Thursday, March 27, 2008

New York City, there we were

We took a mid-week, one-night trip to New York last night to see a showing of some films. It was only Z.'s second time ever seeing a movie in a theater--her first time was last week, when we pulled her out of school early to see a matinee showing of a documentary about a kid we know from our neighborhood. She hasn't quite got the whispering thing down.

Here is something that might happen to you if you raise your child to be polite and to respect privacy by asking first. You might be in a quiet theater and she might ask to sit on your lap. And then she might ask if she can hold your breast.


On our way to the car and home, I had the rolly bag and A. was herding Z. In the gutter of the driveway in front of the faculty housing where we were crashing: a bird's head, walnut-brown, long-beaked, red at the neck where it was severed. I bumped the bag up onto the sidewalk and went a few paces. I turned and waited to see what would happen when Z. got to the same place: would A. see it in time and head her off? But if I pointed it out, Z. would certainly see it.

Neither of them noticed it. I left it at that.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Life and Woods

Back in the middle of December, I took a walk in the woods on a Saturday in the middle of the day, not my usual time and not my usual day. The woods were a very different place from what they usually are for me early on a weekday morning: there was a whole pack of people attached to a five year-old's birthday party, who were searching out snacks and party favors secreted in different corners of the path. There were friends to greet and people I didn't know greeting each other and stopping to talk at length. There was, improbably, a cyclist on a mountain unicycle, who stopped at the end of footbridge as I sat at my place on the bank, and bounced in place three times to hop onto the bridge. There were no birdwatchers and not nearly so many dog walkers, and on the two blocks I walk to and from the woods, there were far more people hurrying to the co-op and milling around the cafe.

One of the people I met that December day, at the beginning of my walk, was the artist who made this installation. She's not someone I know well, but she's a good friend of our neighbors-through-the-wall, and I knew her slightly when I had my first-ever full-time teaching gig, a quarter-long leave replacement I did nine years ago, at the same time I moved to this neighborhood. Neither of us has been at the school for years--it was not a school that was good for the soul--and since I was just a long-term sub with far shorter hair and far less weight on my frame, I'd be surprised if she remembered me from then, but I tend to hang on to details like that.

That day, we stopped and talked for the first time since we were both at that soul-strangling school, me because I hadn't yet said anything to her about the installation even though I had blogged about it, she because, well. She was grieving intensely and freshly, she needed to talk to everyone there was to talk to. She told me her husband had died the very day after the installation went up. He'd had cancer for months, but it was the chemotherapy that killed him, so it was in fact sudden, and the installation took on a meaning she hadn't expected it to have.

After I talked to her I went to those papier mache trees, melting and disintegrating into the loamy earth, and I watched the birthday party making its way through the live, leafless, hibernating trees, and I went home and revised the post I'd written a month earlier, adding a final sentence.

Today, A. and I took Z. to the woods after a naptime that we grownups had used to wear ourselves out with talk. Z. bopped along the path, wearing her Queen Esther crown, making up games, jumping over roots and picking up sticks and futilely commanding us to stop. At the footbridge, Z. ran from one end to the other while I sat and listened to the water in the creek. When A. was too cold to stand around anymore, we ventured down to the creekbed to pluck a dirty plastic bag from the rocks ("We did a mitzvah forw da wateuh!") and made our way home.

On our circuit of the woods, I made a detour to the site of the installation. The papier mache is gone. The ground is exposed, still dark and loamy. Five young oak trees are planted in a circle.

Edited: the artist has a lovely site up about the work, but I don't want to link and show up on such a well-publicized neighborhood site. But if anyone wants to see it, drop me an email,, and I'll send it to you.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What to do with this blog

I've been stuck on this blog for awhile now. Well, maybe you noticed. I'm not sure who I'm writing for, or why, and I'm not even quite sure what it is I was doing when I was writing more. Was it therapy? Was it art? Was it loneliness?

I lost my groove because I got more depressed, and I got really really scared, and my life got far too messy to be setting forth in front of strangers. Things are a little better now. But I'm not sure how to get back into writing.

