How to Be a Mediocre Parent

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I grew up with six younger brothers and two younger sisters. I spent my years in college practicing and taking care of a three year old and an infant instead of partying or hanging out with friends at all hours.  I knew basically everything there was to know about young children. Or so I thought.

I’ve been a mother for five years now if gestation counts as mothering. And I haven’t lost my baby whisperer touch. If anything, taking care of babies is only easier as a mother than it was as a big sister (never forget the silencing power of milk!).

What I didn’t know to take into account as a big sister was how much I would continue to mature as a person. I felt grown up as a teenager. I made reasonable decisions. I was smart. I was educated. I was good at being selfless. I knew how to shut my mouth and pretend I knew what was going on (though I’m still working on knowing when I have something important to say).

I thought maturity was about knowing what was right, making reasonable decisions, and not being stupid. I’ve always been good at those. I can read a book and listen to a sermon with the best of them. I can be a good person externally. That’s easy for me.

And now it’s cliche to say it, but what I didn’t know as a teenager was how much I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I didn’t know how to feel my emotions and come out the other side. I didn’t know how to separate who I was from who others wanted me to be. I didn’t know that giving up yourself for others is only one part of motherhood—the other, just as important side, is investing in yourself so you have something to give besides hurt and bitterness.

Teenage me thought that knowledge was the most important part of parenting. Teenage me was also a little obsessed with being logical instead of emotional. Young children, however, are nothing but a bundle of emotions, one after the other. Try to logic them and you will probably provoke a torrent of something. Instead, I’ve had to learn to lean in to the emotions, name them, and accept them. They will pass.

Being a parent is such a good opportunity for growth because it’s one of the places you fail all the time. Most days, parenting feels like limping up a hill with bleeding bare feet, falling and picking yourself up over and over again. Some days the path levels out for a bit and you get a breather. But most days are about being painfully reminded of your own inadequacy for the task. And in those moments of inadequacy comes growth. You repair your relationships. You give yourself grace.

What parenting has taught me so far is not about how to handle a child or not be embarrassed in public. I want to model so many things for my child—love, kindness, patience, graciousness. But I’m terrible at them. I lose my patience (an innocuous phrase for it) over silly things. I hit. I shame. I minimize.

And slowly, I grow.

Irene has recently been learning to crawl, and it’s been a slow process. First she was creeping backwards. Then forwards an inch or two at a time. Then a little further. And now she snakes her way around the house, interspersed with times of rocking on hands and knees to get up the strength for a proper crawl. It’s taken her weeks of practice.

Maturity is a lot like that. You can’t just read a book called Behaviors of Mature People and immediately become mature. It takes practice, failure, and time to learn that life isn’t black and white–that people aren’t immediately separable into good and bad. And most of all, it takes humility to realize that you’re not defined by your failures or successes as a parent, but by whether you repent of your fault and repair your relationship with your child.

So here I am, five years into this. I hope it says something good about my parenting that my benchmark has shifted from “Be the best mother ever!” to “Don’t mess up your kids too bad.” After all, the baby gave herself a black eye while I was writing this (in pursuit of her goal of crawling, of course), so I seem to be doing a pretty good job as an average mother.

 

 

 

 

Reminiscent and Reclusive

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Cheap watercolors, ya’ll. It’s where it’s at.

There are some things isolation is good for. One that I’ve especially taken advantage of is nurturing creativity while we have a more relaxed schedule. We go on long walks together nearly every day. I’ve spent time on new baking projects (though the day I made banana bread, cinnamon swirl bread, and a pan of brownies I figured that was probably enough for a while). Sometimes JQ and I watch painting tutorials on YouTube and try to create something beautiful. I’ve even, if you can believe it, done some writing on the mornings JQ sleeps in.

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My beautiful artworks. JQ says he loves my painting.

But this last week has also been really hard. It’s been six weeks since we moved and now the big feelings are starting to kick in.

