"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pizza Time

Ever since I stayed up way too late to watch a food network program about New York versus Chicago pizza this hungry mama has been craving pizza. P-I-Z-Z-A!!! It has become our go-to meal on Friday nights when we are too broken down by the week to prepare something complicated. Sometimes I put together my own pizza from store-bought crust, sauce and toppings, but more often I order delivery. One by one we’re trying every pizza place in our area. Our weekly taste test is another welcome chance for me to declare that California pizza just does not compare to East Coast.

One recent Friday the kids and I were too restless to wait around at home for delivery. We needed a change of scenery and I couldn’t bear herding us all to the park, our usual late-afternoon activity. I decided… gulp… that I would take all three kids out to eat pizza at a restaurant.

Here’s a blow by blow:

4:30 I call hubby to check to see if he is interested in eating out. Of course he is but he won’t be able to meet us until 6:30. Fine. I estimate that if I start getting everyone ready now, we likely won’t take our first bites of dinner until around then anyway. I click to a tivoed episode of computer-animated educational programming for the kids so I am free to nurse Baby without interruption before we leave for the restaurant.

4:55 The kids program ends and I begin marshalling Girlie and Toddler. Find your shoes. Where are your shoes? To Toddler: Let’s put on your shoes.

I smell something peculiar while putting on Toddler’s shoes... What is that?

In honor of the special occasion of going out for dinner Girlie insists on donning her favorite outfit. She ecstatically twirls around in her rainbow colored, peace-sign printed mesh skirt.

5:05 I hustle everyone out to the car and chase Toddler around it. He always wants to play with the old toys “stored” around the edges of the garage. I really need to move those. With a big ragged exhale I hoist him into the middle car seat and strap him in. Girlie goes into the pink flowered car seat next to him. Toddler starts crying, frustrated for the delay when I dart back inside for my purse, the diaper bag, and oh, Baby. I lug Baby over to the car in his bucket. He is just too big for that thing now.

5:15 We pull out of the garage.

5:30 We arrive at the pizza place!

The knowledge that I have loaded Toddler into the car with a poopy diaper now moves from my subconscious to my conscious mind. Good. Having to change Toddler’s diaper will eat up some time. I lay him down in the opened hatchback of the car. Girlie lies next to him. We pretend we are camping. Baby nods off to sleep.

5:40 We can’t stall any longer. We troop into the restaurant. It has quirky wall decorations that I hope will entertain the kids at some crucial juncture. The hostess greets us cheerfully. Stay positive, I bet she thinks, seeing a lone adult with three kids. “Hi!” Girlie and Toddler chime, their eyes wide.

From our table in a corner of the restaurant I spy over my shoulder furtively. A few super-organized families are quietly eating already. There’s a childless couple sitting three tables over from us. They have just ordered beers and are starting the weekend early. How lovely for them.

The kids and I buckle down on our coloring assignment. Toddler makes one scribble with a yellow crayon and is done. We both have trouble finding the scribble to show it to Girlie. She is momentarily entranced with her first game of connect-the-dot.

5:45 Our server introduces himself. He wears a beard and earrings. He can’t wait on us just yet but will be right back to answer questions we have about the menu. Questions? I have decided to order a pizza after briefly considering the a la cart options. Ordering a pizza instead of individual entrees will halve our bill. Pizza it is. I wonder how long it will take for them to make a whole pizza… I resist the temptation of insisting that the waiter take our order right away and try to relax. Try.

5:50 A hostess comes by and takes our drink orders. Lemonades all around. Of course she has the cups with lids for the kids.

5:54 The kids long ago stopped coloring, or playing with the crayons, I should say. Toddler then moved on to banging the small metal pail that held the crayons. Our lemonades arrive. Phew. Banging ceases for the moment.

5:55 Our server lopes back to our table. I give him our pizza order. How long will it take to make a pizza? Only 10 minutes? We shall see. I look at the clock: Hubby won’t be here for over half an hour. I force myself not to panic. Baby still is asleep. Toddler and Girlie still are upbeat, excited at the rare evening outing. They scope out the arriving families.

6:00 The hostess refills our lemonades, astutely understanding that drinking and playing with his straw are all that are keeping Toddler from escaping from his high chair in a Houdini maneuver.

The hostess returns and seats a family at the table right next to ours. Really? There’s a mom and dad and three girls, the youngest of which is a couple years older than Girlie. It seems like she is light years older than Girlie, who is having real difficulty sitting still. She didn’t nap today.

6:05 Our server comes by with – a basket of bread. He promises the pizza will be out any moment.

6:10 Our pizza arrives.

The sauce is fruity and thick. There is the requisite oil on the top of the cheese. The crust stands up but is not overly stiff.

My stomach gurgles but I select slices for Girlie and Toddler and begin carefully dissecting them.

“Pizza? Pizza!” Toddler is relieved to have the discrete project of eating.

“There’s your pizza!” I place it down in front of him triumphantly. He looks at me blankly. Apparently he has filled himself up on lemonade and bread. It can happen to the best of us.

6:15 I happily munch my pizza. Toddler and Girlie move around on their plates the tiny pieces I have sliced for them. Toddler resumes playing with his straw.

“Out! Out, Mama!” Toddler implores.

“But you haven’t eaten your pizza.” My voice lilts several notes higher in the middle of the word “pizza,” highlighting the incredible taste sensation awaiting Toddler when finally he takes a bite of his dinner.

Toddler nonchalantly picks up a piece.

6:20 I grab my second slice, half-knowing it will probably be my last. Girlie and Toddler are quickly popping and chomping their pizza bits now and likely will want seconds that they won’t finish.

Mmmm. I decide the sauce really is tasty. My grandma and mother made their own sauces so I fancy myself a connoisseur.

6:25 I assure the server that hubby still is on his way. I hope! As predicted, Girlie and Toddler hardly have touched their second slices of pizza. Genius that I am, I have split a single piece between the two of them, so hubby will have a full three pieces for himself.

We resume slurping lemonade.

6:30 Hubby arrives! He graciously insists that the scant three slices of pizza remaining are enough for him.

6:40 Hubby is finished with his pizza and we resolve to leave.

We squirm in our seats as our server takes his time cooing over Baby. He has a baby of his own at home and is smitten with the experience. I realize that the night’s success partly is due to his good management – and the bread. The bread saved us.

I squeeze my daughter’s shoulder on our way out of the restaurant. I’m proud of how she behaved. I’m proud of how I behaved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My essay featured in kidaround!

Check out my essay about our family's trip to a snow play area in the mountains last winter. It's featured in the November/December issue of kidaround, a culture magazine in my area. My essay is on page 7.

Thanks for all of your encouragement!!

Here's to taking the kids on adventures despite the near insurmountable logistical challenge of getting out the front door!

