December Around Here

We all have a cold from hell. I completely lose my voice for a couple of days, making meetings and child-scolding difficult.

I take the kids to an event at the campus art museum, wrapping the big kid in tulle and gold so that he could join the dance party. Everyone else was done after a single song, but he twirls and twirls in his finery.

After an exhausting morning, I put the baby down on his play mat for five minutes of hands’ free time. When I look up, he has rolled over from back to belly! Having accomplished this once, he loses all interest in rolling over.

Our Christmas tree is small but wonderful, decorated with two dragons, two kabouters, and one one-eyed mummy kitty.

The farmers’ markets move indoors, so we occasionally go to the big(ger) market at the Nature Museum in the winter. The volunteers at the Club Sprouts stand love the big kid, so he happily stays to make a craft or learn about compost while I do the shopping with the baby asleep on my chest. These are the good Saturday mornings.

After months and months of constant nagging for snacks, we give the big kid his own designated snack cup in the fridge stocked with things he picks out at the store. This is been a game-changer for managing his hunger and reducing our frustration.

A colleague gifts us with a wonderful quilt made from pieces from my great grandmother. It is more beautiful than I could have imagined.

I spend half an afternoon with a dear friend, walking and talking as the light turns golden over the nature sanctuary. My heart and soul are restored.

The washing machines break in our building, so, frustrated beyond belief, I drag a week’s worth of laundry to the laundromat. This becomes a highly anticipated part of my weekend – a couple of hours to drink coffee, listen to podcasts, and get things done without any small helpers, often with a bonus trip to the gym after.

I take the big kid to the holiday party at my work. I have made a point of avoiding these parties for the entire time I’ve worked there, but he is delighted by the idea of the party and is on his best behavior for days in order to be able to go, so I give in. He is absolutely delightful, and I just about explode with pride.

The baby makes SO MUCH NOISE. He is the chattiest baby ever. We don’t remember the big kid being this chatty – we mostly remember a guttural purring sort of noise.

I start knitting again, excited to make a cowl for my sister-in-law, who has taken up running. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, I sometimes squeeze in an hour or so of TV and knitting after the kids go to bed and while N is taking his evening walk.

We take the kids to the Christkindlmarket – so much easier without a stroller. We share hot chocolate and marzipan and cinnamon almonds and spend too much time looking at things for the big kid’s tastes. The Macy’s windows – forever Field’s to me – are lovely and entrancing, as is the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room. Sometimes it’s delightful to be a tourist in one’s own city.

The big kid struggles with the limits of our divided attention, and we struggle with the limits of his emotional maturity and willingness to listen. There’s more screaming in our house than our eardrums or our neighbors can really handle. It’s important to acknowledge these unvarnished part of a picture that otherwise seems rosy.

We celebrate 6 years together with a late lunch at a spot we visited on our first date, and announce our marriage now that the whole family knows about it.

As is the case when older siblings are involved, the baby obtains an unshakable and absolutely nonsensical nickname.

On Christmas Eve, we exchange our books. The big kid is delighted with his visual cookbook and suggests half a dozen things we can make.

We spend the holiday with my family in a giant pile of black watch-clad cousins. The day is a rush, despite the easy drive, and I arrive home feeling like I barely talked to anyone. I realize after bedtime that I didn’t take any photos with the baby on his first Christmas. Such is the case with second children, I suppose.

I swim laps for the first time in more than a year. It is exhausting and invigorating. I want more of this.

New Year’s Eve is a rush of a minimally successful dinner and harried bedtimes. We stay up late(r) watching The Expanse. I wake at 12:04 to fireworks.

December Eating

  • From Ottolenghi Simple:
    • Brunsli cookies with five spice powder, made for the work party
    • Pumpkin, saffron, and orange soup
    • Bulgur with tomato, eggplant, and lemon yogurt
    • Pumpkin with corn salsa and feta
  • Stoemp, comforting in the cold weather
  • Publican bread, picked up from our neighborhood bike shop
  • Congee in the Instant Pot with odds and ends from the fridge
  • Chana masala from Picture Cook
  • Sweet corn polenta with broccolini
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2018 in Meme

1. What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?
Spent 5 days in the hospital; received a medical implant; weaned.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t really make resolutions, but looking back on my goals for the year, I feel pretty good about what I managed to accomplish.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Not this year, though people close to me lost people close to them.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year, and minimal travel. Conference travel to Denver in February. Three overnight trips to Davenport to visit Grandma (February, March, May). An overnight trip to Madison in May with no kids!

6. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?
Steady good health for everyone close to me.

7. What date from 2018 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
February 23, when we got secret married.
March 18 and November 28, due to our medical calamities.
August 15-16, when our second son was born.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Growing and birthing another human; making peace – or progress toward peace – with my body after a traumatic birth experience on top of a traumatic health experience.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Being patient is an around-the-clock struggle for me, always. I’m never patient enough with the big kid. I hope he knows that I love him even when I’m IMPOSSIBLY annoyed with him.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I was generally healthy apart from two major things:
– In March, I had a still-unexplained heart issue resulting in a 5 day hospitalization, culminating with the placement of a pacemaker.
– In August, I was induced at 40 weeks 3 days after 2 false alarms. It took multiple attempts over a 24 hour period to get labor started, and I ended up with a c-section anyway because the baby got stuck. This turned out to be for the best as if I’d succeeded in pushing him out, my incision looks like it would have ruptured.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My pacemaker and our Instant Pot. I use the latter nearly every day and the former basically never.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I cannot say enough positive things about my cardiologist and my high risk OB. Both doctors – and their colleagues – made me feel like I was a part of the team, that I was participating in my care rather than just receiving care, and that my opinion mattered. Both were willing to be human with me, to express their fears and uncertainties. I am 100% confident that I was in the best hands, and that I received the best treatment, even if things didn’t go the way we hoped.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and rent and medical bills, though thankfully they were only a tiny fraction of what they could have been.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Salt Fat Acid Heat; making everything in the Instant Pot.

16. What song will always remind you of 2018?

Also we sang literally endless variations on Hoedje van papier to and about the baby.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. richer or poorer?
More money and tax deductions, but also more debt coming due.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Same as last year: sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Spending time in medical settings.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
For the first time in my 6.5 years on the job, I went to the office holiday party, mostly at the behest of the big kid, who wore suspenders and impressed everyone with his manners and social graces.

I worked Christmas Eve, then we opened our book gifts to each other:
Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat for me.
The Tangled Tree by David Quammen for N.
Picture Cook by Katie Shelly for the big kid
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp for the baby

We spent Christmas day in Rockford with my family. Our drive went remarkably smoothly, and the baby slept through most of the chaos, but woke up in time to take photos with my parents and the rest of the cousins. Our themed meal was finger foods/food on sticks. We made tofu and veggie kebabs and caprese salads on a stick. The big kid was sick, which was frustrating and sad, but it was a nice day nonetheless.

21. Did you fall in love in 2018?
With my baby and my Instant Pot.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Battlestar Galactica and The Good Place. I said this last year, and I’ll say it again: texting about TV with my pal Jimi makes just about any show better.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I don’t think so.

25. What was the best book you read?
For very different reasons:
Salt Fat Acid Heat – Samin Nosrat
To the River – Olivia Laing

Bonus! The worst book I read: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I can’t think of anything ground-shattering. I mostly listened to a bajillion podcasts.

27. What did you want and get?
A healthy, happy, wonderful baby

28. What did you want and not get?
An uncomplicated natural birth

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
I actually couldn’t tell you the last movie I watched. My spreadsheet stops in April, though I’m sure that can’t be accurate.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Blueberry pancakes and storytime at the MSI with L. Much needed haircut. I wanted ramen, but our first restaurant pick was unexpectedly closed, so ended up at Sunda, which was wonderful and featured an over-the-top patbingsu.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
‘Satisfying’ doesn’t really compute in the context of a physically and emotionally challenging year.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
January-April: secret pregnant
May-June: obviously pregnant
July-August: sweaty and enormously pregnant
September-December: breastfeeding and babywearing

33. What kept you sane?
Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I wouldn’t say that I fancy him, but Ashley and I had loads of funny conversations about Ronaldo.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Another terrible, terrible year.

36. Who did you miss?
Everyone

Previous years: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

November Around Here

The month is a blur.

I’ve been trying to journal. About every 4 days I remember and then have to go back and cover the days I’ve missed. This is probably good for remembering the big things, but terrible for the small moments, so:

– Taking the car to the shop and the baby to meet a friend for coffee. She thanks me for the baby snuggles; he has a dramatic blowout.

