Wednesday, July 29, 2015

West Virginia / Pittsburgh Recap Part I: In Which We Are Mostly In theCar

Sometimes vacations are restful and relaxing. And sometimes “vacations” are a code word for spending hours in a minivan with my kids and my parents, driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati to Canaan Valley West Virginia to Pittsburgh to Cleveland and back to St. Louis over the course of twelve days while also attending a wedding and sleeping four to a queen bed (turns out the “family bed” only works for us when we are in a king-sized bed and the baby is in a crib).

In order to make the blog posts manageable, I’m going to break up our trip recap. So here goes…

Last Friday we drove to Cincinnati. We loaded up a rented minivan and packed plenty of snacks for the road.

(Can I just say that traveling in a minivan did NOT sell me on it at all. One of my friends rented a minivan on her vacation last summer and then she came home and bought one even though she only has two kids and has no plans to have more. I know people LOVE their minivans. But the Toyota we drove was unimpressive. It had no bells or whistles, and my mom and I were stuck in the way back because the latch system only worked in the captain chairs in the middle row or in the center of the backseat. So that was annoying. I’d hoped to put the two car seats in the way back. The ride wasn't that smooth or quiet, and I am still satisfied with my little Honda.)

(Also the van could definitely have been cleaner. I wiped all the seats down with a Clorox wipe because it seemed gross to me. But it was the only minivan available at the rental place, so we took what we could get. And we got a good deal on it, so there's that.)

ANYWAY, we managed to get out of town by 9:25am and we hit the road for Cincinnati. It was a bit out of our way—we could have made the drive to our condo near Davis, WV in about 10 hours, but we’d never been to a ballgame in Cincinnati and stopping there broke the drive into two six-hour days, which seemed about what we could manage.

The drive on day one went really smoothly. We cruised along for three hours with Zuzu enjoying the scenery and chatting pleasantly. We stopped to pick up sandwiches at a Jimmy Johns and ate them at a nearby park. We rolled into Cincinnati right on schedule.

We just had a little bit of luggage.
Unfortunately, our hotel was not super ideal. We chose it because the location was perfect (close to the ballpark), the price was right (cheap), and it had suites and that seemed perfect for staying with my parents and the girls (my parents babysat for us at the hotel while David and I went to the game). But it was pretty old and grimy. The top of Coco’s feet turned black from crawling around on the carpet, which totally grossed me out. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. Ew.

Anyway, the funny thing about it was that my best friend from her high school and her husband were also in Cincinnati that evening—they’d stayed with us earlier in the week on their way to a conference in Columbus, then gone on to Louisville to see friends, and then went to Cincinnati for a night before going on to Columbus. So we ended up in Cincinnati on the same night, going to the same ballgame, and staying at the same hotel. Without even realizing we were going to be in the same city on Friday until two days before. Serendipity!

Mind blown that Ellie Kate is in Cincinnati with us!
David and I had great seats at the ballgame, but a storm rolled in with wicked lightning and some rain after the third inning so the game was delayed. 

At the ballpark (obvs)
We hung out for a while, trying to be optimistic, but when the radar showed another storm rolling through around 9:45pm, I told David that we had to figure something out because both Coco and I were going to be uncomfortable if I didn’t get back to nurse her before bed.

We decided to leave through the re-entry gate, but we didn’t end up going back to the game since it got late and we needed to be up at a reasonable time to make the second half of our drive. I felt bad for David (plus we had splurged on really good seats!) but that’s how it goes. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

Saturday morning we had planned to get up and on the road after letting the girls swim. But the hotel’s advertised pool was actually an agreement with a nearby YMCA that hotel guests could swim for $5. We were not impressed. Instead, we decided to walk down to the waterfront park on the river and let the girls play in the splash pads and playground.

It turned out to be a great way to spend the morning, and Monica and Ellie Kate met us down there so the girls had tons of fun and we stayed two hours longer than planned, but it was totally worth it. The sun was warm, but there was a nice breeze in the shade and the mist from the splash pads cooled everybody off. I got crabby because we left the diaper bag in the minivan when David dropped us off and went to park and when I called him to tell him to bring it, he told me it was “too late” and so I had to wait until he got to us and then get the key and stomp off all pissy to where he parked the van because the diaper bag had the swim suits and sunscreen and wasn’t really OPTIONAL for a splash pad. I don’t know how it got overlooked—I had my parents and David helping unloading girls and loading up the stroller and I didn’t take a sufficient itinerary before we got started. Lesson learned!

Coco and Bop

Ellie Kate having a thoughtful moment
Zuzu cracked me up in one splash pad because she was pretending to be Elsa and the water was her “powers” and she was running around singing “Let It Go.”

"LET IT GO...."
The morning ended with a carousel ride, courtesy of Monica. I’d told Zuzu we weren’t going to do the carousel, but she cried and David was still checking out the Reds’ gift shop, so she ended up getting to go with Ellie Kate. Hashtag spoiled. Also Monica paid for them to have three rides, and when they were both upset that the convertible car on the carousel was already taken, Ellie Kate’s grandma “Mimi” sat in the car to reserve it for them the next two times. Hashtag totally spoiled rotten.

She's so pissed that she's not in the car.

So satisfied.
The rhythm of the day was a little bit off then because we needed lunch early on and we’d gotten such a late start and we really wanted to find our condo in West Virginia before it got dark, but we also stopped to buy groceries, which took slightly longer than expected.

As it turned out, it was pretty dark by the time we made it, but we did make it. We arrived at the condo, which Zuzu called “our little house” around 8pm and unpacked and relaxed and jerry-rigged a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs using the ironing board, much to Coco’s dismay. 

FREEDOM! (About to be withdrawn.)
Once we'd blocked the baby from the stairs, we were officially "on vacation"!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NYT and homeward bound

So much to write about on this twelve day... Well, I'd use the word "vacation," but that implies a level of rest and relaxation that we did not reach on this trip!

