Thursday, September 18, 2014

Conversations with Zuzu

Scene: Morning. Zuzu almost always asks for pancakes for breakfast. Pretty much every morning, she eats Greek yogurt with fruit (or fruit spread) mixed in and five silver dollar pancakes from Trader Joes. I give her three, she eats them and asks for more pancakes, and then I give her two more and tell her they are all gone now. She asks for more and I say, "You ate ALL the pancakes! Oh, wow!" It's like we're following a script. Anyway, each morning as we're getting up and around, I ask if she wants to go eat something and she always says "Pancakes!"

Me: You ready to go downstairs and eat something?

Zuzu: Yes. I want meat-meal.

Me: What?

Zuzu: I want meat-meal! Eat-meal!

Me: Oatmeal?

Zuzu: Oatmeal! I want oatmeal!

# # #

Scene: The day after we had Face-Timed with my friend Monica and her daughter Ellie Kate. That conversation had ended when Monica and Ellie Kate had to go have dinner. Zuzu did not take it well. She did not want Ellie Kate to hang up the phone, and she took out her aggression on me. The next afternoon, we were in the car on the way home from school.

Me: You ready to read some books when we get home?

Zuzu: Me call Ellie Kate? No worry, Mom. I no bite you.

# # #

Scene: Coco needs a diaper change.

Me: Okay, Zuzu, I'm going to go change Coco's diaper.

Zuzu: My turn change diaper? I change her diaper. I be careful. Baby Coco no fall down get her head broken.* No [poke] her eyes. That would be sad.

Backstory: Zuzu has a favorite book called Oh, What a Busy Day. (If you're looking for a great kids' book, this one comes highly recommended by two generations of my family. It was my cousin Angela's most favorite book ever--in fact, my aunt Peggy still has the whole thing pretty much memorized because she read it so many times.) Anyway, there's one page in the book about times when it's okay to be sad. And one of the times it's okay to be said is when your dolly gets broken. There's a picture of a little girl crying and her doll has been dropped and its head is broken.

Zuzu just noticed this particular illustration recently and asked me repeatedly how the baby got broken and kept pointing at the picture and commenting "She is sad." Since then, she's been really conscientious about baby Keya (who is not breakable), and she'll give her a hug and then say something like, "It's okay, you no broken, be careful." I'm glad to know she's equally concerned about Coco.

# # #

Scene: At the park. She crawled through a tunnel and noticed that a stick was lying on the platform. She grabbed it and tossed it down to the ground.

Zuzu: Look, Mama! Look! I got that stick outta there. That is guh-ross! I no like it.

# # #

Scene: At the park. A U-Haul truck drives by.

Zuzu: Grammy and Bop go bye-bye big truck. Go home, see Bert.

Backstory: When my parents were here last, their car konked out on them on our way to lunch on Labor Day, shortly before they were ready to head home. They needed to get back and decided to get it fixed at home instead of here, so they rented a U-Haul truck and trailer and towed the car home themselves. Zuzu was most interested in the big truck they left in. And she's always sad about Grammy and Bop leaving, so I explained that they have to go home to Bert (their cat).

Two weeks later, she's still talking about the truck and the cat!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of an Era

When I met David, he was a bachelor with a crazy little white dog.

She had bulging eyes and crooked hips and she growled at me when I petted her.

Eventually, I won her allegiance and she dumped David to side with me.

But in spite of her wee size, she was never a snuggler, never a lap dog. She needed a wide circumference of personal space and only wanted attention or affection if she initiated it.

Little Mac lived with us in our first apartment in University City, where we had to take her out to pee on a leash and this became a power struggle as she only wanted to go out on her schedule, which typically did not align with our schedule. But if we would so much as approach her with a leash in hand when she didn't feel like going outside, she would growl and snap at us.

I thought that David would get rid of Little Mac if she were ever to bite me.

She bit me.


But by that time, I was invested.

And that was the thing with Little Mac. You sort of liked her in spite of yourself. And in spite of herself. She was just the weirdest, quirkiest little thing.

We had a party once and a guy in my grad school department tried to engage with Little Mac by playfully taking her peanutbutter-filled kong toy that she was chewing on.

He bled through three bandaids, but said it was his fault since she obviously didn't want him touching her toy.

And just when you thought you couldn't stand to be around such a nasty, hateful little dog, she'd suddenly bound in the room like a puppy with a toy in her mouth, or push her head into your shin like a cat asking for attention, and your heart would melt.

Her treat of choice was popcorn. She loved it so much that she would come running when she heard it popping and then sit in front of the microwave and WAIL at the top of her lungs, so overwhelming was her excitement and anticipation.

She and Cooper had a tenuous but mostly collegial relationship. Basically, Cooper respected her crazy and she let him be. Getting him was actually really good for her--it relaxed her personal boundaries and exposed her to some normal canine social skills, which improved her attitude overall.

In her later years, when we'd moved to our little house, she was almost always up for a walk or a car ride. She didn't always want a leash, but she was usually up for adventure. She loved riding in the car.

One night, David was out for his cousin's bachelor party. In the middle of the night, he called me from a club on the East Side, begging me to come pick him up because he was sick and the guys weren't ready to leave.

At first I thought he had been drinking too much and made himself sick, but he insisted he hadn't been drinking at all, but his throat hurt and he was pretty sure he had a fever. As best man, he was trying to be a good sport and not complain, but the group showed no signs of being ready to go and he was desperate to get out of there.

Driving over to East St. Louis by myself in the wee hours of the morning was not high on my list of desirable activities, but Little Mac was more than willing to ride along with me. So the two of us loaded up in my little red Mustang and picked up a miserable and shivering David (who ended up missing a full week of work due to a wicked case of strep throat).

She loved going to David's grandparents' house on the lake, although she didn't ever want to get in the lake and she wasn't much for riding in the boat. A warm, sunny spot on the patio was her happy place, and she'd sleep in the sunshine all day long.

She and Cooper were my buddies when I was writing the dissertation. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but they enforced the advice that health experts give about taking frequent breaks when you sit at a desk all day--not only did I walk them every single day, they also were constantly interrupting me so they could go in and out the back door. Little Mac in particular would not be ignored--her wailing to get in or out of the house was so extreme that when we first moved in, our next door neighbors came running out of their house when they heard her, and later told us they thought someone was getting raped in the alley. Nope. That's just our dog.

My brother would always ask why Little Mac was constantly staring at him--with those buggy brown eyes. And I would laugh and say, "That's just her way."

As she got older and crankier, she would want up on my lap if we were in a new place (at one of David's ballgames, or visiting his dad's house where there were other dogs). She would get nasty and snarly once she was up there--and God forbid I shift my weight and irritate her with my movements--but I still sort of loved that she came to me.

She wasn't smart around cats, and would charge my mom's cats. One day during a visit to my parents, David and I were getting ready to go somewhere so he was in the car and I ran back inside to get something. I heard a cat yowl and then heard a God-awful wailing noise, so I raced upstairs. Little Mac was sitting at the top of the stairs, and her face was all bloody. At first glance, I thought the cat had clawed Mac's bulging little eye out, and I started screaming and crying and ran outside, nearly collapsing on the front porch as I screamed at David to come inside.

