I’m organized, I swear!
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I’m organized, I swear!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Writing. TDBB is novel #2, and I just passed the 25 K mark yesterday evening. Or maybe it was early this morning. When I don’t have to get to work in the morning, I can stay up until my late night creative streak wanes. I’ve always been a night person. Anyway, in the loosest of senses, TDBB is about two girls who go on a road trip after graduating from high school, and at 23 K, I finally got them to leave for the road trip. I am enjoying my characters and their overall journey, but I was a little curious if they were ever going to actually go on this mythical road trip.
I still have no clue if what I’m writing is YA or adult fiction or what, but I think I’m aiming closer to the 90-100 K mark, so it’s all sort of slow and steady. They are in the Badlands right now, and one of my main characters just pulled a gun on some creepy guys. David had fun filling me in on all the details I might need for that scene.
Writing my secret santa story was a fun detour from the seriousness of TDBB. My prompt was that I had to write fantasy (I don’t think I’ve ever honestly finished a story that was fantasy, at least not since elementary school…although I’ve read a fair amount of fantasy, I haven’t really ever written it.) The other requirements were that it needed to have a strong male character, and there wasn’t supposed to be any romance. That’s sort of an anti-requirement, actually. I had no clue what to write about.
So I started writing about a seventh grade boy named Drew who was a faerie going through puberty. Except that he doesn’t know he’s a faerie. And he has zits that explode all over bullies, turning them into enormous green tadpoles. All in all, pretty silly. As usual, I have a terrible time writing an actual SHORT story. Everything I write seems to want to expand into its own book. I read the story, called “When Puberty Hits,” to my seventh grade homebase, and they laughed at it and asked me when I was going to write the next chapter. And so I have a middle-grade fantasy novel in the works.
And, as though I need more unfinished works-in-progress, I can’t stop working on another little idea, also fantasy, strangely enough. This one takes place in Duluth (or at least, one of the universes resembles Duluth) and has seagulls who can talk. Sort of.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I need to get my new iPod working, figure out my internet challenges, and find something to cook the kids for lunch. It sure would help if I had actually gone grocery shopping last night as I was supposed to, but I did have fun seeing M and L at the Irish Pub! I can’t help it that my car didn’t want to stop at the grocery store on the way home!
Jabber: Okay. (sits in same position, playing with other shit. I mean stuff.)
Me: Like this wooden knife. Where's the little pink basket of food that this goes with?
Jabber: I don't know. (sits there, playing. hasn't looked up from toy.)
Me: Well, is it in the fort? Is it in your ear? Is it up in your room? Someone had it out, and I'm just wondering where the rest of it is, so I can put it away.
Jabber: I DON'T KNOW where it is.
Me: I know. I don't either. Will you help me look for it, please?
Jabber: I can't look for it. I don't know where it is. (has not looked up yet from the toy.)
Me: Well, I don't know where it is, either. That's why it's called looking. Searching. Seeking. The basket of fake food is hiding. It is awaiting discovery. Make a treasure map. I don't care. But will you please help me look for it?
Jabber: But I wanted to take out the Little People! (collapses in a sullen heap of fake crying)
Sunday, December 28, 2008
“Jabber,” I say, trying out my latest tactic--playing up the “responsible big brother helper-type person” role, “would you like to use your new vacuum cleaner on the old rug before we roll it up?” My parents bought each of our children a small vacuum cleaner for Christmas, a sort of “for the love of God, will somebody clean something in that house?” move, I guess. So far I love it.
“Sure!” he says, full of enthusiasm for the job. “I will!”
Monkey very helpfully delivers “The Big Boss,” which is how we’re referring to the rug sweeper, versus “The Little Boss,” which is how we indicate the Dustbuster. I cringe as the handle very nearly misses several breakable entities around the house.
“Great! Now that Daddy took the Christmas tree down, we can get started."
“Wait.” Jabber fixes me with a serious look.
He stands up beside his spot at the table as though he is answering a question for an old-fashioned school-teacher. “What will you be doing to my Fort?” he asks.
