Away

Going to be away for a bit, working on my survival skills in the real world. On Saturday I was nicely settling into prelabor when we headed off to Carl’s hockey game, a sort of last hurrah while we waited to see if this was going to be IT.

Ten minutes into the game Carl had to be carried off by his team mates. You didn’t have to have a degree to know the break was a bad one. The first doctor said he wouldn’t drive or walk unassisted for six months. The orthopedic surgeon said more like 2-3. We’re half way through a two-step surgery process on his ankle now, but they did let him leave the hospital yesterday afternoon when his pain was finally more controlled. We’ve turned the living room into our very own makeshift hospital suite, but it’s nice to be home at least.

And fortunately it turns out that extreme stress stops labor. Who knew? After a few hours of contractions, the baby apparently decided this was NOT the world she intended to be born in and headed north again. One less thing to worry about.

We did, however, make the tough decision to have her induced later this week to ensure we wouldn’t both be in the hospital at the same time. And to give me a couple of days to recoup before Carl goes back for surgery #2. It’s the right decision given our OB office policies and the accident, but it sure isn’t how I pictured things.

On the plus side, at least she’s healthy. The surgeon said Carl should heal ok. In six months or so none of this will matter. It’s just rough right now.

Anyway.

That’s where I’ll be.

See you on the flip. Keep it real. Peace out.

I’ma going to be all glamorous now and figure out how to take care of the pins sticking out of Carl’s leg.

5 Fab Reasons to have a Feb/March Baby

It’s hard to feel fabulous at 40 weeks, so I have given myself permission to not. I am, in fact, totally outside the parameters of fabulousness right now. If you were to make a Venn diagram, it would just be two circles giving each other shifty-eyed looks from across the page.

On the other hand, studies have shown a strong correlation between wallowing in one’s lack of fabulosity and a whole host of maudlin behaviors leading one’s generally chipper husband to say “honey, I want to help you, but you’re kind of freaking out on me here.” (Study conducted by the University of Last Week).

So I’ve been trying to keep busy and think of more cheering things.

Like how great it is to have a baby in the late winter. I mean, I’m sure there are great reasons to have a baby any time of the year (and a few quality reasons not to have a baby at any time of the year, but that would take us back to maudlin, etc, so we’ll take a pass on that quag).

Right.

Where were we?

Yes.

5 Fab Reasons to have a Feb/March Baby: 

1. “Eating for 2” + Christmas = Joy to the World

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2. Nobody else is shaving regularly either.

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2. Built in furnace is ideal for winter months (also ideal: the ability to give smug answers when your spouse is finally the one asking, “does it seem cold in here to you?”).

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3. Maximum distance between the end of flu season and the beginning of swimsuit season.

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4.  Finally and most importantly, because it’s easier to text “the roads are REALLY slick” than “I am still terrified for you to see me parent.”

Happy weekend, everybody!!

Storytelling

I started scrapbooking maybe ten years ago—which suddenly makes me feel a bit impressed with myself, actually. There aren’t a lot of things I can say I’ve been doing for ten years, and ten years is such a nice round number. Lends a sort of established credibility to what is, after all, a hobby and financial sinkhole.

But such a nice sinkhole.

There are lots of reasons to scrap, and I’m sure more than I realize. I do it because it’s an easy kind of art, somewhere between paint-by-numbers and paddling solo out to sea. The infinity of canvas and sketch pad unnerves me. The mess of sculpture deters me (to say nothing of the problem of what to do with 15,000 little clay heads. Because I would have to make busts, I can tell you that right now, and they would all look sort of similar, and it would get to be creepy).

I like my art to be comfortable, something I can slip into and out of without worrying about “losing my edge” or needing to improve. Something so essentially selfish that I don’t have to worry about appealing to public taste and needing to market. That’s probably the real key.

I like the mixing of colors and patterns.

I am seduced by embellishments.

I like to play with ink stamping and collect odd-edged scissors. I like ribbons and mismatched buttons and the occasional sticker, although I am finicky about stickers. They’ve come a long way in the last ten years.

And, of course, I am addicted to flowers. This is slightly painful to admit because there is a secret hierarchy of crazy ladies (the cat lady being most famous), and the scrapbooking one with the flower addiction is, I feel, alarmingly near the top. I never set out to be her, and I don’t think I am yet. Although self-diagnosis is always a bit sketch.

But if I had to pick just one reason, I scrap for the stories.

