Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Mini-Poll: If you celebrate Christmas, when do you decorate? When do you take it all down?

I decorate whenever it's convenient, though always during Advent. I undecorate when it's convenient too, though I try to do it around Epiphany, 12th Night, the 12th Day of Christmas, January 6th, the day we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men with gifts for the infant Christ. Last year everything came down early because we were sure that Adelaide's arrival was imminent. We were, of course, quite wrong.

The first hurdle for me is removing all the autumn decorations and cleaning the house (straightening and dusting). Then we decorate all together as a family with carols on the stereo and eggnog in our cups. Well, that part's just for Ellie and me. And really Paul hangs most of the ornaments on the tree. I unwrap them and hand them to him or Ellie. Ellie takes what she wants and runs around the house with it, excited about all the new stuff. Ada just watches and plays with the wrapping paper at this point.

My mother's parents decorated on Christmas Eve, so that when she and her brothers came downstairs on Christmas morning, the newly installed tree was part of the big reveal.

We had a good Christmas this year, and a lovely visit with my family at my parents' house. We won't see Paul's family this year, which does suck, and all their gifts (so many!) are still piled under our tree. Maybe we'll dive into the pile this weekend, or maybe we'll celebrate on New Year's Day. Why not? It's a holiday and the tree will still be up!

Ellie was very excited about Christmas this year, lighting candles on the advent wreathe she made in Sunday School, opening doors in her advent calendar, talking about baby Jesus, and watching Shrek the Halls daily throughout December. I'm not entirely sure that she's differentiating between Eddie Murphy's Dreamworks character and Mary's transportation into Bethlehem, but more's the fun, right? I mean, don't you think Eddie Murphy's Donkey would be an excellent addition to the nativity?

Unfortunately, she was very sick on Christmas Day. I was really worried about her. She wasn't having GI issues, and she wasn't running a fever. She was, however, completely uninterested in food, touch, or interaction, and she was terribly lethargic. Just when we were about to start loading up the van on the morning of the 26th to drive back down to see her doctor, if not go directly to Children's Hospital, suddenly pink flowed back into her cheeks and lips, and she ate a little breakfast. She's a little whiny but otherwise back to normal now, and we're keeping an eye on her. Both girls and I are congested, but what could cause such a strange illness? I'm still clueless.

I had a little bout of illness myself; on Saturday night I developed mastitis. That afternoon, my breast started hurting. I just figured that someone had been a little too rough with it; my breasts are community property after all. But by dinner time it was hurting worse, and by the time our friends left that night, I was running a fever, shaking and miserable, and my breast was throbbingly sore.

I woke up Ada and had her nurse for an hour, then took some Tylenol (should have been Ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory effects; I switched over in the morning after my fever was decreased enough to allow internet research) and went to bed, sleeping with my breast on an electric hot pad. Set too high.

My nursing shirt must have slipped open, because I have an impressive blister on the underside of my breast, which I didn't notice for a couple of days until Paul pointed it out to me. I didn't even feel it, because my breast was so sore. But it was worth it; the treatment (ibuprofen, frequent nursing, self-breast-massage, and heat) worked: my fever never broke 101 and I didn't need to go to the doctor or get antibiotics. Hooray for my body!

Other than that, we're all tired, happy to be home, and ready for a little rest. I was thinking that if I had the sort of blog where I assigned nicknames to my family members, I'd call Paul Major Whiny. Or, maybe, Captain Passive-Aggressive. But then I realized that he could probably just call me "Ms. Pot" (as in, calling the kettle black).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Exposing My Ignorance

How does it work in political systems that have both a prime minister and a president? I understand the parliamentary system and how a prime minister is elected (at least in Great Britain), but how does a president fit in? What's the division of authority? Is it a little like having both a president and a CEO at a company? Actually, I find that a bit confusing, too. Do you have any suggestions for places to go do quick-and-very-easy research?

I am also lacking in hiring babysitter smarts.

I keep not thinking about New Year's Eve, because it's still so far in the future. It's after Christmas, after all, and that's unimaginably far away. Except that it's not. And our usual 13-year-old has all-night plans.

We don't have enough youth sitters. Finding kids you like and know and trust enough is hard, when your own kids are so much younger and most of the families you know well have children the same age as your own.

Also, the window for being a good sitter is so small. You're too young and possibly afraid of the dark or not allowed out after 9:00, and then suddenly you can drive and you're in drama club and you're way too cool for babysitting on Saturday nights. The 3-4 year window goes by so fast, and most people agree that younger is mostly better; younger kids are eager to impress, harder-working, less concerned with appearances. And less likely to bring over their boyfriends.

But I think our New Year's Eve job would be a pretty cool gig for some 12-year-old girl. We'll be going out after the kids are asleep, so if all goes according to plan, she won't have to actually do anything. She can just hang out here with a girlfriend, eating snacks, watching movies, and drinking sparkling grape juice while ringing in the new year. There's the fun of being away from home, the beauty of eating someone else's food and getting paid for it, and no real work! What's not to love?

Maybe I'll skip teaching Sunday School on Sunday in favor of hanging out in the Middle School classroom and looking for the kids who don't look quite cool enough to have been invited to all-night parties yet.

Any tips?

And the Girls Met Santa and All Was Good

I miss writing. I love December, but things are pretty uncreative around here if I'm not even finding the time to blog!

The silver lining is that January is usually cold and dark and depressing; the excitement of the holiday season is over and there's nothing immediate to look forward to. By "holiday season," I mean September through December, including my birthday, Ellie's birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. What's not to love?!

Wait, I forgot the lining. After all that excitement, January is a bit of a let-down. But this year I can promise myself that, amidst all the exercising I'll be doing, I will also be taking time to WRITE again, which makes me feel happy and good in ways that nothing else really touches.

So, yay for January!

In the meantime, here's a writer joke.
A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Catching Up With Me

This morning, I fell asleep sitting up. Holding Ada. Fortunately, I am good at this and neither of us was injured. I did have a weird dream, though.

Too many weeks of insufficient sleep have rendered me semi-human. And ah haf uh code. I've got a Kleenex affixed to my nostrils as I type this, which I'm sure you're glad to know. Worse, Ellie's got a little congestion too and Ada has that face-like-a-glazed-doughnut thing going on. Sorry to all we've germed upon. No one seems sick, though, just snotty.

Our open house was Sunday, and I think it went well. I was surprised that about 40 people showed up, given the weather and timing. Hopefully, many of them had fun! I found it humorous that most of our younger friends came and went early, and the last people here were some of our older friends. By older I mean our parents' age, so older than us, but very young-at-heart. Which was fun. And fie upon those of you who came, dropped your white elephant gifts, and left again without taking one of ours! On a related note, would anyone like a pizzelle maker?

My Christmas shopping is done (!) and we're addressing Christmas cards tonight; we're trying to pare the list way back this year and we've cut to 86 families, though that number will increase as we reply to cards we receive this week and next. Hopefully, soon we'll be able to sit in front of the TV and wrap more presents. It's nice to have the pressure off: the shopping's done, the open house is over, the cards are nearly ready to mail, the house is clean and decorated, there are cookies everywhere.

What am I forgetting?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Family of Origin

I am very close to my family. My parents are still married, and my grandparents were married, too, until, one-by-one, they each died. That sounds confusing. But I don't mean that my grandparents were in an unusual 4-way marriage. I think you know what I mean. Moving right along. I have two younger sisters.

We have each had our personal problems, of course. But up until relatively recently, I would have told you that as a family, we were pretty much perfect. Growing up, we had family game nights, and we still do. We had family bike rides, all in our matching helmets. (Oh, how I hated that. No one wore helmets back then.) We still go on family walks when we get together at the holidays, each sub-family - all three girls are married now - with its own dog loping alongside.

After I had Ellie, and she was so sick, and things were hard, I began to turn inward. Gradually, I began to define "family" as Paul and Ellie, and define "home" as St. Louis rather than my parents' family, my parents' house.

Perhaps I began this process when my mother insisted that we come to their house for Christmas that first year, when Ellie was 2 months old, had been diagnosed with failure to thrive, and had heart surgery scheduled for a couple of weeks after Christmas. Our house was clean and decorated - we hosted family for her baptism a few days after Christmas - but my mother wanted us to drive 300 miles with that sick little baby, through the snow, to her house for Christmas. In retrospect, I can't believe that we did it, but at that time, not having Christmas with my family seemed inconceivable.

Over time, I've begun to feel uncomfortable with other things about my relationship with my family, specifically about the role I play.

When we go to visit my parents, it's hard not to be lazy, to feel like it's a vacation and surely someone else can take care of . . . the cooking, the dishes, whatever. (Exception: the kids. I never expect someone else to change diapers, help Ellie onto the potty, or watch the girls, unless they offer. The girls are my - and Paul's - personal responsibility just like going to the bathroom and showering myself are my responsibilities, iykwim. Baseline expectation of myself: basic hygiene and taking care of my children. Though I do expect my family to want to spend time playing with my girls. After all, they don't get to see them every month.)

