse still, it has been used to encourage the return of later bedtimes. It is all-around a lousy idea. Let's go back to the April date. Write you Congressfolk, willya, people? Even you Washingtonians have a sort-of vote, now!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Because the next one you scroll to is a downer

I thought I'd offer a little cute toddler conversation here. Since she turned 2 Z. has decided she's no longer a baby:

S. is carrying Z., who is wearing metallic blue supermodel sunglasses she got as a party favor. A. is standing nearby.

S.: Are you glamourous?

Z.: No, I'm Z.!

A.: You can be Z. and be glamourous.

Z.: I'm a big girl!

A.: That's right, you're a big girl now.

Z.: ... binky? ...

S.: Z., big girls don't need binkies!

Z. (putting up a careful index finger to demonstrate): Big girls need one binky.

(parents laugh)

Z.: One peuple binky.

When Z. came home (long even for me)

So I wrote all this stuff about my labor in the run-up to Z.'s birthday, and I ended the story with Z.'s transfer to a hospital across town. It was a week before she came home.

That was actually the horrible part. The length of my labor alone wouldn't have wrecked me if I'd gone home with a baby, but I went home without one. She wasn't even in the hospital with me. I checked myself out 12 hours after giving birth because that was the earliest moment I could, and there were things we needed to do: collect a breast pump, see our lawyer about protecting A.'s parental rights. The NICU at hospital #2 had made it clear over the phone that they didn't want us to come in and break down, and my father was on his way up to see the baby, so we waited until dinner time and tried to rest.

I had so much adrenaline still in my system from the birth and the crisis immediately after that I didn't realize how much my body had been brutalized and how little I should do. I think we walked something like 4 blocks from the garage, stopping for sandwiches on the way. I shuffled. We were so green at being NICU parents that we didn't know where the hospital's garage was or where the night entrance was. We wound up going in through emergency and crossing another city block indoors before we found the NICU. We had to scrub in, and fill out forms, before we were led back to her nursery. I picked out Z. immediately even though I had seen her for less than an hour, total, since she was born. It was like there was a spotlight on her.

I remember the first few times I touched her head, understanding that my hands had instantly found a new way to touch. It was through this touching that I understood I had a daughter, and myself to be her mother, irrevocably changed.

Z.'s umbilical stump had been shaved off so they could use those veins for IV fluids. She also had a hep lock in one hand, and electrodes all over her monitoring everything. We had to ask a nurse to pick her up and hand her to us to hold. The machines would make this "enh-enh" sound if she was disconnected. The phenobarbitol had been discontinued after her transfer, but there was still plenty in her system and she just slept. I know newborns sleep a lot, but this was maddening. I so wanted to see her eyes, and the few times she did open them in her first couple of days the drug meant that she was more likely to roll them back into her head than engage with me. We were told that usually if you have a seizure from lack of oxygen, other systems are also damaged because the body has shunted oxygen away from other systems first to protect the brain. So the IV was to give them a chance to see if there was damage to her GI tract before starting her on "solids"--in this case, my breast milk.

We had friends whose baby had been in the NICU of another hospital for bilirubin, and they had told us of the miseries of camping out at the hospital but raved about how good the nurses were. Not so at our NICU. The first nurse we had was a grown-up, and compassionate. She gave us one of Z.'s NICU blankets to take home for our dogs to smell. We never had her again. There was one nurse we had twice who also talked to us and learned our names. She was the one who told us that the full-term babies (like Z.) broke her heart because they weren't supposed to be there, and also that she used to work L & D and loved doing midwife births.

We probably had at least 10 nurses in the week that Z. was admitted and not another one of them learned our names, though we learned each of theirs. Most of them were about 24, with no kids (their gossip was all about engagements and honeymoon plans), and they called us "Mom." They only learned Z.'s name after we put it on her crib in 3-inch high letters. Since they usually were assigned to her only once, they usually had learned her case for the first time at rounds a few hours before we spoke to them. Yet they spoke to us as though they knew more than we did, we who had memorized every detail that came our way, whatever our lack of medical education. By contrast, the neonatologist and PA we saw most often were great.

The doctor had a lesbian goddaughter who was trying to have kids, so she identified with us, and she also showed great respect for our midwife. On the second day we met the midwife at the NICU, and she showed me how to use the breast pump properly (I'd already been at it for a day by that time), and reassured me that if all I was getting was colostrum it was wonderful stuff and they would still be able to use it. Then we sat holding Z. and talking, and the neonatologist turned up and pounced on the chance to hear about the birth from our midwife. Z.'s high Apgars had been bothering her. The story didn't add up to the diagnosis because she hadn't been without oxygen long. "Newborns," the neonatologist told us, "make all sorts of funny movements," and perhaps something had been misinterpreted as a seizure. What made more sense to her was that something, maybe just mucus, had partially obstructed Z.'s airway, and had been dislodged in the resuscitation process. This made so much sense to us, and yet Z. was still hospitalized.