Upon closer inspection, her eye was intact, but she did have a scratch going down her nose. You'd think she'd learn her lesson, but she would still charge those cats every now and then.

Little Mac didn't like kids ever. And she especially didn't like them as she got older and her eyesight got spotty and her hearing failed. She was easily startled and her response to fear was always fight, not flight. She made us really nervous around David's little cousins, and she wasn't shy about snapping and growling at them.

I would lie and tell strangers she was a rescue dog because it seemed the easiest way to explain her unpredictability and aggression. I was especially mortified when she tried to bite my friend's dog-loving and extremely elderly grandmother, and a friend of mine who dog-sat for us one weekend said she felt terrible when she had to tell a little girl with special needs that she couldn't pet the cute little white dog.

We'd been concerned about her intolerance for small children when I was pregnant with Eliza. Little Mac was already ten years old by that point, and we just told ourselves that we would see how things went once the baby was here.

But we didn't get to bring our baby home. And while it was Cooper who was my loyal companion on the sofa, day after day, providing comfort with his solid warmth and quiet companionship, it was Little Mac--who never wanted on my lap, who always slept in her own bed on the floor, who growled if we walked by her to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night--who got up on the bed with me the day after we got home from the hospital, and who curled up and lay down next to me. She just knew that I was hurting like never before. I will never forget her offering that comfort to me--even if she did eventually growl quietly at me before jumping down off the bed and resuming her usual place in her doggie bed. That was just her way.

When Zuzu came into the picture, things got tricky. Mac didn't mess with the baby, but she did start having accidents (or "on purposes"?) always in the baby's room.

Once Zuzu became mobile, and increasingly interested in the dogs, it became apparent that our household could not accommodate a curious baby and a crotchety old dog. Especially because Little Mac was getting increasingly aggressive when she felt threatened or bothered (even by David and me), and continuing to have more and more accidents.

So the pee and poop situation was getting worse, and Mac was making me more and more nervous around the baby. In desperation, when Zuzu was about 9 months old, I took Little Mac to the vet and asked them to check and see if she was in physical pain or if there was something causing her to have accidents that we could fix. She was 13 years old, deaf, and mostly blind. I tried to explain to the vet that it was going to be impossible for us to keep her because she'd been known to bite and she was peeing and pooping in the house even when I was there to let her out. As impossibly difficult as it was, I needed to get some information about having her put to sleep.

Instead, the vet guilt-tripped me into paying a couple hundred bucks for a comprehensive blood test (which came back PERFECTLY HEALTHY, because of course it did) and suggested I look into senior dog rescue. She made me feel horrible for even SUGGESTING that I might need to choose my baby over an aggressive 13-year-old dog who had, at various times over the years, bitten and drawn blood from me, my husband, his grandmother, his five-year-old cousin, and a friend of mine from graduate school. And really, do you think it would be easy to re-home a dog with that kind of track record?

I called my mom crying after I left the vet because the vet had made me feel so terrible when I was ALREADY feeling terrible, but David and I knew that Little Mac and Zuzu living together was just no longer possible.

My mom loves her granddaughter AND loves dogs, and bless her heart she called us later and offered to take Little Mac home with her.

So Little Mac moved to her retirement home in Nevada. She lived with my parents for over a year, and celebrated her 14th birthday with them (I used the word "celebrated" loosely). She learned to get along with their cats (who remained aloof and skeptical, but would at least tolerate being in the same room as Little Mac). My parents were home often enough to give her the frequent bathroom breaks she needed, but as time went on she began having more and more frequent accidents at their house as well. Frequently, she would wet her bed. Then there were a few incidents where her back legs--those crooked hips--gave out on her.

My mom gave her a daily dose of aspirin and then some medicine to help her kidneys. But the accidents were happening more and more often. Then on Sunday she had a seizure and they knew that it was time.

This was not unexpected news because my mom had let us know that Mac wasn't doing well and that they were taking things day by day. But when we got the e-mail from my mom yesterday, telling us that Mac had made her final trip to the vet and her last meal was her favorite popcorn, we both took it kind of hard. I felt bad for not being there, even though Little Mac had transferred her allegiance to my mom just the way she once dumped David for me.

And even though Mac wasn't living with us anymore, even though she was difficult and aggressive and peed and pooped everywhere and barked at old people and growled at people in wheelchairs and snarled at little kids and snapped at us... it wasn't easy to know that she was gone.

She was David's first dog--a gift from his mom when he graduated from college--and she was our first pet. She saw us through dating and engagement and marriage and pregnancy and loss and a baby. She was there from the beginning--for the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful.

She wasn't always easy, but she was ours, and there will never be another dog quite like her.

We love you, Little Mac, and all your crazy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cute Feet!

I don't want to sound conceited here, but I should tell you that my feet are pretty cute. In college, I had the cutest feet in my group of friends (none of them would dispute this). Cute feet don't get you many favors in life, but they do make sandal season enjoyable.

Anyway, the real reason that this is noteworthy is because it appears that Coco has inherited her mama's cute feet. At least, according to Zuzu.

This video is a typical interaction between the two of them. Except there is usually more kissing. Zuzu loves to kiss Coco's cheeks. I wondered where she got this, and then I realized that almost every time I pick up either one of the girls, I kiss their cheeks. They're just so deliciously kissable, you know?

I love the part where she says, "I like you!" Heart explosion.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sisters, Side by Side

At the request of my Aunt Peggy (and for my own viewing pleasure) here are a few comparison shots of Zuzu and Coco.

First, the newborn shots I used for each of their birth announcements (because is there anything cuter than a baby in her birthday suit?):

Zuzu, 9 days old
Coco, 9 days old
I love how Zuzu is curled up in a baby ball and Coco has her little frog-legs stretched out--I swear that's why I was so uncomfortable when I was pregnant with her! Coco was stretching those legs out when she was still in my belly.

And here's pictures on the same chair. Zuzu slept through her entire photo session, so I have no professional newborn photos of her with her eyes open! Coco on the other hand was bright-eyed until the very end, when Katie snapped the photo of her snoozing on our ottoman.

And the one-month comparisons...

The youngest sister is not getting weekly photo sessions. Well, honestly she usually gets at least a snapshot a day on my phone, but I didn't get the weekly stickers. We're going to do the monthly thing and leave it at that. I took monthly photos of Zuzu, too, but had her propped up in a chair, so I thought this was the best side-by-side comparison. But here's the monthly side-by-sides:

It's funny to me that Zuzu looks kinda crabby in her photo, because right now I would say that Coco is the fussier baby. But maybe that's just because I'm living it? This weekend there was a LOT of fussing, although today has been (knock on wood) smooth sailing. Anyway, she's still a total doll when she's not pissed off at the world.

So when I look at the comparisons, the hair is obviously different, but I think you can tell they are sisters--same shaped faces, same chubby cheeks. But I think their eyes are different (they look most alike when they are sleeping). This makes me wonder if maybe Coco has my eyes... so maybe hers will stay blue instead of turning hazel like Zuzu's did. It will be interesting to see if her hair gets lighter like Zuzu's did (you know, once it grew in).

I'm always telling Coco that she's so lucky to have Zuzu for her big sister, and I'm always telling Zuzu that she and Coco are going to be best friends. I love how much Zuzu loves the baby. Even when she has acted out negatively to get attention from David and me, she has never been anything but loving to go Coco. It's Coco she wants to kiss first thing in the morning, and she always wants to help change her diaper. It's really impossibly sweet.