The Fort has taken over the living room in the past few weeks. It started as the old play pen (that I’m not sure has ever, in the course of two boys, been successfully utilized in its intended manner) tipped on its side in front of the fireplace. In this capacity, it serves two purposes: with a couple of blankets draped over it and some pillows inside, it is a comfy little cubby for one or two boys to enjoy some quiet time, and also: it keeps the Monkey out of the fireplace.
Beneath the fort, an old yoga mat cut to fit covers the mess of the hearth, with the bricks that come loose under Monkey’s inquisitive fingers. A crate of books and a little table made out of a spool complete the little play area.
Except lately. It started with the addition of a sort of antechamber or perhaps just a mudroom. An old suitcase, tipped on its side, added a functional door. The rocking chair, along with the procuring of another old bed comforter, provided a separate wing for entertaining each other with feats of Monster Truck daring and other such amusements.
Two dining room chairs also occasionally sneak into the construction, forming "tunnels" with a private deck for each boy. On several occasions we have eaten dinner in shifts in order to preserve this fine architecture.
“You’re not going to take it apart, are you, Mom?” asks Jabber now, still standing earnestly beside his chair.
“Just a little down-sizing.”
“Down-sizing? What’s that?”
“Sizing down, basically,” offers David.
“It sounds like getting smaller!” says Jabber, his voice gaining volume. “I don’t like that sound! It sounds like you mean you’re going to take it apart! Are you taking my Fort apart???”
“Think of it as streamlining,” I say.
“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?” he shouts.
“Narrowing down your Fort to the bulk of peak efficiency.”
“MY FORT DOESN’T HAVE A PEAK EFFICIENCY! YOU’RE GOING TO TAKE IT APART!!!!”
“Well, only temporarily. A little post-holiday down-sizing.”
“A-HA! So you ARE going to take it apart!”
And he storms off to throw his little body in front of the bulldozers.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I know, everybody knows those people, that family, who are always late. Doesn't matter what time they say they will be somewhere, you can count on them showing up a half an hour later, an hour later, whatever. It becomes a kind of joke; if they actually show up on time somewhere it's a monumental event. People start telling them a time that is earlier than usual in hopes that they will maybe arrive by the real time. I have always vowed never to be those people.
And then we had kids. Suddenly everything slowed down. This week alone, I was late for work every single day. Not LATE late, you understand, but late enough. Late enough so that I had to rush, to skip steps, to snap at the kids about a billion times (which just makes them move more slowly, but ack! what am I supposed to do?)
I do everything I can to facilitate a smooth morning. I pick out the kids' clothes the night before--hunting down little matching socks and clean underwear and onesies and lying them all neatly on the changing table for the next morning. I arrange the boots and snowpants and hats and mittens and lunches and backpacks all carefully by the door. I make lunch the night before, fill my water bottle, bring up the laundry from the basement. Every single thing is set to jump into it the moment we are awake. And still, we are continuously running late.
On Tuesday, I was ten minutes late. Yikes! I had a meeting at 7:30 that I totally didn't get to until almost 7:45! Everything had conspired against me--the road on the way to daycare was a sheet of pure ice (I do thank my lucky stars that I avoided the crash that happened moments after I got to work, however!), Monkey had one mitten go mysteriously AWOL, I got behind a school bus making its stops--anything that could possibly thwart me was there for the thwarting.
So Wednesday, I set the alarm ten minutes earlier. Everything seemed to be working; Jabber woke up without me needing to shake him and cajole him and drag him out of bed. Monkey stayed sleeping in my bed while I washed my hair and put on my make-up and got dressed in the bathroom. Every so often I called in to Jabber's room with a nice little, "How's it going in there, honey? Are you almost dressed?"
"Almost!" he called, each time. I trusted him.
After about ten minutes, I was showered, made up, and dressed. I was about ready to go in and dress the Monkey. I put the toothpaste on Jabber's toothbrush and poked my head in to his room to let him know he could brush at any time.
There he sat, on the edge of the bed, perfectly naked, with one sock in his hand, poised over the edge of one toe. He was lost in thought and looked as though he had been lost there for the last ten minutes. "I thought you were getting dressed!" I shouted. "You said you were almost ready to go!"