And here's to getting published! I was told I could expect a small payment for the essay. I'm excited because it will be the first contribution to my "laptop fund." I've made a promise to myself that I will only use writing proceeds to buy a laptop. It's great motivation to keep me stalking the computer at 5:00 am.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mind vs. Body

“It’s so cold in here tonight! Are you guys cold?”

There’s no answer from the upper-middle-aged women (and one man) lying on their sides doing leg circles in the rec center activities room.

“We have to finish these warm-up exercises so we can warm ourselves up already!”

From the bivouac of my yoga mat I had not noticed that the room is slightly chilly. I could be on a beach blanket.

I pulled out my yoga mat and block a couple days ago. After another tearful breakdown last week, hubby identified the source of my malaise: no exercise. I’ve of course been consumed with caring for Baby since he was born three months ago. Actually, I can’t say I’ve been consumed with Baby. I’ve been consumed with managing our new family dynamic; I’ve been frantically trying to adapt to how our newest member has changed our relationships, and most importantly, our schedules.

I’ve also been consumed with writing. (Can a person be consumed with more than one thing at once?) I can’t remember ever feeling as compelled to do something as I lately have felt compelled to write. I’ve been sneaking off to the computer during any spare moment, cramming words in like forkfuls of the decadent German chocolate cake I ordered for hubby’s birthday. It’s exciting that I finally am doing what I have dreamed of doing. It’s exciting that I finally feel compelled to write, like I guessed I would if I were to ever really “become a writer.” Childcare and writing – only – do not a happy Laura make, though.

Part of the problem is I’m not taking care of my body. People say I look fantastic. I’ve lost all my pregnancy weight, but I’m very weak. Both knees feel like they are about to give way. I have a condition called patella femoral syndrome. It may be due to too much diapering while kneeling on the floor - or poor anatomy. No matter. I desperately need to strengthen my leg muscles so I started a two-week trial membership at the rec center that is just about a mile from our house. There’s a yoga class on Monday and Wednesday nights and Pilates on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Just go,” hubby said when I questioned whether he could put all the kids down to bed himself.

At the end of my class I’m lying on my mat trying to think about nothing as my instructor spritzes the air with the scent of lavender.


Back in my car I feel better than I have in months, perhaps since before my pregnancy. I feel refreshingly light-headed. My yoga breathing has brought new air into my body. I am filled with “breath.”

I took a hiatus from writing last weekend. An essay I wrote was selected to be published on a website, but once I was notified I no longer felt confident that I was ready for the piece to be publically consumed. I had used a real event involving myself and another person as a device for communicating my message and realized that I did not feel comfortable with how the other person would interpret the essay. After talking with the person and considering the situation for several days I realized that the piece didn’t need to include the event in question. I had included it by way of shorthand. For a quick emotional impact. Through better crafting, I could have communicated my message without including it.

I had lost perspective. Why am I writing anyway? I only mean to write things which ultimately may be helpful to someone. I do not mean for my writing to be a cheap form of psychotherapy.

I have struggled with the idea that writing is too passive of an occupation. That’s partly why I didn’t go into journalism or magazine writing when I graduated from college. I wanted to do real things in the real world. Help people.

I’m going to continue thinking about how I should be using this precious time of my kids’ young childhood, of my young motherhood and wifehood, of my mid-thirties. Should I be using this time to write? If so, what?

In the meantime, I’m working out. I need a breath of fresh air.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lessons at the Water Table

“Get your boats ready! Does everyone have their boats?” A mom has commandeered the water table. Her long straggly blonde hair and brown corduroy skirt flap in the morning breeze.

“Boat!” Toddler shouts, scrambling around to where the mom is handing out pieces of playground bark. The cement water table is in the shape of a mountain. A twist of a knob on the side releases a bubble of water through the top. Channels guide the water around and down the mountain, alternately into pools and over precipices.

“Here’s a nice one” the mom says bending down and offering Toddler a piece of bark. He grabs it, pulling it in to his chest.

The mom points to where a piece of bark is stuck in an eddy near the top of the mountain. “See? This other’s one’s too long. It’s gotten stuck.”

“Stuck!” Toddler repeats, crestfallen.

The children watch transfixed as the mom dislodges the troubling piece of bark sending it lobbing down the mountain buoyed by the current.

Despite its appealing shape and the opportunity to get refreshingly wet from the overflow of water, the water table doesn’t usually hold kids’ attention long. It’s an activity requiring parent involvement. Anxious to promote conservation the parks department engineered the faucet so that it must be held down to keep water flowing. The average preschooler isn’t strong enough to hold it down for long. The average parent isn't patient enough.

Today children are drawn to the table like magnets though. The loud blonde mom is holding down the knob ensuring a continued flow of water down the table. She has violated the normal rule of instructing only her own toddler. She has taken it upon herself to give any child within earshot a lesson in boating.

“Ready with your boats? Okay! On your marks, get set, go!” The children release their boats near the top of the mountain with anticipation. At first their eyes are glued to their individual boats, but they soon begin to experiment. They watch the fate of other children’s boats. Some are trying to make rocks float – to no avail.

Sand accumulated into a pile stops the course of Toddler’s boat.

“Leaf!” he demands. Has he figured out that a leaf might not have gotten stuck like a piece of bark? I grab him a leaf. We used leaves as boats once before at the water table. (I didn’t have the presence of mind to call them “boats,” though.) Other children quickly notice the leaf boat and begin testing the floating properties of leaves themselves.

At first, we playground moms had deferred to the blonde woman who was managing the activity. We enjoyed watching our kids enjoying themselves. We contentedly nursed our Starbucks, glad to be relieved of the burden of parenting for a moment.

Then our best parent selves took over. We began testing boats alongside our kids and soon everyone was wet, talking with each other and the children. Previously all strangers, we became community.

The children eventually disperse. It has become hot in the noonday sun and they instinctively have drifted toward the canopied playground structure. I spy the blonde mom there.

“You must be a teacher.” I mean to compliment her.

“Nope. Just too much coffee this morning.” She grins.

“Come on Caden! Let’s check out the tunnel!” Her son, toddling a bit aimlessly now, trots over to his mom. She excitedly leads him off to the next adventure.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are Smartphones Making Us Dumb?

I started this blog entry two weeks ago but didn’t post it. I was worried it wasn’t quite fully articulated. I was worried some readers might construe it as a condemnation. (By the way, I have more than five “followers.” Thanks, you guys, for all your feedback and encouragement.)

When I heard a teaser for a story on NPR yesterday on how receiving e-mails by phone produces anxiety – similar to my topic in this post – I punched the air in frustration. They scooped me! I can’t find a link to the story on their site. Did anyone else hear the piece? This blog entry is a little different from my original. Maybe I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t heard the NPR teaser. Maybe NPR gave me the validation I needed to hit "publish." I'm finding that blogging is a balance of the ideas and the writing. This entry isn't perfect but at least it's out there. I have limited writing time and if I set something aside because it needs more work it could be weeks until I get back to it. During that space of time I lose the thread of the idea. I have moved on to something else.