In the immediate aftermath of Z.'s crisis, while we were still at hospital #1 but after Z. has been transferred, one of the staff midwives came by to check on me and said "some babies just punk out on you." I was completely bewildered by Z.'s punking out. She had made it through all those days of labor with a rock-steady heartrate. She had come out as perfect as you could ask for. She had started to nurse. And then she was grey and limp and taken from me and that possibility just hadn't been on my radar screen. All through the pregnancy I would worry if her usual hyperactivity slowed down, and the heartbeat at the next prenatal would reassure me. How could I have not been worried about her punking out? I have become, in the aftermath, a world-class worrier. And yet, I was never fully convinced of the seizure, even when I thought it had happened in NICU #1. Or at least, I wasn't convinced of what it implied: that I had a potentially very sick child.

Unfortunately, we saw a lot more of the nurses than the doctors. We would show up, I would hand over my labeled breastmilk containers and get more empty ones, we would go to Z.'s warmer, then isolette, then crib. She was in the sickest baby nursery for most of her stay, because of her diagnosis. We would find out about tests that had been done since our last visit, and the results would be negative, but someone would want to run them again when her phenobarb levels were lower. Her levels came down slowly because her little newborn liver wasn't functioning efficiently yet. The neurologist called her a normal sedated baby.

One time we came in to find her sucking on a pacifier taped to a rolled-up blanket. I tore it off in a rage. Her nurse said that she had been crying. So pick her up! I wanted to shout, but instead I explained that we weren't going to be giving her a pacifier at home so we didn't want her to have any in the hospital. (We held out on binkies for 8 months. Now she is seldom without one.) We became less deferential about waiting for a nurse to give us the baby. We made black-and-white pictures for Z. to look at. We asked, and asked, and asked, to be booked into the overnight room.

Z. finally opened her eyes to look right at me. They were this pure, pure charcoal grey, a shade you'd never see on anyone older. (Now they are a rich, cinnamon-chocolate brown.)

On the Saturday after Z. was born, she was started on a protocol to move her to what the NICU called solids. It involved giving her set amounts of milk or formula every three hours and increasing the amount every 3 feedings. I was three days post-partum and counting my milk output in millilitres, but we had a fair amount already frozen and specified that we wanted her to have breastmilk only. The protocol was designed for preemies who can't lose a gram, not for full-term babies who are fully equipped to lose a couple ounces while Mama's milk comes in. It turned out to be the most brutal part of her stay for me.

We went to shul so I could bentsch gomel, and then we headed to the hospital in high spirits, since we saw this as the first step in getting our daughter back. And yes, that was how it was: the hospital had our baby, and we needed to jump through certain hoops to be able to take her home. As it happened, my mother had been visiting Z. and was still there when we arrived. When she left, the nurse of the day who had been hovering came over and said "Mom? There's a problem with your breast milk." Apparently, Z.'s urine had tested positive for marijuana, therefore my milk wasn't fit to feed her. I hit the roof. A doctor--not our friendly neonatologist, but another one--was called in to deal with me, the crazy mother. She asked me "When was the last time you smoked marijuana?" I said "When I was 26!" She said "Oh, 26 weeks of pregnancy?" I said "No, 26 years old!" She laughed nervously. I said "There's a problem with the test! Call the lab!" She explained the difficulty of finding someone at the lab on a Saturday. I said "You think marijuana stays in the body for seven years!?!" She allowed that was unlikely. I said "If she's positive for marijuana, it didn't come through my body! And she's been here since she was five hours old!" She said "Ha-ha, our nurses toking up, ha-ha," and called the lab.

Two samples had gone in with Z.'s name. One tested positive for THC, one for barbituates. Which one was really Z.'s? Remember the phenobarbitol? We started the protocol with my breastmilk. But the nurse said the frozen colostrum was too hard to get out of the container.

The protocol called for bottle feeding to monitor the exact number of millilitres the baby drank. So Z. started on bottles. When we were there, we gave them to her. When we weren't, we sent breastmilk down via friends and family. The amount required per feeding increased faster than my milk production. While we were at the hospital on Sunday I broke down utterly and completely. A. held me and took me out of there. We walked a couple of blocks to a pizza place to talk away from the hospital. I didn't recognize myself in the mirror. I couldn't keep up with the milk. I wanted to take Z. home. I felt like I had been hit by a truck, physically and emotionally, and no one was letting me rest.

I decided to let them use formula if necessary to finish the protocol so I wouldn't lose my mind.

On Monday, the protocol was done, the IV was out, and I could put Z. to my breast. She ripped a line of blisters across one nipple and a bruise across the other. Because I hadn't given birth at hospital #2, their lactation consultants didn't know there was a breastfeeding mom in the NICU. (The lactation consultant at hospital #1 had very unhelpfully showed me a breast pump and said "If I can figure it out, you can.") It so happened that my doulas' work with a lactation consultant at hospital #2 as another one of their backups--but she worked the regular delivery floor. She came to help me out twice, but it took a bunch more consultations and a few more months before I could breastfeed her without pain. And then there was the nurse who told me at the third feeding that Z. had been crying after the last feeding, so she'd given her another 60 mils in a bottle because Z. was hungry and I should feed her more next time. This childless woman ten years my junior who didn't bother with my name gave my daughter a bottle after I was breastfeeding her, wiping out what was left of my reserve breastmilk in the process, and she told me this by way of accusing me of being a bad mom. And I felt guilty.

