Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Today's To Do List

Get print from photographer (check!)
Clean entire house (um, no)
Do all the laundry (almost! with major spousal contribution)
Change sheets on all 4 beds (2 out of 4 ain't bad, and Paul did both of those)
Pack (no)
Make phone calls (no)
Take Ellie for her shots (check!)
Finish all Christmas present wrapping (check!)
Go through mail and piles of paper crap (no)
Christmas baking:
- dog treats (no)
- zucchini bread (check!)
- banana bread (check!)
- pumpkin bread (check!)
- egg nog tarts (check!)
- gingerbread cookies (check!)
- pumpkin cheesecake (no)

I was feeling pretty good about today until I saw the list all written out like that. And we're supposed to leave town tomorrow, after my office Christmas party and Ellie's PT appointment.

We're going to my parents' for a few days, then coming home for a second Christmas celebration with Paul's family here. The down side is that Paul's whole family will be arriving about the same time we do, so there's no time for cleaning, prepping, grocery shopping, etc. after we get back from my folks'. Worse still is the fact that we're having a new (third!) bathroom put in. It was supposed to be done before Christmas, but you know how these things go. So this is what's right next to the basement guest room:

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Who's That Baby in the Mirror?

I've read that by 15-18 months, babies may begin to recognize themselves in the mirror. And the conventional wisdom seems to be that a way to help them do this is to put a smear of shaving cream on baby's face while she's looking in the mirror, and see if she notices that it's on her own face.

Well, the shaving cream idea seems ridiculous to me. Let's be honest: a baby is going to put whatever you smear onto her face directly into her mouth. So I decided to experiment with Ellie and some whipped cream. It turns out that Ellie loves whipped cream. She's no dummy; she turned away from the mirror and opened up her mouth at the can of Reddi-Wip like she was a little birdie waiting for her mama to drop in a worm. So of course I obliged her with a good squirt.

But did it work? Did she see the smear on her face in the mirror and reach for her own cheek to get it? Not quite. At 14 months, Ellie saw the smear in the mirror and wanted the whipped cream badly. So she leaned in toward the mirror slowly, slowly. She became a little frustrated because when she'd turn her mouth to get at the whipped cream, the baby in the mirror turned its head too, moving the whipped cream perpetually out of reach. Ellie compensated by lining up again, coming in slowly, cheek aimed at the mirror, then snapping her mouth around at the last moment. This approach was more successful than you might think. She succeeded in smearing whipped cream on the mirror with her cheek, then getting some into her mouth. Not too bad!

I love watching her learn. This week she's also busy putting objects into containers and using shape sorters (with help) and is starting to try to put rings onto the stacker toys rather than just taking them off. And she loves feeding herself with a fork, though we stab the food for her. So fun!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Life of Her Own

Ellie is 14 months old. She babbles and has a sign or two but does not talk. She does not yet walk and rarely belly crawls, though she does get around when she needs to. She understands lots and can sometimes put shapes in her shape sorter but she's still very much a baby.

This morning was the women's Bible study Christmas party (this is a really cool group, by the way). The babysitter couldn't make it, so the little ones were in the room with us. A little boy called Trevor, one year older than my Ellie, said something to me about her and it included her name. I was amazed that he recalled her name and was so interested in her.

Trevor's mama told me that the other day they were out shopping and saw a picture of a baby. Trevor said,

"Ellie!"

His mama said, "No, Trevor, that's not Ellie. It's a baby that looks a little like Ellie though!"

I had a moment of confusion, then I realized: Trevor and Ellie stay with the babysitter together for an hour a week. Of course he knows who she is. And she probably knows who he is too. But I don't know this kid! For the first time, my daughter has an existence separate from mine. It's a strange thought but I need to get used to it soon; she starts "preschool" in January when I go back to work part time.

This is one of those strange moments of separation and, in its way, loneliness that I did not expect. Another came after Ellie was born and I realized that even though I was holding my beautiful newborn and was surrounded by supportive family, I felt lonely. I was used to having someone sharing my skin and it felt strange to be banging around in here all by myself again.

Money

I don't understand money. It's something I really struggle with and have no concept of.

First, poor. I have no real understanding of what it means to be poor. When I was little, we didn't have much money. We didn't eat out, my mom made a lot of our clothes (now more expensive than buying clothes produced cheaply in China), and we didn't have pocket spending money. But there was always a hot meal on the table and there were always Christmas presents under the tree. My parents taught me that money was not important. I still don't know how much money they make or what their savings are - if any. When I went off to college with a great scholarship, I foolishly spent all of my saved babysitting money on foolish things, like pizza. At the end of the year, I was broke and my meager work study earnings weren't enough to cover the dorm phone bill. My meal plan allowed me 1 meal a day, but I'm an eater and that was not enough. During finals I developed a terrible, horrible stress-induced affliction (which I eventually discovered was a yeast infection) and I had no money and no idea what to do about it. Eventually I called my mother for money, something I'd never done before or since (why not? my sisters have). She sent a check. In the mail. For $10 because I was too ashamed to ask for more, like the $16 I knew the treatment actually cost. Why why why?

Second, rich. I've dated rich. I've heard the loud family battles and watched people try to control each other with money. I've ridden in the limos and vacationed on the white sand beaches. I've had my entire wardrobe taken away after a fight because it was all purchased for me by someone else. I've always wanted to be in a place where I didn't have to worry about money ever again. That's a fictional place. The rich worry about money all the time too, though their worries are rather different.

I'm not poor. I'm not rich. I'm just normal, like most people I know. But that's a lie too. How can I - I who can barely make ends meet each month - how can I be in the top 10%? Impossible. Possible. Credit cards and debt. Flexible spending accounts. Individual control over retirement accounts. The system is set up to help most Americans fail. The rich can't be rich unless the poor are poor, and the rich don't understand how different their lives are from the lives of the people serving them dinner, raking their yards, and scanning their steaks at the grocery check-out. You know the ones I mean, not the kids working their way through school, the adults living on these wages and raising families on these wages.

I don't understand money and I wish it were something I never had to think about ever again.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Merry Christmas!

The cards are going out in the mail tomorrow. Who cares that there's no letter and we didn't sign or address them by hand? Technology is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Ouch!

The American Red Cross has figured out that if they call me on a Sunday afternoon, I'll probably be home. In fact, I might even be sleeping. And it seems that the fastest thing I can say to get them off the phone is, "Yes, sure. Wednesday. Good." No more, my friends, no more!

Donating blood is never easy for me. For one thing, I really hate needles. I'm developing this weird phobia of anything intentionally puncturing the skin. It seems unnecessarily barbaric to me and I believe that someday we'll look back on needles and scalpels like we look at barbers' polls. This is especially weird since I know (intellectually) that heart surgery saved my daughter's life and brain surgery saved my sister's life. (I'll post about that someday. I'm almost ready.) For another thing, I have really deep veins.

So. We go all together as a family after Paul gets home from work. He holds Ellie while we (separately) fill out the tedious paperwork. I go first because I have the appointment. My blood pressure is 100/80 and I'm momentarily proud. Eventually I get to sit in the sky-high beach chair and clench clench clench my hand until my whole arm starts to cramp. None of the three nurses working on me can find a good vein, so I have to get up and flip the chair so that my other arm is resting on the little stand. Repeat clenching exercises, until a new nurse thinks she has found a good vein on top of my elbow crease. Look down at your inner-elbow as you're typing. See the bit where the hair still grows? Yes, that's where she poked me with the giganto-needle.

Paul came in, sat Ellie on a blanket with some toys, sat down in his chair, got hooked up, and pumped out a bag of blood all in about 5 minutes. His blood pressure is 120/90 and I'm suddenly no longer so judgmental about that. Then he and Ellie wandered off to get juice and cookies.

I was still clench clench clenching away. For 15 minutes. Finally! The lever drops. My bag is full! Now they just need to fill the 4 little vials of blood for testing and - uh oh. The line has clotted. Never fear! This nurse-lady will just poke poke poke around with that giganto-needle in my arm to see if she can make me bleed more (no, it's the line that's clotted, not my vein, you dimwit).

New nurse comes back from a smoke break and decides to poke my other arm to fill the test vials. Remember, this is the arm where they could find no veins the first time. This time they don't bother to flip the chair; I'm supposed to hold my arm out in mid-air while we repeat the clench clench clench routine. My whole body aches. New nurse thinks that - with her glove off - she can almost feel the deep vein in the center. She pokes me. Nope! No vein here. Better go up to that top vein, just like on the other arm. But she'd hate to poke me yet again. So she just threaded the needle up to the other vein under my skin. They got their 4 vials.

