Wednesday, September 30, 2009

9 Months

Last week, Violet passed the nine-month mark. She has now been here with us for as long as I was pregnant with her, a milestone that feels sort of impossible and insane. It's been nine months since she was born? And nine months before that, she was a handful of cells?

Sweet face

Violet has started babbling in the past week and when she fancies, will entertain us with a nonstop stream of "mamamamama". It's so fun to hear the beginnings of language from her, a step forward from the shrieks and laughs and other funny noises she's used before now. She bursts into dimples and smiles when we say "mama" back, and likes to chuckle with joy at us communicating with her.

Violet smiles

She is a busy, busy crawling baby these days. She gets all the way up on her hands and knees and moves forward with purpose and resolve, her cloth-diapered booty shimmying back and forth behind her. Her favorite things to crawl toward are the dog's water dish, power cords, and tiny shreds of Play Doh or paper or other trash, and she cries in frustration and disappointment when we take her away from them. We are such mean parents; we never let her have any fun.

Mmmm, delicious lens cap!

Violet is super interested in crawling and exploring and playing, but she is still not quite adept at making her way around and she is ALWAYS bonking her head on things. I kind of forgot about this stage with Grace, which I hope means it is a short one and her days of forehead bruises are numbered. Her instinct to explore is much stronger than her instinct for self-preservation, and of course by this I mean that she has NO INSTINCT for self-preservation WHATSOEVER. Also, no sense of the edges of a chair or couch or bed, and no sense that it might not be a good idea to try to throw yourself out of someone's arms in pursuit of something enticing. She is a thrill-seeking, daredevil baby.

Watch out, world. She is coming to get you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Gosh, we've just been adrift in a sea of unwellness lately. Stupid bodies and their stupid not-working... Rob came down with something last week that looked suspiciously like swine flu. He is one of those maddening people who NEVER gets sick, so seeing him all lethargic and feverish and ache-y was an unusual sight. He stayed home from work for a few days, which I don't think he's done since graduating from medical school. It passed quickly, however, leading us to believe it was probably not swine flu but some lesser, not-so-famous virus and *FINGERS CROSSED* no one else has gotten it. Then yesterday I came down with a migraine, an unwelcome occurrence that happens a couple times a year. I hate getting them because my symptoms are so disorienting and make me feel mentally unstable. I typically start out losing my peripheral vision on one side, then sometimes all my vision on that side, then I move on to numbness on that side of my body in the face, arms, and/or legs. It is then that the actual pain starts somewhere on the other side of my head, yesterday a stabbing pain behind my right eyeball. When I get a really bad one, I lose my ability to understand language; I will hear people talking but I won't be able to understand what they're saying. I haven't had one like that in years, thank goodness, since an episode in grad school when I freaked out my officemates and ended up sobbing in an emergency room not really understanding what anyone was saying to me. I guess it all just depends on where the over-dilated blood vessel is or whatever, although describing my symptoms is good for causing doctors to look concerned and make you do those goofy neurological tests where you tap your fingers and the like. Anyhow, I lost my Sunday to the migraine, a haze of misery and feeling slightly unhinged.

Our much, much more serious instance of physical selves failing us involves Rob's mom. She was diagnosed with colon cancer this past summer and although everything seems to be going OK with that health issue, she had a whole-body PET scan as part of oncology care after her surgery that discovered a cancerous tumor in her throat, about where one of her tonsils would be. There is still a lot about the situation that is uncertain and unknown, but it appears that the doctors are sure it is cancer and that she will have surgery very soon. There is some concern that the tumor may involve the base of her tongue, which would be not good. If you are a person who considers yourself a believing/persuaded/praying person, as we are, we would so appreciate you taking a minute to pray for Rob's mom-- for wisdom for the doctors, for healing, and specifically that her ability to talk would not be affected.