Finally, after asking every day, we got into the overnight room on Monday night--with Z. breastfeeding, our priority was higher. The overnight room consists of a glorified closet with two inflatable mattresses perched on folding cots, and a bathroom attached. It's in a corridor outside the NICU and they phone you to come over, get buzzed in, wash your hands, and nurse your baby. Two moms are supposed to share it. Two moms who've never met, with infants on their own different schedules, getting phone calls all night long to come over and nurse. A. had the option of staying in the family lounge in the NICU, which has two armchairs that folded into beds, but they were already staked out and the lounge was well-used until fairly late at night anyway.

I went to the charge nurse to plead my case, explaining about the 75 hour labor and the round-the-clock pumping and how not-good my emotional state was. It turned out the other mom's baby had already been moved back to the regular nursery in preparation for release, and the charge nurse found somewhere on that floor for the other mom to sleep. Hooray for the charge nurse! Once we got into the overnight room, we just didn't leave.

Z. came home on Wednesday. My midwife put me on modified bedrest for two weeks. The next time A. went out, the car was missing. And our insurance had lapsed because I hadn't managed to switch my license back to PA. I was pretty sure someone was trying to make me insane. (It turned out in her strung-out state, A. had blocked a neighbor's driveway, so the car had been towed--and not even to a city lot, so we got it back without proof of insurance.)

In order to put the baby on A.'s insurance, we got my chart from the birth, which was also Z.'s chart. It indicates a seizure on my breast. But all she did was go limp--if the L & D nurse hadn't been taking her footprints no one would have noticed right away. A couple of times in the newborn period, while she was sleeping Z.'s hands would twitch spastically and rhythmically, but when I held them it stopped. At two months, we followed up with the neurologist. He described the diagnosis as an "overcall," and assured me that if the twitches stopped when you held her, she wasn't seizing.

My mother wanted me to promise never to try for a homebirth again. She thought that if Z. had punked out at home we would have lost her. But I think just the opposite. I think we all paid for my transfer to hospital through Z.'s hospitalization. At home, the midwives would have intubated her and given her oxygen. We would have had to transfer to the hospital for two days of monitoring. But no one would have diagnosed a seizure that didn't happen, and it would have been a very different thing.

At the end of that whole week, at the end of the month where we cried every day, after the months-long lactation nightmare eased, I still felt haunted by an alternate universe where Z. had died. I couldn't make emotional sense of everything that had happened and my fine, healthy child, even though her health feels like a vindication of what I knew all along. I cry easily. I am highly susceptible to sentimental picture books about infants and New Yorker stories about dead children and dead parents. Every time I enter an intersection I imagine the car that's about to slam through ours. I am sure unexpected phone calls will bring bad news.

Z.'s first year was taken up largely with planning and opening the store. I wasn't much good at being a stay-at-home-mom, and things got better when she began daycare. She started talking around 10 months, walking at 14. A. was home with her for the summer, which meant I could put in longer hours at the store. I was pretty wiped out by August, desperate for our vacation. Z. was sick the entire week. I came home more desperate.

On the weekend before Labor Day our dog died. She died of everything, really, from a brain tumor to various organs failing, but it started with a series of seizures. They were silent and scary and they didn't stop when you held her. I was terribly sad.

A month later Z. pushed her stroller down the five steps from our yard to the sidewalk and went flying headfirst after it. I learned that if the worst happens to her I will watch and not turn away because until the moment she landed it looked like she would come down on the top of her head. She twisted and caught the impact on her ribs and left elbow, which broke in two places. She was in the cast for a month. Around the time it came off I started seeing someone for therapy. Then the retail season overwhelmed me and made me manic and sleepless.

Finally, we made it to my parents for Christmas, and Z. fell on a playground and broke her two front teeth. I wasn't there. I was out shopping, blithely, and came home to find her bleeding and her beautiful smile changed. I was distraught. A. was distraught. We had been planning to leave that day, and stupidly we went ahead with that plan. A block from my parents' house, at a turn she's probably made a dozen times in the six years we've been together, A. made a left into a stream of cross traffic. I was in the backseat holding a popsicle to Z.'s bleeding mouth and suddenly cars were bearing down on us--on Z. in her carseat. Somehow we weren't hit: one car braked, another swerved. I went into hysterics. Of course we spent the night at my parents'.

One week later Helen Hill was shot by an intruder in her home in New Orleans. Many many people have written about it; her memorial site is really wonderful. I knew Helen and Paul in college. Paul was one of the first people I met, on a bus ride to DC in the fall of my freshman year, and we did peer counseling together. Helen I knew through her roommates. I spent more time in their room my sophomore year than I did in my own. It was easy to underestimate her until you had seen the full extent of her talent, because she was this little, cheerful Southern pixie, but she was enormously talented and also had a jaw-dropping gift for inclusiveness that she shared with Paul. The summer after they graduated I spent a lovely week with both of them in New Orleans along with about a half-dozen other houseguests who happened to arrive at the same time, but over the years I had lost touch. I didn't even know they had a son until I heard about Helen's death. It turns out the first half of my pregnancy was the same time as the last half of Helen's, and now her baby no longer has his mother. It is as though my nightmare found my old friends instead of me.

