Monday, June 30, 2008

Eleanor's Birth Story

The Moms Blog group is posting birth stories tomorrow. I've posted about my first birth experience; to give my three year old Eleanor her due, this is the beginning of her story:

Eleanor is here. She came out at 11:37 in the morning on Friday. I thought I would go into labor on Thursday – 40 weeks to the day of a second night of bedtime fun in one week – how often does that happen?

Snow storms on Tuesday and Wednesday dropped six or eight inches of beautiful snow. My cousin Sal came over on Tuesday night and getting rid of all that extra holiday vino, I made a champagne themed dinner. Shrimp broiled in champagne vinaigrette (yum!) on butter lettuce and a citrus salad with limes, grapefruit, Meyer lemons, blood oranges and pomegranate seeds, splashed with more champagne. (It needed avocado.) For dessert I made champagne jelly layered with strawberries. We drank water.

I’d been feeling some back tightness that came on gradually and lasted a few seconds. Neighbor Kristy said, “You’re in labor,” on Thursday night. I made a cranberry coffee cake.

Midnight between Thursday and Friday. I don’t really know if I had been asleep (I must have been) but a contraction woke me and I said to Randy, “I’m getting the epidural.” Then my water broke, a former mystery since I never noticed it with Mia’s labor but how could I not? Water pouring out, soaking towels between my legs. With Mia, it must have happened while I was in the bathtub.

I tried to take a bath now but the cramped quarters, unlike our old house’s deep claw-foot, and the distraction of two year old Mia’s care took me out of the tub. Six to eight minutes apart, only 15 seconds, increased to 25-30. Very low in my belly. Randy packed the car. Mia woke and Randy put her in our bed, but she soon toddled out, sucking thumb and holding Lovey blanket to see us in the bathroom light. It helped to hold Randy around the neck and crunch over a little. “We’re playing,” I told Mia.

Off to Kate and Ehran’s. On the way, Randy called to wake them up. When Ehran answered, Randy said, “Today?” in a quivering, plaintive voice, just as Ehran’s grandpa had when they called to tell him they were on the way to pick him up for a wedding.

Just like I imagined, I sat in the car with contractions while Kate came out to give me a kiss and ask Mia is she wanted to sleep over. “Okay!” replied Mia, to our great relief. She had never been away from us.

It was a beautiful picture, Mia in Kate’s arms, leaning her head down on Kate’s shoulder, Randy following with the pink suitcase and port-a-crib, Ehran waiting in p.j.’s on the porch under the Christmas lights, snow on the yard. The drive to Evanston hospital was through a winter wonderland with soft mounds of snow lit by colored lights. Little traffic. Much more bearable pain than the drive to Northwestern two years before.

Once there, the only person around is the info desk attendant who sits and watches us struggle with a wheelchair Randy found leaning against the wall. I start to laugh, it becomes a little hysterical because of the foot rests on the chair that won’t move into place and the attendant who just sits and watches. Our room is mere steps away. A clumsy resident tests my fluid despite the soaked towels in the shower and wheels in an ultrasound to see if the head is down, (“The HEAD is DOWN,” I tell him) then says I’m only four centimeters. Bummer. “People go home at four centimeters, “ I tell Randy.

I didn’t think I needed an overly detailed birthplan people would ignore, because I just had three desires: no cutting (episiotomy or C-section), no Pitocin and washed hands. I should have talked this out with the doctor ahead of time. I thought we were of the same mind.

Instead, we bicker like a conservative freshman and her alternative roommate sharing a dorm room. “If the epidural slows you down, we’ll just slip you some Pitocin” she says in a chillingly casual voice. “If it’s a life or death situation, we’ll need to do whatever we can to get the baby out.” This was not a high risk situation. I was trying to be patient, conserve my strength, resist arguing. “You can’t push like that, no way, unh-unh, ain’t gonna happen,” she insists when I try to turn on my side.

But her threats and arguments don’t matter a wit because as soon as the epidural was turned off and I started to feel again, I could push against the contractions and the baby was down where I could feel her. I looked over at Randy and saw his face change as he looked down between my legs and I knew the pushes were working and she was coming.

I was working hard, but smart. I knew that pushing with my arms and neck didn’t accomplish anything, so all my strength was concentrated on my abdomen. Since my face wasn’t contorted and red, I think the doctor thought I wasn’t working.

“Push!” says the doctor, “PUSH!”
“I am pushing!”
“No, you’re not – you couldn’t talk if you were!”
Then the baby came out.

