29 November 2007

This Bathroom is Small

“This airplane is going to take off, and fly, and then we’ll see Papai!”

When you stop in Chicago, there are seven hours of flying time between Baltimore and Oakland. Seasoned adult travelers start to whine after the third hour of a lit seat belt sign. But it wasn’t so bad making the return without Augusto. Both kids slept for the first leg, we jumped in the galley during the stop, and we got creative for the final 5-hour haul. Videos, books, stacking snack boxes, passenger peek-a-boo. I briefly handed Otto over to Joe, an empathetic grandmother from the Sierra foothills who was willing to let him pull on her necklaces and jump on her lap.

The first time I flew with Stella, we were on our own. In a teary segment of the flight, an Asian woman reached out her arms, offering to walk 8-week-old Stella for a spell. I was a new mother facing a non-English speaking stranger at 30 thousand feet. I rejected her offer and managed alone. Months later I realized my missed opportunity. In Kenya, where I studied for a semester, people with seats on buses- white strangers included- are expected to hold a package or a child for standing passengers. This transfer happens without comment. The more responsibility I acquire- children, pets, increased work hours- the more I understand why it takes a village to raise a child. In our urban far-from-family world this means letting strangers open doors, carry groceries, or distract a toddler having a tantrum. It means accepting offers from neighbors who want to baby sit, and exchanging childcare with other families. And I also think it includes letting a complete stranger hold your baby when your arms are full.

So our flight was helped by Joe, the flight attendants who didn’t scold us when we just had to get up (despite the illuminated seat belt sign), the peek-a-boo passengers in seats 10 E and F, and by comic relief, of course.

“This bathroom is small.”

This understatement from Stella when the three of us entered the head. We all could stand in the triangular space between the toilet, counter and door, but we completely filled it. There was no pull down changing table, so I changed Otto’s poopy diaper with my butt on Stella’s head, sandwiched the kids between my knees when I sat to pee (and Otto toilet-papered the floor), and put Otto on my hip while Stella stood on the toilet to wash her hands.

“My pants are still down, Mama.”

It was hard to keep it all straight. But I must admit I felt a thrill when we exited, triumphant and surprising, like clowns from a car.

16 November 2007

What was I thinking?!

We now have two creatures in the house who want to chew, rip, and mess up everything from balls, to plants, to toilet paper. Just as I tear a throw pillow from Rex’s mouth, I turn to see Otto grabbing the phone. I pluck Otto from the phone corner, put him down, and find Rex chewing a hole in the rug. I give Rex a toy, then Otto pounces on the dog and I’m separating them again. Is this what it is like to have twins? And this ritual doesn’t even include Stella. Add her to the mix, and it involves a lot of whining and stomping for something she can’t have, such as chocolate at 8pm or messy painting as we’re about to leave the house. It’s background music for the dance.

Rex needs to be trained. He nibbles on pant legs and wrist bones when he wants to play. Any kid toy is his to eat, apparently. And he jumps, of course. Otto needs to be trained too, but it’s a longer process for which I have more patience. And Stella? She’s training me how to take ten deep breaths when we’re late for work, how to stop and see the spider webs. How to think it’s funny when Rex steals Otto’s food from the high chair.

I had a patient yesterday who was pregnant with baby number 4. Her other children are 5, 3, and under 1. She is happy, but her primary-caregiver husband is scared. So scared he barely spoke and just teared up a lot. I made my other patients wait 45 minutes while they tried to talk about the future, their options, and how they’ll afford 4 kids under 6. I know how stressed I can get with two kids on a bad night. And how adding Rex increases the stress on those bad nights. And to think of adding a baby 8 or 9 months from now? Forget it. I’d be terrified. Thank goodness for good birth control. I think that dad is probably getting his vasectomy as I type. His fear clings to me. I just hope she can carry them all.

08 November 2007

Premature Spring

I have a feeling of Spring in me. The change of light and season always brings it on, but having strangers fling about my deep junk drawer receipts and mini-light parts has really been a catalyst for change.

I have been tossing. Six cubic feet of clothes cycled though Tuesday night’s clothing exchange party, and I only picked out 5 “new” items for myself. Our laundry nook got a makeover. Three kitchen drawers are now liberated of extra ice cream scoops and specialty spatulas, and even better, they open and close without squeezing in a hand to free the item that is stuck on the underside of the counter. And I have plans for practically every secret storage spot in our house. The guys in masks uncovered our crap, littered it around for us to detest. They didn’t take much, but now I don’t want the stuff we have. I don’t mean I want to replace it. I just don’t want that much stuff anymore.

We did add a few things, though. The dead bolts we should have had long ago. And the dog. People keep asking if we rescued Rex (a.k.a Ruffles per Oakland Animal Services). This dog? Definitely not. He wasn’t on his way to death. Within five minutes of starting the adoption paperwork two other family units came to invite him home- and left in tears when they discovered they were too late. I nearly changed my mind when the first woman literally burst into sobs, saying, “Well, at least we know he’s going to a good home.” But I too had been awake all night fitting him into the fabric of our life. He was just our dog. It was clear. And we were right. He is one of us, even when he chews little bits of the carpet, lunges for a poopy diaper, or does some other disagreeable thing that makes us have a better idea of why someone would leave him at the night drop. He is one of us in all our broken, trial and error ways. We’re learning together how to sit and stay and shake and live with trust of the future. And even when we aren’t making philosophical leaps, Rex is just one more inspiration to clean up (or else he’ll eat it).

31 October 2007

News flash!

We got a dog at the pound today. A big orange Halloween dog! We’re still working on a name. Stella dressed as a cat wearing a tutu (she couldn’t decide), we had the big preschool parade (for which I gave my work shift to someone else), then I shored up the fence and cleared off the side porch. Then we got ______. He already seems at home.

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23 October 2007

Make a Wish and Blow

**** October 12

** 9 am

The effects of the accident wash through our family. Others have become sick from stress and all are feeling a loss. My nephew has been amazing. His father is the man whose head needs to be supported when he is propped up. He said, “Papai, don’t think of what you can’t do, think of what you CAN do.” This from a 15 year old when he saw his father for the first time after the accident. I didn’t even try to keep it together over that very long distance call. The boy is a marvel.

I spend a lot of time trying to focus on each moment. Motherhood and loved ones with cancer and even my own near drowning are the stuff that inspire a good look at life. They are the stuff that, if we are lucky, make us pause and take it all in.

I am working too many hours each week covering shifts for a doc who is out. Stella is in school full time- other than when I pull her out for a zoo trip (or today’s ghost making party that starts in an hour). Otto keeps me present and charmed by his giggles and broad leaps growing up. But I constantly butt heads with Stella.

** 5 pm What a day.

After I dropped of Stella at school, I went home and took a nap upstairs with Otto. It was pouring glorious tent-in-the-rain-sounds. I heard a noise that woke me. It was a boom, then walking. I relaxed when I thought it was only my neighbor bringing in her garbage bins. I dozed off. About 30 minutes later, I was in bed nursing Otto when I heard what sounded like Augusto's footsteps on the stairs. It was 2:45. He had a meeting at 4. It didn't make sense. Then I heard 2 male voices approaching the bedroom door. I hopefully (?) cautiously called out "Augusto?" and the door opened to two men in black clothes and black watch caps. A million awful scenarios went through my head, and then the guy who opened the door said "Oh shit!" and they both ran back down the stairs. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911 then took Otto into the bathroom and locked us in.

The guys (we think there were more than 2) tried to interrupt my 911 call (so were possibly thinking of coming back upstairs?). The police surrounded the house within 4 minutes with the dog and guns and warning shouts. When they determined the place was clear, they let me out.

They messed up our AV equipment, took pictures off the walls (looking for a safe), took about $600 of electronics, and made a general mess. They pried open the french doors with a screwdriver.

I can't get that image of them out of my head. I'm so glad Stella was at school. I know we were really lucky.

**** October 23

How do I pause and take it all in? How do I slow down the pace?

Fingerprinting. Visitors. Hypervigilant nights. A birthday party. Mounds of mail- growing. Home form work at 10 pm. Up at midnight with a puking baby. Out of your pajamas before oatmeal at 7:30. I won’t wind the jewelry box until you brush your teeth. Two kids, a lunch bag, one very important bunny, a car seat, keys, wallet, shoes, don’t forget to set the alarm. Thirteen stairs. School drop off. Nurse in car. Sleeping baby up to the crib. Move load from washer to drier. Wash breast pump, bottles, breakfast bowls. Take out trash and compost.

