September Around Here

The month starts with a spontaneous trip to the Arboretum on a gray day. We’re members, but have barely visited this year because the baby couldn’t (wouldn’t) tolerate the car. Weather and naps mean that we can’t stay as long as we’d like, but it’s a lovely excursion while it lasts.

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At work, we shut down the intranet that I somehow came to manage nearly seven years ago. The shut-down was supposed to happen in mid-2016. We have a party to celebrate, and I bring a glazed vanilla cake from Simple Cake baked in my grandma’s Bundt pan.

My work isn’t typically tied to the cycles of the academic year, but this year I’ve volunteered for a number of things that keep me busy as the academic year arrives with a roar. I make exhaustive lists in my planner and on my whiteboard. Both are completely filled with text. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning. Deep breaths, and one foot in front of another until the end of October.

We implement Falafel Fridays. The falafel can be accompanied by an exciting veggie side, or by homemade hummus, or by anything we need to use up, or by whatever looks good at the grocery store. We can eat in or get take out or meet at one of several falafely restaurants near us (though regrettably not Beni Falafel – see you in November!). Anything to put at least one meal per week on autopilot.

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We work on making room in our budget, in part because we need to, and in part because we want to, and in part because we’re going to Belgium in two months and travel is always more expensive than anticipated. One week into this new focus on belt-tightening, we notice that our AC is making a strange noise. It stops working completely just in time for a brief but miserable heat wave. Fall is almost in sight, but not soon enough to postpone the repairs, particularly since we still can’t open most of our windows and the new windows, expected in August, still have no ETA. Sorry, landlord. Sorry, eating out budget, but we just can’t cook when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Another month with too much time spent on the road. At the beginning of the month, we drive out to Rockford to celebrate the a number of birthdays (my mom, two siblings, and the big kid) and take family photos with all of the siblings and their kids. A week later, I drive to Iowa to meet my mom and aunt at my grandparents’ house – one last visit to pick up furniture and odds and ends before the house goes on the market. It’s an exhausting out-and-back with an excessive amount of ice cream in the middle.

And then the following weekend, another trip to Rockford to celebrate the big kid’s birthday. His actual birthday is spent doing low-key fun things: pancakes and a special birthday balloon, a farmers’ market walk in the morning, then a run: five whole kilometers, one for every year. Pizza lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, his pick, then meeting his friend at the playground for cake (chocolate, with marshmallow frosting, both from Simple Cake – he requested chocolate with blueberries which I failed to deliver due to frosting miscalculations). A movie on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. More pizza and cake the next day with his cousins, and many hours of solo time with his grandparents. We can’t deliver much on the present front, but hopefully the happy memories will make up for it.

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September Reads

Also somehow I forgot to tell you that I read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy this summer, which I LOVED. Also The Egypt Game, for my book club, and Big Little Lies, just because.

September Eats

From the NYTimes:

August Around Here

The month starts on a high note: the baby takes his first steps when I’m at work, and then many more steps not long after. By the end of the month, he is confidently toddling all over everywhere, shaky eggs in hand.

In July, I told my therapist that I was struggling to make time to connect with the big kid. He suggests that putting it on the calendar would be a good start. And so I do, and on Saturday, we bike to the farmers’ market, then to get his hair cut, then to a new-to-us cafe for a brownie, coffee, and chess. It’s a lovely morning in a lovely weekend. In the afternoon, we walk to the campus art museum to take in a remarkable exhibit from Tara Donovan. The big kid comes home and draws pictures of the art to include in one of the near-daily letters to his grandparents.

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Then on Monday, early in the morning, the phone rings. My grandma has declined overnight. I nod in sort of comprehension, finish my breakfast, and unload the dishwasher before leaving for Iowa instead of for work. Grandma is tired, suffering, in and out. When she is present, she is herself. When she isn’t, she calls for help. Everyone looks as exhausted as they must feel: my parents, my aunt, my uncle, the neighbor. We take turns holding her hand, talking to her, listening to the care team, and going through things in her room. I stay until mid-afternoon, when I leave to drive the 3 hours back home in a daze.