In the future perhaps this entry would be an “op ed” piece somewhere. I’ve gotten bitten by the freelance bug and recently finished my second article for my local online newspaper. That article is here. The prior one is here. It’s an unpaid gig, but great practice in writing for an audience. Until I get my act together to pitch my stories to paying media outlets, you can find my good ideas on this blog. This is where I’m practicing.

Anyways, here’s the post:

I am at the beck and call of enough people and too many things, which, I have decided will not include e-mail, as much as I do love it. I just a got new phone: the fancy kind. I can access the internet from it (for free for one month) and, niftily, check my email. That’s what I wanted to do, check my e-mail, not have my e-mail check me.

I caught myself grabbing my new phone waiting in the car as my husband got money from the ATM for our date on Saturday. What was I doing? Did I need a device to occupy my every idle minute? I put my phone back in my purse. No. I decided then and there that I’m not going let the phone fragment my quickly deteriorating ability to focus on something or, in this instance, my ability not to focus on something.

There were hours and hours of my childhood when I wasn’t doing anything. These do-nothing moments were when and how my young mind grew. I appreciated the cool of the shade in a covered picnic area at a park with my mom on a hot and humid day. Sitting on the porch after dinner I was available to chat with a neighbor passing by on a walk. When I was in college the radio in my car didn’t work. People wondered how the silence didn’t drive me nuts, but I looked forward to the two hours it took to drive home to see my parents. I composed essays during those drives. I thought through nuances of relationships. I made plans for myself, for my week, my year, my career, my life. Are our new devices preventing us from thinking? Just as troublesome, are our new devices preventing us from relaxing and being truly present in our lives?

I was at the library several times this week with Toddler (and Baby, asleep in the stroller) while Girlie was attending a preschool camp in the building next door. Toddler has been entranced with the library’s new train table. I’m so excited that he has found something to hold his interest. I now may be freed up to do something else nearby while he plays trains. Perhaps I should check the library catalog for a book to place on hold for myself, or, even better, I should find a book and start reading it. But last week, when Toddler came up to me presenting the incredible spiffyness of yet another steam engine, I feigned interest as I looked up from yes, my phone. Ugh. The fact that another mom was checking hers too did not make it okay.

Before the new phone I would have been sitting there vegging out while Toddler played. Actually I partly would have been watching his play and partly people watching. Maybe browsing some titles on the parenting shelf. A little parenting technique I love is to watch my child until he looks up at me from his play. We make eye contact and I give him a silent nod of encouragement. Maybe we share a quick smile then both go back to our separate pursuits. Pouring my face into my phone the day Toddler discovered the new train table I was missing out on moments of actual human connection.

So I decided to turn off the feature that alerts me whenever I get a new e-mail. I contemplated returning the phone and going back to my old one. But I’ve finally figured out that I can still check my e-mail by bringing up my yahoo account on the internet. Now that my daughter’s preschool sometimes sends important messages via e-mail, now that my friends are more inclined to e-mail than pick up the phone, now that I’m writing articles and needing to grab information when I have a few spare moments, now that I’m “working,” I’ll probably pay the ten extra bucks per month to keep internet access on my phone. With the e-mail alert feature turned off at least my spare moments won’t be interrupted by that important-sounding chime. I have space to think and be. For now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Wind Change

It’s been too long since I last blogged. I’ve wanted to try to post at a rate of every week to ten days, but I’ve fallen behind now that writing time has become even more precious with three little ones to watch instead of two. My big writing project in July was reporting and publishing my first newspaper article in 15 years! I only was able to do it because hubby watched the two older kids for me during the event that I covered and my mom watched Baby. She left town this morning with my dad after a visit of nearly six weeks.

Mom quickly settled into a routine here: She arrived by 8 am, helped me take the kids out for a morning outing, helped with lunch, and supervised during the afternoon so I could sleep or run errands while Toddler napped. Mom tried to leave by around 5:30 each day, after I had prepared dinner but before hubby came home and we sat down to eat. She and dad stayed at a hotel nearby and ate dinner out each night. Mom thought the time apart was essential to prevent all of us from getting sick of each other before the six weeks were up. She also wanted us to have private family time in the evening during the important rituals of dinner, bath, books, and bed. She knew we needed to adjust to our new dynamic.

To Girlie, my mom is “Nanny,” (the pet name I have for my mom’s mother too) and she certainly has lived up to the dictionary definition of that word during this transition time. She ran after Toddler at the park and was more careful to minimize knocks to his head than even I. She managed his persistent diaper rash. She played Barbies with Girlie in the afternoon. She braided Girlie’s hair. But Nanny’s chief role was baby whisperer. I noticed Baby markedly relaxed in her arms this week. He had become comfortable with this woman, master at inducing his sleep. She brought to bear every pertinent mothering skill except breastfeeding. That stressful function was reserved for me.

Fittingly, the movie “Mary Poppins” has been the soundtrack of my parents’ visit. I really can’t blame Girlie for her recent obsession, as I too find “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cheree” supremely comforting. My mom enjoyed watching “Mary Poppins” again too. Its relevance to our current situation was not lost on her. “I can feel a wind change coming,” my mom tearfully said last weekend with the knowledge that her visit – and her usefulness to us while we adjusted to being a family of five – was coming to an end.

We all are better adjusted to our new family roles and responsibilities than we were six weeks ago. We are in no way close to finding a new groove, or breathing a sigh of relief, or getting more than three hours of sleep at a time, but we are blinking in the sunlight, opening our eyes, and getting a lay of the land. It is a land that is starting to seem appealing, one we might be able to navigate, if not now, then soon – hopefully.

I’m no longer frozen in fear at the prospect of facing my three children every morning without my mom’s help only because I was blessed to find a nanny – of the dictionary definition. She starts Monday. She will watch Baby and Toddler for two afternoons every week while Girlie is in preschool. In addition, my in-laws, who live nearby, will watch Baby and Girlie one morning a week while I take Toddler to preschool. So I will have a lot of help.

Actually, of the two days the nanny comes, I need to spend one afternoon with Girlie at her preschool (which is a co-cop), so I really have only one afternoon per week completely by myself. But it’s something: a little bump in the sheer rock face towering above me on which I can grab my toe.

I plan to write during that afternoon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Collecting Book Ideas

As my blogger profile boasts, I’ve been working on ideas for a book, but very piecemeal. When I first mentioned it to hubby his suggestion was to come up with an outline. But I really am not sure exactly where my book is going, so writing an outline won’t work for me, at least not at this point. Following the oft-cited advice that writers should “write what they know,” I’m thinking the book will be about my largely positive experience growing up within a tightly knit Catholic school and church community in suburbia in the 1980s and early 90s.