Anyway, I'll have blog posts for days about the wedding and everything else, but for now I just wanted to share a link to the New York Times's recent collection of short essays about stillbirth. I submitted Eliza's story and it's been included in the collection they posted online. My essay is toward the bottom--about 4/5 of the way down.

I'm honored that it was included among so many voices, and I do hope that this public forum makes the difficult path a bit easier for others.

I confess, though, that I must have written that essay on a good day. I definitely still have days when I miss my old self and my old life and not being intimately acquainted with grief. I was an idiot, sure, but I sometimes I miss that innocence.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Talking About Loss with Zuzu

I filled out an information form for Zuzu's preschool. The first question was "Identify all members of your household. List the ages of your child's siblings."

I took a deep breath. And then I wrote Sister - Colette, "Coco," eleven months old.

On the next line, I added, Our first daughter, Eliza, was stillborn in December 2010. Caroline knows that Eliza died and that we love and miss her.


I attended a grief support group last week. Almost everyone there had a living child before their loss, so there was some discussion of how to talk to your kids about the death of their sibling. Because I had no living kids when Eliza died, this was not something I thought much about at the time.

In fact, I was jealous of anyone who had a living kid, even if they had a loss after. People would say they couldn't have gotten through the days without their living child, which bugged me because I was somehow getting through the day. Of course, I didn't have to get out of bed and try to act "normal" the way they did. Friends of mine have also said that they feel that their grief robbed them of months of their living child's life--days that they managed to function as a parent, but couldn't enjoy or savor. There's obviously no "better" or "worse" or "easier" or "harder" when it comes to losing a baby.


By the time Zuzu came along, I didn't really have a game plan for telling her about Eliza. I'd heard of the book Someone Came Before You, but I didn't have it. All I knew was that Eliza was not going to be a secret. I didn't want her loss to be something that Zuzu would "discover" one day, or some kind of news bulletin that we would sit down and burden her with when we determined she was "old enough" to handle it. (Particularly since I didn't feel "old enough" to handle it.) I just wanted her to grow up always knowing about Eliza.

I also decided that I didn't want us to shy away from using the word "died." There are so many euphemisms for it--synonyms that I use regularly and that I don't really have a problem with, but that are too abstract for a little kid.

It's unsettling to hear little kids talk about death, but I think we have to remember that the big, dark, scary associations that we have with death are learned, and are socially or culturally indoctrinated over time. For a little kid, death isn't scary or "bad." It's just a fact. And that's how I wanted to present Eliza's death. It's just a fact. It makes us sad, but it's not shameful or embarrassing. It's an important part of our family's story.

An older child could certainly be frightened by the idea that if his or her sibling died, that he or she could die, too. But little kids aren't making those leaps of logic quite the same way. Zuzu, however, surprised me one day when she said, "Eliza die-ed. But I am growing! I not die-ed!"

Honestly, it can be a little creepy to hear her talk about Eliza's death so matter-of-factly at this point (even though that's what I wanted).

I try to keep it simple. I don't talk much about heaven much because my mom told her that Little Mac went to heaven and then there were all kinds of requests to go to heaven and see Little Mac, and questions about where is heaven, and I'm just sort of avoiding that for now since I have no idea. I just say that Eliza died and we love her and miss her so now she is in our hearts (another confusing concept, I realize, but talking about love can be pretty abstract, too).

It's not simple, though. And I admit things got super confusing around Easter when we read some books about Jesus. Take the story of the resurrection, add a toddler's limited understanding of Eliza, her great-grandparents, and also Little Mac, and you get a lot of unanswerable questions.

Sometimes she puts on this over-the-top, kind of pretending-to-be-sad voice when she talks about Eliza. It's the same voice she uses when she's pretending to be Elsa and telling me that Anna needs to be taken to the trolls. She'll say something like, "Oh! Eliza died and Mommy misses her." Which is true, obviously, but for her it's the same kind of true as Anna's heart getting frozen in Frozen. Dramatic! But not really real.

And she doesn't talk about Eliza all that often, but it does tend to come out of the blue and surprise me. I really make an effort not to get upset when Zuzu bring her up (and usually I don't find it upsetting, so that's not hard to do) because I don't want her to think she shouldn't talk about her. But I also let Zuzu see me cry around Eliza's birthday and explained that I was crying because I miss Eliza. She seemed satisfied with that answer. She'll say now that she misses Grammy and Bops, or certain little friends from school, and that she keeps them in her heart. I tell Zuzu that I keep her in my heart when I'm at work and she's at school, so she seems to understand that it's a way of thinking about the people we love.

The easiest way for me to talk about Eliza comes from pointing out things around the house. I started this when she was very little, when I was pointing at everything to just say different words out loud to her. I'll tell her that Coco is using Eliza's blanket, or that this picture is Eliza's sunset. I'm frequently talking about family members in photographs, so that was an easy thing to do as well.

We have Eliza's pencil portrait up in an arrangement with baby pictures of Zuzu and Coco, so I'll just point to each one and say who it is. Sometimes Zuzu will argue with me and say that Eliza is not her sister because Coco is her sister, so I'll usually just say, "You have two sisters, but Eliza died, so Coco is your sister who is here with us." And if she still contradicts me, I let it go.

I don't expect her to understand it yet; I just want the topic not to be forbidden material. I realize that my sadness is something that could burden her, and I don't want that either, but sadness is not bad. And really, I do want her to be aware of it.

I think she should know how much I miss her sister Eliza, just as she knows how much I love her and her sister Coco. I hope that by watching me be both happy and sad (simultaneously, even!) she will eventually understand that it's okay to experience and to acknowledge all kinds of emotions, even the ones that our society tacitly asks us not to talk about. Someday, I expect, she'll have more questions, and I want her to feel like she can ask them.

I'm also trying to be realistic about how Eliza will fit into the way Zuzu understands the world. I don't think Eliza is likely to make an appearance in family portraits that Zuzu draws because she's never known her family with Eliza here. And I am okay with that. But I hope that someday if she knows a friend or a coworker who loses a baby, that she can draw on our experience with grief and offer a rainbow's perspective of the storm.