Today: no politics, no family anecdotes, just this: When you call again in 8 weeks, American Red Cross, I am not home for you. I am going to need a little time to forget this episode.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Timeline Meme

I don't usually do memes, but this one sounds constructive. And it sure beats the series of posts that have been knocking around in my head and are basically a reliving of some of my most traumatic experiences. Now, doesn't that sound fun?

Timeline meme

25 years ago: It was 1979 and I was newly 5 years old. I was in my 3rd year of preschool, since my parents were planning a move and wanted me to start Kindergarten in the new place. I remember a few things from this year, like finding the black widow spider in our Albuquerque back yard and taking it in for show-and-tell after my mother killed it. And being regularly beaten up by my "friend" from across the street; I still have a negative association with the green roofing Lincoln Logs. And being such a slow eater that I got left alone in the lunchroom one day at preschool. That didn't bother me at all until I realized that I wasn't big or strong enough to open the doors to let myself out.

20 years ago: I was in the 4th grade, and reality finally hit me. Until this point, I had always been the best, the fastest, the smartest, the teacher's pet. This year I had Mrs. Neal, who believed that she needed to make up for all the spoiling I'd received over the past 10 years. She was very effective, but I know that she secretly loved me because of the really awesome book she gave me for Christmas (she gave everyone a different new book). This year I also painfully learned long division and got my first bra. My favorite T shirt had Garfield on it and said, "I'm cute, and housebroken too." I put myself on my first diet.

15 Years ago: In the fall of 1989 I was in 9th grade. My mother had gone back to work full time, and I celebrated my freedom by always being late for school. I learned to sneak through the greenhouse into my first period science glass so that I didn't get into trouble. I played volleyball and basketball, and I was on the drill team (pom pons, halftime shows), and was in several plays. I'd spent the previous summer getting over the worst relationship of my life and some really impressive depression. I had also taken Driver's Ed and earned my restricted license, an experience that you city folk really missed out on.

10 Years ago: I was in the first semester of my second year of college. At this point I was casting about wildly. I knew I'd made a mistake choosing my university, but it had felt so right at the time. I chose English as my major simply because that's where my best grades were. I was in year two of an unhealthy relationship with a rich asshole that I still remember fondly and often. I decided to pledge a co-ed service fraternity to meet new people and make better friends. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

5 years ago: In 1999 life was good. I'd been out of school for two years and I had a good job, great apartment, and wonderful boyfriend (who I met through that co-ed service fraternity in college). I had my first brand-spanking-new car, a leased, silver Saturn coup. I was in great shape and playing roller hockey several times a week. Although I didn't know it, I was about to become engaged to be married in a couple of weeks.

3 years ago: I was 27, the year I'd always imagined I'd be officially grown up. One look in the mirror showed me that I wasn't at all what I'd expected to be. I had a good job that I enjoyed, an adorable little pug named Lizzi, a great husband (though he was working in Michigan at the time and was only home on weekends, causing lots of stress and arguments), and owned a house. But my life seemed . . . ordinary, my career undistinguished.

1 year ago: I had just given birth to my daughter, Eleanor. I had expected to be squashed flat as a bug by post-partum depression and was surprised to find myself buoyant, instead. I loved my daughter, loved my life as a new mom, loved the 2 weeks of daddy and mommy and baby home alone together in our little bubble before daddy went back to work, and was very proud of what my body had done. But there were terrible things looming on the horizon that I was about to have to deal with.

This year: Oh, this year. I turned 30 in September. Ellie had open-heart surgery in January. She had lots of firsts, many of which are amazing and exciting and wonderful. I love her more than I imagined I would, but it's sometimes so crushingly depressing, this incurable Down syndrome, even though she's amazing, remarkable, and very high-functioning. Still, every new thing: is this normal? So, to be healthy, to be happy, I should focus some on me, right? Do I return to work, or not? Could I actually be a writer? I started writing again, for the first time since college. I like it.

Yesterday: For no good reason, I made a Greek meal for my family (Paul, my parents, my 96-year-old grandfather, my sisters and their partners) and then Paul, Ellie, Lizzi the pug, and I drove back to St. Louis from Northwest Indiana. Exhausting. So Paul and I capped off the evening with a nasty, meaningless argument.

Today: It was cold and rainy and Ellie and I stayed inside for much of the day and napped together in my big, warm bed this afternoon. I didn't get anything productive accomplished, except for some Christmas decorating.

Tomorrow: Tuesdays are busy with my Bible study and Ellie's Physical Therapy. I might go to a mommy/baby happy hour with some acquaintances, or I might stay home and try to get through one of my critical to-do piles. Maybe I'll even write a little. The sky's the limit.

***
Via frog, the most interesting (and, sadly, coincidently, only) combination of Christian, feminist, lesbian, and bibliophile I've ever met. Er, if you count knowing someone online for 4 or 5 years meeting. I do.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Funnest Game in the World

"Uh oh! Ellie's got mommy's glasses! Will you give them to me? Give them to me? Give them to me!"

This is the best game ever because it's the first game Ellie's invented and really really loves. I mean, she's played peekaboo for months and she'll gamely clap along with pattycake, but I always get the feeling that she's humoring me. This game is clearly her favorite thing in the world to do other than biting (she's teething, ouch ouch).

Whenever a four-eyed face comes into her general vicinity, she gets a very deliberate look on her face and then her little hand darts out as quickly as a striking viper and before you can blink your glasses are in her hand and she's watching you for your reaction. Now it's your turn. With the proper singsong inflection, you're supposed to say the above line.

And now it's her turn again. She's knows "give it to me." She understands it. She even knows how to release intentionally (a surprisingly complex skill). So you watch her and wait for her to make the next move. And she either smiles and drops the glasses into your outstretched hand or she grins and swivels away from you as fast as she can. That girl can spin on her tushie faster than I could on a sit-n-spin.

The best part about this game, surprisingly, is not the perpetually smeary lenses. It's the pure delight she gets from playing it. She gets that this is a game. She's directing it. It's predictable (from us) and she's running the show. Which is, apparently, absolutely hilarious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Sorry, World

Have you all seen the Sorry Everybody site? Some of the pictures are funny. Others are really creative. Or cute. Or heartbreaking (check out the Evanston woman and the Marine on P.10).

I submitted a picture of Ellie in her donkey suit, but I can't find it. If you see it, please let me know what page she's on!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Ellie Rocks!

Lest anyone begin to think that I'm being too serious, I'll share another adorable picture of Ellie. She's had an amazing week, with new teeth, pulling to stand, horn-playing, and truly lovely babbling. Here are Ellie and Lizzi preparing for an evening walk.


Orson Scott Card Goes Off the Deep End

Orson Scott Card has an essay on his site (Emotions, the Draft, UnBush, Black Voters, and Local Candidates) that I'd like to respond to. I enjoy Card's fiction. I have listened to him speak and enjoyed him there, too. Frankly, I was surprised to see him making such weak arguments here.

Point 1: "All the networks" agree not to show footage of the World Trade Center collapse because it will "enflame emotions". Yet some networks are willing to enflame emotions by naming or humanizing the soldiers who have died in Iraq. "We Americans can't be allowed to see footage that would inflame our emotions in support of the war. But anything that might inflame emotions against the war is the networks' civic duty to run."

Response:
We have all seen footage of the World Trade Center collapse, over and over and over. I'm sure I've seen it hundreds of times. Eventually, hundreds and thousands of survivors, family members of victims, and other traumatized Americans petitioned the networks to stop showing video of their loved ones being killed over and over again. This is a vastly different situation than one in which the government decides that the American public shall not be allowed to see coffins coming home from war, or hear the names of fallen soldiers read aloud. We have always honored those who sacrifice their lives for our country in this way. No one wants to see bloody footage of soldiers dying, but silence greeting our fallen trivializes their sacrifice.

Point 2: "Of course, the stupid answer to what I just said is, 'Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Therefore footage of 9/11 has nothing to do with this war.'"

Response:
It's far more "stupid" to conflate the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's ridiculous to assert that the war in Iraq (a preemptive strike without adequate planning) has made the world safer from terrorism. Iraq was run by an evil dictator, as are far too many countries on this earth. Sadaam was no friend to al Queda, and the terrorists had no home in Iraq. Terrorist attacks have sharply increased across the globe since the war in Iraq began. Terrorists are not "reduced to murdering Iraqi soldiers" exclusively by any stretch of the imagination.

