Friday, January 28, 2011

Rite of Passage

The first elementary school music program. Wow. I looked around the gym and wondered if the other parents could tell that I'm not really a grown-up yet. I often wonder this. Does it show?

This show was especially exciting because it was based on one of our favorite books. As a parent bonus, I was actually able to find the book, tape it back together, and have it available to read at bedtime on several occasions.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Can't Fight Gravidity

In July I could walk out my front door and run five miles without stopping. Today I walked two miles and think I might have overdone it a little.

You can't really complain about being pregnant. Heck, I practically apologize for it when I'm talking to a friend who's struggled with infertility or miscarriage. There are so many women who'd love to be where I am now, either because they can't get pregnant, have lost a pregnancy, or miss the days when they were pregnant. I absolutely get all that.

But pregnancy's not all wine and roses, either. (Actually, it's not wine and roses at all. Because people look at you with loud disapproval if you drink wine while visibly pregnant. And roses smell pretty strong. I can't handle scents like that in my current state.) Let's take a moment to contemplate the use of senses in that parenthetical and consider how I could have gracefully included "touch" to hit all five.

I've mentioned that I knew I was pregnant almost immediately due to nausea, exhaustion, intolerance for altitude (and onion rings) and intense craving for protein every couple of hours.

From there I moved on into worse nausea and exhaustion and protein cravings plus some fun bleeding issues. I gave up all types of exercise for napping and snacking . . . and still managed to lose nine pounds in just a couple of months.

I've since gained them back with interest and am fully enjoying my elastic waistband pants. But there are new joys for the third trimester.

Skin. Holy cow. Didn't I get large enough the first two times I did this? Heck, my belly's so striped I already look like a zebra (a really, really sexy zebra, obviously). But some days I feel the baby pressing off my spine and push-push-pushing against my abdomen. The skin stretches and burns and there's nothing I can do to soothe it.

"Round ligaments." I don't even know what that really means. I thought ligaments generally connected bones to bones. But I know what I feel and let me try to explain that. It's the middle of the night and I'm fast asleep. Then maybe my husband shifts on the bed or I take a deep breath or the baby rolls over or who knows what but my uterus gently begins to pull to one side. I wake up and I know what's coming. OH MY GOD SOMEONE'S STABBING ME IN THE SIDE WITH A STEAK KNIFE PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP. Nothing makes it stop until I find a neutral position - which varies, incidentally - and sit/stand/lie there shaking and whimpering for a several minutes as the pain gradually subsides to manageable levels. I also experience "round ligament pain" if I shift direction too quickly or do something unwise during the day like sneezing without getting into the proper position. These are modifications I've quickly made to my motor plans. But I can't figure out how to stop my uterus from shifting around inside me while I sleep. (No, the maternity pillow prop doesn't help.)

Heartburn. But only when I eat or drink anything I enjoy.

Extra body hair and skin pigmentation. But how much do you really want to know about me, anyway? Surely not nearly this much. So I'll leave out everything to do with the lower end of the digestive track and won't go anywhere near the "h" word for now.

Congestion. At the moment I'm recovering from a nasty cold. But I've felt stuffy since August. I wake up in the morning, eager to relieve the pressure in my clogged sinuses, but nothing comes out when I blow my nose. This is because of edema in so many of my tender tissues and is unrelated to bacteria, viruses, or allergies. It's all hormones, baby. My husband would say that I snore when I'm pregnant, too, but we don't believe him.

Edited to add: Relaxin. (Not to be confused with "relaxing.") My most pressing complaint at the moment has to do with the fact that my pelvis is spreading to allow the baby more room to escape. Have you ever slipped and fallen into the splits, straining your groin? I've felt that same sort of pain with every step I've taken for the past week or so. It's increasingly difficult to walk normally without devolving into a splayed-legs waddling but I will persevere!

Blah blah blah contractions, blah blah blah nothing fits anymore, blah blah blah I need to pee whenever I stand up or cough or have a funny thought, blah blah blah what's happening to my dainty little ankles, blah blah blah did my eyesight really just get worse blah blah blah is that my cervix attempting to communicate with me, blah blah blah those are tender, dadgummit, blah blah blah and so forth.

I enjoy being pregnant, I really do. And I am so fortunate to have experienced three healthy pregnancies. But I can't say I'm really sad (yet) that this is my last time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union

You know, I don't care if it was all for TV. I don't care if it was a lot of fluff and little of substance. I don't care if there were no substantive policy announcement shockers. (That's just not how we do business anymore.)

I liked it. I liked the whole event, and not just the President's speech.

