Friends Rush In

“Let me know how I can help!” We all say it, and it’s meant well, but not usually very helpful. So let’s real talk — things people have done for us in this and other pregnancies:

  • Brought fresh soap in case the smell bothered me
  • Brought snacks
  • Brought dinner
  • Watched my kids for appointments
  • Sent their big kids to be mother’s helper so I could lie down
  • Sent their husbands who work only part-time to be mother’s helper so I could lie down (my husband insists this isn’t be a mother’s helper but a “dad-in-training”)
  • Taken my kid to preschool or picked him up
  • Sent flowers
  • Left cookies
  • Mailed encouraging notes and prayer cards
  • Walked my dog when it was snowy and John was out of town and we didn’t have a fence
  • Helped me do laundry and straighten up

(My friends and acquaintances, let’s be clear, are awesome, and if I name this child after them, it’ll be about twenty names long.)

A friend was recently saying she felt like she was failing at modeling generosity for her kids because she wasn’t making a lot of time for soup kitchens and other volunteerism. And while those things are definitely important (and an area in which I regularly fail), this same friend has been helping me in big and small ways, from showing up to dinner to helping me lug the toddler around preschool events. No doubt her kids see these acts of friendship and generosity, too. 

A lot of this, of course, applies to more than crippling morning sickness or even newborn babies: to grief and all kinds of hardship. For more really concrete advice, check out Sheryl Sandberg talking about what helped her in the wake of her husband’s sudden death. What have people done for you in tough times that’s helped most?

Dear Control Freak Pregnant Lady

You find yourself queasy, or actively vomiting, or sleeping at every opportunity. If you’re like me my first pregnancy, this was not part of the plan. Pregnancy, sure! Sleeping every moment outside of work that you’re not huddled over the toilet? NOT ON PLAN.

Baby doesn’t care. Welcome to motherhood.

It is so, so hard to surrender to this season of comparative powerlessness while you wait for hormones to shift and wellness to return. By now, I imagine your puppeteer hand is twitching pretty severely. Surely, from the sickbed you’ve taken to like a Victorian damsel, you can still exert some influence.

For you, through three first trimesters’ bitter experience, a list of things you cannot control right now:

  • You cannot make your loving supportive husband do all your chores exactly as you would and on your timeline. Believe me, I’ve tried, and wound up crying on the couch that not only I couldn’t mop the floor before guests came over, but that I couldn’t be the kind of person who didn’t care I hadn’t mopped the floor, either.
  • You cannot control how much TV your sister (or friend or mother in law) lets your kids watch while you are resting. In fact, you may even end up letting them watch more on your shift than you feel great about. They may also eat a lot more Goldfish so that they stop bothering you about your constant nausea snacks. It’s fine. It’s a season.
  • You cannot control how your crappy coworker completes your responsibilities, or who you hand your job over to if you’re leaving. This is hard. You care about your work, but things change when you’re pregnant and suddenly all your obligations center around this little person you don’t know and kind of resent. It’s ok to be sad and frustrated.
  • You probably can’t keep all your social commitments. It’s fine. Pregnancy is a get out of jail free card and because I’m so wretchedly sick from six weeks on, I’m pretty open about telling people so they don’t think I just suck. Sometimes I still feel like I suck anyway as I’m backing out of book club and road trips and everything else, but trust me: you don’t. This isn’t you. It’s a season.
  • You probably can’t even engineer a ritual of a certain food at a certain time that will get you through the day consistently feeling great. You will try lots of stuff, and most of it won’t work, and then more of it will, and then you’ll realize that was probably just the morning sickness dissipating. Whatever. Take it.

The good news: THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL IN FIRST TRIMESTER:

  • What exciting plot-driven fluff you  read waiting for the hours to pass.
  • How much you wallow on Facebook looking at people who don’t throw up every day
  • You can practice relaxing your body! Even now, with labor a million years off and this baby hardly feeling real to you. While you lie in bed, you can practice finding tension in your muscles and releasing it. This will definitely help if unmedicated childbirth is a possibility on down the road, but I think it would help even if you were just dealing with aches and sleeplessness in later trimesters, too. (The Bradley Method has some awesome exercises if you need more information.)
  • Tinkering with treatments. Only do this with a doctor’s or midwife’s guidance, obviously, but once you’ve shooed away those awful “Have you tried Saltines?” people (seriously, you don’t need them in your life), veterans will have all kinds of advice worth trying. Vitamins at night! High protein snacks! Hydration when you can manage it! In three pregnancies I haven’t found anything that fixed my morning sickness, but I’ve found lots of little things that helped. You can lose yourself in a lot of online research on first trimester treatments, and honestly losing yourself for awhile in these long early weeks is kind of the goal.
  • How you use your misery. Try, when you can, to offer up your aggravations for the people you know who would so love to have a baby. You don’t have to feel guilty that you’re getting what they want and you’re miserable, but you can try to use this as an opportunity for prayer.

