Thursday, March 29, 2007

Addie and Elsa, Sittin' in a Tree


We're such anti-social loners, really.  I'm not a mom who is taking her kids on playdates or organizing play groups.  On my weekday off I typically just need to hang around the house with the girls, moving slowly, cleaning up, laying around some.  Or else dealing with errands--going to the post office, the doctor's office, the grocery store.  I'm not too interested in adding extra activities or appointments to our already busy life.  Our weekends always fly by, too.  Even when the calendar is not jam-packed, it feels as if we are constantly running around and doing or visiting or working.  Frequently, working.

That said, I've gotten some real satisfaction this week from seeing my girls interact with little ones.  We're all home today, and Nolie seems a little grumpier than usual.  Honestly?  I think she misses Scout! 

We're also watching Addie's friend Elsa today, which has been awesome.  Elsa is a little younger than Addie, and is such a sweet, sweet tinykins.  But she's also got her own mind, and is not too keen on Addie's bossin' her around.  I have been privy to some very interesting two-year-old conversations, and feel I have some new insights into how my child interacts with other children.  Some gems: 

"Elsa, you will play dress-up with me, now!"

"Mommy, I'm very interested in Elsa."

And, while Elsa napped, asking every five minutes, "Mommy?  When is Elsa going to wake up?  Can you go wake her up?"

Basically, Addie loves Elsa, and though Elsa is not always so sure she likes so much love and attention, they're getting along really well--hugging each other, sharing toys, running around and laughing like little nutballs.  And Nolie's having a good time watching it all.

So, I guess I'm seeing the benefit of the playdate, and how important it is that kids be around other kids.  And in fact, I'm more than happy to have Addie's little friends over any time.  I think I just don't want to leave the house myself. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nolie and Scout

Nolie's been staying with our friend Ashley this week because Miss Debbie is on vacation in Florida.  Ashley's daughter is named Scout, and she and Nolie have become best friends.  I didn't really think this was possible--they're little babies, and babies don't really play with each other, you know?  But the thing is, these two do play together, and are very interested in one another, and for the first time since I started leaving her in daycare, Nolie doesn't cry when I drop her off or pick her up.  She likes it at Ashley's.  She likes Scout.

So, a photo gallery of Scout and Nolie (Scout is a little older than Nolie, but Nolie is such a butterball she could probably swallow Scout in one bite):



Hitting the Track?

One of the most surprising things for me about parenting has been the difficulty I've had distinguishing between what is right for our family and what society's expectations for our family are:  where do the two sync up?  When should I diverge from others' expectations to follow my own instincts?  Have there been times I've regretted not listening to the advice of others?  I don't know if I naively imagined myself immune to such pressures, or if I just misgauged their strength.  But whenever I'm faced with parenting dilemmas or the tug-of-war called being a working mom, there are a whole bunch of voices arguing with one another in my head, and they aren't all mine.

We seem to be handling the whole two-kid thing better now than we were last fall.  Nolie's schedule is set, and the daycare-work routine is more manageable.  Don't get me wrong--there are still moments of chaos.  With the house being on the market, we're having to be vigilant about messes, and we are needing to leave the house at a moment's notice for showings.  And there are the persistent crises:  one of the kids being sick, a daycare provider on vacation or closed at the last minute, a cat horking on the floor while both kids are crying to be fed.  But for the most part, we've reached a pleasant sort of stasis where things don't feel quite so hard.

Perhaps that's why I'm thinking more about my career again.  I'm an admitted change-junkie; I like things to be different and new every so often or I get a little bored and wanderlusty.  My job has been so fulfilling because it's defined by constant change.  Every semester brings a new group of students; every academic year brings new projects and new challenges.  I'm a good fit at the institution where I work, and the people I work with have been incredibly supportive; I count most of them as friends, not just colleagues or acquaintances.  I realize how unusual and special that is. 

I'm also really grateful that as crazy as things get sometimes (especially at the beginning of the week), I'm in a job that is really simpatico with being a mom of two young ones.  I can frequently set my own schedule from semester to semester, and the hours are flexible, so if Addie or Nolie is sick, it's not a deal-breaker to be home with them.  There are some drawbacks, of course.  Because I work 1-2 days from home and the work is project-driven, it is often difficult for me to isolate my work life from my home life.  I "time bind," as my old therapist was fond of saying.  Also, because I work from home, it is easier for me to put work things off when the pressures of my family become great.  This is just part of having two small kids.  And it's really difficult for me to miss class, so Eric has had to miss his fair share of work so that I can go teach when the kids are sick or at home.

And still.  I have ambitions.  I'm thinking more and more seriously about what it might mean to seek out a tenure-track job, either at Mines or elsewhere.  My thinking is this:  I'm getting more and more involved in research projects and grant work, thanks to my generous and inclusive tenure-track colleagues.  I have an idea for a book-length project that I think could get published.  I'm doing committee work like there was no tomorrow, and I'm also involved in administrative work.  All that in addition to teaching a 3-2 load.  So what is there to lose by trying for a tenure-track job?

Well, a lot.  Say I make the play for a tenure-track position at Mines.  In order to be a viable candidate, I'll also need to apply elsewhere.  Given the job market, this could mean applying for jobs in Tennessee.  Arizona.  Washington.  Who knows?  And if I'm not hired at Mines, I can't go back to my old job.  I'm done, I think.  So it could mean we'd have to move.  This would be tough; Eric makes good money and likes his work, and I don't know if I would like my new career.  How do you weight these options?

Then, there's the pressures of the tenure-track.  Five years after you start, a committee of people who may know my work only tenuously will decide on my future.  Again, an opportunity to get ass-canned and have to start all over.  I'm also afraid of returning to the stresses of "publish or perish," which reminds me of trying to get my dissertation done, and in how disappointed I was in the final product.