I liked the chamber all mixed up together instead of sharply divided at an aisle. I liked that the Speaker of the House (from the opposition party) responded to the speech professionally rather than sitting there with a stone face. I liked that all the legislators stood and clapped for the obvious pro-America applause lines rather than sitting silently with copies of the We Won't Clap for Anything this Guy Says memo clutched tightly in their fists.

So what if it was theater? For far too long we have had too much ugliness to even pretend to be friends. I'm all for pretending if it gets us back to civility and the appearance of being able to work together to find a little common ground.

Principles are lovely and important, but compromise seems to be where legislation happens. Failing everything else, a little mutual respect and a lot less demonizing of the other is awfully nice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mom Jeans

I'm thinking of a new book idea along the lines of "You Might Be a Redneck." Mine would be You Might Be a Mom and would have sections like, "You Know You're an At-Home Mom When..." "You Know You're a Work-at-Home Mom When..." and "You Know You're a Mom of Multiples When..."

Today's entry:

You know you're a stay-at-home mom when you save getting "dressed up" in blue jeans for special occasions like going out for coffee with girlfriends.

The leggings I wore all day today (before shimmying into sexy maternity jeans) are very comfortable and would have been just fine . . . if they weren't simultaneously too baggy everywhere and yet too short to meet up with my socks. Alas. None of those features (the fact that they're leggings and I no longer have "long" shirts, the fact that they're too big, the fact that they're too short) disqualifies them from being part of my regular pants rotation.

In fact, I put them right back on when I returned home from book club.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hot Pad

Paul's cousin gave each of my girls a craft kit for weaving hot pads, suggested age 6+. I thought this was rather ambitious and figured I'd wait for the excitement of piles of Christmas presents to die down a little, then put the craft kits away for a few years. Ada's 3 and Ellie's 7 but her dexterity isn't quite the same as most of her peers.

One day, while Ellie was in school, Ada brought me the kit. She really wanted to weave a hot pad. So we gave it a shot. I helped a little: keeping loose loops from sliding off the loom, lifting tight strands so she could slip the weaving strand over/under, and binding off the edges at the end. But designing and maintaining the pattern plus weaving the pieces through was all Ada.

She proudly presented her finished craft to her Daddy, who uses it under his coffee mug:

The hardest part for me was to allow mistakes to happen without correcting them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Snow Day - No Hair Cuts, Please!

A snow day is not the end of the world, especially not on a day when only Ellie was going to be in school and we didn't have anything significant planned, anyway. The girls and I will stay home, bake something yummy, maybe go outside and shovel a little or build tiny snowmen. I plan to use my gravid state as an excuse not to pull children around on a sled.

One nice thing about (yet another) snow day is an excuse not to shower. Showering is dangerous! Children can leave the house, let other people into the house, join me in the shower, or cut off their hair. They are excellent at foiling "child-proofing" attempts. Fortunately I'm relatively clean already and I just had my hair done so none of me really needs washing.

The worst thing about a snow day is the lack of guaranteed nap. I know, all you working people are really feeling for me right about now. But by this point in my pregnancy, knowing that I get to lie down for 30 minutes in the afternoon really helps me muster the energy to get through the day. Everyone should be allowed to take a brief siesta, but for me it's nearly a necessity right now.

(When I was working throughout pregnancies and unable to nap in the afternoons, I'd come home from work, collapse on the couch, and be no good at all in the evenings. Once I even stopped a few blocks from home. I was too tired to drive the rest of the way without passing out on my steering wheel.)

I still think it's a little crazy to cancel school when a few inches of snow is forecast. Unless there's been half a foot of fresh snow since midnight and the roads are dangerously impassable - or unless you live in the deep South where there's inadequate snow removal equipment - I think a few inches of snow falling gradually throughout the night merits at most a few hours snow delay. I blame this trend on the litigious nature of our society. Why not?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Does Your Car Say about You?

Ellie used to go to a big all-district preschool, and when I picked her up from class I'd frequently park near an older pick-up truck with a camper shell on the back that was plastered with fairly militant bumper stickers. Over time I developed a persona for the guy who drove the truck and why he was so frequently at a preschool during the day.

Naturally, I was completely wrong. The driver turned out to be a woman about ten years older than me. She was also, probably, a music therapist or teacher since I later saw her walking into the building carrying a guitar case. The first time I saw the person hopping out of a truck covered with angry, militant bumper stickers and walking into my daughter's school carrying a long, black case I admit that I was concerned. No shots were fired. I remember her because if I were playing a matching game, I'd never have connected this woman to her vehicle.