The one idea I have so far for a new thing to be doing with the blog, if it happens, it ain't gonna happen this week. So I'm making my unofficial hiatus official for a week so that I can take blogging off my list of things I'm thinking about consciously.

Be back in a week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Introducing the Pants Boss

I think that last one has been up long enough, don't you?

Co made a late comment I want to respond to here instead of burying it: Co, I can't imagine going through something like this, let alone something objectively worse, on a date that other people were always reminding me of--you have heaps and heaps of my sympathy. I also think you're right--as so many other people suggested--that having more layers of good associations with the date will help me. This was only the third time it's rolled around since it happened, after all. But I'm also thinking that knowing the anniversary was going to come in its inevitable time helped me contain the story more this year than I have the previous two years. Knowing I was going to open that box up no matter what let me leave it closed for longer, if that makes sense.

So in the spirit of both adding happy layers and closing the box up again, here are some joyful things that have come along with the arrival of the birthday:

An inundation of grandparents, a birthday cake, a Glinda snowglobe, a pair of ruby slippers, a wand, an inchworm riding toy, a puzzle, some videos, a toy Muppet, a scooter, some crayons for drawing on windows, and (preparing her for her future life of peonage in the family-owned retail business) a cash register. She has played with each of her presents intensely and happily and frequently in the past 48 hours. Three is an age when most things are interesting, but I also think that the relatives just did a good job of getting her and meeting her where she's at.

Her birthday night, she got out of bed twice expressly in order to put on her ruby slippers. Normally if she gets out of bed, she just pads to the top of the stairs, but Sunday night she donned her shoes and her witch hat and outfitted herself with her new flashy purple wand before inquiring after a drink of water.

Here are some other things that have followed in the wake of three: she chooses her own pants now, in the morning--I figure it doesn't matter to me what pants she wears so long as they match her shirt, more or less, and I still get final say in her shirt. Of course she started by choosing the purple ones.

She has jumped to wearing big girl pants, even to school. I'm holding my breath, I really am, because she is still fighting us way too much on way too many trips to the potty, but suddenly she loves the big kid pants and she's doing what I've known she could do if she wanted to, which is pay attention and keep them dry, and she has been dry for two days straight now. Not overnight, she's still in a diaper overnight, but even for naps.



The Binky Fairy came to our house.

On the night after her birthday, we had a binky hunt. I distributed our binky stash so that there was one in every place that a binky tends to be left in our house: the sideboard in the dining room, the kitchen counter, the side of Z.'s bed, the edge of the sink. Z. and I took a basket and we hunted down all of the binkies, each and every one (there were 8, not including the one in her mouth) and she put them under her pillow (but not! the one in her mouth--until she exchanged it for the only purple one). When A. went to bed, she collected all the binkies and put them in a safe place (my underwear drawer) and in their stead she left a purple Kermit the Frog shirt of magnificent fabulousness.

Now Z. has a binky when she's sleeping or when she's riding in the car (but not when she has a friend in the car). And that's it. She misses her binky. She really, really wants a binky in her mouth, especially in the morning when she gets out of bed. It is clear that we have an addict and she's jonesing. But she's also doing it.

In the space of two days, she is transformed. No binky, no diaper butt. She has been tall for her age for ages (I'm 5'5", and her head is almost at my waist) but all of a sudden since Sunday, she has stopped looking like a baby.

I'm proud as hell.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Trauma, trauma everywhere

Hey all, Z. was born at 2:02 am on March 2, 2005. Seventy-five hours.

I'm gonna write youall a cheery "Now we are three" birthday party kind of post, but you'll have to come back for it tomorrow.

That day, her very first birthday, was the worst day of my life and A.'s, so far. The celebration, the amazement of her arrival, the jubilant end of the long labor nightmare, that sense that we had arrived at the far shore and could triumphantly collapse in its safety: that all lasted 20 minutes, until Z. passed out at my breast while her footprints were being taken.

After they took her from me, after they resuscitated her, after I had reached my hand into the isolette to say goodbye, after they wheeled her from the room and I didn't know where in the hospital the NICU was, after the door closed behind her, what I thought was: "so much for that pregnancy."* Not even "so much for that baby," because I hadn't held her long enough for her to seem real to me, really outside me.

