Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Around Here Lately

It's been a whirlwind of something like excitement the last two weeks. Maybe less excitement and more general busy-ness, but still a whirlwind.

Today, for example, my heart stopped when Zuzu ran away from me in the carport and ran to the alley instead of the gate to get in the yard. I had (mistakenly) trusted her to walk the few feet from the car to the gate while I unloaded the dirty diaper bag, my purse, and the Target bags. A split second later, I had dropped everything in the carport and chased her into the alley--a total danger zone because cars drive way too quickly and she just darted out from the side of our garage. I was so mad and upset and freaked out by imagining the worst-case scenario that could have happened, that I just picked her up, plunked her inside the gate, and left her there crying while I picked up everything off the ground and carried it inside. Then we had a talk about cars and danger and not running away from Mama, which I'm sure was really effective.

Really it just means that I'll be carrying her into the fenced in yard and making a second trip to get all our crap out of the car. She cannot be trusted to walk alongside me!

It seems reasonable to hire a personal assistant to carry my purse and the diaper bag once Rerun gets here, don't you think?

David and I spent last weekend in Michigan, leaving Zuzu here with my parents. I left her overnight one time last August for a quick trip to the lake with some girlfriends. It was less than 24 hours and she was asleep for at least 12 of those, plus she was at home with Daddy. So this really felt different--it was THREE whole  nights. We missed her like crazy, although it was really freeing to be able to not watch the clock for lunch-time, nap-time, snack-time, bed-time. We just did what we wanted, which felt so weird because we hadn't had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted with our time without being totally burdened with grief since December of 2010. After Eliza died, we had all the time in the world, but we didn't enjoy a moment of it because all we wanted was to be answering to the demands of a newborn. By the time the worst of that fog of grief had shifted, we were answering to the demands of a newborn.

So it was a strange but nice sensation to browse aimlessly in gift shops and eat late dinners and see a movie in the theater. As for Zuzu... I'm not sure she missed us at all. She had a blast with my parents, ate and slept well the whole time, and basically seemed to enjoy herself hugely. My only complaint is that her wake-up time seems to have shifted to about 30 minutes earlier which is not okay. We are still working on readjusting that.

I will say, though, that her snuggles when we got home were pretty much the best thing ever. David got her up from her nap and she gave him a huge smile and a tight squeeze around the neck, but then looked at him and said, "Mama?" So maybe she missed us a little bit after all.

The purpose for our trip to Michigan was for me to attend a conference on Victorian literature, which was both interesting and productive (believe it or not), and we also had time to do some shopping, eat at some great places, see The Grand Budapest Hotel, and on our last day we even took a scenic little drive. I'd never been to Ann Arbor but I loved the college town vibe and how walkable everything was. We stayed at a kitschy little bed & breakfast and really loved it.

(Also my parents said that when we were gone, Zuzu kept pulling out the DVD case for Breakfast at Tiffany's and pointing at Audrey Hepburn and saying, "Mama," so that's basically the greatest compliment EVER. Way better than my previous look-a-like.)

I have felt a little crazed since getting home, I think mostly because I had grading that was leftover from spring break (that's FINALLY finished and returned to my students--just in time to get another batch next week). We count on our weekends to do laundry and grocery shopping, so that has felt a little crazy this week, too. Spring break flew by once I got home from Vegas, and between house projects and a couple get-togethers with friends and all that damn grading, we've been busy in a good (but tiring) way.

Zuzu is entertaining us with more and more words and starting to string sentences together. She is definitely a fan of warm weather as her favorite activity is anything "Out-sigh! Out-sigh!" She'll grab her shoes and struggle to put them on herself, shouting, "Help! Pease!" in a voice that is clearly a demand rather than a request. She loves her little pink Toms and I have to convince her to wear her cute little brown Mary Janes some days. She's wearing shoe size 4.5 now (as long as they aren't too narrow), so I'm waiting a little longer to order her summer sandals (which is fine since it's still annoyingly cold here--though I think it's supposed to start feeling like Spring this weekend).

Her favorite activity at swimming lessons is when we sing "If You're Happy and You Know It" and shout "Hooray!" because I lift her up in the air and splash her back down in the water. For the rest of the lesson, she kept asking, "More hooray? More hooray?"

I've basically convinced myself that a balanced meal at dinner can consist of crackers with cheese, crackers with hummus, and crackers with peanutbutter. Plus milk and a kiwi. Because someone's favorite food right now is most definitely "Craw-caw!"

We've discovered that the book No, No, Yes, Yes, as adorable as it is, may actually be giving Zuzu some naughty ideas--dumping water outside the bath and running away are two "No, no" activities in the book that she has given a try since we started reading it. Not quite the intended lesson!

She dyed Easter eggs with my mom and evidently really got into it. I'm a little relieved that they did that because I honestly wasn't planning on doing it--it seemed to me like a lot of mess and effort.  But they had a good time. The eggs aren't exactly gorgeous (no gold leafing here, Pinterest), but I'm glad Zuzu enjoyed herself. She's been hiding plastic Easter eggs and finding them around the house, and shouting "Egg!" when she sees Easter decorations elsewhere, so that's cute. I've gathered a few little things for her Easter basket so I'm excited to put that together at my parents' this weekend.

I'm definitely feeling pregnant, which makes sense since I'm past 25 weeks now. Movement has gotten more pronounced--like, oh, that was definitely a kick in the ribs. I have to pee before and immediately after every class, so basically once an hour. Makes me wish that the ladies room wasn't on the opposite side of the building, but the walk is probably good for me. My office is on the third floor and climbing the stairs has started to take a real effort now that my center of balance has shifted a little. I had a vivid nightmare last night about ticks and rats, which was disgusting and disturbing.

In better news, the book Three Minus One is now available on Amazon (that's not an affiliate link, FYI, because I have no idea how to do that). I'm so honored that my essay was selected to be part of it, and I'm so happy that a topic that still feels taboo is being more publicly discussed. The movie Return to Zero, whose producers went on to collaborate on the book, premieres on Lifetime on May 17th.

I'm not going to lie. I think the movie will be hard to watch, and reading the book will make me cry and cry and cry. But the grief is great because the love is huge. And that love deserves to be honored and talked about and thought about and addressed publicly.

So that's what's going on around here lately.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Control Freak

Zuzu has been taking swimming lessons for a couple of weeks. She loves it, just as she did last year, and is even more fearless and opinionated than she was a year ago (shocking, right?).

We've gotten lucky in signing up for what is evidently an unpopular time (Tuesdays at 4pm) and so far our group class has been a solo endeavor! This means we pay a group rate but Zuzu gets a private lesson each week. Each time we go, one of the employees or another parent watching an older kids' class comments on how much she loves the water and at our first lesson the instructor couldn't believe it had been a year since Zuzu had been in the pool because she was so comfortable in the water.

Plus she looks great in a swimsuit.

I have been making a regular tankini work as a maternity swimsuit

[NOT PICTURED. You're welcome.]

because the maternity suit is still a little baggy in the boobs and belly as I'm in this weird in between stage where I am beyond the burrito-bump belly but not quite at the smuggling-a-watermelon stage.

At our lesson two weeks ago, the instructor was a Very! Perky! woman whose daughter (she mentioned having a daughter so I made myself ask) is seven months old. Partway through our lesson, Perky Swim Coach said, "So I'll feel really bad if I'm wrong about this..." and then asked me when my baby is due.

I was like, Seriously? You think you might be mistaken about this belly being pregnant? But I just told her that my due date is in early August. Of course, her follow-up question was whether we know if it's a boy or a girl.

So then I said that we're waiting to be surprised.

One real benefit of not knowing the gender is that it tends to shut down conversation pretty quickly (assuming you don't like to have in-depth conversations about your pregnancy with strangers--I do not). I have already been asked if we'll try for a boy if this baby is a girl (NO. Full stop.) and I know I would have a hard time stomaching comments about how great it will be for Zuzu to have a sister (yeah... wouldn't that be great?) or the comments about a family being "perfect" if it has one boy and one girl (hard to listen to when your definition of "perfect" is "everyone is alive"). Saying we don't know gives us very little to continue discussing. It also usually allows me to say, "We'll just be happy with a healthy baby!" which is my way of subtly reminding people (or so I like to think) that not all babies are actually born healthy.