It's also hard not to fall back into the predictable patterns of interaction, especially when people are treating me like they expect me to react the way I used to. You know, when I was a kid. This is uncomfortable, because I'm not a kid, and I don't want to be the kid I was.

I also don't like the specific part I've been assigned. People like to do things; we all reflect back happily on fun things we've done as a family, and some people complain if we sit around and do nothing, but getting the large group of easily distractable people to mobilize in concert is a Herculean (or Sisyphean) task.

I am the cheerleader, the ringleader, the bossy first child, the A-type personality, the boss. Just roll your eyes and follow along, folks.

If I don't start the conversation and marshall it along, the conversation often does not happen. I'm not just talking about which movie we should see on a Friday night, I'm also talking about which dates everyone is planning to be there, so that we can adjust work schedules and overlap our visits to my parents' house. So it's chaos and last minute scrambling and lots of time just sitting.

And it's become a family joke that Sarahlynn always wants to play board games. Of course, everyone likes playing games, and they frequently play even when I'm not there to suggest it.

But when I'm around, it's done with a let's-humor-Sarahlynn attitude, because that's my role. I don't like that role. I don't like being cast as the one who wants, who needs, the family and its corny-but-fun activities more than everyone else. It makes me feel like the worst parts of being a very young teenager again, with the seeking to belong, the fear of rejection.

It's not like all these issues are new. Some of them have been around for a long, long time; I've just been denying them. One summer, when I was home on break from university, my middle sister kept her diary on my computer. She didn't bother to password protect it; she just typed out her thoughts and plans and frustrations into my keyboard all summer. "I hate Sarah," she wrote. "She's such an ugly fat pig." And so on.

Over Thanksgiving, I overheard her talking to my mother. (When will they realize that I have always had very good hearing?) "Sarahlynn is acting just like she did back in high school," MiddleSis said. "She's totally . .. blah blah blah." I don't choose to remember it anymore; it was ugly. Also untrue.

So I decided to leave that afternoon and come back to St. Louis early. (That wasn't the only reason; there were lots of good reasons to come back here on Saturday, rather than Sunday, and we were all glad for the extra night's sleep in our own rooms, the extra day's rest at home before Monday.) In the car, on the way home, Paul and I talked a lot about what happened, and the ways in which being with our families can be stressful. The end result is that we can't and don't expect anyone else to change, and that we're all imperfect people. We can only monitor our responses and adjust our expectations. Hopefully, the Christmas visit will go more smoothly.

It seems that, perhaps, my picture-perfect family never really has been so picture perfect underneath, no matter how much I wanted that to be so, and believed that it was so. Here I am, in my 30's, surprised that we're an ordinary family with ordinary problems, after all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

Well, not yet, he doesn't. But he wants one. See, I wasn't kidding a few days ago when I threatened to write about Paul's Christmas present.

Christmas 1997. I was making $8.81 an hour as an editorial assistant, and my student loan payments had just kicked in - I was 6 months past college graduation.

It was my first Christmas with Paul; we'd been together 11 months. I knew that he wanted a nice bag to carry to class and work, an over-the-shoulder bag rather than a backpack.

I spent what was, for me at the time, a lot of money at L.L. Bean or Land's End - I always get those two confused - and got Paul a great, personalized, leather-trimmed bag. He was suspicious and I believe in the importance of surprise, so I wrapped in a long, flat package along with several of my big college textbooks, but he knew what it was before he opened it, anyway. Disappointing. But he did like the bag and used it.

More disappointing was the fact that some months later, his parents got him a more expensive, all leather bag and he never used mine again.

This year he wants a new laptop bag, and he wants a backpack this time (after all, he's been carrying an over-the-shoulder bag for 10 years now). No problem, right? I'll tell his parents and they can get him a very nice new bag.

But no.

Paul wants me to get the bag for him, presumably to make up for ditching my last bag in favor of a nicer one from his parents. Sigh. You mean I'm going to have to let this go? After all these years?

Alas. I've looked around online a little but not fallen in love with any non-bulky laptop backpacks. Any suggestions? Do any of you have one that you love?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Our Fault, You Know

Why do so many toddlers live on french fries, cheese, pizza, pasta, and chicken fingers? It's seen as such an inevitable part of growing up, but it really doesn't have to be.

It's because we parents are lazy, we're weak, we confuse food with love, we confuse giving our children what they say they want with giving our children what they need, what will really make them happy.

Ellie has long been an unusually good eater. She didn't discover cheeseburgers and french fries until she was 3-1/2 (a feat that's practically unheard of amongst her peers). She still doesn't eat chicken fingers or toasted ravioli, though she really does love pizza and pasta these days. Fortunately, she still eats other things as well. She likes corn, she loves spinach souffle, and when I make crock-pot-roast, she'll eat the mushrooms and carrots all night long.

But I have become lazy. I've started feeding her foods that are easy to purchase, store, and prepare. I've started feeding her the foods that I like to eat rather than the foods that are best for her. Heating up a Lean Pocket for lunch is easier than, well, just about anything else, even a sandwich with healthful sides.

When Ellie started preschool, she was 15 months old and not yet walking. Later that year, she did learn to walk, but would plop down onto the ground whenever she got tired, no matter where she was, and her teachers were always trying to cajole her into walking a little further. Eventually, they hit upon broccoli bribery.

"Ellie, if you walk all the way back to the classroom on your own, we'll give you some broccoli!"


When Ellie was little, she loved purees (which Paul made for her from fresh, organic vegetables and fruits). Now she's slightly interested in them again as I feed them to Ada, and that's OK with me. Alas, poor Ada gets store-bought purees, which she frequently declines to eat, favoring whatever we're having, and I don't blame her one bit. Such is the plight of the second child.

But I'll feed my girls pureed vegetables until they're 18, if they'll accept them, or add them to their quesadillas, pizzas, and soups, as well as continuing to offer fresh fruits and veggies with meals. Keeping and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables is harder, of course, as fresh foods tend to spoil quickly, which is why we drift into "easier" patterns over time.

At least the girls are getting important nutrients on my lazy days, even if they're not developing the best eating habits. (Puzzler: how to convince a child who can't stand the texture of raw vegetables to eat them? Or the slime of fruit?)

But let's not look too far from home when looking for causes in today's obesity epidemic. Our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children are not so affected by commercials that they're driving themselves to McDonald's and buying their own junk food.

We're the parents. We stock the pantries, we drive the cars, we control the money, we should be monitoring the television. It's our fault.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Glamorous Vacation

I had some dental work done yesterday, the kind that involved 8 injections and some intimate time with a drill. Some of you might recall that I am a bit phobic about the dentist.

Don't feel too sorry for me, though; I only felt the first 3 shots in their full glory, despite the topical numbing agent. I didn't feel the next two at all, and the last three were but mere pinches. In my gums. And only the second filling got contaminated by those bleeding gums, requiring redrilling and touch-up work. So today my jaw is still sore from tensing it so hard while keeping my mouth wide open for two hours.

But I digress a little.

While waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, I managed to read the first three chapters of my new novel. Well, not my new novel, but you get the idea. I didn't have spend that time worrying about the baby, since Paul took the day off and stayed home with her.

And, for me, I was unusually relaxed. My fingernails didn't even draw blood while clenching into the opposite hand in my good luck squeeze position.

Even the dentist noticed.

"You know, I see some mothers of young children who say that it's actually a bit of a relaxing break to sit here and have a cavity drilled. It's funny that anyone enjoys this."

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was it. Sure, I was enduring one of my least favorite activities in the world, but, hey, I got a morning off!

And then Paul, the girls, and I all went out to lunch together, where I realized that I couldn't even slup water neatly, though I did manage my milkshake nicely, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Here, Fishy Fishy

Silly face:

Ada's a little scary. She's 10 months old. She talks some, uses some sign, looks very serious and wise, and seems to understand things that she should not. Like when she was 8 months old and someone across the room said, "Quack," and she replied, "Duck." And like yesterday, when she pointed to a picture of herself on the computer (actually, just a picture of her head - alongside her sister's, cousin's, and cousin-dog's, but she pointed to herself - atop an elf's dancing body) saying her name over and over. And like today, when she was happily chewing on a teething toy and occasionally holding it out to me, for my inspection.

"Ada, you've got a fish! Does it taste good?"

She looked at me like I was a little nuts, then crawled over to the fish tank and held her fish-shaped teether against the glass for a while.

I don't quite know what to do with this child, so I'm just enjoying her.

And her big sister, too, though I jinxed things by posting that I couldn't remember Ellie's last potty accident, prompting one accident a day for 4 days in a row. Whew.

Ada also plays "Where's Ada's nose? Mommy's nose? Where are Ada's eyes?" etc. I assume that's normal for this age. I'm really enjoying not knowing, not worrying, this time around. Ellie broke her brief cycle of daily accidents by initiating an entire potty cycle by herself and not telling me about it until afterward, including taking off her naptime pull-up and throwing it away. Amazing.

Huh. That's not what I was going to write about at all. This was going to be all about Paul's Christmas present this year. Guess you'll have to wait a little longer, honey.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas To-Do List

I love this time of year, but I'm also (always) a bit overwhelmed by it.