– I wake up on a weekend morning wanting to connect with the big kid because we get no time together anymore. I suggest that we make popcorn and watch our favorite show. He watches excitedly as I pop the corn on the stove, then we pick through a bowl of mostly duds together. The moment is perfect, even if the popcorn is not.

– The big kid declared that my 14 hole Doc Martens are my “fall shoes”. I like it.

– Waiting for election results, not quite able to breathe. Remembering so much hope 2 years ago, 10 years ago.

– The baby is so chatty, a whole range of sounds and expressions, most of them happy. I don’t remember this from last time. We take video whenever we can.

– I get to a good stopping point a few minutes early one Wednesday and head to Grounds of Being for a coffee on my way to therapy. N sends photos of the big kid playing in the leaves on the Quad. I pick up a coffee for him (and a tiny cup of almond milk for the big kid) and meet them to nurse, and then later to walk home together.

– An early morning haircut playdate, trying to juggle kids and coffee and adult conversation with a friend I don’t see often enough.

– The baby gets sick, and then enters a new developmental window, and then the four month sleep regression starts. It’s all still somehow easier than with the big kid. Is he really that much easier, or are we more prepared?

– The kids love each other so much. We don’t feel safe leaving them alone together for more than a couple of minutes because the big one is constantly on top of the little one and the little one couldn’t be happier.

– I take the baby to a spontaneous birthday dinner for a dear friend. It feels like every single person working at the restaurant cooed over him – and, for the first time, he doesn’t want to take a break to rest on my chest or my shoulder – he wants to take it all in.

– We opt out of travel on Thanksgiving day, and the big kid and I make dinner at home: portabella mushroom caps stuffed with mashed potatoes, a Brussels sprouts salad, a Swedish apple pie. We spend Black Friday with family, and take a walk in the woods while the baby sleeps.

– The baby outgrows things and we pass them on. A blessing of living in a small space is that we literally don’t have room for sentimental attachment to things. I will be very sad when he outgrows his sleep sacks, but there’s no reason to keep them – or anything else.

– I start going to the gym on the weekends. I try to push away any feelings of guilt for taking time that I need – because I need it. Each workout feels like a gift.

– I meet with a new-to-the-campus AVP in the office of the actual president. I am wearing my “fall shoes”. The meeting goes well, and when I leave, hundreds of starlings are swooping and dancing above the quad.

And then, at the end of the month, a scary health crisis leaves us all deeply rattled, the latest in a year that has already been too much. We’re all fine (apart from bad colds), but take a moment to hold your people close.

November Reading

November Eating

  • From Ottolenghi Simple:
    • Roasted beets with yogurt and preserved lemon
    • Brussels sprouts with garlic
    • Roasted asparagus with almonds, capers, and dill
  • From My New Roots:
    • Brussels sprouts slaw with apples and cranberries
    • Tempeh “triangles”, our old stand-by
    • Roasted parsnip soup, except with carrots, so not the recipe at all
    • Broccoli basil broth, thin but satisfying
  • Curried tomato gnocchi soup
  • Pad prik king with eggplant and tofu
  • Long-desired fish and chips from Pleasant House Pub, followed by cocktails and a trifle
  • Pumpkin macaroni and cheeze which was SO MUCH BETTER than expected
  • Potato leek soup – comforting, but unappetizing thanks to purple potatoes and soy milk
  • Chickpea veggie burgers which filled us up and stocked the freezer
  • Several curries with a massive amount of veggies leftover from a fancy work event
  • Spaghetti squash, lasagna-style
  • A passable cafe au lait thanks to my IKEA PRODUKT and milk warmed in a metal measuring cup directly on the burner

October Around Here

We got into a good routine. Up early with both kids, a game of mancala or a phonics lesson over the first cup of coffee. When it was time for the first nap, I would take the baby out for a walk while the big kid played piano or did math. In the afternoon, another walk before dinner. More home cooked meals than I thought possible. Bedtime less of a hassle now that the big kid’s afternoon nap was gone. The overnight still more sweet than frustrating.

And then I went back to work

And it was good in some ways, and challenging in others. First the baby didn’t like the bottle, and then we figured out a bottle that worked. Then the baby decided he didn’t want to take daytime naps, and then they sort of started working, but not always.

On my first day back at work, I also started therapy to help make sense of the grief and anxiety that have weighed me down since the baby’s difficult birth. I sought out therapy after my hospitalization back in March; it took this long – and a referral from a second provider – to actually be seen.