Since I’m not yet sure how I will structure the book I’ve been writing a page or two on different topics that I think I will include in the book as they occur to me. I’ve been researching on the Internet and checking books out of the library in large stacks. It’s like I’m collecting tidbits I’ve found on a nature walk. I’m hoping a shape will start to emerge organically from these disparate efforts.

One of my strategies was to get a sense of spiritual memoirs written by people about my age. I conducted an Amazon search and came up with Not that Kind of Girl, by Carlene Bauer, released last year (Harper Collins). Unlike what one might think is the usual approach in writing a spiritual memoir, Bauer tells the story of losing her religion rather than of finding it. But Bauer lets go of her faith so thoughtfully that her book brought me to more closely consider why I have held on to mine and where the challenges lie in maintaining a spiritual outlook on life.

Bauer recounts how religious teachings at the nondenominational churches and Christian schools she attended shaped her perspective though elementary and high school and continuing in college and her early working years. Unfortunately, the shoots of her childhood spirituality, watered by the comforting wording and colorful stories of the King James Bible, were trampled during episodes such as a terrorizing experience where a Sunday school teacher vividly described the coming of the Antichrist at the end of the world. In high school, Bauer had trouble reconciling her love for the Jesus of the gospels with her distaste for her pastors’ vehement denunciation of popular culture. Nevertheless Bauer conscientiously took notes during the sermons at church and resolved to be the best Christian she could.

Bauer’s questioning intensified through college and her early working years. Despite a hope in God’s plan for her, she at the same time searched for proof that religion was bunk. She attended a small Jesuit college and there was exposed to existential philosophers, none of which quite reverberated with her. She was known as the “good girl” who didn’t party and was saving herself for marriage. But Bauer remained confused as to whether she truly believed the values she had embraced or was avoiding experimentation due to her timid personality. She resolves to test her spirituality by trying out the lifestyle she has avoided in New York City after college.

Bauer never feels fully comfortable eschewing her spiritual side. She tries out drinking and one-night-stands, but they don’t provide her questioning mind any solace. Finally she tries out the Catholic Church, converting in a quick decision that saddens her mom but cheers her grandma, a Catholic. Bauer doesn’t find her answers in the Catholic Church either, and that disappointment seems to cement her eventual disengagement from religion altogether. The suggestion at the end of the book is that she finally finds a man who satisfies her intellect and the relationship provides the mooring she had been looking for in the form of religion.

There are flashes of really elegant writing in the book, Bauer’s first. She was rightly encouraged by a high school English teacher to become a writer. But it depressed me that Bauer’s earnest search for spirituality was in the end fruitless. My nearness to my children, my witness of their growing up, has underlined for me the presence of the Divine in this life. But with a popular culture so largely disdainful of any sense of the spiritual or religion beyond positivity or self-actualization, my teaching my children prayers, bringing them to church, instilling in them a love for God, seems more and more counter cultural. Is a spiritual outlook relevant in today’s world? How do you encourage your spirituality, be it through structured religion or not?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wonderful Unknown

We pulled out of our driveway at about 4:00 am Friday. My sister-in-law seemingly had made record time on the drive over to our house to watch our two sleeping kids. “Good luck!” she said as I appeared in the kitchen to replenish my water bottle. “Don’t kiss me,” she added as I leaned toward her. “But, not to worry. It’s just a summer cold, nothing serious.” I did want to kiss her. I was so grateful that the birthing process had gone into motion: my water had finally broken and contractions were starting to crunch through me.

The moon was white and round in the black sky over the field across the street from the entrance to our housing complex. Every time I see the moon I think of all the nights my dad called me to the screen door of our townhouse to gape at its lustrous beauty. Hubby turned our car onto the empty road and a contraction started as we crossed the first intersection but, watching the moon dip under the glowing clouds over the hills, in place of panic a sense of calm nestled around me.

The girls at the reception desk in my OB’s office had joked that I would deliver last weekend because there would be a full moon. After pre-term labor at 35 weeks had suggested that Baby would come early like my other two children, we were all surprised that it appeared I would make it to my due date. I’ve never felt the ripeness of late pregnancy before. Toward the end of this pregnancy my earlier fears of needing to take care of a preemie baby, needing a c-section, or of some other unforeseen calamity, mercifully gave way to the relative peace of knowing that the pregnancy needed to end - in one way or another.

Labor surprised me as quick and unmedicated. There was not enough time for the two bags of IV fluid that were a prerequisite for placing an epidural. After a particularly strong contraction accompanied with a yelp for what I then knew was my illusive epidural, the labor nurse firmly instructed me to get in bed. She hurriedly checked me then desperately called for my doctor, who happened to be on duty at the hospital that morning. “You’re going to have this baby naturally,” the labor nurse, MJ, said. “He’ll be out in one good push.” Pressing into the pain as she and my doctor instructed, pressing through the push, the rest, the second push and the delivery, I was given the unexpected gift of doing it myself.

The last two weeks hubby and I have been frustrated with our lack of control over when Baby would be born. Hubby started his leave when I hit 38 weeks, which was when Toddler was born, and seemed reasonable considering the pre-term labor scare I had already had with Baby. But Baby faked us out and came much later than expected. Hubby had wanted the majority of his two weeks’ leave to be bonding time with his new son, but he had to go back to work yesterday, after a scant two days at home with Baby. Actually, those two weeks that hubby intended to spend bonding with Baby were well spent giving Girlie and, especially Toddler, extra daddy time.

As parents we should know by now that really we can never fully control our relationships with our children, who are completely separate entities from us with their own personalities and desires. I remember being surprised that Girlie was such a stranger to me when she was born. I did not know her face. Baby is a stranger too. I don’t know how I will be called upon to minister to him. I don’t know how his presence in our lives will change our family. On day two of his life, desperate to snag a lactation consultant up on the pediatrics floor where I had been dispatched for my recovery, I finally reminded myself to be open to whatever messages Baby was trying to tell me about himself. He didn’t want me to put him down. All he wanted was to lay his cheek on my chest. Why was I so sure that was the wrong thing? So what if my other children ate, were satisfied and then slept? I needed to recognize that this child wanted to hang out with me.

Of course parenting is a balance of listening to your child and providing him with limits. In my experience with sleep schedules for my older children, for instance, I have learned that they thrive on the support of a structure. But I am trying to let Baby lead me through his infant days as much as possible. Yes, it means putting myself in the hands of someone whose only field of expertise is nursing (and “expertise” is a very generous term for his knowledge of that subject) but walking into the unknown has never felt so safe.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Window into Franca

There are many things about pregnancy that are a little unsightly. One of mine is varicose veins. Luckily I found a wonderful product that makes them bearable: pregnancy support hose. A bonus in addition to the boost they give my achy legs is that the stockings are a daily reminder of my grandma, my dad’s mom. In my every memory of her she is wearing hose and heels. She said that her feet were so used to wearing high heels that even after she retired she needed to continue wearing them. She could no longer put her feet down flat.