All of this risk, and I'll probably have to work more, too.  A lot fewer Fridays at home with the kids.  I'll have to be stricter about my time, and will feel the need to justify the hours I'm reading and writing as work (I think for folks who aren't academics, reading and writing qualifies as leisure.  I constantly feel the need to explain that it is, indeed, work.  Is part of what I do for a living).

But these are probably unlikely scenarios.  I think Mines probably wants to keep me, and I want to stay there.  And I know a lot more than I did as a grad student, so writing and publishing academic work doesn't seem quite so daunting now.  Being tenure-track pays better, too, and means less teaching so that one has time to research and write.

What the real concern is, and what all these little not-me voices in my head are discussing, is whether it's right for me to make such a choice when it will mean less time with my kids. 

"When you're on your deathbed and you look back at your life, will you wish you worked more, or spent more time with your kids?" says one.

"In just five years, Nolie will be in kindergarten.  Can't you wait?" says another.

"I can't believe you're letting other people raise your kids."

"We put too much pressure on moms in the U.S.  All over the world, kids are raised by multiple people, and turn out fine."

"Do you want quantity or quality?  You can't have both."

"It's good for your kids to see you work, to see you passionate about what you do."

"What about you?  Won't you always regret not taking the next career step?"

"You can hardly handle what's on your plate now; what makes you think you could take on more?"

"You can't cut it on the tenure-track.  Better to stay where you are."

"You're just ambitious.  Don't be ambitious for ambition's sake."

"You can do this.  You can do this.  Why aren't you doing it?"


You get the picture.  It's like All in the Family up there, everyone talking over everyone else.  I don't know what I want to do.  I need to take some time, do some research, see if I fit into other programs out there, test out the waters at Mines more.  Figure out if I can give up the time I have with my kids, figure out if I can't.  Either way, I want to act with intention, and not just proceed because it's the status quo.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I've Got a Lot on My Mind, Goddammit

I do, but this post isn't about me.

I was trying to talk Addie into sitting on the potty before we went to the park today, and she slammed into the kitchen from the backyard, pantsless, throwing her hands up in the air and yelling, "No!  I don't have to go potty!  And I've got a lot on my mind, goddammit!"

I almost swallowed my pickle whole.

Let's be fair:  Eric and I are gutter mouths.  We've reigned it in some since the kids were born, but an expletive is about as likely to come out of our mouths as not.  And Addie has said "Goddammit" before.  It's my curse phrase of choice, and Eric says it, too.  So we're not that surprised to hear it, and though we're mildly discouraging her from saying it, we don't want to make too big a deal out of it, either.

But nobody, and I mean nobody, in our house says "I've got a lot on my mind."  We may feel that way, we may complain in similar terms, we may all be neurotic assholes.  But nobody is saying that particular phrase, with that particular emphasis, followed by appropriate expletive. 

Maybe Eric let Addie watch some inappriate t.v. while I was gone?  Maybe she heard it from a teacher?  Maybe she joined AA?  I have no idea.  But hearing this kind of thing come from my kid's mouth bowls me over.

Speaking of coming from a kid's mouth, Nolie's new tooth is a whopper, so we've got a new drooler on the rolls.  And she's starting to say some consonants (gaga and dada).  No mama yet, even though I'm clearly her favorite still (I explain this to myself in this way:  I'm so important to her that I don't need a name.  I just am.  All.  There.  Is.  Her own little Yahweh).  The last few days without me were good for her, though--I left her with the nice lady in the unchurch daycare today and she didn't freak out, and she seems to have bonded impressively with Eric.  So progress is being made.

Also, and most importantly of all, nobody is sick in our house.  Addie's ear infections cleared up, Nolie's bronchitis is gone, my sinus infection disappeared after my first full night of sleep in New York, and though Eric is snoring in bed beside me as I type this, he isn't officially sick, either.  Ah.  Sweet, sweet clear air passages.  Boogers begone.  Thanks to everyone for your endless kind wishes while we were going through the neverending bouts with viralbacterialfungalnastiness.

I think we're in for some good times, now.  Spring is here, things are blooming, school's almost out, everyone can breathe.  We're taking it easy, goddammit.

Back from Momcation

You know you're a mom of two little kids when you go away to a conference for work, and come back feeling like you've been on vacation.

Wednesday morning was a blur:  I had ten papers to finish grading, needed to dye my hair and pack, and had to take care of Nolie because her daycare provider was in the hospital with pneumonia.  Not to mention that I realized at about 10am that I hadn't made copies of the transparencies for my presentation, and that I had the wrong flight time in my head (I was actually leaving an hour earlier than I thought I was).

By some strange miracle, I finished the papers, picked up the copies, and made it to the airport by 1pm, in time to catch my flight.  I had no idea where the conference actually was in New York, but I had the address of the friends I'd be staying with, and guessed I'd figure out the rest when I got there.  Of course, I almost missed my own presentation because I thought it was on Saturday (it was on Friday), but other than that, everything went remarkably smoothly.  I walked my ass off all over Manhattan, came back with some great new ideas to try in the classroom, and feel relaxed and happy, having slept three full nights in a row (well, not last night.  I got in at 1am and the kids woke up all night.  But pretty good still).

What's weird is that this scenario is so unlike me.  I usually plan things down to the last detail, and seek out carefully controlled bursts of sponaneity from there.  Rarely am I so half-assed about everything--about a million things could have gone wrong, and it was by some sheer luck that they didn't.  The entire time I was scooting around on the subway, or trolling midtown trying to find the conference, or deciding at the last minute which presentations I would attend, I was practically giddy from the unplanned ridiculousness of it all.  I kept thinking, "Other people do this all the time!  This is what "rolling with the punches" actually means!" 

