Be the Baby

For me it is really inconvenient to be pregnant, as I’m sure longtime readers have gathered (x, x, x, etc.). Even when I’m mostly done throwing up, I have to nibble constantly, and pee every thirty seconds, and sleep long nights with highly recommended midday naps. It is hard to be a functioning adult, much less make it out the door.

The other day I had to waddle across a ballroom to use the bathroom for the second time in one speech, and I felt like that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, just running and running and making absolutely no progress while folks looked on dispassionately. I can never decide whether I hate more in early pregnancy when I feel like trash but look normal, or late in pregnancy where I am so self consciously giant but people go out of their way to be kind, mostly.

I constantly run late these days because I have to pee one more time or grab a snack. I fight with the big kid that he has to put on his own shoes because I can’t bear to bend over. And when I’ve won, I celebrate victory by peeing again.

But you know what? I hate to admit it, but that’s kind of what I signed up for with this baby thing. Nausea and heartburn will fade, but that inconvenience? It’ll be here for quite a ways past pregnancy. It’s called a Baby. I think I’ve heard of them before.

So I try to remember when I’m fed up with my ridiculous eating schedule or whatever that in order to have the baby, I must first Be the Baby. And just as it is when the baby is actually here, sometimes that’s fun (guilt free ice cream / newborn snuggles) and sometimes that’s oppressively inconvenient (packing three snacks for a morning of VBS / newborn nights).

Growing a baby is hard work, and it turns me into a baby, but there are, after all, few sweeter things in life than the real baby I’m assembling with every nap, every fistful of dried apricots, every bonkers nesting impulse.

The other morning, while Pippin was putting my compression socks on for me so I didn’t have to roll around struggling, he said cheerfully that he’d be happy to help with other things, too. “I can pick your nose anytime you like!” he offered blithely.

Be the Baby. It’s the deal. I’m just getting a head start.

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Previous pregnancy, maybe 33 weeks.
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Preparing for a Preemie


I guess I’m kind of slow because I didn’t really think I had had a preemie until I got pregnant this time.

Scout was born at 36w0d, which is usually just considered late preterm. She didn’t fit into preemie clothes and she didn’t have trouble nursing and she didn’t need time in the NICU. It was scary to go into labor before I had expected, but much scarier that it all happened in a four hour labor. Once it was over, I didn’t think much of it, except that it saved me a month of pregnancy, which I don’t love. I have had friends who have given birth crazy early, watched their little ones transferred to a separate hospital room, struggled to nurse a terribly tiny baby. I just had a slightly undercooked baby with a lot of lanugo and pitifully scrawny legs. No big deal.

That is, until I went to the midwives with this pregnancy. Then it was all progesterone shots and heaps of extra ultrasounds. I’ve never been super worried about labor as I’m usually preoccupied with the not feeling great bits of pregnancy, but this time I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to 24 weeks and viability. Even prudent vigilance can be a little contagious, a little unsettling.

Now I’m 32 weeks and so much more aware of all the ways things can shake out than I was with my first two. With Pip, I didn’t want to drive to the hospital through Super Storm Sandy and so I spent a day on the couch, willing him not to come. The next day was 11 days before his due date and I decided he could come if he wanted. I cleaned the fridge and woke up to contractions in the middle of the night. Obliging child. He was born the next evening. I was pretty sure this is how it always works.

Now I’ve got a baby who could come at 36 weeks when I stop my progesterone shots, landing her in mid-October. She could be a handful of days early and arrive on her brother’s birthday, Halloween. She could come on her due date, November 14, or wait till my birthday to be induced, at Thanksgiving.

But, of course, this is always the deal with babies. I just didn’t know it, truly, before. 

Now I’ve got the glider I longed for and can imagine nursing this new baby in it. I’ve got her room mostly cleaned out, and diapers in both preemie and newborn sizes, just in case. I’ve bought as many Christmas presents as I can, and scheduled Pippin’s birthday party so we can still have it unless she arrives catastrophically early. I’m setting up childcare for when I’m in the hospital and need to write out a few lesson plans for Police Preschool in case J or my parents want to take over for me during lying in.

