Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Back to School

A little fall foliage

My classes started up again this week so I am feeling a bit academic and ready to sharpen pencils and cover books and whatnot. I have cut back on how much I’m teaching this spring, mostly because of having the house on the market. I couldn’t quite figure out to have a babysitter at home with Grace and be able to show the house, and now I’ll have more energy and time to keep the house in tiptop shape. The teaching I am doing should be fun: labs for an earth science and astronomy course. Don’t tell my students, but I really know nothing about geology; hopefully my ignorance there will be eclipsed by knowing enough astronomy. (Ha ha-- “eclipsed!”) Cutting back on teaching meant me saying goodbye to one of the two universities where I was teaching, which was a tiny bit bittersweet. That university was really small and the physics department was really friendly in a sort of bumbling, tweedy way. The university where I am still teaching is a bit bigger and seems more polished in how things are run. The students are quite different as well; one university tends to have students who are all subculture-y and pierced, wearing band T-shirts, with majors like philosophy and music, while the other one is apt to have students who are preppy and have majors that will get them specific jobs.

Returning to campus always makes me realize that I am getting OLD. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say I am no longer truly young, as my 30th birthday approaches later this year. When I was first starting teaching up here in New Haven, I thought I would have to be really careful about being super professional and formal to combat being close in age to the students. I need not have worried. It turns out that college students these days are wee tiny infants. They are all these fresh-faced unformed babies and I definitely feel the decade or more that separates me from them. Do you realize that this year’s freshmen were born in 1989?

The day before I started back to teaching, Grace had a world-class tantrum. Most of Grace’s flip-outs these days are what I am calling “autonomy tantrums” where she gets frustrated because she can’t manage something she wants to do, or I won’t let her do something she wants to do. I can’t even clearly remember what set her off on Sunday but it snowballed into quite a maelstrom of misery and emotion. Our normal methods of attempting distraction or giving her some space to calm down on her own weren’t really working, so after almost half an hour Rob ended up holding her in our darkened basement until she finally got herself together. It is really great to see her becoming so independent and self-reliant but there are certainly some growing pains along the way. We’re trying to give her as many opportunities to do things herself as possible; I find myself thinking several times a day, “Can I let Grace do this herself? Is it worth a confrontation for me to do it?” I think it’s healthy for me to think this way, because I tend to enjoy being in control and doing things MY WAY and I know I could steamroll right over her in a condemning way. Sometimes, of course, we can’t accommodate her. Today, right as we were getting ready to leave the house, Grace decided she did not want to wear a diaper. This is a problem because she does not, you know, use the toilet. We had a knock-down-drag-out wrestling match getting her into the diaper, into her coat and hat, out the door, and into her car seat, where much wailing ensued. Sometimes it’s tough being the mommy...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Goodnight, Sun

Grace’s bedtime reading includes the book above almost every night. She insists on holding the book by herself and turning all the pages but does allow me to “Mommy read! Mommy read!” For those of you who are too old to remember the details of this book from your own childhood and are not yet the night-time readers to your own offspring, there are two moons in the book, the full moon outside the nursery and a crescent moon in the painting above the fireplace. Grace only identifies the crescent moon in the painting as a moon and claims that the full moon outside the window is actually the sun. She is unpersuaded by the fact that there are stars in the sky, the little bunny is going to bed, or any other clues about the time of day. When we get to the page with the eponymous text and we read, “Goodnight, Moon,” she responds, “Sun!” I sometimes try to convince her of the lunar qualities of this particular round orb, but she asserts, “Sun!” In fact, she won’t let me continue to the part about the cow jumping over the moon until I acquiesce that yes, it is the sun. I need to figure out how to explain the phases of the moon and celestial dynamics to a toddler.

It’s very near full moon right now, actually, and it is really delightful to show Grace the moon outside. With Rob working another string of night shifts, I’ve been doing Abbey’s evening walk with Grace in the Ergo and she is very excited to see the moon. These days Grace seems amazed and enchanted by discovering things in real life that she has learned the names of from books or TV or what have you. When it gets warmer, I think a trip to the zoo might be in order for her to get to see the animals from what is perhaps her favorite book.