Anyway, Perky Swim Coach was amazed that we weren't going to find out the gender and said to me, all wide-eyed and sincere, "Oh, I think that's great, but I'm way too much of a control freak to not find out!"

I smiled and said nothing.

Because that's exactly the point. My thoughts on this are actually pretty similar to what they were when I was pregnant with Zuzu. Not knowing the sex of the baby is a reminder of all the things I can't control about this pregnancy. Of all the things NO ONE can control.

I don't know if it's a boy or a girl. I may or may not get to decide the day this baby is born. I don't know if my labor will be easy or horrible or fast or slow or end in an emergency c-section. I can make plans and I can aim for best-case scenarios, but in the end, it's not entirely up to me.

Not knowing the gender keeps our plans up in the air. Yes, we are expecting and hoping so hard for a healthy baby. But we can't see beyond that. We can't make definite plans. I can imagine Zuzu with a little sister or a little brother, but both scenarios feel equally imaginary.

It doesn't mean it would be any easier or hurt any less if we lost this baby. All it means is that I am recognizing every single day that the outcome is unknown. Boy or girl. Premature or full term. Natural delivery or c-section. Alive or dead. Not all of these are 50/50 chances, but in my experience these statistics are skewed significantly (100% girls; 50% alive).

So while I may want to control every aspect of this pregnancy and delivery, all of my experiences with having babies have forced me to acknowledge that I can't. I don't get to decide when a baby is conceived or when it is born or what the gender is or whether it's alive or dead. So why should I pretend (or let anyone else try to convince me) that any of this is within my control?

I guess there's no cure for a control freak quite like having your baby die. When it becomes acutely obviously that you can't control the most important things in life, everything else seems utterly insignificant by contrast. After that, it's much easier to let the insignificant things go.

Just give me a healthy baby. (And plenty of time to plan nursery decor and buy baby boy clothes if necessary.)

Friday, April 11, 2014


I came across this quiz from Gretchen Rubin and thought it was an interesting way of thinking about personality types.


Although she mentions that most people can connect to aspects of each type, I knew immediately that I am a Questioner. None of the others even came close (although I do like checking things off a to-do list). I am self-motivated (though I crave positive reinforcement) and I like to gather a lot of information before I make a decision (sometimes too much). Perhaps the most illustrative: "It really bothers me when things are unfair or arbitrary."


I haven't asked David to take this quiz, because I don't need to. I can tell you with great confidence that he is an Upholder. Such a rule-follower, that one. I can pretty easily put most of my friends in one category or another, too... (Jamie is an Upholder, Beth is an Obliger, Monica is an Obliger. I think my brother is probably a Questioner also, maybe even a Rebel...)

Where do you fall in these categories? And is your life partner the same as you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Weekend of Rainbows

It started out as a lifeline. A tiny thread, thrown out into the dark. From one desperate, hurting mama to another. I saw your comment. I read your blogpost. My baby died, too.

In another context, we might have been nervous, tentative. I don't usually e-mail strangers. I hope you don't think I'm a stalker. I'm so sorry about the loss of your baby. But our desperation made us brave. Please let someone else be awake at 3am. Please let someone else tell me that I'm not alone in this. Please let someone who knows tell me that I can survive this.

Slowly, carefully, I found a support system weaving its way around me. Daily e-mails as long as I needed them. Women who were a few years out, a few months out, and eerily right on my timeline (the December 4-6, 2010 Bereaved Mothers Group). Later, there would be new names and e-mails, more recent losses who looked to me for some kind of guidance, as though I had answers. (I didn't, but I could tell them we were all stumbling along together.) In the beginning, I went to Glow in the Woods. I went to Faces of Loss. I went to the Stirrup Queen's Blogroll. I read my way around this grieving corner of the internet.

I must have read hundreds of blogs, hundreds of stories. Sorrow and rage and shame and heartbreak self-publishing online with stories of babies loved and lost. It was a strange world. It made me wildly uncomfortable. It was like being on a new planet--Planet My Baby Died. I didn't want to belong here. This was the last place I wanted to be. But no, this was exactly where I belonged now. And the only thing that made it bearable was the discovery that most of the other people on this planet were actually kind and smart and funny and interesting and not completely defined by their grief, even when it overwhelmed them.

Eventually, I found my people. We started as an informal support group and eventually discovered we were truly friends. We cried and we laughed and we typed each others' babies' names. We commented and we e-mailed and we texted and we called and eventually, some of us met in person.

The weirdest part was that it didn't feel weird.

It doesn't feel like you haven't met someone before when you've already confessed to them your deepest secrets, your darkest guilt, your most painful heartbreak, and discovered that their pain matches yours. You become kindred spirits in the moment when your heart whispers back, "Me too."

Friends bond over shared experiences, and the experience of baby loss is no exception. It is a relief to meet up with people who have been through the experience of baby loss, and it's a delight when they are the kind of people you'd want to be friends with anyway.

Rainbow babies whose mamas read Anne of Green Gables
Two weekends ago, I met up for the second time (mostly) with just a few of the people who have shifted from Babyloss Lifeline to Real True Kindred Spirit Friend, and I can't quite find the words to describe what it's like to spend time with women who love my babies, who remember Eliza, who make me laugh, who cry with me, AND who live everyday with the same crippling loss. No judgment, no justification, no explanation necessary. Even experiences of loss that are different in some ways are met with understanding and acceptance.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I couldn't have come through those early months without the mothers of these babies, and the babies who came before them.

Don't drink the bathwater!
Our weekend was... let's say... complicated by a stomach bug that started taking people out on day two, but everyone (even those who ended up horking) said that the trip was worth it. We ended up with lots of adorable photos of our "rainbow babies" but, sadly, not one group shot of the mamas eating lunch topless or splashing in the pool in only our underwear. (Those things did not actually happen. That you know of.).

It makes no difference, really--we don't need photos to remember the benefit of what felt like a weekend of therapy. Of laughing and crying (and, for about half our crew, barfing) with women who are still grieving and still angry and admittedly kind of effed up (hey, we all are) but who are also kind and funny and smart and so full of love for all our babies.

The fact that the weather was sunny and gorgeous didn't hurt either. And while my precious little snowflake was, in fact, THE ONLY CHILD who committed a Toddler Felony (2nd Degree Biting, didn't break the skin but totally left a mark), not to mention a whole series of Toddler Misdemeanors and Party Fouls (baby stroller theft and sippy cup swiping to name a couple) the whole group was really nice about not shunning us and reassuring me that it's Normal Toddler Behavior to act like a real A-hole sometimes.

My Little Firecracker and Little Miss Mellow
When I think of the weekend, I think of laughing in the sunshine, and chasing babies all around a huge house, and splashes in a freezing cold pool, and refereeing a lot of toddler fights over inaccurate use of the word "MINE!" but I also think of our tear-filled discussions in the living room after the little ones had been put to bed, in which we could make confessions of guilt and shame, thoughts of suicide, seething jealousy, diminished friendships, unforgivable comments, ongoing sorrow, paralyzing fears, and frank admissions of the anger that we have found ways to live with but still haven't gotten over (and in all likelihood, never will).

And no matter what we admitted to feeling or having felt in the aftermath of our baby's death, someone else was always there to nod and say, "Me too" and pass a box of tissues.

I'm a contagious crier (as well as a contagious puker, although I managed not to succumb to the stomach virus) and I was overwhelmed with sympathetic grief sometimes. I live with the loss of Eliza every day and have gotten practiced at carrying that weight with me, but when I see the heartbreaking sadness in the eyes of my friends, when I think of what they have lost and what they have suffered...  I was trying to describe it to David, how surreal it is to feel so terribly sorry for someone who is going through the same thing I'm going through, and he got it exactly right when he said that I spend most of my time on the inside of grief looking in, and suddenly I was on the inside looking out at other people who were also in the trenches. I hate that we have to live without Eliza, and I hate that there are countless other parents forced to reckon with the same loss.