Helen's death is why I am blogging. I started by checking the bloggers who were writing about her, then started reading more. I used to be better at writing in my journal, but lately I've stopped. I think the blog is more compelling because I know people are reading--mostly (at this point) people whom I know and love.

Since Helen died I haven't been back to therapy. I was just too sad to know where to start talking. But on Z.'s birthday my therapist called to see what was up with me, and I'm going to start again on Tuesday. I hope it takes better this time.

Now our life will change

There is a new play structure in our neighborhood, not half a block from our house, in the back of the parking lot of the public school at our intersection. I was surprised to hear about it: the school's play yard is all asphalt and slated for major remodeling. None of that work has started yet and I'd have thought play equipment would come last in a big project like that, but I guess this corner of the parking lot isn't being torn up.

We were over in the parking lot yesterday trying out Z.'s new trike and playground ball. The structure is so new that it's still wrapped in caution tape, but someone who sounded authoritative told us it was fine to play on, and in fact it was. It's really beautiful, all enamel over metal in primary colors, with a bouncy bridge, a couple of ladders, a set of drums built in and another of bells, a twisty slide and a double straight slide, and two different things big kids can use to grab onto and dangle. There are nice, thick rubber tiles under the whole area, too.

Two neighbor kids and their parents joined us playing on it. The day was a lovely, almost-spring one. It was a very nice pre-nap shabbos adventure.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Commenting etiquette (includes email info)

I know it's a little odd to be putting this up when no one's saying much in the comments, but I just got my first commercial comment (I deleted it.) So, after thinking about what Phantom has on her site, here's what I want my rules to be:

First: be nice to each other (and to me, naturally). Disagreements should be expressed in civil language. Try to listen carefully before you respond.

Second: if you're going to link to a commercial website, please let that be in service of something other than advertising your own goods and services. As you might notice, the name of my own business doesn't appear here, not only because I'm wary of staffers using search engines but also because I don't want this to be a commercial space. No shameless self-promotion!

Caveat to second: because I can imagine a day when this blog has its own community and someone wanted to let others know about a reading, performance, conference, book release, etc., tell me about it, and let me do that kind of promoting for you. You can email me at scallen3 at America OnLine. Abbreviate and provide the usual domain name as appropriate, of course.

Third: Phantom asks everyone to introduce themselves to her on her blog before they comment. I think this creates a nice home-y atmosphere over there, but I don't yet have enough people commenting that I think that kind of hostessing is necessary. But if things get out of hand, I reserve the right to institute it later on.

And yes, I'll delete freely if I think I want to.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Flower Show

Well, I made it to the Flower Show. Z. climbed into our bed and kept me up a couple hours overnight, then woke up for good an hour later, at 5:30, so the day did not start well. However, A. rescued it by going in late to work so that she could take Z. to day care. I took a nice long bath, then dealt with the fallout from my porous brain (the Scholastic rep was on her way--oops, didn't write that one down in the right place--but my general manager knows more about kids and young adult titles than I do, so I authorized her to make the order: 50 to 80 copies of Harry Potter, coming in July!) By 10:35, I was on the regional rail, heading to Market East and the Convention Center.

I used to ride that train daily, or nearly, when I worked downtown. Now I work next door, so my commute no longer involves public transit, but the years when I did ride made the scenery bone-familiar. For most of the length of the trip it's a long line of factories--desiccated husks of factories--covered in grafitti, windows cracked, weeds growing along the railroad cut. Maybe a few factories have come down over the years, but otherwise the biggest gentrification project that's happened along that corridor in the 8 years I've known it has been the opening of a facility for juvenile offenders. And that was more than 5 years ago. So I went down to the Flower Show contemplating urban ruin. And I came back doing the same.

But while I was there: another world. What a marvelous, goofy institution we have in Philadelphia, and it's probably not what you think if you've never been. Yes, there is the part where perfect orchids and African violets and windowbox arrangements get a ribbon, and there is the part where you can buy 2 dozen roses or a bundle of pussy willow, but the real point is exhibits that have much more in common with Disneyland. These are actual--but temporary--gardens, created indoors for one week. They are bigger than some backyards, planted with trees, grass, and flowers all way ahead of season, complete with walls and paved paths and ponds and fountains. There are gardens with houses, gardens with arches, gardens all ready for a wedding. This year the theme was Ireland, so there were many leprechauns (and I learned my daily leprechaun limit is about 4), Irish dancers and musicians performing on the hour, and one fantastic garden with a reasonably convincing (though miniature) ruined chapel.

I also loved the little exhibit on greening your home (by its very nature this is an event of enormous waste, so the irony was not lost) which showed a doghouse with a green roof.