I know.  I'm so Laverne and Shirley.  But these are the things I was thinking.

Anyway, I'm home now, and am reflecting on the roller coaster of emotions of the last few days.  The thrill of being alone in New York, without kids and Eric.  The freedom to do whatever I pleased.  The rush of interacting with passionate intellectuals.  Feeling overwhelmed, on sensory overload by the sheer massiveness, speed, height, sounds of New York.  Missing Eric and the girls.  Feeling sad and relieved to return.  Dreading the coming work week.  Embracing it.

On the plane ride out, I sat next to this guy Steve, who claimed he frequently talked to spirits, "higher selves," who were channeling poetry, music, and messages through him and his daughter.  The guy talked my ear off for three hours about this stuff, and though I had some concerns about his sense of personal boundaries and compassion for us mere mortals, I was also sort of intrigued with his sense of the expansiveness of time and meaning.  "I'm a white guy in this life, you know?" he said.  "But I've been everything else in all the other ones.  I'm learning not to take the small stuff too seriously."

Well, yeah.  I guess that's right.  Maybe I learned a good lesson this weekend, about planning and spontaneity and safety and squeaking by on just good enough.  I suppose things could have easily enough gone another way.  But they didn't.  And I find that reassuring, a license to loosen up a little.  To let it roll.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Memo to Nolie

Dear Nolie,

You are wicked cute.  You have the roundest round face in the world, and I love it when you screech like a whacked-out bird from the Amazon.  I'm also excited that you have a new tooth, and that you want to walk so badly.  I'm happy to help you practice until you're strong enough to do it on your own.  You're my sweet, sweet, funny girl.

But, Nolie?  You are only seven months old.  And seven-month-olds need to nap during the day.  Pretending to be asleep for a half-hour in your crib while you're filling your diaper with stinky poops does not count.  It's really upsetting for us to have you act all tired and crabby--rubbing your eyes, whining, wanting to lay down--and then the minute we lay you in the crib, it's like PING!  Wide awake again.  So knock it off.

Don't get me wrong.  You're an awesome sleeper at night, and we're grateful for that.  But you also need to let go of your fear of missing something during the day, and just take your nap.

Also, I am not the only person in the world.  Other people, like your Dad and Miss Debbie, are allowed to hold you. 

Also, just because someone else looks at you funny, doesn't mean you have to freak out.  People will probably look at you your whole life, especially because you're so cute.  So you might want to relax and get used to it.

Also, you don't have to be carried constantly.  We have myriad bouncing, vibrating, rocking, and rolling baby seats for you to enjoy.  I'm not going to put you in one and then sneak away and never come back.  Plus, no offense, but you are heavy.  Have you been eating ball bearings when we're not looking?  Because it feels like you weigh about six hundred pounds.  So you're going to have to be put down occasionally, okay?

Finally, your bottle does not always have to be perfectly warm for you to drink it.  You can sometimes drink it even if it's gotten a little cool.  Maybe you don't have to be so picky all the time. 

Just some things for you to consider.



Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shit Monkeys

It's 11:30pm on Sunday night, and I really should be going to bed, but it's been such a weird, crazy week that I need to just list the weirdness so that it stops swirling around in my head and so that I can sleep.

I should preface this by saying that this was supposed to have been my so-called "Spring Break."  Students are off this week, and many of my friends were off taking fabulous vacations and road trips to sunny, warm, and child-free places.  I had planned to have a day off (no kids, no work), and didn't really get it.  So there is going to be some serious whininess here, and maybe a touch of envy and self-pity, too.  Enjoy.

First, there's the weird thing with this class-action lawsuit.  I still haven't totally wrapped my mind around the fact of it, but mostly I'm just wanting to be good support for Eric.  It doesn't actually change anything in our lives in practical terms, but it's a little like a monkey sitting on a high shelf in your dining room, grinning at you.  In one hand, it holds a fistful of shit.  In the other hand, a fistful of gold.  Will it throw one or the other at you?  Both?  Neither?  It doesn't do any good to predict, but it's still weird to have that smiling monkey sitting up there, anyway.

One of our dearest family members is going a second round with breast cancer.  (The shit monkey winds up...which handful will you get?).  I'd direct you to her amazing blog, but she deleted it (dammit), and she probably wouldn't have wanted a bunch of strangers reading it anyway.  In any case, we are struggling with being so far away from her geographically, and with wanting to be useful, and with not knowing how to do that very well.  So we can only offer our love, which feels pitiful in the face of the decisions she has to make.

Then, there's the fact that we can't seem to have one freaking day in this house where someone isn't dripping green boogers.  On top of the ear infections and bronchitis and sinus la-la-la everyone is having, there are other sucky inconveniences and freak-outs.  Like, you know how Addie is potty trained now?  Well, she's been doing these GIGANTIC poops.  Sorry if this grosses you out, but seriously?  They are enormous.  Eric and I are totally blown away by the heft of these things.  They literally clog the toilet, no kidding.  In fact, she did such a big one yesterday that there was blood in the toilet.  A lot of blood.

Which freaked me out, because for book club a few months back we read a short story about a three-year-old who has cancer, and his parents find out because there is blood in his diaper.  So of course my mind immediately went to that, and I wiggedy-wigged out and called the doctor who assured us it was just a tiny tear caused by the brick-sized poo, and encouraged us to feed Addie more fruit to loosen things up.  She already eats half the exports of Chile, I wanted to say, but whatever.  Thank God spring is here and the produce is getting better.  Hello, grapes.  Work your magic.