Chopping down the tree
Writing Christmas letters
Christmas pictures/cards
Assembling and addressing, etc.
Cooking, baking, cooking, baking
Cleaning the house
Decorating the house and tree
Favors for the open house
Shopping for the open house
Preparing for the open house
Parties to attend, Secret Santa surprises to coordinate
Advent lessons to prepare
Christmas shopping

I'm doing a lot of this in my own way. We have the picture (just the girls, this year) and are close to ordering the photo cards. I'm working on the letter, which we will fold into envelopes with the photo cards. Paul will do the addressing, etc. I like the idea of homemade cards, but that's just not feasible. How many end-of-year/Christmas/holiday cards do you send? We send 100. I've cut way back to get to 100, and have experienced squawking when I tried to cut further. So no new friends can get cards until older friends die. Sorry. 100 is the limit. Because I'm married to Paul, we have a fancy database that coordinates all of this. How on earth do people do this with paper and pen address books?!

I am working on Christmas shopping. I have a grid listing each person for whom we need a gift, with a column for gift ideas and another column for actual gift purchased. Some of these I delegate out to Paul, often with a suggestion, but request that he actually do the shopping. Mostly, I love Christmas shopping. But it's sometimes a little overwhelming, too, especially this year when I started late. Oops.

We have the tree hanging out in a bucket of water in the car port. I should be cleaning the house right now, but I'm not very motivated because everyone went to bed early tonight, and so my night feels . . . unstructured.

For our open house party favors last year, we created a CD of some of our favorite Christmas, winter, and Hanukkah music, complete with personalized labels. I don't want to do that again this year, but am at a loss for what to do. I thought of personalized cocoa packets, but Paul thought that maybe that's not lasting enough. Hmm. Suggestions?

I should go to bed, I suppose. I have an early morning appointment with a dentist's drill. Ah, a crying, teething baby. Perhaps I'll go tend to her, instead.

It's Time for Christmas Letters

I can't blog right now! I'm writing our family Christmas letter! This year, again, I can't bring myself to write neat paragraphs describing our year. (Sarahlynn likes to read. Paul has a new job. Ellie is cute. Ada was born! The end.) So I searched around online, and I'm trying to write a menu that describes our year, as though we're a restaurant.

For example:

Haggis, served family style (we took a 10-day family vacation to Scotland in June)

And so forth.

Do you know that some people think that writing longer things takes more time? Unless we're talking about a novel vs. a postcard, I find the opposite to be true. It's hard, very hard for me to edit, refine, pare down, keep the meaning without all the words. Words, words, words are easy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Still Giving Thanks

I normally don't post on Friday nights, especially not after writing 2000 words, and after staying up past 2:00 am almost every night for a month. Have I mentioned that my girls get up early and the baby, while great at going to sleep at night, doesn't nap reliably during the day? And we have an extra tonight, though she's been no trouble at all.

A friend just defended his dissertation today, earning his PhD in astro physics (yes, seriously) so we offered to keep their daughter tonight so that he and his wife can have a night off together.

We were all at Blueberry Hill for dinner, and when we left, Paul was leading Ellie by the hand. Ellie was holding onto 2-year-old T's hand, and I was following along carrying Ada. The early dinner crowd was beginning to transition into a live music bar crowd, and we got lots of stares and comments as we walked out in single file with our three adorable little girls, ages 10 months, 2 years, and 4 years old. It's possible that they could all be ours, but whew! As if the past 4 years haven't been hard enough.

All three girls and Paul are peacefully sleeping now, and I intend to follow in their footsteps very soon.

But first, I want to answer the question for the StLBloggers November Blog Carnival: What are you most thankful for this year?

There are a lot of contenders this year.

In 2007, I gave birth to a wonderful, strong, intelligent, healthy baby girl and have watched her grow into an amazing almost-toddler. What could beat that?

In 2007, I have watched my three year old turn four, and develop by leaps and bounds, especially in her speech. She can run now, and carry on conversations with me that I didn't expect a year ago. And she is potty trained. I don't even ask her if she needs to go very often, anymore. I can't remember her last real accident. Amazing.

In 2007, my family was healthy, and everyone did well professionally. We saw each other frequently, my parents took all of us on an amazing trip to Scotland, and Paul started a great new job.

In 2007, I wrote a novel. My first one ever. And since this is what I want to do with my life, the fact that I'm actually working toward my goal is so exciting that I can barely talk about it.

But the winner this year is something of a dark horse, because it's something that, 18 months ago, I never would have thought to question. At the end of 2007, I am still married. I am even - dare I say it? - happily married.

While my life has grown and changed a lot over the past year, my marriage has grown and changed the most, I think.

And, for that, I am thankful.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good Shepherds

There's a woman who reads my blog who had a baby with Trisomy 21 a few months ago. The diagnosis - shortly after the baby's birth - was a surprise to his parents. And as is often the case, it was a horrifying discovery. It was certainly scary, yes, horrifying to me when I learned that my first baby would have Trisomy 21, Down syndrome. I didn't know what to expect, but none of what I was imagining was good. I've written often before about not judging women for the choices they make in these circumstances. I don't believe that we can know how we'll feel until we've actually been in a given situation, and even then we can never be entirely in another's shoes. Each family must be allowed to decide what they can handle.

I still recoiled at first when I learned that she'd given her baby up for adoption. My first reaction was to compare her situation to my own. How could she? After seeing her beautiful, healthy, newborn son? How could she give him up? When I first saw Ellie, I was elated, I was smitten.

But there are differences. I knew about Ellie's diagnosis with 18 weeks to prepare. So surely she'll regret her decision someday; if she'd had the chance to get to know him a little, to get over the shock, to hold and love him a little, she'd have realized that she could do this.

Probably. Maybe not. The news is splashed, from time to time, with horrible, terrible stories about parents who could not cope. Perhaps worse still are the hundreds, thousands, probably millions of stories that don't make the news, of parents who harm their children - physically, sexually, verbally, coldly, hotly, in absentia - in less deadly ways because of their own difficulties coping sometimes.

I was already fighting against my initial reaction, when I found this post.
We are paving the way for our baby L to have the most wonderful life with a family who are 100% committed to him and his extra chromosome. Doesn't he deserve that rather than two people who are not sure.
He is worth so much more than 'not sure'.
. . .
Unfortunately, I am well aware that I probably will regret this decision. That it will hurt for a long time - maybe forever. But I would much rather feel that pain knowing that L is settled and happy than to have brought him home then regretted it. That's just a chance I am not willing to take.

She may regret her decision. But in the meantime, other than possibly the blogger herself, who is harmed? The baby was given the gift of life. And he has a home with a wonderful family who wants him. I think that speaks very nicely for itself.

In the meantime, for other parents who find themselves struggling with a difficult diagnosis: it is possible to cope, and even to he happy. To love and to grow, and to have a life you didn't imagine, didn't dream of, but are better - and happier - for.

To get there, you might need help. I wish everyone could have a doctor as good as my girls' pediatrician, who sees a lot of children with Down syndrome and who got us hooked up with all the specialists, therapists, and schools that we could ever need.

She led us to Good Shepherd School for Children, where Ellie attended preschool for 2 years. In the early days, Ellie's therapists - who came right here to our home - were more my therapists than hers. I can't tell you all the ways that they've enriched our lives together, and I miss them now that Ellie's a big girl in a big girl school.

Do you have a Kleenex handy? This is what they do:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Wrote a Novel

Well, technically, I'm about 2/3 of the way done, but I won NaNoWriMo, and I don't feel inclined to stop now!


I'm off to go wake Paul up to celebrate.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pet Peeve

False Tautologies

For example, I say, "I like X," and someone else hears, "Y sucks."


I say, "X describes Y," and someone else hears, "Therefore no other entities can contain any X whatsoever."

Note: precondition followed by assumption, without platform of fact upon which to base assumption. So annoying, so defensive.

I loved math in school, but if I had to narrow it down, I think that my favorite math class ever was the hard-to-describe course I took my sophomore year in high school. It was Algebra II, but it was an advanced course and we learned other stuff in there as well, including quite a bit of logic and whatever else the instructor was interested in teaching. I loved Geometry, and Trig, and I must have loved Calculus because I took a few years of it, in high school and in college. But Algebra II was one of the most valuable courses I ever took at any level of my education, because it taught me new analytical ways of thinking.

It's all a playful interest on my part, however. I like to exercise my brain with logic puzzles, but I have no desire to live and work in a completely logical world.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thankful, Indeed

Everyone is feeling much better, and I never did get sick. We made it to my parents' house safely. Leftover Thanksgiving dinner was all the delicious fun and a lot less stress than the traditional meal always ends up being.

All in all, it's wonderful to be out of my own house for a little while and back in the comfortable clutter of my parents' home.

And Paul bought me an adapter so that I can power my laptop in the car, which allowed me to write nearly 4000 words on the drive! I'm not a great typist, but occasionally I can look up from the screen, and it was an interesting experience to be living in my fictional world, typing along, and looking out the windows at the dark Illinois landscape rushing by.