For the first five days of her life, Z. was attached to machines and sedated to the point that initially her eyes rolled back in her head. This was all because of the misdiagnosis (seizure) that was offered to explain her agonal breathing. The breathing trouble was clearly was life-threatening, but it just as clearly ended with no lingering effects. A partially obstructed airway was what she actually had, and a correct diagnosis would have meant no need for a level 3 NICU. But a seizure diagnosis did mean a level 3 NICU, and that meant Z. left the hospital where I birthed her, and seven hours before the earliest moment I was permitted to release myself.

NICUs save lives, I'm totally clear on that, but my baby's life and health were never in danger while she was in a NICU. Maybe that's why I'm also totally clear that NICU's are in the business of separating you from your child and they believe it's for your child's own good, so they set out to convince you of the same thing at the moment when you are least confident of your ability to parent or your identity as a parent, if this is your first pregnancy, and your body is yearning, physically aching to be with your baby.** It is a godawful way to begin parenting. The hospital has your child, and the hospital decides the hoops that must be jumped before your child is given back to you, and the hospital doesn't always tell you what those hoops are, and the hospital reserves the right to change the hoops without bothering to tell you they've been changed until days later, and the nurses call you "Mom" like that word means you're four years old.

I frequently make the Freudian slips "when Z. died," or "Z.'s death" when I am talking about something that happened at Z.'s birth. That was what it felt like. Being home with my wrecked body and my wrecked emotions and no baby and no real idea when I would have the baby, leaving the hospital without her day after day, she began to recede from me just the way she vanished from me when the isolette left the labor and delivery room. I was sort of stupefied that relatives were celebrating this event that felt like a trainwreck to us.

My best friend was my hospital grade breast pump, and I sort of mean that non-ironically. Pumping gave me a way to feel like I was connected to Z, even when she wasn't being permitted to drink it yet. It was something I could do as a mom when we weren't with the baby, it organized my hours and my days, it was measurable. I could see I was getting better at the lactating thing, at least, and I could even control it to some extent, with fenugreek tea and massage to get my let-down going, though the pressure to keep up with hospital feeding protocols during the three days Z. was transitioning to breastmilk threatened my sanity more than anything but the initial separation.

When the nurse said "Mom? There's a problem with your breastmilk," moments before the protocol was set to start and Z. was going to have my milk for the first time, you can imagine how hard I hit the roof. When it was all untangled, it turned out that some other baby's urine tested positive for marijuana, but that baby's sample was labeled with Z.'s name. (The clincher in our favor? That urine sample didn't test positive for barbiturates. Which it should have. If it were Z.'s.)

I wouldn't say that moved me from disintegration to ferocity, because I was still plenty disintegrated, but it at least let me understand that I could dredge up another response to the circumstances. And the circumstances permitted more responses: once she was fully on breastmilk, the wires and electrodes started disappearing. We started asking the doctor and PA who knew us best what it was the staff was looking for to feel comfortable releasing Z. to us. While the answers still shifted around some, they all focused on X or Y staying the same as the barbiturate left her bloodstream.

But really the answer lay elsewhere, because in the end, the unit, which had been half-empty when Z. was admitted, started to fill up again, and someone saw no reason for a normal, sedated baby to be there when there were quads and twins arriving on the same day. Z. left the hospital at one week old with clinical levels of phenobarbitol still in her system, a drug that had last been given to her five hours after her birth.

My mother returned to stay with us Z.'s first days home, and when the baby cried in the night, the next morning she told us what a relief it was to hear it. And it was.

*At the time I had that thought, the pregnancy wasn't, in fact, over, because the placenta was still inside me. After 75 hours my labor shut down prematurely. You know how in childbirth class they tell you that your body's adrenaline can stop or slow labor? Well, even with the Pitocin drip in my arm opened all the way up, I wasn't having another contraction. While we waited to hear word about Z. from the NICU, my midwife extracted the placenta manually.

Beats twiddling your thumbs.

**Which is not a particular yearning that you get back when the kid turns three. Alas.