For the first few weeks it’s all adventure and excitement. It’s fun to see new places, look at lots of houses, get to know a place. But that only lasts so long, and then you’re left in a place where you still don’t know anyone.

Obviously this is exacerbated by still being under a stay-at-home order. We can’t even begin to meet new people and making new friends. In our entire six weeks here, we’ve met one family (who lives near here and works with Jared).

But humans were made for relationship. As much as my fervent wish most days is for a cave in the wilderness to retreat to where nobody needs me, the fact is none of us are individuals as much as we would like to think. We’re defined by those we love. (But I’d still sign up for some cave time now and again).

And now all of this is reminding me of being in Singapore.

There were so many things about that year that were hard. The loneliness (we had one real friend). The isolation of being so far away from family and friends. The growing feeling of obsolescence as you worry if you’re texting or calling too much in an effort to have human contact. Feeling expendable as everyone else got on with their lives and friends. Facebook was my social network that year, and I think we can all agree that Facebook has its limitations. .

And here it’s happening again. There was a time of brief solidarity as most of the rest of the world was stuck at home along with us and everyone was forced to go virtual. But now restrictions in many states are easing up. Not here though. Looks like once again we’ll be staying at home watching everyone else have friends and do fun things and, you know, actually see people.

Of course, we still have far more privilege than some. We have a spacious house with plenty of outside space. We live in a backwater town that allows for walks every day. And the weather has been lovely so far. If we were in our Singapore flat right now, we’d basically be climbing the windows for exercise. While sweating buckets.

I know our situation here won’t always be like Singapore. We have relatives less than four hours away, for one thing (not a mere 20 hour plane flight). I know eventually this will ease up.

But for now, this picture sums it up.
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Live Your Best Life Now with My Simple Quarantine Routine

Since everyone’s now staying at home and struggling with life, I decided to put on my best lifestyle blogger hat and tell you how to REALLY succeed at your day.
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4:00 am: baby starts the first of her hourly milk wake ups. I pull her close and fall back into a dead sleep. For now.

8:00 am: I pull my well-drained self from bed. Nothing like a nightly massage session from your baby to make you feel like your best self in the morning! Other highlights from after waking up include inhaling those wonderful urine vapors as I change the baby’s diaper and stumbling outside for a few minutes to get my morning sauna sesh.

8:30 am: muddle around kitchen, stare at food. Staring at food is an integral part of the “what’s for breakfast?” decision making process.

8:45 am: time for my workout! Whipping cream to go over waffles is a great way to start your day energized and with fabulous arm muscles.

Pro tip: letting your kid make the waffles and stare at that little green light frees up your time to get those muscles burning. In 30 second increments, of course, so he doesn’t dump the freshly-made waffle in the batter, or burn his finger on the hot plate, or open the waffle maker too soon, or try to commit a science experiment like “what would happen if I stuck this plastic thing in the waffle maker and close the lid?”
DSC_0026.jpg 9:00 am Eat! While, of course, handing one child a strip of waffle to chew on and simultaneously fielding requests from the other child to cut his waffle but NOT THAT WAY. Untitled9:30 am: attempt clean up process. One child will be wailing and asking to be picked up while the other child proclaims how bored he is. Find random Easter egg to satiate baby (no same two toys in a row for her royal highness) and tell older child that yes, space stace does indeed rhyme.

9:45 am: half-heartedly wipe down table, noting dully the smashed blueberry on the rug and the waffle crumbs from an eager demolishment.

10:00 am: JQ pulls out a piece of paper from the archives with scrawled hieroglyphics and shapes vaguely resembling Qs and 4s and says it’s “math” time. Today’s activity consists of sorting through a pack of cards and finding four of each letter and number while being delighted that both J and Q are included. DSC_0014.jpg Sometimes we’ll facetime friends or family at this time to make our social distancing a little less “distant” and a little more “social.”