Point 3: "If Kerry wins, the insurgents and foreign terrorists in Iraq will be vastly encouraged. In fact, Kerry's campaign has been one long promise of hope to the embattled terrorist movement within Islam. They firmly believe that if they can just keep up the pressure, the American Left will deliver them a victory just as forty years ago the American Left delivered the North Vietnamese a victory that they could not win on the battlefield."


Response:
Obviously, Card wrote this one before watching the recent bin Laden tape. Global support for a new American administration is what Islamic terrorists want? This one is so far out there and is such complete conjecture – unsupported by any facts whatsoever – that it's hard to know where to begin. And I'd be interested in seeing a version of history that blames Vietnam on "the American Left" by actual historians. Being an armchair revisionist historian is perhaps a danger of writing too much fiction.

Point 4: "Neither the administration nor the military is asking for more troops."

Response:
Military officials have repeatedly said that they do not have and have not had enough troops to do the job in Iraq. But Card is right that Bush is not planning to send more troops.

Point 5: "Kerry's election will be interpreted by everyone in the world as meaning that the American people no longer have the will to fight until our enemies are defeated."

Response:
This would certainly be an odd interpretation considering Kerry's repeated assertion that he is committed to "hunting down" and "killing" terrorists. Following that bizarre assertion was some blather about how Kerry keeps his plans top secret, insinuating that he doesn't really have plans. It's true that Kerry's plans, like most good foreign and domestic policy, doesn't fit well into 30-second sound bites. If Card had clicked on over to Kerry's website, he could have read at great length about Kerry's plans for fighting the war on terror.

I've got to stop now, but I encourage you all to read on. The essay is funny when Card talks about how Democrats are going to steal the election (especially given the actual result, where only in places where there was receipt-free e-voting were the exit polls substantially off-target). It gets pretty good when Card explains why African-American voters are just too stupid to realize that the Republican party is really the party with their best interests at heart. Then he devolves into a discussion of local politics, wherein he prefers a candidate to be "inept and ineffective". What a patriot.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I Want Change

1) Accountability for political advertisements (These are good suggestions).
2) Stop running to the center. Run on what really you believe.

In short – I want honesty in politics.

Bush address during election returns

Someone who knows things, please blog about this.

My questions:
1) Is it really illegal for an incumbant President to use air time while the polls are open to make a political statement?
2) What was Bush planning to say?
3) Why didn't he say it? Or if it was on tape, why didn't the news organizations play the tape?
4) Why is no one talking about this?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Birthday, Beautiful, and Patriotic








That's it. I'm doing NaNoWriMo this month, so things might be quiet here. You can go read my "novel" if you really want to lose all respect for me. Or you can just come by here from time to time to look at these adorable pictures of my kid.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

"I'm a Christian"

Nearly everyone I know is Christian, Jewish, or very anti-organized religion. The Christians are mainstream/line Protestants, evangelical Protestants, or Roman Catholics - many of whom don't realize that the word "Christian" applies to Catholics.

The Catholics might be onto something here. I've begun to hate the word "Christian". When someone describes him- or herself that way, I'm immediately turned off. I make assumptions: Evangelical! Conservative! Judgemental! And, yes, I note the irony here.

There are 50 million mainline Protestants in the U.S., 65 million Catholics, and 40 million evangelicals. Evangelical denominations are the only Christian denominations that are showing any real growth lately. I don't know if there's anything I can do about that scary trend, or about Americans' related need to see everything in very simple black-and-white. I hope that I can do something about the fact that "Christian" is starting to sound like a dirty word. (And researching the figures in this paragraph was incredibly depressing.)

I hope I can help remind people that 50 million of us are like this. We can see shades of gray. We value context. We don't blindly follow our leaders. We don't vote en mass.

I'm thinking of doing that November Blogger novel thing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Toys

Ellie turned one a couple of weeks ago. Wow! Her birthday celebration is in three parts, the last of which is this weekend, and I still haven't bought her a present. Last week I tried shopping at Target but didn't find anything appealing. Today we went to Toys R Us, for the first time ever (for either of us). That place seriously sucks. First I thought I'd get her The Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon, but the only walker toys they had were brightly colored, light-weight, plastic monstrosities. Then I thought I'd get her a baby computer keyboard but they didn't have anything like that, either. So I decided to just look around for some quality wooden toys but they didn't have anything wooden except for a couple of puzzles, which she already owns. Sigh. I left with a few classic board books and a Thomas The Tank Engine train that's a little too old for her. Very frustrating.

When my sisters and I were little, we had this great Creative Playthings indoor slide/playhouse thing. It wasn't too big - it fit in a corner of the dining room - and it was wooden so it was both quality construction and attractive. (It turns out that it was also deadly because of a slight gap where some enterprising toddler once jammed his head between the top rung of the ladder and the slide platform, but that's easily remedied.) I have looked and looked but I can't find anything like that anywhere anymore.

I hate brightly colorful plastic.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Prideful Ignorance

Do you remember, in elementary school, when it was the worst shame imaginable to be called upon when you didn't know the answer, barring only the prospect of blanking out while standing in front of the class during the highly competitive "blackboard races" teachers were fond of officiating during rainy recess periods?

Then, sometime in junior high or high school, there was suddenly this kid who could make not knowing the answer look cool. It was like he just didn't care enough to try, and of course not caring is the the very height of coolness. This attitude caught on like wildfire, and pretty soon it was absolutely uncool to "be smart", which really just meant having some vague idea of what was going on in the classroom.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Governor Bush proved that he is, indeed, schoolboy cool. Waaaay cooler, in fact, than his smartypants "liberal intellectual" opponent. Bush didn't seem the slightest bit ashamed when he demonstrated an appalling lack of basic knowledge about foreign leaders and the locations of foreign countries, let alone understanding of foreign policy. Meanwhile, Vice President Gore was chided for throwing around "too many facts and figures" and using "fuzzy math" in the debates. Bear with me for a moment while I build up to one reason, I think, why Conservative and Ignorance walk proudly hand-in-hand lately.

First you have Catholicism, where laypeople have not always been encouraged to read the Bible themselves; priests interpret The Word of God for the masses. Indeed, Catholics go through intercessary priests to be granted absolution for their sins.

Then Protestants come along. Protestants are encouraged to read along and even study the Bible on their own, coming to church to hear interpretative sermons by educated ministers who have taken classes on exegesis as context for their own faith experiences. Protestants are encouraged to confess their sins directly to God, cutting out one important layer of the priestly middle-man.

Finally you have the evangelical Christians. There's a feeling here that every man's reading of the scripture and communication with the Lord is as valid as any other man's. Pastors rarely have (graduate) seminary degrees and sometimes don't even have bachelor's degrees. Religious scholars and theologians are ridiculed. It's not the book-smarts that matter; it's all about the Spirit, baby. The evangelical Christians' stronghold in the Republican party is contributing to the culture of prideful ignorance.

Plus, it's easier to be ignorant.

And keeping things the same is pretty much what "conservative" means, anyway.

As President Clinton said on The Daily Show in August, "When people think, [Democrats] win."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Day In My Life

Or, what do you do as a stay at home mom, anyway?

2:30 a.m. I'm finished reading blogs and am finally ready for bed. Ellie wakes up. I change her diaper and wet pajamas and nurse her, then put her in her crib. She starts to cry. Paul wakes up, doesn't realize that I haven't gone to bed yet because I'm an idiot, and goes to rock her back to sleep. (She usually sleeps through the night so this doesn't happen more than once or twice a week.)

6:30 a.m. Ellie wakes up again. Paul gets up, changes her diaper, and feeds her cereal and juice then comes to get me. I get up and nurse Ellie while Paul gets ready for work. She falls asleep shortly after he leaves, around 8:00) and I put her in her crib. (This nap is unusual and is related to the previous night's interrupted sleep.) I take advantage of a few minutes more sleep, after getting myself dressed for the day.

9:00 a.m. Ellie wakes up again. I change her diaper, dress her, and nurse her. We play on the floor in the family room for several minutes. Our repertoire includes classics like "trotty horse" as well as disguised therapy exercises like holding a hands and knees position while I sing "row row row your boat." She seems sleepy so I try rocking her and singing. That doesn't work so we go for a walk around the block with the dog. That doesn't work so we try rocking and singing again. Success! Ellie goes down for her usual (hah! I wish!) morning nap around 10:30. She seems to want to be left alone to fall asleep (this happens from time to time) but she fusses a bit so I sit down to check my email etc. while I wait for her to fall asleep. Then I hit the sack myself. I was up until 3:00, remember?