"Mom?" he said, looking up from his toe contemplation. "How do we really know about things? Like, really know?"
"WHAT THINGS? THE ONLY THING I KNOW IS THAT I AM GOING TO BE LATE FOR WORK IF WE DON'T LEAVE THE HOUSE IN SEVEN MINUTES! THAT MEANS TEETH BRUSHED, HAIR COMBED, CLOTHES ON, BOOTS ON, SNOW BRUSHED OFF THE CAR, BUCKLED IN CAR SEATS AND HEADING DOWN THE ROAD! WILL YOU PLEASE GET DRESSED NOW????"
I feel awful about that. I mean, he's obviously having some incredible epiphany about the nature of true knowledge, and I'm shoving a piece of gum in his mouth and snapping at him that we don't have time to brush teeth today.
And don't even get me started about the next morning, when I had everyone dressed and ready to go, and then Monkey took off all his clothing while I was out starting the van and scraping the ice of the windshield. Or how he screamed bloody murder while simultaneously thrashing and maintaining an unnatural stiffness to every limb while I tried to re-clothe him.
Late. Running late. Sorry I'm late. Hurry, we're late. Come on, we're going to be late. I feel like the white rabbit.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Jabber is five. FIVE. It's funny because since he started talking, since he started asking us questions, like, "Can I drink coffee?" or "When will I be able to..." do whatever, David and I have always said, "Maybe when you're five." It seemed like an eternity from where we were. And now it's, well, now. Ever since the moment he first looked up at me, newborn eyes blurry and watery, he has struck me as an old soul, and at five, he seems sometimes just like a little old man--a philosopher old man at that--trapped in the uncoordinated and constantly-changing body of a preschooler. He can be strong and mature; he can be calm and wise; he can melt down like a toddler into a shrieking mass of tears. He can be as sassy as they come. And the next moment he is so sincere and sweet I just about squeeze him to death. He's my boy, my Jabberwock, and I wish him a happy, happy birthday!
The day I went into labor was so...absurd. I had been struggling with this horridly itchy rash for two weeks (PUPPP), and I had been unable to sleep for more than about ten minutes at a time. I had tried everything, and still the itch. I also had carpal tunnel in both hands so that they were almost completely numb, my feet were so swollen I could only fit them into slippers, and my blood pressure was high enough to make my doctor put me on bed rest for the last week. That Friday night was the worst for the itching, and I had spent the entire night in the tepid oatmeal-filled bath, literally screaming at the top of my lungs, wailing, and begging for it to stop. My neighbors probably thought I was having the baby in my bathroom.
Saturday morning, David said, "We're going to the hospital to get this taken care of. Now." So we went into the birth center at about 8:00 that morning. I explained the issue like fifty times to as many doctors, residents, nurses, janitors, whatever. I lay in bed in one of the rooms watching cable, which at least was an improvement over the television at my house, where I had been stuck lying on the couch all week.
All day we sat there, in that hospital room, while they were tracking down a dermatologist because nobody knew what I had. (But I had figured it out on the internet and knew I had PUPPP, though they didn't really believe me or hadn't heard of it or whatever.)
So at 6:00 that evening (!!) a dermatologist finally came to see me...he was really nice, checked me over, said I had PUPPP, made me cry by empathizing with me about how bad it was to itch like that (waaaay worse than pain!), and gave me a prescription for a tube of cream and some prescription-strength antihistamines. We filled the scrips, I took the meds, smeared on the cream, and AT LAST I felt normal. It was like heaven. We went out to eat, and I could concentrate on something besides itching for once. We got home, and I was lying on the couch at 10 pm. I said, "David, I am going to sleep SO GOOD tonight, FINALLY." I got up off the couch, and my water broke. And we went back to the hospital.
Labor was amazing and all-consuming. I admit, I have never felt so close to giving up, so full of doubt and despair, as when I was struggling to push--over and over and over pushing with every atom of my self, and still he did not advance, did not progress. I felt damned to do eternal sit-ups in hell, without even the dignity of wearing pants. People's fingers and probably their whole hands groped around inside me and affirmed that I was a failure, even as they shouted encouragement to me.