That’s really what makes it addicting. I like stories. I like memories, and I’m going to be perfectly candid and say that I also like the ability to mold them. Not create false ones or cloud real ones—I haven’t reached Slughorn heights yet (we’re playing through the LEGO Harry Potter game in the evenings, can you tell?). But I like to put things in context, to open them wide enough to make the meaning visible and let the color soak back into the emotions.

That’s what I like.

The baby book has been fun to assemble in little pieces, a picture here and a layout there. I can’t do the title page yet, and I’m almost done with the preparing and the pregnancy snaps and the baby shower and the 9 month breakdown… Tiny woman needs to show up before I can go really crazy with it.

But I was thinking as I was scrapping about all the things that are too grown up for a baby book. Things I want our children to know. Things that don’t fit on cute pages with bright colors. I’ve become more attune to stories about our families since I got pregnant—little snippets and snaps about our relatives. I want our children to have a sense of the past, though I don’t particularly kid myself that they’ll be quite as into the enterprise as I am. Most people aren’t terribly enthralled to discover that their great-grand might (or might not) have been kicked out of Canada.

When we took Carl’s mom out for her birthday a few weeks ago, she started telling us all about the family history. I wish I’d had a tape recorder. The dramatis personae are always interesting, but so is the direct, unapologetic spiritualism that runs through everything. We don’t have anything quite like that in my WASPy family. We are sadly lacking in dreams and portents of death (surprisingly accurate, by the way).

But the story that will stick with me was about her grandfather. This was in Mexico years and years ago, when her grandfather was a boy of six or seven. (This is also the Yaqui side of the family, by the way, Native Americans settled mostly in the Sonora area). His family went to a festival one day, a huge gathering, where he accidentally got separated and lost.

He never found his family again.

He was eventually adopted by another Yaqui family who found him wandering at the festival and tried unsuccessfully to locate his family. Over the years, he became part of their family and ended up taking their last name—Carl’s mother’s last name now. She said she’s been trying to find records of her grandfather’s biological family, but no luck so far.

The past is a strange world.

I don’t know what that story means, but it’s heartbreaking to me—heartbreaking from a human standpoint and fascinating from a literary one. I feel as though it means something, one more piece of the hidden history that exists in Carl and is now a part—an infinitesimal part, but a part nonetheless—of our baby.

I like knowing those things.

And I know I will like telling her.

 

Ashes, ashes

Not much going on in the garden in February. The peonies are still frozen in their dead swoon over the edge of their bed, a row of understudy Juliets in workshop  (does one cut back dead peonies? If so, when? I don’t know any of these things).

Nothing moves in the backyard, and I sit on the only step that’s wide enough to allow room between my knees and my belly.

Nothing moves, but the birds are carrying on their usual conversation in the woods behind our house. Not singing, exactly. Just a few notes here and there to maintain the illusion of good manners between them.

When I was little, I remember carrying piles of old sleeping bags and pillows across the crust of hard snow to a meadow behind our house and making a nest on the ground where I would sit, wrapped in blankets and always coatless, until I was too bored or cold to sit any longer.

I’ve done this as long as I can remember, really. There’s something about sitting outside, toasty in a depth of blankets, just being there while the world goes about it’s thing. I wasn’t able to do it for the last three winters because my only option then was a concrete slab facing the apartment parking lot, but I always miss the air, the smell of things, the sound of wind and birds, the stillness—especially in winter, when it’s been so long.

But I’m too pregnant to sit on the ground this year, and we don’t have any lawn chairs. I have to make do with sitting on the step in my coat and fuzzy hat.

It’s not the same.

It’s funny the things you notice when you sit: the pattern of brick and the color and the little systems of green growing in the cracks. There isn’t much green in the yard in February, but these plants—whatever they are, and tiny as they are—look as healthy and chipper as they probably do in June. This doubtless means something, but I don’t know what, and I’m too tired to figure it out.

To be honest, I don’t feel well.

I had an OB appointment on Monday to see how the baby’s doing. Turns out she’s low. Like, really low. Like, if my cervix were open and she were two centimeter’s lower, she’d technically be crowning. This explains, I suppose, why walking has become my least favorite activity ever and changing positions in bed requires a potent mixture of calculation, resolve, and great presence of mind.

“All you need,” the OB said cheerfully, pulling off her gloves, “is a few good contractions.”

Or a really hard sneeze, one of the women on my birth board joked.

But I haven’t had any “good” contractions, just a steady supply of Braxton Hicks—painless but unpleasant, especially since my brain usually interprets the sensation as one of those pre-vomit cramps.

Just tired…

And I forgot it was Ash Wednesday until I saw it in the status updates in my Facebook feed this morning. I don’t have any good Lenten thoughts either, and I haven’t figured out what I want to give up. Sleep would probably be the easiest, soda the most self-serving. Neither seems very appropriate.