11:30 a.m. Ellie wakes up, but she still seems sleepy. I change her diaper, then we go watch Sesame Street for the first time ever. She loves it! (for about 15 minutes). We cuddle and play with toys on the floor in the family room for a bit.

12:00 p.m. I get lunch together. Ellie has leftover homemade macaroni and cheese, apple, and white grape juice. I have leftover BBQ pork. And a cookie. After lunch, Ellie nurses again.

1:30 p.m. More playing on the floor, this time in the front room with different toys. I put Ellie on her riding toy and try to get her to push forward.

2:30 p.m. She seems tired again, and this is a good time for an afternoon nap. I try nursing her down. No luck. I try rocking and singing. Very frustrating. It's raining so no walking. I put her in her crib with a couple of toys and go check my email again. She falls asleep very quickly. I too take a nap, after taking care of several phone calls and appointment scheduling details, including dickering with the insurance company about how Ellie's pediatrician is not really a specialist, etc.

4:30 p.m. Ellie wakes up. I nurse her, we go outside with the dog and check the mail, then we go play in the front room some more. I make her stand at her activity table for a while. When I get bored (how terrible! I get bored!) I leave her with her toys for a few minutes so I can shop online for her birthday gift and write Paul an email.

5:30 p.m. I go to the kitchen to start on dinner, and bring Ellie with me. She sits on the floor pulling pots and pans out of a cupboard.

6:00 p.m. Daddy's home! Daddy's home! Daddy's home! He plays with Ellie while I finish dinner (the roles are often reversed here) and we all eat together.

7:00 p.m. Daddy gives Ellie a bath then dresses her for bed and I play Nintendo (or mess around on the computer or read).

7:30 p.m. I nurse Ellie down to sleep by 8:00. Hah! Just kidding! Not tonight! Maybe the enchiladas were a bit much, but she fights sleep hard and wakes up screaming after falling asleep several times. Paul and I take turns working at it (rocking, singing, walking, driving) and she finally goes to sleep around 11:00 p.m. (This time the trick was to lay her on the gliding ottoman and gently push her back and forth.) I remember when 11:00 would have felt like a real accomplishment.

This was a very unusual day, in its way, and yet totally normal too. Ellie has therapy 3-5 days a week, so having a day off now and then is a nice break. When we're not having therapists over, we always go out, even if it's just to a playgroup or the library or the grocery. It's quite unusual for the two of us to be home alone together all day. And wonderful, upon occasion. And she really doesn't usually nap this well. Naps are very hit-or-miss around here.

Tomorrow we have a doctor's appointment and Physical Therapy. Wednesday there is Speech Therapy and two playgroups. Thursday is another doctor's appointment, and Friday is Speech Therapy and a playgroup. We also need to go to the grocery store and the library this week. And I need to make a run to CostCo. for toilet paper, and . . .

Ideally, someday I'll start going to bed at a reasonable hour. Then I can get stuff done during the daytime rather than napping. But you know what? I love this time alone after everyone else is asleep. I cherish it. And I love to nap. Now I'm off to bed. Too late, as usual!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Country Music

My first car: The fall of my senior year of college, my father acquired a car for me from a friend of his whose mother could no longer drive. It cost me $250 and was a 1976 Buick Skylark. This thing was big and ugly. My father, who is color-blind, had it repainted (cream) and had a new vinyl roof put on (brown). Before the car even made it down to me, it needed a new radiator. It was much later before I could afford the new springs it needed. Because of the bad suspension, the car rode with the back way low and the front way up high. Very hip. The front bench seat was stuck all the way back, and I had to prop myself up with pillows because of the slant. To top it all off, the car only got two radio stations: Christian talk, and country. That spring I spent a lot of time driving around, trying to procure myself furniture, an apartment, and a job (yes, in that order). I learned to appreciate country music.

Now that I have a car with a functional radio, tape deck, and CD-player, I'd never consider programming in a country music station. But on a long drive in the middle of the night, I love me some country music. I try to forget the fact that much of Nashville supports President Bush. I do this by convincing myself, whenever I hear a song that I enjoy, that "This guy is obviously an exception." Denial is a powerful thing, and this trick works surprisingly well.

Country music is great for long drives in part because you only need to hear the chorus once, then you can sing along for several more minutes. The melodies are simple, the lyrics are predictable, and both are repetitive. I'll confess that I like the really catchy tunes like the one about the "Watermelon Crawl" and the sing-your-heart-out belters like "How Do I Live?"

The other reason country music can be such fun is that sometimes the songs tell great little stories. I don't love the songs that, like pop songs, wail on and on about some lost love or stolen pick-em-up truck, or whatever. I really enjoy the songs that tell a sweet story, and I get all caught up in listening to a story about a farmer and his wife on the porch during an afternoon rainstorm; a father telling his son about the way daddies love their kids; or a husband telling his wife that although he understands that she misses the way she looked at 17, he really loves the way she fills out her jeans now, and, if she hasn't noticed, the kids are asleep. "So . . . you wanna?"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Kisses

This morning, Ellie and I were at the moms' group/play group at Kangaroo Kids and one of my favorite mom/baby pairs (Brigitte and Jordan) were next to us. Ellie and Jordan hadn't seen each other in a couple of months, and they were fascinated by each other. First Jordan was reaching out to touch Ellie's head, then Ellie chewed on Jordan's shoe, then Jordan gently (we're all working on "gently") took Ellie's face in both of his hands and kissed her nose. He turned his head slightly, clearly waiting for a reciprocal kiss. Ellie, who is sparing with her wet, sloppy kisses, obliged. They went back and forth, to great enthusiasm from the watching crowd of mamas, until the babies got too excited and began trying to pummel and bite each other.

This was the most adorable interaction I've ever seen Ellie have with another baby. The best part was that no one said, "Aww, they're making out," or, "Ellie's got a boyfriend," or, "He's robbing the cradle!" (Jordan is 13 months old to Ellie's 11.) All of these sort of comments are so common at our more mainstream parenting groups.

It's so sad. Kids are kids for such a short time. Why do we push them so hard to grow up? Why do parents stuff their baby girls' bikini tops with tennis balls? Or put their toddler girls in hot pants with "cheerleader" written across their diapered bottoms? Why do we tell our crying baby boys to "be a man" and dress our daughters as brides for Halloween? Why are Kim Anderson-style portraits of children behaving like grown-ups so popular?

Let's let kids be kids. And more kisses, please!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

God Bless You, Honey

As a first time parent, I have a hard time telling if the way people react to me is typical or is because I have a special child.

Lots and lots and lots of people (read: women) come up to me and tell me what a beautiful daughter I have. I say, "Thank you! I think so too, but of course I'm biased." I like those comments. It was months before I realized that while Ellie is of course especially beautiful, some of the comments might have something to do with the fact that she obviously has Down syndrome. People want to say something supportive, but what to say?! In these situations it's hard to tell how they mean those comments since I don't have much experience with taking other babies to the grocery store/playgroup/voting booth.

Sometimes it's pretty obvious, though. When Paul's parents were here visiting they wanted to eat at Cracker Barrel. After dinner, while they were still chatting, Ellie and I got up to walk around the store and blow off some steam. An old man came up to us, leaned in very close, and said, "God bless you, Honey." I knew what he meant. I probably should have responded, "I feel like God already has."

You know, most of the time I'm not thinking about how hard my life is, with a "special needs" child, so those comments are like a surprise elbow in the ribs as I realize how other people are seeing my daughter, seeing me. Most of the time I'm thinking that I wish she'd nap longer, cut this tooth, or grow out of spitting up. Of course, I'm not in denial so I don't mind talking about Ellie's Downs and I bring it up in context when appropriate. For instance, when we're talking about flu shots for the babies, I might mention how kids with Down syndrome are usually slightly immuno-suppressed so it's great if they can avoid the flu for the their first couple of years. That sort of thing.

In addition to:
Your baby is so beautiful!
What incredible blue eyes/blond hair!
and of course, God bless you, Honey,

I also get a lot of variations on this theme:
See, you're really strong and you're doing a great job with this. I could never handle it, which is why God didn't give me a child like Ellie.

My silent response: Bullshit.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A Family Reunion, part II

It's awfully quiet around here lately.