10:15 am: Baby declares a state of extreme hunger not to be mitigated by Easter eggs.

10:45 am: I decide it’s time to feel frustrated and go put baby down for her nap. She resists every effort I make to extricate myself so JQ and I just watch food videos together.

11:06 am: That worked well. Irene is now greeting her crowds of adoring admirers with happy wiggles and smiles. DSC_0021.jpg For our further educational activities, we head outside to the porch where JQ does “silly face” (messing around with Instagram filters) on my phone and Irene talks to her crowds of adoring admirers. DSC_0020.jpg 11:45 am: Children commence meltdowns. Walk into kitchen; stare at food. Decide everyone will hate whatever I make and life is pointless. DSC_0029.jpg 12:00 pm: Round two of staring at food. Boil water because that’s what you do in emergencies. Pull something out of freezer and plan elaborate menu for supper. DSC_0036.jpg 12:30 pm: we’re eating something. It probably consists of tortillas and cheese. And the tears of our enemies. I mean, children.

1:00 pm: Make a listless swipe at a plate while walking by the table carrying your FORTY-FIVE POUND seven month old. She’s actually only around seventeen pounds and I have no idea how you mothers with enormous babies even survive.

1:15 pm: NAPTIME!!! JQ and I continue our routine of watching food and crafts videos on Instagram while I feed the baby to sleep. For not loving comfort nursing when she was a newborn, she’s sure found out how amazing it is now. Then Jared wakes up from his nap (he’s just been working this whole time so nothing interesting, but yes, he still lives here) and I send JQ out to him so I can nap.

3:00 pm (If we’re lucky, maybe even 3:30) everyone wakes up. If all went according to plan, Irene will be ready to talk to her adoring admirers again and maybe I can wipe down a surface or two or pick up one of the 34,582,823 legos that grace our floor on most days.

Oh wait, did you say lower your expectations? You’re right. That is WAY too high of an expectation. Actually, about now is time to schedule in a mommy meltdown because JQ was only absent for exactly 20 minutes before he came in and woke the baby up and now everyone wants to be held and the toys on the floor are jeering at me.

~4 pm: Jared’s off work! So he straps the baby on and we go out for a family walk. It’s almost as fun as it sounds, especially as a lot of it consists of convincing JQ that no, he is actually NOT about to die of exhaustion.

5 pm: We return home and JQ immediately starts bouncing off the walls. What was that you said about being tired? I didn’t hear it properly, I guess.
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5:45 pm: In an effort to stave off the pre-dinner meltdowns, Jared does Chinese with JQ while I take a moment of silence and start cooking.

6-8: we eat something. And watch something. Recently it’s been Star Trek since JQ is obsessed with flying ships. We’ve also watched Mansfield Park and started The English Game. 

~8: we start our bedtime routine. Which consists of JQ jumping or roughhousing for at least 45 minutes. While talking. And getting his teeth brushed and his jammies on. Then we read (The Wind in the Willows, currently, and moan over Toad’s despicableness).

WHENEVER JQ goes to bed: Blissful silence. To be enjoyed until MY bedtime.

So there you have it: by the time this is over I will totally have written a great novel, brushed my teeth more than once, and figured out a great scientific equation for getting children to go to bed earlier. Just you wait.

JQ Says This Should Be Titled “I Love Bumblebees.” Or, I’m Not Perfect and Neither Are You.

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It feels like we’re living in the past right now. Not the hanging on to old grudges or wishing things could be like they were back in the good old days–no, the past of many years ago, the past when pandemics, like the black plague, cholera, diphtheria, the Spanish flu, took lives across the globe. Vaccines and antibiotics have lessened the symptoms of so many of these that sickness just isn’t as big of a problem in our modern world.

Or wasn’t, until a couple months ago.

But now Covid-19 is here, in our country, infecting our own friends and relatives, and things are different.

