The Texture Of Things

Just putting this here for some balance against the last post

July 24th, 2008

Just so there’s no unnecessary concern that all my dreams are so heavy, let me briefly share this one here, and then I’m done with pregnancy-dream talk.

I dreamt that I was volunteering at a zoo. I had to help feed animals and make sure every animal was where it was supposed to be. In this process, I was bitten by a powder-blue duck that did not want to be taken out of its crate and later saw another volunteer (who had also been bitten by that duck but – unlike me – whined about it and cried even though the bites left no marks) fall into the penguin and piranha pool.

Yes, the penguin and piranha pool.

No, there were no walls to separate the walkway and the open water. In fact, you had to be careful as you walked through the exhibit because penguins would be out and walking about.

And what was weird in this dream is that as I walked by the penguin and piranha pool, I passed the zoo owner giving a tour to visitors and teaching them about penguins. It was Donald Trump.

The end.

Dos: A Dream of Things to Come

July 18th, 2008

Click here to find out what “Dos” means.

I’ve been trying to sit and write a couple of other posts, but they are all being blocked. This post is something I need to write in order to unblock the other things I want to write.

I don’t think I’ve ever written about a dream I have had, so this will be a first, and probably a last. Generally, dreams are only interesting to the person who dreamt it and her/his therapist. This is likely true here as well.

Also, as a heads up, if you are sensitive to images of death, dying, and/or suicide, please come back another day. Thanks.

***

In my dream, I am heavily pregnant with Dos. “The time” is drawing near, and HG and I know it. We are trying to ready everything, and we are mostly there except for one thing only I can do: I must kill myself.

To complete this task, I have to prepare some things. The method, hanging, requires a rope, a good place to drop, and – this is of utmost importance – secure privacy. The person to find me must be HG because he’s the only one I trust. Under no circumstances do I want the tot to find me. The idea of her stumbling in on me, in fact, terrifies me and saddens me. I simply do not want her to know about this because I don’t want to scare her, I don’t want to hurt her, and I don’t know how to answer the questions she’d naturally have if she discovered me. So, I cannot prepare for this monumental step because every time I start to get my things together, in bounds my little girl, all hugs and I-love-yous and blissful ignorance.

At one point, I’m kneeling on the floor in our front room (in the dream, we live in a house completely constructed in my unconscious; it bears no resemblance to any house I’ve ever been in), and as I’m getting out the rope to tie the noose, the tot runs in, giggling. She’s having a marvelous time doing something, and she’s taken a break to come hug me and get a snuggle. HG is in the room with me, and as the tot runs in, I return the rope to a hiding place (under the floorboard, maybe? or under the green rug? not sure). He and I make eye contact. We both know what I must do and we both want to protect the tot from it. It is heavy in our hearts, to be torn between doing what we must and doing what we feel is right.

It is a bittersweet place to be, wanting to hold on to the present yet being compelled to move forward. Both are good places, good lives – even within my dream, I know this – it is just the transition that is scary and hard.

***

Of course it is all symbolic, but it is also all true. In order to be the new person I must be (mother to child numero dos), I must shed my current identity. I cannot be both. I cannot be a wife to HG and a mother to only the tot and simultaneously be a wife to HG and a mother of two, just like when the tot was born, I could no longer be only a wife but not a mother. To pretend such a thing is broken and dysfunctional. No, I had to kill my current self and create a new self on the other side of the birth of Dos.

What’s different this time around is that I know it. When I had the tot, the transformation was hard because although I knew I would change, I had no idea going in how I would change nor how deep the change would go. We aren’t talking exfoliation here; we’re talking skinning oneself alive (while sleep deprived) and growing new skin to cover the exposed nerve endings. Both the process and the product are powerful, to be sure, but is it something I can do in front of my small child? I feel uncertain.