"There's a 24-hour Starbucks at the next exit!"

All in all, the weekend has gotten much better, and I am, as ever, Thankful.

And then Georgeanne’s shriek and Coralyn’s giggle brought him back with a blink, and he saw their colorful coats against the white snow and black trees, he saw the rolling hills and icy ponds, he saw Maggie’s face looking up at him, he saw the textures and pieces of his life laid out before him, and his heart felt so full, so full of love and longing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


We're not at my parents' house for Thanksgiving with my sisters, their husbands, and my sister's daughter, who was born the day after Ada and we rarely get to see. We're not anywhere for Thanksgiving. We're home, of course, but we won't be celebrating very much tomorrow; no one in my house is eating. The girls and Paul are not eating because of their GI bug. I'm not eating for two reasons: 1) I know that I will be struck down similarly very soon, and would prefer to have as little in my stomach as possible when that happens (I'll still eat toast, etc., as I become hungry). 2) My nose is so full of the unbearable stench of a house full of three people with GI bugs that it's hard to imagine wanting to eat.

This no good, terrible, very bad situation is exacerbated by a few things, most of which I'll call Paul, just for the sake of convenience. Since Paul is sick, he's very cranky and passive-aggressive. Since I barely cope with this much illness anyway, having a marginally civil co-parent is not easing matters. For example, if I notice that he's using diaper wipes on a freshly showered child, I might ask, "Oh, no, did she have more diarrhea?" And he might reply, "No, I just saw some on her and decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to leave it there." Unnecessarily sarcastic, rather than collaborative.

Further, he has very different ideas about cleanliness and germ-existence than I do. Granted, I was the one who took all those Biology courses in college. But his dad's got a Master's in Biology and is a high school Biology teacher, so surely Paul picked some of the 19th century concept of germ existence. But frequent hand-washing? Not so much. And, something germy (e.g. a used diaper wipe or soiled clothing) can apparently be set down on a surface frequently touched by other people (e.g. a chair) without leaving any germs behind. And the most disgusting things can be rinsed into the kitchen sink, despite all the dishes piled up in there.

Moving right along.

Thanksgiving. A couple of things about this whole illness have been wonderful. Yes! Wonderful! First, Ada seems to be through Part 1 of the illness, the throwing up part, and hasn't been nearly as sick as her older sister. Second, Ellie communicated with us! We took Ada to the doctor yesterday, and while she was being examined, Ellie told us that she was sick too. We blew her off nicely, thinking that she just wanted attention since her sister was getting so much. Then, after she'd been vomiting etc. for a few hours this morning, she told us that her throat hurt. So back to the doctor we went - and, indeed, Ellie has strep! (Ada's culture was negative.) This is the first time, the very first time ever, in more than 4 years, that she's diagnosed herself and given us the necessary information to help her. She told us her throat hurt! We took her to the doctor! She cultured positive for strep! And she got a shot of penicillin! Yay!

Where did she get the strep? Good question, and I do have a theory. The GI bug could have come from anywhere. Ada was sick first; she might have picked it up in the nursery at church, or anywhere else. After all, she's the one of us who crawls around on the floor, tries eating everything she sees, puts her dirty fingers into her mouth all the time, and gets passed around groups of people like a party favor.

But the strep part, I presume, came from Paul. He wasn't himself on Saturday night. (Note to the big crowd of people we had over here on Saturday: I'm sorry! But at least alcohol kills germs, and we sure had a lot of that!) I kept asking him why he wasn't participating in the party more, and he just said that he felt like sitting quietly and enjoying from afar, and that his throat hurt. We've all had a little cough/cold, so he insisted that his throat just hurt from coughing. I doubt that. I think he brought home strep. I wish he'd go get cultured. (Rob, I even used you as an example for motivation! No dice.)

So far, my throat's fine, and my stomach is a little off mostly because of what I'm smelling. I hope. Another bright and shining Thanksgiving light: I've written over 38,000 words this month, and am on target to hit the NaNoWriMo 50,000 target several days early. So I'm taking tonight off and going to bed. After I start a load of laundry and load the dishwasher.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is going better than mine!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Do You Fill Your Days?

As Ellie and I were finishing up lunch, Ada woke up. I went to pick her up, and the phone rang. I took the phone with me and carried Ada back to change her diaper while talking to my mother. Then I sat Ada in her highchair, washed my hands, and got her some lunch. She wasn't too into eating; she's not feeling well today. I got her to have a sip of juice and a couple of bites of pureed oatmeal with pear.

While I was trying to make an appointment get Ellie's hair trimmed, Ada threw up all over herself and her tray. I got her cleaned up and into the bath. Ellie came along to "help." While I was dressing Ada after her bath, Ellie opened the refrigerator and got a fresh container of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, and spilled the entire thing on the kitchen floor. I sat Ada down and swept that up. As I was finishing, I heard Ellie calling for help from the master bathroom.

Apparently, she and The (stuffed) Cat in the Hat needed to potty. Both were, apparently, successful. By this time, I'm a little pissed. I deposit Cat in a plastic bag to go downstairs to the washing machine, and I hear suspicious splashing. Ada has crawled into the hall bathroom (door opened compliments of her big sister) and is happily splashing her hands in the toilet. I wash Ada's hands and shut the bathroom door, then leave her to push her Radio Flyer wagon while going back to Clorox wipe the master bathroom floor after The Cat in the Hat's drippage. Big sister is having an extended session on the potty.

Ada's quiet, so I go back to check on her: she's fine, but the bed of the wagon is holding some sort of clear fluid. I clean this up with a cloth diaper and a Lysol wipe, then carry Ada back to sit with Ellie and me. Ellie's still on the pot, and saying, "Finish potty! Finish potty!" (This means: I need to finish going potty; don't rush me!) And Ada's rubbing her eyes, so I snuggle her and put her down in her crib. When I walk back into my room, I find that Ellie has decided to follow me to see where I was going with Ada. She did not wipe first.

By this time, I'm emitting a quiet but piercing noise, and Ellie's saying, "Mommy, no screaming!" I clean her up, the clean up the toilet, potty seat, and carpet just outside the bathroom while Ellie washes her hands for about 5 minutes. Then I wash my hands of the whole affair, both literally and figuratively.

As I've typed this, Ellie has put herself down for her nap (smart girl!) and Ada has fallen asleep too. I need to take a shower, then wake the two of them so that I can take Ada to the doctor to get the verdict on whether or not it's OK for us to travel tomorrow, to my parents' house for Thanksgiving.

Somehow this afternoon, I need to find time to get Ellie's hair cut, and then we are having an early dinner with friends, to meet her family who are in from out of town for the holiday.

Then Paul's got an evening meeting at church, and I'll come home to get the girls to bed, do laundry, pack, bake 4 loaves of quick bread (2 banana, 2 pumpkin), and write 2000 words.

No pressure. I'm sure glad I quit my job to live this life of leisure. For the record, the first part of that sentence is true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Year Is It?

I have been so off-kilter for the last few days. I've always been a little skeptical when reading authors talking about their characters taking on lives of their own, changing the stories, talking to them throughout the day, etc. (I know that some writers do seem to experience this, but others do not. I'm in the latter group.) For the most part, I know what my story is before I write it. I know who my characters are, and where their arcs end before I begin or shortly thereafter. The more practiced I get, the more I know before I start writing.

But I have been in a fictional fog for a little while, today especially. My last 20,000 words or so have been set in February 2012. And while the year isn't a huge deal, the month is really throwing me off. I keep looking at the trees and expecting to see preparations for new buds, not dead leaves gradually falling. I am thinking more about valentines than turkey sandwiches. I am looking ahead to our spring break trip rather than Christmas vacation. It's a weird, weird feeling, especially this time of year, when it usually seems like no other time of year can ever exist.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Genre Fiction

I've written before about genre fiction. Here, for example. And here. To sum up: I think that great quantities of rubbish are published by genre publishers (Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery) because they fit the template and readers will apparently buy anything that fits the desired template. This trend is good for getting published, but is bad for fiction in general. And it gives genre fiction a really bad name that it doesn't entirely deserve. There's some really wonderful, exciting, emergent writing going on in genre fiction, especially in SF&F, that's obscured from general readership by its association with the piles of dragon dung. At the core, good writing is good writing, and I'm the sort of reader who appreciates good writing, regardless of genre.

What I might not have shared before is that I've actually done a bit of genre writing, as well.

The first short story I wrote all by myself (without my mother writing the words down for me) was a fantasy story. I was in first grade, and I illustrated the story and taped the audiobook too; I was a jill-of-all-trades. As an adult, the first short story that I was really proud of, that I still think might have been published somewhere if I'd tried a little bit, was sort of a fantasy story as well. It doesn't fit a modern fantasy template, though, and is more Gregory Maquire than Anne McCaffrey.

And my first, failed, novel - to which I still intend to return at some point - was a mystery. I love good mysteries, and have about a dozen of them in my head; I just haven't found the voice yet in which to write them.