Two days later, I am at Maggie Daley Park with the big kid, a visiting friend, her son, and her cousin. The big kid runs ahead into the cauldron-like play area. When we get there, he’s nowhere to be seen. If he hears us calling his name, he doesn’t respond. I run around, half frantic. The park is crowded and maze-like and not a familiar space for any of us. In the midst of this, my phone rings again. I know what the call will be, but I can’t take it because I can’t find my child. Moments later, my friend finds him – he had climbed up into a play structure, got scared, and couldn’t climb back down. I climb up, retrieve him, and hug him, crying and overwhelmed. We decide to get lunch. On our way down Randolph, the phone rings again, and in the middle of noon traffic in downtown Chicago, while the big kid is chattering away about lunch, I learn that my grandma has died. My friend stops in the middle of the street to hug me. We eat lunch – I couldn’t tell you what. I’m too frazzled to explain to the big kid what has happened.

The rest of the day – the week, even – is lost in a daze. A security guard at Whole Foods asks if I’m OK as I cry in the floral section. We take a bottle of wine to the Middle Eastern restaurant and drink a toast over our falafel and salads. I spend two days trying to organize my work life so that I can be out of the office unexpectedly.

Before we leave town, the kids and I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to buy the apples my grandparents grew – Lodi – so that we can turn them into applesauce, a gallon made at my parents’ and another half gallon made at home, the repetitive work of peeling, slicing, and stirring soothing aching hearts, albeit temporarily.

We spend two days at my parents’ house doing whatever we can to help or distract. I take the kids out to harvest beans from the garden, left neglected due to all of the back and forth from the previous week. The baby pulls up on the garden wall and takes a tumble, and I carry him inside covered head to toe in dirt, and happy as can be.

And then we drive to Iowa for the services, and spend a day feeling many things all at once, but mostly feeling exhausted to the bone and turned inside out.

At the end of that week, the baby turns 1. Our wonderful, silly, precious last baby. As with many second-borns, the milestones that were so enormous for the big kid feel slightly less so for the small one, or at least are more easily obscured, or maybe it’s just that everything is happening all at once this month. We celebrate with a beautiful birthday cake at my parents’, and then with a morning trip to the beach, cupcakes and favorite foods, and playtime in the park on his actual birthday. We adore you, little boy.

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And then the next day, we’re off to the northwest suburbs to spend the day celebrating the wedding of a dear friend who snuck off to the courthouse just like we did, opting for a relaxed celebration with a few friends and family months later. It is an idyllic day on the lake – good friends, good food, happy kids – and we feel honored to be included.

I go back to work after a week away, and I’m drowning. Just when I think I might be getting on top of my to do list, I come down with mastitis – I’m fine at noon, but starting to feel unwell at 3, and by 5pm I am in my bed sweating through a high fever. The rest of the week is lost in a fevered haze.

Finally, finally, things start to look up. I work the entire last week of the month, with no sick days or other calamities. We go to a housewarming party, where the big kid kicks off his shoes as if he’s at home. A new coffee chain opens in our neighborhood and we take full advantage of all of the free days and previews. The weather is perfect, and I’m able to go running.

Where did the month go? I don’t really know. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed.

August Reads

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August Eats

My heart wasn’t really in a cooking place this month, but fortunately, it’s high season at the farmers’ market, so we mostly worked with what was available:

  • Tomatoes:
  • Sweet corn, straight into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. The kernels steam on the cob, and you can shuck it at the table, using the husk as a handle.
  • Melon upon melon, including a delightful tasting at the farmers’ market of 5 varieties of cantaloupe, 4 watermelon, and 3 honeydew, all delicious.
  • Apples, prepared the way my grandma would: in pies and applesauce.

Also, the first of likely many cakes from Simple Cake – this time the milk and honey cake for the baby’s birthday, with blueberries for the guest of honor, and honey whipped cream for the rest of us.

 

May Around Here

Where did May go? Lost in the flurry of moving preparations, and then blacked out by the incredibly challenging move itself.

On the first day of the month, I chop my hair off, all of it, as short as it’s ever been. Of course on haircut day, my hair looks as good as it ever has.

Two trips to Rockford, both celebratory, though the baby cries most of the drive. A Frozen birthday party for a five year old. So many little girls in princess dresses. Bubbles and sidewalk chalk and the baby rolling around. And then my sister’s graduation from nursing school at the university – then a college – where I graduated 18 years ago. I just about burst with pride for her, colored with a shade of nostalgia for my own college experience. The arts center where the ceremony is held smells familiar, even after all of these years.