I have to do it, but I know I don’t want to. Back when I was fighting some wicked-ass morning-day-sickness, I was terrified, horrified at the thought of puking in front of the tot. Once you start puking, you’re kind of at the mercy of your body. If I was alone with her in the house, who would be with her while I could not? How on earth would I explain, comfort, answer questions for this tot, so sensitive to outbursts that a hard scolding in response to stalling at bedtime results in a cryfest? It was too hard for me, yet what I’m about to do to her will be so much harder, and the truth is, I cannot avoid it. I think I even knew this in my dream, and that is what has been whispering itself in my ear since that night.

Perhaps reminding me is my brain’s response to what I have been doing to get ready. I’ve accumulated diapers, coupons, clothes. I’ve cleaned out a room and watched HG paint it. I’ve helped the tot move in to her big-girl room and sort through what toys she wants to share with the baby and which ones are hers alone. I’ve made registries. I’ve made lists. I’ve begun to pack a hospital bag and to wonder if I should actually write a birth plan or if I can ask HG to be responsible for communicating it to the hospital staff.* I’ve cleaned out chunks of basement and made piles for donations and itemized the contents for next year’s taxes. I’m waiting impatiently for the tot’s new dresser to come so I can reclaim her current one for the baby and start loading it. I’ve washed receiving blankets and located the car seats. HG and I have looked for ways to include the tot and make her feel like this big change is something she’s a part of. We’ve reminded her of how she was as a baby and of what babies do and can’t do, especially when they first come home.

But what we haven’t done is talk, really talk, about the hard stuff. HG and I are bracing for the sleep deprivation but we don’t have a plan for dealing with it. For instance, I’m not sure at this moment where the baby will sleep or where I’ll sleep. Not sure if this is denial or realism. I can rationalize it by saying that it’s foolish to buy a co-sleeper if the baby doesn’t need the presence of my body to sleep, so we’ll just wait and see what we need when the time comes. At the same time, that is short-sighted. Sure, we have a crib, but the tot didn’t sleep in it until she was almost 6 months old. By not having a safety net in place, I could be setting myself up for disaster. Or struggle, at the least.

And the tot? The tot has no idea. She knows I’ll be going to the hospital to have the baby, but she doesn’t know what will happen during that time. Maybe we should make a plan for what to do with her while I’m in the hospital? She knows babies cry a lot, but she doesn’t know what that means or what that will be like. Maybe we should help her make a plan for what to do when the baby wakes her up in the night? She knows the baby will need a lot of help, but she doesn’t know how it will affect her life. She doesn’t know what it means that we’ll have to hold the baby ALL THE TIME or that the baby will need to eat ALL THE TIME or that the baby might cry ALL THE TIME. Will she know how to get her needs filled when HG and I are so consumed with fulfilling the needs of a baby? Maybe we should help her make that plan, too.

Some time back, Moxie asked (basically) if dealing with new baby struggles was harder the first time or the second time around. In other words, is it easier when you don’t know what’s coming, so you just roll with it? Or is it easier when you know, at least in one case, what it took to get through the rough patch? Commenters were split, and I understand why now. Both are hard, just differently hard.

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Since the dream, I am trying to embrace the transformation. I am trying to own it by telling myself that I get to make my self over – no one else has the power to do it but me. It’ll be sucky hard, but if I can do it myself, I can make my self in the image of how I want it to be, not how others desire it. This, if I can do it openly and honestly, could be a powerful lesson for the tot.

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If I hadn’t made me, I would’ve been made somehow..
If I hadn’t assembled myself, I’d have fallen apart by now…

You should make amends with you,
If only for better health.
But if you really want to live,
Why not try, and make yourself?
Incubus “Make Yourself”

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*For the record, here is my birth plan. It’s a rough draft.

Plan: repeat c-section. Desired outcome: live mama, live baby. Extra goodness/ Ideal outcome: healthy mama, healthy baby.

Long Memory

July 11th, 2008

As I read Hedra’s recent post, I was reminded of something. It wasn’t the main point of the post at all – far from it – but her mention of her son remembering a hurt, a broken promise, from two years ago made me remember something the tot told me a month ago.