Although, as I think about it, there’s certainly aspects of both Lent and Easter mixed together in the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. The hope and pain, new life and sacrifice—though I think our insurance only covers a 48 hour stay in the tomb before one is required to resurrect enough to at least go home.

So, yes, there are parallels (shaky as they might be), and I could probably find more of them and run with it and write something a bit more meaningful. But I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen today.

Today I am reading a book on gardening and taking a nap and eating girl scout cookies.

I believe they call it nesting.

Reading: Faith No More

I admit I’m a little disappointed. I was hoping for lots of studies and statistics and figures and finality—and while there were some statistics and lots of interesting quotes, the whole project entailed him sitting down for hour long chats with random friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends…

So not entirely scientific.

Half of the people he interviewed were from California, for example. I don’t know what that means—maybe it doesn’t mean anything—but it also wouldn’t surprise me that people from California, on average, have a different approach to religion than people from the Midwest. I’d like to know more about that before I have to decide whether the Californian journey out of faith is universal, you know?

And while I understand that surveys like these are always going to rely heavily on people’s own accounts—and will therefore be incredibly subjective and possibly/unwittingly distorted on certain points—I would’ve appreciated a little more of the old double-blind, a few more numbers and a few less unedited rambles about how one day the story of Noah just didn’t make sense anymore.

Ok, and then in the chapter “Sex and Secularity,” he writes,

Once a strong Christian, Jayme is now an agnostic. And it took her many years to stop feeling shameful or guilty after having sex, even with her husband—a common fate for women from similar backgrounds.

There’s a footnote after this sentence, and since I’ve heard anecdotal rumblings about this phenomenon before I thought, AH! A footnote! He must be citing a study, and I’d be curious to see the actual numbers on this.

Ha ha.

No.

This is the note:

As Lauren Winner (2005) notes, many religious women who remain virgins until marriage often grapple for years with emotional trouble based on such extensive religiously inspired sexual denial. See also Purcell (1985).

Which is pretty much what he said in the text of the book, so this isn’t terribly helpful. Also brow-raising is the fact that I recently read a book by Lauren Winner, and while I enjoy her writing, she’s an essayist, not a sociologist. So probably no statistics there either. Out of curiosity, I also checked his list of references, and it turns out that while “Purcell (1985)” definitely looks like a real-deal research paper, he never actually bothers to give us the statistics, and the study is more than 25 years old at this point, so…

Not to be all smarty-smart, but while my opinion of God was not dramatically altered by reading this book, when it comes to Zuckerman you might say my faith, at that point, was a bit shaken.

Anyway, those are the negatives, and most of them have to do with my own expectation that I was getting a hard-nosed, thesis-driven book of research instead of a rambly, interview-heavy book of musing. So it may not be fair to blame the book for that. I don’t know.

On the plus side, I did actually enjoy it.

These were my overall impressions:

  1. Apostasy is almost a given if your view of religion is narrow enough. If faith required the kind of beliefs discussed in this book, then I would have apostatized a long time ago too. My religious beliefs are not particularly threatened by bad things happening to good people, by carbon dating or science in general, or statistics that show that secular women have better sex lives. I think it’s incredibly likely that the Church hasn’t quite got it all figured out when it comes to hell, the end times, the “role” of women, homosexuality, and how to love our neighbors. And while I may rant at times about those topics (and so many more), in the end none of those things change the fact that I believe in God, that I believe in salvation and eternal life, and that I think a deepening practice of love is part of the abundant life God desires for us on earth today.
  2. A religion centered on childhood doesn’t work very well for grown ups. You can argue with me on this one if you want, because I can already think of a couple Bible passages that would seem to support your point (I believe Matthew 18:2-4 is the one you’re looking for right now). But the more I think about it, the more it seems to be true. We know, for example, that the more educated people are, the less likely they are to be religious. We also know that people who are poor, belong to a racial minority group, are female or otherwise disadvantaged when it comes to the power pecking order are more likely to be religious than those who are “in control.” Religious people generally stamp this one as PRIDE and move on, but I think it’s also possible that Christianity has run a bit too far with the God-as-divine-parent analogy. The analogy is intimate and comforting, and in that sense highly useful. But it can’t be expected to explain all of life. If God is the divine parent of a helpless infant humanity, it’s almost impossible to believe in a good, moral God and explain the immense suffering present in the world today. Don’t blame education for correctly identifying the logical flaw, blame a too-narrow view of God. If you threaten me, I will tell my Daddy on you and he will beat you up. As the Church continues to teach God primarily as the Father of all power-pez-dispensors, we’ll probably continue to see the same pattern of apostasy we have today.
  3. A religion for grown ups requires a morality for grown ups. When reflecting on their moral development both before and after their apostasy, many of the people Zuckerman interviewed expressed the belief (and could occasionally back it up with facts) that they were more moral people after leaving their religion. As long as morality is taught as a complicated set of rituals designed to “make God happy,” we’re basically asking people to skip on down apostasy lane. In the chapters on sexuality and politics this became glaringly obvious. What’s ironic is that the morality most apostates now claim actually comes from Jesus. That whole love other people and especially look out for the weak? Yeah. That was Jesus.
  4. (And here’s an LBGT freebie). Almost a third of the people Zuckerman interviewed cited the religious campaign against gay rights as one of the reasons they finally broke with their faith. I’m not going to unpack that one, but it’s definitely one of the statistics that stuck with me, and if I had to hazard a guess I think it has a lot to do with points 1-3 above.
  5. Ultimately, faith—and the lack of faith—may not be something we can fully explain. That was basically Zuckerman’s conclusion, and it’s an interesting one for a sociologist who (more or less) dislikes religion. People say they leave their religion for a lot of reasons: because a loved one died a terrible death, because a member of the clergy turned out to be a hypocrite, because carbon dating says the earth is millions of years old, because they’re democrats, because they wanted to have sex with their boyfriends. But as Zuckerman points out, many people experience all of those things and don’t go on to apostatize. There are markers, but there are no rules. And in some cases it truly becomes a chicken and egg debate. Do people stop believing because they find an issue that causes their faith to crumble? Or does the belief simply evaporate, leaving whatever issues the person had (and we all have them) as the “obvious” explanation? An interesting question…

And one that Zuckerman can’t answer. Ergo my general sense of frustration when I finished this book. It’s a great starting place, but a lousy end zone. I see that I’m going to need to read more on this topic.

But it’s going to have to sit on the back burner for a while, because I’m already half way through Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul, which is launching another whole wormcan of thoughts.

Also my body informs me every day with increasing persistence that there is a small person who will require some attention shortly. I think the accepted wisdom is to start freezing meals and cleaning the house when that hormonal energy kicks in, but I seem to have gotten the less familiar version:

Read more.

Read faster.

Small Acts

I piled the books and boxes against the wall and set up a card table in the study yesterday. Then I unpacked all my scrapbooking stuff—and I do mean all of it. It may not be pretty, folks, but I finally have my permanent (ok almost permanent) craft zone.

Despot of my own land, no longer will I invade neighboring kingdoms of dining room table or living room floor for unspecified periods of chaotic domination.

This is a major win, both for crafting rights and for clutter control.

Also for one’s self esteem, because yesterday wasn’t really looking like major win material for a while there. First there was the whole waking up to feelings of totally immobilizing exhaustion thing. Then there was the missed phone meeting. Then there was the schedule mix up where I was pretty sure my boss had the time of one of his appointments wrong, but since I wasn’t at my computer to double check I didn’t put up too much of a fight when he insisted it was later in the day. Yep. I was right. He totally missed the meeting. Chalk up one more reason to do those assertiveness exercises the self-esteem books are always suggesting.

… This is why it’s so cheering to have a craft space. I mean, after a day of no shower, no nap, and no dang baby it’s kind of necessary to have a place where it’s ok to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to make a rainbow out of scrap paper.

Small achievements, people. Don’t underestimate the encouraging power of small achievements.

In honor of these small acts, I stopped by the library after dropping Carl off at work this morning and gave myself 45 minutes of unrestricted foraging. I understand most people don’t have time for more than a quick dart to the catalogue computer and a direct line to said stacks. But libraries are a lot like the introverts who love them: you get what you give. And nine times out of ten, you won’t even know the right questions to ask in order to get to the really interesting stuff. It just takes time, a little curiosity, an open mind, and a lot of wandering around.

I’m always interested in spirituality, gender studies, and writing, but lately I’ve been broadening my horizons a bit to include gardening, parenting, and home design/decoration. Here’s my latest haul:

The last title is Thoughtful Gardening, a collection of essays by a scholar who writes prize-winning books on Alexander the Great… while overseeing the grounds at New College, Oxford and writing one of the longest-running columns on gardening in history. I haven’t started reading it, so I can’t honestly say I swoon, but the set-up does sound sort of swoonable, you have to admit.