All this sickness rubbish has made me ponder our physical corporeal selves again. I think I walk around with a bit of a Platonic/Gnostic mind-body dualism in my mind (or my brain?! which is it?!), sort of believing that the real me is just walking around in this human-being suit, that we would all be happier if we could be disembodied mind/souls whooshing around without the fetters of these imperfect, malfunctioning bodies. I attribute at least part of this to my un-athletic childhood; I am not someone who spent her formative years really enjoying her physical self and what it could do. I don't really think that's the way things are, though; we're all embodied creatures and my body is just as much part of the "real me" as the parts I can't measure. I believe that I'm more than the sum of my firing neurons but I'm also somehow entangled and intertwined in my cells and DNA and biochemical processes. This freaks me out the most when I think about Grace and Violet. If, for instance, something makes me really stop and recognize that there is a tiny heart beating inside Violet, and slim bones and muscles and a tiny set of lungs, I get very weirded out, I think because it makes her seem at the same so mysterious and vulnerable. On the other hand, it has been motherhood that has brought me the most peace with my physical self, as well as the most intense realization of how beautiful our bodies as humans are.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Incisive Commentary

Two more teeth have made their savage way through Violet's poor beleaguered gums, bringing us to a total of 4. She now has those four middle teeth, two on top and two on bottom; she is a very symmetrical baby, obviously a sign of an orderly and sensible nature, right? I remember Grace having a cheekily lopsided look for a while there as one tooth would come in on its own, but Violet's are coming in nearly simultaneously. They are also coming in with a bit of misery and fuss, of course, and apparently a whole lot of nasal congestion. We are 2 for 2 now with the concurrent arrival of teeth and a runny, runny nose so I have nearly convinced myself they are related. I tend to be very skeptical about all the crazy stuff that people attribute to teething symptoms (fever? diarrhea? really?) but perhaps it is all true, or maybe some of it. Grace would be fussy and clingy and want to nurse non-stop while she was teething but that was about it. I guess this is just how it's going to be for Violet-- new teeth = much snot. Her new teeth also have caused her to sit around feeling them with her tongue or something so that her little chin is jutted out a lot of the time. Cro-Magnon baby!

Another symptom of Violet's teething is that my hair is now in a non-ideal state. I've been annoyed with the color of my hair for a while now, feeling vexed about the brassy orange ends I had (leftover from some hair coloring experiment from the past months, I'm sure). I am particularly sensitive to orangeness in my hair (yuck yuck yuck yuck) which is somewhat inconsistent, I realize, because I really love when my hair is reddish. The orangeness is a common problem I have if I ever do highlights or the like; it may look lovely/neutral/sandy right after they're done but they turn orange and brassy on me in short order. Anywho, I was won over by an alluring box of hair dye at Target that promised to turn my hair to a nice shade of brunette free of the yucky orange and then I waited for an evening to do it after both girls were in bed. We had just gotten over Violet's first spate of teething-induced sleep disruptions and she had been sleeping so much better that, carefree and cheerful, I thought, "Tonight! I shall transform my hair into lovely cool brunette tresses!" I had actually gotten all the dye onto my hair and was about to set a timer for the allotted 10 minutes when Violet woke up fussing, starting up the next round of teething. "Fine," I thought, noting the time on the bathroom clock. "I will just settle her and then come back to read or something for the rest of my 10 minutes." I then started the pat-pat-rock-rock-try-to-put-down routine, all the while carefully keeping my dye-saturated hair from touching anything, and thinking, "Oh, in another minute she'll settle and I can leave." Violet was having none of it, however. There was no clock where I could see it and eventually I grew a little nervous about how much time might have elapsed and called for Robert to come and take over the baby soothing. I then rushed back to the bathroom and saw that it had been twice as much time as I was supposed to leave the hair color on. Oops! This has resulted in my hair being a) inky, raven dark and b) kind of damaged and fragile. Fortunately I was using one of those semi-permanent 28-wash kind of hair colors so it has already started to lighten toward something approaching what I was going for, but I have looked like a slightly Goth version of a suburban mom for the past few days. In related hair news, I think I may have found my next science experiment.