Every adorable baby/toddler in that photo above represents another beloved child who is dead. It seems like it should be impossible, but it's true. I miss Eliza, and I am terribly sorry for the losses of Anna and Otis and Camille and Hayes and Bear and and Addy and Elizabeth and Liam and Evelynn and many, far too many, others. I'm so terribly sorry that their parents are living with that grief. And I am so, so grateful that somehow in the depths of our despair, we managed to throw out a lifeline and extend a hand and find each other.

We tried to take a "rainbow hat photo"--guess whose rainbow REFUSED to cooperate? Hint: She's standing in front of the sofa, looking the wrong direction.
The mamas I saw last weekend number just a few of those who have touched my life and those who have enabled me to cope with the loss of Eliza. I still wish that somehow I could thank in person every single one of you who helped me cope while also grieving your own loss. This path we walk is nearly impossible, and I think we manage only because we are not alone. The best advice I can give to parents whose loss is so painfully, impossibly new, is to tell them they aren't alone and encourage them to find their cohort, find their people, use the internet to make those connections.

When we are very lucky, we manage to get together in real life with one or two or more of those who share our pain and understand our loss and, simply by doing so, lighten our burden. And it helps so much when they love our rainbow babies, too--even the ones who bite.

Caution: The cuter they look, the harder they bite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fireplace: Lookin' Hot, Hot, Hot

I had big plans for spring break--lots of projects I wanted to do around the house. Not all of them got done (I may have been a little ambitious thinking I could quickly repaint the dining room, considering that I also had around 80 exams/papers to grade--which also didn't get completely done!), but I am really pleased with how this one little update turned out.

You may remember our fireplace in the living room.

I love having a fireplace, but the brass surround was looking pretty dated and the mismatched brick surround and hearth was not super attractive. Not to mention the reddish/orange brick wasn't doing the warm-colored wood stain any favors. I decided that the fireplace needed a little contrast.

I was dreaming of tearing out the brick and putting in glossy marble tile surrounding the fireplace doors, but that project seemed (1) ambitious and (2) expensive, so I decided to start a little smaller and just paint the brick with a semi-gloss paint to hopefully mimic the look of subway tile. I chose the same white that we put on the walls--Dover White by Sherwin Williams. But I decided to save a few bucks and the extra stop when I was running errands, and I just had Home Depot color match a Glidden semi-gloss paint+primer. I knew that I didn't need an exact color match since it wouldn't be right up against the wall and it would be glossier than the flat wall paint. Plus I totally like living on the edge.

I taped off the edges while David was making dinner (Zuzu helped me because she is a SUPER good helper) and then I painted on the first coat after Zuzu was in bed.

After getting the first coat up there, I was already loving the way the white draws the eye to the fireplace and totally makes it more of a focal point, but it was obvious that we were going to need one or two additional coats to get good coverage on the brick. (I was expecting this, since brick is porous and soaks up paint.)

This wasn't a big deal since it's such a small area it only takes a few minutes to slap a coat of paint on, even with the extra effort to get good coverage in the grout and along the edges. The biggest pain was having to wait the recommended four hours in between coats!

After three coats of paint, I still had a few touch-ups I needed to do, but I was already pleased with the improvement.

It became glaringly obvious, however, that something had to be done about the dated brass surround. I'm not anti-brass exactly (I love it in certain light fixtures, for example) but I definitely felt like this had seen better days. So I picked up a quart of high-heat tolerant black paint while I was at the Depot. This is the kind of paint you can use to cover a BBQ grill, and a little googling assured me that other people had used it on fireplace surrounds also.

Although the Glidden paint I got for the bricks was zero VOC, the high-heat paint is more chemically, so I slapped on a mask, opened windows, and was thankful that the room is quite open and well-ventilated.

I started by wiping off the dust and then lightly sanded the brass surround with fine sandpaper.

Then I used a foam brush for first coat, which was pretty messy and awful looking. Of course, this is when my process got interrupted by the invasion of a small rodent (we determined that the "mouse" was actually a baby squirrel--slightly less gross, but no less terrifying, since this scene kept running through my mind). I was too distracted by RODENT INVASION and TORNADO SIRENS to get photos of the first coat of black. So you'll just have to trust me that the paint is super thin and runny and goes on really yucky looking at first and you have to be patient in waiting for it to dry or you'll just smear it around.

The next day, the rodent was gone. Because the glass doors were literally taped shut with painters tape, we're confident that there is no way it could have escaped into the house. David brought home a humane trap that we baited with peanutbutter and he put in the fireplace while I took deep breaths in another room. The trap remained empty for a 24 hour period and we heard no more scratching or scampering.  Our theory is that the poor little squirrel was seeking shelter from the tornado, fell down our chimney, was scared and disoriented, then managed to climb out the next day when the sun came up and it could climb toward the light. Perhaps Mama Squirrel assisted in rescue efforts? I don't know--I'm just relieved it was gone.

So after that small delay, I could get back to painting. I put the second coat of black on the front with a foam roller, which went on really smooth and looked great. I did have to watch out for drips since the paint was so thin, but it took a while to dry so mess-ups were an easy fix.

I thought I could get away with leaving the doors on the fireplace while I painted, but no such luck. The brass edging was still visible, especially since we leave the doors open in the winter when we're using the fireplace. So the next day, David removed the doors (I was slightly freaked out just imagining WHAT IF those doors had been off when the squirrel was in there??) but we had no more rodent spotting.  I put a quick coat of paint on the tops of the doors and around the opening of the fireplace after Zuzu had gone to bed, and one more quick coat before we went to be, then let it dry overnight.

The next morning, I thoroughly cleaned the glass doors before David reattached them, I touched up black paint in a couple spots and... TA-DA!

My hope was that the black trim would sort of fade into the background and let the white glossy brick make a pretty contrast with the wood and that duo could steal the show. And while it's not quite the stunner that the bathroom grout is (haha), I have to say that it makes me happy every time I walk into the room. Total cost of two quarts of paint, one roll of Frog tape, a foam roller, and two foam brushes came to right around $40, which I think is a good deal for a nice little fireplace update. Hooray for budget spending.

And how about a quick before and after?

I may not have gotten all my exams and essays graded over spring break, but at least I knocked out this little project. I'm also quite pleased that my list of 8 big projects I wanted to accomplish this year has been almost entirely crossed off! Granted, my craft area still needs more organizing, but I've made some good headway down there, so the only other thing on the list that I haven't gotten to at all is possibly locating a buffet for the dining room. That has fallen lower on the priority list right now because if I'm going to drop a big chunk of change, I'd rather buy a new rug for the front room (I'm so over the rug in there. Seriously.).

Of course, the list of projects continues to grow... I need to think eventually (hopefully) about what we are going to do to create a space for Rerun in our bedroom and how we'll want to set that up. I also want to repaint the dining room (I have a new vision!) and freshen up the kitchen (still can't decide what color...) but the house really is starting to feel like ours with all the updates we've managed to do on a pretty tight budget.

Here's to small changes that make a big difference!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sharknado? Try Mousenado. Way Scarier.

My morning started at 5:30am with David waking me up by gently patting my head and telling me that the tornado sirens were going off and we needed to head down to the basement. I couldn't believe he'd even heard the sirens and in fact he hadn't--Cooper woke him up, all frantic and shaking.

We got Zuzu out of bed, I grabbed my little box of Eliza's things, our fireproof box with our important documents in it, and my daily journal, and we headed downstairs where we watched the weatherman spaz out about the tornado. I was hoping that Zuzu would curl up with me on the futon and we'd go back to sleep together, but instead she thought it was super happy fun basement playtime in the wee hours of the morning. There was no going back to bed, so by 6:30am David was heading in to work to make sure there wasn't any damage at his school and I was making breakfast for Zuzu with Cooper underfoot--he's so terrified of storms.