Babies are full of mystery, and every day is a work in progress. I have several weeks of paid and unpaid leave remaining that I will use up by taking Fridays off. This didn’t feel as good initially as taking several more weeks off with my little baby, but now that it’s been a few weeks, the three day weekends are providing to be essential: one day to catch up, one day to relax, one day to prepare for the coming week.

Speaking of which, it’s Sunday afternoon, and that means the Sunday reset: taking every stolen half hour to restock diapers, put away laundry, prepare ingredients for upcoming meals, coo at the baby, or convince the big kid to run another block.

October Reading

October Eating

This.

There’s nowhere I want to be but here.

Nothing I want to do but this.

Nothing I’ll ever do that could be more important than this.

I had no idea.

I don’t ever want to forget.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

September Around Here

We survived the first month with two kids. The baby continues to be easy. The big kid continues to be challenging. I imagine that at some point, these things will meet in the middle.

This month, the big kid turned 4. In past years, we’ve opted for a special outing rather than a party or gifts – this year he got the water bottle he wanted, and we celebrated by going to the Arboretum for “a nice troll hunt” and having pizza for dinner. This year, however, he seemed sad that we weren’t celebrating with others – when we finished making his birthday cupcakes (chocolate blueberry, his request), he asked who would be coming over to share them.

10 days ago, it was 90F when we went to a fall bonfire at the park that is effectively our back yard. We toasted marshmallows and swatted mosquitoes and bounced the baby and assured the big kid that his friend would be there soon – and then comforted him because he hadn’t understood that sharing birthday cupcakes with her meant that they were taking the remaining two cupcakes home.

In 10 days, I go back to work after 8 weeks at home. I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about this, as you might imagine. I’m devastated to be leaving my baby when he’s so small. I’m anxious about the adjustment period for everyone. I’m overwhelmed because if we’ve struggled to stay on top of all of the things with all of us home, how are we going to manage when I’m gone a third of the day? I’m not sure what to anticipate when I go back, workwise, since nearly 6 months have passed since my boss and I were both in the office. I’m worried about finding a balance between work, family, and home responsibilities while still making room for myself. For the last few weeks, I have intended to take some time to think about how I want to try to strike this balance, about my intentions as I return to work, about my expectations as I end my leave. Now, to make time for that.

I feel worn thin. I’ve had complications that have prevented me from exercising yet – and the new schedule means I don’t know when exercise will happen apart from a lot of walking – which is good, but not enough when exercise is the primary way I maintain my mental health. Like many women, I’m struggling with a Supreme Court hearing that is effectively gaslighting half of the population. I’m trying to find space to deal with trauma feelings from a difficult birth on top of existing trauma feelings from my heart crisis. I’m holding my babies close and hoping that we can do a good enough job of parenting them that they don’t grow up to reinforce the patriarchy.

September Reading:

September Eating:

Welcome to the Spinning World

Prologue
We knew that we wanted you, but then your brother turned 2, and then our country descended into madness, and it was some time before we could even consider bringing another person into this world. But against our exhaustion and uncertainty and inertia, you willed yourself into being.

Winter
My body told me you were with me weeks before tests would confirm it. In December, an ultrasound at 5 weeks, and there you were, a tiny bean, enough to share your news with our family. We learned the same day that you would have a new cousin in Holland.

We told your brother right away. I didn’t want to – I wanted to be sure you would stay – but he proved to be good at keeping surprises.

I was so tired, just bone tired, for weeks. I had strong aversions to foods and their smells – fish, raisins, and, horribly, coffee. Your brother and I brought home a terrible stomach bug from the holidays and took turns lying on the bathroom floor in absolute misery.

I set my intentions for the year on the eve of my birthday. In most years, I make a list of things to accomplish. This year’s list focused on doing less, turning inward, setting lower expectations for myself recognizing that one of the things that made adjusting to your brother so difficult was that we thought we would be the same people on the other side.

At the end of January, your brother weaned. It was simultaneously sad and easy – we were both ready, we just didn’t know it.

We settled on a girl’s name easily, but a boy’s name was harder. Your brother had a funny long name for you that was shortened to: Mr. Baby.

We started telling people when occasions presented themselves. It was SO FUN to share the news in person.

At the end of the first trimester, it was like a switch flipped. One day I felt terrible, the next, almost normal.

I went to Denver for work and walked cautiously through the dusting of snow, remembering how I’d almost fallen in Philadelphia at the same conference with your brother newly in my belly.

