Friday, October 14, 2011

Shenanigans of the USPS

I have just had the most ridiculous experience with the United States Postal Service.  I am inclined to rant and rave here about gross incompetence, rudeness and mountains of inefficiency, but instead, I'll just tell the story.  It speaks for itself:
We have been living in our new house now almost a week.. The previous owner left us a mail key but not the number for the mailbox.  I emailed the seller's realtor for the information, but unsurprisingly, he did not respond.  He has been a pinnacle of unresponsiveness throughout the entire house-buying process.  It's a miracle we ever completed the transaction, but I digress...
So as I approached a bank of mailboxes near the park intent on simply trying the key until I found the right box, I was dismayed to find there were literally hundreds of boxes.  Even if I wanted to stay there for hours looking for the right box, there was no way Mr. Impatient One and Mr. Impatient Two (a.k.a., Jack and Gage) would put up with that.  I was even more dismayed when I found there were two more banks with just as many boxes that could very well be ours.  So, on the advice of our realtor, I packed the kids into the car this morning, grabbed my HUD-1 form (proof that we bought the house) and headed over to our local post office to get the number for our mailbox.  When I got there, I parked, changed a poopy diaper in the parking lot and discovered upon approaching the counter, I'd accidentally brought the HUD-1 form from the sale of our old house instead of the purchase of our new one.  The postal worker behind the desk was unfazed, however.  She is apparently not that into security.  She was happy to give me the address for our mailbox bank and even the section number.  She could not, however, according to her, give me the exact number, because only the mail carriers have that information and they'd already left to deliver mail for the day.  It made absolutely no sense to me that the information wouldn't be stored somewhere at the post office, but I thanked her, strapped the kids  in the car and headed back to our neighborhood, figuring with the numbers narrowed down, maybe I could just try the key in each box in the section.
When I got to the mailbox bank, I was thrilled to see our mail carrier there.  I hustled the kids out of the car, stuffed Gage in the sling and grabbed Jack by the hand.  I hurried up to the lady sorting mail and said,"hi, we just moved in.  Could you tell me the number of our box?  She asked for the address, which I gave her.  She said,"oh, that's the bank over there," pointing about 50 yards away.  Seeing a carrier sorting mail at that bank as well, I thanked her and hustled us over, as he seemed about to leave.  Out of breath, I repeated my request for a box number for the third time that day (still very politely, I might add.) He replied in a very aggressive, irritated tone,"I can't just give that information out.  I don't know who you are.  You could be anyone.  You need to go to the post office for that." Gritting my teeth, I briefly recounted my post office experience to him.  He said,"Well, I don't know why they wouldn't give it to you.  They do have it."I asked if he'd give me the box number if I showed him the HUD-1 form.  He looked at me quizzically, but did not admit he didn't know what a HUD-1 form was.  He said he'd give me the number with picture id and something showing my name and the new address.  He said he'd be there for twenty more minutes, and just as I was about to hustle off to try to go home and get the right form and get back in time, he asked,"wait, what's the address?" When I repeated it, he said," Oh that's on her side," pointing back at the woman I'd talked to first.  I exasperatedly told him she'd said it was on his side, and he responded with an oh so helpful, "well, it's not." I clamored off back towards the first set of boxes with a sigh and a loud,"this is absurd!"
When I got back to the first mail carrier's set of boxes and told her what the other one had said, she said,"oh, did you say 'Cowden?' I'm so sorry; that IS mine!" Right after she said this, Gage, in the fastest baby move I've ever seen, grabbed the piece of paper out of my hand with the info on the general location of our box and crammed  it into his mouth, entirely obliterating all writing.
Luckily, despite our mail carrier's flakiness, she was willing to tell me which box was mine without any identification (so much for security.) She pointed me to the right box and... my key wouldn't work.  "F-ing figures," I thought.  Feeling thoroughly beaten, I asked her if I showed her my driver's license, would she please give me my stack of mail, and I'd figure out the key some other time.  "No problem," she said, and handed me a banded stack of mail without my showing her anything to prove my identity.  I glanced at it.  It was for the Patels down the street from us.  "Uh, this isn't mine," I said.  She looked at it,"Oh! Sorry.  What house number did you say again?". I repeated it... AGAIN.  It turned out she had told me the wrong box to start with.  In the end, I got my key fitted in the right box and collected our mail.  It only took me just shy of two hours.  By the time we rolled into our driveway with the mail, Jack was bored, Gage was fussy, tired and hungry and I had a gargantuan headache.
Looking back, I met two nice yet incompetent postal workers today and one marginally competent one who was unnecessarily rude.  I wish I'd said something to the rude guy like,"Now that you've told me everything you can't do, how about telling what you CAN do?" or "Is your tone that rude all the time or is it just today?". But I didn't, because I never think of the good stuff to say at the time and because I hadn't set out to be witty or put anyone in their place.  I just wanted my goddamned mail.  Due to this experience and several others I've had lately with the postal service (lost mail, lost packages, etc) I will gladly pay more to use UPS or Fedex whenever possible.  In fact, if the private sector were allowed to deliver letters, I'd pay double to have mine delivered by UPS, Fedex, Lonestar Overnight or a damned camel - anything but the United States Postal Service.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Moving Out