Each moment rushes into the next and before I can wrap my brain around a spinal cord injury, a robbery, or an unsafe furnace report, Otto has five teeth, Stella says “I’m already three,” and the amount of free space on my desk shrinks to twelve square inches. Do I hide my overwhelm (ha, ha, good kidding myself on that one) or just make sure everybody survives? Stella had a great dance party. We did the limbo with a broomstick and my dad wore the crab hat and set up a tattoo station. Pizza. Ice cream cake. It really was a good time.

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15 September 2007

Diving In

You know how it is to go from alarm clock to cereal to locking the door to crossing the street to putting one foot in front of the other… all the while numb and bursting with emotion at the same time? This week a relation, the father of a teen very, very dear to me, had an accident. He survived, but he lost complete use of his body. I am sick with sadness imagining how every person he loves/ loves him is suffering now. Sick to numbness beyond imagination. How it would be to know I could never tickle my squealing children again? And he is stuck in Croatia, a world away from his family in Brazil, a world away from us. Our grief spans three continents, not solving one thing.

At home our world is busy with work and eating and dancing and bedtimes. Augusto and I are dealing in our own ways. He is ever the optimist, hoping for a treatment or act of God, holding on to his fears- and tears. I am the salty spring for us all- eyelids swollen daily as I can’t shake it. Don’t want to shake it, really, because even as it kills me to hold the image of this man’s elegant olive wrists gesturing in a story, this tangible memory makes him complete. And the beauty of the motion, now forever in the past, makes me believe we will all survive his accident, each holding on to some piece of him, carrying him. Carrying on.

29 August 2007

Another Lesson- And Distraction

While I ignore my recent shaved-ass-inspirations and drink wine and eat chocolate, Augusto is unclogging the washing machine pump filter. In a stupid, stupid moment, I put two small latex-backed rugs into our $1K front loader. This error was preventable. After Stella smashed raspberries into one of our little wool kitchen rugs, the conversation went like this (but in Portuguese):

Gentle MIL: You know, I was thinking these rugs are...

Perceptive Me: Really dirty. I know.

Earnest MIL: Can't you take them down to the cleaners to have them washed?

Me: It will cost me at least $20 per rug to clean them. They're $10 IKEA rugs.

MIL: $20 ?!!

Cocky Me (turning crusty rug over in the sink): It says to flat wash only, but if I ruin them in the washer, it's cheaper to buy new ones than pay for cleaning.

Gentle MIL: I don't know...

Excited, Naive Me: I've been wanting to clean them or get new rugs for ages. They're at least 3 years old. I'm going to give it a try!

So I am escaping the not-so-mumbly mumbles of my pissed off husband (who has gathered a crowd, both young and old, by pulling out baby socks and pennies and... wads of rug glue). I am posting baby videos on You Tube (of course!). Oh! to be under 3 and have smart ideas and simple solutions. "Don't worry Mama, these things happen. Don't cry about the washer."

24 August 2007

Body Lessons

I have made bodily discoveries in the most memorable and significant of times. At 27, my first cluster of gray hairs unveiled themselves the day I kicked out my cheating boyfriend. I found a yet-to-be-explained kiwi-sized abdominal mass when I was in nursing school and exploring every crevice with newfound abandon. At age 12 I broke my pinky toe. Nursing it I found my beloved Christmas tree shaped toe mole. In a beer-inspired college competition, I learned that my ability to fart on command is not, in fact, a common skill.

This week- in the most unusual and unfortunate of ways- I learned that my ass has grown. It was in my way, and I accidentally shaved it. I was standing in the shower, shaving my legs and rinsing the razor behind me when the side of my ass caught on fire. It took one stupid moment to realize what I had done, and considerably longer to decide how to get out of the shower and stop the bleeding without ruining a towel. I shaved a 10-inch slice that stung the whole day but has almost completely healed. What I learned- other than there IS a creative way to make your ass the highest part of your body AND apply pressure at the same time- is that I need to curb my daily chocolate habit and get this widening ass to the gym! No more excuses.

15 August 2007

Drunk Without the Buzz

I am Mama tired. Mononucleosis tired. Mt. Everest tired.

Otto is 7 months old today. He is still not sleeping longer than 4 hours at a time. I’m getting up 2, 3, 4 times a night and working 3 days a week. And I got whatever sniffly, coughing, raspy, achey virus the kids had. A nurse at work told me when her son was 5 months old she ran away for one night. Literally left with barely a warning. She pointed her husband to the frozen breastmilk and spent the night in a hotel.

I’ve never been a night away from the kids, but I have a screaming loud physical need to curl up in a bed for 24 hours. Any bed. I’d take even 8 hours if they could be free from baby coughs, nursing, Stella night-talking, husband farts, pee habits, and post nasal drip. I don’t have any more frozen milk, but we do have formula and a baby that needs night weaning anyway. Could I do it? Sneak away? I don’t know if I could, but I know I need it.

A local man forgot his 11-month-old son in the car and went to work all day (only realizing it too late when his wife called to ask why daycare said the son was never dropped off). In the wake of that tragedy, the paper published a you-think-it-couldn’t-happen-to-you piece- and convinced us that it could- with results from a UCSF sleep study. It found that people who are sleep deprived (only 4 or 5 hours a night for as little as a week or regularly interrupted sleep) perform on tests at the same level as a person who is legally drunk. I can’t imagine forgetting my children in a locked car, but I can relate to a busy, sleep-deprived life where a slight change in routine can throw off a whole day. And make you do something you’d regret forever.

Fortunately my offenses include putting cereal boxes back in the fridge and showing up at work in my flip-flops. I’m legally drunk without the buzz. Whoo hoo.


On a more positive note (strictly, oddly related the mouths), Otto cut his first tooth on Sunday. Stella chewed her first gum tonight.


I had so many other deep and clever things to write about, but like a drunkard, I can’t remember what they were. So I’ll just pass out now.

04 August 2007

We Made the Decision, Part 2

Yesterday morning I sought shade at a plastic picnic table while talking about booster shots and shyness with Stella’s new preschool teachers. Stella ignored me in favor of the ice cream stand made from buckets and chairs, the giant slide, the girl who played house. It was a battle to extract her. I was thrilled to be negotiating. Vovo is waiting. We’re having a party tonight; you need to have your nap so that you can have fun later. We’ll come back and play next week.

We’ll come back. Yes! After weeks of polling my parent-friends and harassing my mother-in-law with the merits of this school over that one, we have enrolled Stella in our local preschool. I have a really good feeling about it. The decision came down to the walkable, time-tested, dog-eared, multicultural school v. the brand new, flashy (animals! Redwoods! a submerged in the ground boat!), make-our-own-organic-tea, 10-minute highway drive school. The old school is a little cheaper. The new school’s play yard and plans for kids making books with their own digital images (etc, etc) was hard to pass up, but we couldn’t ignore the years of experience, real diversity, and proximity of our choice. I wavered even until I handed over the deposit, asking “Is this $420 refundable?” But then Stella started to play, and I started to chat with the staff and watched them interact with the kids, and I relaxed. Melted into the bench, actually, relieved to be done with the pros and cons list and to have made the best choice for our family. Our morning seemed like a casual family picnic with the grownups kindly asking one boy not to play pretend guns and another getting smothered with kids-hugs when she arrived. One school had an impressive list of goals and philosophical foundations. The only mission of Stella’s new school is play and peace. I could feel it %100.

01 August 2007

Just Thinking

Just when you think it’s safe to share a new trend, it changes. I was silly enough to brag about Otto’s longer sleep nights. He was finally sleeping 5 ½ to 6 hour stretches and I rejoiced in the company of other parents. “Oh, how much better I feel today than the past 7 months!” I told one woman who is due to have her first baby any minute. Stupid.

I am sitting here pre 7 am (way before my pre-kid days) after one measly 4 hour stretch last night and then Stella woke up to pee. And then Otto was up an hour and a half later. You do the math. I know how short it was without counting. Augusto up for the 4 am potty break, but the slightest loud breath wakes me these days. Lying in bed is far better than carrying 30 something pounds to the bathroom. So I can’t really complain about it.