I think my mom enjoyed it more than I did, and I thought it was pretty great. And also, I got to spend a day with my mom (Hi, mom!) just wandering around and talking. Very nice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Tired Day

Z. woke up this morning and even though she told me "I don't wanna go to school. I wanna stay home and take a nap," she was fine as long as she was in her pajamas. She objected strenuously to me trying to put jeans on her, but relented when I replaced her pajama pants, so I let her eat breakfast in her pj's. This meant a return trip upstairs but we had time to spare--until she fought me on the jeans again. And on her shirt. (She claimed it was too tight. It's a size 6. She's at most a 3T.) She didn't want to do anything. She wanted Puppy Pie. I told her it was nap time just to see what would happen (it was 8:30am and she'd been up 2 hours) and she lay down immediately, but didn't sleep. I sang our sleepy songs. She didn't sleep but was increasingly cranky. She got up in tears and said "I wanna go to school, I wanna see my teachers." At 10 past 9 I called school and told them she was staying home. She immediately curled into my lap and I basically ignored her until she fell asleep at around quarter of 10. She wasn't awake again until 1:15.

Now, the problem with this is that I had her home on Monday, I made Tuesday a reading day/recovery from birthday exertions day, and tomorrow is my Flower Show excursion with my mother. I try to leave early on Fridays to go to my Buzz group (more on which later). So I was looking at being away from the store for almost a whole week with no preparation. Not so good.

You never know, though. While I was pottering around the house and the Internet two staffers called in sick (my manager relayed the news) and I thought we'd have to close the store until Z. woke up chipper. I said "You're awake!" She said "I'm all better now!" Her language astonishes me. I think she had to sleep so long because more of her language centers were coming online. She told me "I really, really need to go to school." This time when I explained that at school they were mid-nap and she needed to eat lunch she didn't flip, so she really was all better now. She wanted to make snowprints, so after she shoveled half of our pantry into her little belly, I packed her into her snow things and we stomped and dug in the snow, then went to the store. A. turned up and took Z. along to her (A.'s) chiropractor appointment, so I could take over at the register. So you never know how the day will turn out.

It wasn't a whole lot of time, but I did manage to look over the message book, prepare a PO for the distributor, and grab some bills that need paying. On the down side, we didn't break $100 today, which always leaves me wondering what the heck I think I'm doing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Victory is mine

I delivered Z. to school not just in time for circle, not just in time for "Boker Tov", but in time for play time BEFORE circle. And all without skimping on the preliminaries: she was potty'd, hair-clipped, and toothbrushed, and even had time for a round of "runaway/comeback" while she got dressed and for one minor meltdown while negotiating about leaving the house.

Now daylight savings is gonna come along and mess me up again.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Fun encounter

Z. pitched a full-bore conniption fit about going to her 24-month check-up this morning. The wailing part went like this: "I don'wanna gotoda DOC-tor, I doa-oan'wanna gotoda DOC-tor, I don'wanna gotoda DOC-tor, I don'wanna gotoda DOC-tor (hiccup)," repeated from the foyer of our house until I forcibly strapped her into the carseat halfway down the block. And then she actually enjoyed herself for most of it once we got there. The only bad part was finger prick for the lead check, and she was wonderfully brave.

At the toy store afterwards we ran into Digger Boy and Digger Mom! Yay! Digger Boy was like an antidote to yesterday's birthday party. He was wearing a purple coat! And noticed Z.'s purple shoes! Digger Mom says he chooses his own clothes and purple is his favorite color. Kindred spirits.

Carnival and chaos


So I promised to write about the Big Day of Grandparents. A.'s parents showed up just in time to keep Z. up for an extra hour on the night of her birthday, and my folks arrived early the next day. We all went to shul, even my non-Jewish folks, who do this for me every year or two. Z. was so delighted to have all her grands there, and me! (I usually sleep in), that she promptly abandoned them and dragged me by the hand to kids' services. Once she got her story hit we were good to rejoin the grownups.

The official reason for this family outing was to provide kiddush in Z.'s honor. In addition to the usual (hummus, pita, crudite, chips, salsa, and gorp) I had intended to make New Orleans bread pudding, which is an alcoholic marvel, but didn't check that we had enough milk before shabbat. When shortfalls like this happen I always think I'll break shabbat so that the fun thing I planned won't be spoiled because I don't want my shabbat observance to make me feel deprived. Then having determined to break shabbat, and without ever wavering in that determination, I decide that it wouldn't be worth it anyway. In this case, when I found there wasn't milk I decided to go to the co-op the moment it opened the next morning, then decided that I wouldn't have enough time anyway. Instead of bourbon and raisins we brought honey bunnies. Luckily a hamantaschen baker missed the communal mishloach manot assembly day on Friday and brought her tray to kiddush instead.

My father learned to say "hamantaschen" moments before the baker came over and he complimented her on them perfectly.