What's more surprising, it seems, to those who know me, is that I once thought about writing romances. The fall of my senior year in college was an interesting time for me. I decided that I really needed to break up with the guy I'd been dating since high school graduation before we ended up married. Around the same time, I decided that I'd been on the wrong life path since I was 9 years old. I realized, all at once and with no warning, that I really didn't want to be a doctor after all.

What now?!!

I thought about what I loved to do, and the answer was easy, even then: I love to write. Even when I wanted to be a doctor, I was secretly hoping to be Michael Crichton, publishing popular fiction rather than peer-reviewed studies.

But I have always been plagued by self-doubt, and I didn't think that I could do it. I knew for sure that I couldn't support myself and pay off my student loans by embarking upon a career as a novelist. But, I read up a little on Harlequin romances, and I decided that I could do that and make enough money to live. I just needed to learn the pattern, I figured, so I joined the Harlequin readers club and received my 4 books plus a complimentary gift each month.

I quickly realized that romance writing is not for me (this is that part that's not surprising to those who know me, or who have read any of my writing) but I kept my membership until I had a full set of wine glasses, and those are still the wine glasses we use today as, apparently, we failed to register for any at our wedding.

They're bright green, and they do make a wonderful conversation piece.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I'm on track to make the NaNo halfway mark (25,000 words) on Wednesday night, if I continue at this pace. That will, not entirely coincidentally, be the halfway point of the book (although lots of what I've already written needs to be expanded; that can happen later, after November) and the main crisis, which has been building since the prologue, will begin to explode.

My novel is divided into three parts, each of which should eventually be about 25,000 words. Part 1 spans 15 years and has a lot of shorter scenes: bam-bam-bam. The pace slows down, but the crisis picks up significantly in Part 2, which spans 2 months. Part 3 stretches out, is more introspective, and covers about a year.

Part 1 is fun, Part 2 is exciting, and Part 3, which I have not yet begun to write, is supposed to be lyrical and haunting. Ah, well, what's the use of trying, without making lofty goals? If I'm going to be a writer, this is the sort of writer I want to be. Can I carry a story on the merits of the writing, without relying on plot? We'll see by the second or third draft of Part 3. In the meantime:

Writing lesson from book club. The Time Traveler's Wife taught me that people can fuck in contemporary literary fiction. My characters, and my narrator, don't say that; though I think it would be interesting to write in a voice that could, someday. There is sex, though. And hopefully there's a little laughter too.
The undulating women, the thumping music, the pulsing lights, it all screamed sex-sex-sex. Mark closed his eyes and moved to the music, feeling fuzzy around the edges, feeling the beat and the lust in his muscles, in his bones, in the very core of his soul. There was no today, there was no tomorrow, there was no Maggie, there was no Mark, there was only this feeling, this being, right now. He was the beat. He was the music, the lights, the vapor of evaporating sweat steaming off the dancers.

Until someone threw up on his shoe.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tales of the Journey: National Youth Workers Convention

Through the PCUSA webring, I stumbled upon a youth director talking about the recent National Youth Workers Convention. (Aside: there is a fascinating mix of progressive and conservative bloggers linked on that site.)

Anyway, youth director Brittany posted about a keynote speech by Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer, in which he asked the question "Is this dream more important in my life than God?" in response to living his dream and then losing it.

In response to that question, Brittany said,
I realized that my dream really didn't have anything to do with God. It was just my dream. I owned it and expected God to fill in the missing parts. What a backwards idea about God, like I'm the one writing the story. It's easier sometimes to play the part of God rather than letting God be God and me be me.

I think I'm like that about my writing. It's hard not to be, when you want something so much. But I'd like to remind God that I have pledged that 10% of every single penny I make from my writing is tithed. (My tongue is planted firmly in my cheek, here; I'm being flip, not bargaining.)

NaNoWriMo update: I'm at 19,075 words and still liking it. My automatic counter widget (see right) isn't updating as quickly as I'd like.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Blogger Buzz: To-Do List (the book)

Blogger Buzz: To-Do List (the book)

Still Writing

Friday's Total Word Count: 17,140

I should be proud of what I've accomplished so far, and I am. And I know that Week 2 is when a lot of people hit the wall: it's starting to drag on a bit, and the end is not in sight.

But I am very concerned about running out of material. Given where I am today, I'm afraid that I'll say everything I have to say, I'll tell the story, and find that it's an awkward 25,000 words. I don't mind finishing up after NaNoWriMo is over; I expect that. But I do really care about this story, and in the end, I want to have a novel, not a novella.

Saturday night update: Today's Word Count: 16,908.

Yes, that's fewer words than yesterday, but I wasn't editing, just removing some stuff that will come back in towards the end of the story.

Today's progress: one of the most successful days so far. Worried about flailing, or failing, I spent tonight creating a detailed timeline for the main character and a list of all the scenes in the story, with rough size targets. Lots of words, none of which count toward the NaNoWriMo 50,000 target, although I'm still ahead of where I need to be to meet that target while continuing at a steady pace. The scene outline should go a very long way toward helping me stay on track to finish the novel with the three main sections appropriately balanced.

I've never come this far, and I'm not talking about word count. I think this piece has potential. I'm not afraid to write it anymore.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Still Love Fall

Silly writer. Imagery is the sort of thing you go back later and fill in, after the characters are developed, after the plot's sketched out, after the NaNoWriMo word count hurdle has been met.

The weirdest change about Maggie during her pregnancy, though, was her hair. Mark had always loved Maggie’s thick curly hair, in that hard-to-describe color that was part chocolaty brown and part autumnal orange, all shot through with strands that shone pure copper and caught afternoon sun to turn her head into a burning pile of leaves. He loved to grab her hair in both of his hands and burrow his face into it, almost expecting the scent of crisp fall air and pumpkin pie spices. Maggie tended to choose shampoo based on continuously evolving criteria like price, bottle shape, brand name, ingredients list, and quality of marketing writing, though, so her hair’s perfume changed regularly, though it always overlay a smell that was purely, uniquely, Maggie.

While Maggie was pregnant, her smell changed slightly, and so did her hair. Her tightly wound curls became softer, gentler, still curls but more like paper links in a Christmas tree decorating chain than the springy store-bought ribbon on a child’s birthday present.

Wednesday's Word Total: 13,071
Thursday's Word Total: 15,086

Writing Poll


How do you deal with longer pieces of work-in-progress? Do you keep the entire document in one large, cumbersome file for administrative ease? Do you keep separate files for each chapter? Some chunking system in between?

I've worked both ways, and have not yet stumbled upon a comfortable solution. I like being able to scroll up or down from where I'm writing - I don't always create sequentially or chronologically - to edit or verify a detail. On the other hand, large files are slow, and it takes a long time to move around in them. But it sure is a lot easier to compute things like word count in a single file rather than a chapter-by-chapter approach, and to ensure consistent formatting, page numbering, etc.

What do you do?

Today's NaNoWriMo word count: 11,120 words.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

His Dark Materials

No amount of caffeine is keeping my head off my hand off the table, and even I am bored with the short section that I just finished writing. It's time to get some sleep!

Another successful NaNoWriMo day, all in all. My total word count is 9031 words, and according to the little spreadsheet Paul made for me, I needed to be at 8333 words to be on track. If I can keep this up, I might get a couple of days off at Thanksgiving! Or maybe just some lighter writing days to do more research and planning for the harder, later sections of the novel.

This is already the longest work of fiction I've ever written, by a hair. (I've written short stories, the first 5 or 6 chapters of a novel, and a longer pieces nonfiction/creative nonfiction/memoir, but most of my writing has definitely been in bite-sized chunks. I write a lot of beginnings before paralyzing in fear of failure. What seemed to me at one time to be great titles, great first lines, great opening paragraphs clutter my "Writing" folder.)

Moving on.

Have you read Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy? We loved it. And we're all looking forward to the movie of The Golden Compass, opening in December. By "we," I mean Paul, me, my whole family (mom, dad, two sisters, various brothers-in-law), and a couple of good friends.

I'm not sure I want my daemon to be a chimp, though. I mean, chimps are clever, and that's really good. But they're not exactly sexy animals. Maybe you can help determine if I've got the right daemon?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Really Good Guy

The NaNoWriMo website is currently down. This is frustrating, because once I've finished my writing for the "day," I count on being able to log in and input my new total, in order to watch my little blue status bar move slightly to the right.

So far, so good. I have a rough outline, I have a timeline, and at the end of day three, I have 5264 words.

Orange asked me what I'm writing this month. The "it's late and I'm really tired" version is this:

I'm working on a literary fiction, very character-driven novel called The Really Good Guy. The title character is a married-with-kids, 36-year-old workaholic who has always been described as a good person. More importantly, that's how he sees himself. And then he does something that's pretty awful. He has to deal with the consequences, but most importantly, he has to see himself as the sort of guy who'd do such a bad thing.

This story presents all sorts of challenges for me, not least among which are that my main character is older than me, male, and a workaholic while I'm an at-home mom. (That's whole different kind of working hard.) It's hard for me to keep his wife and kids in the background where they belong.