I know we'll have our share of bickering and sister-drama, but I sure hope they grow up to be close and take care of each other. I have a feeling that they will be quite the pair.

That's Zuzu's "tent" in the background.

Sister Love

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Writing a Blog Hop

Sarah at Harry Times tagged me for this Blog Hop. I started reading Sarah's blog way back when I was writing a dissertation and thinking about getting pregnant. I guess I googled something related to that and ended up on her blog--she's a PhD who had two kids when I first started reading and now has four, so she seems to know something about balancing academia and motherhood (I could be wrong, but I believe her secrets include fresh-baked cookies and also wine).

Anyway, here's Sarah's blogpost and here are my answers to these questions:

What am I working on?

This would be more accurately phrased "What should I be working on?" or "What would I like to be working on?" or "What do I imagine I'd be working on, if I were motivated to work on something?"

In that case, I'd be working on revising the novel that met the word count but was still quite unfinished/unpolished/hanging together by a thread at the end of NaNoWriMo last year. I really do want to revisit it, but I've definitely been preoccupied. Still, I should try to carve out some time...

I should also be working on revising the paper I wrote for that conference back in April. It's about how Charles Dickens uses child abuse as a rite of passage for his characters. I was kind of drawing on a biographical approach, though, which is tricky. I got a lot of useful feedback, though, and I'd really like to turn that paper into an article.

If my blog counts as "work," then I'm still doing that--and these days it's mostly keeping track of Coco's early weeks and life with two lively little girls.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh this is the kind of existential question that plagues all writers, right? I can remember having a meltdown with a friend in graduate school and I was like, "I think everything I wanted to say in my dissertation has already been written by other scholars who said it better than I ever could!" My practical friend was like, "Yeah, that's what every academic says. Just get over it and keep writing."

I think that I do have a unique writing voice and I like to use humor in my writing (even when I'm writing about grief or writing scholarly articles). My novel is a small town murder mystery love story that also involves research and made up facts about the Ku Klux Klan and a white supremacy church in Southwest Missouri. Honestly, I'm not sure how different it is from other small town murder mystery love stories except that I'm the one writing it.

Why do I create what I do?

The novel is truly just for fun. I don't have a thick enough skin about fiction writing to put it out there. I just like to write stuff. I keep considering taking some fiction writing workshops for fun and the thought freaks me out--oh, my fragile little ego. One of these days I need to just go for it.

The scholarly article is partly because I find Victorian novels endlessly fascinating and partly because I want to prove to myself that I can do this--that I have what it takes to be a published academic even though I'm not teaching at an R1 school. (Also it helps my case for a course release when I can prove that I'm doing scholarly research that gets published.)

And I write on the blog for a bunch of reasons--because I want to have a record of what my life is like ever since I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books at age six or seven and decided I, too, should have a multi-volume memoir, because I want to connect with other people, because putting my thoughts into words on a screen is incredibly therapeutic for me, and because it's still a nice way to keep long-distance friends and family up to date on what's going on here.

How does my writing process work?

I usually sketch a very vague outline and then I write the way I would talk if I were telling the story to a friend or lecture to a group of enthusiastic students. I almost always have to write a "zero draft" which is messy and terrible and then I do a lot of revising. For my scholarly work, I ask for feedback. I used to meet weekly with a friend and we'd read and comment on each other's work and it was so fun and helpful and I really miss that since she up and moved to Japan. Obviously I find deadlines to be extremely helpful since I could write a novel in a month when I had to, but seem unable to find the time to write ever since.

I do most of my writing on a laptop and I like to write in coffee shops but I can also write at home on the couch or at the dining room table--assuming I'm the only one home or everyone else is asleep! I can revise in my office, but I don't write well there at all (strange, but true).

When I was writing my dissertation, I would force myself to sit down for 30 minutes and just see what I could get done. (It's amazing how much I can get done in half an hour.) When I was doing NaNoWriMo, I had a strict word count I had to meet. I think the timer thing would work well for me, so I should really just try to carve out 30 minutes a day... even if it means getting some help from Daniel Tiger.

Okay! Enough of my angst about the writing I'm [not] doing. Now I'm passing the torch to a friend and fellow St. Louis blogger, Kristin at thirdstory(ies).

I found Kristin's blog when her daughter E's nursery was featured on Young House Love and when I realized we lived in the same city, I e-mailed her to ask if she could recommend a day care in the city. That's how we ended up at the children's center we love so much, and after meeting Kristin in person at the Farmer's Market (she actually recognized David from photos on my blog), we became friends in real life, too. She's an architect with the kind of artistic talent that easily translates to various DIY projects, including some serious cookie decorating, and she and her family are some of my favorite people on the internet (and in St. Louis).

Friday, September 5, 2014

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Baby Coco is pretty much up every three hours squawking for what we're calling "mama-milk" around these parts.

I think Baby Keya sleeps more soundly.

Anyway, the lack of sleep isn't making me too crazy. I keep Coco an arm's reach from the bed, so it's easy to feed her at night--I don't get out of bed, I just nurse her while lying on my side. Also David and I have given up on having much (any) time to ourselves in the evenings and we go to bed at 9pm.

Yesterday I woke up at 7am and things started to fall into place for the morning. Zuzu ate a good breakfast. Coco went back to sleep. Zuzu played quietly while I actually took a quick shower (!). I was dressed and had clean hair by 9am. It was a small miracle.

So I decided to make the most of it, and I loaded up the girls and headed out for storytime at the library. The branch closest to our house doesn't have toddler storytime on Thursday, but another branch not too far away does. So we trekked up to the Central West End (one of my favorite parts of town anyway) to hear stories.

It felt like a quintessential SAHM moment. I wore Coco in my homemade Moby wrap. Zuzu was fairly timid at first since it was a new place (she wanted to walk independently and not hold my hand--sigh--but she also stuck her hand in her mouth, which is her go-to comfort when she's not yet comfortable somewhere, and ended up sharing my lap with Coco during storytime).

Storytime was cute--there were just five kids there (plus Coco): a dad with his daughter, a mom with her son, and two nannies with two little girls who knew each other (one of whom was named Caroline). Zuzu was too shy to participate in the stories, but I've noticed that she prefers to observe and learn before jumping in to give it a try. When she watches Signing Time, she'll watch the same episode a few times before she actually starts doing the signs. Anyway, she was really interested in the alligator puppet the librarian had and after the stories were finished, she was the first one up to pet the puppet.

We played in the play area a little bit and read a couple more books on our own after storytime was over. 

We skipped this one:

and when it was time to go, Zuzu negotiated with me: "Ten minutes, Mama! Two minutes! One minute!" but ultimately we got out of there without fuss and it went so well I decided to press our luck and go to the park before lunch. I was thinking I'd wear out Zuzu so she'd nap easily.

Unfortunately, the playground was not shady and I'd underestimated how hot it was. It only took a few minutes for me to decide that it was too hot for Coco. So then I felt bad--like I'd offered Zuzu this "teaser" of the playground only to say we had to leave. To compensate, I told her that she could play in the water splash part before we left--even though I didn't have her swimsuit or a change of clothes.