 There’s not much more to do, but wait.

The Catholic Wendy’s Booth

Lately I’ve been reading Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table with a book club of women from my church, and while we were pretty divided over A Severe Mercy, I think it’s possible we actually all like this one. Way to go, Emily S.C.

So I’ve been thinking about what food means for our family in this season where I’m increasingly incapable of actually preparing it. (It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure being on my feet to make a freezer batch of NOT EVEN GOOD chicken pot pies jumpstarted my last preterm labor.)

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and J took Scout on errands. So it was just me and Pippin, and I miraculously convinced him to help me go through Roo’s closery and start getting things cleared out in there from the 1000 bins of hand me downs it’s housed since Scout’s reign. And it was actually super fun. He loved being the strong man who slid the bins into the hall for me, and he helped me pick out tiny outfits for the hospital bag, and spun around in my spiffy new glider.

Afterwards, I decided to treat him to a lunch at Wendy’s, his all-time favorite restaurant, even though it would mean a longish waddle across the park. But he’d helped me all morning! And the weather wasn’t awful. And you know what they say about 31 weeks…it’s only going to get worse from here.

So we stopped at every park bench on the way and I tried not to think dire thoughts about my fitness level as I hobbled along, pausing for him to gather leaves to toss in the creek, enjoying his chatter about the proper way to plant these things I’m not even convinced are seeds.

At Wendy’s, we ordered our usual and sat at the window so we could keep look out for police cars and fire trucks. Pip has such a fraught relationship with food that it’s just a relief to go someplace where he’ll eat his fill cheerfully and gratefully. But even though it wasn’t the kind of meal I envisioned when reading The Catholic Table, something like the meals Shauna Niequist is so good at describing, and which I occasionally succeed in producing on our own big dinner table, there did seem to be something sacred about this little treat with my firstborn.

Lunchtime, especially on weekdays, is usually a time of frenetic activity for me. We Skype my parents, I cajole people to focus and eat, I try to produce balanced meals with zero effort, I get up from the table 30 times for things I’ve forgotten or someone’s decreed essential. Or I read on my phone and encourage folks not to bother me as I eat my poorly microwaved leftovers. Or I try to start the slow cooker and change out the laundry as the kids eat their lunch painstakingly slowly. It’s not the worst part of my day, but I doubt it’s a time they’ll recall me shining as a mom.

But at this little spontaneous lunch date with my eldest, I left my phone in my purse. I didn’t cajole him to eat more because it’s all garbage, and I didn’t get mad that he wasn’t eating what I had fixed. We talked about who in our family loves fries most as we split an order. He coached me on assembling the windmill toy he got in his kids’ meal, and we spotted a fire truck with lights speed by. We said grace, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed each other.

What else is sharing the Catholic Table about?

Is Being Good at Something the Point?

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This is baby Pip on his favorite vehicle back in the day, the helicopter. But I’m such a good artist I doubt I had to tell you that, right?

I was a good student and a good librarian. At best, I feel like I’m a tolerable stay at home mom and a lopsided housekeeper (maybe better than usual baker? Worse than usual mopper?).

But I’m reminded of what I heard a priest say this All Saints, while I wrestled my toddler in the back pew, still seething at the preschooler is left with his merciful papa: “God doesn’t ask anything of us we can’t do, but he also doesn’t ask any less.”

I had heard the old cliche first part before, but never stopped to consider the second part. Easy isn’t a sign you’re doing things right, that you’re basking in God’s favor.

I feel like I’m pretty bad at being pregnant. On the one hand, I’ve brought two babies successfully into the world and so far things look good for this one. But the process is violent and draining for me and I can’t do anything much else while I’m brewing a baby and I certainly don’t make it look elegant or even desirable.

But I’m not sure being good at something is the point. When I was a kid, I took the classes I was good at, and hated and avoided the subjects in which I lacked aptitude (looking at you, geometry). But then I grew up (well, a little) and met this handsome boy not afraid to suck at things. He’d fearlessly invest time and money in a new hobby, limp along, and figure it out.

