Friday, October 14, 2011

Birth Story

I woke up around 4 AM with abdominal discomfort.  Contractions or gas?  Hm.  Gas.  Totally gas.  Definitely gas.  But I wasn't falling back to sleep, and gas might have been a coincident red herring.  I played with my iPad in bed until Ben and Andy woke up.  By this point I was fairly sure I was feeling contractions, but they were still mild. 

It was July 31, a Sunday, the day before my due date.  Ben had come a week early, so I was pretty impatient by this point, as I'd been 100% sure that the next one could only come sooner.  Ben's birth was also quick (contractions started mid-morning, hospital by 4, born at 7) and labor progressed steadily, so I was expecting the same or faster.  So when I was still having pretty mild, on-and-off contractions by mid-afternoon, I started to worry.  We'd just been puttering around the house all day, and now we were all kind of bored and cabin-fevery, and instead of a steady progression from mild to intense, from long intervals to short, this labor was kind of all over the place.  It would seem to be intensifying, and I'd have one or two whizz-bang contractions, and then nothing for half an hour.

At 3:53, I sent this email to C.:
Argh. Contractions pick up and then taper back off just when it looks like it might be getting interesting. I was worried she'd come even faster than Ben, but this is much worse. At it for 12 hours now, bored to death, not feeling like I'm making much progress, and worried about how tired I'll be if this drags on a lot longer.
And it worked like magic: suddenly the contractions were coming stronger and faster.  We called my mom to come be with Ben.  We called my OB/midwifery practice's service to give them the heads-up.  By the time the on-call midwife got back to us, we were ready to head to the hospital.  Luckily Midwife Jaime lives close, and so do we.

We got to the hospital around 5:00.  They offered me a wheelchair at check-in, but the idea of sitting didn't appeal at all.  I draped myself over the front desk while Andy answered questions and filled out paperwork.  I walked to the elevator and to the L&D room.

I got a room with a tub this time, which I was happy about -- I'd wanted one for Ben's birth, but the hospital was crammed and there wasn't one available.  But they had to put me on the monitor for a while to get a baseline before letting me into the tub.  Fine.  Jaime was there, and so was Emily the L&D nurse.  I remember much more coming and going with Ben's birth (a different OB practice, an OB attending rather than a midwife), and I liked very much the coziness and intimacy of having just Jaime and Emily and Andy and me in the room throughout.

During my labor with Ben, I was concentrating so intently on my breathing and relaxing that I think I put myself into some kind of deeply meditative state.  Which was nice, because I really was relaxed, and though it was certainly a painful experience, it was almost as if I wasn't entirely there for it -- some part of me was deep inside myself and insulated from the discomfort.  When the time came to push, they told me to put my knees up to my ears, and I literally had no idea what they were talking about -- Andy had to translate for me because I was able to hear him in a way that I couldn't hear the doctor and nurses.

This labor was different.  I was breathing and relaxing, but I was much more present.  Andy was making small talk with Jaime and Emily, and I was able, when not actually in the middle of a contraction, to participate.  My eyes were open.  I was there.  I was decrying the experience with colorful language.

I got into the tub, and Emily asked if I wanted to keep my bra on, and I laughed.  As if that would preserve that one last shred of my dignity!  The tub was nice.  I don't know if it actually helped ease the pain, but it certainly was distracting and comfortable.  Jaime said a couple of times that she had a feeling I wouldn't be in there long, that she had better keep a close eye on me because I was going to need to come out fast.  Which is what happened, of course.  I was feeling like I needed to poop, which I failed to mention because -- well, partly because I was kind of busy panting through contractions -- but also because even though I knew that was a sign of needing to push, it didn't feel like it felt with Ben, and it just didn't seem all that relevant at the moment!

When I finally did mention it, Jaime started saying stuff about a water birth being just fine, and I was all NO WATER BIRTH GET ME OUT, so during the next interval, Andy took one arm and Jaime took the other, and they more or less hauled me, sopping naked, over to the bed.  Where it was suggested to me that I could push on my back or on all fours, and while neither sounded appealing (what sounds appealing at that stage?  unconsciousness!), knees seemed less horrible, as leaning over had offered some relief throughout labor.

So there I was on the bed on all fours, with Andy up by my head and Jaime and Emily poised to catch.  There was a fair amount of screaming and yelling.  My water never broke, so Jaime did it.  I can't remember how many times I pushed, but I couldn't have been there for more than five minutes.