It was just back in January–nearly a lifetime in quarantine years–that Roundup and vaccines were the worst of our problems. You couldn’t log on to social media without hearing about someone’s colon cleanse or Whole 30 or how you really should resolve to go toxin-free because Roundup. And fragrances. And sugar. Oh, and vegetable oils (definitely a misnomer) are killing you too.

When I see things like this, I feel a little like the Apostle Paul listing his claims to righteousness. I have gone gluten free and sworn off sugar, I only ever ate whole wheat bread as a child (when I wasn’t gluten free), I never ever took anything for pain because it’s better to suffer than to kill your liver, I’ve read all the books about people who are so sick they can’t even walk into a grocery store, you can definitely cure cancer by positive thinking, and I’m in multiple Facebook groups for essential oils. Or something like that.

For a while (especially as a teenager but also in my early twenties) I bought into the myth that if you only control your environment enough, you’ll basically have perfect health. If you can only find the foods you should cut out of your diet, and not introduce extra toxins by means of cleaners with chemicals and fragrance (which, for the record, I hate and actually don’t let in my house) (dirty houses are best anyways) and magically do everything right, life will be just peachy for you.

Magically doing everything right didn’t work for me. I did everything “right” according to my rules, and turns out I was still the same flawed person. And life was still hard. Moving between continents every year is a lot for a person to go through.

The illusion of control dies hard. Of course we would all give anything for the assurance that we won’t get Covid-19 or we and everyone we love will only get a mild case to confer immunity. We want to know that our babies won’t die or that we won’t have a miscarriage. We want to know how to avoid awful diseases like cancer or Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimers. We want to know that we won’t spend our lives suffering from stomach problems or fatigue.

But no matter which foods you restrict your diet to or which cleaners are permanently banned from being in your vicinity or how few calories you eat in pursuit of the perfect body, you have no guarantee that life will go how you want.

In the face of death and natural disaster, it’s natural to grasp tight control of the few things we are in control of, like eschewing “immoral” foods or espousing conspiracy theories. But it’s a more courageous act to relinquish control, to acknowledge your own finitude, and accept that you can’t change the way things are. You can only change how you respond to them.

Certainly, doing the best you can will help you. There’s no need to stop washing your hands, coat every inch of your house in Febreze, or eat only at McDonald’s for the rest of your life. But surely we can strike some kind of balance between anxiety and scrupulousness over every aspect of our lives and “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”?

Smoke Alarms and Isolation

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We’ve been in Alabama about ten days. And I still haven’t decided if it’s easier to move first and then practice social distancing or if it would be better to be somewhere where I actually know someone. Is it better to be lonely in a familiar place or a strange place?

Most people have had to deal with a lot of grief and disappointment in the last couple weeks as schools have closed, trips have been canceled, concerts and all the fun end-of-year stuff can’t happen any more. We, on the other hand, had nothing planned besides getting here in one piece. And now that we’re here, there’s no temptation to see friends or family. It’s hard being so isolated–but we’re also kind of used to it.

Being in a new place definitely has its downsides though. For instance, I set off the smoke alarm a couple days ago. Since we’re staying in an Airbnb (it’s a whole house), of course it doesn’t quite have all the comforts of home. The knives are terrible (and I do mean terrible; cutting an onion is now an exercise in dealing with frustration), cookware is limited to a couple pots and a ten inch cast iron skillet, and there are no mixing bowls. None. Not even a large soup bowl.

So for supper one night, I made up a casserole dumo in the teeny skillet (I’m used to a larger one at home) and tossed it in the oven to bake through. It didn’t seem overly full to me and I didn’t expect it to drip over the edges. The inside of the oven also seemed fairly decent: just a couple drips on a foil liner on the bottom.

While it was baking, of course I had to feed the baby, change her diaper, read JQ a story, etc., etc. So I didn’t even notice that anything was amiss until the smoke alarms started blaring.