Laboring, I was silent, withdrawn, and weary. I had not slept for three weeks. My energy was a dark, murky pool within me, and I was terrified to reach the bottom. I had no idea when it would leave me, leave us, stranded, wheeled off to the mercy of drugs and scalpels. Fear crowded me.
My stomach muscles were so tired and sore from all the pushing, and still the clock ticked on--one hour, then two.
A thought fluttered through me to sit out for a couple of rounds, catch my breath, but each time the contraction would build, and then it was just a blur of breath and prayer. Breathe. Breathe. Breathing and counting and pushing, with him stuck there, moving forward with each push but getting stuck and slipping back each time.
The doctor came in, checked, looked nonplussed, took her lunch break.
"I can't do it," I said, hating the whine in my voice. There were whispered conversations at the foot of my bed, which I couldn't hear, but which I was sure were criticisms.
David was praising me, crying at my side and cheering me on. "You're doing such a good job, my love. You're doing everything right." He ran excitedly back and forth from the foot of my bed to my head, lying on the pillow sucking at the oxygen mask. I knew he was lying. I was doing an awful job for sure; otherwise I would be done right now, holding a beautiful baby instead of lying her stupidly struggling to get my breath.
"Slow...slow...breathe..." intoned the nurse, my tough-love Coach Nurse, who was the one calling the shots in here, pushing me harder than I thought I could be pushed.
"Keep it up, Elissa! You're doing so great!" said my Cheerleader Nurse, holding my hand. Her eyes were the kindest, steadiest blue beacons in the world, and I gazed into them as I forced myself to slow my ragged breathing, to stop swallowing the air in large gulps.
Then there was a moment, something curled right in my back maybe; a burst of energy spurring me into pushing my limits--I felt the baby move beyond that awful spot, that hang-up he'd been banging his head against for hours. I pushed without thinking of that murky pool, without thinking of the next round, and the next, and the next. He moved.
David was hyperventilating at the sight of Jabber's head. "It has hair! Lots of it!" he cried, and Cheerleader Nurse handed him a box of tissues.
"Yes!" shouted Coach Nurse; finally, I was pleasing her. "You're doing it! NOW I'm impressed!" It meant more to me than all the attagirls so far, gave me the strength to keep going.
In the end the room seemed to explode with the sound of cheering and my heart beating blood in my ears and everyone moving around so fast, and then the most tremendously wonderful feeling of him moving, slipping, swimming out like a happy little trout, and David cried, "My love! We have a Jabberwock!" and the realization of his reality, my son, and I looked down over my now-deflated belly and saw him, reached down and touched his head as they suctioned him and moved him and his mouth was working and his little limbs waving erratically and finally sound came out, but I don't remember the sound he made as much as the sound of David crying in wonder.
And then he was born--with blissful breath he was born, and into my world a little boy emerged. A little boy with a perfect smile, ancient eyes, and this joyful grip on life. This love emerged, and it captured me.
They raced him over to the infant warmer, muttering about distress, this and that. They worked on him intently, listening, wrapping, and Coach Nurse looking worried, which worried me; I wanted him back, but the doctor reassured me that he was fine. "Elissa, she's looking concerned because she's doing her job, but I assure you, if he wasn't okay, I'd be over there instead of here with you. He's a fine, fine, healthy boy."
They brought him to me, and the rest is a blur...hours and now years spent gazing into his little face, learning to nurse, feeling the tiny weight of him tugging so heavily at my heart.
Happy Birthday, my little Elliot McCarthy!
It’s 2:10 a.m., and I wake up knowing something is beginning.
“My water just broke,” I inform David, who sits up in bed like a shot. “I’m going to wash my hair.” The warm gush is unmistakable, familiar from my first birth, but instead of sending me into a shaky uncertainty like last time, I am enveloped in a calm, rational state.