The truth is that talking about Eliza helps to keep her here with us. We talk about how pink magnolia trees and yellow roses and baby ducks and butterflies remind us of Eliza, just as quilts make us think of Nana and cardinal birds make us think of Papa Gene, and having ice cream and popcorn for dinner makes us think of Grandma and Grandpa Vance. Sometimes it's a struggle because, unlike with my grandparents, I didn't have years to create happy memories with Eliza. And yet her influence on me, on our family, is tremendous. I want Zuzu to know about all the people who have shaped our family, and I want her to know that it's okay to miss them and think about them. And, yes, talk about them, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Conversations with Zuzu

These are more like One-Liners from Zuzu, but they made us laugh.

Scene: In the kitchen, talking about her upcoming birthday.

Zuzu: My name is Caroline Duckworth and my birthday's name is June 29th!


Scene: Coco's nursery, she's just woken up from her nap. Zuzu ran in ahead of me.

Coco: (babbling) Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.

Zuzu: Mama! Coco wake up! And she was talking 'bout you!


Scene: At Shakespeare in the Park, watching Antony and Cleopatra. It was the scene where the messenger comes to tell Cleopatra that Marc Antony has married Caesar's sister, Octavia, and Cleopatra attacks the messenger.

Cleopatra: The most infectious pestilence upon thee! (strikes the messenger)

Zuzu: (loudly) Why she freakin' out?


Scene: At home, David was boxing up some coins he sold on Ebay. We'd told her not to mess with Daddy's things.

Zuzu: Daddy, you need to move this box before I get into it.


Scene: In the car, listening to the weather report. This has been the rainiest summer EVER and we are all sick of it.

Weatherman: There is some light rain in the area.

Zuzu: (surprised) Mama! He said we LIKE rain!


Scene: Zuzu is dressed up like Elsa and is acting out scenes from Frozen and talking about her magical powers. I've turned my back for a moment, and suddenly Coco is crying, though she doesn't appear to have been injured by her sister (this time).

Me: Coco, honey, are you okay? Did you bonk your head on the bench?

Zuzu: (intensely serious) No, Mama. She's crying because she has a frozen heart.

Backstory: Zuzu has recently seen the movie Tangled and has hand-me-down pajamas with Rapunzel on them. We also have a book about Rapunzel that she frequently requests, and you all know the story of how the prince calls up, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair down!" 

Scene: She was changing out of her swim suit into dry clothes, but was dancing around rather than actually getting dressed.

David: Come here and put your panties on.

Zuzu: Up-punzel, let your panties down! Elsa, let your panties down!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sleep Right Now

I was telling a friend a couple months ago about how we transitioned Coco from our bedroom in the rock n' play sleeper to her room in the crib.

And now? I can't really remember how we did that. 

Sleep situations are the craziest time warp because they seem to last forEVER and also to be epic in scope and import, and then suddenly they are completely over and it's the next phase or issue and you realize that maybe it was just three weeks, but three weeks that also felt like an eternity.

Anyway. We are in an awkward sleep phase here. Zuzu needs an afternoon nap but fights it with all she's got. We can let her skip it, but then we are all miserable from 4:30 to 8:30 pm. We can try to lie down with her, but then we can easily lose an hour of the day waiting for her to fall asleep and she will manage to resist.

(Because as soon as she starts to relax, she'll make herself jump out of bed or something. It's infuriating. Often, one of us will fall asleep instead.)

She naps at school, but only when the teacher sits and pats her back until she falls asleep.

And when she naps, she sleeps at least 2 hours and is not looking for bedtime anywhere before 9:30pm. So basically she just goes to bed when we do. (At least for the summer months).

We followed all the "rules" when she was a baby--lay her down in the crib awake, let her fall asleep on her own, blah blah blah. Once she was able to climb out of her crib, we still ended up here.

Now the only sure fire way of getting her to nap is to go for a drive. Works like a charm. Was totally on my list of "things I'll never do when I have kids" and is now on my list of "things I do at least three times a week."

I'm discovering that parenting is less about what we do and more about who our kids are. Zuzu doesn't want to miss out on anything and would rather be exhausted, miserable, and awake than asleep.

Once she's asleep, she sleeps through the night and is not an early riser, but getting her there is a bit of a feat.

Coco is still doing the two naps a day thing--one two hours after she wakes up, and the second three hours after waking from the first nap. This schedule is uncanny in how well it works for her, although she sometimes (like today) tries to resist nap #2. 

After following all the rules with Zuzu and still ending up with a co-sleeping little night owl most nights, I do what I like with Coco, which means I rock her to sleep and snuggle her every night, laying her in bed once she's passed out. 

Does this mean she's incapable of falling asleep in her own? I don't know. Maybe. But this time is so fleeting--she's already 11 months old!--and I don't feel like rocking her to sleep is a chore. We snuggle, age nurses, she dozes, I read on my phone, and then lay her in her crib.

Right now this feels like a routine that's gone on forever. Three months from now, we could be somewhere else entirely. Eventually, I hope the girls will share a room and whisper each other to sleep, but for now I'm doing my best to ignore this idea of what they "should" be doing and just focus on what's working for us. Nobody's unhappy about this arrangement and everyone is getting enough sleep (although I wish I knew the secret to getting Coco to consistently sleep all the way trough the night--just when I think she's doing it for real, she's back to waking once or twice. Her teeth are not sleep-friendly right now.).

I am envious of people whose kids are easy sleepers, but I'm less inclined to believe they trained them to be that way. No matter what the books say, sleep patterns seem to be so unique and individualized. That's not to say that there's nothing we could do differently--I suppose we could "train" Coco at this point to sleep through the night if we wanted to cry it out or whatever. It might work, or it might just align with the point in time that she's ready to do that (and stress us all out in the meantime). 

(And I just want to say that I know there kiddos with serious sleep issues out there, and I'm not saying that's fine or normal or whatever. Lack of sleep is literally torturous for everyone, and if I weren't getting enough hours per night, I'd be singing a different tune about being lax with bedtime routines.)