So, after talking about it for over a year, we have finally decided to move to Steiner Ranch from our cozy little neighborhood in south Austin.  As much as we love this area and our house, Jason is getting sick of commuting an hour each way, and I'd like him home in time to help with the whole dinner, bath, bedtime routine.  That, in addition to a better school district for our children, finally got us motivated.  So, we contacted our realtor and started a long "to-do" list of things we've been meaning to do to the house for a long time.  Two weeks and a lot of elbow grease later, we were ready to list.  The house was sparkly clean and thoroughly de-cluttered, with nary a sagging gate or cracked light fixture to be seen.  Photos were taken, a sign went up in our yard, and we waited.  We worried we had listed too late in the season and would not be able to sell, but after eighteen days on the market we had an offer.  We are currently under contract with our house and have found a beautiful house in Steiner Ranch for which we are under negotiation.  Now we have to move...shit.
When I first began to think about moving, I was overwhelmed.  My brain raced with the process:  First fix the house up, then sell it, then find a new one.  How do we coordinate moving out and moving in?  Can we close on them both at the same time?  Will we need to stay with my parents in the interim?  What about a new preschool for Jack?  Will he adjust well to moving?  In order to keep from exploding, I forced myself to only think about one step at a time, so I started with, "Fix up the house," and moved on from there.  The downfall of this system is, now that we are actually to the part where we box stuff up and start taking in out of the house... well, I had kind of sort of forgotten about that part.  And, as we have started packing things and moving them to my parents' house for temporary storage, I'm realizing how much stuff we use on a regular basis.  There's a ton of stuff I can't pack until the last minute because we use it every day - the dishes, pots and pans, bottle warmer, kids' toys, clothes, towels, toiletries...But I can't pack it ALL at the last minute. 
And, of course, there's nothing like moving to make you realize how much you don't need - stuff you kept "just in case" that you're simply not willing to pack and move.  I had a cabinet full of nondescript cheap glass vases that I recycled instead of packing.  I am also in the process of giving away all the baby stuff Gage doesn't use anymore.  Some of it I feel some emotional attachment to, but not enough to pack and move it if I don't have to.  There are some fairly silly things I can't let go of, though, like all my files and posters I made when I taught school.  I may or may not go back to teaching some day, but regardless, I can't let it go. I worked so hard making, collecting and organizing it for years, and it was so valuable to me when I taught.   So, even if it's heavy and bulky and annoying, I'm takin' it.
I know most of my postings have a point or a moral or some sort of cohesive theme giving them merit.  This one is more of an inane rambling about selling the house and packing up all our crap, but since I feel more like a pack mule than a philosopher these days, I guess it's reflective of my life now.  we all need themes and cohesive endings though, so the point of this one is...
Moving sucks, but we do it anyway.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Feminism in a New Millenium

Right now, I'm reading a book that's a departure from my normal fiction/fantasy fare - The Girl I Left Behind, by Judith Nies.  The book is about Nies's life, both her personal and her political one as one of the few women working on Capitol Hill in the sixties as something other than a secretary.  While the book tells her personal story, it is also a vehicle to describe what the world was like in a time of great change and turmoil during a myriad of movements:  civil rights, anti-war and women's rights.  Reading this book makes me realize that I take a lot of things for granted.  The crap that women had to put up with as recently as the 1960's was absurd - separate entrances for ladies at various facilities that Nies visited during her political career, not being able to wear pants in public and having to endure what would today be considered gross sexual harassment in the workplace, not to mention being paid less than men for doing the same work and being categorically excluded from certain professions.  One of the points Nies makes periodically throughout the book is that the changes that took place during the sixties and seventies that allow women today to enjoy equal opportunities did not "just happen," as it often was portrayed in the media.  There were many women who fought long, hard uphill battles to achieve those changes.
So.... I feel a little guilty.  I feel like I have it easy.  I've always felt I could be whatever I wanted - a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a chef.  Not that I had a mind to be any of those things, but I knew I wouldn't be excluded from them for being a woman.  Women of the sixties and seventies fought political battles and even went to jail sometimes to liberate us from the mindset that women are only good at cooking, cleaning, child rearing and other house-wifey type things.  So what have I gone and become? - a stay-at-home mom.  I doubt the women's rights activists of yore would be impressed with my two-kids-and-a-minivan lifestyle.  I spend a lot of time doing laundry, cooking dinner, shuttling my three-year-old to preschool and feeding the baby.  All in all, my days are not generally that intellectually stimulating.  Maybe I should be off full-filling my potential.  I should be more politically involved (except I hate politics.)  I should be writing for a newspaper or magazine or something (except that I don't want to spend that kind of time away from my kids at this point.)  I should be....
Wait, hold on a minute, wasn't the heart of the women's rights movement about women having the same opportunities as men?  Wasn't it really about a woman's right to chose her own path and her right to be respected for her intellect?  When I take a closer look at my life, I realize that I am the quintessential liberated woman.  I am an updated version for 2011.  I chose to stay home with my kids because I wanted to.  I help my dad run our engineering business, and I have not once run into anyone who thought  a woman couldn't run a business.  I write a blog, because I know I'm a good writer.  I know I have some contemplative things to say, and I'm married to a man who supports that idea.  I don't feel defined by the housework I do or the dinner I cook.  This is good, because I don't actually do that much housework, and I'm a mediocre cook at best.  Yes, "Mom" defines a lot of my persona these days, and I'm okay with that.  It's a big job, and as a liberated woman, I am up to the task.  And, even though sometimes I have to remind myself that wife and mother are not all of who I am.  I am a writer, a runner, a business owner.  I have my own set of valuable skills I can contribute to society and they are only limited by my ability, not by someone else's view of my gender.
One thing I have learned over the past several years is, every person is deeper and more complex than they appear on the surface.  You cannot make assumptions about a person's character based on what they do for a living or some little snippet of their life you happen to witness.  Most of all, you can't make that assumption about yourself.  So even though on the surface, I may fit the stereotypical definition of a soccer mom, I am about as liberated as they come.  I know this because I have made choices without feeling limited, and I am truly happy in the path I have chosen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Life with Two