"Write what you know" is good, solid writing advice. And I am writing what I know, just in a different way. Sometimes using a narrator who sees the world from a different perspective can shed interesting light on a story.

It really is impossible for me to write well this fast. It's not, however, a wasted exercise. I might not have a beautiful, lyrical novel, but I often put pretty stuff in later, once the outline of the story is in place. I shade after I sketch. I upholster after I construct, and so forth.

At the end of the month, I don't plan to have a publishable novel. I hope to have 50,000 words, the bones of a really interesting story, consisting mostly of scenes and summary without a lot of connective tissue: a great outline that can be fleshed out and lifted up a bit into something that I can be proud of.

3 days ago, I had a few notes jotted down at the Borders Cafe. Tonight I have more than 5000 words of new, original fiction typed and saved. I don't care which words they are; I'm proud of that.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Give It To Me

OK, I'm disabling the word verification thingie until I get fed up with the spam again. This lowers the bar for commenting. Let's chat!

Second day NaNoWriMo total: 3680 (slightly ahead of the daily requirement to stay on track for 50,000 words in 30 days).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Write On!

Yo yo yo, it's NaNoWriMo; here we go! In general, I do believe in quality over quantity. But when I'm paralyzed, any movement is a positive development, even if it's just a muscle spasm. And at the end of the first day, I have more than 1700 words on the screen. For the record, Ada does not feel that this is the best use of my time. In turn, I do not feel that being up and crying 3 hours past successful bedtime is the best use of her time either.

Ada did the funniest thing last weekend. I was playing Wii with my sister in the family room while my mom was playing with Ellie in her room, down at the other end of the hall. Our family room and Ellie's room are like the weights on a barbell, with other rooms (a bathroom, my room, Ada's room) shooting off the main hallway to the sides. So it's not like a barbell at all, but the family room and Ellie's room are at opposite ends of a hallway, see?

Anyway, Ada got bored with the way LilSis and I were neglecting her, so she crawled all the way down the hallway to Ellie's room for some more stimulating company. Once she got there, she got up on her knees (tall kneeling!) and looked at me, while defiantly shutting the door. Her reach is impressive, but she is only 9 months old. So she'd push the door a bit, crawl toward it, push it some more, crawl to catch up, etc., until the door finally closed. Until the last possible moment, she stared right at me, meaningfully.

I got the message!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just keep swimming

Last year at this time, my life couldn't have felt much worse. I was in an indescribable amount of pain, though I did try to put it into words.

In some ways, the past year has been the worst of my life. But in other ways, it's been phenomenal. We had a new baby, and have watched Ada grow into the most incredible, wonderful, surprising little girl. We've watched Ellie make some amazing developmental leaps, including potty training! We've refinanced our house down to a 15 year loan, and eliminated all but the necessary debt (fixed mortgage, extremely low-rate minivan loan, and consolidated student loans). We've forged new friendships and taken on new roles in our communities.

We've both adjusted our work lives: Paul to a more family-friendly job and me to staying home full-time and writing more. I've been talking with magazines about some pieces, and I even have published pieces in a couple of actual books. This part is difficult for me, because I am paralyzed by my fear of failure, which often prevents me from submitting and sometimes even keeps me from writing.

Not least, Paul and I have worked very very hard on our relationship, and while we're not perfect, we're in a much better place than I could possibly have imagined. In my wildest dreams and all that.

Here we are, then and now:
Halloween 2006

There are no pictures of me from last October, except for ones in which part of me is captured in a shot of Ellie, but she's adorable enough for all of us.

Halloween 2007

By day we're Mummy, Deady, and two Little Ghouls. By night we're Nemo the clown fish, Crush the baby sea turtle, and two crabs. "Yeah, I saw him, Bluey, but I'm not telling you where he went, and there's no way you're gonna make me."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Celebrity Ego

I really like Oprah, and I really like Ellen. In fact, I often watch Ellen; one Tivo'ed episode lasts for quite a few lazy nursing sessions when Ada's feeling nap-nursey but doesn't want to sleep on her own.

But, like so many other celebrities, they have so much money and so many people giving them exactly what they want, telling them what they want to hear, that it's unsurprising when they lose a little perspective over time.

A couple of years ago, Oprah spent some time on her show and in the media talking about a recent and shocking experience with racism. (A nasty, but funny version is here.) The Washington Post piece does a good job of explaining the situation as I see it, especially the last line: "But after-hours shopping is a favor, a perk. Not a right. There's nothing wrong with a store saying not tonight, madame, as long as the reason doesn't have anything to do with skin color. It's okay to say no to a celebrity, even when her name is Oprah."

Unless the security guard or sales clerk at the door said or did something that suggested that race was a factor in their decision not to let Winfrey into the store after hours - something that the security video does not show - then why assume that race was the reason she was kept out? It's hard for me to imagine the sense of entitlement that goes into assuming that you'd be let into any store you want, in any country, even if they're closed.

More recently is the situation with Ellen and the adopted dog.

I have an adopted rescue pug. When we decided that we wanted to adopt a pet from the local pug rescue, I filled out an application and submitted it. Lots of people want pure-bred dogs, so our name was put onto a waiting list. After our application was considered, a representative from the rescue group came over to do a home visit and ensure that our home would be a good place for a rescue pug. It was made very clear to me that if - for any reason - we couldn't keep Lizzi, we were to contact Midwest Pug Rescue first. This is because:
- the organization is responsible for insuring the safety of the animals
- there is a waiting list for dogs
- the organization needs to know where the dogs are, be able to check up on them, and ensure that the dogs won't end up back in the shelter system

Ellen's sense of entitlement became apparent when she kept saying that the "situation still has not been resolved," when, I believe, it certainly had. The rescue organization had taken back the dog and had given him to another family - a family who'd passed the rescue organization's screening policies and had been waiting for a dog.

"Resolved," to Ellen, apparently means getting her way. In this case: violating a signed contract, and taking the dog away from its current home and family. Nice.

Celebrities do a lot of good with their money and their influence. But of those to whom much is given, much is also required. Trying to keep a sense of perspective is a good place to start.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pizza Party

Yesterday was Ellie's (somewhat belated) 4th birthday party. If there's anything she loves more than Finding Nemo, it's pizza. And I'm a huge theme person (if you hadn't noticed) so I went all pizza with the party.

The invitations were pizza themed. And when the kids arrived, they sat at the dining room table to decorate pizza placemats and party hats with stickers of common toppings.

Then I brought out the Boboli shells and bowls of sauce, cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers, so that the kids could make their own pizzas. While those were baking, they all played outside, then downstairs in the basement playroom.

After eating pizza to their hearts' content, the kids watched Ellie open presents and we sang some of her favorite group participation songs (stirring soup, I see the moon, these are grandma's glasses, etc.). And then we had cake, or, more precisely, cupcakes. Ellie doesn't much care for cake, but she has a mild cupcake obsession. This made a slight decorating challenge for me, but the end result was well worth it. The pepperoni are Fruit Roll-Up, the green peppers are Dots, and the cheese is shredded coconut with yellow food coloring.

First birthday: mini castle

Second birthday: Dora's Backpack

Third birthday: pug dog

Fourth birthday: pizza

The take-home gifts this year were aprons and pizza-related stickers instead of gift bags. This was a relatively simple party, but I don't know how people do this without two parents, two grandparents, and an aunt in town to help out. I can't even decorate a cake without at least two other adults hovering over my shoulder and giving me encouragement every step of the way.

Now that it's a couple of weeks after Ellie's 4th birthday, here's where she is. (I have a 4 year old! Unbelieveable.) She's happy to tell you that she's 4 now, if you ask. We didn't bother taking a spare outfit with us to church today; why bother? Her last real accident was . . . I'm not sure when. Nearly a week ago, I suppose. She's still in a pull-up overnight and for naps, but she's sometimes waking up dry so I have hope that we'll be able to give those up eventually too.

At Ellie's 4-year-checkup last week, her pediatrician was amazed. She kept calling Ellie a superstar, in every way. She's in the 95th percentile for height and weight for children her age with Down syndrome, and other than a little belly (especially during birthday month) is in great physical condition. She's all about the pre-reading skills, and apparently we need to be working on reading more seriously; the pediatrician thinks she's ready. She can count. She's never had a serious ear infection, and is, overall, a remarkably healthy kid.

I've come far enough to say, without hesitation, that we're very lucky parents.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More on Feminists and Cheating

Something to know about me: my parents are both psychologists, and my youngest sister is a social worker and marriage and family therapist. I strenuously reject any vocational callings in this area myself, but the tendencies are there.

Most people who divorce because of adultery regret it later. I've seen statistics at least as high as 80% for this, but my search for a definitive source took me to some scary places (You are a sinner if you divorce your abusive husband! If he hits you, it's because you were committing a sin by not obeying him!) so I've decided to abandon my search.

There are serial adulterers. Statistically, they are a minority, and there are lots and lots of people who do it once, in a perfect storm sort of situation (something going on in the marriage relationship that provided space for the affair to happen, plus stuff going on at work, plus personal issues in play, and so forth). That doesn't excuse adultery, but it does mean that there are lots of people - men and women - who might have an affair once and never again. Once they've recognized the patterns, the problems, the issues, they can address them and insure that the same thing doesn't happen again - if committing to a monogamous marriage is what they want.