Some people make think we are being too indulgent, but maybe those people have forgotten how sweet and short-lived those days are when a fuzzy baby head nestles right into your neck, or a toddler sleepily pats your cheek. 

I don't think I'd want to keep my kids little forever--I'm looking forward to seeing who they will become (and to the day I can eat a sandwich or read a book without constant interruption)--but I do want to savor these moments while I can. Sleeping babies are just the most delicious. As a friend of mine once said, I love my kids so much it hurts, but I love them 10% more when they are sleeping.

As exasperating and challenging as these girls can be, my heart pretty much melts when I watch them sleep. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Zuzu's Third Birthday

Zuzu's third birthday celebration was kind of spread out over a week. It started on Saturday while we were visiting David's grandma at the lake. She had make a little birthday cake for Zuzu. It had "Fred Bird" (Big Bird) on it. It was chocolate with peanutbutter icing. (Zuzu didn't eat it; David and I loved it.)

On Sunday, she had her little bestie from school over to play. The girls had such a good time together, and while I had actually felt a little guilty for not organizing a party, I honestly think Zuzu had more fun just getting to hang out with one friend. 

I made strawberry shortcake for dessert, so we went ahead and stuck three candles on it and sang to her and she and her friend blew out the candles (and then Zuzu ate just the strawberries and the adults ate the cake with ice cream).

Monday was her actual birthday, and she wanted to go to school and take treats to her friends. She took mandarin oranges and her most favorite treat ever: gummy fruit snacks. We decorated the packages of mandarin oranges with Minnie Mouse and Frozen stickers to make them more festive.

When she got home from school, she opened presents from us and that some family had sent her. I'd decorated our house with some Frozen paper decorations to make it festive, plus the birthday banners.

The big gift was a Frozen big girl bike, and she was very excited about it. We also gave her a book (we'd checked it out from the library and she loved it so much I decided she needed to have it), a set of no-mess color-with-water books (which were a HUGE hit), a fishing game, and an Anna from Frozen dress up dress. (I honestly think we went kind of overboard at Christmas, so I reined myself in on birthday gifts.)

We asked her if she wanted her birthday dinner at home, a restaurant, or a picnic. She chose a picnic, so we went to Tower Grove park to hear the concert there. It ended up raining, so we just picnicked on a table under a pavilion. When the rain started coming down really hard, the reenactors who were there for part of the concert joined us.

Zuzu entertained them by singing and twirling, and then they joined us singing Happy Birthday to her. This time, I landed on a dessert she actually wanted to eat: three donut holes.

It was a quirky, simple, perfect birthday for our big three-year-old girl. We love her so much it's crazy.

Some Other Things Going On

Still pondering the Buy No More Compact... As I mentioned, I think I'd really need some ground rules. At the very least I'm going to seek used FIRST, but like Sarah said--buying kids clothes is such a pleasure for me! And as Angie pointed out, sometimes you can't beat the deals at the big box stores in terms of saving money. So I'm not quite sure what I'll do there. Plus, what about getting the girls coordinating Christmas and Easter dresses!?

I know that I could (and probably should) commit to buying gently used clothes for myself, so maybe I'll start there? You know, tomorrow, since I just scored a cute pair of white pants from Nordstrom on sale... Sigh. (Is it just me or are pants way harder to buy than shirts?)

Meanwhile, we're thinking about some other big changes. We are strongly considering the possibility of enrolling Zuzu in a Montessori preschool program. It would mean a change in our morning routine (David would drop her off on his way to work; either one of us could pick her up, depending on who's getting off work early/later), it is more expensive, AND I still love the place where she goes now. In fact, one of the reasons I liked it so much from the start is that she can stay there until she goes to kindergarten! But we've been thinking ahead to kindergarten, where she'll be enrolled, and what that might look like given that we live in a city where the public schools are unaccredited. Montessori programs are 3 years and students graduate ready for first grade.

David has been researching Montessori and from the stuff that I've read as well, it really seems like a program that we believe in. It also seems to be particularly well-suited for our strong-willed, independent girl. I know there are people who think it costs too much (which also limits the diversity in the classrooms), and there are people who absolutely scrimp and sacrifice to send their kids to Montessori schools because they believe the benefits are so great.

I had to have two fillings yesterday--which was totally traumatic for me because I am a huge weenie and I insisted that David sit in the room with me and hold my hand the entire time. Being married to me is THE BEST. Anyway, we mentioned the preschool decision and my dentist said that his kids went to Montessori preschool--the same one that his wife had attended as a child! It was really important to her that they go there because she had such a great experience. I found that compelling.

I just have a really hard time with change. And it kind of feels like "if this ain't broke..." because we really have no problem with where we are (in fact, we still love it!). But, like I said, we're thinking about kindergarten and also thinking about Coco's kindergarten year (she misses Missouri's cut off for starting kindergarten by one week. I'd rather have her evaluated to see if she is ready or not, and not keep her behind just because I didn't induce her at 39 weeks, you know?). So I think it's probably the right call, but I get all emotional about the idea of leaving the school/daycare where I've felt so great about leaving my babies since they were 6 months old!

My friend K pointed out that you can never make a decision about school based on guilt--you are the only person who knows what's right for your child. And she also noted that one person's experience with a school doesn't negate or support someone else's decision. What's right for one kid in terms of teachers, classmates, and curriculum may or may not work for someone else. So I'm trying to keep that in mind and just focus on our quirky little Zuzu and what will be the best choice for her in the long run.

I just thought that my gut would give me a clear answer, and it's not. I see pros and cons every which way.

And can we talk a little more about dental work? It is THE WORST! My jaw is still kind of sore today and the "happy gas" really didn't do enough for me. Next time I'll get a Valium prescription, but I wanted to avoid that since I'm still nursing the bebe. I came home and ate the worst lunch ever since I was starving but half my face was still numb. Such an unpleasant sensation. Then I napped and I felt much better after that, but my jaw is still kind of sore today! I consider myself lucky to have gone 34 years without needing a filling. I hope I can go 34 more.

