19

New Things.

Twyla turned one, and there is something a little sad about knowing that I have seen my last days as the mother of an infant. Of course, there is a lot of good ahead: I am excited for the deeply weird magic of language acquisition, and for the way Simone and Twyla’s relationship is sure to blossom once Twyla can do more actual playing (though already they occasionally form a band together, as Twyla is more than capable of banging two things together while Simone strums her guitar or sings). I look forward to meeting the three-year-old Twyla will be in a couple of years. But while I know that many people don’t particularly like the baby stage, I do. I love furred, snuggly newborns, and smiling, clapping not-yet-toddlers, and I am all done with that, now, and it is vaguely wistful-making, no matter how content and delighted I am with our family and that family’s imagined future.

The actual first birthday celebration did not go quite as well as I might have hoped—Twyla wasn’t feeling well (cold, molars) and Simone had been at camp all day and was, frankly, a bit of a brat. I seem to hear nothing but what a golden, lovely age is five, but compared to four it is AWFULLY whiny. So much whining! So little listening! Am I the only one who finds this to be the case? I wonder often whether (or, more likely, HOW) I am doing this mother thing wrong. Parenting older children is so much harder than parenting younger ones, because the stakes seem so much higher—they will remember your decisions, your words, and underlying everything is the feeling that you may well be screwing up in deep, permanent ways. (Hey, childless folk! Come on in, the water’s fine!)

Twyla, who loves food more than is really seemly for a baby, was nevertheless entirely uninterested in her cupcake, flinging it on the floor and then staring at her crumb-covered fingers in disgust. It figured, I suppose, that this would be the one day my comically, exuberantly happy baby (she is basically the human infant version of Pinkie Pie, for you My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans out there) was in a foul temper. I suppose this is one of the saccharine but nevertheless useful lessons of parenthood, that these events we invest with such importance are just days like any other, and are ultimately both out of our control and meant to be so, because as easy as it is to get wrapped up in the milestones of our children’s early childhoods, these events are not really about us, and yet not half as meaningful to them.

Anyhow, I now have a one-year-old, and though poor Twyla has gotten short shrift on this site, it has been a wonderful year, and I feel preposterously lucky to have ended up with this goony, sweet girl, whom I love beyond reason.

On Sunday I took Simone to her first movie in a theater: “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls” (I keep typing “Girls of Equestria,” which sounds like a very specialized Playboy issue ). The theater was, surprisingly for a Sunday morning show, quite crowded, mostly with teenagers. (There was a pack of teenaged boys who came in together, causing the girls behind us to let out an excited squeal of “BRONIES!”)

Simone had been planning this movie trip for a while, and for some reason was intent on buying her own popcorn. She brought her wallet over to me one afternoon to have me count the coins to see if there were enough, and when there weren’t, proposed she pay for the popcorn with her library card. I assured her that it was my treat, but she was not having it, and finally got the cash together by selling some cheese to my mother at our last Happy Hour (50 cents a piece!) (the Happy Hour was at my mother’s, and my mother had, in fact, provided said cheese).

Popcorn sizes seem to have become grossly inflated, and we ended up with about four times as much popcorn as was actually required–which is saying something, as Simone and I can both eat the SHIT out of some popcorn. The movie was just the right length for a first movie, I think (1hr, 12 minutes), and Simone only said it was “too loud” once. I have sensory issues that can make movies in the theater unpleasant, and I swear to movies have gotten louder since I was a kid (Listen to me! Popcorn is to big! Movies are too loud! KIDS TODAY!) so we sat way in the back, which I think helped. As to whether Simone enjoyed herself, part of the way through, during one of the musical numbers, she turned to me and stage-whispered “I didn’t know it would be so awesome!” Also, she wants to see it again next weekend.

I’m not sure why we waited so long to take her to a movie, or were so sure she would be scared/wasn’t old enough to have fun. I was pretty terrified after seeing ET in the theater when I was young, so maybe that was part of it. But I remember going to see Splash when I was Simone’s age, and saying to my parents afterward that I wished it would never end, and I think I would have gone to that movie every day for a month if they’d let me. Splash wasn’t even a kids’ movie (though it did have a mermaid, obviously a selling point). At the risk of sounding crotchety yet AGAIN, I will say that there were more adult movies back then that were…slow. Shots have gotten so fast (a fact I remember my film teacher in college bemoaning at great length), and the visual pace so frenetic and music-video-like, and the expectations for effects so high, that it feels like movie storytelling is vastly different than it was twenty-five years ago. Which is fine! But a lot of movies are not great for the easily overstimulated, is what I am saying.

I’ve been writing again. Technically I’ve been working on Book Number Two almost since my first book came out, but only technically—in a forced, desultory sort of way, in tiny dribbles here and there, with occasional (brief) bursts of inspiration. In truth, I was spent and exhausted for a long while, and then there was my pregnancy, and the drain of constant financial worries, and though it pains me to admit it, working on my second book was something I was doing because I felt like I should, and unsurprisingly I made almost no progress at all. I don’t know what changed; maybe I just needed time to let my poor brain lie fallow, maybe the several months I had of relative financial calm this year settled me a little, but suddenly I have my writing energy back, and it has been lovely to walk around with my head buzzing again, to be absentmindedly putting things where they don’t belong because I am worrying a paragraph in my head while unloading the dishwasher. I am SO EXCITED about this book, and so full of ideas. I’d forgotten what this feels like, both the delicious flush of writing a great sentence, and the misery of rereading a day’s work to find it completely awful, and if I am spending a lot of time hand-wringing over the state of the essay I am working on, well, that’s okay, because it’s awfully invigorating to be this challenged and engaged. Writing, if I’m doing it right, is the hardest thing in the world for me, but on a good day it feels like we are evenly matched opponents, me and the nebulous whatever I am trying to pin down.

18

Meanwhile.

I was going to post about my business trip, but now it has been so long that it seems silly. Why has it been so long, you ask? Well, as dictated by natural law, the children got ill just as I was leaving, and I came back sick and have more or less stayed that way until now—really, I don’t think any other cough I’ve ever had has lingered so long. I was starting to feel a little Camille-y.

My trip was not all business. I had a lovely dinner with @Amy_Rey (are we referring to people by their Twitter handles, now? It seems we are) at my hotel the first night. Alas, I began the meal by ordering what turned out to be the single most phallic dish in existence, with the exception of, say, an actual braised penis. Thankfully, my main course was both delicious and neuter. Amy is a professional crossword puzzler, and I’d been perversely afraid she’d…I don’t know, quiz me or something (LITTLE RICHARD, FOUR LETTERS) but she didn’t, and all was well.

The next afternoon, I took the El (Whee!) from Evanston back city-ward to drink wine with the incomparable Mimi Smartypants (her real name is Griselda!) (No) (OR IS IT?), whose Online Web Journal was the first I ever read, and whose writing I have been enjoying for about a decade. It turned out to be one of those pleasant occasions wherein you meet a new person and yet feel entirely at ease (a rarity for me under the best of circumstances) and as if you know each other quite well already. This isn’t wholly unheard of, but usually it is someone I’ve chatted with online in one form or another, and this was not that, as I’d previously been too shy to correspond with Ms. Smartypants, online or otherwise. But I knew she’d read my book because I’d seen as much on Goodreads, so when this trip was planned I gathered up my petticoats and sent an email proposing we get together. I wasn’t sure how the suggestion would be received (especially as I may have gone on about beheadings a smidge in my “come meet a stranger!” email, which could potentially have been off-putting), but it all worked out and the evening was so much fun that it made me think I should really look into making friends in my OWN town as well.

Now here, watch this video of my baby singing.

While Simone and I were out one day, Scott put on Kathleen Edwards, and Twyla made a beeline to the source of the music, revealing vocal stylings uniquely reminiscent of a drunken Muppet*. My husband, bless him, managed to capture a bit of it on film.

Twyla Sings from Alexa on Vimeo.

*The phrase “drunken Muppet” made me remember this video, which remains the only thing I like about St Patrick’s Day.

27

Bacchanull.

I read the first Tana French, In The Woods, on the recommendation of you fine people, and you did not steer me wrong. I more or less lost two days of my life, however, because I was not capable of putting the damn thing down. I tried! I swear I tried. Actually, several times I picked up my phone and opened Twitter to make a comment about how absorbed I was by the book, and then instead I went back to reading. Too absorbed even to tweet! (It is a hard life I live.)

I found the book at first delicious (the writing is excellent, she creates a very complete world and clear voice to lose oneself in) and then later horribly sad. Part of me would have liked to prolong the first part indefinitely. I am feeling a little melancholy about it all still. Not about the crime itself, but—oh, if you have read it you know what I mean, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil things (though really, if you haven’t read it you might want to skip this whole section because I am bound to give something away without meaning to do so).

The Thing That Was Supposed To Be a Surprise seemed obvious from the start, but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book much. Occasionally I found it a little annoying or got impatient, and the obviousness did affect my feelings about the main character some, and I did find myself a bit incredulous at the idea that we were supposed to find it surprising, but at least in this case I didn’t know how it was all going to work out. Actually, despite The Thing being obvious, most of the rest remained mysterious until later, which was unusual and kind of great. It seems unlikely that the other central mystery will be solved in a future book, and I respect that this is very true-to-life and kind of marvelous, in its way, but it is maddening because I want to know.

I do not tend to judge mysteries on whether I am surprised by the mystery part, because I never—or almost never—am, I suppose because I read so many of them and have had such a thorough Law & Order education. Usually I don’t mind the mystery not really being a mystery, as long as the rest of the book is compelling enough. A lack of subtlety seems inevitable, especially in a mystery author’s early books: it must be very tricky to trust your reader to pick up on clues—it is always tricky to trust your reader to pick up what you are putting down, so to speak, and I know in my own writing I am always having to go back and take out superfluous/heavy-handed bits that result from that.

Anyhow, I am not going to start the next one yet, because I have deadlines looming and I suspect I won’t be able to get any work done if I do. Also, I think I need something cheery as a palate cleanser first. (Have started it. I have no willpower at all. None.)

I ought to update you all on the books I’ve read this year so far and what I’ve thought of them, but that will have to be another day. (Though I will say The Fault in Our Stars was as good as everyone said it would be, though I kept wishing 17-year-old Alexa was reading it instead, for various reasons) (It was a wee bit precious, and I know that at 17 I would have read it less cynically and likely been besotted with it.) (Shades of Franny and Zooey, I suppose.)

Not all of my current anxious melancholy can be blamed upon my recent reading material. It is very grey here, and the mood-parts of my brain have always been dramatically solar-powered. It doesn’t take a very long stretch of cloud cover to start me brooding and feeling jittery and fragile and as if everything is DOOOOOMED. I guess it is a good thing I don’t live on one of those dreary English moors I was so fond of reading about as a child. (OR DO I?) It is supposed to rain and then SNOW this week, as much as five inches, so I’m predicting at least one weeping episode and two wild tantrums about the state of the apartment, with scattered panicking over my financial future. Happily, when the sunshine does finally break through—which it must do, eventually—it triggers something like euphoria, and I beam at tree buds and sigh at the sound of birds singing and am as frolicsome and insufferable as the star of a tampon/birth control/yogurt commercial. I look forward to skipping down sidewalks and chucking bewildered robins under the chin any time now.