Fast forward a few years. Now I'm picking up Ada at a completely different preschool miles away from Ellie's old school. And I regularly find myself parked behind a shiny new XTerra with two NRA bumper stickers (one for the front window, one for the back, because the association is very important for all to recognize) and a flashy sticker crying, "Green is the new Red!" with a sickle and hammer icon.

My first thought was, wow, this person has no idea what it really means to live in a totalitarian state. I mean, I get that people who live in San Francisco might be annoyed at fines for not recycling properly, but we live in Missouri. Sure there's encouragement to conserve electricity and water, recycle, etc., but I hear a lot less about all of that than I used to. We drive our SUVs and run our air conditioners and buy our pre-packaged foods and really have a vast amount of control over how "green" we are - or are not.

I watched the other parents of kids in Ada's class closely, holding each one up against the XTerra and trying to determine who is the most likely driver. I settled on the family that refused to be listed in the class directory or emergency telephone tree. Once again, I was completely wrong.

One day, I held the door open for a woman leaving the school carrying a bag and a black guitar case. . . the same woman from Ellie's preschool. She told me that holding the door was unnecessary, then quickly and self-sufficiently strode over to the XTerra, hopped in, and drove away.

Mystery solved.

(As for the privacy-loving family who didn't want to be listed on the preschool contact sheet, I later heard the dad chatting with another dad at a class party about some of their favorite NPR shows.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Uncomfortable Dinner

Last weekend, after Paul ran a very cold 12.5 mile race, we treated ourselves to a nice pasta dinner out. Our neighbors at the next table were two elderly people and two middle aged people, one of whom was in a motorized chair and, apparently, wearing an adult diaper.

I was sympathetic, imagining this scenario: a middle aged person with a disability who perhaps couldn't completely care for himself, and older parents who could no longer care for him, either.

But on the other hand, my dinner was pretty miserable because the stench of bodily uncleanliness and an adult diaper that needed to be changed overwhelmed my sensitive pregnant nose. It wasn't just me being hypersensitive; Paul admitted later that he noticed the situation, too. (He was seated across the table and does not have a particularly sensitive nose.)

The party next to us were already seated when we arrived at the restaurant and sat to enjoy conversation after eating. We ate our dinner and skipped dessert while I took the kids to the car and Paul waited to pay.

I am sympathetic (and empathetic and concerned about the future of my own family). And certainly this family deserved an evening out at least as much as any other family. But at the same time I had a very uncomfortable time at a nice meal out that I, too, was looking forward to.

I'm comfortable with the way we handled the situation. The girls (thankfully!) did not complain or draw attention to the problem. I buried my nose in Paul's wine glass when necessary (after smearing a bit of menthol chapstick under my nose) and I did not need to excuse myself from the table. Perhaps we should have asked our server if we could move, but that would have felt really rude to me (in fact, writing this now feels rude to me).

But I'm wondering about the ethics of this situation. When we eat out is this sort of situation just a possibility of being out in public? Or do we as individuals have a responsibility to keep our aromas to ourselves? Certainly I've experienced uncomfortably strong perfume, smoke, and bodily aromas in public before (as well as parents who are none too prompt about changing their child's diapers). But there really is a difference, at least for me, between other strong aromas and those associated with bodily waste, at least when it comes to mealtimes.

Thoughts? Or am I just an insensitive jerk for asking?

Edited to add a link to Changing Places. If I can't walk - or stand - on my own, should I not go out in public? That sounds ridiculous, right? But when was the last time you saw a public restroom equipped with a hoist to handle lifting someone who can't lift him or herself? I don't think I have ever seen one.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Showering with Young Children: A Survival Guide

Episode 1

In December we had an ice day off from school. Unfortunately, it was neither snowy nor particularly icy in our district - just one of those days where school was called off as a precaution, I guess - so I ended up at home with two young children on the last morning I'd expected to have to SHOP BY MYSELF before Christmas.

Hastily reorganizing my plans, I decided to start my morning with a shower. I gave the girls a little extra breakfast and turned on PBS Kids, reminding them to come find me if they needed me.

After a while, Ada joined me in the bathroom. This was not unusual; she frequently comes in for a visit whenever I'm out of sight for a few minutes. "Hiya, Ada, how're you doing?"

"Um, I'm fine, Mommy, but Ellie went outside to play with those neighbor boys."

Indeed she did. Wearing only a nightgown. No coat, no shoes, certainly no mittens or hat. I thought over my options briefly as my hair conditioned and foam dripped slowly down one partially shaven leg. I recalled that we live on a quiet, safe street, that Ellie is 7 years old and allowed outside on her own to play with the neighbor boys (though generally not unclothed), and that this was a lesson she could probably learn on her own for a few more minutes.

