February Around Here

It’s cold. It’s cold. It remains cold. We remain cooped up inside. Was there ever a time when it wasn’t cold? Will there ever be a time when it isn’t cold? Will this winter ever end? There comes a time every winter when the weight of it falls heavily on me and everything feels terrible. It’s good to know this about myself, and better to have a partner who recognizes it before I do. That doesn’t make things better, but it helps explain why they feel so hard.

I’m so busy, busier than I can remember being in a long time. I don’t even try to make plans, as canceling plans is already part of the to do list. The biggest thing to plan this month: 2.5 days in Champaign for an immersive professional development program, except that with childcare arrangements and travel, it’s more like 4 days away from home. So many things to figure out, so hard to trust that the details will fall into place.

The baby is enamored of the cat. His big brother loved her as well, but this mutual adoration never fails to warm my heart.

After years of driving all over the city in search of a decent haircut for the big kid, we settle on a salon in the neighborhood and couldn’t be happier. The stylist asks him his age. “I’m 4.” “Well, I’m 5!” The big kid laughs, relaxes, leaves with a small packet of Swedish Fish.

The baby is increasingly interested in food. My phone fills up with photos of him covered in various things as he figures out how to connect hand to face. He’s still not sold on avocado, but loves sweet potatoes, pickles, cucumbers, broccoli, salmon, and bread.

 

The big kid practices writing by copying out of books of poetry. He makes Valentines for his grandmothers with very little assistance from me, apart from me pre-printing HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. I’m immensely proud.

On a very cold day when we can’t possibly go outside, we all load up into the car and drive to the gym, the final frontier of my private life, and I walk on the track with the baby in the carrier while the big kid runs back and forth between his Papa and me, a full 20 minutes of uninterrupted running. Now every weekend he asks to go to the “racetrack”.

img_20190224_154814_548

Work is exhausting. The busyness is good, but there are many days when I come home completely drained, but with work to do as soon as the baby goes to sleep, which isn’t happening as easily these days as it did before. So many other things put off, balls dropped hard and deliberately.

The baby is six months old. I can’t believe it. I don’t know where the time is going, except that I do: it’s slipping by, like sand through glass, measured out in diaper changes and breastfeeding sessions, in small arms wrapped around my neck and open mouthed “kisses”, in late night wakings and bleary eyed early mornings with him asleep in my arms. So hard to wrap my head around the fact that all of this will pass so quickly, and will never come again, when it all still feels so fresh and new.

The big kid is a bundle of nervous energy as we prepare to go to Champaign. He doesn’t want us to go, and doesn’t want to go to his grandparents’ house, and conveys all of this to us with constant running around and wound up screaming. And then on the other side of the trip, he’s a mess of big emotions, ups and downs, inconsolable tears and so much screaming. I remember these rollercoasters from my childhood, and am once again humbled by the experience of parenting and being parented, remembering that it isn’t our job to avoid these situations but to help him weather these storms.

It is strange to be in Champaign and not see my Champaign people. The professional development stretches me in different ways than I expected. I sit up late one night reading Beck Tench’s writing and thinking intensely about presence. With the big kid off at his grandparents’, it’s almost like a honeymoon for our smaller family, though no one gets as much sleep as we might’ve hoped.

img_20190221_140038_034

We celebrate our first wedding anniversary the day after returning from the trip to Champaign. The weather is lousy, and the children are restless, and the service is terrible, and there’s no parking, and we return home stressed and exhausted, resolving to make plans for an actual date, to prioritize time away from the kids to the extent we’re able to make it happen. The big kid and I make a simple apple tart to celebrate.

The kids love each other – LOVE each other. One lights up at the sight of the other. This won’t always be the case, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.

February Reading

February Eating

Advertisements

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.

IMG-20190130-WA0005

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.

IMG-20190116-WA0004

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

 

Eve of 39

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Birthdays seem like a time when people confront their own mortality. I’ve had entirely too many opportunities to do this in the last year. I’m currently a week into wearing a monitor that will hopefully help us figure out what’s happening with my heart and/or pacemaker. Current best theories involve some combination of hormones, breastfeeding, exercise, and/or just no longer being pregnant bringing my heart rate below the threshold they observed nearly a year ago. I feel a little like a cyborg. The baby finds it extremely interesting.

IMG-20190109-WA0016

On the eve of my birthday, I like to reflect and set goals for the next year, if I haven’t done so already. Next year I’ll be 40. I’ve made myself an ambitious, mostly fun list. I’m trying to be intentional. Mostly I’m tired.

I’m tired because the baby has me up throughout the night, and when I try to relax into sleep, I often get paced. I’m tired because there aren’t enough hours between 4:45/5, when I get home from work, and 6/6:30, when the kids go to sleep – not enough time for snuggles and play, for making and eating and cleaning up dinner, for putting the milk in the fridge before the baby wants to nurse, for taking off my boots before the big kid wants to play a game of his making, for addressing these needs before kissing my husband. I’m tired because the cat needs to go to the vet, and the bottles need to be washed. I’m tired because I don’t know what I’m doing, but I wake up too early each morning to keep doing it.

And then on my walk to work, an orange rose in the snow – tired, but beautiful:

IMG_20190115_075326_133

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

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

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:

January

A bunch of mostly small things have happened in my world this month, and that is my excuse for why it is January 31 and I have yet to talk about my aspirations for the year, much less anything else. We were all ferociously sick for a few days, and then it was so cold that the kid was literally climbing the walls, and then I accidentally bought sickly-sweet strawberry fizzy water at the Polish grocery store because I was overwhelmed. I turned 38 and failed to obtain timely birthday ramen but did have this completely absurd taste adventure:

IMG_20180116_212304_857.jpg

We started rewatching Battlestar Galactica, and I’m afraid to say that all of the new TV we’ve tried pales in comparison. I finished a book and two podcast series that challenged me in pretty significant ways (that I hope to talk about here). Two important cats died (not ours – she’s as fat and funny as ever). A faculty member at my institution thought it was a good idea to invite a noted white nationalist to campus, so I attended my first organizing meeting. I made Ottolenghi’s sabih and read a lot of Frog and Toad. I got a standing desk.

I’ve made a tradition of sharing my resolutions in this space, and of posting semi-regular updates measuring my progress toward and/or commitment to these goals. This year it took quite a big longer than normal to settle on my hopes for the next year, in part due to moving pieces that hadn’t quite sorted themselves out. Many of the things on my list look more like intentions than easily measurable goals.

So, for me: acceptance and mindfulness. Reading more books.
For my family: focusing on connection and patience. Reducing consumption.
For my relationship: encouraging and listening. Making time for us.
For my loved ones: expressing pride and gratitude. Connecting with family, especially my  99 year old grandma.
For my work: reasonable expectations. Saying no.
For the world: center marginalized voices. Find sustainable ways to take action.

This week, here and there:

  • The Parents’ Guide to Affairs with Esther Perel – The Longest Shortest Time – holy cow, all the feels throughout this incredibly insightful and compassionate conversation about infidelity and the importance of choosing and defining the relationship you want, not just making the best of the relationship you find yourself in. (Despite the headline, this episode is not in favor of infidelity. I also think it could have been improved by eliminating the section on non-monogamy, but that’s a whole other topic.)
  • What Does it Mean to Die – The New Yorker – a fascinating and devastating article about one family’s struggle to challenge their daughter’s diagnosis as legally dead, and a deeper dive into how ‘death’ is and has been defined (and by whom).
  • How Carob Traumatized a Generation – The New Yorker – we were literally just talking about carob after a bulk foods PLU mix-up. Now I’m worried that we might traumatize our kid with our food choices.