And all my complaints were moot and gone because a big purple pretty girl was in the doctor’s hands, folded legs up to head and amazing, but silent. She is rushed over to the warmer and rubbed and suctioned and massaged while poor Randy stands off to the side, empty handed. I call him to me because I can see her too from where I'm lying and he needs to understand everything is okay, she just needs some encouraging. And Eleanor gives some cries and pinks up very quickly and gurgles and she’s fine. Ten pounds, seven ounces.

Elation. Bliss. Spacy-ness. Fatigue. My words sound strange coming out of my mouth. She nurses beautifully.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Most Perfect Minute of Your Day

From Vincent Minnelli's 1953 The Bandwagon. Thanks for the memories, Cyd Charisse.

World's Angriest Llama

"Thanks for the haircut, guys. Thanks a lot."

This pic reminds me of the time Mia put her old Lovey blanket over my face.

“Mia!” I’m gasping. “Lovey smells like an old goat!”

Mia, in her tenderest voice, “I love goat.”

Animal Gardens, on Highway 50, between Lake Geneva and Lake Delevan, Wisconsin.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is what you could read if I was on Twitter:

My eyes are dilated and that and the skim misto I've been sipping is opening up my brain.

When I was in graduate school, still heartbroke and months away from anything remotely close to a date, let alone a roll in the hay, I had an appointment with the eye doctor. I was sitting in the padded chair, my head cradled by the backrest, when she came in the room, turned off the lights, walked toward me and took my face in her hands. I nearly burst into tears, I had been so long without a touch.

I'd really really love to write 50 things I love about myself but when I get past two or three, I feel like such a braggart and start hating myself a little.

I love my body, but this summer my clothes do not. But goddammit I enjoyed every last bit of every sweet scone, chunk of chocolate and crumbly Smartie, goddammit. Wait, except for the Dairy Queen Mocha Moolatte I downed with the Tallahasee kids that made my belly feel balloony and tender. "You're not lactose-intolerant," said Randy. "You're crap-tose intolerant." Yep.

Randy calls them Hootie Dave Traveler; I don't know the difference between Weezer, Radiohead and Wilco. Speaking of, Hootie (the guy, not the group) (yeah, I know that's not his name) is releasing a country album. Hello, Charlie Rich! A perfect genre for his voice.

More teenage fun and conversation from the KC nieces - that's my brother's girls, who have visited Chicago almost every summer since the airline would take them as unaccompanied minors - Chloe taught me Jesse McCartney co-wrote "Bleeding Love" and I know who he is because he was the voice of one of the chipmunks from the movie Mia and Nora love to put in the DVD, then wander away from.

In the last month or so I've lost, re-ordered and found on separate occasions my debit card, my credit card, and Mia's park district ID. Now I've lost the beach passes.

This blog-friend says she's Superman and I believe her. I am the Incredible Hulk. Reluctant rages, hidden strength... and green! My quiz results weren't surprising and I even found them a little hopeful - the Hulk is a good guy, is he not?

More Pix by Nora, age 3

Riviera Beach, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Happy Solstice!

I have a new post up at Chicago Moms Blog about wanting to run and needing to walk because Nora's little legs are tired and Mommy, carry meeeeee!!

We're at Fox Lake this week. Rain turns the lake into a skittering field of static. We've picked strawberries, driven to Lake Geneva twice, read at two libraries, toured the petting zoo (this year no lemur jumped on Nora's head but the macaw tricks were the same-o, same-o - they live 90 years!), had a great dinner (licorice ice cream!) at a grown-up restaurant we had to leave on our anniversary three years ago because Mia was exhausted and unhappy, swam, hung out with beloved out of town guests and endured the stink of dead fish washed up by the flood. I'm tard.

Blue crane and dead fish in the swamp that is our backyard.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lessons from the briefly visiting Tallahassee cousins

Teenagers are awesome. They are funny, dryly if the boy, absurdly or cutting if the girls.

We have right now. There's no time to cry about the years away from these amazing kids – we have today to go roller skating and to Dairy Queen and drive around to see the height of the flood and visit the Volo Bog and be pleased to give the mild thrill of a theoretical threat of "hazardous soils" and carnivorous plants and attacking geese to the 12 year old.

When their mother says she wouldn't let her high school girls go shopping alone on Michigan Avenue, don't ask how this will help them learn to make good decisions on their own at college next year. Don't tell her you were letting the girls do that four years ago when they came to visit. Don't try and don't care because you can't fix everything and you don't want to change someone so unlike yourself. Appreciate the parenting that has turned out such awesome young people.

Suddenly, my children, through their eyes, are strange and amusing little creatures again. The ten-year-old laughs at everything Nora says and I can hear again how the piping of her flutey voice colors all she says with novelty. Even her outraged "There are only three things that will make me happy right now. A cookie, TV or playing on the computer! And I won't!" is met with gales of laughter.