Have I mentioned that my brother is getting married in a couple of weeks!? So exciting. The girls are going to be flower girls. Zuzu has been studying up by watching wedding processions on YouTube (she always says, "What's her name, Mama?" so I have to make them up if the video doesn't say).

We're not sure if Coco will be walking by then... She's cruising around our furniture, loves to walk behind something on wheels, and can easily walk holding someone's hand, but she won't take steps on her own. I suggested she could just get pulled down the aisle in a wagon (I've seen in on Pinterest) but I guess my brother nixed that idea. I don't think Zuzu will hold her hand, though, because she's totally serious about how it's her job to sprinkle flower petals, which you can't really do one-handed. Maybe we could find a mini-shopping cart and let Coco push it down the aisle?

Anyway, we're road-tripping (with my parents in a rented minivan!) to his wedding in Pittsburgh, and spending a few days at a resort in West Virginia on our way there, then extending our stay in Pittsburgh so we can see a bit of the city (We already have tickets to a ballgame, but I also want to go to the Andy Warhol museum and take a boat tour!).

Lots to do and lots to think about. Speaking of, check back later for a quick post about Zuzu's third birthday... I can't believe how fast this summer is flying by (in spite of all the rainy days--today is cloudy, cool, and misty, very unlike July in Missouri!)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Thinking About Buying Nothing New

Okay. I'm not committing to this 100% yet. But I sure am chewing on it. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it. So this post is not well organized, and is more of a brain dump, but here you go. It all started when I stumbled across this article.

Have you all heard of the Buy Nothing New Compact?

It's pretty much what it sounds like. You make a commitment to not buy anything new for an extended amount of time. Like a year.

It's not a spending freeze. It's just stepping outside the cycle of consumerism.

Well, not stepping outside entirely. You can still buy food, toiletries, cleaning products, and underwear. But if you want to buy anything else--clothes, toys, furniture, etc.--you just buy it used. Instead of relying on the convenience of Target or Amazon, you go to the thrift store, shop consignment, hit up Craigslist, or turn to Ebay.

The idea isn't deprivation, it's just supposed to bring a real awareness that we don't actually need more new stuff.

(I need this awareness, because I swear that I see a Home Goods store and I almost get this itchy feeling like I need ALL THE THINGS. Even though my house is already FULL of things.)

The Buy Nothing New Pact is not a spending freeze; it's not a postponement of purchase. It's a year-long commitment (or longer, for some people) because it's really supposed to be a lifestyle change. It's an invitation to slow down--not to grab that item because it's cute and convenient, or because you're having a bad day and want a pick-me-up. Shopping should be more about seeking to fill a genuine need, about buying things with real purpose, and really more about re-using and repurposing and recycling the enormous amount of goods that are already filling up the world.

I confess that it makes me nervous precisely because shopping would take more time and effort--right now I can grab a shirt while I'm in Target picking up Clorox wipes and shaving cream, and I don't even have to try it on because I can return it later if it doesn't fit right. With a full time job (nine months out of the year) and two little kids at home, I don't usually feel like I have the luxury of spending my Saturday toodling around estate sales (although I do love a good estate sale!). So it does seem like it would require a sacrifice of convenience. I'd miss browsing Zulily and clicking on some of the big sale offers that come through my e-mail.

(Also I just bribed my kid into pooping on the potty by buying her some ridiculous Elsa dress up shoes that were on clearance at Target. But probably I can find bribe-worthy poop prizes at the thrift store?)

We are lucky to receive so many lovely hand-me-down clothes for the girls, so I usually just hit up Old Navy and Target clearance for basics to fill in their wardrobes. I'd have to spend a little more time shopping consignment for them, but it's definitely something that could be done (and browsing consignment kids clothes is not a hardship as far as I'm concerned!).

But I see a lot of upsides to this project. For one thing, I like a challenge. I think it would be kind of fun to see what we could do without for a year, and how we might get creative about the purchases we do want or need to make.

I also think it would be interesting to see where we might end up making exceptions (I mean, I'm all about the commitment, but I also don't want to be miserable for a year). I'm thinking might have to make an exception for gifts. (And obviously we can graciously receive gifts--I'm not making Zuzu return things!) Although we could challenge ourselves to give homemade gifts to others. But then could I buy new craft supplies? Am I limiting myself to sewing with vintage fabric (which could be do-able!)? But what about needles? Thread? I think I need to set clear ground rules from the start. (For example, I want to be able to order photos or photobooks.)

I imagine it would save us money, which I obviously find appealing, but the central purpose of this pact isn't about saving. You can still purchase tickets to events, go out to dinner, and spend money on activities. The only limitation is on material goods.

In some ways, I think it might be easy. Could there even be a kind of relief when shopping is off-limits? I don't have to worry about what I might be missing out on because I know I can't buy it anyway!

Anyway, I mentioned the idea to David after I read this essay about it, and he surprised me by being totally on board. I didn't have to talk him into it even a little! So even though we haven't completely committed yet, I really think we might get serious about this. (Maybe after my birthday? Haha. But seriously.)

Yeah... I think maybe we're going to do it.

What do you think? Is it totally crazy? What do you think I would miss buying the most?

Should I do this? Should I blog honestly about it? Or would that be annoying?

Are there exceptions I'd have to make besides food and toiletries and cleaning supplies?

Will anyone else volunteer to do this with me so we can commiserate and cheer each other on? I'm trying to get my Crafty Cousin Amanda on board, but she won't commit... yet! (If you think CCA should do this with me, please tell her so in the comments.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Going Back to Work After Loss

I got an email last week from a mama who lost her baby on Mother's Day this year--a 40 week, healthy pregnancy that suddenly ended with a stillborn baby boy.

When she emailed me, she was seven weeks out from her loss, still completely wrecked with grief, and getting ready to go back to work.

Many of us find ourselves in this same position--having spent the weeks that should have been maternity leave coping with the unbearable agony of not holding our baby in our arms, we finally have to maneuver our way back into a weak imitation of our former selves, at least sufficiently enough to make it through a day of work.