In the beginning there was life.... And a sick three-year-old, a sick husband, a throwing up peeing in the house dog, and not enough breast milk for the newborn. This, in a nutshell, is how the first week of Gage's life went at our house.
It started off well enough. Gage was born on a Thursday, we took him home on Friday, and Jason's parents stayed with us through the weekend. Those first few days were blissful. Gage and I practiced nursing, Jason and Jack spent time together, and my mother-in-law did the dishes. Then came Sunday. I haven come to realize in the seven short weeks we've been the parents of two, things can go from perfectly calm to mayhem in the blink of an eye. Sunday afternoon, Jason's parents left. Sunday evening, we discovered Jack was running a fever. Sunday night, Gage fussed for hours straight in the middle of the night because he could not get enough milk. By Monday morning, we'd gone from blissful to a wreck.
Our plan had been to, with Jason off work, spend that first week getting to know and enjoy our new family dynamic. It instead turned into a moment-by-moment fight for the survival of our sanity. I nursed, pumped and bottle-fed Gage. Jason took care of Jack, who had a whopper of a virus, complete with 103-degree fever and vomiting. Our dog, Zoe, who was lucky I was still remembering to feed her, decided to show her displeasure at being completely ignored by peeing all over the guest room bedding where Jason and Jack had been sleeping to keep the germs away from the baby. Jason discovered this one evening while he was transferring a sobbing Jack to the guest room after he'd thrown up all over his own bed. With so much going awry, Jason didn't even get mad. He sighed and accepted it as a matter of course, as he tossed the stinky dog pee bedding downstairs and went on a hunt through the house for more queen-sized sheets. I would have helped, but I was tethered to the breast pump for the tenth time that day.
As the week went on, things went from better to bad to worse. Zoe threw up all over the carpet upstairs. Apparently, due to our lack of communication with each other, she had been getting double-fed a lot. Jason came down with Jack's virus, and Jack continued to run a high fever. I told myself over and over that this could not last forever and we would get through it. Aside from a crying spell over my inability to make milk, I stayed pretty calm, considering. I attribute a lot of it to the fact that I got to sleep alone with only Gage in our big king-size bed, so I was getting a good eight or nine hours of sleep each night. Jason, on the other hand, was sleeping with a coughing, fidgeting, sick Jack who has the habit of sticking his feet down your underwear when you sleep next to him. By the end of the week, Jason was sick, seriously sleep deprived and definitely not okay. One morning (Thursday, Friday, I have no idea) he hit his breaking point and could no longer rationally deal with Jack's incessant coughing and whining. This is when we switched kids. I laid with Jack in his bed, stroked his hair and told him stories. Jason sat in the rocker and fed Gage, relieved at the relative quiet of a newborn. Friday morning, I called the pediatrician and got Jack an appointment. Jason took him in later that day, and it turned out that besides the raging virus, Jack had his first-ever ear infection.
Jason took several more days off work than he intended, due to his own illness. My parents came over and helped, which was an absolute life saver. And we made it through. It was the longest week of our lives, but we came out the other side, and things have gotten better since. We are adjusting to life with two kids after surviving what felt like a bizarre fraternity hell week. That first week wasn't at all what we'd expected or hoped for, but if we got through that, the rest of it should be a walk in the park...right??