My parents departed for real this past weekend and, as hard as it is for me to believe, I am now the only one of my immediate family living in Texas. My sister lives outside a military base near the Carolina coast with her Army husband and my parents are now Midwesterners living on the banks of a Great Lake (well, they're going to live in a suburb pretty far from Lake Michigan, but you get my drift). I feel somewhat flummoxed as to how I ended up being the one left behind, but there you go. I have a bit of permanent wanderlust, you see, and probably also (as Rob suggests) a bad case of familiarity breeding contempt for the Dallas area. Up until my parents left, my main feelings were being sad for them as they were so obviously grieving the end of their time here, and being sad that they wouldn't get to see Grace & Violet on a frequent basis in their quick-changing tiny humanity. Now that they are gone, I find myself feeling sad for me as well, although perhaps for the wrong reasons. Oh well-- time to reflect more on the true nature of contentment and the numerous blessings in my life. And I have certainly been tremendously blessed.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Mad Scientist Mommy

This week has been one filled with all the typical employments of being the daily caretaker for children. It's been distinct because it has been my parents' last week here in Texas (tomorrow! they leave to drive away to Chicago tomorrow!), but mostly it has been filled with the usual stuff-- reading books and a playdate or two and cooking and laundry and nursing and trips to the library, the grocery store, preschool. I have concluded that this life of a stay-at-home mom has turned out to be such a good match for me partly because it is like one fun science experiment after another. There are lots of other reasons that this life has made me so happy (a nearly unrivaled level of autonomy, I honestly like domestic stuff like cooking and sewing, my children have turned out to be super fun people to be around, and so forth) but I place a good chunk of the responsibility with the similarities between staying at home with small children and scientific pursuits. And not the annoying realities of science research with applying for super-competitive grants and jobs and bureaucracy and committees and all that, but the really fun part of science-- finding an interesting question or project and getting to figure out what the best answer is or how to build/make/do it. Granted, the projects I work on aren't answering fundamental questions about the physical universe, but somehow they appeal to the same part of me that loves inquiry and experimentation and learning how to do new things.

There are the decisions about what kind of parents we're going to choose to be, of course. My faith has impacted those decisions the most, but the background in science both Rob and I bring to parenthood has definitely informed the choices we've made about infant feeding and sleep training and corporal punishment. Knowing how to synthesize information or, you know, read a journal article is certainly helpful in choosing a path in parenting.

However, the parts of motherhood that are fun in the same way that doing professional science is fun have been a little less important. For example, did you know that you can make yogurt in your slow cooker? (Alton Brown uses a heating pad, but I don't have one of those and I do have a slow cooker.) Homemade yogurt is not very thick since it doesn't have added pectin or starch or whatever like store-bought, but draining it for a while in a coffee filter can get it to whatever consistency you want. And I've started making some of my cleaners for around the house, which definitely feels like CHEMISTRY IN ACTION. I didn't do any canning this summer with our CSA goodies, but gosh, that feels just like doing a lab experiment to me. For whatever reason, freezing (which I DID do) feels much less science-y. The whole cloth diaper enterprise feels like a big experiment (and I did originally approach it as totally experimental, halfway expecting it to not work at all). And now Grace is super interested in phonics and I can sort of see her starting the process of learning to read, which also feels like some kind of grand experiment. I guess I'm just a project-y kind of person, a person who gets excited about learning to do new things. It's why I had so much fun doing science professionally, and now it's why I'm having fun with this stage of my life. So I wonder what my next science experiment will be? I really want to try to make bread with wild yeast (you know, the yeast that LIVE OUTSIDE) but as I am working on getting to a happier weight for me, embarking on a bread-making extravaganza might not be the best idea. Hopefully none of my science projects will go as badly as this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Matter of Moving

