Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

Well, we are one day away from our autumnal celebration of costumes and candy, and I must admit to you, dear reader, that I am something of a Halloween Scrooge.  Rob and I never buy candy and always turn off our front light and hide somewhere in the back of the house so trick-or-treaters can't tell that we're at home.  In our defense, we have often gone to whatever fall festival is being put on by whatever church we're going to at the time and volunteered to run a booth/game/activity where small costumed children come by and complete some goofy task to earn some candy.  This will come as a shock to no one, but I'm not really a fan of the darker excesses of the holiday.  (But no! don't worry! I love all things Hogwartsian so don't dismiss me quite yet as an extremist crazy type!  We can save that for another day.)

Growing up, we didn't celebrate Halloween at all.  For most of my elementary school years, in fact, I celebrated an alternative holiday that I shall now share with you all: Reformation Day!  October 31 is not only the day ancient Celts believed the dead could come back to this world, but also the day in 1517 on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, signaling the start of the Protestant Reformation.  Woo hoo, anti-papist fun!  Just imagine a classroom of first graders learning about indulgences and penance and why they are bad...

So on Reformation Day at my elementary school (a Christian one of the Reformed inclination, if you haven't figured that out by now), we had a fun party with face painting and outdoor games and candy and such.  And don't mourn too much for the child version of me, because I did in fact get to dress up every year, just within certain, um, restrictions.  You were only allowed to dress up as a Bible character.  It must have been quite a sight, my whole little elementary school dressed up in slight variations of this type of pattern sewn up by our mothers.  It was convenient for families with more than one child, because you didn't have to do much to the costume when it was handed down to the younger child to change it up to be a different person.  Heck, you could probably even share between boy and girl siblings.  Just change your accessories:  Are you Mary?  Carry around a baby doll!  Are you Pharaoh's daughter or Miriam?  Put the baby doll in a basket!  Are you Esther?  Get all dolled up with lots of metallic trim and bling on your dress!  It was an early lesson in the power of accessorizing.

It always felt like a bit of a challenge to come up with someone creative to be for Reformation Day, especially as a girl.  The Bible is not bereft of interesting female characters but they are certainly outnumbered by the male ones.  As you can imagine, there were a lot of Mary's running around (despite our anti-Catholic bent), as well as a lot of angels (even though angels in the Bible are always male), both of which I refused to be on the grounds that it would be an unimaginative choice.  I was Deborah one year (I had a gavel-- anachronistic, I know, but effective in identifying me), I was Lydia one time (with a purple dress/tunic thing), and I remember I was the woman at the well one year (I carried a pewter pitcher).  My year as the woman at the well (with her 5 or 6 husbands) reminds me that it seems somewhat awkward to dress up small girls as women of loose morals and out-and-out prostitutes, and let's face it, a LOT of the women in the Bible fit those descriptions.

You will be happy to know that we are not dressing Grace up as Rahab or Mary Magdalene or Bathsheba this year; she's going to be the Cat in the Hat.  I still have the luxury of picking out her costume without any real input from her; in fact, I'm pretty sure she has no idea what is going on, despite a few half-hearted attempts on my part to explain it to her.  Hopefully she does not utterly freak out tomorrow when I try to draw whiskers on her and put a giant tall hat on her.  Then we will be off to a big party at church where we can gather unholy amounts of candy and hopefully have a grand time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Question for the Ages

Why is it that 75% of all maternity tops in existence are not long enough to cover my belly?  Are they not allegedly intended for those of us with big massive bellies?

Alas, alack, I bemoan my 1st-world dilemma of not having "enough" clothes that are "flattering enough" with which to clothe myself for the next 2 months.  Seriously, somebody should shake some sense and/or perspective into me.   But on the other hand, I will give a shout-out to my new favorite maternity T-shirts from DownEast Basics.  My friend Kristy (about to give birth to her 3rd baby) introduced me to them and I am now a fan.  They are really REALLY long and super SUPER affordable; currently they're on sale at less than $8 a pop.  The tops run really small so I recommend actually measuring yourself and looking at the size chart, and then maybe sizing up.  On the downside, they are not very high-quality knit (shocking at that price, no?) and are showing wash wear and pilling after not-too-many washings, but I think I might be overly sensitive to pilling and they would probably last you fine through one pregnancy.