Speaking of night-time, the night before last will go down in the record books as one of Grace’s top 10 worst ever. She woke up a bit after 1am and was totally awake until almost 5am. Rob was at the emergency room working a night shift so I was left to my own devices. Nothing seemed to do any good to get her back to sleep-- I brought her to bed with me with no success, let her wail in her crib for a while (maybe I’m not as committed an AP mama as I claim), and finally just let her run around our upstairs while I lay dazedly in bed. Such misery... The next day I was so exhausted that I felt weepy and depleted. There was no opportunity for a nap so at 4pm, unable to face the rest of the day without some chemical help, I had a nice cup of coffee. One good thing about not being a regular coffee drinker is that when you do have some, it will perk you RIGHT UP. Perk you right up into slightly frenzied, energetic mania. I felt much more able to cope with the rest of yesterday but then I could not go to sleep last night. I guess 4pm is too late in the day for me to have coffee. Another night of less-than-ideal sleep! Oh well, soon I shall return to a sleep equilibrium. And of the two adults in our home, I am certainly not the one with the most cause for dissatisfaction with my sleep.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Five Stages of Grief

Unbearable sadness

We have now started the process of putting our house on the market and are coming to grips with the fact that we are likely going to lose money on the whole transaction. I have had quite a number of different reactions to such a prospect. “Surely not,” I think. This was practically the least expensive house we saw when we were looking and we did quite a bit of fixing up; how is it possible that we will lose money? Then I may swing toward feeling angry at the housing market. How dare it climb so high and then turn down with such inconvenient timing for us? And then I start to think something like, “Maybe we can sell for what we paid and then just lose the realtor fees...” Or in some moments, I feel very down about the whole thing, sad and lethargic and unable to gather the motivation to touch up more paint or clean out another closet. I have had a few moments of acceptance but I’m still working it. Cliche, anyone?

There is good reason to keep moving toward acceptance, of course. We’ve had two realtors over and from what they are saying, it is unlikely we are going to lose vast quantities of money. Losing a bit of money now is not going to have a long-term negative effect on our financial life. And we are moving to Texas where houses are so much cheaper that (if we decide to buy again) we would still be able to buy a house, even with losing a chunk of our down payment on this house. And really, there’s nothing we can do about it now, is there? Beating ourselves up about our decision to buy doesn’t make anything better or solve any problems. We didn’t have brilliant predictive powers that allowed us to see what the market would do, so buying a house seemed like a good idea at the time. And the biggest reason to move toward acceptance is what I believe about a steadfast, faithful God. That doesn’t mean God is going to keep us from losing money, but it does mean God is the reason I can say, with increasing sincerity, “It’s going to be OK.”

Today, in further spruce-things-up endeavors, we’re having a new screen (well, glass, actually) door put up, as well as having the house power washed. That sounds very exciting, I think. “POWER WASHING!” Too bad I can’t use some kind of power washer to clean the inside of the house; I have a feeling it would involve a lot more adrenaline and excitement than my actual cleaning procedures. My next cleaning tasks are our glass-shelved, glass-doored cabinets in the kitchen (which are a bit dusty after 2.5 years) and the stove’s drip pans. I hate cleaning those and never seem to be able to get them clean. In my single-girl renting days, I would always buy new ones before moving out of an apartment at the end of a lease and throw away my blackened old ones. Shockingly unenvironmental... Maybe I will try Oxiclean on them this time around?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sicky sick sick

I am in the throes of some kind of stomach virus right now. Blech... Nobody else in the family has gotten it yet, which is good. I think I am going to be on the upswing here today but when I woke up this morning I had this dreadful, fuzzy, woozy feeling where I was almost convinced my head and limbs were made of lead or some other very dense substance. Probably just a smidge of dehydration and/or low blood sugar from the lack of eating much for a few days; I’m feeling better after some toast and applesauce. We actually had a pregnancy false alarm in the early stages of being sick when I felt exhausted and queasy for a few days but it is pretty definite at this point-- I am sick, not pregnant. A baby is a much nicer thing to have than a stomach virus, of course, but also a bit more complicated. Rob is working a lot right now, which leaves me on my own with Grace from waking up to her bedtime. I am predicting she will be hitting the TV pretty hard in the next day or so.