I wash my hair, noting the absence of contractions. It doesn’t surprise me, after waiting almost twelve hours after my water broke last time for labor to begin. I begin sticking some stuff into my hospital bag while David makes some phone calls, most importantly to Papa R, who jumps into some clothes and starts the drive down to take care of three-year-old Jabber. Sixty miles and less than forty-five minutes later (you do the math; is it a coincidence the man enjoys watching NASCAR?) he arrives, quiet and nervous and grinning happily.
Right on cue, Jabber wakes up for a moment, and I am so happy that he does, because I am able to give him lots of hugs and explain to him that Mama is going to the hospital and that his little brother is coming, that Papa is here to take care of him and we’ll all see each other later today. He hugs me sleepily and says, “That baby is just gonna pop right out, Mama.”
Contractions have started up quickly and are now about four to five minutes apart. David, taking cues from my calm, is still leisurely gathering photography gear and such from upstairs and giving instructions to Papa about Jabber's allergies, etc. In the meantime, I have realized that I'm contracting every 3-4 minutes, so we pack it up and head out to the van, now breathing through the contractions to keep relaxed.
We park in front of the hospital, and I start to feel the shakiness set into my limbs, anticipation and a little anxiety building, building.... A contraction on the way to the door makes me pause, grip David’s hand, draw in a deep and jagged breath.
The emergency room attendant smiles to see me coming up the stairs and asks if she can have two guesses why I’m there.
“You won’t need the second one,” I say, smiling back. A nurse comes to bring us up to the birthing center on the sixth floor. Our first elevator won’t get moving, and I crack a joke about “Baby born in hospital elevator” that makes David nervous, but he says he was thinking the same thing. “No, no, no,” says the nurse firmly, guiding us into the second elevator.
We’re checked into our room, contracting in between each question, no big deal exactly but it’s after 4:00 a.m. when we arrive, and I’m beginning to think we won’t be making it until 8:00 when Dr. G. gets there.
The resident, Dr. A., comes in shortly to introduce herself and asks if I mind her checking me for progress. She’s very nice, easy to talk to with beautiful eyes, and she tells us she just finished delivering a baby who came so fast the dad didn’t even make it back up from parking the car!
“Wow! You’re already at 6 cm!” she says, and I start thinking about transition phase with a little nervousness. Dr. A. brings me a birthing ball and a hot water bottle for my back, and I labor there with my arm around David’s neck, my face pressed into his chest. Through the contractions, I breathe out Monkey's name, calling out to him in gentleness and love, willing my body to relax and let my womb work.
After maybe an hour, the nurse comes in to tell me I need to have an IV with antibiotics since I was GBS+ last time and there hasn’t been enough time for my test results to come back yet this time since my appt. was the day before. The IV saddens me a little, but by this time the contractions are coming fast and hard, taking most of my concentration and awareness. Monkey's name is my mantra, and I welcome him over and over.
The breathing isn’t working anymore, isn’t keeping up with the pain or overwhelming pressure. I feel the waves building up against me, within me, faster and faster, and each one leaves me wondering what position to move into for the next one because I can’t bear another one in the same way. I hold tightly to my mama beads and to the jade uglystone I picked up so many years ago on Rialto Beach.
Suddenly I feel a fluttery panic as one contraction hits me—how will I know when it’s time to push? What will I do if this gets worse? I think of the two and a half hours of pushing for Jabber--how difficult it was, and fear grips me. For a moment I can’t imagine why I would possibly want to do this without pain medication. I asked the staff not to give any interventions and only to give me pain relief if I ask for it.
But I realize suddenly that they haven’t intervened at all—I mean, nobody has even been in the room with us at all. What if I wanted some pain relief? Somehow my ideal of labor—that people would just leave me alone and trust me to do what I needed to do—somehow this makes me indignant and scared. Why are they all leaving me all alone, damn it?
This all occurs during one contraction, a spell of doubt, and then it’s over and I say to David, “Honey, I don’t know if I can do this much more. I mean, I know I have to, so it doesn’t even matter what I think, but I don’t...I don’t...I can’t...”
I’m looking helplessly into his kind eyes, and he holds me tightly. Moments later, Dr. A. walks in, smiling.
“You are doing so amazingly well with these contractions,” she says.
“You’re so composed. Can I check your progress?”