Sure enough, by the time I'd finished my shower, she was back inside. We went over the ground rules again, touching heavily on the parental notification aspects of the leaving the house routine.

"Ellie, before you go outside to play, what do you need to do?"

"Put on shoes!"


Episode 2

Shortly after Christmas I found myself needing to shower again. This time I went over all the ground rules - save one - carefully with both girls. Then I waited until Ellie was immersed in some quiet play in her room and I knew I had a few moments to myself. I leapt into the shower.

After a while, the bathroom door opened. "Hiya, Ada, how're you doing?"

"Um, I'm fine, Mommy, but I think I can't work the TV remote right now."

"Oh, that's OK, I think you've had enough TV, anyway. Why don't you play on your own for a few minutes; I'll be out in a bit."

When I turned off the water, I listened carefully. I could hear Ellie still playing in her room with the door closed. I whipped my hair up into its towel turban and headed down the hall toward the family room to check on Ada.

She was sitting on the couch, right where I'd left her, but now accompanied by an adult-sized person.

It was our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Gustafson.

"One moment please." I returned to my room to apply glasses and clothing. While I was at it I moisturized and smeared product into my hair, oddly unhurried about returning to my company.

"I though Ada told you I was here, but I didn't want to disturb you so I decided to wait." Well, if I had to appear fully naked in front of a neighbor, I'm glad it was her.

The one rule I didn't stress with the girls that morning was not to let anyone into the house. Nana and Grandpa were in town visiting and might have returned to the house at any time. I didn't want the girls to leave them out in the cold if that were the case. I don't think Ada would have let in a stranger, but our neighbor babysits sometimes so is both known and safe.

Didn't seem to phase her a bit.

Episode 3

The day before the girls returned to school, I tried again to shower while parenting. This time I carefully went over ALL the rules and made my expectations very clear.

The talk must have made an impression, because both girls joined me in the bathroom. Ada popped in and out for friendly little chats, but Ellie pulled open the shower curtain and tried to climb right on in with me. Once I'd dissuaded her from that course of action, she sat on the edge of the tub, pants getting soaked, and asked a stream of questions along the lines of "What are you doing, Mommy?" and "Why are you doing that, Mommy?"

Friday morning both girls went to school and I took a fabulous, delightful, no one else in the house no one bothering me no interruptions relaxing hot shower. And it was good.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Since television has been on hiatus since before Thanksgiving, and since I'm dealing with a case of post-holiday malaise (or at least ennui) I've been watching movies.

In the first three nights of 2011 Paul and I watched:
  1. Spellbound (documentary about the National Spelling Bee)
  2. Outsourced (indie comedy about a guy sent to India to train his replacement)
  3. Twilight (yes, that Twilight).

Here's how I sold it to Paul. 

Look, there were some things about the book that weren't so great.  But I bet they don't plague the movie nearly as much.  Here's the premise: it's set on the Olympic peninsula (which we love) in and near towns we've visited.  There are lots of scenes hiking in the woods, up the mountains, and on the beach.  (I've already piqued his interest.) 

There's a "family" of vampires living there, and since they choose to hunt animals rather than people they can stick around in one place for longer without attracting uncomfortable notice.  The "father" is a doctor and the five "kids" are in high school.  When it becomes obvious that they're not aging normally, they'll move somewhere else where it's cloudy most of the year and start over as high school students again.

There's also an Indian reservation nearby and according to tribal legend they're descended from wolves and are ancient enemies with the vampires so there's some territorialism going on in addition to the rest of the vampires trying to pass as humans stuff.  (It turns out that it wasn't the details here that caught Paul's attention, but rather the simple fact that there is any back story at all, something other than a flaky teen love story about romanticized vampires.)

Three big criticisms of the book are: vampires, teens, and bad writing/flat characters.  The first two aren't really problems for us.  (Hello, Buffy!) and the third was probably addressed by the screenwriter.  Simply by virtue of having faces, the characters will be more real than in the book.  We'll know what Edward looks like, not just that he's "perfect."  Bella will most likely have some personality and actually interact with the world around her.  And, best of all, there will be far less repetition than in the novel.

(He was actually interested in watching the movie at this point and voluntarily sat down on the couch without his laptop.)

Paul's comments: it wasn't bad.  There was a lot of teen angst, not very much happened, and it needed a lot more editing.  Some of the scenes really dragged and I didn't like the decision to have a narrator.  But the premise was pretty good and interesting. If it hadn't been All About Bella, it could have been a good fantasy series.