Teenagers are awesome. They can make their own sandwiches! They don't demand or interrupt! When they don't make their own, they thank you and praise you for yours!

Monday, June 16, 2008


The Moms Blog groups are holding a writing bookclub today, inspired by Lisa Garrigues's Writing Motherhood.

Here is the assignment, sorry, I mean, "writing invitation":

Good Enough. In her book, Lisa recounts a time she was a "bad" mother, first leaving her sick daughter to fend for herself, then dropping her daughter at the tutor, only to forget to pick her up an hour later. Think of a time you slipped up as a mother-lost your temper, said no for no reason, sent your child to school with a fever.

*Your writing invitation*: Write about your most outrageous or inexcusable bad mothering moment. 250 words.

I can't write about this. I do believe I am the very best mother for my children. I think of myself as a good-enough mom. But I am also one who is capable of some pretty rotten stuff. I have a world of excuses, an ocean of regret, a mountain of good intentions, and a sad cup of dread for my next episode of screaming/cursing/breaking stuff.

When I think about writing down some of my worst mothering moments, I imagine any readers, moms included, recoiling in horror. The only thing that makes the image tolerable is picturing some horrified mom then thinking to herself, "Eh, been there."

I don't want to go there. I don't want to write about hissing, "Get up and walk or I will drag you down this fucking hall," at my sobbing girls in the park district hallway. I don't want to write about how that morning I was past giving a shit that the knitting group needed to shut their door to close out the noise of our tantrum.

I don't want to go there. Because I know I had a better way to act and react that day. I know and believe in that better way: To treat my girls with respect, to breathe my way through a crisis, to fortify with snacks, to find the humor, stay the grownup, take a break, ask for help, remember them as tiny and in my care rather than enormous and in my way.

And since I know the better way, I don't want to go to that hallway again, to feel the scratchy carpet, to see the art show pastel of palm trees on the wall, to hear the clump of the knitting group door as it closed on our drama.

So I will go a different way. I'll go to a night I remember with a kind of battered pride. Here's my essay, not about my worst mothering moment, but about a sufficient one.


One night this winter I was awakened by a sickening sound - a crash followed by my three-year-old daughter's wails of pain and surprise.

I knew what had happened even before I was fully awake. Nora had fallen out of bed.

I rushed to the bed, found her on the floor and picked her up without needing to turn on the light. My husband was at my side in the dark and we mumbled a confirmation of what happened through the fog of sleep. I held Nora, rocked her and her cries gradually lessoned. My eyes closed. She slipped back to sleep and so did I.

The next morning Nora was alert and happy. I saw dried blood in her hair. She must have hit her head on the corner of the bedside table as she fell. The doctor's office asked on the phone, "What time do you want to come in?"

Duking it out in my head were self-needs, (I don't want to miss my workout), mommy guilt (a concussion?), rationalizations (she seems fine; I'll be a better mom after a trip to the gym), self-doubt (nothing screams "crazy family" like a little blood in the hair) and mother's intuition (she is fine.)

"11:00," I said.

Nora bounced around in gymnastics class while I ran and showered.

The doctor checked out Nora's head, lifting her hair to show me a half-inch cut, crusted over with black.

"The dried blood held the cut together," the doctor said. "It's healing. If you had washed off the wound when it happened or taken her to the emergency room, she would have gotten a couple of stitches."

Whoo hoo! Chalk one up for benevolent neglect!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We All Fall Down in Slate!

My little old blog got a shout-out in Slate! Emily Bazelon's Father's Day article about suggested readings in kid and grown-up lit mentions my post comparing Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter.

Thanks for reading, Emily! To return the favor, I've got to recommend her great piece about the ethics of writing about your kids online.

(I just had a talk last month with a dad who is positively gleeful about his love of The Road. "I read it when Keegan was about as old as the boy in the book, so I was really feeling for the dad. Those conversations he had with his son..." He shivered and grinned.)

Here's a piece about the making of the movie with Viggo Mortensen.

Welcome, Slate Readers! While you're here, I've got to recommend this great story about sex after children and how one couple dealt really, really well with the primal scene.

And here's my latest post on Chicago Moms Blog, about our 40 mile trip to the Morton Arboretum, all to chase tiny frog babies. Another zen lesson from my girls, who know how to feel Emily Dickinson, although they have yet to read her: To see the world in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Peggy Ward is One Funny Mother...

Check out more on YouTube. Search "Mamaphobia." Then fall on the floor laughing. If you're a mom, that is.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's Complicated

I have neither plans nor desire to spend time on a pretty celebrity who is more famous for her divorce than anything else, but I did stop when I read the title of Denise Richards' new "reality" show. "It's Complicated."