That’s right–there were two alarms. Within a couple feet of each other. Going off not-quite-synchronously. So I turned the oven off–the food had dripped a little and it was smoking some. Then I flailed around looking for the off button (setting off the smoke alarm was a regular occurrence at our old house and it only took the push of a button to silence it). No luck. I rushed around trying to open windows; they were all painted shut. After a couple minutes of turning on fans and panicking, somehow it turned itself off.

I started to breathe again.

And then it turned back on.

Jared emerged from teaching his online class (blaring smoke alarms are a great way to end a class) and helpfully informed me that the owner of the house was about to call 911. Apparently the smoke alarms are hooked up to his security system, which texts him every time something activates.

In the end, we (meaning Jared) figured how to turn off the alarm and deactivate the security system. The smoke eventually dissipated and no fire trucks showed up (how embarrassing would that be??). Supper was a little undercooked (not burnt). And I was ready to pack it all in right there and move back to Colorado and live in a house without an awful security system.

Spoiler: we’re not moving just because the smoke alarm was a jerk. Jared was the last person to get onboarded at his new job before coronavirus halted new hires. We have a contract on a house. We’re all staying safe and healthy.

It’s hard to say right now what life in Alabama will be like. But at least now we know how to turn off the smoke alarm.

 

24 hours Without an iPhone

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Like many young moms these days, I’m worried about my use of technology. When I was growing up, sure, my mom talked on the phone a lot to all her friends and relatives, but she was never staring at a screen. I’ve read all the fear-mongering articles that go around Facebook declaring how we’re all collectively becoming stupid screen addicts who can’t function without information one click away and our kids will grow up to be brain dead, etc. I’m against fear-mongering on principle, but I still let it get to me sometimes.

Of course I’m always evaluating my phone use, partly because of the fear-mongering (I’m losing brain cells every time I check Facebook, oh no!), and partly because I really do want to have a healthy relationship with technology. It’s interesting, sure, and it helps me keep up with my friends, but I also want to be present for the people I’m with.  I’ve basically had to give up reading in the last year because I have a child who talks at me basically non-stop and I hate being interrupted every three seconds to be reminded about a swimming fish or to look at the cool spaceship he’s built out of blocks or to hear how he’ll be a superhero one day. (It’s also why blogging is a bit difficult these days.) I like being all there when spending time with my kids. But I also need some downtime and a way to keep my brain active because talking about cool spaceships all day doesn’t exactly keep me sane.

As adorable as my children are, sometimes I need a break from paying constant attention to them. If you never get overwhelmed by being constantly talked at–well, are you even human? I’ll look at my phone and read an article or something interesting on Instagram in those moments when I know I’d get interrupted if I were doing something that actually took some brain power. Somehow I get much less irritated at constant interruptions if I’m reading something that takes 2 minutes versus something that takes a day.

So when I had to give up my phone for 24 hours so the screen could be repaired, I was prepared to get the jitters at having to give up my precious device. And…it really wasn’t that bad. Sure, I had those moments when I thought of something I’d like to look up, or a friend I wanted to tell something to. But generally, I just did the same things I always do, except that I didn’t have any way of doing anything else while I did them. Sitting and holding a sleeping baby? I just sat and held her, while responding every little bit to pleas of “Mommy, look!” Cooking in the kitchen? I used a different device to look up recipes. Yeah, my computer is a little harder to lug around while also lugging around a six-month-old, but I still had it for those times I really wanted to look something up or needed to communicate with someone.

So I’m not planning anytime soon to become one of those annoying people who are impossible to have a relationship with because they’ve decided technology is all evil and will never respond to texts. I like being able to connect with people and not be completely isolated every time I need to hold or feed the baby. But I’m also happy to know that having technology always at my fingertips hasn’t changed who I am, essentially.

New Year, New Musings

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I remember being young, looking ahead to dates in the future and calculating just how old I would be at each calendar change. I’m not sure I ever looked so far ahead as the year 2020, though. That was simply too far to even imagine.