We were driving to see my mom in the hospital. It was a week or so before the tot’s birthday. I knew at this point that there would be no big family/friend birthday party for the tot because the logistics of it were just too difficult with my mom in the hospital for an indefinite stay. (Turns out it was short, but we couldn’t predict at that point.) I rationalized that hey, she’s four. She had a big party last year for her third birthday where we rented a pony party place owned by the family of a friend of mine. She doesn’t need a big party every year, especially with a sibling on the way. How on earth would we afford that for two kids, let alone just one? So, I chose to let her daycare caregiver have a little lunch party for her at day care on the day after her birthday.

FWIW, even in hindsight, I think this was the right choice, and that’s saying something for me. I often overthink, rethink, and regret the way my choices played out. It’s the doubter and the perfectionist in me. But this worked. She had fun, she had several friends with her, she got presents, and she had a regular “Happy Birthday” cake, song, and dance. She had the birthday experience.

But I’m skipping ahead. What I was reminded of came before the party.

We were driving to the hospital and we were talking about the party, which would take place the following week. I had been telling her about it, narrative style, so she’d know what to expect. “On Thursday, the day after your birthday, you’re going to go to L’s.”

“And I’m gonna have a party?”

“Right. You’ll get there, and you’ll hang out with your buddies, and –”

“And I’ll get presents?”

“–and your party will be at lunch time. I don’t know what you’ll do first. Maybe you’ll have some lunch –”

“And cupcakes!”

“– and cupcakes, and they’ll sing you ‘Happy Birthday’ –”

“Ooh! Can I wear my tiara?”

“Absolutely you get to wear the birthday tiara!”

“And I’ll get presents!”

“There might be some presents for you. It is entirely possible.”

And there was much smiling and happy wiggly dancing from the booster in the back seat.

She got quiet for a second and then she said, “When I was at my party and there was a pony there and I felled off.”

What happened in my head went a little like this:

Uncertainty: What? [Replaying the sounds in my head. I hear Matter of Fact, not Distress.]
Fact-check: She’s right!
Realization: Holy crap, she remembers falling off the pony at last year’s birthday party, when she was THREE.

ALERT! ALERT! RESPOND! SAY SOMETHING OUT LOUD!

“That’s right, tot. You did. Do you remember what else happened?”

Work the narrative, work the narrative.

“I had a party and there was a pony and I felled off.”

It was all I could get from her, but I had the hunch she remembered more than that, so I offered up some narrative to see if she’d fill in any gaps.

“You had a party at K’s grandma’s farm and everyone got to ride on a pony.”

“And I falled off!”

“Daddy put you on the pony and you sat in the saddle. A lady walked the pony and you rode it!”

“And then I slipped and I falled off.”

“You slipped and Daddy was there and he shouted and the lady turned around and caught you.”

“She catched me and I didn’t get hurt!”

Oh good, she did remember that part, but boy, what a long memory for a four-year-old.

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I let this conversation roll around in my head for a while and then I guess I forgot about it until I read about Hedra’s son. When it came back to me, it came as a flash, complete with sensory and emotional information – how warm it was in the car, how bright it was that afternoon, how it was mostly quiet with the windows only cracked and the sunroof open, how tired I felt and how I wished I could just be driving home from picking her up from daycare.

It came with a further-back memory, one from her infancy, when I was fascinated and a little obsessed with what would be the tot’s first memory. When she is older, what will she remember about being little? How far back will her memory go? Would it be happy, sad, or matter-of-fact? Tied to this is my memory of a conversation with the director of the daycare center I first took the tot to when she was 14 months old. I had been concerned about how well she would nap there, how long it would take her to adapt to the disparate sets of rules and expectations, and how hard that would be if she was only there two days a week. The director laughed me off. She said, “She’ll do fine! They can remember so much!”