Then Nolie's caregiver called tonight to say she's in the hospital with pneumonia.  So now Eric and I have to both miss a crapload of work again this week, and I'm leaving for New York on Wednesday, and can't really spare the time.  I'm grateful we have jobs where we can do this and not get ass-canned, believe me.  But I did not need the added spice, you know?  And now I'm wondering if maybe Nolie doesn't have just bronchitis but also pneumonia?

Family-in-law lore contends that Eric is allergic to bees (there is some blurry story about him being bitten by one as a kid, and having trouble breathing, and being rushed to the e.r., though nobody remembers for sure if this happened, or if it happened to his brother Steve, actually.  I can't get any straight answers from these people.  Memories like sieves, all of them).  Yesterday, he got bit by a wasp and the welt on his arm looked like he'd been hit by a cricket paddle.  He downed three benadryl and then went into a benadryl haze.  You thought Eric was quiet before?  Whoa.  But at least there was no anaphylactic shock.

My brother got hit by a car a few days ago when he was out riding his bicycle.  He's fine, apparently, apart from some scrapes, bruises, and a nasty chipped tooth.  Hit and run.  And my parents neglected to call me, so when I call them today just to check in, they're like, "Oh, by the way, did you hear about the accident?  JB got hit by a car."  Um, no.  Didn't hear about the FREAKING ACCIDENT IN WHICH MY BROTHER WAS HIT BY A CAR.  Fill me in, people.  Use the long distance.

I just realized:  you know what this is?  A list of near-misses.  In fact, this is a list of things I should be grateful for, really, or at least that don't need to be labeled as terrible news yet.  The shit monkey let it fly, but he missed, for the most part.  Yeah, I'm bummed I'm not on a beach in Mexico.  But things could be worse.  And look:

The for sale sign is in our yard. 

I officially joined the unchurch today.

I get to go to New York on Wednesday (eat good food.  sleep in.  sleep in.  sleep in).

Not all bad, right?  Maybe even mostly good?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Potty Time!

Potty Time!

Addie has double ear infections again, Nolie has bronchitis, and Eric's got another sinus infection, but who cares?



Cue confetti.  Cue big band.  Cue newspaper headlines.

We've had almost one whole week of peeing and pooping in the potty.  She is only wearing a diaper at night, and I'm already giving the last stack of pull-ups the middle finger, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah dance. 

Oh, we've had a few little accidents here and there.  But for the most part?  Golden.  Beautiful, beautiful pee and poop in the potty.  We can leave the house with underwear on.  She isn't having accidents at school.  I put her in her room for her nap in the afternoon--prime pooping time--and she'll rattle the door open a few minutes later because she pooped in her little port-a-potty.  And didn't use it to fingerpaint all over the walls with.  Hallelujah, ring the bells. 

Addie will go on big people toilets, no problem.  But I'm finding using the little port-a-potties to be a good intermediate step.  For example, now that the weather's nicer, one of Addie's favorite things is to sit pants down on the front porch, on the potty, and yell and wave at people walking by.  Awesome.

And how's Nolie, you might ask.  Why don't you ever write about Nolie, you might ask.  Is she being neglected, ignored, shunned?  Nah.  No way.  She's great, and is the source of a lot of joy at the moment.  She is round, round, round, and laughs a lot.  More than anything, she loves other kids.  She wants to be touching Addie, or mouthing her, or pulling her hair at all times.  More than anything, Nolie wants to be up and walking and talking with the rest of us, and if she's ever pissed, it's at the inadequacies of her little baby body, which won't permit her to chase after Addie and slobber on her.

She does have bronchitis, though, and has had it for weeks now, apparently.  I took her to the doctor last month, but they said it was just a cold.  I took her back in today (they know us all by first names there, now) and it's bronchitis.  Why didn't I just take Nolie to the doc when I took Addie in on Monday, and found out she's probably going to need tubes in her ears if she keeps getting ear infections?  I don't know.  Denial, maybe.  Reached my limit, perhaps.  Foul, foul mutating germs.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should stop letting the kids lick the toilets.  Maybe I shouldn't let them play with cat poop anymore.  Maybe I shouldn't take them to eat at the Booger Shaq anymore.  I can just imagine what those doctors are thinking.  Oh, well.  We're just fortifying their immune systems, right?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Old Wounds

From 1997 and 2004, a man named Henry Reid was the director of the UCLA Willed Body Program.  The program accepted bodies from people who wanted their remains to benefit scientific and medical research.  During the years that he was at the helm of the program, however, Reid allegedly sold bodies and body parts to this guy named Ernest Nelson, who owned a company called Empire Anatomical Company.  Apparently Nelson then sold the bodies to other companies, like Johnson and Johnson, for products testing.  Stuff like that. 

Eric's first wife, Sandra, passed away from colon cancer in 1999.  I didn't know her, obviously.  But she is a part of our lives--always has been, and always will be--for whatever that's worth.  In fact, she's been a positive part.  When I first started dating Eric, I had a sort of Lifetime-made-for-tv-movie idea in my head about what it might be like to be married to a widower.  Would he put life-size portraits of her up all over the house, wailing and gnashing his teeth in front of them?  Would he spiral into despair and alcoholism?  Would I always feel like the other woman? 

But none of that happened.  Not even close.  We do have some of Sandra's things around the house--her art, for example, was often wickedly funny, making ironic and playful statements about sexuality and identity.  Sandra's sister was also an artist, and many of her prints decorate our walls here and in my office at work.  We have some small pictures of Sandra around the house, too, and some video shot of her during the year before she died.  Eric has been very willing to field my questions about Sandra, and has done a lot of work around healing from her illness and death.  He wrote an entire c.d. of songs about that experience that is a testament to the enormous pain he felt, and to his commitment to express and then, eventually and with time, move past it. 

I don't mean to gloss over the enormity of those events--the experience of her getting sick and dying will be with Eric always.  I just mean to say that Eric was able to incorporate his pain and grief such that it didn't become the defining experience of his life.  Of our lives.