But here we are, and life still goes on.

When you’re young, change feels thrilling, an excitement with unlimited possibilities. You can be anything you want to be–an astronaut, a fireman, a princess. But as you get older, what you want to be gets hard, and change begins to feel more like loss: loss of what you already know and love. And now you have to learn to love something new.

Irene is only four months old. But I’m already feeling the tug of losing the baby I have now to the child she will become, mourning over each piece of clothing I put away, delighting in every new ounce rounding out her soft cheeks but crying inwardly that she’s not my tiny newborn anymore.

It’s only been four years since JQ’s babyhood. But in that four years has been a lifetime of experience. I’ve parented a baby, a toddler, a preschooler. He’s learned to walk and talk (we–both he and I–are still working on handling big emotions). I’ve made–and left–more friends than I know. I’ve traveled about ten countries. I’ve moved I don’t know how many times. I’ve lost my faith and slowly rebuilt it.

It’s been a lot longer since my own babyhood. Some days, I mourn the carefree child I once was, or the intelligent teenager (I knew more then than I’ll ever know again), or the driven college student who could plan a senior recital and a wedding at the same time and still get (mostly–I still maintain that one B was the teacher’s mistake) straight As. But most days, I really like the confident adult I’ve become.

Many people say becoming a parent has been one of their biggest life changes, and to be sure, it was a huge change. But everything else has also been huge in the last seven years–graduation, marriage, moving, moving, moving again (and on and on). I think we’re all ready for a little stability, a little peace.

So of course now we’re moving again, this time to Alabama. These last two years have been the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place since our marriage. It’s amazing how fast time seems to go when you’re not uprooting your entire life every year. Which also makes it harder to leave again. My one consolation is that it’s not across multiple time zones or countries or oceans. We even get to move some of our stuff with us this time.

So, new year–new adventure, she said with a tired hooray.

This blog post brought to you by the pre-bedtime meltdown of one over-tired four year old who definitely overstimulated his mother. Also deserving of a tired hooray.

The Story of Irene: What’s in a Name?

I was in those anxiety-inducing early weeks of pregnancy; not sure what was happening with my baby and every story I’d ever heard about pregnancy loss came easily to mind. And, once again, I was symptom spotting: “I haven’t felt very nauseous in the last five minutes; does that mean I’m losing the baby?” I don’t know about you, but for me, “easy” though my pregnancies have been, they’ve also been full of fear–fear of the unknown, of loss, of everything that bringing an entirely new life into the world entails.

Many people like to pick a word for the start of a new year: “hospitality,” say, if they wish to have an impact on more people, or “joy” if they’ve been feeling down recently. Much like the beginning of a new year, pregnancy is the beginning of a new life: a joyful, anticipatory time, but also a time of physical and mental stress. And I was getting to the point where I just wanted to hurry everything along: to skip all the hard parts and only see the end of the story. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somewhere in there I felt very strongly that my “word” for this time was peace. “What if the baby died and I never noticed?” Peace. “What if something goes wrong?” Peace.

To help me feel this peace, instead of skipping over the sickness and the hard parts, wishing them away, I leaned into them. I gave thanks for each slow day, for each opportunity to love and value this new life inside me, knowing that, if something did go wrong, I could say to this little one “You are loved.”

About two months later, before we knew whether she was a boy or a girl, Jared accosted me. “I have a name for our baby,” he said. “What do you think of Irene?”

“Oh, like princess Irene in the Curdie books?”

“Yes. Also, it comes from the Greek word for peace, Eirene.”

“I like it,” I said. “But we’ll have to wait and see if our baby is a boy or a girl!”

Of course she was a girl. And we named her Irene, for peace. And her middle name, Abigail, is after my little sister who died 24 years ago in August and who is now at peace.
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Side note: So far we’re two for two at naming our kids after Jared’s current writing project. With JQ, he was working on a thesis about John Quincy Adams. And with Irene, he was studying the causes of peace. If we have a third, hopefully he’s not studying something horrid!