Although, if we’re going solely on cover art/presentation, I’m probably most excited about Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul.

And if we’re going for most-intellectually-stimulating-and-potentially-rant-inducing, I’m going to nominate Faith No More, an interview and statistics-crunching book that looks at why people leave religion, what the process generally entails, and what kinds of philosophical perspectives the formerly religious tend to favor afterward. The book was written by a sociologist, by the way, so it’s not by any means a lament; I’m sure he has his own agenda to promote, but I’m very curious to hear the actual numbers and actual interviews. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I realize most of my Christian friends, when honest, fall into three categories—the minority of which is cheerful, unquestioning orthodoxy while the majority is either polite and infrequent mention of spiritual topics or a kind of wistful, tortuous ambivalence toward the faith.

Attraction, certainly, but also repugnance, and sometimes there’s a difficulty in extracting the one from the other.

Anyway.

I’m looking forward to this week’s reading adventures, even though I’ll probably toss aside half of them as boring and run out of time for another quarter and maybe only actually finish 1 or 2. It doesn’t really matter.

As long as the acts are small, I have time for a lot of them.

Some Assembly Required

Carl and the crib

We are now experts at crib-making, stroller unfolding, baby backpack strapping, and car seat snapping. We have packed our bags and filled our forms. We are ready.

Most of the getting ready happened in increments. Separately or together.

I sorted clothes. Carl finally solved the stroller conundrum (yeah, I still don’t know exactly how that monster works). It took both of us and some creative engineering to figure out how to get the crib through the narrow hall and into the nursery.

And it will take both of us every day to be the kind of parents we want to be…

I was thinking about these less tangible assembly projects as I was sorting through snapshots for the baby’s first scrapbook the other day (you had to know that was in the works, yes?), and I came across this picture:

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jennifer and Melanie. We’ve been besties for years—well, almost thirty years, actually, since Jenn and I are both scheduled to hit the big 3-0 this year—and we’ve been there for each other through the proverbial good times, dramas of all varieties, change and sometimes the frustrating lack thereof (also through many seasons of the Kardashians, but that’s probably fodder for a different post).

This picture was taken the week after my shower when Jenn and Mel came to help transform the pile of gifts and boxes of products into a bona fide nursery. Jennifer and I put together the IKEA storage system. Melanie organized clothes, while Carl figured out the Baby Bjorn. We put books on the shelves and organized the diaper changing caddy.

And we girls went shopping to pick up the few remaining items on the list.

It’s funny the things you research and the things you don’t. I knew all about how to care for the umbilical stump, but I wasn’t exactly sure what newborns were supposed to sleep in—especially since all the books kept reminding me NEVER to use loose blankets in the crib.

“So, how,” I asked as we wandered the aisles of Babies R Us, “are we supposed to keep her warm?”

We.

I laughed. “Do you like how in my head we’re apparently all raising this baby together?”

On the parenting discussion board I belong to, people like to rant about how babies are their PARENTS’ responsibility and nobody has any right to feel hurt when they have to buy car seats on their own dime or when their relatives don’t drop everything to dote on the newborn.

I understand that.

Nobody is entitled to parades and balloons just for getting pregnant—and sometimes our culture is maybe a little too ready to acknowledge people for weddings and babies while being a bit stingy with the confetti in other areas—but there’s a difference between thinking you’re entitled to something and being grateful it exists.

It’s our job to raise our baby, but it’s our privilege to have a network of friends who love us and, by extension, love our baby too. I can’t tell you how many people have helped get the house ready, helped get the nursery ready, offered to bring food, answered questions, sent us clothes, bought us gifts, and texted just to say they’re excited to meet our tiny person.

Those are the gifts of a loving community, but they don’t arrive out of nowhere, fully formed on your doorstep.

They imply relationship.

There’s some assembly required.

I didn’t think of this when we got pregnant. I didn’t know the fabric of my friendships would automatically tighten as the baby’s birth came closer, tighten until it was strong enough to hold whatever I needed it to hold. I didn’t know it because I didn’t need it.

But there’s something healthy and eye-opening about seeing community in action. It reminds you how important the whole thing is. It reminds you that if you want to enjoy the gift fully, you have to do the work of unpacking it.

We were lucky enough to share overlapping pregnancies with a lot of our friends and family. I have 3 sisters-in-law who are due this year, one of my close friends is due in July, and Carl’s best friend and his wife just delivered their gorgeous baby girl this past Sunday (I keep stalking Jackie’s Facebook page for more photo updates).

Next time you text them, I reminded Carl, ask what day we can bring them dinner.

I’m catching on.