We see this throughout the Bible, too. Moses, for instance, was a terrible public speaker and still got recruited. And I’m not entirely sure sanctity is about efficacy, either.

My husband is a polymath, so the odds are stacked in his favor in a way they probably are not for me. (I’m not sure there’s enough practice in the world to help me understand Euclid, and he still laughs at that time he walked in on me doing a pregnancy exercise video.) But I came to admire that willingness to be bad at something, and even to imitate it a bit: in Uganda, where you were expected to just improvise and figure things out; in homeownership, where my dad cobbles together brilliant solutions and learns on the job; certainly in parenting where I find myself hitting Wiffle balls and doing funny voices while I read and trying not to be so damn self conscious.

Life is more interesting, for sure.

In Defense of Pregnancy Consumerism

A sentiment I can get behind
It’s possible that if you feel terrific throughout pregnancy this doesn’t apply, but I’m actually a real proponent of a little retail therapy to cheer up a crappy pregnancy. (I hope Kate Middleton is getting only the best stuff right now, guys.)

After all, you can acquire almost everything you need for baby herself from hand-me-downs and a little judicious secondhand shopping, but getting through the nine months preceding her arrival can be a slog to say the least.

In pregnancy, I can’t really eradicate my morning sickness or fix the discomforts that plague me, but it’s worth passing some time researching remedies that might alleviate the crappiness even a bit.

Here are some items I’ve found helpful in boosting morale.

For nausea:

  • Vitamin B6 in the proper dose, for serious. If you’re already gagging, you might as well not have to chop pills into a crumbling mess that makes it worse. You can also ask for Zofran that can be taken sublingually. Swallowing pills is hard when you’re already queasy! Don’t go cheap and puke them into the bathroom sink.

For lumpiness:

  • I’m team maternity dress. I just don’t think the pregnant human figure was meant to support waistbands, and especially with subsequent pregnancies, when I find myself often squatting down to deal with other small people, it’s crack city all the time, regardless of how cute the maternity jeans are.

For heartburn:

  • A wedge pillow. It is ridiculous, and paired with my pregnancy body pillow, Gladys, takes up quite a bit of the bed, but it helps me not to wake up with raging heartburn — or worse, suffer through a reflux vomit.
  • A well-fitting bra. Get fitted. It’ll help with heartburn and backache, and if you buy one expensive one from the fitter, you can get the rest in your new size from Amazon on the cheap. This my all-time favorite and has lasted me through three pregnancies and 40+ months of nursing. (Warning: It has a mortifying name.)

For travel and work:

  • Compression socks. Totally depressing, but they prevent blood clots when traveling on a plane or sitting a long time, and help keep swelling down. I get lurid ones because the flesh-colored ones for diabetics squick me out. Hey! I am a sausage person, but I’m a FUN sausage person!

For encouragement:

What are other small indulgences that make the long slog bearable for you?

 

 

 

 

Police Preschool, the First Fortnight

 

Ground rules

Day 0: The Friday before, Pippin is encouragingly excited about homeschool. I ask him if he wants to come up with a name for our school and some rules, and together we draft the above document. I am killing at this. 

Day 1: There’s a mad rush to get a decade of the Rosary in with J before he races off to work. We are starting school a couple weeks before local places so I don’t feel as shirky if the kids experience a stretch of televised education when Roo comes in late fall. Pip and I are both excited to start, but disaster strikes: I have heard that preparing things to distract the toddler is almost as important as engaging the learner, and soon both kids are vying for a bin of beans, making a mess and squabbling. Ugh. I try to remember that the start of last year, at traditional preschool, was tough, too, but at some point, I’m yelling “NO ONE HERE IS BEING VERY AMIABLE” as I try to go back to our lesson on the virtue of amiability. Then I load up the kids and take them to play at a local wading river with friends because, hey, this is homeschool.