Back at the Rhyming ranch, proper lunch was eaten, and cake, and ice cream. The Big Day of Grandparents reached its purest, highest point: the Opening of the Big Grandparent Presents. Z. was almost dizzy with her treasures. There was a big tube to climb through from A.'s parents, with tents and things to attach to it when it can be assembled somewhere larger than our living room, and there was also a pinky-purple gorilla whom we named Hank. My folks gave her a tricycle that had both grandfathers saying admiring techonological things, and has a basket in back for toy transportation that you can dump out when you get your toys to where they're going. Aunt N. sent her old cell phone, with charger so it will continue to turn blue when Z. turns it on. Uncle B. and Aunt S.E. sent a huge box of sidewalk chalk and a big, floppy unicorn whom we named Stella. (If we don't name toy animals instantly they all get names like The Camel.)

Then the afternoon kind of ran out of juice. All of us could have used a nap, but Z. was too manic to even think of trying. I had wanted to take a walk earlier, but after the presents I could no longer remember that. Eventually, it was time for the grandparents to go. Goodbyes were said all around, then we got ready for Purim. With no nap, the goal was to keep Z. up long enough to sleep through the night when she did go down.

Z. got back into the most purplest of her purple clothes, which industrious Mama had rendered clean again. Neither A. nor I did much in the way of costumes, but we were nearly alone in that--there were zoo animals and fighter pilots, yin and yang, rock and rollers, various sports stars, and the entire synagogue staff came as penguins. It was fun, but we didn't stay long. The moon was in eclipse when we arrived but full when we walked home.


The next day, yesterday, was the brother-sister family's birthday party. This was held at an indoor gymnastics place a half-hour drive from our house--mind you, most of the kids at this party live within a 10-minute walk of our house. A. had a ton of work so I took Z. on my own, and got lost twice from directions that referred to roads that weren't signed. We arrived to find a mass of big kids in the lobby of the place and a harrassed teenager herded us brusquely but ineffectively along. We were told to hand over the presents before we even reached the party--as though this were a wedding!--and given little help in sorting out the geography of the place, which was complicated. Most of the party was held in the "Kids' Fun Factory," a multi-level Ikea-style play structure with lots of tubes and ramps and netting. There were two ball pits, and the first one we found was full of big kids playing very rough. Z. desperately wanted to go in and she would have been crushed instantly.

After a couple more turnings we found the toddler area, which was magically, delightfully full of her day-care classmates. What sweet relief. We had a nice long, pleasant interlude bathing in the balls and throwing them up in the air. She didn't want to leave when our time was called, and in fact she shouldn't have, because under 3's weren't allowed in the next activity (mind you, over half the kids at this party were under 3) and no parents or under 3's were allowed to walk across the route that the over 3's walked.

Z. melted down. I tried to get her together with cuddles and snacks, but she just wanted to go away and cry and I couldn't much blame her. Finally, I carried her over to where everyone else was. A few over-3's were in a moon bounce, and most of the 2's had illicitly joined the rest of the 3's doing completely unrisky things on mats with hula hoops, but Z.'s window for fun had closed. Looking around, she wasn't the only one. Luckily, the meltdown had taken enough time that we were quickly herded up to lunch in a room that also held another party of much larger kids. Our group got pizza, for which no knives or forks were provided, so parents either encouraged small offspring to direct entire floppy slices towards their mouths, or they were reduced to pulling off pieces by hand. Z. was still too dazed and weepy to do anything, so I resorted to actually putting pieces into her mouth to get her blood sugar up.

Cake emerged--pink and purple skirt-shaped with a Barbie in it for big sister, brown and red sheet cake with the Cat in the Hat for baby brother. The cake was excellent. The cake was delicious. I can't complain about the cake at all, and though I did have visions of the candles frying Barbie's hair, sister clearly adored it.

I counted heads before people started to leave. There were 27 toddlers and preschoolers there. Twenty-seven! I would say that Brother-Sister Mom is insane, except that clearly this has become a cultural expectation, that you would have nearly 30 kids for your 3-year-old's birthday party.

Also, I don't like not giving the presents to the birthday child. Present-giving and present-receiving is a skill that kids need to learn by doing it at birthday parties. It's no fun to give a present to a staffer who collects them out of sight of the intended recipient, and if you are the birthday child you need to learn graciousness in accepting presents. I can see the argument against opening presents in the middle of the party (though I think I would make a different argument), but at least the gift should be given from the hand of the guest to the hand of the guest of honor.


In the lobby, there were still more kids for still more birthday parties. Z. got away from me twice while I was explaining the value of cutlery to the teenagers on staff--both times she had positioned herself not 10 feet away from me, but the chaos was such that I really couldn't see her. Then of course we had a half-hour drive home, and the directions that served me so poorly the first time weren't reversible, so I wound my way through backroads for some time. That was actually fairly pleasant. It gave me a cooling-down time, and almost gave Z. enough time to nap, but not quite. When we got home I took a three-hour nap in her stead, but she got her second wind and was up the rest of the afternoon with A. No nap for two days in a row. She went down in flames at 7:30, resurfaced screaming again at 9, slept in our bed the rest of the night. When I got her to talk to me about it (Mama asking questions, Z. either wailing through them or responding) it came out that she had been terrified of losing me at the party place. But really, who wouldn't be?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The birthday payoffs

After all my blogging in the run-up to it, Z.'s birthday was a lovely day. It seems eclipsed by chaos and carnival now (more on which in another post), but I can work myself back there, I think.