I have a huge stack of exams and essays to finish grading before next week, so after breakfast I took a shower while Zuzu harassed me in the bathroom by flinging open the shower curtain and yelling, "Uppa! Uppa!" and then wailing when I said, "Just a minute, honey, I'm almost finished, let's close the curtain," because CLEARLY it is a violation of parental duty not to pick up one's fully-clothed toddler and hold her while standing naked in the shower and rinsing one's hair.

Somewhat related: I finally bought some real child-proof locking device things for the bathroom cabinet to replace the tightly wound hair elastic that is supposed to be keeping Zuzu out of my hairspray and lotion and toilet bowl cleaner, but I could not figure out how to make them work, so she was also entertaining herself by chewing on one half of the locking system. (I have since figured it out but in my defense the directions were rather misleading.)

At long last, we were out the door and on the way to daycare. I made Cooper go outside in the rain to pee because the night BEFORE he had pooped in the house. He's so afraid to go outside he just holds it until he can't hold it anymore. So that meant that when I got home from running errands yesterday, I got to flush dog poop, spray and wipe up the places his turds were sitting, and then steam mop the dining room floor.  Gag gag gag.

He peed, then ran around all panicky and tried to get in the car until I herded him back inside the house. I dropped Zu at daycare and then headed back home. My plan was to spend the morning grading papers at a coffee shop, but I'm also working on this little fireplace painting project (another blog post on that to follow) and I wanted to get one more coat on before I left for the day. I knew it wouldn't take more than a few minutes, as long as I didn't have Zuzu around to "help" me. So I went upstairs to put my painting shirt on over my clothes and discovered that Cooper had POOPED at the bottom of the stairs AND all over the landing at the top of the stairs (which is carpeted, with carpet that David just cleaned last weekend).

I then proceeded to clean up dog poop for the second time in less that 24 hours while Cooper cowered and shook and was so totally pathetic I couldn't even yell at him (fortunately it was easy clean up). I got my little fireplace project finished and then headed out to the coffee shop.

My day mostly went as planned--graded papers, went back home for lunch, put another coat of paint on the fireplace. I'd wanted to go to the post office and make a quick Target run but there were severe thunderstorm warnings out by the afternoon, so I decided to delay those plans until tomorrow and I picked Zuzu up from daycare. She'd had a good day today, in spite of falling asleep in the car on the way to daycare and waking up fussy in the parking lot, and she'd taken a long nap to make up for her 5:30am wake up.

It wasn't until after David got home that things got dramatic. We'd just put Zuzu to bed and I was back at work on Phase 2 of the fireplace project when I heard the wire mesh curtains in the fireplace moving. I couldn't understand how this was happening--was the wind so strong that somehow it was reaching down the chimney to shake these curtains? And then I saw it.

There was a MOUSE. Trapped in my fireplace.

A live mouse. With a tail and eyeballs and feet capable of climbing the metal curtains.

I know mice are small, but my fear of them is like my fear of needles: illogical and all-consuming. I screamed, "David! David! DAVID!" and then climbed up on a dining room chair, sort of blubbering. David had just sat down to eat dinner (leftovers) but he jumped up to see what was wrong and found me spazzing out about the mouse in the fireplace--which he thought I was imagining until he saw it himself and said it looked like a sugar glider because apparently he is some kind of rodent expert.

Long story short, I really wanted to finish painting (I'm super excited about this project) but I was afraid to be in the room with the mouse by myself (even though it was trapped behind glass doors, taped shut with painter's tape). I made David sit down next to me to protect me but eventually he had to take over my painting project because I couldn't stop screaming and jumping every time the mouse moved and before long I was actually crying. (I know it's insane. Phobias are not rational. That's what makes them phobias.) It was very sweet of David to help me out, but he is a messier painter than I am so I'm going to have to go back and touch up his mistakes, which I cannot do until this mouse situation is resolved. I left him to his messy painting and went into the other room and turned on all the lights and blubbered a little longer and then called my mom to get some sympathy.

We don't have any mouse traps and I wanted to go out and get a humane trap so we could catch the little bugger and let it go outside, but by this point we were under a severe thunderstorm warning so it's not like we were going to hop in the car and head to the hardware store. Crafty Cousin Amanda's suggestion to trap the mouse under a bowl and slide a piece of cardboard underneath got ruled out because the fireplace is dark and the gas logs are in the way and I'm probably going to have to be out of the house when David opens the glass fireplace doors because otherwise I will lose my shit (figuratively, I think, but possibly Cooper-style). So David promised me he'd get a trap and take care of it tomorrow, and I started making plans to spend the entire day out of the house so I won't have to be here alone with the mouse (these plans consist of a coffee shop followed by browsing Target and Home Goods, so basically a perfect day except that I have to grade a bunch of papers).

And then the tornado sirens went off and we had to get Zuzu back out of bed after she'd been asleep for forty-five minutes and head down to the basement. BECAUSE THE DAY WAS NOT DRAMATIC ENOUGH what with the POOP and the MOUSE and OMG THE MOUSE.

(Honestly, at this point I was thinking that if a tornado took out our house, at least that would solve the mouse problem.)

Anyway, the tornado blew on through with no significant damage, the baby went back to bed surprisingly easily, and I'm assuming the mouse is still chilling on our gas logs even though I'm too scared to look. Now I'm exhausted but adrenaline from the mouse + tornado has me wired and I don't know how I am going to sleep tonight without dreaming about a mouse climbing up the bedding and getting under my sheets and nibbling on my toes and having mouse babies under my covers and pooping everywhere and giving me rabies. You can see why the prospect of a tornado is actually somewhat less terrifying.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lost Baby and Last Baby

So here's the thing.

If Eliza were here, chances are that I would have already had my last baby.

Plan A (you'll remember, my most favorite plan EV-AH) was to have two babies, approximately three years apart. The first in January 2011. The second in the spring of 2014.

Well... things have not gone according to plan.

Eliza's not here. Family planning and baby making has not gone the way I imagined at all. None of this has been under my control, timing of pregnancies included.

Some of the mixed emotions about this surprise pregnancy had to do with the fact that it felt like it came out of nowhere. After very consciously trying to get pregnant with Eliza, and then REALLY TRYING to get pregnant after her loss, I never dreamed that it would happen when I wasn't expecting it. Another baby was still a "Yeah, sometime in the future, we'll start trying after Zuzu turns two..."  As excited as we are NOW, back when those two lines showed up, I was just shocked. It wasn't something we had deliberately planned and honestly it caught us completely off guard.

I know that some of my mixed emotions about this surprise pregnancy had to do with the timing of this baby's due date: just a month after Zuzu turns two, at the start of a new semester, which means taking months off of work with significantly reduced pay, and then there's the strain of paying double daycare tuition for three years instead of one or two...

And there was also the timing of the positive test itself coming two days before Eliza's birthday, two short months after Zuzu stopped breastfeeding, a week before finals, two weeks before we got another offer on the old house, and three weeks before Christmas. It was an emotionally loaded and stressful time, pregnant or not.

But I also think that some of my mixed emotions had to do with the fact that not only did I not think I was ready to cope with the anxiety of another pregnancy or the financial and mental stress of two kids two years apart, I also didn't think I was ready to be pregnant for the LAST time.

Now don't get me wrong--I don't love being pregnant. Even before everything fall apart with Eliza, I just wasn't one of those women who loves pregnancy. I don't like feeling so big and cumbersome. I don't like having to grunt when I get up or sit down. Sure, I like the miracle of feeling the baby squirm in my belly, and I like having thick, shiny hair for a few months. But that's about it.

So it's not really that I wanted to postpone and savor pregnancy, which is mostly associated with anxiety for me these days. I think I just wanted to postpone the finality of having my last baby.

Some of my friends who've experienced baby loss had the opposite reaction. Many of them wanted to have Rainbow Baby #2 as quickly as possible after Rainbow Baby #1. Be finished and done with the fear and the trauma of pregnancy. Others aren't sure they ever want to go through another pregnancy for mental or physical health reasons.