Grace is going through a period of intense craving for independence and autonomy right now. She insists “Gracie do!” when there is something she wants to do, and she will get into a frustrated, trembling frenzy if I try to pull whatever it is away from her. Diaper changes now involve her pulling the tabs open on the diapers before I can put them on her, she demands to put on her own mittens and hat, and tooth brushing is a carefully choreographed pas de deux. When she successfully does something, she will stand up, spread her arms high in the sky, and shout proudly, “Gracie do!” It is a good thing to see her learning how to be independent, and it reinforces what I’ve thought about our parenting style. We have leaned toward what people call attachment parenting, and I think that what the AP folks say is true-- doing things like extended breastfeeding, lots of babywearing, believing that her cry is communicating to us and paying attention to it, etc. can develop more confident, independent kids. I think that Grace’s personality is just naturally independent as well, though.

Grace has really discovered music lately. We got a non-annoying children’s CD for Christmas and have been listening to it a lot. A lot. I mean, seriously a lot. My NPR-listening time in the car has gone way down as Grace asks for, “Mee-zik! More mee-zik!” Anybody have other favorites for their little ones? I especially wouldn’t mind finding some Christian music, but I am kind of afraid of the schmaltz. I seriously can’t handle something like this. Our other big music outlet right now is going to a weekly music program for toddlers in New Haven. It’s kind of informal and the guy who leads it is really great. He strikes just the right note of kid-friendly but not vacuous. Grace really loves it and is starting to do the hand motions and sing along a little. The guy plays guitar and Grace refers to both him as an individual and the whole experience as “man-tar”, which I believe is a contraction of “the man and his guitar”. She often asks “Man-tar?” when we are getting ready to leave the house and I am sad to have to disappoint her with our less fantastic journeys to Costco and Trader Joe’s. The first few times we went, she loved it so much that she threw an absolute tantrum when we got back home, sobbing to go “bye-bye” at the door and demanding “more man-tar”. Now that we’ve gone more regularly, she seems to adjust to leaving a little better. The man-tar is going on vacation for two weeks, though. Aack! What shall I do?!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Has anyone seen this man?

So Rob is in the midst of a string of night shifts right now at the hospital. It is-- how do you say? ah, yes-- very sucky. When Rob works night shifts, he is gone from the house about 14 hours, returns in the morning for about an hour of vegetating with ye olde Internet, then sleeps until dinnertime. He really just gets up to eat dinner with us and then heads out the door. Grace and I are with him for less than 2 hours, I think, in any given day. It’s tough on family life and I’m starting to feel the strain of it here after about a week of this schedule.

The evils of resident scheduling do give me a renewed appreciation for Rob and his impact on my life and our little family. Earlier I mentioned my propensity to wonder about other possible life paths and it almost surprises me to realize I don’t do this about my marriage. I really can’t imagine life without Robert and I don’t have any desire to. At a stage in our dating relationship when I had more apprehension about marriage than Rob did, he told me he felt confident that he was the right guy for me to marry. It sounded uncharacteristically cocky at the time, and still does, actually, but it turns out that he’s right. Rob’s combination of quirkiness, mellowness, slight tendency to obsess, and seriousness about his faith makes him my ideal husband. Oscar Wilde would be pleased.

I’ve been keeping plenty busy, even with my better half largely absent. Mostly I’ve been working on preparations for getting our house on the market. My parents (who live about 30 minutes from where we’ll probably live) very graciously said I could ship some boxes of stuff to them to get them out of the house for showing it. This is especially kind of them considering the intense aversion my mom has to clutter (which apparently has a strong genetic component). I’ve been boxing up Grace’s outgrown clothes, board games, books, and other things that we can live without for 6 months but don’t want to get rid of and sending it their direction. Do you know how much cheaper media mail is than regular parcel post? It’s quite shocking, and makes it quite a temptation to claim that all your boxes are nothing but books, CDs, DVDs, and the like. I resisted, however. The house is starting to look more neat and less lived in, so we are on our way. A big plan for this week is to call some realtors and start having some scary conversations about prices and listing and whatnot. Aack!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whassat? Whassat whassat?