Violet has achieved a new level of unfettered locomotion in the past few days, learning to crawl for real up on all fours. She's been able to make her way across a room for weeks and weeks now via a combination of rolling and scooting and mostly recently, the army crawl with her belly down on the ground, but now she has her tummy up off the ground and propels herself forward with a funny shuffling crawl where her knees sort of drag behind her and her arms pat-pat-pat forward. Of course, sometimes she propels herself forward in an uneven way where her back end goes faster than her front end, resulting in a face plant and much wailing. She bonks her head a lot right now, actually; she is getting mobile but is not very adept at it yet and many many MANY times a day finds herself conking her head on the floor, furniture, a wall, etc. Poor little bruised-forehead baby...

In other moving news, my parents' time in Texas is rapidly drawing to a close. My dad has been up in Chicago at his new job for a few weeks now and I am happy to report that it seems to be going super duper awesomely. He's already written up a patent and seems to be finding lots of ways to make a difference in his new company and find his place there. On Labor Day weekend, he flew back down and drove one of their cars up (filled with his instruments, which he prefers not to have the movers handle, and long-sleeved clothes, which apparently you need in Chicago in September) and he will fly back down here this week to close on their house here in Texas, help mom with the packing, and then they will drive out of Texas for real with their second car, drawing their 30+ year stint in the Lone Star State to a close. They don't have a house yet in Chicago so for the time begin will be hanging out in the temporary housing that my dad's new company has put him up in. As part of his hiring package, they will have ACTUAL MOVERS come in and pack up their stuff later this week and then CARRY IT OUT OF THEIR HOUSE for them. This is a wild, innovative idea to me as I have never been in a position to do such a thing. Maybe someday I too will have the good fortune to have someone else carry all my heavy earthly possessions.

Rob and I spent our Saturday moving mattresses around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We have been sleeping on a mattress that we bought right after we got married (to replace the really dreadful thing that Rob slept on during his single days). Seven years, two pregnancies, and three homes later, it was reaching the lumpy end of its ability to keep us comfortable. We thought we were just going to have to live with it for a while longer as a new mattress is really not a budgetary possibility these days, but then my parents decided that they are going to try to downsize their living space in their new city and their guest-bedroom mattress was in need of a new home. Hooray! I am so grateful to have our need met in this way. We did have to figure out a way to get the mattress over here, and then what to do with the old mattress and my parents' box spring. We borrowed a HUGE GIANT PICK-UP TRUCK from some friends from church (who have fixed it up to run on biodiesel and rent it out to people in just our situation) and hooked a trailer to the back (mostly because it was raining all weekend) and then started a marathon of driving around Dallas and the Mid-Cities. We left our house around 1pm and drove from our house to our friends' house to pick up the truck, then to pick up the trailer at U-Haul, then to my parents'. This first stage took over an hour and Grace and Violet were starting to lose it in the car, so we convinced my mom to watch the girls for the rest of our adventure. In hindsight, this was SUCH a good idea and I am so, so grateful that she was willing to do it. We loaded their mattress and box spring into the trailer and then went back to our house, where we switched our old mattress with its hills and valleys for my parents' pristine guest mattress. We then went up to a mattress donation center to drop off our old mattress and my parents' box spring where we managed to wedge ourself into a tricky corner of the parking lot that required going in reverse to extricate ourselves. This took, well, A WHILE. Life has not given Rob a lot of opportunities to develop his going-backwards-while-towing-something skills (nor, I feel I barely need mention, has it done so for me) and that lack of experience tends to become glaring in such a situation. It made us remember all the other times we have towed a trailer and moved stuff together, perhaps most memorably the time we were moving me to grad school and could not fit all the stuff from my storage unit into the trailer I rented. We ended up making two trips between College Station and Austin within 12 hours to get it all into my new apartment.