My situation is a little different, because while we don't know what went wrong for Eliza, until the moment I found out she was dead, my pregnancy was not traumatic. I was not ill, things were not unusual, everything seemed fine. I look back now at things that maybe could have been signs--I had terrible carpal tunnel during her pregnancy and my feet and hands swelled with her, though they never did with Zuzu--but carpal tunnel and swelling can be symptoms of totally normal, healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies. While pregnancy has lots of emotional and mental obstacles for me, it doesn't threaten my physical health in the way it does for women who have experienced hyperemesis gravidarum, preeclampsia, HELLP, or other issues that can endanger the mother as well as the baby.

Realistically speaking, the risks of pregnancy for me are not likely to be physical risks. They are mostly emotional ones for me, centered on the health of the baby rather than my own health. My desire to delay pregnancy was mostly for emotional and also practical reasons--I didn't feel "ready," I wanted to really get back in shape first, I wanted more time to save money, I wanted a little more breathing room between breastfeeding Zuzu and gestating her sibling, I didn't want to pay double daycare tuition or double college tuition for more than a year or so.

I also wanted Zuzu to be "the baby" as long as possible. I want to be able to give her my undivided attention. (Or, if I'm being honest, to not further divide my attention from her, since I do work full-time 9 months out of the year). I'm not ready to put her in a big girl bed. I'm not ready to redecorate her nursery for another baby. I'm not sure I'm ready for her to be the big sister! Just last night I looked at her sleeping in her crib, so big and so tiny all at once, and got choked up thinking of some other baby coming in and being the new baby (I mean, I know it will be great once Rerun is here... it's just that such a big change will shift everything around in our family and that makes me emotional).

Zuzu has outgrown all but one dress that was purchased for Eliza. It won't be long before I can no longer accept a compliment on her outfit by saying, "Thanks. I (or my mom) bought that for Eliza."

That seems like a small thing--we're only talking about clothes after all--but it brings tears to my eyes just to type that.

I know we don't ever leave our babies behind, I know we carry them in our hearts (and even, according to this scientific article, in our bloodstreams). I know that Eliza is forever a part of me and an influence on me, and it fills up my heart everytime I hear that someone else is thinking of her, too (pictures of pink saucer magnolia trees on instagram are like a balm to my soul). But my physical connection to her is really limited and beyond those heartbreaking, traumatizing hours in the hospital, holding her tiny body, the material reality of her is in the things we bought for her and the things we were given for her--items purchased especially for a baby who never got to use them.

Being finished with babies will eventually mean packing away the crib and its carefully-researched organic mattress (we bought the crib and the mattress for Eliza) and getting rid of cloth diapers (we bought those diapers for Eliza) and giving away our stroller (we picked that out for Eliza).

These are just things, but after Eliza died, the only real evidence that she had existed became the material possessions we had gathered for her. For months these things were painful to look at, but they later became a comfort.  Zuzu can use the blankets we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can wear the clothes we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can sleep in the crib we bought for Eliza. Zuzu can poop in the diapers we bought for Eliza. It was a way of remembering our first baby and all the ways she mattered at the same time we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the health and existence of our second baby.

We who have lost babies talk a lot about how our families will never feel complete. How it will always feel like someone is missing, no matter how many babies we might have. How "two" will always be "but really there should be three" or "three" is actually "but I wish you could see there were four" or "one" is often "I never thought she'd be an only child. I never expected my life to be like this."

Hopefully, come August, we will be a family of four-but-really-five. And while having four of us here will be freaking awesome, it's also deceptive because it doesn't look like anyone is missing, you know? From the outside looking in, a family of four appears to be "complete." In a way, it seems to render Eliza even more invisible. It's nobody's fault--certainly not Rerun's. But it simply feels like having my last baby moves me further away from any physical link to my lost baby.

As much as the question, "Is she your first?" freaking stung, as much as it will be a relief not to have to navigate that minefield (I hear that people stop asking that once you're carting around two kids), it also means fewer opportunities to talk about Eliza (whether I feel up to doing it or not).

I'll have three charms on my mama necklace. I'll still wear my Eliza bracelet daily. Her portrait will still hang in our home. I'll still whisper sometimes to David that I miss her and he'll still hug me and say, "Me too." My dear friends and family will still commemorate her birth and let me know they are thinking of her.  She will always be my first baby.

But sometimes I'm afraid that with the excitement of a new baby, everyone might forget that no matter how many babies I might have, the ache for Eliza never stops. We are incomplete without her here. I miss her still.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Zuzu and Mommy Weekend

Zuzu and I just returned from a long weekend with friends in Las Vegas and I'll have lots more to say about that (or just adorable photos to post) but I just had to do a quick post to remember how amazing the weekend with Zuzu was.

I have to admit, I was nervous about traveling on my own with her. David and I make a pretty great parenting tag team, by which I mean that when I am overwhelmed and losing my patience with her, I just tag him in and take a break from the whining.

This weekend, though, she was amazingly cooperative. She sat quietly in the stroller as we went through the airport. She waved and smiled at strangers and airline employees. She charmed the people we sat next to on the airplane. She looked out the window at the trucks and airplanes and then promptly fell asleep as soon as the plane took off.

We shared a house with 8 other moms and babies ranging in age from 6 months to two and a half years. Not only did Zuzu share her toys and gently hug her friends without prompting, she also ate  vegetables with every meal, said "please" and "thank you," and went down for naps and bedtime with virtually no fussing.  There was no biting, hitting, pushing, or toy-stealing all weekend long. It was the easiest, most restful weekend of solo-parenting that I could imagine.


APRIL FOOL'S!!!! (You saw that coming, right?)

So, the long weekend was true and the trip was honestly wonderful (and she did eventually fall asleep on the airplane). Solo-parenting her actually wasn't as hard as I feared, thanks to the help from my eight fabulous friends. Zuzu's behavior, on the other hand, was more along the lines of Typical Toddler With Assertive Personality and a Fondness for the Word "MINE!" We still had a great time though, battles over a certain pink doll stroller notwithstanding, and I hope that Zuzu didn't come across as too big of a pill (at least not so big she couldn't be taken with a spoonful of ice cream or applesauce).

More updates to follow when I dig my way out from under these piles of laundry.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Truth vs. Happiness

I'm teaching The Return of the Soldier in my class on Modern Fiction. It's a novella by Rebecca West--about 80 pages total--and it's about, as you can probably guess from the title, a soldier who returns from war. Specifically World War I (it was written in 1918). This soldier returns with a very peculiar, non-visible injury: shell shock that has given him amnesia. He has no recollection of the last fifteen years, during which he took over his father's business, took over management of his family's estate, married a beautiful woman, and had a son with her. Instead, he returns home thinking he is 21 years old and still in love with his girlfriend from fifteen years previously--a woman who is now married to someone else and living not too far away in near-poverty.

If you think you might want to read the book and don't want any plot spoilers, you should stop reading this now. But I have to say that even if you know the plot, the book isn't at all spoiled. The prose is beautiful and it's so fascinating to think about the way England clung to familiar social realities (like class snobbery) as a result of the anxiety and upheaval of their physical realities--mostly the shocking death count on the war front. I've read it at least five times now, and I love it every single time.

The book is narrated by Chris's cousin, Jenny, who lives with Kitty and him (and seems to have her own complicated love for Chris). She is certain that when he sees Margaret, how ugly and poor she is, how her hard life has aged her and blighted her former beauty, he'll come to his senses and remember his good life with Kitty. But she's wrong--he loves Margaret in spite of everything. The three women must decide together how to "cure" him--or whether a cure is even the best thing for him, since it would mean a return to himself, but also the squashing of his happiness and his likely return to the frontlines of the war.

In fact, Margaret remarks to a psychiatrist who is called in to consult, You can't cure him [...] Make him happy, I mean. All you can do is make him ordinary.

And the psychiatrist acknowledges that this is true. He's a true Freudian and he insists that Chris must be repressing some terrible, unhappy memory, which is what is causing his amnesia. Kitty finds this offensive (understandably, I think), and insists their life was perfect.