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gage's Birth Story

Gage was due Monday, February 21st.  We all eagerly anticipated the date… which came and went with little fanfare.  Tuesday morning, I was still pregnant.  I had everything on my “to do” list done and then some.  I had been enjoying the relative quiet before the storm of life with a new baby – relaxing, playing with Jack, etcetera – but now I was starting to get impatient and so were Jason and Jack.  I was very uncomfortable with back aches, sciatica, and extreme fatigue.  I was tired of feeling so tired all the time.  Every time I’d call Jason at work, he’d answer with anticipation in his voice only to be disappointed when I was only asking what time he’d be home.  Jack asked every day, hands on hips, “when is that baby gonna come out?”  I had several instances where I began to have contractions and got excited only for them to stop after two or three.
Then, I awoke at 2:45AM on Thursday the 24th with a dull cramp in my abdomen.  As I lie there awake in the dark next to slumbering Jack and Jason, the cramp began a gentle crescendo into a real contraction.  “Hmm, curious,” I thought, not getting too worked up as this had happened before.  Then I had another contraction ten minutes later and then another.  I decided to get out of bed and walk around.  I paced the bathroom floor slowly and then did some stretches on the floor.  The contractions continued, very bearable at around ten minutes apart.  I decided this was most likely the real deal, so I went downstairs and had peanut butter toast and milk, knowing I’d not have anything else for hours.  I went back upstairs, got out a pad of paper and started recording the contractions.  I sat on the couch and waited.  They were irregular, varying from three to twelve minutes apart and lasting around a minute each.  I went to Jack’s room, got out his “big brother” t-shirt and set it on top of his dresser, certain he would need it later that day.  Around 3:45AM, I went to the bathroom and noticed a small amount of bleeding.  I washed my face, brushed my teeth, recorded some more contractions, and then at 5:00AM, when I noticed more blood and the contractions were stronger, I woke Jason up.
I shook him gently and whispered, “Hey, we’re going to have a baby today.”  He woke with a start. “What?!  Why?”  he asked, alarmed but still in a sleep haze.  “I’m having contractions,” I said, “Come see my notes.”  Jason jumped out of bed and hustled to the bathroom, turning on the shower on the way.  He was all of a sudden going a mile a minute:  “Why didn’t you wake me up??”  (my reply:  “I did, just now”)  He went on, “Did you call your parents?  Did you call the doctor?  How far apart are they?” 
I called my parents.  Mom was already up, getting ready for work.  I said, “Mom, we need you to come over.”  She knew what was up, so all she said was, “Okay, be there soon.”  I could hear her yelling at my dad before she hung up, “Pat!  We gotta go!”  I called the doctor.  My ob was not on call that early AM, but his partner sounded like a calm, nice guy.  After a few questions, he said, “yeah, you probably want to head on in to the hospital.”  By 5:30AM, Mom and Dad were at our house, Jack was still asleep in our bed, and Jason and I were ready to go.  We’d had the hospital bag packed and in the van for weeks.  My contractions were still varying from three to ten minutes apart but were getting stronger.  Jason was in a big hurry to get to the hospital, all the stories of dads delivering their own children on the side of the highway flashing through his mind.  I was calm, convinced based on the way I felt, we still had plenty of time.  As we pulled out of our driveway in the van, I started, “Jason…”  “What?” he said, “drive fast?”  “No,” I replied, “Don’t drive too fast and get pulled over.  I don’t have time for that shit.”
We easily made our way to the hospital – no traffic at that early hour.  When Jason dropped me off at the entrance, according to him, there was an injured convict in shackles getting out of a white van who walked in right next to me.  I didn’t notice.  I was clutching my pillow, keeping a keen eye out for the elevators to the second floor maternity ward.  They remodeled the hospital after we had Jack there, so I actually had to pause at a sign to find the elevators.  A country-esque dude saw me looking at the sign and asked, “Whatcha lookin for, darling?”  My one word reply, “elevators.”  I was trying to get to a bed before I had another contraction.
When I got to the second floor, they checked me in quickly and a nurse took me to an LDR room.  I got dressed in the typical, open down the back, ass hanging out hospital gown.  Just as I was situating myself on the bed at 5:50AM, my water broke in the best example of good timing ever.  Jason showed up about five minutes later, to my relief, and I informed the nurse that I’d decided on the way to the hospital, I wanted an epidural… as soon as possible, if not sooner. 
My labor nurse’s name was Kathy.  She was down-to-earth, relaxed, friendly and funny – perfect.  There was also a nursing student present.  I don’t remember her name, but she was enjoyable company as well.  When the anesthesiologist came in, much to my relief, I gave him a second look.  He was hunched over, around seventy and had a lazy eye.  I told myself not to be judgmental.  As I curled over on the side of the bed with Kathy standing in front of me holding me, he inserted the epidural, and I felt a zap! down the left side of my body.  I flinched – not what they want you to do while placing a needle in your spine – but everything was okay after that.  I lay back down and was comfortable within minutes.  I was so comfortable, I almost fell asleep while the nursing student placed my catheter, despite the fact that she and her instructor had several tries at it before it was correct. 
With the epidural in place, Jason and I were both able to doze a little bit.  I don’t think either one of us actually went to sleep, though.  We were too excited.  As the hours went on, I started feeling the contractions again.  I could feel them in the right side of my back as well.  My left side felt pretty numb.  They were only uncomfortable, though, not excruciating.  Dr. Sweeney, another partner of my ob, was on call that day, and she popped in and out, checking my dilation and effacement periodically.  Somewhere in there, Jason’s parents arrived at the hospital from League City, and mine showed up with Jack.  Finally, it was time to push.  As the staff gathered equipment and Dr. Sweeney got into place, I started to feel really nauseated and just managed to mutter, “I’m gonna throw up,” in time for Jason to get a trash can to me.  At that point, I retched and mostly dry heaved as my stomach was all but empty.  I felt better afterward, though.
So around 12:30PM the legs went up, Dr S. gave me the final instructions on how to push and listen to Jason’s and the nurse’s counting, and we gave it a go.  I pushed much harder than I remember having to push with Jack.  After several pushes, the baby crowned, and Dr. S. said with emphasis, “This one’s definitely bigger than your first.” 
We (Jason, me, doctors and nurses) had all done a lot of speculation as to the sex and weight of the impending baby.  My guess for weight was seven and a half pounds.  Jason guessed eight.  Kathy calculated, based on my last ultrasound measurements, the baby should weigh around nine pounds, which couldn’t be right, could it??  When Jason looked and saw the how big the baby’s head was, he got worried about the baby’s exit strategy.  Several (I have no idea how many) pushes and a second-degree episiotomy later, the head came out.  Jason unabashedly snapped pictures of my crotch.  After the fact, I kind of like those pictures, but no one else is going to see them!  Then, Dr. S. called in extra staff to help, concerned the shoulders were going to have trouble exiting.  They came out pretty smoothly, though to the nurses’ calls of, “it’s a boy!”  Dr. Sweeney said as she held Gage in her hands, “Feels like nine pounds, one ounce.”  She’s pretty good – the scale read “9 lbs, 1.7 oz.”  They lay Gage on my belly.  I was amazed that there really had been a baby in there.  This was the little man who’d been rolling and kicking in there all this time, and now he was out.  He was real.  Tears came to my eyes as I held him.  Jason cut the cord, and they did the whole, weigh, measure, footprints, APGAR whathaveyou routine.  Gage Patrick Garner was born at 1:14PM on Thursday, February 24th, 2011.  We had another healthy baby boy.  My heart could have exploded with joy.  A short while later, Jason, Jack, Gage and I were all in the LDR room alone, everyone huddled around the bed, Gage in my arms.  Jack pointed to each of us and counted, “one, two, three, four.  Now our family is four!” he grinned.  Jason and I grinned at Jack and at each other, our happiness so succinctly expressed by a three-year-old.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gage Patrick Garner is here!

It's a boy!  Gage finally arrived on Thursday, February 24th at 1:14PM.  I went into labor at 2:45AM on Thursday, and my water broke just as I was settling into the hospital bed around six in the morning.  Much to our surprise, Gage weighed 9 pounds, 2 ounces and was 20 1/2 inches long.  Everything went very well, and we all went home the next day, Friday.  Unfortunately, Jack and Jason were both sick all week after that.  Now we are getting used to life with two kiddos.  I'll post again with the total birth story soon.  Here are some pictures:
very unflattering pic of me right before time to push
Gage Patrick, just seconds old
proof that he's a whopper
Momma, Daddy and the new little one
the whole happy family and Jack hamming it up
Gage Patrick Garner
Jason & Gage cuddle on the so comfy hospital couch
Jack holds Gage for the first time
Gage and I ride out to the car in our chariot
Jack will not come take a family picture with us, much to our annoyance.
All my boys, at home on the couch

Monday, February 21, 2011

Still here...

