Week 3

I have found myself thinking a lot about my grandma over the last few weeks. She was born in the spring of 1918, during World War I and the Spanish flu. By the time she was my age, she had lived through the Great Depression, married a husband who soon went off to war, moved around a bunch of times, had seven pregnancies and four children, and settled into a comfortable middle class Midwestern life.

I mention this not to invoke the “Greatest Generation”, a construct that honors the sacrifice of a generation while ignoring its sins (for example, celebrating the liberation of concentration camps in Europe while whitewashing the camps created by our own government), but because as I have moved through the motions of preparing and caring for my family in the last few weeks, I have thought of her at odd moments.

On a very practical level – and she was a very practical person – I have thought of her while buying groceries and stocking my makeshift pantry in our storage locker. I have pictured the orderly shelves of canned goods, the basement freezer stocked with summer’s bounty, and the baskets and boxes of empty Mason jars, and have wondered what kind of future might call for literally gallons of mayonnaise, but also when, if ever, this scarcity mindset (and associated guilt) goes away.

I have read about the intergenerational aspects of trauma and poverty and wondered if this season will linger in my kids’ memory, protected as they have been against the worst of it, at least so far, or will this just be one of those half-remembered footnotes on the history of their childhood, the year that spring was canceled.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Week 2

This year, for some reason, I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. I don’t know why. I think at the time I felt like I was coming up on 40, and that I would make a list to go along with a milestone birthday. And then my birthday came and went, and I still hadn’t made a list, and so I decided I would just give myself another year to finish all the fun things I had set out for myself last year. And then life changed so dramatically that aspiring to finish that list became impractical, if not unimaginable.

So now what? We’re a quarter of the way through a year that has already felt like a decade – though I hear that for some, time feels like its speeding up rather than slowing down – but at a juncture where writing down anything beyond an intention for the day feels like an exercise in frustration.

We are far from the point when After might come into view, but despite that, I have started to make – not quite a list, perhaps more like notes for a more hopeful time:

  • Rainbow Cone, still on my bucket list, with my friends Alisa or Ashley or both.
  • Coffee made by someone other than me, consumed from a ceramic cup, preferably somewhere pleasant and outdoors.
  • Smelling other people, which, while not always pleasant, currently feels incredibly novel when it happens in passing.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

October Around Here

This month. This month! It was all too much, but much of the too much isn’t really for this space. Some illustrative vignettes:

Inspired by a friend’s dramatic debt reduction, I spend time poring over our spending to cut literally a few dollars here or there. That afternoon, I rearrange my schedule so that I can use a free pass for a fitness class. I arrive at the gym but have have forgotten the pass on my desk. I’m already there, so I pay $5 for a pass, waiting a long time for an entire sports team to enter the gym before they can process my payment. I rush to the class. The instructor doesn’t show up.

We documented a number of issues when we moved into our apartment. A contractor came by in July to measure windows for replacement – while seven need to be replaced, four must be replaced because they can’t be safely operated. The new windows are installed on a Tuesday. The contractor points out significant structural damage likely caused by roof issues and lousy tuckpointing. Four days later, we come home to find rain pouring through one of the windows that wasn’t replaced – not through the window itself, but between the frame and the wall. We report the problem to our landlord, who is predictably upset, having poured buckets of money into his previously low-maintenance rental property over the last few months. On Halloween, less than a week later, we have our first snow, which melts and drips through the frame of one of the new windows.

And so it goes all month, one thing after another, with us doing our best to keep our heads above the waves as we frantically tread water. Appliances stop working. Diapers leak. Everyone gets sick. I get mastitis again.

But despite all of this, projects and events I’ve been planning for months happen at work with minor issues. We almost completely avoid eating out, and so come in way under our food budget for the first time maybe ever. We wear #RedforEd and cheer on our city’s teachers as they strike for a better future. I run to the marathon course and tear up as the new world record holder blazes by. We paint pumpkins and soak up the last spectacular fall weather. The balls roll in the right direction, and time marches on.

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October Reads

October Eats

 

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

How to Help, Right Now.

Chicago has been under an excessive heat warning since Saturday. We tried to go for a walk for Father’s Day yesterday. After half an hour (and a second iced coffee), we had to call it quits to hide out in apartment for the rest of the day with the blinds drawn.

We have a window AC unit, but even with it running on high all day, it never got below 83F in our bedroom last night. I tucked our son in at 7:45. He tossed and turned from the heat until well after 11.