Francesca, or “Franca” as friends and family called her, emigrated from Italy alone at age 17 by ship, leaving her father, sister, and brother behind. Her mom had recently died and her father had remarried. Grandma had actually been born in the U.S., but her parents had returned to Italy when she was young. Franca’s aunt graciously offered to house her after she arrived in New York. Knowing she needed a livelihood, Grandma learned the sewing trade, became a dressmaker and soon met and married my grandfather, a dress presser. They both worked in the NYC garment district. My grandfather was American born too, and also of Italian parentage. “Sam,” Grandma’s pet name for her husband, whose real name was “Rosario” for the Rosary, died when I was six months old so I never knew the gentle man who was my dad’s father.

Of the couple, Grandma earned more money. At the end of her career she had worked her way up to the privilege of fitting the prototypes of cocktail dresses to live models. Her boss, Leonard Arkin, owner of the prominent New York dress manufacturing company of the same name, called her his “golden hands.” Franca was a working mom. She enlisted a kind Irishwoman, Mrs. Woods, to care for my dad, my grandma’s only child. Franca, Sam, and my dad lived together in an apartment – first a “walk up” and later a rent-control building – and never bought a house. But my dad had every best opportunity, including parochial education through college.

Franca cooked famously. To this day a sob wells up in my throat when I open a can of tomatoes. My parents tell me that Grandma worked magic with olive oil alongside Sam, who shared her enjoyment in cooking. They didn’t spare expense to buy the best cuts of meat and fish from the local purveyors. Their American dream included entertaining friends, playing cards, and days at the horse races.

When I knew Franca she was still cooking famously but her days of chasing down buses in high heels were over. She was mostly confined to an easy chair. I remember her stocking-clad and swollen ankles bulging over the buckles of her two-inch heels. Grandma still sewed. She sewed doll’s clothing for my dolls and later made dolls for sick children. She also knitted almost compulsively. The sewing and knitting kept her busy, because she couldn’t walk very well. She used a cane when I was young and later a walker, when she moved from New York to the town next to where I lived to be closer to my dad and my family.

I remember Grandma’s stockings drying and the sweet smell of her perfume in the bathroom of her Queens apartment. Now I am drying stockings, these vestiges of earlier times that are reserved only for very special occasions like a black-tie evening event, if then. I too have swollen ankles (although not very swollen, really).

Grandma died in 2000 at the age of 90. My other grandma, my mom’s mother, another New Yorker and the daughter of Irish immigrants, is still alive, and will turn 99 this month. But it is Franca and her determination – as an immigrant and working woman – that I am reminded of every morning as I pull on my support hose before getting out of bed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Notes from a Semi-Reclined Position

I.Am.Fed.Up.With.Being.Pregnant! Although bed rest has brought its own blessings, I became grouchy and exasperated this week over my continuing quarantine here in the house and increasingly nervous about my upcoming delivery. I felt horrible barking at Girlie all through her morning getting-ready routine. Usually I coax her along, in a supportive yet firm manner.

I had early contractions last Friday and wound up in the hospital. Sensing I was unready to have this baby and acknowledging that he would do better with a couple more weeks in utero, my OB (who happened to be doing rounds at the hospital that day) sent me home with prescriptions for medication and bed rest. The combination is working, thankfully. But now I can’t go about my mom duties as needed and have to take rests after every task. Get breakfast on the table. Rest. Fold a few pieces of laundry. Rest.

I’m getting anxious about labor. I’m getting anxious about my ability to mother three children ages four years old and younger. Mostly I’m desperate to feel breeze on my skin and walk around the block! When I asked my OB Wednesday when she thought I might go into labor she was noncommittal. When I pressed her for her best prediction she said I might go another week. She was dead-on with her prediction on Toddler’s arrival date.

These days, lying in a semi-reclined position, it’s easy to worry about what may be and what can’t be. There is so much undone still. I have thought professional maternity photos would be fun, especially if this is my last pregnancy. I should get my daughter a new swimsuit before she starts swimming lessons in a week. But I need to let these things go… Talking with my mom on the phone put my situation into perspective. The priority now is giving this new baby, the new member of our family who will delight us and frustrate us in his own unique fashion, the best possible birth scenario, which means him staying inside me as long as I can hang in here.

I should be glad for what I have been able to accomplish on bed rest. I’ve been reading voraciously and scribbling notes down in my journal as if they are keys to the Meaning of Life. I’ve been thinking through and writing down ideas for my book. I’ve started an essay, a couple book reviews and several blog posts. Although I can’t move my body around much, my mind is spinning.

Beyond being thankful for having some opportunity to write this past week, the most inspiring aspect of my bed rest has been the support of family and friends. I’ve received emails of encouragement, meals, offers to do grocery shopping, and offers for housecleaning. (After I delivered Toddler two friends even cleaned my kids’ bathroom!) My in-laws have been over every day to take the kids to the park and let me rest for a couple hours every morning.

Before having children, isolated on the island of hubby and me in a new city, I remember praying for friends. I actually prayed for them, as if God would bother to arrange to send me friends. He did. A friend’s mom once said to me, “The Lord is faithful.” I didn’t know what she meant at the time. The Lord is faithful to us? Aren’t we supposed to be faithful to Him?

I understand what she meant now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cotton Candy

“What a nice day!” Girlie seems thankful to be out of the house and alone with me in the car. Even though we’re only going to Target to stock up on baby supplies, our errand is an exciting adventure. I turn off the radio.

“You’re right! It’s beautiful out. I don’t see any dark clouds in the sky.”

“I’d like to eat a cloud!” Girlie chuckles.

“Actually, clouds are made of frozen water droplets. They’re where we get our rain from.” I am a good science teacher, but I have broken her playful mood.

“Rain makes everything grow.” Girlie keeps up her end of the conversation, repeating a line from a favorite book of ours, Katie and the Sunflowers.

I’m trying quickly to think of some fun way to describe a cloud. “Actually, clouds kinda look like cotton candy!”

“What’s cotton candy?”

“It’s like eating a cotton ball. It tastes very sweet.”

“Is it your favorite?”

“Nooo… it’s a little too sweet for me. We’ll have to get some for you so you can try it. They have it at the State fair. We’ll go there in August, after the baby is born and after your birthday.”

“Okay. What color is it?’

“I think it comes in pink and blue.”

“Do they have purple?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen it in purple. I know it comes in pink and blue. It comes on a paper stick. Remember the swords we made at preschool out of rolled up newspaper? That’s how the stick looks.”

“I would like the purple,” Girlie says with determination. She sucks on her thumb audibly like she is tasting something for the first time and isn’t sure whether or not she likes it.