I know that phrase. I've used it. It's the easy way out when the playgroup mom kindly asks another innocuous question about my family just as Eleanor calls me urgently from the swingset. It's shorthand for "thanks for asking, really, thank you. But you don't wanna know." Shorthand for "let me save you from empathy exhaustion."

I'm taking my daughters to Kansas City next week to visit Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Phil. We do this about once a year. That's the easiest version of the story. I'd love to leave it at that.

My Kansas City family has lived life something like a soap opera, something like a particularly harsh book of the bible. The premature deaths would have been enough, but the drama didn't stop there. Addictions. Divorces. Health problems, both physical and mental. Homelessness. Jail. Sorry to go there... Can I just say it's complicated?

My friends can't even keep up with the ongoing story anymore; acquaintances get glazed eyes within minutes of my beginning to explain. I feel for them, I really do. Therefore my trying-to-be-graceful out: "It's complicated. And how are you doing?"

But here's the problem with "It's complicated." It's a retreat. It keeps others at arms length. Ignores that we have all felt loss, we have all had disappointment and pain in our lives.

Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina begins with one of the greatest first lines of all time, "All happy families are the same, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Perhaps the dismissive retreat into "it's complicated" is what can keep us in that unhappy category - because it allows us to believe we are going about this on our own, alone. Allows us to believe we are a family like none other. Allows us to falsely believe our pain is, as the great and blunt Dan Savage has described in a different context, "a pain that no one else has ever experienced or can possibly comprehend." And almost allows me to put on the back burner the wonderful happinesses that belong at the center of my thoughts - my cousin's granddaughter getting a kiss from David Cook when he returned to his Blue Springs grade school! My niece taking her MCATs on Friday!

Reading mom-blogs gives me so much comfort and perspective. Grief and joy on the pages. "Autism whipped my ass today," says one mom. "There really is no such thing as small talk in my life," says another. Women's experiences that are nothing like mine and so much like mine. Motherhood is as varied an experience as each and every woman who goes through it and yet we are united by it.

Here is what's simple, not complicated: I want to go to Kansas City and hug Uncle Phil and give him the Father's Day present my girls picked out. I want to hear my daughter say like she did last year, "Grandma! I want you!" I want to see those beloved faces again. I want to tell my brother I love him. I want to laugh with my cousins over our war wounds. I want to go home again, for a little while.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Morton Arboretum with Christina today!

The last time I went to Morton with my dear friend was the summer I was pregnant with Mia. Christina, Serena and Sally and I called ourselves the Ladies who Lunch, and we had started getting together to visit obscure gardening centers and talk art and food and health bugaboos and other fun stuff.

This time we dragged our partners along. We packed a huge picnic. Brent wrote "Fuck Trees" in the dust on the bumper of Sally and Erik's car. We had a high school flashback when a rent-a-cop busted us for playing badminton.

"This is a tree museum, you know." His uniform was spotless. "You wouldn't play badminton in the Art Institute. You got beer in that cooler?"

We laughed hysterically later at our shifty-eyed silence to his question that only Serena had the sangfroid to break with enthusiastic denials. He checked it anyway, but I guess missed the bottles behind the lemonade.

Serena and Brent moved to Todos, Sally and Erik to Michigan. Randy and I had our baby, moved to Wilmette and had another. I didn't know then that our afternoon at the Morton would be the only one like it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Too Much?

Trying to fill the first day with no preschool to fill our afternoon hours, without the safety net of calm professionals whisking away my oldest for educational activities:

-Babysitting at the park district while Mom showers
-Starbucks drive through
-Swing by Kim Moldofsky's to pick up a picnic table
-Drive to Millennium Park, park
-Buy hotdogs for the girls, chips for me, lemonade and water
-Watch Shanghai Circus gymnasts
-Run around the Bean
-Run around and get wet in the Giant Face Video water art installation
-Eat ice cream (Momma gets a mushroom sandwich), change into dry jeans and jackets
-Walk to State Street
-Buy dry shorts at TJ Maxx
-Walk to the Art Institute
-Read new TJ Maxx book in the lovely shady park adjacent to the museum, eat more chips
-Spend an hour in the Art Institute kids' library
-Cross the street for s'mores at Cosi
-Trudge up the hill towards the the parking garage, but...
-Walk through the Lurie garden, smelling the sweet air, splash in the manmade stream
-Miraculously find the car in the cavernous parking garage
-Drop the girls off at Daddy's work
-Mommy recovers by reading an entire US Magazine, then House Beautiful over a spinach salad at Fox and Obel, justified by a needed purchase of Murphy's Oil Soap
-Home at 8:20 pm
The girls doing some gymnastics of their own with the Chinese contortionists in the background.