From what I can tell, Sandra was a funny, smart, loving person.  She really liked chickens (we have a lot of stuffed, porcelain, and straw chickens.  I'm not sure why).  She liked art--Addie paints with her brushes and molds with her clay.  Sandra was also beautiful, and had a ginormous family who loved her immensely.  And she was progressive.  My understanding is that when she learned she was in fact going to die from cancer, she willed her body to UCLA for medical research.


And so now we are part of a class-action lawsuit.  Isn't that strange?  Life goes on around us.  The sun has come out in the last few days, and I felt positive bliss driving home from work today, my window down, my radio blaring.  We got sod laid in the backyard, and it's beautiful, and we can't wait to play with the kids out there.  We're still planning on selling the house, and we're exited about moving.  We smile, laugh, work, fight, and love each other still. 

But I can tell Eric is sad.  I can tell getting these letters from the lawyers in California is ripping open that wound that had finally begun to cauterize some.  Eric is an atheist, and says he doesn't believe in the soul.  So all he had at the end was the memory of Sandra's body, and the hope that her amazing generous act would have helped someone to get better or feel better.  And Henry Reid and Ernest Nelson messed that up.  These things matter, have matter.  Our bodies matter.  I guess Reid and Nelson didn't get it.  For that, I hope they are really, truly sorry.  I know we are.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Wish Star Wars Was Real

We had dinner last night at our friends' house.  They have two bigger kids--Juju, the elder, is nine, and her younger brother Nico is five.  They are incredibly bright and vivacious kids, and talk wisely and well about anything the adults are discussing. 

At one point, we were all sitting around the dinner table, and Juju--seemingly out of nowhere--said, "If I had one wish, I would wish for a world without corners, because this morning I stubbed my toe on the wall, then hit my elbow on the table, and..." on and on, providing a litany that only a nine-year-old could provide.  I then asked Nico if he had one wish, what would his be, and without hesitation, as if he'd been waiting for someone to ask that question his entire life, answered "I would wish that Star Wars was real!"

Both of our kids did totally great, too.  It was cloudy and cold and rainy, and they braved a little hike in the foothills, and Addie had a blast hanging out in the hot tub afterwards.  She used the potty the whole day with only one little accident.  And Nolie was her usual easy-going yumminess, falling asleep without a peep in Juju's room.  We were able to have adult conversations and just enjoy all the kids, without getting that stressy, pit-sweaty feeling you get when your kids are totally freaking out or exhausting or melting down at someone else's house.  It was lovely.

Addie didn't have a nap all day, though, so she was pretty tired by the time we got home.  I thought she'd sleep like a champ from the big day, but instead, she woke up whiny and crying several times, twitchy and coughing in her bed.  Her nose is all stuffed this morning, either from the hot tub or the rainy walk or just the persistence of toddler germs.  I think, too, that when kids go through big developmental stuff (like potty training) they also sometimes struggle with sleep at night, as they work through the changes.  Nolie's runny at the nose too, this morning.

And was my first thought to be worried about them?  No, that was my second thought.  My first thought was, "Crap!  I'm going to spend my one and only day off in the last seven months taking both kids to the doctor.  AGAIN."  If that's what I need to do, that's what I need to do.  But I'm going to be pissed about it, dammit.

So I'm hoping beyond hope that these kids wake up tomorrow well enough to go to school.  Because I have a hot date with my bathtub, and a stack of magazines (this makes it sound like porn.  But I just mean I want to take a bath and cuddle up with O magazine).  And maybe go to a movie.  Or sleep. 

Or take two whiny kids to the doctor.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

On the Poo Train Again

More toilet adventures today.

I decided on Thursday it was time to try big-girl underwear again with Addie.  As many of you know, I have a small, dark nugget of hatred in my soul for pull-ups, which get marketed to parents as the answer to potty training.  Teach your kid to pee without worrying about any of the accidents! they tell us.  Whatever.  WhatEVER.  If you had given me a couple of toothbrushes and a box of pull-ups, I could have single-handedly cleaned up the Exxon Valdez oil spill, those things are so absorbent.  In other words, Addie couldn't really tell when she was going pee in them, because they so effectively wicked moisture away from her bladder.

But Addie's nearing her third birthday, and we may also be moving soon.  Many preschools require your kid be potty trained before they accept her.  And, to be frank, I was just feeling like it was time to try again.  So we did.

She hit about 50% of the time Thursday, which I think was great.  I approached it this way:  even the accidents were good, because it helped her to figure out when she was peeing, at least.  The rest of the time, we were able to make it to the potty.  I also installed the little kid potties in the living room and in her room again, to give her the greatest chances for success.  Sometimes just changing things up can set the reset button enough to get things moving again.

Yesterday, Addie was in pull-ups again (I was at work and Eric had both kids at the zoo, and I don't blame him for not wanting to deal.  But it was a set-back.  She didn't go potty once).

Today, it was back to underwear only, and she has gone pee consistently on the potty, with only two little accidents.  More importantly, she pooped on the potty, which feels like a benediction from Christ himself.  "Here, my lamb," he says.  "I anoint you with a big, round turd in your kid-sized potty."  Sweet, sweet blessing.  A crapacle from heaven.

Anyway, I've been affirming and affirming that Addie is potty trained, and voila.  It's happening.  Oh, I know this is a sometimes rocky road--believe me, do I know.  But I feel like this time will stick.  I'm more relaxed, Eric's getting on board with the program, and most importantly, Addie is older and wiser.