Some marriages are based in love, some in lust, some in trust, some in friendship, some in companionship, some in shared passions, whatever. A great marriage might include elements of all of those things. But where the emphasis falls at any given time might vary throughout the marriage. And a relationship might have value beyond the obvious.

And what "an affair" means can vary widely from relationship to relationship. I know someone who believes that he has had an affair, though no one else was ever involved. This person placed too much importance on something outside of the marriage, at the expense of the marriage, and called that adultery. In this case, it was money/work. Another couple might not feel the same way about the same situation. And other couples have open relationships, where extra-marital sex is acceptable. Who's to judge, from the outside?

The words, the words, they begin to blur on the screen and I need to sleep. I'll close with two anecdotes. First: while stumbling around online, I found a piece by a psychologist who suggested that Hillary Clinton is conflicted by being such a powerful woman, so she feels that she must act like a doormat at home. How offensive! How reductive! How presumptive!

Second: I once had a friend who seemed to be the boss of her partner in every way. But she confessed to me that this was the comfortable public face of their relationship; things were very different in their private lives.

And I'll let that stand, rather than resorting to the obvious platitudes about judgement.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Feminists and Cheating

This is, I believe, the first time I've blogged about the Clintons' marriage, but it's probably not the last.

Senator Clinton on her marriage:
I know the truth of my life and of my marriage, my relationship and partnership, my deep abiding friendship with my husband. It's been enormously supportive to me through most of my life. Now obviously we've had challenges as everybody in the world knows. “But I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges,” she says, “and I'm really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it's so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them.
She's right, of course, with that last sentence. And yet, what have women - what have feminists - had to say about Clinton's decision not to divorce her husband?

Many on all sides of the ideological divide have suggested that the only reason Clinton stayed married was because she wanted to stay "politically viable." OK, she's a public person; speculation is expected. Ugly, perhaps, but expected. (My personal speculation is that this marriage is - and probably all marriages are - more complicated than that.)

Some feminists have suggested that it's wrong, always wrong, for a woman to stay with a man who's had an affair.

This essay is typical of some of the comments I've read:
If Hillary acts as she does -- stands by her man -- because she loves him or her daughter too much, then her claim to being a feminist is open to serious question. . . . If feminists and the women's movement feel let down by the present sexual scandal, they have both Clintons to blame, not just Bill Clinton.
Right! Because being a feminist means demanding a simple, perfect relationship. And if your relationship becomes - gasp! - complicated, then you must end it immediately to maintain your feminist credentials.

I'm not here to defend whether or not Hillary Clinton is a feminist, or a liberal. I'm simply pointing out the ignorance and privilege of suggesting that anyone outside of a marriage has the right to determine its value to the partners. [Fortunately, it seems that feminists do get to be happily married, after all.]

It all goes back to the argument of choice. Some choices aren't feminist, even though those choices might be made by feminists. The choice to shave one's armpit hair, for example, is not a feminist choice, but it's a choice that I - a feminist! - make several times a week.

I'm not willing to put marriage in that bucket. I think that marriages are complicated things. I think that "adultery" can vary in definition from relationship to relationship (Does it have to be sex? What if it's virtual sex? What if it's an intense emotional connection only? What if it's a serious commitment to a non-human other, like work or sports? What if it's a serial physical act without emotional attachment?)

And I'm not willing to look at this marriage from way outside and say: she's an idiot for staying. She can't be a feminist because she stayed. Any woman who stays with any man who cheats is a doormat.

Ignorance informs comments like that. Ignorance about the myriad dynamics that go into a relationship.

I don't know the truth of what goes on in the Clintons' marriage, or even in my best friend's marriage. I know what they claim to be true, and I can believe them or not. I don't know if any couple should stay together or divorce.

I choose to let the people involved relationships make that decision for themselves.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Officially a Big Girl

“At what age were you/your kids potty trained?”

When I talk to people about having a daughter with Down syndrome, ages always factor significantly into the conversation. Although we expected these things to come much, much later- if ever - my daughter talked and walked when she was 1, knew her letters and numbers at 3, and was potty trained . . .

Some of our friends have different approaches to potty training than I do, and that’s fine. Certainly there is room for different opinions here. But until Ellie was able to tell me when she needed to go, walk to the potty herself, pull her pants up and down herself, and go days at a time without accidents, I didn’t consider her potty trained.

In fact, I decided not to put Ellie in big girl underpants until I thought she was ready to be nearly accident-free. She’s been comfortable using the potty since she was 18 months old. That’s 2-1/2 years, folks, that she remained in diapers after learning to use the potty. But consistency has been our big problem: she gets distracted and doesn’t remember to tell us when she needs to potty.

Also, it took a long time for her pull her own pants on and off; unlike many toddlers and preschoolers, she has never been interested in self-dressing or even dressing her dolls, so potty time remained a parent-help-required experience.

Another big hurdle has been parental reluctance. Neither Paul nor I were excited about consistently taking Ellie to the potty every hour for days on end, so we didn’t. There were huge benefits to us in this period. It’s lovely to be told once or twice a day when our daughter needs to go potty (no more poopy diapers!) and we could then change wet ones at our convenience. I got to avoid most public bathrooms and run errands or attend public events without patronizing horrible conveniences like the ubiquitous Johnny-on-the-Spot.

Did I mention that Ellie BM trained herself over a year ago? We've had very few poopy diapers since then, and absolutely no BM accidents at all since we moved to big girl underpants several weeks ago.

Eventually, for all of us, it was time to force progress. I found a book whose system I was comfortable with. It’s research-based, and was designed in the 1970s by psychologists working with institutionalized and severely developmentally disabled adults. (The book is also very much a product of its time, so consider yourselves forewarned.) It was then adapted for use with typical children, with an appendix added on for dealing with children with disabilities (this was the 70's; they use the "r" word). “Success” is measured by a child who recognizes the need to go, takes down own pants, goes, wipes, pulls up pants, empties potty bowl into toilet, and washes hands independently.

Interestingly, this was the same book my mom used to potty train me. She found it enormously frustrating – though it worked – and she pitched it rather than using the same approach with my younger sisters.

I was 2, by the way. Ellie was 3.

It took more than a day, and I still help out as needed, but she meets my criteria for being officially potty trained.

We’re so proud of you, Ellie.

Potty Training in Less than a Day by Azrin and Foxx

Friday, October 19, 2007

Glad to Meetcha

I've been active in online communities for many years, participating in email listservs until I discovered online discussion boards 7 years ago, and began blogging 3 years ago.

Lots of people from my online communities meet up from time to time. I've not been really into that. At national conventions and local meetings, I never made the effort to introduce myself to online personas from my listserv days. I attended exactly one bulletin board meet up ever (with two other women at a local coffee shop mid afternoon, a very low-key affair). And I haven't sought out many blogger interactions, either.

I have no idea why. I'm certainly not one of those people who thinks that online friendships aren't real; I know better than that. And I present myself as honestly as I can in my writing, but it's still a big leap to go from considered words on a screen to face-to-face interaction.

I've been reading Moreena, from Falling Down is Also a Gift, and now, The Wait and the Wonder. And, as is the way with these online things, I felt like I really knew her. I really cared. Even in that odd, one-sided sort of way that online relationships (and celebrity watching, and book reading, etc.) can foster. But if one of your friends were really sick, you'd bring over a casserole, right?

While Annika was in the hospital in Chicago a couple of years ago, I was in Chicagoland too, visiting family. So I put together a care package for Moreena - lots of people were sending things to Annika, but I've briefly been a PICU mom, and I figured that Moreena could use a few things for herself too - and took it up to Kohl's House.

Annika was very very sick, and Moreena didn't really have the time or inclination to pop over to a local coffee shop and gossip with me for hours. That was absolutely OK with me; I'd made the terrifying leap; I'd initiated a meet-up; I'd moved from thought into action.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Moreena saying that they were coming down to St. Louis for a quick weekend visit. Was I interested in meeting up?

I was. Quick thrill of fear.

We went to Grant's Farm, and I wish I could say that it was perfect: a lovely fall day, the girls immediately bonded as tightly as if they'd been born conjoined quadruplets, the parents relaxing, laughing, and chatting together while sipping cider through a straw.

Not quite. It was really really really hot that day. And I'm a lot fatter than I like to be for leaving the house, let alone meeting new people. And Ellie was not fully potty trained. Which means that I was in a constant state of anxiety and pants-watching. Both of my girls were sleepy and a little cranky. There wasn't much opportunity for actual adult conversation. I'd pulled two all-nighters that week with sleepless Ada. And I was plagued by self doubt: I'd chosen the wrong activity! Is anyone having fun?

But I'm glad that we did it. It will be easier to do it again next time. And I really do hope that there is a next time: I've already got ideas for things to do and places to eat. After all, planning things to do with other people is a lot easier once you get to know them a little. Like, in person.