Speaking of clothes, the weather has finally turned cooler and I can now dress Grace in little long-sleeved knit dresses and brightly colored leggings or tights and her tiny pink Chuck Taylors.  Ah, the joys of having a daughter and living vicariously through her clothes...  I wish I could get away with dressing like that.  No, really, toddler girls have the best clothes-- it's all bright colors and cozy knits and elastic waists.  Unless I restrain myself, the next time you see me I might look like I'm some freakishly overgrown model for the Hanna Andersson catalog.

And speaking of Grace, she is comfortably ensconced back in the bosom of her family after her time at my parents' house.  All in all, it went reasonably well.  She was a delight and a joy while awake; they played games and ate meals and visited a farm where she saw baby pigs and pet a goat and picked out a pumpkin for her very own.  At nighttime, life was a bit trickier.  She protested being put to bed somewhat but did go to sleep around her usual time.  She then woke up around midnight, apparently screaming like a banshee, from how my parents describe it.  They comforted her and she fell back to sleep, and then after 15 minutes she again awoke, yet again screaming like a pre-Christian Irish deity.  She again went back to sleep after being attended to, but when my parents heard her wake up howling AGAIN 15 minutes later, my dad dragged his pillow and blanket into her room and slept the rest of the night on the floor next to her little inflatable mattress.  My poor parents...  She was mostly peaceful the rest of the night and awoke the next morning chipper and delighted to have a day of diverting grandparently fun ahead of her, so that's good.  Grace has got a serious Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing going on as far as her daytime/nighttime temperament.  As I contemplate how it went, I am glad that she was so happy when awake, that she went to sleep at her bedtime, that she responded well to my parents' comforting at night, and that they all figured out how to cope.  And if I think back to my experiences in recent months with Grace sleeping in new-ish places, this really wasn't any different; it's just that I'm making my parents deal with the nighttime/new-place issues instead of doing it myself and thus I have more compunction.  I remind myself that these are my parents who love me and love Grace and are willing to inconvenience themselves and weather a little discomfort to help us; it can be hard to accept help without guilt.  It seems within the realm of possibility that a 2nd or 3rd night with them (what will likely happen when the new baby is born) will be much better as she adjusts, so here's hoping...

And what did Rob and I do?  Nothing too exciting, I rather shamefacedly admit.  We decided at the last minute that we both needed hair appointments and went to have concurrent appointments in the early evening.  It was our intention to then go out to eat somewhere afterwards, then watch a movie at home.  Well, we were thwarted by our choice of hair establishment.  We went to this Paul Mitchell school (you know, where students learning how to cut hair and whatnot practice on you) here in Dallas that we used to frequent when we lived here before.  I am somewhat ambivalent about this place (and the nearly identical one in Connecticut that I went to a few times while there) because on the one hand, it is dirt cheap and I am always quite happy with the results.  On the other hand, they are unimaginably, indescribably, painfully slow.  One time I had highlights and a haircut and I was there for over 5 hours.  Anything that involves foils will be well over 2 hours, more likely 3.  A haircut routinely pushes the 2-hour mark.  I am sympathetic-- I know they are slow because they are inexperienced, but oh the humanity...  Anyway, it was possibly not the best choice for our evening and we got out of there quite late, stomachs churning, although with chic hair and not too much the poorer.  We ended up deciding on pizza from the fun independent pizza shop close to our house, eaten while watching a movie in the living room with the volume turned up as loud as we wanted it.  (Our bedrooms are all pretty close to the living room where the entertainment stuff is, so when Grace is asleep, watching a movie tends to involve a lot of turning the volume up up up during the dialogue parts and down down down during the explosion-y/gunfire/space-fight parts; Rob finds this super annoying.)  The next morning we slept in, both of us, at the SAME TIME, until a lovely lazy hour and then cooked ourselves a big leisurely hot breakfast with coffee from the French press.  This may not sound like much to the single and/or child-free among you, but I assure you, it was bliss.  Bliss, I tell you!