I rarely have social engagements other than the very occasional dinner with my mother, even more rarely social engagements extending past 8pm, and yet last week I went out in the evening on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, for Culture. I accompanied my mother to The Dakota (jazz club) on Tuesday to see Madeleine Peyroux, and a mere two days later I was out again, this time to the Walker (museum) with Scott to see Noah Baumbach’s new movie, Frances Ha. Both times I was away from my apartment until past ten o’clock. Next week on my trip I have plans for two evening outings with virtual acquaintances, and the Friday after I return Scott and I may attend a reading. Step back, Dionysus!

I am looking for some additional freelance work–editing, not writing–and so if you have any lying about, please feel free to send it my way. Most of my editing experience is in the legal and scientific fields, but I’ve done all sorts.
Relatedly, if any of you are writing things (fiction or non) and were thinking of having someone take a look at them with a professional eye—or even two—I am available for everything from line-edits to general “here’s where I think you ought to go with this” type consultations. I’m actually quite a bit better working with other people’s writing than my own, and while I often do this sort of thing for fun (just ask all of my roommates, ever–though I am still bitter about Lizzie’s refusal to let me title her linguistics thesis “Hmong Among Us”), I have decided that this is something I would like to do more of professionally. It makes me feel a tad soulless asking people for money to help them with their personal wordsmithery when that kind of editing is so fun for me anyway (*I* don’t have to do the writing, you see, so it is all reading and guiding and bossing) but there is no law that says you can’t enjoy your work, and I am very good at it, and Spicy Thai Kettle Chips don’t pay for themselves. I’ve written such a variety of things myself now–a memoir, magazine features, essays, etc., that I think I could be useful to almost anyone. (Anyone writing prose. You poets are on your own.)

As long as I am already blushing and feeling squeamish about self-promotion, our beloved NICU (Children’s) is hosting a 3k/fundraiser on June 1st, and Simone, Scott, Twyla and I have formed a team, “Team Simone!” (the exclamation point is part of the name, yes). If you are local and want to walk with us, you can sign up for our team here. There is a party afterward with a bouncy house and face painting and god knows what else, and I am sure it will be an excellent, and finally SNOW-FREE time. Simone has begun to show curiosity about her early/tiny birth, and we’ve been talking about it more and looking at pictures, and she has a Playmobil isolette and baby, of all things, and I thought Team Simone! would be a good idea, for her. (I have more to say about talking to Simone about all of this, enough for a whole fleet of posts, but that will have to wait.)

Frog and Toad are Friends is my favorite children’s book, and to my delight, Simone is enchanted with Frog and Toad as well. We read at least one of the Frog and Toad books every day lately, and the more time I spend with them, the more I think Toad really ought to have his thyroid checked.

13

In Praise of False Industry.

Scott was trying to tell me about a book, but he couldn’t remember the title—all he could manage was that it was called “In Praise of [some word LIKE ‘whipping,’ but NOT ‘whipping’].” I went to Amazon and did a search for “In Praise of,” and while I did not find the book he was talking about (chiefly because the book he was talking about was actually called “In Defense of Flogging” ), I did find evidence that beginning a book title with the phrase “In Praise of” is very popular indeed.

Naturally, I scrolled through the first 20 pages and compiled a list of the things authors have deemed sufficiently praiseworthy as to demand a book-length volume devoted to said praise. I included only the books whose titles followed a specific format: “In Praise of _____.” This excluded, for instance “Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women” (just as well, as I cannot abide Ms. Wurtzel) and similar constructions, of which there were also quite a few.

I’m not going to explain to you why I spent part of my afternoon scrolling through Amazon results to compile this list of Praiseworthy Subjects (though yes, now that you mention it, I WAS avoiding something more pressing, however did you guess?) because surely my hobbies are my own affair. I won’t judge your participation in an Ultimate Frisbee League, and in turn I’d appreciate you reserving comment on the two hours I recently spent with the Wikipedia entry for “List of People Who Were Beheaded.”

So!

A List of Things Authors Have Felt Compelled to Praise in Book Form:

Shadows
Messy Lives
Hangovers
Slowness
Stay-at-Home Moms
Love
Doubt
Reason
Idleness
Spies
Younger Men
Nepotism
Folly
Older Women
Dharmadhatu
Barbarians
Chickens
Athletic Beauty
Hard Industries
Black Women
Krishna
Reading and Fiction
Blandness
The Goddess
Copying
Indecency
The Needlewoman
Tomatoes
Mountain Waters
Prejudice
Commercial Culture
Slow
Imperfection
Jamaica
Plants
The Stepmother
Hiddenness
The Whip
Animals
Christian Origins
Science
The New Knighthood
Oxen
Olympus
Plan B
Women
Empires
The Free Market and Peace
Mother Earth
Nonsense
Speculation
Followers
Pecans
Poverty
Our Teachers
The Crone
Flattery
Antiheroes
Wine
Rumi
The Common
Deadlock
Philosophy
Virtue
The Irish
Nature
Education
The Cognitive Emotions
Plato’s Poetic Imagination
Wild Trout

16

Month-Appropriate Madness.

¶ Satan’s Kernels 2: The Fast and The Furious

The week before last, I took Twyla to the pediatrician for what I was certain was an ear infection. As it happens, you can read all about my reasons for the visit and the visit’s outcome here, in an entry I wrote in 2009 about an identical experience with Simone, because apparently I have learned nothing. Now, as then, the culprit was determined to be NOT the child in question’s ears, but the impending eruption of her first set of molars/Satan’s Kernels. The salient difference between then and now is the age of said child: then, Simone was 17 months/13 months adjusted. Twyla turned nine months old a week ago.

At nine months, she has eight teeth, and now she is growing molars. WHY? What could she possibly need molars for, at this age? She’s like a six year old with an unlimited data plan, or a barista with a corporate lawyer on retainer. They are utterly gratuitous, these molars.

I can’t see them yet, but I can feel their lumpy hideouts, and the pediatrician got a good look in there with her baby flashlight. I can see the drool and hear the screaming, so. If I had any faith at all in those amber teething necklaces I would be draping them around poor Twyla’s nonexistent neck, but I can’t come up with a plausible mechanism by which they would be effective, so we are stuck with ibuprofen and chew toys for now. Unfortunately, that little spin I took through my archives/memory lane suggests that Satan’s Kernels can take months to finally emerge.

It’s a good thing that Twyla is generally absurdly delightful.

(HOW delightful, you ask? Here is a 20 second sample:

You can see why I don’t drown her in the river.)

¶ We call it the Pen-Opticon…

Twyla is fast, and I’m not just talking about the precocious tooth development–she moves quickly, scooting around the room sitting up. You’d think the large head that has effectively made crawling impossible would also prove an impediment to speed while seated, in the manner of the ball portion of a ball and chain, but alas, no. I do not remember this being as much of a problem with Simone, which I attribute to a combination of several factors:

-When Simone was a baby, there was no older child scattering dangerous/compelling detritus hither and yon

-When Simone was a baby, she was less determined to put the whole world, piece by piece, into her mouth

-When Simone was a baby, I had a part time nanny (oh, those halcyon days), giving me some guaranteed work time each week (Incidentally, do you know what irks me? Conversations about mothers who stay home with their children or work from home that include snide “not everyone can AFFORD to do that” remarks, obviously assuming that working full time outside the home is always the most financially feasible option, and anything else is a luxury. I am certain that this is true in some cases, but in many OTHER cases–ahem, MINE–day care costs would make working outside the home LESS profitable than part-time-from-home work.) (Not sure where that came from, but apparently it wanted out.)

My pre-tangent point was that I never felt the need to purchase one of those baby-containing cages/pens for Simone. I managed just fine without one, and when Simone was a baby, I was still semi-committed to keeping our small apartment looking like something other than a daycare center. (I have…more or less given up on this, for the time being.)

However, within the last month it has become obvious that for this new model of baby, some sort of kennel was going to be necessary. I am paid by the hour, and if I spend 45 minutes of every one of my hours replacing Twyla in the center of the room and/or removing various choking hazards from her delighted grasp, it attentuates my possible work schedule dramatically, which in turn cuts into my budget for such household fripperies as food and electricity.
Thus:


(Simone, as you can see, is also a fan of what she refers to as “Twyla’s Pen.”)

Do you remember when Baby Simone came scooting over to ask me to read her a certain book and I got these pictures?
Complicated
I think we need a similar set of Twyla in her Pen, holding a copy of Surveiller et Punir

¶ Less lion/lamb, more albatross

March is usually one of my favorite months. The snow is melting, the sun is shining, the temperature is balmily in the 40s, then 50s. Spring is coming at last, and I am secure in the knowledge that soon I will be able to wear fetching shoes without ruining them in the filthy slush. USUALLY. This March is different. And by different, to be clear, I mean worse. Bad. Undesirable.

Now, look. I take a sort of pride in our cold, inhospitable winters. As a bookish, fearful sort, I have precious few opportunities to display toughness, and my insouciance in the face of frigid temperatures makes me feel hardy. But in exchange for my tolerance–celebration, even–of Minnesota’s harsh winter, I expect said winter to know its place. A little snow in March is fine. Still having snowbanks as tall as my 5-year-old is not. “Chilly” is fine. Windchills well below zero? NOT. In a fit of pique I googled “when will all the snow be gone minnesota” just now, and the news was not encouraging. The ground is so frozen and the snow so deep that much of it is expected to persist well into April. Damn it to HELL. (Where at least it would be WARM.)

¶ The town will not be toddling, as I am leaving my children at home.

Happily, I do have something to look forward to: my very first business trip! I suppose my book tour was a “business trip,” in its way, but this is a BUSINESS business trip with meetings, and I am terribly excited. I don’t talk much about my work here, but I suppose there is no harm in telling you that I am currently working as a freelance speechwriter. I am going to Chicago for two nights next month, and I am going to sleep for hours and hours with no children. If I find so much as ONE child in my bed I am going to call housekeeping and have it removed.

The trip was supposed to be for one night only, but as my first meeting is early in the morning I am staying the night before on my own dime so as not to risk a flight delay (and in order to get as much fun out of the thing as possible). I will have that first evening in the city to eat an uninterrupted meal and sleep an uninterrupted sleep and then in the morning I will take the train/subway (El? I believe it is the El in Chicago?) to the (reportedly lovely) suburb where I will have my meetings and stay my second night, flying out directly after my last meeting the next day. Technically I could take a cab from the city to my meeting/hotel #2, but I sort of adore public transportation, so I am doing that instead, despite my mother’s insistence that my suitcase will make me A Target For Pickpockets.

¶ Business, speaking of

Lastly, I think I got addresses from everyone who requested a copy of my book in the comments of the last post (I couldn’t just pick two of you, because HONESTLY), and I’ll be sending the packages out early next week. I think this is something I’d like to do a bit more of. I don’t have any more copies lying around, but I can certainly BUY some, and I’d like every possible NICU to have a signed (with encouraging note?) copy for parents to borrow, so if you know of a NICU that might like one, send their information along and I will make a list and mail them out as I am able to rustle up the funds. It seems a little presumptuous to more or less press my book into people’s hands and god knows it has many (many! MANY) flaws, but it is something I would have liked to have at the time, so why not.
(I realize that an author buying her own book in order to give it away to others is not really the customary business model, but there you are.)

17

Premature Parenthood.

Today is Parents of Preemies Day.