It makes me crazy how much of the time I want for the past or hope for a change in the future. The focus of our childbirth prep class was being in the present. Meditation. Taking a big breath. Dropping the Doom of Dwell. I worked really hard at it. Or didn’t work hard. Whatever I was supposed to do. Let go into the moment. I sucked at the practice. There is nothing like labor or a newborn to keep you mindful of the present. I hung around for those… but now I’m a time traveler. Monday I was so grateful for my job and looking forward to my increased hours. Yesterday I was pining for my maternity leave as I strolled to the playground and library, latte in hand. (When out on a weekday, I’m always amazed at how many people are window shopping, sitting at cafes, not working or caring for children. What ARE they doing? Self employed? Trust fund? Laid off and taking a break from the job hunt?)

Anyway. I’m up after too little sleep and will be heading to work in an hour, so let me be present with this gift: this happy, babbling little guy all to myself before the rest of the house wakes and the rush of the day begins.

20 July 2007

Let Me Know

Inspired by the book Guess How Much I Love You and this post, I gave it a whirl this evening...

After reading a bedtime story.
Me: Do you know how much I love you?
Stella: Two pounds.
Me: Two? I love you 10 pounds! ...How much do you love me?
Stella: Thirty pounds.

As I am leaving the room
Stella: One more song, please.
Me: OK, I’ll sing you the last few lines then I’m leaving, OK?
Sing end of made-up Thomas the Train song.
Me: Good night.
Stella: Thank you , Mama.
Me: You’re welcome, Sweetie.
Stella: Let me know, Mama!
I’m still walking away…
Stella: Let me know, Mama!
Me: Let you know what?
Stella: Thirty pounds!
Me: You love me thirty pounds?
Stella: Yeah.

19 July 2007

She Said, He Said

Stella said, “I love you.” She said it to me for the first time before bed last night. She said it again tonight. We’ve never taught her to say it like we have with please and thank you. A few times I asked her who she loves and she ran a list of her friends and relatives: “Baraka, Althea, Dani, Pop Pop, Grandmom, VoVo, Paka [our dead cat], Marmalade [our other dead cat].” Mama and Papai didn’t make the list, and I didn’t press for it (heartbroken and confused as I was). She has said, “I love apples.” And, “I love rain.” But this declaration of love in the moments before singing and sleep was from a totally different planet. It was a little shy, like hearing it from a nervous boyfriend for the very first time.

My first reaction was complete joy. But as with each milestone, those grownup words let me see my baby slipping away. Today I got my latte and browsed the bookstore with Otto strapped to my back and Stella home with the in-laws. It was the first time I put him in the Ergo carrier, and as I skipped hands-free out our door, I remembered those easy days with Stella. Those pre-verbal days with only me to decide which store to enter or how long to linger there. Those days before tantrums and elbows that always seem to land in a soft spot. And even as I felt grateful for Otto’s present infancy, I saw the future in fast forward. Pre-verbal is already slipping because now he’s saying- wonderfully, sweetly, sadly…. “Mama.”

14 July 2007


Highway 24 ("The 24" as CA highways are called) passes directly adjacent to the heliport of Children's Hospital. On my way home from work this week, the big red helicopter circled overhead then rocked its way down. What horror had befallen the child inside, the one that was airlifted in for emergency care? I saw the family of that child- hands cupped over mouths, nails bitten. I thought of my own mother, as I always do when I am passed by an ambulance, siren blaring. Even years after I had my own ambulance trip (age 12) Mom said she had palpitations every time she saw an ambulance in motion. She said she cut open the palm of her hand trying to unlock her car when she got the news (your daughter almost drowned, she is still unconscious).

The pulse of the landing shook my car. And then I remembered that I am the parent now, the one who chewed my lip bare at Stella’s first emergency trip (cashew allergy), my cuticles on the second (asthma). By the third visit (inhaled carrots), I was whittled smooth. After Stella was diagnosed with nut and egg allergies, every experience was suspect. Did a kid just eat a PB&J sandwich and then put his hands all over that swing? What was in that wrapper she just found? It's very sweet of your child to offer her cheerios, but our daughter can't have any.

I haven't become careless, the image of her blue lips, her vomit, her puffy red body (all but the soles of her feet)- from just the tip of one cashew- won't let me.

I read every label and ask at every new restaurant, every new meal, every friend's house. Any nuts, nut oils, or eggs? But I have relaxed with some foods that are processed in nut facilities. Foods that aren't loose like granola. Playgrounds are fun again, and I don't feel freakish saying no to a snack. We bring enough of our own to share. Stella knows her EpiPen is very important (especially after she took it from her day care bag, removed the safety cap, and then got a 2 minute time out). She knows the word allergic and stops begging for a bite when we tell her it will make her sick. That's the other way we've relaxed; we eat contraband foods in front of her- sometimes. But that's where it hurts again. The label. Allergic.

Stella: That's ok, mama? I'm not allergic?
Me: Yes, Sweetie, you can eat it.


Stella: My face is not itching. I can eat that one. I'm not allergic!

I love food. Discovering new textures, combinations. I take foolish pride in Stella's decent eating habits (yes, broccoli or apple skins or mixed vegetable pizza). As long as it isn't meat, Augusto will eat what's put in front of him without complaint or suggestion. But he lacks passion (except for ice cream and chocolate). I can turn heads moaning over a burrito or pureed parsnips. I want kids who share my gusto. But how can we dive into an exciting culinary future when every box is turned on its end, every enthusiastic offering of something homemade initially rejected? Like birthday cake.

We started feeding Otto rice cereal a week ago. He had pears yesterday. I can’t help but wonder if he has allergies. My gut tells me no. He doesn’t have any of the rashes that Stella had from 9 weeks until 15 months. As a precaution, he won’t get any nuts or shellfish until he is able to articulate a funny feeling or an itchy lip (probably at least 2½). We haven’t decided about eggs.

As a parent, the burden of caution is everywhere. Streets. Stoves. Ledges. Creepy people. Objects smaller than a toilet paper roll. So we add some common foods to the list. It’s better than worse alternatives.

07 July 2007

I want to be Judy Blume and Martha Stewart and Annie Sprinkle but I don't want my parents to know.

Last Night

Not long ago we gave a few friends a standing invitation for dinner at our house every first Friday of the month. Some friends were established, some somewhat new. We wanted to create a space for conversation, kid romping, and low-intensity hosting. Mostly, we wanted to grow familiarity with these people so that it felt natural for any one parent to toss all the kids in the bath, for another to open every cabinet in search of a wine glass or sippy cup. We wanted to cultivate community. The beauty of First Friday Friends is that we don’t need to think. We check the calendar, see what’s in the peak of season, and expect people at our door. We always serve a vegetarian soup, bread and drinks. Our friends are never obligated to bring anything, but usually someone brings some good wine, a salad, some dip. It’s been four months so far- I mark the time by the soups: chard-sorrel, asparagus, carrot, zucchini.

The last stragglers just left after a longer than expected round of Chinese Checkers (I can’t really call them guests anymore- that’s too formal a term). Our daughters hung in well beyond bedtime while our babies slept. I don’t have the usual post-host exhaustion. We had more than a dozen adults plus a handful of kids eating, talking, running in every room, and I feel filled, not drained. The plan that went out as an email after much thought and anxiety (what will they think? some don’t know each other… do they want to be friends as much as we want to?) is already exceeding my hopes.

This Morning

Last night I dreamed I was reading some old blog entries and one said, “I had sex with my grandmother last night.” I freaked out because I didn’t remember such an offense, and because I just mailed my blog address to about fifteen friends and family. Perhaps I can quick delete this entry, I thought. But, no, I told them two days ago. They might have already read it! Then Otto woke to nurse and my nightmare was over.

After two years of blogging, of sending my life into space with no one reading, I invited my peeps to see it. Just like with the Friday dinners, I wanted to deepen my community, my connections with friends. Since strangers are now reading my blog, it felt odd that my original intimates didn’t know about it. And now this girl who would call all her parent’s dinner guests to the basement to watch her choreographed solo roller skating show is suddenly afraid.