As I wrote her back, I thought about my own return to work, and the methods I used to cope. I decided to consult a few other people to see what advice they would offer, and I put together this list of suggestions for those of you who are heartbroken and going back to work. Obviously, every workplace is different, and specific advice would vary hugely depending on what kind of work you do, but I've tried to be general here so that you can hopefully find something that would help you, no matter what kind of job you have.

* Ask for what you need.
In a perfect world, everyone would have a boss and coworkers who were compassionate, intuitive, and understanding. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I had to insist that my boss at the learning center where I used to work send a letter home so that all the parents would know what happened--he hadn't explained my absence at all, so people assumed that I'd had the baby and that everything was fine. My first day back I left early because I had two parents enthusiastically congratulate me on my new baby and I couldn't handle having to tell them what happened. I was so angry that my boss had dropped the ball. Getting the word out and using the language that you want to use is really important.

Even if everyone has already been informed, you may want to go ahead and e-mail your coworkers before you return. People will be concerned and most likely they won't know what to do, so let them know what would be most helpful for you. The go-to reaction is probably avoidance because people don't want to upset you, so you might want to say something like, "Although my grief is very intense, I find it helpful and healing to talk about my baby, so please don't be afraid to ask about him/her." Alternatively, if you don't want to discuss it, you might say, "I appreciate your sympathy and concern, and I thank you for respecting my family's privacy at this time."

* Take a memento with you.
I wore a bracelet with Eliza's name on it every single day. I still wear one piece of jewelry every day that represents her in some way, though it may or may not be apparent to people who don't me. If you have your own desk area, you can displaying a photo of your child, or a print like this to represent him or her, which can also be a conversation-starter (if you want it to be). You could carry photos in your bag and just share them with people when you feel comfortable. One mama I know carried her baby's tiny hat in her pocket as a secret link to him. Similarly, wearing a piece of memorial jewelry that you can tuck inside your shirt is a way of keeping your baby close to your heart in a private way (Etsy has tons of options at every price point).

* Start slow, if you can.
If you can go back to work part-time at first, do it. Start back on a Wednesday or Thursday so you don't have to face a full week. I was lucky to go back very part-time at first--I taught from 10-12 on MWF, and then worked at the learning center on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings for a few months (until I couldn't take it anymore--for some reason that place was such a grief trigger for me and leaving was an enormous relief). Talk to your boss about shortening your days and leaving early for doctor appointments. Things that qualify as a "doctor's appointment" when you are grieving: therapy, massage, acupuncture, restorative yoga classes, and actual doctor appointments--my therapist or OB would have written me a note for any of those, had my workplace required it.

* Practice your speech.
Even if you are able to communicate via e-mail before you get back, conversations are inevitable. And this can be good or bad. Some people want to go back and talk about what they've been through because the loss is so enormous it needs to be acknowledged. Other people want to simply focus on work and then get the hell out of there and cry later (I was in that camp). There's no right or wrong way to approach, it but no matter how you feel, you should be prepared to bump into someone who knew you were pregnant but doesn't know what happened. So prepare in advance what you will say to make that encounter slightly less stressful for you.

Don't feel like you have to apologize for sharing your tragedy, and don't feel like you have to make it sound like you're doing just fine now. I found that I had a total breakdown when I tried to say the word "stillborn," so I would say, "Actually, we lost the baby just before she was due." Depending on the person and the conversation, I might elaborate on that and share her name, but often that sentence was all I could choke out without dissolving into tears. Usually that person would say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Then I would nod and say, "Thanks. It's been really hard." And then change the subject (or excuse myself to run to the bathroom and cry.)

* Remember it's okay to cry.
It's great if you have an office where you can close the door for privacy. Hopefully there's at least a conveniently located restroom where you can go when you can't hold back tears, but it's completely okay for you to cry--even if people can see you. You are a bereaved mother whose baby has just died. No one should expect you not to be upset. Be gentle with yourself. I cried in front of my boss (twice), various co-workers, and I almost cried in front of a well-meaning student. It happens. We are all human. Every tear you cry now is one less tear you'll have to cry tomorrow.

* Drink hot beverages.
I carried a hot drink with me everywhere. The warm liquid helped to relax my throat when it was choking up with sobs, but it also gave me something to look at and something to do with my hands.

* Wear waterproof mascara.
See "it's okay to cry" above. Putting on make up helped me feel like I was putting on a disguise so I could fake my way through the day. I was teaching students who didn't know my baby had died, and I didn't want them to know. It was important to me to look like I had my shit together even though I was completely falling apart inside. Waterproof mascara was absolutely essential to make that happen for me.

* Bribe yourself.
Going back to work is HARD. Promise yourself something small to look forward to. My friend Melissa suggested buying lots of chocolate--the really good stuff. Keep it in your desk drawer. Treat yourself to a soft cardigan that can keep you warm in winter or keep off the chill of air conditioning. Wrap up in a new scarf and let it feel like a layer of protection. Promise yourself that when you get home, you'll watch another episode of Friday Night Lights (Coach Taylor won't let you down, although there is a pregnancy storyline one season). Order a cute new planner from Bando. Pick up take out Chinese food. Buy a pint of gelato. Get yourself a new pair of running shoes. Give yourself a little reward for making it through the day.

* Phone a friend and check in with online support groups.
It's always helpful if you can check in with people who are on a timeline similar to yours, but it's awesome if you can connect with someone who can function as your "grief sponsor." Whenever you feel like you are backsliding, send a text. This person doesn't have to be a loss parent, although it often helps to talk to someone who really understands what you're feeling, and then you can serve this role for each other. But whether it's your best friend from childhood, your mom, your spouse, or another parent who has lost a child, put that number in your phone and text them whenever you need moral support. Create a thread at Glow in the Woods and check in with people there. E-mail people who write blogs you connect to, or who have stories like yours posted on Faces of Loss. It's always nice to have someone say, "I'm sorry" but it is enormously helpful to hear someone say, "Me, too."