How you handle surrendering control during first trimester is up to you, and takes practice. It’s ok to find it hard and to tell people you are finding it hard. I threw up my lunch in the trash at work once and the janitor came up and started gushing about how pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to him and his wife and…I was not so psyched myself. But I thought I would be eventually, and when I felt better, I was.

Three pregnancies in, I’m a bit better now at not resenting my husband for his ability to get by on fewer than 12 hours of sleep, but the honest truth is I have to be pretty sick before accepting my reliance on other people comes easily. When I’m at the hobbling point, I can peacefully accept all the help that comes my way, but give me a few hours nausea free and I’ll be back to my old tricks of trying to do all the laundry and crying.

Hang in there, and let me know if I can pray for you, or listen to you vent.

The Case for Photo Books

I’m a big believer in photo books. I make them a couple times a year, and have tried several different services.

The process is a mixed bag. The software or site can be clunky to use, and it’s tedious to sift through the thousands of pictures I take in six months and the hundred more restrained J manages. (A friend says she’s set up Dropbox so the photos from her phone and her husband’s both automatically import there, so I’ve got a new goal.) I usually spend a few evenings sitting beside J on the couch with our matching laptops, something inane on the TV, and crank out another photo book to add to our stash.

But the end result is alchemical: something magical out of a mess of poorly focused shots, duplicates, blurry snaps of children in motion. Looking back at these books reminds me there is good in every season, no matter how morning sick it was. Recently I pulled one volume from the shelf to show Pippin the winter he and J made a snow fort in the backyard, and suddenly I found the kids immersed in photo albums, Scout reverently whispering, “Baby” as she pointed emphatically at photo after photo.

I’ve used Shutterfly, Blurb, MyPublisher, Mixbook and Pinhole Press (this one just for board books). Of these, probably MyPublisher is my favorite for prettiness (cloth covers!) and Shutterfly/Mixbook are cheapest and easiest to use. (I just read MyPublisher is closing up shop, though. Figures.)

Along the way, I’ve assembled a stack of photo books that vary in size and quality but all serve to tell the story of our family. It’s easy to snag one off the shelf to show a neighbor how impressively bald and round-headed Pip was as a baby, or to show Pip what our old house in Granby looked like. Sometimes he’ll ask for one to be read to him as a story book, or Scout will page enthusiastically and violently through one. I remember my own childhood fondness for those static-page photo albums of the ’90s and so I soldier on with clunky software and crashing websites, building up the Grimm Bowers family record one photo book at a time.

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Toddler Pip sharing memories with his uncle

Quiet Month

 

Stomach bug misery flop

 

Partway through January, we finally returned from our Christmas odyssey, the semester began, and the blows just kept coming. It was a cold. Then a stomach bug, that followed so closely that it took awhile for us to ID it until we inadvertently infected our small group. As we recovered from the bug, another cold knocked us down, and once we ventured out, Pip showed up after co op one Friday, feverish and weepy, and we started the strep fight.

None of it has been that severe — many of our friends have had it much worse — but the dull unending cycle has taken its toll. I complained to a friend that I felt like Beret in Giants in the Earth, isolated and slowly deteriorating. It’s melodramatic, I know: instead of a sod hut I’m quarantined in a properly heated house with internet, stacks of books, and a short commute to Target where I can sequester my sickies in the cart and walk slooooooowly down the aisles, but still.

All plans for the month have been conditional, and more often derailed than kept. There’s been more TV than I can feel entirely good about, takeout dinners when the grownups were too sick or exhausted to cook, and lots of missed days of preschool.

But something wonderful has come out of these long, odious weeks: Quiet Month.

One Saturday morning, Scout and I bundled up, I loaded the stroller with a precarious package, and we walked to the UPS store. The friendly employee there asked, naturally enough, what our plans were for the weekend. And…those were our plans. A walk to the UPS store.

We came home and rested and read and cleaned and that was about it.

A lot of our weekends recently have been like that, and that’s pretty different from our usual weekend template. I wouldn’t say we are terribly over scheduled, but we like to see friends and feed them, and we often have something on the calendar for each weekend day.

Not having those plans has felt different, but good. I miss my friends terribly as we update each other by text on our progeny’s maladies but I haven’t hated having nothing much to do. The house has slowly gotten cleaner, despite the catastrophic cleaning projects that follow intestinal illness. In January I read 9 books — more than twice my average — because I had whole days lying inert in bed, and because Pippin, cooped up and feeling lousy, developed an insatiable Ramona habit. I’ve spent long, sunlit afternoons cuddling unusually snuggly children, and felt with new appreciation the strength of my rickety little body on the cold, dark mornings I’ve managed to get out for a run between illnesses.

I’m excited for the health and new mobility that will come with spring. The irises I planted last fall are starting to poke their way out of the front garden bed, and I note their progress with gratitude as I haul a 12-pack of lotion Kleenex up the porch steps. I will be glad for spring, but this little pause in our seasons — it isn’t all bad.

Travel Thoughts

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hashtag: drowning (from last Christmas)

Sometime we should pretend we are going on a big trip, load up the car, then immediately go back into the house and get rid of 1/3 of our stuff fueled by hatred and overwhelm.