The anxiety started after I wrote about our first Friday routine. Some people who received the blog notice don’t know about first Fridays. Will they feel left out? And maybe long ago I wrote something unflattering or private about someone else and forgot. Now they know. I am unexpectedly self-conscious now, finally understanding why some bloggers use pseudonyms. I don’t want to hurt anyone, and as I am discovering, I don’t want parts of me to be seen. It is exhibitionist to keep a blog about my life. I know that. There is a certain pleasure in sharing it, in thinking that people might find interest in the stuff of our dinners and sleepless nights and vacations. There is an excitement in wondering who has come by, who is peeking in on nursing, potty training, returning to work. It’s like chatting at a café with a friend but the friend doesn’t talk back at all, and I get to take up all the time with Me (unless they go, “um hmm,” and leave a comment, which I would really, really like, by the way). The truth is that a big, old part of me wants to be smack dab in the center of it all. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I always hated that expression. But in a blog where your names are real and you alert your family in a fit of hysteria, you can’t tell all anymore. I don’t feel comfortable telling it all, anyway. I can still roller skate for the party guests, but I need to keep my clothes on.

02 July 2007

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Now I am going to write about nose picking. I am WhyMommy obsessed (and sweet/ salty Kate obsessed too), and I’ve had a hard time writing about my daily life. But I know they’re having a regular life in the throws of it all. I think everybody’s 2-year-old picks her nose. Actually, I think everybody picks their nose. And that’s the problem. How do we teach our kids not to do what we adults do?

I don’t buy “do what I say, not what I do.” I think we should be changing our behavior- or at least thinking about the reasons behind behavior and asking for reasonable accommodation. This goes for swearing, eating in the living room, snacking on chocolate before dinner, and leaving the house before going to the bathroom. On nose picking, our house rule is: No picking in public, but at home or in the car is ok. I wanted to be realistic, that’s why we added the car as an acceptable place. You might not know I pick my nose in the car. I avoid it at stoplights when there are other cars present. When I see you coming in my rearview mirror, I quick pull my finger from my nose. And if I have a passenger other than family, I don’t pick. Ever. The nose picking rule works, because I can keep picking where I find it acceptable.

Even weirder than thinking so much about nose picking rules, is thinking about reasons behind nose picking. It seems Stella always has her finger up her nose. When I started paying attention, I realized with horror that I do to. Nightime nursing: pick. On the phone: pick. Watching TV: pick, pick. It’s disgusting and oh, so satisfying at the same time. And it’s addictive (and sadly a diagnosable obsession). I don’t have a cold, yet the slightest sensation of something extra in my nostril sends me running for a private place where I can go get it. So who sees her mother picking her nose all the time? Now I get it.

Oh, and another house rule is: Wash your hands often.

29 June 2007


I’ve been stewing a post in my head about nose picking and educating our children. But I’ll need to come back to it, because all I keep doing is checking WhyMommy’s posts on breast cancer. I am nursing as I type, enjoying it before Otto gets too distracted by the click of the keys. And there is a mother in DC weaning her son. She has a serious cancer (I guess that means we’re making progress if “serious cancer” isn’t actually redundant anymore) and cancer treatments aren’t good for breast milk. Her baby is three days older than mine. And she is strong now. Asking Demanding that her readers’ comments be positive. Typing her truth. Not changing her name, her tune to WhyMe.

Another mother in DC just beat colon cancer. She shared her journey through mass emails. The same emails that a two years ago were updates on her daughter’s running and music achievements. Quick notes about a new job, a move, other people’s health. I was with this woman nine years ago, steadying her as she signed the papers for the Chinese adoption, as she pulled the first picture of her daughter from the cardboard envelope. We were coworkers, and I was a new midwife. She was too moved, to already in love, to drive to the post office alone. She calls me her midwife. For years after she moved East, I didn’t read all of her emails in detail. Other than the updates, we lost touch. But then one day she found out she had cancer, and all I could think about was that lunchtime trip. Her dreams coming true.

We imagine our lives. We see the splendor of it rolled out ahead. Parties. Graduation. Celebration. We piece together “normal” in relation to others. How much sleep do you get? How often do you fight with your husband? We read the paper and swallow hard at kidnappings, kids caught in gunfire, fathers killed in a convenience store. But life as a parent is mostly just day to day. What’s for dinner? Is the dishwasher empty? No, you can’t stand on that chair. I can’t figure out how one becomes the person in the news with the sad, sad story. No. I know how these things happen. What I can’t wrap my head around is how you live with them. How you live.

The year my mother had breast cancer and my uncle had brain cancer is the year we lost our first son. It’s not so clear to me now how we lived. I remember crying on the couch an awful lot. I remember my milk darkening circles on my shirt. I remember believing I had the worst luck on the planet. But then the days moved one by one along the squares in the kitchen calendar. My mom came and went from the community chemo room. She mailed pictures of her bald head. We threw ashes into the Pacific. Hours became weeks became years. And now we are parents of two. My mother and uncle survived. And I sit here now thinking how lucky we are to have more than just a “normal” life: health, and wealth, and love. How lucky I am to feed my son and dream of his first day of school… that quintessential vision of the backpack, the glance backover his shoulder. How easily it all can change.

What does WhyMommy think of now in those moments when she's not strong? What is normal in her house? I swallow hard now and hold a future for her in my swelling heart.

23 June 2007

P.S. I like letters

It's getting better. I can see a speck of light- really a warm glow- at the end of the sleepless tunnel. We've had two nights of two feedings each (with one extra rising to sing to Stella- WHY? I don't know).

So I'm actually up after 10pm, happily noodling away on the computer, joining Facebook like a co-ed. I was shocked to find 6 people from my address book already had Facebook pages. (Three of them are my 20-something cousins, but anyway...). I haven't figured it out yet- just what exactly it is that I can get out of Facebook, but I am gathering friends and have already"poked' two people. I don't know what happened to them when I did it, but i hope it felt as fun as it sounds (although poking my own cousin doesn't sound legal).

I also found this article in a cool new mag I found after joining Work It, Mom!. The author writes a letter to a seat mate traveling alone with two small children. I can't tell you more because I don't want to ruin your read. Just the other day I received a letter from Southwest Airlines letting me know that they forwarded my thank you note to the flight attendant who helped me on my return flight with the kids. I also wrote a note to the passenger who helped me on the outbound journey. After reading the piece by Vibrating Liz, it's interesting to imagine what their experience was. It's also a reminder to slow down.

21 June 2007

And why am I still awake?

Sleep is one of those essentials like food and water. Sleep deprivation is a common form of torture that is deplored by human rights groups. This is Otto’s sleep schedule from last night:

8 pm go to sleep in crib

12:30 nurse in chair, go back to crib

2:30 cry for 12 minutes, fall back asleep while mom buries her head under the pillows

3:30 come into bed, nurse

5:30 nurse in bed

7 am wake up

I went to bed at 10pm, so I was up 4 times with a maximum 2.5 hour stretch. Did I feel tortured? A bit. Otto is 5 months old and weighs over 13 pounds. He should be able to sleep longer stretches than 2 to 4 hours. Add to this rumination playground chats about babies who actually do sleep, mamas who have a glow in their cheeks, and in-laws who think letting a baby cry is cause for calling Amnesty International, and we have one crazy, exhausted, working mama in Oakland.

He got 2 decent naps today, 10- 11am & 2-5 pm so we’ll see how tonight goes… Supposedly sleep begets sleep. I better start mine.

18 June 2007

Working Mother

Today was my first day back at work. Not only did I survive it, I loved it! When I left Stella when she was 3 1/2 months old, I cried all the way there and called no less than 3 times before I returned home. Today I felt a lump in my throat as I kissed Otto, but it was brief. I only called to say I'd be a little late. When I got home, Stella ran to hug me and Otto took me back without question. I felt like a whole person. It didn't hurt that my in-laws were caring for the kids.

I loved seeing patients, catching up with my coworkers, and finding my drawers organized and ready to go. The work made me dig into my mental reserves. I forgot some paperwork details, how Sickle Cell Genetics work, took too long to chart my visits, and found myself chatting away with patients while I had others waiting. Midwifery is like riding a bike; it will come back very soon.