This intrigued me, naturally, because of my interest in memory. “Really? You think so?”

“Oh, they remember everything!”

This, actually, was not what I needed to hear. For me, having a daughter has made me replay memories from my childhood and it’s driven me to share and grow closer with my mom, but it seems like every time I have shared with my mom a childhood memory involving her, she puts a negative spin on it or is aghast that I would remember her “as such a horrible person!” Which is strange to me because I have never deliberately shared memories that I felt portrayed her in a bad light. They exist, I just didn’t share them. Still, I tend to leave these interactions with my mom with a heaviness in my heart. This pattern with my mom was just developing when my conversation with the daycare director happened, and my core reaction was “Oh no! She [the tot] will remember every mistake I make!”

Of course I overreacted. The tot will surely remember mistakes I make, but not every one. And she will remember good stuff, too, things that I don’t even realize are settling with her as happy moments. Moveover, unlike three years ago, I know this is how it is supposed to be. Every human makes mistakes and wonders at some point if that’s one that’s gonna come back to rear its ugly head later. And every human gets stuff right that means more to someone else than they will ever fully know. The hard part for me when I was feeling too incapable to be an adult in charge of raising a little lump of mush was letting go and being okay with making mistakes.

The lesson I work to integrate into every day is that I cannot always be consumed with my child’s future memory of me because if I am, I will miss the now. I will miss her childhood and my parenthood. I will never be able to enjoy the incredible life that is right in front of me. As a doubter and a perfectionist, this is really, really hard. Thank goodness I have such good motivation.

She picked that swimsuit out, not me. So if she comes back in 10 years complaining about how I dressed her, I would like it known that I tried to redirect her several times but she would NOT budge. She HAD to have THIS suit.

This Week in Buzzwords: Empowerment

July 8th, 2008

Yesterday morning the tot and I were on a timeline. We reached the point on the clock when I needed to get into the shower, but I faced a potential problem. I had neglected to intercept the upcoming television show. (The tot and I have a deal: she can watch a show while I shower as long as she has pottied and is generally amiable, and such.) As soon as I saw the story’s set up, I knew this episode would be too emotional for her, but I was unable to convince her that another show would be better. She was determined to watch this particular episode – the story of a young Hispanic girl and her primate sidekick as they struggle through obstacles to return a sad, fallen star to its home.

I knew what would happen if I didn’t come up with something – she would come barrelling in to my bathroom crying, wanting me to get out and change the channel, and that so totally wasn’t happening because every fortnight or so Mama’s gotta shave, ya know?

Now, I often struggle with on-the-spot problem solving, but I saw that I needed to come up with something. The only thing I could think of was that she needed to be in charge of finding another show when this one went inevitably bad. But how to do this in absentia?

Ah, the “LAST” button. Good ol’ Lasty. How could I forget you?

I skimmed the descriptions of the other shows, located one that was more or less safe, and changed the channel there and back. Then I showed her the remote and we spent a quick moment sounding out and reading the word “LAST”. Fortunately the LAST button is easy to find on our remote. I explained how it would take her to the other show if she decided she didn’t want to watch the current show any longer. (She’s had enough experience sitting on and activating other buttons on the remote that I trusted she understood the pointing and pressing aspects involved.) When she seemed to either understand or want me gone or both, I reminded her where she could find me if she needed me, and I was off to sharpen and employ the blades.

For the record, I didn’t actually expect it to work, especially on the first try, but it was worth a go.

Imagine my delight at being nearly done in the shower when in came the tot, not crying but cheering for herself at her great accomplishment. “Mama! Mama! I’m watching [Safe Show Title]! [Insert plot description here]!”

Holy crap. What a lovely shower for me, what a lovely take-charge moment for the tot.