9 days ago - I'm even bigger now.
Today is February 21st, the baby's official due date... and I am still here, big as a house and not in labor.  I know babies typically aren't born on their due dates, and it is quite normal for them to be a few days or even weeks late, but I really thought the little one would be here by now.  I don't have any solid rationale for it, but that's what I thought.
I've got everything done:  the baby gear is all out and in place, the house is clean, the laundry is done, we had Jack's birthday party, and I got a pedicure.  I was feeling fairly blissful for a while, with all the "to do's" done.  I was just enjoying time relaxing and playing with Jack.  Now, however, I am starting to feel extremely uncomfortable and impatient.  I have the typical list of pregnant lady complaints - my back hurts, my feet are swollen, I'm not sleeping well, etcetera.  On the up side, since the baby has now dropped as low as it can go without falling out, my heartburn has abated somewhat.
Last night, I started having some contractions - definitely something more than the Braxton-Hicks I've been having for months.  I woke up around 2:30AM, had one contraction, then another fifteen minutes later... then nothing.  I went back to sleep until Jack woke me up at seven.  False alarm - sigh.  You could say it's a good sign I'll go into labor soon, but the mere fact that I am forty weeks pregnant is a good sign of that already.
When I dropped Jack off at school today, he cried like he used to when he first started going.  That was distressing.  I don't know why, except that with the baby coming soon, maybe he doesn't want to be without me.  The teacher, bless her heart, emailed me a picture of him happily playing shortly after I left.  That made me feel a lot better.  I just think this whole impending baby thing is getting old for all of us.  Jason and I are planners, and it's hard to plan when any moment now, we're going to have another little life added to our family.  Jack keeps asking when the baby will come out, too.  I think he's convinced I secretly know the exact arrival time of the little one but am just not telling him.  After all, from his perspective, I seem to know everything else.
So, Momma Files readers, hopefully this will be my last blog before the new baby gets here.  When I feel especially impatient, I try to remind myself how hard life is with a newborn.  I also remember that this baby is going to come out in the next ten days, even if we have to induce, so there's not much longer either way. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Heights

Last week, we were at the mall, doing some Valentine's errands.  It was three o'clock on a Tuesday, and the mall was more or less deserted.  I had finished my shopping, when on our way out, Jack spied a big trampoline/harness setup in the middle of the mall from where we were upstairs.  He pointed excitedly and said, "I want to ride that!"  My eyes widened in surprise.  Jack is a very cautious child, and I would never guess in a million years he'd want to go flying up in the air in a harness, by himself no less.  But I said, "Well, let's go downstairs and look at it and see," thinking that when he saw it up close, he'd change his mind or that they'd have some sort of height/weight requirement that his slim, 28-pound frame wouldn't meet.  As we approached the apparatus, the guy running it eyed us curiously.  I think he was afraid I, the big pregnant lady, was going to ask to ride it.  When we got up to it, Jack was still excited and still wanted to do it.  It was seven bucks for three minutes - total robbery, but I was so surprised and curious about Jack's lack of fear, I forked it over without a second thought.  The guy said, "let's see if he likes it first," though before taking my money.  To both of our amazement, Jack threw off his shoes, climbed up on the trampoline and enthusiastically raised his arms for the guy to strap the harness on him.  Jack had a blast.  He bounced and bounced.  He was too light to get back down the the trampoline once the bungees were lifted to their full height, so the guy would periodically yank down on one side so Jack's feet would touch and he could bounce again.  People all around stopped to watch.  Everyone seemed surprised to see such a little kid strapped into the big thing.  He closed his eyes and grinned ear-to-ear as he bounced almost as high as the second story of the mall.
 Afterward, we put his shoes back on, thanked the guy, and headed to the car, Jack proclaiming the whole way that he wanted to come back to the mall and, "do it again-gin."  I was in awe that my shy, careful, slow-to-warm-up child had so enthusiastically approached an unfamiliar experience.  I was proud of him and glad to know he's developing a sense that new, strange things are not always to be feared but can be fun, even without Momma right there with him.  I also thought to myself, "my little boy is growing up."  I know he's only three, but the time goes faster and faster.  I am so happy that he's developing healthy life coping skills, but I am also reminded to hang onto these young years, as they slip by all too quickly.  Jack is becoming more and more independent.  He goes to sleep at night by himself, he can go fetch things for me when I ask, and he happily goes to school by himself.  Before long, he's going to be starting kindergarten, and then I'm going to turn around and he'll be dating.
This morning, I woke up early, around six, and couldn't go back to sleep.  As it got light, I snuggled up to Jack's warm little body in our bed and watched him sleep - such a completely relaxed, peaceful rest.  I'm glad our kiddo is growing more independent and sure of himself every day, but I'm going to get all the snuggling in while I can, before he gets too cool to hug his Momma.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Growing Up in the Bubble