So she ran through the water and had a great time and then it was time to go and she tried to run away from me and then I grabbed her hand and she bit me. I couldn't just pick her up and carry her since I had Coco in the wrap, and I was feeling stressed about getting the baby out of the heat, which made me feel HOTTER. So I employed some combination of bribes (lunch!), threats (Do you want Mama and Coco to leave you here by yourself?), and guilt-trips (biting HURTS Mama) and we made to the car.

Once we got there, I was really regretting the trip to the park. And I felt like I had to strategize how to get us loaded up and out of there. I started the car, blasted the AC, sat a soaking wet Zuzu on the passenger seat up front, took Coco out of the wrap and loaded her up in the carseat, went back around to Zuzu and stripped her out of her wet clothes, put her in a dry diaper, and then loaded her up in the backseat.

Coco slept through all of this, but she was pretty sweaty from being in the wrap so then I was worried she had gotten heatstroke. And then I was worried that she'd get chilled from the AC on her sweaty little body. It's a ten minute drive home and I worried the whole time that she was going to stop breathing. (She was FINE.)

Zuzu ate a good lunch and, except for the biting incident and the fear that I'd exposed the baby to heatstroke, I still felt like things were going pretty well.

But naptime totally fell apart. Coco and Zuzu and I spent an hour and a half in Zuzu's room and no one wanted to sleep. Except me.

At 2 o'clock, I finally gave up on naptime and decided to give in to screen time in order to save my sanity. When Zuzu gets tired, she gets so ornery. And she knows when I'm helplessly nursing the baby and unable to chase her.

Of course she fell asleep at 3 o'clock next to me in the recliner, which was sweetly adorable since she's not much of a snuggler these days. 

By 5pm, she was awake and Coco started her seriously fussy time and she was crying while I was trying to make dinner for Zuzu and David didn't get home from work until after 8pm and WOW. I keep reminding myself to treasure these moments, but I have to REMIND myself, you know?

At one point (I believe when she was systematically unpacking our camera bag after I told her to put it back and then THREW the battery in my general direction), I even said something to Zuzu that I swore I would NEVER say to my kid: "Do you want a spanking?"

She said, "Yeah!" with a huge grin.

Obviously has no idea what a spanking is. Aggravating as it was, her enthusiasm made me laugh. And made me feel like my parenting is totally ineffectual.

But she does crack me up. Even when she's naughty.

I don't even have a caption for this.

 And Coco is so sweet when she's sleeping. Or looking around skeptically. 

So we have our good moments, too.

Right now our moment consists of Coco snoozing on top of me, Cooper giving me puppy-dog eyes for dinner, and Zuzu frollicking naked (long story) on the couch, singing the theme song to "Signing Time."

It feels crazy and chaotic and I mostly feel vaguely incompetent and hungry and also like I need to take a shower. And I would like someone to clean my bathroom and mop the kitchen floor and fix dinner and pour me a glass of wine while I do that. Anyone? Anyone?

Well, tomorrow is another day. So for now I'll just try to be content sitting here smelling Coco's head and watching Zuzu's antics. As long as she doesn't pee on the couch (or the carpet), we'll call this one a good day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I'm so relieved to be able to tell you that we finally got the results of Coco's second newborn screening and, in the words of her pediatrician, "it came back perfect."

I was pretty sure it was going to be okay, but I was still flooded with relief when I heard the voice mail her doctor left me. 

Three different friends of mine have recently had serious health issues come up for them or one of their children and in addition to my anxiety for them, it has been an unsettling reminder of how easily my priorities get skewed. Because if someone you love is sick, if a member of your family is struggling with a life-threatening illness, then truly nothing else matters. 

I hope that one way I have created meaning from Eliza's loss is by valuing even more highly the people I love. I don't want to take this life for granted. 

Tonight, I'm snuggling my youngest daughter close (David drew the short straw and is attempting bedtime for Zuzu--wish him luck!) and I'm feeling overwhelmed by our good fortune. Her test didn't have to come back perfect. It could have gone another way. Life can blindside you with bad news. And I can't help but think that another family somewhere got another phone call today and they heard the news they were dreading, or information they were never expecting, instead of the result they were hoping for. 

I keep thinking about a young Amish couple I saw when I took Colette to the hospital for her second test. The mom was carrying their baby in her arms. The dad was pulling the baby's oxygen tank. I think about that family, in the city, out of their comfort zone, away from the familiarity of their home and their way of life, doing whatever it takes to make their baby healthy. I think about how our lifestyles may be so different, but we share the same fierce love for our babies and the same unspeakable fear that we could lose them. My heart goes out to anyone who has a sick baby--I can all too easily imagine the helplessness and heartache of witnessing your child struggle with health issues you cannot fix, no matter how desperately you bargain with the universe.

I always have a long lists of wishes and wants and worries. But tonight I'm reminded that there are really only two things on that list: let us be healthy and safe from harm.

I will welcome a six to eight hour stretch of sleep again at some point, but tonight I'm just so grateful that she's here and healthy. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Conversations with Zuzu, Part II

Scene: In the hospital, day 2 of our stay after Coco was born. Zuzu climbs up on the bed with me to see the baby, wants to kiss her, is generally sweet and delightful. We are talking to her about how Coco is her sister and how great it is to have a little sister and then Zuzu turns to me and fixes her eyes on mine.

Zuzu: Where Coco's mama?

Me: Uh, right here. I'm Coco's mama.

Zuzu: Where Coco's mama?

Me: I'm your mama AND Coco's mama.

Zuzu: (silence)

* * *

Scene: In the car, on the way home from daycare. Talking about how Daddy will be home soon and then she can splish splash.

Me: Who loves you, Zuzu?

Zuzu: David.

Me: You mean Daddy?

Zuzu: (sighs) Yeah.

* * *

Scene: At the dinner table. My parents are still here. Coco has had her "mommy-milk" and is snoozing while we eat dinner. Zuzu has her sippy cup of cow milk with dinner.

Zuzu: (chugs milk, sets down her cup) This is Mommy-milk!

Me: Oh really?

Zuzu: (takes another swig) This is Grammy-milk!

* * *

Scene: TV room. Zuzu is hanging upside down off the ottoman.

Zuzu: Look, Mommy! I backwards!

* * *

Scene: Living room. Zuzu is coloring in new Hello, Kitty coloring book. She picks up two crayons, holding one in each hand.

Zuzu: (clicking crayons together) Cheers! Cheers!

* * *

Scene: Living room. Coco is nursing. Zuzu is entertaining herself building a "tent" of blankets. It's about 9 in the morning and David is at work.

from outside: (sound of a lawnmower)

Zuzu: (jumps up in excitement) I hear my daddy outside!

* * *

Scene: In the TV room. We are hanging out after dinner.

Zuzu: (picks up empty beer glass) This Daddy's bee-ah?

Me: Yes--that was Daddy's beer.

Zuzu: I yove bee-ah.

Me: Honey, you cannot go around saying that!