It is going to mean Eric and I are going to have to be more on the ball, though.  I was sitting with Addie this morning while she was trying to poop on the potty when all of a sudden I had to go.  So I tag-teamed with Eric and ran to the downstairs bathroom, where I too late discovered we were out of toilet paper.  Addie's grunting and pushing upstairs, Nolie's screaming in the living room wanting to be picked up, and I'm stranded, yelling for Eric to bring me t.p. 

"I love living with three women," said Eric as he passed the t.p. through the door to me, at last.  Just wait till the girls get their periods, I was thinking, and you have to fetch them tampons.  You'll be yearning for these halcyon days where poops were a big deal.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Spirited Addie


I've been reading this book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka called Raising Your Spirited Child.  Honestly, I have no idea how I came by it, but I know we've had it since before Addie was born.  I think it appeared in one of the dozens of boxes of hand-me-down clothes and baby gear that (thank God) appeared upon our doorstep as soon as we got pregnant.

Anyway, if you know me, you know I'm kind of a sucker for whatever I'm reading at the moment.  So I may change my mind about this later.  But I'm pretty convinced that Addie is a textbook introverted "spirited child."

According to Kurcinka, a spirited child is a child just like other children, except she is "more":  more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and resistant to change.  Furthermore, argues Kurcinka, there are two types of spirited kids (and adults, for that matter).  There are extroverts, who get their energy from interaction with others, and there are introverts, who get their energy by having time to themselves or in focused activity (note here that extrovert and introvert do not refer to social skills.  Addie can be sociable but actually is introverted in that she gets her energy renewed through focused, individual activity rather than social interaction).

Anyway, Addie has many of the signs of the "spirited" introvert:  she has very deep, powerful reactions, and her emotions swing pretty wildly within short periods of time; she "locks in" deeply to ideas or activities and rarely takes no for an answer; she is very sensitive to noise, textures, smells, tastes, and other people's emotions; she is very perceptive and struggles with multiple directions; she adapts slowly, needing a set schedule; and she is "irregular" when it comes to feeding schedules and preferences or bodily eliminations (which may be why potty training has been so difficult).

Many of these things could be considered typical two-year-old stuff.  But taken together they make up a child who has "spirit," who is intense and focused, dramatic and precocious.  Kurcinka's goal is to get parents of spirited kids to use these types of words instead of "demanding," "obnoxious," "annoying," or "stubborn" (all of which I've used a million times to describe Addie, by the way).  She also suggests that paying attention to the way your child gets energy, and making sure she gets those refills in the way she needs, can head off a lot of challenging behavior.

Anyway, I'm thinking a lot about this.  I like the idea for a few reasons.  Addie can be deeply inflexible and difficult, and her emotions often seem far out of proportion to what is actually going on.  I've been caught up in the intensity of all this myself, and then worry that my child is going to be over-emotional the rest of her life, or that I might need to "toughen" her up, or that my own emotionality has somehow seeped into my child.  This book freely acknowledges that while "nurture" is extremely important, "nature" is, too.  In other words, kids come into this world with temperaments.  How you raise them can highlight or suppress parts of those temperaments, but there is a certain amount of formed material there that you've just got to work with.

The book also encourages a lot of creativity and patience on the part of parents, rather than frustration and internalizing.  If your kid (okay, my kid) has a total meltdown because there happens to be one small stem on the blueberry in her yogurt, you can make up a story about it or joke about it or do whatever you need to do to avoid the meltdown.  You're not coddling her by doing so; you're helping her manage the situation.  It also says stuff like it's okay for introverted spirits, for example, to recharge by watching t.v. now and then.  It allows them to go internal and recharge. 

It's important to underscore that "spirited" is not a negative label.  But defining it might help parents like us to focus on the positive parts of raising a kid like Addie, who is so intense and dramatic.  It might give us ideas for helping her work through her most dramatic feelings.  And it helps to remind us that these qualities are actually quite wonderful:  she is smart, very verbal, perceptive, artistic, interested, and unique (not to mention one of the most beautiful kids ever born).  And those are great things for a kid to be.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Note to self:  The twelve-hour work day is NOT a good day to test out the new all-natural deodorant that Nancy said worked just as well as the aluminum-filled stuff.


Classroom Notes


Notes from the classroom:  A humanist lost in an engineer's world.


Me:  "Okay.  So we've just finished watching two documentaries on global climate change.  One, An Inconvenient Truth, makes compelling claims that suggest global warming is an impending or ongoing crisis of severe proportions.  The other, Global Warming:  Hype or Hazard? suggests that, while we may all agree the climate is warming and that we are contributing to that warming, climatologists don't understand enough about the phenomena to support policies like Kyoto, and certainly don't know enough to call this a crisis.  What do you all think?"

Student:  "Clearly the Al Gore movie is just left-wing propaganda.  He's just trying to get elected."

Me:  "So, you think he's just making all that stuff up to get elected?"

Student:  "Pretty much."


If I have to grade one more paper on how the special effects in Star Wars or The Matrix were groundbreaking, I'm gonna hurl.


Me:  "I want to encourage everyone to refrain from using the terms 'mankind' and 'man' in your writing.  Terms like 'humankind' and 'human' reflect a more mature and inclusive understanding of history and identity."

Students:  General outrage, from the women especially.  "I know that when someone writes man, they mean me, too!  That's ridiculous!  Left-wing propaganda."

That semester, I graded ten final papers which went out of their way to refer to "mankind."


Me:  "So!  Let's discuss what you all think are the more pressing environmental issues of the day.  What matters to you?  What is important?  How do we figure out what's really going on with these issues, and what our own responsibilities as citizens of the world are?"

Student #1:  "I think a lot about water quality, and the availability of all people to get to water.  And droughts and stuff."

Student #2:  "Overpopulation.  What does it mean for our food sources?  For natural resources?  So many people are having tons of kids."