Talking was the best part. I thrive on grownup conversation. Uninterrupted experience. That's what I get at work that I don't get at home. And it's behind a closed door- no one to bother us! It's a marvelous thing. Pumping wasn't too bad. I got 3oz out of 2 sessions. That's half of what some women get from one boob in 5 minutes, but for me, it was ok. The pump didn't romance me the first time, so I wasn't expecting much. Otto will start eating cereal in a few weeks, and I have about 30 oz of frozen milk, so I'm not stressed.

It was a challenge to write, however. My handwriting has always been a mess, but after six months of writing only shopping lists, checks, and brief thank you notes, it is officially illegible. Once my father received a note from me and asked politely, "Did you write it so that I couldn't read it... on purpose?" I'll work on the writing. Every year it's my resolution- that and flossing. I never achieve my goals.

16 June 2007

Pile of Milestones

We are a house of milestones. Every time we arrive at putting on a shirt, zipping a boot, descending stairs, we get smarter, more confident in our parenting. Then we have a new set of skills to master, a new type of tantrum to face. And we question ourselves.

Stella is completely diaper free. She’s been 5 nights in “unterVear.” Last night she gave away the rest of her diapers to a friend. She’s really excited about pooping in the toilet. So much so that she waits to flush (another favorite activity) and runs to her father or grandmother and says, “Look, I pooped. Come see!” She then leads them to the bathroom. Once when Augusto was at work, I convinced her that saving her stinky poop in the toilet all day was not a good option, she drew a picture of it. A really good picture. Her first representational picture. I’m a proud mother, what can I say?

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Otto is laughing at Boo and Raspberries, flipping over onto his belly at every chance, doing push-ups and breakdancing (the wave?). He’s working on some teeth. He’s also sleeping longer stretches of 5 or 6 hours. They’re happening mostly before I go to bed, but I know it’s a start. After three plus weeks of travel, sleeping in a small bed with him, and sharing a room for all four of us, he became a boob monster and baby who needed too much parenting to sleep. So instead of following the progress to a likely place of jiggling or nursing for 45 minutes before bed every night, we started crying it out. He’s 3 month’s younger than Stella was when we did it to her. He’s never really cried more than 30 minutes in his whole life, but I don’t want to get to that awful angry place we went with Stella before we finally caved and let her cry to sleep learn to sleep on her own. Ideally, we would have completed the job before the Vovos (grandparents) arrived, but we didn’t. For naps and nighttime he usually fusses and/or cries for 5 or 6 minutes- but it ranges from 1 to 14 minutes. It is hard to listen to, but I do believe it is ultimately good. Or else my kids will need years of therapy to undo all of our parenting mistakes.

It’s so hard to know what is “right.” It’s also hard to let go or stop worrying about what is “right.” Every parent chooses her own way to teach, discipline, feed, clothe, diaper, talk to, or even play with their child. Of course we want “the best” for our kids. But that judgment varies widely. I have spent countless privileged hours researching schools, sleep tactics, diaper choices, baby carriers, recipes, and even toddler chair and table heights. I have stayed up hours later than is good for me, twisted my neck and shoulder out of whack, and lost actual face to face time with my husband or kids or even other people. Sometimes I think it pays off. We end up with a product or routine that works for us. But how can I really know if I wouldn’t have been as happy (or happier?) with something entirely different?

I need to remember that every time we let go of our expectations or fears, something good happens. Like with diapers. I wanted Stella to be out of diapers before Otto was born. Then soon after. Then I gave up. That’s when she mounted the toilet at my Mom’s house. It is the same thing with preschool. I stressed so much in the beginning, found a fantastic school, stressed more about it, missed the deadline for mailing in our deposit, kicked myself, then got waitlisted at our “inferior” neighborhood school because we’re not a “working class” family that wants 5 days/ week. So I just gave up. Then a new school opened that I think we’ll love when we see it next weekend. Will it be perfect? Will it be right? Will it be better for Stella than Montessori or any of the half-day (which doesn’t work for a working couple like us), wait-forever pay-a-fortune schools in our area? I don’t know. And I think I don’t care- as long as she loves it.

12 June 2007

The Brazilians have arrived!!

After 30 hours of travel, my in-laws are here. Most of my friends think I’m crazy or lying when I say I have been eagerly awaiting their arrival. They will live with us for the next three months. Three whole months. In this time I will return to work, Stella will learn more Portuguese, Augusto and I will have weekly date nights and a night away, and we will coexist in the kitchen, living room, and daily stuff of our lives.

I get along with my in-laws. Well. I always have. The initial language barrier probably smoothed the way. It’s hard to argue when the English conversation is limited to food and sights. We have since switched to Portuguese, which actually makes us have accidental debates which spin off of a minor misunderstanding. Augusto and Auri are gracious people. They don’t occupy much space. They clean up after themselves (and us). They LOVE their grandchildren. They can play with them for hours, listen to any pitch or volume of screaming, and hold them for an hour forgoing a potty break. There are the expected debates over sweets and bedtimes and the daily “No, I’ll do it.” But it is overwhelmingly good.

I do speak from experience. When Stella was 2 months, they lived with us for 8 weeks. When we hugged goodbye at the airport, I sobbed huge, attention grabbing tears second only to the crying many years ago when I had to leave my sick grandmother in Baltimore and I couldn’t convince anyone at the airport to give me a change of ticket for less than $1000. So this time I suggested they stay longer.

The fridge is a little more packed than I like it and I’ve already said no to half a dozen grandmother-suggested sweets in less than 48 hours, but I am NOT complaining. We are so grateful they are here.

02 June 2007

Midwives Misunderstod.... Again

Every time Augusto puts some midwife news from the SF Chronicle in my To Read pile by the toilet, I feel dread. Truthfully, the dread follows naïve excitement- ooh! Somebody is paying attention! Quickly I come to my senses. I remember that only a select group understands midwives. The mainstream media is not part of this group.

Glaring from the pile is the headline “Fewer options for those who seek natural births: Midwives becoming less popular as cesarean sections gain ground.” The empathetic (?) journalist covered the upcoming closure of Homestyle Midwifery. Homestyle is a popular, personalized in-hospital midwifery service. Contrary to the headline, I actually met two people in Hawaii who delivered with that service. After we passed on our homebirth practice, my former partner, Cynthia Banks, worked for Homestyle for a couple of years. She is an excellent midwife, and she loved that practice. Then California Pacific Medical Center came in, took over St. Luke’s Hospital, and the well-loved, extremely safe midwives are done.

It’s all very sad, but what is worse is that the media can’t get it right, so the general public doesn’t understand, and with the pressure of OBs who are threatened midwives will steal their normal birth- big business, i.e. medical systems like CPMC, follows suit. Let me state two facts:1.Midwives are autonomous providers. 2. Birth with midwives is safe. The article gets it wrong on both accounts. It’s a common misconception, as follows:

1. “For doctors, the decision to allow a midwife to handle the birth or to intervene medically is often a matter of weighing the potential risks against a woman's wishes during labor. The vast majority of births are trouble-free, but few doctors want to risk complications just because a woman would prefer to avoid a medical procedure, physicians say.” Doctors don’t decide to ALLOW a midwife to do anything. We have our own patients. If they meet set criteria for having a low-risk pregnancy, they choose us. When there is a concern of complication with a woman’s health, we consult with a doctor. That means we ask for their opinion, consultation, guidance, or to take over care of the patient- whatever is appropriate.

2. "Some women may say, 'I'm willing to risk a little in terms of safety to have the birth I want.'” Dr. Elaine Gates, vice chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at UCSF made that statement. Birth with midwives has been shown over and over again to be as safe as or safer than birth with OB-GYNs when you match women of similar risk in similar settings.

It’s really a shame that midwifery is so misunderstood- since the research also shows that patients of midwives are overall more satisfied with their experiences than patents of doctors.

30 May 2007

The Attack of Everything

The end of the Attack of Snot is near. I hesitate venturing into the subject, but what would a parent’s musings be without snot? There’s so much of it everywhere.

“Runny nose, Mama!”

“Just a second, I’m getting some paper.”

“Runny nose, Mama!”
“Runny nose, Mama!”