In the same week, the baby sits up on his own, pulls up to standing, and figures out crawling. All of a sudden, he’s into everything, making our small space feel even smaller, especially as the boxes pile up.

I am working on learning Dutch, albeit slowly. I do a few modules every day, often while pumping, and send Nicolas screenshots of the silly phrases Duolingo has me say. For example: “Pardon, ik ben een appel.”

We spend an evening at the Field Museum at their member night, well worth the ruined bedtime. The big kid gets a coooooooooool airbrushed seahorse tattoo that we’re sure will end in heartbreak with swimming lessons a few days later, but it hangs on much longer than we expect.

The baby starts playing peekaboo at the dinner table. It is excessively cute.

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Mother’s Day is delightful, despite a very early morning with the kids. I’m gifted solo time – a run, coffee and letters, solo grocery shopping – beautiful tulips, and a funny plant picked out by the big kid. We go to the zoo and have an early dinner and ice cream after the kids are in bed.

The baby is sick for a week, rashy and sleeping poorly. I alternate between trying not to worry and obsessively reading about measles.

The guys finally make it to chess club at the library. The big kid wins several of his games against kids twice his age. He’s gotten SO GOOD so quickly, handily defeating me and occasionally defeating his papa.

The baby is finally old enough – nine months, I can’t believe it – and the weather finally OK enough to go for a stroller run or two. He generally isn’t inclined to fall asleep, but he falls asleep at the point when I turn around to head home. This gives me hope for summer weekend runs – if summer ever arrives. I take both kids out one morning, and a tiny baby squirrel takes refuge under the stroller!

For yet another year, we do not do Bike the Drive, despite it being on my 40×40 list. (Perhaps I’ll give myself through my 40th year to finish?)

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But mostly, mostly, mostly we spend the month packing, trying to strike a balance between getting ready and staying sane in our small space. The move itself is challenging and awful and takes about four times as long as it should, but the kids hold up tremendously well under pressure, dramatically better than I do, and it does (or it will) eventually end.

May Reading

May Eating

  • Two impromptu meals at Le Pain Quotidien using the gift card we were given after our disastrous anniversary lunch:
    • A Mother’s Day late lunch/early dinner with wiggly kids and lots of bread
    • A lovely sidewalk patio dinner on a rare date night out without kids
  • Dinner with dear, dear friends at Habana Libre on the eve of our move

April Around Here

We book a babysitter and finally go out for that milestone birthday – fish and chips and a cocktail at a spot in our old neighborhood that, it turns out, is full of young families on a Friday night. We (I) ogle other people’s babies while missing ours, then take a walk past our old garden plot and our old apartment. I miss the life that we had there, and the golden light of early evening. We don’t often see that light these days.

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The big kid takes swimming lessons at the University pool. It’s well organized chaos, and I’m grateful that he’s hanging on someone else for a change.

I mark seven years on the job with a coconut donut. This is the longest I have worked anywhere.

We plan to visit my ancient grandmother for Easter, then change those plans at the last minute. Instead, we stay home, dye Easter eggs, and make a disastrous batch of matzo ball soup on a rainy weekend.

We find outrageously cheap flights to Belgium, a trip we were certain we couldn’t afford this year. Instead, we will spend 3 weeks there in the late fall, our flights entirely covered by travel points, with our housing nearly free as well. It’s all happening!

The baby still hasn’t figured out crawling; instead, he hops on his butt like a frog. It’s surprisingly effective.

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A bike trailer shows up on a neighborhood listserv for cheap, so at the end of my intentional spending Lent, I make an impulse buy. The same day, a strap on my bike helmet breaks. This is how it goes – one spontaneous purchase results in others, necessary or no. That was weeks ago, but weekend weather and plans have yet to allow us to go for a ride.

The big kid wins a prize at an Easter egg hunt – a basket full of candy on top of the candy he collected in the hunt. I hate feeling like the food police, but this candy is just awful, and I’m grateful that we already had a wonderful box of treats at home from the Zurenborg Paashaas, as it means the big kid is absolutely fine with sharing.

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I present at a conference that is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. The opening plenaries are engaging and challenging, and I feel grateful to be there. There will be no conference travel for me this year – or perhaps next – and while that’s fine, it’s also a little sad.