* Remember that it's normal to feel like work doesn't matter.
It's hard to care about anything at all when the center of your world just died. Focus on your priorities at work, and don't worry too much about not being invested in what you're doing. I personally found that eventually teaching came to feel like a bit of a respite from grief, and it was helpful for me to feel competent at something again. I ended up starting a new teaching job nine months after Eliza died, and it was a great move for me (though I still cried in my office every day). Other people discover that they are eventually ready for a new job and a fresh start, or a complete career change that allows them to pursue a different kind of work they find meaningful. Give yourself plenty of time.

* Don't feel like you have to educate everyone.
When people say the wrong thing, sometime it feels like you need to sit them down and explain how you're actually feeling and why it's NOT helpful for them to say things like, "At least you never got to know your baby." And if it does help you to have that conversation, then by all means do it. But when you first go back to work in those early months after your loss, you are just in survival mode. All you need to do is keep breathing. It is not your job to coach or educate other people. It's too exhausting. So maybe you just need to nod and back out of that conversation as quickly as possible. That's okay. It sucks, but it's okay to just get yourself out of there. Self-preservation is the goal.

* Expect the unexpected. 
No matter how thoroughly you prepare, or how many carefully worded emails you send out, or how well you practice your "My baby died" speech, something will catch you off guard. Someone will gleefully announce a pregnancy and their good news will feel like a kick in the teeth. Someone will say something unintentionally hurtful. Someone will try to make conversation at the salad bar. You will buy a new lipstick and then discover that you look like a grieving hooker. These things happen. Know they are going to happen, and that you'll still be okay.

* Be gentle with yourself.
Cut yourself some slack. I'm serious when I say the goals of your first week back at work are simply survival and self-preservation. Everything else can come later. If you get caught up in a project at work and don't think about your baby for several minutes at a time, don't feel guilty about that. At the same time, if you can't focus on anything because you just keep thinking about your baby, don't feel guilty about that, either. Take some deep breaths and just take it one day at a time.

Anything I've overlooked? What advice would you add to this list? If you've had this experience, how easy or hard was going back to work? What helped you make it through the day?

Monday, June 29, 2015

And Then She Was Three.

You'll never know, Dear, how much I love you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Party at the Lake

Hanging out with my kid today was weirdly just like partying with my awesomely crazy friend Stephanie in college. It started with her doing sporty outdoor activity and ended with her skinny dipping with cute guys we'd just met. It was basically like watching Steph do spring break all over again. With less tequila. But just as much fun.

It started when David took Zuzu down to the lake to go fishing today. 

At first, she was serious about fishing.

She was surprisingly adept at casting.

And then she met the guys hanging out next door. They had fun music and a cute dog. And they were friendly. So, naturally, she invited herself to their party. (A classic Stephanie move.) They were having a "liquid picnic."

Oh, and somewhere along the line, Zuzu lost her top. (These things happen. Or so I hear.)

And once she'd taken off her shirt, she was having so much fun that one thing led to another...


(All adults remained clothed. Probably because Stephanie wasn't here.)

Here's to partying like Steph this weekend. Or like my toddler. Makes the lake way more fun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fostering Independence. Even When It Makes Me Crazy.

Zuzu is an independent toddler.

I don't have a clear gauge of how typical this is for two-going-on-three-year-olds. I assume it's pretty standard, the "I do it myself!" phase.

But wow.

Don't get me wrong--I'm proud of the way she asserts her independence. We are encouraging her to have some small responsibilities around the house. We've started by placing her dishes in a lower cabinet so that she can put them away and get them out herself.

It's a little bit hilarious to me that a chore that is certainly NOT my favorite--emptying the dishwasher--makes Zuzu so proud of herself. And I'm more than happy to have the assistance. (In a few years, I'll be ready to hand over the responsibility entirely--just when she's decided it is no fun at all.)

But this morning, she wanted to pick out her own clothes, dress herself without assistance, and make her own breakfast.

Fine. Except she pulled panties out of the dirty clothes basket instead of the drawer, so we had to battle over that. Thank heavens there was one more pair of undies that featured BOTH Elsa and Anna because having to choose between them, or settle for Minnie Mouse, or GOD FORBID settle for the cute little owls would have been a horrific fate.

Then she was furious that the straps on her sundress were getting criss-crossed and tangled, but she refused to allow me to assist her.

Fine. So I watched her flail around the room screeching with her head stuck in her dress for a moment before I finally stepped in and helped her, while insisting that I wasn't helping her: "I'm just looking at how pretty this dress is!"

Once we make it downstairs in the morning, I give her a choice between bagel with cream cheese or mini-pancakes with yogurt. Milk and fruit on the side. (She carb-loads at breakfast.)

This morning, she chose pancakes. But SHE wanted to open the freezer drawer. HOW DARE I OPEN IT?!!!

She wanted to select the pancakes from the package BY HERSELF.

And break apart the pancakes that were stuck together BY HERSELF.

And arrange them on the plate BY HERSELF. (After fetching the plate from the cabinet BY HERSELF, naturally.)

We've started giving her a real glass to drink milk out of in the morning. (In the evenings, we revert to a sippy cup because that way we can do some free-range parenting slash without worrying about spillage if she wanders out of the kitchen.) God forbid that glass be in the dishwasher because now that she has had a taste of adulthood in the form of drinking out of a real glass, she will NOT denigrate herself with the use of a sippy cup.

(Unless Coco expresses interest in a sippy cup, in which case ALL sippy cups belong to Zuzu and no one else can touch them. Ever. And she wants to "pretend to be a baby.")

(BTW, Coco is still drinking nothing but mama's milk from the tap or a bottle when at school, so she just gets sippy cups to play with, empty, when Zuzu allows it.)

I microwaved the pancakes for 30 seconds (only because Zuzu literally cannot reach the microwave without standing on the stovetop, and she likes to remind me that it is HOT).