(Please note: She has NEVER HAD beer and therefore is unable to have an opinion about it.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Daily Grind

I need a project. I think I'm going to start editing/revising/rewriting my novel from NaNoWriMo last November. I just need something to occupy my mind besides the daily grind. Don't get me wrong--I love having the opportunity to be home with Zuzu and Coco but it can be tedious and exhausting and it takes so much effort and then at the end of the day I have nothing to show for it except (sometimes) a reasonably tidy house and a load of folded laundry. My personality requires engaging long- or short-term projects with visible results to keep me happy. And I'm not quite ready to paint the dining room yet. Once Coco establishes a more predictable routine, I'm totally going to tackle it.

# # #

I feel really stinky. After a ridiculously nice summer (for which I am very grateful, since I was carrying an extra 40 pounds for most of it), St. Louis remembered what August is supposed to feel like and it has been so humid and so hot this week. Heat index was 109 on Monday! Ridiculous. So we are kind of stuck in the AC, but even the basic tasks of taking Zuzu to daycare and getting home is enough to give me boob sweat (Seriously, milk supply, chill the eff out already! I did not have quadruplets!). I have heard other people say that postpartum hormones make them stinkier than usual, and I think I'm totally there. Plus I was trying natural deodorant while breastfeeding except, NO. I was so foul smelling it was really terrible. I kept thinking that even Coco would be repulsed rather than comforted by my scent.

And now I want to take a shower, except I know the moment I step under the water, both girls will be awake, Coco will be crying, and Zuzu will be shouting, "Mama! Coco cwying! Why Coco cwying, Mama?" (and will repeat those phrases into infinity until I address the issue).

So instead I'll just stay stinky until David gets home. Happy Day-After-Your-Birthday, honey!

# # #

Today I dropped the metal mixer attachment onto the tile floor in the kitchen and it made a super loud god-awful racket and scared the crap out of me and I reflexively exclaimed, "Holy crap!"

Guess who ran in the kitchen and yelled, "Holy crap!"

This little helper. Shown here licking said mixer attachment.

Yeah... So then I said, "Oh, my goodness!" which is our go-to phrase to express astonishment around here these days.

But she kept saying, "Holy crap!"

We'll see how long that lasts...

# # #

When Zuzu was a newborn and would wake up in the mornings, I'd nurse her in my bed and she'd usually drift off to sleep again. So I'd lie in bed next to her and read and watch her sleep and take pictures of her and basically lounge around until she woke up or I got hungry. It was awesome, and I was kind of sad that Coco and I wouldn't have those lazy mornings together, since I try to get out the door to take Zuzu to school by 8:30am on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and she's usually demanding breakfast the moment she's awake (which is almost always around 7am) any day of the week (so each morning I face the Mother's Dilemma: Feed my child breakfast, or buy myself 30 minutes of dozing off with an episode of Curious George?).

But this morning? Zuzu came in my bedroom and went back to sleep in my bed. Coco woke up and I nursed her in bed and she also went back to sleep. I lay quietly next to them, marveling at my good fortune and taking pictures of my sleeping babies and Zuzu slept until 8:30am! It might be the only morning I get like that, but it was a really good one.

# # #

I asked David to take a picture of me with the girls last night and he took it from the worst possible angle ever and it was incredibly unflattering and I know that I'm only 3 weeks postpartum but the photo was pretty horrifying and when I expressed my dissatisfaction about the picture, David got all bent out of shape because for some reason he takes it personally when I suggest in any way that he is not a stellar photographer even though he has no interest in photography or photographic composition, so it's not like he's trying to be good at it (although I wish he WOULD try). So then he got all snippy with me about it when really I just was feeling sorry for myself and while I DO think he could have taken a more flattering photo if he put a modicum of effort into it, I was not trying to insult his cell phone photo skills.

(Can you tell we are both kind of tired?)

So then I did what anyone would do who is feeling tired and cranky and unattractive.

I had cookie cake and a beer for dinner.

I actually felt much better after the beer.

# # #

We've done the toddler bed transition with Zuzu. Her nighttime routine has been a battle since her birthday. Really, it's been a battle since she and I visited my parents in mid-June.

Gone are the days when we'd bathe, read, rock, and drop her in the crib at 7:30 with a kiss good-night, knowing we wouldn't hear a peep out of her until 7:30 the next morning. (Oh, how I miss those days!) Instead we've had bedtime battles (seriously, one night she was up until 10 o'clock!) and climbing out of the crib and one of us would have to sit in there with her until she fell asleep (super fun way to spend the evening) and often we'd have to call in the other person for reinforcements because, frankly, a two-year-old who is cackling with delight at being awake when she is SUPPOSED to have been asleep hours ago, makes me kind of irrationally ragey, especially in the weeks when I was Very Uncomfortably Pregnant.

At one point we turned her crib into a toddler bed and that was such a disaster that we converted it back into a crib. She was still climbing out of it in the mornings, but at least it kept her relatively contained at bedtime.

But finally we bit the bullet and transitioned over the weekend. The first night was crappy, the second night was easy, the third night was somewhere in the middle...  We've promised ourselves we will give it a week. Nap time today was not easy--I had to sit in there with her until she fell asleep, but I just brought my phone and read so I didn't feel ragey. Of course, it was easier since Coco was sleeping--if she had been fussy, then it would be a different story. But for today, getting her to nap at all felt like a victory!

# # #

We STILL do not have the results of Coco's blood test. I called yesterday afternoon and asked about it. The nurse said she'd check and call me back, but warned me "It takes a good week to get results back."

I said, very evenly, "Well this test was done a week ago yesterday."

But the results said "Still in progress."

She called me back this morning and said the computer says the same thing. She promised to check before she left for the afternoon, so it's possible we could hear something before the weekend, but I'm not holding my breath.

# # #

I feel like this might go down in history as the most boring blog post ever. But what can I expect when I spent a whole day this week just nursing the baby and watching 19 Kids and Counting?

I guess I could go into detail about how my milk supply is so ridiculous that I am water boarding poor Coco when she first latches on... Or we could talk about my feelings on courtship, 19 Kids-style (I actually don't have super strong feelings about courtship, I mean they seem really happy, so who am I to judge? But I do wish some of these kids would go to college--they seem really smart and I'm not sure why higher formal education isn't a priority...).

So, yeah... when my boobs and the Duggars are the central focuses of a given day, it really makes me feel like I need to take on a project of some kind. If I only had the energy and attention span for one... Which means this post has come full circle and Imma gonna hit publish and return to the September edition of Elle and imagine what I might wear if I had money to spend on clothes and left the house to go somewhere besides daycare or Target and also had a waist.

# # #

Except I also want to say: the days might be long, but they are flying by. Life is tedious and delightful and messy and exhilerating and exhausting and boring and amazing. And right now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Zuzu and I made a birthday cake for Daddy today (belated because he got so many desserts at work yesterday). I had to wear Coco in the Moby wrap because she was losing her mind at being put down. So the whole experience was the definition of messy and annoying and delightful. (And since she preferred the Moby wrap over the pack & play, I can only assume that Coco enjoys the smell if ineffectual deodorant + b.o.).

Monday, August 25, 2014

These Days

I was recently telling friends that I think I've been more emotional since Coco's birth than I was after Zuzu's birth. I was so flooded with relief after Zuzu was here and I think that I just rode that high for weeks.