First, let me say that Paul and I come from similar families with similar values. This was apparent when we were still just e-flirting, before we ever went on a date or spent the night together (and since this was college, the order of those two events is frequently interchangeable). At the Thanksgiving before my January first date with Paul, my dad asked me if I was dating anyone at school and I told him that there was this guy . . . but I didn't know if he was interested . . . and I wasn't sure it was what I wanted right then since it was going to be impossible for us to ever date casually. I was right; we were practically married from our first date on.

Anyway, despite the similarities in our families and in our upbringing, there are so many ways that our families are different, and those are more fun to ponder. Don't get me wrong, I love it that our parents are good enough friends that they will travel across the country to visit each other. But there are a lot of ways they are just not the same.

The weekend before my mother's family reunion (below) Paul, Ellie, and I traveled to Iowa for his mother's family reunion. Two August family reunions in the Midwest, could they have been any more different?

*
At my family reunion, we grocery shopped and prepared all of our own food because fast food and chain restaurants are just not an option.

At Paul's family reunion we ate at Applebee's every day because people liked it so much.

*
My uncle was nearly apoplectic when my 26-year-old cousin had a beer with dinner rather than wine.

Paul's cousin only had beer at his recent wedding because "[he doesn't] know anyone who drinks that fancy-pants stuff."

*
In Wisconsin we spent hours discussing politics, religion, current events, and processing interactions and events from 40 years ago.

In Iowa we didn't discuss any of those things. We talked about marriage and babies and logistics for the next time we'll all get together. Eventually we had to address the elephant in the middle of the living room – a horrible situation that's been going on for a couple of years involving one sister embezzling all of their parents money and putting "the folks" in a nursing home, possibly prematurely. Finally it became impossible to ignore.

*
It's really interesting for me to observe (and participate in!) both families and see the way the familial differences play out between Paul and me in our own relationship.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Babies Sleep Funny

This morning Ellie fell fast asleep on my shoulder. I carried her, a limp sack of potatoes, to her bedroom and put her in her crib. As soon as she hit the mattress she rolled onto her left side and stuck her legs straight out in front of her, perfectly stiff, still asleep.

I went immediately to my bed and tried the same pose. Lying on my side, legs stiff and stuck out at 90* from the rest of my body. A good hamstring stretch, but not a comfortable way to sleep.

I also don't wake up in the night to find myself lying on my stomach with all my legs and arms tucked underneath me, bum high in the air.

Nor do I sleep in the center of my bed, spread eagle. Or splayed out like a frog (with no hip joints). Or twisted in the middle with my neck cocked at an awkward angle and my legs sticking out between the crib bars. And I simply can't make my body do one of Ellie's current favorite positions: flat on my belly with one foot up by my face.

I do sometimes stick one arm straight up in the air, but I'm usually half awake when I do that. What can I say; it's comfortable. So I guess I can't be too critical of babies.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

No Child Left Behind – Except Mine

An Open Letter to President Bush and Senator Kerry

President Bush and Senator Kerry,

You both support the No Child Left Behind education act, and there is a critical problem with the implementation of NCLB related to students with special needs that requires an urgent response.

Under NCLB, a percentage of all students must prove grade-level proficiency via standardized tests in certain core subjects, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, or disability. If any one student group (e.g. students with special needs) fails to prove proficiency on any one of 40 tested criteria, the whole school fails to show "adequate yearly progress" and will be penalized. 100% student proficiency is demanded by 2014.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulates education for students with special needs. Every student with a diagnosed disability or delay has an Individual Education Plan, specifying appropriate educational goals for that student.

NCLB and IDEA are meant to be complimentary pieces of legislation. However, the two federal regulations, as they are interpreted by many states across the nation, are at loggerheads. Students with developmental delays are being tested on material they have not been taught and might be incapable of mastering at an age-appropriate level. Students of normal intelligence with learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia) who require extra time or other considerations to complete their work are not being granted exceptions. And schools are being penalized for their high failure rates.

This is a very important problem and it needs to be addressed immediately. Federal clarification and oversight are necessary to insure that the students who need the most help are getting it. Blind adherence to standardized tests for all students is serving to exclude those students for whom primary and secondary education is most critical.

Let's not leave more of our children behind.

Sincerely,
Sarahlynn
Kirkwood, MO

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

No Child Left Behind - Except Mine (draft 1)

President Bush is pleased as punch about his "No Child Left Behind" education act. Senator Kerry says that he supports the NCLBA - with a few modifications. Nothing on his website suggests that students with disabilities fall into his category for needed modifications. This was originally to be an open letter to both Kerry and Bush letting them know my most pressing concern about NCLB, but it seems that I'm not yet calm enough to write a cogent letter.

Under No Child Left Behind, a certain percentage of all students (regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability must pass standardized tests in order for the school to keep its federal funding. Well, duh. Obviously this pressures schools to divest themselves of students who aren't performing up to grade level.

Each student with a diagnosed disability has a federally required Individual Education Plan (IEP) with realistic goals for that child given her or his special needs. Two federal mandates are clashing here.

Regardless of a child's special needs, regardless of what the IEP specifies as appropriate target educational goals for each student, all students are tested equally under No Child Left Behind. And if kids with special needs aren't passing, then the school is assessed serious penalties.

Hello?!! Why aren't people talking about this? Why aren't people enraged? We don't like to think about disabled kids. Well, wake up, people! This could be your child. We're not just talking about poor black babies from elsewhere who were born addicted to crack. We're also talking about very intelligent white kids from the suburbs who have dyslexia or some other learning disability and require extended time for standardized tests. And we're talking about kids with Down syndrome, like my Ellie. This is not something that we can ignore. This is something we have to address - now - before more children get left behind.

The students who need the most help are the ones being pushed toward the door, and that is simply not right.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Read This

When asked if they want to have a boy or a girl, "good" people respond, "I don't care, as long as the baby is healthy." You've read it here first: I am not good people. When asked that same question, I would laugh and respond, "I don't care, as long as he loves to read." Or, "I don't care, as long as she's smart." I was being light-hearted, but I really couldn't imagine having a child that was so different from me. How could I love a child who wasn't passionate about reading? How could I relate to a child who struggled terribly in school? Fear of the unknown is a very powerful thing.

It turns out that, shockingly enough, just like everybody says, you love your child anyway. Well, I do, anyway. Besides, she loves books. And I think she's a freaking genius, in her own way. But before she's born, before you know her, before you love her, when you learn that she's not going to be exactly as you'd hoped and dreamed that she would be, there's fear. Icy, gut-twisting, the-world-looks-too-bright-and-still-today fear.

When we first learned about Ellie's diagnoses, our genetics counselor (the very same one who had earlier counseled us to relax because we have nothing to worry about, a very nice young woman who seems to be in the wrong profession) tracked us down to recommend a book. She says that she always recommends Choosing Naia to families "in your position." Obediently I went out and bought the book. It sucks. Granted, I had a pretty emotional response to it, and it's not all the book's fault. But I'm about to write my first ever scathing review and I hope I don't get sued for it. On the surface, it sounded perfect. Hey, here's a book about a well-educated, intelligent, career-driven, progressive, pro-choice couple expecting their first baby. They find out that the baby has Down syndrome and a serious heart defect. They must come to terms with this and decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Hey! Just like me!

This book is poorly written and incredibly depressing. I was frustrated by the very short, simple sentences that made the book choppy and awkward to read. Halfway through, I had an epiphany: Hey! This author, he must have Down syndrome! This is a young man with Down syndrome telling this story in a direct, simple fashion. Actually, this book is really well written! Awesome! I should have left well-enough alone, but instead I looked up the author (have you noticed that I can't even use his name while I'm dissing him?). It turns out that not only does he not have Down syndrome, he's an award-winning journalist. Oops. Well, I guess the short, simple sentences are a bad habit from newspaper writing, then. Anyway, the book reads kind of like an 8th grade essay.

Plus, it's incredibly depressing. Filling in background on what it means to have Down syndrome, the author (oh, OK, Mitchell Zuckoff) introduces another character, a "high-functioning" young woman with Down syndrome, as a best-case scenario. She lives semi-independently but will never be completely independent. She's really lonely because she functions at a level above most folks with Down syndrome but slightly below most typical adults. She doesn't date. She doesn't have many friends. She has a hard time finding a job. Cheers!