“OK, blow”

Day care allows runny noses, but no other ill children. No fevers or coughs (although a few sneak through). Definitely no puking or diarrhea. Stella’s runny nose is nearly constant- usually clear and allergy related, I believe. But this nose is impressive. Rivers of yellow-green snot. And she spiked a fever of 106.2. You read it right. 107 is seizure-zone, so I was just a bit freaked when I took her back to the vet pediatrician (she’s 2 ½ and I keep saying it wrong). Yes, back. We had been there in the am and were told to watch and wait, but by the time we got home her fever was climbing faster than I could find the office number. Thanks to ibuprofen, it went down that fast too. But the doc said get your butt here ASAP, so I lugged sleeping infant in car seat and roasting toddler on my hip the thirteen stairs to the car, 10 minutes to the office and a long lot from the car. She improved while we were there and found that she doesn’t have a septic kidney infection (cheer!), but probably has some resistant sinusitis that’s in our community. While we waited for her Augmentin and probiotic, she explored the lobby barefoot. I forgot her shoes at home. Nothing gets disapproving stares like a barefoot child in a medical setting. Add the unkempt hair, unshowered mama, and all three people in messy clothes- certainly not “outfits.” We looked like a mini old mother and the shoe or whatever it is.

I was apprehensive about the big-gun antibiotic, but more apprehensive about the wacky high fever. I was also making decisions on 5 hours of breastfeeding-interrupted-jetlag sleep. I didn’t even have time to get my caffeine. It was one of those days that makes me the woman who is always in the center of a crisis. You know that friend or cousin who has some shit happening every time you just call you say hi.

“Hi, Friend, How are ya’?”

“Well, not so great. My car got broken into when I was at the DMV trying to replace my lost license and then I couldn’t get anyone to care for the kids so they’re here with me while I’m giving the police report. Shit- I just dropped my keys in the mud! I gotta go.”

Yeah. I’m THAT friend these days. Every week it’s something new. I hate to hear myself speak. While we were dealing with Stella yesterday, I completely ignored the cat- not the one who got sick and ran away/died last month, but the other one who has a rectal mass and can’t make a bowel movement. She looked so miserable this morning, trying to poop in vain, crying out. She’s lighter than a week ago. Which was lighter than two and three weeks ago. Her skin is tenting with dehydration. She wobbles. She’s had two enemas just so she can shit (that’s added some lightness to the conversation: California Freaks Give High Colonic to Cat). What an embarrassment for the fastidious cat. I have an appointment for her tonight. This might be it. I don’t want to say goodbye to her too, but I hate seeing her suffer- and know it won’t turn around. The vet says it’s cancer. Inoperable. And I’m not putting a 16-year-old cat through chemo or some other miserable treatment. The kids will be up soon and they will simultaneously need me for everything, so I’m going to go pet the cat and/or bury my head in the unused kitty litter.

Today Stella’s temp is lower and her mood improved. But her nose is still flowing.

“Runny nose, Mama!”

“You know, you need to learn to do this yourself...OK, blow.”

“Mama, runny nose again!”

28 May 2007

Pay for Shade?

Last night we returned from 9 days in Hawaii. I didn't mention it before because I have this thing about announcing to the world that we're going out of town. My husband is that way when I shout it across the street so the neighbors know to look out for our house. He is sure some opportunistic robber will over hear. I think he's too paranoid about the street thing. But I'm like that in my blog. Crime is up in our hood. We're both a little jittery.

Anyway, Augusto had a conference at the Ritz in Maui. The Ritz- I KNOW, what luck?! How could the kids and I not tag along? By coincidence, friends with kids the same ages as ours were staying nearby. A few of the days we all went to the beach as one gear-toting hoard and took turns with the kids. Travel with other families is fantastic. Every time we've gone somewhere with another family or more, it has been a huge success for all involved. Even when the kids aren't playing well together, we adults can share responsibility for redirecting, imagining creative games, cooking and all the other parenting jobs. It also shakes up our own family dynamics, so we end up having less stupid bickering and more overall quality adult time. I can't recommend it enough.

Hawaii was lovely. The sun was out. The views were stunning. Our marble bathroom had a separate room for the toilet. The ocean was warm and seemingly stocked for our snorkeling pleasure. There were two major exceptions to the loveliness: 1. the food and drinks at the resort are too expensive for a person of regular means to consume on a daily basis; and 2. guests are expected to pay for shade. Yes, I said pay for shade. So we tired of kid grilled cheese (pool bar, $5), instant oats (brought from home), and baby carrots (Safeway in Lahaina) while we kept moving to stay in the wispy shade of the tall palms. The Ritz has cabanas for four people and pairs of lounge chairs with awnings. These can be reserved for $75 and $50 per day! They do not provide any other umbrellas at the pool or beach. I can't get over either of these ridiculous features of the Ritz. As I nursed Otto under a shade tent made by stretching a kanga from my Oakland baseball cap to my knees, I scanned the pool menu thinking I must have missed the one affordable item (chips and salsa $11, chicken sandwich without fries $16, cup of coffee $5). I imagined the staff gathered at some planning meeting, wringing their hands, whining and cackling..."If they'll pay $300 and up for a room at a resort a 10 minute drive from the nearest hotel, we can charge $13 for a Mai Tai and $15 for a mediocre Pinot Gris no problem. And why the hell not?! Get 'um for all they're worth. Hey, let's charge for SHADE while we're at it. It'll be hilarious!"

17 May 2007

Adventures at Longs Drugs

I was browsing the clearance section at our local Longs Drugs when I spied the home highlighting kit. I was there on a separate mission, but got distracted (as I can when I am shopping only with Otto (which is pretty much like shopping alone)). I have colored my hair only a few times in my life once I stopped using Sun In-- in, like, 1986? Once I had a semi-permanent copper last until it grew out. And when Stella was an infant I got a choppy cut with high and lowlights. And that’s it. So, being in my funk and finding a kit for only 5 bucks- as opposed to the nearly $200 for the last job- I bought it. I thought it might add some juice to my mojo. Perk up my spirits. I followed the directions to the letter- including cutting off a strand of hair for testing. I decided on 20 minutes for a few tastefully, yet artfully, placed shocks of blonde. I didn’t want to look like the box’s eager co-ed with the zebra head, yet I did want the effect to be noticeable.

Well, noticeable it is. Yup. Woo hoo.

What a mess. Brassy. Splotchy. Cheap like 5 bucks. And I look exactly like the girl on the box, plus 15 or 20 inappropriate years. It’s not a pretty sight. But as my friend Karen of Great Hair Knowledge said, “A hair accident always makes for a good story. You could just say you were passed out drunk and you don’t know how it happened.” I suppose I never had my share of hair accidents. In retrospect the Sun In was a whole era of accident, but I was blissfully ignorant.

The family hasn’t noticed, or maybe they’re being polite. But at least now I have something lighter to complain about.

15 May 2007

I Write Poems Sometimes.

I write poems sometimes. Usually in the winter and after some major life event. Pregnancy, birth and parenting have been excellent muses- along with my mother’s cancer, tensions with my husband, and trips to Brazil. When the summer arrives I turn the soil and rip out the ever-persistent Bermuda grass. Keyboards and scraps of paper for poetic flashes get shuffled down the priority list. Garden bolts to the top. This funk keeps me from doing much of anything- and keeps me inside complaining about it in this forum. Poems are bubbling inside.

Before the funk, I gardened like mad. And the garden does look smashing- a wonderful place to sit and watch Stella play. The day my grandfather died, we were featured on a “green” gardening tour. Our garden is tolerant of the Northern California summer droughts and winter rains, is free of pesticides and fertilizers, and has clover instead of grass for the lawn. We have a Trex deck. We ripped up concrete and built walkways and raised beds, used years of broken plates for a mural on a retaining wall. Having lived here only 5 years- and being novice gardeners- the plantings still have room to grow, and the aesthetic is definitely “home grown.” But I am truly pleased.

Perhaps I can work through my loss with some off-season poems, celebrate life with the veggie beds, and move back to my big dog self. In summer camp one of the counselors said I was like a ball- I always bounced back quickly from whatever problem. I hope her assessment holds true today.

14 May 2007

So Long, Old Friend

My grandfather, 72 hours before he died. He was so happy to see his great grandchildren.
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Reduced to Bones

The cat hasn’t come home. It’s been over a week. The constants in my life are sneaking away one by one. It started in pregnancy when a good night’s sleep gave way to multiple trips to the bathroom. Then there was the baby and everything that went with her. Movies. Dinners. Free arms. Down time. Total focus on any one task- instead of one ear/ eye/ nostril trying to make sure everything is all right with the baby. Then the second baby- ditto all the above. These disappearances came with the (mostly) joy of family.