My thoughts: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.  Also, the movie was structured better than the book.  Almost from the very beginning we're aware of a foreign threat in town, killing people.  In the novel, we meet the main antagonists, what, 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through?  They fixed that plotting problem for the movie.  The book was much more stream of consciousness/flow of the school year/life experienced along with the main character.  The movie had a narrative arc and seemed, well, plotted.

As a writer it was fun to look at the differences between the book (to which I listened on iPod during a road trip) and the movie, to try to pick out what worked, what didn't, and why.

I can't say that I'm now a Twilight fan.  For a good teen love story, show me Juno any time!  But I did add New Moon and Eclipse to my Netflix queue.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog

My parents have been married for over 40 years and they're still very happy together.  But my mother once confessed to me that she fears she married my father under false pretenses.  It started like this.  When she was a sophomore in college my mother took a train to visit her older brother at seminary in Chicago.  Her brother didn't have a car, so he asked his buddy to take him to go pick up his sister at Union Station.

From there my parents' relationship progressed mainly through letters.  My father, a graduate student in his mid-twenties, enjoyed chess and philosophical debates.  My mother, still at that time a teenager, wanted to impress him.  So she worked hard on her letters and studied up on her philosophy.  But considering the nature of things - Do universals exist, or only singular things? - is not a true interest of my mother's.

Fast forward, then, to last year when a woman in my book club began reading Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  She enjoyed the novel very much and felt inspired to tackle several classics she'd missed along the way, including Anna Karenina.  This caught my interest, because I was - and still am - reading Jack Murnighan's Beowulf at the Beach: What to love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits.  I too have been inspired to go back and pick up a few classics for fun.

But I needed a bit more motivation before launching into Tolstoy, to I eagerly borrowed The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  (Some of the characters in the novel are big fans of 19th century Russian literature.)  Unfortunately, I got to Murnighan's chapter on Flaubert's Madame Bovary at the same time I was beginning Hedgehog.  I've read Madame Bovary at least twice, and I detest it.  I'd rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than read it again; the sensation is much the same.  And this is how Murnighan starts his chapter on Flaubert:

"If you were to read them in quick succession, paying attention mostly to the plot (and nodding off now and then mid-sentence), you might not be able to tell Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina apart."

Enthusiasm for tackling Tolstoy: dashed.

But the premise of The Elegance of the Hedgehog grabbed me from the beginning so I persisted.  A middle-aged French concierge pretends to be much less intelligent and cultured than she is to avoid notice from the tenants in her building.  One of those tenants, an extremely bright and precocious 12-year-old girl, has decided that she doesn't ever want to be like the stupid grown-ups around her and is considering suicide.  The story progresses through their journal entries.  And I can't tell you how it ends, because I still have 50 pages left to read.  (No spoilers, please!) 

This is a very good novel, and an enjoyable read.  Especially if you enjoy philosophy.  I'm hesitant to talk too much about the language and writing, because I'm reading an English translation (the original is in French).  And, frankly, I'm more like my mother in this way than I am like my father: lengthy philosophical debates are not my thing.  I realize I've been sort of skimming for a few paragraphs, waiting for the plot to pick up again.  Then I force myself to go back, reread slowly, and pay attention.

"Oh, you're reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog," my mother observed.  "I did not enjoy that book. Too much philosophical pondering for me." 

"I enjoyed it," my father replied mildly.  "For pretty much the exact reasons your mother did not." 

Barbery does not talk down to children, and she really gets that kids can understand a lot more than we give them credit for.  I found 12-year-old Paloma pretty believable.  In Beowulf at the Beach, on the other hand, Murnighan repeatedly insists that we ruin literature for people by forcing it onto high school kids who can't possibly understand it. Au contraire. In high school I read a lot of philosophy (and classical novels, too: Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, and so forth) and I loved it all, even when I hated it.  I did understand Kant and Machiavelli and Marx and Descartes and Plato.  In fact, I read and understood and pondered and cared so much more then than I do now, when my mind is full of more pressing concerns like remembering to change the ceiling fans from their summer to winter settings. 

So.  Can't talk about the ending, can't talk about the writing, can't talk about the philosophy, and yet I've written a terribly long review anyway.  I'll conclude with this:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel about people who like discussing literature and philosophy.  But even if you haven't read Tolstoy and don't enjoy pondering the existence of universality, it's still a good story.  And it's a book about smart people hiding their intelligence to avoid notice but eventually recognizing each other and making connections despite the barriers imposed by class, station, age, and race.  And that is the story I loved to read.

This review is part of the January meeting of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club.  More reviews here:

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