Student #3, after a long pause:  "I'm worried about gun control fanatics.  Where I come from [Idaho], there are people trying to tell me I can't carry my rifle in the front seat of my truck.  What's up with that?"


What's up with that, indeed.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Nothing but Highs


Do you do "highs" and "lows" at your house?  I read about it in a book once.  Everyone goes around the dinner table and says what their best moment of the day was (their "high") and talks also about a moment that was difficult or challenging in some way (their "low").  You don't have to use the words high and low, I suppose.  I think the point is just to have a real moment of sharing, to ritualize it in some way.  When the kids are old enough I'm going to see if they want to do this with me.

 My high for the day was crawling into bed with Addie tonight to read her books.  She has a big old queen-sized sleigh bed, with flannel sheets and a big cozy comforter.  We read books together, and then I turn out the lights and we just lay down for a while.  I used to have to go through a whole rigamarole of telling her a story and singing her a certain number of songs and talking about her day.  But she's outgrown that whole routine now, and so we just lay together and I let her ask whatever questions are on her mind or say whatever she feels like saying.

Tonight she asked me where color comes from.  I had a moment of panic because I had no idea what to say.  Even the most basic questions--if tinged with "science"--make me totally blank out (isn't it perfect I teach at a science/engineering university?).  But I recovered and said, "light."  Which is sort of right, isn't it?  Anyway, it worked.  We cuddled for a while, and then I kissed her and said I would leave soon so that she could go to sleep.

"Mama, when you're tired, just take one hand and stroke your hair like this.  Just stroke it."

"Is that what you do at naptime at school?" I asked.

"Yes."  She said.  "But only stroke it with one hand."

Please, no dirty jokes, you filthmongers.

I didn't have much of a "low" today, which was great.  Oh, I suppose having to get up five times for crying kids last night was a low, but I was barely conscious, so I'm not sure it counts.  Mostly, it was a lovely day.  And that's about the most you can ask from a Monday.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

crankus maximus


I was trying to explain to my friends Nancy and Tonya tonight the fits that Addie has been having lately.  "She's just challenging everything we say," I said.  "And when she doesn't get what she wants, or if she hasn't eaten or taken a nap, she has a major tantrum."

"She's acting cranky, huh?" asked Nancy.

Um, no.  Not cranky.  Cranky doesn't even come close.  On a scale of 1-10, cranky is like a 6.  Addie's at 11.  Full on Spinal Tap.  Weeping.  Screaming.  Uncontrollable sobbing.  "It's a complete dramatic episode," I said.

Mostly, I think this is fairly age appropriate.  Addie is figuring out how and when to assert herself, and we are also experimenting with how much freedom to give her.  Yes, you can wear your cowboy boots on the wrong feet all around Target.  If your feet start to hurt, we can change them.  No, you can't stab your crayon into Nolie's eye.  Yes, you can wear your jammies all day today.  No, you cannot have a third carton of yogurt.

"Yes!  I!  can!"

Actually no, you can't. 

Addie doesn't like to be contradicted (who does?) and this leads to frustration, and we're trying to teach her appropriate outlets for frustration, and the learning is slow.  For her and us.

Anyway, we're trying all the good stuff.  Diversion, giving her choices, loosening up.  But it's really tough.  We were all supposed to go to the grocery store today, for example.  Eric was upstairs with Addie trying to get her ready (which probably just meant getting a pull-up on that didn't weigh 72 pounds).  Nolie and I were downstairs waiting and waiting.  Things got very quiet, so we decided to come upstairs, only to find Eric lying on the bed, eyes closed, hand to forehead, and Addie in her room, playing with the door shut.

"What happened?" I asked. 

"I needed a time out," he said.

I'm glad Addie is spirited and willful.  I'm glad she has opinions and is expressing them.  But it is also totally exhausting much of the time.  I'll be glad when Crankus Maximus abdicates the throne.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Fragments, from the last twenty-four hours.


Addie woke up howling last night, which she hasn't done much of since recovering from her surgery.  It was my turn to get up and soothe her, so I went into her room and crawled into her bed.  "What's wrong, Addie?" I asked, smoothing her hair back, holding her hand.

"I miss Burley, mama."

I wasn't even sure she had noticed he was gone, really, so this answer took me by surprise.  We talked again about how Burley was in a happy new place, and how he was getting to go on walks every day, and how we should be glad that he had a nice new family.  We talked about how someday we might get another dog.

Addie was quiet for a few minutes, running her hand over my fingers.  She is getting more and more affectionate and loving all the time now, rubbing our backs and hugging and kissing us, telling us she loves us.


"Yes, Addie?"

"You have beautiful fingers."

"Addie.  Thank you.  So do you."

Why does this kill me so much?  Because it's proof that she sees me as separate from her, and yet she still feels so much like part of me?  Because I remember loving my own beautiful mom so much?  Because I'm proud of my sweet, sweet girl, and the innocence of this comment is too much?  It doesn't matter, I guess. 


We got the kids in the car this morning and headed out to look at neighborhoods we might want to move to once this house sells.  We explained to Addie that we were going to look at houses because soon we might be moving.  This wasn't the first time we've had a conversation about moving, but it was the first time we were actually going to check out neighborhoods, and the words "buying a new house" must have circulated one time too many.

The kids were real troopers about all the driving.  We were out for around two hours--Nolie slept most of the time, and Addie talked to us, or ate her snacks and looked out the window.  Finally, we felt like we'd had enough and started to head home. 

This led to incredible wails of protest from the backseat.  "I waaaaaant to liiiiiive in our neeeeeewwwww hooooouuuuuusee!!!!!!"  Let me tell you, when Addie has a fit, it is no small thing.  It is a screeching, throw the hands in the air, cry the eyes out, end of the world sort of drama.  It's something to behold.  I have to work some serious mama mojo to calm her down when these tantrums happen, breathing with her, or getting her to "count elephants" with me.  But even these things fail sometimes, and then we just have to leave her to work it out.  She'll usually come to us minutes later, beaming.  "Mama!  I'm not sad anymore!"