When I first met Ellie's awesome, wonderful, amazing, gift-from-God pediatrician, she recommended Expecting Adam instead. Wow! Well-written! Not sappy! Honest! Fun to read! I loved it so much that I selected it when it was my turn to choose a book for my bookclub recently. The women in my bookclub loved it so much that they in turn bought it for their friends and family. And none of them know anyone with Down syndrome (except for Ellie, of course). Expecting Adam is about two Harvard PhD students who learn that their second child will have Down syndrome, but it's told in such a refreshing way that it's fun to read. I don't buy it all, and I have two criticisms: Beck is harsh on Harvard, but it's not really Harvard that she's railing against for much of the book; it's actually her family. Also, I just can't quite believe all of the supernatural stuff, though some of it rings very true for me.

Anyway, if you want to read up on a this surprisingly compelling topic, there's a second book I want to recommend. This one is incredible; I just loved this book. It's about yet another couple with PhDs who have a baby with Down syndrome, but this book is a bit different. There's certainly an aspect of personal essay to the book, which is a big part of why it's so fun to read, but it's also a political argument, an academic work. And it is work to read this book, but work that makes you feel like you've exercised your brain a little bit and now it's idling at a slightly higher pace. Read Life As We Know It: A Father, A Family, and an Exceptional Child; you'll love it. And while you're on Berube's site, check out his blog.

What's Next?

Upcoming blog entries, I hope:
  • a day in my life
  • family reunion, part I
  • on writing
  • weird things people have said to me about Ellie

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Last Name Thing

You know, there are lots of reasons that I chose not to change my name when I got married. One of them is that I want girls who meet me to know that it's OK to get attached to their names; it's OK to form a sense of identity attached to their names; it's not a forgone conclusion that they'll be giving up their names someday.

That said, however, I do not always enjoy being responsible for educating every ignoramus who's never before encountered a woman who kept her name after marrying. In particular, I get tired of the "And are you two legally married, ma'am?" question that I get asked (I'd bet) a heck of a lot more often than do married women who take their husbands' last names. I bet that if my husband lived with his sister (who had the same last name) most credit card types wouldn't even bother to ask that question. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

While I'm here, I'll list some other reasons that I kept my last name:
  1. I admit that I floundered a bit with my identity shortly after getting married. I never thought that would happen. Certainly Paul didn't have any ideas about how a wife was supposed to be, but it turns out that I do. So I decided to leave things alone until the dust settled and I felt more comfortable in my skin before deciding on a permanent name change. It turns out that I found that I can be happily married with a different name than my spouse. Fancy that. And aside from the pesky questions from creditors, it hasn't been awkward or troublesome at all.
  2. I think the "but what about the kids?!" argument is just an excuse. Turns out that I was right about that too. I has not been at all difficult for me to call up and say, "Hello, this is Sarahlynn Wooster,* Eleanor Wooster-Duke's mom." People aren't confused and neither are we. Ditto when her dad calls.
  3. This one is a bit of a reprisal of number 1: maintaining my sense of identity. Here I am, living this totally suburban life as a stay-at-home mom. The symbolism of keeping my own name reminds me to stay true to who I really am and not get sucked into the keeping up with the jones's thing too far, and to keep up my writing and follow my own goals rather than subsuming my life entirely to my family's.
  4. I like my name. I like my family. I've had both for my whole life. I also like my husband's family, and while I consider myself a part of his family, I wasn't willing to give up my family identity entirely.

And like I said, it hasn't been hard. When we meet new people, we're the Wooster Dukes. I'm a Wooster. He's a Duke. And our daughter is a Wooster-Duke. In one short name she shows the world which families she comes from. It's nice.



*Names changed to protect the innocent.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A Family Reunion, part 2

August has been a crazy month with out-of-state travel to two different family reunions. If somehow has figured out an easy way to manage long distance car trips (or just trips period) with a baby and a manageable load of stuff, please share. Or better yet, sell your experiences. You'll make millions.

Anyway, I realize that I am never going to have time to write the perfect blog entry so I might as well just paste in my unorganized thoughts rather than keeping them in little Word documents waiting for that magical moment when I'll have the time and mental energy to make them all pretty.

I had a wonderful time in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin last week (where no one I know lives) at a family reunion with my mother's family. Ellie really enjoyed her 6-month-old cousin (what's the relationship between the children of 1st cousins?) and the rest of us really enjoyed talking, drinking, sharing photos, walking, and playing games like croquet, badminton, and volleyball.

These people are intelligent, and they are master manipulators.

The question is: why do they waste so much time when they could be accomplishing so much? Why are they so afraid?

Little Cornie, ridiculous Cornie, Cornie who never thinks of anything or talks about anything, Cornie who is so boring, Cornie whose faith is so ridiculous that it needs to be shaken at all costs: do you think that Cornie's nieces and nephews know all about her one-time fianceƩ from 40 years ago? Do you think that Cornie's husband is forced to put on his game face and doggedly psychoanalyze why that relationship was never meant to be? No? I don't think so either. And I wonder, as we sit and ridicule Cornie and she's off living her life somewhere, who really is being ridiculous?

Even in our self-flagellation, even in our guilt over the way it ended, we can't seem to stop ridiculing Cornie, presumably to make ourselves feel better. But does it work? Apparently not, because it's 40 years later and here we are, still talking about her.

This family: so smart, so well educated and well traveled and politically correct with such helpful jobs. And yet . . . so pathetic. When does my life start? Apparently the bit that mattered ended 40 years ago, while I was still waiting for life to begin. Oops.

Still more fascinating to me: Even as I think about them, even as I analyze their thoughts and interactions, I can't seem to stop myself from saying "we". This is interesting, given that this is a family that still refers to my father (and the other spouses) as "outsiders" even though they've all been married for more than 30 years. Even though my mother made the decision to raise my sisters and I far away, as Midwesterners, it seems that I've picked up on that insular family identity.

And yet, these really are people who care, who know, who do important work. And some of them really are still activists, in large ways or small. I admire each of them for something, and I really do enjoy our rare visits together. Here's hoping that it doesn't take another 20 years to organize the next official family reunion.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Near Brush with Celebrity

I was feeding Ellie her lunch today when the phone rang. I gingerly picked it up with my cottage cheese covered hands and tentatively answered, expecting the worst. Will it be the hospital with their stubborn insistence that we pay Ellie's medical bills despite their refusal to send us a bill that makes sense, or will it be a telemarketer? Neither! It was a neighbor.

"Are you the house with the flags and John Kerry signs?"
Quietly, bracing myself for a scolding about subdivision policy, "Yes."
Excitedly, "Well, I thought you might want to know that Kerry is coming to Kirkwood this afternoon! He's coming through on a train and he's going to stop and wave from the caboose and if there are enough people there he'll come down and speak! At 2:00!"

Cool! So I cleaned Ellie up, nursed her, grabbed all of our piles of stuff (why does it take so much stuff to get out of the house for just a couple of hours?!) and jammed everything into the car. We made it down to the historic train station at 2:00 and waited with the enthusiastic crowd for an hour and a half. Local Kerry volunteers were passing out stickers, signs, and T-shirts, but much of the crowd had come with their own signs. One Grandma had a sign that read, "Give him hell, Kerry!" An old man and a young boy juggled together. Babies in strollers and dogs enjoyed the beautiful day. Kids ate ice cream and dashed around. Elderly folks gathered in the shade.

When the gates came down and we could hear the train coming, a great cheer rose from the crowd and everyone crowded up to the tracks. The personalized Amtrak train (Help is on the way! American can do better!) chugged on up, and the caboose stopped right in front of Ellie and me! I woke her up for the occasion, pulled her out of her sling, and sat her on my shoulders. She seemed a bit overwhelmed by the noise and the HUGE TRAIN not 5 feet in front of us, but she didn't cry.

Unfortunately, Kerry didn't come out and the train didn't stay. Theresa Heinz Kerry and Chris Heinz came out and waved, and the train slowly chugged on westward. People seemed a little disappointed but not too upset. Word was that he was way behind schedule and caught up giving interviews inside.

For me, the feeling of strength and patriotism and being surrounded by liberals on a warm, sunny, breezy afternoon in my picturesque little community were worth the trip.

Besides, here in the largest city in this battleground state, I'm sure we'll have another opportunity to see Kerry before November.

Ranger Rick Comes to Play

About 3:00 this morning, I started hearing a racket from the nursery. I was just trying to get to sleep (so late! I know!) so I ignored it for a while. The baby wakes up periodically and usually soothes herself back to sleep. She has a book made of crinkly cloth in her crib, and I figured that she was playing with that. Well, the noise didn't stop and upon reflection it didn't sound so much like her book, so I went in to investigate. I was pretty freaked out when I heard the noise - much louder! - in her room but saw her curled up on her side, fast asleep.