Five years ago today, Simone was a little over a month old, and I posted a letter I’d written to her for the occasion, about her first failed extubation.
Hand
In the letter, I wrote:

It seems impossible, but someday your breath will be effortless, unnoticed. Someday we’ll both take it for granted.

It was less a prediction, really, than a plea. It was an excruciating time. I remember secretly wondering whether Simone would ever learn to breathe on her own, secretly worrying that, in fact, she would not. (Spoiler! She did.)

I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to say that most days, now, I DO take Simone’s breath for granted. But even five years later, I still have days where I cannot. In almost all respects, my time in the NICU made me a less anxious parent, but Simone’s respiratory system remains the one exception. I may be sanguine about fever, about injuries and assorted childhood hurdles, but when it comes to breathing, I am incapable of reason. Simone had her adenoidectomy a little over a week ago, and in the days leading up to it, I was jittery and unsettled–not because of the surgery itself, but because she would be intubated again, because I worried about her airway and the anaesthesia and how her lung damage–the price she paid for the ventilator that saved her life–would affect it all. When Simone has a virus and her asthma acts up, I lay awake for hours at night listening to her cough. I wonder whether, when she is grown up and living on her own, the sound of her cough over the phone will have the power to make my heart skitter and my stomach swirl. I suspect it might.

I think a lot about other parents who have children in the NICU right now, who are still far from confident they will bring their babies home at all. It is difficult to communicate just how emotionally taxing it is to love and mother a baby that might die–not in the abstract, in the sense that “nothing is certain,” but rather with sickeningly immediacy, as in “within the next few weeks.” I have always maintained that it is excellent conditioning for acceptance of the more pedestrian contingency, the nothing-is-certain that is present for every parent, but it is a grueling, even cruel, way to arrive at that acceptance.

I’m co-hosting a Twitter chat this afternoon (and THERE is something I never thought I’d type) for Parents of Preemies Day. There are Parents of Preemies events in several cities around the country, but parents of current and ex-preemies who are either not in one of these cities or are, like me, averse to leaving the house, can join me to chat from 2-3pm EST. If you register here, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of my book, but you certainly do not need to register to join the conversation (hashtag #parentsofpreemiesday).

The Internet is more or less closed on weekends, so I’d imagine there are only a handful of people reading this. But if you are reading this, and you know someone who has or had a preemie, today might be a nice time to bring them a some coffee and a pastry or two.

I’d also like to give away another two signed copies of my book to current NICU parents, so if you know one, or are one yourself, tell me in the comments. We can all take a minute to send encouraging thoughts to those parents and their babies, and I’ll randomly choose two (parents–most babies cannot read) to receive books on, say, Wednesday.

22

Kristin.

Simone has an imaginary friend. Actually, this is not her first. Her first imaginary friend, Jumping Girl, wasn’t around for long.

(When I inquired as to her whereabouts one day, Simone replied: “Jumping Girl got MARRIED.” So.)

After that, there were no more imaginary friends for a while, until Kristin showed up. He (yes) seems to have staying power. Kristin is a constant presence, now. And as you’d expect, I’ve learned quite a bit about him.

Kristin:

Has 100 teeth

Is stronger than Simone

Has more bones than Simone

And do you know what KIND OF BONES Kristin is made of? Dog bones.

Kristin is NOT a dog. Kristin is a person.

Kristin is 67 years old.

He doesn’t have a car yet. He will have a car when he is 100 years old.

He loves to play in the leaves when it is fall.

While Simone can’t play in WET leaves, Kristin can, because he is older.

He can jump as high as a giant (Ed.: Whether this means as high as a giant can jump or as high as a giant is tall remains unclear)

Kristin came from a farm when he was a baby, a long time ago.

His birthday is Valentine’s Day.

Funny Face

Is a 67-year-old man with extra bones the imaginary companion I would choose for my daughter? Perhaps not. But Simone seems to expect us to include Kristin in our daily lives. At this very moment, she is setting a placemat for him at the table.

However. I recently left Simone to spend the night at my mother’s, and as I was departing she sent Kristin home with me, so that I wouldn’t be lonely without her. Besides, I was carrying two bags and Twyla, and he’d be an extra set of hands. “He can carry a bag for you,” Simone said, pointing.

When I spoke to her on the phone before bedtime, she asked after Kristin, and I assured her that we’d both made it home safely.

“He was a BIG help,” I enthused, “Kristin carried that bag for me all the way up the stairs!”

For a moment, there is silence at the other end of the phone. Then, slowly:

“Mom? Kristin isn’t real.”

“Oh.”

“Kristin is pretend.”

And yet: here she comes, asking for another napkin and a set of silverware.

17

Only In Dreams.

¶ Still Ill

The day after I posted about how sick we all were, I wrote this:

UPDATES

Simone: Better
Twyla: Worse
Me: Worse
Scott: Unchanged/Unafflicted

PREDICTIONS

Simone: Will be fully recovered in time for birthday, but will retain alarming-sounding cough, as is her wont, so that parents of her party guests might judge/seethe at me.

Twyla: Will be too ill for party and have to be left with my mother for the duration OR will be on the mend and able to ride out party in sling as planned, but still sufficiently snot-nosed as to incite judgement/seething (see above).

Me: Illness will reach its peak on Friday, Simone’s actual birthday, and the day on which I have promised to make her a cake with “Diego and flowers” on it, leading to my spending the afternoon half delirious, weeping, and covered in confectioner’s sugar.

Scott: Will remain unscathed until Sunday, then will fall dramatically ill just when the time has come to try to put our lives back in order, ensuring that illness will continue to impact our household for as long as possible.

Then someone started crying and I didn’t get a chance to post it, which is a shame, as it would have been novel to have evidence of my predictions being TOO dire. I was sickest Friday but not terribly, Scott did feel unwell Sunday but recovered quickly, and even Simone’s cough was better than expected. And by time of the party, Twyla was indeed on the mend.

Alas, what I did not predict was that before being “on the mend” Twyla would get much, much sicker, necessitating a trip to the ER after an innocent call to a triage nurse ended with her brusquely instructing me to dial 911. (I did not dial 911. We live down the street from the hospital, it was faster to scoop and run, and anyway it turned out she was being a bit alarmist as dictated by her triage computer instructions.)

The consensus reached by the ER doctor and Twyla’s pediatrician was that she had RSV, and after seeing how sick she was, as a perfectly healthy term baby—not to mention how sick my big, FIVE-YEAR-OLD former preemie had been all week—I am full of renewed gratitude for the quarantine and Synagis shots and plain old luck that kept Simone from getting RSV that first winter home. At the time, Simone’s doctors made it very clear to me how serious it would be, that it would mean hospitalization, probably vent time, and, you know, could kill her. I believed it. But…well. I felt very, very fortunate all over again.

Happily, this

Was soon returned to this

And all was well.

So naturally, on Monday Simone started feeling feverish, and by evening her nose was running.

¶ Love, Reality, Twyla

Twyla bites. Me. She bites me with her four strong, hungry baby teeth (and there are more on the way) and I have an ugly bruise on my arm as I type this. She doesn’t mean anything by it, she just likes to chew on things, and I am so frequently within reach that it would take tremendous willpower to resist. Babies do not have tremendous willpower.

Short of coating myself with something bitter tasting, I am not sure there is much to be done about this, but I felt the need to complain about it to someone sympathetic. I will say it makes my frequent pangs over the fact that nursing ended so much sooner than I’d hoped somewhat LESS frequent, so that is something.

¶ I Have a Dream

While cleaning out Simone’s preschool binder, I ran across one of the “Weekly Update” letters from last month—one that I’d missed, obviously, because I am certain that I’d have remembered it otherwise. Here is an excerpt:

“We had wonderful group time discussions on how important Martin Luther King is to all of us. We asked the class to draw and tell us about their dreams for the world and what they would like to see.”

And a photo, so you can see Simone’s vision for a better tomorrow:

Simone Has A Dream

I was so touched. I was also pleased to see that poor Summer got a mention, and I think “Colors, Beanstalks, Me, and a Deer” deserves extra points for originality.

My mother and I found the whole thing an endless source of mirth. And it was pleasant, when out for dinner with her on Saturday, to feel I was fulfilling my daughter’s dream for the world.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Mother said, no doubt remembering the world of her own youth, when a Mommy going out for supper was still illegal in many parts of the country.

“To dreams!” said I, and we raised our wineglasses and cackled.

(It is awfully nice to have her home.)

20

Winter Without End.

January is over! Thanks be to god.

However.

The other night, Simone was sick, with that alarming scalding hot fever skin that children get making you certain death is imminent, despite the thermometer’s insistence that their temperature still hovers around 102, and she draped herself over me in bed, where I was holding Twyla with my other arm, and there was sleep moaning (Simone) and sleep wiggling (Twyla) and lots of sticky, airless heat-generating (Everyone), and then Simone was awake and crying and Twyla was awake and making baby sounds at me, and this was about the thirteenth time this had happened, so I asked Scott to check the clock while he was out in the kitchen fetching a bottle, thinking surely, SURELY, this sleepless hell night must be nearly finished, and LO! It was 1:30.

Naturally I broke things and stomped my feet and threw a tantrum, because my GOD, these children! Everywhere, children! Hot and damp and ON ME!

Alas the tantrum only happened in my head, because, well.

Instead, I handed Twyla to Scott and got up to measure out more ibuprofen and returned to rub Simone’s hair and say soothing things, and then I took the baby back, (because only I will do as far as Twyla is concerned), and patted her while making shhh-ing sounds, like the sea, and Simone coughed wetly into my eye, and all was as it was, is, and ever shall be.

As dreary as it is to read about other people being ill, I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got at the moment. Simone was scheduled to have her adenoids out last week, but instead she got sick, and was in fact SO sick, for a while, that I was wringing my hands and having visions of Lavinia Swire. Then she was at last improving, but yesterday slid downhill again in the afternoon, and so while she seems dramatically better today, I am regarding her progress with a jaundiced eye.

Twyla has come down with whatever it is, and is miserable and bewildered as only a sick baby can be. I’ve got it as well, though my case is still in the very early stages and so I am trying to stave it off with extra liquids, denial, and sloth.

Simone’s fifth birthday is Friday, with her party on Saturday, so it is a fun exercise to speculate about which of us will be ill, then. Will Simone be fully recovered? Will Twyla? Will I have fully succumbed, prophylactic sloth notwithstanding? Will Scott be felled as well? Many possible combinations to consider, which is exciting.

(So pathetic!)

20

Meaty.

¶ I felt like a Fairytale Witch

The other day I was making this little beef tenderloin roast that Simone adores beyond reason, and I am trying to lose weight, so I was calculating portion sizes. I was squinting at the package, figuring out how many ounces were in the roast based upon its weight in pounds, and all of a sudden I realized it was EXACTLY one pound, ten and three-quarters ounces, and if that number sounds familiar it is because HEY! I was hefting newborn Simone, nicely seasoned with salt and pepper.
It was rather an unsettling train of thought seeing as I was about to surround the thing with onions and put in the oven.
(It was delicious.)

¶ Speaking of…

The losing-weight thing is a pain in the ass, honestly. I lose weight very, very slowly, and my thyroid fights me bitterly for every ounce. But I am sticking with it, and doing it sensibly and sustainably, and feeling much more committed than I ever have before. I think this is because I came out of my pregnancy 20 pounds lighter than I went into it, putting me only about 20 pounds away from my goal weight. Losing 20 pounds sounds doable. And the difference in how I feel at this weight versus 20 pounds heavier is dramatic, like a free preview of what my reward will be when I’m finished. Besides, it seems like it would be a shame to waste all the progress I unwittingly made while gestating Twyla. Theoretically, I could just have one more baby and voila! Goal weight! It’s as simple as nine months of intractable nausea and vomiting!