The house where I grew up
When I was five years old and my sister was two, my parents moved us from Dallas proper to Richardson, a suburb just north of Dallas.  The primary reason for the move was so Bonnie and I could go to better public schools.  Growing up in Richardson was pretty idyllic.  If you wanted someone to play with, you just went outside.  The neighborhood was full of kids.  You couldn't cut through our development to anywhere, so traffic was light.  We did a lot of bike riding and skating on the streets.  And there was a wilderness-type area we kids referred to as "the trails" where you could ride your bike over dirt hills and climb around a trickle of a creek.  The trails were just large enough for a kid to feel adventurous going in there but bordered on all sides by houses, so it was impossible to get lost.  There was also a public golf course at one end of the neighborhood, which made for good wandering in the summer and great sledding during the occasional winter storm.  Halloween was like a big block party, with kids running from house-to-house and parents sitting out on their lawns handing out candy.  Our next door neighbors had two boys about mine and Bonnie's ages - Brian and Mike.  When the weather was such that we had the windows open, Brian and I used to chat in the evening across the houses, me from my bedroom and him from his bathroom.  My mom used to joke it was just like "Our Town."
As I got older and went off to college, I started realizing how sheltered that environment was, compared to the rest of the world.  I started referring to it as "the Richardson bubble."  I developed something of a typical young adult attitude that somehow the city was better, grittier, a more "real" place to live, where you could see poverty and suffering first hand.  I did notice, though, that despite my having grown up in the bubble, I did not have the same fear and nervousness some of my peers did when it came to people who were poor or disadvantaged or simply different than I.  When I was thirteen, I had my first boyfriend.  I met him at summer camp, and he had a really different life than I did.  His step father was abusive.  They moved from rental house to rental house, ostensibly dodging back rent.  He played hooky from school on a regular basis and got picked up by the police quite often.  Needless to say, my parents weren't thrilled.  Luckily, he didn't live close by, and we mostly just talked on the phone.  The point is, I wasn't afraid or put off by him;  I was intrigued even though he scared the hell out of my other good-girl friends. 
I noticed this same theme throughout high school and college.  Where I wanted to know more about those who grew up differently than I did, other people who grew up in the same socioeconomic situation shied away.  As a young adult, I traveled to Mexico several times for vacation.  Some of the friends I went with seemed afraid of people who approached them, speaking Spanish, selling blankets or whatever, while it all seemed pretty harmless to me.  So, I've asked myself, why do I have this more open-minded attitude?  (And, yeah, I see it as a positive thing, despite the fact that is has gotten me in a bit of trouble from time to time.)  When I look back to my childhood, my answer is this:  my parents.  Despite having grown up in a place where you don't have to worry about someone popping a cap in your ass when you walk out the front door, my parents instilled in me a sense of general respect for all walks of life.  My parents have always had a relatively diverse group of friends.  Mom used to intentionally drive us through the poorer sections of Dallas to get places so that we might have some exposure to how others live.  When we went to Mexico on vacation as a family, my parents never acted afraid of the locals, just because they spoke Spanish instead of English.  The message I got from them was that I was not better than someone just because I had more money than they did or because they cleaned houses for a living.  What I divined from their example was that all people deserve simple courtesy and politeness until they prove otherwise by their actions.  I also learned that, while it may be prudent to avoid walking down certain streets at night by yourself, fear and acting afraid only invites victimization.  Very little of this was ever verbalized by my mom or dad.  It's a definite argument for leading by example.
I've thought about all this lately, because we are considering moving closer to Jason's work and, yes, out to what is more-or-less the suburbs of Austin.  Jason grew up in a neighborhood much like mine, and we want our children to have the same freedoms as we were given as children.  We want to feel safe allowing them to ride their bikes to friends' houses.  We want them to have kids their age to play with nearby.  I do want them, however, to experience other cultures and perspectives.  I don't want them to be afraid of people who have different skin than they do or who speak a different language or who have a different standard of living.  Maybe we'll have to work a little harder at that than we would if we chose to raise our family in east Austin, but I think Jason and I are both good examples that it can be done.  So I've grown comfortable with the idea of raising children in the suburbs where things are safe enough to allow children to explore, because I know our attitudes and open-mindedness will rub off.  In closing, I'd like to say thanks to my parents, because, Mom and Dad, you shaped my attitudes more than the place where I grew up, and that has made me a happier, more adventurous adult.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Extra, Extra! Jack Goes to Sleep By Himself!

I have really exciting news:  Jack has gone to sleep by himself in his room for the past two weeks!!  Okay, so it may not make the evening news, but if you have a child you've been putting to sleep every night since he was born, you realize what a big deal this is.  Here's how it happened:

Since Jack was born, we have put him to sleep by rocking him and then as he got older, by sitting or lying down with him in his bed until he went to sleep.  When Jack was about eight months old, he realized we were indeed still in the house and accessible while he was asleep in his crib at night, and he began waking periodically to cry for us.  So, after several months of making many, MANY trips to his room during the night to put him back to sleep, I finally put him in bed with us.  I was exhausted and willing to do anything to get some sleep.  After some time of Jack's getting in our bed every night around midnight, we decided this was not a temporary setup and bought a king-sized bed.  It turns out, I (and Jack) actually sleep better with him in our bed, because I don't feel like I have to keep one ear open to hear him if he calls from his room.  I don't think Jason feels quite the same way, but he tolerates it.  Jack is now almost three, and we've all been fairly content with his sleeping in his bed the first part of the night and getting in with us after we go to bed.
After the holidays this year however, Jack went through a period of time where he was not sleeping well at all.  He woke up a lot after being put to sleep, even before Jason and I had gone to bed.  This seriously hampered our typical relaxing evening on the couch together.  He had a series of preschool induced colds, which contributed to his not sleeping well and thrashing around in the bed at night, which seriously hampered his parents' sleep in addition to his own.  And I'm sure all the holiday hubub and disruption to his routine didn't help either.  This lead us to start thinking maybe it was time to up the ante in our expectations for night time behavior.  Maybe if he went to sleep by himself, he would stay asleep better (as all the experts claim.)  I starting thinking about how independent Jack had become the past several months, going to school and doing so many things by himself.  I thought maybe he was ready to put himself to sleep without the transition being too traumatic.  So...
Step 1 - Preparation:
We started talking about it.  I mentioned to Jack how big he was getting and how he could do so many things by himself now - put on clothes, use the potty, etcetera.  Then I said, "Another thing you're ready to do is go to sleep in your room all by yourself!"  I really did it up, making it sound like an exciting rite of passage instead of something scary and difficult.  To my surprise, I got buy-in from Jack.  He grinned from ear-to-ear about the idea of being such a big boy.
We also set up a digital picture frame by Jack's bed.  He picked out the pictures he wanted on it - some of him as a baby, our family and his grandparents.  This, I figured, might distract him from the fact that he was alone in his room until he fell asleep.
I bought a book called All By Myself, which shows the character, Little Critter, doing all sorts of things by himself and ends with him putting himself to bed after his Dad reads him a story.  We read it several nights at bed time before...
Step 2 -  The big night:
We talked it up again like it was a really cool big deal Jack was going to go to sleep by himself.  I was careful not to say the word "try."  We just acted like that was what was for sure going to happen that night.  By the way, I picked a Wednesday night, because Jack goes to school Monday and Wednesday, and I wanted him not to have to go to school the next day, in case this new bedtime "excitement" caused him not to sleep as well at first.
We did our normal bedtime routine.  Then, I told Jack I'd cuddle and watch his pictures with him for five minutes (which I normally did) but then I was going to kiss him goodnight and leave the room.  When I left, I reassured him I'd be right outside his room in the computer room.  I also said I'd be back to check on him in five minutes.  He seemed a little nervous when we got to the part of my leaving, but he also seemed really comforted by the fact that I'd be back to check on him.
Step 3 -  Checking back:
When I checked on him at five minutes, he was a little weepy.  I kissed him again and told him he was doing really well and that I'd be back to see if he was asleep in ten minutes.  At ten minutes, we did a repeat, and I said I'd be back in fifteen minutes.  When I went back at fifteen, he was sound asleep.
Over the next few nights, we did the same thing.  Sometimes, Jack would get a little nervous or upset, but he was never all-out crying.  The first few nights it did take him a little longer to fall asleep than usual, but after that, he actually seemed to fall asleep faster than when one of us was in the room.
Step 4 - Reinforcement:
Jason and I praised him a lot for staying in his bed.  I told his grandparents and friends about it in front of Jack to reinforce what a great thing this was.  He was so proud of himself.  It only took four or five nights before he was smiling when I kissed him and left the room, and I could hear him talking happily to himself before he fell asleep.  I've started cutting down on the check-ins, too.  Pretty soon, I figure we'll be to the point where I don't have to check in at all.