He’s (Almost) 4: The Sayings of JQ

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The older JQ gets, the more he talks. And that, of course, reveals just how his brain works.

Some days I wonder how I got a child whose main ambition in life is to wake up and sort through the clean laundry. When he had to leave for a minute to put something away, he looked at me and wistfully asked, “Will you wait for me to finish the laundry?”


It’s spider season indoors right now, and one morning I walked through a door only to realize there had been a cobweb across it. So of course JQ asked, “Why did you walk into a cobbler?”


Speaking of cobblers, I made a peach dessert which Jared called a peach crisp; JQ wanted to know if he could have some more “rice crisp.” In case you’re wondering, there was no rice in it.


While riding in the car one day, he asked me why our baby didn’t have a firepassener.

“A what?”

“A firepassener!”

“What’s that?”

“You know, the thing you put in a baby’s mouth to make it stop crying!”


When naptime falls through, sometimes we watch nature documentaries about all the animals. One of the pressing questions raised by this was, “How do the cantaloupes run down the mountain without falling?”


This summer, we went swimming at a local lake until it was closed for a few weeks because of poisonous algae. When we finally went back a month later, JQ worriedly inquired, “Is there still an allergy in the water?”


Caterpillars and their habits have also been a topic of conversation this summer, especially after we found a caterpillar in the backyard and captured it for a day. “Will the caterpillar make a raccoon, Mommy?”


He’s also begun broaching the subject of what it will be like when he grows up. When we’re driving, he confidently declares, “When I grow up, I will run all the red lights.”

And then we asked, “JQ, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“My daddy buys lots of books. When I grow up, I will buy lots of books like my daddy.”


So that’s our question-asking, sometimes-helpful, always-confident (and often exasperating) nearly four-year-old JQ. We love you, JQ!

 

The Story of Irene, Part 3: In Which I Have a Baby

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After another hour of monitoring (surprise, surprise), they started Pitocin and I finally started having some regular contractions. They weren’t super strong yet but were pretty regular. Since the whole point of starting Pitocin was to get the baby to move on down and stop being so high (little stinker had been trying to rotate again during the night; I played her music to get her to turn head down again and thankfully it worked), I did all the standing/moving/engagement exercises I could think of. In between contractions (and sometimes during them) I talked with Jared and Mom, tried to eat something to keep my strength up (which was a little hard because I was nervous and food didn’t sound good), and sucked down my labor tea which I’d had Jared make for me (best idea I ever had—raspberry leaf tea mixed with peppermint to make it palatable and then some apple juice added in for sweetness/satisfyingness).

Every thirty minutes they’d come in and up the Pitocin level to get the contractions stronger, and while they definitely did get stronger, they still were nothing compared to where I started with JQ’s labor. It might sound a little weird, but I enjoyed actually having an “early labor” this time—feeling each contraction come, knowing I could easily cope with it, and working with my body to get the baby in the best position to be born. It was a little annoying to not be able to move around the whole room (hooked up to an IV and the wireless monitor chose to work only some of the time), but I could pace a couple feet in each direction, and mom had them bring in a birth ball I could sit on for some of the time. I did lots of hip circles, pelvic tilts, asymmetrical stances,  and leaning over the bed to have gravity help move her down (the monitors really didn’t like that one), sitting on the birth ball to rest in between because those hospital floors were hard on my feet!

This went on for about four-and-a-half hours—from 8:30 to around 1, as the midwife told the nurses she wanted me to be “really uncomfortable” by the time she broke my water. I still wasn’t super uncomfortable but did have to focus a bit more during contractions so I guess that counted.

A little after 1 pm, the midwife checked me again to see where the baby’s head was at and—praise be—she had moved down and wasn’t popping up again, but I was still only four centimeters. And then, at 1:24 p.m., she broke my water. And practically flooded the room.