“How do you eat it?”

“You take a bite and it melts in your mouth. It dissolves. It feels kind of … papery in your mouth.”

“Oh. Like eating paper?”

“Nooo… it melts in your mouth … kinda like ice cream.”

“Oh.” She sucks her thumb contentedly … now satisfied.

About a week later we see a picture of cotton candy in a book we are careening through before naptime.

“Look! That’s cotton candy!” I point.

Girlie sucks her thumb, tired from the day at preschool. She has apparently forgotten all about cotton candy.

Oh well. I am glad that it appears likely that she actually will nap this afternoon.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Outside In

We’ve got cherries! Lots of them. They’re the sour variety but juicy and tasty nonetheless. Thanks to a cool and rainy spring, the boughs on our big cherry tree are dripping with fruit. Although the prior homeowners planted too many trees too close together along our fence line, including several each of magnolias, ornamental pear, and oleander, the two cherry trees – one skinny and one big and full - have been such a treat.

Last year we laboriously climbed ladders to tie strips of foil around the cherry branches to try to fend the birds away. It didn’t work and we only harvested one bowl of fruit. But this year, the children have been ON TOP of the cherry crop. Girlie notified me the first day the cherries started turning pale pink. She quickly instructed Toddler on how to pull them down off the trees. For a couple days, I tried telling them, “They’re not ripe. We have to wait until they turn bright red.” In vain. The children are gleeful. They run to the big cherry tree as soon as I admonish them to go in the backyard and play already because they are driving me crazy.

I worry that poor Toddler has a store of cherry stones piling up in his stomach, but I am not so worried that I make further efforts to stop them. I am too thankful for some peaceful minutes in which to assess the pantry and freezer for ingredients for dinner. Tonight Toddler runs in from outside proudly bearing a cup of sand above his head, “Dirt!”

“Oh wow! But the sand stays outside, remember, Daddy said?” Toddler trots the cup back through the living room and out the open sliding door only to return a few minutes later with a different cup of sand. Later, Girlie brings me an exotically named soup of grass and rocks. “Mmmm … lovely, but please bring that back outside. We don’t want to get ants.”

I have spied ants traipsing across the living room carpet, but am not overly alarmed because they don’t seem to be marching very purposefully - yet. I know the carpet is overdue for a professional cleaning. We’re trying to keep up the vacuuming, now that Girlie finally is no longer scared of the vacuum and Toddler actually likes it. But there very well could be a half-eaten hot dog under the couch or something. I can’t bend down these days to look under there.

Truth be told: the ants don’t bother me. They can’t hurt us. They have construed the open sliding door and crumbs on the floor as a dinner invitation. I am not knocking myself out housecleaning these days (not that I ever have). We are too busy picking cherries and appreciating what we can of the little nature left in our lives.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mommy on the Brain

I’ve gone to Babyland and returned four years later, like I was off at college, but it was the reverse of college; it was a beautiful forgetting, an existence outside my mind where I have become the mommy animal, allowed my instincts to dictate the survival of my kids, my family, here in suburbia. It is sometimes lovely to forget my adult, pre-kids, self while playing in the sand box, but I have realized lately that I need my former life of mind too. Without it I become more and more selfish with my time and with my body.

I first heard the term “mommy brain” soon after having my first child when a friend remarked that she was surprised I remembered her child’s birthday. Forgetfulness is an oft-cited pregnancy symptom. But according to babycenter.com, the research on mothers’ memory during pregnancy is mixed. Some studies have found evidence of memory deficits among expectant mothers, while pregnant women in other studies performed just as well as non-pregnant women.

Other research suggests that our mommy brains are mischaracterized as forgetful. Actually mothers acquire new brain circuitry during pregnancy to facilitate the increased demands of mothering. In an April 24, 2005 interview with Time, Katherine Ellison author of The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, described research by Craig Kinsley and Kelly Lambert, two Virginia neuroscientists, who found that the brains of pregnant rats showed a proliferation of dendritic spines - the parts of neurons that reach out and form synapses, necessary for new learning.

For writer Leanna James, these extra dendritic spines form an alternate brain. In her essay entitled “Mother-Brain” published in Brain, Child’s “Greatest Hits” from its spring 2000 to spring 2003 issues, James says that from the moment she found out she was pregnant, a

“new brain started to grow, the one I have now. I don’t mean I got a replacement brain – that sounds like a Frankenstein experiment. No, it’s a separate brain I’m talking about, a parallel mind that lives alongside the original… This mind is linked with my breasts, my ears, my mouth, and my belly. I grew as my daughter grew, and began speaking to me the day of her birth. ‘Do this,’ it told me, when the strange, impossibly tiny being howled in the middle of the night, or wouldn’t nurse, or couldn’t breathe.”

Although it is empowering knowing that, as women, we have this vitally necessary nurturing capability, sometimes I want to turn off my mommy synapses and just be me again. I woke up last Sunday in tears, “the Sunday freak out,” as hubby and I call it. Usually he feels it the worst on Sunday evening, anticipating the impending separation from me and the children the next morning and facing some looming deadline at work. But this time I was the one freaking out. The day stretched ahead with no time for me in it. There would be breakfast then church then an activity for the kids then lunch then their nap time (when my pregnant body has to rest too) then snack time then making dinner then getting them ready for bed then my mandated rest time again. We found a solution. We moved church to the afternoon so we could have a leisurely breakfast with both of us chipping in to prepare it. Then we both took the kids to the park and then each of us took one child and ran one errand. Neither of us got me time – I didn’t get to work on my writing and hubby didn’t get to go for his run – but at least we got some chores done.

I am thankful that I have been able to stay home with my young children. I have relished the experience of giving myself completely over to motherhood. But other times, I want to forget that I am a mother. I need space for myself. I look at how my mom stayed at home with three children and was happy doing it. Too, even though she had a long-held expectation for herself of being a stay-at-home mom that propelled her forward for many years, she finally needed her own time. At nearly 50, she went back to finish her college degree when I went off to college. She became a teacher.

My generation of women I think are uniquely torn. We see the value in mothering but we see the value in working too. Growing up I expected that I would be a mother one day but expected that I would work too. I didn’t begin to think through how I would accomplish both goals. I had no clue that weaving the two together would be enormously difficult.

After these four years at home with my children, I’m realizing that I need myself back now, now with my third child about to be born. It’s “the Sunday freak out” of my pregnancy and I am anticipating all the nights of choppy sleep, worry of the infant days, just hoping the new member of the family will somehow survive despite the fact that I refuse to buy a motion-detecting baby monitor that will alert me when he stops breathing. I will put the baby in his crib and hope for the best. I hope my mommy brain kicks in. But I will need my other brain too. Perhaps I will go to the computer to write after nursing the baby at 2 am. Perhaps that will be where I find my me time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Blog?