Friday, October 24, 2008



My dad just picked up my daughter for her first night away from both Rob and me at the same time.  My parents, who live halfway across the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolitan area from us, are going to take care of Grace when I go into labor and am in the hospital with the new baby and all so this is our practice run.  We've had a number of people express surprise that we haven't left her overnight with anybody else before now but it just hasn't happened because of schedules and distance and our own preferences.  When we were living in Connecticut, we didn't have family closer than Texas and although I know we had friends in the New Haven area who would have gladly taken care of Grace if one of us had been in the hospital or something drastic like that, it didn't feel quite right to leave her with them just for kicks.  And then there's the fact that we've been pretty strapped for cash since, oh, getting married (medical school and graduate school and residency and buying a house that you later lose money on will do that to you) so jaunting off for a fun childless weekend hasn't ever really seemed like a responsible decision.  And Rob's schedule was so intense during residency that there wasn't much time for such a weekend anyway; his limited vacation time went to paternity leave, trips to see faraway family, trips for house-hunting, etc.  Despite all this, we could have made it work if it was a high priority to us, so I guess the most honest answer to why we haven't both left Grace before now is that we didn't really want to, or at least not badly enough to overcome the inconvenience of our circumstances and actually do it.  It turns out that we like her, you know, a lot.   Rob was away from her so much during residency and I've worked at least part-time for most of her life so we both felt like we'd rather be together as a threesome when it came to long weekends and vacation and all that.

So because of our circumstances and the choices we made within them, Grace has had either Rob or me to put her to bed every night since she was born.  I have a little anxiety now, but not so much for Grace as for my dear parents.  Whatever have I gotten them into?!  Grace is, as I've mentioned before, a pretty terrible sleeper.  Her sleep patterns now are pretty much the best they've ever been, with more time spent sleeping in her own bed, fewer night wakings, and less fuss at bedtime than at other stages of her life, but she still requires night-time parenting at least once most nights.  (And THANK YOU, Rob, for taking over all that night-time parenting since I've been pregnant.  I would be a much huger mess if it weren't for you.)  We have a fairly regimented night-time routine, since that's one of the first things the experts say to do when your child has less-than-ideal sleep; I feel a bit apprehensive about how Grace will respond to things being different.  Will she accept the novelty and settle down for sleep with equanimity?  Will she flail and cry and pop out of bed a dozen times?  We definitely had rough nights during our moving process as she got accustomed to new places like our sublet apartment, the hotels on the drive, and our new house.  As they drive away, I am telepathically pleading with her, "Please please please please PLEASE go to sleep easily and have an outstandingly good night when you don't make a peep until 6am."

I definitely feel more unease for my parents' discomfort than for Grace's, mostly because she has slept overnight at their house before (with one or both of us) and she is so in love with them.  She loves to go over to their house and play with the fun toys they have and read books with my mom and see their sweet one-eyed dog.  And my dad-- oh, how she loves my dad.  He is seriously her favorite person in the whole wide world.  Back when Grace was still nursing, I might have been able to trump my dad in Grace's estimation, but I emphasize my uncertainty on that point.  I'm not totally sure what it is; I definitely have a high regard for my dad but Grace's devotion knows no bounds.  He has always had a mysterious charm for small children and animals-- that must say something really good about him.  One of the pleasures of motherhood has been seeing Grace build relationships with my parents and other people I love; I know that my relationships are richer now because they are intertwined with new bonds that these people have with my child.

The house does seem empty as I type this, and I will be glad to get her back tomorrow after lunch.  I am embarrassed to report that now that Rob and I finally have a childless 24 hours together, we still don't have much planned.  We are even more hard up for ready money than usual right now and Rob has his HUGE IMPORTANT pediatric board exams scheduled for Monday, so what we really should do is have a quiet evening at home conducive to last-minute cramming accompanied by a frugal home-made dinner.  I think we might cheat a little and go out to eat.  What kind of place would be not child-friendly at all (thus fun to go to while we are FREE, FREE AS BIRDS) but also cheap and fun for a 7-month-pregnant woman?
  • Our usual places? OUT
  • A fancy restaurant? OUT
  • A slightly seedy dive?  Sadly, also OUT
I feel like I can only satisfy two of those conditions at the same time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Three Favorite Hymns, in Descending Order of Favoriteness

With apologies to any of the now-bored skeptics/agnostics/atheists who make up half of my 15 daily visitors...

From the defunct indie band Pedro the Lion's EP, The Only Reason I Feel Secure.  (Well, this video is actually just David Bazan, who is still out there recording under his own name.)

From one of my very favorites, the ever-creative Sufjan Stevens.  I love me some subversive use of the banjo.

I couldn't find very many video options for this one on the web that were not vomit-inducing cheesy, but it's hard to go wrong with Mahalia Jackson, right?  The lyrics for the wonderful 3rd stanza are based on the Jewish poem Haddamut, written in Aramaic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany.