“That’s why she had so much room to turn!” the midwife said. “With this much water, she probably would never have come down on her own.” Apparently the water was good at hiding from the ultrasound because just two days previously, at the scheduled ECV, the OB had said there wasn’t too much fluid. Apparently also having too much water can make it easy for the baby to escape from the monitors, thus explaining why the monitors kept losing her.

I was expecting the intensity to go up once my water was broken, and it did. But the first couple contractions after were deceptively mild. “I can do this,” I thought. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Note to self—labor will always get worse than you think it will. Do not tell yourself otherwise.

By the next couple contractions, I was compelled to focus on my breathing. I’d been practicing before, and it was helpful, but I could have gotten through them without it. Now, if I wanted to survive, I had to breathe through them.

This lasted maybe an hour? I wasn’t timing things any more at this point—too busy surviving. Soon I needed Jared giving me counterpressure on my hips as I kneeled over the back of the bed, and a short while after that I couldn’t be emotionally strong anymore and burst into tears after a contraction. At this point Mom told Jared, “This means she’s going into transition,” and asked me if I wanted to get into the birthing tub. I said no, because I wasn’t sure if I could get out again—this tub was huge!

The shower sounded reasonable (and like I wouldn’t be stuck there in labor forever—you’re always super rational when in labor), so Jared continued his counterpressure and Mom aimed the water at my back.

Everything after this is in the form of snapshots: the midwife coming in and asking if I was feeling pressure yet, to which I said “No, but I wish I was” (you know you’re in labor when you can’t properly use the subjunctive); Jared getting me a pillow to lean my head on because the shower walls were so hard; holding on to the bar in the shower for dear life; starting to vocalize through contractions because breathing just wasn’t cutting it anymore; thinking “I should have gotten the epidural this time—last time was terrible but it was nothing like this,” wanting it to stop so I could just go home and be pregnant forever. I probably would have climbed the wall trying to get away from the pain if it wasn’t a smooth tiled wall, all wet and slippery.

At some point I became vaguely aware of a crowd of people behind me and the midwife asking if it was time to move back to the bed. I said no, one more contraction in the shower (I didn’t want to leave the warm water behind). Up to this point I had been standing and leaning on the wall, holding myself up with my arms. But for this last contraction, I suddenly had to squat.

So I reluctantly made my way back to the bed as they threw a warm blanket over me and trundled that annoying IV pole back with me and I draped myself back over the head of the bed. I tried to live through a contraction like this but it wasn’t possible—I had to be squatting, and I needed that horrible hot blanket off. I blindly groped for a hand and found Jared’s, and managed to croak out a demand for someone on the other side.

And then, suddenly, at the next contraction my body was bearing down and I was making a mooing sound. My inner commentator was surprised—I’d heard that people often made mooing sounds when pushing, but I hadn’t expected myself to do so involuntarily. I pushed through three or four contractions, everyone cheering me on and saying “Not much longer now” (to which my inner commentator felt that clearly they had no idea that time had stopped and words like “longer” had no meaning anymore), while the doctor (the midwife had injured her hand and so she was supervising an OB for my delivery) checked me and pushed back a lip of cervix through each contraction.

I can’t say pushing felt much better than merely surviving through contractions: it didn’t feel like it was accomplishing anything until all the sudden she crowned. And I screamed.

The contraction ended there, and I rested and waited through the stretching and burning. It was almost a relief to feel an acute localized pain though instead of the wrenching apart and remaking every nerve that the contractions had become. When she crowned, I could almost believe she would actually be born soon.

And then the next contraction came and with one push (and another mighty scream) she slithered out with another large gush of water and blood, and where my screams ended hers began on nearly the same pitch. It was finished, and another new life had entered the world.

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 At 3:18 p.m., less than two hours from when the midwife broke my water, Irene Abigail entered the world .