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I wanted to put that story here for a couple of reasons. The first is because I hope for it to be a reminder that my assessment of the tot as “usually sensitive” is based on a pattern of behavior. It’s not like that show is particularly scary or sad or violent; the tot’s threshold just seems to be set a little lower than other kids her age. That’s fine because it’s who she is. So, “sensitive” is not a label she needs to know. When I’m talking to her or about her in public, I try to use less permanent wording, like “Are you feeling shy?” or “When you’re ready you can go play with so-and-so on the teeter-totter.” That said, when it comes down to it, she tends to be a cautious, sometimes reluctant child. (And let’s be honest here, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree, and all. I am also sensitive, so whether it is her inherent nature or learned behavior or a blend is not an answerable question. It simply is, so we just live as we are.)

The second is because I also want to remember a related story from my composition classroom that I might otherwise forget.

I tell this story as a part of the idea generation phase of an expository writing assignment called “Explaining an Abstract Concept.” My students usually have a hard time coming up with an idea – I think the word “abstract” confuses them. Add to that the instruction that they must explain one way of understanding the abstract concept in concrete terms and they feel like tarring and feathering me tomorrow at high noon. So we try to come up with abstract words and then we try to talk through examples of experiences that lead us to certain ways of seeing the terms. Their initial ideas are almost always too complicated and not nearly concrete enough, so I offer them a story about how my daughter (the tot) taught me about what it means to have or not have power.

HG and I agreed early on that we were going to restrict the tot’s early access to the remote controls. How we came to this, I don’t know, but it made sense to us and we were happy with that. The tot, however, reached an age (14 months, maybe?) when she became driven to get ahold of the remote. What she wanted to do with it, I cannot say, but she wanted it soooooo much.

HG and I found ourselves pressured by (especially) our mothers to either let the tot have it or to provide the tot with one that was okay to play with. My mother even went out of her way to ask my extended family members if anyone had one from an old TV set that they didn’t have anymore, specifically so she could give it to the tot.

Something about this didn’t set right with me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew I did not want it: no, I didn’t care if it had no batteries; no, I didn’t care if any potential choking hazard buttons had been removed – the tot simply would not be allowed to have access to a remote control until she was older.

I found myself one evening at school, getting ready to teach my night class and sharing my frustration with a colleague, who had just had her second child four months before I had the tot. When I got to the part about my puzzlement over what my hunch was trying to tell me, she laughed a big, out loud laugh.

“It’s because you know it won’t work anyway!”

I stared, blankly I’m sure.

“Well, it would work for a while,” she said, “until your daughter realizes that it doesn’t do anything. If it has no power (batteries or buttons), then it has no power.”

I continued to stare, blankly I’m sure.

“Why else would she want the remote to begin with?”

Of course. At fourteen months, she had no idea what the remote control did; she only cared about what it stood for: power. And what else is a toddler after but power?

What else are any of us after but power?

As I drove home that night after class, I thought about power – the power in my home, the power in my family (immediate and extended), the power in my world. I remembered what one of my earliest graduate professors had said about power – that it’s transient, it shifts, it’s like energy in that it changes shape and location but is never destroyed.

In the beginning of our family, HG and I held most of the power. (Not all of it, though. A newborn has a lot of power, if you think about it. We offer it up to a baby when we agree to feed on demand, when we begrudgingly stay awake with a little one in the wee hours of the night, and so on.) We made the rules about what she could play with, about when we would leave the house or stay in, about what food was offered, about what she wore, etc. Most of these things she didn’t have an opinion on for a long time, and her drive to get the remote was the emergence of her desire to have a say in the decisions that governed her life.

I realized something that I often forget since that night. If we are going to raise a child to feel comfortable in her own skin, in her world, we have to be aware of the way power shifts between us. We have to be reasonable about letting her have power when the time is right, or close to right, like yesterday. And the shift can come in steps and stages. She’s not going to go from being a kid with little to no power and/or little to no desire for power to an adult prepared to wield it if she doesn’t have some practice first. Letting her practice, get it right and mess it up is a cornerstone of parenting.