But then Margaret learns that Chris's son Oliver had fallen ill and died five years earlier at the age of two (in a heartbreaking twist of fate, Margaret also lost her two-year-old son). Kitty has repressed and denied this grief, but Margaret instantly realizes the depth of love Chris would have felt for his son. She knows how to bring Chris back to the present, and back to himself: take him a ball and an outfit that Oliver wore, remind him of his son. Jenny takes her the nursery so that she can be the one to break the news to Chris.

Margaret, grieving her own lost baby boy, is nearly overwhelmed as she sees Oliver's photograph amid all of his things, and as she realizes the pain that she will cause Chris when she tells him about Oliver and brings him back to the present day, which will include not only the trauma of war, but the death of his only child.

In seeing Margaret's reaction to Oliver's room and his things, the single, childless Jenny remarks, I thought, as I have often thought before, that the childless have the greatest joy in children, for to us they are just slips of immaturity lovelier than the flowers and with a power over the heart, but to mothers they are fleshy cables binding one down to such profundities of feeling as the awful agony that now possessed her.

Margaret makes a convincing plea to Jenny that they shouldn't tell Chris after all: I know nothing in the world matters so much as happiness. If anybody's happy you ought to let them be.

And Jenny agrees with her--let Chris live as he is, enjoying his youth and his love, unburdened by the reality of his heartbreaking life. How can they return him to grief and to war? To a life marked with disappointment and danger? It would be kinder and more loving, surely, to let him continue to live as he is, unburdened and happy.

But then Kitty appears in the nursery doorway, crying. Kitty is not a sympathetic character even though you'd think she ought to be. She comes across as selfish, materialistic, and self-interested (at least, from Jenny's point of view), and she's desperate to have her Chris back, even if he is a tired and broken-hearted man, instead of a laughing and light-hearted one. But somehow, seeing Kitty in the doorway of the nursery changes Jenny's mind:

Why did her tears reveal to me what I had learned long ago, but had forgotten in my frenzied love, that there is a draught that we must drink or not be fully human? I knew that one must know the truth. I knew quite well that when one is adult one must raise to one's lips the wine of the truth, heedless that it is not sweet like milk but draws the mouth with its strength, and celebrate communion with reality, or else walk for ever queer and small like a dwarf. [...] He would not be quite a man.

This is the passage that makes me cry every time. And Margaret admits, The truth's the truth. And he must know it.

I asked my students today in class why it is that Kitty, whom Jenny openly dislikes and whom Margaret has no reason to like at all, changes their mind. One of my students--a thoughtful girl with beautiful red hair--raised her hand and said, "I'm not sure it has anything to do with Kitty. I think Margaret just loves her son so much, she won't deny Chris the memory of his son, even if it's sad."

I could barely breathe when she said that, although I think I covered pretty well, and quickly called on someone else. I just hadn't expected a nineteen-year-old to have such astute insight into that kind of mother-love. I don't think I would have known that at nineteen.

But I asked David last night, as I was re-reading the end of the novel, and asking myself the same question, if he could just forget about 2010 and 2011, but still function normally and just have the happy memories of the years before and after, would he take that deal?

In other words, would we trade Eliza herself, and the experience of being her parents for such a short period of time, for the happiness would we have felt (or, more accurately, the absence of sadness) if she had never lived and never died?

There was a time when I would have said yes.  When my grief was so fresh and raw that it was nearly unbearable, when I didn't understand why she had to live at all if she was only going to die. But now I knew my answer would be no, even though I wasn't quite sure what had shifted or when it happened. So I really wasn't sure what David would say.

He thought for a minute and then shook his head. "No. Because that's a part of me, you know? She's ours."

Truth is more important than happiness, for us, and, I think, in Rebecca West's novel. You can deny it and push it down and not talk about it, but hiding the truth doesn't make it go away, and forgetting about it (or pretending it doesn't exist) makes you a fraction of the person you could be.

When it comes to real life, happiness is a by-product, but it can't be the purpose. There are too many things in life that are poignant and heartbreaking and honest and sorrowful, and that also hold more than their measure of good. And love is one of them. Love for a child who dies is one of them. And that truth still aches. It makes us heartbroken adults instead of carefree kids. It's etched grief lines around our eyes and changed us in other, less visible ways. But it's true. She's ours. And I do find now (with the breathing room of three years) that I value that truth of love and heartache more than I value a shallow and artificial happiness.

Of course I'd rather have her here, but if my choice were to have her dead or not remember her at all, I'd have to keep her. She's my baby. The love is the same. And given that choice, it's no choice for me at all. She's ours.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Apple of My Eye

Yesterday afternoon, I was snacking on an apple. (It was a healthy choice I came to because I'd already finished the box of Caramel Delights.)

Backstory: Zuzu watches our snacking carefully now and usually demands a bite, which is how she discovered peanut M&M's on David's watch and is now a peanut M&M fiend. He sprinkles them on his popcorn and he was trying to share popcorn with her, but she found an M&M instead and, well, there was no wrestling it away from her. So we watched like hawks as she chewed it up very carefully and then, naturally, discovered that it was basically the awesomest thing she's ever eaten. She hasn't yet figured out where they are kept, and we are going to try very hard to keep it that way. Even though it's out of her reach, her whining and gesturing is so incredibly persistent that the entry for perseverance should have her photo next to it.

Perseverance: persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement [in the form of parental disapproval]. See also Zuzu Duckworth.

Anyway, I was eating an apple, she wanted some of it, and in this instance, I was more than happy to share my apple with her (Girl Scout cookies, however, require hoarding and sneaky after-bedtime snacking). We made a companionable pair, snacking on our organic produce.

When we'd gotten all the good stuff off the apple. She said "More? More apple?" and I explained, no, the apple was all gone.  Then, in a moment of wild parenting experimentation, I handed Zuzu the apple core and paper towel it was half-wrapped in and asked her to go throw it in the trash can.

Now, I know she is capable of following simple directions, but she's also quite inconsistent in doing so. I had never asked her to throw anything away before, and really I wasn't sure if she would even know what I was talking about.

"Will she do it?" David asked.

I shrugged. She's seen us throw things away in the kitchen, but have we talked about it? Does she know that's even called the trash can? I couldn't remember if we'd had a conversation with her about it or if we had named the trash can in conversation in front of her.

But she toddled off to the kitchen with great purpose, and I got up off the couch to surreptitiously follow her and see what she would do.

And would you believe it?  That little miss walked herself over the cabinet under the sink, opened the door, placed the apple core in the trash can, closed the cabinet, and came running back to join David and me in the backroom.

"She did it!" I exclaimed, my heart bursting with pride. We congratulated and high-fived her on being such a good helper. I remarked that she's going to be a really good big sister. He commented with new certainty that she's going to be able to figure out potty-training after all. Our brilliant child! Look at her follow directions and do things we didn't know she was capable of! She's so smart and independent! We are constantly amazed by her!

We spent a few more minutes discussing the brilliance of our offspring, and she lost interest in hearing her own praises and wandered out of the room.

A few minutes later, she was back.

And she was gnawing on the apple core she'd just dug out of the trash can.

That's our girl. Our little prodigy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Last Weekend's Adventures: Screams, Scarves, and Fire (Warning: It was Actually Less Exciting Than It Sounds)

So we had kind of a big weekend (Spoiler Alert: Not really). Friday the weather got warm-ish and I decided that Zuzu and Cooper and I were going for a walk as soon as we got home. I headed into daycare to pick up Zuzu and found that she wasn't in the toddler playroom, but was in the baby room (at her request). She loves babies these days (obsessively, really) and she's so thrilled to go into the baby room and look at the babies and play with their toys.

She had only been in there a few minutes, and she was so thrilled to be in the baby room that when I picked her up to leave, she burst into a huge screaming fit, crying "No! Baby! Baby!" in the most piteous slash ear-piercing way possible.