But now my grandfather and the cat. And my hair is falling out again. It’s amazing, my home is packed with toys, my car jammed with kid stuff, and my schedule filled with parks and playdates and cooking healthy food- yet I’m feeling small. Like I’ve been shaved or peeled. In the middle of so much vibrant and joyous noise, I am less. I’m not used to being less. I’m always the one who is more. The one who is too much, actually. The big wet nosed dog knocking down the skinny old ladies. That’s me. Not these anxious, complaining naked bones. I am grating against everything without my slobber and fur.

09 May 2007

An inventory of what was lost

What six, eight weeks can bring. Augusto went to Japan twice, and I got to try single parenting for nearly 20 nights. I took the kids to Baltimore on my own for part of his trip, and passed another parenting milestone- air travel with two. I am amazed at my ability to keep everyone fed and clothed (not necessarily clean). It’s all dependent on organization, sacrifice of any personal time, and a glass of wine a few times a week. I am completely convinced that being a primary caregiver should be a prerequisite to the presidency- or air traffic control.

The high of accomplishment is over and now I am stuck in a funk. My 93-year-old grandfather died on Sunday. He was assembling an IKEA chair. I loved him so much.

An inventory of what was lost:

  1. A wise, handy, loving old guy how didn’t want to die for fear of missing something.
  2. Our orange cat, left home 4 days ago after a rapid onset illness.
  3. Fear of parenting alone
  4. Daytime diapers!!

What was learned?

  1. My strong urge to visit family was worth heeding- my grandfather met his great grandson 3 days before he died.
  2. I regret shooing the cat off my desk nearly every evening for the past 3 months.
  3. If I can handle two kids for 2 weeks on my own, I can do just about anything
  4. Wait to let the kid potty train; they’ll do it quickly when ready.

I saw two women in stirrup pants yesterday. I need to make that odd sighting into a sign that things are looking up. That, and Otto found his toes.

26 March 2007

Day care makes kids act out?

Of course I’m screwing up our kids. If I were a stay-at home mom everything (except my sanity and personal satisfaction) would be perfect. Now it appears that kids who spend more than 10 hours a week in the care of someone other than their mothers act out more in the 6th grade. So what about SAHDs or grandma? I haven’t read the study, only the news (which is an amazing fact in itself).

We all love Stella’s 12 to 20 hours a week of day care. She even woke up once at 3 am crying to go there. I just can’t think it is that bad for her. All over the world children are raised by communities of people. Even 30 years ago in this country a mother had the help of her mother or mother-in-law on a regular basis.

I’m gonna let it go.

Or not.

21 March 2007


The rain finally did the watering for us. We put in trees and plants and a clover lawn in the past few months. It’s usually the best time in Northern California for planting- because we get so much rain. But rain has been scarce this year.

It rained yesterday- just enough to wet the roots and be reason for Stella to wear her rain boots. She stomped around in some puddles and our clover got a little taller. After 12 years in the Bay Area, I finally feel the rhythm of the local seasons. After years of needing to check the calendar to know what time of year it was, I now notice the tiny wildflowers of spring and brown hills of fall. There were many times over the last decade I would be dumbstruck on the street, smelling… fall? Or was it spring? Or thinking a summer storm was coming, but it was only the thick of summer fog lowering the sky and lifting the leaves. I would search my brain for some answer- like trying to find a lost name, just on the tip of my tongue.

My children will know these seasons like I know those of Maryland- where a tree of flames means back to school sales and crocuses don’t fool me of summer any time soon.

13 March 2007

Make the Headlines

It was a murder-suicide kind of day. The kind of day that brings out the mean mama in me, that brings me closer to other mothers of two-year-olds. You only need to say, ”It was a two-year-old morning,” and I know what you mean. It seems we’re having a two-year-old month.

Things that happen right before a tantrum:

  1. I won’t let her apply my husband’s sample of musk deodorant all over her face.
  2. She can’t get her sock on.
  3. I won’t let her take a paper bag of nails to daycare.
  4. She doesn’t want to change her poopy diaper.
  5. I won’t let her rock her brother so vigorously his head flings around over his body.
Two. It explains everything. So I call my husband and try not to sound too desperate when I ask how long until he gets home because I gave her lentils when she wanted oatmeal and the baby is crying and I’m trying to cook risotto and the ants invaded the cat food and I’m dehydrated and have a headache the size of Texas and if he doesn’t get home soon there will be a murder-suicide. He knows what I mean and steps on the gas- the other direction!

27 February 2007

It Finally Happened

It finally happened. I fell while holding Otto. It wasn’t anything like I had feared. He was strapped into his car seat, there weren’t any stairs or vehicles involved, and no blood (his or mine) was shed. It did shake the shit out of me. I’m so glad it didn’t happen with my first. I was so nervous about everything with her, it might have sent me packing.

So there I was, a carefree second-time mother, entering Stella’s daycare via the forbidden old herringbone brick driveway (not on the required, level sidewalk). Out of nowhere, an unset brick grabbed my shoe and sent me in one direction and the shoe in another. Otto and his seat went on a third trajectory despite my valiant efforts to prevent such an event. I landed on the ground with a dirty palm and bruised knee and saw that Otto was there too, in his car seat on its side. He wailed, and I gathered him and my shoe as quickly as possible. When I got into the daycare I checked to see that all four of his limbs were moving independently and there wasn’t any blood. Then I handed him off to the daycare provider and washed my hands and caught my breath.

A friend fell on the stairs while her five week old was in the sling. She turned and broke the fall with her arm- which broke. It was the desired result, of course. I ran into her at a café with her cast and slinged baby. Stella was just starting to walk at the time, so her accident ruffled every fear I had. I realized it was actually possible for one of them to come true. Seeing her arm reminded me of the power of mothers to save their children from some harm, but also scared me to the core. As I was leaving her, she asked her male friend to crane her full breast out of her shirt for her baby to nurse. He had to use both hands to do it. Now that amazing sight- on a busy street- almost made the fear worth it.

21 February 2007

It's Only a Joke!

"Do you know what this is?"
"Brain Sucker."
"Do you know what it's doing?"

Stella and Otto, only 5 weeks into their sibling relations.

Celebrity Watch

Britney Spears shaved her head and checked into (and out of) rehab. I have no doubt about it. Her two kids are HOW close in age? And she went from famous kid with a kick-ass play life to divorcing mother. You can’t get out of being mother no matter how famous you are (unless you check into rehab, I guess). Britney’s youngest is right at the point where all of my luxurious pregnancy hair started falling out. That nearly threw me over the edge (without the second kid and crash into reality life). Our cleaning lady mentioned it, “Your hair is everywhere.” “I know, it’s all over the bathroom,” I said. “No, it’s all over the house!” she replied. I think she thought it was cancer. I wanted to shave my head every morning. I was a little less drastic and got a short mommy-do. But I considered it when I couldn’t shower and/or stand the sight of myself. Actually, I couldn’t stand the feel of myself- leaky breasts, sweaty pits, tangled, dirty hair. Shaving seemed the quickest way to sustained cleanliness and a sense of style. Yeah for Britney for doing what I was too weak (or sober) to manage.

I hope as I approach the next hair-falling out phase, I hope I will get through it drug-free. I also hope the pop star gets better soon.

17 February 2007

News and Confessions

He took it! He took it! Otto took milk from a bottle! It took us five days to get around to the big attempt, but he sucked it up without complaint. We were waiting for the “perfect opportunity,” a.k.a Stella not around and Otto hungry. We should know by now that perfect opportunities of any kind rarely present themselves. So finally we had a relaxed Friday night with my visiting father putting Stella to bed. Otto woke from a nap, and I sneaked off into hiding. Augusto presented him with the warmed milk and gave the thumbs up.

This victory means the Habitrail run is a little shorter and dinner and a movie or a professional massage are in my foreseeable future.