This time I felt nearly the same measure of relief, but I've also had many more moments of sadness. I think that in a strange way, the "normal" happiness we've felt with Coco (as opposed to the mind-blown level of relief we felt after Zuzu) has highlighted everything we were robbed of when we lost Eliza. There was one day when I settled down on the couch with Coco curled up on my chest sleeping, and I just cried because the weight of her felt so exactly perfect and right and all I could think about was how empty and lost and broken I was when we came home from the hospital without our first baby.

I will never forget sitting next to David on our old plaid couches, staring at the windows, waiting for nothing to happen, and wanting to die. All I could think about was how desperate I was to hold my newborn baby girl and instead my arms were literally aching with nothing to hold.

Holding Coco is such a simple pleasure that I will never take for granted, and it may even be a little bittersweet because I know that she will be the last of my babies.

It fills up my heart to see the love and (intense) affection that Zuzu has for Coco, and it also kills me to think about all we missed out on with sisters--all the comparisons and the way Coco looks just like Zuzu as a newborn when they are sleeping, but that she looks so much like her own little person when her big eyes are open... all these comparisons circle back to our first baby and how much I wish we knew more of what she looked like, how even the lovely pictures we have of Eliza just don't do her justice. How much I just want all three of them here together.

Of course, it's easy to let myself imagine some kind of idyllic life with three little girls when of course I know that it would be virtually impossible to have this life we have now plus Eliza. Not to mention that any life with three little ones under four years old is probably a little less than idyllic. The truth is that if we had Eliza, everything would have taken different paths, and we've come too far to be able to turn things back and know how they might have been.

And yet, that rational approach does not stop me from imagining what it might have been like to have Zuzu welcomed home by an enthusiastic big sister, and how it would feel to be snapping Coco into twice-worn onesies.

So, yeah. There has been some of that sadness. Balanced by some crazy, wild happiness:

Zuzu bounding in the room everyday shouting, "I kiss Coco?! I hold her?! My turn?!"

All four of us curled up on the bed on Saturday morning, David reading a book to Zuzu, me nursing Coco, feeling like I just want to bottle up the moment and keep it forever.

Coco's enormous burps and the laugh-out-loud volume of her toots when she fills her diaper.

Zuzu running through the house with a container of Cheerios, being chased by a hopeful Cooper, as she giggles maniacally and says, "Are you having fun, Peeper?"

("Peeper" continues to be the current pronunciation of Cooper, although she can say Cooper if asked. I don't ask her often because "Peeper" is the cutest.)

Zuzu and David having a dance party to the theme song of "Signing Time."

A family outing to the park, through which Coco slept and Zuzu raced around and I could actually keep up with her since the baby was in her bucket seat and not in my belly.

Snuggling (comfortably) with Zuzu in the rocking chair and marveling at how huge and sturdy she became the day Coco was born.

Being more relaxed about nursing and sleeping than we were with Zuzu is also a relief. Don't get me wrong--I still have a couple moments almost everyday where Coco is sleeping so soundly and so still that terror grips my heart until I feel her belly rise under my hand, but overall we are both better-able to enjoy her without constantly fearing that she's about to die.

Which is a terrible way to describe our newborn days with Zuzu, but that's honestly how it was. We were ecstatic to have her and desperately afraid of losing her. These days, the fear is still here. It's just a little less desperate.

More ups than downs, I'm glad to say, but also I think already a little bit of nostalgia for moving past the pregnancy and baby days. I'm relieved to not be thinking about getting pregnant again, but I look at this two-week-old baby and her two-year-old sister and I still don't know how time works...

How can it be more than three and a half years since Eliza died?

How can it be two whole years with Zuzu here?

How can two weeks fly by in an instant?

How can it be 10:30am already when I've barely managed to get myself dressed and get everyone fed?

How can it ONLY be 10:30am when I'm completely exhausted?

And honestly, the time it's taken to write this out has been the longest time I've been able to get all philosophical about things. Because there are diapers to change and babies to feed and toddlers to rock and distractions to invent to keep the dog or the toddler out of the baby's face and laundry to fold and stickers to peel off the sofa and snacks to eat and dishes to unload and mostly if I'm taking a break from all of that, I don't want to do anything except sit and breathe in my good fortune.

If you're wondering, these days good fortune smells like newborn baby perfection and toddler sweat. And, occasionally, it even smells like poopy diapers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Quick Update

Thanks so much for the comments on my last post. The follow-up heel stick at Children's Hospital went much better. Coco still cried, but it took half as long, and our nurse was very kind and competent.

I nursed her right before we went in, and held her little foot in my hand the whole time and the nurse commented on how warm her foot was--so I do think that advice helped!

Unfortunately, we don't get the results until next week, so I'm mostly trying to not think about it.

It's crazy, isn't it, how all the really important things in life are completely out of our control?

The thing that kills me is the part I maybe COULD have controlled.

In fact, as Mama Bear noted, the PKU/newborn screening IS done by smearing blood from the heel on a piece of paper with five little circles. I had this vague idea in my head (hence my mention of "litmus paper" in the previous post) but I'm really mad at myself for NOT realizing that there should have never been a vial involved. I feel like I should have researched it and known what I was getting into so I could have spoken up. Total parenting fail.

Anyway, now we just wait for results (next week!) and try to keep in mind that her doctor isn't worried and everything is likely to be fine.

It's not always easy to be optimistic when we are well-versed in the highly-unlikely most-opposite-of-fine version of events, but so far we are busy and healthy and happy and I just want to keep it that way.

Coco poses as she sleeps

Zuzu poses with her hat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Testing, Testing, and Tears

So far, my time at home with Coco has been pretty spectacular. Once she got rid of all the amniotic fluid she still had in her when she was born (evidently most of that typically gets squeezed out during delivery, but she popped out so fast that she still had a lot of fluid in her belly, which meant that she did not nurse well at all for the first 36 hours or so) and then figured out how to nurse without grinding my nipples into raw hamburger, the nursing thing has gone pretty well. My milk supply could still chill out a little bit, but I'm not going to complain about that when I know that it would be way kites stressful to have the opposite problem.

Overall, Colette seems like an easy baby--though I told my mom last night that I think a lot of that has to do with us. I felt like Zuzu was a chill baby, but I don't remember us really laying Zuzu down to nap when she was this little--she was constantly held and the slightest squawk would stress me out. This time, Coco has to squawk a little bit if she's put down in the pack & play while Zuzu is getting dressed for school and --guess what--by the time I've finished getting Zuzu ready, Coco is asleep and peaceful, and doesn't protest when I load her up in the car seat.

I'm enjoying the relative relaxation that comes with the second [living] baby--I know we'll figure out nursing, I know I won't always be so tired, I know how fast this time will go by. And while things haven't been perfect (bedtime is kind if a disaster these days), I've been relieved at how easily and enthusiastically Zuzu seems to have transitioned to being a big sister.

Seriously: Today I came in from the kitchen with Zuzu's milk and overhead Zuzu saying "I yove you, Coco." Swear to God. My heart exploded.

BUT (you were waiting for a but, right?), this week has had a few special challenges as well. I can handle explosive newborn mustard poop AND dog poop in the basement AND spit-up in my cleavage AND Zuzu being clingy at daycare drop off AND running out of vanilla Joe-Joe's.

But Monday night things got scary. I got a call from the pediatrician's office saying that Coco's newborn screening came back abnormal and needs to be redone.