Anyway, we did eventually disentangle ourself from the parking lot, went to return the trailer at U-Haul, then drove BACK to my parents' house to pick up our offspring. By this time, it was so late that we had to go out to eat (with my mom, which was fun, although Grace was starting to glaze over in exhaustion). Then we trudged back to our friends' house to drop off the truck and then, finally, at length, we arrived home. At what time, you ask? After 9pm. Yes, this whole thing took 8 hours. I still can't quite believe it. We did drive well over 100 miles and it was raining the whole time, but I still find it excessive. I have comforted myself by thinking that I made up for those 8 hours the very first night (it took Rob until the 2nd night to break 8 hours on the new mattress as he stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to catch up on all the college football he missed by motoring across the Metroplex) and now I expect to have at least 7 more years to enjoy our lovely new mattress. In that context, our lost Saturday doesn't seem quite so dreadful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here I Am!

Well, hmpf, I did not mean to go 2 weeks without posting, but there you go. What is new with us, you kindly ask? We've gotten back into a school-year kind of a schedule, transitioning from the unstructured summer laziness that I love so much to getting out the door at regular times with a lunch packed and closed-toe shoes on, at least a few days a week. Violet is now the proud owner of two tiny nubbins of teeth, wee razor-sharp shards poking through her pink gums. She turned into a bit of a needy, clingy baby during the worst of the teething, refusing to sleep if not physically touching/being held by me, and then succumbed to a maelstrom of nasal congestion at nearly the same time. I suspected the teething may have been the culprit behind the runny nose, but then I spent a few days under the weather myself, so who can say?

Grace and Violet are in such disparate places in communication right now that it is downright comical. Grace is so verbal these days, chatty chatty chatty, all the time with the chatting. Her brain is just full of ideas and thoughts and musings, and it all just spills out in a perpetual stream of speech and song. By contrast, Violet is this little close-mouthed sphinx of a person; she seems like such a enigma to me sometimes. What is going in her little mind? She smiles and cries and laughs and shrieks (no real babbling yet), so of course she is communicating in a totally age-appropriate way, but it's just so different.

Favorite subjects of Grace's right now include rhyming (you know, what rhymes with what else) and spelling (she is starting to grasp the rudiments of phonics and wants to know how to spell things or what word is spelled by the letters, for example, "X-T-R-S-O-S-O-S-O-K"). Also very popular right now are signs. She is especially fond of the international sign for "no" and notices it everywhere with her keen toddler vision and attention to detail; this means that we get to spend a lot of time discussing U-turns and smoking.

Speaking of smoking, I have started running again, in the morning before it gets too dreadfully hot and Rob leaves for work. On weekdays, this means that I am heading back to our house past the same few high school students waiting for their bus every time and several of them are always smoking. "No!" I want to yell. "Don't do it!" They probably wouldn't really take seriously the advice of a red-faced, unshowered 31-year-old fighting off her pregnancy weight, though, so perhaps I shall refrain.

We are still eating a non-negligible amount of eggplant, but it has definitely calmed down. At the peak, we received 22 eggplants in our weekly share-- out of control! Eggplant beyond reason! Beyond imagination! We are down to just 5 eggplants a week or so now, which is easier to deal with, and the decrease in eggplant has been met with an increase in peppers (yum!) and melons (yum yum!). I have eaten a tremendous amount of watermelon in the past few weeks, but you will get no complaints from me on that score. In our own garden, it appears that bitter cucumber season has drawn to a close and tiny tomato season may be on its downward descent. JalapeƱo season may still visit us, however; our pepper plant looks really lush and gorgeous with these beautiful leaves and a handful of diminutive emerald green jalapeƱos dangling down. I think the window for planting a fall garden is passing us by. If we don't do something ASAP, it will be too late for us to get anything going before the first frosts. That may be OK with us, though. Perhaps we'll just smother the garden in compost once everything is done and let it rest for the winter. A long winter's nap for the garden. And maybe a nap for me? At some point?