Ellie's bedroom window looks out onto our screened in porch, and when I looked through the window I saw a strand of the white Christmas light we have out there banging violently against the glass. This is what was making the racket. At first I thought it was a sudden storm that had blown the light loose, but I quickly noticed that nothing else was blowing wildly.

I went back into my room to get some shoes, and made sure to turn on the lights and make some noise while I was at it. Fortunately for my fraidy-cat self, Paul woke up and came with me to investigate ("Oh, did I wake you? So sorry."). When we turned on the patio lights and peered through the sliding glass door in our family room, what to our wondering eyes did appear? Not a miniature sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer but rather raccoons.

Paul had left an open bag of dog food out on the porch and the little rascals really really wanted it. So they climbed up the walls of the porch to the upper corners, where the screen is most vulnerable, and ripped open the screens! In two places! The screen was just pulled right back. The little buggers looked right at me from 3 feet away and went on with their party.

Unhealthily fearless Paul ventured outside (through the front door; I wouldn't let him open the patio door and risk letting the fiends into the house) and opened up the patio door so that they could escape more easily. They were intimidated by him and scampered back, so he grabbed the dog food and brought it inside.

When we got up later this morning, they were gone. It was a while before we got to sleep, though. Adrenaline rush! Ah, life in suburbia.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

To Be or Not to Be (a Stay at Home Mom)

Do you ever feel like you're balanced on the cusp of two very different realities? Like your life could take off in two different directions from here, each of them plausible and exciting, but mutually exclusive?

I felt that way when I was pregnant. My career was going very well, it was exciting, and I felt that I could really throw myself into it and make a name for myself in my company. And yet . . .

A part of me always wanted to be a stay at home mom. My mom stayed home with my younger sisters and me until the youngest was in school. She was really good at it. She always had constructive, fun, creative things for us to do. And she took on mothering like any other career. She read books, she prepared in advance, she worked hard. I have always wanted to provide the same kind of wonderful, magical childhood for my own children.

Which way to go? Either way, there would be guilt. Guilt at putting my children in daycare while I worked at a job that wasn't really "important" (in as much as that I wasn't actually saving lives or anything like that) or guilt at staying home, not being a "good enough feminist," not using my college degree, etc.

There were also dreams. I dreamed (and still do) of being an author. I want to make a living writing fiction. I'm not asking to be Sara Paretsky (though I think she's amazing) but maybe Dorothy Cannell? To make enough money that we don't have to worry about money, enough that I can call myself a writer and mean "as a profession" rather than as a "hobby."

I was further confounded when I learned that Ellie was going to have some serious health problems. I coped with the news much the way I usually cope with big things: I threw myself into the moment, working really hard and not thinking too much about the future. My boss always wanted to be a stay at home mom and asked me unofficially what I thought I'd do. At this point I was still really torn and told her that I was sure I'd come back to work because it would be too hard and too depressing to be home alone all day with a seriously sick and disabled baby.

After Ellie was born, I had a hard time imagining her sleeping in another room, let alone leaving her for an entire work day or - God forbid! - a business trip. I was still thinking of going back to work, somehow, even though Ellie wouldn't take a bottle and I hadn't found a sitter for her. Then, a month before I was to return to work, I learned that Ellie was going to need open heart surgery the week that my family medical leave expired. I asked for more time off, unpaid. No dice.

So in effect, the decision was made for me. In some ways, it was a real relief not to be responsible for making such a huge decision. I love staying home with Ellie right now. I also miss work. And if my company had been more flexible - if I could have had 6 months or a year off unpaid, I believe that I would have returned to work and that the company would have been better off for it.

I'm almost certain that I would have returned to work if my company had offered:
- extended leave (up to a year, unpaid)
- on-site daycare
- reduced travel
- the opportunity for job-sharing or part-time employment

Alas, none of those options were available to me and I'm still a little bitter. I know that I am fortunate in that I don't have to work in order for us to keep food on the table, although we have had to tighten our belts (figuratively speaking only). I know that I am fortunate in that my not working was a choice that we were able to make as a family. But I feel that - in my situation - I didn't have much of a choice. I simply couldn't go back to work while Ellie was having or recovering from surgery. I simply couldn't leave her during her first and most vulnerable months. And that was the right decision for us.

Hopefully my career will resume, or take off in an exciting new direction, when I'm ready. When we're all ready, as a family.

What I wanted to be when I grew up

When I was about 9 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor.  This conviction held for about 13 years, although my direction changed from wanting to be a psychiatrist (ala Barbra Streisand in Prince of Tides) to wanting to be a part-time pediatrician: working in a clinic in the mornings and being home with my children in the afternoons.  I held onto this dream until my senior year of college.

I also always liked the idea of being a writer.  When I was very young, rainy afternoons might find me making books with my mom's help.  She'd create a book out of construction paper.  I'd tell her the story and she'd right it town, and I'd choose illustrations from the Sears and J.C. Penny catalogs.

When I learned about Michael Critchon, I thought, "This is it!  I'll be a doctor and use my knowledge and experiences to write fiction!"

Above all of that, the part that was never hard to imagine or seemed unachievable: I wanted to be married and I wanted to have children.

The fall of my senior year of college, I was well into the medical school admissions process.  My university, which I chose in part because of its high percentage of graduates accepted into medical schools, showed how it ranked so highly.  The dean in charge of pre-medical studies held a meeting for all of us senior pre-meds.  There were probably 100 of us there.  This meeting was ostensibly to help guide us through the admissions process, but ended up feeling more like a way to weed out those of us who were less than fully dedicated.  She stressed what the lives of medical students and residents are like, and how it's not so much different for a primary care physician in a managed care system.  I hadn't been enjoying my science classes for some time, and I decided that maybe this wasn't for me, after all.  I still loved medicine (and I was a state-certified Emergency Medical Technician, though I never worked in that capacity beyond my training) but I found myself unable to commit to 7 more years of intense work and study before being able to see the light of day again, followed by a life of living on a pager, being awoken in the middle of the night.  That's not how I dreamed my life would be.

So I threw myself into having fun my senior year of college and didn't worry too much about what would happen afterwards (my parents must have been beside themselves, but I don't remember them saying anything about my lack of direction).  After graduation I worked as a lifeguard for a couple of months until I landed a "real" job.

The Internet was still pretty new at this time, but shortly before graduation I sat down at my P.C. and typed "medicine, publishing, st. louis" into a search engine.  I was an English major and figured that publishing was a logical career direction for me.  I still loved health sciences.  And I had a new boyfriend with whom I was very much in love, and figured that it would be nice to stick around St. Louis for a while to see how things went with him (he was still an undergraduate).  To my surprise, I learned that one of the largest health sciences publishers was right here in St. Louis.  I applied, and my career was launched.

I was an editorial assistant in Nursing Editorial for 9 months, then I was a developmental editor in Allied Health, or Health-Related Professions Editorial for 3 years.  Developmental editorial involves working with the authors on submission of a manuscript "acceptable in form and content" to the publisher.  The acquisitions editor - my boss - found the authors and signed the contracts, then passed the project along to me.  I worked with the author on getting the manuscript in on time, making sure that all the illustrations were accounted for and in the right places, etc.  I also handled having manuscripts reviewed by professionals in the appropriate fields.  When a manuscript is ready, developmental editors pass it along to Production, including copy editors.  I was getting really bored with processing manuscripts, which involved a lot of numbering pages, so I moved over to the Health Professions Marketing department as a marketing manager. 

I loved being a marketing manager.  It was not what I had dreamed of doing, but it was fun work and I was good at it.  Still, I always thought, "this is a great job . . . for now."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Mother's Love

I don't know how to describe what it feels like to love your child. I suppose that it's different for every mother, and perhaps for every child as well. I can speak only of my own experience loving my daughter.

I've heard it said that the intense feeling of love you feel when you look at your child is overwhelming, that you never thought you could love another person so much. That's not quite it for me. I've also heard it said that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body all the time. That sounds especially mawkish, but hits much closer to the mark.

When Ellie is apart from me, even for a short time, I feel slightly anxious and unsettled, like I've become separated from a detachable limb. She is part of me and she is the best part of me and yet she has the wonderful ability to surprise and impress me.

It's like nothing I've ever experienced.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A Tale of Two Mommys' Groups

Another time, I'll tell the story of how I came to be a Stay At Home Mom, and someday I'll even write an account of how I spend my time during the day. Right now, I'm writing about mother's support groups, altruistically called "play groups" for children.