Nothing like the phrase "abnormal test results" to make me feel panicky.

The nurse I spoke with was very reassuring and said that false positive results often occur when a baby has had the PKU testing before nursing successfully for 24 hours. She also said that 99.99% of the time, the second test comes back just fine.

(I, of course, automatically start calculating how likely it is for us to be the "0.01%" of people at our pediatrician's office whose false positive is, in fact, not false.)

I try to limit my googling, but I did enough to determine that Coco doesn't have the other symptoms that are typical of babies who have a genuine abnormality--she wasn't low birth weight, her head is not small, she's eating and pooping and peeing just fine.

But you know how it is.

I worry.

The second screening meant that Coco had to have another heel stick today. The pediatrician's office said that my insurance required me to go to a specific lab to have the blood drawn, so I made an appointment for this morning. I dropped Zu at school and then Coco and I headed to the lab.

You guys. It was much worse than I thought.

I don't know what I was expecting--a quick heel prick, a smear on a piece of litmus paper or something?

I did not realize that her heel would get stuck and then SQUEEZED in order to make the blood fill up a vial. While she screamed and cried REAL TEARS. The tech started this process with her asleep in her carseat. Once I realized that this process was going to take FOREVER, I insisted on removing her from her car seat and holding her. Meanwhile, the lab tech is trying to tell me it will "go faster" if she's crying. WTF???

I was practically in tears myself and then the lab tech asked if it was my first baby.
I might have been just a little bit snappy when I said no.

So finally it was all over. Poor Coco dozed off in her car seat after I promised her that we would do nothing else but nurse and hang out all day.

We got home and I called David to tell him how horrible it was and to tell him that if I'd known how horrible it was going to be that I wasn't sure I would have taken her by myself and at least it was over and we'd get the results soon.

Instead, I got a call from the lab this afternoon telling me that they DON'T DO the newborn screening that my doctor had ordered.

So they had taken this blood from Coco, run a bilirubin test that she DID NOT NEED and which WAS NOT ORDERED, and now they were calling to inform me that my pediatrician should have sent me to a hospital because their lab doesn't do the newborn screening. (By the way, she's not jaundiced. This is not news. Thanks for NOTHING.)

(I was driving to pick up Zuzu from school when I got this phone call and you better believe I had to PULL THE CAR OVER because I was shaking with rage.)

So I immediately called my pediatrician's office. They were apologetic and said that they had a call in to the lab representative to see why this lab location didn't do this screening.

The only thing I cared about was whether the test would have to be redone. Like can't they just use the same vial of blood?

Of course it does have to be redone. The nurse started to say something about waiting to hear from their lab rep before rescheduling and I interrupted her to say that it made no difference to me if that location did the screening or not because there was no way I was going back there. She was very understanding.

So now I have to take my 11-day-old baby to a children's hospital tomorrow morning to have her OTHER little foot jabbed and squeezed and drained of blood. While we both cry.

And I try not to think about the small possibility that our test results might not be good ones.

What kind of lab tech draws blood for a test they don't do? Why didn't she READ the form before she stuck my baby?

Our pediatrician actually called me himself to apologize and make sure I understood that I won't be charged for this, that I'll have an appointment scheduled at children's hospital tomorrow, and that if my insurance tries to say they won't cover it, that I have the paperwork to say that I tried to go to the lab they work with but they wouldn't do the test. He was also reassuring about not being concerned about the test results--he basically said it's state mandated screening and rescreening if anything comes back funky, and reiterated that she had probably just been tested too early at the hospital.

David wants to call and speak to the manager of the lab. I just want the whole damn thing to be over.

I'm dreading tomorrow's appointment. I don't want to have to cause her more pain.

Even more importantly: I want to get our test results back ASAP and I want her to be okay.


I wrote a long post about how we named Zuzu and thought I would do something similar for Coco.

Except... I don't really have a story here.

Unlike Caroline and Eliza, Colette is not a family name (until now!). It's a name that David and I both happened to like and then love.

If Rerun were a boy, his name would have been William Whillock Duckworth. That was the boy-name plan since before I got pregnant with Eliza.

If Rerun were a girl... we were less certain. There were other contenders--I still like Blair, I pushed hard for Louisa, I also love Violet. David leaned toward Cecily, and I thought Vivian with the nickname Via was downright adorable.

Our little Coco-Bean in her ruffle-butt homecoming outfit. I got Kicky Pants outfits for both of the girls to wear home from the hospital. The fabric is made from bamboo so it's lightweight enough for summer and super soft.
Colette started with David suggesting the name Cosette.

Full disclosure: David has a real weakness for large-scale musicals, and Les Miserables is no exception. He also seems to prefer multi-syllabic, singable girl names. After we saw the musical production of Emma, Emma was totally in the running. Sweeney Todd has a nice little ditty about a Joanna. Then there's "my heart's on fire for Elvira" which actually works nicely if you substitute "Eliza," and don't even get me started on "ROXanne..."

(I'm kidding about that last one. Roxanne was never on our list, although now that I think about Roxanne, I kind of love it. And you know she'd be the only kid in preschool named Roxanne. Roxy! Annie! Xannie! Oxblood! Xanax! So many cute nicknames.)

Anyway, David suggested the name Cosette and I kind of liked it. I actually knew a little girl named Cosette who went by Cosi, and while that was cute, it was kind of too cute for me. Plus I wasn't sure we wanted another C name.

Daddy, Coco, and Daddy's bee-ah--for some reason Zuzu says the word "beer" with a Boston accent
But anytime I'd mention one of the names I liked, David would bring up Cosette, and eventually I said, "Well, what about Colette?"

A quick google search of the name Colette pulled up nothing objectionable, and confirmed my vague recollection from my grad school proficiency course in French translation that there was a French novelist named [Sidonie-Gabrielle] Colette.

And I decided that I could get over the two-C thing. I think I was afraid that it would somehow exclude Eliza further--like Caroline and Colette were a set. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the name was pretty perfect.  So yeah, we have two C's, but I figured with different middle initials, their monograms will be different and I can always use the initial "Z" for Zuzu if I wanted to.

Of course, I have to say that I also love the nickname Coco.

It's funny because our families don't do nicknames. Everyone with the exception of my dad and David's stepdad goes by their full name (my dad's a Thomas who goes by Tom and David's dad is a David who goes by Dave mostly to avoid confusion, so it's really just dropping a syllable rather than a nickname). In fact, no one in David's family will call Zuzu "Zuzu"--they all use her full name (which I think is kind of weird but I have decided to find it amusing, particularly since she calls herself Zuzu). But I love nicknames.

I just think there is something really sweet about having nice, respectable names like Caroline and Colette and then having ridiculous little nicknames while they are little or that just family uses (because I expect to call them by their nicknames forever!). I don't expect Zuzu to go by Zuzu when she gets to kindergarten (although I guess we'll let her decide?). But I think it's hilarious that they have "formal" names and then sweet nicknames that sound like a pair of yappy dogs: Zuzu and Coco. Adorable.

(And yes, it does make me wonder if we would have come up with a silly nickname for Eliza also, and what it might have been...)