The second day was the hardest, and that evening I found myself running up and down the hallway of my railroad-style apartment, trying vainly to get my Fitbit to register enough activity to net me, say, a bowl of potato chips. I had no sports bra, and thus was forced to clutch my bosom to keep things from bouncing. I can’t imagine what the people below us thought I was doing, but am gratefully certain they could not guess the reality. The reality being, to reiterate: running up and down my hallway–up and down, back and forth–holding my breasts. For potato chips. There are surely many sins of which I am guilty (gluttony springs to mind), but pride does not seem to be one of them.

¶ I was going to put ONE baby picture in here, but I got carried away.

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14

A Letter to Simone on Her Fourth Birthday. Eleven Months Late.

{In the course of my annual January bustle—cleaning, list-making, etc.—I found a file on my laptop’s cluttered desktop containing a letter I wrote to Simone for her fourth birthday, meant to be posted here. It never was posted here because, if I recall correctly, I wanted to post pictures along with it, but I never seemed to find the time to decide which ones and get them all uploaded and whatnot. It wasn’t terribly timely at the time (Simone’s birthday is February 8th, and I think the letter was written piecemeal and only finished at the end of March or beginning of April) and it is certainly not timely NOW, when Simone’s FIFTH birthday is a scant four weeks away, but I wanted to post it anyway because this is where I put these things so that I don’t lose them.}

Dear Simone,

Not long ago, you turned four years old. Honestly, I have a hard time believing that this is true. You are my baby, and babies are not FOUR—that’s just common sense. The other day, you were singing a song you like, about sea creatures (“Humongous Whale,” to be specific) and I remembered our primarily marine-themed anthem, “Oh I Wish I Were a Little ‘Lectric Eel.” It has been years now since we’ve sung that particular song, but it feels as though it’s been about six months. It seems as though there was a gap somewhere, like you went from being nine-months old to FOUR, skipping the ages in the middle, but I know that isn’t so. I even went back to the beginning of our photographs of you, scrolling up through the ages, waiting to find this gap, this something that would explain the strange acceleration of time in uneven glops, but there was nothing, just a steady progression as my baby thinned and stretched upward and grew (some) hair on her way to kidhood.

I admit, you are especially delightful at four. You make up elaborate imaginary scenarios, you sing songs. You have a particular love of HELP!-era Beatles. Your favorite song in the whole world is “Ticket to Ride,” which you sing even without accompaniment, belting with particular gusto the phrased “SHE DON’T CARE!”

You are a long, skinny 30 pounds. You are rarely without your beloved Baby Thomas/Baby Muno (his/her name changes frequently), to whom you minister with great care. You took Baby to the park last week, and flung him/her lovingly down the slides and demanded he/she be pushed in a swing.

You are affectionate and imaginative and thoughtful, and you laugh easily and often.

We had a birthday party for you this year for the first time. Last year was your first year not in quarantine during your birthday season, and you spent the whole winter sick with one thing or another. This year you are unquarantined and have had only the commonest colds, and it seemed as though it was time to celebrate. We invited your fellow Billy Goats from preschool—Austin and Anna and Hailey and Maddie and all the names you rattle off to me as a reminder that your world is getting bigger and reaching further and further beyond your father and me. The party was held at The Children’s Museum and was a great success; there was a visit from a live turtle, an art project, and cake, and as things were breaking up you and your guests suddenly began to run in a happy, loping circle around the room, as people so often do at the end of fine soirees.

I am mindful of the fact that now that you are older, we are very much On The Record. I have many memories of being three, but four is especially clear to me. It can be nerve-wracking to know that your wee brain is storing things away for later perusal, but it is also lovely to be able to reminisce together about our first real family vacation this past summer. We are returning to the same spot in Duluth this year, and I hope you will have years of happy Lake Superior memories, just as I do. I am glad, too, that you had one year when it was just the three of us at the lake, and maybe the reason this particular birthday of yours has me so wistful is because it was your last as an only child. I am terribly excited for your sister’s arrival this summer, but I worry about how our relationship will change once she comes. I am so besotted that sometimes I stare at you while you sleep, feeling almost ill with love. This sounds creepy, I know, but then you did use my phone to videotape me taking a nap recently, so we’re probably even.

Happily, you are excited for our new arrival as well, and keep pressing me to commit to a date. (You seem attached to “June Four,” your Nani’s birthday, but I tell you that this is about a week earlier than I’d like. “June Six? June Seven?” you suggest agreeably). What’s more, you have at last accepted that your sister’s first name is not “Baby.” For a long while she was “Baby Twyla,” and if we referred to her without the modifier you frowned and corrected us, no doubt wondering just how ready we were for another child if we couldn’t even remember its name. Now she is just “Twyla,” and you pat at my belly, calling out to her, and when you receive an answering kick you laugh, informing me that “she feels like a fish.” Coincidentally, you are expecting your own baby, Baby Carrot, who resides in your leg. This might sound odd to some, but really, looked at from your perspective, is one body part a stranger place than any other in which to harbor another human? And so I inject my stomach with bloodthinners and you apply your large plastic syringe to your leg, administering medicine to Baby Carrot. You invite me to put a hand on your leg, to feel her kick. You don’t seem to mind my much-expanded midsection—or, as you refer to it, “BIIIG belly!!”—though I regret that it has made it near impossible for you to sit on my lap. In a recent discussion about mammals, you informed me that while you and the cats are small mammals, I am in fact a LARGE mammal, “like a whale.” So. Thank you for that.

I’ve been trying to squeeze in as much Mama & Simone time as possible before the baby’s arrival, and a few weeks ago we spent a particularly enchanting day together. We went to lunch and then The Children’s Museum again, where you played in the same exhibit that was my favorite as a child. This exhibit is constructed like a small town, with a store, restaurant, clinic, post office, etc., allowing children to perform tasks that they haven’t yet found to be tedious—things like grocery shopping or mopping the floor.

After, we went to the bookstore and then out for ice cream—the lone customers in the ice cream shop on a day on which, after all, there was still ice on the ground. Ice cream has assumed a large importance for the two of us, and constitutes what has become one of my favorite portions of our nightly routine. When the day is over, I scoop out two bowls of Haagen Daaz (lately chocolate chocolate chip) and carry them down the hall while you skip ahead of me and into bed. We settle in under the covers and against our pillows and eat, MMM!-ing and AHHH!-ing and smacking our lips. Later, after the lights are out, we face each other in the dark to cuddle and talk. Every night, you want to have the same conversation: “What babies can do a lot?” you ask, and I tell you that they sleep, and drink milk, and wave their arms and legs about. You want to talk about Twyla, specifically about what we’ll do with her, come June. Mostly you look forward to pushing her on the swing, though I have tried to warn you that this is a ways off. We enumerate the things babies can and cannot do, and then we are quiet until you think of a new question: “Do babies have feet?” you asked last week.

A few days ago I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and so our nightly ice cream socials are likely over. Next month you’ll move into your new bed, and bedtime will change even more drastically. We never set out to be co-sleepers, and weren’t until you were well over a year old and suddenly stopped sleeping any other way—it was so pleasant, having you there with us, that the practice stuck. Sometimes I would feel vaguely guilty about letting you sleep with us, but it seemed silly to insist you sleep elsewhere when anyway, as I reminded myself, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be too big for such things—it all goes so fast! And I’ve proven myself right: now that you are less baby, more long-limbed person, and especially keen on picking out your very own bed (from “I-Kee”), it is time to move on, and it has gone fast.

The weather has been shockingly, unseasonably warm, in the 60s and 70s, and a few Sundays ago your father and I took you out for brunch and then to the park for our first visit of the season. It was glorious, and we watched you running, and practicing pushing an imaginary Baby Twyla in an empty swing. We reminded each other aloud that there was a time, not long ago, when you refused to walk on sand, when you let yourself hang limply in swings or flopped down a slide without engaging your muscles. I would see you next to other children and notice how different you seemed, how much more cautious and inept, like a visitor from another planet. That’s all gone now. Now you are chatty and fleet-footed and adventurous—far more adventurous than I ever was, as evidenced by the fact that on a recent amusement park trip you threw your head back and laughed and whooped on a ride that even now I refuse to get on, instead perching on a bench and waving at you where you sit next to your father. Admittedly it is a ride geared for toddlers, but I am impressed all the same by your derring-do.

The sun was so bright on that Sunday, and our little family felt so content—one girl singing outside, another one kicking me from in—and I realized that I was happier that I could remember being since the summer we brought you home from the NICU. I don’t write these letters to you regularly, and in fact the last one I wrote was during that time, to commemorate your turning four months old. I looked back at it, to see what I’d said, and the last line was this:

“Every minute I spend with you is a good one, and there will never be enough of them.”

Still so true, my little goose.
Love,
Mama

12

Did She Attempt the Pamchenko?

{Yes, my site was down AGAIN Monday night. The good news is that it is back up, and after being moved to a whole new server last night, should remain that way. Forever and ever Amen.}

Over the holidays, one of Simone’s teachers broke her leg while ice skating. At least, I assume that was the extent of her injuries. It is hard to be certain, as Simone’s version of events is slightly different.

Here, let’s ask her about it:

Well! You can imagine how upsetting that must have been for Summer.

(Her LEG BONE!)
(I particularly enjoyed the little movement made to indicate ice skating.)

Yes, to my considerable consternation, the very first thing Simone told me after returning from her first day back at school was that Summer hadn’t been there because, and I quote: “Her leg broke off. It just got OFF, while she was skating.” Slightly different phrasing from that in the video, but you can see that the message has remained consistent.

I tried to convince her that while Summer may indeed have broken her leg, it was very unlikely that she had broken it off, but Simone became exasperated at my naïveté, and so I let it drop.

24

What To Expect When You Wear Your Baby to Paintball (Now with Absurd Coda).

I was flitting about the Internet, trying to find out whether I might be wearing my Ergo improperly (I have never been quite clear on where, precisely, it should buckle about your midsection), and I found a site all about babywearing. Now, I love wearing baby. And my baby loves being wore! Why, just last weekend, I was able to enjoy an afternoon at the museum, with only minimal shrieking, thanks to the soft carrier holding Twyla snugly against my person.

Still, I have never tried to climb a tree while infant-bearing, nor to stoke a fire or play a game of touch football (to be fair, I haven’t done the latter even without a baby attached). I’d have thought the imprudence of these endeavors was self-evident, but according to the page devoted to babywearing safety, perhaps I am overly optimistic.

“Never jog, run, jump on a trampoline, or do any other activity that subjects your baby to similar shaking or bouncing motion. ‘This motion can do damage to the baby’s neck, spine and/or brain,’ explains the American Chiropractic Association.”

“If you shouldn’t do it while pregnant because of an enhanced risk of falls, you shouldn’t do it while carrying a baby. For example, your risk of falling increases when you climb a ladder, ride a horse, ride a bicycle, or go skating. Your risk of falling also increases on slippery surfaces like the ones you encounter when you go bowling, sailing, or spelunking. When a baby is in his mother’s womb, he has built-in protection, but a baby in arms or in a carrier does not have that protection.”