(She is becoming a bit of a Safety Patrol. David was pushing her in the swing at the park and she kept insisting her push her higher and then said, "Daddy, be careful of my neck. You don't want to break my head off!" Which, yes. That is true, but perhaps an unnecessary warning?)

Then she administered the application of yogurt (she likes to squirt it from the tube directly on top of the pancake and then eat it in the messiest fashion possible).

Then she requested two additional pancakes and went through the ENTIRE PROCESS. Again.

It's adorable and all that, but it basically quadruples the time that we spend doing ANYTHING.

David and I had this text exchange this morning:

And that pretty much sums it up. It IS great. But not so easy to embrace it. Sometimes I wonder if I'm fostering independence or just ceding control entirely.

Toddlers are the most inefficient little dictators.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Swimming Pool: Like Returning to the Womb

David recently set up a swimming pool on the patio for the girls. And Zuzu is loving it.

This pool is deeper than ones we've had previously, and made of very durable material. It has a cushioned bottomed, which is ideal for sitting on the concrete patio. The sides are so high that we didn't inflate the middle ring, and this allows Zuzu to climb in and out of it on her own, and to splash to her heart's content without soaking everyone sitting around her. It's shaped more like an oval than a circle, which is perfect for the skinny shape of our yard.

We brought it home last summer--the same day we brought home Coco. They were kind of a buy-one-get-one-free deal, you see. Oh--and it was covered by our insurance.

That's right. It's a birthing pool.

I spent most of my labor with Coco in that pool, although she wasn't actually born in it. I hung out in there almost all day, eating orange popsicles and listening to Dar Williams, and then went from 8 centimeters to OMG ready to push during the last 30 minutes that I was in there. My water broke, and then I stepped out of the tub and had the baby. (Right--it was almost that easy.)

Don't worry. We rinsed out all the amniotic fluid.

(But seriously, it had a liner.)

Anyway, if you'd like to come over for a soak in my birthing pool, just let me know. It's very relaxing. I'll put Dar Williams on.

P.S. A year ago I was pregnant with Coco!
Three years ago, Cooper committed his worst offense ever.
Five years ago, (I was pregnant and) I was writing about trunk cruising.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Right now.

I can remember what it felt like to be sinking and suffocating in my grief while life carried on for other people. I did what I could to shut it out. I imagine the person who invented the DVR and the ability to fast-forward through commercials had no idea what a gift that would be to people who are too broken-hearted for the pathos of diapers commercials. There is no easy time to lose a baby, but right before Christmas felt especially cruel.

I'm on the flip side of that right now--June is the month furthest from my grief and summer is now associated with all my happiest moments--Zuzu, Coco, and David's birthdays, my own birthday, our wedding anniversary, time off work, and time for vacations.

I've always been aware that the opposite is true, for some of my friends lost their babies in summer months, when sun-lit evenings felt interminable instead of welcoming, and radiant morning sunshine felt like it was mocking their pain. At least in December it seemed more natural to curl up in a blanket on the sofa at 5pm and not emerge for hours (or days).

I'm reminded of the painful juxtaposition of beautiful weather and great pain when I think about the terrible murders in Charleston. I'm glad my kids aren't old enough to know about this, but my stomach clenches up tight at the mere thought of them living in a world where some people are so full of senseless hate.

There is a part of me that feels removed from the sadness, that wants to shake off the bad news and turn my focus elsewhere. There's a part of me that just wants to turn the radio dial or click away in my browser and read something benign and superficial before going outside to enjoy a lazy summer day.

But there's another part of me, a bigger part, that knows none of us is really removed from what happened. Just two weeks ago, I listened to my students talking frankly and openly about their experiences with race in relation to Toni Morrison's short story, "Recitatif." We talked about how fear looks like anger. We discussed one sociologist's theory of "white spaces" and "black spaces" in this country, and a soft-spoken black guy in my class commented wryly that maybe that's why a golf shop hadn't returned his calls about his job application. Is there a whiter space than a golf course?

I think my students understand the adversity and struggles caused by racism in this country, but they always want to locate it in the past. I'm not sure that they fully grasp the idea of white privilege and the ease that is carried with it today.

And so I try to show them by making them read. I can't solve race relations in St. Louis, Charleston, or anywhere else. I can't eliminate hate. I can't protect my own kids from growing up and reading headlines and hearing news reports. But if you want to have a conversation about race, you might try reading (or listening to) one of these texts and starting there:

Cool Like Me by Donnell Alexander -- I taught this once and had a student write in the comments that no matter how I handled this material in class, anything that contains the n-word is offensive. I respect her opinion. I also think sometimes it's important to read texts that are offensive. I finally got brave enough to teach it again last semester, alongside Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and my students LOVED it.

"Recitatif" by Toni Morrison -- I loved Toni Morrison's interview on Fresh Air, and I love this short story. It makes students really uncomfortable sometimes, precisely because of the way she describes the two main characters, one white and one black, without ever revealing which one is which.

If you're on the go and want to listen to something, I can't stop thinking about this chapter of This American Life's podcast on the Birds & Bees. It's titled, "If You See Racism, Say Racism," which also reminds me of what my friend Kristin wrote this week.

Speaking of black and white spaces, this story is more than twenty years old, but problematically relevant today, particularly in St. Louis (I knew Professor Early when I was in grad school).

This is another essay I've taught (shameless pandering to student athletes, perhaps, except it's also well-written and important).

And I can't link to the full text, but I cannot say enough good things about this book. I wish I could make everyone read it. This review captures it well: "The book explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected, and the emotional costs for the artist who cries foul." I lose patience with my students when they want to say that's the way things were "back then." The "illusion of justice" is a great phrase, and one I'll borrow for the classroom. My white students really want to believe that we live in a post-racial America. I am encouraged by their optimism, but also frustrated by what sometimes feels like willful blindness to reality.

Right now is the season's of someone's grief. Right now is the season of great injustice. Right now requires us to make an effort to make a difference. What happened in Charleston was the work of one sicko with a gun, but he was also armed with a legacy of racism, and we can't ignore that fact, either.