Why write about this?  Well, part of it is, as Simon Cowell would say, "self-indulgent nonsense."  I am simply very proud of myself for coming up with something that worked.  Also, though, I did want to provide some ideas for anyone else motivated to get their child to go to sleep on their own.  There are, however, two things I want to point out.
Number one:  I think the biggest reason this worked for us was timing.  We recognized that Jack was ready, since he has been becoming more independent lately.  I don't think the same procedure would have necessarily worked six months ago.  Also, we picked at time we could be consistent about it and devote attention to it - not during the holidays when everything's a little nuts.
Number two:  Just because this worked for us, doesn't mean it will work for you.  For instance, while the digital picture frame calms and reassures Jack so he can go to sleep, it might actually keep another child awake.  Jack also likes his door open.  I think hearing us in the house is a comfort for him, while that may be a distraction for another child who would do better with a closed door.  I put together how we were going to do this with ideas from various sources:  another parent's blog, an article on the Dr. Sears website and, of course, my knowledge of Jack's personality.  There is no one-size-fits-all procedure for getting your child to do anything.
In conclusion, we are thrilled that this transition is going so smoothly.  I anticipate that we will be even happier about it when the new baby gets here in a few weeks.  Jack is still getting in our bed around midnight every night, and that is okay for now - one thing at a time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Judgement Day

A friend sent me the following article, asking for my take on it.  Read it, then read on:

First let me say, I wholeheartedly agree with the second to last paragraph, where she says, "My job is to do my best for my kids: to be the best mama I can be to them."  After all, isn't that what we're all trying to do?  Be the best parent we can, given our children and their unique personalities?  Create the best lives we can for our families, based on our given situations and the individual people, adults and children, within our families?
While, on the surface, the author says she's not here to judge people and talks a good game about people choosing to parent based on their individual circumstances, there seems to be some judgment underlying some of her statements.  Take this part, for example:

Natural birth is not something to “try for” and feel bad you couldn’t do. Our country needs to step up to the plate in educating women about the benefits of natural birth, and we need to help women actually do it – not just hear about it.