“If you should wear protective gear while doing an activity, you shouldn’t do it while carrying a baby. Baby carriers do not provide hearing protection, eye protection, protection from projectiles such as rocks flung from a lawn mower, protection from fumes or dust such as occur during lawn mowing and some household cleaning tasks, or protection from falls.”

Okay, so…Okay.
So far, we have: Jumping on a Trampoline, Horseback Riding, Ladder-Climbing, Bicycling, Ice-Skating, Bowling, Sailing, Spelunking, and Lawn-Mowing. According to the experts, none of these are suitable activities for a person wearing a helpless infant strapped to his/her chest. I hope you are all taking notes.

And because you can never be too careful, I propose we add the following to the list of Non-Recommended Activities:

1. Lion Taming
2. Rugby
3. Snorkeling
4. Acting as ‘Lovely Assistant’ to Amateur Knife-Thrower
5. Diving, Cliff
6. Diving, Conventional
7. Trapeze
8. Big Game Hunting
9. Bullfighting
10. Beekeeping
11. Stilt-Walking
12. Wrestling
13. Undergoing Whole-Body Seaweed Wrap
14. Pole-Vaulting
15. Re-enacting “William Tell” with Friend Who Has Recently Taken Up Archery
16. Surfing
17. Skiing, Water
18. Skiing, Downhill
19. Zumba
20. Luge

Be safe out there!
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ABSURD CODA:

When I first posted this on Wednesday night, the picture above did not have a Modesty Rectangle. In my defense, when I looked at it on my phone I didn’t much notice my HEAVING BOSOM in the lower portion of the frame, a fact which seems a impossible to me now. I blame the wee size of phone pictures and also Baby Goggles (i.e. “Look at my nice baby! I wouldn’t notice if this picture also included a nude stranger/spectral image/ROUS, so fixated am I on said nice, nice baby”).

But a friend (TJ) made a comment, and I investigated, by which I mean I pulled up my site on my computer, gasped, and made a strangled sound that was half horror, half amusement. Okay, 70% horror, 30% amusement. Scott was passing by and I turned the computer to him. “This is bad, right?” I asked, just in case I was overreacting. He didn’t answer me, as was laughing too hard.

I made a very hasty Modesty Rectangle and reuploaded the picture. Alas, as soon as I pressed ‘PUBLISH,’ my site crashed. I knew I hadn’t done anything code-wise that would cause such a thing to happen, and so for a little while, I was legitimately concerned that I had been shut down because of the photo.
“Maybe I got flagged as porn?” I fretted to Scott, retreating to the kitchen for some restorative potato chips.

Scott helpfully reminded me that the Internet is not exactly known as a Boob-Free Space.

“Have you SEEN the Internet? You could put porn on your blog. Not that I am suggesting you should, but you could, and nothing would happen.
“No, I don’t think its allowed! By my host or whatever. I’m not, you know, zoned for porn.”

(FLOTSAM: NOT ZONED FOR PORN!)

Anyhow, it turned out there was a server problem unrelated to my cleavage, so all that sturm und drang for nothing. Except that my site was down for hours, up briefly, and then down for another day, and apparently my pre-Modesty-Rectangle boobs are still out there in people’s RSS feeds. So that is fun for me.

8

Holiday Leftovers.

Here are two of the more successful activities of our holiday season, in case you would like to add them to your own repertoire (things I was going to put in my last post until my phone kept crashing whenever I tried to upload a picture, threatening to eat up all my allotted typing time with technical tooth-gnashing):

1. Salt dough ornaments

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Recipe—I think we used one cup of salt to two cups of flour, and then added water until the dough seemed about right.

(Incidentally, this inability either to follow or give helpful instructions is one of the many reasons I will never be a craft/food blogger).

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We rolled the dough out, cut it with cookie cutters, then used a straw to make holes for string to hang the ornaments. Then we slapped them on a cookie sheet and baked at 200 degrees for two hours (while I took Simone to her first play date, where she suddenly came over all clingy and refused to let me leave).

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After they’d cooled we painted them with acrylic paint. We did all over painting first (green for the Christmas trees, brown gingerbread people, etc.) and then let that paint dry before decorating.

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The decorating started out freeform, with no direction, and then I let Simone copy my step-by-step process to paint a snowman, and I think that small bit of structure resulted in my favorite ornaments. Still Simone-y but also recognizable.

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(Though I was also VERY fond of the ornament she made for my mother. Simone had very strong ideas of what to make for each gift recipient, and it was “A BLACK BELL FOR NAN!”)

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(Hear it toll!)

I mostly made goats.
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2. How to host a holiday party that will become a beloved annual tradition

Every year, my mother throws a party called CHRISTMAS EVE IN THE DRUNK TANK, the main event of which, as you have probably gleaned, is a fairly raucous sing-a-long to the Pogues song Fairytale of New York. It is always a highlight of the season, for me. And it can be for you, too! You will need:

Food
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Drink
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People
(NOT PICTURED)

A recording of The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York

Lyric Sheets (only necessary at first, but nice to have as a crutch against drunkenness even in later years)
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If you have enough people, it is nice to have the men do the man’s part and the women the woman’s.

A marvelous time virtually guaranteed to be had by all, so long as you remember not to start the singing until everyone has been sufficiently macerated in their beverage of choice. Oh, and speaking of singing: don’t worry when things inevitably fall apart during the fast(er) section. Everyone will catch up and be back in fine form indeed by the time the verse rolls around to “The Boys of The NYPD Choir, etc.” We are really quite impressive at that bit.

19

Happily, There is As Yet No War on Chambliss.

1. Data

(I know how boring it is to read posts about posting, and that what and whether I write here doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this cockamamie world, etc., but my quest to write more here is about more than writing more, here, and it is important to me, so I am keeping track of my progress. Think of this as about writing in general rather than blogging specifically, if that helps make it less annoying. If not, sorry! Baby picture at end!)

Obviously, I have not managed to post every weekday. A few times I had legitimate excuses, a few times I was lazy, but most often the difficulty arose when I was not willing to type-type-type-POST sans editing. Oh, I would say, I don’t have time to do a good job tonight, so better to do nothing at all. This is an attitude–worse, a behavior–that seeps into every arena of my life and has been ruinously destructive, hence this little project of mine. A good job! OF WRITING ON MY WEBLOG. What’s worse is that you are probably thinking it is only the public nature of this Website that presents a stumbling block, but no! I was SIXTEEN the first time I tried to institute a No Editing rule for my journal. A journal that I had no intention of showing anyone, ever, for any purpose. And yet, I remember having to get up in the middle of the night to tear out the one unedited page I had managed, because it was bothering me so much I couldn’t sleep. So, this is not the minor leagues of perfectionism, friends. I am in The Show. I am the Mickey Goddamn Mantle of this particular brand of self-sabotage.

Of course, I am always shocked when I am unable to shuck off years of habit with an impromptu flurry of effort, but rather than come over all self-flagellating about the days I’ve missed in my little posting initiative I made a chart:


See? More yellow than red! So I shall keep at it.

2. The Most Wonderful Time (If Not Day) of The Year

It was a uniquely eventful (or uneventful, depending upon how you look at it) holiday, here. A week or so ago, Swistle asked when (for those who celebrate same) it begins to feel like Christmas. For me, there are two answers: it begins to feel like the Christmas SEASON when the tree is up and decorated. And it begins to feel like ACTUAL Christmas on Christmas Eve Morn (I do not know how I came to type the word “Morn” just now, go with it). Specifically, at 9am, when I hear the beginning of the live broadcast of “Nine Lessons and Carols” from Kings College, Cambridge. More specifically, Once in Royal David’s City—most specifically, the bit where the conductor points to one of the young choristers (they do not know which it will be ahead of time!) and he begins the song in solo, nervous, voice sometimes quavery but always lovely and clear, the cathedral silent except for some program-rustling. I don’t listen to the whole broadcast, but that first song is a Christmas tradition. I sit still and quiet, and my eyes swim. It is beautiful, though the last two years they have changed the arrangement some and my favorite part, when the choir voices come back in soaring in a sort of sweeping, stirring way high over those of the congregation, is gone. Strange choice though it may be for an atheist, Once in Royal David City is my very favorite Christmas carol.

Anyhow, this is when Christmas begins for me. We are a Christmas Eve family, so later that day is when we gather for dinner, and then we carry on opening packages in a smaller group late into the night. The next morning there is breakfast and we rummage in our stockings and eventually head off to a party elsewhere, but the MEAT of Christmas happens on Christmas Eve.

This year, on Christmas Eve Morn, I had big plans. I had chocolate croissants in the oven. I’d made bacon. My laptop was tuned to the classical station for the start of the King’s College broadcast…and then half my vision up and disappeared. This is a thing that happens to me, now. It began during my pregnancy with Twyla, and while it is alarming to be suddenly unable to see much of anything on the right half of the world, these particular auras were only rarely followed by the actual headache part of a migraine, so as long as I was at home where there was no need for navigation, etc., I figured I was in for nothing more than a few hours’ annoyance. We’d finish breakfast, scrap the scheduled cookie making, and once I’d recovered we would bathe the girls and plop them into their Christmas dresses and be on our merry way! Fa la la la la, la la la la!

This time, alas, the aura WAS followed by the headache part of the migraine, a crushing, horrible headache the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in about a decade, complete with immobilizing nausea and panic. I spent all day Christmas Eve in bed, clutching frozen vegetables to my head, ill and weeping. The worst had passed by late afternoon, but I was left entirely drained and hollowed-out feeling, too weak to do much of anything, and Christmas Eve was, for us, effectively canceled. We made plans to go over to my mother’s the next morning for stockings and Christmas, Take Two, and we let Simone open her presents from us, and that was that.

I was awfully disappointed. I had been picturing it all for so long, and talking through the schedule with Simone, and looking forward to the familiar Christmas moments, and the first-Christmas-all-together-as-a-family-of-four moments, and I felt like it was small of me to be disappointed, but I was. I felt like the lesson I was supposed to learn from this was something about how Christmas lives in the heart, but really what I learned is to make sure you enjoy the preparations for/lead-up to Christmas, because the day itself may or may not actually materialize.

Luckily, I did enjoy the run up to the day itself, very much.

[Here is where I was going to talk about some of the things we did over the course of the holiday season, but I am having technical issues with my pretty pictures, so HOLD THAT THOUGHT! PROBABLY UNTIL MONDAY!]

3. And to All a Good Night

As an Internet Writer and civics nerd, one of the highlights of this past month was a comment I received a few entries ago:

“Schmutzli reminds me to wish you a very Saxby Chambliss! I read that original Saxby Chambliss post as a young Congressional aide, and I still laugh out loud at the thought of it. I think knowing who Sen. Chambliss is only makes the joke funnier.”

Putting aside for a moment the SHEER GLEE it gives me to know that a REAL LIVE CONGRESSIONAL AIDE (named Betsy!) read my Website, this comment brings up an important point: I never did wish YOU a Saxby Chambliss this year. Luckily, as an all-purpose, non-denominational holiday greeting, Saxby Chambliss hasn’t yet expired, and there is still time.

I am so grateful to all of you for your kindness and friendship. Thank you for showing up, even after my many months away. I feel lucky to have this space to come back to.

A very, very Saxby Chambliss, from mine to yours.

Untitled

14

“Common Sense, Dancing” Would be an Excellent Title for Something.