But this is a good example of the dozens of little failures of communication that happen between us and her throughout the day.  We are trying to explain more and more complex concepts to her (giving away Burley, moving to a new house, what it means to be "patient"--which I still don't understand, personally) and she is grasping them in her own ways.  It's just that her ways of grasping them and our ways don't always match up.   And this leads to much frustration for her.  I can empathize.


Can someone tell me why Target can't sell a decent bra?  Who is this Gilligan O'Malley, anyway? 

Addie and I headed to the "big red balls," as she calls Target, to get me some new undershirts and underwear.  Eric doesn't give one whistle what sort of underclothes I have on, but I was starting to get pretty sick of my cotton underwear from last year, all pilled and stretchy, so I decided to make the trek.  I also finally tossed my nursing and pregnancy bras and felt like I probably couldn't fit in my pre-having-kids bras because of the droopage factor, so off we went.

(Aside:  I hate buying bras.  I always have.  My parents like to tell the story of me going to buy my first training bra and wadding it up, throwing it in a corner, and sobbing, "It's little and stinky and I won't wear it!"  But I still feel like doing that.  I feel the same way about having to get my hair cut.  It is just one of those details in life that I would be happy never taking care of again.  I think this is because I'm really picky about what I like in these areas, and yet hate spending money on them).

We must have spent 45 minutes circling the underwear section there.  I kept muttering, "They have got to have a decent bra here.  There are thousands of bras here.  Why can't I find one I like?  What's wrong with this place?  What's wrong with me?"  And, really?  There were no bras there I liked.  Most of the padded ones were seriously padded--they seemed almost bullet-proof.  The unpadded ones provided no support for the droopy girls, or had weird cross-hatching that would show through a shirt, or cut weird and gave me hubba-dubba boob.  I was disgusted.  I left the changing room wanting to cry, and it was only by dint of an extended conversation with Addie about why the lady gave us a card with a "5" on it (to note how many items we took in) that I didn't totally sink into despair.

The good news is that I got home and dug out all my pre-pregnancy bras and, lo and behold, they fit after all.  So, I'm happy, my boobs are happy, and I don't have to deal with the trauma of bra shopping for another year.  At least.

Friday, March 2, 2007

B.E., A.E.

Eric and I decided one of our goals for this year would be to try to make or keep contact with old friends.  We've both lamented the fact that we've lost touch with friends from high school and college, people we loved, who kept us sane or freed us to be crazy, or who helped us discover ourselves, but whom we lost touch with because we moved so much, or were afraid of looking back.

Eric actually has friends he still talks to, or at least he knows where they are and what they're doing.  Me, on the other hand?  It was as if my life had been cleanly bifurcated:  on one side of the divide (life Before Eric, or B.E.) were all the people I knew in Idaho and L.A.--my friends and boyfriends and not-boyfriends, if you get my drift.  Then there are all the people I know now, After-Eric, A.E.,--my dear, dear soulmate friends and coworkers and students and a million little rings of people whom I enjoy and would like to know more. 

But it's more than just time and moves that has created this split.  I think I've also developed the sense that I was actually a different person before I met Eric.  Largely, in my mind, that was a person who made mistakes--someone who hurt people or over and over again fell for the wrong guys or spent too much money on credit cards.  I was depressed and lonely and a little desperate sometimes.  To say I was a late bloomer, in other words, might be an understatement.

Then I met Eric, and knew I wanted my life to be different.  Even though I know Eric loves me, loves me, loves me, there is a lot of shit he will not let me get away with, which has been truly good for me.  And also, I know he won't leave, and that has really helped me overcome my "daddy" issues, my trust issues with men.  So even though I still mess up sometimes with him and say or do the wrong thing, for the most part we have this relationship built on compromise, trust, and passion. 

Life A.E. also coincided with me moving to Colorado, getting another fresh start--this after things were starting to feel stale and sour in California--and with starting this job at Mines, which I really like.  Then we had the kids, and I had some therapy and started going to unchurch (which sounds like a "saved" narrative, but it's really not.  It's about finding more richness in life rather than any sort of salvation).  And now life feels pretty good, pretty safe without being staid.  I feel excited about where we are and where we're going.

Which is not how I feel about life B.E.  I feel a little queasy thinking about those times, and my memory of those high school and college years is oddly blurry, for how important they were.  I said and did stupid things (thank God Girls Gone Wild wasn't around back then).  I feel like I wasn't a good person--maybe I was even a bad person sometimes.  I don't know.  But that's the feeling I get when I think back.  And I know I would never do those things now.


This is not me.

Maybe I need to forgive myself for some of that.  I was a kid then, after all, trying out the world some, and messing up a lot of the time.  But that's not so weird, right?  And just because I did dumb stuff then doesn't make me any less good now.  My past shouldn't diminish me, my humiliation is not useful.  Right?  My pendulum just swung a little wider than other people's, maybe.  But not so wide as all that.

So I tried to do some repair work this week, to rebuild some of those bridges.  Which means I spent some time at Classmates and MySpace trying to track down old friends.  I was terrified sending some of those emails, worried that people wouldn't want to hear from me, or wouldn't write back and I wouldn't know why.  But people did write back--my very best friend from high school did, and a great friend from college--and I'm so excited and happy to hear from them, to hear about the amazing things they're doing.  It's been weirdly healing, like maybe the divide between B.E. Jen and A.E. Jen has been bridged somewhat. 

A good thing, writing down those goals.  And exciting to reconnect.