You can guess how awesome this made me feel. Here I am, looking forward to getting home from work and seeing my kid and taking her for a nice stroll around the neighborhood in this thing we call sunshine that I haven't seen in months, and she would rather stay at daycare.  Amazing.

Also there was another mom getting ready to pick up her infant and she watched me wrangle my squirming, screaming toddler (who wanted nothing more than to escape my loving arms and return to the glory of the daycare center) with this total look of pity on her face like, "It must suck for your kid to like daycare more than she likes you." Why yes, actually. It does. I feel AWESOME.

Once we got to the car, Zuzu was fine and we were just getting ready to leave on our walk when David and called and said he was almost home. I asked if he wanted us to wait so he could join us, but he said no, he had to take a shower. I suggested he shower after we walked, but then he explained he was covered in whipped cream. Because of course he was.

(Not as sexy as it sounds! Evidently it was belated Principals' Day at his school and he and the assistant principal had whipped cream pies thrown in their faces. I really don't get what principals do all day or how pie-throwing-target is part of the job description.)

So Coop and Zuzu and I set off and had a nice little walk. Zuzu was excited to see "Dogs! Woof-woof!" and "BABY! BABY!" as we strolled around the park. (Side note: I continue to ponder the double-stroller question and am always scoping out different brands and styles as we walk so I'm ready for warmer weather on a regular basis so I can see my options out there, although I don't think I'll have the courage to buy one until after Rerun is here.) Also Zuzu started shouting "All done!" from the stroller when we were still a few blocks from home and we had a rather vocal disagreement on whether she was, in fact, "all done" with the stroller. I won the argument, but only because she can't yet work the buckles that strap her in.

Saturday morning I ran errands by myself (wahoo!). A few weeks ago, I lost my trusty black pashmina scarf that I got for a steal of a deal at J.C. Penney something like two years ago. I picked it up on a half-off sale having no idea how often I would wear it. Since then, I've found it to be the perfect accessory. I can throw it on with anything and instantly feel more put together. I wear it to teach quite often because it goes with everything, makes me feel like I look more put-together, and it covers up cleavage, tea stains (spills happen), and the start of a baby bump. Somehow--inexplicably--it has disappeared. After searching my house, car, and office in vain, I decided that it had to be replaced.

I had two goals at the mall on Saturday--pick up a couple swimsuits for Zuzu (we start swimming lessons in April) and find a replacement black scarf. Important side note: I'm a bargain-hunter kind of shopper and I almost never buy something that's not marked down unless it's a very specific item that I've been lusting after for a while.

So I browsed around the mall and scored a super cute swim suit and rash guard at Baby Gap (judging by Instagram, it's the It Suit of the season and all the most fashionable babies will be wearing it).

Zuzu approves.
I also scoped out Gymboree but wasn't overly impressed with the cute, although I like that their suits have built-in swim diapers. So then I headed over to Janie & Jack and fell in love with this little vintage number.

The one-sock on, tongue-out look is all the range in beach wear this season.

Oh, hey!
I mean, it has tiny gold buttons. How cute is that?

Having settled the swimsuit issue, it was time to get serious about the black scarf. Nordstrom didn't have exactly what I was looking for, but I was feeling antsy and kind of desperate, so I went ahead bought a lightweight black infinity scarf that I thought would do the job. Then I went to Macy's and found a scarf pretty much just like what I had in mind on clearance for $6.99... except it wasn't available in black. So I bought it in red (and got an additional 15% off!) and then found a black one, almost identical to what I had lost, that was slightly marked down from its original price of $30. So I bought it, too, figuring I'd take both black scarves home and decide which one I liked best and then return the other.

(I'd made up my mind to keep the Macy's pashmina scarf with the fringe and return the infinity scarf to Nordstrom because the pashmina felt more versatile.)

BUT on Sunday my mom and I were going to Trader Joe's and we popped over to World Market just to see what was going on in there and I stumbled across THE PERFECT black scarf for $9.99. I was so excited. So then I had two scarves to return to the mall, but who cares because I have successfully replaced my favorite scarf with an equal or better model.  Huzzah!

(My apologies if you are not totally enthralled by my scarf-buying saga. This was kind of a big deal to me.)

Ono Saturday, my mom was taking the train into town from Kansas City so that she could keep Zuzu for us Saturday night while we went to a trivia night for David's school district. So once my shopping adventures were over, I headed to a coffee shop near the train station to grade papers and wait for her train to show up. (Our team actually came in second place, mostly because the literacy coach's husband is a trivia savant. I did contribute some knowledge about Queen Victoria because the British monarch who ruled the longest, so I guess that seven years of graduate school weren't a total waste. My trivia knowledge is narrow, but it is deep!)

The next morning is when things ALMOST got exciting.

David was making eggs for breakfast and went out to the chicken coop to see if we had any fresh eggs (Like you do when you have chickens! It's super awesome.). Anyway, as he stepped outside, he noticed the smell of SMOKE coming from the side of the house. The Chicken Sisters were wandering around the yard, all accounted for and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the smoke smell was coming from their coop. David headed over there and discovered that their warming light had gotten knocked down and broken, and the hot bulb had actually started their wood-chips smoldering. We were literally minutes from a fire breaking out inside their coop, which is a little wooden house filled with wood chips, positioned between the side of our house and a wooden privacy fence. So you know, kind of flammable.

David bolted inside, filled up a big cup with water and and sprinted back to pour it over the smoking wood chips. It was a relatively easy fix (though he made a few more trips with water, just to be sure it was completely extinguished) but seriously scary to think about what could have happened if the fire had started in the night, or if David hadn't gone out there and noticed it before the whole coop (and then NEIGHBORHOOD?) actually erupted in flames. Crisis averted, thank goodness.

The question, of course, was how the light got knocked down and broken. This was a mystery that we pieced together over breakfast, Nancy Drew style.

My mom got up early Sunday morning and as she was making her coffee, she heard Cooper whining at the back door. She went and let him inside, thinking that David must have come down and let him out very early and then gone back to bed, although she noticed that the back door was dead-bolted.

But David hadn't let Cooper out early that morning--in fact, we realized that we must have let Cooper outside when we got home from trivia and then David went to bed assuming I'd let him in, and I went to bed assuming Cooper had already gone upstairs with David. So the poor spoiled puppy, for the first time in his entire life, spent the whole night OUTSIDE!

Poor pitiful.
It didn't get super cold that night (down in the 40s) but for a pampered pooch like Cooper, it had to be chilly. So we conjecture that he looked for the warmest place he could find outside--and kicked the chicken sisters out of their coop so he could cozy up in there under their warming lamp. However, because he's a big awkward beast, he must have knocked the light down, causing it to break and eventually to start a fire in the wood chips. (Fortunately, no chickens were harmed in the process of Cooper's camp out--although I imagine they were probably annoyed at getting ousted from their cozy coop.)

Chickens have recovered. Also pictured: our little climber, a burned-out light bulb, and a blue dog chew.
 In sum, the puggle spent the night in the hen house and as a result, our house almost caught on fire, but we all survived the weekend and I got the perfect scarf and Zuzu got two swimsuits so we're still going to call this one a win.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Today it was a glorious 80 degrees. Tomorrow they're calling for snow showers and a high of 38. Ah, springtime in Missouri.

We soaked up all the sunshine we could handle the past two days, and instead of being satisfied with two lovely days of early springtime, I'm just greedy for more. I can't wait to see how much fun Zuzu has outside this summer.

I discovered this video on David's phone from last summer and just had to share it (even if nobody besides Grammy is all that interested). You'll see why strangers at the pool would come up and ask where she was taking swim lessons (before she was ever enrolled in them). This child loves the water.

(I also feel compelled to add that even though adults are not always on screen in this video, one of us was always an arm's reach away from her in when she was in the baby pool. She might love the water, but she still makes me nervous!)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kitchen Reveal

I don't have a whole lot to say about the kitchen...  we hired someone to paint it and they did! There was nothing terribly wrong with the cabinets, but the wood color didn't match the trim or doors and we wanted to do something different as a quick fix while we think about what we might want to do long-term. I stole my paint color from a kitchen in a magazine and we did the bottom cabinets in Benjamin Moore's Witching Hour and the top cabinets in a bright white.