Other breaking news just in: Otto smiled and cooed repeated times today despite the fact or because I am a bad mother. This is the confession: Sometimes I put him to sleep on his stomach. He sleeps so much better on his stomach. Truly better, longer, quieter. I preach Back To Sleep to my patients and even use a logo-adorned official sleep sack. But Otto is loud and gassy and loves being on his belly. And I am full of excuses. If he’s not on his belly he grunts most of the night. He sleeps through it, but Augusto and I are kept awake. I figure I slept on my stomach because my mother was told if I slept on my back I would choke on my spit up and die. People thought hormone replacement therapy was safe. People thought caffeine in pregnancy was dangerous. Research can be refuted a decade later. And we don’t smoke or over bundle or do any of the other things that are associated with SIDS. So at 3 or 5 in the morning when I’ve had a little sleep and am therefore not sleeping so deeply the rest of the night, and when Otto is grunting loudly enough to wake the neighborhood, I just roll him over. Does it worry me? Of course. But I do it anyway.

12 February 2007

Pumping Gold

I pumped the liquid gold for the first time this morning. We’re in the 4 to 6 week-window for introducing the bottle, so we needed something to put in it. I was anxious because pumping for Stella was, at best, like bad scheduled sex. There was no romance and little reward for a bodily function so intimate and dependent on a delicate mix of hormones, timing, mindset and physical stimulation. I could pump four times in a day and get a grand total of 3 ounces. This time I am determined to get it going early so I can develop a fine relationship with the Passionate Sucker, (a.k.a Medela Pump-in-Style) and, more importantly, pack the freezer with the products of our love so I can go to work or- imagine! - a movie and leave Otto behind.

He is four weeks old today, and the honeymoon is over. Two weeks ago I told a friend how much better it was with the second child. I told her that I didn’t have that postpartum sense of doom that my life was over. My former life ended with the first child, so there was nothing left to lose. What a relief! This theory still holds true, but I have the other doom that I had forgotten: The Hamster Wheel Effect. Any mother knows it- and then forgets it so that she has a small chance of wanting to have more children. Nurse. Burp. Change. Soothe. Nurse. Burp. Change. Soothe. Pretend to go to bed at night. Nurse. Burp. Change. Soothe. It’s a prison. I’m just grateful I have a husband who is helpful when he’s around, a freezer stocked with food from good friends, and a predictable post-milk smile from this little guy.

Tonight Augusto will try to give my ounce and a half to Otto and thus give me speck of light at the end of my Habitrail.

31 January 2007

It WAS the Real Deal

It’s been two weeks since those irregular contractions. Our son is two weeks old. At 2:30 pm, just after I last wrote, I tried to take a nap, but lay awake noting every twelve minutes on the clock. After an hour or so, I called Augusto and asked him to come home. His commute can often take more than an hour, so I wanted to be sure he was on his way. I chatted with my neighbor about her plans for a Sunbrella hot tub cover. Every few minutes I paused to lean over her compost bin or kitchen table and breathe a little bit. Stella would be awake soon, so I dashed back inside and was greeted by her waking-up sounds. I brought her downstairs and got her snack ready, then my body let loose. The contractions were three to six minutes apart and took my full attention. I made sure Augusto was close then called the midwives and our friend Libby to pick up Stella. Augusto and Libby arrived at 5pm, just two and a half hours after I had laid down for my nap.

By this time I was burying my face into pillows, towels, and blankets while digging my still-humid pedicure into the rug. The sounds from my throat were curious- somewhere between a Gregorian chant and a large animal near death. While Augusto installed our car seat in Libby’s car, Libby slid her fingers across the small of my back. The light touch gave some relief from the band tightening on my middle.

When Augusto and I were finally alone, I waddled to the bathroom for the epic emptying of my bowels. At 2-minute intervals, I threw myself onto my hands and knees and made the dead animal chant then climbed back up to the toilet for more. Augusto ran the tub and then ran around the house. I could hear his feet stomping down the hardwood at a hare’s pace. Run to get water. Run to get the phone. Sprint for the phone list. Race back to stroke me when the contraction comes again. The baby’s head was low, but my dilation was unclear when I checked at 5:30pm. We paged the midwives. The tub didn’t provide the relief I wanted. With contractions on top of one another, all I wanted was one moment of rest. I also wanted to pee. The need to go was so strong- yet I was completely unable to sit on the toilet or release any pee in the tub or anywhere else I tried. A little after 6, when one midwife had arrived, the bright orange rug on bathroom floor called to me. I lay down on my side and stayed there until the end. I still couldn’t pee, but the contractions spaced out enough to drink some water and rest for a glorious minute.

Pressure. I felt pressure. Two contractions later I was pushing. We had just decided to check my dilatation, and I had only half-jokingly declared if I was 2 cm, we were heading to the hospital for a c-section. With only the tip of her finger inside my vagina, our midwife felt the head. Since I still needed to pee and the head was right there, I reached around my belly and felt his head myself. It was exciting to know I was close, and my hand between my legs gave a grammar school relief to my peeing urge. I could feel his head descend with every push. The feel of his squishy scalp over his firm skull made me forget everything else. It helped me focus on the task of getting him out. I pushed until my labia burned, then I puffed air until the burning stopped.

A few minutes into it, the other midwife arrived, and I gave her detailed directions on where to find and how to turn on the camera. I was vividly alert and knew exactly what to do. I instructed my husband to hold my leg in just the right place. I knew just how much to push each time. I asked for water when I wanted it. I smoothed my fingers over my baby’s head as he emerged a little more with each effort. There was no fear. No doubt. There was only the strength of each push and the burn as my body stretched to accommodate our second child.

At 6:37 pm, in our house in Oakland, Otto squeezed out with a tiny cry. His father, joyous with laughter, lifted him to me. Otto blinked his eyes and looked at my face, my breast, my belly that had been his home. He was pink, and warm and calm. I was elated.

15 January 2007

Correction: Prodromal Labor

It’s prodromal labor. That means I can’t announce that the baby is coming anytime soon- but there is something going on. Cervical ripening, descent of the baby, etc. Yesterday’s contractions slowed and stalled, and I knocked them out completely with 2 glasses of yummy red wine. After months of near tee totaling, I was wobbly-legged after dinner and the hot tub. I went promptly to bed. About ten times I was woken by a tightening in my belly and back, had to do some deep, slow breaths to keep comfortable, then went back to sleep. Today has been much of the same. While driving to get kitty litter I was gripped by one powerful contraction that made me plan an exit strategy if a second came along. The bleeding continues, so I can assume some change in my cervix, but it is too high and my sciatica is too bad for me to be able to do an accurate self-dilation check. Not for lack of trying! I know it won’t help me predict the future, but I am curious what these irregular, tolerable contractions are accomplishing. Here comes one now…

14 January 2007

Early Labor?

Stella was born two days before her due date. When this boy’s due date came and went two days ago, I felt late. Over a 48-hour period this week at least five people called to see if I had had the baby yet. I snapped on the last one. Obviously we will let everyone know when he is born. I even have the birth announcement layout already done. It was a set up, though. I was convinced that I would have him the first week of January- and told people about it. What a mistake!

Well, to anyone paying attention, I am in some kind of early labor right now. I’m not going to call anyone right away or get my mother worrying so early in the day. But from 7 to 8 am I had regular light contractions every 3 minutes followed by some bloody show. I came downstairs to announce the good news to the family, and Augusto told me that the midwife had just called and said we shouldn’t go into labor today because she has two other clients laboring. That call killed the regularity of my contractions, but the blood still spots an hour later.

08 January 2007

No Vegas, No Baby

I didn’t “let” Augusto go to CES in Vegas because I’m almost 40 weeks and don’t want him to miss the birth. Well, I’m still almost 40 weeks. In retrospect, he could have gone, but I didn’t want to risk it. He had some very important meetings and was only going to be there 12 or 24 hours- but that was too much for me considering once you’re in Vegas, there’s no getting out after midnight. I willed the baby to pop, tried the tricks I know (short of castor oil or an enema). The baby is break dancing in there right now- and posterior. I lost the beginnings of the mucous plug over the past 4 or 5 days and have been having more intense Braxton Hicks. But no labor. So he’s pissed, but hiding it well. And I am just relieved he didn’t go.

Despite months of practically ignoring the pregnancy and drawing a blank each time I imagined being the mother of two kids in diapers, I’m really ready now. I want to meet him on the outside. Stella is ready too. She digs the birth videos and talks all the time about him nursing and being born. It think it’s just papa that could use a little more time. He thinks I’ll go a week late. I hope not!