There’s a melancholy as I walk through the empty house, lights off, rooms hollowed out. I take out the trash, straighten some surfaces, and imagine what it will be like when we return, days or weeks later. Vacation will be over. Anticipation will be over. We will collapse among our bags and parcels and return to this life. It’s a sobering thought.

Relatedly, I could never, ever be the kind of person who rents out my house on AirBnB while I’m on vacation because much as I try, the house is wrecked when we leave. Without fail.

***

Things that have worked really well for the four-year-old in the car this go round: a magnet board with a bunch of different magnet shapes; a reusable sticker board; downloadable Netflix.

Things that have worked really well for the eighteen-month-old in the car this go round: CocoaPuffs in a claw cup; little toy pieces she can put into and take out of one of those diaper wipe tubs.

Things that have worked really well for the oldsters in the car: Mars Hill audio journal podcasts;  the Voyage of the Dawn Treader audiobook; extensive playlists of Advent and Christmas music from Amazon Music.

***

Let’s take this app global and give it a better avatar. And name. Changing Times. Cha-Cha-Changes. Help me here. Developers, get on it.

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Car travel, man. (From last summer)

 

How to Find Outrageously Narrow Shoes

When I was a kid, I had really, outrageously narrow feet. For years I wore the same Reebok Princess sneakers  in a variety of sizes that my sixty-year-old gym teacher sported. It was the worst. My mom was always sympathetic — we are both 7.5 AAA — but there’s only so much you can do, especially when you have a limited budget for rapidly growing feet.

And then I got pregnant.

And my feet stayed the same. Twice.

Everyone says pregnancy can make your feet bigger, flatter, wider, but not this moi. Apparently, however, judging by what is commonly available in even A-narrow shoes (much less AAA, my size), the only other narrow-footed women are octogenarians.

Still, in the past ten years, I’ve developed some strategies for you rare youthful unicorns with narrow feet:

  1. Adjustable features. Even though I often take a S or AAA in picky shoes like pumps, I can often wear normal sneakers or boots that lace up. Last summer I also found some pretty narrow (A) sandals that worked because their straps are Velcro, so I don’t have to try to punch more holes for buckled shoes.
  2. Use a site that only lets you look at narrow shoes so you aren’t tempted. Online Shoes is a good starting place. I’ll sometimes filter by width and the maximum I’m willing to pay, then browse like a normal human might at the store.
  3. Find a shoe you like on a site that doesn’t sell narrow shoes, then borrow search terms from its description to search a site that lets you filter by width. So you find boots you like on Madewell or wherever, and then search for “chelsea boots” to help sift out all the old lady styles.
  4. If, by the grace of ye heavens, you find inexpensive narrow-fitting normal-person shoes, buy a zillion pairs. This has really only happened for me once, with these Target Toms knockoffs. Since that glorious idle spring day a couple years ago when I happened to try on a pair, I’ve bought like…six pairs. Sometimes I get cocky and try to wait for a sale where they’re $10 instead of $20, but if you’re used to paying $60-100 for a pair of shoes, this is exciting territory.

If you have narrow feet (or quite wide, I suppose), what hacks have you found for tracking down shoes that will fit?

Socks

Homelessness is an issue that leaves me totally perplexed. I’ve made it a point to ask my wisest friends, people of deep faith, many of whom have professional training in working with these populations. For the most part, they struggle, too.

One thing I do know for sure is I cannot pretend there isn’t a man standing outside our car window when my son asks.

Maybe I’ve told you this story before: once, when I was 22 and standing outside a phone booth in a nicer part of London, I was mistaken for a homeless woman. It was dark and cold and I was wearing every warm garment in my Floridian wardrobe, waiting for John to finish a pay phone call to figure out which friend I would crash with for the night. I had with me my big, raggedy green duffle pack, given to me by my dad’s friend, who used it in the Peace Corps. A man approached and in a thick accent (Scottish? Irish?) began to talk in a rapid stream from which I could only pluck a few words. “Same moon,” he said. “Cold night.” I tried to nod agreeably, unsure what was happening. And before I knew it, he’d thrust £20 in my hand and shuffled off.

I want to be like that man. If I’m doing it wrong, somehow unwittingly making the problem worse, I want at least to acknowledge the humanity of the other person.

So I give socks. They seem like an indisputable good. After all, “‘One can never have enough socks,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a pair. People will insist on giving me books.'”Probably it is better, as many say, to give money directly to organizations trained to address root causes of homelessness, and I try to do that, too, but who among us can’t use a nice pair of warm socks? I’m careful not to go cheap but to buy thick wool socks, trusting to my own instincts honed by years of outfitting my own icy amphibian feet. Sometimes I’ve assembled larger care packages with various small groups: heating packets and bandaids and granola bars. But the socks are central for me.

It’s not a solution, handing socks out the window, exchanging a few words, whispering a prayer as the light turns green. But maybe, for those of us paralyzed by a thorny issue, it’s a start.