1. Insert rippling calendar pages here.

Twyla turned six months old last Thursday. A week ago. Still not ready to discuss it. Verklempt.


(Look! Where did that wee baby go?)

 

(This fat baby ATE HER.)

2. Your Only Friend is the Eel.

Twyla’s six month Well Baby Check (that title always seems either presumptuous or threatening, I can’t tell which) was yesterday. The child has a giant head. It doesn’t look alarming in pictures, with only the two dimensions, but in real life, it invites comment. When my mother is talking to someone about her newest granddaughter, I inevitably hear “Oh, and her head is just HUGE” within the first minute or so, along with a remark about Twyla’s other notable feature, the odd Muppet-yell/dinosaur noises she makes that are constantly alarming my mother when we talk on the phone, because it sounds very Wild Kingdom in the background over here. (Just this morning we were discussing Twyla’s head—for reasons that will become clear in a moment—and I mentioned that, well, MY head was very big as a baby, and my mother interrupted me with “No. Not like that. I have never seen such a big head on any baby, EVER.”) Twyla’s head has always been in the higher percentiles–at four months I think it was in the 80-somethingth, and this time, at six months, it was up in the high 90ths (I am too tired to go find the little sheet of baby statistics they gave me. I know she weighs 15 pounds, has big head). The doctor wasn’t worried per se, but said if things were continuing to trend upward at nine months she might be, and at that point the next step would be a brain ultrasound, only brain ultrasounds are easiest earlier, when the fontanelle is still big, like a creepy flesh-window into the skull, so it might be best to do it now. Twyla’s big-headedness has rather slowed her roll, so to speak–she was late with several milestones, not only rolling but pushing up on her arms and all the things you would expect to be difficult if you were essentially attempting to maneuver a billiard ball atop a gherkin. This kind of milestone lag is very common in the big-headed, and not worrisome in and of itself, and her pediatrician was of the opinion that (given the fact that Scott is unable to buy a hat big enough to fit him and that as a baby my own head did indeed look like that of a enormous-brained comic book villain) it was likely a case of genetic cephalomegaly, otherwise known as inherited big-headedness. Alas, we were unable to confirm this by looking at Simone’s records as her preemie status complicates everything (though there is that song Scott used to sing to her), and better safe than hydrocephalic, so to radiology we went.

And it turns out there is indeed some extra fluid in Twyla’s head. Luckily it is “benign extra axial fluid of infancy,” which is not associated with developmental problems in the absence of other risk factors, and doesn’t press upsettingly on vital brain bits or anything. Probably Twyla just likes making cerebral spinal fluid and is storing up extra in case there should be a shortage. She sprouted two teeth at four months, an age when no baby yet has any need for teeth, so I think she just likes to stockpile things.

Anyhow, now both of my girls have had head ultrasounds as babies, so Twyla can never pout that I didn’t shower her with sound waves like I did her sister.

3. Quotation

I opened up a document the other day and it had nothing in it but a quote I had copied down from somewhere, sometime. I have no memory of this at all, but I love this quote so much I want it embroidered on a pillow or something:

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.

–William James

17

Jumbled.

I wrote this last night and didn’t post it. It seems impossible to write about the events in Newtown without offending someone, whether through misunderstanding or otherwise, and I hate offending people. And if it seems impossible in general, it is certainly impossible in the specific instance of an unedited, stream-of-consciousness-type Internet meandering. However I am trying to worry less about being liked (and succeeding, which is a whole other topic for another day), and if this isn’t the place to write about what is preoccupying my thoughts, I don’t know what is.

******

I have nothing new or useful to say about what happened in Connecticut last Friday, but I also can’t say nothing about it at all (SURE YOU CAN, I hear you remarking, wit that you are).
I have never reacted so strongly to a tragedy that was not, after all, not really, my own. After hearing the news I had a full-scale panic attack, and was largely unable to cope for some time as a result—having, in my infinite wisdom, allowed my anti-anxiety prescription to lapse sometime over the summer. I cried, I clutched at my throat with clammy, shaking hands, I was physically sick to my stomach. And I was rather disgusted with myself over the whole episode, because it felt a trifle self-indulgent, falling so thoroughly to useless pieces over someone else’s horror, so undone by it that I banned myself, for a while (on doctor’s orders!) from reading the coverage—how nice that you have that luxury, said a dry voice from somewhere between my ears.

This voice had a field day all weekend, remarking upon the toothlessness of my fury and the self-centered way in which the tragedies that affect us most viscerally are the ones in which we can most easily imagine ourselves starring. It is understandable that I find the mass murder of first-graders (my god, how is that a phrase that exists?) even more upsetting now than I would have before I became a parent, but the fact that I am the parent of similarly aged children doesn’t make it any more horrible that those 20 children in Newtown died. Why does it feel so much worse?
Maybe it is only because I am better able to imagine and feel empathy for the pain of those parents. Simone will be five in just over a month; I understand what a six-year-old is like, in an immediate way that makes it easier to construct a picture of what those children must have been like, what their families’ daily realities were made of. I can see the shape of that horrible absence more clearly than I might have been able to a decade ago, can more clearly imagine the behavior and reactions and reality of a six or seven year old during that awful morning.
Maybe, though, the fact that it feels worse suggests that my reaction is not as pure and compassionate and other-directed as I’d like to think. Maybe some of my tears were for our family, not theirs. Because isn’t there some small part of the reaction we have as parents, that gut-felt horror, that says it could have been us, and weeps for that possibility? Isn’t that part of the ease of imagining yourself in the shoes of the grieving—imagining yourselves in the shoes of the grieving?
Then there is the…well, let’s call it The Hug-Your-Kids Corollary, the thoughts that pop up about how From Now On, I Will Be More Present, and I Must Never Forget How Lucky I Am For Every Moment, and so on and so forth. There is something undeniably queasy-making about the moment that reduced one person’s life to smoking rubble being another person’s catalyst for self-reflection. At the same time, it is human and natural that an event like this would make us reevaluate and reaffirm, would make us feel grateful for what we have, even if there is an inevitable, uncomfortable undercurrent of thankful-it-wasn’t-us-ness to that gratitude. We DO hug our children a bit tighter after a reminder of the parents who never will again, how could we not? But still, it pricks at me. Are we honoring the lives of the children who died, are we remembering them, or are we making it about us? Could it be any other way? I find it revolting when the people talking about gratitude are doing so at a profit (“In Wake of Tragedy We Deplore, 10 Ways to Live More Mindfully,” via paid-per-click slideshow), but even the justification for that revulsion seems slippery when examined more closely, the line between what is exploiting a tragedy and what is journalism less clear than I would like. What do I want them to cover instead? Not talking about it feels wrong. Talking about it feels wrong, too.

It bothers me, and bothered me, all of this, and then it bothered me that I was self-centered enough to spend time examining my own reaction for self-centeredness when I could have been using that time to write to my elected representatives about gun control, or doing something else (what?) with a veneer of the productive. Historically, I have spent far too much time feeling bad about things, and not nearly enough time taking meaningful action. Feeling bad helps no one and solves nothing, and while sometimes there is nothing we can do to make a thing better, more often, I suspect, there is. It may not be—almost certainly is not—enough, but it has to be more useful than one’s own private woe. Thoughts are not magic. Even sending a card is at least a tangible action. So is lobbying for change, or donating time or money. Weeping? Nope.

This is what my head is full of. It is a stew of grief and fear and self-recrimination and oh, my god, those poor children and their families.

It should be quite obvious that I have no wisdom or comfort to offer, but I needed to write it out, stew and all. Usually, doing so brings me a measure of clarity. Not this time.

7

A Reminder.

This morning I found a post in my drafts folder from almost exactly this date last year. There was only one sentence in this post, just a note I had jotted down:

Simone points and exclaims “Look! It’s Chocolate Santa.”

You see, last year was the first year Simone noticed Santa, and when she first made his acquaintance he had taken the form of a hollow cocoa-based confection. “It’s a chocolate Santa,” we’d told her. And so for the rest of the season whenever she saw Santa’s likeness in a Christmas book or on a bit of holiday decoration, she would get very excited and call him by his name, which she understood to be—you guessed it—Chocolate Santa.

She doesn’t do this anymore, and I had forgotten she ever did until I opened that post draft. This is why, or part of why, I will keep writing here, even when I am tired and hungry and have leftover risotto calling to me from the kitchen, when it is 10:45 and I still haven’t had dinner and I’m right at the denouement of the mystery I’m reading.

9

I Hope This Works…

Simone is sick. Miserably, miserably sick. She is draped over me in bed right now and I am posting this from my phone (or trying to–the page is behaving very oddly) which is a first for me. Here is a picture from a couple of hours ago, so you can see I am not shirking my posting for naught:


She first got sick last night but it seemed like nothing much until this evening, when she started feeling worse and her temperature went up up up and suddenly I was surrounded by Kleenex and inhalers and moaning.

If I had known my evening was going to be so very full (of snot, wretchedness, etc.) I would have posted earlier, but alas. Tomorrow I will be back.

21

Do You Know What Would Help My Headache? Another Miracle Chocolate.

1. About half the number of days because chocolate is approximately twice as good as oil.

Currently, my very favorite things in the whole world to put in my face are Ghiradelli Peppermint-Bark-with-Dark-Chocolate Squares. They are sold seasonally, and so I feel I should eat as many as possible now, while I can, as a show of holiday spirit. To that end, Scott bought me a bag of them this past weekend, and before bed that evening, Simone and I set about consuming it. (Much later I went out to get a drink of water only to hear peals of laughter from my husband as I passed him in the living room, because it turned out I had a Ghiradelli squares wrapper stuck—appropriately enough—to my haunch.)
Anyhow, LAST night Simone asked whether there were any more Candy Cake Chocolates (Simone calls “candy canes” “candy CAKES,” for reasons passing understanding) and, remembering that we had eaten the last of them the night before, I regretfully said there were not. But then! When I picked up the bag to show her that it was empty, there were two squares left! One for each of us! We ate our chocolates with gratitude and went to sleep.

An hour ago I went to throw the bag away, feeling hungry and wistful, and as I was folding it up for the trash, I felt something solid in the bottom.
IT WAS ANOTHER SQUARE.
I swear to you, the bag was empty last night. It was on my nightstand, and it was empty. I would never have left a chocolate unmolested on my nightstand during the snack-y evening hours.
How was this possible? No bag of these things had ever lasted more than one night, two at the most, and here we were on night FOUR. And then I remembered: Chanukah. Of course. It’s a Chanukah miracle!
I have now eaten my chocolate and the bag remains stubbornly devoid of more. Next year I shall light four candles to remember.

2. Ham

Twyla, as I may have mentioned, is an extraordinarily hammy baby. You know the phrase “flat affect?” Twyla has the opposite of that. She has a mountainous affect. She splits her whole face open in these mad, comical smiles—most of which now come with motion, and are thus becoming more difficult to capture on film. The rest of the expressions in her repertoire are just as overblown.


She would have made an excellent silent film star.

And then, sometimes, she is just sweet.

She is such a sweet, loving baby. It breaks my heart a bit, for some reason.