Paul, Ellie, Ada

Anni, Frankie, Ellie (who's not really as short as she looks in this odd shot)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ellie is Four

Ellie turned 4 last week and had, I think, a perfect birthday.

She awoke terribly early, and her parents allowed her to crawl into bed with them. We all went back to sleep, taking a relaxed approach to the morning routine. (This wonderful morning moment brought to you by overnight pull-ups: ahh.)

When Ellie got up for real, she discovered birthday decorations in the family room/breakfast nook and we had doughnuts for breakfast.

Then there was school. Yay! And Nemo cupcakes for all! Double Yay!

Then the bus ride home!

And when mommy asked what she wanted for lunch, she asked for pizza pockets, then pizza. And got both!

Then nap, which didn't suck because mommy curled up in bed with Ellie and read Mother Goose until she fell asleep, smiling.

After nap, there was homemade lasagna for dinner! With a favorite friend joining us, and garlic bread, and corn.

Then gymnastics!
And treasured bath time!
And phone conversations with grandparents and aunts!

And more cake, this one with Nemo made out of black and orange Halloween M&Ms on top.

And, finally, bed.

My little Eleanor is proudly 4 years old, and happy to tell you so. There will be a party in a couple of weeks, when more family can be here.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I had a post (or twelve) that I really wanted to write last week (when Ellie turned 4! Stay tuned!) but didn't have time before we left town for our 4-day weekend mini-vacation.

We flew east to visit Paul's sister and her husband for their daughter's baptism. I really like Paul's sister and brother-in-law, and would even if they weren't family, and the parents of my new niece. Their 4-month-old is incredibly adorable, and very sweet. We had a lot of fun. Paul's folks flew out too, and it was nice to have the whole family all together. I've enjoyed the (at least) every-other-month thing we've been doing this year. It's particularly remarkable considering how widely spread we are: Wyoming, Missouri, Maryland.

Speaking of geography, here's a guilty admission: I was in high school before I realized that it was Wyoming with a "g". My father pronounces the name of that state as though it ends with a "y". I do know, however, that those periods should be inside of the parentheses. But it's just dumb and I can't do it. Dad also says "myoozim" and "nekkid." He was working on his doctorate when I was in elementary school, and I remember members of his thesis committee coming out to listen to him preach, and insisting that he work on his "accent." That was for his first doctorate. I guess once you've got one, you can talk however you like, since it didn't come up with the second, as far as I know.

It's not like I didn't know that there was a Wyoming, of course. I probably just never put the two places together, just like I knew that there were "or derves" served at parties, as well as "hors devors," but took a long time to realize that these two appetizers were actually one and the same (hors d'oeuvres, just to prove that I can spell it now). I'm thinking of a couple of other examples, but surely I've embarassed myself enough for the evening.

Back to family. I think it's possible that having a niece-in-law could be even more fun than having a regular old niece. Like there are some advantages to being a sister-in-law. By which I mean that although we're the same age, I don't feel the same competitiveness with Paul's sister that I feel with my next-youngest sister. We're missing all that history growing up. Likewise, I don't worry as much about when my niece-in-law (hereafter: niece Abby) reaches her milestones compared to when my children do. I suppose that there's still a part of me that's competing with MiddleSis for my parents' love, for my children as well as for myself.

Have I mentioned that I can't remember the last time I slept for 4 hours in a row? Surely, that's relevant here.

Both the girls were wonderful travelers this weekend. We had fun. Pictures to come. Good night!

Three little girls and their Nana, who's looking away from the camera because I haven't asked her permission.

Ellie petting Uncle Rob, face visible because he posts pictures of himself on his blog

"Huh. I never wanted a pacifier before, but I've developed a sudden and intense interest in yours."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Still Growing Up

When I turned 32 last September, I liked vanilla and I had straight hair. I didn't believe in therapy.

When I turned 33 this September, I liked chocolate and I had curly hair. I think everyone could probably use a little therapy.

I wonder what changes this year will bring!

2006 hair

2007 hair

Monday, October 08, 2007

Is This Possible?

Ada's new favorite word seems to be "Ada."

I've heard her say "Mama." (I really think she said it at least once, though it's definitely not part of her daily routine, yet.) She says "Dada" in appropriate contexts all the time. This morning, at 5:30, while she was reaching for him, was an especially appropriate context, in my opinion.

Ada sometimes repeats words she's hearing, too. At dinner, I might ask her if she's thirsty and wants water, and she'll say, "wawa." I was praising Ellie for having dry underpants recently, and Ada said, "dwy!" while clapping for her sister.

Today I held her up to a mirror, and she reached for her reflection, saying, "Ada!" (She also said Ada while reaching for her book later, and just as a noise to make from time to time.) She says her name the way Ellie does, which is slightly different from the way that Paul and I say it. The "A" is less of a hard sound, is almost a short "a."

Ada is 8 months old.

[Edited 10/15 to add that this morning, in response to a toy she couldn't see going "quack, quack, quack," Ada said "duck." Three adults heard her. That's a big cognitive leap: from labeling or repeating to knowing who makes what animal sound. Abstract!]

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Down Syndrome Awareness

Everything, everywhere is pink right now. The grocery store, the lapel pins, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. A cure for breast cancer - or, even better, prevention - is certainly imporant.

But did you know that October is also National Down Syndrome Awareness Month?

If not, here's a great post about developmental milestones charts.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Proud Alumni

Until I had kids, I always kept my car scrupulously neat. My parents' cars are so full of junk (stacks of papers, books, gallons of water, cases of Diet Coke) that it's hard to find a place to sit. In reaction, the only non-standard thing visible in my car was usually dog hair.

Since kids, it's been much harder to keep a neat car. I don't have the free hands to carry clutter inside with me, nor the inclination to go back outside (leaving child unattended inside) to clean up right after returning home from every errand. So the car has become a bit more cluttered.

I don't put much on the outside of my car, either, and that's easier to keep tidy. In 2004 I had a Kerry sticker, but that came down on election night. I used to have a double helix-shaped Down Syndrome Awareness magnetic ribbon, but that stayed on the Passat and didn't transition with me to the Odyssey. The only other form of decoration I had on the Passat was my Washington University in St. Louis: College of Arts & Sciences window decal.

Now that Paul's driving the Passat, the alumni sticker has been bugging him. He's a Wash U grad too, but from the School of Engineering, and he doesn't want to be associated with the School of "Arts & Crafts." I don't blame him; I wouldn't want an Enginerd sticker on my car.

Paul gave a couple of talks at Wash U this week, and he picked up a new window decal for each of us (the ones we had weren't transferable, though they are removable). He's already affixed the "School of Engineering" sticker to his back window, but I find myself oddly reluctant to put my new sticker on the van.

It's not because I'm ashamed that I've grown up to be a minivan mom. (Well, I am, perhaps, a little, but that's not why I haven't put the sticker on the back window.) It's that I associate college stickers on the backs of minivans with where the children of the driver have gone, rather than the driver herself.

Which is a very interesting thing, actually.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Protect Historic Kirkwood! Or Not

For the past couple of months, I've been seeing red and white signs around Kirkwood:
Protect Historic Kirkwood
Preserve Our National Historic District
Don't Buy 407 E Argonne (now removed due to threatened legal action)
Taller Than Allowed Downtown?!?
Please Build It Lower!
and so forth
I find myself oddly on the other side of this issue.

Normally I'm the one railing against big box stores breaking up neighborhoods, the unfriendliness of suburban design toward walkers, and the ugliness of contemporary subdivisions.

But I am in favor of infill building.

I do not love urban sprawl, and I think it's sad the way that older, urban neighborhoods often empty out as people move to increasingly distant suburban areas. (Of course, the business and tax revenues tend to follow the people, over time.) Also, many older homes lack modern conveniences. Like adequate closet space and being free of lead paint. When managed well, new construction in established communities keeps the residential areas alive and desirable.

To that end, I support rigorous zoning laws, requiring a certain amount of green space on each lot, with the homes set back a certain distance from the street (and neighbors). I also believe in maintaining the look of the community, with homes of various ages and styles nestled comfortably next to one another.

When we were community shopping, one of the things that Paul and I loved about Kirkwood was the fact that there were often very large and very small homes on the same blocks. Neighborhood diversity was a big selling feature for us. And we definitely loved how the houses had a lot of variety: very unlike cookie-cutter subdivision homes.

Many of the infill homes I've seen in Kirkwood are beautiful. I'd love to live in a big Victorian home one day; I grew up in one and that feels like home to me. But I also want a big kitchen; convenient, off-street, covered parking; large closets; modern baths; updated wiring; and no history of lead paint (I'm really serious about the paint). If I had $750,000, I could live in my dream house today, in a huge Victorian with historic charm and modern luxuries, within walking distance of downtown Kirkwood.

Also, Kirkwood lost St. Joseph's Hospital. Bummer. But I think that the proposed "Active Living and Wellness Community" will be a wonderful use of the hospital's former site, even with the two four-story buildings (gasp).

I suppose I should be glad that people in the community care so much. It's likely that's part of what makes it such a lovely place to live . . . most of the time.