This morning I’m thinking of the children who will be sleeping in the “temporary tent shelter” in El Paso. It’s 75F there – cooler than Chicago – but the highs this week will be around 100F every day. How will those children sleep? How many of them will toss and cry for their parents – just from the heat?

Our son woke up at 6:30 and snuggled with me on the couch before asking for his breakfast. When I left for work, he was working on math problems on the couch with his papa.

He’ll be 4 in September. This is a hard age. Some days he’s sweet and helpful. Other days he’s a nightmare. Some days he’s both. Some hours he’s both. I’ve been reading a lot about how toxic masculinity starts to infect boys young. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but while making sense of them, I keep returning to a place of deep gratitude that our son is so closely bonded to us. That we can at least try to mitigate some of the societally-constructed bullshit because at least for now, he loves and trusts us and the other grown-ups in his life, and feels comfortable exuberantly demonstrating that love and trust.

So what happens to these children who have been taken from their parents? We know what happens because we’ve been doing it longer than we’ve been a country. We know what happens because we did it to generations of Native children. We know what happens because our country did it to generations of enslaved families. We don’t have to look to Nazi Germany, but we can look there as well.

But we also know because we have children of our own. Imagine the drama of the worst drop off at school or daycare or grandparents’ house – or even just an average level of departure-related drama. Nearly 4 year olds know drama. Now imagine this is happening with no opportunity to prepare your child. No helpful Daniel Tiger songs to mitigate the drama. No way of knowing if your child will be safe or fed or cared for. No idea when you’ll be reunited – if ever.

The harms are real, and they’re immediate, and they’re long-term. These are the sorts of things you never get over, never outgrow. Our country is breaking children. Our country is destroying families. And unless we, every one of us, takes action, we are as culpable as the agents at the border or the bureaucrats in Washington.

Here are some things you can do right now. Go do them. Right now.

Stray Thoughts on the Hospital and After

The hospital food was worlds better than expected. I would go so far as to say that it was decent for non-hospital food, and that was while ordering from the ‘cardiac diet’, which meant no full-fat anything. However, it’s hard to eat a strictly pescatarian diet in the hospital for multiple days, which is why I’m relieved again that I define my diet as vegetarian-mostly.

In his spare time, my cardiologist designs (or at least used to design) high-end men’s shirts. Mom thought that this level of attention to detail was a good thing in a cardiologist.

My nurses were mostly wonderful. I think it helped that I wasn’t the typical cardiology/ICU patient – I was generally self sufficient, except for when they needed to connect IVs or disconnect my machines, and by the third day, I was able to do at least the machine part on my own as well. My daytime nurse the last two days was delightfully bossy. I appreciate that in a caretaker.

I had to make my first after-hours call to the cardiologist after a particularly bad coughing spell (thanks, hospital cold, for infecting my entire family) resulted in new soreness/pain around my pacemaker “pocket”. The on-call fellow was very kind and patient – and surprised me by calling back half an hour later with the offer from my cardiologist to fit me in Monday morning for a quick check of my device. All is well, but I appreciated the reassurance, and the willingness to get me in right away.

That said, I also had a major crying jag after the coughing fit but before the reassuring call back from the cardiology fellow. The pain was secondary to the fear – not of something life-threatening happening, but of going to the hospital for something that seems minor and losing another week of my life. I’ve been told this will get better.

40 Months

I think we’re actually done nursing.

I said all along that I would follow his lead, that I would keep going as long as it worked for both of us. That turned out to be 40 months.

For a long time, he would wake up and ask for “mai” (which in the final weeks turned into “maik”), and we would shift out to the couch to nurse before or after breakfast. Sometimes he would nurse for 20 minutes, sometimes less than 2. Sometimes he would ask again during the day. Most of the time he wouldn’t.

For the last month, nursing has been uncomfortable for me. I pumped once over the holidays and barely expressed anything, so I knew that there wasn’t much left – it was more about comfort and connection than slaking the even slightest thirst. So when he asked for “maik”, I would often stall, telling him we could have some after breakfast. Many mornings, he would forget. Some mornings, he insisted, and we would stay in bed and nurse. Once in awhile, he was really upset. Most of the time, it was fine.

The last few times, we talked about how we could try, but if it hurt, we would have to stop right away. He said he didn’t want it to hurt. I said I didn’t want it to hurt either. So we would try, and it would hurt, and then we would stop.

It was the same story last Sunday, the 28th. He asked. We tried. It hurt. We stopped. He hasn’t asked since. And now I think we’re done.

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December 19, 2017