Toward the end of my pregnancy, we would occasionally ask Zuzu if she was going to have a brother or a sister and if the baby was going to be Will or Coco. (Although I also said that William Whillock Duckworth would get called Dubya Dubya Duck). Zuzu would give us a different answer each time, repeating whichever option we listed second. So she was no help and we honestly weren't even sure that she understood the concept of the baby in Mama's belly, especially since she would often want to change the subject to discuss the baby she said was in her belly.

After Colette was born and we called my parents to tell them she was here, they headed up to the hospital with Zuzu. They told her they were going to visit her little sister. She walked into the hospital room (wearing a sweet pink dress, white shoes and ruffly socks, a bow in her hair, carrying a vase with two carnations in it that she had selected for me) and said loudly, "Where my Baby Coco?"

Later, I asked my mom if they had called the baby Coco when they talked to Zuzu about her (since we hadn't mentioned the nickname yet) and my mom said no. Zuzu just put that together on her own.

I hold Coco's hand, Mama.
She does call her Colette once in a while, and enunciates it in the cutest way possible: "Why Co-lette crying, Mama? She want mama-milk?"

We used my maiden name, Taylor, for Colette's middle name, just as we did with Eliza. That was a no-brainer for us. I asked David if he liked it, he said sure, and that was the end of it. I love that they share a middle name, and I kind of wish that Zuzu had the same middle name, even though I also love her middle name (Audrey) and we chose Audrey because we wanted to represent both my side of the family and David's side (it's David's grandfather's mom's name).

The other thing that made the name Colette really appealing for us is that neither of us has ever met a Colette in real life. Considering all the students we've had between the two of us (particularly now that David is principal of a school with more than 750 students), that's pretty remarkable.

Zuzu thought this onesie was Coco's swim suit and got excited about splish-splashing with her. Coco's not quite ready for that!
So that's how we came up with Colette's name. I think it suits her perfectly.

The one and only Coco Duckworth

Friday, August 15, 2014


A few days after Coco was born, I sent an e-mail to my dean at the university where I work. It opened with, "David and I are delighted to announce the birth of our youngest daughter, Colette..." and included the basics--date, time, weight, length. I mentioned that Caroline is very enthusiastic about the baby and calls her Coco. I told him to feel free to share our good news with the university community.

Backstory: I was working fulltime through my pregnancies with both Zuzu/the Deuce and Coco/Rerun, but I did not talk much about babies or pregnancies at work. I'm sure a lot of people assumed that Zuzu was my first pregnancy. If they asked me directly, I corrected them. Otherwise, I said nothing. At that time, I still couldn't talk about Eliza without dissolving into tears, which doesn't exactly scream "competent English professor." As a result, a few members of the faculty knew about Eliza (including one professor in the English department who has become a really close friend), but many did not. 

And I was FINE with that. It's precisely the difference between coworkers and friends, you know? I didn't need to try to explain the depth of my grief with whom I'd had only casual, passing conversations. Let's just bitch about the lack of good vegetarian options in the cafeteria or the apathy of our students. No need to bare our souls in the faculty lounge or while waiting for the copy machine.

So I sent the basic, cheerful, work-appropriate e-mail announcing Colette's birth to my dean with no mention of the heartbreak that came before her. He sent a very kind congratulatory reply, and mentioned that he was going to forward my e-mail to the administrative assistant who sends out campus-wide announcements so that she could share our news (as I had expected and invited him to do).

The next day, there were several notes of congratulation in my inbox, all in response to a campus-wide e-mail that began: "Dr. Taylor and her husband David Duckworth welcomed their second daughter, Colette Taylor Duckworth..."

I read those words and my heart sank. 

It was so, so wrong. 

I didn't know what to do. I almost felt panicky. 

It was true that I hadn't mentioned Eliza in my e-mail to the dean. But-but-BUT I had deliberately chosen the word youngest because (nerd alert!) grammatically it refers to a comparison of more than two things (otherwise she would simply be the younger daughter). 

I know it's a small distinction, and one that nobody pays attention to in modern English, but a distinction nonetheless. One that felt right for a work e-mail. A whisper of acknowledgement for my invisible girl who isn't here to boss or hug or kiss her sisters, but who is still very much my first daughter.

My friend from the English department was coming over that very day to meet Coco, so I asked her what she thought I should do. Were these postpartum hormones making me freak out? Would I look like a crazy person, oversharing my personal life with my colleagues and coworkers if I insisted on this mistake being corrected? Should I just assume that the people who need to know already know and keep my private life private from everyone else? 

"It's important to me," I said to her, my voice breaking.

She told me that she didn't think there was a wrong decision here. I could choose to be private about it and f*ck what anyone else thinks, or I could choose to send out a correction and f*ck what anyone else thinks. 

(Good advice for a myriad of situations, really.)

In this case, I knew immediately that it mattered too much to me to just let it go. I have had three babies. I have given birth three times. I have fallen head over heels in love with three tiny little people before I even had a chance to meet them. I have been a mom since Mother's Day of 2010 and dammit, I want the fact that I have had three daughters to be acknowledged. 

Or at the very least not completely rewritten to the extent that Eliza never even existed. Her life was short enough without being obliterated entirely.

And so I sent an e-mail back to the administrative assistant and asked her to please forward the following to everyone who received the initial announcement:

Thank you so much for all the warm wishes!

One correction: Colette is our third daughter. Our first daughter, Eliza, was stillborn in December 2010, but is very much a loved and missed member of our family. Our second daughter, Caroline, is now an energetic and assertive two-year-old. She and Colette have brought us much joy after the grief of losing Eliza, and I'm so grateful to be able to share the news of a healthy baby and another sweet girl.

Thanks for your kindness and support!

I sent the e-mail quickly, before I could overthink it. With all the back-to-school announcements coming through, I wasn't even sure that people would read it. But it mattered to me that I put the truth out there. And I really liked seeing all three of their names listed. I've had three little girls! That's so crazy! 

Almost immediately, I got a reply from the administrative assistant, who apologized profusely for taking the liberty of assuming that Colette was our second daughter, and explained that she did not know about Eliza (not that I expected her to know). She quickly forwarded my correction.

I got a couple more responses from colleagues--one said she was happy for our family's joy, and another specifically mentioned Eliza as an angel sister. Now, I don't love the idea of Eliza as an angel--I just want her here as a little girl--but if somebody else is saying (or typing) her name and acknowledging her existence, then I'll take it. 

Overall, I'm sure that some people felt awkward or thought it was a weird thing for me to insist that my stillborn daughter still counts. But I will (hopefully) never know who those people are. I expect that other people were surprised because they simply had no idea (not that they should have). 

And even with the small size of our campus, I imagine that the e-mail reached somebody who has lost a child or a niece or a nephew or a grandchild or a friend. And I hope for them it was a reminder that these babies still matter, that their lives still count. 

It's easy to say that our society has an unhealthy way of glossing over the unpleasant reality of loss and death and not talking about things that really matter unless they fit juicy 60-second news bites. But it's damn hard actually to talk about the things that matter when the things that matter are sad and you know they make other people uncomfortable. 

Still, I'm not ashamed of Eliza. She's not a dark secret that no one is allowed to mention. She's my first baby. The only thing more unbearable than losing her is when other people act like she never even existed. 

I'm glad I sent the correction. I'm glad I insisted that Eliza still counts, even when the numbers never add up the way I want them to.