I’ve been late to the technological revolution. I finally got a cell phone in 2006 before my first child was born because it seemed like a safety necessity. I don’t have an iPod (I’ve never been a much of a music person) and we still don’t have a flat-screen TV, as much as hubby would like one.

But email was a different story. I took right to it in 1994 when I was a freshman in college and quickly discovered how convenient email was as an alternate to letter writing. I had always enjoyed letter writing and was an avid pen pal growing up, with my best girlfriend from first grade who moved away to Alaska, with my next-door neighbor as her father’s government job took them from country to country, with the girls I met at summer camp who lived in various romantic-sounding Southern cities. Letter writing allowed the chance to compose myself before speaking, the chance to make a mark that, hopefully, would last. Like blogging.

I’m definitely late to blogging. I should confess that I just started reading blogs this year. The similarities of blogging with journaling interested me. I have frequently turned to journaling as a way of sorting my thoughts out when I’ve felt lost or searching, or as an emotional release when I’ve been upset by something. I’ve spent many a late afternoon in a coffee shop with my journal, gulping down a nice warm liquid and writing to a place where I felt whole again.

In her book I Could Tell You Stories, a collection of essays on the process of writing memoir, Patricia Hampl discusses the paradox that is chronicling a personal life: “The journal teeters on the edge of literature. It plays the game of having its cake and eating it too; writing which is not meant to be read.” My writing teacher this spring, Kate Hopper, recommended the book to me. I recently finished Kate’s Mother Words class, where I was introduced to “creative nonfiction” or memoir.

Unlike a journal, a blog is meant to be read. Kate and some of the other women in my class have attested to how blogging has helped them keep up their writing habit. I have had designs on being a writer from the day my high school English teacher said I had writing talent and encouraged me to major in English. After graduating from college, and miraculously getting hired for a paid full-time job, I tried waking up early to make time for writing, thinking somehow a novel would pour out of me. But it didn’t happen. I chalked it up to not having enough life experience. I figured if I was meant to be a writer I would feel that compulsion to write one day.

I started feeling that compulsion to write about a year a half ago after my second child was born. I was driven to write. I needed to find myself again, separate my pre-mommy self from the mommy self. I started several different essays on my experience of motherhood. That’s what drew me to find Kate’s class.

I have struggled with the idea of blogging. Firstly, I just don’t like the word “blog.” It’s too close to “glob,” the last way I would want my writing described. Secondly, I couldn’t come up with a good focus for my blog, some interesting hook. Naming a blog seems a lot like naming a race horse. I wanted something catchy that would honor my writing heritage, descriptive of my point of view as a writer. I came up with “Diaper Dispatch” long before I thought about starting it as a blog. I thought I would create a ‘zine for stay-at-home mommies like me, something I could pass around to the women in my daughter’s playgroup.

Actually “Diaper Dispatch” is a bit of misnomer. I don’t intend for my posts to be mainly about mothering. In this blog I’m mostly trying to hone ideas not having to deal with my role as mother. But I am, essentially, a mother now and my posts may keep coming back to that. We’ll see.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Last Weeks of Babyhood

Since I found out I was pregnant for a third time, I’ve been anxious to appreciate Toddler in the last months of his babyhood, before he gets shuffled into the middle spot among the children. He has bloomed into the role of second child.

He greets me standing in his crib with a big smile every morning requesting his sister and Daddy. Once he realizes they are not yet available for play, Toddler and I have a few precious snuggles on the couch before he is off to retrieve his trains from where Daddy carefully replaced them the night before, in one of the bright colored bins housed in a rack in a corner of our living room. Shortly he will struggle to bring me the hard plastic case of Matchbox cars that were Daddy’s when he was little so I can open it. Flexing his growing muscles, Toddler grips onto each side of the box, as if hoisting a loaded suitcase, and waddles over to wear I am pouring water in a pot to boil for oatmeal, imploring me as he makes his way across the room with “Car, car!” He exaggerates the hard “c” sound: “C-C-C car!”

Toddler’s favorite companion is his talkative, imaginative, chummy older sister who has graciously incorporated him into her play, adopting him as her apprentice. From her he has learned how to feed the dollies and play electric guitar. He also is appreciative of his sister’s instructions on how to jump off the fireplace and bounce on the couch cushions. He will ask for “EEE! E-E-EEE!” in the afternoon, after he has had his snack and played with Girlie in the backyard for a while because he knows that is when I will allow them to watch a TV program, while I try to focus on making dinner. He and Girlie sidle up to each other on the couch, plug their thumbs in, and space out for 25 minutes together. At least they are together.

Once the new baby arrives, in less than seven weeks, I’m sure Toddler will relish having a protégé, his own apprentice, to show how to get the cars to roll across the kitchen tiles, demonstrate all the play instruments, balance on the truck push toy, feed the “Bish!” Toddler is magnanimous and happiest in the rare times when we are all together. He will love having another paisano.

I’m the one who will miss his babyhood, the boy who hasn’t really given me a lick of difficulty. The boy who nursed early and easily, settled down quickly into his sleep routine, and was determined to walk as soon as his shaky legs could manage to hold up his top-heavy body at 11 months. I will miss how he places his cheek next to mine when he wants a kiss, thinks the baby toothpaste is a treat, and circles back to me regularly during his play to show me yet again with incredible wonder one of his Matchbox cars: “door!!”

I regret that, for reasons I can’t explain, I haven’t journalled my motherhood. Sheer exhaustion? Inability to boil down into words these golden days? I wrote a little paragraph describing my daughter when she was nine months old. That’s all I had until I took Kate Hopper’s wonderful Mother Words online class this spring. It has gotten me thinking and writing about my children, who have been my complete occupation these past four years. In writing them I am writing myself, recording for myself my motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning Judy

It’s 3:00 on Sunday afternoon and I should be at her memorial service right now. At seven months pregnant it’s not easy for me to make what would be a day trip to attend the service though. Plus there are the children to watch over. I can’t imagine them able to do much more at a memorial service than provide a little comic relief. That might prove diverting for about five minutes.

Judy started off as my husband’s angel and later became mine too. She and her law partner hired my husband before he even passed the bar. She rushed into the partner’s office after my husband’s interview and blurted out with a characteristically emphatic double shake of her head, “We are going to hire him!” Thus began a grace period in our lives: the six years that we knew Judy.

Judy epitomized all the best connotations of the word “genteel.” One felt safe in conversation with her, held kindly in the large embrace of her intellect, which encompassed art, books, outdoor romps, love for people. She had a rare gift for really listening. Perhaps that is partly why she was such a great lawyer. She was always willing to extend another person the benefit of the doubt, a byproduct maybe of her being raised in the South, in what I imagine as a slower, more polite society.