Mom comes in for a quick visit, arriving after work on a beautiful Friday night and leaving in an incoming snowstorm Saturday morning. Will this winter ever end? We just do the normal things – dinner at our favorite Thai place in the neighborhood, breakfast errands at the grocery store – but decide to scramble the routine a bit in order to try to win free pie for a year. The first 50 in line win – we are #53-57 due to folks cutting in line. Ah well, we still had pie.

There’s that saying about not crying over spilled milk – I have the most epic spill of my pumping career, but thankfully, I realllllly needed to pump, so I am more concerned about the carpet underneath the spill than the spill itself.

A few weeks after we made a list of all of the things that we want in a new place – a place pops up on the University marketplace site that checks all the boxes. It is as good in person as it seemed in the ad, so we throw caution to the wind and put in an application despite having 6 months left on our lease.

And so the rest of April is consumed with housing worries – will we get the place? Can we afford the place if we get it? Our application is approved – now, can we find a subletter? Will one of the many people who comes through to see our apartment decide to take it? Again, can we afford it? One thing after another, which will likely continue until we are settled in with a subletter secured.

But! In a month or so, we will move to the northwest corner of our neighborhood into a condo rented from an owner. We will have a dishwasher and laundry in unit. We will have windows that look out into trees. We will have central AC. It will be stressful until we get there, but we will get there.

April Reading

April Eating

January Around Here

We weather the polar vortex with cinnamon rolls and Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, congee and oatmeal, layers and blankets. Will this be the coldest winter of the baby’s life, or just one of many freak storms as climate change continues to shift the Overton Window of normal?

The baby cuts his first tooth at 5 months, 4 months earlier than big brother. I am more sad about missing out on months of toothless gummy grins than I am about the terrible bites – though there are many of those, particularly as tooth number 2 appears a week later.

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My device check-up is fine. and the device is recalibrated to lower the charge since I’m responding so well to it. In the following week, I’m aware of being paced several times, enough to feel concerned. I’m fitted with a monitor that I have to wear for 2 weeks of no swimming, no baths, no long showers, no sweat. The baby tries to rip it off on the second day. I couldn’t be happier to send it back. I’ll find out in a few weeks if they learned anything meaningful.

We try, again, to make room in our living space. Things are shuffled around; a small table is sold. It feels a little better – until the terrible cold snap, when we pull the couch (rather, the bed it contains) away from the windows, and everything feels overwhelming again.

The baby kicks and kicks and kicks and kicks and KICKS AND KICKS AND KICKS. His relentlessly busy feet are a source of joy.

I make a snack breakfast for myself one morning, prompting the big kid to request one for himself morning after morning. Some mornings it feels too fiddly for 6:30am; most mornings it feels soothing to adjust slices of apple, cucumber, and bread, a quartered egg, a few olives just so.

We bundle up and walk through the empty zoo on a perfectly sunny 9 degree day, peeling off and then reapplying layers as we duck into buildings to see the fennec fox, the giraffe, the tropical plants in the conservatory.

We struggle with big feelings, big needs, big frustrations. I reach the point that I reach in every winter where everything feels too hard, except that this year it feels like it came earlier than usual. I spend a weekish in a fog of discouragement.

For my birthday, brunch at The Gundis: olives and honeys and jams and cheeses and bread and borek and lentil soup and a tofu scramble and tiny cups of tea. Everything is perfect, including the sleeping baby on my chest. We walk around N’s old neighborhood, stopping for cappuccinos at Intelligentsia (free in return for filling out a satisfaction survey) and cupcakes at Molly’s. The management company treats us to a day without water for the second year in a row. Later that week, we leave the kids with a babysitter(!!) and have a wonderful dinner at Virtue and an adequate cocktail at Bibliophile. We need to do this more often than once in a blue moon.

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I take the kids out to my parents’ to celebrate my niece’s birthday – the same as mine. The big kid plays with his cousins while I try to convince the baby to nap in unfamiliar places. I’m so busy wrangling the baby while trying to be helpful that I miss moments of big feelings, and am heartbroken to recognize the ways that I let the big kid down when he needed me.

We watch videos with the baby of his cousin rolling over. A few hours later, the baby rolls over again. And again and again and again. Perhaps he needed inspiration? His cousin is also eating all kinds of food, and we talk about how neither of us feel ready for him to take that step, but the next day he is fascinated by us eating, so I offer him oatmeal, which he spits out like poison. He seems to like the idea of eating more than the actuality of it.

January 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

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.