She woke up early, before A. left for work, so A. was able to give her a happy birthday hug and kiss before the day started. We had decided on two presents she could open before school--a little fire truck to feel "birthday" ish and a bracelet because it might have been added to her Purim (observed) costume. The bracelet was a dud, but the fire truck was a hit. She adored it absolutely (as did I--I think it's an intensely smart design) and played with it so much that despite being up early she was later to school than she had been all week (still: we at least made it there by snack every day but Monday last week.)

We came downstairs to a beautiful Happy Birthday sign A. made with paper from Z.'s easel, taped to the glass of our front door at Z. eye level. Happy Birthday was in many colors, Z.'s name was in purple, and there was a heart, a star, and a smiley face. Wow! Uncle B. and Aunt S.E called with birthday wishes at breakfast time, a super-special treat.

Z. went off to school in the most purplest of the purple clothing she owns, clutching the fire truck. Z.'s leaving-the-house ritual these days requires both binky and toy-from-home. The toy from home varies and is handed over to a teacher just after arrival at the door of the class (the binky is handed to me just outside the door along with her jacket). This seems to me to be a more literal meaning of transitional object than is usually understood, but it does work to get her out of the house with less drama, which means faster.

I picked Z. up early to get in a couple of errands before the big day of grandparents began--at 2:45 instead of 4:00. I thought I would arrive after her nap (her school nap is woefully short compared to her home nap--this is one of the reasons why she stays home more often than is perhaps ideal). Instead, she was still asleep and needed to be woken. She came into the classroom bleary and still in the sleep zone. She didn't take in that I was there at first and when she did she was weepy and clingy--her teachers were surprised she was so sad, confirming my belief that she usually puts on a better front for them than for me. No surprise, I'm sure.

But once she got it together to get onto the changing table for a diaper check, she turned out to be dry. This led to a trip with me to the school potty. The school potty is scary since it is a preschool-sized real toilet, too big for even a fairly tall two-year-old like Z. To sit on it she kind of perches at the far front edge, and even that is an accomplishment won after a few tearful acclimation visits. Recently she has attached herself to a book from the rack in the hall that we only read on the potty: suitably, it's called "All By Myself." I thought all these potty reward things--stars and stickers and whatever--were a bad idea but we have inevitably evolved our own reward system of books. It has been the one thing that's made any progress possible at school.

And, on her birthday, she peed on the potty at school for the first time! Hooray for two!

By the time we got home after our errands she had acquired a purple mouse and pirate hat courtesy of pushover Mama, and a flamingo bead from the nice bead store lady. (How to make a pirate hat from a quilting quarter: tie a knot in each corner.) Mommy was home when we arrived, so we opened the rest of the Mama and Mommy presents at snack time--a smallish purple playground ball with pink spots, a barrette and a bunch of hair clips from CVS, a pull-toy clown, two pairs of pants that happened to arrive the day before her birthday so I wrapped them but Z. was not fooled, and finally the thing she asked for, Stacrobats! These are like the fire truck in that they are even more fun in person than you think they would be from seeing pictures. None of us could stop playing with them and, since they are magnetized, introducing the hair clips into the equation meant additional hilarity.

There were more birthday phone calls, from Aunt. O. and Aunt N. and grandparents and friends. Z. loved the fuss and attention, and I liked watching her being happy. A. said that I had made good birthday ruach for her, which I thought was a lovely compliment. I had fun making a good birthday, but even if it's fun work you still like it when someone notices that you're doing good work.

I'm going to stop writing before I get to the arrival of the grandparents, because I do need to get to sleep. Part II tomorrow!

Signs of Spring

Today the witch hazel outside our dining room popped: all at once it went from a few straggly, unnoticeable flowers to full bloom. The hellebores near the patio are also doing well--one is my most reliable sign that life will return again, and it's been going for a few weeks now,in clear view from the second floor hall as I go about my morning wake-up tasks. Finally, the sickly yellow daffodil leaves that poked their way up during the snow of the past few weeks are greening up now that the sun can reach them.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Paying the rent

And on a completely different topic:

Just checked our bank accounts. The automatic deduction for our commercial mortgage cleared, yet we have $10 more in our savings account that we did a few days ago. Why? Because this year the store is paying its rent every month. In 2006 I mostly postponed rent til the end of the year and was very sloppy about keeping track, but I think, overall, a few months of rent got "forgiven:" we just plain carried the store on that front. Which isn't really fair to A. since we co-own the building but the store is officially my investment, but not paying me feels unfair to A., too. I don't know why I decided that rent was more of a priority than paying myself -- no, I do know. It would make me feel better to pay myself, but it will mean more money for our family from month to month if the store pays rent. I'm not good enough at taxes--in fact I am tax phobic--to know what would be better in the long run, but right now we are a month-to-month household anyhow. Also, it seems to me that not paying rent is an unfair advantage over other start-ups that was reasonable to use in the first year but now I need to have a more realistic picture of the cash flow. Not paying the owner for years on end, on the other hand, appears to be completely standard practice for start-ups.