Because of my daughter's congenital heart defect, she and I stayed home for her first four months. After she was recovered from her surgery and it was finally springtime, I felt ready to venture out into the world a bit more. And so we began going to play groups. We regularly go to two.

On Thursday afternoons, we go to Kangaroo Kids for the nursing moms' group. The first time I walked into this support group, I felt warm and safe. A panic I didn't realize I'd been feeling began to quiet. I sat in a corner and just absorbed the atmosphere. My daughter, Ellie, was overwhelmed too. She was all huge eyes and silence. She couldn't concentrate on nursing (for the first time ever) because there was so much else going on. There were moms talking loudly: sharing experiences, stories, and parenting tips. There were babies crying, babies nursing, babies crawling, babies playing with toys and exploring. It was incredible. One mom told a story about a very new, very young mom who was having a hard time. The other moms made a plan for reaching out to this young woman, picking her up at home, and bringing her and her baby to the group. It's a warm, commune kind of feel. These women talk about slinging, naturopathic remedies for ailments, attachment parenting, whole foods, discipline, family planning, exercise, and whatever else they need to talk about. The group is "led" very loosely by Tanya, a lactation consultant and attachment parenting-style mother of 4. The other moms are a mix of single and married women, young and older, stay at home and working full-time, and everything in between. They are rich and poor. And we meet, of course, in a resale shop with a very casual attitude.

On Friday afternoons I go to Gymboree Play & Music for another play group. This was the first mother's group I'd ever been to, and I found it through a friend at work who had a college friend who had a baby a few days after I did. She'd met another couple of women who had babies around the same time, and a "play group" was formed. Initially we all met for lunch at a very upscale mall. Often, I wouldn't eat. We'd sit at a cafe and chat. The other moms all had fancy SUV strollers from Peg Perego. The babies spent most of the "play group" sitting in their strollers, drinking from bottles or napping or fussing or looking at toys. Looking around at the other mid-day mall patrons - almost exclusively women - I thought, "This is how the other half lives! I always wondered who these people are, shopping in the middle of the day." I wondered how other people saw me, sitting in a cafe in a ritzy mall at lunchtime, with my beautiful blond baby in a sling. I didn't have a stroller to bring along, but I preferred to have Ellie close to my body where I could snuggle her and kiss her head from time to time. One of the other moms is on a leave of absence from work, but probably won't go back. Another is a freelance photographer. A third is an attorney and works part time. All are at least college educated and have husbands who are attorneys with large downtown firms. Now that the kids are older, we meet at Gymboree Play & Music so that the kids can move about and play. But other than chasing increasingly mobile babies around, the moms' part is largely the same.

So what do I get out of this group and why do I keep going back? Truthfully, I fall somewhere between the two groups and feel like I can be myself in both situations. It's wonderful to go to a group (the Gymboree group) where all the babies are the same age and we're all first time moms. We're learning as we go, and it's so fascinating to see the kids hit milestones at the same time. One week they'd all discovered ceiling fans. Another week they were suddenly all sitting unassisted. Sharing these experiences has been invaluable, and has lessened the sense of isolation I hadn't even realized that I was feeling. I wish that there were similar groups for new fathers, and can almost understand the appeal of something like the Promise Keepers: a place where dads feel supported and surrounded by others sharing the experience of new parenthood.

In lots of ways, these women are different from me, but in lots of ways they're the same, too. I have learned so much from these other moms and babies. In my world, where there's no extended family close by and we all live separately in our individual houses surrounded by moats of grass, it's easy to feel alone. It's been so helpful to me to talk with other new moms who are dealing with lots of the same issues, who don't have it all together, who have questions too.

And that's all besides the feeling of accomplishment that comes from something as simple as getting it all together enough to get out of the house for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Haircut Confessional

I've never been in a confessional, so my experience in that area is limited to portrayals on TV and in movies and this is very superficial. Me : haircuts :: Catholics : confession

When I'm actually sitting in the stylist's chair: "Forgive me. It's been 6 months since my last appointment." My assigned penance is usually some ridiculously expensive shampoo and conditioner.

It starts with other women when we're talking about hair. "No, actually, I don't have a hairdresser. I just go to Great Clips or somewhere a couple of times a year. I should probably find someone and keep going back to the same person, though." But I don't. I don't want to spend the money, I don't want to make the conversation. The whole experience is very awkward for me, and it's supposed to be "natural" for women, right? God forbid I ever have to ask for something more exotic, like a waxing or something else.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Choice

People keep telling me that it's "interesting" to hear my perspective on choice, given my situation. I am glad to share. Before I came to be here, how could I possibly have known how I would feel?

While I was pregnant, I learned that my daughter would have Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and an atrial-ventricular septal (heart) defect. This was pretty heavy. Although I initially didn't want to have the prenatal screenings (because it wouldn't change anything; we wouldn't choose to terminate regardless – plus, why would anything be wrong?!) I ended up having quite a few.

I declined the quad screen maternal blood test that looks for elevated or decreased levels of this and that. My reasons made perfect sense during the day. But at night I couldn't sleep. Or I awoke in a panic. At night the rational daytime feelings didn't matter at all. So I decided to have the blood test to help myself sleep better. Shockingly (or not) my levels of this and that were slightly out of whack. Because I was 28 years old I had a 1 in 816 chance of having a child with Trisomy 21. The quad screen results increased the risk to 1 in 221. 1 in 250 is considered "borderline" for more testing, so there was still little cause for concern. I agreed to have a Level 2 diagnostic ultrasound but declined amniocentesis – too risky. The ultrasound turned up the heart defect, which is more common in kids with D.S. than in chromosomally typical kids. And a couple other points of concern too: slightly thickened nuchal fold, maybe, and a single umbilical artery. Now the doc put the chance at 1 in 2. 50/50. That weekend sucked. I'll write about it some other time; it's still too raw to explore.

I agreed to have amniocentesis. The preliminary results and the eventual full results came back the same: Trisomy 21.

When we first learned about the heart defect and the increased chance of Down syndrome, my O.B. was very supportive. She made it clear that she would not judge me, whatever I decided. She told me that the day I learned about the heart defect (before we knew for sure about the Trisomy 21) was the last day I could legally have an abortion in Missouri, but that if that's what I decided to do, to come to her. She'd help me find a resource in another state to have the procedure done safely.

I'm saying I – I – I throughout. My husband, Paul, and I were very much in this together. Going through this brought us much closer together as we learned to lean on each other in a way we'd never had to before. We learned every piece of news, attended every doctor's appointment, and made every decision together.

In the end, as we expected, we decided not to terminate. I spent the rest of my pregnancy mourning the loss of the healthy, smart first child I had dreamed of. I spent the months reading about other families in my situation. I spent it crying and coping and learning and feeling a really strange mix of emotions. How could I have felt differently? All I knew was what was wrong with my daughter, not how wonderful she was to be. I love my daughter. She is a gift and a blessing. I expect this blog to be regularly filled with obnoxiously glowing maternal love and pride.

Interesting facts: Over 90% percent of women who learn that they're carrying a fetus with Trisomy 21 choose to terminate, regardless of their political affiliation or previous opinions about abortion. The only women I know who have decided to continue their pregnancies have all been "pro-choice" women, as I was. Most babies with Down syndrome are born to women in their 20's, who often have gone through less prenatal testing.

So, looking at my beautiful daughter and loving her so much, how do I feel now? I am a stronger supporter of abortion rights and a woman's right to choose than I was before.

1) Until you've been in this position, you have no idea how you will feel, how you will cope, what will be right for you and your family.
2) If I had not had the opportunity to choose to have Ellie, I believe that I would have felt trapped by my pregnancy, trapped by this baby that I was scared of. I believe that I would have come to resent her and that would have gotten in the way of loving her and bonding with her as I have.

Almost every weekend there are protestors at the new Planned Parenthood up the street from my house. Only one time have I ever seen a woman picketing. Most of the time, the protestors are men, sometimes with children in tow. This fills me with rage. You don't know. You haven't been there. It's none of your damn business. I would never wish the suffering I went through last summer on anyone. But if one of these men is ever in the situation that my husband found himself in last summer, I think he will begin to see the world very differently. And I hope that he will be surrounded by compassionate people who know that the world is not simplistic. It is not black and white. And that believing that it is so – judging one's neighbors so quickly and so harshly - is a far greater sin then that which they protest so loudly.