Grace is talking more and more with each passing week and right now she is really into asking what things are called. She will point her little finger at something, demand to know what it is, usually with a bit of repetition in there, and then try to repeat whatever answer we’ve give her. In recent days, I have found myself trying to explain nonstick cooking spray and packing tape. Perhaps most frequently, she asks about something that she already knows the name of. “Whassat? Whassat whassat?” “That’s your slipper.” “Slippuh!” She also loves to play games where she identifies things she knows the name of. Whenever it starts to feel a bit tedious is a good time to review the chapters in my child development books about how toddlers are learning about cause and effect through repetition, need to see that things’ names stay the same, and so on and so forth. When I stop to think about it, though, this isn’t just a toddler characteristic. I think it is a pretty basic human quality to love the familiar, especially in verbal things like jokes and narratives. There is, of course, the comfortable pleasure of watching a favorite movie (how many times have Rob and I seen The Matrix?) or re-reading a favorite book (I am truly scared to think about how many times I have read Pride and Prejudice). And then if I want to get all Joseph Campbell on you, it’s possible that most of the stories we as human beings tell each other are really the same story with the same archetypal characters, themes, and patterns. Grace is obviously just very interested in the human condition and monomyth.

My clumsiness has been rearing its ungraceful head lately and caused me several injuries. I was near the beginning of a run along the main street close to our house and totally fell down, a dramatic flailing fall that caused people half a block in front of me to turn around and walk in my direction until they saw me get back up and begin running again. Sigh... My physical injuries were limited to scraping up my palms and knees, which is good, but my pride was also a bit bruised. It took me a few seconds to really commit to continue on my whole planned run with my palms all cut up, but I was certainly motivated to run in the immediate aftermath to get away from anyone who may have seen me. And then a few days after that, I was making Potage Parmentier a la Julia Child and cut my thumb with our big chef’s knife a la Dan Aykroyd impersonating Julia Child. I cook a lot and I am not normally prone to hurting myself with our knives, but this time I really did a number on myself. The book I’m reading right now has a lot of ancient Greek sword fighting in it and the memory of my self-inflicted injury has made me feel all squeamish every time someone in the book breaks out a sword.

In other news, it has been crazy cold around here lately, with low temperatures in the single digits and high temperatures that don’t get above 20 degrees. This seems excessive to my Texas-bred self, like taking this whole winter idea a bit too far. I do enjoy winters here in general, with the occasional snow and wearing wool coats and sweaters. And winter is the season that makes me love our house here the most; when it’s cold outside, our cozy house with its small, 1920s-sized rooms feels delightfully warm and snug. Rob is not a fan of winter, however. He starts to feel that winter has taken liberties with him when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. That’s what growing up in California will do to a person.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ring in the New

I’ve purposely waited to post this until New Year’s Day just so I can say I did not blog in 2007. You know, because I’m contrary like that. Perhaps 2008 will be different. Perhaps it will be my most blogorrific year ever. That would be not too difficult, of course.

2008 will be different, of course. This year will see us move across the country, for starters. As Rob has said, he finishes up his residency here at Yale this summer and will start his allergy/immunology fellowship in Dallas. I’m looking forward to being back in Texas; there’s going to be a lot of positives about being there. Relationally, it will be great to be close to my family and friends from college, med school, church, and even all the way back to high school, for me, at least. And financially it will be a good thing. Rob will make about the same as a research fellow as he does as a resident but moving back to Texas will make it feel like a 25% raise, according to those online salary calculator thingies. This gives us a lot of flexibility about how much I will work, when to have another baby and take some time off, etc.

Part of me does have some mild regret for all the places we might have moved to. This has happened to me at almost every big transition in my life-- going to college, grad school, moving up here. I am always content with the path that I end up on, but I wonder about all the parallel universes where I made other, perhaps more glamorous choices and the alternate me had new and different experiences. I do have a strong streak of wanderlust which makes me a smidge ambivalent about moving back to Texas, a mere 30 miles from where I grew up, despite the comfort and support of family and friends and a steep decrease in financial stress.

Living here in the Northeast for several years has done a lot to make me value Texas on its own merits, however. I did not know if I would ever feel homesick for Texas, but although homesickness is too strong a word, listening to much of anything by Lyle Lovett will make me nostalgic for the prairie openness and sense of place in my home state. Or I will try to listen to the radio here, or go to the grocery store, and think longingly about Texas. And the Mexican food! Don’t get me started on the Mexican food. I think the best Mexican food we’ve had here has been something I or our fellow transplanted Texans have cooked at home. I haven’t spent our years here in Connecticut yearning to be anywhere else, but I’m pretty sure moving to Texas this year will feel like going home.