3. Eine Kleine Nacht-Kvetching

I have been getting headaches every day for a while. I have one right now. The last time I got frequent headaches was in my early 20s, but those were migraines—awful, soul-killing migraines. These are just plain old headaches. I am sure I am not drinking enough water, maybe that is the problem? But then I’ve never been good at remembering to drink water, and it didn’t bother me before. Maybe it is hormonal? My hair is falling out, which is apparently normal and definitely hormonal, and possibly my thyroid medicine needs adjusting, as I hear that already-screwy thyroids often become even screwier postpartum. Whatever it is, it is exceedingly irritating. A near-constant low-level headache taxes my already meager resources.

And, on that fascinating note, I shall leave you.

32

I Wonder What Those Four Pillars Would Be?

1. Housekeeping

Is it annoying that I am posting pictures I’ve published on Instagram? I don’t know how many of you follow me there, but I can see how if you DO, it might be irksome to see the same pictures in two places. The thing is, I take all of my pictures these days on my phone, and if I share them on Instagram first (which involves about three little taps of my index finger), then all I have to do to add them to a post is type in the Instagram link, and voila! the picture appears!

If I want to insert a picture from my phone without publishing it to Instagram first, I have to plug my phone into my computer and upload everything to iPhoto, export the picture I want to use onto my desktop, upload said picture to my site or Flickr, and then add the link to the post. I cannot tell you how many times I have not posted because I wanted to add pictures and decided I didn’t have time (or couldn’t find the cord for my phone) and would do it later. Unsurprisingly, later seldom comes—or rather by the time it does, I have new things I want to talk about, and so the previous things are pushed aside. I am trying to remove as many barriers to my writing here as possible, and the picture thing is one of them, so I hope it doesn’t grate too badly.

Look, I know it is just WRITING THINGS ONLINE, not piloting small aircraft or mining coal, and why should I need to make it easy? But I guess that is the point, too. This isn’t my job. I have a job. I have exactly zero interest in monetizing or leveraging influence or making this site my work. This is a thing I do for fun, and I think it is good for me, and I’ve really missed doing it. On the other hand—and this is the reason I am bothering to ask whether the twice-posted pictures are bothersome—a large part of what I love about this space is all of you, and so while it is all well and good to say I am writing here for myself, that is only part of the story. SO if all dozen of you, dear readers, hate seeing the same pictures in two places, I will stop doing it.

2. Now, here are some pictures from Instagram!

We decorated the tree!


Then there was a snow storm, and we happened to have a carrot that any fool could see would make an excellent snowman nose, and so even though what I felt like doing was sitting bonelessly on the couch I suggested we go outside and play. The snow was falling fast in fat, feathery pats, coating everything and making me very pleased to live where I do.


We had an absolutely marvelous time. Simone and I made what I am certain is the WORLD’S FINEST SNOWPERSON. (It was our first!)


Then we made snow angels and ran up and down the block and Simone ate her weight in fresh powder, and when we came inside I made hot chocolate.


It was one of those all-too-rare occasions when I felt a clear sense that I was doing something right, well. I AM a good mother, I found myself thinking at one point, which sounds pretty stupid, because it is not like Snowman Construction is one of the FOUR PILLARS OF PARENTHOOD, or something, but I often feel like I’m not doing a great job as a mom, and yet I am also the designated nagging parent, the one who insists on toys being picked up and sweets being for special occasions, who sees that hair is brushed and flu shots administered, etc., so to feel like I am legitimately good at a part of motherhood AND that the part I am best at—yes, snowman construction, but also impromptu crafts, and making sandcastles in the park—is a FUN bit…It was great, great, great.

3. The Scat Came Back

Just a reminder that Saturday was the day you should have gone out to find your log. It’s not too late, though! I’m sure there are plenty of nice logs left.

Here is mine, all the way from Barcelona:


(We won’t actually be beating it, as it is ceramic, so I suppose that means no nougat for me.)

9

Orphans, Bread, and Holiday Cheer!

1. Canada, you are a drag.

This morning, on Caillou:

CAILLOU: “Does he have a family, too?”

ZOOKEEPER: “I’m afraid not. You see, his mommy died.”

Really, children’s television writers? REALLY? It wasn’t a Very Special Episode about death, it was a trip to the zoo. I was two sips into my first cup of coffee. It was not yet 7am. Why, what better time to discuss death and motherless children with my four-year-old!

(Also, why not just say “not here!” or even “no” without elaboration? If my preschooler asked a question about a baby otter’s family and some zookeeper took it upon herself to answer with a tale of maternal woe, she would be scrambling for purchase along the inside wall of the tiger pit.)

2. According to Simone, the extra cherries are hair.

This morning we went over to my mother’s to bake loaves of Schmutzli and Santa bread. You can buy these all over in Switzerland during the holidays, and Santa’s pipe and Schmutzli’s switch were saved from my mother’s last store-bought pair. Here they are before going in the oven:

And here is Schmutzli after being served for lunch alongside cheese and butter (turnabout is fair play, Schmutzli!):



3. Oh the weather outside is frightful…

We were supposed to be traveling this weekend to see my in-laws, but the forecast calls for a winter storm Saturday night, so instead we are staying home to do cozy winter things, like make cookies and finally decorate the tree. Right now it is up but bare, this hulking dark piney mass in the corner of the living room. I can’t wait to get the lights strung and watch Simone festoon approximately one third of the available arboreal real estate with ornaments.

I have surprised myself by turning into a Holiday Person over the last couple of years. I liked the holidays fine in the past, but they were just there, pleasant but generally devoid of poignancy, a few days of presents and laughing with family and drinking hot liquored things. All of which are still integral components of the holiday season, obviously, but ever since Simone became old enough to be delighted by Christmas, I’ve become someone who listens to Christmas music starting December 1st, who organizes holiday crafts and can sit gazing at the tree for a disturbingly long while. Baking, shopping for presents, drinking hot chocolate when it’s snowing and white outside…I’m gleeful, even reverent, over all of it—perhaps absurdly so, for an atheist—and this year feels more exciting than most,  because Twyla is our last baby, which means we are finally all here.

16

I Think I Dozed Off Twice While Writing This.

1. So be good for goodness sake…

Today is St. Nicolas Day, and that can only mean one thing: Schmutzli! For those of you who have forgotten, Schmutzli travels with St. Nicolas (the Swiss call him Samichlaus) as a sort of grimy, unpredictably violent sidekick.

(I found the following quote on Swissinfo.ch: “Schmutzli brings a touch of fear, which makes the whole thing more attractive. He provides a contrast with the figure of St Nicholas.” A touch of fear! Why, what wouldn’t be more attractive that way?)

I know that many parents are fond of The Elf on the Shelf, but in my opinion Schmutzli is far, far superior–if you really want your children to behave this holiday season, remind them how long and airless the journey back to the Black Forest will seem in Schmutzli’s sack, and how rough the stick naughty children are beaten with will feel upon their tender skin. And, of course, at the end of it all, they’ll almost certainly be eaten.

This year I couldn’t find my knitted Schmutzli finger puppet, so I made my own while dinner was cooking. For this holiday craft (suitable for all ages!) you will need paper, a Sharpie, crayons, scissors, and a toothpick for Schmutzli’s child-beating stick:


As I say every year: May Schmutzli Spare You!

2. The rise of online journaling must be have been really nice for mimes.

I put up our tree today, and tomorrow I will string the lights and Simone and I will decorate and listen to Christmas music. It is a false tree, because of Simone’s asthma, and the best part about it is that the white cotton gloves it comes with to protect one’s hands while separating the branches give me an annual excuse to spend an hour or so pretending to be a mime.


I think I would have been a truly excellent mime.

3. Christmas, 1979

I found this today while I was going through a box and thought you might like to see a seasonally appropriate Baby Alexa:


(I look so alarmed! Perhaps Schmutzli is coming for me?)

I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t post today. Twyla slept for an unheard of six consecutive hours last night, and somehow getting more sleep seems to have exponentially increased my exhaustion. I remember this happening when Simone was a baby, and I still don’t understand the logic behind it, except that obviously my body is ungrateful and easily spoiled. Exhausted or not, I am typing at least a handful of words and pressing publish, reminding myself that the whole idea was to combat perfectionism, so really, the worse the better.

26

I Am Just as Surprised as You.

1. In which I attempt, rather pathetically, to return the favor

I am still going through your excellent comments, and feeling absolutely gluttonous. So many books I want to read, and I want to read them all at once! This is a marked improvement over the anxious what-on-earth-will-I-read-next-oh-no-two-chapters-left!? feeling of scarcity I had before, so thank you.

You have all been so generous with your recommendations that it seems only right that I share a few of my own. Unfortunately, I tend to recommend the same things over and over, so I’m pretty sure that if you have been reading here for a while you have heard most of my old standbys. But, because we were discussing mysteries I feel I must once again strenuously suggest Sarah Caudwell (brilliantly witty, only wrote four books so I reread them again and again). And certainly Rex Stout is new to no one, but just in case, I will remind you all that he is marvelous.

Oh! Yes! Not a mystery, but: Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield. I recommend this to lots of people in real life, however a quick search tells me I have never mentioned it here. It is the first in a series–there is A Provincial Lady in London, A Provincial Lady in Wartime, and a few others, and they are absolutely marvelous and I just reread them for the zillionth time during my pregnancy with Twyla (are you sensing that I do a lot of REreading? I do). Whenever I hear someone talking at length about how REVOLUTIONARY it is to blog about everyday life as a mother, I think of these books, which are essentially a precursor to this whole enterprise. They are British, written in the 1930s, and the humor is exquisitely dry. I am sure those of you who are familiar will back me up in comments.

2. A perception problem

All of the reading I have been doing on my phone has brought up an issue I hadn’t foreseen: when Simone sees me curled on the couch, engrossed in a book, she doesn’t KNOW I am curled on the couch, engrossed in a book. I realized this a few weeks ago, and it alarmed me, so I called her over to show her that I was reading! See, it’s a BOOK!

No it’s NOT, she said, scornful. It’s a PHONE.

(No, but look! See! It’s a story! It’s a book ON my phone!) (It’s not a BOOK.) (And so on.)

Maybe this shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I saw my parents reading all the time, and I grew up surrounded–quite literally, surrounded–by books, and I honestly think I owe much of the good in my life to my love of reading. I could go on (and on) (and ON) about how important I think reading is, and how much joy books have brought me, and another day, when I have the time, I will, but for now, it is enough to say that I think that nothing has been more useful in my life as a human. I thanked MY BOOKS in the acknowledgements of my own book, for pete’s sake.

The point is, a love of reading is one of the gifts I most want to give Simone and Twyla, and now that Simone is getting older, I am starting to worry that I am failing. She probably watches more TV than she should. I haven’t taught her to read yet, because I can’t seem to figure out how one even does such a thing. We read a lot, and she knows all her letters and the sounds they make, but it seems like such a leap from there to actual reading, and I honestly am not even sure how it happens, and I don’t want to push it because I want reading to be fun, not work. But I feel like I am not doing enough, and if anyone knows how you make a child into a reader, not just a person who can read, but a READER, well, I would love for you to tell me.

3. I really can’t add anything to these pictures.

 

 

P.S.

140

Again! I’m Unstoppable!

1. Perhaps it symbolizes the desire to fly free from the yoke of oppression.

When watching a television show/movie that features a scene with a Latino gang, I inevitably entirely miss the dialogue, so preoccupied am I with sartorial questions. Or rather one sartorial question: what is the appeal of a short-sleeved work shirt with only the very tippy-top button buttoned so that it makes a sort of cape-with-sleeves? A cape seems to strike a harshly formal note when paired with a white undershirt, and the buttoned collar looks awfully restrictive. I do not understand. Will one of the Latino gang members in the audience (Oh come on. There has to be ONE with a secret, shameful addiction to mommyblogs) explain it to us in comments, please?