And then there she was!  A tiny little person, passed up under my belly into my arms, and they helped me turn over and sit down while they cleaned me up.  She latched immediately and nursed like a champ, thus no doubt tipping the scales on her birth weight, which wasn't recorded for a good while.

We looked at our list of names, still very much undecided.  The final short list was Joanna, Jane, and Margaret.  I told Andy to rank them and did the same myself, and our number ones were the same.

Jane W. L., born 6:11 PM.  8 lbs even, 20.5 inches.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pot's Right

Potty training isn't quite the third rail that vaccines or circumcision are, but it's definitely one of those parenting issues that people tend to feel strongly about and other choices get interpreted as criticism.  And it's another parenting issue on which I don't have a strong opinion affiliated with any particular school of parenting, and on which, therefore, I tend to think it pays to be flexible and open to various ideas because what works for one kid may not work for another, etc.

A big part of our potty training technique was informed by laziness and a deep ambivalence about starting the whole process, which I was pretty sure was going to be awful.  I mean, if it was going to feature, in any way, poop ending up where poop was not intended to be, my feeling was that this was worse than diapers and (not should, clearly, but) would be put off as long as possible.  The thing is, I got pregnant, and while the notion of two kids in diapers at once was unpleasant, it wasn't the gun at my temple that the looming prospect of pre-school was, and the the notion of having to train Ben while wrangling a newborn.

Luckily, it wasn't like we'd done absolutely nothing up to that point (that point being a couple of weeks ago).  We started putting him on the potty at diaper changes when he was around 16 or 18 months.  This was the result of what I thought was smart advice: that even if you have no expectations whatsoever of moving past the occasional potty-sitting, it's a good idea to get the baby used to the potty long before they reach the more oppositional phase around two and a half.  And I'd tried a few times since he turned two to take it a step further.  I put him in underpants and covered the sofa with towels, and he was enthusiastic about the M&M bribes and game for the Lightning McQueen underpants, but the experiment was always a FAIL, and we went cheerfully back into diapers.  The last thing in the world I wanted was to stress either one of us out by forcing the issue before he was ready to be successful.

I think we'd tried maybe three times, each "time" consisting of a few mornings in a row, by the time his third birthday rolled around and I started getting freaked out about pre-school.  And it had been a while since the last attempt, because lately, in the last six months, he'd become quite opposed to the very notion of underpants, and I didn't want to force a confrontation.

But the weather had turned warm, and if he refused underpants, he would at least agree to a couple of hours in the morning with no pants on at all.  Which was the key in the end, I think, because the feeling of underpants was too close to the feeling of a diaper, but total bottom-half nudity made him pay attention much more closely to his body's signals, and he didn't have a single accident over the couple of weeks we tried this out for an hour or more every day.

But still he refused underpants.  And then I realized I had one powerful tool yet unused, just lying there!  Bribery.  M&Ms worked great for the short-attention-span toddler years, but they weren't compelling enough for my three-year-old.  But the promise of a toy was.

I told him if he could go one whole day in underpants, no diaper, from the time he woke up until bedtime, he could pick out any toy he liked (within reason, void where prohibited, no live monkeys).  This was a Sunday, and I figured amid the failures, we'd go to the toy store sometime during the next week and choose the desired object, which would then be dangled in front of him in some cruel but motivating way for as long as it took to get through a whole day.  What happened was that he barely left me alone about the toy -- which he decided early on would be an excavator, which I hoped existed -- to the extent that it was clear the toy did not have to be in the house for effective dangling.  And miraculously, he stayed dry in underpants that entire next day.  And we went to the toy store on the Tuesday, and lo and behold, they had a Playmobil Excavator, worth every penny of the sixty bucks it cost.

And that was that.  Potty trained.

But of course that's not how it works, is it?  Potty training is a continuum, and we had achieved only the first stage.  Which is a big deal, don't get me wrong, but it's definitely one of those things with which parenthood is rife: the thing that looks like one simple step from one side and turns out to be a whole staircase from the other.

Because it's not like you move right from diapers to the kid climbing cheerfully up onto public toilets and wiping his own tuchus.  I drive around now with a Frog Potty in the way-back of my Outback, a technique I heartily recommend to anyone at this stage of training.  (Empty pee into shrubbery or anywhere you wouldn't feel rotten about a dog peeing, which is pretty much anywhere, at least if you're me; wipe out potty with wipes.  Poop goes in trash bag and right into any trash receptacle you wouldn't feel rotten about dumping dog poop under similar circumstances -- which may mean you drive around with it in the car for a while, so have plenty of extra bags.)  The kid can pull down his own underpants, but he balks at doing the same thing for pants, and he simply isn't coordinated enough to put any of his clothes back on.  He's in diapers at night, largely because we still have a big box of them, but he wakes up dry more often than not.  And he'll sit on a proper toilet without too much fuss, but still prefers the frog potty.