This would all be financially easier if I were married to an investment banker, I guess, but it would be a lot harder if A. had decided to open a store and I had decided to stick with teaching, A. being a public school teacher, S. having been a private school teacher. What a difference a union makes.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

69 hours to 75 hours to 80 hours

At this point two years ago I think I might have been asleep on the epidural. But only just. From the decision to transfer to actually leaving the house was about an hour or so. Things needed to be packed, things needed to be cleaned. The back-up doula had returned, bringing her TENS unit. What a blessing that was! Finally my chaotic, intense labor seemed like something recognizable, manageable. Plus, I had actually been in labor so long that I had learned to manipulate the contractions. (My exhaustion also made then more manageable. Contractions just aren't as strong when your body is wiped out.) I remember rocking on the birth ball to keep one at bay while I finished a conversation with my midwife. The trip to the hospital itself was only 10 minutes, even over snowy roads. Then there was the check-in stuff, and an eternity in the bathroom with my doula trying to pee, then fluid to rehydrate me (castor oil is not kind) and bolster my blood pressure in preparation for the epidural. It all took awhile. I kept that TENS unit on until the catheter for the epidural went in.

We hadn't planned enough music for the labor. We listened to Yo-Yo Ma's Bach cello concertos over and over again; once we got to the hospital I think that was all we brought, but I think we were listening to it a heck of a lot before that, too. Why? Why? We had all of our 100's of cd's to choose from. I haven't been able to listen to that recording since.

The last months of my pregnancy I listened to Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints in the car, constantly. Those songs are infused with babies--I still tear up at "Born at the Right Time." When you hear about a pregnancy in Jewish circles, at least the ones I travel in, you say "b'sha'a tova," expressing hope that the baby will be born at a good moment. (I confess I had never heard it until it was said to me, but it was said to me a lot.) I suppose Z. was born at the right time. Somehow, weirdly, March 2 suits her as a birthday. Would March 1 have suited her as well? Would February 28? February 27? Do I wish my labor had been shorter? Well, no one wants a 75-hour labor, so yes, I wish it had been shorter in that rock-bottom way, but I'm glad that since I needed that long to birth her I was allowed to take that long to birth her. With almost any other practitioner in the city, I would have had a c-section--an UNNECESSARY c-section, mind you; necessary c-sections are GOOD--and that would have raised my risk for all sorts of things if I ever get pregnant again. So yeah, I'm glad I had a 75-hour labor.

I don't intend to log another post tonight, so I'll cut to the birth now--I didn't have an uninterrupted sleep or even a deep sleep, but I had enough sleep to manage. I woke up to feel Z. moving down through my pelvis. Pushing her out was the best, best, best, best part of my labor. It was amazing to feel her coming out, it felt like every push clearly and strongly moved her forward, and feeling her head when she crowned was astonishing. I was in love with every woman in the room: A., my mom, my doula, my midwife, the L & D nurse. Z. was born at 2:02 am. She came out with her left hand over her head, or tried to come out that way, anyhow (the midwife pushed her hand back in). Her Apgars were 9 and 9. The shape of her head showed that she had molded in a posterior position before she turned and came out anterior. Her cord was too short for her to reach my breast and took forever to stop pulsing. I was so impatient to see her eyes.

Twenty minutes after birth she went limp while her footprints were being taken and she was taken from my breast to a warmer where nurses intubated her, gave her oxygen, and put her on a ventilator. She was taken from the room and we didn't see her again for hours. This crisis shut my labor down prematurely and despite the Pitocin drip I was on, the placenta had to be extracted manually. Then we waited. The next time we heard anything about the baby a doctor we'd never met told us she'd had a seizure and been given phenobarbitol. I thought we were being told about something that happened in the NICU. We didn't sort it out for another couple of weeks, but in fact we were being given an explanation of why she went limp. It was a wrong explanation. There was no seizure. Anyone in the room at the time could have said there was no seizure. But no one did ask. At five hours after birth, she was transferred away from me to a level 3 NICU across town and kept there for a week for tests to find the cause of a seizure that never happened.

64 hours

At this moment, two years ago, I had been in active labor for 64 hours. I had done the castor oil thing. I had done more position changes than I can recall or recount. I had spent something like 11 hours total in the bathtub. I had taken homeopathics. I hadn't slept more than 10-20 minutes at a stretch in three nights. A. had only slept a little more. My mom had slept the first night and the third but not the second. My doula and her back-up had become a tag team: I had exhausted each of them at least once. My midwife had wisely protected her sleep as long as possible, but had been stopping by for a few hours at a time and taking phone calls at odd hours for three days. She had arrived early on the third morning and wouldn't leave until the baby was born.

I was beginning to think the baby wasn't going to come out, ever, and I knew the baby wasn't going to come out without me getting some serious, serious sleep. I made the call to transfer to the hospital. It was my decision, but it was also the only one possible. I was so relieved at the time to be heading towards sleep.