Spring
I went to Iowa to visit your great grandma and to help clear out her house. The news of you didn’t quite register, but she reminded me that it took seven pregnancies to get her four babies.

A few days later, I blacked out in a restaurant, hitting my head on a table, and ended up in the ER. That is a different story, but it’s yours too, as you were with me while the doctors tried to work out what was happening with my heart. They listened to your heart as well, strong and steady, and you were part of every decision. (Making choices that could mean life or death are hard enough when you’re only making them for yourself.) Your papa felt you move for the first time the day was admitted. The day we left the hospital, we saw you on the ultrasound: Nico.

I was switched to the high risk practice, and to a dream of a doctor who made me feel engaged and supported in our care.

Recovery from the pacemaker was hard. I felt fragile in ways I’d never experienced. I looked for therapy because I knew this wouldn’t be the last big change. I struggled with the physical restrictions, remembering how early I had had to stop running the last time, and resenting my body for not letting me do the things I felt I should be able to do.

Meanwhile you grew steadily, and when the weather suddenly turned at the end of April, the belly I had been hiding under drapey sweaters was obvious.

We canceled our travel plans and burned my vacation time with family outings closer to home. We went to Iowa for your great grandma’s 100th birthday. Your papa and I spent our first night together away from your brother, a relaxed trip to Madison where we walked and talked for hours.

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Summer
Your brother and I went to Rockford to see your cousins and grandparents. In the pool, you flipped around in my belly like a fish.

In nearly every way, this pregnancy felt different than the first. Some of that was your position – you were head down, unlike your brother, who stubbornly refused to flip. Some of that was just being older, in a different body than the 34 year old one that carried your brother.

I had imagined an active pregnancy, but it didn’t work out the way I hoped. Yoga and swimming were off the table initially due to surgery, and then I never got around to making them happen. I stopped running in May. With your brother, I biked into my seventh month; a colleague’s terrible accident struck that off the table. When my gym closed for the summer in June, I started walking everywhere.

You moved all the time, but especially when I had fruit or sweets. I was addicted to Chloe’s mango fruit pops. I would have one after your brother went to bed and then sit on the couch and marvel as my belly rocked from side to side. We didn’t take weekly belly photos; I made up for them with videos of you dancing.

The nesting urge hit early, so we were ready for you by mid July. Every Sunday night I felt sad as the number of weekends left as a family of 3 dwindled. Every weekend we stocked up “just in case”. For weeks, I closed out every work day with the expectation that I might not be there the next.

We rearranged our bedroom in August and moved your brother to his own bed. I cried myself to sleep as another chapter abruptly ended.

Weekly monitoring for a month. A trip to the birth center after I didn’t feel well. A trip to the birth center, bags in hand, after hours of contractions that went nowhere. More days of exhausting, disappointing contractions, of answering a hundred questions about when and why and how uncomfortable I must be.

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The End
We waited, expecting you any day. On your due date, your brother and I went to the beach. Two days later, after a day of big meetings and ongoing contractions, the doctor offered an induction.

The neighborhood is still at 5am. We took a Lyft to the hospital while your brother slept at home. And then we waited for a long, hungry grey day while the induction did very little for my body or spirit. Your papa went home for a few hours. I bounced on an exercise ball and ate lemon Italian ice.

At midnight, they gave my body a break – food and sleep – before round two, more horrible than the first. Labor came, then, hours of contractions moving you closer to our arms. As the sun rose, I fell into a rhythm of breathing through the pain, then floating away in the moments in between.

We were moved to a different room. My water broke not long after, and time went sideways. I worked through the pain for as long as I could, but then it was too much. As I labored down, I could feel you moving through my body like a sled through snow, leaving an impression of your absence.

It was time. I pushed with everything in me. But then it became clear that you had turned your head just enough that you weren’t coming out, and so my doctor asked how I would feel about another c section. I trusted her enough to say yes without question, but cried from pain, exhaustion, and disappointment as I was prepped for surgery.

You were born 36 hours after we arrived at the hospital, 40 weeks and 4 days after you willed yourself into being. Your birth was the easy part; putting me back together was difficult, as the doctors struggled to deal with my bleeding, scars, and pain. We hadn’t planned on any more babies, but the danger of your birth decided that for us once and for all.

But here you are, my last baby, my constant companion through a very strange year. Welcome to the spinning world. We’re so glad you’re here.