2. Don’t put money on it, or anything.

I am going to keep doing this, posting three things, any three things I happen to think of, just typetypetypePOST, with no editing, every weekday for a while. I decided last month to start on December 1st, as sort of my own grown-up advent calendar, only with writing, and obviously continuing after Christmas, so…not really very advent-y, then. Anyway, December started on a weekend, so here we are. Or were, yesterday, and are again now. My god, I can’t believe I just have to leave all this up here. This is a very tough love (which I just typed “tough lough,” and then fixed, because I do have standards) approach to curing one’s crippling perfectionism. Does this count as one of my three things? I vote yes.

3. Reading is fundamentally dangerous.

I have started reading again, thanks to the Kindle app on my phone: I can read while I pump, and in dark middle-of-the-night snatches, and while I rock the baby, and it has reminded me just how terrible I am at moderation when it comes to this particular activity. Either I read very sparsely, taking ages and ages to finish a single book, or I read twenty in five weeks. There seems to be no middle ground at all. Frankly, the amount of pleasure it gives me, and the way I sometimes feel almost desperate to get back to my book seems unwholesome, and certainly there is some amount of escapism at play, and of course the time I spend reading might better be spent beating back the tide of household entropy, but I find I do not particularly care.

What I do care about is how difficult it is to keep myself in reading material, and what little time I have with whatever characters I have grown attached to before the pages run out. It is so sad being a fast reader. On the other hand, I really do not have the brain for difficult reading at the moment, seeing as I am getting almost no sleep, so the solution is one of quantity, not density. So: can you suggest some books for me? Anything, really. Fiction or Non. It doesn’t have to be particularly literary, though it may be. Lately I have been reading mysteries, partly because they often come in a series and then I have several books with the same character, which is cozy and comforting to a fast reader, so if you happen to be fond of mysteries, I would love suggestions.

Maybe I can recommend things for you in exchange? I should get to sleep now, but let’s chat more about this in the comments in the morning.

16

Thricely.

1. A tale of heroism!

As you might already know, my mother has moved home from Switzerland at last. When she left, I had zero children, and had published zero books. When she left, she’d never broken a single leg. It has been rather an eventful five years for both of us.

Anyhow, she bought a condo about three minutes from my apartment and is in the process of fixing it up. It is a fun, leisurely sort of process, as she hasn’t yet put her old house (where my brother and Jonathan still live as well) on the market. The condo is lovely, and so very beloved by both Simone and myself that it has prompted some covert research into Squatter’s Rights (only kidding, Mother!) (OR AM I??), and we have been spending a lot of time there.

A few weeks ago, my mother lost the key to the padlock on her condo’s storage locker. After an exhaustive search effort, she resigned herself to calling a locksmith, which would mean both dealing with strangers and paying for carelessness with money, two things that my mother dislikes immensely. As I’d been eating her cheese and drinking her wine and scattering children all over her gracious home, I felt that solving this particular problem for her was the least I could do, and so I promptly broke a paperclip into two pieces and headed downstairs to pick the lock.

I know how lock-picking works (though not, come to think of it, whether it ought to be hyphenated or is properly a single word): one pick piece is a little tension wrench, putting pressure on the turning part, while the other piece nimbly slides the pins or tumblers or whatever they are called out of the way. I had never done it before, but certainly my vague knowledge of the principles involved would be an adequate substitute for skill!

And so I shoved the one piece into the lock, and jiggled the other piece around inside, as one does. I had such confidence in myself, and was so looking forward to bragging about my accomplishment on Twitter. And I was honestly, legitimately, shocked when the lock refused to fall open. But I watch so much television! I have seen dozens of episodes of Leverage!
I had one exciting and dramatic moment when someone walked by on the way to their car and I had to hide my lock-picking tools and look nonchalant, but it was a thrill I did not earn.

Eventually I gave up, thoroughly disappointed in myself, but by then my competitive spirit had been aroused. I was making a Target run anyway, so I decided to buy a thing Google told me about called a Padlock Shim and try again. Only Target didn’t have a Padlock Shim. I went to the hardware store and asked if they had a Padlock Shim. They didn’t know what that was. I explained that it was for lock-picking, and they gave me a suspicious frown. I followed that up by asking about bolt cutters, and in the end they rented me a pair, roughly the size of Simone. Looking forward to the delighted surprise on my mother’s face, I drove back to the condo and marched the bolt cutters downstairs.

Now, if a thing is going to be called a “bolt cutter,” I am of the opinion that it should cut bolts. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but here Flotsam we (I) do not shrink from controversy. I feel strongly that a bolt cutter should be sharp and strong enough to do the work of bolt cutting, or else it should be called a Bolt Cutting Helper, or have some sort of notation that says “BOLT CUTTERS (Just Add The Strength of a Dozen Men).”

I opened the jaws and positioned them around the padlock, and…Huh. Hmmm. Well. Nope, not happening. By flinging the full weight of my body against the handle of the shears and resting there, I was able to muscle my way through the outer coating of silver metal to reveal a slim nick of inner, brassy metal, but this wasn’t really what I had in mind. It was like trying to garrote a particularly ropey-necked bodybuilder with a strand of dental floss. Happily, a fellow-resident saw me attempting to cut my way into a storage locker and, after deciding I wasn’t a threat (but the work of a moment, I am forced to conclude), came to my aid. By resting HIS full weight upon the handle of the useless implement, he was able to cut the padlock off in a flash of sparks—not, obviously, because he was stronger than me per se, but because he weighed more, and thus could lean more forcefully. I put on a new lock, marched upstairs with the pieces of the old one, manfully shouldering my bolt cutters, and allowed my mother to ply me with thanks and hors d’oeuvres. I was sore for DAYS afterward in the shoulder/wing area.

So, keep track of your keys to things, is the lesson here.

2. Vote NO.

I took Simone with me to vote, and after she got over the disappointment of not being eligible to win any elections herself (“But I want to win! When can I be the leader?”) (When you are 35 and meet the filing deadline and garner at least 270 electoral votes, young lady, that’s when), she was very interested in the whole thing. The nice Voting Ladies gave us a little table to sit at so that Simone could help me fill out the ballot, and I could lamely explain various ballot measures to her when she asked why we were filling in the little circle for No instead of Yes or vice versa. I was explaining the marriage amendment, and that I was picking no because I thought anyone should be able to get married, if they wanted to, and doing my little SOME PEOPLE HAVE TWO MOMMIES song and dance, and Simone piped up “But I don’t want ANYONE to get married!” and everyone turned to look at us, and I said “Well, that’s not one of the choices,” and reminded my daughter about no electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, and we got our sticker and went home to make cookies.

3. I think I really outdid myself on the costume, but the attitude is all her.

You may have already seen this picture elsewhere (I am here, on Twitter! And here, on Instagram!) and it is over a month old, but it is my favorite picture ever and so I am posting it here on this poor, neglected Web Log of mine, because if even one of you has missed it that is one person too many, as I’m sure you’ll agree:

28

I Have Forgotten How This Goes.

It is suddenly cold and dark. The shift from summer to winter-ish is awfully abrupt here, and it has taken me by surprise, though I suppose it shouldn’t have, as we’ve made it all the way to the middle of October, somehow. Also, my new baby is fat and drooling and growing out of things, and my old baby isn’t a baby anymore at all, and soon they will both be entirely grown up, and THEN WE WILL ALL BE DEAD. To everything, turn, turn, etc.

We’ve all been sick, including Twyla, who took it rather hard. She is a dramatic baby. When Twyla smiles, she opens her whole mouth in a veritable parody of joy. When she is unhappy, she makes horribly sad faces and sort of…warbles mournfully, like a sick pigeon, or the pound dogs howling along to “No Place Like Home” in Lady and The Tramp. But she made it through her first illness, and now, should she ever record an album of Stevie Wonder covers played at half-speed, in an arrangement for cello, bassoon, and seagull, she has the album art all ready to go.
Strife

Because it is Simone’s last year before Kindergarten, it is our last year at her preschool, that marvelous, magical idyll dotted liberally with goats (there is a new one named Banjo!) and chickens and llamas oh my. I honestly think I’ll miss it almost as much as she will. (Would it be weird if I stopped by next year from time to time to wander about wistfully, rending my garments and reminding the children HOW FLEETING IS YOUTH! do you think? Probably.)

Anyhow, I am trying to soak it all up before it is over, and have been carefully curating the Last Year of Preschool Memorial Art Collection. Allow me to share two recent works:

Mama
The above, as any fool can see, is a portrait of me, in buttons, glue, and crayon on paper. Please note the two circles on either side of my fetching buttoned placket.
(“Those are her NEPPLES,” Simone explained loudly to her teacher, pointing them out to us.)

The next piece I admit to finding a bit baffling:

Math

Simone has confirmed that the three parts of this equation are a llama, wool, and a mitten, respectively, but how does a llama plus wool equal mitten? Wouldn’t a llama MINUS wool get one to knitwear more efficiently? Maybe what I am taking for a plus sign is actually a spinning wheel and the two parallel lines pre-mitten are knitting needles? Is this the New Math?

119

TK.

It’s funny: even though I knew better, even though I’d followed along with dozens of soon-to-be-second-time-parents as they wondered how they could possibly love another child as much as their first, and then inevitably found all their fears on the subject unfounded, I was still shocked and relieved and thrilled to my bones to be smitten all over again with a whole new baby. Twyla Kay! 5 lbs, 15.9 ounces. Born at 2:52 p.m. on June 13th, more than three weeks ago.

Twyla Collage #1
She has a fuzzy head and a tiny mouth that runs through a whole repertoire of expressions (surprised! despairing! gleeful!) while she sleeps. I love her awfully. And, as anyone who has done this before could have predicted, my love for Simone remains undiminished–is, if anything, more acute. A neat trick, really. How on earth does that work?

Another surprise that ought not to have been: new babies are hard. I am ashamed to say that I was entirely unprepared for the rigors of our first two weeks home. Because, you see, THIS baby would have no oxygen tank or apnea monitor or medicines, and thus was going to be EASY! SO EASY! A cakewalk! As pie! Insert your own metaphoric language denoting facility!

By the time Simone came home I’d had three months to recover, both from my C-section and whatever postpartum hormonal swings might have assailed me–I honestly don’t know whether I had any hormonal wonkiness last time, because I had such legitimate reasons for emotional turmoil in the weeks after the twins’ birth, but this time…well. That was an experience. Also, being the mother of an infant has to rival pubescent boyhood in helpless, frustrated mammary preoccupation. Also, REFLUX. Again. Also, I’d forgotten that I’d get a whole different baby this time, not a carbon copy of the last one, not to mention that I’d still have the aforementioned last one hanging around, wanting food and entertainment and, you know, parenting.

Suffice it to say that all expectations to the contrary, this second newborn period–the one with no NICU and no fleet of home medical suppliers–was harder than the first. Harder than expected, but also better than expected, because did I mention how much I love this new girl of mine, right out of the gate? Just look what was waiting for me on the other side of those last long months of fear and nausea and muffled hope. Even my wildest dreams weren’t quite wild enough.

Twyla Collage #2