I make my way to the bed and sit down, work my way through another wave, her steady gaze holding mine through the pain, and then she quickly lowers the bed and does a cervix check. “You’ve had some heavy contracting in here, and you’re at about 7.5 or 8 cm right now. I’ll come back in a few minutes, and we’ll probably start pushing out a baby!”
So I am in transition! “This is the worst part, right?”
I sit on the edge of the bed and make it through about three or four more by growling and moaning a little but mostly by murmuring over and over, “Oh, my little one, my sweet Monkey, it’s okay, baby, it’s okay, my little one, my sweet one, it’s okay....”
Breathing techniques? I don’t remember them. I talk to my baby, holding his image in my heart, willing my body to open up to let him through.
Suddenly I have to pee really bad and I’m a little embarrassed because I think I can't hold it. David helps me into the tiny bathroom, navigating my IV “buddy.” As I’m sitting down, I suddenly know that I’m going to push the baby out right then and there.
My eyes get widen at the realization, and David knows. He knows, and he reaches over and pushes the call button. Instantly, Dr. A. and three nurses are there, all but carrying me back to the edge of the bed with their encouragement and their kind voices, “You’re doing great, just breathe, don’t push yet, please don’t push yet, honey.”
I can’t even believe how clear, how strong the urge to push comes over me—it’s nothing like the hours of sit-ups I did when Jabber was being born. Instead, the contraction builds and my body just sort of involuntarily begins to curve and tense and open up.
“Breathe it out! Don’t push yet! Get Dr. B. in here right away!” shouts Dr. A., checking my cervix quickly. “She’s complete! No lip at all! I just checked her a couple minutes ago and she was at 7.5! Don’t push yet, just breathe through it, sorry my hand is there, I’m holding the baby so he doesn’t come out too fast.
Dr. B. is in the background now, and I hear her say I can push, so I move closer to the edge, sitting close, and now I’m allowing my body to go with the contraction—pushing I guess, although it doesn’t feel like work or pain, just allowing my baby to move down the way he needs to.
One long push and then another short one on the same contraction and I feel so good—everyone is making cheering, excited sounds, and David is crying, trying to breathe. There’s a flurry of excited women and Dr. B. says, “One more and we’ll deliver the shoulders,” and I contract and push and slither-slip he’s out, he’s perfect, and David catches and they place him up on my stomach—he’s so amazing, his purple and red splotches and mouth working. A nurse massages him with a towel as I marvel at his tiny purple feet, running my fingers across his little toes, holding his tiny round head in my other palm, feeling the wet holy weight of his beautiful soul.
Avery James, welcome to the world!
Tears roll down my face, and he cries, a lusty little shout like an angry kitten. He’s so perfect, so lovely, his dark eyes searching my face in wonder as David cuts the cord and the placenta arrives. The nurses quickly wipe him, weigh him (7 lbs, 9 oz—just perfect!), wrap him and hand him back to us. We keep him in our room, nursing and cuddling and crying tears of happiness, for over two hours before they come to clean him up and check his vitals. He was born at 6:26 a.m., just four hours after my water broke!
David presents me with a beautiful string of pearls, and everyone in the room admires them, but nothing is as beautiful as the little boy I hold so tightly in my arms.
Happy birthday, little Monkey.
My sons' birthdays are just one day apart, with the little one sneaking in on the day before his Big Brother. When I tell people this, I can instantly see them performing some mildly complicated math for a moment before their next question: "So, do you guys have, like, an anniversary in March or something?" Uh, no. But I did have a maternity leave to plan and pretty good luck with fertility, I guess. We basically decided both times that the period of time between December and March would be the best for utilizing my 12-week leave and minimizing the amount of time I was trying to work while nursing an infant. And, both times, ta-daaa! Baby due in late December, or early January, in Monkey's case! (He was born at 36.5 weeks, a little early maybe, but perfect, perfect, perfect!)
So, in honor of my boys' birthdays, I'm going to post their birth stories here, which I wrote in both cases about a month afterward, when I was starting to get used to the sleep deprivation and my brain started to make sense with words again! Enjoy!