But he's trained enough that I don't have to hoist him up onto the changing table or get down on the floor to change his diaper, which is a mercy at nine months pregnant.  And he's trained enough for pre-school, where I'm relying on a little old-fashioned peer pressure to carry him the rest of the way.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I was talking to a father at one of Ben's activity groups this week about his daughter who at 18 months has just a few words.  He was worried.  As it happened, I had just reread this blog post, so my attitude about the same stage with Ben was fresh in my mind.  I told him that we, too, were told we ought to work at being a little less attentive, to pretend we didn't understand what he wanted so as to elicit words, and that I didn't like that kind of deception and didn't do it.  (Instead I prompted him for the word before giving in to whatever it was I already knew he wanted.)

I have no idea if any of what we did or didn't do hurried or delayed his talking schedule.  He had around 50 words at at his 24-month check-up, which I know because we made a list, and it's a pretty entertaining little artifact.  His pediatrician said to give her a call if the summer passed (his birthday is the end of May) without a substantial language explosion, and I remember being a bit concerned even into July, and I don't remember ever thinking, "Oh, here it is: the language explosion!" but I also don't remember reaching the end of the summer and even considering calling the pediatrician.

And now here we are at nearly three, and it's not unusual for people to comment on how articulate and chatty he is.  He's very chatty.  He likes to bust into whatever conversation is happening between me and the check-out clerk or me and the server or me and the FIOS installer to announce apparent non-sequiturs like, "But I have a semt mixoo [cement mixer]!" or once, memorably, to respond to the age question from an enthusiastic waitress, "Two half.  But I have gun!"  (A wooden one Andy made so that Ben would stop stealing his carpenter's square.)

I was never really worried about his language development.  I knew the range of normal was wide, and it was clear from very early that his receptive vocabulary was huge.  But it was one of those things, lurking just beyond the horizon, ready to burst into star-spangled worry at any moment.  Until it wasn't.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Baby Videos

I've been downloading and processing the drawerful of mini DV tapes, mostly from after Ben was born, with a few of just dogs and Andy and me from before.  I'm mostly doing it because I want to make a DVD for my father-in-law, who never gets to see the kid, and because it's something I've been meaning to get around to that's way more fun than vacuuming, but it's also rather a handy review of babyhood for someone who's going to give birth (Inshallah, knock wood, no jinx) in three months.

The funny thing is, what I'm surprised by isn't the hard stuff, which I remember vividly, but the sweet stuff.  Of course, you don't tend to videotape the fourth straight hour of crying, the epic diaper, the inability to eat at restaurants.  You tape the dog giving the baby foot kisses, the baby digging the swing, the baby gumming tasteful European wooden toys.  But Ben was a tough newborn, and the former stuff has loomed much larger in my mind than the latter, and I confess to being a little freaked out at the thought of going through it all again, especially since this time we'll be subjecting our happy pre-schooler to the misery, too.

I wasn't a big fan of babies before my own was born.  I believed the people who said you'll love your own even if you don't like babies at all -- or at least hoped very hard that they were right.  And of course they were.  And I was even fond of other babies when my baby was a baby, but the interest faded quickly.  Now I find babies vaguely creepy and offputting again, though I can generally work up the requisite enthusiasm when presented with a baby belonging to someone who matters to me.  Once they hit six months or so and aren't quite so fragile-looking, I even find them cute, but I feel no particular desire to hold one or do more than make a face to get smiled at.  I wanted another baby not because I wanted another baby, but because I wanted another toddler. 

But looking a these videos, I don't know.  He's awfully cute with his super-fat cheeks and thigh rolls, giggling in his doorway bouncer and giving the dogs open-mouth kisses.  Maybe having a baby around again will be pretty nice after all.

Friday, February 4, 2011


My 20th high school reunion is this spring.  I haven't been to any previous ones, and since I went to a prep school (I was a day student at a boarding school), that makes nineteen events I've blown off so far. 