View from the dining room.

Stove side.

And the fridge (the cabinet is nearly cut off in this photo, but you get the idea).

View from the window nook. Look at my bald baby! (That was this past summer)

I'm happy with the way the colors turned out, and I like the simple switch we made in the hardware on the drawers:

I wish we would have gone ahead and added crown molding at the top of the cabinets. David asked me about it, but I blame first-trimester-exhaustion because that decision totally overwhelmed me and I said no without thinking it through. It just seemed like too much work at the time. We have a bit of leftover paint, so it can still be added--we just need to get motivated enough to get on that.

The thing is... (brace yourselves)... the new cabinets now make the walls look kind of dingy. I didn't mind the color when we first moved in and the cabinets were brown. It's Restoration Hardware paint ($$$) and the color is something like "Silver Mint Leaf" (I'm making that up because I can't remember). Anyway, I feel like it looks greener now than it did before, in addition to being kind of... grimy... next to the fresh, clean cabinets. So there may be a kitchen re-paint in our future (distant future...  probably when I'm 8 months pregnant and "nesting" this summer).

Of course the other thing I hate now is the countertops (not that I loved them before, but I love them even less now).  I've been exploring some low-cost options. But I'm not convinced that concrete countertops would be suited to our space. And I'm skeptical of the special countertop covering that is essentially heavy-duty contact paper that supposedly looks like granite or marble. There's really not that much counter space at all--so I'm thinking maybe we should just price new countertops?  Unless we really think we might get serious about a kitchen overhaul in a few years...  I just don't know.

I would like to get on the backsplash situation sooner rather than later. David wants to get fancy, but I just want a simple white subway tile. We just need to get on it. David's hesitant because we haven't tiled anything ourselves before, but I think we can watch a few YouTube videos and then try our hand at it. And if I'm going to do a new backsplash, I'm definitely going to paint first. And I really am not sure what color paint I would want on the walls... maybe a light gray-blue? Maybe a greige?

All in all, I'm happy with the cabinets but the kitchen still feels very unfinished to me (and let's not forget that I'm just totally ignoring the floor with its super-shiny unattractive tile that I would eventually like to replace...).

The tuxedo paint job is a winner in my book. I feel like there's so much more to do, but in the meantime, we're enjoying the change!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Old Bathroom, New Look

I spent the Saturday night of Mardi Gras hugging the toilet.

It was just like Mardi Gras that one year when I was in college, except this time I was (1) sober, (2) pregnant, (3) not puking.

You guys. I worked on a little project over the weekend that may be the most satisfying, least expensive, bigggest impact improvement we have made in this house. The only downside was that it did require me to spend a lot time up close and personal with the toilet--mostly straddling it and squatting beside it.

But let me back up. A few weeks ago, I saw on Young House Love that they had used Grout Refresh in their entry way. My brain filed this away, and when we were at Lowes over the weekend (unsuccessfully trying to buy salt to melt away the ice--they were sold out--and successfully letting Zuzu pretend she was driving a car until she was "All done! All done! Uppa!") I picked up a bottle for our half bath on the main floor.

I'm assuming the bathroom and its tile were original to the house, which means that it is going on 70 years old. And let me tell you, 70 years of grime built up on formerly white grout means that it hasn't been white for a long time. In fact, if I think about it too long, it can really start to gross me out. I had scrubbed the tiles in this room when we moved in--the walls and the floor--and while my efforts at cleaning perked them up a little, there's no way that 70 years of built-up dirt between little tiles comes clean, no matter how hard you scrub.

A refresher of our powder room before, for those of you who don't pee in it daily:

The grout on the walls was off-white at best, beigey brown in places.

So dingy that I actually thought the tiles themselves were off-white.
A sexy close-up of the grody grout.
The grout on the floor was mostly black.

The floor. I had already started experimenting on the back corner. Made it harder to pretend that the grout was originally black.
Honestly, I was skeptical that this Grout Refresh stuff would work. I figured that the blogger who had used it successfully was working with newer tile, and I just wasn't sure how this was going to go down. But, it was cheap, and I didn't have any other ideas about what I could do to improve the looks of the bathroom since I have no interest in retiling it or regrouting it all together.

So I gathered my very technical, high-grade supplies: a paper plate, a Crayola craft paintbrush, a paper towel, and my bottle of Grout Refresh (which costs $11.87 at Lowes).

I had only planned at first to do the walls--I really thought the floors were beyond fixing. I started at a low place on the wall that is tucked out of sight behind the sink. I figured if it looked weird or crappy, I'd just stop there and no one would notice it. But it looked AH-MAZING.

I could hardly believe how good it looked. Making the grout white made the tiles look white. Even though there are a few that are cracked, just by making the grout white, it made all the wall tiles look new.



Seriously--that's the same lighting, the same flash, the same spot on the wall with the crack running through those two tiles.  Photos of this room are pretty dismal--there's very little natural light, but you get the idea.

I followed YHL's method of applying the grout refresh with a small paintbrush and quickly wiping the excess off the edges of the tile. It's tedious, yes, but also a very satisfying process with instant and pleasing results.

I started around 6:30 pm, began by thoroughly cleaning the walls by scrubbing them down with a vinegar/water mixture, took a couple of breaks to eat a bite and put Zuzu to bed, and it was nearly 10pm when I finished. But the walls had gone from this:

To this:

I know it looks like different lighting, but I SWEAR--same camera, same picture taken after dark with the bad little over-sink light on and the camera flashing.

I was so high on the improvement that I decided I had to try the floors. I experimented on a little corner and decided that it would be worth the hassle. The only thing that stopped me from tackling them right then and there was that the surface has to be very clean, and I just couldn't bring myself to sweep and mop and scrub the bathroom floors after 10pm.

So I got up Sunday morning and tackled them. I took a slightly different approach to the floors because the tiles are so much tinier and set closer together. The instructions on the bottle say that you can apply the Grout Refresh with a toothbrush, let it set for 30-60 minutes, mist it with water, let that sit for 5 minutes, and then scrub the tiles clean. I didn't try this with the walls since I just followed the YHL method with success, but I knew it would take me forever to wipe down each teensy little tile as I edged around it, so I decided to do the whole floor at once and then wet and wipe it all up.

Working my way out the door.

Weird angle of floors behind the toilet--it took a bit of gymnastics to squeeze my arm back there, let me tell you.
In retrospect, I think the apply and wipe immediately technique is the better one. Although it's more time consuming (I was able to "paint" the entire floor in two hours instead of the three-and-some-change it took me to paint and wipe the walls), I really had to put my back into my scrubbing in order to get the Grout Refresh off the tile, and my clean-up ended up removing some of the grout refresh so I had to go back and do a lot of touching up. I'm not convinced it ended up being much of a timesaver at all, plus it was really discouraging to think I would be finished and then have to go back and re-do several places in the bathroom.

Places I had to go back and fix
When I re-did the squares, I painted and wiped immediately with a paper towel, just as I did on the walls. It was trickier with the teensy little tiles, and the fact that they are blue rather than white  (like the wall tiles) so you could see the edges of the grout more clearly. The final result is not perfect by any means, but I figure that no one will ever study this tile as closely as I did over the weekend.  In the end, with $12, about 6 hours, and a little bit of elbow grease invested in the project, I still think it was totally worth it. I am thrilled with the results.

And remember the before?

Feel free to ooh and aah over the after:

I still have at least half a bottle of the Grout Refresh leftover after doing the entire room (it's a small room, yes, but still, a lot of tile!).

David and I keep peeking in the bathroom, awed by the difference it makes. The whole place just looks brighter and cleaner. You'd really think we put in new tile, except it's still got all of its "vintage charm."

In short, it was literally a pain in my butt (from sitting on the tile floor) and it was definitely tedious and time consuming, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Huge bang for the buck and I'm so pleased with the way it all turned out.