Needless to say, of course, is that releasing power is hard, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It wasn’t hard to hand the tot the remote yesterday, though, because she was more than ready and I was finally there, too. When she figures out how to change it from the Weather Channel to anime or teenage soap operas, well, that’ll be the real test, won’t it?

Dos: Sugar Sugar

July 1st, 2008

Click here to find out what “Dos” means.

For those who are not in the know, pregnant chicks get subjected to a certain kind of torture, right around 24 weeks* along (*out of 40, which, if you’re me, HA HA HA HA HA HA!). That torture is the glucose testing.

For the first test, you (and here, “you” reads as “amy”) go in and drink this dense, mostly flat, nasty-ass orange soda. If you are lucky, it will very, very cold. You score extra points (with yourself only) if you are a normally a diet soda drinker and can choke this stuff down without wishing you were either unconscious or, worse, a fan of orange soda. You then sit in the waiting room for an hour, get blood drawn, and go home, where you will wait for the call telling you that you flunked the test and must undergo the second leg of this wretched journey.

The second test is a three-hour glucose test, where you (and again, here “you” reads as “amy”) are instructed to follow a “special” diet for three days, ending with fasting for the night before the test. The diet is a best described as a trap.


It’s a trap!

This “diet” is basically three days of carb loading.

Then you (and this is where it gets hypothetical and I’m drawing on my memory of being pregnancy with the tot and recent instructions from the nurse) go in, have 7 pints of blood drawn, and then drink a dense, mostly flat, nasty-ass lemon-lime soda. If you are lucky, it will be very, very, very, very cold, but let’s be honest here – dry ice couldn’t get this stuff cold enough. Then once an hour for three hours, you have another 15 pints of blood drawn, and then you go home and wait for the nurse to call you and tell you that you flunked this test too, you failure of failures.

Or so I’ve heard.

This time, it started much earlier for me. At nine weeks, I got to do the one-hour test because I had Gestational Diabetes with the tot. I barely passed it, but then, I hadn’t kept down anything to eat or drink in, like, a week or more, and that can mess with how your body processes sugars. Still, my OB told me she was fine with the numbers and I could expect to repeat the test later. My perinatologist told me she wasn’t fine with the numbers and I could expect to fail the test later and require insulin.

Quite a vote of confidence, wouldn’t you say?

At nineteen weeks, I saw the dietitian, who was perplexed because technically I hadn’t received a diagnosis of GD but who gave me a glucometer and a GD diet anyway and sent me on my way.

At twenty-four weeks, I flunked the one-hour test, right on time, albeit barely.

At twenty-five weeks, I did my three-day carb-fest, arranged for babysitting, packed up my billion and four papers to grade while I sat in the waiting room waiting to donate more blood to the sweet tooth vampires that live in the OB’s lab, and happily (HA HA HA HA HA HA!) marched my butt to the OB’s office to drink the world’s worst limeade.

And I flunked the test without even trying. My fasting sugar level (the one before you drink the nasty) was already capital-F Flunking.

Sing it with me: Flunking!

So I got sent home to eat exactly the prescribed number of carbs at exactly the prescribed times, track my blood sugars, and call back, um, yesterday (I should really do that today) so they can tell me if I need insulin yet. (Short answer is no, I don’t, and that’s why I haven’t made it a priority to call: my numbers are fine now that I’m out of carb-loading hell.)

None of this exceptionally crappy. I did the GD diet with the tot and I can do it again, but it is generally a drag. Fortunately I am not typically driven by pregnancy cravings, so that helps. Where the experience goes solidly south will be when my fasting numbers, which cannot be controlled by diet, go high and insulin is my only recourse. Oral meds are out because of my sulfa allergy. The mere thought of sticking a needle in anything other than a pincushion makes the panic vomit rise in my throat.

So, yeah. It’s gonna be a long ride from here ’til the end.

There had better be a kick-ass prize at the bottom of this cereal box, is all I’m sayin’.

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