At first it was the angry resentfulness of a self-perceived outsider at the warm heart of adolescent belonging: why would I want to go back there and feel ostracized some more?  Of course, I wasn't really an outsider, and a little perspective and the wisdom and confidence of years revealed not only how lucky I had been to have had the wide circle of friends I did and the embrace of a few thriving school subcultures, but how hard life must have been for some of the people whose existences I thought charmed because I only saw them from a distance.  Blonde and pretty and even rich aren't much protection against most of life's cruelties (one of the enduring lessons of early exposure to wealth), but a safe and solid home life is, and I had that in spades. 

Then it was pure lack of interest.  I wasn't intimidated by the people who showed up for Alumni Days and reported their milestones in the alumni magazine.  But I wasn't especially interested in them, either.  The people I wondered about, the ones I'd been friendly with and the ones I hadn't but wished I had and the ones I hardly noticed but in retrospect should have: these people didn't show up for events.  But of course, neither did I. 

It's funny, the psychological space high school takes up for many of us.  There's something about that time in adolescence that imprints itself and sticks, even though it's just four years, even though it ceases quickly to matter in any real way.  I still have dreams -- lots of them -- that take place in high school, peopled by people I haven't set eyes on in 20 years.  It's like my brain got colonized by these archetypes based on an essentially random sampling of humans I happened to share an institution with between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.  People I knew later who made a much deeper and more profound impact on me don't show up in my dreams.

At the same time, I look back on those years and I feel like I'm seeing everything through a veil of self-involvement and crappy perception.  I remember confiding in my friends and being confided in, and it felt at the time like we were sharing something real, but now it seems like those things, our big secrets and dramas, were facsimiles of emotional content, things we created to take the place of the real dramas we may have been experiencing but couldn't handle or couldn't articulate.  For instance, I knew who all my friends had crushes on at any given moment, but I had no idea about their home lives, even the ones whose homes I occasionally spent the night at.  Or maybe those teen love dramas were more real than I give them credit for, and it's only now that I'm a parent that I think the real emotional content was happening at home.

Whenever my mother is in a reminiscing mood, she'll talk about how time telescopes in memories, how forty years ago can seem closer than last week, more vivid, more important.  I'm old enough now to feel that, and also to feel the kind of fondness for youth that obscures both the pain and the vacuity, so that not only do I feel close to my high school years, I feel an affection for them that extends to those random characters in my dreams.  I don't care whether I like them or not, whether they're interesting or not.  They share this funny, vivid, profound-and-yet-not-at-all-profound period of my life, and so I want very much to make some kind of connection with them, even if -- maybe especially if -- it's fleeting.  Our 20th reunion seems like an ideal time, and maybe even the last best chance to do that.

So come on, Class of '91.  Show up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seven Books We Like a Lot

I admit it: I don't like Dr. Seuss.  Partly it's a matter of unsuitability to Ben's age: the books are really aimed at children just learning to read, and the repetitiveness that makes them accessible to beginning readers makes them extremely tedious to me.  And they're way too long.  I could take 20 or even 30 pages of in a box or with a fox, but 62 pages?  No way, man.  It's torture.  And the illustrations are hideous!  Sadly, many adults who haven't read aloud to children for thirty or forty years (mis-?)remember Dr. Seuss with fanatical fondness, so Ben gets a lot of his books as gifts.  I keep meaning to put them into storage until the kid is ready to sound them out on his own -- I can quite imagine considerable cuteness issuing therefrom, but until that time, I'd really rather not see them again.  But Ben does like them, and he likes sitting by himself and paging through them without involving me, and I'm not a total jerk, so I won't take them away.  I won't read them at bedtime, though.

Andy and I each read the kid a book before bedtime.  Ben gets to pick, but we exercise the veto: that one's too long, Dad doesn't like this one, Mom read that one five times already this week, etc.  He's generally very accepting of our prejudices, and we are generally amenable to reading books we dislike when he loves them.  He goes through phases of devotion and antipathy with various titles, but the following are long-standing favorites of his and ours, which means they have whatever mysterious qualities make them attractive to this particular two-and-a-half-year-old, plus they are attractively illustrated, quirky or funny or presenting of some unusual perspective, not patronizing or twee or saccharine, and mercifully brief.

InstructionsInstructions by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess

Typical Gaiman, mining myth and fairy tale and stringing together references in that slightly breathless voice that fools you into thinking he's deeper than he is.  I have a lot of affection for the man, but I also find him infuriating.  Anyway, his schtick works extremely well here, except for a few places where he gets tripped up in language that doesn't quite work, and the illustrations are marvelous.  Part of the fun is picking out all the characters and creatures in the backgrounds.  Ben, for instance, sees Tomtens everywhere.