I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but here in Austin, Texas, you'd be hard pressed NOT to be educated about the benefits of natural child birth.  It was something I strove for with the birth of my first son.  I did ask for an epidural at some point in there, only I didn't feel bad about it at all.  Here's the deal:  natural child birth is a wonderful thing.  It's something women have been doing since the dawn of reproduction.  If you did it, congratulations, I am duly impressed.  But here's another angle on it:  If we have this wonderful little low-risk thing called an epidural that will make something excruciating become a lot less painful, WHY THE HELL SHOULDN'T I USE IT??  Am I less of a woman or mother because I used pain medication?  Would you recommend someone having a limb amputated use nothing but whiskey and a stick to bite down on for anesthetic?  I'm not saying there's no reason to strive for natural child birth.  After all, with no pain meds, you are at no risk for side effects from them.  I'm just saying, you shouldn't be castigated if you decide you'd like a little something while your lady bits are being stretched from the size of a pea to the size of a watermelon.  By the way, here's something else women have been doing naturally since the dawn of reproduction:  dying in child birth.  Birthing centers and home births are all well and good.  I think it's great when people have their babies at home, actually.  I can completely see why you'd want to have all the comforts of home while you go through labor and delivery, and in a normal birth with no complications there's no reason you couldn't do just that.  I'd just like people to realize that hospitals are not all bad, either.  If there's a problem with the mother or baby (mom starts bleeding and won't stop or baby is in distress) they can have that kid outta there in under two minutes.  I know emergency c-sections and hemmoraging are rare, but so are side effects from epidurals.
In a perfect world, there would be some way to have a baby and get the best of both midwifery and modern obstetrics.  I'd love to have this next baby in a place they didn't take my blood pressure every thirty minutes and bother me to death when all I want to do is sleep.  I'd love to have the home-like environment of a birthing center and the nurturing personality and openness to alternative treatment of a midwife.  But I'd also love to have all of the advantages of modern science close by in case of emergency, oh yeah, and that epidural, too.  
Look, I wore my son in a sling until he was so heavy, I thought my shoulder would cave in.  The kid still sleeps with us in our king-size bed and probably will until he decides to get out of his own accord.  I drove myself to the edge of insanity trying to breast-feed him when he was born.  I sat on the floor and cried like someone died when the lactation consultant told me I needed to give him formula.  I wasn't making enough milk, though, so what's the other choice?  Let him starve?  I do still believe "breast is best," but I think today's formula isn't far behind.  And I don't believe you are dooming your child to a life of allergies and below average test scores if you give him formula  (which, by the way, is what I was lead to believe in all the literature I read and in the breast feeding class I attended.)  My advice?  Breast feed if you can.  It's cheaper, and more convenient than formula, and, in almost all situations, the perfect nutrition for your baby.  But if you've tried your best and you just can't,don't condemn yourself as a horrible mother.
Before Jack was born, I envisioned myself as the original earth mother.  I'd wear my uncircumsised son in a sling, breast feed him on demand and spend every waking and sleeping moment in close bodily contact with him.  Some of that worked out, and some of it didn't.  Here is what I learned:  no matter what your parenting philosophy is, your child is going to be born with his own philosophy, and it may not jive with yours.  And, you may think you want one thing before your child is born and completely change your mind once you actually have the real live baby in your arms.  In the end, I think it's best not to put yourself in one parenting camp or the other, as Mayim Bialik intimates in her statement about not labeling a person as one type of parent or the other.  You are not evil if you let your child sleep in your bed or if you don't.  You are not scarring your child by holding him all the time, or by putting him in a swing so you can have a few moments without a kid attached to your body.  You've got to work out what's right for your family, and the hard part is ignoring those people and internet articles that may judge you, however, surreptitiously.   It's easy to feel threatened and let the parenting opinions and practices of others undermine your confidence in your own.
It may be even harder, though, not to judge others yourself.  Because, if there is no one right way to parent, how do you know you're doing it right?  If you convince yourself your way is the right way and everyone else is doing it wrong, then you can feel smug and self satisfied knowing your children are going to be smarter, more empathetic and more well-adjusted than everyone else's, and there's a lot of comfort in that.  But if you acknowledge that everyone else who parents differently than you may also be "doing it right,"  you open up the window for self doubt.
So, while I support the gist of Mayim's post - non-judgment, non-labeling acceptance, I think she may be subconsciously judging people, all the while saying she isn't.  I mean, what exactly am I supposed to take away from "I believe that natural childbirth is a right and a privilege."  That sort of insinuates it's inherently better than anything else.  Plus, I'm not sure I want to trust her judgment anyway.  I mean, who breast feeds their child until they're two-and-a-half??  That's just plain weird.  And what nut wants to sleep on the floor on a thin, lumpy futon mattress, sacrificing a decent night's sleep for years?  What kind of Hollywood, neo-hippie-with-more-money-than-sense is she?  Oh wait, I'm judging again... damn.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The End is Nigh

So I am now, officially today, thirty-four weeks pregnant, and I am beginning to feel certifiably crazy.  After we got the Christmas decorations put away Saturday, I shifted into high gear getting things ready for the baby.  I pulled out Jack's baby clothes and the cradle sheets and washed everything.  I got the changing table set up in the office.  I even toted the baby swing downstairs and now can't find a good place to put it.  I didn't think the nesting would hit me like it did last time, but oh, did it!  I was running around yesterday like the baby could come out at any minute and demand a diaper change, a clean onesie and a ride in the swing. 
I was also kind of cranky for some reason.  Maybe it's the acid reflux I get every time I bend over or eat anything larger than a grape.  Maybe it's having to pee every fifteen minutes.  Or maybe I am just tired of having an increasingly hard time getting around as my belly gets bigger and bigger.  Whatever the reason, I was pissy, and it didn't help when I discovered our dog had tracked mud all over the carpet I just vacuumed.  I almost burst a blood vessel in my head when that happened.  Said dog was shuttled outside quickly, before I lost control and beat her, and I re-vacuumed with a fury, muttering expletives under my breath the whole time.  Turns out, ironically, the vacuuming was a good physical outlet for my anger, and I felt tired and much better afterward.
I keep telling myself to enjoy these last weeks, when the baby is still inside and easy to care for.  Yes, I have turned into a class A clutz, but no one is waking me up in the middle of the night to eat or change a diaper, so I should appreciate that, right?  I mean, yes I almost cut my thumb off with a paring knife a week ago, and yes, I drop almost everything I pick up at least once, but there are good things about this kiddo still being in the womb.  I remember the post-partum period with Jack, and it's not all roses and earth-mother bonding with the baby.  It's feeling more tired than you ever have in your life, it's feeling blobby and out of shape, it's having sore, bleeding lady parts, and it's all in the face of having a new tiny being in your life who needs you to do everything for it, no matter the hour.  This time, I'll be doing it with a three-year-old as well, and that's why I keep telling myself not to get too antsy about getting this baby out of me. 
But I'm allowed to complain a little, right?  I mean, it's gotten to the point now where it's impossible for me to get physically comfortable and the smallest hiccup in life might send me into an emotional tailspin ending in fuming expletives (i.e., the dog/mud incident) or a waterfall of tears (i.e., last night when I was lying down with Jack putting him to bed and he did a nosedive into my face, bruising my nose and clacking my teeth together so hard it gave me a headache for the rest of the evening.)  And, all this is in the face of no wine and limited caffeine, so yeah, occasionally I feel sorry for myself.  I'm just trying to keep the complaining in check, because things are gonna go how things go, so I may as well enjoy the ride.  After all, this is the last time I'll be pregnant, and it is truly an amazing act of nature to grow and birth an entire human being.  So, when I'm not busy whining about my symptoms, I am pretty f-ing amazed at the miracle going on inside me.