Day 4, End of Week 1: Each morning, Pippin asks me to read to him or play for awhile before we start school, but I keep starting (and finishing) early. He seems to enjoy once we are gathered around the table, and asks when we will homeschool again over the weekend. I’m learning to be firm, kind, and not panicky in making school happen each morning. We have decided that at the end of each week, if we’ve both behaved, we get a special policeman activity, and this week it’s some random worksheet I downloaded off Pinterest. He loves it.


Week 2: It’s Letter B in the house of Bowers. He writes a letter to my sister Beca, using butterfly stamps and bear stickers that were mine when I was a kid. We don’t make it to the library this week, but we do go on field trip to a neighbor’s house to learn a little about her bee hives (mostly he plays with Duplos). We read the story of St Benedict, but he mostly just likes the attempted poisoning bit.

I am relying on my phone more than I feel great about: playing Benedictine chant, showing him paintings of the various Mysteries of the Rosary. But if I were using a library CD, somehow I’d feel more wholesome, so I try to get over it.

 

Writing his aunt

Scout is usually content to sit in her high chair and play with special toys (including the dreaded bean box), and our lessons are always extremely quick — maybe 30-45 minutes, all told. Sometimes we revisit a memory verse or talk about the letter of the week later in the afternoon, but often it’s the usual old mix of park visits, reading aloud, and entirely too many trips to the grocery story. Everyday, he tells my parents over Skype some of what he’s learned, and repeats it again for his papa after work. I feel like that’s reinforcement enough.

 

This week, I think we’ll add in coins, sorting them and using them to count by 5s and 10s and 25s, but that’s the height of my ambition. It can be rocky when everyone’s yelling and I’m just trying to get through a poem, but it sure beats the tar out of Pip’s preschool adjustment last year.

 

Enrichment. Maybe. Also, imprisonment.

A Picky Eating Manifesto

 

Is my kid eating kale salad, or peanut butter? You guess.

I don’t have a lot of patience for adult picky eaters, among which I may or may not number. Margaret Kim Peterson agrees with me, writing scathingly, “Deciding what one will or will not eat becomes a primary means of defining one’s own individuality.” She argues that instead of this identity-as-pickiness, a good eater finds herself realizing that “partaking readily of whatever is offered can be a way of affirming that eating together is at least as important as whatever it is that is eaten.”

Or, as Cat says in that tome of wisdom, Little Bear

“Can you really cook? If you can really make it, I will eat it.”

When it comes to juvenile picky eaters, my parents had three principles. I have two.

  1. Make sure your kid is polite. They can’t ask for special treatment and they should eat heartily and compliment the cook wherever they can.
  2. Pack snacks. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can get a picky eater a long way, and then the obligation to find something for your weirdo isn’t on the host(ess).
  3. Try things. We don’t enforce this. My parents tried and it didn’t really seem to speed up my transition into a functional eater. In the end, it meant a lot of fights. Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eatingwhich I highly recommend if your child is not just stubborn but hysterical and anxious about trying new food, urges parents not to make food a battle field, and so we’ve tried to follow that route, despite our frustrations.

Mantra

For this recovering picky eater and child of a health inspector, potlucks are an act of faith and vulnerability, a chance to try new food, enjoy each other’s cooking, and, yeah, risk consuming out-of-temperature food. But I treasure the opportunity to engage in the social part of eating, and I’m trying to pass that down to two children who are both food-selective to varying degrees. When you eat something someone has made, it makes them happy. Be polite when you say you’d rather not have a slice of that. See if you can find something on the table you can enjoy. 

A recent personal victory occurred for me when we went to pick up a fellow parishioner for church. He’s Congolese and has some developmental delays and we think he speaks Swahili but it’s hard to tell because we do not. (It’s not common in Uganda as it is elsewhere in East Africa.) Greeting us in a mix of English and ?, he climbed into the car and handed me…Mandazi, I think, a little vaguely doughnut type thing. It reminded me of the Old Testament story: Manna being translated to mean, “what is it?” After decades when I would have gagged or demurred or both, I could finally accept his generosity and eat the damn thing.

And overcoming picky eating was, in fact, sweet as an African doughnut.

That’s what I hope for, in time, for my children.