Judy came into our lives shortly before my husband and I had children. She took a keen personal interest in our well being, our interests, our society. It was so encouraging to have an older, more experienced and clearly successful person inquire into our beliefs and passions with true interest. She and her law partner were great mentors for my husband. He learned them even more than the practice of law. And, surprisingly, although I was merely the spouse of an employee, I too was folded into the warmth of their company.

The wellspring of goodness and civility that flowed out of Judy to me is a proof of God for me. That’s not to say that she was perfect. I will never forget her unshielded disappointment the day my husband left her firm. Restraint was registered on her face like a post mark. Judy and I were both practically in tears throughout the indulgent goodbye lunch she and her partner threw for my husband. We had depended on Judy to understand all our logical reasons for moving on, but it seemed as if she couldn’t forgive us. But a few months later at her annual Easter party, a grand old-fashioned affair with a hunt for the golden egg, egg toss and egg spinning contests, appearances by clients turned friends as the Easter bunny and his overgrown chicken of an assistant, scrumptious coffee cakes, sliced ham, and the same relied-upon side dishes brought by neighbors, party guests and Judy fans for over 30 years, Judy cast her tolerant gaze again on my husband and I, listened to us gush about the joys of parenting, crowed over our new little girl and generally made us to feel like the prodigals we were.

I can’t think that Judy’s death from ovarian cancer, in seven quick months, is an ending. She is all the more present now, in my memory: her way of living deliberately, working diligently, enjoying the company of others, allowing difference to mean uniqueness. I have learned her.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Books from Past Lives

I am having a hard time letting go of all these books I've accumulated - the good majority from my English major - but let them go I must because we are quickly running out of space here at the "Magic Cottage," as Mom has coined it. Part of my reluctance is because Mom and Dad carefully shipped a bunch of the books here and I carefully shipped the others when I first moved away, before kids. A good several hundred dollars has been spent preserving these books for me. For what? A dear work colleague of mine told me years ago, before I had children, that I would likely give the books away eventually, as much as it would hurt, because I really wouldn't need them in my post-baby, post-college life. Did she really mean my post-thinking life?

I called the library yesterday and was half relieved to hear that no, they can't use books that are highlighted or have notes in the margins, disqualifying a good chunk of the books. The books are a motley assortment. Some date back to high school. Many are ones I didn't particularly attach to except for sentimental reasons, such as A Dance of Legislation, by Eric Redman, which we read in high school government class the semester a boy sat behind me pulling out strands of my hair. Some I have read over and over, connected with for reasons I don't now have time to analyze, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, E. M. Forster's A Passage to India. There are books I've never read, some assigned in my college classes and some of hubby's from his college days, books I might need one day, one unlikely day when I have leisure to again read leisurely.

Another recent organizational project has been assembling my diaries and journals through the years. In that process I realized that my journals from college have either gone missing or don't exist. But, looking through my assigned texts from those years, especially from the government classes I took, my notes in the margins are a form of journalling. I didn't just summarize points, write down professors' ideas about selections from the texts, I pencilled in my own reactions to texts in the margins. My copy of Rousseau's The Basic Political Writings is thoroughly annotated in this way.

When my university alumni magazine arrives each season I quickly gobble it up, desperate to connect again to those heady days of reading and thinking. I read something in the magazine recently that alarmed me: "A new study indicates that some cognitive skills peak at the age of 22, then begin a slow decline a few years later. Timothy Salthouse, ... professor of psychology, conducted a seven-year study that indicated a decline in measures of abstract reasoning, brain speed and puzzle-solving at 27." I can't think that my lifetime analytical capability peaked at 27! Perhaps that is another reason I hold onto these books, especially the annotated ones, proof of my onetime intellect.

I didn't read much at all from when I graduated college until recently. I was too busy with growing up, becoming an adult, finding my path. Now that I am officially an adult (not that I have found my path), I'm making time again for reading. I'm hoping these new explorations in words, this new effort at thinking critically, will begin to shore up that lost part of my identity. Hopefully now I will be able to let go of some of my old books, finally.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stealing Time

These days I can't stop looking at the clock. Whether I am up early to write, the kids are finally down for their naps, or hubby has taken them out on some excursion (likely to the nearby park) to give me a little time to myself, it is always too little time. I scramble to figure out how to use the precious epoch stretching too scantily before me, guiltily knowing I should be resting at every opportunity to give this third baby chance at staying inside me as long as possible. The scarcity of my alone minutes puts such a premium on them that I become anxious and ultimately paralyzed at the prospect of actually spending them. Defeating the purpose of having minutes!

Time is crunching down on hubby too. We got in a fight this morning knowing it's Sunday and while there is so much to do - enjoy being together as a family, enjoy the beautiful day, go to Costco, plan and make dinner, and most important to us selfish parents, have the individual time we can't have during the week - there are too few hours for all of this. Yesterday hubby went for a long morning run with Toddler. Girlie and I had bought scones, and starving, I started to make eggs and put breakfast together like every morning. As the eggs slowly scrambled I became more and more fumed that although here it was Saturday, my only day "off," once again the family maintence jobs fell to me. But of course, there are no days off for moms - or dads. Hubby had woken up early most days this week so he could try to finish work before starting a new job next month. He's been trying to cram so much into his days that he desperately needed the run yesterday morning. Truly I understand and don't begrudge him his run.

But there's no person other than him from which to steal time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Family/Writing Balance

She's at my shoulder suddenly. Her hair mussed up and hanging in her face. She has just woken up and her mind slowly is coming into focus. Somehow snuggling with me on the couch helps her wake up. I actually started the snuggling habit because I needed snuggles to wake up. I don't have my tea any more, now that I'm pregnant. I need something else warm and soft to gather me together in the morning.

But I am now too busy for first-light snuggles. I have gotten up at 4:00 or 5:00 to try to start writing a book. A book! The audacity of it! When my daughter appears at my shoulder at 6:30 I am annoyed that she has interrupted me - she who depends on me to feed her, hug her, set a good mood at the start of her day. I have read that kids easily pick up on their parents' moods and adopt them as their own.

I should not be annoyed by her having woken up. My job as her mom is to greet her with a hug in the morning, like my mom did me every morning as a kid. My mom wasn't working at a computer when I first saw her. Doesn't Girlie deserve my full attention? Not merely to be squeezed in amidst my other life concerns/responsibilities/obsessions?

Truly I am desperate for some "me" time. When I was at the computer now checking email, reading blogs, I should have been doing our family budget for after the new baby comes, figuring out if we will be able to afford a Nanny one morning a week. Maybe I can actually get some time completely to myself, with no possibility for distraction.

I am wary of getting drawn into the virtual world of blogging. Why should I spend my time typing, here at this desk, when I could be talking with another person, planting those impatiens, playing with my kids, enjoying God's creation? At least, writing in my journal on the couch I am more able to look up, to ponder the deep royal red of the budding roses in our backyard.