There you have it, some Monday morning hymns!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Vagaries of Toddlerhood

Vintage Grace

Sometimes it strikes me that it must be tough to be a toddler.  So much of the world is opaque to their understanding and out of their control and mysterious; even their own emotions can be overwhelming and scary.  Mothering a toddler can be tough, too, of course, not in the least because a toddler is fundamentally unpredictable.  I think one of the reasons motherhood has been so good for me is that it has forced me to accept and embrace this unpredictability as a gift.  The capriciousness can bring me beyond my control-freak self and boring habits and grasping for the routine.  I was particularly struck by the mercurial nature of toddler life recently when Grace followed a handful of days of recalcitrancy and obstreperousness with a whiplash-inducing reversal into being all sweetness and light.

It had been a not-so-fun series of days, I will admit.  Grace didn't want to eat, or take a bath, or wear pants, or go to bed, or sit on the potty.  Mornings were particularly challenging, especially those mornings in our weekly routine where we both need to be dressed and fed and out the door by a certain time.  I watched the minutes tick away towards tardiness as this small yet contrary creature roared her displeasure with my plans for breakfast and wearing clothes and peeing before we left.  It made me acutely aware of how little control she has in her life and how I need to build choices for her into our routines, but on the other hand I do have to step up and be the mommy/grown-up-type-person.  Days like that are particularly intense because I have to be on top of my game with boundaries and consequences and discipline and all; in case you were wondering, that kind of thing isn't too relaxing.  We were treated to several choice examples of Grace's tantrum modus operandi; she runs from room to room around the house, inconsolably crying and wailing, often bawling, "I'm crying, I'm crying!"  Well, yes, yes, you are.

After days of this I was considering my options for restructuring our mornings when one afternoon, she awoke from her nap and I discovered that nefarious Grace had been replaced without any notice by charming, genial Grace.  She now wants to cuddle and "bring" me kisses, as she puts it.  She happily goes to the bathroom when asked and acquiesces to hand-washing and wearing both panties and pants.  She plays creatively, sometimes quietly and seriously, sometimes full of noise and joy.  She chooses from among offered snacks and then actually eats them.  We've had two busy mornings since this turnaround of getting out the door smoothly as she was cooperative and compliant and lovely, and we actually made it places on time.

It was such a dramatic turnaround that it made us chuckle disbelievingly, and I have no idea what caused her return to what I think of (inaccurately?) as her "normal" temperament.  The phase of the moon?  Consistency in dealing with her bad behavior?  (Ha!  In my dreams...)  Her anti-virus software finally eradicated the Perverse Bug?  Really, I don't have any clue and I don't feel a great need to know why.  I shall just chalk it up to the changeable, unpredictable labor that is life with a toddler.

The photo of Grace was turned all lovely and vintage-y via this awesome gadget I saw used on Simple Lovely, a Dallas mom's design blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How I Spend My Free Time

Or, Things I Have Done While Grace is at Mothers' Day Out
  • Folded giant piles of laundry while watching Project Runway and The Daily Show (it never seems right to watch all those bleeped-out expletives with a toddler around)
  • Worked out at the dreaded gym, as much as it has pained me to use my precious child-free time thus
  • Napped, sometimes for almost the whole time she's gone
  • Made phone calls, paid bills, written overdue emails
  • Applied Manic Panic to refresh the pinkness of my hair (so far I've had to do this every 2 to 3 weeks after the initial bleach/color session at the salon-- annoyingly frequent, but less time and effort than a pedicure, so you know, not too bad)
  • Gone to OB appointments, sometimes when I actually have them scheduled
  • Done some sewing
  • Shopped for groceries in a delightfully leisurely manner unfettered by an impatient, distractible companion
  • Re-organized our filing cabinet
  • Gone to the post office with small piles of eBay items (why am I STILL trying to get rid of stuff that we moved halfway across the country?!  Aargh, materialism, how I loathe thee...)
  • Written blog entries (so meta!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Off to the Museum

Yesterday was free-admission day at the main art museum here in town so Grace and I took the train downtown and spent the afternoon enjoying some museum time.  I had been having a particularly down day in what is proving to be a bit of a down time in general for me, so I'm glad I decided to gather the wherewithal to make the trek.  A few hours at a museum will almost always cheer me up, much like I can count on the cheering affects of re-reading Northanger Abbey or sharing a bottle of bubbly wine with someone.  It's something about the quiet, contemplative ambiance, the sense that these things on the walls and on their pedestals are IMPORTANT, and that your whole job while there is to look and think about things.  I like to think about things in a quiet, beautiful place.