The TomtenThe Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg

My first notion of this book came from knitting: iconic knitting designer Elizabeth Zimmerman named one of her more famous children's sweaters after the gnomic protagonist.  I knit the sweater before I read the book.  Then friends gave us a copy, and it became a favorite.  It's a strange combination of unnerving and warm -- the benevolent little Tomten pads around the farm at night talking to and doing favors for the animals, and it's all very sweet, but he's also a little non-human creature creeping about at night, which can't help being a bit creepy.  It definitely has that timeless, northern European thing going for it: it could take place in pretty much any century including our own, and that seems to be an appealing element in children's books -- to me, at least.  As is, come to think of it, that combination of creepy and comforting.

Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale (Picture Puffins)Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott

On the whole, I like Anansi the Spider better, but I've already blogged about it.  And Arrow to the Sun is good, too.  Especially the Kiva of bees, which is Ben's favorite part.  It's not too often you see accusations of bastardy in children's books, and it's refreshing!  Not at all inappropriate!  Seriously, though, the way McDermott handles the strangeness of the cultures he presents (as if there's nothing strange about them, matter-of-factly, without oohing or pointing or -- worst of all -- explaining) and the sophistication of some of the concepts is masterful and positively awe-inspiring when you compare his work to the kind of multi-culti, Here Comes Hanukkah! drivel you generally see.

My Little Round House
My Little Round House, illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren, adapted by Helen Mixter

Speaking of multi-culti.  Mongolia isn't exactly a popular getting-to-know-you culture for toddlers, but this book is just terrific.  I can't express how gorgeous the illustrations are.  I know jack about Mongolian art, but the drawings manage to seem both entirely of their culture and yet thoroughly accessible to little kids, full of detail and yet not too literal.  The story is a bit shoehorned: the protagonist, born in spring, is crawling by summer and running at one year so that the tale fits into the one-year seasonal cycle, but I can suspend my disbelief on that one because the book is otherwise so charming.  ("Ger" rhymes with "bear," by the way.  Which I know because Andy corrected me.  He's been to Mongolia.  Show off.)

Angus and the DucksAngus and the Ducks, Angus and the Cat, and Angus Lost, written and illustrated by Marjorie Flack

No dog person could doubt for a moment that Angus was Marjorie Flack's actual dog.  He's as real a dog as I have ever seen presented in literature.  Possibly people who are not dog people will therefore find the appeal of these books limited, but I am bowled over again and again by their charm.  Part of the magic, too, is nostalgia for the kind of genteel, early twentieth century country life sketched in the margins: the milkman's horse, the chintz chairs, the tea service.  But it's mostly happy, dopey, having-of-dog-logic Angus and the scrapes he gets into and out of that make me smile whenever Ben pulls one of these books off the shelf.

Monday, December 27, 2010

[If] Mommy Says No Santa [Says Yes]

I wrote about Santa two years ago.

I guess I don't really have anything to add to that, except that it continues to surprise me how many parents I know embrace the Santa thing.  In part I think it has to do with happy childhood memories; if you believed in Santa and didn't feel traumatized by the disillusionment, you're more likely to want your kids to have the same experience -- or to want to revisit the belief yourself. 

There are lots of good reasons not to lie to your kids, especially about something so trivial.  I mean, really, the default should always be honesty unless there's a particularly good reason to lie.  And this is what gets me about the Santa thing: no one ever gives a good reason for doing it.  "Magic," they say, as if the very absurdity of the story justifies it.  The thing is, it's only magical to grown-ups, because we're the ones who live in a world where Santa cannot exist.  It's not particularly magical to children, because so many explanations are beyond their comprehension, and so much of their understanding is about taking our word for stuff.  Is it so much more magical to think that a fat dude in a red suit delivers presents down the chimney than that a burly dude in a brown uniform brings them from grandparents in Wisconsin to your front door in Schenectady?  To us, sure, but to a little kid? So is it really about making more magic in their lives, or is it about reliving the magic of our own childhoods?

As a kid who grew up knowing presents came from mom and dad, I can assure you that there's no lack of magic on Christmas morning for kids like me.  You can even indulge in some of the Santa stuff -- I certainly got presents "from Santa" and left out cookies, knowing full well that Mom and I were playing pretend (Dad not so much a participant in the Santa thing), and enjoying it no less, and maybe more, for the knowledge.  At the age when most kids are learning The Truth about Santa, I could throw myself wholeheartedly into the fantasy because it was never a matter of True or Not True; it had always been a myth.