We took the train downtown, which I think was Grace's favorite part of the whole expedition.  I can't say that I blame her; I too have a deep and abiding love for train and subway public transit.  I have a hard time explaining why I love them.  Part of it is that I don't particularly like driving and I definitely dislike the hassle of parking, and of course the efficiency of moving large quantities of people where they need to go in a methodical, environmentally responsible way appeals to both the eco-conscious and hyper-organized parts of me.  But more honestly, I think that my fondness for trains stems from an association that I hold between a train or trolley car or subway and a magical urban life sometime in the first half of the 20th century in which I would get to wear a fetching hat.  From this you can probably infer what kind of books and movies informed my suburban girlhood what urban life was like.

I admit that part of the expedition's cheering affect is most likely me fantasizing that I live a different kind of life in a different kind of place than I actually do-- you know, a more urbane life in a different kind of city than Dallas.  On the other hand, maybe it isn't a fantasy because I do live somewhere with a train that can take me to an art museum; perhaps I am rightfully cheered up.

If negotiating a museum with a toddler is in your future, I highly recommend taking advantage of free admission days, not only because you will save a little money but because it changes how you can approach your time there.  Toddler squawks for the ancient Greeks and Romans after glimpsing the statues from down the hall when you were in the mood for something along 18th century European lines?  No problem!  You have not invested any of your hard-earned dollars!  Toddler seems to prefer the elevator to the actual art?  Fine!  You can come back next month to see a little more!  The free admission day is once a month here and we've been several times now since moving.  There is a children's center with a few low-key activities and we usually spend about an equal amount of time in the actual galleries and in the children's area, which is totally fine.  Grace doesn't have the longest attention span and seems to handle about 5 seconds at each piece before petitioning that we move on.  Yesterday, we spent most of our time in the European galleries, also spending a little time with the ancient Romans (whose busts and sculptures always make me ponder what it means to be human in the vast swaths of history) and the Asian art (which is always one of my favorites as far as aesthetics and style).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Wretched Retch-ed

What a couple of days it has been...  There has been a stomach bug going around here and I unluckily caught it.  It has been an unpleasant time here at our household, but today I feel nearly human, just droopy and weak.  I took my whole shower this morning without crumpling to the floor of the shower to "rest" a few times, a definite improvement over yesterday.  I am eating toast and Jello without incident, and I feel like I might be able to keep Grace's TV time under the recommended 2 hours today.  (Seriously, she has been watching an unholy amount of Backyardigans and Blue's Clues as I lie doleful and insensate beside her.)  And all the burst capillaries in my face are starting to heal up-- does that happen to anybody else?  Almost every time I get sick like this, I get all these red spots from blown-out capillaries, especially around my eyes, nose, and temples.  Rob seems to think it is unusual.  Speaking of the other members of my family, they seem to be unaffected so far and I am PRAYING that the situation remains so.  Being sick is bad, but coping with a sick toddler is infinitely worse.

I feel really behind on all the normal household running stuff now.  It's amazing how things pile up when I literally do nothing useful for a while, from laundry to the mail and bills to grocery shopping to the state of my toenail polish.  Rob did a wonderful job keeping the truly necessary things done, like feeding the dog and child, and that's what's really important, right?  He's on call these days, however, so doesn't have much flexibility about the actual working full time thing.  My dad came over the first day to play with Grace for me and took her to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and three parks (yes, three! in a row!) so I didn't have to prepare food for anyone at all when I was actively being sick.  Times like this make me really glad to be close to family.

Wee unborn Violet reacted quite strongly to me being sick, which weirded me out somewhat.  She was unusually active with lots of kicks and flips and movement; normally I notice her moving several times a day but this was nearly without interruption for hours at a time.  Rob's guess is that all the stress hormones and abdominal cramping is to blame, which makes sense, I suppose.  And it's not like I was more sick than those unfortunate women who get morning sickness so badly they have to take medicine for it, so hopefully all is fine.

I watched most of the VP debate last night, curled up woozily on the couch, and I must admit that it was not the glorious train wreck of stupidity and crazy talk I was sort of hoping for.  I'm afraid that nothing in my lifetime will ever compete with the year that Ross Perot ran and Admiral Stockdale came across as impossibly confused and doddering in his debate.  Perhaps I should feel guilty about looking for delicious comedic gold in these things since these people are going to be, you know, WORLD LEADERS.  Sheesh...